As predicted by Elisha, the downfall of Samaria (The Northern tribes of Israel), has occurred. We know why it occurred. They transgressed the Covenant of the Lord and neither listened nor obeyed the Word of God.
It’s a frightening prospect, isn’t it? Here are the people of God. Not some other people, not Nineveh, but God’s own people, to whom belong the covenants and promises.
Not only did they not obey, but they would no longer even listen.
There is a point when the heart becomes so calloused, so set in its ways, that it will no longer accept any other opinion than its own. It is a heart that does not want any complications, any hassles, any need for turning around or honest open contemplation.
Such a heart has grown cold, is unteachable and unbending. It is adept at making excuses but incapable of repentance and correction.
Meanwhile, Judah, looking on at the destruction of their brothers in the north, appears to heed the warning and in the centuries that follow, Judah has some of its best kings.
Hezekiah was one such king (2 Kings 18:5). He had a Hebrew mum (2 Kings 18:2) and walked in the footsteps of his father, David (2 Kings 18:3). He pulls down idols and goes to war against the Philistines and defeats them (2 Kings 18:8).
His concern, like David against Goliath, is that the name of the Lord is being mocked (2 Kings 19:4).
Hezekiah also makes some stupendous mistakes. For example, he shows Babylon all the treasures of the temple. Nevertheless, he is named among the faithful. Manasseh, his son, is another kettle of fish.
Manasseh, we are told, walked like Ahab. As did Manasseh’s son, Amon.
Young Josiah on the other hand is more like Solomon and he wants to restore the temple and wants a return to faithful temple worship. He also recovers the Law of the Lord – apparently under Manasseh, whose name means, “Forgetful”, it had not been needed or wanted, and so was forgotten and had been lost.
Josiah also reduces the temple at Bethel to dust, destroys the false worship and the high places, and, for the first time since Solomon, reigns over a united kingdom. Yet, the day of darkness is still coming upon Judah (Zephaniah 1:1-3, 4-6).
Since Solomon, the idolatry had set in like yeast in a batch of dough. And so, since the days of Hezekiah, Assyria had begun to march against Judah.
God’s incoming discipline would lead some to repentance and others toward more idolatry (Jeremiah 7:18).
In 2 Kings 18:28-32 war begins to break out. Picture this. You are surrounded. Water supplies are being cut off. Food is becoming scarce and you have little hope of defending what you have left.
You need help. You don’t want war. You want the comfort and security that you once had. What to do? Better to go quietly, enjoy Assyria’s offer of the good life and live to fight another day – isn’t it?
So, in walks the benevolent pagan king. Let’s look at what he does and what he offers.
First, the Rabshakeh (the kings right hand man) tries to drive a wedge between Judah’s shepherds and the people. He tells them not to trust in their own shepherds or they will be doomed to eat rubbish (2 Kings 18:27).
Mockingly, he says, “Even if we gave you 2,000 horses you have no one to put on them!”
There are some half-truths here that make his next words very compelling. Israel is guilty of putting their faith and hope in Egypt (2 Kings 18:21). The fact that they are being rebuked by the nations for their faithlessness to the Lord is a disgrace in itself.
We have resources, money, programs and high-speed Internet. Who needs Isaiah?
God had sent Assyria to chastise Israel – and Assyria seems to understand this and uses it as part of their argument for Judahs’ surrender. (2 Kings 18:25)
Like Jonah, here we have the world rebuking the church. “Wake up you sleeper and pray.”
How easy is it for us to fall into this trap? We have resources, money, programs and high-speed Internet. Who needs Isaiah? What good is the temple at a time like this? What good is prayer? At such times, an Assyrian rebuke can be a real service, bringing us back to our senses.
But here’s the clincher in Assyria’s political campaign pitch. Vineyaads, Figs, a land of grain, wine, olives, and honey (2 Kings 18:31-32, 1 Kings 4:25). Israel had all of this once and lived in peace under Solomon, which makes the offer come quietly even more tempting.
Micah has also reminded Judah that the promise still stands (Micah 4:4).
What to do with Assyria’s offer? It was not the first time the world had made such an offer (compare Abraham and the King of Sodom in Genesis 14:17-24).
Does it matter where I get my comfort, my prosperity and security from? Yes. It matters how you prosper. It matters who you put your hand out to for help.
The issue here is one of faithfulness and trust in God as your Father versus the paternal offers of a rival kingdom. So, where does Hezekiah run to? Assyria is right. They are under judgement from God.
But Hezekiah runs for the temple and calls for the Word of the Lord’s Prophet, Isaiah (2 Kings 19:1-2). He runs to his Father’s house.
The safest place to run, when God is on your tail… is always to God.
The Lord heard the prayers of His people that day and delivered them out of their trouble.
Never-the-less, their ultimate salvation lay ahead. The Israel and the Judah that then was, needed to die, needed to go into captivity, into exile and be raised up from the ashes if it were ever going to sit with princes.
Judah will go down into the dust like Samaria. But She will Arise. So, Isaiah, 2 Kings 19:30-31. This is also the message of Zechariah the Prophet (Zechariah 3:10; 6:12-13).
For us that day has come in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, we see a reversal: From the fig trees of this world to fig tree of God. Jesus becomes that vine and that olive tree, like Judah, which goes down into the earth in order to spring up again and bear much fruit.
The fig and vine are for us. They are a symbol of the rest and prosperity of the people living under God, in faithfulness to His Word.
But sitting under it, running under it for shelter is still a matter of faith. And as we learn to trust Jesus, we will also find ourselves inviting the nations and our neighbours, to eat under the same tree and find shade and rest under the same vine.