Don't assume the worst, no matter what

Fourth in the COURAGE series

We sometimes read of business people, pastors and politicians who stand up against evil and refuse to compromise their principles, but perhaps it took them some time to gather their resolve. Maybe they spent many days weighing one action against another, and praying to know what to do. Maybe they fasted and cried out for courage to stand against those who would belittle, rob, defame and silence them.

In days to come or even today, we might need to know how to proceed against an enemy. We may not be able to quickly figure out what to do, and our first response could be unwise.

The special story of Hezekiah and the Assyrian army told in 2 Kings 18, 2 Chronicles 32 and Isaiah 37 describes this type of personal crisis. Many stories are found in two books of the Bible, but how many in three? (I'll have to look into this.)

Hezekiah began to reign as Judah's king in 715 BC. This was in the third year of Hoshea, the king of Israel. (2 Ki 18:1) Hezekiah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, as David had done. He trusted God, excelling the other kings of Judah. The Lord was with him and he prospered. (2 Ki 18:3-6) He restored proper worship in the temple (2 Ch 29) and this brought great comfort and excitement to Judah and to many in Israel. (2 Ch 30:25)

In his fourth year as king, the seventh year of king Hoshea of Israel, the king of Assyria surrounded Samaria and in three years conquered her and "carried away Israel unto Assyria" (2 Ki18:11) because of their horrific disobedience.

A side note to this historic account is that when the Assyrian king removed Israel from her land he sent men from Babylon, Cutlah and other conquered cities to dwell there, but they did not fear the Lord so the Lord sent lions among them. Therefore, the king of Assyria sent one of the priests of Israel back to Samaria to "teach them the manner of the God of the land." (2 Ki 17: 24-27) After that, the new Samaritans feared the Lord but still served their own gods. The area had not changed much when Jesus visited there and asked the woman at the well for a drink. (John 4:7)

In Hezekiah's fourteenth year as king, the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, attacked and seized the fenced cities of Judah! (2 Ki 18:13) In his shock, Hezekiah sent a message to this king that he realized he had offended him and would bear whatever yoke necessary, sending him 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold. In fact, Hezekiah gave Sennacherib all the silver found in the Temple and in his own house, and even cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the pillars which he as king had overlaid with gold. (2 Ki 18:15, 16)

O unhappy day! Hezekiah had jumped to a conclusion because of fear and disillusionment, yet the Lord was working all things together for good. This affront would lead him to cry out to God and his prophet, Isaiah, for help.

Of course, the financial appeasement did not work but only whetted the appetite of the Assyrians, and a host with three terrifying leaders arrived to take over Jerusalem. They taunted the people, urging them to turn against Hezekiah and to make a truce with them, reminding them that no other nation had been successful in escaping the Assyrian conquerors. Nevertheless the people did not answer because Hezekiah had told them not to.

Meanwhile, after fortifying Jerusalem, Hezekiah rent his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, went to the temple, and sent his faithful men to Isaiah to ask for his prayers for the remnant. (2 Ki 19:1-5) They explained to Isaiah that the Assyrians had reproached the living God.

Isaiah told them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. (Is 37:6-7) ... I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake. (Is 37:33-35)

So it was that the aggression of the Assyrians was halted. The angel of the LORD "smote" 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, and any yet alive early that day, on waking saw all the corpses. Sennacherib departed, retiring to Nineveh, and not long after as he worshipped his god, his sons killed him by sword. (2 Ki 19:35-57)

Reflecting upon this story, we may wonder: Since Hezekiah was a good and obedient king, why did the Lord allow the Assyrians to invade and conquer the fenced cities of Judah?

Inevitably in life's trials, we will take some losses. Fear will grip us, squeezing the life from our hearts. Then, we will be led to reflect upon the ways of God, and to seek his direction and thoughts toward us.

The lesson here is that enemy attacks, disrespect, threats and even loss of property and security are not a reason to give up and assume the worst.

When Satan derides and condemns you, boasting that he will enslave you, do not believe him or try to appease his mockers. Remember how much MORE powerful the living God is, whose foundation... standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. (2 Tim 2:19) The Lord is well able to defend his church and people, yet, as Hezekiah did, we must obey God's commands and depart from evil.

Find courage in fellowship

Third in the COURAGE series

In the King James version of the Bible, the word Courage is found in 20 verses, 19 in the Old Testament and only once in the New. As noted in the previous post, most mentions hearken back to the command of Moses to the tribal leaders to Be of good courage as they went to spy out the Promised Land. However, in Acts, as Paul traveled to Rome to stand before Caesar, he took courage because of Christian love shown along the way. (Acts 28:15)

When he saw Christian friends in the Appius Forum, a town 43 miles from Rome, and again at the Three Taverns, a resting place on the Appian Way only 33 miles from Rome, he thanked God and took courage. (Acts 28:15) His Christian brothers had heard through the grapevine (pun intended) that he was nearing Rome. Yes, they would go to greet him! Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. (Heb 13:3)

The journey to Rome was a distance of 3757 km or 2344 miles. This interesting information is found on the OpenBible.info website, which used the ORBIS site that provides a “geospatial Network Model of the Roman World” which in Paul’s time spanned “one-ninth of the earth's circumference across three continents…”

Back to our post, Paul would not have taken courage if he were not apprehensive or somewhat discouraged. A journey across land and sea of some 2344 miles with only fellow prisoners for companions, would be enough for most of us to feel uncertain and lonely.

