Chapter I
Which Is the True Chronology?
Julian T. Gray

C
hronology is the basis of dispensational truth. The great central doctrines of the Christian religion, the Ransom, Justification and Sanctification, have stood through all periods of the Gospel Dispensation; but there is a department of Bible truth which Providence has supplied for the well-being of the Church while engaged in her earthly pilgrimage, in which the element of time largely enters; and such truths as come within this department-on which much light has been thrown in recent times-are of inestimable value to thoughtful Christians now living on earth, for they enligthen their pathway (Psa. 119:105), and are, furthermore, intimately connected with faith.

In an age characterized by apostasy and rampant skepticism, when few have any real faith in God and His Word, these special dispensational truths come to our assistance, imparting steadfastness, courage and peace, for they prove to the sanctified intelligence that the Bible is indeed God's Word of truth, and that His plan, therein contained, is being executed on time, and exactly as foretold.

Those truths which are common to all "evangelical" denominations of the nominal Christian Church, while necessary, will not be sufficient, we think, to sustain the people of God in the "evil day" which we see coming upon the whole world. Something additional is now required, and this has been supplied, [8] to a considerable extent, in that which has been termed "dispensational" truth. That which will keep the truly consecrated from lapsing into skepticism, or into one or more of the now quite numerous modern brands of infidelity into which thousands are falling on every hand, is a knowledge and appreciation of the internal strength of the Divine Plan; but such knowledge and appreciation cannot be had apart from certain considerations which have to do with time.

The question, "Which is the true chronology?" is therefore one of great importance. With the correctness or incorrectness of the Bible chronology, much that has for a half century been recognized as dispensational truth, must stand or fall. This question, therefore, which furnishes the heading of the present chapter, is propounded without apology; and if there be those who profess to have little or no interest therein, there are also many others to whom an investigation of this and related subjects will appeal as of vital concern, and intimately associated with the inner walk of faith and sanctification.

The question herein considered is not one which has to do primarily with some future date, as marking the time of the Church's final deliverance and glorification; such matters as this, while they are properly of intense interest to every true Christian, should be regarded as standing in a class separate and distinct from the more vital issues connected with the true answer to our question.

In our quest for the true chronology, among many which have been presented by numerous secular and religious writers and authorities, we shall pursue a somewhat unusual course, differing markedly from that usually followed in the treatment of this [9] and related subjects. The present method of treatment, although new, will, we believe, be found easy of comprehension by learned and unlearned alike; and will give additional strength to the conclusions already arrived at through other processes of investigation, by earnest and careful students of the Word.

This new method of approach has been made possible in the Providence of God, through the words of the prophet Amos, who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit has described a solar eclipse-the only instance of the kind, it seems, which is to be found anywhere in the Scriptures.

There must have been a very particular reason for this allusion to an eclipse; and that reason, we believe, was to supply the means whereby the chronology of the Bible might be verified through modern astronomical calculations, in a time when that chronology would be made the subject of attack, and when there would be danger that such attacks might be made applicable to the Bible as a whole, to the spiritual detriment of many.

In Amos 8:9, the Lord through His prophet said: "I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day." An astronomical authority, referring to the language of the text above cited, says: "This is plainly a reference to a solar eclipse, and the eclipse of June 15, 763 B.C. has been identified as the one meant.... Calculations showed that this eclipse was also total at Samaria, where it was predicted." – Isabel M. Lewis of the Nautical Almanac Office of the U. S. Naval Observatory, in A Hand Book of Solar Eclipses.

Another astronomer of note comments on this prophecy of Amos as follows: "The language is so unmistakable and gives such a precise description of [10] an eclipse of the sun that commentators have generally agreed that such a phenomenon must have taken place"-Mitchell in Eclipses of the Sun.

As indicated in the quotations foregoing, it is generally agreed that the prophetic language of Amos describes a solar eclipse; and it is also clear that a total eclipse is meant, for the word in the original Hebrew which is here rendered "go down" signifies a going away or disappearance. It cannot, however, have reference to the going down or setting of the sun, for the disappearance is said to take place at noonday; and, further, is not a disappearance behind clouds, for it takes place "in the clear day," i. e., in a clear or cloudless sky. The eclipse of June, 763 B.C., fulfills the conditions here given, and is without a doubt the one meant.

