The word “then”, which begins with verse 1717Then the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rab-saris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah with a large army to Jerusalem. So they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they went up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway of the fuller’s field., makes it clear that the enormous tribute given by Hezekiah to the king of Assyria has helped nothing. The king of Assyria continues to rob. He breaks the covenant Hezekiah made with him. He sends high officers with a large army to Jerusalem.
The place where the enemy comes (verse 17b17Then the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rab-saris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah with a large army to Jerusalem. So they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they went up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway of the fuller’s field.) is the place where Isaiah has previously met king Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah (Isa 7:33Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, on the highway to the fuller’s field,). Isaiah has his little son with him on that occasion. There Ahaz is shown a way out, but he refuses to accept it in faith. At that place of water and a fuller’s field a promise is given. Water speaks of cleansing and the fuller’s field of cleansing of clothing. The name of the son of Isaiah, Shear-jashub, means ‘a rest will repent’. There is also talk about the birth of the Messiah. This is where the enemy comes up with a message that puts Hezekiah to the test.
Hezekiah sent a delegation to hear what the men of Assyria want (verse 1818When they called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, came out to them.). It becomes a one-sided conversation. In verse 1919Then Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, “What is this confidence that you have?, the commander begins an impressive speech with much rhetoric. There is a lot of what is true in this and there is also a lot of falsehood. Everything he says is meant to frighten Hezekiah and the men of Judah.
He begins by presenting the king of Assyria as “the great king”. The question in verse 2020You say (but [they are] only empty words), ‘[I have] counsel and strength for the war.’ Now on whom do you rely, that you have rebelled against me? is a penetrating and justified question. In verse 2121Now behold, you rely on the staff of this crushed reed, [even] on Egypt; on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it. So is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who rely on him. Hezekiah must hear from the mouth of a heathen that his trust is not in the LORD, but in an earthly king. This is a correct and sad observation. Egypt is not to rely on. The LORD himself compares Egypt to a broken reed (Eze 29:6-76“Then all the inhabitants of Egypt will know that I am the LORD,
Because they have been [only] a staff [made] of reed to the house of Israel.
7“When they took hold of you with the hand,
You broke and tore all their hands;
And when they leaned on you,
You broke and made all their loins quake.”
But, the commander goes on, if Hezekiah would say that he trusts in the LORD, this also means nothing (verse 2222But if you say to me, ‘We trust in the LORD our God,’ is it not He whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah has taken away, and has said to Judah and to Jerusalem, ‘You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?). Hezekiah may have taken away the high places, but what has that yielded? Has this brought any good to the people? Are they grateful for that? The commander tries to create discord between Hezekiah and the people, because the people hear everything the commander says.
Another argument for breaking the resistance is to point out the weakness of Hezekiah’s army (verses 23-2423Now therefore, come, make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them.24How then can you repulse one official of the least of my master’s servants, and rely on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?). His whole army is nothing. Hezekiah would not even be able to supply the horsemen for two thousand horses if the king of Assyria gave them to him.
Another argument to impress the men of Judah is a reference to a command of the LORD which the commander would have to come up (verse 2525Have I now come up without the LORD’s approval against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, ‘Go up against this land and destroy it.’”‘“). He says that without any faith. At the same time there is truth in it, because the Assyrians are God’s rod of discipline for His people. This statement will therefore turn against him, because while he says what is true, he does nothing to change his relationship with God.
It seems that the commander is silent for a moment to see how his words are reacted to. Hezekiah’s delegation also reacts (verse 2626Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah and Joah, said to Rabshakeh, “Speak now to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand [it]; and do not speak with us in Judean in the hearing of the people who are on the wall.”), but without any resistance. They give no sign of trust in the all-powerful God, the God of His people. Their reaction is one of fear. They do not want the people to hear this, because it will only discourage them more. But that is precisely the intention of the commander.
The reaction elicits another tirade from the commander. Encouraged by what the delegation has said in their fear, he speaks to all the people who are there. They should listen carefully to his words, otherwise they will, together with the leaders of the people, feed themselves with their own excrements and quench their thirst with their own urine (verse 2727But Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me only to your master and to you to speak these words, [and] not to the men who sit on the wall, [doomed] to eat their own dung and drink their own urine with you?”). When he has painted this picture in front of them, the commander, in Judean and with a loud voice, starts again with the representation of “the great king” (verse 2828Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in Judean, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria.; cf. verse 1919Then Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria, “What is this confidence that you have?).
The people must understand well that Hezekiah is a worthless and misleading king. Hezekiah is powerless, as is the LORD, to whom Hezekiah refers (verses 29-3029Thus says the king, ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand;30nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.”). No, it is better for them to surrender to the king of Assyria. Instead of feeding on their excrement and quenching their thirst with their own urine, they will eat the delicious fruits of their own vine and fig tree and drink water from their own well (verse 3131Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria, “Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern,).
The commander, clever and misleading as he is, makes it very attractive to surrender by presenting the country where he will lead God’s people as the same country they now live in (verse 3232until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live and not die.” But do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you, saying, “The LORD will deliver us.”). Faith will see this immediately. That land is not the land of God; for his temple is not there, where he cistern. It all seems to look beautiful, but the LORD is not there. Let us also hold on to what God has given and not exchange it for false promises.
The deeds he mentions (verses 33-3533Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?34Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand?35Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’”) are right, but he commits folly to lower the LORD to an idol. The LORD is for him as one of the idols of the other countries. This foolish and low view will therefore ultimately lead to his insulting downfall.
The reaction of Hezekiah’s delegation to this second speech by the commander is one of silence (verse 3636But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s commandment was, “Do not answer him.”). They remain silent because Hezekiah had told them to. It is sometimes good and important not to respond to certain statements. Silence sometimes speaks more clearly and louder than speaking. Not that the mission is silent in faith. The promise has brought them into deep dismay. With torn clothes they go to Hezekiah and tell him what the commander said (verse 3737Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the scribe and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of Rabshakeh.).