Introduction: 2 Kings 17 concludes the sad history of Northern Israel. Its first king Jeroboam set up a counterfeit religion with golden calves and a counterfeit priesthood. No matter how many times God sent prophets, droughts, or foreign invaders, the people of Northern Israel refused to repent and follow God’s Word. Thus, around 721 B.C., God allowed Assyrian invaders to conquer Northern Israel and send its people into exile. From the demise of Northern Israel and the nation of Samaria that formed after it, God reveals seven lessons regarding His judgments. God judges after (1) many chances to change, (2) prior warnings, (3) disobedience, (4) unrepentance, (5) not fearing Him, (6) the absence of atonement, and (7) corrupting His Word.
First, God judged Hoshea, the last King of Northern Israel, for idolatry. But God delayed until the 20th evil king and after 200 years of waiting before judging this apostate kingdom. From this, God demonstrates that He is quick to forgive and slow to judge sin. Second, God sent the people on Northern Israel into exile and captivity. Yet, God had issued multiple warnings that this would happen through both Moses and His prophets. From this, God reveals that His prior warnings always precede His judgments. Third, God explained that He exiled the Jews because they continually refused to obey His law and His Word. From this example, God reveals that He will also judge those who continually disobey His Word. Fourth, God sent prophets, droughts, and foreign invaders to cause the Jews to repent and turn back to Him. Yet, the Jews refused to repent. From the Jews’ example, God reveals that He judges only after a sinner refuses to repent. Fifth, the Assyrians resettled Northern Israel with foreigners who did not know God. When these people sinned in God’s holy land, God punished them by sending lions to attack them. The foreigners then feared God. From this example, God reveals that failing to fear Him can lead to sin and ultimately His judgment. Sixth, the Assyrian king recognized that the new peoples who settled in Northern Israel needed intermediaries to atone for their sins before Yahweh. Yet, he addressed this problem in the wrong manner recruiting priests from Jeroboam’s counterfeit religion. From these events, God reveals that He requires a proper intermediary and atonement for a sinner to avoid judgment. The New Testament reveals that Jesus is the only intermediary between mankind and God the Father. His blood at the cross was a one-time atonement for sin that is available to all who believe. Finally, the gentiles and the Jews who were allowed to stay in what became known as Samaria corrupted God’s Word by merging together certain pagan religions with God’s Word. God warns that He will also judge those who corrupt His Word.
Hoshea does evil before God as Northern Israel’s last king. Every king to ever rule Northern Israel rejected God. Thus, God eventually removed his hand of protection and allowed an invading Syrian army to capture Northern Israel’s last king: “1 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea the son of Elah became king over Israel in Samaria, and reigned nine years. 2 He did evil in the sight of the Lord, only not as the kings of Israel who were before him. 3 Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him, and Hoshea became his servant and paid him tribute. 4 But the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea, who had sent messengers to So king of Egypt and had offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year; so the king of Assyria shut him up and bound him in prison.” (2 Kgs. 17:1-4). Following the death of King Jotham, Hoshea became Northern Israel’s last king in 732 B.C. He reigned for nine years in the capital Samaria until 722 B.C., with his last three years in captivity. Like all of his predecessors, Hoshea did evil in God’s eyes. Although his evil did not equal that of the most wicked kings like Ahab, God’s mercy toward an unrepentant nation had come to an end. He then removed His hand of protection, leaving the Jews helpless before the new Assyrian King Shalmaneser, 727-722 B.C. Assyria pressured Northern Israel into serving it as a vassal state and paying tribute. In his plight, Hoshea did not turn to God for help. He at first followed in the example of King Menahem, who turned Northern Israel into a vassal state under King Pul of Assyria. Like Menahem, Hoshea forced his people to pay tribute to the Assyrians. (2 Kgs. 15:19-20). Later, instead of turning to God or his fellow Jews in Judah, he sought out the military help of the Egyptians. Yet, forming an alliance with a pagan nation was directly against God’s law: “ . . . You shall make no covenant with them . . .” (Dt. 7:2). Once Shalmaneser learned of Hoshea’s conspiracy, he invaded Northern Israel and imprisoned Hoshea for his final three years.
