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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 36

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Isaiah 36:0


Sennacherib Invades JudahSennacherib Boasts Against the LordThe Attack of SennacheribThe Assyrians Threaten JerusalemSennacherib's Invasion
Isaiah 36:1-3Isaiah 36:1-3Isaiah 36:1-3Isaiah 36:1-6Isaiah 36:1-10
Isaiah 36:4-10Isaiah 36:4-10Isaiah 36:4-10
Isaiah 36:7-10
Isaiah 36:11-12Isaiah 36:11-12Isaiah 36:11-12Isaiah 36:11Isaiah 36:11-12
Isaiah 36:12
Isaiah 36:13-20Isaiah 36:13-20Isaiah 36:13-20Isaiah 36:13-20Isaiah 36:13-20
Isaiah 36:21-22Isaiah 36:21-22Isaiah 36:21-22Isaiah 36:21-22Isaiah 36:21-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compareyour subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. These chapters form a historical literary transition (or appendix, Jewish Study Bible, p. 853) between the life of the prophet Isaiah in Isa. 1-39 (the Assyrian period) and the section of Isaiah which deals with the future, chapters 40-66 (the Babylonian period and the eschaton). A similar historical addition occurs at Jeremiah 52:0, where 2 Kings 24:18-30 is repeated.

B. This section of Isaiah is paralleled in 2 Kings 18:13-19, except for Isaiah 38:9-20; also note 2 Chronicles 32:0.

C. This section seems to form a needed coherent transition from an emphasis on Assyria (Isaiah 36:0 and 37) to Babylon (Isaiah 38:0 and 39).

D. There has been some discussion about the relationship of Hezekiah's refusal to succumb to the demands and threats of Sennacherib of Assyria and Hezekiah paying tribute to him in 2 Kings 18:14-16. It is in the realm of possibility that Hezekiah initially paid tribute and then later refused to do so. The exact relationship between these two passages is only conjecture.

E. This chapter and the parallels have a more concentrated use of “trust” (BDB 105, KB 120) than any other context in the OT.

Isaiah 36:1. Isaiah 36:4, Isaiah 36:5, Isaiah 36:6 (twice),7,9,15

2. 2 Kings 18:19, 2 Kings 18:20, 2 Kings 18:21 (twice), Isaiah 36:22,24,30; Isaiah 19:10

3. 2 Chronicles 32:10

“Trust” (בטח) and “belief” (אמן, see Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the OT) are crucial in understanding the proper functioning of the personal relationship involved in covenant. It is more than obedience!

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 36:1-3 1Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them. 2And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah with a large army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway of the fuller's field. 3Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came out to him.

Isaiah 36:1 “in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah” It seems from the dating of the reigns of these Judean kings and their relationship to secular history that there is a textual error in the word “fourteenth.” Because 2 Kings 18:1 says that Hezekiah was co-regent with his father between 729 and 715 B.C. and then became king himself from 715 to 686 B.C., it is probable that this should read the “twenty-fourth year of King Hezekiah” (cf. Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 207,211; E. J. Young, Book of Isaiah, pp. 540-542; The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 234; J. A. Motyer, Tyndale OT Commentaries, vol. 18, p. 222).

In the chart in the Appendix Four, #3 of this volume there is a list of three different dates for Hezekiah's reign.

1. John Bright - 715-687 B.C.

2. E. J. Young - 727-699 B.C.

3. R. K. Harrison

a. co-reign - 729-716/15

b. reign - 716/15-687/86

These are three well-respected scholars, yet note the variety. Be careful of rigid dating of these reigns and co-reigns. Scholarship is just not in agreement at this point in time. Hopefully new information from archaeology can help clarify the date!

“Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them” We learn from Assyrian documents that Sennacherib (reigned from 705-681 B.C.) claims to have conquered 46 walled cities. Because of the Assyrian records of Sennacherib's reign an invasion of Judah in 701 B.C. fits this passage.

Isaiah 36:2 “And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh” There are several ways of understanding this word (BDB 913).

