God and Government


God and Government

February 16th, 1975 @ 8:15 AM

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Isaiah 1:1

2-16-75    8:15 a.m.

We welcome you who are sharing the service with us on radio.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled God and Government.  This is also the consummation of a dream that I have had for many, many years:  to preach through the Book of Isaiah.  It is a stupendous assignment.  We are looking at the highest mountain peak of prophecy that the world has ever known.  We are also studying one of the great pieces of human literature.  There is no poet or dramatist who has ever excelled the height and the glory reached by Isaiah.  We are also studying in this book the visions of the world that are yet to come.  And the message last Sunday and this Sunday is a background that we might understand the man – that was the message last Sunday – and the times in which he lived, which is the message this Sunday.  Both sermons should have been preached at one time, but because of the brevity of the moment, I had no other choice than to divide it into two.  Last Sunday the man Isaiah, The Prophet Isaiah; and this Sunday, the background of the times against which he delivered his message.

The first verse of the prophecy reads, “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” [Isaiah 1:1].  We shall take each one and look at him and his time.  Uzziah was possibly one of the most capable administrators and military strategists that Judah ever knew.  His father Amaziah was killed in a futile military campaign; and the young man Uzziah began his reign when he was sixteen years of age.  And he reigned for fifty and two years [2 Chronicles 26:1-3].  He brought Judah to a height of prosperity it had never known except under the united kingdom of David and Solomon [1 Kings 4:20-5:18].  Uzziah was a good king, as long as the prophet Zechariah lived [2 Chronicles 26:5].  There are twenty-eight different Zechariahs named in the Old Testament; and this prophet Zechariah is not the prophet that returned with Zerubbabel after the Babylonian exile to Judah and who wrote the next to the last book in the Old Testament, the Book of Zechariah.  We don’t know anything about this prophet Zechariah except that he is named as a man of God who had a weighty influence upon King Uzziah [2 Chronicles 26:5].  As long as that prophet lived and as long as Uzziah listened to the Word of the Lord, he prospered and God was with him [2 Chronicles 26:5].  But in his old age, the prophet Zechariah died, and somehow Uzziah strayed away from the Lord.  In his old age he went into the house of God and preempted the services assigned alone to the priests [2 Chronicles 26:16].  Why he should have been thus obstinate and obstreperous we don’t know.  Azariah the high priest and eighty of his fellow priests begged the king not to do so; but in his willful obstinacy he shunned aside and put aside the appointed servants of the Lord.  And in doing so, he was stricken in judgment with leprosy.  The rest of his life Uzziah lived alone, secluded, separated, a leper.  And he died a leper [2 Chronicles 26:17-21].  But it was in the prosperous reign of Uzziah that the young Isaiah grew up [2 Chronicles 26:22].  And it was in the year of the death of Uzziah that Isaiah saw the vision in the sixth chapter of his prophecy, and gave himself to the ministry of the Lord [Isaiah 6:1-8].

The second king named is Jotham [Isaiah 1:1].  Jotham was co-regent with his father, when his father Uzziah became a leper [2 Kings 15:5].  And as a young man, Jotham began to reign [2 Chronicles 27:1].  He was the king that you saw, for his father Uzziah was shut up and away in his leprosy [2 Chronicles 27:21].  And Jotham reigned for sixteen years [2 Chronicles 27:1].  He also was one of the finest and best kings that Judah ever had [2 Chronicles 27:2-8].  As Jotham began his reign [2 Chronicles 27:1], Isaiah began his ministry [Isaiah 6:1-9].  And doubtless the ministries of the prophets of the North, Amos and Hosea, and Micah in Judah, also had a profound influence for good upon Jotham.  He continued the fine executive administration of his father Uzziah.  He extended the court of the temple.  He kept the nation in prosperity and military success [2 Chronicles 27:2-8].  And with all, Jotham was a fine and noble king.

