The Importance of Reading and Meditating on Your Bible Every Day

I remember a little ditty I learnt as a youngster, to the tune of London’s Burning:

Read your Bible, read your Bible
read it daily, read it daily.
It’s a lamp; it’s a lamp,
and a light to your pathway.

The words are simple but they are so true. It’s based on Psalm 119:105, which says quite simply:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

One of the most touted (and rightly so!) verses about the Bible, 2 Timothy 3:16 says:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Bible is so vital in everybody’s life. Without it, we can’t grow, we can’t serve God properly. There’s so much we can learn from God’s word, rich doctrine, practical helps; it’s everything we need for life – our ‘guidebook’ if you like. It shouldn’t sit on our shelf, collecting dust. It’s our Sword of the Spirit, our weapon. We must never be unarmed. It’s how we stay alive, how we tackle the trials and tribulations that come our way. It’s our most valuable possession.

What do you reach for in the morning, when you wake-up? Is it your Bible or your phone? We need to ensure we have our priorities are right, even if we have a busy day ahead of us. Devotional times set us up for the day. Martin Luther had a lot to do one day, his attitude was, “I’ve so much work today, I shall need at least three hours alone with the Lord!”

Just reading a daily devotional is not enough, we need to pray and dive head-first straight into God’s word. There is so much in scripture about the importance of growing as believers by reading and meditating on God’s word. How much does the Bible mean to us? Have a look at these Chinese believers receiving Bibles for the first time:

Contrast that with our reaction upon opening our Bibles…

The Importance of Routine

Ever since I became a Christian, as a young lad, something I’ve endeavoured to stick to, every morning, is to have a regular time with the Lord. I’ve found it an immense blessing, although I’ve failed miserably many times. Last year, due to changing circumstances, I fell out of my pattern. The devil had a field day. Once you lose it, it’s incredibly difficult to get back. They were a torrid few months and I’m still struggling to find that quality time to be alone with the Lord and His Word.

Some people dislike routines, as it can become just a routine; but it is so important to read your Bible every day. I accept that for many people, routines are not possible and they find better and even more regular times with the Lord ad hoc. A routine is better than not reading the Bible at all. However, we should aim far higher…

The Importance of Meditation

The Psalms, in hundreds of places talk about meditating at all hours of the day and night on God’s word.

“In the night I remember your name. At midnight I rise to give you thanks. I rise before dawn and cry for help. My eyes stay open through the watches of the night that I may meditate on your promises. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. I will not enter my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my eyes, no slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob. All night long I flood my bed with weeping, drenching my couch with tears. In the morning, as well, I lay my requests before you, waiting in expectation. Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord.” (Numerous places).

This total devotion to God is definitely lacking in many Christians. Christ isn’t where he should be, in our lives. It’s one thing to just read a portion of scripture, it’s another to take it in, to study, understand, meditate and carry into our day those words. Out of every part we read, we should look at what it tells us about Christ. Then we should be stirred to pray. We should strive for a deeper understanding and experience of God. There’s so much more we’re missing out on.

Paul’s prayer sums it all up:

“… that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that You may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

What we then learn should stir us to worship and glorify our Maker. Paul then goes onto pray:

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

That’s our ultimate aim, to glorify Christ. A quote I came across recently puts it like this:

“Theology that does not lead to worship barely deserves the name.”

Every day we should be blown away by God’s mercies, His sheer awesomeness and power. Everything, our all, heart, mind, soul and strength should be geared towards praising our God.

Conclusion

The importance of reading and meditating on your Bible every day cannot be underestimated. It should be part and parcel of every Christian’s life, alongside prayer, worship and regular fellowship with other believers. Bible reading plans can be a help, and I would recommend Robert Murray McCheyne’s plan, which takes you through the whole Bible in a year and the New Testament and Psalms twice.

So with that, go, read and be blessed and be sure to keep your Sword handy!

What is Christian Socialism? Have Christians always been Socialists?

In this article, I aim to explain the origins of ‘Christian Socialism’. I will attempt to analyse its basis on Biblical principles, and relate the massive effect it has had on history.  I will mainly focus on Early Modern-Modern examples of this.

