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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 18

 

 

Verses 1-3

Introduction To The Reign of Hezekiah, King of Judah (2 Kings 18:1-3).

2 Kings 18:1

‘Now it came about in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.’

In the twelfth year of Ahaz’s co-regency with Jotham, Hoshea ‘began to reign’ (2 Kings 17:1), thus this is describing when Hezekiah’s co-regency with Ahaz began in c.729-8 BC, not the commencement of his sole reign in c 716 BC. It was the practise in Judah for each king to bring his heir into co-regency with him, both in order that he may gain experience in the running of the kingdom and so that he might be well established on the throne with the reins of authority in his hands when his father died.

2 Kings 18:2

‘He was twenty five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty nine years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah.’

We now learn that at twenty five years old Hezekiah became sole ruler and reigned as sole ruler for a further twenty nine years (716-687 BC). (He had become co-regent as soon as he had attained to ‘manhood’ when he was around thirteen years of age). The name of the queen mother was Abi (short for Abijah) daughter of Zechariah.

2 Kings 18:3

‘And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, in accordance with all that David his father had done.’

Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of YHWH in accordance with all that David had done. He was thus pleasing to YHWH. The ones who prior to this were spoken of similarly were Asa (1 Kings 15:11), and by inference Jehoshaphat, who walked in the ways of his father Asa (1 Kings 22:43). Compare also Josiah (2 Kings 22:2). These were the ones whom YHWH especially blessed.


Verses 1-21

The Reign of Hezekiah King of Judah c. 716-687 BC (2 Kings 18:1 to 2 Kings 20:21). Co-regency from c 729 BC.

There now begins the reign of one of the two great kings after David of whom it could be said ‘after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.’ The other will be Josiah (compare 2 Kings 23:25). In both cases the words are hyperbole and not intended to be applied literally (otherwise David would have been seen as excelled). But they adequately make clear the excellence of the two kings, Hezekiah because he excelled in faith, and Josiah because he excelled in obedience to the Law. And this was so even though in the end both failed because of their alliances with others.

The story of Hezekiah is portrayed as of one who was victorious on every hand, and who eventually stood up against the great king of Assyria, emerging weakened and battered, but triumphant. In some ways it can be seen as similar to the story of David against Goliath. Both dealt with those who ‘defied the living God’ (2 Kings 19:6), and both emphasised the weak facing the strong and overcoming them in the power of YHWH. Indeed that is one of the themes of these chapters, the effective power of YHWH, for great emphasis is laid on the impossibility of anyone successfully defying the king of Assyria, apart, of course, from YHWH. It is made clear that all the great cities of the ancient world and their gods failed to successfully defy him, and that all the gods of those nations were ineffective against him. Who then could stand before him? And the answer given is ‘YHWH’. All the gods of the nations he had swept aside, but in YHWH he was to come across the One who would humiliate him utterly.

Once again we note that the prophetic author is not interested in history for its own sake, but for what it reveals about YHWH. We are told very little about the early years of Hezekiah’s reign, or about his closing years. All the years of waiting for the right moment, and the manoeuvrings and conspiracies involving surrounding nations, are ignored. Having given us a brief summary of his reign the author’s concentration is on the face to face contest between the ‘great king’ of earth and the great King of Heaven, and it is that that is described in detail. It will then be followed by a description of how (1). YHWH was able to extend Hezekiah’s life, and in the process gave him a hugely significant sign of His power, and (2). the way in which Hezekiah finally failed YHWH by entering into negotiations with Babylon, something which spelled doom for the future, both events taking place before the deliverance of Jerusalem. But the Babylonian incident explains why Hezekiah could never really be the awaited ‘chosen King’. For in the end Hezekiah was more interested in impressing men than God. That was why he could never be the Messiah promised by Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:5-6; Isaiah 11:1-4.

Hezekiah’s reign as described by the author can be divided up as follows:

Overall Analysis.

a Introduction to his reign (2 Kings 18:1-3).

b Summary of Hezekiah’s successful reign because he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH (2 Kings 18:4-8).

c A reminder of what happened to Hoshea and Samaria which highlights both Jerusalem’s own subsequent escape, and Hezekiah’s successful contrasting reign (2 Kings 18:9-12).

d The treaty made and broken, and the invasion of the King of Assyria (2 Kings 18:13-17).

e The messengers of the King of Assyria call on the people of Jerusalem to surrender and in the process demean Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:18 to 2 Kings 19:1).

f The intercession of Hezekiah and the assurance of Isaiah (2 Kings 19:2-8).

g The second call to surrender, in view of the approaching Egyptian army, which is much more polite to Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:9-14).

f The further intercession of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:15-19).

e The reply of YHWH, the God of Israel, to the great king of Assyria (2 Kings 19:20-28).

d YHWH’s Assurance to Judah that the remnant will escape (2 Kings 19:29-31).

c The humbling and death of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:32-37).

b The sickness and healing of Hezekiah after a great sign is given, after which Hezekiah foolishly exposes his wealth and armaments to the king of Babylon and is warned of what the consequences will be (2 Kings 20:1-19).

a The conclusion to his reign (2 Kings 20:20-21).

Note that in ‘a’ we have the introduction to the reign of Hezekiah, and in the parallel the close of his reign. In ‘b’ we have outlined the successes of his reign, and in the parallel the reason why he failed to achieve his potential. In ‘c’ Assyria humble Israel, and in the parallel YHWH humbles Assyria. In ‘d’ a treaty is made and broken and Judah is hemmed in, and in the parallel YHWH’s covenant stands firm and the remnant will be restored. In ‘e’ the King of Assyria calls on Jerusalem to surrender ad informs them of what he will do, and in the parallel YHWH gives His reply to the great king of Assyria. In ‘f’ Hezekiah intercedes before YHWH and in the parallel he does so a second time. Central in ‘g’ is the final call to Hezekiah to yield.


Verses 4-8

Summary of Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18:4-8).

The activities and accomplishments of Hezekiah are now summarised, and his continuing faithfulness to YHWH and consequent success come out in this summary. He removed all causes of idolatry from Judah, and trusted wholly in YHWH more than any other king apart from Josiah (and, of course, David). This was especially revealed in his obedience to the Law of Moses of which there must clearly have been some record. It was also revealed above all in that he broke with the king of Assyria and did not serve him. This was necessary if true Temple worship was to be restored (contrast 2 Kings 16:10-18). He also retaliated against the previous activities of the Philistines against Judah, either in the days of his father Ahaz, or when they received some of his lands as a result of Sennacherib’s humiliating treaty, and retook all lost land, and smote the Philistines as far as Gaza. YHWH thus gave him triumph on every hand.

