Bear with me as I give a little history lesson today. You might wonder what it has to do with you, but hang on! 🙂
According to the GotQuestions website:
Question: “When and how was Israel conquered by the Assyrians?”
Answer: Assyria’s conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel began approximately 740 BC under King Pul. First Chronicles 5:26 notes, “So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day.” These tribes, located east of the Jordan River, were the first ones conquered by Assyria.
Nearly 20 years later, about 722 BC, the capital city, Samaria, was overtaken by the Assyrians under Shalmaneser V. After first forcing tribute payments, Shalmaneser later laid siege to the city when it refused to pay. Following a three-year siege, 2 Kings 17:5-6 notes that, “in the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” And in 701 BC the Assyrians marched south into Judah; however, they were unable to capture Jerusalem due to the Lord’s intervention (2 Chronicles 32:22).
The Lord had long warned Israel of judgment, going all the way back to Moses’ stern warning in Deuteronomy 28:62–65. Second Kings 17:13 says, “Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer.” Many attempts had been made to turn the people back to the Lord, including efforts by Elijah and Elisha, two of the greatest prophets in Israel’s history.
Second Kings 17:15–17 describes the many ways in which Israel sinned against the Lord, leading to His judgment upon the land: “They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of wo calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.” Israel broke the Law, worshiped other gods—even burning their children as offerings—and used divination as part of their godless lifestyle. Verse 18 notes, “Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.” Though a remnant remained in the north, the nation of Israel was under Assyrian rule, and tens of thousands were deported and made servants in Assyria.
Further, the Assyrians began to populate Israel with people from other nations they had defeated. Verse 24 says, “And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities.” The descendants of these foreigners and the remnant of Israel were later simply called “Samaritans.” During the time of Christ, the Samaritans were despised as an “unclean” people because of their mixed ancestry and rejection of temple-based worship.
Okay. History lesson done. Put your books away. Time for recess! 🙂
No, not so fast! This history lesson affects you and me, so let’s dig a little deeper.
Who Is Israel?
Somewhere in history, it became fashionable to use the nickname of “Jews” to refer to Israel. However, our history lesson today shows us that this is not entirely accurate.
The sons of “Israel,” which was the name God gave to the patriarch Jacob, included twelve men: “Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: the sons of Leah were Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; the sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin; the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, were Dan and Naphtali; and the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, were Gad and Asher” (Genesis 35:22-26). Joseph was given the birthright, which was split between his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Genesis 48:5). The tribe of Levi was given no inheritance in the Land, since they served YHVH in His sanctuary and He was their inheritance. They lived among all twelve tribes, throughout the entire Land.
So not counting Levi, and remembering that Joseph’s two sons were each counted as tribes, you get twelve tribes (in no particular order):
However, the twelve tribes did not stay a unified nation for long. During the reign of Rehoboam (the 4th king of Israel), there was a split, much like a civil war, splitting the nation into north and south.
The south consisted of Judah and Benjamin (and many of the Levites). In Scripture, they are often referred to as Judah. Their capital remained at Jerusalem, where Temple worship continued.
The north consisted of the remaining ten tribes (and some of the Levites). In Scripture, they are often referred to as “Israel,” the “House of Israel,” or “Ephraim,” after their largest tribe. Their capital was established in Samaria, where a similar form of worship to Judah’s was formed, but one which mixed with the idolatry of the Canaanite nations that surrounded them.
Historian Christine Miller writes,
When the twelve tribes of Israel split into two kingdoms during the reign of Rehoboam the son of Solomon, Benjamin stayed with Judah in the southern kingdom (commonly known in the prophets as the house of Judah) while the other ten tribes became the northern kingdom (commonly known in the prophets as the house of Israel or Ephraim)…
The ten tribes of the northern kingdom were taken captive by the Assyrians in 721 bc and have not yet returned. The two tribes of the southern kingdom, which were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 bc, were returning after seventy years under the leadership of Ezra the scribe.
