In 2 Kings 20, Judah’s King Hezekiah is afraid for his kingdom: He has watched Assyria lay waste to one nation after another, including, by this point, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Now the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, is threatening to do the same to the Southern Kingdom.
Hezekiah prays a desperate prayer for God to intervene. God answers his prayer through the prophet Isaiah, who shares with Hezekiah the word that the Lord spoke concerning Sennacherib (from 2 Kings 19:21-28).
“She despises you, she scorns you—
the virgin daughter of Zion;
she wags her head behind you—
the daughter of Jerusalem.
“Whom have you mocked and reviled?
Against whom have you raised your voice
and lifted your eyes to the heights?
Against the Holy One of Israel!
By your messengers you have mocked the Lord,
and you have said, ‘With my many chariots
I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars,
its choicest cypresses;
I entered its farthest lodging place,
its most fruitful forest.
I dug wells
and drank foreign waters,
and I dried up with the sole of my foot
all the streams of Egypt.’
“Have you not heard
that I determined it long ago?
I planned from days of old
what now I bring to pass,
that you should turn fortified cities
into heaps of ruins,
while their inhabitants, shorn of strength,
are dismayed and confounded,
and have become like plants of the field
and like tender grass,
like grass on the housetops,
blighted before it is grown.
“But I know your sitting down
and your going out and coming in,
and your raging against me.
Because you have raged against me
and your complacency has come into my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will turn you back on the way
by which you came.
I find this passage to be a powerful and incredibly comforting message of God’s sovereignty. Sennnacherib believes that he’s been calling the shots, yet he hasn’t done anything that God hadn’t “determined” and “planned” from “days of old.” The very God whom Sennacherib has been mocking is leading him like a domesticated farm animal.
Lest I be accused of divine determinism, I see nothing here to suggest that Sennacherib isn’t acting freely, including the freedom to work great evil, for which he will be judged: it’s just that God, knowing “before all worlds” what Sennacherib would do in these circumstances (“I know your sitting down and your going out and coming in”), has factored Sennacherib’s freely chosen actions into his own plans—to work around them and through them to accomplish God’s purposes.
Needless to say, if God works his sovereign plan even through his enemies, how much more so through his beloved children?
Think of how this applies to our lives. No adversity we face has taken God by surprise. As with Hezekiah and Judah, God has “factored it in” and will redeem it. If only we’ll believe it!
Notice also that this isn’t the neutered God of mainline Protestantism who does nothing with evil except suffer it alongside us. God is active. Indeed, he is the main actor in its midst.
Does this thought not reassure you and comfort you? It does me!