Part Three: Misery Business
Can we turn whole-heartedly to God in what seem like impossible situations? What if we think we've messed up? Do we have to convince God to help us? The people of Judah find out!
-> Read II Kings 19:1-19 <- When Eliakim and Shebna reach the prophet Isaiah, they convey a message from king Hezekiah: “We’re like a mother who has carried her child to term, but doesn’t have the strength to give birth to it. But maybe, God will be so outraged at what Rab-shakeh said, that He will punish Rab-shakeh and his king who put him up to it. Please pray for us, we’re all that’s left of the children of Israel!”
Isaiah’s response is very simple: “Tell Hezekiah God says, ‘Don’t be afraid of the words you’ve heard — that blasphemy. Here’s what’s I’ll do: Rab-shakeh will hear a rumor and go home. And he’ll fall by his own hand.’”
Sure enough, Rab-shakeh returns home and finds that his king is off fighting another city. So when he hears a rumor that the king of Egypt will be supporting Hezekiah and the people of Judah, he takes it upon himself to send some more messengers to intimidate Hezekiah.
The message is essentially the same as before, but definitely more obvious in its blasphemy:
“Don’t let God deceive you, saying Jerusalem won’t be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. You’ve heard what the kings of Assyria have done in their long history of destruction and conquest — and you think you’ll be delivered? Did the gods of Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and Eden keep them from being destroyed? Do places like Hamath, Arpad, Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah even claim to have kings anymore?”
This time his messengers have written the message down. Hezekiah receives it, reads it, and takes it right to God. In the temple he prays to God, acknowledging God’s heavenly nature, His only-ness, His status as the only Creator. He asks God to see and hear what is going on. The Assyrians have indeed destroyed other nations and gods, Hezekiah reasons, but those gods weren’t actually gods at all — they were just statues people had made. That’s why the Assyrians could destroy them. So he asks God to deliver them from the king of Assyria’s power, so that all the kingdoms of the earth will know that God is the supreme God — the only God.
Hezekiah sure has come a long way!
Let’s take a look at what’s going on here…
When Eliakim and Shebna reach Isaiah, we see that the people of Judah, represented by these two officials, are still very much afraid of what may happen to them at the hands of the King of Assyria. Their analogy to a pregnant woman is apt: they desire the ultimate outcome (God delivering them from the Assyrians), but aren’t sure they’re strong enough to bring it about . Nor are they sure God will find them worthy of saving, but maybe, they think, God will see fit to punish the Assyrians for their blasphemy, and Judah being saved will at least be the by-product of that. After all, they urge, they are all that’s left of the children of Israel.
Judah is at a cross-roads in thought. A “choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15) kind of moment of decision. Were this a choose-your-own adventure book, Judah’s succession of thought choices up to this point would look something like this:
Believe you have separated yourself from God and gotten yourself into a pickle.
Choose to rely on God to save you!
Doubt your ability for God to save you.
Decide you must be unworthy of being saved.
Hope that God might save you incidentally to punishing someone else who is unworthy.
Remind God that He owes you because you are His chosen people . . .
. . . and that would be the most depressing choose-your-own-adventure book ever. I mean, they’re actually trying to manipulate God there at the end. Thank goodness that’s not how God’s universe works! He’s the one in charge of choosing our adventure, and He’s always got something good planned. (See Jeremiah 29:11.)
There are layers upon layers of flaws in the logic up there, but let’s look at a couple big ones. The most obvious one is #3, wherein we believe God’s ability to save us depends on us somehow, as if we could interfere with what God wants to do. (See Job 23:13.) It really jumps out at you when it’s written like that, but if it came to our thought in such obvious fashion, we’d never admit it into our reasoning. More often than not, we encounter this false claim of personal responsibility right around the time we choose to rely on God. It’s a temptation to rely on ourselves instead of God disguised in false logic reasoned out from the basis of the material senses. In fact, a related claim is that God, Spirit, must work through matter. Mary Baker Eddy shows how illogical this is when she says in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, “The theory, that Spirit is distinct from matter but must pass through it, or into it, to be individualized, would reduce God to dependency on matter, and establish a basis for pantheism” (p. 335).
Now the other big flaw is the initial premise, i.e., #1 above. If we start our prayer by claiming to be separate from God, what hope have we? Logically, though, as God’s reflection (see Genesis 1:27), we cannot be separated from Him. Think about it. Can a reflection exist independently of what it reflects? No, it can’t. So, to start our prayer-adventure properly, we have to start it by acknowledging what’s true about God. As Science and Health states, “The starting-point of divine Science is that God, Spirit, is All-in-all, and that there is no other might nor Mind, — that God is Love, and therefore He is divine Principle” (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 275).
Getting back to our story, it’s obvious that the prophet Isaiah has started his prayer from this standpoint. He knows God to be All-in-all. This means Assyria’s supposed power opposed to God is just an illusion. As he and Judah reason from the right basis, the nothingness of Assyria’s so-called might will become apparent and its supposed power dissolved from their experience.
Isaiah’s response is simple, but it handles the root of Judah’s concern: fear. He tells them not to be afraid. The Assyrian bully Rab-shakeh will believe a rumor, return home, and will fall by his own hand. That Rab-shakeh will believe a rumor indicates his inability to discern Truth from error. That he returns home indicates error will be self-seen, become aware of its futility, its nothingness. That Rab-shakeh will fall by his own hand means he will be destroyed by his own power. “The only power of evil is to destroy itself. It can never destroy one iota of good” (ibid., p. 186).
So, as what Isaiah foretold comes to pass, and Rab-shakeh sends another intimidating message to Hezekiah, we find the effect just isn’t the same. Rab-shakeh uses the same tired arguments — “God can’t save you!” and “Look at the King of Assyria’s track record!” and “All the other nations’ gods couldn’t withstand Assyria!” (Error certainly is not creative — in any sense of the word.) Hezekiah is still a little afraid, but the mesmerism of the belief in a power opposed to God is broken. In what is certainly an example of scientific prayer, Hezekiah “den[ies] sin and plead[s] God’s allness” (ibid., p. 15). He denies the sin, the mistaken belief that he is separated from God, and reasons spiritually that the other “gods” Rab-shakeh mentions never had any power. By doing this, Hezekiah acknowledges that God is omnipotent. Now Judah finally has what Assyria has wanted all along: control of Judah’s — its own — thought. Holding this line in the battleground of human consciousness, it forbids any foreign intrusions and claims the victory for God, ensures His name — His true nature — is glorified.
Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion . . .