The Vanishing Conquerors
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Politics do not change much from millennium to millennium. There have always been superpowers, great and powerful nations, vying for control of the world. In the seventh century B.C.E., the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah found themselves in the unfortunate position of being smack in the middle of two expanding empires. For centuries the Egyptians to their south had been a power to be reckoned with–sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but never fully out of the picture. Now, however, the Assyrians had dominion to the north. Israel and Judah maintained their sovereignty with a delicate balance of diplomacy, mostly in the form of sending large tributes.
King Sennacherib of Assyria conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel, and thus were “lost” the ten tribes of the north. His successor, Shalmanezer, looked greedily toward Judah, the smaller southern kingdom that was all that stood between him and Egypt. Judah, however, was ruled by a righteous and wise king, Hezekiah. Not only did Hezekiah fortify Jerusalem and create mighty storehouses of supplies, but he dedicated himself to turning his nation back to the proper worship of God. Because of this, The Kingdom of Judah had God on its side.
While the Assyrians met with limited success in their march on Judah, their siege on Jerusalem ended with an Assyrian defeat, and no blood was shed on either side. It was not, shall we say, anything like a typical military victory. The army of Sennacherib gathered outside the walls of Jerusalem and called out to the Israelite inhabitants: “Surrender! Come with us and live! Don’t listen to Hezekiah when he tells you that God will protect you. No one else’s gods protected them from the mighty Assyrians!” But Hezekiah, at the prodding of the prophet Isaiah, held fast, and so did his subjects. That night, as the Jews slept fitfully, worried about what battles the morning would bring, death struck the Assyrian camp. When the new day dawned, the Assyrian army found 185,000 of their soldiers mysteriously lifeless. The citizens of Jerusalem awoke to find the battlefields empty. The Assyrians had fled back to Nineveh.
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