We’ve been studying 2 Chronicles 32; the account of the Assyrian attack on the people of Judah during the days of king Hezekiah. We have seen how the passage before us is typical of spiritual warfare in several ways. I know for me personally, that to the degree I am buying into the lies of the Enemy, I am absolutely paralyzed spiritually. It’s important then to know well the schemes of the Enemy in order to be able to fight off his lies with the truths of God’s Word. With that in mind, here are a few more thoughts as we study 2 Chronicles 32. . .
The NATURE of the attack:
I. He ACCUSES us BEFORE God
A. He brings FALSE ACCUSATIONS against God’s people (2 Kings 18:22). In the midst of the ravings of the servants of the king of Assyria against the Lord and against Jerusalem, we read the following words in 2 Kings 18:22, “But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?” The implication is that Hezekiah had been leading the people away from God through his campaign against the high places and altars throughout Judah and Jerusalem (see 2Chron.30:14; 31:1). In effect, the servants of Sennacherib are putting this question to the people of Jerusalem: Why would the Lord deliver a people who have forsaken Him? The argument, of course, is total nonsense. Hezekiah was obeying the Lord in what he did, as we have seen. But that didn’t mean that these words wouldn’t do any damage.
Isn’t it so with us? Doesn’t Satan attack us at times with false accusations? Doesn’t he often come to us with allegations of disobedience and faithlessness even when we have done our best to honor the Lord? It was so with Moses, when the Evil one launched an attack on this man of God through the sons of Korah (Num.16:1-3). It was so with Job, when Satan slandered him wrongly in the presence of his Lord (Job 1:9-11; 3:4-5). King David was often the subject of wrongful slander (see Ps.38:19 and 69:4), though in the same breath he freely acknowledged that he himself was not without sin (Ps.38:18 and 69:5).
This itself highlights a truth of vital importance: there is a vast difference between sinlessness and faithfulness. David was faithful. But that didn’t mean he was sinless. Noah feared the Lord, but he wasn’t perfect. Abraham was the friend of God and the father of our faith, but that didn’t mean he didn’t at times fall into sin and unbelief. Moses was indeed wrongfully accused, but he was not without his own real faults. There was none like Job in his day, but his afflictions also uncovered dross that had been buried under the surface. It was the same also with Hezekiah―who was described as doing “what was good, right and true before the Lord his God” (2Chron.31:20) ― yet this in no way meant that he had no sin, as we will see. So too, we will carry our remaining corruptions with us till we reach the golden shores of glory. Perfection, as the Puritans used to say, is for another world. But one of Satan’s tactics is to wrongfully slander us―often by turning remaining sin into atrocious unfaithfulness, and the remnants of indwelling corruption into unforgivable wickedness. Though Abraham at times fell into sin, he continued to be the friend of God. But through his slandering accusations, Satan would make God out to be our enemy. When he does, take up the words of David: “There is nothing reliable in what they say” (Ps.5:9).
B. He carries TRUE TESTIMONY about God’s people (2 Kings 18:15-16). But not all of Satan’s accusations are false. Hezekiah had indeed been wrongly accused in the matter of his doing away with unlawful altars and high places scattered throughout Judah. The accusations of the Assyrian servants in this regard was totally baseless (2Chron.32:12). But that didn’t mean that Hezekiah had not been without sin in other matters. Indeed, Hezekiah had been guilty of sin―grievous sin―in the midst of the battle with his Assyrian enemies. I believe it was the sheer grace of God that kept the Assyrians from using against him what was by far the greatest spiritual ammunition they had. What was Hezekiah’s sin? It was how he had responded at the very outset of the attack. Hezekiah’s first reaction to the Assyrian advance was to apologize, presumably for not paying an annual fee, and to promise to give the Assyrians whatever they named as their price to withdraw from the land. When they answered with 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold, we read of Hezekiah’s response in 2 Kings 18:15-16: “Hezekiah gave him all the silver which was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria.”
In one moment of weakness, Hezekiah gave over into the hands of pagan enemies what he had been saving up for years in the treasuries of the house of the Lord (remember 2Chron.31:3-12). Most striking of all is Hezekiah’s stripping off the gold from the doors of the temple (2 Kings 18:16). If we recall, it was these very doors that Hezekiah himself had repaired at the beginning of his reign (2Chron.29:3). He strips the gold off the doors that he himself had overlaid years before. This was no trifle. This was no little sin. The servants of the Assyrian king may have brought false accusations against Hezekiah, but they also carried with them true testimony of grievous sin. Incidentally, it didn’t even work. The king of Assyria didn’t honor his word, just as Satan never honors his.
