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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 36

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-12

Isa 36:1-12

Isaiah 36:1-3

DIVISION V (Isaiah 36-39)

This division is the historical section of Isaiah, corresponding with 2 Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 19:37. "Except for Hezekiah’s psalm, found only in Isaiah 38:9-20, and for Isaiah’s omission of 2 Kings 18:14-16, including part of Isaiah 36:17 a, much of the material in this Division coincides almost word-for-word with 2 Kings 18-20.”

There are some unanswered questions about variations in these two accounts: (1) Samaria fell in 722 B.C., which was Hezekiah’s sixth year (2 Kings 18:10); Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah was in 701 B.C., which therefore would have been Hezekiah’s 27th year. Isaiah 36:1, however, states that Sennacherib’s invasion of Judaea came in the 14th year of Hezekiah. All kinds of "explanations" are proposed by critics, most of them involving emendations in the text, the supposition of errors on the part of editors, co-editors, and redactors, etc., but as Rawlinson pointed out the solution of such problems is "quite impossible to determine except arbitrarily.”

We like the bold manner in which Archer handled this problem. He stated that, "The 14th year (Isaiah 36:1) seems to refer to the Second Reign of Hezekiah, that is, the additional span of fifteen years added to the king’s life after that deadly illness.” Archer did not relate just how he came up with that explanation; but a number of scholars agree that Sennacherib’s invasion actually occurred almost exactly in that 14th year following God’s fifteen year extension of Hezekiah’s life. This makes as much sense as any other "explanation" we have encountered. To us such discrepancies in the Word of God are not a problem. There were various ways in which the kingly reigns of that era were calculated. Furthermore, the other minor discrepancies that trouble some analysts are of little or no importance.

"The difference in the two copies is little more than what has manifestly arisen from the mistakes of transcribers. They mutually correct each other, and most of the mistakes may be perfectly rectified by a collation of the two copies.”

As Rawlinson pointed out, "Isaiah wrote the history of the reign of Hezekiah for the general Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (2 Chronicles 32:32), from which the account in 2Kings is almost certainly taken; and there is a close verbal resemblance" between this section of Isaiah and the passage in 2Kings. Isaiah is evidently the author of both narratives.

Some have been impressed by the fact that there are certain particulars in which the Assyrian inscriptions which have thus far been deciphered differ here and there with the Biblical account of Sennacherib’s invasion. As might have been foreseen, those inscriptions make no mention whatever of the loss of 185,000 soldiers on a single night. The Assyrians also might have inflated the number of cities taken and also most probably were in error on other points. We have no patience whatever with scholars who seem to think that the word of Isaiah needs to be confirmed by the boastful, arrogant, and inaccurate monuments erected by some wicked pagan king. Even our own monuments in the U.S.A. are not always correct. In the old Trinity Church Yard at the foot of Wall Street on lower Broadway, New York City, one may read on the monument over the grave of Robert Fulton that he was "the inventor of the steamboat," which he most certainly was NOT, a fact attested by a corrective monument erected by the United States Government in Berea, Kentucky, on which the REAL inventor, a certain John Fitch, is memorialized.

In this light, who should be concerned that Sennacherib’s inscriptions in some instances claim that the ruthless invader did some things at Jerusalem which Isaiah’s prophecy had foretold that he would not do. All one needs to remember in such an instance is that Sennacherib, am ong other things, was a very wicked man. Any allegation that monuments he erected would always have been truthfully inscribed is a postulation that we cannot possibly accept.

RABSHAKEH THREATENS JERUSALEM (Isaiah 36)

On the "14th year" see the chapter introduction. The invasion of Sennacherib referred to here took place in 701 B.C., at which time the Assyrian ruler did indeed ravage all of the outlying cities of Judaea, laying them waste, depopulating and carrying into captivity their peoples and despoiling them of vast quantities of booty.

