For the Love of God, Volume 1/November 4
From Gospel Translations
2 Kings 17; Titus 3; Hosea 10; Psalms 129—131
SECOND KINGS 17 IS A DEFINING moment in Old Testament history. The northern kingdom of Israel comes to an end as a political entity. The trigger for this last step in the destruction of the nation is a piece of deceit perpetrated by her last king, Hoshea. While nominally maintaining her allegiance to Assyria (the regional superpower), Hoshea opened negotiations with Egypt, still an impressive political and military power, in the hope that Israel could come under her umbrella under better terms. Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, could only interpret this as treason and destroyed Samaria, the capital of Israel (17:1-6). He transported the leading Israelites to Assyria and then, as the end of the chapter makes clear, imported pagans from elsewhere in the empire, who intermingled with the poor Israelites left behind.
The rest of the chapter provides us with two explicit explanations, and a subtler, implicit one.
First, the ultimate reason for the destruction of the nation was not political or military, but religious and theological (17:7-17). The nation of Israel succumbed to idolatry. While maintaining superficial allegiance to the living God, they “secretly” built up pagan high places—as if the all-seeing God could be deceived! Asherah poles and Baal worship multiplied. The people ignored the prophets God sent them. “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless” (17:15; cf. Jer. 2:5). Rejecting the temple in Jerusalem, they constructed two calf idols. They worshiped astrological deities, messed around in the occult, and finally sank into the abominable practice of child sacrifice to Molech. “So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence” (17:18).
Second, this chapter explains the origins of the syncretistic religion of Samaria (17:24-41). The immigrant pagans mingled with the remaining Jews of the land. Racially and theologically, the results were mixed. Despite warnings from God (in the form of rampaging lions—no longer found in that part of the world, but at one time plentiful), the best this breed can muster is pathetic: they “worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods” (17:33). This is the background to the “Samaritans” we come across in Jesus’ day.
The third explanation is only implicit. It is obvious only when this chapter is read in the flow of canonical development. Fallen humanity is judged at the Flood; only a few survive. The patriarchs of the nascent Jewish nation end up in slavery. When God delivers them, their unbelief delays their entry into the Promised Land. The period of the judges ends in debauchery, corruption, decay. And now the period of the monarchy is winding up in similar shame.
God help us: we need a more radical answer than these.