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Jan 03, 2016

The God Who Changes Everything

The God Who Changes Everything

Passage: 2 Kings 17:1-19:37

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Story

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: big god, change, good & evil, hezekiah, opposition, prayer, small problems, good rebellion


This message looks at how king Hezekiah, one of the 5 godly kings of the Kingdom of Judah, handled the impossibility of Assyria and its raiding army through prayer to THE God who changes every equation, every challenge, every impossibility. How can the truths of this passage change our "impossibilities" and challenges of life?


The God Who Changes Everything

The Story—2 Kings 17-19; Isaiah

Week #16—The Beginning of the End

INTRO: We’re all probably familiar with the saying, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  It’s a rather concise 20th century saying that has its roots in English writing as far back as the 18th century (Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke).  The late John F. Kennedy popularized it more recently in a speech to the Canadian Parliament in 1961. 

            There is in our world a constant battle between good and evil. We feel it in our own hearts.  We see it in the streets of our city, in the moral crisis of our nation, in the international wars and terrorism of our time.  Evil is and always has been waging war against good.  It is yet another reminder to saints and sinners alike that a moral, righteous, holy God actually exists and has made His claim on the hearts and souls of every human being. 

            ILL:  I received a text from one of our men not long ago.  He was having a running conversation with another man at work—well read and well educated—but typical of our times.  This man was not willing to believe in a personal, all-powerful God of the Bible though he was willing to believe that there is some sort of “force” in the universe that keeps good and evil in a constant state of “balance” or tension.  That “force”, he believes, never allows evil to overwhelm good or good to overwhelm evil.  That’s a rather “acceptable,” even popular belief about god nowadays. 

How would you challenge that notion about “god, good and evil”?  [Have people share their thoughts on this.]

I’m not the world’s best philosopher or Christian apologist.  But my first thought goes to the whole notion of “good and evil.”  Where do we even get the notion that certain actions, certain attitudes, certain beliefs have a moral component?  Without a God whose very nature defines what is good and evil, all ideas of “good” are totally relativistic.  Murder of children becomes permissible.  Rape of women becomes justified.  Torture of civilians becomes “necessary.” 

The whole notion of morality, of what is right or wrong, cannot be had apart from personality and personhood.  Rocks are not moral or immoral.  Storms are not moral or immoral.  Only beings who have the capacity to engage in actions towards other beings are even able to recognize “good” or “evil” let alone keep it in some sort of “balance.”  Non-moral entities can’t make moral judgments.

What does this rather philosophical debate have to do with God and our lives in relation to God?  Frankly, everything. 

[Explain The Story series of Sundays we are in.]

Today we are launching into the second half of our 31 week study of the entire Bible.  We’re nearing the end of the Old Testament focus.  We’re in the latter days of the history of the nations of Israel and Judah, God’s chosen people prior to the Church of Jesus Christ, the new “chosen people” that started some 2,000 years ago.  

            As I hope you have experienced, looking at the people of God and God’s work with them is much more than a history lesson.  It’s an email from God about what we should love and what we should hate, what we should embrace and what we should avoid like the plague.

            Paul wrote that very truth to the church at Corinth in the 1st century when he said in I Corinthians 10:6—“Now these things [that are recorded in the O.T.] occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”  10:11—“These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

History, particularly God’s history of working with His people, has great value for anyone or any one nation that wants to prosper and enjoy life.

            So let’s jump into The Story of God and His people in 2 Kings 17.  The last king of the northern kingdom of Samaria, the other 10 tribes of Israel, is talked about in I Kings 17.  His name is Hoshea.  He is eventually overrun by a king of Assyria named Shalmaneser and 27,000 Israelites from the northern kingdom are deported to distant Assyrian cities under Sargon II.  The northern kingdom of Israel ceases to be a people and nation as they are scattered and intermarry with Assyrians.  (This is also the historical roots of the bad blood at the time of Jesus between Jews and “Samaritans”.)

            2 Kings 17:7ff gives us the reason why God destroyed and scattered Israel’s northern kingdom.

All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. 

Now skip down to verse 13.

13 The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.”

14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”

            What’s the result?  Vs. 18—So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence.  Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. 

            So in the 3rd year of King Hoshea (northern kingdom), a young 25-year old man named Hezekiah is made king of the southern kingdom of Judah (18:1). Here is God’s summary of his national leadership over the next 29 years of his life, beginning in 18:3.

He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.From watchtower to fortified city, he defeated the Philistines, as far as Gaza and its territory.

            This is the kind of “rebellion” the people of God needed in that day…and need today: a rebellion against the godless, arrogant and pagan rule of godless, arrogant, pagan people.  Would that our “rebellion” took more of that form than what we usually see among God’s rebellious children—a rebelling against God and the life he calls us to. 

