Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them.
Isa 36:1-22. Sennacherib's Invasion; Blasphemous Solicitations; Hezekiah Is Told of Them.
This and the thirty-seventh through thirty-ninth chapters form the historical appendix closing the first division of Isaiah's prophecies, and were added to make the parts of these referring to Assyria more intelligible. So Jer 52:1-34; compare 2Ki 25:1-30. The section occurs almost word for word (2Ki 18:13, 17-20; 19:1-37); 2Ki 18:14-16, however, is additional matter. Hezekiah's "writing" also is in Isaiah, not in Kings (Isa 38:9-20). We know from 2Ch 32:32 that Isaiah wrote the acts of Hezekiah. It is, therefore, probable, that his record here (Isa 36:1-39:8) was incorporated into the Book of Kings by its compiler. Sennacherib lived, according to Assyrian inscriptions, more than twenty years after his invasion; but as Isaiah survived Hezekiah (2Ch 32:32), who lived upwards of fifteen years after the invasion (Isa 38:5), the record of Sennacherib's death (Isa 37:38) is no objection to this section having come from Isaiah; 2Ch 32:1-33 is probably an abstract drawn from Isaiah's account, as the chronicler himself implies (2Ch 32:32). Pul was probably the last of the old dynasty, and Sargon, a powerful satrap, who contrived to possess himself of supreme power and found a new dynasty (see on Isa 20:1). No attempt was made by Judah to throw off the Assyrian yoke during his vigorous reign. The accession of his son Sennacherib was thought by Hezekiah the opportune time to refuse the long-paid tribute; Egypt and Ethiopia, to secure an ally against Assyria on their Asiatic frontier, promised help; Isaiah, while opposed to submission to Assyria, advised reliance on Jehovah, and not on Egypt, but his advice was disregarded, and so Sennacherib invaded Judea, 712 B.C. He was the builder of the largest of the excavated palaces, that of Koyunjik. Hincks has deciphered his name in the inscriptions. In the third year of his reign, these state that he overran Syria, took Sidon and other Ph�nician cities, and then passed to southwest Palestine, where he defeated the Egyptians and Ethiopians (compare 2Ki 18:21; 19:9). His subsequent retreat, after his host was destroyed by God, is of course suppressed in the inscriptions. But other particulars inscribed agree strikingly with the Bible; the capture of the "defensed cities of Judah," the devastation of the country and deportation of its inhabitants; the increased tribute imposed on Hezekiah—thirty talents of gold—this exact number being given in both; the silver is set down in the inscriptions at eight hundred talents, in the Bible three hundred; the latter may have been the actual amount carried off, the larger sum may include the silver from the temple doors, pillars, &c. (2Ki 18:16).
1. fourteenth—the third of Sennacherib's reign. His ultimate object was Egypt, Hezekiah's ally. Hence he, with the great body of his army (2Ch 32:9), advanced towards the Egyptian frontier, in southwest Palestine, and did not approach Jerusalem.
And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field.
2. Rab-shakeh—In 2Ki 18:17, Tartan and Rab-saris are joined with him. Rab-shakeh was probably the chief leader; Rab is a title of authority, "chief-cup-bearer."
Lachish—a frontier town southwest of Jerusalem, in Judah; represented as a great fortified city in a hilly and fruitful country in the Koyunjik bas-reliefs, now in the British Museum; also, its name is found on a slab over a figure of Sennacherib on his throne.
upper pool—the side on which the Assyrians would approach Jerusalem coming from the southwest (see on Isa 7:3).
Then came forth unto him Eliakim, Hilkiah's son, which was over the house, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, Asaph's son, the recorder.
3. Eliakim—successor to Shebna, who had been "over the household," that is, chief minister of the king; in Isa 22:15-20, this was foretold.
scribe—secretary, recorder—literally, "one who reminds"; a remembrancer to keep the king informed on important facts, and to act as historiographer. In 2Ki 18:18, the additional fact is given that the Assyrian envoys "called to the king," in consequence of which Eliakim, &c., "came out to them."
And Rabshakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?
4. great king—the usual title of the Persian and Assyrian kings, as they had many subordinate princes or kings under them over provinces (Isa 10:8).
I say, sayest thou, (but they are but vain words) I have counsel and strength for war: now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me?
5. counsel—Egypt was famed for its wisdom.
Lo, thou trustest in the staff of this broken reed, on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all that trust in him.
6. It was a similar alliance with So (that is, Sabacho, or else Sevechus), the Ethiopian king of Egypt, which provoked the Assyrian to invade and destroy Israel, the northern kingdom, under Hoshea.
But if thou say to me, We trust in the LORD our God: is it not he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and said to Judah and to Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar?
