Category: Nations of the Bible

The Assyrians were the inhabitants of a country that became a mighty empire dominating the biblical Middle East from the ninth to the seventh century BC. They conquered an area that comprises what is now Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. In the seventh century BC, Assyria occupied and controlled the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The capital of Assyria was Nineveh, one of the greatest cities of ancient times. Excavations in Mesopotamia have confirmed the Bible’s description that it took three days’ journey to go around this city (Jonah 3:3). The Assyrians were a fierce and cruel nation who showed little mercy to those they conquered (2 Kings 19:17).

The Assyrians were a thorn in the side of Israel. Beginning in 733 BC under King Tilgath-pileser, Assyria took the Northern Kingdom’s land and carried the inhabitants into exile (2 Kings 15:29). Later, beginning in 721 BC, the Assyrian king Shalmaneser besieged Israel’s capital, Samaria, and it fell three years later (2 Kings 18:9-12). This event fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that God would use Assyria as the “rod of His anger” (Isaiah 10:5-19); that is, the Assyrian Empire was implementing God’s judgment against the idolatrous Israelites. The sovereign God takes full credit as the source of Assyria’s authority (compare Isaiah 7:18; 8:7; 9:11; and Daniel 4:17). Secular history records that in 703 BC Assyria under King Sennacherib suppressed a major Chaldean challenge.

Given the Assyrian threat against Israel, it is understandable that the prophet Jonah did not want to travel to Nineveh (Jonah 1:1-3). When he eventually arrived in the Assyrian capital, Jonah preached God’s impending judgment. After hearing Jonah’s message, the king of Assyria and the entire city of Nineveh repented, and God turned His anger away for a time (Jonah 3:10). The grace of God was extended even to the Assyrians.

In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, in 701 BC, the Assyrians under Sennacherib took 46 of Judah’s fortified cities (Isaiah 36:1). Then they laid siege to Jerusalem—the Assyrian king engraved upon his stele that he had the king of Judah caught like a caged bird in his own country.

However, even though Sennacherib’s army occupied Judah up to the very doorstep of Jerusalem, and even though Sennacherib’s emissary Rabshakeh boasted against God and Hezekiah (Isaiah 36:4-21), Assyria was rebuffed. Hezekiah prayed, and God promised that the Assyrians would never set foot inside the city (Isaiah 37:33). God slew 185,000 Assyrian forces in one night (Isaiah 37:36), and Sennacherib returned to Nineveh where he was slain by his own sons as he worshiped his god Nisroch (Isaiah 37:38).

In 612 BC, Nineveh was besieged by an alliance of the Medes, Babylonians and Scythians, and the city was so completely destroyed that even its location was forgotten until British archeologist Sir Austen Layard began uncovering it in the nineteenth century. Thus, as the Babylonian Empire ascended, Assyria dropped off the pages of history.

Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was destroyed in 612 B.C. by the Medes. This was in fulfillment of the prophet Nahum’s prediction that God would completely destroy the city (Nahum 1). A number of factors combine to determine both the date and manner of Nineveh’s destruction.

During the prophet Jonah’s day, Nineveh was spared by God’s compassion in response to their repentance (Jonah 3). This happened in 760 B.C.

The book of Nahum was written after the destruction of the Egyptian city of Thebes (Nahum 3:8). That event took place in 663 B.C. when it was conquered by the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. Therefore, Nineveh was still standing at that time. There is some evidence that Nahum wrote shortly after the destruction of Thebes, because Judah was still under Assyrian control during the time of his writing. This was the situation during the reign of Manasseh (697-642 B.C.) but not during the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). In addition, the city of Thebes returned to power in 654 B.C., meaning that Nahum likely wrote before then. So, Nahum can be dated between 663 and 654 B.C. Therefore, Nineveh must have been destroyed after 654 B.C. but no later than 612, when the Medes are mentioned as the conquerors of the city.

An ancient account called The Fall of Nineveh Chronicle reveals an account of this time period, providing firsthand, extra-biblical documentation. The translation (with some missing text) reads as follows:

“The king of Akkad mustered his army and marched to Assyria. The king of the Medes marched towards the king of Akkad and they met one another at […]u. The king of Akkad and his army crossed the Tigris; Cyaxares had to cross the Radanu, and they marched along the bank of the Tigris. In the month Simanu [May/June], the Nth day, they encamped against Nineveh.

