Isaiah 36:11
Then said Eliakim and Shebna and Joah to Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray you, to your 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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11) Speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants . . .—The king’s officers, knowing the “little faith” of their people, are not, perhaps, without misgivings of their own. Might not the townsmen, listening eagerly on the wall, recognise in Rabshakeh’s words an echo of Isaiah’s, and lose courage, as feeling that they were fighting against the God who was chastising them? The Syrian or Aramaic was a common ground for the ambassadors on both sides, as being the language of commerce and diplomacy. Rabshakeh, it would seem, could speak three languages, Assyrian, Syrian, and Hebrew; Hezekiah’s ministers the two latter; the “people on the wall” only the last.

In the Jews’ language.—It is uncertain whether this means simply Hebrew, which Isaiah elsewhere calls the language of Canaan (Isaiah 19:18), or a special dialect of Judah. The Moabite stone, on the one hand, shows that Hebrew was the common speech of Palestine and the border countries. On the other hand, dialects spring up quickly. Nehemiah 13:24 is the only other passage (the parallels of 2Kings 18:26 and 2Chronicles 32:18 excepted) in which the term meets us in the narrower sense, and that is after the exile.

36:1-22:See 2Ki 18:17-37, and the commentary thereon.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.

11. Syrian—rather, "Aramean": the language spoken north and east of Palestine, and understood by the Assyrians as belonging to the same family of languages as their own: nearly akin to Hebrew also, though not intelligible to the multitude (compare 2Ki 5:5-7). "Aram" means a "high land," and includes parts of Assyria as well as Syria.

Jews' language—The men of Judah since the disruption of Israel, claimed the Hebrew as their own peculiarly, as if they were now the only true representatives of the whole Hebrew twelve tribes.

ears of … people on … wall—The interview is within hearing distance of the city. The people crowd on the wall, curious to hear the Assyrian message. The Jewish rulers fear that it will terrify the people and therefore beg Rab-shakeh to speak Aramean.

No text from Poole on this verse. Then said Eliakim and Shebah and Joah unto Rabshakeh,.... That is, one of them addressed him in the name of the rest; for the verb is singular; and what follows confirms it; perhaps Eliakim was the speaker:

speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants in the Syriac language; which was somewhat different from the Hebrew, in which he spoke, and which was not understood by the common people, and for that reason desired:

for we understand it; or hear it; could hear it, so as to understand it; it being common in all courts, as the French tongue now; the Assyrian empire being very large, and so had been learned by these courtiers, for the sake of negotiation or commerce, when the common people had no concern with it:

and speak not to us in the Jews' language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall; the wall of the city, where the commissioners were, who would not venture themselves out of the city, in the hands of so perfidious an enemy: and the men on the wall were such, who either were placed there to defend the city, and so were soldiers, or people that were gathered together to see the ambassadors of the king of Assyria, and to hear, as much as they could, what passed between them and the ministers of Hezekiah; and as this speech of Eliakim's showed great submissiveness in praying and entreating Rabshakeh to speak to them in another language, and a mean abject spirit, in saying they were his servants, so a great degree of timorousness in them, and diffidence of the people, lest they should be terrified, and be for giving up the city at once into the hands of the enemy; this looks like a piece of bad policy, and some think that Shebna was the contriver of it, and the adviser to it, in order to give Rabshakeh a hint of their fears, and of the disposition of the people, and put him in higher spirits, and on railing the more, and thereby still work the more on the people's fears; however, it had this effect on him, as follows.

Then said Eliakim and Shebna and Joah to Rabshakeh, {k} Speak, I pray thee, to 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.

(k) They were afraid, lest by his words, he should have stirred up the people against the king, and also pretended to grow to some appointment with him.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
11. the Syrian (or Aramean R.V. marg.) language] was the medium of international communication in Western Asia, more especially of commerce. Assyrian on the other hand was a barbarous tongue to the Hebrews (ch. Isaiah 28:11, Isaiah 33:19).

the Jews’ language] Hebrew is so called only in one other (post-Exilic) passage, Nehemiah 13:24.

