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信靠独一真神 Trusting the one true God

Sermon passage: (2 Kings 18:1-19:37) Spoken on: July 19, 2020
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Kings

Tags: 2 Kings

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: Trusting the one true God
Date: 19th July 2020
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

In the Nahum sermon series [1], we heard about how God would intervene to destroy Assyria. You must try to imagine how the people of Israel would have received the message at that time: it was with utter shock and disbelief. It’s like telling us how the United States or China will be fully destroyed. Sounds impossible right? The Assyrians were the ultimate superpower of their time, with the Egyptians playing a feeble second fiddle. Even Babylon at that time was merely part of the Assyrian empire, just another notch in the Assyrian belt. If any kingdom wished to fight against the Assyrians, frankly, it is like the Chinese idioms “like a praying mantis blocking the car螳螂挡车 and like beating the rock with an egg以卵击石”. One of the insults from the Assyrian king to King Hezekiah stated the fact of their disparity plainly: 2 Kings 18: 23 I will give you two thousand horses—if you can put riders on them! Fighting against the Assyrians was like fighting against a country with fighter jets, when you don’t even have pilots. The Assyrians were militarily advanced both in technology and manpower.

That didn’t mean that the smaller kingdoms did not try to challenge Assyria though, because paying the annual tributes as a vassal state was extremely costly. Losing the entire wealth of your country would mean that you would never be able to fight back. It would turn into a vicious cycle, where Assyria continued to get stronger and richer and the vassal states continued to get weaker and poorer. So even though they knew the Assyrians would come back with a vengeance upon any sign of a rebellion, like in the case of how Israel was destroyed in 2 Kings 17, the smaller kingdoms still tried to break free from the choke hold of Assyria whenever they could.

One way to do that was to rely on Egypt, the second strongest superpower at that time. But Egypt was not a reliable partner. She was just manipulating these vassal states of Assyria into rebellion in order to weaken the Assyrian empire. Why dirty your hands when there were those that would willingly sacrifice based on your false promises. But when it came to a real fight, Egypt was still far inferior. Furthermore, Egypt as a minor superpower herself was no less ambitious than Assyria. When Assyria retreated, it just meant that Egypt advanced her control. Meet the new Boss, same as the old Boss. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same. This was why Assyria described Egypt as “that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.” (18:21) For these little kingdoms living under these two superpowers, it was really like choosing between a rock and a hard place. In many ways, it is also very much like Singapore and many other countries sandwiched between the United States and China.

The other way to break free was to stage your rebellion when Assyria was down with internal strife. Just like any royal household, there were many times when Assyria had to deal with civil wars or conflicts, such as challenges to the throne, competition over royal succession, and insurrections. But these are like moments when the big bully takes a sick day. As soon as he recovers, the intimidation and menace would resume. The ending of the short breather is not a matter of if, but when. Both of these tactics were tried by Hoshea, the last king of Israel, and we see that they backfired horribly.

Our story today suggests a third way: to trust in God. This trust is based on the covenant that is described in Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy 12, it states that all other forms of worship, whether it is the high places or even things considered sacred such as Moses’ rod of healing, were rejected by God, except worship in God’s own desired way. In Deuteronomy 28, there are clearly stated promises and curses. If the stipulations of the covenant were obeyed, the covenanted people of God would be blessed by living in the land. But if not, they would be destroyed and expelled from the land. When we look at why Israel was destroyed by Assyria, 2 Kings 17 made it explicitly clear, that it was because they broke the covenant with God. [2]

You know who else also broke the covenant? It was King Ahaz in 2 Kings 16. I described earlier that the idolatry of Ahaz was like an epidemic of idol worship gone out of control. [3] Therefore Assyria was quite right in describing itself as God’s instrument of judgment: “25 Is it without the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’” In our passage today, the Assyrians had already conquered all the cities of Judah, including their strongest fortress Lachish. Jerusalem was merely hanging on by a thread. Thankfully, there was a circuit breaker to put a stop to the total destruction of Judah. Hezekiah was that crucial circuit breaker of Judah’s idolatry. Judah could have been next to follow the fate of Israel. But Hezekiah did something no kings before him had ever done before. He destroyed all the high places and ensured that the only form of worship was the one that was desired by God. He allowed for no compromises in the full obedience to God’s stipulations in the covenant.

Hezekiah did not rely on Egypt for his rebellion against Assyria. Instead he chose to trust in God. Trust was a key word repeated many times in the conversation between the Assyrians, Hezekiah, as well as prophet Isaiah. If you recall the earlier problem with Ahaz, the main reason why he was so superstitious and worshipping every idol he could find, was because he could not fully trust any of them. And prophet Isaiah’s main message to him in Isaiah 6-8 was that if you feared God alone, then you need not fear anything else. But trust is very hard when you have danger right at your doorstep. The Assyrians lured the people of Judah by saying that Egypt could not be trusted, Hezekiah could not be trusted since he was just delivering empty words, and even God could not be trusted since all the rest of the gods of the surrounding nations had failed to save them from Assyria. Only Assyria could be trusted with their promises of military protection and abundant resources (2 Kings 18:31-32). And these were not empty promises, since the power of Assyria was a proven fact.

