2 Kings 19 Bible Commentary

Matthew Henry Bible Commentary (complete)

(Read all of 2 Kings 19)
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Jerusalem's great distress we read of in the foregoing chapter, and left it besieged, insulted, threatened, terrified, and just ready to be swallowed up by the Assyrian army. But in this chapter we have an account of its glorious deliverance, not by sword or bow, but by prayer and prophecy, and by the hand of an angel. I. Hezekiah, in great concern, sent to the prophet Isaiah, to desire his prayers (v. 1-5) and received from him an answer of peace (v. 6, 7). II. Sennacherib sent a letter to Hezekiah to fright him into a surrender (v. 8-13). III. Hezekiah thereupon, by a very solemn prayer, recommended his case to God, the righteous Judge, and begged help from him (v. 14-19). IV. God, by Isaiah, sent him a very comfortable message, assuring him of deliverance (v. 20-34). V. The army of the Assyrians was all cut off by an angel and Sennacherib himself slain by his own sons (v. 35-37). And so God glorified himself and saved his people.

Verses 1-7

The contents of Rabshakeh's speech being brought to Hezekiah, one would have expected (and it is likely Rabshakeh did expect) that he would call a council of war and it would be debated whether it was best to capitulate or no. Before the siege, he had taken counsel with his princes and his mighty men, 2 Chr. 32:3. But that would not do now; his greatest relief is that he has a God to go to, and what passed between him and his God on this occasion we have here an account of.

I. Hezekiah discovered a deep concern at the dishonour done to God by Rabshakeh's blasphemy. When he heard it, though at second hand, he rent his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth, v. 1. Good men were wont to do so when they heard of any reproach cast on God's name; and great men must not think it any disparagement to them to sympathize with the injured honour of the great God. Royal robes are not too good to be rent, nor royal flesh too good to be clothed with sackcloth, in humiliation for indignities done to God and for the perils and terrors of his Jerusalem. To this God now called, and was displeased with those who were not thus affected. Isa. 22:12-14, Behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, though it was a day of trouble and perplexity in the valley of vision (v. 5), which refers to this very event. The king was in sackcloth, but many of his subjects were in soft clothing.

II. He went up to the house of the Lord, according to the example of the psalmist, who, when he was grieved at the pride and prosperity of the wicked, went into the sanctuary of God and there understood their end, Ps. 73:17. He went to the house of God, to meditate and pray, and get his spirit into a sedate composed frame, after this agitation. He was not considering what answer to return to Rabshakeh, but refers the matter to God. "Thou shalt answer, Lord, for me."—Herbert. In the house of the Lord he found a place both of rest and refuge, a treasury, a magazine, a council-chamber, and all he needed, all in God. Note, When the church's enemies are very daring and threatening it is the wisdom and duty of the church's friends to apply to God, appeal to him, and leave their cause with him.

III. He sent to the prophet Isaiah, by honourable messengers, in token of the great respect he had for him, to desire his prayers, v. 2-4. Eliakim and Shebna were two of those that had heard the words of Rabshakeh and were the better able both to acquaint and to affect Isaiah with the case. The elders of the priests were themselves to pray for the people in time of trouble (Joel 2:17); but they must go to engage Isaiah's prayers, because he could pray better and had a better interest in heaven. The messengers were to go in sackcloth, because they were to represent the king, who was so clothed.

1. Their errand to Isaiah was, "Lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left, that is, for Judah, which is but a remnant now that the ten tribes are gone—for Jerusalem, which is but a remnant now that the defenced cities of Judah are taken." Note, (1.) It is very desirable, and what we should be desirous of when we are in trouble, to have the prayers of our friends for us. In begging to have them we honour God, we honour prayer, and we honour our brethren. (2.) When we desire the prayers of others for us we must not think we are excused from praying for ourselves. When Hezekiah sent to Isaiah to pray for him he himself went into the house of the Lord to offer up his own prayers. (3.) Those who speak from God to us we should in a particular manner desire to speak to God for us. He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, Gen. 20:7. The great prophet is the great intercessor. (4.) Those are likely to prevail with God that lift up their prayers, that is, that lift up their hearts in prayer. (5.) When the interests of God's church are brought very low, so that there is but a remnant left, few friends, and those weak and at a loss, then it is time to lift up our prayer for that remnant.

