Isaiah 37
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.
1. went into the house of the Lord] See Isaiah 37:14-15. Cf. 1 Kings 8:33-34.

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.
2. The embassy consists of the two chief ministers, and the “elders of the priests.” The appearance of Shebna on such an errand was a striking evidence of the completeness of Isaiah’s moral victory (ch. Isaiah 22:15 ff.).

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.
3. a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy] Rather, of distress and chastisement and rejection. The word for “blasphemy” (Nehemiah 9:18; Nehemiah 9:26; Ezekiel 35:12) is differently pointed from that here used, which occurs only here and in 2 Kings 19:3. The sense “rejection” suits the context better; the king speaks of the “distress” as a Divine dispensation.

the children are come to the birth …] Obviously a proverbial expression for a crisis which becomes dangerous through lack of strength to meet it (cf. ch. Isaiah 66:9; Hosea 13:13).

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.
4. It may be] Or “Peradventure.” The one hope is that Jehovah will take notice of the dishonour done to His name by the threats and blasphemies of the Assyrian king. the Lord thy God] See ch. Isaiah 7:13. The prophet stands nearer to God than other men. Jehovah is the living God, as opposed to the dead idols to whose level the boast of the Assyrian had degraded Him. (Cf. 1 Samuel 17:26; 1 Samuel 17:36.)

wherefore lift up] Or perhaps “and that thou wilt lift up,”—still dependent on “It may be.” The efficacy of intercessory prayer is taught and assumed throughout the Old Testament: see Genesis 18:23 ff.; Exodus 32:31 ff.; 1 Samuel 12:19; Amos 7:2; Amos 7:5; Jeremiah 14:11; Jeremiah 15:1, &c.

the remnant that is left] Cf. Isaiah 37:32. The idea is Isaiah’s; but the word is not that used elsewhere by the prophet himself.

So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
5. The verse is really subordinate to Isaiah 37:6,—“And when the servants … came … Isaiah said,” &c.

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.
6. the servants] Lit “the youths.” Cf. 1 Kings 20:14.

6, 7. Isaiah’s answer far exceeds the king’s request. He does not need now to pray, for he is already in possession of the Divine message for this crisis.

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.
7. I will send a blast upon him] Render as in R.V. I will put a spirit in him, i.e. a spirit of craven fear, depriving him of his natural courage and resourcefulness. How the spirit will work is stated in what follows: a mere rumour will drive him back to his own land, there to meet his death (cf. 2 Kings 7:6). There is no allusion in this oracle to the disastrous blow recorded in Isaiah 37:36. The “rumour” is no doubt that of the approach of Tirhakah (Isaiah 37:9).

So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.
8. Libnah] another of the “defenced cities” of Judah (Joshua 10:29). Its situation is not known.

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,
9. Tirhakah king of Ethiopia is named only here in the O.T. See General Introduction, p. xvi.

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.
10–13. Sennacherib’s letter to Hezekiah. It is in substance a repetition of the chief argument of the Rabshakeh, with the unimportant modification that Hezekiah is here regarded as deceived by his God, while the Rabshakeh chose to represent him as a deceiver of his people.

Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered?
11. by destroying them utterly] Lit. putting them to the ban, see on ch. Isaiah 34:2.

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?
12. my fathers here means “my predecessors”; for the dynasty to which Sennacherib belonged had been founded by his father Sargon. The place-names in this verse are all found on the Assyrian monuments. (See Schrader, Cuneiform Inscriptions, on 2 Kings 19:12.) Gozan (Assyr. Guzana) is one of the places to which the Northern Israelites were exiled (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11); it lay on the river Chaboras, a northern affluent of the Euphrates. Haran is the well-known commercial emporium of northern Mesopotamia, on another tributary (the Belikh) west of the Chaboras. Rezeph (Assyr. Raṣappa) is about 20 miles south of the Euphrates on the route from Haran to Palmyra. Telassar is in Assyrian Til-Assuri (“Hill of Asshur”), a name likely to be of frequent occurrence. The place here can hardly be the Babylonian Til-Assuri mentioned in the monuments; it may rather have been one of the cities of Eden, i.e. the small kingdom called Bit-Adini on the Upper Euphrates.

Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?
13. Hamath … Arphad … Sepharvaim] See ch. Isaiah 36:19. Hena and Ivah (R.V. more correctly, Ivvah) are not known. The latter is probably the same as Ava or Avva (2 Kings 17:24).

