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.
Verse 1. - When King Hezekiah heard it; rather, heard them; i.e. the "words of Rabshakeh," which his officials reported to him. He rent his clothes. He did as they had done (Isaiah 36:22; see the comment on that verse). But he went further, showing a deeper sense of horror and affliction than the officials had shown by being covered with sackcloth (on the combination of the two modes of showing grief or horror, see Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31; 1 Kings 21:27; Esther 4:1, etc.). And went into the house of the Lord. The temple was not only a place for offering praise and sacrifice, but also a "house of prayer" (infra, Isaiah 56:7; comp. 1 Kings 8:28-30). Hezekiah can, on this occasion, have gone up to the house of the Lord only to pray.
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.
Verse 2. - He sent Eliakim... and Shebna... and the elders of the priests. A dignified embassy, showing how much Isaiah was held in honour (comp. 2 Kings 22:14 and Jeremiah 38:3; and contrast, on the other hand, the rudeness of Ahab in sending a single eunuch to bring Micaiah into his presence, 1 Kings 22:9). The prophets, as representatives of Jehovah, were entitled to respect and observance even from kings.
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.
Verse 3. - A day... of rebuke; rather, of reproof, or punishment (comp. Psalm 149:7 and Hosea 5:9). That God should have allowed such an insulting embassy to come and go in safety was a mode of reproving his people, and to some extent punishing them for their sins. Even Hezekiah himself deserved reproof for having so long placed his reliance upon Egypt (Isaiah 20:5, 6; Isaiah 30:1-4; Isaiah 36:6, 9), though now apparently he had turned to Jehovah, and relied on him only (Isaiah 36:7, 15). Blasphemy. So Delitzsch. Mr. Cheyne suggests "contumely," and Dr. Kay "contempt." But the meaning "blasphemy," which Mr. Cheyne confesses to "suit the context," is required in all the other passages where (substantially) the same word occurs (Nehemiah 9:18, 26; Ezekiel 35:12). Hezekiah calls the day one "of blasphemy," on account of Rabshakeh's impious utterances (Isaiah 36:15, 18, 20). The children are come to the birth, etc. This was a proverbial phrase for a time of extreme difficulty (see Hosea 13:13), and is not to be pressed as embodying at all a close analogy. Judah was in sore trouble, and was expecting deliverance. It seemed now as if she would not have strength to go through the crisis, but would perish through weakness.
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.
Verse 4. - It may be the Lord... will hear; i.e. "will notice," or "will punish." If Isaiah laid the matter before God, and prayed earnestly, it was possible that God would intervene to save Judah, and punish the blapshemous words uttered. The living God. In opposition to the dead idols of the heathen, which had neither life, nor breath, nor perception (see Psalm 115:4-8; Psalm 135:15-18). The remnant that is left. It is usual to explain this of Judah generally, which still survived, although Israel had been carried away captive. But perhaps the contrast is rather between the numerous Judaean captives who had been taken and conveyed to Assyria by Sennacherib when he took the "fenced cities" (Isaiah 36:1), and the portion of the nation which still remained in the land. Sennacherib says, in his annals, that he took "forty-six" cities, and carried captive to Assyria above two hundred thousand persons ('Records of the Past,' vol. 1. p. 38).
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.
Verse 6. - The servants of the King of Assyria. Mr. Cheyne translates, "the minions of the King of Assyria," remarking truly that the word used is not the ordinary one for "servants," but "a disparaging expression." Perhaps the best translation would be lackeys.
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.
Verse 7. - Behold, I will send a blast upon him; rather, I will put a spirit within him; i.e. I will take away from him the spirit of pride and arrogance by which he has been hitherto actuated, and I will infuse into his heart, instead, a spirit of hesitation and fear. He shall hear a rumour; literally, as Delitzsch translates, he shall hear a hearsay; i.e. "a report," or "tidings." It is uncertain what "tidings" are intended. Some suppose "tidings of the movements of Tirhakah;" others, "tidings of the destruction of his host;" a few, "tidings of an insurrection in some other part of the Assyrian empire." This last supposition is wholly gratuitous, since we have no indication, either in Scripture or in the inscriptions, of any such insurrection. The choice lies between the other two, or between one or other of them, and the two combined. The vagueness is owing, not to the time at which the present narrative took shape, but to the fact that a vague promise - quite sufficient for its purpose - was given at first, the filling in of the details being reserved for a later period (see vers. 22-35). I will cause him to fall by the sword (see ver. 38).
