Sunday, June 20, 2010

Satan’s Schemes

In this week’s chapter we find the people of God in the midst of a crisis. The land has been invaded by Assyria, the bully, and it has been very successful. One by one, all the cities of Judah are falling before the Assyrian armies. Jerusalem has not fallen, but as we’ll see it’s next on Assyria’s list. Before I read the chapter let me provide a little who’s who. First, King Ahaz, whom we’ve encountered in previous chapters, has died. It is his son, Hezekiah, who now rules Judah. Sennacherib is the king of Assyria and leading the invasion. While he is busy elsewhere in Judah, he has sent his representative, the Rabshakeh (that’s his title not his name), to Jerusalem. Hezekiah also sends his representatives, Eliakim, Shebna and Joah. Much of the chapter is the record of the conversation between the Rabshakeh and these three men in the fields outside the walls of Jerusalem.

We’ll dip into chapter 37 before we’re done today, but for now I’ll just read Isaiah 36.

Let me set the scene. Here comes the Rabshakeh to Jerusalem, along with a big army. And what’s his goal? He wants to take Jerusalem quickly, without a long siege. He wants Hezekiah simply to surrender. So, what does he do? He tells Hezekiah’s representatives the truth. He presents a list of facts that everyone can see are true. First fact: the failure of Egypt. ‘Behold, you are trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.’ Or translated: ‘Are you expecting your ally Egypt to help you now? Well, where are they? They’re not here, are they? Depending on them hasn’t worked.’ Second fact: Hezekiah’s army is tiny. ‘Let’s make a deal. I’ll give you two thousand horses and create a cavalry for you if you can produce two thousand men to ride them. But you don’t have two thousand men, do you? In fact, you don’t have enough men to beat even one battalion of my army.’ The third fact is for the soldiers manning the wall: an opportunity to live well and not die in battle. ‘The king of Assyria offers you a nice plot of land where you can live in peace if you surrender now. It won’t be here in Judah, but it will be good. Just come out from the city and I’ll make it all work out so well for you.’ He says this to men who are, in his words, ‘doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine’. That might be a little exaggerated, but not much. And it does remind them that if there is a siege it isn’t going to be any fun. Now, bear in mind that everything that the Rabshakeh has said is the truth. Egypt isn’t any help, despite its promises. There are so few against so many. Surrender will result in a very pleasant life elsewhere instead of a terrible death. All true and everyone knows it.

The Rabshakeh isn’t done. He even plays the religion card. He says three more things. Here’s the first. ‘But if you say to me, "We trust in the LORD our God," is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, "You shall worship before this altar"?’ Here, the Rabshakeh is suggesting that the God of Jerusalem might not respond so favorably since Hezekiah has closed down some of the places of worship. He’s thinking like a good pagan. The gods are just like us. More is better than less. So, Judah’s God can’t be very happy with Hezekiah’s program to limit worship only to Jerusalem. Then, there’s the Rabshakeh’s second response. ‘Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.’” Now, this is interesting because what he’s doing is using – or better, misusing – something that Isaiah had actually preached. Back in chapter 10 Isaiah delivered these words from Jesus. ‘Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.’ This is one of Isaiah’s sermons about Jesus’ punishment of His wandering people, Judah, whom He labels ‘the godless nation’. So, the Rabshakeh is saying, ‘Didn’t one of your prophets predict that we’d show up? We’re here with the blessing of Jesus. Your God has sent us!’ Then, there is one more. ‘Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, "The LORD will deliver us."’ That is, of course, what Hezekiah will say. So, the Rabshakeh anticipates that with this comment. ‘Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’” And it was a fact that Assyria had conquered all these nations – and all their gods. It is noteworthy that he includes Samaria, the northern kingdom of Israel. The Rabshakeh is warning them, ‘Don’t expect your god to do any better.’

Keep clearly in mind that everything that the Rabshakeh said was true.

