I wish I could take you away to Jerusalem today. It’s only partly because the temperature is a lot warmer there than here. I’d love to charter a plane and take you to a location that is off the tourist maps. It’s a place that no tourist looks for, and I’m not even sure you could find it. It’s a significant place, though, and it’s easy to miss the significance of what happens there.
This place in Jerusalem is only mentioned twice in the Bible. In this spot, two different kings were asked a question that is still significant for us today. I’d like to take you to this spot so I could ask you the same question that was asked of these kings thousands of years ago.
What is this place? It’s the aqueduct of the Upper Pool on the way to the Washerman’s field. I’ll bet that doesn’t ring a bell. Just like certain places get associated with key events, like the Alamo, this location gets associated with a certain question – a question that it is important for you to answer today.
How Ahaz Answered
The first king who faced this question was Ahaz. Ahaz was not a good king. 2 Kings 16:2-4 tells us about him:
Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the LORD his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. He imitated the detestable practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree.
The nation of Judah was at a low point. People weren’t worshiping God. Ahaz, as king, was openly rebelling against God. Some of the kings started out okay and then blundered later. Ahaz started out bad and continued disobeying God his entire life. He also faced once of the biggest political crises in the entire history of the nation.
Verses 5 and 6 explain what happened:
Then King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel declared war on Ahaz. They besieged Jerusalem but did not conquer it. At that time the king of Edom recovered the town of Elath for Edom. He drove out the people of Judah and sent Edomites to live there, as they do to this day.
This sounds pretty sterile when you read it. The reality was anything but sterile. Ahaz faced impossible military odds, and he had to make a decision on how to respond to foreign powers. Ahaz faced three options on how to deal with the political events of that time.
Option one: Join Syria and Israel and form a coalition. This is why the kings of Israel and Syria besieged Jerusalem. They wanted to form a coalition against the world superpower of the day: Assyria. They figured that the three nations together might stand a chance against Assyria. Ahaz could have chosen to join this coalition, but it would have cost him. It wouldn’t have been a coalition of equals. You can see in verses 5 and 6 that the method of persuasion was brute force. If Ahaz had joined this coalition, it would have been at the end of a spear. He would have lost his kingship. This was an option, but it obviously wasn’t an attractive one for Ahaz.
Option two: Join Assyria. The second option was a bit tricky. Instead of joining Syria and Israel, what if Ahaz joined Assyria? They had all the power. It’s better to make friends with your enemy rather than have your enemy attack you. This would have come at a cost as well. Ahaz would remain as king, but would be subject to the king of Assyria. He would have become a vassal, and it would have cost him financially as well. You’d rather have Assyria as your friend than as your enemy, though.
Here’s what you need to know about Assyria. They had a massive military, and were known for their brutal style of warfare. Their armies were not only huge, they were superbly equipped with the world’s finest siege machines, operated by specially trained engineers. They were known as well for their psychological warfare. They used public killings and other psychological tactics to get the upper hand.
I mentioned the size of their armies. In one battle alone, described in Isaiah 37:36, 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were killed in one battle. That is a huge army. To put it in perspective, the Canadian army has only 19,500 people enlisted. Okay, I know that we’re only talking the Canadian army, but even by modern standards, the Assyrian army was huge. You can understand why Ahaz would be attracted to this option.
Option three: Trust God. This sounds like a good option, doesn’t it? It’s a lot harder to do when you’re facing real armies with very good chances of wiping you out. Trusting God can seem so passive when you have other options. Yet this is the advice that Isaiah gave to Ahaz. Don’t trust on a coalition to get you out of this mess. Trust God instead.
Here’s where the location comes in. The question Ahaz faced is this: On whom can I depend, against impossible odds? Who am I going to trust when I get into deep trouble? Isaiah 7:3-4 records what happened:
Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood… (NIV)
At the end of this aqueduct, Ahaz faced a choice: who was he going to trust? Syria and Israel? Assyria? Isaiah told him, “Don’t trust either. Don’t even worry about them. Trust God instead.” To reinforce the idea of trust, God gives Ahaz a sign: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel-‘God is with us” (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah counsels him to trust God instead; in fact, trust a baby. Trust in the most unlikely of people to save you.
You can see why Ahaz wouldn’t have been too excited about trusting the baby. I can picture him saying, “I like babies, but how is a baby going to help me against a massive army?” I can see why Ahaz didn’t choose the option to trust God.
Ahaz chose the second option instead. He asked Assyria for help:
King Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria with this message: “I am your servant and your vassal. Come up and rescue me from the attacking armies of Aram and Israel.” Then Ahaz took the silver and gold from the Temple of the LORD and the palace treasury and sent it as a gift to the Assyrian king. So the Assyrians attacked the Aramean capital of Damascus and led its population away as captives, resettling them in Kir. They also killed King Rezin.
He became a vassal to the king of Assyria. He worshipped other gods, and stripped all the furnishings from the temple and gave it all away. He set up altars everywhere in Jerusalem for people to worship other gods (2 Chronicles 28:24-25). Instead of trusting God, he trusted in a foreign king to save him. On one level, it worked.