It looked as if there would be little or no opposition to him; but suddenly Tirhakah, one of the Ethiopian rulers of Egypt appeared to confront Sennacherib; and that was the principal reason why he wished to bring about the surrender of Jerusalem in order to avoid fighting on two fronts at once. Sennacherib was engaged at the moment in destroying Lachish; and Isaiah 36:1 here states that it was from that city that Sennacherib sent an envoy to demand the surrender of Hezekiah.

Isaiah 36:1-3

"Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them. And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field. Then came forth unto him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, the son of Asaph, the recorder."

The narrative in 2Kings points out that Hezekiah had requested this envoy by a message sent to Sennacherib during the siege at Lachish, "I have offended; that which thou puttest on me I will bear" (2 Kings 18:14). Sennacherib demanded and received from Hezekiah 300 talents of silver, and 30 talents of gold, which Hezekiah at great cost had paid. Sennacherib had already carried away over 200,000 captives at the time when he sent this envoy to Hezekiah, which was composed of three men of high rank: Tartan, Rabsaris and Rabshakeh. Rabshakeh, the commanding general of the invading army, seems to have been the most important; at least, he was the speaker and was alone mentioned in this chapter.

Hezekiah responded by sending three important officers of Judah: Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah. It is interesting that Eliakim’s replacement of Shebna as the officer over the king’s household, as prophesied in Isaiah 22:20-22 had, at this time already occurred, Shebna, at this time being demoted to scribe. "It is also of interest that the spot where this meeting occurred was the very place where Isaiah some forty years earlier had been commanded to meet Ahaz. It was probably on the north side of Jerusalem, not far from the Damascus gate (Isaiah 7:3).” God’s message to the king of Judah would be the same as it was then, "Do not fear the Assyrians."

Isaiah 36:4-10

"And Rabshakeh said unto them, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria. What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? I say, thy counsel and strength for the warfare are but vain empty words: now on whom dost thou trust, that thou hast rebelled against me? 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 to all that trust on him. But if thou 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 unto Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar? 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 on thy part 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? And am I now come up without Jehovah against this land to destroy it? Jehovah said unto me, Go up against this land, and destroy it."

This was indeed a master stroke of diplomatic arrogance and intimidation. It was a combination of falsehood, mingled with a few grains of truth. The arrogant offer to provide two thousand horses for Hezekiah, provided that Hezekiah had anybody who could ride them, was the equivalent of the boast of the schoolyard bully who threatened his opponent, saying, "I can whip you with one hand tied behind my back!"

"Say ye now to Hezekiah ..." (Isaiah 36:4). Note that Rabshakeh did not even accord to Hezekiah his rightful title as King, whereas he referred to Sennacherib as "The Great King the King of Assyria," that being the title by which the Assyrian kings referred to themselves.

Evidently, the Assyrians had a thorough intelligence system; because this mention that Hezekiah had tom down Jehovah’s altars was a mistaken interpretation of Hezekiah’s marvelous reforms. The Law of Moses required that "only at Jerusalem" was God to be worshipped by the Israelites; but, in time, high places and altars had been erected throughout the land. Hezekiah had corrected that apostasy, which is exactly what he should have done; but Rabshakeh supposed that this would have been contrary to God’s will.

None of the pagan nations had a religious system that required "one altar only," as did the Jews; and therefore Rabshakeh, having learned that Hezekiah had destroyed some altars (the illegal ones) that were indeed dedicated to Jehovah, he supposed that Jehovah would have been angry with Hezekiah. As Jamieson said, "Some of those altars that Hezekiah destroyed may indeed have been dedicated to Jehovah; but they were worshipped with idols in violation of the Second Commandment.” Thus Rahshakeh’s argument was totally contrary to the truth.

One thing Rabshakeh was absolutely correct about was the dependability of Egypt!

Notice the bold lie that "Jehovah" had sent him against Jerusalem. Indeed the Assyrians were God’s instrument in the reduction of the Northern Israel and many of the adjacent cities to Jerusalem, but we may reject as an arrogant falsehood the proposition that God had commanded Sennacherib to take Jerusalem.

