Isaiah 10 – Assyria to be Destroyed & The Annals of Sargon II

When are You going to destroy Assyria?  And are You going to destroy Israel finally or save them like You always do?

1 Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;

“Woe” – the series of woes in 5:8-23.

King Sennacherib
Sennacherib (reigned 705-681 BCE) was the second king of the Sargonid Dynasty of Assyria (founded by his father Sargon II). He is one of the most famous Assyrian kings owing to the part he plays in narratives in the biblical Old Testament (II Kings, II Chronicles, and Isaiah) and, since the 19th century CE, from the poem “The Destruction of Sennacherib” by the English poet Lord Byron. He is also known as the second Assyrian king to have sacked Babylon’s temples and been assassinated for his affront to the gods (the first king being Tukulti-Ninurta I in c. 1225 BCE).

Sennacherib abandoned his father’s new city of Dur-Sharrukin and moved the capital to Nineveh, which he handsomely restored. The famous Hanging Gardens, which traditionally have been attributed to Babylon, are now thought by some scholars to have actually been Sennacherib’s creation at Nineveh. His reign was marked largely by his campaigns against Babylon and the revolts against Assyrian rule led by a tribal chief named Merodach-Baladan. After sacking Babylon, he was assassinated by his sons.

2 To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!

3 And what will ye do in the day of visitation, and in the desolation which shall come from far? To whom will ye flee for help?  And where will ye leave your glory?

4 Without me they shall bow down under the prisoners, and they shall fall under the slain. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

“Prisoners…slain” – Jer 39:6-7 similarly describes the plight of Judah’s rulers when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in 586 B.C.

O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.

“Rod…staff” – See 9:4 and note.  Babylon also was a hammer or club used by God to punish other nations (Jer 50:23, 51:20; Hab 1:6).

6 I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

“Hypocritical nations” – Lit. “a godless nation” referring to Judah (se v 10).`

“Spoil…prey” – the last part of the fulfillment symbolized by Maher-shadal-hash-baz  (“spoil” here is the translation of Hebrew shalalI and “prey” is the translation of baz).

Hama (ancient Hamath). Part of 17 ancient wooden norias (1100 BC) on Orontes River used for watering the gardens

7 Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.

“Calno” – a region in northern Aram (Syria).  See Calneh in Amos 6:2.

“Carchemish” – the great fortress on the Euphrates River east  of Calno (see Jer 46:2).

“Hamath” – a city on the Orontes River that marked the northern extent of Solomon’s rule (2 Chr 8:4).

“Arpad” – a city near Hamath and just south of Calno.  All these areas submitted to Assyria by c. 717 B.C. (see 36:19).

8 For he saith, Are not my princes altogether kings?

9 Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad?  Is not Samaria as Damascus?

10 As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria;

Ashdod
Ashdod is located in the Southern District of Israel on the Mediterranean Sea coast, is a city of over 200,000 people located approximately 43.5 miles (70 km) from Jerusalem and Beer Sheba. Ashdod is an important regional industrial center. The Port of Ashdod is Israel’s largest port, and is southern Israel’s only outlet to the Mediterranean. The artificial port, enclosed by breakwaters, accounts for 60 percent of the country’s imported goods, while much of the country’s citrus crop is exported through it.

The first documented settlement in Ashdod dates to the Canaanite culture of seventeenth century B.C.E., making the city one of the most ancient in the world. During the city’s history it was settled by Philistines, Israelites, Byzantines, Crusaders and Arabs.

“Images…of Jerusalem and of Samaria” – no Israelite was supposed to worship idols, but the land was full of them (2:8).  Samaria fell to Shalmaneser V (2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Sargon II in 722-721 B.C.

11 Shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?

12 Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.

“Stout heart” – or “arrogant heart.”  Judgment against the proud was announced in 2:11, 17.  The Lord uses even pagan kings and nations to carry out His purposes but also holds them accountable for their cruel and wicked behavior.  Some would say that isn’t fair because God uses them to do what He wants and then punishes them for doing what He says, but God doesn’t change your heart unless you ask Him to do so.  These people were wicked and evil so He just used them for His benefit. 

13 For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man:

14 And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.

Lamassu
Lamassu is an Assyrian protective deity, often depicted as having a human head, the body of a bull or a lion, and bird wings. In some writings, it is portrayed to represent a female deity. A less frequently used name is shedu , which refers to the male counterpart of a lamassu. Lammasu represent the zodiacs, parent-stars or constellation.

In art, lamassu were depicted as hybrids, with bodies of either winged bulls or lions and heads of human males. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East, first recorded in Ebla around 3000 BCE. The first distinct lamassu motif appeared in Assyria during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser II as a symbol of power.

Assyrian sculpture typically placed prominent pairs of lamassu at entrances in palaces, facing the street and also internal courtyards. They were represented as “double-aspect” figures on corners, in high relief.