So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.
Verse 8. - Rabshakeh... found the King of Assyria warring against Libnah. Libnah was a town at no great distance from Lachish (Joshua 10:31; Joshua 15:39-42). It was also near Mareshah (Joshua 15:42-44), and must therefore have belonged to the more southern portion of the Shefeleh, and probably to the eastern region, where the hills sink down into the plain. The exact site is very uncertain, and still remains to be discovered. Sennacherib's object in moving upon Libnah is doubtful; but it would seem, from his monuments, that he had captured Lachish (Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' pp. 149-152), and had gone on to Libnah, as the next stronghold on the way to Egypt.
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,
Verse 9. - Tirhakah, King of Ethopia. Tirhakah is among the most famous of the monarchs belonging to this period. The Greeks called him "Tearchon," the Assyrians "Tarku" or "Tarqu." His name, as represented on his own monuments, is "Tahark" or "Tahrak." According to the Egyptian remains, he had a reign of at least twenty-six years in Egypt - from B.C. 693 to B.C. 667. He would seem, however, to have been King of Ethiopia, and lord paramount of the lower valley of the Nile, from about B.C. 700, Shabatok for some years ruling Egypt, or a portion of it, as his deputy (Rawlinson, 'Hist. of Ancient Egypt,' vol. 2. p. 450). Hezekiah's negotiations had, it is probable, been with Tirhakah (ch. 19:13; 20:5; 30:1-6). This monarch, having engaged to help him, now put his forces in motion, and began to descend the Nile valley to his relief. His movement rather provoked than alarmed Sennacherib, who, having defeated one Egyptian army in B.C. 701 ('Eponym Canon,' pp. 133, 134), was confident of success against another. He sent messengers. It is not very clear what advantage Sennacherib expected from this second embassy. He had no fresh argument to bring forward, unless it were a suggestion that Hezekiah's God was endeavouring to deceive him. In the main, vers. 10-13 are a mere expansion of Isaiah 36:18-20.
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.
Verse 10. - Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee. Sennacherib recognized Jehovah as a god, the God of the Jews, but put him on a par with the other "gods of the nations" (ver. 11), and (lid not believe in his being able to contend with Asshur. If he were really, through his priests or prophets, giving Hezekiah assurances of protection and deliverance, he could only be "deceiving" him.
Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered?
Verse 11. - Thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands (compare the Assyrian inscriptions, passim). Tiglath-Pileser I. calls himself " the conquering hero, the terror of whose name has overwhelmed all regions" ('Records of the Past,' vol. 5. p. 8); Asshur-izir-pal, "the king who subdued all the races of men" (ibid., ch. 7. p. 11); Shalmaneser II., "the marcher over the whole world" (ibid., vol. 5. p. 29); Shamas-Vul, "the trampler on the world" (ibid., vol. 1:12). Sargon says that "the gods had granted him the exercise of his sovereignty over all kings" (ibid., ch. 9. p. 4), and that he "reigned from the two beginnings to the two ends of the four celestial points" (ibid., ch. 11. p. 33), i.e. from the furthest north to the furthest south, and from the extreme cast to the extreme west. Sennacherib himself says, "Aashur, father of the gods, among all kings firmly has raised me, and over all that dwell in the countries he caused to increase my weapons" (ibid., ch. 11. p. 49). From first to last, in their inscriptions, the monarchs claim a universal dominion.
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?