We learn from Isaiah 36:10 that the purpose of Sennacherib was the total destruction and devastation of Jerusalem, despite all of the lying promises he had made when he exacted that scandalously large tribute from Hezekiah. The truth comes out right here.

Isaiah 36:11-12

"Then said Eliakim and Shebna and Joah, Speak, I pray thee unto thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and speak not to us in the Jews’ language, in the ears of the people that are on the wall. But Rabshakeh said, 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 upon the wall, to eat their own dung, and to drink their own water with you?"

The purpose of Hezekiah’s envoys here is plain enough. They did not want the men on the wall to understand the arrogant intimidation in the terrible words of Rabshakeh; and therefore they requested that the message be delivered in the Syrian language. Rabshakeh, fully aware of their purpose, addressed his next taunt to the men on the wall themselves, promising them that, when Sennacherib took over the siege of the city, they would be compelled to eat their own dung and drink their own urine! What a horrible and revolting promise!

Jamieson pointed out that it was not "Syrian" which the Assyrians spoke, but "Aramean.”

Isaiah 36:1-5 RABSHAKEH’S INQUIRY: This section of Isaiah is one of three different historical records of these events. The other two records are 2 Kings 18, 19, and 2 Chronicles 32. These three records do not contradict, but supplement one another. Chronicles seems to be, in these events, as it is in so many other parallel events, a condensation of what actually took place because Chronicles is the “theological” view of the theocracy while Kings is the “historical” view.

One might wonder why Isaiah would insert an historical narrative squarely in the middle of a series of grandly soaring and majestic prophecies. Without doubt his purpose is to give proof of his prophetic call and mission. The rapid fulfillment of Isaiah’s prediction concerning the deliverance of Jerusalem, the restoration of Hezekiah and the death of the Assyrian king would prove conclusively that he was sent from Jehovah and spoke Jehovah’s word!

There is a minor problem with the year of Hezekiah’s reign. The campaign of Sennacherib against the cities of Judah took place from 703 to 701 B.C. This would at first glance indicate Hezekiah’s reign to begin about 717–715 B.C. According to 2 Kings 18:1-2 it began in the 3rd year of Hoshea of Israel and lasted for 29 years. Hoshea was king of Israel when Shalmanezer began his siege of that kingdom. That was in Hoshea’s seventh year and Hezekiah’s fourth. Three years later Hoshea was carried captive (cf. 2 Kings 18:9-10). Israel fell to Shalmanezer in 722–721 B.C. (2 Kings 18:9 ff). This means that Hezekiah began to reign six years before the downfall of Samaria, i.e., 728–727 B.C. Edward J. Young submits the possibility of an early emendation to the Hebrew text—a slight change in one of the characters in a specific Hebrew word. Only a slight alteration could change the Hebrew word ‘eseryis (twenty-four) to ‘esereh (fourteen) and thus create the apparent discrepancy here. If this were the 24th year of Hezekiah’s reign (703 B.C.) it would place the beginning of it 728–727 B.C. Young, however, offers no manuscript evidence for this possibility. Another possible explanation is that 703 B.C. may be noted as the fourteenth year in which Hezekiah was the sole ruler of Judah! It has been proven by ancient records uncovered by archaeologists that kings of antiquity often ruled a number of years in a co-regency with their aged father-kings. In other words, Hezekiah may have ruled the first 10–12 years with his father, and without his father from 717–715 B.C. for the next fourteen years. This would explain calling 703–701 B.C. Hezekiah’s fourteenth year of rule.

The king of Assyria took 46 cities of Judah, as we have mentioned elsewhere. Now he, himself, is occupied with an assault upon Lachish, some 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem. The king sends his Rab-shakeh to inquire of Jerusalem’s intentions toward his campaign of conquest in Judah. Rab means chief, and shakeh probably is a military officer. The Rab-shakeh was probably the emperor’s personal, most trusted military commander much like the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who may be depended upon for absolute allegiance to carry out very important military/political functions the President himself cannot attend to. When he spoke it was with direct and absolute authority from the king himself. To make his mission more ominously impressive, he came to Jerusalem with a “great” army.

