The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Isaiah 36

Isa 36:1


SENNACHERIB KING OF ASSYRIA ATTACKED ALL THE FORTIFIED CITIES OF JUDAH AND CAPTURED THEM: On an Assyrian record, Sennacherib claimed to have taken 46 cities of Judah during this campaign (cp 2Ch 32:1).

Isa 36:2

THEN THE KING OF ASSYRIA SENT HIS FIELD COMMANDER: "Rabshakeh" (as in AV: the word literally means: "chief cup-bearer") is a title that seems about equivalent to field commander.

LACHISH: A strongly fortified city of Judah about 30 mi sw of Jerusalem (Jos 15:39; 2Ch 11:9).

THE COMMANDER STOPPED AT THE AQUEDUCT OF THE UPPER POOL, ON THE ROAD TO THE WASHERMAN'S FIELD: 2Ki 18:17 records that three military officials represented Sennacherib, but Isaiah referred to only the speaker among them.

The place where the Assyrian commander took his stand near Jerusalem was the same place where Isaiah had stood when he urged Ahaz to trust God a number of years earlier (cp Isa 7:3). It was because Ahaz failed to trust God earlier that the Assyrian official stood there now (cp Isa 8:5-8). The very nation that Ahaz had trusted proved to be the greatest threat to her safety only one generation later. Father and son both faced a threat of destruction, both recognized the inadequacy of their own strength, but one trusted man and suffered defeat -- whereas the other trusted God and enjoyed deliverance.

Isa 36:3

ELIAKIM SON OF HILKIAH THE PALACE ADMINISTRATOR, SHEBNA THE SECRETARY, AND JOAH SON OF ASAPH THE RECORDER WENT OUT TO HIM: Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah were all important officials in Hezekiah's government (cp Isa 22:20-23).

Isa 36:4

Vv 4-10: The point of the Rabshakeh's first speech was that there is no salvation in faith; no deliverance would come from trusting Yahweh. Judah should surrender because Egypt would not help her (v 6), Yahweh would not help her (v 7), she did not have enough military manpower to win (vv 8,9), and Assyria had authority from Yahweh to attack Jerusalem (v 10). This speech challenged everything Isaiah had been preaching.

THE FIELD COMMANDER SAID TO THEM, "TELL HEZEKIAH, "'THIS IS WHAT THE GREAT KING, THE KING OF ASSYRIA, SAYS...": The Rabshakeh told the Judean officials to give Hezekiah -- he did not call him a king -- a message from "the great king", a title the Assyrian monarchs arrogantly claimed for themselves (cp Isa 10:8; 30:33). Clearly Sennacherib wanted the listening Jews to know that he regarded Hezekiah as a minor chieftain incapable of resisting the massive power of the Assyrian Empire.

Isa 36:6

LOOK NOW, YOU ARE DEPENDING ON EGYPT, THAT SPLINTERED REED OF A STAFF, WHICH PIERCES A MAN'S HAND AND WOUNDS HIM IF HE LEANS ON IT! SUCH IS PHARAOH KING OF EGYPT TO ALL WHO DEPEND ON HIM: He knew that some of the Judean nobles had put their trust in Egypt and had sent ambassadors there to make a treaty (cp Isa 30:1-7). But he also knew, better than those officials, that Egypt was not only an unreliable ally but a dangerous one, an opinion Isaiah shared (cp Isa 20; 28:15; Eze 29:6). Sennacherib had already defeated the Egyptians, who for the first and last time had unsuccessfully come to the aid of the Philistines, at Eltekeh northwest of Lachish.

Isa 36:7

AND IF YOU SAY TO ME, "WE ARE DEPENDING ON THE LORD OUR GOD" -- ISN'T HE THE ONE WHOSE HIGH PLACES AND ALTARS HEZEKIAH REMOVED, SAYING TO JUDAH AND JERUSALEM, "YOU MUST WORSHIP BEFORE THIS ALTAR"?: The Rabshakeh knew about Hezekiah's religious reforms in which he had removed many of the altars from the land (cp 2Ki 18:1-7; 2Ch 29 -- 31). Evidently the commander believed that removing altars would antagonize Yahweh, but Hezekiah was really purifying Yahweh worship. Or perhaps he knew better, but didn't care -- since many of the Judeans believed that the removal of those altars was a bad thing anyway, and it was to those people that the Rabshakeh was evidently appealing.

Isa 36:10

FURTHERMORE, HAVE I COME TO ATTACK AND DESTROY THIS LAND WITHOUT THE LORD? THE LORD HIMSELF TOLD ME TO MARCH AGAINST THIS COUNTRY AND DESTROY IT: Perhaps the commander was referring to Isa 10:5,6, Isaiah's prophecy that God would send Assyria against His people. Alternatively, he may have just been claiming divine authorization for Sennacherib's invasion when there was none. It was not unusual for ANE conquerors to claim that the god of the invaded people had joined the invader.

Isa 36:11

THEN ELIAKIM, SHEBNA AND JOAH SAID TO THE FIELD COMMANDER, "PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR SERVANTS IN ARAMAIC, SINCE WE UNDERSTAND IT. DON'T SPEAK TO US IN HEBREW IN THE HEARING OF THE PEOPLE ON THE WALL": Aramaic was the common language of diplomacy; politicians normally conducted diplomatic talks in that language. (It did not become the common language in Israel until many years later.) The Rabshakeh, however, spoke to the kings' officials in the common Hebrew that all the people understood. He probably did this so all the people, not just the king's officials, would understand his message. He may also have been intending it as an insult to the king's officials: by using Hebrew the commander was also implying that they did not know Aramaic, ie, that they were unlearned.

Isa 36:12

WHO, LIKE YOU, WILL HAVE TO EAT THEIR OWN FILTH AND DRINK THEIR OWN URINE: He sought to picture in the most disgusting terms the horrors of the coming siege -- a form of propaganda.

Isa 36:14

DO NOT LET HEZEKIAH DECEIVE YOU: Apparently Rabshakeh knew of Hezekiah's speech of exhortation to Judah (2Ch 32:7,8).

Isa 36:16

'Be my servants!' Rabshakeh the Assyrian cried out to the watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem: 'Make an agreement... seek my favor with presents, come out to me... and then you will really live! You will eat of the vine and the fig tree, and you will drink waters of your own cistern. And some day I'll take you away to a land of grain fields gently rustling in the cool breezes! Do you honestly want to starve and die on these bare Judean hills?' In like manner the siren-song of a materialistic world calls us down from the walls of faith, freely to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Pleasurable it may be, but only for a time. Freedom it will never be; man was not created to be free, but only to choose which of two masters he will serve. He who commits sin is the servant of sin (Joh 8:34), and whatever fleeting enjoyment he experiences will be with the fear of a deserter and the greed of a slave. The "Rabshakeh" still cries out, "Serve me!" and the faithful still respond, with faithful Hezekiah, "Our eyes wait upon the Lord!" (Psa 123:2).

Isa 36:19

HAMATH: A Hittite city on the Orontes River (Isa 10:9).

ARPAD: Taken by Tiglath-pileser 740 BC; suppressed by Sargon 720 BC; near Hamath.

SEPHARVAIM: A city east of Euphrates River, near Babylon.

SAMARIA: Northern Kingdom, Israel, captured by Assyrians in immediate past.

Isa 36:22

WITH THEIR CLOTHES TORN: Expressing grief and dismay, at the blasphemy of Rabshakeh: cp Mat 26:65; Acts 14:14.
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