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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH--- ESTHER--- PSALMS 1-50--- PROVERBS--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
The Reign of Hezekiah King of Judah c. 716-687 BC (2.18.1-20.21). 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 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’ (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; 9.5-6; 11.1-4.
Hezekiah’s reign as described by the author can be divided up as follows:
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.
Introduction To The Reign of Hezekiah, King of Judah (2.18.1-3).
2.18.1 ‘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’ (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.
2.18.2 ‘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.
2.18.3 ‘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 (22.2). These were the ones whom YHWH especially blessed.
Summary of Hezekiah’s reign (2.18.4-8).
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 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.
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.
2.18.4 ‘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.
2.18.5 ‘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 (23.25). Consequently there is no contradiction between the two verses.
2.18.6 ‘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.
2.18.7 ‘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.
2.18.8 ‘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 (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 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; 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 (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 (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 (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 (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.
A Reminder Of What Had Happened To Hoshea And Samaria, Which Highlights Both Jerusalem’s Own Subsequent Escape, And Hezekiah’s Successful Contrasting Reign (2.18.9-12).
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.
2.18.9 ‘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.
2.18.10 ‘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.
2.18.11-12 ‘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 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 (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 (18.6). Thus the basis of Jerusalem’s deliverance is made clear.
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 (2.18.13-17).
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 - 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.
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.
2.18.13 ‘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.
2.18.14 ‘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.
2.18.15 ‘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 12.18; 14.14; 18.15; 24.13; 1 Kings 14.6; 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, 11, 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).
2.18.16 ‘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.
2.18.17a ‘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 18.13, 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 (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).
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 18.19 with 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’ (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:
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.
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.
2.18.17b ‘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 verse 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.
2.18.18 ‘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.
2.18.19 ‘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 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.
2.18.20 “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.
2.18.21 “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
2.18.22 “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)
2.18.23 “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).
2.18.24 “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..
2.18.25 “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.
2.18.26 ‘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.
2.18.27 ‘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 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.
2.18.28 ‘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.
2.18.29 “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.
2.18.30 “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.
2.18.31-32 “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.
2.18.33 “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).
2.18.34 “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 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?’
2.18.35 “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 YHWH was in fact different, and would react accordingly. It was a direct challenge being laid down to YHWH. a very dangerous thing to do.
2.18.36 ‘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.
2.18.37 ‘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.
2.19.1 ‘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, 17). Note the first reference to him as ‘king Hezekiah’ since 18.17. It was as the king that he went in to make intercession.
King Hezekiah Sends His Representatives To Isaiah The Prophet And Receives A Comforting Reply (2.19.2-7).
In his anguish King Hezekiah sent a message to Isaiah via his representatives, asking what possibility there might be that YHWH would have heard what was said and might react against it. Isaiah’s reply was that YHWH had heard the king of Assyria’s blasphemy, and was about to react accordingly. Just as the king of Assyria has personally confronted YHWH and had claimed to have Him on his side, so would YHWH respond personally by putting a spirit within him and causing him to hear tidings which would persuade him to return to his own land. It was person to person stuff. The king of Assyria had claimed personal contact with YHWH, so he would be suitably personally affected by it. Isaiah was emphasising that it was not the king of Assyria who controlled YHWH, but YHWH who controlled the movements of the king of Assyria. (To have introduced the avenging angel here would have been to spoil the personal and intimate picture of YHWH’s total personal control over the king of Assyria, and indeed it should be noted that Isaiah is never portrayed as knowing what the angel of YHWH would do. All he knew was that somehow YHWH would deliver). Meanwhile the Rabshakeh reported back the failure of his mission to his master the king of Assyria.
Note that in ‘a’ the representatives of Hezekiah go to the prophet of YHWH, and in the parallel the representative of the king of Assyria goes to the king of Assyria. In ‘b’ Hezekiah is troubled in spirit, and in the parallel the king of Assyria will be troubled in spirit. In ‘c’ Hezekiah hopes that YHWH will have heard the words of the Rabshakeh, and in the parallel Isaiah assures him that He has. Centrally in ‘d’ the servants of king Hezekiah come to Isaiah.
2.19.2 ‘And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz.’
It is a sign of the genuineness of the narrative that Joah the recorder does not go with the others to see Isaiah. He has to faithfully record the exchanges that have taken place. Meanwhile Eliakim and Shebna, Judah’s two leading politicians, together with the elders of the priests who were no doubt enlisted to add religious authority to the deputation, covered themselves with sackcloth as the king had done, and went to consult Isaiah, the son of Amoz, the prophet of YHWH.
2.19.3 ‘And they said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of disgrace, for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth.” ’
Note the dropping of ‘king’ again after verse 1. His address to Isaiah is not in ostentation but in humility. The true prophets in Judah were approached differently from those in other nations where they were at the king’s command. In Judah they were at YHWH’s command, as Hezekiah was recognising. In his message to Isaiah Hezekiah likens the situation of the anguished nation to that of a woman having great difficulties in bringing forth a child that was overdue, something that all would understand. She was continuing to suffer the anguish of her labour, but she was so weak after what she had already suffered that the child just would not be born. Many would see such a situation as an indication that YHWH was rebuking her, and that in some way she was in disgrace. She herself would certainly feel the disgrace of it.
His point was that in the same way Judah was undergoing its own ‘labour pains’. It was in anguish, it was in great trouble, it was aware that it was under the judgment of YHWH, it was aware of its own disgrace. But it was too weak to produce anything. (It is when God’s judgments are in the earth that the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness - Isaiah 26.9).
2.19.4 “It may be that YHWH your God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master has sent to defy the living God, and will rebuke the words which YHWH your God has heard. Wherefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.”
And his plea was that YHWH would look with compassion on their situation, and would hear what the Rabshakeh, the powerful representative of the king of Assyria his master, had said in defiance of the living God. There is an echo here of David’s words concerning Goliath. See 1 Samuel 17.26, 36, 45. But here it was Assyria which was confronting YHWH. Thus he was basically calling for YHWH to hear what had been said, to defend His own honour, and to rebuke the king of Assyria in his turn. And he called on Isaiah to raise up his prayer of behalf of the remnant of the people left in Judah. There is a sad reminder here of the devastation that Judah had already suffered. But if there was anyone whose prayer YHWH would hear, it was Isaiah. Note the emphasis on ‘YOUR God’. They recognised the special relationship that Isaiah had with God. It contrasts with Isaiah’s reply to ‘YOUR master’. His own master was YHWH.
‘The remnant that is left.’ He knew that Isaiah had named his firstborn Shear Yashub (‘the remnant will return’ - Isaiah 7.3). To Hezekiah this probably indicated ‘the remnant will return to YHWH’ and his idea was presumably that that was what had now happened, thus indicating that YHWH should now respond. For all had now recognised that their only hope was in YHWH, the Lord of Hosts.
2.19.5 ‘So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah.’
This simple statement stands at the centre of the chiasmus, and it speaks volumes. The servants were the servants of ‘king’ Hezekiah. Here was represented all the might and authority of the kingdom, and its appeal was to Isaiah the prophet of YHWH. The kingdom could now do nothing. It had fought until it was on its knees. He was their last hope. But they did not come in despair. They came because they did believe that Isaiah, as the voice of YHWH, would tell them what to do.
2.19.6-7 ‘And Isaiah said to them, “Thus shall you say to your master, Thus says YHWH. Do not be afraid of the words that you have heard, by which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, and he will hear tidings, and will return to his own land, and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.’
Isaiah’s reply was straightforward and unequivocal. They were to tell their master that YHWH had spoken, and he then pronounced the reply in prophetic mode. ‘Thus says YHWH.’ YHWH has spoken and thus what He has said will be. And what YHWH had said was that they were not to be afraid of the words with which the king of Assyria had blasphemed YHWH, for He was about to respond by His own word and Spirit. And He would do it by exercising His own personal control on the mighty king of Assyria. He would be helpless in the hands of YHWH. For YHWH would put a spirit within him that would cause him to do YHWH’s will. Thus he would hear news that would cause him to return to his own land, leaving Jerusalem and YHWH’s people unsubdued and unharmed. And finally (at some stage) YHWH would cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. Thus his whole destiny was to be seen as in YHWH’s hands.
So this ‘great king’ with his gods would be seen to be at the beck and call of YHWH (compare verse 28). Whether he liked it or not he would do all YHWH’s will. He had claimed to be under the instruction of YHWH and so it would be. Just as YHWH had brought him in his pride, so would YHWH send him home with his tail between his legs. There was nothing more to fear. Both his departure and his end were inevitable, and both were in the hands of YHWH.
As with most prophecy no time scale was laid down. That was not the point of prophecy. The point was its inevitability. The departure of Sennacherib would certainly happen shortly, as indeed is evidenced by the silences in the Assyrian inscriptions themselves, but his falling by the sword in his own land would happen at YHWH’s discretion. The point was that his death, whenever it came, was totally in the hands of YHWH Who had even decided how and where it would take place. It would not necessarily happen immediately, but it would necessarily happen as YHWH had said. And as we know from the inscriptions, when the time came, that was precisely how it happened. Thus YHWH’s power over Sennacherib was seen as total.
We do not know what the news was that Sennacherib received which was partly the cause of his departure for Assyria. It may have been news of internal disturbances caused by those who were taking advantage of his long absence and hoped that the Egyptian army would crush him. It may have been news of enemies like Babylon threatening the borders of Assyria. But combined with the plague that would decimate his army after his inconclusive battle with the approaching Egyptian forces, it was enough to make him return home.
Note the contrast between ‘thus says Hezekiah’ (verse 3) and ‘thus says YHWH’. Hezekiah was almost in despair. He could do nothing. YHWH was about to turn the whole situation about. Whatever He wanted He would do.
2.19.8 ‘So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah, for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.’
Meanwhile as the representatives of King Hezekiah were approaching Isaiah, the Rabshakeh was making his way to his master to report temporary failure. Jerusalem had refused to surrender. But the king was no longer warring at Lachish. ‘He was departed from Lachish’. Those were ominous words. For it meant that Lachish, the second in importance of all the cities of Judah, had fallen, and the rape of Lachish had taken place. As archaeology would later discover the bodies of many would have been tossed into a huge grave with Assyria’s refuse piled on top of them. And many of those who remained alive were to experience the ‘blessings’ that the king of Assyria had promised to Jerusalem. They were to be cruelly transported to lands far away. Even more Jews were to go into exile.
And now the focus had turned on Libnah, possibly to the north of Lachish, although its site is uncertain. That was the next city on which they would concentrate. And it was thus there that the Rabshakeh found his master. It would also be near there that the battle with the approaching Egyptian forces would take place at Eltekeh.
News of The Approach Of A Large Egyptian Army Under Tirhakah, King Of Cush (the Sudan), Causes A Change Of Attitude And A Further Attempt To Obtain King Hezekiah’s Submission (2.19.9-14).
The news that a large Egyptian army was approaching led by the son of the Egyptian Pharaoh, who bore the title ‘king of Cush’, caused a hurried change of mind in the Assyrian camp. Now it was more urgent than ever to obtain the surrender and submission of King Hezekiah. So messengers were sent with a letter addressed to ‘Hezekiah King Of Judah’
Its contents were brief and to the point. As they were addressed to Hezekiah himself they clearly did not tell him not to listen to Hezekiah. Nor did he mention Egypt. He did not want Hezekiah to think of Egypt. It might give him the wrong idea. He too might have heard of the approaching Egyptian army. (It was in fact quite remarkable how besieged cities did appear to be able to get messengers in and out). What they concentrated on was the obvious fact of the might of the kings of Assyria past and present, and it should be noted that now it was not ‘King Hezekiah’ who was deceiving the people, it was YHWH! There is a total change of emphasis. Once again it would drive Hezekiah into the presence of YHWH.
