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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 17

 

 

Verses 1-7

The Reign Of Hoshea King Of Israel c. 732/1-723/2 BC And The Last Days Of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-7).

The history here is very much telescoped. Hoshea had assassinated Pekah and he immediately then submitted to Assyria, paying heavy tribute. Fortunately for Israel Tiglath-pileser accepted his submission. This resulted in a reprieve for Israel who, unlike Damascus, were not at that time destroyed.

Hoshea’s vassal status then had to be re-confirmed when, on Tiglath-pilesers’s death, Tiglath-pileser’s son, Shalmaneser ‘came up against him’ at which point Hoshea renewed his submission and became Shalmaneser’s servant and paid tribute. This need not indicate that he was seen as in a state of rebellion, only as now needing to submit to the new king. On the death of Tiglath-pileser it would be necessary for treaties to be renewed and new submissions made to the new king, and tribute might well have been delayed by Hoshea until it was certain who would successfully succeed Tiglath-pileser (succession was not always straightforward). Thus by this ‘visit’ he was being given a firm reminder of his responsibilities.

This tribute then continued for some years. But at some point Hoshea apparently felt that with Egypt’s offered help, he could take the risk of withholding tribute. The initiative may well have come from Egypt who wanted to set up a buffer between Egypt and Assyria. We can understand Hoshea’s error. Egypt had no doubt always been looked on as a powerful country, even if at present inactive in Palestine, and Hoshea was not to know that at this time it was divided up and weak, and simply trying to protect itself by stirring up people against Assyria. He no doubt felt that with Egypt behind him he, along with other states, would now be able to resist Assyria. But he was gravely mistaken. No actual help would come from Egypt.

Analysis.

a In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel, and he reigned for nine years (2 Kings 17:1).

b And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him (2 Kings 17:2).

c Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria, and Hoshea became his servant, and brought him tribute (2 Kings 17:3).

d And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year (2 Kings 17:4 a).

c Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison (2 Kings 17:4 b).

b Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it for three years (2 Kings 17:5).

a In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6).

Note that in ‘a’ Hoshea commenced reigning in Samaria and reigned for nine years, and in the parallel in the ninth year he ceased to reign because the cream of Israel were exiled. In ‘b’ he did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH, and in the parallel YHWH responded by sending the king of Assyria to besiege Samaria. In ‘c’ Shalmaneser made him yield to him as his vassal and pay tribute, and in the parallel he put him in prison because he had failed to pay tribute. Centrally in ‘d’ he had rebelled against Assyria at the instigation of the king of Egypt, and had withheld tribute.

2 Kings 17:1

‘In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel, and he reigned for nine years.’

As we saw in 2 Kings 15:30 Hoshea assassinated Pekah, the preceding king of Israel in order to submit to Assyria, thereby saving Israel from total destruction. As a result he was confirmed in his kingship by the Assyrians. This was in the twelfth year of Ahaz and the twentieth year of Jotham (2 Kings 15:30), Thus Ahaz’s twelve years were years of co-regency. But Ahaz was by now in sole control because of his father’s illness, and thus seen as a main party. Hoshea reigned for nine years during most of which Israel paid tribute to Assyria.

2 Kings 17:2

‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him.’

This rather enigmatic statement is not easy to interpret. It would suggest that he did not lay any emphasis on Jeroboam’s false cult, but nevertheless did not truly turn to YHWH. It may also indicate that he had more concern for social justice. Possibly he was in fact lukewarm towards religion generally, although perfunctorily engaging in the worship of the Assyrian deities, simply because he had no choice in the matter. Some have connected it with a willingness to allow his subjects to visit the temple at Jerusalem inasmuch as, according to 2 Chronicles 30:10, Hezekiah invited to the feast of the Passover, held at Jerusalem, the Israelites from Ephraim and Manasseh as far as to Zebulun, with some individuals from these tribes accepting his invitation

2 Kings 17:3

‘Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria, and Hoshea became his servant, and brought him tribute.’

Shalmaneser V followed Tiglath-pileser III. At the commencement of any new reign there would be a tendency to withhold tribute in order to see what the new king would do, but once Shalmaneser came on the scene, possibly sending a warning ahead, Hoshea rapidly submitted and paid tribute. ‘Became his servant’ i.e. acknowledged himself as his vassal.

2 Kings 17:4

‘And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year.’

Years passed during which Hoshea continued to pay tribute, but then Hoshea began to enter into intrigues with ‘So, king of Egypt’ and withheld tribute, and the king of Assyria, through his spies, possibly stationed in Samaria, discovered the fact. The king of Egypt in question was probably Osorkon IV. It seems probable that Osorkon, who only ruled a part of Egypt, initiated the intrigue as a way of protecting the borders of Egypt, without having too much concern about the consequences for his ‘allies’. It would be left to them to look after themselves. But Hoshea probably saw Egypt as a powerful united country whom even Assyria would fear. In fact around this time (in about 725 BC), Egypt had two lines of senior pharaohs reigning in the Delta, Osorkon IV in Tanis (Zoan) and Iuput II in Leontopolis further south. Neither king actually ruled effectively over anything more than his own local province, but Hosea probably did not realise that. Tanis (Zoan) would be the recognised objective of Hebrew envoys to Egypt in the eighth and seventh centuries BC (compare Isaiah 19:11; Isaiah 19:13; Isaiah 30:2; Isaiah 30:4). That Osorkon was not to be relied on comes out in the outcome.

