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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Kings 18

 

 

Verses 1-37

HEZEKIAH

B.C. 715-686

2 Kings 18:1-37

"For Ezekias had done the thing that pleased the Lord, and was strong in the ways of David his father, as Esay the prophet, who was great and faithful in his vision, had commanded him."

- Sirach 48:22

THE reign of Hezekiah was epoch-making in many respects, but especially for its religious reformation, and the relations of Judah with Assyria and with Babylon. It is also most closely interwoven with the annals of Hebrew prophecy, and acquires unwonted luster from the magnificent activity and impassioned: eloquence of the great prophet Isaiah, who merits in many ways the title of "the Evangelical Prophet," and who was the greatest of the prophets of the Old Dispensation.

According to the notice in 2 Kings 18:2, Hezekiah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign in the third year of Hoshea of Israel. This, however, is practically impossible consistently with the dates that Ahaz reigned sixteen years and became king at the age of twenty, for it would then follow that Hezekiah was born when his father was a mere boy-and this although Hezekiah does not seem to have been the eldest son; for Ahaz had burnt "his son," and, according to the Chronicler, more than one son, to propitiate Moloch. Probably Hezekiah was a boy of fifteen when he began to reign. The chronology of his reign of twenty-nine years is, unhappily, much confused.

The historian of the Kings agrees with the Chronicler, and the son of Sirach, in pronouncing upon him a high eulogy, and making him equal even to David in faithfulness. There is, however, much difference in the method of their descriptions of his doings. The historian devotes but one verse to his reformation-which probably began early in his reign, though it occupied many years. The Chronicler, on the other hand, in his three chapters manages to overlook, if not to suppress, the one incident of the reformation which is of the deepest interest. It is exactly one of those suppressions which help to create the deep misgiving as to the historic exactness of this biased and late historian. It must be regarded as doubtful whether many of the Levitic details in which he revels are or are not intended to be literally historic. Imaginative additions to literal history became common among the Jews after the Exile, and leaders of that day instinctively drew the line between moral homiletics and literal history. It may be perfectly historical that, as the Chronicler says, Hezekiah opened and repaired the Temple; gathered the priests and the Levites together, and made them cleanse themselves; offered a solemn sacrifice; reappointed the musical services; and-though this can hardly have been till after the Fall of Samaria in 722-invited all the Israelites to a solemn, but in some respects irregular, passover of fourteen days. It may be true also that he broke up the idolatrous altars in Jerusalem, and tossed their debris into the Kidron; and (again after the deportation of Israel) destroyed some of the bamoth in Israel as well as in Judah. If he re-instituted the courses of the priests, the collection of tithes, and all else that he is said to have done, {2 Chronicles 31:2-21} he accomplished quite as much as was effected in the reign of his great-grandson Josiah. But while the Chronicler dwells on all this at such length, what induces him to omit the most significant fact of all-the destruction of the brazen serpent?

The historian tells us that Hezekiah "removed the bamoth"-the chapels on the high places, with their ephods and teraphim-whether dedicated to the worship of Jehovah or profaned by alien idolatry. That he did, or attempted, something of this kind seems certain; for the Rabshakeh, if we regard his speech as historical in its details, actually taunted him with impiety, and threatened him with the wrath of Jehovah on this very account. Yet here we are at once met with the many difficulties with which the history of Israel abounds, and which remind us at every turn that we know much less about the inner life and religious conditions of the Hebrews than we might infer from a superficial study of the historians who wrote so many centuries after the events which they describe. Over and over again their incidental notices reveal a condition of society and worship which violently collides with what seems to be their general estimate. Who, for instance, would not infer from this notice that in Judah, at any rate, the king’s suppression of the "high places," and above all of those which were idolatrous, had been tolerably thorough? How much, then, are we amazed to find that Hezekiah had not effectually desecrated even the old shrines which Solomon had erected to Ashtoreth, Chemosh, and Milcom "at the right hand of the mount of corruption"-in other words, on one of the peaks of the Mount of Olives, in full view of the walls of Jerusalem and of the Temple Hill!

"And he brake the images," or, as the R.V more correctly renders it, "the pillars," the matstseboth. Originally-that is, before the appearance of the Deuteronomic and the Priestly Codes-no objection seems to have been felt to the erection of a matstsebah. Jacob erected one of these baitulia or anointed stones at Bethel, with every sign of Divine approval. Moses erected twelve round his altar at Sinai. Joshua erected them in Shechem and on Mount Ebal. Hosea, in one passage, {Hosea 3:4} seems to mention pillars, ephods, and teraphim as legitimate objects of desire. Whether they have any relation to obelisks, and what is their exact significance, is uncertain; but they had become objects of just suspicion in the universal tendency to idolatry, and in the deepening conviction that the second commandment required a far more rigid adherence than it had hitherto received.

