Itchy ears? Listen here.
If you’re a visual learner…
I hope you are having a good 4th of July weekend, celebrating the independence of our nation and the unique freedom we have been given. On Friday, Christy and I took the kids down to her Dad’s and met my brother’s family there. We had ribs, brats, burgers – you know, the typical Independence Day fare. And, of course, we took in the fireworks extravaganza in Mooresville. It was good to be able to get together with family over the weekend. Of course, a few days ago, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make the trip. Christy’s dad lives in Mooresville, which is southwest of Indianapolis and it takes about an hour and a half to get there. With gas prices going up the way they have, we weren’t sure if we’d be able to afford such a trip. It’s quite a disheartening thing when you plunk down 50 bucks and you know it won’t even fill your gas tank all the way. I remember 15 years ago when gas went over $1 for the first time in a long time. A friend of mine said, “That won’t last long. People will stop filling up and just put in a few dollars’ worth of gas. That will force the gas stations to lower their prices back below a dollar.” Well, I’m still waiting for it to go back down. Something tells me it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
Everyone’s feeling the pinch, aren’t they? I just saw on the news today that airlines the magazines they make available to you during your flight are getting smaller in an attempt to shed excess weight and save precious gas. And, of course, the gas increase is causing an increase in just about everything else. We’re starting to see a rise in food prices. And on top of that, the country is also in a housing slump – homes just aren’t selling the way they used to. If you listen to the news long enough, you’re sure to hear some commentator or expert come on and talk about how our country is headed for an economic crisis.
Adding to the economic crisis is the natural disasters have occurred over the past month. The west coast is on fire while the Midwest is underwater. On top of that, the Oklahoma panhandle has been experiencing drought conditions. None of this would lead us to believe that the immediate future of the American economic situation is anywhere close to bright.
In addition to the economic crisis and the destruction of property through flooding and fires, we have been inundated by more bad news. Hostile nations continue their saber rattling. One nation has even threatened to intercept oil shipments to the U.S., which would force our gas prices to skyrocket even higher. Terrorists still plot our demise. And things aren’t exactly pretty on the homefront. Just this week, pedophilia took center stage (again) with the news about the girl in Vermont. When you look at all of these events that continue to build, one upon another, you can’t help but think that a real crisis is coming – one that could threaten our very existence. It sounds like things are crashing down around us. And through all of this, we’re still trying to do the right thing. We’re trying to faithfully follow Christ and do what he says to do, go where he says to go, be who he says to be. That can be quite a challenge when everything around you is falling apart.
The crisis we face, however, is nothing compared with the one King Hezekiah faced. It’s a story found in 2 Kings, beginning in chapter 18. Actually, the story begins much earlier than that. After the nation of Israel was formed, it was a unified country for many years. During King David’s rule, he was told that because of a sin he chose to commit, the united kingdom he ruled over would eventually be divided. And that’s what happened upon the death of David’s son, Solomon. Ten of the tribes of Israel essentially seceded from the united kingdom and called themselves Israel, with the city of Samaria serving as its capital city. Two tribes remained loyal to the Davidic line and their capital remained in Jerusalem. Their nation was called Judah. Although there were a few alliances between the two nations from time to time, they were essentially bitter enemies and went to war on several occasions.
When Ahaz became king of Judah, he faced a threat of war with Israel. He was concerned, because Israel had formed an alliance with Syria, one of the neighboring powers. All of a sudden, Israel was a serious threat to Judah’s sovereignty. Ahaz panicked. He didn’t rely on God’s guidance, but sought the help of the king of Assyria, which was one of the superpowers in the region. With the new alliance forged, Assyria swept in, crushed Syria, and wiped the nation of Israel off the face of the map. Part of the agreement between Judah and Assyria was that Judah would become subservient to the Assyrian empire. As a show of solidarity with their new allies, Ahaz began to have the priests offer sacrifices to the Assyrian gods and he built shrines to these same deities. Ahaz kept his sovereignty, but at a cost. They had to pay a huge tribute to the Assyrian empire every year and he essentially sold the soul of Judah to gain a bit of protection.
After Ahaz died, Hezekiah, his son, ascended to the throne of Judah. He looked around him and knew things weren’t right. Yes, they were under a relative peace, but they weren’t worshiping the Lord and the Lord only. There were all of these shrines and temples that had been built to the pantheon of Assyrian gods. And the cost of the tributes and taxes they owed the Empire were becoming too much. He knew things weren’t right. He knew they needed to return to the Lord. And if they sought God’s protection, He would save them from their foes – even a mighty army like the Assyrian Empire.
