Ancient Israel under Siege
September 1986

“Ancient Israel under Siege,” Ensign, Sept. 1986, 32

Old Testament

Ancient Israel under Siege

A photographic look at selected Old Testament sites that came under Assyrian and Babylonian attack.

This year, members of the Church worldwide are studying the Old Testament. The following photographs are of sites that will be discussed during the remainder of the year. The photography is by David H. Garner and Richard Cleave. (The Cleave photos are used by permission of Pictorial Archive, Jerusalem, Israel.)

TEL SAMARIA: At this point in our study, the Judges are gone, David and Solomon are dead, and the united kingdom has split into two nations—Israel and Judah. Thundering into the Holy Land in about 721 B.C., “in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, … Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it.” (2 Kgs. 18:9.) Yet the city of Samaria was so well situated atop a hill, and so well fortified, that it took Assyria three years to capture it. (2 Kgs. 18:10.) Then, in an act that changed the nation, Assyria sent inhabitants from other conquered nations to occupy the cities of Samaria. (See Ezra 4:10.)

LACHISH: Knowing that his beloved city of Jerusalem was in mortal danger from the forces that were decimating the hill cities to the southwest, “Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.

“And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king’s house.

“At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.” (2 Kgs. 18:14–16.)

But Sennacherib was not satisfied. In a stroke meant to humble Jerusalem, “the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to King Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem.” Just outside the walls of Jerusalem, Rabshakeh addressed three of Hezekiah’s counselors, demanding more booty and taunting the Lord, “Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand?

“Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?” Rabshakeh deliberately spoke in Hebrew rather than Syrian so that the people on the walls could understand him. (See 2 Kgs. 18:17–35.)

This threat was answered by the prophet Isaiah, who “said unto them, Thus shall ye say to your master, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me.

“Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.”

A short time later, the Assyrian army was stricken by the angel of the Lord, and Sennacherib returned to Nineveh, only to be assassinated by two of his sons. (See 2 Kgs. 19:6–8, 35–37.)

JERUSALEM: In approximately 701 B.C., when his victory at Lachish seemed certain, “the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem.” (2 Kgs. 18:17.) This terrible threat caused Hezekiah to seek counsel from the prophet Isaiah, who said, “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, That which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria I have heard. …

“And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.” (2 Kgs. 19:20, 35.)

About a hundred years later, the Lord commanded Jeremiah and Lehi to warn the city to repent upon the pain of utter destruction. (See 1 Ne. 1:4.) This time the people did not repent, but rejected the prophets. A few years after Lehi fled Jerusalem with his family, in the ninth year of the reign of king Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. (See Jer. 52:1–5.)

During the Jews’ captivity in Babylon, while officiating in the palace at Shushan, Nehemiah received the news that “the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.” In great sorrow he “sat down and wept, and mourned certain days.” (See Neh. 1:3–4.)

MEGIDDO: Megiddo had originally been a Canaanite city, conquered by the Egyptian pharaoh Tutmoses III in 1479 B.C., by Joshua when he defeated the king of Megiddo (see Josh. 12:7, 21), and again by the Philistines in the twelfth century. King David defeated the Philistines and brought Megiddo back under Israelite rule about 1000 B.C. His son Solomon fortified the city and built a formidable gateway (see 1 Kgs. 9:15) that became the inspiration for King Ahab, who raised Megiddo to an important city. In 609 B.C., “Pharaoh-nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he [Necho] slew him [Josiah] at Megiddo. …

“And his servants carried him in a chariot dead from Megiddo, and brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own sepulchre.” (2 Kgs. 23:29–30.)

The defeat at Megiddo was the beginning of the end for Judah. The death of Josiah ended the religious revival of Judah, and the nation went into rapid spiritual decline. Within a span of twenty-three years, Jerusalem had been captured twice, Daniel had been carried away captive to Babylon, a band of Jews had taken Jeremiah to Egypt as a sort of fetish, and Lehi, as directed by the Lord, had fled to the New World.

MIZPAH: Jeremiah was “bound in chains among all that were carried away captive of Jerusalem and Judah, which were carried away captive unto Babylon.

