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.
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 to 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 the army of Judah, as well as Judah’s military limitations in comparison to the troops of Assyria. The Assyrian army was huge and well equipped. Before this huge army, Judah’s security, freedom and happiness were jeopardized. Aware of this fact, Hezekiah appealed to God in prayer for victory (cf. 2 Kings 19:14-19). His prayers were answered, validating the efficacy of prayer.
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.
In 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 is debated by the academics and may not be essential in the context of this reflection. Whether it was through some fatal epidemic outbreak, as some scholars suggest, or through the surprise military intervention of Judah, the message is God’s reassurance of Judah’s freedom and security.
This was a deathblow to the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib was forced to retreat to Nineveh where he faced his murder by 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 valor; and was 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. He flaunted his flamboyant lifestyle and excessive materialism when he built a costly rock sepulcher for himself and his progeny, a way to immortalize his name. His was so much focus on the gains of the moment. 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—one directed against Jerusalem, and the other against Shebna. Sounds like the prophet was a sadist. He wasn’t. To the contrary, he was denouncing the lifestyle of scandalous ostentation and flamboyancy that the decadent members of Judah had chosen, drawing attention to the future as well.
On the other hand, 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 the office of Shebna, to lead the house of Judah into the future. He will be the treasurer; the administrator of the royal court, 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 was looking 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 anyway undermining the full import of Isaiah’s message, a side note on understanding how to remain in victory is important: 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 futuristic.
About Isaiah’s prophesy here, he was pointing to the messianic era, and the divine providence for access into the house of the king of the universe, a 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 the unique role of Eliakim, the core of the message finds significant resonance in the New Testament. It’s a typology to the authority of the Lord Jesus, who has the key of David (Rev 3:7).
Jesus the Lord, the Messiah, and the new David opens the door of the heavenly 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” (Mt 16:19). The promise to Peter is to his successors as well.
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. He has us covered.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Twenty First Sunday A. Readings: Is 22:19-23; Rm 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.