Faith in the Face of Adversity


April 18, 1999 – Pickering Standard Church


We live as Christians in a world that seems often determined to overthrow us, a world that seems determined and destroy those who would place their faith in God.  While we may often feel that we alone are being targeted for such treatment and that we are all alone in our stand against pervasive evil, we must realize that God has promised never to leave or forsake us.  We may gain encouragement from other believers who have been in similar or worse situations.  Such a person I wish to introduce to you this morning.  His name is Hezekiah, one of the last God fearing kings of the kingdom of Judah.


Some facts about Hezekiah:


740 BC – Born

728 BC – Co-regent with father Ahaz

722 BC – Assyria conquers Samaria

715 BC – Hezekiah king after death of Ahaz

701 BC – Hezekiah’s sickness and healing; delivery from Assyrian invasion; visit of ambassadors from Babylon

697 BC – Son Manasseh made co-regent

689 BC – Sennacherib destroys Babylon

688 BC – Sennacherib’s army annihilated by an angel of the Lord

686 BC – Hezekiah dies


The writer of 2 Kings gives this account of Hezekiah’s reign:


2 Kings 18:1-7 - In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.  He was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem twenty-nine years. His mother's name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.  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 cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses.  And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.


But even Hezekiah had his difficulties.  Recall that it was during his reign that Sennacherib destroyed Samaria and took the Northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity.  Not satisfied with that success Sennacherib sent his armies into Judah and conquers forty-six Judean cities.  He was only appeased by Hezekiah’s agreement to pay him a tribute of three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold, most of which was taken from the Temple and the Royal Palace (a talent is slightly more than thirty kilograms, about 67 pounds).  Sennacherib describes his success against Judah in the following words that have been fount in his annals:


"Because Hezekiah,  king of Judah,  would not submit to my yoke,  I came up against him,  and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took forty-six of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about,  I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons,  old and young,  male and female,  together with horses and mules,  asses and camels,  oxen and sheep,  a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem,  his capital city,  like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in,  and raising banks of earth against the gates,  so as to prevent escape...Then upon Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms,  and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with 30 talents of gold and 800 (Assyrian) talents of silver,  and divers treasures,  a rich and immense booty...All these things were brought to me at Nineveh,  the seat of my government."


Yet thirteen years later Sennacherib reneges on his contract with Hezekiah and attacks Judah again.  The Chronicler has recorded Hezekiah’s response to this new threat to his people:


2 Chronicles 32:1-8 - After all that Hezekiah had so faithfully done, Sennacherib king of Assyria came and invaded Judah. He laid siege to the fortified cities, thinking to conquer them for himself.  When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to make war on Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him.  A large force of men assembled, and they blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. "Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?" they said.  Then he worked hard repairing all the broken sections of the wall and building towers on it. He built another wall outside that one and reinforced the supporting terraces of the City of David. He also made large numbers of weapons and shields.  He appointed military officers over the people and assembled them before him in the square at the city gate and encouraged them with these words:  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.  With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles." And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.


Unlike many of the other kings of Judah and all of the kings of Israel, Hezekiah did not seek to make an alliance with king who could stand with him against Sennacherib but he sought after the Lord.  Picture the situation in your mind.  Hezekiah is alone, the ten northern tribes have been taken and distributed within the Assyrian kingdom, at least forty-six of his cities have been taken and destroyed by this same Sennacherib, and now this traitorous king is coming at him once again with an attacking force that is described in 2 Chronicles 32:7 as “a vast army," and Hezekiah prays.  There is faith in what God is able to do for those who love and are faithful to Him.  His belief in God’s power is summarized in the following words:


2 Chronicles 32:7-8 - Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.  With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.


Hezekiah’s faith was such that the people were encouraged by it and were again confident in their God.  I say again because a prophecy of Isaiah of this period indicates that the men and women of Jerusalem had lost sight of their God and had become lovers of the world.


Isaiah 22:1-14 - An oracle concerning the Valley of Vision: What troubles you now, that you have all gone up on the roofs, O town full of commotion, O city of tumult and revelry? Your slain were not killed by the sword, nor did they die in battle.  All your leaders have fled together; they have been captured without using the bow. All you who were caught were taken prisoner together, having fled while the enemy was still far away.  Therefore I said, "Turn away from me; let me weep bitterly. Do not try to console me over the destruction of my people."  The Lord, the LORD Almighty, has a day of tumult and trampling and terror in the Valley of Vision, a day of battering down walls and of crying out to the mountains.  Elam takes up the quiver, with her charioteers and horses; Kir uncovers the shield.  Your choicest valleys are full of chariots, and horsemen are posted at the city gates; the defenses of Judah are stripped away. And you looked in that day to the weapons in the Palace of the Forest; you saw that the City of David had many breaches in its defenses; you stored up water in the Lower Pool.  You counted the buildings in Jerusalem and tore down houses to strengthen the wall.  You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago.  The Lord, the LORD Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth.  But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! "Let us eat and drink," you say, "for tomorrow we die!"  The LORD Almighty has revealed this in my hearing: "Till your dying day this sin will not be atoned for," says the Lord, the LORD Almighty.


The description that Isaiah is making here is of a people who have forsaken their God and have instead placed their faith in earthly alliances and material things.  When faced by apparent imminent destruction they did not turn to God and ask for His help but rather lived up to the phrase:  “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”  Thanks to the faith of a few good men like Hezekiah and Isaiah the people gained confidence in their God.


Hezekiah’s faith, however, is misunderstood by Sennacherib who believes that the altars to the pagan gods that Hezekiah had had torn down were in fact altars to the God of all creation.  He further overestimates his own power and underestimates the power of God.  He has become proud of the victories he has won by the grace of a God he does not acknowledge yet Who has chosen to use him as the instrument of His holy anger.  Listen to the vain and arrogant words he speaks to the people of Jerusalem:


2 Chronicles 32:9-19 - Later, when Sennacherib king of Assyria and all his forces were laying siege to Lachish, he sent his officers to Jerusalem with this message for Hezekiah king of Judah and for all the people of Judah who were there:  "This is what Sennacherib king of Assyria says: On what are you basing your confidence, that you remain in Jerusalem under siege?  When Hezekiah says, 'The LORD our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,' he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst.  Did not Hezekiah himself remove this god's high places and altars, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship before one altar and burn sacrifices on it'?  "Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand?  Who of all the gods of these nations that my fathers destroyed has been able to save his people from me?  How then can your god deliver you from my hand?  Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my fathers. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!"   Sennacherib's officers spoke further against the LORD God and against his servant Hezekiah.  The king also wrote letters insulting the LORD, the God of Israel, and saying this against him: "Just as the gods of the peoples of the other lands did not rescue their people from my hand, so the god of Hezekiah will not rescue his people from my hand."  Then they called out in Hebrew to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to terrify them and make them afraid in order to capture the city.  They spoke about the God of Jerusalem as they did about the gods of the other peoples of the world-- the work of men's hands.


Quite often when I have been ridiculed for my belief in God I have backed down.  We often do that, wanting to please those who have some power over us at the expense of pleasing God.  But this is not what we find Hezekiah doing.  Here he is, trapped within the walls of the single remaining city of Judah by the vast army of the world power of his day and he stands his ground.  We read that on account of Hezekiah’s prayer, and that of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord sent His angel to annihilate the army of Sennacherib and 185,000 of his men are killed in a single night as they lay sleeping in their beds and Sennacherib himself returns to Assyria in disgrace and 17 years later is killed in the temple of his own god by two of his own sons.  Listen to the record of how God rewarded Hezekiah’s faith:


2 Chronicles 32:20-23 - King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz cried out in prayer to heaven about this.  And the LORD sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace. And when he went into the temple of his god, some of his sons cut him down with the sword.  So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib king of Assyria and from the hand of all others. He took care of them on every side.  Many brought offerings to Jerusalem for the LORD and valuable gifts for Hezekiah king of Judah. From then on he was highly regarded by all the nations.


Hezekiah undoubtedly faced the primary concern of his day, the destruction of his entire nation at the hands of the armies of Assyria.  Yet through his faith in God he not only saw his God conquer his enemy but he also encouraged his subjects in their own walk with God.  Let us learn from his example and be faithful to God that we may be strengthened by Him and be an encouragement to others.