In the still of the night, we may hear the voice of doubt and fear echoing in our soul. The stomach reacts with a sick feeling. A litany of anguish burns within. When will daylight drive away the demons of the night?
As I was reading about Hezekiah, I kept thinking of these voices. The armies of Assyria assembled outside the gates Jerusalem, sounding terror into the hearts of the people. Destruction loomed over the city. The people trembled.
“Who could he trust in the witching hour?”
Rabshakeh threatened and seduced the people of Judah at the same time, “Thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die.”
He mocks the Lord alongside the gods of other nations,
“33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’ ”
The weight of the kingdom pressures King Hezekiah. Overwhelmed by the doubt and fear that sound across his besieged land, he tears his clothes, covers himself in ashes, and waits upon the Lord. Though he knows the terror of the moment, he doesn’t send for Egypt or seek to make amends with Assyria, he waits for the Lord.
The terror of Rabshakeh may remind us of the looming threats in our world. Finances, job situations, family anguish, health problems, bad decisions, mistakes, and the problems around the world may haunt us. How do we learn to trust the Lord in spite of our own deep sense of weakness?
Again and again, the kings of Judah and Israel trusted in the powers around them, the gods of the land and air and mountains. Throughout the Old Testament, we see a pattern of how idolatry devastates a people. By seeking control through the local powers around them, they fall into slavery, lose their identity, and become oppressors and the oppressed.
This pattern of destruction is seen directly in the land of Egypt. Egypt is a land of plenty: a giant Cedar that shelters the birds of the air (to use Ezekiel’s language). Egypt has learned the art of controlling the world around it. You will have food to eat and may even prosper, but you will be enslaved. Everyone is a slave in Egypt even Pharaoh. He must play a prescribed role. The system of control that shapes his entire culture controls him as much as it does the rest of the people.
This idolatry, this system of twisted power is the real threat facing Hezekiah. Trust in the Lord alone, or seek control through the gods of the land and fall back into slavery, into nothingness. In our post-enlightenment world, we claim that we no longer believe in God let alone in gods. Yet, it is not hard to see how systems of power enslave us, dehumanize us, and turn us into the oppressed and the oppressors.
We are still idolaters at heart. We just don’t call our idols gods. As we face the dark fears that often loom on the horizon, we want some type of control to keep the threat at bay. In our desire for control, we can turn any created thing thing into an idol. Just as ancient culture turned the sun into a god, we may turn our politics, our money, our knowledge, our health, our technique, our technology and even our theology into idols that we hope will restore control, keeping us safe, entertained and well fed.
I am reminded of the new song sounding forth in Psalm 96.
Oh sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
As the song echoes through the land, the gods of the nations are exposed as idols or nothingness as in no power:
4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
As Hezekiah lifts his voice to the Lord, he turns away from Assyria and Egypt (as an ally against Assyria). He knows the Lord is free to save or not save Israel, but he also knows that the Lord is faithful to His people and full of lovingkindess. The gods that threaten are nothingness. The issue is not whether the Lord will rescue Israel in this moment, but if the Hezekiah will trust in the Lord.
Our ability to trust feels so very weak. Sometimes rehearsing stories can help us remember the Faithful One. Stories resound within us. Stories like the Exodus, David and Goliath, Hezekiah with his back against the wall, and Job stripped of everything. We remember the God who is faithful even after death, raising Jesus above all power and given the name above every name.
We are learning to fall back into the hands of the Lord. The fury of Rabshakeh will seek to threaten us, seduce us, and call us to trust in the powers of the age. By God’s grace alone, we learn to let go of our control, our strength, our confidences. We are learning trust in weakness, life in death. We are learning to look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, knowing that despite our fears and doubts our Lord is faithful and His faithfulness extends into the darkness of death and beyond.
Image by fluffisch (on flickr). Used by permission via Creative Commons.