God and Government
February 16th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
GOD AND GOVERNMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-16-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you who are sharing with us the service on television and on radio. One of the dreams of my life has been to preach through the prophet Isaiah, and that dream has now come true. For these months that lie ahead, and I hope you can continue with us, we shall be delivering the morning message from this exalted and glorious spokesman of God. There is no piece of literature in the world that rivals this prophecy in sublimity of expression, of poetic fancy and flight, of oratory – oratorical peroration and period, nor has there ever been a man of God who ever saw so clearly the purposes of God in his evangelistic outreach in the earth, nor has there ever been a man of God who more beautifully and gloriously pictured the messianic kingdom that is yet to come. Last Sunday morning we presented the man; this Sunday morning, the background against which he delivered his message. Without an understanding of both of them, we sorely fail in understanding the word that he delivered from the Lord. The prophecy begins with, "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 the men, and looking at the political and national life, we shall be able to understand the background against which Isaiah delivered his message.
Uzziah reigned for fifty-two years [2 Chronicles 26:3]. He was an able and gifted administrator and military strategist. With Jeroboam II, the king of Samaria, and Uzziah, the king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, they brought the nation back to the glorious height and prosperity that it knew under the united kingdom of David and Solomon. Uzziah prospered in everything to which he placed his hand. He did so as long as Zechariah the prophet lived [2 Chronicles 26:4-5]. There are twenty-eight different Zechariahs in the Bible. And when we think of Zechariah, we think of the prophet who wrote the book, the eleventh of the twelve Minor Prophets – next to the last in the Old Testament. This is not he. That Zechariah returned with Zerubbabel back from the Babylonian captivity. This is an unknown prophet. The only thing we know about him is that he had a tremendous influence for good, upon Uzziah. And as long as Zechariah lived, Uzziah served the Lord faithfully and well [2 Chronicles 26:2-5], but when Zechariah died in the old age of Uzziah, he turned from the Lord. Isn’t that a tragedy? That a man would give his life to God, then in his old age turn away from the faithful ministry of the Lord? And Uzziah entered the temple, the holy sanctuary of God, and sought to arrogate unto himself the services that belonged just to the appointed priests – as Uriah the high priest and eighty of his fellow priests entreated Uzziah not to do it [2 Chronicles 26:16-17]. But the stiff-necked and hard-hearted and incorrigible king continued in his purpose to set aside the ministry of the priest and to do the service himself. And when he did so, he was stricken with leprosy and the remainder of his reign he lived separate and apart, a leper, and he died a leper [2 Chronicles 26:18-21]. But it was during the prosperous reign of Uzziah that the young man Isaiah grew up. And it was in the last year of the death of Uzziah that Isaiah saw the glorious vision recorded in the sixth chapter of his book and began his prophetic ministry [2 Chronicles 26:22; Isaiah 6:1-13].
Uzziah, leprous, set apart, hidden away, had a son by the name of Jotham who was co-regent with him [Isaiah 1:1]. Jotham was a good man and a good king. He was able [2 Chronicles 27:1-6], like his father, and he continued the great prosperity by which God blessed the nation. He was a devout man of the Lord, he extended the courts of the temple. Doubtless, Amos and Hosea, prophets of the Northern Kingdom, and Micah of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, along with Isaiah, had a salubrious effect upon Jotham. As Jotham began his reign, Isaiah began his prophetic ministry [Isaiah 1:1].
Jotham was followed by Ahaz, and without an understanding of Ahaz, at the times of Ahaz, we could never quite understand Isaiah and the word he brought from the Lord. The little kingdom of southern Judah was surrounded by these: on the east was Moab and Edom; to the south was the ancient kingdom of the pharaohs; to the west were the city-states of Philistia; to the north was the unfriendly state of Israel, many times in the Bible called Ephraim; to the northeast was Damascus, the capital of Syria. And to the ultimate north, covering the horizon of history from side to side was the growing, expanding, colossal, gigantic empire of Assyria with their famous capital on the Tigris River named Nineveh. There in Oriental splendor reigned what he called himself, "the king of kings," in whose eyes the little kinglets of Judah and Samaria were but as grasshoppers [2 Kings 18:33-34]. This mammoth empire ruled over by the king of Assyria, numbered his hosts by the myriads. His chariots and his horses covered the land like the locusts, and their onrush was like the flooding of a giant ocean. Four times in the lifetime of Isaiah did this terrible and irresistible force of the Assyrians overrun Judah.
