Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Fulfilments of Prophecy; Prophecies Belonging to the Fourteenth Year of Hezekiah's Reign; and the Times Immediately Following - Isaiah 36-39 part vii
To the first six books of Isaiah's prophecies there is now appended a seventh. The six form three syzygies. In the "Book of Hardening," chapters 1-6 (apart from chapter 1, which belonged to the times of Uzziah and Jotham), we saw Israel's day of grace brought to an end. In the "Book of Immanuel," chapters 7-12 (from the time of Ahaz), we saw the judgment of hardening and destruction in its first stage of accomplishment; but Immanuel was pledge that, even if the great mass should perish, neither the whole of Israel nor the house of David would be destroyed. The separate judgments through which the way was to be prepared for the kingdom of Immanuel, are announced in the "Book concerning the Nations," chapters 13-23 (from the time of Ahaz and Hezekiah); and the general judgment in which they would issue, and after which a new Israel would triumph, is foretold in the "Book of the great Catastrophe," chapters 24-27 (after the fifteenth year of Hezekiah). These two syzygies form the first great orbit of the collection. A second opens with the "Book of Woes, or of the Precious Corner-stone," chapters 28-33 (ch. 28-32, from the first years of Hezekiah, and chapter 33 from the fourteenth year), by the side of which is placed the "Book of the Judgment upon Edom, and of the Restoration of Israel," chapters 34-35 (after Hezekiah's fifteenth year). The former shows how Ephraim succumbs to the power of Asshur, and Judah's trust in Egypt is put to shame; the latter, how the world, with its hostility to the church, eventually succumbs to the vengeance of Jehovah, whereas the church itself is redeemed and glorified. Then follows, in chapters 36-39, a "Book of Histories," which returns from the ideal distances of chapters 34-35 to the historical realities of chapters 33, and begins by stating that "at the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field," where Ahaz had formerly preferred the help of Asshur to that of Jehovah, there stood an embassy from the king of Asshur with a detachment of his army (Isa 36:2), scornfully demanding the surrender of Jerusalem.
Just as we have found throughout a well-considered succession and dovetailing of the several parts, so here we can see reciprocal bearings, which are both designed and expressive; and it is priori a probable thing that Isaiah, who wrote the historical introduction to the Judaeo-Assyrian drama in the second book, is the author of the concluding act of the same drama, which is here the subject of Book 7. The fact that the murder of Sennacherib is related in Isa 37:37-38, in accordance with the prophecy in Isa 37:7, does not render this impossible, since, according to credible tradition, Isaiah outlived Hezekiah. The assertion made by Hitzig and others - that the speciality of the prophecy, and the miraculous character of the events recorded in chapters 36-39, preclude the possibility of Isaiah's authorship, inasmuch as, "according to a well-known critical rule," such special prophecies as these are always vaticinia ex eventu, and accounts of miracles are always more recent than their historical germ - rests upon a foregone conclusion which was completed before any investigation took place, and which we have good ground for rejecting, although we are well acquainted with the valuable service that has been rendered by this philosopher's stone. The statement that accounts of miracles as such are never contemporaneous with the events themselves, is altogether at variance with experience; and if the advance from the general to the particular were to be blotted out of Isaiah's prophecy in relation to Asshur, this would be not only unhistorical, but unpsychological also.
The question whether Isaiah is the author of chapters 36-39 or not, is bound up with the question whether the original place of these histories is in the book of Isaiah or the book of Kings, where the whole passage is repeated with the exception of Hezekiah's psalm of thanksgiving (2 Kings 18:13-20:19). We shall find that the text of the book of Kings is in several places the purer and more authentic of the two (though not so much so as a biassed prejudice would assume), from which it apparently follows that this section is not in its original position in the book of Isaiah, but has been taken from some other place and inserted there. But this conclusion is a deceptive one. In the relation in which Jer 52 and 2 Kings 24:18-25:30 stand to one another, we have a proof that the text of a passage may be more faithfully preserved in a secondary place than in its original one. For in this particular instance it is equally certain that the section relating to king Zedekiah and the Chaldean catastrophe was written by the author of the book of Kings, whose style was formed on that of Deuteronomy, and also, that in the book of Jeremiah it is an appendix taken by an unknown hand from the book of the Kings. But it is also an acknowledged fact, that the text of Jer is incomparably the purer of the two, and also that there are many other instances in which the passage in the book of Kings is corrupt - that is to say, in the form in which it lies before us now - whereas the Alexandrian translator had it in his possession in a partially better form. Consequently, the fact that Isaiah 36-39 is in some respects less pure than 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, cannot be any argument in itself against the originality of this section in the book of Isaiah.
