Isaiah 37:1-13 The Power of God’s Word


There was no denying the seriousness of the situation, and Hezekiah’s torn clothes and sackcloth showed that he had no intention of pretending that things were other than they were. But he had three great resources: the Lord (v. 1), The Lord’s prophet (v. 2), and prayer (v. 4, 15). And Hezekiah resolved at once to use them all. He resorted to the temple of the Lord, he informed Isaiah of the desperate situation, and he both asked for prayer and prayed himself. This was perhaps Hezekiah’s finest hour. He was not perfect. In fact, the mess he was in was largely of his own making. But in the last analysis, he knew that the Lord reigned, and therefore nothing was impossible or hopeless. The pressure of circumstances had stripped him back to basics.

Isaiah’s response was immediate (v. 5). Isaiah is the channel by which God’s Word enters the situation and begins to transform it. It’s not just Hezekiah or the people that Sennacherib has demeaned, but the living God (vv. 4 & 6), and in doing so he over-reached himself. Isaiah saw very clearly that pride is the worst of all sins. It is the purest form of defiance possible; it is ousting God from the throne of our lives and putting ourselves in His place. It is the primal sin which all others grow. And it was especially, in this case, the sin of the king of Assyria. Now that threat is flushed out and confirmed: He will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword (v. 7). In the last analysis, it is the Word of the Lord that will prevail, not the word of Sennacherib.

The Word which has entered the situation like yeast gradually begins to have its effect. Isaiah had spoken about God unsettling Sennacherib and of him hearing a report (v. 7). Unease is suggested by the fact that when the envoy returns, he finds that Sennacherib has temporarily broken off siege of Lachish and is fighting against Libnah (v. 8). He is perhaps expecting an attack from Egypt. If so, his suspicions are soon confirmed; he receives a report that an Egyptian force has indeed begun to move against him (v. 9). What happened next is unclear; neither the Bible nor Sennacherib’s annals throw any light on it. But since he continued to threaten Jerusalem, it is unlikely that the Egyptians had much success. In short, despite his successes, it was clearly in his own best interests to wind up proceedings in Palestine as quickly as possible. But what was to be done about Jerusalem? If it could not be frightened into surrender, the Assyrians could either mount a full-scale siege (which might last eighteen months or more) or decide that Hezekiah had already been taught a salutary lesson and leave him to lick his wounds. Sennacherib may well have been considering these options as Hezekiah went to prayer (v. 14).

Isaiah 37:1-13 Reflection Questions:

Have you ever found yourself in a big mess similar to Hezekiah’s? What was your first response, to turn to the world or to the Lord?

Do you have the same faith and trust as Hezekiah did?

What did the Lord strip Hezekiah from by allowing him to go this far in his troubles?

What is a primary lesson you learn from today’s study?

Hebrews 4:12-13 Double-Edged Sword


In comparing the Word of God to a sword, the writer is not suggesting that God uses His Word to slaughter the saints! It is true that the Word cuts the heart of sinners with conviction (Acts 5:33; 7:54), and that the Word defeats Satan (Eph. 6:17). The Greek word translated “sword” means “a short sword or dagger.” The emphasis is on the power of the Word to penetrate and expose the inner heart of man. The mention of a double-edged sword in our text is a sober warning not to disregard God’s Word as Israel did in the wilderness. The writer therefore gives us four reasons we must not disregard God’s Word. The Word of God is: living, penetrating, discerning and reckoning. Taken positively, these are four immense reasons to celebrate God’s Word.

As the writer begins, he directly warns that God’s Word is alive (v. 12a). It lives because it endures forever (Ps. 119:89). Even more, it lives because it has life in itself. God is “living” (3:12), and the Word, as God’s breath (2 Tim. 3:16), partakes of God’s living character. It is alive! The character of the Word’s aliveness is that it is “active,” or as that word is sometimes rendered, “effective.” God’s Word vibrates with active, effectual power as it rushes to fulfill the purpose for which it was spoken. As Isaiah 55:11 so beautifully says: “so shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Indeed, the Word of God is alive and effectual! God’s Word does what it promises to do. It regards neither age nor education. It can change you if you are 12 or 112.

