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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Isaiah 37

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXXVII.

Hezekiah, mourning, sendeth to Isaiah to pray for them. Isaiah comforteth them. Sennacherib, going to encounter Tirhakah, sendeth a blasphemous letter to Hezekiah. Hezekiah's prayer. Isaiah's prophesy of the pride and destruction of Sennacherib, and the good of Zion. An angel slayeth the Assyrians. Sennacherib is slain at Nineveh by his own sons.

Before Christ 710.


Verse 2

Isaiah 37:2. And he sent—unto Isaiah the prophet It appears through the whole sacred history to have been the custom to consult prophets of remarkable authority in doubtful cases. The present example is parallel to that mentioned 2 Kings 22:13-14.


Verse 3

Isaiah 37:3. For the children are come to the birth This was a proverbial expression, used to convey ideas of the greatest calamity and almost inevitable danger. Procopius thus explains the words: "We are in pain to hear such blasphemous expressions, but are unable to punish those who have made use of them." Vitringa says the meaning is, "Matters are now in the utmost distress; so that, unless some extraordinary remedy or help be brought, there is an end of the public and domestic safety." The idea is taken from a woman in child-birth, so greatly weakened by her pains, that without some extraordinary assistance there can be no hope of her delivery. See Hosea 13:13.


Verse 4

Isaiah 37:4. Sent to reproach the living God, &c.— This strongly marks the distinction between the Almighty, considered as the tutelary God of his chosen people, and the tutelary deities of the Pagan nations: The latter were only lifeless idols; the former was endued with unceasing life, and the source of life to all creatures. Vitringa renders the next clause, And to affront with words: It is remarkable, that Hezekiah, in great modesty and humility, as if he was unworthy of his favour and regard, calls Jehovah, not his God, but thy God, the God of that Isaiah who was devoted to him, and peculiarly happy in his communion and favour. The last clause properly should be rendered, For the remnant which are found, "which actually exist at this time in their country." See 2 Chronicles 35:18 in the original.


Verse 7

Isaiah 37:7. Behold, I will send a blast upon him Behold, I will put a spirit [of fear] into him, when he shall hear, &c. Vitringa. See chap. Isaiah 31:8-9 whence it clearly follows, that the interpretation here given is right, and that the prophet here refers to the fears of Sennacherib upon the report of Tirhakah's invasion, and not a pestilential blast, as our version would lead one to think.


Verse 8

Isaiah 37:8. Found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah Libah was not far from Lachish, both being situated on the mountains of Judah. It is probable, that Sennacherib, finding himself unable to take the latter, had removed to Libnah, which he considered as a place not so well fortified; and so situated, that, by keeping a strong guard in the passes of the mountains, he should be able to carry on the siege, notwithstanding the approach of Tirhakah; who, most probably, was the same with the Sabaco of Herodotus. See Univ. Hist. vol. 4: p. 321. It is very difficult to determine the places mentioned in the subsequent verses. It is most likely that the king of Assyria thought by this message to have terrified Hezekiah and the people into compliance, which was now the more necessary for him, as the invasion of Tirhakah rendered it less proper for him to attempt so long and difficult a siege as that of Jerusalem was likely to prove.


Verse 15

Isaiah 37:15. And Hezekiah prayed The Pagans taught the knowledge of God, and the nature of their hero gods, only in their mysteries. The Hebrews were the only people whose object in their public and national worship, was the God of the universe. Josephus tells Apion, that the high and sublime knowledge which the Gentiles attained with difficulty in the rare and temporal celebration of their mysteries, was usually taught to the Jews at all times. "Can any government," says he, "be more holy than this, or any religion better adapted to the nature of the Deity? Where, in any place but this, are the whole people, by the special diligence of the priests, to whom the care of public instruction is committed, accurately taught the principles of true piety?—For those things which the Gentiles keep up for a few days only, that is, during those solemnities which they call mysteries and initiations, we, with vast delight, and a plenitude of knowledge which admits of no error, fully enjoy and perpetually contemplate through the whole course of our lives. If you ask the nature of those things which in our sacred rites are enjoined and forbidden, I answer, they are simple, and easily understood. The first instruction relates to the Deity; and teaches, that God contains all things, and is a being every way perfect, and the sole cause of all existence; the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things." This verse would be rather clearer, if we were to read, Thou, even thou alone, art the God of all the kingdoms, &c. Hezekiah here asserts the sole and universal dominion of the Lord God of Israel. See Isaiah 37:20. Psalms 96:5. Jeremiah 10:11. Divine Legation, book 2: and Vitringa.