So, Hezekiah led a revival in the land of Judah. They tore down all of the shrines to other gods and returned to worshiping the Lord and the Lord alone. In addition to this, he stopped paying the tributes to Assyria. The money was going towards the worship of gods other than the Lord and that just wasn’t right.
Hezekiah knew that the Assyrians would not be happy with this. They would consider it a rebellion. So he began to prepare for the immanent invasion. There were strategic cities scattered throughout Judah that served as fortresses. Hezekiah prepared these cities for a coming invasion by strengthening their fortifications and providing the proper military support to the forts. In addition to strengthening his defenses, he prepared Jerusalem for a potential attack. The walls of the city were strengthened and he dug wells within the city to ensure the people would have an unlimited drinking supply. The common style of warfare of the day was to lay siege upon a city, preventing anything from going in or anything from coming out. If the city’s water source was outside the walls, as was common in the day, the siege wouldn’t last too long because the residents would surrender because they were literally dying of thirst. Hezekiah prepared for such an event by digging a tunnel, connecting the city with an unlimited source of water. If you go to Jerusalem today, you can still see the tunnel he dug in preparation for the coming invasion. Hezekiah was prepared for an invasion. The people were worshiping the Lord with all their hearts and they were totally dedicated to following Him and Him alone. And all was right with the world. (pause)
Until the Assyrian King, Sennacherib, found out what Hezekiah had done. He was furious. He mobilized his massive army and set his sights on Jerusalem with the intent on wiping Judah off the map just as the Assyrians had done with the much stronger Israel. As they made their way toward Jerusalem, they wiped out everything in their path. When Sennacherib’s armies encountered the fortified cities – the ones that were supposed to slow down the coming onslaught – they destroyed the cities with hardly any effort. The kings of other nations who had joined in Hezekiah’s rebellion were captured and punished quite harshly. And Sennacherib set his sights on Jerusalem.
And in almost no time, Sennacherib has built his siege works around the capital of Judah. Hezekiah knew he was doing what God had wanted him to do. He was trying to follow the Lord with all of his heart. He was doing the right thing. Why was this happening? If the annihilation of his cities and the siege of Jerusalem had happened during his father’s reign, it would have made sense. After all, Ahaz had essentially abandoned God for his own political gain. But why now? Why after Hezekiah and the people had turned back to the Lord?
Which leads us to today’s Psalm. As you know, we’re taking a quick journey through the Psalms and discovering how these timeless prayers and songs of praise that were composed thousands of years ago can still speak to us right here, right now. The Psalms were the songs of the earliest people who chose to worship the Lord and the Lord only. They were the songs of their lives. And just as they were the songs of the Hebrew people to the God with whom they had a special, intimate relationship, they are also the songs of our lives as we pursue a personal relationship with that same loving God.
So, turn with me to Psalm 44. Psalms is the largest book in the Bible. It’s a collection of songs and prayers that were composed over almost a 1,000 year period. If you don’t have your Bible with you, you’re welcome to use the one in the pew in front of you. Psalm 44 is found on page 488 of that Bible. If you look at the header directly above the Psalm, you’ll see that it’s attributed to the Sons of Korah. They were a group of musicians who became prominent during the reign of David as amazing songwriters and worship leaders. Apparently, the Sons of Korah continued to serve as worship leaders for the nation of Judah for some time after David’s reign ended. Scholars don’t entirely agree on when this psalm was written, but it certainly sounds like it came from the context of Hezekiah’s experience with Assyria. To put more weight to this viewpoint, the next few psalms are from Hezekiah’s reign. Even if the psalm was written earlier than Hezekiah’s revival, it makes perfect sense that he would have used this psalm as a prayer for his people as Sennacherib’s armies came swooping upon him.
Listen to how they address the crisis before God as I read this psalm. Read Psalm 44
Did you hear it? Did you hear the honesty there? It doesn’t sound like very many of the prayers we hear in public today, does it? And maybe that’s a problem. It’s tempting to think we can’t really come to God with how we really feel because…well…He’s God and we aren’t. And somehow we think that we should hide our feelings from Him because…well…He’s God and we aren’t. But here’s the thing – He’s God. He already knows how we feel. He already knows what’s going on. Why not go ahead and be honest with Him and tell Him, “You know what, God? This stinks! I don’t like it.”? He already knows you don’t.
