Isaiah 37:36
Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(36) Then the angel of the Lord.—The words do not exclude—rather, as interpreted by 1Chronicles 21:14, they imply—the action of some form of epidemic disease, dysentery or the plague, such as has not seldom turned the fortunes of a campaign, spreading, it may be, for some days, and then, aggravated by atmospheric conditions, such as the thunderstorm implied in Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:27-30, culminating in one night of horror. History, as written from the modern stand-point, would dwell on the details of the pestilence. To Isaiah, who had learnt to see in the winds the messengers of God (Psalm 104:4), it was nothing else than the “angel of the Lord.” So he would have said of the wreck of the Armada, “Afflavit Deus et dissipantur inimici” or of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, “He sendeth forth his ice like morsels: who is able to abide his frost” (Psalm 147:17). The Assyrian records, as might be expected, make no mention of the catastrophe, but a singular parallel is presented by the account which Herodotus gives (ii. 141), on the authority of the Egyptian priests, of the destruction of Sennacherib’s army when he invaded Egypt, then under the rule of Sethon, a priest of Ptha or Hephæstos. The priest-king prayed to his gods, and the Assyrian army, then encamped before Pelusium, were attacked by myriads of field-mice, who gnawed the straps of quivers, bows, and shields, and so made all their weapons useless, and led to their taking flight. Therefore, the historian adds, there stood a statue of Sethon in the Temple of Hephaestos at Memphis, with a mouse in one hand and with the inscription, “Whosoever looks at me let him fear the gods.” Some writers (e.g., Ewald and Canon Rawlinson) have been led by this to the conclusion that the pestilence fell on Sennacherib’s army at Pelusium, and not at Jerusalem. It may be questioned, however, whether, even admitting that the narrative in its present form may be later than the exile, the probabilities are not in favour of the Biblical record, compiled as it was by writers who had documents and inherited traditions, rather than of the travellers’ tales which the vergers of Egyptian temples told to the good Herodotus.

In the camp of the Assyrians.—Josephus (Bell. Jud., v. 7, 2) names a site in the outskirts of Jerusalem which in his time still bore this name. The narrative of Isaiah leaves room for a considerable interval between his prophecy and the dread work of the destroyer (2Kings 19:35). “In that night” does not necessarily imply immediate sequence, the demonstrative adjective being used, like the Latin iste, or ille, for “that memorable night.”

37:1-38 This chapter is the same as 2Ki 19Then the angel of the Lord went forth - This verse contains the record of one of the most remarkable events which have occurred in history. Many attempts have been made to explain the occurrence which is here recorded, and to trace the agencies or means which God employed. It may be observed that the use of the word 'angel' here does not determine the manner in which it was done. So far as the word is concerned, it might have been accomplished either by the power of an invisible messenger of God - a spiritual being commissioned for this purpose; or it might have been by some second causes under the direction of an angel - as the pestilence, or a storm and tempest; or it might have been by some agents sent by God whatever they were - the storm, the pestilence, or the simoom, to which the name angel might have been applied. The word 'angel' (מלאך mal'âk) from לאך lâ'ak to send) means properly one sent, a messenger, from a private person Job 1:14; from a king 1 Samuel 16:19; 1 Samuel 19:11, 1 Samuel 19:14, 1 Samuel 19:20. Then it means a messenger of God, and is applied:

(1) to an angel (Exodus 23:20; 2 Samuel 14:16; et al.);

(2) to a prophet Haggai 1:13; Malachi 3:1;

(3) to a priest Ecclesiastes 5:5; Malachi 2:7.

The word may be applied to any messenger sent from God, whoever or whatever that may be. Thus, in Psalm 104:4, the winds are said to be his angels, or messengers:

Who maketh the winds (רוחות rûachôth) his angels (מלאכיו male'âkâyv);

The flaming fire his ministers.

