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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on Isaiah 37

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The Book of the Prophet Isaiah

Commentary by A. R. FAUSSET

CHAPTER 37

Isa 37:1-38. CONTINUATION OF THE NARRATIVE IN THE THIRTY-SIXTH CHAPTER.

      1. sackcloth--(See on JF & B for Isa 20:2).
      house of the Lord--the sure resort of God's people in distress ( Psa 73:16, 17 77:13 ).

      2. unto Isaiah--implying the importance of the prophet's position at the time; the chief officers of the court are deputed to wait on him (compare 2Ki 22:12-14 ).

      3. rebuke--that is, the Lord's rebuke for His people's sins ( Psa 149:7 Hsa 5:9 ).
      blasphemy--blasphemous railing of Rab-shakeh.
      the children, &c.--a proverbial expression for, We are in the most extreme danger and have no power to avert it (compare Hsa 13:13 ).

      4. hear--take cognizance of ( 2Sa 16:12 ).
      reprove--will punish him for the words, &c. ( Psa 50:21 ).
      remnant--the two tribes of the kingdom of Judah, Israel being already captive. Isaiah is entreated to act as intercessor with God.

      6. servants--literally, "youths," mere lads, implying disparagement, not an embassy of venerable elders. The Hebrew is different from that for "servants" in Isa 37:5.
      blasphemed me-- ( Isa 36:20 ).

      7. blast--rather, "I will put a spirit ( Isa 28:6 1Ki 22:23 ) into him," that is, so influence his judgment that when he hears the report ( Isa 37:9, concerning Tirhakah), he shall return [GESENIUS]; the "report" also of the destruction of his army at Jerusalem, reaching Sennacherib, while he was in the southwest of Palestine on the borders of Egypt, led him to retreat.
      by the sword-- ( Isa 37:38 ).

      8. returned--to the camp of his master.
      Libnah--meaning "whiteness," the Blanche-garde of the Crusaders [STANLEY]. EUSEBIUS and JEROME place it more south, in the district of Eleutheropolis, ten miles northwest of Lachish, which Sennacherib had captured (see on JF & B for Isa 36:2). Libnah was in Judea and given to the priests ( 1Ch 6:54, 57 ).

      9. Tirhakah--(See on JF & B for Isa 17:12; JF & B for Isa 18:6). Egypt was in part governed by three successive Ethiopian monarchs, for forty or fifty years: Sabacho, Sevechus, and Tirhakah. Sevechus retired from Lower Egypt owing to the resistance of the priests, whereupon Sethos, a prince-priest, obtained supreme power with Tanis (Zoan in Scripture), or Memphis, as his capital. The Ethiopians retained Upper Egypt under Tirhakah, with Thebes as the capital. Tirhakah's fame as a conqueror rivalled that of Sesostris; he, and one at least, st of the Pharaohs of Lower Egypt, were Hezekiah's allies against Assyria. The tidings of his approach made Sennacherib the more anxious to get possession of Jerusalem before his arrival.
      sent-- 2Ki 19:9 more fully expresses Sennacherib's eagerness by adding "again."

      10. He tries to influence Hezekiah himself, as Rab-shakeh had addressed the people.
      God. . . deceive--(Compare Num 23:19 ).

      11. all lands-- ( Isa 14:17 ). He does not dare to enumerate Egypt in the list.

      12. Gozan--in Mesopotamia, on the Chabour ( 2Ki 17:6 18:11 ). Gozan is the name of the district, Chabour of the river.
      Haran--more to the west. Abraham removed to it from Ur ( Gen 11:31 ); the Carroe of the Romans.
      Rezeph--farther west, in Syria.
      Eden--There is an ancient village, Adna, north of Baghdad. Some think Eden to be the name of a region (of Mesopotamia or its vicinity) in which was Paradise; Paradise was not Eden itself ( Gen 2:8 ). "A garden in Eden."
      Telassar--now Tel-afer, west of Mosul [LAYARD]. Tel means a "hill" in Arabic and Assyrian names.

      13. Hena. . . Ivah--in Babylonia. From Ava colonists had been brought to Samaria ( 2Ki 17:24 ).

      14. spread--unrolled the scroll of writing. God "knows our necessities before we ask Him," but He delights in our unfolding them to Him with filial confidence ( 2Ch 20:3, 11-13 ).