Now Hezekiah had been busily restoring true and holy religion to Judah. He had been breaking down idolatrous altars, reinstituting the Passover, rebelling against paying tribute to a pagan Assyrian empire, and defeating Philistine enemies, (2 Kings 18:1-8; 2 Chronicles 29-31). When the king of Assyria came marching into Judah with his campaign of conquest, it appears Hezekiah had second thoughts about his refusal to pay tribute to Assyria and sent an apology to the king at Lachish (2 Kings 18:13-16) and stripped the gold from the doors of the temple and took silver and gold from the treasury of the temple and the palace and gave it to the Assyrian emperor. What was Hezekiah’s motive for such an apparent reversal of courage, faith and godliness being demonstrated by his unique and amazing religious reform? Perhaps he rationalized, The throne of David is in imminent danger of being overthrown and the House of David extinguished; I am old, my days are numbered, I have no child to succeed me and the king of Assyria must be placated awhile longer until a royal successor to David’s throne is produced. Or, perhaps, Hezekiah, like many rulers, compromised his convictions simply from fear,

Lachish is approximately 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem (see Map #1) and would take the Rab-shakeh two days of marching, setting up camp at night, to reach Jerusalem. Upon arriving at Jerusalem the Assyrians probably set up their bivouac in the Kidron Valley or on the slope of the Mt. of Olives, eastward from the main gates of the city. Located there also is the Gihon Spring and the Upper Pool with its new secret conduit hewn out of solid rock by Hezekiah’s workmen to hide Jerusalem’s chief water supply from the Assyrians (cf. 2 Chronicles 32:1-8). It was probably Hezekiah who first extended the wall to the western hill (known as Modern Zion). In 1970, Professor Nachman Avigad of Hebrew University unearthed a massive portion of ancient wall in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. This wall was 25 feet thick in some places and located opposite the Temple area (see Map #3). The reader may research this information in The Biblical Archaeology Review, September, 1975. Archaeologists date this wall in the late 8th century B.C. This is probably Hezekiah’s “outer wall” of 2 Chronicles 32:5. Hezekiah’s underground conduit (through which tourists can walk today) enabled the city successfully to withstand the Assyrian siege. A second unprotected earlier conduit has been traced from Gihon Spring, directly southward, outside the walls of David’s city, discharging its waters through a short tunnel behind a dam built across the mouth (lower end) of the Tyropoeon Valley. This was the Old Pool of Isaiah 22:11 and was the pool probably enlarged later by Hezekiah and called the “reservoir between the two walls” and was probably intended to take the overflow of his new conduit (see Map #3). Here by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field Ahaz had rejected the word of God and the promises of the true King and had turned to the Assyrians (cf. Isaiah 7:3). Now, the Assyrians are here on this same spot, a terrifying, threatening consequence of the disobedience of the rulers of God’s people.

Accompanying the Rab-shakeh were officers called “the Tartan and the Rab-saris” (2 Kings 18:17) and upon their arrival at the “upper pool” they “called for the king” (2 Kings 18:18). It was a calculated show of insolence and contempt for Hezekiah. But Hezekiah did not come in person. He was represented by Eliakim, Shebna and Joah. Eliakim has assumed the duties formerly assigned to Shebna, chief of the king’s house (see our comments on ch. Isaiah 22:20 ff). Shebna has been demoted to scribe. What the Rab-shakeh has to say will be recorded.

It is interesting to note the Rab-shakeh always speaks of his own king with proper respect, calling him “the great king,” but not once does he refer to Hezekiah as king. There is probably some psychological-warfare intended here as well as outright contempt. The Rab-shakeh’s entire speech is masterfully, though rudely done.

