Story of the Chosen People - Helene Guerber

The Captivity of Israel

Under the reign of Jeroboam II., or of the kings who came just before, two other prophets arose in Israel, Hosea and Amos. Both spoke prophecies which are written down in the Bible, in books bearing their names. Hosea foretold the captivity of his people, and their return to the Holy Land, and he compared the sins of the people to those of his own wife, who had forsaken him. The Lordís forgiveness of his people was further made clear by Hoseaís own generosity in receiving again, and tenderly supporting, this runaway wife in her old age.

Amos, the other prophet, was called from his labors as a shepherd to speak against idolatry, and to foretell the doom of all the nations that dwelt in that part of Asia. He too foretold the return from captivity, and before he died he had visions concerning the coming of the Messiah.

After reigning forty-one years, Jeroboam II., King of Israel, was succeeded by his son, who indulged in sin, and fell under the blows of a conspirator. This man destroyed all that was left of the race of Jehu, and took possession of the throne. But he did not long enjoy the royal authority; for he was murdered one month later by Menahem, who became king and reigned ten years, treating the people with great cruelty.

It was under the reign of Menahem, and while he and his people were again worshiping idols, that the strong Assyrians first came to attack the kingdom. But the king managed to buy them off, by offering them one thousand talents of silver to leave Israel in peace.

The second king after Menahem, however, made an alliance with the Syrians, and, thus strengthened, dared to fight against the haughty Assyrians. He was defeated, and saw a large part of his people led off into captivity, as had been foretold by the prophets. Menahem himself was allowed to keep his poor kingdom, but was soon murdered by Hoshea, his successor, the nineteenth and last king of Israel.

While all these unfortunate events were taking place in the kingdom of Israel, Amaziah, King of Judah, had been succeeded by his son Uzziah, an able monarch. As Uzziah served the Lord, he was granted a long and prosperous reign. But, encouraged by prosperity, he finally became very proud, and forgot to whom his blessings were due. He tried to assume the duties of a priest, which the Levites alone were allowed to perform; and thus he called forth the wrath of God.

Uzziah came into the temple to burn incense, in spite of the high priest and of eighty of his assistants; but as soon as he began it, the Lord struck him with leprosy, and a white plague spot suddenly appeared on his forehead.

When the people saw what had happened, they all took up the cry of "unclean, unclean," and drove Uzziah out of the temple, which his presence polluted. He had to go away to a lonely place, where he spent the rest of his life in torture, while his son governed in his name.

When Uzziah finally died, his son Jotham became king, and for sixteen years he ruled over Judah in the fear of the Lord, and led a godly and faultless life. But in spite of all his virtues, the people gradually grew more corrupt; and when Ahaz, his son, succeeded him, and no longer tried to restrain them, they again openly worshiped idols.

To punish Ahaz for thus sinking with his people into such gross idolatry, the Lord allowed the Kings of Israel and Syria to defeat him in war, and to kill one hundred and twenty thousand of his men. Jerusalem would have fallen into the hands of the Israelites on this occasion, had not Isaiah, a prophet, encouraged the people to repent and defend themselves bravely against the attack.

Thus delivered from the danger of falling into the enemyís hands, Ahaz still had to war against the Syrians and Philistines, who had both attacked him. But instead of relying upon the help of the Lord, Ahaz called the Assyrians to his aid, offering all the temple treasure as a bribe, and promising to recognize the Assyrian king as his lord.

In answer to this appeal, the Assyrians marched against Damascus, killed the Syrian king, and carried his people off into captivity. It was then, as we have seen, that a part of the Israelites were also captured and led away. They were the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, the very ones who had claimed the land east of the Jordan.

Ahaz then went to Damascus and had a talk with the Assyrian king, to whom he gave the sacred golden vessels, the bases under the lavers, and many other of the priceless ornaments of the temple. The King of Judah had by this time grown so wicked that he set up a heathen altar in the temple; and he would probably have done much more harm, had not his reign been mercifully cut short.