Today, we’ll hear about King Hezekiah of Judah, an ancestor of Jesus. He’s one of the most prominent kings in the book of 2 Kings, and three whole chapters are devoted to him. The book of 2 Chronicles also records his reign. You might be happy to hear that, for a change, this king is actually a good king! We’ll be skipping chapters 13 to 17 of 2 Kings, so let’s turn to chapter 18.
One major challenge in King Hezekiah’s life was when the Assyrian nation lay siege against his capital city, Jerusalem. This happened around 700 BC. We’ll read about this enemy who appeared at King Hezekiah’s gate. And at the end, I’d like to reflect on the question, “Who is the enemy at your gate?” and how we might respond to that enemy.
First, let’s read chapter 18 verses 1-4, which introduces Hezekiah.
[Read 2 Kings 18:1-4, Japanese only for readings] Hezekiah was known for restoring the practices of worshiping God at the temple in Jerusalem. This had been neglected by past kings. If you want to know more, you can read about it in 2 Chronicles chapters 29-31. But besides his religious reforms the writer of 2 Kings praises him for another important thing. Let’s read about this in the next few verses.
[Read 2 Kings 18:5-8] Verse 5 is high praise, and is worth repeating: “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.”
Verses 9-12 tell us about the upheaval and chaos that was happening around Hezekiah. Shalmaneser king of Assyria defeated the nation of Israel, which was Hezekiah’s neighbor, and exiled many Israelites. Recall that a few centuries earlier, the 12 tribes of Israel had split into two nations, called Israel and Judah—and Hezekiah was the current king of Judah. Israel had a series of kings that got worse and worse; they worshipped idols instead of the one true God. So the Assyrian conquest was God’s judgment on Israel for not obeying His laws.
As we read earlier, Hezekiah was considered a good king overall, one who trusted in God. And yet, the Assyrian army came to his doorstep as well. Though Hezekiah was righteous, he was not free of troubles. Let’s read verse 13: “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them.”
How did he respond? Well, as verses 14 to 16 record, even a good king can falter in his trust of God. Hezekiah got scared and gave in to Assyria’s intimidation. He paid a tribute of silver and gold, even stripping gold of the doors of the Lord’s temple in order to appease Assyria.
But you know what? The king of Assyria wasn’t satisfied. He decided to attack Jerusalem anyway. `Let’s read verses 17 to 20.
[2 Kings 18:17-20] And then in verses 23-24, the Assyrian commander boasts of their superior strength.
[2 Kings 18:23-24] The top officials of Judah are frightened by the Assyrian’s speech.
[2 Kings 18:26-27] But he’s not done intimidating them. Let’s hear the rest of his declaration, which he directs to the people of Judah listening on the walls of Jerusalem. Verses 31-37:
[2 Kings 18:31-37] Assyria was a bully and their aim was to strike fear in the hearts of Hezekiah’s people. What happens next is covered in chapter 19, which we will read next month.
Fear, one of our greatest enemies
For today, I’d like to reflect on the times we may feel like Hezekiah and his people: faced with a great enemy or challenge, aware of our weakness, tempted by an easy way out, or doubting if God will help us.
Who is the enemy at your gate? One I can think of for myself is “fear”. I believe fear is an enemy who has come to our gate at different times of our life. If you look back on some of the biggest challenges of your life, how many of them involved fear?—fear that something bad will happen, or that something good won’t happen.
Recently, what everyone is fearful about is the coronavirus situation all across the world. I won’t say that everything is going to be fine. Jesus himself says that in this world we will face troubles of all kinds. Certainly, there are steps we need to take to curb the spread of the virus.
However, the Christian posture is not one filled with anxiety. It is one thing to prepare with urgency and to be careful, but it is not Christ-like to be reacting with panic. What that tells us is that if Jesus is our focus, there is no room for us to be afraid. The Bible tells us time and time again to not be afraid. Jesus says that there is only one whom we should be afraid of, God who is capable of throwing the body and soul into hell. But we should not be afraid of that since, having been rescued by Christ, nothing can separate us from the love of God.
If fear isn’t our response to the coronavirus situation, then what is? When we realize that Jesus is with us today and tomorrow, we have no need to worry about the future. Knowing this sets us free to focus on practicing the disciplines of prayer, praise, petition, and lament that help us to see Jesus in our own sufferings and to place our trust in him. We can also anticipate the needs of those around us, especially those who are especially vulnerable to the disease, and see how best we can serve them.
Coming back to the text, the Assyrian commander’s speech really makes me think of Satan, because this is the way he talks to us. The Devil says, “You are nothing. Your situation is hopeless. No help is coming.” Or if we are faced with a compromise, the Devil says, “Why don’t you just take the easy way?”
The Assyrian commander kept saying again and again, “Don’t trust in the Lord. He won’t deliver you!” Satan is smarter than that. Often he doesn’t even bring up the subject of God. He prefers that we didn’t remember God at all and keep us focused on the problem. He likes to make use of our fear.
1 Peter 5:8 says this of the devil, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, and stand firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.” In the same chapter, verse 7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.”
Asking God for help
We may have read many stories in the Bible about God rescuing his people. And yet we can still lack assurance that God will really help us. We may have forgotten about many times God did answer our prayer in the past. That’s why it’s important to not only ask God for help but to watch carefully for his answer. After time has passed, we ask, “How did God answer my prayer?” And after recognizing God’s decision, we respond with reflection and thanksgiving.
At times that waiting period is long. Sometimes we can do is cry for mercy and just wait. And meanwhile, we resolve not to let our fears grow. Rather, we fix our minds on the love of our heavenly Father. Again, as 1 Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you.” We resolve to believe that God has heard our prayer and will answer in his wise way and wise timing.
You don’t have to wait for a big crisis like Hezekiah’s to ask for God’s help. As a Father cares for small matters in his children’s lives, so God cares about small matters in your life. It can be something as common as a fever.
Last month, our baby had her first fever. As young parents, we were panicking. She’s not sleeping! She’s crying all the time! She’s drinking even less! I’m sure you can understand: When you are sleep-deprived and this is your first time taking care of a baby, a fever is a big deal. So I thank God for helping us survive her first fever. Later God also answered our prayer for Sophie to accept milk from her mother again, and He did this in an unexpected time and way.
Jesus has won the war
Remember that while we are constantly battling with Satan, Christ has defeated the devil and set us free from fear. The Hebrews chapter 2 verses 14-15, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
The cross became God’s way to undo the powers of Satan and to bring freedom for humanity from sin, death, and fear. There is no need for the Christians to be afraid of demonic forces in the world or to let fear grip us when we hear bad news.
The Devil may be a prowling lion, but he is on a leash. While he may attempt to bring us down in small battles, he has lost the greater war against God and his time is short. Likewise our world and its sufferings will not go on without end. When Jesus returns again, as he has promised, he will bring an end to all that causes fear. He will deliver us into God’s renewed and perfect world.
Yes, we are small but our God is mighty and compassionate. Today, we each still have our small battles, but God has won the greater war. And he is leading us to a future that is good, because it is a future with a loving God who cares for us.
As for Hezekiah, he went through dark times but the dawn of God’s deliverance would always come to him. Look forward to seeing how God delivers Hezekiah from Assyria in chapter 19, which we will look at next month.
I want to leave you with the words of King Hezekiah, recorded not in 2 Kings but in 2 Chronicles 32:7. During the siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah said to his people: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.”
So who is the enemy at your gate today? Will you ask the Lord to help you and wait for his answer? I pray you will experience the Lord’s strength and love for you.