|<< Isaiah 36 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
This chapter commences the historical portion of Isaiah, which continues to the close of Isaiah 39:1-8. The main subject is the destruction of Sennacherib and his army. It contains also an account of the sickness and recovery of Hezekiah; the song with which he celebrated his recovery; and an account of his ostentation in showing his treasures to the ambassadors of the king of Babylon. In 2 Chronicles 32:32, the following record occurs: 'Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold they are written in the vision of Isaiah, the son of Amoz;' and it is to this portion of Isaiah to which the author of the Book of Chronicles doubtless refers.
There was an obvious propriety in Isaiah's making a record of the invasion and destruction of Sennacherib. That event has occupied a considerable portion of his prophetic announcements; and as he lived to see them fulfilled, it was proper that he should record the event. The prophecy and its fulfillment can thus be compared together; and while there is the strongest internal testimony that the prophecy was uttered before the event, there is also the most striking and clear fulfillment of all the predictions on the subject.
A parallel history of these transactions occurs in 2 Kings 17-20, and in 2 Chronicles 32. The history in Chronicles, though it contains an account of the same transaction, is evidently by another hand, as it bears no further resemblance to this, than that it contains an account of the same transactions. But between the account here and in 2 Kings here is a most striking resemblance, so much so as to show that they were mainly by the same hand. It has been made a matter of inquiry whether Isaiah was the original author, or whether he copied a history which he found in the Book of Kings, or whether both he and the author of the Book of Kings copied from some original document which is now lost, or whether the collectors of the prophetic writings after the return from the captivity at Babylon, judging that such a history would appropriately explain the prophecies of Isaiah, copied the account from some historical record, and inserted it among his prophecies. This last is the opinion of Rosenmuller - an opinion which evidently lacks all historical evidence, and indeed all probability. The most obvious and fair supposition undoubtedly is, that this history was inserted here by Isaiah, or that he made this record according to the statement in 2 Chronicles 32:32. Gesenius also accords substantially with Rosenmuller in supposing that this history is an elaboration of that in the Book of Kings, and that it was reduced to its present form by some one who collected and edited the books of Isaiah after the Babylonian captivity. Vitringa supposes that both the accounts in Kings and in Isaiah have been derived from a common historical document, and have been adopted and somewhat abridged and modified by the author of the Book of Kings and by Isaiah.
It is impossible now to determine the truth in regard to this subject; nor is it of much importance. Those who are desirous of seeing the subject discussed more at length may consult Vitringa, Rosenmuller, and Gesenius. The view of Gesenius is chiefly valuable because he has gone into a comparison of the account in Isaiah with that in Kings. The following remarks are all that occur to me as desirable to make, and express the conclusion which I have been able to form on the subject:
1. The two accounts have a common origin, or are substantially the production of the same hand. This is apparent on the face of them. The same course of the narrative is pursued, the same expressions occur, and the same style of composition is found. It is possible, indeed, that the Holy Spirit might have inspired two different anthors to adopt the same style and expressions in recording the same events, but this is not the mode elsewhere observed in the Scriptures. Every sacred writer is allowed to pursue his own method of narration, and to express himself in a style and manner of his own.
2. There is no evidence that the two accounts were abridged from a more full narrative. Such a thing is possible; nor is there any impropriety in the supposition. But it lacks historical support. That there were histories among the Jews which are now lost; that there were public records which were the fountains from where the authors of the histories which we now have drew their information, no one can doubt who reads the Old Testament. Thus we have accounts of the writings of Gaff, and Iddo the seer, and Nathan, and the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and of the Book of Jehu the prophet 2 Chronicles 9:29; 2 Chronicles 20:34; 1 Kings 16:1, all of which are now lost, except so far as they are incorporated in the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament. It is possible, therefore, that these accounts may have been abridged from some such common record, but there is no historical testimony to the fact.
