The God Who Delivers By Prayer
November 16th, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
THE GOD WHO DELIVERS BY PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-16-75 8:15 a.m.
On the radio we welcome you to the service this morning of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The God Who Delivers by Prayer. It is a setting forth of two chapters in Isaiah: chapter 36 and chapter 37. And I read a large portion of those two chapters:
Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defensed cities of Judah, and took them.
And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto King Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the Fuller’s Field.
Then came forth unto him Eliakim, Hilkiah’s son, which was over the house, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, Asaph’s son, the recorder.
And Rabshakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?
Let not Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us. . .
Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me—unconditionally surrender your life, your nation, your city to me—until I come and take you away to a land like your land. . .
Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The Lord will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?. . .
Who are they among all the gods of these lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?
Now these representatives of King Hezekiah held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was, saying, Answer him not.
Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.
And it came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord.
And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.
Isn’t that a glorious passage? In the time of disaster and catastrophe they came to the prophet of God,
And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.
It may be the Lord thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the Lord thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.
So the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, the prophet of God. And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed Me.
Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumor, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.
And then the king of Assyria sent Hezekiah a letter. Verse 14:
And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it before God.
And Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord, saying,
O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubim, Thou art the God, even Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: Thou hast made heaven and earth.
Incline Thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open Thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God.
Of a truth, Lord—what he says is true—of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries,
And have cast their gods into the fire: but they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.
Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou art the Lord, even Thou only.
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria:
This is the word which the Lord hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn.
Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? And against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Lord God Almighty, the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore thus saith the Lord—verse 33— concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it.
By the way that he came, by the same shall he return . . .
For I will defend this city to save it for Mine namesake, and for My servant David’s sake.
Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
And it came to pass, as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.
What is so vitally, unbelievably glorious about this passage I’ve just read is the contrast between Hezekiah and his father, Ahaz: for the same Assyrian, the ogre of the whole earth, was confronting Judah under both kings, Ahaz and Hezekiah. And when the awesome time came Ahaz invited the Assyrians to come because of his dread of Pekah king of Samaria and Rezin king of Damascus. And Ahaz invited the king of Assyria Tiglath-Pileser to come and to be confederate with him [2 Kings 16:7-8].
It was against the plea of Isaiah that Ahaz did that, “For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” [Isaiah 30:15]. But Ahaz brought down the cruel and bitter Assyrian and made confederate with them [Isaiah 7:3-16].
The story that follows what Ahaz did is one fraught with infinite sorrow and sadness. Tiglath-Pileser was followed by Shalmaneser, and Shalmaneser came with Sargon, and in the siege against Samaria Shalmaneser died and Sargon completed the work of conquest, forever destroyed the Northern Kingdom and carried them away into captivity [2 Kings 17:1-23]. And Sargon was followed by Sennacherib, and Sennacherib came to confront Hezekiah, a godly man and a godly king [2 Chronicles 31:20]. And once again came the earnest appeal of Isaiah to Hezekiah, “Don’t turn to Egypt for help, turn to the living God” [Isaiah 30:2-3]. And then that same glorious verse, again, “In returning and in quiet shall be your strength; in confidence, in prayer, God will bless and see you through” [Isaiah 30:15].
So Rabshakeh—actually that’s the Assyrian word for the chief officer, the prime minister, the head of staff, the general of the Army— Sennacherib sent Rabshakeh to say all of those words, “If you will be confederate with me as Ahaz your father was, well, I’ll take you to another land and settle you in another place, and you can be happy and at peace in a foreign country” [Isaiah 36:15-17].
But they love their homeland as we do. They love their city as we do. They were Jews, and they had been placed there in the promise of God. And such an invitation from Sennacherib was unthinkable, unacceptable. And Hezekiah, receiving now a letter from Sennacherib with all of those threats of destruction unless he unconditionally surrendered and allowed the Assyrians to remove them into a foreign and far away land, Hezekiah in sackcloth, in ashes, took the letter from Sennacherib and laid it before the Lord God in the house and temple of the Mighty King in heaven and prayed God for help and deliverance [2 Kings 19:14-19; Isaiah 37:14-20]. And the Lord God spoke to Isaiah and said, “Go tell Hezekiah there will not be an arrow shot against this city. There will not be an uncircumcised blaspheming Assyrian soldier to set his foot in this city; for I will defend it for My namesake and for David’s sake” [2 Kings 19:32-34; Isaiah 37:33-35]—and Hezekiah was the son of David in the lineage and genealogy of the kings of Judah.
And that night, that night in the silence of the night an angel of the Lord passed over the camp of the Assyrians that surrounded Jerusalem on every side; and in the silence of the night one hundred eighty-five thousand of them were dead corpses [2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36]. And the next morning when the Rabshakeh arose to blow the trumpet and to raise and arouse his army for the storming of the gates of the city, there was deathly silence. The army lay in death.
