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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 36

 

 

Verse 1

1. Now it came to pass — The parallel passage in 2 Kings is preceded by a summary account of Hezekiah’s reforms, the extirpation of idolatry in Judah, and the complete apostasy and consequent capture and deportation of the ten tribes of Israel by Shalmanezer of Assyria.

In the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah — Rawlinson (Monarchies, 2:161) asserts a discrepancy of date from the fourteenth (here and in 2 Kings) to the twenty-seventh of the Assyrian Inscriptions. (See SMITH’S Bible Dictionary, art. “Sennacherib.”) But nothing is more common than mistakes found in Scripture numbers; nor, from the cause (generally that of transcription) of such mistakes, is the matter of them very material.

Sennacherib — The son of Sargon, and the second king from Shalmanezer IV. He was among the mightiest of the Assyrian kings. (See George Smith’s Tables in his Assyrian Inscriptions of 1874, according to which Sennacherib reigned from B.C. 705 to 681 — twenty-four years.) He came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them — That is, the numerous cities or villages between Lachish and Jerusalem, on the southwest and west of the latter. For the occasion of this, see the comments of Terry in 2 Kings xviii, 19.


Verse 2

2. Sent Rabshakeh — In 2 Kings 18:17, Tartan and Rabsaris are added. These are not personal, but official, names; Rabshakeh means cupbearer. The Jews have a tradition that he was a renegade, or apostate Jew, as he spoke their language.

With a great army — Probably only a portion of Sennacherib’s army.

By the conduit — The aqueduct of the upper pool — The upper Gihon “pool,” just a little northwest of the present Jaffa gate. [See illustrative map on page 158.] This was the place of conference on the terms of the city’s capitulation to the Assyrian. The highway is still in its old place, passing, as of old, the Gihon pool; and the washing places are also there. Roads in Palestine at present are little better than bridle paths. They have never changed in plan or condition since the Roman occupation of the country.


Verse 3

3. Only the confidential ministers of Hezekiah went out to Rabshakeh at the upper pool. He had been sent from Lachish, a frontier town southwest from Jerusalem, in Judah, in the fruitful hills just above the western plain. A slab from Kouyunjik, now in the British Museum, represents it as a large fortified town. In the case of Shebna, see fulfilment of Isaiah 22:19.


Verse 4

4. The great king — Sennacherib was so called because he had under him subordinate kings or provinces. Notice Rabshakeh’s affected contempt of Hezekiah in withholding his title as king. What hast thou, a pretended king, to confide in? But he puts a royal swell upon thinking of Assyria.


Verse 5

5. And the contempt is kept up through several verses. Instead of the interpretation given in italicized words in this verse, a better meaning of the original is this: “I, Rabshakeh, say, A mere word of lips [foolish talk] is your counsel and strength for the war which you are vainly urging upon your armed men and followers.” The speaker feigns that this counsel and strength is what Egypt has promised.


Verse 6

6. And he in effect continues: “What height of folly in you to trust in this broken reed, Egypt. Leaning on such a staff is only to be pierced by it. Pharaoh has ever proved false to those who have depended on him. He is a reed staff that first pierces, then breaks. His first essays of resistance are daring and sharp, but they soon yield in very weakness.” This may have been conceived by this Assyrian leader as about to follow in the invasion soon to be made upon Egypt by Sennacherib.


Verse 7

7. The tantalizer turns now to the claim of a religious reformation on the part of Hezekiah. You trust in Jehovah, you say. But you have taken away his altars and high places, and restricted worship to Jerusalem, thus plundering the people of their broad privileges and liberal religion. The heathenish address is crafty, for it was spoken in Hebrew, and was intended for the people, listening in great crowds from the walls near at hand.


Verse 8

8. “Now try your hand,” continues Rabshakeh.

Give pledges — Hostages, securities, to the great king, for two thousand horses, if indeed you can mount such a wonderful number. A contemptuous comparison, yet of keen edge, because cavalry was not an arm the Jews could boast of. The sense of the phrase “give pledges,” is, to make an engagement with, strong and well secured.