2 Kings 17:4

‘Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison.’

It would appear that as Shalmaneser approached Israel Hoshea went out to meet him, probably hoping to make his submission and blame the intrigue on his anti-Assyrian compatriots. Shalmaneser was not, however, convinced, and shut him up, bound, in prison.

2 Kings 17:5

‘Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it for three years.’

Then Shalmaneser advanced into Israel, ‘throughout all the land’, occupying every part of it and laying siege to Samaria whose stout walls held him back for three years. It was during this siege that Shalmaneser died and was replaced by Sargon II who finally took the city. Alternatively Sargon may have been acting as his father’s commander-in-chief. Both seemingly laid claim to having taken the city.

2 Kings 17:6

‘In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.’

Once Samaria was taken many of its people were carried away into exile, some to Assyria itself, and others to the cities of the Medes. There are a number of Assyrian records of this event. The Nimrud Prism reads, ‘I clashed with them in the power of the great gods, my lords, and counted as spoil 27,280 people together with their chariots, --- and the gods in whom they trusted.’ The Display Inscription reads, ‘I surrounded and captured the city of Samaria, 27,290 of the people who dwell in it I took away as prisoners.’ These would be the cream of the city, including all the princes, aristocrats and businessmen. Their journey would not have been a pleasant one as they would be shamed and chained (compare Isaiah 20:4 of captured Egyptians) but eventually they would be settled in the places mentioned.

Interestingly records have been discovered which have confirmed these settlements. Texts from Gozan (tell Halaf) mention as living there ‘Halbisu from Samaria’ and list other names compounded with Yau (YHWH), while an ostracon from Calah (now Nimrud) of about 720/700 BC contains a list of ‘biblical’ names such as ‘Elinur son of Menahem; Nedabel son of Hanun; Elinur son of Michael’, and so on.

Thus came to an end Israel as a united people, and shortly afterwards the exiles would be replaced by peoples transferred from other areas (see 2 Kings 17:24), resulting in a mixed population. Israel was no more (apart from those who had settled in Judah or who had fled to Judah in the face of the Assyrian onslaught, of which there would be a good many) and its exiles would slowly be absorbed into the surrounding peoples.


Verses 7-23

YHWH’s Final Judgment On Israel Because Of All Their Disobedience Will Result In Their Being Removed In The Same Way As He Had Previously Cast Out The Nations From Before Them (2 Kings 17:7-23).

Having described the taking away of the cream of the people of Israel into other lands the prophetic author gives his explanation of why YHWH has allowed such a thing. The philosophy of sin and retribution found here is essentially Mosaic, especially as brought out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (to call it simply Deuteronomic is to close the eyes to the wider facts for the sake of a theory. The ideas are found throughout the Pentateuch). It was because they had disobeyed His commandments, and especially because they had engaged in false worship and evil doings in spite of all the He had done for them in delivering them out of Egypt, and they had continued to do it in spite of the fact that He had sent prophets to warn them, that they were open to judgment. Thus just as YHWH had cast out the nations from before them, so now He was removing them, all except ‘Judah’ (i.e. the southern kingdom).

While there are certainly indications in the passage of the author’s knowledge of the whole of the Pentateuch, and of Joshua to Samuel, (as there are throughout the Book of Kings), it is in fact surprising how little he draws on their language in any depth, demonstrating that while he would use choice phrases, the thinking was his own. The principles behind his statements are, however, undoubtedly found throughout the Pentateuch.

The passage fits together as a whole and there is therefore no reason to seek diverse authorship. We can view it as follows:

The Activity Of Israel.

· This commences with the deliverance from Egypt (2 Kings 17:7-8, compare Exodus 1-20).

· Considers how Israel gradually introduced syncretism into Yahwism in the time of the Judges, something which then expanded even more under the kings (2 Kings 17:9-12).

· Emphasises how YHWH sent His servants the prophets to try to win them back (2 Kings 17:13-15).

· Moves on to the action of Jeroboam which resulted in the ultimate dilution of Yahwism and the covenant (2 Kings 17:16).

· Continues on with the thought of the introduction of further outside foreign influences through Ahab and others (2 Kings 17:17).

· And concludes that this is what has resulted in the exile of Israel, with a probationary period and a warning being given to Judah (2 Kings 17:18-19).

The Activity Of YHWH.

2 Kings 17:20-22 are a review and cover the same ground as above, but this time from the point of view of YHWH’s direct activity.

· In the time of the Judges and Samuel, He had delivered them to the spoilers (2 Kings 17:20).

· He had then divided up the two kingdoms, rending Israel from the faltering house of David, but instead of their taking warning as a result it had produced the resultant apostasy of Jeroboam, an apostasy which Israel had lapped up (2 Kings 17:21-22; compare 1 Kings 14:7-8).

