The Assyrian Captivity
years of the ill-fated kingdom of Israel were marked with violence and
bloodshed such as had never been witnessed even in the worst periods of
strife and unrest under the house of Ahab. For two centuries and more the
rulers of the ten tribes had been sowing the wind; now they were reaping
the whirlwind. King after king was assassinated to make way for others
ambitious to rule. "They have set up kings," the Lord declared
of these godless usurpers, "but not by Me: they have made princes,
and I knew it not." Hosea 8:4. Every principle of justice was set
aside; those who should have stood before the nations of earth as the
depositaries of divine grace, "dealt treacherously against the
Lord" and with one another. Hosea 5:7.
severest reproofs, God sought to arouse the impenitent nation to a
realization of its imminent danger of utter destruction. Through Hosea and
Amos He sent
tribes message after message, urging full and complete repentance, and
threatening disaster as the result of continued transgression. "Ye
have plowed wickedness," declared Hosea, "ye have reaped
iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy
way, in the multitude of thy mighty men. Therefore shall a tumult arise
among thy people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled. . . . In a
morning shall the king of Israel utterly be cut off." Hosea 10:13-15.
the prophet testified, "Strangers have devoured his strength, and he
knoweth it not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he
knoweth not." [The prophet Hosea often referred to Ephraim, a leader
in apostasy among the tribes of Israel, as a symbol of the apostate
nation.] "Israel hath cast off the thing that is good."
"Broken in judgment," unable to discern the disastrous outcome
of their evil course, the ten tribes were soon to be "wanderers among
the nations." Hosea 7:9; 8:3; 5:11; 9:17.
Some of the
leaders in Israel felt keenly their loss of prestige and wished that this
might be regained. But instead of turning away from those practices which
had brought weakness to the kingdom, they continued in iniquity,
flattering themselves that when occasion arose, they would attain to the
political power they desired by allying themselves with the heathen.
"When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went
Ephraim to the Assyrian." "Ephraim also is like a silly dove
without heart: they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria." "They do
make a covenant with the Assyrians." Hosea 5:13, 7:11; 12:1.
man of God that had appeared before the altar at Bethel, through Elijah
and Elisha, through Amos and Hosea, the Lord had repeatedly set before the
ten tribes the evils of disobedience. But notwithstanding reproof and
entreaty, Israel had sunk lower and still lower in apostasy. "Israel
slideth back as a backsliding heifer," the Lord declared; "My
people are bent to backsliding from Me." Hosea 4:16; 11:7.
times when the judgments of Heaven fell very heavily on the rebellious
people. "I hewed them by the prophets," God declared; "I
have slain them by the words of My mouth: and thy judgments are as the
light that goeth forth. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the
knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. But they like men have
transgressed the covenant: there have they dealt treacherously against
Me." Hosea 6:5-7.
the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel," was the message that
finally came to them: "Seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God,
I will also forget thy children. As they were increased, so they sinned
against Me: therefore will I change their glory into shame. . . . I will
punish them for their ways, and reward them their doings." Hosea 4:1,
in Israel during the last half century before the Assyrian captivity was
like that of the days of Noah, and of every other age when men have
rejected God and have given themselves wholly to evil-doing. The
exaltation of nature above the God of nature, the worship of the creature
instead of the Creator, has always resulted in the
grossest of evils.
Thus when the people of Israel, in their worship of Baal and Ashtoreth,
paid supreme homage to the forces of nature, they severed their connection
with all that is uplifting and ennobling, and fell an easy prey to
temptation. With the defenses of the soul broken down, the misguided
worshipers had no barrier against sin and yielded themselves to the evil
passions of the human heart.
marked oppression, the flagrant injustice, the unwonted luxury and
extravagance, the shameless feasting and drunkenness, the gross
licentiousness and debauchery, of their age, the prophets lifted their
voices; but in vain were their protests, in vain their denunciation of
sin. "Him that rebuketh in the gate," declared Amos, "they
hate, . . . and they abhor him that speaketh uprightly." "They
afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the
gate from their right." Amos 5:10, 12.
some of the results that had followed the setting up of two calves of gold
by Jeroboam. The first departure from established forms of worship had led
to the introduction of grosser forms of idolatry, until finally nearly all
the inhabitants of the land had given themselves over to the alluring
practices of nature worship. Forgetting their Maker, Israel "deeply
corrupted themselves." Hosea 9:9.
continued to protest against these evils and to plead for rightdoing.
"Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy," Hosea
urged; "break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord,
till He come and rain righteousness upon you." "Turn thou to thy
God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually."
Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine
iniquity: . . . say unto Him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us
graciously." Hosea 10:12; 12:6; 14:1, 2.
transgressors were given many opportunities to repent. In their hour of
deepest apostasy and greatest need, God's message to them was one of
forgiveness and hope. "O Israel," He declared, "thou hast
destroyed thyself; but in Me is thine help. I will be thy King: where is
any other that may save thee?" Hosea 13:9, 10.
and let us return unto the Lord," the prophet entreated; "for He
hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up.
After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up,
and we shall live in His sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to
know the Lord: His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall
come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the
earth." Hosea 6:1-3.
To those who
had lost sight of the plan of the ages for the deliverance of sinners
ensnared by the power of Satan, the Lord offered restoration and peace.
"I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely," He
declared: "for Mine anger is turned away from him. I will be as the
dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as
Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive
tree, and his smell as Lebanon. They that dwell under His shadow shall
return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent
thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, What have I
to do any
more with idols? I have heard him, and observed him: I am like a green fir
tree. From Me is thy fruit found.
wise, and he shall understand these things?
he shall know them?
For the ways
of the Lord are right,
And the just
shall walk in them:
transgressors shall fall therein."
of seeking God were strongly urged. "Seek ye Me," the Lord
invited, "and ye shall live: but seek not Bethel, nor enter into
Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba: for Gilgal shall surely go into
captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought."
good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the Lord, the God of hosts,
shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good,
and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the Lord God of hosts
will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph." Amos 5:4, 5, 14, 15.
By far the
greater number of those who heard these invitations refused to profit by
them. So contrary to the evil desires of the impenitent were the words of
God's messengers, that the idolatrous priest at Bethel sent to the ruler
in Israel, saying, "Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of
the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words."
the Lord declared, "When I would have healed Israel, then the
iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wickedness of Samaria."
"The pride of Israel testifieth to his face: and they do not return
to the Lord their God, nor seek Him for all this. " Hosea 7:1, 10.
generation to generation the Lord had borne with His wayward children, and
even now, in the face of defiant rebellion, He still longed to reveal
Himself to them as willing to save. "O Ephraim," He cried,
"what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for
your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth
away." Hosea 6:4.
that had overspread the land had become incurable; and upon Israel was
pronounced the dread sentence: "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him
alone." "The days of visitation are come, the days of recompense
are come; Israel shall know it." Hosea 4:17; 9:7.
tribes of Israel were not to reap the fruitage of the apostasy that had
taken form with the setting up of the strange altars at Bethel and at Dan.
God's message to them was: "Thy calf, O Samaria, hath cast thee off;
Mine anger is kindled against them: how long will it be ere they attain to
innocency? For from Israel was it also: the workman made it; therefore it
is not God: but the calf of Samaria shall be broken in pieces."
"The inhabitants of Samaria shall fear because of the calves of
Beth-aven: for the people thereof shall mourn over it, and the priests
thereof that rejoiced on it. . . . It shall be also carried unto Assyria
for a present to King Jareb" (Sennacherib). Hosea 8:5, 6; 10:5, 6.
the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy
it from off the face of the earth; saying that I will not utterly destroy
the house of Jacob, saith the Lord. For, lo, I will command, and I will
Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not
the least gain fall upon the earth. All the sinners of My people shall die
by the sword, which say, The evil shall not overtake nor prevent us."
houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end,
saith the Lord." "The Lord God of hosts is He that toucheth the
land, and it shall melt, and all that dwell therein shall mourn."
"Thy sons and thy daughters shall fall by the sword, and thy land
shall be divided by line; and thou shalt die in a polluted land: and
Israel shall surely go into captivity forth of his land."
"Because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O
Israel." Amos 9:8-10; 3:15; 9:5; 7:17; 4:12.
For a season
these predicted judgments were stayed, and during the long reign of
Jeroboam II the armies of Israel gained signal victories; but this time of
apparent prosperity wrought no change in the hearts of the impenitent, and
it was finally decreed, "Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel
shall surely be led away captive out of their own land." Amos 7:11.
of this utterance was lost on king and people, so far had they gone in
impenitence. Amaziah, a leader among the idolatrous priests at Bethel,
stirred by the plain words spoken by the prophet against the nation and
their king, said to Amos, "O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the
land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there: but prophesy not
again any more at Bethel: for it is the king's chapel, and it is the
king's court." Verses 12, 13.
To this the
prophet firmly responded: "Thus saith the Lord, . . . Israel shall
surely go into captivity." Verse 17.
spoken against the apostate tribes were literally fulfilled; yet the
destruction of the kingdom came gradually. In judgment the Lord remembered
mercy, and at first, when "Pul the king of Assyria came against the
land," Menahem, then king of Israel, was not taken captive, but was
permitted to remain on the throne as a vassal of the Assyrian realm.
