And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD.
Hezekiah, like his officers, probably rent his clothes on account of Rab-shakeh's blasphemies: and he put on sackcloth in self-humiliation and in grief. The only hope left was in Yahweh, for Egypt could not be trusted to effect anything of importance. Rab-shakeh's boldness had told upon Hezekiah. He was dispirited and dejected. He perhaps began to doubt whether he had done right in yielding to the bolder counsels of Eliakim and Isaiah. He had not lost his faith in God; but his faith was being severely tried. He wisely went and strove by prayer to strengthen it.
And he sent Eliakim, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.
Isaiah is here for the first time introduced into the history. His own writings show us how active a part he had taken in it for many years previously. This was the fourth reign since he began his prophesyings; and during two reigns at least, those of Ahaz and Hezekiah, he had been a familiar counselor of the monarch. He had probably counseled the revolt from Assyria, and had encouraged the king and people to persevere in their resistance. The exact date of prophecies can seldom be fixed with any certainty; but we can scarcely he mistaken in regarding 2 Kings 10; 30; 31 as written about the time of Hezekiah's second revolt.
And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.
The "trouble" consisted in rebuke" (rather, "chastisement,") for sins at the hand of God, and "blasphemy" (rather, "reproach,") at the hands of man.
The children ... - i. e., "we are in a fearful extremity - at the last gasp - and lack the strength that might carry us through the danger."
It may be the LORD thy God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God; and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.
Will hear - i. e., "will show that he has heard - will notice and punish."
The living God - See 1 Samuel 17:26 note.
And will reprove the words - Rather, "will reprove him for the words."
The remnant - i. e., for the kingdom of Judah, the only remnant of God's people that was now left, after Galilee and Gilead and Samaria had all been carried away captive.
So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.
Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.
Will send a blast upon him - Rather, "I will put a spirit in him " - i. e., "I will take from him his present pride and will put in him a new spirit, a spirit of craven fear." Men shall tell him of the destruction that has come upon his host 2 Kings 19:35, and he shall straightway return, etc.
So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.
On Lachish and Libnah, see Joshua 10:3, note; Joshua 10:29, note. The phrase, "he was departed from Lachish" is suggestive of successful resistance.
And when he heard say of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, Behold, he is come out to fight against thee: he sent messengers again unto Hezekiah, saying,
Tirhakah king of Ethiopia - The Tehrak or Teharka of the hieroglyphics. He was the last king of the 25th or Ethiopian dynasty, which commenced with Shebek or Sabaco, and he reigned upward of 26 years. The Assyrian inscriptions show that he still ruled in Egypt as late as 667 B.C., when Esarhaddon 2 Kings 19:37 died, and his son Asshur-bani-pal succeeded him. He probably ascended the Egyptian throne about 692 B.C., having previously ruled over Ethiopia before he became king of Egypt (compare Isaiah 37:9). Thus he was probably reigning in Ethiopia at the time of Sennacherib's expedition, while Sethos and perhaps other secondary monarchs bore rule over Egypt. His movements caused Sennacherib to send a second embassy, instead of marching in person against the Jewish king.
Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.
Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered?
All lands - This boast is in strict accordance with the general tenor of the Assyrian inscriptions. Hyperbole is the general language of the East; but in this instance it was not so extreme as in some others. The Assyrians under Sargon and Sennacherib had enjoyed an uninterrupted series of military successes: they had succeeded in establishing their pre-eminence from the Median desert to the banks of the Nile, and from the shores of Lake Van to those of the Persian Gulf.
Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed; as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which were in Thelasar?
Haran - Harran, the Carrhae of the Greeks and Romans Gen 11:31, was among the earliest conquests of the Assyrians; being subject to them from the 12th century. Its conquest would have naturally followed that of Gozan (Gauzanitis, 2 Kings 17:6), which lay between it and Assyria proper.
Rezeph - Probably the Rozappa of the Assyrian inscriptions, a city in the neighborhood of Haran.
