Political Background

Ezekiel – Grace and Glory
Political Background

a. Decline of the Assyrian Empire

Origin of Assyria – Assyria was a kingdom between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers that dominated the ancient world from the 9 th century to the 7 th century BC. The early inhabitants of the Assyria were ancient tribesmen (Gen 10:22) who probably migrated from Babylonia.

Rise of Assyrian Empire – Tiglath-pileser I (1120 – 1100 B.C) built the Assyrian kingdom to the most extensive empire of the age. But the decline in power and influence under his successors offered the united kingdom of Israel, under the leadership of David and Solomon, the opportunity to reach its greatest limits.

After the Assyrians had languished in weakness for an extended period. Ashurnasirpal (884 – 859 B.C) and Shalmaneser II (859-824 BC) restored much prestige of the empire. Assyria embarked on a series of conquests under Tiglath-pileser III (Pul in the Scriptures) who took Syria and Palestine, Shalmaneser V (727-722 BC) who began the deportation of Israel, Sargon II (722-705 BC), under whose hands Israel fell, Sennacherib (704-681 BC) who attacked king Hezekiah of Judah and Esarhaddon (681-669 BC) who led campaigns against Egypt.

Decline of Assyrian Empire – Esarhaddon was succeeded by his son Ashurbanipal (669-631 BC), who was a less able ruler, and after his death, the kingdom of Assyria declined. Flames of rebellion burst forth, and the Babylonians and Medes successfully asserted their independence in 625 BC. Nineveh , the capital of Assyria was destroyed in 612 BC. The remnants of the Assyrian army, led by a surviving member of the Assyrian royalty, Ashur-uballit II, fled to Haran in northwest Mesopotamia. However, the Assyrians succumbed to the Babylonian army at Haran in 610 BC despite support from Egypt. A year later, the beleaguered remains of the Assyrians, now supported by a new Egyptian Pharaoh Neco II, attempted to repossess Haran but this attempt was unsuccessful. Henceforth the Assyrians disappeared as a power in the world.

b. Rise of the Babylonian Power

Origin of Babylonia – Babylon was situated along the Euphrates River about 485 km northwest of the Persian Gulf and about 49 km southwest of modern Baghdad in Iraq. Its origins are unknown. According to Babylonian tradition, it was built by the god Marduk. The city must have been built some time before 2300 BC, because it was destroyed about that time by an invading enemy king. This makes Babylon one of the oldest cities of the ancient world.

Historical Background – Some time during its early history, the city of Babylon became a small independent kingdom. Its most famous king was Hammurabi (about 1728 – 1686 BC), who conquered southern Mesopotamia and territory to the north as far as Mari. He was known for his revision of a code of law that showed concern for the welfare of the people under his rule. But the dynasty which he established declined under his successors. It came to an end with the conquest of Babylon by the Hittite king Murshlish 1 about 1595 BC. Then the Kassites took over for a period, ruling southern Mesopotamia from the city of Babylon as their capital. The Assyrians attacked and plundered Babylon about 1250 BC, but it recovered and flourished for another century until the Assyrians succeeded in taking over the city with their superior forces about 1100 BC.

After Tiglath-pileser I of Assyria arrived on the scene, the city of Babylon became subject to Assyria by treaty or conquest. Tiglath-pileser III (745 – 727 BC) declared himself king of Babylon with the name Pulu (Pul, 2 Kings 15:19), deporting a number of its citizens to the subdued territory of the northern kingdom of Israel.

In 721 BC, a Chaldean prince, Marduk-apal-id-din, seized control of Babylon and became a thorn in Assyria’s side for a number of years. He apparently planned a large-scale rebellion of eastern and western parts of the Assyrian Empire (2 Kings 20:12). In retaliation against this rebellion, Sennacherib of Assyria (704 – 681 BC) attacked Babylon in 689 BC, totally destroying it, although it was rebuilt by his successor Esarhaddon (680 – 669 BC). After this, Assyrian power gradually weakened so the city and kingdom of Babylon grew stronger once again.