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.
14. spread it (the letter) before the Lord] that Jehovah might take notice of the arrogance displayed by it. The act is symbolic. Similarly the Jews at the beginning of the Maccabee insurrection spread out in prayer a copy of the Law, defaced with idolatrous pictures, as a witness to the outrages perpetrated against their religion (1Ma 3:48).

14–20. Hezekiah’s prayer in the Temple. Cheyne refers to a striking parallel in the Egyptian version of Sennacherib’s overthrow. “On this the monarch (Sethos), greatly distressed, entered into the inner sanctuary, and before the image of the god (Ptah) bewailed the fate which impended over him. As he wept he fell asleep, and dreamed that the god came and stood by his side, bidding him be of good cheer, and go boldly forth to meet the Arabian (Assyrian) host, which would do him no hurt, as he himself would send those who should help him” (Herod. II. 141, Rawlinson).

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.
16. The prayer opens with a solemn invocation of Jehovah, first as God of Israel, and second as the only true God and Creator of all things.

that dwellest between (or, art enthroned upon) the cherubims] Cf. 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; Psalm 80:1. The Cherubim may have been originally symbolic representations of the storm-cloud (see Psalm 18:10) and hence bearers of the Divine Presence (Ezekiel 1); but the reference here is undoubtedly to the two figures over the ark in the Temple; Jehovah, therefore, is addressed as the God of the Temple.

thou art the God … alone] Thou art (He that is) God alone. The sole divinity of Jehovah is here presented as a theological consequence of the doctrine of creation, a fundamental idea in the teaching of ch. 40 ff. Although the doctrine of creation was held in Israel from the earliest times, it seems to have been by slow degrees that its full religious significance was apprehended.

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.
17. open thine eyes … and see] The Hebr. has “thine eye,” which is probably a better reading than “thine eyes” in 2 Kings 19:16. So “who hath sent” is more correct than “who hath sent him” (the messenger).

to reproach the living God] as in Isaiah 37:4.

Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries,
18. all the nations, and their countries] R.V., following the received text, has “all the countries (lit., lands) and their land.” But the true reading is preserved in the corresponding verse of 2 Kings, which A.V. has rightly followed here.

have laid waste] This verb is never used of nations, except in ch. Isaiah 60:12. It differs by a single letter from “laid under the ban” in Isaiah 37:11, and ought probably to be altered accordingly.

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.
19. the work of men’s hands] Cf. ch. Isaiah 2:20, Isaiah 17:8, Isaiah 31:7.

wood and stone] Deuteronomy 4:28; Deuteronomy 28:36; Deuteronomy 28:64; Deuteronomy 29:17; Ezekiel 20:32.

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.
20. Therefore let Jehovah shew, in this crisis of religion, that He alone possesses true Godhead.

that thou art the Lord, even thou only] Lit. “that thou art Jehovah alone,” cf. Deuteronomy 6:4. But the easier, and perhaps the original, reading is given by 2 Kings “that thou Jehovah art God alone” (see Isaiah 37:16).

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:
21. The construction of the verse is entirely altered in 2 Kings 19:20 by the introduction of the words “I have heard.” It then reads “That which thou hast prayed … I have heard.” But the addition is unnecessary; and the text in Isaiah is to be preferred.

21–35. The answer to the prayer comes in the form of a message from Isaiah. The message as here given really consists of two distinct oracles: (1) a poem, on the pride and the approaching humiliation of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:22-29); to which is appended a short passage in a different rhythm addressed to Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:30-32); (2) a definite prediction, in a less elevated style, of the deliverance of Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:33-35). The lyrical passage (Isaiah 37:22-32) appears to have been inserted in the narrative from some independent source. Although probably a genuine work of Isaiah, the recitation of a somewhat elaborate poem is hardly a natural form for a prophetic communication to take at so critical a juncture. A terse and pregnant oracle, such as we have in Isaiah 37:33-35 suits the situation better, and since these verses contain a complete and direct answer to the prayer of Hezekiah, we need not hesitate to regard them as the actual message of the prophet on this occasion. A slight indication of the original connexion of the narrative may possibly be found in the “therefore” of Isaiah 37:33, referring back to the “whereas” of Isaiah 37:21.

