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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 18

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) Hezekiah.—See Note on 2 Kings 16:20 and 2 Chronicles 29:1. The name in this form means, “My strength is Jah” (Psalms 18:2), and its special appropriateness is exemplified by Hezekiah’s history.

Verse 2

(2) Abi.—This should probably be Abijah, as in Chronicles and a few MSS.

Verse 4

(4) He removed.He it was who removed. According to this statement, Hezekiah made the Temple of Jerusalem the only place where Jehovah might be publicly worshipped. (Comp. 2 Kings 18:22, and the fuller account in 2 Chronicles 29:3-36.)

Brake the images.Shattered the pillars (1 Kings 14:23; Hosea 3:4; 2 Chronicles 14:2).

The groves.—Heb., the Asherah. It should probably be plural, the Asherim, as in 2 Chronicles 31:1, and all the versions here. (See Note on 2 Kings 17:16.)

Brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made.—The attempt of Bähr and others to evade the obvious force of this simple statement is quite futile. It is clear that the compiler of Kings believed that the brasen serpent which Hezekiah destroyed was a relic of the Mosaic times. (See the narrative in Numbers 21:4-9, and the allusion to the fiery serpents in Deuteronomy 8:15.) His authority may have been oral tradition or a written document. In ancient Egypt the serpent symbolised the healing power of Deity; a symbolism which is repeated in the Græco-Roman myth of Æsculapius. When Moses set up the Brasen Serpent, he taught the people by means suited to their then capacity that the power of healing lay in the God whose prophet he was—namely, Jehovah; and that they must look to Him, rather than to any of the gods of Egypt, for help and healing. (Kuenen does not believe in the great antiquity of this relic. Yet the Egyptian and Babylonian remains which have come down to our time have lasted many centuries more than the interval between Moses and Hezekiah; and some of them were already ancient in the Mosaic age. Our own Doomsday Book is at least as old as the brasen serpent was when it was destroyed. There is really no tangible historical ground for this extreme unwillingness to admit the authenticity of anything attributed by tradition to the authorship and handiwork of Moses.)

And he called it.—Rather, and it was called. Literally, and one called it. The impersonal construction, like the German man nannte.

Nehushtan.—The popular name of the serpent-idol. It is vocalised as a derivative from nĕ’hôsheth, “brass,” or “copper;” but it may really be formed from nâ‘hâsh, “serpent,” and denote “great serpent” rather than “brass-god.” (Comp. the term Leviathan, Job 3:8.) Further, although the word is certainly not a compound of nĕ‘hôsheth, “copper,” and tân (i.e., tannîn), “serpent,” this may have been the popular etymology of the word. (Comp. the proper name, Nehushta, 2 Kings 24:8.)

Verse 5

(5) He trusted . . . Israel.In Jehovah, the God of Israel he trusted. Hezekiah is thus contrasted with idolatrous kings, such as those who trusted in the Nehushtan.

After him was none like him among all the kings of Judah.—This does not contradict what is said of Josiah (2 Kings 23:25). Hezekiah was preeminent for his trust in Jehovah, Josiah for his strict adherence to the Mosaic Law.

Nor any that were before him.—Rather, nor among those that were before him.

Verse 6

(6) For he clave.And he held fast. Hezekiah’s pious feeling.

But kept.And he kept. Hezekiah’s practice. The context shows that the “commandments” specially in the writer’s mind were those against polytheism.

Verse 7

(7) And he prospered . . . went forth.Whithersoever he would go forth he would prosper. (The italicised and is needless here, as in 2 Kings 18:6.)

Prospered.—Comp. 1 Kings 2:3; Proverbs 17:8. Going forth denotes any external undertaking or enterprise, especially going forth to war. (Comp. the phrase “going out and coming in.”)

He rebelled against the king of Assyriai.e., refused the tribute which Ahaz his father had paid. In this matter also it is implied that Hezekiah succeeded. The mention of Hezekiah’s revolt here does not imply that it happened at the beginning of his reign, for 2 Kings 18:1-12 are a preliminary sketch of his entire history. The subject here glanced at is continued at large in 2 Kings 18:13 seq.