Hoshea ignored God’s warning and therefore received his just punishment. Before judging Hoshea, God warned him to change his ways. King Shalmaneser’s capture and imprisonment of Hoshea was a prophecy that God’s prophet Hosea gave before it happened: “Samaria will be cut off with her king like a stick on the surface of the water.” (Hos. 10:7). God gave this warning to give him an opportunity to repent. Yet, Hoshea chose to ignore this warning. Thus, Hoshea received the punishment that he deserved.
Hoshea became king through a conspiracy, and he lost his kingdom through conspiracy. Hoshea gained his power through a conspiracy against King Pekah of Northern Israel: “And Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah, and struck him and put him to death and became king in his place, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah.” (2 Kgs. 15:30). He then lost his power as a result of his conspiracy against another king. By living a life of deception, he reaped his own destruction: “For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it yields no grain. Should it yield, strangers would swallow it up.” (Hosea 8:7). A person like Hoshea who lives a life of deceit and deception will live in misery.
God is quick to forgive and slow to judge. There were exactly 20 kings of Northern Israel. This is exactly twice the number of God’s Ten Commandments. Over a period of 209 years, every single one of them did evil in God’s eyes through their idolatry and disobedience. These included: (1) Jeroboam I (931—910 B.C., (2) Nadab (910—909 B.C.), (3) Baasha (909—886 B.C.), (4) Elah (886—885 B.C.), (5) Zimri (885 B.C.), (6) Tibni (885—880 B.C.), (7) Omri (885—874 B.C.), (8) Ahab (874—853 B.C.), (9) Ahaziah (853—852 B.C.), (10) Joram/Jehoram (852—841 B.C.), (11) Jehu (841—814 B.C.), (12) Jehoahaz (814—798 B.C.), (13) Joash (798—782 B.C.), (14) Jeroboam II (793—753 B.C.), (15) Zechariah (753 B.C.), (16) Shallum (752 B.C.), (17) Menahem (752—742 B.C.), (18) Pekahiah (742—740 B.C.), (19) Pekah (752—732 B.C., and (20) Hoshea (732—722 B.C.). When the most wicked of these 20 kings, Ahab, repented, God delayed His judgment upon him: ‘“Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.”’ (1 Kgs. 21:29). The fact that God waited through 20 evil kings and over 209 years was meant to emphasize that He is quick to forgive and slow to judge sin: “But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.” (Ps. 88:15). “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;”’ (Ex. 34:6). God, however, does not want you to misuse His mercy and grace as a license to sin (Ro. 6:1-2). These events clearly contradict the false claim that God in the Old Testament is wrathful and somehow unlike the God depicted in the New Testament.
Assyria captures Northern Israel and takes it into exile. With the capture of their king, God gave the people of Northern Israel one final opportunity to repent. After they ignored this opportunity, God allowed the Assyrians to take the Jews into captivity: “5 Then the king of Assyria invaded the whole land and went up to Samaria and besieged it three years. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” (2 Kgs. 17:5-6). Historians believe that Shalmaneser V did not live to complete the siege that he began in or around 724 B.C. Most believe that his son Sargon II (circa 722-705 B.C.) completed the three-year siege and capture of Samaria in or around 721 B.C. Sargon II then destroyed Northern Israel and exiled its people. Bible historians have also confirmed these events through Assyrian records. The Assyrians’ records meticulously record that they deported 27,290 inhabitants of Israel to distant locations. This was part of the Assyrians’ practice in that time period for maintaining control over conquered lands. They sent the Jews to different areas under their control including the upper Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Some of the listed places include the city of “Halah” in Nineveh, located in modern day Iraq. The “Habor” River was in the northern part of the Euphrates. The “cities of the Medes” were northeast of Nineveh in modern day Iran. Northern Israel would never again exist as a nation.
The Assyrians capture and deport the Jews of Northern Israel1
The Assyrians exchanged the Jews of Northern Israel with pagan foreigners2
The multiple sieges of Samaria were a warning of God’s judgment. This was not Samaria’s first siege. Ben-hadad II from Syria laid siege to Samaria on two separate occasions (1 Kgs. 20:1; 2 Kgs. 6:24-30). Samaria’s second siege was so severe that some Jews turned to cannibalism (2 Kgs. 6:24-30). Elisha later came and foretold God’s mercy and grace in lifting a third siege of Samaria (2 Kgs. 7:1-2,13-15). Thus, Sargon II’s siege was the fourth siege of Samaria. If the Jews had read the book of Deuteronomy, they would have known that the sieges from Samaria were a sign of God’s judgment: “52 It shall besiege you in all your towns until your high and fortified walls in which you trusted come down throughout your land, and it shall besiege you in all your towns throughout your land which the Lord your God has given you.” (Dt. 28:52). “You, however, I will . . . draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste.” (Lev. 26:33(b)). “Pick up your bundle from the ground, you who dwell under siege!” (Jer. 10:17). The Jews ignored these warnings and His progressive forms of judgment. Thus, God was forced to escalate to more severe forms of discipline.
