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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 2-kings-17.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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2 Kings 17:1-41
THE REIGN OF HOSHEA OVER ISRAEL. DESTRUCTION OF THE ISRAELITE KINGDOM, AND THE GROUNDS OF IT RE-PEOPLING OF THE KINGDOM BY ASSYRIAN COLONISTS.
2 Kings 17:1-6
REIGN OF HOSHEA. Hoshea, the last King of Israel, had a short reign of nine years only, during two of which he was besieged in his capital by the Assyrians. The writer notes that he was a bad king, but not so bad as most of his predecessors (2 Kings 17:2); that he submitted to Shalmaneser, and then rebelled against him (2 Kings 17:3, 2 Kings 17:4); that he called in the aid of So, King of Egypt (2 Kings 17:4); that he was besieged by Shalmaneser in Samaria (2 Kings 17:5); and that after three years, or in the third year of the siege, he was taken, and with his people carried off into captivity (2 Kings 17:6).
2 Kings 17:1
In the twelfth year of Ahaz King of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria. In 2 Kings 15:30 Hoshea was said to have smitten Pekah and slain him, and become king in his stead, "in the twentieth year of Jotham." This has been supposed to mean "in the twentieth year from the accession of Jotham," or, in other words, in the fourth year of Ahaz, since Jotham reigned only sixteen years (2 Kings 15:33). But now the beginning of his reign is placed eight years later. An interregnum of this duration has been placed by some between Pekah and Doshea; but this is contradicted by 2 Kings 15:30, and also by an inscription of Tiglath-pileser. If Ahaz reigned sixteen years, the present statement would seem to be correct, and the former one wrong. Hoshea's accession may be confidently dated as in B.C. 730. Nine years. It is certain that Hoshea's reign came to an end in the first year of Sargon, B.C. 722, from which to B.C. 730 would be eight complete, or nine incomplete, years.
2 Kings 17:2
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him. Hoshea's general attitude towards Jehovah was much the same as that of former kings of Israel. De maintained the calf-worship, leant upon "arms of flesh," and turned a deaf ear to the teaching of the prophets e.g, Hoshea and Micah, who addressed their warnings to him. But he was not guilty of any special wickedness—he set up no new idolatry; he seems to have allowed his subjects, if they pleased, to attend the festival worship at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30:11, 2 Chronicles 30:18). The rabbis add that when the golden calf of Bethel had been carried off by the Assyrians in one of their incursions, he did not replace it ('Seder Olam,' 2 Kings 22:1-20.); but it is not at all clear that the image was carried away until Hoshea's reign was over.
2 Kings 17:3
Against him came up Shal-maneser King of Assyria. Shalmaneser's succession to Tiglath-pileser on the throne of Assyria, once doubted, is now rendered certain by the Eponym Canon, which makes him ascend the throne in B.C. 727, and cease to reign in B.C. 722. It is uncertain whether he was Tiglath-pileser's son or a usurper. The name, Shalmaneser (Sali-manu-uzur) was an old royal name in Assyria, and signified "Shalman protects" (compare the names Nabu-kudur-uzur, Nergal-asar-uzur, Nabu-pal-uzur, etc.). And Hoshea became his servant. Hoshea had been placed on the throne by Tiglath-pileser, and had paid him tribute (ibid; lines 18, 19). We must suppose that on Tiglath-pileser's death, in B.C. 727, he had revolted, and resumed his independence. Shalmaneser. having become king, probably came up against Hoshea in the same year, and forced him to resume his position of Assyrian tributary. This may have been the time when "Shalman spoiled Beth-Arbel in the day of battle" (Dos. 10.14), defeating Hoshea near that place (Arbela, now Irbid, in Galilee), and taking it. And gave him presents; or, rendered him tribute, as in the margin of the Authorized Version.
2 Kings 17:4
And the King of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So, King of Egypt. We learn from the Prophet Hosea that the expediency of calling in Egypt as a counterpoise to Assyria had long been in the thoughts of those who directed the policy of the Israelite state (see Hosea 7:11; Hosea 12:1, etc.). Now at last the plunge was taken. An Ethiopian dynasty of some strength and vigor had possession of Egypt, and held its court during some part of the year at Memphis (Hosea 9:6). The king who occupied the throne was called Shabak or Shebek—a name which the Greeks represented by Sabakos or Sevechus, and the Hebrews by סוא. (The original vocalization of this word was probably סֵוֶא, Seveh; but in later times this vocalization was lost, and the Masorites pointed the word as סוֹא, Soh or So). The Assyrians knew the king as Sibakhi, and contended with him under Sargon. Hoshea now sent an embassy to this monarch's court, requesting his alliance and his support against the great Asiatic power by which the existence of all the petty states of Western Asia was threatened. Shalmaneser was at the time endeavoring to capture Tyro, and Hoshea might reasonably fear that, when Tyre was taken, his own turn would come. It is not clear how Shabak received Hoshea's overtures; but we may, perhaps, assume that it was with favor, since otherwise Hoshea would scarcely have ventured to withhold his tribute, as he seems to have done. It must have been in reliance on "the strength of Egypt" that he ventured to brave the anger of Assyria. And brought no present—or, sent no tribute—to the King of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the King of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison. The ultimate result is mentioned at once, before the steps by which it was accomplished are related. Shalmaneser did not "summon Hoshea before his presence to listen to his explanations," and then, "as soon as he came, take him prisoner, put him in chains, and imprison him" (as Ewald thinks), but simply declared war, invaded Hoshea's country, besieged him in his capital, and ultimately, when he surrendered, consigned him to a prison, as Nebuchadnezzar afterwards did Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:15; 2 Kings 25:27). Otherwise Hoshea's reign would have come to an end in his sixth or seventh, and not in his ninth year.
2 Kings 17:5
Then the King of Assyria—rather, and the King of Assyria—came up throughout all the land—i.e; with an army that spread itself at once over the whole land, that came to conquer, not merely to strike a blow, and obtain submission, as on the former occasion (see 2 Kings 17:3, and the comment)—and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. From some time in Hoshea's seventh year (2 Kings 18:9) to some time in his ninth (2 Kings 18:10). According to the Hebrew mode of reckoning, parts of years are counted as years; and thus the siege need not have lasted much over a year, though it may have been extended to nearly three years. In either case, there was ample time for Shabak to have brought up his forces, had he been so minded; and his failure to do so, or in any way to succor his ally, showed how little reliance was to be placed on Egyptian promises.
2 Kings 17:6
In the ninth year of Hoshea the wing of Assyria took Samaria. In B.C. 722, the ninth year of Hoshea, there seems to have been a revolution at Nineveh. The reign of Shalmaneser came to an end, and Sargon seated himself upon the throne. There have been commentators on Kings (Keil, Bahr) who have supposed that Shalmaneser and Sargon were the same person, and have even claimed that the Assyrian inscriptions support their view. But the fact is otherwise. Nothing is more certain than that, according to them, Sargon succeeded Shalmaneser IV. in B.C. 722 by a revolution, and was the head of a new dynasty. He claims in his annals, among his earliest acts, the siege and capture of Samaria. It is remarkable that Scripture, while in no way connecting him with the capture, never distinctly assigns it to Shalmaneser. Here we are only told that "the King of Assyria" took it. In 2 Kings 18:9, 2 Kings 18:10, where we are distinctly told that Shalmaneser "came up against Samaria, and besieged it," the capture is expressed by the phrase, "they took it," not "he took it." Perhaps neither king was present in person at the siege, or, at any rate, at its termination. The city may have been taken by an Assyrian general, while Shalmaneser and Sargon were contending for the crown. In that case, the capture might be assigned to either. Sargon certainly claims it; Shalmaneser's annals have been so mutilated by his successors that we cannot tell whether he claimed it or not. The city fell in B.C. 722; and the deportation of its inhabitants at once took place. And carried Israel away into Assyria. The inscription of Sargon above referred to mentions only the deportation, from the city of Samaria itself, of 27,290 persons. No doubt a vast number of others were carried off from the smaller towns and from the country districts. Still, the country was not left uninhabited, and Sargon assessed its tribute at the old rate ('Eponym Canon,' l.s.c.). Nor was the cry of Samaria destroyed, since we hear of it subsequently more than once in the Assyrian annals. And placed them in Halah. "Halah" (צֲלַה) has been supposed by some to be the old Assyrian city (Genesis 10:11) of Calah (כָּלַץ), which was, down to the' time of Tiglath-pileser, the main capital; but the difference of spelling is an objection, and the Assyrians do not seem to have ever transported subject-populations to their capitals. It is moreover reasonable to suppose that Halah, Habor, Gozan, and Hara (1 Chronicles 5:26) were in the same neighborhood. This last consideration points to the "Chalcitis" of Ptolemy (5. 18) as the true "Halah," since it was in the immediate vicinity of the Khabour, of Gauzanitis, and of Haran. And in Habor by the river of Gozan. This is a mistranslation. The Hebrew runs, "And on Habor (Khabor), the river of Gozan" (so also in 2 Kings 18:11). "Habor, the river of Gozan," is undoubtedly one of the Khabours. Those who find Halah in Calah, or in Calacine (Calachene), generally prefer the eastern river which runs into the Tigris from Kurdistan a little below Jezireh. But there is no evidence that rids river bore the name in antiquity. The Western Khabour, on the other hand, was well known to the Assyrians under that appellation, and is the Aborrhas of Strabo and Procopius, the Chaboras of Pliny and Ptolemy, the Aburas of Isadore of Charax, and the Abora of Zosimus. It adjoins a district called Chalcitis, and it drains the country of Gauzanitis or Mygdonia. The Western Khabour is a river of Upper Mesopotamia, and runs into the Euphrates from the northeast near the site of the ancient Circesion. The tract which it drains is called Mygdonia by Strabo, Gauzanitis by Ptolemy. And in the cities of the Medes. Media had been repeatedly invaded and ravaged by the Assyrians from the time of Vulnirari IV.; but the first king to conquer any portion of it, and people its cities with settlers from other parts of his dominions, was Sargon. We learn from the present passage that a certain number of these settlers were Israelites.
2 Kings 17:7-23
The provocations which induced God to destroy the Israelite kingdom.
Here, for once, the writer ceases to be the mere historian, and becomes the religious teacher and prophet, drawing out the lessons of history, and justifying the ways of God to man. As Bahr says, he "does not carry on the narrative as taken from the original authorities, but himself here begins a review of the history and fate of Israel, which ends with 2 Kings 17:23, and forms an independent section by itself." The section divides itself into four portions:
(1) From 2 Kings 17:7 to 2 Kings 17:12, a general statement of Israel's wickedness;
(2) from 2 Kings 17:13 to 2 Kings 17:15, a special aggravation of their guilt, viz. their rejection of prophets;
(3) verses: 16 and 17 contain a specification of their chief acts of sin; and
(4) from 2 Kings 17:18 to 2 Kings 17:23, a general summary, including some words of warning to Judah.
2 Kings 17:7
For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God; rather, And it came to pass, when, etc. The clauses from the present to the end of 2 Kings 17:17 depend on the "when" of this verse; the apodosis does not come till 2 Kings 17:18, "When the children of Israel had done all that is stated in 2 Kings 17:7-17, then the result was that the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight." Which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt. So commencing his long series of mercies to the nation, and indicating his gracious favor towards it. "The deliverance from Egypt," as Bahr well says, "was not only the beginning, but the symbol, of all Divine grace towards Israel, and the pledge of its Divine guidance." Hence the stress laid upon it, both here and by the Prophet Hoses (comp. Hosea 11:1; Hosea 12:9, Hosea 12:13; Hosea 13:4). From under the hand—i.e. the oppression—of Pharaoh King of Egypt, and had feared other gods; i.e. reverenced and worshipped them.
2 Kings 17:8
And walked in the statutes of the heathen. The" statutes of the heathen" are their customs and observances, especially in matters of religion. The Israelites had been repeatedly warned not to follow these (see Le 2 Kings 18:3, 2 Kings 18:30; Deuteronomy 12:29-31; Deuteronomy 18:9-14, etc.). Whom the Lord east out from before the children of Israel—i.e. the Canaanitish nations, whose idolatries and other "abominations" were particularly hateful to God (see Le 2 Kings 18:26-29; Deuteronomy 20:18; Deuteronomy 29:17; Deuteronomy 32:16, etc.)—and of the kings of Israel. The sins and idolatries of Israel had a double origin. The great majority were derived from the heathen nations with whom they were brought into contact, and were adopted voluntarily by the people themselves. Of this kind were the worship at "high places" (2 Kings 17:9), the "images" and "groves" (2 Kings 17:10), the causing of their children to "pass through the fire" (2 Kings 17:17), the employment of divination and enchantments (2 Kings 17:17), and perhaps the "worship of the host of heaven" (2 Kings 17:16). A certain number, however, came in from a different source, being imposed upon the people by their kings. To this class belong the desertion of the temple-worship, enforced by Jeroboam (vex. 21), the setting up of the calves at Dan and Bethel (2 Kings 17:16) by the same, and the Baal and Astarte worship (2 Kings 17:16), introduced by Ahab. This last and worst idolatry was not established without a good deal of persecution, as we learn from 1 Kings 18:4. Which they had made.
