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Isaiah 37:1-38 | Werner Bible Commentary

Isaiah 37:1-38

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37:1. Masoretic Text: And it occurred [that], on having heard [the report], King Hezekiah tore his garments and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of YHWH.

Septuagint: And it occurred [that], on having heard [the report], King Hezekiah tore [his] garments and covered himself with sackcloth and went up into the house of the Lord.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah says “Hezekiah the king,” and the spelling of the name differs from that in the Masoretic Text.

Commentary

After hearing the report about what the Rabshakeh had said, Hezekiah must have been grieved, distressed, and deeply troubled about the manner in which YHWH had been reproached. Therefore, he tore his garments as had Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah. Hezekiah then laid aside his royal attire and put on sackcloth, a coarse cloth, next to his bare skin. In a spirit of humility and grief, he went to the temple to pray, doing so like a needy and repentant suppliant. He may well have felt the weight of guilt for his part in the calamity that had befallen the kingdom of Judah on account of Assyrian aggression and his previously having looked to Egypt for military aid.

37:2. Masoretic Text: And he sent Eliakim, who was over the house, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah, son of Amoz, the prophet.

Septuagint: And he sent Eliakim the steward and Shebna [Somnas] the scribe and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, to Isaiah, son of Amos, the prophet.

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah contains a different spelling (a shorter form) of the name “Isaiah.”

See 36:3 for comments about Eliakim and Shebna.

Commentary

Hezekiah sent two high officials from his court, Eliakim and Shebna, and elders of the priests to the prophet Isaiah. These “elders” would have been highly respected senior priests. In keeping with the dire situation and the need for divine aid, they were attired like mourners with sackcloth over their bare skin. As a prophet, Isaiah represented YHWH and declared his message to the people. Therefore, out of proper regard for YHWH, Hezekiah sent men of notable standing, a delegation that would have been considered appropriate for an audience with a sovereign.

37:3. Masoretic Text: And they said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, This day [is] a day of distress and rebuke and contempt, for sons have come to the opening [of the womb] and no strength [is there] to bring forth.”

Septuagint: And they said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, A day of distress and reproach and rebuke and wrath [is] today’s day, for the pain of giving birth has come, but the [woman] does not have the strength to give birth.”

According to the Septuagint rendering of 2 Kings 19:3 (4 Kings 19:3), it was a “day of distress and rebuke and provocation.”

Commentary

The message from Hezekiah that the delegation conveyed to Isaiah reflected the extreme seriousness of the situation, one where all human resources would fall short of what was needed. It was a “day of distress,” for the threat to Jerusalem from the Assyrians could not be repulsed with the defending force in the city. The words of the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s representative, the Rabshakeh, mockingly exposed this military inability and so could be considered to have been the “rebuke.” He spoke contemptuously or blasphemously regarding YHWH, portraying him as being like the nonexistent gods of the nations who could not save their peoples from the powerful Assyrian military forces under the command of Sennacherib.

The utter state of helplessness is expressed by what may have been a proverbial saying. A woman is about to give birth, but she does not have the strength to do so. This would result in death to the mother and her fully developed baby. The words constituted an appeal for help from YHWH, and only the prophet would be able to reveal through the operation of God’s spirit upon him whether aid would be forthcoming.

37:4. Masoretic Text: “Perhaps YHWH your God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Asshur [Assyria] his lord has sent to reproach the living God, and will rebuke the words that YHWH your God has heard. Therefore, lift up a prayer for the remnant that is left.”

Septuagint: “May the Lord your God hear the words of Rabshakeh [Rapsakes], which the king of the Assyrians has sent to reproach the living God and to reproach with words that the Lord your God has heard. And you will supplicate the Lord your God concerning those that are remaining.”

After the reference to those who are left, the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah reads “in this city,” meaning “in Jerusalem.” These words, however, are written in letters that are smaller than the preceding text. This may indicate that they are not original.

Commentary

As suggested by the word rendered “perhaps,” Hezekiah makes no presumption about what God may do. For YHWH to hear the words of the Rabshakeh would mean for him to take note of the blasphemous expressions he had made and to act, not permitting the objective of Sennacherib to be attained. The Rabshakeh had reproached the “living God,” not a god like the nonexistent deities of the nations that were represented by means of lifeless images. When claiming that he could not save Jerusalem from the hand or power of Sennacherib, the Rabshakeh reproached, reviled, or blasphemed YHWH.

As a prophet, Isaiah had a special relationship with YHWH, being divinely commissioned to make known his will and purpose to the people of the kingdom of Judah, including to King Hezekiah. Possibly because of being conscious of his sin, particularly on account of his having looked to Egypt for aid, Hezekiah may have been concerned about his personal standing before YHWH and wondering whether his prayer would receive a favorable hearing. This may explain why the message from Hezekiah included the expression “your God” (not “our God”). Apparently the king felt keenly about having Isaiah, YHWH’s appointed prophet, pray for the people who were left in Jerusalem.

37:5. Masoretic Text: And the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah.

Septuagint: And the servants of the king came to Isaiah.

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the text for verses 5 through 7 is written in smaller letters than are the other words on the page. This could indicate that this section of verses did not appear in the scroll from which the scribe copied.

Commentary

Eliakim and Shebna served in official capacity in the court of King Hezekiah and, therefore, functioned as his servants. Although not directly in royal service, the elders of the priests or the senior priests were subjects of King Hezekiah and so could also be called his servants. The statement about their coming to Isaiah serves to introduce what the prophet said to them.

