Believing

Believing is more than an acknowledgement that something is true. When we believe something, we act on it. Our behavior makes what we believe evident to others. Originally, the kings of Israel were meant to be role models. Their personal relationship with God was a living testimony to the truth of God’s promises. The prophets of Israel were mouthpieces of God, designed to keep Israel’s kings in check, but false prophets undermined the people’s trust and caused Israel to veer off course. By the time Isaiah came on the scene, the role of a prophet was merely to communicate God’s will and pronounce judgment.

Israel’s Messiah was a prophet as well as their king. It was important for these two roles to be combined so that the people could see the alignment between words and actions. In essence, what Jesus did was speak the word of God and simultaneously act it out. His words and behavior were completely consistent. Although we don’t think of Jesus as a believer, he was a true believer in every sense of the word. What Jesus demonstrated was perfect obedience to the will of God at the cost of his own life.

Isaiah described Israel’s Messiah as a servant, one who was called by God, subject to the will and command of his master (5650). In his description of the Messiah’s calling, Isaiah proclaimed, “The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name, and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:1-3). As an instrument of death, the Messiah was destined to convict the world of its sin. Not only would he cause Israel to repent, but the Messiah would also make it possible for the Gentiles to be saved (Isaiah 49:6).

As God’s chosen people, the Israelites had an advantage over the rest of the world. Through their birthright, they were guaranteed salvation. The main purpose of God’s work was to bring the Israelites to the point of believing. Isaiah provided a clear picture of the Messiah’s obedience in order to convince God’s people that their Savior had come. Approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah proclaimed, “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:5-7).

At the core of Israel’s believing was the issue of death and eternal life. Jesus willingly went to the cross because he believed God would raise him from the dead (Matthew 17:23). Repeatedly, God delivered Israel from her enemies in the Promised Land, but salvation was ultimately about defeating death itself. Isaiah exclaimed, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isaiah 51:6).

Isaiah likened death to being a prisoner and living in darkness (Isaiah 42:7, 49:9). In contrast, Isaiah portrayed life after death as waking up from sleep. He stated, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city…shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem” (Isaiah 52:1-2). The Messiah’s resurrection from the dead was more than just a restoration of life. The transformation that occurred during Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural changing from one life form to another. He was no longer a mortal being, but the immortal Son of God.

God’s message of salvation was in many ways news that was too good to be true. Regarding the Messiah, Isaiah asked, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). The Hebrew word translated believed, aman is the same word used in Genesis 15:6 where it says of Abraham, “he believed in the LORD.” “The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God…It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God himself…In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than in impersonal relationship with his promises” (539). Isaiah referred to believing as having a personal relationship to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah predicted the rejection of Israel’s Messiah and made it clear that Jesus would suffer because of Israel’s unbelief. Isaiah declared:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid  on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-7)

In exchange for giving up his life, the Messiah would be rewarded by God with the spoils of his victory. Isaiah foretold of Jesus, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Although the nation of Israel as a whole rejected its Messiah, there were some who believed in Jesus. Isaiah described those who would believe and receive salvation as a wife of youth, and said, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy redeemer” (Isaiah 54:6-7).

Similarities between the Messiah and his followers were noted by Isaiah in his use of the same Hebrew word to designate the servant and servants of the LORD. True believers would be expected to submit themselves to the will of God as the Messiah did. To those who responded in faith, God promised, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaiah 54:17). Essentially, the believer was guaranteed entrance into heaven where he would be united with other believers and receive eternal blessings from God (Isaiah 54:11-17).

Isaiah’s great invitation of salvation had two characteristics that made it difficult to resist. First, salvation was free of cost. Isaiah stated, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). Second, salvation was obtained by merely paying attention to what God said. Isaiah declared, “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). The type of hearing Isaiah referred to involved not only the ears, but also the heart (8085). God wanted his people to listen to him using spiritual discernment.

According to Isaiah, the key to believing was an understanding of the ways of God. As much as God had done to develop a relationship with the people of Israel, his effort was fruitless because they couldn’t comprehend his loving nature. Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In order to close the gap, God would himself become the messenger and for the first time since the garden of Eden, he would speak face to face with his children. John the apostle stated it this way. “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

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.”

Invincible

God’s deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib king of Assyria left a remnant of Jews in the Promised Land to continue God’s work (Isaiah 37:31). Psalm 76 was written as a testament to God’s miraculous defeat of an army that most, if not all, people at that time thought was invincible. This psalm begins with the statement, “In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel” (Psalm 76:1).