The children of Eden - Or, "the Beni-Eden," who appear from the Assyrian inscriptions to have inhabited the country on the east bank of the Euphrates, about the modern Balis. Here they had a city called Beth-Adina, taken by the Assyrians about 880 B.C. This is probably the "Eden" of marginal reference.
Thelasar - Or Telassar. Probably a city on the Euphrates, near Beth-Adina, called after the name of the god Asshur. The name would signify "the Hill of Asshur."
Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivah?
Compare the marginal reference 2 Kings 17:24. 2 Kings 19:12 refers to former Assyrian successes, 2 Kings 19:13 to comparatively recent ones.
And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD.
Hezekiah received the letter - The inscriptions show that scribes accompanied the Assyrian armies, with the materials of their craft, so that such a dispatch might be easily drawn up. As Hezekiah himself "read" it, we may presume that it was in the Hebrew tongue.
And Hezekiah prayed before the LORD, and said, O LORD God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth.
Which dwellest between the cherubims - The reference is to the shechinah, or miraculous glory, which from time to time appeared above the mercy-seat from between the two cherubims, whose wings overshadowed the ark of the covenant (1 Kings 6:23-27; compare Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2, etc.).
Thou art the God, even thou alone - This is the protest of the pure theist against the intense polytheism of Sennacherib's letter, which assumes that gods are only gods of particular nations, and that Hezekiah's God is but one out of an indefinite number, no stronger or more formidable than the rest.
LORD, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, LORD, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God.
Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands,
And have cast their gods into the fire: for they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them.
Have cast their gods into the fire - In general the Assyrians carried off the images of the gods from the temples of the conquered nations, and deposited them in their own shrines, as at once trophies of victory and proof of the superiority of the Assyrian deities over those of their enemies. But sometimes the gods are said to have been "destroyed" or "burnt with fire;" which was probably done when the idols were of rude workmanship or coarse material; and when it was inconvenient to encumber an army with spoils so weighty and difficult, of transport.
Now therefore, O LORD our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD God, even thou only.
If the mighty army of the great Assyrian king were successfully defied by a petty monarch like Hezekiah, it would force the surrounding nations to confess that the escape was owing to the protecting hand of Yahweh. They would thus be taught, in spite of themselves, that He, and He alone, was the true God.
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard.
This is the word that the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.
Concerning him - i. e., "concerning Sennacherib." 2 Kings 19:21-28 are addressed to the great Assyrian monarch himself, and are God's reply to his proud boastings.
The virgin, the daughter of Zion, - Rather, holy eastern city, is here distinguished from Jerusalem, the western one, and is given the remarkable epithet "virgin," which is not applied to her sister; probably because the true Zion, the city of David, had remained inviolable from David's time, having never been entered by an enemy. Jerusalem, on the other hand, had been taken, both by Shishak 1 Kings 14:26 and by Jehoash 2 Kings 14:13. The personification of cities as females is a common figure (compare marginal references).
Hath shaken her head at thee - This was a gesture of scorn with the Hebrews (compare the marginal references; Matthew 27:39).
Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel.
The Holy One of Israel - This is a favorite phrase with Isaiah, in whose prophecies it is found 27 times, while it occurs five times only in the rest of Scripture Psalm 71:22; Psalm 78:41; Psalm 89:18; Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:5. Its occurrence here is a strong proof - one among many - of the genuineness of the present passage, which is not the composition of the writer of Kings, but an actual prophecy delivered at this time by Isaiah.
By thy messengers thou hast reproached the Lord, and hast said, With the multitude of my chariots I am come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon, and will cut down the tall cedar trees thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the lodgings of his borders, and into the forest of his Carmel.
And hast said - Isaiah clothes in words the thoughts of Sennacherib's heart - thoughts of the most extreme self-confidence. Compare Isaiah 10:7-14, where, probably at an earlier date, the same overweening pride is ascribed to this king.
With the multitude of my chariots - There are two readings here, which give, however, nearly the same sense. The more difficult and more poetical of the two is to be preferred. Literally, translated it runs - "With chariots upon chariots am I come up, etc."