"And cut down the groves"-or rather the Asherim, the wooden, and probably in some instances phallic, emblems of the nature-goddess Asherah, the goddess of fertility. She is sometimes identified with Astarte, the goddess of the moon and of love; but there is no sufficient ground for the identification. Some, indeed, doubt whether Asherah is the name of a goddess at all. They suppose that the word only means a consecrated pole or pillar, emblematic of the sacred tree.

Then comes the startling addition, "And brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it." This addition is all the more singular because the Hebrew tense implies habitual worship. The story of the brazen serpent of the wilderness is told in Numbers 21:9; but not an allusion to it occurs anywhere, till now-some eight centuries later-we are told that up to this time the Children of Israel bad been in the habit of burning incense to it! Comparing Numbers 21:4, with Numbers 33:42, we find that the scene of the serpent-plague of the Exodus was either Zal-monah ("the place of the image") or Punon, which Bochart connects with Phainoi, a place mentioned as famous for copper-mines. Moses, for unknown reasons, chose it as an innocent and potent symbol; but obviously in later days it subserved, or was mingled with, the tendency to ophiolatry, which has been fatally common in all ages in many heathen lands. It is indeed most difficult to understand a state of things in which the children of Israel habitually burned incense to this venerable relic, nor can we imagine that this was done without the cognizance and connivance of the priests. Ewald makes the conjecture that the brazen Saraph had been left at Zalmonah, and was an occasional object of Israelite adoration in pilgrimage for the purpose. There is, however, nothing more extraordinary in the prevalence of serpent-worship among the Jews than in the fact that, "in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, we (the Jews), and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, burnt incense unto the Queen of Heaven." If this were the case, the serpent may have been brought to Jerusalem in the idolatrous reign of Ahaz. It shows an intensity of reforming zeal, and an inspired insight into the reality of things, that Hezekiah should not have hesitated to smash to pieces so interesting a relic of the oldest history of his people, rather than see it abused to idolatrous purposes. Certainly, in conduct so heroic, and hatred of idolatry so strong, the Puritans might well find sufficient authority for removing from Westminster Abbey the images of the Virgin, which, in their opinion, had been worshipped, and before which lamps had had been perpetually burned. If we can imagine an English king breaking to pieces the shrine of the Confessor in the Abbey, or a French king destroying the sacred ampulla of Rheims or the goupillon of St. Eligius, on the ground that many regarded them with superstitious reverence, we may measure the effect produced by this startling act of Puritan zeal on the part of Hezekiah.

"And he called it Nehushtan." If this rendering-in which our A.V and R.V follow the LXX and the Vulgate-be correct, Hezekiah justified the iconoclasm by a brilliant play of words. The Hebrew words for "a serpent" (nachash) and for brass (nedwsheth) are closely akin to each other; and the king showed his just estimate of the relic which had been so shamefully abused by contemptuously designating it-as it was in itself and apart from its sacred historic associations "nehushtan," a thing of brass. The rendering, however, is uncertain, for the phrase may be impersonal-"one" or "they" called it Nehushtan-in which case the assonance had lost any ironic connotation.

For this act of purity of worship, and for other reasons, the historian calls Hezekiah the best of all the kings of Judah, superior alike to all his predecessors and all his successors. He regarded him as coming up to the Deuteronomic ideal, and says that therefore "the Lord was with him, and he prospered whithersoever he went forth."

The date of this great reformation is rendered uncertain by the impossibility of ascertaining the exact order of Isaiah’s prophecies. The most probable view is that it was gradual, and some of the king’s most effective measures may not have been carried out till after the deliverance from Assyria. It is clear, however, that the wisdom of Hezekiah and his counselors began from the first to uplift Judah from the degradation and decrepitude to which it had sunk under the reign of Ahaz. The boy-king found a wretched state of affairs at his accession. His father had bequeathed to him "an empty treasury, a ruined peasantry, an unprotected frontier, and a shattered army"; but although he was still the vassal of Assyria, he reverted to the ideas of his great-grandfather Uzziah. He strengthened the city, and enabled it to stand a siege by improving the water supply. Of these labors we have, in all probability, a most interesting confirmation in the inscription by Hezekiah’s engineers, discovered in 1880, on the rocky walls of the subterranean tunnel (siloh) between the spring of Gihon and the Pool of Siloam. He encouraged agriculture, the storage of produce, and the proper tendance of flocks and herds, so that he acquired wealth which dimly reminded men of the days of Solomon.

