King Hezekiah sends people to Isaiah (Isa 37:2-37:4)

“The king sent Eliakim,

Who was in charge of the palace,

Shebna the secretary,

With the senior priests,

Covered with sackcloth,

To the prophet Isaiah,

Son of Amoz.

They said to him.

‘Thus says King Hezekiah.

This day is a day of distress.

This day is a day of rebuke.

This day is a day of disgrace.

Children have come to birth.

But there is no strength to bring them forth.

It may be that Yahweh your God

Heard the words of Rabshakeh,

Whom his master,

The king of Assyria,

Has sent to mock the living God.

Will you rebuke the words

That Yahweh your God has heard?

Therefore,

Lift up your prayer

For the remnant that is left.’”

Once again, this is almost word for word from 2 Kings, chapter 19. King Hezekiah decided to send his consultants, Eliakim, Shebnah, and the senior priests to the prophet Isaiah, the son of Amoz. Notice that Joah the recorder did not go, but instead senior priests went. They would all be wearing sackcloth because things were in distress and disgrace. In an interesting metaphor, they say that women are coming to the moment of childbirth, but have no strength to bring their children into the world. They mentioned that perhaps Yahweh had heard the mocking words of Rabshakeh, as the king of Assyria’s representative mocked the living God. How would you rebuke him? They wanted prayers for the “remnant.” This theme of the faithful few left behind occurs quite often in Isaiah.

 

The non-response of the messengers (Isa 36:21-36:22)

“But they were silent.

They answered him not a word.

The king’s command was.

‘Do not answer him.’

Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah,

Who was in charge of the palace,

Shebnah the secretary,

With Joah son of Asaph,

The recorder,

Came to King Hezekiah

With their clothes torn.

They told him the words of Rabshakeh.”

Once again in the same words as 2 Kings, chapter 18, there was no response to Rabshakeh, after his Hebrew presentation on why they should surrender rather than rely on their own God, Yahweh. King Hezekiah had told his messengers not to respond. These 3 officials from Judah, Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah went with torn clothes to King Hezekiah. They told him what Rabshakeh had said.

Rabshakeh gives the promise of a new land (Isa 36:16-36:17)

“Thus says the king of Assyria.

‘Make your peace with me!

Come out to me!

Then every one of you

Will eat of your own vine

With your own fig tree.

You will drink water

From your own cistern.

Then I will come.

I will take you away

To a land like your own land,

A land of grain,

A land of wine,

A land of bread.”

Once again in the same words as 2 Kings, chapter 18, Rabshakeh offered the people on the wall a promise of peace. If they came with him, they would have their own vineyard, fig tree, and water in a new country that had grain, bread, and wine. They would be able to drink their own water in this land with grain and vines, much like in their own country. The mention about honey is missing here in Isaiah.

The language problem of the Israelites (Isa 36:11-36:11)

“Then Eliakim,

Shebnah,

With Joah

Said to Rabshakeh.

‘Please speak to your servants in Aramaic.

We understand it.

Do not speak to us

In the language of Judah

Within the hearing of the people

Who are on the wall.’”

In words that are word for word from 2 Kings, chapter 18, the 3 ambassadors of King Hezekiah, Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah asked Rabshakeh to speak in Aramaic because they understood it. The language of Judah refers to local Hebrew. Perhaps as early as the 8th century BCE Aramaic was the common Mid Eastern language, while Hebrew was the unique to Israel. Apparently the ambassadors of King Hezekiah did not want the people sitting on the wall to hear this conversation. Rabshakeh may have had some prior connections with the Israelites since he knew their local language.

The officials meet in Jerusalem (Is 36:2-36:3)

“The king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh

With a great army,

From Lachish

To King Hezekiah at Jerusalem.

He stood by the conduit of the upper pool,

On the highway to Fuller’s Field.

