7 Enemies of Israel in the Bible
Israel has faced many enemies throughout its long history. As the Bible recounts, Israel struggled against hostile neighboring nations and mighty empires that sought to destroy it. However, Israel prevailed again and again due to God’s protection and favor.
Egypt represents one of Israel’s earliest enemies. As told in the book of Exodus, Egypt enslaved the Israelites for over 400 years. The Egyptians oppressed the Israelites with forced labor and attempted to curb their population growth:
“Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Exodus 1:8-10).
However, God raised up Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage. Through 10 devastating plagues, God brought judgments on Egypt and their gods. Finally, Pharaoh relented and allowed the Israelites to leave. But Pharaoh’s army pursued them, only to be swallowed up by the Red Sea as God parted the waters for the fleeing Israelites. This marked a decisive defeat as one of Israel’s first enemies perished.
The Assyrian empire was the dominant world power during the 8th-7th century BC. The Assyrians were a ruthless people known for brutality, violence, and cruelty. Under kings like Tiglath-pileser III, Shalmaneser V, Sargon II, and Sennacherib, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, destroyed Samaria, and exiled many Israelites:
“In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria. He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes” (2 Kings 17:6).
The Assyrians pioneered techniques like psychological warfare, mass deportations of conquered peoples, and gruesome executions. Records describe them skinning enemies alive, decapitations, mutilations, and more. They tried to break Israel’s spirit using terror. However, the southern kingdom of Judah survived after God killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers besieging Jerusalem:
“Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning – there were all the dead bodies!” (2 Kings 19:35)
This stunning defeat forced the Assyrians to retreat and saved Judah from capture.
After toppling the Assyrians, Babylonia under king Nebuchadnezzar soon dominated the Middle East. Judah became a vassal state under Babylonian rule. However, when king Zedekiah rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar responded ruthlessly by besieging Jerusalem for over 2 years, looting and burning down the Temple, smashing Jerusalem’s walls, and forcing the Jews into exile in Babylon.
The period of the Babylonian captivity marked a traumatic time for Israel. The Psalms lament this painful history:
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).
Nonetheless, prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel arose during this period and delivered messages of hope while in exile. After 70 years, the Persians under Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon. Cyrus allowed the Jewish exiles to finally return to Judah and rebuild the Temple, ending the Babylonian oppression.
As highlighted previously, Persia played a unique role in Israel’s history under king Cyrus. His famous Edict of Restoration permitted the Jews to return to Judah and reconstruct the Temple. However, later Persian rulers were not as benevolent. Power struggles emerged over taxation and loyalty issues between local governors and priests.
During the reign of king Xerxes I, his grand vizier Haman hatched a genocidal plot to exterminate the Jews across the entire Persian Empire. The book of Esther vividly portrays how Queen Esther bravely exposed Haman’s conspiracy. As a result, Haman was executed and the Jews defended themselves, overturning the attempted genocide. While Cyrus helped Israel, later Persian rulers occasionally oppressed Israel throughout periods of their domination.
After Alexander the Great toppled the Persian Empire, ancient Israel came under Greek control during the Hellenistic period. Greek became the common language and Greek culture infiltrated Jewish society, causing a growing rift between traditional Jews and the Hellenized Jewish upper class.
Eventually, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended as ruler over Judea and pushed radical measures to force Greek culture, religion, and customs on Jews, sparking a revolt. His shock troops defiled the Temple, erected a statue of Zeus, slaughtered Jews, and provoked the Maccabean revolt. The Jewish rebel army known as the Maccabees heroically defeated the Seleucid Greeks under leaders like Judas Maccabeus, freeing Israel from Greek oppression:
“Then Judas and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.” (1 Maccabees 4:36)
This victory is still celebrated annually in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
As the Roman Republic transformed into a mighty empire dominating the Mediterranean, itabsorbed Judea during the 1st century BC. While Rome permitted Jewish autonomy and religious freedoms at first, tensions simmered beneath the surface. Zealous revolutionary and religious groups opposed pagan Roman rule. Riots and violent clashes eventually erupted.
Matters climaxed when emperor Caligula declared himself divine and ordered that his statue be erected in the Jerusalem Temple. The prospect of this idolatrous image reignited Jewish resistance. After Caligula’s timely assassination prevented war, subsequent Roman governors like Pontius Pilate continued oppressing Jewish customs.
Finally, widespread Jewish revolts erupted into the First Jewish-Roman War. Roman legions under Titus eventually crushed the rebels, besieged Jerusalem, and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD after lengthy fighting, massacring and enslaving many captives. The tragedy struck at the heart of Jewish identity and consciousness, remembering it as a national disaster. Rome enacted further oppression for many decades until Jews rose up once more in the Bar Kochba revolt of 132 AD prior to enduring centuries more of marginalization and persecution across Europe.
In the 1930s, the rapid rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany brought a nightmarish reign of terror against European Jews through the Holocaust. Nazi policies consisted of diabolical psychological manipulation and shockingly ruthless genocide.
Jews faced increasingly restrictive laws stripping their rights until murderous death squads known as Einsatzgruppen began mass shootings of Jews and others across Eastern Europe. Soon after, the regime constructed a horrifying network of concentration camps equipped with gas chambers and crematoria to commit mass murder on an industrial scale. In total, the Nazi Holocaust systematically exterminated 6 million Jews in one of humanity’s darkest chapters.
Millions of lives were ruined or tragically cut short. The nation of Israel sprang from the embers of the Holocaust as the Jewish homeland finally reunified following this nadir of suffering. Today, the memory of the Shoah remains engraved in collective memory about Israel’s enemies. “Never forget, never again” took on heightened importance for Jews worldwide in the wake of such extreme anti-semitism.
Currently, Israel still confronts various hostile nations and groups like Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and others who pose threats or actively attack Israelis. Iran’s regime denies Israel’s right to exist, sponsors global terror, and pursues nuclear arms raising the risk of a future devastating war. Anti-Israel rhetoric runs rampant among Israel’s enemies, with calls for genocide and vitriolic condemnation of its existence.
Meanwhile, radical Palestinian groups persistently launch rockets and carry out gruesome terror attacks against Israeli civilians, illustrating the ongoing security challenges. However, Israel has endured as a nation long used to facing enemies, drawing strength from past trials while seeking eventual peace through assertive self-defense and national unity against external threats. God’s remarkable protection and providence has been evident despite Israel’s small size compared to the military might of historical empires and modern nations arrayed against it.
In conclusion, Israel has battled bitter enemies like mighty Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome, Nazi Germany, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other hostile neighbors throughout its eventful history. Yet the nation not only survived but even thrived in many regards. Ancient prophecies promised that the descendants of Abraham would become “as numerous as the stars” despite undergoing oppression – a promise that came to pass after centuries of Jewish suffering. Therefore, Israel can have confidence that no foe or “weapon formed against it shall prosper” as long as they put their trust and hope in the God of Israel.