1. a proper name (NASB, NKJV)

2. “chief steward”

3. “field commander” (Peshitta, NIV)

4. “governor” or “chief of staff” (NKJV footnote)

5. “cupbearer-in-chief (NJB)

Whichever it is he was a high-ranking official (JPSOA footnote) from the Assyrian camp (cf. 2 Kings 18:17).

The NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1029, lists several of these Assyrian titles.

1. Tartân - supreme commander, cf. 2 Kings 18:17

2. Rab sâris - chief officer, cf. 2 Kings 18:17

3. Rab sâqçh - field commander, cf. 2 Kings 18:17

4. Rab Kisri - commander of the army

5. Rab hanse - captain of fifty

6. Rab saqu - cupbearer of the king

7. Akkadian

a. tartan - cf. #1 above

b. rabu sa rçsi - chief eunuch or military commander

c. rab sâqçh - cf. #3 above

d. rab saqu - #6 above

8. Aramaic - rb swq - chief of the march

“Lachish” This was one of the walled cities on the coastal plain which was captured by the Assyrian army. It was about thirty miles southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah.

“And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool on the highway of the fuller's field” This is the same location where Isaiah confronted Ahaz in Isaiah 7:3 with the appeal not to trust in Assyria. There may be a purposeful connecting of the geographical site to the response of Hezekiah (belief, cf. Isaiah 37:14-20, Isaiah 37:30) versus the response of Ahaz (unbelief).

Isaiah 36:3 “Eliakim. . .Shebna. . .Joah” When one compares Isaiah 36:5 and 22:20-24 it seems that these two men have exchanged offices.

If we can use Egyptian parallels it seems that these men represented different levels of administrative authority in the ANE.

1. Eliakim

a. NASB, NKJV, “over the household”

b. NRSV, TEV, JPSOA, “in charge of the palace”

c. REB, “the comptroller of the household”

d. NJB, “master of the palace”

2. Shebna

a. NASB, NKJV, JPSOA, “the scribe”

b. NRSV, NJB, “the secretary”

c. REB, “the adjutant-general”

d. TEV, “court secretary”

3. Joah

a. NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV, JPSOA, “the recorder”

b. REB, “the secretary of state”

c. NJB, “the herald”

Verses 4-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 36:4-10 4Then Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, 'Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, “What is this confidence that you have? 5”I say, 'Your counsel and strength for the war are only empty words.' Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? 6Behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. 7But if you say to me, 'We trust in the LORD our God,' is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, 'You shall worship before this altar'? 8Now therefore, come make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 9How then can you repulse one official of the least of my master's servants and rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 10Have I now come up without the LORD'S approval against this land to destroy it? The LORD said to me, 'Go up against this land and destroy it.'“'“

Isaiah 36:4 The message of Sennacherib was read loudly before the walls of Jerusalem so that everyone could hear and fear (cf. Isaiah 36:11-12)!

This verse has three uses of the VERB “say” (BDB 55, KB 65).




“What is this confidence that you have” This is a very significant statement for the rest of chapter 36 and 37 because it is a play on the Hebrew word “trust” (BDB 105, KB 120, Qal PERFECT, cf. Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 26:3, Isaiah 26:4; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 32:9-11; Isaiah 36:4, Isaiah 36:5, Isaiah 36:6 [twice], Isaiah 36:7, Isaiah 36:9, Isaiah 36:15; Isaiah 37:10) or the question “what are you trusting in?” Notice that the Assyrian logic is based on their military victories over numerous other national gods. The line of psychological attack seems to impugn Hezekiah's actions on behalf of YHWH in order to impugn His power and to impugn the people's trust in Him (cf. Isaiah 36:4, Isaiah 36:5, Isaiah 36:7, Isaiah 36:10, Isaiah 36:15, Isaiah 36:18; Isaiah 37:4, Isaiah 37:6, Isaiah 37:10, Isaiah 37:17, Isaiah 37:20 esp., 23,29). This sets the stage, much like Daniel 3:0, for YHWH's confrontation with the Assyrian gods for the purpose that all of the world may know that YHWH is God (cf. Isaiah 37:20; Isaiah 45:6; 2 Chronicles 32:7-8).

