God Wins

“I promise that the king of Assyria won’t get into Jerusalem, or shoot an arrow into the city, or even surround it and prepare to attack. As surely as I am the LORD, he will return by the way he came and will never enter Jerusalem. I will protect it for myself and for my servant David.”

That same night the LORD sent an angel to the camp of the Assyrians, and he killed one hundred eighty-five thousand of them. And so the next morning, the camp was full of dead bodies. After this King Sennacherib went back to Assyria and lived in the city of Nineveh. One day he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, when his sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer, killed him with their swords. They escaped to the land of Ararat, and his son Esarhaddon became king. (2 Kings 19:32-37)

As the old saying goes, your arm’s too short to box with God. Sennacherib learned that lesson the hard way. His attack against Jerusalem, his arrogant words against the God of Israel, all came to naught. In one night, nearly all of Sennacherib’s army died of a plague, forcing him to withdraw and head back home. Without Hezekiah having to do a thing, God had fixed his problem completely. He’d even given him the spoils of war without the war.

The ancient Assyrians kept a detailed history of the events that transpired each and every year. During that year, the records describe how Sennacherib laid siege to and conquered city after city as he marched south. But when the records speak of his attack on Jerusalem, the language shifts just slightly. Once again, the records describe the siege on Jerusalem, how he locked Hezekiah up inside the city like a bird in a cage. But strikingly missing from the record is any account of conquest or despoiling of the city. Totalitarian dictatorships, of which Assyria was definitely one, may not outright lie. But they like to hide embarrassing truth. Thus, the defeat was left unmentioned though victory was never claimed.

His humiliating loss was still known within the government, and such an egregious failure could not be tolerated. Sennacherib was removed from office in the most common way that kings were removed from office back then: he was assassinated and replaced by his son.

Not only did God defeat the army of Sennacherib, he saw to it that Sennacherib personally paid for his arrogance against God. If we leave no place for God in our calculations, God might leave no place for us in his.

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Why So Worried?

Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I have heard your prayer concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria. This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him:

“‘The Virgin Daughter of Zion
despises you and mocks you.
The Daughter of Jerusalem
tosses her head as you flee.
Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes in pride?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
By your messengers
you have heaped insults on the Lord.
And you have said,
“With my many chariots
I have ascended the heights of the mountains,
the utmost heights of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars,
the choicest of its pines.
I have reached its remotest parts,
the finest of its forests.
I have dug wells in foreign lands
and drunk the water there.
With the soles of my feet
I have dried up all the streams of Egypt.” (2 Kings 19:20-24)

Why so down cast, oh my soul? Hezekiah was trapped in his city, besieged by a superior force. Hezekiah could see no hope; defeat seemed inevitable, both because he could count the number of forces against him and because he knew what Sennacherib had already done. In his march south, the Assyrian army had defeated every city, every nation that he had gone to war against. When Sennacherib had sent his message demanding surrender and boasting of his might, his boast was not an empty one. It was based on firm, empirical evidence. He had a stellar resume, an impeccable and flawless track record. Hezekiah had no reason, humanly speaking, to hope.

But Hezekiah had prayed to God anyway, spreading the insulting letter he had received from Sennacherib out on the altar to show it to God. So God took a look and told him not to worry. In fact, God’s response to Sennacherib’s arrogant letter was arrogance doubled, laughing and mocking at the enemy. Sennacherib was, in fact, doomed.

God is never afraid; so it’s a wonder that we ever are.

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God Has No Limits

Then the man of God went to the king of Israel and said, “This is what the LORD says: The Arameans have said, ‘The LORD is a god of the hills and not of the plains.’ So I will defeat this vast army for you. Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

The two armies camped opposite each other for seven days, and on the seventh day the battle began. The Israelites killed 100,000 Aramean foot soldiers in one day. The rest fled into the town of Aphek, but the wall fell on them and killed another 27,000. Ben-hadad fled into the town and hid in a secret room.

Ben-hadad’s officers said to him, “Sir, we have heard that the kings of Israel are merciful. So let’s humble ourselves by wearing burlap around our waists and putting ropes on our heads, and surrender to the king of Israel. Then perhaps he will let you live.”

So they put on burlap and ropes, and they went to the king of Israel and begged, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please let me live!’ ”
The king of Israel responded, “Is he still alive? He is my brother!”

The men took this as a good sign and quickly picked up on his words. “Yes,” they said, “your brother Ben-hadad!”