Verse 8

(8) He smote.He it was who smote. The reduction of the Philistines was probably subsequent to the retreat of Sennacherib. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 32:22; Isaiah 11:14.)

Unto Gaza.—The southernmost part of the Philistine territory.

From the tower of the watchmen . . . city.—See Note on 2 Kings 17:9. The entire land of Philistia was ravaged by the Judean forces.

Verses 9-12

(9-12) The account of the captivity of northern Israel is repeated here, because the editor faithfully reproduces what he found in the abstract of the Judœan history of the kings. (Comp. 2 Kings 17:3-6, and the Notes.) We may also see a contrast between the utter overthrow of the stronger kingdom and the deliverance of its smaller and weaker neighbour, because Hezekiah trusted in Jehovah (2 Kings 18:5).

Verse 10

(10) They took it—i.e., the Assyrians took it. This reading is preferable to that of the LXX., Syriac, and Vulg. (“he took it”), as it was Sargon, not Shalman-eser, who took the city. Schrader is too positive in calling this “a certainly false pronunciation” of the Hebrew verb. (Comp. Note on 2 Kings 17:5.) 2 Kings 17:6, to which he refers as “decisive” for the singular here also, says that “the king of Assyria” (not Shalmaneser) took Samaria.

Verse 12

(12) Because they obeyed not . . .—Thenius calls this remark, which properly belongs to the historical abstract from which the compiler drew the narrative of 2 Kings 18:1-12, “the theme” which suggested the reflections of 2 Kings 17:7-23. They may have been suggested by passages of the Law and Prophets.

And all.—Omit and, with all the versions. “All that Moses . . . commanded” is in apposition with “his covenant.”

And would not . . . do them.—Literally, and hearkened not, and did not.

Verse 13


(13) In the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah.—The fall of Samaria is dated 722-721 B.C. , both by the Bible and by the Assyrian inscriptions. That year was the sixth of Hezekiah, according to 2 Kings 18:10. His fourteenth year, therefore, would be 714-713 B.C. Sennacherib’s own monuments, however, fix the date of the expedition against Judah and Egypt at 701 B.C. (See the careful discussion in Schrader’s Keilinschriften, pp. 313-317.) This divergence is remarkable, and must not be explained away. It must be borne in mind that the Assyrian documents are strictly contemporary, whereas the Books of Kings were compiled long after the events they record, and have only reached us after innumerable transcriptions; while the former, so far as they are unbroken, are in exactly the same state now as when they first left the hands of the Assyrian scribes.

Sennacherib.—Called in his own annals Sin-ahî-erib, or Sin-ahî-erba, i.e., “Sin (the moon-god) multiplied brothers.” He was son and successor of Sargon, and reigned from 705-681 B.C. He invaded Judah in his third campaign.

All the fenced cities . . . took them.—See Sennacherib’s own words, quoted in the Note on 2 Chronicles 32:1.

Verse 14

(14) Lachish.Um-Lâkis, in the south-west corner of Judah, close to the Philistine border, and near the high road from Judæa and Philistia to Egypt. The fortress was important to Sennacherib, as it commanded this route. In fact, Sennacherib’s chief aim was Egypt, as appears from 2 Kings 19:24, and Herodotus (ii. 141), and it was necessary for him to secure his rear by first making himself master of the fortresses of Judah, which was in league with Egypt. (See Note on 2 Chronicles 32:9.)

I have offended.—Literally, I have sinned. The term “sin” is constantly used of “revolts” in the Assyrian inscriptions.

That which thou puttest on me.—In the way of tribute. A similar phrase occurs on the monuments.

Three hundred talents of silver, and thirty-talents of gold.—Sennacherib says: “Eight hundred talents of silver, and thirty of gold,” estimating the silver by the light Babylonian talent, which was to the heavy Palestinian talent in the ratio of eight to three. The sum mentioned is about a seventh less than that exacted by Pul from Menahem (2 Kings 15:19).