God’s exile of the Jews came only after multiple prior warnings. In the book of Deuteronomy, God warned that He would be forced to send His people into exile after all other forms of progressive discipline failed to reach them: “64 Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known.” (Dt. 28:64). “The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man's hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell.” (Dt. 4:27-28; 29:28; 32:26). ‘“You, however, I will scatter among the nations . . .” (Lev. 26:33(a)). The prophet Ahijah later repeated these warnings after the people of Northern Israel refused to repent of their idolatry and other sins: 15 ‘For the Lord will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking the Lord to anger. 16 He will give up Israel on account of the sins of Jeroboam, which he committed and with which he made Israel to sin.’” (1 Kgs. 14:15-16). The prophet Amos also repeated these warnings: “The high places of Isaac will be desolated and the sanctuaries of Israel laid waste. Then I will rise up against the house of Jeroboam with the sword . . . For thus Amos says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword and Israel will certainly go from its land into exile.”’ (Amos 7:9, 11). The prophet Micah also repeated these warnings: “Make yourself bald and cut off your hair, because of the children of your delight; extend your baldness like the eagle, for they will go from you into exile.” (Micah 1:16). The prophet Jeremiah also repeated these warnings: ‘“[Y]ou will serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”’ (Jer. 5:19(b)). “And you will, even of yourself, let go of your inheritance that I gave you; and I will make you serve your enemies in the land which you do not know; for you have kindled a fire in My anger which will burn forever.” (Jer. 17:4). “Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples;”’ (Neh. 1:8). “Therefore, son of man, prepare for yourself baggage for exile and go into exile by day in their sight; even go into exile from your place to another place in their sight.” (Ezek. 12:3(a)). “I will scatter you among the nations and I will disperse you through the lands, and I will consume your uncleanness from you.” (Ezek. 22:15). “Israel is a scattered flock, the lions have driven them away. The first one who devoured him was the king of Assyria, and this last one who has broken his bones is Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” (Jer. 50:17). God’s exile of the Jews was thus the sad fulfillment of a prophecy that came after multiple warnings.
God also warned that the Jews would experience despair while being exiled. The Jews not only experienced humiliation in their defeat, they also experienced humiliation while being sent into exile. According to one commentator: “When the Assyrians depopulated and exiled a conquered community, they led the captives away on journeys of hundreds of miles, with the captives naked and attached together with a system of strings and fishhooks pierced through their lower lips.” (David Guzik on 2 Kgs. 17).3 This fulfilled the prophesies of Amos and Moses: “The Lord God has sworn by His holiness, ‘Behold, the days are coming upon you when they will take you away with meat hooks, and the last of you with fish hooks. 3 You will go out through breaches in the walls, each one straight before her, and you will be cast to Harmon,’ declares the Lord.” (Amos 4:2-3) “65 Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. 66 So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see. 68 The Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” (Dt. 28:65-68). “This you will have from My hand: you will lie down in torment.” (Is. 50:11(b)). “These two things have befallen you; who will mourn for you? The devastation and destruction, famine and sword; how shall I comfort you?” (Is. 51:19). “And it shall be that when they say to you, ‘where should we go?’ then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD: ‘Those destined for death, to death; and those destined for the sword, to the sword; and those destined for famine, to famine; and those destined for captivity, to captivity.”’’ (Jer. 15:2).
Living without God will also cause an individual or a nation to experience despair. God allowed the Jews to experience despair in their exile. Like the Jews of Northern Israel, if an individual or a nation rejects God’s efforts to bring them back, He will cause them to feel the same despair and hopelessness: “65 Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. 66 So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see. 68 The Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” (Dt. 28:65-68). “This you will have from My hand: you will lie down in torment.” (Is. 50:11(b)). “These two things have befallen you; who will mourn for you? The devastation and destruction, famine and sword; how shall I comfort you?” (Is. 51:19). “And it shall be that when they say to you, ‘where should we go?’ then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD: ‘Those destined for death, to death; and those destined for the sword, to the sword; and those destined for famine, to famine; and those destined for captivity, to captivity.’’ (Jer. 15:2). Have you warned your non-believing friends about the despair that awaits? Spreading the hope of eternal life in Jesus is the Great Commission given to all believers (Matt. 28:16-20).
