Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.Chap. 2 Kings 18:1-8. Hezekiah king of Judah. He reigns well and destroys the brasen serpent. Some of his successes in war (2 Chronicles 29:1-2)
1. in the third year of Hoshea] In 2 Kings 16:2 we are told that Ahaz reigned sixteen years: in 2 Kings 17:1 that Hoshea began to reign in the twelfth year of Ahaz, and here that Hezekiah succeeded his father Ahaz in Hoshea’s third year. We can see from this that the sixteen years of Ahaz must have been made up of fourteen complete years, and a broken year at the commencement, and another at the close of his reign. This makes Hezekiah to have been born when his father was extremely young. He ascended the throne at twenty-five. Ahaz had done so at twenty (2 Kings 16:2). Add to this a little more than fourteen years (say fifteen) for his reign. Thus his whole life must have been but thirty-five years; so that his son, according to this chronology, must have been born when Ahaz was ten years of age.
Twenty and five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name also was Abi, the daughter of Zachariah.2. His mother’s name also was Abi] R.V. And his mother’s name was Abi. In Chronicles the name is given as Abijah.
And he did that which was right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that David his father did.3. he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord] The Chronicler (2 Chronicles 29, 30, 31) gives among the good deeds of Hezekiah some that are not noticed by the compiler of Kings. In the first year of his reign and in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the Lord and repaired them. He gathered the priests and Levites together and made them purify themselves and cleanse the house of the Lord. Then the king commanded a solemn sacrifice to be made on the altar of the Lord, and made regulations concerning the musical services of the temple. After that in the second month he proclaimed a solemn passover to which he invited all who would come both of Judah and of Israel, and posts were sent out to spread the announcement of the approaching feast. Some in Israel mocked at this, but some out of the tribes of Asher and Manasseh and Zebulon came to passover in Jerusalem. The idolatrous altars in Jerusalem were all destroyed and cast into the brook Kidron. The feast was prolonged for a second seven days and there was great joy in Jerusalem. After this the altars in Judah and in Benjamin, as well as in some parts of the kingdom of Israel, were broken down. The king then made arrangements for the courses of the priests and Levites, and appointed the order of their work, and the tithes that should be paid for their support. Officers were also appointed to have the oversight of this tithe system, both of its collection and its distribution among the priests and Levites. All these reforms appear to have been made at the very outset of Hezekiah’s reign. They embrace no doubt the matters mentioned in verse 4 below, but the Chronicler’s detail gives a more lively picture of the activity in reformation, which marked the opening of the new reign.
He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.4. brake the images [R.V. pillars] and cut down the groves] R.V. the Asherah. On the ‘pillars’ see note on 2 Kings 3:2, and on the ‘Asherah’, which was probably the wooden image of a goddess so called, see on 2 Kings 18:6.
the brasen serpent] There can be no doubt that, after the cures wrought (Numbers 21:9) by looking at the serpent which Moses made, this object, the sacrament of so great a blessing, would be reverently kept, and though we have no mention of its preservation and bestowal, nor any notice of it till this passage, there is no reason to suppose that it would be allowed to become lost or to be broken in pieces. Some have thought that the object here spoken of was a serpent made after the fashion of that early one set up in the wilderness. But when the statement in the text is so plain, and the material in question so little perishable there can be no reason to suppose from the mere silence of Holy Writ about it, that the original serpent had disappeared.
for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it] The record does not tell us when this worship of the brasen serpent began. But in midst of the many objects set up to be adored in the degenerate days of some of the kings, the adoration of the brasen serpent would be counted among the most reputable. Having once commenced there was no chance of its cessation in times like those of the last king, Ahaz.
and he called it Nehushtan] It is perhaps better to take an indefinite word as nominative to the verb ‘called’: ‘one called it’, i.e. ‘it was called’ as is given in the margin of R.V. The word Nehushtan meaning ‘a piece of brass’ or ‘something made of brass’ may either be taken as a term of contempt, in which case the people who used the name were those who with Hezekiah caused it to be destroyed; or it may be the name which had in process of time come to be applied by everybody to this brasen figure. The words for ‘serpent’ and for ‘brass’ are in Hebrew very much alike, and a word like ‘Nehushtan’ might very well come in that language to convey in the popular speech the whole idea of ‘brasen serpent’, and win its way to general acceptance.
