Sunday, October 11, 2009

When All Hope Is Gone

In San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge is not only the city's trademark, but it is also the final point of life for many people. Since the bridge opened in 1937, there have been nearly one thousand confirmed suicides. Reports indicate that almost every person has jumped off looking at the city rather than the ocean. Their final gaze at the city seems to communicate that each one was taking one last look for hope.

The empire of Assyria had spread throughout the Middle East like an unstoppable volcano erupting and pouring hot lava from north to south, as city after city was destroyed by the fury of the Assyrian cavalry.

By 701 B.C., King Sennacherib of Assyria had destroyed 46 fortified cities in Judah, and circled around Jerusalem to attack it from the south. Only one city still stood between the Assyrians and Jerusalem: the city of Lachish, 30 miles south of Jerusalem. If Lachish fell, Jerusalem would be next.

The Assyrians sent the Rabshakeh, the third in command of the army, to Jerusalem on a special mission to tell them to surrender, because all hope was gone.

Can you relate to the people of Jerusalem? Did you feel like you have been surrounded and cut off, cut down and all hope is gone? So how do you handle your problems?

The world has a way to handle problems, and God has a way. Isaiah chapter 36 tells the story of how the Rabshakeh taunted them, and in this chapter we see the ways the world tries to handle problems. Then in chapter 37, we will see how Hezekiah responded.

I. The world’s way to solve our problems (Isaiah 36)

A. Smart thinking (36:10, 18-20)

The Assyrian field commander, known as the Rabshakeh, assaulted the minds of the Hebrews with psychological warfare. He threw at them every argument he could think of to discourage them. Shouting in the Hebrew language so the people on the wall could hear, he taunted them. He referred to Hezekiah by his first name, without the title “king,” but he referred to King Sennacherib of Assyria always with the title king. Notice in verse 13 he called out loudly to the people to listen to the words of the great king, king of Assyria, saying, don’t let Hezekiah deceive you, don’t let Hezekiah persuade you.”

He asked them who were they trusting to save them? Then he listed how city after city had fallen to their power, and one by one how nobody could save them. If they leaned on Egypt like a staff, it would splinter and pierce their hand. Every nation that relied on their gods had fallen to the king of Assyria. Look at verse 11-13, where he lists the cities of Mesopotamia and Syria that had fallen to the Assyrian army.

Sometimes what he said was a contradiction. He told them that Assyria wouldn’t have attacked them unless the Lord had sent him. But then he turned around and said, “Don’t let Hezekiah mislead you by saying that the Lord will deliver you, because no other city has been rescued by their gods.”

Are we any different today, as we try to solve our problems with our own intelligence? We think, “I can figure this problem out. I’ll find a solution.” But what do you do when there is no solution to your problem?

B. Clever compromise (36:7)

The Assyrian field commander implied another worldly way to solve problems in verse 7, when he taunted them for relying on the Lord when King Hezekiah had torn down the “high places” altars to the Lord.

What is he talking about? The “high places” were open air shrines, often located on a hill, used to worship the Lord. So why did King Hezekiah tear them down? The Assyrian field commander thought Hezekiah must have insulted the Lord by tearing them down. But what he didn’t realize was that these high places were often located in spots that had originally been used to worship Canaanite gods. Because of this, it was too easy for Israelites to be influenced by local pagan cults and traditions at the high places. Once the worship of the Lord was established at the temple in Jerusalem, the Lord commanded the high places to be abandoned. But many Israelites thought they had a clever compromise. They claimed to worship the Lord, but they did it the way that was convenient, at the high places instead of in Jerusalem.

Are we any different when we decide to follow God partially, but not wholeheartedly?

C. Advanced technology (36:8)

In verse 8, the Rabshakeh taunts them with a proposal. He offers to give them 2,000 horses to fight back against Assyria, if they can find riders for that many horses.

In 701 B.C., whoever had the horses won the battle. The Assyrians were famous for their cavalry. On horseback, the cavalry could attack the enemy rapidly, and speedy away, and foot soldiers were no match for them.

Horses and chariots were the most advanced weapons of war.

Today, we have far more advanced forms of technology. We have rapid communication with our cell phones and computers, rapid-fire weapons with our air force and guided ballistic missiles.

American technology has taken us into outer space. But when the Space Shuttle blew up, we were brought down to earth and reminded that our technology can fail.

It is easy for us to trust in our technology to solve our problems. But what do we do when the Internet is down, the call is dropped and the weapon fails to fire?

II. God’s way to solve our problems

(Isaiah 37)

King Hezekiah chose God’s way to solve his problem, not the world’s way.

  1. Humble submission (37:1-3)

Hezekiah realized he had no power to save himself. He knew how desperate his situation was. He put on sackcloth, a sign of mourning. He sent messengers to the prophet Isaiah and said, “This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them.” He knew it was impossible to save himself. This humility was part of the secret to Hezekiah’s success.

God uses broken vessels. God is looking for men and women who will humble themselves and submit totally to God. As long as we fight and bully our way through life the world’s way, we will fail.

Alcoholics Anonymous and every 12-step group start with the admission that they realized they had a problem and needed help.

King David said in Psalm 51, “a broken and humbled heart, the Lord will not despise.”

  1. Believing prayer (3:14-22)

Hezekiah got a short reprieve, as the field commander received a report that that Tirhakah, the king of Egypt was marching out to fight him. So he went to fight Egypt, but sent a letter and warned Hezekiah that he would be back to destroy Jerusalem.

What did Hezekiah do? He took the letter to the temple of the Lord, and spread it out before the Lord. He prayed. Not just any prayer, but believing prayer. Prayer of faith.

When George Müeller was working to build up his orphanages in Bristol; when he had the beginnings of his buildings, but very few orphans; and again when afterwards he needed yet larger buildings for the work he felt had to be done, he was one day on his knees in prayer to God, and he opened his Bible to Psalm 81:10: "Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it." The truth of this promise seized and mastered his soul, and he declared from that time he had expected great things from God, had asked great things, and had not been disappointed. The Father honored the faith which so honored him.

As Paul Harvey says, here's "the rest of the story": Isaiah 37:36-37 records in a few short verses that during the night, an angel of the Lord destroyed the Assyrian army and King Sennacherib withdrew from Jerusalem.

God did what nobody thought possible for His glory, and He wants to do amazing things in your life, as well.

The next time you feel like all hope is gone, just remember....

Noah was a drunk

Abraham was too old

Isaac was a daydreamer

Jacob was a liar

Leah was ugly

Joseph was abused

Moses had a stuttering problem

Gideon was afraid

Samson had long hair and was a womanizer

Rahab was a prostitute

Jeremiah and Timothy were too young

David had an affair and was a murderer

Elijah was suicidal

Isaiah preached naked

Jonah ran from God

Naomi was a widow

Job went bankrupt

Peter denied Christ (3 times!)

The Disciples fell asleep while praying

Martha worried about everything

Mary Magdalene was promiscuous

the Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once...

Zaccheus was too small

Paul was too religious

Timothy had an ulcer....


Lazarus was dead!

Yet God used every one of those people and more, despite their failures, and God can still use you, if you’ll submit to Him in faith.

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