God is sovereign over all nations. God’s prophecies and His fulfillment of His judgments show that He is sovereign and has control over kings, nations, and all time. Although Satan controls many kings and nations’ leaders, his power is no match against God’s mighty power. Daniel explained: “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.” (Da. 2:21). “He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.” (Job 12:23). “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.” (Is. 40:15). “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” (Is. 40:17). “The LORD is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land.” (Ps. 10:16). “You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; . . .” (Is. 9:3(a)). “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” (Dan. 4:35). Even when evil surrounds you or when you are ruled by evil leaders, do you trust that God is ultimately in control?
The Jews’ ongoing disobedience resulted in their exile from Northern Israel. Although God had warned the Jews repeatedly before sending them into exile, He restated that their ongoing disobedience and their refusal to repent and turn back to Him led to this drastic punishment: “7 Now this came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. 9 The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the Lord their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. 10 They set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 11 and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the Lord had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the Lord. 12 They served idols, concerning which the Lord had said to them, ‘You shall not do this thing.’ (2 Kgs. 17:7-12). God gave the Jews His Ten Commandments as His Covenant with His people. If they lived within the protections of His Ten Commandments, they would enjoy His protections and His blessings: “So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” (Dt. 4:40; 5:16; 5:33; 6:3,18; 11:9; 12:28; 28:1-14). Conversely, rejecting His Commandments would result in curses: “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:” (Dt. 28:15). God warned of 40 progressively severe forms of discipline that would culminate in the Jews’ exile if they did not repent (Dt. 28:16-68).
God warned the Jews that disobedience and idolatry would lead to their destruction. Through Moses, Joshua, and the prophets, God repeatedly warned the Jews that ongoing disobedience and idolatry would lead to their ultimate destruction as a nation if they did not repent: “It shall come about if you ever forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I testify against you today that you will surely perish. Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so you shall perish; because you would not listen to the voice of the LORD your God.” (Dt. 8:19-20). “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed.” (Dt. 4:26; 30:18; 31:20). “When you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.” (Josh. 23:16).
The Jews of Northern Israel also brought curses upon themselves with their idolatry. God warned the Jews that His anger would burn against them if they worshiped other gods. Because they ignored these warning, He removed His hand of protection and allowed them to be cursed: “Samaria will be held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, their little ones will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open.” (Hosea 13:16). The Jews also experienced God’s burning anger during the time period of the Judges when the Jews also embraced idolatry: “So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel . . .” (Jdgs. 2:13-15). God repeatedly commanded the Jews not to turn to idols (Ex. 20:4, 23; 34:17; Lev. 19:4; 26:1; Dt. 4:16, 23; 2 Kin. 17:12; Ps. 78:58; Ez. 20:7). As part of the Second Commandment, God warned that idolatry is so serious that it can bring judgment upon both you and future generations: “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Ex. 20:4-6; Dt. 5:8-10). Because the Jews ignored repeated opportunities to repent, God removed His hedge of protection and allowed Satan to lead the Jews into captivity: “Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth . . . The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines . . . so that Israel was greatly distressed . . .” (Jdgs. 10:6-14). “But if you or your sons indeed turn away from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel . . .” (1 Kin. 9:6-7; Ex. 20:5; Dt. 5:9).
Idolatry can lead to a believer’s spiritual captivity. The Jews physical captivity was an outward manifestation of their spiritual captivity. Today, idolatry can include drugs, alcohol, vanity, wealth, the desires of the flesh, or anything that you place above your relationship with God. For this reason, the warnings against idolatry are repeated in the New Testament. “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” (1 Cor. 10:7). The prohibition against idolatry is one of the three prohibitions from the Old Testament mentioned in the Apostolic Decree: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29; same 21:25). Paul lists it as one of the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21). False gods will inevitably disappoint. If you continually give into your idolatry as the Jews did, God may also allow you to be placed into bondage with your idolatry: “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them . . . And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,” (Ro. 1:24, 28). Only worshiping God will give you the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). If you have allowed idols into your life, break off their influence before they control you.