3. There is no evidence that these chapters in Isaiah were inserted by Ezra, or the other inspired men who collected the Sacred Writings, and published a recension, or an edition of them after the return from Babylon. That there was such a work performed by Ezra and his contemporaries is the testimony of all the Jewish historians (see Dr. Alexander "On the Canon of Scripture"). But there is no historical evidence that they thus introduced into the writings of Isaiah an entire historical narrative from the previous histories, or that they composed this history to be inserted here. It is done nowhere else. And had it been done on this occasion, we should have had reason to expect that they would have inserted historical records of the fulfillment of all the other prophecies which had been fulfilled. We should have looked, therefore, for historical statements of the downfall of Damascus and Syria; of the destruction of Samaria, of Moab of Babylon, and of Tyre, as proofs of the fulfillment of the predictions of Isaiah. There can be no reason why the account of the destruction of Sennacherib should have been singled out and inserted in preference to others. And this is especially true in regard to Babylon. The prophecy of Isaiah Isa. 13; 14 had been most striking and clear; the fulfillment had also been most remarkable; Ezra and his contemporaries must have felt a much deeper interest in that than in the destruction of Sennacherib; and it is unaccountable, therefore, if they inserted this narrative respecting Sennacherib, that they did not give us a full account also of the overthrow of Babylon, and of their deliverance, as showing the fulfillment of the prophecies on that subject.
4. The author of the Books of Kings is unknown. There is reason to believe that these books, as well as the Books of Chronicles, and some other of the historical books of the Old Testament, were written by the prophets; or at least compiled and arranged by some inspired man, from historical sketches that were made by the prophets. To such sketches or narratives we find frequent reference in the books themselves. Thus Nathan the prophet, and Ahijah the Shilonite, and Iddo the seer, recorded the acts of Solomon 2 Chronicles 9:29; thus the same Iddo the seer, and Shemaiah the prophet, recorded the acts of Rehoboam 2 Chronicles 12:15; thus the acts of Jehoshaphat were written in the Book of Jehu 2 Chronicles 20:34; and thus Isaiah wrote the acts of king Uzziah 2 Chronicles 26:22, and also of Hezekiah 2 Chronicles 32:32. Many of these historical sketches or fragments have not come down to us; but all that was essential to us has been doubtless incorporated into the sacred narrative, and transmitted to our own times. It is not improbable that many of these histories were mere fragments or public documents; narratives or sketches of a single reign, or some important fact in a reign, which were subsequently revised and inserted in the more extended history, so that, after all, it may be that we have all, or nearly all, of these fragments incorporated in the histories which we now possess.
5. As Isaiah is thus known to have written some portions of the history of the kings, it is probable that his history would be incorporated into the record of the kings by whomsoever that record might be composed. Indeed, the composition of the entire Books of Kings has been ascribed by many writers to Isaiah, though Grotius and some others ascribe it to Jeremiah. The general, and the probable opinion is, however, that the Books of the Kings were digested into their present form by Ezra. It is probable, therefore, I think, that Isaiah wrote the chapters in Kings respecting the invasion of Sennacherib; that the compiler of the Books of Kings, whoever he might be, adopted the fragment as a part of his history, and that the portion which we have here in Isaiah is the same fragment revised, abridged in some places, and enlarged in others, to adapt it to his purpose in introducing it into his book of prophecy. But it is admitted that this is conjecture. Every consideration, however, must lead us to suppose that this is the work of Isaiah (compare the Introduction, Section 5).
The portion of history contained in these chapters differs from the record in the Kings in several respects. There is no difference in regard to the historical facts, but the difference has respect to the fulness of the narratives, and to the change of a few words. The most material difference is that a few sentences, and members of sentences, are omitted in Isaiah which are found in Kings. These variations will be noticed in the exposition, and it is not necessary more particularly to refer to them here.
The thirty-sixth chapter contains the following parts, or subjects:
1. Sennacherib, having taken most of the strongholds of Judea, sent Rabshakeh with a great force to besiege Jerusalem, and to summon it to surrender Isaiah 36:1-2.
2. Hezekiah sent an embassy to meet with Rabshakeh, evidently to induce him to depart from the city Isaiah 36:3.
3. This embassy Rabshakeh addressed in a proud, insolent, and taunting speech, reproaching them with putting their trust in Egypt, and with their feebleness, and assuring them that Sennacherib had come up against the city at the command of Yahweh Isaiah 36:4-10.
4. The Jewish embassy requested Rabshakeh to speak in the Aramean or Syrian language, that the common people on the wall might not hear Isaiah 36:11.
5. To this he replied, that he came that they might hear; to endearour to draw them off from trusting to Hezekiah, and to induce them to submit to Sennacherib, promising them abundance in the land to which he would take them Isaiah 36:12-20.
