The Bible Story - Volume VI
Israel Conquered, Judah Spared AFTER beginning the siege of Samaria, King Shalmaneser of Assyria returned to his country, leaving only part of his army to continue to bottle up the soldiers and civilians in the capital of the ten tribes of Israel.
The Israelites were discouraged when they saw that enough of the Assyrian army had been left behind to surround the city, but they had hopes of overcoming the lesser numbers of Assyrians and breaking the siege. (II Kings 17:1-5; 18:9.)
Samaria Under Siege This they tried to do by withdrawing the guards from the walls for a few days, so that it would appear that they no longer had the strength to carry on. This, plus the fact that no smoke was coming up from the city, caused the hopeful enemy troops to cautiously close in at night toward the walls with the intention of battering in the gates or scaling the walls with hooks and ropes. Unhampered, they eagerly set to work, but only minutes afterward all sorts of deadly objects descended on them. There was a noisy, mad scramble to get away from the wall and the Israelite soldiers who had suddenly appeared atop it.
If the Israelites could have repeated this strategy, in which more than a few Assyrians lost their lives, Samaria might have been freed. But the Assyrians weren't to be fooled again in that manner. There was no other possible way for the Israelites to exhaust their enemies except to go out and meet them in battle. Plans were made for that, but the Israelites postponed this last measure too long. The main part of the Assyrian army suddenly returned. The approaching thousands spread out around Samaria, causing all hope to be lost by the Israelites.
The Israelites kept on holding out week after week. Finally Assyrian patience came to an end. The Assyrian kings were ambitious men, and they didn't intend for the army of Assyria to be tied up any longer in the siege. They ordered an assault on the main gates of Samaria, using only a small number of soldiers at a time to man a battering ram.
There was opposition from the wall, but as fast as the Assyrians carrying the ram were cut down, others raced in to replace them. At the same time Assyrian archers kept rushing up to send volleys of arrows up to the top of the wall.
This continued for hours. Many men on both sides lost their lives while the gates were being pounded to splinters. Behind the gates were stone blocks. More men died as the stones were laboriously removed. The soldiers of both nations met in hand-to-hand combat. Weakened by lack of food, the Israelite troops were no match for the greater number of Assyrians, who poured inside the city and had civilians and soldiers under their control within a short time.
The Almost-Lost Ten Tribes The occupants of Samaria expected to be slaughtered, and many were, as God had warned. (Hosea 13:16.) But total annihilation wasn't according to the Assyrians' plan, which had to do with the value of slaves. The Israelites were rounded up like so many cattle, along with others from other towns and villages of the ten tribes, and forced to march to Assyria with the victors. (II Kings 17:6; 18:11.) Later, Assyrians returned to herd more thousands of Israelites, scattered throughout the countryside, out of their land.
Thus, two hundred fifty-three years after the twelve tribes had divided into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, the kingdom of Israel abruptly ceased to exist. The people had again and again rejected God's rules for the best way of living and had turned to idolatry. (Judges 2:11-13; Psalms 106:34-41; 78:56-66.) God had repeatedly warned them, through priests and prophets, what would happen if they continued in idolatry. (II Kings 17:7-13; Jeremiah 7:24-26.) But most of the Israelites wouldn't heed. (Daniel 9:6.)
Now, at last, the Israelites were dragged away from their homes and into slavery in foreign lands even beyond Assyria. (II Kings 17:18, 20-23; 18:11-12.) God had long been patient. (Psalms 78:25-41; 86:15.) But at last His patience gave way to anger because this part of the people He had chosen to be the greatest of nations had broken their promise to the Creator to keep His Commandments. (Exodus 19:6; 24:7; Joshua 24:2022; II Kings 17:14-17.)
Scattered across hundreds of miles of territory and mingling with people of heathen nations, and later wandering through many lands, the people of Israel eventually lost their identity as Israelites and Sabbath observers, and in time came to be regarded by others as Gentiles. What had once been a great nation was swallowed up, to be known for a very long time only as the "Lost Ten Tribes."
Hundreds of years previously, after the Israelites had come out of Egypt, God promised them that if they would worship only the Creator and observe all His laws, they would receive all the promises made to Abraham because of his obedience, and would become the most prosperous and powerful of nations. (Leviticus 26:1-13; Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Jeremiah 7:22-23.) At the same time God warned them that if they rebelled, they would fall into slavery to their enemies, and would remain a scattered, landless people for a period of seven prophetic times (Leviticus 26:14-35; Deuteronomy 28:15-29; Joshua 24:13-20.)
