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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
2 Kings 17

 

 

Verses 1-6

THE EXTINCTION OF THE ISRAELITISH KINGDOM

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—

2Ki . Did evil … but not as the kings of Israel—Scripture merely records the fact, does not explain wherein Hoshea sinned less. But even an abstention from wrong, which others wrought, is noticed by Jehovah, and kept in eternal memory.

2Ki . Came up Shalmaneser, king of Assyria—Thirsting for conquest, he subdued the king of the ten tribes, and made him tributary. Shalmaneser's reign followed Tiglath-pileser's, who died B.C 727. From this Assyrian despot Hoshea after a few years, sought relief by alliance with So, king of Egypt (2Ki 17:4). This name— סוא—becomes by punctuation Seveh, and is recognized as Shebek of the 25th dynasty. This Ethiopian monarch, lord of Upper Egypt, in the year B.C. 725 invaded Lower Egypt, and proved so mighty a conqueror that the small kingdoms which had groaned beneath the despotism or Assyria turned to him for defence and security.

HOMILETICS OF 2Ki

THE UTTER DOWNFALL OF ISRAEL

I. Was effected notwithstanding the superior capacity and modified idolatry of the ruler.—Hoshea "did that which was evil, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him" (2Ki ). He did not enforce the edicts of Baal with such determined fanaticism as some of his predecessors. He allowed more liberty in religious worship, and while not approaching the true worship of Jehovah, he did not descend to the abominations of the lowest heathenism. Some have thought that the last king of Israel was the worst; but the history does not favour that view. He was a man of considerable military and political capacity. It is true he reached the throne by violence and bloodshed (chap. 2Ki 15:30); but the people were weary of national abuses and of the imbecility of their kings, and welcomed the advent of any one who had the courage and vigour to rectify matters. Hoshea yearned for liberty, and his whole reign was spent in repeated efforts to cast off the foreign yoke, to excite a more enterprising national spirit, and to arrest the downward tendency of the kingdom. But no human power could now save Israel. The ablest generalship, the most consummate statesmanship, the cleverest combinations, were all in vain. It was a melancholy sight to see this man grappling with a falling kingdom, whose ruin he was powerless to prevent.

II. Was accomplished notwithstanding the most brave and desperate struggles for continued existence (2Ki ).—Hoshea saw the mistake that Menahem and Pckah had made in calling in the assistance of Assyria, and what had been the sad results to the country. He made a bold stand for national freedom. He refused to pay tribute, and prepared to withstand the fury of the great Assyrian power. It is a tribute to the superior diplomacy of Hosea that he succeeded in persuading So, the warrior king of Egypt, that it was their mutual safety to oppose Assyria; and though So was but a fickle colleague, he must have rendered considerable assistance until he was obliged to retire within his own kingdom and defend himself from the common enemy. The fact that Samaria held out for three years against the Assyrian army, with all its formidable appliances for siege and assault, indicates the obstinacy and desperation of the defence. They were the last frantic efforts of despair.

"It is remarkable," says Ewald, "how strong a resemblance the fall of Samaria bears to the first and second destructions of Jerusalem, in the heroic resistance of its inhabitants."

III. Was associated with scenes of humiliation and suffering (2Ki ). Israel was afflicted with all the terrible consequences of war—war carried on by an enemy who was determined to win. The horrors of the siege of Samaria may be inferred from Isa 28:1-4; Hos 10:14; Hos 13:16; Amo 6:9-14. Added to the chagrin of defeat, was the degradation of enforced captivity and estrangement—torn from the midst of loved and familiar scenes, and placed in a strange and distant country, subject to the sarcasms and, it may be, cruelty of its inhabitants. The people who had been delivered from Egyptian slavery by the strong arm of Jehovah are again relegated to bondage, because they had abandoned their Deliverer. The punishment for sin is ever attended with suffering and shame.

IV. Was inevitable, as the opportunity for reformation had passed unimproved.—Instruction had been despised, reproof unheeded, the best of prophets ignored, prosperity abused, and repeated overtures of mercy callously spurned. The time for compromise was passed, the opportunity of salvation was sinned away. Nothing remained but to allow the national infatuation to run its course and produce its inevitable results. The nation must reap what it had sown; it had sown the wind, and must reap the whirlwind. A certain king once caused a lamp to be lit in his palace, and a proclamation made throughout his dominion that every rebel who came and tendered his submission before the light burnt out should be forgiven, whatever the nature of his offence; but that those who refused to obey the summons within the required time should be put to death. The lamp of Israel's opportunity had long been lit, and the conditions of submission made sufficiently public. When therefore the light became extinct, and Israel refused to return, the threatened punishment must inevitably follow. Shakespeare says truly of opportuity, "Who seeks, and will not take when once 'tis offered, shall never find it more."

