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Isaiah 36:1-22 | Werner Bible Commentary

Isaiah 36:1-22

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36:1. Masoretic Text: And it was in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah [that] Sennacherib, king of Asshur [Assyria], came against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them.

Septuagint: And it occurred in the fourteenth year of the reign of Hezekiah [that] Sennacherib [Sennacherim], king of the Assyrians, came up against the strong cities of Judea and took them.

The section that starts here and ends with verse 8 of chapter 39 narrates how Jerusalem was delivered from falling to the Assyrians and reveals that Babylon would prove to be the military power that would succeed in conquering Jerusalem. An almost identical account is found in 2 Kings 18:13, 17-37; 19:1-37; 20:1-19 and a shorter version in 2 Chronicles 32:9-26. With the exception of one minor difference, the wording of Isaiah 36:1 and 2 Kings 18:13 is the same.

The narrative in the Chronicles account is based on the vision of the prophet Isaiah “in the scroll of the kings of Judah and Israel.” (2 Chronicles 32:32) This suggests that copies of the royal archives must have been taken to Babylon at the time Jehoiachin, members of the royal household, warriors, craftsmen and many others were taken into exile. Jehoiachin, his mother, his servants, his princes, and his officials surrendered, and so it is reasonable to conclude that they would have been able to take scrolls with them. (2 Kings 24:12-16) It may well be that a duplicate set of archives was later taken to Egypt, providing the basis for the Kings account. (2 Kings 25:22-26; Jeremiah 43:4-7) Likely the version in the book of Isaiah preserves the oldest narration of the events from Hezekiah’s reign.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah uses a shorter form of spelling for the name “Hezekiah.”

Commentary

Standard reference works state that 701 BCE was the year of Sennacherib’s military campaign against the kingdom of Judah. This date, however, does not fit the combined length of the reigns of Judean kings from the fourteenth year of Zedekiah until King Jehoiachin was taken into Babylonian exile. A cuneiform inscription (British Museum 21946) indicates that the “king of Akkad” (Nebuchadnezzar) mustered his army in the month Kislev (November/December) in the seventh year of his reign and captured the city of Judah (Jerusalem) on the second day of the month Adar (February/March). According to 2 Kings 24:12, Judean King Jehoiachin was taken prisoner in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, basically agreeing with the cuneiform inscription. Between the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign and the exile of King Jehoiachin, a period of about 114 years passed (the remaining 15 years of Hezekiah’s reign [2 Kings 18:2], 55 years for Manasseh [2 Kings 21:1], 2 years for Amon [2 Kings 21:19], 31 years for Josiah [2 Kings 22:1], three months for Jehoahaz [2 Kings 23:31], 11 years for Jehoiakim [2 Kings 23:36], and three months and ten days for Jehoiachin [2 Chronicles 36:9]). The period of about 114 years is some ten years beyond the commonly accepted year for Jehoiachin’s exile. Extant Assyrian inscriptions do not contain specifics about the length of time the Assyrian kings from Ashurbanipal onward reigned until Nineveh fell.

An Assyrian inscription states that Sennacherib carried out a campaign against fortified cities and other places in the land of Judah. “Sennacherib’s Prism” says, “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity.” (Ancient Near Eastern Texts [ANET], Third Edition, Revised With Supplement, edited by James B. Pritchard, page 288)

According to 2 Kings 18:14-16, Hezekiah acknowledged that he had transgressed against the king of Assyria and, through messengers, requested that the monarch tell him what he wanted in order to end hostilities. The “sin” or transgression was Hezekiah’s attempt to cast off the Assyrian yoke to which his father Ahaz had submitted the kingdom of Judah through an alliance with Assyria to deal with a threat from Syria and the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (2 Kings 16:7-9; 18:7, 8)

