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Table of Contents
1 Choose Life, Not Death!
2 Ten Steps Back
3 Fallen From Heaven
4 Acceptable Worship
5 Here Is My Servant
6 God and Destruction
7 Salvation and Judgment
8 Three Eternal Principles
9 I’m Only a Child!
10 If You Will Return
11 What To Do With This Book?
12 The Day of the Lord
13 The Problem of Evil
14 The Response of Faith
15 Plot and Counter-Plot
16 Visual Metaphors
17 Blood-guilt and Faithfulness
18 Qualified to Serve
19 Not By Human Hands
20 No Other God Can Save
21 When the Years are Fulfilled
22 Embittered Watchman
23 Evil and Righteous Kings
24 Settle Down
25 As God Sees It
27 Jerusalem Falls
28 Lament for the Fallen
29 Tragic Aftermath
Appendix – The Will Not To Believe
About the Author
An Example to Follow?
Israel had fallen. Samaria was destroyed. The people were exiled. Imported foreigners now occupied the villages emptied by the exile. Farms and vineyards now belonged to those who had not developed them. The sacred land was given to those outside of the eternal Covenant.
On the one hand, the people of Judah must have been secretly relieved that their northern rivals no longer existed. The Kingdom of Israel had always over-shadowed them in size of territory, population and wealth. On more than one occasion the northern kingdom had invaded. Now that threat was gone.
On the other hand, the people of Judah must have looked on the fate of their neighbors with horror and trepidation. After all, the northern ten tribes were their relatives. Not only that, what did their demise portend for the future? Would Judah be next? What was there to stop the cruel Assyrian armies from coming further south? What prevented them from swallowing Judah as they had Israel?
As time passed and invasion didn’t come, as the threat receded, as life went back to normal, a counter-reaction began to set in. Israel fell, people began to think, because they weren’t so special after all. They were inferior to Judah in spite of all their advantages. “Surely we are God’s people. Nothing like what happened to them will overtake us!”
“Not so fast!” cried the prophets. “Israel was destroyed not because they were inferior to you but because they were unfaithful to God and to the Covenant. If you do the same things they did, you too, will be swept away.”
Time after time the prophets warned against complacency. Time after time they warned against emulating the apostasy of the northern kingdom.
Would the example of the northern kingdom keep the people of Judah from following in their footsteps, or would their sense of superiority and security from their status of being “God’s chosen people” betray them into doing the same things?
It sickened and discouraged the prophets to see their warnings disregarded and ridiculed. Amidst the despair, however, there was also hope. Regardless of the trends of society as a whole, a faithful remnant clung to the Covenant. Not only that, the prophets spoke of coming restoration. Though destruction was inevitable if Judah insisted on following the practices which destroyed Israel, One from the House of David would re-build the ruins. Once more the people would be governed in justice and righteousness.
Though the prophets spoke and wrote over 2,000 years ago, their message is still relevant to us today. Just as the people of their day chose to ignore the example of what happened to their neighbors and turned away from God, many today, fail to learn from the inevitable destruction which came upon Judah and Jerusalem as a result of their apostasy. Similarly, just as the prophets’ message of hope, restora-tion and peace gave comfort to the remnant of that time who chose to remain faithful to God, today, we who live at the “end of the ages” (Hebrews 9:26) and remain faithful to God can also be comforted.
The studies in this volume try to balance the warnings, discourage-ment and despair of inevitable destruction with encouragement, joy and hope. They cover the time-period from the resettlement of Israel to Jeremiah’s abduction to Egypt. They come from the books of 2nd Kings, 2nd Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah. Since this is a survey, these lessons do not provide an exhaustive commentary on these books. Nor is every event covered (though you can easily add additional lessons to fill in any gaps). What these lessons do cover are the highlights of covenant history during the time-period when the kingdom of Judah was all that was left of God’s people. The lessons provide practical applications for God’s people today.
Choose Life, Not Death!
(2 Kings 18:1-19:37, 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:23, 30, Isaiah 36:1-37:38)
Introduction: Many cultures have the notion that a person is condemned to remain in whatever situation or status in life he happens to be born into. A person’s social standing depends less on his character than who his family is. This also applies to occupation. Children are expected to follow their parent’s profession regardless of whether they have any aptitude for it or even any interest in it.
