An Angel Slays the Assyrians / Hezekiah’s illness / Paul on Malta (Melita): July 10th 2021

2 Kings 19:15-20:21

King Hezekiah of Judah received a threatening letter from the king of Assyria. He spread it out before the Lord at the temple. He prayed to the Lord ‘enthroned between the cherubim’ (2 Kings 19:15). He pointed out that the Assyrians had insulted the living God. They had destroyed false idols and evil kings but they were including the Lord in a list of false deities who had not saved his people. Hezekiah prayed that Israel would be delivered from their hands.

Isaiah sent the reply from God to the Assyrian aggressors. He used the phrase: ‘The Virgin Daughter of Zion’ to introduce it (2 Kings 19:21), which just means ‘Jerusalem’. God is an ever-loving father to the people of Jerusalem despite their continual sinning. Of course, we can look forward to Mary, Mother of God, when a virgin daughter is mentioned and Isaiah also pointed out that the Assyrians were insulting the ‘Holy One of Israel’ – referring to Jesus. Isaiah had a very strong sense of who Jesus was and that, even prior to his incarnation, he was present with his people suffering insults and shame alongside them.  

The Lord said that a remnant of the house of Judah would come out of Jerusalem. There would always be survivors. God would defend Jerusalem against the Assyrians. They would not enter the city. God had promised to preserve the city of David and his own reputation was at stake (2 Kings 19:34).

That night, the angel of the Lord killed a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp (2 Kings 19:35). Angels are capable of mass destruction when God wants them to unless his wrath. Maybe it was the same destroying angel that killed all the first-born in Egypt, but God has millions of powerful angels to choose from. Fallen angels, demons, would like to slaughter all of us but they are constantly restrained by God from doing this.

The king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew to Ninevah. He was later assassinated by his sons, while worshipping his favoured demonic deity. God had shown his power by slaughtering the Assyrian army but the Assyrian king hadn’t been converted. He still refused to turn to him. I don’t envy whoever had to bury all the dead Assyrians. The dead bodies would have been a major public health risk.

King Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. This appears to be blood poisoning as Isaiah eventually prescribed a poultice of figs for his boil (2 Kings 20:7). However, at first Isaiah had prophesied that Hezekiah would die. He would not recover. At this bad news, Hezekiah ‘turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord’ (2 Kings 20:2). He reminded God of how he had been faithful and devoted he had been. He wept bitterly. Hezekiah did not specifically ask to be healed but God immediately decided to grant him mercy. Before Isaiah had even left the palace, God told him to turn around and pronounce that Hezekiah would be allowed to live for another fifteen years and that Jerusalem would be saved from the Assyrians. Prophecies can be swiftly reversed!

Two important concepts are illustrated here: 1) God can change his mind and so it is always worth praying, particularly when we have tried to do what is good in his eyes. 2) God acts through people. God had granted Hezekiah fifteen more years but it still took Isaiah to prescribe a homemade remedy and for servants to make it and apply it. I love a homemade remedy. I have been suffering from a plague of verrucae on one of my feet for years, which are incurable according to medical science. However, God has inspired me to try soaking my feet in apple cider vinegar every day and I have faith that this is working (don’t blame me if you try this and suffer chemical burns / your foot falls off).

Hezekiah had asked for a sign that the Lord would heal him and asked for the shadow to go back up ten steps of the stairway of Ahaz. God has complete control of the stars and the planets and usually allows them to move precisely to defined schedules. However, just as he dispatched a star to illuminate the place of Jesus’ birth, He was happy to mess up the solar system to give Hezekiah the reassurance he sought.

Hezekiah received envoys from Babylon and showed them all the treasures in his kingdom. Isaiah implied that this might not have been the wisest move. Everything the people of Judah had stored up would eventually be carried off to Babylon, along with some of Hezekiah’s descendants. Hezekiah was not particularly alarmed by this as it sounded like he would be spared in his lifetime. We can’t worry too much about the future and how our descendants will interact with God. We have enough to worry about each day to ensure we are ready to meet our maker at what might be very short notice.

Acts 28:1-6

Paul was now safely ashore on the island of Malta but promptly got bitten by a poisonous snake. He lived, much to the islanders’ amazement. Again, I think this shows how much the devil was trying to kill him. Paul had escaped drowning and so now a serpent on land was sent to attack him. There are no vipers today on Malta and so there is a strong biological argument that this island was actually Melita, where a notorious horned viper still resides. Melita is an island in the Adriatic sea, known today as Meleda or Mljet.

If it was indeed Malta, a small colony of poisonous snakes present in Paul’s time may now have become extinct. There are also legends that Paul may have blessed all the snakes on the island causing them to lose their poison or driven them out as Saint Patrick was reputed to have done in Ireland. Jesus had promised that Christians would not be harmed by poisonous snakes (Mark 16:18).

Paul healed the father of the chief official of the island. The man had been suffering from dysentery. Dysentery is caused by God’s creatures being in the wrong place and acting selfishly to survive. The bacteria or amoebae that cause this disease would have had their own beneficial role to perform in the ecosystem of Eden. They may have helped the fertility of the soil or lived symbiotically in our bodies for both species’ mutual benefit but, after the fall of mankind, creation started to malfunction; organisms started to starve and had to spread to new environments or act selfishly to seize food. Some previously benign bugs became killers as they strived to selfishly dominate and seize control of their human hosts. However, they all still respond to the name of their original creator, Jesus Christ.   

Paul was also able to cure all the rest of the sick people on the island who, in return, furnished them with supplies.

Paul eventually arrived in Rome after an arduous journey. He was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Such an open prison did not hinder Paul in spreading the gospel, as he wrote his letters and received visitors. We can safely assume that he would have converted his guards and the gospel message spread throughout the entire imperial guard (Phil.1:13).

Psalm 83:1-18

Our God is the most high over all the earth (Ps.83:18).

We know this through studying God’s word. We can read of his amazing miracles as he rescued his chosen people from Egypt and ensured their survival through the millennia.

Israel will never be destroyed and we are eternally grateful for this because our salvation, in the person of Jesus, has come from the Jews.

Eventually, non-believers will be ashamed and disgraced. They do not acknowledge how gracious God has been to them even while they continued to be sinners.

God continues to call all people to himself. He will run to gather us into his loving arms when we repent, renounce our selfish ways and return to our loving Father.

Image: https://www.europeana.eu/en/item/9200122/BibliographicResource_1000056125479

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