Rise of Babylonian Empire – In 625 BC, the Chaldean prince Nabopolassar (626-605 BC) defeated the Assyrians and seized the throne of Babylon. The kingdom he founded came to be known as the Neo-Babylonian Empire. He consolidated his empire, and by 616 BC he was on the march to expand his territory. The combined army of the Babylonians and Medes destroyed Nineveh in 612 BC. The Chaldeans pursued the remnants of the Assyrian army and destroyed the Assyrians at Haran in 609 BC. Subsequently his son Nebuchadnezzar, who was then the crown-prince, defeated the advancing Egyptian army at Carchemish in 605 BC. With the Battle of Carchemish the consolidation of the Chaldean power was complete.

The Chaldeans continued their march southward toward Syria and Palastine, where King Jehoiakim (a puppet king placed on the throne by Egyptians) submitted to Nebuchadnezzar in 605 BC. This was the first of the Babylonian’s three invasions in Palestine. While in Palestine Nabopolassar, the king of Babylon, died. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Babylon to claim the throne. By then Babylon had become a dominant world power.

Rebellions in Judah led to a second attack in 597 BC and the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.. (See section under “ JUDAH ”).

c. Egypt – A Rival Power

Origin of Egypt – Egypt is the land of the Nile and the pyramids. It holds a place of great significance in Scripture. Egypt consists geographically of two halves, the northern being the Delta, and the southern Upper Egypt, between Cairo and the First Cataract. In the Old Testament, Northern or Lower Egypt is called Mazor [matsowr – something hemming in], “the fortified land” (Isa. 19:6; 37:25, which the King James Version translates as “defense” and “besieged places” and other versions translate as Egypt); while Southern or Upper Egypt is Pathros, the Egyptian Pa-to-Res, or “the land of the south” (Isa. 11:11). But the whole country is generally mentioned under the dual name of Mizraim, “the two Mazors.”

Early History – The civilization of Egypt goes back to a very remote antiquity. The two kingdoms of the north and south were united by Menes, the founder of the first historical dynasty of kings. Subsequent periods of history are denoted by reference to the different dynasties, which are numbered accordingly.

In the time of Hezekiah, Egypt was conquered by Ethiopians from the Soudan [Sudan], who constituted the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The third of them was Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9). In BC.. 674 Egypt was conquered by the Assyrians, who divided it into twenty satrapies, and Tirhakah was driven back to his ancestral dominions.

Fourteen years later it successfully revolted under Psammetichus I of Sais, the founder of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty. Among his successors were Necho II (2 Kings 23:29).

A Rival Power During the Time of Ezekiel – Egypt sensed an opportunity for expansion in Assyria’s collapse. If a weakened Assyria could be maintained as a buffer state to halt Babylon’s westward advances, Egypt would be free to reclaim much of western Palestine (including Judah ) which she had lost to Assyria earlier.

Though Egypt had always feared a powerful Assyria, she now feared the prospect of a powerful Babylon even more. So Egypt entered the conflict between Assyria and Babylon on Assyria’s side. In 609 Pharaoh Neco II marched with a large Egyptian army toward Haran to support the remaining Assyrian forces in a last attempt to retake their lost territory. However, he was hindered by King Josiah, who was killed in the battle in the plain at Megiddo and the Egyptian army continued on toward Haran (2 Chron. 35:20-24) whether they suffered defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.

The city of Carchemish became the next line of demarcation, and the powers facing each other were Egypt and Babylon. After the defeat of Judah, Egypt assumed control of Palestine. Jehoahaz, king of Judah, was deposed by Neco and taken to Egypt. Neco then plundered the treasuries of Judah and appointed Jehoiakim, another son of Josiah, as his vassal king (2 Kings 23:34-35).

In 605 BC. another major shift occurred in the balance of power. For four years the Egyptians and Babylonians had faced each other at Carchemish with neither side able to gain the upper hand. Then in 605 BC. crown prince Nebuchadnezzar led the Babylonian forces to a decisive victory. The army of Babylonia smashed through the Egyptian defenses at Carchemish and pursued the forces to Egypt. Judah, under King Jehoiakim, became a vassal of Babylon (2 Kings 24:1).

In 601 BC Nebuchadnezzar attacked Egypt. The army of Babylon suffered a major defeat and was forced to retreat.