Verse 12. - My fathers. The Assyrian monarchs call all those who have preceded them upon the throne their "fathers," without intending to claim any blood-relation-ship. Sargon, Sennacherib's father, though a usurper and the first king of a new dynasty, frequently speaks of "the kings his fathers" ('Records of the Past,' ch. 7. pp. 39, 51, etc.). Gozan... Haran ... Rezeph... Telassar. "Gozan" is, beyond all doubt, the region known to the Greeks as Gauzanitis, which was the eastern portion of Upper Mesopotamia, or the country about the sources of the Khabour river. The Assyrian conquest of this tract is indicated by the settlement of the Israelites in the region (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11; 1 Chronicles 5:26). "Harsh" is the well-known "city of Nahor" (Genesis 24:10), called in Acts 7:2 "Charran," and by the Greeks and Romans, Carrhae. It has now recovered its old designation, and is known as Hurrah. "Rezeph" was in the neighborhood of Haran, and is mentioned as belonging to Assyria as early as B.C. 775 ('Eponym Canon,' p. 82). It had probably revolted and been reduced at a later date. "Telassar," "the Hill of Asshur," is not mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions, but was probably the Assyrian name of a town on or near the Euphrates, in the country of the Bent-Eden, which was not far from Carche-mish (see 'Records of the Past,' ch. 3. pp. 90-92). The children of Eden. The Assyrian inscriptions mention a "Bit-Adini" (comp. Amos 1:5), and a chief who is called "the son of Adini;" both belonging to the Middle Euphrates region. The "children of Eden" (Beni-Eden) were probably the people of the tract about Bit-Adini.
Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?
Verse 13. - Hamath... Arphad... Sepharvaim (see the comment upon Isaiah 36:19).
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.
Verse 14. - Hezekiah received the letter. Sennacherib sent his present message in a written form. The communications between kings were often carried on in this way (see 2 Kings 5:5; 2 Kings 20:12). The Hebrews use the same word for "letter" and "book;" but, when a letter is intended, employ generally the plural number (compare the Greek ἐπιστολαὶ and the Latin litterae). And spread it before the Lord. Not that God might see it and read it, in a material sense, but still that he might take note of it, and, if he saw fit, punish it. Compare the exhibition of the Books of the Law, painted with idolatrous emblems, at Maspha, "over against" the temple, by Judas Maccabaeus and his companions (1 Macc. 3:46-48). The act in both cases implied the referring of the whole matter to God for his consideration. It was, as Delitzsch, says, a sort of "prayer without words."
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.
Verse 16. - O Lord... that dwellest between the cherubims; literally, that sittest upon the cherubim. The allusion is scarcely to the poetic imagery of God riding on the cherubim in the heavens (Psalm 18:10), as Mr. Cheyne suggests; but rather to his dwelling between the two cherubic forms in the holy of holies, and there manifesting himself (camp. Numbers 7:89; 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 1 Chronicles 13:6; Psalm 80:1; Psalm 99:1). Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. It has been questioned whether Hezekiah was really as pronounced a monotheist as these expressions would imply, and suggested that his actual words received "a colouring" from a later writer. Hezekiah's contemporaries, it is said, Isaiah and Micah, make no such strong statements of their belief in one only God as this (Kuenen, Cheyne). But it is difficult to see what can be a clearer revelation of monotheism than Isaiah 6:1-5, or what truth more absolutely underlies the whole of Isaiah's teaching than the unity of the Supreme Being. The same under-current is observable in Micah (Micah 1:2, 3; Micah 4:5; Micah 6:6-9; Micah 7:17, 18). Sennacherib's belief, that each country has its own god (Isaiah 36:18-20), is not shared by the religious Jews of his time. They are well aware that the heathen gods are "vanity" (Isaiah 46:3; Hosea 4:15; Amos 1:5; Jonah 2:8), "wind" and "confusion" (Isaiah 41:29, etc.). Thou hast made heaven and earth (comp. Genesis 1:1; Psalm 102:25; Isaiah 40:26-28; Isaiah 42:5, etc.).
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.
Verse 17. - Incline thine ear... open thine eyes. This is a conscious pleading of the promise made to Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:15).
Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries,
Verse 18. - Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations. This was a stubborn fact, which it was impossible to deny. From the time of Asshur-izir-pal at any rate, about B.C. 880, Assyria had pursued for nearly two centuries a steady career of conquest, reducing the nations which were her neighbors, almost without exception, and gradually spreading her power from the tract immediately about Nineveh to the Persian Gulf on the south, the great plateau of Iran on the east, the Armenian Mountains (Niphates and Taurus) on the north, and on the west to Cilicia and the Mediterranean. Her progress towards the west alone is marked in Scripture, since there alone she came in contact with God's people. Under Pul (about B.C. 760) she attacked Samaria (2 Kings 15:19); under Tiglath-Pileser II. she carried off a portion of the ten tribes (2 Kings 15:29); under the same monarch she subjugated Damascus (2 Kings 16:9); under Shalmaneser she besieged (2 Kings 17:5), and under Sargon took, Samaria (2 Kings 17:6); under Sargon also she invaded Philistia and captured Ashdod (ch. 20:1). Now she was bent on subduing Judaea, and so preparing the way for the reduction of Egypt. Humanly speaking, it was most unlikely that the small and weak state of Judaea would be able to resist her. But God was all-powerful, and might be pleased to cast down, as he had been pleased to exalt (Isaiah 10:5-19). Hence Hezekiah's appeal.