Fear of anything other than God can lead to your spiritual captivity. When the Jews feared God, it was easier for them to keep God’s Ten Commandments: “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Dt. 5:29). “So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.” (Dt. 6:24). Because the Jews instead feared their enemies, they feared the idols of their enemies more than God (2 Kgs. 17:7). “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice.”’ (1 Sam. 15:24). Do you fear your adversaries more than God?
The Jews’ refusal to repent when warned that it would result in their punishment. God could have forgiven the Jews for their disobedience. Yet, every single king of Northern Israel ignored the calls of God’s prophets to repent and turn back to Him: “13 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.’ 14 However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the Lord had commanded them not to do like them. 16 They forsook all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him. 18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah. 19 Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs which Israel had introduced. 20 The Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight. 21 When He had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. Then Jeroboam drove Israel away from following the Lord and made them commit a great sin. 22 The sons of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them 23 until the Lord removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day.” (2 Kgs. 17:13-23). The Jews observed God’s prophets issue judgements against evil kings that came true. They also observed a number of miracles. Yet, they refused to repent. Instead, they clung to the idols that Jeroboam I created as part of his counterfeit religion to keep the Jews of Northern Israel from traveling to Judah and worshiping God in His Temple (1 Kgs. 12:25-33; 2 Kgs. 17:16). At times, they also worshiped Baal and other Canaanite idols. These also included horrific practices like child sacrifices (2 Kgs. 17:17). Because of their sins, they also caused Judah to embrace idolatry (2 Kgs. 17:19). If only the Jews would have repented and turned back to God, He would have both spared and blessed them.
The people ignored the prophesies and miracles of God’s prophets. God sent many prophets to warn the Jews. These included, but are not limited to, Ahijah, Elijah, Micaiah, Elisha, Amos, Jonah, and Hosea. They warned: “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments” (2 Kgs. 17:13; Jer. 7:3; 18:11; Ezek. 33:11). To demonstrate their authority, God allowed them to speak prophecies that came to pass. He also allowed these prophets to perform miracles. Yet, the Jews simply would not believe or listen.
The people also ignored the afflictions that God used to bring them to repentance. In addition to using carrots, God also used sticks to try to correct His wayward people. He “afflicted them” (2 Kgs. 17:20) through severe droughts to bring His people to repent. But the people would not turn to Him. God also brought in “plunders” (2 Kgs. 17:20). These included two kings from Syria (Aram), Hazael and Benhadad. This also included two kings from Assyria, Tiglath-pileser and Shalmaneser. Yet, the Jews would not listen, turn to God, or repent of their sins. In short, they simply refused to change.
God warned the Jews not to be stiff-necked when confronted with their sins. God lamented that the Jews “stiffened their neck like their fathers.” (2 Kgs. 17:14). From the time of the Exodus until this time, the people had largely refused to abandon their evil ways: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.”’ (Ex. 32:9; 33:5; 34:9). “Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people. . . The LORD spoke further to me, saying, ‘I have seen this people, and indeed, it is a stubborn people.”’ (Dt. 9:6, 13; 31:27). Thus, they refused to change.
The wages of sin are death. God’s punishment of the Jews should not be dismissed as relics of the Old Testament. “For the wages of sin is death, . .” (Ro. 6:23). Only through faith in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross is salvation possible (Ro. 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:21). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, . . .” (Gal. 3:13). “for ‘whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”’ (Ro. 10:13). How seriously are you taking your sins?
Respond to God’s mercy and grace by repenting of your sins. Jesus called upon the people He met to repent and return to Him before they would experience His mercy and grace: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mk. 1:15). “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” (Acts 3:19). Although David frequently sinned, he showed himself to be a man after God’s own heart by repenting when confronted with his sins. For example, he repented when the prophet Nathan confronted him regarding his adultery and murder: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.”’ (2 Sam. 12:13). He also acknowledged his sins in his psalms for the entire country to sing: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide . . .” (Ps. 32:5). “For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” (Ps. 51:1). Like the kings of Northern Israel, David was a sinner. Yet, what made him different was his willingness to repent when he sinned.
