Tag Archives: Hezekiah

Hope and Disappointment

Surely it was for my benefit
    that I suffered such anguish.
Isaiah 38:17a

Sunday was an emotional day for Wendy and me. I had the privilege of sharing the morning message among our local gathering of Jesus followers. The topic came from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth; One of the most well-known chapters in all of God’s Message. “The Love Chapter” is what it’s commonly called and I had been asked to speak to the phrase “Love hopes all things.”

As soon as I realized that I had been assigned that phrase, I knew in my heart that it was time for Wendy and me to share openly about a particularly difficult  stretch of our own journey. I have touched on it from time to time on my blog, but we’ve never really spoken about it openly and publicly.

For many years Wendy and I eagerly attempted to conceive and bring a baby into this world.  We started with high hopes, each of us endured surgeries, and we repeatedly travelled down the path of virtually every medical procedure and homeopathic suggestion available to us in our hope of having a child.

As hope waned for this desperate desire, Wendy and I experienced all of the stages of disappointment and grief. We felt doubt, anger, envy, despair and rage. We cried. We screamed. We fought. We wrestled with all of the hard questions. If God loves us, then why…? Why her? Why them? Why not us?

It has now been a handful of years since we surrendered our hopes of conceiving. To this day the grief still surprises us. It’s amazing how the sadness and tears well up unexpectedly in the oddest of moments. Nevertheless, Wendy and I recognized in the depths of the valley of infertility that we had come to a spiritual fork in the road. One path led in rapid descent into hopelessness, anger, brokenness and despair. It was an easy path to follow as are most paths of descent. The other path was a much longer road of ascent. It would still traverse hopelessness, anger, and despair, but the long slog eventually climbed toward trust in a larger narrative God was writing into our stories.

In my message this past Sunday I tried hard not to make it about our infertility as much as speaking to the myriad of hopes and disappointments each of us experience along this journey. In today’s chapter King Hezekiah’s hopes were for a long life and a prosperous reign. Those hopes are dashed with a terminal diagnosis, yet Hezzy comes to the same spiritual fork in the road that Wendy and I faced. He chooses the faith slog, and comes to recognize that there was purpose in his pain. There was benefit in the anguish.

Wendy and I can relate to that. Just was we are sometimes surprised by the grief that appears in unexpected moments, so are we often surprised by joy in the midst of our grief. It has taken years, but we can honestly say we experience a deep sense of thankfulness for having to traverse that valley. Our faith journey through infertility has led us further up, and further in. We have experienced facets of life and love that we didn’t know existed with clarity we didn’t know was possible. From our current position on life’s road we now look back and affirm the lyric of Hezekiah’s song.

Anguish has it’s benefits.

Faith, hope, and love have led us through disappointments, but they have not disappointed us.

Here are the audio and video of the message (used with permission of Third Church, who holds all rights) in case you’re interested.

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Siege and Parley

But the [Assyrian] commander replied, “Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?
Isaiah 36:12 (NIV)

It was a day of doom. The walled city of Jerusalem was under siege just as everyone had feared; The city was surrounded by the Assyrian army. The Assyrian army of which so many rumors had been whispered. The large army, well-trained and well-equipped that had swept through the region swallowing up every city in its wake. The army that tortured their enemies mercilessly. The army thirsty for blood. The army bent on violent destruction.

In today’s chapter we have front row seats in witness of what historians call siege warfare. For many centuries of history cities were surrounded by walls to protect the residents from invading armies. In order to conquer a city, armies would lay siege to it. Besieging armies would completely surround a city to cut off the inhabitants from food, fresh water, and supplies. They would then wait (sometimes years) until the people of the town were starving, weak, despondent and desperate.

In siege warfare it was common for envoys of the besieged city and a commander of the besieging army to have a series of an ancient version of a diplomatic meeting, called a parley. The city’s envoy(s) would do their best to display confidence that the city would not fall. The besieging army’s commander would do his best try to play psychological games with threats, intimidation, and insults.

Shakespeare, in Henry V, dramatically stages one of the best examples of a parley as, between attacks, King Henry of the invading English army parleys with the mayor of  the besieged French town of Harfleur …

The field commander of the Assyrians in Isaiah’s recounting uses the same classic parley tactics in taunting the envoys of Jerusalem’s King Hezekiah. He insults them and threatens them. He threatens their God, and tries to instill fear in the common soldiers on the wall. It’s a fascinating exercise to deconstruct the envoys speech and discover all of the psychological tactics he employed in his two speeches.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways these very base tactics are still employed. From trash talking on the athletic field to advanced siege and interrogation techniques of the modern battlefield  in which subjects are bombarded with negative audio stimulation while not being allowed to sleep or rest.

This isn’t very different than the way our spiritual enemy continues to attack on an on-going basis. Spiritual attack is an attempt to lay siege to heart and soul. The enemy attempts to isolate me from any network of support, surround me so as to feel there is no escape, then bombard me with an steady attack of messages designed to heighten my shame, shake my faith, cast doubt, and instill fear.

I am reminded this morning that, along life’s journey, I’m going to be spiritually besieged. Recognizing the enemies tactics is the first step in thwarting them. Once recognized for what it is, sometimes the best response (just like Hezekiah’s envoys employed in today’s chapter) is silent assurance.

