Remnant

Part 4 of "Kings: An Epic Bible Story You've Never Heard"

Peter Paul Rubens – The Defeat of Sennacherib

INTRODUCTION

If I asked you to name a miracle in the Bible, you might say "the ten plagues" or "the parting of the Red Sea" or "the resurrection of Jesus". These miracles are more than just well known miracles, they are moments that shaped history. The ten plagues are remembered every time Passover is celebrated. The parting of the Red Sea was an event that liberated the Israelites and gave birth to a new nation. Easter is the grounds upon which all of Christianity is founded. Even for someone who doesn't believe in miracles, these mysterious and unexplainable events undeniably changed the world.

This story is about a miracle that is no less awesome or deserving, but no one ever thinks of it. Personally, I have never heard it taught in church. It won't be found in an illustrated children's Bible and, while it is printed in every edition of the Bible, most people who read it either skim over it or forget it entirely.

I stumbled across this story when I was looking up occurrences of the phrase "the angel of the Lord". This character, who represents a physical manifestation of God prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, appears in some of the most important moments in the Bible. He ate with Abraham and negotiated over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He prevented Abraham from sacrificing his son on an altar. He wrestled with Jacob and named him 'Israel'. He appeared to Moses in a burning bush.

I could not understand how an obscure story in 2 Kings could be important enough to require a visit from the angel of the Lord and, by extension, important enough to join the league of those other stories.  I read into the context surrounding his appearance and have since changed my mind about the significance of this story. The angel of the Lord is going to show up in a violent and terrible way and God is about to shift things in his favor in the face of extraordinary odds. I hope you're seated for this.

Before I proceed, if you have not read parts 1-3, or if you just need a refresher, here is what has happened so far:

  • In part 1, God himself orchestrates the division of Israel from Judah. The new king of Israel, Jeroboam, sets up idols in the Northern kingdom to distinguish it from the Southern kingdom. In general, he effectively establishes himself as the founder of a long line of evil kings. During his own lifetime, he receives a prophesy saying human bones will be burned on him during the reign of a future king named Josiah.
  • In part 2, we read about God's response to the wrongdoing in Israel. This is told through the perspectives of Elijah and Elisha during the reign of the evil king Ahab. We also witness God's enormous capacity for forebearance, as he spares Ahab after Ahab humbles himself.
  • In part 3, the Northern kingdom of Israel is finally brought to an end. A king named Jehu performs a violent coup and obliterates Baal worship. After Jehu, Israel gradually disintegrates through a succession of evil kings and violent takeovers. Eventually, it is conquered and its people are exiled by the Assyrians. During Israel's decline, the kingdom of Judah had its own streak of bad kings, hitting its climax with the rise of king Ahaz.

 

Remnant

At this early time in world history, ancient peoples believed in numerous gods. When one group was defeated in battle by another group, the conquered would often assume the religious practices of the conquerors, believing their former gods failed to protect them. The Southern kingdom of Judah was unique in its belief in a single God, but the influences of other nations were constantly weighing on them, as evidenced by the disintegration of the Northern kingdom of Israel. At this time, the strongest and most feared nation in the world was Assyria. Assyria was marching throughout the region, conquering its peoples and conforming them to their own practices, leaving no question of who was in charge.

Assyria laid pressure on the Northern kingdom and its surrounding nations, causing the king of Israel and the king of Aram to form an alliance. As these kings retreated from the Assyrians in the North, they invaded Jerusalem to the South, where Ahaz was king. This happened during the time of the prophet Isaiah, who (in Isaiah 7) confronted Ahaz about the invasion and asked him not to fear but to trust in the Lord and ask for a sign. Ahaz refused the advice of Isaiah and instead appealed to the king of Assyria, requesting deliverance from his enemies:

Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death.

