The Beginning of the End

Bible Book: Selected Passages 
Subject: Faith; Suffering; Hardships; Judgment

2nd Kings 17-19; Isaiah 3; 6; 13-14; 49; 53

A few years back I came across an excerpt from a book that is a compilation of actual letters that children have written to God over the years. I’d like to share a few of their letters with you.

Dear God, in Sunday School they told us what You do. Who does it while you are on vacation? Jane

Dear God, Are you really invisible or is that a trick? Lucy

Dear God, Is it true that my father won’t get in Heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house? Anita

Dear God, Instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t You just keep the ones You have now? Jean

Dear God, My brother told me about being born but it doesn’t sound right. They’re just kidding, aren’t they? Marsha

Dear God, I read the Bible. What does “begat” mean? No one will tell me. Love, Allison

Dear God, Did you mean for the giraffe to look like that or was it an accident? Norma

I can tell by your response that you agree with me, these letters are priceless. I love the way these kids feel comfortable to talk to God and ask their questions in such a forthright manner. Their example should remind us that we can boldly approach God’s throne of grace with our own questions about life. In fact, let’s think about that for a moment. What would happen if we did that this morning? I mean, what kind of letter would you write to our Heavenly Father? I’m not a gambling man but I bet if we passed out paper and pen right now, let you write you letters, then collected them and tallied the results, I bet we would find that the most popular question would be something like this: “Dear God, Why is it that bad things happen to good people?” I mean, let’s be honest, there have been times when that question was on all our minds, especially in the wake of events like those that occurred in Connecticut last week.

Perhaps you also wondered about this as you read this past week’s assignment in The Story and I’m referring to the part about the life of one of those rare GOOD kings, the man I just read about King Hezekiah. But before we get into that part of The Story, let’s review a bit. Over the last couple weeks we have learned that the nation of Israel came to a place where they were not ONE nation but TWO. The northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was called Judah. This “divided kingdom” situation lasted 208 years and during that time there were a total of 38 kings and of those 38 the Bible says that 33 “…did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Only five had a heart for God and tried to do things God’s way. Only five were “good.”

During this 208-year period God sent nine prophets or messengers or “watchmen” who came in and tried to warn the 33 evil kings and the people who followed them, “Look, you are not doing things God’s way and here’s what’s going to happen. If you continue on this path, destruction is going to come.” NINE TIMES God sent His prophets with this message. As it says in 2nd Chronicles 36, “The Lord, the God of their ancestors, repeatedly, AGAIN AND AGAIN, sent these prophets to warn them.”

Why did God do this? Why did He warn them again and again? He did this because He is long-suffering. God loved His people and wanted to give them every chance to repent. So He sent prophet after prophet after prophet. They warned them and warned them and warned them and warned them. They warned them again and warned them again and warned them again. They kept on warning and warning and warning, but the people refused to listen. In fact, they mocked God’s messengers and despised their “warning words.” One version of the Bible says, “The people called them idiots.” They “scoffed at the prophets until the Lord’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done.”

In short, the people of BOTH kingdoms broke their covenant with God and suffered the consequence, a consequence God had warned them about long ago. Remember? Way back in Deuteronomy 28:45-48 God had spoken through Moses and said,

All these curses will come upon you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.

In spite of these very specific warnings, the people continued in their sin and idolatry. 2nd Kings 17 gives a detailed description and says,

The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that provoked the Lord to anger. They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, “You shall not do this.” But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the Lord their God. They rejected His decrees and the covenant He had made with their fathers and the warnings He had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the Lord had forbidden them to do. They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking Him to anger. So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His presence. (vs 12-18)

In short, the Hebrew people ignored ALL the commands that God gave them. Eventually it got so bad God knew continued warnings were a waste of time so in He let them have their way. First the destruction they had been warned would come, CAME to the Northern Kingdom, perhaps because it was a kingdom that had ZERO “good” kings. Here’s how it happened. In 732B.C. the king of the northern Kingdom was Hoshea. Hoshea was positioned between two superpowers: Assyria to his right and Egypt to his left. Two kings before Hoshea had entered into an arrangement with the kingdom on the right through which Israel had become a vassal to Assyria. They were subservient to Assyria which means that every year they would have to pay a steep tax to their rulers. The time came to write that big check to Assyria and Hoshea decided to make a change so he went to the superpower on his left, Egypt, and met with their king in the hopes that he could get help from them to revolt against Assyria. Well, the king of Assyria, whose name was Shalmaneser, found out about Hoshea’s plan. This made him very angry because he liked getting that big check from Israel every year. So Shalmaneser and his army marched on Samaria, the capital of Israel. They apparently captured Hoseha on his way back from Egypt and imprisoned him. Then they laid siege to Samaria for three years. When it fell Shalmaneser deported all the inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom and from this point on Israel was no more. The ten northern tribes would never return. They are called “the lost tribes” because they lost their identity as God’s people. They forgot who they were and WHOSE they were. They became just like the pagan cultures around them.

