The Stunning Effect of Prayer Illustrated

John Piper, in a sermon, “Prayer and the Victory of God”

Now to fix this truth vividly in your minds—that the victory of God is coming and that it is coming by means of our prayers—look with me at Isaiah 37 and one stunning illustration of prayer and the victory of God.

Sennacherib was the terrifying king of the great nation of Assyria. He came up against all the fortified cities of Judah where Hezekiah was king (Isaiah 36:1). From a human standpoint Jerusalem was helpless before such a force. He sent his general, the Rabshakeh, to warn Jerusalem to surrender. The Rabshakeh mocks the God of Israel and says that no one can deliver them. Hezekiah tears his clothes and goes into the house of God (Isaiah 37:1). Isaiah sends word to Hezekiah that Sennacherib will be diverted by a rumor. So it happens. But the relief is only temporary. Sennacherib sends a letter to Hezekiah with a new threat. Isaiah 37:10: “Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”

This time the text says in Isaiah 37:14, “Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 ‘O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth. 17 Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; . . . 20 O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.’” This is a prayer for the victory of God and the salvation of his helpless people before a great enemy.

The key phrase comes in verse 21: “Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, 22 this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him: . . . 33 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. 35 For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.’”

Then God does what he said. Verse 36: “And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians.” This may be the one stunning fact that acts like an anchor in your memory for this sermon. Hezekiah prayed for the rescue of Jerusalem and the victory of God. And verse 21 says “because you prayed” God sent his angel to slay 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one sovereign stroke.

One man prays for the salvation of God’s people and the victory of God, and God responds by killing 185,000 soldiers and rescuing his people.

Today the enemies of the church of Jesus Christ are not political or national or ethnic. Paul said, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Until our King comes from heaven, we wish the destruction of no man. As Christians we do not kill our enemies, we pray for our enemies, as Jesus taught us to do (Matthew 5:44).

The great battle today is fought not with swords but with the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen. It is fought for the souls of men. It is fought in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is fought with words of truth and deeds of love and justice. And all of that backed by prayer. The victory will come and will come by prayer.

Therefore, in this new year, pray for the victory of God. Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Send forth laborers, O God. Open a door for the gospel. Give boldness to your people. Save the peoples, O Lord. Vindicate your elect who cry to you day and night. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.