“From the month Simanu until the month Âbu [July/August] -for three months- they subjected the city to a heavy siege. On the Nth day of the month Âbu they inflicted a major defeat upon a great people. At that time Sin-šar-iškun, king of Assyria, died. They carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple and turned the city into a ruin heap The [lacuna] of Assyria escaped from the enemy and, to save his life, seized the feet of the king of Akkad.

“On the twentieth day of the month Ulûlu [14 September 612] Cyaxares and his army went home.” (From

Based on this account, it is clear that the siege of Nineveh came at the hands of the king of Akkad and the king of Media during the summer of 612 B.C. Three months later, the city fell. The king of Assyria died, and the city was plundered until September 14 when the invading army departed. By 605 B.C. the Assyrian Kingdom officially ended, and Babylonia was on the rise.

Despite Nineveh’s great power, the city fell just as Nahum had prophesied. It would not be until the 1800s that archaeologists would excavate portions of the ancient city. Nineveh had indeed been “hidden,” as Nahum predicted long ago (Nahum 3:11).

Babylon rose from a Mesopotamian city on the Euphrates River to become a powerful city-state and later the capital city and namesake of one of the greatest empires in history. The city was located on the eastern side of the Fertile Crescent about 55 miles south of modern Baghdad. Babylon’s history intersected the biblical timeline early and often.  The influence of Babylonia on Israel and on world history is profound.

The Founding of Babylon
The Bible’s first mention of Babylon comes in Genesis 10. This chapter is referred to as the table of nations as it traces the descendants of Noah’s three sons. In the genealogy of Ham, “Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth” (Genesis 10:8). Nimrod founded a kingdom that included a place called “Babylon” in Shinar (Genesis 10:10).

The Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel is found in Genesis 11. In English it is easy enough to make the connection between “Babel” and “Babylon,” but in Hebrew it is the same word. This chapter cements Babylon’s reputation as a city of rebellion against God. From then on, the biblical writers consistently use Babylon as a symbol of evil and defiance (see 1 Peter 5:13 and Revelation 17:5).

Babylon’s Early Growth
Near the time of Abraham, Babylon became an independent city-state ruled by the Amorites. The first Babylonian dynasty included Hammurabi, the sixth king, known for his code of laws. Hammurabi expanded the kingdom, and the area around Babylon became known as Babylonia. During the second dynasty, Babylon was in communication with Egypt and entered a 600-year struggle with Assyria. After a time of subjugation to the Elamite Empire, a fourth dynasty of Babylonian kings thrived under Nebuchadnezzar I. Then Babylon fell under the shadow of Assyria.

Babylon’s Ascendency
By 851 B.C., Babylon was only nominally independent, requiring Assyrian “protection” and facing many internal upheavals. Finally, the Assyrian Tiglath-pileser III took the throne. The Assyrians and Merodach-baladan, a Chaldean, traded power more than once. During one of his times of advantage, Merodach-baladan sent emissaries to threaten Hezekiah, king of Judah (2 Kings 20:12-19; Isaiah 39). When the Chaldean chief Nabopolassar took control of Babylon in 626 B.C., he proceeded to sack Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.

Nebuchadnezzar II’s Conquest of Judah
Under the Chaldean dynasty, and, arguably, throughout the rest of history, no king surpassed the glory and absolute power of Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign. As the crown prince (son of Nabopolassar), he defeated Pharaoh Necho II, who had come to the aid of the Assyrian army, winning for Babylonia the former Assyrian lands, including Israel. After being crowned king, Nebuchadnezzar forced King Jehoiakim of Judah to “become his vassal for three years. But then [Jehoiakim] changed his mind and rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar” (2 Kings 24:1). The king of Babylon, who did not take kindly to being rebelled against, captured Jerusalem and took the king and other leaders, military men and artisans as prisoners to Babylon (2 Kings 24:12-16). This deportation marked the beginning of the Babylonian exile of the Jews.

Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah to rule Judah. However, Zedekiah, against the prophet Jeremiah’s counsel, joined the Egyptians in a revolt in 589 B.C. This resulted in Nebuchadnezzar’s return. The remaining Jews were deported, Jerusalem was burned, and the temple was destroyed in August of 587 B.C. (Jeremiah 52:1-30).

The Prophet Daniel and the Fall of Babylon
Babylon is the setting for the ministry of the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel, who were both deportees from Judah. Daniel became a leader and royal advisor to the Babylonian and Persian Empires. He had been captured after the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C. (Jeremiah 46:2-12). The book of Daniel records Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2) and foretells the fall of Babylon to the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5). Earlier, the prophet Isaiah had also foretold the fall of Babylon (Isaiah 46:1-2).

