A coward

The kings of Israel and Judah had a responsibility as the earthly representative of God to defend and protect his people. In some instances, the king was considered a savior because God used him to deliver his people from their enemies (2 Kings 13:4-5). Like their Messiah, the king of Judah was endowed with special capabilities that enabled him to intercede for the people, and yet, many of Judah’s kings neglected their responsibilities and sought help from foreign kings (2 Kings 23:35).

King Zedekiah, the last king to rule over God’s people, had access to God  through the prophet Jeremiah. After Jeremiah repeatedly told the king and his people that Babylon was going to attack and destroy Judah, king Zedekiah began to seek counsel from Jeremiah secretly (Jeremiah 37:17). Although the king knew Jeremiah was telling him the truth, he had already made up his mind to disregard Jeremiah’s advice.

The reason king Zedekiah met with Jeremiah secretly was so that no one would know he planned to use the information Jeremiah provided to save himself from going into captivity. While the rest of the nation was deceived into thinking the king of Babylon was going to retreat as he had when the Egyptians came to assist Judah, king Zedekiah knew the end of his nation was nearing, and so, he distanced himself from Jeremiah to make it seem as though he wasn’t paying any attention to his message.

Jeremiah was placed in a dungeon and left for dead (Jeremiah 38:9), but king Zedekiah rescued him and arranged a meeting. It says in Jeremiah 38:14, “Then Zedekiah the king sent, and took Jeremiah unto him into the third entry that is in the house of the LORD, and the king said unto Jeremiah, I will ask thee a thing; hide nothing from me.” Zedekiah used his position as king to gain an advantage over the prophet Jeremiah. He wanted Jeremiah to reveal the future to him and Zedekiah intended to use the information for his own benefit.

Jeremiah told the king exactly what he needed to do to avoid Jerusalem being burned to the ground. The kings response showed his true motive for disobedience to God’s command was a lack of concern for anyone but himself. It says in Jeremiah 38:19, “And Zedekiah the king said unto Jeremiah, I am afraid of the Jews that are fallen to the Chaldeans, lest they deliver me into their hand, and they mock me.” Jeremiah assured Zedekiah he would be safe if he obeyed the LORD and encouraged him to listen to the voice of the LORD (Jeremiah 38:20).

In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, Zedekiah chose to keep the truth hidden and threatened Jeremiah with death if he told anyone else what he revealed to the king (Jeremiah 38:24). In the end, Judah’s army believed they could withstand Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and many of the people waited inside the walls of the city until it was too late for them to surrender and save their own lives (2 Chronicles 36:17).

Moment of truth

Isaiah’s ministry covered a span of approximately 60 years. During his lifetime, Isaiah experienced what could be considered the best and worst times in Jerusalem’s history. During King Uzziah’s reign (792 B.C. – 740 B.C.), Judah’s powerful army of over 300,000 men expanded his kingdom’s borders and fortified the city of Jerusalem, making it a secure fortress that could withstand a long siege of enemy attack (2 Kings 16:5). Within a decade of Uzziah’s death, his grandson, king Ahaz cooperated with the Assyrians to defeat the northern kingdom of Israel and erected an altar in the temple of God so he could worship a Syrian god instead (2 Kings 16:15).

Isaiah confronted Ahaz in a location referred to as “the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 7:3). Isaiah told the king of Judah, “The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah” (Isaiah 7:17). Ahaz ignored Isaiah’s warning, no doubt thinking an alliance with the king of Assyria would  prevent him from attacking Jerusalem.

Isaiah recorded his prophecy about the king of Assyria as a testimony against king Ahaz and all who doubted God’s intention to punish Judah for its rebellion against him (Isaiah 8:7-8). Later, Isaiah added that Assyria would be destroyed after God was finished using them to punish Samaria and Jerusalem for their idolatry (Isaiah 10:12). Predicting specific details of the Assyrian attack, Isaiah showed the king of Judah that God controlled his kingdom and could give it to whomever he wished (Isaiah 22:20-25).

When Ahaz’s son Hezekiah took over as king in 715 B.C., Israel had already been taken into captivity and the king of Assyria was breathing down Judah’s neck. Isaiah’s message to Hezekiah made it clear that Assyria was doomed and Jerusalem would be spared from destruction (Isaiah 29:22; 30:31). Isaiah warned Hezekiah to not trust in Egypt, but to rely on the LORD. Isaiah stated, “So shall the LORD of hosts come down to fight for mount Zion, and for the hill thereof. As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem, defending also he will deliver it and passing over he will preserve it” (Isaiah 31:4-5).