· And finally, having first sent His prophets to plead with them, He had fulfilled what the prophets had warned about, namely their sending into exile and the destruction of their kingdom (2 Kings 17:23).

The passage can also be analysed as follows:

Analysis.

a And it was so, because the children of Israel had sinned against YHWH their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods, and walked in the statutes of the nations, whom YHWH cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they made (2 Kings 17:7-8).

b And the children of Israel did secretly things that were not right against YHWH their God: and they built themselves high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city, and they set themselves up pillars and Asherim on every high hill, and under every green tree, and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the nations whom YHWH carried away before them; and they wrought wicked things to provoke YHWH to anger, and they served idols, of which YHWH had said to them, “You shall not do this thing” (2 Kings 17:9-12).

c Yet YHWH testified to Israel, and to Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, “Turn you 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).

d Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their neck, in a similar way to the neck of their fathers, who believed not in YHWH their God (2 Kings 17:14).

e And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified to them, and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the nations who were round about them, concerning whom YHWH had charged them that they should not do like them (2 Kings 17:15).

f And they forsook all the commandments of YHWH their God, and made themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal (2 Kings 17:16).

e And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger (2 Kings 17:17).

d Therefore YHWH was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight. There was none left but the tribe of Judah only (2 Kings 17:18).

c Judah also did not keep the commandments of YHWH their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made (2 Kings 17:19).

b And YHWH 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. For he tore Israel from the house of David, and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king, and Jeroboam drove Israel from following YHWH, and made them sin a great sin (2 Kings 17:20-21).

a And the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did. They did not depart from them, until YHWH removed Israel out of his sight, as he spoke by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria to this day (2 Kings 17:22-23).

Note that in ‘a’ they disobeyed YHWH and followed the gods of the nations who were cast out, and in the parallel because they walked in the sins of Jeroboam they themselves were to be cast out. In ‘b’ we have a description of all the ways in which Israel provoked God to anger, and in the parallel we have the consequences for Israel. In ‘c’ YHWH testified to both Israel and Judah what would happen to them if they did not obey His commandments and in the parallel Judah too was found guilty of breaking His commandments. In ‘d’ they hardened their necks and followed the unbelieving ways of their fathers, and in the parallel YHWH was angry and removed them out of His sight, apart from Judah. In ‘e’ they became vain and followed the nations round about, and in the parallel they especially did this by child sacrifice, and using divination and enchantments. Centrally in ‘f’’ they forsook the commandments of YHWH and sought other gods.

2 Kings 17:7-8

‘And it was so, because the children of Israel had sinned against YHWH their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods, and walked in the statutes of the nations, whom YHWH cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they made.’

The reason why YHWH had allowed the exile of the Israelites to happen is now given. It was because in spite of the fact that He had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, they had sinned against Him and had rather ‘feared’ other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom YHWH had cast out before them. And as He had constantly warned them, if they did this they would be ‘spewed out of the land’ (Leviticus 18:24-29). Thus this exile followed His constant warnings to them of what would happen if they failed to obey His covenant. See especially Leviticus 18:24-29 (in the context of passing through the fire to Molech); Leviticus 26:30-33 (note the direct connection there of the exile with ‘high places’ and ‘images’); Deuteronomy 28:64. The warnings in Leviticus appear to be especially in mind.

The theme of YHWH’s deliverance of His people from Egypt is a common one in Scripture. It was this that had made them His special people (Exodus 19:5-6; Exodus 20:2). and it was constantly mentioned in the Psalms. After He had put so much effort into redeeming them, it was seen as making their turning to other gods totally inexcusable. How much more then are we inexcusable if we turn away from obedience to the One Who suffered so much for us, and redeemed us through His cross.

For the phrase ‘under the hand of Pharaoh’ compare Genesis 41:35. For ‘Pharaoh king of Egypt’ see Genesis 41:46; Exodus 6:11; Exodus 6:13; Exodus 6:27; Exodus 6:29; Deuteronomy 7:8. For ‘bringing forth out of the land of Egypt’ compare Exodus 29:46; Leviticus 23:43; Deuteronomy 29:25; Joshua 24:17; 1 Samuel 12:6; 1 Kings 8:21; 1 Kings 9:9. For the idea of ‘the statutes of the nations’ (chuqqoth ha goyim) see Leviticus 20:23 (chuqqoth ha goy); 2 Kings 18:2-3; 2 Kings 18:30.

2 Kings 17:9-12

‘And the children of Israel did surreptitiously things that were not right against YHWH their God, and they built themselves high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city, and they set themselves up pillars and Asherim on every high hill, and under every green tree, and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the nations whom YHWH carried away before them; and they wrought wicked things to provoke YHWH to anger, and they served idols, of which YHWH had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.” ’

The idea behind ‘surreptitiously’ (or ‘secretly’) is that they maintained outwardly the worship of YHWH while at the same time flirting with Baal and Asherah ‘in secret’. Like so many foolish people they thought that God would not see (such was their low conception of YHWH. But as we often think the same it is difficult to suggest that it was a ‘primitive’ idea).

But what they did was not really done in too much secrecy, except possibly from the upright priests and the prophets, and the righteous kings. They built their high places (bamoth) in their cities, for a high place could be any place uplifted for worship, such as a high altar approached by steps or a roof top sanctuary. And they also set up pillars (to Baal) and Asherim (images or poles set up to Asherah, the Canaanite fertility goddess) at hill top sanctuaries and beneath spreading and fruitful trees, worshipping in the same way as the Canaanites had previously, and behaving with the same sexual licence. Thus they ‘wrought wicked things which provoked YHWH to anger’. And they specifically disobeyed YHWH by serving the very idols of which YHWH had said, “You shall not do this thing.”

‘From the tower of the watchmen to the fortified city.’ The tower of the watchmen may refer to the tower from which the shepherd watched over his flock, or it could refer to the watchtowers on the borders (compare 2 Kings 18:8). The fortified city was the pinnacle of civilisation. So wherever Israelites were, in country or city, they indulged in their false worship.

For the mention of ‘high places’ see Leviticus 26:30; Numbers 33:52; 1 Kings 3:2-3 and often. For ‘under every green tree’ see 2 Kings 16:4; Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23. For ‘provoking YHWH to anger’ see Deuteronomy 4:25; Deuteronomy 9:8; Deuteronomy 31:29; Deuteronomy 32:16; Deuteronomy 32:21; 1 Kings often. For ‘fortified (fenced) cities’ see 2 Kings 3:19; 2 Kings 8:12; 2 Kings 10:2; Numbers 13:19; Numbers 32:17; Numbers 32:36; Joshua 10:20; Joshua 19:29; Joshua 19:35; 1 Samuel 6:18; 2 Samuel 24:7.

2 Kings 17:13

‘Yet YHWH testified to Israel, and to Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, “Turn you 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.” ’

However, they were without excuse, for YHWH continually testified to both Israel and Judah through many prophets and seers, calling on Israel to turn from their evil ways, and keep His commandments and statutes, in accordance with all the Law which He gave them through His servants the prophets. Here is YHWH’s definition of righteousness.

2 Kings 17:14

‘Notwithstanding, they would not hear, but hardened their neck, in a similar way to the neck of their fathers, who believed not in YHWH their God.’

In spite of YHWH’s efforts Israel had not heard Him. They had ‘hardened their necks’ in the same way as their fathers had, who had also not ‘believed in YHWH their God’. Their fathers had also similarly not trusted God and obeyed Him, as had been made clear throughout the Pentateuch and the ‘historical books’, compare, for example, Exodus 32; Numbers 13-14; Judges 2. For ‘hardened-necks’ see Deuteronomy 10:16; Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3; Exodus 33:5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6; Deuteronomy 9:13; Deuteronomy 31:27. For ‘believing, not believing, in YHWH their God’ see Genesis 15:6; Exodus 4:31; Exodus 14:31; Numbers 14:11; Deuteronomy 1:32; Deuteronomy 9:23.

2 Kings 17:15

‘And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified to them, and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the nations who were round about them, concerning whom YHWH had charged them that they should not do like them.’

Their unbelief was revealed in the fact that they rejected YHWH’s statutes and testimonies, and the covenant that He had made with their fathers (e.g. Exodus 20-24; Exodus to Numbers; Deuteronomy). Instead they followed what was empty and vain, and became foolish, following the examples of the nation round about them, in spite of the fact that YHWH had charged them not to behave like them. They had blatantly disobeyed Him.

2 Kings 17:16

‘And they forsook all the commandments of YHWH their God, and made themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.’

And they especially forsook the first two commandments of YHWH, making molten images, even the two golden calves, and an Asherah image, and worshipping all the host of Heaven, and serving Baal. It is possible that the mention of the worship of ‘the host of Heaven’ especially had in mind Ahaz’s innovations, although we must remember that Assyrian influence had been applied to Israel much earlier, but its placing suggests rather that it refers to Canaanite religious ideas in parallel with Asherah and Baal. For the worship of the sun, moon and stars was almost universal and would have taken place in Canaan for centuries. (Consider ‘Beth-shemesh’, the house of the sun, and Re the sun god in Egypt, while Abraham’s father had probably worshipped the moon god at Harran, and the moon god yrh was worshipped at Ugarit). Thus the ‘host of heaven’ was probably simply an abbreviated way of describing such worship. For the general idea of these verses compare Exodus 20:5; Exodus 23:24; Exodus 34:13; and often. For ‘molten images’ compare Numbers 33:52; 1 Kings 1:9. For the two golden calves see 1 Kings 12:26-30. For ‘all the host of Heaven’ compare Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3. For serving Baal and Asherah see, for example, Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 16:21-22; Judges 2:13; Judges 3:7; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:6; 1 Samuel 12:10.

2 Kings 17:17

‘ And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger.’

The worship of idols led on to child sacrifice, divination and sorcery. These things were evil in the eyes of YHWH and ‘provoked Him to anger’. Divination was widely practised, whether in Egypt, Philistia, Tyre, Assyria or Babylon. Indeed, Balaam was expected to use divination in his oracles against Israel (Numbers 22:7). Sorcery was also practised worldwide through the ages. All these sins were therefore probably practised in Baalism. For us ‘divination’ would include tarot cards, fortune telling, palmistry, reading tea leaves, ouija boards, and engaging in the occult, all of which are forbidden to those who walk with God.