Sennacherib required the payment of a large tribute (three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold). In response, Hezekiah gave Sennacherib all the silver found in YHWH’s temple and in the treasuries of the palace. This included the gold from the temple doors and the doorposts. Although the account does not say where Sennacherib received the tribute, the indications in the biblical account are that Hezekiah met the condition prior to Sennacherib’s sending of the Rabshakeh with a military force to Jerusalem. (2 Kings 18:14-16)

In the Assyrian inscription (Sennacherib’s Prism), the monarch claims that he received the tribute at Nineveh. “Hezekiah himself, whom the terror-inspiring splendor of my lordship had overwhelmed and whose irregular and elite troops which he had brought into Jerusalem, his royal residence, in order to strengthen (it), had deserted him, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches (inlaid) with ivory, nîmedu-chairs (inlaid) with ivory, elephant-hides, ebony-wood, boxwood (and) all kinds of valuable treasures, his (own) daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger.” (ANET, page 288)

In view of the reverses he had experienced and his not conquering Jerusalem, Sennacherib may well have altered the sequence of events and represented himself as having attained a great victory. The biblical account does not necessarily provide a complete list of all the items that constituted the tribute. Whether the reference to 800 talents of silver (not 300) is an exaggeration cannot be confirmed. The “Old Greek” version of the Septuagint indicates that the tribute was much larger — 300 silver talents and 300 gold talents. In other manuscripts of the Septuagint, the values are the same as in the Hebrew text.

Sennacherib does not appear to have been satisfied with just the tribute. (See the comments on 33:7.) He wanted Jerusalem to surrender and sent three high officials with a significant number of warriors to convey his demand. (2 Kings 18:17) Prior to this, Hezekiah had arranged to strengthen the fortifications of Jerusalem and to make the springs outside the city inaccessible to the Assyrian military. (2 Chronicles 32:2-5)

36:2. Masoretic Text: And the king of Asshur [Assyria] sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah with a significant [literally, “heavy”] force, and he stood by the channel of the upper pool in the road of the Fuller’s Field.

Septuagint: And the king of the Assyrians sent Rabshakeh [Rapsakes] from Lachish to Jerusalem to King Hezekiah with a numerous force, and he stood by the channel of the upper pool in the way of the Fuller’s Field.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, Asshur (Assyria) is misspelled. The final resh (R) is missing. There also is a different spelling for “Jerusalem.”

Commentary

The designation “Rabshakeh” is a title, not a personal name. It appears in Assyrian inscriptions. In translations of these inscriptions, the title is transliterated rabsaq. Although thought to mean “chief cupbearer,” this significance does not identify the position in relation to the Assyrian military force. The title appears to have designated a high-ranking official who functioned as the principal spokesman for the monarch. Through the Rabshakeh, Sennacherib declared his demand for the surrender of Jerusalem.

According to 2 Kings 18:17, two other high officials were present — the Tartan and the Rabsaris. The Tartan is thought to have occupied a position next to the king and has been represented as the “commander in chief.” The title “Rabsaris” designated the “chief court official.”

Lachish is not mentioned in the “Prism of Sennacherib,” but reliefs that depict the conquest of the city have survived. One scene portrays the Assyrian monarch receiving the booty, and the accompanying inscription reads, “Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria, sat upon a nîmedu-throne and passed in review the booty (taken) from Lachish (La-ki-su). (ANET, page 288) That the city figured so prominently in the relief from Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh suggests that this was his last significant victory in the kingdom of Judah. (For pictures and comments about the site of ancient Lachish, see Lachish and for pictures of the Assyrian reliefs of the siege of Lachish, see reliefs.)

The presence of a sizable military force with the Rabshakeh and the two other officials indicated that Sennacherib was determined to have his demand for the surrender of Jerusalem met. At the location where Isaiah had years earlier called upon King Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, to put faith in YHWH as the one who could provide deliverance, the Assyrian officials and the accompanying warriors stood. (See the comments for 7:3.)

36:3. Masoretic Text: And [there] came out to him Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, who was over the house; and Shebna the scribe, and Joah, son of Asaph, the recorder [zakhár].

