Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament2 KINGS 19
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ASSYRIAN ARMY BEFORE JERUSALEM
The gargantuan dimensions of the prodigious miracle described in this chapter compel its ranking among the most astounding wonders ever performed by Almighty God upon behalf of his Chosen People. No one can deny that SOMETHING happened. As should have been expected, the Assyrians never mentioned it in their inscriptions and monuments, but Herodotus records, "An Egyptian tradition that, `The mice ate up the quivers' of Sennacherib's army."F1 "He also reported that this resulted in causing their flight, and that many died."F2 Thus, pagan history bears witness that something dreadful indeed overcame the Assyrian army.
This wonder ranks with the Crossing of the Red Sea and with the victory over Sisera. As in those two wonders, this one also might have resulted from God's employment of natural forces in its accomplishment. The bubonic plague, suggested by the mice mentioned by Herodotus, or a mighty thunderstorm with a great downpour of killing hail, such as that in one of plagues of Egypt, come to mind as possibilities. Of course, God did not reveal to us HOW the death angel did it.
Those who do not believe in the supernatural confront a genuine nemesis in this chapter. There is no other possible explanation of why Sennacherib failed to capture Jerusalem. Without any doubt whatever, the supernatural deliverance of the city must be accepted as fact. The subsequent unbounded confidence of the Jewish people themselves that Jerusalem would never fall was directly derived from that deliverance.
HEZEKIAH RECEIVED THE REPORT OF THE RABSHAKEH'S DEMAND
And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of Jehovah. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests, covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day is a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of contumely; for the children are come to the birth, and there is not strength to bring forth. It may be Jehovah thy God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to defy the living God, and will rebuke the words which Jehovah thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.
In his earlier years, Hezekiah had favored an alliance with Egypt, in spite of Isaiah's continual warnings that God alone was the source of Judah's protection, but in the extremity of this situation, Hezekiah turned to Isaiah. His reference to Jehovah as "thy God" was not a denial of Hezekiah's faith, but a confession that he had not been as faithful as had Isaiah.
Although this is the first mention of Isaiah in Kings, we learn from Isaiah himself that he had prophesied even in the days of Hezekiah's father Ahaz (Isaiah 7:10-17), but that ruler had despised Isaiah's warnings.
He rent his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth
(2 Kings 19:1). He well knew how largely he himself had been responsible for the terrible situation.F3
The children are come to birth, and there is not strength to bring forth
(2 Kings 19:3). This was a common proverb that meant a dangerous crisis was approaching, and that the nation has no strength to carry it through the peril.F4
Lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left
(2 Kings 19:4). There are two things that Hezekiah might have meant here: (1) Sennacherib had already captured and destroyed 46 cities of Judah; and in one sense, Jerusalem itself was a remnant (though hardly a righteous remnant). (2) Isaiah had long prophesied the destruction of Judah with the proviso that afterward a remnant would return. As an authentication of that prophecy, Isaiah even named one of his sons Shear-Jashub, with the meaning, a remnant shall return.F5 That event had taken place more than thirty years earlier in the times of Ahaz. Hezekiah might have had that fact in mind also.
Isaiah did not need to be invited to pray for Jerusalem; he had already been doing so, and was ready with encouragement.
ISAIAH'S ENCOURAGING ANSWER TO HEZEKIAH
So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus saith Jehovah, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, and he shall hear tidings, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.
The servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me
(2 Kings 19:6). Hailey tells us that, The word here translated `servants' is a term of disparagement, meaning `lads,' `chaps,' or `boys.'F6 Thus, the first thing Isaiah did was to cut the blasphemers from Sennacherib down to size, saying in effect, Those boys have said nothing of any importance.
"Four things the Lord said here: (1) God would put a spirit into him; (2) he would hear a rumor; (3) he would return to his own land; and (4) in that land he would fall by the sword."F7
All of this came to pass exactly as the Lord had said.
