Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This chapter contains a continuation of the historical narrative commenced in the previous chapter. Hezekiah went with expressions of grief to the temple, to spread the cause of his distress before the Lord Isa 37:1. He sent an embassage to Isaiah to ask his counsel in the time of the general distress Isa 37:2-5. Isaiah replied that he should not be afraid of the Assyrian, for that he should soon be destroyed Isa 37:6-7. The return of Rabshakeh to Sennacherib Isa 37:8. Sennacherib heard that Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, was preparing to make war upn him, and sent another embassay, with substantially the same message as the former, to induce him to surrender Isa 37:9-13. Hezekiah having read the letter which he sent, went again to the temple, and spread it before the Lord Isa 37:14. His prayer is recorded Isa 37:15-20. Isaiah, in answer to his prayer, reproves the pride and arrogance of Sennacherib, and gives the assurance that Jerusalem shall be safe, and that the Asssyrian shall be destroyed Isa 37:21-35. The chapter closes with an account of the destruction of the army of the Assyrians, and the death of Sennacherib Isa 37:36-38.
When king Hezekiah heard it - Heard the account of the words of Rabshakeh Isa 36:22.
That he rent his clothes - (See the note at Isa 36:22).
He covered himself with sackcloth - (See the note at Isa 3:24).
And went into the house of the Lord - Went up to the temple to spread out the case before Yahweh Isa 37:14. This was in accordance with the usual habit of Hezekiah; and it teaches us that when we are environed with difficulties or danger and when the name of our God is blasphemed, we should go and spread out our feelings before God, and seek his aid.
And he sent Eliakim - (See the note at Isa 36:3).
And the elders of the priests - It was a case of deep importance, and one that pertained in a special manner to the interests of religion; and he, therefore, selected the most respectable embassage that he could to present the case to the prophet.
Covered with sackcloth - Religion had been insulted. The God whom the priests served had been blasphemed, and the very temple was threatened, and it was proper that the priests should go with the habiliments of mourning.
Unto Isaiah - It was customary on occasions of danger to consult prophets, as those who had direct communication with God, and seek counsel from them. Thus Balak sent messengers to Balaam to consult him in a time of perplexity (Num 22:5 ff); thus Jehoshaphat and the king of Israel consulted Micaiah in time of danger from Syria Kg1 22:1-13; thus Ahaziah, when sick, sent to consult Elijah Kg2 1:1-9; and thus Josiah sent an embassage to Huldah the prophetess to inquire in regard to the book which was found in the temple of the Lord Kg2 22:14)
This is a day of rebuke - This may refer either to the reproaches of Rabsbakeh, or more probably to the fact that Hezekiah regarded the Lord as rebuking his people for their sins. The word which is used here (תוכחח tôkēchâh), means more properly chastisement or punishment Psa 149:7; Hos 5:9.
And of blasphemy - Margin, 'Provocation.' The word used here (נאצה ne'âtsâh), means properly reproach or contumely; and the sense is, that God and his cause had been vilified by Rabshakeh, and it was proper to appeal to him to vindicate the honor of his own name Isa 37:4.
For the children are come ... - The meaning of this figure is plain. There was the highest danger, and need of aid. It was as in childbirth in which the pains had been protracted, the strength exhausted, and where there was most imminent danger in regard to the mother and the child. So Hezekiah said there was the most imminent danger in the city of Jerusalem. They had made all possible preparations for defense. And now, in the most critical time, they felt their energies exhausted, their strength insufficient for their defense, and they needed the interposition of God.
It may be the Lord thy God - The God whom thou dost serve, and in whose name and by whose authority thou dost exercise the prophetic office.
Will hear the words - Will come forth and vindicate himself in regard to the language of reproach and blasphemy which has been used. See a similar use of the word 'hear' in Exo 2:24; Exo 3:7.
To reproach the living God - The revilings of Rabsbakeh were really directed against the true God. The reproach of the 'living God' consisted in comparing him to idols, and saying that be was no more able to deleted Jerusalem than the idol-gods had been able to defend their lands (see the note at Isa 36:18). The phrase 'the living God' is often applied to Yahweh in contradistinction from idols, which were mere blocks of wood or stone.
For the remnant that is left - For those who survive; or probably for those parts of the land, including Jerusalem, that have not fallen into the hands of the Assyrian. Sennacherib had taken many towns, but there were many also that had not yet been subdued by him.
Wherewith the servants ... - Hebrew, נערי na‛ărēy - The 'youth,' or the young men. The word properly denotes boys, youths, young men; and is used here probably by way of disparagement, in contradistinction from an embassy that would be truly respectable, made up of aged men.
Have blasphemed me - God regarded these words as spoken against himself and he would vindicate his own honor and name.
Behold, I will send a blast upon him - Margin, 'Put a spirit into him.' The word rendered 'blast' (רוח rûach) is commonly rendered 'spirit.' It may denote breath, air, soul, or spirit. There is no reason to think that the word is used here in the sense of blast of wind, as our translators seem to have supposed. The sense is probably, 'I will infuse into him a spirit of fear, by which be shall be alarmed by the rumour which he shall hear, and return to his own land.' The word is often used in this sense (compare Sa1 16:14; see also Isa 31:8-9). Gesenius understands it here in the sense of will or disposition. 'I will change his will or disposition, so that he will return to his own land.'
And he shall hear a rumour - The rumour or report here referred to, was doubtless that respecting Tirhakah king of Ethiopia Isa 37:9. It was this which would alarm him, and drive him in haste from the cities which he was now besieging, and be the means of expelling him from the land.
And I will cause him ... - This is said in accordance with the usual statements in the Scriptures, that all events are under God's providential control (compare the note at Isa 10:5-6).
By the sword in his own land - (See the note at Isa 37:38).
So Rabshakeh returned - Returned from Jerusalem to the camp of his master. He had received no answer to his insulting message Isa 36:21; he saw there was no prospect that the city would surrender; and he therefore returned again to the camp.
