Here is, I. Jerusalem besieged by Sennacherib’s army, 2 Kgs. 18:17. He sent three of his great generals with a great host against Jerusalem. Isa. this the great king, the king of Assyria? No, never call him so; he is a base, false, perfidious man, and worthy to be made infamous to all ages; let him never be named with honour that could do such a dishonourable thing as this, to take Hezekiah’s money, which he gave him upon condition he should withdraw his army, and then, instead of quitting his country according to the agreement, to advance against his capital city, and not send him his money again either. Those are wicked men indeed, and, let them be ever so great, we will call them so, whose principle it is not to make their promises binding any further than is for their interest. Now Hezekiah had too much reason to repent his treaty with Sennacherib, which made him much the poorer and never the safer.
II. Hezekiah, and his princes and people, railed upon by Rabshakeh, the chief speaker of the three generals, and one that had the most satirical genius. He was no doubt instructed what to say by Sennacherib, who intended hereby to pick a new quarrel with Hezekiah. He had promised, upon the receipt of Hezekiah’s money, to withdraw his army, and therefore could not for shame make a forcible attack upon Jerusalem immediately; but he sent Rabshakeh to persuade Hezekiah to surrender it, and, if he should refuse, the refusal would serve him for a pretence (and a very poor one) to besiege it, and, if it hold out, to take it by storm. Rabshakeh had the impudence to desire audience of the king himself at the conduit of the upper pool, without the walls; but Hezekiah had the prudence to decline a personal treaty, and sent three commissioners (the prime ministers of state) to hear what he had to say, but with a charge to them not to answer that fool according to his folly (2 Kgs. 18:36), for they could not convince him, but would certainly provoke him, and Hezekiah had learned of his father David to believe that God would hear when he, as a deaf man, heard not, Ps. 38:13-15. One interruption they gave him in his discourse, which was only to desire that he would speak to them now in the Syrian language, and they would consider what he said and report it to the king, and, if they did not give him a satisfactory answer, then he might appeal to the people, by speaking in the Jews’ language, 2 Kgs. 18:26. This was a reasonable request, and agreeable to the custom of treaties, which is that the plenipotentiaries should settle matters between themselves before any thing be made public; but Hilkiah did not consider what an unreasonable man he had to deal with, else he would not have made this request, for it did but exasperate Rabshakeh, and make him the more rude and boisterous, 2 Kgs. 18:27. Against all the rules of decency and honour, instead of treating with the commissioners, he menaces the soldiery, persuades them to desert or mutiny, threatens if they hold out to reduce the to the last extremities of famine, and then goes on with his discourse, the scope of which is to persuade Hezekiah, and his princes and people, to surrender the city. Observe how, in order to do this,
1. He magnifies his master the king of Assyria. Once and again he calls him That great king, the king of Assyria, 2 Kgs. 18:19, 28. What an idol did he make of that prince whose creature he was! God is the great King, but Sennacherib was in his eye a little god, and he would possess them with the same veneration for him that he had, and thereby frighten them into a submission to him. But to those who by faith see the King of kings in his power and glory even the king of Assyria looks mean and little. What are the greatest of men when either they come to compare with God or God comes to contend with them? Ps. 82:6, 7.
2. He endeavours to make them believe that it will be much for their advantage to surrender. If they held out, they must expect no other than to eat their own dung, by reason of the want of provisions, which would be entirely cut off from them by the besiegers; but if they would capitulate, seek his favour with a present and cast themselves upon his mercy, he would give them very good treatment, 2 Kgs. 18:31. I wonder with what face Rabshakeh could speak of making an agreement with a present 2d78 when his master had so lately broken the agreement Hezekiah made with him with that great present, 2 Kgs. 18:14. Can those expect to be trusted that have been so grossly perfidious? But, Ad populum phaleras—Gild the chain and the vulgar will let you bind them. He thought to soothe up all with a promise that if they would surrender upon discretion, though they must expect to be prisoners and captives, yet it would really be happy for them to be so. One would wonder he should ever think to prevail by such gross suggestions as these, but that the devil does thus impose upon sinners every day by his temptations. He will needs persuade them, (1.) That their imprisonment would be to their advantage, for they should eat every man of his own vine (2 Kgs. 18:31); though the property of their estates would be vested in the conquerors, yet they should have the free use of them. But he does not explain it now to them as he would afterwards, that it must be understood just as much, and just as long, as the conqueror pleases. (2.) That their captivity would be much more to their advantage: I will take you away to a land like your own land; and what the better would they be for that, when they must have nothing in it to call their own?
