December 9, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: The Lord protects Jerusalem

John F. FinkNext week, the Third Week in Advent, the biblical readings in the Office of Readings are from the Book of Isaiah. On Sunday through Friday, they are from Chapters 29-33. On Saturday, Dec. 17, they jump ahead to Chapter 45.

Chapters 18 and 19 of the Second Book of Kings give the historic background for Chapters 29-33 of the Book of Isaiah, and it would help if you read them first.

We start to read Chapter 29 on this Saturday, Dec. 10. As I wrote last week, in this chapter Isaiah predicts that Jerusalem will come under siege. He had long counseled King Hezekiah not to ally Judah with Egypt and against Assyria, and he continues to do so in the readings next week.

If Judah was looking for someone other than “the Holy One of Israel” for protection, Isaiah said, both the protector (Egypt) and the protected (Judah) would fall (Is 31:1-3). Hezekiah, though, didn’t listen.

In the year 701 B.C., King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah. His forces speedily swept through the country. Assyrian historical records list 46 cities that he captured before he surrounded Jerusalem.

Isaiah supported Hezekiah as the king refused to surrender. Hezekiah fortified the city walls and dug a trench to bring water from the Gihon spring outside the city to the pool of Siloam inside. Isaiah encouraged the people, telling them that God would preserve his city.

Isaiah predicted, “Assyria shall fall by a sword not wielded by man, no mortal sword shall devour him; he shall flee before the sword, and his young men shall be impressed as laborers. He shall rush past his crag in panic, and his princes shall flee in terror from his standard, says the Lord who has a fire in Zion and a furnace in Jerusalem” (Is 31:8-9).

The Second Book of Kings tells what happened next: “That night the angel of the Lord went forth and struck down 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp. Early the next morning, there they were, all the corpses of the dead. So Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, broke camp, and went back home to Nineveh” (2 Kgs 19:35-36).

That figure of 185,000 soldiers killed seems highly improbable, but the Assyrians gave up the siege. Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled.

The reading for next Saturday, Dec. 17, is from what is known as Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah. It was written toward the end of the Babylonian Exile.

Jerusalem was spared in 701 B.C. and Judah continued to exist for another 114 years. Then, in 587 B.C., it was conquered by the Babylonians and the Jews were taken to Babylon—like Assyria, in modern Iraq. Then the Persian Empire (modern Iran), under King Cyrus, conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to their native land.

The reading in Isaiah says, “Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus” (Is 45:1). He says to Cyrus, “It is I who arm you, though you know me not” (Is 45:5). Thus, even if Cyrus wasn’t aware of it, God was using him to accomplish his plans for his people. †

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