It is indeed altogether inconceivable, that the author of the book of Kings should have written it; for, on the one hand, the liberality of the prophetic addresses communicated point to a written source; and, on the other hand, it is wanting in that Deuteronomic stamp, by which the hand of this author is so easily recognised. Nor can it have been copied by him out of the annals of Hezekiah (dibhrē hayyâmı̄m), as is commonly supposed, since it is written in prophetic and not in annalistic style. Whoever has once made himself acquainted with these two different kinds of historical composition, the fundamentally different characteristics of which we have pointed out in the Introduction, can never by any possibility confound them again. And this passage is written in a style so peculiarly prophetical, that, like the magnificent historical accounts of Elijah, for example, which commence so abruptly in Kg2 17:1, it must have been taken from some special and prophetical source, which had nothing to do with other prophetico-historical portions of the book of Kings. And the following facts are sufficient to raise the probability, that this source was no other than the book of Isaiah itself, into an absolute certainty. In the first place, the author of the book of Kings had the book of Isaiah amongst the different sources, of which his apparatus was composed; this is evident from Kg2 16:5, a passage which was written with Isa 7:1 in view. And secondly, we have express, though indirect, testimony to the effect that this section, which treats of the most important epoch in Hezekiah's reign, is in its original place in the book of Isaiah. The author of the book of Chronicles says, in Ch2 32:32 : "Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and the gracious occurrences of his life, behold, they are written in the vision (châzōn) of Isaiah the son of Amoz, and in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel." This notice clearly proves that a certain historical account of Hezekiah had either been taken out of the collection of Isaiah's prophecies, which is headed châzōn (vision), and inserted in the "book of the kings of Judah and Israel," or else had been so inserted along with the whole collection. The book of the Kings was the principal source employed by the chronicler, which he calls "the midrash of the book of the Kings" in Ch2 24:27. Into this Midrash, or else into the still earlier work upon which it was a commentary, the section in question was copied from the book of Isaiah; and it follows from this, that the writer of the history of the kings made use of our book of Isaiah for one portion of the history of Hezekiah's reign, and made extracts from it. The chronicler himself did not care to repeat the whole section, which he knew to be already contained in the canonical book of Kings (to say nothing of the book of Isaiah). At the same time, his own historical account of Hezekiah in Ch2 27:1-9 clearly shows that he was acquainted with it, and also that the historical materials, which the annals supplied to him through the medium of the Midrash, were totally different both in substance and form from those contained in the section in question. These two testimonies are further strengthened by the fact, that Isaiah is well known to us as a historian through another passage in the Chronicles, namely, as the author of a complete history of Uzziah's reign; also by the fact, that the prophetico-historical style of chapters 36-39, with their fine, noble, pictorial prose, which is comparable to the grandest historical composition to be met with in Hebrew, is worthy of Isaiah, and bears every mark of Isaiah's pen; thirdly, by the fact, that there are other instances in which Isaiah has interwoven historical accounts with his prophecies (chapters 7-8 and Isa 20:1-6), and that in so doing he sometimes speaks of himself in the first person (Isa 6:1; Isa 8:1-4), and sometimes in the third (Isa 7:3., and Isa 20:1), just as in chapters 36-39; and fourthly, by the fact that, as we have already observed, Isa 7:3 and Isa 36:2 bear the clearest marks of having had one and the same author; and, as we shall also show, the order in which the four accounts in chapters 36-39 are arranged, corresponds to the general plan of the whole collection of prophecies - chapters 36 and 37 looking back to the prophecies of the Assyrian era, and chapters 38 and Isa 39:1-8 looking forwards to those of the Babylonian era, which is the prophet's ideal present from chapter 40 onwards.
