Synopsis 2Kings 19:2-12 10/4/2019
The Assyrian army had invaded the kingdom of Judah. Lachish, the second most important city in the kingdom, had fallen. And after this, King Hezekiah received an ultimatum from Sennacherib, the King of Assyria. If he gave up, then Jerusalem would be spared and the people relocated. If he resisted, then Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people decimated.
Hezekiah was overwhelmed. But he noticed that in delivering the ultimatum, Sennacherib’s envoys had mocked God. And so, he instructed his officials to visit the prophet Isaiah. He wanted Isaiah’s council on what to do.
Isaiah responded by encouraging the king to remain steadfast in his resistance. And so, Hezekiah refused the Assyrian demands. Not long thereafter, problems emerged in other parts of the vast Assyrian empire. At the same time, a crisis emerged in the ranks of the army outside Jerusalem. As a result, Sennacherib was forced to withdraw from his siege of Jerusalem to address these problems.
Hezekiah withstood the Assyrian siege. The Assyrians departed and never returned. Hezekiah and all the Israelites in Jerusalem celebrated their escape from the power of the Assyrians. Even though much of the land had been decimated, God had saved the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the irresistible force of the Assyrian army.
Salvation: The Disaster of My Own Sin
I find myself caught between two systems of wisdom. And neither of them are my own making.
There is the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God. The wisdom of this world leads to short-term gratification. The wisdom of God leads to eternal fulfillment.
But because none of this is my doing, I don’t often feel the weight of my own moral failure. My sins don’t matter that much to me. In fact, my tendency is to think none of this matters very much because I’m not the one who created it. As such, I have no control. Therefore, I feel justified in thinking that I bear no responsibility.
So, I say to myself: “Jesus is Savior. But I’m saved from what?”
I don’t fear hell because I didn’t create this mess. How could God justly judge me?
And, of course, it’s true that I did not personally bring sin into the world. I inherited a condition into which I was born.
But my problem is greater than the competition of two wisdoms. It is greater than the competition between two world-views.
The competition is between two persons. The fight is between the person of God and the person of evil. They are both very real. And each person has had a community of adherents form around them.
Yes, each community espouses a world-view. But more importantly, each affiliates with the person central to their respective community. As the saint once wrote, “I am loyal to the one I actually serve.”
And because it isn’t simply a matter of personal philosophy, I am accountable in a different way. I choose my affiliation. I choose my community. I reject God. Or I reject Satan. I embrace God. Or I embrace Satan. The two wisdoms are irreconcilable.
And the truth in this light is that I’ve embraced Satan. No, I never bowed down. And no, I never went to a black mass.
But I bullied. And I mocked. And I manipulated. And I seduced. And I used to foolish intoxication. And I used the people I claimed to love. Not a long time ago – I did all this just yesterday.
And so, I find that I am wretched. I’m stuck in a community of death. With this, I slowly wake to the fact that I am not only bound for hell, but living in a hell for which I am entirely responsible. And in an early morning reflection, I suddenly discover that I really do need to be saved. I cannot embrace the wisdom of God without embracing the person of God.
And so, I take this moment to thank God for redemption and the opportunity of a new day.
“You are my shelter; you guard me from distress; with joyful shouts of deliverance you surround me.” Psalm 32:7
Synopsis 2Kings 18:23-19:1 10/3/2019
Assyrian envoys had come from Lachish to persuade Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem to stop resisting the king of Assyria.
Their offer was simple. Give up the city. And, of course, Hezekiah would no longer be king. The people would be relocated to other parts of the Assyrian kingdom. And people from other parts of the kingdom would then be brought into the land of Judah and Jerusalem, to repopulate the land.
In other words, the envoys were offering the complete destruction of the Israelite nation. If they surrendered, the people would survive with only their lives.
As a counterpoint, the Assyrians assured the people that should they choose to resist, they had no hope of surviving. They pointed out that Judah had no army. And no allied nation, they claimed, could save Jerusalem – not even Egypt.
Finally, they specifically warned the people not to trust in God. They argued that no god had ever helped a nation resist the Assyrian king and his army.