There is little doubt that he early meditated revolt from Assyria; for renewed faithfulness to Jehovah had elevated the moral tone, and therefore the courage and hopefulness, of the whole people. The Forty-Sixth Psalm, whatever may be its date, expresses the invincible spirit of a nation which in its penitence and self-purification began to feel itself irresistible, and could sing:-

"God is our hope and strength,

A very present help in trouble.

Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved,

Though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea,

There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,

The Holy City where dwells the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; therefore shall she not be shaken;

God shall help her, and that right early.

Heathens raged and kingdoms trembled:

He lifted His voice-the earth melted away.

Jehovah of Hosts is with us;

Elohim of Jacob is our refuge." {Psalms 46:1-11}

It was no doubt the spirit of renewed confidence which led Hezekiah to undertake his one military enterprise-the chastisement of the long-troublesome Philistines. He was entirely successful. He not only won back the cities which his father had lost, {2 Chronicles 28:18} but he also dispossessed them of their own cities, even unto Gaza, which was their southernmost possession-"from the tower of the watchman to the fenced city." There can be no doubt that this act involved an almost open defiance of the Assyrian King; but if Hezekiah dreamed of independence, it was essential for him to be free from the raids and the menace of a neighbor so dangerous as Philistia, and so inveterately hostile. It is not improbable that he may have devoted to this war the money which would otherwise have gone to pay the tribute to Shalmaneser or Sargon, which had been continued since the date of the appeal of Ahaz to Tiglath-Pileser II. When Sargon applied for the tribute Hezekiah refused it, and even omitted to send the customary present.

It is clear that in this line of conduct the king was following the exhortations of Isaiah. It showed no small firmness of character that he was able to choose a decided course amid the chaos of contending counsels. Nothing but a most heroic courage could have enabled him at any period of his reign to defy that dark cloud of Assyrian war which ever loomed on the horizon, and from which but little sufficed to elicit the destructive lightning-flash.

There were three permanent parties in the Court of Hezekiah, each incessantly trying to sway the king to its own counsels, and each representing those counsels as indispensable to the happiness, and even to the existence, of the State.

I. There was the Assyrian party, urging with natural vehemence that the fierce northern king was as irresistible in power as he was terrible in vengeance. The fearful cruelties which had been committed at Beth-Arbel, the devastation and misery of the Trans-Jordanic tribes, the obliteration and deportation of the heavily afflicted districts of Zebulon, Naphtali, and the way of the sea in Galilee of the nations, the already inevitable and imminent destruction of Samaria and her king and the whole Northern Kingdom, together with that certain deportation of its inhabitants of which the fatal policy had been established by Tiglath-Pileser, would constitute weighty arguments against resistance. Such considerations would appeal powerfully to the panic of the despondent section of the community, which was only actuated, as most men are, by considerations of ordinary political expediency. The foul apparition of the Ninevites, which for five centuries afflicted the nations, is now only visible to us in the bas-reliefs and inscriptions unearthed from their burnt palaces. There they live before us in their own sculptures, with their "thickset, sensual figures," and the expression of calm and settled ferocity on their faces, exhibiting a frightful nonchalance as they look on at the infliction of diabolical atrocities upon their vanquished enemies. But in the eighth century before Christ they were visible to all the eastern world in the exuberance of the most brutal parts of the nature of man. Men had heard how, a century earlier, Assurnazipal boasted that he had "dyed the mountains of the Nairi with blood like wool"; how he had flayed captive kings alive, and dressed pillars with their skins; how he had walled up others alive, or impaled them on stakes; how he had burnt boys and girls alive, put out eyes, cut off hands, feet, ears, and noses, pulled out the tongues of his enemies, and "at the command of Assur his god" had flung their limbs to vultures and eagles, to dogs and bears. The Jews, too, must have realized with a vividness which is to us impossible the cruel nature of the usurper Sargon. He is represented on his monuments as putting out with his own hands the eyes of his miserable captives; while, to prevent them from flinching when the spear which he holds in his hand is plunged into their eye-sockets, a hook is inserted through their nose and lips and held fast with a bridle. Can we not imagine the pathos with which this party would depict such horrors to the tremblers of Judah? Would they not bewail the fanaticism which led the prophets to seduce their king into the suicidal policy of defying such a power? To these men the sole path of national safety lay in continuing to be quiet vassals and faithful tributaries of these destroyers of cities and treaders-down of foes.

