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Christ as the Fourth Man in the Fire/Persecution

7 Jun

4th man in the fire

Read Daniel chapter 3

“Look,” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Daniel 3:25

We all have to die somehow. As an Oncology Nurse, I’ve seen more death than I care to. And while, as Christians, we don’t ultimately fear “crossing over to the other side”, I must admit, sometimes I do fear the process of dying itself. Whether from illness or accident, death can hurt. I’m not a fan of hurting. Worse than that are the violent deaths, like drowning or burning, or being murdered. Worse still, is being tortured and then killed.

Yes, a morbid subject, and yet it’s been the path of many believers on their way to Heaven. This story in Daniel intrigued me from the first time I heard it as a child. The three men; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel’s friends, were living in exile in Babylon, in a pagan dictatorship, run by a megalomaniac. Nebuchadnezzar builds an image (probably of himself) 90 feet tall.

He then summons 8 groups of officials to attend the dedication (vs. 2), and because he is all-powerful, it says, “So,” all 8 groups gather together (vs 3). Then a herald cries out to everyone, described as “all peoples, nations, and languages.” (vs. 4)

It’s not enough that people admire it; he insists that everyone falls down and worships it. Failure to do so was easy to spot. The music played, and wherever you were, you dropped. The particular combination of instruments in symphony would play, and that would be the cue. (vs 5) The consequences of disobedience were spelled out quite clearly (vs.6) It was immediate, it was painful, and it was irreversible. It seemed to work for most people. It says, “So…when they heard the music, all peoples, nations, and languages fell down and worshiped the gold image.” (vs 7)
Kind of like the Nazi salute; if your arm didn’t snap up when they said, “Heil Hitler”, you were suspect. Or flying the rainbow flag these days. First of all, what other group gets such a privilege? They used to ask if they could put it on the flagpole. Now they put it up and dare you to take it down. Sounds like bullying to me.

If you don’t, there are always some keeners watching, so they could report to the authorities, and thereby improve their own standing. In this case, it was “certain Chaldeans (Babylonians) who came and accused the Jews.” (vs 8)

Like most believers or other influential people from history, the people we remember most are those who did the hard things. They swam upstream. They were the minority, think of Martin Luther for example. He said he felt as if all men were born blind and he alone was condemned to see. Here in the book of Daniel we see that Daniel kneels to pray when everyone else is standing, and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stand when everyone else is kneeling. That’s counter cultural!

Christianity itself is counter-cultural. Believers have never been the majority. Think of the 70 family members of Jacob’s family heading down to Egypt, or the eight people in Noah’s family. That’s a minority!

Their accusation begins with praise for the king, a reminder of the law he just made, including the consequences, and then finger pointing at “certain Jews” who were in prominent positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s government. So certain Chaldeans pointed the finger at certain Jews. Were they hoping to get their positions once they were out of the way? It wouldn’t be the first time such a thing has happened.
Nebuchadnezzar is furious. It says, “in rage and fury” he gave the command. And once again, what he commands is done. “So they were brought before the king.” (vs. 13)

He asks his first question, incredulous, “Is it true?” that they would dare defy the royal command? Just in case there was some misunderstanding, he offers a second chance. He’ll have them start the music again and watch them fall down and worship. They could still undo the charge against them. He even challenges God’s power, by threatening them again with the fiery furnace. He asks his second question, “And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” Who, indeed? This reminds me of Pharaoh saying, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?” Ex. 5:1

For these three men, standing out would have been scary, especially when you are well aware of the consequences. I can read this story and admire these men and hope I could do the same, and wonder if I could. You see their boldness before the King, and their confidence in God, either to protect them or not, but they will not yield. God may protect His people, and is able to do so, but we should be obedient regardless of the consequences. Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

I love their bold response: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’” Dan. 3:16-18

They say, we don’t need another opportunity. The response will be the same. They are confident that God is ABLE to deliver them from both the fire and the king, BUT IF NOT, they would not cave, even to save their lives.

I’ve seen a vanity licence plate that said, BUTIFNOT, which automatically put this story in my mind. Also, during the bloody battle of Dieppe during WWII, in which many British and Canadian soldiers were killed, they were sent a message, asking how they were doing. Their response? “But if not…” It was understood by those receiving it, that they would stand their ground, even if it meant they could lose their lives.

So Nebuchadnezzar, even more furious now, orders the furnace to be heated seven times hotter. He’ll show them. No one dares defy the king. For the third time, we see “certain men”, this time mighty men in the king’s army. They bind the three men and approach the furnace. (vs 20,21) However, the plan backfires, pardon the pun (vs.22)

What was going through their minds as they were bound up and thrown into the blazing hot furnace? I can only imagine.