Satan would likewise bombard us―not only with false allegations―but with true testimony of our grievous sins before God. We are reminded again of the scene of Joshua, the High Priest before the angel of the Lord in Zechariah 3. Here, the accusations that Satan brought against Joshua were far from imagined. Following the restoration to the land from exile in Babylon, Joshua had let the temple of the Lord remain in disarray for over 15 years, because of the threatenings of outsiders in the land. Satan’s testimony was nothing but the truth. His accusations were well-founded. The evidence was all there: Joshua stood not as one falsely accused, but rightly condemned. Yet mark well the Lord’s response: “The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!” (3:2). Joshua, who had been clothed in filthy garments, is then clothed with festival robes. And this is how we must respond when Satan would condemn us for our sin. He’s right, we have sinned―and sinned grievously. He’s absolutely right, that we deserve nothing but condemnation and judgment. But here’s what he doesn’t want you to remember: Christ was condemned in your place. Your sin is grievous, but Jesus shed His blood to atone for it. “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1Pet.3:18). It is for this reason that we can glory in the truth of these precious words: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom.8:1).
II. He LIES to us ABOUT God
This is Satan’s business, and he knows it well. He not only accuses us before God, but lies to us about God. Just like the snake of old who deceived our first parents in the garden, our Enemy is about the same work today―coming to God’s children and lying to them―and his favorite subjects of discourse are the goodness of God and the truth of His Word. Our Lord declared in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness,” and there are many saints, I’m sure, that would struggle to recall instances of physical persecution―yet who could say in a heartbeat that they have known intimately the kind of persecution spoken of in Psalm 119:86, “they have persecuted me with a lie; help me!”
In our text we find the servants of the king of Assyria lying to God’s people about their Lord in the following ways:
A. God’s SOVEREIGN RULE over His people: Your God is NOT ABLE to save you.
B. God’s GRACIOUS DISPOSITION towards His people: Your God is NOT WILLING to save you.
C. God’s PROMISED FUTURE for His people: Your God is NOT GOING to save you.
A. God’s SOVEREIGN RULE over His people: “Your God is NOT ABLE to save you” (2Chron.32:13-17): We read of Sennacherib in 2 Chronicles 32:17, “He also wrote letters to insult the Lord God of Israel, and to speak against Him, saying, ‘As the gods of the nations of the lands have not delivered their people from my hand, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver His people from my hand.” In effect he was telling Hezekiah and the people that the Lord was not able to deliver them.
Isn’t this what Satan at times whispers in our ears? It is usually in times of great distress, as it was with Hezekiah, and it might sound something like this: “Your God may well be the God of the spiritual realm―but this is the real world. He may well have dominion on the day of judgment, but not here and now. Your prayers might save souls, but they have no power over actual physical realities.” It is in times that we are under great distress and confronted with very real problems that Satan comes to us with words such as these. And it is in these times that we are tempted―as it seems Hezekiah was―to run to seek help in earthly powers―to seek help in men, instead of in the Lord.
One personal example for me is preaching. My experiences in preaching are the greatest testimony to me that the God we serve is truly the Living God. When I am set to preach a month later, there is no struggle for me regarding God’s ability to give me a message and enable me to deliver it in His power. When I begin to seek the Lord for a text and prepare the message, usually about a week before I am to preach, I am fully confident that―as Abraham said on Mt. Moriah ― “The Lord will provide” (Gen.22:14). But usually the Lord will not give me a message until the 11th hour. Before then, it is almost always in my mind and soul as it was before creation―only a formless void and deep darkness. My heart is cold and stoney; my mind is nothing but clouds and confusion. It is one thing to believe in God’s ability to provide a message a week before I am to preach it; it is quite another to sit at my desk long after the sun has already set the night before I am called to preach, and believe―in hope against hope―that, over the course of only the next few hours―before my eyelids begin to overpower my strength―God Almighty is yet able to melt my heart, clear my mind, and give me a living message to preach in His power to His people. It is here that I am tempted to doubt that God is able. But He always provides.
I think that one reason this account is in the Scriptures is to remind us of this very truth―that the Lord reigns in this world. The Assyrians were no imaginary problem―and God Almighty levels them in a single night with one word from His mouth. With the command of His lips He annihilates the most powerful army in the world in a matter of hours (2 Kings 19:35). Saints―your God is the Living God who saves those who trust in Him. Bank on the truth of 2 Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” The Lord is not the God of fairy tales and imaginary problems. He reigns in the earth. So if you belong to Jesus, then know and live upon the words of David: “My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart” (Ps.7:10).
B. God’s GRACIOUS DISPOSITION towards His people: “Your God is NOT WILLING to save you” (2Chron.32:12; 2 Kings 18:25): For most of us, this kind of deception can be far more destructive than the first. Most of the time God’s people don’t have trouble believing that God is able to deliver them from the attacks of the Enemy. But it’s quite another thing when the Evil one begins to whisper into the ears of God’s precious children that their Savior is not willing to deliver them. We know He is able; at least most of the time we do. But is He willing? In light of all my failures? After all the times I’ve been unfaithful to Him? Like Joseph’s brothers, we often fear that the Lord will bear a grudge against us and pay us back for all the wrong that we have done to Him. The fear is there even without Satan suggesting it. But when the Evil one begins to sink his teeth in, it can be almost unbearable.
