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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 L ord 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 L ord that I have come up against this land to destroy it? The L ord 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 L ord by saying, The L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord 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.

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.

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