The Assyrian Captivity
2 Kings 15:19 – “And Pul the king of Assyria came against Israel: and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to confirm the kingdom in his hand.”
The Old Testament – A Brief Overview
Assyria was a kingdom located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that dominated the ancient world from the ninth century to the seventh century B. C. Its capital was Nineveh. In stature, the Assyrians were of average modern European height and were powerfully built. Their complexion was dark, the nose prominent, the hair, eyebrows, and beard thick and bushy. They rarely intermarried with neighbouring peoples.
The early inhabitants of Assyria were ancient tribesmen (Genesis 10:22) who probably migrated from Babylonia. They grew powerful enough around 1300 B. C. to conquer Babylonia. For the next 700 years, they were the leading power in the ancient world, with their leading rival nation, Babylon, constantly challenging them for this position.
The ancient city of Ashur (west bank of the Tigris)
It was the Assyrians that destroyed the northern kingdom Israel under Shalmaneser IV who besieged Samaria and then died during the siege leaving Sargon II to finish the task and drag Israel into captivity. After defeating the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B. C., the Assyrians carried away thousands of Israelites and resettled them in other parts of the Assyrian Empire. This was a blow from which the nation of Israel never recovered. The ten tribes that were taken to Assyria became the ten lost tribes, for they have never again emerged in world history.
The Assyrian policy was to deport conquered peoples to other lands within the empire, to destroy their sense of nationalism, and break any pride or hope of rebellion and replace them with strangers from far away. Assyrians were great warriors. Most nations at that time period were looters, building their state by robbing other nations. Assyria was the most ferocious of them all. Their very name became a byword for cruelty and atrocity. They skinned their prisoners alive and cut off various body parts to inspire terror in their enemies. There are records of Assyrian officials pulling out tongues and displaying mounds of human skulls all to bring about stark horror and wealthy tribute from surrounding nations. Nowhere are the pages of history more bloody than in the records of their wars.
Assyrian scribes recording the number slain
Assyrian king putting out the eyes of
an enemy king and leading the officials
into captivity with hooks in their lips
Assyria was a world empire for about 300 years under several warrior kings some of which wielded Assyria into the best fighting machine of the ancient world. Finally, the brutal empire fell in 607 B.C. giving way to the Babylonians.
The ruins of Nineveh
“And He will make Nineveh a desolation . . .” (Zephaniah 2:13-14)
On the east bank of the Tigris river lay massive mounds of ruins where there stood the splendid capital city of the Assyrians with its great palaces and buildings. There is a record of Alexander the Great, when he was near Nineveh, not recognizing that it once was the center of the great Assyrian empire.
The religion of the Assyrians, much like that of the Babylonians, emphasized the worship of nature. They believed every object of nature was possessed by a spirit. The chief god was Asshur. All other primary gods whom they worshipped were related to the objects of nature. These included Anu, the god of the heavens; Bel, the god of the region inhabited by man, beasts, and birds; Ea, the god of the waters; Sin, the moon-god; Shamash, the sun-god; and Ramman, the god of the storms. These gods were followed by five gods of the planets. In addition to these primary gods, lesser gods also were worshipped. In some cases, various cities had their own patron gods. The pagan worship of the Assyrians was vehemently condemned by several prophets of the Old Testament (Isaiah 10:5; Ezekiel 16:28; Hosea 8.9)
Here is a list of most of the later kings of Assyria (885-607 B.C.):
Assur-nasipal II (885-860 B.C.)
Shalmaneser II (860-825 B.C.)
Shansi-adad (825-808 B.C.)
Adad-nirari (808-783 B.C.)
Shalmaneser III (783-771 B.C.)
Assur-Dayan (771-753 B.C.)
Assur-lush (753-747 B.C.)
Tiglath-pileser III (Pul) (747-727 B.C.)
Shalmaneser IV (727-722 B.C.)
Sargon II (722-705 B.C.)
Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.)
Esar-haddon (681-668 B.C.)
Assur-bani-pal (668-626 B.C.)
Assur-etil-ilani (626-607 B.C.)
Assyrian annals mention contacts with some nine Hebrewkings: Omri, Ahab, Jehu, Menahem, Pekah, Uzziah, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and Manasseh.
Because of the cruelty and paganism of the Assyrians, the Hebrew people harboured deep-seated hostility against this nation. This attitude is revealed clearly in the Book of Jonah. When God instructed Jonah to preach to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, Jonah refused and went in the opposite direction. After he finally went to Nineveh, the prophet was disappointed with God because He spared the city. 150 years later The prophet Nahum spoke against Assyria indicating that they were ripe for the slaughter.