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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Isaiah 37

Verse 1

1. When king Hezekiah heard it The narrative continues, but the scene is shifted, and what occurs inside the walls of Jerusalem is brought to view. On hearing the report of his returned commissioners, the king Hezekiah acted his grief in the accustomed way rending his garments and putting on a mourning garb of coarse linen. A deep sorrow is thus expressed; such as, in this extremity, he thought only Jehovah, whom he truly honoured and loved, could assuage.

Went into the house of the Lord Where, according to the prayer of Solomon, (1 Kings 8:29,) sincere prayer should be heard. As this was done publicly, it could not well fail of suitably affecting the people.

Verses 2-3

2, 3. He sent Eliakim… Shebna Two of the previous commissioners, together with the elders of the priests, or heads of Levitical families, unto Isaiah, whose sacred teaching, as a great prophet in Jerusalem, was of vast weight with him. The kind of embassy to Isaiah is proof of this. The proof, too, of the king’s extreme sense of the need of divine help is the strong metaphor which closes his message to the prophet.

Verse 4

4. It may be Peradventure, possibly, perhaps.

The Lord thy God will hear Jehovah will not fail to inflict vengeance on the blasphemy poured on his name this day by Rabshakeh, in behalf of his master, Sennacherib. The king puts this timidly, as though he hardly dared to hope; yet he does, and opens the apodosis of the sentence with a wherefore, or therefore, lift up thy prayer, namely, to Heaven. The idea here is, not merely a mental prayer, but one of deep struggle, of importunity and strong utterance.

For the remnant that is left Namely, Jerusalem and its people. This city only had been prepared to resist invasion. All the villages round about were open to sack and overthrow.

Verses 6-7

6, 7. Isaiah replies He lives closer to God than his king assumes to; this is implied by the king himself in his appeal to him.

Thus saith the Lord Direct communion with Jehovah brings to the prophet a revelation favourable to the king’s hesitating hope in the case. All the braggadocio of Rabshakeh occasions no fear.

Send a blast Bring a spirit upon him; some supernatural force that shall influence his thought and plans.

He shall hear a rumour Something that shall produce terror, and shall disgracefully scare him homeward, where his career shall end in his being murdered.

Verses 8-9

8, 9. Seeing no fruit of his commission, Rabshakeh returns to find Sennacherib, for some reason, not now at Lachish but invading Libnah, a city of the plain southwest of Jerusalem. It was assigned originally as a city of refuge and residence of the Levites. See Joshua 21:13. Only Rabshakeh is mentioned as going down, probably to report to Sennacherib, while the other officers and the great host, (see Isaiah 36:17,) doubtless remained encamped against Jerusalem.

He heard say The rumour or report, referred to in Isaiah 37:7, of powerful preparations made by Tirhakah of Egypt to meet him. Respecting Egyptian monarchs at this time, the perplexities are not yet unravelled. But Tirhakah, one of the three constituting the twenty-fifth dynasty of Manetho, is the principal figure here against Sennacherib. (See RAWLINSON’S Monarchies, vol. ii, and GEORGE SMITH’S Assyrian Inscriptions, page 311.) On hearing this report, and before Hezekiah should hear of it, and so take advantage to hold out with increased courage, Sennacherib sends back to Hezekiah to surrender, in terms very like to the first message by Rabshakeh to the people on the wall.

Verses 10-13

10-13. Sennacherib, in his arrogance and ignorance, again insults the God of Israel by lowering him to the grade of the national gods around, and boasts of the great things his predecessors had done.

Gozan Situated on the Chaboras the river Chebor of Ezekiel which flows from the north into the Euphrates.

Haran Farther west than “Gozan.” From here Abram went to Canaan.

Children of Eden If by this is meant the tribe of Eden, (see Ezekiel 27:23,) situated on the border of Media, which is not unlikely, then a long curve of territory was made by Sennacherib to denote the extensiveness of Assyrian conquest. Nobody now knows where Hena or Ivah lay.

