Jerusalem after the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel

Many in Judah rejoiced at the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The prophet Micah, however, was not among them; he was overwhelmed with grief and filled with deep anxiety at the news. He felt that in the near future Judah and Jerusalem would suffer the same fate:

"Because of this I will weep and wail; I will go about barefoot and naked. I will howl like a jackal and moan like an owl. For her wound is incurable; it has come to Judah. It has reached the very gate of my people, even to Jerusalem itself." (Micah 1:8-9)

With Israel gone, life in Jerusalem changed dramatically. The border of the Assyrian Empire was now less than twenty miles away and Jerusalem's security was threatened. King Ahaz faced ever mounting economic pressures. Much of Judah's territory had been lost, along with a large chunk of his income.

Above, artist's reconstruction of Jerusalem in the 8th century BC, based on recent archaeological finds

Adding to the problems, the great number of refugees from Israel coming into the city forced him to extend the walls and build new houses to accommodate them. Religiously he promoted the worship of the Assyrian gods even in the Temple itself, and he also allowed forms of the native Canaanite fertility cults to prosper. The prophet Isaiah expressed his concerned:

"The multitude of your sacrifices what are they to me?" says the Lord. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. 'Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.'" (Isaiah 1:11-18)

Believing he had already secured a measure of prosperity for his people, Ahaz failed to head Isaiah's warnings. Instead of trusting in God, he insisted on trusting his own judgment out of fear for the Assyrians, and in so doing, he undermined the foundations of society.

Jerusalem under Hezekiah

Ahaz died in 715 BC and was succeeded by his 25-year-old son, Hezekiah. It was a crucial time in the tiny kingdom's history. During his father's reign Judah had become a dependent vassal-state to Assyria and the annual payment of tribute had become an insufferable burden. By the time Hezekiah came to power, the Assyrian king Sargon II had become preoccupied with other problems in the east and north of his empire. The Philistine city-states, located on or near the Mediterranean coast, 32 miles to the west, lost no time in attempting to rid themselves of Assyrian domination. No sooner was Hezekiah enthroned in Jerusalem than Philistine ambassadors came to request his help. The prophet Isaiah, however, warned that Assyrian power was far from broken:

"Wail, O gate! Howl, O city! Melt away, all you Philistines! A cloud of smoke comes from the north, and there is not a straggler in its ranks." (Isaiah 14:31)

The Egyptians also attempted to persuade Hezekiah to join them in revolt. Isaiah repeated his warning and, in a dramatic anticipation of what would happen to the rebels, the prophet took off all his clothes and walked naked around the streets of Jerusalem. This, he said, is what will happen to Egypt and Cush (Ethiopia), allies of Hezekiah, both ruled by the Egyptian pharaoh:

"The king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared to Egypt's shame." (Isaiah 20:4)

Hezekiah had more sense than his father and heeded Isaiah's warning. It is just as well that he did, for a short time later the Assyrian army moved in strength against the rebellious Philistines and Egyptians. Unable to defend themselves, let alone Judah, their power collapsed, as predicted by Isaiah.

Hezekiah remained ready to make his own bid for freedom from Assyria, but he realized he would need to move cautiously. Encouraged by Isaiah, he set out to reform his kingdom's religious practices.

Isaiah and Micah had complained that the worship of God had become intermingled with that of the Canaanite Baals and the Assyrian deities. Hezekiah sanctified the Temple vessels desecrated during his father's reign and removed the idols placed in the Temple to appease his Assyrian overlords. Furthermore, he restored the celebration of the Passover and destroyed the "brazen serpent" crafted long-ago by Moses in the wilderness which had become an object of idolatrous worship. Furthermore, in an effort to undermine Assyrian power on his doorstep, he invited those who were left in the former territory of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Then the whole land, including Ephraim and Manasseh, which formed the bulk of the former Northern Kingdom's territory, was cleansed of idolatry.