Even if a person’s profession is not determined by social expecta-tions, it may be decided by family tradition. For example, in some aristocratic dynasties, the first son inherits the family titles and estate while the second son is expected to serve as a officer in the military and the third to pursue an ecclesiastical career, and so on.
One of the most pernicious examples of society predetermining a person’s status is the Hindu caste system. In it the divisions between people and where they fit in society are backed not only by custom, but by religious decree. To try to change your lot is to defy the divine order of things. You are fated to be what you are. If the powers that be intended you to be something different than what you are, they would have arranged for you to be born into a different family. Your caste even determines which of the gods in the Hindu pantheon you will worship.
Similarly, Muslims sincerely believe that a child’s destiny is fated. If God didn’t intend for him to be a Muslim, he wouldn’t have been born into a Muslim household. He has no alternative but to be a Muslim.
Even under the Law of Moses a person’s status and occupation depended, in part, on his ancestry. For example, only the descen-dants of Levi could serve as priests. However, something which distinguishes the Jewish faith (as well as Christianity) is that a person always has a choice. God does not impose His will on anyone. He does not force anyone to believe or to serve Him. The converse is also true. A person is free to seek God even though he was born into an idolatrous family.
During his reign, King Hezekiah and the people of Judah and Jerusalem had to choose whom they would serve.
I. Another David (2 Kings 18:1-8, 2 Chronicles 29:1-31:21)
Hezekiah was a remarkable man – not least because he overcame the example of his family. His father, Ahaz, not only tampered with the Temple worship, he practiced idolatry and went so far as to sacrifice some of his sons – Hezekiah’s brothers – in fire (2 Kings 16:3, 2 Chronicles 28:2-4). Though Hezekiah’s grandfather, Jotham, and his great-grandfather, Azariah (also called Uzziah), did right, they tolerated idolatry and did not remove the high places where the people offered sacrifices and burned incense.
Hezekiah changed all that. Scripture records that he was unlike any of the kings of Judah before or since (2 Kings 18:5). What made him so unique?
1) He removed the high places, smashed the idols and cut down the Asherah poles (2 Kings 18:4, 2 Chronicles 31:1).
2) He destroyed the bronze snake Moses had made because people were burning incense to it (2 Kings 18:4). (For the back-story of why Moses made the snake see Numbers 21:4-9.) What Hezekiah did to the snake is very similar to what Moses did to the golden calf the people began to worship at Mt. Sinai (see Exodus 32:20).
3) He reopened the Temple and purified it (2 Chronicles 29:3-19).
4) He reestablished worship in the Temple (2 Chronicles 29:20-36).
5) He led the people in celebrating the Passover in a way it hadn’t been done since the days of King Solomon. He even invited the Israelites who still remained in the northern kingdom to participate (2 Chronicles 30:1-27). It seems that he wanted to reunite the people of Israel and Judah into one kingdom. At the very least he wanted to restore Jerusalem as the center of worship for all of the Jewish people.
6) He reorganized the priests and made sure they had enough to live on while performing their duties at the Temple (2 Chronicles 31:2-21). In this he followed King David’s example who divided the priests into divisions and assigned them their duties and times of ministry (see 1 Chronicles, chapters 23 through 26).
7) He rebelled against the king of Assyria – that is, he stopped acknowledging the Assyrians as Judah’s overlords (2 Kings 18:7). The implication is that Hezekiah considered God alone as his Ruler. Though the text does not say when Hezekiah did this, it’s probable that he did it after the death of Sargon, the successor to Shalmaneser, the king who conquered and exiled Israel.
8) He conquered the Philistines (2 Kings 18:8). Hezekiah was the only king aside from David who was able to defeat the Philistines.
In short, there is little doubt that Hezekiah took King David as his role model and that Scripture regards him as a second David. “And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook…” (2 Kings 18:7) This language is very similar to what is written about David, “In everything he did he had great success, because the LORD was with him.” (1 Samuel 18:14)
Lesson: We don’t have to let a horrible upbringing define or cripple us. We can break the cycle of wickedness. Just because our parents set us a bad example doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Instead, we can choose to do what is right. With God’s help we can accomplish great things even if our background and culture are against us.
II. Appeasement (2 Kings 18:13-16)
Though Hezekiah showed a tremendous commitment to God, he also suffered a crisis of faith. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, invaded and began to re-conquer the territory Hezekiah took in Philistia. Presumably, this was in reaction to Hezekiah’s rebellion against him. How did Hezekiah respond to the invasion?