The moment of truth came in 701 B.C. when “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them” (Isaiah 36:1). The king of Assyria sent a messenger to Hezekiah with a great army, “And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” (Isaiah 36:2), the exact location where Hezekiah’s father had first been warned by Isaiah of an Assyrian attack against Jerusalem (Isaiah 7:3,17). Sennacherib claimed to be on a mission from God. He told Hezekiah’s men, “And am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it” (Isaiah 36:10).

Desolation

Within the nation of Israel, was an elite class of people that had altered the culture in order to enjoy a lifestyle that was not only luxurious, but also oppressive to the poor. It began with king Ahab who had stolen the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite (1 Kings 21:16). Amos described the situation as a seat of violence (Amos 6:3). The Hebrew word translated violence in Amos 6:3, chamac refers to unjust gain. “Basically chamac connotes the disruption of the divinely established order of things” (2555).

The nation of Israel was established as a kingdom devoted to God. Every aspect of the peoples’ lives was intended to reflect the character of their LORD and his unique relationship with them. The violence that was prevalent at the time of God’s judgment was disrupting the Israelites relationship with God and thereby interfering with His blessings (2555).

Amos described the wrongdoers as “them that are at ease in Zion…that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon couches, and eat the lamb out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall” (Amos 6:1,4). As a result of their greed, Amos declared, “Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed” (Amos 6:7).

The initial thrust of the Assyrian military campaign against Israel took place 738 – 732 B.C. Assuming Amos was alive at that time, his declaration that captivity would begin now, was most likely a reference to the capture of Gilead by king Tiglath-pileser of Assyria. “The furious onslaught against the northern tribes left only mount Ephraim and the capital city of Samaria intact. By this time Israel was a tiny nation wracked by pro- and anti- Assyrian factions, multiple assassinations, hypocrisy, arrogance and fear” (Assyrian Campaigns against Israel and Judah).

Amos’ prediction of the desolation of Israel by king Tiglath-pileser described a fearful scene in which an entire household was burned to death. “And it shall come to pass, if there remain ten men in one house, that they shall die. And a man’s uncle shall take him up, and he that burneth him, to bring out the bones our of the house, and shall say unto him that is by the sides of the house, Is there yet any with thee? and he shall say, No” (Amos 6:9-10).

The voice of reason

The ministry of Isaiah the prophet began when king Uzziah died in 740 B.C. and spanned four generations of kings until at least 697 B.C., when Manasseh began a coregency with his father king Hezikiah. Isaiah opens his message by stating he has received a vision from the LORD that pertains to Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1). The purpose of this divine communication was to reveal what was going to happen, so the people would be prepared for it. Unfortunately, Isaiah’s message was ignored, or at least not taken seriously, until it was clear Judah was on the pathway to destruction.

At the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry, circumstances contradicted what he said was going to happen. During king Uzziah’s reign, Judah had increased in strength and was expanding its borders. Uzziah’s military successes caused Judah’s enemies to retreat and remain at a distance, allowing his army to grow to more than 300,000 men. While Uzziah was very methodical in his approach to managing his kingdom, he was also innovative and could compete with the strongest of nations for precious resources.

Isaiah’s opening comment indicates the issue was a matter of loyalty. “Hear, O heaven, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider” (Isaiah 1:2-3). The Hebrew word translated consider, biyn means to separate mentally or distinguish (995). Biyn has to do with wisdom and  is associated with paying attention to something or noticing what is going on.

When we have considered something, it will affect our behavior and guide our actions. It can lead to change if it has affected our way of thinking. Considering takes place in the heart, not the mind, and it is not the same as thinking about something. It could be said that to consider something is to give it a place in your heart. In essence, to consider something is to let it affect you. Whether it is a thought or a person, considering expresses an attachment that indicates approval or affection.

One of the main points the LORD wanted his people to consider was his forgiveness of their sins. It says in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” At this point in Israel’s history, God’s plan of redemption applied only to them. With the exception of the city of Nineveh, no other nation had experienced God’s forgiveness. And yet, Judah did not consider God’s favor important to their success.