Monday, September 18, 2006

Trusting God Matters

The theological climate that we live in today is a very complex and troubling one. Many issues face the church today that would cause, and do cause, a number of believers to doubt major doctrines. But throughout all of the changing tides we may breath a sigh of relief, thanking God that He does not change with the seasons. Or does He? There are some today among the evangelical community who are saying just that: God changes. He is not the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and in fact, the real truth is that God doesn’t have a clue what tomorrow will bring. This new theology is known as Open Theism, and its proponents are growing among the church. Hear what one of their own has to say:

The belief of mine which has caused such a stir is called “the open view of God,” though I prefer to call it “the Open view of the future.” In a word, this view states that the future is not entirely settled. It partly consists of open possibilities. Since God knows reality perfectly, He knows the future perfectly, just as it is; partly as settled, partly as open. So, some things about the future are a “maybe,” not a “certainty,” even to God.
Why do I believe this? Because I simply can’t make sense of the Bible without it. Yes, the Bible clearly reveals that God is certain of many things that are going to take place ahead of time. But the Bible also reveals that some things about the future are open possibilities even to God.[1]

So amidst the already troubling storm of theological controversy there are some who deny the very reliability of God. If God cannot know the future, then how can He be trusted, how do we know He won’t make a mistake (another position taken by the Open Theists). But for most of us this academic issue isn’t nearly as troubling as is the simple fact that we don’t feel like God is control of our days and moments. There is real doubt there about our day-to-day lives. O, we don’t deny that God is trustworthy to hold our salvation, to keep the universe spinning, to bring about the final end that He desires for the whole universe, yet we just don’t know how reliable He is with the details. It’s as Elyse Fitzpatrick wrote:

It’s not that I don’t trust Him for certain things- like my eternal home with Him; it’s just that when it comes down to my everyday life, I frequently act as though I can handle difficult circumstances better than He can. [2]

It is at this point that we have to ask, though it seems the answer is obvious, does trusting God matter? Can’t we get by without trusting Him to be in control of everything? Let’s expound upon this concept further, for what’s at stake is our very hope and surety.

2 Kings chapter 18 speaks a great deal about trust; the word is mentioned six times in the chapter.[3] The context is the beginning of the reign of Hezekiah in Judah, and it reveals to us that he is a good and godly man:

2 Kings 18:1-8 In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign. 2 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. 3 And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. 4 He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). 5 He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered. He rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him. 8 He struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza and its territory, from watchtower to fortified city.

It is significant to note that the most noble virtue of Hezekiah is that he “trusted in the LORD God of Israel.” But in background of Hezekiah’s faith is the fall of the Northern Kingdom. Assyria has swept in and after three years of fierce battles Samaria falls to captivity. The writer of 2 Kings gives us this summary of the fall of the Northern Kingdom to demonstrate just how bold was the act of Hezekiah’s to come.

It does not take long before the power hungry Assyrians are at it again and they soon besiege more towns and more lands, and in 701 B.C. he lays siege to Judah. And it is here that we find a surprising narration:

2 Kings 18:13-16 13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, "I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear." And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasuries of the king's house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria.

Here we read that this great man of faith has weakened. In order to appease the King of Assyria Hezekiah strips the temple of God of all its gold and sends it off to his enemy. Dale Ralph Davis comments, “Faith still has its problems…it can cave in.”[4] When the heat was on, this man who “trusted in the LORD God of Israel,” dropped his faith.

Here we have a prime example of exactly of our dilemma. Our faith in God is strong, except when there is pressure in the details of our lives, except when we are confronted with hard situations. Faith in God is grand and great in the abstract, but hard in those nitty-gritty details of today. Hezekiah “trusted in the LORD God of Israel,” save when confronted with oppressors more powerful than Judah. If this sounds like you, keep reading and hopefully the following descriptions of Hezekiah will encourage you to follow in his footsteps towards change.

What follows compels both a shock and a cheer from us. The phrase “At that Time” signifies a change in the narration. After some time has passed, so it appears, Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, sent a great army to call Hezekiah out. The inference is that Hezekiah had made an oath to pay tribute to the King of Assyria, but in a bold move Hezekiah finally stopped the tribute, and now Sennacherib has sent his army to “re-negotiate” the terms of their contract.

2 Kings 18:16-18 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer's Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

What transpires next is the exchange between Hezekiah’s court officials and the military leaders of Sennacherib, and repeatedly in the dialogue we find the concept of trust raised. At the heart of The Rabshakeh’s speech is the argument that without this tribute Judah has no one to trust in. He provides a very persuasive argument too.

