HOSHEA REIGNING IN ISRAEL
Hoshea had conspired against and killed Pekah (ch.15:30), so that Hoshea began to reign over Israel in the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah. He reigned only nine years. In common with previous kings of Israel, he did evil in the sight of the Lord, but did not sink to the same wicked level as others had (v.2).
At this time Assyria was becoming more and more aggressive and Hoshea found it necessary to submit to the king of Assyria by paying him tribute (v.3). However, the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea had sent messengers to Egypt, evidently with the desire that Egypt should back up Israel in resisting Assyria. Hoshea apparently thought that with this backing he could cease sending tribute to Assyria, but the king of Assyria arrested Hoshea and put him in prison (v.4). No record is given of Hoshea's death.
THE CAPTIVITY OF ISRAEL BY ASSYRIA
In Chapter 15:29 we have read of Tiglath Pileser king of Assyria taking captive the Israelites east of Jordan and all the land of Naphtali. Now we read that the king of Assyria besieged Samaria for three years, finally taking it and all Israel, moving captives to areas in Assyria, Halah and the cities of the Medes. This was a sweeping judgment of God against His people Israel, and the ten tribes have never been restored to their land since that time. It was evidently before this, during the first six years of Hezekiah's reign in Judah that Hezekiah sent messengers to Israel to invite them to come to Jerusalem for his great Passover. Compare 1 Kings 18:10; 2 Chronicles 30:1-11). Now that God has allowed this great dispersion of the ten tribes, only a miraculous intervention of God at the end of the Tribulation will bring His people Israel back to their land.
A RECAPITULATION OF ISRAEL'S HISTORY
Verse 7 now reminds Israel that though God had kindly brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the bondage of Pharaoh, yet from that time they continually sinned against the Lord and had feared other gods (v.7). They had followed the statutes of the nations the Lord had expelled from the land of Canaan before the children of Israel (v.8). Though warned against this many times. Israel paid no attention to God's warnings.
Adding to their disobedience, they did secretly things they knew were not right against the Lord (v.9). Were they so dense they did not consider the Lord sets "our secret sins in the light of His countenance?" (Psalms 90:8). But unbelief does not give credit to God for being who He is. They also built for themselves (not for God) high places in all their cities. These high places were for professed worship, but God had told them their worship must be in the place that He would choose, - Jerusalem.
They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on high bills and under green trees. They would no doubt say that these things were to remind them of God, but God had forbidden such things, and using them always lowered God in their estimation, so that the things themselves eventually became the objects of their worship. They burned incense (which speaks of worship) in the high places "like the nations" who were dispossessed for such evil, and did wicked things that provoked the anger of the Lord (v.11).
They served idols in spite of the Lord's warnings not to do such things and in spite of His testifying against them when they did so, sending many prophets to command them to turn from their wicked ways and keep God's commandments (vv.12-13).
Over and over again they refused every appeal of the Lord and stiffened their necks in stubborn rebellion against His authority (v.14). Thus, having given up any respect for God Himself, they were quite free to reject His statutes and His covenant that He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus, they wanted freedom to do their own will, following the folly of other nations, not realising that that kind of freedom was only painful bondage to sin (v.15).
Leaving the commandments of God, what else could they find as a substitute? Only the worship of idols. Thus, verse 16 refers back to the great sin of Jereboam in making two golden calves, one put in Bethel, the other in Dan, and making these the centres of Israel's worship. But when once a thing like this is done, the evil does not stop there. They then began to worship all the host of heaven, having "many gods and many lords" (1 Corinthians 8:5), and Baal became a favourite idol.
This evil worship led to other abuses, such as causing their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, offering them as sacrifices, thinking that such horrible evil would gain favour with God or with their gods (v.17). Witchcraft and soothsaying accompanied such abuses. Witchcraft was used in invoking curses on people. Soothsaying is predicting the future with the object of soothing people. This is the way evil spirits claim to predict the future, to make people feel good, as the false prophets did in trying to make Ahab comfortable in going to fight for Ramoth Gilead (1 Kings 22:12). Only Michaiah prophesied the truth, that Ahab would die in his attempt to gain Ramoth Gilead (1 Kings 22:17). Israel "sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord," that is, they virtually sold themselves as slaves to satanic power.
