Prophetic Historical Parallels
To appreciate the process of how America and Britain became great, and have an enlarged understanding about the 2,520-year withholding of the Birthright, we should consider the broader sweep of Assyrian-Israelite contacts. Roman Catholic theologian Lawrence Boadt describes that relationship writing: “The two hundred years from 922, when Jeroboam [I] began to rule, down to 722, when the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians, were mostly taken up by war: either battles against Assyria, border disputes with Judah, revolt by subject peoples such as Moab, or the struggle against the growing power of the new Aramean state of Damascus in Syria...
“But it was above all the age of the rise of Assyria, the great Mesopotamian power. Assyrian ambition was to conquer all the Western lands, and it slowly but surely moved against its neighbors in the two centuries after Solomon’s death...
“By the end of the ninth century... [Assyria] placed enough pressure on all the others to force an end to the fighting between northern Israel and Damascus... Under a series of strong kings in the ninth century B.C.E., Assyria began a program of systematic conquest and empire-building that spread in all four directions, especially toward the south to control Babylon, and toward the west to gain access to the forests of Syria and Lebanon which would insure a steady wood supply for the largely treeless homeland” (Reading the Old Testament, pp. 294, 309).
Another authority, Julian Reade writes: “The first time, so far as we know, that the Assyrians became directly involved with one of the main biblical kingdoms was in 853 B.C.E. Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.E.) was then advancing through Syria towards Lebanon and Palestine” (Assyrian Sculpture, p. 44).
And so it was that relations between Israel and Assyria began to sour as early as the mid-ninth century B.C.E. when Ahab (874-853 B.C.E.), second monarch of the Omri dynasty, took military precautions in anticipation of confronting Assyria’s imperialistminded Shalmaneser III.
Ahab furnished 10,000 soldiers and 2,000 chariots as his contributions to an Israelite-Syrian alliance designed to forestall Assyrian advances to the southwest. Three generations of Israelite kings later, Jehu (841-814 B.C.E.) felt the brunt of Assyrian pressure to the extent that he became a tributary of Shalmaneser III.
Sidebar: Shalmaneser’s Black Obelisk
Relations between the Israelites of the northern kingdom and the Assyrians began to sour as early as the mid-ninth century B.C.E. when Ahab (874-853 B.C.E.), second monarch of the Omri dynasty, took military precautions in anticipation of confronting Assyria’s imperialist-minded Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.E.). As subsequent history demonstrated, Ahab’s anxieties were with good cause. Three generations of Israelite kings later, Jehu (841-814 B.C.E.) felt the brunt of Assyrian pressure to the extent that he became a tributary of Shalmaneser III.
Shortly after the mid-9th century B.C.E., “Jehu voluntarily became a vassal of the Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser III. He began paying tribute to Assyria as soon as he ascended the throne... Jehu evidently considered it prudent to reverse Israel’s policy toward Assyria, which had been one of hostility, in order to secure Assyrian help against Israel’s chief enemy, Hazael of Syria” (Shanks, Ancient Israel, pp. 125-126).
This Assyrian ruler immortalized Jehu’s subservience in stone on the renowned Black Obelisk that prominently resides today in the British Museum. Austen Henry Layard discovered Shalmaneser’s Black Obelisk in 1846 at Nimrud. It bears the earliest known depiction of an Israelite in any type of artistic form.
A warning message
In national Israel’s story, we see a physical precursor to its spiritual counterpart, the Church of God. Not surprisingly, Jesus described His people as a “little flock” (Luke 12:32). Paul shows us that the Christian is typically drawn from the weak and foolish of the world (1Corinthians 1:26-28). And Christ Himself said: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25).
How ever small or lacking in influence that Church may truly be, it is charged with a monumental responsibility to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God as a witness to all the world (Matthew 24:14). A part of that message involves warning the physical, national people of God about the coming judgments on them (Matthew 10:6, 23) — a theme that will be explored in greater depth in the final chapter of this paper.
If such a message of coming doom must be delivered in an apparently prosperous and thriving context, it is not the first time that servants of God have had to do so. Micah 5:8 predicts a time when “the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, who, if he passes through, both treads down and tears in pieces, and none can deliver.”
