False Promises and Threats

Scripture Focus: 2 Kings 18.5-7, 28-32
5 Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 And the Lord was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook…

28 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you from my hand. 30 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.’ 
31 “Do not listen to Hezekiah. This is what the king of Assyria says: Make peace with me and come out to me. Then each of you will eat fruit from your own vine and fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 32 until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey. Choose life and not death!

Reflection: False Promises and Threats
By John Tillman

Hezekiah, king of Judah, is a breath of much-needed fresh air after the repeated depravity of the kings of Israel.

Hezekiah had the benefit of the counsel of some of the great prophets of the Bible. Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, and Amos all prophesied around this time. Isaiah even recorded his own version of the events of Sennacherib’s siege.

Sennacherib’s messenger promised that if Jerusalem surrendered they would eat “from their own vine and fig tree.” He was promising to bring the “good old days” back. The “vine and fig tree” quote originally refers to the golden years of Solomon’s rule (1 Kings 4.24) and is referenced by Micah in his prophecies (Micah 4.4). 

It is no mistake that Sennacherib’s silver-tongued messenger quotes the Hebrew scriptures to the people as he threatens them and attempts to entice them to surrender. Those who seek to manipulate us will often appeal to our nostalgia and our pride. “Don’t you remember how good life used to be?” “Don’t you remember how great your country was?” “All you have to do is surrender to our ideology and our interpretation of what God wants.”

The world co-opts the term of peace. But making peace with the world too often means surrendering our faith. Hezekiah took one of these threatening messages before God in the Temple and prayed over it. The next day the army withdrew, never to return. 

Pray this weekend, this prayer based on Hezekiah’s prayer in 1 Kings 19.14-17.

Lord, we are besieged with false promises and threats
They want us to join their parties, their factions, their empires.
They offer pacification instead of peace and retribution instead of righteousness.

We spread out their words before you…
“You’ll never have peace,” they say…
“Your faith is foolish,” they say…
“Your god is no different than any other god”…

We have no answer for them except to appeal to you.
We wish only to be worthy of your kingdom, rejecting all other kings.
To worship you, rejecting all other objects of worship.
Do not let your name be slandered.
Help us to stand amidst evil days holding out peace and righteousness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant whose trust is in you. — Psalm 86.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 18 (Listen – 6:52)
Philemon (Listen – 2:52)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Kings 19 (Listen – 6:11), Hebrews 1 (Listen – 2:15)
2 Kings 20 (Listen – 3:39), Hebrews 2 (Listen – 2:47)

Read more about Political Promises
Sennacherib’s commander assumes a binary choice—rely on Egypt or rely on Assyria.

Read more about A Tale of Two Kings
Petitioning for God’s help is not our last resort. It is the first one.

Philemon’s Speck and Our Log

Scripture Focus: Philemon 15-16
Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

Reflection: Philemon’s Speck and Our Log
By John Tillman

Between Philemon’s time and now, many have struggled to live out Paul’s challenge to overcome the cultural mindset of slavery. It has been a struggle uniquely led by Christians.

However, when we look to the past, there is a temptation to sneer. Many modern moralists convince themselves that if they had lived in certain ages, they would have been on the “right side” of history and as a result they treat writers of those ages as hypocrites, refusing to learn from them.

This is foolish, arrogant, and is an attitude that is condemned by Christ himself.

Better that we remove the log in our own eye rather than seek to remove the speck from the eye of some deceased writer in another age.

In our own time, Paul’s challenge to Philemon is still applicable. Slavery may not be sociologically acceptable anymore, but it is still economically viable and, as a criminal enterprise, is alive and well. The United Nations estimates that over 89 million people are currently or have been enslaved in the past five years.

And though we may not have slaves, all of us have servants. Even those without in-home staff such as maids, butlers, chefs, or nannies, have an entire service industry taking care of everything we might need. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimated that in 2018 over 131 million people would be working in the service industries.

Our food is prepared for us, our coffee is customized for us, our packages are delivered for us, by servants. Yet our society denigrates manual labor of all kinds, and especially labor in the service industries.

We denigrate and look down on service so much that we use service jobs as a way to scare better grades into our kids. Service jobs are the stick that spurs youth toward the carrot of a better job after incurring massive debt attending college.

Our existence is supported by the labor of people who directly or indirectly serve us, just as Onesimus served Philemon. How we treat those individuals—both relationally and economically—shows whether we consider them part of the economic machinery or spiritual brothers and sisters.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not stray from your commandments.— Psalm 119:10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Kings 18 (Listen – 6:52)
Philemon (Listen -2:52)

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Read More about Taking Advantage of the Desperate
How are our socially acceptable, market based, and entirely legal interactions with humans dehumanizing them?

Read More about Slavery, Racism, and a Lone Christian Voice
In the late fourth century a lone Christian voice spoke out against the oppressive institution of slavery in a way that none had before.