Septuagint: And there went out to him Eliakim the [son] of Hilkiah [Chelkias], the steward, and Shebna [Somnas] the scribe, and Joah [Ioach] the [son] of Asaph, the recorder.

Commentary

According to 2 Kings 18:18, the Assyrians (probably through the Rabshakeh as spokesman) called for the king. In response, King Hezekiah sent three of his officials. Earlier, when Isaiah (22:15-22) had declared YHWH’s judgment against Shebna and the elevation of Eliakim, Shebna had occupied the position of “steward” or of being “over the house.” At this time, Eliakim functioned in that capacity, overseeing the royal chambers and making decisions about who could be entrusted with royal service. As scribe, Shebna appears to have been the official secretary for Hezekiah. In the Septuagint rendering of verse 22, he is identified as the scribe of the military force or the army.

The Hebrew word translated “recorder” is the participial form of the Hebrew word zakhár, meaning “remember.” As the other positions were those of the respective persons, Joah, not his father, must have been the recorder. The Hebrew term could indicate that Joah maintained the official records of everything that would have been regarded as needing to be remembered.

36:4. Masoretic Text: And Rabshakeh said to them, “I request, say to Hezekiah, Thus says the great king, the king of Asshur [Assyria], What is this reliance [on] which you are relying?”

Septuagint: And Rabshakeh [Rapsakes] said to them, “Thus says the great king, the king of the Assyrians, Why are you trusting?”

After “Hezekiah,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah says “king of Judah,” but the dots above the letters indicate that the words are to be deleted. The concluding part of the question in this scroll may be translated, “which you yourself are relying on.”

Commentary

The manner in which the Rabshakeh spoke of Sennacherib fits what is preserved on Assyrian inscriptions. Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son and successor, referred to himself as “great king, legitimate king, king of the world, king of Assyria.” (ANET, page 289)

The question implied that Hezekiah had no basis for believing that he would be delivered from having to meet the demands of Sennacherib. In the Septuagint, the question relates to the basis or reason for Hezekiah’s trust or reliance.

36:5. Masoretic Text: I say, [Is] word of lips counsel and might for war? Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me?

Septuagint: [Does] marshaling come to be in counsel or words of lips? And now on whom are you relying that you are rebelling against me?

The Targum of Isaiah represents Sennacherib as saying that he would make war with “word of lips, with counsel, and with might.” This interpretation represents Sennacherib as expressing his objective, formulating a battle plan, and then carrying it out with the might of his warriors.

Commentary

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, 2 Kings 18:20, and certain other Hebrew manuscripts read “you say.” Although having adopted this reading, translators vary in the wording they have chosen to complete the thought. “Do you think words can take the place of skill and military strength?” (REB) “Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?” (NRSV) “You say you have strategy and military strength — but you speak only empty words. (NIV) “Do you think empty words are as good as strategy and military strength?” (NJB) These renderings represent the Rabshakeh as ridiculing any preparations that Hezekiah had made to deal with the Assyrian threat as being nothing more than empty words.

Translators who follow the wording of the Masoretic Text have variously rendered it. “I said: It is but vain words; for counsel and strength are for the war.” (Margolis) “I suppose mere talk makes counsel and valor for war!” (Tanakh) These words may be understood as mocking Hezekiah for thinking that mere words would succeed, whereas battles are won with counsel or proper planning beforehand and a strong military force.

According to the Septuagint rendering, the implied answer to the first question is that marshaling warriors for battle was not accomplished by counsel or planning and by mere words.

The next question implied that Hezekiah was in no position to mount a defense against Assyrian military might. Having rebelled against Sennacherib, he did not have anyone on whom he could rely for aid in waging a successful battle.

36:6. Masoretic Text: Look! You are relying on the support of this broken reed, on Mizraim [Egypt], [on which if] a man who leans on it and comes [on it] with his hand, also pierces it. This [is] Pharaoh, king of Mizraim [Egypt], to all who rely on him.