Perhaps this sense of foreboding had begun to root as he traveled to Jerusalem on his way home from his third missionary journey. Several warnings were shared and his imprisonment predicted along the way.

He had avoided arrest in Greece by returning to Jerusalem through Macedonia (Acts 20:3) He admitted to the elders of the church in Ephesus that he went to Jerusalem bound in spirit, not knowing the things that shall befall me there save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. (Acts 20:22-23) He knew that they would never see him again. (Acts 20:25)

Next, in Tyre, disciples told him "through the Spirit" not to go up to Jerusalem, (Acts 21:4) After that, in Caesarea at the home of Philip the evangelist, a prophet named Agabus took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. (Acts 21:11)

Yet Paul was not conflicted about his journey to Jerusalem. I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 21:13) His mind had been made up for many months:

Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome. (Acts 19:21) ...[he] had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost. (Acts 20:16) [NOTE: So, if Paul sailed past Ephesus, how did he meet with the Ephesus elders? In Miletus (Paul) calls the elders of the Church of Ephesus, to whom he preaches a most directing sermon, gives them the most solemn exhortations, kneels down and prays with them, takes a very affecting leave of them, and sets sail for Caesarea… - Clarke commentary on Studylight.org]

Then, in Jerusalem his final destiny began to unfold. To rescue him from being murdered by the Jews, he was taken to be guarded at the castle where the barracks of the Roman soldiers were. There, after a day in custody, the Lord himself stood by him and said: Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome. (Acts 23:11) By this we can envision that Paul was discouraged, worn out, in great need of a strengthening touch from his Master.

Next, he was taken to Caesarea where he chose to appeal to Caesar rather than return to Jerusalem to be tried by the Jews who would kill him. He was sent off to Rome by ship, and nearly died in a storm. Again he was comforted by the Lord through his angel who told him: Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. (Acts 27:24)

From these passages we see that Paul, like us, had need of a word from the Lord in times of great stress, and that the Lord understood his need for encouragement to be strong and NOT to fear.

As we meet with challenges along the route to our place of greatest testing, the Lord himself will stand by us and give comfort by his Word:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:1-2)
…lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Mat 28:20)
…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. (Heb 13:5-6)

Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. (Gal 6:18)

A lasting commandment

Second in the COURAGE series

The significant first mention of the word Courage in the Bible (KJV) is found in the thirteenth chapter of Numbers:

And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain: And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes. (Num 13:17-20)

On their return, ten of the spies warned against entering the land and the two who urged going forward, Joshua and Caleb, were threatened with stoning by the people. (Num 14:10) For these cowardly reactions (Heb 3:19), God would not allow the Hebrews to enter the land until 40 years had passed, one for each day it had been explored. (Num 14:34) And then, only the children of the fathers would enter, and Joshua and Caleb who gave a good report.

This story brings up number of points.
1. It is critical to have good representatives. People (sheeple) will follow the bad advice and example of ungodly leaders.
2. Fear gives rise to discouragement, leading to inaction or wrong actions. Come against it! (2 Tim 1:7)
3. The Lord would have us to consider the topography of the challenges ahead. This is not to cause us to turn back but to press into him for help to be more than conquerors. (Rom 8:37-39)
4. God will not tolerate babyish ranting nor unwarranted disbelief from his own people. Christ came to show us the Father and to die for our sins, making a way for us to live eternally. He has promised to be with us to the end. (Mat 28:20) Have we any excuse not to drive the enemy from our minds and hearts? (Mat 4:7)

After the 40 years Moses commanded Joshua, Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. (Deut 31:6, 7, 23) The good word of the Lord had not changed: Be of good courage!

The Lord himself charged Joshua with the Courage command in Josh 1:6, 7, 9; and Joshua repeated it to the people, Josh 1:18; 10:25, so the land was conquered, nearly all of it.

As the centuries passed, the Israelites would repeat these words to one another and to their children.

  • David spoke them to Solomon to encourage him in building the temple (1 Ch 22:13; 28:20);
  • Ezra was lifted by them, hearing a Hebrew say them in seeking to be upright following the exile (Ezra 10:4);
  • Isaiah recalled the strength of those who feared the Lord and sought to follow him, helping one another by saying, Be of good courage. (Isa 41:6)

From these “mentions” we draw a few more conclusions:
1. There will never be a time on earth when we won’t need to hear these words.
2. We must encourage one another and the younger generation by saying them.
3. We must obey them.

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Josh 1:9)

Be of good courage, and let us behave ourselves valiantly for our people, and for the cities of our God: and let the LORD do that which is good in his sight. (1 Chron 19:13)

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD. (Ps 31:24)

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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