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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
2 Kings 17



Verse 7


‘The children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God.’

2 Kings 17:7

As to the causes which led to the captivity—the one great evil was idolatry, it lies at back of all else. We have here (1) a picture of this idolatry in some of its prominent features; then (2) a description of the way in which Israel defied Jehovah.

I. A picture of Israel’s idolatry.—(a) In general. They sinned against the Lord their God. How suggestive this is. Jehovah was their God. He it was Who deserved their loyalty by reason of what He had done for them in the past. He had brought them up out of the land of Egypt. Then, in distinct contrast with this powerful God, we have the other gods, whose worshippers found no help in their deities, for the Lord cast out the heathen from before the children of Israel. It was a deliberate choice, too, for these infatuated rebels walked in the statutes of the heathen, and of their own idolatrous kings. This was the general charge; leaving their own mighty God, and serving the poor helpless idols that were powerless to save their devotees when first the children of Israel conquered Canaan.

(b) In particular. What an indictment follows. First, they destroyed the simple purity of the Mosaic ritual (this seems to be the meaning of an obscure passage), covering or adorning a worship which was not the true one. Second, they spread this false religion until it was to be detected by its altars all the land over. The tower of the watchmen, solitary and in desert places, beheld these altars, and so did the fortified city. Third, the hill tops were crowned with heathen obelisks, and under the boughs of the trees carved images of Ashteroth, the licentious goddess of the vilest worship, were placed. Fourth, the sacred privilege of prayer was degraded by burning incense as the heathen did. Fifth, the degradation of religion was followed, as is always the case, by the degradation of morals. Sixth, in one word, they served idols. The word used is one of indescribable contempt and opprobrium, and they did it with open eye and deliberate purpose, for the Lord had said unto them, ‘Ye shall not do this thing.’ This leads to

II. A consideration of the aggravated guilt of Israel, sinning, as they did, against light and knowledge and mercy.

(a) We listen to the pleading of Divine love. Prophets, speaking the message of God to Israel, and seers, upon whose spiritual sight flashed visions from on high, united to say, Turn ye from your ways and keep My commandments. To turn from self to God, this has always been the plea. There is no change in God’s Word to man.

(b) This is followed by a declaration of the determined resistance of Israel. The picture here is of the stubborn ox refusing to be guided, and making his neck rigid and unbending. The thought is that to resist God costs an effort. It is not natural or easy to refuse such tender pleadings as His.

(c) One brief sentence lets us into the secret of this godlessness. They did not believe in the Lord their God. The most amazing thing in all the world is unbelief. Israel formed part of the people specially called and chosen and cared for. Yet, with such a history in the past as no other nation ever had, they would not believe. One may well distrust self in the light of this lesson. The evil heart of unbelief is indeed deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.


(1) ‘In this chapter we read of the end of Israel’s sin—they were carried away into captivity. They had warnings enough, but they disregarded them. Opportunities for salvation came, down to the very last, but the condition always was repentance and a return to God, and the people would not leave their sins. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” They fell into the hands of their enemies and were carried away into a strange land as captives. They lost their homes, their country, their liberty. This was the ending of the kingdom, for as a nation they were blotted from the face of the earth and from the pages of history. They never returned.’

(2) ‘Mark that it was sin that caused all this trouble. The historian may explain in other ways the cause of the downfall of the kingdom. But whatever the political or other reasons may have been, on the moral side it was sin that brought the terrible ruin. Sin always brings calamity. It destroys nations. It destroys homes. It destroys individual lives. God loves men with a love that is wonderful, a love that led to the greatest sacrifice possible; yet even the Divine love cannot stay the natural outworking of sin.’

Verse 15


‘They rejected His statutes … and they followed vanity.’

2 Kings 17:15

The end has come. Israel is about to be scattered, and never again to be gathered together as a nation. Here is the solemn summing up of her history during the two centuries and a half of existence. From Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, to Hoshea, here is the conclusion of the whole matter.

I. See what we are told about the religion that Israel refused.—The keynote to all God’s dealings was faithfulness. He had covenanted with them, He had given them and their fathers statutes, testimonies, and commandments. The true religion was a religion of law. So it is still.

II. Then contrast with this the religion that Israel chose.—Here are four characteristics by which it was distinguished:—

(a) Folly. They followed vanity and became vain. Idolatry is unsubstantial. Baal could not save, as Carmel had shown. A frivolous religion makes a frivolous people, while, on the other hand, a solid and serious faith makes a solid and serious people.

(b) Cruelty. They caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire. This is contrasted with the mercy of the Lord, His love for the children, His care for the family. Religion is a great preservative to life, and the most earnestly religious periods in any nation’s history will surely register themselves in an increased lengthening of existence. How cruel idolatry is can be seen in Paton’s Life in the South Seas or Moffatt’s Travels in Africa.

(c) Superstition. They used divination and enchantments. The human mind must peer into the future. Where there is not faith there will be credulity. See how strong the religious instinct is in us all, and how, when it rejects the true, it must take up with the false. Here is a striking proof of our need of a revelation. This is what a nation comes to, notwithstanding all its privileges, when it trusts to itself. ‘Peoples and nations never did and never can raise themselves into a higher moral condition.’ The necessary existence of God is proved, if by nothing else, certainly by the state into which men sink when He is rejected.

