Grace to you!
History is a repository of knowledge. In today's reflection, I look to the biblical story of Judah vis-à-vis the Assyrian siege (around 701 B. C.), to draw relevant lessons for life today.
News of joy had broken. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had been pushed back from his attempt to conquer Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. Judah was in a jubilation mood. Then came Prophet Isaiah's unsettling message of future disaster. Why? What happened?
Sennacherib seized Samaria, the capital of Israel, the northern kingdom, around 721 B.C. and was bent on extending his reign to Judah (the southern kingdom). So, around 701 B. C., he laid siege of Judah, but God gave victory over Hezekiah, the king of Judah.
It was a victory won on the knees. Hezekiah was aware of the weakening impact of the onslaught of Sennacherib's propaganda against Judah's army and Judah's military limitations compared to the troops of Assyria. The Assyrian army was vast and well equipped. It was a massive threat to Judah's security, freedom, and happiness. Ordinarily speaking, in comparison, Judah would never have a chance to win if Assyria attacked. Aware of this reality, Hezekiah appealed to God in prayer for victory (cf. 2 Kings 19:14-19). His prayers were answered, validating the efficacy of prayer.
Here is a crucial lesson. When besieged by an enemy as powerful and expansive as Sennacherib, a mere physical face-to-face combat is fatally naïve. Hezekiah discerned that spiritual strength through prayer was a better way to go. Prayer is the "Puntum Archimedis" (Archimedean Point) from where we can move the world. Hezekiah knew how to use this tactic for good, and it worked for him. You, too, with prayer, can move strongholds.
One night, as the Assyrian army laid an unjust siege of Jerusalem, the angel of the Lord slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand of them. How this happened was anyone's guess. Whether it was through some fatal epidemic outbreak as some scholars suggest, or through the surprise military intervention of Judah is not the point. For one, it is not essential in the context of this reflection. What is crucial here is the central message, which is God's reassurance of Judah's freedom and security.
It was a deathblow to the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib was forced to retreat to Nineveh, where he faced his murder in the hands of his two sons Adram'melech and Share'zer while he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god (cf. 2 Kings 19: 35-37; Isaiah 37:36-38). Sad ending for a tyrannical, heartless king. For Judah, though, the victory was won through divine intervention, not their military prowess, a reason for them to rejoice.
While news of Sennacherib's defeat was a cause of great joy for Israel, there was still some house cleaning to be done. Some people like Shebna, the administrator of the household of King Hezekiah, benefitted greatly from the temporary security that ensued. His flamboyant lifestyle and excessive materialism showed off as he built a costly marble tomb for himself and his descendants, a way to immortalize his name. He was focused on the gains of the moment. He appropriated the benefits from the war and other resources to enrich himself and his family. His conduct should not be ignored by good and Godly people, as Isaiah, being one of them, didn't do so.
Thus, instead of a message of joy and congratulations because of the victory over Sennacherib, the prophet spoke of a two-fold ruin over Judah. He directed the first against Jerusalem and the other against Shebna. It sounds like the prophet was a sadist. He wasn't. On the contrary, he denounced the lifestyle of scandalous ostentation and flamboyancy that the decadent members of Judah had chosen, drawing attention to the future as well.
Isaiah was extolling the moral standards of other members of Israel, exemplified in Eliakim, whom the prophet proclaimed as the Lord's choice to occupy Shebna's office to lead the house of Judah into the future. He will be the treasurer, the royal court's administrator, upon whose shoulder will rest authority of access into the royal court. "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut, and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Is 22:22).
Over and above the present moment of victory, the prophet looked into the future, a time when there will be lasting freedom and security for the new people of God. He knew the key to maintaining victory.
Without in any way undermining the full import of Isaiah's message, a side note on understanding how to remain in victory is essential: Do not concentrate only on your present gains; look into and to the future as well. Victory is short-lived if only about the moment. Victory is maintained if it draws from the moment and looks to the future.
Isaiah's prophesy here points to the messianic era, and the divine providence for access into the house of the king of the universe, home of true freedom, security, happiness, and peace. Irrespective of the historical context in which Isaiah prophesied the promise of access into the kingdom and Eliakim's unique role, the core of the message finds significant resonance in the New Testament. For the Church, it's a typology to the Lord Jesus's authority, who has the key of David (Rev 3:7) and gives it to the leader of his Church.
The Lord Jesus, the Messiah and the new David, opens the door of the heavenly kingdom. He, too, is the kingdom. He grants the access key to Peter, who, like Eliakim (Is 22:22), shoulders the responsibility of access in and out of the Body of Christ, the Church, God's kingdom on earth.
Speaking to Peter (the first pope), the Lord said, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Rev 3:7). The promise to Peter did not end with him. It extends to those who succeed him (not in replacement but in continuation), occupying the same chair of authority. The Lord, who grants this authority, lives forever, and his words are eternally true.
About the security of his Church, the Lord Jesus himself promised, "The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it (Church)" (Mt 16:18). So, the Lord is in charge of his Church. Come rain, come sunshine, the Lord Jesus got us covered. His words, which are true, abide forever.
God loves you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Twenty First Sunday A. Readings: Is 22:19-23; Rm 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20]
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Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.