Prophet, Prayer and Promise

Isaiah 37:1-38

Hezekiah good man, effective king, had done many things pleasing to God. Perhaps greatest achievement was one Rabshakeh criticized – “He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.”2 Kings 18:4 Writer goes on to say his trust in God and example set him apart from all other kings of Judah; remained faithful/loyal and obedient to God, God was with him in all he did.

But even greatest king of Judah far from perfect. Knew what to do in a crisis, wasn’t always so great on following through. First time Sennacherib came knocking, Hezekiah blew it – cleaned out the general fund of the church to pay off Sennacherib. This time responds differently. Had done it wrong, would do a similar thing again, you’ll have to wait until week after next for that story. In this crisis, though, Hezekiah did it just right. Focused attention on right resources, right steps to take in order to please God. Even though he was king, he sought “outside” help, did not depend entirely on his own wisdom to sort it all out like previously.

A. call on the prophet v.1-14a

send to the prophet (2, 5) Showed good leadership by setting example – Hezekiah didn’t rely on staff members to mourn for him, got right down there with them. Then required delegation to do the same, adding sackcloth to torn clothing to make great sorrow obvious. Sent to Isaiah, in official capacity as Yahweh’s representative. As soon as he understood purpose of Rabshakeh’s visit, nature of threat against him and his people, sought help from his pastor.

acknowledge dire need (3-4) Hezekiah understood not just a military crisis, there’s spiritual challenge going on also. For the Rab to say what he did about false gods not a big deal; to say that about the true God, well, that couldn’t go unchallenged. Judah the only God-fearing nation left; and they were about to get run over. They’re down to a remnant, unable to put Sennacherib in his place and uphold Yahweh’s honor; Judah needed serious help. Only one option that made sense: Pray, Isaiah, pray.

receive quick response (6-7) Isaiah had perhaps already prayed, received assurance from God to pass along to Hezekiah. God had indeed heard the Rab’s blasphemy, had plan to deal with it; meanwhile, don’t be afraid, just trust Him. God would act, …but not immediately. Two things for Hezekiah and us to learn: God isn’t cosmic vending machine – put in your request, make your selection, get back your results. What we ask for isn’t always good for us, may not be right thing or right time. Second, God expects us to trust him, so he gives us opportunities to build faith. Hezekiah’s was coming right up!

meanwhile…confirmation of Rabshakeh’s blasphemy (8-14a) Sennacherib had gotten word king of Ethiopia was on the move; last thing he wanted was a two-front war. His plan: intimidate Hezekiah into capitulating, then go deal with Tirhakah. Sent official letter to Hezekiah (14); we’re told general contents, was even more insulting to God than what Rabshakeh had said. Accused Hezekiah’s God of being deceptive (10), of being no more significant or powerful than “the gods of the nations” (12). Hezekiah, this is a test, will you do the right thing this time? Will you trust yourself or God?

B. call on the Lord v.14b-20

identifies specifically the object of prayer (16) Implied adoration Having been assured by Isaiah that God was not angry with him, did not intend to allow Sennacherib to prevail over Judah, Hezekiah went to church. Not to whine, not to question God, but to demonstrate his trust in God by means of prayer. Addressed his prayer to God who is immanent (in here, close by) and transcendent (out there, filling all creation). Enthroned on the cherubim – present in the Holy of Holies, among his people. The only true God among all the gods. The transcendent creator of all things. Didn’t pray to some nameless, faceless, genderless deity who won’t offend anyone if we pray to him or her in public.

see and hear Sennacherib’s blasphemy (17) Just a few generations earlier, God promised Solomon “My eyes will now be open and My ears attentive to prayer from this place.” 2 Chron. 7:15 Hezekiah asked God to honor his promise – see and hear what’s going on: Sennacherib’s blasphemy, your servant’s prayer. Hezekiah didn’t expectation God simply to see and hear; expected God would act.

they’ve destroyed a bunch of idols but…. (18-19) Assyrians were a serious foe; not because they destroyed idols but they overran a bunch of territory. Clearly Hezekiah understood gods of surrounding nations to be no more than images made by men. Of course other men could destroy them. Yet unlike Sennacherib and the Rab, Hezekiah didn’t put his God in same category. If Yahweh truly were like all the rest, why bother pray? Hezekiah finally understood if they were to be delivered from enemy, would require power of God to do it – money and horses and chariots would never be enough.

save us for your glory (20) Hezekiah did pray that God would deliver them from Assyrians, not wrong to do that. But didn’t pray God would do it for their good or even because he had promised to deliver a remnant. Reason Hezekiah gave: that God would be glorified, that the entire world would see and know that Yahweh is the true God. Really a missionary prayer: that all men would know and worship the true God, that God’s display of power would have eternal results.