Note that in ‘a’ messengers were sent to Hezekiah, and in the parallel he received the king of Assyria’s letter from their hands. In ‘b’ he is called on, under his royal title, not to let God deceive him into thinking that He could deliver Jerusalem, and in the parallel the contrast is made with the gods of other nations who had failed to deliver their nations and cities. Central in ‘c’ was the reminder of what the kings of Assyria past and present had achieved in destroying ‘all lands’ utterly (a hint of what would happen if they did not immediately surrender).
2.19.9 ‘And when he heard say of Tirhakah king of Cush, “Behold, he is come out to fight against you,” he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying,’
While conducting the siege at Libnah news came to the king of Assyria through his spies that a large Egyptian army was approaching under Tirhakah, ‘king of Cush’. We know that in 701 BC Tirhakah (Egyptian Taharqa; Assyrian Tarqu) was certainly old enough to lead an Egyptian army (errors of the past having been corrected). It has been argued that he was not king of Cush (the Sudan) at that time. But as his father was not only king of Cush but also Pharaoh of Egypt it is quite possible that in fact his father had given him the title of ‘king of Cush’ (a title also used of him in Assyrian records). And even if not so he certainly became king of Cush later. Thus it might just be an identifying description made by the author. Either way there is nothing in it to throw doubt on the narrative.
This threat of an Egyptian army, of an as yet unknown size, naturally alarmed the king of Assyria and made him recognise that he would be advised to obtain the surrender of Jerusalem (and of course Libnah and the other cities of Judah still remaining to be taken) prior to facing up to the Egyptians. The last thing he wanted was to have Judaean forces combining with the Egyptians. Thus he altered his tactics. Instead of appealing directly to the people of Jerusalem and degrading ‘Hezekiah’ in order to undermine his authority, he now sought to approach king Hezekiah directly, treating him with honour, and using as his argument the unfailing ability of kings of Assyria to defeat whom they would.
2.19.10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ ”
This time his message was addressed in all honour to ‘Hezekiah, King of Judah’. And he called on him not to let ‘his God’ deceive him into thinking that He could deliver Jerusalem out of the king of Assyria’s hand. It would appear that he was aware that YHWH had so spoken through His prophet(s). But he wanted him to recognise that it was a vain hope for the reasons now to be given.
2.19.11 “Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly, and will you be delivered?”
He would undoubtedly have heard what the kings of Assyria had done to ‘all lands’ in the past. None of them had been able to resist him and such of them as had not submitted had been utterly destroyed because of their failure to submit. That being so how could king Hezekiah hope to be an exception? How could he expect that he alone would be delivered?
‘Destroying them utterly.’ The word initially indicated being put under the sacred Ban and thus being completely destroyed as ‘belonging to a deity’ (compare Jericho - Joshua 6.24). But by this time it could simply indicate being utterly destroyed.
2.19.12 “Have the gods of the nations delivered them, which my fathers have destroyed, Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden who were in Telassar?”
Then he listed nations which his fathers had destroyed, and pointed out that their gods had been unable to deliver them from the kings of Assyria. Gozan was Tel Halaf, taken by the Assyrian in 809 BC. Rezeph may be Rezaphe, north east of Damascus, taken in 841 BC. Eden was the Assyrian province of Bit Adini south of Harran with Telassar (Tel Assur) being one of its towns (compare Isaiah 37.12). All these victories would have been well known to politically aware Judaeans. And that being so how could they hope that YHWH would be able to do anything different?
2.19.13 “Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah?”
Indeed let King Hezekiah himself consider what had happened to their kings and learn a lesson from it. Where now was the king of Hamath (to the north of Damascus, on the east bank of the Orontes; taken in 840 BC and retaken in 820 BC), the King of Arpad (a city in north Syria, Tel Rif‘at, 30 kilometres (twenty miles) north west of Aleppo, also taken in 840 BC and retaken in 820 BC), the king of Sepharvaim (site unknown although some identify with Sibraim near Damascus), the king of Hena (possibly Ana on the Euphrates), the king of Ivvah (compare 17.24. Site unknown)? Sennacherib’s hope was to break Hezekiah’s spirit.
2.19.14 ‘And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it, and Hezekiah went up to the house of YHWH, and spread it before YHWH.’
Hezekiah’s response was to receive the letter from the hand of the messengers, read it and then go to the Temple of YHWH and spread it out before YHWH. ‘Before YHWH’ often only indicates simply the inner court, but Hezekiah may well have entered the porch of the Holy Place. He could not, of course, enter the Holy Place itself. That was only for the priests. Compare here Ezekiel 46.2. The ‘spreading out’ indicates a document on either papyrus or leather.
There is a reminder for us all here that when we receive a difficult communication, the next thing to do after reading it is to spread it out before God.
In Mesopotamia it was normal practise for political communications, once read, to be lodged in a temple where the gods could be made aware of them. Hezekiah’s behaviour stressed his belief in the personal interest of YHWH in what had been written.
The Prayer Of King Hezekiah (2.19.15-19).
It is almost impossible for us to appreciate the tension which Hezekiah must have been experiencing at this time. Outside the city walls were the enemy. Inside were what remained of his people. It was to be his decision as to what to do next. And he did not know what to do. His prayer was simple and to the point.
Thus having reached the end of his resources Hezekiah had recognised that his only hope lay in God, and his approach was not on the basis of his own need, nor of the need of his people, but on the basis that Sennacherib had insulted YHWH and that YHWH should vindicate His Name for His own glory. His concern was for the honour and Name of YHWH. That should be at the root of all prayer.
Note that in ‘a’ he calls on God as the One Who alone is God of all the kingdoms of the earth, and in the parallel it is that all the kingdoms of the earth might know that he is God alone. In ‘b’ he points to the threatening words of Sennacherib as defiance of the living God, and in the parallel he asks to be delivered out of his hand. Central in ‘c’ is the admission that the kings of Assyria have destroyed all other gods, but that that was simply because they were no-gods.
2.19.15 ‘And Hezekiah prayed before YHWH, and said, “O YHWH, the God of Israel, who sits between the cherubim, you are the God, even you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.” ’
Performing his responsibility as an intercessory priest of YHWH Hezekiah first contemplates Who YHWH is. (It is always wise to consider exactly Who God is before we pray). And he considered Him as the One Who sits between the Cherubim, of which the Ark with its Cherubim was the symbol. But this was not to limit Him to the Temple, for both the Psalms and Isaiah (6.1-7) make clear that YHWH was seen as sitting between and borne by the real Cherubim (see 2 Samuel 22.11; Psalm 80.1; 99.1; compare also for the idea Numbers 7.89). Thus He was the God of Heaven. But He was also the only God of all the kingdoms of the earth. For He was the sole Creator of heaven and earth. And it was as the only God that he now approached Him.
2.19.16 ‘Incline your ear, O YHWH, and hear; open your eyes, O YHWH, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, by which he has sent him to defy the living God.”
Then he called on YHWH to specifically hear and see what Sennacherib had written, words which were in clear defiance of the living God, in the same way as Goliath’s had been in the time of David. Indeed it was clear that Sennacherib had deliberately gone out of his way to defy YHWH the living God (although not of course believing that He was the living God). So Hezekiah’s dependence was on the fact that YHWH was the only God, and that He was the living God, active and aware in man’s affairs, and able to intervene at will.
2.19.17-18 “Of a truth, YHWH, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, therefore they have destroyed them.”
Then he basically admitted that Sennacherib’s words were right. It was true that all these other nations had been laid waste, and that their gods had been burned. But that was because they were no-gods. They were simply the work of men’s hands, and made of wood and stone. That was why they could be destroyed. And that was why they had been destroyed.
2.19.19 “Now therefore, O YHWH our God, save you us, I beseech you, out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you YHWH are God alone.”
Having laid the foundation of his prayer Hezekiah now entered his plea, And that was that YHWH, the God of Judah (‘our God’), would save Judah out of Sennacherib’s hand so that all the kingdoms of the world might recognise His uniqueness as the only God.
Isaiah Communicates To King Hezekiah ‘The Word Of YHWH’ Now Active Against The King Of Assyria (2.19.20-28).
As a result of King Hezekiah’s prayer Isaiah was given a prophetic message, an ‘oracle’ from YHWH (‘thus says YHWH’) to pass on to him. Such an oracle was seen as not only spoken but active, as YHWH acted in accordance with His word. The semi-personalised Word of YHWH was going forth to accomplish His will (compare Isaiah 55.10-13. This would lead on to the idea of the fully personal Word in John 1.1-14; 1 John 1.1-4; Revelation 19.13). This oracle was, as so often, in rhythmic form, and was in the form of a message of rebuke to Sennacherib, although issued at a distance. It was not intended to be delivered to Sennacherib, but to be seen as an assurance to Hezekiah that ‘the word of YHWH’ was at work. The oracle divides up into four main sections:
In order to be fully appreciated the oracle must be presented as a whole.
2.19.20 ‘Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, Whereas you have prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you.”
As a result of Hezekiah’s plea Isaiah sent to him an assurance of YHWH’s response. Because he has humbled himself and prayed wholeheartedly to God, God has heard him. Note the description of YHWH as ‘the God of Israel’. Judah now represented the whole of Israel (and indeed contained many from the other tribes within its population).
2.19.21a “This is the word (Hebrew ha dabar; LXX ho logos) that YHWH has spoken (diber) concerning him,”
He assured Hezekiah that YHWH’s ‘word’ had now gone forth and would accomplish His will. When YHWH spoke His word it was the guarantee that action would result (see Isaiah 55.11). In these contexts the ‘word’ of God can almost be paralleled with the idea of the ‘Spirit’ of God as indicating God in action. This would later be personified in Jesus Christ Who was God’s Logos supreme (John 1.1-4).
1). Judah’s Scorn At Sennacherib For Setting Himself Up Against YHWH (2.19.21-22).
2.19.21b “The virgin daughter of Zion has despised you and laughed you to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem has shaken her head after you.”
The picture is a vivid one. Sennacherib, through the Rabshakeh, had been ranting at Jerusalem, and seeing her as like a virgin daughter waiting to be raped, but this was now a picture of what the ‘virgin daughter’s’ response would be, mockery at his folly in thinking that he could set himself up against the God of Israel. The ‘virgin daughter of Zion’ (pure and unspoiled and reserved for YHWH) despised him and ‘laughed him to scorn’ (compare Psalm 2.4 where it is YHWH Himself who laughs at the folly of the enemies of His Anointed). She shook her head ‘after him’, in other words once he was running away. This was probably in incredulity at his folly, and derisive wonderment at the fact that he had dared to defy the living God.
2.19.22 “Whom have you defied and blasphemed? And against whom have you exalted your voice and lifted up your eyes on high? Even against the Holy One of Israel.”
YHWH now drew Sennacherib’s attention to what he had done. He had defied and blasphemed and lifted up his haughty eyes against none other than ‘the Holy One of Israel’. Nothing could be more foolish than that. The title ‘the Holy One of Israel’ appears here, three times in the Psalms, twice in Jeremiah and twenty five times spread throughout the Book of Isaiah. It is thus typical of an Isaianic prophecy. It indicates His uniqueness and ‘otherness’, as ‘the High and Exalted One Who inhabits eternity Whose Name is Holy’ (Isaiah 57.15).