Although we do not know when it first took place, for it would require a great deal of military preparation, his initial breaking with the king of Assyria was in alliance with others, and was preceded by a period when, biding his time, he maintained a relationship of submission to the king of Assyria (see note below). We learn a great deal about that period from the Assyrian records, but it was a period passed over in silence by the author. For the prophetic author was not interested in such details. He was not interested in the politics, but in the final confrontation which resulted in the humiliation of Assyria, and the establishing of the glory of YHWH. His aim was to glorify God.

Analysis.

a He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah, and he broke in pieces the bronze serpent which Moses had made, for up to those days the children of Israel burned incense to it. And he called it Nechushtan (2 Kings 18:4).

b He trusted in YHWH, the God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him (2 Kings 18:5).

c For he clove to YHWH. He did not depart from following him, but kept his commandments, which YHWH commanded Moses (2 Kings 18:6).

b And YHWH was with him. Wherever he went forth he prospered, and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and did not serve him (2 Kings 18:7).

a He smote the Philistines to Gaza and its borders, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city (2 Kings 18:8).

Note that in ‘a’ he smote all that was offensive to YHWH, and in the parallel the consequence was that he was able to smite the Philistines. In ‘b’ he trusted in YHWH with all his heart, and in the parallel as a result YHWH was with him. centrally in ‘c’ he was fully obedient to the Law of YHWH.

2 Kings 18:4

‘He removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah, and he broke in pieces the bronze serpent which Moses had made, for up to those days the children of Israel burned incense to it. And he called it (or ‘it was called’) Nechushtan.’

Internally Hezekiah was determined to bring Judah back to the true worship of YHWH. He removed the syncretistic high places, broke the pillars which represented Baal, and cut down the Asherah images (or wooden poles) which represented the mother goddess of the Canaanites. (Traces of the wooden bases of the Asherah have been found, but we do not know whether they were just poles, or carved images). There was to be no more sacrificing and burning of incense in the unofficial high places (the altar at Beersheba was dismantled around this time., evidencing the fact that the reforms happened). However, the popularity of this form of worship, and the way in which it had taken possession of the people’s hearts, comes out in how quickly such worship was restored once the restrictions were removed. It was after all very pleasing to the flesh, and it made no excessive moral demands, unlike the true worship of YHWH. (While, for example, the high places in the mountains could be cleared of all that was objectionable, it was not possible to remove their sites from people’s long memories, nor from their reverence for what was ancient and ‘mysterious’. The pillars and poles could quickly be replaced).

Hezekiah also broke in pieces the bronze serpent which Moses had made (Numbers 21:8-9), which had been kept in the Tabernacle and then the Temple, because people had begun to offer incense to it and see it as a graven image. Whilst it was a revered memorial of the past, it had become a stumblingblock to the people of Judah, and thus it had to go. Hezekiah’s reform was deep-seated and determined.

Nechushtan probably relates to Hebrew nachash (snake, serpent) and to nechosheth (piece of bronze). It may have been the name used by its worshippers (translating as ‘one called it --). Snake emblems are known to have been venerated at this time as witnessed on a standard found at Hazor, and a bronze serpent found at Gezer, and Moses’ serpent may well have become associated in people’s minds with Canaanite myths about serpent deities.

2 Kings 18:5

‘He trusted in YHWH, the God of Israel, so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.’

Indeed unlike his father Ahaz, he trusted fully in YHWH, and nothing revealed this more than his response to the Assyrians which will shortly be described. This was, of course, almost certainly due to the teaching and guidance he received from Isaiah. Indeed it was when he failed to consult Isaiah that he finally went astray. But he was also no doubt helped in this attitude by the continual resentment of the people against Assyrian domination, which would finally force him to act. But in the end the choice was his when the crunch moment came, and it was he who took on his own shoulders the responsibility of following the advice he received from Isaiah in the face of all the odds because he trusted YHWH, even though he knew that if he were wrong it could result in his own certain execution.

Thus Hezekiah excelled even over Josiah in faith. The verdict, “after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah,” refers to his trust in God, in which he had no equal, whereas in the case of Josiah it was his conscientious adherence to the Mosaic law that was extolled in the same words (2 Kings 23:25). Consequently there is no contradiction between the two verses.

2 Kings 18:6

‘For he clove to YHWH. He did not depart from following him, but kept his commandments, which YHWH commanded Moses.’

His trust in YHWH was revealed by the way in which he clove to YHWH and His ways, seeking to re-establish social justice (something evidenced by vessels containing his seal which were probably examples of an effort to enforce just measurements) and to live and rule in a way that was pleasing to Him in accordance with the law of Moses as required by Deuteronomy 17:18-20.

2 Kings 18:7

‘And YHWH was continually with him. Wherever he went forth he was continually successful, and he rebelled against the king of Assyria, and did not serve him.’

That YHWH was continually with him was revealed in that he prospered in all his activities, and this even resulted in him eventually breaking with the king of Assyria and ceasing to be his vassal. This was, of course, necessary if the Temple was to be freed from the hated Assyrian symbols which had been set up within it. But it did not happen immediately, and in fact while Sargon II was alive it proved impossible, although an attempt at doing it was almost certainly considered. Fortunately for Judah Hezekiah withdrew from the attempt in time to avoid major repercussions (see note below). But in the end he made a further attempt, and although it resulted in Judah being considerably battered and bruised, it ended in a glorious victory, because YHWH was with Him.

2 Kings 18:8

‘He smote the Philistines to Gaza and its borders, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city.’

Furthermore he recovered all the lands and cities which Judah had lost to the Philistines during the time of Ahaz, and dealt the Philistines a blow which began at their watchtowers on the border, and ended at the gates of Gaza.

Alternately this may be referring to the recovery of the land and cities which Sennacherib had given to Gaza when he sought to punish Hezekiah’s initial rebellion, or even to Hezekiah’s attempt to force some of the cities of the Philistines, including Gaza, to join in the rebellion (which would explain why the king of Ekron became his prisoner). But the point is to demonstrate that Hezekiah succeeded because YHWH was with him.

Note On The Early Years Of Hezekiah’s Reign Which Were Basically Ignored By The Author Of Kings.

The prophetic author of Kings was not interested in glorifying Hezekiah’s rule, but in glorifying YHWH and His greatness in contrast with the great king of Assyria, and in demonstrating Hezekiah’s faith and belief in YHWH, and the resulting success that was its consequence. Thus we are told nothing of his early reign.

Initially Hezekiah ascended the throne as a teen-ager, no doubt being suitably advised, and being co-regent to his father Ahaz. Thus he was at his side, without making the major decisions, when his father called on Assyria for help and became the king of Assyria’s vassal (2 Kings 16:7). He also watched while Israel was devastated and Samaria was destroyed, the latter in c 722 BC (about six years before he became sole king). But there was little he could do about either, and he bided his time. He was, however, aware of the reaction of the people of Judah to both, and the flood of refugees that no doubt poured into Judah from Israel as a result of Israel’s demise, and he would later seek to draw Israelites to worship at Jerusalem. Once he was king it would appear that he gave ear to the teaching of Isaiah the prophet, in his call for the purifying of Yahwism, a call which would have been supported by many of the priests, and good numbers of important people throughout Judah, at a time of strong nationalistic feeling.