“Go and get him,” the king of Israel told them. And when Ben-hadad arrived, Ahab invited him up into his chariot. (1 Kings 20:28-33)

Reality has a way of getting in the way of delusion. The Arameans, like most people of the ancient world, believed that gods worked only in certain places. They had a god for each city. They had a god for sickness, a god for death, and a god for health. They had a god for blacksmiths and a god for farmers. The god of farmers could not help a blacksmith or vice versa. The god of Babylon had no power in Nineveh. So, when the Arameans lost in a fight against Israel, the reason for their defeat seemed obvious: they had chosen to fight against Israel in the wrong place. Yahweh was a hill god. The equally obvious solution was to fight Israel in a valley. Surely Yahweh would be powerless there.

Unfortunately for the Arameans, their comprehension of reality was seriously flawed. They had lost because Yahweh was against them, and since he was the only God that actually existed, and since he had no limits at all, they were simply and fundamentally doomed.

The Arameans lost because God wanted them to lose. When God is for us, no one can be against us. No one can stand successfully against God’s will.

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But as for the sons of Israel who lived in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. Then King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the forced labor, and all Israel stoned him to death. And King Rehoboam made haste to mount his chariot to flee to Jerusalem.

So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day.

It came about when all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, that they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. None but the tribe of Judah followed the house of David.
Now when Rehoboam had come to Jerusalem, he assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin, 180,000 chosen men who were warriors, to fight against the house of Israel to restore the kingdom to Rehoboam the son of Solomon. But the word of God came to Shemaiah the man of God, saying, “Speak to Rehoboam the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and to all the house of Judah and Benjamin and to the rest of the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “You must not go up and fight against your relatives the sons of Israel; return every man to his house, for this thing has come from Me.” ’ ” So they listened to the word of the LORD, and returned and went their way according to the word of the LORD. (1 Kings 12:17-24)

Doing God’s will sometimes means not doing your will. When Solomon died, his son Rehoboam took the throne and ignored wise counsel. The tribes to his north who rebelled against him and chose Jeroboam as their king instead of him. Only the Levites, the people of Benjamin and the tribe of Simeon remained loyal to him. Rehoboam’s first instinct was to crush the rebellion.

Although Rehoboam was something of a fool when it came to politics, he was not willing to resist God. When God told him to stand down because the rebellion and division of the nation was God’s will, Rehoboam listened.

The rupture of the kingdom, though precipitated by Rehoboam’s folly, was in fact God’s punishment against Solomon for his idolatry. That idolatrous tendency grew. Jeroboam, the rebel king in the north, set up false temples with idols in place of the Temple in Jerusalem. What began with Solomon infected the divided people of Israel. It ultimately led to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities, when God judged not just the house of David, but his whole people.

Doing what God wants is not always what we want. But it is always the wisest course of action.

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In the morning, the Israelites set out and camped near Gibeah. The men of Israel went out to fight against Benjamin and took their battle positions against Gibeah. The Benjaminites came out of Gibeah and slaughtered 22,000 men of Israel on the field that day. But the Israelite army rallied and again took their battle positions in the same place where they positioned themselves on the first day. They went up, wept before the Lord until evening, and inquired of Him: “Should we again fight against our brothers the Benjaminites?”

And the Lord answered: “Fight against them.”

On the second day the Israelites advanced against the Benjaminites. That same day the Benjaminites came out from Gibeah to meet them and slaughtered an additional 18,000 Israelites on the field; all were armed men.

The whole Israelite army went to Bethel where they wept and sat before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord. Then the Israelites inquired of the Lord. In those days, the ark of the covenant of God was there, and Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron, was serving before it. The Israelites asked: “Should we again fight against our brothers the Benjaminites or should we stop?”

The Lord answered: “Fight, because I will hand them over to you tomorrow.” (Judges 20:19-28)

Some things are worth fighting for. An unnamed Levite had traveled far to get his estranged concubine back from her father. On the journey home, he had stopped for the night in the tribal lands of the Benjaminites at Gibeah. There, his concubine was raped and murdered by a group of men from that village. But the people of Benjamin refused to bring those guilty men to justice. So the other tribes of Israel went to war against the Benjaminites in order to rectify the injustice.

The first attack against Benjamin had failed disastrously, despite the fact that God had told the Israelites to go up and fight them. After a second defeat, the Israelites prayed and again God told them to fight. At last, on the third attempt, Israel routed the armies of Benjamin, nearly exterminating the tribe.

It was God’s will for Israel to seek justice against Benjamin. Just because things didn’t go well for awhile—in fact went very badly—did not mean that Israel wasn’t hearing from God or wasn’t doing what God wanted. Just because you have problems doesn’t mean you aren’t doing precisely what God wants you to be doing. In fact, rare it is for God’s will to go smoothly. Narrow is the road and hard is the way that leads to righteousness.

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Living on Ceres?

Source SPACE.com: All about our solar system, outer space and exploration.

