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THE GOOD KING HEZEKIAH COMES TO THE THRONE OF JUDAH
"Now it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign. Twenty and five years oid was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem: and his mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. And he did that which was right in the eyes of Jehovah, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places, and brake the pillars, and cut down the Asherah: and he brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan. He trusted in Jehovah the God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among them that were before him. For he clave to Jehovah; he departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which Jehovah commanded Moses. And Jehovah was with him; whithersoever he went forth he prospered: and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not. He smote the Philistines unto Gaza and the borders thereof from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city."
"His mother's name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah" (2 Kings 18:2). "Thirty O.T. characters bore the name Zechariah."
"He removed the high places ..." (2 Kings 18:4). Whitcomb gives us a summary of the reforms of Hezekiah: "(1) He opened the temple doors which Ahaz had closed (2 Chronicles 28:24; 29:3); (2) He ordered the cleansing of the temple (2 Chronicles 29:4-19); (3) He offered appropriate sacrifices (2 Chronicles 29:20-36); (4) He invited Israelites of every tribe to come to Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:5-12)." (5) He also celebrated a Passover that had to be delayed a month to allow the worshippers to become clean (2 Chronicles 30:1-12).
Wonderful as these reforms of Hezekiah were, they were soon nullified by the actions of kings like Manasseh and Amon. "Even God's prophets came to see the inevitability of Judah's destruction. Jeremiah, for example, did not believe that Judah would change; and, in view of her obstinacy advised men no longer to pray for her (Jeremiah 14:11; 15:1).
"He brake in pieces the brazen serpent" (2 Kings 18:4). Once more we have a powerful incidental witness of the long prior existence of the Pentateuch. We reject the snide critical references to this `serpent' as a tradition. John 3:14-15 even gives us N.T. witness of the absolute authenticity of what is written here and in the Pentateuch.
"After him was none like him among all the kings of Judah" (2 Kings 18:5). The critical canard to the effect that, "This statement is contradicted by 2 Kings 23:25," is based upon a failure to read exactly what the text says. "The verdict that, `after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah,' is a reference to Hezekiah's confidence in God, in which he had no equal; whereas in the case of Josiah it was his conscientious adherence to the Law of Moses that is extolled in the same words (2 Kings 23:25); so that there is no grounds for saying that there is a contradiction in these verses." As a matter of fact there was no other king either before or after either one of these good kings who was in any sense "like unto them."
"He smote the Philistines" (2 Kings 18:8). These victories of Hezekiah against the Philistines doubtless occurred in the interim between the death of Sargon II and the establishment of his son Sennacherib's authority in Nineveh. That interval was a period of about four or five years, but by 701 B.C. Sennacherib was ready to punish his rebellious vassals in the west. This and 2 Kings 19 will deal with his threat to Jerusalem.
"From the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city" (2 Kings 18:8). (See our comment on this expression under 2 Kings 17:9, above.) Another equivalent is, "From one end of the country to the other."
A BRIEF RECAPITULATION OF THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER
"And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Judah, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it. And at the end of three years they took it; in the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken. And the king of Assyria carried Israel away unto Assyria, and put them in Halah, and on Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, because they obeyed not the voice of Jehovah their God, but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of Jehovah commanded, and would not hear it, nor do it."
All of this was discussed in our comments on 2 Kings 18:17.
THE CAMPAIGN OF SENNACHERIB AGAINST JUDAH IN 701 B.C.
"Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them. And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of Jehovah, and in the treasures of the king's house. At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of Jehovah, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria."
Practically every word of the balance of this chapter and through 2 Kings 19 are given in the parallel account in Isaiah 36-37, where we have already written some sixteen pages of comments on these events. (See Vol. I of my major prophets series (Isaiah), pp. 329-345.) Montgomery referred to the two separate accounts of the same events as "parallel" and "duplicates."
"In the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the cities of Judah" (2 Kings 18:13). The well-known chronological problem here has been discussed by many. "The year was 701 B.C., the twenty-fourth year of his reign."
"Three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold" (2 Kings 18:14). There is no intelligent grounds whatever for supposing that Hezekiah would have paid a tribute this large (estimated anywhere from $2,000.000.00 to $10,000,000.00) without a firm promise from Sennacherib that he would not then besiege Jerusalem. Nor is there any valid reason for supposing that Sennacherib honored his promise by withdrawing from Jerusalem and returning years later in 688 B.C. and at that time meeting with the disaster that slew his army as here recorded in 2 Kings 19. The critical fad of conjuring up two such campaigns is founded on ridiculous sophistry. As Josephus expressed it quite bluntly, "The Assyrian king took it, and yet had no respect to what he had promised." Critics who desire to uphold their false notion of two different campaigns point out that Sennacherib's monument (a base relief of which is in the British Museum) shows him seated on a throne after the conquest of Lachish and viewing the parade of 200,000 captives that he took, but that he made no mention of a campaign against Jerusalem! Indeed! Indeed! Should we deny that the Battle of San Jacinto was fought because Santa Ana failed to erect a monument to it?
We are indeed gratified to find that Honeycutt in the Broadman Bible Commentary accepted the fact of one invasion only, "as a workable hypothesis for his commentary on 2Kings. This writer contends that no other hypothesis is tenable. Honeycutt pointed out a number of very able scholars who, "diverge from the double invasion theory."
In Sennacherib's monument, mentioned above, "He claims to have cast up entrenchments against Jerusalem; he gives a list of forty-six conquered cities, states that he received 800 talents of silver and thirty talents of gold as tribute, also many precious stones, ivory couches, and the women of his palace, and many male and female musicians." A great deal of that inscription is probably a lie. The 300 talents of silver shows up in the list as 800, and no explanation involving different kinds of talents can harmonize the two figures. Furthermore, Isaiah had prophesied that Sennacherib would not cast up an embankment against Jerusalem, and we cannot believe his lying report that he did so. Also, all of that about the women, etc., is apparently false. This writer refuses to allow the foolish acceptance by the "scholars" of every word that they find on some inscription erected by some ancient son of the devil like Sennacherib. We thank God for the mild statement that, "Error ... may lie in the Assyrian figure." We would suggest that the word `lie' should have headed his sentence.
SENNACHERIB TREACHEROUSLY RENEGES ON HIS PROMISE AND SENDS AN AMBASSAGE DEMANDING SURRENDER
"And the king of Assyria sent Tartan Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great army to Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they came up they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller's field. And when they had called to the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe, And Joah the son of Asaph the recorder."
"Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh" (2 Kings 18:17). The RSV renders these three names as titles, "Tartan meaning commander-in-chief, Rabsaris, chief eunuch, and Rabshakeh, the chief cup-bearer, a court official often in charge of administrative duties." He was apparently the spokesman in charge of negotiations in this episode. Of course, his assignment here was to order the surrender of Jerusalem. The lying Sennacherib had defaulted on his promise to spare the city for that vast tribute.
(See further comment on what is written here in the parallel passages in Isaiah.)
THE RABSHAKEH'S ARGUMENT DEMANDING THE SURRENDER OF JERUSALEM
"And Rabshakeh said unto them, Say ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? Thou sayest (but they are but vain words), There is counsel and strength for the war. Now on whom dost thou trust, that thou hast rebelled against me? Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him. But if ye say unto me, We trust in Jehovah our God; is not that he whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem? Now therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my master the king of Assyria, and I will give thee two thousand horses, if thou be able to set riders upon them. How then canst thou turn away one captain of the least of my master's servants, and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Am I now come up without Jehovah against this place to destroy it? Jehovah said unto me, Go up against this land and destroy it."
AN INTERRUPTION REQUESTING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE
"Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah and Joah, unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and speak not with us in the Jews' language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall. But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men that sit on the wall, to eat their own dung and drink their own urine with you? Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and spake, saying, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria."