RABSHAKEH RETURNED WITH ANOTHER DEMAND FOR SURRENDER
So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah; for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. And when he heard say of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, Behold, he is come out to fight against thee, he sent messengers again unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God in whom thou trustest deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, by destroying them utterly: and shalt thou be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, which my fathers have destroyed, Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden that were in Telassar? Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arpad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah?
A letter accompanied this second demand (2 Kings 19:14); but there was nothing new in it except three things. (1) Several more places that Assyria had devastated were mentioned; (2) and God was called "a deceiver" (2 Kings 19:10); also (3) Assyria's prior rulers were mentioned.
(He) found the king of Assyria warring at Libnah
(2 Kings 19:8). The location of Libnab relatively to Lachish is uncertain.F8
When he heard say of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia
(2 Kings 19:9). This bad news of an Ethiopian (Egyptian) excursion against Sennacherib might have been the rumor that God said he would hear. The age of Tirhakah is disputed, and largely on that basis, some have erroneously moved this campaign of Assyria to the year 688 B.C., but there is no need whatever for this. People do not even know whether Tirhakah was the name of a ruler or the title of a dynasty. All arguments against what is written here which are based on Egyptian history are extremely untrustworthy.
LaSor noted that, "The reign of Tirhakah is dated from 688 to 670 B.C., leaving the impression that Tirhakah was only ten years of age, and much too young to have led an expedition against Sennacherib in 701 B.C.. However, the Assyrian records declare that, Sennacherib defeated Pharaoh and his allies in the battle of Eltekah in 701 B.C."F9
Whatever the problems about Tirhakah may be, it is still safe, as Honeycutt stated, to view 2 Kings 19:9b-13 as a continuation of the same demands made previously.F10
Jamieson agreed that this second appeal for surrender exceeded the first one in its blasphemy and also in the extension of the list of places conquered.F11 Also, in this second demand, Sennacherib brought in the devastations perpetrated by his predecessors upon "all lands." Apparently, the Assyrians enjoyed the conceit that they were destined to destroy everyone on earth except themselves.
HEZEKIAH PRAYED TO GOD FOR DELIVERANCE OF JERUSALEM
And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up unto the house of Jehovah, and spread it before Jehovah. And Hezekiah prayed before Jehovah, and said, O Jehovah, the God of Israel, that sittest [above] the cherubim, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. Incline thine ear, O Jehovah, and hear; open thine eyes, O Jehovah, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, wherewith he hath sent him to defy the living God. Of a truth, Jehovah, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone; therefore they have destroyed them. Now therefore, O Jehovah our God, save thou us, I beseech thee, out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou Jehovah art God alone.
And Hezekiah. spread it (the letter) before Jehovah
(2 Kings 19:14). This was a symbolical action representing his prayer to Jehovah.F12 However, this was in no sense such a thing as the prayer-wheels of the Buddhists, or the petitions written on tiny strips of paper and attached to sacred trees. What Hezekiah meant by his spreading out that letter in the house of Jehovah is spelled out in the prayer which followed.F13
The prayer itself reaches sublime theological excellence. God is addressed, not merely as Israel's God, but as THE GOD OF ALL NATIONS and THE CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH. Furthermore, the basis of Hezekiah's humble plea for the salvation of his city is not based merely upon their own selfish interests, nor upon any claim that Israel deserved such a rescue, but, "Upon the need for the vindication of God's glory,"F14 and, "That all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou Jehovah art God alone" (2 Kings 19:19).
In this prayer Hezekiah also refuted Sennacherib's claim of having defeated the gods of all nations. That pagan ruler had equated Jehovah with all the gods of the pagans, but, "Hezekiah insisted that those gods were `no gods,' `mere blocks of wood or stone,' the works of the hands of men, but that Jehovah was the God of all the kingdoms of the earth."F15
GOD SENT HIS ANSWER TO HEZEKIAH THROUGH THE PROPHET ISAIAH
Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard [thee]. This is the word that Jehovah hath spoken concerning him: The virgin daughter of Zion hath despised thee and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. Whom hast thou defied and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice and lifted up thine eyes on high? [even] against the Holy One of Israel. By thy messengers thou hast defied the Lord, and hast said, With the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the innermost parts of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, and the choice fir-trees thereof; and I will enter into his farthest lodging-place, the forest of his fruitful field. I have digged and drunk strange waters, and with the sole of my feet will I dry up all the rivers of Egypt.