37:6. Masoretic Text: And Isaiah said to them, “Thus say to your lord: Thus says YHWH, Fear not because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Asshur [Assyria] have reproached me.”

Septuagint: And Isaiah said to them, “Thus you will say to your lord: This [is what] the Lord says, You should not be afraid of the words that you have heard, with which the elders [ambassadors] of the king of the Assyrians reproached me.”

Commentary

As king, Hezekiah was the “lord” or “master” of his subjects, and Isaiah referred to him as such. The message that had been divinely revealed to the prophet assured King Hezekiah that he did not need to fear that Jerusalem would fall before the Assyrians. YHWH was fully aware of the blasphemous reproach that Sennacherib’s “servants,” particularly the Rabshakeh, had heaped upon him when contending that YHWH could not protect Jerusalem from conquest. The reviling, however, would prove to be empty words that Hezekiah should disregard and not fear.

37:7. Masoretic Text: “Look! I will put a spirit into him, and he will hear a report and return to his land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his land.”

Septuagint: “Look! I will put a spirit into him and, [on] hearing a message, he will return to his country, and he will fall by the sword in his land.”

Commentary

The context does not identify the nature of the “spirit” that YHWH would cause to enter Sennacherib. It could be a troubling or unsettling spirit, a strong inner sensation of disquietude arising from the report that the Assyrian monarch would receive. It does not appear that the report related to news about the coming of Tirhakah (Tarhaqa), the Ethiopian ruler, to fight against the Assyrians. The inscription (Sennacherib’s Prism) that narrates events from this time mentions that “kings of Egypt,” “bowmen, the chariot(-corps) and the cavalry of the king of Ethiopia” drew up against him in the plain of Eltekeh. Regarding the outcome of the conflict, Sennacherib is quoted as saying, “I fought with them and inflicted a defeat upon them. In the mêlée of the battle I personally captured alive the Egyptian charioteers with the(ir) princes and (also) the charioteers of the king of Ethiopia.” (ANET, pages 287, 288)

The biblical account could lead one to conclude that the report pertained to the news about the loss of thousands of his warriors in what to him would have been mysterious circumstances. (2 Kings 19:35, 36) Reasonably, Sennacherib would not have wanted to continue his campaign with a greatly reduced military force.

37:8. Masoretic Text: And Rabshakeh returned and found the king of Asshur [Assyria] fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that he [Sennacherib] had left Lachish.

Septuagint: And Rabshakeh [Rapsakes] returned and caught up with the king [when he was] besieging Libnah [Lomna]. And the king of the Assyrians heard that Tirhakah [Tharaka], king of the Ethiopians, had come out to besiege him.

According to Rahlfs’ printed text, verse 8 ends with “the king of the Assyrians heard that.” To complete the thought the rest of the sentence is included here, but the comments about Tirhakah are considered in connection with verse 9 and the entire sentence is repeated there.

Commentary

The Rabshakeh returned to King Sennacherib. At the time, the monarch had completed his conquest of Lachish and had laid siege to nearby Libnah, possibly to be identified with Tel Burna. Based on the news that had reached him, the Rabshakeh with the officials and warriors who had accompanied him headed for Libnah.

37:9. Masoretic Text: And he [Sennacherib] heard [it] said about Tirhakah, king of Cush [Ethiopia], “He has come to fight against you.” And when he heard [this], he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying,

Septuagint: And the king of the Assyrians heard that Tirhakah [Tharaka], king of the Ethiopians, had come out to besiege him. And [on] hearing [this], he turned back and sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying,

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, there is a corresponding Hebrew word for “he turned back,” and this expression is also found in the parallel passage of 2 Kings 19:9 (but which does not include the second reference to “heard”). Perhaps the thought is that Sennacherib then turned back his attention to Jerusalem and sent messengers to Hezekiah. Translators of the Hebrew text of 2 Kings 19:9 have commonly rendered “he turned back” as “he sent again.”

Commentary

Tirhakah is commonly believed to be Pharaoh Taharqa, an Ethiopian or Nubian pharaoh of the 25th dynasty. (See Tirhakah for an ancient representation of this pharaoh.) Presently, extant ancient sources are too limited to establish with certainty dates for this dynasty of pharaohs. The generally accepted year for the campaign of Sennacherib cannot be reconciled with the biblical account about Tirhakah.

News about the coming of Tirhakah would have prompted Sennacherib to prepare for battle with the forces coming against him from the south. So it would appear that he again chose to threaten King Hezekiah to surrender Jerusalem, for he was then not in a position to commence with a long siege of the well-fortified city. In an effort to secure surrender without a protracted siege, Sennacherib sent messengers to make it clear that Hezekiah had no basis for believing that Jerusalem could escape conquest.

37:10. Masoretic Text: “Thus you should say to Hezekiah, king of Judah, saying, Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by saying Jerusalem will not be delivered into the hand of the king of Asshur [Assyria].”

Septuagint: “Thus say to Hezekiah, king of Judea, Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you, saying, By no means will Jerusalem be delivered into the hands of the king of the Assyrians.”

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

Commentary

Trusting in the superiority of his military might, Sennacherib did not restrain himself in portraying the God of Hezekiah as a deceiver, a god who would lead him to believe that the Assyrians would not capture Jerusalem but who would then be unable to protect the city. Thus, with arrogant blasphemy, Sennacherib made it appear that the situation was hopeless for Hezekiah, leaving him only the option of surrender to avoid the horrors of siege.

