Some of the stories in my first grade children’s ministry curriculum seem kind of random. I’m not sure how they were selected. But one of these surprises has become my favorite this year.
When Hezekiah was king of Judah, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army. They’d already wreaked havoc on surrounding nations, taken the Israelites from the Northern Kingdom into exile, and conquered the fortified cities of Judah (the Southern Kingdom). Hezekiah had already bought a little bit of time by handing over all of the gold from the temple. Now they were in dire straights. I’d encourage you to take time now to read this true story directly from II Kings 18-19.
The Assyrian king sent his army to the city wall. Hezekiah’s representatives came out to meet the Assyrians. The Assyrian field commander had a message for Hezekiah, and for all of the people of Judah who were listening in. He used every psychological weapon at his disposal. Hezekiah’s men asked the field commander to speak in Assyrian instead of Hebrew, to shield their people from his words, but the commander gloried in stirring up fear and temptation:
Guilt/Fear: Who can you trust in now that you have rebelled against the great king of Assyria? You can’t trust in Egypt. It’s a broken reed of a staff that will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. (2 Kings 18:19-21) Judah claimed to be relying on the Lord, but they had actually went to a lot of effort to “guarantee” Egypt’s protection. This was foolish as God had delivered them from Egypt in the past. When the field commander brought this up, it could have stirred up both guilt and fear.
Misrepresenting the truth: “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?” (2 Kings 18:22a) The field commander implied that removing the high places was inadvisable, but removing them was actually commendable, as they had been used to worship Baal, not the Lord.
Bribery: “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 put riders on them.” (2 Kings 18:23)
“God told me to do it”: “The Lord said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.” (2 Kings 18:25) The Assyrian field commander was partially correct! God had prophesied that all of this would happen – the Assyrians would conquer Syria and Israel and bring Judah to desperation. (See Isaiah 7-8). However, even though God predicted these events, and they were in His plan, it’s doubtful that the Assyrians received a direct command from God to destroy His people. More likely than not, the Assyrians were simply carrying out the blood-thirsty plans of their hearts.
Crude threats: You are doomed to eat your own dung and drink your own urine. (2 Kings 18:27)
A romanticized view of captivity: Make peace with the king of Assyria…then you will be taken away to “a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine…that you may live and not die.” (2 Kings 18:31-32)
Blasphemy: “And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, The Lord will deliver us….Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” (2 Kings 18:32,34)
As soon as Hezekiah heard these threats from the Assyrians, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and humbly went into the house of the Lord. He knew that Israel had sinned, and he knew about God’s prophesies. But he also knew these were reasons to run to God, not away from Him. He did not look around to see the enemy, who was assaulting the city with guilt, fear, lies, and temptation. Instead, Hezekiah looked up to God. He sent for the prophet Isaiah, because he knew there was only one thing he needed to hear: the Word of the Lord.
Isaiah said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.” (2 Kings 19:6-7) That night the angel of the Lord struck dead 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. Then their king went home back to Assyria. As he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons killed him with the sword. The city of Jerusalem was saved, because God defended it for the sake of his name.
I wondered how I could make such a rich and complex story relevant for 1st graders. This is what I asked them to consider: Are you looking around you at your circumstances or are you looking up at God? Are you listening to people around you who tell you that things are impossible, or are you listening to God, who tells you that with Him, all things are possible? (Mathew 19:26)
I don’t know if the first graders understood any of this, or if they just liked playing with the paper army action figures that surrounded Jerusalem. But I do know that I thought of this story for weeks afterward as I entered “impossible” situations.
With all the competing voices surrounding me (and especially my own runaway interpretations of them) it’s still an ongoing challenge to listen to the Spirit of Truth. But here’s the difference:
Look around: “You need to hurry up and buy a house while the market is still good. Interest rates have already started rising!”
Look up: “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)
Look around: “Your ordinary life is being wasted.”
Look up: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
Look around: “You are weak and powerless. Everyone else is smarter and more confident than you are.”
Look up: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Look around: “You should always be planning your next career move, because you never know what could happen in this job market.”
Look up: “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Look around: “What you do is not important.”
Look up: “The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” (Romans 12, The Message)
Look around: “You are not a good wife because you can’t do it all.”/”You are still single because you can do it all and you are scaring the men away.”
Look up: I will meet all of your needs. My grace is sufficient for you. My eternal eternal purposes for you are bigger than your marriage or your singleness. (See Philippians 4:19 and 2 Corinthians 12:9)
Look around: “No one notices your ministry.”
Look up: “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:14-15)
Look around: “You are worthless.”
Look up: God loves you with the same love He has for His Son Jesus. (John 17:23)
Any other ideas to add to this list? What do you hear when you look up versus when you look around?