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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 18

 

 

Verse 1

SECTION THIRD.

HISTORY OF JUDAH FROM THE FALL OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL TO THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY. — CHAPS. 18-25.

BEGINNING OF HEZEKIAH’S REIGN, 2 Kings 18:1-8.

1. In the third year — Near the close of the third year, so that the greater part of Hezekiah’s first year would fall in the fourth year of Hoshea, and the greater part of Hezekiah’s fourth year would fall in the seventh of Hoshea. See 2 Kings 18:9-10.


Verse 2

2. Twenty and five years old — Since Ahaz was only thirty-six years old at his death, (2 Kings 16:2, note,) he must have begotten this son Hezekiah when about eleven years old. To show that this was not impossible, Keil instances the following: “In the East they marry girls of nine or ten years of age to boys of twelve or thirteen. VOLNEY, Reisen, xi, p. 360.) Among the Indians husbands of ten years of age and wives of eight are mentioned. THEVENOT, Reisen, cxi, pp. 100, 165. In Abyssinia boys of twelve and even ten years old marry. RUPPELL, Abessynien, xi, p. 59. Among the Jews in Tiberias, mothers of eleven years of age and fathers of thirteen are not uncommon, (BURCKH., Syria, p. 570;) and Lynch saw a wife there, who to all appearance was a mere child about ten years of age, who had been married two years already.” Others, however, suppose a corruption in the text of chap. 2 Kings 16:2, and with the Syriac and Arabic versions at 2 Chronicles 28:1, make Ahaz forty years old at his death.

His mother’s name — “The names of the mothers of all the later kings of Judah are mentioned in Holy Scripture; intimating the importance of a mother’s influence, especially in evil days.” — Wordsworth.


Verse 3-4

4. High places — See on 1 Kings 3:2.

Images… groves — See note on 1 Kings 14:15; 1 Kings 14:23.

Brake in pieces the brazen serpent — Compare Numbers 21:9. This ancient relic would naturally acquire, in the lapse of time, a mysterious sanctity, and would easily become an object of idolatry to a people so habituated to high places and images and groves as both Israel and Judah had now become; and Hezekiah was convinced that the only sure way to stop this form of idolatry was to break the brazen thing in pieces. It would seem great sacrilege to destroy a relic so ancient and so sacred, but it was idolatry to preserve it. Winer and Bahr think that this was not the identical brazen serpent that Moses had made, but one like it, which the sensuous people in a time of idolatry had made in remembrance of what Moses had done and commanded. But this exposition contradicts the text, and cannot therefore be sustained in the absence of any other notice of the brazen serpent since the time of Moses.

Unto those days — That is, the days of Hezekiah. How long previously the children of Israel had been accustomed to burn incense to it does not appear, but probably from the beginning of idolatrous practices in the kingdom; certainly not from the days of Moses.

He called it Nehushtan Nehushtan means brazen, and hence many interpreters understand that when the king destroyed this idol he called it, by way of contempt, Nehushtan, “the brazen thing.” Others take the words he called indefinitely, in the sense of it was called, or they called it, indicating that Nehushtan was the title by which the brazen serpent was popularly called. So Bahr explains that the name originated in the glowing red or fiery colour of the brass, and is equivalent to the “Glowing-red One,” the “Consuming One,” the “Burning One.”


Verse 5

5. None like him — According to Keil, “this verdict refers to Hezekiah’s confidence in God, ( בשׂח,) in which he had no equal; whereas in the case of Josiah, his conscientious adherence to the Mosaic law is extolled in the same words; so that there is no ground for saying that there is a contradiction between our verse and 2 Kings 23:25.” But Josiah’s “confidence in God” was also great, for he “turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might,” (2 Kings 23:25,) and Hezekiah also adhered to the Mosaic law, (2 Kings 18:6,) so that Keil’s distinction has hardly a sufficient basis in the two passages. Better, therefore, to understand the form of expression in both passages after the manner of Oriental hyperbole, as in a measure proverbial of any one who was very conspicuous for certain qualities, and not to be explained with literal precision.