From the time of the Babylonian captivity, the remnant of Judah, Benjamin, and the priests and Levites who returned to Judah and Jerusalem were known as Jews (of Judah). The people among whom Messiah Yeshua was born, were Jews…
Torah is not the province of Jews only, the two tribes and Levi, but it is the heritage of all the children of Israel, including those of the house of Ephraim, who might to this day find themselves among Gentiles and Christians.
It was against Israel — the ten northern tribes, not including Judah and Benjamin in the south — that Assyria came about 700 years before Yeshua lived on earth.
It was a horrible time.
The Assyrian army was known to be ruthless, fierce, and cruel when they conquered a nation (Source 1 and Source 2). Kings were impaled and their heads were hung from trees, enemy soldiers were massacred, cities were laid siege to and starved, villages were burned, women were raped, and girls were enslaved.
Entire populations were deported and resettled in other towns of the vast Assyrian empire, where they were forced to assimilate with the peoples of their new home, even to the point of being required to worship Asshur, the sun god at the head of Assyrian worship. If any remained in their homeland, they were forced into poverty because of the extremely heavy taxes imposed.
(Author Lynn Austin makes this time period come to life in her historical fiction series, The Chronicles of the Kings.)
The Bible describes Assyria as an eagle. The word eagle in Hebrew is nesher, which means “a tearer with the beak.” Like an eagle, the Assyrians descended upon the tribes of northern Israel with swiftness of flight (Deuteronomy 28:49) and preyed upon even dead bodies. The Assyrians were employed by God himself and sent forth to do a work of destruction, sweeping away what God described as a nation that was decaying, rotten, putrid, and abominable in His sight (Isaiah 46:11; Ezekiel 39:4; Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 48:40).
Where Did They Go?
No one really knows for sure.
They were mostly deported from the land of Israel and taken north. Some were sent east into the land of the Medes and Persians, and a few went south into Africa. Over the next one thousand years, they would continue to migrate north, east, and later, west, until they fulfilled what was written by the prophet Hosea:
“Ephraim mixes with the nations; Ephraim is a flat loaf not turned over” (Hosea 7:8, NIV).
“Israel is swallowed up;
now she is among the nations
like something no one wants.
For they have gone up to Assyria…
They have sold themselves among the nations…
They will begin to waste away under the oppression of the mighty king” (Hosea 8:8-10, NIV).
“They will not remain in YHVH’s land; Ephraim will return to Egypt and eat unclean food in Assyria” (Hosea 9:3).
“My God will reject them because they have not obeyed him; they will be wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17).
“For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods” (Hosea 3:4, NIV).
(Note: The entire book of Hosea is about what happened to the ten northern tribes, which the prophet calls both Israel and Ephraim. It’s really interesting to read once you know this!)
Why Did This Happen?
You’re doing really well in today’s history lesson! Great job!
So let’s review a little bit more. Do you remember the names of the first three kings of Israel (before it was divided into two nations)?
- Saul (tribe of Benjamin)
- David (tribe of Judah)
- Solomon (tribe of Judah)
Solomon’s son Rehoboam became the fourth king, but he was not a kind or wise man. Historian Christine Miller again writes:
We had read what great wealth came into Solomon’s treasuries every year from tribute from foreign nations. The burden that Israel complained of to Rehoboam, saying, “Your father made our yoke heavy, now therefore, lighten the burdensome service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you,” (2 Chr 10:4) — that was a tax burden.
Kings in the ancient world rarely taxed their own people; their revenue came in from foreign tribute. But in order to build the Temple, Solomon began taxing his own people, and they were willing to pay it, because it was for the Temple. But notice that after the Temple was completed, the tax stayed. Such is ever the way — how hard it is for a government or bureaucracy, once they get used to a stream of income, to wean themselves from it! It almost never happens.
So when Rehoboam denied the people’s request to lighten their burden, and instead sent his man Hadoram to collect the revenue from Israel, the children of Israel stoned him to death with stones (2 Chr 10:18). The children of Israel were willing to pay a fair revenue, but they drew the line at an unfair revenue that burdened them excessively. There is no such revenue commanded in Torah; in fact, in Torah, God makes no provision for the people to support a king or his government, but they are to support the priests and Levites with tithes and offerings, and the widows, orphans, strangers, and poor among them.