LESSONS:—

1. It is not in the power of any one man unaided to save a kingdom.

2. National sins involve national ruin.

3. Every nation, as every individual, has ample opportunities for reformation.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Ki . A doleful picture of national desolation.

1. Fanatical persistence in the evil that works its ruin (2Ki ).

2. Vainly seeking the protection of foreign powers (2Ki ).

3. The country overrun and impoverished by hosts of invading foes (2Ki ).

4. Struggling bravely, but uselessly, against superior numbers (2Ki ).

5. Draughted unresistingly into strange and distant lands (2Ki ).

6. An imprisoned king and scattered people.

—The last king of Israel. I. He did that which was evil, but not as the kings of Israel before him. Though he did not go so far in wickedness as the eighteen kings who preceded him, nevertheless, he did not walk in the way of salvation. Half-way conversion is no conversion. In order to bring back the nation from its wicked ways, he should have been himself devoted to the Lord with all his heart. When people are not fully in earnest in their conversion, then there is no cessation of corruption, whether it be the case of an individual or a state. II. He makes a covenant with the king of Egypt (2Ki ). By this he showed that his heart was not perfect with God. Egypt, the very power out of whose hand God had wonderfully rescued his people, was to help him against Assyria. But "cursed be the man that trusteth in man and maketh flesh his arm" (Jer 17:5; Hos 7:11-13). III. He loses his land and his people, and is cast into prison. By conspiracy and murder he had attained to the throne and to the highest pitch of human greatness, but his end was disgrace, misery, and lifelong imprisonment. Upon him who will not be humbled by small evils God sends great and heavy ones.—Lange.

2Ki . Wickedness—

1. May be modified in its enormity.

2. Every modification observed and impartially recorded.

3. Modification does not alter its nature, or escape its punishment.

—It looks like the bitter irony of fate that this Hosea, who was to be the last king, was a better one than any of his predecessors. The words of the prophets who had uttered so many and such important truths concerning this kingdom during the last fifty years, many have exercised a powerful influence over him and instilled into him better principles. But they had always predicted its fall as certain; and now the irresistible force of history was to prove that no single man, whatever might be his position and superiority, could be strong enough to delay the ruin of the whole structure, if the right moment for its reformation had passed.—Ewald.

2Ki . Payment of tribute.

1. A humiliating evidence of subjection (2Ki ).

2. Chafes the spirit of a liberty-loving people (2Ki ).

3. Brings disaster if ineffectually resisted (2Ki ).

2Ki . As the end drew near, they gave themselves up to the frantio revellings of despair. At last the city was stormed. With the ferocity common to all the warfare of those times, the infants were hurled down the rocky sides of the hill on which the city stood, or destroyed in their mothers' bosoms. Famine and pestilence completed the work of war. The stones of the ruined city were poured down into the rich valley below, and the foundations were laid bare. Palace and hovel alike fell; the statues were broken to pieces; the crown of pride, the glory of Ephraim, was trodden under foot.—Stanley.

2Ki . The fall of Samaria and Damascus was, according to the prediction of the prophet, synchronous (Isa 7:7-9); and the devastation both of Syria and Israel was foretold at a time and in circumstances when no human sagacity could have anticipated it (Amos 1).—Jamieson.

—O terrible examples of vengeance upon that peculiar people whom God had chosen for Himself out of all the world! All the world were witnesses of the favours, of the miraculous deliverances and protections; all the world shall be witnesses of their just confusion. It is not in the power of slight errors to set off that infinite mercy. What was it, O God, what was it that caused Thee to cast off Thine inheritance? What but the same that made Thee cast the angels out of heaven—even their rebellious sins. Those sins dared to emulate the greatness of Thy mercies, no less than they forced the severity of Thy judgments.—Bp. Hall.


