IX. Rabshakeh's Speech


The eloquent plea by Rabshakeh in the 18th chapter of the second book of the Kings gives us more evidence for the view that the king of Assyria referred to in II Kings 18:13 could have been Sargon II, as well as Sennacherib. Rabshakeh was either an ambassador or a general of the king of Assyria, and he seems urgently to want to persuade the Judeans to accept the overlordship of Assyria without compelling a battle. Here is his speech, slightly paraphrased into more modern language:

(II Kings 18)
19 ...Now go tell Hezekiah, Thus speaks the great king, the legitimate king, the king of Assyria, What faith is this upon which you are trusting?
20 You say, (but they are but vain words), I have support and strength for a war. Now on whom are you counting that you should rebel against me?
21 Now, are you trusting on the support of this broken reed, the land of Egypt, on which if you lean, it will pierce your hand? for so is the king of Egypt if you depend upon him.
22 Or are you saying, We trust in the god Yahveh; but is not that the god that Hezekiah himself has destroyed all his altars and worshipping places, forcing you all to come and worship in Jerusalem?
23 I urge you, give pledges of your fealty to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will help you with two thousand horses, if you can find riders to place upon them.
24 For how can you hope to drive away even one captain of the least of my master's servants, even if Egypt does provide you with chariots and horsemen?
25 Am I to come up in spite of your god Yahveh against this place to destroy it? for Yahveh himself has told me to come into your land if necessary and destroy it.

Then after Eliakim, the Judean emissary, asks him to speak in Syriac, Rabshakeh continues his argument:

(II Kings 18)
28 ...Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria;
29 The king says this: Don't let Hezekiah deceive you; for he shall not be able to deliver you out of mine hand;
30 Neither let Hezekiah make you trust in this god Yahveh, to believe that Yahveh will deliver you, and that your city will not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria.
31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present and bow before me, and then you all may eat of your own vine, and your own fig tree, and drink fresh water from your own cisterns;
32 Otherwise I will come in all force, and take you away to a different land, which will still be a land of corn and wine, of bread and vineyards, a land of olive oil and honey, where you will be alive, and not dead in battle; but do not listen to Hezekiah when he deceives you by saying, Yahveh will deliver us.
33 For have any of the gods of the nations delivered any of THEM out of the hand of the king of Assyria?
34 Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? or were any of them able to deliver Samaria out of my hand?
35 Which of them among all the gods of the countries have been able to deliver their country out of my hand that you should think, Yahveh will deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?

Now even if we support Yahveh in the struggle of Judea against Assyria, we must still admit that this is a cogent and persuasive appeal to the Judeans to accept Assyrian rule without fighting. To a Yahvist this may have been a very temptation of Satan, but to Isaiah or Jeremiah with their worldwide outlook it must have sounded like an sincere attempt by an earnest ambassador to avoid a war. But the important thing for us to see here is that this speech does not call the king of Assyria by name, so that it could equally well refer to Sargon II as to Sennacherib; and also that it occurs in a situation of negotiating or parleying, which seems to have been true of the campaign in 714 BCE by Sargon's army. But the 34th verse is the crucial verse, which we can compare with II Kings 17, verses 23-24:

(II Kings 17)
23 ...So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.
24 And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon and from Cuthah, and from Ivah, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel...

This clearly refers to the deportation of the Israelites by Sargon II after he captured Samaria. But we can immediately see that the place names are the same as in Rabshakeh's speech: Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and Ivah; and Rabshakeh also names Arpad and Hena, both of which were subjugated in Sargon's campaign in 720 BCE against Yahu-bihdi of Hamath. And does not verse 34 refer clearly to Sargon, when it says, "...Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand?" This should leave us little doubt that Rabshakeh was here speaking not for Sennacherib, but for Sargon, and provide us with a firm basis for concluding that the year being referred to as the 14th year of Hezekiah was the year 714 BCE and the event was the campaign of Sargon's army through Judah against Ashdod. And the year 714 BCE was indeed the 14th year of Hezekiah if he began to reign in the 6th year before the fall of Samaria.

This chapter of the second book of the Kings also reports that Rabshakeh was sent by the king of Assyria from Lachish, clearly implying that the king had not come himself, and this is supported by the book of Isaiah, chapter 36, verse 2. And verse 8 of chapter 19 of the second book of the Kings reports that Rabshakeh returned to Lachish and found the king of Assyria there, engaged in a war against Libnah. All of these verses tend to prove that this speech was not connected with Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem.

These chapters are filled with evidence that the 14th year of Hezekiah was the occasion of the advance of Sargon's army through Judah rather than that of Sennacherib. Verse 14 refers only to the "king of Assyria", and Hezekiah says, "I have offended," which is more appropriate to his part in the conspiracy organized by Merodach-Baladan than a standoff in a siege. And there are further indications in chapter 20 that the 14th year of Hezekiah's reign was the occasion of Sargon's campaign. The chapter states that "in those days" Hezekiah was sick unto death, but after praying Yahveh granted him 15 years more life, which would certainly be the latter 15 years of the 29 years total of his reign, and his death would then have occurred in 700 or 699 BCE, after the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. This supports the other evidence that Rabshakeh was an emissary not of Sennacherib, but of Sargon.

Finally, according to Babylonian records Merodach-Baladan sent letters out organizing a league with Judah, Moab and Edom in or about the year 714 BCE, during the reign of Sargon, not Sennacherib, and was driven from his throne about that time, so that "at that time Merodach-Baladan sent letters to Hezekiah" (II Kings 20:12) clearly places the sickness of Hezekiah and the 14th year of his reign in the year 714 BCE. Why has this explanation not been seen before?

And the report of these events in the books of the Chronicles, chapter 32, verse 10-17, even though it calls Sennacherib by name, and specifically refers to it as the siege of Jerusalem, was most certainly written later, probably three centuries later, and is based on the books of the Kings and presents only the author's interpretation of those events.

None of this is to deny that Sennacherib came up against Jerusalem in the year 701 BCE. It is merely to show that in chapters 18-20 of II Kings two events have been telescoped into one, and the events in the reign of Sargon in 714 BCE, including Rabshakeh's speech, have been conflated with those of Sennacherib in 701 BCE.