So the moral of the story is, a government will burden a people as long as the people allow themselves to be so burdened. When the people begin asking the government for a redress of their burden, and the government does not listen to them or the wise advice of the elders, but instead returns a harsh answer, then they have acted in the foolishness of Rehoboam and are begging for trouble. (Read more of the story here.)
The heavy taxation trouble that Rehoboam started almost resulted in civil war! (Who can blame them?) The northern tribes split off from the southern tribes, and they chose to make Jeroboam, of the tribe of Ephraim, their king.
YHVH gave Jeroboam many promises of blessing if he would walk in YHVH’s ways and be obedient to His laws (1 Kings 11:29-39). Sadly, here’s what happened instead:
Jeroboam now built the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and it became his capital. Later he built Penuel.
Jeroboam thought, “Unless I’m careful, the people will want a descendant of David as their king. When they go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple, they will become friendly with King Rehoboam; then they will kill me and ask him to be their king instead.”
So on the advice of his counselors, the king had two golden calf idols made and told the people, “It’s too much trouble to go to Jerusalem to worship; from now on these will be your gods—they rescued you from your captivity in Egypt!”
One of these calf idols was placed in Bethel and the other in Dan. This was of course a great sin, for the people worshiped them. He also made shrines on the hills and ordained priests from the rank and file of the people—even those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. Jeroboam also announced that the annual Tabernacles Festival would be held at Bethel on the first of November (a date he decided upon himself), similar to the annual festival at Jerusalem; he himself offered sacrifices upon the altar to the calves at Bethel and burned incense to them. And it was there at Bethel that he ordained priests for the shrines on the hills. (1 Kings 12:25-33, TLB)
I know this is a blog post and that it’s getting long, but would you take a moment to read the summary of all of this, written in the Bible in the book of 2 Kings?
This disaster came upon the nation of Israel because the people worshiped other gods, thus sinning against YHVH their God who had brought them safely out of their slavery in Egypt. They had followed the evil customs of the nations which YHVH had cast out from before them. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were wrong, and they had built altars to other gods throughout the land. They had placed obelisks and idols at the top of every hill and under every green tree; and they had burned incense to the gods of the very nations which YHVH had cleared out of the land when Israel came in. So the people of Israel had done many evil things, and YHVH was very angry. Yes, they worshiped idols, despite YHVH’s specific and repeated warnings.
Again and again YHVH had sent prophets to warn both Israel and Judah to turn from their evil ways; he had warned them to obey his commandments which he had given to their ancestors through these prophets, but Israel wouldn’t listen. The people were as stubborn as their ancestors and refused to believe in YHVH their God. They rejected his laws and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and despised all his warnings. In their foolishness they worshiped heathen idols despite YHVH’s stern warnings. They defied all the commandments of YHVH their God and made two calves from molten gold. They made detestable, shameful idols and worshiped Baal and the sun, moon, and stars. They even burned their own sons and daughters to death on the altars of Molech; they consulted fortune-tellers and used magic and sold themselves to evil. So YHVH was very angry. He swept them from his sight until only the tribe of Judah remained in the land.
But even Judah refused to obey the commandments of YHVH their God; they too walked in the same evil paths as Israel had. So YHVH rejected all the descendants of Jacob. He punished them by delivering them to their attackers until they were destroyed. For Israel split off from the kingdom of David and chose Jeroboam I (the son of Nebat) as its king. Then Jeroboam drew Israel away from following YHVH. He made them sin a great sin, and the people of Israel never quit doing the evil things that Jeroboam led them into, until YHVH finally swept them away, just as all his prophets had warned would happen. So Israel was carried off to the land of Assyria where they remain to this day.
And the king of Assyria transported colonies of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the cities of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. So the Assyrians took over Samaria and the other cities of Israel. But since these Assyrian colonists did not worship YHVH when they first arrived, YHVH sent lions among them to kill some of them.