With the enthronement of another Pharaoh (Hophra) in Egypt in 588 BC., Judah was once again enticed to revolt from Babylon (2 Kings 24:20-25:1; Jer. 52:3-4). A coalition of vassal states (Judah, Tyre, and Ammon) refused to remain under Babylon’s control. Nebuchadnezzar’s response was swift and harsh. The army of Babylon surrounded Jerusalem and began a long siege. In July-August 586 BC. the city fell and was destroyed.

d. Judah in Relation to the Super Powers

Historical Background

Division of the Kingdom – Solomon’s apostasy in his later years led to the division of the kingdom into Israel in the north and Judah in the south (1 Kings 12:16). Only 2 tribes, Judah and Benjamin, were given to Rehoboam the son of Solomon while the remaining 10 tribes were given to Jeroboam, the newly appointed king of the northern kingdom. (The number 10 expresses completeness and totality). The division was appointed by God as a chastisement of the house of David for the idolatries imported by Solomon’s wives.

There were 20 kings, from 10 dynasties, who reigned in the northern kingdom of Israel. All of them “did evil in the eyes of the LORD”.

Below is the summary of the Kings in Judah and Israel after King Solomon’s death:

Kings of Judah

Kings of Israel

Bible References

Rehoboam

Jeroboam

1 Ki 12:1-24, 12:25, 14:20

Abijah

1 Ki 15:1-8

Asa

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
1 Ki 15:9-24
Nadab
1 Ki 15:25-31

Baasha

1 Ki 15:32, 16:7

Elah

1 Ki 16:8-14

Zimri

1 Ki 16:15-20

Tibni

1 Ki 16:21-22

Omri

1 Ki 16:21-28

Ahab

 

1 Ki 16:29, 22:40

Jehoshaphat
 
 
1 Ki 22:41-50

Ahaziah

1 Ki 22:51, 2 Ki 1:18

Jehoram

 
 

2 Ki 1:17, 3:1, 8:15

J(eh)oram
2 Ki 8:16-24
Ahaziah
 
2 Ki 8:25-29, 9:27-29
Jehu
 
 
2 Ki 9:1, 10:36

Athaliah

2 Ki 11:1-16

Joash

 
 
2 Ki 11:17, 12:21

Jehoahaz

2 Ki 13:1-9

Jehoash

 

2 Ki 13:10-25

Amaziah
 
2 Ki 14:1-22

Jeroboam II

 

2 Ki 14:23-29

Azariah / Uzziah
 
 
 
 
2 Ki 15:1-7

Zechariah

2 Ki 15:8-12

Shallum

2 Ki 15:13-15

Menahem

2 Ki 15:16-22

Pekahiah

 

2 Ki 15:23-26

Jotham
 
2 Ki 15:32-38

Pekah

 

2 Ki 15:27-31

Ahaz
 
2 Ki 16:1-19

Hoshea

 

2 Ki 17:1-23

Hezekiah
2 Ki 18:1, 20:21
Fall of Samaria
 

Manasseh

2 Ki 21:1-18

Amon

2 Ki 21:19-26

Josiah

2 Ki 22:1, 23:30

Jehoahaz

2 Ki 23:31-33

Jehoiakim

2 Ki 23:34, 24:7

Jeholachin

2 Ki 24:8-17, 25:27-30

Zedekiah/ Mattaniah

2 Ki 24:18, 25:26

Destruction of Jerusalem

2 Ki 25:22-26

Historical Background of the Northern Kingdom Israel – In the initial period of history following the division of the nation, there was enmity between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. However during the reigns of Ahab (Israel) and Jehoshaphat (Judah) an alliance was established between the 2 kingdoms through marriage (1 Kings 22:2-5). In addition relations with Phoenicia were cemented by the marriage of Ahab with Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal (1Ki 16:31). Ahab also attempted to forge ties with its northern neighbour, Syria (1 Kings 20:34). However he was unsuccessful and this ultimately led to his death in the battle against the Syrians (1 Kings 22:29-38).

Israel was severely oppressed by Syria during the reign of Jehu, the successor to the house of Ahab (2 Kings 10:32-33). However, Israel was promised deliverance by God through the prophet Elisha during the reign of Jehoash (2 Kings 13:14-24). By the time of Jeroboam II, the last great king of the Jehu dynasty, Israel once again reached the height of its power with peace, prosperity and the extension of her borders (2 Kings 14:23-29). However, the kingdom crumbled soon after Jeroboam II’s death, with assassinations followed by a rapid succession of rulers.

