Saturday, June 3rd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 19". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 2-kings-19.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 19". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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2 Kings 19:1-37
SECOND EXPEDITION OF SENNACHERIB AGAINST HEZEKIAH (continued). The chapter falls into four portions:
(1) The sequel to the embassy of Rabshakeh (2 Kings 19:1-8);
(2) the insulting letter of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:9-14);
(3) Hezekiah's prayer, and God's answer to it by the mouth of Isaiah (verses 15-34); and
(4) the destruction of Sennacherib's host, his hurried flight, and his murder at Nineveh by his sons (verses 35-37). The narrative runs parallel with that in Isaiah 37:1-38; with which it corresponds almost word for word.
2 Kings 19:1
And it came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes—following the example of his chief officers, who came into his presence "with their clothes rent" (see 2 Kings 18:37)—and covered himself with sackcloth. A sign of grief and self-humiliation (comp. Genesis 37:34; 2Sa 3:31; 2 Samuel 21:10; 1 Kings 20:31, 1Ki 21:27; 2 Kings 6:30, etc.). It was natural that the king should be even more strongly affected than his ministers. And went into the house of the Lord; to open his griefs, ask counsel, and beg for aid.
2 Kings 19:2
And he sent Eliakim, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests. "The elders of the priests" are aged men holding the priestly office, not necessarily the high priest, or the most notable or most dignified of the priests. The king felt that his best hope, so far as man was concerned, lay in the prophetical order. Isaiah, Hosed, Joel, Micah, and perhaps Obadiah, were the prophets of the time; but it is not clear that any of them were accessible except Isaiah. He had been Ahaz's counselor (Isaiah 7:4-16), and was now certainly among the regular counselors of Hezekiah. Moreover, he was in Jerusalem, and could readily be consulted. Hezekiah, therefore, sends to him in his distress, and sends a most honorable and dignified embassy. It is his intention to treat the prophet with the utmost respect and courtesy. No doubt, at this period the prophetical order stood higher than the priestly one in general estimation; and not unworthily. If any living man could give the king sound advice under the circumstances, it was the son of Amoz. Covered with sackcloth. Probably by the king's command. Hezekiah wished to emphasize his own horror and grief in the eyes of the prophet, and could only do so by making his messengers assume the garb which he had judged suitable for himself on the occasion. To Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. Nothing morels known of Amoz beyond his being Isaiah's father. He is not to be confounded with the Prophet Amos, whose name is spelt quite differently: עָמוֹס, not אמוֹץ.
2 Kings 19:3
And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of Blasphemy. Of "trouble," or "distress," manifestly—a day on which the whole nation is troubled, grieved, alarmed, distressed, made miserable. It is also a day of "rebuke," or rather of "chastisement"—a day on which God's hand lies heavy upon us and chastises us for our sins. And it is a day, not of "blasphemy," but of "abhorrence" or of "contumely"—a day on which God contumeliously rejects his people, and allows them to be insulted by their enemies (see the comments of Keil and Bahr). For the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. A proverbial expression, probably meaning that a dangerous crisis approaches, and that the nation has no strength to carry it through the peril.
2 Kings 19:4
It may be the Lord thy God—still "thy God," at any rate, if he will not condescend to be called ours, since we have so grievously offended him by our many sins and backslidings—will hear all the words of Rabshakeh. "The words of Rabshakeh" (Isaiah 37:4); but the expression here used is more emphatic. Hezekiah hoped that God would "hear" Rabshakeh's words, would note them, and punish them. Whom the King of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God (For the "reproaches" intended, see 2 Kings 18:30-35. For the expression, "the living God," אֱלצִים צַי, see Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26; Psalms 42:2; Psalms 84:2; Hosea 1:10, etc.) A contrast is intended between the "living" God, and the dead idols whom Rabshakeh has placed on a par with him. And will reprove the words which the Lord thy God hath heard. The "words of Rabshakeh," his contemptuous words concerning Jehovah (2 Kings 18:33-35) and his lying words (2 Kings 18:25), constituted the new feature in the situation, and, while a ground for "distress," were also a ground for hope: would not God in some signal way vindicate his own honor, and "reprove" them? Wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left. Sennacherib, in his former expedition, wherein he took forty-six of the Judaean cities, besides killing vast numbers, had, as he himself tells us, carried off into captivity 200,150 persons. He had also curtailed Hezekiah's dominions, detaching from them various cities with their territories, and attaching them to Ashdod, Gaza, and Ekron. Thus it was only a "remnant" of the Jewish people that was left in the land (comp. Isaiah 1:7-9).
2 Kings 19:5
So the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah. Superfluous, according to modern notions, but rounding off the paragraph commenced with verse 2.
2 Kings 19:6
And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say to your master. Isaiah seems to have been ready with a reply. The news of the words spoken by Rabshakeh had probably flown through the city, and reached him, and he had already laid the matter before God, and received God's instructions concerning it. He was therefore able to return an answer at once. Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants—rather, lackeys; the term used is not the common one for "servants," viz. עַבְדֵי, but a contemptuous one, נַעֲרֵי, "foot-boys," or "lackeys"—of the King of Assyria have blasphemed me.
2 Kings 19:7
Behold, I will send a blast upon him. The meaning is doubtful. Most modern critics translate, with the LXX; "I will put a spirit within him," and understand "a spirit of cowardice," or "a despondent mood" (Thenius), or "an extraordinary impulse of Divine inspiration, which is to hurry him blindly on" (Drechsler). But the idea of our translators, that the blast (רוּה) is external, and sent upon him, not put in him—that, in fact, the destruction of his army is referred to, seems defensible by such passages as Exodus 15:8 and Isaiah 25:4. The prophecy was, no doubt, intentionally vague—enough for its immediate purpose, which was to comfort and strengthen Hezekiah—but not intended to gratify man's curiosity by revealing the exact mode in which God would work. And he shall hear a rumor; literally, he shall hear a hearsay; i.e. he shall be told something, which shall determine him on a hasty retreat. It is best, I think, to understand, not news of Tirhakah's advance (Knobel, Keil, Bahr), much less news of an insurrection in some other part of the empire (Cheyne), but information of the disaster to his army. It is no objection to this that Sennacherib was "with his army." No doubt he was. But he would learn the catastrophe from the mouth of some one who came into his tent and told him—he would "hear a hearsay" And shall return to his own land (see verse 36), and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. (On Sennacherib's murder, see the comment upon verse 37.)
2 Kings 19:8
So Rabshakeh returned. Rabshakeh's embassy came to an end with the retirement of Hezekiah's officers from their conference with the three envoys of Sennacherib. No further communication was held with him. He had outraged all propriety by his appeal to the "men upon the wall" (2 Kings 18:27-35); and it seems to have been thought most dignified to give him no answer at all. He had offered no terms—he had simply delivered a summons to surrender, and the closed gates and guarded walls were a sufficient reply. So he felt, and returned to his master, re infecta. And found the King of Assyria warring against Libnah. The position of Libnah relatively to Lachish is uncertain. The site of Lachish may be regarded as fixed to Um-Lakis; but that of Libnah rests wholly on conjecture. It has been placed at Tel-es-Safieh, twelve miles northeast of Um-Lakis; at Arak-el-Menshiyeh, about five miles nearly due east of the same; and near Umm-el-Bikar, four miles south-east of Um-Lakis. A removal from Um-Lakis to Tel-el-Safieh would mean a retreat. A march from Um-Lakis to either of the other sites would he quite compatible with an intention to push on to Egypt. For he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. Whether Lachish had been taken or not cannot be determined from these words. But we can scarcely suppose that a place of such slight strength can have defied the Assyrian arms successfully. It is beat therefore to suppose, with Keil and Thenius, that Lachish had been taken.
2 Kings 19:9-14
Sennacherib's letter to Hezekiah. Sennacherib seems to have been induced to write to Hezekiah by the fact that he could not march against him at once. A forward movement on the part of Tirhakah was reported to him (2 Kings 19:9), and he thought it necessary to meet, or at least watch it. But he must vent his anger on the rebel Judaean monarch in some way. He sends a letter, therefore, as more weighty and impressive than a mere message. He warns Hezekiah against being himself deceived by Jehovah (2 Kings 19:10); and he expands his inductive argument in proof of the irresistible might of Assyria, by an enumeration of four more recent conquests (2 Kings 19:12). Otherwise, he does little but repeat what Rabshakeh had already urged.
2 Kings 19:9
And when he heard say of Tirhakah King of Ethiopia. Tirhakah was one of the most distinguished of the later Egyptian monarchs. An Ethiopian by birth, and originally ruling from Napata over the Upper Nile valley from the First Cataract to (perhaps) Khartoum, he extended his dominion over Egypt probably about B.C. 700, maintaining, however, Shabatok, as a sort of puppet-king, upon the throne. About B.C. 693 he succeeded Shabatok, and held the throne till B.C. 667, being engaged in many wars with the Assyrians. The native form of his name is "Tahrak" or "Tahark," the Assyrian "Tarku" or "Tarqu," the Greek "Taracos" or "Tearchon." He has left numerous memorials in Egypt and Ethiopia, and was regarded by the Greeks as a great conqueror. At the time of Sennacherib's second attack on Hezekiah he was, as appears in the text, not yet King of Egypt, but only of Ethiopia. Still, he regarded Egypt as practically under his suzerainty, and when it was threatened by Sennacherib's approach, he marched to the rescue. Behold, he is come out to fight against thee. He may have regarded himself as bound in honor to come to the relief of Hezekiah, or he may have been simply bent on defending his own territory. He sent messengers again unto Hezekiah, saying,
2 Kings 19:10
Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah King of Judah, saying. The messengers brought a "letter" (סְפָדִים), as we see from 2 Kings 19:14; but still they were to "speak to Hezekiah"—i.e. they were first to read the contents to him, and then to hand him the copy. Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the King of Assyria. Sennacherib drops the fiction that he himself is sent by Jehovah to attack Judaea and destroy it (2 Kings 18:25), and contents himself with suggesting that any announcements which Hezekiah may have received from his God are untrustworthy. Probably he spoke his convictions. He did not think it possible that Jerusalem could resist or escape him (comp. Isaiah 10:8-11 and Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14).
2 Kings 19:11
Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly (see the comment on 2 Kings 18:33). The fact was indisputable (secret. 17). The question remained—Would this triumphant career of success necessarily continue? And shalt thou be delivered? A perfect induction is impossible in practical matters. Anything short of a perfect induction is short of a proof.
