But Rabshakeh said, Has my master sent me to your master and to you to speak these words? has he not sent me to the men that sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own urine with you?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall . . .?—The words, which in their brutal coarseness have hardly a parallel in history, till we come to Bismarck’s telling the Parisians that they may “stew in their own gravy,” imply that the Assyrians were in a position to cut off the supplies both of food and water.
To the men that sit on the wall ... - The meaning of this is, that the inhabitants of the city, if they do not surrender, will be subjected to the severest evils of famine. If they did not surrender, it was the purpose of the Assyrian to lay siege to the city, and to reduce it. But it was often the work of years to reduce and take a city. Nebuchadnezzar spent thirteen years before Tyre, and the Greeks employed ten in reducing ancient Troy. The sense here is, therefore, that unless the people could be induced to surrender to Sennacherib, they would be subjected to all the horrors of a siege, when they would be reduced to the most deplorable state of necessity and want. The idea in the whole verse is clearly expressed in the parallel place in 2 Chronicles 32:11 : 'Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give over yourselves to die by famine and by thirst, saying, The Lord our God shall deliver us out of the hand of the king of Assyria?' In regard to the indelicacy of this passage, we may observe:
1. That the Masoretes in the Hebrew text have so pointed the words used, that in reading it the offensiveness would be considerably avoided. It is common in the Hebrew Scriptures, when a word is used in the text that is indelicate, to place another word in the margin, and the vowel-points that belong to the word in the margin are applied to the word in the text, and the word in the margin is thus commonly read. In accordance with this custom among the Jews, it is evident that more delicacy might have been observed by our translators in this, and in some other places of the Scriptures.
2. The customs, habits, and modes of expression of people in different nations and times, differ. What appears indelicate at one time or in one country, may not only be tolerated, but common in another. Many things are esteemed indelicate among us which are not so in polite and refined France; many expressions are so regarded now which were not in the time when the Bible was translated into English. Many things may be to us offensive which were not so to the Syrians, the Babylonians, and the Jews; and many modes of expression which are common now, and consistent with all our notions of refinement, may appear improper in some other period of the world. There are many things in Shakespere, and in most of the Old English writers, which cannot now be read without a blush. Yet need I say that those expressions will be heard with unconcern in the theater by those whose delicacy is most offended by some expression in the Bible? There are things infinitely more offensive to delicacy in Byron, and Moore, and even Burns, than there are in the Scriptures; and yet are these not read without a murmur by those who make the loudest complaints of the slightest departure from delicacy in the Bible?
3. There is another remark to be made in regard to this. Isaiah is not at all responsible for the indelicacy of the language here. He is simply a historian. He did not say it; nor is he responsible for it. If there is indelicacy in it, it is not in recording it, but in saying it; and the responsibility is on Rabshakeh. If Isaiah undertook to make a record of an important transaction, what right had he to abridge it, or contract it, or to make it different from what it was?
4. And again: it was of importance to give the true character of the attack which was made on Jerusalem. The coming of Sennacherib was attended with pride, and insolence, and blasphemy; and it was important to state the true character of the transaction. and to record just what was said and done. Hence, Isaiah, as a faithful historian, recorded the coming of the Assyrians; the expressions of their haughtiness, insolence, and pride; their vain boasting, and their reproaches of Yahweh; and for the same reason he has recorded the gross and indelicate language which they used to add to the trials of the Jews. Let him who used the language, and not him who recorded it, bear the blame.
hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall; and therefore it is proper to speak in a language which they understand, and to let them know that if they will not surrender up the city, but will attempt to hold out a siege, they must expect
that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you? suggesting that they must expect a close siege, which would not be broke up until the city was taken; the consequence of which would be such a famine, that they would be reduced to such extremities. The Jews have substituted other words in the margin, instead of those in the text, as more cleanly, and less offensive; for "dung" they put "excrement", and for "piss" they read "the waters of the feet"; and had we in our version put excrement and urine instead of these words, it would have been more decent.But Rabshakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)12. that they may eat …] Note the contrast in Isaiah 36:16. The clause, therefore, expresses not the desire or purpose of the king of Assyria, but the effect of submitting to Hezekiah’s insane policy.Verse 12. - Hath he not sent me to the men that sit upon the wall? Rabshakeh was contravening all diplomatic usage, and no doubt was conscious of it. But the pride and arrogance of the Assyrians rendered them as careless of diplomatic etiquette as, at a later date, were the Romans (see Polybius, 29:11, § 6; Liv., 45:12). That they may eat, etc.; rather, to eat. That is, with no other result than that of being reduced, together with you, to the last extremity of famine, when the siege comes. Isaiah 36:3 (K. "And they called to the king), and there went out to him (K. to them) Eliakim son of Hilkiyahu, the house-minister, and Shebna the chancellor, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder." On the office of the house-minister, or major-domo, which was now filled by Eliakim instead of Shebna (שׁבנא, K. twice שׁבנה), see Isaiah 22:15.; and on that of sōphēr and mazkı̄r. Rabshakeh's message follows in Isaiah 36:4-10 : "And Rabshakeh said to them, Say now to Hizkiyahu, Thus saith the great king, the king of Asshur, What sort of confidence is this that thou hast got? I say (K. thou sayest, i.e., thou talkest), vain talk is counsel and strength for war: now, then, in whom dost thou trust, that thou hast rebelled against me? (K. Now) Behold, thou trustest (K. לּך) in this broken reed-staff there, in Egypt, on which one leans, and it runs into his hand and pierces it; so does Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if thou sayest to me (K. ye say), We trust in Jehovah our God; is it not He whose high places and altars Hizkiyahu has removed, and has said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before the altar (K. ads, in Jerusalem)? And now take a wager with my lord (K. with) the king of Asshur; I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou art able for thy part to give horsemen upon them. And how couldst thou repel the advance of a single satrap among the least of the servants of my lord?! Thou puttest thy trust then in Egypt for chariots and riders! And (omitted in K.) now have I come up without Jehovah against this land to destroy it (K. against this place, to destroy it)? Jehovah said to me, Go up to (K. against) this land, and destroy it." The chronicler has a portion of this address of Rabshakeh in 2 Chronicles 32:10-12. And just as the prophetic words in the book of Kings have a Deuteronomic sound, and those in the Chronicles the ring of a chronicle, so do Rabshakeh's words, and those which follow, sound like the words of Isaiah himself. "The great king" is the standing royal title appended to the names of Sargon and Sennacherib upon the Assyrian monuments (compare Isaiah 10:8). Hezekiah is not thought worthy of the title of king, ether here or afterwards. The reading אמרתּ in Isaiah 36:5 (thou speakest vain talk) is not the preferable one, because in that case we should expect דּבּרתּ, or rather (according to the usual style) אך דּבּרתּ. The meaning is, that he must look upon Hezekiah's resolution, and his strength (וּגבוּרה עצה connected as in Isaiah 11:2) for going to war, as mere boasting ("lip-words," as in Proverbs 14:23), and must therefore assume that there was something in the background of which he was well aware. And this must be Egypt, which would not only be of no real help to its ally, but would rather do him harm by leaving him in the lurch. The figure of a reed-staff has been borrowed by Ezekiel in Isaiah 29:6-7. It was a very appropriate one for Egypt, with its abundance of reeds and rushes (Isaiah 19:6), and it has Isaiah's peculiar ring (for the expression itself, compare Isaiah 42:3; and for the fact itself, Isaiah 30:5, and other passages). רצוּץ does not mean fragile (Luzz. quella fragil canna), but broken, namely, in consequence of the loss of the throne by the native royal family, from whom it had been wrested by the Ethiopians (Isaiah 18:1-7), and the defeats sustained at the hands of Sargon (Isaiah 20:1-6). The construction cui quis innitur et intrat is paratactic for cui si quis. In Isaiah 36:7 the reading תאמרוּן commends itself, from the fact that the sentence is not continued with הסירת; but as Hezekiah is addressed throughout, and it is to him that the reply is to be made, the original reading was probably תאמר. The fact that Hezekiah had restricted the worship of Jehovah to Jerusalem, by removing the other places of worship (2 Kings 18:4), is brought against him in a thoroughly heathen, and yet at the same time (considering the inclination to worship other gods which still existed in the nation) a very crafty manner. In Isaiah 36:8, Isaiah 36:9, he throws in his teeth, with most imposing scorn, his own weakness as compared with Asshur, which was chiefly dreaded on account of its strength in cavalry and war-chariots. נא התערב does not refer to the performance and counter-performance which follow, in the sense of "connect thyself" (Luzz. associati), but is used in a similar sense to the Omeric μιγῆναι, though with the idea of vying with one another, not of engaging in war (the synonym in the Talmud is himrâh, to bet, e.g., b. Sabbath 31a): a bet and a pledge are kindred notions (Heb. ערבון, cf., Lat. vadari). On pechâh (for pachâh), which also occurs as an Assyrian title in Ezekiel 23:6, Ezekiel 23:23. אחד פּחת, two constructives, the first of which is to be explained according to Ewald, 286, a (compare above, Isaiah 36:2, כבד חיל), form the logical regens of the following servorum dominin mei minimorum; and hēshı̄bh penē does not mean here to refuse a petitioner, but to repel an antagonist (Isaiah 28:6). The fut. consec. ותּבטח deduces a consequence: Hezekiah could not do anything by himself, and therefore he trusted in Egypt, from which he expected chariots and horsemen. In Isaiah 36:10, the prophetic idea, that Asshur was the instrument employed by Jehovah (Isaiah 10:5, etc.), is put into the mouth of the Assyrian himself. This is very conceivable, but the colouring of Isaiah is undeniable.
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