For many who study the Bible, the story of the decline and fall of the Kingdom of Israel is a deeply depressing episode worthwhile only as a historical footnote. However, in actuality, the narrative of the decadence and eventual deportations of the ten Israelite tribes is a central record in the Old Testament scriptures, chronicling the fulfillment of the word of God concerning those who broke the Covenant contract. Ultimately, the demise of the Israelite kingdom came about as a result of both divine judgment and political machination. Though the history is masked by the pretensions of the rising Assyrian empire, the hand of God can be clearly seen in the sealing of Israel’s fate.
It is important to provide a record of these events in that they supply a steady point from which to prove the historical reliability of Scriptural texts, as well as a clear testament of the fulfillment of God’s will in history. The correspondence of Biblical texts with ancient Assyrian records cannot be downplayed, and both sources should be used to compliment the other in establishing a faithful narrative of the events to which they relate. In addition, these texts describe the fate of the Israelite tribes in relation to world history, the importance of which has been argued over by scholars for many years. Let us investigate how the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom truly became lost.
The Covenant and Curse
As is attested in the Pentateuch, the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were brought out of the land of Egypt by the hand of Yahweh their God. Through His servant Moses, God would lead Israel to the reaches of the Promised land. Yet before reaching the land, God delivered to Israel His Covenant contract, which has come to be known as the Law of Moses. Howbeit, the Covenant was more than merely a code of laws. It was laid down as a binding agreement between the twelve tribes of Israel and their God, an agreement which both parties concerned would be expected to keep.
Soon after departing from Egypt, the Israelites received the precepts of the Law laid down by Moses, as representative of Yahweh God, at Mount Sinai. Here, the people of Israel are attested to have confirmed their adherence to Yahweh’s covenant and all that pertained, saying, “All that the LORD hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). Other testimonies of Israel’s confirmation of their obedience to Yahweh’s Law and Covenant lay throughout Moses’ account. The Covenant was to be binding upon the Israelites from that time on and through the generations of their descendants in perpetuity. It was to be a testimony of God’s devotion to one nation and people who in turn were holy and set apart for Him (Deut. 7:6).
In respect to Israel’s obedience to this contract, Yahweh God promised great prosperity to His people. Listings of these blessings are outlined in the books of Leviticus (26:3-13) and Deuteronomy (28:1-14). Therein are promised the great blessings of the time. For the farmers was promised fertile land and bountiful harvests. The blessings of peace, wealth, fruitfulness, and general success in life are all outlined in these passages. All of these entailed Israel’s following the Law, of course, and were therefore based upon Israel’s conduct. Yahweh God offered Israel success and prosperity by trusting in Him and following His Law to establish order and stability. What the Law itself entailed, as Christ later clarified, was love and devotion to one’s God and people. This was to be attained through the giving of the Law, to provide a higher order for God’s people.
The prevention of Israel’s fall to idolatry and the ignorance of other nations was another major tenant of the Law. Israel’s devotion was to be to one God and to their own people. And so, while accomplishment of the Covenant was rewarded with blessings, provisions for its breaking were also provided. In every binding contract, consequences are established if it is broken. The case is the same with the Law provided by Moses. Subsequent to mentioning the blessings of obedience, outlines of the curses of disobedience are given in the passages (Lev. 26:14-39; Deut. 28:15-68). In response to Israel’s disregard and rejection of Yahweh’s Covenant, there are promised all the curses to bring a society to its knees: pestilence, food shortage, barrenness, and every wrong which lawlessness brings about. Promised also is Israel’s deliverance into the hands of its enemies: “And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of My covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy” (Lev. 26:25).
Finally, Yahweh would bring upon disobedient Israel a final, terrible curse: “And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and My soul shall abhor you. And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours. And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste” (Lev. 26:30-33).
