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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 7:21 pm    Post subject: Miracles Reply with quote

One of the great leadership moments in biblical history is Hezekiah’s trust in Yahweh during Assyrian King Sennacherib’s siege of Judah in 701 B.C. It takes place during the most well attested historical confrontation in Old Testament history, recorded in three books of the Bible (2 Kings 18-19, Isaiah 36-37, and 2 Chronicles 32), three Neo-Assyrian sources (written and pictorial), and reflected in several remarkable archaeological remains – including the famous “Hezekiah’s tunnel.” Here’s the background…

The Northern Kingdom had been ravaged in an earlier Assyrian assault. Judah was spared, feeling sure that Yahweh would never let Zion fall into enemy hands. But as the end of the 8th century B.C. came to a close, Sennacherib had taken many of Judah’s fortified cities and was gloating that Hezekiah was “trapped like a bird in a cage” in Jerusalem. While sealing the fate of Lachish, he sent an emissary to taunt the Israelites listening on the wall, “On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” (Isa 36:2), reminding them of the other nations whose gods had failed to protect them from the great king of Assyria.

Hezekiah’s response was to tear his clothes and go directly to prayer in the temple of the Lord. Knowing that ridiculing Judah’s faith was mocking their God, he went expecting something from heaven. Isaiah sent word that, yes, Yahweh had heard the insulting words and would indeed humble this posturing pretender. In a supernatural intervention, an angel of the Lord put to death 180,000 men and Sennacherib withdrew. Another amazing biblical miracle designed to arouse recognition of God’s power among his people and their enemies. Another answer to a faithful leader’s prayer.

I’d like to make two observations about Hezekiah’s miracle in this month’s reflection. First, Hezekiah did more than pray. Archaeological remains reveal amazing detail of his activity at this time: organizing a ring of fortified cities around Jerusalem, stocking them with newly minted royal (lmlk) supply jars, building walls in Jerusalem, protecting its water supply (the Gihon spring) with his famous tunnel 1200 cubits long, and making weapons (cf. 2 Chr 32:1ff). While Sennacherib was destroying the outer limits of the Judean kingdom, Hezekiah was aggressively preparing for siege. His “faith” would never be mistaken for passivity.

Second, Hezekiah’s miracle did not keep him from deprivation, devastation, and death. In 2 Kgs 18:11ff we read of Hezekiah’s capitulation to Sennacherib. He stripped the palace and temple of their gold and silver to appease the approaching king. In Sennacherib’s records he notes the destruction of forty-six fortified cities and the taking not only of Hezekiah’s forced tribute, but also of his servants and daughters. Sennacherib reporst taking over 200,000 exiles from Judah and countless animals, leaving the land with the sound of mourning widows, orphaned children, the sight of smoke, and the stench of death.

I lay “the rest of the story” alongside the biblical record because it helps put in perspective what kind of a miracle this was. God answered Hezekiah’s prayer and spared the city of Jerusalem from what would otherwise have been a successful siege and complete destruction. God’s people were miraculously protected by the angel of the Lord. But this protection would surely have felt less than comprehensive to those who watched their cities burned and looted by pagans, to women who watched their soldiers impaled on stakes, many who also suffered rape, to men shackled half-naked and driven into exile with whips. Judah survived like many survive cancer. We praise God for victory but often grieve heavy, permanent losses. Hezekiah led his people bravely through such a battle, working strategically and trusting God wholeheartedly. Still, he was a wounded man leading a wounded country.

The Bible describes a wide array of miracles, many absolutely breathtaking in their completeness. Occasionally we witness such miracles. Other times we experience God’s deliverance, but with severe losses, and we need time to recover from the devastation.

I picture Isaiah standing next to Hezekiah on one of Jerusalem’s walls on the day the Assyrians left. This huge menacing army has suddenly packed up to go home. Dust fills the air as they march away. I see this leader look up to heaven with awe and relief. But I also see on his face the signs of weariness from the efforts to resist the enemy, the sense of responsibility for loss of life and limb, the prospect of a crippled state in need of massive rebuilding, now without men or money. I see a father wondering if he would see his own daughters again.

Yes, Isaiah, God showed up in a mighty way today. But I still need some time to grieve.
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