Yet here we see that God does two things: He miraculously preserves their lives, and He is there in the midst of their ‘fiery trial’ with them. Usually it’s one or the other.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” Isa. 43:2

Because he was so furious, he actually personally attended this execution. But now Nebuchadnezzar isn’t furious, he’s astonished. He asks a third question. “’Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? Look, he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.’” Daniel 3:25

Who is this fourth man? And what was there about Him, I wonder that made Him stand out? Even in the midst of the fire, was He even more glorious? Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan King, seemed to recognize Him. He is our Saviour and Comforter. Whatever we suffer, He suffers with us. And He is able to deliver. Our God is Mighty to save. He will likewise be with us through our journey to the other side, no matter what we may suffer.

I wonder how the Jews can read this and not get that this Messiah they’re waiting for is also called the Son of God in the Old Testament.

Now Nebuchadnezzar comes near and talks to these men. “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out and come here.” He doesn’t know God’s name, but he does recognize His power, calling Him the Most High God.

Then the officials come near to see for themselves, and they are amazed that “the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed, nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them.” (vs 27) The very definition of unscathed. This answered Nebuchadnezzar’s question of who was able to deliver them from his hands.

Then he goes farther, and forbids anyone (any people, nation, or language) from serving or worshipping any god but their God. This would have been a huge change in their culture. The reason was because this God, who sent His Angel, and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, has frustrated the king’s word, by yielding their bodies. He was impressed with them and their God. His decree included severe penalties for speaking against this God because “there is no other God who can deliver like this.” (vs 28,29) This does not mean that He was converted, as we see later on in the book of Daniel, but just that He recognized the power of this God and thought He deserved the respect of not being maligned.

He then promotes the men. So these Chaldean men who thought they’d soon get new jobs by getting rid of the competition, were probably fearing for more than just their careers.

The tide has turned against Christian believers in the West very rapidly in the past few years. For all their talk of tolerance, they’re not very tolerant of us. For all their talk of diversity, they don’t appreciate that we are part of that diversity. For all their anti-bullying talk, they bully us. I can foresee several watershed issues on the horizon for the church. What’s a watershed issue? It’s like the peak of a mountain. When it rains the water flows down either side. Whether it’s gay marriage or gender issues, or women in Pastoral roles, we will need to take a stand. And whichever way we choose, there will be consequences. Our good old days are nearing the end. We may soon join the rest of the world where Christians have been suffering and paying for their faith with their lives.

I recently read a fictional series called The Seven Trilogy, set in Canada in the near future. It was written by Sara Davison. In it Bibles were outlawed as hate literature. Not as far-fetched as you’d think. It’s terrifyingly plausible. It made me want to hide a few Bibles just in case.

What is your feeling about persecution? Does the idea excite you in some strange way? Do you feel like saying, Bring it on! Or do you dread it, fearing you won’t be courageous? I’m a bit of a chicken, myself. I can only pray that when the time comes, I’ll be found faithful. A comforting verse is Matthew 10:19 “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak.”

Prayer- “Lord, persecution and death seem remote to us. We live in freedom and ease. If or when we are called to walk that path, don’t leave us. Be our comforter; our sustainer. Give us courage to stand for You unashamed, regardless of the consequences. In Jesus’ name. Amen”

Questions- Do you find that you conform in a difficult situation, rather than stand your ground, in order to avoid punishment? It’s been said that unless you have something worth dying for, you have nothing to live for.

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death.” C.S. Lewis

Do you feel prepared for death? What do you fear about death, if anything?

Response- Research Voice of the Martyrs. Read some of the accounts of persecuted believers. Pray for them. Consider sending a monetary gift or purchasing one of their books.

Jesus is the King of Glory in the book of Psalms

6 Apr

glory

“Who is this King of Glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory.” Psalm 24:10

Glory is a word often heard in Christian circles. It’s everywhere in Scripture. Every time we hear the Christmas account, we hear about the message to the shepherds, “And behold, an angel of the LORD stood before them, and the glory of the LORD shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.” Luke 2: 9 and soon after the heavenly host were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:14 We even hear the word in catechisms, which are a question and answer form in which to learn doctrine. “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

We think we understand it based on its context, but most of us would be hard put to give it a dictionary definition. Marino Vereecke says of it, “Glory is one of those things better illustrated than defined; better experienced than explained.”

That’s because, like other theological words such as justification and sanctification, they carry a different sense or meaning depending on the context.

There are two senses of the word glory—radiance and honour.

We see the idea of radiance in the verse about the glory of God shining on the shepherds. This blinding light is seen in the effect on Moses’ face when he descends from the mountain after having seen God (Ex. 34:29), and in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain (Matt. 17:2), to the bright light that blinded Paul for three days on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3, 9) to the description of Jesus in Rev.1:16 “His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” Also, heaven has no created light. Rev. 21:23 says,“The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.”