2). A Description Of The Boasting And Defiance Of Sennacherib (2.19.23-24).
YHWH points out that what Sennacherib has done in his folly is to defy the Sovereign Lord of the Universe, as a result of his confidence in his massive (but vulnerable) human resources, and He goes on to describe the exalted claims that he has made.
Note the emphasis on the fact that he has ‘defied the Sovereign Lord (adonai)’. He needed to recognise that YHWH was not to be seen as like all the other ‘gods’ that he had had dealings with, not even his own Ashur (whom he called ‘lord’). Rather it is YHWH Who is Lord of all, Lord of time (verse 25), Lord of history (verse 25). But Sennacherib had overlooked this fact and had defied Him with his puny chariots (compare Isaiah 31.1, 3; Psalm 20.7). He thought that because he had so many chariots he could do what he wanted. He would prove to be mistaken.
The words that follow must not be taken too literally. They are building up a picture of extreme arrogance. No one in his right senses seeks to take chariots to the top of the highest mountains. The point is rather that with his chariot forces he had so taken possession of the land that even the highest mountains, where people thought their gods to be, were under his control. The Assyrian annals, however, do contain similar boasts that the king of Assyria in his chariot will reach even the most inaccessible of regions where none have been before, and he boasted openly of his achievements in taking his chariots into the mountains of Aram and Palestine.
He had taken over the very heart of Lebanon (its innermost parts). He is using ‘Lebanon’ (which is a flexible description, like Gilead) in its widest sense as taking in a large part of the land that he has conquered in the south. And the pride of Lebanon was its tall cedars and splendid fir trees. But these will be cut down, leaving it bereft. Practically speaking they would be used to make siege engines and siege towers, or exported for profit, but the idea is as much a picture of the loss that Lebanon would suffer for defying him. The cutting down of trees unnecessarily was usually frowned on (Deuteronomy 20.19-20). To do so despoiled the land, for they took many years to grow. But Assyria did it quite callously.
Nowhere would escape Sennacherib’s attention. He would enter their most distant and remote lodging places, and pierce the centre of their most expansive forests, for which they were so famous. He would extract water from their unyielding ground, digging wells, and drinking from those wells in foreign lands, wells which were far from home, and which had previously belonged to others. In other words he would make himself completely at home there, taking possession of everything both above and below ground.
And in contrast he would dry up whatever waters he wished, even ‘the rivers of Matsor’. This could be the Missor mentioned in the Amarna letters. On the other hand if we take Matsor as signifying Egypt expressed poetically, as some do (Egypt = mitsraim), this may indicate that his final aim was to bring Egypt under Assyrian control.
3). YHWH’s Response Is That Sennacherib In Fact Owes All His Success To Him (2.19.25-26).
The point is now made that Sennacherib may think that he has achieved what he has on his own, but the truth is that he has only achieved it because it was YHWH’s purpose. He needed to recognise that it was YHWH Who had taken him up and used him as His instrument (compare Isaiah 10.5-6, 15), and that that was the only secret of his success.
YHWH asks Sennacherib whether he has in fact not heard that what is unveiling in history had been formed in the mind of YHWH from ancient times? What he needed to realise was that what he was thus doing was thus working out what YHWH had already planned, for now YHWH’s ancient will was being carried out. It was He, (and no one else), Who had purposed that Sennacherib should turn all the cities he has referred to (verse 12-13) into ruinous heaps. Thus in doing so Sennacherib had simply been carrying out YHWH’s instructions.
Indeed it was because YHWH was at work, and not because of Assyria’s might, that the inhabitant of those cities had been deficient in strength (literally ‘were short of hand’). That was why they were dismayed and confounded, and so easily and quickly withered like the grass and vegetation in the countryside in the hot summer sun once there was no rain. The grass that some grew on the flat roofs of their houses soon withered and died in the glaring sun if it was not constantly watered (compare Psalm 129.6), and it was the newest grain that was most vulnerable to the sun. Thus they were an apt picture of weakness and vulnerability.
‘Before it has grown up.’ Literally ‘before (it has become) standing corn’.
Now Because Of Sennacherib’s Taunts And Attitude YHWH Intends To Act Against Him And Transport Him Back Like A Humiliated Captive To Nineveh (2.19.27-28).
So YHWH warns him that because he is aware of all his doings, and especially of his arrogance towards Him. In consequence He Himself will lead him like a humiliated captive back to where he came from.
What Sennacherib should realise is that YHWH was aware of everything he did, whether he sat down, or whether he went out or in, and especially of his expressed arrogance towards YHWH (literally ‘his careless ease’), and his raging against Him.
The putting of the hook through the nose was a deliberately humiliating way of treating captive foreign princes and nobles used by the Assyrians, and there is a relief in Zenjirli depicting such treatment given to Tirhakah of Egypt and Ba’alu of Tyre, who were being led in that way (some years later) by Esarhaddon. The bridle in the lips might indicate the same, or have in mind the treatment of wild animals or horses in order to keep them obedient and submissive. Compare here 2 Chronicles 33.11 where Manasseh was taken ‘with hooks’ to Babylon.
Note the gradual build up of his behaviour. First his sitting on his throne, then his activity in going out and in, and then finally his rising up in rage against YHWH.
Through Isaiah YHWH Gives A Sign That Jerusalem’s Deliverance Is At Hand (2.19.29-31).
As in the case of Moses in Exodus 3.12 and Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 7.14 the sign now given was to be found in the guarantee of a future event, not in the event itself. It was saying, ‘this is what I, YHWH, intend to do, and you may take me at My word. Because it is My promise it is the guarantee of its fulfilment, and it is that certain guarantee that is the sign that I have given.’ In this case the promise that by the third year from when it was spoken they would be carrying out their normal agricultural activity from start to finish was a promise that the siege was about to end (otherwise it could not happen).
There is a deliberate change here from poetic metre to prose indicating emphatically that this is a new prophecy and not a part of the prophecy in 19.21-28. It is a promise of immediate deliverance.
Note that in ‘a’ the guarantee is given as a sign, and in the parallel it is the zeal of YHWH which will perform it. In ‘b’ they will leave the city almost immediately, so that normal agricultural activity, which will take time to establish, will begin, surviving in the meantime on what grows of itself, and in the parallel the remnant that remains who have escaped the anger of Sennacherib will go triumphantly out of Jerusalem. Centrally in ‘c’ they will not only have physical blessing but will have spiritual blessing as they take root in the Law of YHWH and look up to Him in worship and prayer.
2.19.29 “And this will be the sign to you, You will eat this year what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs of the same, and in the third year sow you, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat its fruit.”
The sign that was being given was His guaranteed promise. And that promise was that within three years their agricultural round would be back to normal. It was presumably too late for the first sowing which would have to await the following year, thus in the first part year (from then until the New Year) they would have to eat what naturally grew out of the ground, in the second year (in the latter part of which they would be able to begin their sowing) they would survive on what resulted naturally from what grew in the first year, but by the third year what they had themselves sowed in the middle of the second year would be growing and be able to be reaped and eaten.
2.19.30 “And the remnant which is escaped of the house of Judah will again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.”
But their crops were not the only things that would become established. Those who remained of the house of Judah, those who had escaped the wrath of Sennacherib, would also themselves ‘take root downwards’. They would become firmly established, and that would include being established in His Law. And they would ‘bear fruit upwards’, offering to God what was pleasing to Him, not only in offerings and sacrifices, but also in the fruit of their lives (see Isaiah 1.11-18).
2.19.31 “For out of Jerusalem will go forth a remnant, and out of mount Zion they who will escape. The zeal of YHWH will perform this.”
For it was YHWH’ guarantee that a remnant would go forth out of Jerusalem, the remnant that now remained of all that Judah had been before the invasion. Out of Mount Zion would go those who had escaped the fearsome hand of Sennacherib. And this would be because YHWH had delivered them. They would be free and still living in their own land. And all this would be because YHWH was acting in His zealousness.
“The zeal of YHWH will perform this.” Compare Isaiah 9.7. In both cases the zeal of YHWH would bring about His will in establishing His Kingly Rule. The saying is typically Isaianic.
The Final Oracle Of Deliverance Which Will Result In Its Own Fulfilment (2.19.32-34).
The final oracle was put in plain and straightforward terms that could leave no doubt. It was the policy of great kings to be personally present when, at the end of a long siege, the city was about to fall. Thereby they could claim the victory for themselves and it became attached to their name. See for a clear example of this 2 Samuel 12.26-31. And it was even customary for them to pick up a bow and shoot an arrow, or to take up a shield or supervise the building of a mound, so that it could be portrayed on the reliefs made of the event (very much like our modern artificial photo-calls), making quite clear who was responsible for the victory. It was all staged.
Thus the promise was that deliverance would come so soon that the king of Assyria would not even come to the city, or shoot his arrow there, or pick up a shield, or order the building of a mound. Rather he would soon be scurrying back to Assyria by the way in which he had come, and this would be because YHWH was defending Jerusalem, for the sake of His own glory, and for the sake of His servant David who had chosen it, to whom He had made such great promises.
This ties in quite adequately with the promise in 19.7, and yet also contains within it the seed of the glorious coming event that no one expected, the actual destruction of a large part of the mighty Assyrian army. The fact that what will now happen was never prophesied indicates the genuineness both of the prophecies and of the event itself.
Note that in ‘a’ Sennacherib would not come to the city and in the parallel that would be because YHWH was defending it. Centrally in ‘b’ he would return home having failed in his purpose.
2.19.32 “Therefore thus says YHWH concerning the king of Assyria, He will not come to this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor will he come before it with shield, nor cast up a mound against it.”
Like modern politicians ancient kings could not resist a ‘photo-call’. They wanted to go down in history. Thus at any great victory, especially towards the end of a siege, they would arrive and make some military gesture towards the enemy that could later be recorded on stone. This might take the form of shooting an arrow, brandishing a shield and sword, or ostentatiously supervising the building of siegeworks. But in this case YHWH promised that this would not happen, simply because the victory would not be achieved. There would be no crowning moment.
2.19.33 “By the way that he came, by the same will he return, and he will not come to this city, says YHWH.”
Indeed far from gaining victory he would shortly be returning home (with YHWH’s hook through his nose, and YHWH’s bridle in his mouth) from Libnah. He would never even approach Jerusalem. Thus it would not only be the end of his operations against Jerusalem and Judah, it would also be the end of all his current operations outside Assyria. This could only indicate real trouble at home which necessitated his presence. It would also turn out to be because he would need to re-establish his army. “By the way that he came, by the same will he return.’ Compare verse 28.
2.19.34 “For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.”
And the reason for it would be because YHWH was defending Jerusalem for His own sake (so that He might be seen to be faithful to His promises to David) and for His servant David’s sake, who had chosen Jerusalem and dedicated it to YHWH, Who accepted it and had also thereby chosen it (compare 1 Kings 11.12-13). God had not forgotten His promises to David, and would stand by them at all costs.
YHWH Totally Unexpectedly Devastates The Assyrian Army Causing Sennacherib To Return Home Where Subsequently He Arranges For His Assassination (2.19.35-37).
