CHAPTER 9 - HOSHEA, (TWENTIETH) KING OF ISRAEL.
Summary of this History - Accession of Hoshea - Religious Character of his Reign - Death of Tiglath-pileser and Accession of Shalmaneser IV. - Expedition into Palestine and Submission of Hoshea - Attempted Alliance of Israel with Egypt - Hoshea made a Prisoner - Siege of Samaria - Account of it in the Assyrian Inscriptions - Accession of Sargon - Capture of Samaria - Deportation of Israel - Localities of their Exile - The new Colonists of Samaria and their Religion - Lessons of this History.
(2 KINGS 17)
THERE is a strange Jewish tradition to the effect that from the time when Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were deported, the observance of Jubilee years ceased* (Arakh. 32 b; Fer. Shebh. 39 c; Fer. Gitt. 45 d).
* That is, as of Biblical institution; not, as afterwards, of Rabbinic ordinance.
Whatever of truth there may be in this notice, other peculiarities connected with this period are of such interest and importance in this history, alike retrospectively and prospectively, that we group them together in an orderly form before proceeding with our narrative.*
* In the following summary we are largely following Caspari, Uber d. Syr. Ephraem. Krieg, pp. 1-27.
When we turn to the first and most prominent factor in this history, Israel, we are impressed with this, that now, for the first time since the separation of the brother-nations, the northern kingdom had entered into a formal league against Judah with a heathen nation, and that its hereditary foe, Syria. And the significance of this fact deepens as we remember that the final object was not merely to conquer Judah, but to dethrone the house of David, and substitute for it a Syrian, presumably a heathen ruler. So forgetful had Israel become of its great hope, and of the very meaning of its national existence. For the first time also, at least in the Biblical record, does the Assyrian power now appear on the scene of Palestine, first to be bought off by Menahem (2 Kings 15:19, 20); then to be invoked by Ahaz, with the result of rendering Judah tributary, and finally of overthrowing Israel.
When we pass from Israel to Judah, we find that the country had now attained a state of national prosperity greater even than in the time of Solomon. But in its train had come luxury, vice, idolatry, and heathen thoughts and manners, to the utter corruption of the people. In vain did the prophets call to repentance (Joel 2:12-14; Isaiah 1:2-9, 16-20); in vain did they speak of nearing judgment (Micah 2:3; Isaiah 1:24; 3:1-8; 3:16- 4:1:5:5-to end); in vain seek to woo by promises of mercy (Micah 4:1-5; Isaiah 2:2-5). Priests and people boasted in an outward and formal observance of ritual ordinances, as if these were the substance of religion, and in this trust set lightly by the warning of the prophets (Isaiah 1:11- 15). In their overweening confidence as to the present, and their worldly policy as regarded the future, they brought on themselves the very evils which had been predicted, but from which they had deemed themselves secure. And so it came that a people who would not turn to their God while they might, had in the end this as their judgment of hardening, that they could no longer turn to Him (Isaiah 6:9-13).
Indeed, Judah had so declined that not only idolatry of every kind, but even the service of Molech - nay, witchcraft and necromancy, expressly denounced in the law (Deuteronomy 18:10-13), were openly practiced in the land (Isaiah 8:19). The Divine punishment of all this has already appeared in the preceding history. For if, at the beginning of the reign of Ahaz, Judah had attained its highest state of prosperity, it had sunk at its close to the lowest level yet reached. In truth all the three nations engaged in the war described in the previous chapter received meet punishment. The continuance of the northern kingdom was now only a question of time, and the exile of Israel had actually begun. Judah had become dependent on Assyria, and henceforth was only able fitfully and for brief periods to shake off its yoke, till it finally shared the fate of its sister-kingdom. Lastly, Syria ceased to exist as an independent power, and became a province of Assyria.