Septuagint: Look! You are relying on the broken rod of this reed, on Egypt, which if a man supports himself on it, it will enter into his hand. Thus is Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and all those relying on him.

Commentary

The Rabshakeh answered the rhetorical question, representing reliance on Egypt to a man’s placing his hand on a broken reed for support. The slivers of the broken reed would penetrate that man’s hand, injuring him. Help from Pharaoh would not be forthcoming, resulting in calamity for those who relied on him for aid.

36:7. Masoretic Text: And if you say to me, We rely on YHWH our God; is it not he whose high places and altars that Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, Before [literally, “before (the) face (of)”] this altar you should bow down [in worship]?

Septuagint: But if you say, We rely on the Lord our God,

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah also has the longer text, not the shorter version that is found in the Septuagint. Both the scroll and the Septuagint, however, have the plural for “you say,” whereas the Masoretic Text has the singular. Additionally, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah identifies the “altar” as being “in Jerusalem,” but dots above the corresponding letters indicate that this should be deleted.

Commentary

In the extant Hebrew text, the words of the Rabshakeh reflect familiarity with matters involving worship. He endeavored to exploit the superstitious view existing among the people who, contrary to the law given to the Israelites, had engaged in worship at various high places and altars in the territory of the kingdom of Judah. Hezekiah had destroyed these high places and altars, insisting on worship at only one altar, the one in the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem. The Rabshakeh’s taunt implied that YHWH would by no means rescue the people from the Assyrian offensive, for Hezekiah had removed YHWH’s high places and altars.

36:8. Masoretic Text: And now make a wager, I ask, with my lord the king of Asshur [Assyria]; and I will give you 2,000 horses if you, on your part, are able to put riders on them.

Septuagint: now make an agreement with my lord the king of the Assyrians, and I will give you 2,000 horses if you will be able to put riders on them.

Both in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah and the Septuagint, the initial verb (“make a wager”; “make an agreement”) is plural but singular in the Masoretic Text.

Commentary

The insulting words suggested that the military force in Jerusalem was far too small to defend the city. So sure was the Rabshakeh of this that he presented the opportunity for a “wager” or an “agreement” with his lord, the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib. Hezekiah could have 2,000 horses if he had enough riders for them, the implication being that he did not.

36:9. Masoretic Text: And how can you turn back the face [literally, “faces”] of one leader of the least servants of my lord when you for yourself rely on Mizraim [Egypt] for chariots and horsemen?

Septuagint: And how are you able to turn back into the face of one commander? Servants are those relying on the Egyptians for horse and rider.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the reading is “from among [the] least servants of my lord.”

Commentary

Having implied that only an insignificant number of defenders were available to Hezekiah, the Rabshakeh continued his taunt. The rhetorical question may be understood to mean, How could a few warriors possibly turn away even a small Assyrian military force under the leadership of a low-ranking commander, especially since the defense of Jerusalem depended on Egypt for chariots and horsemen?

Another possible significance of the taunt is that Hezekiah could not refuse to act even on the demands of one of Sennacherib’s low-ranking officials. His only option was to comply, for he lacked the needed military strength to resist and had to rely on Egypt for chariots and horsemen. A number of translations make this significance explicit in their renderings. “How then can you reject the authority of even the least of my master’s servants and rely on Egypt for chariots and horsemen?” (REB) “So how could you refuse anything, even to the deputy of one of my master’s lesser servants, relying on Egypt for chariots and horsemen?” (Tanakh)

In the Septuagint, the words “turn back into the face of one commander” possibly mean cause even one commander to be turned away in flight. As for those relying on the Egyptians for horses and riders, they seemingly are represented as mere servants of the Assyrians, without any capacity for warring against them.

36:10. Masoretic Text: And now is it without YHWH that I have come up against this land to destroy it? YHWH said to me, Go up against this land and destroy it.

