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World Chronology, Lesson 13. Assyrian Captivity (722 BC)

To complete this lesson, complete the following tasks:

  1.  Study the Lesson, carefully and completely.
  2. Complete the lesson Memory Work.
  3. Complete the lesson Exam.

Lesson

In lesson 01, we studied the four ages of world history, which must always be remembered:

  1. The Ancient World (3500-750 BC)
  2. The Classical World (750 BC – 500 AD)
  3. The Medieval World (500 AD – 1500 AD), and
  4. The Modern World (1500 AD to the present day).

In this lesson, we will study the first great event of the Classical World:  the Assyrian Captivity.

Understanding Names

Names can get confusing when we study the history of Israel. One of the causes of this confusion is the names of the different areas of Israel and Judah.  We need to understand these names before we get into our lesson.

The Israelites, we must remember, were sons of Jacob.  Jacob had twelve sons (say each one):  Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin.  It should be noted that the tribe of Joseph was divided into two tribes:  the tribe of Ephraim and the tribe of Manasseh–named after Joseph’s two sons.  Each of these “sons of Jacob” became the head of a “tribe” in Israel.  Therefore if one was a descendant of Simeon, he would be called a “Simeonite” or a member of “the tribe of Simeon”.

When the Israelites left Egypt and settled in the “promised land”, every tribe was given a territory of their own to live in, except for the sons of Levi.  The Levites were chosen by God to serve as priests and, like our priests today, were to have no possessions but God himself.

If we were to travel through ancient Israel, we would refer to a land by the name of the tribe that lived in it.  We might travel from the land of Judah to that of Manasseh, or from the land of Zebulun to that of Ephraim.  That should be simple enough.  See if you can find them all in the map on the right.

As cities developed, they began to be referred to directly and sometimes they are used to name a territory. Through Israel’s history we learn of Jerusalem, Gibeah, Shechem, Shiloh, Bethlehem, Hebron, Samaria and so on.  Sometimes entire territories are referred to by the name of an important city. Always take a moment to make sure you know what place is being spoken of anytime you are reading a history lesson or the Bible itself.  Often the history of the place has a lot to do with helping you understand the meaning of what you are reading.  Now, let’s get to our lesson.

The Fall of Solomon

When David and Solomon each sat on the throne in Israel, they ruled a single nation composed of the twelve tribes.  However, late in his life, Solomon sinned.  The errors of Solomon are narrated in chapter 11 of 1 Kings, which must be read:

King Solomon loved many foreign women besides the daughter of Pharaoh from nations with which the LORD had forbidden the Israelites to intermarry, “because,” He said, “they will turn your hearts to their gods.” But Solomon fell in love with them.  When Solomon was old his wives had turned his heart to strange gods, and his heart was not entirely with the LORD, his God, as the heart of his father David had been.  By adoring Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom, the idol of the Ammonites, Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not follow him unreservedly as his father David had done.  Solomon then built a high place to Chemosh, the idol of Moab, and to Molech, the idol of the Ammonites, on the hill opposite Jerusalem.  He did the same for all his foreign wives who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.  The LORD, therefore, became angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice (for though the LORD had forbidden him this very act of following strange gods, Solomon had not obeyed him).  So the LORD said to Solomon: “Since this is what you want, and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I enjoined on you, I will deprive you of the kingdom and give it to your servant. I will not do this during your lifetime, however, for the sake of your father David; it is your son whom I will deprive.  Nor will I take away the whole kingdom. I will leave your son one tribe for the sake of my servant David and of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Thus the kingdom given to David was brought under a curse through Solomon’s disobedience.  Solomon had inherited a kingdom that was at peace and wealthy.  However, for his sins, God took away that peace and raised up adversaries (enemies) against the kingdom.  Among these was Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s servants, who was encouraged by a prophet (1 Kings 11:31-39) to lead a rebellion against Solomon’s son, Rehoboam.  Around 920 BC, Jeroboam led ten of the tribes in secession (breaking away)  from Rehoboam and the kingdom was broken into two pieces.  The ten tribes were brought together under Jeroboam to form the northern kingdom, which was called Israel.  The smaller southern kingdom, ruled by Rehoboam retained its original tribal name, Judah, and contained the city Jerusalem and in it Solomon’s Temple.  Thus, Israel was divided with the material wealth and political power in the north, but the spiritual center in the south.