"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." 2 Kings 15:19,
20. The Assyrians, having humbled the ten tribes, returned for a season to
their own land.
from repenting of the evil that had wrought ruin in his kingdom, continued
in "the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to
sin." Pekahiah and Pekah, his successors, also "did that which
was evil in the sight of the Lord." Verses 18, 24, 28. "In the
days of Pekah," who reigned twenty years, Tiglath-pileser, king of
Assyria, invaded Israel and carried away with him a multitude of captives
from among the tribes living in Galilee and east of the Jordan. "The
Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh," with
others of the inhabitants of "Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of
Naphtali" (1 Chronicles 5:26; 2 Kings 15:29), were scattered among
the heathen in lands far removed from Palestine.
terrible blow the northern kingdom never recovered. The feeble remnant
continued the forms of government, though no longer possessed of power.
Only one more ruler, Hoshea, was to follow Pekah. Soon the kingdom
was to be
swept away forever. But in that time of sorrow and distress God still
remembered mercy, and gave the people another opportunity to turn from
idolatry. In the third year of Hoshea's reign, good King Hezekiah began to
rule in Judah and as speedily as possible instituted important reforms in
the temple service at Jerusalem. A Passover celebration was arranged for,
and to this feast were invited not only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin,
over which Hezekiah had been anointed king, but all the northern tribes as
well. A proclamation was sounded "throughout all Israel, from
Beersheba even to Dan, that they should come to keep the Passover unto the
Lord God of Israel at Jerusalem: for they had not done it of a long time
in such sort as it was written.
posts went with the letters from the king and his princes throughout all
Israel and Judah," with the pressing invitation, "Ye children of
Israel, turn again unto the Lord of God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and
He will return to the remnant of you, that are escaped out of the hand of
the kings of Assyria. . . . Be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were,
but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into His sanctuary, which He
hath sanctified forever: and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness
of His wrath may turn away from you. For if ye turn again unto the Lord,
your brethren and your children shall find compassion before them that
lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the
Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away His face
from you; if ye return unto Him." 2 Chronicles 30:5-9.
city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh even unto
Zebulun," the couriers sent out by Hezekiah carried the message.
Israel should have recognized in this invitation an appeal to repent and
turn to God. But the remnant of the ten tribes still dwelling within the
territory of the once-flourishing northern kingdom treated the royal
messengers from Judah with indifference and even with contempt. "They
laughed them to scorn, and mocked them." There were a few, however,
who gladly responded. "Divers of Asher and Manasseh and of Zebulun
humbled themselves, and came to Jerusalem, . . . to keep the feast of
unleavened bread." Verses 10-13.
years later, Samaria was invested by the hosts of Assyria under
Shalmaneser; and in the siege that followed, multitudes perished miserably
of hunger and disease as well as by the sword. The city and nation fell,
and the broken remnant of the ten tribes were carried away captive and
scattered in the provinces of the Assyrian realm.
destruction that befell the northern kingdom was a direct judgment from
Heaven. The Assyrians were merely the instruments that God used to carry
out His purpose. Through Isaiah, who began to prophesy shortly before the
fall of Samaria, the Lord referred to the Assyrian hosts as "the rod
of Mine anger." "The staff in their hand," He said,
"is Mine indignation." Isaiah 10:5.
had the children of Israel "sinned against the Lord their God, . . .
and wrought wicked things." "They would not hear, but . . .
rejected His statutes, and His covenant that He made with their fathers,
which He testified against them." It was because they had "left
all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images,
even two calves, and made a grove, and worshiped all the host of heaven,
and served Baal," and refused steadfastly to repent, that the Lord
"afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until
He had cast them out of His sight," in harmony with the plain
warnings He had sent them "by all His servants the prophets."
Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria," "because
they obeyed not the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed His
covenant, and all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded." 2
Kings 17:7, 11, 14-16, 20, 23; 18:12.
terrible judgments brought upon the ten tribes the Lord had a wise and
merciful purpose. That which He could no longer do through them in the
land of their fathers He would seek to accomplish by scattering them among
the heathen. His plan for the salvation of all who should choose to avail
themselves of pardon through the Saviour of the human race must yet be
fulfilled; and in the afflictions brought upon Israel, He was preparing
the way for His glory to be revealed to the nations of earth. Not all who
were carried captive were impenitent. Among them were some who had
remained true to God, and others who had humbled themselves before Him.
Through these, "the sons of the living God" (Hosea 1:10), He
would bring multitudes in the Assyrian realm to a knowledge of the
attributes of His character and the beneficence of His law.