But in the history of the kingdom of God every movement is also a step towards the great goal, and all judgment becomes larger mercy. So was it on this occasion also. Henceforth the whole historical scene was changed. The prophetic horizon had enlarged. The falling away of Israel had become already initially the life of the world. The fullest predictions of the Person and work of the Messiah and of His universal kingdom date from this period. Even the new relations of Israel formed the basis for wider conceptions and spiritual progression. Those petty wars with Syria, Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia, which had filled the previous history, now ceased to be factors in it, and Israel found itself face to face with the great world-power. This contact gave new form and shape to the idea of a universal kingdom of God, wide as the world, which had hitherto only been presented in dim outline, and of which only the germ had existed in the religious consciousness of the people. Thus in every respect this was the beginning of a new era, an era of judgment indeed, but also of larger mercy; an era of new development in the history of the kingdom of God; a type also of the final hardening of Israel in the rejection of their Messiah, and of the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
Hoshea, the son of Elah, the last king of Israel, ascended the throne in the twelfth year of Ahaz, king of Judah. His reign extended, at least nominally, over nine years (2 Kings 17:1). Of its religious character we have this brief notice, that "he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him." In the absence of details, we can only conjecture that this indicates decrease in the former active opposition to the worship of Jehovah. This seems implied in the circumstance that apparently no official hindrance was offered to the later invitation of Hezekiah to attend the Passover in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:1-12). The Talmud has it that after the deportation of the golden calves to Assyria (Hosea 10:5, 6), Hoshea had abolished the military posts which since the time of Jeroboam 1. had been set to prevent Israelites from going up to the feasts at Jerusalem (Gitt. 88 a; Babh. Q. 121 b; comp. Seder O1. R. 22). Tiglath-pileser died probably five years after Ahaz had "met" him in Damascus. He was followed on the throne by Shalmaneser IV.*
* On the Assyrian inscriptions: "Salmanu-ussir" (Salman [a god] be merciful!); Hoshea on the Assyrian inscriptions: A-u-si'.
Although special records and inscriptions of his reign do not exist, we learn from fragmentary notices that in the third year of his reign the Assyrian monarch undertook expeditions against the west - presumably Phoenicia and Israel. Further light. comes to us from Josephus (Ant 9. 14, 2), who reproduces an extract from the historical work of Menander, itself derived from the Tyrian archives. Thence we learn that the Assyrian king invaded Phoenicia, and on the same occasion no doubt also Samaria, which was in league with it. As Shalmaneser was not a successful leader, we can easily understand that the allies may have cherished a hope that the heavy yoke of Assyria might be shaken off. But on the appearance of Shalmaneser Hoshea had to submit - in the language of Scripture, he "became his servant and rendered him tribute"* (2 Kings 17:3).
* Literally, a "present," hjnm here, as in other places, a euphemistic mode of expression for "tribute."
Similarly, according to the Tyrian annals, most of the Phoenician cities seem to have surrendered or made terms with him, with the exception of Tyre, which held out for five years, and was only taken by Sargon, the successor of Shalmaneser. It is probably to this that the prophecy in Isaiah 23: refers.* The Tyrian annals, and even the Assyrian inscriptions, mutilated as they are, lead us to regard this campaign as consisting of several expeditions into Phoenicia. This renders it difficult to know at what precise period the first submission of Hoshea was made.
* Some critics have referred it to the later conquest by Nebuchadnezzar. On the supposed incompatibility of our view with Isaiah 23:13, see Cheyne, Prophecies of Isaiah, vol. 1, pp. 132.
It seems likely that the protracted resistance offered by Tyre may have encouraged the hope that Shalmaneser might after all prove unsuccessful against a powerful combination. Accordingly, Hoshea entered into negotiations with Seve,* "the king of Egypt."
* The Massoretic pointing So seems incorrect; the proper reading would be Seve or Sava. By the Greeks he is called Sabakon (Sevechus); on the monuments Shabaka, the last syllable being perhaps an Ethiopic end-syllable. On the cuneiform inscriptions he is called Shabi-'i. Comp. Ebers in Riehm's Hand-Worterb. 2. p. 1505, b.
The king of Israel had good reason for looking hopefully to an alliance with this monarch. He was the first Pharaoh of the twenty-fifth Ethiopian dynasty. Under him Egypt, which before had been pressed in the north by the Assyrians and in the south by the Ethiopians, and suffered from internal dissensions, became strong, peaceful, and independent. This is not the place for details of a reign which was not only signally beneficial to his country, but elevated in character. Seve was too wise a monarch to be persuaded by the ambassadors, or seduced by the "presents" which Hoshea sent, into an active alliance with Israel against Assyria.* The attempted "conspiracy"** became known to Shalmaneser. He turned against Hoshea, who in the meantime had ceased to pay his tribute, seized and cast him into prison (2 Kings 17:4).