The Assyrian begins by challenging the confidence of Judah. The Jews apparently had demonstrated a measure of military-political confidence in something. Perhaps Hezekiah’s rebellion (2 Kings 18:7) is referred to; perhaps Rab-shakeh knows of an alliance with Egypt—perhaps the Assyrian intelligence department has discovered such an alliance between Judah and Egypt. Whatever the case the Rab-shakeh is trying to destroy this “confidence” for he uses the word “trust” and “rely” over and over in his speech. The Rab-shakeh also evidently knows something of the details of Hezekiah’s basis for confidence. He intimates that he knows even of the words (“counsel”) and the preparations (“strength”) the Jews have made to war against the Assyrians! He arrogantly classifies them as useless.

Isaiah 36:6-12 RABSHAKEH’S INTIMIDATION: After a rhetorical question, the Rab-shakeh gives his own answer. Judah has trusted in Egypt which he characterizes as a “bruised reed.” Egypt was a land of reeds. For a man to try to lean on a reed was foolish, but to lean on a bruised reed was stupid. Isaiah has already characterized Egypt as “big mouth who does nothing” (Isaiah 30:7). King Hoshea of Israel had relied on Egypt for help against Assyria, but Egypt did not come to his aid (2 Kings 17:4). Actually, to trust in Egypt caused nations to suffer worse disaster than if they had not relied upon her. So the figure of a man trying to lean on a bruised reed and having his hand pierced! Perhaps the battle of Eltekeh, between the allied armies of Egypt-Philistines and the Assyrians, had been fought already. Egypt was soundly defeated at this battle near Ekron, according to the annals of Sennacherib. So the Rab-shakeh makes his boast of the inferiority of Egypt.

Having cut the ground from under the Jews in respect to their cherished military alliance with Egypt, the Rab-shakeh turns his sarcasm upon their religious confidence. Implied is a certain knowledge among the Assyrians of the importance attached by the Jews to their worship and reliance on Jehovah. The Assyrian’s reference to Hezekiah’s reform manifests his misunderstanding of the One True God. Hezekiah caused to be “hewed down the Asherim” (2 Kings 18:4-5; 2 Chronicles 31:1) and the Nehushtan (the bronze serpent the people had begun to burn incense to). The altars he tore down were evidently Canaanitish places of worship along with some altars the Jews had made for themselves contrary to God’s command that He was to be worshipped in only one place. Yet, in spite of the truth of Hezekiah’s reform, the rank and file of the people of Judah had become so accustomed to worshipping in the high places at the half-idolatrous altars, they were probably impressed with Rab-shakeh’s argument that Jehovah was displeased with them.

The Assyrian commander’s next form of intimidation is a dare. He dares the Jews to barter, negotiate (Heb. ‘arav), or, one might translate “make a wager” with the king of Assyria that they have 2000 men to ride war horses. If they can prove they have only that many, the king of Assyria will give them 2000 horses! The Rab-shakeh has no doubt already determined that Hezekiah does not have that many cavalrymen. He then continues his tirade of contempt by boasting the Jews are unable to offer reasonable opposition to the smallest and least significant of one of Assyria’s divisions of fighting-men. This would be as frightening as were the boasts and sabrerattling of Adolph Hitler when he intimidated Neville Chamberlain in the 1930’s.

Adding to the trepidation of the Jews would be the announcement of the Rab-shakeh that he had come up to Jerusalem with Jehovah’s commission to destroy it. He represents Jehovah as speaking directly to him a command to go against Judah and destroy it! The Rab-shakeh’s claim is interesting, to say the least. There are indications that Jehovah would “call” the Assyrians to chasten the Jews (Isaiah 5:26 ff; Isaiah 7:18 ff; Isaiah 10:5 ff; Isaiah 28:11 ff). God spoke to a number of pagan emperors through dreams, visions and prophets. We are more inclined to believe in this case, however, the Rab-shakeh is self-deceived and thinks he has been sent by the Hebrew God, or is deliberately lying to the Hebrews and received no call whatsoever. There is an inscription of Cyrus, king of Persia, claiming that the Babylonian god, Marduk (Bel), was with him in his conquests of Babylon. It was apparently a widely practiced bit of psychological-warfare among the ancients.

