01 October 2011

"Have you not heard that I determined it long ago? I planned from days of old what now I bring to pass." (v. 25)


History is always written with the advantage of knowing how events turned out. History is also an interpretation of the way things have gone. We today use many secular interpretations (like economics, military technology and strategy, political leadership, or the effect of convincing and rapid communications; plus the impact of unpredictable conditions, like the weather). In addition, a Christian believer may discern in what has happened to them personally the presence, challenge and guidance of God.

We have to make a huge leap of the imagination to understand the interpretations of history used by the biblical writers. Strange as it sounds to our ears, they assumed that God (the one, true God of all the nations on earth) pre-planned the general flow of important events over time. Kings and armies were unwitting agents of God's purposes. (If, in the course of events, the attitudes of God's agents offended God - by their arrogance, for example - God would bring them down to earth with a bump. But the fulfilment of God's purposes was not deflected by such reprimands).

To the eyes of faith, the outcomes God brought about in history showed God's character and power; and safeguarded God's honour and majesty. Frequently the fate of the people of Israel and of the city of Jerusalem were clear signs to the rest of the world of what God demanded from all nations. If God was to protect them, they must worship God without recourse to idols and they must obey God's laws.

This passage in 2 Kings celebrated some such vision of God, in song (verses 21-28) and prose. The author was seeing God at work in the surprising escape from certain death for Jerusalem and its inhabitants. A vast Assyrian army had put the city under siege in 701BC. The army was led by the all-conquering Assyrian king, Sennacherib. According to this account, however, God sent a plague which killed thousands of soldiers overnight. Sennacherib withdrew, suitably humbled. Jerusalem was safe. God's people would flourish again because God loved them and provided for them.

To Ponder

How would you tell your personal story to someone you trust deeply, so as to illuminate God's action in your heart during the course of your life?

Has the Christian Church replaced Israel in being specially guided by God through history, so that God's glory is known? Or is the Church, as an organisation, like every other group, pressured by 'events' and external fashions? What do you think? And how might it change for the better?

Bible notes author: The Revd David Deeks

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