2. Two things are urged to Isaiah, to engage his prayers for them:—(1.) Their fears of the enemy (v. 3): "He is insolent and haughty; it is a day of rebuke and blasphemy. We are despised. God is dishonoured. Upon this account it is a day of trouble. Never were such a king and kingdom so trampled on and abused as we are: our soul is exceedingly filled with the contempt of the proud, and it is a sword in our bones to hear them reproach our confidence in God, and say, Where is now your God? and, which is worst of all, we see not which way we can help ourselves and get clear of the reproach. Our cause is good, our people are faithful; but we are quite overpowered with numbers. The children are brought to the birth; now is the time, the critical moment, when, if ever, we must be relieved. One successful blow given to the enemy would accomplish our wishes. But, alas! we are not able to give it: There is not strength to bring forth. Our case is as deplorable, and calls for as speedy help, as that of a woman in travail, that is quite spent with her throes, so that she has not strength to bear the child. Compare with this Hos. 13:13. We are ready to perish; if thou canst do any thing, have compassion upon us and help us." (2.) Their hopes in God. To him they look, on him they depend, to appear for them. One word from him will turn the scale, and save the sinking remnant. If he but reprove the words of Rabshakeh (that is, disprove them, v. 4)—if he undertake to convince and confound the blasphemer—all will be well. And this they trust he will do, not for their merit's sake, but for his own honour's sake, because he has reproached the living God, by levelling him with deaf and dumb idols. They have reason to think the issue will be good, for they can interest God in the quarrel. Ps. 74:22, Arise O God! plead thy own cause. "He is the Lord thy God," say they to Isaiah—"thine, whose glory thou art concerned for, and whose favour thou art interested in. He has heard and known the blasphemous words of Rabshakeh, and therefore, it may be, he will hear and rebuke them. We hope he will. Help us with thy prayers to bring the cause before him, and then we are content to leave it with him."

IV. God, by Isaiah, sent to Hezekiah, to assure him that he would glorify himself in the ruin of the Assyrians. Hezekiah sent to Isaiah, not to enquire concerning the event, as many did that sent to the prophets (Shall I recover? or the like), but to desire his assistance in his duty. It was this that he was solicitous about; and therefore God let him know what the event should be, in recompence of his care to do his duty, v. 6, 7. 1. God interested himself in the cause: They have blasphemed me. 2. He encouraged Hezekiah, who was much dismayed: Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard; they are but words (though swelling and fiery words), and words are but wind. 3. He promised to frighten the king of Assyria worse than Rabshakeh had frightened him: "I will send a blast upon him (that pestilential breath which killed his army), upon which terrors shall seize him and drive him into his own country, where death shall meet him." This short threatening from the mouth of God would do execution, when all the impotent menaces that came from Rabshakeh's mouth would vanish into air.

Verses 8-19

Rabshakeh, having delivered his message and received no answer (whether he took this silence for a consent or a slight does not appear), left his army before Jerusalem, under the command of the other generals, and went himself to attend the king his master for further orders. He found him besieging Libnah, a city that had revolted from Judah, ch. 8:22. Whether he had taken Lachish or no is not certain; some think he departed from it because he found the taking of it impracticable, v. 8. However, he was now alarmed with the rumour that the king of the Cushites, who bordered upon the Arabians, was coming out against him with a great army, v. 9. This made him very desirous to gain Jerusalem with all speed. To take it by force would cost him more time and men than he could well spare, and therefore he renewed his attack upon Hezekiah to persuade him tamely to surrender it. Having found him an easy man once (ch. 18:14), when he said, That which thou puttest on me I will bear, he hoped again to frighten him into a submission, but in vain. Here,

