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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 37—38
When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah 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 birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God heard 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. I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’ ”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah; for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning King Tirhakah of Ethiopia, “He has set out to fight against you.” When he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus shall you speak to King Hezekiah of Judah: Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. See, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, destroying them utterly. Shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my predecessors destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 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?”

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; then Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying: “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, and have hurled their gods into the fire, though they were no gods, but the work of human hands—wood and stone—and so they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning King Sennacherib of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:

“She despises you, she scorns you—
     virgin daughter Zion;
she tosses her head—behind your back,
     daughter Jerusalem.

“Whom have you mocked and reviled?
     Against whom have you raised your voice
and haughtily lifted your eyes?
     Against the Holy One of Israel!
By your servants 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 came to its remotest height,
     its densest forest.
I dug wells
     and drank waters,
I dried up with the sole of my foot
     all the streams of Egypt.’

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 make fortified cities
     crash into heaps of ruins,
while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
     are dismayed and confounded;
they have become like plants of the field
     and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
     blighted before it is grown.

I know your rising up and your sitting down,
     your going out and coming in,
     and your raging against me.
Because you have raged against me
     and your arrogance has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
     and my bit in your mouth;
I will turn you back on the way
     by which you came.

“And this shall be the sign for you: This year eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that; then in the third year sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit. The surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward;

for from Jerusalem a remnant shall go out, and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

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

Then the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians; when morning dawned, they were all dead bodies. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and lived at Nineveh. As he was worshiping in the house of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. His son Esar-haddon succeeded him.

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord: “Remember now, O Lord, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of your ancestor David: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and defend this city.

“This is the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that he has promised: See, I will make the shadow cast by the declining sun on the dial of Ahaz turn back ten steps.” So the sun turned back on the dial the ten steps by which it had declined.

A writing of King Hezekiah of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:

I said: In the noontide of my days
     I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
     for the rest of my years.
I said, I shall not see the Lord
     in the land of the living;
I shall look upon mortals no more
     among the inhabitants of the world.
My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
     like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
     he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
     I cry for help until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
     from day to night you bring me to an end.

Like a swallow or a crane I clamor,
     I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
     O Lord, I am oppressed; be my security!
But what can I say? For he has spoken to me,
     and he himself has done it.
All my sleep has fled
     because of the bitterness of my soul.

O Lord, by these things people live,
     and in all these is the life of my spirit.
     Oh, restore me to health and make me live!
Surely it was for my welfare
     that I had great bitterness;
but you have held back my life
     from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
     behind your back.
For Sheol cannot thank you,
     death cannot praise you;
those who go down to the Pit cannot hope
     for your faithfulness.
The living, the living, they thank you,
     as I do this day;
fathers make known to children
     your faithfulness.

The Lord will save me,
     and we will sing to stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
     at the house of the Lord.

Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a lump of figs, and apply it to the boil, so that he may recover.” Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” (NRSV)

When I think of prophets in the Bible, I think of humans sent by God to “tell the future.” Recently it has come to my attention that the purpose of the prophet was not to foretell, but to forewarn the people of God who were straying from God’s path, which would lead to harm. To greatly simplify it, they could be compared to a parent on the playground saying, “Put that stick down, or you’ll put out your eye!” The prophet Isaiah’s job was to warn the Israelites that by worshiping in a lavish and self-indulgent manor while ignoring the needy, they would soon be disciplined by God.

I have heard the prophetic portions of the Bible more than once being shouted into a bullhorn by a person on a busy street corner. They seem to be warning the “sinners” that walk by. The first reaction to being warned (or scolded) is to become defensive. (Back to the playground scene: “Oh Mom, I will not hurt myself!”). This is what makes the prophetic portions of the Bible so hard for us to hear and apply to our own lives. 

It is very helpful to read the story of the Israelite leader Hezekiah. When battles raged around him, he did not simply fight. He turned to God in repentance and humble prayer. Much like the child on the playground who actually did hurt himself with the stick (duh) and then runs to the parent for comfort, Hezekiah brought his hurt to his God.

Dear God, when I stray from your path (daily), help me to hear you, turn not away but toward you, and seek your love and compassion. Amen.

Written by Katy Sinclair, Associate Director of Music for Children and Youth

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