The Expository Files



Pagan Theology

Isaiah 36


When engaged in debates about God and the Bible with nonbelievers, it is common for the nonbeliever to make claims about the believer’s convictions or to trot out some factoid about the Bible to bolster their case. He will say, “the Bible is full of contradictions” or “your God endorses slavery, genocide, and the subjugation of women.” The implication is, “I know more about your faith than you do. If you weren’t so ignorant and sheep-like, you’d convert to non-belief too.” There are such things as ignorant believers (hopefully not us!) and informed nonbelievers. But as a matter of habit, do not let nonbelievers tell you what you believe. To illustrate, consider this story from Isaiah 36.


After conquering the northern kingdom of Israel, Assyria marched south to Judah. When they arrived at the city city gates of Jerusalem, they made the same offer they made to every capital they conquered: “Will you surrender to us, saving yourself a lot of death and destruction? Or will we have to besiege your city, starve you out, and destroy you?” King Sennacherib sent his Rabshakeh (chief officer), who negotiated loudly in the Hebrew language so that all Jerusalem would understand and cower at Assyria. The Rabshakeh mocked King Hezekiah and Judah for trusting their God. But consider the theological truth of his jeers.


“But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the Lord our God’, is not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed?” (Isaiah 36:7). The Rabshakeh had heard of King Hezekiah’s mission to tear down the high places where idols were worshipped. For this, God had lauded Hezekiah: (Hezekiah) removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah…and the Lord was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered (2 Kings 18:4, 7). But to the Rabshakeh’s pagan and polytheistic mind, Yahweh was just one god among many, and in tearing down the altars, Hezekiah had simply removed other potentially helpful gods from Judah. The Rabshakeh wrongly mocks what God had commended.


Later the Rabshakeh urged Judah to ignore Hezekiah’s pleas to stay faithful to Yahweh: “Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’” (Isaiah 36:18-20). Assyria had invaded nation after nation, each with their own gods. After conquering each nation and their gods, they enlisted those conquered gods in their pantheon and believed Assyria’s divine power increased with each victory. To Assyria, Yahweh was just another god to be conquered and added to the collection. How wrong they were: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Deuteronomy 10:17).


Do you see the problem with letting unbelieving pagans tell you what you believe? They evaluate your beliefs and tell you what you should do based on their own worldview (pagan polytheism or atheism). They transplant all of their assumptions onto your theology. In the end, Yahweh shows his sovereignty in Isaiah 37 and 2 Kings 19, and the mocking Rabshakeh is shown to be the fool all along. Don’t let nonbelievers tell you what you believe.


  By  Drew Nelson
From Expository Files 23.12; December 2016