Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
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.
The king and the deputation apply to Isaiah. "And it came to pass, when king Hizkiyahu had heard, he rent his clothes, and wrapped himself in mourning linen, and went into the house of Jehovah. And sent Eliakim the house-minister, and Shebna (K. omits את) the chancellor, and the eldest of the priests, wrapped in mourning linen, to Isaiah son of Amoz, the prophet (K. has what is inadmissible: the prophet son of Amoz). And they said to him, Thus saith Hizkiyahu, A day of affliction, and punishment, and blasphemy is this day; for children are come to the matrix, and there is no strength to bring them forth. Perhaps Jehovah thy God will hear the words (K. all the words) of Rabshakeh, with which the king of Asshur his lord has sent him to revile the living God; and Jehovah thy God will punish for the words which He hath heard, and thou wilt make intercession for the remnant that still exists." The distinguished embassy is a proof of the distinction of the prophet himself (Knobel). The character of the deputation accorded with its object, which was to obtain a consolatory word for the king and people. In the form of the instructions we recognise again the flowing style of Isaiah. תּוכחה, as a synonym of מוּסר, נקם, is used as in Hosea 5:9; נאצה (from the kal נאץ) according to Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 52:5, like נאצה (from the piel נאץ), Nehemiah 9:18, Nehemiah 9:26 (reviling, i.e., reviling of God, or blasphemy). The figure of there not being sufficient strength to bring forth the child, is the same as in Isaiah 66:9. משׁבּר (from שׁבר, syn. פּרץ, Genesis 38:29) does not signify the actual birth (Luzzatto, punto di dover nascere), nor the delivering-stool (Targum), like mashbēr shel-chayyâh, the delivering-stool of the midwife (Kelim xxiii. 4); but as the subject is the children, and not the mother, the matrix or mouth of the womb, as in Hosea 13:13, "He (Ephraim) is an unwise child; when it is time does he not stop in the children's passage" (mashbēr bânı̄m), i.e., the point which a child must pass, not only with its head, but also with its shoulders and its whole body, for which the force of the pains is often not sufficient? The existing condition of the state resembled such unpromising birth-pains, which threatened both the mother and the fruit of the womb with death, because the matrix would not open to give birth to the child. לדה like דּעה in Isaiah 11:9. The timid inquiry, which hardly dared to hope, commences with 'ūlai. The following future is continued in perfects, the force of which is determined by it: "and He (namely Jehovah, the Targum and Syriac) will punish for the words," or, as we point it, "there will punish for the words which He hath heard, Jehovah thy God (hōkhı̄ach, referring to a judicial decision, as in a general sense in Isaiah 2:4 and Isaiah 11:4); and thou wilt lift up prayer" (i.e., begin to offer it, Isaiah 14:4). "He will hear," namely as judge and deliverer; "He hath heard," namely as the omnipresent One. The expression, "to revile the living God" (lechârēph 'Elōhı̄m chai), sounds like a comparison of Rabshakeh to Goliath (1 Samuel 17:26, 1 Samuel 17:36). The "existing remnant" was Jerusalem, which was not yet in the enemy's hand (compare Isaiah 1:8-9). The deliverance of the remnant is a key-note of Isaiah's prophecies. But the prophecy would not be fulfilled, until the grace which fulfilled it had been met by repentance and faith. Hence Hezekiah's weak faith sues for the intercession of the prophet, whose personal relation to God is here set forth as a closer one than that of the king and priests.
And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.
And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.
It may be the LORD thy God will hear 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 is left.
So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
Isaiah's reply. "And the servants of king Hizkiyahu came to Isaiah. And Isaiah said to them (אליהם, K. להם), Speak thus to your lord, Thus saith Jehovah, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Asshur have blasphemed me! Behold, I will bring a spirit upon him, and he will hear a hearsay, and return to his land; and I cut him down with the sword in his own land." Luzzatto, without any necessity, takes ויּאמרוּ in Isaiah 37:3 in the modal sense of what they were to do (e dovevano dirgli): they were to say this to him, but he anticipated them at once with the instructions given here. The fact, so far as the style is concerned, is rather this, that Isaiah 37:5, while pointing back, gives the ground for Isaiah 37:6 : "and when they had come to him (saying this), he said to them." נערי we render "servants" (Knappen)
(Note: Knappe is the same word as "Knave;" but we have no word in use now which is an exact equivalent, and knave has entirely lost its original sense of servant. - Tr.)
after Esther 2:2; Esther 6:3, Esther 6:5; it is a more contemptuous expression than עבדי. The rūăch mentioned here as sent by God is a superior force of a spiritual kind, which influences both thought and conduct, as in such other connections as Isaiah 19:14; Isaiah 28:6; Isaiah 29:10 (Psychol. p. 295, Anm.).