God promises to Israel that he will call upon a nation to remove Israel’s population from the Promised land. From there, they would be taken, as captives to the will of their enemies, to other lands “which neither thou nor thy fathers have known” (Lev. 26:36). This would be the result of rejecting God and His Law – expulsion from the Promised Land. It would mean the end of the Israelite nation and kingdom, though not the end of the Israelite people (Lev. 26:44-45).
Israel’s failure to keep Yahweh’s Covenant and its turning to other gods was inevitable, as they succumbed to the endless cycle of man’s inclination to carnal lust and fear, despite having been chosen by God to be holy and set apart. In the end, the adherence of the tribes of Israel to the Law and its Author would fail. Israel would face all the curses made known to their ancestors. And ultimately, the peoples of Israel would be deported en mass from their land to a far away country, woefully fulfilling God’s word spoken through Moses and the prophets. The process of Israel’s final expulsion from the Promised Land would begin many hundreds of years after the exodus, in the 8th century BC.
Israel – State of Decline
The 8th century was a time of great upheaval for many kingdoms in the ancient Near East. While certain nations grew suddenly great with power, others fell steeply into decline. In the midst of the ever-changing atmosphere in the Middle East at the time lay the land of ancient Palestine. In those days, the land was occupied by the two kingdoms of the Israelite tribes. In the southern region, adjacent to the Dead Sea, lay the Kingdom of Judah. To the north, the greater portion of the land was occupied by the Kingdom of Israel, which was geographically divided east to west by the Jordan River (the area east of the river was known as Gilead). Though these kingdoms were but two players in a wider arena of nations which sought to survive constant change and the onslaught of rising empires, Israel and Judah would play central roles in the struggles soon to come.
For much of the 8th century, the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah took their place among the dominant powers of the region west of the Euphrates River. Their respective kingdoms commanded substantial armies and held a fair share of neighboring countries under tribute. In fact, the times had provided this situation, as kingdoms to the north, such as Aram-Damascus and Assyria, and to the south, such as Egypt, faced internal struggles and administrative troubles during this period. This allowed the Israelite kingdoms a temporary reprieve from the foreign threats which had constantly troubled them during the last century. Aside from their own standing rivalry, Israel and Judah enjoyed a relatively peaceful period for once in a long time. It seemed that the two kingdoms had come a long way since their division after the death of King Solomon and the instability which followed.
The splitting up of the former kingdom of David did not come about without conflict, as the succeeding kings of Judah and Israel contended for the right to rule over all the Israelite tribes. The conflict soon proved inconclusive, as one attained victory over the other and vice-versa. In their latest contest, King Joash of Israel had prevailed over the Judahite king Amaziah in battle, displaying the Northern Kingdom’s military prowess (II Kings 14:11-14; II Chron. 25:20-24). Nonetheless, no real change was effected, and the border between the two kingdoms changed little over the two centuries.
In the Southern Kingdom of Judah, where two tribes had remained loyal to King Solomon’s son and successor, Rehoboam, the capital city and worship center lay in Jerusalem, the City of David. From Jerusalem, members of the House of David ruled as kings over Judah, and by 750 BC, they had done so for over two hundred years. Within the capital city lay the Temple built by King Solomon and dedicated to the God of Israel. This sanctuary was considered the center of the worship of Yahweh, within which the Levitical priesthood maintained the rituals outlined in the Law of Moses. All of these factors made Jerusalem a central city of the entire region and a keen location for the Judahite kings to maintain their rule, which was not merely limited to the kingdom’s borders. To the west of Judah, on the Mediterranean coast, the Philistine city-states, though ancient enemies of the Israelite tribes, had been reduced to tributaries of the king of Jerusalem. On Judah’s southern border, the land of Edom had been a long-time vassal of Judah, since the days of King David. By the eighth century, even the Ammonites, who dwelt east of the Jordan, paid tribute to King Jotham of Judah (II Chron. 27:5). Though at various times, these peoples would resist the rule of the Judahite king, eventually, the military might of the Israelites prevailed over them. In retrospect, the Kingdom of Judah had maintained stability under the rule of the House of David for most of its history, in contrast to the ever-changing fortunes of its sister kingdom.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel had emerged with troubled beginnings. Having broken away from the rule of the House of David, which continued in Judah, the ten tribes chose other leaders to rule over the land. Unfortunately, this led to the rise and fall of several succeeding dynasties, as one usurped the other. This resulted in several regime changes, which in every recorded instance ended in bloodshed. However, some dynasties maintained the throne for long intervals, allowing the kingdom to stabilize. For much of its history, the Kingdom of Israel was centered in the city of Shomron, or Samaria, built by King Omri in the early 9th century. Over time, Samaria became a heavily fortified capital from which the Israelite kings would center their administration. The city would remain as the king’s main royal residence until the fall of the kingdom.