      16. dwellest--the Shekinah, or fiery symbol of God's presence, dwelling in the, temple with His people, is from shachan, "to dwell" ( Exd 25:22 Psa 80:1 99:1 ).
      cherubim--derived by transposition from either a Hebrew root, rachab, to "ride"; or rather, barach, to "bless." They were formed out of the same mass of pure gold as the mercy seat itself ( Exd 25:19, Margin). The phrase, "dwellest between the cherubim," arose from their position at each end of the mercy seat, while the Shekinah, and the awful name, JEHOVAH, in written letters, were in the intervening space. They are so inseparably associated with the manifestation of God's glory, that whether the Lord is at rest or in motion, they always are mentioned with Him ( Num 7:89 Psa 18:10 ). (1) They are first mentioned ( Gen 3:24 ) "on the edge of" (as "on the east" may be translated) Eden; the Hebrew for "placed" is properly to "place in a tabernacle," which implies that this was a local tabernacle in which the symbols of God's presence were manifested suitably to the altered circumstances in which man, after the fall, came before God. It was here that Cain and Abel, and the patriarchs down to the flood, presented their offerings: and it is called "the presence of the Lord" ( Gen 4:16 ). When those symbols were removed at the close of that early patriarchal dispensation, small models of them were made for domestic use, called, in Chaldee, "seraphim" or "teraphim." (2) The cherubim, in the Mosaic tabernacle and Solomon's temple, were the same in form as those at the outskirts of Eden: compound figures, combining the distinguishing properties of several creatures: the ox, chief among the tame and useful animals; the lion among the wild ones; the eagle among birds; and man, the head of all (the original headship of man over the animal kingdom, about to be restored in Jesus Christ, Psa 8:4-8, is also implied in this combination). They are, throughout Scripture, represented as distinct from God; they could not be likenesses of Him which He forbade in any shape. (3) They are introduced in the third or gospel dispensation ( Rev 4:6 ) as "living creatures" (not so well translated "beasts" in English Version), not angels, but beings closely connected with the redeemed Church. So also in Eze 1:5-25 10:1-22. Thus, throughout the three dispensations, they seem to be symbols of those who in every age should officially study and proclaim the manifold wisdom of God.
      thou alone--literally, "Thou art He who alone art God of all the kingdoms"; whereas Sennacherib had classed Jehovah with the heathen gods, he asserts the nothingness of the latter and the sole lordship of the former.

      17. ear. . . eyes--singular, plural. When we wish to hear a thing we lend one ear; when we wish to see a thing we open both eyes.

      18. have laid waste--conceding the truth of the Assyrian's allegation ( Isa 36:18-20 ), but adding the reason, "For they were no gods."

      19. cast. . . gods into. . . fire--The policy of the Assyrians in order to alienate the conquered peoples from their own countries was, both to deport them elsewhere, and to destroy the tutelary idols of their nation, the strongest tie which bound them to their native land. The Roman policy was just the reverse.

      20. The strongest argument to plead before God in prayer, the honor of God ( Exd 32:12-14 Psa 83:18 Dan 9:18, 19 ).

      21. Whereas thou hast prayed to me--that is, hast not relied on thy own strength but on Me (compare 2Ki 19:20 ). "That which thou hast prayed to Me against Sennacherib, I have heard" ( Psa 65:2 ).

      22. Transition to poetry: in parallelism.
      virgin. . . daughter--honorable terms. "Virgin" implies that the city is, as yet, inviolate. "Daughter" is an abstract collective feminine personification of the population, the child of the place denoted (see on JF & B for Isa 23:10; JF & B for Isa 1:8). Zion and her inhabitants.
      shaken. . . head--in scorn ( Psa 22:7 109:25 Mat 27:39 ). With us to shake the head is a sign of denial or displeasure; but gestures have different meanings in different countries ( Isa 58:9 Eze 25:6 Zep 2:15 ).

      23. Whom--not an idol.

      24. said--virtually. Hast thou within thyself?
      height--imagery from the Assyrian felling of trees in Lebanon ( Isa 14:8 33:9 ); figuratively for, "I have carried my victorious army through the regions most difficult of access, to the most remote lands."
      sides--rather, "recesses" [G. V. SMITH].
      fir trees--not cypresses, as some translate; pine foliage and cedars are still found on the northwest side of Lebanon [STANLEY].
      height of. . . border--In 2Ki 19:23, "the lodgings of his borders." Perhaps on the ascent to the top there was a place of repose or caravansary, which bounded the usual attempts of persons to ascend [BARNES]. Here, simply, "its extreme height."
      forest of. . . Carmel--rather, "its thickest forest." "Carmel" expresses thick luxuriance (see on JF & B for Isa 10:18; JF & B for Isa 29:17).

