Back in the 1960s, one of the most helpful things we were taught as young Christians was to learn to ‘leave things at the foot of the Cross’. You just don’t hear that kind of language in church today … or if you do, it is usually some cynical comment about old fashioned ideas or old fashioned language. But perhaps it is precisely because such truths have been either neglected or rejected by today’s church generation that the contemporary church is in such a mess. Admittedly, it has always been possible for Christians to attempt to ‘dispose’ of negative things such as sin or guilt or failure, or ‘deal’ with difficulties or dilemmas, by sweeping the former under some kind of religious carpet and the latter by passing the buck to God. The problem is that when we do this, we don’t really solve the problem. A friend of mine once said to me about his wife, ‘Ann takes her burdens to the Lord in prayer … but the trouble is she brings them back again!’ There is clearly more to ‘leaving things at the foot of the Cross’ than simply telling God (and others) that we have ‘left things at the foot of the Cross’. To genuinely leave things with God is not a negative thing at all but a very positive thing. It means bringing God into the equation.
Thus in the Old Testament narrative we find King Hezekiah waiting prayerfully upon God having received an extremely threatening letter from Sennacherib [2 Kings 18, 19]. Hezekiah came to the throne of Judah at the age of twenty-five and reigned for twenty-nine years from 715-687 BC. He introduced religious reform and reinstated religious traditions. The Bible portrays Hezekiah as a great and good king, and his reign saw a notable increase in the power of the Judean state. During much of his reign Judah was subservient to Assyria but between the death of the Assyrian king Sargon, and the succession of his son Sennacherib, Hezekiah sought to throw off Judah’s subservience to Assyria. He rebelled against Assyria, ceased to pay the tribute imposed on Judah, and entered into a league with Egypt against Assyria. If Hezekiah expected the Egyptians to come to his aid he was mistaken and Hezekiah had to face an invasion of Judah by Sennacherib in 701 BC as a result.
The invasion of Judah by Sennacherib and the Assyrian army is a major and well documented historical event. The Bible records that initially Hezekiah tried to pay off Sennacherib with three hundred talents of silver and thirty of gold in tribute but, after the payment was made, Sennacherib renewed his assault on Jerusalem. [2 Kings 18:14-16]. Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem and sent his supreme army commander, together with a huge army, to surround the city. Having tried, and failed, to break free from the yoke of Assyria through human reason and effort alone (and been forced into seeking to appease Sennacherib as a result, albeit unsuccessfully) the narrative records that Hezekiah recognized the futility of his own resources. He humbled himself before God and went to the temple and there he prayed, the first king in Judah to do so in 250 years, since the time of Solomon [2 Kings 19:1-4]. In response to the penitential prayers of Hezekiah and his people God spoke through his prophet Isaiah promising supernatural deliverance for the oppressed people of Judah [2 Kings 19:5-7].
Despite the prophecy things got worse rather than better. Sennacherib renewed his assault on Jerusalem and sent Hezekiah a horrifying threatening letter spelling out destruction and annihilation for the king and his people. In the face of this Hezekiah’s response is fascinating: ‘Hezekiah received the letter … and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord … Give ear, O Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God’ [2 Kings 19:14-16].
Hezekiah did not spend a long time recalling all the negative events of the past weeks, months and years. He did not tell God what to do about the situation. He simply laid out the letter before God and prayerfully invited God to read it and respond to it [2 Kings 19:14-19]. He left the matter, even though it was extremely serious and literally life-threatening, with God. In due course the answer came. God spoke yet again through his prophet Isaiah to affirm and expand the original promise of deliverance [2 Kings 19:20-34] … and that very night bubonic plague broke out in the Assyrian camp (according to Herodotus, brought by rats) resulting in the death of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and the complete withdrawal of the besieging Assyrian army [2 Kings 19:35,36]. Sennacherib never returned to besiege Jerusalem … within a short space of time he was assassinated by two of his own sons.
What do we learn from this story? We learn what it really means to truly leave things with God … not by sweeping things under the carpet, nor adopting a stoical, martyr spirit towards things, nor by praying once about something and then forgetting about it or giving up on it, nor by going on and on about things to God without allowing him a word in edgeways, or by working things out for ourselves and applying our own logic alone … but by sharing the situation with God in prayer … and then waiting patiently for clear revelation, understanding, direction from God to be given to us.