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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 36




Isaiah 36-39 An Historical Interlude.

In the eyes of many interpreters these four chapters are an important interlude separating the book of Isaiah into two halves. They certainly ground all that Isaiah has been saying in the context of history, and reveal the might and arrogance of Assyria, demonstrating at the same time how easily Yahweh can dispose of them when He wishes, and they reveal God’s sovereign power actually at work in even controlling the sun, bring out Hezekiah’s folly in not trusting wholly in God, and confirm why in the end the only hope for the future is the Coming One.

The first two chapters are a description of the ‘contest’ between Sennacherib and Yahweh. They are confirmation of the fact that in spite of all his boasts and fearsome armies God can deal with Sennacherib whenever He wishes. They lead up to the deliverance of Jerusalem by a great wonder, and the humiliation and death of Sennacherib at the hands of his own family. This puts things everything in stark contrast. The great Sennacherib may boast, and strut around and even seem invincible, but mighty Yahweh can smash the vaunted power of Assyria with one wondrous blow, while, when it comes down to it, helpless Sennacherib cannot defend himself against his own family.

In these first two chapters the combatants from the past chapters are laid bare. On the one hand we have in vivid detail the description of Sennacherib, conqueror of nations, boaster supreme, with all that he represents. He is given maximum space in which to trumpet himself. But he proves to be very vulnerable, for his defeat at the hands of Yahweh and his final end are dismissed in three verses (Isaiah 37:36-38). And on the other we have Yahweh, the great Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, Who patiently waits until Sennacherib has finished his boasting and then inevitably wins by a knock out and reigns supreme. In this all that has been said before can be summed up.

The final two chapters of the four will zoom in on Hezekiah. Here is one who, instead of being knocked down by Yahweh is lifted up and given an extension to his life, and is also given a mighty sign which should have enabled him to put his full trust in Him. The final chapter then deals with Hezekiah’s failure to exercise that trust, a fact made clear by his making of a treaty with the King of Babylon’s representatives. It is this that will then lead on in 40-55 to the declaration of a need for the coming of a replacement to the current house of David in terms of the Servant of Yahweh. Even Hezekiah with all his reforms has proved not to be sufficient for the task of bringing God’s people back to Him.

Thus chapter 38 will describe the wonders with which God seeks to bolster Hezekiah. Ahaz had refused a wonder ‘in the heaven above’ (compare Isaiah 7:11) and so Yahweh now gives one to Hezekiah. It occurs after a time of severe illness when he is given an extra lease of life, and Yahweh then causes the shadow of the sun to move backwards, giving him the guarantee of the fact that Yahweh has the power to deliver Jerusalem and be its great defender and has complete control over that orb which other nations linked to their greatest gods. To both Assyrian and Babylon the sun was important in their worship and their religious outlook. Thus control of the sun was paramount to control of their gods. It is an attempt by Yahweh, as with Ahaz previously (Isaiah 7:1-11), to establish the Davidic king in faith, so that he would look only to Him as Life-giver and Deliverer.

Chapter 39 is the anticlimax. It reveals that in spite of God’s amazing revelation of power, Hezekiah was but weak at heart and all too ready to prostitute his faith by relying on Babylon, that antithesis to all that God desired. Given the choice between trusting Yahweh or trusting Babylon, he chose Babylon. In Isaianic terms it was a backsliding of enormous dimensions. And the result is that he is given a warning that Babylon will come and seize all his treasures, and will carry the sons of David off as court slaves to Babylon (Isaiah 39:6-7). Those who consort with Babylon will be absorbed by Babylon. Note that the impact is restricted to the house of David. Isaiah is not predicting an overall Babylonian exile. This found its fulfilment when Manasseh was carried off to Babylon (2 Chronicles 33:11), no doubt accompanied by other members of the royal family.

But even sadder than this prophecy is Hezekiah’s sad acquiescence to the position, for Isaiah 39:8 must be seen as Hezekiah’s final surrender of his right to be considered as ‘the Davidic king’. He was revealing that he had no vision. He was satisfied with less. Instead of having the whole future in mind, he was only concerned with the present. He was simply relieved by the fact that it indicated that at present they had nothing to worry about. Thus Isaiah, recognising the situation with sinking heart, and knowing that there is no hope to be sought in the descendants of Ahaz, will go on to draw attention to the fact that Israel will have to look elsewhere for the Great Deliverer than to the current house of David. If salvation is to be found it must be found elsewhere than in the regular succession to the throne of David, for they had failed in their response to God. And that is what he will deal with in the remainder of the book.

So these four chapters divide the book into two halves. They separate the collection of the earlier prophecies of Isaiah, brought together into the compilation we have already considered, from his later prophecies which are more in the nature of a continuous work, these last written when he became less active and tended more to meditate on the more distant future and the implications of his earlier prophecies. They form an important connecting link between the two, besides containing their own message, and explain the difference of emphasis in the two sections.

Most of what is found here in chapter 36-37 can also be found in 2 Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 20:19. The authors of Kings may well have borrowed their narrative from Isaiah, or, more likely, from an expansion by Isaiah of his work (2 Chronicles 32:32). That is really the only explanation of the order of the narratives, which ignores the chronological sequence but provides one ideally suited to the book of Isaiah. However, that passage in 2 Kings includes the further information of an earlier submission by Hezekiah to Sennacherib which was accepted on the payment of huge tribute (2 Kings 18:13-16) which was sent to Nineveh. What the exact relationship was between that submission and the later invasion and siege described here is disputed. Some see the one as occurring immediately after the other, with Sennacherib reneging on his treaty (something for which he became well known), others consider that there was a gap of a few years between them. One thing appears clear, however, and that is that Isaiah and Judah both saw Sennacherib’s further action as a betrayal of what he had earlier promised (Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 24:16; Isaiah 33:1).

Perhaps we may consider at this point a brief resume of the history of the time as far as we know it. When Sennacherib came to the throne of Assyria in 705 BC on the death of his father Sargon II the opportunity was taken by many subject nations to rebel and break free from Assyria, refusing tribute. The great tyrant who had had them in submission was now dead, and their hope was that internal problems would keep Sennacherib busy. This kind of insurrection regularly happened on the death of powerful tyrants, when their successors were seeking to establish their positions.

So Merodach Baladan (Marduk-apla-iddina II) of Babylon, taking advantage of the situation, searched far and wide seeking to ferment trouble, and he included Judah in his plans (Isaiah 39:1-8). Those who expressed interest included the king of Tyre, who played a major part in the rebellion, together with associated Phoenician cities; the Philistine cities of Ashkelon and Ekron (whose loyal king was deposed and imprisoned by Hezekiah); probably Moab, Edom and Ammon; and some of the Arabian tribes. But Sennacherib did not take long to establish his position in Assyria and he then moved against Babylon and its near allies, including Elam, defeating them totally.

Once he had accomplished this we know from Assyrian records that he then turned his attention to the rebels elsewhere. Firstly he crushed Tyre, (whose king fled to Cyprus), along with their associated cities, although being unable to take the island city. It was, however, in dire straits, and had to be provisioned from the sea. This resulted in a number of the other tentative rebels hastily resuming tribute. Then he turned his attentions further south and advanced on Judah whom he saw as a major rebel, for it was Hezekiah who held captive Padi, king of Ekron, the king who had remained faithful to Sennacherib and had refused to join the rebellion.

At his approach, once a number of his cities had been taken, Hezekiah submitted and paid a huge ransom (2 Kings 18:13-16). This included some of his royal daughters, concubines, and male and female musicians, who were carried away to Nineveh, a ransom which was apparently accepted. Meanwhile other men of Judah had already been carried off as captives on the surrendering of their cities, as Sennacherib claims in his annals.

Under the treaty thus arranged Hezekiah had to release Padi, the king of Ekron whom he held as a prisoner, lost a large amount of territory which was divided among kings loyal to Sennacherib, and was required to send certain of his daughters to Nineveh as proof of his loyalty. He did not, however, have to appear before Sennacherib in person, for Sennacherib’s annals say, ‘he sent a personal messenger to deliver the tribute and make a slavish obedience’. This being interpreted may basically mean ‘he surrendered, but would not do it in person, and I had to give way on that point, because I had other matters to deal with’.