Verses 7-32

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—

2Ki . Children of Israel did secretly things not right against the Lord—The word חפא has been rendered variously, as secret blasphemy, acts of treachery, dissimulating words; but its meaning, to cover, cloke, when taken with דְּבָרִים, may be accepted as they hid or concealed Jehovah from attention and homage by idolatrous intrusions, so that He was ignored.

2Ki . Worshipped all the hosts of heaven—The idol Astarte represented the moon, and Moloch (or Baal) the sun; and between these they arrayed for worship "all the hosts of heaven." This was an addition to their objects of idolatrous reverence, and appears as a new feature of Israelitish worship. This astral homage came in upon Israel through the Assyrian alliances by Pekah and Ahaz, for star worship was distinctively an Assyrian importation.

2Ki . Removed Israel out of His sight—After 256 years of separate existence from Judah, the kingdom of the ten tribes thus ignominiously ended, its nationality perished. On this kingdom of Israel lay the twofold sin: first, of revolting from loyal tribes of Judah and Benjamin, thus violating the unity of God's chosen nation; and, next, of revolting against Jehovah and His worship, thus debasing the sacred distinction for which God called then to be His people; therefore Israel became not useless only, but an affront to Jehovah, and was consigned to just retribution.

2Ki . King of Assyria brought men from Babylon, &c.—Had the land been depopulated there would have seemed promise of the exiles' return; but under the royal direction Assyrian subjects came in and possessed the sacred soil, making it the home of foreigners. This king, called here מֶלֶך אַשּׁוּר is regarded by many expositors as Esarhaddon; but a doubt naturally springs from the fact that Esarhaddon did not come to the throne for some twenty-six years after Shalmanezer, who carried Israel into captivity. From Ezr 4:2 we gain information that Esarhaddon brought these colonists into Samaria.

2Ki . Carry thither one of the priests The country was too thinly populated to subdue the growth of those beasts of prey by which the land had been infested prior to its occupancy by Israel (Jud 14:5; 1Sa 17:34, &c.); now they again multiplied and ravaged the country. Interpreting this as a judgment from God for the neglect of His worship, an exiled priest was sent back to the people to teach them Jehovah's will. And from this event arose that mingled religion which became distinctive of the Samaritans; also the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch, which acquired such historic importance.

2Ki . The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth—"Booths of the daughters," i.e., tents of voluptuousness, where lust was sanctioned as a religious observance. Nergal—Identified in the British Museum inscriptions as Mars, the god of war. Ashima—a goat idol. Nibhaz—a dog. Tartak—an ass, or planet of ill omen. Adrammelech—Either Moloch the Assyrian sun-god; or, as others think, a mule or a peacock. Anammelech—An idol in form of a hare. Thus the Samaritans became a people of varied religious forms and vagaries, the true worship and knowledge of God being perverted by the rival heathenish fallacies and rites which the immigrants of Babylon had brought into the land. So even though Jehovah was in some way "feared" (2Ki 17:32), idolatry was fostered, and they "served their graven images" through generations following (2Ki 17:41).—W. H. J.

HOMILETICS OF 2Ki

IDOLATRY THE DESTRUCTIVE FORCE IN NATIONAL LIFE

FROM the lengthy review embraced by this paragraph we again obtain a glimpse into the moral purpose of the historian of kings. In the writer's estimation everything is to be subordinated to the setting forth of the Divine purpose in raising up the Hebrew people, and the miseries that came upon them for the violation of their part of the covenant. The rise and fall of dynasties, the conduct of great battles, the advance of the nation in commercial prosperity and civilization, the notice of contemporary nations, are all dismissed with the briefest reference; but whatever affects the theocratic aspect of the history is described with significant fullness of detail. The downfall of Israel was a catastrophe so momentous that the historian pauses in the midst of his narrative to enlarge upon its moral aspects. One of the most impressive lessons we learn in this review is that Idolatry is the great destructive force in national life. Observe—

I. That idolatry demoralises the national spirit.

1. It weakens the sense of moral obligation to obey the Divine law (2Ki ). When Israel was rescued out of Egyptian bondage, they became God's covenant people, and pledged themselves to obey Him. The fact of this great and signal deliverance stands at the head of the covenant law (Exo 20:2), and is always cited as the chief and fundamental act of the Divine favour (Lev 11:45; Jos 24:17; 1Ki 8:51; Psa 81:10; Jer 2:6). The discipline of the wildnerness and the awful displays of the Divine power and majesty, were intended to divest them of the remnants of heatheuism that still clung to them, and to instruct them in the knowledge and worship of the only True God. Every relapse into idolatry was a loss of moral stamina, weakened the bonds of obligation, and made obedience more difficult. We have need to be on our guard every moment against the seductive lures of idolatry—all the more dangerous because there is so much in us ever ready to respond to its bewitching overtures. We have need, in moments of temptation, to cultivate towards our Heavenly Father the artless simplicity of the child who, in a state of alarm, ran to his parent, and cried, "Mother, my goodness grows weak—help me!"