The behemoth of that winged man-headed bull of Asshur – the wings for swiftness, the man’s head for intelligence, and the bull form for strength – the behemoth of Assyria was an ogre to the Jews. They lived in daily terror of the merciless and cruel invasion of the Assyrian. The Assyrian destroyed finally and forever the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians wasted the cities of Judah and shut up the city of Jerusalem as a man would close a thing in a vise, delivered only by the intervention of God [Isaiah 36:1, 37:36].
How is it that Assyria was introduced to Judah, and how is it that the Assyrian came into the political life and national life of Judah? It came about through this King Ahaz. You see, Pekah, the king of Israel in Samaria, and Rezin, the king of Syria in Damascus, formed a conspiracy to dethrone Ahaz, to overrun Judah, and to set up a puppet government there. That confrontation and conflict is called the Syro-Ephraimite War in the Bible [Isaiah 7:1-2]. And Ahaz, instead of turning to God and trusting in the Lord – Ahaz purposed in his heart to find help in some other source. Isaiah, the prophet of God, came before Ahaz and said, "Do not be afraid of Pekah of Israel or Rezin of Syria, these are but smoking firebrands. They are the fag ends of burned-out logs," so the prophet Isaiah described them. And he said to Ahaz, "Just trust in God, and the Lord will deliver your land and your people, and He will forever destroy Pekah of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus. Do not be afraid" [Isaiah 7:3-16]. But Ahaz had already purposed in his heart some other appeal for help [2 Kings 16:7-10]. And Isaiah stood before him and said, "Ask any sign of God in heaven above or in earth beneath, that God will spare and save the nation. Ask it" [Isaiah 7:10-11]. But Ahaz had already purposed in his heart to find help from some other source [2 Kings 16:7-10], so Ahaz piously and hypocritically replied, "I will not be thus presumptuous to tempt God, to ask for a sign" [Isaiah 7:12]. And it was then that Isaiah delivered the great Messianic prophecy of 7:14: "A virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son," and looking beyond the spiritless and spineless and weak and vacillating king, he saw the glorious Messiah in His coming sovereignty and grace. But to Ahaz he said, "And before that Child, born of a virgin now, before that Child is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, God shall have put away forever Pekah of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus [Isaiah 7:16]. Do not be afraid." But Ahaz had already purposed in his heart to find help from some other place.
What place was that? To what did he turn? Ahaz turned to Tiglath-Pileser III, the ruthless and merciless king of Assyria [2 Kings 16:7-10]. Tiglath-Pileser is one of the great conquerors of all time – like Alexander the Great, like Julius Caesar. It did him nothing but good to have the opportunity to reach down and to extend the Assyrian Empire over all of the south, through Palestine. So with alacrity did Tiglath-Pileser come [2 Chronicles 28:20]. He is the one that designed and devised the deportation of conquered provinces, bringing indescribable heartache to the people, conquered, removed out of their homes, "Lest," said Tiglath-Pileser, "they might revolt if they remain where they are." That is the Tiglath-Pileser to whom Ahaz made appeal for help; not to God, but to the Assyrian king. He was far more impressed by the power of Assyria than he was by the power of God [2 Kings 16:7-10]. So with gladness and with eagerness did Tiglath-Pileser come, and the Assyrian not only destroyed Samaria forever and the Northern Kingdom forever, and not only did he destroy Damascus and Syria [2 Kings 17:5-18], but he destroyed the cities of Judah [Isaiah 36:1]. And had it not been for the intervention of God, Assyria would have destroyed Jerusalem, the Holy City, and the temple itself [Isaiah 37:36]. It was Ahaz who invited Tiglath-Pileser to come [2 Chronicles 28:16].
"Pastor, why go through all that? That happened two thousand seven hundred years ago. And what has that to do with us?" My brother that is as new and as modern and concerns us just as deeply as the headlines you read in the modern today’s newspaper. Are you old enough to remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president of the United States? Are you old enough to remember him? Are you old enough to remember when war broke out in the world and when the United States of America became involved in it? Are you old enough to remember God’s people down on their knees and down on their faces pleading for heaven’s blessings upon our allied forces, and upon our American armies as they stormed the bastion of Hitler, as they faced the growing menace and naval power of Tojo and Japan? Do you remember that? Do you also remember the favor of God upon our allied forces and the answered prayer that gave victory to our American men? Do you also remember that when General Patton with his tanks crossed the Rhine and there was nothing between the American forces and Berlin, and all Germany, except the beautiful contour of the land and the pleasant valleys and hills? Do you remember that Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "Stop your tanks General Patton, and stop your advance General Eisenhower. We’re going to deliver Germany and Berlin into the hands of our good friend, good old Joe – Joe Stalin."