This is quite significant, for it demonstrates that Sennacherib was so keen to make peace that he did not enforce absolute demands. This was possibly because news had reached Sennacherib of the gathering by Egypt of an army to attack him so that he wanted to guard against attacks from all sides. It may even be that it was the fact that he was then later informed that the Egyptian army contained elements from, or was supported by, Judah, that made him feel that Hezekiah had betrayed him, thus causing him to think that the new treaty had already been broken. It would not be the first time that a king acted on inaccurate intelligence. On the other hand there may have been truth in it for Egypt may have had Judean mercenaries in its army. But whatever the case might be he broke the new treaty and again besieged Lachish preparatory to an advance on Jerusalem. That is where this account begins.

Perhaps it should be noted here that Sennacherib’s own records themselves confirm that Jerusalem was never taken, for he lays great stress on his capture of Lachish, which he would not have done if he had captured Jerusalem. (The principle for recording history was simple. You put the best gloss on things, and ignored all failures). All that he does claim is that he besieged Jerusalem and shut up Hezekiah there like a caged bird. Had he captured it, it would have been headline material.

Chapter 36 The Challenge of The King Of Assyria to Hezekiah and Yahweh.

Verse 1

‘And it came about in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.’

Compare for this Isaiah 36 :2 Kings 18:13 where the verse precedes the description of the surrender of Hezekiah and the paying of tribute mentioned above. This would strongly support the idea that the actual siege of Jerusalem followed closely on that affair. But it may be that the authors of Kings had Isaiah’s scroll before them and simply inserted Isaiah 36:14-16 as a parenthesis.

‘The fourteenth year of king Hezekiah.’ This was in 701 BC, which appears to conflict with 2 Kings 18:1; 2 Kings 18:9 which would make this the twenty eighth year of Hezekiah’s reign. The probable explanation for this is that 729/8 BC was when Hezekiah began to reign as co-regent with his father, his father dying around 715 BC. Co-regency was favoured by the kings of Judah as it ensured a secure succession, the successor thus already being in a position of authority and recognised as the heir. This then assured the preservation of the line of David.

Sennacherib records this in his annals as follows: ‘But as for Hezekiah the Judean, who did not bow in submission to my yoke, forty six of his strong-walled towns and innumerable smaller villages in their neighbourhood I besieged and conquered, by stamping down earth-ramps and then by bringing up battering rams, by the assault of foot soldiers, by breaches, tunnelling and sapper operations. --- he I shut up like a caged bird within Jerusalem, his royal city. I put watch-posts strictly around it, and turned back to his harm any who went out of its city-gate.’

Archaeology bears testimony to the strong fortifications of cities of Judah at this time. Sennacherib thus had to engage in a drawn out campaign, and was clearly proud of his achievement. Note that he only mentions a watching brief on Jerusalem, a process of slow starvation. The larger part of his army was busy elsewhere. The tough fighting for Jerusalem itself was intended to take place later when everywhere else had been subdued.

Verse 2

‘And the king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem to king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the launderer’s field’

‘The Rabshakeh.’ This was probably the king’s most powerful officer. It will be noted that he acted as spokesman. The word may mean ‘chief cupbearer’ or ‘head of rulers’. In the former case it does not mean that he was a table servant. Official Cupbearers were highly important, for they would receive the cup on the king’s behalf and taste it prior to handing it on, thus demonstrating that it was free from poison. They alone were in a position to slip in poison after they had drunk to test the drink. The chief cupbearer at court (compare Nehemiah’s influential position) did the same for the king, taking the cup from a servant, testing it, and then handing it to the king. He was thus very exalted, and was chosen because he was seen as totally trustworthy. The title thus indicated a powerful overall position of which the ‘cupbearing’ was but a small part. The title ‘head of rulers’ would more accurately describe what he was.

2 Kings 18:17 tells us that he was accompanied by the Rabsaris (possibly rabu sa resi - ‘chief one who is at the head’) and the Tartan (turtanu - ‘commander in chief’). Such a powerful messenger as the Rabshakeh would not come alone but would also be attended by the chiefest of his officers. That the Rabshakeh took precedence demonstrates how important he was. His presence, and the presence of the other powerful men, also serves to indicate how important the submission of Hezekiah was seen to be.

‘From Lachish.’ That is, from where the siege of Lachish was taking place, or had been recently completed. Lachish was a very large city, and difficult to take. It was surrounded on three sides by the River Lachish, dry in summer but full in winter. But it did eventually succumb and the result of its capture was vividly portrayed in picture form on the walls of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh in commemoration of the event. That also demonstrates that he had failed to capture Jerusalem, the greatest prize of all, for had he done so it would have been that that was displayed.