But once he had defeated Samaria Sargon’s attention was taken up elsewhere, for in association with the Elamites mighty Babylon rebelled against him, under the rule of Merodach Baladan, a rebellion which resulted in Sargon suffering a rare defeat (in c.721 BC). It would in fact be eleven years before Sargom could recover from this reversal. Meanwhile he was facing problems elsewhere in Phrygia and Carchemish, the latter resulting finally in the rape and depopulation of Carchemish. He was also involved in the final reduction of Urartu on his northern borders. Even he could not fight on all fronts at once, and thus the pressure on the area around Palestine had been reduced, and it began to look to the local kings as though the time was coming when they could again break free from the Assyrian yoke, especially as Egypt was now stronger and encouraging them to rebel (Isaiah 20). The Ethiopian Piankhi, a vigorous king, had taken control in Egypt, and his desire was to build up a buffer against Assyria. We can hardly doubt that in such circumstances Hezekiah was under pressure from Judah’s patriots to consider joining in with the conspiracy and withholding tribute. By 713 BC, stirred by Egypt, Ashdod (one of the powerful Philistine states) had rebelled (Isaiah 20:1), and it was soon joined by other Philistine states. And it would appear from Assyrian records that Judah, Edom and Moab were also invited to participate (this in Hezekiah’s third of fourth year as sole king). Isaiah also tells us that the Ethiopian king urgently sought Judah’s cooperation (Isaiah 18). But Isaiah was bitterly opposed to this and strongly advised against it. He saw no benefit in trusting in Egypt. Hezekiah appears to have listened to him in time to withdraw from open participation in the rebellion, for when Sargon did sweep down and destroy Ashdod (Isaiah 20:1), making it an Assyrian province, he did not then proceed against Judah. This could only have been because Judah had not actually finally taken part in the rebellion. (So trustworthy did the Egyptians prove to be that when the rebel leader fled to Egypt for refuge the Ethiopian king handed him back to the Assyrians). Meanwhile Hezekiah was still biding his time.

But when in around 705 BC Sargon was killed fighting in a distant country, and Sennacherib became king, the time did appear ripe for action. Merodach Baladan, king of Babylon, together with his Elamite allies, had once again rebelled against Assyria, and it may well have been at this time that he sent envoys to Hezekiah as described in 2 Kings 21:12. The rebellion spread, and with the king of Tyre acting as the leader of the southern coalition, once again supported by Egypt, and by Ekron and Ashkelon, Hezekiah joined in, sending envoys to Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-7; Isaiah 31:1-3). Indeed he appears to have played a prominent part in the rebellion, for when Padi, the king of Ekron, sought to remain loyal to Assyria, it was to Hezekiah that the Ekronites handed him over for the privilege of imprisoning him in Jerusalem. Sennacherib could have been in no doubt about his intentions. And in readiness for his retaliation Hezekiah ensured the availability of the Jerusalem water supply (2 Kings 20:20).

Having pacified Babylon, at least for the time being, Sennacherib turned his attention to the revolt. His first target was Tyre, and he dealt with Tyre so severely that it never recovered (although he failed to capture the island fortress). Then he moved down against Ashkelon, Ekron and their cities, defeating an Egyptian army that was sent against him, and reducing the Philistine cities one by one. Meanwhile other nations who had been involved, like Edom and Moab, hurriedly decided to pay tribute. Then he finally turned his attention towards Judah. Forty six cities with their surrounding towns were besieged and taken with their populations being transported elsewhere, Lachish, Judah’s second largest city was put under siege (2 Kings 18:14), and the next stages were to be Libnah and then Jerusalem. It was probably at this time that Hezekiah recognised that he had no hope and surrendered, suing for peace terms (2 Kings 18:14-16). That such terms were offered was probably because of the possible threat of an Egyptian army, but they were severe. Among other things the king of Ekron was to be handed over, portions of Judah’s territory were to be divided up between Ekron, Ashdod and Gaza, some of Hezekiah’s daughters were to be handed over to be taken to Nineveh as concubines, and a heavy penalty was to be levied on Hezekiah, which he had to strip the Temple to meet. Hezekiah had little choice but to agree, although he refused a humiliating surrender (he sent messengers rather than going himself).

But something then happened that changed the situation and made Sennacherib decide to rescind the treaty and advance on Jerusalem, seemingly by this breaking his word (2 Kings 18:17). This may have been the result of news that an Egyptian army was fast approaching containing Jewish contingents, which may have suggested to him that Hezekiah was double-dealing (although it may simply have been as a result of his own unreliability, for Sennacherib did have a reputation for breaking treaties).

That then resulted in the situation that we will now be dealing with when Lachish was taken, Libnah was besieged and Jerusalem was invested. The last was probably by a large token force, until the remainder of the Assyrian army could be freed up, but importantly Jerusalem was never taken. The account is given in full detail, emphasising the greatness of the king of Assyria, because the point of it was to demonstrate that great though the king of Assyria might undoubtedly have proved himself to be, YHWH was greater. It resulted in a great victory for YHWH.

The Assyrian account of much of this, given on the Taylor prism, read as follows;

“In my third campaign, I went against the Hatti-land. Lule, king of Sidon, the terrifying splendour of my lordship overcame him, and far off into the midst of the sea he fled. There he died. Great Sidon, Little Sidon, Bit-Zitti, Zaribtu, Mahalliba, Ushu, Akzib, Akko, his strong, walled cities, where there were food and drink for his garrisons, the terrors of the weapons of Assur, my lord, overpowered them and they bowed in submission at my feet. I seated Tuba'lu on the royal throne over them, and tribute, gifts for my majesty, I imposed upon him for all time, without ceasing.

From Menachem, the Shamsimurunite, Tuba'lu the Sidonite, 5bdi-liti the Arvadite, Uru-milki the Gublite, Mitinti the Ashdodite, Budu-ilu the Beth Ammonite, Kammusu-nadbi the Moabite, Malik-rammu the Edomite, kings of Amurru, all of them, numerous presents as their heavy tribute, they brought before me for the fourth time, and kissed my feet.

But Sidka, the king of Ashkelon, who had not submitted to my yoke, the gods of his father's house, himself, his wife, his sons, his daughters, his brothers, the seed of his paternal house, I tore away and brought to Assyria. Sharru-lu-dari, son of Rukibti, their former king, I set over the people of Ashkelon, and I imposed upon him the payment of tribute: presents to my majesty. He accepted my yoke.

In the course of my campaign, Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banaibarka, Asuru, cities of Sidka, who had not speedily bowed in submission at my feet, I besieged, I conquered, I carried off their spoil.