1) He apologized and offered to pay tribute if Sennacherib would withdraw.
2) He not only emptied the royal treasuries to meet Sennacherib’s demands, he also looted the Temple and even stripped the gold off the Temple doors.
How ironic that the person who restored the Temple and reinstated the Temple worship, is the very one who also looted and stripped it!
Lesson: Serving God faithfully will not prevent trouble from coming. The true test of faith is how we act when confronted by trouble. Will we remain true to the commitment we’ve made and trust God in the midst of our troubles or will we try to get out of our difficulties by using the world’s methods?
Historical Note: The Assyrian records confirm that Sennacherib invaded Philistia and Judah and that Hezekiah paid him tribute.
III. Defiance (2 Chronicles 32:1-8, 30)
Hezekiah soon learned that appeasement doesn’t work. Sennacherib took the gold and silver but did not withdraw. He not only kept up his occupation of the Philistine cities but made preparations to invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem. It’s possible that the tribute Sennacherib received only whetted his appetite for more – surely there must be a lot more in addition to what Hezekiah already paid!
To his credit, Hezekiah seems to have learned his lesson. Instead of meekly caving in to Sennacherib’s demands, he put his faith in God again. In addition he took a number of steps to prepare for the invasion. What did he do?
1) He blocked and diverted water sources so the Assyrians would not have a convenient supply of water.
Historical Note: Hezekiah’s engineers cut a tunnel 1,700 feet long, winding through the rock under Jerusalem to bring the flow from the Gihon spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city. One of the amazing features of this tunnel is that they excavated it from both ends simultaneously and met in the middle. Their engineering was so precise that the two sections were only a few inches off at the join.
2) He repaired the wall of Jerusalem and built additional towers on it.
3) He had large numbers of weapons made.
4) Most importantly, he assured the people that God was far more powerful than anything the Assyrians could possibly muster against them. God would help them and fight their battles.
What was the result of Hezekiah’s speech to the people?
They gained confidence.
Note: Many commentators believe that Isaiah 22:7-11 refers to the preparations Hezekiah made. If they are correct, Hezekiah only turned to God as a last resort. “You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago.” (Isaiah 22:11) If this passage does relate to Hezekiah, it seems that he did have a change of heart because his later actions demonstrate a deep reliance upon God. Other commentators believe that Isaiah 22 is predicting the conditions in Jerusalem some 100 years later, prior to the city’s capture by the Babylonians.
IV. Intimidation (2 Kings 18:17-37, 2 Chronicles 32:9-19, Isaiah 36:1-22)
The Assyrian records state that Sennacherib did send a portion of his army to besiege Jerusalem. However, rather than engage in a costly assault on the defenses, the Assyrian commander tried to intimidate Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem into surrendering. He used a two-part argument. The first was the relative military weakness of Hezekiah. What points did the commander make?
1) It was useless, and even counterproductive, to depend on Egypt for military aid. To do so would end up hurting the Israelites rather than help them.
2) Hezekiah’s military was severely deficient in horses. The commander even offered to give him 2,000 horses to even up the odds!
What was the flaw in this part of the commander’s argument?
We know from 2 Kings 19:9 that the Egyptians did march to fight Sennacherib. The Assyrians had to redeploy their forces to meet the threat. However, neither Kings nor Chronicles indicate that Hezekiah had allied himself with Egypt and asked for help from that quarter. Isaiah, specifically warned the people not to rely on Egyptian chariots instead of seeking help from God (see Isaiah chapter 31). Isaiah also prophesied that the Assyrians would be defeated by supernatural means. Is it possible that Hezekiah was tempted to seek help from Egypt but decided not to after hearing Isaiah’s warning? Is it possible that the Assyrian commander was merely projecting what he would do if the positions were reversed?
Perhaps one of the reasons Hezekiah didn’t have many horses is because he wasn’t relying on them. After all, the Proverbs say, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD . The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.” (Proverbs 21:30-31)
The commander’s second argument had to do with his understanding of God. What did he say about God in order to shake the people’s confidence?
1) God won’t help Hezekiah because Hezekiah is the one who removed God’s high places and forced everyone to worship in Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:22).
2) It is the Lord who told us to invade, so He won’t help you resist us (2 Kings 18:25).
3) No god has ever been able to save his people from us so the Lord won’t be able to save you from us either (2 Kings 18:33-35).
