The Last Kings of Israel

Amos, one of the earliest tribunes, called prophets in Judah and Israel, whose words are preserved in writing, lived and spoke, or “saw his words” (Amos 1:1) in the days of King Jeroboam II of Samaria and of King Uzziah of Jerusalem. A herdsman of Tekoah (south of Bethlehem) and gatherer of sycamore fruits, Amos felt the call two years before the raash in the days of Uzziah. His are only nine chapters, together not even as many pages. But the Decalogue is even shorter: verbosity is not a sign of inspiration. The Midrashim tell that Amos was a stammerer.(1) Amos’ career was also very short—he was put to death by King Uzziah. He was a firebrand from the hour he heard the call to carry his fivefold message to near and to far: a haranguer in the service of the downtrodden, a religious zealot of monotheism in a world of passionate pagan worship; a statesman or geopolitician with hardly more than a cluster of listeners; a prognosticator of a natural upheaval to come; a visionary of a compassionate reconciliation of Man with his Creator, and above all, of Israel with his Maker, after the dire things he foretold would come to pass.

The upheaval of nature, or “commotion” which shook the nations of the ancient East in the middle of the eighth century before the present era brought, amid the devastation and dislocations caused by nature, political revolutions that swept away long-established dynasties.

Following the earthquake of -747, king Uzziah ceded effective control of Judah to his son Jotham.

It was in the same year, even the very day of the catastrophe according to rabbinical sources,(2) that marked the beginning of the prophetic career of Isaiah. In a flash of an intense experience Isaiah understood that the upheaval that the nation witnessed on that day was to be one of many, and that they would not cease “until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate.” (6:11) He spoke to Judah, depicting the catastrophe that had taken place: “Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire” (1:7)—for the Lord “hath stretched forth his hand” against his people “and hath smitten them: and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets.” And he warned of new disasters to come: “For all this his anger is not turned away but his hand is stretched out still.” (5:25)

In the northern kingdom the “commotion” brought an end to the house of Jeroboam II; it perished by the sword, as Amos had prophecied. (7:9) Jeroboam’s son Zachariah reigned only six months when “Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him before the people, and slew him, and reigned in his stead.” (II Kings 15:10) But within a month the throne was wrested away from the usurper by Menahem, son of Gadi.

In Assyria a revolution also brought a usurper to power—Tiglath-Pileser III, a military man of unusual abilities, climbed the throne and brought about a resurgence of Assyrian power, following several decades of weakness.

Already in his second year the new king marched his armies to the west, and also came up against Israel, demanding of Menachem a heavy indemnity in return for not destroying the land. A thousand talents of silver was the price, and Menachem collected the metal from all the “men of wealth” in Israel. (II Kings 19: 20)(3)

For ten years Menahem reigned in Samaria. “And Menahem slept with his fathers; and Pekahiah his son reigned in his stead.” Pekahiah’s reign was short: two years later “Pekah, son of Remaliah, a captain of his, conspired against him and smote him in Samaria in the palace of the king’s house.” (II Kings 15:25) Pekah’s seizure of power meant a victory for those who wished to put an end to the heavy exactions of the Assyrian king and the position of vassalage that had become Israel’s lot under Menachem and his son.

While Tiglath-Pileser was absent on campaigns in the north and east,(4) Pekah concluded an alliance with Rezin king of Damascus (Isaiah 7: 4) and set out against Judah. Ahaz, son of Jotham, was new on the throne in Jerusalem when the armies of Pekah and Rezin marched against his kingdom and laid siege to the city. At this crisis Isaiah, the prophet, called on the young king—Ahaz was but twenty years old when he began to reign—and met him on a road next to a field, away from the palace; and he comforted him, saying: “Take heed and be quiet; fear not, neither be fainthearted"—for the Lord would bring the Assyrians to destroy the power of Damascus and of Israel. (Isaiah 7:4)

Though Jerusalem was not taken, the Book of Chronicles reports that “a hundred and twenty thousand” of the men of Judah perished in the war; Ahaz’s son, Maaseiah, was among those killed. Pekah also “carried away captive of their own brethren two hundred thousand, women, sons and daughters” and brought them, together with much spoil, to Samaria. But a prophet named Oded protested that the children of Judah should stay as bondmen and bondwomen in Samaria and threatened the victors with the Lord’s fierce wrath. And certain princes of Israel “stood up against them that came from the war” and forced them to release the captives. They were clothed, fed, and returned, “the feeble of them upon asses . . . to Jericho, the city of palm trees.” (II Chronicles 18: 5-15)

Meanwhile Ahaz “sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, saying: “I am thy servant and thy son; come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me.’” He also sent to the king of Assyria gold and silver for presents. And Tiglath-Pileser “hearkened unto him: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it.” (II Kings 16: 7-9) In his own annals Tiglath-Pileser III records his war against Damascus, and how he killed Rezin and devastated the country. “The sixteen districts of Aram [Syria] I destroyed [and turned into] mounds [as if] left by a flood.” (5) Following Pekah’s defeat, “Hoshea, son of Elah, made a conspiracy against Pekah, the son of Remaliah, and smote him, and slew him, and reigned in his stead.” (6)


  1. Of Moses it is said that he was kvad pe, “heavy of speech,” that is, with a speech impediment.

  2. Seder Olam, 20.

  3. Cf. the recently published stele of Tiglath-Pileser III in which “Menachem of Samaria” is listed among those who sent tribute to Assyria. See L. D. Levine, Two Neo-Assyrian Stelae from Iran (Royal Ontario Museum Art and Archaeology Occasional Paper, 23 [Toronto, 1972], pp. 11-24). The text of I Chronicles 15: 19 calls the invading king “Pul” ; this may have been Tiglath-Pileser’s name in Babylonia.

  4. [After about -737].

  5. Luckenbill, Records of Assyria, I. 815-819.

  6. The Assyrian version is almost identical: according to an inscription of Tiglath-Pileser III, the people of Israel “overthrew their king Pekah and placed Hoshea as king over them.”