From the front they appear to stand, and from the side, walk, and in earlier versions have five legs, as is apparent when viewed obliquely. Lumasi do not generally appear as large figures in the low-relief schemes running round palace rooms, where winged genie figures are common, but they sometimes appear within narrative reliefs, apparently protecting the Assyrians.

15 Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood.

16 Therefore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones leanness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire.

“Fat ones” – the mighty warriors of the Assyrian army.

“Leanness” – when the angel put to death 185,000 soldiers of the Assyrian king Sennacherib in 701 B.C., He may have used a rapidly spreading plague.

17 And the light of Israel shall be for a fire, and his Holy One for a flame: and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day;

18 And shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body: and they shall be as when a standard bearer fainteth.

19 And the rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them.

“Forest” – reference to the Assyrian army (see vv 33-34).

Probably fulfilled between 612 B.C. (fall of Nineveh) and 605 (battle of Charchemish).

20  And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.

“In that day” – the day of victory and joy, the positive aspect of the “day of the LORD”.  Israel is restored and people praise God.  Character 11 connects this “day” with the Messianic age (see 11:10-11 and 12:1, 4).

Two Princes at Khorsabad Palace, Court VIII
Reign of Sargon II, 721-705 B.C.E.
Limestone – 2.492 M X 3.22 M
Excavated by the Oriental Institute, 1928-9
King Sargon II’s palace wall reliefs are huge. The smooth faces of the court officials denote they were eunuchs, (probably not an ‘elective’ surgery!)

An ancient controversy, one formerly bearded and virile prince had his beard and special crown carved away in ancient times. Perhaps he was demoted from even being considered for kingship.

21 The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.

“Remnant” – “the remnants shall return” was the name of Isaiah’s first son.  A faithful remnant led by Hezekiah survived the Assyrian invasion of 701 B.C. (see 37:4).  Later, a remnant returned from Babylonian exile.

22 For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.

“Consumption decreed” – because of Israel’s sin, God would punish the nation through foreign invaders.

“Shall overflow with righteousness” – God’s judgment of His sinful people is perfectly just.

23 For the Lord GOD of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land.

24  Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD of hosts, O my people that dwellest in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt.

25 For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction.

26 And the LORD of hosts shall stir up a scourge for him according to the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb: and as his rod was upon the sea, so shall he lift it up after the manner of Egypt.

Shalmaneser V
Shalmaneser V was king of Assyria from 727 to 722 BC. He first appears as governor of Zimirra in Phoenicia in the reign of his father, Tiglath-Pileser III. Evidence pertaining to his reign is scarce.

On the death of Tiglath-Pileser, he succeeded to the throne of Assyria on the 25th day of Tebet 727 BC, and changed his original name of Ululayu to the Akkadian name he is known by. While it has been suggested that he continued to use Ululayu for his throne name as king of Babylonia, this has not been found in any authentic official sources.

The name Shalmaneser is used for him in the Bible, which attributes to him the final conquest of the kingdom of Samaria (Israel) and the deportation of Israelites. According to 2 Kings, chapters 17-18, Shalmaneser accused Hoshea, King of Israel, of conspiring against him by sending messages to Pharaoh Osorkon IV of Egypt, and captured him.

The Egyptians attempted to gain a foothold in Israel, then held largely by Assyria’s vassal kings, by stirring them to revolt against Assyria and lending them some military support. After three years of siege he took the city of Samaria.

The populations he deported to various lands of the empire, (together with ones deported about ten years earlier by Tiglath-Pileser III) are known as the “Ten Lost Tribes” of Israel. The populations he settled in Samaria instead form the origins of the Samaritans, according to a commentary in the Bible. Shalmaneser died in the same year, 722 BC, and it is possible

“Oreb” – one of the Midianite leaders (Judg 7:25).

“The sea…of Egypt” – when Moses stretched out his hand over the Red Sea the waters engulfed the chariots of Pharaoh (see Ex 14:26-28).

27 And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

“Anointing” – the Hebrew reads “fatness” here.  The idea is that like a sturdy animal, Israel is able to break off the yoke of oppression.

28 He is come to Aiath, he is passed to Migron; at Michmash he hath laid up his carriages:

As if seeing a vision, Isaiah describes the approach of the Assyrian army to Jerusalem from about 10 miles north of the city.

“Michmash” – located about seven miles north of Jerusalem.

29 They are gone over the passage: they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramah is afraid; Gibeah of Saul is fled.

“Ramah” – the home of Samuel, about five miles from Jerusalem (1 Sam 7:17).

“Gibeah of Saul” – about three miles from Jerusalem.  It had been the capital of Israel’s first king (see 1 Sam 10:26).

30 Lift up thy voice, O daughter of Gallim: cause it to be heard unto Laish, O poor Anathoth.

“Poor Anathoth” – the prophet Jeremiah’s hometown (see Jer 1:1).

31 Madmenah is removed; the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee.

32 As yet shall he remain at Nob that day: he shall shake his hand against the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem.