C. communicate the promise v.21-35

because you have prayed (21) God had a message for the king in response to his prayer: you haven’t prayed in vain. God not only heard blasphemies directed toward him, heard the humble prayer of his servant also. In God’s estimation, what Sennacherib and the Rab said was an attack on his holiness (23), that aspect of his character most prominent in Isaiah’s understanding. God responded to Hezekiah in answer to his prayer.

I have a plan (26, 33-34) Through Isaiah, God declared his method: he has a plan and is working his plan. He does not respond to situations, making it up as he goes along; all that occurs is an integral part of his eternal decree. God gave example to Hezekiah: Assyrians were necessary element of God’s plan as were neighboring nations they had conquered. God intended to use them as his instruments until they had served his purpose and their blasphemy became too great to endure. Also part of that plan was Hezekiah’s prayer: when the king prayed, that was the time God intended to answer and to act. He would send Sennacherib back to his own country without harm to Jerusalem.

here’s the reminder (30-32) People are often quick to forget God’s blessings, even the big ones. God graciously gave Hezekiah and people of Judah a big visual aid. They would have enough to eat from what grew wild first year; would have enough to eat and for seed the second year; would plant their own crops and have plenty the third year. For next three seasons, every time they left table with full bellies would remind that God had delivered them by his intense devotion to his honor and his people.

I have my reasons (35) God made it plain his glory, his honor, his integrity in keeping promises was primary reason for action to defend Jerusalem. God had plan not only for Hezekiah and his contemporaries, plan for Judah extended far into future. From beginning, God intended a child to be born into a family descended from King David. That child, though born and raised in poverty would one day be crowned king and sit on the throne forever. By his life, death, resurrection and exaltation he would bring great glory to his Heavenly Father and great salvation to his people. Through his ministry and that of his followers, Hezekiah’s prayer will be answered – that all nations may know that He is God.

D. colossal results v.36-38

army decimated (36) God didn’t tell Hezekiah/Isaiah how he would accomplish defense of Jerusalem. Obviously done in a way that could be explained only as an “act of God”. Who else could silently decimate Sennacherib’s army in one night? Thoroughly humiliated, the king’s only recourse was to return home before Judah or Ethiopia or Egypt could capitalize on the situation.

personal consequences (37-38) God did not intend Sennacherib would get away with such outrageous blasphemy and then come to a glorious and honorable end. He learned first hand how powerless idols truly were, his own included – killed by two of his own sons while worshiping an idol.

Should we be surprised at the outcome given God’s reason? When we ask him to move in defense of his honor, declaration of his glory, doesn’t it make sense that He wows us? What can we learn from Hezekiah’s example?

Seek help at the first sign of trouble. Don’t wait until we’re neck deep in alligators to get guidance from the spiritual leaders God has placed around us.

Pray earnestly in faith believing, asking God to come to your aid in such a way that He gets the glory.

Plan ahead – purpose in your heart ahead of time, before crisis arrives, that you will do what is right and pleasing to God.

Ask big things of God – Paul declares God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think”. Eph. 3:20 We cannot out-ask God, God cannot receive too much glory.

John Newton had received from the Lord some almost unbelievable answers to his petitions, and so he often engaged in “large asking.” In support of this practice he would frequently tell the story of a man who asked Alexander the Great to give him a huge sum of money in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. The ruler consented and told him to request of his treasurer whatever he wanted. So he went and asked for an enormous amount.

The keeper to the funds was startled and said he couldn’t give him that much without a direct order. Going to Alexander, the treasurer argued that even a small fraction of the money requested would more than serve the purpose. “No,” replied Alexander, “let him have it all. I like that fellow. He does me honor. He treats me like a king and proves by what he asks that he believes me to be both rich and generous.”

Newton concluded the story by saying, “In the same way, we should go to the throne of God’s grace and present petitions that express honorable views of the love, riches, and bounty of our King!”

May we do just that, going to that great friend we have in Jesus, presenting large petitions to him in prayer.

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