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.
Verse 19. - And have cast their gods into the fire. The more valuable of the foreign idols were usually carried off by the Assyrians, and placed in the shrines of their own gods as trophies of victory; but no doubt great numbers of the inferior idols. which were of wood, not even coated with metal - the ξόανα of the Greeks - were burnt. For they were no gods (temp. Jeremiah 2:11; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 16:20, etc.). Isaiah's favourite word for "idols" is elilim, which is, etymologically, "not-gods" (Isaiah 2:8, 18, 20; Isaiah 10:10, 11; Isaiah 19:1, 3; Isaiah 31:7). The work of men's hands (see Isaiah 2:8; Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 41:7, etc.). The absurdity of men's worshipping as gods what their own hands had made is ever increasingly ridiculed by the religious Jews (comp. Psalm 115:4-8; Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:3-15; 'Ep of Jeremy,' 8-73).
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.
Verse 20. - Save us... that all the kingdoms... may know, etc. God's true servants desire deliverance and triumph over enemies, not alone for their own sakes, not even for the sake of the country or people whose fate is bound up with their own, but for the glory of God, that his honour may be vindicated in the sight of the world at large. It is a large part of the satisfaction of Moses at the passage of the Red Sea, that "the peoples would hear... the dukes of Edom be amazed... the mighty men of Moab tremble," etc. (Exodus 15:14, 15). David would have his foes "consumed" in order that they might know that "God ruled in Jacob, and unto the cads of the earth" (Psalm 59:13), and again, in order "that men may know that thou, whose Name alone is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth" (Psalm 83:18). It has been well said that "the object of all the judgments which the true prophet desires is to bring all nations into subjection to God."
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:
Verse 21. - Then Isaiah... sent to Hezekiah, saying. It seems most natural to understand that the prophet was at once supernaturally informed of Hezekiah's prayer, as Ananias was of Saul's (Acts 9:11), and instructed what reply to make to it. But still, it is no doubt possible that some of the facts have been omitted for the sake of brevity.
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.
Verse 22. - The virgin the daughter of Zion; i.e. Jerusalem (comp. Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 16:1; Isaiah 52:2; Isaiah 62:11). The expression, "virgin daughter," is used also by Isaiah of Zidon (Isaiah 23:12) and of Babylon (Isaiah 47:1). The personification here is very effective. since it represents Jerusalem as a tender maiden, weak and delicate, yet still bold enough to stand up against Sennacherib and all his host, and bid him defiance. Confident in Jehovah, her Protector, she despises him, and laughs him to scorn; nay, "shakes her head at him," or rather. "after him," pursuing him with scornful gestures as In. retreats before her. (On shaking the head as a gesture of scorn, see Psalm 22:7; Psalm 109:25; Matthew 27:39.)
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.
Verse 23. - Even against the Holy One of Israel. A specially Isaiah phrase, employed by Isaiah twenty-eight times, and only five times in all the rest of Scripture. A strong proof, if any proof beyond the unmistakable Isaiah spirit of the entire prophecy were needed, of the genuineness of the present passage.
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.