God’s Word is not only living but penetrating, as verse 12b clearly states. God’s Word cleaves through our hard-shelled souls like a hot knife through warm butter. Certainly we Christians find this to be true in our lives. There are sections of God’s Word that cut through all the pretensions and religious façade, leaving us convicted. When God wills it, His Word will pierce anyone. Tragically, many of these are regular church attendees. The true hearer wittingly or unwittingly invites the divine Surgeon to do His gracious cutting.

Having established that God’s Word is living and penetrating, the writer adds: “discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (v. 12c). The root word for “discerning” is the word kritikos, which we derive critic. So the emphasis here is on the discerning judgment of “the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” The heart is the seat of human personality. It is hidden from all. Yet God’s Word sifts through its thoughts and attitudes with unerring discrimination. “The sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) will tell us what is in our hearts. Fellow-believers, if we really want to understand ourselves, we must fill our souls with God’s Word. God’s Word – read, meditated upon, and prayerfully applied – will give us brilliant discernment and profound self-knowledge. This gift of self-knowledge is no small grace because when we grasp something of the serpentine ways of our hearts, we are disposed to cast ourselves even more on God’s grace; and that is no small grace! We will also be judged by God’s Word. And herein lays the warning to those who in disobedience are falling away. His judgment will be perfectly discerning. The wise Christian invites the penetrating, discerning work of God’s Word in his life.

Now in verse 13 the discussion continues, but the focus switches from God’s Word to God as a knowing and reckoning God. Verse 13 gives us one of Scriptures great descriptions of Gods knowing. God sees everything. This can be discomforting if we have something to hide. The divine gaze is in light and darkness; He sees all (see Prov. 15:3; Ps. 90:8)! “All” – everything – everyone – is stark naked before Him. There is nothing to hide in or behind. The language here forces us to imagine ourselves naked, held helpless, exposed, in God’s grip, close to His omniscient eyes, and so we must give account. He cannot be fooled. Duplicity and hypocrisy will not work. Happily this means He will miss no good thing. But to the sinning, self-righteous heart, apart from the grace of God this brings nothing but unmitigated terror.

Of course, the author means all of this to be sanctifying instruction for the tiny house-church in the welling seas of persecution. He is calling for them not to rebel against God’s Word in disobedience, but to submit to it and find rest in the storms.

How does this double-edged sword work? First, it is the sword of judgment. Because it is “living,” it is effectually active. It accomplishes what God purposes for it to do. It is so sharp that it penetrates – “piercing” through everything. And then it discerns everything in the core of our being – leaving us “naked” and bare before our God with whom we must reckon. All of this is a gracious cutting. We see ourselves, and we see God, and we long to fly to Him and be healed. Second, for the believer it is the sword of sanctification. God’s two-edged sword, His Word, is alive and effectual in our lives. Again it penetrates and discerns our hearts, exposing them to us – leaving us uncovered and laid bare, so that “naked” we flee to God for dress. Blessed be the double-edged sword of judgment and sanctification. God cuts us deeply that we might die. God cuts us again with His Word so that we might live!

Hebrews 4:12-13 Reflection Questions:

Are you reading, meditating upon, and prayerfully applying God’s Word?

Do you invite the penetrating, discerning work of God’s Word in your life?

How does it make you feel that God’s Word leaves you “naked” and bare with whom you must reckon?