So the American president delivered Berlin and Germany into the hands of the communists, when we were already there in victory, in answer to prayer, and intercession. Do you remember? Do you remember the earnest appeal of one of the greatest statesmen of all time – Winston Churchill? And Churchill pled with the American president – Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "Let us take our forces and attack also" – and this is his expression – "the soft underbelly of Europe, and let us go up to the soft underbelly of Europe, and let us take Bulgaria, and Romania, and Czechoslovakia, and Albania, lest they fall into the hands of the communists. Let’s save Eastern Europe!" Franklin Delano Roosevelt – do you remember him? Franklin Delano Roosevelt, having the money and having the power of American firearms said, "Oh, no. We must not offend our good friend, old Joe." So he delivered Eastern Europe into the hands of the communists!
Do you remember? Japan was beat to her knees. The atomic bomb had burst over Hiroshima and over Nagasaki, and Japan secretly was making appeal through their emperor, to the president of the United States of America for peace. Out of friendship to good old Joe, the American president invited Russia into the war and down through Korea, and seizing the northern islands of Japan, delivered that part of the Orient into the hands of the communists, for good old Joe – Joseph Stalin. And that has been the policy of America ever since.
There has never been a confrontation with the communists but that we have backed down and delivered into their hands peoples who look upon the coming of the communist wave like death‒ – like the terror of Red, scarlet death. Are you old enough to remember when Chiang Kai-shek, great Christian leader and military strategist – when Chiang Kai-shek was against the wall facing Mao Tse-tung and General Marshall, the chief of staff, said to America, "These are just agrarian reformers – Mao Tse-tung. These are not vicious men – terrible men – they are just agrarian reformers." So we pulled back our support of Chiang Kai-shek, and delivered the entire nation of China into the hands of the communists. Do you remember?
Do you remember when the United States wined and dined and entertained Fidel Castro – the great humanitarian, said our traitorous liberals in America? He is championing the poor, and we delivered Cuba – into Castro’s hands, the communists of Cuba, the little island down just off ninety miles away from our southern coast.
Do you remember the battle in Korea? There our American men could look on the battlefields and the air fields at the Yalu River, and the United States wouldn’t dare touch them, though those were the air fields by which they were bombing our American men. And we lost the northern half of Korea to the communists.
And surely you are old enough to remember the Vietnam War. My brother, if you go to war that means war. Don’t go to war unless you mean war. But if you go to war, that means war! War is a struggle to the death! That’s what war is. But instead of fighting that war having entered it, the American government would not offend Mao Tse-tung, nor would we offend the communist government of Hanoi. So we have largely delivered Laos, and Cambodia, and now almost South Vietnam, and certainly Thailand into the hands of the communists!
Somehow we have persuaded ourselves that God can’t help us, God doesn’t answer prayer, God doesn’t stand for His people, God doesn’t march with our American men. So we must pacify good old Joe, and we must pacify Mao Tse-tung, and we must dine and wine Fidel Castro, and we must cower before the government of Hanoi. That has been the course of America since I was a young man. And the result has been one-third of the world’s population and two-thirds of the world’s land mass is under the hands of those merciless and cruel rulers. There has never been a confrontation to the Christian faith; there has never been a challenge to the Christian gospel that even began to compare with the ruthless, horrible attitude of the atheist communist to the Christian faith. So far as we know, they have destroyed all the churches and all the congregations of China. So far as we know, country after country has in it, just an underground of the faithful. The people are oppressed, they live in despair, and they have no one to help them. That is exactly what happened to Judah under Ahaz.
