Throughout their history, the tribes of Israel had faced numerous challenges and set-backs as a result of their ineptness in keeping God’s Covenant. However, no threat had ever been quite as tantalizing as the Assyrian Empire, which was portended to reshape the Near Eastern world according to its own design. Any nation which stood in the way of their grand scheme would suffer the wrath of overwhelming brute force in cool calculation. As always, the fate of Israel’s kingdom would be decided by the conduct of its leaders and people. In due time, many within, and beyond, its borders would call for its downfall. Albeit, whatever the outcome, the God of Israel would ultimately continue to be the Determiner of His people’s future.
The Syro-Ephraimitic Crisis
In the latter part of the 8th century BC, the Kingdom of Israel found itself in a precarious situation. As a result of the former king Menahem’s decision, the once-great nation was now vassal to the resurgent Assyrian Empire. However, after a change in leadership occurred, Israel would seek to reclaim its sovereignty and thereby cease paying homage to Assyria’s ruler. Some time after usurping the Israelite throne, Pekah made contact with a fellow Assyrian tributary in the north, Rezon, king of Damascus. Alongside Israel and Judah, the Kingdom of Aram-Damascus stood as one of the major powers among the countries west of the Euphrates River. Even though its power now waned under its current king, Rezon, Damascus remained the chiefest among the numerous Aramean states of the time. For this reason, in the eyes of Pekah, the king of Aram-Damascus was considered useful as a possible ally. Like Israel, the Arameans had also been forced by Assyria to become vassals, making them no friends to Assyrian rule. In time, the two kingdoms, Israel and Damascus, formed an alliance. This was to be the beginning of a coalition between the two kingdoms, presumably formed to stage a mutual defense against the growing Assyrian Empire to the east.
This certainly would not have been the first time that an anti-Assyrian coalition had been formed by nations west of the Euphrates. Over a hundred years before King Pekah, in the 9th century, the Assyrian armies had faced off against numerous alliances formed by neighboring Aramean and Neo-Hittite states. In most cases, the nucleus of these allied armies was bolstered by the forces of Aram-Damascus. The king of Damascus had been an adversary to the empire off-and-on ever since the onset of Assyrian activity in Syria in the Neo-Assyrian period. In addition to Damascus, Assyrian inscriptions indicate that the Kingdom of Israel had also invested members of its own army in the coalition’s forces in the days of the Biblical King Ahab. Individually, the armies of these western Levantine states would have proved a poor defense against the feared Assyrian military; however, by combining components of their armies, the coalition stood a fighting chance of supplying a mutual defense against Assyrian expansion.
Early on, Assyrian forces had met with difficulties in this period and appear to have failed to deliver a decisive blow against the Aramean coalition, despite claiming many victories in their inscriptions. Although certain military engagements, such as the Battle of Qarqar (ca. 853 BC), were reported as great achievements by the Assyrian kings, the empire gained little ground, evidencing the coalition’s initial effectiveness in stifling Assyrian expansion. However, as time wore on and the Assyrian army grew in size, the coalition began to fail, as its member states faced internal strife. Eventually, Assyria became dominant in the region and imposed payment of tribute upon many Syrian states. A few decades later, as troubles mounted, the Assyrians withdrew from Syria and would not return from across the Euphrates until the days of Tiglath-pileser III.
In the 8th century, Rezon and Pekah’s reasoning for becoming allies was presumably the same as their predecessors – to form a cooperative defense against an eventual Assyrian campaign. Such an alliance would obviously indicate that these kingdoms had thrown off the yoke of the Assyrian king and were making preparations in the face of future Assyrian retaliation. By the 730’s BC, Israel and Damascus had undoubtedly ceased paying tribute to the empire, essentially confirming themselves as enemies to Assyria and its god, Ashur. However, although the two kingdoms were in a state of rebellion in the eyes of the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser III would not immediately lead his armies against them. Besides the fact that he was occupied with campaigns to the east of Assyria, most notably in the “land of the Medes,” the king no doubt saw the danger posed by the Aramean-Israelite alliance. Tiglath-pileser would therefore wait for the opportunity to concentrate his forces specifically for such a campaign against these kingdoms. As events unfolded, the Assyrian king was provided a catalyst by which he would initiate his campaign, as the Scriptures relate.