Isaiah 36:1-22 The Enemy at the Gates


We come now to part four of Isaiah’s book (chapters 36-39). As we saw in the introduction, these chapters are in effect the pivot on which the book turns, and appear to have been designed to act as a bridge between its two halves. Likewise, the issue that these chapters throw into sharp relief is absolutely central to the book’s total message. It’s the issue of trust and where that trust should ultimately be placed. It is explored first against the backdrop of an Assyrian invasion that brought Judah to the verge of extinction, and then in the context of a diplomatic initiative from Babylon which appeared to offer Judah everything it needed. It was hard to believe, in these circumstances, that Judah’s security was in the Lord alone, and even harder to act on it. Ironically, it was the Assyrian invader who put the issue most succinctly: On whom are you depending? (36:5). It’s a question which the book of Isaiah forces us to ponder again and again, and with good reason, for our response to it will determine the whole shape of our lives.

Chapter 36 bounces us back with a sudden jolt from the glorious vision of the end to the very inglorious and frightening world of the here and now, or at least the here and now that Isaiah and his contemporaries had to wrestle with. True religion is always like that; it leads us not away from reality, but more deeply into it. It arms us with the knowledge of what will be, so that we can confront what is (however frightening it may be) with renewed courage and steadiness of purpose.

The invasion described so concisely and dispassionately in verse 1 was a devastating blow for Judah. Hezekiah had become embroiled in anti-Assyrian activity, and Sennacherib was determined to make him pay for it. He would teach the small states of the region a lesson they would never forget, and establish once for all the unassailable supremacy of Assyria in Palestine. As a key player in the recent unrest, Hezekiah was a special object of Sennacherib’s wrath. And the proud Assyrian arrived at the gates of Jerusalem with abundant proof of his invincibility. He had already swept across the north, down the Mediterranean coast and inland and northwards to Lachish. On his triumphant way he had attacked and captured all fortified cities of Judah (v. 1), and was in the process of doing the same to Lachish, Jerusalem’s last line of defense.

Sennacherib’s field commander presented Hezekiah’s men with powerful arguments for surrender. Egypt is in no position to help (v. 6); it’s no good looking to the Lord, because Hezekiah has destroyed most places where He was worshiped (v. 7); even if the Assyrians themselves were to give little Judah two thousand horses (they are taunting her now), she still could not defend herself (vv. 8-9); and in any case it is the Lord who has sent the Assyrians; they are His instrument to punish Judah, so what point is there in resisting (v. 10)? This speech is a classic study in the satanic art of sowing doubt and unbelief through subtly twisting the truth. Egypt was weak at this time, and in any case, the fall of Lachish would effectively cut off any Egyptian advance. The field commander’s warning about relying on Egypt echoes that of Isaiah himself.

The speech is so persuasive precisely because it contains so much that’s true. But its basic premise is false: namely, that the Lord has forsaken Judah, and therefore that trust is futile. It’s always Satan’s way to make us think that God has abandoned us, and to use logic woven from half-truths to convince us of it. This speech is so subtly devilish in character that it might have been written by Satan himself. The truth is that the Lord had brought Judah to the end of her own resources so that she might learn again what it meant to trust Him utterly. But He had not abandoned and would not abandon her.

Since the leaders appeared to be standing firm (no doubt to the field commander’s surprise), he decided another ploy. He had always meant the bystanders to overhear what he had to say; that was why he had used Hebrew instead of Aramaic. But now he addressed himself directly to them (vv. 13-20), and this time he is less subtle: they should forswear their allegiance to King Hezekiah (who is powerless), and entrust themselves to the great king, the king of Assyria, who will guarantee their prosperity (vv. 13-17). None of the gods of the other nations have been able to save them, so they should not listen any longer to Hezekiah’s lies about the Lord saving Judah (vv. 18-20). But the common people are not as easily swayed as the Assyrian expects them to be: they remain silent, as the king (Hezekiah) had commanded (v. 21). There are times when silence is the most eloquent testimony to whose we are and whom we serve.

So the ball is firmly back inn Hezekiah’s court (v. 22). The people will follow where he leads; in a sense, the lives of them all are in his hands. What will he do, and what resources can he call on at this fateful moment?

Isaiah 36:1-22 Reflection Questions:

In whom do you put your total trust in? If it is the Lord…how has that changed your life?