The city was surrounded by a double wall with towers at intervals. The siege ramp in the south west corner has been identified in excavations and evidence of the siege, including sling stones, arrowheads and fragments of armour have all been found. The excavations demonstrate the tough opposition that Sennacherib faced. Mass burial caves related to the siege have been found nearby.

‘And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the launderer’s field.’ Compare Isaiah 7:3. The comparison is deliberate. It was the same place as the one where the son of David, Ahaz, had rejected God’s offer of deliverance. The implication is that had he accepted God’s offer, no enemy would ever have stood there. But now an enemy did stand there, who was the fruit of Ahaz’s choice. And he would once again give the house of David an opportunity to choose whether to follow Yahweh or not. It is a reminder to the reader that this is the result of Ahaz’s failure. Failure to trust God will always come back to haunt us by its consequences.

Verse 3

‘Then came out to him Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder.’

‘Came out’ signifies that they came out on to the wall to speak to him from it. These names were popular names at the time and the names, though not necessarily the persons, are attested to on seals that have been discovered. For Eliakim see Isaiah 22:20, where we are probably to see the same person. He was the royal chamberlain, acting in the king’s name. Shebna, however is a scribe and probably not the one mentioned in Isaiah 22:15 who was the ‘treasurer’. The recorder (or ‘remembrancer’) would be there to keep a strict record of what was said. The presence of these three powerful men might serve to confirm that there were three important Assyrians waiting to speak to them, ensuring a balancing of the sides.

Verse 4-5

‘And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah. Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this on which you now rely? I say your counsel and strength for war are but vain words. On whom do you trust now that you have rebelled against me?” ’

‘Hezekiah.’ Note the lack of title which expresses extreme disdain. He is being treated as not worthy to be called a king. In deliberate contrast the king of Assyria is called ‘the great king’, (sharu rabu - a recognised royal title). He wants the people of Judah to recognise the contrast. Are they going to trust in this Hezekiah creature or in the Great King?

‘What confidence is this on which you now rely?’ He is questioning the very basis on which Hezekiah’s confidence is placed. It may well be that he is quoting words put together by Sennacherib’s chief advisers.

‘I say your counsel and strength for war are but vain words (‘a word of lips’).’ He recognises all the discussions that will have gone on about purpose, strategy and arms assessment, and the decisions that have been reached, and dismisses them all as ‘vain words’, a ‘word of lips’. That is, they are spoken but carry no power. They were just words. They were a waste of time because whatever they decided will prove useless. It may even be that spies had brought back the details to him of what had happened in those meetings.

‘On whom do you trust now that you have rebelled against me?’ Let them contrast those on whom they are relying with his own great king. Note that he only recognised two possible rivals on whom they might be relying, the Pharaoh of Egypt or their God Yahweh. Hezekiah was dismissed as a possibility. Well, let them consider the facts about them both.

Verse 6

“See, you are trusting on the staff of this bruised reed, even on Egypt, on which if a man leans it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to all who trust in him.”

If they are trusting in Egypt let them consider how unreliable Egypt was. His words about Egypt would have gained Isaiah’s approval. That was just what he thought as well. Egypt was but a battered reed, which if a man used it as his stay, would go into his hand and pierce it. There is here both a reflection on Egypt’s comparative weakness (a bruised reed) and on the fact that she tended to let her allies down (piercing the hand that looked for help). In fact, he says, this is what Pharaoh is like, incapable and unreliable, just as he had proved in the past.

Verse 7

‘But if you say to me, “We trust in Yahweh our God.’ Is not this he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar?” ’

But what if they claimed to trust in Yahweh? This was the second possibility. That they trusted in their God, Yahweh. And it is now that he reveals how efficient the Assyrian intelligence system was. For they had received reports on what Hezekiah had been doing in Judah and Jerusalem, in getting rid of high places and altars and insisting on worship in the one place on the one altar. And to them this suggested an insult to Yahweh. So did Judah really think that Yahweh would support such a king, this destroyer of His sanctuaries?

The Assyrians clearly saw what Hezekiah had done as an anti-Yahweh act, a belittling of Yahweh, for to them the more high places and the more altars and the more images the greater the appreciation of a god. What they did not appreciate was that the religion of Judah was totally different, a unifying religion, meeting at the one sanctuary which was alone valid (like the Tabernacle of old). It was a religion that avoided a proliferation of altars which could result in the introduction of innovations which would mar the purity of their beliefs and religious thought and behaviour, and would really belittle God. For their God was a unique God, the only God, and could not be proliferated.