37:11. Masoretic Text: “Look! You have heard what the kings of Asshur [Assyria] did to all the lands, destroying them, and will you be delivered?”

Septuagint: “Or have you not heard the things the kings of the Assyrians did — they nearly destroyed all the earth?”

Commentary

To support his blasphemous claim that YHWH could not effect deliverance for Hezekiah, Sennacherib called attention to what the king of Judah must have known about previous Assyrian military campaigns. Assyrian monarchs with their armies had devastated all the lands they had invaded. This, as the challenging question implied, should have convinced Hezekiah that there was no escape for him in Jerusalem.

37:12. Masoretic Text: “Did the gods of the nations that my fathers destroyed deliver them — Gozan and Haran and Rezeph and the sons of Eden who were in Telassar?”

Septuagint: “Did the gods of the nations deliver them, [the nations] which my fathers destroyed — both Gozan and Haran [Charran] and Rezeph [Raphes], which are in the country of Telassar [Themad]?”

In manuscripts and printed texts of the Septuagint, there are a number of different spellings for what appears to be Telassar, including Themad, Thelsad, Thaimad, Thaimath, and Thaiman.

Commentary

With the rhetorical question, Sennacherib implied that YHWH could not save Jerusalem because the gods of the other nations could not deliver them from the conquests of former Assyrian kings (his “fathers” or “forefathers”).

The locations of Gozan and Rezeph cannot be linked with certainty to any specific sites. Haran, a city in northern Mesopotamia, is commonly identified with a site in Turkey near the village of Altinbaşak. While the location of Telassar in Eden is not known, the “sons of Eden” possibly are inhabitants of Beth-eden. This is considered to be the “country Bit-Adini” from which Assyrian monarch Ashurnasirpal II, in his expedition to Carchemish, departed and then crossed the Euphrates at flood stage with rafts made buoyant with inflated goatskin bottles. (ANET, page 275)

37:13. Masoretic Text: “Where [are] the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena and of Ivvah?”

Septuagint: “Where are the kings of Hamath [Haimath] and Arpad [Arphath] and the city of Sepharvaim [Seppharim], of Hena [Hanag], of Ivvah [Ougaua]?”

Instead of taking the Hebrew expression to mean “of the city of” (which rendering has the support of the Septuagint), a number of translators consider the corresponding Hebrew letters to designate a city, “Lair” or “Lahir.” The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah does read “the king of Lair and of Sepharvaim and of Na [instead of Hena] and of Ivvah and of Samaria.” The addition of Samaria is a departure from the Masoretic Text and the Septuagint.

Commentary

Hezekiah would have known that Hamath, Arpad, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah no longer had any independent local kings over them, as the Assyrians had conquered all these places. Hamath was a city located on the Orontes River and about 50 miles (c. 80 kilometers) east of the Mediterranean coast. Arpad is thought to have been the site of Tell Rif‘at, situated approximately 100 miles (c. 160 kilometers) north of Hamath. The locations of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah are not known but they may have been in Syria. (For additional comments, see 36:19.)

37:14. Masoretic Text: And Hezekiah received the writings from the hand of the messengers and read it [“them,” Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah]. And he went up to the house of YHWH, and Hezekiah spread it out before the face of YHWH.

Septuagint: And Hezekiah received the scroll from the messengers and opened it before the Lord.

Commentary

From the messengers Sennacherib had sent, Hezekiah accepted the document and read the contents. Thereafter, to indicate the seriousness of the threat that confronted him and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to make his appeal for YHWH’s aid, Hezekiah went to the temple and laid down the writings from Sennacherib. He probably placed the document in front of himself, dropped to his knees, and then prostrated himself in an attitude of prayer.

37:15. And Hezekiah prayed to YHWH, saying,

Septuagint: And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord, saying,

Commentary

Having spread out the blasphemous document from King Sennacherib, Hezekiah began to pray to YHWH.

37:16. Masoretic Text: “YHWH of hosts, God of Israel, being seated upon the cherubs, you alone [are] the God of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.”

Septuagint: “Lord Sabaoth, God of Israel, who is seated upon the cherubs, you alone are God of all the kingdoms of the habitable land; you have made the heaven and the earth.”

“Sabaoth” is a transliterated expression of the Hebrew designation meaning “armies” or “hosts.”

Commentary

Hezekiah recognized YHWH as the God without equal, the one with hosts of angels in his service. Like fellow Israelites, he had a relationship to YHWH who was uniquely the “God of Israel.” The reference to YHWH’s being seated on the cherubs could refer either to his representative presence above the cherubs on the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy of the temple or to the heavenly reality that the cherubs were subject to him and loyally supported his exalted position as Sovereign. Even the powerful kingdom of Assyria was subject to him, for YHWH alone occupied the position of God over all the kingdoms of the earth. Without his permission, these kingdoms could not exercise authority. Nothing is exempt from his sovereign will, for he is the Creator of everything — heaven and earth.

37:17. Masoretic Text: “Incline your ear, O YHWH, and hear; open your eyes, O YHWH, and see, and hear all the words of Sennacherib that he sent to reproach the living God.”

Septuagint: “Hear, O Lord; look, O Lord, and see the words that Sennacherib [Sennacherim] has sent to reproach the living God.”

