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In 2 Kings 19 king Hezekiah faces a great threat to Jerusalem from the Assyrian king. He delivers a message to Isiah with the following words:

This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them...

(2 Kings 19:3)

I have a really hard time understanding the picture of a child birth in this context. What is it that I'm missing?

Who are the children that not yet are born? Is it the peoples "salvation" from the Assyrian king?

And it seems to be near, the children had come to the moment of birth. But it's something missing. What's that?

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I wouldn't immediately jump to allegorizing. The literal makes more sense, as you're noticing and Dan O'Day explained. – Jas 3.1 Feb 5 '13 at 4:56
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Interesting answers... Looking at the Hebrew (and some other translations), I would hazard that another accurate translation would be something like:

Thus says Hizqiyyahu: This day is a day of distress, and of reproach, and of disgrace. For the children have come to the moment of breaking, but there is not enough strength for birthing.

So it's not a hypothetical simile, "this situation is like when this thing happens in the abstract", but more immediate: "this situation can be described as this thing happening". Writing it out, it sounds like a very subtle and perhaps not significant difference, but in my head I understand it differently this way. The children are the Israelites, who are powerless to defend themselves against the besieging Assyrians, i.e. trapped in the womb (Jerusalem) without the strength to break free. G!d's miraculous rescue is a sort of Divine C-section, then, if it is not blasphemous to make such a comparison (in Judaism we would say lehavdil).

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+1 from me, good thoughts – Dan Feb 11 '13 at 7:45

It's a proverbial expression but can be understood at face value. If a mother doesn't have the strength to deliver her child, it becomes a very dangerous situation for both her and the child. This would certainly be a cause for distress, as the child and mother are likely to die (or the mother is already dead). In this context it means they are in great peril.

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I've read the passage again in NIV and it's pretty clear from that translation that this is an image of "distress and rebuke and disgrace". That is the similarity between when a child can't be delivered because of missing strength and the Assyrian threat is over the city.

I didn't notice this because none of the common translation in my native language (Swedish) translated it this way. So I guess this is an answer to the question.

If someone have another possible interpretation of this image I love to hear it. And if someone would comment on whether this is the obvious translation of the Hebrew text or if it's just one of the ways to read it.

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King hezekiah must have witnessed the situation which he now uses to illustrate the hopelessness of jerusalem in the faces of sennacherub's threats. Any man who has ever seen the condition of a woman in labour at a stage when the baby's head has engaged & is about to be delivered but the mother is too exhausted to push for the labour to progress,knows certainly that only an external intervention can help the situation. We can understand this expression by simply considering what it connotes as a whole and not by comparing the subjects. King hezekiah was simply trying to convince the prophet isaiah that only a divine help can salvage jerusalem at that point in time- it was a day of distress, rebuke and disgrace. Our expression when we call God for a help should demonstrate a clear understanding of the situation,what we want&a sincere trust in God -that we have really come to the end of ourselves and that God should take over from us. Shalom!

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