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Israel's relationship with Syria

Julian Spriggs M.A.

The names 'Aram' and 'Aramean' are synonymous with 'Syria' and 'Syrian'. The Syrians, or Arameans, started off as nomads. Shem, the son of Noah was their founder (Gen 10:21). They eventually settled in the Syrian and Mesopotamian area. Abraham and the patriarchs were related to the Arameans (Gen 25:20). Rebecca was the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean and the sister of Laban the Aramean, both of Paddan-aram.

The area of Aram never developed into one great empire or world power, but rather consisted of several small independent city states in Syria and northern Palestine.

Some of the principal cities and districts were
Syria of Damascus
Syria of Zobah (north of Damascus)
The Plain of Aram (upper Mesopotamia)
Aram of Two Rivers

Aramean culture was never as distinctive or as creative as Egypt, Babylon or Assyria. They copied and adapted many things from surrounding cultures to their own needs. In contrast, the Aramaic language became the diplomatic and commercial tongue of the ancient near east. In 701, when Sennacherib of Assyria besieged Jerusalem, Hezekiah's officials urged the dialogue with the Assyrian to be in Aramaic (2 Kg 19:26). In the Persian empire, it was used as the official formal language to communicate between the provinces. Chapters 2 to 7 in the book of Daniel are entirely written in Aramaic as well as most of Ezra chapters 4 to 7. Jesus and his disciples spoke a Palestinian dialect of Aramaic.

Syria and Assyria were often at war. During times of Assyrian weakness, some Aramean cities would grow strong. Damascus became one of the strongest cities and was a continuing source of trouble to Israel, often being used by God to discipline Israel.

By the 12th century BC, the Arameans are mentioned by name as living between the western banks of the Euphrates (west of Assyria) and Palmyra in the Syrian Desert, where they had various strongholds. With the decline of the Hittite and Egyptian influence in Canaan and Syria, the Arameans took the opportunity to move westward and settle in northern and southern Syria, especially around Tadmor (Palmyra) and Damascus.

Period of Judges

Cushan-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia ruled Israel for 8 years (Judg 3:8). Othniel, the first Judge, was raised up as a deliverer. Mesopotamia is 'Aram-naharaim' in Hebrew, the area around Haran. So Cushan-rishathaim was an Aramean king.

Later, the people of Israel served the gods of Syria, Sidon, Moab etc. (Judg 10:6). God punished them by oppression by Ammonites and Philistines, deliverance was by Jephthah.

In 1115-1077, just before King David, Tiglath-Pileser I, king of Assyria fought many battles against the Syrians, but could not stop them moving east and taking areas of his dominion in Mesopotamia.

King David 1040-1000 BC

David married Maacah (2 Sam 3:3), the daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur in Aram (2 Sam 15:8). Absalom was the son from this marriage, who later fled to Geshur (2 Sam 13:37) after murdering his brother Amnon.

Capture of Damascus and Zobah (2 Sam 8:6) about 1040 BC.

In the list of David's victories, he defeated Hadadezer, king of Zobah (north of Damascus) as Hadadezer was going to restore his power at the river Euphrates. The Syrians who came from Damascus were defeated by David, who put garrisons in Damascus and demanded tribute. King Toi of Hamath (north of Zobah), an enemy of Hadadezer, sent his son Joram to greet and congratulate David.

The Ammonites hired the Syrians to help them fight David (2 Sam 10:6). David sent in his army, under the command of Joab. The Syrians fled, followed by the Ammonites. Hadadezer gathered the Syrians to fight against David and were defeated by him, and feared to help the Ammonites again (Also 1 Chr 19). This event may have occurred before the victory described in 2 Sam 8, which is a summary of his victories.

David ruled over the whole of Syria at the height of his kingdom, as far as the river Euphrates. Hamath was ruled as an ally, a more voluntary subjection.

King Solomon

Solomon's trade with Syria is recorded (1 Kg 10:29). In 975 BC, Solomon took Hamath-Zobah and built store cities in Hamath (2 Chr 8:3). Perhaps there had been an uprising in this area.

