Isaiah 8 – Prediction of the Assyrian Invasion & Assyrian Social Structure

I see that Isaiah told the people what You told him to tell them, but it appears that they didn’t want to listen, or at least King Ahaz didn’t.  So did the Assyrian’s wipe them out? 

And on another note, I can only say Wow! You told Isaiah about Jesus 700 years or so before He was even born – no one else would know that but a true powerful God.  Did you tell Isaiah anything else?

1 Moreover the LORD said unto me, Take thee a great roll, and write in it with a man’s pen concerning Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

Assyrian Empir
Assyrian Empire

“Roll…witnesses” – these witnesses would attest to a legal transaction, either the marriage of Isaiah or a symbolic deed connected with Maher-shalal-hash-baz.  The Hebrew word for “roll” (tablet or scroll) is related to the word for an “open” (unsealed) document in Jer 32:11.

2 And I took unto me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.

Uriah served under King Ahaz (see 2 Kgs 16:10-11).

3 And I went unto the prophetess; and she conceived, and bare a son. Then said the LORD to me, Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz.

“Prophetess…son” – probably the initial fulfillment of 7:14.  Note the repetition of “conceive,” “son,” and “call his name” from 7:14, because Jesus Himself was given a name other than Immanuel (cf Matt 1:21, 23).  This is the only known case of a prophetess marrying a prophet.  But the young woman may be called a prophetess here because she had become the wife of a prophet.

“Maher-sadal-hash-baz” – the symbolic name meant that Ahaz’s enemies would be plundered (see v. 4), but it also implied that Judah would suffer (see vv 7-8).

For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and my mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of Assyria.

“Shall have knowledge to cry” – at about age 2.  The time period is identical to that in 7:16.

“Spoil of Samaria shall be taken away” – the first stage of the description of the northern kingdom, which was not completed until 722-721 B.C.

The LORD spake also unto me again, saying,

Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son;

“Waters of Shiloah” – the waters in Jerusalem that flow from the Gihon spring to the pool of Siloam may be intended.  Here they symbolize the sustaining power of the Lord (Ps 46:4).

“Rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son” – Rezin and Pekah both died in 732 B.C. (see Kgs 16:9).  The people would be rejoicing that Ahaz’s alliance with Assyria had brought about the fall of their enemies without seeing that the failure of Ahaz to trust in God would bring devastating judgment on Jerusalem as well.

Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks:

Nineveh
Nineveh (Akkadian: Ninua; Aramaic: ܢܝܢܘܐ; Hebrew: נינוה, Nīnewē; Arabic: نينوى, Naīnuwa), was the capital of the ancient Neo-Assyrian Empire. It lay on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, Iraq.

First mentioned in ancient texts around 1800 B.C.E., Nineveh became an important trade and religious center and was Assyria’s capital city from the ninth through the seventh centuries B.C.E. It was destroyed when the Assyrian Empire collapsed c. 612 B.C.E. In the Bible, it was the site of Jonah’s famous preaching after escaping the belly of a great fish.

Archaeological discoveries from Nineveh include several palaces and temples, and impressive fortifications. Its “Palace without Rival,” constructed by Sennacherib, included 80 rooms and was 1680 feet long by 810 feet wide. It featured colossal statues, massive bas-reliefs depicting its own construction and scenes of Assyrian history, and the contemporary world’s largest known library, whose clay-tablet texts are a rich source of information about the culture of ancient Mesopotamia.

“Waters…strong…overflow” – mighty rivers were often used to symbolize powerful invasions.

And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel.

“Even to the neck” – Sennacherib’s invasion in 701 B.C. overwhelmed all the cities of Judah except Jerusalem (see 1:7-9).

“Stretching out of his wings” – the figure changes to a bird of prey, perhaps the eagle, renowned for its speed.

“Immanuel” – all seems lost, but “God is with us” (v. 10) and defeats the enemy.

Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear, all ye of far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces.

“People…be broken in pieces” – just as Aram and Israel would be shattered (7:7-9), Assyria and Babylon would eventually fall.

10 Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us.

“It shall not stand” – only God’s plans and purposes will last (cf Ps 2:2-6).

11  For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying,

“With a strong hand” – See Eze 1:3, 37:1, 40:1.  The prophets were conscious of God’s presence in and control of their lives.

12 Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.