6. To all this, the embassy of Hezekiah said nothing, but returned, as they had been instructed, into the city, with deep expressions of sorrow and grief Isaiah 36:21-22.
1Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them.
In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah - Of his reign, 709 b.c.
That Sennacherib - Sennacherib was son and successor of Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, and began to reign A.M. 3290, or 714 b.c., and reigned, according to Calmet, but four years, according to Prideaux eight years, and according to Gesenius eighteen years. The immediate occasion of this war against Judah was the fact that Hezekiah had shaken off the yoke of Assyria, by which his father Ahaz and the nation had suffered so much under Tiglath-pileser, or Shalmaneser 2 Kings 18:7. To reduce Judea again to subjection, as well as to carry his conquests into Egypt, appears to have been the design of this celebrated expedition. He ravaged the country, took the strong towns and fortresses, and prepared then to lay siege to Jerusalem itself. Hezekiah, however, as soon as the army of Sennacherib had entered Judea, prepared to put Jerusalem into a state of complete defense. At the advice of his counselors he stopped the waters that flowed in the neighborhood of the city, and that might furnish refreshment to a besieging army, built up the broken walls, enclosed one of the fountains within a wall, and prepared shields and darts in abundance to repel the invader 2 Chronicles 32:2-5.
Sennacherib, seeing that all hope of easily taking Jerusalem was taken away, apparently became inclined to hearken to terms of accommodation. Hezekiah sent to him to propose peace, and to ask the conditions on which he would withdraw his forces. He confessed his error in not paying the tribute stipulated by his father, and his willingness to pay now what should be demanded by Sennacherib. Sennacherib demanded three hundred talents of silver, and thirty talents of gold. This was paid by Hezekiah, by exhausting the treasury, and by stripping even the temple of its gold 2 Kings 18:13-16. It was evidently understood in this treaty that Sennacherib was to withdraw his forces, and return to his own land. But this treaty he ultimately disregarded (see the note at Isaiah 33:8). He seems, however, to have granted Hezekiah some respite, and to have delayed his attack on Jerusalem until his return from Egypt. This war with Egypt he prosecuted at first with great success, and with a fair prospect of the conquest of that country.
But having laid siege to Pelusium, and having spent much time before it without success, he was compelled at length to raise the siege, and to retreat. Tirhakah king of Ethiopia having come to the aid of Sevechus, the reigning monarch of Egypt, and advancing to the relief of Pelusium, Sennacherib was compelled to raise the siege, and retreated to Judea. Here, having taken Lachish, and disregarding his compact with Hezekiah, he sent an army to Jerusalem under Rabshakeh to lay siege to the city. This is the point in the history of Sennacherib to which the passage before us refers (see Prideaux's "Connection," vol. i. pp. 138-141; Jos. "Ant." x. 1; Gesenius "in loc;" and Robinson's Calmet).
All the defended cities - All the towns on the way to Egypt, and in the vicinity of Jerusalem (see the notes at Isaiah 10:28-32).
2And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field.
And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh - In 2 Kings 18:17, it is said that he sent Tartan, and Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh. In regard to Tartan, see the note at Isaiah 20:1. It is probable that Rabshakeh only is mentioned in Isaiah because the expedition may have been mainly under his direction, or more probably because he was the principal speaker on the occasion to which he refers.
From Lachish - This was a city in the south of the tribe of Judah, and was southwest of Jerusalem Joshua 10:23; Joshua 15:39. It was situated in a plain, and was the seat of an ancient Canaanite king. It was rebuilt and fortified by Rehoboam 2 Chronicles 11:9. It was in some respects a border town, and was a defense against the incursions of the Philistines. It was therefore situated between Jerusalem and Egypt, and was in the direct way of Sennacherib in his going to Egypt, and on his return. It lay, according to Eusebius and Jerome, seven Roman miles from Eleutheropolis toward the south. No trace of the town, however, is now to be found (see Robinson's "Bib. Researches," vol. ii. pp. 388, 389).
With a great army - Sennacherib remained himself for a time at Lachish, though he followed not long after. It is probable that he sent forward a considerable portion of his immense army, retaining only so many forces as he judged would be necessary to carry on the siege of Lachish. In 2 Chronicles 32:9, it is said that Sennacherib, while he sent his servants to Jerusalem, 'laid siege to Lachish and all his power with him;' but this must mean that he retained with him a considerable part of his army, and doubtless all that contributed to his magnificence and splendor. The word 'power' in 2 Chronicles 32:9, means also 'dominion' (see the margin), and denotes all the insignia of royalty: and this might have been retained while a considerable part of his forces had been sent forward to Jerusalem.