In the Bible, Babylon is mentioned from Genesis to Revelation, as it rises from its rebellious beginnings to become a symbol of the Antichrist’s evil world system. When God’s people required discipline, God used the Babylonian Empire to accomplish it, but He limited Judah’s captivity to 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11). Then, God promised to “punish the king of Babylon and his nation” (Jeremiah 25:12) “for all the wrong they have done in Zion” (Jeremiah 51:24). Ultimately, all evil will be judged, as symbolized by Babylon’s demise in Revelation 18:21: “The great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again.”

The Samaritans occupied the country formerly belonging to the tribe of Ephraim  and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The capital of the country was Samaria, formerly  a large and splendid city. When the ten tribes were carried away into captivity  to Assyria, the king of Assyria sent people from Cutha, Ava, Hamath, and  Sepharvaim to inhabit Samaria (2 Kings  17:24; Ezra  4:2-11). These foreigners intermarried with the Israelite population that  was still in and around Samaria. These “Samaritans” at first worshipped the  idols of their own nations, but being troubled with lions, they supposed it was  because they had not honored the God of that territory. A Jewish priest was  therefore sent to them from Assyria to instruct them in the Jewish religion.  They were instructed from the books of Moses, but still retained many of their  idolatrous customs. The Samaritans embraced a religion that was a mixture of  Judaism and idolatry (2 Kings  17:26-28). Because the Israelite inhabitants of Samaria had intermarried  with the foreigners and adopted their idolatrous religion, Samaritans were  generally considered “half-breeds” and were universally despised by the  Jews.

Additional grounds for animosity between the Israelites and  Samaritans were the following:

1. The Jews, after their return from  Babylon, began rebuilding their temple. While Nehemiah was engaged in building  the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans vigorously attempted to halt the  undertaking (Nehemiah  6:1-14).

2. The Samaritans built a temple for themselves on “Mount  Gerizim,” which the Samaritans insisted was designated by Moses as the place  where the nation should worship. Sanballat, the leader of the Samaritans,  established his son-in-law, Manasses, as high priest. The idolatrous religion of  the Samaritans thus became perpetuated.

3. Samaria became a place of  refuge for all the outlaws of Judea (Joshua 20:721:21). The Samaritans  willingly received Jewish criminals and refugees from justice. The violators of  the Jewish laws, and those who had been excommunicated, found safety for  themselves in Samaria, greatly increasing the hatred which existed between the  two nations.

4. The Samaritans received only the five books of Moses and  rejected the writings of the prophets and all the Jewish traditions.

From these causes arose an irreconcilable difference between them, so that the  Jews regarded the Samaritans as the worst of the human race (John 8:48) and had no dealings with them (John 4:9). In spite of the hatred between the Jews and  the Samaritans, Jesus broke down the barriers between them, preaching the gospel  of peace to the Samaritans (John  4:6-26), and the apostles later followed His example (Acts 8:25).

The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the firstborn son of Isaac and the  twin brother of Jacob. In the womb, Esau and Jacob struggled together, and God  told their mother, Rebekah, that they would become two nations, with the older  one serving the younger (Genesis  25:23). As an adult, Esau rashly sold his inheritance to Jacob for a bowl of  red soup (Genesis  25:30-34), and he hated his brother afterward. Esau became the father of the  Edomites and Jacob became the father of the Israelites, and the two nations  continued to struggle through most of their history. In the Bible, “Seir” (Joshua 24:4), “Bozrah” (Isaiah 63:1) and “Sela” (2 Kings 14:7) are  references to Edom’s land and capital. Sela is better known today as  Petra.

The name “Edom” comes from a Semitic word meaning “red,” and the  land south of the Dead Sea was given that name because of the red sandstone so  prominent in the topography. Esau, because of the soup for which he traded his  birthright, became known as Edom, and later moved his family into the hill  country of the same name. Genesis 36 recounts the early history of the Edomites,  stating that they had kings reigning over them long before Israel had a king (Genesis 36:31). The  religion of the Edomites was similar to that of other pagan societies who  worshiped fertility gods. Esau’s descendants eventually dominated the southern  lands and made their living by agriculture and trade. One of the ancient trade  routes, the King’s Highway (Numbers  20:17) passed through Edom, and when the Israelites requested permission to  use the route on their exodus from Egypt, they were rejected by force.

Because they were close relatives, the Israelites were forbidden to hate the  Edomites (Deuteronomy  23:7). However, the Edomites regularly attacked Israel, and many wars were  fought as a result. King Saul fought against the Edomites, and King David  subjugated them, establishing military garrisons in Edom. With control over  Edomite territory, Israel had access to the port of Ezion-Geber on the Red Sea,  from which King Solomon sent out many expeditions. After the reign of Solomon,  the Edomites revolted and had some freedom until they were subdued by the  Syrians under Tiglath-pileser.

During the Maccabean wars, the Edomites  were subjugated by the Jews and forced to convert to Judaism. Through it all,  the Edomites maintained much of their old hatred for the Jews. When Greek became  the common language, the Edomites were called Idumaeans.  With the rise of the  Roman Empire, an Idumaean whose father had converted to Judaism was named king  of Judea. That Idumaean is known in history as King Herod the Great, the tyrant  who ordered a massacre in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the Christ child (Matthew  2:16-18).

After Herod’s death, the Idumaean people slowly  disappeared from history. God had foretold the destruction of the Edomites in  Ezekiel 35, saying, “As you rejoiced over the inheritance of the house of  Israel, because it was desolate, so I will deal with you; you shall be desolate,  Mount Seir, and all Edom, all of it. Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 35:15). Despite  Edom’s constant efforts to rule over the Jews, God’s prophecy to Rebekah was  fulfilled: the older child served the younger, and Israel proved stronger than  Edom.

Throughout the early history of Israel, we find references to the Ammonite  people. Who were they, where did they come from, and what happened to them? The  Ammonites were a Semitic people, closely related to the Israelites. Despite that  relationship, they were more often counted enemies than friends.

Lot,  Abraham’s nephew, was the progenitor of the Ammonites. After Abraham and Lot  separated (Genesis 13), Lot settled in the city of Sodom. When God destroyed  Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness, Lot and his daughters fled to  the hill country on the southern end of the Dead Sea. Probably thinking they  were the only people left on the earth, Lot’s daughters got him drunk and had  incestuous relations with him to produce children (Genesis  19:37-38). The older daughter had a son named Moab (“from father”), and the  younger gave birth to Ben-Ammi (“son of my people”).  The Ammonites, descendants  of Ben-Ammi, were a nomadic people who lived in the territory of modern-day  Jordan, and the name of the capital city, Amman, reflects the name of those  ancient inhabitants.

In the time of Moses, the fertile plains of the  Jordan River valley were occupied by the Amorites, Ammonites and Moabites. When  Israel left Egypt, the Ammonites refused to assist them in any way, and God  punished them for their lack of support (Deuteronomy 23:3-4). Later, however, as the Israelites  entered the Promised Land, God instructed them, “When you approach the territory  of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not  give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have  given it to the sons of Lot for a possession” (Deuteronomy  2:19). The Israelite tribes of Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh claimed the  Amorite territory bordering that of the Ammonites.

The Ammonites were a  pagan people who worshiped the gods Milcom and  Molech. God commanded the  Israelites not to marry these pagans, because intermarriage would lead the  Israelites to worship false gods. Solomon disobeyed and married Naamah the  Ammonite (1 Kings  14:21), and, as God had warned, he was drawn into idolatry (1 Kings 11:1-8). Molech  was a fire-god with the face of a calf; his images had arms outstretched to  receive the babies who were sacrificed to him. Like their god, the Ammonites  were cruel. When Nahash the Ammonite was asked for terms of a treaty (1 Samuel 11:2), he  proposed gouging out the right eye of each Israelite man. Amos 1:13 says that the Ammonites would rip open pregnant  women in the territories they conquered.

Under King Saul’s leadership,  Israel defeated the Ammonites and made them vassals. David continued that  sovereignty over Ammon and later besieged the capital city to solidify his  control. After the split of Israel and Judah, the Ammonites began to ally  themselves with the enemies of Israel. Ammon regained some sovereignty in the  seventh century B.C., until Nebuchadnezzar conquered them about a hundred years  later.  Tobiah the Ammonite (Nehemiah  2:19) was possibly a governor of the region under Persian rule, but the  inhabitants were a mix of Ammonites, Arabs, and others. By New Testament times,  Jews had settled in the area, and it was known as Perea. The last mention of  Ammonites as a separate people was in the second century by Justin Martyr, who  said they were very numerous. Sometime during the Roman period, the Ammonites  seem to have been absorbed into Arab society.

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