“Confederacy” – or “conspiracy.”  Isaiah’s warning against relying on Assyria was considered treason (cf Jer 37:13-14).

13 Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.

14 And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

“Sanctuary…stone of stumbling…offence” -Either the Lord is the cornerstone of our lives (see 28:16) or He is a rock over which we fall.  See Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:6-8 for an application to Christ.

“Both the houses” – the northern and southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah.

15 And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.

16 Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples.

Perhaps a reference to the legal transaction connected with vv 1-2, see note there.

“Testimony” – See v 20.  By preserving Isaiah’s teaching (“the law”), his disciples could later prove that his predictions had come true.  This term occurs elsewhere only in Ruth 4:7 (“this was a testimony in Israel”).

“Law” – the Hebrew for this word can also mean “teaching” or “instruction.”  The legal document containing Isaiah’s teaching about Assyria’s invasion was tied and sealed and then given to the prophet’s followers, who were to preserve it until the time of its fulfillment when God would authenticate it by the events of history (see Jer 32:12-14, 44).

17 And I will wait upon the LORD, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him.

18 Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion.

In v 17 – “Hideth his face” and v 18 – “Signs and…wonders” pertain to Christ in Heb 2:13.

Relief from Nimrod
A wounded soldier is attacked by a vulture.

19  And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?

“Familiar spirits…wizards” – in the present crisis people were turning to the spirits of the dead (necromancy), as King Saud did when he went to a medium to contact the spirit of the prophet Samuel; (1 Sam 28:8-11) and learn about the future.  See the note on 3:2-3.

20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

“The law…the testimony” – see v 16 and the note.  Only by heeding the Lord’s word through Isaiah – reinforced by the “signs and…wonders” (v 18) that Isaiah and his sons represented – would the light of dawn for Israel.

21 And they shall pass through it, hardly bestead and hungry: and it shall come to pass, that when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse their king and their God, and look upward.

The Assyrian invasion would bring deep distress on all Israel.

“Curse…king and…God” – because of their terrible suffering (cf Prov 19:3) but severe punishment awaited anyone who cursed God or a ruler (Ex 22:28; Lev 24:15-16).

22 And they shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.

Assyrian Social Structure

Tiglath-Pileser III
Stela from the walls of his palace.
Tiglath-Pileser III was a prominent king of Assyria in the eighth century BCE (ruled 745–727 BCE) who introduced advanced civil, military, and political systems into the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

TiglathᐨPileser III seized the Assyrian throne during a civil war and killed the royal family. He made sweeping changes to the Assyrian government, considerably improving its efficiency and security. He created Assyria’s first professional standing army.

Tiglath-Pileser III subjugated much of the Near East region; to the south, his fellow Mesopotamians in Babylonia and Chaldea, and further south still, the Arabs, Magan, Meluhha, and Dilmunites of the Arabian Peninsula. In the south west, Israel, Judah, Philistia, Samarra, Moab, Edom, the Suteans and Nabatea fell.

To the north, Urartu, Armenia and Scythia in the Caucasus Mountains, Cimmeria by the Black Sea, and Nairi were subjugated, and in the north west much of eastern and south western Asia Minor, including the Hittites, Phrygia, Cilicia, Commagene, Tabal, Corduene and Caria. In the west, the Greeks of Cyprus and Aram (modern Syria), and the Mediterranean City States of Phoenicia/Caanan were subjugated. To the east he subjugated Persia, Media, Gutium, Mannea, Cissia and Elam, and later in his reign, Tiglath-Pileser III was crowned king in Babylonia.

Tiglath-Pileser III discouraged revolts against Assyrian rule with the use of forced deportations of thousands of people all over the empire. He is one of the most successful military commanders in world history, conquering most of the world known to the Assyrians before his death.

Ancient Assyria was located on the western bank of the Tigris River between the Upper and Lower Zab. Assyria was cold and wet in the winter and warm in the summer. On the banks of the rivers there was abundant cultivation, besides pasture-land. There were plenty of palms, apples, figs, olives, pomegranates, almonds, mulberries, vines and all kinds of grain. In the forests were lions, and on the plains were wild bulls (rimi, Hebrew re’emim), wild asses, wild goats, ducks and gazelles. Horses were imported from Cappadocia. Even in the Bible the Lord spoke to His people about the captivity and the land of Assyria: 

Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards (Isa 36:17).