Had ‘to cause to pass through the fire’ stood on its own we might have seen it as simply an extreme method of dedication involving fire, but Jeremiah made clear that it involved child sacrifice (Jeremiah 19:5). For the phrase compare Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10. For divination and enchantments see again Deuteronomy 18:10. It was therefore already present in Canaan in the time of Moses.

‘And sold themselves to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger.’ Doing evil in the eyes of YHWH is found in Numbers 32:13; Deuteronomy 4:25; Deuteronomy 31:29. But in no case is the verb ‘sold’ applied to those verses. We can, however, compare Isaiah 52:3, where the prophet says, ‘you have sold yourselves for nothing’, (and as a result they would be redeemed without price). The idea would appear to be that they have handed themselves over either to gods or to men, and have gained nothing from it, not receiving the reward promised. Here then it probably refers to some artificial transaction whereby they had sold themselves to Baal and as a result had walked in the evil and sordidness of Baalism. But all that they had gained from it was shame and exile.

2 Kings 17:18

‘Therefore YHWH was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight. There was none left but the tribe of Judah only.’

And all these were the reasons why YHWH was very angry with Israel and thus removed them out of His sight. It was because, instead of worshipping Him fully, and in spite of the great efforts of the prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha, they had bastardised Yahwism and diluted it until it had lost all its content. Even official Yahwism had become syncretistic and blurred, and open Baalism had become common. That was the result of ‘the sin of Jeroboam’. Judah had done a little better for they had the original Ark of the Covenant, and at least in the Temple (apart from the aberrations of those influenced by their connection with the house of Ahab, and of course Ahaz) had maintained a kind of purity of religion, at least ritualistically (but even then see Isaiah 1:11-18), while their flirting with the gods of Canaan was both unofficial, and even probably officially frowned on. Thus they alone of the tribes (‘the tribe of Judah’ here indicated all who permanently lived in Judah seen in terms of the dominant tribe) were spared YHWH’s anger, at least for a time, although with a timely warning added.

2 Kings 17:19

‘Judah also did not keep the commandments of YHWH their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made.’

However, he did not feel that he could leave us with the impression that in Judah all was fine, so he stresses that Judah were also guilty of not keeping the commandments of YHWH, and were indeed walking in the statutes that Israel had invented, ‘the statutes of the nations’, which had resulted in social injustice and divisiveness, something which was also apparent in Judah.

A Summary Of YHWH’s Response To The Above Failures.

Throughout the whole of Israel’s history YHWH had been active in judgment on His erring people.

· In the time of the Judges and Samuel, He had delivered them to the spoilers (2 Kings 17:20; compare Judges 2:14).

· He had then divided up the two kingdoms, rending Israel from the faltering house of David, but instead of their taking warning as a result it had produced the resultant apostasy of Jeroboam, an apostasy which Israel had lapped up (2 Kings 17:21-22; compare 1 Kings 14:7-8).

· And finally, having first sent His prophets to plead with them, He had fulfilled what the prophets had warned about, namely their sending into exile and the destruction of their kingdom (2 Kings 17:23).

2 Kings 17:20

‘And YHWH 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.’

This had in fact commenced from the beginning. It was especially true of the times of the Judges (Judges 2:14), and throughout that book. It occurred again with the Philistines in Samuel, and was only ‘reined in’ in the time of David. It occurred once more at the end of Solomon’s reign, and had continued on from then on until it had now reached its climax in the exile of many in Israel.

2 Kings 17:21

‘For he tore Israel from the house of David, and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king, and Jeroboam drove Israel from following YHWH, and made them sin a great sin.’

Because of their sins He had torn Israel from the security of the Davidic covenant, and the protection of the house of David (viewed idealistically), for they had set over themselves the house of Jeroboam who had driven Israel from truly following YHWH. Note how YHWH’s sovereign action and man’s freewill activity go hand in hand.

2 Kings 17:22-23

‘And the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did. They did not depart from them, until YHWH removed Israel out of his sight, as he spoke by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away out of their own land to Assyria to this day.’

The result was that the Israelites had set their faces to walk in all the ways of Jeroboam, and had refused to be turned from it. They had persistently continued in them in spite of the warnings of the prophets (there had, of course, been exceptions, the ‘seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal’, and the like, who composed the ‘true Israel’) until they had finally reaped their reward and had been carried away by the Assyrians out of their land to Assyria, where they still were. Thus had come to an end the northern kingdom of Israel.


Verses 24-41

The Aftermath Of The Final Israelite Exile (2 Kings 17:24-41).