2. It leads its votaries into the lowest depths of wickedness (2Ki ; 2Ki 17:15-17). In these verses we have the genesis and career of the idolater graphically portrayed. Distaste and neglect of the Divine statutes and commandments—a preference and love for other gods—secret indulgence, unblushing publicity—enforcing by statute on others what he had at tirst but timidly practised himself; a more complete wrenching away from his allegiance to Jehovah; a defiant, menacing attitude assumed; utter rejection of God; reckless and unreserved abandonment to his self-chosen deities; "selling himself to do evil"; infatuated devotion to the most revolting practices; the end, desolation and ruin.

II. That idolatry hardens its victims against the most faithful warnings and appeals (2Ki ). Israel was not allowed to drift to her fate unchecked and unwarned; the most gifted prophets of the Hebrew school were sent to instruct and admonish the people. Doubtless some gave heed to their teachers, and mourned over the infatuation of their countrymen. But the bulk of the nation, following the lead of those high in authority, shut their ears to instruction, disdained reproof, and persevered in their sins. It is illustrative of the subtle, dangerous power of idolatry, that it renders its votaries so oblivious to the truth and so impervious to its strokes. The action of water, which, in an early stage, will soften a given substance when continued incessantly, only petrifies it the more; so is it with the moral influence of truth: the nature that was once easily melted is now defiant and obdurate.

III. That idolatry involves the nation in decay and ruin (2Ki ). In these verses the writer takes pains to show that their idolatry was the parent of every other sin that weakened and degraded the national character. The heroism and compact union which rendered them invincible in days when Jehovah was honoured and worshipped no longer existed, and they became an easy prey to the spoiler. The Knights of St. John of Malta, in the early period of the order, were remarkable for their devout Christian spirit as well as for bravery and prowess. In 1565 they defended the island against 30,000 Turks. When, after incredible acts of heroism and endurance on both sides, the fortress of St. Elmo fell, the Turkish commander, looking from its ruined bastions across the harbour at the lofty ramparts of St. Angelo, exclaimed, "What will not the parent cost us when the child has been gained at so fearful a price!" He was obliged to raise the seige, and of the 30,000 Turks scarcely 10,000 found their way back to Constantinople. What was invincible to warfare in the 16th century yielded too easily to bribery and corruption in the 18th. The gold of Napoleon accomplished what the combined forces of Turkey had failed to do; and as Napoleon entered the gates of Malta, General Caffarelli remarked to him, glancing at the massive defences, "It is fortunate we have some one to admit us, for we should never have got in of ourselves." So greatly had the knights of 1798 degenerated from the brave defenders of St. Elmo in 1565. The nation, as the individual, is strong only as it is genuinely religious: decay in piety means decay in all that gives greatness and permanence to a nation.

LESSONS:—

1. Whatever lowers the national moral tone is a calamity.

2. Idolatry is an audacious attempt to live without God in everything.

3. The nation that persistently ignores God will come to naught—it produces in itself the elements that shall destroy it.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Ki . A review of the moral causes of national decay.—

1. Civil dissension and revolt (2Ki ).

2. Flagrant abandonment of God (2Ki ).

3. Voluntary choice and practice of grossest idolatry (2Ki ).

4. Habitual neglect of prophetic warning and instruction (2Ki ).

—Their iniquity was their ruin. Out of Hosea and Amos their sins may be gathered; and especially their abominable idolatry, contempt of God's prophets, and abuse of His benefits. Of the ruin of the Greek empire the historian assigns these for the chief causes: First, the innovation and change of their ancient religion, whereof ensued a world of woes; then covetousness, coloured with the name of good husbandry, the utter destruction of the chief strength of the empire; next envy, the ruin of the great; false suspect, the looser of friends; ambition, honour's overthrow; distrust, the great mind's torment; and foreign aid, the empire's unfaithful porter, opening the gate even to the enemy himself.—Trapp.