The officials, nobles, and people of Ekron, who had thrown Padi their king, bound by oath and curse of Assyria, into fetters of iron, had given him over to Hezekiah, the Judahite. He kept him in confinement like an enemy. Their heart became afraid, and they called upon the Egyptian kings, the bowmen, chariots and horses of the king of Meluhha [Ethiopia], a countless host, and these came to their aid. In the neighbourhood of Eltekeh, their ranks being drawn up before me, they offered battle. With the aid of Assur, my lord, I fought with them and brought about their defeat. The Egyptian charioteers and princes, together with the Ethiopian king's charioteers, my hands captured alive in the midst of the battle. Eltekeh and Timnah I besieged, I captured, and I took away their spoil. I approached Ekron and slew the governors and nobles who had rebelled, and hung their bodies on stakes around the city. The inhabitants who rebelled and treated (Assyria) lightly I counted as spoil. The rest of them, who were not guilty of rebellion and contempt, for whom there was no punishment, I declared their pardon. Padi, their king, I brought out of Jerusalem, set him on the royal throne over them, and imposed upon him my royal tribute.

As for Hezekiah the Judahite, who did not submit to my yoke: forty-six of his strong, walled cities, as well as the small towns in their area, which were without number, I besieged and took them, by levelling with battering-rams and by bringing up siege-engines, and by attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels, and breeches. 200,150 people, great and small, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, cattle and sheep without number, I brought away from them and counted as spoil. (Hezekiah) himself, like a caged bird I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city. I set up watch-posts against him The one coming out of the city-gate, I turned back to his misery. His cities, which I had despoiled, I cut off from his land, and to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Silli-bel, king of Gaza, I gave (them). And thus I diminished his land. I added to the former tribute, and I laid upon him the surrender of their land and imposts, gifts for my majesty. As for Hezekiah, the terrifying splendour of my majesty overcame him, and the Arabs and his mercenary troops which he had brought in to strengthen Jerusalem, his royal city, deserted him. In addition to the thirty talents of gold and eight hundred talents of silver, I exacted gems, antimony, jewels, large carnelians, ivory-inlaid couches, ivory-inlaid chairs, elephant hides, elephant tusks, ebony, boxwood, all kinds of valuable treasures, as well as his daughters, his harem, and his male and female musicians, which he had brought after me to Nineveh, my royal city. To pay tribute and to accept servitude, he dispatched his messengers.”

(It will be noted that Sennacherib did not claim to have captured Jerusalem, and that he acknowledged that Hezekiah sent messengers and did not personally submit. Both these facts tie in with the Biblical account which indicates that Jerusalem was never taken and that Hezekiah never personally submitted. And yet in his description Sennacherib gives the impression of great success. This was typical of ancient records where defeats and misfortunes tended to be ignored or turned into glorious victories. Thus Sennacherib was clearly making the best of a bad job (we must remember that the inscriptions were basically propaganda intended to exalt the king of Assyria) and yet at the same time unconsciously supporting the Biblical account (mainly by what he does not claim). The fact that Jerusalem was never taken was also confirmed by the fact that the feat that was underlined with regard to the invasion of Judah and placarded in Nineveh was the capture of Lachish, which confirms the fact that Jerusalem never surrendered. On the basis of the Assyrian record an independent source would have said that ‘Jerusalem was never captured, and Hezekiah was never made personally to submit to Sennacherib, indicating that this was one of Sennacherib’s more doubtful achievements at the time’).

End of note.


Verses 9-12

A Reminder Of What Had Happened To Hoshea And Samaria, Which Highlights Both Jerusalem’s Own Subsequent Escape, And Hezekiah’s Successful Contrasting Reign (2 Kings 18:9-12).

In preparing for what is to come the prophetic author reminds us of what had happened to Hoshea and Samaria. When they were faced with the might of Assyria Hoshea was executed and Samaria was destroyed. What happened to Hezekiah and Jerusalem was to be very different, because YHWH was with them.

Analysis.

a And it came about in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it and at the end of three years they took it (2 Kings 18:9-10 a).

b In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken (2 Kings 18:10 b).

a And the king of Assyria carried Israel away to Assyria, and put them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, because they did not obey the voice of YHWH their God, but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of YHWH commanded, and would not hear it, nor do it (2 Kings 18:11-12).

2 Kings 18:9

‘And it came about in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it.’

This was the fourth year of Hezekiah’s co-regency with Ahaz in about 725/4 BC. It was the seventy year of Hoshea. And at that time Shalmaneser came up against Samaria and besieged it, probably with an army led by the crown prince Sargon. Thus both Shalmaneser and Sargon could be seen a having taken it.

2 Kings 18:10

‘And at the end of three years they took it. In the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken.’

And at the end of a long siege of around two to three years Samaria was taken.

2 Kings 18:11-12

‘And the king of Assyria carried Israel away to Assyria, and put them (caused them to rest, settle) in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, because they did not obey the voice of YHWH their God, but transgressed his covenant, even all that Moses the servant of YHWH commanded, and would not hear it, nor do it.’

And as a result the king of Assyria carried away into exile the cream of the Israelite population gathered in Samaria. These exiles were forced to resettle (after an arduous journey) in different parts of Assyria and Media (compare 2 Kings 17:6). This is in deliberate and direct contrast to what will now happen to Jerusalem, which will be gloriously delivered and where the people will be safe from the actually threatened transportation (2 Kings 18:32) because of YHWH’s act of deliverance.

And what happened to Samaria was because they did not obey the voice of YHWH their God, but transgressed His covenant, that is, did not hear or do all that Moses His servant commanded. This again is in contrast with the fact that Hezekiah did cleave to YHWH, and did keep His commandments which He had commanded Moses (2 Kings 18:6). Thus the basis of Jerusalem’s deliverance is made clear.


Verses 13-17

The Invasion Of Judah By Sennacherib Results In Hezekiah Yielding And Being Called On To Face Major Penalties, Only For Sennacherib To Do An About Face And Decide To Take Jerusalem After All (2 Kings 18:13-17).

Tyre, Ashkelon and Gaza having been defeated, and the remaining members of the alliance having submitted, Hezekiah was left on his own to face the full force of Assyria’s frontal attack. One by one Sennacherib began to besiege and take Judah’s fortified cities, with their surrounding towns and villages, transporting huge numbers of their inhabitants in the process, together with their treasured possessions, and then he laid siege to Lachish, Judah’s second city. Recognising the futility of resistance Hezekiah sued for terms. The terms were severe. He was to pay three hundred talent’s weight of silver, and thirty talent’s weight of gold. Furthermore the Assyrian record lays out much more (see above), including the handing over of Padi, the pro-Assyrian king of Ekron who was being held captive in Jerusalem.