What happened now was totally unexpected, and deliberately so. YHWH wanted to make an instant and great impression on His people of what He could do on their behalf. The fact that there was no forewarning indicates both the genuineness of the previous prophecies (which if invented would hardly have failed to mention this stupendous event) and of the event itself. Certainly something happened of such a devastating nature that it shook the very heart of Israel, and bred in their unbelieving and foolish hearts the certainty that YHWH would never in the future allow Jerusalem to be destroyed.
Of course that was not what YHWH had intended. What He had wanted to do was awaken in them praise and gratitude which would result in future responsive hearts, and a desire from then on to do His will (then Jerusalem would indeed have been invulnerable). But it was human nature to think mechanically that if YHWH would do this once when they did not deserve it, He would always do it. It was a mistake that would be brought home to them by the destruction of Jerusalem. They were to learn by it that it was not Jerusalem that was invulnerable, but His true people, who happened at this time to be in Jerusalem.
For that very night something happened that struck at the heart of the Assyrian army. Speaking in heavenly terms ‘the Angel of YHWH went forth and smote a large part of the Assyrian army’. This may well have been because a plague of rats mentioned by Herodotus had infested the Assyrian camp bringing with them a disease that rapidly decimated the army. Or it may have been in some other way, such as a night attack by the Egyptian army (Sennacherib claimed victory, but then so no doubt did Tirhakah And certainly what happened was that Sennacherib withdrew, which would have been a strange way of celebrating a resounding victory). But what was certain was that when morning came and the Assyrians arose, there were corpses everywhere.
Coming on top of the news that he had received from Nineveh (verse 7) this was the final decider, and he upped camp and returned to Nineveh. But even there he could not escape the long arm of YHWH, for some considerable time later YHWH indirectly arranged for his assassination. He had received back his boasts to the full.
2.19.35 “And it came about that night, that the angel of YHWH went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and eighty and five thousand, and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.’
There is, of course, no external evidence of this, which is in fact what we would expect. Great kings never suffered disasters (compare how Egypt failed to record what happened at the Red Sea). Stalemates were victories, and genuine victories were lauded to the skies, but defeats, were discreetly forgotten. But what was written firmly in history (by interpreting what was written) was that Sennacherib did return to Nineveh, that Jerusalem was never taken, and that Hezekiah was never forced to submit in person. So something certainly happened. And it kept Sennacherib away for a long time.
There is a familiar ring to the story, for it was only Israel who boasted in their histories of victories gained totally by YHWH without their having any part in it. And that was partly because it was only to them that it happened. It brought no glory on them (which was the usual reason for recording history) but it did bring glory on YHWH (which was the prophets’ reason for recording history).
In this case what happened was that by morning a large part of the Assyrian army were dead. To Israel that could only have one explanation, it was due to the activity of the Angel of YHWH, the same Angel Who had once almost smitten Jerusalem (2 Samuel 24.15-17). Humanly speaking it might have been due to a rapidly infectious fatal disease (such as bacillary dysentery) or even a night attack by the Egyptian army. Or there may have been some other reason. But certainly 2 Samuel 24.15-17 does indicate that this was how plague was described, and interestingly Herodotus does record an occasion when the Assyrian army had to withdraw because of the effects of a plague of vermin, which could well have brought a deadly plague with them (compare the vermin connected with the plagues in Philistia in 1 Samuel 5.6, 9, 12; 6.4-5), although Herodotus ascribed the withdrawal of which he spoke to the fact that the vermin gnawed most of their equipment (strictly, however, he indicates that the event he was speaking of happened in Egypt). He does, also, speak of an Egyptian tradition that the Egyptian army was saved from a momentous defeat in 701 BC by divine intervention.
The one hundred and eighty five eleph may indicate 185 military units (the inhabitants of Libnah may well have counted the number of military units revealed by their different standards), 185 captains (by repointing), or simply a very large number. (Only the Assyrians would theoretically have known how many dead bodies there were, and in their haste to dispose of them in the hot climate it is doubtful, in view of their large numbers, if anyone was counting).
2.19.36 ‘So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.’
The consequence of this was that Sennacherib immediately ‘departed and went and returned’ (the repetition emphasising his departure) to Nineveh (recorded in his annals) where he took up his dwelling for some time, no doubt while he sorted out affairs at home. Note the emphasis on his ‘returning’ to Nineveh. See for this verses 7 and 33. In the view of Isaiah YHWH had dragged him there by his nose.
2.19.37 ‘And it came about, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer smote him with the sword, and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esar-haddon his son reigned instead of him.’
While this assassination undoubtedly occurred twenty years later (in 681 BC) it was an evidence not only of the long arm of YHWH but also of His control of history. ‘The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small’. The point is that YHWH had not fully finished with Sennacherib at Libnah. Having drawn him by his nose to Nineveh he finally (indirectly) arranged for his assassination. It was poetic justice. What Sennacherib had sought to do to Jerusalem was done to him.
Some of the detail is corroborated in Babylonian records where the assassination of Sennacherib, and the revenge gained by Esarhaddon his appointed heir is described. It is clear that this was an attempted coup in order to prevent Esarhaddon (if we believe Esarhaddon) succeeding to the throne. It was led by Arda-mulissi (Adrammelech). But the coup failed and the perpetrators had to flee to Urartu where they were overtaken by Esarhaddon’s vengeance.
Nisroch may well be a Hebrew representation of the Assyrian god Assur (sometimes Asarak), although others associate it with Nusku (nswk). If that be the case then the house of Nisroch would be the Temple of Nusku at Nineveh. This assumes a waw changed to a resh - with Nswk becoming Nsrk - whether deliberate or accidental. Although waw and resh are very similar in Hebrew, it is quite possible that the change were deliberate. Such changes were frequently made, sometimes in order to indicate contempt, and at others in order to bring out a specific idea. The names Adrammelech and Sharezer probably signify Arad-Melek and Nergal-shar-usur. (Arad and Nergal were two Assyrian deities). Note how Arad is also changed to Adra, and Nergal is dropped altogether. These changes are in order to demonstrate that these deities are unimportant and that their names do not matter. On the other hand a western Semitic name is a possibility for one of his sons and would not be unlikely, for Sennacherib was married to, among others, Naqi’a-Zakutu, a woman of western Semitic origin. But Shar-usur means ‘he has protected the king’ and we would expect it to be preceded by the name of a god. The late Greek writer Abydenus refers to them as Adramelus and Nergilus.
‘Ararat.’ That is Urartu as found in Assyrian inscriptions. It was in the neighbourhood of Lake Van in Armenia and was at this time enjoying a brief revival of strength after its battering by the Cimmerians. The sons clearly saw it as a safe refuge from the wrath of Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s heir.
The non-mention of the assassination in Assyrian records is a typical indication of how bad news was ignored when it was just not palatable. Especially when he was apparently assassinated between the statues of his own ‘protective’ gods. But the inference is undoubtedly there when Esarhaddon says of his brothers ‘even drawing the sword within Nineveh against divine authority’, and as we have seen it was described in the Babylonian Chronicle (‘on the twentieth of the month of Tebet his son killed Sennacherib king of Assyria during a rebellion’) while Ashurbanipal does speak of ‘the very figures of the protective deities between which they had smashed Sennacherib, my own grandfather’).
Hezekiah Becomes Mortally Ill But Is Healed By Isaiah In Answer To Prayer (2.20.1-7).
Hezekiah’s illness is now mentioned, not because it was important in itself, but because in different ways it revealed the power of YHWH. It would appear that he was mortally ill, but that on his crying to YHWH he was given a further fifteen years of life, and also promised that YHWH would deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians. The connection of the two indicates that both had been in his prayers. We must therefore see this incident as preceding the previous ones, but taking place whilst the Assyrians were threatening, at a time therefore when humanly speaking Hezekiah was vital to the security of Judah.
Note that in ‘a’ Hezekiah was ‘sick unto death’ and in the parallel he recovered. In ‘b’ he pointed out how faithfully he had walked before YHWH and in the parallel he was to receive fifteen further years of life, and the deliverance of Jerusalem from the hand of the king of Assyria. In ‘c’ he wept sorely, and in the parallel God had seen his tears and would heal him. Centrally in ‘d’ we have YHWH’s ‘change of heart’ and a reminder that Hezekiah was the prince and war-leader of His people.
2.20.1 ‘In those days Hezekiah was sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says YHWH, Set your house in order: for you will die, and not live.” ’
‘In those days.’ An indeterminate phrase, the plural of ‘in that day’ Here it simply loosely connects what is to happen with the days of which the source is speaking.
Hezekiah is declared to be very ill, indeed dying. He has a mortal illness. He was ‘sick unto death.’ And the prophet comes to him with confirmation from YHWH. ‘Thus says YHWH --- you will die.’ He must prepare for death and do all that is necessary for a king to do to ensure that affairs of state are passed to his successor smoothly. God is concerned for the future of his people.
But with Assyria threatening there was no successor yet old enough to take the throne It is understandable therefore why Hezekiah would be so distressed. Looking from the divine point of view we might suggest that God had brought this on Hezekiah in order to make him consider what the situation was and prepare him for it. For this verse with its subsequent narrative is quite remarkable. It demonstrates that even ‘the word of YHWH’ can be reversed by repentance. Here indeed is a prophetic word which will be so altered. What seems to be a situation which cannot be altered, is thus altered through prayer. The same was in fact always true of God’s judgments (compare Jonah and Nineveh, and Ahab and Israel - 1 Kings 21.27-29).
2.20.2-3a ‘Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed to YHWH, saying, “Remember now, O YHWH, I beseech you, how I have walked before you in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done what is good in your sight.”
Outwardly Hezekiah’s concern would appear to be for the situation he found himself in personally. There is nothing sacrificially noble about his prayer. It is presented as outwardly purely selfish and with limited perspective, as 20.19 also reveals him to be. He was a good king, a godly king, and but with a limited and selfish perspective. His concern was not stated to be the future of the kingdom as a whole or for the eternal purposes of God, but for his own survival, and his nation’s survival while he was king. How many there are of God’s people who are like this. When it comes down to it they are the godly selfish, (what a contradiction in terms, and yet how true of so many) and that is why they will achieve little. Outwardly it would appear that Hezekiah was successful, but he failed deeply in the purposes of God because his own ambitions took precedence. That is why he presided over an almost catastrophe.
Nevertheless here part of his problem was probably also that he saw his premature death as indicating that God saw him as sinful. Thus he was not only crying out for life, but was crying out for forgiveness and understanding. One reason why he wanted to live was because in his eyes it would prove that he had become right with God. So his personal concern is to some extent understandable.
‘Turned his face to the wall.’ He could not get to the privacy of the Temple so this was second best. He wanted to be alone with God.
There is no doubt that he summed up his life to God a little idealistically, and yet it was basically true. He had sought truth, he had sought to do what was right, he had sought to please God, he had lived a relatively godly life. But we are intended also to see that his life was flawed, as we will learn later on in the chapter. For he was unable to get away from his own selfish ambitions and desire for political glory.
Yet having said all that we may well see hidden under his tears a concern for his people. While it was not prominent in the way his thoughts were expressed, he would know that in losing him his people were losing one who could strongly affect their future, for he had no adult sons. It may well be therefore that we are to see this thought as included in his prayer. And it may possibly be that God recognised his concern, which might be why the next verses speak of deliverance from Sennacherib’s hands.
2.20.3b ‘And Hezekiah wept sorely.’
‘And Hezekiah wept sorely.’ He did not want to die. He was fighting for life.