This question is the theological purpose of the literary unit!

Isaiah 36:5

NASB, NJB“empty words” NKJV“vain words” NRSV“mere words” LXX“words of the lips”

The LXX is a literal translation of the MT (BDB 182 CONSTRUCT BDB 973). This is an idiom for someone who speaks without thinking (cf. Proverbs 14:23).

“rebelled against me” This refers to the fact that Hezekiah initially stopped paying tribute to Assyria (cf. 2 Kings 18:7), but then apparently began it again when Sennacherib invaded (cf. 2 Kings 18:14-16) and then refused a second time to pay tribute.

Isaiah 36:6 “Behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, even on Egypt” Apparently, the Assyrians had inside information on Hezekiah's ill-conceived design for a military alliance with Egypt. Isaiah had earlier condemned this alliance (cf. Isaiah 30:1-5; Isaiah 31:1-3).

Isaiah 36:7 “whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away” This is an attempt to impugn Hezekiah's relationship with YHWH (cf. 2 Kings 18:5). The thrust of the argument is that YHWH is angry with Hezekiah for closing the local high places (cf. 2 Kings 18:7). However, this was a misunderstanding by the Assyrians because Hezekiah did exactly what was commanded in Deuteronomy which is the centralization of worship at a site which YHWH would choose (cf. Deuteronomy 12:2-5). The high places had become sites of Ba'al and Asherah worship (cf. 2 Kings 18:4). See Special Topic: Fertility Worship of the Ancient Near East.

Isaiah 36:8 “come make a bargain with my master” The VERB (BDB 786, KB 876) is a Hithpael IMPERATIVE denoting the offer of a political pledge (cf. 2 Kings 18:23; Job 17:3; Psalms 119:122). The implication is, “leave your pledge with YHWH and trust in Assyria” (and by implication, her gods). This sounds preposterous, but remember Judah had already tried to form an alliance with Egypt (cf. Isaiah 36:6, Isaiah 36:9), which also involved Egyptian deities! Judah's monotheism was being tested!

“I will give you two thousand horses” This is a mocking statement based on the weakness of Judea's army. There is some historical doubt about the presence of cavalry in Judah or Assyria at this early date, therefore, many commentators say this is a reference to chariots even though the obvious language refers to cavalry.

Isaiah 36:9

NASB, TEV“official” NKJV, NRSV“captain” NJB“soldiers” REB, PESHITTA“servants” LXX“governor”

The term (BDB 808, cf, 2 Kings 18:24; see NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 603) may refer to the recently appointed governor of the defeated Judean walled cities. Each of these local governmental officials had a small military contingent. Apparently Lachish became the headquarters of this Assyrian administrator.

Therefore, the sarcastic claim of Rabshakeh was that Jerusalem could not defend itself against a regional, local militia, much less the Assyrian army.

Isaiah 36:10 “Have I now come up without the LORD'S approval” This verse is a statement by the Assyrians that (1) they did not consult Judah's God and (2) that God was even on their side! How they knew of the prophecies concerning God's choosing of Assyria to judge Israel, Isaiah 10:5-7, is uncertain. Some believe it is a half-truth related to Isal 37:26.

This verse seems to contradict itself.

1. “without ... approval,” literally “apart from” (BDB 116)

2. “the LORD said to me”

Obviously Assyria (i.e., Sennacherib) is flaunting itself against the will of YHWH and His people!

Verses 11-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 36:11-12 11Then Eliakim and Shebna and Joah said to Rabshakeh, “Speak now to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and do not speak with us in Judean in the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 12But Rabshakeh said, “Has my master sent me only to your master and to you to speak these words, and not to the men who sit on the wall, doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine with you?”

Isaiah 36:11 “Aramaic. . .Judean” Aramaic (BDB 74) was the diplomatic language of the ANE and “Judean” should be translated “Hebrew” (BDB 397, cf. 2 Kings 18:26, 2 Kings 18:28; 2 Chronicles 32:18). The thrust of this verse is that Hezekiah's officials are asking the Assyrian representative to speak in the diplomatic language so the people of the city could not understand the threats.