Commentary

Through his representative the Rabshakeh, Sennacherib had reproached YHWH, maintaining that he could not save Jerusalem from conquest and implying that he was as powerless as the nonexistent, lifeless gods of the nations who suffered defeat. The same blasphemous claim was repeated in writing. Therefore, the reproach of the living God could both be heard and seen. Hezekiah prayed that YHWH might hear and see the words of reviling, taking note of the distressing situation in which he and his subjects found themselves and then taking action to prevent Sennacherib from attaining his objective. The Targum of Isaiah represents the appeal as petitioning YHWH to judge, to avenge himself, and to execute vengeance on all the words of Sennacherib.

37:18. Masoretic Text: “Truly, O YHWH, the kings of Asshur [Assyria] have devastated all the lands and their land.”

Septuagint: “For truly the kings of the Assyrians have devastated the whole inhabited earth and their country.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the words “and their land” are not included. The parallel passage of 2 Kings 19:17 says “nations and their lands.”

Commentary

King Hezekiah acknowledged that the Assyrian monarchs had indeed brought ruin to all the nations against whom they waged war. With their armies, they wreaked havoc in the lands through which they passed during their campaigns of conquest, leaving behind the ruins of villages, towns, and cities. The warriors felled trees for siegeworks and devastated cultivated fields and vineyards.

37:19. Masoretic Text: “And their gods they tossed into the fire, for they were no gods but the work of the hands of man [’adhám, the ‘earthling’], wood and stone; and they have destroyed them.”

Septuagint: “And they have tossed their idols into the fire, for they were no gods but the works of men’s hands, wood and stone; and they have destroyed them.”

Commentary

To indicate the superiority of their deities in having granted them the military victories, the Assyrians would cast the images of the gods of conquered peoples into the fire. These gods of other peoples, as King Hezekiah knew, were unrealities, no gods at all, but merely the handiwork of mere mortals. Having been fashioned from wood or stone, the images could be destroyed either by being consigned to the flames or by being smashed to pieces.

37:20. Masoretic Text: “And now, YHWH our God, save us from his hand, and the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are YHWH.”

Septuagint: “But you, Lord our God, save us out of their hand so that every kingdom of the earth may know that you alone are God.”

The parallel passage in 2 Kings 19:19 amplifies the thought, identifying YHWH alone as being God. This is also the reading of Isaiah 37:20 in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.

Commentary

Hezekiah’s petition for YHWH to save him and his people from the “hand” of Sennacherib, or from the power of his military force, had as its noble motive the exaltation of the Almighty. The deliverance would serve to show to all the “kingdoms of the earth,” or to all the people living in the respective realms, that YHWH was not like the nonexistent gods who possessed no power for effecting deliverance from enemy aggression. YHWH alone is the God with matchless power, always able to give unfailing aid and sure protection.

37:21. Masoretic Text: And Isaiah, son of Amoz, sent to Hezekiah, saying, “Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, Because you have prayed to me about Sennacherib, king of Asshur [Assyria],”

Septuagint: And Isaiah, son of Amos, was sent to Hezekiah and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, I have heard the things you have prayed to me about Sennacherib [Sennacherim] the king of the Assyrians.”

The parallel passage in 2 Kings 19:20 adds that YHWH had heard, or given favorable attention, to Hezekiah’s prayer. This is also expressed in the Septuagint rendering.

Instead of “because you have prayed,” the text of the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah may be rendered “to whom you prayed.” This scroll also has a different spelling for “Sennacherib.”

Commentary

In response to King Hezekiah’s prayer, the prophet Isaiah received a revelation from YHWH. According to the Hebrew text, Isaiah then sent word to Hezekiah, making known to him YHWH’s response to his prayer regarding the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib. The manner in which the prophet conveyed the message is not specified in the account. He may have sent a messenger to relate the word of YHWH to Hezekiah or with a written copy of the divine revelation to be given to the king. The Septuagint rendering, however, specifically identifies Isaiah as personally having gone to Hezekiah.

37:22. Masoretic Text: “this [is] the word that YHWH has spoken about him, The virgin daughter of Zion despises you; she mocks you. Behind you, the daughter of Jerusalem wags her head.”

Septuagint: “This [is] the word that God has spoken about him, The virgin daughter of Zion has despised you and mocked you; against you the daughter of Jerusalem has wagged her head.”

Instead of the expressions “virgin daughter of Zion” and “daughter of Jerusalem,” the Targum of Isaiah refers to the “kingdom of the congregation of Zion” and the “people of Jerusalem.”

Commentary

Zion or Jerusalem is called the “virgin daughter of Zion” possibly because from the time David made the city his capital it had never been ravaged by war to the point of being made a desolate site. YHWH’s word through Isaiah gave the assurance that Sennacherib with his warriors would fail to conquer the city. As though Zion or Jerusalem had already been saved from the Assyrian threat, the word of YHWH portrayed her as despising or looking down upon and mocking Sennacherib on account of his failure to attain his objective of conquest. Because of not succeeding in transforming his boastful assurance of triumph into reality, he is portrayed as departing like an object of shame and ridicule, with the “daughter of Jerusalem” shaking her head as a gesture of derision. The designation “daughter” may here call attention to the fact that the people of Jerusalem were like a child to YHWH and, therefore, under his protection and care.

37:23. Masoretic Text: “Whom have you taunted and reviled? And against whom have you raised [your] voice and lifted up your eyes to the height? Against the Holy One of Israel.”

Septuagint: “Whom have you reviled and provoked? Or against whom have you raised your voice? And you have not lifted up your eyes to the height to the Holy One of Israel.”

Commentary

When claiming that YHWH could not save Jerusalem from his conquest, Sennacherib taunted or mocked him. He reviled YHWH when blasphemously likening his inability to deliver Jerusalem to that of the lifeless deities of other nations. According to the Septuagint, he provoked God, apparently to anger, with his blasphemous claims. Particularly through his representative, the Rabshakeh, Sennacherib raised his voice against YHWH, shouting that he could not save the inhabitants of Jerusalem from experiencing siege and subsequent conquest.

The lifting up of his eyes to the height could refer to his having a defiant and haughty look that was directed against the One whose dwelling is in heaven. In the Septuagint, however, the reference is to his not raising his eyes upward to the Holy One of Israel. This rendering could suggest that he gave no thought to any consequences for his reviling, provoking, and shouting. Being the ultimate standard of purity and the God of the Israelites, YHWH is called the “Holy One of Israel.” Sennacherib had directed his degrading and impure words against YHWH, the pure or holy God of his chosen people.

37:24. Masoretic Text: By the hand of your servants, you have taunted my Lord, and you have said, “With the multitude of my chariots I ascended to the height of the mountains, to the remote parts of Lebanon. And I have cut down the tallest of its cedars, the choicest of [its] firs [plural form of beróhsh]. I came to its remotest height, the forest of its orchard [karmél].”

Septuagint: For through messengers, you have reviled the Lord. For you have said, “With the multitude of my chariots I have ascended to the height of the mountains and to the farthest [parts] of Lebanon and have cut down the tallest of its cedar and the beauty of [its] cypress and entered into the high part of the forest.”

There is a measure of uncertainty about the tree to which the Hebrew word beróhsh refers. This Hebrew noun may designate the “fir” (Latin, abies), which is the rendering found in the Vulgate. Another suggested meaning is “juniper,” which is based on the Akkadian word for “juniper” (burāšu). According to the Septuagint, the tree is the “cypress” (kypárissos).

Commentary

The expression “by the hand” signifies through the agency of. Sennacherib used his “servants” or “messengers,” particularly the Rabshakeh, to taunt YHWH as being powerless to deliver Jerusalem from falling to the Assyrian forces. Such “taunting” would also have been blaspheming, defaming, or “reviling” (as rendered in the Septuagint). Sennacherib’s ascent with his many chariots to the top of the mountains and the most distant limits of Lebanon to chop down trees appears to be a poetic portrayal of his campaigns of conquest, with no location being too lofty or so securely fortified so as not to be leveled to the ground. Destroying besieged cities and their high fortifications proved to be comparable to the felling of towering trees.

As a common noun, the Hebrew word karmél has been defined as “orchard,” “plantation,” and “garden land.” In this context, the words “its remotest height, the forest of its orchard” possibly designate a remote area on a mountain where a magnificent stand of trees is thriving.

The Targum of Isaiah interprets this verse as applying to Sennacherib’s warring against YHWH’s people. He is portrayed as saying that he had gone up with his many chariots into their strongest fortresses and that he would seize their sanctuaries, kill the best of their mighty men and their choicest rulers, trample down their strong city [probably meaning Jerusalem], and destroy the multitude of their military forces.

37:25. Masoretic Text: “I dug [for water] and drank waters, and I dried up all the streams of Egypt with the sole of my feet.”

Septuagint: “And I made a bridge and desolated waters and every collection of water.”

Instead of “dug,” the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah says “called out” or shouted, and this scroll identifies the waters as “foreign.”

Commentary

The Hebrew reading “dug” could indicate that Sennacherib had no problem in securing water for his warriors. He directed that cisterns be dug, providing him and his forces with needed water. According to the Septuagint, streams posed no problem since he commanded that a bridge be built. He ruined or dried up the water supply for the people who were besieged.

The drying up of the streams of Egypt with the “sole of [his] feet” appears to be a poetic way of saying that so many were the feet that forded the streams that they came to be dry. According to the Targum of Isaiah, he trampled all waters of deep rivers with the sole of the feet of the people who were with him.

37:26. Masoretic Text: “Have you not heard? Long ago I determined it; from days of old I even formed it. Now I caused [it] to happen, even [that] you should make fortified cities crash into heaps of ruins.”

Septuagint: “Have you not heard these things of old, the things I have done? From ancient days, I appointed [them], but now I have shown [them], to desolate the nations in fortified [locations] and those dwelling in fortified cities.”

The wording of the concluding part of this verse in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah could be rendered, “Now I have caused it to happen that fortified cities should become devastated, besieged heaps.”

The Targum of Isaiah directs the question to Sennacherib, asking him whether he has not heard what YHWH did to Egypt’s Pharaoh who ruled over the Israelites. The Targum then says that the prophets of Israel also prophesied against him, but he did not repent. “This seemed to me [God is the speaker] fitting from the days of old to do to you, yes, I have also prepared it, and now have I brought it to pass; and this has been a stumbling-block to you, because the fortified cities were before you as the tumult of waves that are stilled.”

Commentary

The rhetorical question is directed to Sennacherib, asking him whether he had not heard about what YHWH had purposed. The Israelites had been forewarned that, if they proved to be unfaithful, they would be subjected to enemy invasions and associated suffering. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 25, 26, 49-57) So it was indeed long before the reign of King Hezekiah that YHWH had determined to punish his people through the aggressive warfare of a foreign power, and he formed this development by letting it take place. At that time it had indeed come to pass, being attributed to YHWH by reason of his will in allowing it to occur. Accordingly, Sennacherib was but an instrument being allowed to act to punish the disobedient Israelites, warring against them and reducing their fortified cities to piles of ruins.

