Monday, March 20, 2017

Always Ready?

The faithful are always to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us why we hope in God. The apostle Peter says this is especially true when we are being attacked for our beliefs.

But some questions are not really questions. They are not sincere inquiries. They are rhetoric, intended to demoralize and destroy belief.

I point this out because it’s easy not to notice. For the enthusiastic or pedantic among us, everything is a witnessing opportunity ... even when it isn’t.

But sometimes it’s better to be silent and let God speak.

Breaking Down Morale

King Sennacherib of Assyria sent his Rabshakeh to besiege Jerusalem in the days of good King Hezekiah, an exceptional man of God. The Rabshakeh was an expert in morale-busting. Why besiege a city indefinitely when you can break the spirit of those inside its walls with mere words? A quick surrender is always a better outcome for your army than two or three years sitting in tents under the hot sun waiting for the other side to fold its hand and accept the inevitable.

So by way of crushing the morale of those trapped in a besieged city, the Rabshakeh asked the people of Jerusalem a question that sounds awfully similar to what Peter is talking about: “On what do you rest this trust of yours?

Sounds like a cue to jump right in and engage in apologetics, right? Surely there was a citizen of Judah or two within hearing range who could engage knowledgeably with the Rabshakeh about all that God had done for the people of Israel throughout their lengthy national history, and who could educate this poor, benighted heathen as to why God’s people could confidently continue to put their trust in him despite being horribly outnumbered.

Theological Engagement and Personal Edification

Thing is, the questions of the Rabshakeh were not sincere. He was not the least bit interested in answers. He was not looking for theological engagement or personal edification. He was trying to turn the people of Judah against their faithful king.

What did Hezekiah do? The godly king instructed the men on the front lines not to engage: “The people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, ‘Do not answer him.’ ”

Here was their chance to be heard, perhaps by an entire heathen army. But the king said, “Zip it,” and the people, perhaps reluctantly, complied.

Why? Hezekiah was waiting on a word from God.

Lift Up Your Prayer

That’s always good advice. Trapped, cornered, and even at risk of an insurgency from his own people, Hezekiah resorted to God before he ever presumed to open his mouth. His response was, “Therefore lift up your prayer.” And when the king got his answer from the Lord, it was a doozy.

But here’s the thing: the king of Assyria never heard it. The promise of coming delivery was not for the enemy but for those who still clung to the word of the king and the word of the Lord. The huge army encamped around them never knew what hit them. They died snug in their beds outside walls they would never enter.

The Rabshakeh had no answer when things started going wrong for him. He just kept reciting the same tired mantras he had been using all along on Hezekiah: “Have the gods of the nations delivered them?”

He didn’t realize that he had the unfortunate job of dealing with a singular historical exception. Just like Israel, Judah went into captivity eventually. But they didn’t do it to Sennacherib and his Assyrians, and the Rabshakeh was long dead when the Babylonians took Jerusalem over 130 years later.

Enigmatic Answers to Non-Inquiries

When plied with questions by both Pilate and Herod, the Lord gave perfunctory, enigmatic answers. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” The Lord’s answer: “You have said so.” And Herod, we are told, “questioned him at some length, but he made no answer.”

Thanks. That was helpful.

The Lord Jesus had every opportunity to lay out the grand plan of God before the rulers of his age, and yet he chose not to engage.

Why? Because they weren’t remotely serious about their inquiries and he knew it.

A serious answer to a frivolous question amounts to casting our pearls before swine. The Lord didn’t do it. We shouldn’t either.

Let’s learn to distinguish real spiritual concern from self-interested manipulation.

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