—Here where the kingdom of the ten tribes comes to an end and disappears for ever from history, was the place for casting a glance back upon its development and history. This the writer does from the old Testament standpoint, according to which God chose the people of Israel to be His own peculiar people, made a covenant with it, and took it under His special guidance and direction for the welfare and salvation of all nations. The breach of the covenant by the Northern Kingdom is in his view the first, the peculiar, and the only cause of its final fall, and this fall is the judgment of the holy and just God. If he had not known that this covenant law, in the form in which he was familiar with it, had existed long before the division of the kingdom, he could not have declared so distinctly and decidedly that the fall of the kingdom of the ten tribes was a Divine judgment upon it for its apostacy from that law.—Lange.

—Would that men, when they read such passages, would stop and think, and would enter upon a comparison between the peoples of God at that time and of this, and would thus make application of the lesson of history. The people of Israel were hardly as wicked as the Christians of to-day. The responsibility of to-day is far greater, for they were called to righteousness under the old law, we under the Gospel of free grace. The people of the Ten Tribes did not reject belief in God at first; but, contrary to the law of this God, they made to themselves an image of Him. This was the beginning of their downfall, the germ of their ruin. This led from error to error. They commenced with an image of Jehovah; they finished with the frightful sacrifices of Moloch. He who has once abandoned the centre of revealed truth, sinks inevitably deeper and deeper, either into unbelief or into superstition, so that he finally comes to consider darkness light, and folly wisdom. So it was in Israel, so it is now in Christendom. He who abandons the central truth of Christianity—Christ, the Son of God—is in the way of losing God. A nation which no longer respects the Word of God, but makes a religion for itself, according to its own good pleasure, will sooner or later come to ruin.—Ibid.

2Ki . The progressive development of evil.—

1. Begins in secret.

2. Gradually gains the mastery over conscientious scruples.

3. Soon acquires a shameless effrontery in public.

4. Becomes universally established by popular usage and example.

5. Reckless of consequences, to either God or man, cares not how deeply God is grieved or man is injured.

2Ki . They hid, or covered, or cloaked over what they did; but in vain; for God is all eye, and to Him dark things appear, dumb things answer, silence itself maketh confession.—Trapp.

2Ki . But they did it the rather; taking occasion by the law, that their sin might appear to be exceeding sinful (Rom 7:13). Such is the canker of our vile natures, that the more God forbids a thing, the more we bid for it.—Ibid.

2Ki . The obduracy of impenitence.—

1. Is coldly indifferent alike to warning or entreaty (2Ki ).

2. Is intensified by persistent unbelief (2Ki ).

3. Is confirmed in its defiant attitude by the character of its daily worship (2Ki ).

4. Utterly rejects every vestige of Divine authority and guidance (2Ki ).

5. Voluntarily abandons itself to the most debasing practices (2Ki ).

6. Inevitably incurs the Divine displeasure (2Ki ).

2Ki . Neither were these slips of frailty, or ignorant mistakings, but wilful crimes, obstinate impieties, in spite of the doctrines, reproofs, menaces, and miraculous convictions of the holy prophets. Thy destruction is of thyself, O Israel! What could the just hand of the Almighty do less than consume a nation so incorrigibly flagitious—a nation so unthankful for mercies, so impatient of remedies, so incapable of repentance. What nation under heaven can now challenge an indefeasible interest in God, when Israel itself is cast off? He that spared not the natural olive, shall He spare the wild?—Bp. Hall.

2Ki . "And worshipped all the host of heaven." It is not easy to determine the exact form which the worship of the heavenly bodies took in the various nations of Western Asia. The purest form of star worship was that of the Assyrio-Persian Magism; it admitted of no images of the Deity, and in its adoration of the heavenly bodies it drew its deepest inspiration from the thought of their perfect beauty. This was the cultus to which Job felt himself tempted when he "beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness" (Job 31:26, compared with Deu 4:19). A second mode of regarding the stars was that of the Phœnicians, by whom they were looked upon as the originators of the growth and decay of nature—the embodiment of the creative and regenerative principle; and from this view there was readily developed a further symbolism, which led ere long to the grossest idolatries. The third great system of astral worship was that whose leading tendency was to dwell rather on the contemplation of the eternal unchangeableness of the heavenly bodies, as contrasted with the chances and changes of this transitory life. This was the form most common among the Chaldeans, and naturally produced the astrology for which they were famous. It is not always possible to determine which form of the worship of the host of heaven was that which presented itself as a temptation to the children of Israel. On the whole, we may assume it to have been the second, not only from the connection in which it is mentioned, but also from the circumstances of the case.—Wilkins' Phoenicia and Israel.

