Reality Check

Isaiah 36:1-22

Amusement parks can be fun places – provide escape from “reality”, opportunities for fun & excitement. Life “outside the park” has exciting moments, terrifying times, periods of pleasure; things that are predictable, surprises; rides you’d give anything to get off, others you don’t want to end. The park is not totally disconnected from real life; it’s a creative re-packaging to enable customers to buy an experience. Ups and downs of the roller coaster, dizzying changes of direction, sights and sounds are all part of the attraction. Real as it seems, you know it’s part of the ride, you will survive. And then comes reentry, when you pass through the gate leaving the park and returning to daily routine.

That’s when it hits you – this is real life, life in the trenches, hard and sweaty and dirty and much of the time not fun. It’s where you live, not a place you visit for a day or two. There’s the doom and gloom – chapters 33 & 34, nightly news, CNN & C-SPAN: London burning, stock markets in free fall, bond rating tarnished, record-setting heat and drought. There’s the good news – chapter 35, “This world is not my home I’m just a passing through / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue / The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door / And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

Then, in the middle of all that come challenges to our confidence. May be health, finances, housing, transportation, wayward children, weather, employment, loss of friends – some combination or even all of above. Then those circumstances or people who challenge faith directly, planting seeds of doubt, tempting us to wonder if our faith is rightly placed. That’s where Jewish people were at: Isaiah had given bad news, then good news, now current news. Look out the window, here come the Assyrians; there’s a lot of them and they aren’t friendly. (Parallel passage: 2 Kings 18:13-19:37)

For people of Judah, citizens of Jerusalem, time for a reality check. Major, life-threatening crisis was imminent; would their source of confidence meet their need? Or would charges made by the Rabshakeh turn out to be true? Would his mockery, disdain and blasphemy be persuasive, cause them to lose hope and focus?

A. mockery v.2-3, 5-10

mere words are futile against the Assyrian army (5) Who do you trust? From POV of Chairman of Joint Chiefs, Assyrians at top of the hill, closest competition so far beneath them even two allied together no match. Bottom line – your talk of a strategy just so much hot air. What could you possibly be thinking? The Rab couldn’t comprehend trust in an unseen yet powerful God.

Egypt is unreliable (6) Why do you trust them? Rabshakeh was right about Egypt, never proved to be trustworthy ally in any circumstances. Judah would indeed be on short end of stick if continued to trust in Egypt, a point obvious to Assyrians.

Hezekiah insulted the Lord by closing down his shrines (7) Why would you trust Him? The Rab might understand military strategy, didn’t understand Yahweh or how to properly worship Him. Assyrians had view of worship (as did many Jews): 1 place good, a dozen places 12 times better. Thought Israel’s God must have been really offended by Hezekiah’s actions. Far from insulting God, Hezekiah greatly honored him by destroying forbidden places of sacrifice.

Judah is unskilled in the use of horses in warfare (8-9) How can you trust them? The Rab offers a challenge to a duel: he would provide war-horses, Judah supply warriors, then see who’s really in charge. Would it be Judah? or Egypt? or Assyria? Duh, Assyria of course. Once again the Rab is correct in assessment.

the Lord himself sent the Assyrians (10) Given the source (Rabshakeh), his arrogance, obvious misunderstanding of Jehovah’s true nature, easy to respond “Yeah, right! I don’t think so.” Except the Rab was right, God had sent them. Bold declaration that could certainly shake Judah’s confidence. Not the whole story, though; God had plan for Assyrian army they could never anticipate.

B. disdain v.4, 11-12

to Hezekiah…. the great king, the king of Assyria (4) Not content with mockery, showed total disrespect for Judah’s king – addressed by first name while using proper titles for Assyrian monarch. And he wasn’t even king! Doesn’t pretend courtesy even of diplomacy, simply shows utter disdain for Hezekiah.