2 Kings 19:12
Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed? The Assyrian kings always speak of all their predecessors as their ancestors. In point of fact, Sennacherib bad had only one "father" among the previous kings, viz. Sargon. As Gozan (see the comment on 2 Kings 17:6). It is uncertain at what time Gozan was finally conquered and absorbed. It was frequently overrun by the Assyrians from the reign of Tiglath-pileser I.; but it was probably not absorbed until about B.C. 809. The Prefect of Gozan first appears in the list of Assyrian Eponyms in B.C. 794. And Haran. "Haran" is generally admitted to be the city of Terah (Genesis 11:32), and indeed there is no rival claimant of the name. Its position was in the western part of the Gauzanitis region, on the Belik, about lat. 36° 50' N. It was probably conquered by Assyria about the same time as Gozan. And Reseph. A town called "Razappa," probably "Rezeph," appears in the Assyrian inscriptions from an early date. It is thought to have been in the near vicinity of Haran, but had been conquered and absorbed as early as B.C. 818. Whether it is identical with the Resapha of Ptolemy ('Geograph.,' 5.15) is doubtful. And the children of Eden. Probably the inhabitants of a city called "Bit-Adini" in the Assyrian inscriptions, which was on the Middle Euphrates, not far from Carchemish, on the left bank. This place was conquered by Asshur-nazir-pal, about B.C. 877. Which were in Thelasar. "Thelasar" is probably the Hebrew equivalent of "Tel-Asshur," "the hill or fort of Asshur," which may have been the Assyrian name of Bit-Adini, or of a city dependent on it. Asshur-nazir-pal gave Assyrian names to several cities on the Middle Euphrates.
2 Kings 19:13
Where is the King of Hamath. Ilu-bid, King of Hamath, raised a rebellion against Sargon in B.C. 720, and was taken prisoner the same year and carried to Assyria. And the King of Arpad. Arpad revolted in conjunction with Hamath, and was reduced about the same time. Its "king" is not mentioned, but he probably shared the fate of Ilu-bid. And the King of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hens, and Ivah? It is probably not meant that these three cities were all of them under the dominion of one and the same king. "King" is to be taken distributively. (On the sites of the cities, see the comment upon 2 Kings 18:34.)
2 Kings 19:14
And Hezekiah received the letter. It had not been previously stated that Sennacherib had written a letter. But the author forgets this, and so speaks of "the letter." Kings generally communicated by letters, and not merely by messages (see 2 Kings 5:5; 2Ki 20:12; 2 Chronicles 2:11; Nehemiah 1:9, etc.). Of the hand of the messengers, and read it. Probably Sennacherib had caused it to be written in Hebrew. And Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. Not as if God would not otherwise know the contents of the letter, but to emphasize his detestation of the letter, and to make it silently plead for him with God. Ewald rightly compares what Judas Maccabaeus did with the disfigured copies of the Law at Maspha (1 Mace. 3:48), but incorrectly calls it "a laying down of the object in the sanctuary." Maspha was "over against" the temple, at the distance of a mile or more.
2 Kings 19:15
And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel. In the parallel passage of Isaiah 37:16 we find, "O Lord of hosts, Cod of Israel." Our author probably abbreviates. Which dwellest between the cherubims; or, on the cherubim—"which hast thy seat," i.e; behind the veil in the awful holy of holies, consecrated to thee, and where thou dost manifest thyself." Hezekiah, as Keil observes, calls into prominence "the covenant relation into which Jehovah, the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the whole world, had entered towards Israel. As the covenant God, who was enthroned above the cherubim, the Lord was bound to help his people, if they turned to him with faith in the time of their distress and entreated his assistance." Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. Thou art not, i.e; as Sennacherib supposes, a mere local god, presiding over Judaea, and protecting it; but thou art the God of all the earth and of all its kingdoms, including his own, equally. Moreover, thou alone art the God of the kingdoms. Their supposed gods are no gods, have no existence, are the mere fictions of an idle and excited imagination, are mere "breath" and "nothingness." Thou hast made heaven and earth. Whereas they have done nothing, have given no proof of their existence (see Isaiah 41:23, Isaiah 41:24).
2 Kings 19:16
Lord, bow down thine ear, and hear. "Bow down thine ear" is a Hebrew idiom for "give ear," "attend "(see Psalms 31:2; Psalms 71:2; Psalms 86:1; Proverbs 22:17, etc.). It is based upon the fact that, when men wish to catch exactly what another says to them, they bend themselves towards him, and bring one ear as near to him as they can. Open, Lord, thine eyes, and see. Take cognizance both with eye and ear; i.e. take full cognizance—let nothing escape thee. And hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God; rather, which he has sent to reproach. The suffix translated "him" in our version really means "it"—i.e. the speech or letter of Sennacherib, which Hezekiah has "spread before the Lord."
2 Kings 19:17
Of a truth, Lord, the kings of Assyria—i.e. Sennacherib, and his predecessors—the long line of monarchs who have sat on the Assyrian throne for many past ages—have destroyed the nations and their lands; rather, have laid waste, as in the parallel passage of Isaiah (Isaiah 37:18). "Destroyed" is too strong a word. Hezekiah fully admits the boast of the Assyrian monarch, that he and his predecessors have had a wonderful career of success (comp. Isaiah 10:5-14); but he refuses to regard this past success as ensuring success in the future. All is in the hand of God, and will be determined as God pleases. It is not an iron necessity that rules the world, but a personal will, and this well may be affected by prayer, to which (verse 19) he therefore has recourse.
2 Kings 19:18
And have east their gods into the fire. The images worshipped by the various nations are regarded as "their gods," which they were, at any rate in the minds of the common people. The ordinary practice of the Assyrians was to carry off the images taken from a conquered people, and to set them up in their own country as trophies of victory (see Isaiah 46:1, Isaiah 46:2, where a similar practice is ascribed by anticipation to the Persians). But there are places in the inscriptions where the gods are said to have been "destroyed" or "burnt." It is reasonable to suppose that the images destroyed were those of wood, stone, and bronze, which had little or no intrinsic value, while the gold and silver idols were carried off to the land of the conqueror. No doubt idols of the former far outnumbered those of the latter kind, and, at each sack of a city the "gods" which it contained were mostly burnt. For they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone (comp. Isaiah 42:17; Isaiah 44:9-20; Isaiah 46:6, Isaiah 46:7). Wooden images (the Greek ξόανα) were probably the earliest that were made, and, on account of their antiquity, were often especially reverenced. They were "carved, but rude, with undivided feet, and eyes indicated by a line, the face colored red, or white, or gilt. It was only later that ivory and gold plates were commonly laid over the wood, vested and decked out with ornaments". Stone idols were at first shapeless masses, then pillars or cones, finally imitations of the human form, varying from the rudest representations to the priceless statues of Phidias. In Assyrian times, neither the wooden nor the stone idols were possessed of any artistic beauty. Therefore they have destroyed them. "Gods" of this kind could not help themselves, much less save their devotees or the cities supposed to be under their protection. It was not to be wondered at that the Assyrians had triumphed ever such gods.
2 Kings 19:19
New therefore, O Lord our God. Hezekiah draws the strongest possible contrast between Jehovah and the idols. Sennacherib had placed them upon a par (2 Kings 18:33-35; 2 Kings 19:10-13). Hezekiah insists that the idols are "no gods," are "nothing"—at any rate are mere blocks of wood and stone, shaped by human hands. But Jehovah is "the God of all the kingdoms of the earth" (2 Kings 19:15), the Maker of heaven and earth (2 Kings 19:15), the one and only God (2 Kings 19:19)—answering to his name, self-existing, all-sufficient, the groundwork of all other existence. And he is "our God"—the special God of Israel, bound by covenant to protect there against all enemies. I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand; i.e. "do that which this proud blasphemer thinks that thou canst not do" (2 Kings 18:35); show him that thou art far mightier than he supposes, wholly unlike those "no-gods," over whom he has hitherto triumphed—a "very present Help in trouble"—potent to save. That all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God. The glory of God is the end of creation; and God's true saints always bear the fact in mind, and desire nothing so much as that his glory should be shown forth everywhere and always. Moses, in his prayers for rebellious Israel in the wilderness, constantly urges upon God that it will not be for his glory to destroy or desert them (Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13-16; Deuteronomy 9:26-29). David, in his great strait, asks the destruction of his enemies, "that men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth" (Psalms 83:18); and again (Psalms 59:13), "Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be; and let them know that God ruleth in Jacob unto the ends of the earth." Hezekiah prays for a signal vengeance on Sennacherib, not for his own sake, not even for his people's sake, so much as for the vindication of God's honor among the nations of the earth—that it may be known far and wide that Jehovah is a God who can help, the real Ruler of the world, against whom earthly kings and earthly might avail nothing. Even thou only. It would not satisfy Hezekiah that Jehovah should be acknowledged as a mighty god, one of many. He asks for such a demonstration as shall convince men that he is unique, that he stands alone, that he is the only mighty God in all the earth.
2 Kings 19:20
Then Isaiah the son of Amos sent to Hezekiah, saying. As Hezekiah prays, Isaiah is by Divine revelation made cognizant of his prayer, and commissioned to answer it favorably. That he sends his answer, instead of taking it, is indicative of the high status of the prophets at this period, which made it not unseemly that, in spiritual matters, they should claim at least equality with the monarch. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib King of Assyria I have heard. First of all, Hezekiah is assured that his prayer has been "heard." God has "bowed down his ear" to it (verse 16)—has taken it into his consideration, and has sent a reply. Then the reply follows, in fourteen verses arranged in four strophes or stanzas. The first (verses 21-24) and second (verses 25-28) are addressed to Sennacherib, and breathe a tone of scorn and contempt. The third (verses 29-31), is addressed to Hezekiah, and is encouraging and consolatory. The fourth (verses 32-34) is an assurance to all whom it may concern, that Jerusalem is safe, that Sennacherib will not take it, that he will not even commence its siege.
2 Kings 19:21
This is the word that the Lord hath spoken concerning him. "Him" is, of course, Sennacherib. It adds great liveliness and force to the opening portion of the oracle, that it should be addressed directly by Jehovah to Sennacherib, as an answer to his bold challenge. The only address at all similar in Scripture is that to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:31, Daniel 4:32), spoken by "a voice from heaven" But the present passage is one of far greater force and beauty. The virgin the daughter of Zion; rather, the virgin daughter of Zion, or the virgin daughter, Zion. Cities were commonly personified by the sacred writers, and represented as "daughters" (see Isaiah 23:10, Isaiah 23:12; Isaiah 47:1, Isaiah 47:5, etc.). "Virgin daughter" here may perhaps represent "the consciousness of impregnability" (Drechsler); but the phrase seems to have been used rhetorically or poetically, to heighten the beauty or pathos of the picture (Isaiah 23:12; Isaiah 47:1; Jeremiah 46:11; Lamentations 2:13), without any reference to the question whether the particular city had or had not been previously taken. Jerusalem certainly had been taken by Shishak (1 Kings 14:26), and by Joash (2 Kings 14:13); but Zion, if it be taken as the name of the eastern city (Bishop Patrick, ad lee.), may have been still a "virgin fortress." Hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; or, despises thee and laughs thee to scorn. The Hebrew preterite has often a present sense. Whatever was the case a little while ago (see Isaiah 22:1-14), the city now laughs at thy threats. The daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee; or, wags her head at thee—in scorn and ridicule (comp. Psalms 22:7).