The penalty was huge, and Hezekiah had to empty both the Temple treasury and the palace treasury, and to strip the Temple of its gold, in order to meet it. It may in fact be that that was insufficient for Sennacherib with the result that he decided to collect more, for having seemingly accepted the treaty he then reneged on it, which could be explained if the tribute fell short of requirements. Alternatively it may be that when Hezekiah’s servants arrived with the tribute Sennacherib decided that he wanted not only the tribute as brought by Hezekiah’s officials but Hezekiah’s own personal submission as an act of open contrition (and deliberate humiliation), something that Hezekiah was not prepared to do, possibly fearing the consequences (consider what had happened to Hoshea - 2 Kings 17:4-5) or it may be that he then heard that a large Egyptian force might shortly be on its way which would include Judean mercenaries, and gathered from that fact that Hezekiah was possibly double-dealing.

Whichever way it was Sennacherib, reneging on his treaty, sent an advance force to Jerusalem in order to besiege it, close if off from outside contact, and starve it into submission. All appeared to be over for Jerusalem.

Analysis.

a Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them (2 Kings 18:13).

b And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, “I have offended, return from me. What you put on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria appointed to Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold (2 Kings 18:14).

c And Hezekiah gave all the silver that was found in the house of YHWH, and in the treasures of the king’s house (2 Kings 18:15).

b At that time Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of YHWH, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria (2 Kings 18:16).

a And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rab-saris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great army to Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:17 a).

Note that in ‘a’ Sennacherib of Assyria took many of the fortified cities of Judah, and in the parallel he besieged the most important one of all. In ‘b’ he required from Hezekiah thirty talent’s weight of gold, and in the parallel Hezekiah stripped the Temple of its gold-plating in order to try to meet the demand. Centrally in ‘c’ all the silver in the treasuries of Judah were handed overt to Sennacherib.

2 Kings 18:13

‘Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them.’

This was the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s sole reign, and in that year Sennacherib invaded Judah with his full force. In his own words, ‘forty six of his strong-walled towns and innumerable smaller villages in their neighbourhood I besieged and took’. Things looked decidedly grim for Judah.

2 Kings 18:14

‘And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, “I have offended, return from me. What you put on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria appointed to Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.’

King Hezekiah recognised that the game was up and that the best thing that he could do was sue for the best terms he could obtain. So he sent messengers to Lachish, saying, “I have offended, return from me. What you put on me I will bear.” In other words he was admitting his fault as a rebellious vassal and asking him to withdraw his troops in return for whatever fine Sennacherib decided to exact. The reply that the messengers brought back was that he must pay three hundred talent’s weight of silver, and thirty talent’s weight of gold. This was, of course, on top of all the spoil that Sennacherib’s army had seized, ‘innumerable horses, mules, donkeys, camels and large and small cattle’. Other tribute, which was to follow later to Nineveh, was to include Hezekiah’s daughters as concubines, and some male and female musicians. And on top of this a large number of people were taken into exile. The number mentioned is an unusual one (200,150) suggesting that it was not intended to be taken literally (Possibly it signifies two hundred important families and one hundred and fifty notables). Large numbers were regularly used at the time in order to give an impression, rather than as being intended to be taken literally.

Sennacherib’s account cited eight hundred talents of silver, but that may have been typical Assyrian exaggeration in order to magnify his own importance, especially as he had raced back to Assyria without subduing Jerusalem, or it may have been due to the use of the Assyrian light talent in the reckoning, instead of the Judaean one, or it may have been that Sennacherib included in his assessment not only the official three hundred talents weight of stamped ingots, but other silver obtained in one way or another. Alternatively it may be that at some stage Sennacherib upped the price, at least in his own mind, in order to give the impression that his invasion had been greatly profitable. (In view of what happened at Jerusalem he may well never have received all that he asked for and may have been nursing a wounded ego. Inscriptions were after all for propaganda purposes, not in order to tell the literal truth. Few kings ever recorded a defeat). Temple and palace treasures were very carefully assessed and recorded so that the Biblical figures can be relied on.

2 Kings 18:15

‘And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of YHWH, and in the treasures of the king’s house.’

In response to his request Hezekiah emptied the Temple and palace treasuries of silver, which was apparently at the time the standard measure of wealth in Judah, as there does not appear to have been any gold in store. This confirms the relative poverty of Judah at this time. Note again that the emphasis is on all the treasures in Judah, not just those in the Temple. This emptying of both treasuries was a regular indication by the author of YHWH’s unhappiness with the situation (compare 2 Kings 12:18; 2 Kings 14:14; 2 Kings 18:15; 2 Kings 24:13; 1 Kings 14:6; 1 Kings 15:18), in this case probably due to the fact that Hezekiah had not turned to YHWH for a solution to his problems. (Compare Isaiah 7:7; Isaiah 7:11; Isaiah 7:14 containing a rebuke to Ahaz for not trusting in YHWH, something which Hezekiah would have known about). Once he did the solution would in fact be found).

2 Kings 18:16

‘At that time Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doorposts of the temple of YHWH, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.’

In order to obtain the required gold Hezekiah had to strip the pillars (and possibly the doorposts, the word occurs nowhere else) of the Temple because all his limited amount of gold had been used for the purpose of honouring YHWH. Both the references to the silver and the gold would suggest that Hezekiah was finding it hard to achieve the required level of tribute, which may well have contributed to Sennacherib’s dissatisfaction with the situation. We must remember that as a result of the circumstances of the invasion Hezekiah had limited opportunities for exacting taxes in order to supplement what was in the treasuries.

2 Kings 18:17

‘And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rab-saris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great army to Jerusalem.

Possibly as a consequence of Hezekiah’s failure to achieve the required amount of tribute, or possibly because Sennacherib decided that he wanted to see the proud Hezekiah personally grovelling at his feet (which he in the event admitted never happened), or possibly because of suspicions of a further conspiracy, Sennacherib, instead of withdrawing, sent a large detachment of his troops (‘great army’ is how it was seen by the defenders of Jerusalem) to Jerusalem. The aim was to ensure that no one could go in and out of Jerusalem with a view to starving it into submission. And with the army came three important officials of Assyria, Tartan (the commander-in-chief of the Assyrian armies), Rabsaris (possibly rabu-sa-resi = the one who is at the head, in other words another leading military official); and the Rabshakeh (rab-saqu = chief ruler or cupbearer). In regard to the latter we must remember that to be the king’s cupbearer was to be in the most trustworthy position in the kingdom. Here it represents a top political figure. Sennacherib’s aim was clearly to overawe the people of Jerusalem with the splendour of his messengers.

Isaiah only mentions the Rabshakeh, who was, of course, the spokesman, but Isaiah has a tendency to abbreviation of the original source, although occasionally expanding as compared with Kings. Both 2 Kings 18:13; 2 Kings 18:17 onwards and Isaiah 36-39 appear to be extracted from the same source (almost word for word), with both maintaining the order of the accounts as contained in the source. If one was copied from the other the order of the accounts might be seen as favouring Isaiah as the original with its movement from Assyria to Babylon.

