If we're honest, I think we all know what it's like to become victimized by an enemy. Staring your opponent down at the swim meet, hearing the basketball boys mock your every dribble, or catching the latest sass from your sibling, are just a few examples. However, beyond teenage and young adulthood endeavors, the enemies we grow to face as adults can also be damaging and detrimental to the faith.
As adults, we've heard the saying, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." And as a high school teacher, I can attest that children and grown men and women alike do not believe the fallacy this statement claims. Words, work, co-workers, and circumstances become enemies we get tired of fighting more often than not.
Though they are different than our childhood rivals and adversaries, their long-term results can lead to permanent infliction if not dealt with accordingly.
In Isaiah's book, the prophet is given an enormous job; to share God's Word with the people, help them turn from sin, and seek God in repentance. What many may overlook, however, is that he was also one of the best fighters when it came to taking a stand against the enemy.
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What's the Big Picture?
By the time we reach chapter 36 of Isaiah's prophecy, it is clear that God's people need to repent of sin and ask God to rescue them. Complete restoration, deliverance, and hope are in the future of Jerusalem and Judah if only they would trust in the Lord. What sets this chapter apart from all the others, though, is that this time, even though God's people may be willing to turn back to God, the enemy is striking hard to discourage them.
When Sennacherib, King of Assyria, threatens God's people (Judah), he sends his Field Commander to share a bold and intimidating message--one that goes directly against the prophecy and trust in Christ Hezekiah has been preaching. Mocking Hezekiah (King of Judah) and God Himself, the words of this enemy sting deeply.
"Tell Hezekiah: 'This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have counsel and might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. But if you say to me, "We are depending on the Lord our God"—isn't he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, "You must worship before this altar"'?" (Isaiah 36:4-7)
I'm not sure if you caught it, but Sennacherib's scare tactics are rooted in common logical fallacies. With Ad Hominem (attacking a person making an argument rather than the idea itself), and Slippery Slope (claiming that a single event will inevitably give rise to a chain of future events), he creates convincing and mistaken beliefs for truth. While dozens of these logical fallacies exist, Sennacherib is most successful with mocking words (vs.4), questioning authority (vs.4-5), offering bribes (vs.6-8), and declaring wars (vs.4-10). He's even a mastermind at bringing up past sins as bondages and future freedoms as desirables far out of reach (vs.8-10).
"'Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses—if you can put riders on them! How then can you repulse one officer of the least of my master's officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it'" (Isaiah 36:8-10).
Because when the enemy blows, he doesn't try to defeat us solely with our present problems, but our past, present, and future ones. For this reason, Sennacherib brought up Judah's sins: depending on Egypt for their rescue and salvation rather than God (vs.6) and false accusations about something he knew nothing about (vs.7).
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The Enemies We Face
In humanity, we all face enemies of many kinds. And our enemy, whether it is a person, situation, consequence, result of living in a fallen world, or the Devil himself, mocks God and tries to threaten us the same. The Devil pretends to be satisfactory and is highly enticing. He acts as if he's from the Lord. He's a mastermind at disguising himself as everything we've ever wanted to succeed and everything we've ever needed to achieve rest from the wars we are endlessly fighting.
Our enemies throw insults like softballs and counterintuitive remarks like confetti with scare tactics, logical fallacies, and vicious words.
"Did God really say?" (Genesis 3:1).
"But if you say to me, 'We are depending on the Lord our God'—isn't he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, 'You must worship before this altar'?" (Isaiah 36:7).
The enemy makes you question your sanity, and ultimately, brings up past sins so we will never feel fully capable of moving onto the future Christ has set for us. But no matter how or when the enemy strikes, we must learn to be like Hezekiah and appropriately respond.
"But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, 'Do not answer him'" (Isaiah 36:21).
As King of Judah, Hezekiah heard what was said about him and his God from Eliakim, son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah, son of Asaph the recorder (Isaiah 36:3). Scripture tells us that though he heard this information second-hand, he not only knew what truth was and what was a lie, but he was able to distinguish it.
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How Hezekiah Fights
Instead of being tempted with bribery or flattery, Hezekiah set off on a solid pursuit to fulfill the Lord's call on his life and for the people of Judah. He embodied what Exodus 14:14 teaches and truly let God fight His battles (Exodus 14:14).
Immediately after hearing what Sennacherib had said, Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah were adamant about asking the messenger (Field Commander sent by Sennacherib) to quiet down. Like many enemies, he was a bit too loud and obnoxious; so much so, they feared that if he continued to speak in Hebrew, the others near the wall would hear. While I suppose this is because of longing to protect their people, the Field Commander only grew ruder and more offensive, shouting lies to debilitate them deliberately.
"Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, "Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! 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'" (Isaiah 36:13-15).
Before Hezekiah even knew/heard, or received this message, the enemy sought to take the Lord's people out completely (vs.11-22). And sometimes, in our lives, our enemies do the same things. They won't stop; they never stop talking and blowing hot air, and they even attack the one you trust most (e.g., The Field Commander told them not to trust their leader (Hezekiah) or God). Our enemies here on earth do the same.
Our enemies turn spouses and families against one another when the real enemy is the powers of the evil world or our fallenness as humanity (Ephesians 6:12). The enemy causes us to question God and believe the lies sold to us as truth (Isaiah 36:13-15). Against all odds, our enemies attempt to break our trust with Trust Himself because if he can control that, he can convince you of everything else.
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How We Can Fight
The enemy will try to get you to seek peace and meet him, but do not fall to his schemes (vs.16-17). Do not believe that making a deal with the Devil will provide or that drinking from your own cistern will ever satisfy. For the truth of the matter is, the enemy will speak everything untrue, but if we hold firm in silence and wait for the Lord to act, lead us and bring retribution, we will be much more eternally satisfied.
"Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 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" (Isaiah 36:16-17).
We don't need land and water, grain and wine, bread and vineyards like our own; we need land and water, grain and wine, bread and vineyards like the Lord's (vs.17). God is unlike other gods, and Sennacherib didn't understand this (vs.18-20). Yet in everything, the people possessed what Joshua 1:9 commends: "Be strong and courageous" (ESV) and remained silent because their King (Hezekiah) knew the Lord and knew how to speak when the enemies had spoken (vs.21).
"Who of all the gods of these countries have been able to save their lands from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, "Do not answer him." Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said" (Hezekiah 36:20-22).
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A Call to Stand
By the time we reach Isaiah 37-39, it is clear that while Hezekiah and the people of Judah remained silent in front of the enemy, the Lord was fighting on their behalf. After tearing his clothes and praying fervently before the Lord, Hezekiah spreads the issues before God (Isaiah 37:14-20). He does not tell others but goes to the one source He trusts, knows, and believes can provide.
"As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, "Say to your master, 'Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land'" (Isaiah 37:1, 5-7 ESV).
Receiving encouragement from the Lord, Hezekiah prayed: "So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord" (Isaiah 37:20, ESV). In doing so, God heard Hezekiah's plea and answered him through the reassurance of Isaiah's prophecy (vs.20-38), including total deliverance, the murder of Sennacherib, a sign for Hezekiah himself, and restoration of the people of Judah.
Learning to remain silent in any given situation is hard, but it is complicated when that solitude is in the presence of our enemies. Everything within us wants to scream and shout, fight for ourselves, and bear an eye for an eye, but the Lord asks us to be still (Exodus 14:14).
A Prayer For Today
When the enemy strikes, the best thing we can do is what Hezekiah did: Take it to the Lord, repent (if necessary), and ask Him to fight for us. While you wait in silence, know that as the storm surges on, the Lord will go out on your behalf so that you don't have to worry about it.
While the outcome may not always look like what you wanted, and bad things happen to good people all the time, the fact is that we are all broken humans living on fallen earth; this is not all we are living for and striving for our ambitions is not the eternal prize. But one thing is for sure: He works all things for our good and His glory, and that includes when the enemy strikes.
Be still, my friend. The battle may rage on, but He's already won the never-ending war. We're just mere mortals passing through until we reach that destination with Him.
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Originally published Friday, 03 September 2021.