I’ve been reading about the Assyrians, the people who had a much longer history than I had realized. And it’s a history that extends long before their highlight in the Bible and also long after their defeat and absorption into the Babylonian empire. If you’re not familiar with them, these were the people who defeated and destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel (roughly 722 B.C.) and then laid siege to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, where Hezekiah was king.
The people of the Near East certainly knew who they were – their reputation preceded them. Their capital was Nineveh, where Jonah was told by the Lord to go preach. Jonah didn’t ask for details; he fled, and for a very interesting reason. He knew the Lord would forgive them if they repented. He obviously didn’t want them to repent; he would have preferred to see them destroyed.
Their reputation? One article I read referred to them as the “Lords of the Massacre.”
If you opposed their expansion plans and were actually foolish enough to fight them, they would execute your soldiers after they defeated them. And the Assyrians were known for not losing.
Cities would be sacked and destroyed. The inhabitants, including children, would be beheaded and their heads placed on the city walls, or hung on trees like ornaments. Wealthy people and nobles might be packed off to slavery in Nineveh or elsewhere. The king would be executed. Women were automatically enslaved, with all that entailed.
This is what happened in the Northern Kingdom, its people (10 of the 12 tribes of Israel) killed or dispersed forever.
This is what Hezekiah and Judah faced – the most bloodthirsty and vicious army of its day or almost any day.
Hezekiah was one of the “good kings” of Judah, the Bible says. He followed the Lord. He was a reforming king. And when the Assyrians threatened, all thoughts of depending upon the Lord left his mind and he turned immediately to the Egyptians for alliance and support. That worked so well that the Assyrians surrounded and besieged Jerusalem, with no Egyptians anywhere to be found.
Hezekiah and Jerusalem knew what was coming. It was then that Hezekiah turned to the Lord, and the Lord responded. A plague broke out in the Assyrian army, killing more than 100,000 soldiers right at the walls of Jerusalem. What was left of the much vaunted army limped back to Nineveh. Jerusalem and Judah were saved – at least for another 125 years until the Babylonians arrived.
In The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge recounts the basic facts of the Assyrians (without the gory details) and asks a rather startling question: who, or what, are the Assyrians in your life? Who, or what, fills with such fear or insecurity that you immediately turn to the wrong things for help? It is financial problems? Family issues? Your boss? (I identified with that one; I can safely say that because I haven’t had one since September.) Or might it be the threat of unemployment and layoffs, or the bully at church or school who has picked you out.
The fact is that we all have Assyrians in our lives, the people of things who strike right at our basic insecurities. And the temptation is also to run almost anywhere else except to where we should turn first.
We’ve been reading The Fire of Delayed Answers as part of an online discussion group. To see more posts on this chapter, “The Assyrians Are Coming,” please visit Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact.
Illustration: a painting of the siege of Samaria by the Assyrians.