7. The Assyrian mistakes Hezekiah's religious reforms whereby he took away the high places (2Ki 18:4) as directed against Jehovah. Some of the high places may have been dedicated to Jehovah, but worshipped under the form of an image in violation of the second commandment: the "brazen serpent," also (broken in pieces by Hezekiah, and called Nehushtan, "a piece of brass," because it was worshipped by Israel) was originally set up by God's command. Hence the Assyrian's allegation has a specious color: you cannot look for help from Jehovah, for your king has "taken away His altars."
to Jerusalem—(De 12:5, 11; Joh 4:20).
Now therefore give pledges, I pray thee, to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.
8. give pledges—a taunting challenge. Only give the guarantee that you can supply as many as two thousand riders, and I will give thee two thousand horses. But seeing that you have not even this small number (see on Isa 2:7), how can you stand against the hosts of Assyrian cavalry? The Jews tried to supply their weakness in this "arm" from Egypt (Isa 31:1).
How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master's servants, and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?
9. captain—a governor under a satrap; even he commands more horsemen than this.
And am I now come up without the LORD against this land to destroy it? the LORD said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.
10. A boastful inference from the past successes of Assyria, designed to influence the Jews to surrender; their own principles bound them to yield to Jehovah's will. He may have heard from partisans in Judah what Isaiah had foretold (Isa 10:5, 6).
Then said Eliakim and Shebna and Joah unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, unto thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and speak not to us in the Jews' language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall.
11. Syrian—rather, "Aramean": the language spoken north and east of Palestine, and understood by the Assyrians as belonging to the same family of languages as their own: nearly akin to Hebrew also, though not intelligible to the multitude (compare 2Ki 5:5-7). "Aram" means a "high land," and includes parts of Assyria as well as Syria.
Jews' language—The men of Judah since the disruption of Israel, claimed the Hebrew as their own peculiarly, as if they were now the only true representatives of the whole Hebrew twelve tribes.
ears of … people on … wall—The interview is within hearing distance of the city. The people crowd on the wall, curious to hear the Assyrian message. The Jewish rulers fear that it will terrify the people and therefore beg Rab-shakeh to speak Aramean.
But Rabshakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?
12. Is it to thy master and thee that I am sent? Nay, it is to the men on the wall, to let them know (so far am I from wishing them not to hear, as you would wish), that unless they surrender, they shall be reduced to the direst extremities of famine in the siege (2Ch 32:11, explains the word here), namely, to eat their own excrements: or, connecting, "that they may eat," &c., with "sit upon the wall"; who, as they hold the wall, are knowingly exposing themselves to the direst extremities [Maurer]. Isaiah, as a faithful historian, records the filthy and blasphemous language of the Assyrians to mark aright the true character of the attack on Jerusalem.
Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria.
13. Rab-shakeh speaks louder and plainer than ever to the men on the wall.
Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you.
Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us: this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.
15. The foes of God's people cannot succeed against them, unless they can shake their trust in Him (compare Isa 36:10).
Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me: and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern;
16. agreement … by … present—rather, "make peace with me"; literally, "blessing" so called from the mutual congratulations attending the ratification of peace. So Chaldee. Or else, "Do homage to me" [Horsley].
come out—surrender to me; then you may remain in quiet possession of your lands till my return from Egypt, when I will lead you away to a land fruitful as your own. Rab-shakeh tries to soften, in the eyes of the Jews, the well-known Assyrian policy of weakening the vanquished by deporting them to other lands (Ge 47:21; 2Ki 17:6).
Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards.
Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?
Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim? and have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?
19. Hamath … Arphad—(See on Isa 10:9).
Sepharvaim—literally, "the two scribes"; now Sipphara, on the east of Euphrates, above Babylon. It was a just retribution (Pr 1:31; Jer 2:19). Israel worshipped the gods of Sepharvaim, and so colonists of Sepharvaim were planted in the land of Israel (thenceforth called Samaria) by the Assyrian conqueror (2Ki 17:24; compare 2Ki 18:34).
Samaria—Shalmaneser began the siege against Hoshea, because of his conspiring with So of Egypt (2Ki 17:4). Sargon finished it; and, in his palace at Khorsabad, he has mentioned the number of Israelites carried captive—27,280 [G. V. Smith].
Who are they among all the gods of these lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?
20. (Compare Isa 10:11; 2Ch 32:19). Here he contradicts his own assertion (Isa 36:10), that he had "come up against the land with the Lord." Liars need good memories. He classes Jehovah with the idols of the other lands; nay, thinks Him inferior in proportion as Judah, under His tutelage, was less than the lands under the tutelage of the idols.
But they held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not.
21. not a word—so as not to enter into a war of words with the blasphemer (Ex 14:14; Jude 9).
Then came Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, that was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh.
22. clothes rent—in grief and horror at the blasphemy (Mt 26:65).