A critical time for Hezekiah came in 705 BC with the assassination of Sargon II. He was succeeded by his son, Sennacharib. Hezekiah began to fear for his people, for he knew that the new king was a warrior at heart. However, his fears turned out to be premature. Sennacharib had other plans for the moment and began making his capital of Nineveh into the showplace of the Near East. Only 30 miles from Jerusalem the Assyrian governor of Samaria was eying him Hezekiah with suspicion. One careless move and Hezekiah would be clapped in irons and carried off to Ninevah. So, he proceeded with utmost caution.

In 701 BC, Hezekiah became seriously ill. Isaiah warned him to prepare for his death, but Hezekiah prayed for God's intervention. Through Isaiah, God promising the king fifteen more years of life and deliverance of the city from Assyria (Isaiah 38:4-6). Upon hearing of Hezekiah's illness, Merodach-baladan, king of Babylon in southern Mesopotamia, sent messengers to him with gifts. The motive for this action was probably to enlist Hezekiah to join a coalition against Sennacherib. Hezekiah received the envoys with great honor, and displayed for them his treasures and armaments of war. This displeased God, and Isaiah was sent to announce that the treasures in which the king placed his confidence would all be carried off as plunder to Babylon. During this time Egypt re-emerged on the world stage and the time seemed right to join with them and Babylon in a rebellion to achieve absolute political independence. Again, Isaiah warned against this, but this time his message fell on deaf ears. The Philistine king of Ekron also opposed the plan, but Hezekiah soon brought him into the fold.

The inevitable happened. Sennacharib marched in lightening fashion from Nineveh through Palestine. Both Egypt and Philistia collapsed. Then he moved against Judah, weakening Hezekiah's position by taking over much of his territory. Sennacharib's annals provide a vivid description of the Assyrian assault: "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 villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped ramps and battering-rams brought near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers."

The Assyrian ruler laid siege to the heavily-fortified garrison city of Lachish, guarding Judah on the southwest, 30 miles from Jerusalem, where the coastal plain ends and the gently curving hills of the Shephelah rise before giving way to the taller Judean highlands. During the siege, Sennacharib, ruler of the greatest superpower in the world in the 8th century BC, sent messengers to Jerusalem urging the people to surrender. In response, Hezekiah sent a message to Sennacherib offering to surrender and pay whatever tribute he demanded. Presumably Hezekiah saw that further resistance was futile. Then, too, he probably wanted to save Jerusalem from the same devastation that had befallen other fortified cities of Judah. Sennacharib demanded an enormous amount of "three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold." (2 Kings 18:14) To make the payment, Hezekiah "gave him all the silver that was found in the Temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace" and "stripped off the gold with which he had covered the doors and doorposts of the Temple." (2 Kings 18:15-16)

Exactly what happened next is not clear; the biblical accounts do not present a clear order of events. Some scholars have adopted the theory that Sennacherib conducted two campaigns against Hezekiah, the first, as just described, in 701 BC, and a second in 688 BC, with the two having been telescoped into one...

By paying off Sennacharib, Hezekiah bought himself time to prepare for another confrontation. He reinforced old walls and built new ones around the city, and had a 1750-foot-long tunnel dug through solid rock from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam to better protect the city's water supply:

"When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come and that he intended to make war on Jerusalem, he consulted with his officials and military staff about blocking off the water from the springs outside the city, and they helped him. A large force of men assembled, and they blocked all the springs and the stream that flowed through the land. 'Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?' they said. Then he worked hard repairing all the broken sections of the wall and building towers on it. He built another wall outside that one and reinforced the supporting terraces of the City of David. He also made large numbers of weapons and shields." (2 Chronicles 32:2-5)

When Hezekiah began these long-term defensive preparations, he may not have known for sure if Sennacharib intended to return, or when. But, he wanted to be prepared. It turned out he was correct. Probably in 688 BC, the Assyrian ruler again laid siege to Lachish, the conquest of which he had broken off when Hezekiah paid the required tribute. During the attack, the Assyrians constructed an enormous 40-foot-high siege ramp, consisting of at least 13,000 tons of stone and mortar at the southern end of the city. This allowed them to move their feared battering-rams into place. During the siege, Sennacharib...

"sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem...The field commander said to them, "Tell Hezekiah: "'This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me... 'Come now, make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses if you can put riders on them... Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.'" (2 Kings 18:17ff)

When Hezekiah heard this, he "wrapped himself in sackcloth" and went to the Temple to pray:

"O Lord, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. It is true, O Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men's hands. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God." (2 Kings 19:15-20)

Isaiah responded with these words:

"Therefore this is what the Lord says concerning the king of Assyria: "He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here. He will not come before it with shield or build a siege ramp against it." (2 Kings 19:32)

The great bronze gates of the city were bolted and Hezekiah and his commanders awaited the inevitable. Sennacherib pitched camp outside the city. In an inscription, Sennacharib claimed to have imprisoned Hezekiah "like a bird in a cage." Night fell, and in spite of Isaiah's words, a nervous Jerusalem laid awake in fear of the dawn. When the sun rose, the people could hardly believe their eyes; the Assyrians were withdrawing, leaving behind a campsite littered with their dead. Three books of the Bible report the event. Here, the account in Second Kings:

"That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there." (2 Kings 19:35-36).

The Bible attributes the Assyrian failure to Hezekiah's trust "in the Lord." (2 Kings 18:5) The Book of Serach says simply that God struck the Assyrian camp with a plague (Serach 48:21). Historians attribute the disaster to a sudden outbreak of the bubonic plague. After the Assyrian pull-out, Jerusalem breathed a collective sigh of relief.

When Sennacherib returned to Assyria he ran into a storm of internal problems. They ended in 680 BE when he was murdered by his own sons (2 Kings 19:37).

It was in those days of hardship for Jerusalem and Judah that Isaiah had a vision of an era of righteousness, peace and prosperity for Israel and all the nations of the earth. His vision would go a long way toward shaping Israel's expectations about a future messiah who would free them from the yoke of foreign domination.

Hezekiah only lived to enjoy about one year of well-earned peace. After a reign of twenty-nine years, he died in 697 BC at the age of 56...

Hezekiah's Jerusalem (8th century BC)

With the influx of former citizens of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Jerusalem expanded onto the higher hill west of the city of David. Hezekiah enclosed the area within the city walls and the population of the city grew to about 25,000.

Archaeological finds related to the time of Hezekiah:

"Broad Wall"

Important archaeological finds related to the time of Hezekiah were discovered during the vast reconstruction program in the Old City's Jewish Quarter following the Israeli victory over Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. The area was largely destroyed during the 1948 War of Independence and allowed to deteriorate further under 19 years of subsequent Jordanian occupation. Among them is a 210-foot section of a massive wall dubbed the "Broad Wall," after Nehemiah 3:8:

"They restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall."

The prophet Isaiah also appears to mentioned its construction:

"You [presumably Hezekiah] saw that the City of David had many breaches in its counted the buildings in Jerusalem and tore down houses to strengthen the wall." (Isaiah 22:9-10)

Right, excavated section of the "Broad Wall" built by Hezekiah, now in today's Jewish Quarter and below present street level

Isaiah could not have been more accurate in his description of historical details because the excavation also uncovered the remains of a home that had been partially demolished to build the wall (note the stones at the base of the wall in the lower right corner of the photo). The wall is 23 feet wide and probably stood around 27 feet high. It was built in the 8th century BC to protect the city as it expanded from the eastern ridge (City of David) to the higher western ridge.

Another wall built by Hezekiah

In 1999, yet another section of a wall 16-feet high in some places presumably built by Hezekiah was discovered running along the eastern slope of the City of David, about 120-feet below a wall excavated years earlier. Undoubtedly it was built to enclose the growing city as it expanded down the eastern slope of the City of David; it also protected the Gihon Spring, Jerusalem's only permanent water source. Its construction may be described in 2 Chronicles 32:5:

"Then he [Hezekiah] worked hard repairing all the broken sections of the wall and building towers on it. He built another wall outside that one and reinforced the supporting terraces of the City of David."

Right, In the foreground of this photo is a section of the newly discovered wall, dating to the 8th century BC, running along the eastern flank of the City of David, enclosing the Gihon Spring. Note the modern houses on the summit above.

