“Lord, I Have a Problem!”
September 29, 2013 Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Isaiah 36:1–37:38
The title of my message this evening is, “Lord, I Have a Problem!” I wonder if there is anyone here today who can relate to that as a sermon topic? Unless I am very much mistaken, it’s a subject we can all relate to. Life is full of problems, isn’t it? I am thinking especially of those of you who are new to Abu Dhabi. You’ve just arrived and you’re trying to get settled. We’ve all been there. It’s tough! Everything is a problem! Finding your way around. Getting your paperwork cleared. Figuring out your job. Finding a place to live. Getting the place ready to live in. Getting a driving license. Buying and registering a car. Finding a school and settling the kids in. Everything is a struggle, and the warm temperatures don’t make the process any easier.
But problems aren’t limited to newcomers, are they? No matter how long you’ve lived in a place and how well you’ve adjusted to life, problems have a way of emerging at regular intervals. Some problems are small, causing minor irritation. Others are so large, they threaten our future, our sense of identity, our very lives. Some problems are temporary, rising and subsiding quickly. Others just go on and on until they seem like a permanent feature of our lives.
In Isaiah 36 and 37, Hezekiah, the king of Judah, faced a problem. It was a big problem. We read about it in Isaiah 36:1-2a:
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 2 And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army.
Now that’s a big problem. Hezekiah is to all intents and purposes a king without a country. All his fortified cities have been captured, and his capital at Jerusalem is now under siege. The very survival of Judah as a nation is at stake.
The first strategy of the Assyrians is to intimidate the Jews into surrendering without a fight. In Isaiah 36, we see their propaganda being laid out. Let me read the speech that the field commander made.
(Read Isaiah 36:4-10)
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? 5 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 6 Behold, you are trusting 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. 7 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”? 8 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. 9 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? 10 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.’ ”
This goes on throughout chapter 36, with threat after threat made in the hearing of the people on the walls of Jerusalem. The threats continued to explicitly challenge the Jews’ reliance on God.
(Read Isaiah 36:18-20)
18 Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’ ”
Hezekiah had a problem! It was a problem which overwhelmed him. It was a problem to which he had no human solution. Look at his response in Isaiah 37:1: As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth…
So Hezekiah had a problem. You and I have problems as well. What makes Hezekiah’s story worth studying is not the fact that he had a problem. What makes Hezekiah’s story worth studying is what he did with his problem. What did he do? What was Hezekiah’s response?
WATCHING HEZEKIAH’S RESPONSE
Read Isaiah 37:1-4
1As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. 3 They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. 4 It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’ ”
I think we can identify 4 things Hezekiah did which we can learn from.
1. He sought a place of closeness to God.
Verse 1 tells us that he went into the temple of the LORD. For the Jews, this was the place God had set aside as the visible representation of his presence. In his crisis, Hezekiah went immediately into the temple where he could sense God’s closeness.
There is no longer a visible temple of God on earth. In fact we are told that our bodies are the temple of God and that the church, God’s people comprise the temple in which God dwells. So there is no particular physical place to go to be near to God.
But having said that, I believe that many of us have places where we especially sense the presence of God. Maybe it’s a particular room or chair where you have your devotions, or a church building where you can be quiet before the Lord. I have two such places. One is my office or study in the morning before anyone else arrives. The other thing I do is to find a place outside in the natural beauty which God has made: a park, the beach, a sand dune, somewhere that I can be alone with God and sense his closeness. Wherever that place is, it is important in a time of crisis to seek a place of quietness where you can be alone with God.
2. He consulted God’s messenger/message.
Hezekiah sent envoys to Isaiah in verse 2. The prophet Isaiah was God’s spokesman. He was the messenger of God to the nation. So Hezekiah sent to consult him. I do not believe that God sends us prophets today in the same way he did in the Old Testament. But he has, instead, given us the recorded words of his messengers. This is his message. It is a complete and authoritative word. We must study it, read it, meditate on it, search it for any word of instruction for us in our time of crisis. Of course, the better we know it, the more familiar we are with it, the easier it becomes to turn to those passages and principles which will give us the guidance we need.
And of course we can also ask help from other believers who know the Word better than we do. But remember, you are not asking for human advice. You are asking for them to share some Biblical truth or principle which will give you guidance, confidence and trust.
3. He recruited intercessors.
In this case, Hezekiah specifically asked Isaiah the prophet to pray for the nation in verse 4 b: Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives. I think this is always appropriate in times of crisis or problems. Find someone else, or a group of others who will pray with you and for you. This may be a single close friend. It might be your small group. You might want to call and put the need on the church prayer sheet or go to a member of the prayer team after a service. Sometimes a problem may be too personal or sensitive to share the details, but you can still share that you are facing a problem or a crisis and ask others to pray for you.
