Isaiah 37:36 MEANING

Isaiah 37:36
(36) Then the angel of the Lord.--The words do not exclude--rather, as interpreted by 1 Chronicles 21:14, they imply--the action of some form of epidemic disease, dysentery or the plague, such as has not seldom turned the fortunes of a campaign, spreading, it may be, for some days, and then, aggravated by atmospheric conditions, such as the thunderstorm implied in Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:27-30, culminating in one night of horror. History, as written from the modern stand-point, would dwell on the details of the pestilence. To Isaiah, who had learnt to see in the winds the messengers of God (Psalm 104:4), it was nothing else than the "angel of the Lord." So he would have said of the wreck of the Armada, "Afflavit Deus et dissipantur inimici" or of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, "He sendeth forth his ice like morsels: who is able to abide his frost" (Psalm 147:17). The Assyrian records, as might be expected, make no mention of the catastrophe, but a singular parallel is presented by the account which Herodotus gives (ii. 141), on the authority of the Egyptian priests, of the destruction of Sennacherib's army when he invaded Egypt, then under the rule of Sethon, a priest of Ptha or Hephaestos. The priest-king prayed to his gods, and the Assyrian army, then encamped before Pelusium, were attacked by myriads of field-mice, who gnawed the straps of quivers, bows, and shields, and so made all their weapons useless, and led to their taking flight. Therefore, the historian adds, there stood a statue of Sethon in the Temple of Hephaestos at Memphis, with a mouse in one hand and with the inscription, "Whosoever looks at me let him fear the gods." Some writers (e.g., Ewald and Canon Rawlinson) have been led by this to the conclusion that the pestilence fell on Sennacherib's army at Pelusium, and not at Jerusalem. It may be questioned, however, whether, even admitting that the narrative in its present form may be later than the exile, the probabilities are not in favour of the Biblical record, compiled as it was by writers who had documents and inherited traditions, rather than of the travellers' tales which the vergers of Egyptian temples told to the good Herodotus.

In the camp of the Assyrians.--Josephus (Bell. Jud., v. 7, 2) names a site in the outskirts of Jerusalem which in his time still bore this name. The narrative of Isaiah leaves room for a considerable interval between his prophecy and the dread work of the destroyer (2 Kings 19:35). "In that night" does not necessarily imply immediate sequence, the demonstrative adjective being used, like the Latin iste, or ille, for "that memorable night."

Verse 36. - Then the angel of the Lord went forth. The parallel passage of Kings (2 Kings 19:35) has, "It came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out." The word of Isaiah had its accomplishment within a few hours. On the camp of the Assyrians, wherever it was, whether at Libnah, or at Pelusium (Herod., 2:141), or between the two, in the dead of night, the destroying angel swooped down, and silently, without disturbance, took the lives of a hundred and eighty-five thousand' men. The camp was no doubt that in which Sennacherib commanded. It is contrary to the whole tenor of the Assyrian inscriptions to imagine that a mere corps d'armee, detached to threaten, not to besiege, Jerusalem, could have been one-half, or one-quarter, so numerous. It was Sennacherib's host, not the Tartan's, that was visited. So the Egyptian tradition; so ver. 37, by implication. That in later times the Jews should have transferred the scene of the slaughter to the vicinity of their own capital, as Josephus does ('Ant. Jud.,' 10:2. § 5), is not surprising, especially as the Egyptians claimed the glory of the discomfiture for their own gods, and the completion of the victory for their own soldiers. The nature of the destruction is not, perhaps, very important, if it be allowed to have been supernatural; but the "simoom" of Prideaux and Milman, the "storm" of Vitringa and Stanley, the "nocturnal attack by Tirhakah" of Usher, Preiss, and Michaelis, and the "pestilence" of most other commentators, seem to be alike precluded by the terms of the narrative, which imply the silent death in one night of a hundred and eighty-five thousand persons by what English juries call "the visitation of God." The nearest parallel which Holy Scripture offers is the destruction of the firstborn in Egypt; but that was not, as this, without disturbance (see Exodus 12:30). There a "great cry" broke the silence of the night; here it was not till morning, when men woke from their peaceful slumbers, that the discovery was made that "they were all dead corpses."

37:1-38 This chapter is the same as 2Ki 19Then the angel of the Lord went forth,.... From heaven, at the command of the Lord, being one of his ministering spirits, sent forth by him, as for the protection of his people, so for the destruction of their enemies; this was the same night, either in which the Assyrian army sat down before Jerusalem, as say the Jews (x); or, however the same night in which the message was sent to Hezekiah; see 2 Kings 19:35,

and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred and fourscore and five thousand men: a prodigious slaughter indeed! which shows the power and strength of an angel. Josephus (y) says they were smitten with a pestilential disease; but other Jewish writers say it was by fire from heaven, which took away their lives, but did not consume their bodies, nor burn their clothes; but, be that as it will, destroyed they were:

and when they arose early in the morning: those of the army that survived; Sennacherib, and his servants about him; or Hezekiah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that were besieged:

behold, they were all dead corpses; the whole army, excepting a few; this may well be expressed with a note of admiration, "behold!" for a very wonderful thing it was.

(x) T. Bab. Sanhedrin: fol. 95. 1.((y) Antiqu. l. 10. c. 1. sect. 5.

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