From the Levellers to the socialists in Parliament today, Christians have been at the forefront of social reform. Following in the footsteps of Jesus, Christians from all political backgrounds have been heavily involved in helping the poor and sick in society; moreover ‘Christian socialists’ have been important reformers.

Before I start, let me define the term ‘Christian Socialism’. The Encyclopaedia Britannica states that “The term was generally associated with the demands of Christian activists for a social [programme] of political and economic action on behalf of all individuals, impoverished or wealthy…was used in contradistinction to laissez-faire individualism.”  When we talk about this, we do not mean Marxism, or Communism.  They are ideals that are unreachable and are in fact quite dangerous to the average person on the street.  Christian Socialism is therefore about helping the poor, helping the rich, and above all combating the individualism mentality, so prevalent today.

I consider myself a so-called ‘Christian socialist’, and believe that Christians have been called to be ‘social warriors’, fighting to help the lives of the poor and vulnerable.

Common objections to Christian Socialism

Some use the argument that these earthly needs will soon pass, this world is not important as the next (which is true), to argue against the political work of Christians. But to this, I say, look to the Bible, what did Jesus do and preach?  He looked after the poor; he gave to the poor, and ultimately gave them the ultimate gift – His life.  He healed the sick and stood up for the vulnerable. He didn’t just give the blind, lame and sick the Gospel, he healed them too.  He had little care for money, or for material needs (which is something the church seems to care too much about today).

Another argument against getting involved politically is that, Jesus never supported any political institution; his focus was on the word, and on those around him. That is indeed true, and in the modern world as Christians, we can have a massive impact outside politics, but we can help inside politics too and we must take action to help all those in need.  We shouldn’t be driven by political allegiances and divided by political divisions, but by a strong desire to help, and thus being that light.  Personally, I couldn’t give a monkeys as to what political party you belong to (though I think the extremes of either left or right should be avoided), but as Christians we should do our upmost to help people. Christian Socialism is a means to do this.

Christian Socialism is not just for Parliament, it is how we interact with the world – seeing that it needs that light, and thus trying to help all those around us.   It recognises that Capitalism can be evil, rooted in greed, idolatry and oppression and that the rich get richer and the poor poorer.  Some may think that I am suggesting that we must bring down the system, we must revolt!  I am saying neither of this, but rather suggesting that Capitalism has its faults – it is a product of a sinful world.  Sometimes Christians can excuse themselves, stating that God has put them in that place so it doesn’t matter, but it does!  Sin has put people in different places, and we must tackle the evils, to help those around us!  It is our duty as Christians, to actually make an impact; we are not to be idle and be lazy, but to be active!  The world idolises money, status and fame, as Christians we shouldn’t want any of that.

 

Christian Socialism – Biblical basis?

Before I go into the history of the movement, let us examine the Scriptures and see what they say. James 5: 1-6 (in the context of rich oppressors) says:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up for treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter

James isn’t holding back here is he! The rich and the wealthy that store it all for themselves will reap what they sow.  Those who oppress will be judged.  This warning should be taken seriously by Christians, and by no means should we be happy with a system that does this.  The Old Testament has a variety of verses that tell us not to be idle, but to do good and help people. Isaiah 1:15-17 says:

Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood…cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow

And Psalm 82:

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked

And Psalm 112:

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!…He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honour

The Bible certainly doesn’t suggest that we should be rising in revolution, bringing down the state and living on communes. We definitely shouldn’t be militant; but it does suggest a change of heart, one that seeks to help the poor, that hates oppression, loves justice, does good and cares for all.

So far, we have seen that there are passages in Scripture that show Christian Socialism is based on Biblical principles. The Early Church can be argued as an example of ‘Christian Socialism’ in practice.  Acts 2-5 promotes a life of sharing and giving.  Whilst doing research I notice that some sites, such as The Gospel Coalition seem to suggest otherwise.

I do think their arguments are really hazy and seem to me, they are trying to make excuses. There also seems to be confusion between Socialism and Communism.  There are many strands of Socialism, for example. Christian Socialism is one of these many strands.  The Early Church can be seen from these passages to share what they had, there was no class structure either.  They were united in their one desire for God.  The Church were being different, it shows us how we should live.  A desire for private property is worldly.  Yes, there is nothing wrong with owning a house, don’t get me wrong, but if we cling to these, if we are not prepared to give them up at a moments notice, then we are doing it wrong.

