A Twice-Told TaleBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This chapter is the first in a series re-telling incidents from II Kings from a different perspective and with different details. Compare this chapter with II Kings chapter 18. (We will also see some of these incidents described in II Chronicles, when we get there.)
In the fourteenth year of King Chizkiyahu’s reign, Sancheriv, king of Assyria, attacked the cities of Judah. He sent messengers to Chizkiyahu, who called to him. Elyakim, Shevna and Yoach, three members of Chizkiyahu’s court, came out to speak with them.
Ravshakeh, the representative of Assyria (who was an apostate Jew) said to them, “You’ve relied on Egypt for aid, but they’ve done more harm to you than good! And if you say you rely on G-d, your king has removed the private altars to Him!” (Since the Temple was built, private altars were supposed to be abolished in favor of the one communal altar, but Chizkiyahu was the first king to actually enforce this. Ravshakeh was spinning this to make it appear as it had been an affront to G-d.) “Tell you what,” Ravshakeh continued, “my king will give you 2,000 horses if you have enough riders to put on them! How can you look down on the lowest officer of Assyria, who commands more men than your entire force? Do you think Assyria is destroying this land against G-d’s will? G-d sent us!”
Chizkiyahu’s men asked Ravshakeh to speak in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, so that the passers-by shouldn’t understand their conversation. Ravshakeh refused. “My king didn’t send this message just for you – all these people will suffer along with you!” Ravshakeh then called out to all the people around them, “Don’t let Chizkiyahu fool you! The king of Assyria will just move you to another land, but it will be at least as good as this one! Chizkiyahu says that G-d will save you, but the ‘gods’ of the other nations couldn’t save them!” The officers of Chizkiyahu’s court did not reply because they had orders not to answer him. They returned to Chizkiyahu – with torn garments, because Ravshakeh had blasphemed against G-d – and told the king what the Assyrian delegate had said.