Jotham was followed by Ahaz [Isaiah 1:1].  And in Ahaz we have our finest understanding of the times against which the prophecies of Isaiah were delivered.  If you would understand Isaiah and the message that he brings, understand Ahaz and the degradation and depths to which he brought the kingdom and the people of the Lord.  Ahaz was one of the vilest and most wicked of all the kings of Judah and of all the kings who ever lived.  In the kingdom of Judah, to the east were the little kingdoms of Moab and Edom; to the south was the empire ancient of the Pharaohs; to the west were the state principalities, the state cities, the city states of the Philistines; to the north was the unfriendly kingdom of Israel, Ephraim, it is so often called in the Scriptures; to the northeast Damascus and Syria.

But covering the horizon from side to side was the expanding, growing empire of Assyria, with its colossal capital at Nineveh.  And in that capital of Nineveh, there reigned in Oriental splendor the Assyrian monarch, who called himself the king of kings.  His hosts in the army were numbered by the myriads.  His horses and his chariots covered the land like the locusts.  His onrush was like that of an overflowing ocean.  In his sight, the kinglet of Samaria and Jerusalem were like grasshoppers.  And no less than four times in the life of Isaiah was this terrible and irresistible power of Assyria turned loose upon Judah [2 Kings 15:19, 17:3-6, 17:24-27, 18:13-37].  The ogre of that behemoth was a doomsday under which Judah lived all through the years of that eighth century.  So devastating was the power of Assyria that they finally and forever destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel with its capital of Samaria [2 Kings 18:9-12].  And they destroyed the cities of Judah, and shut up Jerusalem as a man would shut up a piece in a vise.  Where did that Assyrian power find its entree into Judah?  And who introduced Assyria into the life of the kingdom of God’s people?  It was none other than this vacillating, weak king named Ahaz.

It came about like this: Pekah, the king of Samaria, and Rezin, the king of Damascus, made a conspiracy to destroy Ahaz and Judah.  It is called the Syro-Ephraimite War.  Isaiah the prophet came before Ahaz and said, “Do not fear these smoking firebrands” [Isaiah 7:3-4], talking about Pekah of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus [Isaiah 7:1], “for they are nothing,” said Isaiah, “but the fag ends of burnt-out logs.  And in a little while, if you will wait upon the Lord, Pekah of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus will be no more.  Trust in the Lord, look to Him in faith, and be not afraid” [Isaiah 7:4-16].  And when weak, vacillating Ahaz refused the counsel of Isaiah—for he had already determined upon a course in his deepest heart and mind [2 Kings 16:7-9]—Isaiah said to him, “King Ahaz, as a sign that God will protect you and the nation and deliver you from the hands of these two kings, ask a sign in heaven or in earth, ask it!”  [Isaiah 7:11]But Ahaz, having already decided in his mind he was going to do something else, Ahaz blandly and piously refused, saying that he would not tempt the Lord [Isaiah 7:12].  It was then that Isaiah delivered the great messianic prophecy in Isaiah 7:14.  Over beyond the weak and vacillating and spiritless king, he saw the time when the great messianic King would be born.  But as the sign to Ahaz, then he said, “There will be a virgin conceive, and bring forth a child; and before the child knows enough to choose between good and evil, these two kings you fear will be absolutely destroyed [Isaiah 7:14-16].  Have faith in God, trust God” [Isaiah 7:4].  What was it that Ahaz had in his mind?  What was it that Ahaz proposed to do?  And what was it that Ahaz did do?  Ahaz sent to Tiglath-pileser, the cruel and merciless sovereign of Assyria, and one of the most capable conquerors the world has ever known, like Alexander the Great, like Julius Caesar, so was Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria.  And Ahaz invited Tiglath-pileser to come down and to deliver him from Pekah of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus [2 Kings 16:7-9].  Nothing could have pleased the cruel ambitious monarch of Nineveh any more; and he came down, and that spelled the doom of northern Israel, and it spelled the doom of Judah and Jerusalem [2 Kings 18:13].