Verse 24. - By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord (see Isaiah 36:15-20). And hast said. Sennacherib had not actually uttered these words with his mouth; but the prophet clothes in his own highly poetic language the thoughts which the Assyrian king had cherished in his heart. He had regarded "the multitude of his chariots" as irresistible; he had considered that the mountains which guarded Palestine would be no obstacle to his advance; he had contemplated ravaging and despoiling of its timber the entire country; he had meant to penetrate into every region that was lovely and fertile. The emphatic "I" of the original - ani - twice repeated, marks the proud egotism of the monarch. By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains; rather, with the multitude; or, according to another reading, with chariots upon chariots. The Assyrian kings contrived to cross with their chariots mountain chains of great difficulty, and frequently boast of the achievement. Tiglath-Pileser I. says, "I assembled my chariots and warriors. I betook myself to carts of iron in order to overcome the rough mountains and their difficult marches. I made the wilderness thus practicable for the passage of my chariots and warriors" ('Records of the Past,' vol. 5. pp. 9, 10). Asshur-izir-pal, "The rugged hill country, unfitted for the passage of chariots and armies, with instruments of iron I cut through, and with metal rollers I beat down the chariots and troops I brought over" (ibid., vol. 3. p. 58). Shalmaneser II., "Trackless paths, difficult mountains, which like the point of an iron sword stood pointed to the sky, on wheels of iron and bronze I penetrated. My chariots and armies I transported over them" (ibid., p. 85). In the less rough parts, while the warders dismounted, tire horses drew the chariots, which were assisted over obstacles by attendants ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 2. p. 74); but, in regions of greater difficulty, they were conveyed across the mountain ranges in waggons of rude and strong construction ('Records of the Past,' vol. 5. p. 13) The chariot-force was regarded as so important that the Assyrians never made any distant expedition without it. To the sides of Lebanon. It was not necessary to cross either Libanus or Anti-Libanus in order to invade Judaea, since the natural route was along the Coele-Syrian valley and across the spurs of Hermon to the Jordan; but an Assyrian army was intent on plunder and devastation, no less than upon conquest, and would ascend mountain regions that did not lie on its direct line of march for either or both of these objects. It was customary for the soldiers to cut clown the tall cedars and choice fir trees of Lebanon on their Syrian campaigns, in order to transport the timber to Nineveh and other great cities, where it was used for building (see the comment on Isaiah 14:8, and compare Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' pp. 356, 357, and 'Records of the Past,' vol. 3. pp. 40, 47, 83, 90; vol. 5. p. 119; vol. 9. p. 16, etc.). It was also customary to destroy the trees in an enemy's country, simply in order to inflict injury upon the foe ('Ancient Monarchies.' vol. 2. p. 84). I will enter into the height of his border; rather, I will enter into its uttermost height; i.e. I will penetrate through the entire mountain region of Palestine, called roughly "Lebanon," to the furthest height of any importance - that on which Jerusalem stood - and thus occupy the whole land. The parallel passage of 2 Kings has "lodging" for "height," in apparent allusion to the palace of Hezekiah. And the forest of his Carmel; or, the forest of its pleasure-garden; i.e. the rich plantation tracts, covered with vines, olives, and fig trees, which formed the special glory of Judaea (see Isaiah 36:16, 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.
Verse 25. - I have digged, and drunk water. Sennacherib notes three natural obstacles to his advance - the forces of his opponents he does not appear to account an obstacle - viz. mountains, deserts, rivers. Mountains do not stop him - he crosses them even with his chariot-force (ver. 24). Deserts do not stop him - he digs wells there, and drinks their waters. Rivers will not stop him - he will dry them up, trample them into puddles. Note the contrast between the past tenses, "I have come up," "I have digged," "I have drunk," and the future, "I will dry up." He had crossed the mountain ranges Sinjar, Amanus, Lebanon; he had passed waterless tracts, where he had had to dig wells, in Mesopotamia and Northern Syria. He was about to find his chief obstacle, rivers, when he invaded Lower Egypt. The rivers of the besieged places; rather, the rivers of Egypt. Mazor, the singular form (compare Assyrian Muzr, and modern Arabic Misr), is used here (as in Micah 7:12, and perhaps in Isaiah 19:6), instead of the ordinary dual term, Miz-raim, probably because Lower Egypt is especially intended. Sennacherib was looking especially to the invasion of Lower Egypt,where the Nile had "seven branches" (Herod., 2:17), and the country was also cut up by numerous canals, which would naturally constitute a great difficulty to a force depending mainly on its chariots. He believed, however, in his heart, that he would find a way of "drying up" these "rivers."
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.
