What is the most harmful sin?

It's all about me. sin of self-sufficiency

Or so we like to think!

Another blog I follow makes a good case that the most harmful sin is sexual immorality, the one sin that people commit against their own body.

No doubt it seriously threatens everything God ordained about human relationships.

But I’m leading a Bible study on Isaiah. It shows me something else even more harmful: the sin of self-sufficiency. After all, not everyone commits sexual sin, but no one is immune to the sin of self-sufficiency.

In a series of ten oracles from Isaiah 12-23, the prophet rails against the self-sufficiency of mostly foreign nations. Assyria, under Sennacherib, sought world domination. Most of the other nations in these oracles thought they could bring Assyria down. And dominate the world themselves.

They thought they were acting on their own in what they considered their own best interest. In fact, God directed their history, their successes and failures, their rise and fall. But they never acknowledged him.

But in chapter 22, Isaiah has Jerusalem in the crosshairs. He takes direct aim at King Hezekiah, one of Judah’s godliest kings.

Jerusalem’s coming doom

The other nine oracles concern current events, with glances toward end times. But look at how Isaiah begins to handle his denunciation of Judah:


Isaiah portrait. sin of self-sufficiency

Isaiah. Klosterneuburger Evangelienwerk, fol. 12r., ca. 1340

The oracle of the Valley of Vision.

What ails you now,
that you all have gone up to the housetops,
you who were full of noise,
a tumultuous city, a joyous city?
Your slain are not slain with the sword,
nor did they die in battle.
All your rulers have fled together;
they are captured by the archers.
All of you who were found were taken captive together,
although they had fled from afar.
Therefore, I say, “Look away from me,
I will weep bitterly;
do not try to comfort me
because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.”

For it is a day of trouble and of treading down and of perplexity
by the Lord God of Hosts
in the Valley of Vision,
a breaking down of the walls
and a crying to the mountains.
Elam took up the quiver
with chariots of men and horsemen,
and Kir uncovered the shield.
Your choicest valleys shall be full of chariots,
and the horsemen shall set themselves in array at the gate.

And He shall remove the protection of Judah.
You shall depend in that day
on the weapons of the house of the forest;
you have seen also that the breaches
of the City of David are many;
and you gathered together the waters
of the lower pool.
10 You have numbered the houses of Jerusalem,
and the houses you have broken down to fortify the wall. – Modern English Version


The city is making a joyful noise, and Isaiah demands to know why. So far, I have not quoted the conclusion of the oracle, verses 11-14, which answers the question. Meanwhile, we need to look at some of the details.

The dead aren’t slain with the sword. They die of starvation under siege conditions (v. 2). Isaiah names Elam as the enemy at the gate (v 6). The rulers have fled and gotten captured (v. 3), but not before tearing down people’s houses to shore up the wall (v. 10).

These circumstances don’t describe conditions under the Assyrian menace. Sennacherib’s army didn’t live long enough to carry out its siege (Isaiah 37:36-38). Elam, at the time, was allied with Babylon against Assyria.

These verses do describe conditions a little over a hundred years later under King Zedekiah. The Babylonians besieged Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah tore down houses to get materials to repair the wall (Jeremiah 33:4). Then he and the whole army tried to flee Jerusalem through a breach in the wall (2 Kings 25:1-7).

The Babylonians captured Zedekiah and burned Jerusalem to the ground. That was the end of the Kingdom of Judah and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s oracle. At least, of these ten verses.

Hezekiah’s chief accomplishment and failure

Hezekiah. sin of self-sufficiency

King Hezekiah / Anonymous, 17th century

Before continuing with the oracle, we need to look at what was happening in Jerusalem at the time Isaiah delivered it.

When Hezekiah observed that Sennacherib had come and that he turned to war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military men to stop up the waters of the springs that were outside the city, and they helped in this.

So, many people assembled and worked to stop up all the springs and the stream flowing through the area. They reasoned, “Why should the king of Assyria come and find a great amount of water?”