            ILL:  Discussion one day around the dinner table when our boys were in high school as to why they hadn’t followed the footsteps of so many peers of their generation who were rebelling against their parents.  Andrew of David chimed into the discussion with something like, “We are ‘counter-culture’ in our public high school.  Every day we go to school, we are rebelling against our culture.  Maybe we don’t feel the need to rebel against you, our parents, because when we come home, we’re been rebelling all day already…just against our culture, not you!”  

            God likes rebels who can discern the correct things to rebel against!

            So while Hezekiah is getting established as a godly king in the southern kingdom of Judah, the northern kingdom of Israel is closing out the last page of its last chapter of history. Assyria will take 3 years to subdue Israel.  All the while, Hezekiah is watching…and holding his breath…as leader of this little nation of Judah just to the south. 

            Ten years later, the hammer drops on Judah.  Here’s how 2 Kings 18:13ff puts it.

13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib king of Assyria attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. 14 So Hezekiah king of Judah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. Withdraw from me, and I will pay whatever you demand of me.” The king of Assyria exacted from Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace.

16 At this time Hezekiah king of Judah stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the temple of the Lord, and gave it to the king of Assyria.

            It’s possible that the only thing standing between this tiny nation of Judah and its destruction is this one man, King Hezekiah.  And even at that, it’s not looking too promising.  The “fortified cities of Judah” have been attacked and fallen.  Assyria’s king Sennacherib now marches on the one remaining obstacle to domination of all of the Promised Land—Jerusalem.

            We’re not told by the writer of 2nd Kings whether or not Hezekiah’s stripping of the Temple of all its gold and silver was a good or bad thing.  At first glance it may look like he’s caving to fear, reversing course and trying to work with Assyria.  But it is also possible that Hezekiah is doing just what God wanted done to His temple. When the people of God are under discipline by God, what does it matter what the building looks like?  Maybe it’s better to worship in a building that accurately reflects the true state of God’s people (destitute, stark, stone-cold, unimpressive) than to be deceived into thinking that our hearts are as beautiful, clean and glorious as shinny gold doors and silver candlesticks.  (Isn’t that some of the problem the church in America is having today?)

            Regardless of whether it was right or wrong for Hezekiah to strip the Temple in hopes of appeasing the invading Assyrian army, it didn’t “work.”  Sennacherib marches on Jerusalem anyway and Hezekiah has to lead his people through the greatest challenge to their survival and his leadership that they have yet faced.   

            The king of Assyria sends his top brass to make a deal with the residents of Jerusalem.  Why fight a long, protracted war when you might be able to simply talk people out of their freedom?  So Sennacherib’s men set up their loud speakers outside the walls of Jerusalem and begin to blast their terms of surrender to the residents of Jerusalem.  We pick it up in 18:19.

            The field commander said to them, “Tell Hezekiah:

“‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours20 You say you have the counsel and the might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me?”

            Even though these questions are coming from the enemies of the people of God, they are great questions

Vs. 19-- On what are you basing this confidence of yours?

Vs. 20-- On whom are you depending?

Those are two very good questions that all of us should be asking ourselves all the time:

  • On WHAT am I basing my confidence in life? My judgment?  My wisdom?  My expectations and experience? It is very possible that you and I have put our confidence in any number of things other than the unchanging Word of God.  We do it all the time when we believe things that are not actually God’s truth. 
  • On WHOM am I depending? On myself?  My spouse?  My brothers and sisters in Christ?  Our politicians?  Our friends?  Or OUR GOD? 

God can still speak through godless people to get us to ask good questions.  The problem, as we will see, is that godless people will always have a mixture of lies and truths when they speak.  But those two questions were actually things that God’s people need to be asking themselves frequently, especially when life seems overwhelming.

APP:  We’ve all got some massive challenges in front of us as we move into this New Year.  We don’t have Russia or China breathing down our necks some 40 miles from us.  But we all have challenges.  Maybe yours is health.  Maybe it’s a troubled relationship.  Maybe it’s a boss or a job.  Maybe it’s money for school or an apartment. 

            On whom or what are we depending to see us through?  The government?  The doctor?  The counselor?  The company?  Or are we really looking to God to walk us through the process of learning to depend on Him, especially for things that require His miraculous intervention? 

At this point in the story, God’s people are confronted with either a road to slavery OR a pathway to progress.  The Assyrian brass will lay out the road to slavery.  Hezekiah will propose a pathway to progress.  Here’s the Assyrian path to slavery.  It’s a mixture of truth and lies

Vs. 21—“Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him.” 