2 Kings 18:19-25 19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, "Say to Hezekiah, 'Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, "We trust in the LORD our God," is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, "You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem"? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master's servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the LORD that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy

Without going into a complete exposition of the passage we can identify three movements in The Rabshakeh’s speech: (1) The Political Ploy; (2) The Mockery; and The Religious Tactic.

In verse 22 he is attempting to drive a wedge between the people of Judah. The Rabshakeh is not aware that the “high places” and the “altars” that Hezekiah tore down were part of a religious reform that was pleasing to Yahweh. But that doesn’t matter, as Davis writes:

He doesn’t care about religion but politics. The Rabshakeh likely knows that not everybody in Judah was smack-happy over the King’s reforms. If his rhetoric can stir up some high-place-loving sourpusses it can only help Assyria’s case. He wants to stroke the embers of Judean rancor and bitterness over the king’s reforms.[5]

Verses 23 and 24 are sheer mockery of Judah. The men of Sennacherib derisively state they would give them a whole cavalry if the people of Judah could best even one of their own men. Finally in verse 25 he resorts to religious talk, saying that it is in fact the God of Judah, Himself, who gave them orders to destroy the city. But the most revealing comment in the whole speech is one we skipped over. It is the remarks about Judah’s trust in Egypt.

It is a sad thing when the unbeliever reveals the displaced trust of the believer. Judah may have confessed to trust God, but they trusted Egypt more. This is revealed even more clearly in the prophetic ministry of Isaiah, the prophet of Judah during this time. Read the prophets scathing rebuke:

Isaiah 30:1-3 "Ah, stubborn children," declares the LORD, "who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; 2 who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! 3 Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.

Isaiah 31:1 Isaiah 31:1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!

In these two convicting passages we find the very heart of our dilemma: Trusting God matters because failure to do so inevitably leads to idolatry. Judah had turned from God and put their faith in Egypt, they had credited this nation with greater power than Yahweh. It is a sin to not trust God. Though it is difficult to hear we must grapple with this truth and wrestle it into our minds. Let it affect the way we think. Not trusting God is not simply a shortcoming that we have, it is not simply a misguided effort to cope with life, it is not simply a tendency common to our secular society. No, rather it is sin and it leads to idolatry. Trusting God matters, as Isaiah and as The Rabshakeh, points out, because “God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation” (Isa. 12:2).

Isaiah does not leave us without hope, however. For though our trust in God is flawed and weak, and prone to cave in like Hezekiah’s there is one who works for us. Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 32:1-17 SV Isaiah 32:1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. 2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land. 3 Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed, and the ears of those who hear will give attention. 4 The heart of the hasty will understand and know, and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly. 5 The fool will no more be called noble, nor the scoundrel said to be honorable. 6 For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the LORD, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. 7 As for the scoundrel- his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right. 8 But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands. 9 Rise up, you women who are at ease, hear my voice; you complacent daughters, give ear to my speech. 10 In little more than a year you will shudder, you complacent women; for the grape harvest fails, the fruit harvest will not come. 11 Tremble, you women who are at ease, shudder, you complacent ones; strip, and make yourselves bare, and tie sackcloth around your waist. 12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine, 13 for the soil of my people growing up in thorns and briers, yes, for all the joyous houses in the exultant city. 14 For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks; 15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. 16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. 17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

Jesus Christ is the King pictured here, the God-man whose righteousness is applied to those who repent of their sins and believe upon Him for salvation, and the effect of this righteousness will be trust forever. We may rejoice that our salvation does not rest upon how well and how faithful our trust in God is. Though this does not relinquish the duty we have to trust in God, and the dangers we have towards relapses into idolatry, it does give us hope.

Trusting God matters, friends, because God demands to be trusted and putting our trust anywhere else is idolatry. Let this truth alter the way you think, and let the knowledge of Christ’s work spur you on to trust God more.

[1] Quoted in Paul Kjoss Helseth, “What is at Stake in the Openness Debate? The Trustworthiness of God and the Foundation of Hope.” Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003). 278-279.
[2] Elyse Fitzpatrick, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. (Eugene: Harvest, 1999). 30.
[3] Eight times if you count “trusted” in verse 5, and “trusting” in verse 21.
[4] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury. (Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, 2005). 263-264.
[5] Davis, 268.


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