The Philistines

The Philistines were like a thorn in the side of the Israelites. When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the Philistines were occupying the coastal region of Palestine and had established five major cities along the Mediterranean coast: Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath. “Originally a part of Judah’s tribal allotment, the coastal area was never totally wrested away from the Philistines, who may have begun their occupation as early as the time of Abraham” (Five Cities of the Philistines). Some of the Israelites most notable battles were fought with the Philistines. Samson was captured by the Philistines who “put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza”  (Judges 16:21) where he later killed more than 3,000 men and women by toppling two pillars of a temple. David killed Goliath, a giant from Gath who threatened Saul’s army (1 Samuel 17:10).

The Israelites inability to drive out the Philistines left them vulnerable to attack on the western side of Judah. When Assyria invaded Judah during the reign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C., the Assyrian army marched down the coast through Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Gaza, and then proceeded west to Jerusalem through Gath. Sennacherib drove out more than 200,00 people of Judah (Sennacherib’s Campaign Against Judah), leaving the nation with little resources to defend itself against Nebuchaddrezzar king of Babylon when he invaded Jerusalem in 605 B.C. The last mention of the Philistines in Israel’s history indicated they had encroached on territory previously occupied by the nation of Judah and were being used by God to humble his people (2 Chronicles 28:18).

The message Jeremiah received concerning the Philistines emphasized the sudden destruction they would experience when they were delivered into the hands of Nebuchaddrezzar king of Babylon. Jeremiah declared, “At the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of his strong horses, at the rushing of his chariots, and at the rumbling of his wheels, the fathers shall not look back to their children for feebleness of hands; because of the day that cometh to spoil all the Philistines, and to cut off from Tyrus and Zidon every helper that remaineth; for the LORD will spoil the Philistines, the remnant of the country of Caphtor” (Jeremiah 47;3-4). The superior power of the Babylonian army was not given credit for the Philistine’s defeat. God intended to remove the Philistines so that they would no longer be a threat to his people. Setting the stage for the return of the remnant of Judah to the Promised Land, God was securing their borders and ensuring that their enemies would remain contained until the arrival of the Messiah.

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Exempted

A key component of the Israelites’ sacrificial system was the Passover. The Passover was instituted on the eve of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Prior to that night, the Egyptians had experienced nine plagues because Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go into the wilderness and worship their God. The plagues were intended to demonstrate God’s miraculous power. The LORD told Moses, “the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth my hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5).

During the plagues, God made a distinction between the  Israelites and the Egyptians. God told Pharaoh, “I will put a division between my people and thy people” (Exodus 8:23). The Hebrew word translated division, peduth is derived from the word padah. “Padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition” (6299). Padah is usually translated as redeem or ransom. God was letting Pharaoh know that his people were no longer subject to Pharaoh’s command and would be exempted from the rest of his plagues.

The last plague God brought upon the Egyptians was the death of all their firstborn. Even though the Israelites were exempted from this plague, they had to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on the doorposts of their home as a sign to God that he should pass over that household (Exodus 12:7). The lamb was later referred to as the Passover (Exodus 12:27) and the Israelites were expected to celebrate this event annually in remembrance of God’s deliverance. After the Israelites settled in the Promised Land, the Passover celebration was for the most part ignored or forgotten. It wasn’t until king Hezekiah ordered the people to observe it, that the Passover was kept as it was originally intended to be (2 Chronicles 30:5).

In 622 B.C., after the book of the law was found and read to all the people, king Josiah kept the Passover exactly as it was prescribed by Moses. Every person that was living in Judah and Jerusalem participated in the celebration (2 Chronicles 35:17). This may have been the only complete observance of the sacrifice since it was celebrated in Egypt. Josiah  himself provided 33,000 animals for the sacrifice, indicating there were probably only 100,000 – 200,000 people residing in the nation at that time. Around 800 B.C, there were 300,000 men alone in Judah, 20 years old and above that were able to go to war, suggesting the total population was over one million.

The significance of king Josiah’s Passover celebration was that it occurred within a generation of when Judah went into captivity. There were three kings that followed Josiah; all of whom were his sons. It seems as if the first Passover and this last Passover celebration served somewhat as bookends to the Israelites’ freedom. The only way God could get the people to celebrate it was through the threat of death. Given that the Passover exempted the Israelites from all punishment of their sins, you would think they would have been more diligent about its observance.