He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.5. the Lord God [R.V. the God] of Israel] The usual change.
after him was none like him … nor any [R.V. among them] that were before him] The comparison is with individual kings. The plural expression of the latter half of this sentence in A.V. is correct.
For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.6. and departed not] R.V. he departed not. Thus italics are avoided, and the emphasis of the verse seems to be strengthened.
which the Lord commanded Moses] Another indication that the compiler of Kings, or it may be the earlier authority from which he drew, accepted the Law as given by God to Moses. See also below in verse 12.
And the LORD was with him; and he prospered whithersoever he went forth: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not.7. and he prospered whithersoever he went forth] By placing the last four words at the beginning of the sentence, the R.V. again gets rid of the italic and.
he rebelled against the king of Assyria] Ahaz had purchased Assyrian help against Rezin and Pekah [2 Kings 16:7-9] and had become the vassal of Tiglath-pileser. No doubt the terms between the two nations were meant to continue in the reigns of the successors of Ahaz and Tiglath-pileser. The revolt of Hezekiah seems to have been made regardless of these terms. For when Sennacherib comes to attack him, he feels he must admit (verse 14) that he has offended, ‘I have offended, return from me, that which thou puttest on me will I bear’.
He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.8. he smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza] Gaza was the most southern of the five great towns of the Philistines, so that it is intimated that the whole land of Philistia was overrun by the king of Judah.
from the tower of the watchmen, &c.] See above on 2 Kings 17:9 note.
And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it.9–12. Israel finally carried captive by Shalmaneser (Not in Chronicles)
9. Shalmaneser … came up against Samaria and besieged it] Probably the negotiations with So king of Egypt had still gone forward (2 Kings 17:4), and the tribute due from Israel to Assyria had continued to be unpaid.
and besieged it] Shalmaneser commenced the siege, but the city was not taken till the reign of his successor Sargon. (See Schrader Cuneiform Inscriptions, Engl. Trans. 1. p. 266.)
And at the end of three years they took it: even in the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken.10. at the end of three years they took it] The consonants of the word rendered ‘they took it’ might, if different vowel points were added to them, be translated ‘he took it’. That the vowels for the plural form have been written by the Massoretes can only be the result of a long retained tradition. The history must have died out of their knowledge entirely, but the word had been read as ‘they took it’ from the earliest times, and in that form they recorded it when they added the vowels to make their reading clear to the eye. Notice has already been taken of the remarkable way in which the Biblical record, though containing no record that the commencement of the siege and its close were in different reigns, yet avoids here any mistake in the history by the use of the pronoun ‘they’. See note on 2 Kings 17:6 above. The siege of Samaria lasted from b.c. 724 to b.c. 722 and the capture was among the earliest events of Sargon’s reign.
And the king of Assyria did carry away Israel unto Assyria, and put them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes:11. did carry away Israel] R.V. transposes the last two words that the order may be the same as in 2 Kings 17:6 where this verse appears almost word for word. On the changes made there and here in R.V., and on the geographical position of the places mentioned, see notes there.
Because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded, and would not hear them, nor do them.12. his covenant, and [R.V. even] all that Moses … commanded] Thus R.V. avoids the italics.
the servant of the Lord] This name is often given to Moses in the earlier books. See Deuteronomy 34:5, where it is found in the notice of his death. It is specially frequent in the book of Joshua. Cf. Joshua 1:1; Joshua 1:13; Joshua 1:15; Joshua 8:31; Joshua 8:33; Joshua 11:12, &c. In Chronicles also the title is used of him, see 2 Chronicles 1:3; 2 Chronicles 24:6, but in those books he is also called ‘servant of God’ (1 Chronicles 6:49; 2 Chronicles 24:9), and this form is found in Nehemiah 10:29; Daniel 9:11; Revelation 15:3.
hear them [R. V, it] nor do them [R.V. it] The change is required by reason of the previous alteration in the verse.