Glory also carries the idea of honour, weightiness or significance. We see this in the command to the shepherds to give, “Glory to God in the highest.” Here we see it could not mean we are to give radiance to God, but that we should hold Him in the highest esteem because of Who He is and what He has done.

There is an incidence in both the Old and New Testaments which show us both aspects of the word, glory in a narrative.

In the New Testament account of the transfiguration, these two ideas are linked. The disciples see His glory, as the veil of His flesh is pulled back to reveal Who He really is. This follows with a command to, “Hear Him,” because He is the Beloved Son with Whom the Father is well pleased. To hear also gives the idea of hearing and obeying. We are to obey the words of Jesus over all others by nature of Who He is. This was to correct Peter’s mistaken notion that demoted Jesus to the same level as Moses and Elijah. See Matt. 17, and Luke 9 to read about the transfiguration.

John recalls this event as he is writing his gospel. Not only is he an eye-witness of Jesus’ ministry, he says, in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In the Old Testament, in Exodus 33:12 to 34:8, we have another event recorded which also carries both senses of the word, glory. Thus far in the Exodus from Egypt, God revealed His glory through miracles. Now Moses makes a bold request; he wants to see God’s glory. But God tells him he cannot see His face and live. Our mortal bodies were not meant for that. He provides a way to give Moses a glimpse, as He passes by, while Moses is in a safe place, provided by God Himself, and sheltered by God Himself. The interesting thing is that not only does Moses see the radiance of God’s glory, but He is shown the glory of the LORD, in His character. He reveals His name:

“And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.’” Ex. 34:6, 7

So we see in both the transfiguration account and this account of the glory of God revealed to Moses that the word can relate to either radiance, honour, or both.

There are instances in Scripture where glory does not relate to God, but to lesser things, such as the creation itself, (Psalm 19:1), a woman’s hair (1 Cor. 11: 15) or even our spiritual children, who have believed because of our teaching. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His Coming? For you are our glory and joy.” 1 Thess. 2:19, 20 But we are here referring to the instances that refer to the glory of God.

Read Psalm 24
This Psalm begins with the assertion that everything on earth, including its inhabitants, belong to the LORD by reason of His creation of it. He reminds us of the creation account by saying it was founded on the seas and established on the waters.

God created the world and sustains it. (Col. 1:17) Likewise, whatever I make is mine. If I write something, and then decide it’s not worthwhile, I can delete the whole document, or, in the old days, crumple it up and throw it in the garbage. From the lesser example to the greater, God can do what He wills with His own. We see this in the account in Exodus, where He says, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” He doesn’t owe us mercy. If He did, it would no longer be mercy.

Further, in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, he says with regard to rewards, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” Matt. 20:15

To return to our text in Psalm 24:10 about the identity of the King of Glory, one could argue that Jesus, as the Son of God, is this King of Glory. The verse says this King of Glory is the LORD of hosts. The Hebrew name is Jehovah Sabaoth. The hosts refer to multitudes in the service of God, usually in reference to the angels. They are arranged in a hierarchy, with Michael as the Archangel, and Gabriel a notable named Messenger. As a warrior, the LORD leads his angels out to battle. He is their Captain and they are the foot soldiers.

In this Psalm, someone asks, “Who is this King of Glory?” The angels could well have asked the question, or the prophets and believers in the old covenant, or even those in the time leading up to Christ. Until He appeared they didn’t know what He would be like.

The angels must have been amazed, first when the Son was given and sent to earth as a baby, then again when He was crucified by His own creatures. Even the prophets of old grappled with this concept. 1 Peter 1:10-12 talks about this and ends with the phrase, “…things which angels desire to look into.”

We also see a beautiful image of this in the Old Testament. The Ark of the Covenant has a mercy seat, or covering of gold, with two cherubim on its cover. The wings of the angels are outstretched, covering the ark, and they are looking down on it in wonder and awe. For it is on the mercy seat that the blood of the unblemished sacrifice is poured. “…above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat…” Heb. 9:5 “And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat.” Ex. 25:20

We believe, based on many other texts, that Jesus is Himself the Creator, and therefore is the LORD of hosts. (Gen. 1:1-2, John 1: 1-3, Col. 1:16, 17, Heb. 1: 1-3, 10, and Rev. 4: 11)

The Psalmist then asks who may ascend into God’s presence? The answer is, “one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” This refers to righteous actions and motives. If we know ourselves at all, we know that we are not worthy, in and of ourselves. Any goodness we have is imputed to us by our Saviour. The Psalmist says “He shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Psalm 24:5

How does God provide righteousness and salvation?

He accomplished this on the cross, when He died as a substitute for His people.