Such has been the character of Anglo-American world dominance over the last two centuries. So it largely remains for the United States today. But it is in just such a time — when the hand of Jacob will “be lifted against your adversaries, and all your enemies shall be cut off” — that God “will cut off your horses from your midst And destroy your chariots. I will cut off the cities of your land And throw down all your strongholds” (verses 9-11). If the Assyrian captivity of Israel is a forerunner of an end time punishment on Abraham’s modern-day descendants, the implications for the Church at the end of the age are overwhelming. God expects His people to deliver a warning message even if it is in a setting where the outward signs of military and economic decay are absent. Dramatic parallels do exist, however, between the social and moral malaise in 8th century B.C.E. and the 20th century C.E. Israel. As God expects His servants today to condemn such decadence, so He did in ancient times.
It was in a benign setting of physical and material Israelite prosperity, and just before Tiglath-pileser (745-727 B.C.E.) disturbed that peace, that the prophets Amos and Hosea appeared. These men initiated in Israel the age of “Classical Prophecy.” Until this juncture, we read primarily biblical narratives about the prophets themselves.
After their coming, Scripture richly preserves the actual words of the prophets. Amos broke new ground, indicting not only national leadership but the whole people as responsible for the sins of “Samaria,” a biblical term for the northern kingdom. “Sparing neither king nor priest, nobility nor common people, Amos castigated them all in simple but sharp messages of reproof and denunciation... Amos warned that only complete repentance by king and people, and a turning again to Yahweh, whom they had forsaken, could avert the approaching catastrophe” (Shanks, Ancient Israel, p. 127).
Both Amos and Hosea inveighed against the evils of the day which included oppression of the poor, perversion of judgment, unbridled greed, selfish luxury among the aristocratic classes (particularly its women), and superficial religiosity which found expression in irreverence toward the Sabbath, faithlessness toward the covenant, and worship of foreign gods. Unsuccessfully, these two prophets called for national repentance. Boadt summarizes the fidelity of Amos’ message writing, “God does not stand idly by and watch evil go on. The political moves of Assyria and its fearful military victories are not accidents of history but permitted and directed by God to punish Israel” (Reading the Old Testament, pp. 304, 317-318). Ultimately, the Assyrians proved to be “the rod of God’s anger” about which Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 10:5-6).
Amos’ younger counterpart, Hosea, probably lived to witness the awful fulfillment of his own predictions. He no doubt saw one king after another change loyalties for and against Assyria, saw the violence of assassination destroy the inner spirit of the country, and watched as little by little the Assyrians conquered and deported parts of the kingdom until the capital itself went down in flames” (Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, pp. 323- 324).
The end comes for the northern kingdom
Very shortly after the death of Jeroboam II (753 B.C.E.), the northern kingdom plunged into political chaos. “Civil wars, assassinations and internal fighting between groups which supported Assyrian policies or opposed any capitulation to them racked the northern state... The deaths of Jeroboam and Uzziah... came at the very moment when Assyria regained her power and renewed her push to the west” (ibid. pp. 311-312 — see also Shanks, Ancient Israel, p. 128).
In the midst of their own domestic and internal difficulties, Israelite policy-makers also had to consider the intrusions of Assyria into their affairs. By the time of Tiglathpileser III, king Menahem (752-742 B.C.E.) was forthcoming with “enormous sums of tribute” intended to induce the Assyrian monarch to leave him and his people in peace (Shanks, Ancient Israel, pp. 129-130).
In 738 B.C.E., king Pekah (752-732 B.C.E.) rebelled against Assyria, only to surrender later and pay a huge ransom in order to retain his throne (2 Kings 15:19-20). Typical of the Assyrian policy of the time, Pekah’s disloyalty set in motion the usual Assyrian response of converting the offending kingdom into a vassal state.
This re-defining of Israelite-Assyrian relations was the first in a sequence of three levels of response which were automatically and successively introduced as a matter of Assyrian imperial policy in dealing with unruly subject peoples.
Second time offenders forfeited their political control and were replaced by a vassal-king whom the Assyrian government believed would be loyal. In stage two, the Assyrians also reduced the amount of territory that the new vassal controlled. The Assyrian monarch took direct rule over at least some of the original kingdom. The new vassal king was less independent than his predecessor was. As an additional dimension of punishment, the Assyrians deported limited segments of the population.