At this point terminates the Biblical history of the ten tribes. The people were for the most part carried away, and settled in various places in Assyria, and they never came again to their own land, which continued to be occupied by the settlers introduced by Shalmaneser. Of those who were removed, the most probable fate was that they became mixed up with the people of the various districts in which they were settled, and so their nationality was lost. Some of their descendants we can hardly doubt, joined themselves to their brethren of Judah in the later days when the two tribes also were carried captive by the same power. These would return when the captivity was at an end, and so we find notices in the later history of persons who were members of one or other of the ten tribes. That the number of the tribes was kept in mind we can see from the dedication service after the captivity (Ezra 6:17), where among the sacrifices offered are ‘twelve he-goats according to the number of the tribes of Israel’. In greater or less proportion each tribe must have been thought to be represented at this service. In the Apocryphal books we have mention of the same service in nearly similar words (1Es 7:8). Tobit (Tob 1:1) was of the tribe of Naphtali. In the book of Judith (2 Kings 6:15) we read of Ozias the son of Micha of the tribe of Simeon, in St Luke (Luke 2:36) Anna the daughter of Phanuel is of the tribe of Asher, in Acts (Acts 26:7) the language of St Paul shews that members of the twelve tribes were believed to be existing among the Jews of Palestine and of the Dispersion; to which twelve tribes St James (James 1:1) also addresses his Epistle.
But on the strength of language such as is found in the 2nd book of Esdras (2Es 13:39-50) where the writer speaks of the ten tribes as going forth into a country where mankind had never dwelt, and of their future restoration, various theories have from time to time been started about the discovery of the lost tribes. The words of Josephus (Ant. XI. 5, 2) have helped on such notions. He speaks of the Israelites, i.e. the ten tribes, as existing in his own day in countless myriads beyond the Euphrates. If this statement had been true we should most certainly have found some mention of the people in other writers, of which there is not the slightest trace. Isolated bodies of Jews have no doubt been discovered here and there in the east, but no such community as would answer to the notions, which prevailed early in the Christian era of a large host of Israelites existing in some remote country of the northeast. The latest development of this notion, viz., that the Anglo-Saxon race is identical with the ten tribes, is only the outcome of great ignorance both of history and language. But it does harm because the devout among unlearned persons often grasp at such an idea, and by their absurd clinging thereto bring ridicule upon the rest of their faith, and are also led away from a reasonable and earnest study of the word of God into fanciful interpretations whereby they strive to support their erroneous ideas.
Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.13–16. Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invades Judah. Hezekiah submits, and pays a large tribute (2 Chronicles 32:1; Isaiah 36:1)
13. Sennacherib king of Assyria] Sennacherib was the son of Sargon, but as it seems not the eldest, and only became heir to the throne in the year before his father’s death. He is said to have begun his reign b.c. 705 and to have been murdered in 681. The operations against Hezekiah seem to have been only part of a larger campaign, which appears to have been directed against those states which were in alliance with Egypt. For the Assyrian troops had gone beyond Jerusalem, and were at Lachish when Hezekiah sent in his submission. According to the inscriptions Sennacherib had overrun Phœnicia and advanced along the coast to attack the cities of the Philistines. We can see from 2 Kings 19:8-9 that the Egyptian power was advancing from the south, and eventually caused more pressure to be put on Jerusalem by the Assyrians that they might reduce it if possible, before aid arrived from Egypt. For we may be sure that Hezekiah in his attempt to shake himself free from Assyria had, like his neighbours, sought the friendship of the Egyptians.
all the fenced cities of Judah] These were subjugated first, that there might be no chance of help from them if it became necessary to assault the capital. With some cities of the Philistines already in his hands, it would be easy for Sennacherib to overrun Judæa and capture the less fortified places.