As is recorded in the corresponding accounts of II Kings and II Chronicles, the two allied kingdoms would not remain to themselves. In due time, Israel and Damascus mustered their militaries to stage a war against Judah. Scholars have addressed the reasoning behind the alliance’s aggression towards the Southern Kingdom. It appears that the allied kings wished for Judah to join their anti-Assyrian alliance. Evidently, especially seen in light of his later acts, King Ahaz of Judah had no interest in becoming an enemy to Assyria. Therefore, Israel and Damascus decided to force the issue. By marching into Judah and apparently besieging Jerusalem, the allied kings seem to have been either attempting to pressure Ahaz into joining the alliance or, more probably, attempting to depose Ahaz and replace him with a puppet king, “the son of Tabeal” (Isaiah 7:5-6). The end goal appears to have been to append Judah to their alliance and thereby increase the size of the coalition army for when the Assyrians appeared. It was for this reason that King Ahaz would turn to Tiglath-pileser III for deliverance, prompting military intervention by the Assyrian Empire. Therefore, Judah would be indirectly responsible for bringing disaster upon both Aram-Damascus and Israel.
By the time that Ahaz had made appeals to Assyria, the Kingdom of Judah found itself in desperate straits. In the field, Judah’s army suffered complete defeat in the face of Aramean and Israelite forces (II Chron. 28:5-6). Counted amongst the slaughtered were members of the palace household, including members of Ahaz’s own family. As was mentioned before, Judah’s enemies even brought the battle to the very gates of Jerusalem, though they met no success in claiming the capital. Nonetheless, in the countryside and outlying cities of Judah, the Israelites and Arameans achieved victory, claiming great numbers of captives and much spoil. In one recorded instance, the Israelite army claimed around 200,000 inhabitants of Judah as captives; although, the army later released these prisoners upon receiving the admonitions of the prophet Oded (II Chron. 28:8-14). According to the words of the prophet, Judah’s suffering at the hands of its enemies was accounted as the judgment of the God of Israel, who “was wroth with Judah” for the immorality of both its king and people (II Chron. 28:9). Indeed, it was for the sins of the kingdom and its king, Ahaz, that Yahweh “brought Judah low” (II Chron. 28:19). However, despite being used as an instrument for Judah’s punishment, the Northern Kingdom would experience the wrath in due time.
Some time after receiving the gifts and appeals of the king of Judah, Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria mobilized his military for war. The king of Assyria would not be campaigning merely because of Judah’s pleadings; he had his own interests in mind. Obviously, since Israel and Damascus were no longer paying tribute to the empire, retaliation against them was pending. Yet, aside from this was the Assyrian king’s desire to further expand the territory of the empire. By conquering vassal states in revolt, Tiglath-pileser planned to convert them into Assyrian provinces to be administrated under appointed governors. The conquest of southern Syria would also give the Assyrian Empire direct access to the Mediterranean coast and the prosperous trading centers which lay there, namely the cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos, amongst others. Such prospects offered the Assyrian king an unprecedented economic opportunity. Besides this, the territories of Palestine lay figuratively at the very gates of the weakened Egyptian kingdom to the west. Laying claim to the territories of Israel would, in a sense, open the door for future Assyrian kings to invest interest in conquering Egypt. All in all, Tiglath-pileser was intent on leading a successful campaign and would crush any nation which opposed him.