And so, once the envoys had finished talking, Hezekiah’s high officials returned to him. Then, they reported all they had heard to the king.
Hezekiah’s Wake Up
The Assyrian plan had the advantage of survival. As a God-fearing king, Hezekiah was aware of his responsibility to his people. He was not indifferent to their survival or their sufferings.
So, the thought of surrendering in order to preserve the lives of the people must have had some appeal.
But then the envoys went too far. They blasphemed the name of God by casting doubt on His ability to save the people. And this served as a wake-up call to Hezekiah. Hearing this, he suddenly realized the Assyrians had gone too far. In an instant, it became clear to Hezekiah that the Israelites were being lured to their ultimate destruction through talk of personal survival.
If they capitulated, they would lose their culture and their ability to relate to God as the children of Israel. And to not have the ability to relate to God was a fate worse than death.
The Brink of Seduction
Seduction is the effort to convince a person to do something that is not good for them, by suggesting it really is good for them. Usually, a seducer uses the attractiveness of pleasure as the lure to persuade.
Of course, the power of seduction is that the suggestion seems plausible. The seducer speaks. And what he says seems like it might, just possibly, bring a desirable outcome.
But, like it was for Adam and Eve, there is always something about an attempt to seduce that fails to ring true. So, when I’m tempted in this way, something in my deepest crevice of my spirit screams. I know the seducer’s plan really isn’t good. But I am, after all, a slave to pleasure. My soul can outshout my spirit.
So what I find is that my only real hope is to keep my eyes on Jesus. Focused attention. It’s all I have.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” Prov 3:5
Synopsis 2Kings 18:17-26 10/2/2019
Assyria had defeated the northern kingdom and repopulated the land. Now, they had invaded the southern kingdom of Judah. What’s more, the Assyrian forces captured all the cities of the southern kingdom, including the second most important city of Lachish. From there, the Assyrian king sent envoys to Jerusalem.
For his part, King Hezekiah sent high officials to meet with the Assyrian envoys. Still, the envoys spoke from outside the city wall to the high officials who stood on the wall that served as the final remaining defense of the city.
Against the wishes of Hezekiah’s high officials, the envoys spoke in Hebrew to the officials and to all the people within earshot. Accordingly, they warned the Hezekiah and the people of the city not to resist Assyria any further. With their forces located behind them, the envoys declared their intention to besiege the city until it fell unless the Israelites gave up.
Once defeated, the envoys assured the high officials that the ordinary people would be allowed to live. But, they explained, all the Israelite people would be relocated to another part of the Assyrian kingdom, so the they could no longer incite rebellion.
Assyrians Inciting Division
The Assyrian envoys attempted to position themselves as saviors for the people. They claimed to be the ones who really could be trusted and who really cared for their well-being. They claimed to want to preserve the people, but crush the rebellion.
However, their more deliberate effort was to foment a rebellion against King Hezekiah. They wanted the people to depose the king. In this way, the could win the battle without having to fight in order to take the city.
Just as Jesus would one-day remind his followers; the Assyrians knew that a nation divided against itself “cannot stand”. The envoys hope was to create division between the people of Judah and Hezekiah, their king.
I live by this belief: Anyone who wants to know the truth will eventually find God.
And I really believe that. So, even if I encounter someone who is very far away from confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior… I don’t worry too much. An honest heart that is bent on discovering the truth will eventually find what they seek.
It is the person who is working to persuade everyone else of his opinion that bears concern. For this person, persuasion is the goal. And so, self-righteousness is understood to be more important the creating value.
It is the same spirit at work when disunity comes. It doesn’t matter if the venue is my family, or my office, or my village. When division comes, it comes because there is someone more interested in being right than in being successful.
“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that you learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent.” Rom 16:17-18
Synopsis 2Kings 18:7-16 10/1/2019
Hezekiah succeeded his father Ahaz as King of Judah. However, unlike his father, he did not embrace Assyrian culture and authority. In fact, quite the opposite, he openly rebelled against the authority and influence of Assyrian.
