For about the past six weeks, I’ve been studying for twelve hours each day. I know this because I’ve been timing myself. I keep a stopwatch on my desk. When I’m studying, I start it, and if I get up to get a snack or go to the bathroom, I stop it. It helps me stay motivated and keep account of my time.
I’ve been studying because I take step 1 of my licensing exam in three days. There are three parts of the exam, but the first is the most important, because residencies use the scores to sift which students they will and will not seriously consider hiring. I’ve rarely been this stressed in my life, and I’ve rarely ever worked this hard. Sometimes, the weight of studying seems crushing, as page after page accumulates, and half-remembered factoids keep me awake at night as I try to remember what I’ve forgotten.
There’s a beautiful and terrifying passage in Isaiah that describes ancient Judah in a much more dire situation than mine. The Assyrian empire is ravaging the world, and the tide-waters of the Assyrian army are lapping at the gates of Jerusalem. While Jerusalem is under seige, King Hezekiah sends Eliakim out of the city gates to negotiate. At this point, everything Judah trusted in has failed them. Egypt won’t rescue them. Their army is dwarfed by the Assyrians.
Eliakim and two others go out alone to meet the Assyrians, and Rabshakeh, apparently some kind of Assyrian commander, begins to mock and taunt. Rabshakeh promises that Jerusalem will fall, that Egypt won’t save them, that the Jews have no strategy, and that God Himself certainly won’t rescue Judah.
Eliakim must have been terrified. You can imagine him standing before the countless, clattering Assyrian army, trying to remember what he was supposed to say. Isaiah describes the moment colorfully–Eliakim is a peg in a wall, and all of Judah’s hope is hanging on his negotiating skills. At first, he is strong and secure, but as item after item is hung on the peg, the tension builds. Eliakim fails, and the peg with all the pots and pans that were hanging on it comes crashing to the ground:
“In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah… And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.”
When Rabshakeh is done taunting, Eliakim doesn’t know what to say. Rather than negotiating, or boasting that God would save them, Eliakim asks Rabshakeh to please speak in Aramaic, rather than Hebrew, so that the soldiers on the walls of besieged Jerusalem will not be able to understand, probably hoping that the soldiers on the wall won’t become even more terrified (Isaiah 36:11). Predictably, Rabshakeh then begins shouting to the men on the wall in Hebrew, telling them that their God and their king can’t save them, and that they should either surrender or die (36:13-20).
Israel’s response? “But they were silent and answered him not a word.” (36:21).
Eliakim had failed. Like Israel, I often hang all my hopes on the amount of studying I do, and on my own ability to learn material. This is a mistake. At some point, I will fail. I’m not a secure peg. Studying is necessary, but only God can make me succeed–only God can make anyone succeed.
Hezekiah was crushed when Eliakim returned with the news. Now that Israel had nothing left to rely on, Hezekiah could only rely on God. He prayed, and the Lord answered. There was some kind of plague, or something more miraculous, and thousands of Assyrians died, so that they had to return home (Isaiah 37:36-37).
I am not a reliable peg, and nothing I study is a reliable peg. God has gotten me into medical school, and He’ll take me through it with just the right step 1 score, and just the right grades. All of my hopes and concerns should be hung on Him–anything else is bound to fail eventually.
“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into the city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”