Rabshakeh’s Taunt

The Old Testament uses all sorts of names to describe the character of God. Most of us are familiar with Jehovah Jireh or Jehovah Rapha. One of my personal favorites is when God is simply described as ‘The Living God’. In the context of the story of Hezekiah, king of Judah, this phrase takes on a particularly powerful meaning.

2 Kings 18 finds Hezekiah facing the most powerful kingdom on earth at that time, the Assyrians. Having just overrun the northern kingdom of Israel and taken them into exile, they continue on to Judah in hopes of destroying them as well. They take Judah’s fortified cities and come to Jerusalem to deliver the final blow to Hezekiah. In an attempt to weaken their resolve, the commander of the army of Assyria – the Rabshakeh – speaks to the people who are on the walls of Jerusalem:

19 Then the Rabshakeh said to them, “Tell Hezekiah this is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: ‘What are you relying on? … 30 Don’t let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord by saying: Certainly the Lord will deliver us! This city will not be handed over to the king of Assyria.’ … But don’t listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying: The Lord will deliver us. 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land from the power 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 from my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands has delivered his land from my power? So will the Lord deliver Jerusalem?'”

Apparently, the Rabshakeh felt that nothing and nobody could stop him. His confidence and pride were at its pinnacle with nation after nation bowing before the might of Assyria. Why was the God of Israel any different from all the gods from the surrounding nations? Who was Yahweh that He could stop him? If there was any lack of faith amongst the people of Israel, these words would have surely spoken to and increased their doubt.

Now Hezekiah was a man after God’s own heart. He removed the high places and sought the Lord with all His heart unlike any king had since king David. This attitude of heart shone through when the Rabshakeh’s taunts reached his ears. After Hezekiah called on the name of the Lord, God answered and caused the army of Assyria to leave. Before they left, however, they left Hezekiah a message with a second taunt, reminding him that ‘they will be back’. Apparently, this taunt struck a cord with the king. This time, he went into the house of the Lord and proceeded to pray a magnificent prayer:

15 Then Hezekiah prayed before the Lord:
Lord God of Israel who is enthroned [above] the cherubim, You are God – You alone – of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made the heavens and the earth. 16 Listen closely, Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, Lord, and see. Hear the words that Sennacherib has sent to mock the living God. 17 Lord, it is true that the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but made by human hands-wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19 Now, Lord our God, please save us from his hand so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord God – You alone.

What a confession and what a prayer! The first words out of Hezekiah’s mouth are a powerful confession of his faith – “You are God – You alone!” He placed his focus squarely on the fact that God is God and the only true God – the Living God. Hezekiah doesn’t stick his head in the sand – he acknowledges that the other nations and gods have been defeated and destroyed. He doesn’t stay there either, though. Hezekiah knows his God is a Living God – not a dead one – and will answer him when he calls on His name. I’m sure the king was afraid and I’m pretty sure he had some questions. But that fear and those questions did not keep him from seeking God and placing his faith in Him. He knew that all those other gods were dead gods – but His God was an alive one! And that made all the difference in the world.

King Hezekiah’s prayer is a most magnificent illustration of true faith in the face of the most adverse circumstances. More than that, however, it brings my attention back to the fact that my God is a Living God – that He is God alone. The implications this has for my approach to reality are staggering: I may face fears, questions, doubts, trials, and challenges, but in the end I can know that God is in control and I can call upon His Name. Any thought or concept that declares itself greater than God’s love, God’s power, or God’s wisdom is ultimately a lie. My God is alive and He alone is God – nothing and nobody else. I cannot think of any one thought that is more comforting and reassuring than that one.

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