By Anthony Casperson
During my morning bible reading a couple weeks ago, I read through Isaiah 36. And there was something in those words that struck me as noteworthy.
But before we get there, a little context is needed.
The event mentioned during the chapter happened after the nation of Israel split between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Assyrian Empire had arisen as world superpower and conquered much of the land around Judah, including Israel to the north.
About the only remaining lands out of Assyria’s grasp were Judah and Egypt. Though, many of the cities of Judah crumbled before the war machine of the Assyrians.
And then, they came to surround the city of Jerusalem. A siege that seemed to foretell the ultimate defeat of the Southern Kingdom. And this is where Isaiah 36 picks up the story.
Sennacherib (the Assyrian king) sent one of his generals, named Rabshakeh, with a great army to deal with this Judean capital. During the siege, Rabshakeh hurled insults and threats at the people held captive within their own city.
One of those insults is recorded in verse 7. In trying to cut off all sense of hope in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this Assyrian general spoke of the stupidity of the Judean king (Hezekiah) who couldn’t even worship his God correctly.
For generations, the people of Judah fell into idolatry of the nations surrounding them, including Israel to the north which had gone even further into this idolatry. They began to worship and venerate the false gods of these neighbors, taking on their worshiping practices. This includes building altars to many various gods atop every hill, mountain, and high place.
And while some of these high places held altars that were supposed to be devoted to the God of Israel, they weren’t officially sanctioned by him. Only in Jerusalem, at the temple, were sacrifices to be made in honor to Yahweh.
During Hezekiah’s reign, he’d torn down the false altars, directing the people under his care to worship God as the Lord had prescribed. To all of the surrounding nations, tearing down a god’s altars would put you on the fast lane to divine judgment.
And so, when General Rabshakeh called out to the people of Jerusalem about the actions of their king, he was claiming that the God of Israel would not help them. In essence, the general claimed that his arrival was the judgement of Yahweh against the people for not worshiping him correctly.
When I read these words, I laughed at how a person could take the presuppositions of their own worldview and so easily skew godly action to appear as evil and wrong. All because the very foundational principles of that system of belief is based off of faulty and false musings of people without the true God.
Hezekiah had performed much of what his God asked of him. He wasn’t perfect, by any means, but in this action of removing idolatry and incorrect worship of Yahweh from the nation of Judah, the king acted well. He’d listened to God. His actions were right.
Yet, here stands Rabshakeh spouting judgement against the people for Hezekiah’s good and godly action. And many of the people of Jerusalem fell for it. They feared the Assyrian army because they too had a faulty baseline understanding of the ways of God.
(The story continues to reveal that Hezekiah’s prayer to God for deliverance is answered by an angel that obliterates much of that “mighty” Assyrian army, but the point of this blog doesn’t continue along that path.)
I laughed at this event because things really aren’t that different today. Those who have set themselves against the God of the bible still think they understand how the world works. And they try to fit God into their preconceived notions, calling the followers of Jesus stupid for acting in ways that don’t line up with their worldview.
Judgement and hatred falls on us because we uphold the truth of God. And some who claim the name of Christ cower in fear of those enemies of God because the same lies have sprouted in their own minds.
But if we act in line with the truth of God, and are growing in holiness toward him, then we’re not the ones who are wrong. No matter what anyone else claims.
So, as we stand surrounded by the idolatrous peoples of the world, don’t let their false presuppositions lead us to fear. God is working as he promised. Not how they threaten.
Continue to tear down the false altars. It will lead to deliverance of those who join God in this.