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b.c. 701

2 Kings xviii. 13—xix. 37.

Ἀλλ' ὁ σοφώτατος βασιλεὺς οὐχ ὅπλα ταῖς ἐκείνων βλασφημίαις, ἀλλὰ προσευχὴν καὶ δάκρυα καὶ σάκκον ἀντέταξεν.—Theodoret.

"When, sudden—how think ye the end?

Did I say 'without friend'?

Say rather from marge to blue marge

The whole sky grew his targe,

With the sun's self for visible boss,

While an Arm ran across

Which the earth heaved beneath like a breast,

Where the wretch was safe pressed."


Although during a few memorable scenes the relations of Judah with Assyria in the reign of Hezekiah leap into fierce light, many previous details are unfortunately left in the deepest obscurity—an obscurity all the more impenetrable from the lack of certain dates. It will perhaps help to simplify our conceptions if we first sketch what is known of Assyria from the cuneiform inscriptions, and then fill up the sketch of those scenes which are more minutely delineated in the Book of Kings and in the prophecies of Isaiah.

Sargon—perhaps a successful general of royal blood, though he never calls himself the son of any one534534   One legend of his birth resembles the finding of Moses in the bulrushes.—seems320 to have usurped the throne on the death of Shalmaneser IV., during the siege of Samaria in b.c. 722. He took Samaria, deported its inhabitants, and repeopled it from the Assyrian dominions. "In their place," he says, in his tablets in the halls of his palace at Khorsabad, "I settled the men of countries conquered [by my hand]."535535   Schrader, K. A. T., pp. 272-274; Records of the Past, vii. 28. In 720 he suppressed a futile attempt at revolt, headed by a pretender named Yahubid, in Hamath, which he reduced to "a heap of ruins." For some years after this he was occupied mainly on his northern frontiers, but he tells us that until 711 tribute continued to come in from Judah and Philistia. Meanwhile, these terrified and oppressed feudatories, writhing under the remorseless dominion of Nineveh, naturally began to listen to the intrigues of Egypt, whose interest it was to create a bulwark between herself and the invasion of the armies which were the abhorrence of the world. Under the influence of Sabaco, which gave new strength and unity to Egypt, she succeeded in seducing Ashdod from its allegiance to Sargon. Sargon at once deposed Azuri, King of Ashdod, and put his brother Ahimit in his place. The Ashdodites soon after deposed Ahimit, and elected in his place Jaman, who was in alliance with Sabaco.536536   Smith, Eponym Canon, p. 130. This revolt was evidently favoured by Judah, Edom, and Moab; for Sargon says that they, as well as the people of Philistia, "were speaking treason." The rebellion was crushed by Sargon's promptitude.537537   See Prof. Smith, Isaiah, p. 198. He tells his own tale thus:—

"In the wrath of my heart I did not divide my army, and I did not diminish the ranks, but I marched against321 Ashdod with my warriors, who did not separate themselves from the traces of my sandals. I besieged, I took Ashdod and Gunt-Asdodim. I then re-established these towns. I placed [in them] the people whom my arms had conquered, I put over them my lieutenant as governor. I regarded them as Assyrians, and they practised obedience."538538   Records of the Past, vii. 40. Sargon's words are, "The people of Philistia, Judah, Edom, and Moab were speaking treason. The people and their evil chiefs, to fight against me, unto Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, a monarch who could not save them, their presents carried, and besought his alliance" (G. Smith, Assyrian Discoveries, 290).