And found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah - He had departed from Lachish. Why he had done this is unknown. It is possible that he had taken it, though this is not recorded anywhere in history. Or it is possible that he had found it impracticable to subdue it as speedily as he had desired; and had withdrawn from it for the purpose of subduing other places that would offer a more feeble resistance. Libnah was a city in the south of Judah Jos 15:42, given to the priests, and declared a city of refuge Ch1 6:54, Ch1 6:57. Eusebius and Jerome say it was in the district of Eleutheropolis (Calmet). It was about ten miles to the northwest of Lachish. This city was taken by Joshua, and all its inhabitants put to the sword After taking this. Joshua next assaulted and took Lachish Jos 10:29-32.
And he heard say - The report or rumour referred to in Isa 37:7. In what way he heard this is not intimated. It is probable that the preparations which Tirhakah had made, were well known to the surrounding regions, and that he was already on his march against Sennacherib.
Tirhakah - This king, who, by Eusebius and by most ancient writers, is called Ταρακὸς Tarakos, was a celebrated conqueror, and had subdued Egypt to himself. He reigned over Egypt eighteen years. When Sennacherib marched into Egypt, Sevechus or Sethon was on the throne. Sennacherib having laid siege to Pelusium, Tirhakah came to the aid of the city, and, in consequence of his aid, Sennacherib was compelled to raise the siege and returned to Palestine, and laid siege to Lachish. Tirhakah succeeded Sevechus in Egypt, and was the third and last of the Ethiopian kings that reigned over that country. He probably took advantage of the distracted state that succeeded the death of Sevechus, and secured the crown for himself. This was, however, after the death of Sennacherib. The capital which he occupied was Thebes (see Prideaux's "Connection," vol. i. pp. 141, 145, 149. Ed. 1815). As he was celebrated as a conqueror, and as he had driven Sennacherib from Pelusium and from Egypt, we may see the cause of the alarm of Sennacherib when it was rumoured that he was about to follow him into Palestine, and to make war on him there.
He is come forth - He has made preparations, and is on his way.
He sent messengers ... - With letters or despatches Isa 37:14. Hezekiah was probably ignorant of the approach of Tirhakah, or at all events Sennacherib would suppose that he was ignorant of it; and as Sennacherib knew that there would be no hope that Hezekiah would yield if he knew that Tirhakah was approaching to make war on him, he seems to have resolved to anticipate the intelligence, and to see if it were possible to induce him to surrender. He, therefore, sent substantially the same message as before, and summoned him to capitulate.
Let not thy God deceive thee - The similar message which had been sent by Rabshakeh Isa 36:14-15 had been sent mainly to the people to induce them not to put confidence in Hezekiah, as if he would deceive them by leading them to rely on the aid of Yahweh. As that had failed, he, as a last resort, sent a similar message to Hezekiah himself, designed to alienate his mind from God, and assuring him that resistance would be vain. To convince him, he referred him Isa 37:11-13 to the conquests of the Assyrians, and assured him that it would be impossible to resist a nation that had subdued so many ethers. He had it not in his power to add Egypt to the list of subdued kingdoms, or it would have been done.
And shalt thou be delivered? - How will it be possible for you to stand out against the conquerors of the world?
My fathers - My predecessors on the throne.
Gozan - This was a region or country in the northern part of Mesopotamia, and on the river Chaboras. There was a river of the name of Gozan in Media, which ran through the province, and gave it its name. The river fell probably into the Chaboras. This region is known to have been under the dominion of Assyria, for Shalmaneser, when he had subdued the ten tribes, carried them away beyond the Euphrates to a country bordering on the river Gozan Kg2 17:6. According to Gesenius, the river which is referred to, is the Chaboras itself. He translates the passage in Kg2 17:6, thus: 'And placed them in Chaleitis (Halah), and on the Chabor (Habor), a river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.' According to this, the river was the Chaboras, the Chabor of Ezekiel, and the region was situated on the Chaboras. This river falls into the Euphrates from the east. Ptolemy calls the region lying between the Chaboras and Laocoras by the name of Gauzanitis, which is doubtless the same as the Hebrew Gozan. Gozan is usually mentioned in connection with cities of Mesopotamia Kg2 19:12; Ch1 5:26.
And Haran - This was a city of Mesopotamia, to which Abraham went after he left Ur of the Chaldees. His father died here; and from this place he was called to go into the land of promise (Gen 11:31-32; compare the notes at Act 7:4). It is now called Harran, and is situated in latitude 36 degree 52 minutes north; longitude 39 degrees 5 minutes east, in a flat and sandy plain, and is only populated by a few wandering Arabs, who select it as the place of residence on account of the delicious waters it contains. It belonged by conquest to the Assyrian Empire.
And Rezeph - According to Abulfeda, there were many towns of this name. One, however, was more celebrated than the others, and is probably the one here referred to. It was situated about a day's journey west of the Euphrates, and is mentioned by Ptolemy by the name of Ῥησαφα Rēsapha (Resapha).
And the children of Eden - Eden was evidently a country well known in the time of Isaiah, and was, doubtless, the tract within which man was placed when he was created. The garden or Paradise was in Eden, and was not properly itself called Eden Gen 2:8. It is probable that Eden was a region or tract of country of considerable extent. Its situation has been a subject of anxious inquiry. It is not proper here to go into an examination of this subject. It is evident from the passage before us that it was either in Mesopotamia, or in the neighborhood of that country, since it is mentioned in connection with cities and towns of that region. It is mentioned by Amos (787 b.c.), as a country then well known, and as a part of Syria, not far from Damascus:
I will break also the bar of Damascus,
And cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven,
And him that holdeth the scepter from the house of Eden,
And the people of Syria shall go into captivity to Kir,
Saith the Lord.
In Isa 51:8, Eden is referred to as a country well known, and as distinguished for its fertility:
For Yahweh shall comfort Zion;
He will comfort all her waste places,
And he will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of Yahweh.
Thus also in Eze 27:23, we find Eden mentioned in connection with Haran and Canneh. Canneh was probably the same as Calneh Gen 10:10, the Calno of Isaiah Isa 10:9, and was, doubtless, situated in Mesopotamia, since it is joined with cities that are known to have been there (compare also Eze 31:9, Eze 31:16, Eze 31:18). All these passages demonstrate that there was such a country, and prove also that it was either in Mesopotamia, or in a country adjacent to Mesopotamia. It is not, however, possible now to designate its exact boundaries.
