Will a wall protect us?

Expecting imminent attack by the merciless army of Assyria in 701 BC, King Hezekiah of Jerusalem prepared for siege. He built a 1700-foot tunnel to supply the city with water. He set about “repairing all the broken sections of the wall and building towers on it.” He added “another wall” outside that one and reinforced supporting terraces (“the Millo”) of the City of David. He also “made weapons and shields in abundance” (2 Chronicles 32).

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Only a few feet of Hezekiah’s defensive wall rise above ground level today, but the 23-foot width is there. The vertical blue and white strip on a building to the left shows the estimated original height of the wall.

That second wall mentioned in Chronicles is what archaeologists believe they found while restoring Jerusalem after the 1967 war. Although today only lower portions remain, it once was a massive structure twenty-three feet wide and probably twenty-six feet high. A two hundred-foot length is visible among modern buildings today.

After Hezekiah fortified Jerusalem, he assembled people of the city and said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him.”

Those faith-filled words did not convince everyone. Isaiah later asserted that people of Jerusalem built a reservoir in anticipation of siege, but “did not look to the One who made [the city], or have regard for the One who planned it long ago” (Isaiah 22:11). They trusted more in military defenses than in God.

King Sennacherib of Assyria indeed besieged Jerusalem, and gloated that he “shut Hezekiah up like a caged bird” in the royal city. But the siege failed, and Jerusalem was spared (2 Kings 19). Was that protection from the wall or from the Lord? Perhaps both.

But Isaiah was certain God governed history, and that filled him with hope even when political or military horizons were bleak. With expansive vision, the prophet said someday “all the nations shall stream” to Jerusalem, and peoples of the world will “beat their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2).

Isaiah could not have fathomed leaders of a distant nation 2700 years later hankering to build a massive wall to keep out impoverished or endangered foreigners who want to work in factories, start businesses, go to college, cook in restaurants, and otherwise contribute to society.

Perhaps Isaiah would quote from his prophetic scroll: “What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” (3:15). “Is this not the fast that I choose . . . to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them . . .?” (58:6, 7)

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill ******************************************IMG_0410 (4)

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Come with Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walking tour in Galilee and Jerusalem! Dates are May 14-25, 2018, and the pace will be moderate. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, and hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took his disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route on foot, and travel by vehicle to see more. We will do all this with scripture in hand and prayer in our hearts. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/

When rulers taunt and threaten

Hezekiah'sPool-blogcc

“Hezekiah’s Pool,” the dry courtyard at bottom left, might be the Upper Pool mentioned in 2 Kings 18:17. At distant right is the golden Dome of the Rock where the Temple stood. The large grey dome at near left is Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

From the roof of my hotel on the west side of Old Jerusalem, I look down into “Hezekiah’s Pool,” an ancient reservoir that still echoes taunts an enemy made there almost three thousand years ago. At that time Assyria, after wiping out the Northern Kingdom of Israel and deporting its citizens (2 Kings 17), threatened Jerusalem. The Assyrians were brutal: ancient reliefs show them beheading prisoners of war or skinning them alive.

So Jerusalem had reason to be terrified when King Sennacherib of Assyria invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 701 BC, conquering all major cities except Jerusalem. But Isaiah warned God’s people not to seek superior weapons or make compromising alliances: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 31).

King Hezekiah of Jerusalem tried to appease the Assyrians, even sending to King Sennacherib gold and silver stripped from the Temple. But Assyria still dispatched envoys to Jerusalem who spouted propaganda by the “Upper Pool.” If today’s empty pool by my hotel existed in Hezekiah’s time, it was just outside Jerusalem. Inhabitants of Jerusalem stood on the city wall nearby to hear the Assyrians (2 Kings 18, Isaiah 36).

While archeologists dispute which ancient site actually is the Upper Pool, the message of the Assyrians is not in doubt: Egypt is a “a broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it,” the Assyrians sneered. You people are so ignorant of horses that Assyria will give you two thousand if you can provide soldiers able to ride them! Yahweh himself told us to come destroy you!

Leaders of Jerusalem were humiliated, and asked the Assyrians to please speak in Aramaic, the language of diplomacy, rather than in the Hebrew everyone could understand. No, answered the Assyrians, we want to communicate with common folk who, like you, soon will be eating their own dung and drinking their own urine.

King Hezekiah prayed, “O Lord, deliver us . . . so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone are God.” Speaking on behalf of Yahweh, Isaiah told Assyria, “I will put my hook in your nose” and “turn you back on the way by which you came” (2 Kings 19).

Sure enough, one night during the siege an angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrians, perhaps by plague.  The Assyrian army returned home, Jerusalem was spared, and King Sennacherib was assassinated by his own sons.

I cannot rejoice at such loss of life. But the story of taunts at the Upper Pool, and the account of unexpected reversal in warfare, remind me that God is sovereign in history. Nations may rage and rulers taunt, but people of faith need not be immobilized by fear. We will not always be saved from harm, but a just God controls our destiny.

From my rooftop I look into what may be the Upper Pool. I also see both Dome of the Rock where the Temple surely stood and Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus died and rose. Fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of beating swords into plowshares (Isaiah 2), Jesus calls followers to lay down weapons and love our enemies even in crisis when it could cost us our lives.

© 2017  J. Nelson Kraybill ******************************************IMG_0410 (4)

Come with Ellen and me on a Peace Pilgrim walking tour in Galilee and Jerusalem! Dates are May 14-25, 2018, and the pace will be moderate. We will walk parts of the Jesus Trail from Nazareth to Capernaum, and hike at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took his disciples on retreat in the foothills of Mt Hermon. At Jerusalem we will walk the city walls, trace the triumphal entry route on foot, and also travel by vehicle to see much more. The Gospels will be in our hands, and prayer in our hearts. Interested? See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/holy-land-peace-pilgrim-walk-jesus/