Has the Lord ever brought you to the end of your own resources so that you might learn again what it meant to trust Him utterly? Journal about it.

What would you do if you were in Hezekiah’s position?

Hebrews 4:1-11 Entering the Rest


As Christians, we understand there is no rest for the soul apart from Christ. When we came to God in Christ, it was like pulling into a snug harbor from a stormy sea. There is no rest for the heart apart from Christ. However, if we are candid we will admit that the initial rest has not always been our lot, because there is a difference between the primary experience of rest and living a life of rest on life’s uneven seas. Certainly this was true of those the writer of Hebrews was addressing. Their experience of Christ was not living up to expectations. Instead of rest there was turmoil. They had given up their ancient religion but were suffering for their new faith. To some it seemed that the initial experience of rest was a cruel delusion. It is to these endangered hearts that the writer now focuses his remarks in Chapter 4 as he instructs and exhorts them on participation in the rest of God. This theme has always been contemporary and will find a responsive chord in every believer’s heart – especially if he or she is sailing into the contrary winds of the world.

Chapter 4 opens with a warning based on Israel’s tragic failure in the wilderness (vv. 1-2). Israel had heard the good news brought by Caleb and Joshua that the land was theirs for the taking, however they were listening more to the other 10 that were frightened by what they saw. They simply did not trust God and so failed to enter their rest. Many, perhaps thousands, were believers (they believed in God), but only the two really trusted God and found rest. We must keep this subtle distinction between belief and trust clear is we are to understand what kind of faith is necessary to have rest in this life. The principle is so simple: the more trust, the more rest. There is not a fretful soul in the world who is trusting. Fellow Christians, there is a rest for you. It’s not beyond your capacity. You can have it if you wish.

Note first that he twice quotes Psalm 95:11 – “They shall not enter My rest” (vv. 3, 5). His purpose is not to imply that his readers will not enter the rest, but rather to show that God calls the rest being offered “My rest” because it is the rest He Himself enjoys. This in itself is a stupendous revelation. It means that when we are given rest by Him, it is not simply a relaxation of tensions, but a rest that is qualitatively the same rest God enjoys – His personal rest He shares with us! The sublime fact that we share God’s personal rest, the rest He enjoys, ought to set our hearts racing!

The character of God’s rest is the ideal of all rests. First, it is joyous. Job 38:7 echoes the joy of the Creator that he carried into his Sabbath-rest. Second, His rest is satisfying. This is the repeated implication of His multiple assertions regarding creation that “it was good” (Genesis 1). Third, it is a working rest. God finished His great work and rested, but it was not a cessation from work, but rather the proper repose that comes from completing a great work. Jesus referred to His Father’s ongoing work in John 5:17. God’s repose is full of active toil. God rests, and in His rest He keeps working even now.

Some members of the little church had become so disheartened that they thought the rest was not available to them. It may have been available to the Israelites in the desert, they thought, or to David’s hearers when he reoffered it in Psalm 95, but rest was not really available to them in their difficult circumstances. So in verses 6-10 the author argues that the rest remains. Notice that verses 6 and 9, the opening and closing sentences of this section, assert that fact. The writer has used every angle to show his friends and us that we can know and experience this rest. If we learn anything from this text, we must understand that the rest is there is we want it (v. 9). Praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

The writer properly closes this section with a challenge to his church (v. 11). How then, do we “strive” (or, as some translations have it, “do our utmost”) “to enter that rest”? Our passage suggests two things. First, we must do our utmost to focus on the rest. We must strive to comprehend that it is a divine rest – the rest that God personally enjoys. It is joyous, satisfying, and productive. We must do our utmost to grasp this. There is no room for mental laziness. Second, we must do our utmost to combine the hearing of the good news of the offered rest with genuine faith – that is, belief plus trust. In the midst of life’s uneven seas, we are called, as was the early church, to believe in the mighty God of the exodus, He who parted the seas, brought forth water from a rock, and fed His people with manna. Even more, we are to believe in the Bread of Heaven who gave His life for us and rose from the dead and ascended to God in mighty power. Do we believe that our God is such a God? Do we really believe it with all our heart? We must make every effort to do so!

