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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。

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.