Upside-Down Strength, Courage, and Confidence

[King Hezekiah of Judah said ] “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said. (2 Chron 32:2-8)

[Officials on behalf of Sennacherib said King Hezekiah’s officials] Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, “The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (2 Kgs. 18: 27– 35)

When King Hezekiah’s officials came to [the prophet] Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Tell your master, ‘This is what the LORD says: Do not be afraid of what you have heard— those words with which the underlings of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Listen! When he hears a certain report, I will make him want to return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.’”(2 Kgs. 19: 5– 7)

Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, LORD, and hear; open your eyes, LORD, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. “It is true, LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, LORD, are God.” (2 Kgs. 19: 14– 19)

A few words/concepts stick out to me in this scerios with Hezekiah and the people of Judah. Hezekiah’s initial trust in the LORD God produces strength, courage and confidence (see first Scripture above). Yet, when Sennacherib comes against Hezekiah and Judah, he pushes against these three virtues (see second Scripture above).

Sennacherib hints that Hezekiah is weak as a king and Judah is weak as a nation — easily exploitable by other nations. Sennacherib attempts to convince Hezekiah’s officials that they should be fearful of his “impotent” leadership (e.g. “Don’t let him persuade you…”). And, Sennacherib plays the bully and describes the situation in such a way that it seems nearly impossible that Hezekiah or Judah could ever withstand the power of the Assyrian invasion — aiming to produce a sense of worry in Hezekiah’s officials and the people of Judah.

What I find interesting is that the application of the virtues: strength, courage, and confidence in the scenario of Hezekiah and Judah with Sennacherib seem far apart from the application of these same virtues in our own culture. Let me explain.

In the Scriptures above, Sennacherib visually appears as strong, courageous, and confident and Hezekiah visually appears weak, fearful, and worried.  My usual encounter with the qualities of strength, courage, and confidence in the culture around us —  more often than not — appears in the form of strength, courage, and confidence that Sennacherib showed.

(1) Strength is exuded through domination, brute force, and intimidation. In our time, it is a quality generally associated with the engagement of ISIS and terrorism and power structures, from a military and political standpoint. (2) Courage is exuded through brashness and disregard for others. In our time, it is a quality generally associated with the engagement of those we don’t like — our enemies. (3) Confidence is exuded through pride and boastfulness of accomplishments. In our time, it is a quality generally associated with the engagement of leaders and business-men/women and those of lesser abilities or needy positions.

From what I can tell, these are not the way in which these qualities match-up with the life of God. Hezekiah’s initial trust in the LORD God, and Isaiah’ re-affirmation of that trust, indicate a very different kind of strength, courage, and confidence than the kind of intimidation, brashness, and pride that we experience in the culture around us. This may seem odd to us. Our initiation reaction to Hezekiah’s stance is that his and God’s ways are very passive and timid. I would challenge differently.

If we look at the virtues that Hezekiah displays, I think we see virtues of a greater depth and quality. (1) It requires massive strength to stand your ground and not retaliate against a bully. The far easier response would be to take a swing. (2) It requires massive courage to not take matters into your own hands and rely on the LORD God that Hezekiah could not see. The far less courageous route is to give up on God and find human support. (3) It requires massive confidence to not give into the intimidation of a ruler that has ransacked a number of nations around you. The far more immediate source of confidence is to run-away and find shelter or seek support from another powerful nation.

Faithfully relying on the LORD God truly provides Hezekiah with a greater depth of strength, courage, and confidence. In the dominant, brash, and boastful surroundings in which Hezekiah found himself, and we find ourselves today — it is easy to follow the temptation that strength, courage, and confidence are found in ways other than following the ways of the LORD God. (1) The ways of the LORD God do not often have immediate results, but rather are based in patience. (2) The ways of the LORD God do not often have flash and glamour, but rather take place in the muck and mire of life. (3) The ways of the LORD God do not often involve exerting influence over, but rather influence under — humility and servant-hood.

All of these are virtues we see in the LORD God when he comes to earth in the person of Jesus. The story of Hezekiah and Sennacherib is yet another preview of the LORD God that we see in Jesus. It is yet another preview of what the beautiful life of the LORD God looks like, and what it looks like for us humans to follow after it.