It came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah . There is an irreconcilable difference between this note of time, in the passage as it stands, and the Assyrian inscriptions. The fourteenth year of Hezekiah was b.c. 714 or 713. Sargon was then King of Assyria, and continued king till b.c. 705. Sennacherib did not ascend the throne till that year, and he did not lead an expedition into Palestine till b.c. 701. Thus the date, as it stands, is cloven or twelve years too early. It is now the common opinion of critics that the chronology of the Books of Kings, speaking generally, is "a later addition to the Hebrew narrative". It is uncertain when the dates were added; but it would not be long from the time when the addition was made before " Isaiah " would be brought into accord with "Kings . " Another view is that the date belongs to the original writings, but that it has suffered corruption, "fourteenth" having been substituted for "twenty-sixth," from an overstrict rendering of the expression, "in those days," which introduces the narrative of Isaiah 38:1-22 . That narrative undoubtedly belongs to Hezekiah's fourteenth year. A third view is that of Dr. Hincks, who suggests a derangement of the text, which has attached to an expedition of Sennacherib a date originally belonging to an attack by Sargon. He supposes the original text to have run thus: "And it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah that the King of Assyria came up (against him). In those days was King Hezekiah sick unto death, etc. ( Isaiah 38:1-22 ; Isaiah 39:1-8 .). And Sennacherib, King of Assyria, came up against all the defenced cities of Judah, and took them," etc. ( Isaiah 36:1-22 ; Isaiah 37:1-38 .). The subject has been treated at considerable length by Mr. Cheyne, who has accidentally ascribed to Sir H. Rawlinson the second of the above theories, which really originated with the present writer. Sennacherib, King of Assyria . The Hebrew rendering of the name is Sankherib , the Greek Sanacharibus or Senacheribus. In the Assyrian the literation is Sin-akhi-irib— and the meaning" Sin (the moon-god) multiplies brothers." Sin-akhi-irib was the son and successor of Sargon. His father was murdered, and he ascended the throne in b.c. 705. Came up against all the defenced cities ; rather, all the fenced cities , as in 2 Kings 18:13 ,or "all the fortified cities" (Cheyne). And took them . Sennacberib tells us that, in the campaign of his fourth year, he "captured forty-six of the strong cities" belonging to Hezekiah, King of Judah, while of the "fortresses and small cities" he took "a countless number". (On the causes of the war and its general course, see the Introduction to the book.)
Hezekiah and the Assyrian.
The Assyrian king made a campaign against Judah, Lachish was taken, and the event was commemorated on bas-reliefs in Sennacherib's palace. The place commanded the direct road from Egypt to Judah. Hence the Rabshakeh, one of the chief officers of the Assyrians, was sent against Hezekiah, and by the "conduit of the upper pool"—the very spot where Ahaz had spoken with Isaiah ( Isaiah 7:3 )—he took up his quarters. "Unbelief was then represented by an Israelite, now more naturally by an Assyrian" (Cheyne). To meet him there go forth Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, disciple of Isaiah; Shebna, the secretary (cf. Isaiah 22:15-25 ); and Joah, the annalist.
I. THE PRIDE AND POWER OF THE ASSYRIAN . It seems to be the very type of worldly pride and power.
1 . His title. He is the sarru rabu , the great king, or the strong king, or the king of hosts. The ruler of Judah is no king at all in his thought, but a name and shadow, or a mere puppet in the hands of a giant.
2 . His contemptuous trust in force. Hezekiah trusts in a "mere word of the lips," according to the insolent conqueror. What of the alliance of Egypt ? On the banks of the Nile grow abundance of reeds; a "cracked reed" is the symbol of that alliance, and of the Pharaoh's help (cf. Ezekiel 29:6 , Ezekiel 29:7 ). The Assyrian predicts that the alliance will be broken asunder, and that crushing defeat will follow. But what of the protection of Jehovah ? The Assyrian taunts Hezekiah with inconsistency, and turns his own conduct as a reformer against himself. The latter had abolished the "high places" ( 2 Kings 18:4 ; 2 Chronicles 31:1 ), and had centred worship at Jerusalem. To a superficial observer it looked as if the God of Israel had been robbed of his altars and a part of his due rites. How, then, could Judah expect the countenance of Jehovah? A reformation is always attended by evils, and it is a weapon in the hands of the enemy to charge these evils upon the reformation itself, instead of upon the human passions stirred up in the course of any great change. So the heathen charged the calamities of the Roman empire on Christianity, and the disorders attending the great Reformation of the sixteenth century were laid at the door of the reformers. Against these weaknesses in the position of Hezekiah, as the Assyrian deems them, he himself opposes brute force. He is strong in cavalry, and Judah is weak. Judah may have two thousand horses if she can find riders for them. How can she resist the attack of a single Assyrian satrap? She may well look to Egypt for chariots and horsemen.