He then worked hard to build up all the walls that were broken down and to raise up towers. Then he built another wall outside that one and strengthened the Millo in the City of David. And he made weapons and shields in abundance. – 2 Chronicles 32:2-5

The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah, all his power, how he made a pool and a conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? – 2 Kings 20:20

Do you remember how Nathan approached David to denounce his affair with Bathsheba? He told a story about a poor man and how a rich man killed his lamb. When David angrily pronounced sentence on the man, Nathan revealed that he had told the story about David himself.

Isaiah does something similar with Hezekiah’s sin of self-sufficiency. The first ten verses of the oracle describe a city rejoicing when they ought to be mourning the doom of their city. Hezekiah must have been upset to hear this oracle. Who would behave like the people described in it? Then Isaiah revealed his point.

You are the man, Hezekiah

Hezekiah's tunnel. sin of self-sufficiency

The tunnel Hezekiah built

The eleventh verse begins, as several others, with “you.” But this time, “you” doesn’t refer to the city as a whole. Nor does it refer to some future time. It can mean only Hezekiah himself.

11 You also made a reservoir between the two walls
for the water of the old pool.
But you have not looked to its Maker,
nor did you respect Him who fashioned it long ago.

12 In that day the Lord God of Hosts
called you to weeping and mourning,
and to tear your hair and wear sackcloth.
13 Yet, there is joy and gladness,
slaying of oxen and killing of sheep,
eating of meat and drinking wine:
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we may die.”

14 It was revealed in my hearing by the Lord of Hosts: Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you until you die, says the Lord God of Hosts.

Hezekiah’s fatal self-sufficiency

destruction of jerusalem by nebuchadnezzar/. sin of self-sufficiency

Destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuzaradan of Babylon / William Brassey Hole

Isaiah intended these ten oracles to persuade Hezekiah not to enter alliances with Egypt or Babylon. He counseled the king to rely on God and not his own self-sufficiency.

But Hezekiah made alliances with both. Then he pulled off a masterpiece of engineering to assure the city’s water supply under siege conditions.

Hezekiah was a genuinely pious man of God. And just one in a succession of kings who got off to a great start and ended his reign badly. Securing the water supply was Hezekiah’s idea, not God’s. God intended with water supply to be the weak link in Jerusalem’s defense. He wanted the city to rely on  him in faith.

Despite Isaiah’s warnings and pleadings, Hezekiah chose to rely on his own cleverness and diplomatic skill rather than on God. After all, why depend on faith when you can form partnerships and build defensive infrastructure?

He may well have performed acts of faith at the same time he fell into self-sufficiency. But the sin had long-term consequences.

The people in v. 2 were rejoicing because it seemed Hezekiah had delivered them. Killing all those animals in v. 13 was not for a sacrifice, but for a big party. But this chapter is hardly the first time Isaiah had predicted doom because of Judah’s sin. They should have taken him seriously and mourned along with him.

Because they didn’t, God pledged not to forgive them for the sin of self-sufficiency as long as they lived.

None of Hezekiah’s maneuvering had any effect on the Assyrian menace. God supernaturally broke the siege by killing off Sennacherib’s army overnight.

The alliance with Egypt turned out badly; Egypt proved untrustworthy time and again. The alliance with Babylon turned out badly; Babylon merely became the new neighborhood bully. It destroyed Jerusalem and deported the people.

If one of the heroes of the Old Testament can so easily choose self-sufficiency over faith, what chance do any of us have today to avoid that sin?

None, apart from deliberately choosing faith at every opportunity.

Photo credits:
It’s all about me. Some rights reserved by Randy Willis.
Isaiah. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Hezekiah. Public domain
Hezekiah’s tunnel. Photo by Tamar Hayardeni. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Siloam22.jpg rel=”nofollow”
Destruction of Jerusalem. Public domain

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