So, here’s how the psalmist here openly and honestly shares his feelings with how God is at work. He begins by going through all of the things that God has done throughout history. He says, “God, You were there when my people were delivered out of Egypt. You were there when my people settled in this land that You promised. You were there and You said You would always be there. You said You’d never leave us nor forsake us.”
Now, can’t you hear Hezekiah here? He reminds God (as well as Himself) about how faithful God had been in the past. And we need to remember that God is faithful to us, too. He has promised He wouldn’t leave us, just as He promised He wouldn’t leave the Hebrew people. He was faithful then, He’ll be faithful now. But it certainly doesn’t feel like God’s being faithful to Hezekiah, does it? I mean, the enemy has destroyed his defenses and is now gathered around his city, waiting to starve them out. It certainly sounds like the enemy has the upper hand. And that’s what they say in this psalm. “How are all of these things going wrong when we chose to do the right thing? I thought choosing to follow You would mean blessing. Right now, all we’re experiencing is curses and threats from every side. I don’t like it, God. I don’t like it.”
You know, it takes a pretty personal relationship with God to be able to say these kinds of things. It takes a pretty personal relationship to be able to say, “I don’t like this God! I don’t think You’re holding up Your end of the bargain here.” Because…well…He’s God and we aren’t. But that’s the kind of relationship He wants to have with us. It’s the kind of relationship He had with the Hebrew people and it’s the same one He wants to have with you and with me. No more masks. No more pretending things are OK when you really think they aren’t. He wants to have the kind of deep, personal relationship with you where you can share with Him your innermost thoughts without fear and without sounding like you’re just whining. He went to the very ends of the earth, even taking on flesh and becoming a person so we could know Him. He willingly lay down His own life for us so we could have a real relationship with Him. He loves you. And He wants you to know Him. He wants to have the kind of close friendship with you that you can tell Him when you are having difficulty seeing God’s plan at work. Because you know what, sometimes things just don’t make sense. Sometimes we can choose to do the right thing and pursue God wholeheartedly and find ourselves in the middle of a pit that we don’t think we can get out of. It feels like things are crashing down on all sides around us and we wonder, “What are You doing, God? Couldn’t You give us a little help?”
There’s a new church in Georgia that is going through that experience this weekend. They are wholeheartedly devoted to following Christ and seeing Him become more famous throughout their hometown. They are sold out for Jesus Christ. They don’t have their own building yet, so they meet in a movie theater. Every Sunday morning, they meet before dawn to unload this massive trailer that’s packed with sound equipment, lighting, and materials for their children’s ministry. Everything they need for Sunday morning is in that trailer. Their pastor got a call on Friday, the 4th of July and was informed that their trailer had been stolen.
Now, here’s a group of Christians, many of whom are just beginning their walk with the Lord – trying to do their best to follow Him. They’re sacrificing their time, money, and energy to do all they can to reach out to people with the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. They’re doing the right thing, just like Hezekiah was doing. And here they are, wondering what to do next because everything has crashed down around them.
Have you had a moment like that? Maybe it’s been an experience at a job. Maybe you’ve been on the brink of financial ruin. Or maybe it’s a shattered relationship. You’ve tried to follow God with all of your heart and somehow, things just keep falling down around you. And you want to know why.
The key to the response of Hezekiah is the key to the response that we need to have now. We can say that we don’t think that God is holding up His end of the bargain, but in the end, it still comes down to whether you are going to trust Him or not. Are you going to allow God to be God, or are you going to take the controls yourself? Verse 22 is the key verse.
Essentially, they’re saying that they will continue to follow Him, even if it means their destruction. They’re saying, “We’ll follow You, God. Even if it means we lose everything.” Again and again in history God has brought nations, churches, and individuals to this same crisis of faith. Are you going to allow God to be God, or are you going to try to take control yourself? When everything is crashing down around you, how will you respond? Will you, like the Hebrew people say, “Yes, Lord. Whatever You want.” Even if you don’t understand it or don’t like it?
It’s all based on your relationship with Him. Because…well..God is God…and you’re not. He wants to have a relationship with you…in the good times and the bad. So take your concerns to God and allow Him to work through them to His glory. You may not know how He’ll work, but I promise you He’ll work.