This newly built wall was low enough on the eastern slope to enclose the old Siloam Channel, constructed a thousand years earlier by the city's Canaanite residents, and it incorporated two huge towers also built at that time to better protect the city's water supply.

Above, artist's depiction of Jerusalem at the time of Hezekiah showing the second wall (see "another wall..." above) constructed lower on the eastern slope to protect expansion and to bring the Gihon Spring inside the city (note: this drawing does not show the "Broad Wall" described above).

Hezekiah's Tunnel

Another remarkable monument to Hezekiah's rule remains to this day in Jerusalem. It is the famous underground tunnel he constructed to secure the city's water supply against an attack by the Assyrian king Sennacerib, successor to Sargon II. The waters of the Gihon Spring were the town's primary source of fresh water. The name comes from the Hebrew giychown meaning, "bursting forth," and describes the action of the spring located in the Kidron Valley on the east side of the city. It did not produce a steady flow, but gushed at irregular intervals twice a day in the dry season, four or five times in the rainy season. The water emerged from a sixteen-foot-long crack in the rock. At some point in the past a wall was built at the eastern end of the crack to divert the water into a cave at the other end. During the early Israelite period, after the city was captured by David, the water was collected outside the city walls in an open basin called the "Upper Pool" (Isaiah 7:3). From there, an "aqueduct" (called the Siloam Channel) carried the water to the "Old Pool" at the southern end of the city (Isaiah 22:11). Along this conduit Sennacarib's "supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army" (2 Kings 18:17), coming from Lachish, demanded the city's surrender. So, before the Assyrians arrived, Hezekiah plugged the Siloam Channel and diverted the waters of the Gihon by means of a 1,750-foot-long tunnel to the Pool of Siloam, located inside a new wall on the western side of the city. Even by today's standards it was an extraordinary technical achievement. Working in feverish haste, the workers tunneled with wedges, hammers and picks from both ends simultaneously. Even today the marks of the pickaxes can still be seen on the walls.

Right, view inside "Hezekiah's Tunnel;" note the man at the end standing waist-deep in the water still flowing after all these centuries!

On a hot day in 1880, a student who was bathing in the waters of the Gihon Spring, accidentally came upon the tunnel. Entering it, he slipped and fell. Getting up, he noticed writing on the wall, which turned out to be an inscription in 8th century BC Hebrew script, just 20 feet from the southern end of the tunnel, describing its completion. The Siloam Inscription (below), as it is called, is now kept in the Istanbul Museum, and it tells of the meeting of the two teams of tunnelers:

"And this is the way in which it was cut through: While the stonemasons were still wielding their axes, each man toward his fellow, and while there were still 3 cubits (about 5 feet) to be cut through, they heard the sound of each man calling to his fellow, for there was fissure (?) in the rock to the right and the left. And on the day the tunnel was driven through, the stonecutters hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring to the pool for 1,200 cubits."

At this point, we must ask: Why did Hezekiah take such pains to build this tunnel, which seems to have served the same function as the older Siloam Channel, although his tunnel's outlet was a pool on the western, rather than the eastern side of the city? The answer: Nobody knows! It has been suggested that Hezekiah, under threat of an Assyrian attack, may have seen the tunnel as providing greater protection for the city's water supply than the older, tower-protected pool: "'Why should the kings of Assyria come and find plenty of water?' they said." (2 Chronicles 32:4) While it is true that at least two (perhaps three) towers protected the pool, their prominence called a potential enemy's attention to their importance. By digging a new tunnel, he redirected the water to the other side of the city, away from immediate detection.

For an authentic "time tunnel" experience, it is possible to walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel starting at the Gihon Spring. This no place for claustrophobics, however, as the passage is narrow, with as little as 15 inches of headroom. Apart from two deeper parts at the beginning and end the water is some 3- to 3 1/2-feet-high. But it is impossible to get lost. Also, a flashlight is needed, and footwear should be worn. Towards the middle of the tunnel you can see the false false tunnels where the workmen, attempting to find where the other team was, started in the wrong direction, but stopped after only a few feet. The point where the stonemasons met is clear because it is off center by 4 inches (only!), and the direction of the pick marks on the wall changes.