Verse 15

(15) The silveri.e., the money.

Verse 16

(16) Cut off the gold from the doors.—Literally, trimmed, or stripped the doors (the word used in 2 Kings 16:17 of the similar proceeding of Ahaz). The leaves of the doors of the sanctuary were overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:18; 1 Kings 6:32; 1 Kings 6:35). Hard necessity drove Hezekiah to strip off this gold, as well as that with which he had himself plated “the pillars” or rather the framework of the doors (literally, the supporters; others think that the door-posts only are meant by this term).

Verse 17

(17) And the king of Assyria sent . . .—Apparently in careless violation of his word, as Josephus states.

Tartan.—Rather, the commander-in-chief; called in Assyrian tur-ta-nu, a word of Sumerian origin, imitated in the Hebrew tartân here and in Isaiah 20:1.

Rabsaris and Rab-shaken.—Two other official titles. The Rabsaris has not been identified on the Assyrian monuments. The Hebrew word suggests “chief eunuch,” or “courtier.” (Comp.Jeremiah 39:3; Jeremiah 39:3.) Such an official would accompany the tartan as scribe The term Rab-shakeh, as a Hebrew expression, signifies “chief cup-bearer;” but it is really only a Hebraised form of the Assyrian title rab-sak, “chief officer,” applied to superior military commanders or staff officers. In Isaiah 36:2 only the Rabshakeh is mentioned; in 2 Chronicles 33:9 the three foreign titles are naturally displaced by the general expression, “his servants.”

And they went up and camei.e., the Assyrian army-corps under the tartan, &c.

And when they were come up, they came.—Literally, as before, And they went up and came. This is omitted in LXX., Syriac, Vulg., and Arabic, but the phrase refers this time specially to the three principals, who came within speaking distance of the walls.

The conduit . . . field.Isaiah 7:3. The upper pool (called Gihon in 1 Kings 1:33) on the “highway of the fuller’s field,” i.e., the Joppa road, on the west side of the city, is different from the upper pool in the Tyropœon, which is also called “the artificial pool” (Nehemiah 3:16), and “the old pool” (Isaiah 22:11). Below this latter was a pool, dug in Hezo-kiah’s time, called in Isaiah 22:9 “the lower pool,” and in Nehemiah 3:15 “the pool of Siloah.”

Verse 18

(18) And when they had called to the king.—They demanded a parley with Hezekiah himself. The king sent out his chief ministers; as to whom see 1 Kings 4:1-4. For Eliakim and Shebna see further, Isaiah 22:15; Isaiah 22:20 seq.

Verse 19

(19) And Rab-shakeh said.—Tiglath Pileser records that he sent a rab-sak as his envoy to Tyre. Thenius supposes the present rab-sak may have been a better master of Hebrew than his companions. Schrader says it would have been beneath the tartan’s dignity to speak, and that such vigorous language as follows would have had a very strange effect in the mouth of a eunuch (the rabsaris).

The great king, the king of Assyria.—Comp. the usual grandiloquent style of the Assyrian sovereigns: “I, Esarhaddon, the great king, the mighty king, the king of multitudes, the king of the country of Asshur;” and the title, “king of princes,” which Hosea applies to the king of Assyria (Hosea 8:10).

Verse 20

(20) Thou sayest (but they are but vain Words).—Literally, thou hast saida mere lip-word it wasi.e., insincere language, an utterance which thou knewest to be false. (Comp. our expression, “lip-service.”)

I have counsel . . .—The margin is wrong.

Verse 21

(21) The staff of this bruised reed.Cracked or flawed would be better than bruised; because, as is clear from the following words, the idea is that of a reed splitting and piercing the hand that rests upon it. (Comp. Isaiah 42:3.) As to the Judæan expectations from Egypt, comp. Isaiah 20:1-5; Isaiah 30:1-8; Isaiah 31:1-4, passages in which such expectations are denounced as implying want of faith in Jehovah.

Verse 22

(22) But if ye say.—The address seems to turn abruptly from Hezekiah to his ministers, and to the garrison of Jerusalem in general. But the LXX., Syriac, Arabic, and Isaiah 36:7 have the singular, “But if thou say,” which is probably original. (Hezekiah is presently mentioned in the third person, to avoid ambiguity.)

In the Lord our God.—The emphatic words of the clause.

Whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away.—This is just the construction which a heathen would naturally put on Hezekiah’s abolition of the local sanctuaries. (2 Kings 18:4; 2 Chronicles 31:1.) The Assyrians would appear to have heard of Hezekiah’s reformation, As he was a vassal of the great king, no doubt his proceedings were watched with jealous interest.

Ye shall worship . . . in Jerusalem?—Literally, Before this altar shall ye worship, at Jerusalem. The great altar of burnt offering was to be the one altar, and Jerusalem the one city, where Jehovah might be worshipped.

Verse 23

(23) Give pledges to.—Rather, make a compact with . . . So the Syriac; literally, mingle with . . . have dealings with (Psalms 106:35). Gesenius explains: join battle with; literally, mingle yourselves with: LXX., μίχθητε δὴ. Mr. Cheyne prefers, lay a wager with . . . The rab-sak sneers at Hezekiah’s want of cavalry, an arm in which the Assyrians were preeminently strong; and further hints that even if horses were supplied him in numbers sufficient to constitute an ordinary troop, he would not be able to muster an equivalent number of trained riders.

Verse 24

(24) How then.—Literally, And how. The connection of thought is: (But thou canst not); and how . . .

Turn away the face of . . .—i.e., repulse, reject the demand of . . . (1 Kings 2:16.)

One captain of the least of my master’s servants.—Rather, a pasha who is one of the smallest of my lord’s servants. He means himself. The word we render “pasha” is, in the Hebrew, pa’hath, a word which used to be derived from the Persian, but which is now known to be Semitic, from the corresponding Assyrian words pahat, “prefect,” “provincial governor,” and pihat, “prefecture.”

And put thy trust.—Rather, but thou hast put thy trust; assigning a ground for Hezekiah’s folly. There should be a stop at “servants.” (Comp. Isaiah 31:1 : “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots.”)

Verse 25

(25) The Lord said to me.—Michaelis supposed that Sennacherib had consulted some of the captive priests of the Northern kingdom. Others think some report of the menaces of the Hebrew prophets may have reached Assyrian ears. Thenius makes Rab-shakeh’s words a mere inference from the success which had hitherto attended the expedition; but the language is too definite for this. In the annals of Nabuna’id, the last king of Babylon, a remarkable parallel occurs. The Persian Cyrus there represents himself as enjoying the special favour of Merodach the chief god of Babylon; Merodach foretells his march upon the city, and accompanies him thither. Cyrus even declares that he has daily offered prayers to Bel and Nebo, that they might intercede with Merodach on his behalf. From all this it would appear to have been customary with invaders to seek to win the gods of hostile countries to the furtherance of their schemes of conquest. (Comp. the account of the taking of Veii in Livy, v. 21, especially the sentence beginning “Veientes ignari se jam ab suis vatibus, jam ab externis oraculis proditos;” and Macrob. Sat. iii. 9.) It is not impossible that there was some renegade prophet of Jehovah in the Assyrian camp. At all events, the form of the oracle, “Go up against this land, and destroy it,” is thoroughly authentic. Comp. the oracle of Chemosh to Mesha: “And Chemosh said unto me, Go thou, seize Nebo against Israel” (Moabite Stone, 1. 14). Meanwhile, Isaiah 10:5 seq. shows how true was the boast of the arrogant invader, in a sense which lay far above his heathenish apprehension.

Verse 26

(26) Speak, I pray thee . . . in the Syrian language.—HezeMah’s ministers naturally dread the effect of Rab-shakeh’s arguments and assertions upon the garrison of the city. The people, many of whom had always been accustomed to worship at the high places, might very well doubt whether there were not some truth in the allegation that Jehovah was incensed at their removal.

