se-nak´er-ib (סנחריב, sanheribh; Σενναχηρείμ, Sennachereím, Assyrian Sin-akhierba, “the moon-god Sin has increased the brothers”): Sennacherib (704-682 BC) ascended the throne of Assyria after the death of his father Sargon. Appreciating the fact that Babylon would be difficult to control, instead of endeavoring to conciliate the people he ignored them. The Babylonians, being indignant, crowned a man of humble origin, Marduk-zâkir-shum by name. He ruled only a month, having been driven out by the irrepressible Merodach-baladan, who again appeared on the scene.
In order to fortify himself against Assyria the latter sent an embassy to Hezekiah, apparently for the purpose of inspiring the West to rebel against Assyria (2Ki_20:12-19).
Sennacherib in his first campaign marched into Babylonia. He found Merodach-baladan entrenched at Kish, about 9 miles from Babylon, and defeated him; after which he entered the gates of Babylon, which had been thrown open to him. He placed a Babylonian, named Bêl-ibni, on the throne.
This campaign was followed by an invasion of the country of the Cassites and Iasubigalleans. In his third campaign he directed his attention to the West, where the people had become restless under the Assyrian yoke. Hezekiah had been victorious over the Philistines (2Ki_18:8). In preparation to withstand a siege, Hezekiah had built a conduit to bring water within the city walls (2Ki_20:20). Although strongly opposed by the prophet Isaiah, gifts were sent to Egypt, whence assistance was promised (Isa_30:1-4). Apparently also the Phoenicians and Philistines, who had been sore pressed by Assyria, had made provision to resist Assyria. The first move was at Ekron, where the Assyrian governor Padi was put into chains and sent to Hezekiah at Jerusalem.
Sennacherib, in 701 BC, moved against the cities in the West. He ravaged the environs of Tyre, but made no attempt to take the city, as he was without a naval force. After Elulaeus the king of Sidon fled, the city surrendered without a battle, and Ethbaal was appointed king. Numerous cities at once sent presents to the king of Assyria. Ashkelon and other cities were taken. The forces of Egypt were routed at Eltekeh, and Ekron was destroyed. He claims to have conquered 46 strongholds of Hezekiah’s territory, but he did not capture Jerusalem, for concerning the king he said, in his annals, “himself like a bird in a cage in Jerusalem, his royal city, I penned him.” He states, also, how he reduced his territory, and how Hezekiah sent to him 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, besides hostages.
The Biblical account of this invasion is found in 2 Ki 18:13 through 19:37; Isa 36; 37. The Assyrian account differs considerably from it; but at the same time it corroborates it in many details. One of the striking parallels is the exact amount of gold which Hezekiah sent to the Assyrian king (see The Expository Times, XII, 225, 405; XIII, 326).
In the following year Sennacherib returned to Babylonia to put down a rebellion by Bêl-ibni and Merodach-baladan. The former was sent to Assyria, and the latter soon afterward died. Ashurnadin-shum, the son of Sennacherib, was then crowned king of Babylon. A campaign into Cilicia and Cappadocia followed.
In 694 BC Sennacherib attacked the Elamites, who were in league with the Babylonians. In revenge, the Elamites invaded Babylonia and carried off Ashur-nâdin-shum to Elam, and made Nergalushêzib king of Babylon. He was later captured and in turn carried off to Assyria. In 691 BC Sennacherib again directed his attention to the South, and at Khalute fought with the combined forces. Two years later he took Babylon, and razed it to the ground.
In 681 BC Sennacherib was murdered by his two sons (2Ki_19:37; see SHAREZER). Esar-haddon their younger brother, who was at the time conducting a campaign against Ararat, was declared king in his stead.
Sennacherib: Taylor Prism translation
“Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my power I took 46 of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,156 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and camels, oxen and sheep, a countless multitude; and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent escape… Then upon Hezekiah there fell the fear of the power of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem with 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, and diverse treasures, a rich and immense booty… All these things were brought to me at Nineveh, the seat of my government.”
2Ki 18:28 Jews language – The tradition of the Jews is, that Rabshaketh was an apostate Jew. If so, his ignorance of the God of Israel was the less excusable, and his enmity the less strange: for apostates are usually the most bitter and spiteful enemies.
There were two grounds, and two only, on which Hezekiah could rest his refusal to surrender,
(1) ability to resist by his own natural military strength and that of his allies; and
(2) expectation based upon the language of Isaiah Isa_30:31; Isa_31:4-9, of supernatural assistance from Yahweh.
The Rab-shakeh argues that both grounds of confidence are equally fallacious.