Given all this we can sum up Hezekiah’s prayer as indicating,
Yet we cannot hide from the fact that he did not articulate all these thoughts in his prayers. His prime concern is presented as being for his own deliverance. It was God Whose major concern was for His people.
2.20.4 ‘And it came about, before Isaiah was gone out into the middle part of the city, that the word of YHWH came to him, saying,’
Meanwhile Isaiah had gone away, his unpleasant task, as he thought, accomplished, but even as he reached the middle part of the city the word of YHWH came to him with a new message. We have here a clear indication that Isaiah did not go into trances or get worked up when he received ‘the word of YHWH’.
2.20.5-6 “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the prince of my people, Thus says YHWH, the God of David your father, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you, on the third day you will go up to the house of YHWH. And I will add to your days fifteen years, and I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.”
Here we have a remarkable example of how ‘prayer changes things’. Hezekiah knew that his behaviour in the religious and political field had angered the king of Assyria. He had purified the temple, removing the Assyrian gods; he had refused to pay tribute; he had had discussions with his neighbours (2 Kings 18.7). He could hardly doubt that this had been noted and that the detail was known to Sennacherib’s spies. Thus he could have had little doubt that he would at some stage be called to account. This must surely have been part of the reason for his distress, that he was dying when his country needed him.
That explains why God sends to him and promises him, not only an extension of life, and that he will be fit enough to go up to the house of YHWH for his intercessory ministry, but also deliverance for him and Jerusalem out of Sennacherib’s hand. He promises that He will heal him so that he can go up to the house of YHWH (having been made ritually clean as well as physically whole), and that he will give him a further fifteen years, and will successfully defend Jerusalem. This met his major concerns. But it is also clearly implied that it would not be because of his own worthiness but because of God’s promises to David, for it was from ‘the God of your father David’.
The figure of ‘fifteen years’ is probably significant. Five is the number of covenant, and threefold five is covenant completeness. Thus it implies that God is acting within the covenant and for covenant reasons. Hezekiah will be living on borrowed time so that he can further the application of that covenant. (Fifteen and other multiples of five were a regular measurement in the Tabernacle. Compare also the twofold ‘five words’ of the commandments, and the five books of the Law and of the Psalms, all measures of the covenant).
By these promises God was revealed as the giver of life and as the Great Defender of His people, and Hezekiah as the great beneficiary. Surely now he would be dedicated to YHWH with all his heart and lean wholly on Him. And in order to seek to ensure this, God in His graciousness would go even further. He would add to this an even greater wonder. But as events would prove Hezekiah was still full of political ambition, an ambition that would contribute to the downfall of Judah.
2.20.7 ‘And Isaiah said, “Take a cake of figs.” And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.’
Isaiah then made a request for a cake of figs, and when Hezekiah’s servants laid it on him, he recovered. The boil and the seriousness of the illness possibly indicate some kind of plague illness. The method of using a poultice to draw the boil was clearly known, and is attested by Pliny. And it equally clearly worked. If it was a miracle no emphasis is laid on the fact that it was so. The emphasis is rather on the fact that it was God’s doing. Once the boil was drawn healing could go on apace. But Hezekiah certainly saw it as a miracle of forgiveness and healing. A similar kind of plaster (of dried raisins) for use on horses is witnessed to in a Ugaritic text.
Hezekiah Receives A Remarkable Sign Confirming That YHWH Will Do All That He Has Said (2.20.8-11).
Prior to his healing in verse 7 a concerned Hezekiah asked for a sign that he would be healed so that he could go up to the house of YHWH on the third day. This was probably a day on which he knew he had an important part to play in his nation’s intercession. What he was not expecting, however, was a sign of such huge proportions that it would confirm that whatever problems Jerusalem might face in the near future, they were well within the capability of YHWH to deal with.
Assur, chief god of Assyria, was associated with the sun, and presided over gods and goddesses associated with the moon and stars. The Assyrians worshipped ‘the host of heaven’. Thus by demonstrating His power over the activity of the sun YHWH was indicating quite clearly why Hezekiah had nothing to fear. Not only would he heal Hezekiah who would thus be able to intercede in the house of YHWH, but through his intercession He would bring victory to Judah by driving back the one who claimed to have behind him the light of the sun.
Note that in ‘a’ Hezekiah asked for a sign, and in the parallel the sign was given. In ‘b’ he was given a choice of signs, and in the parallel he made his choice.
2.20.8 ‘And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What will be the sign that YHWH will heal me, and that I will go up to the house of YHWH the third day?” ’
We are possibly to see here that his main concern, his own healing, and progression from it. While God wanted the sign that He would give to be the greater sign of His power to deliver along with His promise of future deliverance, Hezekiah only thought of it in terms of his own healing. So Hezekiah, instead of being taken up with, and excited about, the promise of future deliverance, expresses concern lest he be unable to go up to the house of YHWH on the third day. This again brings out Hezekiah’s partly selfish concentration on his own need rather than on his people’s needs. It sounded pious enough, but it was proof of his mediocrity.
No doubt he also saw himself as being restrained from going up to the house of YHWH because the eruption rendered him unclean (see Leviticus 13.18), and it suggests that he longed to do so as soon as appropriate. He wanted to be ‘clean’ again. Such an ambition was not to be despised. It was good that he wanted to go up to the house of YHWH. But why did he want to do it? Are we to see this as being because he longed to carry out his intercessory prayer as the priest after the order of Melchizedek? (compare 19.1, 14). That would certainly be important, but possibly at that time not apparent to Hezekiah. Or are we to see it as in order that he might give thanks for his recovery? That he saw it as putting the cap on any delay in his recovery? The context suggests the latter.
In other words his mind was concentrated on the wrong thing. While God had tried to direct his thoughts to the great deliverance, all Hezekiah could think of was his own restoration. There could be no greater contrast than that between this current representative of the house of David, whose only desire was to survive and to whom the coming deliverance was secondary, and the coming Servant of YHWH whom Isaiah would later describe, Whose whole concern will be to do the will of God and Whose whole attention will be on the final deliverance, even though He would have to face death in order to bring it about (Isaiah 52.13-53.12). The Hezekiah revealed here fits well with the Hezekiah revealed in 20.19.
2.20.9 ‘And Isaiah said, “This will be the sign to you from YHWH, that YHWH will do the thing that he has spoken. Shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” ’
The sign that Isaiah offered to Hezekiah was of far greater significance than the sign that Hezekiah had asked for. Hezekiah had not expected a great miracle. But YHWH had promised such a great miracle to his father Ahaz at a time when Jerusalem was being surrounded, and He clearly desired to do the same for Hezekiah. The sign was to be the movement of the shadow on the steps of Ahaz. The steps of Ahaz are not said to be a sundial, although it is often assumed by commentators. They are rather chosen here as a reminder of the person of Ahaz, the one who refused God’s sign, the one who would not listen to YHWH. They are possibly the steps that had led up to Ahaz’s house of idolatry (23.12). But as that may have been designed for the worship of the sun god, it could well be that the steps had also been designed to follow the sun’s shadow, thus linking it with the passing of time. But the point is that what faithless Ahaz set up was to be used as the conveyor of a sign from God to his successor, who was now being given the same great opportunity as Ahaz had had, the opportunity to see God producing a miracle which would enable him to trust in God alone and reject all earthly support.
The sign would be indicated by an unusual movement of the shadow caused by the sun on these steps, and Hezekiah was given the choice of whether it should move forwards or back. It was an indication to Hezekiah that it was YHWH Who controlled the sun, not the sun god Assur. Sun, moon and stars were under His control, and the light of the sun moved at His command.
2.20.10 ‘And Hezekiah answered, “It is a light thing for the shadow to decline ten steps. No, but let the shadow return backward ten steps.”
Hezekiah had no doubt about which choice to make. In his view the moving forward of the shadow at a quicker pace might have some other explanation. But for the shadow to move back. Now that would be something. So he asked that the shadow might move backwards ten steps.
2.20.11 ‘And Isaiah the prophet cried to YHWH, and he brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down on the step of Ahaz.’
As Isaiah cried to YHWH He caused the shadow to retreat ten steps on the steps of Ahaz. Ten steps which had come into the shade once more became open to the sun. This was too great a degree of change to be mistakable. Only an act of God could produce this phenomenon. And it was clearly witnessed, probably by Isaiah himself, for he asserts that it happened.
It is possible that the movement of the shadow was intended to be an indication to Hezekiah that God would remove the shadow which was hanging over him, and the shadow which was hanging over Jerusalem, the ten indicating covenant witness and certainty (twice five, symbolising the ‘ten words’ of the covenant). It was certainly in order to indicate that the Creator could do whatever He would on the earth. And the lesson was that if the shadow of the sun could be controlled by YHWH, how much more could Sennacherib, and the ‘host of heaven’ (17.16; 21.3-5) whom he worshipped be disposed of by YHWH.
It may also have been seen as indicating that God was giving the house of David a second chance, with time, as it were, retreating, thus eliminating the failure of Ahaz.
(We naturally ask how God did it. But how God did it is not a question we can look at scientifically for we do not have all the facts. We are not told that the phenomenon achieved a permanent change in the position of the sun. Nor indeed is the sun said to have been observed as moving. It was the shadow caused by the sun that was to be observed as moving, and that only on the steps of Ahaz. It has been suggested that it was related to an eclipse of the sun which occurred in 689 BC or 679 BC. Others have suggested that the sun’s waves were refracted by some unusual phenomenon. Then the miracle lies in the timing. But in the end we can only look on and wonder, as they no doubt did).
The message, however, was clear. With such a powerful God at his back Hezekiah need not fear Assyria and its hordes. Sadly, however, while he would not turn his back on YHWH like Ahaz did, Hezekiah also would be too taken up with a sense of his own importance to learn the lesson of only relying on YHWH. He wanted to be seen as a major player in world history as well. And so when the Babylonians came seeking for his support as part of a coalition against Assyria he allowed himself to be sucked in, and even more foolishly made clear to the rapacious king of Babylon what treasures he had. It would spell trouble for the future.
The Visit Of The Babylonian Ambassadors (2.20.12-19).
News of Hezekiah’s sickness had reached Babylon, who may already have been in negotiations with him, and the consequence was that the king of Babylon sent ambassadors to Hezekiah in order to wish him well. Proud to think that he was of some importance to so illustrious a figure (for Babylon had had a unique and dazzling reputation from earliest times) Hezekiah then determined to demonstrate that he too was important, and so he boastingly showed to the ambassadors all his treasures and all his armaments. No doubt this was partly in order to prove what a reliable and important ally he would be, but, as Isaiah pointed out, what he had overlooked was that to make such a display to Babylon was like showing a jewel to a magpie. Once the magpie knew of it, it would not be long before the magpie came for the jewel. Hezekiah’s reply demonstrated the shortness of his vision. As long as there was peace in his day the future did not matter. (We can hear Manasseh saying, ‘Thanks, Dad’).
Note that in ‘a’ the king of Babylon sent letters of sympathy, and in the parallel he is happy because it confirms peace in his day. In ‘b he reveals all his wealth, and in the parallel is informed that because of it his sons will be carried off to Babylon. In ‘c’ Hezekiah tells Isaiah that they came from Babylon, and in the parallel Hezekiah learns that that is also where all Judah’s possessions will go. Centrally in ‘d’ Hezekiah explains that he has shown them all that he has.
2.20.12 ‘At that time Berodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick.’