Well, I can hear somebody say, “Pastor, all of that was so long ago.  How does that concern us today?”  My brother that is as modern as today’s newspapers, and is the same terrible ogre under which we live today, by the delivery of our nation—by one of our presidents–into the hands of our merciless, merciless and ruthless enemy.  Are you old enough to remember when the United States of America got down on its knees and prayed God to give deliverance to our armed forces against Hitler in Europe and Tojo in the Pacific?  Are you old enough to remember that?  The crying of America to God for the Lord’s blessings upon our forces, fighting against totalitarianism and tyranny and fascism, do you remember that?   And God blessed those prayers, and God gave victory to our armed forces, and the day of triumph came, under the hands of Almighty God.  Then what happened?  There was a president of the United States by the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Are you old enough to remember him?  President Roosevelt referred to “good ol’ Joe,” Joseph Stalin, “good ol’ Joe,” and out of deference to “good ol’ Joe,” he stopped General Patton and his tanks, and Eisenhower, the general of the armed forces, from entering into Berlin.  There was nothing between the American army and all of Germany except the beautiful contour of the land, but out of deference to “good ol’ Joe,” the president of the United States stopped the onrush of the armed forces of America and delivered Germany and its capital into the hands of Stalin and the communists; that on the European front.  On the southern front, the great statesman Winston Churchill, one of the greatest statesman who ever walked across the face of human history, Winston Churchill pled for a great thrust of the Allied forces under what he called “the soft underbelly of Europe”; “For,” said Churchill, “let us not deliver the Balkan states and Eastern Europe into the hands of the communists.  But let our armies come up from the south, through Turkey and Greece and Bulgaria and Romania, and save Eastern Europe from the clutches of the communists.”  And the president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, said, “No, that would offend good ol’ Joe, good ol’ Joe.  We can’t offend our good friend good ol’ Joe.”  So having the power and the money—America was furnishing troops and men and finance for the war—he interdicted the thrust from the south, and all Eastern Europe was turned over to “good ol’ Joe,” the communists.

And what happened in the Pacific; the United States, having its atomic bomb, brought down Japan.  And just before the prostration and surrender of the nation the president of the United States invited Russia, “good ol’ Joe,” to come and to share in the spoils and the victory over Japan, and Russian communism came clear into the Pacific, taking the northern islands of Japan, and dictating a part of the final prostration and surrender of the nation.  And then, “good ol’ Mao Tse-tung”: our Chief of Staff General Marshall, under the president of the United States, they said to us, “These people that are overwhelming China, they are agrarian reformers, agrarian reformers.  They’re not communists such as we know in Russia; they are agrarian reformers.”  So the United States withdrew its support to Chiang Kai-shek and allowed China to fall into the hands of Red Mao Tse-tung, and did it in the name of helping those agrarian reformers.  And I can so well remember when Fidel Castro was wined and dined in America.  He represented a great reformer for good, said these soft-headed liberals in the United States of America.  And we helped to deliver Cuba into the hands of the communists.  And all America does now is to cower before the threats of what the communist world chooses to do.  Every foreign policy we make is with regard to them.  Every financial program we follow is with regard to them.  They have one-third of the populations of the world.  They have about two thirds of the land space of the world.  And they are marching and marching and marching.  There is hardly been a confrontation with them but that we have lost—witness Vietnam!

When I read in the Holy Scriptures of an Ahaz, I am reading the political life and destiny of America today.  What did God say in His Holy Word?  “Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers” [2 Corinthians 6:14].  Instead of looking to God and believing in God and trusting in God, Ahaz was far more impressed with the power of Assyria than he was with the power of God [2 Kings 16:7-9].  And the leaders of the United States have been far more impressed with the power of “Good ol’ Joe” than they have been with the power of the great God in heaven.  And we will never get over the delivery of our world into the hands of the communists.  If Hitler was merciless and cruel, he’s a puppet beside the mercilessness and the ruthlessness of a Stalin and of the communist world.  Christianity, the faith, has never had a confrontation, an enemy that even rivaled the bitterness and the hatred of atheistic communism.  It’s the greatest threat to the faith the world has ever known.