Sargon does not, however, seem to have conducted this campaign in person; for we read in Isa. xx. 1 that he sent his Turtan—i.e., his commander-in-chief,539539   On the monuments called Turtanu, "Holder of power." See Schrader in Riehm, s.v. whose name seems to have been Zir-bâni—to Ashdod, who fought against it and took it. The wretched Philistines had put their trust in Sabaco. "The people," says Sargon, "and their evil chiefs sent their presents to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, a prince who could not save them, and besought his alliance." Isaiah had for three years been indicating how vain this policy was by one of those acted parables which so powerfully affect the Eastern mind. He had, by the word of the Lord, stripped the shoes from on his feet and the upper robe of sackcloth from his loins, and walked, "naked and barefoot, for a sign and portent against Egypt and Ethiopia," to indicate that even thus should the people of Egypt and Ethiopia be carried away as captives, naked and barefoot, by the kings of Assyria. Egypt was the boast of one party at Jerusalem, and Ethiopia, which had now become master of Egypt under Sabaco, was their expectation; but Isaiah's public self-humiliation322 showed how utterly their hopes should come to nought.540540   Raphia, or Ropeh, is on the borders of the desert. Asia beat Africa in every encounter—at Raphia, at Altaqu, at Carchemish. The impression of the seal of Shabak, attached to his capitulations with Sargon, was found at Nineveh by Sir A. H. Layard, and is now in the British Museum. Shabak died in 712. His son Shabatoh succeeded him in Egypt, and his nephew(?) Tirhakah in Ethiopia. Sabaco's name assumes many forms (LXX., Σηγώρ; Herod., ii. 137; Σαβακώς; Vulg., Sua). The Egyptians called him Shaba(ka). Before the outbreak at Ashdod, Sargon had suppressed a revolt of Hanun, or Hanno, King of Gaza, and Egypt and Assyria first met face to face at Raphia (about b.c. 720), where Sabaco fought in person with an Egyptian contingent, at a spot half-way between Gaza and the "river of Egypt."541541   Isa. xx. 1-6. Sabaco, whom Sargon calls "the Sultan of Egypt" (Siltannu Muzri), had been defeated, and fled precipitately, but Sargon was not then sufficiently free from other complications to advance to the Nile. The hoarded vengeance of Assyria was inflicted upon Egypt nearly a century later by Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal.

In the two suppressions of revolt at Ashdod, Sargon or his Turtan must have come perilously near Jerusalem, and perhaps he may have inflicted sufficient damage to admit of the boast that he had "conquered" Judæa. If so, his military vanity made him guilty of an exaggeration.

Far more serious to Sargon was the revolt of Merodach-Baladan, King of Chaldæa. Babylon had always been a rival of Nineveh in the competition for world-wide dominion, and for twelve years, as Sargon says, Merodach-Baladan had been "sending ambassadors"542542   Lenormant, Les Premières Civilisations, ii. 203; Records of the Past, vii. 41-46.—to323 Hezekiah among others—in the patient effort to consolidate a formidable league. Elam and Media were with him; and at a solemn banquet, for which they had "spread the carpets,"543543   Isa. xxi. 6, A.V., "Watch in the watch-tower." Hitzig, Cheyne, "They spread the carpets." Much in this short oracle (xxi. 1-10) is obscure. Isaiah seems, in denouncing the fate of Babylon, to mourn for the ruin of the smaller states of which it was the prelude (G. Smith, Soc. of Bibl. Arch., ii. 320 Kleinert, Stud. u. Krit., 1877 W. R. Smith in Enc. Brit., s.v. "Isaiah"). and eaten and drank, the cry had risen, "Arise, ye princes! anoint the shield." Standing in ideal vision on his watch-tower, Isaiah saw the sweeping rush of the Assyrian troops on their horses and camels on their way to Babylon. What should come of it? The answer is in the words, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon, and all the images of her gods he [Sargon] hath broken to the ground." Alas! there is no hope from Babylon or its embassy! Would that Isaiah could have held out a hope! But no, "O my threshed one, son of my threshing-floor, that which I have heard from the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, that have I declared unto you."544544   Isa. xxi. 10i.e., "My people threshed and trodden"; LXX., ὁ καταλελειμμένος καὶ οἱ ὀδυνώμενοι Records of the Past, vii. 47. And so it came to pass. The brave Babylonian was defeated. In 709 Sargon occupied his palace, took Dur-yakin, to which he had fled for refuge, and made himself Lord Paramount as far as the Persian Gulf. It was his last great enterprise. He built and adorned his palaces, and looked forward to long years of peace and splendour; but in 705 the dagger-thrust of an assassin—a malcontent of the town of Kullum—found its way to his heart; and Sennacherib reigned in his stead.

