What might Hezekiah’s Jerusalem have to say to the Brexit process today?

Jan 18, 2019 | INSIGHTS

What has Isaiah 22 to say to our situation today?

Someone we know and trust had a picture a couple of months ago in relation to Brexit of a series of rocket launchers that appeared to be primed and ready to fire, but which the Lord allowed ‘to jam up.’ (It came with a sense that it was not going to prove easy to unjam the launchers either!) We are indeed in a phase of needing to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of the Lord, and to seek Him to do what is very best for the country for the years ahead.

For the last few weeks I have been revelling in exploring the prophecies of Isaiah. In days gone by, I have taught in depth on virtually every biblical prophet but, despite admiring Isaiah massively, I have only rarely spoken or written on his miraculously preserved prophecies, feeling perhaps that the book is almost too rich to do justice to or to make sense of as a whole. Studying it in more detail has been enormously rewarding, with great help from Alec Motyer’s The Prophecy of Isaiah. (See my review of his excellent commentary in Malvern Mashal 335).

In this article, and particularly in the follow up, we will be exploring truths that the Lord expounds which continue to have great relevance to us in our increasingly ‘post-truth’ era, in which so many are struggling to discern fact from weaponised fiction. Bearing in mind the current political turmoil in Britain thats has led to an unparalleled impasse, we may find it interesting to refer back to the situation that the people in Jerusalem were facing during the early years of in Hezekiah’s reign, in the days before his faith and vision ‘sharpened’.

Of all cities on Earth, Jerusalem is the one most directly associated with the name of the Lord. He set it apart to be the place of His temple, and the place where the words He gave to Moses were preserved. Given that the first fourteen verses of Isaiah 22 are describing a situation that was far more serious than anything that Britain is currently facing, it may not appear an obvious place to look to for parallels with our present situation – especially because they represent extremely strong meat, involving both a sharp rebuke from the Lord and a profound lament from His prophet at the way the people in Jerusalem were handling the increasing pressure that Assyria was placing them under.

Our situation differs from that of Judah in many ways, of course, not least in that we, like every other nation, have received a general (as opposed to a divine) mandate to be a light and an example to the nations as members of His Body. In this way it is we as believers rather than the nation as a whole, who are the representatives of the New Jerusalem on earth and part of His chosen people throughout the world. Nevertheless the Lord expects His people, His Church, to take to heart and to prayer for matters concerning the places they live in.

Ten Scriptures to pray for our nation and our leaders.
cf  Jer. 29:7

As we pick up the story at this tumultuous time, we find a word being addressed to a city that is ‘in a stir,’ full of uproar and commotion. (Is. 22:2) Jerusalem has always been a city of tumultuous bustle and trading activity, but what the Lord singles out as being particularly displeasing to Him is that it also appears to have been full of revelry at a time when people needed rather to be seeking Him intensively.

What was it that induced people to ‘revel’ whilst enemy chariots patrolled the nearby valleys and were even pressing at the city gate? (v7) Two very different reasons suggest themselves: the people had either lost hope altogether and resigned themselves to eating and drinking because tomorrow might prove to be their last day (v.13); or they were complacently placing their trust in the measures they had taken to strengthen the cities defences to be able to withstand a siege. It was the fact that people were looking less to Him than to their own ingenuity and resources that drew His sharp rebuke.

Here are the first fourteen verses in the New Living Translation:

This message came to me concerning Jerusalem—the Valley of Vision:

What is happening?
Why is everyone running to the rooftops?
The whole city is in a terrible uproar.
What do I see in this reveling city?
Bodies are lying everywhere,
killed not in battle but by famine and disease.
All your leaders have fled.
They surrendered without resistance.
The people tried to slip away,
but they were captured, too.
That’s why I said, “Leave me alone to weep;
do not try to comfort me.
Let me cry for my people
as I watch them being destroyed.”