I have said in this pulpit, and I have no cause to change my conviction concerning it for a generation:  somewhere, sometime, America will have to draw the line and say, “Thus far, and no further.”  You can draw it in Vietnam, or you can draw it in the Philippines, or you can draw it at the Hawaiian Islands, or you can draw it on the western shores of California, or you can draw it on the New Mexico-Texas border, you can draw it anywhere you like.  But somewhere, sometime, that line has to be drawn!  And America will have to say, “By God’s help it is thus far, and no further.”  The rising onrush of world communism is as terrifying and apparently as irresistible today as the throngs of Assyria were in the days of weak and vacillating King Ahaz.

I’ve just said all of that that you might understand the background against which Isaiah delivered his prophecies—pleading for faith in God, pleading for trust in the Lord, pleading for help from heaven [Isaiah 8:13-14], and finding it turned to dust and ashes before his hands—delivering those great messianic prophecies of the day when the truly great King and righteous Ruler and heavenly Sovereign would come [Isaiah 9:1-7].

Now Hezekiah [Isaiah 1:1].  Isn’t it a strange thing how an evil man will have a wonderful son?  I ought to take this and make it another sermon; there is something here that so desperately needs to be said.  But let me see if I can sum it up in just a few minutes.  Hezekiah began his reign when he was twenty-five years of age, and he reigned for twenty-nine years [2 Chronicles 29:1].  He began his reign in a revival [2 Chronicles 29:3-36].  He began his reign in a great reformation.  Ahaz had brought idolatry into the kingdom, and he had closed the temple and defiled the sanctuary of the Lord [2 Kings 16:10-18].  First thing Hezekiah did was he opened the church, he un-nailed its doors [2 Chronicles 29:3-20].  He began in a great turning back to God [2 Chronicles 29:20-36].  He even invited the remnant up there in northern Israel to come and to share in the first Passover that had been celebrated in years [2 Chronicles 30:1].  And when the bitter Assyrians came down upon Jerusalem, Hezekiah took it before God in the house of prayer, and laid the message from Sennacherib before God in prayer, and Isaiah was sent to him saying, “Be not afraid, the battle is God’s” [Isaiah 37:14-35].  And it was that night that the angel of the Lord passed over the Assyrian hosts, and one hundred eighty-five thousand dead corpses were counted the next morning [Isaiah 37:36].  Trusting in God.

 Hezekiah was sick unto death, and he turned his face to the wall.  And Isaiah was sent of the Lord to say to him, “Set your house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live” [Isaiah 38:1-2].  And Hezekiah cried and prayed [Isaiah 38:3].  And the Lord sent Isaiah back to the king and said to him, “I have heard thy prayers, and I have seen thy tears:  and I will add unto thy lifetime fifteen years” [Isaiah 38:4-5].  So the sermon that I have to briefly summarize now is what happened in those fifteen years, when God said he would die, and Hezekiah prayed and wept, and God was moved and gave fifteen years to his life [Isaiah 38:5].

Two things: Merodach-baladan, the upstart insurgent king of Babylon who wanted to build his own empire, sent an embassy to Hezekiah to congratulate him upon his recovery [Isaiah 39:1], and Hezekiah was flattered.  Isn’t that amazing how a good man and a righteous man and a holy man can be turned by flattery, flattery, flattery?  Do anything with him, flattery.  Hezekiah succumbed [Isaiah 39:2-4], and God sent Isaiah to him and said, “The day will come when those Babylonians will destroy this kingdom, and this city, and this temple, and the sons of the king himself will serve as eunuchs in the Babylonian courts of captivity” [Isaiah 39:5-7].  Daniel was one of those eunuchs [Daniel 1:1, 3-6].

