There are many people I have heard refer to the God of the Old Testament as a harsh God while the God portrayed in the New Testament is more loving.
In reality, God’s character has not changed. Both His severity seen in places in the Old Testament and His love portrayed strongly in the New Testament are present throughout history. God is goodness and severity are demonstrated in both the Old and New Testaments. We do see more examples of His overt severity in the histories of the Old Testament, but His love is also shown in many cases. In the New Testament we see more of His love through Jesus Christ and the apostles, but His willingness to discipline and warnings of discipline for those who are wayward are also seen.
In the Old Testament there is a very clear pattern of God using the enemies of Israel (surrounding nations) to implement punishment of His own people. The same is true in the New Testament age, but to see it we must listen to the experience of mature believers in Jesus Christ who have walked with God and experienced His goodness and His discipline. All the ones I have heard, also testify that both the good things and the discipline were for their highest good and they receive both and cherish both even if the discipline did not feel good at the time it was applied.
This is an important introduction to understand what will be shared in this article. In God’s own words, we are going to see that He chose the kingdom of Assyria to implement judgment on the Northern Kingdom (and also the Southern Kingdom/Judah).
What God Says about Assyria
5 Ah! Assyria, the rod of my (God’s) anger, and a staff is in their hand: my wrath! 6 I send him against a godless nation, and I command him against the people of my wrath, to capture spoil and to carry off plunder, and to make them a trampling place, like the clay of the streets.Isaiah 10:5–6 (LEB)
Take close note that it took a long time for God to reach the point that He would select and choose to punish His own people with such a fierce and ominous foe as Assyria. Once that time comes, God’s people cannot escape it because it is God’s selection and choice to bring punishment.
What Happened to the Northern Kingdom at the Hands of Assyria
In 722 BC, Assyria completed its conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This was after more than 3 years of besieging the capital, Samaria. Before Assyria attacked Samaria the Northern Kingdom had been brought to the status of a vassal state of Assyria having to pay tribute to Assyria. After several years of paying tribute, the king of the Northern Kingdom failed to pay tribute and sought out the help of the Egyptian king then Assyria attacked.
9 It happened in the fourth year of King Hezekiah, that is, the seventh year of Hoshea the son of Elah king of Israel, Shalmaneser king of Assyria came against Samaria and laid siege against her. 10 At the end of three years, he captured it in the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is, the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel; Samaria was captured. 11 Then the king of Assyria deported Israel to Assyria and settled them in Halah, in Habor, in the river regions of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes, 12 because they did not listen to the voice of Yahweh their God, and they transgressed his covenant; all that he had commanded Moses, the servant of Yahweh, they did not listen to nor did they obey.2 Kings 18:9–12 (LEB)
All the tribes of the Northern Kingdom were dispersed within the kingdom of Assyria with the exception of a few who remained in the territory of the Northern Kingdom with the permission of Assyria. These ones intermarried with others and became known as Samaritans who were reviled by the Jews in Jesus’ time. There were also some who fled from the Northern Kingdom to the Southern Kingdom. Their descendants were in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. They provided a representation from all the tribes of Israel in the territory of the Southern Kingdom up to and after Jesus’ time.
God classified this judgment as a DIVORCE. The Northern Kingdom lost everything. He kicked the Northern Kingdom out of his house (the Promised Land) and told them they were no longer His people. This meant they no longer belonged to Him or were called their name (Israelites). This was bad, but it was not the end. There are further promises to this banished people pointed to the future which are very good.
Don’t think this is just an Old Testament reality that only applies to God’s people in the past. I cannot give a full interpretation of the following passage, but pay attention to the fact that it is written to the audience of one of the churches in the book of Revelation.
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “This is what the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the originator of God’s creation, says: 15 ‘I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! 16 Thus, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth! 17 Because you are saying, “I am rich, and have become rich, and I have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and pitiable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire, in order that you may become rich, and white clothing, in order that you may be clothed and the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed, and eye salve to smear on your eyes, in order that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I reprove and discipline. Be zealous, therefore, and repent! 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, indeed I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant to him to sit down with me on my throne, as I also have conquered and have sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”Revelation 3:14–22 (LEB)
What Do Historians Say About Assyria
- Considered to be the first “full fledged” empire in world history
- They progressively took over the known world of the fertile crescent (see section – Pictoral Representation of the Rise of the Assyrian Empire below)
- overthrew Babylon, Egypt and all the lesser empires around Israel (Edom, Syria, Philistines, etc) and most of Israel and Judah (except for Jerusalem – read about the reign of Hezekiah for details)
- Credited as the first major military power/war machine
- Various historians put them as slightly worse or slightly better than the German Nazis making them one of the most brutal military powers in world history
- Tiglath-Pileser III was the Assyran King who came against the Northern Kingdom
- Shalmaneser V and/or Sargon II finished off the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC
- Sennacherib was the Assyrian King who subsequently came against the Southern Kingdom/Judah after the Northern Kingdom was destroyed
Exploits of Assyrian Empire Near to Overthrow of Israel
In summary, the following chart demonstrates how the Assyrian Empire basically overthrows many of the nations referenced in the Old Testament except for Jerusalem proper.
Assyrian Exploits Fulfill God’s Prophetic Speaking Through Amos
Using the motif of “fire” to represent the actions of Assyria, here are the prophecies God spoke in advance about various nations surrounding Israel.
Example: Syria Punished
1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds from Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah the king of Judah and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Jehoash, two years before the earthquake. 2 And he said, “Yahweh roars from Zion and he utters his voice from Jerusalem; the pastures of the shepherds wither and the top of Carmel dries up.” 3 Thus says Yahweh, “For three transgressions of Damascus and for four I will not revoke the punishment, because they threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron! 4 So I will send fire against Hazael’s house and it will consume the citadel fortresses of Ben-Hadad. 5 I will break the gate bars of Damascus and I will cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven and the one who takes hold of the scepter of Beth Eden, and the people of Aram will go into exile to Kir,” says Yahweh.Amos 1:1–5 (LEB)
In each of these cases, it says Gods sends “fire” against these nations. The “fire” comes in the form of the Assyrian Empire.
- Philistines (Amos 1:6-8)
- Tyre (Amos 1:9-10)
- Edom (Amos 1:11-12)
- Ammon (Amos 1:13-15)
- Moab (Amos 2:1-3)
Pictoral Representation of the Rise of the Assyrian Empire
The following pictorial representation of the rise of the Assyrian empire can be thought of as part of the sovereignty of God. God allowed and orchestrated the rise of the Assyrian empire and employed them as an instrument of his judgment on his own people. Keep in mind that God also sent Jonah to the Assyrians (i.e. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria) and many chose to believe and fear the God of Israel. Assyria was a key part of God’s sovereign plan through the course of history. This pictorial representation fulfills the prophecies of Amos about various nations and people’s surrounding Israel as well as Israel itself.
Overview of Assyrian Empire
(circa 1350 BC) Core of Assyria – King Assur-Uballit I
(circa 1300 BC) Expansion under King Adad-Nirari I
(circa 1225 BC) Expansion under King Tukulti-Ninurta I
(circa 875 BC) Expansion under King Ashurnasirpal II
(circa 850 BC) Expansion under King Shalmeneser III
(circa 735 BC) Expansion under King Tiglath-Pileser III (aka Pul)
(circa 720/700 BC) Expansion under King Sargon II & Sennacherib)
Samaria is beseiged in 725 BC and falls to Assyria in 722 BC.
Assyria continues on to take over most of Judah all the way up to the walls of Jerusalem where God provides a miraculous victory during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah.