Swords Into Plowshares
Isaiah 36:1-3, 13-20; 37:1-7; then 2:1-4
(watch here: https://youtu.be/BqCUso8yx8Q)
1In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. 2The king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. He stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. 3And there came out to him Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder.
13Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah, ‘Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14Thus says the king: “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15Do not let Hezekiah make you rely on the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 16Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: “Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat from your own vine and your own fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 17until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18Do not let Hezekiah mislead you by saying, The Lord will save us. Has any of the gods of the nations saved their land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20Who among all the gods of these countries have saved their countries out of my hand, that the Lord should save Jerusalem out of my hand?” ’
1When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. 2And he sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. 3They said to him, ‘Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4It may be that the Lord your God heard the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’
5When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, 6Isaiah said to them, ‘Say to your master, “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.” ’
1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Poor, poor King Hezekiah…he of little faith. Reminds me of the one about a priest, an evangelist, and a minister who were in a row boat in the middle of a pond fishing. None of them had caught anything all morning. Then the evangelist stands up and says he needs to go to the bathroom so he climbs out of the boat and walks on the water to shore. He comes back ten minutes later the same way. Then the minister decides he needs to go to the bathroom, too, so he climbs out of the boat and walks on the water to shore. He, too, comes back the same way ten minutes later. The priest looks at both of them and decides that his faith is just as strong as his fishing buddies and that he can walk on water, too. He stands up and excuses himself. As he steps out, he makes a big splash down into the water. The evangelist looks at the minister and says, “I suppose we should have told him where the rocks were.”
Whether we know about him or not…whether we trust in him or not, God is the stepping stones of our lives. God will hold us up when we need to make a quick run to the bathroom on shore. God will carry us through the good times and the bad times. God will provide for us. We are assured of this through passages like Psalm 37:4-6 which tell us, “take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will make your vindication shine like the light, and the justice of your cause like the noonday.” Our God is a God who is eager to provide for us. Our God is a God who stands by us through the thick and thin of life. All we have to do is trust in him. God will do the rest if only we trust in him. Our God is a mighty God, able to do the impossible when all else fails. Our God comes to the rescue when we are downtrodden and low. Our God lifts us up to go through another day, another hour, another minute. Our God is a gracious God, a loving God, a merciful God. If only King Hezekiah had trusted in this about our God then he would have felt less despair, less defeated about his situation. But he had let fear and doubt creep into his heart. He needed someone like the prophet Isaiah to remind him of just who our God is and what He’s capable of doing.
But before we can fully appreciate Isaiah’s words, perhaps it would be helpful to flush out our reading a little more. Our passage throws us right into King Hezekiah’s situation and expects us to understand what’s going on. Let’s take it apart and fill in the blanks a little. King Hezekiah was a faithful king of the southern kingdom of Judah. Well, he knew of God but had difficulty trusting in God. In his fourteenth year of reign, his kingdom was besieged by the hostile Assyrians. Hezekiah tried to buy off the Assyrians but their king, King Sennacherib, wasn’t appeased. Sennacherib sent a spokesperson to the people of Judah to try and persuade them to simply lay down their arms and submit to the Assyrians. The spokesperson pointed out how several other nations had failed to defeat the Assyrians. Their gods had failed to help them so most likely the Judean god, our God, would fail too. Besides, the Assyrians would give them good land filled with all they ever needed. Of course, this was all psychological warfare. The Assyrians had no intention of giving the Judeans good land, nor did they know how mighty our God is. But King Hezekiah feared his people would believe what the spokesperson said. He himself wasn’t fully convinced of God’s mighty power to save so he was overcome with fear and doubt. Luckily, those around him sought out the prophet Isaiah to reassure him of God’s might. Isaiah spoke words of reassurance on God’s behalf: “do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. 7I myself will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.” Hezekiah went to God in prayer and was strengthened to lead his people in resisting the Assyrians. Sure enough, God did save Hezekiah and his people from defeat and Hezekiah is regarded as a great, faithful king of Judah.
Our passage closes with the familiar words of Isaiah proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom. Isaiah tells the people of Judah, “in days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills.” Hezekiah needed to hear these words in his seemingly hopeless situation. Hezekiah needed to hear words of hope. He needed to hear that God would reign like no other king: He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” These are great words of hope and promise that Hezekiah needed to hear. But they’re also words that we need to hear too!
Next week, we’ll celebrate the end of the church year with Christ the King Sunday and head into the Advent season of waiting for our king. Jesus is the king of whom Isaiah speaks. He is the king that will transform our world from a world of fighting to a world of peace. He is the king that leads us to unity and prosperity. He is a mighty king indeed! And he is a king that has always reigned and will always reign. As we here in Hebrews, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (13:8) In a way, our Advent season is somewhat paradoxical; we are awaiting a king who has always been with us and will always be with us. But for some people he has yet to come and we pray that he comes to them this year.
Isaiah spoke words of hope to a doubtful and despairing King Hezekiah but they also encourage us. He later proclaims, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (41:10) God helped Hezekiah and he helps us too. As we head into the Advent season, let us bring our cares and concerns to him. Let us be glad that He hears us and saves us. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (4:6-7) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.