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This chapter describes the history of the Samaritans. After this chapter the book continues with the kings of Judah. Most tribes of the north had already been taken away. The empire at that time was made up of only Samaria and the surrounding areas. Hoshea, who also came to power by murder, reigned over this part.
Hoshea King Over Israel
We return to the Northern Kingdom, which came to an end in this chapter. It has been mentioned before that Hoshea became the new king of Israel (2Kgs 15:30). Also, we must say of him what is said of all the kings of Israel, that he did “evil in the sight of the LORD”. What follows is that he did not do as Jeroboam did, that is to say, worshiping the calves made by Jeroboam. It seems that this cannot be said of him because these calves had probably already been taken away (Hos 10:5). If someone doesn’t do a particular evil, it doesn’t mean he’s better. He may not have been able to do that evil.
King Hoshea was good at conspiracies. He had previously forged a conspiracy against Pekah to kill him and become king (2Kgs 15:30). Now he has forged a conspiracy with the king of Egypt, with whom he secretly sought support. The king of Assyria, however, discovered this conspiracy. Hoshea was captured and taken as a prisoner to Assyria. Another reason for his imprisonment is that he had stopped paying tribute imposed on him by the king of Assyria. All this meant his downfall. The prophet Hosea also wrote about the downfall of king Hoshea (Hos 10:7; Hos 11:5).
Israel Carried Away Into Exile
Not only was king Hoshea taken away in captivity, the king of Assyria invaded the whole land, besieged Samaria, captured it and carried the entire population of Israel away into exile to Assyria. This happened in the ninth year of Hoshea, which was the last year of his reign (2Kgs 17:1). The people of God were brought into slavery and forced to serve a foreign king in a foreign country.
This was the inglorious end of a (part of a) people who once among another Hoshea, the son of Nun, that is Joshua (Num 13:2; 8; 16), had entered the land. Now they were unceremoniously carried away into exile from the land under king Hoshea, the son of Ela. The reason for this is explained in detail in the following verses.
In time, being placed to live in the midst of Gentiles, they would be absorbed by them. It would seem that Israel’s name has disappeared from off the earth. But God keeps an eye on His people (cf. Jam 1:1; Acts 26:7). At the end of time He will bring back a remnant into his land of the tribes he had to disperse in His discipline (Isa 11:12; Deu 30:2-4; Psa 147:2; Isa 56:8).
During the reign of king Hoshea, the prophet Hosea also spoke of the glorious restoration of the northern realm, together with the kingdom of Judah. In Hosea 11 we hear that the Lord in His mercy says about them: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel?” (Hos 11:8). In Hosea 13 the LORD says that He shall “ransom them from the power of Sheol” and “redeem them from death” (Hos 13:14). Also in Hosea 14 He speaks of His work in Israel and what He will be for them, that He will heal them and that He will be as dew for them (Rev 14:4-9). If we know this, the history of this chapter looks different indeed.
Reason for the Deportation
God used Assyria as a disciplinary rod for His people. The direct reason for being carried away into exile by the king of Assyria was the uprising of king Hoshea. But the spiritual background are of course much more important and far-reaching. The spiritual background was the underlying reason for the exile, the justification for it, given in detail in the following verses.
The whole description makes it clear that God, on the one hand, had been very patient and, on the other hand, was finally forced to pass this judgment on His people. The historian reviews the entire history of God’s people, not only of the ten tribes, but of all twelve tribes.
Many reasons for the exile are given, all of which are closely interrelated, why God has done this to His people. It occurred because they had sinned, not only during the reign of and by king Hoshea, but the Spirit of God directs us all the way back to the beginning of their history as people of God. From then until now, Israel’s sin has accumulated. It all finds its origin in the worship of “other gods” (2Kgs 17:7).
The veneration of other gods had led to walking “in the customs of the nations” (2Kgs 17:8). This is mentioned as the first sin. We see here a picture of the development of Christianity. This had led to thinking of things “which were not right against the LORD their God” (2Kgs 17:9). They made their own places to sacrifice God.
In those self-conceived and homemade places they sacrificed to idols (2Kgs 17:11). We also know this in Christianity, where everything that takes us away from the true God is to be called idolatry. For this we are strongly warned (1Jn 5:21).