And he stood - He halted; he encamped there; He intended to make that the point of attack.
By the conduit ... - (See the notes at Isaiah 7:3)
3Then came forth unto him Eliakim, Hilkiah's son, which was over the house, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, Asaph's son, the recorder.
Then came forth unto him - Isaiah has here omitted what is recorded in 2 Kings 18:18, namely, that Rabshakeh and his companions 'called to the king,' and as the result of that probably Hezekiah sent out Eliakim.
Eliakim, Hilkiah's son, which was over the house - Respecting Eliakim, and his character, see the notes at Isaiah 22:20-25.
And Shebna the scribe - This may have been some other man than the one mentioned in Isaiah 22:15. He is there said to have been 'over the house,' and it is stated that he should be degraded from that office, and succeeded by Eliakim. It is possible, however, that Hezekiah retained him as scribe, or as secretary (see the analysis of Isaiah 22:15-25).
And Joah, Asaph's son, the recorder - The "chronicler;" the officer to whom was entrusted the keeping of the records of state. The Hebrew word means 'the remembrancer;' him by whose means former events might be recalled and remembered, perhaps an officer such as would be called historiographer.
4And Rabshakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?
What confidence - What is the ground of your confidence? on what do you trust? The appellation 'great king' was the customary title of the kings of the Persians and Assyrians.
5I say, sayest thou, (but they are but vain words) I have counsel and strength for war: now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me?
I say, sayest thou - In 2 Kings 18:20, this is 'thou sayest;' and thus many manuscripts read it here, and Lowth and Noyes have adopted that reading. So the Syriac reads it. But the sense is not affected whichever reading is adopted. It is designed to show to Hezekiah that his reliance, either on his own resources or on Egypt, was vain.
But they are but vain words - Margin, as Hebrew, 'A word of lips;' that is, mere words; vain and empty boasting.
On whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me? - Hezekiah had revolted from the Assyrian power, and had refused to pay the tribute which had been imposed on the Jews in the time of Ahaz 2 Kings 18:7.
6Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him.
Lo, thou trustest - It is possible that Sennacherib might have been apprised of the attempt which had been made by the Jews to secure the cooperation of Egypt (see the notes at Isaiah 30:1-7; Isaiah 31:1 ff), though he might not have been aware that the negotiation was unsuccessful.
In the staff of this broken reed - The same comparison of Egypt with a broken reed, or a reed which broke while they were trusting to it, occurs in Ezekiel 29:6-7. Reeds were doubtless used often for staves, as they are now. They are light and hollow, with long joints. The idea here is, that as a slender reed would break when a man leaned on it, and would pierce his hand, so it would be with Egypt. Their reliance would give way, and their trusting to Egypt would be attended with injury to themselves (compare Isaiah 30:5, Isaiah 30:7; Isaiah 31:3).
7But if thou say to me, We trust in the LORD our God: is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and to Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar?
But if thou say to me - If you shall make this plea, that you believe Yahweh will protect you in your revolt. The word 'thou' here refers to Hezekiah, or to the ambassadors speaking in his name. In 2 Kings 18:22, it is, 'but if ye say unto me;' that is, you ambassadors. The sense is substantially the same.
Is it not he ... - This is given as a reason why they should not put their confidence in Yahweh. The reason is, that he supposed that Hezekiah had removed all the altars of Yahweh from all parts of the land, and that they could not calculate on the protection of a God whose worship bad been abolished. It is probable that Sennacherib and Rabshakeh had beard of the reformation which had been effected by Hezekiah; of his destroying the groves and altars which had been consecrated in the reign of his father to idolatry, and perhaps of the fact that he had even destroyed the brass serpent which Moses had made, and which had become an object of idolatrous worship 2 Kings 18:4, and he may have supposed that all these altars and groves had been devoted to Yahweh, and were connected with his worship. He did not seem to understand that all that Hezekiah had done was only to establish the worship of Yahweh in the land.
High places - The worship of idols was usually performed in groves on high places; or on the tops of hills and mountains. It seems to have been supposed that worship in such places was more acceptable to the Deity. Perhaps it may have been because they thus seemed nearer the residence of the gods; or, perhaps, because there is sublimity and solemnity in such places - a stillness and elevation above the world which seem favorable to devotion (see 1 Samuel 9:12; 1 Kings 3:4; 2 Kings 12:2; 2 Chronicles 33:19). Chapels, temples, and altars, were erected on such places 1 Kings 13:22; 2 Kings 17:29, and ministers and priests attended there to officiate (1 Kings 12:32; 2 Kings 17:32). Even the kings of Judah, notwithstanding the express prohibition of Moses Deuteronomy 12, were engaged in such acts of worship 2 Kings 12:4; 2 Kings 14:4; 2 Kings 15:4, 2 Kings 15:35; 2 Chronicles 15:17; 2 Chronicles 20:33; and Solomon himself sacrificed in chapels of this kind 1 Kings 3:2. These places Hezekiah had destroyed; that is, he had cut down the consecrated groves, and had destroyed the chapels and temples which had been erected there. The fact that Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, had been distinguished for worshipping in such places had probably led the king of Assyria to suppose that this was the proper worship of the God of the Jews; and now that Hezekiah had destroyed them all, he seems to have inferred that he was guilty of gross irreligion, and could no longer depend on the protection of Yahweh.
And said to Judah and Jerusalem - He had commanded them to worship only in Jerusalem, at the temple. This was in strict accordance with the law of Moses; but this seems to have been understood by Sennacherib as in fact almost or quite banishing the worship of Yahweh from the land. Probably this was said to alienate the minds of the people from Hezekiah, by showing them that he had taken away their rights and privileges of worshipping God where they chose.
8Now therefore give pledges, I pray thee, to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.
Now, therefore, give pledges - Margin, 'Hostages.' The Hebrew verb (ערב ‛ârab) means properly to mix or mingle; then, to exchange commodities by barter or traffic; then, to become surety for anyone, to exchange with him, to stand in his place; then, to pledge, to pledge one's life, or to give security of any kind. Here it is used in a spirit of taunting or derision, and is equivalent to what would be said among us, 'I will bet you, or I will lay a wager, that if we should give you only two thousand horses, you could not find men enough to ride them, or men that had knowledge of horsemanship enough to guide them.' There was much severity in this taunt. The Jews hoped to defend themselves. Yet here was an immense army coming up to lay siege against them. What hope had they of defense? So weak and feeble were they, that Rabshakeh said they could not furnish even two thousand horsemen to resist all the host of the Assyrians. There was also, doubtless, much truth in this taunt. It was not permitted by the law of Moses for the Jews to keep cavalry, nor for their kings to multiply horses. The reason of this may be seen in the notes at Isaiah 2:7. Though some of the kings, and especially Solomon, had disregarded this law of Moses, yet Hezekiah had endeavored to restore the observance of the law, and it is probable that he find no cavalry, and that the art of horsemanship was little known in Jerusalem. As the Assyrians prided themselves on their cavalry, they consequently looked with contempt on a people who were destitute of this means of defense.
9How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master's servants, and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?
How then wilt thou turn away the face - The most unimportant captain in the army of Assyria commands more horsemen than this, and how can you expect to oppose even him, much more how can you be able to resist all the mighty army of the Assyrians?
One captain of the least - The word 'captain' here (פחת pachat, construct state from פחה pechâh) denotes a prefect or governor of a province less than a satrap, an officer who was under the satrap, and subject to him. It is applied to an officer in the Assyrian empire 2 Kings 18:24; in the Chaldean empire Jeremiah 51:23; the Persian Esther 8:9; Esther 9:3; and to the prefects of Judea in the time of Solomon 1 Kings 10:15. The word is of foreign origin.
10And am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.
And am I now come up without the Lord - Am I come up without his permission or command? Rabshakeh here speaks in the name of his master; and he means to say that he had the express command of Yahweh to inflict punishment on the Jews. It is possible that there had been conveyed to Sennacherib a rumour of what Isaiah had said (see Isaiah 10:5-6) that God would bring the Assyrians upon the Jewish people to punish them for their sins, and that Rabshakeh now pleads that as his authority, in order to show them that resistance would be vain. Or it may be that he uses the name Yahweh here as synonymous with the name of God, and means to say that he had been divinely directed to come up in that expedition. All the ancient warriors usually consulted the gods, and endeavored by auguries to obtain the divine approbation of their plans of conquest, and Rabshakeh may mean simply to say that his master came now under the divine sanction and direction. Or, which is more probable, he made use of this as a mere pretence for the purpose of influencing the people who heard him, and to whom he said he was sent Isaiah 36:12, in order to alienate their minds from Hezekiah, and to induce them to surrender. He knew that it was one of the principles of the Jews, however little they regarded it in practice, to yield to his authority. Wicked people will be glad to plead divine authority for their purposes and plans when they can have the slightest pretence for it.
11Then said Eliakim and Shebna and Joah unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and speak not to us in the Jews' language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall.
Speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants in the Syrian language - Hebrew, ארמית 'ărâmı̂yt - 'Aramean.' Aram, or Aramea, properly meaning a high region, or the highlands, was of wider extent than Syria Proper, and comprehended not only Syria, but Mesopotamia. It usually denotes however, Syria Proper, of which the capital was Damascus. The language of all this country was probably the same - the Syrian or Aramean, a language of the same family as the Hebrew, and having a strong resemblance to that and to the Chaldee. This was not properly the language of Assyria, where probably a dialect composed of the language of the Medes and Persians was employed. But the Syriac language was spoken in different parts of Assyria. It was spoken in Mesopotamia, and doubtless in some of the provinces of the Assyrian empire, and might be presumed to be understood by Rabshakeh, and those with him. The Jews had contact with the Syrians, and those who had been sent out by Hezekiah had learned to speak that. It is not probable that they understood the Medo-Persian tongue that was spoken by the Assyrians usually. The Syriac or Aramean was probably the most common language which was spoken in that region. Its knowledge prevailed in the time of the Saviour, and was that which he usually spoke.
In the Jews' language - (יחוּדית yehûdı̂yt). The language of Judah. It is remarkable that they did not call it the Hebrew language. But there might have been some national pride in regard to this. The Hebrew language had been the common language of all the Jews, and had been spoken by those of the kingdom of Israel or Samaria, as well as by those of the kingdom of Judah. But after the revolt of the ten tribes it is possible that they might have claimed the language as their own, and regarded the Hebrew - the venerable language of their fathers - as belonging to them especially, as they claimed everything that was sacred or venerable in the nation, and hence, they spoke of it as the language of Judah. The name of Judah, or Jews, which is derived from Judah, was, after the removal of the ten tribes, given to the entire nation - a name which is retained to the present time. In Isaiah 19:18, it is called the language of Canaan (see the note on that place).
In the ears of the people that are on the wall - This conference took place evidently near the city, and within hearing distance. Doubtless the people of the city, feeling a curiosity to hear the message of the Assyrian, crowded the walls. The Jewish ambassadors were apprehensive that what was said by Rabshakeh would alienate their minds from Hezekiah, and requested that the conference might be conducted in a language which they could not understand.
12But Rabshakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?
Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee? - To Hezekiah, and to you alone. A part of my purpose is to address the people, to induce them to leave Hezekiah, and to offer no resistance to the Assyrian.
To the men that sit on the wall ... - The meaning of this is, that the inhabitants of the city, if they do not surrender, will be subjected to the severest evils of famine. If they did not surrender, it was the purpose of the Assyrian to lay siege to the city, and to reduce it. But it was often the work of years to reduce and take a city. Nebuchadnezzar spent thirteen years before Tyre, and the Greeks employed ten in reducing ancient Troy. The sense here is, therefore, that unless the people could be induced to surrender to Sennacherib, they would be subjected to all the horrors of a siege, when they would be reduced to the most deplorable state of necessity and want. The idea in the whole verse is clearly expressed in the parallel place in 2 Chronicles 32:11 : 'Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give over yourselves to die by famine and by thirst, saying, The Lord our God shall deliver us out of the hand of the king of Assyria?' In regard to the indelicacy of this passage, we may observe:
1. That the Masoretes in the Hebrew text have so pointed the words used, that in reading it the offensiveness would be considerably avoided. It is common in the Hebrew Scriptures, when a word is used in the text that is indelicate, to place another word in the margin, and the vowel-points that belong to the word in the margin are applied to the word in the text, and the word in the margin is thus commonly read. In accordance with this custom among the Jews, it is evident that more delicacy might have been observed by our translators in this, and in some other places of the Scriptures.
