One choice.

That’s all it takes to dramatically impact your life. The parents in the college-bribery scandal now know this. Day after day we learn more about them, but what about the man behind the scam? How did William “Rick” Singer engage these parents?

According to families interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Singer styled himself as a college counselor and then scared parents.

Take Dan Larson. Singer spoke at his club, essentially saying that grades and activities weren’t enough, that kids needed more to get into elite schools. Suddenly worried, Dan Larson met with Singer, who advised Larson to have his daughter diagnosed with something like anxiety so Singer’s proctor could help her with the test. Larson also needed to donate $15,000 to Singer’s charity. None of it sounded legitimate and Larson backed away.

But things could get scary. When another parent refused to make a donation, Singer’s company took actions against his son. It scared this parent, wondering if Singer was now harming his son’s chances for acceptance.

The Bible has such fear-mongering characters. Consider the Rabshakeh (RAB-shay-keh).

We aren’t certain who he is—probably a general. The Rabshakeh suddenly appears in Scripture, arriving at the gates of Jerusalem with an Assyrian army. It’s nearly 700 years B.C., and all of Israel has fallen to Assyria except Jerusalem.

Like Singer, first the Rabshakeh scares his prey. He says to the Hebrews, “The Lord said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.’” (Isaiah 36:10)

That’s believable—Northern Israel has fallen because God chose Assyria to conquer the land. This threat worries the three emissaries King Hezekiah has sent out to meet the Rabshakeh. They ask the Rabshakeh to speak in Aramaic and not in Hebrew, the language of the people.

The Rabshakeh refuses, saying, “Has my master sent me to speak these words…to you and…not to the men sitting on the wall who are doomed to eat their dung and drink their urine.” (Isaiah 36:12)

As I said, he’s scary.

“Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you…make your peace with me,” the Rabshakeh shouts before the city’s walls, promising that the Hebrews will drink from their wells and eat from their fig trees until the Rabshakeh returns to take them to a land like their own. (Isaiah 36:13-17)

Just as Singer never mentioned that parents could go to prison, neither does the Rabshakeh. Yet the Rabshakeh knows the Hebrews will become Assyrian slaves. He knows how Assyria has led captives away, roped together for the march to Assyria—branded, stripped naked, and shaved bald. In fact, Isaiah walked naked for three years so the Hebrews wouldn’t be fooled about their fate. (Isaiah 3:18-24, 20:3-4)

The emissaries return to Hezekiah visibly shaken—their clothes torn in anguish. The Rabshakeh then sends a letter to Hezekiah and the liar now changes his tune: “Don’t let your God in whom you trust deceive you…”

Remember the Rabshakeh’s original threat had been that God sent Assyria to capture Jerusalem.

Now the Rabshakeh says God is deceiving Hezekiah by promising that Jerusalem won’t fall, and that no god has ever saved a nation from Assyria. (Isaiah 37:10-13)

These lies go too far. Hezekiah knows God isn’t deceitful and powerless. Rick Singer made that same mistake with Dan Larson and other parents, trying to explain what wasn’t believable.

Here’s what Hezekiah does, what the parents caught in the scandal should have done. The good king, with all the lives of his people in his hands, takes the letter to the temple, lays it before God, and prays for help.

This pleases the Lord.

God tells Isaiah to reassure the king, and that night an angel kills 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. The Assyrian king immediately withdraws, returning home where he’s later assassinated. (Isaiah 37:14-38)

Remember Singer and the Rabshakeh. In fact, the Rabshakeh's story is so important it’s repeated twice in Scripture, which rarely happens. (See 2 Kings 18:13 ff.)

Evil depends upon fear, but God is your strength. Always take your troubles to Him in prayer. Sometimes you may want to kneel at the altar of your church and lay your heavy heart there.

Jesus will guide you.

Copyright © 2019 R.A. Mathews The Rev Mathews is a faith columnist, attorney, and the author of “Reaching to God.” She may be reached at Letters@RAMathews.com.