Verse 18

Isaiah 37:18. Have laid waste all the nations, &c.— This is literally in the Hebrew, All the lands and their land; but our translation undoubtedly gives the proper sense. See 2 Kings 19:17.


Verse 22

Isaiah 37:22. The virgin, the daughter of Zion, &c.— Well-formed cities and states, flourishing, free, and obedient to honest and legal rule, are every where in Scripture compared to virgins. By the daughter of Zion, and of Jerusalem, are meant the people, inhabitants of Zion and Jerusalem. The image is extremely fine, whereby the contempt of Sennacherib's threats is expressed.


Verse 24-25

Isaiah 37:24-25. By the multitude of my chariots Cities, in the prophetical writings, are metaphorically represented by woods or forests, especially those of Lebanon and Carmel; and the several ranks of inhabitants by the taller and lesser trees growing there. Hence we may collect the true sense of this passage, which represents the Assyrian prince as threatening to take mount Zion, together with the capital city of Jerusalem, and to destroy their principal inhabitants. The height of his border, and the grove of his fruitful field, are generally thought figuratively to refer to the temple and the city. The Chaldee paraphrast renders it, And I will also take the house of their sanctuary, and I will subject to myself their fortified city. The Assyrian adds, I have digged and drunk waters, or, as it is in 2 Kings, strange waters; that is, according to Vitringa, "I have hitherto possessed all my desires; whatever I have vehemently thirsted after, I have attained." Others understand this and the following clause more literally, thus: "I have marched through desarts, where it was expected my army would perish with thirst, and yet even there I have digged and found water; and I have rendered rivers fordable by turning their streams from their ancient beds, and deprived the besieged of the benefit of those waters." Vitringa, however, renders the last clause, And with the sole of my feet will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt. The prophet here alludes to a custom of the Egyptians, who commonly made use of machines, which were worked by the foot, to draw water from rivers, for whatever purpose it might be wanted; and the meaning, according to Vitringa, is, that the Assyrian, by the assistance of his very numerous army,—the sole of his feet, would dry up all the rivers of Egypt, so that they should not delay the success of his expedition. The expression is of the hyperbolic or Thrasonic kind, and well suits this haughty monarch, whose mind was at this time full of his expeditions into Judaea and Egypt. See 2 Chronicles 32:4 and Deuteronomy 11:10. The author of the Observations remarks, that he thinks this whole verse a reference to the Eastern way of watering; as much as to say, "I have digged channels, and drank, and caused my army to drink out of new-made rivers, into which I have conducted the waters which used to flow elsewhere; and I have laid those old channels dry with the sole of my foot, with as much ease as a gardener digs channels in his garden, and, directing the waters of a cistern into a new well, with his foot stops up that in which they before ran." In confirmation whereof, let it be remembered, that this way of watering by rills is in use in those countries whence Sennacherib came, continued down from ancient times there, without doubt, as it is in Egypt. The understanding of those words of the Psalmist, Psalms 65:9. Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it; thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, as expressive of the watering it as by a rill of water, makes an easy and beautiful sense; the rain being to the earth in general the same thing, from God, that a watering rill, or little river, is to a garden from man. See Observations, p. 343.


Verse 26

Isaiah 37:26. Hast thou not heard long ago The address of God to the Assyrian is here continued from Isaiah 37:23 wherein he answers the boastings of this proud prince, and convinces him that all his counsel and power were nothing, since these events wholly depended on a superior cause; namely, his sovereign will and over-ruling providence, whereof he had made the Assyrian the instrument in his Almighty hand.


Verse 29

Isaiah 37:29. Therefore will I put my hook, &c.— The meaning of the passage is plain, that God would so dispose matters by his providence, as to compel the Assyrian to return back with his army, circumscribing and leading him like a horse, or a wild beast, wherever and as he pleased. The metaphor, in the latter part, is plainly taken from a horse, an ass, or mule; but it is doubtful, whether the former metaphor alludes to the method by which they managed their hearts in the East, particularly the dromedaries, which are led by a cord fastened to a ring, run through the nostrils of the beast; or, to the absolute power that a man has over a fish which is fastened by the nose to his hook. See Ezekiel 19:4; Ezekiel 29:3.