The Septuagint rendering refers to the devastation as affecting nations, not just the people in the kingdom of Judah. Even though the plural is used in the Septuagint, the thoughts expressed in this verse are basically the same.

37:27. Masoretic Text: “And their inhabitants, reduced [in] strength, are dismayed and confounded, and they have become [like] herbage of the field and greenery of vegetation, grass of the roofs, and scorched [plants] before maturity [literally, ‘standing grain’].”

Septuagint: “I weakened the hands, and they dried up, and they came to be like dry greenery upon roofs and like a weed.”

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah indicates that the scorching takes place on account of the east wind (“scorched before the east wind”).

Commentary

The inhabitants of the fortified cities came to be of diminished strength, unable to repel the Assyrian attack. They were dismayed, disheartened, terrified, or deprived of courage and were confounded, seeing no avenue of escape from the calamitous situation that siege had brought upon them. Their helpless state proved to be like that of herbage of the field or any other kind of green vegetation that dries up during the heat of summer. On flat earthen roofs grass might sprout, but there would be insufficient soil for such grass to flourish. The sun’s rays beating down upon the grass would soon cause it to whither, preventing it from reaching maturity or the point of producing seed (like standing grain).

The Septuagint rendering seems to refer to the weakened state of the defenders of the fortified cities. Apparently because YHWH withheld his aid, he is spoken of as weakening the hands so that their power to act was “dried up.” Their feeble state was comparable to dry grass on the roofs or a dry weed in a field.

37:28. Masoretic Text: “And I know your sitting down and your going out and your coming in, and your raging against me.”

Septuagint: “But now I know your resting place and your going out and your coming in.”

The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah precedes “sitting down” with “rising up.”

Commentary

The Targum of Isaiah interprets the “sitting” as being a sitting in counsel, the “going out” as going forth to war, the “coming in” as entering the land of Israel, and the anger is related to provoking YHWH to anger.

It appears, however, that the various actions have a more general significance, indicating that YHWH was fully aware of all of Sennacherib’s activity. His every step was known, whether sitting, going out, or coming in. Everything that Sennacherib did served to advance his aim of conquest, which included bringing about the surrender or the conquest of Jerusalem. When expressing this aim through his spokesman the Rabshakeh, Sennacherib had raged against YHWH, defiantly speaking of him as a powerless god like the deities of other nations. This raging had not escaped God’s attention.

37:29. Masoretic Text: “Because you have raged against me, and your self-assurance has come to my ears, even I will put my hook into your nose and my bridle into your lips, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.”

Septuagint: “But your rage that you have raged and your bitterness have ascended to me, and I will put a bridle into your nose and a bit into your lips and turn you back on the way by which you came.”

The point about raging is not included in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.

Commentary

From the standpoint of Sennacherib, he was infuriated by Hezekiah’s revolt and this prompted his punitive military campaign against the kingdom of Judah. King Hezekiah, in a representative sense, sat on YHWH’s throne and his subjects were God’s people. Therefore, Sennacherib’s wrath could here be spoken of as having been against YHWH. Moreover, the blasphemous claim (made through the Rabshakeh and also in writing) that YHWH could not safeguard Jerusalem proved to be a form of raging.

With arrogant self-assurance, Sennacherib considered the capture or surrender of Jerusalem as a certainty and expressed himself to that effect through the Rabshakeh and in writing. This had not escaped the attention of YHWH and is here said to have come to his “ears” or to have been perceived by him.

As a consequence, YHWH had determined to deal with Sennacherib in a manner comparable to the way the Assyrians treated captives of war. Their monuments portray captives with hooks or rings piercing their lips or noses. By means of cords or chains attached to these hooks or rings, the Assyrians led or controlled captives. The reference to the “hook” in the nose and the “bridle” in the lips appears to be to such hooks or rings. Thus humiliated like a captive of war, Sennacherib would be forced to return to his own land without having attained his objective to capture Jerusalem.

37:30. Masoretic Text: “And this [will be] the sign for you: This year you will eat what grows [of itself], and in the second year what sprouts [therefrom], and in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit.”

Septuagint: “But this [will be] the sign for you: Eat this year what you have sown, but the second year the leftover, but the third year sow, reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit.”

The Septuagint rendering seems to indicate that first year there would be a crop from what had been sown, but this does not fit the present context.

Commentary

In the Hebrew text and in the Septuagint, the pronoun “you” is singular, and so the words about the sign regarding the certain end of the Assyrian threat are directed to King Hezekiah. On account of the Assyrian invasion, agricultural operations had been disrupted, making it necessary for the people, including Hezekiah, to eat what grew of itself from the spilled kernels of the previous harvest. Even in the following year, the people would depend on eating the produce from seed that they had not been able to sow on account of the presence of the Assyrian forces. In the third year, agricultural operations could be resumed, and the people would be able to sow, reap, plant vineyards, and to eat the produce of their land.

37:31. Masoretic Text: “And the remnant of the house of Judah, the ones remaining, will add a root downward and bear fruit upward.”

Septuagint: “And they will be the ones left in Judea [who] will sprout a root below and produce seed above.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the words rendered “remnant of the house of Judah” are written above the line of the main text, indicating that they should be inserted. Instead of a word for “add,” this scroll says “gather” (“the remnant of the house of Judah will gather”) and indicates that “those who are found” would take root and bear fruit.

According to the Targum of Isaiah, the survivors of the house of Judah would be like a tree that sends its roots downward and lifts its branches upward.