I. Sennacherib sent a letter to Hezekiah, a railing letter, a blaspheming letter, to persuade him to surrender Jerusalem, because it would be to no purpose for him to think of standing it out. His letter is to the same purport with Rabshakeh's speech; there is nothing new offered in it. Rabshakeh had said to the people, Let not Hezekiah deceive you, ch. 18:29. Sennacherib writes to Hezekiah, Let not thy God deceive thee, v. 10. Those that have the God of Jacob for their help, and whose hope is in the Lord their God, need not fear being deceived by him, as the heathen were by their gods. To terrify Hezekiah, and drive him from his anchor, he magnifies himself and his own achievements. See how proudly he boasts, 1. Of the lands he had conquered (v. 11): All lands, and destroyed utterly! How are the mole-hills of his victories swelled to mountains! So far was he from destroying all lands that at this time the land of Cush, and Tirhakah its king, were a terror to him. What vast hyperboles may one expect in proud men's praises of themselves! 2. Of the gods he had conquered, v. 12. "Each vanquished nation and its gods, which were so far from being able to deliver them that they fell with them: and shall thy God deliver thee?" 3. Of the kings he had conquered (v. 13), the king of Hamath and the king of Arpad. Whether he means the prince or the idol, he means to make himself appear greater than either, and therefore very formidable, and the terror of the mighty in the land of the living.

II. Hezekiah encloses this in another letter, a praying letter, a believing letter, and sends it to the King of kings, who judges among the gods. Hezekiah was not so haughty as not to receive the letter, though we may suppose the superscription did not give him his due titles; when he had received it he was not so careless as not to read it; when he had read it he was not in such a passion as to write an answer to it in the same provoking language; but he immediately went up to the temple, presented himself, and then spread the letter before the Lord (v. 14), not as if God needed to have the letter shown to him (he knew what was in it before Hezekiah did), but hereby he signified that he acknowledged God in all his ways,—that he desired not to aggravate the injuries his enemies did him nor to make them appear worse than they were, but desired they might be set in a true light,—and that he referred himself to God, and his righteous judgment, upon the whole matter. Hereby likewise he would affect himself in the prayer he came to the temple to make; and we have need of all possible helps to quicken us in that duty. In the prayer which Hezekiah prayed over this letter, 1. He adores the God whom Sennacherib had blasphemed (v. 15), calls him the God of Israel, because Israel was his peculiar people, and the God that dwelt between the cherubim, because there was the peculiar residence of his glory upon earth; but he gives glory to him as the God of the whole earth, and not, as Sennacherib fancied him to be, the God of Israel only, and confined to the temple. "Let them say what they will, thou art sovereign Lord, for thou art the God, the God of gods, sole Lord, even thou alone, universal Lord of all the kingdoms of the earth, and rightful Lord, for thou hast made heaven and earth. Being Creator of all, by an incontestable title thou art owner and ruler of all." 2. He appeals to God concerning the insolence and profaneness of Sennacherib (v. 16): "Lord, hear; Lord, see. Here it is under his own hand; here it is in black and white." Had Hezekiah only been abused, he would have passed it by; but it is God, the living God, that is reproached, the jealous God. Lord, what wilt thou do for thy great name? 3. He owns Sennacherib's triumphs over the gods of the heathen, but distinguishes between them and the God of Israel (v. 17, 18): He has indeed cast their gods into the fire; for they were no gods, unable to help either themselves or their worshipers, and therefore no wonder that he has destroyed them; and, in destroying them, though he knew it not, he really served the justice and jealousy of the God of Israel, who has determined to extirpate all the gods of the heathen. But those are deceived who think they can therefore be too hard for him. He is none of the gods whom men's hands have made, but he has himself made all things, Ps. 115:3, 4. 4. He prays that God will now glorify himself in the defeat of Sennacherib and the deliverance of Jerusalem out of his hands (v. 19): "Now therefore save us; for if we be conquered, as other lands are, they will say that thou art conquered, as the gods of those lands were: but, Lord, distinguish thyself, by distinguishing us, and let all the world know, and be made to confess, that thou art the Lord God, the self-existent sovereign God, even thou only, and that all pretenders are vanity and a lie." Note, The best pleas in prayer are those which are taken from God's honour; and therefore the Lord's prayer begins with Hallowed be thy name, and concludes with Thine is the glory.