And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.14. to Lachish] On the situation and previous history of Lachish, see on 2 Kings 14:19. It was very close to Askelon, which is mentioned in the inscriptions as one of the places against which Sennacherib’s expedition was specially directed. It is stated (2 Chronicles 32:9) that at this time Sennacherib besieged Lachish with all his power. So that it must have been a stronghold of some importance and perhaps a place likely to be of advantage in checking the approach of forces from Egypt, which were sure to be invited by those whom the Assyrians were attacking.
I have offended] It seems most natural to gather from this that Hezekiah had begun his movement for rebellion without any provocation from Assyria. The compact between Ahaz and Tiglath-pileser he would no doubt find galling, but his confession of a fault shews that he had attempted to withdraw his homage merely because he thought himself strong enough to do so. ‘What, do we mince that fact which holy Hezekiah himself censures?… The comfort of liberty may not be had with an unwarranted violence. Holiness cannot free us from infirmity. It was a weakness to do that act which must be soon undone, with much repentance and more loss’ (Bp Hall).
three hundred talents of silver] On the value of the talent of silver and of gold, see on 2 Kings 5:5. The amount exacted on this occasion is not so great as that taken by Pul from Menahem, which was a thousand talents of silver. But in the previous reign Ahaz (2 Kings 16:8) had paid large sums to Assyria, so that Judah must at this time have been drained of resources, and even the king of Assyria could not have what was not there.
And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king's house.15. all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord] The like emptying of the treasuries both of the temple and of the king had been made a very few years before (2 Kings 16:8) by Ahaz to purchase the alliance of Tiglath-pileser against Pekah and Rezin.
At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.16. cut off the gold from the doors of the temple] Plainly shewing that there was a great scarcity of gold at this time. Hezekiah was the last man to have stripped the temple doors if there had been any other way of raising what was demanded. He had been rejoiced at the purification and adornment of the temple, and must have been very hard driven ere he consented to undo the work which he had so lately done. Josephus adds to the history (Ant. x. 1. 1) a link which may explain the events which follow in the next section. He says that Sennacherib had promised the ambassadors of Hezekiah to depart on the payment of the impost, but that when he had received the money he paid no regard to what he had promised, but sent his officers to attack Jerusalem. In this way the Biblical record of verse 17 may be joined on to the statements in verse 16. The Chronicler takes no notice of the payment of tribute to Sennacherib, and gives only an account of the siege of Jerusalem and its non-success. And this he does with much more brevity than the compiler of Kings or the parallel record in Isaiah.
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.17–25. The Assyrian army sent against Jerusalem. Rab-shakeh’s arguments for a surrender of the city (2 Chronicles 32:2-12; Isaiah 36:2-10)
17. the king of Assyria sent Tartan] In the light of the record in Chronicles, which says nothing of the previous proceedings of Sennacherib, we must consider that there was but one expedition, and that first came Hezekiah’s submission, which was unavailing, and then followed the advance upon Jerusalem. We can imagine many things which induced Sennacherib not to keep faith with Hezekiah, but most probably it was the movements of the Egyptians in the south. Finding that they were advancing he would resolve on attacking and reducing Jerusalem before they arrived, and would care nothing for former compacts. Tartan, as well as the other two names here given, is probably an official title. Tartan is found in Isaiah 20:1, and the R.V. puts a note in the margin ‘the title of the Assyrian commander in chief’. In that place it is the title of the officer sent by Sargon against Ashdod. As this title here stands first, we may suppose that he was the chief military officer, though Rab-shakeh was the spokesman. It would be more correct to say ‘the Tartan’.
and Rabsaris] The word is Hebrew in form and signifies ‘the chief of the eunuchs’. It may be some title which the Jews modified so as to make of it a Hebrew word. Clearly in this place it indicates some high official. It need not necessarily be a military person, but some one like a lord chamberlain, who came with the Tartan to add civil dignity to the military. Rab-saris is found in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:3) among the titles of the princes of the king of Babylon.
