Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 5/28/00
Last week we saw in this classic "power encounter" between Jehovah and the gods of the nations the negative example of Sennnacharib: he assumed that God was like the gods of the nations because he judged Jehovah by the inconsistencies of His followers rather than by His own self-revelation--a natural and understandable but fatal mistake. We saw some of the ways we can commit the same mistake today. But now we want to flip the coin over and look at the positive example of Hezekiah. What was it that made him a man God could use to bring about such a great Deliverance for His people?
First, he was walking with God before the crisis came (32:1, "After these acts of faithfulness"). Preachers often emphasize that if you miss your devotions in the morning, the whole day will go wrong. Maybe it will; maybe it won't. But frequently, the effects of whether you have--or miss--your devotions today actually show up years from now. When something devastating comes into your life, will it shake your faith? Perhaps, if your belief in the cardinal doctrines of the Faith is only theoretical, not proved in the fires of innumerable small crises by a lifetime of walking with the Lord. Every truth of Scripture will be a life-or-death issue at some point; but we do not know when. So we are usually given long stretches of relative peace so we can be fortifying our selves with truth against those days. It will be too late to blow the dust off our Bibles in the moment of crisis and then expect them to sustain us. The time to be building that truth into our lives and solidifying our relationship with the Lord is now.
Second, on the basis of that lifetime of previously walking with God, Hezekiah understood who God is, and was able to trust Him on that basis (32:7-8). This is the key to everything.
Third, the faith based on that understanding led not to passivity but to action. Hezekiah diverted the water from the springs to deprive the Assyrians of fresh water (32:3) in one of the greatest feats of engineering in the ancient world. He encouraged the people (32:6). He instructed them how to respond to Rabshakeh's taunts (2 Kgs. 18:36). And he prayed (2 Chron. 32:20). Prayer was not a substitute for work; it was part of the work that he did. God responded to it because his actions showed the sincerity of his praying: they were all of a piece.
We rightly stress that salvation is not and cannot be by works. In doing so we sometimes almost make it sound as if it is better or more spiritual not to work--to just "let go and let God." But this is not the biblical pattern at all. Knowing the greatness of God does not mean that we need not work; it means that our work need not be in vain. For we are saved by grace apart from works precisely because we were created for good works that we might walk in them (Eph. 2:8-10). There is no dichotomy. Precisely because salvation is a free gift not dependent on our works in any way, we are freed to work not in futility (as if it depended on us) but from gratitude and with confidence (because it depends on Him). Trying to be saved by our own works would be like trying to move a becalmed clipper ship by blowing on the sails. Sailing requires a Wind that we could not produce. But unless we have kept the sails in good repair and seen to their proper setting, the Wind even if it comes still does not produce the desired effect. Prayer alone is meaningless; work alone is futile. Therefore we must pray and work so that neither is frustrated. Neither is a substitue for the other: "laborare est orare."
Hezekiah may indeed be the perfect illustration of this principle. For while the OT saw the Angel of Death in the destruction of Sennacharib's army, Herodotus records that 185,000 Assyrian soldiers died of bubonic plague carried by mice. Perhaps both accounts are true. When Hezekiah stopped up the springs, he did not foresee any such dramatic deliverance; he only expected this to be a nuisance to the enemy. He was doing what he could while praying for a deliverance he could not himself acheive. But perhaps the lack of available fresh water contributed to sanitary conditions in the camp that attracted the vermin God used to answer Hezekiah's prayer. The account is no less miraculous for seeing the means God used for miraculous ends (for bubonic plague is not normally 100% fatal, nor does it work in 24 hours--the Black Death of 1348 killed one third of the population of Europe in one year). Those means may well have been Herodotus' mice, Hezekiah's work, and Hezekiah's prayers. All were necessary to the great deliverance God had planned.
When we learn to work and pray like Hezekiah, maybe we will see the destruction of our Sennacharibs.
Here endeth the lesson.