2 Kings 16:  7 - 9

The help from Assyria made a lasting impression on Ahaz. He began to worship their gods and even restructured the temple in Jerusalem, modeling it after the Assyrian temples. In all of this, Ahaz coexisted with the Assyrians while angering the Lord. Furthermore, his appeal to the Assyrians did not have a lasting effect; it merely bought time. By the time Hezekiah succeeds to the throne, no amount of treasure can satiate the Assyrian hunger for power. At this time, Judah is compromised both politically and culturally and the new king of Assyria, Sennacherib, is on an unstoppable rampage. But Hezekiah has something his father did not have:

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him.

2 Kings 18:5-7

Sennacherib's first assault on Jerusalem is one of psychological warfare. He sends messengers to stand outside the gates into Jerusalem to ridicule and instill doubt into the minds of its people. They say things like,

"This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when he says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’"

2 Kings 18:29-30

Sennacherib continues to send demoralizing messages to Jerusalem, making a mockery of the Lord and promising complete destruction if they don't surrender. When things look hopeless for Hezekiah, he falls to his face in despair and utters this amazing prayer:

“Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

2 Kings 19:15-19

Immediately after making this prayer, he receives a lengthy message from the prophet Isaiah concerning Sennacherib. After a prayer like Hezekiah's, this response sends shivers down my spine. Here is just an excerpt, all of which is directed at Sennacherib. The first line is in response to Sennacherib's boasting over his military accomplishments:

“‘Have you not heard?
    Long ago I ordained it.
In days of old I planned it;
    now I have brought it to pass,
that you have turned fortified cities
    into piles of stone.
[...]

“‘But I know where you are
    and when you come and go
    and how you rage against me.
Because you rage against me
    and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
    by the way you came.’

[...]

Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah
    will take root below and bear fruit above.
For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant,
    and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors.

“The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

“‘[the king of Assyria] will not enter this city
    or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
    or build a siege ramp against it.
[...]
I will defend this city and save it,
    for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.’”

Excerpts from 2 Kings 19:21-34

What happens next is a miracle. I would encourage you to research it yourself, but I think you will find that while the actual events are mysterious and unexplainable, they nevertheless resulted in the withdrawal of Sennacherib and his army. 

That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.

2 Kings 19:35-36

And in this way, God himself preserved a remnant of Israel.

Jehu

Jehu

I saw Avengers: Infinity War last night and, because I was working on this study, it gave me pause as I thought about movie trailers. Why are they so enjoyable to watch? When I see a see trailers in the theatre, I often think, "Oh! I have to see that!" If or when I see the film, if it disappoints, I think, "The preview was better." Or, "All of the best parts were in the preview." If I wanted more enjoyment from the movies, I should honestly just stop watching trailers, but I won't. Why is that?

The interesting think about previews is, no matter how good they are or even how much content they contain, they can never stand in for the actual movie. Previews aren't stories, they are just teasers for a story. It's the story we crave. Never have I ever watched a preview and thought, "That was so wonderful, I won't even see the movie." While I know that is literally the job of the people making the preview, I also think the reason it is so effective is because we, the audience, want the details filled in. We want the context for the joke or the story behind the dramatic one-liner. I've seen previews that give away virtually the entire plot, but I still don't think it deters from the craving to see it filled out. Audiences love stories.

Who Turns Back Hearts

Who Turns Back Hearts

First, let me just say Part 2 is about my all time favorite Bible character, Elijah. I could write a series on just Elijah, but the purpose of this series is to focus on the overarching story. I omitted details from Part 1 to achieve this and I intend to treat Part 2 the same way, despite my utter fascination with 1 Kings 17 - 2 Kings 7. If you are interested in anything you read here, I would encourage you to do your own study of these chapters.

The books of Kings tell at least two stories. As the name implies, one of those stories is a chronicle of the kings of Israel and Judah. This story is corroborated by the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. The second story is that of the prophets. If the first story is about what is happening on Earth, the second story is about what is happening in heaven. The first story describes the evil reigns of Jeroboam and Ahab, the second story describes God's response to them.

