4. God rules – but differently

The good news according to Isaiah – 

4. God rules – but differently

Sermon on July 5th, 2020

Kirche am Bahnhof FKB

by (Volker Aßmann)

(Isaiah 36-39)

This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here


It is about history in the 8th and 7th centuries BC. As is so often the case, or even as always, the question is: Who has the power? Who wins?
Who makes history?
Isn’t that the same question to this day?
If e.g. Putin in Moscow has the Russian constitution changed for him to be able to remain president for another 16 years.
Or Trump, apparently without regard to losses and human lives, seems to do everything possible to remain in power even after November. Or China brutally invades a global metropolis like Hong Kong and establishes its injustice regime there.

People, even whole peoples, always become the game ball of the powerful and despots. Wars are waged with tens of millions of deaths as in World War II, in which almost 30 million people from Russia lost their lives and 6 million Jews in the world’s concentration camps. It seems to be true: “There is nothing new under the sun!” (Ecclesiastes 1: 9) And this is the historical story that the book of Isaiah, AT, is about:

Approx. 760 BC Isaiah is born.
His mission from JAHWE, the only God, is to call the people of God’s people to turn to God and to have undivided trust in JAHWE. They would avoid the impending doom, the conquest and destruction of their country and the abduction or death.
At the same time, right from the start, Isaiah had the mandate of JAHWE to announce to the people the salvation and return of a small part (remnant) to their homeland when people turn to JAHWE in exile.

“And the liberated of the Lord will return and come to Zion with joy, and eternal joy will be on their heads. You will gain bliss and joy, and grief and sigh will escape. ”(Is.35,10)

  The very name Isaiah was the program and promise of God:  Isaiah = Yahweh is (creates) salvation (salvation)

That is exactly why we chose “The Good News after Isaiah” as the theme of our worship series.
But back to the story at the time of Isaiah and afterwards: 722 BC the greater northern empire of Israel is defeated and conquered by the Assyans. The Assyrian Empire stretched from the Persian Gulf over what is now Iraq, Syria to Egypt. The u.a. punishment of God announced by Isaiah was 722 BC. for the first time with the demise of Israel’s reality.
Approx. 692 BC the Assyrians lay siege under the mighty King Sennacherib Jerusalem and the smaller southern empire of Judah with the capital Jerusalem was threatened. And with that we are exactly in the time from Isaiah 36 to 39 and the question: Who has the power? Who survives? Who wins? Who makes history.
A significant sentence from Isaiah 7.9 receives both 722 and now 692 BC. brutal meaning:
“If you do not believe, you do not stay!” (Isa.7,9): “But if you have no faith, you will not endure!”)

It is about existential questions and threats that will certainly raise other questions in our time in our country:
Will I keep my job?
Will the money be enough?
Do we keep peace and prosperity?
Will I survive the illness?
How will the Corona pandemic continue? Is there a time after Corona?
When will we finally get back to normal?

Admittedly, compared to the major catastrophes in our world and the situation at the time of Isaiah, these seem to be relatively minor problems. But there are crises in themselves: They threaten us and make us afraid and maybe we lose sight and confidence.
No matter how big the threat, the key question is: Who can I trust? Who has the overview? Who makes history? Sennacherib and the Assyrians? The Babylonians? Corona? …

That was the first great promise of God that we heard from Isaiah’s mouth in Isaiah (in the first sermon of the series):

I’m making history! I am the LORD of history!

Is that correct? Can I experience that in my life today? Because apparently others have the power and not God.
Isaiah means that JAHWE brings salvation and rules. And that is exactly what we want to discover from Is.36-39.

GOD RULES – BUT DIFFERENT!

Hezekiah had defended Judas against the Assyrians and others. reinforced by the construction of a water tunnel (Is.22.8-11).
As a result, the residents of Jerusalem felt safe but did not trust their God who cared for them (22:11). They lived according to the motto: “Let us eat and drink, because tomorrow we are dead!” (22:13) And God had answered them: “Truly, this guilt shall not be forgiven you until you die> (22:14) This has been the typical human motto for millennia.
What have we learned from the catastrophes of the past and the crises of the present?
Racism and anti-Semitism have been around for a long time, despite the terrible tragedy of the Third Reich worldwide and in our country.
What have we learned from the 2008/2009 financial crisis and changed our lives? Little to nothing.
What will we learn from the current global crisis caused by the corona pandemic? I’m not very afraid!

Back to the supposed security of Jerusalem’s safe water supply.
And right where the Jews felt safe, at their safe water supply, stands Rabschake, the envoy of the Assyrian king, who stands in front of the city walls with an overpowering army, and provokes Hezekiah (it makes the danger of cutting the lifeline and Jerusalem clear “Drying out”):
> Report to your king Hezekiah: This is how the great king, the king of Assyria, said: What is the basis of the firm trust that you have? … Who do you rely on for revolting against me? Well, yes, you rely on Egypt, this buckled one Pipe rod that drives into anyone’s hand and pierces it, leaning on it. <(36.4-6)

Sennacherib’s strategy consists of overconfidence and arrogance, contempt for JAHWE. And he shows off his obvious superiority and the impotence of Judas:
“Make a bet with my lord, the king of Assyria! I want to give you 2,000 horses if you can set up the necessary riders! ”(36.8)
What grows out of this is intimidation and panic, because presumably they couldn’t even find a fraction of the 2000 riders for the horses. And he even claims that God sent the Assyrians to Jerusalem. An infamous lie that should undermine the trust of the people of Jerusalem in their God.

The emissaries of the Jewish king Hezekiah sense the catastrophic effect of this contemptuous and discouraging speech by the Assyer and ask him not to speak anymore in the language of the people but in Aramaic, which only a few understood. But it only gets worse, so you don’t want to say it at all, because he continues in the Jewish language and everyone heard it:
“Did my lord (Sennacherib) send me only to your lord (King Hezekiah) and to you to speak these words, and not to the men who are sitting on the wall to do their feces with you (out of pure despair) to eat and drink their urine?” And he speaks louder to everyone: “Hear the words of the great king of Assur: Hezekiah will not deceive you! Because he can’t save you. And Hezekiah did not put your trust in the Lord, saying: The Lord will surely save us; this city will not be handed over to the king of Assyria! Don’t stop Hezekiah! (36.11-16)”

Discouragement and contempt for people is never a method that God uses, but it has a lasting effect, then as now. Undermining trust in God is never God’s speech and method, but a terrible lie. No one should hastily believe someone who comes piously and even quotes the Bible! He is far from speaking in the name of God. Seduction is often a religious one, which e.g. also applies to conspiracy ideas that have nothing to do with God’s speech. We have to check it very well and stay awake.

Let’s stick to the picture of the kinked pipe. With this, the Assyrian even said the truth superficially: Whoever leans on the Egyptians and leaves like on a staff to gain support and security, his hand is pierced by it. Egypt cannot save Judah.
But the Assyrian speaks with arrogance and arrogance.

Later Isaiah will speak of a “GOD’S SERVANT”, and here the picture of the kinked pipe reappears:
“My servant (the Messiah) will not shout and raise his voice … He will not break the broken pipe, and He will not extinguish the glowing wick. He faithfully brings the right out. ” (Isa.42,1-3)

The servant of God, the savior of God, will not come arrogant and overconfident to intimidate. HIS rule is characterized by loyalty and justice and mercy! What a difference!!
King Hezekiah’s envoys do not begin a discussion that would have been unsuccessful. Words cannot do anything against loud and common people.
They take these contemptuous and bad words to King Hezekiah. (36.21-22)
Hezekiah does not find any words either, but seeks the presence of God, he goes to the temple in horror and sadness in search of advice and direction, and he sends messengers to Isaiah asking for an answer from God (37: 1-4)
“Perhaps the LORD your God hears the words of Rabshake (the Assyrian) … to mock the living God and punishes him for the words that the LORD your God heard.”
This is exactly what JAHWE is waiting for His people, starting with the king, to seek protection and refuge and help from HIM.

After all, the Assyrian did not first defame and insult the Jews, but the only and true God, JAHWE. And this is God’s answer through Isaiah:
So says the Lord (here is this strong sentence again):
” Do not be afraid of the words you have heard with whom the servants of the king of Assur blasphemed me!
See, I want to give him a ghost that he will hear a rumor and return to his country. Then I will fall him by sword in his country.”(37.6-7)But Sennacherib repeats his threat and lie and the call not to trust JAHWE. (37.8-11) This time he even put it in writing.
His seeds of distrust and doubt are: Did any gods do anything against Assyrian superiority? Do you look at the story? Who won the wars? Where is God and what can he do? What is the use of trusting in God? Doesn’t the stronger one win and isn’t it better to fight on your own?The question is: Who is God? Who has the powerHezekiah again seeks God’s closeness and an answer from HIM. He presents the letter from the Assyrians JAHWE and prays:
“LORD of hosts, God of Israel, who reigns over the cherubim, it is YOU who is God, YOU alone, for all kingdoms of the earth. YOU made heaven and earth. …
It is true, LORD, the kings of Assur have put all the nations and their lands in ruins. And they threw their gods into the fire, because they weren’t gods, but a work of human hands, wood and stone, and so you could destroy them. But now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand so that all the peoples of the earth can recognize that YOU are the LORD alone!” (37: 16-20)God’s answer is not a typical military one, but it exposes the arrogance and arrogance of the Assyrians.
> This is the word that the LORD spoke of Sennacherib: Despise you, mock you the virgin daughter of Zion; the daughter of Jerusalem shakes her head after you. Who have you mocked and blasphemed, and against whom have you raised your voice? You raised your eyes to the Holy One of Israel …. You ridiculed the LORD.
… because of your rage against me and because your high spirits have come to my ears, I will put a ring in your nose (like an animal) and my bridle on your lips and will guide you back on the way you have come. … The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do that. Therefore, thus says the LORD about the king of Assyria: He will not come to this city. ”(37,21-33)
God’s way of governing is that He makes it clear, with Sennacherib and to this day and forever, that only He is God and has all power.
The obviously strong Assyrian is defeated in the picture by a young woman and God leads him around the nose ring like an ox.God rules! He has all the power. And what a tragic irony of history: The king, who made fun of the Jews that they couldn’t even put 2,000 horsemen (probably that was even the truth!), Is crushed by a single angel without even a Jew had to fight.
185,000 Assyrians die in a single day. And King Sennacherib returns to Nineveh and he goes to the temple of his god (only a piece of wood or stone made by human hands !!) and there he is slain by his own sons, just as God predicted (37, 36-38).