The general sense of the word is that of ambassador, messenger, one sent to bear a message, to execute a commission, or to perform any work or service. It is known that the Jews were in the habit of tracing all events to the agency of invisible beings sent forth by God to accomplish his purposes in this world. There is nothing in this opinion that is contrary to reason; for there is no more improbability in the existence of a good angel than there is in the existence of a good man, or in the existence of an evil spirit than there is in the existence of a bad man. And there is no more improbability in the supposition that God employs invisible and heavenly messengers to accomplish his purposes, than there is that he employs man. Whatever, therefore, were the means used in the destruction of the Assyrian army, there is no improbability in the opinion that they were under the direction of a celestial agent sent forth to accomplish the purpose. The chief suppositions which have been made of the means of that destruction are the following:

1. It has been supposed that it was by the direct agency of an angel, without any second causes. But this supposition has not been generally adopted. It is contrary to the usual modes in which God directs the affairs of the world. His purposes are usually accomplished by some second causes, and in accordance with the usual course of events. Calvin supposes that it was accomplished by the direct agency of one or more angels sent forth for the purpose.

2. Some have supposed that it was accomplished by Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, who is supposed to have pursned Sennacherib, and to have overthrown his army in a single night near Jerusalem. But it is sufficient to say in reply to this, that there is not the slightest historical evidence to support it; and had this been the mode, it would have been so recorded, and time fact would have been stated.

3. It has been attributed by some, among whom is Prideaux (Connection, vol. i. p. 143) and John E. Faber (the notes at Harmer's Obs., i. 65), to the hot pestilential wind which often prevails in the East, and which is often represented as suddenly destroying travelers, and indeed whole caravans. This wind, called sam, simum, samiel, or simoom, has been usually supposed to be poisonous, and almost instantly destructive to life. It has been described by Mr. Bruce, by Sir R. K. Porter, by Niebuhr, and by others. Prof. Robinson has examined at length the supposition that the Assyrian army was destroyed by this wind, and has stated the results of the investigations of recent travelers. The conclusion to which he comes is, that the former accounts of the effects of this wind have been greatly exaggerated, and that the destruction of the army of the Assyrians cannot be attributed to any such cause. See the article winds, in his edition of Calmet's Dictionary. Burckhardt says of this wind, whose effects have been regarded as so poisonous and destructive, 'I am perfectly convinced that all the stories which travelers, or the inhabitants of the towns of Egypt and Syria, relate of the simoom of the desert are greatly exaggerated, and I never could hear of a single well-authenticated instance of its having proved mortal to either man or beast.' Similar testimony has been given by other modern travelers; though it is to be remarked that the testimony is rather of a negative character, and does not entirely destroy the possibility of the supposition that this so often described pestilential wind may in some instances prove fatal. It is not, however, referred to in the Scripture account of the destruction of Sennacherib; and whatever may be true of it in the deserts of Arabia or Nubia, there is no evidence whatever that such poisonous effects are ever experienced in Palestine.

4. It has been attributed to a storm of hail, accompanied with thunder and lightning. This is the opinion of Vitringa, and seems to accord with the descriptions which are given in the prophecy of the destruction of the army in Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:30. To this opinion, as the most probable, I have been disposed to incline, for although these passages may be regarded as figurative, yet the more natural interpretation is to regard them as descriptive of the event. We know that such a tempest might be easily produced by God, and that violent tornadoes are not unfrequent in the East. One of the plagues of Egypt consisted in such a tremendous storm of hail accompanied with thunder, when 'the fire ran along the ground,' so that 'there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail,' and so that 'the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast' Exodus 9:22-25. This description, in its terror, its suddenness, and its ruinous effects, accords more nearly with the account of the destruction of Sennacherib than any other which has been made. See the notes at Isaiah 30:30, for a remarkable description of the officer of a storm of hail.

5. It has been supposed by many that it was accomplished by the pestilence. This is the account which Josephus gives (Ant. x. 1. 5), and is the supposition which has been adopted by Rosenmuller, Doderlin, Michaelis, Hensler, and many others. But there are two objections to this supposition. One is, that it does not well accord with the descritption of the prophet Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:30; and the other, and more material one is, that the plague does not accomplish its work so suddenly. This was done in a single night; whereas, though the plague appears suddenly, and has been known to destroy whole armies, yet there is no recorded instance in which it has been so destructive in a few hours as in this case. It may be added, also, that the plague does not often leave an army in the manner described here. One hundred and eighty five thousand were suddenly slain. The survivors, if there were any, as we have reason to suppose Isaiah 37:37, fled, and returned to Nineveh. There is no mention made of any who lingered, and who remained sick among the slain.

Nor is there any apprehension mentioned, as having existed among the Jews of going into the camp, and stripping the dead, and bearing the spoils of the army into the city. Had the army been destroyed by the plague, such is the fear of the contagion in countries where it prevails, that nothing would have induced them to endanger the city by the possibility of introducing the dreaded disease. The account leads us to suppose that the inhabitants of Jerusalem immediately sallied forth and stripped the dead, and bore the spoils of the army into the city (see the notes at Isaiah 33:4, Isaiah 33:24). On the whole, therefore, the most probable supposition seems to be, that, if any secondary causes were employed, it was the agency of a violent tempest - a tempest of mingled hail and fire, which suddenly descended upon the mighty army. Whatever was the agent, however, it was the hand of God that directed it. It was a most fearful exhibition of his power and justice; and it furnishes a most awful threatening to proud and haughty blasphemers and revilers, and a strong ground of assurance to the righteous that God will defend them in times of peril.

continued...

36. Some attribute the destruction to the agency of the plague (see on [773]Isa 33:24), which may have caused Hezekiah's sickness, narrated immediately after; but Isa 33:1, 4, proves that the Jews spoiled the corpses, which they would not have dared to do, had there been on them infection of a plague. The secondary agency seems, from Isa 29:6; 30:30, to have been a storm of hail, thunder, and lightning (compare Ex 9:22-25). The simoon belongs rather to Africa and Arabia than Palestine, and ordinarily could not produce such a destructive effect. Some few of the army, as 2Ch 32:21 seems to imply, survived and accompanied Sennacherib home. Herodotus (2.141) gives an account confirming Scripture in so far as the sudden discomfiture of the Assyrian army is concerned. The Egyptian priests told him that Sennacherib was forced to retreat from Pelusium owing to a multitude of field mice, sent by one of their gods, having gnawed the Assyrians' bow-strings and shield-straps. Compare the language (Isa 37:33), "He shall not shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields," which the Egyptians corrupted into their version of the story. Sennacherib was as the time with a part of his army, not at Jerusalem, but on the Egyptian frontier, southwest of Palestine. The sudden destruction of the host near Jerusalem, a considerable part of his whole army, as well as the advance of the Ethiopian Tirhakah, induced him to retreat, which the Egyptians accounted for in a way honoring to their own gods. The mouse was the Egyptian emblem of destruction. The Greek Apollo was called Sminthian, from a Cretan word for "a mouse," as a tutelary god of agriculture, he was represented with one foot upon a mouse, since field mice hurt corn. The Assyrian inscriptions, of course, suppress their own defeat, but nowhere boast of having taken Jerusalem; and the only reason to be given for Sennacherib not having, amidst his many subsequent expeditions recorded in the monuments, returned to Judah, is the terrible calamity he had sustained there, which convinced him that Hezekiah was under the divine protection. Rawlinson says, In Sennacherib's account of his wars with Hezekiah, inscribed with cuneiform characters in the hall of the palace of Koyunjik, built by him (a hundred forty feet long by a hundred twenty broad), wherein even the Jewish physiognomy of the captives is portrayed, there occurs a remarkable passage; after his mentioning his taking two hundred thousand captive Jews, he adds, "Then I prayed unto God"; the only instance of an inscription wherein the name of God occurs without a heathen adjunct. The forty-sixth Psalm probably commemorates Judah's deliverance. It occurred in one "night," according to 2Ki 19:35, with which Isaiah's words, "when they arose early in the morning," &c., are in undesigned coincidence.

they … they—"the Jews … the Assyrians."

No text from Poole on this verse. Then the angel of the Lord went forth,.... From heaven, at the command of the Lord, being one of his ministering spirits, sent forth by him, as for the protection of his people, so for the destruction of their enemies; this was the same night, either in which the Assyrian army sat down before Jerusalem, as say the Jews (x); or, however the same night in which the message was sent to Hezekiah; see 2 Kings 19:35,

and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand men: a prodigious slaughter indeed! which shows the power and strength of an angel. Josephus (y) says they were smitten with a pestilential disease; but other Jewish writers say it was by fire from heaven, which took away their lives, but did not consume their bodies, nor burn their clothes; but, be that as it will, destroyed they were:

and when they arose early in the morning: those of the army that survived; Sennacherib, and his servants about him; or Hezekiah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that were besieged:

behold, they were all dead corpses; the whole army, excepting a few; this may well be expressed with a note of admiration, "behold!" for a very wonderful thing it was.