This so unnerved the Hebrew officials for fear his arguments would spread from the mouths of those upon the walls who were listening to the ears of all in the city, exaggerated with each telling, of course, they insist that the Rab-shakeh speak to them in aramiyth, Aramaic, and not in yehudiyth, Jewish. Though Aramaic was the common language of diplomacy at this time, it is probable that most of the Jews could not understand it. After their captivity in Babylon they could only understand Aramaic and not Hebrew. The Hebrew language is called here “Jewish” after Judah since the northern kingdom has already gone into captivity and Judah is the only Hebrew nation left. The people of Judah may have been calling themselves Yehudiyth for a long time to distinguish themselves from the northern kingdom. It is interesting to note the Rab-shakeh knew the Hebrew language. He was not only the “chief” military man, a master psychologist and well versed in world affairs; he was also a linguist.

In Isaiah 36:12 the Rab-shakeh makes it plain in the crudest and most humiliating language his purpose for coming to Jerusalem was not diplomacy but intimidation. He did not come to banter pleasantries and subterfuge with Hezekiah or his noblemen. He says bluntly his purpose was to intimidate the common people of the city, threatening them with the most degrading threats. He warns them in their own language they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine if they dare to go to war and resist the Assyrian conquest of their city. People besieged in ancient cities for three and four years in succession often resorted to atrocities such as this and worse for survival (see Josephus’ account of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.).

The Rab-shakeh has thoroughly intimidated the populace. They have heard him ridicule their counsels for war as if he knew every move they were making; they have heard him ridicule their “dinky” army as if he knew how few soldiers they really had; they have heard him claim a divine commission from Jehovah for destroying their city; they have heard terrifying threats of human privation—all in their own language. And to impress them with his power to carry out his threats, he brought along a great number of troops. The Rab-shakeh is a skillful propagandist. He will make a psychological turn from intimidation to indulgence. He knows how to “psych” people.

Verses 13-20

Isa 36:13-20

Isaiah 36:13-20

"Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and said, Hear ye the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you; for he will not be able to deliver you: neither let Hezekiah make you trust in Jehovah, saying Jehovah will surely deliver us; 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 unto me; and eat everyone of his vine, and everyone 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. Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, Jehovah will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? and have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who are they among all the gods of these countries, that have delivered their country out of my hand, that Jehovah should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?"

The strategy of Rabshakeh here was to destroy the faith of the people in their king Hezekiah, and in their God Jehovah, and in themselves. If he could have accomplished that, there would not have been very much left for Jerusalem to rely upon. One may only admire the arrogant and skillful verbal assault upon the city.

All the promises about every man eating of his own vine and fig-tree, etc., all but concealed the brutal truth that all of that period of peace would last "only" until Sennacherib carried them away to Assyria (Isaiah 36:17); and even that terrible fate was disguised by the promise that Assyria was a productive and fruitful land "like your own land!" But he did not mention the long lines of captives strung together with hooks and bridles through their noses, ears and lips, or the fact of their ultimate destination in the brickyards, mines, and factories where they would be worked to death, starved to death or beaten to death. What an unconscionable liar Rabshakeh really was?

Note the boast in Isaiah 36:19 that Sennacherib had defeated the gods of Hamath, Arpad and Sepharvaim, along with those of Samaria; but it was not Sennacherib who had won those victories. They belonged to Shalmaneser or Sargon, or Tiglath-pileser III.

Hamath was a city on the Orontes river on the northern border of Israel; Arpad was a citadel on the road between Damascus and Hamath (Jeremiah 49:23); Sepharvaim cannot certainly be identified, but the context indicates that it was in Syria. See The New Bible Dictionary (in loco).

In Isaiah 36:20, Rabshakeh classified Jehovah along with all the other gods of the nations destroyed by the Assyrians, having already stated in Isaiah 36:10 that "Jehovah" had commanded him to destroy Jerusalem, posing in that remark as one who was acting upon Jehovah’s orders! As Jamieson said, "This contradicts what was said in Isaiah 36:10. Liars need good memories (which evidently Rabshakeh did not have). He here classes Jehovah with the idols of other lands, and even thinks him to be inferior.”

