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Sennacherib Threatens Jerusalem
In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. 2The king of Assyria sent the Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem, with a great army. He stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. 3And there came out to him Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder.
4 The Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah: Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you base this confidence of yours? 5Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? On whom do you now rely, that you have rebelled against me? 6See, you are relying on Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of anyone who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. 7But if you say to me, ‘We rely on the Lord our God,’ is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar’? 8Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 9How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The Lord said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.”
11 Then Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12But the Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the people sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and drink their own urine?”
13 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! 14Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you. 15Do not let Hezekiah make you rely on the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 16Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat from your own vine and your own fig tree and drink water from your own cistern, 17until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18Do not let Hezekiah mislead you by saying, The Lord will save us. Has any of the gods of the nations saved their land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 19Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 20Who among all the gods of these countries have saved their countries out of my hand, that the Lord should save Jerusalem out of my hand?’ ”
21 But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 22Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn, and told him the words of the Rabshakeh.
1. It happened in the fourteenth year. In this and the following chapter the Prophet relates a remarkable history, which may be regarded as the seal of his doctrine, in which he predicted the calamities that would befall his nation, and at the same time promised that God would be merciful to them, and would drive back the Assyrians and defend Jerusalem and the Holy Land. What had already been accomplished made it evident that he had not spoken in vain; but God intended that it should also be testified to posterity. Yet to the men of that age it was not less advantageous that such a record should be preserved. He had often threatened that the vengeance of God was near at hand, and that the Assyrians were ready at his bidding to be employed by him as scourges; and st the same time he promised that he would assist Jerusalem even when matters were come to the worst. Both were accomplished, and the greater part of the nation passed by, as with closed eyes, those evident judgments of God, and not less basely despised the assistance which was offered to them. So much the more inexcusable was their gross stupidity.
But to the small number of believers it was advantageous to perceive such illustrious proofs of the hand of God, that greater credit might afterwards be given to Isaiah. The Prophet also might pursue his course more ardently and with unshaken firmness, since God had given so splendid an attestation of his doctrine from heaven. And because the truth of God scarcely obtains from us the honor due to it, unless it be supported by strong proofs, God has provided not less largely for our weakness, that we may perceive as in a mirror that the power of God accompanied the words of Isaiah, and that what he taught on earth was confirmed from heaven. More especially has calling was manifestly sealed, when God delivered Jerusalem from the grievous siege of Sennacherib, and when no hope of safety remained; so that believers saw that they had been rescued from the jaws of death by the hand of God alone. For this reason I have said that it was a seal to authenticate the prophecies which might otherwise have been called in question.
In the fourteenth year. Not without reason does he specify the time when these things happened; for at that time Hezekiah had restored the worship of God throughout the whole of his dominions, (2 Kings 18:4;) and, not satisfied with this, sent messengers in various directions to invite the Israelites to come with speed from every place to Jerusalem, to offer sacrifices, and, after long disunion, again to unite in holy harmony of faith, and to worship God according to the injunctions of the Law. While such was the condition of the kingdom that superstitions were removed and the Temple cleansed, and thus the true worship of God was restored, Judea is invaded by the king of Assyria, fields are pillaged, cities are taken, and the whole country is subject to his authority. Jerusalem alone, with a few inhabitants, is left; and in that city Hezekiah was shut up as in a prison.
We must now consider what thoughts might occur to the pious king and to other persons; for if we judge of this calamity according to the perception of the flesh, we shall think that God was unjust in permitting his servant to be reduced to such extremities, whose piety seemed to deserve that the Lord would preserve him in safety and free from all molestation, since his whole desire was to maintain the true worship of God. This was no small trial of the faith of Hezekiah, and ought to be continually placed before our eyes, when we are subjected to the same temptations. The Lord did not punish Hezekiah for carelessness, pleasures, or luxury, and much less for superstitions, or unholy contempt of the Law; for as soon as he began to reign, he labored with the utmost zeal and carefulness and industry to restore the purity of religion. God therefore intended to try his faith and patience.
2. Then the king of Assyria Rent Rabshakeh. The order of the narrative may here have been altered; for he had formerly said that Sennacherib had taken all the cities of Judea, and now he says that he sent Rabshakeh 2828 “The Hebrew doctors will have it that this Rabshakeh was an apostate Jew, and Procopius is of the same opinion, which is not altogether improbable, both because he could speak readily in the Hebrew tongue, and when he blasphemed the Divine Majesty, the king and nobles rent their clothes, which was not usual unless he that uttered such blasphemous words was an Israelite. Some think his name imports that he was the principal cupbearer to the king of Assyria, who assumed to himself the title of the Great King, because of his great conquests and large dominions.” — White. from Lachish, implying that he was besieging it, and consequently he had not yet stormed them all. But it ought to be observed that historical connection is frequently disturbed, and that what was first in the order of time, comes last in the narrative. Besides, the Scriptures frequently make use of a figure of speech in which a part is taken for the whole, and by which it might be said that all the cities were taken, because those which had been left were few, and Hezekiah had no means of intercourse with them. It appeared, therefore, that the king of Assyria had brought the whole of Judea under his dominion, because nearly all that remained was Jerusalem alone, in which Hezekiah was shut up.
This history is more fully related in the Books of Kings, where it is shewn how eager for peace Hezekiah was; for he labored to obtain it on any terms. He had delivered up “three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold,” which that tyrant had demanded; and he found it necessary to seize the vessels of the Temple, and the golden plates which had been attached to its doors, to make up that sum, because his treasury was exhausted. (2 Kings 18:14.) But as such gulfs are insatiable, when he had received that money, he next demanded more, and sought to enforce harder conditions. This was done partly, in order to provoke and torment Hezekiah, (for, having once abused the ready compliance of the pious king, he thought that he would obtain anything,) and partly because he sought an occasion of renewing the war. Yet it ought to be observed that the people were justly punished for their iniquities, as had been foretold; for although true religion flourished as to external worship, yet their life was not changed for the better, and their wickedness was not removed, nor was the inward pollution cleansed from their hearts. Accordingly, because the people did not repent, it was necessary that their obstinate depravity should be severely chastised. But because the measure of their iniquities was not yet full, God abated the fierceness of his anger, and suddenly, when matters were desperate, brought such assistance as could not have been believed.