“And the captain of the guard took Jeremiah, and said unto him, … Behold, I loose thee this day from the chains which were upon thine hand. … Behold, all the land is before thee: whither it seemeth good and convenient for thee to go, thither go. …

“Then went Jeremiah unto Gedaliah the son of Ahikam to Mizpah; and dwelt with him among the people that were left in the land.

“Now when all the captains of the forces which were in the fields, even they and their men, heard that the king of Babylon had made Gedaliah the son of Ahikam governor in the land, and had committed unto him men, and women, and children, and the poor of the land, of them that were not carried away captive to Babylon;

“Then they came to Gedaliah to Mizpah. …

“And Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan sware unto them and to their men, saying, Fear not to serve the Chaldeans: dwell in the land, and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.

“As for me, behold, I will dwell at Mizpah to serve the Chaldeans. …

“Likewise when all the Jews that were in Moab, … and that were in all the countries, heard that the king of Babylon had left a remnant of Judah, and that he had set over them Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan;

“Even all the Jews returned out of all places whither they were driven, and came to the land of Judah, to Gedaliah, unto Mizpah.” (Jer. 40:1–2, 4, 6–12.)

“Then arose Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and the ten men that were with him, and smote Gedaliah the son of Ahikam the son of Shaphan with the sword, and slew him, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.

“Ishmael also slew all the Jews that were with him [Gedalia]. …

“Then Ishmael carried away captive all the residue of the people that were in Mizpah, even the king’s daughters, and all the people that remained in Mizpah. …

“But when Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the captains of the forces that were with him, heard of all the evil that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah had done,

“Then they took all the men, and went to fight with Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and found him by the great waters that are in Gibeon. …

“But Ishmael the son of Nethaniah escaped from Johanan with eight men, and went to the Ammonites.” (Jer. 41:2–3, 10–12, 15; see also 2 Kgs. 25:22–26.)

Site of the Kingdom of Israel when moved from Tirzah

1. The hill in the center of the photograph rises some three hundred feet above the valley floor and was the site king Omri chose for the capital city of the Kingdom of Israel when he moved it from Tirzah. (See 1 Kgs. 16:23–24.) Here Ahab, son of Omri, built his house of ivory, a treasure of worldly beauty. (See 1 Kgs. 22:39.)

Tel Lachish

2. This northwest view atop Tel Lachish shows a huge gate built by Rehoboam, who had fortified the city of Lachish about 920 B.C. (See 2 Chr. 11:5, 9.) It was in the opening visible beyond the gate that archaeologists discovered broken pieces of pottery with messages written upon them in ancient ink. Known as the Lachish Letters, they contain the gloomy message of the Babylonian destruction of Azekah and the anticipated destruction of Lachish itself.

Tel Samaria

3. This view to the southwest from the top of Tel Samaria (Sabaste) shows one of the valleys of Manasseh. This region of the Land of Samaria, as it was known in the biblical era, is a tableland of terraced hills and beautiful valleys in which lived the tribe of Ephraim and half the tribe of Manasseh. (See Josh. 17:1–18.) The Hebrew name Ephraim, derived from the word fruitful, appropriately fits the locale to which they had been assigned.

Looking southeast toward Tel Lachish

4. Looking southeast toward Tel Lachish, one of the great defensed cities that guarded the south entrance to the highlands of Judea and the city of Jerusalem. (See 2 Kgs. 18:13.) The city was among five confederate cities that were defeated by Joshua when Israel came into the promised land. (See Josh. 10:3–11.) It was from the fallen Lachish that Sennacherib, king of Assyria, tried to launch his fatal campaign against Jerusalem. (See 2 Kgs. 18:9–19.) Between 1932 and 1935, archaelogists excavated Lachish and found a pit with fifteen hundred skeletons of persons who perished at the time of Assyria’s conquest. (Photo by Richard Cleave.)

This northern view of Tel Lachish

5. This northern view across the top of eighteen-acre Tel Lachish features the raised foundation of the ruins of the palace complex, which had been rebuilt by King Solomon in the tenth century B.C.