3. That which he aims at especially is to convince them that it is to no purpose for them to stand it out: What confidence is this wherein thou trustest? So he insults over Hezekiah, 2 Kgs. 18:19. To the people he says (2 Kgs. 18:29), “Let not Hezekiah deceive you into your own ruin, for he shall not be able to deliver you; you must either bend or break.” It were well if sinners would submit to the force of this argument, in making their peace with God—That it is therefore our wisdom to yield to him, because it is in vain to contend with him: what confidence is that which those trust in who stand it out against him? Are we stronger than he? Or what shall we get by setting briars and thorns before a consuming fire? But Hezekiah was not so helpless and defenceless as Rabshakeh would here represent him. Three things he supposes Hezekiah might trust to, and he endeavours to make out the insufficiency of these:—(1.) His own military preparations: Thou sayest, I have counsel and strength for the war; and we find that so he had, 2 Chron. 32:3. But this Rabshakeh turns off with a slight: “They are but vain words; thou art an unequal match for us,” 2 Kgs. 18:20. With the greatest haughtiness and disdain imaginable, he challenges him to produce 2000 men of all his people that know how to manage a horse, and will venture to give him 2000 horses if he can. He falsely insinuates that Hezekiah has no men, or none fit to be soldiers, 2 Kgs. 18:23. Thus he thinks to run him down with confidence and banter, and will lay him any wager that one captain of the least of his master’s servants is able to baffle him and all his forces. (2.) His alliance with Egypt. He supposes that Hezekiah trusts to Egypt for chariots and horsemen (2 Kgs. 18:24), because the king of Israel had done so, and of this confidence he truly says, It is a broken reed (2 Kgs. 18:21), it will not only fail a man when he leans on it and expects it to bear his weight, but it will run into his hand and pierce it, and rend his shoulder, as the prophet further illustrates this similitude, with application to Egypt, Ezek. 29:6, 7. So is the king of Egypt, says he; and truly so had the king of Assyria been to Ahaz, who trusted in him, but he distressed him, and strengthened him not, 2 Chron. 28:20. Those that trust to any arm of flesh will find it no better than a broken reed; but God is the rock of ages. (3.) His interest in God and relation to him. This was indeed the confidence in which Hezekiah trusts, 2 Kgs. 18:22. He supported himself by depending on the power and promise of God; with this he encouraged himself and his people (2 Kgs. 18:30): The Lord will surely deliver us, and again 2 Kgs. 18:32. This Rabshakeh was sensible was their great stay, and therefore he was most large in his endeavours to shake this, as David’s enemies, who used all the arts they had to drive him from his confidence in God (Ps. 3:2; 11:1), and thus did Christ’s enemies, Matt. 27:43. Three things Rabshakeh suggested to discourage their confidence in God, and they were all false:—[1.] That Hezekiah had forfeited God’s protection, and thrown himself out of it, by destroying the high places and the altars, 2 Kgs. 18:22. Here he measures the God of Israel by the gods of the heathen, who delighted in the multitude of altars and temples, and concludes that Hezekiah has given a great offence to the God of Israel, in confining his people to one altar: thus is one of the best deeds he ever did in his life misconstrued as impious and profane, by one that did not, or would not, know the law of the God of Israel. If that be represented by ignorant and malicious men as evil and a provocation to God which is really good and pleasing to him, we must not think it strange. If this was to be sacrilegious, Hezekiah would ever be so. [2.] That God had given orders for the destruction of Jerusalem at this time (2 Kgs. 18:25): Have I now come up without the Lord? This is all banter and rhodomontade. He did not himself think he had any commission from God to do what he did (by whom should he have it?) but he made this pretence to amuse and terrify the people that were on the wall. If he had any colour at all for what he said, it might be taken from the notice which perhaps he had had, by the writings of the prophets, of the hand of God in the destruction of the ten tribes, and he thought he had as good a warrant for the seizing of Jerusalem as of Samaria. Many that have fought against God have pretended commissions from him. [3.] That if Jehovah, the God of Israel, should undertake to protect them from the king of Assyria, yet he was notable to do it. With this blasphemy he concluded his speech (2 Kgs. 18:33-35), comparing the God of Israel with the gods of the nations whom he had conquered and putting him upon the level with them, and concluding that because they could not defend and deliver their worshippers the God of Israel could not defend and deliver his. See here, First, His pride. When he conquered a city he reckoned himself to have conquered its gods, and valued himself mightily upon it. His high opinion of the idols made him have a high opinion of himself as too hard for them. Secondly, His profaneness. The God of Israel was not a local deity, but the God of the whole earth, the only living and true God, the ancient of days, and had often proved himself to be above all gods; yet he makes no more of him than of the upstart fictitious gods of Hamath and Arpad, unfairly arguing that the gods (as some now say the priests) of all religions are the same, and himself above them all. The tradition of the Jews is that Rabshakeh was an apostate Jew, which made him so ready in the Jews’ language; if so, his ignorance of the God of Israel was the less excusable and his enmity the less strange, for apostates are commonly the most bitter and spiteful enemies, witness Julian. A great deal of art and management, it must be owned, there were in this speech of Rabshakeh, but, withal, a great deal of pride, malice, falsehood, and blasphemy. One grain of sincerity would have been worth all this wit and rhetoric.
Lastly, We are told what the commissioners on Hezekiah’s part did. 1. They held their peace, not for want of something to say both on God’s behalf and Hezekiah’s: they might easily and justly have upbraided him with his master’s treachery and breach of faith, and have asked him, What religion encourages you to hope that such conduct will prosper? At least they might have given that grave hint which Ahab gave to Benhadad’s like insolent demands—Let not him that girdeth on the harness boast as though he had put it off. But the king had commanded them not to answer him, and they observed their instructions. There is a time to keep silence, as well as a time to speak, and there are those to whom to offer any thing religious or rational is to cast pearls before swine. What can be said to a madman? It is probable that their silence made Rabshakeh yet more proud and secure, and so his heart was lifted up and hardened to his destruction. 2. They rent their clothes in detestation of his blasphemy and in grief for the despised afflicted condition of Jerusalem, the reproach of which was a burden to them. 3. They faithfully reported the matter to the king, their master, and told him the words of Rabshakeh, that he might consider what was to be done, what course they should take and what answer they should return to Rabshakeh’s summons.