I do not think we will ever recover under God; aside from the intervention of God, I do not think our nation will ever recover from its quiescent, compromising spirit and attitude toward the communist world. And the result of that is every foreign policy of America, every decision that is made in our relation to the other nations of the earth, every economic policy we follow is framed in the rear view of the effect it will have upon a Mao Tse-tung, or upon a Brezhnev, or upon some other communist ruler. America has been beat down into the dust of the ground, and whereas at one time we were, without doubt the mightiest, greatest nation that ever lived for good, and for God, now we are becoming second-rate before the awful onslaughts of the Red Communist world and are beginning to deteriorate within.
This is Ahaz. As a sycophant of Tiglath-Pileser, he journeyed to Damascus to meet him there [2 Kings 16:7-9], brought back into Jerusalem the idolatry that he saw there [2 Kings 16:10-18, 16:3] closed the temple, desecrated the house of God, and burned his own children in the Valley of Hinnom, in the fire to the god Molech. Thus did Ahaz bring the glory of God’s people down to the dust of the ground!
Ahaz was followed by Hezekiah [2 Chronicles 28:27]. Isn’t it remarkable how a bad man will have a good son? Hezekiah, good King Hezekiah, began his reign twenty-five years of age – reigned twenty-nine years [2 Chronicles 29:1]. He was a man like David [2 Chronicles 29:2] – after God’s own heart [1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22]. The first thing Hezekiah did was to call the people to revival, and repentance, and reformation [2 Chronicles 29:3-11, 30:1]. He opened the doors of the temple, the house of God [2 Chronicles 29:3]. He opened the doors of the church. He cleansed the temple [2 Chronicles 29:4, 15-19], and he invited the remnant of northern Israel to come and to celebrate with them the Passover, the first Passover that had been observed in the generations [2 Chronicles 30:1, 15-27]. And when the Assyrian came, as inevitably he always came, and under Sennacherib destroyed the cities of Judah and surrounded Jerusalem on every side, Hezekiah took the letter from Sennacherib demanding abject surrender, he took it before God and spread it in the house of the Lord, and Isaiah the prophet was sent of God to say to Hezekiah, "Do not be afraid. The battle is Mine. I will protect this city and this sanctuary and this people" [Isaiah 37:14-35]. And that one night, one angel, just one – just one, one angel passed over the hosts of Sennacherib, and when the dawn broke, he counted one hundred eighty-five thousand dead corpses [Isaiah 37:36]. Thus, thus does God spare, and does God save, and does God answer by fire, trusting the mighty arm of the Lord, this good King Hezekiah.
Then, something happened that brought disaster to the nation and to us – if I can say it. God sent Isaiah to Hezekiah, saying, "Set your house in order: you shall die and not live" [Isaiah 38:1]. Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and wept, and cried [Isaiah 38:3], and prayed before the Lord, and the Lord sent Isaiah back to Hezekiah to say, "I have seen thy tears, and I have heard thy prayers: I add to your life fifteen years" – fifteen years [Isaiah 38:4-5]. What happened in that fifteen years? Two things; Merodach-Baladan – the upcoming young sovereign in Babylon, getting ready to destroy Nineveh and the capital of Assyria – Merodach-Baladan heard of the recovery of Hezekiah, sent an embassy there ostensibly to congratulate him on his recovery [Isaiah 39:1] – actually to form a conspiracy against the sovereign of Nineveh, and Hezekiah – isn’t it a strange thing how good men, great men, godly men are weak men? The embassy flattered Hezekiah and flattered him, and flattered him – and Hezekiah was flattered, and he opened his treasures, and he opened his heart, and he opened the city, and he opened the temple to these emissaries of Merodach-Baladan, from Babylon [Isaiah 39:2-4]. And God sent Isaiah to him and said to him, "The day will come when everything you have shown will be carried a spoil to Babylon. The people will be taken into captivity, and the sons of the royal seed will serve as eunuchs in the court of Babylon" [Isaiah 39:5-7]. Daniel was a eunuch of the royal seed – a captive in a foreign land named Babylon [Daniel 1:1-6]. That happened because in answer to prayer, he recovered and was flattered by the embassy.
Number two: in that fifteen years, Manasseh was born, the son of Hezekiah. Twelve years of age when he came to the throne upon Hezekiah’s death – reigned fifty-five years [2 Kings 21:1]. And out of all of the kings that ever lived, there was none so vile and so wicked as Manasseh. It was because of the sins of Manasseh that God destroyed Judah and sent them away into Babylonian captivity [2 Kings 24:3-4]. One of the recurring refrains in the Holy Scriptures is God’s judgment upon Judah because of Manasseh. "Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these things, above all that the Amorites did before him . . . therefore thus saith the Lord, I will bring such evil upon Jerusalem . . . I will stretch a line over them as over Samaria and the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem" [2 Kings 21:11-13]. We would say "from off the face of the map." He says, "as a man wipeth a dish" – wiping it, turning it upside down. And then again, the same refrain is followed: "Notwithstanding the Lord turned not from the fierceness of His great wrath, wherewith His anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh provoked Him withal, saying, I removed Judah out of My sight" [2 Kings 23:26, 27]. And then again: "Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this captivity upon Judah, to remove them out of His sight, for the sins of Manasseh,He filled Jerusalem with innocent blood" [2 Kings 24:3, 4]. And in the tremendous prophecy of Jeremiah, Jeremiah lifts up his voice and says:
The Lord said unto me, Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be toward this people: to cast them out of My sight. . . .
It shall come to pass, if they say . . . Where will You cast them forth . . . Thus saith the Lord; Such as are for death, to death; such as for the sword, to the sword; such as for the famine, to the famine; such as for captivity, to the captivity.
And I will appoint over them four kinds, four kinds, saith the Lord: the sword to slay, the dogs to tear, the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the earth, to devour and destroy.
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 he did in Jerusalem – which the Lord would not forgive
I won’t forget it. I won’t forgive it. I won’t pardon it. When was Manasseh born, because of whose wickedness God destroyed Judah and Jerusalem and the holy temple? He was born in that fifteen years that God gave to Hezekiah [2 Kings 21:1].
"What is the meaning for that to us, pastor? Why are you speaking of that?" For a very plain and simple reason: when we pray – when we pray, as the psalmist said, God answered their prayers but sent sterility and emptiness and destitution and famine into their hearts and lives [Psalm 106:15]. When you pray, "Lord God, I don’t know. It seems to me but You know what is best, Lord. I don’t quite know sometimes, and I don’t understand sometimes, and I can’t see the end of the way sometimes, so Lord, I am not trying to impose my will on Thine. You choose, Lord. It seems to me this way. And this is how I would like for it to be done, but Lord, not my will, Thine be done."
I remember a mother, who prayed over her dying boy, and the Lord answered her prayer, and the boy lived, and was electrocuted in the state penitentiary at Huntsville, for murder and for robbery. How much better, "Lord, if the boy can live and honor Thee, if it’s God’s will that he be translated to heaven, Thy will be done." Lord, am I to die? If You can give me length of days, help me to serve and honor Thee in every breath that I breathe. But Lord, if it honors Thee that I die, then Master give me dying grace, Thy will be done.
There are some things that we know are God’s will. It is God’s will that all men be saved. It is God’s will that all men come to repentance [2 Peter 3:9], and when I pray for a man to be saved, I’m praying according to God’s will. And if we ask anything according to His will, 1 John 5, we know that He heareth [1 John 5:14]. And if we know that He hears us, we have the petitions we desired of Him [1 John 5:15]. When we pray according to what we know to be God’s will, then be importunate in it. Stay with it! But there are a lot of things that I pray about I’m not wise enough to know. Lord, should I live fifteen years; it might not be best, then Lord, stand by my side when the day of translation comes. There are a thousand things in our daily lives that we pray about. Always, in the Spirit and in the intercession, "Lord, not my will, You know best." And God always gives what is best to those who leave the choice to Him [1 Kings 3:12-14; Romans 8:28]. It would have been a different world for Judah and for Jerusalem had Manasseh never been born, and had Merodach-Baladan never sent his flattering embassy [Isaiah 39:1], which would never have come to pass, had Hezekiah been translated, when Isaiah was sent to him saying, "Set thy house in order" [Isaiah 38:1]. Ah Lord, give us the spirit of humility, and of bowing, and of trusting, and of looking up to God in heaven. That is best!
Our time is far spent and we sing our hymn of appeal. While we sing it, a family you, a couple you, just one somebody you, "I’ve made the decision in my heart and here I come, pastor. Here I am." As the Spirit shall bear the appeal to your soul, answer with your life. From the topmost balcony there’s time and to spare, come. "Pastor, we are all coming today. This is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming." Do it now. And when we stand up in a moment to sing our hymn of appeal, stand up walking down one of those stairways or coming down one of those aisles. May angels attend you in the way, as you come; while we stand and while we sing.