Verse 26. - Hast thou not heard, etc.? An abrupt transition, such as is common in Isaiah. From speaking in the person of Sennacherib, the prophet without warning breaks off, and returns to speaking in the person of Jehovah, as his mouthpiece. "Hast thou not heard," he says, long ago; or rather, "that from long ago! have done this?" Art thou so ignorant, so devoid of that light of nature, which should "lighten every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9), as not to know God's method of governing the world? How that "from long ago," in his eternal counsels, he designs the rise and fall of nations, and the mode in which their destruction is to be brought about? Art thou not aware that conquerors are mere instruments in God's hands - "the rods of his anger" (Isaiah 10:5) - to work his will, and then to have his will worked upon them in turn (see Isaiah 10:6-19)? Sennacherib seems to be really reproached for not knowing what he ought to have known, and might have known, if he had listened to the voice of conscience and reason. Now have brought it to pass, etc. All that Sennacherib had done, he had done as God's instrument, by his permission - nay, by his aid. He had been the axe in the hand of the hewer (Isaiah 10:15), the saw, the rod, the staff, of God's indignation (Isaiah 10:5), the executor of his vengeance. The very purpose of his being was that he should "lay waste (certain) defenced cities into ruinous heaps."
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.
Verse 27. - Therefore. The original is not so emphatic, but still contains the idea, not merely of sequence, but of consequence. God, having decreed the successes of the Assyrians, effected them (in part) by infusing weakness into the nations that were their adversaries. They were as the grass of the field (comp. Isaiah 40:6, 7). The comparison is one constantly used by the Hebrew psalmists (Psalm 37:2; Psalm 90:5; Psalm 92:7; Psalm 103:15), and was not unknown to the Assyrians ('Records of the Past,' vol. 3. p. 41; vol. 5. p. 14). The delicate grass of spring in the East withers within a few weeks, and the fresh and tender herbage becomes yellow, parched, and sapless. The grass that springs upon the earthen roofs of houses fails even more rapidly (comp. Psalm 129:6). As corn blasted before it be grown up; literally, like a field before the stalk. Our translators seem to have rightly preferred the reading of 2 Kings 19:26 (sh'dephah, equivalent to "blasting") to that of Isaiah (sh'demah, equivalent to "field") in this place. Their rendering brings out the true sense.
But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.
Verse 28. - I know thy abode; literally, thy down-sitting (comp. Psalm 139:2). The meaning is that God has, and has had, his eye on Sennacherib throughout all his career, seeing to and watching over his performance of his will. The phrase, going out, and coming in, is a Hebrew idiom for a man's doings (see Numbers 27:17; Deuteronomy 28:6; Deuteronomy 31:2; 1 Samuel 18:13, 16; 2 Samuel 3:25; 1 Kings 3:7, etc.). Thy rage against me. As shown in the message sent by Rab-shakeh (ch. 36:7), in Rabshakeh's speech to the "men on the wall" (Isaiah 36:15-20), and in the letter sent to Hezekiah from Lachish (Isaiah 37:10).
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.
Verse 29. - Therefore will I put my hook in thy nose (comp. Ezekiel 29:4; Ezekiel 38:4; 2 Chronicles 33:11). The Assyrians were in the habit of passing "hooks" or "rings" through the noses or lips of their more distinguished prisoners, and attaching a thong to the hook or ring, by which they led the prisoners into the royal presence ('Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 1. p. 304; vol. 3. p. 436). The expressions used derive their force from these practices, but are not in the present place to be understood literally. God "turned Sennacherib back" and reconducted him to Nineveh. not with an actual "hook" or "thong," but by the "bridle" of necessity.
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.
Verse 30. - This shall be a sign unto thee; rather, the sign. The prophet now turns to Hezekiah, and makes an address to him. "This," he says, "shall be the sign unto thee of Sennachcrib's being effectually 'bridled,' and the danger from Assyria over. In the third year from the present the land shall have returned to its normal condition, and you shall enjoy its fruits as formerly. Meanwhile you shall obtain sufficient nourishment from the grain which has sown itself." The "third year," according to Hebrew reckoning, might be little more than one year from the date of the delivery of the prophecy. The entire withdrawal of all the Assyrian garrisons from the country, which no doubt followed on Sennacherib's retreat, might well have occupied the greater part of a year. Till they were withdrawn, the Jews could not venture to till their territory. Plant vineyards. The Assyrians had, no doubt, cut down the vines (see 'Records of the Past,' vol. 3. pp. 40, 62, 79; vol. 7. p. 43, etc.; Layard, 'Monuments of Nineveh,' second series, pl. 40).