To the sides of Lebanon - , "Lebanon," with its "cedars" and its "fir-trees," is to be understood here both literally and figuratively. Literally, the hewing of timber in Lebanon was an ordinary feature of an Assyrian expedition into Syria. Figuratively, the mountain represents all the more inaccessible parts of Palestine, and the destruction of its firs and cedars denotes the complete devastation of the entire country from one end to the other.
The lodgings of his borders - literally, "the lodge of its (Lebanon's) end;" either an actual habitation situated on the highest point of the mountain-range, or a poetical periphrasis for the highest point itself.
The forest of his Carmel - Or, "the forest of its garden" - i. e., "its forest which is like a garden," etc.
I have digged and drunk strange waters, and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of besieged places.
Have digged and drunk ... and dried up - The meaning seems to be - "Mountains do not stop me - I cross them even in my chariots. Deserts do not stop me - I dig wells there, and drink the water. Rivers do not stop me - I pass them as easily as if they were dry land."
The rivers of besieged places - Rather, "the rivers of Egypt." The singular form, Mazor (compare the modern Misr and the Assyrian Muzr), is here used instead of the ordinary dual form, Mizraim, perhaps because "Lower Egypt" only is intended. This was so cut up with canals and branches of the Nile, natural and artificial, that it was regarded as impassable for chariots and horses. Sennacherib, however, thought that these many streams would prove no impediments to him; he would advance as fast as if they were "dried up."
Hast thou not heard long ago how I have done it, and of ancient times that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste fenced cities into ruinous heaps.
Hast thou not heard long ago ... - Rather, "Hast thou not heard, that from long ago I did this, from ancient times I fashioned it? etc." The former part of the verse refers to the secret divine decrees, whereby the affairs of this world are determined and ordered from the very beginning of things. Sennacherib's boasting, however, proved that he did not know this, that he did not recognize himself simply as God's instrument - "the rod of His anger" Isaiah 10:5 - but regarded his victories as gained by his own "strength and wisdom" Isaiah 10:13.
Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded; they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as corn blasted before it be grown up.
The weakness of the nations exposed to the Assyrian attacks was as much owing to the divine decrees as was the strength of the Assyrians themselves.
The grass on the house tops - Compare the marginal reference. The vegetation on the flat roofs of Oriental houses is the first to spring up and the first to fade away.
But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
See 1 Kings 3:7 note.
Because thy rage against me and thy tumult is come up into mine ears, therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.
Thy tumult - Rather, "thy arrogance."
I will put my hook in nose - Rather, "my ring." The sculptures show that the kings of Babylon and Assyria were in the habit of actually passing a ring through the flesh of their more distinguished prisoners, of attaching a thong or a rope to it, and of thus leading them about as with a "bridle." In Assyria the ring was, at least ordinarily, passed through the lower lip; while in Babylonia it appears to have been inserted into the membrane of the nose. Thus Sennacherib would be here threatened with a punishment which he was perhaps in the habit of inflicting.
And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such things as grow of themselves, and in the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruits thereof.
The prophet now once more addresses Hezekiah, and gives him a "sign," or token, whereby he and his may be assured that Sennacherib is indeed bridled, and will not trouble Judaea anymore. It was a sign of the continued freedom of the land from attack during the whole of the remainder of Sennacherib's reign - a space of 17 years.
And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.
The remnant that is escaped - Terrible ravages seem to have been committed in the first attack (2 Kings 18:13 note). And though the second invasion was comparatively harmless, yet it probably fell heavily on the cities of the west and the southwest. Thus the "escaped" were but "a remnant."
Bear fruit upward - The flourishing time of Josiah is the special fulfillment of this prophecy 2 Kings 23:15-20.
For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this.
Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it.
Nor come before it with shield - The "shields" of the Assyrians are very conspicuous in the sculptures, and were of great importance in a siege, since the assailing archers were in most instances defended, as they shot their weapons, by a comrade, who held before himself and his friend a shield of an enormous size. It was made of a framework of wood, filled in with wattling, and perhaps lined with skin; it was rested upon the ground, and it generally curved backward toward the top; ordinarily it somewhat exceeded the height of a man. From the safe covert afforded by these large defenses the archers were able to take deliberate aim, and deliver their volleys with effect.