2. The customs, habits, and modes of expression of people in different nations and times, differ. What appears indelicate at one time or in one country, may not only be tolerated, but common in another. Many things are esteemed indelicate among us which are not so in polite and refined France; many expressions are so regarded now which were not in the time when the Bible was translated into English. Many things may be to us offensive which were not so to the Syrians, the Babylonians, and the Jews; and many modes of expression which are common now, and consistent with all our notions of refinement, may appear improper in some other period of the world. There are many things in Shakespere, and in most of the Old English writers, which cannot now be read without a blush. Yet need I say that those expressions will be heard with unconcern in the theater by those whose delicacy is most offended by some expression in the Bible? There are things infinitely more offensive to delicacy in Byron, and Moore, and even Burns, than there are in the Scriptures; and yet are these not read without a murmur by those who make the loudest complaints of the slightest departure from delicacy in the Bible?
3. There is another remark to be made in regard to this. Isaiah is not at all responsible for the indelicacy of the language here. He is simply a historian. He did not say it; nor is he responsible for it. If there is indelicacy in it, it is not in recording it, but in saying it; and the responsibility is on Rabshakeh. If Isaiah undertook to make a record of an important transaction, what right had he to abridge it, or contract it, or to make it different from what it was?
4. And again: it was of importance to give the true character of the attack which was made on Jerusalem. The coming of Sennacherib was attended with pride, and insolence, and blasphemy; and it was important to state the true character of the transaction. and to record just what was said and done. Hence, Isaiah, as a faithful historian, recorded the coming of the Assyrians; the expressions of their haughtiness, insolence, and pride; their vain boasting, and their reproaches of Yahweh; and for the same reason he has recorded the gross and indelicate language which they used to add to the trials of the Jews. Let him who used the language, and not him who recorded it, bear the blame.
13Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria.
Then Rabshakeh stood - Indicating the posture of a man who intends to speak to them at a distance.
And cried with a loud voice - So that those on the wall could bear.
The words of the king ... - (See the note at Isaiah 36:4)
14Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you.
Let not Hezekiah deceive you - By inducing you to put your trust in Yahweh or in himself; or with promises that you will be delivered.
Not be able to deliver you - In 2 Kings 18:29, it is added, 'out of his hand;' but the sense is substantially the same.
15Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.
Make you trust in the Lord - Rabshakeh knew that Hezekiah was professedly devoted to Yahweh, and that he would endeavor to induce the people to trust in him. The Jews had now no other refuge but God, and as long as they put their confidence there, even Rabshakeh knew that it was hazardous to attempt to take and destroy their city. It was his policy, therefore, first to endeavor to undermine their reliance on God, before he could have any hope of success. The enemies of God's people cannot succeed in their designs against them until they can unsettle their confidence in Him.
16Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me: and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern;
Hearken not to Hezekiah - Do not listen to his entreaties to confide in him, and in Yahweh; do not unite with him in endeavoring to make any resistance or opposition to us.
Make an agreement with me by a present - The Septuagint read this, Ει ̓ βούλεσθε εὐλογηθῆναι Ei boulesthe eulogēthēnai - 'If you wish to be blessed, or happy, come out to me.' The Hebrew is literally, 'Make with me a blessing' (ברכה berâkâh). The idea of its being done 'by a present,' is not in the Hebrew text. The word 'blessing' here probably means the same as peace. 'Make peace with me,' perhaps because peace was regarded as a blessing; and perhaps the word is used with a reference to one of the significations of: ברך bārak, which is to kneel down, and this word may refer to their kneeling down; that is, to their offering allegiance to the king of Assyria. The former is, however, the more probable sense, that the word means peace, because this was an evident blessing, or would be the source of rich blessings to them. It is not, however, used in this sense elsewhere in the Bible. The Chaldee renders it, 'Make peace (שׁלמא shālâmâ') with me.'
And come out to me - Surrender yourselves to me. It is evident, however, that he did not mean that be would then remove them from their city and country, but he demanded a surrender, intending to come and remove them at some other period Isaiah 36:17.
