The Assyrians were a violent and cruel people who conquered several countries, including the kingdom of Israel. The Assyrian empire was the greatest power of its time and was used by God to punish the Israelites. The kingdom of Judah survived as a vassal of the Assyrian empire. When the empire collapsed, the Assyrians were conquered by the Babylonians.
The Assyrians were from a region north of Israel, which is currently northern Iraq. Its capital was Nineveh, which was located near the modern city of Mosul. Between 900 and 600 BC, the Assyrians conquered a vast empire, of a size never seen before, and politically dominated the entire region around Israel. The Assyrian empire has become a major threat to the Israelis, who have suffered many attacks.
The strength of the Assyrian empire was in its organized and technologically advanced army. They also used terror to intimidate enemies, becoming famous for their brutality against whom they defeated. To keep the conquered peoples subdued, the Assyrians created a deportation policy. They forced conquered peoples to live in other parts of the empire, losing their national identity and unity to revolt.
See Jonah’s story here in Nineveh.
Assyrians attack Israel
After Solomon’s reign, the Israelites divided into two kingdoms: Israel, to the north, and Judah, to the south. Some of the kings of Judah were good, but all the kings of Israel were bad. The people became increasingly distant from God and did not listen to the warnings of the prophets, who called for repentance. Therefore, God warned that He would punish His people, through the action of an enemy from the north. The Israelites did not heed the warnings and continued on their bad ways.
The Assyrians began to expand their territory and attack the entire region around Israel. The kings of Israel and Judah made various alliances with the Assyrians to maintain their independence, paying tribute and swearing allegiance. But Hosea, the last king of Israel, betrayed Salmaneser, the king of Assyria, by conspiring with the pharaoh of Egypt ( 2 Kings 17: 3-4 ).
When Salmaneser discovered the betrayal, he sent his army to conquer the kingdom of Israel. The Israelites were defeated and deported to other parts of the Assyrian empire, where they ended up mixing with other peoples, losing their identity ( 2 Kings 17: 5-6 ).
The king of Assyria repopulated the region of Israel with people from other parts of the empire. These people mixed their pagan beliefs with worshiping God ( 2 Kings 17:24 ; 2 Kings 17: 32-33 ). It was from these people that Samaritans emerged, a group that followed a religion similar to Judaism, but with some important differences.
Hezekiah and the Assyrians
After the conquest of Israel, the kingdom of Judah continued. Hezekiah, king of Judah, was God-fearing and was blessed. He rebelled against the king of Assyria, stopping paying tribute. So the Assyrians attacked Judah and besieged Jerusalem. Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, sent an arrogant message to Hezekiah insulting God and saying that no one could deliver him from his hands ( 2 Kings 18:35 ).
The people were demoralized but Hezekiah sent messengers to the prophet Isaiah to ask God for help. Their prayers were answered and God promised to deliver the kingdom of Judah from the hands of the Assyrians, to show His power ( 2 Kings 19: 21-22 ). Sennacherib heard that the king of Egypt was coming to fight him, so he withdrew and lifted the siege.
But Sennacherib did not give up. He later besieged Jerusalem, promising to end Hezekiah. Again Isaiah prophesied the liberation of the city and God killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a single night! Then Sennacherib withdrew and returned to Nineveh. There, he was murdered by two of his sons ( 2 Kings 19: 35-37 ).