The 8th century had seen Israel’s international standing rise to an impressive extent. This had been accomplished under the rule of King Jeroboam II, a member of the House of Jehu. This king led the Israelite armies in expanding the borders of the kingdom and spreading Israel’s influence in the countries abroad. By the end of his reign, Jeroboam II had even forced Aram-Damascus, Israel’s greatest rival in the north, to pay tribute. This was certainly a remarkable achievement, since only a few decades before, Israel had been in the grip of the Arameans under their King Hazael. A combination of circumstances had caused the Aramean kingdom to decline and thereby form a power vacuum in the region of Syria. Thanks to this, the Israelite king was able to quickly impose his rule over the countries of western Syria, thereby nearly matching the extent of David’s empire, as attested in the Scriptures. In addition to success on the world stage, Israel was experiencing great economic prosperity, especially in the area of trade, as the kingdom maintained close relations with the mercantile cities of Tyre and Sidon on the Phoenician coast throughout its history.
However, underneath the surface of stability and grandiose prosperity in both Israel and Judah was widespread corruption, immorality, and the decadence which precedes the downfall of nations. From its onset, along with rejecting the rule of the House of David and the worship of the Temple in Jerusalem, the kings of the Northern Kingdom had chosen to reject the traditional worship of Yahweh God altogether, substituting instead with cults of their own making. Cult centers were established by Jeroboam I (10th century BC) in the city of Dan to the north and in Bethel near the border with the Southern Kingdom. These cults were merely refurbished and state-sanctioned versions of the Canaanite religion. Aside from these, the Israelite people raised their own shrines and high places in dedication to the Canaanite Baalim and Asherim, amongst other fertility deities. All of these centers promulgated the values of Canaanite culture and worship, which were in exact opposition to the values taught by Yahweh God in His law. These practices poisoned Israel at its very core, promoting deviancy and all types and forms of profligacy. The Northern Kingdom was not alone in these practices either.
In Judah, not all respected the Temple worship nor even the law itself. The worship of Yahweh was neglected, as were the precepts which Moses had provided to the children of Israel, and in its place, the people of Judah preferred the cults of local Canaanite deities. Just as the Israelites did in the north, the Judahites reserved their sacrificial offerings for the high places, where they also practiced other rites which were clearly abominated in Yahweh’s law (II Kings 14:4; 15:5, 35). In some cases, even the Judahite kings took part in the practices of these cults, which were abhorred by the Scriptural writers and the true worshipers of the God of Israel.
The rejection of the traditional worship of the God of Israel marked the beginning of the end for the Israelite kingdoms, the northern in particular. In answer to the apostasy and abounding immorality of Israel, Yahweh God sent His prophets to address the sinful kingdoms. But the many calls to repentance fell upon deaf ears. The state-sanctioned idolatry and the worship of the high places had turned the Israelites away from Yahweh and His law. The tribes of Israel had rejected the God of law and love in exchange for the embraces of the gods of fear and lust. The king and the people both took part, and therefore, both were culpable for the consequences which followed. The people of Israel would soon learn the limits of God’s mercy.