But he may also well have known the resentment that the reforms had caused, and be playing on the fact in the hearing of the people. ‘And has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar?” ’ This is a phrase guaranteed to stir up any grievance that there was, a dictatorial king demanding acknowledgement only of what he had established, rather than what they loved, the old traditions. He was not to know that that was what Yahweh had told him to do as well.

Verse 8

“Now therefore, I pray you, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able for your part to set two thousand riders on them.”

Now he sought to emphasise Hezekiah’s weakness by further derision. Let them simply compare the size of their cavalry. The verb ‘arab means ‘to pledge’ and the hithpael ‘to pledge oneself’, for example in a wager. The challenge was as to whether Hezekiah could produce two thousand capable horsemen. Then, if he succeeded in doing so, the king of Assyria would give them two thousand horses for them to mount. The purpose of the offered wager was in order to demonstrate both Judah’s poverty with regard to capable manpower in that regard, and also in order to emphasise that they had few horses of their own. That they had no cavalry to speak of. In contrast Assyria for their part could easily spare two thousand horses, and not notice it. The emphasis is on how weak Hezekiah’s cavalry were, comparatively a mere handful, in contrast with the huge Assyrian cavalry which all could see there, eagerly awaiting their opportunity. It was intended to weaken the resolve of the listening people on the wall.

The Rabshakeh’s bad Hebrew, faithfully recorded here, is in fact smoothed out in 2 Kings, confirming that Isaiah is not a copy of that record.

Verse 9

“How can you then turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants? And do you put your trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?”

His contempt is openly expressed. The cavalry position being what it was, how can they hope to turn away even the very lowest of the Assyrian captains? Or perhaps they are looking for cavalry and chariots from Egypt with which to do it? The impression given is, ‘what a hope!’

Verse 10

“And am I now come up without Yahweh against this land to destroy it? It was Yahweh himself who said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.”

But what about trusting in Yahweh? Let them now consider this. It is in fact at the behest of Yahweh that they have come, in order to teach this altar-destroyer a lesson. This may reflect some knowledge of what Isaiah had already been declaring (Isaiah 10:5), but represented as having been said by Yahweh to Sennacherib himself. After all Sennacherib is favoured by all the gods! (In his annals Sennacherib actually gives the credit for his victories to Ashur). Or it may have been speaking of what would be the obvious consequence of Hezekiah’s reforming actions to those who saw things as they saw them.

‘This land.’ 2 Kings has ‘this place’, emphasising more the impact on Jerusalem. But as Isaiah made clear elsewhere, Sennacherib’s invasion of God’s land was one of the things that had aroused His anger (Isaiah 14:25).

Verse 11

‘Then Eliakim and Shebna and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Speak I pray you to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it, and do not speak to us in the Judean language in the ears of the people on the wall.” ’

The three were becoming concerned about the effect on the people of the Rabshakeh’s words, and requested that the Rabshakeh continue in Aramaic, the official international language. There is an implied rebuke here, the suggestion that it was not polite for him to proclaim an official message to Hezekiah in such a public fashion. It should be made in the language of diplomacy. There was also possibly an indication of offence being taken because he seemed to be implying that they could not speak Aramaic.

Verse 12

‘But the 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 who sit on the wall, those who will shortly eat their own excrement and drink their own urine with you?” ’

The Rabshakeh’s reply is that it was in fact to these people that his master wanted to send his message. It was not intended to be an official secret, it was intended to be received by all. Then he points out to the people the straits to which the siege will soon bring them. They will have nothing to eat and drink but their own excrement and urine (‘waters of the feet’). ‘With you.’ It will eventually be true of the leaders too.

There may in all this be an intended contrast, stressing the polite diplomacy of Judah, and the arrogant and crude diplomacy of Assyria. Judah are clearly gentlemen, whereas Assyria are merely bullies.