In the Syrian language.In Aramaic; which was at that time the language of diplomacy and commerce in the countries of Western Asia, as is proved by the bilingual contract-tablets (in Aramaic and Assyrian) discovered at Nineveh.

In the Jews’ language.In Jewish; an expression only found in Nehemiah 13:24 besides the present narrative. The word “Jew” (Yehûdî), from which it is derived, itself occurs only in the later Biblical books; but contemporary Assyrian usage (mât Ya-u-di or Ya-u-du, “Judah;” Ya-u-da-a-a, “the Jews”) is in favour of the supposition that the people of the Southern kingdom were even then called Yehûdim, and their language “Jewish” (Yehûdîth). The spoken dialect probably differed considerably from other varieties of Hebrew, though not enough to make it unintelligible to other Hebrew-speaking peoples, such as the northern Israelites and the Moabites and Edomites.

Verse 27

(27) Hath my master . . .—Rather, Is it to thy lord and to thee that my lord hath sent me to speak these words?

The men which sit on the walli.e., the soldiers on guard.

That they may eat . . .—These coarse words are meant to express the consequence of their resistance: it will bring them to such dire straits that they will be fain to appease the cravings of hunger and thirst with the vilest garbage. (Comp. 2 Kings 6:25 seq.)

Verse 28

(28) Stood.Came forward, i.e., nearer to the wall. (Comp. 1 Kings 8:22.)

The word.—LXX. and Vulg., words; so Isaiah.

Verse 29

(29) Let not Hezekiah deceive you.—Rab-shakeh was quick-witted enough to take instant advantage of Eliakim’s unwary remark, and to come forward in the character of a friend of the people (Cheyne). (For the verb, see Genesis 3:13.)

His hand.—To be corrected into “my hand,” in accordance with all the versions, save the Targum.

Verse 30

(30) Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord.—Hezekiah cannot save you himself (2 Kings 18:29); Jehovah will not do so (2 Kings 18:25). The “Jewish colouring” of the verse is not apparent to the present writer. If Rab-shakeh could speak Hebrew, he would almost certainly know the name of the god of the Jews; and it was perfectly natural for him to assume that Hezekiah and his prophets would encourage the people to trust in the God who had His sanctuary on Zion, and was bound to defend His own dwelling-place. The words are not so exact a reproduction of Isaiah’s language (Isaiah 37:35) as to preclude this view.

Delivered.—Rather, given, yielded up.

Verse 31

(31) Make an agreement with me by a present.—Literally, make with me a blessing, i.e. (according to the Targum and Syriac), “make peace with me.” The phrase does not elsewhere occur. Perhaps it is grounded on the fact that the conclusion of peace was generally accompanied by mutual expressions of goodwill. (Gesenius says peace is a conception akin to blessing, weal.)

Come out to me.—From behind your walls; surrender (1 Samuel 11:3; Jeremiah 21:9).

And then eat ye.—Omit then. The country-folk who had taken refuge in Jerusalem are invited to return to their farms, and dwell in peace, “until Sennacherib has brought his Egyptian campaign to a close; then, no doubt, they will be removed from their home, but a new home will be given them equal to the old” (Cheyne). We might, however, render, according to a well-known Hebrew idiom, so shall ye eat, every man of his own vine, &c., i.e., If ye surrender at once, no harm shall befall you; but ye shall enjoy your own land, until I remove you to a better. (Comp. 1 Kings 5:5.) Thenius denies the reference to the Egyptian campaign, and makes Sennacherib pose as a father who wishes to make the necessary preparations for the reception of his dear children (!).

Verse 32

(32) Oil olive.—The cultivated as distinct from the wild olive, or oleaster (1 Kings 6:23), which yields less and worse oil.

That ye may live.—Or, and ye shall live; a general promise of immunity, if they obey. (There should be, in this case, a stop at “honey.”)

When he persuadeth you.—Or, if he prick you on (1 Chronicles 21:1).