2 Kings 17:9
And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the Lord their God. Most of the evil practices of the Israelites were open and flagrant, but some sought the veil of secrecy, as the use of divination and enchantments (2 Kings 17:17). It is doubtful, however, whether the Hebrew words have the signification assigned to them in the Authorized Version. They may mean no more than that the Israelites made their evil deeds a barrier between themselves and God. And they built them high places in an their cities. "In all their cities" is probably rhetorical; but the gist of the charge is that, instead of keeping to the one temple and one altar commanded by God for the conservation of their belief in his unity, the Israelites "erected places of worship all over the country, after the fashion of the heathen" (Bahr), and so at once depraved their own faith, and ceased to be a perpetual protest to the surrounding nations. From the tower of the watchman to the fenced city; i.e. from the smallest and most solitary place of human abode to the largest and most populous. The expression was no doubt proverbial, and (as used here) is a strong hyperbole.
2 Kings 17:10
And they set them up images; rather, pillars (comp. Gem 28:18, 22; 31:13, 45, 51, 52; 35:14, 20; Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 12:3; 2 Samuel 18:18, where the same word is so rendered). The matse voth were stone pillars, anciently connected with the worship of Baal, but in Judah perhaps used in a debased and debasing worship of Jehovah with self-invented rites, instead of those which had the express sanction of God, being commanded in the Law. And groves (compare the comment on 1 Kings 14:14 and 1 Kings 14:23, and see also that on 2 Kings 13:6) in every high hill—rather, on every high hill—and under every green tree. Mote that the "groves" (ash,-rim) were "set up under green trees," and must therefore have been artificial structures of some kind, such as could stand beneath their boughs.
2 Kings 17:11
And there they burnt incense in all the high places. Incense symbolized prayer (Psalms 141:2), and ought to have been burnt only on the golden altar of incense within the veil. As did the heathen whom the Lord carried away before them. The offering of incense to their gods by the Canaanitish nations had not been previously mentioned; but the use of incense in religious worship was so widely spread in the ancient world, that their employment of it might have been assumed as almost certain. The Egyptians used incense largely in the worship of Ammon. The Babylonians burnt a thousand talents' weight of it every year at the great festival of Bel-Merodach (Herod; 1:183). The Greeks and Romans offered it with every sacrifice. And wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger (see below, verses 15-17).
2 Kings 17:12
For they served idols; rather, and they served idols. The sense flows on from 2 Kings 17:7, each verso being joined to the preceding one by the vav connective. Gillulim, the term translated "idols," is a word rarely used, except by Ezekiel, with whom it is common. "It contains," as Bahr says, "a subordinate contemptuous and abusive signification;" the primary meaning of galal being "dung," "ordure." Whereof the Lord had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing (see Exodus 20:4, Exodus 20:5, Exodus 20:23; Deuteronomy 4:16-18, etc.).
2 Kings 17:13
Yet the Lord testified—rather, and the Lord testified—against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers. A "seer" is, properly, one who sees visions; a "prophet," one inspired to pour forth utterances. But the words were used as synonyms (see 1 Samuel 9:9). Ever since the revolt of Jeroboam, there had been a succession of prophets in both countries whose office it had been to rebuke sin and to enforce the precepts of the Law. In Judah there had been Shemaiah, contemporary with Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11:2; 2 Chronicles 12:5); Iddo, contemporary with Abijah (2 Chronicles 13:22); Azariah, with Asa (2 Chronicles 15:1); Hanani, with the same (2 Chronicles 16:7); Jehu, the son of Hanani, with Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 19:2); Jahaziel, the son of Zechariah, with the same (2 Chronicles 20:14); Eliezer, the son of Dodavah, also contemporary with the same (2 Chronicles 20:37); Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, contemporary with Joash (2 Chronicles 24:20); another Zechariah, contemporary with Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:5); Joel, Micah, and Isaiah, besides several whose names are unknown. In Israel, the succession had included Ahijah the Shilonite, contemporary with Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:2); Jehu, the son of Hanani, with Baasha (1 Kings 16:1); Elijah, and Micaiah the son of Imlah, with Ahab (1 Kings 22:8) and Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:3); Elisha, with Jehoram, John, Jehoahaz, and Joash (2 Kings 3:11-14); Jonah, with Jeroboam II. (2 Kings 14:25); Hosea and Amos, with the same (Hosea 1:1; Amos 1:1): and Oded (2 Chronicles 28:9), contemporary with Pekah. God had never left himself without living witness. Besides the written testimony of the Law, he had sent them a continuous series of prophets, who "repeated and enforced the teaching of the Law by word of month, breathing into the old words a new life, applying them to the facts of their own times, urging them on the con- sciences of their hearers, and authoritatively declaring to them that the terrible threatenings of the Law were directed against the very sins which they habitually practiced." The prophets continually addressed them in the Name of God, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the Law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets. This was the general burden of the prophetical teaching, both in Israel and in Judah, both before the captivity of Israel and afterwards (see Hosea 12:6; Hosea 14:2; Joel 2:12, Joel 2:13; Amos 5:4-15; Isaiah 1:16-20; Isaiah 31:6; Jeremiah 3:7, Jeremiah 3:14; Ezekiel 14:6; Ezekiel 18:30, etc.).
2 Kings 17:14
Notwithstanding they would not hear; rather, and they would not hear. The construction still runs on without any change (see the comment on 2 Kings 17:7 and 2 Kings 17:12). But hardened their necks. (On the origin of the phrase, see 'Homiletic Commentary' on Exodus 32:9.) The obstinate perversity of the Israelites, which the phrase expresses, is noted through the entire history (see Exodus 33:3, Exodus 33:5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, Deuteronomy 9:13; Psalms 75:5; 2Ch 30:8; 2 Chronicles 36:13; Nehemiah 9:16, Nehemiah 9:17, Nehemiah 9:29; Jeremiah 7:26; Jeremiah 17:23; Acts 7:51, etc.). Like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God. The reference is especially to the many passages in the Pentateuch where the Israelites are called "a stiff-necked people" (see, besides those already quoted, Deuteronomy 31:27).
2 Kings 17:15
And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers. The covenant made at Sinai, first by the people generally (Exodus 19:5-8), and then by their formal representatives (Exodus 24:3-8), was, on their part, a solemn promise that "all which the Lord commanded them they would do." Rejecting the "statutes" of God was thus rejecting the "covenant." And his testimonies which he testified against them. The "testimonies" of God are his commandments, considered as witnessing of him and setting forth his nature. The use of the term is common in Deuteronomy and in the Psalms, but otherwise rare. And they followed vanity, and became vain. False gods are "vanity;" false religions are "vanity;" there is nothing firm or substantial about them; they belong to the realm of futility and nothingness. And the followers of such religions derive weakness from them—they "become vain "—i.e. weak, futile, impotent. Their energies are wasted; they effect nothing of that which they wish to effect; they are completely powerless for good, at any rate; and they are not really powerful for evil. Their plans, for the most part, miscarry; and "their end is destruction." And went after the heathen that were round about them. Upon a neglect to keep God's commandments follows active revolt from him, and the doing of that which he has forbidden. When they rejected God's statutes, the Israelites adopted "the statutes of the heathen" (verse 8), and "walked in them." Concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them (see above, verse 12, and compare the comment on verse 8).
2 Kings 17:16, 2 Kings 17:17
The main sins of Israel are now specified, that they themselves may stand self-convicted, and that others may be warned against doing the like. First, generally.
2 Kings 17:16
They left all the commandments of the Lord their God; i.e. neglected them, rendered them no obedience, offered none of the stated sacrifices, attended none of the appointed feasts, broke the moral law (Hosea 4:1, Hosea 4:2, Hosea 4:11; Hosea 7:1, etc.) by swearing, and lying, and stealing, and committing adultery, by drunkenness, and lewdness, and bloodshed. And made them molten images, even two calves. These at least were undeniable—there they were at Dan and Bethel, until the Captivity came (Hosea 8:5; Hosea 10:5, Hosea 10:6; Hosea 13:2; Amos 8:14), worshipped, sworn by (Amos 8:14), viewed as living gods (Amos 8:14), offered to, trusted in. Every king had upheld them, so that Bethel was regarded as "the king's court," and "the king's chapel" (Amos 7:13); all the people were devoted to them, and "brought their sacrifices to Bethel every morning" (Amos 4:4), "and their tithes after three years." And made a grove. The "grove "(asherah) which Ahab set up at Samaria (1Ki 16:1-34 :38), and which remained there certainly to the time of Jehoahaz (see the comment on 2 Kings 13:6). And worshipped all the host of heaven. This worship had not been mentioned before; and it is nowhere else ascribed to the Israelites of the northern kingdom. Manasseh seems to have introduced it into Judah (2 Kings 21:3; 2 Kings 23:5, 2 Kings 23:11). Such knowledge as we have of the Western Asiatic religions seems to indicate that astral worship, strictly so called, was a peculiarity of the Assyro-Babylonian and Arabian systems only, and did not belong to the Syrian, or the Phoenician, or the Canaanite. It may be suspected that the present passage is somewhat rhetorical, and assigns to the Israelites the "worship of the host of heaven," simply because an astral character attached to Baal and Ashtoreth, who were associated in the religion of the Phoenicians with the sun and moon. On the ether hand, it is just possible that the Assyro-Babylonian star-worship had been introduced into Israel under Menahem, Pekah, or Hoshea. And served Baal. The Baal-worship, introduced by Ahab (1 Kings 16:31), was not finally abolished by Jehu (2 Kings 10:28). Like other popular religions, it had a revival Hosea, writing under the later kings from Jeroboam II. to Hoshea, alludes to the Baal-worship (Hosea 2:8, Hosea 2:17) as continuing.
2 Kings 17:17
And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire. (On this phrase, see the comment upon 2 Kings 16:3.) The sin of child-murder had not Been previously laid to the charge of Israel; but, as it had infected Judah (2 Kings 16:3), there is no reason why it should not have invaded also the sister kingdom. Perhaps it is alluded to by Hosea 4:2; Hosea 5:2; and Hosea 6:8. It was an old sin of the Canaanitish nations (Leviticus 18:21, etc.), and continued to be practiced by the Moabites (2 Kings 3:27; Amos 2:1) and Ammonites, neighbors of Israel. And used divination and enchantments. The "witchcrafts" of Jezebel have been already mentioned (2 Kings 9:22). Magical practices always accompanied idolatry, and were of many kinds. Sometimes divination was by means of staves or rods (rhabdomancy), which were manipulated in various ways. Sometimes it was by arrows (Ezekiel 21:21). Very often, especially in Greece and Rome, it was by inspecting the entrails of victims. Where faith in God wanes, a trust in magical practices, astrology, chiromancy, "sertes Virgilianae," horoscopes, spirit-rapping, and the like, almost always supervenes. And sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. (On the expression, "sold themselves to do evil," see the comment upon 1 Kings 21:20.)
2 Kings 17:18
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel; rather, that then the Lord was very angry, etc. We have here the apodosis of the long sentence beginning with 2 Kings 17:7 and continuing to the end of 2 Kings 17:17. When all that is enumerated in these verses had taken place, then the Lord was moved to anger against Israel, then matters had reached a crisis, the cup of their iniquity was full, and God's wrath, long restrained, descended on them. And removed them out of his sight. Removal out of God's sight is loss of his favor and of his care. "The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous" (Psalms 34:15)—he "knoweth their way," "watcheth ever them" (Jeremiah 31:28), "careth for them" (Psalms 146:8); but "the countenance of the Lord is against them [averted from them] who do evil" (Psalms 34:16). He will not look upon them nor hear them. There was none left but the tribe of Judah only. The "tribe of Judah" stands for the kingdom of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin (see 1 Kings 11:31-36; 1 Kings 12:23; '2 Chronicles 17:14-18), into which the greater part of Dan and Simeon had also been absorbed. This became now, exclusively, God's "peculiar people," the object of his love and of his care. The writer, it must be remembered, belongs to the period of the Captivity, and is not speaking of the restored Israel.
2 Kings 17:19
Also Judah kept not the commandments of the Lord their God. The sharp contrast which the writer has drawn between Israel and Judah in 2 Kings 17:18 reminds him that the difference was only for a time. Judah followed in Israel's sins, and ultimately shared in her punishment. This verso and the next are parenthetic. But walked in the statutes of Israel which they made; i.e. followed Israel in all her evil courses, first in her Baal-worship, under Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Athaliah; then in her other malpractices under Ahaz (2 Kings 16:3, 2 Kings 16:4), Manasseh (2 Kings 21:2-9), and Amen (2 Kings 21:20-22). Of course, the calf-worship is excepted, Judah having no temptation to follow Israel in that.
2 Kings 17:20
And the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel. God is no respecter of persons. As he had rejected the ten tribes on account of certain transgressions, which have been enumerated (2 Kings 17:8-17), so, when Judah committed the self-same sins, and transgressed equally, Judah had equally to be rejected. "All the seed of Israel" is the entire nation—Israel in the widest sense, made up of Judah and of Israel in the narrow sense. So Keil, rightly. And afflicted them—by the hands of Sargon, and Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon (2 Chronicles 33:11), and Pharaoh-Nechoh, and others—and delivered them into the hands of spoilers. The "spoilers" intended are probably, first, the "bands of the Chaldees, and of the Syrians, and of the Moabites, and of the children of Ammon," who were let loose upon Judaea by Nebuchadnezzar when Jehoiakim rebelled against him (2 Kings 24:2), and secondly Nebuchadnezzar himself and Nebuzaradan, who completed the spoliation of the country, and plundered Jerusalem itself, to punish the revolts of Jehoiachid and Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:13-16 and 2 Kings 25:8-21), when all the treasures of the temple were carried off. Until he had cast them out of his sight; i.e. until he had punished Judah as he had previously punished Israel (2 Kings 17:18), which was what justice required.
2 Kings 17:21
For he rent; rather, for he had rent. The nexus of the verse is with 2 Kings 17:18. The difference between the fates of Israel and Judah—the survival of Judah for a hundred and thirty-four years—is traced back to the separation under Rehoboam, and to the wicked policy which Jeroboam then pursued, and left as a legacy to his successors. Israel could suffer alone, while Judah was spared, because the kingdom of David and Solomon had been rent in twain, and the two states had thenceforth continued separate. Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drave Israel from following the Lord. The separation alone might not have had any ill result; but it was followed by the appointment of Jeroboam as king, and Jeroboam introduced the fatal taint of idolatry, from which all the other evils flowed, including the earlier destruction of the northern kingdom. Jeroboam not only introduced the worship of the calves, but he "drave Israel from following the Lord "—i.e. compelled the people to discontinue the practice of going up to worship at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 11:13-16), and required them to take part in the calf-worship. And [thus] made them sin a great sin.
2 Kings 17:22
For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did. The nation, having been once persuaded to adopt Jeroboam's innovations, continued to "walk" in them—followed Jeroboam's example in "all his sins"—gave up the temple-worship altogether; accepted the ministrations of priests not of the seed of Aaron (1 Kings 13:33; 2 Chronicles 13:9); brought their tithes to these idol-priests; sacrificed to the calves at Dan and Bethel (Amos 4:4); and put their trust in the "similitude of a calf that eateth hay." They departed not from them.
2 Kings 17:23
Until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight (see the comment on 2 Kings 17:18) as he had said by all his servants the prophets. The destruction of the kingdom of Israel had been distinctly prophesied by Ahijah the Shilonite (1 Kings 14:15, 1 Kings 14:16), Hosea (Hosea 1:4; Hosea 9:3, Hosea 9:17), and Amos (Amos 7:17). General warnings and denunciations had been given by Moses (Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 4:26, Deuteronomy 4:27; Deuteronomy 28:36, etc.), by Isaiah (Isaiah 7:8; Isaiah 28:1-4), and probably by the entire series of prophets enumerated in the comment on verse. 13. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day; i.e. up to the time that the Second Book of Kings was written, about B.C. 580-560, the Israelites remained within the limits of the country to which they were carried by the conqueror. Not long after this time, about B.C. 538, a considerable number returned with Zerubbabel to Palestine, and others with Ezra (see Ezra 2:70; Ezra 3:1; Ezra 6:16, Ezra 6:17; Ezra 7:13; Ezra 8:35; 1 Chronicles 9:2, 1 Chronicles 9:3; Zechariah 8:13). What became of the rest has been a fertile subject of speculation. Probably the more religions united with the Jewish communities, which were gradually formed in almost all the cities of the East; while the irreligious laid aside their peculiar customs, and became blended indistinguishably with the heathen. 'There is no ground for expecting to find the "ten tribes" anywhere at the present day.
2 Kings 17:24-41
Re-peopling of the kingdom of Israel by Assyrian colonists, and formation of a mixed religion. The writer, before dismissing the subject of the Israelite kingdom, proceeds to inform us of certain results of the conquest. Having removed the bulk of the native inhabitants, the Assyrians did not allow the country to lie waste, but proceeded to replace the population which they had carried off by settlers from other localities (2 Kings 17:24). These settlers were, after a short time, incommoded by lions, which increased upon them, and diminished their numbers (2 Kings 17:25). The idea arose that the visitation was supernatural, and might be traced to the fact that the newcomers, not knowing "the manner of the God of the land," displeased him by the neglect of his rites or by the introduction of alien worship (2 Kings 17:26). A remedy for this was sought in the sending to them from Assyria one of the priests who had been carried off, from whom it was thought they might learn how "the God of the land" was to be propitiated. This was the orion of the "mixed religion" which grew up in the country. While the nations who had replaced the Israelites brought in their own superstitions, and severally worshipped their own gods (2 Kings 17:30, 2 Kings 17:31), there was a general acknowledgment of Jehovah by all of them, and a continuance of Jehovistic worship in the various high places. The nations both "feared the Lord, and served their graven images," down to the time when the writer of Kings composed his work (2 Kings 17:33-41).
2 Kings 17:24
And the King of Assyria brought men from Babylon. It has been supposed, in connection with Ezra 4:2, that no colonists were introduced into the country till the time of Esarhaddon, who began to reign in B.C. 681. But this, which would be intrinsically most improbable (for when did a king forego his tribute from a fertile country for forty-one years?), is contradicted by a statement of Sargon, that he placed colonists there in B.C. 715. These were not necessarily the first; and, on the whole, it is probable that the re-peopling of the country begun earlier. Hamath was reduced by Sargon in B.C. 720, and punished severely. Its inhabitants were carried off, and replaced by Assyrians. Probably some of them were at once settled in Samaria. The conquest of Babylon by Sargon was not till later. It occurred in B.C. 709, and was probably followed by the immediate deportation of some of its inhabitants to the same quarter. And from Cuthah. "Cuthah," or "Cutha," was an important Babylonian city, often mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions. Its ruins exist at the site now called Ibrahim, about fifteen miles northeast of Babylon. Sargon must have become master of it when he put down Merodach-Baladan and assumed the sovereignty of Babylonia, in B.C. 709. Why the later Jews called the Samaritans "Cuthaeans," rather than Sepharvites, or Avites, or Hamathites, it is impossible to determine. Possibly the Cuthaean settlers preponderated in numbers ever the others. And from Ava. "Ava" (עוא) is probably the same as the Ivah (עוה) of 2 Kings 18:34 and 2 Kings 19:13, and perhaps identical with the Ahava (אהוא) of Ezra (Ezra 8:15, Ezra 8:21). The city intended is thought to be the "Is" of Herodotus, and the modern Hit. Hit lies upon the Euphrates, about a hundred and thirty miles above Babylon, in lat. 33° 45' nearly. It is famous for its bitumen springs. And from Hamath (see the comment on 2 Kings 14:25). Hamath on the Orontes was conquered by Sargon in B.C. 720, two years after his capture of Samaria. Its rude inhabitants were carried off, and Assyrians were placed there. And from Sepharvaim. It is generally allowed that "Sepharvaim" is "Sippara," the dual form being accounted for by the fact that Sippara was a double town, partly on the right and partly on the left bank of a stream derived from the Euphrates. Hence Pliny speaks of it as "oppida Hipparenorum" ('Hist. Nat.,' 6.30). The exact site, at Abu-Habba, sixteen miles southwest of Baghdad, has only recently been discovered. And placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. Transplantation of nations, commenced by Tiglath-pileser, was practiced on a still larger scale by Sargon. The following summary will illustrate this point: "In all his wars Sargon largely employed the system of wholesale deportation. The Israelites were removed from Samaria, and planted partly in Gozan or Mygdonia, and partly in the cities recently taken from the Medes. Hamath and Damascus were peopled with captives from Armenia and other regions of the north. A portion of the Tibareni were carried captive to Assyria, and Assyrians were established in the Tibarenian country. Vast numbers of the inhabitants of the Zagros range were also transported to Assyria; Babylonians, Cuthaeans, Sapharrites, Arabians, and others were placed in Samaria; men from the extreme east (perhaps Media) in Ashdod. The Comukha were removed from the extreme north to Susiana, and Chaldaeans were brought from the extreme south to supply their places. Everywhere Sargon 'changed the abodes' of his subjects, his aim being, as it would seem, to weaken the stronger races by dispersion, and to destroy the spirit of the weaker ones by severing at a blow all the links which unite a patriotic people to the country it has long inhabited. The practice had not been unknown to previous monarchs; but it had never been employed by any of them so generally or on so grand a scale as it was by this king".
2 Kings 17:25
And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the Lord. They were ignorant, i.e; of Jehovah, and paid him no religious regard. They brought with them their own forms of heathenism (see 2 Kings 17:30, 2 Kings 17:31). Therefore the Lord sent lions among them. Lions are not now found in Palestine, nor indeed in any part of Syria, though they are numerous in Mesopotamia; but anciently they appear to have been tolerably common in all parts of the Holy Land (see the comment on 1 Kings 13:24). We may gather from what is said here that, though new settlers had been brought into the country by the Assyrians, yet still there had been a considerable decrease in the population, which had been favorable to the lions multiplying. The new settlers, it is to be noted, were placed in the towns (2 Kings 17:24); and it is probable that many of the country districts lay waste and desolate. Still, the writer views the great increase in the number of the lions as a Divine judgment, which it may have been, though based upon a natural circumstance. Which slew some of them. (For the great boldness of the Palestinian lion, see 1 Kings 13:24; 1 Kings 20:36; Proverbs 22:13; Isaiah 31:4; Isaiah 38:13; Jeremiah 5:6, etc.)
2 Kings 17:26
Wherefore they spake to the Feng of Assyria, saying. The meaning seems to be, not that the colonists made direct complaint to the king, but that some of the persons about the court, having heard of the matter, reported it to him as one requiring consideration and remedy. Hence the use of the third person instead of the first. The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria (see 2 Kings 17:24), know not the manner of the God of the land. It was the general belief of the heathen nations of antiquity that each country and nation had its own god or gods, who presided over its destinies, protected it, went out at the head of its armies, and fought for it against its enemies. Each god had his own "manner," or ritual and method of worship, which was, in some respects at any rate, different from that of all other gods. Unless this ritual and method were known, new-comers into any land were almost sure to displease the local deity, who did not allow of any departure from traditional usage in his worship. Therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, bemuse they know not the manner of the God of the land.
2 Kings 17:27
Then the King of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence. It does not appear that this was a suggestion of the colonists. Either it was the king's own idea, or that of one of his advisers. The priests, who ministered at the two national sanctuaries—those of Dan and Bethel—had, as important personages, been all carried off. Though a "remnant" of Israel was left in the land (2 Chronicles 34:9), they were probably of the baser sort, or at any rate could not be trusted to know the details and intricacies of the Samaritan ritual. Thus it was necessary to send back a priest. And let them go and dwell there. We should have expected, "Let him go;" but the writer assumes that the priest would have an entourage, assistant-ministers and servants, and so says, "Let them go;" but immediately afterwards, And let him teach—since he alone would be competent—them the manner of the God of the land.
2 Kings 17:28
Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria—the country, not the city, as in 2 Kings 17:24 and 2 Kings 17:25—came and dwelt in Bethel. Bethel from a very early time greatly eclipsed Dan. While the allusions to Bethel, commonly called "Bethaven" (" House of nothingness" for "House of God "), are frequent in the Israelitish prophets (Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5, Hosea 10:8, Hosea 10:15; Amos 3:14; Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5, Amos 5:6; Amos 7:10-13), there is but a single distinct allusion to Dan (Amos 8:14). Bethel was "the king's chapel" and "the king's court" (Amos 7:13). The priest selected by Sargon's advisers was a Bethelite priest, and, returning thither, took up the worship familiar to him. And taught them—i.e; the new settlers—how they should fear the Lord. This worship could only be that of the calf-priests instituted by Jeroboam, which was, however, most certainly a worship of Jehovah, and an imitation or travesty of the temple - worship at Jerusalem. Whether the returned priest set up a new calf-idol to replace the one which had been carried off to Assyria (Hosea 10:5), is doubtful.
2 Kings 17:29
Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. The several bands of settlers found in the cities assigned to them "houses of the high places," or high-place temples (2 Kings 17:9), which had been left standing when the inhabitants were carried off. These "houses" they converted to their own use, setting up in them their several idolatries.