Commentary

After being liberated from the enemy threat, the survivors of the house of Judah or the Judean kingdom would again be able to flourish. They would become secure as when a plant grows roots below the surface of the soil, eventually to bear fruit upon attaining its fully developed state.

37:32. Masoretic Text: “For a remnant will go forth out of Jerusalem, and an escaped group out of Mount Zion. The zeal of YHWH of hosts will do this.”

Septuagint: “For the ones left over will come out from Jerusalem, and those preserved alive from Mount Zion. The zeal of the Lord Sabaoth will do these things.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, “Jerusalem” and “Zion” appear in reverse order.

“Sabaoth” is a transliterated form of the Hebrew word meaning “hosts” or “armies.”

The Targum of Isaiah interprets the “remnant” to be the “remnant of the righteous,” and the ones who escaped to be those who “uphold the law.”

Commentary

It would be because of YHWH’s zeal for, or his jealous guarding of, his people that there would be those in Jerusalem or Mount Zion who would escape with their lives from the serious military threat they faced. The preservation of the remnant of the people would not be dependent on any defensive measures that Hezekiah and his subjects might undertake.

37:33. Masoretic Text: “Therefore, thus says YHWH about the king of Asshur [Assyria]: He will not come into this city and shoot an arrow there and come before it with a shield and cast a siege ramp against it.”

Septuagint: “Therefore, thus says the Lord about the king of the Assyrians: By no means will he enter into this city nor will he cast an arrow against it nor lay a shield against it nor will he surround it with a palisade.”

In the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the point about the “siege ramp” precedes the mention of the “arrow.”

Commentary

These words gave positive assurance to King Hezekiah that Sennacherib would not conquer Jerusalem and that he and his subjects would not have to endure the hardships of a siege. Not a single Assyrian arrow would be directed against the city, not even one Assyrian warrior would appear with a shield, and no Assyrian force would be constructing a siege ramp or, according to the Septuagint, a palisade to encircle the city.

37:34. Masoretic Text: “By the way that he came, by the same [way] he will return; and he will not come into this city,” says YHWH.

Septuagint: “But by the way that he came, by it he will return,” thus says the Lord.

Rahlfs’ printed Greek text is shorter, but the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus support the longer Hebrew text.

Commentary

Sennacherib had come from Nineveh to carry out his punitive military campaign, and he would return to Nineveh by the same way but as a king who had failed to capture Jerusalem or to force the surrender of the city. Through Isaiah, YHWH assured Hezekiah that Sennacherib would not enter Jerusalem.

37:35. Masoretic Text: “And I will defend this city to save it for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”

Septuagint: “I will shelter over this city to save it for my sake and for the sake of David my servant.”

Commentary

Through Isaiah, YHWH assured Hezekiah that he would protect Jerusalem, delivering the city from falling into the hands of the Assyrians. Sennacherib had blasphemed YHWH, claiming that he would be unable to save the city. Therefore, when not permitting Sennacherib to seize Jerusalem, YHWH acted for the sake of his name, revealing himself to be the only living God who did have the power to deliver his people. Centuries earlier, YHWH had promised to King David that his royal line of descent would continue. (2 Samuel 7:12-16) By delivering Jerusalem and, therefore, Hezekiah of the royal line of David and his subjects, YHWH acted in harmony with his promise and so also for the sake of his servant David.

37:36. Masoretic Text: And the angel of YHWH went forth and slew 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And men rose early in the morning, and look! All were dead corpses.

Septuagint: And the angel of the Lord went forth and slew 185,000 from the camp of the Assyrians. And [when] they rose in the morning, they found all of the dead bodies.

The parallel passage in 2 Kings 19:35 starts with the words, “And it occurred that night.”

Commentary

The death of 185,000 warriors in the camp of the Assyrians is attributed to the angel or messenger of YHWH. Apparently this is because Hezekiah and his subjects regarded this development as taking place in keeping with YHWH’s word through Isaiah that Jerusalem would be spared.

Just how it happened that thousands of Assyrian warriors perished is not revealed in the biblical account. In the first century CE, the Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities, X, i, 4, 5) referred to the accounts of Herodotus and Berosus when writing about this occurrence. “Concerning this Sennacherib, Herodotus also says, in the second book of his histories, how ‘this king came against the Egyptian king, who was the priest of Vulcan; and that as he was besieging Pelusium, he broke up the siege on the following occasion: This Egyptian priest prayed to god, and god heard his prayer, and sent a judgment upon the Arabian king.’ But in this Herodotus was mistaken when he called this king not king of the Assyrians, but of the Arabians; for he says, that ‘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 his army from Pelusium.’ … Berosus, who wrote of the affairs of Chaldea, makes mention of this king Sennacherib, and that he ruled over the Assyrians, and that he made an expedition against all Asia and Egypt; and says thus:

“‘Now when Sennacherib was returning from his Egyptian war to Jerusalem, he found his army under Rabshakeh his general in danger [by a plague], for God had sent a pestilential distemper upon his army; and on the very first night of the siege, 185,000, with their captains and generals, were destroyed.’”