Isaiah 36:12 This was a threat about the problems associated with a siege (i.e., shortage of food and water, cf. 2 Kings 18:27) to cause fear and panic within Jerusalem. Even though Hezekiah may trust YHWH, possibly the citizens would not.

Verses 13-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 36:13-20 13Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in Judean and said, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria. 14Thus says the king, 'Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you; 15nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us, this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” 16Do not listen to Hezekiah,' for thus says the king of Assyria, 'Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern, 17until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards. 18Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.” Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 19Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? And when have they delivered Samaria from my hand? 20Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD would deliver Jerusalem from my hand?'“

Isaiah 36:13-16 There are several IMPERATIVES and JUSSIVES used in this message from Sennacherib through Rabshakeh (threats and promises).

1. hear, Isaiah 36:13 - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. do not let Hezekiah deceive you, Isaiah 36:14 - BDB 674, KB 728, NEGATED Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, cf. Isaiah 37:10; this is the same VERB used in Genesis 3:13!

3. nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, Isaiah 36:15 - BDB 105, KB 120, Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

4. do not listen to Hezekiah, Isaiah 36:16; Isaiah 36:16 - BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

5. make your peace with me, Isaiah 36:16 - BDB 793, KB 889, Qal IMPERATIVE

6. come out to me, Isaiah 36:16 - BDB 422, KB 425, Qal IMPERATIVE

7. eat, Isaiah 36:16 - BDB 37, KB 46, Qal IMPERATIVE

8. drink, Isaiah 36:16 - BDB 1059, KB 1667, Qal IMPERATIVE

Isaiah 36:17 Notice that Sennacherib's two promises are directed to the people from the countryside who had fled into the walled city of Jerusalem for protection. He would let them stay on their own land, but as Isaiah 36:17 clarifies, only for a short while. He would spare their lives, but still they would be exiled. Even if they surrendered at this time, they would still be taken out of the land of Judah. However, Assyria killed the old and young on the spot!

Isaiah 36:18 “Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria” Here is the theological challenge. The gauntlet has been thrown down and YHWH will pick it up!

The VERB “deliver” (BDB 664, KB 717) is used five times in Isaiah 36:18-20. The first and last are Hiphil IMPERFECTS and the other three are Hiphil PERFECTS.

Isaiah 36:19 “the gods of Hamath and Arpad”

1. Hamath was a city in central Syria whose king participated in the rebellion against Assyria and was crushed by Sargon II in 720 B.C. and its population deported to Samaria (cf. 2 Kings 17:24).

2. Arpad was a city in northern Syria whose king participated in the rebellion against Assyria and was crushed by Tiglath-pileser III in 740 B.C.

The exact names of their deities are uncertain.

“the gods of Sepharvaim” It may have been a city of northern Babylon. This was a location from which Sargon II (722-705 B.C.) sent exiles to settle in Samaria (cf. 2 Kings 17:24). Some scholars assume it refers to Samaria (the captured capital of Israel, 722 B.C.).

From 2 Kings 17:31 we know that the fertility gods they worshiped by child sacrifice were “Adrammelech” and “Anammelech.” The first name is also the name of one of Sennacherib's sons who assassinated him (cf. Isaiah 37:38). How they are connected is uncertain.

“have they delivered Samaria from my hand” This is interesting because Samaria's gods are listed separately from Judah's. They both worshiped YHWH, but apparently the idolatry in the north had become so bad or the Assyrian information so poor that they did not realize that they both worshiped YHWH (cf. 2 Kings 17:5, 2 Kings 17:6, 2 Kings 17:24).

Verses 21-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 36:21-22 21But they were silent and answered him not a word; for the king's commandment was, “Do not answer him.” 22Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of Rabshakeh.

Isaiah 36:22 “with their clothes torn” See Special Topic: Grieving Rites.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 36". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/isaiah-36.html. 2021.
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