The main sources for Tiglath-pileser III’s campaign are found in the books of II Kings and II Chronicles, as well as in Tiglath-pileser’s own records. Although some details of the well-attested campaign are lacking (due to brief, concise Biblical accounts and the fragmentary state of the Assyrian Royal Annals), a sequence of the campaign actions can still be somewhat fit together, thanks to the eponym list of Tiglath-pileser’s reign. What can be known for certain from Assyrian and Biblical records are the areas where Assyrian activity took place. It appears that by the time that Ahaz of Judah had submitted himself in exchange for Assyrian support, Tiglath-pileser and his army had already crossed the Euphrates and were present in Syria. The Assyrian king already had eyes on making war, and Judah’s distress provided him the perfect justification – to protect Assyria’s new vassal. This extensive campaign would occupy the Assyrian army for three years, as the king’s eponym lists attest. The years 734-732 BC are highlighted as the campaign years in which Tiglath-pileser’s army marched “against Philistia” (734 BC) and “against Damascus” (733-732 BC), as the year names establish.
In 734 BC, the Assyrian army began its march to initiate the campaign. One arm of the Assyrian offensive focused on the Mediterranean coast and moved south, adjacent to the sea, forcing many of the great trading centers, like Tyre and Byblos, to submit to the empire. Further south, Assyrian forces invaded the territories of the Philistine city-states (Akkadian: Pi-liš-ta). At the time, the Philistines had made great advancements against Judah to the east, claiming many cities in the Shephelah plain west of the Judahite hill country. Such Philistine centers as Ashkelon and Gaza had also joined the Israel-Damascus alliance, so the Assyrian records intimate. When no support came from its coalition allies, the Philistine cities quickly surrendered to the Assyrian invaders and submitted to tribute. This apparent lack of cohesion and organization in the Israel-Damascus coalition, which also included other allied states (Edom and Arabian tribes), would prove dooming for the future of its member kingdoms. In the end, his alliance with Israel and resistance against the Assyrian Empire would bring destruction upon both Rezon and the Kingdom of Damascus.
Being one of the main members of the anti-Assyrian coalition, Damascus became one of the primary focuses of the Assyrian campaign. As an influential kingdom and long-time enemy of Assyria, Aram-Damascus was first-in-line amongst Tiglath-pileser’s prospects for conquest. Around 733 BC, the Assyrian army invaded Aram and began besieging the capital, Damascus. Though the siege would presumably last for two years, Tiglath-pileser made efficient use of this time. The Assyrian army widened its front to assault the many cities of the Aramean country. In his own records, Tiglath-pileser claims to have conquered “592 towns” of Syria at this time (ANET p. 283). A great number of the inhabitants of these captured cities would be driven from their homes and be transferred by the Assyrian army into other countries. In time, Tiglath-pileser successfully captured the city of Damascus, and as the Biblical account confirms, he “carried the people of it captive to Kir” (II Kings 16:9). In addition, the king of Assyria slew King Rezon for his part in the sedition. The execution of its king and deportation of its people virtually marked the end of the Kingdom of Damascus, fulfilling the prophecy of Amos (Amos 1:3-5). For its own part, the Kingdom of Israel would be subject to the same fate as the Arameans.
As the kingdoms around it either collapsed or submitted, the Northern Kingdom soon faced the wrath of Assyria for itself. While he completed his conquest of Syria, Tiglath-pileser had simultaneously sent his forces further south to deal with the northern Israelite tribes. Since Biblical accounts are brief and corresponding cuneiform texts are unfortunately fragmentary concerning the Israelite war, details of the conquest are lacking. Nonetheless, what can be gleaned from literary and archaeological evidence is that the Assyrians met success at every turn. Whatever resistance that the forces of King Pekah may have mounted against the invaders quickly crumbled in defeat before the apparently unstoppable Assyrian army. No support could be expected from Rezon, as the Assyrians had him occupied in the north, meaning that Israel would ultimately face the Assyrian army alone. Despite the schemes and alliances crafted by its leadership, Israel lay helpless as its warriors fell and its cities were claimed by the Assyrian conquerors.