II. Then there was the Egyptian party, headed probably by the powerful Shebna, the chancellor. His foreign name, the fact that his father is not mentioned, and the question of Isaiah-"What hast thou here? and whom hast thou here, that thou hast hewed thee out a sepulcher here?"-seem to indicate that he was by birth a foreigner, perhaps a Syrian. The prophet, indignant at his powerful interference with domestic politics, threatens him, in words of tremendous energy, with exile and degradation. He lost his place of chancellor, and we next find him in the inferior, though still honorable, office of secretary, {sopher, 2 Kings 18:18} while Eliakim had been promoted to his vacant place (Isaiah 22:21). Perhaps he may have afterwards repented, and the doom have been lightened. Circumstances at any rate reduced him from the scornful spirit which seems to have marked his earlier opposition to the prophetic counsels, and perhaps the powerful warning and menace of Isaiah may have exercised an influence on his mind.

III. The third party, if it could even be called a party, was that of Isaiah and a few of the faithful, aided no doubt by the influence of the prophecies of Micah. Their attitude to both the other parties was antagonistic.

1. As regards the Assyrian, they did not attempt to minimize the danger. They represented the peril from the kingdom of Nineveh as God’s appointed scourge for the transgressions of Judah, as it had been for the transgressions of Israel.

Thus Micah sees in imagination the terrible march of the invader by Gath, Akko, Beth-le-Aphrah, Maroth, Lachish, and Lamentations. He plays with bitter anguish on the name of each town as an omen of humiliation and ruin, and calls on Zion to make herself bald for the children of her delight, and to enlarge her baldness as the vultures, because they are gone into captivity. He turns fiercely on the greedy grandees, the false prophets, the blood-stained princes, the hireling priests, the bribe-taking soothsayers, who were responsible for the guilt which should draw down the vengeance. He ends with the fearful prophecy-which struck a chill into men’s hearts a century later, and had an important influence on Jewish history-"Therefore, because of you shall Zion be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem become ruins, and the hill of the Temple as heights in the wood"; -though there should be an ultimate deliverance from Migdal-Eder, and a remnant should be saved.

Similar to Micah’s, and possibly not uninfluenced by it, is Isaiah’s imaginary picture of the march of Assyria, which must have been full of terror to the poor inhabitants of Jerusalem.

"He is come to Aiath!

He is passed through Migron!

At Michmash he layeth up his baggage:

They are gone over the pass:

‘Geba,’ they cry, ‘is our lodging.’

Ramah trembleth:

Gibeah of Saul is fled!

Raise thy shrill cries O daughter of Gallim!

Hearken, O Laishah! Answer her, O Anathoth!

Madmenah is in wild flight (?).

The inhabitants of Gebim gather their stuff to flee.

This very day shall he halt at Nob.

He shaketh hishand at the mount of the daughter of Zion,

The hill of Jerusalem."

Yet Isaiah, and the little band of prophets, in spite of their perils, did not share the views of the Assyrian party or counsel submission. On the contrary, even as they contemplate in imagination this terrific march of Sargon, they threaten Assyria. The Assyrian might smite Judah, but God should smite the Assyrians. He boasts that he will rifle the riches of the people as one robs the eggs of a trembling bird, which does not dare to cheep or move the wing. But Isaiah tells him that he is but the axe boasting against the hewer, and the wooden staff lifting itself up against its wielder. Burning should be scattered over his glory. The Lord of hosts should lop his boughs with terror, and a mighty one should hew down the crashing forest of his haughty Lebanon.

2. Still more indignant were the true prophets against those who trusted in an alliance with Egypt. From first to last Isaiah warned Ahaz, and warned Hezekiah, that no reliance was to be placed on Egyptian promises-that Egypt was but like the reed of his own Nile. He mocked the hopes placed on Egyptian intervention as being no less sure of disannulment than a covenant with death and an agreement with Sheol. This rebellious reliance on the shadow of Egypt was but the weaving of an unrighteous web, and the adding of sin to sin. It should lead to nothing but shame and confusion, and the Jewish ambassadors to Zoan and Egypt should only have to blush for a people that could neither help nor profit. And then branding Egypt with the old insulting name of Rahab, or "Blusterer," he says, -

"Egypt helpeth in vain, and to no purpose.

Therefore have I called her ‘Rahab, that sitteth still.’"

Indolent braggart-that was the only designation which she deserved! Intrigue and braggadocio-smoke and lukewarm water, -this was all which could be expected from her!