Nor cast a bank against it - "Mounds" or "banks" were among the most common of the means used by the Assyrians against a besieged town. They were thrown up against the walls, and consisted of loose earth, trees, brushwood, stones, and rubbish. Sometimes the surface of the mound was regularly paved with several layers of stone or brick, which formed a solid road or causeway capable of bearing a great weight. The intention was not so much to bring the mounds to a level with the top of the walls, as to carry them to such a height as should enable the battering-ram to work effectively. Walls were made very solid toward their base, for the purpose of resisting the ram; halfway up their structure was comparatively weak and slight. The engines of the assailants, rams and catapults, where therefore far more serviceable if they could attack the upper and weaker portion of the defenses; and it was to enable them to reach these portions that the "mounds" were raised.
By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD.
By the way that he came - i. e., through the low country of the Shephelah, thus avoiding not only Jerusalem, but even Judaea.
For I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
For mine own sake - God's honor was concerned to defend His own city against one who denied His power in direct terms, as did Sennacherib 2 Kings 18:35; 2 Kings 19:10-12. His faithfulness was also concerned to keep the promise made to David Psalm 132:12-18.
And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
The camp of the Assyrians - Which was now moved to Pelusium, if we may trust Herodotus; or which, at any rate, was at some considerable distance from Jerusalem.
When they arose early in the morning, behold ... - These words form the only trustworthy data that we possess for determining to any extent the manner of the destruction now worked. They imply that there was no disturbance during the night, no alarm, no knowledge on the part of the living that their comrades were dying all around them by thousands. All mere natural causes must be rejected, and God must be regarded as having slain the men in their sleep without causing disturbance, either by pestilence or by that "visitation" of which English law speaks. The most nearly parallel case is the destruction of the first-born, Exodus 12:29.
The Egyptian version of this event recorded in Herodotus is that, during the night, silently and secretly, an innumerable multitude of field-mice spread themselves through the Assyrian host, and gnawed their quivers, bows, and shield-straps, so as to render them useless. When morning broke, the Assyrians fled hastily, and the Egyptians pursuing put a vast number to the sword.
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
Dwelt at Nineveh - The meaning is not that Sennacherib made no more expeditions at all, which would he untrue, for his annals show us that he warred in Armenia, Babylonia, Susiana, and Cilicia, during his later years; but that he confined himself to his own part of Asia, and did not invade Palestine or threaten Jerusalem anymore. Nineveh, marked by some ruins opposite Mosul, appears here unmistakably as the Assyrian capital, which it became toward the close of the 9th century B.C. It has previously been mentioned only in Genesis (marginal reference). Sennacherib was the first king who made it his permanent residence. Its great size and large population are marked in the description of Jonah Jon 3:2-3; Jonah 4:11, whose visit probably fell about 760 B.C.
And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.
The death of Sennacherib, which took place many years afterward (680 B.C.), is related here, as, from the divine point of view, the sequel to his Syrian expeditions.
Nisroch his god - Nisroch has not been as yet identified with any known Assyrian deity. The word may not be the name of a god at all but the name of the temple, as Josephus understood it. Assyrian temples were almost all distinguished by special names. If this be the true solution, the translation should run - "As he was worshipping his god in the house Nisroch."
They escaped into the land of Armenia - literally, "the land of Ararat," or the northeastern portion of Armenia, where it adjoined Media. The Assyrian inscriptions show that Armenia was at this time independent of Assyria, and might thus afford a safe refuge to the rebels.
Esar-haddon (or Esar-chaddon), is beyond a doubt the Asshur-akh-iddin of the inscriptions, who calls himself the son, and appears to be the successor of Sin-akh-irib. He commenced his reign by a struggle with his brother Adrammelech, and occupied the throne for only thirteen years, when he was succeeded by his son, Sardanapalus or Asshur-bani-pal. He warred with Phoenicia, Syria, Arabia, Egypt, and Media, and built three palaces, one at Nineveh, and the others at Calah and Babylon.