2 Kings 17:30
And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth. There is no deity of this name in the Assyrian or Babylonian lists. The explanation of the word as "tents" or "huts of daughters," which Satisfied Selden, Calmer, Gesenius, Winer, Keil, and others, is rendered absolutely impossible by the context, which requires that the word, whatever its meaning, should be the name of a deity. The Septuagint interpreters, while as much puzzled as others by the word itself, at least saw this, and rendered the expression by τὴν Σουκχὼθ Βενίθ, showing that they regarded it as the name of a goddess. The Babylonian goddess who corresponds most nearly to the word, and is most likely to be intended, would seem to be Zirat-banit, the wife of Merodach. Zirat-banit means "the creating lady;" but the Hebrew interpreter seems to have mistaken the first element, which he confounded with Zarat, the Babylonian for "tents," and so translated by "Succoth." The goddess Zirat-banit was certainly one of the principal deities of Babylon, and would be more likely to be selected than any ether goddess. Probably she was worshipped in combination with her husband, Merodach. And the men of Cuth—i.e. "Cuthah"—made Nergal. Nergal was the special deity of Cutha. He was the Babylonian war-god, and had a high position in the Assyrian pantheon also. His name appears as an element in the "Nergal-sharezer" of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 39:3, Jeremiah 39:13) and the Neriglissar of Ptolemy and Berosus. And the men of Hamath made Ashima. The-nius conjectures that "Ashima" represents the Phoenician Eshmoun,one of the Cabiri, or eight "Great Ones." But the etymological resemblance of the two words is not close, and it is not at all certain that the Hamathites at any time acknowledged the Phoenician deities. The Hamathite inscriptions are in the character now known as "Hittite;" and there is reason to believe that the people were non-Semitic. This identification, therefore, must be regarded as very doubtful. Perhaps "Ashima" represents Simi, the daughter of Hadad (see Melito, 'Apologia').
2 Kings 17:31
And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak. "Nibhaz" and "Tartak" are very obscure. The Sabians are said to have acknowledged an evil demon, whom they called Nib'az or Nabaz; and Tartak has been derived by Gesenius from the Pehlevi Tar-thak, "hero of darkness;" but these guesses cannot be regarded as entitled to much attention. We do not know what the religion of the Avites was, and need not be surprised that the names of their gods are new to us. The polytheism of the East was prolific of deities, and still more of divine names. Nibhaz and Tartak may have been purely local gods, or they may have been local names for gods worshipped under other appellations in the general pantheon of Babylonia. And the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. The god principally worshipped at Sippara was Shamas, "the sun." It is probable that "Adrammelech" (equivalent to adir-melek, "the glorious king," or edir-malek, "the arranging king") was one of his titles. Shamas, in the Babylonian mythology, was always closely connected with Anunit, a sun-goddess; and it is probably this name which is represented by Anammelech, which we may regard as an intentional corruption, derisive and contemptuous.
2 Kings 17:32
So they feared the Lord—rather, and they (also) honored Jehovah; i.e. with their idolatrous worship they combined also the worship of Jehovah—and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places—i.e; followed the example of Jeroboam in taking for priests persons of all ranks, even the lowest (see the comment on 1 Kings 12:31)—which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places.
2 Kings 17:33
They feared the Lord, and served their own gods. This syncretism, this mixed religion, is so surprising to the writer, and so abhorrent to his religious sentiments, that he cannot but dwell upon it, not shrinking from repeating himself (see 2Ki 17:32, 2 Kings 17:33, 2 Kings 17:41), in order to arrest the reader's attention, and point out to him the folly and absurdity of such conduct. The practice was still going on in his own day (2 Kings 17:34, 2 Kings 17:41), and may have had attractions for the descendants of the small Israelite population which had been left in the land. After the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence; rather, after the manner of the nations from whom they (i.e. the authorities) carried them away; i.e. after the manner of their countrymen at home. The translation of the Revised Version gives the sense, while changing the construction—"after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away."
2 Kings 17:34
Unto this day—i.e; the time at which Kings was written—they do after the former manners—that is, they maintain the mixed religion, which they set up on the coming of the Samaritan priest from Assyria a hundred and fifty or sixty years previously—they fear not the Lord. This statement seems directly opposed to the thrice-repeated one (2 Kings 17:32, 2 Kings 17:33, 2 Kings 17:41), "They feared the Lord;" but the apparent contradiction is easily reconciled. The new immigrants "feared Jehovah" in a certain sense, i.e. externally. They admitted him into their pantheon, and had ritual observances in his honor. But they did not really fear him in their hearts. Had they done so, they would have inquired what were his laws, statutes, and ordinances, and would have set themselves to obey them. This they did not think of doing. Neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances—either the "statutes" and "ordinances" are regarded as having become de jure "theirs" by their occupation of the Holy Land, or "their" refers by anticipation to "the children of Jacob" towards the close of the verse—or after the Law—rather, and after the Law—and commandment which the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel (see Gem 32:28).
2 Kings 17:35
With whom the Lord had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, Ye shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them (see Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7; Deuteronomy 6:14; Deuteronomy 11:28. For the "covenant," see Exodus 19:5-8; Exodus 24:3-8).
2 Kings 17:36
But the Lord, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched-out arm (comp. Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 5:15; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 9:29; Psalms 136:12, etc.), him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice (see Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20; Deuteronomy 13:4; Joshua 24:14, etc.).
2 Kings 17:37
And the statutes, and the ordinances, and the Law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you—i.e; which, by his Providence, were given you in a written form (comp. Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:9; Joshua 8:34)—ye shall observe to do forevermore (comp. Le 2 Kings 18:4, 2Ki 18:5; 2 Kings 19:37; Deuteronomy 4:6; Deuteronomy 5:1; Deuteronomy 6:24, Deuteronomy 6:25, etc.); and ye shall not fear other gods (see the comment on 2 Kings 17:35).
2 Kings 17:38
And the covenant that I have made with you ye shall not forget. The "covenant" intended is not the covenant of circumcision, which God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14), but the covenant of protection and obedience made at Sinai between God and the entire people (Exodus 19:5-8), and most solemnly ratified by sprinkling with blood and by a covenant feast, as related in Exodus 24:3-11. This was the covenant which Israel had been warned so frequently not to "forget" (Deuteronomy 4:23; Deuteronomy 8:11; Deuteronomy 26:13; Proverbs 2:17), yet which they had "forgotten," or, at any rate, "forsaken," as already declared in Exodus 24:15. Neither shall ye fear other gods. The writer has probably a practical object in his reiteration. He expects his words to reach the ears of the mixed race inhabiting Samaria in his day, and would fain warn them against their idolatrous practices, and point them to the pure worship of Jehovah. It is pleasing to remember that ultimately the mixed race was won to the true faith, and that the Samaritans of our Lord's time were as true worshippers of Jehovah, and as zealous followers of the Law, as the Jews themselves. The interesting community at Nablous still maintains Samaritan forms, and reads the Samaritan Pentateuch.
2 Kings 17:39
But the Lord your God ye shall fear; and he shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies. This promise had been made repeatedly (see Exodus 23:27; Le Exodus 26:7, Exodus 26:8; Deuteronomy 6:18, Deuteronomy 6:19; Deuteronomy 20:4; Deuteronomy 23:14; Deuteronomy 28:7, etc.). The writer of Chronicles aims at showing in detail that the promise was literally fulfilled in the history, victory in every case declaring itself in favor of God's people, when they were faithful and obedient, while reverses always befell them in the contrary ease (see 1Ch 5:20-22; 1 Chronicles 10:13; 1 Chronicles 14:10-16; 2 Chronicles 12:1-12; 2 Chronicles 13:4-18; 2 Chronicles 14:9-12; 2 Chronicles 20:5-30, etc.).
2 Kings 17:40
Howbeit they did not hearken. The mixed race, with their mixed religion, though professing to be worshippers of Jehovah, paid no attention to the warnings and threatenings of the Law (2 Kings 17:34), which were to them a dead letter. But they did after their former manner; i.e. they continued to maintain the syncretism described in 2 Kings 17:28-33.
2 Kings 17:41
So these nations—i.e; the Babylonians, Cuthaeans, Hamathites, Avites, and Sepharvites settled in Samaria—feared the Lord, and served their graven images. The rabbinical writers tell us that Nergal was worshipped under the form of a cock, Ashima under the form of a goat, Nibhaz under the form of a dog, Tartak under that of an ass, while Adrammelech and Anammelech were represented by a mule and a horse respectively. Not much confidence can be placed in these representations. The Babylonian gods were ordinarily figured in human forms. Animal ones—as those of the bull and the lion, generally winged and human-headed, were in a few cases, but only in a few, used to represent the gods symbolically. Other emblems employed were the winged circle for Asshur; the disc plain or four-rayed for the male sun, six or eight-rayed for the female sun; the crescent for the moon-god Sin; the thunderbolt for the god of the atmosphere, Vul or Rimmon; the wedge or arrow-head, the fundamental element of writing, for Nebo. Images, however, were made of all the gods, and were no doubt set up by the several "nations" in their respective "cities." Both their children, and their children's children—i.e. their descendants to the time of the writer of Kings—as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.
2 Kings 17:1-4
The unwisdom of worldly craft and policy.
Hoshea came to the throne at a time of great danger and difficulty. The Assyrian system of gradual expansion and annexation was settled and almost declared. The petty states upon her borders were first invaded and ravaged; then they were taken under her protection; finally they were absorbed. The process had been going on from the days of Tiglath-pileser I., and was still in operation. Damascus was a recent example of it. Under these circumstances, Hoshea could not but feel his throne precarious, and the independence of his country more than threatened. How would he act most wisely for his own security and that of his country? There were three courses open to him.
I. HE MIGHT LOOK SOLELY TO THE ASSYRIAN KING. Absolute submission, fidelity, watchful regard for the suzerain's interests, punctual payment of the fixed tribute, liberal donations to the court officials and the monarch beyond the sum appointed, generally secured to the protected state the continuance of its suzerain's favor, and a prolongation of its protected existence. Hoshea might have adopted this policy. He might have bent all his efforts to the propitiation of the Assyrian monarch, and the obtaining of his favorable regard. In this way he would probably have secured to himself a long and quiet reign; and his country would have been spared for many a year the horrors of war, and his people the misery of being carried into captivity.
II. HE MIGHT LOOK FOR A HUMAN PROTECTOR AGAINST ASSYRIA. Human helps, negotiations, treaties, alliances, are the natural and ordinary resort of weak states when menaced by a stronger. Cannot a counterpoise be raised up against the monster community which threatens the existence of all its neighbors? Cannot a "balance of power" be established? Hoshea was particularly tempted at the time by the rise to greatness of a new dynasty in Egypt, which seemed to have greater strength and greater resources than had been possessed by its predecessors. It was probably regarded by his advisers as a wonderfully clever stroke of policy when they suggested that alliance with Shebek, the new King of Egypt, might be the salvation of Samaria under the circumstances. So AEtolia called in the aid of Rome against Macedon; and so recently, with better results, Sardinia called in the aid of France against Austria. Hoshea caught at the suggestion. Though pledged to Assyria, though actually owing his throne to an Assyrian monarch, he accepted the advice, made alliance with Shebek, and broke with Shalmaneser, to his own destruction and that of his country.
III. HE MIGHT DISCARD "ARMS OF FLESH," AND LOOK WHOLLY TO JEHOVAH. The prophets were calling Israel to repentance. They were denouncing the calf-worship and the other idolatries. They were condemning reliance on either Egypt or Assyria (Hosea 7:11; Hosea 12:1). They were threatening the destruction of the kingdom unless Israel truly repented and turned to the Lord. They were pointing to a possible restoration to God's favor if these conditions were fulfilled (Hosea 2:14-23; Hosea 7:1-3; Hosea 14:1-9; Amos 5:4-9, and Amos 5:14, Amos 5:15), and urging compliance before it was too late. They taught that God could save by his own power, and "not by bow, nor by sword, nor by battle, by horses, nor by horsemen" (Hosea 1:7). True wisdom would have taught Hoshea and his advisers to look for salvation to this quarter; but they were so infatuated with their trust in the strength of Egypt that they seem not even to have given the alternative course a thought. The result showed that their (supposed) worldly wisdom was the extremest unwisdom, their perfection of policy the worst policy that could possibly have been adopted.
2 Kings 17:7-23
The lessons to be learnt from the destruction of the kingdom of Samaria.
