The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
After these things, and the establishment thereof, Sennacherib king of Assyria came, and entered into Judah, and encamped against the fenced cities, and thought to win them for himself.The Overthrow of Sennacherib
2 Chronicles 32
THE thirty-second chapter opens with words which we ought to be able to continue, if there is any inspiration in fancy, if we have any sense of true logic. The opening words are "After these things." The narrator may retire, for after our previous studies we are able to complete the sentence. Let us see whether this be not so, or whether imagination may be worsted in this insignificant attempt to eke out a record begun by inspiration. What "these things" are we know right well. We have already gone through them one by one. The last declaration may be taken as summing up the whole, and thus bringing our memory up to the immediate line of the text:—"And in every work that he [Hezekiah] began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered" (2Chronicles 31:21). As we have just said, this thirty-second chapter opens thus:—
"After these things, and the establishment thereof" (2Chronicles 32:1).
"Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him" (2Chronicles 32:7).
This is how prayer is answered! Not by some mysterious palpitations in the clouds, but by a consciousness of added courage, by a consciousness of invincible energy, by an assurance which nothing can modify that in all battle in which truth and error are the combatants the victory must lie with truth. Sennacherib was no mean enemy. He mocked the faith of Israel, he scorned the theology of Judah. He spoke with true eloquence:—
"Who was there among all the gods of those nations that my fathers utterly destroyed, that could deliver his people out of mine hand, that your God [how his voice quivered with urgent scorn as he said "your God"] should be able to deliver you out of mine hand? Now therefore let not Hezekiah deceive you, nor persuade you on this manner, neither yet believe him: for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of mine hand, and out of the hand of my fathers: how much less shall your God [whom nobody has ever seen, a God without a figure, a God without a painted arm] deliver you out of mine hand" (2Chronicles 32:14-15).
Sennacherib is to be admired. He was a pagan, but he was a believing pagan. He was a pagan who was not ashamed of his theology, as many Christians are. He was perfectly willing to meet the theological appeal with a theological retort: If it was a battle of gods, his god would win. Better have an imperfect creed and real honest faith in it, than have a magnificent theology and pay no attention to its obligations. There are honest pagans. There are Sennacheribs that are to be respected. There are Christian professors that are to be held in contempt; their orthodoxy is but a skeleton, their theological thinking is but a repetition of what somebody has told them, a servile obeisance before the idol of tradition; it is not faith, it can never win a battle. Infinitely better be a believing Sennacherib whose creed is pagan through and through, than be the most orthodox believer in Christianity who never obeys the commandments nor enjoys the beatitudes. Sennacherib is to be heard with respect. He is evidently a strong man; there is no feebleness in his tone; when he moves he moves altogether; when he advances, men say, The sun darkens and a storm will suddenly burst. Christians, in many cases, are "not well"; they are infirm, they are timid; they want to lodge in some vast wilderness; they do not want to be disturbed; sometimes even they do not want to hear a sermon that would fix their attention, they would prefer an anecdote which amuses their curiosity. If thus we go down Sennacherib will win, and ought to win. Let earnest men, though they be pagans, occupy the field, rather than that it should be encumbered by men who think that they know what is right and orthodox and true, but who never respond with passion and sacrifice to the claims of their faith.
Then came the crisis:—
"And for this cause Hezekiah the king, and the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz, prayed and cried to heaven" (2Chronicles 32:20).
Now they are in close quarters. Heaven has been spat upon by the Assyrian boaster: how will Heaven reply? With great pomp and circumstance? No. We shall measure Heaven's view of the situation by Heaven's answer. Is the Lord troubled?—
"And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria" (2Chronicles 32:21).
Hezekiah lies in the chiefest of the sepulchres of the sons of David; all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did him honour at his death. These are the men who redeem history from contempt; these are the men we want to see soon after we cross the final river. Sweet souls! spirits that help our deep communion with heaven, hearts that found their joy in the sanctuary. By the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, we may attain a relative eminence, and prove that even in so cloudy a life as this it is possible to get occasional gleams of light that tell us how near is the land where there is no night, no death.
O thou gracious Father, help us to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. We know how great a miracle we thus ask at thy hands, but they are hands almighty, and thine heart toward us is full of purposes of love. We are not abashed by the greatness of our request. Thou hast taught us to pray for great things; now we pray for the greatest of all, that we may be transformed into the likeness of thy Son Jesus Christ. We have been with him, we have read his words, we have listened to him as he has uttered thy gospel, and we are charmed by his ineffable simplicity, yet his infinite mysteriousness. We long to be like him. There was no guile in his heart; there was no vice in his hand; there was no wavering in all his behaviour. He was the only-begotten Son of the Father. He has revealed the Father unto us, and called upon us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. But how can we be? Our strength fails, our hope expires in darkness; we have no confidence. We bless thee for want of self-trust: may we not therefore hope that we may trust in thee the more, yea wholly, without break or reserve? This we would now do. Work the miracle of faith in the heart of every man; give him to feel that sight is nothing, and that all his senses do but mislead him unless they be inspired by the living God; then the touch of the hand shall discover the presence of the Divine One everywhere, and the eye shall behold him in the fleeting cloud, in the blooming flower, in all the event and music of life. We know thy law, and yet we break it; we know what is right, and yet we do not pursue it with diligence, with constancy, with loyalty of love. Is there not some joy even in wrong-doing—something that ministers to momentary desire, and that overthrows the soul, depleting it and making it poor? Surely thou wilt not leave us to see corruption; thou wilt rather find us and save us, purifying our whole soul, and making it glow with divinest love. Sometimes we have almost seen thee; now and again we think we have had glimpses of the Jerusalem that is above; occasionally the dull noise of the world has been broken in upon by strains and songs which must have come downwards from the heavens. In all these things we find beginnings, and hints, and encouragements; may they grow in their influence, may they abound in their multiplicity, that so we may be lured and held up and mightily comforted and sustained in this life-and-death struggle of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Comfort all that mourn; let the prisoner hear at least some kind hand upon the lock of his dungeon; may those who sit in sadness see gracious light; and may the man who is farthest away from home hear a voice calling him back again; may he believe it and answer it and return. We always pray at the cross; without the cross we cannot pray; it opens heaven, it creates peace, it answers tremendous accusations; it is charged with the spirit of sacrifice, it throbs with the spirit of comfort. Amen.