3. And Eliakim went to him. Eliakim was formerly mentioned. It was he to whom the Lord promised that he would give him the chief power in the kingdom after the banishment of Shebna. (Isaiah 22:20.) It now appears as if that promise had failed, when he is sent to an enemy as a suppliant, and as one who is about to surrender himself and his companions, and to undergo cruel tyranny. This might also fill the hearts of believers with anxiety, and lead them to doubt the promises of God. Besides, the godly king had such a scarcity of good men, that, along with Eliakim, he was compelled to send Shebna, whom he knew well to be deceitful and treacherous.
ספר (sopher) means scribe; and accordingly it often denotes learned men or doctors, and sometimes those who took charge of writings and those who had the custody of the royal records. I have translated it chancellor, for unquestionably it does not relate to legal skill; and we may infer that this Shebna held a high rank, though he had been deprived of his office as governor. מזכיר(mazkir) denotes a secretary or recorder.
4. Say now to Hezekiah. He relates that the three ambassadors, though they were attended by all the magnificence that yet remained in the kingdom, were not only repulsed, but disdainfully treated by the tyrant’s delegate, and loaded with disgraceful reproaches; for, as if Hezekiah had been convicted of wicked revolt, Rabshakeh asks how he had dared to rebel. The particle נא (na) is supposed by some to denote entreaty, and is rendered by them I pray; but it would be unsuitable to a proud and insolent man to entreat in this manner. He speaks in the ordinary language of those who lay conditions on the vanquished, or on those who are overwhelmed with fear, whom they wish to compel to make an unconditional surrender, or, as we commonly say, (sommer) to summon.
Thus saith the great king. In order to give greater validity to the summons, that general speaks in the name of his king, whose greatness he extols to the skies, in order to terrify Hezekiah, when he learns that he has to do with a king of such vast resources. He does not only mean that the first monarch in the world was far superior to Hezekiah, who in comparison of him was but a petty prince; but he calls the king of Assyria great, because by his power he eclipsed all others, so that he stood alone in his lofty rank. By these thunderbolts of words Hezekiah might have been overthrown and subdued, especially since he was so far from being able to resist the power of that tyrant that he was shut up in the city and unable to move out of it.
5. I have said (only a word of the lips.) In the sacred history (2 Kings 18:20) the word employed is, Thou hast said This may be explained as a declaration what kind of courage Rabshakeh thinks that Hezekiah possesses; as if he had said, “Such are thy deliberations.” In this passage the use of the first person, “I have said,” does not alter the sense; because Rabshakeh, as if he had examined the counsels of Hezekiah and fully understood them all, ironically reproaches him; “I see what thou art thinking, but they are words of the lips.” This passage is explained in various ways. Some interpret it, “Thou sayest, that thou hast not merely words of the lips,” that is, “Thou boastest that thou excellest not only in the use of words, but likewise in courage and wisdom.” Others interpret it, “Thou hast words indeed, but wisdom and courage are necessary in war.”
Some think that by “words” are meant “prayers.” I do not approve of that exposition; for it is excessively farfetched and unnatural, and therefore I view it thus: “Hezekiah has words of lips, that is, he employs a beautiful and elegant style, to keep the people in the discharge of their duty, or, as we commonly say, He has fine speeches; 2929 Il a de belles paroles. but it is not by these that war can be begun or carried on.” He therefore means, that he perfectly understands what Hezekiah is doing, and what it is on which he places his chief reliance, namely, on words and eloquence; 3030 “Assavoir, sur belles paroles.” “Namely, on fine speeches.” but these are of no use for war, in which wisdom and courage are needed. It might also be appropriately viewed as relating to the Egyptians, as if he had said that Hezekiah acts foolishly in allowing himself to be cheated by empty promises; and undoubtedly the Egyptians were liberal in promising mountains of gold, though they gave nothing in reality. But as we shall find that he speaks of the Egyptians, soon afterwards, in a particular manner, I have no doubt that here he ridicules Hezekiah, as if he fed the expectation of the people by empty boasting, while he was not provided with military preparations.
6. Behold, thou hast trusted in, that broken staff of reed. This is probably separate from the former verse; for, having formerly said that the eloquence by which he flatters the people is all that Hezekiah possesses, and having inferred from this that his confidence is exceedingly foolish, he now comes to other particulars. He employs every method for shaking the hearts of the people, that all, being stunned, may absolutely surrender. Accordingly, after having represented Hezekiah to be contemptible as to his internal resources, he next adds, that the external resources are idle and useless, and says that they are greatly mistaken in expecting any assistance whatever from the Egyptians.
And, first, he compares the Egyptians to “a staff of reed” on account of their weakness; secondly, for the sake of amplification he calls them “a broken staff;” thirdly, he says that it is so far from supporting that it pierces the hands that lean upon it. The meaning may be thus summed up, “the hope which the Jews entertain of receiving aid from the Egyptians is not only false and unfounded, but pernicious.” And indeed with truth might Rabshakeh have said this, if it had been true that Hezekiah relied on the Egyptians; but he slanderously and falsely accuses the pious king of this vain confidence Yet God justly rewarded a rebellious and disobedient people by allowing this filthy dog to reproach them with their wicked revolt. Isaiah had formerly (Isaiah 30:1, and 31:1, 6) condemned this crime in severe terms, but their deaf ears refused to admit the reproof; and therefore the Jews, who had wickedly despised a Prophet that spoke to them in the name of God, deserved to have Rabshakeh for their instructor.