Verse 7

7. Rebelled against the king of Assyria — By refusing to pay the customary tribute, and proclaiming himself independent of Assyria. This was the cause of Sennacherib’s invasion. 2 Kings 18:13.


Verse 8

8. Smote the Philistines — Who in the reign of Ahaz “had invaded the cities of the low country, and of the south of Judah.” 2 Chronicles 28:18.

Unto Gaza — In the southern part of the great Philistine plain, (see on Joshua 10:41,) so that he probably recovered all the cities that the Philistines had taken from Judah.

From the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city — That is, from the more exposed districts to the fortified towns. See note on 2 Kings 17:9. Keil is of opinion that this war against the Philistines occurred after the defeat of Sennacherib.


Verse 9

9. Fourth year… seventh year — That is, the greater part of the fourth year of Hezekiah fell in the seventh year of Hoshea. See note on 2 Kings 18:1.


Verses 9-12

FALL OF THE KINGDOM OF ISRAEL, 2 Kings 18:9-12.

The fall of the kingdom of Israel was so important and memorable a catastrophe that it was recorded in the annals of Judah as well as in those of Israel; and one object of our historian in introducing a notice of it here, seems to be to contrast it with the greater permanence of Judah under the God-fearing Hezekiah. Judah successfully rebelled against Assyria because her king trusted in Jehovah and kept his law; Israel fell because her people “obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed his covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded.” 2 Kings 18:12.


Verse 10

10. They took it — Here, as in 2 Kings 17:6, it is noticeable that the writer does not say that Shalmaneser captured Samaria, though his narrative seems to imply it. See note on 2 Kings 17:6.

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Verse 13

13. The fourteenth year — According to Rawlinson, this date is irreconcilable with the Assyrian inscriptions, and he proposes to read twenty-seventh for fourteenth.

Sennacherib — The son and successor of Sargon. “The long notices which we possess of this monarch in the books of the Old Testament, his intimate connexion with the Jews, the fact that he was the object of a preternatural exhibition of the Divine displeasure, and the remarkable circumstance that this miraculous interposition appears under a thin disguise in the records of the Greeks, have always attached an interest to his name which the kings of this remote period and distant region very rarely awaken. It has also happened that the recent Mesopotamian researches have tended to give to Sennacherib a special prominence over other Assyrian monarchs, more particularly in this country, [England,] our great excavator [Layard] having devoted his chief efforts to the disinterment of a palace of this great king’s construction, which has supplied to our National Collection almost one half of its treasures. The result is, that while the other sovereigns who bore sway in Assyria are generally wholly unknown, or float before the mind’s eye as dim and shadowy forms, Sennacherib stands out to our apprehension as a living and breathing man, the impersonation of all that pride and greatness which we assign to the Ninevite kings, the living embodiment of Assyrian haughtiness, Assyrian violence, and Assyrian power.” — RAWLINSON, Ancient Monarchies, vol. ii, p. 155.

All the fenced cities — The fortified towns, forty-six in number according to the inscriptions. See below.

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Verses 13-16

SENNACHERIB’S INVASION OF JUDAH, 2 Kings 18:13-16.

Of Hezekiah’s reign, as recorded from this point on through chap. 20, we have a parallel history in Isaiah 36-39, which on the whole agrees so closely with this history in Kings as to necessitate the conclusion that both narratives had one and the same author. Which is the original copy, or whether both narratives as we now have them were drawn from a source older than either, are questions which have been variously answered by the critics and interpreters. Some have held that this account in Kings is the original one, and that of Isaiah is taken from it, whilst others have maintained precisely the reverse opinion. But against both these views stands the fact that each narrative contains matter not found in the other. Not to speak of numerous verbal differences, it will be observed that the account of Sennacherib’s first invasion, and Hezekiah’s submission and payment of tribute, (2 Kings 18:14-16,) is altogether wanting in Isaiah, and Isaiah’s hymn of thanksgiving (Isaiah 38:9-20) is wanting in Kings. It follows, therefore, either that both accounts have been taken from some older history no longer extant, or else that both were composed by one and the same author, who made verbal changes, and added or omitted certain things in each narrative according to his own judgment and the design of the work to which each belonged. Beyond this it is impossible now to make any positive decision.