Verses 20-34

We have here the gracious copious answer which God gave to Hezekiah's prayer. The message which he sent him by the same hand (v. 6, 7), one would think, was an answer sufficient to his prayer; but, that he might have strong consolation, he was encouraged by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, Heb. 6:18. In general, God assured him that his prayer was heard, his prayer against Sennacherib, v. 20. Note, The case of those that have the prayers of God's people against them is miserable. For, if the oppressed cry to God against the oppressor, he will hear, Ex. 22:23. God hears and answers, hears with the saving strength of his right hand, Ps. 20:6.

This message bespeaks two things:—

I. Confusion and shame to Sennacherib and his forces. It is here foretold that he should be humbled and broken. The prophet elegantly directs his speech to him, as he does, Isa. 10:5. O Assyrian! the rod of my anger. Not that this message was sent to him, but what is here said to him he was made to know by the event. Providence spoke it to him with a witness; and perhaps his own heart was made to whisper this to him: for God has more ways than one of speaking to sinners in his wrath, so as to vex them in his sore displeasure, Ps. 2:5. Sennacherib is here represented,

1. As the scorn of Jerusalem, v. 21. He thought himself the terror of the daughter of Zion, that chaste and beautiful virgin, and that by his threats he could force her to submit to him: "But, being a virgin in her Father's house and under his protection, she defies thee, despises thee, laughs thee to scorn. Thy impotent malice is ridiculous; he that sits in heaven laughs at thee, and therefore so do those that abide under his shadow." By this word God intended to silence the fears of Hezekiah and his people. Though to an eye of sense the enemy looked formidable, to an eye of faith he looked despicable.

2. As an enemy to God; and that was enough to make him miserable. Hezekiah pleaded this: "Lord, he has reproached thee," v. 16. "He has," saith God, "and I take it as against myself (v. 22): Whom hast thou reproached? Is it not the Holy One of Israel, whose honour is dear to him, and who has power to vindicate it, which the gods of the heathen have not?" Meno me impune lacesset—No one shall provoke me with impunity.

3. As a proud vainglorious fool, that spoke great swelling words of vanity, and boasted of a false gift, by his boasts, as well as by his threats, reproaching the Lord. For, (1.) He magnified his own achievements out of measure and quite above what really they were (v. 23, 24): Thou hast said so and so. This was not in the letter he wrote, but God let Hezekiah know that he not only saw what was written there, but heard what he said elsewhere, probably in the speeches he made to his councils or armies. Note, God takes notice of the boasts of proud men, and will call them to an account, that he may look upon them and abuse them, Job 40:11. What a mighty figure does Sennacherib think he makes! Driving his chariots to the tops of the highest mountains, forcing his way through woods and rivers, breaking through all difficulties, making himself master of all he had a mind to. Nothing could stand before him or be withheld from him; no hills too high for him to climb, no trees too strong for him to fell, no waters too deep for him to dry up; as if he had the power of a God, to speak and it is done. (2.) He took to himself the glory of doing these great things, whereas they were all the Lord's doing, v. 25, 26. Sennacherib, in his letter, had appealed to what Hezekiah had heard (v. 11): Thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done; but, in answer to that, he is reminded of what God has done for Israel of old, drying up the Red Sea, leading them through the wilderness, planting them in Canaan. "What are all thy doings to these? And as for the desolations thou hast made in the earth, and particularly in Judah, thou art but the instrument in God's hand, a mere tool: it is I that have brought it to pass. I gave thee thy power, gave thee thy success, and made thee what thou art, raised thee up to lay waste fenced cities and so to punish them for their wickedness, and therefore their inhabitants were of small power." What a foolish insolent thing was it for him to exalt himself above God, and against God, upon that which he had done by him and under him. Sennacherib's boasts here are expounded in Isa. 10:13, 14, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, etc.; and they are answered (v. 15), Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? It is surely absurd for the fly upon the wheel to say, What a dust do I make! or for the sword in the hand to say, What execution I do! If God be the principal agent in all that is done, boasting is for ever excluded.