There came out to them Eliakim,

Son of Hilkiah,

Who was in charge of the palace,

Shebnah the secretary,

With Joah son of Asaph,

The recorder.”

This is a lot like 2 Kings, chapter 18, except that there is no mention of the Tartan General Rabsaris here.   The king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh, who was his chief steward or cup bearer, from Lachish to Jerusalem with a big army. King Hezekiah sent out the man in charge of his palace, Eliakim, his secretary, Shebnah, and his recorder, Joah. They met at the upper pool near Fuller’s Field. This Fuller’s Field on the northwest side of Jerusalem must have been well known. A “fuller” is someone who works with cloth to get it the right color. Thus near a pool sounds about right. The names Eliakim and Joah refer to 4 other people in biblical literature, other than these two men. However, the name Shebnah only appears in this story.

King Hezekiah (Sir 48:17-48:22)

“King Hezekiah fortified his city.

He brought water into its midst.

He tunneled the sheer rock

With iron tools.

He built cisterns for the water.

In his days,

Sennacherib invaded the country.

He sent his commander from Lachish.

He departed.

He shook his fist against Zion.

He made great boasts in his arrogance.

Then their hearts were shaken.

Their hands trembled.

They were in anguish,

Like women in labor.

But they called upon the Lord

Who is merciful.

They spread out their hands

Toward him.

The Holy One quickly heard them

From heaven.

He delivered them

Through Isaiah.

The Lord struck down

The camp of the Assyrians.

His angel wiped them out.

King Hezekiah did

What was pleasing to the Lord.

He kept firmly to the ways

Of his ancestor King David.”

Of all the kings from King Solomon to the captivity, Sirach singled out King Hezekiah (716-687 BCE) of Judah, based on the stories in 2 Kings, chapters 18-20, and 2 Chronicles, chapters 29-32. He was the king who followed Yahweh’s commandments, during the time of the prophet Isaiah. Just before his reign, the northern kingdom of Israel at Samaria fell to the Assyrians. During his reign the population grew from 5,000 at the time of King Solomon to about 25,000 people because of the many migrant Israelites from the north. Thus King Hezekiah fortified Jerusalem by building walls around it with tunnels to get water that has been verified by archeological discoveries. Ten years later, King Sennacherib decided to invade Judah. He sent his general Rabshakeh from Lachish to negotiate a deal, but King Hezekiah went to the prophet Isaiah for advice. Despite the fears of the folks in Jerusalem, Isaiah said not to yield. King Hezekiah prayed to Yahweh. King Sennacherib of Assyria decided not to invade the city, but 185,000 of his troops were wiped out by an angel of the Lord. Thus King Hezekiah was pleasing to the Lord like King David.

The king sends his consultants to the prophet Isaiah (2 Kings 19:1-19:4)

“When King Hezekiah heard this, he also tore his clothes. He covered himself with sackcloth. He went into the house of Yahweh. He sent Eliakim, who was in charge of the palace, Shebnah the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him. ‘Thus says King Hezekiah. This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace. Children have come to the birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that Yahweh your God heard all the words of Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God. Will you rebuke the words which Yahweh your God has heard? Therefore, lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

It seems like it was common to tear your clothes whenever you heard bad news. If you were a pessimist you would need a large wardrobe or wear torn clothes all the time. Instead of the torn clothes you wore sackcloth, the cloth that carried the various vegetables or food. Being the good king, Hezekiah went into the house of Yahweh, the temple. Then he decided to send his consultants, Eliakim, Shebnah, and the senior priests to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. Notice that Joah did not go. They would all be wearing sackcloth. Things are in distress and disgrace. In an interesting metaphor they say that women are coming to the moment of childbirth but have no strength to bring their children into the world. They mentioned that perhaps Yahweh had heard the mocking words of Rabshakeh. The king of Assyria’s representative mocked the living God. How would you rebuke him? They wanted prayers for the “remnant.” This theme of the faithful few left behind will occur quite often.