 

History of Christian Socialism

Earlier forms of Christian Socialism include radical dissent movements in the Middle Ages (the Peasants’ Revolt, John Wycliffe and Lollards), Levellers and Diggers in the time of the English civil war (1642-1651), and the Corresponding Societies of the 1790s as well as several prominent figures of the Victorian era. Remember none of these were revolutionary movements, when we use the term ‘revolt’, it means in simple terms that the people wanted to be heard and ‘revolting’ was a way of getting their grievances addressed properly by the central government, not a full-blown revolution.  Let us now jump to the 17th century.  It’s a period I know fairly well.  There were certainly socialists before this time and Christians were making a big impact socially before the 1600s, but for sake of space and time, let us look at the Levellers.  For a greater look into this, do read my post I made for the Christians on the Left.

levellers
One of the many pamphlets made by the Levellers, whom argued for rights for all men, and equality in courts

The Levellers have often been looked down upon by certain Christians, mainly as they opposed certain factions within the Puritan movement, notably Parliamentarians. When I discuss Puritanism, I effectively mean the middle class during the middle of the seventeenth century, those in the Church of England and those who were in power.  Levellers argued for votes for all men, and social justice, they wanted a fairer society for all.  The Parliamentarians during the civil war, under Cromwell, crushed their protests; their ideas of social reform threatened those in power.  They were a mass movement, and desired change through their petitions, pamphlets and protests.  They weren’t revolutionaries; they were just political reformers who were seen as a threat to the established order and Church, kind of like how the Wesleys were seen a century later. That dreaded word – change.  They were before their time and looked to the Bible for answers.  They can be a great inspiration for all Christians and probably the first real ‘Christian Socialists’! It is interesting to note that many of the leaders of the Leveller movement were ex-Puritans and their following were the poor.  As stated, to me Puritanism was generally a middle class movement, whilst Levellers included everyone, regardless of class or position and were therefore more inclusive. One argument made by them and that Diggers (True Levellers) was who actually introduced a class system?  For it was not God surely? But man’s desire to rule over one another.

4
Although this image is Victorian. The argument on class was made by Levellers and the Diggers. It wasn’t an attack on class, but made note that all should be treated equally

Christians should be proud of the actions of the Levellers and for what they stood for, we need to be inclusive like they were and fight for social justice.  If you are someone who follows many of the Puritan writers, then you still should not be against what the Levellers stood for.  Yes they did conflict a lot with the Puritans, but it is worth looking into what the Levellers actually wanted, for yourself. Find out; see if they were a positive force in English politics.

 

 

wesley-preaching
An image of Wesley preaching to the masses. His message was a message to all, and did not focus on class

In the eighteenth century, we can note the rise of Methodism led by Charles and John Wesley. This movement along with the actions taken by key preachers like George Whitfield and Howell Harris has many similarities to Christian Socialism.  In the local prayer meetings and services, there was unlikely to be any issue of class.  Both women and men, poor and rich gathered together to worship.  They also started many Sunday schools to help educate the poor children to read and write.  Methodism promoted a universal fund where those in need to go too if they were in hard times, this can be seen to be a biblical principal as found in 2 Corinthians 8, no one was to go needy.  The church was meant to look after its flock, look after the people in its area and therefore it was to play an important role in the community for everyone.  In fact when the agricultural and industrial revolution took place in England, it was the Methodists who pressed manufacturing owners to treat their workers well and to feed and pay them fairly.  Although we should never consider Methodism as a political movement, it is argued that it prevented revolution in England (compared with the turmoil across the Channel), as it helped quell the concerns of the poor, even if the establishment believed they were trying to stir up revolution by breaking class divides and the like.  Methodism therefore was a movement for everyone, but focused its attention to the needs of the poor, especially their greatest need.

ludlow1b
Written by one of the early Christian Socialists.

