Wednesday, January 03, 2024

2024.01.03 Hopewell @Home ▫ Isaiah 39

Read Isaiah 39

Questions from the Scripture text: When does this occur (Isaiah 39:1)? Who acts in verse 1? Whose son is he? Of where/what is he king? What two things does he send? To whom? Why? What did Hezekiah think of the envoys (Isaiah 39:2)? What did he show them? What five things, specifically? How much of them? What didn’t he show them? Who goes to King Hezekiah in Isaiah 39:3? Whose envoy is he? What two things does he ask? Which one does Hezekiah answer? What two things does he say in his answer? What does Isaiah ask in Isaiah 39:4? What does Hezekiah answer? From Whom does the prophet now deliver a message (Isaiah 39:5)? How do the words in Isaiah 39:6 relate to the second halves of Isaiah 39:3 and Isaiah 39:4? What will be carried away where? Who else will be carried away (Isaiah 39:7, cf. 2 Kings 24:15)? Where will they end up, there, in Babylon (cf. 2 Kings 25:27–30)? Who speaks to whom in Isaiah 39:8? About Whose Word does he speak? What does he say about this word? What has the Lord promised? For how long (cf. Isaiah 38:5–6)? 

What do we see in God’s response to Hezekiah’s spiritual pride? Isaiah 39 prepares us for the first serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these eight verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that God’s power is such that we do not advance His interests at all by our own impressiveness, and God’s mercy is such that we may have hope for temporal mercy even when we are being chastened for wicked pride before Him. 

An evangelistic opportunity? We’ve seen this passage before, in another context (2 Kings 20:12–19). In Isaiah 39:1, the letters and the present are instigated by Hezekiah's recovery. The message of the letters themselves is implied by Hezekiah's response to the letters in Isaiah 39:2. Obviously, Babylon desires an ally for its upcoming campaign to overthrow Assyria. But since the instigating event was medical not military, it seems clear that Babylon is looking not only for the alliance of Israel's king but Israel's God.

This makes it more understandable that a man like Hezekiah would do something like what we see in this chapter. He is hoping to advance the fame of YHWH by his own YHWH-given impressiveness. But we must be careful from ever striving for, or being enamored with, our own impressiveness. Pride is the enemy of faith. Hezekiah thought that he was something, but this weakened his felt-necessity to depend upon the Lord. The worst variety of pride is spiritual pride. And understanding Isaiah 39:1-2 rightly, it is probably implied that there is something of a misplaced evangelistic, zeal in Hezekiah’s “show and tell.” In light of Isaiah 39:1, the letters must have mentioned the recovery. It is not difficult to see Hezekiah saying, “what YHWH has done for me, He can also do for Merodach.” But such a presentation of the “gospel” unwittingly offers the Lord as a means to our ends, rather than bringing us into grateful (and delivered) submission to His.

It is the "alone" part of “grace alone, faith alone, and glory of God alone” that is the great difference Maker between spiritual humility and spiritual pride. Hezekiah may have thought that others’ interest in him and his God were an opportunity for him to advance the Lord's Name through his own newfound impressiveness. But it is God alone that is impressive.

Reading Hezekiah’s “tour” in terms, not of temporal pride but of evangelism (and subtle, spiritual pride), also explains why he was unashamed, and even eager, to answer the prophet’s questions in Isaiah 39:3Isaiah 39:4. He was probably even expecting the equivalent of a "well done my good and faithful servant."

The God Who doesn’t need or make alliances, and doesn’t offer Himself in others’ service. Hezekiah had not fully learned the lesson of Ahaz in his alliance with the Assyrians, or even Hezekiah’s own being brought low by dependence upon anyone else. As the Rabshakeh painfully pointed out, Judah had been brought to the point where there was no help to be found—whether from Egypt or any other source human or purportedly divine. This was a mercy that brought Hezekiah to a point where he refused to make any alliances, because YHWH had brought him to the point where there simply were none to make.