As we see this army detachment ‘surrounding’ Jerusalem with these three great men at its head, and the citizens of Jerusalem gathered on its wall looking anxiously over, we are reminded of the vivid words of Sennacherib, ‘He himself (Hezekiah) I shut up like a caged bird within Jerusalem his royal city. I put watch-posts strictly around it, and turned back to his disaster any who went out of its city gate.’ It appeared that it would only be a matter of time before Jerusalem went the same way as Damascus.

‘From Lachish.’ Lachish was Judah’s second city and powerfully fortified, although it eventually fell to the Assyrian forces (2 Kings 19:8), a disaster vividly portrayed on a relief in Nineveh (a fact which demonstrates that Jerusalem was not taken). It was in the south of the Shephelah (lower foothills) and guarded the way into Judah. Many traces of the siege have been discovered such as weapon-heads, armour scales and the crest socket for a helmet plume.

We may see in this situation a picture of the besieged church of Jesus Christ as it takes its stand in the world with its enemies all about, so vividly depicted in Revelation 20:9, ‘and they (those gathered by Satan) went up on the breadth of the earth, and they encompassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city (now composed of all the people of God - Revelation 21).’ As a colony of Heaven on earth (Philippians 3:20) God’s people are constantly surrounded by the enemy, requiring to be clothed in the full armour of God in order to finally overcome (Ephesians 6:10-18).


Verse 18

The Messengers Of The King of Assyria Call On The People Of Jerusalem To Surrender And In So Doing Seek To Demean Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:18 to 2 Kings 19:1).

We may wonder why this incident was described in such detail and the answer would be that it was in order to underline the greatness of the king who would be pitting himself against YHWH, prior, of course, to his being brought down. The prophetic author wants us to recognise to the full the greatness of YHWH’s opponent. It would then lead to the obvious question, ‘who could possibly bring this great king down when everyone else has failed?’ And the answer, of course, will be ‘YHWH’. Thus the final aim is to underline the glory of YHWH.

There is also in this initial passage a determined effort on behalf of the Assyrians to demean Hezekiah (compare 2 Kings 18:19 with 2 Kings 19:10). Note how, when they are speaking of Hezekiah, the term ‘king’ is firmly omitted all the way through in the first interview addressed directly to the people, something which is in deliberate contrast to the term ‘great king’ used of the king of Assyria. In the second interview, however, when Sennacherib is trying to win Hezekiah himself over, he will be ‘Hezekiah, king of Judah’ (2 Kings 19:10). This is an incidental confirmation of the fact that the two incidents are deliberately consecutive.

The arguments used by the king of Assyria are carefully built up over the speech as each argument that ‘Hezekiah’ might have used is dismissed. Thus:

· He emphasises the unreliability and untrustworthiness of Egypt, something unquestionably true in the past (2 Kings 18:21).

· He emphasises the fact that Hezekiah has upset YHWH by destroying the multiplicity of high places at which He was worshipped, which is how Hezekiah’s reforms would appear to the Assyrians, and how they had appeared to some Judaeans whom he had captured (2 Kings 18:22).

· He emphasises the weakness of the Judaean army as compared with his own strength, drawing attention to the fact that they have no cavalry to speak of (2 Kings 18:23-24).

· He stresses that it is in fact YHWH Who has sent him (2 Kings 18:25).

· He later points out that none of the gods of the great nations have been able to withstand him (2 Kings 18:33-35).

His overall aim is to weaken the resolve of the people, knowing that they will have plenty of time to think about his words as they slowly starve.

Analysis.

a And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field (2 Kings 18:17 b).

b And when they had called to the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder (2 Kings 18:18).

c And Rabshakeh said to them, “Say you now to Hezekiah, Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this in which you trust? You say (but they are but vain words), ‘There is counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do you trust, that you have rebelled against me? Now, behold, you are trusting on the staff of this bruised reed, even on Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust on him” (2 Kings 18:19-21).

d “But if you say to me, ‘We trust in YHWH our God,’ is not that 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 in Jerusalem?’ ” (2 Kings 18:22).

e “Now therefore, I pray you, give pledges to 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. How then can you turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants, and put your trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? Am I now come up without YHWH against this place to destroy it? YHWH said to me, ‘Go up against this land, and destroy it’ ” (2 Kings 18:23-25).

f Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to Rabshakeh, “Speak, I pray you, to your servants in the Aramaean language, for we understand it, and do not speak with us in the Jews’ language, in the ears of the people who are on the wall” (2 Kings 18:26).

g But Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to your master, and to you, to speak these words? Has he not sent me to the men who sit on the wall, to eat their own dung, and to drink their own water with you?” (2 Kings 18:27).

f Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and spoke, saying, “Hear you the word of the great king, the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 18:28).

e “Thus says the king. Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of his hand” (2 Kings 18:29).

d “Nor let Hezekiah make you trust in YHWH, saying, ‘YHWH will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria’ ” (2 Kings 18:30).

c “Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria, Make your peace with me, and come out to me, and eat you every one of his vine, and every one of his fig-tree, and drink you every one the waters of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive-trees and of honey, that you may live, and not die, and do not listen to Hezekiah, when he persuades you, saying, ‘YHWH will deliver us’. Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? W here are the gods of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who are they among all the gods of the countries, who have delivered their country out of my hand, that YHWH should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” (2 Kings 18:31-35).

b But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word, for the king’s commandment was, saying, “Do not answer him.” Then 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 (2 Kings 18:36-37).

a And it came about, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he tore his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of YHWH (2 Kings 19:1).

Note that in ‘a’ the enemy ambassadors came in their pride and stood by the conduit of the upper pool (where Ahaz had rejected YHWH’s help), and in the parallel Hezekiah humbly went into the house of YHWH. In ‘b’ Eliakim, Shebna and Joah went out to face the three Assyrian ambassadors from the shelter of the city wall, and in the parallel they returned to Hezekiah with their clothes torn in anguish. In ‘c’ Judah are challenged as to what they place their trust in, and in the parallel the downfall of those who had similar trust is expounded. In ‘d’ they are told of the folly of trusting in YHWH, and in the parallel they are warned against letting Hezekiah make them trust in YHWH. In ‘e’ the reasons are given as to why they have no hope of deliverance, and in the parallel they are warned against letting Hezekiah convince them that they will be delivered. In ‘f’ they call on the ambassadors not to speak in the Jews’ language, and in the parallel they deliberately speak in the Jews’ language. Centrally in ‘g’ the Rabshakeh emphasises that his words are for the common people who are in such dire straits.

2 Kings 18:17

‘And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s (launderer’s) field.’

