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A Book You Can Trust—Part 2

Assyria in Bible History

A Book You Can Trust—Part 2

This is the second in a series of seven articles in consecutive issues of Awake! that discuss the seven world powers of Bible history. The objective is to show that the Bible is trustworthy and inspired of God and that its message is one of hope for an end to the suffering caused by man’s cruel domination of his fellow man.

THE very mention of Assyria to people of the ancient Middle East may have made their blood run cold. According to the Bible book of Jonah, when that prophet received an assignment from God to preach a judgment message in the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, he fled in the opposite direction! (Jonah 1:1-3) Perhaps that was so because of the Assyrians’ fearsome reputation.

Trustworthy History

The Bible prophet Nahum described Nineveh as “the lair of lions” and “the city of bloodshed.” He added: “Prey does not depart! There is the sound of the whip and the sound of the rattling of the wheel, and the dashing horse and the leaping chariot. The mounted horseman, and the flame of the sword, and the lightning of the spear, and the multitude of slain ones, and the heavy mass of carcasses; and there is no end to the dead bodies. They keep stumbling among their dead bodies.” (Nahum 2:11; 3:1-3) Does secular history corroborate the Bible’s description of ancient Assyria?

The book Light From the Ancient Past calls Assyria “the ruthless fighting machine whose calculated frightfulness was the terror of its enemies.” The following is the way one Assyrian king, Ashurnasirpal II, boasted of his treatment of those who opposed him:

Stone relief depicting prisoners being skinned alive

“I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, . . . and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled. . . . Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives.” When archaeologists excavated Assyrian royal palaces, they found the walls decorated with depictions of horrendous treatment being meted out to captives.

In the year 740 B.C.E., Assyria conquered Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, and took its people into exile. Eight years later, Assyria invaded Judah. * (2 Kings 18:13) The Assyrian King Sennacherib demanded of Judean King Hezekiah a tribute of 30 talents of gold and 300 talents of silver. The Bible record states that this tribute was paid. Even so, Sennacherib insisted that the capital of Judah, Jerusalem, also surrender unconditionally to him.​—2 Kings 18:9-17, 28-31.

Prism containing Sennacherib’s boast about his invasion of Judah

At Nineveh archaeologists have found an account of the same events in the annals of Sennacherib. In the text, which is inscribed on a hexagonal clay prism, the Assyrian king boasted: “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) . . . Himself [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.” Sennacherib then claims that Hezekiah sent him “30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, . . . (and) all kinds of valuable treasures,” inflating the number of silver talents that he actually received.

Note, though, that Sennacherib does not claim to have conquered Jerusalem. In fact, he says nothing about the crushing defeat his army suffered through divine intervention. According to the Bible, God’s angel took the lives of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. (2 Kings 19:35, 36) Says scholar Jack Finegan: “In view of the general note of boasting which pervades the inscriptions of the Assyrian kings, however, it is hardly to be expected that Sennacherib would record such a defeat.”

Trustworthy Prophecy

About a hundred years before the fall of the Assyrian Empire, Isaiah declared that Jehovah God would call those proud conquerors to account for their insolence toward his people. “I shall make an accounting for the fruitage of the insolence of the heart of the king of Assyria and for the self-importance of his loftiness of eyes,” Jehovah said. (Isaiah 10:12) Furthermore, God’s prophet Nahum foretold that Nineveh would be plundered, its gates would be opened to its enemies, and its guards would flee. (Nahum 2:8, 9; 3:7, 13, 17, 19) The Bible prophet Zephaniah wrote that the city would become “a desolate waste.”​—Zephaniah 2:13-15.

Those prophecies of destruction were fulfilled in 632 B.C.E. That is when Nineveh fell to the combined forces of the Babylonians and the Medes, bringing the Assyrian Empire to an inglorious end. A Babylonian chronicle of that event states that the conquerors “carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple” and turned Nineveh “into a ruin heap.” Today the desolate waste that was once Nineveh is marked by mounds of ruins on the east bank of the Tigris River, opposite the city of Mosul, in Iraq.

Assyria’s destruction also contributed to the fulfillment of yet another Bible prophecy. Earlier, in 740 B.C.E., Assyria took the ten-tribe kingdom into exile. About the same time that Assyria did this, God’s prophet Isaiah foretold that Jehovah would “break the Assyrian,” “tread him down,” and bring Israel back to its homeland. Isaiah wrote: “The remnant of his people who will remain over from Assyria . . . , he [God] will collect together.” That is exactly what occurred​—about two hundred years later!​—Isaiah 11:11, 12; 14:25.

A Promise You Can Trust

Long before Nineveh’s fall, while her kings still struck terror into the hearts of their enemies, Isaiah foretold the coming of a very different kind of ruler. He wrote: “There has been a child born to us, there has been a son given to us; and the princely rule will come to be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called . . . Prince of Peace. To the abundance of the princely rule and to peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and upon his kingdom in order to establish it firmly and to sustain it by means of justice and by means of righteousness, from now on and to time indefinite. The very zeal of Jehovah of armies will do this.”​—Isaiah 9:6, 7.

The rulership of the “Prince of Peace,” Jesus Christ, will embrace the entire earth. Psalm 72:7, 8 says: “In his days the righteous one will sprout, and the abundance of peace until the moon is no more. And he will have subjects from sea to sea and from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth.”

Through this mighty “Prince of Peace,” Jehovah God will fulfill the promise at Psalm 46:8, 9: “Come, you people, behold the activities of Jehovah, how he has set astonishing events on the earth. He is making wars to cease to the extremity of the earth. The bow he breaks apart and does cut the spear in pieces; the wagons he burns in the fire.”

As a prelude to the fulfillment of this Bible prophecy, Jehovah’s Witnesses are carrying out a Bible education program that teaches people the ways of peace, as Jesus did. Indeed, not man, but God will fulfill the Bible prophecy recorded at Isaiah 2:4: “They will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” In contrast, today the world and its rulers spend a trillion dollars a year on military endeavors!

Accurate history and prophecy put the Bible in a class of its own, demonstrating to those sincerely searching for the truth that it is indeed a book worthy of our trust. In the next article in this series, we will consider ancient Babylon, the capital of the third great empire of Bible history.

^ par. 9 After the reign of King Solomon, the 12-tribe nation of Israel was split. Judah and Benjamin formed the southern kingdom; and the other ten tribes, the northern kingdom. Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom, and Samaria was the capital of the northern.