This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
I want to tell you about two kings this morning. This is not a story based on the motto “Once upon a time”, but is based on historical and archaeological facts. And to do this, I will take you back to the time of the prophet Isaiah, whose message at that time and its topicality we are looking at in our current series of services.
If you like history, this is an exciting time in the Middle East. Last Sunday I said that shortly after King Solomon’s death Israel divided into two parts, a larger northern empire with 10 tribes and little Judah with 2 tribes. The Northern Empire had teamed up with the Aramaeans, and in some Bible translations he is also called the King of Syria, the center of which was Damascus. Together they move to the gates of Jerusalem, whose king is Ahaz. The first of the two kings, of which I will tell more in a moment.
They cannot conquer Jerusalem, but the Book of Chronicles reports a sensitive defeat for Judas. 120,000 men fell in the fight.
Judah is only a small state surrounded by great powers. In addition to the Aramaeans in the north, there is Egypt in the south, the star of which, however, is already disappearing at this time. In the north-east, the Assyrian empire is spreading under Tiglat-Pileser 3rd. Its capital is Nineveh, today’s Mosul in Iraq. They move against the Aramaeans and defeat them. In the meantime, Judah Hezekiah has become king, the second king, of whom I will report shortly. He must experience how 722 BC The Assyrians fell to the north empire of Israel and brought them to their gates. Their policy is to lead people away and settle elsewhere, and so they relocate the Israelites of the northern empire and foreigners in Samaria. The Assyrians believed in local local gods, so they left behind a priest to teach the new people the customs and beliefs of this area. This is where the Samaritans come from, who worshiped Yahweh and their own gods and are therefore treated with a little contempt by the Jews in the New Testament.
Assyria cannot conquer Jerusalem, but they also defeat Egypt. The New Assyrian Empire is considered the first great empire in world history. It stretches from the Persian Gulf to what is now Iraq, Syria and Egypt. But 612 BC The empire was conquered by the Babylonians. These later move twice to Jerusalem, conquer it, kidnap the population and the second time they destroy the entire city.
But their empire does not remain either, it is replaced by the Medes and Persians. Politics changes under Cyrus II. Peoples can go back to their countries and worship their own gods there, and so some of the Jews come back and build the city. Esra and Nehemia report it. By the way, the tomb of Kyros II can be visited about 130 km away from Shiraz in Iran. Then the circle closes and our Iranians are also part of this great story.
Ahaz and Hezekiah. One is the son and successor of the other, but both are fundamentally different. In the Isaiah book they symbolize a very different orientation. Both experience a similar situation, one is the Aramaeans together with the Northern Empire, the other time the great power of Assyria, which stands at the gates of Jerusalem. It wasn’t something, it was a real threat. This was about life and death and the related question: What do you do when your enemies are at your gates? Who do you trust?
Who do you trust in the current Corona crisis? Who do you trust in the small or big difficulties in your life, no matter how they may look for you now or sometime else?
1. The reaction of King Ahaz
First, let’s see how King Ahaz reacts: Rezin, king of Aram, and Pekach, king of the Northern Empire, camped near Jerusalem, ready to attack. It says in Isaiah 7.2:
|2 And it was told the house of David, saying, Syria is confederate with Ephraim. And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.|
Ahas is afraid. Understandably. He has no more resources, he cannot change the situation. And so his heart trembles.
But God is not blind. He sees the situation. He sees the king. And he lets him do something through the prophet Isaiah:
And before I read the message to you, a small side note: Ahas, if one reads the kings and chronicle in the books, is described as king, who turned away from God.
Yes, a king who prefers to trust idols and even sacrifices and burns some of his sons for them, as was customary around Israel at the time. Nevertheless, and I find this so remarkable about God, he does not leave him alone in this situation, but shows a way out. This also applies to us, perhaps to you this morning, even if you have not wanted to have anything to do with God before or have turned away from him: God does not leave you alone, God does not let you go. God does not say: Now look for yourself and see what you get from it. God is a God of love who speaks to you. Who wants to help you and gives you a new chance.
Here is what God said to Ahaz: Isaiah 7.3-9
|3 Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou, and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’ field; 4 And say unto him, Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted for the two tails of these smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin with Syria, and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Because Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah, have taken evil counsel against thee, saying, 6 Let us go up against Judah, and vex it, and let us make a breach therein for us, and set a king in the midst of it, even the son of Tabeal: 7 Thus saith the Lord GOD, It shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass. 8 For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin; and within threescore and five years shall Ephraim be broken, that it be not a people. 9 And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is Remaliah’ son. If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.|
That was really good news. It shouldn’t happen. You shouldn’t go under. There is a reason not to be afraid, because God has life in hand and he will not allow doom. But Ahas, there is a condition: If you do not believe, you do not stay!