Verse 14

14. Sent to… Lachish — Which city Sennacherib was at the time besieging. On its location see at Joshua 10:3. It is said in 2 Chronicles 32:9 that he “laid siege against Lachish, and all his power with him.” Layard found what he regarded as a representation of this siege on the slabs which he exhumed at Nineveh, and which bear the following inscription: “Sennacherib, the mighty king, king of the country of Assyria, sitting on the throne of judgment before the city of Lachish — I give permission for its slaughter.” The cut on the opposite page is supposed to represent Lachish, defended by double walls, with bulwarks and towers, and resisting the attack of the Assyrians. Comp. note on 2 Kings 19:8.

I have offended — This humiliation and submission of Hezekiah doubtless grew out of a feeling of his inability to cope with so formidable a power as Assyria. According to 2 Chronicles 32:2-6 he prepared himself for a siege by strengthening the fortifications of Jerusalem, and manufacturing arms in abundance, and stopping the fountains and streams outside of the city to prevent their being used by the besieging army. But for all this he trembled when he saw the principal cities of his kingdom fallen into the hands of that power that had so recently carried Israel into captivity.

Three hundred talents of silver — About five hundred thousand dollars.

Thirty talents of gold — The gold talent of the Hebrews is supposed to have been worth fifty-six thousand nine hundred dollars, and thirty such talents would equal one million seven hundred and seven thousand dollars. Accordingly the whole amount demanded of Hezekiah was over two millions of dollars.


Verse 15

15. All the silver… in the house of the Lord, and… king’s house — Again and again had the treasuries of Jerusalem been emptied to pay similar exactions, (compare 2 Kings 12:18; 2 Kings 16:8,) but various wars of conquest had enabled successive kings to replenish them again; many presents were, also, brought from various quarters and deposited with the king. Comp. 2 Chronicles 32:23; 2 Chronicles 32:27.


Verse 16

16. Cut off the gold from the doors — In the first year of his reign Hezekiah had repaired the doors of the temple, (2 Chronicles 29:3,) but it is not said that he overlaid them with gold, which word our translators have here supplied without sufficient authority. He doubtless used various kinds of metal, gold among the rest; and this cutting it off again to give to the king of Assyria shows how difficult it was for him to raise the required amount.

It is interesting to find the above confirmed in the Assyrian annals by the following inscription of Sennacherib, discovered among the ruins of Nineveh: “Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power, I took forty-six of his strong-fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about I took and plundered a countless number. And from these places I captured and carried off as spoil two hundred thousand one hundred and fifty people, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mares, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude. And Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates so as to prevent escape. Then upon this Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with thirty talents of gold and eight hundred talents of silver, and divers treasures, a rich and immense booty. All these things were brought to me at Nineveh, the seat of my government, Hezekiah having sent them by way of tribute, and as a token of his submission to my power.” — RAWLINSON’S Ancient Monarchies, vol. ii, p. 161. The discrepancies, whether apparent or real, between the inscription and the biblical narrative are of little moment compared with the unquestionable confirmation hereby given to the historical veracity of the sacred writers. It will be noticed that the inscription tells with pompous gusto of the Assyrian successes and the spoil that was taken, but makes no record of the disasters which befell the army of Sennacherib. This was in perfect keeping with what we know of the pride and arrogance of all the Assyrian kings.


Verse 17

RAB-SHAKEH’S INSULTING MESSAGE TO HEZEKIAH, 2 Kings 18:17-37.