The Assyrian forces arrived at Jerusalem and the three Assyrian official come to ‘the conduit of the upper pool which is in the highway of the launderer’s field’. They may well have seen the water source as a reminder to the besieged people that they would soon be short of water (something later emphasised in 2 Kings 18:27. The Assyrians were not aware of the Siloam tunnel which Hezekiah had built to in order to provide a safe supply of water to the city, compare Isaiah 22:11). And they may have been inspecting it in order to discover what water resources the city had. It is probably not accidental that this conduit of the upper pool was where Ahaz had disgraced himself in the eyes of YHWH (Isaiah 7:3) by refusing His offer of a sign which would prove that if he trusted in YHWH he would be delivered. Now Hezekiah was being put to a similar test. (This would then be another evidence of the priority of Isaiah’s account, if priority there was, for only Isaiah mentions the offer). There is much (undecided) debate among scholars as to where exactly it was.

2 Kings 18:18

‘And when they had called to the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder.’

The three Assyrian ambassadors demanded the king’s presence, but were instead face with three important Judaean officials. Hilkiah was the high chamberlain and prime minister (compare Isaiah 22:20 ff), Shebnah the leading Scribe and probably the expert in Artamaic, and Joah the one who would keep the official record of what was said.

2 Kings 18:19

‘And Rabshakeh said to them, “Say you now to Hezekiah, Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this in which you trust?”

The Rabshakeh, as the leading political figure, acted as spokesman. He was clearly fluent in both Aramaic (the official diplomatic language) and Hebrew. His tone was clearly derogatory as his reference to the king as ‘Hezekiah’ underlines (contrast 2 Kings 19:10). Note the contrasting ‘the great king, the king of Assyria. ‘Great king’ (sharu rabu) was a self-assumed title by Assyrian kings. His stated aim was to undermine their confidence, and he will deal with what he sees as all the possible grounds for confidence.

2 Kings 18:20

“You say (but they are but vain words), ‘There is counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do you trust, that you have rebelled against me?”

That they had such confidence in something comes out in what they had decided. They had met in war council and had decided that they had ‘counsel and strength for war’ (otherwise they would not be resisting). So he wants to know precisely in what their confidence is grounded.

Alternately we may render, ‘Do you find counsel and strength for war in mere words?’ (i.e. they say ‘in vain words there is counsel and strength for war’). It is easy to boast until the situation actually has to be faced, and then all their clever words and policies will come to nothing.

2 Kings 18:21

“Now, behold, you are trusting on the staff of this bruised reed, even on Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust on him.”

Suppose for example it was in Egypt (as it certainly partly was). Did they not realise that by trusting in Egypt, who constantly let people down, they were trusting in what appeared to be a stout staff, but was actually a bruised reed? And it was of such a nature that if they leaned their hand on it, it would pierce their hand (see Isaiah 30:1-5; Ezekiel 29:6-7). That is what Pharaoh king of Egypt was like to those who trusted in him.

There was some truth in this as the past revealed, but it must not be overlooked that Egypt did send two armies at different stages, and it was not their intention that those armies should be defeated, although the defeats could not have been too great as the Assyrians did not follow them up. The Rabshakeh, however, summed Egypt up dismissively on the basis of their past failures

2 Kings 18:22

“But if you say to me, ‘We trust in YHWH our God,’ is not that 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 in Jerusalem?’ ”

But suppose they were trusting in their God, YHWH? Did they not realise that Hezekiah with his reforms had offended YHWH by taking away His high places and His altars? That was undoubtedly the Assyrian view of the matter. In their eyes the more high places and altars there were the better the gods were pleased. But here was Hezekiah insisting that they all worshipped at one altar in Jerusalem. How could that be pleasing to YHWH? (We should note that this was the Assyrian parody of the situation, not necessarily the full truth). It must surely be admitted that YHWH was offended and that that was why the invasion had happened. No doubt a good number of those listening agreed with these sentiments, for not all had agreed with Hezekiah’s reforms. (This incidentally confirms that these reforms had already taken place, as does the evidence of the dismantling of the altar at Beersheba)

2 Kings 18:23

“Now therefore, I pray you, give pledges to 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.”

But suppose they were trusting in the strength of their armed forces. Let them compare cavalries. The Assyrians had thousands of cavalrymen, many no doubt visible from the walls. But what about Judah? Why if they could find two thousand cavalrymen among their forces the king of Assyria would gladly supply the horses for them, and not even miss them. But everyone knew that Judah were not famed for cavalrymen (they were mainly militia-men and part-timers), and the inference was that such numbers could not be found. How then could they hope to resist mighty Assyria?

This is a case where the less grammatical language in Isaiah is smoothed out, and indication that at least Isaiah was not copied from Kings. (It may have been the other way round, or they may both have used the same source).

2 Kings 18:24

“How then can you turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master’s servants, and put your trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?”

How then, if their trust is in Egypt for chariots and horsemen (as he has proved it to be), will they be able to face even the meanest of the king of Assyria’s cavalry captains? For the danger of trusting in Egyptian horses see Isaiah 31:1 ff.

The two constructs in apposition are very unusual but defensible, and we must remember that it was a foreigner speaking. His Hebrew may not have been perfect..

2 Kings 18:25

“Am I now come up without YHWH against this place to destroy it? YHWH said to me, ‘Go up against this land, and destroy it.’ ”

Then he comes up with his trump card. Do they not realise that he has actually come up with YHWH on his side? Who do they think had told him to come up to destroy Jerusalem? Why, it was YHWH Himself. It may in fact well be that renegade prophets of YHWH from Israel had prophesied favourably to Sennacherib (for good payment), especially in reaction to his religious reforms, thus this may not just have been a propaganda move. And in his arrogance he may actually have believed it. We can also compare Isaiah 10:5 ff, a prophecy which might have been known to his spies. So even their own prophets supported his case.

2 Kings 18:26

‘Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to Rabshakeh, “Speak, I pray you, to your servants in the Aramaean language, for we understand it, and do not speak with us in the Jews’ language, in the ears of the people who are on the wall.”

This was probably not a plea based on their fear of the people’s response. It would hardly have been wise to make the request in this way if that was so, as the reply given could only have been expected. Rather it was a firm affirmation that they did not need to be treated like barbarians as though they could not understand Aramaic, as in fact they could speak it quite adequately. Thus they were requesting that negotiation take place in the diplomatic language recognised by all and that they be treated as intellectual equals in the negotiations. Such things were for negotiators, not for common people. In a sense it was a question. Were these serious negotiations, or were they just propaganda? They soon received their answer.