The Bible says nothing about Ahaz’s reaction. But from what follows, we can very well imagine that. Ahas will have doubted. Why should that be true, how do I know:
Isaiah 7: 10-12
|10 Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD.|
God offers a sign to Ahaz on his terms. To show that what God does through Isaiah is true. Wouldn’t that also be something in our situation? A sign that God is in control that we are not alone but that he sees us?
Ahas refuses. He puts the whole thing in a pious answer: I don’t want to try the Lord. And Isaiah is getting really angry and answers him Isaiah 7.13-17:
|13 And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. 16 For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. 17 The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’ house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah; even the king of Assyria.|
The misfortune comes in the form of the king of Assyria.
Ok ahaz. You don’t want a sign – then I’ll give you one. A virgin becomes pregnant. And – and that is now the difficult part of biblical prophecy, because we are actually talking about two children. Sometimes prophetic statements are so close together that they can hardly be distinguished from one another. Immanuel – a virgin will get pregnant. Thats a wonder. A sign that goes beyond Ahaz, the fulfillment of which he will not experience. But the other, before the boy learns to choose evil and good, here Isaiah speaks of his son, whom he had taken to the king, verse 3: Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-Yashub. Before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good, the land will be desolate, before whose two kings you dread. It was supposed to happen. Before the son was old enough, the two kings Pekach and Rezin were killed.
And ahas? He didn’t care about the promises. He didn’t even care about the apparent fulfillment. He preferred clocking. A little bit with Egypt, then with Assyria. Yes, he even builds up an Assyrian idol in the temple for worship, because the Assyrians were obviously successful in their warfare. Maybe that would help. But as Isaiah had predicted, it should also happen to Ahaz. Assyria took so much toll that the whole country suffered and bled to death.
Ahas knew the history of his people. He had heard about how God intervened, protected and led his people. Ahas heard the Prophet’s words and even saw their fulfillment, but preferred to trust in his own wisdom and idols.
2. The reaction of King Hezekiah
Now let’s look at the second King Hezekiah and his reaction. Isaiah 36: 1-2:
|1 Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them. 2 And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’ field.|
Rabschake actually means Obermundschenk. It was a pretty steep climb to the commander. King Hezekiah’s envoys go outside to speak to him. And the Rabshake said to them, Why don’t you tell Hezekiah: So says the great king, the king of Assyria: ‘What do you trust that you feel so safe? Isaiah 36.4.
Again, our question is: what do you trust? Do you trust others like Egypt? Do you trust yourself? Do you trust in your god? The other gods couldn’t protect their lands either. Have a look around. Reality says you have no chance.
When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on a sack and went into the house of the LORD. And he sent the court master Eljakim and the scribe Shebna together with the elders of the priests, sacked, to the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 37: 1-2
|1 And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it , that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.|
We also read about Hezekiah in the books of kings and the chronicle. Immediately when he became king at the age of 25, he began to restore the temple, to begin worship there again and to remove the idols in the country. His heart is clear in the following words:
Our fathers have become unfaithful to the Lord and have done what displeases him. You turned your back on him and his apartment. That is why the Lord turned away and they perished. It is close to my heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel so that his anger can turn away from us.
2 Chr. 29.6-10
Here is what God answers to His prayers about Hezekiah Is. 37.6-7:
|Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land|
That was really good news. It shouldn’t happen. You shouldn’t go under. There is a reason not to be afraid, because God has life in hand and he will not allow doom.
The Bible says nothing about Hezekiah’s reaction. As is sometimes the case in life, the crisis is not over immediately. There is a new bad news, this time in the form of a letter, in which the Rabschake repeats its challenging message. Maybe Hezekiah doubted. But his reaction is the same: It is said that he went to the temple and spread the letter before the Lord and prayed Isaiah 37: 16-20:
|16 O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. 17 Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. 18 Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, 19 And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men’ hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. 20 Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only.|
We can see something of Heiskia’s look here. The Rabschake wants Hezekiah to look at the circumstances. Hezekiah looks at God and his possibilities. And just as with Ahaz, God gives Hezekiah a sign:
Isaiah 37.30, 33-35:
30 And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof.
33 Darum spricht der HERR über den König von Assyrien: Er soll nicht in diese Stadt kommen und dort keinen Pfeil abschießen, noch mit Schilden davor treten oder eine Bank dagegen werfen. 34 Auf dem Weg, auf dem er gekommen ist, wird er zurückkehren und nicht in diese Stadt kommen, spricht der HERR. 35 Denn ich werde diese Stadt verteidigen, um sie um meinetwillen und um meines Knechtes David willen zu retten
This is not a supernatural miracle, but something completely natural. Just like with Ahas. Hezekiah can see if God is telling the truth, but he has no choice but to trust God now, today, because the fulfillment of the sign lies in the future. We read from the chronicles and from prayer that Hezekiah did just that. And Sennacherib receives a message directly from God.
One day, we read, an angel of the Lord comes to their camp and kills 185,000 men there. However we have to imagine that when Sennacherib wakes up and sees his devastated camp, he blows to retreat. And it says about the reign of Hezekiah that God protected them from their enemies and gave them peace.
3. Put your trust in God
Ahas and Hezekiah, two kings, whose situations are so similar and yet react very differently.
One relies on his own wisdom and idols, the other on God. And these are two lines that run through the book of Isaiah, and God speaks to people through Isaiah and woos them to trust him and not to rely on their own wisdom and idols.
He says: You expect new life force from the idols you worship. It will be a bitter disappointment for you!
The King of Assyria is haughty because he thinks he has done it by his own strength and his own wisdom because he is so clever.
The Babylonians mislead their own wisdom.
Israel is beginning to twist truth and think it can because it is so smart.
Isaiah 5: 20-21
They run into trouble because they follow their own thoughts.
Dear ones, this topic is very topical. How quickly are we going to hear what science says. God makes it clear that what is worth so much in our society is not always reliable. We think that the human mind can grasp everything. But he can also be cheated and prudence can get people’s heads up. That I build my own mind building. That I interpret data the way I like it. I don’t want to get too close to anyone. But there is also a blinding power of human wisdom.
Now God has created us with a mind and we should also use it. But what kind of wisdom is good then?
They do not look at the doing of the LORD, nor do they see the work of his hands!
That is why my people go into captivity for lack of knowledge.
On me, says God.
Knowledge, as I said last Sunday, is a relationship term. Not that I know a lot about God, but knowledge in Hebrew means living an intensive relationship and getting to know each other more and more. And that’s what God wants. That our thinking is not detached from God but includes him. Because God has thoughts that are higher than our thoughts. But he wants us to be part of it. He wants to guide us safely and well.
His plan is that we are fine and we don’t go to ruin.
How can that look very practical? At Hezekiah we see that what moves him brings before God and spreads before him. And God also invites us to share our thoughts and feelings, to put everything to Him. How good are we at it, how easy is it for us? There it may be that the doubt comes and asks you like the military leader: What do you trust? Where is your god in your situation now? Do you think he sees, has power, and will take care of you? I experience such doubts again and again. Faith does not mean that these doubts are absent, but that we also come to God and become honest with it. He knows us anyway, we don’t need to hide it from him. But we can learn more and more like Hezekiah to look away from the circumstances towards God. And, like Hezekiah, we can find allies along the way. We are not alone. Others can pray and give us good advice.
What I find amazing about Hezekiah is that he trusts God even though he saw the opposite in his father. Yes, he even had to watch his siblings burned for other gods. As an adult, our ability to trust has been shown to depend heavily on our closest caregivers as children. Whether we were able to experience that they are trusting. There is a connection with the child’s basic trust, and some of us have not experienced it in this way and it is difficult for them to trust others and God. It is important that we look at our own history to see why trusting God may be so difficult for us. But Hezekiah is not determined by his past, he looks to the future. Someone used a good example.
He said that looking back and forward must be like the relationship between the front window and the rear-view mirror. A small rearview mirror, it takes a look back, but the large front window through which we look forward. Hezekiah takes responsibility. He is not resting on his father, he is cleaning up. Not just a little bit, but comprehensively. Not at some point, but directly. We no longer have places of idolatry like Hezekiah, but it can be different with us. Idols are the things that are more valuable to us than God. The ones we trust more in, from whom we hope more than from him. That can be money, the job, your desire for success, recognition, security, health, love, your partner, your children. Hezekiah places his trust in God and puts everything in front of him.
