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Notebook: Assyria: The Neo-Assyrian Empire (3)

J Grant

Assyria’s fourth intervention – in the affairs of Israel and Judah (2 Kings 17.1-6)

The dealings of Assyria with Pekah, the second last king of the northern1 kingdom of Israel, have been noted, as it was during his reign that Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria commenced the great immigration of Jews from Israel: "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, and carried them captive to Assyria" (2 Kings 15.29).

The last king of Israel, Hoshea, ascended the throne after slaying Pekah (2 Kings 15.30-31). He did that which was evil, but not to the extent to which his predecessors had done (2 Kings 17.2). "We are not told in what Hoshea was better than his predecessors, nor can it be determined with any certainty, although the assumption that he allowed his subjects to visit the Temple at Jerusalem is a very probable one, inasmuch as, according to 2 Chr 30.10, Hezekiah invited to the feast of the Passover, held at Jerusalem, the Israelites from Ephraim and Manasseh as far as to Zebulun".2

Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, took advantage of the continued weakness of Israel and made Hoshea a tribute king. "Hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents" (2 Kings 17.3). At this point Hoshea appealed to So, king of Egypt, to come to his assistance in seeking to overthrow the Assyrian yoke. News of this became known to Shalmaneser who imprisoned Hoshea and besieged Samaria for a period of three years. Samaria fell and Shalmaneser "carried Israel into Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. "Habor, the river of Gozan" (JND) is a tributary of the Euphrates. With this act the kingdom of northern Israel came to an end.

The prophet Jonah and Nineveh

Jonah’s dealings with Nineveh, Assyria’s capital, took place when the empire was at the height of its power, about 150 years before Nahum. Jonah knew God (Jonah 4.2) and as a result he was aware of the dealings of God with nations. It was to such a man that the call of God came to go to Nineveh and "cry against it" (1.20). It is clear that Jonah was a reluctant prophet, and his behaviour in seeking to flee from the Lord and avoid fulfilling the task given to him is evidence of this. The wickedness of the city, however, cried out for judgment. The fact that Jonah’s ministry was not for Israel but for the Gentiles shows that the Lord did not confine his care to Israel, the nation which had such a close relationship with Him. He cared for Gentiles also.

The message was short and incisive: "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (3.4). Forty days were given to the inhabitants of Nineveh during which they could repent of their sins, for the Lord, as Jonah well knew, was "gracious…and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness" (4.2). Despite the attitude of Jonah the people of the city did repent of their sin and the Lord could say to his reluctant servant, "And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city?" (4.11).

The prophet Nahum and Nineveh

There is very little known about the prophet Nahum. Although he is called "the Elkoshite" this does not reveal much to us regarding his origin or early life.

The judgment that would fall on the city of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, is the subject of his writing and it may be wondered why this little book is solely occupied with that heathen city. God is concerned with the sin of nations; He takes account of them and will judge them. In particular, God will have dealings with nations on the basis of how they treated His people Israel. The Word of God cannot be ignored even although man seeks to ignore Him and refuse His Word.

The sins of Nineveh are laid out clearly. First, there was the use of cruel, ruthless military might which did not respect the lives and dignity of others (Nahum 2.11-13). Second, there were the deceitful and cruel methods which were used to further their interests (3.1).

It was a time when Nineveh appeared to be impregnable, able to resist any enemy. But the wheels of God’s government continued to turn, and the Word of God and history teaches that even those who are at the peak of their power and influence have the seeds of their own destruction in them. The heart of God is revealed: "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth" and, "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?" (1.2,6). How solemn are the closing words of Nahum: "Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria: thy nobles shall dwell in the dust…there is no healing of thy bruise" (2.18-19).

End of the Empire

In the seventh century BC there were three nations seeking to become the dominant power in the area that we now know as the Middle East: Egypt, which had been a world power for centuries, at times declining and then reasserting herself, Assyria, and the emerging, powerful Babylon. It was Babylon that emerged victorious. About 700 BC the power of Assyria reached its peak and like all empires it looked to be unconquerable. It was, however, attacked by the Medes about 633 BC followed by the Babylonians in 612 BC. At that time the Assyrian capital Nineveh was completely destroyed. The Assyrians who failed to flee were put to death and the great empire that had held nations in fear fell in defeat. The fall of Jerusalem in 606 BC drove home the lesson that Babylon was now supreme.

One major step in the downfall of Assyria was the invasion of Judah that took place during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18.13-19.3). Assyria had been raised up to punish Israel because of her sin (Is 10.5-6) but had grander, imperial ambitions (Is 10.11). The mistake made by Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was to liken the idols of other kings who had fallen before the might of Assyria as being on equality with Jehovah. If he had been able to defeat the gods of greater cities than Jerusalem then he would defeat Judah, and Jerusalem would fall to him (Is 10.11). He did not realise that he was only a tool and the power was not his (Is 10.15). The mighty defeat when 185,000 Assyrians died, smitten by an3 angel of the Lord before the gates of Jerusalem, seriously weakened Assyria’s power and led to the murder of Sennacherib at the hands of his sons (2 Kings 19.37).

Prophecy regarding Assyria

The fall of Assyria is not the last we read of the Assyrians in Scripture. When the return in glory of the Lord Jesus takes place there will be great population movements as the remnant of Israel return to the land of Canaan. The great promises of God in respect of that land will be about to be fulfilled. Isaiah states, "And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt" (Is 11.16). The remnant from the north will travel down that highway to be welcomed in Israel.

But, in addition to the return of the Jews to their promised home, the attitude of the nations to the north of Israel, the descendants of the Assyrians, will change dramatically. "In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians" (Is 19.23). Assyrians and Egyptians will have passage through Israel as these two ancient enemies of Israel will be close allies of Israel, so that the Lord states, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance" (Is 19.25). Egypt and Assyria, then linked with Israel in serving Jehovah, will enjoy the fullness of the blessing of the Lord. "Friendly intercourse is established between Egypt and Assyria by the fact that both nations are now converted to Jehovah. The road of communication runs through Canaan".4 Only by the Lord’s return will the enmity and bitterness presently seen between Israel and her enemies be taken away. Peace will reign and the Lord will be acknowledged and worshipped.

1 See the list on page 177 of the last kings of Judah and Israel.
2 Keil & Delitzsch.
3 JND states, "an angel", not "the angel".
4 Keil & Delitzsch.


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