Such teaching was eminently distasteful to the worldly politicians, who regarded faith in Jehovah’s intervention as no better than ridiculous fanaticism, and forgot God’s Wisdom in the inflated self-satisfaction of their own. The priests-luxurious, drunken, scornful-were naturally with them. Men were fine and stylish, and in their religious criticisms could not express too lofty a contempt for any one who, like Isaiah, was too sincere to care for the mere polishing of phrases, and too much in earnest to shrink from reiteration. In their self-indulgent banquets these sleek, smug euphemists made themselves very merry over Isaiah’s simplicity, reiteration, and directness of expression. With hiccoughing insolence they asked whether they were to be treated like weaned babes; and then wagging their heads, as their successors did at Christ upon the cross, they indulged themselves in a mimicry, which they regarded as witty, of Isaiah’s style and manner. With him they said it is all, - which may be imitated thus:-With him it is always "Bit and bit, bid and bid, forbid and forbid, forbid and forbid, a little bit here, a little bit there." Monosyllable is heaped on monosyllable; and no doubt the speakers tipsily adopted the tones of fond mothers addressing their babes and weanlings. Using the Hebrew words, one of these shameless roysterers would say, "Tsav-la-tsav, tsav-la-tsav, quav-la-quav, quav-la-quav, Z’eir sham, Z’eir sham, -that is how that simpleton Isaiah speaks." And then doubtless a drunken laugh would go round the table, and half a dozen of them would be saying thus, "Tsav-la-tsav, tsav-la-tsav, " at once. They derided Isaiah just as the philosophers of Athens derided St. Paul-as a mere spermologos, " a seed-pecker!" {Acts 17:18} or "picker-up of learning’s crumbs." Is all this petty monosyllabism fit teaching for persons like us? Are we to be taught by copybooks? Do we need the censorship of this Old Morality?

On whom, full of the fire of God, Isaiah turned, and told these scornful tipplers, who lorded it over God’s heritage in Jerusalem, that, since they disdained his stammerings, God would teach them by men of strange lips and alien tongue. They might mimic the style of the Assyrians also if they liked; but they should fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. {Isaiah 28:7-22}

It must not be forgotten that the struggle of the prophets against these parties was far more severe than we might suppose. The politicians of expediency had supporters among the leading princes. The priests-whom the prophets so constantly and sternly denounce-adhered to them; and, as usual, the women were all of the priestly party. {comp. Isaiah 32:9-20} The king indeed was inclined to side with his prophet, but the king was terribly overshadowed by a powerful and worldly aristocracy, of which the influence was almost always on the side of luxury, idolatry, and oppression.

3. But what had Isaiah to offer in the place of the policy of these worldly and sacerdotal advisers of the king? It was the simple command "Trust in the Lord." It was the threefold message "God is high; God is near; God is Love." Had he not told Ahaz not to fear the "stumps of two smouldering torches," when Rezin and Pekah seemed awfully dangerous to Judah? So he tells them now that, though their sins had necessitated the rushing stroke of Assyrian judgment, Zion should not be utterly destroyed. In Isaiah "the calmness requisite for sagacity rose from faith." Mr. Bagehot might have appealed to Isaiah’s whole policy in illustration of what he has so well described as the military and political benefits of religion. Monotheism is of advantage to men not only "by reason of the high concentration of steady feeling which it produces, but also for the mental calmness and sagacity which surely spring from a pure and vivid conviction that the Lord reigneth." Isaiah’s whole conviction might have been summed up in the name of the king himself: "Jehovah maketh strong."

King Hezekiah, apparently not a man of much personal force, though of sincere piety, was naturally distracted by the counsels of these three parties: and who can judge him severely if, beset with such terrific dangers, he occasionally wavered, now to one side, now to the other? On the whole, it is clear that he was wise and faithful, and deserves the high eulogy that his faith failed not. Naturally he had not within his soul that burning light of inspiration which made Isaiah so sure that, even though clouds and darkness might lower on every side, God was an eternal Sun, which flamed forever in the zenith, even when not visible to any eye save that of Faith.


Verses 13-37

HEZEKIAH AND ASSYRIA

B.C. 701

2 Kings 18:13-37; 2 Kings 19:1-37

"When, sudden-how think ye the end?

Did I say ‘without friend’?

Say rather from marge to blue marge

The whole sky grew his targe,

With the sun’s self for visible boss.

While an Arm ran across

Which the earth heaved beneath like a breast,

Where the wretch was safe pressed."