At this time, the Assyrians focused their main efforts in the northern regions of the Israelite kingdom. II Kings 15:29 reads: “In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abel-beth-maachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali.” Excepting Gilead, all of these captured cities, regions, and tribal territories correspond to the northern portion of Israel. The fragmentary annals of Tiglath-pileser III also provide the names of a few of the many other Israelite cities which the Assyrians conquered, including “Hinatuna” (possibly Hannathon of Zebulon – Josh. 19:14) and “Qana” (possibly Kanah of Asher – Josh. 19:28). The fate of the many Israelites who inhabited these cities would be mass deportation from their homeland.
As is indicated in II Kings 15:29, the Assyrians also campaigned in Gilead, the Israelite territory which lay east of the Jordan River. The Israelite cities in this region also fell to the Assyrians, and the inhabitants were deported. Members of the Israelite tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, all of whom dwelt east of the Jordan, were carried away by Tiglath-pileser III. I Chronicles 5:26 states that the Assyrians carried away these Israelites “and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day.” Many Israelites would never see their country again.
In his own inscriptions, Tiglath-pileser describes the extent of his conquests in “Bit Humria” (the Assyrian designation for Israel). “Israel,” he claims, “… all its inhabitants (and) their possessions I led to Assyria” (ANET p. 284). The king states, exaggeratedly, that he had conquered all of Israel and had carried away captive most of the inhabitants of the conquered cities, “the town Samaria only I did le[ave/except]” (ANET p. 283). However, his army had not conquered the whole of Israel, since most of the captured cities lay only in the northern and eastern regions of the kingdom. Nevertheless, the rest of the Northern Kingdom would have been his to conquer if certain changes had not been made in the capital.
In Samaria, it appears that King Pekah’s time was up. A man named Hoshea, son of Elah, slew Pekah in a conspiracy and claimed the kingdom for himself. The usurper was usurped. Upon seizing the throne, Hoshea seems to have immediately made concessions to the conquerors to prevent them from further ravaging the kingdom. This appears to have pacified Tiglath-pileser, who claims to have himself placed Hoshea (Akkadian: A-ú-si-’) as king over Israel. And so the Syro-Ephraimite War was brought to an end. The Northern Kingdom once again became a vassal state to the Assyrian Empire, only now, over half of its territory had been conquered, with the resident inhabitants having been removed and forcefully transferred to a far-away land, as Tiglath-pileser commanded.
The lands which the Assyrians had occupied in the Northern Kingdom would not be returned to Israel. Instead, with it having been emptied of the majority of its Israelite inhabitants through deportation, the land was taken by Tiglath-pileser and “united with Assyria” (ANET p. 283). The wide swathes of land which the Assyrians had conquered in this campaign, in Syria and northern Palestine, would be reorganized as provinces with Assyrian governors to rule in place of the local rulers. Meanwhile, Hoshea was only to retain the central regions of Israel, mainly the country around Samaria, which had been left to the Israelite tribes. However, it would not be long before the Israelites became dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and sought once more to throw off the yoke of the Assyrian king. It was the beginning of the end for the Kingdom of Israel.
Tiglath-pileser III’s campaign in western Syria and Israel (734-732 BC) saw the extension of the Assyrian Empire into the lands west of the Euphrates. Assyria would now be well-established in the region and was enabled to maintain firm control over its western provinces, while keeping close communications with subservient countries. Moreover, several new vassal states now paid tribute to Ashur, amongst whom were included the nations of Philistia, Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Judah. Upon the culmination of the campaign, King Ahaz would visit Tiglath-pileser III in Damascus, where he undoubtedly presented additional gifts and tributes directly to his Assyrian lord. From Damascus, Ahaz would return to Jerusalem with designs to introduce the worship practices of either the gods of Aram or Assyria to his kingdom, as he subsequently built foreign altars to replace those of the Temple. Finally, the Temple itself was closed, forcing the priests to cease performing the traditional rituals in dedication to the God of Israel.