Highlands of Judea

6. This distant aerial view to the northwest illustrates the position that Jerusalem occupies in the highlands of Judea. The rolling hills of Samaria stretch beyond the city toward the skyline. The Temple Mount is recognizable in the upper center of the picture, with the City of David seen as the terminal finger projecting downward and south of it. Jerusalem is encompassed on all four sides by mountains, referred to by David in Psalms 125:2. [Ps. 125:2] On the upper right a tower is visible on the Mount of Olives. It is not difficult to understand how the sons of Lehi could flee to the wilderness from the presence of Laban and the city of Jerusalem and find safety in “the cavity of a rock” (1 Ne. 3:27), for the wilderness around Jerusalem is punctuated with many such caverns. (Photo by Richard Cleave.)

The ancient City of David

7. This stunning aerial photograph of Jerusalem is a northeast view featuring the ancient City of David. As the new king of Israel, David had moved his seven-year-old capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. (See 2 Sam. 5:5.) Jerusalem was a tiny place, compared with the city of today, and it occupied only the southern finger of the hill of Mt. Moriah (lower right center). It is seen in the picture as a thirteen-acre extension of Mt. Moriah, located on the near side of the Temple Mount (upper center) and surrounded by a valley on the right, a shallow valley on the left, and the southern wall of the Temple Mount at its top. Anciently, the City of David was simply called Mt. Ophel (see, for example, 2 Chr. 27:3) or Jebus (see 1 Chr. 11:4). (Photo by Richard Cleave.)


8. This is a northwest aerial view of the thirteen-acre tel of Megiddo. Whoever controlled this ancient city controlled the traffic through the valley. Thus, it was one of the most contested cities of the Holy Land and has given its name to a great conflict that the prophets have called Armageddon. (See Rev. 16:16.) The distinct, round circle toward the center of the tel is a grain silo built by King Ahab. The depression seen to the far left is the entrance to Ahab’s impressive underground water supply, which descends some 197 feet underground and then continues horizontally another 394 feet to the water source. (Photo by Richard Cleave.)

Tel Megiddo

9. This is an aerial view of an archaelogical trough that has been cut into Tel Megiddo. The trough slices through some twenty layers of civilization to the Canaanite period. The round object made of stones is a Canaanite altar. (Photo by Richard Cleave.)

The Canaanite altar at Megiddo

10. This Canaanite altar at Megiddo, five feet high and some twenty-five feet wide, was used for the worship of the idol god Baal. Persons worshipped at this altar from before the days of Abraham through the Israelite period, when Jehu engineered the death of all Baal worshippers in Samaria and destroyed the places of Baal worship. (See 2 Kgs. 10:18–28.)

The great gate of Megiddo

11. The large fiat stones in the center of this picture are the remains of the main steps that led to the great gate of Megiddo built by Solomon, similar to the ones he built at Gezer and Hazor.

The six-chambered gate constructed by King Solomon

12. The remains of the great six-chambered gate constructed by King Solomon when he fortified Megiddo. (See 1 Kgs. 9:15.)

Grain silo was built by King Ahab at Megiddo

13. This 12,000-bushel grain silo was built by King Ahab at Megiddo to help feed his stable of 492 horses. Two sets of steps descend some 25 feet below ground level.

steps built after Solomon’s time to accommodate the Megiddo foot traffic

14. These well-preserved steps, excavated only a few years ago, were built after Solomon’s time to accommodate the Megiddo foot traffic from the city gate to a water system.

Trough at Megiddo for the horses of King Ahab

15. A large stone carved out to make a water and feed trough at Megiddo for the horses of King Ahab.


16. On the crest of this hill are the ancient ruins of Mizpah, dating back to the time of the Israelite occupation. Mizpah (Tel Nasbe) was a major city in the northern part of the narrow band of land that was the tribal inheritance of Benjamin, about seven miles north of Jerusalem. It was from here that Samuel judged Israel during part of his ministry. (See 1 Sam. 7:5–12.)

  • David H. Garner, an educator in the Church Educational System, serves as president of the Kaysville Utah South Stake.