Oh, what a day of crushing defeat!
What a day of confusion and terror
brought by the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
upon the Valley of Vision!
The walls of Jerusalem have been broken,
and cries of death echo from the mountainsides.
Elamites are the archers,
with their chariots and charioteers.
The men of Kir hold up the shields.
Chariots fill your beautiful valleys,
and charioteers storm your gates.
Judah’s defenses have been stripped away.
You run to the armoury for your weapons.
You inspect the breaks in the walls of Jerusalem.
You store up water in the lower pool.
 You survey the houses and tear some down
for stone to strengthen the walls.
Between the city walls, you build a reservoir
for water from the old pool.
But you never ask for help from the One who did all this.
You never considered the One who planned this long ago.

At that time the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
called you to weep and mourn.
He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins
and to wear clothes of burlap [sackcloth] to show your remorse.
But instead, you dance and play;
you slaughter cattle and kill sheep.
You feast on meat and drink wine.
You say, “Let’s feast and drink,
for tomorrow we die!”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has revealed this to me: “Till the day you die, you will never be forgiven for this sin.” That is the judgment of the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

Tough and unremitting though the Lord’s verdict is, please don’t be put off. Even if the places, people and specific details are not the ones we come across on a daily basis in our life, it is the same Lord whom we know and love who is sharing and probing people’s motivations and here – especially with regards to what they were putting their trust in. Beyond the outward historical events and details, the King of Kings and the Ruler of the nations is interacting with His people and with events on earth. The implications of this are far reaching.[i]

In particular, we will find much to profit from in the all too rare sight of a king and prophet operating ‘in tandem’. Wise, then, are those who perk up their ears every time He speaks in the Scriptures in the first person, for this is where we learn so much about His heart and purposes. The Word of the Lord remains sure for ever, just as the Lord is sure to His Word.

Notorious as being the place not only of divine revelation but also for killing the prophets whom God sent to it, (Luke 13:34) Jerusalem is both the starting point and the target of this prophecy. (Isaiah 22:1) How sad when the Lord is left with no choice but to bring judgement against those people and places whom He has chosen and called to bear His name![ii]  It is precisely because judgement in Scripture is always seen to be according to the opportunity that they have received that He expects those who have been given much to use well what they have been given. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:48. See also Matt. 20:20-22)

The threat beyond the threat

As so often in prophetic utterances, we see a ‘telescoping’ of timescales as the prophet glimpses things that lie further down the line as well as in the immediate future. On The opening verses hint strongly at the desolation that the following wave of invaders would bring to Jerusalem: in other words the Babylonians rather than the Assyrians.[iii]

Well before the mighty victory that the Lord brought about for Jerusalem over the forces of Sennacherib (chapter 37:33-37), He rebuked the city for ignoring His express call to seek Him intensively. Many years later, knowing that the Jews of His own day had failed to recognise their hour of visitation, Jesus wept with grief as He contemplated the untold misery that this would entail. (Luke 19:43-44)

What we see here is a profound interplay between the ambitions of world powers and the Sovereign Lord allowing trouble to come as a result of His people’s lack of attentiveness to Him. More than just allowing these troubles, the Scriptures go so far as to say that the Lord God specifically raises up these forces to be a means of opposing Israel and Judah, and indeed many other nations in the near East.[iv]

Many find it all but impossible to wrap their minds around the thought that a God of love could not only allow but even ‘enforce’ the consequences of people’s poor choices and decision making. After all we are so utterly accustomed to the Lord’s longsuffering and mercy – but what Isaiah is teaching us here is that there comes a time when the Lord’s patience does run out. Lest anyone think that this is Old Testament theology alone, and that the New Testament is ‘grace alone,’ it is worth remembering that there are actually many examples of grace in the Old Testament – and many examples of judgement in the New. After perusing the numerous examples the end note point to, some may find themselves needing to reconsider their understanding of what love consists of, rather than trying to reshape the Scriptures into what they assume they say, or would like them to say.[v]

Given their prolonged sojourn in Babylon, not to mention their nearly 2000 year subsequent diaspora, it is nothing short of incredible that the Lord kept the Jewish race from being completely subsumed by other nations. But what He has done externally must always be matched by inner conversion. It is sad to reflect that more people fall from grace as a result of following their own desires than through pressure from others.