Despite his new found security, King Ahaz had placed Judah in a truly compromising position. The king of Judah now found himself in the long list of Assyria’s tributaries, caught in a position which his successors would be expected to respect, or else. Sedition, in any form or fashion, would never be tolerated. It would only be a few decades before the feared Assyrian armies would march on Jerusalem to war against Judah, although the kingdom itself would not fall until over one hundred years later at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.
Fate of Israel’s Kingdom
As history tells it, the sudden calamities which had come upon the Kingdom of Israel came about as a result of political blunders and military disasters. On the other hand, as has been touched upon, Scriptural texts point to spiritual decline as the seed for Israel’s collapse. Not only had the polytheistic fertility cults discouraged the worship of Yahweh, but they also promoted licentious lifestyles and altogether immoral behavior among the Israelites. It was not simply for Israel’s failure to complete the assigned rituals of God’s worship that His wrath fell upon them, as Yahweh communicates through the prophet Isaiah, “I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats” (Isaiah 1:11). Rather, it was for the immorality and injustice which was promulgated throughout their kingdom that harsh judgment came upon the Israelites.
Ultimately, it was because of the nation’s faithlessness to the Covenant and rebellion against its God that its destruction would be brought about. II Kings 17:15 reiterates the causes for Israel’s decline and fall: “And they rejected His statutes, and His covenant that He made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.” Isaiah 1:2-4 also states bluntly the state of affairs: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the LORD hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters, they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.”
Throughout Israel’s history, God had “testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways … Notwithstanding they would not hear” (II Kings 17:13-14). Yahweh God’s messengers, the prophets, also warned the tribes of Israel of the inevitable fate of their kingdom as a consequence of their inner decay. Prophecies concerning the Northern Kingdom’s fall had been made as early as the reign of its first king, Jeroboam I: “For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and He shall root up Israel out of this good land, which He gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger. And He shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin” (I Kings 14:15-16).
From the beginning, the monarchy had been directly responsible for the establishment of and subscription to cults based on Canaanite tradition in the midst of Israel. The corruption lay at the very heart of the state, and therefore, the structure of the Israelite kingdom would must needs collapse as a result. The prophet Amos proclaims: “Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth … saith the LORD” (Amos 9:8). The prophet also states: “Therefore the flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not strengthen his force, neither shall the mighty deliver himself: Neither shall he stand that handleth the bow; and he that is swift of foot shall not deliver himself: neither shall he that rideth the horse deliver himself. And he that is courageous among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, saith the LORD” (Amos 2:14-16). These statements indicate that the armies of Israel would be utterly incapable of preventing the kingdom’s collapse. Even the mighty men of Israel would be weak in the face of Yahweh God’s judgment upon the nation.
The tribes of Israel had not gone unpunished in the duration of their history. In the past, rebellious Israel had been delivered to its enemies through defeat in battle and repeated subjection. Nonetheless, despite these difficulties, when the Israelites appealed to their God, they were delivered. Such had been the state of affairs in the days of the judges, long before the rise of the Israelite monarchies. For the unrepentant kingdom, however, was reserved a more permanent fate for having driven Israel to break the Covenant and shame itself before God. The prophets would affirm what the Law had previously provisioned – that a nation would be commissioned to bring Israel to its knees.
Amos 6:14 testifies: “But behold, I will raise up against you a nation, O house of Israel, saith the LORD the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hemath unto the river of the wilderness.” That nation would evidently be Assyria under its martial kings, as Isaiah makes known: “The LORD shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon thy father’s house, days that have not come, from the day that Ephraim departed from Judah, even the king of Assyria” (Isaiah 7:17). The God of Israel proclaims the Assyrian to be “the rod of Mine anger” (Isaiah 10:5); “I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of My wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets” (Isaiah 10:6). The Assyrian Empire was Yahweh’s instrument of wrath against the nations, specifically raised to bring an end to the kingdom of the ten tribes and to thereafter remove its people beyond the Euphrates River. By 730 BC, the process was already in-motion, despite the fact that the kingdom, though crippled, still remained. Kings would ensure that Israel’s days were numbered.
