Tag Archives: 2 Kings 19

The Critical Discernment of Criticism

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.
2 Kings 19:14 (NIV)

When we left the story yesterday, the commander of the invading Assyrian army was talking smack at the gates of Jerusalem. The intent was the same then as it is today with smack talking on the athletic field, the playground, corporate offices, or elsewhere. The goal is to get inside the other person’s head, create doubt, instill fear, and win the psychological battle.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity of working with a wonderful group of people in my local gathering of Jesus followers. These individuals are actively working to develop their gifts and abilities at communicating God’s Message in front of a large group of people. I have enjoyed the privilege of helping mentor them in their development.

Every communicator who regularly stands in front of a group of listeners must at some point confront unwarranted criticism. I encounter the occasional denier who shuns all criticism. I had someone who once told me, “the root word of ‘criticism’ is ‘critical’ which is inherently negative.” I chose not to respond, knowing that I was speaking to a person whose heart and ears were closed to the fact that “critical” is also defined as “skillful judgment” and “decisive importance.” Most individuals understand that fair, knowledgable, and objective criticism is a crucial ingredient to improvement.

I’ve come to understand, however, that some unwarranted criticism you receive is a lot like smack talking. Smack talking critics can be identified by their intent, and that’s where discernment is required. Their criticism is not an honest and loving response intended to help the recipient (as much as they will claim that it is). Their criticism is an emotional gut reaction intended to defend something that has been stirred or threatened within themselves.

In this morning’s chapter, I found King Hezekiah’s response to the Assyrian threats fascinating. He immediately took the text of the threats to the temple, to the prophet Isaiah, and “spread it out before the Lord.” What a great word picture. Hezekiah didn’t eat the words and let them sicken his thoughts. He didn’t completely and foolishly dismiss the words and the threat. His actions were a measured and calculated response. He “spread them out” with a desire to get a good, objective look, wise counsel, and divine wisdom. What is true? What is not true? What is the intent of the message? What should I take from this? What should I ignore?

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the amazing story that plays out in the rest of the chapter. The “word of the Lord” through Isaiah was that God was going to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians. Over night the Assyrian army was miraculously decimated and forced to withdraw. This was a historical event about which speculation and theories still abound.

This morning I’m reminded of my need of criticism, and the equal need to learn discernment with the unsolicited feedback I receive from others. I need to recognize and dismiss the misguided smack talk of people unconsciously reacting out of their own stuff. I also need to seek out and embrace the wise, honest and helpful reflections from those who love me and desire my continued, healthy development. It’s not just a good thing, it’s critical to the process of my maturity.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Kings 19

The Angel of the Lord. And it so happened that that very night an angel of God came and massacred 185,000 Assyrians. When the people of Jerusalem got up next morning, there it was—a whole camp of corpses! 2 Kings 19:35 (MSG)

When we left the previous chapter, the city of Jerusalem was beseiged by the dreaded Assyrian army and the envoys of the Assyrian king were trash-talking to King Hezekiah's representatives. I mentioned that the key to breaking a seige was perseverance (in the face of a painful season with little provision), a strong will (to stand against the arrogant taunts the enemy continually spoke to break you psychologically), and a Deliverer. In today's chapter, we read (a' la Paul Harvey), the rest of the story.

King Hezekiah went first to consult with God's prophet, Isaiah who assures the King that God is not going to let the Assyrian King take Jerusalem. If you want to read more specifically regarding God's message through Isaiah concerning Assyria, read Isaiah 10:5-19 and Isaiah 37. King Hezekiah responds by going to the temple, bows down before God, and praying like he'd never prayed before.

The next day the Assyrian camp was littered with 185,000 corpses. The Deliverer, the Angel of the Lord, brought about a miraculous and unforeseen outcome. The event of the Assyrian army's demise was reported by other historians of antiquity. The Greek historian Herodatus wrote of the event and explained that bubonic plague had rapidly spread through the camp. It brings to mind the Angel of the Lord spreading the plagues through Egypt in delivering the Israelites from captivity in Egypt.

I love the story of Jerusalem's dramatic and miraculous deliverance. At the same time, I think about the seasons of life in which I feel beseiged on all sides. It's perplexing why God dramtically delivers in some moments, and remains agonizingly silent in others. I look back, and I understand that seasons of drought and pain have ultimately produced good things in my life like perseverance, reliance, wisdom, faith, endurance, and humility. Experience has taught me that God's purpose is at work in my pain.

Nevertheless, I prefer those moments when God miraculously delivers us from our troubles.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and aussiegall