The external occasion which determined the return of Sennacherib, as described in Isaiah 37:36-37, was the fearful mortality that had taken place in his army. The shemū‛âh (rumour, hearsay), however, was not the tidings of this catastrophe, but, as the continuation of the account in Isaiah 37:8, Isaiah 37:9, clearly shows, the report of the advance of Tirhakah, which compelled Sennacherib to leave Palestine in consequence of this catastrophe. The prediction of his death is sufficiently special to be regarded by modern commentators, who will admit nothing but the most misty figures as prophecies, as a vaticinium post eventum. At the same time, the prediction of the event which would drive the Assyrian out of the land is intentionally couched in these general terms. The faith of the king, and of the inquirers generally, still needed to be tested and exercised. The time had not yet come for him to be rewarded by a clearer and fuller announcement of the judgment.
And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith 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 return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.
So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.
Rabshakeh, who is mentioned alone in both texts as the leading person engaged, returns to Sennacherib, who is induced to make a second attempt to obtain possession of Jerusalem, as a position of great strength and decisive importance. "Rabshakeh thereupon returned, and found the king of Asshur warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he had withdrawn from Lachish. And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, (K. Behold), he has come out to make war with thee; and heard, and sent (K. and repeated, and sent) messengers to Hizkiyahu, saying." Tirhakah was cursorily referred to in Isaiah 18:1-7. The twenty-fifth dynasty of Manetho contained three Ethiopian rulers: Sabakon, Sebichōs (סוא equals סוא), although, so far as we know, the Egyptian names begin with Sh), and Tarakos (Tarkos), Egypt. Taharka, or Heb. with the tone upon the penultimate, Tirhâqâh. The only one mentioned by Herodotus is Sabakon, to whom he attributes a reign of fifty years (ii. 139), i.e., as much as the whole three amount to, when taken in a round sum. If Sebichos is the biblical So', to whom the lists attribute from twelve to fourteen years, it is perfectly conceivable that Tirhakah may have been reigning in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah. But if this took place, as Manetho affirms, 366 years before the conquest of Egypt by Alexander, i.e., from 696 onwards (and the Apis-stele, No. 2037, as deciphered by Vic. de Roug, Revue archol. 1863, confirms it), it would be more easily reconcilable with the Assyrian chronology, which represents Sennacherib as reigning from 702-680 (Oppert and Rawlinson), than with the current biblical chronology, according to which Hezekiah's fourteenth year is certainly not much later than the year 714.
(Note: On the still prevailing uncertainty with regard to the synchronism, see Keil on Kings; and Duncker, Geschichte des Alterthums. pp. 713-4.)
It is worthy of remark also, that Tirhakah is not described as Pharaoh here, but as the king of Ethiopia (melekh Kūsh; see at Isaiah 37:36). Libnah, according to the Onom. a place in regione Eleutheropolitana, is probably the same as Tell es-Safieh ("hill of the pure" equals of the white), to the north-west of Bet Gibrin, called Alba Specula (Blanche Garde) in ten middle ages. The expression ויּשׁמע ("and he heard"), which occurs twice in the text, points back to what is past, and also prepares the way for what follows: "having heard this, he sent," etc. At the same time it appears to have been altered from ויּשׁב.
And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come forth to make war with thee. And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying,
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 given into the hand of the king of Assyria.
The message. "Thus shall ye say to Hizkiyahu king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Asshur. Behold, thou hast surely heard what (K. that which) the kings of Asshur have done to all lands, to lay the ban upon them; and thou, thou shouldst be delivered?! Have the gods of the nations, which my fathers destroyed, delivered them: Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the Benē-‛Eden, which are in Tellasar? Where is (K. where is he) the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of 'Ir-Sepharvaim, Hena', and 'Ivah?"Although ארץ is feminine, אותם (K. אתם), like להחרימם, points back to the lands (in accordance with the want of any thoroughly developed distinction of the genders in Hebrew); likewise אשׁר quas pessumdederunt. There is historical importance in the fact, that here Sennacherib attributes to his fathers (Sargon and the previous kings of the Derketade dynasty which he had overthrown) what Rabshakeh on the occasion of the first mission had imputed to Sennacherib himself. On Gozan, see p. 33. It is no doubt identical with the Zuzan of the Arabian geographers, which is described as a district of outer Armenia, situated on the Chabur, e.g., in the Merasid. ("The Chabur is the Chabur of el-Hasaniye, a district of Mosul, to the east of the Tigris; it comes down from the mountains of the land of Zuzan, flows through a broad and thickly populated country in the north of Mosul, which is called outer Armenia, and empties itself into the Tigris." Ptolemy, on the other hand (Isaiah 37:18, Isaiah 37:14), is acquainted with a Mesopotamian Gauzanitis; and, looking upon northern Mesopotamia as the border land of Armenia, he says, κατέχει δὲ τῆς ξηώρας τὰ μὲν πρὸς τῆ Αρμενία ἡ Ανθεμουσία (not far from Edessa) ὑφ ἥν ἡ Χαλκῖτις ὑπὸ δὲ ταύτην ἡ Γαυζανῖτις, possibly the district of Gulzan, in which Nisibin, the ancient Nisibis, still stands.