(x) T. Bab. Sanhedrin: fol. 95. 1.((y) Antiqu. l. 10. c. 1. sect. 5.

Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
36. The miraculous destruction of Sennacherib’s host. It is certainly remarkable that none of Isaiah’s prophecies delivered at the time predict this appalling disaster, the clearest anticipation of it being in ch. Isaiah 17:12-14, an oracle delivered some time before. At the same time some such occurrence is needed to account for Sennacherib’s precipitate retreat before Tirhakah. A confirmation of the main fact is also found in the Egyptian tradition, according to which Sennacherib had already reached Pelusium in Egypt, when in a single night his army was rendered helpless by a plague of field-mice which gnawed the bows of the soldiers and the thongs of their shields (Herodotus, ii. 141). Since the mouse was among the Egyptians a symbol of pestilence we may infer that the basis of truth in the legend was a deadly epidemic in the Assyrian camp; and this is the form of calamity which is naturally suggested by the terms of the biblical narrative. The scene of the disaster is not indicated in the O.T. record, and there is no obstacle to the supposition that it took place, as in the Egyptian legend, in the plague-haunted marshes of Pelusium. The silence of Sennacherib about his misfortune is quite intelligible.

the angel of the Lord] is associated with the plague in 2 Samuel 24:15-16.Verse 36. - Then the angel of the Lord went forth. The parallel passage of Kings (2 Kings 19:35) has, "It came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out." The word of Isaiah had its accomplishment within a few hours. On the camp of the Assyrians, wherever it was, whether at Libnah, or at Pelusium (Herod., 2:141), or between the two, in the dead of night, the destroying angel swooped down, and silently, without disturbance, took the lives of a hundred and eighty-five thousand' men. The camp was no doubt that in which Sennacherib commanded. It is contrary to the whole tenor of the Assyrian inscriptions to imagine that a mere corps d'armee, detached to threaten, not to besiege, Jerusalem, could have been one-half, or one-quarter, so numerous. It was Sennacherib's host, not the Tartan's, that was visited. So the Egyptian tradition; so ver. 37, by implication. That in later times the Jews should have transferred the scene of the slaughter to the vicinity of their own capital, as Josephus does ('Ant. Jud.,' 10:2. § 5), is not surprising, especially as the Egyptians claimed the glory of the discomfiture for their own gods, and the completion of the victory for their own soldiers. The nature of the destruction is not, perhaps, very important, if it be allowed to have been supernatural; but the "simoom" of Prideaux and Milman, the "storm" of Vitringa and Stanley, the "nocturnal attack by Tirhakah" of Usher, Preiss, and Michaelis, and the "pestilence" of most other commentators, seem to be alike precluded by the terms of the narrative, which imply the silent death in one night of a hundred and eighty-five thousand persons by what English juries call "the visitation of God." The nearest parallel which Holy Scripture offers is the destruction of the firstborn in Egypt; but that was not, as this, without disturbance (see Exodus 12:30). There a "great cry" broke the silence of the night; here it was not till morning, when men woke from their peaceful slumbers, that the discovery was made that "they were all dead corpses." I am wrong in describing it here as improbable that the land would have to be left uncultivated during the year 713-12 in consequence of the invasion that had taken place, even after the departure of the Assyrians. Wetzstein has referred me to his Appendix on the Monastery of Job (see Comm. on Job, Appendix), where he has shown that the fallow-land (wâghia) of a community, which is sown in the autumn of 1865 and reaped in the summer of 1866, must have been broken up, i.e., ploughed for the first time, in the winter of 1864-65. "If this breaking up of the fallow (el-Būr) were obliged to be omitted in the winter of 1864-65, because of the enemy being in the land, whether from the necessity for hiding the oxen in some place of security, or from the fact that they had been taken from the peasants and consumed by the foe, it would be impossible to sow in the autumn of 1865 and reap a harvest in the summer of 1866. And if the enemy did not withdraw till the harvest of 1865, only the few who had had their ploughing oxen left by the war would find it possible to break up the fallow. But neither the one nor the other could sow, if the enemy's occupation of the land had prevented them from ploughing in the winter of 1864-65. If men were to sow in the newly broken fallow, they would reap no harvest, and the seed would only be lost. It is only in the volcanic and therefore fertile region of Haurân (Bashan) that the sowing of the newly broken fallow (es-sikak) yields a harvest, and there it is only when the winter brings a large amount of rain; so that even in Haurân nothing but necessity leads any one to sow upon the sikak. In western Palestine, even in the most fruitful portions of it (round Samaria and Nazareth), the farmer is obliged to plough three times before he can sow; and a really good farmer follows up the breaking up of the fallow (sikak) in the winter, the second ploughing (thânia) in the spring, and the third ploughing (tethlith) in the summer, with a fourth (terbı̄a) in the latter part of the summer. Consequently no sowing could take place in the autumn of 713, if the enemy had been in the land in the autumn of 714, in consequence of his having hindered the farmer from the sikak in the winter of 714-3, and from the thânia and tethlith in the spring and summer of 713. There is no necessity, therefore, to assume that a second invasion took place, which prevented the sowing in the autumn of 713."

Isaiah 37:30The prophet now turns to Hezekiah. "And let this be a sign to thee, Men eat this year what is self-sown; and in the second year what springs from the roots (shâc, K. sâchı̄sh); and in the third year they sow and reap and plant vineyards, and eat (chethib אכול) their fruit." According to Thenius, hasshânâh (this year) signifies the first year after Sennacherib's invasions, hasshânâh hasshēnı̄th (the second year) the current year in which the words were uttered by Hezekiah, hasshânâh hasshelı̄shith (the third year) the year that was coming in which the land would be cleared of the enemy. But understood in this way, the whole would have been no sign, but simply a prophecy that the condition of things during the two years was to come to an end in the third. It would only be a "sign" if the second year was also still in the future. By hasshânâh, therefore, we are to understand what the expression itself requires (cf., Isaiah 29:1; Isaiah 32:10), namely the current year, in which the people had been hindered from cultivating their fields by the Assyrian who was then in the land, and therefore had been thrown back upon the sâphı̄ach, i.e., the after growth (αὐτόματα, lxx, the self-sown), or crop which had sprung up from the fallen grains of the previous harvest (from sâphach, adjicere, see at Habakkuk 2:15; or, according to others, effundere). It was autumn at the time when Isaiah gave this sign (Isaiah 33:9), and the current civil year was reckoned from one autumnal equinox to the other, as, for example, in Exodus 23:16, where the feast of tabernacles or harvest festival is said to fall at the close of the year; so that if the fourteenth year of Hezekiah was the year 714, the current year would extend from Tishri 714 to Tishri 713. But if in the next year also, 713-712, there was no sowing and reaping, but the people were to eat shâchis, i.e., that which grew of itself (αὐτοφυές, Aq., Theod.), and that very sparingly, not from the grains shed at the previous harvest, but from the roots of the wheat, we need not assume that this year, 713-712, happened to be a sabbatical year, in which the law required all agricultural pursuits to be suspended.

(Note: There certainly is no necessity for a sabbatical year followed by a year of jubilee, to enable us to explain the "sign," as Hofmann supposes.)

It is very improbable in itself that the prophet should have included a circumstance connected with the calendar in his "sign;" and, moreover, according to the existing chronological data, the year 715 had been a sabbatical year (see Hitzig). It is rather presupposed, either that the land would be too thoroughly devastated and desolate for the fields to be cultivated and sown (Keil); or, as we can hardly imagine such an impossibility as this, if we picture to ourselves the existing situation and the kind of agriculture common in Palestine, that the Assyrian would carry out his expedition to Egypt in this particular year (713-12), and returning through Judah, would again prevent the sowing of the corn (Hitzig, Knobel). But in the third year, that is to say the year 712-11, freedom and peace would prevail again, and there would be nothing more to hinder the cultivation of the fields or vineyards. If this should be the course of events during the three years, it would be a sign to king Hezekiah that the fate of the Assyrian would be no other than that predicated. The year 712-11 would be the peremptory limit appointed him, and the year of deliverance.

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