Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible 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.
Isa 37:1-38. Continuation of the Narrative in the Thirty-sixth Chapter.
1. sackcloth—(See on Isa 20:2).
house of the Lord—the sure resort of God's people in distress (Ps 73:16, 17; 77:13).
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. unto Isaiah—implying the importance of the prophet's position at the time; the chief officers of the court are deputed to wait on him (compare 2Ki 22:12-14).
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. rebuke—that is, the Lord's rebuke for His people's sins (Ps 149:7; Ho 5:9).
blasphemy—blasphemous railing of Rab-shakeh.
the children, &c.—a proverbial expression for, We are in the most extreme danger and have no power to avert it (compare Ho 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. hear—take cognizance of (2Sa 16:12).
reprove—will punish him for the words, &c. (Ps 50:21).
remnant—the two tribes of the kingdom of Judah, Israel being already captive. Isaiah is entreated to act as intercessor with God.
So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.
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. servants—literally, "youths," mere lads, implying disparagement, not an embassy of venerable elders. The Hebrew is different from that for "servants" in Isa 37:5.
blasphemed me—(Isa 36:20).
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. blast—rather, "I will put a spirit (Isa 28:6; 1Ki 22:23) into him," that is, so influence his judgment that when he hears the report (Isa 37:9, concerning Tirhakah), he shall return [Gesenius]; the "report" also of the destruction of his army at Jerusalem, reaching Sennacherib, while he was in the southwest of Palestine on the borders of Egypt, led him to retreat.
by the sword—(Isa 37:38).
So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.
8. returned—to the camp of his master.
Libnah—meaning "whiteness," the Blanche-garde of the Crusaders [Stanley]. Eusebius and Jerome place it more south, in the district of Eleutheropolis, ten miles northwest of Lachish, which Sennacherib had captured (see on Isa 36:2). Libnah was in Judea and given to the priests (1Ch 6:54, 57).
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—(See on Isa 17:12; Isa 18:6). Egypt was in part governed by three successive Ethiopian monarchs, for forty or fifty years: Sabacho, Sevechus, and Tirhakah. Sevechus retired from Lower Egypt owing to the resistance of the priests, whereupon Sethos, a prince-priest, obtained supreme power with Tanis (Zoan in Scripture), or Memphis, as his capital. The Ethiopians retained Upper Egypt under Tirhakah, with Thebes as the capital. Tirhakah's fame as a conqueror rivalled that of Sesostris; he, and one at least, of the Pharaohs of Lower Egypt, were Hezekiah's allies against Assyria. The tidings of his approach made Sennacherib the more anxious to get possession of Jerusalem before his arrival.
sent—2Ki 19:9 more fully expresses Sennacherib's eagerness by adding "again."
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. He tries to influence Hezekiah himself, as Rab-shakeh had addressed the people.
God … deceive—(Compare Nu 23:19).
Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered?
11. all lands—(Isa 14:17). He does not dare to enumerate Egypt in the list.
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. Gozan—in Mesopotamia, on the Chabour (2Ki 17:6; 18:11). Gozan is the name of the district, Chabour of the river.
Haran—more to the west. Abraham removed to it from Ur (Ge 11:31); the Carroe of the Romans.
Rezeph—farther west, in Syria.
Eden—There is an ancient village, Adna, north of Baghdad. Some think Eden to be the name of a region (of Mesopotamia or its vicinity) in which was Paradise; Paradise was not Eden itself (Ge 2:8). "A garden in Eden."
Telassar—now Tel-afer, west of Mosul [Layard]. Tel means a "hill" in Arabic and Assyrian names.
Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?
13. Hena … Ivah—in Babylonia. From Ava colonists had been brought to Samaria (2Ki 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—unrolled the scroll of writing. God "knows our necessities before we ask Him," but He delights in our unfolding them to Him with filial confidence (2Ch 20:3, 11-13).
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. dwellest—the Shekinah, or fiery symbol of God's presence, dwelling in the temple with His people, is from shachan, "to dwell" (Ex 25:22; Ps 80:1; 99:1).