Inevitably, moral decline preceded political turmoil. The process would begin soon after the death of King Jeroboam II in ca. 750 BC. Until this time, the House of Jehu had been the longest reigning dynasty in the history of the Northern Kingdom, having produced five kings to sit on the throne. However, their days were soon to be cut short. King Zechariah, son of Jeroboam II, had not reigned but for six months before he was slain in a conspiracy formed by the usurper Shallum. Shallum himself would not be settled on the throne for long, as only four weeks later, he himself was assassinated by Menahem, who may have been a loyalist to the House of Jehu. Unsurprisingly, Menahem then appointed himself as king and sat upon the throne of Samaria. And so it came about that the Kingdom of Israel once more underwent the same cycle of succession crises which had plagued the country in the past. As a result, the kingdom would relapse and suffer a great deal in its standing among the nations. Israel found itself in the grip of usurpers. Within fourteen years after the death of Jeroboam II, five different kings would reign in Samaria.
During this time, the kingdom would have greatly destabilized, as it seemed monthly that a new king sat upon the throne of Samaria, after having bloodied his hands in dealing with the former king. King Menahem, upon his accession, found that many Israelite cities were now disaffected with the bloody regime changes which were taking place in the capital. Evidently, they refused to recognize the rule of the new king. In turn, Menahem would use the forces at his command to coerce these communities into submission. The armies of Israel were marshaled against their own people. The cities which did not open their gates to the new ruler would be met with severe punishment. The horrendous displays which Menahem made of the inhabitants of these cities stood as a warning to the disaffected Israelites, as well as an exemplary sign of the deterioration of the kingdom. Menahem had sought to force Israel to re-stabilize under his rule. However, this would soon prove to be impossible. The decline of Israel would not be stifled by the commands of the king nor by the force of his armies. Greater forces were at work beyond the sight of the power-hungry monarch. While the Israelite kingdom faced internal strife, a nation facing a similar crisis far to the north would rise from the ashes and change the entire face of the Near East, bringing upon Israel long-overdue judgment.
Mighty King, King of Assyria
Recent events had not been kind to the Assyrian kingdom. Following the rapid expansion of Assyrian influence, which had reached to the Mediterranean coast, in the 9th century BC, the kingdom fell quickly into decline. This was due in part to the Assyrian kings’ struggles with major rebellions following the deaths of their more capable predecessors. As the Assyrian armies were pinned down in the struggle to preserve their state on the upper Tigris River, imperial ambitions were forced to be postponed. In addition to this, the decentralization of Assyrian power as a result of the king’s rendering more administrative duties to governors and other officials proved to weaken the kingdom as a whole. Aside from these concerns, an increasingly powerful enemy grew to the north of Assyria, in the mountains of Armenia, the Kingdom of Urartu.
The armies of Urartu would clash several times with Assyrian armies in the first half of the 8th century. For the most part, the Assyrian kings would not lead the armies themselves at this time, choosing instead to delegate command to trusted military officials, whose influence increased further. Traditionally, leading the armies on campaign was a duty of the Assyrian monarch; however, many of the kings now instead chose to remain “in the land,” as the eponym lists attest. Soon enough, the Urartian armies were meeting with more success, and they achieved a decisive victory over the Assyrians under King Sarduri II of Urartu. With the weakening of the kingship and the looming threat of invasion from the north, Assyria was on the brink of crisis. With major changes needing to be made, one man decided to take the initiative. A change in leadership was in order.
In 745 BC, as calculated from the Assyrian eponym lists, a certain man opted to seize the Assyrian throne. His name was Tukulti-apil-Esharra, better known by its biblical variant, Tiglath-pileser III. He appears to have successfully claimed the throne by conspiracy as a usurper. Debates still abound as to whether Tiglath-pileser III was a son or brother of the former king, Ashur-nirari V, or whether he was a member of the royal family at all. What is known is that he quickly consolidated his reign and soon earned a fierce reputation as an administrator, reformer, and commander. It would be up to this king to transform Assyria from a state in crisis to a world empire.