2 Kings 19:22
Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? i.e. "Against whom hast thou been mad enough to measure thyself? Whom hast thou dared to insult and defy?" Not an earthly king—not a mere angelic being—but the Omnipotent, the Lord of earth and heaven. What utter folly is this! What mere absurdity? And against whom hast thou exalted thy voice? i.e. "spoken proudly"—in the tone in which a superior speaks of an inferior—and lifted up thine eyes on high?—i.e. "looked down upon"—treated with contempt, as not worth consideration—even against the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah's favorite phrase—used by him twenty-seven times, and only five times in the rest of Scripture—marks this entire prophecy as his genuine utterance, net the composition of the writer of Kings, but a burst of sudden inspiration from the Coryphaeus of the prophetic band. The oracle bears all the marks of Isaiah's elevated, fervid, and highly poetic style.
2 Kings 19:23
By thy messengers—literally, by the hand of thy messengers—Rabshakeh and others (see 2 Kings 18:30, 2 Kings 18:35; 2 Kings 19:10-13)—thou hast reproached the Lord, and but said. Sennacherib had net said what is here attributed to him, any more than Sargon had said the words ascribed to him in Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14. But he had thought it; and God accounts men's deliberate thoughts as their utterances. Isaiah's "oracle" brings out and places in a striking light the pride, self-confidence, and self-sufficiency which underlay Sennacherib's messages and letters. With the multitude of my chariots; or, with chariots upon chariots. The chariot-force was the main arm of the Assyrian military service—that on which most dependence was placed, and to which victory was commonly attributed. The number of chariots that could be brought into the field by the Assyrians is nowhere stated; but we find nearly four thousand hostile chariots collected to oppose an ordinary Assyrian invasion, and defeated. The estimates of Cterias—eleven thousand for Ninas, and a hundred thousand for Semiramis (Died. Sic; Isaiah 2:5. § 4)—are, of course, unhistorical. I am come up to the height of the mountains. "The height of the mountains" is here the high ground which an army would have to traverse in passing from the Coele-Syrian valley into Palestine. It is not exactly Lebanon, which runs parallel with the coast, and certainly does not "guard Palestine to the north," as Keil supposes; But it may be viewed as a "side" or "flank" of Lebanon. In point of fact, Lebanon and Hermon unite their roots to form a barrier between the Coele-Syrian plain (El Buka'a) and the valley of the Jordan, and an invader from the north must cross this barrier. It is not so difficult or rugged but that the Assyrians could bring their chariots ever it. They were accustomed to traverse far more difficult regions in Zagros and Niphatos and Taurus, and to carry their chariots with them, dismounting when necessary, and having the vehicles lifted over obstacles by human hands. To the sides of Lebanon. An army which invades Palestine by the Coele-Syrian valley—quite the easiest and most usual line of invasion—necessarily passes along the entire eastern "side," or "flank," of Lebanon, which is the proper meaning of יַרְכָּה, and not "loftiest height" (Keil), or "innermost recess" (Revised Version). The plural, יַרְכְתֵי, is natural when a mountain range, like Lebanon, is spoken of. And will cut down the tall cedar trees thereof, and the choice fir trees thereof. The felling of timber in the Syrian mountain-chains was a common practice of the Assyrian invaders, and had two quite distinct objects. Sometimes it was mere cruel devastation, done to injure and impoverish the inhabitants; but more often it was done for the sake of the timber which the conqueror carried off into his own country. "The mountains of Amanus I ascended," says Asshur-nazir-pal; "wood for bridges, pines, box, cypress, I cut down … cedar-wood from Amanus I destined for Bit-Hira and my pleasure-house called Azmaku, and for the temple of the moon and sun, the exalted gods. I proceeded to the land of Iz-mehri, and took possession of it throughout: I cut down beams for bridges, and carried them to Nineveh". The cedar (erez) and the pine, or juniper (berosh), were in special request. And I will enter into the lodgings of his borders—rather, the lodge of its border—perhaps a palace or hunting-lodge on the outskirt of the Lebanon forest region (comp. Song of Solomon 7:4)—and into the forest of his Carmel; rather, the forest of its orchard; i.e. the choicest part of the Lebanon forest region—the part which is rather park or orchard than mere forest.
2 Kings 19:24
I have digged and drunk strange waters; rather, perhaps, I dig, and drink … and dry up—the preterit having again a present sense. Sennacherib means that this is what he is wont to do. As mountains do not stop him (2 Kings 19:23), so deserts do not stop him—he digs wells in them, and drinks water "strange" to the soil—never before seen there. And with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of besieged places; rather, will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt (compare the Revised Version. "Mazor" is used for "Egypt" in Isaiah 19:6 and Micah 7:12). It is the old singular from which was formed the dual Mizraim. Whether it meant "land of strength" (Pusey), or "land of distress" (Ewald), may be doubted, since we have no right to assume a Hebrew derivation. There was probably a native word, from which the Hebrew Mazor, the Assyrian Muzr, and the Arabic Misr were taken. Sennacherib's beast is that, as he makes deserts traversable by digging wells, so, if rivers try to stop him, he will find a way of drying them up. Compare the boasts of Alaric in Clau-dian, who had probably this passage of Kings in his thoughts—
"To patior suadente fugam, cum cesserit omnis
Obsequiis natura meis?
Subsidere nostris Sub pedibus montes, arescere vidimus amnes
Fregi Alpes, galeisque Padum victricibus hausi."
2 Kings 19:25
Hast thou not heard long ago how I have done it? The strain suddenly changes—the person of the speaker is altered. It is no longer Sennacherib who reveals the thoughts of his own heart, but Jehovah who addresses the proud monarch. "Hast thou not heard, how from long ago I have acted thus? Hast thou never been taught that revolutions, conquests, the rise and fall of nations, are God's doing, decreed by him long, long age—ay, from the creation of the world? Art thou not aware that this is so, either from tradition, or by listening to the voice of reason within thine own heart?" It is implied that such knowledge ought to he in the possession of every man. And of ancient times that I have formed it? A rhetorical repetition of the previous question, needful for the balance of clauses, in which Hebrew poetry delights, but adding nothing to the sense. Now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste fenced cities into ruinous heaps. The idea was very familiar to Isaiah and his contemporaries. Years before, when Assyria first became threatening, Isaiah, speaking in the person of Jehovah, had exclaimed, "O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets" (Isaiah 10:5, Isaiah 10:6). But the heathen kings whom God made his instruments to chasten sinful nations imagined that they conquered and destroyed and laid waste by their own strength (see Isaiah 10:7-14).
2 Kings 19:26
Therefore their inhabitants were of small power; literally, were short of hand—unable, i.e; to make an effectual resistance. When God has decreed a change in the distribution of power among the nations, his providence works doubly. It infuses confidence and strength into the aggressive people, and spreads dismay and terror among those who are attacked. Unaccountable panics seize them—they seem paralyzed; instead of making every possible preparation for resistance, they fold their hands and do nothing. They are like fascinated birds before the stealthy advance of the serpent. They were dismayed and confounded. Historically, the prophet declares, this was the cause of the general collapse of the nations whom the Assyrians attacked. God put a craven fear into their hearts. They were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the house-tops. The "grass of the field" is one of the most frequent similes for weakness. "All flesh is grass" (Isaiah 40:6); "They shall soon be cut down like the grass" (Psalms 37:2); "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth" (Isaiah 40:8); "I am withered like grass" (Psalms 102:11). In the hot sun of an Eastern sky nothing faded more quickly. But this weakness was intensified in the "grass of the house-tops." It "withered before it grew up" (Psalms 129:6). The depth of earth was so slight, the exposure so great, the heat so scorching, that it sank in death almost as soon as it had sprung to life. Such has been the weakness of the nations given over as a prey to the Assyrians. And as corn blasted before it be grown up. Corn blasted before it shoots into a stalk is as frail as grass, or frailer. It dwindles and disappears without even asserting itself.
2 Kings 19:27
But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in. "Resting in peace, going out, and coming in, cover all the activity of a man" (Bahr), or rather, cover his whole life, active and passive. Jehovah claims an absolute knowledge of all that Sennacherib does or thinks, both when he is in action and when he is at rest. Nothing is hid from him (comp. Psalms 139:1-16). Human pride should stand abashed before such absolute knowledge. And thy rage against me. Opposition to their will fills violent men with fury and rage. Sennacherib's anger was primarily against Hezekiah, but when once he was convinced that Hezekiah really trusted in Jehovah (2 Kings 19:10), his fury would turn against God himself (see Psalms 2:1-3, where the Lord's anointed is primarily David).
2 Kings 19:28
Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult—rather, thy arrogancy (see the Revised Version); שׁאנן is rather the quiet security of extreme pride and self-confidence than "tumult"—is come up into mine ears—i.e. has attracted my notice—therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips. The imagery is most striking. Captive kings were actually so treated by the Assyrians themselves. A hook or split-ring was thrust through the cartilage of the nose, or the fleshy part of the under lip, with a rope or thong attached to it, and in this guise they were led into the monarch's presence, to receive their final sentence at his hands. In the sculptures of Sargon at Khorsabad we see three prisoners brought before him in this fashion, one of whom he seems to be about to kill with a spear. In another sculpture set up by a Babylonian king, his vizier brings before him two captives similarly treated, but with the ring, apparently, passed through the cartilage of their noses Manasseh seems to have received the same treatment at the hands of the "captains" (2 Chronicles 33:11) who brought him a prisoner to Esarhaddon at Babylon. Other allusions to the practice in Scripture will be found in Isaiah 30:28; Ezekiel 29:4; Ezekiel 38:4. The threat in the present passage was, of course, not intended to be understood life-rally, but only as a declaration that God would bring down the pride of Sennacherib, humiliate him, and reduce him to a state of abject weakness and abasement. And I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest (comp. verse 33). The meaning is clear. Sennacherib would not be allowed to come near Jerusalem. He would hurry back by the low coast route (2 Kings 18:17), by which he had made his invasion.
2 Kings 19:29
And this shall be a sign unto thee. Another sudden change in the address. The prophet turns from Sennacherib to Hezekiah, and proceeds to give him a sign, and otherwise speak to him encouragingly. Signs were at the time freely offered and given by God both to the faithful and the unfaithful (see 2 Kings 20:4; Isaiah 7:11, Isaiah 7:14). They generally consisted in the prediction of some near event, whose occurrence was to serve as a pledge, or evidence, of the probable fulfillment of another prediction of an event more distant. Such signs are not necessarily miraculous. Ye shall eat this year such things as grow of themselves. The Assyrian invasion, coming early in the spring, as was usual, had prevented the Israelites from sowing their lands. But they would soon be gone, and then the Israelites could gather in such self-sown corn as they might find in the corn-lands. The next year, probably a sabbatical year, they were authorized to do the same, notwithstanding the general prohibition (Leviticus 25:5); the third year they would return to their normal condition. The sign was not given with reference to Sennacherib's departure, which belonged to the first year, and must take place before the ingathering of the self-sown corn could begin, but with reference to the promise that Jerusalem should be free from any further attack on his part. Sennacherib reigned seventeen years longer, but led no further expedition into Palestine. And in the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruits thereof.
