Thursday, June 7, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Kings 18-19 and Luke 14

2 Kings 18 – Hezekiah (715-686 BC), begins his reign in Judah. He is 25. His mother was Abijah, daughter of Zechariah. He did what was right in the sight of the Lord. He removes the high places (finally), breaks down the sacred pillars and cuts down the sacred poles. He breaks the bronze serpent Moses was said to have made in the desert (it was called Nehushtan or “thing of brass”); it had become an idol over the years. It is interesting to ponder the thought that even in Moses’ mind, there might have been “minor gods” – it seems pretty scandalous for MOSES to have made a bronze figure to use as a cure for snakebites.

Hezekiah trusts in God. He rebels against the king of Assyria and attacks the Philistines as far away as Gaza. It is during his reign that Israel is captured by the Assyrians. In his 14th year, King Sennacherib of Assyria (705-681 BC) comes against Judah. Hezekiah sends a submissive letter: “’I have done wrong [in rebelling? not paying tribute?]; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me, I will bear’”(18:14). The Assyrian emperor demands ten tons of silver and one ton of gold; and Hezekiah strips all the gold and silver he can find from the Temple and the palace treasury.

Despite sending all this, the king of Assyria sends emissaries to Hezekiah to find out why this king (Hezekiah) seems so confident that he will be able to resist Assyrian might.
Three of Hezekiah’s chief officials go out to meet the Assyrian commander. The commander – speaking in Hebrew so that everyone in hearing distance can understand him - ask them what it is that makes the king of Judah so confident that he can resist the Assyrians. “Do you think that words can take the place of military skill and might? Who do you think will help you rebel against Assyria? You are expecting Egypt to help you, but that is like using a reed as a walking stick – it will break and job your hand. . . Or will you tell me that you are relying on the Lord your God? It was the Lord’s shrines and altars that Hezekiah destroyed when he told the people of Judah and Jerusalem to worship only at the altar in Jerusalem” (18:20-22). He is assuming that the local “high places” and other places of idol worship that Hezekiah [faithfully] took down were really dedicated to YHWH. Scholars are still debating this one.  
Hezekiah’s officials want the Assyrian emissary to speak Aramaic so he doesn’t foment discord among the people standing around, who might form a separate view of how to respond to the threat.  The commander refuses to do this and calls out even louder to the people, “Do not let Hezekiah make you rely on the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. . .the king of Assyria [says] 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” (18:31). He reminds them of the disaster and defeat that has fallen all around in other nations.  The people are silent though; they do not take the bait. Hezekiah’s officials report back to him,  tearing “their clothes in grief” (18:37).

2 Kings 19 – Hezekiah tears his clothes in grief too when he hears what the king of Assyria’s emissaries have said.  He sends his three officials to consult with the prophet Isaiah – this is his first appearance in the story. Isaiah tells the officials to return and say to Hezekiah not to fear, that the king of Assyria will hear a rumor that will cause him to return to his own land, and there the Lord will have him die by the sword. 

The next paragraph is a little unclear. Apparently the rumor the king of Assyria hears is that the king of Cush (an Ethiopian king—Tirhakah who is now Pharaoh) has attacked him at Libnah, so he goes there to meet him. He sends a threatening message to Hezekiah repeating much of what he said—that his armies are invincible, that they have beaten numerous kings and the gods who have defended those kings.
Hezekiah receives this message and reads it; he takes it up to the Temple and spreads it out before the Lord, saying: “O Lord the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God” (19:16).  And he begs the Lord for help: “So now, O Lord our God, save us, I pray you, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone” (19:19).

Isaiah sends Hezekiah a message that is God’s response to Hezekiah’s prayer. It’s a rather lengthy and personal snub of Assyria’s pride.  Bottom line is Sennacherib will not come into Jerusalem, for the Lord will defend it “for the sake of my own honor and because of the promise I made to my servant David” (19:34).

That night a plague hits the Assyrian camp and 185,000 are struck down (19:35). Sennacherib goes home and is killed by two of his sons; another son, Esar-haddon, succeeds him.

Luke 14 – Jesus is eating a Sabbath meal at the home of one of the leading Pharisees and there are a number of Pharisees there with them – SURPRISING! A poor man with swollen arms and legs comes up to Jesus and everyone watches to see what he will do. Will he do another miracle? He asks again about what the teaching should be about healing people on the Sabbath. “If any one of you had a child or an ox that happened to fall into a well on a Sabbath, would you not pull it out at once?” (14:5)

Jesus notices that people [still at the Pharisee Sabbath dinner?] are gravitating toward the places of honor.  He tells a parable about a wedding banquet—how one should not take seats of honor there because the host might embarrass you by making you give your place up to someone of higher rank. It is better to take the seat of less honor and then be asked to move up when the host arrives. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (14:11). And to his host, Jesus says he ought not to invite friends and relatives to a lunch or a dinner—they will repay you in kind.  “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back. God will repay you on the day the good people rise from death” (14:13-14).
One of the guests responds by saying, “How happy are those who will sit down at the feast in the Kingdom of God!” (14:15) Jesus tells him another story about a banquet, how when everything was ready the master sent for the guests he was inviting, and they started to make excuses for why they couldn’t come. The master gets angry at this and says to his servant, “’Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said. . .’Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner’” (14:21-24).
Crowds follow him, but Jesus is very demanding about who can call themselves disciples of his. “Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well” (14:26). Also, whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (14:25-27).

Giving up possessions is essential too; it is one of the costs of completing the work that needs to be done.

And his disciples also must not lose the distinctive identity that they must have. Like salt, like the yeast that makes bread rise, if they lose their distinctive character, they will be useless.  

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