Verse 9

9. How… turn away… one captain — How will you, even then, figure in a hand to hand fight with the least one of my satraps or small governors? Which do you think would first take flight?

And put thy trust on Egypt — Can Egypt come to you with any more glorious rescue with her cavalry?


Verse 10

10. Am I now come up without the Lord — The adroitness of Rabshakeh’s speech is still manifest. It is to terrify the outside hearers on the walls. To disaffect them, and the whole population of Jerusalem through them, is his entire drift. His last dodge is a religious one. He claims a commission for Sennacherib from Jehovah, the Jews’ own deity, to sack and destroy, and thus aims to incite the people to revolt and surrender. Except the better class of Jews, who held to pure Monotheism, all the nations at this time held to the divinity of each other’s national gods, which explains Rabshakeh’s claim of Jehovah’s support.


Verses 11-13

11-13. Then said Elliakim… Shebna… Joah — The alarm of Hezekiah’s officers is now aroused, and they are thrown off their guard. It is singular that they had not seen the trick before. They could understand Aramaic, the language of Rabshakeh, which the hearers on the wall could not. Possibly this dialect was the court language, as the surrounding civil relations required a common language for diplomatic intercourse.

Hath my master sent me to thy master — The suspected intent is now avowed, and Rabshakeh demonstrates his sole interest with the people by straightening up and speaking louder, after having pictured to them the disgusting results of a prospective siege and famine. The repeated use of the king’s name — the great king, the king of Assyria — shows to the people his own ambassadorship, and they realize a direct authority in his words. But Hezekiah is contemptuously never mentioned as king. The aim is to inspire in the people a like contempt. In the person of Rabshakeh “the great king” speaks now.


Verses 14-18

14-18. Special pleading begins here against Hezekiah’s influence; also, so far forth, against the people’s fealty to Jehovah. Striking down one makes both to fall.

Make an agreement — He calls upon them to come to pleasant terms with him, to make a blessing, probably a mutual blessing; (so the original;) that is, to leave Hezekiah, ignore his assurances of divine aid and deliverance from the great king’s power, choose sustenance from figs and oil and wine and wholesome water, outside the walls, rather than the revolting extremities of a siege and famine inside. Prepare also to go to a similar land of plenty beyond the great river Euphrates. Until I come, means his return from conquering Egypt. He is now at Lachish, subduing that outpost and others lying in the way of his advance upon Egypt. His confidence that he can break Egypt to pieces, like the reeds of her river banks, seems now as strong as his purpose to do so. This accomplished, his purpose is to overthrow the government at Jerusalem and to transport the people, as Israel had been, to Assyria. This device of Rabshakeh is apparently to reconcile the Jews toward this probable result.


Verse 19

19. Where are the gods — Rabshakeh had, in the previous verse, appealed to his success as to the petty northern nations. Their gods failed them, so will Jehovah, the Jews’ deity, fail them. For Hamath, Arphad, and Sepharvaim, see notes in Isaiah 10:9. The defeat of Samaria is another argument.


Verses 20-22

20-22. Rabshakeh continues his impious, Jehovah-defying argument, but to no avail. They, the Jews, held their peace, according to the instruction of their king Hezekiah. Rabshakeh’s eloquence was spent in vain. The God-fearing Hezekiah had succeeded well in his reformation of the masses.

A few worldly or false ones at court had not reformed, and they doubtless had caused the king to fall in with their temporizing policy of securing a promise of help from Egypt. It is fair to believe, with Delitzsch, that the commissioners, on Rabshakeh’s turning to the people on the wall, retired at once to Hezekiah, rending their clothes in grief at the disgrace they had experienced.

The second attempt of the Assyrians to force the surrender of Jerusalem begins at Isaiah 37:8, and closes the chapter.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 36:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/isaiah-36.html. 1874-1909.

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