Finally, can we add to this belief trust? This was the bottom line for the wavering church. Could they trust God to take care of them? There is no rest in this life without trust.

Hebrews 4:1-11 Reflection Questions:

When you were a new Christian did you ever experience “rough seas” like the Hebrews was experiencing?

What is the greatest problem you face? Do you believe God can meet it? Can you, will you, trust Him?

Hebrews 3:7-19 Let Us Take Heed


Take heed to what? To the sad history of the nation of Israel and the important lessons it teaches. The writer quotes from Psalm 95:7-11, which records God’s response to Israel’s tragic spiritual condition. God delivered His people from Egypt and had cared for them, revealing His power in many signs and wonders. Israel saw all of this and benefited from it, but the experience did not bring them closer to God or make them trust Him more. All that God did for them did not benefit them spiritually. In fact, just the opposite took place: they hardened their hearts against God! They put God to the test and He did not fail them; yet they failed Him!

The heart of every problem is a problem in the heart. The people of Israel (except Moses, Joshua, and Caleb) erred in their hearts (v. 10), which means that their hearts wandered from God and His Word. They also had evil hearts of unbelief (v. 12); they did not believe that God would give them victory in Canaan. They had seen God perform great signs in Egypt. Yet they doubted He was adequate for the challenge of Canaan. When a person has an erring heart and a disbelieving heart, the result will also be a hard heart. This is a heart that is insensitive to the Word and work of God. So hard was the heart of Israel that the people even wanted to return to Egypt! Imagine wanting to exchange their freedom under God for slavery in Egypt! Of course, all this history spoke to the hearts of the readers of this letter because they were in danger of “going back” themselves.

God’s judgment fell on Israel and that entire generation was condemned to die, and only the new generation would enter the land. God said, “They shall not enter into My rest” (v. 11). But what message does this bring to a believer today? No believer today, Jew or Gentile, could go back into Mosaic legal system since the temple is gone and there is no priesthood. But every believer is tempted to give up his or her confession of Christ and go back into the world system’s life of compromise and bondage. This is especially true during times of persecution and suffering. True believers are willing to suffer for Christ and they hold firmly to their convictions and their confession of faith. Of course, we are not saved by holding to our confession. The fact that we hold to our confession is proof that we are God’s true children.

It’s important that we take heed and recognize the spiritual dangers that exist. But it is also important that we encourage each other to be faithful to the Lord (v. 13). We get the impression that some of these believers addressed were careless about their fellowship in the local assembly (see Heb. 10:23-25). Christians belong to each other and need each other. Moses, Caleb, and Joshua did try to encourage Israel when the nation refused to enter Canaan, but the people would not listen.

It’s clear from this section that God was grieved with Israel during the entire forty years they wandered in the wilderness. The sin of Israel is stated in verse 12 – “departing from the living God.” Israel departed from the living God by refusing God’s will for their lives and stubbornly wanting to go their own way back to Egypt. God did not permit them to return to Egypt. Rather, He disciplined them in the wilderness. God did not allow His people to return to Bondage.

The emphasis in Hebrews is that true believers have an eternal salvation because they trust a living Savior who constantly intercedes for them. But the writer is careful to point out that this confidence is no excuse for sin. God disciplines His children. Remember that Canaan is not a picture of heaven, but of the believer’s present spiritual inheritance in Christ. Believers who doubt God’s Word and rebel against Him do not miss heaven, but they do miss out on the blessings of their inheritance today, and they must suffer the chastening of God.

Hebrews 3:7-19 Reflection Questions:

For all that God has done for you, has it brought you closer and closer to God or make you trust Him more?

Has your heart wandered from God and His Word?

Where are you with your relationship with God?