We are therefore warned by this example, that there is no reason to wonder if unbelievers, who do not obey the counsel of God for their salvation, and reject all prophecies, are subjeered to the jeers of their enemies, as Rabshakeh, the captain of the Assyrian king, now haughtily taunts the rebellious Jews. Yet it is of importance to consider how great a difference there is between the warnings of God and the mockeries of Satan. When God wishes to dissuade us from sinful confidence in the flesh, he declares in general terms, “Cursed be he that trusteth in man,” (Jeremiah 17:5.) that the whole world may be reduced to nothing, and that thus we may be satisfied with himself alone; and therefore, when he has brought us low, he instantly imparts courage to us by holding out a remedy. But when Satan deceitfully blames any vain hope, he drives us to despair, and urges us to many other hopes equally bad or still worse, and tempts us to adopt unlawful methods; as Rabshakeh does not smite the hope which the Jews entertained from the Egyptians, in order that they may rely on God alone, but substitutes the king of Assyria, as if safety ought not to be expected from any other quarter, tie names Pharaoh, but likewise includes the whole nation.
7. And if thou shalt say to me. Rabshakeh employs an argument which consists of three parts. Either Hezekiah thinks that he has sufficient strength to resist, or he expects assistance from Egypt, or he trusts in God. If he trusts in himself, he is mistaken; for what is he when compared to my king? As to Egypt, it will render him no assistance, but on the contrary will inflict serious damage. It remains therefore that he expects some assistance from God. But he has thrown down his altars and curtailed his worship; will he not rather be punished on that account? In short, this Rabshakeh takes away from the pious king all assistance, both divine and human.
By this slander Satan attempted not only to wound the heart of the king, that it might sink under the weight, of affliction, but to make an impression on the light and fickle multitude; because hitherto in the hearts of many there remained an attachment to superstition, and there was a strong tendency to fall back into this imposture, because the religion which was ancient, and to which they were long accustomed, had been changed, and, in their opinion, 3131 “A leur advis.” Hezekiah was about to be chastised for his own rashness. In like manner, the Papists in the present day, whenever any adverse event befalls us, maintain that we are punished by God, because we have ventured to set aside ancient ceremonies. 3232 “Pource que nous avons ose abolir les traditions et ceremonies qui estoyent en usage de long temps.” “Because we ventured to abolish the traditions and ceremonies which had been long used.”
8. Now come, give a hostage.
“Now therefore give pledges or hostages.” — Eng. Ver.
He concludes that there will be nothing better for Hezekiah than to lay aside the intention of carrying on war, to surrender himself, and to promise constant obedience to the king of Assyria. To persuade him the more, Rabshakeh again reproaches him with his poverty. “If I shall give thee two thousand horses, thou wilt not find among all thy people men to ride on them. What then is thy strength; or with
what confidence dost thou dare to oppose my king?” He does not offer him horses for the sake of respect or of kindness, but in order to terrify and shake still more the heart of Hezekiah. The future tense ought therefore to be explained by the subjunctive mood, “Although I give thee two thousand horses, yet thou wilt not find an equal number of riders.” I am aware of what is alleged by other commentators; but whoever examines the matter fully
will quickly perceive that this is ironical language.
“He seems to challenge him to come out and fight with his master, and if he would give security to make that use of them, he would furnish him with two thousand horses, provided he was able to find so many men to set upon them, which are words of the highest contempt and undervaluing of his power; or the meaning may he, he would lay a wager with him he could not find men to sit on so many horses, for few were good horsemen in Judea, where horses
were scarce.” — White.
“He taunts Hezekiah on account of the want of cavalry. These words do not refer to the small number of men, but to the very small number of Jews who were skilled in horsemanship; for after Jotham the kings of Judea did not maintain any cavalry, and hence we have already seen (Isaiah 30, 31.) that a part of the Jews sought cavalry from the Egyptians.” — Rosenmuller.
9. And how dost thou despise? 3535 “How then wilt thou turn away?” — Eng. Ver. He confirms the preceding statement, and shews that ttezekiah is so far from being able to endure the presence of his king, that he ought not to be compared to the very smallest of his captains. In this insolent manner does he taunt him, that the Jews may not derive courage from the absence of Sennacherib, who was still detained by the siege of Lachish. Although, therefore, Sennacherib does not yet appear before them with his whole army, Rabshakeh boasts that his lieutenants are sufficiently powerful, so that Hezekiah ought not to hesitate to make submission.
10. And now have I come up without Jehovah? He now attacks Hezekiah in another manner, by telling him that it will serve no purpose to assemble his forces and to make other warlike preparations. For he alleges that Hezekiah has not to do or to contend with a mortal man, but with God himself, at whose suggestion, and not at his own, he camo hither to destroy the country; and therefore that they who oppose him will fight against God, and consequently all their efforts will be fruitless.
Hence we ought to learn that however earnestly we may be devoted to godliness, and however faithfully we may labor to advance the kingdom of Christ, still we must not expect to be free from every annoyance, but ought rather to be prepared for enduring very heavy afflictions. The Lord does not always recompense our piety by earthly rewards; and indeed it would be an exceedingly unsuitable recompense that we should possess abundant wealth and enjoy outward peace, and that everything should proceed to our wish; for the world reckons even wicked men to be happy on this ground, that they do not endure bad health or adversity, and are free from the pressure of poverty, and have nothing to disturb them. In this respect our condition would not differ at all from that of the reprobate.