How does King Hezekiah respond? There is a lot to gain from Hezekiah’s response, but if we’re going to get it we need to pause here. We need to step back and take a careful look at the situation. What’s going on? What do we have here? If some folk were to read this, they would say that we have a geo-political situation from the pages of history. Then, there are those who would remember that this is in the Bible so there must be something spiritual going on. So, maybe there’s a moral to be found here. But neither of these really gets it. If you are going to really grasp what’s happening you need to place it in the right context. You need to interpret the situation biblically. The Bible is not about politics nor is it about morals. The Bible is about redemption. That has lots of implications for things like politics and morals, but you’ve got to get first things first. The Bible, and this situation in the life of Judah, is about redemption. Or let me say it this way. What we have here is another chapter in the history of Jesus rescuing a people for Himself. This is another battle in the war whose roots go back to the Garden. It’s the seed of the serpent against the seed of the woman. The world against the Church. Satan against Jesus. That’s what the whole Bible is about and that’s what Isaiah chapter 36 is about. And when you see it this way, then Hezekiah isn’t some strange, historical figure you have no connection with, dealing with some curious situation that has nothing to do with you. Hezekiah is fighting the same war that you are fighting. He is part of the same army that you are a part of, the Church of Jesus. He is one of ‘us’. That’s how you need to read the Bible. It’s the history of ‘us’, Jesus and His Church, against ‘them’, Satan and his realm. It’s the history of the Church against the world. It’s the people of God in a life and death struggle against Satan and those with him.

Once you see this situation in the right context certain questions arise. So, for example, we ask, ‘How did Satan fight this battle? What were his tactics? What strategies did he employ?’ And we ask those questions because we know that he does have tactics and that he will use them against us. Studying the Bible, you see, is something like taking a class at the army’s War College. That’s where military leaders study the tactics and strategies of past battles to prepare for the battles of the future. We also study tactics and strategies of past battles as we prepare for our future battles against Satan. This isn’t just a quaint illustration. Scripture doesn’t use the language of tactics and strategies, but it does talk about Satan’s schemes and designs. Different words, same idea. Life is warfare and every day is lived on a battlefield.

In our text Satan is attacking the people of God. He is using the Assyrians, just as in Moses’ day he used the Egyptians and in David’s day he used the Philistines. His goal is clear. He wants to obliterate the children of Abraham. If there is no ‘people of God’ then there will be no Jesus. And if there will be no Jesus then he has won the war. So, plan A is to get them to surrender after which he will send them away from Judah, a few here and a few there. Then they will be assimilated into whatever culture they live in and that’s the end of the people of God. Or if they refuse to surrender there’s always plan B. He’ll just kill them all. Either way, destroy Israel and there can be no Jesus.

So, back to our questions. ‘How did Satan fight this battle? What were his tactics? What strategies did he employ?’ Notice how shrewd his strategy is. He tells them the truth. Everything the Rabshakeh said was true. It’s hard to argue against someone if all he does is tell you the truth. What cunning! This enemy is impressive. Bear in mind that Satan does the same thing today. He attacks with the truth. How many today are slaves to their bank accounts and anxious about their futures because Satan has whispered some truth in their ears? ‘Lots of people have lost their jobs. Even some Godly Christians are really struggling now because they are unemployed. Caring for a family takes a good bit of money. Having a fat savings account will help you pay the bills if you lose your job.’ All of that is true. But living according to those truths leads to anxiety and worry – which are just different words for fear. And that’s what Satan wanted Hezekiah to do. He wanted to lead him into fear. When a person is afraid he will either freeze and do nothing, paralyzed by his fear, or he will rush about trying to do anything and everything in order to conquer his fear. This is what Satan is doing with Hezekiah. And this is a scheme, a tactic, that he still uses today. Tell them the truth so that they will fear. And out of that fear he wants us to give up. That will show as being downcast, discouraged or even despairing. These are different ways in which we say, ‘I cannot win this battle. Why try? I give up.’ Or failing to discourage us he will want our fear to have us rushing about, agitated within, until we exhaust ourselves and then are easily picked off. His schemes do not change. They are all recorded in the Bible. We need to study to learn his tactics so that we can defend ourselves well. War college.

Now we’re ready to consider how Hezekiah responded and defeated Satan. Listen as I read the first half of chapter 37.

