Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
4 Kings (2 Kings)
Hezekiah begins to reign; he removes the high places, breaks to pieces the brazen serpent, and walks uprightly before God, Kg2 18:1-6. He endeavors to shake off the Assyrian yoke, and defeats the Philistines, Kg2 18:7, Kg2 18:8. Shalmaneser comes up against Samaria, takes it, and carries the people away into captivity, Kg2 18:9-12. And then comes against Judah, and takes all the fenced cities, Kg2 18:13. Hezekiah sends a message to him at Lachish to desist, with the promise that he will pay him any tribute he chooses to impose; in consequence of which Shalmaneser exacts three hundred talents of silver, and thirty talents of gold; to pay which Hezekiah is obliged to take all his own treasures, and those belonging to the temple, Kg2 18:14-16. The king of Assyria sends, notwithstanding, a great host against Jerusalem; and his general, Rab-shakeh, delivers an insulting and blasphemous message to Hezekiah, vv. 17-35. Hezekiah and his people are greatly afflicted at the words of Rab-shakeh, Kg2 18:36, Kg2 18:37.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:1
Now - in the third year of Hoshea - See the note on Kg2 16:1 (note), where this chronology is considered.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:3
He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord - In chap. 29 of the second book of Chronicles, we have an account of what this pious king did to restore the worship of God. He caused the priests and Levites to cleanse the holy house, which had been shut up by his father Ahaz, and had been polluted with filth of various kinds; and this cleansing required no less than sixteen days to accomplish it. As the passover, according to the law, must be celebrated the fourteenth of the first month, and the Levites could not get the temple cleansed before the sixteenth day, he published the passover for the fourteenth of the second month, and sent through all Judah and Israel to collect all the men that feared God, that the passover might be celebrated in a proper manner. The concourse was great, and the feast was celebrated with great magnificence. When the people returned to their respective cities and villages, they began to throw down the idol altars, statues, images, and groves, and even to abolish the high places; the consequence was that a spirit of piety began to revive in the land, and a general reformation took place.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:4
Brake in pieces the brazen serpent - The history of this may be seen in Num 21:8 (note), Num 21:9 (note).
We find that this brazen serpent had become an object of idolatry, and no doubt was supposed to possess, as a telesm or amulet, extraordinary virtues, and that incense was burnt before it which should have been burnt before the true God.
And he called it Nehushtan - נהשתן. Not one of the versions has attempted to translate this word. Jarchi says, "He called it Nechustan, through contempt, which is as much as to say, a brazen serpent." Some have supposed that the word is compounded of נחש nachash, to divine, and תן tan, a serpent, so it signifies the divining serpent; and the Targum states that it was the people, not Hezekiah, that gave it this name. נחש nachash signifies to view, eye attentively, observe, to search, inquire accurately, etc.; and hence is used to express divination, augury. As a noun it signifies brass or copper, filth, verdigris, and some sea animal, Amo 9:3; see also Job 26:13, and Isa 26:1. It is also frequently used for a serpent; and most probably for an animal of the genus Simia, in Gen 3:1 (note), where see the notes. This has been contested by some, ridiculed by a few, and believed by many. The objectors, because it signifies a serpent sometimes, suppose it must have the same signification always! And one to express his contempt and show his sense, has said, "Did Moses hang up an ape on a pole?" I answer, No, no more than he hanged up you, who ask the contemptible question. But this is of a piece with the conduct of the people of Milan, who show you to this day the brazen serpent which Moses hung up in the wilderness, and which Hezekiah broke in pieces two thousand five hundred years ago!
Of serpents there is a great variety. Allowing that נחש nachash signifies a serpent, I may ask in my turn, What kind of a serpent was it that tempted Eve? Of what species was that which Moses hung up on the pole, and which Hezekiah broke to pieces? Who of the wise men can answer these questions? Till this is done I assert, that the word, Gen 3:1, etc., does not signify a serpent of any kind; and that with a creature of the genus Simia the whole account best agrees.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:5
He trusted in the Lord - See the character of this good king:
1. He trusted in the Lord God of Israel;
2. He clave to the Lord;
3. He was steady in his religion; he departed not from following the Lord;
4. He kept God's commandments. And what were the consequences?
1. The Lord was with him;
2. He prospered whithersoever he went.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:8
From the tower of the watchmen - See the same words, Kg2 17:9 (note). It seems a proverbial mode of expression: he reduced every kind of fortification; nothing was able to stand before him.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:9
In the fourth year - This history has been already given, Kg2 17:3, etc.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:17
The king of Assyria sent Tartan, etc. - Calmet has very justly remarked that these are not the names of persons, but of offices. Tartan, תרתן tartan or tantan, as in the parallel place in Isaiah, in the Greek version, signifies he who presides over the gifts or tribute; chancellor of the exchequer.
Rabsaris - רב סריס, the chief of the eunuchs. Rab-shakeh, רב שקה master or chief over the wine cellar; or he who had the care of the king's drink.