(d) Bondage. They sold themselves to do evil. In their desperate need people deeply in debt would sometimes go so far as to sell, not their property only, but even themselves; but the bitter sting in this sentence is lodged in the last three words. No advantage came from this final surrender of self, but only evil.


‘Not only did Israel turn away from their own God, but they turned after the gods of the heathen. It is always so. We may not worship idols made of wood or stone, but if we leave the true God we really worship some idol. These people, instead of following God and God’s ways, followed the ways of the heathen around them. Worldly conformity is always dangerous. God commanded His ancient people to be separate from the heathen, not to adopt their ways, not to make friendships with them, not to copy their manners or habits. But they disobeyed Him. They added, little by little, heathen rites and practices to their religious observances, until at last they were full-grown idolaters, quite as base as the people whom the Lord had cast out of the land for their sin. We need to learn well the lesson against conforming to the world.’

Verse 23


‘The Lord removed Israel out of His sight.’

2 Kings 17:23

Why did this disaster befall the Northern kingdom? How was it Israel came by its overthrow? It is possible to answer thus—because Assyria was a conquering nation, and Israel lay in the path of its conquering advance, and as the weaker power it naturally succumbed. But that is to read history superficially. The Bible states plainly and emphatically that the reasons for Israel’s overthrow were moral reasons. ‘It was so,’ the historian writes, i.e. ‘this overthrow came about,’ ‘because the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God.’ The secret of their ruin was their sin. ‘The wages of sin is death,’ says Holy Writ. ‘The broad road ends in destruction.’

I. This is true of nations.—National sin is followed by national ruin. Israel’s case can be paralleled by the case of Persia, and Greece, and Rome. It is a law no nation can evade—sin brings ruin as its penalty. We need to realise it in England, for we have our gross and shameful sins—our drunkenness, our gambling habits, our impurity, our greed. Unless we repent, these sins of ours will bring their penalty along with them, and the name of England shall perish.

II. This is true of individuals.—Sin brings its penalty. With this sad story before us, we must think of its parallel in the history of every soul that persists in unbelief and rejection of Christ. Sin makes chains for men, binds them hand and foot, and carries them into hopeless captivity. This lesson should come home to young people who are perhaps trifling with sin, or who are at least disregarding God’s calls and commands. The fatal end of such neglect and sinning should be looked at very honestly as it is illustrated in this carrying away of Israel.


(1) ‘God does not easily give people up. He tried in many ways to save Israel. He sent prophets to warn them and call them back. He sent judgments—famines, wars. He was loath to see them perish, He loved them so. At last He could do nothing more, and sent them out of His presence. It is always so. God is marvellously patient with his erring children. The Gospel is full of the story of the patience of Christ.’

(2) ‘What a warning there is in an incident like this! Men still mock and laugh at warnings against sin! That is the tragedy of so many lives—like those young men of whom J. B. Gough used to speak, who set sail on Niagara River, and who despised all voices from the shore that warned them of the furious rapids just below, and who only awoke to their peril when it was too late, and the doom of their folly stared them in the face.’

(3) ‘Read carefully the bill of divorce which their true Husband gave Israel when He put them away. It is a pathetic document, but surely none can say that Jehovah had not good cause for doing as He did. The wonder is that He bore so long with His apostate people. And we should read the three first chapters of Hosea to know how bitterly the Divine heart was rent when the hour of separation came. Nor should we forget to read the assurances, given so clearly and emphatically by the Apostle, that all the true Israel shall ultimately be saved.’

Verse 33


‘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

I. This is the reason why so many people have lost the peace of God; like those Israelites they fear the Lord, but serve idols. They are making the awful mistake of trying to serve two masters. Those Israelites had a half-and-half religion, and there is a great deal of such religion to-day. This is the reason why there are so many peaceless, restless, joyless Christians. Such believers are fond of saying that ‘they never go anywhere that they cannot take the Lord with them.’ This is putting things in the wrong order: it is not the place of the disciple to ‘bring the Master.’ They should follow Him. They should never go to places to which He does not lead them. Many such ‘honorary’ Christians are to be seen to-day.

II. God jealously guarded the power of the Holy Spirit.—He could not give the power of the fullness of the Holy Ghost to those who were not faithful. There are those to-day who like to hear the truth preached, who know the truth, perhaps work for God, but there is one thing they do not like, they do not like to yield. Do we know nothing about the world and the Church? How many have got entangled in an unspiritual enagagement! To such I do not say, ‘Break your word,’ but I do say, ‘Do not be yoked yet, till you both get right.’

—Rev. S. A. Selwyn.


(1) ‘These poor Israelites—half-and-half believers as they were—seemed to have had some good points. They knew God, and feared Him to a certain extent; and it was better to fear than to despise. The remedy for such believers is to be found in the last chapter of Hosea: “Return unto the Lord.” Like consumptive patients, the best place for them is their native air, which is the foot of the Cross.’

(2) ‘The Ten Tribes were removed to the mountains of Media, where there was abundant provision for a pastoral people; while races from the neighbourhood of Babylon were settled in the land of Canaan. They gave an outward formal tribute to Jehovah, as they supposed Him to be the local deity, while secretly they worshipped their own deities. Is not this what many among us do still? They attend the outward forms of worship lest they lose caste; but in their hearts they enthrone worldly and unworthy objects of veneration.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, December 16th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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