In Telassar - This place is nowhere else mentioned in the Scriptures. Nothing, therefore, is known of its situation. The connection demands that it should be in Mesopotamia. The names of ancient places were so often lost or changed that it is often impossible to fix their exact locality.
The king of Hamath - (See the note at Isa 36:19).
Hena and Ivah - Hena is mentioned in Kg2 18:34; Kg2 19:13. It was evidently in Mesopotamia, and was probably the same which was afterward called Ana, situated near a ford of the Euphrates. The situation of Ivah is not certainly known. It was under the Assyrian dominion, and was one of the places from which colonists were brought to Samaria Kg2 17:24, Kg2 17:31. Michaelis supposes that it was between Berytus and Tripoli, but was under the dominion of the Assyrians.
And Hezekiah received the letter - Hebrew, 'Letters' (plural). It is not mentioned in the account of the embassy Isa 37:9, that a letter was sent, but it is not probable that all embassage would be sent to a monarch without a written document.
Went up into the house of the Lord - The temple Isa 37:1.
And spread it before the Lord - Perhaps unrolled the document there, and spread it out; or perhaps it means simply that he spread out the contents of the letter, that is, made mention of it in his prayer. Hezekiah had no other resource. He was a man of God; and in his trouble he looked to God for aid. He, therefore, before he formed any plan, went up to the temple, and laid his case before God. What an example for all monarchs and rulers! And what an example for all the people of God, in times of perplexity!
O Lord of hosts - (See the note at Isa 1:9).
That dwellest between the cherubims - On the cherubim, see the note at Isa 14:13. The reference here is doubtless to the fact that the symbol of the divine presence in the temple the Shechinah (from שׁכן shâkan, to dwell, to inhabit; so called because it was the symbol of God's dwelling with his people or inhabiting the temple) - rested on the cover of the ark in the temple. Hence, God is frequently represented as dwelling between the cherubim Exo 25:22; Psa 80:1; Psa 99:1. On the whole subject of the cherubim, the reader may consult an article in the Quarterly Christian Spectator for September 1836.
Thou art the God - The only God Isa 43:10-11.
Even thou alone - There is none besides thee - a truth which is often affirmed in the Scriptures Deu 32:39; Psa 86:10; Co1 8:4.
Thou hast made heaven and earth - It was on the ground of this power and universal dominion that Hezekiah pleaded that God would interpose.
Incline thine ear - This is evidently language taken from what occurs among people. When they are desirous of hearing distinctly, they incline the ear or apply it close to the speaker. Similar language is not unfrequently used in the Scriptures as applicable to God Kg2 19:16; Psa 86:1; Psa 31:2; Psa 88:2; Dan 9:18.
Open thine eyes - This is similar language applied to God, derived from the fact that when we wish to see an object, the eyes are fixed upon it (compare Job 14:3; Job 27:19).
And hear all the words - That is, attend to their words, and inflict suitable punishment. This was the burden of the prayer of Hezekiah, that God would vindicate his own honor, and save his name from reproach.
Which he hath sent - In the letters which he had sent to Hezekiah, as well as the words which he had sent to the people by Rabshakeh Isa 36:18-20.
To reproach the living God - (See the note at Isa 37:4).
Of a truth - It is as he has said, that all the nations had been subjected to the arms of the Assyrian. He now intends to add Jerusalem to the number of vanquished cities and kingdoms, and to boast; that he has subdued the nation under the protection of Yahweh, as he had done the nations under the protection of idol-gods.
Have laid waste all, the nations - Hebrew, as Margin, 'All the lands.' But this is evidently an elliptical form of expression, meaning all the inhabitants or people of the lands. In Kg2 19:17, it is thus expressed. 'The kings of Assyria have destroyed the nations and their lands.'
And have cast their gods into the fire - This appears to have been the usual policy of the Assyrians and Babylonians. It was contrary to the policy which the Romans afterward pursued, for they admitted the gods of other nations among their own, and even allowed them to have a place in the Pantheon. Their design seems not to have been to alienate the feelings of the vanquished, but to make them feel that they were a part of the same people. They supposed that a vanquished people would be conciliated with the idea that their gods were admitted to participate in the honors of those which were worshipped by the conquerors of the world. But the policy of the Eastern conquerors was different. They began usually by removing the people themselves whom they had subdued, to another land (see the note at Isa 36:17). They thus intended to alienate their minds as much as possible from their own country. They laid everything waste by fire and sword, and thus destroyed their homes, and all the objects of their attachment. They destroyed their temples, their groves, and their household gods. They well knew that the civil policy of the nation was founded in religion, and that, to subdue them effectually, it was necessary to abolish their religion. Which was the wisest policy, may indeed admit of question. Perhaps in each case the policy was well adapted to the particular end which was had in view.
For they were no gods - They were not truly gods, and therefore they had no power of resistance, and it was easy to destroy them.
That all the kingdoms of the earth may know - Since he has been able to subdue all others; and since Judea alone, the land under the protection of Yahweh, would be saved, all the nations would know that it could not be by the power of an idol. The desire of Hezckiah, therefore, was not primarily that of his own personal safely or the safety of his kingdom. It was that Yahweh might vindicate his great and holy name from reproach, and that the world might know that he was the only true God. A supreme regard to the glory of God influenced this pious monarch in his prayers, and we have here a beautiful model of the object which we should have in view when we come before God. It is not primarily that we may be saved; it is not, as the leading motive, that our friends or that the world may be saved; it is that the name of God may be honored. This motive of prayer is one that is with great frequency presented in the Bible (compare Isa 42:8; Isa 43:10, Isa 43:13, Isa 43:25; Deu 32:39; Psa 46:10; Psa 83:18; Neh 9:6; Dan 9:18-19).
Perhaps there could have been furnished no more striking proof that Yahweh was the true God, than would be by the defeat of Sennacherib. No other nation had been able to resist the Assyrian arms. The great power of that empire was now concentrated in the single army of Sennacherib. He was coming with great confidence of success. He was approaching the city devoted to Yahweh - the city where the temple was, and the city and people that were everywhere understood to be under his protection. The affairs of the world had arrived at a crisis; and the time had come wheu the great Yahweh could strike a blow which would be felt on all nations, and carry the terror of his name, and the report of his power throughout the earth. Perhaps this was one of the main motives of the destruction of that mighty army. God intended that his power should be felt, and that monarchs and people that arrayed themselves against him, and blasphemed him, should have a striking demonstration that be was God, and that none of the devices of his enemies could succeed.
