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Trusting God in trial.
When the enemy comes knocking, how we respond makes all the difference.
A version of this article originally appeared on 1517.
That the historian deploys three entire chapters to analyze his reign, it’s safe to say that Judah’s King Hezekiah is a figure worth paying attention to. He was the “son of Ahaz,” who, if you recall, was a detestable character, which makes it all the more remarkable that his son, Hezekiah, is regarded so highly. “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did . . . He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him” (2 Kings 18:3, 5). Hezekiah — and eventually his great grandson, Josiah, along with him — served as one of the last of the great kings of Judah. He was a beacon of hope and light against a bleak background of sin and darkness and ruin. But there’s particularly pivotal incident during his reign which comes to define his career as Judah’s command-in-chief. That is, of course, the invasion of Judah by the Assyrian king Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13).
This, indeed, is a historically and biblically consequential event, not the least of which because it’s recorded three times throughout Scripture (2 Kings 18—19; 2 Chron. 32:1–19; Isa. 36—37). Around this time, the world’s powers were going through a “reshuffling.” After the ruler of Assyria Sargon II died, a revolution ignited among several Assyrian occupied states. Judah is, of course, among them, with Hezekiah leading the charge to bring devotion to Yahweh back into the limelight (2 Kings 18:7). In response, newly crowned king Sennacherib launches a massive campaign to regain control over those states and re-assert Assyrian dominance. In 2 Kings 18:13, Hezekiah finds himself face-to-face with an enraged overlord who was out for blood. How does Hezekiah respond when the enemy came knocking on his door? I want to consider that, and consider how we ought to respond when we find ourselves in similar times. No, we might not have foreign tyrants asking us to surrender — but there are definitely times when the enemy comes knocking, and how we respond makes all the difference.
Trials are revealing.
Hezekiah is made aware of Sennacherib’s crusade and decides it would be in his best interest to apologize. He sends his betrayed sovereign a note, which in modern vernacular might simply read, “Oops, my bad.” He reneges on his earlier rebellion efforts and offers to send the Assyrian overlord a blank check to sweeten the deal (2 Kings 18:14–16). This is a stunning contrast from the Hezekiah of earlier who brazenly struck down idols in the name of faith to Jehovah (2 Kings 18:3–7). This Hezekiah caves in the face of immense trial and mounting political pressure. Sennacherib responds to Hezekiah’s apology letter, though, by sending some of his court officials to the gates of Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:17). He wasn’t looking for more tribute money. He was looking for Hezekiah’s unqualified surrender.
A conference ensues between the three officials of Assyria and three officials from Judah. And as the spokesman for Sennacherib speaks up, he asks a pointed question: “Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?” (2 Kings 18:19). He then proceeds to reveal that Judah’s loyalties weren’t fully or solely with the Lord. Their confidence was somewhere else, with someone else. Namely, with their new infatuation with the chariots of Egypt (2 Kings 18:20–25). “Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him” (2 Kings 18:21).
There’s a boatload of irony in that revelation, primarily because it was the very chariots of Egypt from which Yahweh had delivered his people all those ages ago in the Exodus. Now, those same chariots had become their source of confidence. And it’s not as though God didn’t warn his people of the pitfalls of trusting in chariots. The eminently wise King David once sang, “An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength” (Ps. 33:17). In those very hours, the prophet Isaiah, likewise, offered some choice words for Hezekiah’s “new deal” with Egypt (Isa. 30:1–3; 31:1). For whatever reason, though, Hezekiah had fallen in love with the idea of having Egypt in his corner — perhaps not “replacing” his trust in Jehovah, but, it would seem, concomitant with that trust.
It’s the epitome of irony, then, that it took an Assyrian mouthpiece to call him out on that. Indeed, perhaps the most severe indictment on this crisis of faith in Hezekiah’s life is just the fact that an Assyrian messenger appeared to possess more wisdom than he did. This allegiance with Egypt would prove to be fateful — and that’s coming from both an Assyrian spokesman and a prophet of Yahweh (2 Kings 18:21; Isa. 30:1).