Sennacherib—Sin-ahi-irba ("Sin, the moon-god, has324 multiplied brothers")545545   Herod., Σαναχάριβος; Jos., Σεναχήριβος. See Appendix I. Sin was the moon-god; Merodach, the planet Jupiter; Adar, Saturn; Ishtai, Venus; Nebo, Mercury; Nergal, Mars (Schrader, ii. 117).—was one of the haughtiest, most splendid, and most powerful of all the kings of Assyria, though the petty state of Judah, relying on her God, defied and flouted him. The son of a mighty conqueror, at the head of a magnificent army, he regarded himself as the undisputed lord of the world.546546   Sargon seems to have been murdered in the palace of unparalleled splendour which he built at Dur-Sharrukin ("The City of Sargon"). It took him five years to build it with armies of workmen. Its halls, opened by Botta, were the first Assyrian halls ever entered by a modern's foot. It is strange that this greatest of Assyrian kings is only mentioned once in the Bible (Isa. xx. 1). We owe to Assyriology his restoration to his proper place in the annals of mankind. See Ragozin, Assyria, 247-254. Born in the purple, and bred up as crown prince, his primary characteristic was an overweening pride and arrogance, which shows itself in all his inscriptions. He calls himself "the Great King, the Powerful King, the King of the Assyrians, of the nations of the four regions, the diligent ruler, the favourite of the Great Gods, the observer of sworn faith, the guardian of law, the establisher of monuments, the noble hero, the strong warrior, the first of kings, the punisher of unbelievers, the destroyer of wicked men."547547   Rawlinson, Ancient Monarchies, ii. 178. He was mighty both in war and peace. His warlike glories are attested by Herodotus, by Polyhistor, by Abydenus, by Demetrius, and by his own annals. His peaceful triumphs are attested by the great palace which he erected at Nineveh, and the magnificent series of sculptured slabs with which he adorned it; by his canals and aqueducts, his gateways and embankments, his Bavian sculpture, and his stêlê at the Nahr-el-Kelb. He was a worthy successor325 of his father Sargon, and of the second Tiglath-Pileser—active in his military enterprises, indefatigable, persevering, full of resource.548548   Canon Rawlinson, Kings of Israel and Judah, 187.

On one of his bas-reliefs we see this magnificent potentate seated on his throne, holding two arrows in his right hand, while his left grasps the bow. A rich bracelet clasps each of his brawny arms. On his head is the jewelled pyramidal crown of Assyria, with its embroidered lappets. His dark locks stream down over his shoulders, and the long, curled beard flows over his breast. His strongly marked, sensual features wear an aspect of unearthly haughtiness. He is clad in superbly broidered robes, and his throne is covered with rich tapestries, and bas-reliefs of Assyrians or captives, who, like the Greek caryatides, uphold its divisions with their heads and arms.

Yet all this glory faded into darkness, and all this colossal pride crumbled into dust. Sennacherib not only died, like his father, by murder, but by the murderous hands of his own sons, and after the shattering of all his immense pretensions—a defeated and dishonoured man.

One of his invasions of Judæa occupies a large part of the Scripture narrative.549549   On his own monuments this campaign, except its final catastrophe, is narrated in four sections: (1) The subjugation of Phœnicia, and of Philistine towns; (2) the conquest of King Zidka of Askelon; (3) the defeat of Ekron, the restoration of their vassal king Padî to his throne, and the defeat of Egypt at Altaqu; (4) the expedition against Jerusalem (Schrader, E. Tr., i. 298). See Appendix I. It was the fourth time of that terrible contact between the great world-power which symbolised all that was tyrannic and idolatrous, and the insignificant tribe which God had chosen for His own inheritance.


In the reign of Ahaz, about b.c. 732, Judah had come into collision with Tiglath-Pileser II.

Under Shalmaneser IV. and Sargon, the Northern Kingdom had ceased to exist in 722.

Under Sargon, Judah had been harassed and humbled, and had witnessed the suppression of the Philistian revolt, and of the defeat of the powerful Sabaco at Raphia about 720.

Now came the fourth and most overwhelming calamity. If the patriots of Jerusalem had placed any hopes in the disappearance of the ferocious Sargon, they must speedily have recognised that he had left behind him a no less terrible successor.

Sennacherib reigned apparently twenty-four years (b.c. 705-681). On his accession he placed a brother, whose name is unknown, on the vice-regal throne of Babylon, and contented himself with the title of King of the Assyrians. This brother was speedily dethroned by a usurper named Hagisa, who only reigned thirty days, and was then slain by the indefatigable Merodach-Baladan, who held the throne for six months. He was driven out by Belibus, who had been trained "like a little dog" in the palace of Nineveh,550550   This allusion is said to be the only instance of humour—"grim humour, or it would not be Assyrian"—which occurs in the Assyrian annals. but was now made King of Sumîr and Accad—i.e., of Babylonia. Sennacherib entered the palace of Babylon and carried off the wife of Merodach and endless spoil in triumph, while Merodach fled into the land of Guzumman, and (like the Duke of Monmouth) hid himself "among the marshes and reeds," where the Assyrians searched for him for five days, but found no trace of him. After three years (702-699) Belibus proved faithless, and327 Sennacherib made his son Assur-nadin-sum viceroy of Babylon.

His second campaign was against the Medes in Northern Elam.

His third (701) was against the Khatti (the Hittites)—i.e., against Phœnicia and Palestine.551551   Schrader, pp. 234-279. The account of the memorable campaign is narrated in duplicate on the Taylor Cylinder in the British Museum, and on the Bull Inscription at Kouyunjik. He drove King Luli from Sidon "by the mere terror of the splendour of my sovereignty," and placed Tubalu (i.e., Ithbaal) in his place, and subdued into tributary districts Arpad, Byblos, Ashdod, Ammon, Moab, and Edom, suppressing at the same time a very abortive rising in Samaria. "All these brought rich presents and kissed my feet." He also subdued Zidka, King of Askelon, from whom he took Beth-Dagon, Joppa, and other towns. Padî, the King of Ekron, was a faithful vassal of Assyria; he was therefore deposed by the revolting Ekronites, and sent in chains into the safe custody of Hezekiah, who "imprisoned him in darkness." The rebel states all relied on the Egyptians and Ethiopians. Sennacherib fought against Egyptians and Ethiopians, "in reliance upon Assur my God," at Altaqu (b.c. 701), and claims to have defeated them, and carried off the sons and charioteers of the King of Egypt, and the charioteers of the kings of Ethiopia.552552   Sennacherib calls Tirhakah's army "a host that no man could number"; but it was defeated by the better discipline, the heavier armour, and the superior physical strength of the Assyrians. He then tells us that he punished Altaqu and Timnath.553553   See Josh. xix. 43. He impaled the rebels of Ekron on stakes all round the city. He restored Padî, and made him a vassal. "Hezekiah [Chazaqiahu] of Judah, who had not submitted to my yoke, the terror of328 the splendour of my sovereignty overwhelmed. Himself as a bird in a cage, in the midst of Jerusalem, his royal city, I shut up. The Arabians and his dependants, whom he had introduced for the defence of Jerusalem, his royal city, together with thirty talents of gold, eight hundred of silver, bullion, precious stones, ivory couches and thrones, an abundant treasure, with his daughters, his harem, and his attendants, I caused to be brought after me to Nineveh. He sent his envoy to pay tribute and render homage." At the same time, he overran Judæa, took forty-six fenced cities and many smaller towns, "with laying down of walls, hewing about, and trampling down," and carried off more than two hundred thousand captives with their spoil. Part of Hezekiah's domains was divided among three Philistine vassals who had remained faithful to Assyria.