Lessons of the Divided Kingdom

God’s punishment of Solomon teaches us four  very important lessons:

First, God’s judgments may not be sudden or shocking, but may be slow and hard to notice.  Jesus taught us that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” and we would be wise to learn that God’s judgment need not come with lightning and earthquakes to have its effect.  A simple argument between friends can lead to division and great destruction in the end.  God works in mysterious ways.

The second lesson is that no one who chooses to disobey God is safe from punishment.  Despite all the good Solomon did, he was not given any special treatment when he chose to disobey.  He may have felt that he was getting away with something at first, but he paid dearly in the end.  If the wise and wealthy son of David was not spared (who built God’s temple!), we must take heed for ourselves.  God is no respecter of persons.

The third lesson is that God is not afraid of sacrificing great and beautiful things for the sake of truth and justice.  After giving David a great and wealthy kingdom, God pulls it apart in a moment.  We ought never to think that any of the things God has given us are safe from His judgments.  If God was willing to let the kingdom of Israel be torn into pieces, how much more easily might he take away our earthly goods for the sake of justice?

The fourth lesson is that our efforts to obtain benefits apart from God leads to our loss of the benefits we already had as well as the opposite of what we were seeking.  When Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, he did so for the sake of making peace between his kingdom and Egypt.  Solomon already had peace promised to him by God, so long as he kept God’s commandments.  However, Solomon had his own plan for peace.  Solomon’s plan led not only to the loss of peace he inherited, but also a divided kingdom and eternal shame. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build.

The Northern Kingdom

Jeroboam was given a chance to inherit great power as king of the northern kingdom, but that opportunity came with a price:  he had to keep God’s covenant as king.  Jeroboam soon realized that when the Israelites traveled to Jerusalem in Judah to worship at Solomon’s temple, they would likely wish to serve David’s grandson (Rehoboam) rather than Jeroboam.  Therefore, he established places of worship in the north as well as different gods for the Israelites to worship there.  This was the beginning of the end for Jeroboam’s reign.

Jeroboam died around 900 BC.  After him a series of evil kings ruled the northern kingdom and the kingdom’s spiritual life was rotten.  While they always acknowledged God as supreme, they invented their own religious practices, built their own places of worship and added many pagan rituals to the worship of God.  The prophet Hosea was sent by God to warn them of the danger they were in, saying:

“Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel, for the LORD has a grievance against the inhabitants of the land: There is no fidelity, no mercy, no knowledge of God in the land.  False swearing, lying, murder, stealing and adultery!  In their lawlessness, bloodshed follows bloodshed.  Therefore the land mourns, and everything that dwells in it languishes: The beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and even the fish of the sea perish.” (Hosea 4)

Nevertheless, Israel was very rich.  However, their wealth was soon to be taken from them.  Hosea spoke yet again to the people of Israel, warning them with yet more terrifying words:

“Rejoice not, O Israel, exult not like the nations! For you have been unfaithful to your God. They shall not dwell in the LORD’S land; Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and in Assyria they shall eat unclean food.  Theirs will be like mourners’ bread, that makes unclean all who eat of it. When they go from the ruins, Egypt shall gather them in, Memphis shall bury them. Weeds shall overgrow their silver treasures, and thorns invade their tents.

They have come, the days of punishment! they have come, the days of recompense! Let Israel know it!  They have sunk to the depths of corruption, as in the days of Gibeah; He shall remember their iniquity and punish their sins.

Ephraim, as I saw, was like Tyre, planted in a beauteous spot; But Ephraim shall bring out his children to the slayer.  Because of their wicked deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no longer.  My God will disown them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations.” (Hosea 9)

Two things must be noted in this warning.  First, Israel is warned that they will be buried in Egypt.  Second, Israel is warned that they will be eating in Assyria.  In other words, God warns Israel that He is going to punish them by stirring up a foreign power against them to invade Israel, driving the people out of “the LORD’s land” and leading them into captivity.  Their place of captivity will be Assyria, and that foreign power will be the Assyrians.

The Assyrians

To the north and east of Israel was the land of the ancient Assyrians.  The Assyrians, descendants of Noah’s cursed son Ham, occupied the land around northern Tigris River. Their land was  protected by mountains on the north and a desert on the southeast.  The Tigris River provided a constant supply of food, water and transportation.  This wealth of natural resources and protection allowed their great civilization to develop over many centuries.

The Assyrians traded with the Babylonians to the south and the Egyptians to the east.  However, lying between Assyria and Egypt was Israel.  This position made Israel very important in the ancient world, for whoever controlled Israel controlled the highways between these great kingdoms.