(Note: See Oppert, Expdition, i.60.)
For Hrn (Syr. Horon; Joseph. Charran of Mesopotamia), the present Harrn, not far from Charmelik, see Genesis, p. 327. The Harran in the Guta of Damascus (on the southern arm of the Harus), which Beke has recently identified with it, is not connected with it in any way. Retseph is the Rhesapha of Ptol. v. 18, 6, below Thapsacus, the present Rusafa in the Euphrates-valley of ez-Zor, between the Euphrates and Tadmur (Palmyra; see Robinson, Pal.). Telassar, with which the Targum (ii. iii.) and Syr. confound the Ellasar of Genesis 14:1, i.e., Artemita (Artamita), is not the Thelseae of the Itin. Antonini and of the Notitia dignitatum - in which case the Benē-‛Eden might be the tribe of Bt Genn (Bettegene) on the southern slope of Lebanon (i.e., the 'Eden of Coelesyria, Amos 1:5; the Paradeisos of Ptol. v. 15, 20; Paradisus, Plin. v. 19) - but the Thelser of the Tab. Peuting., on the eastern side of the Tigris; and Benē-‛Eden is the tribe of the 'Eden mentioned by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:23) after Haran and Ctesiphon. Consequently the enumeration of the warlike deeds describes a curve, which passes in a north-westerly direction through Hamath and Arpad, and then returns in Sepharvaim to the border of southern Mesopotamia and Babylonia. 'Ir-Sepharvaim is like 'Ir-Nchs, 'Ir-shemesh, etc. The legends connect the name with the sacred books. The form of the name is inexplicable; but the name itself probably signifies the double shore (after the Aramaean), as the city, which was the southernmost of the leading places of Mesopotamia, was situated on the Euphrates. The words ועוּה הנע, if not take as proper names, would signify, "he has taken away, and overthrown;" but in that case we should expect ועוּוּ הניעוּ or ועוּיתי הניעתי. They are really the names of cities which it is no longer possible to trace. Hena' is hardly the well-known Avatho on the Euphrates, as Gesenius, V. Niebuhr, and others suppose; and 'Ivah, the seat of the Avvı̄m (2 Kings 17:31), agrees still less, so far as the sound of the word is concerned, with "the province of Hebeh (? Hebeb: Ritter, Erdk. xi. 707), situated between Anah and the Chabur on the Euphrates," with which V. Niebuhr combines it.
(Note: For other combinations of equal value, see Oppert, Expdition, i. 220.)
Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered?
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 Telassar?
Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?
And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD.
This intimidating message, which declared the God of Israel to be utterly powerless, was conveyed by the messengers of Sennacherib in the form of a latter. "And Hizkiyahu took the letter out of the hand of the messengers, and read it (K. read them), and went up to the house of Jehovah; and Hizkiyahu spread it before Jehovah." Sephârı̄m (the sheets) is equivalent to the letter (not a letter in duplo), like literae (cf., grammata). ויּקראהוּ (changed by K. into m- ') is construed according to the singular idea. Thenius regards this spreading out of the letter as a naivetי; and Gesenius even goes so far as to speak of the praying machines of the Buddhists. But it was simply prayer without words - an act of prayer, which afterwards passed into vocal prayer. "And Hizkiyahu prayed to (K. before) Jehovah, saying (K. and said), Jehovah of hosts (K. omits tsebhâ'ōth), God of Israel, enthroned upon the cherubim, Thou, yea Thou alone, art God of all the kingdoms of the earth; Thou, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth. Incline Thine ear, Jehovah, and hear וּשׁמע, various reading in both texts וּשׁמע)! Open Thine eyes (K. with Yod of the plural), Jehovah, and see; and hear the (K. all the) words of Sennacherib, which he hath sent (K. with which he hath sent him, i.e., Rabshakeh) to despise the living God! Truly, O Jehovah, the kings of Asshur have laid waste all lands, and their land (K. the nations and their land), and have put (venâthōn, K. venâthenū) their gods into the fire: for they were not gods, only the work of men's hands, wood and stone; therefore they have destroyed them. And now, Jehovah our God, help us (K. adds pray) out of his hand, and all the kingdoms of the earth may know that Thou Jehovah (K. Jehovah Elohim) art it alone." On כּרבים (no doubt the same word as γρυπές, though not fabulous beings like these, but a symbolical representation of heavenly beings), see my Genesis, p. 626; and on yōshēbh hakkerubhı̄m (enthroned on the cherubim), see at Psalm 18:11 and Psalm 80:2. הוּא in אתּה־הוּא is an emphatic repetition, that is to say a strengthening, of the subject, like Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 51:12; 2 Samuel 7:28; Jeremiah 49:12; Psalm 44:5; Nehemiah 9:6-7; Ezra 5:11 : tu ille (not tu es ille, Ges. 121, 2) equals tu, nullus alius. Such passages as Isaiah 41:4, where הוּא is the predicate, do not belong here. עין is