In quietness and trust

Rout of San Romano

The Rout of San Romano (center panel) / Paolo Uccello, 1456

How do respond to a lingering crisis? Does quietness and trust make it to the top of your list? If it doesn’t, you’re not alone. Yet God says that’s where we get his strength. What comes of failure or even outright refusal to get quiet before God?

In Isaiah 30:15 God says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,
 but you would have none of it.” Isaiah spent his career telling the people of Israel what it took to have God work for them and not against them, but hardly anyone paid attention. Israel’s constant bad response to a persistent problem can teach us a lot about why we see and experience so many problems today.

Israel’s persistent foreign policy failure

Isaiah began his personal ministry near the end of the reign of King Uzziah, a powerful but proud monarch who contracted leprosy when he insisted on taking over the prerogatives of the priesthood. His son Jotham operated as regent, then king in his own right. According to 2 Chronicles 27:2, he did not enter the temple of the Lord. He did right in God’s eyes, but appears to have kept his distance. Could that explain why his son and successor Ahaz was such a complete godless disaster?

Ahaz followed the example of the kings of the northern kingdom. He abandoned the living God for disgusting idols that demanded human sacrifice. He even offered his own sons to be burned alive to placate them.

Ahaz was not the first apostate king of Judah, but the others had at least been competent political and military leaders. When three petty local kings decided to make war on him, Ahaz decided to respond with cowardly cleverness and asked the king of Assyria, the big local superpower and bully, to rescue him.

Assyria was always glad to have someone to fight, but in return they made Judah into a vassal state and Ahaz into their puppet. From that time on, Judah ceased to be an independent nation and struggled unsuccessfully to throw off the Assyrian yoke.

When Ahaz died, his son Hezekiah returned to the Lord. The Bible describes in detail how he cleansed the temple in order to restore true worship.

Hezekiah turned away from his father’s apostasy, but unfortunately, not from his reliance on his own cleverness in foreign policy. Despite a miraculous deliverance from an Assyrian siege, Hezekiah did not rely on quietness and trust in God for his strength.

After a miraculous recovery from a fatal illness, Hezekiah entertained a delegation from Babylon, at that time another Assyrian client state that appeared to be gaining sufficient power to rebel. He made an alliance with them. Once Babylon defeated the Assyrians, they took over as the big bully on the block and continued to harass Judah. Hezekiah’s son and successor Manasseh became even more wicked than Ahaz.

You can find this story narrated in 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, and Isaiah, but Isaiah 30:16-18 describes it prophetically:

You said, “No, we will flee on horses.”
Therefore you will flee!
You said, “We will ride off on swift horses.”
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

What ancient history has to do with us

Ahaz sought an alliance with Assyria because he refused to repent of his ungodliness, because he refused to get quiet before God, and because he didn’t trust God to help him. The world still responds to trouble in exactly the same way.

Later on, the leaders and people Judah tried to flee from Assyria for the same reasons. Hezekiah was a godly king, but he, too, sought to solve his problem using his own cleverness. He, too, failed to get quiet before God. He loved God. He worshipped God rightly. He failed to trust God. Christians—both individually and corporately as the church—still respond to trouble in exactly the same way.

It’s part of the human condition to turn first to our own strengths and abilities in dealing with any problem. And if everything works out, we’re quick to take the credit for our own cleverness.

If everything does not work out, it’s part of the human condition to focus more and more attention on the problem and casting about for whatever resources we can think of to solve it.

Quiet contemplation

Quiet contemplation

Prayer, if it happens at all, still has the problem as its focus. Looking to God after some Assyria or Babylon has failed does him no honor. Where does God say that salvation and strength come from?

  • repentence: withdrawing from the world and returning to God
  • rest: cessation of the frantic activity of trying to solve or run from a problem
  • quietness: undisturbed tranquility
  • trust: taking God at his word in complete confidence

Through Isaiah, God says he longs to be gracious to us. Christians all agree. But do we truly believe? God promises to rise up and show compassion. Christians all agree. But do we truly believe? The Lord is a God of justice. Christians all agree. But do we truly believe?

It may take longer than we like, but blessed are all who tarry, who hang around and wait patiently for the Lord to display his compassion toward us. Waiting does not mean inactivity. It does mean going to God first and not last, hearing his voice, and humbly obeying.

Photo credits:
Rout of San Romano. Public domain
Quiet contemplation. Some rights reserved by luckyjimmy.

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