Verses 14-20

14-20. The insulting message above noted was in the form of a letter, which Hezekiah piously spread before the Lord in the temple an act of prayer passing at length into vocal utterance, (Isaiah 37:16-20,) recognising the unity, majesty, and supreme glory of the Infinite One, and asking help for the chosen nation. The argument of his prayer is this: “The Assyrians have certainly destroyed nations and their gods, because these gods were nothing but the work of men’s hands. But do Thou help, and show that Thou art the only Lord in the universe.”

What a prayer! and what an answer through Isaiah, Jehovah’s true prophet! The prayer had been offered at the most holy place perhaps in it unto Him who representatively dwelt between the cherubim by the fact of his glory, or Shechinah, hovering over the mercy seat. The answer was a revelation to Isaiah at his school residence in the city, and brought by one of his disciples to the king. The prayer and the answer have a sublimely official air.*

[* Because thou hast prayed concerning Sennacherib’s daring outrage upon Jehovah’s sacred name, this is the answer which he hath returned to thee.

The virgin, the daughter of Zion This is Jerusalem, looked at by the prophet, in her always intended and now actually, sacred and pure character as the seat of the true worship of God.

Hath despised thee It is absolutely safe from Sennacherib’s attacks, and is prepared to defy his ineffectual attempts, also to exult over his own prospective overthrow. “Shaking the head” is possibly a gesture of negation, in effect saying, “He has no power to hurt me.”]

Verse 23

23. Whom… blasphemed Not a senseless idol, like the gods you boast of as being superior to Him, as you will soon know to your harm.

Against whom… exalted thy voice That is, by Rabshakeh’s speaking to the people on the walls, in a loud and confident tone.

Lifted up thine eyes on high Descriptive of the haughty and arrogant air assumed against the living and true God.

Verse 24

24. By thy servants hast thou Thus Sennacherib is properly held responsible for the insult his servants had given at his command. The reasons seem good which consider Lebanon, here, with its accompanying figures, as referring to Jerusalem. The kingdoms above mentioned, with the kingdom of Israel, have all fallen by Assyrian power; now the kingdom of Judah and its capital shall go the same way. So Sennacherib thought and said.

Verse 25

25. Each verse along here shows a strophical character parties speaking in turn. Sennacherib is now the speaker. Yes, indeed, I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet [steps of my feet] have I dried up all the streams of Egypt The best views respecting the confusion of Hebrew tenses in this verse and the preceding, make good sense as follows: It is as if it were already done, that I have digged and drank water with my great army across the northern et-Tih desert to Egypt. My power is adequate to do it with the utmost ease. Likewise, as if already in Egypt, subduing all before me it is as good as done that with the step of foot of my whole army upon water tread mills I have completely exhausted all the Nile arms and canals of Egypt. Some favour is due to another sense, that of an hyperbole, in the last clause, namely, “The Nile was nothing but a puddle to him, which he could trample out with the sole of his foot.” Delitzsch.

Verse 26

26. Through the prophet God now speaks to Sennacherib.

Hast thou not heard Is it real ignorance on thy part, that Jehovah is the only true God, and has control of Assyria; that she is his instrument, the rod of his anger, (Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 10:15,) to lay waste peoples who submit not to warning and correction? Thou dost boast that it is all by thy command and might, but it is I, who long ago… have done it. (Isaiah 22:11.) Because I so ordered it, the people were of small power before thee.

Of ancient times… I have formed it The idea of overruling evil men and their acts is eternal with God. How the Eternal consists with the finite historical, or the absolute with the relative, is doubtless to be forever unknown to men.

Verse 27

27. When, in the order of events, a greatly superior invader comes upon a weak people, the statement that the latter is of small power, literally, short of hand, unable to reach to an equality of fighting force, is very plain. The comparison, as… grass of the field… on the housetops… as corn blasted, etc., under the scorching sun this adds essential force to the powerlessness of the invaded.

Verse 28

28. The expressions, thy abode… going out… coming in, are commonly agreed to mean all the actions of life. Psalms 139:2. These, Jehovah says to the Assyrian general, he has always known.