Septuagint: And now have we come up against this country to war against it without the Lord?

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah concludes with the words “to destroy it” (not “and destroy it”).

Commentary

The Rabshakeh defiantly claimed that YHWH backed Sennacherib’s going up against the land of Judah to devastate it. Possibly his intended implication was that Hezekiah had destroyed YHWH’s high places and altars, thereby incurring his anger.

36:11. Masoretic Text: And Eliakim and Shebna and Joah said to Rabshakeh, “Speak, we ask, to your servants in Aramaic, for we are hearing [with understanding], and do not speak to us in Judean [Hebrew] into the ears of the people who are on the wall.

Septuagint: And Eliakim and Shebna [Somnas] and Joah [Ioach] said to him, “Speak to your servants Syrian [Aramaic], for we are hearing [with understanding], and do not speak Judean [Hebrew] to us. And why do you speak into the ears of the men on the wall?”

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah reads “said to him” (not “said to Rabshakeh”). Instead of “to your servants,” this scroll says “with your servants,” but in the margin the reading is “with us.” Additionally, the last phrase reads, “and do not speak these words into the ears of the men sitting on the wall.”

Commentary

The one who actually spoke the words would have been Eliakim, for the verb for “said” is third person singular. Eliakim and the two others who represented Hezekiah did not want the taunts of Rabshakeh to be heard by those on the wall, which must have included the men responsible for the defense of the city. To avoid needlessly causing terror among those hearing the words, the delegation wanted Rabshakeh to speak in Aramaic, the diplomatic language of the time and which the ordinary inhabitants of Jerusalem would not have been able to understand.

36:12. Masoretic Text: And Rabshakeh said, “Has my lord sent me to your lord and to you to speak these words and not to the men sitting on the wall, to eat their dung and drink their urine with you?

Septuagint: And Rabshakeh [Rapsakes] said to them, “[Is it] to your lord or to you that my lord has sent me to speak these words? [Is it] not to the men sitting on the wall, that they may eat dung and drink urine together with you?

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the question starts with the words, “Was it to you and against your lord.” The second person “you” and “your” are plural as in the Septuagint, not singular as in the Masoretic Text.

Commentary

The Rabshakeh defiantly rejected the request, continuing with words that were designed to induce terror in those who heard them. (Compare 2 Chronicles 32:18.) His claim was that the ones on the wall would be affected. As if the siege of Jerusalem was certain to occur, he referred to the terrible conditions that would come to exist in the city on account of lack of food and water, forcing the starving and thirsting inhabitants to eat their own excrement and to drink their own urine.

36:13. Masoretic Text: And Rabshakeh stood and shouted in a loud voice in Judean [Hebrew] and said, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Asshur [Assyria].

Septuagint: And Rabshakeh [Rapsakes] stood and shouted in a loud voice in Judean [Hebrew] and said, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of the Assyrians.”

Commentary

The Rabshakeh apparently remained standing where he had stationed himself. Instead of using any restraint, he made sure that his words were heard and understood by those on the wall. He shouted the words in Hebrew, indicating that the message was from the Assyrian monarch, the “great king,” a king greater than Hezekiah.

36:14. Masoretic Text: Thus says the king, “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you.”

Septuagint: Thus says the king, “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you with words that will not be able to deliver you.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the designation “king” is linked with “Asshur” (“king of Assyria”).

Commentary

As Sennacherib’s spokesman, the Rabshakeh conveyed the Assyrian king’s message that was designed to undermine confidence in King Hezekiah. The words portrayed Hezekiah as a deceiver without the capacity to deliver the people from falling before the Assyrians and, therefore, as a king whose declarations should be ignored. According to the Septuagint rendering, Hezekiah’s pronouncements were just empty words that would not come true. There would be no deliverance from Assyrian conquest.

36:15. Masoretic Text: Do not let Hezekiah make you rely on YHWH by saying, “Delivering, YHWH will deliver us. This city will not be given into the hand of the king of Asshur [Assyria].”