17. The king of Assyria sent… from Lachish — According to Josephus (Antiq., 2 Kings 10:1; 2 Kings 10:1) Sennacherib bound himself to depart from Jerusalem upon receiving the three hundred silver and thirty gold talents mentioned above, but having received it, “had no regard to what he had promised; but while he himself went to the war against the Egyptians and Ethiopians, he left his general Rab-shakeh and two others of his principal commanders, with great forces, to destroy Jerusalem.” But it seems better to refer this siege of Jerusalem to a second invasion of Sennacherib, made a year or more after he had received Hezekiah’s submission and tribute of gold and silver, for it appears from 2 Kings 18:21 that Hezekiah had formed some alliance with Egypt, and so, like Hoshea, (compare 2 Kings 17:4,) “brought no present to the king of Assyria.” This is the view of Rawlinson, who describes the matter thus: “Sennacherib, understanding that the real enemy whom he had to fear on his southwestern frontier was not Judea but Egypt, marched his army through Palestine — probably by the coast route — and without stopping to chastise Jerusalem, pressed south-wards to Libnah and Lachish, which were at the extreme verge of the Holy Land, and probably at this time subject to Egypt. He first commenced the siege of Lachishwith all his power,’ (2 Chronicles 32:9;) and while engaged in this operation, finding that Hezekiah was not alarmed by his proximity, and did not send in his submission, he detached a body of troops from his main force, and sent it under a Tartan, or general, supported by two high officers of the court — the Rab-shakeh, or chief cupbearer, and the Rabsaris, or chief eunuch — to summon the rebellious city to surrender.” — Ancient Monarchies, vol. ii, p. 165.

Tartan… Rabsaris… Rab-shakeh — These words have, respectively, the meaning given them by Rawlinson in the note just quoted, and from being common official titles came to be used as proper names. The etymology of Tartan is uncertain. “The name is said to be derived from the Persian tar, summit, and tan, person; that is, high personage; or from the Persian tara, Sanscrit tara, a star, and tan; consequently, star-form.” — Furst. The office of chief cupbearer is common in the East. In Genesis 40:2; Genesis 40:21, he is called “chief of the butlers.” Nehemiah held this office at the Persian court. Nehemiah 1:11; Nehemiah 2:1. It seems to have been a custom for high officers of the court to accompany the king to battle; and very probably the most loyal and successful generals or captains were rewarded with offices and titles of this kind in the royal court, so that we need not wonder that a royal cupbearer should also be a high military officer. The same may be said of the chief of the eunuchs. “In the Ottoman Porte,” says Kitto, “the Kislar Aga, or chief of the black eunuchs, is one of the principal personages in the empire, and in an official paper of great solemnity is styled by the Sultan the most illustrious of the officers who approach his august person, and worthy of the confidence of monarchs and of sovereigns. It is, therefore, by no means improbable that such an office should be associated with such a military commission; perhaps not for directly military duties, but to take charge of the treasure, and to select from the female captives such as might seem worthy of the royal harem.”

The conduit of the upper pool — The upper pool is undoubtedly Gihon, at the head of the Hinnom valley, described in note on 1 Kings 1:33. Its conduit, or aqueduct, would naturally have been a canal running from it in a southeasterly direction down the valley of Hinnom to the west side of the city. It was, perhaps, identical with the subterranean aqueduct by which Hezekiah himself brought down the waters of this pool “on the west to the city of David.” 2 Chronicles 32:30. Consequently the highway of the fuller’s field must have been the road leading from the west side of the city northward, and so called because here was a common resort of the fullers of the city, who, on account of the offensive smells and uncleanliness of their work, and also for the sake of room to dry cloths, would require a field outside the city limits. The approach of the Assyrian host would, therefore, have been from the north, and the commanders stood sufficiently near the city to address the people on the wall. 2 Kings 18:26 Here, for the first time, we meet with a biblical notice of fullers, whose art is of great antiquity. “Of the processes followed in the art of cleaning cloth, and the various kinds of stuff among the Jews, we have no direct knowledge. In an early part of the operation they seem to have trod the cloths with their feet, as the Hebrew Ain-Rogel, or En-Rogel, (literally, foot-fountain,) has been rendered on rabbinical authority, ‘Fuller’s Fountain,’ on the ground that fullers trod the cloths there with their feet. They were also rubbed with the knuckles, as in modern washing. A subsequent operation was probably that of rubbing the cloth on an inclined plane, in a mode which is figured in the Egyptian paintings, and still preserved in the East.” — M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopaedia.