This part is true.  Many in Judah were depending on some other earthly power to come to their aid and defend them against Assyria.  There had been some alliances made with Egypt in the past.  But Pharaoh was not going to come through for them this time.  Military might would not be the answer.  In this they were correct.

The Assyrian generals kept talking (vs. 22).

“But if you say to me, “We are depending on the Lord our God”—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem”?

Now they are going to the heart of the matter—their trust in God.  Hezekiah had destroyed the “high places” and “altars” that his predecessors had set up both to false gods and to Yahweh.  He destroyed both in obedience to God’s command to make only Jerusalem and the Temple there THE place of sacrifice to God.  Far from angering the Lord, Hezekiah’s actions honored Him. 

The speech continues as they ridicule first Judah’s military (vss.23-4) and next their belief in God (vs. 25).  “‘Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses—if you can put riders on them! 24 How can you repulse one officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? 25 Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord 

himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’”

Verse 26 clues us in on an interesting little fact: these Assyrian negotiators were speaking in Hebrew, shouting their message so that all the residents of Jerusalem would get the word in their native tongue.  Jerusalem’s embarrassed leadership asked them to switch to Aramaic.  The reply they got was rather “RPG-13” rated.

27 But the commander replied, “Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?”

APP:  You know, the enemy of God’s people still knows how to speak to us in our “native tongue.”  I’m not talking about English verses Spanish or French verses Swahili.  I’m talking about the language of our souls that Satan seeks to exploit.  I’m talking about the voices from our past, the tapes that turn on in our minds when things get tough.

            We all have “native languages” Satan resorts to when he wants to discourage or distract us.  They may be things our parents said to us like, “You’ll never amount to anything,” or “You’re so stupid!”  They may be thoughts we programmed ourselves to think in response to our feelings of abandonment… or our role as family rebel.  Whatever they are, they are not from God but they are discouraging and defeating. Just know that Satan often learns the language of our souls and uses it against us.

The verbal barrage continues28 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’

31 “Do not listen to Hezekiah. 

Here’s the frontal assault on divine leadership.  I’m not saying that every pastor or priest or spiritual counselor or parent or Christ-following brother/sister is going to give the right advice every time.  But when it comes to deciding whether what someone is saying is truth or error, there are a couple of things this passage has to teach us.

#1. Does the counsel point you to God or to man?

This little speech by the Assyrian commander exalted the king of Assyria, not the God of Israel. Hezekiah’s message to the people to “trust in the LORD” was one that ran contrary to prevailing wisdom but right in line with growing faith. 

#2.  What is the track record of the source?

At this juncture in the life of Hezekiah, he’s been leading Judah for about 15 years.  Believe me, you know where a leader’s heart is when you’ve lived under their leadership for a decade and a half.  You know what their philosophy is, what their agenda is, what their priorities are.  You know if they really have your best interest at heart or whether they have personal power and popularity at heart. 

The people of Jerusalem knew next to nothing about Sennacherib, the Assyrian king coming against them. What they did know was that he was power-hungry and ruthless. 

In contrast, what did they know about Hezekiah?  They knew he was a man on a divine mission.  They knew he was willing to go up against prevailing culture.  They knew every step he had taken was intent on bringing their nation closer to God.  He wasn’t perfect…but he was consistent…and close at hand…and a man of strength with compassion.

We keep reading (vs. 31)

This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 

32) until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!

Here’s the classic compromise promise: 

  • Trade this hard road for the easy road that requires no faith and has no messy battles.
  • Give up your freedoms of worship and your God’s call to holiness for the illusion of peace and prosperity.
  • Listen to the voice of people, not the voice of God’s prophet.
  • Hang onto the stuff you see rather than the God who is unseen.
  • There really isn’t that much difference between what God promises and what this world and culture promises. You can get in the world essentially what you can have in God.

The Assyrians end their negotiations with this parting shot beginning in verse 32.

“Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ 33 Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from 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 rescued Samaria from my hand? 35 Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”

            Here is the crux of the issue:  We worship the God who changes everything!  If He were just like all the other gods in this world, we would be absolutely stupid to live by faith.  If present realities and recent history were all we had by which to make decisions, we would be foolish to risk anything…let alone EVERYTHING…on our belief in God.

            But the Word of God and the history of His people is full of events that were completely and miraculously changed by the presence and promises of our God.  The failure of false gods is a poor reason to doubt the true and living God.

So how does Hezekiah handle his human impossibility?  Look at 2 Kings 19:1-- When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord. 

The chapter goes on to tell us that he also sent his highest officials to visit the prophet of God at the time and tell him about all the threats of Sennacherib against God’s people.  That prophet was none other than Isaiah, the human author of the prophetic book that bears his name in the O.T.  Hezekiah asks Isaiah to simply “pray for the remnant that still survives” in Jerusalem. 