and Rab-shakeh] This word also has a Hebrew form, and means ‘the chief cup-bearer’. The title may have been preserved and attached to an office, when the duties from which it was originally given had ceased to be performed, and others had been imposed in their place. And the Hebrew writers may have represented in their own way the meaning of a title for which they had no proper equivalent.
with a great host] For Jerusalem was stronger than the other places in Judah which he had already captured, and news from Egypt-wards was perhaps such as to make haste urgent.
against Jerusalem] R.V. unto Jerusalem. The original has no preposition, but the accusative of direction.
they came and stood by the conduit] The Chronicler gives us details which shew that some time elapsed before the attack on Jerusalem was commenced. Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib was come and that he was purposed to fight against Jerusalem. He therefore took counsel with his princes and blocked up all the water courses and fountains, so that the Assyrians should have as little water supply as possible. He also strengthened the fortifications, provided new weapons, and organized his forces. Then he gathered the people and encouraged them, so that they ‘rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah’. All this had been done before the arrival of Rab-shakeh and his fellows.
the upper pool] This is probably what in 2 Chronicles 32:30 is called ‘the upper watercourse of Gihon’. On ‘Gihon’ see note on 1 Kings 1:33. The locality is described, in the same words as here, in Isaiah 7:3, so that it was a well-known spot. The pool was within the walls, but from it went a conduit to the fuller’s field. The fuller’s occupation was one which was carried on without the walls.
And when they had called to the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder.18. And when they had called to the king] i.e. Had made it known in some way to the warders that they had a message for the king.
Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household] This is the man who is spoken of in such terms of praise by Isaiah (2 Kings 22:20-20). There God, by His prophet, calls him ‘my servant Eliakim’ and declares that ‘he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah’ and that ‘the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder’. The security of all things in his time is used by the prophet to prefigure a period of great blessing and peace. The office he held was a very dignified one, the highest under the king. It was held by Ahishar in Solomon’s days (1 Kings 4:6) and by Azrikam in the days of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:7), and the Hebrew word there employed to describe it (nagid) is one used of great rulers and princes, and marks the high position of the holder.
and Shebna [R.V. Shebnah] the scribe] The orthography of the name is varied in this chapter. In verse 37 it is written Shebna, but here and in 26 ‘Shebnah’. The R.V. in each case follows the Hebrew. This Shebnah had originally held the office which was at this time Eliakim’s (Isaiah 22:15-19) but had been put down because of his luxury and also because he was a favourer of the alliance with Egypt. This latter policy was always opposed by the prophets, and it was perhaps by Isaiah’s influence that Shebnah had been reduced to the lower post of royal secretary.
Joah the son of Asaph the recorder] Joah is only mentioned in this narrative and the parallel chapter in Isaiah. His office was that of ‘chronicler’, so that he was a necessary member of the deputation sent to confer with the Assyrian envoys. Thus a faithful statement would be put on record of all that took place.
And Rabshakeh said unto them, Speak ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?19. Speak ye now to Hezekiah] Their message was first addressed to the king, but afterwards they turn (verse 29) to the people who had gathered to hear the parley. The briefer record of the Chronicler combines both parts of the conference and says the messengers were sent ‘unto Hezekiah … and unto all Judah that were at Jerusalem’.
the great king] Hezekiah would know that his own father Ahaz had been one of Assyria’s tributaries, and that many other petty kings around were in the same condition. Hence the term is calculated to warn him against resistance.
What confidence is this wherein thou trustest] The question in Chronicles, being represented as at once addressed both to king and people, is put in the plural number ‘Whereon do ye trust’?