Verse 30

Isaiah 37:30. And this shall be a sign unto thee The discourse is here directed to Hezekiah, whose faith in the event just predicted God is pleased to confirm by an additional sign; which sign, as it was not to happen till the event above predicted was fulfilled, was to be considered as a token, not only of God's interposition in that event, but also of his peculiar favour and protection after Sennacherib was departed. In other passages of Scripture we have signs given in the same manner, particularly Exodus 3:12. See also ch. Isaiah 7:14 of our prophet. At the time that Isaiah spoke this, nothing seemed more improbable than that the Jews, delivered from the Assyrians, should freely use and enjoy their land, and be supported from its spontaneous productions, as well in this as in the subsequent sabbatical year. Pilkington observes, that the word ספיח saphiiach rendered such things as grow of themselves, properly signifies, the "natural produce of the ground the first year it was cultivated;" and the word שׁחיס shachiis, rendered, that which springeth of the same, denotes, "the natural produce of the ground the second year;" which likewise was produced by the seed scattered in the preceding harvest.


Verse 31-32

Isaiah 37:31-32. And the remnant that is escaped The prophet passes from fields to men, and from the cultivation of land to the nation and the church; for, having just said, that, being delivered from the Assyrians, they should cultivate their land as usual, he adds, that it should also come to pass that the nation and the church, delivered from this calamity, should flourish again, increase, and bring forth much fruit; which we know happened under Hezekiah. See 2 Chronicles 32:22. However, this passage and the next verse are by no means to be restrained to this period only. Comp. ch. Isaiah 10:20-21.


Verse 33

Isaiah 37:33. Therefore thus saith the Lord There is a gradation in these words, as is usual with Isaiah. The first declaration is, that Sennacherib, if he shall attempt to besiege the city, shall never be able to succeed: He shall not come into this city. The second is, that he shall not bring his army so near to the city as to come before it with shields, or raise a bank against it. To come before it with a shield, is, to defend himself with a shield when besieging a city, or making any attacks upon the walls. The third, that he shall not even shoot an arrow into the city, which might be done from far. The word סללה solelah rendered a bank, says Pilkington, seems rather to signify an engine of war made use of in slinging stones or any heavy body into or against a besieged city. The Hebrew word שׁפךֶ shapak with which it is connected, properly signifies to pour out, and therefore may be applied either to the pouring out of vessels earth or rubbish to raise a mount, or to the pouring out of stones from an engine. According to this observation, it might be rendered, nor play an engine there. In one of the Greek versions in the Hexapla it is rendered βηλοστασεις ballistas, or battering engines. See Ezekiel 26:8 in the original. Possibly it might be rendered, with equal propriety, nor raise a battery against it. See Parkhurst on the word סללה. This verse is to be understood properly and directly of Sennacherib and his army.


Verse 35

Isaiah 37:35. For my servant David's sake All the promises made to David were made to him in Christ; he and his kingdom were types of the kingdom of Christ. It is to this, and not to the personal merits of David, that the sacred writer here alludes.


Verse 36

Isaiah 37:36. Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote Sennacherib, flushed with his victories, and breathing destruction against the kingdom of Judah, which had withdrawn its allegiance from him, in his opprobrious message to Hezekiah and his subjects, not only inveighed against them, but blasphemously reviled even their God, bringing down the great God of Israel to the contemptible level of the gods of the nations; putting him to open defiance, and charging him with impotence to his face. This then was the time for the Lord to vindicate his honour, to assert his supremacy and power, and to make both parties sensible, that he was "glorious in might, equally able to help and to cast down, to save and to destroy." Accordingly, this blasphemous tyrant had scarcely advanced to the holy city, before his forces were instantly broken, as appears from the verse before us. This tremendous act forced him to retreat with shame and confusion, and made it visible to all the nations, especially to the Jews, that JEHOVAH was a God "mighty in strength, and excellent in power:" that he was truly, what he styled himself, "The Lord of Hosts;" and that there was no other God that could deliver after this sort. Josephus asserts, that this destruction was occasioned by a pestilential disease: Antiq. lib. x. c. 2. But his authority, says Vitringa, in matters of this kind, is of no great weight. It is my opinion, continues he, that in a dreadful tempest, raised by this destroying angel, these men were killed by lightning; their bodies being burnt within, while their outward garments were untouched. See ch. Isaiah 10:16, Isaiah 29:6, Isaiah 30:30 and Psalms 76:8 which, probably, was composed upon this occasion. We have in prophane history accounts of remarkable destructions by lightning. See Diodor. lib 11. Justin, lib. xxiv. c. 8. and Pausan. Enaticis, lib. i. p. 5.


