Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 1

OT: 2 Kings 18:13-19:37

Eight years after Israel fell, the next king of Assyria, Sennacherib, set his sights on Judah, which had stopped paying tribute to the juggernaut. Hezekiah's neglect in this matter prompted the Assyrians to capture "all the fortified cities of Judah" (18:13). Hezekiah tried to make amends by stripping the temple and the treasury of gold and silver and sending them to Sennacherib. However, Sennacherib still saw fit to discharge three commanders to give a terrifying little "pep" talk to some of the king's officials. The field commanders words to Hezekiah through them were so frightening that the Hebrew officers asked him to talk in a different language so that the gathering Israelites could not understand the immense level of smack talk that was being delivered. The field commander's response is representative of his entire speech: "Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall--who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine" (27)? Speaking of that latter part, I would have probably peed my pants after hearing the Assyrian's threats. Hezekiah wasn't too happy, either (19:1).

Thankfully, God reassured Hezekiah twice through Isaiah (once after this incident and once after a subsequent smack-talking letter from Sennacherib) that God was going to come through for Judah. The second time, Isaiah even wrote a rousing poem on the subject. Because of my interest in God's omnipotence versus His love, the verse that most caught my eye was verse 25:

"Have you not heard?
Long ago I ordained it.
In days of old I planned it;
now I have brought it to pass,
that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone" (19:25).

This is God talking to Sennacherib, if you didn't catch it. And as always, I find it fascinating that God clearly does take full credit for horrific suffering. In this case, God didn't "let it happen." He didn't "not prevent" it. Now, he "planned it." He "brought it to pass." The understanding that God not only uses suffering, but that He also causes suffering on this earth is problematic but essential for Christians to grasp (in my opinion, at least).

Oh, and the way God intervened after Isaiah's poem was to kill 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers in the middle of the night, and then to cause Sennacherib to be assassinated--by his own sons, no less.

NT: Acts 21:1-16

Okay, I actually think Luke does better as a writer when he's not there:).

Today's entry was a rather mundane travelogue, punctuated by two interesting images:

1. The early church (men, women, and children) kneeling and praying on the beach (5). I just thought that was a cool picture.

2. The prophesying daughters of Philip. I definitely think they are interesting, especially when considering women's roles in the church. Actually, though, I'm finding that I don't have much to say. I have always known that God gives women spiritual gifts. I guess I'm just wondering how the gift of prophecy manifested itself if the women weren't allowed to speak in the church? And since men would have been guided by these prophecies, wouldn't the women have been considered leaders? If making announcements or saying a prayer in front of men means that you are "leading" them (as we apparently believe in the church of Christ today), and if teaching is considered leadership, then wouldn't imparting your prophecy for them to learn from be considered leading also?

Psalm 149: 1-9

Yet another praise psalm, though this one definitely has a sinister edge:

"May the praise of God be in their mouths
and a double-edged sword in their hands,
to inflict vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters,
their nobles with shackles of iron,
to carry out the sentence written against them.
This is the glory of all his saints" (6-9).

Sheesh. I hate it when the psalmists get bloodthirsty. (I can hear the skeptical response now: "Well, what do you expect? They worship a God who killed 185,000 people in today's reading.")

Proverbs 18:8

This was one of those kinda weird proverbs that seems to mostly be an observation on the appeal of gossip. I assume that gossip is wrong (based on other Scripture), but this proverb doesn't say one way or the other.


  1. Two cool things about the OT story: First, I love the idea of Hezekiah taking the letter and just laying it out before God. Secondly, one of my favorite secular history books is called "What If." It's a collection of counterfactuals based on the outcome of various battles--what if the Confederacy wins Gettysburg, what if Patton doesn't arrive in time at The Bulge, etc. The seige of Jerusalem by Sennacherib is chapter one. According to the authors, this is one of the key moments in all of western civilization. If Judah goes the way Samaria did, say goodbye to the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of our entire culture. Also, after this incident, you never again hear of the Jews having an idolatry problem.

  2. That is a cool way to think of history. When you consider the "what if" in those big cases, it definitely conveys to you the monumental importance of what DID happen. My only question about the book's assessment of Hez v. Sennacherib is, "What about the fact that Jerusalem WAS conquered by Babylon?" I guess I've never thought that this scene was that monumental b/c in some ways, it was just a delay of the inevitable. Did the book mention Babylon at all? Perhaps they had a theory of why Assyrian captivity would have been more devastating for Judaism than Babylonian captivity was?

    Regardless, their theory does make me marvel at the fact that Judaism DID survive, despite the fact that the only two countries who practiced it were taken into captivity. That's a God thing!

  3. One can hardly call assume that the survival of Judaism is due to God. Every religion started out as being practiced by a small number of people, often a small number of persecuted people. Every religion that exists today, if you look into its history, seems to have been just as divinely guided as Judaism if you go by the criteria of it still existing despite hardship. (Take, for example, the Mormon church. If believing in the face of persecution implies divine intervention, then God is definitely on their side.)

  4. I definitely believe that people can see God in what they want. After all, I'm sure every other god-worshiping culture at the time had some way of explaining how their god was with THEM through the ups and downs. Even Sennacherib's field official explains to them that the Lord TOLD them to attack (though that part might have been true, biblically speaking). Also, when one of David's sons rebelled against him (was it Absalom or the other guy?), one of his first orders of business was to gather the people and offer a bunch of sacrifices to the Lord. It seemed clear to me that he was attempting to appropriate God in order to further his own agenda.

    That said, as someone who has faith, I do believe that their IS a God who does His will on earth. And when certain actions line up with His stated will in scripture (such as the continuance of Judaism), I see those actions as His doing. Of course, more and more I see EVERYTHING as His doing, which can be problematic, as I noted in this post.

  5. The big difference between the Assyrians taking over Samaria/Israel and the Babylonian captivity was that the first was permanent, the second was temporary. Indeed, the separation of the Jews from the temple during the captivity in Babylon would be instrumental in developing the scripture-and-synagogue oriented worship (and Messianic hopefulness) which would set the stage for Christianity. What I find interesting about the Jews is not just their survival (itself somewhat miraculous), but their disproportionate impact on history compared to their numbers. One of my favorite little rhymes from long ago:
    "How odd/of God/to choose/the Jews.