Foreigners settle in the cities of Northern Israel. After deporting the Jews, the Assyrians took the land and openly sinned without fearing God. Yet, because God is just, He judged the sinful foreigners as well: “24 The king of Assyria brought men from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Avva and from Hamath and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 At the beginning of their living there, they did not fear the Lord; therefore the Lord sent lions among them which killed some of them. 26 So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, ‘The nations whom you have carried away into exile in the cities of Samaria do not know the custom of the god of the land; so he has sent lions among them, and behold, they kill them because they do not know the custom of the god of the land.’” (2 Kgs. 17:24-26). In Jesus’ day, the Jews loathed the Samaritans (Matt. 10:5; Jo. 4:9; 8:48). They were a mixed race between the peoples from across the Assyrian empire who were sent to occupy Northern Israel and Jewish laborers who were allowed to stay. They developed a religion that mixed the traditions of the Assyrians and the Jews. The Assyrians who first settled in Samaria did not know Yahweh or fear Him. Yet, when they openly practiced evil in His sight, He judged them. This caused them to fear Him.
God sent lions to judge the pagan settlers in Samaria4
God judged the gentiles by His standards when they occupied Holy lands. Even though God exiled the Jews, the gentiles who took their place had to be holy because they now occupied God’s holy land where He dwelled: “The LORD will possess Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.” (Zech. 2:12). “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” (Ps. 132:14). God is a consuming fire (Dt. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). Thus, sin and rebellion cannot be in His presence.
To avoid judgment, fear God by hating evil. The gentiles learned after lions attacked them that they were in God’s appointed land and needed to fear Him. Solomon also learned that he needed to fear and follow God: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7). “Then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:5). Solomon later defined the fear of the Lord as hating evil (Prov. 8:13). The Assyrians did not fear God. Thus, they openly sinned in front of God, and God judged them.
The Assyrians recognized their need for an intermediary, but turned to the wrong solution. The Assyrian king recognized the need for priests to act as intermediators and atone for their sins. But he picked Jeroboam’s counterfeit priests: “27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, ‘Take there one of the priests whom you carried away into exile and let him go and live there; and let him teach them the custom of the god of the land.’ 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away into exile from Samaria came and lived at Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves priests of the high places, who acted for them in the houses of the high places. 33 They feared the Lord and served their own gods according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile.” (2 Kgs. 17:27-33). It might at first be considered a good thing for the Assyrian king to have called back priests to serve in the Promised Land. This showed that the foreigners feared Yahweh. It also showed that they recognized their need for an intermediary to atone for their sins. Yet, the priests who had gone into exile at this point were not Levites. The Levites previously fled to Judah. These were members of the counterfeit priesthood that Jeroboam created for his counterfeit religion: “And he made houses on high places, and made priests from among all the people who were not of the sons of Levi.” (1 Kgs. 12:31; 13:33). These priests did not warn the foreigners against merging their religions. Thus, these gentiles brought future wrath upon themselves.
The fear of the Lord brings knowledge of the need for a mediator. The gentiles who witnessed God use lions to attack were afraid because they understood that they had no way to atone for their sins before God. David wrote on many occasions about his reverent fear of God: “My flesh trembles for fear of You, and I am afraid of Your judgments.” (Ps. 119:120). “Worship the LORD with reverence and rejoice with trembling.” (Ps. 2:11). ‘“For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,’ declares the LORD. ‘But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”’ (Ps. 66:2). People today must recognize the need for a mediator to be reconciled with God: “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;” (Phil. 2:12). Yet, as these gentiles would soon discover, they could not presume that all mediators were equal.
Jesus your advocate has reconciled you to be in God the Father’s presence. The gentiles who came to Samaria had false or ineffective advocates before God. Today, you thankfully do not need to suffer under their dilemma. Jesus is your only advocate before God the Father who can atone for your sins: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 Jo. 2:1). He has reconciled you to the Father through His blood: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Ro. 5:10; 8:34). And He is the only mediator between you and God the Father: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Tim. 2:5). Do you give thanks that Jesus has allowed for you to be reconciled with God the Father?