From Lachish - It seems as if the Assyrian troops had been worsted before Lachish, and were obliged to raise the siege, from which they went and sat down before Libnah. While Sennacherib was there with the Assyrian army, he heard that Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, had invaded the Assyrian territories. Being obliged therefore to hasten, in order to succor his own dominions, he sent a considerable force under the aforementioned officers against Jerusalem, with a most fearful and bloody manifesto, commanding Hezekiah to pay him tribute, to deliver up his kingdom to him, and to submit, he and his people, to be carried away captives into Assyria! This manifesto was accompanied with the vilest insults, and the highest blasphemies. God interposed and the evils threatened against others fell upon himself.
Manifestoes of this kind have seldom been honorable to the senders. The conduct of Rab-shakeh was unfortunately copied by the Duke of Brunswick, commander-in-chief of the allied army of the center, in the French revolution, who was then in the plains of Champagne, August 27, 1792, at the head of ninety thousand men, Prussians, Austrians, and emigrants, on his way to Paris, which in his manifesto he threatened to reduce to ashes! This was the cause of the dreadful massacres which immediately took place. And shortly after this time the blast of God fell upon him, for in Sept. 20 of the same year, (three weeks after issuing the manifesto), almost all his army was destroyed by a fatal disease, and himself obliged to retreat from the French territories with shame and confusion. This, and some other injudicious steps taken by the allies, were the cause of the ruin of the royal family of France, and of enormities and calamities the most extensive, disgraceful, and ruinous, that ever stained the page of history. From all such revolutions God in mercy save mankind!
Conduit of the upper pool - The aqueduct that brought the water from the upper or eastern reservoir, near to the valley of Kidron, into the city. Probably they had seized on this in order to distress the city.
The fuller's field - The place where the washermen stretched out their clothes to dry.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:18
Called to the king - They wished him to come out that they might get possession of his person.
Eliakim - over the household - What we would call lord chamberlain.
Shebna the scribe - The king's secretary.
Joah - the recorder - The writer of the public annals.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:19
What confidence is this - מה הבטחן הזה ma habbittachon hazzeh. The words are excessively insulting: What little, foolish, or unavailing cause of confidence is it, to which thou trustest? I translate thus, because I consider the word בטחון bittachon as a diminutive, intended to express the utmost contempt for Hezekiah's God.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:21
The staff of this bruised reed - Egypt had already been greatly bruised and broken, through the wars carried on against it by the Assyrians.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:22
Whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away - This was artfully malicious. Many of the people sacrificed to Jehovah on the high places; Hezekiah had removed them, (Kg2 18:4), because they were incentives to idolatry: Rab-shakeh insinuates that by so doing he had offended Jehovah, deprived the people of their religious rights, and he could neither expect the blessing of God nor the cooperation of the people.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:23
I will deliver thee two thousand horses - Another insult: Were I to give thee two thousand Assyrian horses, thou couldst not find riders for them. How then canst thou think that thou shalt be able to stand against even the smallest division of my troops?
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:25
Am I now come up without the Lord - As Rab-shakeh saw that the Jews placed the utmost confidence in God, he wished to persuade them that by Hezekiah's conduct Jehovah had departed from them, and was become ally to the king of Assyria, and therefore they could not expect any help from that quarter.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:26
Talk not with us in the Jews' language - The object of this blasphemous caitiff was to stir up the people to sedition, that the city and the king might be delivered into his hand.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:27
That they may eat their own dung - That they may be duly apprised, if they hold on Hezekiah's side, Jerusalem shall be most straitly besieged, and they be reduced to such a state of famine as to be obliged to eat their own excrements.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:28
Hear the word of the great king - of Assyria - This was all intended to cause the people to revolt from their allegiance to their king.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:32
Until I come and take you away - This was well calculated to stir up a seditious spirit. Ye cannot be delivered; your destruction, if ye resist, is inevitable; Sennacherib will do with you, as he does with all the nations he conquers, lead you captive into another land: but if you will surrender without farther trouble, he will transport you into a land as good as your own.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:34
Where are the gods of Hamath - Sennacherib is greater than any of the gods of the nations. The Assyrians have already overthrown the gods of Hamath, Arpad, Hena, and Ivah; therefore, Jehovah shall be like one of them, and shall not be able to deliver Jerusalem out of the hand of my master.
The impudent blasphemy of this speech is without parallel. Hezekiah treated it as he ought: it was not properly against him, but against the Lord; therefore he refers the matter to Jehovah himself, who punishes this blasphemy in the most signal manner.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:36
Answer him not - The blasphemy is too barefaced; Jehovah is insulted, not you; let him avenge his own quarrel. See the succeeding chapter, 2 Kings 19 (note).
4 Kings (2 Kings) 18:37
Then came Eliakim - and Shebna - and Joah - to Hezekiah with their clothes rent - It was the custom of the Hebrews, when they heard any blasphemy, to rend their clothes, because this was the greatest of crimes, as it immediately affected the majesty of God, and it was right that a religious people should have in the utmost abhorrence every insult offered to the object of their religious worship. These three ambassadors lay the matter before the king as God's representative; he lays it before the prophet, as God's minister; and the prophet lays it before God, as the people's mediator.