Verse 33

(33) Hath any . . . his land.—Literally, have the gods of the nations at all delivered every one his own Land? If this is to be consistent with 2 Kings 18:25, we must suppose the thought to be that the god of each conquered nation had favoured the Assyrian cause, as Jehovah is here alleged to be doing. But, as 2 Kings 18:34-35 seem to imply the impotence of the foreign deities when opposed to the might of Assyria, a verbal inconsistency may be admitted. (See Note on 2 Chronicles 32:15.)

The rab-sak would hardly be very particular about what he said in an extemporised address, the sole aim of which was to work on the fears of the Jews. The connection of thought in his mind may have been somewhat as follows: “Jehovah, instead of opposing, manifestly favours our arms; and even if that be otherwise, as you may believe, no matter! He is not likely to prove mightier than the gods of all the other nations that have fallen before us.”

Out of the hand of the king of Assyria.—Sennacherib, or his spokesman, thinks of his predecessors as well as of himself, as is evident from 2 Kings 19:12-13. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 32:13-14.)

Verse 34

(34) Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad?—Sargon, Sennacherib’s father, had reduced these two cities. The reference to “my fathers” in 2 Kings 19:12, and the use of the general term, “the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 18:33), are against Schrader’s supposition that the historian has confused the campaigns of Sargon with those of Sennacherib. (Comp. 2 Kings 17:24; 2 Kings 17:30.) Sargon has recorded that Ya-u-bi-h-di, king of the Hamathites, induced Arpad, Simyra, Damascus, and Samaria to join his revolt against Assyria. The confederacy was defeated at Qarqar, and Yahubihdi taken and flayed alive (B.C. 720).

Arpad.Tell-Erfâd, about ten miles north of Aleppo. The question, “Where are the gods?” &c, may imply that they had been annihilated along with their temples and statues. (Comp. Job 14:10.) Sometimes, indeed, the Assyrians carried off the idols of conquered nations, but this need not have been an invariable practice, and Isaiah 10:11 seems to imply that they were sometimes destroyed, as was likely to be the case when a city was taken by storm, and committed to the flames.

Sepharvaim.—See on 2 Kings 17:24. This city revolted with Babylon against Sargon at the beginning of his reign. No account of its fall has been preserved.

Hena, and Ivah.—These names do not occur in Isaiah, and are wholly unknown. The words look like two Hebrew verbs (“He hath caused to wander, and overturned”), as at present vocalised; and the Targum translates them as a question: “Have they not made them wander, and carried them away?” Hoffmann thinks the two words are really one (the niphal participle of ‘av’av), and should be rendered as an epithet of Sepharvaim, “the utterly perverted;” a nickname given it by the Assyrians, because of its follyin revolting again after its former subjugation. But the mention of Ava and the Avites (2 Kings 17:24; 2 Kings 17:31) is in favour of the same proper name here, and the LXX., Syriac, Arabic, and Vulg. agree with this. (The Syriac reads Avva, as in chap. 7:24.)

Have they delivered Samaria . . .?—Rather, How much less have they (i.e., its gods) delivered Samaria out of mine hand! So Ewald, Gram., § 256. The Syriac, Vulg., and Arabic render as the Authorised Version. Perhaps the original reading was not kȋ; but hakî:Is it the case that they have delivered?” &c. (Job 6:22).

Out of mine hand?—Sennacherib speaks as if he were one with his father, a circumstance which lends some support to the suggestion of Schrader, that the successive Assyrian invasions were not kept quite distinct in the Hebrew tradition. If so, the year 714 B.C. , assigned as the date of the present expedition (2 Kings 18:13), may really be that of an earlier expedition under Sargon, who, in fact, invaded the West in 720, 715, and 711 (or 709) B.C.

Verse 35

(35) The countries.—Which I have myself conquered.

That the Lord should deliver . . .—Ewald explains here, as in the last verse, much less will Jehovah deliver, &c., taking kî, “that,” as equivalent to ‘aph ki.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Kings 18". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-kings-18.html. 1905.
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