“31 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; 32 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.”
2 Kings 18:31-32
In the text before us today, Sennacherib’s messenger tries to get the citizens of Jerusalem to open the gates of the city by making grandiose promises to the people. For several years now Sennacherib had been laying waste the countryside around Jerusalem and was now laying siege to the holy city itself. The people were understandably frightened. They had no illusions as to their doom – they would be torn from their homes, sent into a foreign land, likely seeing Jerusalem never again. But Sennacherib knew that with such a clear understanding of their future, the citizens would never open the gates. And so he makes them grand promises. You’ve got my intentions all mixed up, Sennacherib declares. I’m really bringing joy and harmony your way. The future under my rule is bright. I’m going to let you stay in your homes for a while and then, when the time is right, I’m going to escort you to another home – just like the one you’ve got, with plenty of land, plenty of food, plenty of drink.
To us the offer of the king of Assyria should seem patently absurd – that is, if we know anything about the Assyrians. Their brutality was legendary. Masters of the most current military technology and ignorant of all ethical restraint, they not infrequently slaughtered entire cities and repopulated them with inhabitants from other lands. Listen as one of their kings boasts of his exploits:
“Many [of the defeated] I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar [pile] of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts [stakes] round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire, the city I destroyed, I devastated, I burned it with fire and consumed it.” [As quoted in Don Nardo, The Assyrian Empire, pp. 12,13.]
This is what the inhabitants of Jerusalem could in reality anticipate. But this blunt description is what you provide after the victory is won – in the mean time, Sennacherib knew, promise them the world.
The offer which Sennacherib makes contrasts vividly with the reality which was lying in wait and teaches us valuable lessons about the nature of temptation. All temptation gets its force from twisting the facts and making it appear that satisfaction and joy lie where they in fact do not. Satan is no fool. And like Sennacherib he knows that no one will submit ahead of time to one who promises them raw sewage for supper and dead cat for dessert. And so he couches his temptations in the most plausible of disguises. Whether it is Eve beholding the fruit which is good to make one wise or the children of Israel longing for the leeks and onions they enjoyed in Egypt, the nature of temptation is always the same. Satan endeavors to make it look attractive. He wants to be the one who defines the good life – the life that makes one truly happy.
But note that he has no interest in our happiness – just like Sennacherib had no intention of making the life of the Judahites as pleasant as he promised. Like the pagan gods of antiquity, the demons who owed their origin to his machinations, Satan is selfish and consuming – promising the good life but bringing destruction to all those who succumb to his wiles.
And so, this morning as we enter into the presence of our thrice holy God, let us come confessing the many ways in which our community believes the lies of the evil one. But let us not stop there. What lies do you come believing? What lies have you believed this week? Whom have you allowed to define the good life? Have you listened to the one who promises happiness but ultimately gives grief or have you listened to our Heavenly Father who knows what will truly bring us joy and gladness and who has created us that we might find our joy in Him? Let us kneel and confess these things to Him.