It was in the midst of this terrible crisis that Hezekiah had sent to Sennacherib at Lachish his offer of submission, saying, "I have offended; return from me; that which thou puttest upon me I will bear."554554   This very phrase "I imposed on them" is found on Sennacherib's monument (Schrader, ii. 1). The references, when not otherwise specified, are to Whitehouse's English translation. The spoiling of the palace and Temple was rendered necessary to raise the vast mulct which the Assyrian King required.555555   In 2 Kings xviii. 16 the word "pillars" or "doorposts" is uncertain. LXX., ἐστηριγμένα; Vulg., laminas auri.

It is at Lachish—now Um-Lakis, a fortified hill in the Shephelah, south of Jerusalem, between Gaza and Eleutheropolis—that we catch another personal glimpse of the mighty oppressor. We see him depicted, on his triumphal tablets, in the palace-chambers of Kouyunjik,329 engaged in the siege; for the town offered a determined resistance,556556   2 Chron. xxxii. 9. He had to besiege it "with all his power." He seems to have thought it even more important than Jerusalem, for he superintended the siege in person (Layard, Nineveh and Babylon, 150; Monuments of Nineveh, 2nd series, pl. 21). The ruined Tel of Umm-el-Lakîs lies between the Wady Simsim and the Wady-el-Ahsy (Riehm). and required all the energies and all the trained heroism of his forces. We see him next, carefully painted, seated on his royal throne in magnificent apparel, with his tiara and bracelets, receiving the spoils and captives of the city. The inscription says: "Sennacherib, the mighty king, the king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment at the entrance of the city of Lakisha. I give permission for its slaughter." He certainly implied that he took the city, but a doubt is thrown on this by 2 Chron. xxxii. 1, which only says that "he thought to win these cities"; and the historian says (2 Kings xix. 8) that he "departed from Lachish." Lachish was evidently a very strong city, and it is so depicted in the palace-tablets at Kouyunjik. It had been fortified by Rehoboam, and had furnished a refuge to the wretched Amaziah.557557   See 2 Chron. xi. 9, xxv. 27; Jer. xxxiv. 7. The allusion to this city in Micah (i. 13) is obscure: "O thou inhabitant of Lachish [swift steed], bind the chariot to the swift steed: she is the beginning of sin to the daughter of Zion: for the transgressions of Israel were found in thee." This seems to imply that some form of idolatry had come from Israel to Lachish, and from Lachish to Jerusalem. In Sennacherib's picture of the city, foreign worship is represented as going on in it (Layard, Monuments of Nineveh, Pls. 21 and 24; Rawlinson, Herodotus, i. 477).

If Judah and Jerusalem had listened to the messages of Isaiah,558558   Isa. xxix., xxx., xxxi. they might have been saved the humiliating affliction which seemed to have plunged the brief sun of their prosperity into seas of blood. He had warned330 them incessantly and in vain. He had foretold their present desolation, in which Zion should be like a woman seated on the ground, wailing in her despair. He had taught them that formalism was no religion, and that external rites did not win Jehovah's approval. He had told them how foolish it was to put trust in the shadow of Egypt, and had not shrunk from revealing the fearful consequences which should follow the setting up of their own false wisdom against the wisdom of Jehovah. Yet, intermingled with pictures of suffering, and threats of a harvestless year, designed to punish the vanity and display of their women, and the intimation—never actually fulfilled—that even the palace and Temple should become "the joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks," he constantly implies that the disaster would be followed by a mysterious, divine, complete deliverance, and ultimately by a Messianic reign of joy and peace. Night is at hand, he said, and darkness; but after the darkness will come a brighter dawn.

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