Marcus V. Niebuhr, in his History of Asshur and Babel (p. 164), says, "Why should not Hezekiah have revolted from Asshur as soon as he ascended the throne? He had a motive for doing this, which other kings had not - namely, that as he held his kingdom in fief from his God, obedience to a temporal monarch was in his case sin." But this assumption, which is founded upon the same idea as that in which the question was put to Jesus concerning the tribute money, is not at all in accordance with Isaiah's view, as we may see from chapters 28-32; and Hezekiah's revolt cannot have occurred even in the sixth year of his reign. For Shalmanassar, or rather Sargon, made war upon Egypt and Ethiopia after the destruction of Samaria (Isa 20:1-6; cf., Oppert, Les Inscriptions des Sargonides, pp. 22, 27), without attempting anything against Hezekiah. It was not till the time of Sargon, who overthrew the reigning house of Assyria, that the actual preparations for the revolt were commenced, by the formation of an alliance between the kingdom of Judah on the one hand, and Egypt, and probably Philistia, on the other, the object of which was the rupture of the Assyrian yoke.
(Note: The name Amgarron upon the earthenware prism of Sennacherib does not mean Migron (Oppert), but Ekron (Rawlinson).)
The campaign of Sennacherib the son of Sargon, into which we are transported in the following history, was the third of his expeditions, the one to which Sennacherib himself refers in the inscription upon the prism: "dans ma ̄e campagne je marchai vers la Syrie." The position which we find Sennacherib taking up between Philistia and Jerusalem, to the south-west of the latter, is a very characteristic one in relation to both the occasion and the ultimate object of the campaign.
(Note: We shall show the variations in the text of Kg2 18:13., as far as we possibly can, in our translation. K. signifies the book of Kings. But the task of pronouncing an infallible sentence upon them all we shall leave to those who know everything.)
Isa 32:1 "And it came to pass in the (K. and in the) fourteenth year of king Hizkyahu, Sancherb king of Asshur came up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them. (K. adds: Then Hizkiyah king of Judah sent to the king of Asshur to Lachish, saying, I have sinned, withdraw from me again; what thou imposest upon me I will raise. And the king of Asshur imposed upon Hizkiyah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver, and thirty talents of gold. And Hizkiyah gave up all the silver that was in the house of Jehovah, and in the treasures of the king's house. At the same time Hizkiyah mutilated the doors of the temple of Jehovah, and the pillars which Hizkiyah king of Judah had plated with gold, and gave it to the king of Asshur)." This long addition, which is distinguished at once by the introduction of חזיקה in the place of חזקיהו, is probably only an annalistic interpolation, though one of great importance in relation to Isa 33:7. What follows in Isaiah does not dovetail well into this addition, and therefore does not presuppose its existence. Isa 36:2 "Then the king of Asshur sent Rabshakeh (K.: Tartan, and Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh) from Lachish towards Jerusalem to king Hizkiyahu with a great army, and he advanced (K.: to king H. with a great army to Jerusalem; and they went up and came to Jerusalem, and went up, and came and advanced) to the conduit of the upper pool by the road of the fuller's field." Whereas in K. the repeated ויבאו ויעלו (and went up and came) forms a "dittography," the names Tartan and Rab-saris have apparently dropped out of the text of Isaiah, as Isa 37:6, Isa 37:24 presuppose a plurality of messengers. The three names are not names of persons, but official titles, viz., the commander-in-chief (Tartan, which really occurs in an Assyrian list of offices; see Rawlinson, Monarchies, ii. 412), the chief cup-bearer (רבשׁקה with tzere = רבשׁקא)). The situation of Lachish is marked by the present ruins of Umm Lakis, to the south-west of Bet-Gibrin ((Eleutheropolis) in the Shephelah. The messengers come from the south-west with the ultima ratio of a strong detachment (חיל a connecting form, from חיל, like גדולה גּיא, Zac 14:4; Ewald, 287, a); they therefore halt on the western side of Jerusalem (on the locality, see at Isa 7:3; Isa 22:8-11; compare Keil on Kings).