YHWH does not make alliances with other gods or other nations. And we must not let others’ flattery of us, or hope that we can “win one for God” deceive us into false evangelism like Hezekiah’s. We must tell them the truth. Other hopes, helps, or happiness must be abandoned entirely. All creatures, even the most “impressive” men and nations, must submit themselves to His will. He and his power are not on the market for the carrying out of the creature’s will. Do not tell people that the Lord can give them what they want, when having the Lord means having our desires changed to what He wants.

When the Lord has done us good, and other people notice, we must be aware of the spiritual pride that thinks that “this is our opportunity to advance His name.” He does not need our help to advance His name. He is not “grateful” when others think that He might be useful to them. To think that the Lord of heaven and earth, the living and true God, might be useful to a creature is not anything like Spirit-given faith. Indeed, when we hear or write or think or say it out loud, we must realize that this is exactly the opposite of genuine faith.

God’s great and glorious mercy, even in the midst of just and appropriate discipline/chastening. The appropriateness of the Lord's response in Isaiah 39:5-7 can be seen by His prophet's use of Hezekiah’s own words about “all that is in his house” and about “Babylon.” Hezekiah himself seems to recognize that he deserved much worse. Hezekiah was ready to join Babylon in war, but the Lord is instead continuing to him the 15 years of “peace” that were promised (Isaiah 39:8, cf. Isaiah 38:6). Hezekiah realizes that he has not been faithful to depend entirely upon the Lord, but the Lord continues to be “true” (Isaiah 39:8; the core concept of the word is “faithful”) to him.

Indeed, there is even a great mercy at the end of Isaiah 39:7, to which Hezekiah may be responding with gratitude in Isaiah 39:8. This is certainly the view of the Spirit. The whole of the kings material concludes on the hopeful note of 2 Kings 25:27-30, where Jehoiachin is elevated to the palace. Who could read the repetitive unfaithfulness of Israel and Judah in the 1–2 Kings and not see such a conclusion as a great mercy? 

Indeed, when we read the plural of sons in Isaiah 39:7 of our text, we may conclude that the entire royal family who are mentioned in 2 Kings 24:15 are subject to the inexplicable mercy in 2 Kings 25:28-30, where Jehoiachin is not only released from prison, not only brought into the palace, but even elevated above all (!) of the other subordinate kings there.

Responding to God’s power and mercy. How great is the power of God! Let us not think that our impressiveness (even remembering that it comes by His mercy and grace) somehow advances His Name. Let us be full of thankfulness—and of love and zeal to do whatever He has assigned to us. And should others ever be impressed and indicate a desire for Him, let us be plain that coming to Him means renouncing all else. And let us be plain that it is always for submitting to His purposes, lest we somehow think that it is He Who is useful for our own purposes.

And how great is the mercy of God! Even for someone who has committed such a sin, against so much grace, as we see Hezekiah do here, God still shows such covenant mercy! Indeed, the Word of YHWH to Hezekiah was good, as Hezekiah said! And, when we know that we deserve immediate and complete devastation (as Hezekiah deserved), we may hope that His providential response in this world will yet be full of mercy (as it was to Hezekiah). And we are all the more sure, through Christ and His cross, that His ultimate response in eternity is not just greatly merciful but wholly and entirely mercy!

Who has been impressed with you and your Christianity? What temptations does this present to your own heart? And what temptations in how you testify for the Lord (or, possibly/sadly, show yourself as if that is to testify to the Lord)? How is God showing you mercy? How are you responding to that mercy? How are you responding to His ultimate mercy?

Sample prayer:  Lord, like Hezekiah, we are often guilty of being more impressed with Your work in us than we are of You Yourself. Forgive us, for this sin is gross and wicked. Forgive us, for we have even presented to others Your great work in our life but not the infinitely greater work of Christ in His life. Your personal greatness and glory are beyond compare! Forgive us, also, for failing to see just how marvelous Your mercy is in our lives. Indeed, Your providence is so gentle. Forgive us, and give us grace to see rightly, and respond rightly, to Your great power and mercy. Especially in Christ, through Whom we ask it, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP100 “All Earth With Joy” or TPH214 “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above”  

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