ISAIAH CHAPTER 36.
The Assyrians Threaten Jerusalem.
The three chapters now following form the historical appendix to the first part of the book of the prophet Isaiah, serving chiefly to make the prophecies concerning Assyria more intelligible. The events here told are narrated in practically the same form as in 2 Kings 18, 13-20, 11, but stress certain features of the story for the purposes which the inspired author had in mind.
RABSHAKEH’S MOCKERY. — V. 1. Now, it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah that Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came up against all the defensed cities of Judah, all those which were fortified with walls and towers, and took them, their number, according to an Assyrian account of the expedition, being forty-six. The Assyrian attack was directed primarily against Phoenicia, Philistia, Edom, and Moab, but the enemies also overran the country of Judah. V. 2. And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh, the commander-in-chief of his army, from Lachish, a fortress in the southwestern part of Canaan, which the Assyrians wished to take preliminary to their descent upon Egypt, to Jerusalem unto King Hezekiah with a great army, a large detachment of his troops. And he, the general of the Assyrian king, stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field, on an eminence overlooking the city from the west, chap. 7, 3. Hezekiah, in anticipation of Sennacherib’s invasion, had stopped up the fountains outside of the city and conducted the water of the fountain of Gihon and that of the upper pool in a new conduit between the two walls. V. 3. Then came forth unto him, as emissaries of the king of Judah, Eliakim, Hilkiah’s son, which was over the house, the royal chamberlain, and Shebna, the scribe, the king’s secretary, and therefore an important state officer, and Joah, Asaph’s son, the recorder, he who kept the royal archives. V. 4. And 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? Just on whom and on what did Hezekiah depend to deliver him and his city at this time? V. 5. I say, sayest thou, (but they are but vain words, upon which it is not safe to rely), I have counsel and strength for war, that is, empty bragging is his talk concerning preparation for war; now, on whom dost thou trust that thou rebellest against me? namely, by refusing to surrender Jerusalem in addition to the ransom paid. V. 6. Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt, as Rabshakeh contemptuously calls the ally of Judah, 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, the Assyrian general naturally deriding and mocking the strength of Assyria’s rival for world supremacy. V. 7. But if thou say to me, We trust in the Lord, our God, in Jehovah, the God of Israel, 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? Hezekiah had indeed done away with all the high places in Judah, even with those erected in honor of Jehovah, but that had been done only in the interest of the one central Sanctuary in Jerusalem and was therefore no interference with the authority of Jehovah. V. 8. Now, therefore, give pledges, I pray thee, giving sufficient security, and thus entering upon a wager, 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. In other words, Rabshakeh wanted to bet the king of Judah that he could not produce two thousand men trained to serve in the cavalry of an army. V. 9. How, then, wilt thou turn away, resist and cause to retire, the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? The course which Hezekiah was following, so his argument ran, was ridiculous, suicidal; for Judah, even with the help of Egypt, had no chance of winning. V. 10. And am I now come up without the Lord against this land to destroy it? This argument was intended to be particularly effective in breaking down the morale of the Jews. The Lord said unto me, Go up against this land and destroy it. This was a bold shot, without foundation, but apt to terrify all those within hearing, so that they would refuse to follow Hezekiah any longer. A similar trick is used by the enemies of the Church in our day, when they insist that they are acting only in its interest as their evil plans are put into execution.
RAHSHAKEH’S EFFORTS TO BRING ABOUT REVOLT. — V. 11. Then said Eliakim and Shebnah and Joah, the representatives of the king of Judah, unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants in the Syrian language, in the Aramaic tongue, as spoken by the Assyrians, for we understand it, and speak not to us in the Jews’ language, in the pure Hebrew, as spoken in and near Jerusalem, in the ears of the people that are on the wall, since they feared that the suggestions made by the Assyrian envoys might have a bad effect upon the inhabitants of the city. This remonstrance, however, exposed the fears of the Jewish leaders, for which reason the enemies were quick to take advantage of it. V. 12. But Rabshakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words, on a secret mission? 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? The messengers of Sennacherib purposely spoke in the Hebrew tongue and with a loud voice, in order to hold before the defenders of the city the fate which awaited them if they would not yield, namely, that of a most terrible starvation, which would drive them to the last extreme in providing food and drink for themselves. V. 13. Then Rabshakeh, suiting his actions to his words, 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! V. 14. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you; for he shall not be able to deliver you, to save them from the fate which was in store for them in case they refused to surrender. V. 15. Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, this being the chief weapon of the believers of all times, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us; this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria, this evidently being the gist of Hezekiah’s assurances, and rightly so. V. 16. Hearken not to Hezekiah; for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, that is, Enter into a relation of mutual congratulations with me, the reference being to a surrender with the ratification of peace, at which time people congratulated one another, and come out to me, abandoning and surrendering the city; and eat ye every one of his vine and every one of his fig-tree, this being the Assyrian’s promise to all inhabitants of Jerusalem who would side with him, and drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern, in a peaceful and undisturbed enjoyment of his own land and its products, v. 17. until 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. Upon his return from Egypt, which Sennacherib believed he could overcome without difficulty, the Assyrians intended to follow their usual policy of deporting the inhabitants and thus keeping them in subjection most effectively. V. 18. Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The Lord will deliver us, this challenge now being supported by a third consideration. Hath any of the gods of the nations, of the heathen countries round about, delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? V. 19. Where are the gods of Hamath, the capital of the country between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon, and Arphad, a city still nearer the Syrian frontier? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? the southernmost city of Mesopotamia, on the left hank of the Euphrates. And have they, the idols of the heathen, delivered Samaria out of my hand? V. 20. Who 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? One commentator aptly remarks that the speaker forgets his own assertion here, v. 10, according to which lie had come up against Judah with the Lord. “Liars need good memories.” V. 21. But they, the men of Judah, also those on the wall, held their peace and answered him not a word, for a single incautious remark might have worked great harm; for the king’s commandment was, saying, Answer him not. V. 22. Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna, the scribe, and Jaah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, the three envoys of Judah, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, as a sign of deep grief and sorrow, and told him the words of Rabshakeh. Their obedience is rightly regarded as an example for others to follow.