This example of Hezekiah, who labored with all his might to restore religion and the true worship of God, and yet endured calamities so heavy and violent that he was not far from despair, ought to be constantly placed before our eyes, in order that, when we shall think float we have discharged our duty, we may nevertheless be prepared to endure conflicts and troubles of every kind, and may not be disturbed if enemies gain an advantage at the first onset, as if all at once they would swallow us up. Those proud and haughty minds will quickly fall, when the first ardor has boiled over and spent its foam, and their eagerness and pride will speedily disappear Rabshakeh boasted of the greatness and power of his king, in order to terrify Hezekiah. Such is the manner in which wicked men act towards us. By threatening words they attack us, and by various terrors they try our patience, or rather through their agency Satan labors, whom we plainly see speaking by the mouth of Rabshakeh. Nay, Satan assumes the character of God himself, and “is transformed into an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14.) Thus also the Spirit of God himself declares, that the strength of man is frail and fading, and that every one who leans on it seeks his own destruction. (Jeremiah 17:5.) Rabshakeh says the same thing, and discourses as if he were discharging the prophetical office by the command of God.
We ought therefore to distinguish wisely when God speaks, and when, on the other hand, his name is falsely assumed by men; for Satan resorts to various artifices to make himself appear to be like God. All these reproaches were unjustly, as we have said, brought by Rabshakeh against Hezekiah, who did not place his hope in his own strength, and did not vaunt himself through reliance on the Egyptians; but godly men, even when they do well, must be exposed to evil reports. By these stratagems Satan attacks our faith, and unjustly slanders us among men. This temptation is highly dangerous, for we are desirous that our integrity should be well known; and when we are well disposed, we take it ill if other men put a different interpretation on our conduct. Thus Satan endearours by slander to overturn all that has been done out of a good conscience, or accuses us of something with which we are not at all chargeable, or loads us with unfounded slanders, or contrives what never came into our mind; but an upright conscience ought to be like a brazen wall to us, that, imitating the example of Hezekiah, we may stand unshaken against such accusations and slanders.
So far as relates to the last clause, in which Rabshakeh reproaches him with having overturned the worship of God, 3636 Our author refers to the charges contained in the 7th verse of this chapter. — Ed. every person must plainly see how slanderous is that charge; for Hezekiah had taken away false gods and superstitious 3737 “Les idols et l’idolatrie.” “Idols and idolatry.” worship, which God abhors. (2 Kings 18:4.) But we need not wonder that wicked men cannot distinguish between the true God and the false, between superstition, and religion. And the same thing is practiced amongst us every day; for the Papists, who are delighted with nothing but their own superstitions, accuse us of having taken away innumerable inventions of men, and complain that we have impaired and almost abolished the worship of God. They taunt us also in the same manner as that Rabshakeh, “Would God assist those who have taken away his worship, profaned the holy temples, and everything that was established in that beautiful order?” The reason is, that in Popery everything had a dazzling appearance, and drew the admiration of men; while we retain no ceremonies but those which are plain and simple, and free from all pageantry, and therefore they think that we have taken away the worship of God, which they estimate by outward appearances. If any adverse event befalls us, they exclaim that it; is richly deserved, that all the blame attaches to us, that the whole world is punished for our ungodliness, and if we ourselves suffer any calamity they taunt us still more.
Yet with resolute faith we must stand out against such ungodly speeches, by shewing that what they call the worship of God is not his worship, but that we have taken away, and have justly taken away, mere trifles, and that all the contrivances of men do not belong to the worship of God, but are delusions of Satan, and that nothing is more destructive. We must therefore stand out with unshaken faith against reproaches of every kind, by which Satan endeavors to throw a shade over the practice of godliness. At first sight it appears to be shameful that he overthrew many altars and left but one, that he profaned many temples that one might remain. (2 Kings 18:4.) But Hezekiah was fully acquitted by this single defense, that he undertook nothing but by the word of God; and therefore that he was satisfied with a single altar, because God had forbidden him to erect more, and that he had thrown down all images, because they had been unlawfully set up in opposition to the instructions of the Law. (Exodus 20:4.) We have the same dispute with the Papists in the present day, because they blame us on no other ground than that we have set aside a huge mass of ceremonies, and retain only what God has enjoined. In such cases, however, we must not argue about what pleases men, but what is approved by God.
11. Then said Eliakim. This circumstance again shews how deeply Hezekiah was depressed, when by his ambassador he entreats so humbly the servant of his enemy. It shews also with what pride Rabshakeh was puffed up, when he rejected so insolently all entreaties; and the refusal was the more shameful, because what was requested was not of great value. From these matters we learn that it was not owing to Hezekiah that he did not pacify the rage of the enemy; for forgetful almost of his royal rank, Hezekiah endearours with all possible modesty to soothe him. If at any time we happen to be oppressed by unjust violence, let us not be ashamed to yield up our rights and to supplicate with humility. Now, when Hezekiah was so submissive, because he saw that he was unable to resist the king of Assyria, this tends powerfully to magnify the glory of God in preserving a nation which was nearly ruined. For that deliverance would have been less remarkable, if they had been rescued only from an ordinary danger; but when they were not far from destruction, so much the more manifest is the hand of God, who by an extraordinary miracle subdued and ruined an enemy that had already set his feet on their neck. (2 Kings 19:31.)
Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language. 3838 “In Aramean. This request implies an apprehension of the bad effect of his address upon the multitude. Aramean corresponds very nearly to Syrian in latitude of meaning; but the language meant is not what we call Syriac, but an older form, which was probably current, as the French is now, at the courts and among the educated classes of an extensive region. Jewish is Hebrew, so called by the Jews, as the language of the whole British empire is called English, or as German is sometimes called Saxon.” — Alexander. They request that he will not speak in this manner in the presence of the people; because it is difficult to restrain a people naturally giddy and fickle, for they are easily moved, and tremble at the smallest alarm. 3939 “I suppose Eliakim perceived the people to be frightened with big words, and therefore entreated him in the name of the other commissioners sent to treat with him, to speak no longer in the Jews’ language, but in his own; for he was not sent to treat with the people, but with them who understood the Syrian tongue very well.” — White. They would have wished that Rabshakeh should not speak to them in the Jewish language, because they were desirous to enter into any moderate terms of peace. For that good king tried every method of allaying the rage of that tyrant, but without any success. 4040 “Mais c’estoit temps perdu.” “But it was time thrown away.” These ambassadors therefore gain nothing from Rabshakeh; when he is entreated, he grows worse, and (as is usually the case with haughty men) becomes moro insolent.