Power

In ancient times, the hand was a symbol of power. To be given into someone’s hands meant you were dominated by them and under their control (3709). To deliver someone out of another’s hands meant you released him from the other’s dominion or rule over him. One of the ways kings sought to increase their power, or at least their appearance of power, was to take other nations captive and rule over their people so that the size of their kingdom increased, making it seem as though they had become more powerful.

The Neo-Assyrian Empire existed for 300 years from approximately 911 B.C. to 612 B.C., during which time its population peaked and its territory expanded across more than a million square miles. The Neo-Assyrian Empire reached its greatest height politically and militarily under the reign of Sargon II who brought an end to the northern kingdom of Israel. Sargon’s son Sennacherib attacked the southern kingdom of Judah and conquered 46 of its strongest cities (Sennacherib’s campaign against Judah 701 B.C.).

When Sennacherib king of Assyria came and entered the fenced cities of Judah, it says in 2 Chronicles 32:1 that he “thought to win them for himself.” Sennacherib wanted to be the dominating power over Judah and Jerusalem so that he could claim himself to be their king. Sennacherib not only believed he was the most powerful man in the world, but he also believed he was more powerful than any god, including the God of the Israelites.

It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:17, “He wrote also letters to rail on the LORD God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, As the gods of the nations of other lands have not delivered their people out of mine hand, so shall not the God of Hezekiah deliver his people out of mine hand.” The Hebrew word translated rail, charaph means to pull off or to expose as by stripping (2778). Another way of saying what Sennacherib was trying to do was to bring shame on God, to ruin his reputation.

Sennacherib was a very powerful man, and because of his position as the king of the Assyrian Empire, he was the most powerful man in the world in 701 B.C. His claim that no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of his hand (2 Chronicles 32:15) was partially true, but to compare God’s  ability to that of an idol was a huge mistake. God intervened in the situation and killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers in one night, while everyone was sleeping (2 Kings 19:35). It says of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:21, “So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that come forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword.”

The power of prayer

You may wonder, Can one person make a difference in the world? Is it possible to change the course of history? Hezekiah, king of Judah reigned from 715 B.C. to 686 B.C. during a critical time period when the Assyrian empire was spreading rapidly throughout the middle east. In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Sargon II, king of Assyria and its people were taken into captivity. In 701 B.C., Sennacherib, king of Assyria attacked Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Judah. Shortly before this, Sennacherib led a campaign against the strongholds of Judah and took them (2 Kings 18:14).

It says in 2 Kings 20:1 that “in those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die and not live.” Isaiah’s use of the words “thus saith the LORD” indicated that God had sovereignly ordained Hezekiah’s death. In response to the news, Hezekiah cried out to the LORD. It says in 2 Kings 20:2-3, “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

In the early years of his reign, Hezekiah had instituted many reforms in Jerusalem in order to counteract the evil behavior of his father, king Ahaz (2 Kings 18:4). Much to his credit, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:5, “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.” Hezekiah’s relationship with the LORD gave him the confidence he needed to ask God to change his mind. It says in 2 Kings 20:4-6:

And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the  God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears:  behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.

Based on the LORD’s message to Hezekiah, “I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 20:6), it appears that the  LORD intended to give Sennacherib victory over Jerusalem after Hezekiah’s death. It could be that the LORD planned Hezekiah’s death in order to spare him from going into captivity in Assyria. Whatever his intent, the LORD saw Hezekiah’s sincerity and decided to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian army instead.

An interesting aspect of Hezekiah’s situation was that he asked for a sign that the LORD would actually do what he said he would. “‘Signs’ are attestations of the validity of a prophetic message” (226). In essence, Hezekiah’s request for a sign meant that he doubted what Isaiah said was true. Perhaps, because he knew he could not defeat the Assyrian army. Isaiah gave Hezekiah two options. “And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?” (2 Kings 20:9).

The only miracle recorded in the Bible comparable to what Isaiah suggested the LORD would do for a sign to Hezekiah was when the sun stood still while Joshua and his army fought the Amorites. In that instance, it says, “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13). Since we know now that the sun does not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun, what actually happened was the earth stopped spinning for about 24 hours.

In Hezekiah’s case, what Isaiah was suggesting was that the LORD could make the earth rotate in the opposite direction, equivalent to 10 degrees of movement, so that the shadow would go backward instead of forward as it usually did. Based on what we know today, this was scientifically impossible. The amount of time that would have been gained or lost would have been about 20-40 minutes, a somewhat insignificant amount of time compared to the whole day that Joshua gained. Therefore, the evidence of the shadow made it possible to verify that is actually happened.

Hezekiah’s response indicated that he wanted God to do the impossible. “And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz” (2 Kings 20:10-11).