Hezekiah had strengthened the people of God with the assurance that God was with them. Assyria was a powerful country with an elite army. They would truly be done for if they were limited to their own strength and resources. But the Lord was with His people, to help them and fight their battles (2Chron.32:7-8). It is this very hope that the king of Assyria calls into question in 2 Chronicles 32:12, “Has not the same Hezekiah taken away [the Lord’s] high places and His altars. . .?” The implication is that even if their God was able to deliver them, He would no longer be willing to do so. Then come the shattering words recorded in 2 Kings 18:25, “Have I now come up without the Lord’s approval against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.’” Here the servants of Sennacherib invoke the Lord’s special covenant name to make their words all the more devastating. If effect they are saying, “We have been counseling together with your own God―the Lord―and it was He who told us to go up and destroy you.” Hezekiah had told the people that the Lord was with them. Now the Assyrians tell the people that the Lord is against them. And with these words another battle begins to rage―not a battle of swords in the open field―but a fierce battle forged deep within the hearts of God’s people―to reject the lies of the enemy and believe what God had said.
It is the same battle that rages in our own hearts. It is especially so in times of affliction and distress. Like the Assyrians, our trials come to us, telling us that they have been sent from an angry God in order to punish us for our unfaithfulness. They are lies. God is not punishing His people here because of their sin. For one thing, we were explicitly told that the attack came after the “acts of faithfulness” mentioned in 2 Chronicles 32:1. But, of course, our ultimate hope does not rest here. We cannot always say that we’ve been faithful. Besides, even our faithfulness is stained with sin. As Richard Sibbes has said, “The purest actions of the purest men need Christ to perfume them.” Our hope is fixed rather upon the truth revealed to the prophet Isaiah: “you have not called on Me, O Jacob; but you have become weary of Me, O Israel. . .[yet] I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is.43:22,25). Our hope is fixed completely on the glorious biblical truth that our sins cannot nullify God’s promises to us. Our hope is that every single promise that was made in the Scriptures was made to a sinful, weak, fickle, and frail people. Our hope is that the Lord has promised to bless and keep us, to help us and fight our battles―not because of us―but wholly and emphatically despite us. Our hope rests upon Jesus our Savior, and Him alone. Our sins are many―but they have been forgiven (Lk.7:47). Christ bore them all (Is.53:6). Justice cried out against us, but she has been wholly satisfied (Is.51:22). God was indeed angry with us, but in Christ His wrath has been fully quenched: “’For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you” (Is.54:9-10).
The above-mentioned Puritan pastor Richard Sibbes again gave excellent counsel when he said: “In time of temptation, believe Christ rather than the devil. Believe truth from truth itself. Hearken not to a liar, an enemy, and a murderer.” God didn’t allow Sennacherib to come up against His people because He hated them and wanted to punish them for their sin (he could have metered out a lot better punishment if He had wanted to do that). He only allowed it in order to refine them―to purge away remaining dross and fashion them more into His image. This was not the executioner’s sword that God had sent to His people―but the surgeon’s scalpel. The Lord did not send the Assyrians to His people in order to destroy them―but to prune them; not to judge them for their sin―but actually to save them from it. Sennacherib and his army were not a sickle of judgment in the hand of an angry God―but a pruning knife in the tender hands of the Vinedresser of Israel (Jn.15:2).
C. God’s PROMISED FUTURE for His people: “Your God is NOT GOING to save you” (2 Kings 18:27,29; 2Chron.32:17): If the Lord was neither able nor willing to save His people living in Judah, this is the only logical outcome. As Sennacherib later asserted in a letter to Hezekiah: “As the gods of the nations of the lands have not delivered their people from my hand, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver His people from my hand” (2Chron.32:17).
The Assyrians confidently boasted of certain victory against Hezekiah and God’s people living in Judah. But it might have well been said to them as it was to another: “Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (1 Kings 20:11). God was indeed with His people; and He would indeed fight their battles. The Lord sends word to Hezekiah through Isaiah, beginning with a question for the king of Assyria: “Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice and haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel. . .” (2 Kings 19:22). The Lord’s response to the Assyrian taunts, recorded in 2 Kings 19:20-28, might well remind us of the response of king Ahasuerus after Esther petitioned him for her own life and the life of her people: “Who is he, and where is he, who would presume to do thus?” (Esth.7:5). In an instant Haman’s heart―which had been filled with pride―had become filled with terror. He had boasted much against Mordecai, but now he stood face to face with the king. The apostle Paul likewise asks, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (Rom.8:33). This was not good for the Assyrians. They were about to come face to face in battle with the Lord God Almighty.
Psalm 31:21-22 reads, “Blessed be the Lord, for He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city. As for me, I said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from before Your eyes;’ nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to You.” At times we may feel cut off from before the eyes of the Lord. At times we may find ourselves besieged by the Enemy. But there’s a difference between being attacked and being defeated (2Cor.4:8-9). There’s a difference between being besieged and being conquered (Rom.8:36-37). Too often we think that God has forsaken us because we’re being attacked or feel bombarded by the Enemy. But God’s people need not be troubled by the threatenings of the Evil one. “Through God we shall do valiantly, and it is He who will tread down our adversaries” (Ps.60:12).