Rabshakeh's Boastings
2 Kings 18:17-37
And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem…

From Lachish Sennacherib sent an army to Jerusalem, and with it some of his highest officers, the Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh. Taking their stand by "the conduit of the upper pool," where they could be heard from the walls, they called for the king to come to them. Hezekiah did not come, but sent three envoys, Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah, to whom Rabshakeh, the orator of the party, addressed himself. His speech is a very skilful one from his own point of view, and fails into two parts. It is pervaded by the utmost arrogancy and contempt of the God of the Jews.

I. HIS ADDRESS TO THE ENVOYS. The question Rabshakeh had been sent by his master to ask of Hezekiah was - "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" He proceeds to demolish one by one Hezekiah's supposed confidences, and to show how vain it was for him to hope to carry on the war.

1. Hezekiah's confidence in Egypt. Rabshakeh answers his own question by declaring, first, that Hezekiah's confidence was placed in Egypt. This was true; and it was also true that, as the speaker next went on to say, this confidence was in a "bruised reed." The policy of relying on Egypt, instead of seeking help from God, was Hezekiah's great mistake. Rabshakeh did not denounce the worthlessness of this ground of confidence too scornfully. Pharaoh King of Egypt was indeed a bruised reed, on which, if a man leant, it would go into his hand, and pierce it. Isaiah's language had been not less strong (Isaiah 30.). The metaphor may be applied to any reliance on mere human wisdom, human power, or human help. Often it has proved so in individual experience and the history of nations. Through some overlooked factor in the calculations, some unexpected turn in providence, some treachery, self-interest, or delay on the part of allies, the best-laid schemes break down, the strongest combinations dissolve like smoke.

2. Hezekiah's confidence in Jehovah. Rabshakeh next deals with Hezekiah's trust in the Lord. He does not at this point urge the plea afterwards put forth, viz. that no gods can stand before the King of Assyria. Indeed, he claims (ver. 25) to be commissioned by Jehovah - either an idle boast or an allusion to what he had heard of Isaiah's prophecies (cf. Isaiah 7:17-25; Isaiah 10:5-19). But he skillfully makes use of Hezekiah's action in destroying the high places and altars. "Is not this he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?" This sweeping away of the high places is represented as an outrage on the religion of Jehovah, which that Deity might be expected to avenge. How, then, could Hezekiah expect any help from him? The argument was a skilful one as directed to the body of the people. The high places were of long-standing sanctity, and they at least were disposed to regard them with superstitious reverence. What if, after all, Hezekiah had displeased Jehovah by suppressing them? Calamity upon calamity was falling on the nation: was there not a cause? A reformer must ever lay his account with charges of this kind. Any political, social, or religious change is apt to be blamed for troubles that arise on the back of it. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. The early Christians were blamed for the calamities of the Roman empire; the Reformation was blamed for the civil convulsions that followed it; when drought or trouble falls on tribes which have been persuaded to abandon idolatry, they are apt to think the idols are angry, and to go back to their old worship. In this argument, however, Rabshakeh was as wrong as he was right in his first one. The fault was that the people did not trust God enough, and what he thought was a provocation of Jehovah was an act done in his honor, and in obedience to his will.

3. Hezekiah's confidence in his resources. Lastly, Rabshakeh ridicules the idea that Hezekiah can resist his master by force. Where are his chariots and horsemen? Or, if he had horses, where are the riders to put on them? He undertakes to give two thousand horses, if Hezekiah will furnish the men; and he knows he cannot. How, then, can he hope to put to flight even the least of Sennacherib's captains? Rabshakeh again was right in assuming that Hezekiah had not material forces wherewith to contend with Sennacherib, and Hezekiah himself was too well aware of the fact. He had not confidence in his forces, and therein the orator was wrong. But Rabshakeh's whole speech shows that he was himself committing the error he denounced in Hezekiah. If the question were retorted, "What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?" the answer could only be - In chariots and horses, in the proved might of the Assyrian arms. His speech breathes throughout the spirit of the man who has unbounded trust in armaments, provided only they are gigantic enough. Because Sennacherib has such immense armies, valiant soldiers, and such numbers of them, therefore he is invincible in war, and can defy God and man. The arm of flesh - "big battalions" - is everything here. Herein lay his profound mistake; and it was soon to be demonstrated. The might of the Invisible was to be declared against the power of the visible. Philistinism was to receive another overthrow - this time without even the sling and atones (1 Samuel 16:40-51).

II. ADDRESS TO THE JEWS. At this point Hezekiah's officers interposed, and requested Rabshakeh to speak, not in the Hebrew, but in the Syrian tongue, that his language might not be understood by the people on the wall. Rabshakeh had come on a mission of diplomacy, and it was proper that in the first instance only the king's representatives should be consulted with. The envoy, however, insolently broke through all customary bounds, and declared that it was the common people he wished to address. Taking up, therefore, a yet better position, he now spoke directly, and in louder tones, to the people, who by this time may be supposed to have crowded the battlements. Again declaring that he bears a message from "the great king, the King of Assyria," he bids them not let Hezekiah deceive them, and urges:

1. The advantages of submission. As it was, they were in evil ease. But if they surrendered to Sennacherib, they had nothing to fear. Here Rabshakeh touches on delicate ground. He cannot deny that they will lose their liberty, and be transported as captives to Assyria All he can do is to attempt to gild the pill. He tells them, first, that in the mean time they will be allowed the utmost freedom - to eat every man of his own vine and of his own fig tree, and to drink every man the waters of his own cistern. When the time does come that they must be removed - and he tries to represent this as a privilege - it will be to a land like their own, a land of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, of oil and olives and honey; a land where they shall live, and not die. The promises were alluring only by contrast with the worse fate that awaited them if they did not submit to the Assyrian; but more than this, they were deceitful. They were promises which, if the people had trusted to them, would never have been fulfilled. Sennacherib was not in the habit of treating his captives tenderly. His good faith had just been tested by his perfidy towards Hezekiah. Is it not always so with the promises of the tempter? When a soul capitulates, and yields to sin, what becomes of the bright prospects that are opened up beforehand? Are they ever realized? There is a brief period of excitement, of giddy delight, then satiety, loathing, the sense of degradation, the dying out of all real joy. What, if by yielding to sin, some present evil be avoided, some immediate good gained? Is the good ever what was anticipated? or can it compensate for the exile from God and holiness which is its price? At all hazards the wise course is to adhere to God and duty. The visions of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, of oil and olives, by which the soul is tempted from its allegiance, are illusions - as unsubstantial as the desert mirage.

2. The futility of resistance. To enforce his argument for submission, Rabshakeh returns to what is undeniably his strongest point, viz. the futility of resistance. Can they hope to be delivered? He had argued this before from the side of Hezekiah's weakness, showing the baselessness of his grounds of confidence; be now argues it from the side of Sennacherib's strength. Here undoubtedly he has a plausible case.

(1) From the military point of view. "Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand." Since the days of Tiglath-pileser the Assyrian arms had swept on in a tide of almost uninterrupted conquest. Not only Hamath and Arpad and Sepharvaim, but Babylon, Damascus, Israel, Phllistia, and Egypt, had felt the force of their resistless might. Judah had already severely suffered. What hope bad Hezekiah, with his little handful of men, caged like a bird in Jerusalem,.of rolling back this tide of conquest! The thing, on natural grounds, seemed an impossibility.

(2) From a religious point of view. "Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, The Lord will surely deliver us." Here the position of the Assyrian conqueror seemed - from the heathen standpoint, but of course only from that - equally strong. In heathen view, the contest was not only a contest of man with man, but of Asshur and the other Assyrian gods, with the gods of other nations. And how had that contest gone? The gods of Assyria had in every ease proved the stronger in the battle. Where were the gods of the conquered nations? What had they been able to do for their worshippers? What had even Jehovah been able to do for Samaria? Who among them all had delivered their country out of the hand of Sennacherib? What hope was there that Jerusalem would fare any better than Samaria had done? The validity of this conclusion depends entirely upon the soundness of the premises. If the gods of these nations had a real existence, and Jehovah was but one more local deity among the rest, it would be difficult to resist the inference that the chances were strongly in favor of Asshur. But the case was altered if these idol-gods were nullities, and Jehovah was the one Ruler of heaven and earth, in whose providence the movements even of Sennacherib and his all-conquering armies were embraced. And this, of course, was the faith of Isaiah and Hezekiah and the godly part of Judah. That is was the right one was shown by the result. We see from this example how a false view-point compels a false and mistaken reading of the whole facts of history and of human life. The view which history presents to one who denies the postulates of revelation will differ entirely from the view which it presents to a Christian believer. Belief in God is the right center for understanding everything.

III. THE ANSWER OF SILENCE. To these harangues of Rabshakeh the people "answered not a word." Hezekiah had given this instruction to his officers, and they, when the people gathered, doubtless spread among them the knowledge of the king's wish. Accordingly they "held their peace." There were many reasons why this answer of silence was a wise one.

1. Rabshakeh's words did not deserve an answer. His address to the people on the wall was a breach of all diplomatic courtesy; it had for its object to sow the seeds of mutiny, and set the people against their king; it was obviously insincere in its tone and promises, scrupling at nothing which would induce the people to surrender their liberties; in relation to Jehovah, it was profane and blasphemous. Speeches of that kind are best left unanswered. A tempter is fittingly met with silence. A man who makes insincere proposals does not deserve to be reasoned with. Profanity and blasphemy should be left without reply (Matthew 7:6).

2. From Rabshakeh's point of view no reply was possible. This has freely to be conceded. What would it have availed to point out to him that the gods of these other nations were no gods, and that Jehovah was the one living and true God? Such statements would have but provoked a new burst of mockery. It was better, therefore, to say nothing. In all reasoning with an opponent there must be a basis of common ground. When we reach a fundamental divergence of first principles, it is time to stop. At least, if argument is to proceed, it must go back on these first principles, and try to find a deeper unity. Failing in that, it must cease. Between the Christian and unchristian views of the world, e.g., there is no middle term.

3. Even from the Jewish point of view no reply was ready. God was to be trusted, but would he indeed save? What if the iniquities of the people had provoked him to deliver them up, as he had delivered up Samaria? Deliverance was conditional on repentance: did the state of morals in the city show much sign of repentance? Or, if God meant to deliver them, how would he do it? They seemed fast in the lion's jaws. The way of escape from their present predicament was not obvious, yea, no way seemed possible. What, then, should they answer? At most, their belief in Jehovah's interposition was an act of faith, for which no justification could be given in outward appearances. In such crises, when all rests on faith, nothing on sight, the best attitude of the soul, at least in presence of the worldly, is silence. "Be still, and know that I am God," is the counsel given in the psalm supposed to commemorate this deliverance (Psalm 46:10). - J.O.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller's field.

WEB: The king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great army to Jerusalem. They went up and came to Jerusalem. When they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller's field.

The Folly of Defying God
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