Independence regained (1 Kg 11:14)

Solomon's three adversaries, were raised up by the Lord because of his marrying foreign wives and resulting idolatry:
1) Hadad of Edom
2) Rezon king of Damascus
3) Jeroboam (later king of north)

Rezon (1 Kg 11:23) had fled from Hadadezer of Zobah and gathered men around him to form a marauding band after Hadadezer's defeat by David (2 Sam 8) and later had become king of Damascus. He was a bandit until 955 BC, and king 955-925 BC. On and off for the next 150 years, Syria was fighting with Israel, the northern kingdom, until Damascus was conquered by the Assyrians in 732 BC.

Hadad is the name of a Syrian deity, the thunderer, the storm god or Baal. Hadad is also known as Hadar and had an Edomite name, also used in Syria. A temple to Hadad has been found in Aleppo (North Syria). Some of the names of the kings incorporate the name of this god:
Hadadezer or Hadarezer
Benhadad ( = son of Hadad)

Divided kingdom

There was continuous war between the north and the south from the division of the kingdom in 931 BC until the marriage alliance between Jehosaphat (Judah) and Ahab (Israel), when Jehoram (the son of Jehosaphat) and Athaliah (the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel) were married around 860 BC (2 Chr 18:1).

Around 900 BC, there was war between Asa of Judah and Baasha of Israel (1 Kg 15:16). Baasha attacked Judah and built Ramah on the boundary between the 2 kingdoms on the main route. Asa took gold from the temple and sent it to Benhadad I as a present to persuade him to break his treaty with Israel and to help Judah. Benhadad sent armies against Israel and conquered Dan and Naphtali (Also 2 Chr 16).

Elijah is told to anoint the following people (1 Kg 19:15):
Hazael as king of Syria (replace Benhadad I)
Jehu as king of Israel (replace Jehoram)
Elisha as prophet (replace Elijah)

In the 860's BC, there was war between Israel and Syria (1 Kg 20), Ahab against Benhadad II.

First campaign (v1) Benhadad II, with 32 kings besieged Samaria
Victory prophesied to Ahab (v13)
Victory was achieved by Ahab (v16), when Benhadad was drunk his army fled.

Second campaign prophesied (v22)
Benhadad attacked Israel at Aphek and Syrians filled the country. Syrians were defeated in battle and fled to Aphek where a wall fell on them and 27,000 were killed. Ahab made a covenant in which Benhadad agreed to return the captured slaves. God passed judgement on Ahab for sparing Benhadad (v35)

Third campaign after 3 years peace (1 Kg 22)
Ahab of Israel and Jehosaphat of Judah formed an alliance (2 Chr 18) and fought together against Syria, who had occupied Ramoth-Gilead. Ahab disguised himself while Jehosaphat was in robes. The Syrian armies were only after the king of Israel, so fought against Jehosaphat. Ahab was shot with an arrow, wounded and later died.

Naaman, 880-840 BC, the commander of the Syrian army was a leper (2 Kg 5). He had victory over Israel and took a maid as a servant, who knew of Elisha. Naaman sent a letter to Jehoram (king of Israel) asking him to cure him of leprosy, Jehoram tore his clothes in horror. Elisha told Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan, which he rather unwillingly did.

The Syrians blinded (2 Kg 6:8), 860 BC. Elisha warned Jehoram (king of Israel) that the Syrians were coming and told him the site of their camp. Benhadad II was troubled, tried to seize Elisha (the prophet who told the king of Israel the words spoken in the bedchamber of the king - v12). Elisha prayed that the Syrians would be blinded and the eyes of his servant opened. He led the blinded Syrians into Samaria, then opened their eyes and then sent them away.

Benhadad besieged Samaria (2 Kg 6:24) causing great famine, with people eating their children.

Elisha prophesied that the Lord will open windows in heaven. 4 lepers by the gate went to the Syrian camp to find no one there (7:1). They told the king (Jehoram) who didn't believe them. The Lord had made the Syrian army hear the sound of a great army, so they had fled.