12. And Rabshakeh said. Hence we see the fierceness and insolence of the enemy, and hence also it is evident that Hezekiah’s kingdom was on the brink of ruin; for here Rabshakeh speaks like a conqueror, and does not address Hezekiah as a king, but as if he had been his slave. When therefore we see Rabshakeh swelled with so much pride, we ought at the same time to recollect that Hezekiah was entirely overwhelmed and destitute of all confidence, so that he was looked upon as ruined. Hence we also infer that Rabshakeh was not sent for the purpose of offering any conditions of peace, but rather to obtain an unconditional surrender, and to strike the people with alarm; for Sennacherib had sent him for this purpose with a powerful army. Hence also he boasts that he has nothing to do with the king, that he addresses the people for their advantage, and, in order to terrify them still more, mentions the distress and calamities into which they will throw themselves if they choose to obey Hezekiah; that they will perish through hunger, and will be compelled to eat and drink what is revolting; and therefore, that their wisest course will be to surrender in good time, and to provide for their safety.
13. Therefore Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jewish language. The Prophet shews by what expedients Rabshakeh endeavored to shake the heart of the people, and first relates that he spoke in the Jewish language, though the ambassadors entreared him not to do so. It was, indeed, exceedingly shocking that the holy language, which had been consecrated to the mysteries of heavenly wisdom, was profaned and prostituted to wicked blasphemies; and this must undoubtedly have been a sore temptation to weak minds. But this should lead us to remark, that no enemies are more destructive than those who speak the same language as ourselves. At the present day we find this to be true in many who learn our language, that is, our way of speaking, that they may be able to insinuate themselves into the ears of weak and ignorant persons, so as to draw them aside from the true faith. Thirty years ago, the Papists had a language which was barbarous and totally at variance with the style of the Holy Spirit; scarcely were they heard to utter a word which breathed of Christian piety; but now they have succeeded in acquiring such skill as to know how to cloak their impieties under the ordinary language of Scripture, as if they were speaking in a Christian manner. Thus we see that it was Satan who framed that style; for he is their teacher and instructor as truly as he formerly was the teacher and instructor of Rabshakeh.
When the Prophet says that he stood, he expresses the fierceness and insolence of the wicked man; for the very attitude shews how haughtily he conducted himself. Formerly he stood, but now he placed himself in such an attitude as to be better seen, and strike greater terror into the Jews.
Hear the words of the great king. Having already spoken of the greatness of his king, he repeats his commands. It is customary with Satan to exaggerate in words the power of the enemies, and to represent the dangers as greater than they really are, in order to compel us to lose courage; for when our eyes are dazzled by the vain splendor of earthly objects, we faint. We ought therefore to contrast the power of God with all dangers; and if we have that power constantly placed before our eyes, there is nothing that can do us injury. With high disdain and great insolence the enemies will boast of their greatness and strength, and, on the other hand, will meek at our feebleness and our small numbers; but if the Lord is with us, we have nothing to fear.
14. Thus saith the king. While he claims for his master the name of king, he speaks of Hezekiah as a private individual, without adding any title.
Let not Hezekiah impose upon you. He goes on to utter impudent calumnies against him, and at the same time vomits out his venom against God himself; for he calls it “imposture” and “deception” for Hezekiah to rely on his favor, and to exhort his subjects to cherish the same confidence. But with similar calumnies are we now assailed by the Papists, who say that we bewitch the minds of men and lead them to destruction, and who have no pretext for saying so, except that we teach them that they ought to hope in the true God. But we have no reason to wonder that the same things which were spoken against the good king are likewise brought forward against us, since they proceed from the same inventor and teacher of slander, Satan.
For he will not be able to deliver you. Rabshakeh’s assertion, that they cannot be delivered by the hand of Hezekiah, is indeed true, unless God assist; and Hezekiah did not lay claim to this or rob God of the honor due to him, but, on the contrary, testified that his own safety and that of the people were in the hand of God. But the enemy found it necessary to employ some pretext, as wicked men commonly do at the present day, when they slander our doctrine; for they employ pretexts which give high plausibility to what they say, and which actually deceive men, when they are not closely examined.
15. And let not Hezekiah make you trust in Jehovah. He quotes the exhortation by which Hezekiah encouraged the people, and speaks lightly of it as an idle and unfounded speech. Hence we see plainly that wicked men, though they assert the power of God, treat it with contempt; for although he does not openly deny that God can assist, if he choose, yet, by sapping the foundations of their faith, he does all that he can to reduce the power of God to nothing. His intention is, to discourage the hearts of the people in such a manner that they may be constrained, as if in despair, to submit and receive laws from a victorious tyrant.
But in order to destroy their confidence in the assistance of God, he employs also another expedient, by flattering their hearts with the allurements of a more comfortable life; for there is nothing to which we are more prone than to revolt from God, when we are drawn away by the appearance of advantage. If the world flatter and caress, the hope of eternal salvation quickly passes away; for our senses are always fixed on the present state of things. Fortified by this resource, Rabshakeh advises, “Do not depend on an uncertain hope, but rather receive what is certain.” And this discourse is powerfully fitted to persuade; for nothing is more agreeable to men than to have in hand what they consider to be desirable; and they are so impatient of delay that they prefer an immediate advantage to what is very distant. Rabshakeh, therefore, reasons thus: “Hezekiah promises to you the assistance of God, but we do not see it; he holds you in suspense about what is uncertain; but my king proraises to you those things which are at hand, and will assuredly bestow them.” This might appear to be a strong argument; but we must observe the sophistry; for by the same stratagem does Satan frequently attack us, and lead us aside from confidence in God.
