The Old Testament is filled with stories. There are portions of teaching and instruction, but in general, the Old Testament is divided into stories, prophecies, and poetic or wisdom literature. Even when God gave Israel the Law through Moses, the Bible recounts it in the context of a story. Too often, Christians feel intimidated by the Old Testament. Subconsciously, if not purposefully, we write it off as “the part that doesn’t apply to us”, and skip to the New Testament. To fully understand Jesus, and to understand everything in the New Testament, we have to understand what they were rooted in. We were never meant to disregard the Old Testament, but to learn from it. Paul said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.”(1 Corinthians 10:11) When I read the Old Testament, I try to always be on watch for the concepts and lessons that can be drawn from the story, and learn from the examples and instructions that it has to give.
In the last couple weeks, the biggest story I’ve learned from is in 2 Chronicles 32 (and is also told and mirrored in 2 Kings 18-19). An Assyrian king named Sennacherib comes against Judah and their king Hezekiah. The story is interesting in itself, but I’ve learned a lot about recognizing how the devil tries to attack us by seeing how Sennacherib tried to intimidate and overwhelm Judah.
Sennacherib came against Judah with great threats. He sent people to Hezekiah, but before long it became apparent that Hezekiah had found his bearing in God, and wouldn’t be a push over in the face of an invading army. In verses 7-8, Hezekiah calls his people to strength, resolve, and trust in God. I’m especially drawn to verse 8. “With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” Here Hezekiah reminds his people of something that God has been trying to get across to them for generations, especially since Saul (the first king of Israel): their strength is not found in greater numbers, stronger weapons, or better planning, their strength comes from God and His favor. The people accept this call to strength, and it says they “took confidence from the words of Hezekiah” (vs. 8). King Hezekiah called the people to trust God, and they followed his lead.
Instead of sending messengers privately to interact only with Hezekiah one on one, Sennacherib sent people to shout in the common language of the Judeans (despite requests that they use a language only the leaders understood) in a direct attempt to threaten and intimidate all the people. He was using mass propaganda in the best way he could at the time. He tried to influence Hezekiah’s stand, but his words weren’t aimed at Hezekiah, they were aimed at the soldiers and the people. He accused Hezekiah of misleading the people and lying about their hope in God. He told them it was hopeless. He tried to shake their faith.
Pause the story of the standoff in Judah for a minute and skip ahead to the time of Jesus. Before Jesus’ public ministry really began, Matthew 4 tells us the Spirit led Him into the wilderness. Jesus was there fasting, and the devil personally showed up to tempt Him. The devil tried to offer what he could to trip Jesus up, to make Him sin, and to destroy the plan of God. It didn’t work, and Jesus stood strong in faith and the Scripture, rebuked the devil, and sent him away. The Bible says Jesus was tempted in all ways, as we are, yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15), so no doubt this was not the only time the enemy tried to trip Him up, but this is the earliest and one of the most direct examples we get of Jesus standing strong under temptation.
The devil couldn’t trip Jesus up. This greatly limited his perceived options for overtaking God’s Kingdom. Sennacherib couldn’t trip Hezekiah up. This greatly limited his perceived options for overtaking Hezekiah’s kingdom. The devil and Sennacherib were both left with one option: If you can’t take down the King, go after the soldiers.
Sometimes we forget the role we play in the plan of God. We are His children, yes, but we are also soldiers in the Kingdom of God. Paul encourages Timothy to act as a “good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). We are on earth as soldiers for a King who is not of this world. The devil tried to tempt our King, he tried to mess up the Royal plan, but he failed. Now, his only hope to slow down the plan is to tempt, discourage, and distract us, the soldiers of the Kingdom.
Sennacherib and his people didn’t stop at questioning Hezekiah’s choices, but moved to directly challenging God’s abilities. In doing so, it says, “they shouted it with a loud voice in the language of Judah to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, in order that they might take the city.”(2 Chron. 32:18) This is the same plan the enemy uses in my life, and in your life.