- BROWNING

ALTHOUGH during a few memorable scenes the relations of Judah with Assyria in the reign of Hezekiah leap into fierce light, many previous details are unfortunately left in the deepest obscurity-an obscurity all the more impenetrable from the lack of certain dates. It will perhaps help to simplify our conceptions if we first sketch what is known of Assyria from the cuneiform inscriptions, and then fill up the sketch of those scenes which are more minutely delineated in the Book of Kings and in the prophecies of Isaiah.

Sargon-perhaps a successful general of royal blood, though he never calls himself the son of anyone-seems to have usurped the throne on the death of Shalmaneser IV during the siege of Samaria in B.C. 722. He took Samaria, deported its inhabitants, and re-peopled it from the Assyrian dominions. "In their place," he says, in his tablets in the halls of his palace at Khorsabad, "I settled the men of countries conquered [by my hand]." In 720 he suppressed a futile attempt at revolt, headed by a pretender named Yahubid, in Hamath, which he reduced to "a heap of ruins." For some years after this he was occupied mainly on his northern frontiers, but he tells us that until 711 tribute continued to come in from Judah and Philistia. Meanwhile, these terrified and oppressed feudatories, writhing under the remorseless dominion of Nineveh, naturally began to listen to the intrigues of Egypt, whose interest it was to create a bulwark between herself and the invasion of the armies which were the abhorrence of the world. Under the influence of Sabaco which gave new strength and unity to Egypt, she succeeded in seducing Ashdod from its allegiance to Sargon. Sargon at once deposed Azuri, King of Ashdod, and put his brother Ahimit in his place. The Ashdodites soon after deposed Ahimit, and elected in his place Jaman, who was in alliance with Sabaco. This revolt was evidently favoured by Judah, Edom, and Moab; for Sargon says that they, as well as the people of Philistia, "were speaking treason." The rebellion was crushed by Sargon’s promptitude. He tells his own tale thus: "In the wrath of my heart I did not divide my army, and I did not diminish the ranks, but I marched against Ashdod with my warriors, who did not separate themselves from the traces of my sandals. I besieged, I took Ashdod and Gunt-Asdodim. I then re-established these towns. I placed [in them] the people whom my arms had conquered, I put over them my lieutenant as governor. I regarded them as Assyrians, and they practiced obedience." Sargon does not, however, seem to have conducted this campaign in person; for we read in Isaiah 20:1 "that he sent his Turtan - i.e., his commander-in-chief, whose name seems to have been Zirbani-to Ashdod, who fought against it and took it. The wretched Philistines had put their trust in Sabaco." The people, says Sargon, "and their evil chiefs sent their presents to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, a prince who could not save them, and besought his alliance." Isaiah had for three years been indicating how vain this policy was by one of those acted parables which so powerfully affect the Eastern mind. He had, by the word of the Lord, stripped the shoes from off his feet and the upper robe of sackcloth from his loins, and walked, "naked and barefoot, for a sign and portent against Egypt and Ethiopia," to indicate that even thus should the people of Egypt and Ethiopia be carried away as captives, naked and barefoot, by the kings of Assyria. Egypt was the boast of one party at Jerusalem, and Ethiopia, which had now become master of Egypt under Sabaco, was their expectation; but Isaiah’s public self-humiliation showed how utterly their hopes should come to naught. Before the outbreak at Ashdod, Sargon had suppressed a revolt of Hanun, or Hanno, King of Gaza, and Egypt and Assyria first met face to face at Raphia (about B.C. 720), where Sabaco fought in person with an Egyptian contingent, at a spot halfway between Gaza and the "river of Egypt." {Isaiah 20:1-6} Sabaco, whom Sargon calls "the Sultan of Egypt" (Siltannu Muzri), had been defeated, and fled precipitately, but Sargon was not then sufficiently free from other complications to advance to the Nile. The hoarded vengeance of Assyria was inflicted upon Egypt nearly a century later by Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal. In the two suppressions of revolt at Ashdod, Sargon or his Turtan must have come perilously near Jerusalem, and perhaps he may have inflicted insufficient damage to admit of the boast that he had "conquered" Judaea. If so, his military vanity made him guilty of an exaggeration.