God’s demonstration of his power was a result of Hezekiah’s prayer (Isaiah 37:16-20) which concluded with the petition, “Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only” (Isaiah 37:20). Hezekiah wanted God to show Sennacherib and the rest of the world that there was a God in heaven because Sennacherib had implied there wasn’t (Isaiah 36:18).

The psalmist referred to Sennacherib and his army as being stouthearted when he said, “The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep” (Psalm 76:5). The term stouthearted essentially means that a person has exalted himself above God (47/3820). Sennacherib claimed that no one could deliver a city from his army, not even the God of the Israelites (Isaiah 36:20). The Hebrew word translated spoiled in this verse is shalal, which means to drop or strip, and by implication, to plunder (7997) as one would an enemy that has been overtaken.

Sennacherib’s arrogant attitude was formulated through his empire’s success. For several decades, the Assyrians had been left unchecked. Even the northern kingdom of Israel fell into their hands because no one was willing to ask God for help. The Assyrian kings were known to be tyrants that terrorized their enemies into submission (Assyrian Campaigns against Israel and Judah), and yet, they were still only men who were no match for God. The psalmist declared, “Surely the wrath of men shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10).

What is often forgotten or ignored about God is his sovereign control of all circumstances. Men may think they are in control, when in actuality, God is working things out according to his will. God allowed the Assyrian empire to expand and to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel, but when Sennacherib approached Jerusalem, God said no and sent him back to Nineveh (Isaiah 37:37). Psalm 76:12 said of the LORD, “He shall cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth.”

The anointing

One of the characteristics of the first kings of Israel was they were anointed by a prophet before their reign began. The anointing served a dual purpose. First, it was a visible sign the man was God’s chosen representative on earth. Second, the anointing activated the spirit of God to work in and through the king to accomplish God’s will for the nation of Israel. After God promised king David that his descendants would reign over Israel for ever (2 Samuel 7:13), the anointing was passed from generation to generation through the king’s selection of a successor to the throne. Eventually, the anointing was overlooked as an important aspect of successful leadership and was disregarded as a requirement for being king.

When king Saul and king David were anointed to be king it was noted that the spirit of the LORD came upon these two men (1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13). There is no mention of this type of confirmation with any of the other kings of Israel or Judah even though the king was the earthly representative of God and was considered to be an important religious figure (4427). Speaking about Israel’s ultimate deliverance, Isaiah foretold, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” (Isaiah 32:1). Isaiah was referring to the Messianic age when God’s kingdom would be fully established on earth.

The anointing of king Saul and king David was meant to produce the righteousness characteristic of the Messiah’s reign. The term righteousness is derived from several Hebrew words that deal with justification. The primary root word, tsadaq (tsaw – dak´) “is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance” (6663). The word Isaiah used to describe the Messiah’s reign was tsedeq (tseh´ – dek). “It is a relational word” referring to the “relationship among people and of a man to his God” (6664).

By the time Isaiah’s ministry came into effect, it was clear that the kings of Israel and Judah had failed to bring the people closer to God. In fact, within a few hundred years of king David’s reign, the people were in total rebellion against God and practiced idolatry in his temple (2 Kings 16:15). The outcome God had been working toward was completely missed. Isaiah declared regarding the Messiah’s reign, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17-18).

Nothing happened

Jotham, king of Judah, reigned at a unique time in the nations history because prophets such as Isaiah, Amos, and Micah were predicting the destruction of the kingdom when all was going well. Jotham’s father, king Uzziah, had restored Judah to a state similar to that of kings David and Solomon, and yet things were not the same. Perhaps the clearest sign that there was an internal problem was the leprosy that kept king Uzziah isolated for the last 10 years of his life.

Jotham took over his father’s responsibilities in 750 B.C., five years before king Tiglath-pileser of Assyria began his campaigns, heading in the direction of Israel. By the end of Jotham’s reign in 732 B.C., Gilead had been captured and the fall of Israel was eminent. The dramatic change Jotham witnessed in a short period of time most likely caused him to believe the predictions he had heard were true.

In some ways, it could be said that Jotham’s reign was like a bridge between the old way of life in which God’s people dwelt safe and secure in the Promised Land and a new way of life in which the Israelites would become targets of mass destruction. The Assyrian Empire was the first of many that would threaten Israel’s existence. Were it not for God’s divine protection, Judah would have been destroyed along with the northern kingdom of Israel. In spite of the corruption that existed within Judah, it says in 2 Chronicles 27:2, that Jotham “did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father Uzziah did.”