The next step was that people had surrendered themselves to other gods and began to serve them against the explicit prohibition of the LORD (2Kgs 17:12; Exo 20:3-5). The LORD had given an explicit prohibition, and as well, had not left Himself without a witness about His will. He had “warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets [and] every seer” to repent and to return from their evil ways and to observe His statutes again. Instead of listening, the people rejected the testimony of God. They despised God’s statutes, while keeping the statutes of the nations. Both His servants and His statutes were despised (2Kgs 17:13-15).
To replace the worship in Jerusalem they had made two golden calves. They bowed down before them. They had even let their sons and daughters go through the fire. So they sold themselves to the devil. The purpose of all this was to badger and offend the LORD and to provoke Him (2Kgs 17:16-17).
The result was that the LORD had become “very angry with Israel” and had cast them out of His sight. There was no tribe left, except Judah. Only a few of the other tribes had stayed behind in the land (2Kgs 17:18).
The fact that Judah was the only tribe left was not a matter for Judah to congratulate themselves. In this whole enumeration of the sins of Israel, in a single verse (2Kgs 17:19) something was also said about Judah. Judah would not do better. It was to prevent Judah from boasting that they were not as bad as the ten tribes. Such an attitude would be very inappropriate and very unjustified, because they followed Israel, albeit at a distance, in evil. They would even overtake Israel when it came to committing injustice. The result was that all Israel, the twelve tribes, were rejected by the LORD from before Him (2Kgs 17:20).
The judgment of His people had in fact already begun with the tearing of the kingdom (2Kgs 17:21). Jeroboam, the first king of the ten tribes, preceded them on the way of departure from the LORD. It was a way that God’s Spirit describes here as a way in which “great sin” was committed. Jeroboam’s sin was general and also persistent. They did not depart from this (2Kgs 17:22).
It is tragic that it must be said of the people of God, that they did not to depart from all the sins of Jeroboam. That means they have persisted. What a contrast with their attitude towards the LORD. It should have been that they would not have departed from the LORD by persevering in following Him.
In 2Kgs 17:23 the conclusion of all the sins of the people is listed. God keeps to what He has said, even if it is a word of judgment about unfaithfulness. All His servants, the prophets, had announced the judgment. Now it had come. “So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day.”
The tribal bonds may have disappeared, but for the few there was always a path of faithfulness and faith that can be followed, and for God. That is true at all times. God always provides a remnant that goes the way of faith. So we see that in the time of Jeroboam faithful believers went to Jerusalem (2Chr 11:16). They only wanted to serve God at the true altar. They had literally separated themselves from the ten tribes.
Later Hezekiah sent out an invitation to all areas of the ten tribes to call those of God’s people from there to come to Jerusalem. Although the masses reacted negatively, some of the ten tribes responded to the call and came to Jerusalem (2Chr 30:11; 18; 25). It is also true for God’s people in our time that we must never give up hope that God will maintain the truth of the church as the one body of Christ. If only there is faith to accept this blessing.
There were also revivals in Samaria (2Chr 31:1; 2Chr 34:6; 9; 21), so we don’t need to get the impression from this chapter that Samaria and the ten tribes came to an end. God still knows those in the ten tribes who were His. However, the main line in this chapter is sad.
The New Inhabitants of Samaria
In 2Kgs 17:24, the thread of history is taken up again. We see how the cities of Samaria were doing after having been carried away into exile. These cities have new inhabitants, people from other nations. Their character is the same as that of God’s people who lived there first, for they feared not the LORD either (2Kgs 17:25). For this reason the LORD sent lions among them.
A natural reason may be that the number of inhabitants was insufficient to populate the land, giving the wild animals a chance to multiply (Exo 23:29). In any case, the hand of God was in it. He used lions to make these people remember that He was there and that they were in His land. The people who had come to live there were people who had nothing to do with God, they did not relate to Him. However, God did interfere with them. Because these people lived in His land, He sent a judgment. God is not only the God of the land of Israel, but also of the whole world.
The inhabitants of the Samaritan cities drew the right conclusion, but the solution to their problem was not correct. While God’s action was aimed at people asking for Him, they approached the king of Assyria instead. It was clear to him that the lions were sent because of the lack of knowledge of the God of the land. To change this, the king of Assyria commanded a priest to go there and “teach them the custom of the god of the land”.
The priest who was sent would undoubtedly be one of the priests of the golden calves, a priest of a mixed religion. This man introduced even more mixed worship among the new inhabitants of the cities of Samaria. What he taught the people of the land about the service of God was nothing but the observance of outward forms as he had done when he himself still lived there.
This terrible mixture is also seen in Christianity. Priests of the roman-catholic church have established a mixed religion all over the world. It is a mixture of truth and the world. People are driven by the sword into the water to be baptized. That is what made Europe Christian. How much the name ‘Christian’ has become a hollow concept today, goes without saying for those who love and know God’s Word.
The Religion of the Samaritans
In addition to the ritual worship of the God of Israel, each nation also remained faithful to their homemade gods. Outwardly they did what was appropriate for a faithful Israelite, assisted by an ‘original’ priest. Serving their own gods seemed to be perfectly compatible with the service to God as taught to them by the priest. This is what the roman-catholic church did, making pagan gods Christian, so that everyone could become their worshiper, still holding on to their own gods, albeit sometimes with other names.
Disobeying the Word
2Kgs 17:34 seems to be another contradiction to the previous verses, where it says that they feared the LORD, and now it says that they feared not the LORD. However, it is not a contradiction. The first fear was only outwardly, while in 2Kgs 17:34 it is about fearing with the heart.
A true fear of the LORD, a fear with the heart, was not present among the people. The touchstone for true fear is whether there is obedience to what God has said in His Word. This obedience was completely absent from the inhabitants of the cities of Samaria. This is clearly stated in 2Kgs 17:34-40. In these verses, the importance of the Word is discussed in detail – “the statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment” (2Kgs 17:37) – with the conclusion in 2Kgs 17:41.
The conclusion brings us into a next phase of the development of Samaria and the religion that was adhered to there. We find the same phase in the Gospels. There we find nothing about the Samaritans carrying out idol worship. The Samaritans believed in the five books of Moses and served God on Mount Gerizim. However, it was a religion that had its roots in what we find here.
In what the Lord Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, we hear how He judged the service: “You worship what you do not know” (Jn 4:22a). Samaritans worshipped what they did not know. The Samaritans had the Scriptures in their hands, in which it is written that the LORD dwells in Jerusalem and that He wants to be worshipped there. The woman knew that and yet she said that “our fathers worshipped in this mountain” that is Mount Gerizim. Contrary to the clear statements of God’s Word, the Samaritans had their own place of worship with a form they had devised themselves.
In church history we have such a development. What we see in the Samaritans, we see repeated in Protestantism, where the Word has been recaptured from roman-catholicism and idolatry has been dealt with. But that is not enough to reach the final station. There is something more to come. It is about taking the true place of worship. This can only be made known by the Prophet, the Lord Jesus. He Himself is that true place.
What the Samaritans and Christianity need is the Lord Jesus, the Son of God Who can speak of the Father. Whoever comes into contact with Him is also made aware of the true place of worship. That place is not geographically defined, like Jerusalem, but is spiritual in nature. It is about worship “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23-24), that is: worship must be done in a spiritual and true way. This means that a completely different position has to be taken than the one used in Samaria at the time of the exile.
The contradictions between Jews and Samaritans were great. The Jews despised the Samaritans, but the Lord Jesus did not. For us, that spells a warning. If by grace we may worship the Father in spirit and truth in the place where the Lord Jesus now dwells, that is where the church meets (Mt 18:20). We may not despise others who go to a place that is not in accordance with the Word. It is pride to know the true place of worship and to look down with contempt on those who do not know this place. Wherever this attitude is found, the Lord disappears from the midst. He cannot be in a place where there is pride. That is where the spirit of Laodicea reigns. There He stands outside, at the door (Rev 3:14-20).
What we read about the Samaritans here, in 2 Kings 17, is not the last thing we hear from them. “To this day” means to the day of the historian. It has already been pointed out previously that in John 4 the Lord Jesus spoke to a woman from Samaria about the highest service of the believer or the purpose of the life of the believer: the worship of the Father.
We see something like that in Luke 17. There a Samaritan cleansed of his leprosy found the true place of worship: at the feet of the Lord Jesus (Lk 17:15-16). Following these two examples, we can say that a sister, in John 4, and a brother, in Luke 17, have found this place of worship.
In the familiar parable of the good Samaritan, the Lord Jesus compares Himself to a Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). At the end He asks: ‘Who shows himself to be a neighbor of others?’ The answer is that our neighbor is the one who comes to help us in our need. Our neighbor is not one to whom we must show love, but a neighbor is the one who takes care of us. This means that we see ourselves in the man who fell into the hands of robbers and that we are dependent on someone who wants to be our neighbor. The Lord Jesus became the Neighbor for us. Do we want to take the neighbor’s place in relation to Him and be dependent on His grace?
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Kings 17". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13