Far more serious to Sargon was the revolt of Merodach-Baladan, King of Chaldaea. Babylon had always been a rival of Nineveh in the competition for world-wide dominion, and for twelve years, as Sargon says, Merodach-Baladan had been "sending ambassadors"-to Hezekiah among others - in the patient effort to consolidate a formidable league. Elam and Media were with him; and at a solemn banquet, for which they had "spread the carpets," and eaten and drank, the cry had risen, "Arise, ye princes! anoint the shield." Standing in ideal vision on his watch-tower, Isaiah saw the sweeping rush of the Assyrian troops on their horses and camels on their way to Babylon. What should come of it? The answer is in the words, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon, and all the images of her gods he [Sargon] hath broken to the ground." Alas! there is no hope from Babylon or its embassy! Would that Isaiah could have held out a hope! But no, "O my threshed one, son of my threshing-floor, that which I have heard from the Lord of hosts; the God of Israel, that have I declared unto you." And so it came to pass. The brave Babylonian was defeated. In 709 Sargon occupied his palace, took Dur-yakin, to which he had fled for refuge, and made himself Lord Paramount as far as the Persian Gulf. It was his last great enterprise. He built and adorned his palaces, and looked forward to long years of peace and splendor; but in 705 the dagger-thrust of an assassin-a malcontent of the town of Kullum-found its way to his heart; and Sennacherib reigned in his stead.

Sennacherib-Siu-ahi-irba ("Sin, the moon-god, has multiplied brothers")-was one of the haughtiest, most splendid, and most powerful of all the kings of Assyria, though the petty state of Judah, relying on her God, defied and flouted him. The son of a mighty conqueror, at the head of a magnificent army, he regarded himself as the undisputed lord of the world. Born in the purple, and bred up as crown prince, his primary characteristic was an overweening pride and arrogance, which shows itself in all his inscriptions. He calls himself "the Great King, the Powerful King, the King of the Assyrians, of the nations of the four regions, the diligent ruler, the favorite of the Great Gods, the observer of sworn faith, the guardian of law, the establisher of monuments, the noble hero, the strong warrior, the first of kings, the punisher of unbelievers, the destroyer of wicked men." He was mighty both in war and peace. His warlike glories are attested by Herodotus, by Polyhistor, by Abydenus, by Demetrius, and by his own annals. His peaceful triumphs are attested by the great palace which he erected at Nineveh, and the magnificent series of sculptured slabs with which he adorned it; by his canals and aqueducts, his gateways and embankments, his Bevian sculpture, and his stele at the Nahr-el-Kelb. He was a worthy successor of his father Sargon, and of the second Tiglath-Pileser-active in his military enterprises, indefatigable, persevering, full of resource.

On one of his bas-reliefs we see this magnificent potentate seated on his throne, holding two arrows in his right hand, while his left grasps the bow. A rich bracelet clasps each of his brawny arms. On his head is the jeweled pyramidal crown of Assyria, with its embroidered lappets. His dark locks stream down over his shoulders, and the long, curled beard flows over his breast. His strongly marked, sensual features wear an aspect of unearthly haughtiness. He is clad in superbly broidered robes, and his throne is covered with rich tapestries, and bas-reliefs of Assyrians or captives, who, like the Greek caryatides, uphold its divisions with their heads and arms.

Yet all this glory faded into darkness, and all this colossal pride crumbled into dust. Sennacherib not only died, like his father, by murder, but by the murderous hands of his own sons, and after the shattering of all his immense pretensions-a defeated and dishonored man.

One of his invasions of Judaea occupies a large part of the Scripture narrative. It was the fourth time of that terrible contact between the great world-power which symbolized all that was tyrannical and idolatrous, and the insignificant tribe which God had chosen for His own inheritance.

In the reign of Ahaz, about B.C. 732, Judah had come into collision with Tiglath-Piteser II.

Under Shalmaneser IV and Sargon, the Northern Kingdom had ceased to exist in 722.

Under Sargon, Judah had been harassed and humbled, and had witnessed the suppression of the Philistian revolt, and of the defeat of the powerful Sabaco at Raphia about 720.

Now came the fourth and most overwhelming calamity. If the patriots of Jerusalem had placed any hopes in the disappearance of the ferocious Sargon, they must speedily have recognized that he had left behind him a no less terrible successor.

Sennacherib reigned apparently twenty-four years (B.C. 705-681). On his accession he placed a brother, whose name is unknown, on the viceregal throne of Babylon, and contented himself with the title of King of the Assyrians. This brother was speedily dethroned by a usurper named Hagisa, who only reigned thirty days, and was then slain by the indefatigable Merodach-Baladan, who held the throne for six months. He was driven out by Belibus, who had been trained "like a little dog" in the palace of Nineveh, but was now made King of Sumir and Accad-i.e., of Babylonia. Sennacherib entered the palace of Babylon and carried off the wife of Merodach and endless spoil in triumph, while Merodach fled into the land of Guzumman, and (like the Duke of Monmouth) hid himself "among the marshes and reeds," where the Assyrians searched for him for five days, but found no trace of him. After three years (702-699) Belibus proved faithless, and Sennacherib made his son Assur-nadin-sum viceroy of Babylon.