That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t do anything anymore. That can also be very different. At one point, God says his people should have simply waited, but they didn’t want to. Elsewhere we looked at the miracles of Jesus, for example, that Jesus tells the blind man to do something. It can look very different. I think we are too quick to put our thoughts into practice because we have learned too little to wait for God and let him speak.
And yet God has given us our minds. When we get close to him and ask for his guidance, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit who lives in God’s children will guide us and will also give us God’s thoughts in our minds. And that he supports us with his options.
In the May issue of Open Doors, a pastor reports an experience that is very similar to what Ahas and Hezekiah experience. The pastor Chito was a communist, terrorist and drug smuggler until he got to know Jesus. Through his change, he started helping people in need, which was actually his original concern. People suddenly took a good path and were freed from poverty, drugs, prostitution and crime. But this went against the interests of organized crime and they threatened the pastor and his family and tried to blackmail him and otherwise set fire to his church. After nothing had happened for a long time, a car with several men pulled up. While Chito was praying, one of the men came up to him and said: I have a message from my boss. You don’t have to pay. Why this?
We have been there three or four times to set your church on fire. Every time we met big, strong, white men, with huge, unknown weapons. When we saw her, we ran away. God had sent his angels for protection.
With Hezekiah and others it later becomes clear that they too did not always live this trust in God. Ultimately, later kings turn away from God, which will lead to the downfall of the people. But God is gracious in that too. Even with our wrong ways, whether we use them on purpose or have gone before him with the best of knowledge and belief, even in this God does not leave us alone. He always offers us the opportunity to turn around, close to his heart and thoughts. And maybe that’s exactly what God wants to tell you this morning. An invitation to you to come to him with what is moving you. No matter what the circumstances look like. No matter how far you are from God and whether you might start talking to him for the first time, He invites you to entrust yourself to him.
I asked earlier whether this would not be something for us, in our life situations. A sign that God is in control, that we are not alone but that he sees us, especially in times when we are unsure and have no hope. God also gave us a sign like Ahaz and Hezekiah. And we read it earlier:
“See, a virgin is pregnant and will give birth to a son, whom she will call Immanuel – God with us”.
In the book of Isaiah there is always talk of a person, a savior. About him it says:
“The Spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom and reason, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord will rest on him.”
And later that God gives him an ear to listen to God like a disciple, a learner.
And that’s exactly what we see with Jesus. Though he certainly didn’t need it as much as we did, he kept retreating to talk to Heavenly Father and did only what he saw God do. From this comes Jesus’ full authority on this earth. He came to earth to die for our guilt and to make forgiveness and a relationship with God possible again.
Everyone is invited to accept this gift. Looking at the cross, we can see that God gave His most valuable thing to us, His own life. He is on our side, he is for us, even if we may not be able to see it due to our circumstances. But we can trust him.
4. God’s wisdom is different
There is a supernatural wisdom of God that is different again and to which we humans without God have no access. And now I want to conclude that we are particularly careful to understand that. At one point in the book of Isaiah it says that God says because his people do not listen to him:
that is why I want to continue to deal with this people in a wonderful way, in the strangest and strangest way, that the wisdom of its wise men perishes and the minds of its wise men must hide.
|14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. Isaiah 29:14
So God says that sometimes he intentionally acts differently from what we think so that we don’t rely on him but on him that we start asking about him. And Paul takes up this very passage in the New Testament and writes: Listen carefully:
1 Cor. 1.18-24:
The message that salvation has been accomplished for all people on the cross must appear to those who are lost to be pure nonsense. But we who are saved experience God’s power in it.
God said after all:
|“I want to destroy the wisdom of the wise and reject the wisdom of the wise.” Where are the wise men at? Where do those who know the scriptures go? Where the skilful discussion speakers of this world? What is considered the greatest profundity for this world, God has proven to be pure nonsense. Because although the wisdom of God is present in all of creation shows, people did not recognize God with their wisdom. That is why he decided to save all who accept this message through the message of death on the cross, which appears to be foolishness to human wisdom. The Jews demand visible power from God; the Greeks seek a meaning in all things that reason understands. But we proclaim Christ crucified as the Savior promised by God. For Jews this is blasphemy, for the others sheer nonsense. But all who are called by God, Jews and Greeks, experience God’s power in the crucified Christ and recognize God’s wisdom in him.”|
Jesus invites you to entrust yourself to him this morning and to experience God’s power and action in your life. And the next songs are a way to respond and talk to God. Let’s get up to God’s glory.