Seventy years into the history of Israel, the prophet Elijah suddenly appeared on the scene. He confronted the evil king Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, and he called the whole nation to repentance, saying (1 Kings 18:21):
How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, follow him.
Even though both the leaders and the people of Israel refused to respond in repentance, God in His patience continued to warn. Next, He called an unusual man to speak His warning — a fig-picker from the rural village of Tekoa in Judah. It would be like God calling a cowboy from Calgary, Canada today to deliver a prophetic message to the President of the United States!
His name was Amos, and although he was an uneducated man, he was a fearless and obedient servant of God. He proceeded to read the riot act to the people of Israel (Amos 2:6-8):
6) The LORD says, "The people of Israel have sinned again and again, and I will not forget it. I will not leave them unpunished any more. For they have perverted justice by accepting bribes and sold into slavery the poor who can't repay their debts; they trade them for a pair of shoes.
7) "They trample the poor in the dust and kick aside the meek. And a man and his father defile the same temple girl, corrupting My holy name.
8) "At their religious feasts they lounge in clothing stolen from their debtors, and in My own Temple they offer sacrifices of wine they purchased with stolen money." (LBP)
Amos even had the audacity to attack the sinful, greedy women of Israel, calling them "fat cows of Bashan" (Amos 4:1 LBP).
The prophet was particularly appalled by the religious hypocrisy that was rampant in the land. He pointed out that despite all their religiosity, they lived like pagans and denied social justice to the poor (Amos 5:21-24).
He reminded them of the many remedial judgments God had sent — including drought, famine, mildew, locusts, pestilence and defeat in wars (Amos 4:6-11). He concluded by declaring that if the nation persisted in its rebellion, God "will destroy it from the face of the earth" (Amos 9:8).
Israel's Final Prophet
But they did not listen. So, God raised up another prophet, from among their own people — a man by the name of Hosea. For the next 20 years, right up to the time of the kingdom's destruction, Hosea called the people to repentance. And like Amos, he confronted them with a litany of their sins, beginning with these words (Hosea 4:1-3):
1) Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel, for the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land, Because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land.
2) There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3) Therefore the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky, and also the fish of the sea disappear.
Hosea focused on the sin of idolatry, referring to it vividly as "the spirit of harlotry" (Hosea 4:12 and 9:1). And like Amos, he also railed against the people's religious hypocrisy, proclaiming: "I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (6:6).
Hosea pleaded with his fellow countrymen to "return to the LORD your God" (14:1), and he warned specifically that if they failed to do so, God would destroy their kingdom through the Assyrians (11:5-6). He also pointed out that should this happen, they would have no one to blame except themselves (13:9).
Meanwhile, in Judah, the prophet Isaiah, who was called by God to be a prophet to his own kingdom, also issued a warning to Israel. He cried out, "Woe to the proud crown [the capital city of Samaria] of the drunkards of Ephraim [the kingdom of Israel]" (Isaiah 28:1). He then declared that God was raising up "a mighty agent" to destroy the kingdom (28:2). This was, of course, a reference to the Assyrians whom Isaiah had referred to earlier as "the rod of God's anger" (10:5).
I think it is fascinating to note that near the end of the reign of Israel's very first king, Jeroboam, a prophet named Abijah prophesied the ultimate destruction of the kingdom of Israel: "For the LORD will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the LORD to anger" (1 Kings 14:15 — Asherim were totem poles that were erected to honor the female God named Asherah).
The Destruction of Israel
All these appeals and warnings fell on deaf ears. The result was the destruction of the kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BC. The kingdom had lasted 208 years. There had been 19 kings, and not a single one had been considered righteous in the eyes of God.
The reasons for their destruction are summed up in 2 Kings 17: "They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree" (10), "they burned incense on all the high places" (11), "they served idols" (12), "they made for themselves molten images... and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal" (16), and "they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments" (17).
The Assyrian conquest of the kingdom of Israel marked the beginning of the dispersion of the Jewish people in accordance with the prophecy of Deuteronomy 28:63-64. The ten Jewish tribes of that kingdom ultimately ended up being scattered all across the Eurasian continent, from Assyria to China and even into the Indian subcontinent.3
In the second part of this series on the dispersion of the Jews, we'll look at the fall and exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.