11, 12. The Judæan ministers, fearing the effect of these threats on the people, implore the Rabshakeh to speak to them in Aramaic; but the astute diplomatist immediately perceives his advantage, and sets himself to stir up disaffection amongst the populace.Verse 11. - Speak... unto thy servants in the Syrian language; literally, in the Aramaic language. Aramaeans were widely spread over the entire region between the Lower Tigris and the Mediterranean; and their language seems to have been in general use, as a language of commerce. "Private contract tablets in Aramaic and Assyrian have been found in the remains of ancient Nineveh" (Cheyne). Rabshakeh had, perhaps, spoken "in the Jews' language " without any ill intent, thinking that it was the only tongue which Jewish envoys would understand; but his so doing was calculated to affect the minds of the common people, and to shake their allegiance to Hezekiah. The envoys, therefore, requested him to employ a foreign tongue, and suggested Aramaic as one which was familiar to them, and which they supposed that he would understand. His employment of Hebrew had shown them that he was a linguist. In the Jews' language. There was no language peculiar to the Jews as Jews, that is to say, different from the ordinary speech of the Israelites. Both alike spoke Hebrew. In the Old Testament, however, this corn-men language is never called "Hebrew," but either "the tongue of Canaan" (Isaiah 19:18) or "the Jewish language" (2 Kings 18:26, 28; 2 Chronicles 32:18; Nehemiah 13:24). Similarly, our own tongue is called "English," though spoken also in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, America, and Australia. In the ears of the people that are on the wall; i.e. of the soldiers placed on the wall to defend it. We must suppose that the conference took place immediately outside the fortifications, so that some of those on the wall could hear. Hezekiah's confidential ministers go there also. Isaiah 36:3 (K. "And they called to the king), and there went out to him (K. to them) Eliakim son of Hilkiyahu, the house-minister, and Shebna the chancellor, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder." On the office of the house-minister, or major-domo, which was now filled by Eliakim instead of Shebna (שׁבנא, K. twice שׁבנה), see Isaiah 22:15.; and on that of sōphēr and mazkı̄r. Rabshakeh's message follows in Isaiah 36:4-10 : "And Rabshakeh said to them, Say now to Hizkiyahu, Thus saith the great king, the king of Asshur, What sort of confidence is this that thou hast got? I say (K. thou sayest, i.e., thou talkest), vain talk is counsel and strength for war: now, then, in whom dost thou trust, that thou hast rebelled against me? (K. Now) Behold, thou trustest (K. לּך) in this broken reed-staff there, in Egypt, on which one leans, and it runs into his hand and pierces it; so does Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if thou sayest to me (K. ye say), We trust in Jehovah our God; is it not He whose high places and altars Hizkiyahu has removed, and has said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before the altar (K. ads, in Jerusalem)? And now take a wager with my lord (K. with) the king of Asshur; I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou art able for thy part to give horsemen upon them. And how couldst thou repel the advance of a single satrap among the least of the servants of my lord?! Thou puttest thy trust then in Egypt for chariots and riders! And (omitted in K.) now have I come up without Jehovah against this land to destroy it (K. against this place, to destroy it)? Jehovah said to me, Go up to (K. against) this land, and destroy it." The chronicler has a portion of this address of Rabshakeh in 2 Chronicles 32:10-12. And just as the prophetic words in the book of Kings have a Deuteronomic sound, and those in the Chronicles the ring of a chronicle, so do Rabshakeh's words, and those which follow, sound like the words of Isaiah himself. "The great king" is the standing royal title appended to the names of Sargon and Sennacherib upon the Assyrian monuments (compare Isaiah 10:8). Hezekiah is not thought worthy of the title of king, ether here or afterwards. The reading אמרתּ in Isaiah 36:5 (thou speakest vain talk) is not the preferable one, because in that case we should expect דּבּרתּ, or rather (according to the usual style) אך דּבּרתּ. The meaning is, that he must look upon Hezekiah's resolution, and his strength (וּגבוּרה עצה connected as in Isaiah 11:2) for going to war, as mere boasting ("lip-words," as in Proverbs 14:23), and must therefore assume that there was something in the background of which he was well aware. And this must be Egypt, which would not only be of no real help to its ally, but would rather do him harm by leaving him in the lurch. The figure of a reed-staff has been borrowed by Ezekiel in Isaiah 29:6-7. It was a very appropriate one for Egypt, with its abundance of reeds and rushes (Isaiah 19:6), and it has Isaiah's peculiar ring (for the expression itself, compare Isaiah 42:3; and for the fact itself, Isaiah 30:5, and other passages). רצוּץ does not mean fragile (Luzz. quella fragil canna), but broken, namely, in consequence of the loss of the throne by the native royal family, from whom it had been wrested by the Ethiopians (Isaiah 18:1-7), and the defeats sustained at the hands of Sargon (Isaiah 20:1-6). The construction cui quis innitur et intrat is paratactic for cui si quis. In Isaiah 36:7 the reading תאמרוּן commends itself, from the fact that the sentence is not continued with הסירת; but as Hezekiah is addressed throughout, and it is to him that the reply is to be made, the original reading was probably תאמר. The fact that Hezekiah had restricted the worship of Jehovah to Jerusalem, by removing the other places of worship (2 Kings 18:4), is brought against him in a thoroughly heathen, and yet at the same time (considering the inclination to worship other gods which still existed in the nation) a very crafty manner. In Isaiah 36:8, Isaiah 36:9, he throws in his teeth, with most imposing scorn, his own weakness as compared with Asshur, which was chiefly dreaded on account of its strength in cavalry and war-chariots. נא התערב does not refer to the performance and counter-performance which follow, in the sense of "connect thyself" (Luzz. associati), but is used in a similar sense to the Omeric μιγῆναι, though with the idea of vying with one another, not of engaging in war (the synonym in the Talmud is himrâh, to bet, e.g., b. Sabbath 31a): a bet and a pledge are kindred notions (Heb. ערבון, cf., Lat. vadari). On pechâh (for pachâh), which also occurs as an Assyrian title in Ezekiel 23:6, Ezekiel 23:23. אחד פּחת, two constructives, the first of which is to be explained according to Ewald, 286, a (compare above, Isaiah 36:2, כבד חיל), form the logical regens of the following servorum dominin mei minimorum; and hēshı̄bh penē does not mean here to refuse a petitioner, but to repel an antagonist (Isaiah 28:6). The fut. consec. ותּבטח deduces a consequence: Hezekiah could not do anything by himself, and therefore he trusted in Egypt, from which he expected chariots and horsemen. In Isaiah 36:10, the prophetic idea, that Asshur was the instrument employed by Jehovah (Isaiah 10:5, etc.), is put into the mouth of the Assyrian himself. This is very conceivable, but the colouring of Isaiah is undeniable.
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