The Assyrian Invasion: a companion to the 4/8/2015 lesson

The youth lesson for 4/8/2015 looked at quite a bit of material, so I thought it proper to back up one of the statements that I made in that lesson; that being that God's miraculous delivery of Judah was a historically verifiable event.

First, the Assyrian empire was truly a force to behold (they actually invented combat boots) and they did indeed destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  They laid waste to the Southern kingdom of Judah as well and captured many fortified locations; they obliterated the rural village and agricultural areas of the region (the Shephelah) as well.  Following that destruction, the Assyrian armies encircled the city of Jerusalem.  What happened next gets a little complicated. 

The king of Judah at that time was Hezekiah.  Hezekiah was one of the better kings in the Bible and foresaw the Assyrian horde before it became an immediate danger.  As such, he had measures taken to strengthen the position of Jerusalem.  An example of this is "Hezekiah's Tunnel", a long passage chiseled under the city, to a fresh water source (specifically the pool of Siloam) to help the city better withstand a lengthy siege (the tunnel still exists, and can be toured even today).  Jerusalem was also bolstered a bit by refugees from the Northern kingdom of Israel fleeing the Assyrian onslaught.  Regardless, the Assyrians did eventually come to take Jerusalem. 

While I won't quote all the Bible passages pertaining to this event, suffice it to say that Jerusalem was surrounded with little hope...twice.  The first time, Hezekiah was able to save the city by paying the Assyrian's a huge ransom...even going so far as to strip the gold plating from the door of Solomon's Temple (2 Kings 18:14-16) .  The Assyrians returned about 14 years later, and laid siege to the city once again.  God intervened however, and an angel struck the Assyrian army with a plague that killed many.  This seems to have made the Assyrian army go back home to Nineveh.  By all accounts this was a miraculous thing.  Even though the Assyrians would have certainly been weakened by losing so many soldiers to a plague, they could have easily captured the war-weary and besieged Jerusalem. 

Some historians believe that Sennacherib, the King of Assyria during both sieges, was actually forced to take his army back to Nineveh because he was facing political pressures at home.  While there is likely a kernel of truth to this argument, it would hardly be necessary to withdraw an entire expeditionary force for that reason alone.  Luckily, we can turn to a non-biblical source to offer support of something miraculous occurring. 

The Assyrian empire left many archaeological tidbits, inscriptions, and other such things lying about to be found by history.  One of these was the "Annals of Sennacherib".  Inscribed on 3 clay prisms, the "Annals" are essentially a boastful history of Sennacherib's conquests and victories.  On one, the following is found:

"Because Hezekiah of Judah did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to forty-six of his fortified cities, walled forts, and to the countless villages in their vicinity.  I conquered them using earthen ramps and battering rams.  These siege engines were supported by infantry who tunneled under the walls.  I took 200,150 prisoners of war, young and old, male and female, from these places...I imprisoned Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage...I reduced the land of Hezekiah in this campaign, and I also increased Hezekiah's annual tribute payments." 

So how does this support a miracle?  Firstly, note how matter-of-fact Sennacherib is in retelling how he took over so much.  Ramps and battering rams were rather essential aspects of ancient conquest and they are hardly worthy of mentioning.  However, no ancient king would ever want to brag about defeat...let alone a plague reducing his army.  Thus, we are able to garner support for the Bible's miracle by simple evidence of omission from the Assyrian king.  What's more, if he truly had encircled Jerusalem as he said he had...why wouldn't he take it?  Solomon's temple was still a noted and glorious building that any king would be proud to say he conquered.  Yet, Sennacherib can only say that he surrounded Hezekiah.  The final brag about increasing tribute is the only actual accomplishment Sennacherib made...simply reducing the holdings of Hezekiah would be meaningless as Hezekiah and the nation of Judah itself were tiny compared to Assyria, and were certainly not a threat.  It would be akin to the United States bragging about reducing the military capabilities of Ethiopia...what would be the point?  At any rate, God seems to have acted somehow on the Jew's behalf and delivered them from calamity, just like he did during the Exodus, and just like he would act later on behalf of all through Jesus.

Eventually, new invaders came from Babylon and did indeed destroy Jerusalem.  They shipped the elites of the Jews off to Babylon where they tried to make them assimilate into Babylonian culture and society.  That is where the book of Daniel picks up, and where the youth lesson from 4/8/2015 hearkens back to.  The Jews were flabbergasted when Jerusalem was captured, as following the events of the Assyrian campaign, they believed God would always protect Jerusalem personally from invaders.