The kinsman redeemer

The Israelite community was designed in such a way that families would remain in tact for centuries and ultimately for eternity. When they entered the Promised Land, each of the twelve tribes of Israel was designated a territory that they were to occupy. Every family was to have its own piece of property that would be passed on from generation to generation through an inheritance given to the oldest son. In the event, the family got into debt and had to sell its land, the property could later be redeemed by a close relative referred to as the kinsman redeemer.

It was the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer to preserve “the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative or for executing justice upon his murderer” (1350). In the role of executor of justice, the kinsman redeemer was referred to as the avenger or revenger of blood. Isaiah portrayed the arrival of the avenger on the scene as someone waging war on Israel’s enemies. He said, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in his apparel, traveling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save. Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me; for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment” (Isaiah 63:1-3).

Isaiah described the day of the Lord as one in which there would be much blood shed. Revelation 19:13 indicates that that day will come at the end of the great tribulation when God’s wrath is poured out on mankind. John the apostle declared, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipt in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:11-14).

The Messiah’s role as the kinsman redeemer was unique to the Israelites because the kinsman redeemer had to be a blood relative. Although Jesus died for the sins of the world, he only came to redeem the children of Israel. Isaiah declared of Israel’s Messiah, “For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie; so he was their Savior. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isaiah 63:8-9). Israel’s rejection of its Messiah caused the door to be opened to the Gentiles who received their inheritance as adopted children of Christ. Eventually, the family of God will be integrated and all who are true believers will share equally in Christ’s inheritance (Isaiah 63:17).

Sennacherib

Sennacherib king of Assyria was referred to as “the great king” (2 Kings 18:19), a title often used by the imperial rulers of Assyria, in order to intimidate and break the resistance of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This title was associated with the LORD in Psalms 47 and 95 where it says, “For the LORD most High is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2), and “For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3). It is likely the Assyrian rulers intentionally used the title “great king” to mock God and to elevate themselves above his authority.

Sennacherib sent a message to king Hezekiah in the Hebrew language and made sure it was read publicly so that everyone in Jerusalem would be aware of his contempt toward their God. It said, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria: thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand: neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria…Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?” (2 Kings 18:28-30,35).

Sennacherib implied that the LORD was unable to deliver Jerusalem out of his hand. In essence, saying that he was more powerful than God. Sennacherib’s claim revealed his arrogance, and his willingness to say anything in order to intimidate his adversary king Hezekiah. When Hezekiah turned to the LORD for a response, Isaiah told him, “Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land: and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:6-7).

God wanted to demonstrate not only his ability to deliver his people from Sennacherib’s army, but also his sovereign control over all the kingdoms of the earth. Sennacherib’s position as king of Assyria was subject to God’s will. If he decided to remove Sennacherib from power, God could do it in an instant. It says in 2 Kings 19:36-37, “So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sherezer his sons smote him with the sword.”

A new thing

The captivity of god’s people provided a short intermission to the playing out of a 2000 year effort to restore fellowship between God and man. While they were in Babylon, God demonstrated his faithfulness to his people by continuing to protect them and by making a way for them to return to the Promised Land (Isaiah 41:3). Ultimately, the goal was for Jerusalem to be rebuilt through a supernatural empowering of those called to be a part of the second stage of God’s  plan of redemption.

Isaiah proclaimed God’s faithfulness and gave his people hope by stating, “Fear  thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10). Following the destruction of God’s temple and decimation of the city of Jerusalem, the nations that rose up against God’s people would be destroyed (Isaiah 41:15-16) making it possible for the Israelites to return to the land they had been driven out of.

God used the destruction of Israel and its resurrection as an example of his power and ability to recreate the nation that belonged to him. Isaiah testified to this when he said, “That they may see, and know, and consider, and understand together, that the hand of the LORD hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it” (Isaiah 41:20). The remnant of God’s people that returned to Jerusalem would go back of their own free will, knowing they would be used by God in a different way than they had before.

Isaiah explained God’s plan in the context of spiritual blindness. He said, “I the LORD have called thee in righteousness and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of  the prison house” (Isaiah 42:6’7). Because everyone else in the world had been cut off from their creator for hundreds of years, the Israelites would be used by God to demonstrate the problem of sin and humanity’s need for a savior.

Unlike the rest of the world, God’s people had not been left in the dark. God’s law had been clearly presented to his people and they were fully aware of the consequences of their sin. As they were being transitioned into a new way of relating to their LORD, the Israelites were told not to expect anymore special treatment. Isaiah declared, “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” (Isaiah 42:9).