Assyrian Invasion and First Israelite Deportation
We learned at the beginning of Isaiah's prophecy to Ahaz that Pekah and Rezin would not succeed in overthrowing the Jewish king (Isaiah 7:7). But it turned out far worse for them than that.
Syria managed to expel the Jews from Elath in the south of Judah on the Gulf of Aqaba—enabling Edomite raiders to take it over. But thereafter Syria was doomed.
God had said through Isaiah that Assyria would destroy Israel and Syria. Perhaps this encouraged Ahaz to make another appeal to Tiglath-Pileser III. If so, it was superstition rather than trust in God. For if he had trusted in God, he would have made no appeal to Assyria at all—particularly when Isaiah had warned that Assyria was a threat to Judah as well.
Again he sends tribute. And this time Assyria helps him. But it would have happened anyway, as God had already ordained it.
In 733 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser made the second offensive thrust of his second western campaign—and he made a third and final thrust the next year, in 732. In these two invasions, Israel and Syria suffered terrible defeat, with most of their populations being carried away captive. "It was ancient practice [by empires such as Assyria] to deport large numbers of influential citizens of a conquered country or city to decrease the possibility of rebellion (see [2 Kings] 25:11, 12; Ezek. 1:2, 3)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on 2 Kings 17:5-6).
Based on the locations given in 2 Kings 15:29 (likely the record of the 733 campaign), this first of Israel's two national captivities (the second came a decade later), is known as the "Galilean Captivity." It involved massive deportation over a huge area—from Galilee, the Plain of Sharon to the west, and, as shown in 1 Chronicles 5:26 (likely the record of the 732 campaign), territory across the Jordan to the east. In fact, this was around three fourths of the territory of the northern kingdom, so that only a small "rump state" around the capital city, Samaria, remained intact.
Stated Tiglath-Pileser in his records: "…Bet Omri [that is, the House of Omri, the Assyrian name for Israel] all of whose cities I had added to my territories on the former campaigns, and had left out only the city of Samaria…. The whole of Naphtali I took for Assyria. I put my officials over them as governors. The land of Bet Omri, all its people and their possessions I took away to Assyria."
The account in 1 Chronicles 5 states that the deported Israelites were taken to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river of Gozan (verse 26). These places were located in Assyria in northern Mesopotamia, in what is now southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and northern Iraq (see Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, 1977, pp. 96-97). In fact, scholars identify Hara as Haran, the city in which Abraham dwelt and where most of his family remained (also where Isaac's wife Rebekah came from and where Jacob lived, married and fathered his sons before God sent him back to the Promised land). So when God expelled the Israelites from the Promised Land, He sent them back to the land from where their forebears had come!
This, then, was the beginning of the end for Israel. And it was the end for Pekah and Rezin. For in 732 B.C. both rulers were killed. In fact, Tiglath-Pileser's campaign seems to have spawned a pro-Assyrian faction in Israel (of the mentality that says, "I want to be on the winning side, whichever side that is"). It was in this way that Pekah was assassinated and replaced by Hoshea. The new usurper apparently received some encouragement, and possibly help, in the deed. Tiglath-Pileser's annals record, "They [the Israelites] overthrew their king Pekah and I placed Hosea as king over them" (quoted by Wilson, The Bible Is History, p. 155).
The northern kingdom, or what was left of it, was now on its last legs.
In Judah, Ahaz's apostasy only worsened. Instead of acknowledging God for the overthrow of his enemies, Ahaz presented himself before the Assyrian king in Damascus as a tributary subject. And while there, he sent instructions home to Jerusalem for building a replica of an impressive pagan altar he saw in the Syrian capital to replace the bronze altar at the temple of God. God's altar is then shoved aside—and the pagan altar put in its place. Yes—even after Syria's defeat at the hands of Assyria. These and many other activities continued to provoke God to anger, and eventually helped to bring about the destruction of the Jewish nation.
During all these events, Jotham, Ahaz's father, has apparently remained alive, as we see that Hoshea replaces Pekah during Jotham's 20th year (2 Kings 15:30). However, this is four years beyond Jotham's 16-year reign (verse 33). Evidently Jotham had abdicated in favor of his son four years prior. Perhaps he was infirm and unable to govern. He may even have been isolated and unaware of the troubles of the kingdom. Or perhaps, though weakened and powerless, he was teaching Ahaz's son Hezekiah, his grandson, the need to turn the nation back to the true God. In any case, Jotham likely died soon after the events we just read about, as there is no indication he is around three years later when Hezekiah becomes coregent and the record of his death mentions only Ahaz reigning in his place.