Hezekiah's confidential ministers go there also. Isa 36:3 (K. "And they called to the king), and there went out to him (K. to them) Eliakim son of Hilkiyahu, the house-minister, and Shebna the chancellor, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder." On the office of the house-minister, or major-domo, which was now filled by Eliakim instead of Shebna (שׁבנא, K. twice שׁבנה), see Isa 22:15.; and on that of sōphēr and mazkı̄r. Rabshakeh's message follows in Isa 36:4-10 : "And Rabshakeh said to them, Say now to Hizkiyahu, Thus saith the great king, the king of Asshur, What sort of confidence is this that thou hast got? I say (K. thou sayest, i.e., thou talkest), vain talk is counsel and strength for war: now, then, in whom dost thou trust, that thou hast rebelled against me? (K. Now) Behold, thou trustest (K. לּך) in this broken reed-staff there, in Egypt, on which one leans, and it runs into his hand and pierces it; so does Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. But if thou sayest to me (K. ye say), We trust in Jehovah our God; is it not He whose high places and altars Hizkiyahu has removed, and has said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before the altar (K. ads, in Jerusalem)? And now take a wager with my lord (K. with) the king of Asshur; I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou art able for thy part to give horsemen upon them. And how couldst thou repel the advance of a single satrap among the least of the servants of my lord?! Thou puttest thy trust then in Egypt for chariots and riders! And (omitted in K.) now have I come up without Jehovah against this land to destroy it (K. against this place, to destroy it)? Jehovah said to me, Go up to (K. against) this land, and destroy it." The chronicler has a portion of this address of Rabshakeh in Ch2 32:10-12. And just as the prophetic words in the book of Kings have a Deuteronomic sound, and those in the Chronicles the ring of a chronicle, so do Rabshakeh's words, and those which follow, sound like the words of Isaiah himself. "The great king" is the standing royal title appended to the names of Sargon and Sennacherib upon the Assyrian monuments (compare Isa 10:8). Hezekiah is not thought worthy of the title of king, ether here or afterwards. The reading אמרתּ in Isa 36:5 (thou speakest vain talk) is not the preferable one, because in that case we should expect דּבּרתּ, or rather (according to the usual style) אך דּבּרתּ. The meaning is, that he must look upon Hezekiah's resolution, and his strength (וּגבוּרה עצה connected as in Isa 11:2) for going to war, as mere boasting ("lip-words," as in Pro 14:23), and must therefore assume that there was something in the background of which he was well aware. And this must be Egypt, which would not only be of no real help to its ally, but would rather do him harm by leaving him in the lurch. The figure of a reed-staff has been borrowed by Ezekiel in Isa 29:6-7. It was a very appropriate one for Egypt, with its abundance of reeds and rushes (Isa 19:6), and it has Isaiah's peculiar ring (for the expression itself, compare Isa 42:3; and for the fact itself, Isa 30:5, and other passages). רצוּץ does not mean fragile (Luzz. quella fragil canna), but broken, namely, in consequence of the loss of the throne by the native royal family, from whom it had been wrested by the Ethiopians (Isa 18:1-7), and the defeats sustained at the hands of Sargon (Isa 20:1-6). The construction cui quis innitur et intrat is paratactic for cui si quis. In Isa 36:7 the reading תאמרוּן commends itself, from the fact that the sentence is not continued with הסירת; but as Hezekiah is addressed throughout, and it is to him that the reply is to be made, the original reading was probably תאמר. The fact that Hezekiah had restricted the worship of Jehovah to Jerusalem, by removing the other places of worship (Kg2 18:4), is brought against him in a thoroughly heathen, and yet at the same time (considering the inclination to worship other gods which still existed in the nation) a very crafty manner. In Isa 36:8, Isa 36:9, he throws in his teeth, with most imposing scorn, his own weakness as compared with Asshur, which was chiefly dreaded on account of its strength in cavalry and war-chariots. נא התערב does not refer to the performance and counter-performance which follow, in the sense of "connect thyself" (Luzz. associati), but is used in a similar sense to the Omeric μιγῆναι, though with the idea of vying with one another, not of engaging in war (the synonym in the Talmud is himrâh, to bet, e.g., b. Sabbath 31a): a bet and a pledge are kindred notions (Heb. ערבון, cf., Lat. vadari). On pechâh (for pachâh), which also occurs as an Assyrian title in Eze 23:6, Eze 23:23. אחד פּחת, two constructives, the first of which is to be explained according to Ewald, 286, a (compare above, Isa 36:2, כבד חיל), form the logical regens of the following servorum dominin mei minimorum; and hēshı̄bh penē does not mean here to refuse a petitioner, but to repel an antagonist (Isa 28:6). The fut. consec. ותּבטח deduces a consequence: Hezekiah could not do anything by himself, and therefore he trusted in Egypt, from which he expected chariots and horsemen. In Isa 36:10, the prophetic idea, that Asshur was the instrument employed by Jehovah (Isa 10:5, etc.), is put into the mouth of the Assyrian himself. This is very conceivable, but the colouring of Isaiah is undeniable.