One man has called the story of the destruction of Israel, “The most tragic national record every written.” And I can understand why because this was a nation that had every advantage. They had a special purpose to life for and a unique Power to live by, yet they turned their backs on that purpose and rejected that Power and chose instead to follow a pathway that would lead ultimately to destruction.

Ok, that’s the Northern Kingdom. What about the south? What about Judah?

Well, as I said, the southern kingdom had a few good kings and the one on the throne during Hoshea’s reign is a good example. His name was Hezekiah and Scripture records the fact that he tried all of his reign to do what God would have him do. In spite of the fact that he was the son of King Ahaz, a very wicked idolatrous king, Hezekiah turned things around and accomplished much good. For example: he opened and repaired the temple. He tore down the idols of false gods. He reorganized the priesthood and restored the altar of sacrifice. He re-instituted the Passover, that feast God had given to remind them of His activity in the past so as to give them faith to trust Him for the future, including the coming of the Messiah, THE Passover Lamb, who would take away the sins of the world. To sum it all up, Hezekiah destroyed falls religion and restored true religion in all of Judah. I mean, he was far more than a political leader. He was a spiritual leader. And as such, he was the driving force behind a revival of genuine faith in God among his people. 2nd Kings 18:3ff says, “Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He 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 cease to follow Him. He kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.”

But, in spite of Hezekiah’s good deeds, bad came his way. Ten years after the fall of the Northern Kingdom, Sennacherib, the new Assyrian king, came with his 185,000-soldier army ready to conquer the Southern Kingdom as it has done in the north. He captured Judah’s fortified cities and in spite of the fact that Hezekiah sued for peace and paid them in gold and silver, Sennacherib marched on Jerusalem. But, this time the Assyrians were hoping to avoid a long siege, avoid the bloodshed of a war and so Sennacherib made an offer. And he shrewdly didn’t make the offer to just Hezekiah. He also made it to the people. He said,

Surely you must realize what I and the other kings of Assyria before me have done, what we have done to all the people of the earth. Were any of the gods of those nations able to rescue their people from the destructive power of my predecessors? What makes you think your god can rescue you from me? Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. Don’t let him fool you like this. I say it again, no god of any nation or kingdom has ever yet been able to rescue his people from me or my ancestors. How much less will your God rescue you from my power? Surrender, make peace with me and every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern until I come and take you to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death. Do not listen to Hezekiah for he is misleading you when he says, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ (2 Kings 18:26ff)

In spite of his “silver tongue” the people obeyed King Hezekiah and said nothing in reply to Sennacherib. So the Assyrian army with its 185,000 troops marched on. They stood ready to wipe the Southern Kingdom off the map as it had done with the Northern Kingdom. And, as I inferred earlier, the question that comes to my mind is WHY? I mean, as tragic as it all is, we can understand what happened in the north. They had no “good” rulers up there. They refused to listen to prophets like Elijah. They did horrible evil in God’s eyes, they did “bad” so bad came their way. It makes sense. It seems fair. Bad things SHOULD happen to bad people. But, Hezekiah was a good guy. He was obeying God. Why did bad come to Him? From our perspective it seems absolutely unfair. It seems incompatible with the justice of God for Him to allow this to happen, but it did.

By the way, this experience in the life of good King Hezekiah is not an isolated incident. Bad things happened to other good people throughout the Bible. Remember Job? He was a man of integrity. He was upright in all his ways but bad came to him. Sickness came, he lost his children and properties. And then there was Paul, the great apostle of God was obedient to his heavenly vision. He fought the good fight and yet he ended up in prison in Rome and died a martyr’s death. I could go on because the fact is believers are not exempt from the sorrows of life. As Jesus said, “The rain falls on the unrighteous and the righteous, the bad and the good.” And, as I said, Hezekiah is a good example because he was a good man. Of course none of us are truly good, we are all sinners and so was Hezekiah but he was a righteous man, a “good” king, but bad came his way and we ask WHY? It seems so unfair.