Verses 13-15

‘Then the Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Judean language, and said, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria, ‘Thus says the king, Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. Nor let Hezekiah make you trust in Yahweh, saying, “Yahweh will surely deliver us, and there will not be a giving of this city into the hand of the king of Assyria.” ’

The Rabshakeh now turns his attention more directly to the people. All pretence is now thrown overboard. Note again the reference to the Great King and the disdainful reference to ‘Hezekiah’. The insult clearly shows that they do not expect Hezekiah to yield (he is not attempting to win him over) and that his words are therefore simply seeking to undermine the confidence and morale of the people. The message is simple. Hezekiah will not be able to deliver them. Nor will Yahweh be able to deliver them.

It is clear that his intelligence sources had informed him that there were voices in the city saying, ‘Trust in Yahweh’, which was, of course, the message of Isaiah. This explains his words here. Let them recognise that such an idea was ridiculous. This latter was his first mistake, which he would shortly develop, for what his intelligence sources had failed to explain to him was the real power of Yahweh, and that Yahweh was the living God.

Note the constant reference to ‘the king of Assyria.’ He wants them to recognise who they are dealing with. What chance do they have against this great and mighty king, the Great King? Notice also the impersonal ‘there will not be a giving’. He does not want their minds to associate the words too directly with Yahweh in case they thought that Yahweh might deliver them. It is a perfect example of balanced diplomacy.

Verse 16

“Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria.”

The contrast is again drawn out. On the one hand this nonentity Hezekiah, on the other the king of Assyria. Whose word are they going to listen to?

Isaiah 36:16

“Make a blessing with me, and come out to me.”

The blessing was a form of greeting, thus he is saying here, ‘Greet me in a welcoming way, and come out and receive me.’ It was a specific offer that if they did so they would be dealt with leniently. Alternately it may mean ‘make a pact with me and thereby receive a blessing’.

Isaiah 36:16

“And eat every man of his own vine, and every one of his own fig tree, and drink everyone the waters of his own cistern.”

Let them but surrender and they will immediately again have access to all their possessions, and food and water in plenty. He is seeking to appeal to their recognition of the hardships of the siege, and to their personal interests. All must have had nightmares about what was happening to their fields and vineyards. And they could have them again as soon as they surrendered.

Verse 17

“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.”

But he is offering a treaty and therefore recognises that he must lay out the terms fairly. If he did not do so it would rebound on the honour of his master, for treaties were treated very strictly. So he now acknowledges that his offer was not strictly true. Many of those listening must rather expect deportation, but he makes it sound as appetising as possible. They need not fear. Even if they are deported they will be taken to a land of plenty (he omits the details of how unpleasant the deporting will be).

As all knew, deportation of important people in the case of rebellious states was Assyrian policy. Its purpose was in order to weaken the leadership (by removing many of them) and to divide the nation, thus making them more amenable. (2 Kings expands on the offer, and includes the offer of ‘life’ instead of death).

Verses 18-20

“Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, ‘Yahweh will deliver us.’ Have any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And have they (i.e. have their gods) delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who are they among all the gods of these countries who have delivered their country out of my hand, that Yahweh should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?”

The Rabshakeh now called on them to consider the experience of all the other nations. This demonstrated quite clearly that no gods could deliver a nation out of the hands of the king of Assyria, for his gods were too powerful. Let them consider Hamath, Arpad and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 18 adds ‘Hena and Ivvah’ compare Isaiah 37:13). And above all let them consider Samaria. Samaria even included Yahweh among their gods (an indictment indeed of their polytheism), and yet they fell. Thus how can Jerusalem expect to be any different? Do they really think that Yahweh on His own is superior to all these gods?

These words were a mistake for two reasons. Firstly because Judah did see their God as different from the gods of the nations and he was therefore by these words stirring latent faith. But secondly because Yahwehwasin fact different, and would react accordingly. It was a direct challenge being laid down to Yahweh.

Hamath was in central Syria and Arpad in northern Syria. Sepharvaim may have been Sibraim in Syria. Thus he is drawing attention to fairly local gods, those of Syria and Israel.

Verse 21-22

‘But they held their peace and did not answer him a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him”.’ Then Eliakim, the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.’

His words were heard in disdainful silence. They returned no answer because Hezekiah had commanded that no reply be given. The matter was not to be decided in front of the people, and time for thought was required. The disdainful silence was also a reply to the insults of the Rabshakeh.

So the three went to Hezekiah bearing the message that they had been given, symbolically tearing their clothes to indicate their mourning over the content of the message. It would also alert the king to the fact that the message they brought was negative. And they told him what had been said.


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Isaiah 36:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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