The Samaritans created a fake religion that was no better than Jeroboam’s religion. God judged Northern Israel for trying to worship Him through a fake and idolatrous religion. Yet, the people who settled in Samaria created a fake hybrid religion that was equally abhorrent in God’s eyes: “34 To this day they do according to the earlier customs: they do not fear the Lord, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances or the law, or the commandments which the Lord commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel; 35 with whom the Lord made a covenant and commanded them, saying, ‘You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down yourselves to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them. 36 But the Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, and to Him you shall bow yourselves down, and to Him you shall sacrifice. 37 The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall observe to do forever; and you shall not fear other gods. 38 The covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods. 39 But the Lord your God you shall fear; and He will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.’ 40 However, they did not listen, but they did according to their earlier custom. 41 So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.” (2 Kgs. 17:34-41). This hybrid religion continued until New Testament times. While the new inhabitants initially feared God, they made no effort to read God’s Word or follow it. Thus, their fear of God faded, and they did what felt right in their own eyes. This was the same problem that existed during the time period of the Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdgs. 17:6). This is also the same problem that many struggle with today. God is clear that believers are not to pick their own morality: “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes;” (Dt. 12:8). You should instead follow God’s Word and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you.
God will judge those who corrupt His Word. Before their exile, the Jews also struggled with mixing together God’s Word with worldly beliefs. Yet, Joshua previously told the Jews that they had to decide who they would serve (Josh. 24:15). Through the prophet Samuel, God again commanded the Jews to “serve Him alone;” (1 Sam. 7:3). This meant that they could not hold onto any divided allegiance in their hearts. In the Book of Kings, the divided kingdom symbolized people’s divided allegiances. People thought it was acceptable to mix their religious views about Yahweh with the Canaanite religious practices. Yet, Elijah warned the people to choose between Yahweh and Baal: “Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.’ But the people did not answer him a word.” (1 Kgs. 18:21). The people could not have divided allegiances between the things of the world and God. When the people would not listen, the righteous prophets warned of the demise of Israel and Judah. This lesson equally applied to the people of Samaria. And this lesson applies to believers today as well. Jesus told His believers that they needed to also choose who they would serve because they could not have two masters: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). Jesus rejects those who claim to worship Him through worldly beliefs: “Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘you shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.”’’ (Lk. 4:8). ‘“But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”’ (Matt. 15:9; Mk. 7:7; Col. 2:22; Is. 29:13). Today, many demand that worldly views be deemed equal to or superior to God’s Word. It may be politically unacceptable to view God’s Word as the final arbitrator of truth. Yet, even if it makes you unpopular, that is what God expects of you. Will you defend and explain God’s Word to skeptics who question it? (1 Pet. 3:15).
Be faithful to God’s Word as it is written, not as you want it to be written. Moses warned that true worship requires that you worship as instructed in the Bible. Believers are not free to add or take away from God’s Word: “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.” (Dt. 12:32). This was not the first time that God gave this warning: “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (Dt. 4:2). Nor was this the last time that God gave this warning. God will not tolerate anyone who changes, adds to, or takes away from His Word (Dt. 4:12:32; Prov. 30:6; Gal. 3:15). In case any believer feels freed from this law, John repeats this commandment in the book of Revelation “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19). Jesus also warned that those who annul the Ten Commandments or teach others not to follow them will be called “least” in heaven: “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19). Are you faithfully following God’s Word as it is written?
God will also judge those who add to His Word to create false religions. The people of Samaria felt right in their own eyes when they added to God’s Word. Many religions have sprung out of Christianity by adding to God’s Word. Yet, adding to God’s Word can lead to legalism and oppressive and needless rules that only “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). Or, it leads to false doctrines, cults, or false religions (2 Pet. 2:1-3). You should turn down anyone who claims that their prophet received an “extra” gospel. You should also test any revelation that is not in the Word (1 Thess. 5:21).
Ignoring the wisdom of the Old Testament is no different than deleting it. Today, it is more common for people to ignore the Old Testament because Jesus fulfilled the penalty for breaking the Law. Yet, God is clear that the fulfilled Law is still profitable for training believers to be righteous. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Tim. 3:16). Because all Scripture is profitable for training up in righteousness, you should avoid picking and choosing only those portions of Scripture that you agree with. Pastors and priests should also avoid the sin of omission by neglecting to teach the wisdom of God’s law. When you pick and choose verses, you seek to create a god that will serve your desires. Thomas Jefferson, for example, is famous for having cut out the miracles from his Bible because he did not believe in them. You should also act with caution when we are told to ignore something in the Old Testament. Before telling someone that they can ignore the teachings of the Old Testament, you should look to the principles behind the teachings. Are you selectively choosing parts of the Bible that you will follow? Are you searching both the Old and New Testaments for God’s wisdom?