 The People

The people who inhabited Assyria belonged to the great Semitic race. In stature the Assyrians were of average modern European height, and were powerfully built. Their complexion was dark, forehead high, nose prominent, hair, eyebrows, and beard were black thick and bushy and the lips were full. They rarely intermarried with neighboring peoples. 

In ancient Assyria the basic social unit was mainly the tribe and secondarily, the family. Almost every person lived in the cities where there was safety in numbers. There were laws that governed the cities and Assyria’s people were very conscious of their rights as citizens. A man’s social status and position was dependent upon his family and tribe. 

Woman in the Window
One of many of Samarian’s Ivory Pieces – “The Woman in the Window.”

Who or what this woman was remans a mystery. It’s too simplistic to say she was a temple prostitute; she must have been a central figure in a seminal religious story of the ancient Canaanites.

She is parodied in the Bible stories of Jezebel, who appears at a window just before she is murdered, and in the story of Jael’s murder of Sisera.

Women were given less status than men and were expected to utterly submit to their husband, father and brother.  At the top of the social ladder was the king and at the bottom were the slaves.

Social Organizations

Social organizations within Mesopotamia society were associated mainly with politics and religion combined. The two main organizations within the cities were the temple and the palace. There actually both built upon the concept of the “household.” The palace was considered the household of the king while the temple was a household of their god, and their god had to be clothed and taken care of. It was usually the slaves who actually tended to the needs of the god. The palace and the temple were highly organized and the whole Mesopotamia society contributed to its maintenance, whether it was through taxation, property, trade or war. 

The palace and the temple were very similar but were also very different. The size of the palace and the way it looked depended entirely upon the ruling monarch, while the temple depended entirely upon the generous contributions of the people. After the time of Hammurabi, the temple seemed to be a bit less important than the spectacular palaces of the Neo-Assyrian empire. 

It was really the royal duty and privilege of the king to make sure that the temples were cared for, and prisoners of war were required to help beautify the temples and the spoils of war were supposed to be dedicated to a great extent. 

During the latter part of the Assyrian empire priests were given authority so that they could exact taxation for the king. In ancient times, the Assyrian king was also the high priest and representative of the god Ashur. This is actually one way that the Assyrian kingdom was different than the Babylonian, in that it was more theocratic. 

Most of the people who lived outside the temple within the cities were, for the most part, equal in social status. Most of the people were farmers who tended land outside the cities during the day and came to sleep at night. 

The city was self-governed and an assembly with a presiding officer were responsible to keep order. The wealthy, and the elderly were greatly respected. There were many merchants and craftsmen, but it was more difficult to become an exorcist or diviner, requiring that one passes a strict examination and physical fitness test. Scribes were also well-trained and organized, and one had to undergo extensive classes and rituals to become a member. Education was confined to the upper classes, mainly to the priests and scribes.

Ashurbanipal
Relief of Ashurbanipal hunting on horseback. Nineveh, Assyria, 645–635 BC.
Ashurbanipal was king of the Neo-Assyrian empire, the largest empire in the world. At the time of his reign (669–c. 631 BC) it was the largest empire in the world, stretching from Cyprus in the west to Iran in the east, and at one point it even included Egypt. Its capital Nineveh (in modern-day Iraq) was the world’s largest city. This is at a time when the Greek city-states (like Athens and Sparta) were still in their infancy and Rome was just a small settlement.

Ashurbanipal wasn’t modest about being the king of the Assyrian empire – he called himself ‘king of the world’! Quite a claim, but given the size of the empire, it wasn’t far from the truth.

Slavery

Pegasus
A winged horrse from Assur, c. 200 B.C.E.

There were different forms of slaves, whether it was the debt slave, or the prisoner of war, these were the lowest on the ladder of social status. Most slaves were debtors or children of debtors. Anyone born in a family was considered blessed and slaves were common within a family, especially a wealthy family. Slaves were actually allowed to work out in return for monthly payments to his master. The more obedient and the more training, the more returns. The less obedient and the prisoners of war were forced to become “people of restricted freedom” and to work in the temple or palace.