The Lord calls us to the hope of eternal life; that hope is concealed, “for we hope (Romans 8:25) for what we do not see;” he promises that he will be our deliverer, and yet allows us to languish and hint.; so that it appears that our hope is vain, if we look at the present condition of things. On this ground Satan attacks us. “Why dost thou hope in vain? What is the fruit of thy faith? What dost thou expect beyond the world?” In short, this is our daily lamentation. When Christ calls us to heaven, Satan endeavors to keep us still on the earth; and therefore we must adhere firmly to the promises, that, “hoping against hope,” (Romans 4:18,) we may trust in God, and not suffer ourselves to be drawn away from him by any allurements.
16. Do not listen to Hezekiah. While he labors to turn away the hearts of the people from Hezekiah, he at the same time invites them to pleasures, that they may forget God and not expect anything from him. It is as if he had said, “Do not believe God, but rather believe my king.” Thus Satan deals with us; for, darkening the goodness of God by his clouds, and holding out to us the masks of false hope, he secretly and indirectly creeps into the place of God, or employs creatures to entangle us in his nets. He holds out pleasures, and some kind of more agreeable life, with this boast, “God shews it to you at a distance, I present it to you.”
Though Hezekiah is mentioned, yet the comparison is actually made between God and the king of Assyria; for Hezekiah, as he was the servant of God, made no false pretensions, and did not boast of any vain confidence, but, relying on true and most certain promises, faithfully exhorted the people to seek God; but Rabshakeh adorned his king by robbing God, and yet was the servant of Satan, to withdraw the people from confidence in God to all impiety.
Make with me a blessing. 4141 “Make [an agreement] with me [by] a present, or seek my favor by a present. — Hebrews Make with me a blessing. — Eng. Ver. εἰ βούλεσθε σὐλογηθὢναι “if you wish to be blessed.” — Sept. “Come out to me for the sake of peace, and bless me, and bring me a peace-offering.” — Jarchi. ברכה (berachah,) blessing is here figuratively used for peace; for since blessings commonly ran in this form, Peace to thee, to you, it appears that peace was called blessing. The Chaldee interpreter has therefore rendered it correctly, — עבדו עמי שלמא, (guabdu gnimmi shalma,) make peace with me.” — Rosenmuller. “To make a blessing” is to conduct themselves in a friendly manner; as if he had said, “Do not give any hostile indication, or risk a battle. Surrender, make your submission to my king.” Sennacherib does not merely demand that he shall be heard, but likewise that the people shall swear allegiance to hint; and, in order to allure them to him the more powerfully, he makes use of the word blessing as a cloak to that bondage which was in itself hateful. He bids them purchase a quiet life, and other conveniencies which they formerly enjoyed, by that miserable revolt; that is, by forsaking Hezekiah and going out to him; for to revolt from a pious king, whom God had appointed, and who was a type of Christ, was more wretched and miserable than anything else that could befall them, and could not take place without denying God himself, who had set up in Judea that token of heavenly favor.
17. Till I come and take you away. He now adds another condition far harder than the former; for he declares that peace cannot be made with Sennacherib in any other way than by the people going into banishment. This was nothing else than to abandon the worship of God and degenerate into superstition, and voluntarily to quit the inheritance which God had given them. But because he addresses a people whose distressed condition and extreme danger had struck them with terror, he insolently commands them to save their lives.
Into a land of corn and wine. Here we see more clearly that Rabshakeh’s speech is nothing else than an image of the temptations by which Satan daily attacks our faith; for there is nothing which Satan more constantly attempts 4242 “Car tonte son etude est.” “For his whole study is.’” than to withdraw us from confidence in God by the allurements and pleasures of this world; that we ought to enjoy peace and quietness, and to purchase them at any price; and that happiness consists in plentiful abundance of good things. But most of all, he makes a wicked use of adversity to press upon us, and more eagerly urge us to shake off the yoke of God. Gently indeed, and by secret and unseen methods, he insinuates himself; but, after having once inveigled and caught us in his net, so as to lead us to value present advantages more highly than those which are future, he adds this condition, that he shall hold us entirely bound and devoted to him; which we certainly cannot avoid, when he holds us entangled by his plausible hopes, and by the relish of present objects.
Into a land like your own land. Because the word banishment was harsh and disagreeable, and it was not easy to part with the delightfulness of their native country, in order to shew that they sustain no loss by leaving it, he says, that the country into which they are about to be conveyed is equally fertile and productive. 4343 “It has been disputed what particular land is here meant, some saying Mesopotamia, to which others object that it was not a winegrowing country. But, as Knobel observes, there its no need of supposing that the Assyrian’s description was exactly true he may indeed have intended merely to promise them in general country as abundant as their own.” — Alexander. Thus he draws a veil over their eyes, that they might not think that they were losing anything. Yet he cunningly passes by what ought above all other things to be valued by them, the worship of God, the temple, the kingdom, the order of holy government, and everything else that belonged to the heavenly inheritance. Without these what happiness can there be? Let every one therefore learn diligently to apply his mind to spiritual blessings; “for to dwell in the house of God,” is justly pronounced to be a far more valuable blessing than all the luxuries and prosperity of the world. (Psalm 84:4, 10.) Thus shall we guard against being led away by the hope of present objects and deprived of true happiness; for this is a dreadful punishment by which the Lord takes vengeance on the unbelief of men, and which all godly persons ought to dread, that they may not faint or give way under any distresses and calamities.
18. Lest perhaps Hezekiah deceive you. This is another argument different from the former, by which he endeavors to withdraw the people from Hezekiah and from confidence in God. Formerly he boasted that he was God’s servant, and that God had sent him to destroy Judea, and on that ground he assured himself of certain victory; but now he openly insults God himself. At the first onset wicked men do not usually betray their scorn and impiety, but at length the Lord makes known their dispositions, and constrains them to discover the venom of their own heart. Now therefore the wicked Rabshakeh bursts forth with greater violence, and boasts that he will gain the victory over God himself.
Have any of the gods of the nations rescued their land? He speaks in the person of his master, that he had obtained great victories over many and powerful nations. They had their “gods,” by whose protection they thought that they were defended; and therefore Sennacherib thought that he had vanquished the “gods” themselves, because he had vanquished the nations which relied on their aid. The consequence is, that he breaks out into such insolence as not to hesitate to compare himself to the living God, and is impelled by such rage that he brings his own strength into conflict with the power of God.
Thus, although at first wicked men conceal their contempt of God, yet they afterwards shew that they claim everything for themselves, and that they are “without God.” 4444 “Et n’ont que faire de luy“ “And have nothing to do with him.” (Ephesians 2:12.) In words, indeed, they pretend to ascribe victories to their idols; but afterwards, as Habakkuk says, they
“sacrifice to their net, and offer incense to their drag.”
We see hypocrites do this also at the present day; for they run to do honor to their idols after having obtained a victory, but immediately afterwards boast of their plans, and wisdom, and courage, and military forces; which plainly shews that they ascribe to themselves and not to their idols all that has happened.
By such insolent boasting, therefore, he shewed that it was a lie, when he said that he acknowledged God to be the author of his victories. Besides, it was impossible that these words should not give dreadful agony to the heart of the good king, when he was informed that the promises of God were condemned as false, when that wicked man openly insuited God and linked their cause with idols. And these things are related, in order that we may behold the patience of the good king, and may resolve to imitate him when anything of the same kind shall take place.
Have they delivered? When he sets himself in opposition to all the gods, and declares that he is more powerful than they are, this is so much at variance with common sense, that it is abhorred even by wicked men themselves; yet if the Lord press hard upon them, if he put them to the torture, he speedily extorts from them such language. When they make a premeditated speech, they pretend that they are worshippers of God, but afterwards God constrains them to bring out and acknowledge what was lurking within. Let us therefore learn, that superstition is always accompanied by pride; so that they who do not know God, do not scruple to rise up against everything that is called God; and let us not be astonished at the rebellion and insolence of wicked men, for nothing but the pure knowledge of God can teach us humility. And yet that wicked man cannot be excused as if he justly reproached idols with their weakness and uselessness; for we ought to observe his sentiments and the purpose of his heart, since he does not ridicule the superstition and vain confidence of the nations, but in the idols themselves he pours contempt on the power of God. In like manner, when Dionysius the tyrant ridiculed his gods, he fought with God and defied him to a contest; for he attacked, in opposition to his conscience, such a deity as his mind could comprehend. The same observation might be made on all other infidels who treated with scorn false religions which they supposed to be from God.
Here we ought also to observe another kind of blasphemy, by which the majesty of God is wickedly dishonored; which is, that Rabshakeh confounds God with idols, and represents him to be one of the multitude. For what blasphemy is it to confound the immortal God and creator of all things with what is most detestable, to confound truth with falsehood, glory with shame, heaven with earth?
“The Lord is great,” says David, “and worthy of the highest praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are nothing; but the Lord made the heavens. Majesty and honor are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” —
19. Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? It is supposed that Hamath was Antioch in Syria, that Arpad was that city from which colonies were brought to Damascus, and that Sepharvaim was a city situated in the country of Damascus. If this be true, Rabshakeh mentions the ancient names of cities, from which many nations had formerly come, and which afterwards lost not only their celebrity, but likewise their distinctive names, and aims at producing in them greater alarm, by reminding them of so great revolutions. However that may be, he mentions chiefly the neighboring cities, the destruction of which might affect them more deeply on account of their being better known to the Jews. And I have no doubt that these places belonged to Syria and Israel; as if he had said, “Look at these two kingdoms subdued, which were presided over by their gods as their guardians. Will your God resist me?”
20. That Jehovah should rescue Jerusalem out of my hand? 4545 “And (when or where was it) that they delivered Samaria out of my hand? כי (ki) is not an interrogative pronoun, (Who have delivered?) nor an interrogative particle, (Have they delivered?) but a connective particle, dependent upon something not expressed.” — Alexander. The particle כי (ki) is taken by commentators in both places interrogatively, “Did the gods of the nations deliver? And will your God deliver?” But in order to make the meaning flow more smoothly, I have preferred to render the second clause, “that your God should deliver;” for the repetition of the same word marks a resemblance. Yet the words appear also to contain irony; as if he had said in mockery, “Yes; as the gods of the nations delivered their worshippers, so will your God assist you.”
This insolence of ungodly men arises from their not understanding that God punishes the sins of men when they suffer any adversity. And first they go wrong in this respect that they institute a wicked and absurd comparison, “I have conquered that nation, and therefore I am better or stronger.” They do not perceive that they were appointed to be the executioners of God’s anger for the punishment of iniquities; for, although they say that they have received something from God, they do it hypocritically, and do not consider his will or his justice. They afterwards rise higher, for they venture to make a comparison between them and God himself, “I have conquered those over whom God presided, and therefore I have conquered God himself.”
And here we see painted in a lively manner what was formerly expressed, —
“Ah! Assyria, the rod of my indignation; but he thought not so.” (Isaiah 10:5.)