Thou sayest, (but they are but vain words,) I have counsel and strength for the war. Now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me?20. Thou sayest, (but they are but vain words)] Some have taken the words in the parenthesis as the object of the verb, so that the sense would be ‘Thou speakest only vain words (when thou talkest about) counsel and strength’. But it is better to leave them as a parenthesis, because of the succeeding question Thou speakest of counsel and strength, whence are they to come? The literal meaning of the expression rendered ‘vain words’, i.e. a word of the lips, which is nothing but so much breath, is very forcible and is preserved on the margin both of A.V. and R.V. Instead of the italics ‘I have’ R.V. inserts There is.
Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him.21. Thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed] Rab-shakeh answers his own question. It may be that he also is correct in saying that Hezekiah had hopes of help from Egypt. But in this the king would find no support from the prophets of the time. The figure of a reed is perhaps used by Rab-shakeh because Egypt produced them in abundance. A bruised reed, one which will crack, and offer jagged points at the broken part is used as a figure by Ezekiel concerning Egypt (Ezekiel 29:6), and the words exactly illustrate what Rab-shakeh would convey. ‘They (the Egyptians) have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel. When they took hold of thee by thy hand thou didst break, and rend all their shoulder: and when they leaned upon thee, thou brakest, and madest all their loins to be at a stand’. (Bp Hall.)
Pharaoh king of Egypt] Pharaoh is here used as the common title of the native kings of Egypt. Thus Rabshakeh disposes of external help.
But if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that 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?22. We trust in the Lord our God] Probably Rab-shakeh knew something about the character of Egypt and her ability and likeliness to help. ‘Rahab that sitteth still’ (Isaiah 30:7 R.V.) was a name probably not undeserved. But now he enters on a matter which he does not understand. He had heard no doubt of the many altars and high places which Hezekiah had swept away in the beginning of his reign, and he might have been told by some, who murmured at their removal, and urged that Jehovah was really worshipped at them, that the king had put down many altars of the true God, and for a fancy of his own had ordered all his subjects to worship in Jerusalem. But he did not, probably could not, comprehend that the law of Jehovah had long before ordained that when His worship should be brought to its true form among His people, there should be only one temple for the whole land. Hence his argument is ‘How can you expect Jehovah to help you, when you have been breaking down His shrines and limiting His worship to a single spot’?
Now therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.23. Now therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord] R.V. my master. The change conforms to verses 24 and 27 below. Having ridiculed any trust in Egypt, and expressed his opinion that Hezekiah could not expect help from Jehovah, after demolishing all the altars in the land, Rab-shakeh comes to his third argument. This is, ‘you have no forces to resist us’. He puts this into the form of a taunt. The verb rendered ‘give pledges’, has in its simpler voice, the sense of ‘mortgaging’ or ‘giving something in pledge’. In the present verse it appears to mean ‘pledge yourself’, ‘put yourself under some penalty’. And so the taunt is equivalent to saying: ‘You dare not undertake to find two thousand riders, if I offer you the horses for them. If you dare, then do it. The horses are ready; I challenge you to provide the men’.
I will deliver] R.V. give. The verb is the one usually rendered ‘give’, and the insult is made the greater by this proud way of expressing superiority.
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?24. How then wilt thou, &c.] Rab-shakeh impudently takes for granted that Hezekiah’s only answer would be ‘I have not the men’. So he proceeds with his insults, and points out what he deems the folly of resistance. ‘We, three of the principal officers of our master, are come to treat with you. As your power is so feeble, you ought not to think of opposition, but to listen to the Assyrian proposals if they were brought even by some inferior person.’ The word which in this verse is rendered ‘captains’ is that which is constantly used in Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther of the ‘governors’ of provinces belonging to the great king. Any one of these, Rab-shakeh intimates, would be a power by himself which Hezekiah ought not to despise, as he possesses no men, even if the horses were made a present to him, out of which to form a body of cavalry. When Assyria can be so liberal in offers of horses, and when even her smallest governors are so well equipped with troops, is it not folly to go to Egypt for chariots and horses? He knows, and intimates that the same kind of vassalage would be required by the king of Egypt, as the king of Assyria demands.
Some have taken the verb ‘wilt thou turn away’ as equivalent to ‘wilt thou defeat and put to flight’. But this seems to suit very badly with the concluding clause of the sentence. ‘To put trust in Egypt’ is a good antithesis to the rejection of a proposal from the side of Assyria, but not to the defeat of the Assyrian troops.
Am I now come up without the LORD against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.25. Am I now come up without the Lord] Rab-shakeh goes one step further, and with a bold assertion claims Jehovah’s support. Perhaps he thought his lie would receive some credence because he had already been able to reduce the towns all round Jerusalem. And if it did, one great stay of the king’s courage would be broken down. ‘How fearful a word was this. The rest were but vain cracks: this was a thunderbolt to strike dead the heart of Hezekiah. If Rab-shakeh could have been believed, Jerusalem could not but have flown open’ (Bp Hall). Rab-shakeh would know and use the name of the God of Israel, without regarding Him otherwise than as a local deity, just as Asshur was of Assyria.
Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebna, and Joah, unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and talk not with us in the Jews' language in the ears of the people that are on the wall.26–37. Further insolence of Rab-shakeh. He addresses the people that stand on the wall. Despair of hezekiah’s ministers (2 Chronicles 32:13-19; Isaiah 35:1-2)
26. Speak, I pray thee … in the Syrian language] The language intended is more properly named, as in the margin of R.V. ‘Aramæan’ This was the language of Mesopotamia and Babylon. It was of the same family as Hebrew, but yet not commonly understood by the people of Judæa. The court officials would of necessity have to speak it for the purposes of political intercourse. ‘Syriac’ is a later dialect of Aramæan. For ‘talk not’ R.V. has speak not. The original word is the same as in the previous clause. By their request Eliakim and his companions at once put themselves at Rabshakeh’s mercy, and he shewed them none. ‘Lewd men are the worse for admonitions. Rab-shakeh had not so strained his throat to corrupt the citizens of Jerusalem, had it not been for the humble obtestation of Eliakim. Now he rears up his voice and holds up his sides, and roars out his double blasphemies’ (Bp Hall).
the people that are on the wall] There had gathered a crowd around Hezekiah’s ministers to hear the issue of the conference, and these from their previous sufferings in the siege would be ready enough to put a favourable construction on Rab-shakeh’s argument. The Chronicler (2 Chronicles 32:11) represents him as employing the powerful argument to starving men ‘Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give yourselves over to die by famine and by thirst’? This is the fearful extremity which is so coarsely alluded to in the words of the next verse. That such food had been used by persons reduced to extremity in a siege, see above chap. 2 Kings 6:25 and the note there.
But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?
Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and spake, saying, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria:28. with a loud voice] To prove that it was to the people on the wall that his message was sent. If he could provoke them to desert their king, Jerusalem would soon be in the power of the Assyrians.
Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand:29. out of his hand] The natural expression would be ‘out of my hand’. And so it is rendered in all the versions but the Chaldee. It is worth noting that in Isaiah these words are not expressed.
Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.30. this city shall not be delivered] R.V. given. The Hebrew word is not the same as that rendered ‘deliver’ in this verse and the previous one. It is desirable that the difference should be made plain to the English reader.
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 then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern:31. Make an agreement with me by a present] R.V. make your peace with me. The noun is that which is often rendered ‘blessing’ in the sense of a ‘present’ (see note on 2 Kings 5:15 above). And there is no example in the Bible exactly parallel to this. But the cognate verb is used of salutations (e.g. 2 Kings 4:29), ‘If any man salute thee’, literally ‘bless thee’, ‘wish thee peace’. Hence it is not difficult to see how such a noun would come to have the sense of ‘peace’, exactly like shalôm, which is the more usual word in such salutations.
and come out to me] i.e. Open your gates and submit yourselves instead of staying within to die of starvation.
and then [R.V. omits then] eat ye every man [R.V. one] of his own vine] Cf. above 1 Kings 4:25 where the description applies to the most prosperous days of the reign of Solomon.
cistern] This was a pit or well dug for collecting water, not the sort of manufactured tank to which the name is now usually given.