 Second: what happened when Hezekiah pled before God when God said he would die? [Isaiah 38:1, 5].  In that fifteen years, Manasseh was born.  Manasseh reigned fifty-five years [2 Kings 21:1].  And time and time and time again, do you read in the Bible God said, “I will destroy Judah and Jerusalem because of the sins of Manasseh” [2 Kings 21:10-15].  For example in 2 Kings 21:16, “Manasseh shed innocent blood till he filled Jerusalem from one end to another.”  And God said, “I will remove Jerusalem from before Me because of the sins of Manasseh” [2 Kings 24:3-4].   And again in chapter 23:

Like unto him there was no king before him, that turned away from God…

And the Lord said, I will remove Judah out of My sight, and I will remove Israel, and will cast off this city of Jerusalem because of the provocations that Manasseh has provoked Me withal.

[2 Kings 23:25, 27]

And I turn again:

Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of His sight; for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he did;

And for the innocent blood that he shed, filling Jerusalem with innocent blood; which God would not pardon.

[2 Kings 24:3-4]

And as though that were not enough, even the prophet Jeremiah lifts up his voice and says:

As the Lord said unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people:  I will cast them out of My sight.

And it will come to pass, if they say, Whither shall they go?  thou shalt say; Such as are for death, to death; and such as for the sword, to the sword; and such as for famine, to famine; and such as for captivity, to captivity.

And I will appoint over them four kinds, saith the Lord:  the sword to slay, and the dogs to tear, and the fowls of the heaven, and the [beasts] of the earth to devour and destroy.

And I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem.

[Jeremiah 15:1-4]

God looked upon it and He said, “I will not pardon it, I will not forgive it, though Moses and Samuel stood and intercede before Me, because of the wickedness of Manasseh” [Jeremiah 15:1-4]; born in that fifteen years [Isaiah 38:4-5; 2 Kings 21:1].

What does that say to us?  A very simple and all important thing:  when you pray, you had better pray, “Lord, in Thy will let me live or die.”  Had Hezekiah died when God sent Isaiah to say to him, “You are going to die” [Isaiah 38:1], none of those two things would have happened.  There would have been no Merodach-baladan from Babylonia to turn his head [Isaiah 39:1-2], and there would have been no Manasseh born.  But when Hezekiah prayed and cried [Isaiah 38:2-3], God let him live [Isaiah 38:5].  And the resultant despair and destruction that overwhelmed Judah and Jerusalem is written with tears and blood [Isaiah 39:5-7].

It may be best that the child not live.  And when you pray, “Lord, save this child,” you ought to say, “Dear God, in Thy will.”  I remember a woman who prayed for her boy, and God spared his life, and he died as a murderer and a robber in the electric chair.  It’s better to pray, “Lord, in Thy will, choose what’s best.”  Is it best that I live, then God help me to honor Thee in my life.  Is it best for Thee that I die, then Lord, give me dying grace; stand by me in the last hour of my breath.  Lord, what of my family?  May God’s will be done.  And what about all the rest of our lives?  Take it before God and plead with the Lord, according as you may sense in your soul and be persuaded in your heart, but always do it in the will of God.  “Not my will, Thine be done.”  Lord, I don’t know; Thou knowest.  And I can’t see the future; God sees it.  Lord, in Thy will and in Thy goodness and Thy grace, choose what is best.  And remember:  God will always give us the best for us who leave the choice to Him.

In a moment, we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and our time is so long spent.  On the first note of the first stanza, come.  “Here I am.  God has spoken to me, and I’m coming.”  “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children.  We’re all coming.”  A couple of you, or just you—if you’re in the topmost balcony, there’s time and to spare for you—just make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand up, stand up coming down that aisle.  God bless you and attend your way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.