2 Kings 19:30
And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah. Sennacherib, who in his first expedition had carried away out of Judaea 200,150 prisoners, had in his second probably done considerable damage to the towns in the south-west of Palestine—Lachish, for instance, which was a city of Judah (Joshua 15:39; 2 Kings 14:19). The open country had been wasted, great numbers killed, and many probably carried off by famine and pestilence. Thus both Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:4) and Isaiah regard the population still in the land as a mere "remnant." Shall yet again take root downward—i.e; be firmly fixed and established in the land, like a vigorous tree that strikes its roots into the soil deeply—and bear fruit upward; i.e. exhibit all the outward signs of prosperity. The reign of Josiah, when the Jewish dominion embraced the whole of Palestine (2 Kings 23:15-20), was the special fulfillment of this prophecy.
2 Kings 19:31
For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant. The march of Sennacherib and the raid of Rabshakeh had driven the mass of the escaped population of Judaea to take refuge within the walls of Jerusalem, from which, on the retirement of the invaders, they would gladly "go forth," to recultivate their lands (2 Kings 19:29) and restore their ruined homes. And they that escape—rather, that shall escape—out of Mount Zion—"Mount Zion" is a variant for Jerusalem, as in 2 Kings 19:21, and in Isaiah and the Psalms so continually—the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this. So in Isaiah 9:7 and Isaiah 37:32. Here most manuscripts have "the zeal of the Lord," omitting "of hosts;" and this is probably the right reading. The meaning is that God's zealous love and care for his people will effect their complete restoration to prosperity and glory, difficult as it was at the time to imagine such a restoration.
2 Kings 19:32
Therefore thus saith the Lord concerning the King of Assyria. The oracle concludes with a general announcement, addressed to all whom it may concern, not to any one individually, concerning the existing distress. First, it is laid down what shall not be the issue. He—i.e. Sennacherib—shall not come into—rather, unto—this city—i.e. Jerusalem—nor shoot an arrow there—i.e; he shall not begin the attack, as was usually done, with discharges of arrows, to clear the walls of their defenders, and make it safe for the sappers and miners and the siege artillery to draw near—nor come before it with shield—i.e. advance close, to raise the scaling-ladders, or mine the walls, or fire the gates, under the protection of huge shields—nor east a bank against it. Much less shall he proceed to the last extremity of raising mounds against the walls, and planting upon them his balistae and his battering-rams, with the object of effecting a breach. Each of the successive stages of a siege is touched, and negatived. None of these things shall be done. There shall be no siege.
2 Kings 19:33
By the way that he came, by the same shall he return (see 2 Kings 19:28). Not merely, "he shall fail of his object" (Bahr, Keil), "he shall return disappointed;" but, literally, he shall retrace his steps, he shall quit Palestine by the same route by which he entered it—the coast route along the maritime plain, which left Jerusalem on the right at a distance of forty miles. And shall not come into—rather, unto—this city, saith the Lord. An emphatic ending (comp. Isaiah 22:14; Isaiah 45:13; Isaiah 54:17; Isaiah 55:8; Isaiah 59:20; Isaiah 65:25; Isaiah 66:21, Isaiah 66:23).
2 Kings 19:34
For I will defend this city, to save it—not merely with a view of saving it, but in such sort as effectually to save it—for mine own sake—i.e; because my own honor is concerned in its preservation, especially after the taunts of Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:32-35; 2 Kings 19:10-13)—and for my servant David's sake. Not so much on account of the promises made to David, as on account of the love which God bore towards him for his faithfulness and earnest devotion.
2 Kings 19:35-37
DESTRUCTION OF SENNACHERIB'S HOST, AND HIS OWN VIOLENT DEATH AT NINEVEH. The sequel is told in a few words. That night destruction came down on the host of Sennacherib, as it lay en-camped at some distance from Jerusalem, silently and swiftly. Without noise, without disturbance, the sleeping men slept the sleep of death, and in the morning, when the survivors awoke, it was found that a hundred and eighty-five thousand were slain. Upon this, with the remnant of his army, Sennacherib hastily returned to Nineveh. There, some time after—about seventeen years according to our reckoning—a conspiracy was formed against him by two of his sons, who murdered him as he was worshipping in a temple, and fled into Armenia. Another son, Esarhaddon, succeeded.
2 Kings 19:35
And it came to pass that night. The important expression, "that night," is omitted from the narrative of Isaiah 37:36, but is undoubtedly an original portion of the present history. It can have no other meaning—as Keil and Bahr have seen—than "the night following the day on which Isaiah had foretold to Hezekiah the deliverance of Jerusalem." God's word "runneth very swiftly." No sooner was the premise given than the destroying angel received his orders, and "that night" the terrible stroke fell. That the angel of the Lord went out; or, an angel (ἄγγελος Κυρίου, LXX.). We cannot say, with Bahr, that it was "the same one who smote the firstborn in Egypt, and inflicted the pestilence after the census under David." Revelation does not tell us that there is definitely one destroying angel. "The angel of death" is a rabbinical invention. It accords rather with the analogy of God's dealings that he should use at one time the services of one minister, at another time those of another. And smote. Imagination has been over-busy in conjecturing the exact manner of the smiting. Some critics have suggested pestilence, or more definitely "the plague" (Gesenius, Dathe, Maurer, Ewald, Winer, Thenins, Keil, etc.); others a terrible storm (Vitringa, Stanley); others the simoom (Prideaux, Milman); others a nocturnal attack by Tirhakah (Ussher, Preiss, Michaelis). Some of these the text altogether precludes, as the attack of Tirhakah, which must have aroused the whole host, and not left the disaster to be discovered by those who "awoke early in the morning." Others are improbable, as the simoom, or a terrible storm with thunder and lightning, which have never been known to accomplish such a destruction. Pestilence is no doubt possible, but a pestilence of a strange and miraculous character, to which men succumbed without awaking or disturbing others. But the narrative rather points to sudden and silent death during sleep, such as often happens to men in the course of nature singly, and here on this occasion was made to happen in one night to a hundred and eighty-five thousand men by the Divine omnipotence acting abnormally. In the camp of the Assyrians. The destruction was not only at one time, but in one place. "The camp of the Assyrians" cannot mean half a dozen camps situated in half a dozen different places, as Keil supposes. Sennacherib was somewhere with his main army, encamped for the night, and there, wherever it was, the blow fell. But the exact locality is uncertain. All that the narrative makes clear is that it was not in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem. Herodotus places the catastrophe at Pelusium. Bahr thinks it was probably before Libnah. I should incline to place it between Libnah and the Egyptian frontier, Sennacherib, when he heard that Tirhakah was coming against him (verse 9), having naturally marched forward to meet and engage his army. A hundred four score and five thousand. These figures do not pretend to exactness, and can scarcely have been more than a rough estimate. They are probably the Assyrians' own estimate of their loss, which the Jews would learn from such of the fugitives as fell into their hands. And when they—i.e; the survivors—arose early in the morning, they—i.e. the hundred and eighty-five thousand—were all dead corpses—absolutely dead, that is; not merely sick or dying. The fact makes against the theory of a pestilence.
2 Kings 19:36
So Sennacherib King of Assyria departed, and went and returned. The, original is more lively, and more expressive of haste. Sennacherib, it is said, "decamped, and departed, and returned"—the heaping up of the verbs expressing the hurry of the march home (Keil); comp. 1 Kings 19:3. And dwelt at Nineveh. Nineveh was Sennacherib's favorite residence. He had built himself a palace, there, marked by the modern mound of Koyunjik. Sargon, his father, had dwelt mainly at Dur-Sargina or Khorsabad, Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaueser at Calah or Nimrod. Sennacherib's palace and his ether buildings at Nineveh are described in his annals at some length. The expression, "dwelt at Nineveh," does not mean that he never quitted it, but merely implies that he dwelt there for some considerable time after his return, as he appears to have done by his annals. The Eponym Canon makes his last year B.C. 682.
2 Kings 19:37
And it came to pass—seventeen or eighteen years afterwards; not "fifty-five days" after, as the author of Tobit (1. 21) says—as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god. The word Nisroch offers considerable difficulty. It has been connected with nesher (נֶשֶׁר), "eagle," and explained as a reference to the eagle-headed genius sometimes seen in the Assyrian sculptures. But there is no evidence that the genii were ever worshipped in Assyria, much less that they had temples of their own, nor is any name resembling "Nisroch" attached to any of them. The word itself is somewhat doubtful, and different manuscripts of the Septuagint, here and in Isaiah 37:38, have the variants of Nasaraeh, Esorach, Meserach, and Asarach, while Josephus has Araskas. Asarach might conceivably be a strengthened form of Asshur; but the substitution of samech for shin is against this explanation. Still, Asshur was certainly Sennacherib's favorite god, the deity whom he principally worshipped. Josephus regards the name as belonging, not to the god, but to the temple (ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ ναῷ Αράσκῃ λεγομένῳ), which is perhaps the true solution of the difficulty. Translate—"as he was worshipping his god in the house Nisroch." That Adram-melech and Sharezer his sons. Adram-melech is called "Adrammeles" by Abydenus, "Ardamazanes" by Polyhistor. Neither form resembles any known Assyrian name, but Adrammelech has a good Semitic derivation (see the comment on 2 Kings 18:31). "Sharezer" is probably a shortened form of Nergal-shar-ozer (comp. "Shalman," Hosea 10:14), which was a name in use at the time. Abydenus seems to have called him Nergilus. Smote him with the sword. So Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 10.1. § 5) and Mos. Chor. ('Hist. Armen.,' 1.22). A mutilated inscription of Esarhaddon's seems to have described his war with his brothers at the commencement of his reign, but the earlier part is wanting. And they escaped into the land of Armenia; literally, of Ararat. The Hebrew "Ararat" is the Assyrian "Ur-arda"—the ordinary name for the country about Lakes Van and Urumiyeh. The name "Armenia" is not found earlier than the inscriptions of Darius Hystaspis. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead. Esarhaddon (the Sarchedon of Tobit 1:21, and the Asshur-akh-iddin of the Assyrian inscriptions) succeeded his father in B.C. 681, and was engaged for some time in a war with his brothers on the Upper Euphrates, after which he made himself master of Nineveh. He reigned from B.C. 681 to B.C. 669, when he was succeeded by his son, Asshur-bani-pal. Assyria reached the acme of her prosperity in his time.
2 Kings 19:1-35
The wisdom of trust in God, and the foolishness of trust in self.
The contrast between the devout, God-fearing, God-trusting Hezekiah, and the proud, self-trusting, self-asserting Sennacherib is one of the most striking and instructive in Scripture. The two are set one over against the other in the most graphic way.
I. THE PICTURE OF HEZEKIAH shows him:
1. Jealous of God's honor. Sennacherib's words against God strike him with horror, appear to him such shocking blasphemy, that he rends his clothes and covers himself with sackcloth (2 Kings 19:1), as if he would wipe out the insult offered to God by one of his creatures' arrogancy, by causing to be presented before him the profoundest self-abasement and self-humiliation on the part of another.