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Featured image by MKorchia via Flickr

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 32

Some time later Hezekiah became deathly sick. He prayed to God and was given a reassuring sign. 2 Chronicles 32:24 (MSG)

I was awake early this morning. My brain was buzzing with anxious thoughts. Like Hezekiah and Jerusalem, I feel besieged. As I lay in the pre-dawn hours, pleading for sleep to return, my mind recounted troubling headlines and disappointing events.

This morning, I stand post on the wall of life and hear discouragement’s taunts. I shore up my heart with God’s promises. I remind my anxious heart of God’s track record of faithfulness.

Today, I’m praying for a reassuring sign.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and linlin

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 29

“Children, don’t drag your feet in this! God has chosen you to take your place before him to serve in conducting and leading worship—this is your life work; make sure you do it and do it well.” 2 Chronicles 29:11 (MSG)

I was at rehearsal last night for our community theater’s production of Annie. It felt great to be rehearsing. I love it. I’ve been involved on stage most of my life. I was trained in theater all through junior high, high school and college. Then, I didn’t step foot on stage for sixteen years.

There is something inside you that is always out of sorts when you aren’t doing what you’re gifted and called to do.

Photo by Madison Vander Well

The people Hezekiah assembled before him were the men of the tribe of Levi, who were given responsibility for overseeing the temple and leading in worship. Everything in the nation was out of sorts. They hadn’t been doing what they’d been called upon to do, and until the Levites did their appointed work, and did it well, no one was going to experience the blessing of worship.

Do what you are gifted, called and given to do. Do it well.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 37

The boss' office. Hezekiah took the letter from the hands of the messengers and read it. Then he went into the sanctuary of God and spread the letter out before God. Isaiah 37:14 (MSG)

In earlier years, as an employee, I would have different types of interaction with my boss. Sometimes, as with team meetings, I merely listened to the information or marching orders. There might be the occasional small talk conversation or pleasantry in passing. I might pick up the phone to call with a quick question. There were times, however, when I had an issue which required a deeper conversation. I might make an appointment so I could have my employers dedicated attention for a period of time. I would prepare and spread out my issue or question in great detail.

Our relationship with God is often like that of any other authority figure in our lives. Sometimes I sit back and take in what God has to tell me. Sometimes my conversation with God is not much more than small talk. I might call him up in a popcorn prayer to ask a quick question. And then there are times when I find myself in Hezekiah's position. My situation calls for more earnest conversation.

I like the way Hezekiah approached God. He went to the sanctuary and "spread the letter out." I'm reminded of Jesus going to the mountain side in the early morning hours. Sometimes it's good for me to physically go to a place where I can have a private appointment with God. It's good to take the time to "spread out" my thoughts and feelings in detail.

If I made an appointment with my employer and spread out my issue in a private setting, I think I received a better hearing than if I tried to say something in passing or catching him in the hallway. The quality of the response I received was generally better as well. Why would it work any differently with God?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and seaworldsa

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 36

Under seige. The three men were silent. They said nothing, for the king had already commanded, "Don't answer him." Isaiah 36:21 (MSG)

It was common in Isaiah's day for conquering armies to send a "mouthpiece" to brag, boast and tear down the confidence of the beseiged city's people. It was a form of psychological warfare. If the city was scared enough, they might surrender and everyone would be delivered from bloodshed, starvation, and, potentially, years of tedious stand-off.  Armies would hurl insults and paint gruesome word pictures to try and convince the citizens of the town to surrender. Isaiah 36 is a great historical record of what this sounded like. We see this same tactic used through recorded history. Shakespeare's King Henry V did a little trash talking of his own outside the city gates of Harfleur:

If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy'd?

Henry V Act 3 scene III

Today, these same tactics are used through television, radio, and the internet to lay seige to ideas, faith, and world-views. There is a time and place for reasoned conversation and response. I am reminded today by King Hezekiah's command to his advisors that sometimes the best response is to say nothing and let God have the last word.

God's Message says that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Wisdom is often required to know which time you are in at any given moment. God, help me to know today when to speak, and when to be silent.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mharrsch

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 21

Madison Tom & Herman Vander Well c. 1993 LF Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king. He ruled for fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Hephzibah. In God's judgment he was a bad king—an evil king. He reintroduced all the moral rot and spiritual corruption that had been scoured from the country when God dispossessed the pagan nations in favor of the children of Israel. 2 Kings 21:1-2 (MSG)

Last night my wife and I had a friend, a professor from Central College, over for dinner. It was a wonderful evening. I thought of my grandfather, who graduated from Central in 1929. In 1927, he became a charter member of a fraternal theatrical organization which still operates within the college's theater department. I was not aware of this when I moved here six years ago.I happened upon his signature on the group's charter hanging on a wall. How ironic that eighty years later I would move to the same area and be involved with the theatrical community he helped get started. 

I look back at the generations before me, and I feel fortunate. While no one is perfect, I can look back through my father's family and my mother's family and recognize grandparents and great-grandparents who sought to live right and parent well. There are key individuals who desired to leave a legacy of faith and life which I recognize in my own life and, I pray, will continue to be lived out in my children and the generations to come.

This resonates as I think about Manasseh in today's chapter. His father, Hezekiah, was listed among the "good" kings but his legacy, realized in his son, was unparalleled evil. When confronted by Isaiah with the prophecy that his descendents would be submitted to a terrible captivity, Hezekiah's response was completely self-centered: "Well, I'll be gone by then." The first ten years of Manasseh's reign, he was co-regent with his father Hezekiah. They shared the throne as Hezekiah battled his illness. Hezekiah had every opportunity to teach and mentor his son, but he left little or no imprint of faith and righteousness.