Bible students, recognizing the typical character of God's dealings with Israel, will see a symbolic meaning in this darkening of the sun; but it is the literal darkening with which we are concerned in the present discussion. This literal darkening was predicted by the prophet as a sign or token to the people of the ten tribe kingdom, that the judgments that would then come upon them were those foretold in his prophecy, and that they were, in fact, the manifestations of divine displeasure upon them as a people.

The prophecy also makes it clear that the predicted darkening would come "in that day" when the judgments of the Lord would be inflicted upon them. We read: "Shall not the land [the religious and political order in Israel] tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein? Yea, it shall rise up wholly like the River; and it shall be troubled and sink again, like the River of Egypt. And it [11] shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord Jehovah, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day" (Amos 8:8, 9, R.V.).

The day of trouble here described by Amos must have taken place in the year 763 B.C., for that is the date of the notable eclipse of the sun to which the prophet makes reference, and which is described as taking place in the midst of, or coincident with the trouble. Our problem is therefore that of locating this trouble in Bible history, and of connecting it with the Biblical chain of chronology.

When did the trouble foretold by Amos come upon the kingdom of Israel? Inspired and secular history both point to the conclusion that it occurred in the days of Pekah, king of Israel; and that a king of Assyria called Tiglath-pileser III was the instrument of the Lord used for this purpose.

The prophecy of Amos was given in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah, presumably about forty years before its fulfillment, which must have taken place at the time of the eclipse which he describes, i.e., about 763 B.C. It can be conclusively shown that this prophecy, which pertains to a future captivity, was not fulfilled at any time prior to the days of Pekah. It is true that the Bible records an invasion by Pul, king of Assyria, in the days of Menahem, who reigned some years before Pekah (II Kings 15:19). Pul, however, took no captives, but we are left to infer from the records that this king was satisfied with the heavy tribute which he received. "So the king of Assyria [Pull turned back, and stayed not there in the land."

The burden of the prophecy of Amos in its relation to natural Israel seems to have been fulfilled by [12] Tiglath-pileser, king of Assyria, and his successors. Amos describes prophetically and in detail the events of the Palestinian campaign of this monarch. In the beginning of his prophecy he mentions the coming captivity of Damascus, and states that the inhabitants of Syria and Damascus would be carried captive to Kir (Amos 1:5). This prediction was fulfilled by the Assyrian king as shown in II Kings 16:9, where we read that he "went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir." Amos then details the future defeat and captivity of other neighboring peoples, who no doubt were also subjugated by Tiglath-pileser at about the same time, for his object was none other than the bringing under the yoke of Assyria, all of western Asia, an objective which he practically accomplished.

Amos then turns to Israel with a scathing rebuke for their idolatry and wickedness, for which they are to be carried captive beyond Damascus (Amos5:27). In II Kings 15:29 we read that many of the Israelites were carried captive into Assyria by Tiglath-pileser. Since the land of Assyria lies beyond Damascus, and in the same general direction as viewed from the standpoint of the land of Israel, we see the literal and exact fulfillment here, in the days of Pekah, as has been stated.

The prophecy further states (Amos 6:14): "But, behold I will raise up against you a nation [Assyria], 0 house of Israel, saith the Lord the God of hosts; and they shall afflict you from the entering in of Hemath [Hamath, R.V.] unto the river of the wilderness." This expression seems to include the whole of the land of the northern kingdom of Israel, from its extreme northern limit near Hamath in Syria [13] southward to the valley of the Arabah, the wilderness bordering the Dead Sea. Tiglath-pileser did afflict this territory as predicted, the people of the border lands being carried into captivity to Assyria, and the central district of Ephraim and Manasseh being allowed to remain for a few years under heavy tribute to the king of Assyria (II Kings 15:29).