not a singular (like עיני in Psalm 32:8, where the lxx have עיני), but a defective plural, as we should expect after pâqach. On the other hand, the reading shelâchō ("hath sent him"), which cannot refer to debhârı̄m (the words), but only to the person bringing the written message, is to be rejected. Moreover, Knobel cannot help giving up his preference for the reading venâthōn (compare Genesis 41:43; Ges. 131, 4a); just as, on the other hand, we cannot help regarding the reading ואת־ארצם את־כּל־הארצות as a mistake, when compared with the reading of the book of Kings. Abravanel explains the passage thus: "The Assyrians have devastated the lands, and their own land" (cf., Isaiah 14:20), of which we may find examples in the list of victories given above; compare also Beth-arbel in Hosea 10:14, if this is Irbil on the Tigris, from which Alexander's second battle in Persia, which was really fought at Gaugamela, derived its name. But how does this tally with the fact that they threw the gods of these lands - that is to say, of their own land also (for אלהיהם could not possibly refer to הארצות, to the exclusion of ארצם) - into the fire? If we read haggōyı̄m (the nations), we get rid both of the reference to their own land, which is certainly purposeless here, and also of the otherwise inevitable conclusion that they burned the gods of their own country. The reading הארצות appears to have arisen from the fact, that after the verb החריב the lands appeared to follow more naturally as the object, than the tribes themselves (compare, however, Isaiah 60:12). The train of thought is the following: The Assyrians have certainly destroyed nations and their gods, because these gods were nothing but the works of men: do Thou then help us, O Jehovah, that the world may see that Thou alone art it, viz., God ('Elōhı̄m, as K. adds, although, according to the accents, Jehovah Elohim are connected together, as in the books of Samuel and Chronicles, and very frequently in the mouth of David: see Symbolae in Psalmos, pp. 15, 16).
And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying,
O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth.
Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God.
Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries,
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.
Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the LORD, even thou only.
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria:
The prophet's reply. "And Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hizkiyahu, saying, Thus saith Jehovah the God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me concerning Sennacherib the king of Asshur (K. adds, I have heard): this is the utterance which Jehovah utters concerning him." He sent, i.e., sent a message, viz., by one of his disciples (limmūdı̄m, Isaiah 8:16). According to the text of Isaiah, אשׁר would commence the protasis to הדּבר זה (as for that which - this is the utterance); or, as the Vav of the apodosis is wanting, it might introduce relative clauses to what precedes ("I, to whom:" Ges. 123, 1, Anm. 1). But both of these are very doubtful. We cannot dispense with שׁמעתּי (I have heard), which is given by both the lxx and Syr. in the text of Isaiah, as well as that of Kings.
The prophecy of Isaiah which follows here, is in all respects one of the most magnificent that we meet with. It proceeds with strophe-like strides on the cothurnus of the Deborah style: "The virgin daughter of Zion despiseth thee, laugheth thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem shaketh her head after thee. Whom hast thou reviled and blasphemed, and over whom hast thou spoken loftily, that thou hast lifted up thine eyes on high? Against the Holy One of Israel." The predicate is written at the head, in Isaiah 37:22, in the masculine, i.e., without any precise definition; since בּזה is a verb ל ה, and neither the participle nor the third pers. fem. of בּוּז. Zion is called a virgin, with reference to the shame with which it was threatened though without success (Isaiah 23:12); bethūlath bath are subordinate appositions, instead of co-ordinate. With a contented and heightened self-consciousness, she shakes her head behind him as he retreats with shame, saying by her attitude, as she moves her head backwards and forwards, that it must come to this, and could not be otherwise (Jeremiah 18:16; Lamentations 2:15-16). The question in Isaiah 37:23 reaches as far as עיניך, although, according to the accents, Isaiah 37:23 is an affirmative clause: "and thou turnest thine eyes on high against the Holy One of Israel" (Hitzig, Ewald, Drechsler, and Keil). The question is put for the purpose of saying to Asshur, that He at whom they scoff is the God of Israel, whose pure holiness breaks out into a consuming fire against all by whom it is dishonoured. The fut. cons. ותּשּׂה is essentially the same as in Isaiah 51:12-13, and מרום is the same as in Isaiah 40:26.
