“He [Hezekiah] removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan [a thing of brass]. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.” – II Kings 18:4-5
“Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.” – II Chronicles 32:7-8
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” – I John 4:18
We are in the home stretch of our unexpected homeschooling venture, and our final English assignment is for Joey to write a poem. Yes, Joey – my sweet and scattered boy, who is far more physically expressive than verbally. I can picture my boy as a stuntman (obviously), a geologist (he is a connoisseur of rocks and dirt), and even a singer (he’s been known to warble a tune more than once). But a poet? I’m not there yet.
Thankfully, his English workbook laid the groundwork for my Joey to show promise, in spite of himself. The book asked thoughtful questions and gently laid out a step-by-step process that drew creativity out of Joey and preserved my sanity. The end result may not exactly be Shakespeare, but the groundwork made all the difference.
In Isaiah 36, groundwork of a different kind is being laid – an evil, blasphemous, terrifying kind. By Isaiah 37, God will come to the rescue of Hezekiah and his tenuous kingdom. But before that victory, Jerusalem will experience a psychological defeat of demoralizing depths. And before Sennacherib sends one of the most notorious pieces of hate mail in the Old Testament to King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37), an Assyrian general marches straight up to the walls of Jerusalem and takes a swipe at Almighty God.
But first, let me lay the groundwork for this story.
When Hezekiah became King of Judah at the age of 25, he inherited a mess. His father, Ahaz, had been a wicked king. Idolatry had flourished under him, and Assyria had been a constant threat hanging over him. As a result, Ahaz had paid tribute (protection money) to Assyria – hoping to stave off a full invasion. But as the kingdoms of Syria and Israel eventually fell, Judah was next in line for total defeat.
But note the groundwork that Hezekiah laid. A complete departure from his father, Hezekiah was a throwback to the days of David, the king “after God’s own heart” (II Kings 18:1-3, I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). He reopened the Temple (II Chronicles 29) and destroyed pagan altars (“high places”) and idols, even trashing Moses’ brass serpent (Numbers 21:4-9), which had become an idol in itself.
Even more notably, Hezekiah had refused to pay tribute to the Assyrians, choosing to trust God for protection instead. He even beat back the Philistines, another constant threat to Judah’s borders (II Kings 18:7-8). While not perfect, Hezekiah was practical. He armed his people (making swords and spears), fortified the walls of the city, and did construction to channel the water supply inside the city walls, in preparation for the inevitable siege (II Chronicles 32:1-6).
But then comes a visit from Rabshekah (likely a title for a commander in the Assyrian army). Assyria has conquered dozens of fortified cities in Judah, Lachish being the last stronghold on the road to Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:1-3). From there, Sennacherib sends Rabshekah ahead to mount an offense of psychological (and spiritual) warfare.
Not a shot is fired in Isaiah 36 – no archers take aim, no swords are drawn. But the shots taken in Rabshekah’s speech are devastating, nonetheless (Verses 4-10). Hezekiah’s reps even beg the general to speak in Syrian, knowing that the citizens and soldiers on the wall are within earshot. The brazen general ignores their request, turning up the volume and shouting his threats directly to the people.
God is greater, and deliverance is on the horizon, but you wouldn’t know it from this ugly snapshot.
Snapshots of the world today are just as ugly. And every day, the enemy is laying the groundwork for fear and panic and despair all around us. That’s why I feel compelled to encourage you to lay a little groundwork of your own. Feed on the Word of God. Surround yourself with His promises. Just don’t let Satan march up to the walls of your little world and lay the groundwork for psychological and spiritual defeat (Psalm 56:2-4, 119:114, Isaiah 26:3-4, 41:10-13, II Corinthians 10:4-5, Hebrews 13:5-6).
And be the departure. Like Hezekiah, be the faith and hope and love that is sadly lacking around us (Proverbs 3:27, Philippians 2:15, I John 4:18).
Don’t let the snapshots of terror overwhelm you. Lay the groundwork for spiritual victory in your life. Go to the Rock that is higher than all of us – and higher than all of the madness around us (Psalm 61:2).
Be the departure. Cut through the hate with kindness. Fight the fear with faith. And lay the groundwork to do it all by seeking your gracious and faithful God every day.