Before we go any further I have to say you and I cannot comprehend the full answer to this question. Trapped in the present as we are, there will be times when it seems to us that God is unfair. Only in eternity, when all is made right, only then will fairness reign. Until then, we will not always know the full reason as to why bad things happen to good people. On this side of eternity we won’t always completely understand why faithful people get terminal illnesses or why shooters enter schools with guns blazing. In his book, Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey writes, “On this side of eternity we remain ignorant of many details, not because God enjoys keeping us in the dark but because we do not have the faculties to absorb so much light.” You see God is omnipresent so at a single glance He knows what the world is about and how history will end. But we, “time bound” creatures do not have God’s perspective on things.

Unlike our loving heavenly Father, we have to let time pass before we can look back and have even a partial understanding of why things happened the way they did. The Apostle Paul understood this principle. Do you remember his words from 1st Corinthians 13 “…now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Paul realized that not until history has run its course will we fully understand how, “ all things work together for the good…” of those who love the Lord.

In essence FAITH is choosing to believe in advance what will only make sense in reverse.

We trust God, we have faith in His eternal perspective, even when we can’t share it. This is one of the reasons that the Bible is such a great blessing to us as we go through life. It’s one reason READING and UNDERSTANDING The Story is so important. You see, here in the written record of God’s working in and through history are the accounts of good people who went through bad times. And we can read these stories and see how things turned out and in so doing, experience a taste of God’s eternal perspective. The Bible helps us begin to comprehend some of the ways that bad events can work to the good. We can understand what purposes bad events serve in life. This week’s chapter from The Story is a great example so let’s look at it and see what answers we can find to our question by looking at Hezekiah’s experience.

1) The first thing we can see is that sometimes God allows bad to come our way in order to drive us to our BEST EFFORTS.

And we can see this in Hezekiah’s response to Sennacherib and his army because Hezekiah made a truly GREAT effort.

He gathered his priests and military leaders together to plan strategy.

He stopped up the two springs of Siloam thus destroying the enemy’s water supply. In 2nd Chronicles 32:4 Hezekiah says, “Why should the king of Assyria come and find plenty of water?”

Verse five says that He then worked hard to “…repair all the broken sections of the wall around the city. He built towers on it and built another wall outside that one and reinforced the supporting terraces of the City of David.”

Hezekiah also fully stocked his arsenal by making lots of darts, shields, and other weapons.

Then in verses 7 & 8 he gathered everybody together and said, “‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.’ And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah, the king of Judah, said.”

Hezekiah was a good man and when he discovered that bad was coming his way, did he respond like many of us when we sit around and brood over our troubles? NO! He got up and put forth his best effort. He achieved great things.

Many times we to take things for granted, we take it easy and to be very satisfied with ourselves. For many of us, AVERAGE is a satisfactory standard of achievement in life. But then tough times come and we are roused from our complacency and put forth our best efforts. So, bad times can be the catalyst in our lives that enable us to both attempt and achieve things we would never have done in good times.

I remember years ago my grandmother was driving from the veteran’s hospital in Tennessee where she had visited my grandfather to her home in Florence, Alabama. While driving she had a massive stroke that partially paralyzed the right side of her body. Somehow she was able to retain control of her car and pull in the driveway of a home she was passing. She blew the horn of her car until someone came out of the house. Then she was able to give that person my uncle’s name and phone number and ask that person to call for help. I remember doctors wondering how she was able to do that with so much damage having been done to her brain and I imagine you have stories like that of your own, stories where an individual was seriously injured but was somehow able to do amazing things. Psychologists call this: “A long series of phyletic modifications of the phronema of the cortex.” What all this medical terminology means is that when things like this happen, when bad times come, we have this urge from our brain to do our best. We are aroused to greater energy and we accomplish astounding, even impossible things.

The principle we can learn here is that tough times make tougher people, our response to bad things can make us better people, stronger people, wiser people! We can grow from these bumps in the road of life and learn to go father and higher than we did before they came our way when the road was smooth and easy. I once read that when they first invented golf balls, they made the covers smooth. I guess the original golf balls looked sort of like a ping pong ball.