This is the word which 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.
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.
By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, and the forest of his Carmel.
Second turn, "By thy servants (K. thy messengers) hast thou reviled the Lord, in that thou sayest, With the multitude (K. chethib ברכב) of my chariots have I climbed the height of the mountains, the inner side of Lebanon; and I shall fell the lofty growth of its cedars, the choice (mibhchar, K. mibhchōr) of its cypresses: and I shall penetrate (K. and will penetrate) to the height (K. the halting-place) of its uttermost border, the grove of its orchard." The other text appears, for the most part, the preferable one here. Whether mal'ăkhekhâ (thy messengers, according to Isaiah 9:14) or ‛ăbhâdekhâ (thy servants, viz., Rabshakeh, Tartan, and Rabsaris) is to be preferred, may be left undecided; also whether רכבי ברכב is an error or a superlative expression, "with chariots of my chariots," i.e., my countless chariots; also, thirdly, whether Isaiah wrote mibhchōr. He uses mistōr in Isaiah 4:6 for a special reason; but such obscure forms befit in other instances the book of Kings, with its colouring of northern Palestine; and we also meet with mibhchōr in 2 Kings 3:19, in the strongly Aramaic first series of histories of Elisha. On the other hand, קצּה מלון is certainly the original reading, in contrast with קצו מרום. It is important, as bearing upon the interpretation of the passage, that both texts have ואכרת, not ואכרת, and that the other text confirms this pointing, inasmuch as it has ואבואה instead of ואובא. The Lebanon here, if not purely emblematical (as in Jeremiah 22:6 equals the royal city Jerusalem; Ezekiel 17:3 equals Judah-Jerusalem), has at any rate a synecdochical meaning (cf., Isaiah 14:8), signifying the land of Lebanon, i.e., the land of Israel, into which he had forced a way, and all the fortresses and great men of which he would destroy. He would not rest till Jerusalem, the most renowned height of the land of Lebanon, was lying at his feet. Thenius is quite right in regarding the "resting-place of the utmost border" and "the pleasure-garden wood" as containing allusions to the holy city and its royal citadel (compare the allegory in chapter 5).
I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places.
Third turn, "I, I have digged and drunk (K. foreign) waters, and will make dry with the sole of my feet all the Nile-arms (יארי, K. יאורי) of Matsor." If we take עליתי in Isaiah 37:24 as a perfect of certainty, Isaiah 37:25 would refer to the overcoming of the difficulties connected with the barren sandy steppe on the way to Egypt (viz., et-Tih); but the perfects stand out against the following futures, as statements of what was actually past. Thus, in places where there were no waters at all, and it might have been supposed that his army would inevitably perish, there he had dug them (qūr, from which mâqōr is derived, fodere; not scaturire, as Luzzatto supposes), and had drunk up these waters, which had been called up, as if by magic, upon foreign soil; and in places where there were waters, as in Egypt (mâtsōr is used in Isaiah and Micah for mitsrayim, with a play upon the appellative meaning of the word: an enclosing fence, a fortifying girdle: see Psalm 31:22), the Nile-arms and canals of which appeared to bar all farther progress, it was an easy thing for him to set at nought all these opposing hindrances. The Nile, with its many arms, was nothing but a puddle to him, which he trampled out with his feet.
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 defenced cities into ruinous heaps.
