Was Israel ever a nation truly to be reckoned with by the major powers throughout the Old Testament?
October 1973

“Was Israel ever a nation truly to be reckoned with by the major powers throughout the Old Testament?” Ensign, Oct. 1973, 76

In terms of strength and power and significance, was Israel ever a nation truly to be reckoned with by the major powers throughout the Old Testament? Or was it in fact a small local power on occasion? Was there ever a world power during its time that really troubled itself much with Israel?

The Ten Tribes of Israel to the north and Judah in the south were, from time to time, forced to pay tribute to Assyria until northern Israel was conquered and depopulated by Sargon II in 722 B.C. Judah, however, with the help of the Lord working through Isaiah the prophet and good king Hezekiah, successfully resisted the attack of Assyrian King Sennacherib upon Jerusalem. (See 2 Kgs. 18:19.)

The next big nation to be concerned with Judah was Babylon. As Babylon was overthrowing the Assyrian power (620–604 B.C.) Egypt marched through Judah to get a share of the empire. When King Josiah of Judah resisted, his army was vanquished and he was killed. But Egypt’s power in Judah was short-lived. Pharaoh Necho was soon conquered by Babylon, and between 607 and 587 B.C. Babylon repeatedly tried to subject the Judeans to peaceful submission and tribute. She took group after group of Judah’s leaders into exile. Ezekiel and Daniel were called and actually did their prophetic work in Babylon.

Persia was the next nation to be concerned with Judah. After conquering Babylon (539 B.C.), Cyrus thought it well to let the Jews in captivity return to Judah and Jerusalem. Under Ezra, Nehemiah, and such prophets as Haggai and Zechariah, the little nation was built up again.

The great empire builder, Alexander the Great, showed respect for the people and the God of Judah and gave the nation considerable autonomy. After his empire broke up, there was much conflict between the Seleucid rulers of the area and the Judeans, ending with the Maccabean wars (164 to 64 B.C.; see 1 and 2 Maccabees).

After gaining virtual independence, internal conflicts turned the two last heirs of the Maccabean princes to Rome for help. Rome helped herself to the control of the Holy Land. The mighty Pompey was embarrassed in taking three months to besiege and break into Jerusalem (63 B.C.).

Rome again besieged Jerusalem in her attempts to rule the land with both Vespasian and Titus directing wars against Judah from A.D. 66 to 70.

Once again in A.D. 132 to 135, the emperor Hadrian directed a siege of the land. At that time it was against the false messiah, Bar Cochba. Jerusalem was destroyed again, rebuilt as a Roman city, and renamed; the land remained under Rome until A.D. 635.

It is evident, therefore, that although Israel and the remnant of Israel, Judah, were very small nations, they gave the major powers of the Middle East much concern throughout the centuries; several world powers had trouble controlling the land.

It appears also that for the present and future, certain world powers will continue to be troubled by that land and people, until eventually the righteous reign of the Messiah is established there.

  • Ellis T. Rasmussen, professor of ancient scripture, Brigham Young University