2. Sensible of his own weakness. The day is "a day of trouble, of rebuke, and of contumely." Israel is despised, insulted, disgraced, and yet can do nothing. The time of her utmost trial has come, and she has "no strength' to carry her through the crisis.
3. Trustful in God's power to save. If God will, Hezekiah does not doubt he can "reprove" Sennacherib's words—disperse them, scatter them, show them to be vain words, words of naught.
4. Reliant on the power of prayer. "Wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left." Prayer is the only key that can unlock a door of escape. He himself resorts to prayer (2 Kings 19:15), and he exhorts Isaiah to do the same. If he himself is sinful, Isaiah is a righteous man, God's prophet, and "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).
II. THE PICTURE OF SENNACHERIB shows him:
1. A hater and reviler of God. "Let not thy God … deceive thee" (verse 10). As though God ever deceived, as though he were not the Truth itself. Sennacherib represents him as either a poor braggart who could not do what he had promised, or a malevolent being intentionally beguiling men, to their ruin. "Jehovah," he says, "has sent him against Jerusalem," has bidden him "go up and destroy it (2 Kings 18:25), while at the same time he was deluding Hezekiah with promises of deliverance.
2. Absolutely confident in his own strength. Who can stand against the Assyrians? Who has ever been able to resist them? "Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the King of Assyria?" (verse 33). And if not, "shalt thou be delivered?" He sets his own strength against Hezekiah's weakness (verses 23, 24), and regards himself as irresistible. His will is law. What can hinder it? Not armies—least of all Egyptian armies—not mountains, not rivers, not deserts. Intoxicated with success, he thinks there is no power equal to him either in earth or heaven. The gods of the nations have all failed. Hezekiah's God will fail equally.
3. Secure of the future, and without any thought of suing for Divine aid. Why should Sennacherib sue? Success had always attended him in the past; surely "tomorrow would be as today," only "yet more abundant." He does not appear to give even his own gods a thought. Conventional ascription of his victories to Asshur may be found in his inscriptions; but, as Isaiah lays bare to us the workings of his innermost soul (verse 23, 24), there is no leaning on any higher power, no recognition of anything behind his own greatness and material strength, no suspicion even of the possibility of a reverse. He is a god to himself; he commands the future; everything must necessarily go well with him. The event shows the wisdom of Hezekiah's trust and the utter folly of Sennacherib's. "Out of the depths" Hezekiah "cries unto the Lord," and "the Lord hears his voice." "With the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption." Hezekiah may in the past have wavered, have listened to evil counselors, have paid his court to Pharaoh, and put his trust in the broken reed Egypt; but now, at any rate, he has repented of such evil courses, he has put them away from him, and thrown himself wholly upon God. His words (verses 15-19) have the unmistakable ring of sincerity and truth. To God he looks, and to him only. His strength is become perfected in his weakness; with the result that God hears his prayer (verse 20), and grants the unparalleled deliverance related in verse 35. Sennacherib, on the other hand, finds in a moment the whole ground of his self-confidence fail. It was as the master of many legions that he had thought to bend all things to his will. Bereft of his legions, he is nothing. Today a mighty conqueror carrying everything before him, unfeignedly astonished that any one should dare to disobey his commands; on the morrow he is a wretched fugitive, hurrying homewards as fast as his chariot-steeds will bear him, only anxious to escape from the foes whom he so lately despised, and to bury his shame and his disgrace within the walls of his distant palace. In his pride and his self-trust he had thrown out a challenge to God. God took up the challenge, and struck him down to the earth. The circumstances of the catastrophe are unique in the world's history; but the lesson is one that the events of history have taught again and again. At the height of his pride and arrogancy and self-trust, the ungodly conqueror is stricken with failure, humiliated, beaten down to the ground, shown that, after all, he is a mere man, and that the fates of nations are not in his power, but in the hand of One whose name is "the Most High," and who ruleth in all the kingdoms of the earth.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 19:1-7
A good man's prayers sought.
Hezekiah is in deep distress of spirit at the haughty, defiant, confident tone of Rabshakeh. He wants help in his trouble. He sends not to his men of war, not to his statesmen, for advice, but to the man of God.
I. CHARACTER GIVES CONFIDENCE. Isaiah was known to live near to God. Therefore Hezekiah had confidence in him. Here is a good test of the character of your companions and associates. Would you go to them in time of trouble? Would you expect them to give you any comfort? Would you tell them the inner secrets of your heart? If not, is it not because you have no confidence in them? Their character does not command your respect. Choose the company, seek the counsel, of good. men.
II. CHARACTER GIVES POWER IN PRAYER. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." The man who expects an answer to his prayers is the man who habitually lives near to God. Mary Queen of Scots said she feared the prayers of John Knox more than an army of ten thousand men. Therefore:
1. Live near to God if you would influence others. Power for service comes from fellowship with God. Men like Isaiah have that quiet power that enables them to inspire others with confidence. "Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard" (verse 6). So with St. Paul on his perilous voyage to Rome. "I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me."
2. Live near to God if you would have power in prayer. The man who prays most is the man who knows the power of prayer.
"Thrice blest whose lives are faithful prayers,
Whose loves in higher love endure;
What souls possess themselves so pure,
Or is there blessedness like theirs?"
2 Kings 19:8-37
Our difficulties, and how to deal with them.
We have seen that Hezekiah was a man distinguished by his trust in God. We have seen how his trust in God led him to act in times of peace. His trust in God led to personal religion, to practical effort, and to prosperity in life. We see here how he acted when troubles came. Depend upon it, the man who makes his peace with God when all is going well with him—he will have peace within his spirit when the time of trouble comes. The man who does not allow the flowing tide of worldly prosperity or worldly pleasure to draw him away from God, he will find that God is near to him in the hour of danger and of need. It was certainly an hour of danger and anxiety with Hezekiah. With a vast army, Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, was threatening Jerusalem. The very name of Assyria was at that time a terror to the nations, just as for a long time the name of Napoleon was a terror to Europe. One by one, nation after nation had gone down before the triumphal progress of the Assyrian arms. Sennacherib, conscious of his past successes, conscious of the mighty host that accompanies him, looks down with contempt upon Hezekiah and his attempt at resistance. He sends him a letter, in which he points out how futile his efforts at resistance must prove. The gods of the other nations had not been able to deliver them, and let him not think that his God whom he served would deliver him. This letter and Hezekiah's action regarding it suggest to us some instructive lessons.
I. SENNACHERIB'S LETTER, AND THE TEMPTATION IT BROUGHT. (2 Kings 19:9-13.) The drift of Sennacherib's letter was entirely to lead Hezekiah to distrust God. Sennacherib was confident of victory; but he wanted Hezekiah to surrender to him, so that he might obtain as much tribute as he could, and at the same time incur no loss of life in his own army. So he turns into ridicule Hezekiah's faith in his God. "Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the King of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed? Where is the King of Hamath, and the King of Arpad, and the King of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hens, and Ivah?" In a similar way Rabshakeh, one of Sennacherib's generals, had already spoken to the people of Jerusalem. He had sought to influence their fears. He had sought to tempt them by bribes. He had said, "Let not Hezekiah deceive you … neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the King of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come ye out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern: until I come and take you away into a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and. vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live, and not die: and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, The Lord will deliver us." It is easy to imagine the effect of such statements upon a people few in number compared with the Assyrian's mighty host. The horrors of a protracted siege were in prospect. The longer they continued their resistance, the more desolation and devastation would be committed by the Assyrian army in their fields and homesteads. Many of them doubtless were already murmuring at Hezekiah, and some of them perhaps ready to make an agreement with the enemy. It was a trying position for Hezekiah. Both the letter of Sennacherib, and the circumstances in which he was placed, were a strong temptation to him to distrust God. He might have said, "Is this the reward which my service of God has brought me? I have been faithful to God's commands. I have restored the temple; I have restored the service of God. I have thrown down the altars and high places, and broken the images in pieces. Even the brazen serpent, which the people valued so highly as a relic of the past, I have ground to powder, because their idolatry of it was dishonoring to God. And now is it thus that God rewards me?" This is just the temptation that our difficulties and troubles constantly bring to us. They tempt us to distrust God.
1. It is so in the growth of our own spiritual life. How often the young beginner in the Christian life is discouraged by the difficulties which arise, and which he did not calculate on! He finds that there is still an old nature within him which has to be grappled with and conquered. He meets, perhaps, with opposition and discouragements from the world without, and perhaps even from those from whom he expected sympathy and help. These difficulties tempt many a one to distrust God. Many there are still who, like the disciples when difficulties arose, "go back, and walk no more with" God. One of the common difficulties which tempts us to distrust God is the prosperity of the wicked. Everything seems to prosper with men who have no respect for the Law of God. The temptation is for us, in distrust of God's promises, to imitate their godless practices. We begin to say, "There is no use in our being too scrupulous." Ah! what a mistake that is! Supposing we had all their prosperity, would it compensate us for the loss of a quiet conscience? Prosperity is dearly bought, business is dearly bought, for which we have to sacrifice one commandment of God, or silence the still small voice of conscience that speaks within. "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" Whenever this difficulty of the prosperity of godless men troubles you, and success which seems to be reached by questionable and unscrupulous means, remember the grand words of the thirty-seventh psalm, "Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Commit thy way unto the Lord: trust also in him; and he will bring it to pass."
2. In the same way there are difficulties in Christian work. How common a thing it is for Christians, who make much profession of their faith in God, to be dismayed and discouraged by difficulties that arise! Very often they are hindered from engaging in Christian work at all just by the difficulties that exist. I do not mean to say every person will suit every kind of work. There may be many kinds of work in which a man should not engage, because he has no fitness for them. But every Christian ought to be engaged in some work. If you are doing nothing for the Master, may we ask you why? What is your reason? What difficulty is in your way? No difficulty an excuse for idleness. You may think yourself too young, or too inexperienced, or too humble; you may find others hard to work with; you may meet with discouragement and opposition; but no one of these things is any excuse for idleness. If difficulties were a reason for doing nothing, no Christian work would ever have been done—no churches built, no missionaries sent forth, no schools erected—for there never was a Christian work yet that had not its difficulties. Let us learn to take as our motto in Christian work, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Each one of you, no doubt, has his or her own difficulties to contend with—difficulties in your daily employment, difficulties from those you come in contact with, troubles and anxieties of spirit, cares and worries of various kinds. My message to you is this. Be not unduly cast down by your difficulties. Don't make too much of them. Just do with them as Hezekiah did, and you will see how soon they will disappear altogether, or at any rate they will be very considerably diminished.