Judah not worthy of even language of diplomacy (11-12a) Goes even further by refusing to use accepted diplomatic language; insults Hezekiah’s representatives and king himself by speaking in local dialect. Some of those most outspoken in cause of atheism can be downright rude when talking about those who believe in God:

“Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.” Mark Twain
“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”
Benjamin Franklin
“Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

Hezekiah and lackeys not worth addressing (12b) Another low blow but a very effective means of persuasion: speak at the diplomatic representatives, speak to common folk. Not a lot different from propaganda tactics of Tokyo Rose and others. Doesn’t matter what the king thinks, if people refuse to support him or help out the other side he’s done.

C. blasphemy v.13-20

Hezekiah’s leadership can’t be trusted (14-15, 18) Hezekiah’s trying to convince everyone to trust in Yahweh; it’s obvious he’s just like all the other local gods. The one really in charge – the great king, king of Assyria; he has been proven more powerful than other gods, you’ll see he’s more powerful than Yahweh. Further misunderstanding by the Rab: Hezekiah isn’t stupid or misguided nor is Yahweh to be compared with any other god.

you will be treated well if you surrender (16-17) Attempts to persuade people to cut their losses, settle for promise of leniency. Holds out tempting offer: temporarily stay put, live the good life on present land. Eventually, relocation to another country just like this one, live the good life there. Actually promises only God could keep.

every other threatened city has fallen to the Assyrian army (18-20) Judah wasn’t first to trust in their god for protection, deliverance from Assyrian aggression. But, none of others had succeeded; in fact, was like those gods didn’t even exist. Once again the Rab misunderstood Yahweh, comparing to false gods who really didn’t exist. For all his hearers trusting in what can be seen, having need for evidence, this would be crushing blow to their confidence. For true God, though, it represented one of greatest insults imaginable.

D. silence and sorrow v.21-22

don’t answer the fool (21) So what do you do with someone who attacks your faith, your God, your intelligence? who gets more arrogantly self-confident the longer they talk? Preacher in Eccl. 3:7 says there’s a time for talk and a time for silence. The Rab didn’t really have his ears turned on, any response would have just turned up his volume (13). Jesus himself cautioned against giving things of spiritual value to those who would only treat it with contempt (Matt. 7:6), something he put into practice personally during his trials (Isa. 53:7). Hezekiah’s counsel was good: “Do not respond to him.”

don’t be unmoved (22) Even when we recognize jeers and shameful things said about God as coming from spiritually dead people, doesn’t mean we should be unaffected by it. It grieved Hezekiah’s representatives deeply to hear God blasphemed that way. Just as God takes it personally when his people suffer for his sake, so we should take it personally when our Heavenly Father is insulted or ridiculed or disregarded.

remember the promises – what would people of Judah do? Capitulate? Try to make a deal? What (silent) answer to the Rab’s questions about trust: “in whom do you trust” (5) followed by challenge after challenge to their trust. Would they answer “Yahweh, of course, because he has promised to take care of his people. He hasn’t failed to keep a promise yet; we can trust him for the future.” Chapter 37 sheds light on their answer.

So how about when the reality check comes knocking at your door? How will you answer when your confidence is put to the test? Faith in faith won’t cut it; I have my faith only works until challenge bigger than your faith comes along. Faith in what looks good or sounds right isn’t enough either. Neither is faith in what the world thinks is right or adequate. Faith must have right object, confidence must be in right thing for it to serve us well.

A United Press release in a midwestern city told of a hospital where officials discovered that the firefighting equipment had never been connected. For 35 years it had been relied upon for the safety of the patients in case of emergency. But it had never been attached to the city’s water main. The pipe that led from the building extended 4 feet underground — and there it stopped! The medical staff and the patients had felt complete confidence in the system. They thought that if a blaze broke out, they could depend on a nearby hose to extinguish it. But theirs was a false security. Although the costly equipment with its polished valves and well-placed outlets was adequate for the building, it lacked the most important thing — water!

Be certain that your confidence is in God, not anything in yourself – not your love for God, knowledge of God, time spent with God’s people, even prayers of God’s people including yourself. Trust in anything less than God will always let us down, fail to provide when we need help most. Must be sure we are connected to the only source able to keep us secure in all situations. Then we can say with Paul, that even though he suffered much he was not ashamed because “I know whom…” 2 Tim. 1:12

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