The background

The scenario Isaiah is addressing in chapter 22 comes some time after Hezekiah had given Assyria a considerable sum of gold in order to buy them off. (2 Kings 18:15-16) ‘Peace in our time’ is a compelling argument for making compromises, and perhaps most people in Jerusalem were willing to trade having their gold reserves drained from Treasury and Temple in return for the prospect of peace. But even when the immediate danger to Jerusalem appeared to have passed there was no room for complacency, let alone for revelling. The Assyrians took the tribute but invaded anyway.

On more than one occasion Hezekiah made poor choices because he was easily swayed and influenced by stronger nations around him. Unless the Lord speaks clearly to reveal His will, these are not easy matters to determine.  Some today consider the far from inconsiderable sum Britain has long paid to Brussels an entirely worthwhile and appropriate ‘expense’ in order to be part of a wider trading block. Others see it as a flawed ‘tribute to Assyria.’ Is this wise and proper sharing? Or compromise and even danegeld? People’s opinions on this subject are sharply divided.

When it comes to the lure of gold, and the ‘black gold’ that the oil reserves and lucrative deals that nations such as Saudi Arabia offer the West, are indeed a strong pull – but the all but routine lack of concern for moral, ethical and spiritual considerations that accompanies them is noted in Heaven. Praise God for those who are prepared to stand up for the human rights of believers who are enduring extreme persecution in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and so many other nations.

I, for one, know that I would not fare well in the cut and thrust crucible of such decision-making forums. Pray for those who do have such responsibility – and for those the Lord desires to raise up to positions of leadership and power.

Why trusting in our own resources can never be enough

While the people were rejoicing at the thought of peace and prosperity, Isaiah was grieving that they were placing their trust in their own measures, most notably the heroic efforts the king had made to boost the city’s defences – a sign, perhaps, that he suspected Assyria to be capable of the very treachery they were indeed to demonstrate. Hezekiah significantly strengthened the city wall, quite possibly resorting to strategies similar to the ‘compulsory purchase’ the British government resorted to during the Second World War, or the policies of the Australian government when they pulled down all the dwellings deemed too close to the proposed Sydney Bridge.

Hezekiah also oversaw the construction of a tunnel through solid rock in order to overcome Jerusalem’s perennial lack of a direct water supply – a quite superlative feat of engineering.[vi]

It is entirely appropriate for leaders of a nation to take all appropriate steps to protect their nation, and yet in Isaiah 22:14, the Lord makes His displeasure at Hezekiah’s strategy explicitly clear. For, although it is right to boost defences, (indeed, it would be entirely inappropriate not to have done so) what was wrong was putting trust in them, (and in the weapons that Solomon had stored away in an arsenal) rather than actively looking to the Lord. (v8-12) This may look like splitting hairs, but it is actually an extremely important distinction.

Isaiah could see what the people of Jerusalem could not, that they were placing themselves in great danger through their failure to actively seek the Lord. And like Jeremiah, Isaiah sheds many tears over these insights that others were so blind to. (See v4) What sort of way was this to repay the Lord for the great gifts and resources He had been to such lengths to secure for them?