And what about Sennacherib? He was not judged; he was not condemned? The eye of the Lord followed him in his chariot as he returned back to the capital and to the palace in Nineveh [2 Kings 19:36; Isaiah 37:37], for the Lord had said in his heart, “Not here but there; but there. He has blasphemed My name; he has ridiculed My ableness to help and to deliver” [2 Kings 18:28-35; Isaiah 36:18-20]. And the Lord God followed him in his chariot and His eye was upon him all the way back to Nineveh. And the finger of the Lord pointed to him all the way back as he drove in his chariot to Nineveh.
And in Nineveh, in his own city, among his own people, in the house of his own gods, did his own sons assassinate him. And he died in his own blood under the hands of the judgment of the Almighty [2 Kings 19:36-37; Isaiah 37:37-38].
Now as we begin our exposition, first up there in heaven, in glory, on a great and mighty throne, there sits the Almighty God of the universe. And there is a duality in Him. And always in His self-revelation is that duality, that two-sidedness of the Almighty. There is, in God, there is deliverance and blessing. There is prayer answered; there is love, and mercy, and peace, and gladness, and happiness, and every rich benedictory gift that only heaven could afford. That’s up there with the Lord God. But at the same time, up there in the hands of the Lord God are those mighty bolts of judgment, and blasting, and condemnation, and damnation, and hell! Both of them are up there in the hands of the Lord God. And when God is revealed to us in these sacred pages, always that duality is exhibited, always. There’s no exception to it.
In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus there is given the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. Number one, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” [Exodus 20:3]. Number two, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” [Exodus 20:4]. And then the following:
For I the Lord God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generations.
And being merciful to those that love Me, and keep My commandments.
The duality in God: you find it in the Prophets. “Verily,” says the Lord God, “the man that sins shall die in his own iniquity” [Ezekiel 18:20, 33:8-9]. Then the appeal, “But the Lord has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked would turn from his evil way and live: turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die” [Ezekiel 33:11]. Both of them together: the judgment of God and the mercy of the Almighty.
It is the same in the gospel of Christ. The last verse of the third chapter of John; listen to it, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: but he that believeth not the Son hath not everlasting life; but the wrath of God abideth upon him” [John 3:36], both of them—life and death; heaven and hell. It is no less in the apostles, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” [Galatians 6:7].
He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, hath counted the blood of the covenant, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who hath said, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. And again, God shall judge His people.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
For our God is a consuming fire.
[Hebrews 10:28-31 and 12:29]
Always that duality is there; Sennacherib and his blaspheming, uncircumcised Assyrians and the judgment of God upon them [2 Kings 19:35-37; Isaiah 37:36-38]; and the mercies of God and the answered prayers of God up there in heaven [2 Kings 19:15].
And always that too is presented in the Word of the Lord. He is a God of judgment; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children [Deuteronomy 5:9]. He is not deceived and He is not mocked. What we sow we reap [Galatians 6:7]. And the man that rejects the overtures of God’s mercy faces nothing except finally wrath and damnation and judgment [Hebrews 10:29].
But the other is always also exhibited in the Lord. There is mercy, and there is deliverance, and there is blessing, and peace, and every glorious precious thing that only heaven could bestow upon us. That’s in the Lord God also. He delivers by prayer. Just as Hezekiah brought the case of the whole nation to God and asked God’s help [Isaiah 37:14-20]. And the Lord bowed down His ear to hear, and God bared His mighty arm to save [Isaiah 37:21, 33-38]. He is the same Lord God; the same Lord God.
Over there on the floor where my study is on the second floor, I pass by it oh so often. There’s a picture of Daniel. “Thus saith the Lord God; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” [Isaiah 30:15]. And there’s Daniel—there are two pictures of him up there—there’s Daniel in one of the pictures, he stands like this: unperturbed, quiet, looking up. And the king, I suppose, is there at the head of the den saying, “Oh, Daniel, is thy God able to deliver thee?” And in quietness and in confidence, Daniel replies, “O king, the Lord hath sent His angel and stopped the mouths of the lions: just quietly, peacefully, walking among those hungry, shaggy, carnivorous, ravenous beasts” [Daniel 6:20-22]. That’s the Lord; that’s the Lord.
Or Simon Peter chained between two soldiers—the next morning, the next morning to be beheaded by Herod Agrippa I, who had just beheaded James the brother of John, the son of Zebedee [Acts 12:1-2]—sound asleep [Acts 12:6]; when the angel came he had to smote him, had to smote him on the side and awaken him, just quiet in the Lord [Acts 12:7]; the people praying for Simon Peter [Acts 12:12]; the whole church praying for Simon Peter, and he, resting in the Lord, sound asleep [Acts 12:3-12].
Well, pastor, that was a long time ago. In fact this thing that you’re talking about, Hezekiah, was seven hundred years before Christ. And these things that you’re talking about, Daniel, they were five hundred fifty years before Christ. And this thing about Simon Peter was not more than say thirty or thirty-five years after Christ. Now that’s way back yonder; but what about today? Does God answer prayer today? Does the same Lord God deliver today? Does He?