“Nob” – perhaps on present-day mount Scopus, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

“Daughter of Zion” – a personification of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.

33 Behold, the Lord, the LORD of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror: and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled.

“Bough…high ones of stature” – Sennacherib and his armies will fall (see vv 16-19) in spite of their impressive military strength.

34 And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one.

The Annals of Sargon II

The siege and destruction of Samaria are contributed in the Bible to Shal-aneser V (727-722 B.C., 2 Kgs 17:1-6)

Battle of Michmash
The Battle of Michmash was fought between Israelites under Jonathan, son of King Saul and a force of Phillistines at Michmash, a town east of Bethel and south of MigronSaul’s army consisted entirely from infantry, about 3,000 soldiers and 1,000 militia men.

Phillistine army strength is estimated at about 4,600 men, consisting of 3,000 infantry soldiers and 180-200 special hamashhith units. Each hamashhith was composed of a chariot carrying 3-4 men with javelins, swords and spears and three squads of infantry runners, 4-men each.

Since the Assyrian king died in the same years as Samaria’s capitulation, however, the deportation of the city’s inhabitants and its resettlement with foreigners were most likely carried out by Shalmaneser’s successor, Sargon II (722-705 B.C.).

Prior to 1847,  “Sargon king of Assyria” was known only from Isaiah 20:1.  Since his name didn’t appear in classical sources, scholars concluded that the Sargon of the Bible was not a bona fide king but rather an alias for some other Assyrian ruler.

Ironically however, Sargon was the first name of an Assyrian king to be deciphered from Assyrian inscriptions when in 1847 his vast palace of more than 200 rooms and 30 courtyards was excavated at Khorsabad in northern Iraq.

The excavations also revealed reliefs and inscriptions on walls comprising the  annals of this Assyrian king.  Now, thanks to the discoveries of archaeology, we now know much about Sargon and the other kings of the Assyrian Empire.

Sargon II ruled from 721-705 B.C.  He was probably a usurper without rightful claim to the throne; thus he dubbed himself “Sargon,” which literally means “The king is legitimate,” a name recalling Sargon I, a great Assyrian king of antiquity.

His usurpation of the throne led to such intense internal discord that outlying regions took the opportunity to reassert their independence from their overlords.  The king of Hamath led a rebellion in the west that included the cities of Arpad, Damascus, and Samaria.

Sargon II
Sargon II Aramaic, reigned 722–705 BC) was an Assyrian king. A son of Tiglath-Pileser III, he came to power relatively late in life, possibly by usurping the throne from his older brother, Shalmaneser V.

Sargon II suppressed rebellions, conquered the Kingdom of Israel, and, in 710 BC, conquered the Kingdom of Babylon, thus reuniting Assyria with its southern rival, Babylonia, from which it had been separate since after the death of Hammurabi in 1750 BC.

The Neo-Assyrian pronunciation of the name was presumably mentioned in Isaiah 20:1. The regnal number is modern, applied for disambiguation from the Old Assyrian king Sargon I and the still-older Akkadian ruler Sargon the Elder.

Sargon II quickly responded, conquering the insurgents at the Battle of Qarqar in 720 B.C.  He then proceeded south to Egypt, marching through the territories of Israel and Judah along the way.

Sargon II campaigned in the region of Canaan three times (720, 716/715 and 712/711 B.C.), in the process turning Israel into an Assyrian province and Judah into a vassal state.

Sargon II’s Palace Dur-Sharrukin.
The city of Khorsabad was built by King Sargon II, who reigned from 722 to 705 BC, and abandoned when he died in battle. Sargon’s palace ( Dur Sharrukin) is an immediate predecessor of Sennasherib’s Palace, with its Hanging Gardens, at Nineveh, to the south west of Khorsabad.

In 720 B.C., following the defeat of Samaria by Shalmaneser  V, Sargon boasted about having deported 27,280 Israelites to Assyria.  In 721/711 B.C. he turned his attention to the area of Philistia.

According to 20:1, he sent his commander-in-chief to capture the city of Ashdod.  Assyrian records verify that Sargon remained in his capital at Khorsabad: he stayed “in the land,” ostensibly to supervise the construction of his palace.

Not only is the Ashdod campaign documented in the Assyrian annals, but fragments of an Assyrian victory inscription were discovered in excavations at Ashdod itself.  Moreover, a mass grave from the time of the Assyrian conquest yielded the remains of approximately 3,000 individuals, many of them decapitated.

The Bible, as indicated earlier, mentioned Sargon II by name only in 20:1 a passage in which his capture of Ashdod is highlighted.  It seems however, that Isaiah also had Sargon’s campaigns in mind when he composed chapter 10.

In describing the pride of the Assyrian monarch, the prophet wrote about previous Assyrian victories over Carchemish, Hamath, Arpad, Samaria, and Damascus (10:9).  In prophesying God’s future punishment of Assyria, Isaiah cited the recent abuses of Assyrian power to emphasize the Lord’s justice.