4. As under the check and rebuke of that God whom he blasphemed. All his motions were, (1.) Under the divine cognizance (v. 27): "I have thy abode, and what thou dost secretly devise and design, thy going out and coming in, marches and counter-marches, and thy rage against me and my people, the tumult of thy passions, the tumult of thy preparations, the noise and bluster thou makest: I know it all." That was more than Hezekiah did, who wished for intelligence of the enemy's motions; but what need was there for this when the eye of God was a constant spy upon him? 2 Chr. 16:9. (2.) Under the divine control (v. 28): "I will put my hook in thy nose, thou great Leviathan (Job 41:1, 2), my bridle in thy jaws, thou great Behemoth. I will restrain thee, manage thee, turn thee where I please, send thee home like a fool as thou camest, re infectadisappointed of thy aim." Note, It is a great comfort to all the church's friends that God has a hook in the nose and a bridle in the jaws of all her enemies, can make even their wrath to serve and praise him and then restrain the remainder of it. Here shall its proud waves be stayed.

II. Salvation and joy to Hezekiah and his people. This shall be a sign to them of God's favour, and that he is reconciled to them, and his anger is turned away (Isa. 12:1), a wonder in their eyes (for so a sign sometimes signifies), a token for good, and an earnest of the further mercy God has in store for them, that a good issue shall be put to their present distress in every respect.

1. Provisions were scarce and dear; and what should they do for food? The fruits of the earth were devoured by the Assyrian army, Isa. 32:9, 10, etc. Why, they shall not only dwell in the land, but verily they shall be fed. If God save them, he will not starve them, nor let them die by famine, when they have escaped the sword: "Eat you this year that which groweth of itself, and you shall find enough of that. Did the Assyrians reap what you sowed? You shall reap what you did not sow." But the next year was the sabbatical year, when the land was to rest, and they must neither sow nor reap. What must they do that year? Why, Jehovah-jireh—The Lord will provide. God's blessing shall save them seed and labour, and, that year too, the voluntary productions of the earth shall serve to maintain them, to remind them that the earth brought forth before there was a man to till it, Gen. 1:11. And then, the third year, their husbandry should return into its former channel, and they should sow and reap as they used to do. 2. The country was laid waste, families were broken up and scattered, and all was in confusion; how should it be otherwise when it was over-run by such an army? As to this, it is promised that the remnant that has escaped of the house of Judah (that is, of the country people) shall yet again be planted in their own habitations, upon their own estates, shall take root there, shall increase and grow rich, v. 30. See how their prosperity is described: it is taking root downwards, and bearing fruit upwards, being well fixed and well provided for themselves, and then doing good to others. Such is the prosperity of the soul: it is taking root downwards by faith in Christ, and then being fruitful in fruits of righteousness. 3. The city was shut up, none went out or came in; but now the remnant in Jerusalem and Zion shall go forth freely, and there shall be none to hinder them, or make them afraid, v. 31. Great destruction had been made both in city and country, bit in both there was a remnant that escaped, which typified the saved remnant of Israelites indeed (as appears by comparing Isa. 10:22, 23, which speaks of this very event, with Rom. 9:27, 28), and they shall go forth into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 4. The Assyrians were advancing towards Jerusalem, and would in a little time besiege it in form, and it was in great danger of falling into their hands. But it is here promised that the siege they feared should be prevented,—that, though the enemy had now (as it should seem) encamped before the city, yet they should never come into the city, no, nor so much as shoot an arrow into it (v. 32, 33),—that he should be forced to retire with shame, and a thousand times to repent his undertaking. God himself undertakes to defend the city (v. 34), and that person, that place, cannot but be safe, the protection of which he undertakes. 5. The honour and truth of God are engaged for the doing of all this. These are great things, but how will they be effected? Why, the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this, v. 31. He is Lord of hosts, has all creatures at his beck, therefore he is able to do it; he is jealous for Jerusalem with great jealousy (Zec. 1:14); having espoused her a chaste virgin to himself, he will not suffer he to be abused, v. 21. "You have reason to think yourselves unworthy that such great things should be done for you; but God's own zeal will do it." His zeal, (1.) For his own honour (v. 34): "I will do it for my own sake, to make myself an everlasting name." God's reasons of mercy are fetched from within himself. (2.) For his own truth: "I will do it for my servant David's sake; not for the sake of his merit, but the promise made to him and the covenant made with him, those sure mercies of David." Thus all the deliverances of the church are wrought for the sake of Christ, the Son of David.

