Part Four: How Judah Got Its Groove Back
Can reliance on God overcome intense opposition? Do we have to concede to the lingering presence of a threat? Let's see what happens in King Hezekiah's experience!
After Hezekiah prays to God in the temple, the prophet Isaiah sends a message to Hezekiah reporting God’s response to his prayer.
“I’ve heard your prayer about King Sennacherib of Assyria. This is what I have to say about him: The virgin daughter of Zion has despised you and laughed you to scorn. The daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head at you. Do you realize who you’ve reproached and blasphemed? Who you’ve been slandering and presuming about? It’s the Holy One of Israel. All that you’re claiming to do — haven’t you heard that I’ve done it all before? Those you overcame were weak. But I know where you are and what you’re up to. And because you’ve been so obnoxious about it, I’m going to utterly subdue you. You’re going to keep reaping and sowing the same thing. But the remnant of Judah will escape you and once again be fruitful.
“Furthermore, your king won’t come into this city. Won’t shoot an arrow there. Won’t approach it with a shield. Won’t build a defense outside its walls. He’ll go back the way he came. He will not come into this city. I will defend the city, to save it, for My own sake, and for My servant David’s sake.”
So, what happened next? No more back-and-forth between Judah and Assyria. That night, the angel of the Lord went out into the Assyrian camp. They woke up in the morning to find 185,000 corpses. The whole army was dead. So Sennacherib retreated all the way back to his capital at Nineveh. And while he was worshiping in the temple of his pagan god, two of his sons murdered him and fled into exile. And a son who hadn’t taken part in the murder took the throne.
I said the conclusion would be dramatic, didn’t I!
Let’s take a look at what's going on here . . .
Well, not unlike Hezekiah in Part 3 of this series, we, the readers of the Bible, are faced with a choice here. It’s the elephant in the room, really. If we follow this section of our story literally, we cannot but admit that there are good people and evil people, and that God sometimes chooses to destroy the evil ones, as it suits His purpose. Which also means He may decide to destroy good people if it suits His purpose. If we take another line of logic, we might rationalize what God did by agreeing with the notion that in the Old Testament days, God was harsh because He needed to be, but He’s not as harsh anymore, not since Christ Jesus’ time. To be honest, the latter almost made sense to me growing up.
But the way Christian Science explains the nature of God is what I’ve found to make sense. It’s consistent. The God who is divine Love itself (1 John 4:16) has “no pleasure in the death of him that dieth” (Ezekiel 18:32). Any explanation of God that conceives of Him as less than wholly good has attempted to discern God’s nature based on mortals’, or else on mortals’ perception of God’s activity.
So, then, what’s going on here if God didn’t just slaughter 185,000 people? We’re witnessing God’s all-power obliterating a false sense of another power. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures puts it this way: “The great fact remains that evil is not mind. Evil has no power, no intelligence, for God is good, and therefore good is infinite, is All” (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 398).
This sense of God’s all-power came to Hezekiah in this instance via the prophet Isaiah, who was not only attuned to God’s presence and power but also in a position to express it in a way that Hezekiah could understand. Isaiah’s reference to the “virgin daughter” indicates Judah, the children of Israel, God’s children, as pure. That this virgin daughter has scorned and despised King Sennacherib means that Judah has finally recognized that Assyria is devoid of any actual power, but is rather a corrupted sense, a misconception, of power. That Hezekiah receives this message before there is any human evidence of victory follows what we see in Christian Science healing: it takes place, is established, in thought.
Isaiah goes on to outline the extent of Judah’s salvation, that it is complete, as is the powerlessness of Judah’s perceived foe. That God defends the city, consciousness, for His own sake indicates that God’s nature as All excludes anything “else.” “That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:6). Not only can’t Assyria enter the city, or consciousness, of Judah, they can’t harm it from a distance (arrows), can’t approach it with a sense of personal protection (shield), nor even hunker down at a distance and wait for an opportunity to strike (cast a bank against it) — see verse 32. Instead, Assyria will return to whence it came; this is not saying that some evil people will go away, but rather that the mental suggestion of a power opposed to God will be seen as necessarily false — an obvious lie Judah will no longer accept. St. Paul puts it this way: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12).
In fact, looking back over the whole struggle Hezekiah faced with the Assyrians here — from Hezekiah’s landmark refusal to pay tribute to Assyria, to his decision that maybe that would be expedient after all, to the threats and the fear, to the whole-hearted turning to God, to the destruction of Assyria’s army and all the way to the end where Sennacherib’s sons kill him — I find there is a passage from Science and Health that sums it up perfectly:
“There is no hypocrisy in Science. Principle is imperative. You cannot mock it by human will. Science is a divine demand, not a human. Always right, its divine Principle never repents, but maintains the claim of Truth by quenching error. The pardon of divine mercy is the destruction of error. If men understood their real spiritual source to be all blessedness, they would struggle for recourse to the spiritual and be at peace; but the deeper the error into which mortal mind is plunged, the more intense the opposition to spirituality, till error yields to Truth" (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 329).