The image in this Psalm is one of a mighty conqueror returning from battle. The city itself is personified, and the gates are told to lift up their heads, and the doors are to be lifted up to welcome their conquering King. Christ has gone out to battle, He has conquered death, hell and the grave, and has entered the heavenly Jerusalem as Victor. After His ascension to Heaven, He gave gifts to men, the idea here being a distribution of the spoils.

“When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”Eph. 4:8

Another example is that of the temple of Solomon. 1 Kings 8:6, 10 When the ark is brought in, the glory of the LORD descends on the place in the form of a cloud, which is one of the Old Testament images of God. He led His people by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Also, as we learned in the sacrifice of David after his unlawful census, the LORD answered by fire. This was the future site of the temple that Solomon his son would build. 1 Chron. 21:26, 2 Chron. 3:1

Again, the heavenly city has no temple. “But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” Rev. 21:22 The temples of earth are copies and shadows of the heavenly things, as Heb. 4:5 tells us. Jesus entered with His own blood.

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Heb. 9:11, 12

Not only does Christ enter Heaven on our behalf, but He also enters the souls of men, in order for us to be His temple. 1 Cor. 6:19 says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?”

Rev. 3:20 says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and dine with him, and he with Me.” We are told to be like faithful servants awaiting their Master’s return, “…and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately.” Luke 12:36 Matthew Henry says, “The gates and doors of our hearts are to be opened to Him, as possession is delivered to the rightful owner.”

Further, we long for the day when we see our Saviour in Glory, a word also synonymous with Heaven itself. As believers we long to see the wrongs made right, Satan finally cast into Hell, and the first seconds of Eternity begin to tick. (That’s just an image, since Heaven is outside of time). We want to see the King of Glory come in. Imagine the cheering! Imagine the joy!

Jesus desires this as well. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” John 17:24 Isn’t that beautiful? That should have the word Selah after it, to remind you to just stop reading and think about it.

So, “Who is this King of Glory?”

Jesus existed before He was born. He is the second Person of the Trinity. He often talked of His pre-existence and the glory that was due to Him as God.

“And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” John 17:5

We see in Hebrews 1:3 that Jesus is “…the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person,” meaning He is a perfect representation of the Father.

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” Heb. 1:1-4

He even asked his disciple, Phillip, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:9

“For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 4:6

We see the glory of God now when we know Jesus personally. The glory of God is found in the face of Jesus Christ.

Who is this King of Glory? Jesus Christ is the King of Glory!

Jesus as the One Who Hears the Taunts of His Enemies

24 Feb

hezekiahs_prayer

“Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard.” 2 Kings 19:20

“Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me.” 2 Kings 19:6

“Whom have you mocked and reviled?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
Against the Holy One of Israel!” 2 Kings 19:22

Read 2 Kings 16-20 (Corresponding passages; 2 Chronicles 29-32, Isaiah 36-39)

When we are tormented by our enemies, Jesus knows. Our God is not a distant God who doesn’t care about our situations. We are the apple of his eye, the bride for which He gave His life. He not only hears the taunts of our enemies, and sees the distress we feel, but He comforts our hearts, and He acts on our behalf. Moreover, we see in this narrative that God takes the taunts and threats against His people as taunts and threats against Himself.

This is what we see in this familiar story of the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king of Judah.

I must admit this is one of my favourite Bible narratives and Hezekiah one of my favourite characters in Scripture. I am looking forward to meeting him in Heaven. (You’ve heard of a nerd-crush? He’s my king-crush, even though most like David.) He ruled, for the most part, as a righteous king. (2 Kings 18:3, 5-7, 2 Chron. 19:3) He brought about reforms to undo the idolatry his father, Ahaz introduced into Judah, and he reinstated true worship of Yahweh. He had a co-regency with his father at first, then a sole regency from 715 B.C. onward. He began his reign at age twenty-five and reigned almost thirty years.

At this point in time, the kingdom is already divided, with ten tribes in the North, called Israel, with Samaria as its capital, and two tribes in the south, Benjamin and Judah, known as Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital. (show diagram) The infamous kings of the Assyrian nation, Shalmaneser V and then Sargon II, are rolling through the known world like a juggernaut, flattening nation after nation with the mighty Assyrian army. They are taking fortified city after fortified city, merely laying siege and waiting out the inhabitants who either starve or surrender. They besieged Samaria for three years before it fell. But fall, it did.

They use psychological warfare to great effect, threatening the leaders of the newest city state under siege by standing next to the impaled heads of the previous conquest while they negotiate terms of surrender. The terms are simple; complete surrender with forced tribute or face annihilation or forced servitude. They only imposed heavy tribute if a city did not resist. If they did, the city was plundered then all the prisoners gruesomely tortured.

After centuries of idolatry, God’s patience is at an end. The curses promised because of disobedience are about to fall on the nation. This time, the judgment is not confined to Israel in the north, which has generally been worse in terms of idolatry, but now it reaches Judah, and Jerusalem itself is threatened.

In chapter seventeen some of the reasons are mentioned in verses 16-18. They “made images… worshipped the host of heaven, and served Baal…they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire (child sacrifice) and practiced witchcraft and soothsaying.”

The judgment He has been threatening, finally comes. Assyria attacks Israel. They take one city after another. After a few years, Sennacherib is the new king of Assyria, and he picks up where Sargon left off. News comes to Hezekiah in Jerusalem and he and the people are rightly, terrified.

A little more background on Hezekiah. He was the twelfth sovereign of Judah, excluding Athaliah. Sennacherib invaded Judah around 705-681 B.C.

Hezekiah’s first act was to purge, repair and reopen the Temple which was neglected and polluted by the idolatrous reign of his father Ahaz. It was a thorough reform. He didn’t even spare the high places, but tore them down, “broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah poles.” He also destroyed the bronze serpent, made by Moses in the wilderness, recorded in Numbers 21:9, because the people gave it a name and started worshipping it. He took this object of worship and turned it into scrap metal. This reformation was followed by a celebration of the Passover.

You’d think these were happy times in Judah, but we don’t know how the people responded. They were accustomed to their idols. For many, it was all they’d known. They may have been outwardly conforming to the new way, but secretly worshipping idols. Syncretism, or mixing of true worship with idolatry was common.

“And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, ‘You shall not do this.'” 2 Kings 17:9-12

The term “from watchtower to fortified city” simply means from small hamlets to large cities. This implies that the paganism was rampant.

Hezekiah had ample warning of an Assyrian invasion. He inherited the Assyrian menace from his father, who made an alliance with them. Hezekiah built up the country in order to throw off the Assyrian yoke. He strengthened the national economy and military. He established warehouses and stockyards in strategic places to store food. He developed a national system of defense and ensured an adequate water supply in the event of a siege.

“The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?” 2 Kings 20:20

“This same Hezekiah closed the upper outlet of the waters of Gihon and directed them down to the west side of the city of David. And Hezekiah prospered in all his works.” 2 Chron. 32:30

Hezekiah's-Tunnel

He diverted the Gihon Spring, which was exposed to enemy attack. He covered it up and diverted it through a tunnel 1,777 feet long through solid rock, into a reservoir within the city walls. His building projects included the Siloam tunnel, reservoir and pool. The pool was 20 X 30 feet. It was the place where Jesus later healed a blind man.

An ancient inscription by the workmen of the tunnel was found accidentally in 1880 by a boy wading in the pool. It’s at the point where the two sides met. The pic marks can be seen coming from two directions. The original is now in a museum, but the translation is there. It says,

“The boring through is completed. Now this is the story of the boring through. While the workmen were still lifting pick to pick each toward his neighbor and while three cubits remained to cut through, each heard the voice of the other who called his neighbor, since there was a crevice in the rock on the right side. And on the day of the boring through the stone cutters struck, each to meet his fellow pick to pick; and there flowed the waters to the pool for 1200 cubits and 100 cubits was the height of the rock above the heads of the stone cutters.”

I know I’m a bit of a history nerd, but I find this fascinating. This was a building project done without our modern tools. Think of how they made the Chunnel between England and Belgium or France. We rode in it. I tried not to think that we were not just underground, but also underwater. I remember seeing it on the news when they had a giant boring machine, and once they broke through, they shook hands. In this project, they were in a rush, fearing attack at any time, and started from both sides at once, chipping through the path of the softer limestone. They were aiming in the general direction, but they didn’t know if they would pass each other or go over each other and never meet. They didn’t have GPS. So that’s why this inscription is so interesting. It shows their joy when they heard the other workmen and they knew they got it right.

You can still go into this tunnel today, I’m told. It’s not for the faint of heart, however, as it is very narrow, you are walking in thigh deep water and there is no light. You hold hands with each other and there is only space for one person at a time. It’s disconcerting to be in a tunnel built thousands of years ago in a place known for earthquakes.

We attended the Mesopotamia exhibit at the ROM this year and it was amazing to see the records of some of these kings. The Assyrian account of this third campaign, including the siege of Jerusalem, is preserved in the British Museum. Sennacherib says:

“As for Hezekiah, the Jew, who did not submit to me, all 46 of his strong walled cities as well as the small cities in their neighbourhood I besieged and took 200,150 people…and counted as spoil. Himself, like a caged bird, I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city.”

Despite their boasts, they were not able to take Jerusalem. The Assyrians record an attack on the city, but not its capture. It’s funny that Sennacherib says he kept Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage, trying to make it seem like that is punishment enough. As is usual in annals of ancient despots, they record only their victories, so it’s not surprising that they would not record the devastating losses when they tried to take Jerusalem.