Then it was discovered that after a ball had been roughed up, knocked around the course a couple of hundred times, a golfer could get more distance out of it. So they started manufacturing them with dimpled covers like we see today. It is the same way in life, often it takes the rough spots of your life to make you go your farthest. And history is filled with examples of the positive effects of bad things on good people: Lock a man in prison and he becomes John Bunyan. Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge and you get George Washington. Let him be born in slavery and have his mom killed by night raiders from Arkansas and you have George Washington Carver, one of the world’s greatest botanists and inventors. Burn him so severely in a schoolhouse fire that the doctors say he will never walk again and you have Glenn Cunningham, who set a world’s record in 1934 for running the mile in 4 minutes, 6.7 seconds. Put him in a poor inner-city home with a single mom who struggles financially, and you have one of the world’s greatest neurosurgeons, Dr. Ben Carson. Deafen a genius composer and you have a Ludwig Van Beethoven. Call him a slow learner and write him off as someone who cannot be taught, and you have an Albert Einstein. These lives and others like them prove that good, amazing good, can come from bad when we allow bad things to spur us on to doing our very best.

So by using the Bible to look back at Hezekiah’s experience we can find at least one answer to this question we would ask God. Sometimes our loving Heavenly Father permits bad things to come to good people to drive us to our best efforts, achieving things we wouldn’t before the bad came. We need to understand that God is the “potter” and our lives are His clay and often He uses our bad experiences to break us and remold us into better vessels, capable of doing greater things.

2) Here’s a second possible reason that God allows bad to come to good people. It can have the effect of driving us to our knees in prayer

In verse 20 we read, “For this reason, Hezekiah the king, prayed and cried to heaven” SENNACHERIB’s coming drove Hezekiah to prayer. When the attack seemed imminent, this good king turned to the true source of his strength. In 2nd Kings 19:19 he got on his knees and prayed, “Deliver us from [Sennacherb’s] hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Lord, are God.”

You know, often the only thing that brings people to their knees in prayer is crisis. Pushed to the brink, back to the wall, right up to the wire, all escape routes closed, only then do people go to God for His help, only then do they seek a personal, intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. We saw that in the wake of 911 and after the shootings last week, when churches in Connecticut were packed. We have seen it in our study of the often-stubborn people of Israel. Sometimes God allows bad to come our way to remind us that we need Him.

A few years ago, I came across an article in GUIDEPOST magazine the story of Bryan Wolfe, who on a whim one day, decided to take his 2-year-old daughter for a ride in the forests of the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Bryan drove 14 miles from their home where he turned off the main highway and followed dirt and gravel roads until he was forced to shift into 4-wheel drive so that he could reach a very remote spot deep in the woods where he knew there was a beaver pond. Bryan thought his little girl would enjoy seeing the beaver paddling around in the water.

Well, they enjoyed a walk together and although they saw no beaver, the little girl loved splashing her hand in the water and calling for them. Then, before heading for home Bryan led his little girl back to the truck and put her in her car seat so he could safely use his rifle for a little target practice. He spotted an old tree stump that was about six-feet high and placed a couple of cans on it, walked back to the truck and after careful aim, easily picked off both targets. The cans had fallen inside the hollow stump and Bryan wanted to see where his bullets had made contact so he left his rifle on the hood of the truck and walked over to the stump to retrieve the cans. He hoisted himself up halfway on the stump and leaned down inside to try and retrieve his targets when suddenly a few inches of the rotted wood crumbled underneath him causing his center of gravity to shift so that he fell, head-first into the stump, one arm pinned to his side and the other wrapped around his head. He was wedged in that hollow tree stump like a cork in a bottle. All that showed from the outside were his boots, upside down of course.

At first he was amused by this freak accident but very quickly claustrophobia led him to panic. As he struggled in vain to free himself he heard his little girl talking nearby and he realized that she had somehow gotten out of her car seat and was toddling around in the woods. His panic increased as he thought of his loaded rifle laying on the hood of the deep pond, .of wild animals, of her getting lost before he could free himself. He tried to yell to his little girl to stay in the truck but his voice was muffled by the thick tree trunk. As his panic built he felt ants and insects crawling all over his body. Hours passed. His head began to swell. Nausea emptied his stomach.