Oddly, Hezekiah's tunnel takes an S-shaped course through the rock beneath the City of David. The tunnelers would have saved 700 feet of hard labor if they had gone in a straight line. Why didn't they follow a more direct course to complete the job sooner? There is an old piece of folk-lore passed on through generations that the graves of David and Solomon lay between the spring and the pool. Archaeologists sank shafts into the rock from the top of the hill and came across cavities cut in the rock which could have been graves, but had been despoiled earlier. Could they have been royal tombs of the Davidic line? Some biblical archaeologists think so; others do not, saying the tunnelers merely followed natural faults in the rocks. We may never know.

Pool of Siloam

The Pool of Siloam was created as a storage reservoir for the water from Hezekiah's Tunnel. It was located at the southwestern end of the city. The pool, with Hezekiah's Tunnel, was in use in Jesus' time and it is mentioned in John 9:1-7 in connection with the healing of a blind man by Jesus:

"As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no-one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.' Having said this, he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 'Go,' he told him, 'wash in the Pool of Siloam' (this word means sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing."

Siloam PoolSiloam is a Greek name, derived from the Hebrew "Shiloah," meaning "sending." Here John uses the term Siloam as a play on words to emphasize his point that a blind man was sent to Siloam by Jesus, the one who was sent. To gain his sight, the blind man came to and obeyed the one who was sent.

in June 2004, the Pool of Siloam was rediscoveredwhile repairing a damaged sewer pipe in the southeast corner of the City of David, the earliest part of Jerusalem! The photo, left, is of the northeast corner
of the pool which was slightly trapezoidal, about 225’ long. It was a much grander affair than archaeologists previously believed, with three sets of five stone steps allowing easy access to the water.

The pool built during the reign of Hezekiah was presumably destroyed when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar razed the city in 586 BC. The pool of Jesus’ time was built early in the first century BC. It probably began to fill with soil during the widespread destruction that followed the First Jewish Revolt (70 AD). In addition, the pool is located at one of the lowest spots in Jerusalem and would have filled with more mud and debris every winter until it disappeared from sight. Much more of the pool remains to be excavated, but it lies under a garden owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. Archaeologists hope to secure an agreement allowing further excavation.

The location of the pool is marked by the small minaret of a mosque (lower center of photo below) built in the 1890's at the tip of the City of David.


An important city in the foothills of the Hebron mountains, it has been identified with Tel ed-Duweir (right), a prominent mound in the Shephelah (foothills), 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem. There is no mistaking the mound of the ancient city: as you come around the bend of a modern road, the sides rise almost straight up for 50 feet. With a summit of 20 acres, it is one of the largest ancient sites in Israel (though far smaller than Jerusalem, which during the time of Hezekiah encompassed about 150 acres). Prior to the time of Hezekiah it played a prominent role in the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, when it joined four other cities in a coalition against Joshua. With the defeat of the coalition, Lachish was conquered and its territory allotted to the tribe of Judah. When Sennacherib of Assyria conducted his campaigns i Judah in the days of Hezekiah, the capture of Lachish was one of his chief victories. At the time, it was protected by a double wall, each with its own gate, and a large fortified palace in the center. The siege of the city is recorded in great detail in Assyrian documents and in a series of reliefs found in the throne room of Sennacherib's palace at Nineveh. An immense fire that followed the capture of the city is evident in heavily burned bricks and charred objects. Other finds arrow heads, sling stones and armor attest to the fierce fighting. Remnants of the 40-foot-high siege ramp constructed by the Assyrians were found at the southeast corner of the mound, but it doesn't appear in the highly detailed Assyrian reliefs, leaving us to speculate that it was built during Sennacherib's second attack against the city in 688 BC.

Most of inhabitants of the city were probably deported after the city's conquest. But, a number of the Lachishites were brutally slaughtered. In the aforementioned reliefs three citizens are graphically shown impaled on long poles by the attackers. Also, excavations in the 1930's discovered a mass burial of 1,500 men, women and children who may have died during the siege.

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