Unfortunately for the Assyrians, they made one fatal error. And because of that, the entire Assyrian army laying siege at Jerusalem was wiped out by God, and Sennacherib king of Assyria was killed in his palace in Nineveh. What was this mistake that was so deadly? Assyria thought that God was just like all the rest of the gods that they had encountered so far. So they could roll over Judah just as they did with the other kingdoms and their useless gods. But they did not know that this God was like no other gods. That was their key miscalculation.

2 Kings 18: 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?
Sennacherib even repeated the same insult again in 2 Kings 19:12-13.

And I think this was why Hezekiah’s prayer was especially important because the gist of it is that God is God alone. 2 Kings 19: 15 “O Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.

“You, O Lord, are God alone.” This was the level of Hezekiah’s faith, a total contrast with Ahaz his father. He acknowledged that God was the only one true God. So even though all other kingdoms might fall to the Assyrians, that meant nothing to Hezekiah because his God was different. God might be the God of Israel, but he was also the creator of heaven and earth. That meant that God’s power and control went beyond just Israel and Judah, and he had influence over all the nations of the earth. This coincided with the vision in Isaiah 19: 23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”

In the ideal state, all people and all nations will submit to the good will of God. It started with the covenanted people of Israel, but it also extended to superpowers like Assyria and Egypt. And that was where the Assyrians failed. They were previously the instrument of God to judge Israel. And Judah should have fallen in the same way to them, because of the sins of Ahaz. But in their pride, they insulted even God himself. That was the decisive blunder. And so God intervened. 2 Kings 19: 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.

As Christians, we sometimes wonder when God will intervene to transform a difficult situation. Our bible passage today is a bridge between the sermon series of Nahum and of Zephaniah. In Nahum, God rescued Judah from the hands of Assyria (Nahum 1:12-13). But in Zephaniah, God judged Judah by the hands of Babylon. He did not rescue them that time. Sometimes, it is hard to tell which way God would act towards a given situation. In my opinion, there are 2 key determining factors. God will act for his own sake and for the sake of his servant. In our story today, Sennacherib courted his own doom to mock God directly. We can say that God acted to defend his own honor. But that wasn’t the only factor. The obedience of Hezekiah in trusting God and only God caused God to remember his covenant with his servant David. We can say that God acted because of the actions of Hezekiah.

But I think what we are more interested in is what God will do in our lives and our troubles. Will God rescue? Or will God judge? If only we can be like Isaiah, and we can summon his prophecies in our times of need. Today, I would like to conclude with this reflection. We do have the words of Isaiah. Just like how we have the words of Nahum and Zephaniah. Their words have been cherished and preserved precisely because they remain relevant to the Jews as well as we who trust in the one true God. When we act as if God does not matter in our lives and decisions, we are mocking him like King Sennacherib. Our judgment will not be far away. When we cast aside all idolatry and false securities and put our faith in God, we trust him just like King Hezekiah. Our rescue will be near as well. The words of Isaiah and the other prophets do apply to us. Thanks be to God because the God we worship is like no other.

[1] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?series=74
[2] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=1025
[3] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=1024

2 Kings 18–19 (Listen)

18:1 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

In the fourth year of King Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it, 10 and at the end of three years he took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. 11 The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria and put them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12 because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded. They neither listened nor obeyed.

13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king’s house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, “We trust in the LORD our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”

26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”

28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD by saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of 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 delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.

19:1 As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the LORD. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the LORD your God heard all the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” 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 servants 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.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he has set out to fight against you.” So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’”

14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said: “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 16 Incline your ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 17 Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 19 So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O LORD, are God alone.”

20 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Your prayer to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. 21 This is the word that the LORD has spoken concerning him:

  “She despises you, she scorns you—
    the virgin daughter of Zion;
  she wags her head behind you—
    the daughter of Jerusalem.
22   “Whom have you mocked and reviled?
    Against whom have you raised your voice
  and lifted your eyes to the heights?
    Against the Holy One of Israel!
23   By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
    and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
  I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
    to the far recesses of Lebanon;
  I felled its tallest cedars,
    its choicest cypresses;
  I entered its farthest lodging place,
    its most fruitful forest.
24   I dug wells
    and drank foreign waters,
  and I dried up with the sole of my foot
    all the streams of Egypt.’
25   “Have you not heard
    that I determined it long ago?
  I planned from days of old
    what now I bring to pass,
  that you should turn fortified cities
    into heaps of ruins,
26   while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
    are dismayed and confounded,
  and have become like plants of the field
    and like tender grass,
  like grass on the housetops,
    blighted before it is grown.
27   “But I know your sitting down
    and your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.
28   Because you have raged against me
    and your complacency has come into my ears,
  I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
  and I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came.

29 “And this shall be the sign for you: this year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same. Then in the third year sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. 30 And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward. 31 For out of Jerusalem shall go a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the LORD will do this.

32 “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 33 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. 34 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”

35 And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.

(ESV)