King Hoshea of Israel was ruler of a broken kingdom. Though he retained rule over the central portion of the Northern Kingdom, based in the city of Samaria, he did so at the behest of his master, the king of Assyria. To slake the hunger of the beast, Hoshea continued to pay tribute and follow the will of its ruler. However, when the opportunity finally arrived, the king of Israel would seize the chance to reclaim his independence from the empire. In doing so, Hoshea would seal the Northern Kingdom’s fate.
In Assyria, Tiglath-pileser III was conqueror and reformer. He subjected his rule over millions and kings paid him gold in acknowledgment of his greatness. In a matter of a few decades, the king of Assyria had become the undisputed master of western Asia. Even in southern Mesopotamia, he was recognized as “king of Babylon” and claimed the ancient and coveted title “King of Sumer and Akkad.” Tiglath-pileser could almost rightly proclaim himself “king of the four corners of the world.” However, after a reign of eighteen years, the mighty king died, and finally, the future of the empire was held in uncertainty, in the eyes of subject kings. Although, the king’s son and successor Shulmanu-ashared, better known as Shalmaneser V, quickly stabilized the Assyrian realm, vassal rulers were already seeking opportunity to revolt. Among them was Hoshea of Israel.
Of course, King Hoshea knew that if he were to seriously act in rebellion against Assyria, he could not possibly do so single-handedly. Like his predecessor King Pekah, Hoshea would turn to other nations in order to form a conspiracy against the Assyrian king. Since practically all lands north of Israel were under the direct subjection of the Assyrian Empire, he would not easily find any allies there. So instead, the king looked to the south, where a once-great kingdom offered the false hope of freedom from Assyria and God’s judgment.
Far to the southwest of the Kingdom of Israel lay the land of Egypt, at whose heart flowed the famous Nile River. Several centuries earlier, Egypt had been the dominant power in the Near East. The great success incurred by the kings of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth dynasties had made the Egyptian Empire the greatest of its time. However, at the turn of the 2nd Millenium BC, the glory of the New Kingdom period had passed. Following a short restoration by the Lybian dynasty, Egypt spiraled into an endless cycle of division and civil war. The rulers of the upper Nile warred with those of the lower Nile, struggling to claim domination over one another. The constant troubles faced by Egypt at this time are also addressed by the prophet Isaiah in his “burden of Egypt” (Isaiah 19).
These divisions and struggles weakened Egypt to the extent that it could not withstand the incursions of the Nubians from the south. As a result, the Nubians overran most of Egypt, and the Nubian ruler obtained the submission of the remaining Egyptian kings. By 728 BC, Egypt was being ruled over by five separate kings and various other rulers who did not claim royal titles. Though certain kings, like Osorkon IV, were somewhat prominent, none could legitimately claim the titles of “Pharaoh” or “King of the Two Lands.” It seems that the Assyrians would later be accurate in their summation of Egypt as a “broken reed” (Isaiah 36:6). By the time that Hoshea sought its support, Egypt was but a shadow of its former self.
According to II Kings, Hoshea established contact with King So of Egypt (II Kings 17:4). This King “So” has been identified as Osorkon IV, member of an all-but defunct Egyptian dynasty which merely ruled over the northern Nile delta. This king could hardly be expected to have the full power of Egypt behind him, as he shared it with other rival rulers. Nonetheless, as a king of Egypt, “So” obviously held some standing in the eyes of Israel’s king, despite certainly being no match for the Assyrian emperor. Hoshea conferred with this king to form an alliance against Assyrian aggression. In spite of the notion being, in-a-word, ridiculous, the king of Israel was desperate to free himself of the Assyrian yoke, desperate enough to settle for a has-been kingdom as his ally. Although the results of this correspondence remain inconclusive (the Egyptian king notedly sent no military support at this time), it appears to have caught the attention of the Assyrians and therefore, King Shalmaneser.