2 Kings 18:27

‘But Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to your master, and to you, to speak these words? Has he not sent me to the men who sit on the wall, to eat their own dung, and to drink their own water with you?” ’

The Rabshakeh made clear that he was not interested in serious negotiations with the king. His aim was to reach the common people and persuade them to rebel against their leaders. These same tactics had been used by the Assyrians at Babylon when Tiglath-pileser III sent a delegation to the king of Babylon when he was in revolt who similarly argued their case to those gathered on the city walls. Such behaviour was a deliberate insult to the three Judaean negotiators. Note the basis of his reasoning. As a result of the famine caused by the siege he had no doubt that they were already having to survive by eating their own excrement, and drinking their own urine. That was what eventually happened in sieges, as he well knew (compare 2 Kings 6:24-29). His words were meant for people who were in that state, not the slightly better provided for high officials

His crude way of putting things stands in contrast to the dignified attempt of the three Judaean negotiators to keep things on a high level. There may in all this well be an intended contrast, stressing the polite diplomacy of Judah, and the arrogant and crude diplomacy of Assyria. Judah are clearly gentlemen, whereas Assyria are merely bullies.

2 Kings 18:28

‘Then Rabshakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and spoke, saying, “Hear you the word of the great king, the king of Assyria” ’

Suiting his words to his reasoning the Rabshakeh then raised his voice and shouted up at the walls in ‘the Jews’ language’ (the Judaean dialect of Hebrew). Once again he stressed that he was speaking on behalf of ‘the Great King, the king of Assyria’. he wanted them to be in no doubt about whose majesty they were opposing.

2 Kings 18:29

“Thus says the king. Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of his hand,”

His first emphasis was on the fact that there was no way in which ‘Hezekiah’ himself, whatever his meagre resources, could deliver them out of the king of Assyria’s hand. They must therefore not let him deceive them into thinking that he might be able to do so. He simply did not have sufficient forces at his command.

2 Kings 18:30

“Nor let Hezekiah make you trust in YHWH, saying, ‘YHWH will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ ”

Nor must they listen to ‘Hezekiah’ if he told them to trust in YHWH. They must take no notice of any assurance from him that YHWH would deliver them and would not allow their city to be delivered into the hands of the king of Assyria for it was simply not true, as the examples of other nations and cities would make clear.

It would seem clear that his intelligence sources had informed him that there were voices in the city saying, ‘Trust in YHWH’, which was, of course, the message of Isaiah. This explains why his words here are so emphatic. He is trying to counter what they have been told.

2 Kings 18:31-32

“Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria, Make your peace with me (literally ‘make a blessing with me’), and come out to me, and eat you every one of his vine, and every one of his fig-tree, and drink you every one the waters of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive-trees and of honey, that you may live, and not die, and do not listen to Hezekiah, when he persuades you, saying, ‘YHWH will deliver us’.”

Indeed they must not listen to anything that ‘Hezekiah’ said. Rather they must listen to ‘the king of Assyria’ when he told them to come and ‘make a blessing’ with him, that is, a pact which results in blessing or brings them into the king’s sphere of blessing. If they ‘came out’ to him (the regular expression for surrendering a city) and did ‘make a blessing’ with him they would immediately be free to return to their own homes, to enjoy the produce of their own trees and to drink water from their own cisterns. And then later he would come and take them away to a land like their own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive-trees and of honey. Under the dreadful conditions of the siege it would sound like a wonderful alternative. Of course it was very much hyped up. What the Assyrian troops would do after the surrender had taken place would be very much open to question, for there would undoubtedly be brutalities; their time at home, if any, would be very limited and even then they would undoubtedly find their trees bare and their cisterns defiled; and the journey to foreign parts would be both uncomfortable and painful. The Assyrians were not noted for their gentleness. Thus the offer would not turn out to be as attractive as it sounded. But it might still appear a better alternative to certain death. At least then most of them would live and not die. Thus they would be foolish to listen to Hezekiah’s persuasive assurance that YHWH would deliver Jerusalem from the king of Assyria’s hand, a policy which would result for them in certain death.

2 Kings 18:33

“Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?”

Let them consider all the gods of the other nations. Did they know of any gods who had delivered their nations out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Strictly speaking they might have given the island fortress of Tyre as an example. Assyria had devastated mainland Tyre but had been unable to subdue the island fortress which had been supplied by sea. It was, however, a rare example and undoubtedly due to special circumstances (Jerusalem was not surrounded by sea).

2 Kings 18:34

“Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?”

He then listed a number of such foreign nations, people from some of which had been transported to Samaria (see 2 Kings 17:24). Had they been delivered out of his hands by their gods either before or after being transferred to Samaria? Regardless of their gods they were still under the heel of the king of Assyria. The question might have had in mind knowledge of the fact that Samaria had itself engaged in disquiet even after their arrival, something which had had to be subdued. (There were certainly disturbances in Samaria a year after the surrender of the city of Samaria to Sargon, and it is probable that all these peoples when they arrived kept in touch with their ‘homelands’ and resented their situation).

Alternatively he may have been shortcutting his description and have really meant, ‘have they delivered their nations out of their hands and have they (the gods of Samaria, YHWH, Baal, Asherah) delivered Samaria out of my hand?’

2 Kings 18:35

“Who are they among all the gods of the countries, who have delivered their country out of my hand, that YHWH should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?”

He then parallels the gods of the nations with YHWH. What other gods have delivered their countries out of his hands? the answer is, none. So why should YHWH? What difference was there between YHWH and the other gods?

But these words were a mistake for two reasons. Firstly because Judah did see their God as different from the gods of the nations. Indeed His forte was known to be that He could deliver His people, as witness the Exodus of which they sang in their Temple, and which they commemorated in the feast of the Passover and their other feasts, and the accounts in the Book of Judges and Samuel. He was therefore by these words unknowingly stirring up their latent faith. But secondly it was dangerous because YHWHwasin fact different, and would react accordingly. It was a direct challenge being laid down to YHWH. a very dangerous thing to do.

2 Kings 18:36

‘But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word, for the king’s commandment was, saying, “Do not answer him.” ’

Meanwhile he received no reply. No one answered him. For the king had given the command ‘Do not answer him’ and his guards would be on the watch for anyone who was disobedient. To speak would mean instant death. It was a studied insult to the great men of Assyria.

2 Kings 18:37

‘Then 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.’

Having listened to the Rabshakeh’s words the three Judaean representatives tore their clothes in anguish, and then reported back to Hezekiah, informing him of what the Rabshakeh had said.

2 Kings 19:1

‘And it came about, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he tore his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of YHWH.’

When king Hezekiah heard what had been said he also tore his clothes in anguish, and he covered himself with sackcloth, a sign of humility and fasting, and went into the house of YHWH to fulfil his priestly responsibility of intercession (as priest after the order of Melchizedek). This idea of the king as the nation’s intercessor occurs quite frequently (see e.g. 2 Samuel 24:10; 2 Samuel 24:17). Note the first reference to him as ‘king Hezekiah’ since 2 Kings 18:17. It was as the king that he went in to make intercession.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 18:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-kings-18.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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