Verse 29

29. Because thy rage Thy violent carrying out of thine own will. This gives the hithpael sense of the word a moving to and fro, an active insolence.

Thy tumult Arrogant self-confidence.

Is come up into mine ears Denoting good knowledge from hearing.

Hook in thy nose The figure of the nose-ring (Ezekiel 38:4) for leading wild, intractable animals, is applied to this untamed man, showing to what humiliations he is to be subjected. The Assyrian is to be led home like a wild beast, without having conquered either Jerusalem or Egypt.

Verse 30

30. The turn of discourse is now to Hezekiah. The main point in it is of a sign.

Ye Hezekiah and the remnant of the people that shall be left.

Ye shall eat… such as groweth The Assyrian depredations have prevented agriculture the last year. All that can be hoped for in the next year is from the spontaneous but scanty harvest derived from grain casually dropped in the previous season. The year following, or third year, the land will be altogether delivered from fear to cultivate to the fullest extent. The invaders will be clean gone, and the ever-to-be-preserved remnant will be here. Another view, possessing considerable weight, is, that this was the year previous to a jubilee, and consequently a sabbatic year. By law the land was to rest, no ploughing or sowing being allowed, consequently no reaping. The same law regulated also the next, or jubilee year. It may not, therefore, have been because of the ravages of the Assyrians, past or present, that the people were to eat, these two years, of such as should grow “of itself.” A somewhat curious calculation, confirmatory of the above suggestion, is given by the Speaker’s Commentary, as follows:

“That the year 710 was sabbatical may be seen, 1) By reckoning backward from data supplied by Josephus, who makes the years B.C. 164, 136, 38, to be sabbatical. Now if we add 78+7 (or 546) to 164, we get 710. 2) By reckoning onward from the date of the first occupation of the land, B.C. 1444. For fifteen periods of 7+7 years amount to 735; and B.C. 710 is the 735th year from B.C. 1444. It follows, therefore, that the next year, B.C. 709, was a jubilee year.

Verses 31-32

31, 32. The remnant Literally, the escaped: the context seems to imply these were few.

House of Judah In this invasion of Judah large numbers of the inhabitants perished. Though not mentioned, the pestilence had possibly begun its ravages. The remaining survivors are now to be undisturbed, to flourish and prosper, or, in the words of the prophet, to take root downward, and bear fruit upward. This with the prophet is a settled fact, wrapped in the remnant is the Messianic kernel. He repeats it with emphasis to assure Hezekiah.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts His intense interest in behalf of Judah, will accomplish this. See Isaiah 9:7.

Verses 33-36

33-36. Thus far strongly assuring Hezekiah, Isaiah here gives definite details of the grounds of this assurance.

The king of Assyria… shall not come into this city… nor cast a bank A familiar mode of describing an ancient siege.

By the way that he came… shall he return Without even an attack on Egypt, though that was the chief point of Sennacherib’s intended assault. He shall keep to the thoroughfare on the plains, over the pass of Megiddo, onward northeasterly, etc. This is said in pursuance of God’s plan, on that very night, (2 Kings 19:35,) to smite with death from plague or otherwise, one hundred and eighty-five thousand of this great army. The history of this event is so fragmentary that facts are wanting to decide where, how, in what proportions whether united in one body again or still separated in parts this army received this catastrophe.

Verses 37-38

37, 38. The same lack of facts leaves it uncertain how long Sennacherib survived his mortifying return to Nineveh. The book of Tobit, (i, 21,) Josephus, ( Antiquities, Isaiah 10:2 ; Isaiah 10:2,) and Rawlinson, all clash. See RAWLINSON’S Ancient Monarchies, vol. ii, page 169, where he claims that Sennacherib lived seventeen years after his return, made other wars, and left his power and territories undiminished for his son and successor, Esarhaddon. In this case, it must be suspected that some other hand than Isaiah’s added these last verses. In any case, the snatches of history furnished by the monuments, as yet only throw the subject into confusion rather than give the light required to explain some facts and apparent dates here presented.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Isaiah 37". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.