In the image on the right, we are looking from the Assyrian’s point of view at the world.  From the great city Nineveh. We can see Babylon to the left, the mountains below, the desert above Babylon and Israel and Egypt further up.  The world looks quite different from another perspective, doesn’t it?

This great kingdom grew in wealth and power for many years and peaked around the time of Homer.  At that time, Israel and Judah worked to lure the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser for help one against the other.  First, the king of Israel, Menahem, offered the Assyrian king one talent (about 66 lbs) of silver for support.  Later, Ahaz, king of Judah, sent for help from the Assyrians against two rulers from the north.  Tiglath-Pileser came with his army and crushed the northern troublemakers.  Israel was at that time forced to pay tribute (taxes) to Assyria as a penalty.

However, the real trouble for Israel came under king Hoshea–who is not to be confused with the prophet Hosea.  Around 725 BC, the king had the brilliant idea of rebelling against the Assyrian king and calling upon Egypt for protection.  Hoshea secretly sent men to Egypt to form an alliance, but the Assyrian king Shalmaneser learned of the plot and besieged Samaria, the capital city of the northern kingdom, and the surrounding cities.

All the Bible tells us is that, “the king of Assyria took Samaria”.  This actually occurred after three years, with Assyria under the rule of Sargon, Shalmaneser’s successor.  We know nothing of the events in detail, but what is clear is that disobeying the Assyrian king was a foolish strategy and Israel paid for it.  The men of Israel were taken away as captives to Assyria, thus fulfilling the prophet Hosea’s earlier warning that the Israelites would one day be buried in Egypt and eat unclean food in Assyria–wanderers among the nations.

This is called the “Assyrian Captivity”.  Ultimately, tens of thousands of Israelites were taken captive away from Israel.  Samaria became a province of the Assyrian empire.

The Corruption of Assyria

The Assyrians dealt with conquered cities in a strange way.  After removing the wealthier inhabitants of a conquered city (they left the poor behind), the Assyrians brought peoples from other cities to fill it.  We can imagine the damage this would do to the original culture and traditions of a city.  Surely it was an effective means for the Assyrians to eliminate enemies.

The city Samaria was filled with men from Mesopotamia who brought their idols with them.  Scripture tells us what took place:

“When they first settled there, they did not venerate the LORD, so he sent lions among them that killed some of their number. A report reached the king of Assyria: “The nations whom you deported and settled in the cities of Samaria do not know how to worship the God of the land, and he has sent lions among them that are killing them, since they do not know how to worship the God of the land.”

The king of Assyria gave the order, “Send back one of the priests whom I deported, to go there and settle, to teach them how to worship the God of the land.”

So one of the priests who had been deported from Samaria returned and settled in Bethel, and taught them how to venerate the LORD.  But these peoples began to make their own gods in the various cities in which they were living; in the shrines on the high places which the Samarians had made, each people set up gods.  They also venerated the LORD but, while venerating the LORD, they served their own gods, following the worship of the nations from among whom they had been deported.  Thus these nations venerated the LORD, but also served their idols.”  (2 Kings 17)

Why this is important is that the poor Israelites who remained in the land of Israel intermarried with these pagan immigrants.  This led to a new race of people, called the Samaritans, who were hated by the Jews in later Jewish history.  This is the race to whom the Samaritan woman belonged whom Jesus met and converted and why that event interested the Jews so much.  It is for this reason that she asked, “”How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”–for Jews used nothing in common with Samaritans.

Now you know that this hatred had to do with the Assyrian Captivity!

Summary

Thus our study of the Classical World begins badly.  Solomon brings upon his descendants a curse that ultimately leads to their loss of freedom.  Moses brought them out of slavery, but Solomon led them back in. Fortunately, the southern kingdom, Judah, enjoyed the influence of some wonderful kings, whom we will learn about in our next lesson.  Will Judah remain faithful to God?  We’ll find out as we continue our study of world history.  Can you tell the story thus far?

Memory Work

  • 3500 BC –   750 BC   Ancient World
  • 2000 BC – 1780 BC  Life of Abraham
  • 1450 BC – 1410 BC  Hebrew Exodus
  • 1200 BC  Trojan War
  • 1000 BC –   960 BC  Life of King David
  • circa 960 BC  The Temple of Solomon
  • 753 BC  City of Rome Founded
  • 750 BC  Homer Writes the Iliad & Odyssey
  • 750 BC –   500 AD  Classical World
  • 722 BC  Assyrian Captivity
  • 500 AD – 1500 AD  Medieval World
  • 1500 AD – Present    Modern World

Exam

  • World Chronology, Lesson 13 Exam