Who am I going to trust? That’s a pretty real question. There are times when it looks like the only real place to trust is in our own plans. Trusting God looks pretty scary when we’re outnumbered. When the odds are against us, it’s hard to trust God. When it looks like bending a little in our convictions would really pay off, it’s hard to trust God. It’s easy to make the same choice that Ahaz did when we’re under pressure. It’s far easier to depend on ourselves when it looks like depending on God will cost us everything.
It’s in this context that Isaiah says these words:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6 NIV)
The nation is defeated. Judah is at a low point. They are subject to a foreign king. Trusting Assyria has bought some time, but only temporarily. People are feeling the stress. Nobody is worshiping God. Isaiah predicts doom because of the bad decision Ahaz has made, but I the middle of this darkness, a child will be born. This child will be someone you can trust in. Last week, we looked at the first title: Wonderful Counselor, which means Extraordinary Strategist. The second title is one that speaks of the child’s power to carry out the strategy: Mighty God. It was sometimes common to speak of a king back then as being God. Here, you have the idea that a king will be born that will be mighty, who will lead the nation to victory as if he is God himself.
We understand this prophesy to refer ultimately to the baby that was born in Bethlehem, the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. He is the Mighty God. He seems like the most unlikely person to trust. Isaiah is telling us, though, to put our trust in the baby that was born. Babies look like they’re not going to be much help. It certainly doesn’t seem that trusting in a child that was born two thousand years ago is going to do much. But trusting that person makes all the sense in the world if that child is the Mighty God. You can put your faith in that child because he has all the power in the world.
How Hezekiah Answered
Fast forward another 33 years to another king: Hezekiah. The place is the same. The question is the same. The king is facing a military threat, this time from the nation that was supposed to protect it: Assyria. 2 Kings 18:17 says:
The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. They came up to Jerusalem and stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. (NIV)
Notice the place? Same place that Ahaz faced the question of who he’s going to trust, and failed. The Biblical writers were sophisticated. This is no fluke. The place is becoming associated with the question: who are you going to trust? Two different kings, two different times, same threat, same question. Who can you trust against impossible odds?
In this case, the question comes from a spokesperson for the Assyrian army:
This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength-but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man’s hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. And if you say to me, “We are depending on the LORD our God”-isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, “You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? (2 Kings 18:19-22 NIV)
This was an even worse situation. Assyria was right there – over 185,000 strong circled around Jerusalem. Hezekiah could look over the city wall and see the odds against him. Same place, same question: whom could he trust against impossible odds?
Hezekiah made a very different decision. Instead of relying in his own strategy, he went to the Temple and asked Isaiah to come. He cried out to God: “Now, O LORD our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O LORD, are God” (2 Kings 19:19). Same question, different answer. Hezekiah chose to trust God.
The result was one of the greatest military victories ever. God went to combat on behalf of Hezekiah. God did what no human army could do:
That night the angel of the LORD went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian troops. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. One day while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with their swords. They then escaped to the land of Ararat, and another son, Esarhaddon, became the next king of Assyria. (2 Kings 19:35-37)
Judah’s army didn’t stand a chance against Assyria, but God took care of it for them. Hezekiah answered the question of who to trust by trusting in God, and God delivered him.
How We Answer
We’ve seen how Ahaz answered. We’ve seen how Hezekiah answered. I wish I could take you to the same place to ask you this question, a question that is just as important as ever: on whom or what are you going to depend against impossible odds?
Here’s what I know about you.
You face impossible odds – I’ve talked to enough people around here to know the odds that some of you are facing. Some of us are okay right now. Some of us are facing incredible business pressure. Some of us are experiencing huge relational tensions: marriages under pressure, other family relationships that are at the breaking point. There are health difficulties, financial pressures, emotional pressures. We may not be facing massive armies, but many of us are under pressure, facing impossible odds.
You face the question of whom you are going to trust – We all do. The question is the same today: Who will you trust? When the marriage is falling apart, where do you turn? When the finances are drying up, who will you trust? When things are going wrong, whom do we trust? We all trust someone – ourselves, some other person, some other thing to get by. We all face the question of who we are going to trust.
Jesus seems like an unlikely choice – It didn’t seem smart to trust a child when Isaiah told Ahaz to trust God rather than in massive armies. Armies look a whole lot more impressive. It’s not easy today to choose to trust the one who was born in a manger two thousand years ago, even though we’re told he is the Mighty God with all power. Jesus looks like an unlikely person to trust.
Jesus lived two thousand years ago. Some people argue that he didn’t exist; others say that he was only a great man. We don’t see him today. It takes faith to trust him. It’s a lot easier to trust in ourselves, to trust in our jobs, to trust in someone else to see us through whatever problem we’re facing. Jesus always looks like an unlikely choice when we face impossible odds.
You can depend on Jesus, the Mighty God, against impossible odds – If you hear nothing else today, this is what I would like you to take away. Even though we face impossible odds, and even though Jesus seems the most unlikely person to help us against the impossible odds, he is the one to trust. He is the Mighty God. He has all the power necessary for whatever problem you face. He is the one, the only one, who can help us.
The same question that was asked of Ahaz and Hezekiah is asked of you: Who will you trust? I hope you’ll place your trust in Jesus, the Mighty God.