cherubim—derived by transposition from either a Hebrew root, rachab, to "ride"; or rather, barach, to "bless." They were formed out of the same mass of pure gold as the mercy seat itself (Ex 25:19, Margin). The phrase, "dwellest between the cherubim," arose from their position at each end of the mercy seat, while the Shekinah, and the awful name, Jehovah, in written letters, were in the intervening space. They are so inseparably associated with the manifestation of God's glory, that whether the Lord is at rest or in motion, they always are mentioned with Him (Nu 7:89; Ps 18:10). (1) They are first mentioned (Ge 3:24) "on the edge of" (as "on the east" may be translated) Eden; the Hebrew for "placed" is properly to "place in a tabernacle," which implies that this was a local tabernacle in which the symbols of God's presence were manifested suitably to the altered circumstances in which man, after the fall, came before God. It was here that Cain and Abel, and the patriarchs down to the flood, presented their offerings: and it is called "the presence of the Lord" (Ge 4:16). When those symbols were removed at the close of that early patriarchal dispensation, small models of them were made for domestic use, called, in Chaldee, "seraphim" or "teraphim." (2) The cherubim, in the Mosaic tabernacle and Solomon's temple, were the same in form as those at the outskirts of Eden: compound figures, combining the distinguishing properties of several creatures: the ox, chief among the tame and useful animals; the lion among the wild ones; the eagle among birds; and man, the head of all (the original headship of man over the animal kingdom, about to be restored in Jesus Christ, Ps 8:4-8, is also implied in this combination). They are, throughout Scripture, represented as distinct from God; they could not be likenesses of Him which He forbade in any shape. (3) They are introduced in the third or gospel dispensation (Re 4:6) as "living creatures" (not so well translated "beasts" in English Version), not angels, but beings closely connected with the redeemed Church. So also in Eze 1:5-25; 10:1-22. Thus, throughout the three dispensations, they seem to be symbols of those who in every age should officially study and proclaim the manifold wisdom of God.
thou alone—literally, "Thou art He who alone art God of all the kingdoms"; whereas Sennacherib had classed Jehovah with the heathen gods, he asserts the nothingness of the latter and the sole lordship of the former.
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. ear … eyes—singular, plural. When we wish to hear a thing we lend one ear; when we wish to see a thing we open both eyes.
Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries,
18. have laid waste—conceding the truth of the Assyrian's allegation (Isa 36:18-20), but adding the reason, "For they were no gods."
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. cast … gods into … fire—The policy of the Assyrians in order to alienate the conquered peoples from their own countries was, both to deport them elsewhere, and to destroy the tutelary idols of their nation, the strongest tie which bound them to their native land. The Roman policy was just the reverse.
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. The strongest argument to plead before God in prayer, the honor of God (Ex 32:12-14; Ps 83:18; Da 9:18, 19).
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. Whereas thou hast prayed to me—that is, hast not relied on thy own strength but on Me (compare 2Ki 19:20). "That which thou hast prayed to Me against Sennacherib, I have heard" (Ps 65:2).
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. Transition to poetry: in parallelism.
virgin … daughter—honorable terms. "Virgin" implies that the city is, as yet, inviolate. "Daughter" is an abstract collective feminine personification of the population, the child of the place denoted (see on Isa 23:10; Isa 1:8). Zion and her inhabitants.
shaken … head—in scorn (Ps 22:7; 109:25; Mt 27:39). With us to shake the head is a sign of denial or displeasure; but gestures have different meanings in different countries (Isa 58:9; Eze 25:6; Zep 2:15).
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. Whom—not an idol.
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. said—virtually. Hast thou within thyself?
height—imagery from the Assyrian felling of trees in Lebanon (Isa 14:8; 33:9); figuratively for, "I have carried my victorious army through the regions most difficult of access, to the most remote lands."
sides—rather, "recesses" [G. V. Smith].
fir trees—not cypresses, as some translate; pine foliage and cedars are still found on the northwest side of Lebanon [Stanley].
height of … border—In 2Ki 19:23, "the lodgings of his borders." Perhaps on the ascent to the top there was a place of repose or caravansary, which bounded the usual attempts of persons to ascend [Barnes]. Here, simply, "its extreme height."
forest of … Carmel—rather, "its thickest forest." "Carmel" expresses thick luxuriance (see on Isa 10:18; Isa 29:17).
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. digged, and drunk water—In 2Ki 19:24, it is "strange waters." I have marched into foreign lands where I had to dig wells for the supply of my armies; even the natural destitution of water there did not impede my march.
rivers of … besieged places—rather, "the streams (artificial canals from the Nile) of Egypt." "With the sole of my foot," expresses that as soon as his vast armies marched into a region, the streams were drunk up by them; or rather, that the rivers proved no obstruction to the onward march of his armies. So Isa 19:4-6, referring to Egypt, "the river—brooks of defense—shall be dried up." Horsley, translates the Hebrew for "besieged places," "rocks."