Benhadad's sickness (2 Kg 8:7). He asked Elisha whether he will recover. The Lord said he will die. Elisha appointed Hazael to be king, who murdered Benhadad and took the throne in 841 BC.

Ahaziah (Judah) and Joram (Israel) were both at war against Hazael at Ramoth-Gilead (2 Kg 8:28). Joram was wounded and goes to Jezreel. Elisha was told to anoint Jehu as king of Israel. Jehu murders Joram and the house of Ahab, including Jezebel. In the Chronicles account (2 Chr 22), Ahaziah visited him and was murdered by Jehu, his mother Athaliah seized the throne and murdered the rest of the Davidic line, only Joash survived.

Joash started well (2 Kg 12), he repaired the temple, then went away from the Lord into idolatry. The wrath of God sent the Syrians against Joash in Jerusalem, spoil was taken to Damascus, around 820 BC. Joash was murdered by his servants (also 2 Chr 24)

Jehoahaz of Israel (2 Kg 13). God gave them continuously into the hand of Benhadad III of Syria, the son of Hazael. Jehoahaz called to the Lord, who sent them a saviour. This may have been Adad-nirari III of Assyria, who fought against Syria in 805 BC. Hazael oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz (798-783 BC) (2 Kg 13:22).

Jehoash (son of Jehoahaz) in 795 BC, had important victories over Syria, when he took cities from Benhadad III which had been taken from Jehoahaz (2 Kg 13:25).

The Syro-Ephraimite war (2 Kg 15:32)

In the days of Jotham of Judah (740-736 BC), the Lord sent Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel against Jotham. This is the time of Isaiah (Is 7).

Capture of Damascus (2 Kg 16)

In the days of Ahaz of Judah (736-716 BC). Rezin and Pekah besieged Ahaz in Jerusalem, but did not conquer it. Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser of Assyria for help against Syria and Israel, sending the gold from the temple as a present. (See also Is 7).

In 740 BC, Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria, marched against Damascus, killed Rezin and took the people captive to Kir, as prophesied by Amos (Amos 1:4-5). Syria then became a dependency of Assyria, eighteen years before Israel fell. Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tig., where he saw a magnificent altar, so he built a copy for the temple in Jerusalem.

In the Chronicles account (2 Chr 28), the king of Syria took people captive to Damascus after defeating Ahaz, who sacrificed to Syrian gods, as they had defeated him.

In 640 BC, the region was captured by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In 333 BC, it came under the control of Alexander the Great. The Seleucids ruled from Antioch in Syria after the collapse of the Greek Empire. Finally in 65 BC, Rome took control and in 6 AD, Judea and Samaria were added to the Roman administrative area of Syria.

Kings of Syria

Hadadezer c. 1040
Rezon c. 955-925 may be same person
Benhadad I c. 900-860 may be same person
Benhadad II c. 860-843
Hazael c. 843-796 murdered Benhadad II
Benhadad III c. 796-770
Rezin c. 750-732 Captivity in Assyria 732

Approximate dates BC

1040 David subdued Zobah and Damascus (2 Sam 8:3-5)
975 Syrians recovered their independence from Solomon (1 Kg 11:23-25)
900's League between Asa and Syria (1 Kg 15:16ff)
860's Benhadad besieges Samaria and they fight (1 Kg 20)
880 - 840 Naaman came from Syria (2 Kg 5)
860 Syrians blinded and routed (2 Kg 6-7)
841 Hazael becomes king (2 Kg 8)
820 Hazael went against Jerusalem (2 Kg 12:17)
795 Joash (Jehoash) had important victories over Benhadad III
740 Syro-Ephraimite war.
Tiglath-Pileser III defeated Rezin and Syria became a dependency of Assyria (18 years before Israel fell).
732 Fall of Damascus to Assyria
640 Syria is captured by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon
333 Syria conquered by Alexander the Great
200's Seleucids rule from Antioch in Syria
65 Rome takes control
AD 6 Judea and Samaria are added to Roman province of Syria

The Bible

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