We have become used to talking about The Exile, meaning the exile resulting from the last days of Jerusalem, but in fact Israel suffered many exiles. Quite apart from the number taken into exile over the centuries as a result of invasions by foreign nations which sometimes consisted of whole communities (consider e.g. the servant girl of Naaman), there was a major exile when Assyria invaded northern Israel and annexed a large section of it to form part of an Assyrian province (2 Kings 15:20). Large numbers of Israelites were taken away captive and colonies of Israelites were then formed in different parts of the Assyrian Empire. For them that was ‘the exile’. It was then followed by this final Israelite exile when Samaria was taken and the cream of the country sheltering in it were exiled to Assyria and Media. And to this we must add those who went into voluntary exile, fleeing as refugees to places like Egypt, and even overseas. Indeed Isaiah tells us that by his day there were exiles in Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam,Babylon, Hamath, and the islands of the sea (Isaiah 11:11; see also Isaiah 43:6; Isaiah 49:22-23; Isaiah 51:14), and this long before what we know of as ‘the Babylonian exile’.

But the question naturally arose as to ‘what happened to the land of Israel after that?’ And that is the question that the prophetic author now seeks to answer. It must be pointed out that it is a mistake to see these people who are being described as the forbears of the ‘Samaritans’ of New Testament times. Those being described were a polytheistic people, and they remained so. The New Testament ‘Samaritans’ on the other hand were a people who had clung to their own version of the Book of the Law (the Pentateuch), were firmly monotheistic, and were localised in a specific area. They did not arise from the miscellany described below (except possibly as a small group of believing Israelites who settled together apart from the others around Shechem, determined to maintain a pure form of Yahwism, and forming their own community. But that is simply hypothesis. There is no early evidence for it).

We must first recognise that the land was not totally denuded of Israelites. Many would have fled to the mountains when the final Assyrian invasion began, and would have remained in hiding until they had gone, (they had done it often before), and the Assyrian possibly was never to remove everyone, but only the cream of the people, the rulers, the aristocrats the elders, the craftsmen, the scribes, and so on. The common people were left behind. And to these would now be added a new aristocracy transferred from other nations. And the consequence was a mixed people who were neither one thing or the other, but remained essentially polytheistic, even though it did become intermingled with a smattering of Yahwism. They were no better than those who had formed a part of the cult of Jeroboam. Indeed it is stressed that (unlike the later ‘Samaritans’) they did not observe the Law of YHWH.

They were still there with their mixed ideas in the days of the original source. Those who remained of them may well have been forcibly converted to Judaism in the days the Hasmoneans (the late inter-testamental period), when such forced conversions regularly took place (consider the Edomites and the Galileans), thus becoming ‘Jews’. But if so we have no record of the fact. And by then it might well be that many exiled Israelites had returned to their homeland. Thus the ‘Jews’ of Jesus’ days were a hotch potch of different nationalities and far from being a pure people descended from Abraham, were a multinational people. (Indeed a hitch potch of nations was what Israel had always been, as Exodus 12:38 makes clear. Consider also the servants of Abraham, e.g. Eliezer the Damascene and Hagar the Egyptian, who formed a good part of those who went to Egypt, and those who like Uriah the Hittite had become Israelites by proselytisation - Exodus 12:48).

Analysis.

a And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Avva, and from Hamath and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in its cities (2 Kings 17:24).

b And so it was, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear YHWH, therefore YHWH sent lions among them, which killed some of them (2 Kings 17:25).

c For which reason they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations which you have carried away, and placed in the cities of Samaria, do not know the law of the god of the land, therefore he has sent lions among them, and, behold, they kill them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land” (2 Kings 17:26).

d Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, “Carry there one of the priests whom you brought from there, and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the law of the god of the land (2 Kings 17:27).

e So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Beth-el, and taught them how they should fear YHWH (2 Kings 17:28).

f However 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 (2 Kings 17:29).

g And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim (2 Kings 17:30-31).

f So they feared YHWH, and made for themselves from among themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared YHWH, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away (2 Kings 17:32-33).

e To this day they do after the former manner. They do not fear YHWH, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law or after the commandment which YHWH commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel (2 Kings 17:34).

d With whom YHWH had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them, but YHWH, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, him shall you fear, and to him shall you bow yourselves, and to him shall you sacrifice” (2 Kings 17:35-36).

c “And the statutes and the ordinances, and the law and the commandment, which he wrote for you, you shall observe to do for ever more, and you shall not fear other gods, and the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods, but YHWH your God you shall fear, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies” (2 Kings 17:37-39).

b However, they did not listen, but they did after their former manner (2 Kings 17:40).

a So these nations feared YHWH, and served their graven images, their children likewise, and their children’s children, as did their fathers, so do they to this day (2 Kings 17:41).

Note that in ‘a’ the people were brought to Israel from many different nations, and in the parallel these nations feared YHWH and served their graven images. In ‘b’ at the beginning they did not fear YHWH, and in the parallel Israel had similarly not listened to YHWH. In ‘c’ their troubles were put down to the fact that they did not know the law of God, and in the parallel Israel were called on to obey the law of God. In ‘d’ the nations were to be taught the law of God, and in the parallel that law is summarised as it relates to their situation. In ‘e’ the priest taught them that they should fear YHWH, and in the parallel in spite of it they did not fear YHWH. In ‘f’ the peoples set up their own gods, and in the parallel they feared YHWH and worshipped their own gods. centrally in ‘g’ we learn the details of the gods who were set up as gods of the land.