As a result, after King Hezekiah ruled over Judah for fourteen years, the King of Assyria attacked. He invaded the land. And this time, Hezekiah had no obvious choice but to relent. So, he paid a large ransom to the Assyrian king.
Hezekiah Out of Options
Hezekiah gave everything he had in order to appease the Assyrian king. He even gave components from the temple including the nave doors that were overlaid with gold. As a result, it was obvious to the Assyrian king that Hezekiah was practically destitute.
The capital of Judah was Jerusalem. And Jerusalem was out of resources. The last bastion of Israelite culture and worship was entirely vulnerable. This was the Assyrian king’s opportunity to destroy Israelite influence once and for all.
When I’m Out of Options
For my part, I avoid the situation where I don’t have any options. And perhaps we all do.
For every “Plan A”, I want to have a “Plan B” and “Plan C” whenever possible. Of course, this is because I want to keep control over my circumstances. And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. When it’s possible to anticipate future circumstances, it is prudent and appropriate for me to do so.
But there is something strangely magical about the moment when I’m out of options. When I’ve done everything that I can and all my “Plan B”’s are exhausted. When I’m exhausted.
When I have nothing left.
And in that moment, I cry out to the Lord…And He rescues me.
Maybe not in the way I hoped or imagined. And maybe not without feeling some real pain – some real suffering.
“In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1Peter 1:6-7
Synopsis 2Kings 17:36-18:6 9/30/2019
The Assyrians had captured the northern kingdom. They also sacked Samaria, the capital city of the north. And, eventually they even captured Hoshea, the king of Israel, and imprisoned him. After this, he was never heard from again.
About five years before the fall of the northern kingdom, Hezekiah became king over Judah. He was twenty-five years old at his coronation. And he served as king for twenty-nine years.
During his reign, Hezekiah did everything he could to restore the authentic worship of God. He worked hard to eliminate the habit of worshiping God apart from the temple. And he diligently removed the idols that the people had erected on hilltops and in other locations around the kingdom.
Reputation For God
Hezekiah’s epithet was faithfulness. He did his best to do God’s will. And his legacy followed him as a testimony. For all time and eternity, his life’s story reveals God’s faithfulness.
Faithfulness and Relationship
Jesus once said, “The one who has been forgiven of much, loves much.” So, I certainly don’t mean to minimize the affective power of forgiveness and repentance in communicating the idea of God’s faithfulness.
But when I think about the experience of faithfulness, I think about the experience of a couple who have lovingly remained faithful to one another throughout a fifty-year marriage. In that case, their mutual faithfulness is a constant that serves as a lens through which every aspect of life is interpreted and understood. It transcends the rush of newness.
So I find that I only really discover the deepest experience of the faithfulness of God in constancy. Faithless as I tend to be , it is to the extent that I have also remained faithful to Him.
“Many say, “My loyal friend,” but who can find someone worthy of trust?” Prov 20:6
Synopsis 2Kings 17:26-35 9/27/2019
Shalmanezer was the king of Assyria. After defeating the northern kingdom, he deported the Israelites who lived there. And he replaced the Israelite population with foreign people from throughout the growing Assyrian empire.
The transplanted people who now lived in northern Israel were plagued by lion attacks. The people associated the lion attacks as a curse from the “god of the land”. And so, they asked the Assyrians to return some Israelite priests in order to instruct the people how they should live and worship.
So, a returning priest arrived back in Israel and settled in Bethel. And he gave instructions to the people. But instead of worshipping God alone, the people worshipped both the God of Israel and the foreign gods they had brought from their original homes.
Repentance and Provision
The people that the Assyrians brought into the land recognized that something was wrong. The land of Israel, where they had been transplanted, was fierce. Accordingly, they wanted a solution. And so, they thought in the only terms they could. They had come from cultures where every local worshipped a different idol. So, they associated the attacks with the dissatisfaction of some local diety.
The priest who returned to Bethel, was probably not an actual Levite priest, in accordance with the Law of Moses. Instead, he was more likely a priest from the religious system invented by Jeroboam to prevent the people from worshipping in Jerusalem.
The whole thing turned into a strange syncretism where the transplanted people of the north worshipped what they knew of the God of Israel, along with a panoply of false idols.