Tiglath-pileser III ruled the empire from the city of Calah (Akkadian: Kalhu), where the Assyrian capital was located at the time. Here, he built his palace, where many of his records were preserved until being uncovered again by archaeologists. It is from these records that scholars have gleaned the information used to tie together the events of Tiglath-pileser’s active reign. Though many of these texts, such as the “Royal Annals,” are unfortunately fragmentary, the abundance of written material from his reign, as well as attestations in Scriptural record, has allowed historians to correctly sequence his reign. Key among these sources is the Assyrian “eponym” list, which supplies the reign lengths of Assyrian kings, in accordance with the number of officials who held the office of “limmu” year after year. Herein are also listed specific events which occurred in each particular year. Since the Assyrian eponym lists are so extensive, it was not difficult for scholars to establish an accurate chronology for the first millenium BC (1000-1 BC) based upon the year lists and other sources, once an exact date could be determined. Thanks to certain texts and the efforts of certain experts, an exact date was found, allowing an absolute chronology to be charted, based upon Assyrian records. This chronology has proven to be an invaluable help to those who study the ancient Near East. (All of the dates supplied here are based around this chronology.)
Many texts dating to the reign of Tiglath-pileser III testify to his active role as reformer of the structure of the Assyrian empire. Chief amongst his reforms were those pertaining to the fields of provincial governorship and military management. These reforms would play key roles in the formation of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, allowing the Assyrian monarch to claim rule over most of the Near East.
In the area of the administration of countries outside of Assyria’s heartland, Tiglath-pileser instituted changes to establish firmer control. In the past, foreign powers in submission to Assyria served as vassals, tributaries to the king which maintained their native leadership and some degree of independence. However, this system proved faulty on countless occasions, as the tenuous relationship between the vassal state and Assyria was mostly based upon the strength of the Assyrian army. In many cases, vassals would wait for an opportune moment, such as the death of the Assyrian king, to declare their independence and cease paying tribute. With lack of Assyrian presence, the local ruler might easily mobilize his forces without resistance. Though most rebellious vassal states proved little trouble for the Assyrians to reconquer, the fact that their forces were constantly occupied with reinstating rule over vassals evidenced that the system of administration of foreign dependencies was in need of reforming. Therefore, Tiglath-pileser III, upon establishing rule over conquered nations, planned to convert vassal states into provinces of the Assyrian Empire. Local rulers would be replaced with Assyrian governors, who were answerable only to the king himself. Foreign provinces would pay taxes and perform the duties required of Assyrian citizenship. Foreign military assets were also to be transferred to Assyrian use, which worked handily in tandem with the king’s military reforms.
In prior years, the Assyrian army was largely made up of citizens fulfilling obligatory duties to the state, which might also include service in construction projects. At the forefront of such duties was military service when levied by the king. For many years the Assyrian fighting force was effective in the field, however, like all levied armies, the system contained drawbacks. Due to the constraints of most Assyrian citizens, most notably farmers, the army could only engage in campaigns in a certain range of time in the year, since the soldiers would eventually be compelled to return to their common vocations. This greatly effected Assyria’s manpower and could possibly prove harmful to the state. With this in mind, Tiglath-pileser III sought to create a standing army for the Assyrian Empire, an army composed of professional soldiers which could serve any time of the year. This reform would become revolutionary, if we keep in mind that, at the time, most armies in the Near East, as well as Africa and Europe for that matter, were composed of levied, part-time soldiers. Such a military innovation would give Assyria an assured edge, if the manpower to support it could be obtained. The king’s conquests would provide this in abundance, as the militaries of foreign powers were to be reemployed in Assyria’s armed forces. This meant that the expansion of the empire would only further increase the power of the Assyrian military. Thus, a vast international army lay at the disposal of the Assyrian kings. They would use it to conquer and terrorize the nations of the ancient Near East for the next hundred years.