The devil can’t take down our King, so he tries to shake our faith and make us ineffective. He yells outside the walls of the Kingdom, telling us lies that feed our insecurities and our fears. He tries to frighten us and terrify us. He tries to shake our faith in the King. If you look at the nature of the questions and accusations Sennacherib threw out against the Judeans, I think you’ll find them very close to the thoughts you find thrown against your faith in God: “Who do you have to trust? Isn’t your king misleading you? He’s setting you up to fail. He’s going to leave you dying and destitute. You won’t have what you need to survive. Haven’t others tried this and failed? Don’t you remember the last person who tried this? Do you think you’re special? You’re just like everyone else who failed. You won’t make it.”
When Hezekiah heard the threats of Sennacherib, he was distressed. Twice he received word of the things Sennacherib was saying and had to take it before God. Both times, God’s reply to him was encouragement and the promise of protection. God told him through Isaiah, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me.” (2 Kings 19:6). God took their words against His abilities personally, and he personally sent an attack against the Assyrians that drove them away. Judah’s army never had to go out in war against Assyria; they only had to hold their faith in God’s ability to protect them.
If you listen to the screaming coming from over the Kingdom wall, the onslaught can seem overwhelming. The enemy’s plan is simply to combine lies and questioning insinuations with great volume. It’s a system refined over a long period of time, and it’s fair to say we have all fallen for it in some way at one point or another, but if you know the game plan, it makes the lies a little easier to deflect. God didn’t need Judah to fight the lies of the enemy; he just wanted them to stand secure despite them. He wanted them to trust in His power, not their own.
When I think about God’s desire that I trust His protection, my normal next reaction is to fall to the enemy’s lies and condemnation about the past. Sennacherib liked to repeatedly remind the soldiers of Judah that his people had conquered a multitude of nations all around them, and the other nation’s idol gods had been of no help. He brought up the past’s failures, and promised they could not be overcome. In the same way, our enemy likes to bring up any past failures we feel we’ve had, or anyone around us has had, to assure us that we are doomed. He promises that the future’s fate is the same as the past’s mistakes. If we lean on our own strength to overcome the enemy, he may be right, but if we lean on God’s strength to help us through, we will overcome. Judah stood against Assyria because of God’s strength, and we will stand against our enemy because of God’s strength. Jesus knows what it’s like to stand against the lies of the enemy, and we have the promise that He is merciful with us in our stand.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
The enemy may yell you are hopeless because of something in your past. If you trust in your past choices to make you worthy, you make the enemy right; your past does not make you worthy.
The enemy may yell you are hopeless because you are weak. If you trust in your strength to get you through, you make the enemy right; your strength will not get your through.
These are among the most deceiving lies, because they suggest you are supposed to be good enough or strong enough to trust in Jesus. If you have faith in your own ability to be good enough and strong enough, you will fall. Without Jesus, you aren’t worthy, and you aren’t strong. Jesus is your forgiveness and your strength. Ask Him to give you His forgiveness and His strength. Run to Jesus when the enemy tells you to stay away from Him. If the enemy says you aren’t worthy, run faster.
The enemy may tell you that Jesus can’t pull you through, and this is the greatest lie of all. When the devil stops saying you aren’t good enough, and starts saying God isn’t powerful enough, then you he’s running out of lies. When the Assyrians questioned Hezekiah’s ability, God let them keep talking. When the Assyrians questioned Judah’s strength, God still let them go on. When the Assyrians questioned God’s power, he ended the discussion.
If you can hear the enemy over the wall screaming lies about you and your King, remember that’s why God built the wall. Forget what lies behind you. Take heart that you have a loving King and High Priest who knows what it is to face down a loud threat, and rest in the fact He will stand with you, He will stand for you, and He will always have mercy and grace in your time of need.
Stick with the King, ignore the enemy’s screaming, and rest in the mercy and grace of our loving High Priest, Jesus Christ.