Septuagint: And do not let Hezekiah say to you, “God will deliver you and by no means will this city be given into the hand of the king of the Assyrians.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the conjunction “and” precedes the statement about the city.

The rendering “by no means” preserves the emphatic sense of the two Greek words for “not.”

Commentary

The Rabshakeh endeavored to undermine the people’s trust in YHWH, making it appear that Hezekiah deceived them when telling them to have faith that YHWH would not permit the Assyrians to conquer Jerusalem. The repetition of the Hebrew word for “deliver” serves to stress the certainty of deliverance that Hezekiah expected. According to 2 Chronicles 32:7 and 8, Hezekiah had previously encouraged the people to be strong and courageous, not being afraid of Sennacherib and his forces. He reminded them that the One with them was greater than the one with Sennacherib. The Assyrian monarch only had with him an “arm of flesh,” a military force of mortals, but they had YHWH to help them and to fight their battles.

36:16. Masoretic Text: Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Asshur [Assyria], “Do me a favor [berakháh] and come out to me and then you will eat [each] man of his vine and [each] man of his fig tree, and you will drink [each] man of the water of his cistern,”

Septuagint: Do not listen to Hezekiah. Thus says the king of the Assyrians, “If you desire to be blessed, come out to me and eat each one of his vine and fig trees and drink the water of your cistern,”

Commentary

The words of the Rabshakeh indicated that the people had only one option and that was to disregard what Hezekiah said and to surrender without offering any resistance. The Hebrew word berakháh usually means “blessing” and, in this context, could be understood as meaning “favor.” Translators have commonly rendered the phrase that includes this Hebrew word to signify “make peace with me.” Surrendering would mean that the people would not have to endure scarcity of food and water on account of siege. Instead, they would be able to continue eating the fruit of their vines and fig trees and to drink the water from their own cisterns. Remaining in their own land, however, was to be temporary.

36:17. Masoretic Text: “until I come and take you away to a land like your land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards,”

Septuagint: “until whenever I may come and take you to a land like your land, a land of grain and wine and breads and vineyards.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the reading is “to a land of grain and wine.”

Commentary

As subjects of Sennacherib, the people would not be able to remain in their land. At the time of his choosing, they would be taken into exile to another area that the Assyrians had conquered. The land of their exile is portrayed as being in no way inferior to their own land but as being like their own land, yielding grain as the main ingredient of bread and grapes for making wine. The parallel passage of 2 Kings 18:32 adds that it would be a land of olive trees and honey. This is followed by the incentive that, by surrendering, they would live and not die. Therefore, they should not listen to King Hezekiah.

36:18. Masoretic Text: “so that Hezekiah may not mislead you by saying, ‘YHWH will deliver us.’ Have any gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Asshur [Assyria]?”

Septuagint: “Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, saying, ‘Your God will deliver you.’ Have the gods of the nations delivered each one his own country out of the hand of the king of the Assyrians?”

Commentary

To back up the contention that Hezekiah was deluding the people by saying that YHWH would deliver them, the Rabshakeh raised the rhetorical question as to whether any of the gods of other nations had been able to prevent the Assyrians from seizing the land where these deities were revered. The various nations had their own gods and so the land where these deities were worshiped is designated as belonging to them (“his land,” meaning the god’s land).

36:19. Masoretic Text: “Where [are] the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where [are] the gods of Sepharvaim? And have they [the gods] delivered Samaria out of my hand?”

Septuagint: “Where is the god of Hamath [Aimath] and Arpad [Arphath]? And where [is] the god of the city of Sepharvaim [Seppharim]? Were they [the gods] not unable to deliver Samaria out of my hand?”

The parallel passage in 2 Kings 18:34 includes two other cities (Hena and Ivvah) that may be sites in Syria, but there exact location is unknown.