With these changes in motion, Tiglath-pileser III made moves to restore Assyria’s prestige among the nations. The Assyrian king would first flex his muscle in the south, where southern Mesopotamia was concentrated in the much-contested Kingdom of Babylon. After securing the southern border, it seemed that the next natural step for Tiglath-pileser’s expansion of Assyrian influence lay in the country west of the Euphrates River. All that the Assyrians needed was an excuse to justify campaigning in the western Levant, particularly northern Syria. This came easily as the city of Arpad, an Assyrian vassal in Syria, was in a state of rebellion and had become confederate with Assyria’s northern rival, Urartu. Arpad had been a tributary of the Assyrian king ever since making a treaty with Tiglath-pileser III’s predecessor, Ashur-nirari V. This treaty has survived, though in a fragmentary state, and it outlines the clauses of an early Neo-Assyrian vassal treaty. In summation, the treaty states that peace with the Assyrian king was only guaranteed by a vassal state’s complete submission to the king’s will and annual payment of tribute, which was considered by the Assyrians to be a vassal’s duty to the national god, Ashur. Betrayal of Assyria and failure to pay yearly tribute would be seen not only as treachery against the king, but a violation against the Assyrian god. In this way, punishment of the rebellious nation was considered by the Assyrians to be a divinely-sanctioned mission. The Assyrians were well-known for their repayment of treachery with harsh retribution. Surviving in Assyrian records are countless documentations of atrocities and terrifying spectacles created by the Assyrian military in the cities of their enemies. In many cases, however, troublesome nations were dealt with in an entirely more drastic manner.
Throughout its history, Assyria had used a multitude of ways to punish enemy nations, but one method in particular has been highlighted in both Mesopotamian and Scriptural records – the mass deportations of peoples from their native lands. Rather than removing select groups, the Assyrian practice of mass deportation involved the forced migration of entire nations of peoples. These same peoples would be driven out of their native cities by the Assyrian armies and thereafter be transported into other designated territories. Meanwhile, these same native cities would be resettled by Assyrian colonists and/or other imported peoples who had themselves been deported from their native countries. The end result was a population which, now torn from its land, could be more easily managed by the empire. The Assyrian tactic appears to have been to completely demoralize peoples and remove their confidence and national cohesion, leaving them utterly at the mercy of the Assyrian king. The process itself was in no way simple, as the Assyrians are well-attested to have removed groups of thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands to be deported elsewhere. During its entire duration, the Neo-Assyrian Empire saw the relocation of many millions of people across the ancient Near East. Entire nations were removed from their homelands to go wherever the Assyrian monarch willed. The process was terribly effective.
With his ambitions and goals made clear, Tiglath-pileser III led the Assyrian military over the Euphrates River and into northern Syria. The Assyrians soon moved against Arpad, placing the city under siege. Meanwhile, the army of Urartu met the Assyrians in the field and were defeated at the hands of Tiglath-pileser. With the flight of the Urartian forces, Tiglath-pileser took this opportunity and overran the land of Urartu, laying waste to several cities, as he claims in his inscriptions. Though the campaign and siege of Arpad would remain a stalemate for around three years, the king made effective use of his time. He began reestablishing Assyrian dominance in northern Syria and forced the many Neo-Hittite and Aramean states of the region to pay tribute.
Around this point in time (dated after the third year of Tiglath-pileser III’s reign), the Assyrian also turned his eyes toward southern Syria and Palestine and the kingdoms which lay there. It seems that it was during this campaign that the events of II Kings 15:19-20 took place: “And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand. And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land.” (“Pul” was yet another title of Tiglath-pileser III. While he assumed the throne-name of “Tukulti-apil-Esharra” as king of Assyria, he is later documented as having the name “Pulu” upon ascending the Babylonian throne. Thus there is little doubt that Pul/Pulu and Tiglath-pileser III represent the same king of Assyria in Biblical texts.)