And yet what he was able to do was not the result of his own power, but of the counsel of God, which he subserved. Fourth turn, "Hast thou not heart? I have done it long ago, from (K. lemin, since) the days of ancient time have I formed it, and now brought it to pass (הבאתיה, K. הביאתיה): that thou shouldst lay waste fortified cities into desolate stone heaps; and their inhabitants, powerless, were terrified, and were put to shame (ובשׁוּ, K. ויּבשׁוּ): became herb of the field and green of the turf, herb of the house-tops, and a corn-field (וּשׁדמה, K. and blighted corn) before the blades." L'mērâcōq (from afar) is not to be connected with the preceding words, but according to the parallel with those which follow. The historical reality, in this instance the Assyrian judgment upon the nations, had had from all eternity an ideal reality in God (see at Isaiah 22:11). The words are addressed to the Assyrian; and as his instrumentality formed the essential part of the divine purpose, וּתהי does not mean "there should," but "thou shouldest," e!mellej e)chremw equals sai (cf., Isaiah 44:14-15, and Habakkuk 1:17). K. has להשׁות instead of להשׁאות (though not as chethib, in which case it would have to be pointed להשׁות), a singularly syncopated hiphil (for לשׁאות). The point of comparison in the four figures is the facility with which they can be crushed. The nations in the presence of the Assyrian became, as it were, weak, delicate grasses, with roots only rooted in the surface, or like a cornfield with the stalk not yet formed (shedēmâh, Isaiah 16:8), which could easily be rooted up, and did not need to be cut down with the sickle. This idea is expressed still more strikingly in Kings, "like corn blighted (shedēphâh, compare shiddâpōn, corn-blight) before the shooting up of the stalk;" the Assyrian being regarded as a parching east wind, which destroys the seed before the stalk is formed.
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.
But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
Asshur is Jehovah's chosen instrument while thus casting down the nations, which are "short-handed against him," i.e., incapable of resisting him. But Jehovah afterwards places this lion under firm restraint; and before it has reached the goal set before it, He leads it back into its own land, as if with a ring through its nostril. Fifth turn, "And thy sitting down, and thy going out, and thy entering in, I know; and thy heating thyself against me. On account of thy heating thyself against me, and because thy self-confidence has risen up into mine ears, I put my ring into thy nose, and my muzzle into thy lips, and lead thee back by the way by which thou hast come." Sitting down and rising up (Psalm 139:2), going out and coming in (Psalm 121:8), denote every kind of human activity. All the thoughts and actions, the purposes and undertakings of Sennacherib, more especially with regard to the people of Jehovah, were under divine control. יען is followed by the infinitive, which is then continued in the finite verb, just as in Isaiah 30:12. שׁאננך (another reading, שׁאננך) is used as a substantive, and denotes the Assyrians' complacent and scornful self-confidence (Psalm 123:4), and has nothing to do with שׁאון (Targum, Abulw., Rashi, Kimchi, Rosenmller, Luzzatto). The figure of the leading away with a nose-ring (chachı̄ with a latent dagesh, חא to prick, hence chōach, Arab. chōch, chōcha, a narrow slit, literally means a cut or aperture) is repeated in Ezekiel 38:4. Like a wild beast that had been subdued by force, the Assyrian would have to return home, without having achieved his purpose with Judah (or with Egypt).
Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I 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.
And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof.
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.
And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward:
Seventh turn, "And that which is escaped of the house of Judah, that which remains will again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. For from Jerusalem will a remnant go forth, and a fugitive from Mount Zion; the zeal of Jehovah of hosts (K. chethib omits tsebhâ'ōth) will carry this out." The agricultural prospect of the third year shapes itself there into a figurative representation of the fate of Judah. Isaiah's watchword, "a remnant shall return," is now fulfilled; Jerusalem has been spared, and becomes the source of national rejuvenation. You year the echo of Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 9:6, and also of Isaiah 27:6. The word tsebhâ'ōth is wanting in Kings, here as well as in Isaiah 37:17; in fact, this divine name is, as a rule, very rare in the book of Kings, where it only occurs in the first series of accounts of Elijah (1 Kings 18:15; 1 Kings 19:10, 1 Kings 19:14; cf., 2 Kings 3:14).
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 shields, nor cast a bank against it.
The prophecy concerning the protection of Jerusalem becomes more definite in the last turn than it ever has been before. "Therefore thus saith Jehovah concerning the king of Asshur, He will not enter into this city, nor shoot off an arrow there; nor do they assault it with a shield, nor cast up earthworks against it. By the way by which he came (K. will come) will he return; and he will not enter into this city, saith Jehovah. And I shield this city (על, K. אל), to help it, for mine own sake, and for the sake of David my servant." According to Hitzig, this conclusion belongs to the later reporter, on account of its "suspiciously definite character." Knobel, on the other hand, sees no reason for disputing the authorship of Isaiah, inasmuch as in all probability the pestilence had already set in (Isaiah 33:24), and threatened to cripple the Assyrian army very considerably, so that the prophet began to hope that Sennacherib might now be unable to stand against the powerful Ethiopian king. To us, however, the words "Thus saith Jehovah" are something more than a flower of speech; and we hear the language of a man exalted above the standard of the natural man, and one how has been taken, as Amos says (Amos 3:7), by God, the moulder of history into "His secret." Here also we see the prophecy at its height, towards which it has been ascending from Isaiah 6:13 and Isaiah 10:33-34 onwards, through the midst of obstacles accumulated by the moral condition of the nation, but with the same goal invariably in view. The Assyrian will not storm Jerusalem; there will not even be preparations for a siege. The verb qiddēm is construed with a double accusative, as in Psalm 21:4 : sōlelâh refers to the earthworks thrown up for besieging purposes, as in Jeremiah 32:24. The reading יבא instead of בּא has arisen in consequence of the eye having wandered to the following יבא. The promise in Isaiah 37:35 sounds like Isaiah 31:5. The reading אל for על is incorrect. One motive assigned ("for my servant David's sake") is the same as in 1 Kings 15:4, etc.; and the other ("for mine own sake") the same as in Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 48:11 (compare, however, Isaiah 55:3 also). On the one hand, it is in accordance with the honour and faithfulness of Jehovah, that Jerusalem is delivered; and, on the other hand, it is the worth of David, or, what is the same thing, the love of Jehovah turned towards him, of which Jerusalem reaps the advantage.