This is the initial part of God's message, which is largely a scornful declaration of just what a fool Sennacherib actually was. He defied GOD! His ambition was unbounded; he would (so he thought) scale the highest mountains, he would even dry up all the rivers of Egypt with the sole of his feet! Here was an insane fool who thought he could drink the ocean dry! The passage begins with a statement of the utter contempt and scorn of "The virgin daughter of Zion."
The virgin daughter of Zion hath despised thee and laughed thee to scorn
(2 Kings 19:21). Such expressions as these are not references to the morals of the citizens. They mean that the city referred to has not been conquered and raped by a foreign invader.F16
There was an amazing amount of truth in what this beast of a heathen was saying. The Assyrians "The Breakers" as they were called, were more familiar with the human anatomy without the skin than they were with its normal appearance. This is proved by the monuments and drawings with which they decorated their buildings. One may see these `works of art' (?) in the Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue, New York City. The ugly fact behind those artifacts of the past is that the Assyrians flayed their victims. It is amazing that God tolerated that evil nation as long as he did. No other nation in history ever surpassed the sadistic cruelty and ruthless passion for destruction exhibited in the ravages of the Assyrians.
THE REST OF GOD'S MESSAGE CONCERNING SENNACHERIB
The Lord had a final word for that evil beast of a world conqueror, and that came next.
Hast thou not heard how I have done it long ago, and formed it of ancient times? now have I brought it to pass, that it should be thine to lay waste fortified cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were of small power, they were dismayed and confounded; they were as the grass of the field, and as the green herb, as the grass on the housetops, and as grain blasted before it is grown up. But I know thy sitting down, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy raging against me. Because of thy raging against me, and because thine arrogancy is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.
Hast thou not heard how I have done it long ago
(2 Kings 19:26)? Sennacherib, along with all the ancient world, should have been fully aware of what God had done for Israel in his deliverance of them from Egypt and in his driving out the reprobate nations of Canaan before the chosen people.
I brought it to pass, that it should be thine to lay waste fortified cities
(2 Kings 19:26). Assyria, like all other evil nations, was used by God, merely as a tool, such as a razor or a saw, in order to punish and destroy other wicked peoples. That God indeed had actually nurtured and protected Assyria until that day when God would use them to destroy Northern Israel is inherent in what he did for Nineveh through the prophet Jonah. The mission of Jonah, resulting in the temporary conversion of Assyria, was for the specific purpose of preserving them until the destruction of Northern Israel. Jonah apparently had some premonition of this, and that accounts for his bitter unwillingness to preach to Nineveh.
What a fool, therefore, was Sennacherib who imagined that all of his exploits were due simply to his personal power and ability.
I will put my hook in his nose
(2 Kings 19:28). This is a further detail of what God prophesied in 2 Kings 19:7, above.F17 This is a characteristic of the inspired writings which we have frequently noted. In every mention of a given event, prophecy, or instruction, some significant detail, not previously mentioned, is added.
"One may still see, in a place called Khorsabad, old Assyrian sculptures in which captives were led before the king, by a cord attached to a hook or ring passing through the under lip, the upper lip, or the nose."F18 Thus, in this promise to put a hook in his nose, God is giving a pledge that he will treat this beast of a man in exactly the way he had treated others. The sculptures show the Assyrians leading both men and animals in such a manner.F19
FURTHER ENCOURAGEMENT REGARDING THE REMNANT
And this shall be the sign unto thee: Ye shall eat this year that which groweth of itself, and in the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward. For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of mount Zion they that shall escape: the zeal of Jehovah shall perform this. Therefore thus saith Jehovah concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come unto this city, nor shoot an arrow there, neither shall he come before it with shield, nor cast up a mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and he shall not come unto this city, saith Jehovah. For I will defend this city to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David's sake.
This shall be the sign unto thee
(2 Kings 19:29). What is meant here is that, because their crops had been destroyed, they would eat of what came up voluntarily; the same would happen the following year because nothing was planted; but the third year everything would be back to normal. It is evident here that the person addressed is no longer Sennacherib, but Hezekiah. Such unannounced switches of persons addressed are common in prophecy.
The house of Judah shall again take root downward
(2 Kings 19:30). There was a 113-year interval yet remaining in the history of Judah before the Babylonian captivity,F20 and during this time Judah did indeed prosper. They were able to recover their ancient vigor and to extend their dominion over nearly all of their old territory.F21
Out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of mount Zion they that shall escape
(2 Kings 19:31). Here indeed was the bad news for Jerusalem. Alas, it would also fall, just like Samaria. The present deliverance from Sennacherib, notwithstanding, Judah and Jerusalem would also pay the penalty of their stubborn, wicked idolatry. Hezekiah's own son, Manasseh, would be a principal cause of her ultimate destruction. A remnant would be saved, not in Jerusalem, but out of it. It is amazing that Judah and Jerusalem paid so little attention to this warning. God's purpose for Israel was never focused upon the whole people, but upon the few (the remnant) who would have the faith and character of Abraham.
The king of Assyria. shall not come unto this city ... nor cast up a mound against it
(2 Kings 19:33). Yes, in the Assyrian inscriptions, Sennacherib claims to have done this; but no Christian should allow any servant of Satan to contradict the Word of God. We believe that this prophecy was fulfilled exactly as Isaiah gave it.
The angel of death spread his wings on the blast
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the might of the Gentile unsmote by the sword
Was melted like snow in the glance of the Lord.
-- Lord Byron
And it came to pass that night, that the angel of Jehovah went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when men arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer smote him with the sword: and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esar-haddon his son reigned in his stead.
Some scholars like to point out that the actual assassination of Sennacherib took place nearly twenty years later in 681 B.C., but, so what? 2 Kings 19:36 states clearly enough that he "dwelt in Nineveh," indicating a time-lapse before his murder. We learn from Isa. 37:38 that the two assassins named here were actually the sons of Sennacherib.
The paganism of Sennacherib appears in the name Adrammelech, which was also the name of a pagan god (2 Kings 19:17:31). Whatever was the motive for this parricide by Sennacherib's sons, it was not motivated by a desire to succeed him; for they promptly fled to a distant land. There is a traditional report that both of these sons of Sennacherib set up powerful dynasties that ruled in what is now Armenia.
We are impressed with what Homer Hailey stated, namely, that, "Isaiah himself might have written this section of Kings."F22 This harmonizes with what we have frequently mentioned, namely, that it was God's prophets who were the authors of the material in the historical books, a viewpoint also affirmed and supported by Josephus. No one was any better qualified than Isaiah to have given us these chapters in 2 Kings, along with their near-duplications in 2 Kings 36 and 2 Kings 37 of the Prophecy of Isaiah.
Footnotes for 2 Kings 19
1: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 361.
2: International Critical Commentary, Kings, p. 498.
3: Ibid., p. 635. (Gleason L. Archer).
4: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 5b, p. 382.
5: All the Men of the Bible, p. 302.
6: Homer Hailey, p. 506.
7: George C. M. Douglas, p. 287.
8: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 383.
9: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 363.
10: Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 277.
11: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 243.
12: John Joseph Owens in Broadman Bible Commentary (Isaiah), p. 292.
13: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 447.
14: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 634.
15: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 385.
16: Homer Hailey, p. 309.
17: George C. M. Douglas, p. 289.
18: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 470.
19: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 438.
20: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 635.
21: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 10b, p. 22.
22: Homer Hailey, p. 314.