There are times, I think, when that’s exactly what we need. A good “Assyrian smack in the face” is precisely what the doctor ordered to jolt us into realizing that our faith has been swindled. That we’ve fallen victim to trusting in our devices and programs more than the Lord himself. Such is what trials often do: they reveal that our trust might not be what we think it is. We might talk about devotion and faith and going to church and all that, but some of that’s for show. To keep up appearances. It’s lip-service. It’s putting on airs. The trials that come about often deflate such parodies of faith, revealing our foolish trust in something other than God himself.
Trials are deceiving.
Sennacherib’s spokesman talked a big game, and, interestingly enough, he was talking in Hebrew. Hezekiah’s officers aren’t big fans of that, and plead for him to use some other language (2 Kings 18:26). This they did, no doubt, to keep those who might’ve been earshot from freaking out over the Assyrian’s threats. But the spokesman continues his rant just the same, raising his voice just so that those “on the wall” could hear every devastating syllable (2 Kings 18:27–35). The gist of his message is the utter folly of trusting in Hezekiah or his Lord. “Don’t listen to Hezekiah, he’s a deceiver who worships at the feet of a deceitful God! Your king is a liar, and so is his Lord!” Despite being voiced by his spokesman, these are, indeed, the words of Sennacherib, cluing us in to his thinking and perspective.
In short, he saw himself as a god. He poses as one who could give the people of Judah all that they ever wanted, even putting a “positive spin” on the idea of Judah’s citizens being displaced and “resettled.” “Hearken not to Hezekiah,” he spits, “for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern: until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live, and not die: and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, The Lord will deliver us” (2 Kings 18:31–32). Unlike Hezekiah, Sennacherib’s leadership would bring abundance back to Judah. The spokesman pounds Sennacherib’s chest for him, with a smug, self-satisfied fist (2 Kings 18:33–35). “Who would dare resist the king of Assyria? What other god can hold a candle to him?”
Sennacherib himself, though, echoes this eye-brow-raising bravado in a letter addressed to King Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:8–13). The intent, of which, is to stir up a surge of doubt and distrust in the Lord of all things. “He can’t deliver you! He can’t rescue you! Resist me and you’ll end up like everyone else!” Such is Sennacherib’s message. (You’ll notice the word “deliver” is used eight times in 2 Kings 18:29–25, and an additional three times in 2 Kings 19:8–13.) And though the text doesn’t say this, I imagine Hezekiah trembled something fierce in those hours. This is Sennacherib, Lord of the Assyrians, who weren’t exactly known for being good-natured folks. Not only has Hezekiah’s faith been exposed to be not quite as sturdy as he might have thought, but also there’s good reason to doubt Yahweh’s ability to intervene. Why would he for such a failure like him? Why would he come to the aid of such a royal screw-up?
Trials are deceiving. They can swindle our hope and our trust, duping us into thinking that our God is incapable of and disinterested in delivering us. Such is why the devil works overtime on believers who are enduring seasons of immense trial. He knows he can’t “un-redeem” you; that’s beyond him. But he can leave you defeated. And there’s nothing more defeating than looking up in the middle of a trial and thinking that God’s not up to the task. That he’s taken his hand of you because of what you’ve done. Sometimes the devil commandeers our trials to try and convince of just that. He wants you doubting and distrusting who God is and what God can do. This he does this by flaunting your failures in your face, and by convincing you that that failure makes trusting God absurd. “How silly! You think God’s gonna defend you now? After what you’ve done?” Trials can be deceiving. What are we to do?
Trials are humbling.
After Sennacherib’s spokesman finishes his spiel, the officials from Hezekiah’s court are silent. They don’t offer any kind of answer on the spot. Instead, they return Hezekiah’s throne room to mourn over their present situation (2 Kings 18:36–37). And here, I think, something “clicked” for Judah’s king. He finally realizes how foolish and faithless he’d been, and immediately sends for the prophet Isaiah’s counsel (2 Kings 19:1–4). This moment had proven too great for him. He had no reserves left. But maybe — just maybe — Yahweh would take action, considering how egregiously his name had been reproached.
Isaiah sends his reply to the troubled king: “Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land” (2 Kings 19:6–7). Unlike Hezekiah’s “maybe,” the prophet’s words are sure and certain. His “thus saith the Lord” is a hopeful reminder that Yahweh’s Word is the only word that matters. And he will, of his own accord, deliver his people out of the hands of Assyria. They only needed to believe.