Whereas thou hast prayed - Because thou hast come to me instead of relying on thy own resources and strength. In Kg2 19:20, it is, 'That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib, king of Assyria, I have heard.'
The virgin, the daughter of Zion - Jerusalem (see the note at Isa 1:8; compare the note at Isa 23:12). The parallelism in this and the following verses shows that the poetic form of speech is here introduced.
Hast despised thee - That is, it is secure from thy contemplated attack. The idea is, that Jerusalem would exult over the ineffectual attempts of Sennacherib to take it, and over his complete overthrow.
Hath laughed thee to scorn - Will make thee an object of derision.
Hath shaken her head at thee - This is an indication of contempt and scorn (compare Psa 22:7; Psa 109:25; Jer 18:16; Zep 2:15; Mat 27:39).
When hast thou reproached? - Not an idol. Not one who has no power to take vengeance, or to defend the city under his protection, but the living God.
Exalted thy voice - That is, by thy messenger. Thou hast spoken in a loud, confident tone; in the language of reproach and threatening.
And lifted up thine eyes on high - To lift up the eyes is an indication of haughtiness and pride. He had evinced arrogance in his manner, and he was yet to learn that it was against the living and true God.
By thy servants - Hebrew, 'By the hand of thy servants.' That is, by Rabshakeh Isa. 36, and by those whom he had now sent to Hezekiah with letters Isa 37:9, Isa 37:14.
And hast said - Isaiah does not here quote the precise words which Rabshakeh or the other messengers had used, but quotes the substance of what had been uttered, and expresses the real feelings and intentions of Sennacherib.
By the multitude of my chariots - The word 'chariots' here denotes war-chariois (see the notes at Isa 2:7; Isa 66:20).
To the height of the mountains - Lebanon is here particularly referred to. Chariots were commonly used, as cavalry was, in plains. But it is probable that Lebanon was accessible by chariots drawn by horses.
To the sides of Lebanon - On the situation of Lebanon see the notes at Isa 10:34; Isa 29:17. Sennacherib is represented as having carried desolation to Lebanon, and as having cut down its stately trees (see the note at Isa 33:9).
I will cut down the tall cedars thereof - Margin, 'The tallness of the cedars thereof.' The boast of Sennacherib was that he would strip it of its beauty and ornament; that is, that he would lay the land waste.
And the choice fir-trees thereof - (see the note at Isa 14:8). The Septuagint renders it, Υπαρίσσου Uparissou - 'The beauty of the cypress.' The word here denotes the cypress, a tree resembling the white cedar. It grew on Lebanon, and, together with the cedar, constituted its glory. Its wood, like that of the cedar, was employed for the floors and ceilings of the temple Kg1 5:10; Kg1 6:15, Kg1 6:34. It was used for the decks and sheathing of ships Eze 27:5, for spears Neh 2:4; and for musical instruments Sa2 6:5.
The height of his border - The extreme retreats; the furthest part of Lebanon. In Kg2 19:23, it is, 'I will enter the lodgings of his borders;' perhaps referring to the fact that on the ascent to the top of the mountain there was a place for the repose of travelers; a species of inn or caravansera which bounded the usual attempts of persons to ascend the mountain. Such a lodging-place on the sides or tops of mountains which are frequently ascended, is not uncommon.
And the forest his Carmel - On the meaning of the word Carmel, see the note at Isa 29:17. Here it means, as in that passage, a rich, fertile, and beautiful country. It is known that Lebanon was covered on the top, and far down the sides, with perpetual snow. But there was a region lying on its sides, between the snow and the base of the mountain, that was distinguished for fertility, and that was highly cultivated. This region produced grapes in abundance; and this cultivated part of the mountain, thick set with vines and trees, might be called a beautiful grove. This was doubtless the portion of Lebanon which is here intended. At a distance, this tract on the sides of Lebanon appeared doubtless as a thicket of shrubs and trees. The phrase 'garden-forest,' will probably express the sense of the passage. 'After leaving Baalbec, and approaching Lebanon, towering walnut trees, either singly or in groups, and a rich carpet of verdure, the offspring of numerous streams, give to this charming district the air of an English park, majestically bordered with snow-tipped mountains. At Deir-el-Akmaar, the ascent begins winding among dwarf oaks, hawthorns, and a great variety of shrubs and flowers. A deep bed of snow had now to be crossed, and the horses sunk or slipped at every moment. To ride was impracticable, and to walk dangerous, for the melting snow penetrated our boots, and our feet were nearly frozen. An hour and a half brought us to the cedars.' (Hogg.)
I have digged - That is, I have digged wells. This was regarded among eastern nations as an important achievement. It was difficult to find water, even by digging, in sandy deserts; and in a country abounding with rocks, it was an enterprise of great difficulty to sink a well. Hence, the possession of a well became a valuable property, and was sometimes the occasion of contention between neighboring tribes Gen 26:20. Hence, also to stop up the wells of water, by throwing in rocks or sand, became one of the most obvious ways of distressing an enemy, and was often resorted to Gen 26:15, Gen 26:18; Kg2 3:19, Kg2 3:25. To dig wells, or to furnish water in abundance to a people, became also an achievement which was deemed worthy to be recorded in the history of kings and princes Ch2 26:10. Many of the most stupendous and costly of the works of the Romans in the capital of their empire, and in the principal towns of their provinces, consisted in building aqueducts to bring water from a distance into a city.
An achievement like this I understand Sennacherib as boasting he had performed; that he had furnished water for the cities and towns of his mighty empire; that he had accomplished what was deemed so difficult, and what required so much expense, as digging wells for his people; and that he had secured them from being stopped up by his enemies, so that he and his people drank of the water in peace. Gesenius, however, understands this as a boast that he had extended the bounds of his empire beyond its original limits, and unto regions that were naturally destitute of water, and where it was necessary to dig wells to supply his armies. Rosenmuller understands it as saying: 'I have passed over, and taken possession of foreign lands.' Drusius regards it as a proverbial saying, meaning 'I have happily and successfully accomplished all that I have undertaken, as he who digs a well accomplishes that which he particularly desires.' Vitringa regards it as saying, 'that to dig wells, and to drink the water of them, is to enjoy the fruit of our labors, to be successful and happy.' But it seems to me that the interpretation above suggested, and which I have not found in any of the commentators before me, is the correct exposition.
And drunk water - In Kg2 19:24, it is, 'I have drunk strange waters;' that is, the waters of foreign lands. I have conquered them, and have dug wells in them. But the sense is not materially changed.
And with the sole of my feet - Expressions like this, denoting the desolations of a conqueror, are found in the classic writers. Perhaps the idea there is, that their armies were so numerous that they drank up all the waters in their march - a strong hyperbole to denote the number of their armies, and the extent of their desolations when even the waters failed before them. Thus Claudian (De Bello Getico, 526) introduces Alaric as boasting of his conquests in the same extravagant manner, and in language remarkably similar to this:
Cum cesserit omnis
Obsequiis natura meis. Subsidere nostris
Sub pedibus montes; arescere vidimus amnes -
Fregi Alpes, galeisque Padum victricibus hausi.
So Juvenal (Sat. 10:176), speaking of the dominion of Xerxes, says:
- credimus altos
Defecisse amnes, epotaque ilumina Medo
The boast of drying up streams with the sole of the foot, is intended to convey the idea that he had not only supplied water for his own empire by digging wells, but that he had cut off the supplies of water from the others against whom he had made war. The idea perhaps is, that if such an army as his was, should pass through the streams of a country that they should invade, and should only take away the water that would adhere to the sole or the hollow of the foot on their march, it would dry up all the streams. It is strong hyperbolical language, and is designed to indicate the number of the forces which were under his command.
Of the besieged places - Margin, 'Fenced' or 'closed'. The word rendered 'rivers' (אורי 'rēy), may denote canals, or artificial streams, such as were common in Egypt. In Isa 19:6, it is rendered 'brooks,' and is applied to the artificial canals of Egypt (see the note on that place). The word rendered here 'besieged places' (מצור mâtsôr), may mean distress, straitness Deu 28:53; siege Eze 4:2, Eze 4:7; mound, bulwark, intrenchment Deu 20:20; or it may be a proper name for Egypt, being one of the forms of the name מצרים mitserayim or Egypt. The same phrase occurs in Isa 19:6, where it means Egypt (see the note on that place), and such should be regarded as its meaning here. It alludes to the conquests which Sennacherib is represented as boasting that he had made in Egypt, that he had easily removed obstructions, and destroyed their means of defense. Though he had been repulsed before Pelusium by Tirhakah king of Ethiopia (see the note at Isa 36:1), yet it is not improbable that he had taken many towns there, and had subdued no small part of the country to himself. In his vain boasting, he would strive to forget his repulse, and would dwell on the case of conquest, and the facility with which he had removed all obstructions from his way. The whole language of the verse therefore, is that of a proud and haughty Oriental prince, desirous of proclaiming his conquests, and forgetting his mortifying defeats.
Hast thou not heard - This is evidently the language of God addressed to Sennacherib. It is designed to state to him that he was under his control; that this was the reason Isa 37:27 why the inhabitants of the nations had been unable to resist him; that he was entirely in his hands Isa 37:28; and that lie would control him as he pleased Isa 37:29.
Long ago how I have done it - You boast that all this is by your own counsel and power. Yet I have done it; that is, I have purposed, planned, arranged it long ago (compare Isa 22:11).
That thou shouldest be to lay waste - I have raised you up for this purpose, and you have been entirely under my control (see the note at Isa 10:5).
Therefore - Not because you have so great power; but because I have rendered them incapable of resisting you.
Were of small power - Hebrew, 'Short of hand;' they were feeble, imbecile, unable to resist you.
They were dismayed - Hebrew, 'They were broken and ashamed.' Their spirits sank; they were ashamed of their feeble powers of resistance; and they submitted to the ignominy of a surrender.
They were as the grass of the field - The same idea is expressed by Sennacherib himself in Isa 10:15, though under a different image (see the note on that verse). The idea here is, as the grass of the field offers no resistance to the march of an army, so it was with the strongly fortified towns in the way of Sennacherib.
As the grass on the housetops - In eastern countries the roofs of houses are always flat. They are made of a mixture of sand gravel, or earth; and on the houses of the rich there is a firmly constructed flooring made of coals, chalk, gypsum, and ashes, made hard by being beaten or rolled. On these roofs spears of wheat, barley, or grass sometimes spring up, but they are soon withered by the heat of the sun Psa 129:6-8. The idea here, therefore, is that of the greatest feebleness. His enemies were not simply like the grass in the field, but they were like the thin, slender, and delicate blade that sprung up in the little earth on the roof of a house, where there was no room for the roots to strike down, and where it soon withered beneath the burning sun.
As corn blasted before it is grown up - Before it acquires any strength. The idea in all these phrases is substantially the same - that they were incapable of offering even the feeblest resistance.
But I know - The language of God. 'I am well acquainted with all that pertains to you. You neither go out to war, nor return, nor abide in your capital without my providential direction' (see the notes at Isa 10:5-7).
Thy abode - Margin, 'Sitting.' Among the Hebrews, sitting down, rising up, and going out, were phrases to describe the whole of a man's life and actions (compare Deu 6:7; Deu 28:6; Kg1 3:7; Psa 121:8). God here says that he knew the place where he dwelt, and he was able to return him again to it Isa 37:29.
And thy rage against me - (See Isa 37:4).
Because thy rage and thy tumult - Or rather, thy pride, thy insolence, thy vain boasting.
Therefore will I put my hook in thy nose - This is a most striking expression, denoting the complete control which God had over the haughty monarch, and his ability to direct him as he pleased. The language is taken from the custom of putting a ring or hook in the nose of a wild animal for the purpose of governing and guiding it. The most violent animals may be thus completely governed, and this is often done with those animals that are fierce and untameable. The Arabs often pursue this course in regard to the camel; and thus have it under entire control. A similar image is used in respect to the king of Egypt Eze 29:4. The idea is, that God would control and govern the wild and ambitious spirit of the Assyrian, and that with infinite ease he could conduct him again to his own land.
And my bridle - (See the note at Isa 30:28).