How exactly Shalmaneser V became privy to this information concerning Israel’s correspondence with Egypt, Assyria’s rival in Africa, is debated, although an organized intelligence and communication system between the empire’s provinces facilitated the king’s learning of seditious activities among his vassals. Israel was bordered to the north by lands now directly administrated under Assyrian governors, with direct ties and loyalties to the king of Assyria. Therefore, if information were intercepted by any of these, it would not be long before it met the ears of Assyria’s ruler. Also to be considered is that the king of Israel had failed to pay the annual tribute due to Shalmaneser and the Assyrian gods (II Kings 17:4). The Assyrian king was given the perfect pretext to initiate a campaign to destroy the Kingdom of Israel.
In the seventh year of Hoshea’s reign (ca. 725 BC), Shalmaneser V emerged with the army of Assyria and marched south into the Northern Kingdom. Set in his sights was the city of Samaria, the Israelite capital. Almost immediately, the Assyrian king besieged Samaria with his mighty host. However, the siege would prove lengthy, as the Assyrians were forced to maintain it for three years, according to the Scriptures. Howbeit, the Assyrian armies were well-suited to keeping cities under siege, and undoubtedly, by the end of three years, Samaria’s inhabitants were in a miserable condition. In the mean time, Shalmaneser occupied his armies with conquering the rest of the country. Throughout Israel, cities and villages were captured by the Assyrians, most of them with ease. As II Kings 17:5 states, “the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land.” Many of the ancient sites which survive to this day still show signs of the Assyrian takeover. The city of Tirzah, the former capital of the Northern Kingdom, reveals a distinct layer representing at which point in time the Assyrians overtook the town. The process of deporting much of the Israelite populace most likely began while Samaria was still under siege.
The capital of Israel impressively withstood the Assyrian siege for three years, probably due to the city’s formidable fortifications which included multiple walls and towers. Nevertheless, in time, Samaria fell to the Assyrian army. Archaeological evidence from the site of ancient Samaria confirms the events of this siege. The inhabitants of Samaria, like the majority of the Northern Kingdom’s remaining inhabitants, would be removed from their homes and native land. As for King Hoshea, the II Kings account states that “the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison.” From there, it can only be guessed that he faced a terrible fate at the hands of the Assyrian king. One need only look at the horrifying punishments imposed upon former vassal kings who had betrayed the vengeful Assyrian king. And so it came about that “the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria” (II Kings 17:6). Due to his own contribution and contemporary Assyrian troubles, another king would claim the credit for Shalmaneser V’s notable conquest.
Some time around the resolution of the Samarian siege, another usurper would lay claim to the Assyrian throne. Shalmaneser V died a sudden death, and only a short time later, Sharru-kin, or Sargon II, took his place as king of Assyria. Though debates continue as to whether this Sargon was another son of Tiglath-pileser III or not, convincing arguments are made pointing to his involvement in Shalmaneser’s death. Upon succeeding to the throne, Sargon II appears to have made claim to his predecessor’s achievements. In his own inscriptions, he proudly titles himself “conqueror of Samaria and of the entire (country of) Israel” (ANET p. 284). Sargon’s early inscriptions include details of Samaria’s fall and of the removal of “27,290 inhabitants of it” (ANET p. 285), convincingly establishing his claim to having deported the Israelites from their land. However, in agreement with the Biblical account, a certain Babylonian chronicle lists as Shalmaneser V’s notable achievement as king of Babylon that “he ravaged” a city named Šá-ma-ra-’-in, apparently a Babylonian rendering of “Shomron,” the Hebrew name for Samaria. Therefore, it seems certain that, in accordance with the Biblical and Babylonian accounts, Shalmaneser V was the conqueror of Samaria in 722 BC. Although, taking into account the brevity of Shalmaneser’s reign and the detailed inscriptions of Sargon II, it seems that the latter was responsible for completing the process of deporting the inhabitants of Israel.
In the end, King Hoshea had been guilty of the same error as his predecessor – he had placed his trust in foreign kings. While Pekah had placed his trust in Rezon of Damascus, Hoshea had attempted to make common cause with one of the petty kings of Egypt. Both ended in failure. It seems that when the gods of the high places had proven insufficient, Israel had chosen to look to men, rather than to the God of their fathers, for security. Herein was their folly, that instead of trusting in Yahweh God, the tribes of Israel had chosen instead to trust in kings, foreign rulers no less. Like the prophet Isaiah warned, “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD” (Isaiah 31:1). In response to Israel’s rebellion and weakness, their God had turned them over to the Assyrian king, who proved to be a much less lenient and merciful master than the One against whom they had first revolted.
The fate of the former lands of the Kingdom of Israel now lay in the hands of the Assyrian Empire. Having been emptied of its sizable population, the territory of central and northern Israel would be re-inhabited by peoples imported by the Assyrians. These non-Israelite peoples, would carry out their existence amongst the ruins and desolation which their masters had wrought upon the former residents and would serve their Assyrian overlords unwaveringly. Within a short time, the former Kingdom of Israel was done away with, and the land simply became another province of the Neo-Assyrian Empire.
Fate of Israel’s People
And so the government of the ten Israelite tribes, the “sinful kingdom,” had fallen. Upon the completion of its two hundred year history, the kingdom was little more than yet another nation which the Assyrian Empire had crushed. Nevertheless, despite the kingdom having come to an end, this event did not mark the end of the Israelite people. In truth, the residence of the ten tribes in the land of Canaan had ended. With the completion of Tiglath-pileser III and Shalmaneser V’s conquests of Israel, in 732 BC and 722 BC, respectively, the vast majority of the Israelite inhabitants of the Northern Kingdom had been removed from the land of their birth and been taken into Assyria. From there, the tribes were distributed to different assigned lands to the east of the Assyrian realm, most notably on the borders. Here, the Assyrian king would use a portion of Israel’s manpower to bolster his military, as Assyrian records indicate. Meanwhile, for the most part, the Israelite tribes would rebuild their lives in the new lands in which they found themselves. Eventually, the ten tribes, exiled from their Promised Land, would come to lose their identity and consequently become “lost” to history. It was in this manner that the exiled Israelites had fallen into obscurity and became the famously-dubbed “Lost Tribes of Israel.”
Finalizing as this fate may seem, it certainly did not mark that these lost tribes would be rejected by the God of Israel, for the prophet Amos states: “Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the LORD. For lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth” (Amos 9:8-9). Yahweh God promises preservation to His people, in spite of their disobedience and rebellion against Him. Herein is shown the eternal mercy of the God of Israel, Who, despite punishing the insolence of His people, still held the door of repentance open to them. “For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished” (Jeremiah 30:11).
In its day, the Assyrian Empire became the undisputed master of the ancient Near Eastern world. Howbeit, its usefulness as God’s scourge against the nations eventually ran its course. In 612 BC, only a little-over one hundred years after the fall of the Kingdom of Israel, the Assyrian capital Nineveh fell to the assaults of the Babylonians and Medes. A short time later, the empire collapsed. Amongst the nations which took part in the fall of Nineveh were the Scythian and Cimmerian tribes, nomadic peoples who had made their first appearance into history a few decades after the fall of the Northern Kingdom. One might legitimately inquire: could these peoples actually be the lost tribes of Israel following the completion of their deportation? Some outrightly deny this claim as impossible, while others point to more-than-coincidental facts directly supporting the argument. In any case, it does beg the question: what did happen to the Lost Tribes of Israel?
What can be known in absolute truth is God’s infinite mercy in regards to the people of His Covenant, as the prophet Micah remarks: “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which Thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old” (Micah 7:18-20).