In the middle of the book Isaiah—a book full of Hebrew poetry, prophecy, and apocalyptic imagery—we come to a section of narrative. In chapters 36-37, we find the historical account of the showdown that took place between Sennacherib, king of Assyria, and Hezekiah, king of Judah, in 701 BC. This is a story of trust, of deliverance, and of the glory of the living God who alone is the Sovereign of the nations.
Why does Isaiah include this history lesson in the middle of his book of prophecy? Why is this story (also found in 2 Kings 18:13-19:37 and 2 Chronicles 32:1-22) included in Scripture? Pastor Ray Ortlund, in his excellent commentary on Isaiah, gives a profound answer worth quoting at length:
Why is this in the permanent, public record of God’s Word? Because unbelief still sneers at faith in God, we still lose our nerve, and God is still there to deliver us if we’ll get real with him. He only wants us to trust him with a daring faith.
If no one ever thinks we’re crazy for the way we stick our necks out in trusting the promises of God, are we really living by faith? If no one ever asks us to explain the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), is our hope any different from their hope? Is our Christianity so audacious that it requires nothing less than a religious conversion to enter in? One reason we see so few conversions today is that our Christianity isn’t an alternative to convert to. It’s padded, safe, predictable worldliness with occasional stop-offs at church. We think it’s God’s job to ensure our undisturbed routines. God thinks it’s our job to prove how real he is in the real world today.
We are often weak. But to get fresh courage, we don’t have to look inside ourselves and ask, “How much faith do I have?” We should look to God and ask, “What new step of audacious obedience do you want me to take right now? How can my life be a prophetic statement to my generation that you are a reliable Savior, as you’ve promised?” Thinking in terms of God first, we will find new courage.
A passage like this raises searching questions. For example, do our committees and boards at church make decisions by a bold faith? In our homes, do we raise our children to live with boldness? Personally, when was the last time you made a major decision that was so clearly of God and so clearly not of yourself that your conclusion actually surprised you? Are we shocking anybody by our faith? If God were to show us in one instant the full meaning of living by faith, we might all gasp and say, “Nobody can live that way, not in this world.” That’s why he keeps throwing our lives into upheaval. He wants us to experience what it’s like for him to come through when the only thing that will suffice is what is directly and immediately of God. He wants us to be living proof that he is real, as we dare to treat him as the greatest ally in the universe.
Raymond C. Ortlund Jr. and R. Kent Hughes, Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 210–212.
Matt Bedzyk is the lead pastor at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Matt and his wife Brianna have two children: Lorien Grace and Owen James. In his spare time, you can find him reading, brewing coffee, enjoying music, and supporting Manchester United and OG esports.