A time in this case was a year of twelve thirty-day months. Seven times, or 2,520 days, was equal to 2,520 prophetic years — a day for a year. (Numbers 14:34.) So 2,520 years passed after Israel was taken captive in 721-718 B.C., before the Israelites regained their freedom and wealth. By then, in A.D. 1800-1803, they had completely lost their identity. They had migrated or had been taken to distant islands and continents. Most of them became the inhabitants of the United States and Great Britain, and didn't realize that they were largely descendants of the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim.
Some peoples in various regions of the British Isles, however, still regarded themselves as Israelites until recent centuries. And some groups of people brought that knowledge to America with them. Even now, however, close to the year A.D. 2000, relatively few Britons and Americans realize that they are descendants of the ancient, ten-tribed House of Israel, whom they think of only as Jews.
The Jews were only of the House of Judah, and not nationally of the House of Israel, although racially they are Israelites in the sense that they were once a part of ancient Israel before the twelve tribes split into two kingdoms. In the same sense many Americans speak of themselves racially as being Irish, Scottish, English, or German, not knowing their ancestry. As for the people of the kingdom of Israel, they are erroneously regarded as Gentiles, inasmuch as most people think of Earth's inhabitants as either Jews or Gentiles.
God's promise of prosperity for Israel, headed by Ephraim and Manasseh, was made to Abraham because of his obedience. (Genesis 26:1-5.) The fulfillment of that promise ceased when Israel was taken captive and wasn't again carried out until Israel's period of punishment was ended. It didn't come about because the Israelites were great, or worthy of it, but because God always keeps His promises. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8.)
Modern Israelites, having become rich and powerful nations since A.D. 1800-1803, have attributed their blessings to their own resourcefulness, and even to their being "Christian" nations. Their resources and resourcefulness have come from God especially to carry out His promise. Actually, they are far from being true Christian nations. Wrong use of their wealth and power, because they lack the wisdom and obedience that God wants them to have, is draining them of the very strength that they have been given by their Creator. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 32-33; Jeremiah 10:23-25.)
Israel's Land Desolate The emptied cities of Israel didn't remain unoccupied long. The kings of Assyria immediately ordered that they should be filled with people from other conquered nations and surrounding vassal territories. (II Kings 17:24.) There were few routes between countries. Therefore it was likely that columns of miserable Israelite prisoners trudged within yards of Assyrian subjects moving in the opposite direction, who probably were not eager to leave their own land and go to the empty homes of the vanquished. If the Israelites learned what was happening, their desire to escape was lessened, inasmuch as there was nothing for them to return to, and the whole region was carefully watched over by well-organized Assyrians.
When the first colonists from other conquered places were moved in, they were dismayed to find that hostile lions were roaming about. Some of the lions even established themselves in empty city buildings. Dislodging them cost a number of lives. The new colonists began to think that some god of that region had sent the beasts to trouble them because they had failed to worship him according to Israelite customs they didn't know about. They believed that there were many gods, most of whom had dominion over certain territories.
Deaths from the lions increased. Finally the new peoples sent messengers to the king at Nineveh to ask that some Israelite priest be returned to his native country to instruct them how to appease the local god, so that he would remove the ferocious animals.
The king of Nineveh agreed, and a priest was sent back to the land of Israel. At Bethel, a city that had been a center of worship, the priest took up residence to start teaching the Assyrians. Although some knowledge of the Creator spread among them in the months to follow, the Assyrians couldn't believe that there was only one God. They still preferred to worship their own gods, accompanying it with a limited deference or acknowledgment and lip service to the God of Israel, hoping that their occasional sacrifices and prayers would earn them protection from the lions. (II Kings 17:25-41.)
Eventually most of these beasts were slain or dispersed. By that time the religious practices of many of the inhabitants were deplorable combinations of idol worship and weak observance of a few of God's laws. The pagan part, naturally, was predominant. Although the colonist who was afraid of the power of God more than his idols wasn't difficult to find, pagan worship was easier and more agreeable to the Assyrian mind, which had been smothered for centuries in looking to animal-type idols for shallow and often wanton religious expression.
Among these idols were those which resembled fish, horses, bulls, eagles, and combinations of animals and men — a god for every whim. Readers of this story will agree that it was abysmally ignorant of men to look to animal images for supernatural help. But could it be that some readers know people who believe that a rabbit's foot in one's pocket or a horseshoe over a doorway brings "good luck" to the possessors? The sobering fact is that many people still believe that certain lifeless tokens, symbols and images have mysterious powers, and go so far as to kneel and pray to some of those images.
Judah More Obedient Than Israel Back in the third year of the reign of Hoshea, last of the kings of Israel, a son of evil King Ahaz began to rule Judah. He was Hezekiah, an astute young man of twenty-five years. Strange as it seems, he was much the opposite of his dissolute father. (II Kings 18:1-3; II Chronicles 28:27; 29:1-2.)