By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD.
For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
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.
To this culminating prophecy there is now appended an account of the catastrophe itself. "Then (K. And it came to pass that night, that) the angel of Jehovah went forth and smote (vayyakkeh, K. vayyakh) in the camp of Asshur a hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when men rose up in the morning, behold, they were all lifeless corpses. Then Sennacherib king of Asshur decamped, and went forth and returned, and settled down in Nineveh. And it cam to pass, as he was worshipping in the temple of Misroch, his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons (L. chethib omits 'his sons') smote him with the sword; and when they escaped to the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon ascended the throne in his stead." The first pair of histories closes here with a short account of the result of the Assyrian drama, in which Isaiah's prophecies were most gloriously fulfilled: not only the prophecies immediately preceding, but all the prophecies of the Assyrian era since the time of Ahaz, which pointed to the destruction of the Assyrian forces (e.g., Isaiah 10:33-34), and to the flight and death of the king of Assyrian (Isaiah 31:9; Isaiah 30:33). If we look still further forward to the second pair of histories (chapters 38-39), we see from Isaiah 38:6 that it is only by anticipation that the account of these closing events is finished here; for the third history carries us back to the period before the final catastrophe. We may account in some measure for the haste and brevity of this closing historical fragment, from the prophet's evident wish to finish up the history of the Assyrian complications, and the prophecy bearing upon it. But if we look back, there is a gap between Isaiah 37:36 and the event narrated here. For, according to Isaiah 37:30, there was to be an entire year of trouble between the prophecy and the fulfilment, during which the cultivation of the land would be suspended. What took place during that year? There can be no doubt that Sennacherib was engaged with Egypt; for (1.) when he made his second attempt to get Jerusalem into his power, he had received intelligence of the advance of Tirhakah, and therefore had withdrawn the centre of his army from Lachish, and encamped before Libnah (Isaiah 37:8-9); (2.) according to Josephus (Ant. x. 1, 4), there was a passage of Berosus, which has been lost, in which he stated that Sennacherib "made an expedition against all Asia and Egypt;" (3.) Herodotus relates (ii. 141) that, after Anysis the blind, who lost his throne for fifty years in consequence of an invasion of Egypt by the Ethiopians under Sabakoa, but who recovered it again, Sethon the priest of Hephaestus ascended the throne. The priestly caste was so oppressed by him, that when Sanacharibos, the king of the Arabians and Assyrians, led a great army against Egypt, they refused to perform their priestly functions. but the priest-king went into the temple to pray, and his God promised to help him. He experienced the fulfilment of this prophecy before Pelusium, where the invasion was to take place, and where he awaited the foe with such as continued true to him. "Immediately after the arrival of Sanacharibos, an army of field-mice swarmed throughout the camp of the foe, and devoured their quivers, bows, and shield-straps, so that when morning came on they had to flee without arms, and lost many men in consequence. This is the origin of the stone of Sethon in the temple of Hephaestus (at Memphis), which is standing there still, with a mouse in one hand, and with this inscription: Whosoever looks at me, let him fear the gods!" This Σέθως (possibly the Zet whose name occurs in the lists at the close of the twenty-third dynasty, and therefore in the wrong place) is to be regarded as one of the Saitic princes of the twenty-sixth dynasty, who seem to have ruled in Lower Egypt contemporaneously with the Ethiopians
(Note: A seal of Pharaoh Sabakon has been found among the ruins of the palace of Kuyunjik. The colossal image of Tarakos is found among the bas-reliefs of Mediet-Habu. He is holding firmly a number of Asiatic prisoners by the hair of their head, and threatening them with a club. There are several other stately monuments in imitation of the Egyptian style in the ruins of Nepata, the northern capital of the Meriotic state, which belong to him (Lepsius, Denkmler, p. 10 of the programme).)