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Verse 18

18. Over the household — Holding the office of royal chamberlain. See note on 1 Kings 4:6. Scribe… recorder — See notes on 2 Samuel 8:16-17.


Verse 19

19. Rab-shakeh said — He seems to have been the chief speaker — the herald and principal ambassador of the king, while Tartan had higher authority and command in the matter of the movements of the army.

The great king — Thus the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian kings delighted to be called and to call themselves, for their “princes were altogether kings.” Isaiah 10:8; compare Ezra 7:12; Ezekiel 26:7; Daniel 2:37. Hence the frequent occurrence on the monuments of such titles as “great king,” “mighty king,” “king of hosts,” “king of kings,” “the glorious king,” “the mighty ruler.”

What confidence is this — Better, what is this trust which thou trustest? What does it amount to? He refers to Hezekiah’s supposed trust in the king of Egypt. Compare 2 Kings 18:21.


Verse 20

20. But they are but vain words — Rather, only a word of the lips; that is, an idle, inconsiderate saying. Compare Job 2:2; Proverbs 14:23.


Verse 21

21. Staff of this bruised reed — A figure especially well chosen, since the banks of the Nile, the great river of Egypt, abounded with reeds. Compare also Ezekiel 29:6. The slender reed is a poor thing to lean upon, and when bruised or broken is still more frail. “Sennacherib compares Egypt with a broken reed, not because he had already broken its power, but because he regarded it as good as already broken.” — Thenius.


Verse 22

22. If ye say — Here Rab-shakeh addresses more directly the three officers of Hezekiah, as also the other people on the wall. The parallel passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 36:7) reads, if thou say.

Whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away — Rab-shakeh assumes that the removal of the high places and their altars was an offence to Jehovah, as was also the restricting of his worship to the altar in Jerusalem, and he argues that God would not favour a people whose king was guilty of such sacrilege and impiety. Compare 2 Chronicles 32:12.


Verse 23

23. Give pledges to — Rather, enter into intercourse with, or, make an agreement with.

If thou be able — The whole verse is a contemptuous assumption of the weakness of the Jewish military force. The sense is, Suppose you make a bargain with the king of Assyria, I venture to say he will deliver you two thousand horses on condition that you furnish men enough to use them as cavalry, and I have no fear that you will be able to meet the condition. “The meaning is not that Hezekiah could not raise two thousand soldiers in all, but that he could not produce so many men who were able to fight as horsemen.” — Keil.


Verse 24

24. Turn away the face — Or, cause to face about, that is, put to flight.

One captain of the least — That is, how canst thou repulse even one of the less valiant officers who commands one of the smallest divisions of the army? The word פחת, here rendered captain, means properly a governor or satrap. It is “first used of Assyrian subordinate stadtholders and generals; (Isaiah 36:9;) afterwards transferred to the governors and prefects of the Babylonian, (Jeremiah 51:57; Ezekiel 23:6; Ezekiel 23:23,) Median, (Jeremiah 51:28,) and Persian empires, (Esther 8:9; Esther 9:3;) applied especially to the Persian governors on this side of the Euphrates and in Judea, (Nehemiah 2:7; Nehemiah 2:9; Nehemiah 3:7; Ezra 8:36; Haggai 1:1; Haggai 1:14,) Nehemiah and Zerubbabel being such. The word was transplanted into Hebrew by early Assyrian influence.” — Furst.


