Where is Hamath?

Hamath is the northern-most city in the mountainous region of Palestine not too far south of Syrian Antioch. It is in the northern borders of Syria and was the fortress that protected the rest of Palestine from northern invaders. At the time that Moses sent out the spies into the promised land they searched the land from the southern-most extremity of the wilderness of Zin to the northern-most which was near Hamath on the Orontes River. (Num. 13:21) The LORD spoke to Moses in Numbers 31:89 and described the borders of the promised land again which He said, extended from Mt Hor in Edom across the desert to the east under Kadeshbarnea and to the Wady El Arish, called the River of Egypt. From there it was to extend along the whole of the sea coast as far north as Hamath. Thus all of Syria and Phoenicia (Lebanon) are in the land of promise as part of the larger possessions of Israel, if not as an inheritance of tribal boundaries. "The entering in of Hamath" describes its position in the mountains south of the alluvial plain of the Euphrates.

Joshua 13:5 makes a similar description of the land which was to be captured by the Israelites under Joshua. Hamath was to be the northern border. Later, in the days of David, Syria came under the control of Israel and garrisons were placed in Damascus and the fortified places north of Hamath on the Euphrates River. Then the king of Hamath became tributary to the united kingdom of Israel. (2Sam. 8:3-9ff see also 1Chron 13:3) Israeli occupation was followed by Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and mass gatherings of the people of Israel would be called, no longer from the more limited extremities "from Dan to Beersheba," but now, from Mt Hor to Hamath. David called all Israel to assemble from the regions from the border of Egypt to Hamath when he sought to restore the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. 1Chron 18:5) When the newly built Temple was dedicated at Jerusalem, Solomon called the Israelites to assemble from the River of Egypt to Hamath, indicating the spread of Israeli settlement in the now fully controlled territory of Syria-Phoenicia. (1Ki. 18:65; 2Chron.7:8) Solomon confirmed his control and extended settlement by building a number of store and fortress cities in the region around Hamath (2 Chron. 8:4} Suzerainty over this territory remained as a claim of the kings of Jerusalem and after the division of the kingdom that claim was taken over by Jeroboam II when he recovered these areas and extended the borders of Israel to Hamath and also garrisoned troops in Damascus. (2Ki. 14:25-28)

Hamath would remain one of the important locations marking political change. It would be from there, among other places, that the Assyrians would deport mixed races into Samaria after it had fallen to Sargon II in 722 B.C. Hamath would then be controlled by Assyria until it fell. Coincident with the time of the fall of Nineveh, Pharaoh Necho of Egypt went toward Carchemish, north of Hamath, on the Euphrates, to assist his Assyrian allies who were under attack by a combined force of rebelling subject people led by Babylon. When Necho had killed Josiah at Megiddo he deposed Josiah's son Jehoahaz and imprisoned him at Hamath. After the fall of Assyria Nebuchadnezzar would pass judgement in Hamath on Zedekiah the last king of Judah, where he also would kill the sons of Zedekiah. (Jer. 39:5; 52:9,27) Hamath would then be under the control of the Babylonians and fall as a prize to each successive dynasty of rulers until 1955, when Syrian self rule was restored. For instance, Alexander would fight battles near Hamath because of its strategic position. (Zec 9:1,2)

In the days of Isaiah, Hamath was still a part of Syria and was part of the defenses of Rezin who had regained the sovereignty from the kings of Israel. His reign would be short lived however as Isaiah predicted (Isa. 7). He allied himself with Pekah, king of Israel and was seeking alliances with other Palestinians when Tiglath -pilezer outflanked him and took the region of Gilead and then attacked Damascus and Galilee. From this position he then took the rest of Palestine,-- Hamath, the sea cost, Tyre and Sidon and Philistia. But not Judah.

Tiglath-pilezer took the land of Gilead first because it was not easily defended or fortified. For a long time the Assyrian kings had expanded and consolidated their imperial power in to the south and east in Persia and Mesopotamia including Media and the Zagros Mountains of the lower Caucasus. Although the Euphrates was not a formidable barrier, Assyrian expansion to the west had been contained at the banks of the river. South of the Euphrates the river plain ends at a mountain range that extends the whole of the central portion of Palestine. This formidable obstacle contains easily defended passes. Syria- Damascus and Israel had long used Hamath as the northern fortress of their defenses. The Assyrian assault on the land of Gilead would therefore avoid these defenses and afford an easy advance east of the mountains in the highlands of Gilead. From there, after the easy conquest of the Reubenites and the tribes of Manasseh and Gad the advance on Damascus would be unobstructed by any impressive defenses.

Numbers 31 and 32 record an earlier time when the tribes of Reuben, Manasseh and Gad requested Moses to allow them to possess the lands of Bashan and Gilead east of the Jordan. Later, during the invasion, at the close of the wilderness wandering these three tribes had left their families in those lands and had proceeded with the rest of the tribes to possess the rest of the land under armed might. After the fighting ended and the land was apportioned by Joshua, the tribe of Reuben, half of the tribe of Manasseh, and the tribe of Gad were given the lands east of the Jordan as recorded in Joshua 13. Thus 1 Chron 5:26 includes the Gadites as those going captive as one lot with those of Reuben and Manasseh. Thus this describes a separate and first deportation of three of the "ten tribes" as the Assyrians were expanding. For them it made good strategy and would have been easier to move along the plateau and attack these tribes first and consolidate power for the assault from the east on Damascus and avoid the fortified route by way of the "entering in of Hamath. From that point the rest of the coastal nations would be easy prey on the way to the main target, Egypt.

After the Fall of Damascus it was the turn of Galilee to experience the dreadful darkness recorded in Isaiah 9:1. Three more tribes joined the others who east of the Jordan had been deported earlier. Samaria and the remaining tribes would await their fate for a few more years (from 731 to 722 B.C.) when Sargon II would oversee the deportation of the remaining tribes.

Fred would like to hear your comments or answer any questions you may have via e-mail.

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