There was a great deal of truth, mixed in with some colossal lies, in Rabshakeh's tirade, and the representatives of Hezekiah tried to arrange for the mission from Sennacherib to speak in a language the defenders on the walls of the city would not understand, but this ploy was rejected out of hand by Rabshakeh, who then finished his insulting speech, addressing it directly to the men on the wall.
THE BALANCE OF RABSHAKEH'S INSULTING DEMANDS
"Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you; for he will not be able to deliver you out of his hand: neither let Hezekiah make you trust in Jehovah, saying, Jehovah will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make your peace with me, and come out to me; and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive-trees and of honey, that ye may live, and not die: and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, Jehovah will deliver us. Have any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of my hand, that Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?"
What an egotistical braggart this bully was! Nevertheless, one is compelled to admire the powerful seduction such a speech doubtless was in the ears of the men who heard it. There was enough truth in it to commend it to the thoughtless, but it was skillfully interlaced with the most vicious and unprincipled falsehoods.
There are six arguments in this unspeakably brutal and threatening tirade of bragging insults. Arguments one, three, and five are mundane, practical everyday arguments; arguments two, four and six are based upon religious and theological considerations. No one could deny the effective character of this devastating one-two punch, repeated three times, in this diplomatic masterpiece of Rabshakeh.
We shall summarize these arguments.
(1) It is foolish to rely on Egypt for help. The prophets of God had frequently warned God's people of such a foolish course, and so this must be understood simply as a fact.
(2) This argument was a theological one. Hezekiah had indeed taken away the high places and the altars mentioned; and Rabshakeh's false argument was that such must have displeased Jehovah. This, of course, was an outright lie. God was pleased with Hezekiah's actions.
(3) The third argument (2 Kings 18:23-24) called attention to the overwhelmingly large army of the Assyrians. This was true; but the joker in that argument was that it would take an army of a million just as long to besiege a city as it would take an army of one tenth that size; and the last thing on earth that Sennacherib wanted at that stage of his operations was a long siege.
(4) The most astounding argument of all is the fourth. Rabshakeh claimed that Jehovah had ordered him to come up and destroy Judah and Jerusalem. This was exactly the maneuver of Adolph Hitler who employed the Big Lie as one of his weapons.
(5) The fifth argument was such a monumental falsehood that one may well wonder at the stupidity of the man who told it. "If you will just surrender, we will provide you free transportation to a beautiful land far away - just like the Garden of Eden!" How stupid was Rabshakeh that he supposed the Jews could have forgotten "that free transportation" provided the Northern tribes, who were driven on foot, linked together with long cables fastened in the lips, ears, cheeks or noses of their victims into northern Mesopotamia, or how all of them were put to work in fields, factories, or brick yards, where they were only slaves, starved, worked, or beaten to death. Those gracious, kind and gentle Assyrians, which Rabshakeh pretended they were, had earned the title of "The Breakers" all over the world of that era, and their cruelties and brutalities were the worst mankind ever saw. They flayed their victims alive. They impaled them. They starved and beat them unmercifully.
(6) Number six was another religious argument. None of the gods of all the cities and countries that had fallen into the hand of Sennacherib had ever been able to deliver them. Therefore, Jehovah the God of Judah would not be able to deliver them. Rabshakeh himself was due to learn something with regard to this argument, as shall be dramatically revealed in 2 Kings 19.
HEZEKIAH'S REPLY TO THAT BLOCKBUSTER DEMAND FOR SURRENDER
"But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word; for the king's commandment was, saying, Answer him not. Then came Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe, and Joab the son of Asaph the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh."
The dramatic silence of the men of Hezekiah was a suitable reply to the insulting tirade of Rabshakeh. Although no verbal response to Rabshakeh's demands was recorded, it was clearly the purpose of the sacred writer, "To suggest that the silence which met those proposals was, in effect, a distinct repudiation."
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Kings 18". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19