During the reign of Menahem, Pul of Assyria invaded Israel. Menahem had to pay a heavy tribute to appease the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:19-20). However, Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria attacked Israel again during the reign of Pekah and took a significant portion of the land (2 Kings 15:29-30). Hoshea, the last king of Israel, rebelled against Assyria (2 Kings 17:4), and this led to the invasion of Israel by Shalmaneser and its subsequent fall under Sargon II in 721 BC. (2 Kings 17:1-5).

Historical Background of Southern Kingdom Judah – There were also 20 kings in the history of Judah, 8 of whom “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD”.

Judah under the Assyrian Empire – The Fall of Israel in 721 BC. meant the loss of a buffer state between Assyria and Judah. The southern kingdom almost succumbed to Assyrian threats when Sennacherib attacked Jerusalem in 701 BC. However through the faith of the godly king Hezekiah, the city was delivered by the Angel of the LORD who destroyed the Assyrian army (2 Kings 18:13 – 37; 19:1 – 37). Judah subsequently succeeded in throwing off the Assyrian yoke. However Hezekiah made a mistake in showing his treasures to the ambassadors of the king of Babylon (2 Kings 20:12 – 19), thereby bringing upon the nation the judgment of God.

Brief Period of Independence – After Ashurbanipal’s death in 631 B.C, the Assyrian empire began to crumble. Judah , under King Josiah, threw off the yoke of Assyrian dominion and enjoyed a brief period of national independence. This independence was shattered, however, by events in 609 BC when Pharaoh Neco II marched with a large Egyptian army toward Haran to support the remaining Assyrian forces in a last attempt to retake their lost territory.

King Josiah knew what the consequences would be for Judah if Egypt were successful. He did not want Egypt to replace Assyria as Judah’s taskmaster. So Josiah mobilized his army to stop the Egyptian advance. A battle took place on the plain of Megiddo and Judah lost. Josiah was killed in battle (2 Chron. 35:20-24). Josiah’s death signaled the end of the period of independence for Judah, for barely had the next king, Jehoahaz, begun his reign before Pharaoh deposed him and brought him captive to Egypt. Jehoahaz’s half-brother, Jehoiakim, was placed on the throne as a vassal king (2 Kings 23:34-35).

Babylonian Invasions:

1st Invasion – After Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 BC, Jehoiakim, changed his loyalty to the Babylonians and became Nebuchadnezzar’s vassal king (2 Ki. 24:1).

2nd Invasion – After Egypt defeated the Babylonians in 601 BC, Jehoiakim, switched loyalty from Babylonia to the Egyptians (2 Ki 24:1). This prompted an attack on Jerusalem on December of 598 BC leading to Jehoiakim’s death and the surrender of the city by his successor, Jehoiachin, in March of 597 BC Nebuchadnezzar, replaced Jehoiachin after only three months of reign, deported him and 10,000 other leaders from the city, looted the city, and placed Zedekiah Judah’s vassal king (cf. 2 Ki 24:12-16). Ezekiel was one of those deported during this second deportation (597 BC). He would begin his prophetic ministry five years later (Ezk 1:2; 8:1 etc).

3rd Invasion & Fall of Judah – Judah’s new and last puppet king, Zedekiah, was weak and vacillating. His 11-year reign was marred by spiritual decline and political instability. Rather than learning from the mistakes of the past, Zedekiah repeated them.

With the enthronement of another Pharaoh (Hophra) in Egypt in 588, Judah was once again enticed to revolt from Babylon (2 Kings 24:20-25:1; Jer. 52:3-4). A coalition of vassal states (Judah, Tyre, and Ammon) refused to remain under Babylon’s control. Nebuchadnezzar’s response was swift and harsh. The army of Babylon surrounded Jerusalem and began a long siege. In July-August 586 the city fell and was destroyed. Zedekiah was captured; his sons were killed, and he was blinded before being taken to Babylon (2 Ki 25:1-7; Ezk 12:3-14). Thus the Kingdom of Judah came to an end with the people taken into exile in Babylon.

See Map of the Battle between Babylonia and Egypt