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, a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live, and not die: and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, The LORD will deliver us.32. until I come and take you] Submission was to be followed, as was usual with Assyria, by deportation, but the people are promised a land as good as their own. For the similar description of the land of Canaan see Deuteronomy 8:7-9.
and not die] Again he refers, as to an argument likely to be most powerful, to the famine which was imminent if the siege continued.
Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?33. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all] R.V. ever delivered. So that it is clear that Rab-shakeh, in spite of his language in verse 25, counted Jehovah as but one among the many local deities which were supposed specially to belong to one city or one country.
Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand?34. gods of Hamath, and of Arpad] Of Hamath, see above on 2 Kings 17:24. Arpad is always spoken of in connexion with Hamath, but the site of the place has not been determined, nor any trace of the name found except in the Bible (2 Kings 19:13; Jeremiah 49:23; Isaiah 10:9; Isaiah 36:19; Isaiah 37:13). In the two last-named places A.V. writes the word Arphad, and the same spelling is found 2Es 9:26 as a various reading for Ardath. From the passage in Jeremiah above quoted it is manifest that like Hamath, it belonged to Damascus, for it is included in the prophecy concerning that city. The chief god of Damascus was Rimmon.
the gods of Sepharvaim] See above, on 2 Kings 17:31.
Hena] The LXX. represents the name by Ἀνὰ. From the combination of the gods of Sepharvaim with those of the other two places here mentioned, we should gather that the worship in all three was the same. This gives support to the conjecture which identifies Hena with Ana, a city not far from Sepharvaim. Other opinions favour the identification of the place with Anat, an island in the Euphrates, near its union with the Khabour. This also would be not very remote from Sepharvaim.
and Ivah] R.V. Ivvah. This place is supposed to be the same with Ava (R.V. Avvah) in 2 Kings 17:24 above, where see note. If it be identified, as has been suggested, with Ahava, all the three places lie close together. ‘Hena’ and ‘Ivah’ are omitted from the parallel passage in Isaiah.
have they delivered Samaria] Among the gods of the countries, the gods of Samaria have been in Rab-shakeh’s thoughts though he has not expressly spoken of them. But here, as if he had done so, he asks: Have they delivered Samaria?
Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?35. that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem] Rab-shakeh should have had a better memory. In verse 25 he said he had the Lord’s command to destroy Jerusalem; but here, forgetful, he speaks of the same Lord as one who might be expected to defend it.
Or does he only speak ex concesso, taking the ground of those whom he addresses? They thought the Lord would deliver. ‘If you do think so’, would then be his meaning, ‘what reason have you for your belief’?
But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not.36. the people held their peace] Rab-shakeh had hoped to excite the people, at all events, to some expression of discontent, and perhaps had any movement of that kind been displayed, the ‘great host’ of verse 17 would at once have begun the attack, for treason within the city might have opened the gates. But the expectation is utterly disappointed, even the fear of starvation provokes no treachery.
Bp Hall observes here, ‘I do not more wonder at Hezekiah’s wisdom in commanding silence, than at the subjects’ obedience in keeping it. This railer could not be more spited, than with no answer; and if he might be exasperated he could not be reformed. Besides, the rebounding of those multiplied blasphemies might leave some ill impressions in the multitude. This sulphurous flask, therefore, dies in his own smoke; only leaving a hateful stench behind it’.
The Chronicler, though his account is briefer, yet describes in more terrible terms the blasphemies of the Assyrian envoy. Not only does he mention his language to those who came to hear him, but he adds ‘he wrote also letters to rail on the Lord, the God of Israel, and to speak against Him … and they spake against the God of Jerusalem, as against the gods of the people of the earth which were the work of the hands of man’. (2 Chronicles 32:17; 2 Chronicles 32:19.) Perhaps he is alluding to the letter mentioned below (2 Kings 19:14).
Then came Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which 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.37. with their clothes rent] See note on Chap. 2 Kings 5:7.