Verse 38

Isaiah 37:38. The house of Nisroch his god This was probably the tutelary deity of that country, who might originally have been their king or legislator, and might have been deified, as the custom was, to preserve the veneration of his laws, or the memory of his services to the state. The LXX has it u925?ασαραχ τον πατραρχον αυτου . The significations ascribed to the word Nisroch are various. Some imagine that it signifies a ship; and in the Egyptian tropical hieroglyphics we find that a ship and pilot were used to express the governor of the universe. According to others it signifies a young eagle; by which might be insinuated the intrepidity, strength, and insatiable ambition of the hero or patriarchal god represented by this hieroglyphic. Vitringa conjectures, that he was the same with the Assyrian Bel, worshipped under the character of Mars; and that the word signifies a lofty and glorious king; though I confess, says he, this is doubtful enough, but a matter whereof we may be ignorant without any great loss. The Hebrew of Tobit, published by Munster, calls him Dagon.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Shocked at the tidings that he received, Hezekiah in sackcloth falls down before God in his sanctuary; and, sending his chief officers to Isaiah, represents his deplorable situation; as a woman in travail exhausted with her pains, and sinking under her weakness, so ready he seemed to perish, unless the Lord should interpose to vindicate his own honour, for which he begs the prophet's prayers. Nor was his request in vain: Isaiah soon dispatches the messengers with an answer of peace to the king, and bids him, fearless of danger, be confident of seeing the speedy destruction of his enemies. Note; (1.) A day of trouble should be a day of humiliation and prayer; and whatever drives us thus nearer to God, must in the issue prove a blessing. (2.) The prayers of good men are to be earnestly sought; and it is a great encouragement to have them interceding with God in our behalf. (3.) When we are ready to despair, God will often most eminently magnify his power and grace in our deliverance. (4.) They who seek to terrify God's people from their holy profession, will soon be made a terror to themselves.

2nd, Unable to prevail by threatenings and insult, Rabshakeh reports to his master the issue of the conference; and the king of Assyria, in hopes yet to force Hezekiah to submit, before the news should reach him of Tirhakah's armament in his favour, writes a boasting and blasphemous letter to the king of Judah, in order to terrify him into a surrender, which Hezekiah solemnly spreads before the Lord in prayer, resting the case with him to give an answer to this impious blasphemer. Note; (1.) Though craft and power unite against the faithful, impotent will be the attempts of their enemies. (2.) Blasphemous discourse is terrible; but to propagate by writing sentiments of irreligion and infidelity, is perpetuating the dire contagion to the latest times, and will more exceedingly aggravate men's guilt. (3.) When we have God for our friend, and have access to pour out with confidence all our complaints into his compassionate bosom, we may rest in peace, and expect him to appear for us.

3rdly, In answer to Hezekiah's prayer, Isaiah transmits to him a message from God, who espouses his people's quarrel as his own. He looks with contempt on the impotent threats of Sennacherib. Elated with his past successes, Sennacherib thought he could carry the whole world before him; and, utterly insensible that it was from God alone that he had hitherto prevailed, he ascribes it impiously to his own arm. But God, who sees his proud designs, will blast them suddenly to his confusion, and stop his mad career, as easily as the rider governs his steed. As a sign of the continuance of the divine favour, plenty should be restored as well as peace, notwithstanding the harvest was ruined by the Assyrians, and the succeeding year, as sabbatical, admitted no tillage. The people thus escaped, though but a remnant, should yet take root, and greatly increase; and so far should the enemy be from destroying Jerusalem, that he should not so much as shoot an arrow against it; for before the siege should be regularly formed, God would arise to defend them. His judgment was accordingly executed by an angel, to the intire destruction of the army; and though the king escaped to Nineveh, he there met a more grievous death from his own unnatural sons. Note; (1.) The insults cast on his people God resents as affronts against himself, and will assuredly remember them. (2.) Whatever wisdom or prudence we may possess, it is atheism to ascribe to ourselves the glory of our enterprizes. (3.) The wicked can go no farther than the Lord permits, and he can quickly hurl them headlong into ruin in the midst of their career of prosperity. (4.) When one distress is removed, another may be in prospect; as here famine threatened, though the siege was raised; but he who saves us from all our spiritual foes, can also relieve all our temporal wants; and they who are enabled to trust him in the way of duty shall not be destitute. (5.) If one angel in a night could spread such fearful havock, how safe are they who have the God of angels for their protector, and these his hosts their ministering spirits.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 37:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/isaiah-37.html. 1801-1803.

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Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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