It was customary for kings to send letters/condolences (and automatically the usual present) to their fellow-kings when they had either recovered or died, consequent upon an illness, but usually only to those whom they saw as comparatively equals with themselves (compare 2 Samuel 10.2). This deputation from great Babylon would therefore be very flattering to Hezekiah. It would give the appearance that the king of Babylon, who was, however, himself in a precarious position, was treating him as an equal. But there can be little doubt also that by it the king of Babylon was seeking to draw Hezekiah into an alliance with him against Assyria. Babylon had constantly been a thorn in the flesh to Assyria, and was seeking to be so again now that Merodach-baladan had retaken the throne, and was thus seeking to ensure the stretching of Assyria’s resources when Sennacherib’s strike at Babylon finally came. With much of the area south of the Euphrates formed into Assyrian provinces, Judah were one of the few ‘independent’ states strong enough to cause trouble for Assyria. This visit probably took place a little before the invasion described earlier, and the strength of Judah’s fortified cities at this time is born witness to archaeologically, making Hezekiah a worthy ally. (Even at the time of his flight back to Assyria Sennacherib, while occupying much of Judah, had not managed to cause Libnah to yield, and there were no doubt other cities also still holding out, especially in the hill country. Thus his forces were being tied up, and whilst being so, were therefore not available in such large numbers elsewhere. But by that time Merodach Baladan with his allies had already been initially defeated, so that it did not in the end help Babylon at all).
So we can see why Berodach-baladan (usually named Merodach-baladan i.e. Marduk-appla-iddina) was so keen to obtain his friendship at a time when he himself, having again obtained the throne of Babylon (for a period of around six months or so in 703-2 BC on the death of Sargon, having previously reigned there in 721-710 BC)), was anticipating a fresh onslaught from Assyria. The ‘b’ instead of the ‘m’ was a common labial variant in Akkadian, and may have been intended by the author to remove the name of Marduk, chief god of Babylon, from the name. ‘Son of Baladan’, that is, of Bel-iddin.
2.20.13 ‘And Hezekiah listened to them, and showed them all the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures. There was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah did not show them.’
It was also normal practise for kings to want to show off their wealth to visiting diplomats, and to make a great display in front of them. But it was not really wise to so rapacious a nation as Babylon. (Isaiah would have shown them nothing, but of course he sought glory from YHWH alone). But Hezekiah’s vanity demanded that he demonstrate his own greatness. And thus he showed them ‘everything’.
That this was at a time of great prosperity in Judah (mainly destroyed by the forthcoming war) comes out in the nature of what was shown. Silver and gold a-plenty (but with the emphasis on the silver), and spices and precious oil from Arabia, indicating wide affluent trading. That they were in abundance comes out in that they were shown. You did not produce what would show you up. And he showed them his armaments in the House of the Forest of Lebanon (so-called because of its many pillars of timber from Lebanon) which was part of the king’ palace complex. He wanted them to see that Judah could look after themselves. And besides this he showed them his other treasures, ivory-inlaid furniture, and so on. He put on as great a display as possible.
2.20.14 ‘Then came Isaiah the prophet to king Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say, and from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, even from Babylon.”
Isaiah had noted the coming of this foreign embassage, but had clearly not been invited to the celebrations. This in itself suggests that Hezekiah was aware that what he was doing would not be approved of by the prophet of YHWH. Thus when the embassage had moved off Isaiah came to Hezekiah and asked whom they were, and what they had said. Hezekiah, no doubt somewhat proudly declared that they had come from no less a place than Babylon.
2.20.15 ‘And he said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, They have seen all that is in my house. There is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them.” ’
But Isaiah, who was far more aware of the hearts of men (as well as the folly of men), was not impressed, rather he demanded what they had see of what Judah possessed. And his heart must have sank when Hezekiah somewhat boastfully declared that he had shown them all his treasures and armaments, and that he had left nothing out. he clearly felt that he had put on a good show.
2.20.16 ‘And Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of YHWH.”
It actually did not need a prophet to foresee what the result of this would be, only a man of astute vision. Thus for a man like Isaiah it was so apparent that he probably could not believe that Hezekiah had been so foolish. And that was how it appeared to YHWH also, .for Isaiah brought to Hezekiah ‘the word of YHWH’. Such had been Hezekiah’s arrogance and folly that it had to be punished, for it was a divine principle that those who exalt themselves will be brought low.
2.20.17 “Behold, the days come, that all that is in your house, and what your fathers have laid up in store to this day, will be carried to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says YHWH.”
The consequence for Judah was thus to be that all that they possessed would be carried off to Babylon. Nothing of it would remain in Judah. It would be stripped of everything. That is what happens when you put all that you have on display to potential robbers. Ostentation brings its own reward. And this was the word of YHWH.
This stripping away from Judah of all that it possessed has been a theme of Kings. The prophetic author clearly wanted to bring home the lesson of the temporary nature of earthly possessions.
2.20.18 “And of your sons who will issue from you, whom you will beget, will they take away, and they will be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
But even worse was to be that his own sons who he himself had begotten (which is stressed), would be taken away to become eunuchs/officials in the palace of the king of Babylon. This would not only be a cause for great shame, but a threat to the continuation of the house of David itself. And it would all be the consequence of Hezekiah’s folly. That this did happen comes out in the fate of Manasseh, Hezekiah’s trueborn son, who was himself carried away to Babylon, along no doubt with many of Manasseh’s half-brothers and family, by Ashur-bani-pal of Assyria, whose father Esarhaddon had established himself at Babylon as its king. So Hezekiah had been indulging his fancies with a city which in the long term could only be a disaster for Judah and for his own family, and would in the end prove to be the greatest disaster of all. (It is noteworthy, however, that there is no mention of the destruction of Jerusalem. The prophetic author no doubt had it in mind, but that is not what Isaiah had at this stage prophesied, and the author (unlike certain scholars) would not alter prophetic words which he would hold sacred).
2.20.19 ‘Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “Good is the word of YHWH which you have spoken.”. He said moreover, “Is it not so, if peace and truth will be in my days?” ’
We may see this as Hezekiah seeking to make the best of a bad job, or even as an indication that he did not really believe it. Consideration for the prophet would have prevented him from expressing his incredulity. That is more probable than that he complacently considered that such a fate for his sons was acceptable in return for present peace. So he piously went along with Isaiah, and declared that the word of YHWH was, as always, good. And then sought to cover what might have appeared to be unconcern about the future of his family with an explanation that at least it meant that there would be peace and truth in his day. In those days the guarantee of peace was worth its weight in gold. Of course, as we know from the preceding narrative, he did not receive that either (and had not been promised it). So his rather complacent attitude would soon be revealed to be folly. But as he was at the time very much involved with alliances which had not been approved of by Isaiah, the disharmony between them would not be surprising. It is probable, however, that we are to see it as indicating that once Sennacherib had withdrawn Hezekiah was not troubled again. This would not be all that surprising. The amount of Judah which he now controlled was probably not seen as worth a major expedition against it, when other far more important issues remained to be resolved, and Sennacherib may well also have had a presentiment which prevented any further attack as a result of the mysterious disease which had destroyed his army. His son would have no such fears.
The Final Comments On The Reign Of Hezekiah (2.20-21).
The great act for which Hezekiah was remembered was that of ensuring the supply of water for the city in the time of siege. That is thus referred to in the final mention of his acts. This involved cutting through the rock a long tunnel (over 520 metres (1700 feet) long) to connect the spring at Gihon (which must have been camouflaged in some way) with the reservoir to which it led, possibly to what is known as ‘the lower pool’ (Siloam), or even to the upper pool. This digging was commenced at both ends and may have been in mind in Isaiah 22.11. The fact that both tunnels eventually met, although with some deviations, was an engineering triumph, given the instruments of those days. The tunnel is still accessible today and a favourite tourist attraction. It is mainly possible to walk through it upright, although with the occasional need to bend. (I have been through it myself. Calling back to those who were following in the darkness how low it was (theoretically and misleadingly) getting was part of the fun. We were young at the time). On the wall, about 5 metres (seventeen feet) inside the tunnel was discovered an inscription in ancient Hebrew which read, ‘--was being dug out. It was cut in the following manner. (They were swinging their) axes, each man towards his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, the voice of one man shouting to another was heard, showing that he was deviating to the right. When the tunnel was driven through the excavators met man to man, axe to axe, and the water flowed for twelve hundred cubits from the spring to the reservoir. The height of the rock above the head of the excavators was one hundred cubits’
2.20.20 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his might, and how he made the pool, and the conduit, and brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’
The remainder of the acts of Hezekiah (and most of the details that modern historians would love to know about his eventful reign) were written in the royal annals of Judah, accessible to the prophetic author, but not accessible to us. And these included the story of how Hezekiah brought water into the city in the way described above. Of the final part of his reign we know nothing, although he may well have been left alone by the Assyrians because of their adventures northward, reaching as far as Tarsus in 698 BC, and their major problems with the Elamites and their allies, which at times again included Babylon (which having initially been subjugated was having an up and down period and was again destroyed in 689 BC). For the end of Sennacherib’s reign the Assyrian records do not help us.
2.20.21 ‘And Hezekiah slept with his fathers, and Manasseh his son reigned instead of him.’
Hezekiah died peacefully and ‘slept with his fathers’ presumably in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32.33. He was not buried in the royal tombs themselves but in ‘the ascent of the sepulchres of the sons of David’, probably because by this time the actual rock hewn caves were full. (No burials are mentioned in them after this date). His son Manasseh followed him on the throne.
The Reign of Manasseh, King of Judah 687/6-642/1 BC. Co-regent from 696/95 BC.
In this passage the prophetic author, who was as we have seen always very selective, concentrated his attention on the failures of Manasseh and the future consequences for Judah. He mentions neither his Babylonian exile, nor his repentance (see 2 Chronicles 33.1-20), nor is there any mention at all of his subjection to Assyria. As far as he was concerned they were irrelevant to his main purpose, which was to emphasise that from a religious viewpoint Manasseh was overall a bad king for Judah, and in his view left a bad legacy. While Manasseh himself had changed in his final years he was unable fully to reverse what he had done, both to Judah and to his family. The high places which Hezekiah had destroyed had been restored and the people had been turned back to the old unregenerate ways of worship, and even though outwardly in his final years that worship was of YHWH, it would almost certainly be the old syncretistic Yahwism of old. People commanded by the king to alter their ways of worship would not do it wholeheartedly. Above all he could not undo what he had taught his son in his earlier days, and his son thus continued to follow in the footsteps of his earlier unregenerate days, advancing the downward path of Judah and the triumph of idolatry. Manasseh had laid down a pathway that led to destruction which his late conversion could not prevent.
It is true that Manasseh had the misfortune to reign when Assyria was at the height of its power which put certain restraints on him, (not mentioned by the author), but he went far beyond what that required of him religiously. He reigned under Esarhaddon, whose conquests included Egypt reaching up even into upper Egypt, and then under Ashur-bani-pal who followed him. Assyrian inscriptions make clear that, along with many other kings, he was (humanly speaking inevitably), a vassal of both. He was also to suffer for his father’s sin concerning friendship with Babylon, for it was probably his alliance with the then king of Babylon, Shamash-shum-ukin, the rebellious brother of Esarhaddon, that resulted in his being dragged ‘by hooks’ to Babylon by Esarhaddon when that rebellion was quelled, and there he was judged and punished accordingly. After repenting he returned to Judah and sought to mitigate what he had previously done, but it was mainly in vain. The people may have appeared outwardly to respond to his repentance in his later life but it was not from the heart. His repentance came too late to alter the ingrained inward effects of his earlier evil days, effects which would rear their heads again during the reign of his son.