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. Reply of God to Sennacherib.
long ago—join, rather, with "I have done it." Thou dost boast that it is all by thy counsel and might: but it is I who, long ago, have ordered it so (Isa 22:11); thou wert but the instrument in My hands (Isa 10:5, 15). This was the reason why "the inhabitants were of small power before thee" (Isa 37:27), namely, that I ordered it so; yet thou art in My hands, and I know thy ways (Isa 37:28), and I will check thee (Isa 37:29). Connect also, "I from ancient times have arranged ('formed') it." However, English Version is supported by Isa 33:13; 45:6, 21; 48:5.
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—not because of thy power, but because I made them unable to withstand thee.
grass—which easily withers (Isa 40:6; Ps 37:2).
on … housetops—which having little earth to nourish it fades soonest (Ps 129:6-8).
corn blasted before it be grown up—Smith translates, "The cornfield (frail and tender), before the corn is grown."
But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
28. abode—rather, "sitting down" (Ps 139:2). The expressions here describe a man's whole course of life (De 6:7; 28:6; 1Ki 3:7; Ps 121:8). There is also a special reference to Sennacherib's first being at home, then going forth against Judah and Egypt, and raging against Jehovah (Isa 37:4).
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.
hook in … nose—Like a wild beast led by a ring through the nose, he shall be forced back to his own country (compare Job 41:1, 2; Eze 19:4; 29:4; 38:4). In a bas-relief of Khorsabad, captives are led before the king by a cord attached to a hook, or ring, passing through the under lip or the upper lip, and nose.
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. Addressed to Hezekiah.
sign—a token which, when fulfilled, would assure him of the truth of the whole prophecy as to the enemy's overthrow. The two years, in which they were sustained by the spontaneous growth of the earth, were the two in which Judea had been already ravaged by Sennacherib (Isa 32:10). Thus translate: "Ye did eat (the first year) such as groweth of itself, and in the second year that … but in this third year sow ye," &c., for in this year the land shall be delivered from the foe. The fact that Sennacherib moved his camp away immediately after shows that the first two years refer to the past, not to the future [Rosenmuller]. Others, referring the first two years to the future, get over the difficulty of Sennacherib's speedy departure, by supposing that year to have been the sabbatical year, and the second year the jubilee; no indication of this appears in the context.
And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward:
31. remnant—Judah remained after the ten tribes were carried away; also those of Judah who should survive Sennacherib's invasion are meant.
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.
33. with shields—He did come near it, but was not allowed to conduct a proper siege.
bank—a mound to defend the assailants in attacking the walls.
By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD.
34. (See Isa 37:29, 37; Isa 29:5-8).
For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
35. I will defend—Notwithstanding Hezekiah's measures of defense (2Ch 32:3-5), Jehovah was its true defender.
mine own sake—since Jehovah's name was blasphemed by Sennacherib (Isa 37:23).
David's sake—on account of His promise to David (Ps 132:17, 18), and to Messiah, the heir of David's throne (Isa 9:7; 11:1).
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. Some attribute the destruction to the agency of the plague (see on 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."
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
37. dwelt at Nineveh—for about twenty years after his disaster, according to the inscriptions. The word, "dwelt," is consistent with any indefinite length of time. "Nineveh," so called from Ninus, that is, Nimrod, its founder; his name means "exceedingly impious rebel"; he subverted the existing patriarchal order of society, by setting up a system of chieftainship, founded on conquest; the hunting field was his training school for war; he was of the race of Ham, and transgressed the limits marked by God (Ge 10:8-11, 25), encroaching on Shem's portion; he abandoned Babel for a time, after the miraculous confusion of tongues and went and founded Nineveh; he was, after death, worshipped as Orion, the constellation (see on Job 9:9; Job 38:31).
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. Nisroch—Nisr, in Semitic, means "eagle;" the termination och, means "great." The eagle-headed human figure in Assyrian sculptures is no doubt Nisroch, the same as Asshur, the chief Assyrian god; the corresponding goddess was Asheera, or Astarte; this means a "grove," or sacred tree, often found as the symbol of the heavenly hosts (Saba) in the sculptures, as Asshur the Eponymus hero of Assyria (Ge 10:11) answered to the sun or Baal, Belus, the title of office, "Lord." This explains "image of the grove" (2Ki 21:7). The eagle was worshipper by the ancient Persians and Arabs.
Esar-haddon—In Ezr 4:2 he is mentioned as having brought colonists into Samaria. He is also thought to have been the king who carried Manasseh captive to Babylon (2Ch 33:11). He built the palace on the mound Nebbiyunus, and that called the southwest palace of Nimroud. The latter was destroyed by fire, but his name and wars are recorded on the great bulls taken from the building. He obtained his building materials from the northwest palaces of the ancient dynasty, ending in Pul.