At the reception of these words, Hezekiah does what he should’ve done all along. He prays (2 Kings 19:14–19). Sermons could be spent unpacking this prayer, but, suffice to say, his words illustrate how humbled he was in the face of this trial. He confesses his predicament to the Lord, pleading with him to take action on his behalf, if for no other reason than to uphold the glory of his name as the One True God (2 Kings 19:19). “God, I need your deliverance,” he seems to say, “but your glory is more important! Work out our deliverance so that others might see who the One True God really is!” It’s a prayer of humble belief, of desperate faith. And those are exactly the sorts of prayers God loves to answer.
And answer he does through his prophet, who delivers another “thus saith the Lord” (2 Kings 19:20). Once again, Isaiah’s message back to Hezekiah is worthy of a sermon all on its own. The prophet begins by putting the king of Assyria in his place, reminding him of who it was that he was defying so outrageously. “Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel” (2 Kings 19:22). (The name “Holy One of Israel” is often indicative of God’s covenant name, and is akin to a full name being used to suggest power and might and force. See, for example, Ps. 71:22; 78:41; Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6; 29:19; 30:11–15; 37:23; 41:14–20; 43:14; 45:11; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9, 14; Jer. 50:29; 51:5.) He then proceeds to completely decimate all of Sennacherib’s swagger by showing him that all the things he was boasting in were given to him by God (2 Kings 19:23–25). Sennacherib’s rage was laughable in the eyes of Yahweh, like a chihuahua barking at a lion. Therefore, God was set to humiliate that Assyrian ruler with a great and mighty humiliation, one which would see him treated like nothing more than a beast of burden (2 Kings 19:28).
Every fearsome plan posed by that tyrant would be turned back, with Sennacherib being forced to turn around in shame and defeat. He’d be sent home packing, like a dog with its tail between its legs (2 Kings 19:32–33). And just as swift as Sennacherib would be defeated, so, too, would Hezekiah be delivered (2 Kings 19:29–31). The Lord himself would take it upon himself to defend his people. “For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake” (2 Kings 19:34). This is just what he does. This is what he delights in doing. He sees the plight of his children and takes action on their behalf. An “angel of the Lord” visits the Assyrian camp, wiping out the lot of them in a single night (2 Kings 19:35). Sennacherib, then, woke up to a campground full of corpses, causing him to hightail it out of town (2 Kings 19:36–37). And so it was that God’s people were saved, with nary an Judean soldier lifting a finger.
Trials are humbling. They often force us to get on our knees. And I think that’s the point. We oftentimes try to weather and withstand life’s trials on our own, in our own strength. Which, frankly, is nothing but pride on our part. The trials you and I face were never meant to be faced by ourselves. Like Hezekiah, you and I have a God who delights in coming to the defense of his own. He wants to hear from you. Yahweh took action upon Hezekiah’s humble prayer. And, even still, he relishes in coming to the aid of those who cry out to him. The point is, “trusting in God in trial” doesn’t mean we get issued a sword and spear to thwart the devil’s temptations. Rather, “trust in God in trial” means we fight our battles by kneeling and praying to “the Holy One of Israel,” who works out our deliverance by himself. “The zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this” (2 Kings 19:31).
And here’s the breathtaking truth of it all: when we kneel and trust in the Lord’s deliverance, we’re putting our trust in a deliverance that’s already been won. The “angel of the Lord” in verse 35 is a remarkable Old Testament figure who pops up on none too few occasions. He’s the same angel with whom Jacob wrestled all through the night. The same angel who appeared to Moses in the burning bush. The same angel who visited with Joshua just before the siege on Jericho. The same angel who greeted Gideon, giving him courage to face the Midianites. The same angel who manifested in the blaze with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, delivering them out of the flames unscathed. This is Mal’āḵ Yahweh, the Son of God, the One who answers our prayers with the invigorating reminder that he has already won (Gen. 16:7–13; 32:24–32; Exod. 3:1–5; Num. 22:22–35; Josh. 5:13–15; Judg. 6:11–12; Dan. 3:19–30; cf. 2 Sam. 24:16; Ps. 34:7). We can trust in him during our trial, we can fight on our knees, because Mal’āḵ Yahweh fights for us. He’s won the day already. He’s traversed the battlefield called Golgotha and come out the Victor. And, by faith, that victory is ours.