Then they sent a message to the king of Assyria: “We colonists here in Israel don’t know the laws of the god of the land, and he has sent lions among us to destroy us because we have not worshiped him.”
The king of Assyria then decreed that one of the exiled priests from Samaria should return to Israel and teach the new residents the laws of the god of the land. So one of them returned to Bethel and taught the colonists from Babylon how to worship YHVH.
But these foreigners also worshiped their own gods. They placed them in the shrines on the hills near their cities. Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth; those from Cuth worshiped their god Nergal; and the men of Hamath worshiped Ashima. The gods Nibhaz and Tartak were worshiped by the Avvites, and the people from Sephar even burned their own children on the altars of their gods Adrammelech and Anammelech.
They also worshiped YHVH, and they appointed from among themselves priests to sacrifice to YHVH on the hilltop altars. But they continued to follow the religious customs of the nations from which they came. And this is still going on among them today—they follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping YHVH or obeying the laws he gave to the descendants of Jacob (whose name was later changed to Israel). For YHVH had made a contract with them—that they were never to worship or make sacrifices to any heathen gods. They were to worship only YHVH who had brought them out of the land of Egypt with such tremendous miracles and power. The descendants of Jacob were to obey all of God’s laws and never worship other gods.
For God had said, “You must never forget the covenant I made with you; never worship other gods. You must worship only YHVH; he will save you from all your enemies.”
But Israel didn’t listen, and the people continued to worship other gods. These colonists from Babylon worshiped YHVH, yes—but they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same thing. (2 Kings 17:7-41, TLB)
For What Sins Were They Cut Off?
For a moment, I’d like to take a quick diversion and look back into the Torah, to see what YHVH had promised to do if His people forsook Him.
(And this is where it starts to get personal, so if you need to, get a refill on your cup of coffee. Pay close attention!)
Sometimes when folks like me say that we want to keep the Torah, other Christians get upset and say, “It’s impossible! You’ll never be able to do it! After all, look at Israel. They didn’t keep the Torah, and God punished them. If you break one of the Torah’s commands, you’ve broken them all… and since you’re even trying, you’re just dooming yourself because you won’t be able to do it!”
Well… that’s not exactly right.
Actually the Torah says that it is possible to obey God’s commands (and Paul himself repeats this in Romans 10:5-8).
“For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
However, certain sins did carry the death penalty. (The apostle John refers to these as “sins unto death” in his letter.)
In the Torah, a sin that carried the death penalty was known as a “cut-off offense,” because those who committed these sins were in danger of being “cut off.”
Because I’m a curious sort of person, I looked up every instance of the word “cut off” in the Scriptures. (There are hundreds of them.) The Hebrew word means to die (see Strong’s #3772), and in every single instance, that is exactly what it meant! It’s not a good thing to commit a cut-off offense, to say the least.