We are not told who reigned while he was in custody in Babylon, but it may well have been his son, with Assyrian overseers. And his son had presumably continued his evil ways, and while somewhat restrained when Manasseh returned a changed man, would allow his evil to blossom fully once Manasseh had died. That in the author’s view was Manasseh’s legacy. Like Ahab before him (1 Kings 21.27-29), from the kingship point of view his late repentance could not make up for what he had been and done for most of his life, and that had been abysmal. What he had earlier done had been a number of steps too far, and it had guaranteed the final judgment on Judah and Jerusalem, which was the author’s concern.
The passage divides up into five parts:
Introductory Detail (2.21.1-2).
The account of Manasseh’s reign commences with the usual introductory formula and verdict on his reign
2.21.1 ‘Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned five and fifty years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Hephzibah.’
The twelve years refers to when he became co-regent with his father in 696/95 BC, and the fifty five years of reign included that co-regency. As usual the name of the important queen mother is given. Hephzibah means ‘my delight is in her’ (compare Isaiah 62.4 which may well have been written around this time).
2.21.2 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, after the abominations of the nations whom YHWH cast out before the children of Israel.’
The verdict on his reign was that he did evil in the sight of YHWH, having walked in all the abominations of the nations whom YHWH had cast out before the children of Israel, the nations whose behaviour had been so evil that YHWH had ordered either their destruction or their expulsion from the land.
Summary Of His Evil Life (2.21.3-9).
The full evil of the life of Manasseh is brought out by a detailed description of all the abominations that he committed (verses 3-7), followed by two summaries, one in verse 9 and one in verse 16, thereby making up a threefold indictment of the ‘completeness’ of his evil. Whilst it was true that his subjection to the King of Assyria would have required that at a minimum he introduce into the Temple an Assyrian altar, and the worship of Assur and the host of heaven (whose power was claimed by the Assyrians as having brought about his subjection, and who would need to ‘watch over’ the observance of the treaty made between them which would have been lodged in the Temple), it was not required of him that he go to excess in other directions. The Assyrians did not interfere with the local religion. Thus his excesses in that regard may well have partly been due to the fact that when he came to the throne as sole ruler at a comparatively young age he was under the influence of parties who had endeared themselves to him during his co-regency with a view to a return to the old ways once Hezekiah was dead. It may also have included bitterness at the thought that his destiny, according to the famous prophet of YHWH Isaiah, was to become a eunuch in the service of the King of Babylon (20.18). It may be that he felt that the ancient gods of the land would offer him a better future.
Note that in ‘a’ we have described the restoration of the perverted worship of the gods of Canaan, and in the parallel the fact that Manasseh did more evil that the nations whom YHWH had destroyed because of their worship of the perverted gods of Canaan. In ‘b’ he desecrated the place in which YHWH had put His Name, and in the parallel he did the same. In ‘c’ be built altars to the host of heaven in the courts of the house of YHWH, and in the parallel he wrought much evil in the sight of YHWH to provoke Him to anger. Centrally in ‘d’ he practised child sacrifice, and engaged in the occult.
2.21.3 ‘For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he reared up altars for Baal, and made an Asherah, as did Ahab king of Israel, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.’
Manasseh did not, of course, do all this himself. Rather he rescinded the order of Hezekiah against the old high places, so that those of the people so inclined, which were many, could once again restore the high places with their semi-Canaanite worship, and set up altars for Baal, while he himself seemingly set up an altar of Baal and an Asherah image in the Temple in the same way as Ahab had done (compare 16.3; 1 King 16.30-33)). It was a deliberate reversal of Hezekiah’s reforms. The worship of the host of heaven, which would include Assur the sun god, was probably required by his Assyrian conquerors, but it was one thing to give formal recognition to them, it was quite another to enter into their worship enthusiastically. He appears to have ‘gone over the top’. He was seemingly not too reluctant a vassal.
2.21.4 ‘And he built altars in the house of YHWH, of which YHWH said, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” ’
In view of verses 3 and 5 this would appear to refer to (or at least include) altars for Baal. And he set them up in the very place where YHWH had promised to David that he would ‘put His Name’ (by allowing the introduction of the Ark, ‘whose name was called by the Name of YHWH of Hosts Who dwells between the cherubim’ - 2 Samuel 6.2). It was thus a direct confrontation with YHWH.
For ‘in Jerusalem will I put My Name’ see 1 Kings 11.36; 14.21. YHWH had put His Name in Jerusalem in response to David’s action in bringing the Ark of YHWH (which was called after the Name of YHWH - 2 Samuel 6.2) into Jerusalem as his capital city. It was David’s desire that YHWH would adopt Jerusalem as the present place where He put His Name, and YHWH had responded to him because of His love for him. It was thus for David’s sake that He had adopted Jerusalem. And now Manasseh was restoring it to its old owners, the gods of Canaan. This was thus an open rejection by Manasseh of his own Davidic status, and of the uniqueness of the God of David.
In Deuteronomy 12 YHWH had made clear that He would put His Name wherever the Tabernacle was set up, and the Ark placed within it. And that place had varied from time to time. But there was no specific thought in Deuteronomy of Jerusalem. Deuteronomy simply had in mind the setting up of one Central Sanctuary at whatever place YHWH chose at any particular time (although it nowhere says it would be the only sanctuary. It would be the central one around which the tribes united). This was initially at Shechem (as Deuteronomy itself recognised), and eventually for a long time at Shiloh. It was David, and then Solomon, who decided to set it up at Jerusalem, and it was for David’s sake that YHWH recognised Jerusalem as the place where He would put His Name. It is a mistake to read Jerusalem specifically back into Deuteronomy 12.
2.21.5 ‘And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of YHWH.’
It would appear that the old court around the Temple had been divided into two (compare 23.12). This would probably be necessary in order to house the altar of YHWH in one section and the altars of Baal in the other (the worship of both could not take place in the same area simultaneously). Altars to his overlord’s gods, recognised in terms of the host of heaven, would thus have to be set up in both sections. The worship of the host of heaven was widespread, even though the gods might have different names. But here, as the Assyrian gods are mentioned nowhere else in the passage, it is seemingly connected with Assyria (where ‘the host of heaven’ was certainly worshipped), for their presence and worship would certainly have been required.
Alternatively the mention of the two courts may have in mind the ‘middle court’, possibly mentioned in 20.4, which may have been a court in the palace complex which was alongside the court of the Temple. But we would expect the altars to be erected before the door of the Sanctuary which favours the first idea above (compare 23.12).
‘The host of heaven.’ Anyone who was a polytheist and connected the gods with the sun, moon and stars would necessarily think of ‘the host of heaven’ every time that he looked up to the stars at night. There it was spread before him, a great host. Thus we have mention of ‘the host of heaven’ as early as Deuteronomy 4.19; 17.3; compare Genesis 1.2. The Assyrians had, however, schematised the idea.
2.21.6a ‘And he made his son pass through the fire, and practised augury, and used enchantments, and dealt with those who had familiar spirits, and with wizards.’
This may signify that he also introduced the worship of Molech (Melech) the god of the Ammonites who required child sacrifice, or alternatively that he transferred those practises to the worship of Baal, as would occur in the future in Jeremiah’s day (Jeremiah 19.5). That passing through the fire involved such child sacrifice is clear from Jeremiah 19.5. He also indulged in the occult, using divination by omens, enchantments, consultations with familiar spirits through mediums, and wizardry, all of which was forbidden by the Law of YHWH (Leviticus 19.26; Deuteronomy 18.10-14).
2.21.6b ‘He wrought much evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger.’
Not only did he introduce false worship in abundance, but Manasseh also ‘wrought much evil, in the sight of YHWH’, provoking Him to anger. Central to this was his rejection of the covenant requirements of YHWH (compare verse 16, where his wrong behaviour clearly goes beyond a simple indulging in false worship, serious though that was. Canaanite worship, with its perverted sex acts, did, of course, openly result in flagrant disobedience to YHWH’s other commandments).
2.21.7 ‘And he set the graven image of Asherah, which he had made, in the house of which YHWH said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever,” ’
Chief among his crimes was the setting up of the image of the mother goddess of the Canaanite religion, not only in Jerusalem which was a crime in itself, but also in the very house of which YHWH had said to David and Solomon, ‘There will I put My Name’ (1 Kings 11.36; 14.21). The setting up of the Asherah with its evil and lascivious associations appears to have been looked on, if that were possible, as even more serious than the pillars and altars of Baal (compare 13.6; 1 Kings 16.33). The sexual extravagances associated with Asherah are here set in stark contrast to the purity of the Name of YHWH.
2.21.8 “Nor will I cause the feet of Israel to wander any more out of the land which I gave their fathers, if only they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them.”
At that time YHWH had promised that He would not cause the feet of Israel to wander out of the land which He had given to their fathers any more. In other words there would be no danger of exile for them. They would be safe in the land. But it had been conditional on their observing to do all that He had commanded them, and all that had been commanded to them by Moses as written in the Law of Moses, YHWH’s servant. And we have already seen that three major exiles of God’s people had already resulted because of their disobedience. The first was in 15.29, following the destruction and annexation of the region around Naphtali, when many from those regions were transported; the second in 17.6; 18.11-12 following the destruction of Samaria; and the third in 18.13 (read in the light of the Assyrian annals), resulting from the initial invasion of Judah. Indeed every Assyrian and Babylonian, and even Egyptian, invasion would result in many exiles, for these nations never went back without taking captives with them, (compare Isaiah 11.11-12; 43.5-6; 49.12; 56.8). So, as for many nations of the other nations (e.g. 16.9), exile was a common occurrence for the Israelites, and continually brought home the warning that if they were disobedient God would spew them out of the land (Leviticus 18.28; 20.22). (What is erroneously called ‘The Exile’ in popular Biblical teaching, as though there was only one, is only recalled because it resulted from the destruction of Jerusalem and we have records about some of them returning. But exile was not uncommon. In those days people lived in expectation of the possibility of exile if they rebelled (compare 18.32). So it did not take a prophet to forecast the possibility of exile. What the prophet did was explain the reason for the exile.
This prophecy is not actually elsewhere recorded in Scripture. The closest to it is found in 1 Samuel 7.10 where we read, ‘and I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them that they may dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more’, but there were many prophecies that were not included in Kings (consider the examples found in Chronicles) so that there is no good reason for denying the genuineness of this prophecy.
2.21.9 “But they did not listen, and Manasseh seduced them to do what is evil more than did the nations whom YHWH destroyed before the children of Israel.’
However, in spite of all that YHWH had said the people did not listen. And Manasseh ‘seduced them’ and led them into such evil ways that they were even more evil than the nations whom YHWH had (only in part because of Israel’s disobedience) destroyed before the children of Israel. It is clear therefore that this could have only one inevitable end, that they would be spewed out of the land (Leviticus 18.28; 20.22). A further series of exiles was inevitable.
YHWH Prophesies Destruction And Misery On An Unfaithful People (2.21.10-16).
These prophecies were made during the reign of Manasseh. Indeed the Chronicler made clear that many seers prophesied during his reign (2 Chronicles 33.18), seeking to turn him back to righteousness. And they are here followed by a summary of the grossness of Manasseh’s evil ways prior to his own period of exile.