Early in his reign, Hezekiah revolts and refuses to pay tribute to Assyria any longer. 2 Kings 18:7 He was probably emboldened to do so because Assyria was preoccupied with fighting the Babylonians, and he was establishing his own prosperity. 2 Kings 18:13-16 After the fortified cities of Judah are taken, one after the other, he relents, and promises to pay tribute. He pays 11 tons of silver and one ton of gold. At that time, in Judah, silver was more valuable than gold. Yet, in spite of this payment, Sennacherib still attacks; part of the punitive measures for the revolt.

Assyrian records show it was the second-in-command, known by the title of Tartan, who actually conducted the campaign. The great army was under the Tartan, the Rabsaris, or chief eunuch, and the Rabshakeh, or chief officer.

It’s interesting that the place they chose to negotiate terms of surrender was the same place where Isaiah had earlier encouraged Ahaz to trust God rather than an alliance with the Assyrians. 2 Kings 18:17 compare with Isaiah 7:3

The three representatives from Jerusalem, sent to parley, are Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, who was over the household (possibly senior palace administrator), Shebna, the scribe, who was formerly in Eliakim’s role and also treasurer, and Joah, son of Asaph, who was the recorder.

Let’s look at 2 Kings Chapter 18-20 more closely. Please read each verse and then the comments.

Verse 20: “You speak…but they are mere words.” Accuses Hezekiah of lies.

Verse 21: Heard they may have had some alliances with Egypt, but tells them not to trust in that.

Verse 22: The Assyrians mistakenly believe the high places and altars Hezekiah removed were for the worship of Yahweh, or else they were trying to split the opposition, assuming many were unhappy with the loss of the pagan places of worship.

Verse 23: Challenge. They believed, rightly, that Hezekiah’s army was inadequate. It was made up of some infantry and few cavalry.

Verse 25: Claims a divine imperative; “The LORD told me to attack the city.” This is blasphemy; they are misrepresenting and maligning God.

Verse 26: They speak over the heads of the officials to the people themselves. They bypass the usual language of commerce and diplomacy, Aramaic, and speak in the language of the people, to frighten them. This is psychological warfare.

Verse 27: They threaten horrible conditions if they do not submit; which can be blamed on Hezekiah.

Verse 28: They shout loudly to the people in Hebrew, so they will all be aware of what they will face, hoping they may, in turn, influence Hezekiah to surrender. They don’t even refer to Hezekiah as a king, but just use his name. Whereas, they refer to the Assyrian king as the Great King.

Verse 29: Claim Hezekiah is deceiving them and the LORD cannot be trusted.

Verses 31-32: The old carrot and stick. Stick, or threats in verse 27, now carrot, or promises of abundance in a new promised land, if they surrender. Not likely, based on past actions.

Verses 33-35: Appeal to precedent, even mentioning Samaria. They would have heard about the capital of Israel succumbing to starvation and exile.

Verse 36: Silence from the people, who are obedient to the king’s command.

Verse 37: Report back to Hezekiah, with clothes torn, a sign of grief and distress.

Chapter 19

Verse 1: He goes to the right place, the house of the LORD. It’s where we need to go when we are in distress as well.

Verse 2: Hezekiah involves both state and religious authorities in a time of crisis.

Verse 3: His message to Isaiah reflects his helplessness in this critical situation. This was probably a well-known proverb about difficult childbirth.

Verse 4: Hezekiah hopes God will hear the taunts of the enemy and Isaiah’s prayer for the remnant. Because many Israelites fled to Judah for safety, they are also included in the remnant of Israel to carry on God’s name and work.

Verses 5-6: God answers right away through the prophet. “Thus says the LORD,” shows divine authority. God’s answer is consistent with His responses throughout the ages whenever His people were in distress. “Do not be afraid,” even though they had great reason to be afraid. The Assyrians were on their doorstep.

Verses 7-9: Isaiah’s prophecy includes the withdrawal of the Assyrian forces from Judah and Jerusalem. And Sennacherib’s murder in his home country as punishment for his blasphemy against Yahweh. God moves men’s minds and hearts, here using a rumour to divert the enemy’s attack.

Verses 10-13: Now an even more desperate letter from the Assyrians, challenging Israel, as if they are deluded into thinking their God can save them. Also, this time, instead of saying Hezekiah is deceiving them into trusting their God, he actually dares to say God, Himself is deceiving them! More blasphemy. Their mockery puts God on the same level as no-gods. Also, the lists of the cities which were exterminated or utterly destroyed shows that Israel was not alone in using this method of warfare.

