[I’ve been writing lessons to go with “Faith Lessons” DVD series by Ray Vander Laan. At first, I thought the lessons would only work for those with the DVDs, so I’ve just been posting them by adding to the original post.
But I’ve found myself summarizing Vander Laan’s lesson and think this approach makes the lessons more generally applicable. Therefore, I’m going to post the lessons along with the regular posts. I doubt the rest will be quite this long.]
The city of Lachish is a tell (abandoned site, now an archaeological dig) located southwest of Jerusalem. It was destroyed during the reign of King Hezekiah — a godly king of Judea (the Southern Kingdom). Pictures of Lachish may be found here.
Earlier, God had allowed the Assyrians to take Israel (the Northern Kingdom) into captivity, never to return. The northern tribes had sunk into idolatry, primarily the worship of Baal and Asherah — particularly heterosexual and homosexual ritual prostitution and the sacrifice of babies, who were burned in worship of Baal, as described a couple of lessons ag.
Judea had also sunk into idolatry, with kings who worshipped Baal. The king of Assyria, Sennacherib, began a campaign to conquer Judea. One of its best defended, most important cities was Lachish, and Lachish was brutally besieged and defeated. The Assyrians left a tableau carved into stone telling the story — ending with images of captives being tortured to death — flayed alive and impaled alive on pikes.
Hezekiah ordered a purge of Judea’s idols, having all altars and idols to Baal or Asherah destroyed and urging the people to return to God. Sennacherib scoffed at God’s ability to defend Judea —
(2 Ki 18:28-35) 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. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his 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!
“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?”
Hezekiah took this message to the temple. God’s prophet Isaiah brought God’s response to Hezekiah —
(2 Ki 19:6-7) Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard–those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Listen! I am going to put such a spirit in him that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.'”
(2 Ki 19:15-19) And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD, 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, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. 17 “It is true, O 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 men’s hands. 19 Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.“
We’ve heard this before! Over and over, the Old Testament teaches that God does miracles, not only to preserve his chosen people, but so that the nations will know that he is the one true God. God’s mission to the nations began long before the dawn of Christianity. Our task as Christians is to fulfill this mission.
(2 Ki 19:35-37) That night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning–there were all the dead bodies! 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. 37 One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.
Now, the Assyrians also carved records of the siege of Jerusalem, but rather than describing a victory, they only record that Sennacherib surrounded the city. The rest of the story isn’t recorded!
Ray Vander Laan’s observations:
* When a culture becomes sufficiently un-Godly, God allows it to be destroyed.
* Even though some in the north and some in the south were followers of God, when the destruction came, both the Godly and the ungodly suffered. Therefore, the church cannot adopt a strategy of separation and expect God’s blessings. We are accountable for the culture in which we live.
* A good national leader — the king in Judea’s case — can lead his country to repent and avoid defeat.
As the teachers discussed these ideas on Wednesday night, several thoughts came up —
* In a democracy, we have greater influence over the nation’s choice of leader, but the leader has much less power to influence the people. Indeed, in the US, freedom of religion would prevent the president — or the government — from compelling the worship of God or banning the worship of Baal (or the modern equivalents).
* While a president can have an influence on culture, experience shows that the impact of a president on our nation’s Christianity is pretty minimal. Jimmy Carter was (and is) a devout Baptist. Bush is a devout Methodist. Both are reviled. Reagan and Clinton are adored by their respective parties and neither was much of a practicing Christian.
* Republicans have sought to gain Christian support by taking positions against abortion and homosexual marriage. But the result has been to fool Christians into thinking that these are the issues that define Christian politics. As important as these issues are, they are very, very low cost. The typical Christian has to give up nothing to support both views, and so they hardly represent the essence of Christian commitment. And taking these positions does not cause non-Christians to admire Christianity. This is no reason to abandon these positions, but it is a reason to avoid defining Christian politics as having the right positions on these two moral issues. Surely God calls us to something bigger (and more costly).
* Democrats, while supporting abortion and, in many cases, gay marriage, are deeply concerned about the environment, the poor, and the needy in other nations.
* Both parties are quite willing to stretch the truth or even lie to gain power. The overall ethic of American politics is far from Christian.
* Although Hezekiah pushed his people to return to God, after his death, they quickly returned to idolatry.
(2 Ki 21:1-7) Manasseh [Hezekiah’s son] was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. 2 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.” 5 In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. 6 He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced sorcery and divination, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 7 He took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the LORD had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever.”
* And although there were God-worshippers in Judea before Hezekiah’s reforms, there were idols and altars to Baal and Asherah on every high place and under every tree!
(2 Ki 16:4) He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.
Idolatry could not have been so rampant unless the people were willing participants. Evidently the followers of God failed to influence their neighbors and friends to stay away from idolatry. They suffered despite their faith because they weren’t salt and light to the people around them.
* Therefore, ultimately, it’s up to the people of God — not the government or its leaders — to turn the hearts of people toward God. Even a great king like Hezekiah was not able to turn the people — or even his children — toward God by himself.
(2 Ki 21:9) But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites.
* How can God’s people make a truly significant difference in the culture of this country?
[discussion of this critical question is in the following post]