And eat ye every one of his own vine - An emblem of safety, when every man might be permitted to partake of the fruit of his own labor. All that he now professed to desire was, that they should surrender the city, and give up their means of defense, and then he would leave them in security and quietness, until it should please his master to come and remove them to a land as fertile as their own.
And drink ye every one - Another emblem of security and happiness. This promise was made to induce them to surrender. On the one hand, he threatened them with the dreadful evils of famine if they refused and allowed their city to be besieged Isaiah 36:12; and on the other, he promised them, for a time at least, a quiet and secure residence in their own city, and then a removal to a land not inferior to their own.
17Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards.
Until I come - These are the words of the king of Assyria delivered by Rabshakeh. It was proposed that they should remain safely in Jerusalem until Sennacherib should himself come and remove them to his own land. He was now engaged in the siege of Lachish Isaiah 36:2, and it is probable that he purposed to take some other of the unsubdued towns in that part of Palestine.
And take you away - It was common for conquerors in ancient times to remove a vanquished people from their own country. They did this either by sending them forth in colonies to people some unsettled region, or by removing the body of them to the land of the conqueror. This was done for various purposes. It was sometimes to make slaves of them; sometimes for the purposes of triumph; but more commonly to secure them from revolt. In this manner the ten tribes were removed from the kingdom of Samaria; and thus also the Jews were carried to Babylon. Suetonius says (chapter xxi.) of Augustus. that he removed the Suevi and the Sicambri into Gaul, and stationed them on the Rhine. The same thing was also practiced in Egypt, for the purpose of securing the people from revolt Genesis 47:21.
A land like your own land - A fertile land, abounding in the same productions as your own.
And wine - Palestine was celebrated for the vine. The idea is, that in the land to which he would remove them, they should not want.
18Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?
Hath any of the gods of the nations ... - This is said to show them the impossibility, as he supposed, of being delivered from the arm of the king of Assyria. He had conquered all before him, and not even the gods of the nations had been able to rescue the lands where they were worshipped from the hands of the victorious invader. He inferred, therefore, that Yahweh, the God of Palestine, could not save their land.
19Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim? and have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?
Where are the gods of Hamath ... - In regard to these places, see the notes at Isaiah 10:9-11.
Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? - Sepharvaim was probably in Mesopotamia. Ptolemy mentions a city there of the name of Sipphara, as the most southern city of Mesopotamia, which is probably the same. It is evident that it was in the vicinity of Hamath and Arphad, and these are known to have been in Mesopotamia. When Shalmaneser carried Israel away captive from Samaria, he sent colonies of people into Palestine in their stead, among whom were the Sepharvaim 2 Kings 17:24, 2 Kings 17:31.
And have they delivered Samaria - (See the note at Isaiah 10:11). The author of the Books of Chronicles expresses this in a more summary manner, and says, that Rabshakeh joined Yahweh with the gods of the nations in the same language of reproach: 'And he spake against the God of Jerusalem, as against the gods of the people of the earth, which were the work of the hands of man,' 2 Chronicles 32:19.
20Who are they among all the gods of these lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?
21But they held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not.
But they held their peace - Hezekiah had commanded them not to answer. They were simply to hear what Rabshakeh had to propose, and to report to him, that he might decide on what course to pursue. It was a case also in which it was every way proper that they should be silent. There was so much insolence, self-confidence, blasphemy, the proposals were so degrading, and the claims were so arrogant, that it was not proper that they should enter into conference, or listen a moment to the terms proposed. Their minds also were so horror-stricken with the language of insolence and blasphemy, and their hearts so pained by the circumstances of the city, that they would not feel like replying to him. There are circumstances when it is proper to maintain a profound silence in the presence of revilers and blasphemers, and when we should withdraw from them, and go and spread the case before the Lord. This was done here Isaiah 37:1, and the result showed that this was the course of wisdom.
22Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.
With their clothes rent - This was a common mark of grief among the Jews (see 2 Samuel 3:21; 1 Kings 21:27; Ezra 9:3; Job 1:20; Job 2:12; Jeremiah 36:24; and the notes at Matthew 26:65; notes at Acts 14:14). The causes of their griefs were the insolence and arrogance of Rabshakeh; the proposal to surrender the city; the threatening of the siege on the one hand, and of the removal on the other, and the blasphemy of the name of their God, and the reproach of the king. All these things filled their hearts with grief, and they hastened to make report to Hezekiah.