Verse 14: Both the prophet (verse 4) and now the ruler pray. Hearing someone’s prayer gives you a good idea of their heart and character. It’s intimate. The practice of spreading out a parchment can be compared to the Mesopotamian practice of placing letters in the temple to be read by the god. They were usually pleas for help. It doesn’t mean Hezekiah thought God needed to see the actual letter in the temple in order to respond, but merely showed his own distress over it. This may also have something to do with how today, people put prayer requests on paper and shove them into the crevices of the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, the only part of Solomon’s temple that remains.

Verses 15-19: Prayer is addressed to God as Creator and King, alive, unique and still ruling. The phrase “enthroned between the cherubim” gives the idea that God is present with His people. “You are God, You alone” compared with verse 18 “they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands.” Therefore they were defeated; they are unable to do anything. For Hezekiah, God is alive (the Living God) verse 16, in contrast to the no-gods. He asks God to incline His ear, and hear. The idea is of a parent bending down to listen to His child. He asks God to condescend to His children. He acknowledges that the Assyrian boasts are not unfounded. Hezekiah gives a reason why God should help them. “…so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God. You alone.”

Verse 20: God answers Hezekiah, assuring him He has heard. What comfort that must have brought to his heart!

Verses 21-28: Isaiah’s prophecy against Sennacherib. Here we see God stand up to the bully for us, like a big brother who comes to our rescue. This is when you hear Sennacherib gulp. God’s reply is in essence a poetic taunt-song. The image of shaking the head is a sign of derision and contempt. God is not threatened by Assyrian might. Jerusalem and its inhabitants are personified as defenceless as a virgin daughter. Words spoken against God’s people are the same as speaking against God, Himself. God is called, The Holy One of Israel. The Assyrian kings loved to take titles onto themselves, some even took twenty titles or more, all lofty, like ruler of the universe. But this title is the only one that has any power and truth behind it. He is the Holy One of Israel. The speaker and the one who sent him will be held to account. I have to admit, I like the sections of Scripture where God tells people off. Like in the book of Job, he puts us in our creaturely place. We serve a great and awesome and powerful God, who will not share His glory with another. But I digress.

He addresses the Assyrian arrogance against God. Notice all the boasts of the Assyrians in verses 23, 24 and the boasts about what “I” have done? But then God tells them they were just part of His plan. He used them as His instruments, in the same way one wields an ax to chop wood. Verse 26, “therefore” tells them the real reason the defeated peoples were drained of power and they had any military success; because God planned it. Always ask what the “therefores” of Scripture are there for; they connect two thoughts. Verse 27 says basically, “I know where you live.” That should strike fear into their hearts. God sees their rage is ultimately against Him. He says it has come up to His ears. He is about to respond.

Verse 28: The Assyrian practice of leading foreign princes captive with a ring or a hook in their nose (seen on some of their wall reliefs), is now happening to them. They are God’s slaves. He has defeated them. They are now the conquered ones.

Verses 29-34: A message of hope for the survivors (remnant). The land will recover within two full years of the invasion. By the third year, all will be recovered.

Verse 31: “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this,” shows it is a miraculous act of deliverance of Jerusalem. Compare with Isaiah 9:6,7 which is also the means of accomplishing the birth of a unique deliverer-king to rule David’s kingdom.

Verses 32-34: The prophecy against Sennacherib is authenticated with a “thus says the LORD.” No doubt it will happen. The motivation is God’s own glory and His promise to David. “For my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.”

Verse 35: The deliverance. Exact method of death unknown. Significant defeat.

Verse 36: Sennacherib’s return to Nineveh is confirmed in his annals.

Verse 37: Sennacherib is murdered twenty years later, hence the phrase, “one day” or “it came to pass.” He was assassinated by two of his sons. According to neo-Babylonian sources, there was an Assyrian conspiracy led by an older son, Adrammalech. It was well known that Sennacherib preferred his son, Esharhaddon, and could be the reason he was killed. Esharhaddon did become the next king of Assyria, as the Bible also says. It is also confirmed that the assassination took place between the guardian figures at the temple entrance. It’s those little details included in Scripture that assure us of its veracity.

This event gained international recognition for Hezekiah and his God, for successful resistance against the Assyrian power, just as Hezekiah had prayed, “so that the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD God. You alone.” 2 Chronicles 32:22,23

Chapter 20

Later in his reign, Hezekiah foolishly flaunts the riches of his kingdom to the Babylonian emissaries. Isaiah rebukes him. It will eventually lead to the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon in the next generation. Hezekiah is spared from seeing it.

Hezekiah’s severe illness while he is still under threat by Assyria, and while he has no heir, causes him to cry out to God for his life to be spared. God grants him another fifteen years and he dies a natural, peaceful death.
Jesus was often taunted by His enemies. They frequently made reference to the questionable circumstances surrounding His birth. John 8:41 They mocked Him prior to His crucifixion by placing the purple robe and crown of thorns on His head. They jeered at Him on the cross. Even one of the other criminals being crucified scorned Him.