If we fast-forward to the 19th century, we will find a vast movement of Christian socialists, some of whom were the founders of the Fabian society, which would latter help in the creation of the Labour Party.   Three founding fathers of what we now call ‘Christian Socialism’ in its modern sense were Fredrick Maurice, John Ludlow and Charles Kingsley.  According to Dr Andrzej Diniejko, ‘They believed that the Christian Gospel contains the key to the social question, particularly in its teaching of the brotherhood of man. The chief mission of the Christian Socialists was to win back the workingmen to the Church. Christian Socialism meant for them social, cross-class co-operation and partnership under the leadership of the Church.’ These three men wrote many tracts and publications.  They advocated ‘the moral regeneration of individuals as a means of alleviating acute social problems.’  They appealed to the charity of the rich, to give to the poor.

untitled
A book which shows the importance of Christian Socialism in the 19th century. Worth a read!!

Victorian Christian Socialism, like today in many respects, was not against the class system. It did not want to bring the whole system down, nor did it want to fight the rich.  What it wanted to do was transform peoples’ attitudes, to fight the injustices in the world, and to be a true light in a dark place.  It is clear that these Christian Socialists were against unrestrained laissez faire Capitalism.  It is also clear that they ‘emphasised the collective responsibility of society to deal with economic problems. The Victorian Christian Socialists contributed to adult education, the co-operative movement, friendly societies and the Labour movement. Christian Socialism placed a greater emphasis upon moral and social requirements of human life than other strands of Victorian socialism.’

social%20gospel
The social gospel which was aimed at improving the lives of the poor. It is our duty as Christians to help the vulnerable, and the gospel tells us this

In the twentieth century, we see movements towards the social gospel. The Social Gospel as it become known tried to apply Christian ethics to social problems, such as such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labour, inadequate labour unions, poor schools, and the danger of war.  Leading Evangelical lights such as John Scott have argued that this movement desperately needs to be revived today.  Although it has links to the ecumenical movement, the social gospel is something many churches have lacked for a number of years.  The Bible is meant to give life and hope, it calls us to proclaim to word, but it also calls us to help the poor and needy, something which we severely lack today.

patriotspaytax
A Campaign slogan by the CoL. Arguing that all should pay tax. Their campaigns range from stopping Sunday trading to housing. Their aim is to help the poor and vulnerable in society

If we fast forward to today, we note that Christian Socialists are still a force in England, notably within the Labour party as the Christians on the Left.  They advocate a fairer tax system, but also no trading on Sundays and state that we must disagree well with other political forces such as the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  I am a strong advocate of disagreeing well!  After all, there are Christians on both sides of the political spectrum, who believe that their stance will benefit people more.  I don’t doubt that we all share values of Christian Socialism, and even when we find ourselves in our different political tribes, our primarily focus is always the Kingdom of God.

Christian socialism is not a directly-Biblical notion, but its values are. Its use throughout history has been to help people, to fight injustice.  It differs from other socialism as it does not want to bring down the establishment, rather reform it via the works of the gospel.  Christians have a duty to help people, by getting involved in politics. We can achieve this. However there is often talk of ‘Left versus Right’.  This is not how we as Christians should tackle this issue.  We should love people of different political backgrounds, get passionate about what we believe, warn people of dangerous political followings, but also remember that Christians can be Labour or Conservative, and still have a desire to help people.

 

Concluding thoughts

To conclude, Christian socialism is important to me as I believe it is a way where we can make an impact in people’s lives. Some will disagree and believe in a more Conservative approach, which is fine as well.  What should be the focus is a desire to make a difference no matter what our political leaning is.  We need to focus on the Kingdom, to love one another, and spread the Gospel of our Glorious risen Lord. There should be no hate in Christians of Conservatives or Labour, that is wrong, and if you do hate…cut it out now!  Christian socialism has had an enormous impact in the world’s history and impacted the lives of countless millions.  The values of this are what Jesus has called us to do, love our neighbour, reach out to the poor and outcasts in society and be that light in this dark world.

God is not a capitalist, he’s not a socialist, he’s not labour, he is not a conservative, democrat of republican. God is not to be put into a political box, he is on no political party side.  This is why even though my personal political beliefs label me as a Christian Socialist, I know that politics is not the be all and end all, we are meant to do his will whatever party is in power and we must work with those from all political backgrounds in order to help all classes in society.  God has his own agenda, and loves his people whatever their political agenda, labour/conservative even Liberal Democrats!