Josephus based his comments on what Herodotus wrote in Book II, 141. “After this, Sanacharib [Sennacherib] king of the Arabians and of the Assyrians marched a great host against Egypt. Then the warriors of the Egyptians refused to come to the rescue, and the priest, being driven into a strait, entered into the sanctuary of the temple and bewailed to the image of the god the danger which was impending over him; and as he was thus lamenting, sleep came upon him, and it seemed to him in his vision that the god came and stood by him and encouraged him, saying that he should suffer no evil if he went forth to meet the army of the Arabians; for he himself would send him helpers. Trusting in these things seen in sleep, he took with him, they said, those of the Egyptians who were willing to follow him, and encamped in Pelusion [Pelusium], for by this way the invasion came: and not one of the warrior class followed him, but shopkeepers and artisans and men of the market. Then after they came, there swarmed by night upon their enemies mice of the fields, and ate up their quivers and their bows, and moreover the handles of their shields, so that on the next day they fled, and being without defense of arms great numbers fell. And at the present time this king stands in the temple of Hephaistos in stone, holding upon his hand a mouse, and by letters inscribed he says these words: ‘Let him who looks upon me learn to fear the gods.’” (Translated by G. C. Macaulay)

Although not corroborating each other, both Herodotus and Berosus (as quoted by Josephus) indicate that a disaster befell the Assyrian forces that forced Sennacherib to terminate his campaign.

The ones who rose the morning after the fateful night may be understood to have been the Assyrians who had not perished. They found themselves in the midst of the corpses of their fellow warriors.

37:37. Masoretic Text: And Sennacherib the king of Asshur [Assyria] departed and went [home] and returned and resided in Nineveh.

Septuagint: And the king of the Assyrians turned back, departed, and resided in Nineveh [Nineue].

Commentary

With a greatly reduced number of warriors, Sennacherib was in no position to continue his military campaign and to undertake a lengthy siege of strongly fortified Jerusalem. He abandoned his plans, departed from the region, and returned to Nineveh, where he continued to reside for an unspecified time thereafter. Historians commonly credit him with reigning for 20 more years after the military campaign in the kingdom of Judah during the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s rule.

Josephus, when citing Berosus (Antiquities, X, i, 5) as his source, wrote the following about Sennacherib’s departure after the loss of 185,000 warriors, “The king was in great dread, and in a terrible agony at this calamity; and being in great fear for his whole army, he fled with the rest of his forces to his own kingdom, and to his city Nineveh.”

The absence of any mention of this disaster in extant Assyrian records should not be surprising. Assyrian reliefs portray vivid scenes of warfare, but they do not depict wounded or dead Assyrian warriors. Like the reliefs, the accounts contained in the annals served to glorify the Assyrian monarchs and their victories.

37:38. Masoretic Text: And it happened as he was bowing down [in worship] in the house of Nisroch his god, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat, and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.

Septuagint: And when he was prostrating himself [in worship] in the house of Nisroch [Nasarach] his idol [patachron], Adrammelech [Adramelech] and Sharezer [Sarasar] struck him with swords, but they escaped to Armenia, and Esarhaddon [Asoradan] reigned instead of him.

The word patachron is a transliteration of an Aramaic term meaning “idol.”

Commentary

Possibly Nisroch is the god Nusku that is mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions. A letter to Ashurbanipal, the grandson of Sennacherib, mentions that the god Nusku placed a crown on Ashurbanipal’s father Esarhaddon and said to him, “You will go and will make conquests in several countries.” (ANET, page 606) The annals of Ashurbanipal include the words “Nusku, the obedient messenger (of the gods) proclaimer of my lordship, who accompanied me upon the command of Ashur, (and) the courageous Ninlil, the Lady of [Arbela], who protected me as king, took the lead of my army and threw down my foes.” (ANET, page 300)

Whereas YHWH answered Hezekiah’s prayer, “Nishroch” could not protect Sennacherib from being assassinated while engaged in an act of worship. Extant Assyrian records are somewhat obscure about the specifics regarding the death of Sennacherib. The annals of Ashurbanipal contain his claim, “I smashed alive with the very same statues of protective deities with which they had smashed my own grandfather Sennacherib — now (finally) as a (belated) burial sacrifice for his soul.” (ANET, page 288) Esarhaddon, the son of Sennacherib, commented about his brothers. “My brothers went out of their senses, doing everything that is wicked in (the eyes of) of the gods and mankind, and (continued) their evil machinations. They (even) drew weapons in the midst of Nineveh (which is) against (the will of) the gods, and butted each other — like kids — to take over the kingship. Ashur, Sin, Shamash, Bel, Nebo, the Ishtar of Nineveh (and) the Ishtar of Abela looked with displeasure upon the doings of the usurpers which had come to pass against the will of the gods, and they did not help them.” (ANET, page 289) An inscription of Esarhaddon (translated by D. Luckenbill) says about his brothers, “To gain the kingship they slew Sennacherib, their father.”

Quoting from Berosus, Josephus (Antiquities, X, i, 5) wrote, “He [Sennacherib] was treacherously assaulted, and died by the hands of his elder sons, Adrammelech and Seraser, and was slain in his own temple, which was called Araske.”

One suggested identification for Adrammelech is Arda-Mulissi. Based on the accounts that have been preserved from ancient times, historians have suggested that Arda-Mulissi stabbed Sennacherib with a “sword” or “dagger” or possibly crushed him under a winged bull colossus that guarded the temple where he had been praying.

As the Septuagint rendering indicates, the land of Ararat appears to have been ancient Armenia, situated between Asia Minor and Mesopotamia.

Esarhaddon, though Sennacherib’s youngest son, claims to have been designated to be his father’s successor by the command of the deities “Ashur, Sin, Shamash, Bel and Nebo, the Ishtar of Nineveh (and) the Ishtar of Arbela.” After defeating the supporters of his brothers, he assumed the kingship. He spoke of himself as the “great king, legitimate king, king of the world, king of Assyria.” (ANET, pages 289, 290)