To reiterate this point: it is not that the city defences themselves that were an offence to God, but rather that the people were not looking look to the One who made the city, or showing any respect to the One who planned it long ago’ (22:9-11) – and then not mourning when thewir failure was pointed out to them.(vv.12-13)

The core issue here is something that applies to us all: where, in what, and in whom do we place our trust? In the Lord or in our own ingenuity and resources? This is the crunch issue on which everything else depends. It is so easy to think that we are trusting the Lord when, in reality, we may simply be benefiting from favourable circumstances. It is when these change that our lack of faith finds us out.[vii] [viii]

When the Lord removes the protective covering (v.8)[ix]

We have mentioned the fundamental differences between Britain and Judah. God does not expect the same from us as a nation for we are not chosen in the way that Judah was; but He does look to the Church to provide a clear moral and spiritual lead. If we consider our own British culture, do we deserve to fare any better than the inhabitants of Judah? (1 Tim. 6:17, Ps. 37:4, Ecc. 11:9, Matt. 12:36). In a sense, one person’s pursuit is no better than another’s if neither look to Him who lifted our land out of the sea and brought people to dwell in it. May God give us hearts that are passionate after Him and concerned to see His purposes fulfilled.

Even just to recognise that it is the Lord who is removing our physical and spiritual covering (v.8) and thereby paving the way for calamity to occur, is in itself a substantial incentive to weep and mourn for our nation, and to join with those who lament in ‘sackcloth,’ crying out to the Lord (v12). May He raise up prophets and teachers who will encourage the people of God to believe that their tears and prayers count in His sight and make a difference to how He will act – and may we ourselves be of those who determine to walk with eternity in view.

Intensifying our prayer life

If we find that we are not getting through on some issue in prayer it is often a call to do one of two things: to change the angle of our prayer – or to pray more intensively. It can represent all the difference between a hot knife slicing through butter and a cold one struggling to make any impact as the following articles that you can download here illustrate.

The Wood cutter story and the Call to intensify our prayer life.

A Sin that could not be atoned for . . .

The judgement that is decreed in Isaiah 22:14 is phrased in unusually strong terms. Isaiah says that he has actually heard the Lord reveal to him that ‘this iniquity will not be atoned for until you die.’ Praise God for people who hear truly, as opposed to following their own preferences or assumptions! So far as the Lord was concerned, the people had committed an unpardonable sin by failing to look to Him. Any hope that this time of ‘tumult and trampling and terror’ (v.5) would swiftly pass and better days return any time soon was therefore nothing more a delusion.

By Scriptural standards, this decree departs somewhat from the usual pattern, in which God first of all explains the reasons for His displeasure and warns of imminent penalties, but then permits time for people to reflect and repent so that judgement may yet be averted or at least modified.[x] On this occasion, however, no further opportunity to change appears to have been granted- which highlights just how seriously the Lord regarded the matter.

I have stood in the very place where the Lord Jesus stood overlooking the city of Jerusalem in what Isaiah calls ‘The Valley of Vision’(v.1a). It is known as Dominus Flevit because this is where the Lord shows the depth of His heart for the city He has known since He was a boy, and weeps over it.[xi]

Have you perhaps known times when you have sensed that the Lord has been grieved with you because you were too much inclined to trust in your own wisdom and resources – perhaps even to the extent of omitting to bring a matter to Him? How much richer and better our choices when we make God our focus . . . Even better when He is the author and instigator of them!

One wonders how a true Christian can possibly settle for serving only their own self interests? The fact that it can happen, however, whether through lukewarm complacency or through a self-delusion that fools us into thinking that we are doing much for the Kingdom, is highlighted by the fact that it is with reference to his fellow Christian workers that Paul is speaking when he declared, “I have no one else like Timothy, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. (Phil. 2:20-21)

Like Jesus, Isaiah grieves deeply at the sight of the city looking to its own interests instead of those of God, trusting in its own ability to withstand whatever is thrown at it rather than looking to the mighty arm of the Lord to protect. (22:9-11) In his spirit, he foresees as if it were happening already the day when all the carefully constructed defences would be shown to be worthless, when the Babylonians would finally ravage Jerusalem without mercy.

For us, as individuals and churches, and especially at this complicated but pivotal time in the nation’s history, may we be spared the lasting regrets that come as the result of our nation choosing something far removed from God’s highest way.