Certainly we have trouble with stories that actually happened and in the name of JAHWE. But it is not about glorifying violence and power, but about the question of who God is and who has power, namely the only God, JAHWE, whom we get to know better through Jesus than in the OT. And nowhere in the NT are God’s people called or legitimized to use violence.
But we are asked to put our trust in God, who rules to this day and forever and who is strong and merciful even in our crises!

Therefore: Never believe someone who promises you salvation and salvation if it is not God himself or a person whom God has sent to do so !!

How the story continued:

The Assyrians could not conquer and destroy Jerusalem, but this happened in 587 BC. by the Babylonians, the next great power. The Jews who were not killed were exiled to Babylon because people did not really trust their God. (At the time of Jeremiah, Nehemiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Habakkuk and Joel). And after the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, it began in 539 BC. the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and, as promised, some of the Jews returned from captivity to their homes in Jerusalem, just as JAHWE had predicted and promised.

We also have to come back to Hezekiah again:
He became terminally ill and God said to him through Isaiah: “Order your house, because you will die and you will not stay alive!” (38.1) Because of the prayer of Hezekiah, God can be changed again and gives him another 15 years of life and promises him protection from the Assyrians. And as a powerful sign of God for His intervention, He even lets time stand still.

God’s actions and His reign show again and again in His mercy and willingness to change things and circumstances due to the prayers of His people.

But besides mercy, it is also a sign of His rule, glory and claim that His people trust and obey Him.

What does Hezekiah actually do with the 15 years he has gained? Does he celebrate his glorious and mighty God for 15 years, as in the crisis (37:14 …)?
When he receives a visit from the Babylonian royal family one day, he leaves his position of grateful humility and worship of his god. There is often only a fine line between the strong experience of God’s mighty help and complacency and pride (to this day).
There we succeed as individual Christians or as a church, fantastic things that God gives us, and immediately afterwards we believe that we have the key in our hands as we can, even without God (even if we only realize this afterwards). And we fall much faster from the degree than we had to get there with the help of God.

Perhaps Hezekiah thought he would show the Babylonians the greatness of his God, but ultimately he would have them all treasures, including those in the temple that he should never have shown to non-Jews. God’s answer sounds hard, but it shows that He is not only merciful but also holy:
“See, days are coming, everything that is in your house and what your fathers have piled up to this day will be brought to Babylon. There will be nothing left, says the Lord. ”(39.6) Hezekiah was satisfied that there would be peace in his lifetime and he doesn’t seem to care that the demise would come after him. Too bad he missed a big chance. And still remains: God rules with justice, mercy, glory and holiness.

The questions are:
1. What is the goal we are aiming for?
2. What is the focus – what are we looking at?

At the very beginning, when calling Isaiah, Isaiah sees the temple filled with the holiness and glory of Yahweh, whose throne is in heaven, but whose glory fills the whole earth! (Isaiah 6.1 and 6.3)

Karl Barth: “It is governed! And from the very top, from heaven!

God: “I don’t care which king is currently ruling (in Judah (the northern kingdom no longer existed) or in Assyria, the current superpower, or in Babylon, the upcoming superpower. I am on the throne and nobody else!

What is our focus?
The throne of God stands and on it sits the high and sublime, YAHWEH! Let the peoples and seemingly powerful (also in your life) rage no matter, God is the Lord and He rules!

What is the goal?

That Hezekiah remains king and after him …? The goal is: God is and remains the king.
Even if Jerusalem is captured and destroyed along with the temple (539 BC), one day all people will recognize Jerusalem, the great city of God, as the center of power and salvation (Isa.2,5)
Not at the end but at the end, in the completion of all history the servant of God from Isa.53, the “Lion from the tribe of Judah, the slaughtered lamb, the crucified and risen one will have all power (Rev.5,5-10).

That is the arc and course of the story from God’s perspective and perspective!

What should we learn from it?
We should put our trust in this great and only God. He does not want any outward appearance from us, but us as human beings, our trust and obedience, He wants to be our Lord!
“See, obeying is better than sacrifice!”
(1.Sam.15,22)

What is your answer today?