II. HEZEKIAH'S PRAYER. (2 Kings 19:14-19.) Hezekiah had learned by experience. As he grew older he became wiser. A short time before, when Sennacherib was capturing his cities, and had advanced upon Jerusalem, Hezekiah sent a message to him, saying, "I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear" Sennacherib appointed him the exorbitant tribute of three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah was in great straits for means to meet this demand. In his difficulty he imitated the foolish action of his own father Ahaz, and took the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, besides cutting off the gold from the doors and pillars of the temple, and then sent this as a peace offering to Sennacherib. But notwithstanding all this, Sennacherib did not give up his warlike intentions. He once more threatened Jerusalem. This time Hezekiah acts differently. He had learned now the mistake of rashly yielding to difficulties. It is a lesson we all need to learn. If we yield to our difficulties, they will return again, and with renewed force. One difficulty yielded to makes the next one harder to resist. One difficulty resisted makes the next one far easier to overcome.
1. Hezekiah's first act, after he had read Sennacherib's letter, was to go up into the house of the Lord. There he showed his wisdom. If we want advice in sickness, advice as to our bodily health, we go to the house of our physician. If we want to purchase food or clothing, we go where these necessaries of life are to be obtained. Hezekiah was now in a difficulty where human help could be of little or no use to him. So he goes to the one place where alone he might expect help—to the house of the Lord. The very act of going to the house of the Lord is a wise one. It reminds us that there is another world than that which is seen—the world of spirits, the world of the invisible. It reminds us that there is One in whose hand every human life is, One to whom in all ages human hearts have turned, in every time of sorrow, of difficulty, and of helplessness, and One whose power and whose goodness men have acknowledged by raising temples for his honor and for their own and others' good. Every true Christian must testify what a blessing the house of the Lord has been to him. How should we have fared without its precious privileges? How often have we felt, when the Sunday morning came round, and we joined in the song of praise, and approached the mercy-seat in company with other anxious, sinful, troubled, human hearts like our own; as we listened to the words of everlasting life; as we heard of him who is the "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," as we heard him saying to us, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;"—how often have we felt that the difficulties of the week vanished; the burdens of the week were lightened; the cloud of sorrow that hung over us seemed suddenly to lift; we went forth again with new hope in our hearts, and with new strength in our lives; and upon our lips, perhaps, were such words as these—
"Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me,
And in God's house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be!"
Hezekiah, then, did a wise thing in going to the place where blessing was to be found. But he did more than that.
2. He spread the letter before the Lord. What a faith in God's presence that showed!—a real presence, indeed, not of body, but of that ever~ present Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being! What a confidence it showed in God's interest in the affairs of all his people! What a lesson it is for us all! The best thing we can do with our difficulties is to spread them out before God. Perhaps when we begin to spread them out before him, some of them will seem hardly worth talking about hardly worth spreading, and the very act of doing so will bring us relief. But whatever it may be that gives us trouble, even though it be a small matter—something unkind that has been said about us, an unpleasant letter that we have received, an unexpected loss in business, let us spread it out before God. Your Sunday morning, before you go into God's house, would be well spent in thinking over the mercies you have to thank God for, the sins you have to confess, and the difficulties which trouble you, and then you would go into God's house asking just for what you need. I know a servant of God who told me that he always made it a rule to be in his place in church at least five minutes before the service began. That gave him Tame, he said, to calm his mind, and to look into his own heart. The good seed then fell on prepared ground, and he said that whenever he did not do so,-he did not get at all so much benefit from the service.
"What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry.
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!"
Hezekiah's confidence in God had two results.
(1) It encouraged others. He gathered the captains of war together in the street, and said to them, "Be strong and courageous, he not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles" (2 Chronicles 32:7, 2 Chronicles 32:8). And so great was the confidence which the words of the king inspired, that we are told that all the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah King of Judah. What a power the quiet influence of one believing man can exercise! What a power it gives us to live near to God!
(2) Their confidence was not misplaced. God's people never trust in him in vain. Hezekiah's prayer was answered. That very night the angel of the Lord went out and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty-five thousand men.
"Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay wither'd and strown.
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass'd;
And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever were still!
"And the widows of Asshur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!"
Let us learn from this lesson that there is nothing too hard for God. Let us ask his help and guidance in every undertaking and event of life. Let us abide in his presence continually. Let us cling closer to the Rock of Ages. And then, come weal or come woe, come sickness or come health, come adversity or come success, we shall always be resigned to our Father's will, and shall possess within our hearts the peace which passeth all understanding.—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 19:1-37
A nation's calamities, counselor, and God.
"And it came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes," etc. Our purpose in our sketches on this book has not allowed us to inquire into all the minute particulars of the characters or events recorded, or into the authorship of the book, or into the right of the prophet or prophets so frequently to say, "Thus saith the Lord," but simply in the briefest way to develop for practical purposes the truths either expressed or suggested. In this chapter we have three momentous events recorded—the terrible calamity to which Jerusalem was exposed; the utter destruction of the Assyrian army; and the death of Sennacherib the Assyrian despot. The whole should be read in connection with Isaiah 37:1-38. We have here for notice four subjects of thought—the exposure of a nation to an overwhelming calamity; the blessing to a nation of a ruler who looks to Heaven for help; the advantage to a nation of a truly wise counselor; and the strength of a nation that has the true God on its side.
I. THE EXPOSURE OF A NATION TO AN OVERWHELMING CALAMITY.
1. The nature of the threatened calamity. It was the invasion of the King of Assyria. This was announced in startling terms and in a haughty and ruthless spirit by the messengers of Sennacherib. "Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah King of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the King of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed?" (Isaiah 37:10-13). The danger was near at hand. Sennacherib was on his way with his hundred and four score and five thousand men. The tramplings of the war-horses and the rattling of the amour would soon be heard in Jerusalem. The utter destruction of the city was contemplated, and seemed rapidly approaching. In a far worse position was the kingdom of Judah at this moment than was England when the Spanish Armada was approaching our shores.
2. The influence of the threatened calamity.
(1) It struck the kingdom with a crushing terror. "And it came to pass, when King Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble" (verses 1-3). The rending of the "clothes' and the arraying in "sackcloth" were symbols to express the horror of the heart.
(2) It struck the kingdom with a helpless feebleness. "This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth" (verse 3). "The image is that of a parturient woman whose strength is exhausted, whose powers are paralyzed, at the moment when she required to put forth a vigorous effort. The expression in which the message was conveyed to the prophet described, by a strong figure, the desperate condition of the kingdom, together with the utter inability of the people to help themselves; and it intimated also a hope that the blasphemous defiance of Jehovah's power by the impious Assyrian might lead to some direct interposition for the vindication of his honor and supremacy to all heathen gods." Here is utter national helplessness in a terrible national calamity.
II. THE BLESSING TO A NATION OF A RULER WHO LOOKS TO HEAVEN FOR HELP. What, in the wretched condition of his country, does King Hezekiah do? He invokes the merciful interposition of Heaven. When the messengers came to Hezekiah with a threatening letter from the King of Assyria (see verses 10-13), what did the monarch do? He took it into the house of the Lord, and there prayed. "And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel," etc. (verses 14-19). In this wonderful prayer:
1. He adores the God whom Sennacherib had blasphemed. He addresses him as the "God of all the kingdoms of the earth," the Maker of "heaven and earth," the one and only Lord.
2. He implores the Almighty for his own sake to deliver the country. "Now therefore, O Lord our God, I beseech thee, save thou us out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only." "The best pleas in prayer," says an old author, "am those that are taken from God's own honor; therefore the Lord's prayer begins with 'Hallowed be thy Name,' and concludes, 'Thine be the glory.'" Who is the greatest human king? Not the man who relies on his own power and skill to protect his nation from danger, and seeks to secure it in the possession and enjoyment of all its rights; nor the king who looks to his armies and navies in time of need; but he who practically realizes his dependence upon the "Lord" that made heaven and earth, Reverence for the Infinite is the soul of true royalty.
III. THE ADVANTAGE TO A NATION OF A TRULY WISE COUNSELLOR. Apart from his inspiration, Isaiah may be fairly taken in this case as the representative of a wise counselor, and that for two reasons.
1. He looked to heaven rather than to earth for his wisdom. "Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib King of Assyria I have heard. This is the word that the Lord hath spoken concerning him" (verses 20, 21). The counsel which he had to give he here declares to have come from the Lord. God of Israel. How the wisdom was conveyed to him, whether by an outward voice or an inner vision, does not appear; he had it from heaven. He only is the true counselor of men who gets his wisdom from above. Whence do the advisers of sovereigns get their instructions? From hoary precedents or the fallible conclusions of their own feeble minds; and not directly from above. Hence the incessant blunders of cabinets, and the scandal in these days of one political party denouncing the blunders and professing to correct the mistakes of the other.
2. He received from heaven he communicated to men. In the communication:
(1) "Sennacherib is apostrophized in a highly poetic strain admirably descriptive of the turgid vanity, haughty pretensions, and heartless impiety of this despot. 'The virgin the daughter of Zion hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee,' etc. (verses 21-28).
(2) Hezekiah himself is personally addressed, and a sign given him of coming deliverance. He is told that for two years the presence of the enemy would interrupt the peaceful pursuits of husbandry, but in the third year the people would be in circumstances to till the earth, plant the vineyards, and reap the fruits, as formerly. 'And this shall be a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat this year such things as grow of themselves, and in the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruits thereof,' etc. (verses 29-31).
(3) The issue of Sennacherib's invasion is announced. 'Thus saith the Lord concerning the King of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return,' etc. (verses 32-34) (Dr. Jamieson). Such was the communication which, in language passionate, poetic, and powerful, Isaiah made to this perplexed and terrified nation. It involves two things:
(a) the deliverance of his country;
(b) the ruin of the despot.
IV. THE STRENGTH OF A NATION THAT HAS GOD ON ITS SIDE. Who delivered the imperiled nation? Who overwhelmed the despot? "The zeal of the Lord of hosts." "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred four score and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses," etc. (verses 35-37). Who was the "angel of the Lord"? Was it some transcendent personality, or some tremendous force in nature, such as a pestiferous blast, or an electric bolt? It matters not; the "angel" was but the instrument in the hand of God.
1. How swiftly was the deliverance effected! "That night." What a night was that!—one of the most memorable nights of the world. Perhaps the whole was effected even in one single hour, or even in one instant of that night.
2. How terrible the ruin which that deliverance effected! "A hundred four score and five thousand men" destroyed. At night, a glittering array; in the morning, "dead corpses."
"Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,"
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay wither'd and strown."
How rapidly God can do his work! he can annihilate a universe in the twinkling of an eye. Behold a mystery! Why should these hundred and eighty five thousand be thus destroyed on account of the conduct of one man—Sennacherib?
"God is his own Interpreter,
And he will make it plain?
The forty-sixth psalm is supposed to be the triumphant outburst of the delivered people. "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in trouble. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted." This Sennacherib, this ruthless despot, does not seem to have fallen with the others. His body was not found amongst the dead corpses. Albeit, he did not escape. "So Sennacherib King of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his God, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Armenia. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead" (verses 36, 37). What greater calamity could befall a man than to be murdered by his own sons?—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 19:1-7
Hezekiah and Isaiah.