The first and main lesson is, of course, the great fact—
I. THAT NATIONS ARE TREATED BY GOD AS RESPONSIBLE UNITS, AND ARE PUNISHED, EVEN DESTROYED, FOR THEIR SINS. It was their "evil ways," their transgression against the commandments of God, that lay at the root of Israel's rejection. The prophets Hosea and Amos paint an awful picture of the condition of Samaria under its later kings. Luxury, oppression, lewdness, drunkenness, idolatry, prevailed. The service of God was a lip-service, which "his soul hated." There was no truth, no mercy, no real "knowledge of God," in the land (Hosea 4:1). "By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing … they broke out, and blood touched blood" (Hosea 4:2). "Whoredom and wine and new wine had taken away their heart" (Hosea 4:11). "A man and his father would go in unto the same maid" (Amos 2:7). False balances were employed (Amos 8:5). "Companies of priests murdered in the way by consent" (Hosea 6:9). Therefore was the doom pronounced against the nation—they should "go into captivity beyond Damascus" (Amos 5:27). "The Lord swore by his holiness … that he would take them away with hooks, and their posterity with fish-hooks" (Amos 4:2). "The end came upon them; they could not be passed by any more" (Amos 8:2). Minor lessons are—
II. THAT SINS ARE GREATLY AGGRAVATED IN GOD'S SIGHT WHEN THEY ARE INFRACTIONS OF A COVENANT MADE WITH HIM. Israel was under covenant with God—had been made God's "peculiar people" on the express condition of keeping his statutes, testimonies, commandments, and judgments (Exodus 19:5-8). This they had bound themselves to do; but they had done the exact opposite. Hence the reproaches in verses 15 and 35-40. It is the breach of the covenant by the northern kingdom that, in the view of the writer of Kings, is the main and special cause of its fall. All else might have been forgiven, but not that. A covenant is a holy thing, even when it is only between man and man (Galatians 3:15); but a covenant between man and God—how can anything be more holy? Must not the infraction of such a covenant entail fearful consequences?
III. THAT IT IS A FURTHER GREAT AGGRAVATION OF THE GUILT OF SIN TO COMMIT IT AGAINST FREQUENT WARNINGS. "Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways" (verse 13). Comp. 2 Chronicles 36:15, 2 Chronicles 36:16, "And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy." The sin of Israel would have been far less, would not perhaps have been quite "without remedy," had they not for so long a time turned a deaf ear to the warnings and exhortations of the prophets, refusing to "hear the voice of the charmers, charmed they never so wisely," and persisting in their disobedience, their wickedness, their greed, their cruelty, their besotted idolatry, despite the scathing denunciations, the tender pleadings, the wise counsels, almost uninterruptedly addressed to them. "Stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears" (Acts 7:51), they "resisted the Holy Ghost; "and their doom had to be pronounced. Congregations in this country and at the present day may be reminded
(1) that England is not without her national sins;
(2) that the sins of Christians are, all of them, infractions of the covenant made in baptism between themselves and God; and
(3) that the sins of Christians are committed against the constant warnings of God's appointed ministers, who stand to them as the prophets stood to the Israelites.
2 Kings 17:24-41
The absurdity and uselessness of a mixed religion.
Syncretism has been at all times a form which religion is apt to assume in mixed communities. Theoretically, religions are antithetic, exclusive, mutually repulsive. Practically, where they coexist, they tend to give and take, to approximate one to the other, to drop differences, to blend together into an apparent, if not a real, union. Christianity had at first those who would sit in an idol-temple, and partake of idol-sacrifices (1 Corinthians 8:10). Judaism under the Seleucidae, but for the rude impatience of Antiochus Epiphanes, was on the point of making terms with Hellenism. In Samaria, after the events related in 2 Kings 17:24-28, a mixed religion—a "mingle-mangle," to use Reformation language—took its place as the religion of the mixed people. "They feared the Lord, and served their own gods." Jehovah was everywhere acknowledged, honored, worshipped with sacrifice. But at the same time, heathen gods—partial, local, hail-material, sacred, but not holy—were objects of a far more real and intense worship. Such a religion is
I. SYNCRETISM IS ABSURD, since it is self-contradictory. "What concord has Christ with Belial?" (2 Corinthians 6:15). Religions which are really different have contradictory first principles; and agreement can only be effected by a dropping, on one side or the other, or both, of what is vital and essential. In the particular case before us, absolute monotheism was the very core and essence of the Jehovah-worship; actual polytheism was the root and groundwork of the other. The two were logically inconsistent, incompatible. Practically, the contradiction may not always have been perceived, for man, though a rational, is not a logical animal; but the general result, no doubt, was that the monotheistic idea had to give way: Jehovah, the one only God of the whole earth, had to sink into a "god of the land," and to receive an occasional and grudging acknowledgment from those whose hearts were with their own gods, Nergal and Ashima and Adrammelech. But, in this case, the worship of Jehovah was superfluous. God does not thank men for dragging him into a pantheon, and setting him side by side with beings who are no gods, but the fantastic inventions of imaginations depraved and corrupted by sin.
II. SYNCRETISM IS USELESS. Contrary systems of religion will not amalgamate, let men do what they may. Either each neutralizes the other, and the result is no religion at all; or one gets the upper hand, and the other element might as well be absent. There is no serving "God and mammon, Christ and Belial." The mind cannot really, at one and the same time, accept contradictories. The lips may do so, but religion is an affair of the heart. Syncretism is an apparent, not a real union. Theories mutually destructive cannot coalesce. Thus, practically, syncretism is useless. It is either a mere nominal union or a mode of eliminating religion from human life. In the case before us it seems to have left the Samaritans just as much polytheists, just as much idolaters, as it found them. Zerubbabel did well to allow them no part in the building of the second temple, and to give them the curt answer, "Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God" (Ezra 4:3). Had he done otherwise, he would have merged Judaism in a polytheistic and idolatrous pseudo-religion.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 17:1-5
The reign of Hoshea.
I. A FOOLISH SERVICE. The life of every man is a service of some sort. We cannot, even if we would, be absolutely our own masters. Some men are the servants of self. Some are the servants of others. Some are the servants of good. Some are the servants of evil. Some are the servants of money, or of pleasure, or of their passions. What higher epitaph could be written over any man's tomb than the simple words, "A servant of God"? What higher choice could any man make than this, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"? But that was not the choice which Hoshea made. He thought the service of God was slavery. He chose the service of the King of Assyria. What fools men are sometimes! How blind to their own best interests! The prodigal son in his father's house had every comfort, consideration, and care. But he thought there was too much restriction. He would like to have more of his own way. And so he went away from his father's house. But he was glad enough to return. He did not find the service of the world and of sin quite so pleasant as he expected. So many discover, when it is too late, "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
II. A FAITHLESS SERVANT. Hoshea was unfaithful to God. And the man who is unfaithful to the claims of God—the highest of all claims—is generally unfaithful to his fellow-men. So it was in this case. "The King of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea." Hoshea had entered into engagements which he did not fulfill. The best security for right dealing between man and man is obedience to the Law of God. The history of nations and individuals teaches us that. The nation where God is honored, where the Word of God is read, is generally superior to others in the industry, contentment, and prosperity of its inhabitants. The man who fears God is the man who can be depended on. "He backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 17:6-23
Captivity and its cause.
Here is the beginning of the dispersion of Israel. Soon that favored nation will be "a people scattered and peeled." These verses give us the explanation of Israel's exile. It is a solemn warning against the neglect of opportunities.
I. COMMANDS DISOBEYED. "They rejected his statutes" (2 Kings 17:15); "They left all the commandments of the Lord their God" (2 Kings 17:16); "They served idols, whereof the Lord had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing" (2 Kings 17:12). Consider:
1. Whose commands they disobeyed. The commands of the Lord their God. It was he who had brought them out of Egypt. It was he who had brought them into the promised laud. It was he who had made of them—a race of humble shepherds—a great nation. When God gave the Ten Commandments, he prefaced them by reminding Israel of his claim upon them. "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." This was a strong reason for obedience. "The preface to the ten commandments teaches us that because God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments." God has a similar claim:
(1) Upon every human being. This is the claim of creation and preservation and providence. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." Whether men like it or not, they cannot get rid of God's claim upon them.
(2) Upon every Christian. He has brought us out of the house of bondage. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love."
2. What commands they disobeyed. All God's commandments were for their own good. They were rational and wise commandments. To forbid idolatry was to forbid a sin which in itself was ungrateful and dishonoring to the true God, and which was degrading and demoralizing in its consequences. Oh that men were wise, that they would consider the consequences of sin for time and for eternity! "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding."
II. WARNINGS DISREGARDED. Note:
1. God's forbearance and mercy. God did not cut them off at once for their sin. Time after time he forgave them. He sent them his prophets to invite them to return to him, to give them premises of pardon and blessing, to point out to them what must be the inevitable consequence of perseverance in sin. His anxiety to save them was very great. The phrase used in Jeremiah is a remarkable one. "They have not hearkened to my words, saith the Lord, which I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them." What a wonderful and touching description of God's desire to save!—"Rising up early." As if he wanted to be before men. As if he wanted to anticipate their temptations by his messages of warning and of guidance. If we make God's Word our morning study, what a help we shall find it in the difficulties and temptations and duties of each day!
2. Man's folly and blindness. "Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God" (verse 14). All the warnings were in vain. "They sold them- selves to do evil in the sight of the Lord" (verse 17). Is it not a true description of the life of the sinner? He imagines that sin is freedom, and he finds it to be the most grinding and oppressive slavery. He is "led captive by the devil at his will." The sinner serves a hard master. "They caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire" (verse 17). How cruel is heathenism! How it crushes out the tender feelings of humanity and kindness! Look upon the picture of it as presented in its Molochs, in its Juggernauts, in its suttees. See how the aged and the sick are left alone to die. Contrast with all this the spirit and work of Christianity, its care for the sick and the poor, its sympathy for the oppressed. Heathenism makes slaves; Christianity emancipates them. This is true alike of the slavery of the body and the slavery of the mind.
3. Sin's bitter fruit. "And the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight." Calamity is never causeless. If we are afflicted, let us see whether the cause may not be in our own hearts, in our own lives. What a warning is here to Churches! What a warning against unfaithfulness, against setting up human ordinances in the worship of God! "Remember, therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." What a warning is here against neglect of opportunities! If we fail to use our opportunities and privileges, they will be certainly taken from us. Let us give an attentive ear to the warnings of God's Word, to the everyday warnings of God's providence. "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh They would none of my counsel, they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 17:24-41
Samaria and its religion.
I. ITS EARLY GODLESSNESS. The land of Samaria was now deprived of its Israelitish inhabitants. The King of Assyria colonized it with heathen immigrants. "At the beginning of their dwelling there, they feared not the Lord." What a mistake to go anywhere without taking God's presence with us! How many journeys are undertaken, how many a business is entered on, without ever a word of prayer being offered to God! How many a home life is commenced without a family altar! As the young Scotch lad said of a house where he stayed for some time, and where there was no family prayer, "There is no roof on that house." "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."
II. ITS SUBSEQUENT JUDGMENTS. "Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which slew some of them. Wherefore they spake to the King of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land" (2 Kings 17:25, 2 Kings 17:26). It was judgment that first made them think of God. It is often so in the history of human life. Men live without God, prayerless, godless lives, so long as all appears to be going well with them. But when sickness comes, or troubles overtake them, or death is drawing near, they cry to the Lord then. There is something mean about this. It is better to call upon God and to come to him in trouble than not to call on him at all; but how much better it is to serve him in health as well as in sickness, in prosperity as well as in trouble!
III. ITS MIXED RELIGION. Samaria tried the experiment of serving the true God and the gods of the heathen at the same time. It tried the impossible task of serving two masters. "They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence" (2 Kings 17:33). In their case, as in every case, it proved to be an impossible task. "Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the Lord, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the Law and commandment which the Lord commanded the children of Jacob" (2 Kings 17:34); "So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day" (2 Kings 17:41). They "feared the Lord:" that was profession. "They served their graven images." that was practice. Yet there are many who are trying the same impossible task. They have a certain amount of fear of God. They are afraid to die, afraid of the judgment to come. So they think it desirable to be "religious." They go to church. They read the Bible occasionally, perhaps. They hear the name of good Christians. But it is a name only. Their life cannot be called a Christian life. They serve God on the Sunday in a kind of way, and the world or sin the rest of the week. They try, perhaps, to serve God and mammon. They try to serve God and the world. They are liberal-minded Christians. But this kind of mixed religion is no religion in the sight of God. He cannot have a divided service. This is emphatically brought out in the first chapter of Isaiah. There the inconsistency and uselessness of a religious profession combined with a godless life is clearly shown. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?" "Bring no more vain oblations;" "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." Here it is plainly taught that a religious profession is worthless without a religious life. If we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us. It is interesting to remember that even this degraded people of Samaria, with their mixed and corrupt religion, were permitted twice at least to receive the gospel message. They were looked down upon with contempt and aversion by the Jews. But there is mercy even for the most degraded. A city of Samaria received Christ himself, and many of its people believed on him, for the saying of the woman who testified, "He told me all things that ever I did." It was even in the apostate city of Samaria that, when Philip went down and preached Christ unto them, "the people with one accord gave heed unto the things which Philip spake," and many of them believed and were baptized. And we read that "there was great joy in that city." Even to these Samaritans, aliens from the ancient Jewish faith, a people despised and hated by the Jews, the gospel of Christ brought great joy. Surely there is here an encouragement for the greatest sinner. Surely there is here a reason for us to hope and work for the salvation even of the most degraded. Surely an encouragement for Christian missions to the heathen.—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 17:1-8
Aspects of a corrupt nation.