Jotham’s success was attributed to a steadfast focus on doing God’s will. It says in 2 Chronicles 27:6 that “he prepared his ways before the LORD his God.” You could say that Jotham was trained well by his father king Uzziah. No doubt Jotham had been raised to take over his father’s kingdom and was prepared from a young age to make wise decisions. The best evidence that Jotham was a disciplined and diligent leader was the lack of controversy or moral failure during his reign.

Although it may seem as if Jotham’s short reign was insignificant compared to his father king Uzziah’s, Jotham played an important role in keeping Judah stable during Israel’s initial defeat by king Tiglath-pileser. Perhaps the best thing that could be said about Jotham’s reign is that nothing happened.

Tell me the truth

The story of Ahab’s death provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings of God’s heavenly kingdom. The prophet Micaiah in explaining why he didn’t tell Ahab the truth about what was going to happen to him, describes a scene in heaven in which a spirit is charged with enticing Ahab to go to battle against Syria.

Again he said, Therefore hear the word of the LORD; I saw the LORD sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left. And the LORD said, who shall entice Ahab king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead? And one spake saying after this manner, and another saying after that manner. Then there came out a spirit and stood before the LORD, and said, I will entice him. And the LORD said unto him wherewith? And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the LORD said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt prevail: go out, and do even so.

Micaiah’s description of heaven indicates that all the host of heaven was standing before the LORD as he sat upon his throne. This picture of divine judgment shows that God, as ruler of the universe, is in charge of all spiritual activity. All spirits report to him, including Satan (Job 1:6). Therefore, the lying spirit was accomplishing God’s will when he told Ahab’s prophets to say “Go up; for God will deliver it into the king’s hand” (2 Chronicles 18:5).

Ahab was upset when Micaiah told him the truth. It says in 2 Chronicles 18:17 that “the king of Isreal said to Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would not prophecy good to me, but evil?” Ahab thought the message was good from his prophets because they said he would win the battle and the message from Micaiah was evil because he said Ahab would lose. What was actually important was that Ahab knew the truth, so he could make a good decision.

I don’t think Ahab understood the purpose of the message Micaiah gave him. It was meant to be a warning, a glimpse into the future so that Ahab could avoid disaster. Instead, Ahab chose to ignore Micaiah’s prophecy and attacked Syria anyway. Ahab thought he could achieve a different outcome, that he could make the false prophecy come true (2 Chronicles 18:26), but he was killed just as Micaiah prophesied.

A fatal mistake

Ahab’s insistence  on going his own way is evident in his decision to attack Syria after entering into a peace treaty with king Ben-hadad (1 Kings 22:3). Ahab didn’t seem to understand that he was not free to do as he pleased. As God’s representative to the nation of Israel, Ahab was required to do God’s will, even if that meant staying at home and minding his own business.

The role of the  prophets was to inform the king of God’s will, but the prophets in Ahab’s kingdom were telling him what he wanted to hear rather than speaking God’s word to him. At the request of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, Ahab agreed to consult a prophet that was faithful to God, Micaiah, before attacking Syria.

And the messenger that was gone to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good unto the king with one mouth: let thy word, I pray thee, be like the word of one of them, and speak that which is good. And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, what the LORD saith unto me, that will I speak. (1 Kings 22:13-14)

At first, Micaiah told Ahab what he wanted to hear, that he should attack the Syrians and the LORD would deliver them into his hand, but Ahab knew he was lying. “And Ahab said unto him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the LORD?” (1 Kings 22:16).

Ahab knew it was a mistake to attack the Syrians, but he did it anyway. Ahab believed he could beat the Syrian army in his own strength, without the LORD’s help. Under normal circumstances, Ahab’s army might have been able to beat the Syrians, but the covenant between Ahab and Ben-hadad prevented Ahab from attacking Syria. Therefore, “the king of Syria commanded his thirty and two captains that had rule over his chariots, saying, Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:31).

With Ben-hadad’s entire army coming after him, king Ahab didn’t stand a chance. Ultimately, it was the LORD’s divine judgment that sealed Ahab’s fate, but Ahab’s foolishness put him in harm’s way unnecessarily. If Ahab had listened to Micaiah, his life would have been spared.