Make an agreement … – Rather, “Make peace with me.” The word, which primarily means “blessing,” and secondarily “a gift,” has also the meaning, though more rarely, of “peace.” Probably it acquired this meaning from the fact that a peace was commonly purchased by presents.
eat … drink – A picture of a time of quiet and prosperity, a time when each man might enjoy the fruits of his land, without any fear of the spoiler’s violence. The words are in contrast with the latter part of 2Ki_18:27.
Cistern – Rather, “well” Deu_6:11. Each cultivator in Palestine has a “well” dug in some part of his ground, from which he draws water for his own use. “Cisterns,” or reservoirs for rain-water, are comparatively rare.
Until I come and take you away – This was well calculated to stir up a seditious spirit. Ye cannot be delivered; your destruction, if ye resist, is inevitable; Sennacherib will do with you, as he does with all the nations he conquers, lead you captive into another land: but if you will surrender without farther trouble, he will transport you into a land as good as your own.
Keil and Delitzsch
Isaiah replied with this comforting promise: Hezekiah was not to be afraid of the blasphemous words of the Assyrian king; the Lord would frighten him with a report, so that he would return to his own land, and there would He cause him to fall by the sword. מֶלֶךְ א נַעֲרֵי, the servants or young men of the Assyrian king, is a derogatory epithet applied to the officials of Assyria. “Behold, I put a spirit into him, so that he shall hear a report and return into his own land.” שְׁמוּעָה does not refer to the report of the destruction of his army (2Ki_19:35), as Thenius supposes, for Sennacherib did not hear of this through the medium of an army, but was with the army himself at the time when it was smitten by the angel of the Lord; it refers to the report mentioned in 2Ki_19:9. For even if he made one last attempt to secure the surrender of Jerusalem immediately upon hearing this report, yet after the failure of this attempt to shake the firmness of Hezekiah his courage must have failed him, and the thought of return must have suggested itself, so that this was only accelerated by the blow which fell upon the army. For, as O. v. Gerlach has correctly observed, “the destruction of the army would hardly have produced any decisive effect without the approach of Tirhakah, since the great power of the Assyrian king, especially in relation to the small kingdom of Judah, was not broken thereby. But at the prayer of the king the Lord added this miracle to the other, which His providence had already brought to pass. – For the fulfilment of the prophecy of Sennacherib’s death, see 2Ki_19:37.
Behold, I will send a blast – and he shall hear a rumor – The rumor was, that Tirhakah had invaded Assyria. The blast was that which slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand of them in one night, see 2Ki_19:35.
Cause him to fall by the sword – Alluding to his death by the hands of his two sons, at Nineveh. See 2Ki_19:35-37.
Which dwellest between the cherubims – The reference is to the shechinah, or miraculous glory, which from time to time appeared above the mercy-seat from between the two cherubims, whose wings overshadowed the ark of the covenant (1Ki_6:23-27; compare Exo_25:22; Lev_16:2, etc.).
Thou art the God, even thou alone – This is the protest of the pure theist against the intense polytheism of Sennacherib’s letter, which assumes that gods are only gods of particular nations, and that Hezekiah’s God is but one out of an indefinite number, no stronger or more formidable than the rest.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
2Ki_19:14-34. Hezekiah’s prayer.
Hezekiah received the letter … and went up into the house of the Lord — Hezekiah, after reading it, hastened into the temple, spread it in the childlike confidence of faith before the Lord, as containing taunts deeply affecting the divine honor, and implored deliverance from this proud defier of God and man. The devout spirit of this prayer, the recognition of the Divine Being in the plenitude of His majesty – so strikingly contrasted with the fancy of the Assyrians as to His merely local power; his acknowledgment of the conquests obtained over other lands; and of the destruction of their wooden idols which, according to the Assyrian practice, were committed to the flames – because their tutelary deities were no gods; and the object for which he supplicated the divine interposition – that all the kingdoms of the earth might know that the Lord was the only God – this was an attitude worthy to be assumed by a pious theocratic king of the chosen people.
Have cast their gods into the fire – In general the Assyrians carried off the images of the gods from the temples of the conquered nations, and deposited them in their own shrines, as at once trophies of victory and proof of the superiority of the Assyrian deities over those of their enemies. But sometimes the gods are said to have been “destroyed” or “burnt with fire;” which was probably done when the idols were of rude workmanship or coarse material; and when it was inconvenient to encumber an army with spoils so weighty and difficult, of transport.
If the mighty army of the great Assyrian king were successfully defied by a petty monarch like Hezekiah, it would force the surrounding nations to confess that the escape was owing to the protecting hand of Yahweh. They would thus be taught, in spite of themselves, that He, and He alone, was the true God.