2 Kings 17:24

‘And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Avva, and from Hamath and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel, and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in its cities.’

Just as the cream of the Israelites had been transported to other lands, so the cream of the people of other lands were transported to Israel. (In the words of Sargon, ‘I settled people of the many lands I had conquered into Hatti-land’). This would not, however, take place immediately but as and when these peoples rebelled against Assyria and were thus treated in this way. The aim was to divide and rule. Some came from some distance, from Babylon and Cuthah. Others came from nearer at hand, from Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim. Meanwhile the Israelites who were left were scraping a living from parts of the deserted land, while much of the rest of the land lay waste and was an open invitation to the many wild beasts who roamed the area to take possession of it.

A rebellion in Southern Mesopotamia in Sargon’s first year (c 721 BC) resulted in peoples being deported from there to ‘Hatti land’ (which was a general description that could include Syria and Palestine) while in his second year one took place at Hamath under Ilubi’di, probably with the same result. In his seventh year (c 714 BC) Sargon records the suppression of an Arabian revolt and the settlement of captives in Samaria. Thus the new population of Samaria began to settle in and develop.

Along with a good number from Babylonia itself, people were introduced from Cuthah, a centre for the cult of Nergal, which is generally located at Tell Ibrahim north east of Babylon (in around 709 BC). They were prominent enough for their name (Kuthim) later to be used as a term of abuse for the population of Samaria. Avva is mentioned as ‘Iwwa in 2 Kings 18:34 along with Sepharvaim, possibly as loosely connected with Hamath, and various suggestions have been made as to its identity (e.g. Ammia near Byblos, ‘Imm east of Antioch, ‘Ama in Elam, or Tell Kefr ‘Aya on the upper Orontes). Hamath, which was north of Aram (Syria), originally submitted to Assyria, but led a coalition against Sargon which resulted in its capital city being burned, its king Ilubi’di being killed, and presumably the cream of its population transported. Sepharvaim is usually connected with Sibraim, which was between Damascus and Hamath (Ezekiel 47:16). It was called Sabara’in in the Babylonian Chronicle. Others see it as the Babylonian Sippar.

2 Kings 17:25

‘And so it was, at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they did not fear YHWH, therefore YHWH sent lions among them, which killed some of them.’

The length of time that it took for the land to be settled and restored to cultivation resulted in a good number of lions and other wild beasts establishing themselves in the area. This was always a danger when land was left unsettled (compare Leviticus 26:22; and see 1 Samuel 17:34; 1 Samuel 17:46). Thus the new settlers found themselves being troubled by lions, which were a feature of Palestine for many centuries. This was put down by them to the fact that they were not giving due obeisance to the God of the land. ‘YHWH sent lions among them’ is describing what happened as seen from the author’s viewpoint. To him everything that happened was caused by YHWH. He would have agreed with Amos 3:6 which says, ‘shall there be evil in a city, and YHWH has not done it?’.

2 Kings 17:26

‘For which reason they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations which you have carried away, and placed in the cities of Samaria, do not know the law of the god of the land, therefore he has sent lions among them, and, behold, they kill them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” ’

The problem was severe enough for the new inhabitants to appeal to Sargon pointing out that because ‘they did not know the law of the land’ the god of the land had sent lions among them to kill them. It should be noted that while on the one hand the Assyrian kings could be cruel in their tyranny, they were also on the other hand concerned for their subjects once they had colonised them. They wanted them to be semi-independent while looking to their ‘father’ the king of Assyria. After all satisfied people contributed to the wealth of Assyria. Thus he took notice of their complaint.

2 Kings 17:27

‘Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, “Carry there one of the priests whom you brought from there, and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the law of the god of the land.’

Their problem was taken seriously, for Sargon gave command that one of the priests who had been brought from Samaria should be sent back in order to teach them the law of the god of the land. (He was not to know that such a priest would be a priest frowned on by YHWH as not being of the house of Aaron). Note the change from ‘him’ to ‘them’. He would not be expected to go alone, but to take with him some support.

2 Kings 17:28

‘So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Beth-el, and taught them how they should fear YHWH.’

Thus a leading priest was forced to return to Samaria (no doubt with assistants) and take up his abode in Bethel, in order to teach the people ‘the fear of YHWH’. He would be seen as the ‘high priest’ of YHWH. Bethel was thus once again a centre of a form of Yahwism. But this was one of Jeroboam’s false priests, and his idea of Yahwism would not have gone down well in Jerusalem. He would probably have no law book, and would rather be teaching them what he himself had learned within the cult of Jeroboam. It was not a very promising way for these peoples to discover the real truth about YHWH.

2 Kings 17:29

‘However 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.’

Meanwhile each nation made gods of their own and set them up in the ‘high places’ which had been left behind by the transported ‘Samaritans’. Israel thus became the home of a multiplicity of gods.

This is the first mention of the term ‘Samaritans’ in the Bible, but we must not mix these up with the Samaritans of New Testament times who were ardent monotheists based around Shechem, who had their own copy of the Law which they sought to live by. It will be noted in fact that the Samaritans mentioned in this verse have actually been transported to other countries. The term was thus NOT referring to the new people in the land.