The prophet Isaiah, employing language which bears a striking resemblance to that of Amos 8:8, already quoted, predicted these same calamities. It may be stated in this connection that the prophecies of Isaiah, chapters chapters 7-9, were delivered by the prophet in the very beginning of the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah, presumably only a few days or weeks after the death of Jotham, his father (Isaiah 7:1; II Kings 15:37; 16:5). At this time the afflictions foretold by Amos had already begun in northern Palestine (Isaiah 9:1). With this explanation the words of the prophet are seen to be very significant. He says, "Now, therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth [is bringing] up upon them the waters of the River, strong and many, even the king of Assyria and all his glory: and it shall come up over all its channels, and go over all its banks; and it shall sweep onward into Judah; it shall overflow and pass through; it shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of its wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, 0 Immanuel" (Isaiah 8:7, 8, R.V.).

There would seem to be little ground for doubt, in view of the evidence before us, that a literal fulfillment of the prophecy of Amos began to take place with the Palestinian campaign of Tiglath-pileser. Can this event, then, be located on the chain of Bible chronology? The answer is that there is abundant proof of its having occurred near the close of the [14] reign of Jotham, king of Judah; and evidence will now be submitted, tending to establish the particular year in question as the 15th of the reign of that king. The argument establishing this point will not, however, depend upon any theories of the writer; the conclusion reached herein seems to be the only one that can reasonably be drawn from available records, Biblical and secular, and this conclusion will be found to be in perfect agreement with the statements of some of the most careful and accurate historians who have written on the events of this particular period.

Essential to establish our point is a somewhat detailed description of the events which took place in three successive years, corresponding, according to the records of Assyria, to the 12th, 13th and 14th years of the reign of Tiglath-pileser. For convenience let us designate these by the numbers 1, 2 and 3. A synopsis of the events of these three years is as follows:

In year No. 1 occurred the campaign of Tiglathpileser against northern Palestine, noted above, which was followed, probably in the same year, by an alliance between Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria or Damascus, having as its object a concerted resistance against the invading armies of Assyria. Jotham, of Judah, may have been invited to join, but refused. In year No. 2 took place the attack of Pekah and Rezin against Judah (Isaiah 7:1; II Kings 15:37; II Chron. 28:6). This attack was followed by the death of Jotham and the accession of Ahaz, who sent messengers and a present of silver and gold to the king of Assyria, beseeching help against the invaders (II Kings 16:7, 8; II Chron. 28:16). The king of Assyria "harkened unto [15] Ahaz" and immediately began his offensive against Damascus.

In year No. 3 Damascus was taken, its people carried off to Kir, and Rezin its king slain. At about the same time the land of Israel, excepting the central hill country occupied principally by the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, was desolated, and the majority of the inhabitants was carried off to Assyria. Pekah was slain and Hoshea, a vassal to Assyria, was made king over the Israelites who remained. Tiglath-pileser claims to have received heavy tribute of the Israelites. Thus, within a few months from the time of the accession of Ahaz, was fulfilled Isaiah's notable prediction concerning "Maher-shalal-hash-baz": "For before the child shall have knowledge to cry, My father, and, My mother, the riches of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria shall be carried away before the king of Assyria" (Isa. 8:4, R.V.).

The events of these three years are summarized in the following from the International Bible Dictionary article, "Israel, Kingdom of": "Abandoning the northern and transjordanic regions to the encroaching power of Assyria under Tiglath-pileser, he [Pekah] was very near subjugating Judah, with the help of Damascus, now the coequal ally of Israel. But Assyria, interposing, summarily put an end to the independence of Damascus, and perhaps was the indirect cause of the assassination of the baffled Pekah." In the New Standard Encyclopedia, article, "Assyria," we read a like account of these happenings: "On the return of the Assyrians to Palestine, Pekah, the new king of Israel, formed an alliance against the invaders and attempted to coerce Ahaz, king of Judah, into joining the combination [16] (Isaiah 7). Pekah was defeated and slain, and Hoshea placed over the dismembered kingdom of Israel as a tributary prince."