Because of this, we can be sure He knows how we feel. He comforts us and will one day vindicate us before all at the judgment.

Questions: What do you think about the obsession our culture has with astrology and mediums? Do you think it’s a harmless practice or a harmful practice?

How does it make you feel to know that God hears the taunts of our enemies and our prayers for deliverance?

Blasphemy is misrepresenting or maligning God’s character. In what ways to we see God blasphemed in our culture?

Prayer: “Our Great God, Who dwells amongst Your people. You Who hear prayer, Who condescends to us, Who inclines Your ear to listen to Your children. Thank You. You not only hear us, but You hear the taunts and jeers of our world. The culture around us Who rages against You. They think they have power, but any power they have is granted to them by You for Your purposes. We know that One day You will vindicate us before the world. Now we are nothing. We are weak. But on that Great Day, we will be shown to be who we truly are; the apple of God’s eye, His own dearly beloved bride, wooed in eternity past, purchased with His own precious blood, and kept for all eternity in the everlasting arms. Lord, we thank You for being our Deliverer, the One Who rescues us from Satan, death and hell. Thank You that You hear us, because of Jesus. Amen.”

Melchizedek as a Type of Christ in Genesis

27 Oct

Read Genesis 14:18-20,Psalm 110:4,Hebrews 5:5-11,7

Christ is referred to as having three offices;  Prophet, Priest and King. In what sense is He a priest? As a priest, He represents men to God, and God to men.  He offers sacrifices. He serves God. He mediates between God and man in their covenant.

Christ was, humanly speaking, from the tribe of Judah. It was the Levites who were the priestly line. How then could He be a priest?

In Genesis, we’re introduced to a person named Melchizedek, who is referred to as a priest of God Most High in Salem (Jerusalem). He meets Abraham as he is returning from a military victory. Abraham, the patriarch recognizes Melchizedek as his superior, and gives him a tenth of his spoils. Some comment on the tenth as a tithe even before the law was given, which may or may not be significant. He also gave him bread and wine, which some say foreshadows the Lord’s supper, and Christ’s sacrifice of His body and blood.

Melchizedek seems to come from nowhere. In a book known for long lists of genealogies, the lack of information about him is significant. That’s one reason some believe He was a theophany, a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ, which we see in several other places in the Old Testament.

There is also no mention of how long he lived, as you also see in the genealogical lists. To the Jew, and then for our sake, it was important to know which family line someone descended from. It was how we would recognize the Messiah, who would be from the family line of Judah, and then a descendant of David.

Psalm 110 is another place where Melchizedek is mentioned. This psalm is widely accepted as being a Messianic psalm.

“The Lord has sworn
And will not relent,
‘You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.’”
Psalm 110:4

However, it’s only when we get to the New Testament that some light is shed on exactly how Christ is like Melchizedek. Hebrews 7:3 says that Melchizedek was “without father, without mother, without beginning of days or end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest forever” .This makes him sound either like a theophany of the eternal Son of God, or a reference to his appearance out of obscurity. He shows up in one scene in Scripture and then disappears just as quickly. We know nothing about him, unlike all other important persons throughout Scripture.

So, how is Christ like Melchizedek?

“Christ was ‘without father as relates to His humanity, and without mother as relates to His divinity.” B.B.Warfield

Further, without beginning or end of days in relation to Melchizedek means we don’t know anything about his lifespan, unlike the genealogies which say how long they lived. In relation to Christ it refers to His eternal  Sonship. As God, He had no beginning and He will have no end. He is the eternal God, the Ancient of Days, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He lived before the stable in Bethlehem.

As such, His priesthood is far superior to the Levitical priesthood. Those priests could only continue for a while, because death eventually overtook them.

But Christ, who is the eternal Son can be a Priest forever, because He will never die. He can continue to be the Mediator between God and man, making intercession for us because of the sacrifice of Himself, making atonement for us with His blood.

Also, King of Salem, means King of peace (Heb. 7:2). Salem was an early name for Jerusalem. Christ is both the King of the Jews and the Prince of Peace (Isa.9:6). He gives peace in our hearts because we have peace with God. “…having made peace through the blood of his cross.” Col.1:20

Prayer– “Thank you for being my everything, Jesus. You are the King of the Universe and yet you rule in my heart, as a Prophet, You tell me in Your word what the kingdom of Heaven is like and You teach me how to live for You. As a Priest, You represent God to me, so I worship You, and You mediate for Me before the throne of Heaven. Thank you that you are eternally my priest forever because of who You are.”

Questions-Do you realize you need a priest? Not an earthly one, but a perfect One? This One sacrificed Himself so that His blood could cover your sin. He also mediates between you and God the Father. (see the blogpost on Christ as the Mediator in Job).

Response-Thank God for being a far superior priest to the types and shadows of the past.

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