In the article Bryan admitted that he had not been on speaking terms with God for a long time, that he had felt he didn’t really need God in his life, that he could take care of himself. But as six hours passed and he realized he might never be found in this remote area, that his little girl was in serious danger, he began to pray with great fervor and sincerity. “Oh God, please take care of my little girl. She is so innocent. Take me instead, a sinner, but save her.” he sobbed. “Please forgive me for turning my back on You…” He continued to pour out his soul to God, at one point he screamed in agony asking God to help him. After he finished his prayer only a few minutes passed before he heard someone calling out to him and a short time later he was rescued by two loggers who said they had felt “led” to explore the woods where Bryan was trapped. His little girl had fallen asleep in a moss-filled ditch and was perfectly safe. After this incident, because of it, Bryan embraced a personal faith in God. He said, “It took being stuck upside down in that tree stump, helpless, to get me to admit I couldn’t get everything out of life on my own, that I needed God. Now I thank God for it all: my wife, my daughter and my life.”

So perhaps another reason that God allows bad to come into our lives is to drive us to our knees, to motivate us to return to Him. That reluctant Old Testament prophet, Jonah, learned this lesson. Remember? It was from “the deep”, almost as deep as you can get, that he cried to God for help, choking on saltwater in his distress. King David learned this lesson as well. In Psalm 119:67, 71 he wrote, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray…but now I obey Your word. It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees.” So a second answer to our question is this, bad things come because they are a way to motivate us to reach out to God.

3) Here’s one final reason God let’s bad come our way is to drive home a testimony to the world

Let’s look at the results of Sennacherib’s coming. Verse 21 says, “And the Lord sent an angel, who annihilated all the fighting men and the leaders and officers in the camp of the Assyrian king. So he withdrew to his own land in disgrace. And when he went into the temple of his god, some of his sons cut him down with the sword.” So, when Hezekiah did all he could do, when he had prayed and depended upon the Lord, God answered with a great victory. God destroyed the enemy. This became a testimony in line with God’s upper story plan.

Coming up from Egypt at this time was a man named Tirhakah. He heard the glorious news of Sennacherib’s defeat. It was a testimony to him of the power of the Lord God. News of this miraculous victory spread to the surrounding nations. Verse 23 says, “Many brought offerings to Jerusalem for the Lord and to King Hezekiah from then on He was highly regarded by all the nations.” Three centuries later, the Psalmist writes about the defeat of Sennacherib. Centuries after that The Maccabees, the Jewish ZEALOTS fighting for freedom from Roman occupation were sustained in their struggle with Antiochus by remembering Sennacherib’s fall.

So, here recorded in Scripture is an event that will live throughout all history. It was God’s victory and it drove home a testimony of the power of God. It is the same with us when “Sennacherib” comes and we respond by being faithful to God, by drawing on His strength, it becomes a testimony of the power of God to all who know us. Bad things come to give us an opportunity to respond in ways that God is glorified, and people are drawn to invite Him to be a part of their own lives.

You know there are lots of popular, wonderful tools that can give you an opening to share your faith: WWJD bracelets, Christian bumper stickers, carrying your Bible to work or school, but the best way to prove to your friends and neighbors that God is real, that your relationship with Him is valid is to show them how you respond when bad comes to your life.

Now, I wish the Southern Kingdom had remembered all they learned under good king Hezekiah and lived happily ever after but as I said earlier that’s not what happened. Hezekiah served God faithfully for 29 years and when he died, his son Manasseh became king. Manasseh did the exact opposite of God. He reinstated idol worship and the people of Judah embraced that. In fact, the Bible described Judah under Manasseh as being more evil than the foreign nation that God had previously destroyed. Things continued to go downhill until in 586B.C. when Babylon invaded. They captured Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and deported the people. And at this point it looked like it was all over. God’s plan to use His chosen people to tell the world about His great love seemed to have failed. After all there was no more Israel, no more Judah. But, at this point, perhaps the Bible’s greatest prophet, Isaiah, assured the people of Judah that God will not allow them to remain in Babylonian captivity forever and that the Messiah would come. In fact, Isaiah gave a very detailed description of the Messiah seven hundred years before that Christmas night when Jesus would be born, born to die for our sins, born to bridge the gap between sinful men and women and their Holy God, more about that TOMORROW night.

Let Us Pray.