Instead of pouring my coffee and firing up the photoshop to continue working my way through a backlog of sessions, something (someone) drew me to crack my bible open instead. It's been awhile since I've opened the Word to just read, not searching for a specific verse to share with someone, or following a bible study, or keeping up with the preaching points in a sermon. I've missed it. I've missed encountering the Living God through the tiny print on the thinnest pieces of paper. But it's so easy to not take the time as everything else competes for my time and attention. And there have been deeper things holding me back. Cracks formed in my hope through various circumstances over the past few years that the enemy would use to discourage me and leave my soul homeless, but which God will turn over into good as He beckons me toward Him, not away...
I opened to 2 Kings. Random place to go, I know, but I had a bookmark there from however long ago it was that I had been working my way back through the Old Testament again page by page (it doesn't help that since being back in the states, I only have my travel bible, my study bible left in storage somewhere in Europe for the time being).
I still can't quite comprehend how it works. I know the Bible is not magic. And yet I randomly open up to 2 Kings and start reading about the reign of King Hezekiah on this random day, my heart full of random thoughts and random feelings, and suddenly, it's as if this part of history was recorded just for me to read on this very morning, in the midst of this very life. And I find that happens again and again and again when I turn to this book which is not magic, but certainly is something. God-breathed. The Living Word of a Living God who sees into my soul and loves every corner of it...
You see, Hezekiah was a good king of Israel. 1 & 2 Kings in the Old Testament read like a historical list of the leaders of this ancient nation. A few chapters explaining an overview of what happened during one king's reign, and whether he was with God or against Him, and then a few chapters giving an overview of what happened in the nation of Israel in the next king's reign, and whether he was with God or against him. And on and on it goes, the cause and effect on a an entire people of a leader working with God or working against Him unfolding before our eyes through decades and centuries condensed down to a few thin pages.
Hezekiah "did what was pleasing in the Lord's sight" (2 Kings 18:3). He "trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was never another king like him in the land of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. So the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did" (vv. 5-7). Great, right? But I have to wonder as I read the story if Hezekiah felt successful all the time, felt the Lord with him all the time. Because during his reign in Judah, King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked and conquered their fortified cities. I've never experienced warfare, but I can't imagine being conquered by the Assyrians felt particularly "successful" to Hezekiah or his people. And if I was Hezekiah, my faith would have flickered to naught when the Assyrian king sent his commander in chief, field commander, and a personal representative (and a huge army, I might add) with a message for King Hezekiah and the people of Judah.
"This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Which of your allies will give you military backing against Assyria?... (vv.19-20)"
"I'll tell you what! My master, the king of Assyria, will strike a bargain with you. If you can find two thousand horsemen in your entire army, he will give you two thousand horses for them to ride on! With your tiny army, how can you think of challenging even the weakest contingent of my master's troops?... (vv.23-24)."
"My master wants everyone in Jerusalem to hear this, not just you. He wants them to know that if you do not surrender, this city will be put under siege. The people will become so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine... Listen to this message from the great king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Don't let King Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you from my power. Don't let him fool you into trusting in the Lord by saying, 'The Lord will rescue us! This city will never be handed over to the Assyrian king.'... (vv.27-30)"
"Don't listen to Hezekiah when he tries to mislead you by saying, 'The Lord will rescue us!' Have the gods of any other nations ever saved their people from the king of Assyria? What happened to the gods of Hamath and Arpad? And what about the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah [all other historical cities the Assyrians conquered]? Did they rescue Samaria from my power? What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? Name just one! So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem?... (vv.32-37)"
Had I been amongst the throng in the dusty streets of Jerusalem that day, I would have looked out at that vast army, heard the shouts of their representative, and despaired. When King Hezekiah's officials reported this message to him, that's exactly what the bible says they did. "They tore their clothes in despair" (v. 37).
The thing is... isn't this exactly what the enemy of our souls is screaming at us every day? "Look around you, stupid! Don't you see the evil conquering the innocent all over this world? Is your God keeping militants from waging gruesome 'holy war' across the middle east? Did your God keep the Taliban from attacking those innocent school children in Pakistan a few days ago? Or what about Nazi Germany, the Rwandan Genocide, the Boxer Rebellion in China, the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and the Congo? Look at the estimated 70 million martyrs who have died for trusting the name of Jesus since Christ's time. 70 million! Where was His recuse for them? And closer to home, did He keep your loved ones safe from the depravity of pedophiles? From physical abuse and neglect in their own homes? From families being torn apart by lies, hate, selfishness, and divorce? What god of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? Name just one! What makes you think your Lord can rescue you?" .....
Heaviness, heaviness, heaviness.
King Hezekiah also despaired. He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth (a sign of mourning).
But then he went into the temple to pray (2 Kings 19:1).
It all hinges here. Hezekiah might have taken this very serious threat (hello, huge armies outside his door!) and this very pointed intimidation and said, "You know, they're right..." But he remembered something. He remembered who His God was. His people had walked with the God of his fathers for generations, and they had experienced His power and His wonder and His care and His love again and again. So he decided to turn to his God and trust him once more. And God sent someone to minister to him. In this case, it was the prophet Isaiah. In my case, it's usually a friend, a mentor, a book, a poignant line in a film that reminds my soul of something it needs to hold on to, etc etc. Somehow, He comes. Don't forget in the dark what you learned in the light...
God told him, though Isaiah, "Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me... I myself will move against him" (v. 6-7).
Do not be disturbed by the lies of the enemy of your soul. I myself will move against him...
And He did. 2 Kings 19 tells of how he moved against them in Hezekiah's time. But what has stuck with me this morning, and helped me to get up and face another day, is the thought that Hezekiah couldn't have seen it all playing out as it did, and yet he chose to trust. And he chose rightly.
Lord God, I want to choose to trust You! Despite everything my eyes ache to see unfolding. I want to choose to trust You. Because I know, I know, I know, I know that it is the right choice. You have drawn a line in the sand and allowed the enemy to come that far, but no further, Lord. You will move against him. And I will be on your side. Do not be disturbed by the lies of the enemy all around you. Your God Himself will move against Him... In fact, He's already begun.
"Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name Immanuel [which means 'God with us']..."
-- Isaiah 7:14
-- Isaiah 7:14