Why were the people of Israel and Judah exiled?
2 Kings 17:6: “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.”
Habakkuk 1:6: “I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.”
God used both Assyria and Babylon as agents of judgement against Israel and Judah respectively because of their idolatry and rebellion. These events took place over extended periods of time, with several forced deportations (exiles), culminating in the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians in 722 BCE (Israel; 2 Kings 17) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE (Judah; 2 Kings 24). God eventually fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy that Judah would return to Jerusalem after 70 years, although not all chose to return (Jeremiah 25; Ezra 1).
Forced deportations were a common practice in the Ancient Near East. Groups of people possessing valuable skills and knowledge were moved from subjugated lands to the conquerors’ homelands in order to bring economic and cultural benefits to the conquerors. The deportees were usually moved as families or larger groups, promised a better future, and expected to integrate with the conquering population. At the same time, by removing large groups of skilled people from the conquered lands, the risk of rebellion there would be reduced.