      25. digged, and drunk water--In 2Ki 19:24, it is "strange waters." I have marched into foreign lands where I had to dig wells for the supply of my armies; even the natural destitution of water there did not impede my march.
      rivers of. . . besieged places--rather, "the streams (artificial canals from the Nile) of Egypt." "With the sole of my foot," expresses that as soon as his vast armies marched into a region, the streams were drunk up by them; or rather, that the rivers proved no obstruction to the onward march of his armies. So Isa 19:4-6, referring to Egypt, "the river--brooks of defense--shall be dried up." HORSLEY, translates the Hebrew for "besieged places," "rocks."

      26. Reply of God to Sennacherib.
      long ago--join, rather, with "I have done it." Thou dost boast that it is all by thy counsel and might: but it is I who, long ago, have ordered it so ( Isa 22:11 ); thou wert but the instrument in My hands ( Isa 10:5, 15 ). This was the reason why "the inhabitants were of small power before thee" ( Isa 37:27 ), namely, that I ordered it so; yet thou art in My hands, and I know thy ways ( Isa 37:28 ), and I will check thee ( Isa 37:29 ). Connect also, "I from ancient times have arranged ('formed') it." However, English Version is supported by Isa 33:13 45:6, 21 48:5.

      27. Therefore--not because of thy power, but because I made them unable to withstand thee.
      grass--which easily withers ( Isa 40:6 Psa 37:2 ).
      on. . . housetops--which having little earth to nourish it fades soonest ( Psa 129:6-8 ).
      corn blasted before it be grown up--SMITH translates, "The cornfield (frail and tender), before the corn is grown."

      28. abode--rather, "sitting down" ( Psa 139:2 ). The expressions here describe a man's whole course of life ( Deu 6:7 28:6 1Ki 3:7 Psa 121:8 ). There is also a special reference to Sennacherib's first being at home, then going forth against Judah and Egypt, and raging against Jehovah ( Isa 37:4 ).

      29. tumult--insolence.
      hook in. . . nose--Like a wild beast led by a ring through the nose, he shall be forced back to his own country (compare Job 41:1, 2 Eze 19:4 29:4 38:4 ). In a bas-relief of Khorsabad, captives are led before the king by a cord attached to a hook, or ring, passing through the under lip or the upper lip, and nose.

      30. Addressed to Hezekiah.
      sign--a token which, when fulfilled, would assure him of the truth of the whole prophecy as to the enemy's overthrow. The two years, in which they were sustained by the spontaneous growth of the earth, were the two in which Judea had been already ravaged by Sennacherib ( Isa 32:10 ). Thus translate: "Ye did eat (the first year) such as groweth of itself, and in the second year that. . . but in this third year sow ye," &c., for in this year the land shall be delivered from the foe. The fact that Sennacherib moved his camp away immediately after shows that the first two years refer to the past, not to the future [ROSENMULLER]. Others, referring the first two years to the future, get over the difficulty of Sennacherib's speedy departure, by supposing that year to have been the sabbatical year, and the second year the jubilee; no indication of this appears in the context.

      31. remnant--Judah remained after the ten tribes were carried away; also those of Judah who should survive Sennacherib's invasion are meant.

      33. with shields--He did come near it, but was not allowed to conduct a proper siege.
      bank--a mound to defend the assailants in attacking the walls.

      34. (See Isa 37:29, 37 Isa 29:5-8 ).

      35. I will defend--Notwithstanding Hezekiah's measures of defense ( 2Ch 32:3-5 ), Jehovah was its true defender.
      mine own sake--since Jehovah's name was blasphemed by Sennacherib ( Isa 37:23 ).
      David's sake--on account of His promise to David ( Psa 132:17, 18 ), and to Messiah, the heir of David's throne ( Isa 9:7 11:1 ).

