Photo Credit: MadainProject
Artist rendition of ancient Israelite Lachish.

And Joshua passed on from Libnah, and all Israel with him, to Lachish, and encamped against it, and fought against it. And G-d delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel; and he took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all of the souls that were in it (Joshua 10: 31-32)”

One of the main trails at Tel Lachish, one of Israel’s largest, but seldom visited archeological sites.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Today we will explore a unique biblical site called Lachish. This site, though not widely known, was actually Israel’s largest city during the biblical First Temple era (aside from Jerusalem). Unlike Jerusalem which hosts millions of tourists a year, Lachish almost always stands empty, even during the busiest tourist season. Allow me to explore this breathtaking gem with you now!

Ancient fortress walls of Lachish. If these walls could talk, they would tell of the fascinating and volatile events that took place here over hundreds of years!
Photo Credit: Wilson44691- Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The city was one of the most powerful of the Canaanite cities with its own King. It controlled much of the surrounding territory.

Remains of a 12th century BCE Canaanite Temple recently excavated. The building was destroyed by Joshua and his army.

Circa 1500 BCE, Israel was taken over by Egypt where they ruled for about 300 years (during the time the Children of Israel were enslaved). Egypt allowed the Canaanite Kings to keep their position as long as they stayed loyal to the Pharaoh. Lachish flourished during this time.

Al Amarna letter written in ancient cuneiform (the international language of that time) where the King of Lachish assures Pharaoh of his loyalty to him.
Photo Credit: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) – CC BY-SA 4.0

When the Children of Israel entered Israel, they waged war with 31 Canaanite city kings. After Jericho and Ai were conquered, the city of Gibeon decided it was better to make an alliance with Israel. Five kings, including Lachish, heard that the Gibeonites were seeking peace with Israel and were afraid that other City states would do the same. In order to prevent this, Lachish and the four other cities attacked Gibeon. Joshua then came to their aid, and G-d caused the five kings to immediately be confounded and flee. The Children of Israel then captured the Kings, along with their armies, and executed them (see Joshua 10). Soon after, Joshua entered Lachish itself and destroyed the city. Lachish was then given to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:39).

Lachish, located in the red circle, was given to the Tribe of Judah.
Photo Credit:  Richardprins – CC BY-SA 3.0

Israelite Lachish became an important city, partly due to its location on an important Ancient Highway (the road to Hebron or Jerusalem from Egypt went through here). Its fortifications were massive, and Lachish soon became the second biggest city in the Kingdom after Jerusalem.

One of many towers which protected the well-fortified city. Tourists may climb to the top, where they are treated to an amazing, panoramic view!
Photo Credit: Oren Rozen –  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Artist rendition of ancient Israelite Lachish.
Photo Credit; MadainProject

Lachish became a regional capital city, which meant it had its own Governor. The Governor’s home was the largest palace ever found from Ancient Israel.

Walls of the massive palace. Over the years, most of the stones were stolen by Arab farmers during the Ottoman period.
Photo Credit: Oren Rozen –  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

After Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam became King. Under him, the Kingdom split into two, with Rehoboam retaining control of Judah, the southern kingdom. Fearing an invasion from the Northern Kingdom of Israel he fortified his cities, including Lachish which will still in his possession (2 Chronicles 11:9).

Remains of a monumental building, probably built by King Rehoboam.

Circa 600 BCE, the Assyrian Kingdom of Northern Iraq became the world’s superpower. They had never lost a war or battle and were quite ruthless. They quickly conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Under Assyrian King Sennacherib, King Hezekiah’s Kingdom of Judah was attacked, and Lachish was under siege (2 Chronicles 32:9).

The “Lachish Relief”( today in the British Museum) was found covering the walls of Sennacherib palace and tells the story of the Lachish battle. In order to enter the city, a siege ramp was built. In this picture, Assyrian soldiers are climbing the siege ramps they built.

During the siege, Assyrians built siege ramps to enter the city.

The remains of the siege ramp of Lachish seen in the Relief.
Photo Credit: Ian Scott –  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

From Lachish, Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem with 185,000 troops. G-d created a miracle, and an angel came down and smote Sennacherib’s entire army. This destroyed Assyria’s threat to Judah, which continued to remain independent for close to 150 years (for more on the giant miracle in Jerusalem, click here).

Assyria had never lost a battle, but because of G-d’s miraculous intervention, the Assyrians had no choice but to bypass Judah (in red circle).
Photo Credit: Nigyou – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The only one left alive was Sennacherib himself, and when he returned he documented his version of the story (which does not contradict the Biblical account). Throughout his palace, he bragged about conquering various capital cities. Only in Judah, did he boast about conquering a non-capital city, that of Lachish. As for Jerusalem, he said “He caged it like a bird” (basically saying that he failed to get the job done). Had he been able to conquer Jerusalem, it is almost guaranteed he would have bragged only about the capital city and not Lachish.

The Sennacherib Prism (today in the British Museum) is Sennacherib’s account of his ultimately failed attempt to conquer Judah. Photo taken from Public domain

After the Assyrians left Judah, Lachish was rebuilt, once again remaining the second largest city in the Kingdom.

When the Babylonians conquered Judah, the last three cities holding out were Azekah (for more on this city click here), Lachish and Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:7). Millenia later when archeologists dug inside the city gate, they found 20 letters between Hoshayahu, probably a commander of an outpost by Lachish to his superior Yaush during the Babylonian siege.

The Gate complex where the letters were found.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In one letter, Hoshayahu says “We’re watching for the signals of Lachish, according to all the indications… for we cannot see Azekah”. In other words, just as in Jeremiah, the letter mentions Lachish, Azekah and Jerusalem as being the last three cities left.

One of 20 letters from Lachish written during the Babylonian siege (taken from the Public Domain)

Ultimately, Lachish was destroyed, and its inhabitants exiled. With only a couple of exceptions, Lachish has laid in ruins since then.

Although tourists seldom come here, this site is beautiful with well preserved archeology, and the views alone warrant the visit! The quiet and pastoral setting of this site has a calming effect on tourists and on your next trip to Israel, this is a site I would most highly recommend.

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(All images used are either free usage or properly licensed by the author)


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