Verse 25

25. The Lord said to me — The thought in this verse is thus well paraphrased by Bahr: “So far from thy being justified in relying upon Jehovah, he is, on the contrary, on our side, and it is by his command that we are come hither to destroy Jerusalem.” It is by no means impossible, but rather probable, that Rab-shakeh had heard of, and here alludes to, such prophecies of Jehovah’s chastising Judah by the rod of Assyrian power as the one in Isaiah 10:5-11. It was perfectly consistent with Assyrian polytheism to believe in the truth and power of Jehovah as well as of other gods. See note on 2 Kings 17:29; 2 Kings 17:33.


Verse 26

26. Speak… in the Syrian language — The Jewish officers thus interrupted Rab-shakeh in the midst of his address. Such words as those of 2 Kings 18:25 are, alas! too true, and have support, whether Assyria fully comprehends it or not, in oracles which Jehovah’s own prophets have uttered. For a representative of Assyria to speak of them in the Jews’ language in the ears of the people may easily occasion murmurings and rebellion. The Syrian language, more properly the Aramaic, ( ארמית,) seems at this time to have been commonly understood in Syria, Assyria, and Babylonia. Its close affinity with the Hebrew would enable those who spoke one of these languages as their vernacular easily to acquire the use of the other; but the mass of the people would be familiar only with the tongue in which they were born.

On the wall — So it appears that this interview was held near the walls of the city, and within hearing of the soldiers stationed thereon.


Verse 27

27. That they may eat their own dung — “He says in substance: Ye are abusing your common people. In exposing them to a wasting siege ye are bringing them, with yourselves, into the direct extremity, so that they will at last be compelled to consume their own excrement.” — Bahr.


Verse 28

28. Stood and cried — He stationed himself more conspicuously before the eyes of the men on the wall, and elevated his voice so as to be distinctly heard by them.


Verse 31

31. Make an agreement with me by a present — A very erroneous rendering of the terse and simple Hebrew עשׂו אתי ברכה, make along with me a blessing, namely, the blessing of peace, quiet, security, and plenty, such as that portrayed in the latter part of this verse and in 2 Kings 18:32.

Come out to me — The blessing of peace that is promised can only be secured by a timely and cheerful surrender.


Verse 32

32. Until I come — From the siege of Lachish and the Egyptian campaign. Compare note on 2 Kings 18:17. This seems to be the most natural reference of these words, for Rab-shakeh here speaks in the name of his absent master, who will finish the destruction of that “bruised reed” Egypt, and make the necessary preparations for returning to Assyria, and settling his captives in a pleasant land, before he comes to take them away. We need not attempt to define the land referred to; the whole promise was a mere pretext.


Verse 33

33. Hath any of the gods — Skillfully and powerfully does the orator close his speech by claiming that none of the gods had thus far been able to resist the power of Assyria. He probably does not mean to imply that the gods of the conquered nation had actually fought against the king of Assyria and been destroyed in the conflict, but rather, that they had not opposed his march. He does not mean to contradict what he says in 2 Kings 18:25, but would, perhaps, have it inferred that the gods of some of these countries, if not all, invited his coming, and favoured his conquests. At least none of them resisted his arms, but the images of some of them he cast into the fire and destroyed. 2 Kings 19:18.


Verse 34

34. On Hamath, Sepharvaim, and Ivah, see notes on 2 Kings 17:24. From the frequent association of Arpad with Hamath (2 Kings 19:13; Isaiah 10:9; Isaiah 36:19; Isaiah 37:13; Jeremiah 49:23) it is probable that it was not far from that city, and is, perhaps, identical with Arfad in Northern Syria. The site of Hena has not been identified with certainty. It is usually supposed to have been in Mesopotamia. Some find it in a town on the Euphrates called Anah, and the Assyrian inscriptions mention a town called Anat, on an island in the Euphrates.


Verse 36

36. The people held their peace — There must have been an impressive solemnity as well as a noble dignity in that silence of the people, which left the Assyrian ambassadors in complete ignorance of the impression their message and words had made.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Kings 18:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/2-kings-18.html. 1874-1909.

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