Was the commander’s understanding of God accurate?
1) He didn’t realize that God wanted everyone to worship in Jerusalem. Instead of insulting God by removing the high places, Hezekiah honored God by removing them and destroying the idols people worshiped there.
2) There was a measure of truth in the claim the commander made that God told the Assyrians to invade. God certainly used them to destroy Samaria and send the northern kingdom of Israel into exile. However, Isaiah 10:5-17 indicates that the Assyrians made two fundamental mistakes. The first was to assume that Jerusalem was identical to Samaria. They went far beyond what God intended when they invaded Judah. Secondly, they forgot who was using whom. Instead of recognizing that they were merely an instrument God used to teach Jerusalem a lesson, they thought that they conquered by their own strength and wisdom.
3) The commander made a false equivalence between God and the gods of the nations. He didn’t seem to realize that the Lord is far more than some local deity – that He is the Creator of heaven and earth – and that no nation can prevail against another unless God allows it.
What incentive did the commander give to the people to surrender?
He gave them the choice of surrendering and living, or dying. Though he painted a picture of peaceful prosperity if they surrendered, there was a slight catch to the offer. Surrender-ing also meant exile; they would not be able to stay in their own land (2 Kings 18:31-32).
V. Seeking God (2 Kings 19:1-19, 2 Chronicles 32:20, Isaiah 37:1-20)
What was Hezekiah’s response to the commander’s ultimatum?
1) He tore his clothes and put on sackcloth.
2) He went to the Temple – presumably to pray and ask for God’s help.
3) He sent a delegation to Isaiah to ask him to pray for the people.
Isaiah sent Hezekiah a message of encouragement. He told Hezekiah not to fear – the king of Assyria would eventually withdraw and be assassinated.
Lesson: It doesn’t pay to blaspheme God!
Sennacherib redeployed his army to counter the Egyptians who marched against him. However, that didn’t keep him from making another attempt to intimidate Jerusalem into surrendering. He sent a letter to Hezekiah in which he pointed out that none of the gods of the nations had prevented the Assyrians from conquering and destroying their lands. Therefore it was foolish for Hezekiah to depend on God to save Jerusalem. How did Hezekiah respond?
He again went to the Temple. This time he spread the letter out before the Lord. He pointed out the profound fallacy the Assyrians made by equating God with the deities of the other nations. He asked God for deliverance. Most importantly, he asked God to do it in such a way that all the kingdoms on earth would know that the Lord is God.
Application: Instead of giving a reply to Sennacherib, Hezekiah took the situation to God. We can learn from what he did. Instead of relying on our own wisdom to give an answer or find a solution to the situations we find ourselves in, we ought to seek wisdom and answers from God. In addition, instead of concentrating on how we can save our own hides, our concern should be how God can be glorified through the situation.
VI. The Lord’s Deliverance (2 Kings 19:20-37, 2 Chronicles 32:21-23, Isaiah 37:21-38)
God sent an answer to Hezekiah’s prayer through the prophet Isaiah. There were two parts to the answer. The first was directed at the Assyrians. Though Scripture does not say so, it’s reasonable to assume that Hezekiah had it delivered to Sennacherib. In it God, Himself, addressed the Assyrians’ boasts. The only reason the Assyrians had been able to conquer other lands is that God had planned and ordained it long ago. Instead of the Assyrians being able to manipulate the gods of the people, it was God who was using and manipulating the Assyrians. In return for their blasphemy and their insults, God’s people – the people of Jerusalem – would despise and mock them as they fled.
The second part of God’s answer was for Hezekiah. God would defend Jerusalem. The Assyrians would not enter the city, they would not shoot an arrow there, nor would they build a siege ramp against it. There would be two years of hardship, but in the third year the people would be able to tend their crops as usual.
A plague broke out in the Assyrian camp. 185,000 men died in one night. With such a huge portion of his troops destroyed, Sennacherib had no choice but to retreat back to his capital, Nineveh. There, two of his sons assassinated him while he was worshiping in the temple of his god, Nisroch.
Lesson: God displays His power and glory to us in many ways – often in the very areas where we depend on our own strength. The Assyrians boasted of their military might and ability to conquer others. God demonstrated that He could wipe out their might in an instant. Instead of acknowledging that he was wrong about God, and submitting to God, Sennacherib continued to worship a false god. The result was destruction. We, too, will be destroyed unless we acknowledge and submit ourselves to God.