When I was a lad, seventeen years of age, my mother took me to Baylor to place me in school. We had nothing at all. I had nothing with which to go to school. And my mother took me down there and did menial work that I might go to school. And I knelt on my knees before the Lord God, and I said, “Lord all over this campus there are boys who are sweeping out floors, and washing windows, and picking up paper on the campus in order to make their way through school. Lord God, could it be, could it be that I could live by the gospel? That I could pay my way through school being pastor of a little church? Please, God, please.” And I asked it of the Lord.
And when I was a boy, seventeen years of age, I was called to be pastor of little churches. And I went through school living by the gospel. I felt I should go to school at the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. I went to Kentucky a stranger. I missed one Sunday preaching, just one. And I made my way for six years in the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky preaching the gospel, pastoring my little churches.
And as the days passed I was called to be pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and once again, I got down on my knees, and I said, “Lord God, it’s a church in a big city, downtown. And downtown churches die. They all are dying, or are dead. Dear God—thirty-one years and over ago did I pray—dear God if I am faithful to the Word, and if I preach the gospel, Lord God, will You send me people? Will You send them to us? Will You add to the church, will You put it in their hearts to come?”
I’ve been gone this last week on a preaching mission, preaching through state conventions. But on Sunday before I left, there was a beautiful and fine couple—they’ll be coming forward with a little family at the next service to be baptized—talking to me about coming into the fellowship of the First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, and they said to me, “It is strange; it is strange that we should feel in our hearts that we want to come here, and commit our lives to God here, and be baptized and belong to this church here.” I said, “It isn’t strange at all. This is God answering prayer.” God is answering prayer.
Thirty-one years ago did I kneel down and ask God, “Lord, if I am faithful and preach the message, true to God’s Word, will You send us these that You have bechosen and elected to be with us?” And look around you. There’s nobody in divine presence but who passes a dozen churches. There’s nobody lives next door to us. Everyone in divine presence is somebody who has chosen to come and to worship God with us—God answers prayer.
And about thirty-one years ago, adding to it about four months—the only time I’ve ever publically mentioned it was when I came to accept the pastorate of the church—and in a dream, here in this auditorium seated a man next to me, put his hand on my knee. The church was filled with flowers from one side to the other. I’d never been in this church but as a freshman, and that was something like forty years before. I saw every detail of the church house, covered in flowers and a casket here and the people weeping. And the man who was seated next to me put his hand on my knee and said, “You must go preach to my people.” I turned and looked, and it was Dr. Truett. “Not I, oh, not I.” And again, he put his hand on my knee, “Yes, you must go preach to my people.” The church had never heard me, had never heard about me. In the providence of God I was called to be undershepherd.
And the Lord did it again. I do not hide from you that I have been troubled and burdened these last several months. And I have seen my people troubled and burdened. And once again in a dream, several days ago in a dream—I suppose I must have been thinking of that beautiful verse in Titus, “Adorning the doctrine of the gospel of God our Savior” [Titus 2:10], or like a Puritan, going to sleep over his Bible, dreaming Pilgrim’s Progress, I don’t know. But in the dream I saw our people, our people, all of our people. I saw them working with their hands making beautiful porcelain flowers, like a Worcester flower, like a Boehm flower, like a Coalbrookdale flower. And they were adorning the church with those beautiful flowers they were making with their hands. Some were making the calyx, some were making the sepals, some were making the petals, some were making the stamens, with their filaments and anthers. They were making those beautiful, beautiful flowers, and they were adorning the church of God with those beautiful heavenly flowers.
And as I watched them and looked upon them, there came into my heart an incomparable heavenly peace and quiet. And when I awakened there was a peace in my heart beyond understanding. And I have been quiet ever since. I am not burdened, I am not anxious, I am not fearful; I am in perfect quiet and in perfect peace. For God hath assured from heaven His blessing, His benedictory remembrance, His continued love and care for this wonderful, wonderful church.
And that’s why I am persuaded as much and as preciously, blessedly much as we have sought to do for Him in days past, it is but a prelude and an introduction of what God is preparing to do with us and through us and for us in these days that lie ahead. He is just the same. He doesn’t change [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:1]. He answered prayer yesterday; He answers prayer today. He will be the same Lord God to answer prayer tomorrow. Just trust Him. Just love Him. Just committing our life, our destiny, our every tomorrow to Him; He never fails.
Our time is far spent. On the first note of the first stanza, in the balcony there’s still time and to spare, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Pastor, today, I give my heart to that God, who delivers by prayer” [Romans 10:9-13]. Or, “Today we’re putting our lives in the circle, the circumference, the fellowship, the communion of this precious congregation.” Make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down that stairway or walking down this aisle. God love you as you come. Angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.