Last night at the Women’s Bible Study, we read Isaiah 36 & 37–a welcome prose-break in the midst of months of (glorious but sometimes obtuse) poetry! We noticed the parallels in the narrative between King Ahaz in early Isaiah, and here, King Hezekiah (his son). Assyria has captured most of Judah, leaving Jerusalem alone, an Assyrian messenger comes to taunt and cajole the Israelites on Jerusalem’s wall. The messenger jeers at them for trusting their God–whom he does not differentiate from the Baals and Astorehs whose high places Hezekiah has torn down–he narrates a scene that leaves the Israelites no reasonable recourse but to throw themselves on the mercy of the Assyrians. After his arrogant proclamation, the Israelites stand on the wall, stony-faced–they refuse to abandon their trust in Hezekiah and the Lord.
For Hezekiah’s part, he places the message they’ve been sent from the Assyrians before the Lord, and he prays, “So now, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou alone art the LORD.” (Is. 37:20 RSV) We were struck that Hezekiah boldly asks God for exactly what he wants–we remembered how psalmists also often employ this method, sharing their strong desires with God, seeking to convince or cajole God to see their own point of view. One member recalled Abraham’s talk with God about Sodom & Gomorrah–how Abraham dares to engage in conversation with God about the fate of the people of these cities; he behaves as if God is actually listening (not just hearing the words that Abraham is saying, but actually considering them, as their conversation’s course reveals). God interacts with Abraham as Abe progressively contracts the number of faithful people for which God would spare the cities from destruction. We learn many things about God from that scene with Abraham, not least of which is that God seems to desire for us to talk back, to offer our opinion, to persuade, to present our case–like Hezekiah did in the temple.
The woman who reminded us of Abraham’s Sodom and Gomorrah story also offered her modern version–watching her grandson negotiate and plead with his mother over new electronics and video games. Every few days, she said, he’d approach her with his new plan, all set out, all reasoned through, and she’d cringe as she saw him present his case anew to his mother, knowing the game all too well from her own experiences of parenting. She observed that after months–about the time of Christmas–he might have just worn his mother down enough that she might determine it was easier to buy the new electronics than hear any more cajoling. Just like the widow and the unjust judge–how much more, as the parable tells us, does God desire to give you the best things?
Another woman chimed in, sharing a bit of wisdom she’d read about prayer, “just choose something good and start praying for it. Choose anything.” The point, she said, is that our personal relationships with God are made by interaction, presenting our case for the good thing that we desire deeply, and then waiting to hear what God says about this desire–maybe he’d even give it to us!–maybe he’s got something else in mind, too.
I’ve been given to trying to not have any desire at all, but I’m starting to think that’s a mistake, too–being resigned to anything at all that happens means I don’t question God, but it also means that I don’t have much interaction with God other than “what next, Sir?” So this week I’m working to take Hezekiah’s and this wise woman’s advice and just choose something good for which I can pray.