The concluding words, in which the Assyrian boasts of having Jehovah on his side, affect the messengers of Hezekiah in the keenest manner, especially because of the people present. "Then said Eliakim (K. the son of Hilkiyahu), and Shebna, and Joah, to Rabshakeh, Pray, speak to thy servants in Aramaean, for we understand it; and do not speak to (K. with) us in Jewish, in the ears of the people that are on the wall." They spoke Yehūdı̄th, i.e., the colloquial language of the kingdom of Judah. The kingdom of Israel was no longer in existence, and the language of the Israelitish nation, as a whole, might therefore already be called Judaean (Jewish), as in Neh 13:24, more especially as there may have been a far greater dialectical difference between the popular speech of the northern and southern kingdoms, than we can gather from the biblical books that were written in the one or the other. Aramaean ('arâmı̄th), however, appears to have been even then, as it was at a later period (Ezr 4:7), the language of intercourse between the empire of Eastern Asia and the people to the west of the Tigris (compare Alex. Polyhistor in Euseb. chron. arm. i. 43, where Sennacherib is said to have erected a monument with a Chaldean inscription); and consequently educated Judaeans not only understood it, but were able to speak it, more especially those who were in the service of the state. Assyrian, on the contrary, was unintelligible to Judaeans (Isa 28:11; Isa 33:19), although this applied comparatively less to the true Assyrian dialect, which was Semitic, and can be interpreted for the most part from the Hebrew (see Oppert's "Outlines of an Assyrian Grammar" in the Journal Asiatique, 1859), than to the motley language of the Assyrian army, which was a compound of Arian and Turanian elements. The name Sennacherib (Sanchērı̄bh = סן־אסהי־ירב, lxx Sennachēreim, i.e., "Sin, the moon-god, had multiplied the brethren") is Semitic; on the other hand, the name Tartan, which cannot be interpreted either from the Semitic or the Arian, is an example of the element referred to, which was so utterly strange to a Judaean ear.
The harsh reply is given in Isa 36:12. "Then Rabshakeh said (K. to them), Has my lord sent me to (K. העל) the men who sit upon the wall, to eat their dung, and to drink their urine together with you?" - namely, because their rulers were exposing them to a siege which would involve the most dreadful state of famine.
After Rabshakeh had refused the request of Hezekiah's representatives in this contemptuous manner, he turned in defiance of them to the people themselves. "Then Rabshakeh went near, and cried with a loud voice in the Jewish language (K. and spake), and said, Hear the words (K. the word) of the great king, the king of Asshur. Thus saith the king, Let not Hizkiyahu practise deception upon you (יסה, K. יסהיא)); for he cannot deliver you (K. out of his hand). And let not Hizkiyahu feed you with hope in Jehovah, saying, Jehovah will deliver, yea, deliver us: (K. and) this city will not be delivered into the hand of the king of Asshur. Hearken not to Hizkiyahu: for thus saith the king (hammelekh, K. melekh) of Asshur, Enter into a connection of mutual good wishes with me, and come out to me: and enjoy every one his vine, and every one his fig-tree, and drink every one the water of his cistern; till I come and take you away into a land like your land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread-corn and vineyards (K. a land full of fine olive-trees and honey, and live and do not die, and hearken not to Hizkiyahu); that Hizkiyahu to not befool you (K. for he befools you), saying, Jehovah will deliver us! Have the gods of the nations delivered (K. really delivered) every one his land out of the hand of the king of Asshur? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? where the gods of Sepharvayim (K. adds, Hena‛ and ‛Ivah)? and how much less (וכי, K. כּי) have they delivered that Samaria out of my hand? Who were they among all the gods of these (K. of the) lands, who delivered their land out of my hand? how much less will Jehovah deliver Jerusalem out of my hand!? The chronicler also has this continuation of Rabshakeh's address in part (Ch2 32:13-15), but he has fused into one the Assyrian self-praise uttered by Rabshakeh on his first and second mission. The encouragement of the people, by referring to the help of Jehovah (Ch2 32:6-8), is placed by him before this first account is given by Isaiah, and forms a conclusion to the preparations for the contest with Asshur as there described. Rabshakeh now draws nearer to the wall, and harangues the people. השּׁיא is construed here with a dative (to excite treacherous hopes); whereas in Ch2 32:15 it is written with an accusative. The reading מיּדו is altered from מיּדי in Isa 36:20, which is inserted still more frequently by the chronicler. The reading את־העיר with תנּתן is incorrect; it would require ינּתן (Ges. 143, 1a). To make a berâkhâh with a person was equivalent to entering into a relation of blessing, i.e., into a state of mind in which each wished all prosperity to the other. This was probably a common phrase, though we only meet with it here. יצא, when applied to the besieged, is equivalent to surrendering (e.g., Sa1 11:3). If they did that, they should remain in quiet possession and enjoyment, until the Assyrian fetched them away (after the Egyptian campaign was over), and transported them to a land which he describes to them in the most enticing terms, in order to soften down the inevitable transportation. It is a question whether the expansion of this picture in the book of Kings is original or not; since ועוּה הנע in Isa 36:19 appears to be also tacked on here from Isa 37:13 (see at this passage). On Hamath and Arpad (to the north of Haleb in northern Syria, and a different place from Arvad = Arad), see Isa 10:9. Sepharvayim (a dual form, the house of the Sepharvı̄m, Kg2 17:31) is the Sipphara of Ptol. v. 18, 7, the southernmost city of Mesopotamia, on the left bank of the Euphrates; Pliny's Hipparenum on the Narraga, i.e., the canal, nehar malkâ, the key to the irrigating or inundating works of Babylon, which were completed afterwards by Nebuchadnezzar (Plin. h. n. vi. 30); probably the same place as the sun-city, Sippara, in which Xisuthros concealed the sacred books before the great flood (see K. Mller's Fragmenta Historicorum Gr. ii. 501-2). פּן in Isa 36:18 has a warning meaning (as if it followed לכם השּׁמרו ); and both וכי and כּי in Isa 36:19, Isa 36:20, introduce an exclamatory clause when following a negative interrogatory sentence: and that they should have saved," or "that Jehovah should save," equivalent to "how much less have they saved, or will He save" (Ewald, 354, c; comp. אף־כּי, Ch2 32:15). Rabshakeh's words in Isa 36:18-20 are the same as those in Isa 10:8-11. The manner in which he defies the gods of the heathen, of Samaria, and last of all of Jerusalem, corresponds to the prophecy there. It is the prophet himself who acts as historian here, and describes the fulfilment of the prophecy, though without therefore doing violence to his character as a prophet.
The effect of Rabshakeh's words. "But they held their peace (K. and they, the people, held their peace), and answered him not a word; for it was the king's commandment, saying, Ye shall not answer him. Then came Eliakim son of Hilkiyahu (K. Hilkiyah), the house-minister, and Shebna the chancellor, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder, to Hizkiyahu, with torn clothes, and told him the words of Rabshakeh." It is only a superficial observation that could commend the reading in Kings, "They, the people, held their peace," which Hitzig and Knobel prefer, but which Luzzatto very properly rejects. As the Assyrians wished to speak to the king himself (Kg2 18:18), who sent the three to them as his representatives, the command to hear, and to make no reply, can only have applied to them (and they had already made the matter worse by the one remark which they had made concerning the language); and the reading ויּחרישׁוּ in the text of Isaiah is the correct one. The three were silent, because the king had imposed the duty of silence upon them; and regarding themselves as dismissed, inasmuch as Rabshakeh had turned away from them to the people, they hastened to the king, rending their clothes, in despair and grief and the disgrace they had experienced.