When the king heard concerning King Tirhakah of Ethiopia, "See, he has set out to fight against you," he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying, "Thus shall you speak to King Hezekiah of Judah: Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.
Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it; then Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said: "O Lord the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have hurled their gods into the fire, though they were no gods but the work of human hands ֠wood and stone ֠and so they were destroyed. So now, O Lord our God, save us, I pray you, from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone."
Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, "Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I have heard you prayer to me about King Sennacherib of Assyria. This is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him: "She despises you, she scorns you ֠virgin daughter Zion; she tosses her head ֠behind your back, daughter Jerusalem. From Jerusalem a remnant shall go out, and from Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
"Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city, shoot an arrow there, come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege-ramp against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return; he shall not come into this city, says the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David."
That very night the angel of the Lord set out and struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria left, went home, and lived at Nineveh. As he was worshiping in the house of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. His son Esar-haddon succeeded him.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
"In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."
Sometimes we cope better with failure than with success. People who have to work hard and pass through all the stages of developing a business, a farm, or a family inheritance, generally show more care for their work, and deeper joy in their creativity, than the next generation who receive it on a golden platter.
The Assyrians spread their empire from the borders of Egypt across the fertile crescent of Israel, Lebanon and Syria, south into Iraq and eastward towards Iran. At Nineveh their capital city, the archaeologists' pickaxes have unearthed an immense library of literature and history. At home the Assyrians were cultured and polite, abroad they were greedy and insolent. In his pride the Assyrian king did not hesitate to claim divine status and dared to blaspheme the Lord Yahweh. Emboldened by their wealth and military might the Assyrians felt secure against any harm or revenge, and like all tyrants, they demanded ever greater tribute from vassal states and grew intolerant of any signs of independence.
Like the Assyrians, we can be victims of our own success. Our worst mistakes are often made when we have the money and the leisure to do so, and even family members can turn on each other in the flush of prosperity. Today's text reflects our common difficulty in dealing with success, but also offers a way out of this impasse. Wryly, Jesus advises us not to toss our pearls before swine, and not to follow the wide and easy way to damnation. In a more desperate situation King Hezekiah took the letter of ultimatum from the hand of the Assyrian messengers, and brought it up to the temple and prayed in the Lord's presence. He did not take the easy way, of caving in and surrendering just to save the royal family; but they each acted bravely and prudently, in a way that already anticipated the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount.#
In the gospel Jesus speaks of two ways between which each person must choose. The image of the two ways was widespread in the Old Testament and also in pagan philosophers. Jesus compares the narrow gate and the hard road which the few take with the wide and spacious road which the many take. He himself embodies the narrow gate and the hard road. To take the narrow gate and the hard road is to follow him, to live by his teaching, especially as that teaching is expressed in the Sermon on the Mount from which we have been reading in recent days. Jesus implies that many people will turn away from his teaching, will take other, easier, paths. The Sermon on the Mount puts before us a very high ideal and the temptation is to keep it at arm's length on the basis that it is not really for the average Christian. Yet, Jesus addresses his teaching to everyone; we each have the same calling which we try to live out in the circumstances of our own lives. The narrow gate and the hard road is one we are all asked to take. In taking it Jesus assures us that we will find life, both now and beyond death.