If you were to do a search of this word in the Scriptures (and I hope you do!), you will find that these are the official offenses:
- Genesis 17:14 – cut off any male child who is not circumcised
- Exodus 12:15, 19 – cut off anyone who eats leavened bread during the feast of unleavened bread (from the congregation of Israel or a foreigner)
- Exodus 30:33, 38 – cut off anyone who makes the anointing oil that was reserved only for Aaron and his sons
- Exodus 31:14 – cut off anyone doing any work on Sabbath
- Leviticus 7:20-21 – cut off anyone who eats the meat of peace offerings while unclean (also Lev. 22:3)
- Leviticus 7:25 – cut off anyone who eats the fat of animals that are given as offerings
- Leviticus 7:27 – cut off anyone who eats any blood (Lev. 17:10, 14)
- Leviticus 17:3-4, 8 – cut off anyone who makes a sacrifice anywhere but at the entrance to the Tabernacle or Temple (which is called a lasting ordinance, Lev. 17:7)
- Leviticus 18:29 – cut off anyone who commits the following “abominations”:
- cut off anyone who uncovers the nakedness of (or, has sexual relations with) near kin, as in incest (Lev. 18:6-16; Lev. 20:17), which includes a father, mother, father’s wife, sister, granddaughter, step-sister, aunt, uncle, daughter-in-law, or brother’s wife
- cut off anyone who uncovers nakedness of a woman and her daughter or granddaughter (Lev. 18:17)
- cut off anyone who takes a wife of his wife’s sister during his wife’s lifetime (Lev. 18:18)
- cut off anyone who uncovers the nakedness of a woman who is put apart for her uncleanness, which is bleeding like during her monthly period or after childbirth or during sickness (Lev. 18:19; Lev. 20:18 – the woman is also cut off)
- cut off anyone who lies with his neighbor’s wife, as in adultery (Lev. 18:20)
- cut off anyone who lets any of his seed pass through the fire to the god Molech, as in abortion in modern times (Lev. 18:21; Lev. 20:3-5)
- cut off anyone who lies with mankind as with womankind, as in homosexuality (Lev. 18:22)
- cut off anyone who lies with any beast (Lev. 18:23)
- Leviticus 19:5-8 – cut off one who eats of an offering on the third day or after
- Leviticus 20:6 – cut off all who turn after familiar spirits or wizards
- Lev. 23:29 – cut off any soul that is not “anah” (Hebrew word meaning afflicted, humbled) on the Day of Atonement
- Numbers 9:13 – cut off anyone who does not celebrate Passover in first month if clean and not on a journey
- Numbers 15:30-31 – cut off anyone who sins defiantly (as opposed to unintentional sin in previous verses)
- Numbers 19:13, 20 – cut off anyone who touches the dead body of a man but does not purify himself and thus defiles the tabernacle of YHVH
- Psalm 12:3 – cut off all flattering lips and the tongue that speaks proud things (cut off by YHVH, not people; also Proverbs 10:31)
- Psalm 34:16 – cut off those who do evil (cut off by YHVH, not people; also Psalm 37:9, Ps. 37:22, Ps. 37:28, Ps. 37:34, Ps. 37:38, Ps. 101:8, Ps. 109:13, Ps. 109:15; Proverbs 2:22; Nahum 1:15 “utterly cut off”)
- Micah 5:12-13 – cut off witches and soothsayers, or those who make graven images or standing images (obelisks, etc.)
- Malachi 2:12 – cut off the man who marries the daughter of a foreign god, even if he brings sacrifices to YHVH
- Acts 3:22-23; Deuteronomy 18:19; 2 John 1:10-11 – cut off anyone who does not listen to Yeshua and accept Him as Messiah
(Note: This list includes those who do not keep Sabbath or the feasts such as “unleavened bread” and the “day of atonement.” Scripture repeatedly equates not keeping Sabbath with idolatry. I realize this is now getting really personal.)
Ouch! Do you know anyone who has not committed at least one of these offenses?
We have the ability to not do them, but we are rebellious and wish to go our own way or follow the crowd.
Now, it is true that not all the people who committed these offenses immediately died. However, the Bible tells us why this was so (and I believe it remains so to this day):
“For My name’s sake I will defer My anger, and for My praise I will restrain it from you, so that I do not cut you off” (Isaiah 48:9).
“YHVH is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
But there came a day, as we learned in today’s history lesson, where the Father said, “That’s it! I’ve had enough!” (As a parent, have you ever felt that way?)
And Israel was cut off.
So What’s the Bottom Line?
Goodness, in typical Anne-fashion, this post has already been too long, so I’ll try to come back next time with more about the intriguing topic of being cut off.
But for today, if there is just one word I would leave you with, it would be this:
Let’s not make our history lesson just head learning. Let’s apply it to our lives.
Will you humor me by reading one more passage from Scripture? This one was written by Paul to the Romans. (Read it slowly. Chew on it. Be very thoughtful!)
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 1:18-2:11)
Would it be worth taking one more look at that list of “cut-off offenses”? Yes, indeed!
God does not show favoritism. Not even to us.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this blog post taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.