II. HIS APPEAL TO THE WEAKNESS OF DOUBTFUL MINDS .
1 . The Assyrian pretends that he has even an oracle from Jehovah himself to destroy the land of Judah, because of the violation of the high places. Our spiritual enemies would not be so mighty if we were not so weak. In times of trial, it is the doubtful conscience which makes us weak; the self-betraying heart. The reaction and revival even from righteous efforts may be felt by good men. What if when they thought to serve God they have been displeasing him? And now, when danger and opposition have to be encountered, suppose that these assume the aspect, not of obstacles to be overcome in his strength, but of judgments sent in his wrath, to be withstood? There is, after all, no enemy to be feared like the traitor in our bosom, no force against us so formidable as that which is cloudily projected from an uneasy imagination; no bulwark so strong as a conscience void of offence toward God.
2 . He endeavours to undermine the source of spiritual confidence. Hezekiah had encouraged the people, as he himself was encouraged by Isaiah—by pointing to the Divine Saviour of the nation: " Jehovah will surely deliver us , and the city shall not fall into the Assyrian's hands" (cf. Isaiah 37:35 ). How typical this of spiritual temptation! If the devil can get men to question the words of God, his victory is assured. It is not so much the open warfare, the battles about the outposts and fortifications of the faith, that we have to dread, as the sapping and mining operations directed at the very principle and seat of faith itself. Is this world governed? Has it a righteous constitution and administration? Does all repose upon the mind and will of a just and holy Being? Then faith may live, and the weakest may be strong. Or is all the effect of chance? and are we at the mercy of some blind and fatal power, which neither loves nor knows? Then the stoutest knees will be loosened, anti the bravest heart will quail.
3 . He holds out enticing promises. Let the people make a treaty with the Assyrian. Let them surrender to him, and he will secure them a happy future. They will be removed from their own land, it is true; but they shall find another home in a land equally goodly, abounding in corn and grapes, in bread-corn and orchards. There each family shall possess its vine and its fig tree and its cistern. Here, again, worldly hopes are made to take the field against the instincts of religious faith. Why cling to Judah? Because it was sacred soil—the land of the fathers, the land whose holy centre was Jerusalem, the altar Of God, the meeting-place of the tribes, the earthly mirror of heaven. But was not this mere charm of imagination? Were not other lands as fair and as fertile? Could not a peaceful and a happy home be found in distant lands? Perhaps they are clinging to a pleasing illusion, a vain dream, and are blind to the good which lies at their feet. Perhaps they are defending themselves against their own happiness.
4 . He appeals to seeming facts of history. The "gods of the nations" appear to have gone down before the victorious Assyrian. They, in the struggle, had not manifested a power to save. In ancient thought, religion and political power were closely connected. If a city or a nation stood, it was because of the protecting presence of the national god; its wanderings were his wanderings, its victories the effect of his prowess, its failures the signs of his defeat. Now, the gods of Hamath were captive in Assyrian shrines. And what probability was there, from a heathen point of view, that it would be otherwise with Jehovah, the national God of Israel? Such a rivalry between the long-vanished, power and religion of the Assyrian, and that of the living God, whom we at this day own, not only as national God of Israel, but as the Eternal himself—may seem strange. To the eve of the heathen, and from the heathen view of politics and history, it was not so. Time alone can discover the short-sightedness of human calculation, and expose the superficiality of worldly views of history.
III. THE ANSWER OF SILENCE . It was by Hezekiah's command that no answer was returned. "For they had nothing that would seem, from an Assyrian point of view, a satisfactory answer." And the rent clothes of the Jewish officials confess the last extreme of helpless grief. And may not the facts of this situation remind us of spiritual situations? There are hours of perplexed thought when the mind turns its own weapons against itself. All circumstances conspire against us, or seem to do so. We seek for the "bright side" of the situation, but there is no bright side to look upon. We turn to the east, hoping for a ray of light: all is darkness. The known is distinct and threatening; the unknown veiled and, to the depressed imagination, more threatening still. We are cowed by our own reason, quelled by the pressure of our most fixed habits of thinking. Tim problem is without solution to the intelligence. But there is a secret sympathy of our being with the Unseen. There is a secret channel by which we may communicate with the Unseen, and pierce behind the veil. When temptations close around us like the serried ranks of the Assyrian host, shutting out from view every possible way of escape, we may, nevertheless, believe that there is such a way—a passage into the clear light, which Jehovah has made, and which he will presently reveal.—J.