Bible Commentary: 2 Kings 17:3-23 and Related

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2 Kings 17:3-23 and Related

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The Fall of Samaria

The destruction and removal of the northern kingdom finally arrives. God had given Israel ample warning and exhortation to repent through His prophets (2 Kings 17:13). But sadly, they would not heed.

As was explained in the highlights for 2 Kings 15:29-31, Israel's last king, Hoshea, was initially installed in office as an Assyrian puppet ruler in the wake of the Assyrian campaign ending in 732 B.C. Yet he turned out to be an unreliable puppet. For when the Assyrian emperor Tiglath-Pileser III was forced to return to Mesopotamia to deal with turmoil in the state of Babylonia, Hoshea proclaimed himself free of Assyrian suzerainty—looking to the growing power of Egypt at this time as a possible counterweight to Assyrian dominance in the region.

Upon Tiglath's death in 727, he was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser V. For two years, the new emperor remained occupied with the Babylonian uprisings his father's last years had been consumed with. But then, in 725, the fourth year of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:9), Shalmaneser moved west to regain control over Syro-Phoenicia and Philistia, which included Israel.

Hoshea was again subjugated to Assyria and forced to pay tribute (2 Kings 17:3). But then Shalmaneser discovered that the Israelite ruler was plotting against Assyria with Egypt. Hoshea "had sent messengers to So, king of Egypt" (verse 4). According to Egyptian history as presently understood, there was a strong new leader in Egypt, Pharaoh Tefnakht, founder of its 24th dynasty. "Osorkon IV of [overlapping] Dynasty 22 ([believed by many to be] King So of the Bible) was apparently his [i.e., Tefnakht's] vassal" (Eugene Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, 1987, p. 415).

In retaliation, Shalmaneser laid siege to Samaria. The powerful Israelite capital withstood the assault for three grueling years, but it finally fell in 722 B.C. It is not clear at what point Hoshea was thrown into prison—either at the beginning of the siege or the final fall of the city. However, the fact that his reign is reckoned until 722 would seem to support the latter conclusion.

Sargon, Shalmaneser's field commander—who would succeed him as king later the same year (as Sargon II)—would claim responsibility for the conquest of Samaria. But the Bible doesn't name him in the account of its fall. Indeed, credit for victory at the time would actually have gone to Shalmaneser, as he was the king, not Sargon. Samaria was thereafter made an Assyrian province.

Israel's Captivity

Then, in Israel's second mass deportation, the remainder of the northern kingdom's populace was captured and taken away. Sargon claims to have carried away 27,290 people. Yet this was only a tiny fraction of the total population of the remnant of the northern kingdom. It is likely that many more had already been carried away under Shalmaneser, and many more had died in battle or from starvation and disease during the Assyrian siege. And perhaps many before that had fled and migrated to other lands.

We should further understand from history that Samaria was not utterly and absolutely vanquished at this point. Shalmaneser died in 722 B.C. and Sargon took the throne of Assyria. In 720 he faced a new uprising in Babylonia. After it, "Sargon then immediately moved west to subdue a large Syro-Palestinian coalition led by Hamath [in Syria]. He retook Damascus and even Samaria, now considered an Assyrian province, and demanded a reaffirmation of Judah's loyalty by the payment of a heavy tribute. [A footnote says that Samaria was thus taken twice.] He then moved through Ekron and Gaza to the very borders of Egypt…. Finally, he turned back north to Tyre and completed the siege of that stronghold which Shalmaneser had undertaken five years before in 725" (Merrill, pp. 408-409).

Another source, explaining the same events, says that the conquest of Samaria in 722 "did not prevent a further rebellion in Palestine and Syria in 720 B.C., also with Egyptian encouragement. Sargon reacted immediately and in a campaign along the coast of the Holy Land conquered Gaza and Raphia. He inflicted defeat upon the Egyptian force sent to aid another rebel, the king of Gaza. In consequence, Sargon received tribute from Egypt, and even from the Arabians. Samaria, too [that is, what was left of it], was involved in this rebellion, and in order to prevent its recurrence, Sargon [then, in 720] began extensive shifts of populations within his provinces. Many of the inhabitants of the kingdom of Israel were exiled to distant regions of the Assyrian Empire…." (Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, 1977, p. 97).

In the prior deportation under Tiglath-Pileser (733-732 B.C.), the people had been carried to Assyria in northern Mesopotamia—to "Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river of Gozan" (1 Chronicles 5:26)—in what is now southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and northern Iraq. Yet notice where the Israelites of this second deportation were relocated: "in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes" (2 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 18:11). Ancient Media, on the south side of the Caspian Sea in what is today northwest Iran, was a long way east of Assyria. And notice this additional detail from the first-century Jewish historian Josephus: "The king of Assyria…besieged Samaria three years and quite demolished the government of the Israelites, and transplanted all the people into Media and Persia" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 9, chap. 14, sec. 1). Persia was just south of Media.

Thus, those in the first Israelite captivity were taken primarily to locations in Assyria. A decade later, some of those in the second captivity were resettled in the same areas. However, it appears that the vast majority of those in the second captivity were marched right through these Assyrian areas on a great journey east—and then resettled in Media and Persia. (The Assyrians had only recently conquered these latter regions. They were thus unavailable for resettlement at the time of Israel's first deportation.)

Amazingly, we can trace the the progenitors of the peoples of northwest Europe, the Celts and Scythians, to these very locations where the Israelite captives were resettled. Indeed, the Celts and Scythians first appear in secular history in these very places and at the very same time that Israel was taken into captivity. And this only makes sense—for they are, in fact, the same people. The Israelites were never regathered to the Promised Land. Instead, their descendants later trekked from the areas of their captivity, in a centuries-long migration, into northwest Europe. (To learn more, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy.)

Following Israel's final deportation, the Bible states, "There was none left but the tribe of Judah alone" (2 Kings 17:18). To clarify, the Hebrew word for "tribe" here, sebet, can mean an entire nation with more than one tribe (compare Jeremiah 51:19, New Revised Standard Version). And in fact it must mean that here since the kingdom of Judah included, besides Jews, a significant number of Benjamites and Levites. The point is: "There was none left but the nation of Judah alone." While there may have been a few hangers-on, the northern tribes of Israel were gone.

Supplementary Reading: “Were All the People of the Northern Kingdom Deported?," United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy, pp. 22-23; "The Bible and Archaeology: The Later Kings of Israel: A Kingdom's Downfall," The Good News, Sept.--Oct. 1998, pp. 18-20, 31.