The messengers whom Hezekiah had sent having returned and reported to him the words of Rabshakeh (2 Kings 18:37), the king was plunged in unspeakable distress. We have now to observe his behavior in his trouble.
I. HEZEKIAH'S GRIEF.
1. He assumed the signs of deepest mourning. The messengers had come to him with their clothes rent. Hezekiah now rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth. His humiliation was sincere. The words he had heard had knocked from under him his last hope of help from man. He felt that God's "chastisement" (verse 3) was upon him, and that God alone could deliver. This moment of the realization of his helplessness was also the moment of the return of God's favor to him. To this point it had been God's aim to bring him, and now that he threw himself in his utter weakness on God's strength, deliverance was assured.
2. He sought God in his sanctuary. He "went into the house of the Lord." Thither also Asaph had gone in his hour of trouble, and there his difficulties were removed (Psalms 73:17). Hezekiah no doubt sought the sanctuary for purposes of prayer. We see him do the same thing on receipt of Sennacherib's letter (verse 14). We have every encouragement to come to God with our troubles (Psalms 91:15), and nothing soothes the heart like pouring out all our sorrows before him (Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:7). Prayer is the soul's best resort in times of extremity.
II. THE DEPUTATION TO ISAIAH. In addition to praying himself to God, Hezekiah sent an honorable deputation to Isaiah, to request his intercession for the city.
1. He sends to God's prophet. Possibly for some time Hezekiah and Isaiah had not seen much of each other. The prophet's counsels had proved distasteful. His denunciations of the alliance with Egypt cannot have been received with favor (Isaiah 30:1-33.). His advice certainly had not been taken; nor can it have been with his approval that Hezekiah made his ill-fated submission to Sennacherib. Now, in the hour of trouble, Hezekiah sends once more to him. He sends his highest officers—the same who had conferred with Rabshakeh—and the elders of the priests. All went covered with sackcloth, in token of their grief, penitence, and humiliation of heart. This is what often happens. God's servants are not appreciated till the hour of real need comes; then men are glad to get their counsels and their prayers. It would be well if, in the conduct of state affairs, respect were paid to the counsels of religion earlier. It would save many a bitter hour afterwards.
2. He makes full confession of his sad estate. A crisis had come in which there was no ray of human hope. From Hezekiah's side it was a day of "trouble"—of deep distress and mortification; from God's side it was a day of "chastisement" (Hosea 5:2, "I am a Rebuker of them all "); from the side of the Assyrian, it was a day of "blasphemy"—of impious vaunting against Jehovah. And like a woman in pains of childbirth, without strength for delivery, they had no means of bringing themselves out of their perilous position. "The metaphor expresses in the most affecting manner, the ideas of extreme pain, imminent danger, critical emergency, utter weakness, and entire dependence on the aid of others" (Alexander). The spirit of self-trust is now utterly slain. In making this confession, Hezekiah owned that Isaiah was right, and he had all along been wrong.
3. He entreats the prophet's prayers. Hezekiah's one hope now was that, for his own glory's sake, Jehovah would "reprove" the blasphemous words which Rabshakeh had uttered, and he besought Isaiah to lift up his prayer for the remnant of Jews still left. It is a true instinct of the soul which leads us to seek the intercession on our behalf of those who stand nearer to God than ourselves. "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous Than availeth much" (James 5:16). Thus Pharaoh besought Moses to intercede for him (Exodus 8:8, Exodus 8:28; Exodus 10:16); Moses on various occasions interceded for the people (Exodus 32:30-33; Deuteronomy 9:12-20); Elijah interceded for the land of Israel (1 Kings 18:11-45); the high priest interceded for the tribes; and Christ now intercedes for us (Romans 8:34; 1 John 2:1). We cannot lay too much stress on the power of prayer, nor be too anxious to get an interest in the prayers of the holy. Hezekiah did well in joining with his own prayers this request for the intercession of Isaiah.
III. THE PROPHET'S REPLY. We have already and frequently seen how ready God is to respond to the faintest movements of the soul towards him. The prophet did not send those who now sought him away without comfort. He gave them:
1. A word of encouragement. "Be not afraid," etc. In his own heroic trust Isaiah had never faltered. Such trust is contagious. The words Which Isaiah spoke would send a new thrill of hope to the hearts of the messengers. How marvelous a thing is faith in God! How it supports a man's own soul, lifts him above ordinary, and even extraordinary, discouragements, and makes him firm as a rock when others are trembling and despairing around (cf. Psalms 46:1-11.)!
2. An assurance of deliverance. In the name of God, Isaiah was able to give them, further, an assurance that 'Sennacherib would do them no hurt. God would put a spirit in him, and would cause him to hear tidings which would make him depart into his own laud, and there he would perish with the sword. Nothing is said as yet of the destruction of the army, unless, indeed, it is the tidings of that which Sennacherib was to hear. Another boasting message of Sennacherib and another prayer of Hezekiah come in between this promise and the final and fuller one.—J.O.
2 Kings 19:8-19
While the foregoing events were taking place, Rabshakeh had returned to his royal master. The siege of Lachish had been concluded—adding another to the score of victories—and Sennacherib was now at Libnah, Here the news came that Tirhakah was on his march against him, and naturally Sennacherib wished to secure the capitulation of Jerusalem before the Ethiopian could arrive. To this end he sent another message to Hezekiah—this time in the form of a letter—renewing the attempt to frighten the Jewish king into surrender.
I. SENNACHERIB'S PROUD BOASTINGS. The letter is an echo of the speech of Rabshakeh, and is couched in the same boastful spirit.
1. He makes light of the power of Jehovah. "Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee," etc. Sennacherib assumes that Hezekiah may have received true oracles from his God, but he warns him not to trust them. In his arrogance, he defies all gods as well as men. To him Jehovah was but one god among many—the god of one small nation—not for a moment to be compared with the powerful Asshur. His idea of the morality of the gods is seen in the supposition that they practiced deceit upon their worshippers.
2. He extols his own prowess. He again recounts the victories which he and previous kings of Assyria had gained. Their conquests had extended to all lands; gods and kings had everywhere gone down before them: how should Hezekiah escape? As an induction, Sennacherib's argument seems very complete. The countries he names had been conquered; their gods had not availed to save them; their kings had been overthrown. Logic seemed on his side. Only faith could furnish a sufficient answer.
3. He is certain beforehand of victory. In his assurance that he would overcome Hezekiah, Sennacherib is the type of many boasters. Often has the voice of the adversary been raised in exultation at his prospective victory over the people of God. Paganism, Mohammedanism, and infidelity have each boasted that they would extinguish Christianity. Voltaire predicted that in a century from his time the Bible would be found only in antiquarian libraries. The same scoffer said that it took twelve men to found Christianity, but he would show that one man was sufficient to overthrow it. Modern unbelieving science sometimes speaks in the same strain. The argument per enumerationem is often employed, as it was by Sennacherib. All other religions show a tendency to collapse; their miracles are exploded, belief in witchcraft, etc; disappears before the march of enlightenment; therefore Christianity cannot hope to stand. But arrogance is a bad prophet. "Before honor is humility;" but "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 18:12). It was so with Sennacherib, and it will be found to be so by his modern imitators.
II. HEZEKIAH'S PRAYER. When Hezekiah received this insulting epistle, he went as before to the temple, and spread it out before the Lord. He did as we should all do with our troubles, carried it straight to the presence-chamber. God in truth knows all we have need of before we ask him; but that is no reason why we should not present our petitions. God knew all that was in this boastful letter; but that was no reason why Hezekiah should not place it before him, and make its contents the basis of his prayer. The prayer he offered contained:
1. An acknowledgment of God's supremacy. To Sennacherib's false idea of Jehovah, Hezekiah opposes the true one, The Lord God of Israel was no local deity, but the God of the whole earth.
(1) He is the God of revelation. "O Lord God of Israel, which sittest upon the cherubim." It was because God had revealed himself to Israel, and dwelt in glory above the mercy-seat whereon stood the cherubim, that Hezekiah had come to the temple to offer up this supplication. Communion with God rests on God's revelation of himself to man. Only as God has revealed his Being to us, and dwells among us in mercy, are we able to approach him. An unknown or unknowable God can call forth no trust.
(2) He is the God of providence. "Thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth." This is involved in the name Jehovah, which denotes God as the Being who is, and remains one with himself in all that he thinks, purposes, and does. His rule is unlimited; all events, great and small, are under his control; his counsel is the one stable factor in history. This conception of the supremacy of God in providence is involved in the knowledge he has given us of himself in grace.
(3) He is the God of nature. "Thou hast made heaven and earth." This again is involved in the truth of God's unlimited rule in providence, for only the Maker of the world can be its absolute Ruler. Reversing the order of thought—only because God is the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth, is he the Lord in providence; and because he is Lord in nature and providence, he can do all things for us in grace (Psalms 121:1, Psalms 121:2; Psalms 135:5, Psalms 135:6).
2. An exposure of Sennacherib's fallacy. Hezekiah does not dispute the facts recited by Sennacherib, nor does he attempt to belittle them in any way. "Of a truth, Lord," he says, "the kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands." No good can come of refusing to look facts in the face. It has often happened in apologetics that the attempt has been made to deny, explain away, or minimize the force of facts which were supposed to conflict with religious truth—facts of geology, e.g; or facts of history or human nature which did not square with religious doctrine. This procedure is unwise, and invariably recoils to the injury of religion. We are entitled to ask for proof of alleged facts, and to suspend our judgment till such proof is given; but when the facts are established, they should be frankly admitted, and our theories widened to find room for them. Truth in one department can never conflict with truth in another, and religion, resting on its own strong foundations, can afford to deal fairly with every class of evidence. Hezekiah did not dispute Sennacherib's facts; but he put his finger at once upon the fallacy of Sennacherib's argument. The Assyrians had indeed conquered these many nations, and cast their gods into the fire; hut why? Because they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they had destroyed them. It was different when they had to deal with the true God, the Maker of heaven and earth. The error of modem unbelief is distinguishable from, yet kindred with, the error of Sennacherib. Sennacherib attributed a reality to his gods; unbelief allows none. Yet it agrees with Sennacherib in denying to Jehovah his true character as the one living God of nature, providence, and grace. Faith, coming to God, believes "that he is, and that he is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Hebrews 11:6). Denying this truth, unbelief scoffs at religion, at the Bible revelation, at prayer, providence, miracles, redemption. It treats the confidence of Christians in their God as illusory, anticipates the downfall of their system, and mocks at their hopes of immortality. Its arguments, often cogent enough if there is no living God, lose all force the moment faith in God reasserts itself.
3. An argument for God's interposition. Having shown his grounds for the belief that God can interpose, Hezekiah urges two reasons why he should interpose.
(1) The first is the honor of his own Name. The fact that Sennacherib had in his pride and ignorance thus "reproached the living God" was a reason why God should reveal himself in his true character for Sennacherib's discomfiture. The blasphemous pride of the creature exalting itself against the Creator should be brought low.