Therefore let us disagree well with our brothers and sisters. Capitalism has its many flaws, and has left many poor and needy behind.  It’s our job to help those and care for them, and we all have our different thoughts on how this is done.  For me, answers can be found in Christian Socialism, for others it is not.  Again let us disagree well.  Christian Socialism has a rich and powerful history, God has worked in it for his own agenda, like he has worked in the conservative movements.  We have our different political tribes, but we all belong to one Kingdom, our Father’s.

Sennacherib’s Downfall and Bible Authenticity

Christians uphold that the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is the inspired Word of God, inerrant and accurate. Invariably most churches’ statement of faith (or doctrinal basis) start with their belief in the Bible as God’s Holy and inspired Word – the final authority on all matters pertaining to faith and practice.

However, in today’s atheistic and humanistic society the Bible is increasingly seen as irrelevant and inaccurate, an old stone-age book of fairy-tales for weak-minded bigots. It makes strong statements condemning homosexuals as ‘evil,’ purportedly supporting slavery and on people – in general – as inherently and fundamentally evil, needing a ‘saviour’ to rescue them from a fictional ‘hell’ to an equally-fictional ‘heaven’.

Moreover, as a basis for these accusations, the Bible is mocked by sceptics for it’s outrageous and impossible claims of events that took place in history, such as: ‘Creation’, a global flood, feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread, people walking on water and being raised from the dead.

Christians have responded to these claims in a number of different ways. One argument is that archaeological records prove the Bible – names and places mentioned in the Bible are also mentioned in other records from the time, therefore the rest of it must be true. Archaeology has produced article after article, concurring (although not always so clearly) with the Biblical record. Many places, once previously only noted in the Bible (such as those in Genesis 10) have been found to be real.

Undeterred, sceptics debunk that argument. Just because a real place or person is mentioned, doesn’t mean the rest of what a document says is true. The fact that Baker Street (a real place) is mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes novels doesn’t make Holmes and Dr Watson real people. They also refute much of the ‘evidence’, claiming it disproves the Bible rather than proving it.

Arguments and debates change and develop over time, with attacks on the Bible coming from all angles, as new evidence for the Bible comes to light.

These arguments are arguably weakening over time. Critics once said (and sometimes still do) that the entire Bible was untrue – a book of old fairy-tales, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah never existed and neither did King David, King Josiah or anyone else. As more and more evidence to the contrary is unearthed by archaeologists (such as an old 9th-century BC inscription referring to the ‘House of David’ and other references to kings of Israel and Judah), the date of its supposed composition is pushed further back.

Now, a common argument flouted by critics is that the Old Testament was made-up by Ezra or some other Jewish priest in the 5th century BC, or sometimes King Josiah in the 7th century. Some critics concede that these kingdoms maybe did exist, but on a much smaller scale. In addition, their focus has turned to the earlier part of Israel’s history; pre-9th century BC, where evidence, either way, is extremely sparse. This stands in stark contrast to the rich findings we now have available post-9th century.

Critics won’t give you an inch, if their previous theory doesn’t match up; they just invent a new one, admitting that ‘perhaps it did happen,’ but in a natural way – anything to deny the power of God.

Evidence for the Bible, ICM Books
Evidence for the Bible, ICM Books

This is a clear change in tune from previous statements. There is much evidence I could talk about that refutes this, and the arguments (on both sides) are much more complex (although I’ve tried to do them justice), but that would take a long time – there are many more arguments against the Bible, some stronger than others. Brian Edwards and Clive Anderson’s book Evidence for the Bible is an excellent, honest and detailed archaeological resource for critic and Christian alike.

Archaeology concurs fantastically with the Bible (although why should Christians be surprised?), including names and places, as well as world events, prophecies and much more.

Ultimately of course, archaeology, on its own, can never prove the Bible. It all boils down to faith in God. This is the fundamental point, without belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing and omnipresent God; the Bible is just a bunch of meaningless stories and outrageous claims (Jesus walking on the water can never be proved), even if it is right on parts of its geography and history. God is all-powerful, He can do anything in any way He wants, by natural or super-natural means. If He wants to make a donkey talk, it’ll talk, if He wants to turn water into wine, He can. Liberal or non-literal interpretations of the Bible clearly miss the bus here, they totally misunderstand who God is.