In that passage God forewarned believers, that although Sennacherib, in blind madness, lifted himself up and attempted to overthrow all divine power, still they should continue to believe this doctrine, that he could do nothing more than what he was permitted by heaven to do. It is our duty to acknowledge that God inflicts punishment by the hand of wicked men, who may be regarded as the instruments of God’s anger; and therefore we ought to turn away our eyes from them, that we may look directly at God, by whom we are justly punished. If wicked men are more powerful, let us not think that the arm of God is broken, but let us consider that we do not deserve his assistance; for he arms enemies for our destruction, supplies them with vigor and with armies, drives them backwards and forwards whenever he thinks proper, and gives us up into their hands when we have turned away from him.
Accordingly, when the Turk now rises up haughtily against us, because he has already vanquished so great a multitude of Christians, we need not be alarmed on that account, as if the power of God were diminished, and as if he had not strength to deliver us. But we ought to consider in how many ways the inhabitants of Greece and of Asia provoked his anger, by the prevalence of every kind of base and shocking licentiousness in those countries, and by the dreadful superstitions and wickedness which abounded. On this account very severe chastisement was needed for restraining the crimes of those who made a false profession of the name of God. Hence came the prosperity of the Turk, and hence was it followed by a shockingly ruinous condition throughout the whole of the east. Yet we see him insolently raising his crest, laughing at our religion, and applauding his own in a strange manner; but still more does he applaud himself, and “sacrifice to his net,” (Habakkuk 1:16,) as we have already said of other infidels.
We ought, therefore, to direct our minds towards the judgments of God, that we may not think that the Turk acquired such extensive dominion by his own strength. But the Lord allowed him greater freedom, for the purpose of punishing the ungodliness and wickedness of men, and will at length restrain his insolence at the proper time. Now, although prosperity is a token of the blessing of God, yet we must not begin with it if we wish to form right views of God himself, as Mahometans and Papists infer from the victories which they have gained, that God is in some respects subject to their control. But when we have known the true God, blessings are added in the proper order to testify his grace and power.
Yet we ought always to beware of making the smallest claim for ourselves, for as soon as foolish confidence has gained admission, we shall immediately be seized with such fury as to believe that even God is not equal to us. At first, even wicked men will be shocked at anything so grossly irreligious; but when we are maddened by such diabolical pride as to rob God and adorn ourselves with the spoils, we easily fall into the practice of open insult. Sennacherib still retained some form of piety, for we shall afterwards read (Isaiah 37:38) that “he was slain in the temple of his god, while he was worshipping there;” and he undoubtedly wished that God would be gracious to him; but, as in this passage he treads under his feet the Creator of heaven and earth along with the gods of the nations, so he would not have hesitated, when an opportunity occurred, to act in the same manner towards his own idol.
21. And they were silent. This is added in order that we may more fully understand how deep was the affliction which prevailed throughout the whole of Judea; for the good king, having hardly any strength or means of defense, is therefore struck dumb even when an enemy insults him. Ambassadors were sent to soothe the enemy; when they are unsuccessful they are enjoined to be silent, that they might not provoke that savage beast, which already was too much excited, to cruelty. Yet it is uncertain whether these words relate to the ambassador or to the people, against whom Rabshakeh threw out these reproaches; and indeed it is probable, that it rather refers to those who guarded the walls, who, though they were sharply piqued by the taunts of the enemy, yet were not provoked to quarrels or disturbance, because they obeyed the kings command. Hence, also, we infer that it arose from the peculiar kindness of God, that they were so much disposed to yield obedience when matters were desperate.
It will perhaps be objected that they ought not to have been silent when such blasphemies were uttered against God; for we ought not to conceal our sentiments when wicked men mock, and jeer, and reproach God, even though our life should be put in danger. We ought, at least, to testify that we cannot patiently endure that his honor and glory should be attacked. But it is not said that they were silent because they expressed their assent, or cared nothing about the reproaches which were cast on God, and which, though not a word was uttered by them, gave deep pain to the ambassadors, and prompted them to the attitudes and tokens of grief; for afterwards, such is the bitterness of their sorrow that they tear their garments, and by this token they shew that they hold such blasphemies in abhorrence and detestation. But as it would have been of no avail for the ambassadors to debate with Rabshakeh, they returned peaceably and without any tumult; and the people, because it was useless to make any disturbance, reckoned it enough to meet the wicked man’s impertinence by silent groans. And it is no despicable courage, even when we have it not in our power to utter a syllable, still not to shrink or flinch, but to remain quietly in our place.
Hence we are also reminded, that we ought not always to contend with wicked men when they reproach and tear in pieces the name of God; for amidst bitter strife and confused noise the truth will not be heard. And yet we must not on that account give way to cowardice, by thinking that we ought to be excused for being silent, whenever wicked men rise up against God; for our silence will have no excuse if we do not in some way testify that it is highly displeasing to us, and if we do not, as far as lies in our power, declare that nothing is more distressing to us than that the name of God should be dishonored. We must, therefore, give expression to our zeal, that wicked men may not think that we have no regard for the honor of God, and that we are not moved when they blaspheme it.
22. Then came Eliakim. We now see that Eliakim and the other ambassadors were not silent as if they either approved of the impiety of Rabshakeh, or through dread of danger connived at such blasphemies; for they tear their garments, and in that manner give visible display how highly they are offended at those wicked slanders. I except Shebna, who was destitute of piety, and was only driven by shame to assume the dress of mourning along with others as a matter of form. It was customary among the Jews and other eastern nations, when they viewed anything with strong abhorrence, to tear their garments; for those nations, having much greater warmth of temperament than we have who inhabit cold countries, display greater vehemence in gesture, deportment, dress, and other outward signs. Here it ought also to be observed, that they who took no notice of the insults offered to them as private individuals, whenever they hear reproaches uttered against God, “tear their garments;” for they who are ready to take offense at an insult offered to them in their private, capacity, where patience was needed, and who are unmoved when they learn that the name of God is dishonored, give evidence that they have no zeal or piety.