Summary: Hezekiah was outnumbered by the enemy, the Assyrian army. What do you do when you are overwhelmed by the enemy? Pray!
THE ENEMY AT THE GATES
There is a story told of an American on a walking trip through Central Europe. In a blinding rainstorm he seeks shelter in an old castle. It is inhabited by a brotherhood of monks who hesitate but eventually take him in.
That night the American discovers a cell with a man locked inside. An ancient wooden staff bolts the door. The prisoner claims he’s being held captive by the "insane" head monk, Brother Jerome. He pleads for the American to release him.
With his kind face and gentle voice the prisoner wins him over. But as the American confronts Brother Jerome about this prisoner the monk reveals that the prisoner is none other than Satan, the “father of lies.” It is only the Staff of Truth that keeps him locked in, the one barrier he can’t cross.
Surely Jerome is insane and when he gets the chance, the American releases the prisoner - who immediately transforms into a hideous, horned demon and vanishes in a puff of smoke!
The stunned American is horrified at the realization of what he has done. Jerome responds sympathetically. "I’m sorry for you, my son. All your life you will remember this night and whom you have turned loose upon the world."
"I didn’t believe you," the American replies. "I saw him and didn’t recognize him"—to which Jerome solemnly observes, "That is man’s weakness…and Satan’s strength." (Twilight Zone, “the Howling Man” circa 1960).
There is an enemy at the gates of our community. We are surrounded by forces that want to destroy our homes, our families, our marriages, our businesses and our very lives. When you recognize it you see a dark and insidious monster lurking at the door. If you don’t recognize his evil presence he appears as logic, human wisdom or “the right thing to do.” His influence seems innocent enough and we play right into his hands.
This is real folks. I have seen his work in recent weeks right here in our midst. His work is a painful reality among us and we have not even put up a fight. The Father of Lies has spun a convincing web and we have believed it.
As we study this story today in Isaiah 36-37 we will learn about the enemy at the gates, his method and how we can resist his methods.
1. When the enemy speaks…
We have jumped from chapter 11 to chapter 36 and many years have passed between these prophecies. Some say 40 years. This is the pivotal story in Isaiah, a bridge between the two halves. Here we see what Isaiah’s message is in story form: a message of trust and where trust should be placed.
As we join this story we notice that Israel, the Northern Kingdom no longer exists, all of Judah’s forts have been captured and Jerusalem stands like an island in the midst of Assyrian forces. They are surrounded and besieged. Then the king of Assyria’s general comes to speak at the gates of the city. He has a proposal to make. Notice three things about his message:
a) Sins come back to haunt us – Where does the general speak to the people of Jerusalem? Remember back in ch. 7 when Isaiah met king Ahaz and implored him not to make a rash decision? Isaiah met Ahaz at the Upper Pool on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Israel and Aram wanted to attack Judah and depose Ahaz. Isaiah said to stay calm and trust God. Instead Ahaz called on the Assyrians to come and help him fight Israel.
Now all these years later that decision has come back to haunt him. Ahaz is dead but his son Hezekiah must deal with the consequences of that horrible decision. The Assyrian general stands at the exact spot where that decision was made, a reminder of Judah’s failure to trust God.
Our sins have a way of coming back to haunt us. Even when they have been dealt with, the memory of them, the consequences, can return to create a defeatism within us. Imagine the regret that the people of Jerusalem must have felt. Isaiah also would not let them forget this poor decision.
b) Breaking down your defenses – When the Assyrian general speaks he uses psychological tactics to convince Jerusalem that resistance is useless. To break their confidence the general points out 4 weaknesses in their strategy:
1 – (v. 6) They can’t rely on Egypt to save them. Apparently Jerusalem had hoped Egypt would ally with them but Egypt was weak and in no position to even help themselves.
2 – (v. 7) They can’t depend on Yahweh, he says, because they have removed all the places of worship and insulted God.
3 – (v. 8) Then he mocks them knowing that they can’t find enough skilled riders to sit a horse. They would fall off while trying to throw a spear or swing a sword.