Isaiah 36:13-15 TAUNT: The Assyrians were noted for their arrogant disregard of the most basic diplomatic etiquette. Their reputation was that of baseness, cruelty and insolence. Rabshakeh, asked to address his words in Aramaic to the representatives of King Hezekiah, insolently rises from his eat, steps forward (probably past the three Hebrew officials) and yells his taunt in the Hebrew language at the people gathered along the walls of the city of Jerusalem. His taunt is that Hezekiah does not know what he is talking about—that Hezekiah is leading the people down the path of deception. It is really an accusation that the people are being exploited by Hezekiah. It is interesting to note the emphatic repetition (4 times) of the Rabshakeh that the people not let Hezekiah deceive them. Evidently Hezekiah had impressed the people that Jehovah would deliver the city from the Assyrians. When Sennacherib first marched into Judah, Hezekiah sent a letter of apology for rebelling against him (see comments Isaiah 36:1-12). Hezekiah even sent tribute to Lachish to Sennacherib. Isaiah must have convinced Hezekiah in the interval between Sennacherib’s initial invasion and Rabshakeh’s journey to Jerusalem that the Lord would indeed deliver Jerusalem. Hezekiah made an impassioned plea to the people (2 Chronicles 32:6-8), after redirecting the city’s water supply and building new walls, that “there is one greater with us than with him.” It appears the Assyrians had heard of this new courage of Hezekiah and his persuasion of the people. Rabshakeh’s words must have indicated to the people that the Assyrians knew even about the passionate pleas Hezekiah made within the confines of their city walls! It would be disconcerting and frightening.

Isaiah 36:16-17 TEMPTATION: The Rabshakeh applies the pressure of fleshly concern for physical well-being, innocent enough in itself but idolatrous when it supersedes godliness as a first concern. He urges the people to think first of their stomachs. He promises that all will be well with them if they will surrender to the terms of the king of Assyria. The only sacrifice they will have to make, according to the Rabshakeh, is to be taken from their homeland. Even then, he promises, they will be taken to a land as fertile, productive and prosperous as their own. Rabshakeh does not specifically promise them they will participate as citizens or land-owners in the “new land.” The fertility of Mesopotamia was, in some ways, greater than that of Palestine. And that was the catch! The appeal was fleshly. The temptation was casting physical survival against a spiritual birthright. It was the age-old temptation begun with Jacob and Esau and epitomized at Christ’s temptation in the wilderness to turn stones into bread. The land of Palestine was more than mere physical sustenance to the Hebrews. It was the covenant land of their fathers. They were given this land by the mighty hand of Jehovah for a spiritual purpose. It was the land where the only altar to the One True God could be erected. If they, of their own deliberate choice, should surrender to be taken from the land, it would demonstrate their total disregard of their spiritual birthright. Later, when God removed them from their land, it was a graphic object lesson to the Jews that they had forfeited their spiritual legacy by sin and idolatry and no longer deserved to occupy the covenant land. The temptation was to weigh the invisible, ideal matters of faith against the visible, practical matters of the flesh. They were being tempted to think they were, after all, clinging to a religious illusion while they might deprive themselves of a present happiness.

The Hebrew people should have known the practice of pagan empires in transplanting people away from their homelands was not for the pleasure of the conquered people but for the security of the empire. It was a well known practice (cf. 2 Kings 18:11, etc.) and functioned well in keeping subjugated people from rebelling. Such a practice not only humiliated people and dispersed them widely but it also de-culturized them. They tended to lose their national identity and thus any strong motivation for rebellion.