Verses 35-37

Sometimes it was long ere prophecies were accomplished and promises performed; but here the word was no sooner spoken than the work was done.

I. The army of Assyria was entirely routed. That night which immediately followed the sending of this message to Hezekiah, when the enemy had just set down before the city and were preparing (as we now say) to open the trenches, that night was the main body of their army slain upon the spot by an angel, v. 35. Hezekiah had not force sufficient to sally out upon them and attack their camp, nor would God do it by sword or bow; but he sent his angel, a destroying angel, in the dead of the night, to make an assault upon them, which their sentinels, though ever so wakeful, could neither discover nor resist. It was not by the sword of a mighty man or of a mean man, that is, not of any man at all, but of an angel, that the Assyrians army was to fall (Isa. 31:8), such an angel as slew the first-born of Egypt. Josephus says it was done by a pestilential disease, which was instant death to them. The number slain was very great, 185,000 men, and Rabshakeh, it is likely, among the rest. When the besieged arose, early in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses, scarcely a living man among them. Some think the 76th Psalm was penned on this occasion, where we read that the stout-hearted were spoiled and slept their sleep, their last, their long sleep, v. 5. See how great, in power and might, the holy angels are, when one angel, in one night, could make so great a slaughter. See how weak the mightiest of men are before almighty God: who ever hardened himself against him and prospered? The pride and blasphemy of the king are punished by the destruction of his army. All these lives are sacrificed to God's glory and Zion's safety. The prophet shows that therefore God suffered this vast rendezvous to be made, that they might be gathered as sheaves into the floor, Mic. 4:12, 13.

II. The king of Assyria was hereby put into the utmost confusion. Ashamed to see himself, after all his proud boasts, thus defeated and disabled to pursue his conquests and secure what he had (for this, we may suppose, was the flower of his army), and continually afraid of falling under the like stroke himself, He departed, and went, and returned; the manner of the expression intimates the great disorder and distraction of mind he was in, v. 36. And it was not long before God cut him off too, by the hands of two of his own sons, v. 37. 1. Those that did it were very wicked, to kill their own father (whom they were bound to protect) and in the act of his devotion; monstrous villany! But, 2. God was righteous in it. Justly are the sons suffered to rebel against their father that begat them, when he was in rebellion against the God that made him. Those whose children are undutiful to them ought to consider whether they have not been so to their Father in heaven. The God of Israel had done enough to convince him that he was the only true God, whom therefore he ought to worship; yet he persists in his idolatry, and seeks to his false god for protection against a God of irresistible power. Justly is his blood mingled with his sacrifices, since he will not be convinced by such a plain and dear-bought demonstration of his folly in worshipping idols. His sons that murdered him were suffered to escape, and no pursuit was made after them, his subjects perhaps being weary of the government of so proud a man and thinking themselves well rid of him. And his sons would be looked upon as the more excusable in what they had done if it be true (as bishop Patrick suggested) that he was now vowing to sacrifice them to his god, so that it was for their own preservation that they sacrificed him. His successor was another son, Esarhaddon, who (as it should seem) did not aim, like his father, to enlarge his conquests, but rather to improve them; for he it was that first sent colonies of Assyrians to inhabit the country of Samaria, though it is mentioned before (ch. 17:24), as appears, Ezra 4:2, where the Samaritans say it was Esarhaddon that brought them thither.