Finding themselves among strangers whose language they did not understand (Jeremiah 5:15) and whose culture was unfamiliar, the deportees had little hope of successfully revolting against their Assyrian masters. Even if they did, they were hundreds of miles from their original homeland and unlikely to find their way successfully back to it. Tiglath-pileser initiated this second stage of punishment on Israel in response to Pekah’s alliance with Damascus and a second attempt at revolt in 734 B.C.E. The first deportation of Israelites (734-732 B.C.E.), sometimes referred to as the “Galilean Captivity,” took part of the population — principally that drawn from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the portion of Manasseh living east of the Jordan River — to northern Syria as well as northern and northwestern Mesopotamia (2 Kings 16:5-9; 15:27-29). Tiglath-pileser III also occupied the greater part of Galilee and Gilead and divided Israelite territory itself into four new provinces: Magidu, Duru, Gilead, and Samaria.
The final straw
The third and final official Assyrian response in dealing with rebellious subjects was extinction of the people as a nation. This action usually included wholesale removal of almost the entire population. The Assyrians scattered deportees throughout their empire and repopulated the vacated territories with other people from distant and far-flung regions.
The pro-Assyrian but unreliable Israelite vassal, King Hoshea (732-722 B.C.E.), set in motion the events which brought the final deluge. Hoping to receive critical aid from Egypt to the south, Hoshea betrayed Assyrian trust in around 725 B.C.E. (2 Kings 18:9- 10). Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.E.) eventually responded with a three year siege (722/1- 718 B.C.E.) which resulted in the fall of the kingdom’s capital city, Samaria. At that point, the Northern Kingdom ceased to exist.
There is an important postscript to the fall of Samaria in 718 B.C.E. For Judah, the deterioration continued beyond Shalmaneser V’s major military campaign of 721-718 B.C.E. Hezekiah’s kingdom experienced part of a final denouement in failed Israelite- Assyrian relations.
In 701 B.C.E. Simeon, the final tribe outside of Judah proper, was taken captive by the army of Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.E.) in part of the general Assyrian campaign described in 2 Kings 18, 2 Chronicles 31, and Isaiah 36.
Sidebar: Sennacherib’s western campaign
Just before the end of the 8th century B.C.E., Assyrian monarch Sennacherib launched a highly destructive assault through the edge of the desert in that territory of the Kingdom of Judah known as the Shephhelah. He considered his siege of Lachish, located south of Judah and between Gerar and Beer-sheba, the crowning achievement of this campaign.
Sennacherib immortalized the siege in his limestone bas-reliefs, originally paneling for the walls of his palace in Nineveh. These reliefs now grace several of the walls in the Assyrian rooms of London’s British Museum (on the Lachish reliefs, see Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum, pp. 60-64; and Reade, Assyrian Sculpture, pp. 47-52).
The story of Sennacherib’s western campaign of 701 B.C.E. is related in the little hexagonal Taylor Prism which also can be found today in the British Museum. “The best known passage in this description states that because [king of Judah] Hezekiah had not submitted to the Assyrian ‘yoke,’ Sennacherib laid siege to forty-six fortified Judean cities, deported 200,150 people, and invested Hezekiah in Jerusalem” (T. C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum, p. 59).
The Assyrian monarch claims to have trapped Hezekiah in his capital city “like a bird in a cage.” But what Sennacherib’s account does not say is as important as what it does.
Placed alongside of the biblical accounts of 2 Kings 18:17-19:36 and Isaiah 36:1 to 37:37, we find much more to the story. These passages tell how God delivered Jerusalem by striking the Assyrian army under Rabshakeh with a devastating plague while they were encamped about the environs of the city (2 Kings 19:32- 35). The Hebrew tradition places this dramatic rescue of Hezekiah’s Jerusalem on the Passover.
The Soncino commentary on Isaiah 36 observes, “Traditionally Hezekiah’s illness occurred three days before Sennacherib’s fall. On the third day Hezekiah went up to the Temple to offer his prayer; and on the same day, which was the first day of Passover, Sennacherib’s armies were miraculously destroyed while he himself fled to Nineveh.”
Working from the assumption that Assyrian-Israelite relations were generally troubled from the reign of Shalmaneser III through the final campaign of Sennacherib, the period between 1660-1820 C.E. becomes particularly significant.
As Assyrian intrusions into Israelite affairs inexorably increased and the impending catastrophe of massive deportation became inevitable, might it be logical to assume that we would find a corresponding crescendo of modern Israelitish power across a century and a half leading to the expiration of the withholding of the Birthright? Indeed, as we shall see in the following chapter, this is precisely what history demonstrates.