His second campaign was against the Medes in Northern Elam.

His third (701) was against the Khatti (the Hittites)-i.e., against Phoenicia and Palestine. He drove King Luli from Sidon "by the mere terror of the splendor of my sovereignty," and placed Tubalu (i.e., Ithbaal) in his place, and subdued into tributary districts Arpad, Byblos, Ashdod, Ammon, Moab, and Edom, suppressing at the same time a very abortive rising in Samaria. "All these brought rich presents and kissed my feet." He also subdued Zidka, King of Askelon, from whom he took Beth-Dagon, Joppa, and other towns. Padi, the King of Ekron, was a faithful vassal of Assyria; he was therefore deposed by the revolting Ekronites, and sent in chains into the safe custody of Hezekiah, who "imprisoned him in darkness." The rebel states all relied on the Egyptians and Ethiopians. Sennacherib fought against Egyptians and Ethiopians, "in reliance upon Assur my God," at Altaqu (B.C. 701), and claims to have defeated them, and carried off the sons and charioteers of the King of Egypt, and the charioteers of the kings of Ethiopia. He then tells us that he punished Altaqu and Timnath. {See Joshua 19:43} He impaled the rebels of Ekron on stakes all round the city. He restored Padi, and made him a vassal. "Hezekiah [Chazaqiahu] of Judah, who had not submitted to my yoke, the terror of the splendor of my sovereignty overwhelmed. Himself as a bird in a cage, in the midst of Jerusalem, his royal city, I shut up. The Arabians and his dependants, whom he had introduced for the defense of Jerusalem, his royal city, together with thirty talents of gold, eight hundred of silver bullion, precious stones, ivory couches and thrones, an abundant treasure, with his daughters, his harem, and his attendants, I caused to be brought after me to Nineveh. He sent his envoy to pay tribute and render homage." At the same time, he overran Judaea, took forty-six fenced cities and many smaller towns, "with laying down of walls, hewing about, and trampling down," and carried off more than two hundred thousand captives with their spoil. Part of Hezekiah’s domains was divided among three Philistine vassals who had remained faithful to Assyria.

It was in the midst of this terrible crisis that Hezekiah had sent to Sennacherib at Lachish his offer of submission, saying, "I have offended; return from me; that which thou puttest upon me I will bear." The spoiling of the palace and Temple was rendered necessary to raise the vast mulct which the Assyrian King requited.

It is at Lachish-now Um-Lakis, a fortified hill in the Shephelah, south of Jerusalem, between Gaza and Eleutheropolis-that we catch another personal glimpse of the mighty oppressor. We see him depicted on his triumphal tablets in the palace-chambers of Kouyunjik, engaged in the siege; for the town offered a determined resistance, and required all the energies and all the trained heroism of his forces. We see him next, carefully painted, seated on his royal throne in magnificent apparel, with his tiara and bracelets, receiving the spoils and captives of the city. The inscription says: "Sennacherib, the mighty king, the king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment at the entrance of the city of Lakisha. I give permission for its slaughter." He certainly implies that he took the city, but a doubt is thrown on this by 2 Chronicles 32:1, which only says that "he thought to win these cities"; and the historian says {2 Kings 19:8} that he "departed from Lachish." Lachish was evidently a very strong city, and it is so depicted in the palace-tablets at Kouyunjik. It had been fortified by Rehoboam, and had furnished a refuge to the wretched Amaziah.

If Judah and Jerusalem had listened to the messages of Isaiah, {Isaiah 29:1-24; Isaiah 30:1-33; Isaiah 31:1-9} they might have been saved the humiliating affliction which seemed to have plunged the brief sun of their prosperity into seas of blood. He had warned them incessantly and in vain. He had foretold their present desolation, in which Zion should be like a woman seated on the ground, wailing in her despair. He had taught them that formalism was no religion, and that external rites did not win Jehovah’s approval. He had told them how foolish it was to put trust in the shadow of Egypt, and had not shrunk from revealing the fearful consequences which should follow the setting up of their own false wisdom against the wisdom of Jehovah. Yet, intermingled with pictures of suffering, and threats of a harvestless year, designed to punish the vanity and display of their women, and the intimation-never actually fulfilled-that even the palace and Temple should become "the joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks," he constantly implies that the disaster would be followed by a mysterious, divine, complete deliverance, and ultimately by a Messianic reign of joy arid peace. Night is at hand, he said, and darkness; but after the darkness will come a brighter dawn.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 18:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-kings-18.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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