And I will turn thee back - (See Isa 37:37).
And this shall be a sign unto thee - It is evident that the discourse here is turned from Sennacherib to Hezekiah. Such transitions, without distinctly indicating them, are common in Isaiah. God had in the previous verses, in the form of a direct personal address, foretold the defeat of Sennacherib, and thc confusion of his plans. He here turns and gives to Hezekiah the assurance that Jerusalem would be delivered. On the meaning of the word 'sign,' see the note at Isa 7:14. Commentators have been much perplexed in the exposition of the passage before us, to know how that which was to occur one, two, or three years after the event, could be a sign of the fulfillment of the prophecy. Many have supposed that the year in which this was spoken was a Sabbatic year, in which the lands were not cultivated, but were suffered to lie still Lev. 35:2-7; and that the year following was the year of Jubilee, in which also the lands were to remain uncultivated. They suppose that the idea is, that the Jews might be assured that they would not experience the evils of famine which they had anticipated from the Assyrians, because the divine promise gave them assurance of supply in the Sabbatic year, and in the year of Jubilee, and that although their fields had been laid waste by the Assyrian, yet their needs would be supplied, until on the third year they would be permitted in quietness to cultivate their land, and that this would be to them a sign, or a token of the divine interposition. But to this there are two obvious objections:
1. There is not the slightest evidence that the year in which Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem was a Sabbatic year, or that the following year was the Jubilee. No mention is made of this in the history, nor is it possible to prove it from any part of the sacred narrative.
2. It is still difficult to see, even if it were so, how that which was to occur two or three years after the event, could be a sign to Hezekiah then of the truth of what Isaiah had predicted.
Rosenmuller suggests that the two years in which they are mentioned as sustained by the spontaneous productions of the earth were the two years in which Judea had been already ravaged by Sennacherib, and that the third year was the one in which the prophet was now speaking, and that the prediction means that in that very year they would be permitted to sow and reap. In the explanation of the passage, it is to be observed that the word 'sign' is used in a variety of significations. It may be used as an indication of anything unseen Gen 1:14; or as a military ensign Num 2:2; or as a sign of something future, an omen Isa 8:18; or as a token, argument, proof Gen 17:2; Exo 31:13. It may be used as a sign or token of the truth of a prophecy; that is, when some minor event furnishes a proof that the whole prophecy would be fulfilled Exo 3:12; Sa1 2:34; Sa1 10:7, Sa1 10:9. Or it may be used as a wonder, a prodigy, a miracle Deu 4:34; Deu 6:22.
In the case before us, it seems to mean that, in the events predicted here, Hezekiah would have a token or argument that the land was completely freed from the invasion of Sennacherib. Though a considerable part of his army would be destroyed; though the monarch himself would be compelled to flee, yet Hezekiah would not from that fact alone have the assurance that he would not rally his forces, and return to invade the land. There would be every inducement arising from disappointment and the rage of defeat for him to do it. To compose the mind of Hezekiah in regard to this, this assurance was given, that the land would be quiet, and that the fact that it would remain quiet during the remainder of that year, and to the third year would be a sign, or demonstration that the Assyrian army was entirely withdrawn, and that all danger of an invasion was at an end. The sign, therefore, does not refer so much to the past, as to the security and future prosperity which would be consequent thereon.
It would be an evidence to them that the nation would be safe, and would be favored with a high degree of prosperity (see Isa 37:31-32). It is possible that this invasion took place when it was too late to sow for that year, and that the land was so ravaged that it could not that year be cultivated. The harvests and the vincyards had been destroyed; and they would be dependent on that which the earth had spontaneously produced in those parts which had been untilled. As it was now too late to sow the land, they would be dependent in the following year on the same scanty supply. In the third year, however, they might cultivate their fields securely, and the former fertility would be restored.
Such as groweth of itself - The Hebrew word here (ספיח sâphı̂yach), denotes grain produced from the kernels of the former year, without new seed, and without cultivation. This, it is evident, would be a scanty supply; but we are to remember that the land had been ravaged by the army of the Assyrian.
That which springeth of the same - The word used here (שׁחיס shâchiys), in the parallel passage in Kg2 19:29 (סחישׁ sâchiysh), denotes that which grows of itself the third year after sowing. This production of the third year would be of course more scanty and less valuable than in the preceding year, and there can be no doubt that the Jews would be subjected to a considerable extent to the evils of want. Still, as the land would be quiet; as the people would be permitted to live in peace; it would be a sign to them that the Assyrian was finally and entirely withdrawn, and that they might return in the third year to the cultivation of their land with the assurance that this much-dreaded invasion was not again to be feared.
And in the third year - Then you may resume your agricultural operations with the assurance that you shall be undisturbed. Your two years of quiet shall have been a full demonstration to you that the Assyrian shall not return, and you may resume your employments with the assurance that all the evils of the invasion, and all apprehension of danger, are at an end.
And the remnant that is escaped - (See the margin.) Those that are left of the Jews. The ten tribes had been carried away; and it is not improbable that the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah had been reduced by want, and by the siege of Lachish, Libnah, etc. It is not to be supposed that Sennacherib could have invaded the land, and spread desolation for so long a time, without diminishing the number of the people. The promise in the passage is, that those who were left should flourish and increase. The land should be at rest; and under the administration of their wise and pious king their number would be augmented, and their happiness promoted.
Shall again take root downward - Like a tree that had been prevented by any cause from growing or bearing fruit. A tree, to bear well, must be in a soil where it can strike its roots deep. The sense is, that all obstructions to their growth and prosperity would be removed.
Shall go forth a remnant - The word 'remnant' means that which is left; and does not of necessity imply that it should be a small portion. No doubt a part of the Jews were destroyed in the invasion of Sennacherib, but the assurance is here given that a portion of them would remain in safety, and that they would constitute that from which the future prosperity of the state would arise.
And they that escape - Margin, 'The escaping,' that is, the remnant.
The zeal - (See the note at Isa 9:7).
He shall not come into this city - Sennacherib encamped probably on the northeast side of the city, and his army was destroyed there (see the notes at Isa 10:28 ff.)
Nor shoot an arrow there - That is, nor shoot an arrow within the walls of the city.