      36. Some attribute the destruction to the agency of the plague (see on JF & B for Isa 33:24), which may have caused Hezekiah's sickness, narrated immediately after; but Isa 33:1, 4, proves that the Jews spoiled the corpses, which they would not have dared to do, had there been on them infection of a plague. The secondary agency seems, from Isa 29:6 30:30, to have been a storm of hail, thunder, and lightning (compare Exd 9:22-25 ). The simoon belongs rather to Africa and Arabia than Palestine, and ordinarily could not produce such a destructive effect. Some few of the army, as 2Ch 32:21 seems to imply, survived and accompanied Sennacherib home. HERODOTUS (2.141) gives an account confirming Scripture in so far as the sudden discomfiture of the Assyrian army is concerned. The Egyptian priests told him that Sennacherib was forced to retreat from Pelusium owing to a multitude of field mice, sent by one of their gods, having gnawed the Assyrians' bow-strings and shield-straps. Compare the language ( Isa 37:33 ), "He shall not shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields," which the Egyptians corrupted into their version of the story. Sennacherib was as the time with a part of his army, not at Jerusalem, but on the Egyptian frontier, southwest of Palestine. The sudden destruction of the host near Jerusalem, a considerable part of his whole army, as well as the advance of the Ethiopian Tirhakah, induced him to retreat, which the Egyptians accounted for in a way honoring to their own gods. The mouse was the Egyptian emblem of destruction. The Greek Apollo was called Sminthian, from a Cretan word for "a mouse," as a tutelary god of agriculture, he was represented with one foot upon a mouse, since field mice hurt corn. The Assyrian inscriptions, of course, suppress their own defeat, but nowhere boast of having taken Jerusalem; and the only reason to be given for Sennacherib not having, amidst his many subsequent expeditions recorded in the monuments, returned to Judah, is the terrible calamity he had sustained there, which convinced him that Hezekiah was under the divine protection. RAWLINSON says, In Sennacherib's account of his wars with Hezekiah, inscribed with cuneiform characters in the hall of the palace of Koyunjik, built by him (a hundred forty feet long by a hundred twenty broad), wherein even the Jewish physiognomy of the captives is portrayed, there occurs a remarkable passage; after his mentioning his taking two hundred thousand captive Jews, he adds, "Then I prayed unto God"; the only instance of an inscription wherein the name of GOD occurs without a heathen adjunct. The forty-sixth Psalm probably commemorates Judah's deliverance. It occurred in one "night," according to 2Ki 19:35, with which Isaiah's words, "when they arose early in the morning," &c., are in undesigned coincidence.
      they. . . they--"the Jews. . . the Assyrians."

      37. dwelt at Nineveh--for about twenty years after his disaster, according to the inscriptions. The word, "dwelt," is consistent with any indefinite length of time. "Nineveh," so called from Ninus, that is, Nimrod, its founder; his name means "exceedingly impious rebel"; he subverted the existing patriarchal order of society, by setting up a system of chieftainship, founded on conquest; the hunting field was his training school for war; he was of the race of Ham, and transgressed the limits marked by God ( Gen 10:8-11, 25 ), encroaching on Shem's portion; he abandoned Babel for a time, after the miraculous confusion of tongues and went and founded Nineveh; he was, after death, worshipped as Orion, the constellation (see on JF & B for Job 9:9; JF & B for Job 38:31).

      38. Nisroch--Nisr, in Semitic, means "eagle;" the termination och, means "great." The eagle-headed human figure in Assyrian sculptures is no doubt Nisroch, the same as Asshur, the chief Assyrian god; the corresponding goddess was Asheera, or Astarte; this means a "grove," or sacred tree, often found as the symbol of the heavenly hosts (Saba) in the sculptures, as Asshur the Eponymus hero of Assyria ( Gen 10:11 ) answered to the sun or Baal, Belus, the title of office, "Lord." This explains "image of the grove" ( 2Ki 21:7 ). The eagle was worshipper by the ancient Persians and Arabs.
      Esar-haddon--In Ezr 4:2 he is mentioned as having brought colonists into Samaria. He is also thought to have been the king who carried Manasseh captive to Babylon ( 2Ch 33:11 ). He built the palace on the mound Nebbiyunus, and that called the southwest palace of Nimroud. The latter was destroyed by fire, but his name and wars are recorded on the great bulls taken from the building. He obtained his building materials from the northwest palaces of the ancient dynasty, ending in Pul.

Introduction to Song of Solomon ← Prior Book
Introduction to Jeremiah Next Book →
Commentary on Isaiah 36 ← Prior Chapter
Commentary on Isaiah 38 Next Chapter →
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