"In the twelfth year of Ahaz King of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel nine years," etc. Hoshea, the king here mentioned, was the nineteenth and last King of Israel. He lived about seven hundred and twenty years or more before Christ. After a reign of nine years his subjects were carried away captive to Assyria, and the kingdom of Israel came to an end. The selection we have made from this chapter presents to us—Aspects of a corrupt nation. A nation appears here as an unfortunate inheritor of wrong; as a guilty worker of wrong; and as a terrible victim of wrong.
I. AS AN UNFORTUNATE INHERITOR OF WRONG. Upon Hoshea and his age there came clown the corrupting influence of no less than eighteen princes, all of whom were steeped in wickedness and fanatical idolatry. The whole nation had become completely immoral and idolatrous. This king—the last of the Israelitish—it is said, "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him." If one shade better than his predecessors, he was, notwithstanding, a man whose character seems unredeemed by one single virtue. It is one of not only the commonest, but the most perplexing, facts in history that one generation comes to inherit, to a great extent, the character of its predecessor. The thoughts, the principles, and the spirit that animated the men of the past, come down and take possession of the minds of the men of the present. Though the bodies of our predecessors are moldering in the dust, they are still here in their thoughts and influences. This is an undoubted fact. It serves to explain three things.
1. The vital connection between all the members of the race. Though men are countless in number, and ever multiplying, humanity is one. All are branches of the same root, members of the same body, links in one chain. None can be affected without affecting others; the motion of one link propagates an influence to the end of the chain. None of us liveth unto himself. Solemn thought! Our very breathings may produce ripples upon the mighty lake of existence, which will spread in ever-widening circles to the very shores of eternity. There are mystic springs connecting us with the universe. Can we move without touching them? Can we give a touch that will not send its vibrations along the arches of the boundless future? The effects of a man's influence, either for good or evil, will be determined by his moral character. A bad man is a moral curse; the influence that streams from him will be moral poison. A good man, under God, is a blessing; his influence, like the living waters, will irrigate and beautify the mental districts through which it flows.
2. The immense difficulty of improving the moral condition of the race. There have been men in every age and land who have "striven even unto blood" to improve the race. Poets have depicted the charms of virtue, moralists have reasoned against wrong, martyrs have died for the right; and during the last eighteen centuries, throughout Christendom, the best men throughout all communions have struggled hard to bring the world's mind under the supreme reign of the true, the beautiful, and the good. But how miserable has been the result! Evil is everywhere the dominant force—dominant not merely in markets and governments, but even in Churches. Those of us who have lived longest in the world, looked deepest into its moral heart, and labored most zealously and persistently for its improvement, feel, like Sisyphus in ancient fable, struggling to roll a large stone to the top of a mountains which, as soon as we think some progress has been made, rolls back to its old position, and that with greater impetuosity. Scripture everywhere recognizes this difficulty, and speaks of the work as a "race," a "battle," a "crucifixion." I question whether the world is morally much better than it has ever been.
3. The absolute need of superhuman agency spiritually to redeem the race. Philosophy shows that a bad world cannot improve itself, cannot make itself good. Bad men can neither help themselves morally nor help others. If the world is to be improved, thoughts and influences from superhuman regions must be transfused into its heart. Moral goodness must come in a new form, and ply new agencies. Herein is the gospel: "When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."
II. AS A GUILTY WORKER OF WRONG. Hoshea and his people were not only the inheritors of the corruptions of past generations, but they themselves became agents in propagating and perpetuating the wickedness. See what is said of Hoshea here. "The King of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea." This is only one specimen or development of this man's wickedness. See what is said of his people. "The children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh King of Egypt, and had feared other gods." So that while they were the inheritors of a corrupt past, they were at the same time guilty agents in a wicked present. Strong as is the influence of the past upon us, it is not strong enough to coerce us into wrong. Gracious Heaven has endowed every man with the power of thought and resolve sufficient, if he uses it, to rise above the influence of the past, and to mount into a new moral orbit of life. He has the power to stand on the firm rock of his own individuality, and to say to the swelling sea of depravity, as its waves are approaching him, "So far shall thou come, and no further." Because the father has been bad, there is no just reason why the child should be bad also. Because all the generations that have gone have been bad, there is no reason why this generation should be wicked. We are not like logs of wood on the surging seas of past wickedness, but rather like those snowy birds that can at pleasure mount from the billows, and quit them for the wide fields of air.
III. AS A TERRIBLE VICTIM OF WRONG. What was the judicial outcome of all this wickedness? Retribution stern, rigorous, and crushing. "Then the King of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years." "This was the third and final expedition of Shalmaneser against the whole of Syria, and it seems to have been after the lapse of a year or two from his second expedition. What new offence had excited his wrath has not been recorded; but as a determined resistance was made by his refractory vassal, Shalmaneser prepared for a regular siege of Samaria, which, through the stubborn valor of the Israelites themselves, or with the aid of Egyptian troops, lasted for nearly three years. At length the city capitulated; or, if Josephus is correct, was taken by storm. But the glory of this conquest was not enjoyed By Shalmaneser, who had been suddenly recalled by the outbreak of a domestic revolution occasioned, or at least encouraged, by his protracted absences from his capital. He was dethroned by the insurrection of an ambitious subject, and he seems to have died also before the fall of Samaria" (Dr. Jameson). Thus the whole of the inhabitants, one and all, were carried away by tyrannic force. "From inscriptions in the palace at Khorasbad," says a modern expositor, "which record the number of Israelitish captives, it appears that 27,280 were transported into Assyria from Samaria and other parts of the kingdom of Israel. The removal of entire populations from vanquished countries to some other portion of the conqueror's dominions had not been adopted, so far as reliable history testifies, as the policy of any ancient sovereigns in the East until it was introduced and acted upon by the later Assyrian kings. Soldiers when taken captive in battle, women and children belonging to the conquered enemy, it had, indeed, for ages been the custom to carry into the land of the victor. And even numerous tribes of foreigners, resident within the territory, and reduced to a state of bondage, like the Israelites in Egypt, had frequently, by the arbitrary will of ancient kings, been dragged to different quarters of their kingdom to labor on the public works." Here is the temporal retribution, at any rate, of two hundred years of idolatry and wickedness. During this period Israel had sinned away its liberty, its property, its country. The ten tribes sinned themselves into slavery, destitution, and everlasting obscurity. For where are they? Two thousand years have rolled away since this terrible catastrophe, and none can tell us who they are or where they are. "Be sure your sins will find you out." Retribution may move silently and slowly, but ever with a resistless step. It follows the sins of a nation as well as of an individual. It was the crimes of the Israelites that ruined the kingdom, and made them the victims of this terrible catastrophe. So it ever is; the great dynasties and kingdoms of the past have met with the same fate by the same inexorable law of retribution. There are sins in our England that are working towards its ruin. The sins of a nation work, like the subterranean fires, underground. The nation may have arts lovely as the landscape, institutions apparently grand and firm as the old mountains. But whilst the people revel in their exuberance of resources, their natural beauties, and in the grandeur of their institutions, and that for ages, sin, like an ocean of fire underground, will one day break out in flames, that will destroy the whole, as in the case of the ten tribes.—D.T.
2 Kings 17:9-23
A great privilege, wickedness, and ruin.
"For so it was," etc. We have used the first verses of this chapter, in our last sketch, to set forth the aspects of a corrupt nation. The Israelitish people appear in that fragment of their history as an unfortunate inheritor of wrong, a guilty worker of wrong, and a terrible victim of wrong. These fifteen verses now under our notice present to us three subjects of thought—a great national privilege; a great national wickedness; and a great national ruin.
I. A GREAT NATIONAL PRIVILEGE. We learn here from that the Infinite Governor of the world had given them at least three great advantage—political freedom, right to the land, and the highest spiritual teaching. He had given them:
1. Political freedom. For ages they had been in political bondage, the mere slaves of despots; but here we are told that God had "brought them out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh King of Egypt" (2 Kings 17:7). When they crossed the Red Sea, entered the desert, and stepped into Palestine, they were civilly free; the chains that had bound them so long were then completely broken, and each had the common right of liberty. Political freedom is the inalienable right of all men, is one of the greatest blessings of a people, but one which in every age has been outraged by despots. The millions are groaning in many a land still under political disabilities.
2. A right to the land. Canaan was the common right of all; true, it was divided amongst the ten tribes, but this was not for the private interests of any, but for the good of all. What we call "landlordism" scarcely existed, and perhaps it would have been as well had it never existed; it bars the common rights of mankind. When one thinks that all the land in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England is in the hands of eight thousand men, a number which could be crowded into Spurgeon's tabernacle, and that thirty millions have no portion in the land, it is impossible not to feel that the condition of things is anomalous. Archdeacon Paley, no mean authority, with his characteristic clearness and common sense, has the following remarkable words. "If you should see a flock of pigeons in a field of corn, and if (instead of each one picking where and what it liked, taking just as much as it wanted and no more) you should see ninety-nine of them gathering all they got in a heap, reserving nothing for themselves but the chaff and the refuse, keeping this heap for one, and that for the weakest, perhaps the worst pigeon of the flock, sitting round and looking on all the winter, whilst the one was devouring, throwing about, and wasting it; and if a pigeon more hardy or hungry than the rest touched a grain of the hoard, all the others instantly flying upon it and tearing it to pieces;—if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practiced and established amongst men. Among men you see the ninety and nine toiling and scraping together a heap of superfluities for one (and this one too oftentimes the feeblest and worst of the whole set—a child, a woman, a madman, or a fool), getting nothing for themselves all the while but a little of the coarsest of the provision which their own industry produces, looking quietly on while they see the fruits of all the labor spent or spoiled, and if one of the number take or touch a particle of the hoard, the others joining against him and hanging him for the theft." What boots collecting and publishing facts concerning the sufferings of people, and entitling the tract the 'Bitter Cry of Outcast London,' unless something is done to put a greater share of the land into the hands of the people, not by violence or spoliation, but by a calm and just legislation? Alas! even good men, through a weakness of judgment and the workings of a traditional faith, seem to dream that by multiplying churches and chapels they will hush the "bitter cry." How absurd!
3. The highest spiritual teaching. "The Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the Law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets" (2 Kings 17:13). One of the fundamental needs of mankind is true ethical teaching; not the teaching of abstruse dogmas and vain ceremonies, but the teaching of immutable law—the "statutes of God." These statutes are not only written on paper, but on every page of Nature's magnificent volume, and on the tablets of human reason and conscience. "Do unto others as ye would have others do unto you." Genuine disciples of such teaching will evermore act rightly towards themselves, towards their fellow-men, and towards their God.
II. A GREAT NATIONAL WICKEDNESS. Possessing all these privileges, how acted these people—not merely the people of Israel, but the people of Judah as well? Was the sentiment of worship and justice regnant within them? Were they loyal to all that is beautiful, true, and good? Nay.
1. They rejected God. "They would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God," etc. (2 Kings 17:14, 2 Kings 17:15). They declined the study of his statutes, and renounced his claim on their devotion.
2. They adopted idols. Mark:
(1) The earnestness of their idolatry. With what unremitting zeal they promoted the cause of idolatry! "The children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the Lord their God, and they built them high places in all their cities" (verse 9). It is also stated, "They made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal" (verse 16). Error on this earth is more active than truth, wrong is more industrious than right, the spirit of evil knows no rest, it goes to and fro on the face of the earth. Here, then, is national wickedness. Are we, as a country, less wicked than the nation of Israel? I trow not. True, we are all, for the most part, theoretical theists, but how many practical atheists? For England to a large extent ignores the Almighty. It might be said of most of us, "God is not in all our thoughts."
"With lips they own him Master, in life oppose his Word;
They every day deny him, and yet they call him 'Lord;'
No more is their religion like his in life and deed
Than painted grain on canvas is like the living seed."
(2) The cruelty of their idolatry. "And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord" (verse 17).
III. GREAT NATIONAL RUIN. "Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight" (verse 18); "The Lord rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight" (verse 20).
1. Their ruin involved the entire loss of their country. "So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day" (verse 23). Expatriation is an enormous trial.