What can we do to help people recognise the urgency and re-order their lives accordingly?

In Scripture the example of one can stir many. When Ezra poured out his heart to the Lord in tears over the unfaithfulness of His people, it touched many others who flocked to join him. In no time at all, they were declaring an entirely new-found willingness to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord. (Ezra 10:1ff) What we do in secret is seen by Him and may yet bear great fruit. May we remember to encourage one another and hold the verse below close to your heart as we go through testing times.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. (Do not allow anyone to change your mind, NLV) always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour in the Lord is never wasted nor in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)

Always there may be hope. In the event, the Lord relented with regard to the Assyrian threats as we shall be seeing when He miraculously saved the city some time later in chapter 37. Who knows what He intends to do for, in, and with Britain long after the present Brexit process has wound to a close?

End Notes

[i] See the following references, for example, to the Lord as the ruler of the nations: 2 Chron. 20:6, Ps. 47:8, Ps. 22:8, Rev. 19:15, cf Gen. 35:11.

[ii] 2 Chron. 6.6, 1 Kings 8:29 See also: https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/God-Lives-In-Jerusalem).

[iii] It is only some considerable time later, following the long and wicked reign of Manasseh, that the sins of the nation finally ‘overtake’ Judah (Zech. 1:6). It is ever the Lord’s nature to show mercy, but justice and judgement must also be delivered, be it ever so long delayed.Since the Lord’s ‘default’ is to show mercy this is what the Lord calls His ‘strange’ work (Is. 28:21) – yet still justice and judgement must be delivered, be it ever so long delayed – and still there is mercy wrapped in the judgement. When Jehoiakim chose to ignore Jeremiah’s advice and rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, the nation paid a fearful price.
“The Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that He spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon. (2 Kings 24;2-4)

[iv] E.g. Isaiah 10:5-7, 12-16, 24-27, cf the Lord subsequently raising up the Babylonians (Hab. 1:5-6) to be the means of taking His chosen people into prolonged exile because of their unfaithfulness.

[v] The following is a fairly comprehensive overview of the many verses in the New Testament that speak of God’s judgement. Taken together they present highly sobering warnings and reality checks. http://www.cedricstudio.com/personal/judgment.html

[vi] As the rabbit burrows, it is barely a quarter of a mile from the Pool of Gihon to the reservoir that was built to contain it inside the city, but to take advantage of natural fissures in the rock the actual tunnel had to be a good deal longer than this. (2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chron. 32:2-4, 30; Isaiah 22:11) To have begun working on this precursor of the Eurotunnel at both ends and to have met in the middle without any modern technological aids is an outstanding achievement.

[vii] You may find the following articles by Rick Thomas challenging in respect of helping us to move beyond self-reliance – not least in order to avoid allowing any foothold to resentment or cynicism.  Article one and article two.

[viii] So sure is Isaiah of the Lord’s decrees that he declares events that lie in the future as if they had already happened. What Isaiah is saying comes down to this: “If you could see what I can see, you would not be behaving like this!”

Only much later would it be revealed to Isaiah that the ultimate devastation about which he had been led to prophesy would come not from the Assyrians at all, but rather at the hand of the Babylonians. By then the root problem of self-complacency and the failure to look to the Lord had reasserted itself to the point where even the godly king Hezekiah himself had become caught up in it. (cf chapter 39:1-7)

[ix]When it says in verse 8 that “he removed Judah’s protective covering”, some assume that ‘he’ refers to Sennacherib. The Lord certainly used that proud opponent to test whether people would walk in the way of faith or look to trust their own security (cf Deut. 8 and 2 Chron. 32:1-5), but it is far more probable that it refers to the Lord Himself. He is the One who does the removing. On that theme, see this important prophecy for Britain by the noted prophet Alex Buchanan.

[x] See the chapter The Judgements of God in Ravens and the Prophet

[xi] See the Significance of the East Gate

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