What did Hezekiah do? He went into the house of the LORD and prayed. That is, He drew near to Jesus and talked to Him about the situation. It is very important that you understand that this is not something that is reserved for crisis moments. If you do not talk to Jesus about the little things of life, then you will not talk to Him about the big things. When a crisis hits we all resort to what is familiar, to our habits. If talking to Jesus about the little stuff is your habit then you’ll talk to him about the big stuff. But if that isn’t your habit, then however you deal with the little stuff will be the way that you deal with the big stuff. To be sure, lots of people pray when a crisis hits, but what is that but the frenetic activity of a heart overcome with fear, a heart that is rushing about doing anything and everything including being religious. But that is not drawing near to Jesus. Hezekiah drew near.

Then there’s the next thing Hezekiah did, or rather didn’t do. He wasn’t suckered by Satan’s list of facts, of things that were true. He didn’t debate them or even refer to them. He knew that they were true. He simply added another fact, something else that was true. Listen again to his prayer. ‘O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you – and you alone – are the God of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. … Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed.’ To whom was Hezekiah talking? To the only true God. And this God is the Creator who is enthroned as King. He rules over all the nations. Today, ‘everyone knows’ that there is only one God. But in Hezekiah’s day that was a radical thought. No one believed that – except saints like Hezekiah. Back then ‘everyone knew’ that each nation had its own god, and the stronger gods defeated the weaker ones. Hezekiah knew better. He knew the truth that there is only one God. And that truth provided the right context to understand all the facts that the Rabshakeh listed. He only gave some of the facts and that twisted the truth. That’s an old trick of Satan. Hezekiah completed the list and that made such a difference. Hezekiah knew more of the truth and that was a protection against Satan’s strategy.

You need to know the truth, more and more of the truth. Satan will try the same strategy on you – telling you part of the truth – but it won’t always be the truth of monotheism that he will conveniently leave out. You’ll need to figure out which aspect of the truth he has omitted so that you can see the whole truth and defeat our ancient foe. Victory or defeat hangs in the balance.

There is one loose end I’d like to tie up. This involves the twisted application of Isaiah’s message about Assyria being sent by Jesus. Remember how the Rabshakeh said, ‘Didn’t one of your prophets predict that we’d show up? We’re here with the blessing of Jesus. Your God has sent us!’ Was that really true? Well, Isaiah did say that in chapter ten. This is where it gets really astounding. You need to remember chapter six where Jesus condemns Judah for their unfaithfulness. It was time for punishment and so He sent Isaiah with his commission. Hezekiah knows this. He does not appeal to Jesus based on how good he and the rest of Judah have been. And you can see this in how he names God, ‘O LORD, our God’. That really should be translated ‘O Yahweh, our God’. Yahweh is God’s name like Leon is my name. And God has tied His name to His covenant love for His people. Go back to the burning bush for that. But Hezekiah piles it on and adds ‘our God’. This is a reminder of God’s summary of His covenant with His people: ‘I will be your God and you will be My people’. All of this is important because Hezekiah knows that Yahweh should destroy Judah. They have been rebellious and have broken the covenant time after time after time. That’s what Isaiah’s ministry is all about. And he did preach that Assyria was being sent as punishment. But Hezekiah is asking that Yahweh respond according to His covenant love. Hezekiah is asking for grace. ‘Do not treat us as we deserve, but rescue us according to Your kind grace.’ And this is important for all of you to remember because another of Satan’s tactics is to tell you that you don’t deserve any good from Jesus. ‘You, a sinner, praying! He won’t listen to you! Don’t you remember what you did just this morning?’ Hezekiah, aware of his unworthiness, asks for grace. ‘So now, O Yahweh, our God, save us from his hand…’ Jesus heard this prayer and He acted. He saved Judah from Assyria. And He did that because that’s what He does. Jesus saves sinners; not righteous people but sinners. He saves them from their sins, He saves them from divine justice, and He saves them from their enemies. Jesus saves sinners. Hezekiah, the sinner, drew near to Jesus, prayed and was answered. And in this way he responded well to another of Satan’s schemes and won the battle.

We are all in a war. That is what life is all about. The seed of the serpent against the seed of the woman. The world against the Church. Satan against Jesus. Sometimes it’s a bunch of little skirmishes and sometimes it’s a huge battle. Satan is real, and he is out to defeat you and destroy you. And he can do it. Don’t be fooled. Attend the Bible War College. Get to know his tactics. And work at the habit of drawing near to Jesus for the little things.

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