 

Anyhow, in this backdrop, I wish to briefly discuss one such claim that the Bible makes: the slaying of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers overnight by the Angel of the Lord, as mentioned in 2 Kings, Isaiah and 2 Chronicles.

Clearly a preposterous notion! Or is it…?

Sennacherib’s Downfall

Let me set the scene… It is approximately 701 BC…

Sennacherib has been king for a few years, and the king, now in his early forties, has sealed his reign by brutally putting down a number of uprisings and rebellions across his vast empire. He has embarked on a number of ambitious projects, including building up his capital city Nineveh and moving vast swathes of his subjects (possibly up to half a million) around the empire, mixing them together, to dispel any sort of united nationalism or religion which might cause a rebellion, and indeed did – running an empire is a tricky business. This policy included the recently conquered Israelite kingdom (Samaria). This is described in 2 Kings 17, and ultimately resulted in the mixed bloodlines and consequent disharmony of Jew and Samaritan evident in New Testament times.

The map below gives you an idea of the sheer scale and size of the empire he inherited, reaching its greatest extent some thirty years later. The southern kingdom of Judah is seen as a small pocket of yellow.

Map of Assyrian Empire. © Wikimedia Commons
Map of Assyrian Empire. © Wikimedia Commons

Strategically, this doesn’t make sense – why would the Assyrian king, with all the vast armies at his disposal not take over this small insignificant yellow splodge in the middle of his map, a potential threat to the security of his empire? The fact is, he tried and failed.

Judah was effectively a loose-vassal-state under the Assyrian king, paying a regular tribute, and had been doing so for years. Other nations such as the Phoenicians and Philistines followed a similar procedure, in return for protection and a little autonomy. Previously Ahaz, King of Judah had complained to the King of Assyria about the Philistines and Edomites, raiding Israelite territory.

Inside Hezekiah's Tunnel. © Ian Scott
Inside Hezekiah’s Tunnel. © Ian Scott

Now under King Hezekiah’s reign, Judah had been carrying out a number of reforms, culling idol worship and other such practices. He also had the cheek to withhold his tribute to the Assyrians. With a lot of guts he pushed back Assyrian-vassals the Philistines to the Gaza area in an effective military campaign. His engineers dug a 1750ft tunnel, at a 0.6% gradient, under Jerusalem, to channel water into the city, to ensure it could withstand a siege (a remarkable feat of engineering, an inscription marking the event exists). And to cap it all off – made overtures to the Egyptian and Babylonian kings (who were themselves rebelling against Assyria), Assyria’s enemies.

Irked at this pithy little tin-pot King chucking his weight about, Sennacherib set out to teach him a lesson.

In 701 BC, Sennacherib  embarked on a grand tour of destruction and tyranny throughout his empire, quashing would-be revolutionaries. Feeling in the mood, he advanced through Judah, taking city after city, killing Israelites left, right and centre. Hezekiah, at sixes and sevens, realised his mistake and in blind panic attempted to pay off the angry Assyrian by stripping the temple of all its gold and gifting it to Sennacherib, who was then encamped at Lachish.

Sennacherib’s response was ‘nothing doing.’ He accepted the gold and continued his advance. Or rather, his men under his ‘supreme commander,’ he had a campaign to fight against the Egyptians and Ethiopians, who were marching towards them, probably to come to Hezekiah’s assistance.

Assyrian soldiers on a lion hunt. © Steven Zucker
Assyrian soldiers on a lion hunt. © Steven Zucker

The key fortified cities of Judah were destroyed (including Azekah) with much bloodshed. When they came to Lachish, 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem, having encamped around the city with their vast army they sent a series of threatening messages to the determined inhabitants within its walls. Then the Assyrian commander (the Rabshakeh) proceeded to have a shouting match with some of Hezekiah’s officials. Having rubbished them, their plight and their God, and their many weaknesses, the Assyrians prepared to attack. Things were getting a bit sticky for the plucky defenders.