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.
22–29. The poem on Sennacherib is in substance a Taunt-song; but in form an elegy, written in the measure characteristic of the qînâh. The first two lines (Isaiah 37:22) read:

She hath despised thee, hath mocked thee—the virgin daughter of Zion;

Behind thee hath shaken the head—the daughter of Jerusalem.

The prophet anticipates the ignominious retreat of the Assyrian king (“behind thee”), leaving Jerusalem still a “virgin” fortress. To “shake the head” is in the O.T. a gesture of contempt (Psalm 22:7; Jeremiah 18:16; Lamentations 2:15, &c.).

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.
23. “What sort of being is He whom thou hast defied?” The first two sentences are rhetorical questions, and require no answer. The last sentence is to be read as an affirmation: Yea, thou hast lifted up thine eyes to the height against the Holy One of Israel. To “lift up the voice” means here to speak proudly, not as often to cry aloud (e.g. ch. Isaiah 13:2).

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.
24. For servants 2 Kings has “messengers,” as in Isaiah 37:9; Isaiah 37:14.

am I come up] Better, I go up. The “I” is emphatic.

the sides of Lebanon means its recesses (R.V. “innermost parts”).

the height of his border] Render, its furthest height; or (changing the text in accordance with 2 Kings 19:33) its last retreat (lit. “lodging-place”).

the forest of his Carmel] R.V. the forest of his fruitful field (see ch. Isaiah 10:18, Isaiah 29:17, Isaiah 32:15 f.)—perhaps the cedar groves on the highest ridges.

24, 25. The king of Assyria is represented as boasting of the ease with which he triumphs over all natural obstacles in the pursuance of his plans; such language is blasphemy against Jehovah, the Lord of Nature; although the king himself may be hardly conscious of the sin he is committing. The tenses in the speech might all be made perfects by a change of vowels, or they may all be rendered by presents; the king’s meaning being simply that he constantly performs such impossibilities as these. The Assyrian parallels cited by Cheyne are very striking (see his Commentary, p. 219 and the references there).

I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places.
25. I have digged … water] I (again emphatic) dig and drink foreign waters. The word “foreign” is to be supplied from 2 Kings 19:24. For the expression cf. Proverbs 9:17; Proverbs 5:15.

all the rivers of the besieged places] Render with R.V. all the rivers (lit. “Nile-streams”) of Egypt. See on ch. Isaiah 19:6. The extravagant hyperbole covers an empty boast; no Assyrian army had ever yet set foot in Egypt, and Sennacherib was not destined to see his dream fulfilled.

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.
26. The verse reads, with a slight change of pointing: Hast thou not heard? Long ago have I made it, from the days of old have I formed it: now I bring it to pass, and so hast thou been (able) to lay waste in ruined heaps defenced cities. Cf. ch. Isaiah 22:11, Isaiah 44:7, Isaiah 46:11.

26, 27. In all his successes the Assyrian has been but the unconscious instrument of Jehovah’s eternal purpose. Cf. ch. Isaiah 10:5-15.

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.
27. Therefore their inhabitants … confounded] Better, And their inhabitants (being) of small power (lit. “short of hand”) were terrified and ashamed.

grass on the housetops] See Psalm 129:6-8.

corn blasted before it be grown up] The Hebr. text reads “a corn-field before it is in stalk” (see R.V.). The A.V. adopts the reading of 2 Kings 19:26, which is perhaps to be preferred—“a blasting before it is in stalk.” But neither rendering accounts quite satisfactorily for the words “before it is in stalk.” In all probability they are, as Wellhausen has suggested, a corruption of the opening words of the next verse, which is obviously unsymmetrical as it stands.

But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
28, 29. All the acts of the Assyrian are under the strict surveillance of Jehovah, who will shew His power over him by dragging him back, like a wild beast, to his place. If the emendation of Wellhausen (see on Isaiah 37:27) be accepted, Isaiah 37:28 would read: Before me is thy rising up and thy sitting down (cf. Psalm 139:2), and thy going out and thy coming in I know, and thy raging against me.

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.
29. For tumult render with R.V. marg. careless ease. “Raging” and “careless ease” form a contrast, like “rising up” and “sitting down” in the previous verse.

therefore will I put my hook in thy nose] Cf. Ezekiel 19:4; Ezekiel 29:4; Ezekiel 38:4.