(2) A second reason was that, by saving his people from Sennacherib, Jehovah would give a grand lesson of his sole Deity to all the nations of the earth: "That all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord God, even thou only: It is God's glory which Hezekiah puts in the foreground. He had no plea of merit to urge, either his own or the nation's; therefore he can but ask God to be merciful to them for his own Name's sake.—J.O.
2 Kings 19:20-34
God is the Hearer of prayer. As in the case of Daniel (Daniel 9:20), while Hezekiah was still speaking, an answer was sent to him through Isaiah the prophet (cf. 2 Kings 20:4). Thus also answers to prayer were sent in the cases of Paul (Acts 9:10-18) and Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8). Isaiah was the one person whose faith had remained unshaken through all this crisis. But it is not merely Isaiah's confidence which speaks in this composition. He brought to the king a direct "word of God." His oracle is one of surpassing beauty, grand and sustained in style, and expressing the greatest truths.
I. ZION'S DERISION OF THE INVADER. The introductory picture is very striking. The city Jerusalem is represented as a maiden, standing on a height, derision imprinted on every feature, shaking her head, and sending out bursts of mocking laughter after the retreating Sennacherib. Is she insane? So to the world it might have seemed. Insane at least it might appear to draw such a picture at a time when the condition of the city seemed past salvation. But faith's manifestations often seem like madness to the worldly (Acts 26:24; 2 Corinthians 5:13). Faith triumphs beforehand over all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19, Luke 10:20). It does not need to wait to see their overthrow; it is assured of it as if it had already happened. The strength of faith is seen in the degree in which it enables its possessor to rise above adverse circumstances. In its higher reaches it cannot only hope and wait, but exults and treats the threats of the enemy with ridicule and scorn (cf. Psalms 2:4).
II. SENNACHERIB AS GLASSED IN HIS OWN EYES. Jehovah next asserts himself as "the Holy One of Israel," and takes Sennacherib to task for his blasphemies against him. He puts language into Sennacherib's lips poetically expressive of that monarch's lofty ideas of his own power. Alluding both to what he has done and to what he intends to do, Sennacherib boasts, "With the multitude of my chariots I am come up to the height of the mountains I have digged and drunk strange waters; and with the sole of my feet will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt." The meaning is that no obstacles of nature can prevent the accomplishment of his designs. Mountains like Lebanon cannot stop his march; he will find water even in the desert; Egypt's rivers will be trodden disdainfully underfoot. His chariots pass over all heights; cedar trees and fir trees fall before him; he penetrates to the farthest lodging-place and most fruitful region of the country. It is "I," Sennacherib says, "who do all this." Such boasting is:
1. Extravagant. In his inflated self-consciousness, Sennacherib sets no bounds to what he can accomplish. His language is exaggerated and hyperbolical. It is a man puffing himself up to the dimensions of a god (cf. Isaiah 10:13, Isaiah 10:14; Isaiah 14:13, Isaiah 14:14; Daniel 4:30). Napoleon was accustomed to use similar language to impress the minds of his ignorant enemies. Only in part is this extravagant self-assertion delusion. Those who give vent to it know very well that much of it is theatrical and unreal—mere froth and foam. But it gratifies their pride to indulge in it.
2. Irrational This on two grounds:
(1) Even granting that these boastings rested on real exploits, such self-exaltation is unbecoming in any mortal. The mightiest conqueror has only to reflect how soon he will become weak as other men (Isaiah 14:10-17), to see how foolish is his self-glorying.
(2) The past is an unsafe ground for boasting as to the future. Because his arms had hitherto been so uniformly successful, Sennacherib imagined that it was impossible any reverse could now befall him. He had got into his head the idea of his own invincibility. Napoleon had the same confidence in the invincibility of his arms. Experience shows the baselessness of such confidence. A long run of victories, intoxicating the conqueror with his own success, is generally followed by a disastrous calamity. The castle gets built up too high, and in the end topples over. Napoleon learnt this at Moscow and Waterloo. Excess of pride usually ends in an overthrow.
3. Impious. Boastings, finally, were impious. It was the creature arrogating to himself the power of God. Any reference to Asshur Sennacherib may have made in his inscriptions was but a thin veil to cover his self-glorying. His particular blasphemies against the God of Israel arose from ignorance of Jehovah's true character. He thought he was contending against the petty god of a small tribe, whereas he had to deal with "the Holy One" who made heaven and earth. Men's mistakes as to God do not alter the realities of their relation to him. Because God is "the Holy One," he cannot overlook men's impieties. Holiness is the principle which guards the Divine honor. It "guards the eternal distinction between Creator and creature, between God and man, in the union effected between them; it preserves the Divine dignity and majesty from being infringed upon" (Martensen).
III. SENNACHERIB AS BEHELD BY GOD. Vastly different from Sennacherib s view of himself was the view taken of him by God his Maker.
1. Sennacherib a mere instrument in God's hands for the execution of his purposes. "Hast thou not heard how I have done it long ago, and formed it of ancient times? Now have I brought it to pass that thou shouldest be to lay waste," etc. Sennacherib was defying Jehovah, hut it was this God who from everlasting had decreed the events that were taking place, and had assigned to Sennacherib the part he was to bear in them. Here was a strange reversal of Sennacherib's ideas! It was the axe boasting itself against him that heweth herewith, and the saw magnifying itself against him that shaketh it, and the rod shaking itself against them that lift it up (Isaiah 10:16). This is the truth which ungodly men constantly ignore. They exalt themselves against God, forgetful that, without God, they could not think a thought or move a finger; that it is he who gave them their being, and continually sustains them; that his providence girds them round, and uses them as executors of its purposes; and that they have only as much power as he chooses to give them.
2. His successes due to God. "Therefore their inhabitants were of small power," etc. Sennacherib ascribed all his victories to his own prowess, and founded on them an argument for despising Jehovah, whereas it was because Jehovah had prospered him that he had gained these victories. It is God who brings low, and lifts up (1 Samuel 2:7). When he is against a people, their strength is small, they are dismayed and confounded, they are like grass that withers, and blasted grain. Sennacherib did not understand this, and took all the glory to himself.
3. God prescribes the limits of his power. As the Assyrian was thus an instrument in God's hand, it was for God to say how far he would be permitted to go. The limit was reached when he began to rage and blaspheme against the power which controlled him. God had heard his words and seen his doings. "I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me." He had done enough. The curb was now to be applied. Drawing a metaphor from Sennacherib's own treatment of his captives, the oracle declared, "I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. The prediction was soon to be fulfilled. No comfort can be greater, in times of "trouble, and rebuke, and blasphemy," than to know that the hostile powers are under absolute Divine control, and that they cannot take one step beyond what God allows. "Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain" (Psalms 76:10). When men turn against God in open blasphemy, their power is nearly at an end.
IV. A SIGN TO THE PEOPLE.
1. A pledge of God's favor. The immediate sign of the truth of this oracle would be the destruction of the invading army, which was to take place that very night. But as a further pledge of complete deliverance from the Assyrian—a token that he would not return—it was foretold that within three years the whole land would be again under cultivation. In the interval the people would be provided for by that which grew of itself. Material blessings are withdrawn when God frowns; restored when he smiles.
2. The remnant would take root and increase. The land had been deplorably thinned by invasion and captivity. Had the process gone on much longer, Judah would have disappeared, as Israel had done. A remnant, however, would be saved, and this, taking root downward, and bearing fruit upward, would by God's blessing so multiply and strengthen as speedily to renew the population.
3. God's zeal engaged for the fulfillment of his promises. They were great things which God had promised, but the "zeal" of the Lord of hosts—his jealousy for his own honor, and for his people and his land—would perform it. When God's "zeal" is engaged in any undertaking, can we doubt that it will prosper? "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:39). God's zeal is engaged in giving effect to all efforts for the extension of his gospel, the salvation of men, and the triumph of righteousness in the world.
V. THE SAFETY OF THE CITY. Finally, a definite assurance is given that, let Sennacherib rage as he may, the city would not be harmed. He should neither come into it, nor shoot an arrow into it, nor come before it with shield, nor cast a bank against it, as once before he had done. Instead, he would return by the way he came. This God would do
(1) for his own sake, i.e. for the vindication of his own honor from the reproaches of Sennacherib; and
(2) for his servant David's sake. Succeeding generations little know how much they owe to God's regard for his holy servants in days past. As was Jerusalem, so is the Church safe under God's protection (Matthew 16:18). For the higher David's sake, he will not let it perish. But for God's care and shielding power, it would long ere this have been destroyed.—J.O.
2 Kings 19:35-37
The mighty deliverance.
God's word was not long in being fulfilled. That very night the angel of the Lord smote a hundred and eighty-five thousand of the host of the Assyrians. In few words—for the end is as good as reached with Isaiah's oracle—the sacred narrator sums up the facts of the catastrophe.
I. THE DESTRUCTION OF SENNACHERIB'S ARMY.
1. Its historic truth. On all hands, though Sennacherib's own annals pass over the event in silence, this seems to be admitted. "Thus," says Wellhausen, "it proved in the issue. By a still unexplained catastrophe, the main army of Sennacherib was annihilated on the frontier between Egypt and Palestine, and Jerusalem thereby freed from all danger. The Assyrian king had to save himself by a hurried retreat to Nineveh; Isaiah was triumphant."
2. Its miraculous character. Granting that the event happened, it seems impossible, in view of Isaiah's distinct prediction, to deny its supernatural character. God's hand is almost seen visibly stretched out for the deliverance of his city, and the bringing low of Sennacherib's pride. Allow that the sweeping off of this great army was in any way connected with Isaiah's faith, hope, and prayers, and a supernatural government of the world is established.
3. Its spiritual lessons.
(1) We see the end which commonly overtakes worldly boasters. Greek story delights to dwell on the Nemesis which overtakes inordinate pride. Napoleon, the modern Sennacherib, met with a discomfiture not dissimilar to that here recorded.
(2) We learn not to be afraid of spiritual boasters. The nations may rage, and the people imagine a vain thing; the kings of the earth may set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed. But "he that sits in the heavens will laugh; the Lord will have them in derision" (Psalms 2:4). Scientific and philosophic boasters have not prevailed against the Church yet, and are not likely to do so.
(3) We learn the advantage of entire reliance on God. While Hezekiah leaned on the help of man, he could accomplish nothing. When he cast himself on God's help, he was saved. God has all power in heaven and earth at his command, and is able to do all things for us.
II. THE END OF SENNACHERIB.
2 Kings 19:1
The great king's retreat. At this point "the great king," the King of Assyria, his boasting effectually silenced, disappears forever from Jewish history. He "departed, and went and returned, and dwelt in Nineveh." No more is heard of his exploits in these pages.
2 Kings 19:2
His miserable end. His end was a fitting satire on his boasts. Two of his own sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer, conspired against him, and slew him while he was worshipping in the house of his god. This is the god to whose power, it may be presumed, he attributed all his conquests. Poor god! that could not save his own worshipper. Sic transit gloria mundi. The sons who slew him could not keep the throne, which was taken by Esarhaddon.—J.O.