And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward:
Verse 31. - The remnant that is escaped (see the comment on ver. 4). Take root downward, and bear fruit upward; i.e. "spread over the land, and became firmly rooted in it, and flourish as in the former time." We must conceive of the Assyrians having, in their two recent invasions, completely depopulated the country districts. Numbers had, no doubt, been slain; more than two hundred thousand had been carried into captivity; a portion had found refuge in the capital On the withdrawal of the Assyrians, these last "went forth," reoccupied their lands, and rebuilt their towns and villages. The blessing of God was upon them, and in a short time Judaea recovered her ancient vigour, so that, under Josiah, she was able to extend her dominion over almost the whole of the old Israelite territory (2 Chronicles 34:6, 18).
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.
Verse 32. - The zeal, etc. (comp. Isaiah 9:7). The phrase is very emphatic, marking the greatness of the thing to be done, and at the same time bringing the strophe to an end with an asseveration beyond which nothing could go.
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.
Verse 33. - Therefore, etc. A new clause is commenced - the concluding clause of the prophecy. For Hezekiah's satisfaction and consolation something more definite is needed than the vague assurances that "the daughter of Jerusalem shook her head at Sennacherib" (ver. 22), and that God would "put a bridle in Sennacherib's mouth" (ver. 29). Accordingly, it is now declared, in the plainest terms, that he shall not even lay siege to the city, but shall return by the way by which he came - the coast route - leaving Jerusalem untouched, nay, unattempted. He shall not come into this city; rather, unto the city. He was at Libnah, in the Shefeleh, thirty or forty miles from Jerusalem, when we last heard of him (ver. 8); and, having then been just informed of the advance of Tirhakah, he is likely to have proceeded on towards Egypt. There is, at any rate, not the slightest intimation of his having made a retrograde movement towards the Jewish capital. Nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. The main points of an Assyrian siege are happily seized. The first assailants were the archers. They boldly approached in large bodies, and strove to clear the battlements of the defenders. Then shields were brought into play. Under their cover the archers drew nearer; the scaling parties brought up their ladders; the miners attacked the foundations of the walls; and the torch-bearers endeavoured to fire the gates. Finally, if these tactics did not avail, banks were raised against the walls, which were then assailed with battering-rams till they were breached and the assailants could cuter. God promises that Jerusalem shall experience none of these things at Sennacherib's hands.
By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD.
Verse 34. - By the way that he came. It is clear that Sennacherib on this occasion had marched by the usual coast route, through Sharon and the Shefeleh, upon Lachish, leaving Jerusalem far to his left. From Laehish he sent Rabshakeh to Hezekiah with a threatening message, and (as our version has it) "with a great army;" rather, "with a strong force." Rabshakeh, having delivered his message, returned to his master (Isaiah 37:8), doubtless with his escort. Sennacherib then sent a letter by messengers, but without an army, so far as we are told, to renew his threats. Meanwhile from Lachish he went to Libnah, after which we know nothing of his movements, unless we accept the Egyptian account, which was, that he advanced to Pelusium. The declaration, "By the way that he came, by the same shall he return" (comp. ver. 29) was the most comforting that Hezekiah could possibly receive. It assured him that he would not even be confronted with his enemy. Into this city; rather, unto this city (as in ver. 32).
For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
Verse 35. - I will defend this city... for mine own sake; literally, I will cover over this city, as a bird covers its young with its wings (comp. Isaiah 31:5; Matthew 23:37). God would do this "for his own sake;" i.e. because his own honour was concerned in the defence of his people. He would also do it for his servant David's sake; i.e. because of the promises made to David, that his children should sit upon his throne (2 Samuel 7:16; Psalm 89:29-37; Psalm 132:11-14, etc.), which involved the continued independence of Judaea and Jerusalem.
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.
Verse 36. - Then the angel of the Lord went forth. The parallel passage of Kings (2 Kings 19:35) has, "It came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out." The word of Isaiah had its accomplishment within a few hours. On the camp of the Assyrians, wherever it was, whether at Libnah, or at Pelusium (Herod., 2:141), or between the two, in the dead of night, the destroying angel swooped down, and silently, without disturbance, took the lives of a hundred and eighty-five thousand' men. The camp was no doubt that in which Sennacherib commanded. It is contrary to the whole tenor of the Assyrian inscriptions to imagine that a mere corps d'armee, detached to threaten, not to besiege, Jerusalem, could have been one-half, or one-quarter, so numerous. It was Sennacherib's host, not the Tartan's, that was visited. So the Egyptian tradition; so ver. 37, by implication. That in later times the Jews should have transferred the scene of the slaughter to the vicinity of their own capital, as Josephus does ('Ant. Jud.,' 10:2. § 5), is not surprising, especially as the Egyptians claimed the glory of the discomfiture for their own gods, and the completion of the victory for their own soldiers. The nature of the destruction is not, perhaps, very important, if it be allowed to have been supernatural; but the "simoom" of Prideaux and Milman, the "storm" of Vitringa and Stanley, the "nocturnal attack by Tirhakah" of Usher, Preiss, and Michaelis, and the "pestilence" of most other commentators, seem to be alike precluded by the terms of the narrative, which imply the silent death in one night of a hundred and eighty-five thousand persons by what English juries call "the visitation of God." The nearest parallel which Holy Scripture offers is the destruction of the firstborn in Egypt; but that was not, as this, without disturbance (see Exodus 12:30). There a "great cry" broke the silence of the night; here it was not till morning, when men woke from their peaceful slumbers, that the discovery was made that "they were all dead corpses."
So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.
Verse 37. - So Sennacherib... departed; rather, broke up his camp. The word used for all the removals of the children of Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 33:3-48). The loss of even an entire corps d'armeee would not have caused an Assyrian king, at the head of an intact main army, to break up his camp and abandon his enterprise. And dwelt at Nineveh. Sennacherib lived some eighteen or twenty years from the probable date of his discomfiture, dying in B.C. 681. His ordinary residence was at Nineveh, which he greatly adorned and beautified ('Records of the Past,' vol. 11. pp. 55-57). His father, Sargon, on the contrary, dwelt commonly at Khorsabad (Dur-Sargina), and his son, Esarhaddon, dwelt, during the latter part of his reign, at Babylon. We must not suppose, however, that Sennacherib was shut up in Nineveh during the remainder of his life. On the contrary, he made frequent expeditions towards the south, the east, and the north. But he made no farther expedition to the south-west, no further attack on Jerusalem, or attempt on Egypt. The Jews had peace, so far as the Assyrians were concerned, from the event related in ver. 36 to a late date in the reign of Esarhaddon.
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.
Verse 38. - Nisroch his god. The name Nisroch has not been found in the Assyrian inscriptions, and is, in fact, read only in this place and the parallel passage of Kings (2 Kings 19:37). It has been supposed to represent Nusku, an Assyrian god of a somewhat low position, who, however, does not obtain mention in the historical inscriptions until the time of Asshur-bani-pal. Probably the name has suffered corruption. Asshur was, in fact, Sennacherib's favourite deity, and it is remarkable that the LXX. give in this place, not Nisroch, but Asarach. "Asarach" would seem to be "Asshur" with a guttural suffix. Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him. The murder of Sennacherib by a son, whom he called "Ardumazanes," was related by Polyhistor (ap. Euseb., 'Chronicles Can.,' 1:5, § l). Esar-haddon's annals are imperfect at the commencement, but show that his authority was at first contested, and that he had to establish it by force of arms ('Records of the Past,' vol. 3. pp. 103, 104). Adrammelech seems to have assumed the title of king (Abyden. up. Euscb., 'Chronicles Can.,' 1:9, § 1), and to have been put to death by his brother. Sharezer is not elsewhere mentioned. The name is Assyrian, as far as it goes, but is incomplete. Its full form was probably Nabu-sar-uzur or Nergal-sar-uzur (see 'Eponym Canon,' p. 63, B.C. 682 and 678). And escaped into the land of Armenia. So Moses of Chorene ('Hist. Armen.,' 1:22). The Hebrew word is Ararat (Assyrian Urardu or Urartu), which was the more eastern portion of Armenia, and lay beyond the sphere of Assyrian influence. Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead. Esarhaddon (Asshur-akh iddiua) appears to have ascended the throne in B.C. 681. It is highly improbable that Isaiah was then living, and therefore the verse can scarcely be from his pen. It has probably been transferred from 2 Kings (2 Kings 19:37) in order to finish off the narrative. Esarhaddon outlived Hezekiah many years, and was brought into contact with Manasseh ('Eponym Canon,' p. 139), whom he reckoned among his tributaries (comp. 2 Chronicles 33:11).
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