Though the Lord bore patiently with Israel for years, yet the day finally came when He removed them from their land, leaving only the tribe of Judah at that time (v.18). Yet Judah is mentioned also as having failed to keep the commandments of the Lord, following too in the way of Israel. So the writing was on the wall for Judah also, but the godliness of some of their kings delayed the captivity of Judah for some years.
Verse 20 goes back to Israel, however, to speak of God's rejection of these 10 tribes, afflicting them and delivering them into the hand of plunderers, culminating in their captivity by Assyria. It was God who tore Israel from the house of David after Solomon's death, when Jereboam was made king and drove Israel from following the Lord, causing them to commit a great sin. Their bad condition was exposed by their willingness to follow a wicked leader and accept all his sinful decrees and actions (v.22). Thus the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as the prophets had foretold, and gave them up to the captivity of Assyria.
STRANGERS SETTLED IN SAMARIA
The king of Assyria was purposed to see that the Israelites could not again take possession of their land, so that he brought people from other areas east of Canaan to replace the Israelites (v.24). But God was jealous for His land, and because the new settlers had no fear of God, He sent lions among them, killing some of them (v.25). This awakened some fear in their minds that it was the God of the land they had to deal with, and the people had no knowledge of His ways.
When foreigners replaced Israel in their land, the Lord allowed Lions to attack and kill some of them. They supposed this was because they did know the character of "the god of the land." Their fears were not moved by conscience toward God, but by superstition. All they needed, they considered, was to know the rituals of the religion of Israel (v.26). The king of Assyria knew no better, so he commanded that a priest from Israel should go back to the land to teach the people the rituals of the god of the land (v.27). How could this be when they had no centre such as God had decreed? - the centre being symbolical of Christ, the only way of approach to God. But unbelief is impervious to Him, and the priest himself had little knowledge of God, for he had been linked with the idolatry of Jereboam and all Israel had long ago left God's centre - Jerusalem - to establish a religion that had 2 golden calves as its symbol. This priest taught the people how they should fear the Lord (v.28), but his instruction would be painfully lacking.
Thus the people from these other nations who settled in the land brought their own religion with them and made idols, placing them in shrines in high places which the Samaritans had before established, so that Samaria became something like the United States at that time, a residence for every kind of contradictory religion. The Babylonians had their idol, the men of Cuth another idol, the men of Hamath another, the Avvites two more, while the Sepharvites burned their children as sacrifices to two gods of Sepharvaim (vv.29-31).
Outwardly they feared the Lord (v.32), but contradicted that fear by appointing "for themselves" priests of the high places. They liked to copy the fact of God appointing priests, but God's appointment was only of the sons of Aaron, and they were priests of God in connection with God's temple, not the high places. Today the same evil is seen all around us. People claim to respect God, but their works are in flat contradiction to His Word, often adopting the rituals of foreign nations.
Verse 34 puts the whole matter in a true perspective. Though verse 33 says, "they feared the Lord," yet verse 34 says they continued following their former rituals, "they do not fear the Lord." Their claim of verse 33 was false and empty. Thy did not really fear the Lord, nor did they follow the statutes and ordinances of the Lord, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, otherwise named Israel. With them God had made a covenant, charging them, "You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them" (v.35). But now Samaria had become totally corrupted by this false worship of various descriptions.
We are reminded that the land really belonged to the nation God had brought up from the land of Egypt with manifest power, and Israel was to fear Him (v.36). His statutes, laws and ordinances they were told to be careful to observe and to refuse to fear other gods. They were not to forget the covenant the Lord had made with them, but fear the Lord, who would honour their subjection and preserve them from the bondage of their enemies (vv.37-39).
But now the land was given over to those who paid absolutely no attention to the commands of God. These nations who entered the land therefore showed an appearance of fearing the Lord, but actually served their carved images. Their children and their children's children followed the same course of evil. Samaria continued to have a sprinkling of Israelites among them, but they did not relieve the picture of guilty despising of God's law. It only added to the mixture of many elements of evil.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent