Why do we follow God? When we get alone, away from people who expect us to be good disciples of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ), and have a chance to be honest with ourselves, what is the real reason we proclaim our allegiance to Yeshua? Is it just for “galactic fire insurance” – that promise of eternal salvation (John 3:16)? Is it the promise of a rewarding life on this earth (Mark 10:29-31)? Is it in hope of escaping trouble and stress (John 14:27). Or is it truly to follow God whatever He requires, and whatever circumstances come about?
These questions fall into the category of “counting the cost”. Yeshua presented the concept in this way:
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33 NKJV, emphasis added)
Yeshua had much more to say about this. In His Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15) He explained that a lack of depth and the cares of this world, as well as the efforts of Satan and his minions, keep people from being productive disciples and citizens of the Kingdom of God. Only the most committed disciples persevere to the end and gain the rewards. Those are the ones who look beyond circumstances and instant gratification. Such disciples make a determined effort to understand Yeshua and His ways and follow Him wherever He leads. They do this because they realize that this world is nothing more than a training ground for the world to come. It stands to reason that if we are made to be kings and priests (Exodus 19:3-6; Revelation 5:8-10) who will reign with Yeshua (II Timothy 2:8-13; Revelation 20:6), we must undergo a significant period of trial and testing to ensure we are ready for such eternal responsibilities. The prophets Isaiah and Zechariah use the illustration of refining silver to explain this concept, as does the writer of Psalm 66:
Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard, Who keeps our soul among the living, and does not allow our feet to be moved. For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment. (Psalm 66:8-12 NKJV, emphasis added)
The Psalmist’s description tells us this refinement process is not at all pleasant. That should not be a surprise. After all, if God is going to share His sovereignty with beings He has created, He must make sure they are worthy of the honor. Unfortunately, most people, even most who could be called His followers, have very little understanding of this ultimate goal. They are quite happy to follow the Lord God as long as He comes through with a good, comfortable life. But is that really what God promises? If it was not God, then who promises an easy life? We can find that answer in the story of the Assyrian invasion of Judah during the days of King Hezekiah.
In the year 701 BC, Sennacherib of Assyria invaded Judah to deal with Hezekiah’s rebellion against Assyrian domination. This was just 20 years after Assyria had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and carried the House of Ephraim into captivity (II Kings 17). Scripture records this event in three parallel accounts: II Kings 18-19, II Chronicles 32:1-23, and Isaiah 36-37. The invasion occurred soon after an immense revival in Judah in which Hezekiah removed all idolatrous practices and returned to the Lord with full devotion. That revival featured removal of the “high places”, the sacred groves and places of sacrifice throughout the land where the people worshipped not only YHVH, but other gods as well. Hezekiah was the first of the kings of Israel and Judah to take away the high places and follow God’s commandment of worshipping Him only in Jerusalem in the way He specified. For centuries God’s people mixed the worship practices of various false gods with the worship of YHVH. The Lord deemed this idolatrous mixture abominable, and He continues to consider it abominable to this day (Deuteronomy 12:1-14; I Corinthians 10:6-11; Revelation 21:6-8).
According to the Scripture account, Sennacherib invaded captured the fortified cities of Judah and laid siege to Lachish. As he was dealing with that city, he sent his vizier, the Rabshakeh, with an army to Jerusalem to threaten Hezekiah. His taunts included great blasphemies against the Lord, but Hezekiah refused to listen. Sennacherib had to suspend his operations in Judah temporarily to deal with a threat from the king of Ethiopia, but he sent a letter to Hezekiah boasting that the Lord could not save him and demanding that Judah surrender. Hezekiah took the letter to the Temple of the Lord and pleaded for God to intervene. His prayers were answered in a miraculous way. When Sennacherib returned with his army, the Angel of the Lord came upon them one night and killed 185,000 Assyrian warriors. Sennacherib then returned to his land, where his own sons assassinated him.
The salvation of the Lord is always the key point in an account like this. Let us consider, however, not how the Lord saved Judah, but from what. Certainly He saved the Jewish kingdom from conquest and deportation, the fate that had only recently befallen the Kingdom of Israel from the very same enemy. Yet what if Judah had surrendered to Sennacherib? After all, Hezekiah had rebelled against Sennacherib, so perhaps it would have been better if he only surrendered and accepted Assyrian overlordship once again. Perhaps God had placed the Assyrians over Judah as an act of judgment, which might mean Hezekiah’s rebellion was a rebellion against God Himself. The Rabshakeh certainly considered that to be the case. Look at what he said to Hezekiah’s officials:
Then the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshakeh from Lachish, with a great army against Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they went and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, which was on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. And when they had called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came out to them. Then the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: “What confidence is this in which you trust? You speak of having plans and power for war; but they are mere words. And in whom do you trust, that you rebel against me? Now look! You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and said to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?”’ Now therefore, I urge you, give a pledge to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses—if you are able on your part to put riders on them! How then will you repel one captain of the least of my master’s servants, and put your trust in Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Have I now come up without the Lord against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land, and destroy it.’”
Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and do not speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people who are on the wall.”