Simplicity of God
Simplicity is a mark of elegance. This is an intuition.
I naturally sense the deepest meaning through the recognition that what I behold is utterly simple.
And this runs deeper than my ordinary experience of myriad voices demanding my attention. It runs from the simple act of deliberately focusing my attention on the voice of God, right through the possibility of beatific vision.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.” Deut 6:4-5
Synopsis 2Kings 17:6-15 9/25/2019
Because of King Hoshea’s treachery, the king of Assyria invaded Israel with the intent to bring the people fully under submission. In order to accomplish this, he repopulated the northern kingdom of Israel. First, he sent the Israelites from the ten northern tribes to other Assyrian regions. These included Halah, and Habur, Gozan and the “city of the Medes”.
Israelites Rejected God
This reflection examined the faithlessness of the Israelites. Although there is a clear sense of the tragic nature of Israel’s end, the account is a matter-of-fact recognition that failing the covenant produced the ruin of the nation.
And, the most important aspect of this ruin was the loss of identity. For, the people who were taken away lost their connection to the Israelite community. As a result, their legacy became largely insignificant and forgotten as they merged with the other dislocated peoples who had been transplanted throughout Assyria.
Their customs and unique relationship with God withered and died as the people lost contact with the temple and the priestly system of authentic, Israelite worship.
I Have Rejected God
The path that leads to ultimate destruction is the loss of relationship with God. Perhaps the greatest distinct advantage of the Covenant with Jesus Christ over the Law of Moses is that it is both personal and universal.
Jesus came to call sinners. Of which, I am the greatest I will ever know.
The Covenant of Moses was between God and all of the children of Israel. The failure of the community made the failure of each of the individuals more likely.
But the Covenant of Jesus Christ was not born out of God’s relationship with a particular community. It was born as an invitation to as many who would hear and respond.
And that’s me. And you. And the invitation stands no matter whatever past failure I might have committed. Or even, whatever my community might have done.
“But to those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name” John 1:12
Synopsis 2Kings 16:16-17:5 9/24/2019
King Ahaz of Judah changed the basic form of worship for the first time since Moses. He replaced the altar of sacrifice and reorganized the arrangement of the water basins for washing. After reigning for sixteen years, Ahaz died. After this, his son Hezekiah became king.
Meanwhile, Hoshea was reigning over Israel in the northern kingdom. In those days, Shalmanezer was king over Assyria. So, King Hoshea committed Israel to pay tribute and to remain under Assyrian authority.
However, at one point, Hoshea became insubordinate toward Assyria. And so, he eventually refused to pay tribute to the foreign king.
For this, King Hoshea was eventually arrested and imprisoned by Assyrian forces. The capital city of Samaria was besieged for three years. And finally, the city fell and Shalmanezer’s forces occupied the whole land.
Israel Under Assyrian Authority
King Hoshea willingly used Assyrian help and support in exchange for protection. However, once the Israelite king no longer felt the need for the protection and support of Shalmanezer’s forces, he looked for a way out of his part of the bargain.
In short, Hoshea wanted to benefit on the contract he made, but he didn’t want the responsibility. He didn’t want to hold up his end of the bargain. So, he looked to cheat on the contract. And he was caught.
The Role of Political Authority
Synthetic communities form out of the mutual agreements of all the participants. That’s why they are usually called “Social Contracts”. The mutual agreement is the things that binds all the participants.
In Authentic Community, it is different. The rule of an authentic community is transcendent. The rule is given by God for the common good.
This is one of the reasons I struggle with the rule of the Authentic Community. My tendency is to treat the church like a social contract. Of course, the reason I do this is because I want the benefits but not the responsibilities of God’s way. So, I am like Hoshea – I want to cheat.
But there is no cheating God or His rule. His law is pure love. His law is pure goodness. It is a gift for my own good and the good of others.
In cheating the law, I cheat myself. I accept less than the full possibility of my life.
Still, God knows this. And this is why I have a synthetic authority. Because civil authority, imperfect as it is, keeps me from disaster as I mature. It brings me closer to the self-discipline necessary to fully enter into that which God has reserved for each of us.
