2 Kings 19:35-36
As I’ve pointed out over and over, we need to keep a proper balance concerning the spiritual realm. I hesitate to assign praise or blame for every good or bad thing that happens to angels or demons. If my car breaks down, my first instinct is to look at what’s going on with the engine, not to try to exorcise a demon out of it. If a car nearly hits me on the highway, I have no way of knowing whether or not there was an angel involved in my safety.
The reason is that, for the most part, angels and demons have something in common with God. They all mostly work “behind the scenes,” out of the range of our physical senses or scientific knowledge. But occasionally we see them act openly, and when we do, it can be pretty startling.
I didn’t want you to zone out on me, so I didn’t have you read the entire passage that lends context to today’s reading. Here’s the story in a nutshell: Judah—along with all the neighboring countries—was invaded by the King of Assyria, who went by the name Sennacherib. He'd steamrolled over every other nation he had encountered. It seemed like nothing could stop him. He then entered Judah and proceeded as he had always done: taking over cities, destroying anyone who opposed him, and claiming all the land for his kingdom. Then his army approached Jerusalem, the capital of the nation. Before he arrived, he sent an envoy/ambassador to discuss terms. The envoy insulted not only the king and any attempts to resist Sennacherib. In the king’s name, this ambassador insulted—indeed, held in complete derision—the God of Israel. His reasoning was thus: None of the other gods of any of the other nations saved them. The God of Israel is the same as the others. Therefore it doesn’t matter if I insult this God like any other.
The King of Judah, Hezekiah, was a godly king; in fact, he was one of the godliest in their history, and actually rivaled David in following the Lord wholeheartedly. When he was handed the terms in writing which insulted the Holy One of Israel, he went straight to the Temple and laid them down in front of the Lord. Here was his argument he presented to God: Of course none of the other gods saved them from Sennacherib. They aren’t real. They’re idols. They’re blocks of wood and stone and metal. But you are the one true living God, and you’ve been insulted. I don’t care if I’m insulted; what matters to me is your great Name. Your reputation among the nations is at stake. Are you going to do something about this?
And today’s passage reveals the Lord’s response. The Bible is very clear about what happened. In fact, the Spirit wanted to make sure we got the message, so he repeated this story in 2 Chronicles and in the book of Isaiah. One angel, overnight, killed 185,000 men in Sennacherib’s army. And in a wonderful bit of irony, the king himself was spared so that he could see what happened. He woke up the next morning and probably wondered why no one was attending him. He goes out of his tent and sees the reason. “I’m sorry, your Majesty. We would've served and reported to you this morning, but we were too busy being DEAD and all.”
My friends, this is what one angel did. When Jesus was arrested, do you remember what Peter did and how Jesus responded? Peter cut off a guy’s ear (apparently aiming for his head) in order to protect his beloved Master. Jesus immediately healed the man--probably doing it quickly so that few people noticed—and thus averted the arrest of his disciples. What was his rebuke of Peter? “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” That would not be a fight. That would be an execution. One word from the Son of God and there wouldn’t be enough of his enemies for their own mothers to identify.
But he never gave the word. Undoubtedly there were legions of angels waiting for the command to defend their beloved Creator. And they would do a heck of a lot more than cut off a guy’s ear! But that command never came, and our Lord was arrested and hauled off to his fate.
I don’t know the physical limits of angels. I don’t know what they can and can’t do when they interact with this world. But I do know this: They're a LOT more powerful than we could ever dream of being. These are the unseen friends all around us. Most of the time, their power is on a leash ordained by our Father. They could introduce brute force, but according to God's plan they hold back what they could do.
Why? Well, there’s one good reason I can think of: “The Lord. . . is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” And one day, all that power will be set free. We’ll get to see firsthand what’s been held back for so long. The only question is, what side will I be found on?
Lord Jesus, thank you for being patient with me for so long. I thank you that I’m surrounded by unseen friends, and I thank you that even more importantly, you surround me with your power and love and grace. Wow.