* Unfortunately for Egypt, it did, at a later period, enter into an alliance against Assyria. The defeat and humiliation of Egypt are referred to in Isaiah 20:1. Probably the prophecy in Isaiah 19 refers to the same subject. For the history of the Assyrian victories see Schrader (u.s., pp. 392), who also gives (pp. 402-405) an abstract of the events of 15 out of the I7 years of the reign of Sargon. We only add, that on the Assyrian monument Seve is designated as "Sultan," or prince, not as "Pharaoh," king of Egypt (Schrader u.s.; p. 270).
** Some critics, however, propose to read for (...), "conspiracy," (...) , "falsehood."
The further progress of this war is only briefly summarized in the Biblical record (2 Kings 17:5, 6), which is chiefly concerned with the issue of the struggle, and its spiritual import and lessons. It only relates that the siege of Samaria lasted three years; that at the end of them - that is, in the ninth (or last) year of Hoshea - the city was taken; and, lastly, that "Israel" was "carried away" to certain places which are mentioned. Happily, the Assyrian inscriptions enable us to fill up this bare outline. From them we learn that after the siege of Samaria had continued about two years, Shalmaneser was succeeded by Sargon, who took the city (after a siege of altogether three years) in the first year of his reign - that is, in the year 722 B.C.*
* Alike Biblical and Assyrian chronology lead up to the year 722 or 72I B.C. as that of the taking of Samaria.
Strictly speaking, the sacred text does not expressly attribute the capture of Samaria to Shalmaneser himself (comp. 2 Kings 17:6; 18:10, 11),* although Sargon is not mentioned.
* It must, however, be admitted that the argument for the reading (...) "and he took it," (2 Kings 18:10) for (...) "they took it," has great weight.
And for this silence, or even the ascription of this campaign wholly to Shalmaneser, there may be reasons, unknown to us, connected with the relation between Sargon and Shalmaneser, and the part which the former may have taken in the military operations or the conduct of the siege. Certain it is that Sargon was not the son of Shalmaneser, although apparently of princely descent - perhaps the scion of a collateral branch of the royal family. Nor do we know the circumstances of his accession - possibly in consequence of a revolution, easily accounted for by dissatisfaction with the king's failure both before Tyre and Samaria. In any case, the inscriptions distinctly inform us that Sargon captured Samaria, led away 27,280 of its inhabitants, took fifty chariots, leaving his subordinates to take the rest of the property found in the city, and appointing a governor, with the same tribute as Hoshea had paid.
Similarly, the Biblical account of the deportation of Israel into exile is supplemented and confirmed by the Assyrian records. The places to which they were carried are not indeed enumerated in the Assyrian inscriptions, but their location can mostly be ascertained. "Halah" (or rather "Chalah"), the first place mentioned in 2 Kings 17:6, was, judging from its conjunction with "the river Chabor" and with "Gozan" (comp. 1 Chronicles 5:26), a district contiguous to them, called Chalcitis, where a mound called Gla may represent the city.* There cannot be any doubt in regard to the other localities to which the Israelites were carried. They were "placed" "on the Chabor, the river of Gozan,** and in the cities of the Medes."
* Comp. Canon Rawlinson, in the Speaker's Comment. ad loc.
** Some writers, however, have regarded this "Chabor" as representing not the well-known river, but a smaller affluent of the Tigris, north of Nineveh. Similarly, it has been maintained that the right rendering would be "the river Gozan," a river flowing into the Caspian Sea. Thus, while all writers are approximately at one as to the general direction of the place of exile, there are sufficient divergences to make the precise district and localities matter of controversy.
"Gozan" - Gausanitis - the Assyrian Gu-za-nu, is a district in Mesopotamia traversed by the Chabor (Ass., Ha-bur), the "great" river, with "verdant banks," which springs near Nisibis, and is navigable long before it drains the waters of Gozan into the Euphrates. The last district mentioned lies east of the others. "Media" is the province stretching east of the Zagros Mountains, and north to the Caspian Sea, or rather to the Elbur mountain-chain, which runs parallel to its southern shore. Its "cities" had only lately been overrun by the Assyrian conqueror. In them the legendary book of Tobit still places these exiles* (Tobit 1:14; 3:7).