Family Status

To be born in a family was to be considerably important. Most male family members wore a short skirt that reached to the knees and the more important dignitaries wore a long skirt. The women covered the left shoulder with her skirt and fastened it under her right arm. The idea of family was not very highly developed in the Assyrian culture, especially in the earliest times. In the latter part of the Assyrian empire family names or more widely used, with emphasis on gentility and descent. Marriages were monogamous unlike the Old Babylonian Period. The first born son received the largest portion of his father’s inheritance, but many times the entire estate was tended to by all the sons to avoid dissension in the family.

Social Life

Kings and the wealthy lived luxuriously and spent much time feasting. This is made very clear on the excavated Assyrian reliefs. The citizens spent most the time working their farms or other form of labor, and often spent their social life at the “beer houses” and the “brothels.” There were lots of small beer houses and they were usually managed by women. There was a large variety of beers and especially wines available and it is evident that there was much drunkenness and prostitution. 

Fall of Nineveh
Cureiform tablet with description of the fall of Nineveh.

Hammurabi’s code of laws, for example, provides for the protection of drunken customers against extortion by the management. 

Love and sex was very common and practiced everywhere, even in the streets, the parks, and the public squares. In the Gilgamesh Epic (first tablet) there is dramatic detail of an affair between Enkidu and the prostitute. There were even many devices created, especially among the Babylonian’s that prevented pregnancy. 

The brothels were literally called “places of pleasure” or “Phallos-Houses.” There were two known kinds of prostitutes, the street harlots and the brothel harlots. It is not known exactly what the fee was, but it was clearly an occupation and the fee was satisfactory for the prostitute.

Conclusion

The Assyrians had a beautiful land much like the land of Israel, yet they were too unsettled to stay a peaceful nation. This is because the Lord raised up in them an invincible host who would go forth to plunder, and ultimately conquer God’s people Israel in the north. In their capital city, Samaria, they were swollen with pride and rebellion against the Lord who had given them their land. He chose the cruel Assyrians to destroy them and lead them into captivity. 

Assyria was an instrument of the Lord yet they were cruel and wicked, they were completely corrupt. In their records of Essarhaddon (Sennacherib’s son) it says: 

Abdi-Milkutti, who fled before my weapons on to the sea, I pulled out of the sea like a fish and I cut off his head.” It goes on to say “To give the people an example of the power of Ashur, my lord, I hung the heads of Sanduarri and Abdi-Milkutti round the necks of their most prominent citizens, whom, thus adorned, I made walk in procession along the streets of Nineveh, to the strains of singers accompanying themselves on harps.[Essarhaddon Annals] 

Babylonian Flood Tablet
In the Gilgamesh epic’s Tablet XI (a seventh-century B.C.E. copy, found by Austen Henry Layard at Nineveh, is shown here), Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh of the great flood that destroyed the world—a story with detailed similarities to Noah’s Flood in Genesis.

In outward appearance Assyria was the most powerful land that the ancient world had ever known, to whom even Babylon and Egypt had bowed down. Yet there was an increasing decay in their way of life, intellectually, morally, and especially spiritually. During their last days the “hermerologies” flourished. These were lengthy lists of their days of good and bad omens, some of which have survived even to this day. For example there was strong superstitious fear that prevented anyone from doing anything important on a Friday, or on the 13th day of the month. This quote is an example: 

On the first day he shall not expose himself to the gale on the field. He must not eat garlic, otherwise a scorpion will sting him. He must not eat while garlic, otherwise he will suffer a heart attack. On the second day he must not climb upon a roof, for Ardat Lili (an evil demon)would find him. He must not eat roast meat, otherwise he will be covered with sores. On the third day he shall have no sexual intercourse with a woman, for the woman will rob him of his virility. He shall not eat fish; it is disrespectful and a crocodile would attack him. He shall not eat dates, for they would give him a stomach illness. He shall not irrigate a sesame field, for the sesame caterpillar would overcome him… 

King Jehu of Israel kneeling before Shalmaneser III, King of Assyria.

Texts like this reveal an interesting picture of daily life among the ancient Assyrians, they mention names of demons and diseases which are almost impossible to identify. The priest-magician was trained to protect the people from all of the evil spirits through influences and magical acts. 

God finally gave Assyria His indictment and finally brought its utter desolation. 

Thy shepherds slumber, O king of Assyria; thy nobles rest in the dust: Thy people is scattered upon the mountains, and no man gathereth them. There is healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievious. All that hear the bruit of thee shall clap their hands over thee, for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually? (Nah 3:18-19).