One of Hezekiah's first important acts, carried out in the first year of his reign, was to reopen the temple at Jerusalem. It had been closed about sixteen years previously because Ahaz had turned to idolatry and had stripped the temple of its valuables to pay the king of Assyria for help against Judah's enemies.
"God's house must be cleaned up," Hezekiah informed the Levites and priests. "Cleanse yourselves so that you will be fit for this task."
Hezekiah made it known that because of the sins of his father and many others in the nation, Judah had come into years filled with all kinds of trouble. He declared that it was time to turn to God and renew the covenant all of Israel had made with the Creator years before.
"The temple must be ready for use as soon as possible," he continued in his talk to the Levites and priests. "There is much to be done before functions can be reestablished. Cleaning is the first thing. It must be thorough and complete." (II Chronicles 29:3-11.)
This was good news to the priests, who had long been thwarted in their duties because of idolatry in Judah. At last, because of God's working through Hezekiah, the opportunity had come for them to continue the work that had been forced to stop.
Fourteen leaders of the tribe of Levi rounded up the required Levite workers. On the first day of the first month of the year, Nisan, the cleaning of the temple started. Shovels, mops, brooms, scrub brushes, scrapers and tubs of water went into action. While their helpers cleaned other parts of the buildings, the priests scrubbed and polished the sacred inner part of the temple and its furnishings. Rubble, dirt and grimy water were brought out and dumped into Kidron brook, a nearby stream that was swift and strong in the spring. It carried the refuse on to the Dead Sea.
The Temple Rededicated By the end of the sixteenth day the whole temple had been cleaned. (II Chronicles 29:12-17.) Floors, walls and even ceilings had been scrubbed and mopped. The priests came to Hezekiah to report that the altar had been made like new, and that the vessels that Ahaz had rejected as not being good enough for the king of Assyria had been repaired, and polished, and that the missing equipment had been replaced by substitutes that should at least temporarily suffice. (II Chronicles 29:18-19.)
Hezekiah was pleased at what had been accomplished, although he had strongly hoped that the temple would be ready for use at Passover time, which was to be observed on the fourteenth day of Nisan. It was two days too late to begin at the proper date. Besides, the temple should be rededicated, and not all the priests were fully prepared ceremonially to resume their duties.
Hezekiah didn't waste any time. He wanted to be certain that the temple, the priests and all their helpers would be ready a month later for observance of the Passover. By announcing the date to be the same day of the next month, the king wouldn't be acting contrary to God, who had instructed Moses that the Passover should be observed the fourteenth day of the second month (Iyar) if circumstances made it impossible to observe it in the first month. (Numbers 9:9-12.)
Early next morning Hezekiah informed the leaders in and around Jerusalem that there should be ceremonies that same day to institute the use of the temple and establish again the functions of the priests and their helpers. (II Chronicles 29:20.)
It turned out to be a most eventful day. Many inhabitants of Jerusalem and its environs flocked to the temple. Cattle, sheep and goats were brought for sin offerings to make atonement not only for Judah, but for all Israel. While the sacrifices were being made, the Levites sang songs composed by David, accompanying themselves with trumpets and other kinds of instruments David and the prophets had employed for making music at the house of God.
After making sacrifices and musical praise to the Creator, Hezekiah announced that the priests and their helpers had well demonstrated that they were consecrated to their work. Then he invited the people attending to bring their sacrifices to make thank offerings.
The response was so great that the priests fell behind in dressing the animals. Ordinarily they were to be the only ones to prepare the sacrifices, but in this case they had to call on their helpers for aid. There was a total of seventy bullocks, a hundred rams, two hundred lambs, six hundred bulls and three thousand sheep. (II Chronicles 29:21-36.)
Israel Still Unrepentant Hezekiah next sent messengers to most cities and towns of Judah and Israel to proclaim that the Passover would soon be observed in the second month at the newly opened temple.
"Return to your God, and He will return to you," the king of Judah wrote on the proclamation. "You who are still free from Assyria should especially thank your Creator at this time of worship. Don't go the way of your fathers and brothers who gave in to idolatry and were left helpless. Yield yourselves to God and escape His anger. If you turn to Him now, He will preserve you from your enemies, sickness and want and will bring your captive brethren back home. Join us at God's house in Jerusalem." (II Chronicles 30:1-10.)
Hezekiah's messengers were careful to avoid the Assyrian soldiers who occupied part of Israel, particularly Samaria. Even many Israelites, mostly of Manasseh, Ephraim and Zebulun, laughed threateningly when they read the message from Judah.
"You have a lot of nerve to come up here and tell us which god to worship!" some of the Israelites scoffed. "Get back inside those walls at Jerusalem while you're able. We and the Assyrian soldiers have only one thing in common. We don't like preachers!"