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Destroying Enemies

The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
Your people shall be volunteers
In the day of Your power;
In the beauties of holiness, from the womb of the morning,
You have the dew of Your youth.
The LORD has sworn
And will not relent,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at Your right hand;
He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath.
He shall judge among the nations,
He shall fill the places with dead bodies,
He shall execute the heads of many countries.
He shall drink of the brook by the wayside;
Therefore He shall lift up the head. (Psalm 110:1-7)

God destroyed his enemies by making them his friends. God said that the enemies of his Son would be turned into his footstool and that he was a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was the king of Jerusalem in the time of the patriarch Abraham. Abraham had led an army against those who had attacked the city of Sodom and taken his nephew Lot captive. Following his victory and the rescue of his nephew and the other captives, Melchizedek had come to Abraham and blessed him. Abraham then gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils he had taken from the battle.

Nothing else is known about Melchizedek. He never showed up again in the story of Abraham. There was no genealogy given for him, no descendents were listed. He simply appeared, played his brief role on the stage of scripture, and then vanished.

Melchizedek served then as a symbol, a type, of the Messiah. Like that priest of Salem, the Son of God stood between God and the sinners. Like Abraham, the Son was victorious over his enemies, subduing them. But he transformed God’s enemies into the children of God by his death on the cross.

The language of triumph and war is used to describe Christ’s victory over death and sin. We who were God’s enemies beyond hope, have been made whole in him.

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It is Easy to Let the Whirling Storms Distract Us

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46:4-11)

God never gets dizzy on the merry-go-round of life. It is easy to let the whirling storms distract us, to get the better of us, to send us into a tizzy. But the reality is, despite how everything seems to be whirling around, despite how everything seems chaotic, that God is calmly in charge.

Israel was located at the crossroads of the world. All trade, all travel between the centers of world power in Mesopotamia in the north and Egypt in the south had to pass through the tiny nation of Israel. The only clear highways went straight through Israel’s heart: and it was a choke point. Whoever controlled the land of Israel controlled world trade and could make a fortune.

The nations around Israel longed to secure that thoroughfare. Seeking dominance, armies from the north and south passed through and met in battle on the hills of Israel. Israel suffered in the crossfire.

But it was not the nations that were in charge. Instead, God was overseeing it all and he would, some day, bring the conflict to an end. The weapons of war, the men of battle, all would be destroyed by the hand of God.

God can take the stormy heart, the heart raging with conflict, and give it peace. The strife, the disquiet, the confusion and pain of life, all can be pacified by the God of the universe.

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Borrowing Trouble

At that time Merodach-baladan son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah since he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. Hezekiah gave them a hearing and showed them his whole treasure house—the silver, the gold, the spices, and the precious oil—and his armory, and everything that was found in his treasuries. There was nothing in his palace and in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.

Then the prophet Isaiah came to King Hezekiah and asked him, “What did these men say, and where did they come to you from?”

Hezekiah replied, “They came from a distant country, from Babylon.”

Isaiah asked, “What have they seen in your palace?”

Hezekiah answered, “They have seen everything in my palace. There isn’t anything in my treasuries that I didn’t show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: ‘The time will certainly come when everything in your palace and all that your fathers have stored up until this day will be carried off to Babylon; nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your descendants who come from you will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.’”

Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good,” for he thought: Why not, if there will be peace and security during my lifetime? (2 Kings 20:12-19)

Don’t borrow trouble. God’s words to Hezekiah, that the Babylonians that had just visited him as guests, would in the future return as conquerors, came as good news to him. He recognized that the predication of future doom was just that: something for another day. He knew that in his time everything would be well, so that’s all that fundamentally mattered.

Was he self-absorbed? Was he uncaring of his descendents? Not at all. The future was beyond his control. Each day had enough trouble of its own. All he could do was seek God and his righteousness. God was already in the future and so it was only God’s concern. The reality was, God was in the present, too—and the present was only his concern as well. God had rescued Hezekiah from Sennacherib. He had rescued him from a serious illness. Why should he worry about anything? Whatever God spoke was good and he would rejoice in the fact that God was speaking to him and would take care of him.

We don’t need to worry about the future. God will take care of our needs and he knows what tomorrow holds. What we need to do is never forget that God holds us.

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Not Impressed

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the LORD?
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 58:1-9)

It is human nature to imagine that depriving ourselves makes us better people. Office workers often one up one another describing how hard they had to work, how many hours of sleep they missed, how many weekends they spent in the office, as if those things prove that useful labor actually happened.

God was not impressed by his people wearing uncomfortable clothing or going without food, because all that did was build their egos. They could pat themselves on the back for their suffering, for how good they must be for what they had given up, for how much God must owe them. But God really cared only about how people treated each other, not what they imagined constituted piety.

How many religious bumper stickers are on our cars, how big our Bibles might be, how loud or frequent our prayers, doesn’t matter. What matters is what we have done for those who can’t advance our careers or status. God cares about love, not the trappings of piety.

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