Help!

There are times when it seems like God is inactive, as if he is asleep or on vacation. Because he is invisible, we look for evidence of his existence and can forget that God is always at work in our lives. Psalm 46:1 states, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The Hebrew word translated present, mâtsâ’ (maw – tsaw´) means to come forth, appear or exist (4672). Although God is always with us, we notice or are aware o his presence most when we are in trouble.

When Sennacherib king of Assyria threatened to attack Jerusalem, he used psychological warfare to intimidate the city’s people. The type of trouble the people experienced was an anguish of soul, a distress of a psychological or spiritual nature. What they needed was assurance that God was near. The psalmist declared, “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God shall help her, and that right early” (Psalm 46:5).

Often times, fear causes us to run. We want to get as far away from our trouble as possible. One of the ways that God challenges us to trust him is to wait, to not do anything for the moment. In their time of distress, God told his people, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). Isaiah said to the rebellious children of Judah, “Therefore have I cried concerning this, Their strength is to sit still” (Isaiah 30:7).

The primary reason God doesn’t want us to react to our emotions when we are in trouble is we usually make things worse. If we stay and watch to see what will happen, we get to see God at work, and may witness a miracle. Psalm 80 focuses on God’s ability to break forth in a situation like the sun coming up over the horizon. The psalmist prayed, “Stir up thy strength, and come and save us. Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” (Psalm 80:2-3).

Three times in Psalm 80 the phrase “turn us again” appears, emphasizing the importance of connecting with God at a personal level. God’s people turned away from him continually and did not obey his commandments as they were instructed to. In spite of this, the LORD remained faithful and responded to their cries for help. The psalmist, pleading for God to intervene on Judah’s behalf, requested of the LORD, “Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit thine vine” (Psalm 80:14).

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).

Whose side are you on?

The prophet Jonah’s ministry to the city of Nineveh made it clear that God’s mercy was not limited to the Israelites (Jonah 3:10). Even though the book of Jonah seems to end without an answer to the question, was the Ninevites repentance sincere? Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s eventual destruction of the Assyrian empire indicates its capital, Nineveh only received a temporary reprieve and would one day experience God’s judgment for their wicked behavior along with the rest of the world.

Describing God’s overthrow of Assyria, Isaiah declared, “The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders” (Isaiah 14:24-25). As Sennacherib king of Assyria approached Jerusalem and threatened its destruction, it must have seemed to king Hezekiah that God had changed his mind and would allow Assyria to continue its conquest of the world.

After hearing of Sennacherib’s threat, Hezekiah sent Eliakim, Shebna, “and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blashphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring them forth” (Isaiah 37:2-3). King Hezekiah knew that Sennacherib was right about his ability to defeat Jerusalem. It was only a matter of time before he would break down the city walls and take the people into captivity.

Isaiah assured Hezekiah that God would not allow Sennacherib to carry out his threat, but Hezekiah’s confidence was shaken when he received a second message from Sennacherib’s servant Rabshakeh.

Let not thy God, in whom thou trustiest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. (Isaiah 37:10,14)

Hezekiah’s action of spreading or displaying the letter before the LORD was similar to presenting evidence. Hezekiah was making a case that Sennacherib had accused God of lying. In Hezekiah’s opinion, Sennacherib had gone too far and God needed to do something about it. As a result of Hezekiah’s prayer, God did more than just stop the Assyrians from attacking Jerusalem. It says in Isaiah 37:36, “Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses”.

Psychological warfare

Sennacherib king of Assyria sent his servant Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army in order to intimidate the people of Jerusalem into surrendering (Isaiah 36:2,4). A master at psychological warfare, Sennacherib instructed his servant to speak to the Jews in their native language so that they would understand every word he said and would believe he sympathized with their situation.

Rabshakeh intended to instill doubt and fear in the people when he said, “Am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against the land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10). Hearing these words spoken in Hebrew made the message much more convincing. Essentially, Rabshakeh implied that the LORD had switched sides. He was no longer protecting the Israelites; God was helping the Assyrians to destroy them.

Rabshakeh’s message was true in the context of the northern kingdom of Israel, but an outright lie in regards to Jerusalem. Whether or not God had spoken to Sennacherib was not what really mattered. The question at hand was did God intend to destroy the kingdom of Judah as he had the northern kingdom of Israel? Apparently, king Hezekiah had already warned his people of an Assyrian invasion. Rabshakeh wanted the people to think Hezekiah was the one who was lying to them.

Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and said, Hear ye the words 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. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: the city shall not be delivered into the had of the king of Assyria. (Isaiah 36:13-15)

Rabshakeh had a strategic advantage in convincing the people that their king was lying to them. It would make sense for Hezekiah to do so. Rabshakeh argued that Hezekiah was like every other king and was powerless to keep his promise. Rabshakeh declared, “Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?” (Isaiah 36:18).

Three of king Hezekiah’s cabinet members were listening in as Rabshakeh struck fear into the hearts of the people of Jerusalem. Rather than trying to defend their leader, these men walked away without acknowledging Rabshakeh’s threat. It says in Isaiah 36:21-21, “But they held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was saying, answer him not. Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.”

Moment of truth

Isaiah’s ministry covered a span of approximately 60 years. During his lifetime, Isaiah experienced what could be considered the best and worst times in Jerusalem’s history. During King Uzziah’s reign (792 B.C. – 740 B.C.), Judah’s powerful army of over 300,000 men expanded his kingdom’s borders and fortified the city of Jerusalem, making it a secure fortress that could withstand a long siege of enemy attack (2 Kings 16:5). Within a decade of Uzziah’s death, his grandson, king Ahaz cooperated with the Assyrians to defeat the northern kingdom of Israel and erected an altar in the temple of God so he could worship a Syrian god instead (2 Kings 16:15).

Isaiah confronted Ahaz in a location referred to as “the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 7:3). Isaiah told the king of Judah, “The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah” (Isaiah 7:17). Ahaz ignored Isaiah’s warning, no doubt thinking an alliance with the king of Assyria would  prevent him from attacking Jerusalem.

Isaiah recorded his prophecy about the king of Assyria as a testimony against king Ahaz and all who doubted God’s intention to punish Judah for its rebellion against him (Isaiah 8:7-8). Later, Isaiah added that Assyria would be destroyed after God was finished using them to punish Samaria and Jerusalem for their idolatry (Isaiah 10:12). Predicting specific details of the Assyrian attack, Isaiah showed the king of Judah that God controlled his kingdom and could give it to whomever he wished (Isaiah 22:20-25).

When Ahaz’s son Hezekiah took over as king in 715 B.C., Israel had already been taken into captivity and the king of Assyria was breathing down Judah’s neck. Isaiah’s message to Hezekiah made it clear that Assyria was doomed and Jerusalem would be spared from destruction (Isaiah 29:22; 30:31). Isaiah warned Hezekiah to not trust in Egypt, but to rely on the LORD. Isaiah stated, “So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem, defending also he will deliver it and passing over he will preserve it” (Isaiah 31:4-5).

The moment of truth came in 701 B.C. when “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them” (Isaiah 36:1). The king of Assyria sent a messenger to Hezekiah with a great army, “And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 36:2), the exact location where Hezekiah’s father had first been warned by Isaiah of an Assyrian attack against Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:3,17). Sennacherib claimed to be on a mission from God. He told Hezekiah’s men, “And am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10).

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.