Sunday, September 12, 2010

Isaiah 39 - Envoys from Babylon

Hezekiah exhibiting his treasures
Opening thought: We are living in an uncertain world. The economy, a continuing war, a political system under duress, and the strain on family and morality create an uncertain future. In an article in the Detroit Free Press, on September 12, 2010, says that “Many people who expected by now to be on the brink of their next, leisurely life are instead hoping to hang onto jobs, if they still have them. Never much on saving, these Americans in their 50s and early 60s have seen their retirement plans evaporate at an alarming rate in the housing bust, stock market crash and corporate bankruptcies that erased pensions.
“How bad is it? If you are near retirement, the 2008 recession may never end for you. You may be working well into your 70s.
“The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College calculates a National Retirement Risk Index showing the percentage of Americans in danger of growing poorer in their senior years. That index now stands at 51% — up dramatically from 31% in 1983.”[1]
With a nation with the greatest number of poor ever recorded, we have an uncertain future as we head into the 2010 mid-term elections.
Uncertainty was the world in which King Hezekiah lived. The Assyrian superpower dominated through intimidation and brutality. Everyone was looking for a way around a unipolar world. The uncertainty for Hezekiah led him into some foolish decisions.

Pray and Read:  Isaiah 39

Contextual Notes: 
The section of Isaiah’s prophecy between chapters 36 and 39 are a pivot for the book, proving Isaiah’s words to be accurate and giving confidence to the reader in his long-throw, end-time Messianic prophecies.

But chapters 36-39 are not in chronological order. Chapter 36 and 37 happen in 704-701 B.C., while chapter 38 happens in 712 B.C. and chapter 39 in c. 700 B.C. So chapter 38 happened first in 712 B.C. when Hezekiah was about 31 years old. Chapters 36-37 occur during the years 704-701 B.C., with the final destruction of Sennacharib in 701 B.C. Chapter 39 happens just after the Assyrian threat has been removed. Chronological order is not important to Isaiah. His purpose is not to write a history but to teach that his prophecies up to this point were accurate, and therefore the reader can believe the end-time prophecies with confidence.

After the destruction of Sennacharib’s army, Hezekiah and the nation of Judah continued to grow in wealth, precious metals, agricultural products, and livestock. During the invasion, he had built a new broad wall of protection which was 23 feet wide and has been uncovered in the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1970s, and the 1,750-foot tunnel he built through solid limestone under the city of Jerusalem to channel water from the Gihon spring into the Pool of Siloam still has water and is still viable today, having been discovered in 1880 by boys swimming at the sight. The famous “Siloam inscription” gives the eighth century account of the tunnel’s construction, telling how two crews of workmen used picks to work toward each other in an S-shaped path until they heard the other crew’s voices, and they were only off by a few feet.

In chapter 39, with the Assyrian threat done in, the nations take note (in answer to the prayer of 37:20) at the power of the Lord and his protection of his people. One of those nations is one on the make, one that had felt the heavy hand of Assyria, and one that would like to replace its old enemy.

Only those who rely on God completely can experience his full deliverance. Hezekiah and the Jewish people must choose to depend on Him with their whole hearts if there was to be any hope.

Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 39 to teach Israel the importance of relying on the Lord in an uncertain world through discretion, accountability, and vision.

Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about relying fully on the Lord.

Sermon Points:
  1. In an uncertain world, discretion is protection (Isaiah 39:1-2)
  2. In an uncertain world, accountability is protection (Isaiah 39:3-7)
  3. In an uncertain world, vision is protection (Isaiah 39:8)

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   Hezekiah’s life ends with a sad note. This king, who knew enough to trust God and not an alliance with Egypt, who trusted God in the siege of Jerusalem and saw a great deliverance, who had a divine healing, falls into the trap of an alliance with a pagan nation. The Babylonians, who like Judah were enemies of Assyria, were growing in power. Second Chronicles 32:31 says when the envoys “were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sing that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything in his heart.”
b.   If you were a nation wanting to overthrow your old enemy, you would look toward other nations who wanted the same thing and who had had some success. That is called coalition-building, and ambassadors from Babylon would soon pay Hezekiah a visit. The local headlines read ostensibly that the Babylonians were there on a state visit to congratulate the king on his recovery, but they were most likely looking to encourage resistance against the Assyrian superpower that threatened both of them.

c.   Hezekiah enthusiastically welcomed them and showed them everything in his kingdom. For Hezekiah it is a temptation. He flirts with a new alliance with this new crowd of would-be empire builders from Babylon. Isaiah was angry with Hezekiah because Isaiah saw his welcoming of the envoys as a failure to rely on God entirely. Isaiah told Hezekiah that one day after he was dead and gone the little nation of Judah would be torn apart by the Babylonians, and the Jewish survivors would be torn from their land and sent into captivity (39:).
d.   Under the pretext of a courtesy visit to celebrate Hezekiah’s recovery, they take inventory of the king’s wealth. Hezekiah himself conducted a tour of his palace and the Temple from top to bottom, showing them his wealth (39:1-2). It seems he was naïve about the Babylonians’ motives and too easily flattered by their visit.
e.   APPLICATION: While it is true that we should trust God in the face of adversity (30:15), and while we may feel we have nothing to hide, we also are responsible to be watchful and avoid compromise. We must give thought to whom we open our hearts and homes (Judges 16:17-21). Discretion is a key to good management of both homes and nations.
a.   Isaiah responds swiftly, informing Hezekiah that Babylon will invade Judah in the future and carry off all his wealth and some of his descendants (39:3-7; 2 Kings 24:8-25:21). Isaiah is a real friend to Hezekiah. He could write him off and leave him alone, but out of love and commitment, he holds Hezekiah accountable for his actions.
c.   APPLICATION:  Real friends will ask you tough questions. Real friends will push you to think and make good decisions. Real friends will hold you accountable. Real friends will be your best protection against foolish acts. Find a friend to whom you can be accountable. Be a friend to someone who needs accountability. It will be your protection.
a.   Hezekiah’s response? Ambiguous. On one hand he seems concerned for the immediate security of Judah (37:1, 17-20), but on the other hand he rejoices that the invasion will not happen during his lifetime and does not seem concerned about the generation to come (39:8). Now Hezekiah is about 42 years old. In two years he will be dead, but he makes no provision for the next generation.
b.   APPLICATION: A visionary leader will take pains to leave things in good condition for those who come after. A responsible individual leaves thing better than they found them for others. David did it for Solomon (1 Chronicles 28:9-10), and Paul did it for Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2).
c.   Old age and a sense of accomplishment has special temptations. You can do foolish things if you are not close to the Lord, and you can be very selfish if you have plateaued and are not walking with Him. Who are you providing for? Who are you leaving things in better shape for? Who are you training? Who are you mentoring? Who are you discipling? Who are you pouring your life into? It is your responsibility as a Christian. The Great Commission says to make disciples of Jesus among all the nations, not to make converts to Christianity.