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Biblical Prayer - Hezekiah

BIBLICAL PRAYER - HEZEKIAH

By Ted Schroder

In 701 BC Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, attacked all the
fortified cities of Judah and captured them. He invested Jerusalem with
the mightiest army in the region. Thousands upon thousands of
blood-thirsty troops surrounded the city in the attempt to starve it
into submission. Archeological texts describe how he besieged 'Hezekiah
the Jew. I shut him up like a caged bird within his royal capital,
Jerusalem. I put watch-posts closely round the city and turned back to
his fate anyone who came out of the city gate'.

He sent messengers with a letter to King Hezekiah saying: "Do not
let the god you depend on deceive you when he says, 'Jerusalem will not
be handed over to the king of Assyria.' Surely you have heard what the
kings of Assyria have done to all the countries, destroying them
completely. And will you be delivered? Did the gods of the nations that
were destroyed by my forefathers deliver them - the gods of Gozan,
Haran, Rezeph and the people of Eden who were in Tel Assar?" (Isaiah
37:10-12)

Hezekiah took the letter into the temple of the LORD and spread it
out before the LORD. He prayed: "O LORD almighty, God of Israel,
enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms
of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and
hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words
Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God." (Isaiah 37:16,17)

Hezekiah and his people are threatened by an enemy who denies the
power of their God to save them by comparing him with the gods of other
nations that likewise failed to deliver them. Perhaps one of the
greatest attacks on the prayer of faith comes from the culture that
surrounds us. The secular opinion-makers send us messages that our god
is one among many who similarly lack power. What is the point of prayer
if our god is simply a localized deity, a myth that we and our
forefathers have preserved to give us comfort?

Christians today can be like King Hezekiah - shut up in a cage
besieged by skeptics who reduce Christianity to one among many faiths.
They say that in this pluralistic world one faith is as good as another,
or no good at all. They question the value of praying to God who is only
the product of our national culture, when there is no guarantee that he
can deliver? They argue that each person has his our own beliefs; that
all religions are relative; that certainty about faith is impossible;
and that no one has an exclusive claim to truth. Therefore they maintain
that Christians should not try to change the beliefs of others or impose
their beliefs on others. Some teach that all our knowledge is
constructed by us to explain our world. In fact, they claim that our
language is a cage in which we are forever locked that functions to
describes reality as we experience it.

"There is no true meaning, whether for life, religion, morality or
even a text, since the way that a text is interpreted will depend upon
the culture within which it is read.. There are no absolutes, no rocks
of certainty on which one can stand firm outside the constant sea of
change. We are embedded in these tossing and raging waters and reality
is merely our own perspective.. The search for certainty or for any rock
to cling to is folly. What is needed is. to stop closing [the] mind and
to be open to new, and possibly threatening possibilities, to be able to
live on a sea of uncertainty with no fixed marks and where nothing
abides or endures." (Peter Vardy, What is Truth? pp.100,101)

The only thing that mattered to Sennacherib is the power to
dominate others. In a world in which there is no absolute truth, no one,
true God to whom to pray, who can deliver, the only value is power.
Friedrich Nietzsche criticized Christianity for sapping the energy of
the Roman Empire by making people weak. He glorified the super-man, who
had the will to power. The Church, he maintained left people as "a
caricature of man, like an abortion: he had become a 'sinner', he was
caged up, he had been imprisoned behind a host of appalling notions.
full of hate for the instincts of life, full of suspicion in regard to
all that is still strong and happy." (Twilight of the Idols) That is why
he claimed that "If Islam despises Christianity, it is justified a
thousand times over; for Islam presupposes men." (The Antichrist)

The culture in which we live proclaims that power is the means to
success, that power establishes what is true, and that nothing is
sacred. How do you pray for deliverance when you are caged up in this
world of change and uncertainty? Who can you depend upon?

Hezekiah calls upon God to hear, see and listen to the words of
Sennacherib which insult the living God. If you believe in Almighty God,
and that God alone is over all the kingdoms of the earth, and that God
made heaven and earth, then you are asserting your belief in an absolute
truth. No matter that the enemy has laid waste other peoples and
beliefs. No matter that their gods have been thrown into the fire and
destroyed. No matter that religion has been discredited, for so many
religions have been fashioned by human hands. Hezekiah calls upon God
Almighty, his God, to deliver him and his people, "so that all kingdoms
on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God." (Isaiah 37:20)

This confidence in the power of God is echoed in the prayer of the
early Christians. They acknowledged that the enemy had conspired against
Jesus the anointed one. "They did what your power and will had decided
beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable
your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your
hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name
of your holy servant Jesus." (Acts 4:27-30)

The believer has confidence in the power of Almighty God to save
them despite the threats of the enemy. The rulers of the nations may
rage and the peoples plot in vain (Psalm 2:1,2) but we can be confident
in the efficacy of our prayers.

But how do we know that our God is the only God, and that Jesus
Christ is the only Lord and Savior? How do we know that the power of our
God and Lord can prevail against all those who would devalue our beliefs
by saying that we are but one belief among many choices?

St. Paul discussed the claims of other gods in 1 Corinthians
8:4-7. "There is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods,
whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many 'gods' and many
'lords'), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all
things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus
Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. But not
everyone knows this."

In other words, there are many claims to divinity in the world,
yet for us there is only one claim that is persuasive and compelling:
that there is only one God the Father, the author of existence, and for
whom we exist. He called us and the universe into being. We exist for
him. That is basic to our belief. Included in this basic belief is that
there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, who brought us into existence, and
through whom we share in the life of God. He brought us life in all its
fullness, eternal life. It is through him that the universe came into
being. But not everyone knows this! That is why there is pluralism and
uncertainty and confusion about what is true. That is why people find it
difficult to pray. They are not confident that there is one God, the
Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is one
Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came, and through whom we live.

The boldness of the prayers of Hezekiah and the early Christians
depends upon the confidence they have on the God and Lord they are
praying to. The LORD replied to the prayer of Hezekiah by saying, "I
will defend this city and save it, for my sake and for the sake of David
my servant." (Isaiah 37:35) He answers prayer so that all may know that
he alone is God, and that his servant is the anointed one. Hezekiah
prayed that God would respond to Sennacherib's insults. Our motivation
in prayer can arise out of our concern for the reputation of God. We
pray that people will turn from insulting God and devaluing Christ, to
believing and following him.

What are your grounds for confidence in Christ? Mine are
threefold: my personal need, my personal experience, and my personal
desire. The Christian is confident in Christ because of his conviction
of personal sin and experience of salvation in Jesus. The Christian is
confident in Christ because of his experience of conversion by grace
through faith in Jesus. The Christian is confident because of his
experience of consecration to the life of the Spirit of Jesus in the world.

How was Hezekiah's prayer answered? A plague struck the camp of
the Assyrians, Sennacherib broke camp and withdrew. His sons eventually
assassinated him.

Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow laid withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed:
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
George Gordon, Lord Byron, The Destruction of Sennacherib

Prayer for Christians is only possible if you have confidence in
God the Father, and the lordship of Christ. How confident in God are
you? What do you do when people insult God? Pray for them? What do you
do when people deny the power of Christ to deliver from evil, to change
behavior for good, to save people from destruction, to give meaning and
hope to life? Pray for them. What do you do when people insinuate that
the gospel of Christ is merely one option among many, and no more valid
or valuable than any other? Pray for them. Place your entire confidence
in Christ so that you can pray with boldness.

END

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