            But Isaiah receives a prophecy from God that Sennacherib will be pulled away from Jerusalem by some news that will make him want to return to his homeland.  Furthermore, God foretold that Sennacherib would be actually be killed by the sword at home.  As it turned out, it took some 20 years for that prophecy to be fulfilled but in the end, Sennacherib was murdered by two of his sons while worshiping in one of his pagan god’s temple. 

            But that’s getting way ahead of the story.  For Hezekiah, the threat remained very real.  The Assyrian field commander continued to hound him with threats, the latest in chapter 19 by means of a letter again calling their dependence on Yahweh a deception and the Assyrian’s destruction of every foe to date proof that their current hope in God was a delusion. 

            Once again, Hezekiah “went up to the temple of the Lord (19:14).  Only this time he spreads out the letter “before the Lord.”  And proceeds to pray this prayer.

“Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

17 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.19 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

            We don’t have time to dissect this prayer very much. What we do know is that God answered by sending the angel of the Lord into the Assyrian to kill 185,000 soldiers bent on annihilating His people.  And we know that 20 years later, Sennacherib’s sons killed the man who mocked the God of Israel.  

Suffice it to say that Hezekiah’s prayers affirm that GOD IS BIGreally BIG!   

1.) He is BIG in HOLINESS; His throne is over the holiest created beings, cherubim. 

2.) God is BIG in AUTHORITY; He rules over every kingdom on earth. 

3.) He is BIG in POWER; He has more power than the entire created universe with its billions of galaxies and trillions of stars. 

4.) But his prayer also affirms the BIGNESS of God in the RELATIONAL arena.  We serve a God who is BIG when it comes to SEEING…AND HEARING…AND RESPONDING appropriately both to the cries of His people and the arrogance of his enemies. 

APP:  So here’s the challenge to us no matter what it is we are wrestling with, afraid of, feeling overwhelmed by or thinking is impossible right now:

  1. Praying that changes life will see the One True God as BIG and any human challenges as SMALL. So let’s start there in this NEW YEAR.
    1. What looms BIG over you right now? What looks impossible?  What makes you afraid? What threatens to drain you or destroy you?  Write down whatever comes to mind in the next 30 seconds that seems too big or virtually impossible from the human perspective. 
    2. Now close your eyes and bow your head and think for a moment about the absolute brilliance of God’s holiness—so bright that were you to enter His presence physically right now, HE is a brilliance that would kill you.
    3. Now picture all the nations and empires that have come and gone over the span of the last 3,000 years…Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Chinese dynasties, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, the British Empire, the czars of Russia, the United States…all no more than little chess pieces moved off the board of human history the moment God wills.
    4. Now imagine what it would be like to take just begin to grasp the creative vastness and power of God. Let’s try imagining in terms of   Blasting off from earth at the speed of light (186,000 miles/second) you would pass the moon in 1.5 seconds.  (It took the Apollo spacecraft about 3 days to cover that distance.)  But back to the speed of light.  You’d pass Venus in 2 minutes, Mars in 4Jupiter is about ½ hour out, Saturn about an hour. Neptune is about 4 hours away…and our nearest star other than the sun (Alpha Centauri) is 4 years away.  Our Milky Way Galaxy with some 500 billion stars would take 100,000 light years to cross.  To reach our neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, located in our own galaxy cluster, would take 2 million light years.  Between Andromeda and the farthest measurable reaches of space are some 10-20 billion light years…not to mention the billions of galaxies the size of our Milky Way in between. 
    5. And our God spoke that into being…and can hold it all in the palm of his hand…or the tip of his finger… if it were possible to talk of God in such physical, human characteristics.
    6. Now look at your list of “difficult things” you wrote down. Does it look very big next to the God who simply spoke our universe into existence?
  2. Praying that changes life will affirm God as BIG RELATIONALLY and His fame in the world, not ours, as PRIORITY. Our God is the ONLY true God who hears every prayer, sees every person, measures every motive, remembers every sigh and keeps every promise.  He is not some “impersonal force.”  He is far greater that the most personal, most deeply interested, most engaged, most loving and compassionate Being imaginable. 

That is why He is THE GOD who changes EVERYTHING.

And He is waiting to change everything…eternally…about our lives.

That’s why he allows seeming impossibilities into our lives.

That’s why he offers us salvation from our sins.

That’s why he listens…and waits intently…for the prayers of our hearts. 

That’s why He invites us to let his Word change our world…and let our prayers change history. 

CLOSING PRAYER:  Invite people to simply ask God to hear and answer in His way and time whatever challenges in life they carry today upon their hearts.