2. Their ruin involved the loss of their national existence. "The Lord removed them out of his sight" (verse 18). The ten tribes are gone, and it may be doubted whether they were ever worth looking after, for they were a miserable type of humanity. "The kingdom of the ten tribes," says Dr. Blackie, "was never restored, nor did the dispersed of Israel ever attempt to return in a body to their land." More than two hundred years of idolatry and wickedness have been followed by more than two thousand years of dispersion and alienation. Having said in their hearts to God, 'Depart from us!' God said to them, 'Depart from me!' The divorce was completed, and till a reconciliation shall take place, its sad, dark fruits must remain.
3. Their ruin involved the retributive agency of Heaven. The Assyrians were only the instruments. It is God's plan to punish the wicked by the wicked. No wonder that amid so gross a perversion of the worship of the true God, and the national propensity to do reverence to idols, the Divine patience was exhausted, and that the God whom they had forsaken by violating covenant, an adherence to which formed their title to the occupation of Canaan, permitted them to go into captivity, that they might learn the difference between his service and that of their despotic conquerors,—D.T.
2 Kings 17:24-41
Subjects worth thinking about.
"And the King of Assyria brought men from Babylon," etc. This fragment of Israelitish history brings under our notice four subjects which run through all human history, and which find their illustration in the events of modern as well as ancient life.
I. THE TYRANNY OF MAN. Here we find the Assyrians committing two great enormities on the men of Israel—driving them out of their own land into Assyria, and taking possession of their own country and home. "And the King of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof." Who that King of Assyria was at this time who carried away the last remnant of the ten tribes into a foreign land, and brought from various parts of his own country men to occupy their property and their homes, whether Shalmaneser or Esarhaddon, is a question not worth debating. He was a tyrant. The places from which he selected the men whom he placed in the cities of Samaria are mentioned. Cuthah, a city about fifteen miles north-east from Babylon; Ava, situated on the Euphrates, to the north of Babylon; Hamath, the chief city of Upper Syria; and Sepharvaim, supposed to be on a branch stream from the Euphrates, lying about sixteen miles from Babylon. Now, there was tyranny in both cases. There was tyranny in taking the Assyrians from their own countries and placing them in the cities of Samaria; as well as tyranny in taking away the ten tribes from Samaria into foreign regions. Had the exchange taken place with the mutual consent of both parties, there would have been no outrage on the rights of man, but it might, indeed, have conduced to the interests of both parties concerned. Men are constantly changing their countries, especially in this age, when facilities for traveling are increasing every day, when the old countries are becoming over-populated, their resources rapidly decreasing, and new and fertile regions opening up in every part of the globe. All this is right enough, as well as often necessary and truly expedient. But to be forced away from home, this is tyranny, and such tyranny is not extinct even in our England. The tens of thousands that leave our shores every year for strange and distant lands, for the most part do it by a terrible coercion. Not only is he a tyrant who inflicts positive injustice on another, but also he who withholds from another his due. Tyranny is not confined to the throne of despots, but it sits in every heart where there is not a practical regard for the rights of others. It is in Belgravian mansions and ducal castles, where the groans of starving millions around are disregarded, as well as in the palace of the Czar of Russia, where the rights of millions are trodden underfoot.
"Thinkest thou there is no tyranny but that
Of blood and chains? The despotism of vice,
The weakness and the wickedness of luxury,
The negligence, the apathy, the evils
Of sensual sloth—produce ten thousand tyrants,
Whose delegated cruelty surpasses
The worst acts of one energetic master,
However harsh and hard in his own bearing."
II. THE RETRIBUTIONS OF LIFE. "And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the Lord: therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which slew some of them. Wherefore they spake to the King of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land." Probably the lions had been in the land of Samaria before the settlement of the Assyrian colonists, but after their settlement these furious beasts of prey seem to have been multiplied. Perhaps the colonists were too few in number to keep them down and to check their increase. Still, whatever the natural cause or causes of their increase, it was regarded by the new population as a retributive visitation. The statement of the courtiers to the king was, "The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them," etc. The law of retribution is ever at work in human history, not only in the lives of nations, but in the lives of individuals. No man can do a wrong thing without suffering for it in some form or other. Nemesis surely, though silently, treads on the heels of wrong. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." The lions of retribution track our steps as sinners stealthily, and are ready to spring on us at any moment. We are far enough from saying that retribution here is adequate and complete; hence there is within all a "fearful looking for" of some future judgment. We do not fully discharge the debt; as we go on it accumulates, and there is a balance to be settled in the great hereafter. Albeit the retribution here is a foretaste and pledge of a judgment to come.
"Nature has her laws,
That will not brook infringement; in all time,
All circumstances, all state, in every clime
She holds aloft the same avenging sword,
And, sitting on her boundless throne sublime,
The vials of her wrath, with Justice stored,
Shall in her own good hour on all that's ill be poured."
III. THE PROSTITUTION OF RELIGION. The Assyrian king, it would seem, in answer to the alarm which was felt concerning the colonists whom he had settled in the cities of Samaria, conceived the plan of adopting religion as the remedy. "Then the King of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land." The priest whom the king sent to them seems to have been one of the exiled priests who had formerly had his head-quarters at Bethel. It is not said this priest took a copy of the Pentateuch with him; perhaps he trusted to his religious intelligence and to his oral abilities. The fact of his being one of the exiled priests, and being settled in Bethel, would imply that he was not a Levite, but rather one of the calf-worshipping priests; his instructions, therefore, would most likely not be very sound or useful. Now, the question is, why did this Assyrian king introduce this religion? Not because he or his people had any faith in it. "Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt," etc. (2 Kings 17:29-31). Several of the gods of these people are here mentioned. "Succoth-benoth." The meaning of this word, which is thought to be "tents or booths of daughters," might seem to point to the places where the Babylonians celebrated impure rites; but here it represents one of the deities. "Nergal" is said to have been worshipped under the form of a cock; and from Layard, in his work on Nineveh and Babylon, we find that a cock was sometimes associated with a priest on the Assyrian monuments. "Ashima," according to some, was worshipped under the form of a he-goat, bald to the very skin. "Nibhaz." This deity was represented in the figure of a dog. "Tartak.' According to the rabbis, this deity was represented in the form of an ass. "Adrammelech." This means the "fire-king," who was worshipped as a sun-god. "Anammelech," a deity worshipped, some say in the form of a hare, and some say in the form of a goat. £ These were the gods in which the king and the colonists seem to have had faith, and not in the one true and living God. Why, then, did the king send this priest from Bethel to impart to them a knowledge of the God of Israel? Simply as a matter of selfish policy. The attention that they paid to any representation that the priest made of the true God was partial, insincere, and selfish. "So they feared the Lord, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence. Unto this day they do after the former manners," etc. Here you have one of the million examples of that religion of policy that has abounded in all lands and times. In every page in history, nay, in every scene of life, we find religion taken up as a means to an end, rather than as the grand end of being. Some use it as a means for secular advantage, others as a means for personal salvation—what is called the salvation of the soul. Rulers employ it as a means to govern the people, and priests employ it as a means to coerce men into ecclesiastical order or conventional morality. In such cases their own personal interests are by no means ignored. This is a prostitution of religion. True religion should ever be pursued as the supreme end of man. In it alone his highest obligations are fulfilled, his full powers employed, his true destiny realized. But, alas! everywhere we find it regarded as a subsidiary and partial element in man's calculations, experience, and life. What is here said applies to millions even in Christendom. "They feared the Lord, and served their own gods." The religion of policy will never rescue man from the rapacious jaws of the lions of retribution.
IV. THE THEISTIC HUNGER OF SOULS. All these men, both the colonists and the Israelites, would have their gods; a god seemed to them as necessary almost as their life. "So these nations feared the Lord, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children's children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day." The same hunger for worship which the generations that preceded them possessed and developed had been transmitted to these their children as an innate force in their spiritual constitution. The religious element in man is not a passing sentiment, not a traditional belief, not something superadded to his nature. It is the very core of his being, the substratum in which all his higher faculties inhere, lie who has this element in him (and who has not?) needs no argument to prove the existence of a God. If it be alive within him, all such arguments are an impertinence. The existence of a Supreme Being is independent of all proof. It is written on the consciousness of human nature. Like the fact of our own being, it is too near, too evident, too much a matter of living self, for outward argument to have any force. Faith in God springs from within. It is based on those immutable sentiments of the soul that outlive all theories and defy all skepticism. To deny the existence of God is to offer violence to all that is great and sacred in human nature.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 17:1-6
The end of the kingdom of Israel
We learn from the inscriptions that Hoshea, the murderer of Pekah, only secured his throne by acknowledging the supremacy of the King of Assyria. It was not long, however, before he conspired to achieve his independence. This led to the final overthrow of the kingdom.
I. A LAST FLICKER.
1. Hoshea's better character. It is said of this last King of Israel that he did evil in the sight of the Lord, "but not as the kings of Israel that were before him." The testimony rather points to the great wickedness of the earlier kings than implies any exceptional virtue in Hoshea, who came to the throne by blood, and showed no more reliance on God than the others. His character, however, must have had some redeeming qualities. Possibly he tried to check some of the excesses of wickedness in the land, and to discountenance at least foreign idolatries. The unfavorable judgment we are sometimes compelled to pass on men's characters as a whole need not blind us to what is praiseworthy in them.
2. A hopeless task. It is both curious and pathetic to see this last flicker of a better disposition in the kings of Israel just before the end. But even had Hoshea been a better ruler than he was, it was probably now too late to do the nation any good. Every attempt to bring the people back to God had proved in vain, and corruption had reached a height which made a crisis inevitable. The carcass was there, and the vultures were preparing to descend upon it. We have a modern example in the state of the French nation prior to the great Revolution. A nation, like an individual, has its day of grace, and if that is sinned away there remains only "a fearful looking for of judgment" (Hebrews 10:27).
II. BROKEN ENGAGEMENTS.
1. A policy of double-dealing. Hoshea's desire from the first was to free his land from the yoke of Assyria. Some attempt of this kind, probably at the death of Tiglath-pileser, brought down upon him the new king, Shalmaneser, who compelled his submission, and exacted tribute. But Hoshea was not faithful to his engagements. While still pretending loyalty to Shalmaneser, he was carrying on a system of intrigue with So, King of Egypt (Sabaco). They "made a covenant with the Assyrians," and at the same time "oil was carried into Egypt" (Hosea 12:1). It was not God Hoshea trusted in, but an alliance with Egypt. He relied on treachery, on double-dealing, on clever intrigue, to get him out of his difficulties. This kind of policy never permanently succeeds.
2. Open revolt. When Hoshea thought himself strong enough, he threw off his allegiance to Shalmaneser. He brought him no present, as he had done year by year. He was playing a desperate game, but he seems to have thought himself secure. A people is justified in rebellion against foreign authority when it is strong enough to make success probable; but God's blessing could hardly be looked for on an attempt which was cradled in duplicity, and in which God himself was totally ignored.
3. A bruised reed. As might have been anticipated, so failed Hoshea in his hour of need. His "oil" and other presents had been sent in vain. The King of Assyria came against him; but there was no movement on the part of Egypt for his help. He had trusted in the staff of a bruised reed (2 Kings 18:21). How manifold are the disappointments of those who rely on "the help of man" (Psalms 60:11), and put their "trust in princes" (Psalms 146:3)! Hoshea himself was captured, and shut up in prison. His ultimate fate we do not know.
III. FINAL RUIN.
1. The siege of Samaria. The King of Assyria now marched against Samaria, which bravely held out for three years. Had details been given us, it would no doubt have been found that this was one of the great sieges of history—great in its horrors, as well as in its after-results. We may picture the extremities of the famine of 2 Kings 6:1-33. repeated with additional horrors of anarchy and bloodshed; or, with perhaps more truth, we may draw our ideas of this siege from the descriptions of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (cf. 2Ki 24:1-20; 2 Kings 25:1-30.). That was the concluding act in the history of the southern kingdom, as this was the concluding act in the history of the northern. Both were long-delayed, and in the end terrible judgments of God. The cup of iniquity was full, and another cup—the cup of God's wrath—was now put into the nation's hand (cf. Psalms 75:8). The city at length fell, and the final blow descended.
2. The captivity of the tribes. We read on the monuments that, after the fall of Samaria, the King of Egypt, alarmed probably for his own safety, approached, and was defeated by Sargon, Shalmaneser's successor. In any case, help was now unavailing for the unhappy Israelites. The children of Israel were removed from their cities, and carried away captive into Assyria, being scattered up and down in the places named. 27,280, according to Sargon, were taken from Samaria alone. What sorrow was here! Torn from their land, exiles from house and home, forced to eat unclean things in Assyria (Hosea 9:3, Hosea 9:4), their national existence extinguished, ruled by the heathen,—all because, when they knew God, they would not glorify him as God, but gave his glory to dumb idols, and defiled his land with their abominations, and misused the gifts he had so richly bestowed on them (cf. Hosea 2:1-23.).—J.O.
2 Kings 17:7-23
Review of the history of Israel.