4. He prayed.
This is the final and most obvious point. Hezekiah himself prayed about his problem. We see this in 37:15. The verse begins with the words, And Hezekiah prayed…”
I want to take a closer look at Hezekiah’s actual prayer in a moment. Before we do that, however, there is a further development in the story. After Hezekiah consulted Isaiah and asked him to pray, Isaiah sent a message that God was going to deliver Jerusalem. Sure enough, within a few days, the armies of Assyria began to withdraw to meet another threat. But before they do, Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah with more threats in it, basically saying, “Don’t think you’ve escaped. This is only a temporary reprieve. I’ll be back.” And again he repeats his reasoning: “The gods of the other nations have not been able to deliver them from my power. What makes you think your god is any stronger than theirs?”
When Hezekiah receives this letter, he goes into the temple again and prays. Let us take the time to read his words again.
(Read Isaiah 37:14-20)
14 Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. 18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. 20 So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”
LEARNING FROM HEZEKIAH’S PRAYER
What a powerful and eloquent prayer. As I studied Hezekiah’s prayer, I identified four elements of effective prayer from which we can learn.
1. Spread your problem out before the Lord.
I really love what Hezekiah did in verse 14: Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. He took the letter with him, probably on some kind of scroll, and he opened and spread it out in the Lord’s presence and said, in essence, “Look, Lord. Read this!” It is a very vivid way of spreading the problem itself before the Lord. Maybe we might even do the same thing. Take an actual letter, if there is one. Or maybe it’s a bill you can’t pay, or a termination letter from your company, or a notification of a rent increase, or a bad report from the school, or a medical result. Actually spread it out in front of the Lord. If you don’t have an actual object, lay it out verbally. “Here’s my problem, Lord.” Tell him all about it. Yes, he already knows, but he wants you to lay it out before him.
2. Plead the attributes of God.
This is very significant. Do you see where Hezekiah starts? In verse 16 he says, “O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.
Why do you think he started there? Because these were the attributes of God which were being challenged and threatened by his problem and by Sennacherib’s letter. Look at verse 18-19:
18 Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations and their lands, 19 and have cast their gods into the fire. For they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed.
The clear implication of Sennacherib’s challenge was that the God of Israel was no different than the gods of the other nations. But in his prayer, Hezekiah claims otherwise: “You are the LORD Almighty, you are enthroned between the cherubim. You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You are sovereign over heaven and earth.”
Hezekiah focused on the attributes of God which were the answer to his problem. We can do the same. If we are in financial need, we can pray the Scripture which talk of God as our provider. If we are feeling lonely and unloved, we can pray the Scriptures which speak of God’s constant and unfailing love. When we are confused, we can pray the Scriptures which speak of God’s wisdom and guidance. Whatever our need, God has an attribute to meet that need.
3. Ask for the glory of God to be upheld and displayed.
This is where our prayers often part company with Hezekiah’s. We are focused only on our needs and our wants and our gratification. Hezekiah recognizes that there was more at stake than simply his own personal survival or even the survival of Jerusalem. God’s authority, his glory had been blasphemed and spoken against.
(Read 37:4, 17, 20)
4It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’ ”
17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God.
20So now, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.”
In our prayers, how often do we stop to think of how the situation or the problem affects the glory and reputation of God? Is that what we are asking God for?
4. Make your request with humble boldness.
That sounds like a contradiction doesn’t it? Humility and boldness are not two things we often put together. But I see these two coming together so often in the great prayers of Scripture. There is boldness here in verse 17 and 20: Lord, listen and see and help!
But there is also humility found in verse 4: It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard;
You see, Hezekiah knew that his people had sinned. He knew he was not in a position to demand from God. I get nervous about some prayer teaching that seems to carry a tone of demanding things from God as our right. I am not sure how to blend these together except with this phrase: humble boldness. I do see boldness in the great prayers of Scripture like this one. But I do not see arrogance. That boldness is always linked with humility. Calling upon God to act, but always recognizing that his will, his purposes, his ways, his wisdom are beyond our comprehension.
Hezekiah prayed boldly and yet with humility and God did act. In verse 21, Isaiah responds to Hezekiah:
21Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken…
and he goes on to prophecy the destruction of Sennacherib and his army
The last few verses of the chapter tell us how those prophecies were fulfilled and how God delivered Hezekiah and the nation of Judah, demonstrated his sovereignty and took his vengeance against Sennacherib for his defiant words. God sent his angel to put to death 185,000 of Sennacherib’s soldiers in one night. And Sennacherib himself was assassinated by his own sons a short time later. It is a remarkable story of God’s deliverance and answered prayer.
Have you got a problem this evening? Maybe you are inclined to say to me: “Well, sure! But not like Hezekiah. How does this story relate to me?” And I admit that one of the risks of studying a passage like this is it may seem to put prayer up on a high shelf. Hezekiah was a king. His nation was at risk. The glory and sovereignty of God were being challenged. What does that have to do with the garden variety problems we are faced with every day? And yet the same principles do apply. Whoever we are or wherever we are or whatever our problems, we can learn from Hezekiah and respond to our problems in the same way he responded to his.
God is always listening and ready for us to say, “Lord, I have a problem!”