The Lesson of the Languages

Jan 1st, 2012 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays
Debbie’s sister, her husband, son (The Question Machine), and her best friend, all Spanish speakers, have been with us for four days. Michael just returned from studying a year abroad in Argentina, and now speaks more Spanish than English. Basically, I’m under siege. I’ve tried explaining to them that when laying siege, it is preferable to speak the language of the besieged. They look at me with blank faces, as if they don’t understand English. At least, allow me to prove it to you:

“The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. They came up to Jerusalem and stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. They called for the king; and Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary, and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went out to them.

The field commander said to them, ‘Tell Hezekiah:

‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours?

You say you have the counsel and the might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me?

Look, I know you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him.

But if you say to me, ‘We are depending on God our Lord’—isn’t he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem’?’

‘Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses—if you can put riders on them! How can you repulse one officer of the least of my master’s officials, even though you are depending on Egypt for chariots and horsemen? Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from God? The God Himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.’

Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah, and Shebna and Joah said to the field commander,

Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, since we understand it. Don’t speak to us in Hebrew in the hearing of the people on the wall’ (II Kings 20:17-26).”

I must admit that their request is strange: Why would the Jewish noblemen expect the Assyrians to speak in Aramaic so as not to intimidate the people of Jerusalem? Wasn’t that the point of their speech?

“They called for the king.” The Assyrians were not yet trying to intimidate the people, but the king, Hezekiah. They understood that he would be making the decision whether to resist or surrender. But the king will not; he cannot, take the bait. Hezekiah represents God’s Will. Hezekiah is making a statement that it is not he who will decide, but God.

This is one belief that was not shared by Zedekiah when Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians.

I believe that the Jewish noblemen expected and wanted the Assyrians to refuse their request. They wanted the people to hear that the Assyrians were not only launching a military attack, but were attacking the spiritual lives of the nation. The people would overhear, and by continuing to resist and fight would be fighting for their spiritual lives, not just for their city and kingdom.

Zedekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem expected God (See: Jeremiah-Historical Background) to save them from the Baylonian siege just as He had saved Jerusalem from the Assyrians when Hezekiah was king. They forgot the lesson of the languages.

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