Interestingly, in spite of past precedents, there is no mention of exile in the prophecies, although it might be read in simply because it was inevitable in such circumstances. The thought is rather of the thoroughness of YHWH’s judgment, and the total humiliation of His people. (The description could in fact have been applied to any of the times when Jerusalem was taken and its people despoiled e.g. 1 Kings 15.25-27, and to what would have happened to them had Jerusalem been taken by Rezin and the son of Remaliah (16.5; Isaiah 7.1-2), or by Assyria in the time of Sennacherib).
Note that in ‘a’ Manasseh, as well as doing his evil had ‘made Judah to sin’, and the same was true in the parallel where he performed much evil and ‘made Judah to sin’. In ‘b’ YHWH will bring great evil on Judah, and in the parallel it is because of the way in which the people have provoked Him to anger right from their beginning as a nation. Centrally in ‘c’ His determined judgment on them is revealed.
2.21.10 ‘And YHWH spoke by his servants the prophets, saying,’
The Chronicler tells us that during the reign of Manasseh many seers spoke to him in the Name of YHWH the God of Israel, their prophecies being recorded ‘among the acts of the kings of Israel’ (2 Chronicles 33.18). These would presumably also have been available to the prophetic author of Kings. YHWH did not leave Himself without a witness.
2.21.11 “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, and has done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols,”
Ahab had done ‘very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites did whom YHWH cast out before the children of Israel’ (1 Kings 21.26), but Manasseh is seen as being worse than Ahab. He had done wickedly above all that the Amorites who were before him did. (Note the contrast also with those who had done evil ‘above all (the kings) who were before them’ (1 Kings 16.25, 30, 33). Manasseh had done wickedness which exceeded even the wickedness of the Amorites, and the Amorites were seen by the time of Moses as the epitome of evil - Genesis 15.16). There could be no greater condemnation. And what was worse he had also made Judah to sin with his idols. He had led astray his people.
2.21.12 “Therefore thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, Behold, I bring such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle.”
This description signifies elsewhere a terrible judgment. In 1 Samuel 3.11 the tingling of the ears would be at what happened to the house of Eli. Thus what was to happen to Jerusalem and Judah was to be so devastating that men’s ears would tingle when they heard it.
2.21.13 “And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.”
For he would measure Jerusalem by the measuring line of sinful Samaria and by the plummet of the house of Ahab, and as verse 11 indicates by that measure they would come off worse (compare Isaiah 34.11, where however the idea is not quite the same. There the measurement was after destruction) For he would wipe it like a man wipes a dish and then turns it upside down. (An equivalent modern expression might be that ‘He would hang them out to dry’). The thought is of total and complete judgment. This did not necessarily indicate the same fate as Samaria. It is speaking of Samaria at the time of the house of Ahab as being a measure. Samaria and Ahab were to be the measure of their wickedness. It was because of their filthiness that YHWH would have to wipe them and turn them upside down. There is no emphasis at all on exile, although in the light of what had happened previously in Israel and Judah it must clearly have been seen as a possibility. It is the fact of the severe judgment that is important to the prophets, not its method. (It is, however, difficult to see how anyone speaking after the destruction of Jerusalem who had a tendency to misuse prophecy by altering it, could have failed to make more plain what he had in mind. It thus testifies to the early nature of this prophecy).
2.21.14 “And I will cast off the remnant of my inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies, and they will become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies,”
They would no longer be His chosen people but He would cast them off, and hand them over to their enemies, and the result would be that they would become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies. For ‘deliver them into the hands of spoilers who spoiled them’ see Judges 2.14, where He also ‘sold them into the hands of their enemies’ . This could therefore equally have described what happened to Israel in the Book of Judges.
It is significant that in all these prophetic descriptions there is no allusion to exile. While precedent would suggest it as a possibility, even a probability, it is nowhere indicated. The emphasis is on the totality of YHWH’s judgment on them and His rejection of them, as in the days of the Judges. Exile was thus just one possibility. It should be noted that the prophetic author was careful not to alter the prophecies in line with future events.
2.21.15 “Because they have done what is evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even to this day.”
And all this would occur because they had done what was evil in His sight and had provoked Him to anger since the very day when they came out of Egypt, even to this present day. God’s judgment did not come on His people simply because of the behaviour and attitude of their kings. It resulted from the fact that the people were equally provocatively sinful. It would seem clear from the expressions used in verses 14-15 that Judges 2.11-15 was very much in mind.
For ‘done what is evil in My sight’ compare Numbers 32.13; Deuteronomy 4.25; 31.29; Judges 2.11 and often; 1 Samuel 15.19; 2 Samuel 12.9; 1 Kings 11.6 ad often. For ‘provoking to anger’ see 17.11, 17; 21.6; Deuteronomy 4.25; 9.18; 31.29; 32.16, 21; Judges 2.12; 1 Kings 14.9, 15; and often.
2.21.16 ‘Moreover Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin with which he made Judah to sin, in doing what was evil in the sight of YHWH.’
Along with Manasseh’s idolatry, as so often happened, went a propensity for evil, for it resulted in the Law of YHWH being set aside. ‘Shed innocent blood very much’ may be speaking only of judicial murder, although if so it was clearly carried out in large numbers, removing opponents, and especially those who sought to be faithful to YHWH (later tradition says that it included Isaiah), but it probably also included general persecution and the revealing of a total disregard for human life, something which once begun would happily be taken up by all so inclined. It would be seen by many as a convenient way of removing political or business rivals, appropriating other people’s wealth, and obtaining vengeance for perceived slights. Jerusalem had become a blood-bath.
The picture is one of wholesale bloodshed, unlike anything seen before. And this was on top of his making Judah to sin, in doing what was evil in the sight of YHWH, both by idolatry, and also by them acting contrary to the covenant and the ten ‘words’. His evil propensities were thus being taken up by others. As far as the prophetic author was concerned this was what lay at the root of his reign, and it is salutary to realise that in so far as it affected Judah it was something which his late repentance could not wipe out. As with Ahab (1 Kings 21.27-29) his repentance simply delayed judgment. It was thus not considered important enough to mention here.
Concluding Comments (2.21.17-18).
The account of Manasseh’s life ends with the usual concluding comments, referring us to the annals of the kings of Judah, and describing his death and burial along with information about the succession. But there is added to it the unique phrase for an epitaph, ‘the sins that he sinned’.
2.21.17 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and all that he did, and his sin which he sinned, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’
In contrast with earlier kings the main factor about Manasseh was not his might but ‘the sin that he sinned’ (he was the only king to have this epitaph, but compare 1 Kings 15.30; 16.19), the details of which, along with his other acts, could be found in the royal annals of Judah.
2.21.18 ‘And Manasseh slept with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza, and Amon his son reigned instead of him.’
And Manasseh died peacefully and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzzah, possibly because there was no room in the sepulchres of the kings. Its proximity to the Temple, along with that of his son’s, were probably in mind in Ezekiel 43.7, And his son Amon reigned instead of him.
The Reign Of Amon, King Of Judah c. 642/1-640/39 BC (2.21.19-26).
Amon continued in the way in which he had been brought up and reinstituted the idolatrous practises of the reign of his father prior to his repentance. He neither worshipped YHWH truly nor continued in the ways prescribed by His Law. This may partly have been in order to ingratiate himself with Assyria who would take an immediate interest in the new king. But his activities in general clearly angered the ruling elite in Jerusalem so much so that they conspired against him and assassinated him in his own house. This may have been at the instigation of a reviving Egypt in the face of Assyrian decline. Feelings were now set against Assyria whose king Ashur-bani-pal had lost his enthusiasm for adventuring, replacing it with antiquarian interests, and was beset with problems from elsewhere. But these would be rulers were not popular generally and not acceptable to the people so that the ‘people of the land’, the aristocrats of ancient lineage, the landed gentry and the free men of Judah (who probably hated the idea of Egyptian influence as much as they hated Assyrian influence) slew them in their turn and restored the rule of the house of David.
Note that in ‘a’ Amon began to reign and in the parallel he was buried, and his son reigned instead of him. In ‘b’ he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and in the parallel the remainder of his acts are found in the royal annals of Judah. In ‘c’ the bureaucrats put Amon to death, and in the parallel the people of the land ensured that his son reigned instead of him. Centrally in ‘d’ the people of the land slew the conspirators against Amon.
2.21.19 ‘Amon was twenty and two years old when he began to reign, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem, and his mother’s name was Meshullemeth the daughter of Haruz of Jotbah.’
There is no specific hint of a co-regency in the case of Amon, but he may well have acted when his father was a hostage, although only under Assyrian supervision, especially as he is said to have come to the throne at twenty two years of age, an age which given Manasseh’s long reign would be a little surprising if it referred to his sole reign. He may thus have presided at that age under Assyrian supervision when his father was a hostage, first in Egypt and then in Babylon. His sole reign was for little longer than a year. It has been suggested that the queen mother Meshumelleth was of Arabian descent, but this is not at all certain. The name Haruz is attested in Sinai and Hejaz, but it is also found in Phoenicia. Jotbah (Jotbathah) on the other hand is given as two stages from Ezion-geber in Numbers 33.33. Compare Deuteronomy 10.7. This might be seen as confirming the Arabic connection.
2.21.20 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, as did Manasseh his father.’
Amon followed in the evil ways of his father, doing what was ‘evil in the eyes of YHWH’ in the same way as his father had done, and reversing Manasseh’s later policy. This may partly have been due to Assyrian influence.
2.21.21 ‘And he walked in all the way that his father walked in, and served the idols that his father served, and worshipped them,’
He behaved as his father had done in his evil days, and served the same idols as his father had done, and worshipped them. His idolatry was too ingrained to be affected by his father’s conversion.
2.21.22 ‘And he forsook YHWH, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of YHWH.’
But above all he forsook YHWH, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in His ways. The Law of YHWH was thrust to one side. This was his crowning sin.
2.21.23 ‘And the servants of Amon conspired against him, and put the king to death in his own house.’
In the author’s view, for he gives no other explanation, it was the forsaking of YHWH that was the real and ultimate cause of his courtiers conspiring against him and putting him to death in his own house. That does not mean that that was the courtiers’ motive. We are not told what that was. But it does suggest that the author saw it as YHWH’s motive for bringing it about.
Amon’s return to full idolatry might be seen as suggesting that he wanted to placate his Assyrian masters, while the conspiring of his courtiers might have been because of Egyptian influence in view of Assyria’s growing weakness. That it was not a popular uprising comes out in the sequel. It was a court conspiracy.
2.21.24 ‘But the people of the land slew all those who had conspired against king Amon, and the people of the land made Josiah his son king instead of him.’
However, the people of the land were not happy with the situation, and they in their turn slew the conspirators so that they could make Amon’s son Josiah king instead of him. They no more wanted Egyptian interference than they wanted Assyrian rule.
2.21.25 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Amon which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’
As usual we are referred for his further acts to the royal annals of Judah.
2.21.26 ‘And he was buried in his sepulchre in the garden of Uzza, and Josiah his son reigned instead of him.’
Like his father Amon was buried in his sepulchre (no doubt already prepared) in the garden of Uzza, and he was succeeded by the young Josiah.
For Kings part 1 (1-4) click here
For Kings part 2 (5-8) click here
For Kings part 3 (9-11) click here
For Kings part 4 (12.1-16.28) click here
For Kings part 5 (16.29-2.1.18) click here
For Kings part 6 (2.1-8.15) click here
For Kings part 7 (8.16-14.22) click here
For Kings part 8 (14.23-17.41) click here
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