(as, in fact, is stated in a passage of the Armenian Eusebius, Aethiopas et Saitas regnasse aiunt eodem tempore), until they succeeded at length in ridding themselves of the hateful supremacy. Herodotus evidently depended in this instance upon the hearsay of Lower Egypt, which transferred the central point of the Assyrian history to their own native princely house. The question, whether the disarming of the Assyrian army in front of Pelusium merely rested upon a legendary interpretation of the mouse in Sethon's hand,
(Note: This Sethos monument has not yet been discovered (Brugsch, Reiseberichte, p. 79). The temple of Phta was on the south side of Memphis; the site is marked by the ruins at Mitrahenni.)
which may possibly have been originally intended as a symbol of destruction; or whether it was really founded upon an actual occurrence which was exaggerated in the legend,
(Note: The inhabitants of Troas worshipped mice, "because they gnawed the strings of the enemies' bows" (see Wesseling on Il. i.39).)
may be left undecided.
But it is a real insult to Isaiah, when Thenius and G. Rawlinson place the scene of Isaiah 37:36 at Pelusium, and thus give the preference to Herodotus. Has not Isaiah up to this point constantly prophesied that the power of Asshur was to be broken in the holy mountain land of Jehovah (Isaiah 14:25), that the Lebanon forest of the Assyrian army would break to pieces before Jerusalem (Isaiah 10:32-34), and that there the Assyrian camp would become the booty of the inhabitants of the city, and that without a conflict? And is not the catastrophe that would befal Assyria described in Isaiah 18:1-7 as an act of Jehovah, which would determine the Ethiopians to do homage to God who was enthroned upon Zion? We need neither cite 2 Chronicles 32:21 nor Psalm 76:1-12 (lxx ὠδὴ πρὸς τὸν Ἀσσύριον), according to which the weapons of Asshur break to pieces upon Jerusalem; Isaiah's prophecies are quite sufficient to prove, that to force this Pelusiac disaster
(Note: G. Rawlinson, Monarchies, ii.445.)
into Isaiah 37:36 is a most thoughtless concession to Herodotus. The final catastrophe occurred before Jerusalem, and the account in Herodotus gives us no certain information even as to the issue of the Egyptian campaign, which took place in the intervening year. Such a gap as the one which occurs before Isaiah 37:36 is not without analogy in the historical writings of the Bible; see, for example, Numbers 20:1, where an abrupt leap is made over the thirty-seven years of the wanderings in the desert. The abruptness is not affected by the addition of the clause in the book of Kings, "It came to pass that night." For, in the face of the "sign" mentioned in Isaiah 37:30, this cannot mean "in that very night" (viz., the night following the answer given by Isaiah); but (unless it is a careless interpolation) it must refer to Isaiah 37:33, Isaiah 37:34, and mean illa nocte, viz., the night in which the Assyrian had encamped before Jerusalem. The account before us reads just like that of the slaying of the first-born in Egypt (Exodus 12:12; Exodus 11:4). The plague of Egypt is marked as a pestilence by the use of the word nâgaph in connection with hikkâh in Exodus 12:23, Exodus 12:13 (compare Amos 4:10, where it seems to be alluded to under the name דּבר); and in the case before us also we cannot think of anything else than a divine judgment of this kind, which even to the present day defies all attempts at an aetiological solution, and which is described in 2 Sam s effected through the medium of angels, just as it is here. Moreover, the concise brevity of the narrative leaves it quite open to assume, as Hensler and others do, that the ravages of the pestilence in the Assyrian army, which carried off thousands in the night (Psalm 91:6), even to the number of 185,000, may have continued for a considerable time.
(Note: The pestilence in Mailand in 1629 carried off, according to Tadino, 160,000 men; that in Vienna, in 1679, 122,849; that in Moscow, at the end of the last century, according to Martens, 670,000; but this was during the whole time that the ravages of the pestilence lasted.)
The main thing is the fact that the prophecy in Isaiah 31:8 was actually fulfilled. According to Josephus (Ant. x. 1, 5), when Sennacherib returned from his unsuccessful Egyptian expedition, he found the detachment of his army, which he had left behind in Palestine, in front of Jerusalem, where a pestilential disease sent by God was making great havoc among the soldiers, and that on the very first night of the siege. The three verses, "he broke up, and went away, and returned home," depict the hurried character of the retreat, like "abiit excessit evasit erupit" (Cic. ii. Catil. init.). The form of the sentence in Isaiah 37:38 places Sennacherib's act of worship and the murderous act of his sons side by side, as though they had occurred simultaneously. The connection would be somewhat different if the reading had been ויּכּהוּ (cf., Ewald, 341, a).
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
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.