2 Kings 17:30-31

‘And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.’

This multiplicity of gods are now described. ‘Succoth-benoth’ probably means ‘the booths of Banitu’, a Babylonian goddess also known as Ishtar/Astarte (parallel with Asherah). As the name implies (‘the booths of prostitutes/daughters’) it was probably not a very savoury religion. Yahwism was unusual in expecting an ethical response. ‘Nergal’ (‘lord of the great city’) had his cult centre in Cuthah and was noted for bringing havoc on the world through plagues, war, pestilence and floods. His consort in the under-world was Ereshkigal. Ashima, Nibhaz and Tartak would be local deities of their own people. Adram-melech (or Adar-melech - ‘the lordship of Melech’) and Ana-melech (possibly Anu-melech - ‘the king Anu’) had similar features to Melech of the Ammonites and encouraged child sacrifice. Thus the gods that Samaria had previously turned to (2 Kings 17:16-17) were simply introduced in another form.

The problem with any names of deities like this Isaiah 1). that they have to be transposed from another language, and 2). that the Hebrew writers often ‘played’ with the names of gods in order to give them a derisive meaning, indicating their contempt of them. Thus Ashima may be a deliberate corruption of Asherah, the Canaanite mother goddess (compare Amos 8:14 where Ashemath Shomeron is ‘the sin of Samaria’), and Ninhaz may be a corrupt of Mizbeach indicating a deified altar. But all this is conjectural.

2 Kings 17:32

‘So they feared YHWH, and made for themselves from among themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places.’

So these people ‘feared YHWH’ (paid him lip service in order to get into favour with Him) and as Jeroboam had done (1 Kings 12:31) chose their own high priests to serve in the high places dedicated to YHWH, and no doubt other gods as well. And these (illegitimate) high priests sacrificed on their behalf in those high places. (So far was it from the true ‘law of the God of the land’).

2 Kings 17:33

‘They feared YHWH, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.’

Thus their religion was totally syncretistic, and to them YHWH was simply one of a number of gods, in His case connected with Samaria. Thus they both ‘feared YHWH’ as a local deity, and continued to serve their own gods as they had done amongst their own peoples. We can compare how in Isaiah YHWH speaks of the possibility of the fear of YHWH being simply ‘a human tradition learned by rote’ (Isaiah 29:13)

The Prophetic Author’s Summing Up Of The New Religion.

The prophetic author makes quite clear that there was little connection between their parody of Yahwism, and the genuine Yahwism as practised among the Jews. He emphasises that they continued in their own way and never came into any genuine connection with either YHWH or His covenant. Above all they failed to follow YHWH’s commandments and statutes which were at the centre of true Yahwism (which was not surprising as they probably knew little about them, only the garbled version brought to them by the priest). And especially they failed to recognise that YHWH was the only true God, and that they must worship Him only and not bow down to statues and images.

2 Kings 17:34

‘To this day they do after the former manner. They do not fear YHWH, nor do they do after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law or after the commandment which YHWH commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel,’

And the author points out that is spite of their nearness to Judah they still behave in this way. They have learned nothing from Judah. They do not truly fear YHWH, nor do they follow after the statutes, ordinances, law and commandment commanded by YHWH to the children of Jacob whom He named Israel, for they do not even know what they are.

2 Kings 17:35-36

‘With whom YHWH had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them, but YHWH, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, him shall you fear, and to him shall you bow yourselves, and to him shall you sacrifice,” ’

And this is especially so of the first two commandments. For in those commandments YHWH had made a covenant with His people saying, ‘You shall not fear other gods, or bow down to them, or serve them, or sacrifice to them.’ The only One Whom they must fear, and to Whom they must bow down or sacrifice is ‘YHWH Who brought them out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm.’ Thus these new inhabitants of Samaria are failing on all counts.

2 Kings 17:37-39

“And the statutes and the ordinances, and the law and the commandment, which he wrote for you, you shall observe to do for ever more, and you shall not fear other gods, and the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods, but YHWH your God you shall fear, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.”

The prophetic author then applies the lesson to his readers. They too were to observe ‘for evermore’ the statutes, ordinances, law and commandment which He had made with them, and were not to fear other gods. Nor were they to forget the covenant that He had made with them. They were not to fear other gods, but were to fear YHWH alone. ‘YHWH your God you shall fear.’ And then they could be sure that He would deliver them out of the hands of their enemies. (The continual repetitions are typical of Hebrew style).

2 Kings 17:40

‘However, they did not listen, but they did after their former manner.’

This could refer to Israel, but more probably refers to the newcomers simply because of the repetition of ‘their former manner’ (see 2 Kings 17:33).

2 Kings 17:41

‘So these nations feared YHWH, and served their graven images, their children likewise, and their children’s children, as did their fathers, so do they to this day.’

The author then sums up the position by pointing out what the actual position was. They ‘feared YHWH and served their graven images’ in complete contradiction to the commandment of YHWH. And their children and their children’s children followed suit, right up to the writer’s day. Thus they never really came to know YHWH, or came within His covenant.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-kings-17.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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