This wall relief from the South-West Palace at Nineveh, the imperial capital of the ancient Assyrians, depicts the procession of prisoners after the capture of the Judahite city of Lachish by the Assyrian army in 701 BCE. Two Assyrian soldiers, marked by their characteristic conical helmets, force several hapless Lachishite prisoners forward, some of whom are prostrating themselves before the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, at far right, just beyond the frame of this photograph.
The reliefs on these slabs originally formed a single, continuous work, measuring 2.4 metres high and 24.4 metres wide, that covered the inner walls of the royal chamber. They vividly depict Sennacherib’s victory over the fortified city. This crushing invasion of the Assyrian army is only suggested in 2 Kings 18:13–15, the Bible’s sketchy account of the event.
These monumental stone portraits of mayhem, abject humiliation, and mass destruction covered the inner walls of the imperial court, serving as the grisly, oversized decorations of an Assyrian-style royal interior that literally surrounded the monarch as he sat on his throne. The reliefs were an indoor billboard advertising the bloodlust and cruelty of Assyria’s imperial military might.
According to Micah, this very bloodlust and cruelty would soon strike Jerusalem as a divine rod of reproof to chasten Judah’s venal, greedy elites: ‘Therefore because of you [rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel], Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins’ (3:12).
But it wouldn’t. And it wasn’t. And it didn’t. The books of Chronicles recap Sennacherib’s threat to attack Jerusalem: but pace Micah, the city was miraculously spared the fate of Lachish, and was left, for the moment at least, in peace (2 Chronicles 32:9–11).
1 The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moʹresheth in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiʹah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samarʹia and Jerusalem.
2Hear, you peoples, all of you;
hearken, O earth, and all that is in it;
and let the Lord God be a witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.
3For behold, the Lord is coming forth out of his place,
and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth.
4And the mountains will melt under him
and the valleys will be cleft,
like wax before the fire,
like waters poured down a steep place.
5All this is for the transgression of Jacob
and for the sins of the house of Israel.
What is the transgression of Jacob?
Is it not Samarʹia?
And what is the sin of the house of Judah?
Is it not Jerusalem?
6Therefore I will make Samarʹia a heap in the open country,
a place for planting vineyards;
and I will pour down her stones into the valley,
and uncover her foundations.
7All her images shall be beaten to pieces,
all her hires shall be burned with fire,
and all her idols I will lay waste;
for from the hire of a harlot she gathered them,
and to the hire of a harlot they shall return.
8For this I will lament and wail;
I will go stripped and naked;
I will make lamentation like the jackals,
and mourning like the ostriches.
9For her wound is incurable;
and it has come to Judah,
it has reached to the gate of my people,
10Tell it not in Gath,
weep not at all;
roll yourselves in the dust.
11Pass on your way,
inhabitants of Shaphir,
in nakedness and shame;
the inhabitants of Zaʹanan
do not come forth;
the wailing of Beth-eʹzel
shall take away from you its standing place.
12For the inhabitants of Maroth
wait anxiously for good,
because evil has come down from the Lord
to the gate of Jerusalem.
13Harness the steeds to the chariots,
inhabitants of Lachish;
you were the beginning of sin
to the daughter of Zion,
for in you were found
the transgressions of Israel.
14Therefore you shall give parting gifts
the houses of Achzib shall be a deceitful thing
to the kings of Israel.
15I will again bring a conqueror upon you,
inhabitants of Mareʹshah;
the glory of Israel
shall come to Adullam.
16Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair,
for the children of your delight;
make yourselves as bald as the eagle,
for they shall go from you into exile.
2Woe to those who devise wickedness
and work evil upon their beds!
When the morning dawns, they perform it,
because it is in the power of their hand.
2They covet fields, and seize them;
and houses, and take them away;
they oppress a man and his house,
a man and his inheritance.
3Therefore thus says the Lord:
Behold, against this family I am devising evil,
from which you cannot remove your necks;
and you shall not walk haughtily,
for it will be an evil time.
4In that day they shall take up a taunt song against you,
and wail with bitter lamentation,
and say, “We are utterly ruined;
he changes the portion of my people;
how he removes it from me!
Among our captors he divides our fields.”
5Therefore you will have none to cast the line by lot
in the assembly of the Lord.
6“Do not preach”—thus they preach—
“one should not preach of such things;
disgrace will not overtake us.”
7Should this be said, O house of Jacob?
Is the Spirit of the Lord impatient?
Are these his doings?
Do not my words do good
to him who walks uprightly?
8But you rise against my people as an enemy;
you strip the robe from the peaceful,
from those who pass by trustingly
with no thought of war.
9The women of my people you drive out
from their pleasant houses;
from their young children you take away
my glory for ever.
10Arise and go,
for this is no place to rest;
because of uncleanness that destroys
with a grievous destruction.
11If a man should go about and utter wind and lies,
saying, “I will preach to you of wine and strong drink,”
he would be the preacher for this people!
12I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob,
I will gather the remnant of Israel;
I will set them together
like a sheep in a fold,
like a flock in its pasture,
a noisy multitude of men.
13He who opens the breach will go up before them;
they will break through and pass the gate,
going out by it.
Their king will pass on before them,
the Lord at their head.
3And I said:
Hear, you heads of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?—
2you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin from off my people,
and their flesh from off their bones;
3who eat the flesh of my people,
and flay their skin from off them,
and break their bones in pieces,
and chop them up like meat in a kettle,
like flesh in a caldron.
4Then they will cry to the Lord,
but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
because they have made their deeds evil.
5Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
when they have something to eat,
but declare war against him
who puts nothing into their mouths.
6Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision,
and darkness to you, without divination.
The sun shall go down upon the prophets,
and the day shall be black over them;
7the seers shall be disgraced,
and the diviners put to shame;
they shall all cover their lips,
for there is no answer from God.
8But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the Lord,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression
and to Israel his sin.
9Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob
and rulers of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
and pervert all equity,
10who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with wrong.
11Its heads give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for hire,
its prophets divine for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
“Is not the Lord in the midst of us?
No evil shall come upon us.”
12Therefore because of you
Zion shall be plowed as a field;
Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins,
and the mountain of the house a wooded height.