Commentary

Hamath was a city situated on the Orontes River and about 50 miles (c. 80 kilometers) east of the Mediterranean coast. Arpad is believed to have been the site of Tell Rif‘at, situated approximately 100 miles (c. 160 kilometers) north of Hamath. The location of Sepharvaim is not known. It could have been a place in Syria. Samaria was the capital of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. Those who heard the words of the Rabshakeh knew that the gods had not been able to save the people of Hamath, Arpad, Sepharvaim, and Samaria. In their time of need, the gods whom they venerated could do nothing for them. After Samaria fell to the Assyrians, they settled former residents from conquered Hamath and Sepharvaim in the territory of the ten-tribe kingdom. (2 Kings 17:24)

An inscription of Sargon II reads, “I smash[ed] like a flood-storm the country of Hamath (A-ma-at-tu) in its entire [extent]. I br[ought its] ki[ng] Iaubi’di as well as his family, (and) [his] warriors in fett[ers], as the prisoner (contingent) of his country, to Assyria.… I se[ttled] 6,300 Assyrians [probably meaning loyal subjects of Sargon II] of reliable [disposition] in the country of Hamath and installed an officer of mine as go[vernor] over them, imposing upon th[em] (the payment) of tri[bute].” (ANET, p. 284)

Mati’il, king of Arpad, was one of the rulers who rebelled against Tiglath-pileser III. This revolt led to a punitive siege of Arpad, which the Assyrians then conquered after three years. A translation of a partially preserved inscription of Sargon II (ANET, p. 285) includes Arpad as one of the cities that revolted during his reign.

An inscription of Sargon II (ANET, p. 284) says, “I besieged and conquered Samaria (Sa-me-ri-na),” but a Babylonian chronicle indicates that Shalmaneser V “ravaged Samaria.” Sargon II is quoted as saying that he “crushed the tribes of Tamud, Ibadidi, Marsimanu, and Haiapa, the Arabs who live, far away, in the desert (and) who know neither overseers nor official(s) and who had not (yet) brought their tribute to any king. I deported their survivors and settled (them) in Samaria.” (ANET, p. 286)

36:20. Masoretic Text: “Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land out of my hand, that YHWH should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?”

Septuagint: “Who of all the gods of these nations delivered his land out of my hand, that God will deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?”

Commentary

Those who heard the rhetorical questions knew that not a single one of the gods of the various lands where they were worshiped and regarded as having the individual areas as their land could stop the Assyrians from conquering it. Therefore, the Rabshakeh contended that YHWH likewise could not deliver Jerusalem from Assyrian conquest.

36:21. Masoretic Text: And they were silent and did not answer him a word, for it was the command of the king, saying, “Do not answer him.”

Septuagint: And they were silent, and no one answered him a word, because the king had commanded, Nobody [is] to answer.

The parallel passage in 2 Kings 18:36 says that the “people were silent.”

Commentary

Hezekiah had ordered that no one respond to the Rabshakeh, and they did not answer. In this way, the Rabshakeh had no indication about the course of action that the people would take.

36:22. Masoretic Text: And Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, who was over the house, came to Hezekiah, also Shebna the scribe, and Joah, son of Asapah, the recorder, [with their] garments torn, and they told him the words of Rabshakeh.

Septuagint: And Eliakim the [son] of Hilkiah [Chelkias], the steward, and Shebna [Somnas] the scribe of the [military] force, and Joah [Ioach] the [son] of Asaph, the recorder came to Hezekiah [with their] garments torn and declared to him the words of Rabshakeh. [Rapsakes].

See verse 3 for comments about Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah.

Commentary

Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah must have been greatly troubled about the threat of siege, the insults directed against Hezekiah, and especially the blasphemous taunts that YHWH could not protect Jerusalem from Sennacherib’s military might. In expression of their grief and distress, the men ripped their garments. They probably tore the front of their outer garments to the point of exposing their breasts. In their disheartened state, they came to Hezekiah and then reported to him everything that the Rabshakeh had said.