To the foregoing quotations the following may be added since it serves to fix for us the exact year in the reign of Jotham in which the beginning of these events took place: "Pekah seems to have steadily applied himself to the restoration of its [Israel's] power. Judah, now under Jotham, may have been asked to join, but no mention is made of the fact. Either by original intention or in consequence of Jotham's refusal, the allied armies [Israel under Pekah and Damascus under Rezin] began an attempt to force Judah to join them. Just as the campaign opened Jotham died . . . and the youthful Ahaz succeeded him. The history of the war is found in II Kings 16 and II Chronicles 28. It is famous as the occasion of the great prophecies in Isaiah 7-9. . . . The unnatural alliance of Damascus and Samaria was punished through the complete overthrow of the ferocious confederates by Tiglath-pileser whom Ahaz had summoned to his aid."-International Bible Dictionary article, "Pekah."

Now, the Assyrian historical canon * allows but three years for the events narrated in the foregoing excerpts, of which the middle year, designated above as year No. 2, was, it seems, the year of the death of King Jotham, and was the 16th and last year of his reign (II Chron. 27:1; II Kings 15:33). The previous year, designated above as year No. 1, was therefore the 15th year of the reign of Jotham, and was the year in which Tiglath-pileser began to afflict the nation of Israel as foretold by Amos, who, in his [17] prophecy also foretold that at the same time would occur a darkening or eclipsing of the sun at midday, an event which the exact calculations of modern astronomy prove to have taken place in the Summer of 763 B.C.

* See Chapter VIII (Table).

It was not of chance that the Lord spoke through His prophet Amos, nor is it of chance that the Bible, supplemented by contemporaneous records of Assyria, enables us to locate the year when its fulfillment upon Israel began. Our conviction is confirmed, therefore, that the 15th year of Jotham is thus presented to us, not by coincidence, but by Divine Providence, as a touchstone year, by which the genuineness of any chronology or system of datings covering this period may be tested.

If, using this divinely provided touchstone, we find that any such chronological system yields a date other than 763 B.C. for the 15th year of the reign of Jotham, that fact would seem to be proof of error; while on the other hand, if we find that a chronology, as that of the Bible, actually yields the date 763 B.C. for the 15th year of Jotham, the fact would constitute strong and convincing evidence of its correctness and accuracy. Let us apply to this touchstone the conclusions of some of the best known "authorities" on chronology, including in our list, additionally, the Assyrian Eponym Canon, as dated by modern historians; including also the Herald of Christ's Kingdom issue of May 15, 1926 – a magazine well and favorably known among Bible students, and lastly the Bible chronology as set forth in Scripture Studies by the late Charles T. Russell:[18]

FIFTEENTH YEAR OF JOTHAM, 763 B.C.
According to: Error:
Usher 744 B.C. 19 years
Beecher 740 B.C. 23 "
Hastings 743 B.C. 20 "
Jewish Encyclopedia 744 B.C. 19 "
Catholic Encyclopedia 737 B.C. 26 "
Encyclopedia Britannica 734 B.C. 29 "
Assyrian Eponym Canon 734 B.C. 29 "
Herald 744 B.C. 19 "
SCRIPTURE STUDIES 763 B.C. 0 "

Doubtless many will rejoice in the added confirmation thus afforded, of the truthfulness of the chronological presentations of Scripture Studies. The table shown above is also interesting, as illustrating the wide diversity of opinion that exists among scholars. Where, because of scholastic attainment and earthly wisdom, we might reasonably look for unanimity of opinion, we find the very opposite.

Encyclopedia Britannica, in its treatise on the Bible, gives 733 B.C. as the date when Ahaz paid tribute to the king of Assyria. This indicates precise agreement with the conclusions set forth herein with respect to the order of the events which occurred at about the time of the accession of Ahaz, but the date is, of course, in error by the amount shown.

In the next chapter we shall have the pleasant task of noting some striking corroborations of the results of this investigation, which will be drawn from prophecy and history.