Prophesy of Bones

Prophesy of Bones

This is a story from the Tanakh, or what Christians call the "Old Testament". I'm actually growing rather fond of the former of these two names because 'Old' Testament seriously downplays its relevance. For reasons that will be made clear, I would frankly prefer to call it the "Awesome Testament" or maybe just the "Wow, That's Both Terrifying and Amazing" book. Anyway, I've chosen to call this story "An Epic Bible Story You've Never Heard" because it comes from two books of the Tenakh that get very little attention in church, but definitely deserves to be heard. This series is a condensed version of about 35 chapters. I've broken it into six parts: one part per week for six weeks. 

Name

Name

Two years ago, I attended a weekly dinner party put on by a church called C3 Brooklyn. A dinner party is not an uncommon thing for me. Some churches call them "connect groups", I've heard "community groups", or even just "Bible study". Most groups that I've attended are conducted according to some sort of written leader's guide. My first C3 Brooklyn dinner party defied that expectation.

That night, the  discussion leader opened with, "Since it's near Easter, I feel like asking, 'What does the cross mean to you?'" His question resulted in a lively discussion and formed quite a strong, positive impression upon me. We even ended up attending the church regularly, but that is not why I am writing.

I am writing because, since it is Good Friday, I find myself thinking about that question again and about one of the most powerful illustrations in the Bible. I wanted to share that today.

Origin Story – Part 2

Origin Story – Part 2

When Noah was  born, it was said he would comfort us concerning our work and toil. (Genesis 5:29) While this can be interpreted literally, (One can imagine Lamech thinking, "This son of mine will grown up and help on the farm. I could use some comfort from the work and toil.") In this case, I think the comfort "concerning our work and toil" means much more.  It is relief from the one thousand years that have passed since the fall of man. It is the "toil" resulting from the curse, the "old world." (2 Peter 2:5) Somehow, Noah is about to change all that.

Origin Story – Part 1

Origin Story – Part 1

To some people, the Biblical story of creation is loaded with traps and controversy. Was it a literal six-day creation? If Adam and Eve were the only two people, who did their sons marry? Why did God refuse Cain's sacrifice? Some of these questions used to bother me, but I've learned a powerful argument that answers all of these questions satisfactorily and even encourages me to read more carefully.

Letter to the Romans, part 1

Letter to the Romans, part 1

As a Christian, I stand behind some hard-to-swallow beliefs. How can I believe in a God that would let someone go to hell? How can I believe in a God that lets bad things happen to good people? If God is all-powerful, what does that say about our free will?  And perhaps the worst of all: how can I call myself a Christian when self-proclaiming Christians have been behind such acts of judgement, intolerance, and hate?

An Appendix to "The Most Objectionable Story In Scripture"

I began studying Judges 19 with the goal of better understanding the gospel, or rather, to find a way in which such an objectionable story could underscore the gospel, if that was even possible. I think the parallel act of both Judges 19 and Genesis 19 illustrates that while both Sodom and Benjamin exhibited the same act of immorality, in Sodom we saw the inoccent protected by the intervention of God and the guilty destroyed at the hands of God, while in Israel, the inoccent is given up and the guilty are spared.

The Most Objectionable Story in Scripture.

I asked a few people to explain this passage. I only ever found an answer that was – to me – expected and too simple: "This story exists to provide evidence of the state of Israel during its darkest times and to point to its need for a Savior." I don't think this answer addresses the question. The question is really, why is this amount of detail is included. There are plenty of passages that have a similar effect but omit the specifics. For example, Judges 12:1-16 (same book, only seven chapters earlier) ends with a civil war in which  42,000 Ephraimites were killed. (You will want to remember that, because it comes up later.) The cause of the civil war was merely that the Ephraimites asked Jepththah why he fought the Ammonites without calling them. Slaying 42,000 Ephraimites seems like a disproportional response, don't you think? It seems like some detail, something political, perhaps, may have been left out. But in Judges 20, when 25,000 Benjamites were slayed, the battle was clearly spurred by the outrage incited by the twelve pieces of the concubine that had been sent across Israel. Ultimately, what my question boils down to is: what is it about this particular event that requires a level of detail that similar stories omit?  If I take Luke 24 literally, then it must be that this story of rape somehow points to Christ in a way that is so significant, it cannot be omitted. I need only to figure out why.