I will turn thee back …] See Isaiah 37:7; Isaiah 37:34.

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.
30. The “sign” of this verse is of the same nature as that of Exodus 3:12, and ch. Isaiah 7:14. It consists of a series of events, in themselves natural, which will attest the fact that all the circumstances of the deliverance had been foreordained by Jehovah, and foretold by His prophet.

such as groweth of itself] Hebr. ṣâphîaḥ, the scanty crop produced by the shaken grains of the last harvest (Leviticus 25:5; Leviticus 25:11).

that which springeth of the same] shâḥîṣ or in 2 Kings shâḥîṣ, a word which does not occur elsewhere. It is explained to mean “that which springs from the roots” of the corn. The import of the sign at all events is that for two years the regular operations of agriculture will be suspended. It is uncertain how long a period of Assyrian occupation is thus contemplated. The year runs from October to October; and this year must apparently mean the year after that in which the crops were destroyed by the invader; for in that year there could hardly be even ṣâphîaḥ to eat. We may suppose that the prophecy was spoken in the beginning of the year, i.e. in the autumn of 701, before the usual season of ploughing. The question then arises, How long would the Assyrians require to remain in the land in order to destroy the prospects of two successive harvests? Wetzstein states that at the present day, unless the ground has been several times broken up in the previous summer the seed will be lost in the ground. If therefore the Assyrian occupation lasted into the summer of 700, it would interfere with the necessary preparations for a crop in the following year, the year of the shâḥîṣ. But even this limited period can hardly be reconciled with the actual result as recorded in Isaiah 37:36. Probably therefore the sign does not fix the term of the Assyrian occupation, but refers to wider effects of the invasion, the depopulation of the country, the destruction of homesteads, &c., which rendered an immediate resumption of agricultural activity impossible.

30–32. A sign is given to Hezekiah of the fulfilment of the preceding prophecy. But beyond the brief period of hardship which must follow the invasion, the prophet announces the advent of a new age in which all his hopes for the future of Israel shall be realised.

And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward:
31. Comp. ch. Isaiah 27:6.

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.
32. the zeal of the Lord … this] From ch. Isaiah 9:7.

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.
33. Therefore probably attaches itself to “whereas” in Isaiah 37:21 (see the note on that verse).

33–35. An assurance that Jehovah will protect Jerusalem, in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer.

By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD.
34. Cf. Isaiah 37:7; Isaiah 37:29.

For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
35. I will defend this city] Cf. ch. Isaiah 31:5, where the same verb is used.

for my servant David’s sake] An expression of frequent occurrence in the books of Kings. See 1 Kings 11:13; 1 Kings 11:34; 1 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19.

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.
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.

So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
37, 38. The flight of Sennacherib, and his death at Nineveh. If the passage be a combination of two parallel narratives, the second ends with Isaiah 37:36, while Isaiah 37:37-38 form the conclusion of the first. In the Hebrew, the first words of Isaiah 37:37 would be the correct continuation of “and when he heard it” in Isaiah 37:9.

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.
38. The official account of Sennacherib’s death as given in the Babylonian Chronicle (Col. 3:34–38) is as follows: “On 20 Tebet Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was killed by his son in a revolt. [23] years reigned Sennacherib in Assyria. From 20 Tebet to 2 Adar the revolt was maintained in Assyria. On 18 Sivan Esarhaddon, his son, ascended the throne in Assyria.” (Schrader, Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, II. pp. 281 ff.) The event took place in 681, twenty years after Sennacherib’s disappearance from Palestine. During these years he claims to have conducted five successful campaigns; but he never found another opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Palestine, and the very fact that he lived so long may have been forgotten in Judah before this history was written.

Nisroch his god] No Assyrian deity of this name has as yet been found on the monuments.

Adrammelech and Sharezer] Both Assyrian names. The former is named as the parricide by profane historians (although not in the inscriptions); the latter only here. The motive for the crime is explained by the statement of Polyhistor, that Sennacherib had placed Esarhaddon on the throne of Babylon during his own lifetime, an act which would naturally excite the jealousy of his other sons (Budge, History of Esarhaddon, p. 2).

the land of Armenia] R.V. Ararat. Ararat is the Hebrew equivalent of the Assyr. Urartu, Armenia.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Isaiah 36
Top of Page
Top of Page