* But the supposition that the birthplace of the prophet Nahum was the Elkosh not far from Nineveh, and on the left bank of the Tigris, is at least unproved.
The account of the Ten Tribes by Josephus adds little to our knowledge. He describes them as "an immense multitude, not to be estimated by numbers," and as located "beyond the Euphrates" (Ant. 11. 5, 2). Equally, if not even more vague, are the later references to them in 4 Esdras, and in Rabbinic writings.* From all this we may infer that there was no longer any reliable historical information on the subject.
* See the quotations as to the fate of the Ten Tribes in Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, i. pp. 14-16.
On another point, however, we have important information. We know that with these exiles went their priests (2 Kings 17:27), although not of Levitical descent (2 Chronicles 11:14). Thus the strange mixture of the service of the Lord and foreign rites must have continued. In the course of time the heathen elements would naturally multiply and assume greater prominence, unless, indeed, the people learned repentance by national trials, or from higher teaching. Of this there is not any evidence in the case of Israel; and if the footsteps of these wanderers shall ever be clearly tracked, we expect to find them with a religion composed of various rites, but prevailingly heathen, yet with memories of their historical past in traditions, observances, and customs, as well as in names, and bearing the marks of it even in their outward appearance.
On yet another point does the testimony of the Assyrian records confirm the Biblical narrative. From the inscriptions we learn that Sargon transported to Samaria, in room of the exiled Israelites, inhabitants of countries conquered by him. And when in 2 Kings 17:24 we read that these new colonists were "brought from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim," we recognize the names of places which, according to the Assyrian inscriptions, were conquered by Sargon, and whence, as was his wont, he deported the inhabitants.*
* It has, we think, been fully established that the deportation mentioned in 2 Kings 17:24 was that made by Sargon, and not the later one by Esar-haddon (Ezra 4:2).
From the inscriptions we further learn that these transportations were successive, and that even the earliest of them did not take place immediately on the removal of the Israelites. Thus we understand how lions, so numerous in Palestine at one time, but gradually diminished with the growth of the population, once more increased among the scanty and scattered settlers. The sacred historian recognizes in this the hand of the LORD.*
* At the same time, the rendering of 2 Kings 17:25, 26, in the A.V. is not correct. Instead of "therefore the Lord sent lions among them," it should simply be, "and the Lord sent lions amongst them." Nor should the attribution of things to God be always pressed in its strictly literal sense. Sometimes it is even an Oriental mode of expression. Comp. 2 Chronicles 35:21.
And rightly so, since all who are in sympathy with things Divine must by the spiritual instinct of their new nature rise to the recognition of Him Who ruleth, and of Whose government and purposes all events are the unbidden means, and all men the unconscious, yet free, agents. But especially do we mark this realization of the eternal Presence of the living God as the distinguishing characteristic of Old Testament teaching, whose first and last utterance it is- "Jehovah reigneth."
But we have more than merely a general confirmation of the Biblical account. From the Assyrian records we learn that in the first year after his accession Sargon vanquished Merodach-Baladan of Babylon, and deported of the people to "Chatti," which is the designation for Syro-Palestine, inclusive of Samaria. Again, the Biblical expression "Babylon" includes besides the capital other cities of Babylon, and transportations from some of them to "the land of Beth Omri," or Samaria, are expressly recorded.
According to the inscriptions, these took place not only in the first but in other years, notably in the seventh after the accession of Sargon and the taking of Samaria. Among the cities mentioned as furnishing colonists, "Cuthah," which has been re-discovered in the modern Tell-Ibrahim, lay about fifteen miles north-east of Babylon. "Ava" has not yet been identified. Sepharvaim, or "the twin Sipar" (Sipphara), so called because the city was built on both banks of the Euphrates, has been recognized in the ruins of Abu-Habba, about twenty miles north of Babylon, where the celebrated Temple of the Sun has been laid bare. Lastly, Hamath is the well-known Syrian city which rebelled against Assyria under a king Jahubi'd, who was vanquished in the battle of Karkar, when Hamath was taken, and its people deported. The other cities mentioned in Scripture were conquered by Sargon at a later period, in his final wars against Merodach-Baladan, in the twelfth and thirteenth years after his accession (7I0, 709 B.C.).* Hence the transportation of their inhabitants to Samaria must have been as many years after the taking of the capital of Israel.
* Sargon dates his first year as "king of Babylon in 709."
As the sacred text informs us (2 Kings 17:25-33), the new colonists brought with them the worship of their national deities. Among these, "Succoth-benoth"* - mentioned as the deity of "the men of Babylon" - is probably a corruption** of the name of the well-known Babylonian goddess, Zir-banit,*** "She who gives seed [posterity]."
* In the LXX. (...).
** Or perhaps a paraphrastic interpretation, with intention of similarity of sound in the words used. Thus the Hebrew name means "tents of daughters;" the Assyrian Zir-banit, "the giver of seed."
*** The wife of the god Merodach, and with him, next to Bel and Beltis, a favorite object of worship.
As the god of Cuth, "Nergal" is mentioned, and this is confirmed by the Assyrian inscriptions. Nergal seems to have been the lion-god represented by the colossal winged lions at the entrance to the palaces.* Concerning "Ashima," the deity of Hamath, and Nibhaz and Tartak, the gods of the Avites, we possess not any definite information. On the other hand, "Adrammelech" ["Adar is king"] and Anammelech ["Anu is king"], the gods of Sepharvaim, represent well-known Assyrian deities. Adar (originally A-tar) means "father of decision."**
* Comp. Schrader, u.s., p. 283.
** This god is also named Kevan, "the firm one," identified with Satura, hence Saturn - Kronos - Hercules.
In the inscriptions this god bears among others the designation of "lord of fire," which accords with the Biblical notice that the worshippers "burnt" to him "their children in fire." He is represented as a winged bull, with human head and a man's face. Anu was represented as a man clothed in the skin of a fish, culminating in a tiara. After the two supreme gods, Il and Asur, he occupied the first rank in the Triad [Anu, Bel, Nisroch]. He is also described as "the good god," and as "lord of the night." His female counterpart bore the name Anat or, Anatuv.*
* The name of Anat or Anath seems to appear as a compound in some names of places mentioned in the Old Testament (although certainly not in Anathoth nor Anathothyah).
The perils which the new settlers experienced from the increase of wild beasts, which, in true heathen manner, they ascribed to their ignorance of "the manner of the God of the land," led to an appeal to the king. Entering into their views, Sargon dispatched to Samaria one of the priests who had accompanied Israel into exile. He settled in Bethel, the traditional metropolis of Israelitish worship, such as Jeroboam I. had remodeled it. And it was this corrupt form of Jehovah worship which he taught the new settlers. The result was a mixture of Israelitish truths, traditions, and corruptions, with the pagan rites which they had brought with them. Thus their new religion bore a strange similarity to the mixed new, partly Israelitish, partly foreign, population. And such, according to the writer of the Book of Kings, continued substantially the character of the religion of Samaria to his own days.
Yet another transportation of foreign colonists to Samaria seems to have taken place in the reign of Esar-haddon, or rather of his son - possibly in consequence of an attempted rising on the part of the Israelitish population (comp. Ezra 4:2, 10). But what most deeply impresses us in the Biblical narrative of these events is the spirit and manner in which at the close of Israel's national history the writer passes in review the leading characteristics. The Divine calling of Israel; their defection, rapidly growing into open idolatry; the warnings of the prophets sent to them, and their neglect; the hardening of heart, leading up to the utmost corruption in religion, morals, and life - such, with a brief reflection on Judah's kindred guilt and danger, is the summary presented to us of this history in its spiritual aspect. Scarcely on any other occasion does the sacred writer allow himself reflections of this kind. But they are appropriate, and almost needful, at the close of a history which relates events in their bearing on the kingdom of God, and views Israel as a nation called to be the servants and the messengers of the Lord. They explain the inner meaning of God's dealings in the past, and the deeper causes of a rejection and an exile which cannot end till Israel and Judah, no longer hostile nor separate, shall in one common repentance turn to seek Jehovah their God and the Son of David their King.