Assyria’s conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel began approximately 740 BC under King Pul. First Chronicles 5:26 notes, “So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day.” These tribes, located east of the Jordan River, were the first ones conquered by Assyria.
Nearly 20 years later, about 722 BC, the capital city, Samaria, was overtaken by the Assyrians under Shalmaneser V. After first forcing tribute payments, Shalmaneser later laid siege to the city when it refused to pay. Following a three-year siege, 2 Kings 17:5-6 notes that, “in the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” And in 701 BC the Assyrians marched south into Judah; however, they were unable to capture Jerusalem due to the Lord’s intervention (2 Chronicles 32:22).
The Lord had long warned Israel of judgment, going all the way back to Moses’ stern warning in Deuteronomy 28:62–65. Second Kings 17:13 says, “Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer.” Many attempts had been made to turn the people back to the Lord, including efforts by Elijah and Elisha, two of the greatest prophets in Israel’s history.
Second Kings 17:15–17 describes the many ways in which Israel sinned against the Lord, leading to His judgment upon the land: “They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger.” Israel broke the Law, worshiped other gods—even burning their children as offerings—and used divination as part of their godless lifestyle.
Verse 18 notes, “Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.” Though a remnant remained in the north, the nation of Israel was under Assyrian rule, and tens of thousands were deported and made servants in Assyria.
Further, the Assyrians began to populate Israel with people from other nations they had defeated. Verse 24 says, “And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities.” The descendants of these foreigners and the remnant of Israel were later simply called “Samaritans.” During the time of Christ, the Samaritans were despised as an “unclean” people because of their mixed ancestry and rejection of temple-based worship.