Nor come before it with shields - (See the note at Isa 21:5). The meaning here is, that the army should not be permitted to come before the city defended with shields, and prepared with the means of attack and defense.
Nor cast a bank against it - A mound; a pile of earth thrown up in the manner of a fort to defend the assailants, or to give them an advantage in attacking the walls. Sieges were conducted by throwing up banks or fortifications, behind which the army of attack could be secure to carry on their operations. Towers filled with armed men were also constructed, covered with hides and other impenetrable materials, which could be made to approach the walls, and from which those who were within could safely conduct the attack.
By the way that he came - (Isa 37:29; compare Isa 37:37).
And shall not come into this city - (Isa 37:33; compare Isa 29:6-8).
For I will defend this city - Notwithstanding all that Hezekiah had done to put it in a posture of defense (Ch2 32:1, following) still it was Yahweh alone who could preserve it.
For mine own sake - God had been reproached and blasphemed by Sennacherib. As his name and power had been thus blasphemed, he says that he would vindicate himself, and for the honor of his own insulted majesty would save the city.
And for my servant David's sake - On account of the promise which he had made to him that there should not fail a man to sit on his throne, and that the city and nation should not be destroyed until the Messiah should appear (see Psa 132:10-18).
Then the angel of the Lord went forth - This verse contains the record of one of the most remarkable events which have occurred in history. Many attempts have been made to explain the occurrence which is here recorded, and to trace the agencies or means which God employed. It may be observed that the use of the word 'angel' here does not determine the manner in which it was done. So far as the word is concerned, it might have been accomplished either by the power of an invisible messenger of God - a spiritual being commissioned for this purpose; or it might have been by some second causes under the direction of an angel - as the pestilence, or a storm and tempest; or it might have been by some agents sent by God whatever they were - the storm, the pestilence, or the simoom, to which the name angel might have been applied. The word 'angel' (מלאך mal'âk) from לאך lâ'ak to send) means properly one sent, a messenger, from a private person Job 1:14; from a king Sa1 16:19; Sa1 19:11, Sa1 19:14, Sa1 19:20. Then it means a messenger of God, and is applied:
(1) to an angel (Exo 23:20; Sa2 14:16; et al.);
(2) to a prophet Hag 1:13; Mal 3:1;
(3) to a priest Ecc 5:5; Mal 2:7.
The word may be applied to any messenger sent from God, whoever or whatever that may be. Thus, in Psa 104:4, the winds are said to be his angels, or messengers:
Who maketh the winds (רוחות rûachôth) his angels (מלאכיו male'âkâyv);
The flaming fire his ministers.
The general sense of the word is that of ambassador, messenger, one sent to bear a message, to execute a commission, or to perform any work or service. It is known that the Jews were in the habit of tracing all events to the agency of invisible beings sent forth by God to accomplish his purposes in this world. There is nothing in this opinion that is contrary to reason; for there is no more improbability in the existence of a good angel than there is in the existence of a good man, or in the existence of an evil spirit than there is in the existence of a bad man. And there is no more improbability in the supposition that God employs invisible and heavenly messengers to accomplish his purposes, than there is that he employs man. Whatever, therefore, were the means used in the destruction of the Assyrian army, there is no improbability in the opinion that they were under the direction of a celestial agent sent forth to accomplish the purpose. The chief suppositions which have been made of the means of that destruction are the following:
1. It has been supposed that it was by the direct agency of an angel, without any second causes. But this supposition has not been generally adopted. It is contrary to the usual modes in which God directs the affairs of the world. His purposes are usually accomplished by some second causes, and in accordance with the usual course of events. Calvin supposes that it was accomplished by the direct agency of one or more angels sent forth for the purpose.
2. Some have supposed that it was accomplished by Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, who is supposed to have pursned Sennacherib, and to have overthrown his army in a single night near Jerusalem. But it is sufficient to say in reply to this, that there is not the slightest historical evidence to support it; and had this been the mode, it would have been so recorded, and time fact would have been stated.
3. It has been attributed by some, among whom is Prideaux (Connection, vol. i. p. 143) and John E. Faber (the notes at Harmer's Obs., i. 65), to the hot pestilential wind which often prevails in the East, and which is often represented as suddenly destroying travelers, and indeed whole caravans. This wind, called sam, simum, samiel, or simoom, has been usually supposed to be poisonous, and almost instantly destructive to life. It has been described by Mr. Bruce, by Sir R. K. Porter, by Niebuhr, and by others. Prof. Robinson has examined at length the supposition that the Assyrian army was destroyed by this wind, and has stated the results of the investigations of recent travelers. The conclusion to which he comes is, that the former accounts of the effects of this wind have been greatly exaggerated, and that the destruction of the army of the Assyrians cannot be attributed to any such cause. See the article winds, in his edition of Calmet's Dictionary. Burckhardt says of this wind, whose effects have been regarded as so poisonous and destructive, 'I am perfectly convinced that all the stories which travelers, or the inhabitants of the towns of Egypt and Syria, relate of the simoom of the desert are greatly exaggerated, and I never could hear of a single well-authenticated instance of its having proved mortal to either man or beast.' Similar testimony has been given by other modern travelers; though it is to be remarked that the testimony is rather of a negative character, and does not entirely destroy the possibility of the supposition that this so often described pestilential wind may in some instances prove fatal. It is not, however, referred to in the Scripture account of the destruction of Sennacherib; and whatever may be true of it in the deserts of Arabia or Nubia, there is no evidence whatever that such poisonous effects are ever experienced in Palestine.
4. It has been attributed to a storm of hail, accompanied with thunder and lightning. This is the opinion of Vitringa, and seems to accord with the descriptions which are given in the prophecy of the destruction of the army in Isa 29:6; Isa 30:30. To this opinion, as the most probable, I have been disposed to incline, for although these passages may be regarded as figurative, yet the more natural interpretation is to regard them as descriptive of the event. We know that such a tempest might be easily produced by God, and that violent tornadoes are not unfrequent in the East. One of the plagues of Egypt consisted in such a tremendous storm of hail accompanied with thunder, when 'the fire ran along the ground,' so that 'there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail,' and so that 'the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast' Exo 9:22-25. This description, in its terror, its suddenness, and its ruinous effects, accords more nearly with the account of the destruction of Sennacherib than any other which has been made. See the notes at Isa 30:30, for a remarkable description of the officer of a storm of hail.