The Bible does not simply relate, but draws aside the veil and shows us the innermost springs of God's providence, and how they work. It teaches us to understand the deepest causes of the rise and fall of nations. The causes it insists on are not economical, or political, or intellectual, but religious, and its lessons are for all time. We may say of this survey of Israel's history—these things "are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). We have here—
I. MANIFOLD PROVOCATIONS.
1. Ingratitude to God. This is put in the foreground. It was the Lord "their God "Israel had sinned against—the God who had brought them up from Egypt, who had delivered them from bondage, who had made a nation of them, who had given them a land to dwell in, who had bound them to himself by solemn covenant. What people were ever under stronger obligations to obedience! Yet they apostatized, and "feared other gods." Sin appears more heinous against a background of mercies received. It is worse for a nation that has known God, that has possessed pure ordinances, and has been graciously dealt with by him, to backslide, than for another that has been less favored. Our own nation has been blessed in these respects as few have been or are. Correspondingly great are our responsibilities. The individual may reflect that the fact of spiritual redemption—salvation through Christ—places him under greater obligations than could spring from any temporal deliverance.
2. Heathenish ways. The positive wickedness of the people is next detailed. The heart of man cannot exist without an object to fill and occupy it; and if God is neglected, something else must be found to take his place. The Israelites rejected Jehovah, but they took to following idols. They would have none of his statutes, but they walked in the statutes of the heathen, and of the kings of Israel. It is to be remembered that the heathen worships here referred to were saturated through and through with lust and vileness. It was because of the nameless abominations connected with them that the Lord, after long forbearance, cast out the former inhabitants from Canaan (Le 2 Kings 18:24-32; 2 Kings 20:1-6). Yet these were the ways into which Israel turned back in the land which God had given them. May we not fear as we think of the vices, the impurities, the filthy abominations, which abound in our own nation?
3. Zeal in the service of idols. Israel had no heart for the service of God, but they showed unbounded zeal in the service of their idols. Publicly, and in secret also, in every city, on every hill, and under every green tree, wherever even there was a watchman's solitary tower, there they set up their high places, burnt incense, and "wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger." The children of light may well learn a lesson from the children of this world in respect of zeal. If only one tithe of the earnestness with which men serve the devil were put into the service of God, how rapid would be the spread of true religion! The wicked throw the whole energy of their souls into their follies, their pursuit of pleasure, their service of the world, the devil, and the flesh. But how slack-handed and half-hearted oftentimes are Christians! What wonder God's cause suffers!
II. REJECTION OF PROPHETS.
1. God's prophets sent. God did not leave Israel to sin without trying every means to turn the people from their evil ways. Prophets were sent, and these not one or two, but "all the prophets" and "all the seers." They were sent both to Israel and to Judah. They spoke in God's Name to the people, testified against their sins, and exhorted them to return to the ways of right. They warned them also of the consequences of disobedience (verse. 23). Thus it was shown that God has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth (Ezekiel 18:32). The fact of warning being given is a great aggravation of guilt if sin is persisted in. It leaves the transgressor without excuse. In our own land, warnings abound. The Bible is widely circulated, the gospel is faithfully preached; there is no lack of voices proclaiming the need and duty of repentance. If men perish, it is not in ignorance. They sin against light, and their blood is on their own heads.
2. Their testimony rejected. The efforts of the prophets to bring the people back to God proved unavailing. No heed was paid to their warnings; rather the people grew bolder and more daring in sin. If faithful counsel does not soften, it hardens. Judged by outward results, no class of preachers ever had less success than the Hebrew prophets. Their exhortations seemed as water spilt upon the ground. Yet through them was preserved and kept alive in the nation a remnant according to grace (Romans 11:5), and to it belonged the great future of God's promises. The stubbornness of the Jewish character was proverbial—they were, and had ever been, a stiff-necked people. The root of their evil was they "did not believe in the Lord their God." When they did believe, the same basis of character discovers itself in their unyielding tenacity and perseverance in serving God and obeying the dictates of their conscience (cf. Daniel 3:1-30.).
3. Aggravated wickedness. The people latterly threw off all restraint in the practice of their evil. It was no longer "secretly," but openly, that they rejected the statutes of the Lord their God and his covenant, and the testimonies which he testified, against them. It but aggravated the evil that in name they still claimed him as their God, and professed to do him honor, while in reality they had "left all his commandments," and had changed the whole substance of his religion. The form is nothing if the heart is wanting (Matthew 15:7-9); but the Israelites changed even the form. They went after vanity, and became vain, imitating the heathen who were round about them, and unblushingly introducing the worst heathen abominations into their own worship.
(1) They changed the fundamental law of Israel in making molten images—intended to represent Jehovah, no doubt, but still idols—Baalim.
(2) They imported the Phoenician Baal-worship, with its pillars and asheras, and its licentious rites—another direct violation of fundamental laws.
(3) They went further afield, and imported from Babylonia or Assyria the worship of "the host of heaven "—another thing directly forbidden on pain of death (Deuteronomy 17:2-7).
(4) Still unsatisfied, they abandoned themselves to the horrid rites of Moloch, and to the practice of every kind of divination and enchantment—the last and lowest stage in a people's religious degradation. This also was most emphatically forbidden to the Israelites under the most severe penalties (Le 2 Kings 20:1-6). Thus they literally "sold" themselves to do evil, throwing off all shame or pretence of regard for God's authority, and became confirmed and wedded to their evil ways. In heart and outward conduct they had absolutely and utterly apostatized from God, and seemed bent only on provoking him to anger. Instead of marveling at their final rejection, one wonders how a holy God should have borne with them so long. But is not God's patience with sinners and peoples still just as wonderful? Their iniquities literally go up to heaven before he cuts them off.
III. JUSTICE NO LONGER TARRYING. If the Lord's justice tarries, it does not sleep. And when the blow does fall, it is all the more severe that it has been so long delayed.
1. Israel rejected. This people had rejected God, and God now rejected them, as he had from the first threatened he would do (Leviticus 26:14-29). He did not cast them off without the warning afforded by many premonitory judgments. But when neither judgment nor mercy was regarded, and the cup of their transgression was brimming over, he gave them up, and "cast them out of his sight." They were carried away out of their own land to Assyria, and never, as a nation, returned.
2. Judah not taking warning. The sad thing was that Judah also, which had begun to walk in the same paths, did not take warning by the fall of the sister kingdom. "The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound" (Hosea 5:10), and many warnings directed to Judah mingle with the prophetic denunciations of Israel. Yet, notwithstanding partial reformations, the people did not repent. The sight is not unparalleled. If wicked men could be deterred from sin, or led to repentance, by warnings, these are never wanting. History and experience bear uniform testimony that it is well with the righteous, ill with the wicked; men have daily examples of the ruinous effects of vice before their eyes; yet they go on heedless and blinded. It is not a question of reason, but of evil inclination, and wrong bent of will. Sin is truly named folly—it is the absolute unwisdom.
3. The origin of the mischief. Again, the source of all these evils which came on Israel is traced to Jeroboam's fatal step in setting up the two calves. It was he who "drave Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin." One step in the wrong direction carries many others in its train. That act of Jeroboam had in the heart of it a principle which logically meant the overthrow of the theocracy. It was not only a violation of the fundamental law of the second commandment; but it was an act of self-will in religion; the assertion of the right to set human will above God's ordinances, and change and alter them at pleasure. Once a principle of that kind is introduced and acted on, it cannot be prevented from logically working itself out. The consequences of a wrong step stretch far beyond the results immediately seen or intended.—J.O.
2 Kings 17:24-41
Heathen occupants of the land.
The narrative of the fall of the northern kingdom concludes with an account of the arrangements made by the King of Assyria for resettling the land of Israel.
I. THE NEW SETTLERS.
1. Their foreign origin. The policy of removing rebellious populations to distant parts—at this time a favorite one with the Assyrians—led not only to the Israelites being carried away to Assyria, but to foreign settlers being brought and put down in their place. The nationalities of the new inhabitants are mentioned. They were men from Babylon, and Cuthah, and Ava, and Hamath, and Sepharvaim. These took possession of the cities of Samaria, and dwelt in them. Behold now God's holy land in the possession of aliens, men without one glimmer of knowledge of the true God and his ways! The Israelites had become heathen in heart, and were removed, and now real heathen were put in their place. In the sight of God the latter were less objectionable than the former. They had never known anything better than heathenism; while the Israelites had sinned against the clearest light and the strongest love. In the judgment day, the heathen will rise up to condemn those who have abused the light of revelation (Matthew 12:41).
2. The visitation of lions. Thick darkness had now settled on the land. Even the outward worship of Jehovah had ceased, and the only gods known were those of the heathen colonists. Yet the land was Jehovah's, and however he might "wink" at the ignorance of a rude, uninstructed people, it was not meet that something should not be done to arouse them to inquiry. The removal of the former inhabitants seems to have led to the multiplication of lions, and these now began to attack the people in a way which convinced them that the God of the land was displeased with them. It is not only the colonists who took this view of the matter. The sacred writer gives the same interpretation. God has his own ways of speaking to the consciences of men, and this was the one now adopted. The people were right in seeing in the visitation a reminder of their neglect of "the manner of the God of the land;" they were wrong in thinking that all that was necessary to remedy this neglect was the performance of certain external rites. It was moral conduct, based on a right knowledge of himself, which "the God of the land" required. But their error was only part of their dark heathen superstition.
3. Their request for instruction. The people were much concerned about the visitation which had befallen them, and their case was reported at once to the King of Assyria, who sent them one of the priests who had been carried away captive, to teach them "how they should fear the Lord." Alas! how shall the blind lead the blind! This priest was himself one who had no right knowledge of Jehovah. He was doubtless one of the priests of Bethel, who had been mixed up with the calf-worship and all the other sins for which Israel had been carried away. It is evident from the results that he gave the people no right instruction. He probably set up again at the Bethel sanctuary the disused rites of the former idolatry, and taught the people some external observances connected with the Name of Jehovah. A religion so deeply corrupted was hardly better than those they already practiced. Jehovah remained to them a local deity, of whose real character they knew nothing, and whom they served from motives of fear.
II. MIXED RELIGIONS.
1. Extraordinary syncretism. An extraordinary scene was now witnessed. The new-comers, once settled in their cities, lost no time in organizing their religions—in this, at all events, setting an example to more enlightened peoples. The high places formerly used by the Israelites stood temptingly ready to receive the new idols. Whatever may have been the character of the priest's instructions, they had no influence in checking the multiplication of strange gods. In the mixture of peoples, each nationality adhered to its own deity. The Babylonians made Succoth-benoth, the Cuthites made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, etc. The result was a chaotic confusion of religions, such as perhaps has never before or since been equaled. The new worships needed priests, and these were made from the lowest of the people. The whole is a sad but instructive picture of heathenism in its want of internal unity, its Babel-like confusion, its destitution of moral character, and its degrading and cruel practices, e.g. the burning of the children in the fire to Adrammelech, etc. Only monotheism can give true unity to life, religion, and worship.
2. Jehovah and strange gods. Meanwhile Jehovah was not overlooked, but had his place given him among the rest. The people "feared the Lord, and served their own gods." This showed, of course, that the first principles of the religion of Jehovah were not understood by them. But is it so uncommon a thing for men—not heathen, but professedly Christian—thus to attempt to combine incompatibilities? Is there not such a thing as attempting to combine the service of the Lord with the friendship of the world, which yet is declared to be "enmity with God" (James 4:4)? Is there no such thing as professing to serve God, yet giving the chief place in the heart to money, pleasure, fashion, or some other spiritual idol, which is duly worshipped upon its own high place? The less glaring idolatries are not always the least sinful. Ere condemning the irrational practices of these heathen, let us sit strictly in judgment on ourselves.
3. The absence of true religion. The cause of all this religious confusion was that the true God was not rightly known. Men may possess theoretically correct notions of God, and not act upon them; but it is impossible to base a right moral or religious life on conceptions of God which are fundamentally erroneous. These colonists did not know Jehovah's real character; they had not been properly instructed in his statutes; therefore they thought they were serving him when they were doing him the highest dishonor.
III. A PAST MEMORY.
1. God's ancient covenant. The sight of this indescribable chaos recalls to the historian the memory of that original covenant of God with Israel, by the terms of which the people were pledged not to serve strange gods, but to adhere to Jehovah, their Redeemer from Egypt, and to keep his holy statutes. Had they been faithful to that covenant, how different would have been the result! Instead of being in exile, the nation would have been safe, happy, and prosperous under Jehovah's care.
2. The melancholy contrast. As it was, the people had been driven from their land, and this motley crowd of heathen held possession of it. Their obedience was not better than that of the rejected Israelites, and, so far as experience had gone, they showed no sigma of improvement. It is due, however, to the Samaritans to say that, when better instructed, they did improve, and, in Christ's time, they were as strict monotheists as the Jews, and more willing to receive the gospel.—J.O.