Isaiah 36:18-20 TABULATION: Now Rabshakeh appeals to seeming facts of history. He tabulates all the victories the king of Assyria has had over the gods of the nations he has conquered. He begins by warning the Hebrew people not to let Hezekiah “sweet talk” them into depending upon their God. The Hebrew word translated persuade is yasiyth (from suth) meaning “to soothe.” It is almost as if Rabshakeh warns the people that Hezekiah may be trying to soothingly seduce them by saying, Jehovah will deliver us. The gods of the nations appear to have been powerless against the great king of Assyria. When the power showdown came, none of the gods of the nations could deliver from the Assyrians. The gods of the nations now sat as trophies in the Assyrian pantheon of gods. In ancient thought, religion and political power were closely connected. If a city or a nation survived and maintained its sovereignty, it was because of the power of its national god; a nation’s wanderings were accompanied by the wanderings of its gods, its victories accomplished by its gods, its defeats signs of the inferiority of its gods. If all the powerful gods of the many nations conquered by Assyria were proven powerless, what hope could the Hebrews hold that their God was any more powerful. This appeal to the power of paganism over Jehovah may seem strange to us but to the mind of the heathen, and from the heathen view of politics, religion and history, it was not strange. In fact, in some godless lands today, the same reasoning prevails. See Map #1 for the location of Hamath, Arpad and Sepharvaim.

Verses 21-22

Isa 36:21-22

Isaiah 36:21-22

"But they 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, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rabshakeh."

The rent garments of the three envoys whom the king had sent to receive the communication from Sennacherib’s messengers indicate the shameful, tragic nature of the word they brought back. Their king had been insulted, unconditional surrender had been demanded, the captivity of the people had been promised, their God, even the Holy One of Israel, had been blasphemed, Jerusalem had been consigned to the ban and would be totally destroyed. Therefore, in sorrow, disgrace, grief, and the utmost despair, indicated by their rent clothing, these envoys returned to Hezekiah. This was indeed a dark moment in the history of God’s chosen people. Under such dreadful circumstances as these, Hezekiah reacted as a believer in Jehovah should have done; and that is fully developed in the next chapter.

Isaiah 36:21 SILENCE: The usual Hebrew word for peace, shallom, is not in this sentence. The word is yaheriyshu and is translated “held their peace” but literally means “were dumb, silent,” and is from the same root word which speaks of engraved sculpture. The idea probably is that the Hebrew officials stood before the Rabshakeh as silent as stone statues! Wise King Solomon said, “there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak . . .” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). This was a time for silence. Hezekiah commanded it. The Hebrew word for command is mitzvah. The bar-mitzvah literally means “son of command” and is the ceremony observed for all Jewish boys at the age of 13 when they become “sons of responsibility.” In this sentence it is the mitzvah of the melek; the command of the king. Hezekiah knew that any answer his representatives or his people might give about Jehovah delivering them would not convince the Assyrians to refrain from their threats and actions. It would only agitate them. There are times when “pearls and bread should not be cast before swine and dogs, lest they turn and rend you.” There are times, in heated, emotional confrontations when answering taunt with taunt would inflame the situation out of control. Matthew Henry said, “It is sometimes prudent not to answer a fool according to his folly.” Hezekiah and Isaiah had reason enough to make an answer to Rabshakeh that God would deliver them, but such an answer would hardly appease such an unreasonable braggart as Rabshakeh. Jesus, facing just such a brazen, foolish and ungodly man in Herod, “answered him not a word.”

Isaiah 36:22 SUFFERING: It was not easy for the Hebrew officials to keep silent. Their dismay and despair is demonstrated in the tearing of their clothing. The Jews tore their clothing when they were sorrowful, penitent, distraught, confused and angry. All of these emotions may have been welling up within these men. One thing they knew, the Assyrians were powerful and had done all (and more) that the Rabshakeh recounted. What the future held for their city was unknown, as yet. The only alternative they had to the Rabshakeh’s tabulation of Assyrian victories was faith in Jehovah. Often, the known is distinct and threatening; the unknown veiled and sometimes even more threatening. So we are often defeated by our own reasoning. Our problems seem insoluble to our thinking. But there is enough evidence of the power of God to deliver the faithful, the believer may have victory over every threat of the enemy.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Isaiah 36". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/isaiah-36.html.
 
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