5. It has been supposed by many that it was accomplished by the pestilence. This is the account which Josephus gives (Ant. x. 1. 5), and is the supposition which has been adopted by Rosenmuller, Doderlin, Michaelis, Hensler, and many others. But there are two objections to this supposition. One is, that it does not well accord with the descritption of the prophet Isa 29:6; Isa 30:30; and the other, and more material one is, that the plague does not accomplish its work so suddenly. This was done in a single night; whereas, though the plague appears suddenly, and has been known to destroy whole armies, yet there is no recorded instance in which it has been so destructive in a few hours as in this case. It may be added, also, that the plague does not often leave an army in the manner described here. One hundred and eighty five thousand were suddenly slain. The survivors, if there were any, as we have reason to suppose Isa 37:37, fled, and returned to Nineveh. There is no mention made of any who lingered, and who remained sick among the slain.
Nor is there any apprehension mentioned, as having existed among the Jews of going into the camp, and stripping the dead, and bearing the spoils of the army into the city. Had the army been destroyed by the plague, such is the fear of the contagion in countries where it prevails, that nothing would have induced them to endanger the city by the possibility of introducing the dreaded disease. The account leads us to suppose that the inhabitants of Jerusalem immediately sallied forth and stripped the dead, and bore the spoils of the army into the city (see the notes at Isa 33:4, Isa 33:24). On the whole, therefore, the most probable supposition seems to be, that, if any secondary causes were employed, it was the agency of a violent tempest - a tempest of mingled hail and fire, which suddenly descended upon the mighty army. Whatever was the agent, however, it was the hand of God that directed it. It was a most fearful exhibition of his power and justice; and it furnishes a most awful threatening to proud and haughty blasphemers and revilers, and a strong ground of assurance to the righteous that God will defend them in times of peril.
It may be added, that Herodotus has given an account which was undoubtedly derived from some rumour of the entire destruction of the Assyrian army. He says (ii. 141) that when Sennacherib was in Egypt and engaged in the siege of Pelusium, an Egyptian priest prayed to God, and God heard his prayer, and sent a judgment upon him. 'For,' says he, 'a multitude of mice gnawed to pieces in one night both the bows and the rest of the armor of the Assyrians, and that it was on that account that the king, when he had no bows left, drew off his army from Pelusium.' This is probably a corruption of the history which we have here. At all events, the account in Herodotus does not conflict with the main statement of Isaiah, but is rather a confirmation of that statement, that the army of Sennacherib met with sudden discomfiture.
And when they arose - At the time of rising in the morning; when the surviving part of the army arose, or when the Jews arose, and looked toward the camp of the Assyrians.
So Sennacherib departed - Probably with some portion of his army and retinue with him, for it is by no means probable that the whole army had been destroyed. In Ch2 32:21, it is said that the angel 'cut off all the mighty men of valor, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria.' His army was thus entirely disabled, and the loss of so large a part of it, and the consternation produced by their sudden destruction, would of course lead him to abandon the siege.
Went and returned - Went from before Jerusalem and returned to his own land.
And dwelt at Nineveh - How long he dwelt there is not certainly known. Berosus, the Chaldean, says it was 'a little while' (see Jos. Ant. x. 1. 5). Nineveh was on the Tigris, and was the capital of Assyria. For an account of its site, and its present situation, see the American Biblical Repository for Jan. 1837, pp. 139-159.
As he was worshipping - Perhaps this time was selected because he might be then attended with fewer guards, or because they were able to surprise him without the possibility of his summoning his attendants to his rescue.
In the house - In the temple.
Of Nisroch his god - The god whom he particularly adored. Gesenius supposes that the word 'Nisroch' denotes an eagle, or a great eagle. The eagle was regarded as a sacred bird in the Persian religion, and was the symbol of Ormuzd. This god or idol had been probably introduced into Nineveh from Persia. Among the ancient Arabs the eagle occurs as an idol Josephus calls the idol Araskes; the author of the book of Tobit calls it Dagon. Vitringa supposes that it was the Assyrian Bel, and was worshipped under the figure of Mars, the god of war. More probably it was the figure of the eagle, though it might have been regarded as the god of war.
That Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword - What was the cause of this rebellion and parricide is unknown. These two sons subsequently became, in Armenia, the heads of two celebrated families there, the Arzerunii, and the Genunii (see Jos. Ant. x. 1, 5, note).
And they escaped - This would lead us to suppose that it was some private matter which led them to commit the parricide, and that they did not do it with the expectation of succeeding to the crown.
Into the land of Armenia - Hebrew, as Margin, 'Ararat.' The Chaldee renders this, 'The land of קרדוּ qaredû, that is, Kardi-anum, or, the mountains of the Kurds. The modern Kurdistan includes a considerable part of the ancient Assyria and Media, together with a large portion of Armenia. This expression is generally substituted for Ararat by the Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic translators, when they do not retain the original word Ararat. It is a region among the mountains of Ararat or Armenia. The Syriac renders it in the same way - 'Of Kurdoya' (the Kurds). The Septuagint renders it, 'Into Armenia.' Jerome says that 'Ararat was a champaign region in Armenia, through which the Araxes flowed, and was of considerable fertility.' Ararat was a region or province in Armenia, near the middle of the country between the Araxes and the lakes Van and Oroomiah. It is still called by the Armenians Ararat. On one of the mountains in this region the ark of Noah rested Gen 8:4. The name 'Ararat' belongs properly to the region or country, and not to any particular mountain. For an account of this region, see Sir R. K. Porter's Travels, vol. i. pp. 178ff; Smith and Dwight's Researches in Armenia, vol. ii. pp. 73ff; and Morier's Second Journey, p. 312. For a very interesting account of the situation of Ararat, including a description of an ascent to the summit of the mountain which besrs that name, see the Bib. Rep. for April, 1836, pp. 390-416. 'The origin of the name Armenia is unknown. The Armenians call themselves after their fabulous progenitor Haig, and derive the name Armen from the son of Haig, Armenag. They are probably a tribe of the ancient Assyrians; their language and history speak alike in favor of it. Their traditions say also that Haig came from Babylon.'