Meanwhile, Hezekiah did what all good leaders do, when faced with a crisis – he found a quiet spot (the House of the Lord), away from the panic and fear in the city, to pray and there poured out his contrite heart to the Lord. Something he should have done, right at the start.

Hezekiah then consulted old Isaiah the prophet, beseeching him to pray. The Lord’s response was immediate, “He’ll hear a rumour and go back home.”

The Rabshakeh found that his king was warring against a number of his enemies, having left Lachish. With one last lenghty and blasphemous threat, delivered by way of a letter, he left.

I simply love the next bit. Hezekiah received the letter, knowing that the threats therein were still very real. He took it and ‘spread it before the Lord.’ There was nothing he could do and he knew it, the matter was all in the Lord’s hands.

Hezekiah’s prayer is worth repeating, he praises his God and with the right motives, asks the Lord to intervene and thereby glorify His name:

Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” (2 Kings 19:15-19).

The Lord answered through the prophet Isaiah. His prophecy was remarkable:

“[Sennacherib] will not enter this city
    or shoot an arrow here.
He will not come before it with shield
    or build a siege ramp against it.
 By the way that he came he will return;
    he will not enter this city
declares the Lord.
 I will defend this city and save it,
    for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.” (2 Kings 19:32-34).

The Lord then reaped judgement upon the invaders. In one single night, the Bible tells us 185,000 Assyrian soldiers died at their camp, by the hand of the Angel of the Lord. A tragic price to pay. With a huge chunk of his army gone, Sennacherib had no choice but to return home.

Later, Sennacherib himself was assassinated (about 681 BC), whilst paying homage to his idols of wood and stone.

Therefore, Sennacherib paid the price for his arrogant blasphemy.

 

Time for a reality check?

So that’s the claim that the Bible makes. Theres no two ways about it, or room for a different interpretation. An absurd claim surely?

Like many civilisations, the Assyrians were good record keepers, even if their records and histories did somewhat exaggerate their victories and social and military prowess, making themselves out to be invincible.

Two Assyrian sources, and accounts written by Herodotus and Josephus on these cataclysmic events are available to us today; the story they tell is quite interesting.

Part of the Lachish Reliefs, British Museum. © Mike Peel
Part of the Lachish Reliefs, British Museum. © Mike Peel

The vast ‘Lachish Reliefs’ (2.5m tall, 18.9m long) are a masterpiece of Assyrian artwork. They graphically depict the Assyrian siege of Lachish, and are well worth viewing in the British Museum.

The Sennacherib Annals (etched into stone prisms, consisting of tales of great Assyrian military victories) composed a few years later, while the subject was still alive, are suspiciously quiet about what happened at Jerusalem. They go into great length detailing how he laid siege to ’46 strong cities’ of Judah; but Sennacherib makes no mention of his defeat, which isn’t really surprising. Instead, to save face, he chose to big-up his victory at Lachish, as fantastically depicted on the Lachish Reliefs, claiming to have taken hundreds of thousands of prisoners. He adds that he left Hezekiah trapped in Jerusalem, like a ‘bird in a cage’; but nothing is said of Jerusalem’s conquest.

If Sennacherib had conquered Jerusalem, the jewel in the crown of Judah, then surely he would have gloried in his victory and made mention of it in his records. With the city there for the taking, his ‘invincible’ army would have had no difficulty taking the city. The fact that he highlighted the victory at Lachish to such a great extent, and omitted any such victory at Jerusalem, smells distinctly fishy. Hezekiah is the only king mentioned by Sennacherib that he doesn’t claim to have captured.

The 5th century BC Greek historian Herodotus, not particularly known for his accuracy (whilst he’s sometimes called the ‘Father of History’, another not-at-all-flattering title frequently flung at him is ‘Father of Lies’), related a tale somewhat similar to what actually happened. In his Histories he describes in a garbled way how in a fight against the Egyptians, Sennacherib’s Assyrian army’s equipment was destroyed suddenly by hundreds of mice, then themselves being routed by the Egyptians. This is also noted in Babylonian records from the time.

Josephus, the 1st century AD Jewish historian (who sometimes got stuff wrong too – don’t they all!), lays into Herodotus’ inaccurate account, and instead, suggests the Assyrian army was killed by a plague.