But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to your master and to you to speak these words, and not to the men who sit on the wall, who will eat and drink their own waste with you?” Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out with a loud voice in Hebrew, and spoke, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he shall not be able to deliver you from his hand; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, “The Lord will surely deliver us; this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”’ Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and every one from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive groves and honey, that you may live and not die. But do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations at all delivered its land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim and Hena and Ivah? Indeed, have they delivered Samaria from my hand? Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their countries from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’”
But the people held their peace and answered him not a word; for the king’s commandment was, “Do not answer him.” Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. (II Kings 18:17-37 NKJV)
The arrogance just drips from the Rabshakeh. He and his master, Sennacherib, know that they hold all the advantages. They know how to intimidate the Jews by claiming that their very God has commissioned the Assyrians to conquer Jerusalem. In doing so the Rabshakeh misstates the facts; he claims that God’s judgment is coming because Hezekiah has removed the high places where the people worshipped the Lord, when in fact the removal of those high places was in long-delayed obedience to YHVH. Yet his argument was powerful enough to persuade a fearful people untutored in the Torah (Law, Teaching, Commandments) of God. For that reason, Hezekiah’s emissaries asked that the Rabshakeh speak in Aramaic rather than Hebrew. Knowing that he had hit a nerve, the Rabshakeh addressed the people on the walls of Jerusalem directly with another ploy. Look again at his words:
Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make peace with me by a present and come out to me; and every one of you eat from his own vine and every one from his own fig tree, and every one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive groves and honey, that you may live and not die. But do not listen to Hezekiah, lest he persuade you, saying, “The Lord will deliver us.”’ (II Kings 18:31-32 NKJV)
In these words we see the Lie of Sennacherib. After asserting that the Lord God is not able to save Judah, he claims that he, himself, is able to provide everything they need. God offers only hardship and futile resistance, but Sennacherib offers peace and prosperity if they will only submit to him. Every man may continue to tend his own land and enjoy the fruits of his property (vine and fig tree) until Sennacherib comes to claim his price. And indeed his offer comes with a price. First they must appease him with a present. The unspoken word here is that he must find that present acceptable before he leaves the people in peace. Assuming that he does so, he then states the “fine print”: the people of Judah may not remain forever in the land God promised to them, but will have to go away to a land that Sennacherib chooses for them. He promises that it will be a “land like your own land”, with plenty of food and wine. Yet again he does not state the full case. Who owns that other land? When the people go there, will they be working the land for Sennacherib and his minions? And if so, under what conditions? Are they to be his slaves, living only as long as they please him or prove themselves useful? Most likely that is the case.
Sennacherib is not seeking loyal subjects he can reward with special perks; he already has plenty of those. What he seeks is the elimination of a rival – a people who are called by the Name of God Most High who, by their very existence, remind him that he is not the supreme power of the universe, or even of the earth. He wants their land, not their lives, nor their allegiance. His bribe of an easy, peaceful life in the short term is only a ploy to get them to lay down their arms and settle for something less than what God wants to give them. The life he offers is not Eternal Life, but a mere pitiful existence that consists of grasping for as much comfort as possible until the last breath leaves the body. Thus he can claim with some truth that the new land he offers is a “land like your own land”, for indeed they can exist there and have their basic needs met, but in truth it is a land of death where they and their children waste away in debt and despair.
Scripture tells us Hezekiah did not fall for Sennacherib’s lie. He had seen what happened to his kinsmen of Israel when Sennacherib’s predecessors conquered Samaria. He knew, by the testimony of the prophet Isaiah and by others, that the Lord had judged Israel for the fact that they had fallen for the same lie. Instead of staying true to the Lord’s commandments, they had opted for the easy road by worshipping Him in ways they deemed more convenient, and by seeking their own comfort as proof of the Lord’s blessing. God was not fooled; He understood that if they were not following Him with their whole hearts, then they were actually committing spiritual adultery with other gods – even the gods of their own fleshly comfort. Seeing their example, Hezekiah opted to stick with the Lord, even though His way was more difficult and, at first glance, uncertain. Yet Hezekiah understood the testimony of God and His prophets; he knew the story of His ancestors, and how the Lord had come through without fail when they obeyed Him faithfully. With that understanding, Hezekiah acted in faith to present His case before the Lord and ask Him to move on behalf of His people and His Name. As Hezekiah said,
Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the Lord, You alone. (Isaiah 37:20 NKJV)
And now the hard question: have we fallen for the Lie of Sennacherib? Have we sold our eternal inheritance for a bowl of soup? We say we live for Jesus, but we fill our days with a quest for money and investments, better electronic toys, a retirement plan that will let us live in leisure, nicer clothes, a bigger car, and restaurants that suit our tastes. When we get these things we profess that God has blessed us, and when we suffer hardship we complain that God has left us. What, then, will we do when real suffering happens? Do we truly believe God Himself will preserve us through each trial, even if those trials claim our very lives? Do we truly believe that in eternity we will exercise power and authority in proportion to the trustworthiness we have earned by our obedience to our King in this life? Or are we content to be as comfortable as possible until we cease breathing?
The King of the Universe invites us to reign with Him. All it takes is an act of faith to sign up for His training program. But it takes everything in our being to complete that program, and that is a price very few are willing to pay.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:19-22 NKJV)