“For rulers are not a cause of fear to good conduct, but to evil. Do you wish to have no fear of authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval from it, for it is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, be afraid, for it does not bear the sword without purpose; it is the servant of God to inflict wrath on the evildoer.” Rom 13:4-5
Synopsis 2 Kings 16:6-14 9/23/2019
As a result of an Aramean invasion, the tribe of Judah lost territory to both Aram and the Edomites.
Judah’s king was Ahaz. And, King Ahaz reacted to the invasion by reaching out to the king of Assyria for help. Tiglath-pileser ruled Assyria. So, Ahaz emptied his treasuries of gold and silver and paid them as tribute to the king of Assyria.
The Assyrians moved quickly against Rezin. Accordingly, they attacked Damascus and captured the Aramean capital. As a result, King Rezin was captured. And then, he was executed.
After a while, King Ahaz came to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser. There he noticed the altar of sacrifice used by the king. And so, while he was in Damascus he had the plans for the altar copied and sent to Uriah the priest.
Uriah built a replica and installed it in the temple as a replacement for the altar of God.
Ahaz and Assyria
Ahaz was enamored with Assyrian culture. It wasn’t just that he was glad and grateful that Tiglath-pileser was able to save him from his enemies, he seems to have formed a great affection for the ways of Assyria.
So much so, that he wanted to adjust the worship of God so that it looked more Assyrian. And so, he placed a foreign altar of sacrifice before the presence of the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem.
Like Everyone Else
I have this need to be accepted. And, of course, it’s not intrinsically wrong to want acceptance. It is a legitimate need.
However, even though my need for acceptance isn’t intrinsically wrong, the pressure to receive acceptance from others can lead to compromise. Making myself acceptable to others by merely adopting their behaviors is unlikely to bring long-lasting success.
In fact, this attitude is the essence of value-compromise. It will inevitably lead to moral failure. And there’s little guarantee that will lead to long-term acceptance.
“Teach me, LORD, your way that I may walk in your truth, single-hearted and revering your name.” Psalm 86:11
Synopsis 2 Kings 15:32-16:5 9/20/2019
Jotham became king over Judah. He reigned for sixteen years. After his death, he was succeeded by his son Ahaz.
King Ahaz performed many evil acts. Among these, he offered one of his own sons as a sacrifice to a false god. Additionally, he made sacrifices to the idols located on the hills and under various trees in the countryside of Judah.
During the reign of King Ahaz, King Pekah of Israel made a pact with King Rezin of Aram. Together they marched to Judah in order to besiege Jerusalem. However, the two kings were unable to force a battle with Ahaz.
Ahaz and Alliance
King Ahaz made an alliance with the king of Assyria for protection in exchange for money. Even though the prophet Isaiah discouraged Ahaz, the kingdom of Judah paid Tiglath Pileser money in exchange for protection against all enemies.
In a certain way, it seemed like a matter of survival. Assyria was an aggressive nation under King Tiglath-pileser that was quickly expanding as an empire. Tiglath-pileser threatened both Aram and the northern kingdom of Israel. So, although Aram and Israel were traditional enemies, they came together to resist Assyria’s efforts to take over the region.
Accordingly, the two nations wanted Ahaz to join them. And when he would not, they combined their forces and invaded Judah in an effort to either force Ahaz to join them or else, to install a new regime.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the news. Everywhere, it seems, there are huge global problems. And, each one is so big that it seems to threaten the very existence of the planet. It’s hard to know what to do with all of this information.
I could isolate myself and simply not pay attention. Or, perhaps it’s better to say I could try to do that. But the truth is that anyone with an agenda is vying for my attention. And this doesn’t stop simply because I disconnect my phone or my TV.
I cannot stop their voices. And so, like Ahaz, I am inevitably forced to decide where to put my trust.
With no intent to disrespect God, he chose Assyria as his protector.
So, I face a similar question. When this day is all said and done, will have chosen to trust God first?
“Some rely on chariots, others on horses, but we on the name of the LORD our God.” Psalms 20:8