From a human perspective it’s understandable these two historians got it a bit wrong. Herodotus wrote almost two hundred years after the event (having probably never read the holy book of a tin-pot little country), and Josephus nearly seven hundred years after. The fact that he knew of the Assyrian army’s defeat, suggests it DID happen. As we all know, like the game of Chinese Whispers, stories are passed on from generation to generation, turning into legend, stuff is added and taken away, but the semblance of truth often remains. Take the legends of King Arthur or Robin Hood, for example – their stories probably originated in truth, the form of which we don’t know. What we have now is a jumbled mix of legends, great to read (especially the Roger Lancelyn Green editions – my favourite as a youngster!), but not in the least bit accurate.

How ever historians choose to record it; we can clearly see the hand of God at work, in protecting the small nation of Judah, as he promised (2 Chro. 21:7), small and irrelevant in the world’s eyes, but nonetheless special in God’s sight.

Lord Byron’s famous poem, The Destruction of Sennacherib, does this more justice, the first and third verses saying:

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

[…]

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foes as he passed.
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still.

The full poem can be read here. Sober stuff.

Unlike the Assyrian sources, the Bible is totally impartial. It doesn’t exaggerate, or view events through rose-tinted glasses, white-washing the failures. You’ve only to read the next chapter to see Hezekiah fall into sin again. The Bible’s all about how bad Israel is, in such a way that it could only, ultimately, come from God.

Unlike Herodotus and Josephus, the Bible is completely inerrant. Throughout thousands of years, the Word of God has remained so, and will continue to do so, no matter how people try to snuff it out.

Concluding thoughts

The challenge is – if the Bible is accurate with its history, even with such supernatural events as the destruction of the Assyrian army, then, it’s surely not unreasonable to suggest it’s accurate with regard to God?

The Bible states that all mankind has sinned against God, thereby falling far short of His glory. Yet God is so loving as to send His Son to die for the world, so that all can be saved from His righteous wrath. That is the one single message of the Bible, throughout, from Genesis to Revelation. If you haven’t already, read it for yourself!

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).

The 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s argument (known as ‘Pascal’s Wager’) was ‘that it is in one’s own best interest to behave as if God exists, since the possibility of eternal punishment in hell outweighs any advantage in believing otherwise.’ Whilst this might seem a tad weak (‘best be on the safe side, you’ve got nothing to lose’), whatever your view of God and the Bible, God exists, and if you’re not ransomed in Jesus Christ, then the Bible has bad news for you. This makes the ‘Good News’ so much better! The Wrath of God is turned into the Glory of God, and we can become Children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ of the glorious future, with the Lord, that awaits us…

Forever with the Lord!
Amen, so let it be!
Life from His death is in that word
’Tis immortality.
Here in the body pent,
Absent from Him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home.

[…]

So when my latest breath
Breaks through the veil of pain,
By death I shall escape from death,
And life eternal gain.
That resurrection word,
That shout of victory:
Once more, “Forever with the Lord!”
Amen, so let it be!

 


2 Kings 17-20

2 Chronicles 29-32

Isaiah 36-38

Jeremiah 26

Anderson, C. and Edwards, B. (2013) Evidence for the Bible. London, Day One Publications.

Evans, J.A. (1968) ‘Father of History or Father of Lies; The Reputation of Herodotus’, The Classical Journal, 64(1), pp. 11–17.

Henry, M. (1992) Matthew Henry’s Commentary On the Whole Bible

Herodotus (1972). Book II, The Histories 2.141. (trans. de Selincourt, A., rev. Burn, A.), London, Penguin, pp. 185-6.

Leston, S. (2014). Illustrated Guide to Bible Battles. Uhrichville, Barbour Publishing.

Mark, Joshua J. (2014). “Sennacherib,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified July 15, 2014. http://www.ancient.eu /sennacherib/.

Pascal, B. (n.d.) The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal. London, JM Dent & Co.

Saxtorph, N. (1972). Warriors and Weapons of Early Times. London, England: Blandford Press.

Titus Flavius Josephus (1896). Book X, Antiquities of the Jews, The Works of Josephus. (trans. Whiston, W.), London, George Routledge & Sons, pp. 238-9.

New World Encyclopedia

Wikipedia