In his own annalistic records, Tiglath-pileser III provides a list of tributaries which had been made subservient to Assyria shortly after his third year as king (after 743 BC). Counted amongst the kings which submitted were “Rezon of Damascus,” the Aramean ruler well-attested in the Bible (II Kings 15:37), and “Menahem of Samaria.” Despite being a feared king himself, Menahem bowed in the face of the king of Assyria’s mighty army. And so it came about that King Menahem had made Israel subservient to the Assyrian king. He had accepted the “yoke of Ashur” which the king of Assyria imposed upon his servants. The Northern Kingdom would spend the rest of its history attempting to throw off this yoke and reaffirm its independence. However, new and bolder leadership would be needed to challenge Assyria.
After the death of Menahem, his son Pekahiah took his place on the throne of Israel. Unfortunately for Pekahiah, he would be the last king of Israel to peacefully ascend the throne. Following a space of two years, he was assassinated, and it would be his killer, Pekah, a military commander, that would sit on the throne after him. Its seems almost certain that these events in Israel did not escape the attention of the Assyrian king. Having slain the son of Assyria’s vassal king, Pekah must have immediately cast himself in an unfavorable light in the eyes of Tiglath-pileser III. Over time, Pekah would make clear that he would not be an Assyrian puppet king. Events and circumstances would soon convince the king of Assyria to march against Israel once again.
Judah under Siege
Up to this point in time, the Kingdom of Judah had remained an outsider to events involving Assyria in the north. While usurpers reigned and usurped one another in the Northern Kingdom, the House of David continued its rule in Judah, though the nature of its kings varied from reign to reign. Around 740 BC, Jotham succeeded his father Uzziah on the throne of Judah. According to the Scriptures, Jotham was a righteous king, who followed God’s law and commissioned the refurbishing of the Temple in Jerusalem. He also contributed to building up the kingdom’s defenses, particularly the fortifications around the capital Jerusalem. By the end of his reign, Jotham had consolidated a strong kingdom for his son to inherit. However, once Ahaz, his son, ascended the throne, the latter proved to not be as capable as his father. In fact, Ahaz would come to be known as one of the wicked Judahite kings in the eyes of the Scriptural writers. Not only did he not follow his father’s example in devotion to Yahweh God’s worship, but he instead endorsed the worship of the high places, contributing to it himself. According to the Scriptures, King Ahaz even made his own children sacrificial victims, which was explicitly abominated in God’s Law (see Leviticus 18:21). Yahweh God would soon lose patience with the king of Judah’s young reign.
In the north, conspiracies were being made. The kingdoms of Israel and Aram-Damascus had formed an alliance, and they soon led their combined forces in an invasion against their southern neighbor, Judah. While these attacked from the north, other enemies began attacking Judah on different fronts. The Philistine city-states, formally vassals of the Judahite king, now attacked the Southern Kingdom from the west. To the south, another tributary of Judah, Edom, mobilized forces against the kingdom’s southern border, where they began capturing Judahite cities on the Gulf of Aqaba. Facing multi-front invasions from three different directions, the Southern Kingdom found itself in the worst of straits. Judah was under siege.
Confronted by this desperate situation, King Ahaz determined to make a fateful decision. Despite hearing the pleadings of the prophet Isaiah to trust in the God of Israel (Isaiah 7:1-9), the king of Judah would turn to an alternate source for deliverance. As the Scriptures indicate, Ahaz turned to the king of Assyria, requesting his aid in the following manner: “I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me. And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasures of the king’s house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria” (II Kings 16:7-8). King Ahaz’s decision to involve Assyria in these affairs would in later days prove gravely detrimental for Judah. However, in spite of the dimwittedness of the Judahite king, Tiglath-pileser of Assyria would begin to fulfill God’s will concerning the Israelite kingdom.