2Ki . "And they sold themselves to to do evil in the sight of the Lord." The responsibility of the sinner.

1. Is grounded in his freedom of volition.

2. Is abused by every act of iniquity he voluntarily commits.

3. Cannot be destroyed by the most frantic efforts of self-forgetfulness and sin.

4. Will one day make him terribly conscious how deeply he has offended God.

2Ki . The kingdom of Israel had nineteen kings, and not one of them was truly pious. Wonder not at the wrath, but at the patience of God in that He endured their evil ways for many hundred years, and at their ingratitude that they did not allow themselves, by His long-suffering, to be brought to repentance. Is it any better now-a-days?—Lange.

—Speaking humanly, the state was past redemption; the utter corruption and impenitence of the people are attested by the denunciations of Hosea, and confirmed by their scornful rejection of Hezekiah's call to repentance and union. Even the king was only some shades better than his predecessors; and it was no partial reform that could save and renew the state. Viewing the case from the higher ground taken throughout the Scripture history—the inseparable connection between national prosperity or adversity, and religious obedience or rebellion—we cannot say that it was too late for Israel to be saved; as Sodom would have been, if five righteous men had been found in her; as Nineveh was, when her people repented at the preaching of Jonah. They had only forty days of grace; Heshea and his people had three years. Had the king of Israel made common cause with Hezekiah, and thrown himself upon the protection of Jehovah, we have a right to believe that the times of David might have returned. But Hoshea took the very course denounced by the law of Moses—reliance upon Egypt. His sudden destruction is compared by the prophet Hosea to the disappearance of foam upon the water.—Dr. Smith's Student Scripture History.

2Ki . A God-forsaken people.

1. The fruit of obstinate and continued disobedience (2Ki ).

2. Become a prey to suffering and spoliation (2Ki ).

3. Cannot but observe the contrast between the goodness and patience of God, and the cruelty of their despotic conquerors (2Ki ; 2Ki 17:23).

4. May be restored, if the Divine favour be sought in penitence and humble submission.

2Ki . The ultimate fate of the Ten Tribes of Israel. The main body of the inhabitants were transplanted to the remotest provinces of the Assyrian empire. After this it is difficult to discover any distinct trace of the Northern tribes. Some returned with their countrymen of the Southern kingdom. In the New Testament there is special mention of the tribe of Asher, and the ten tribes generally are on three emphatic occasions ranked with others (Jas 1:1; Act 26:7; Rev 7:5-8). The immense Jewish population which made Babylonia a second Palestine was in part derived from them; and the Jewish customs that have been discovered in the Nestorian Christians, with the traditions of the sect itself, may indicate at any rate a mixture of Jewish descent. That they are concealed in some unknown region of the earth is a fable with no foundation either in history or prophecy.—Stanley.

—There has been a wide-spread belief among modern Christians that the Ten Tribes, having never returned to their native country, must still exist somewhere in a collected body. Travellers have thought to discover them in Malabar, in Kashmir, in China, in Turkistan, in Afghanistan, in the Kurdish mountains, in Arabia, in Germany, in North America. Books have been written advocating this or that identification, and the notion has thus obtained extensive currency that somewhere or other in the world the descendants of the Ten Tribes must exist, and that when found they might be recognized as such by careful and diligent enquiry. It seems to have been forgotten that, in the first place, they were scattered over a wide extent of country (Hurran, Chaleitis, Gozan, or Mygdonia and Media) by the original conquerors; that, secondly, in the numerous conquests and changes of populations which are known to have taken place in these regions they would naturally become more scattered; that, thirdly, a considerable number of them probably returned with the Jews under Zerubbabel and Ezra (Ezr ; Ezr 8:35; 1Ch 9:3); that, fourthly, those who remained behind would naturally either mingle with the heathen among whom they lived, or become united with the Jews of the dispersion; and that, fifthly, if there had been anywhere in this part of Asia at the time of Alexander's conquests, or of the Roman expeditions against Parthia and Persia, a community of the peculiar character supposed, it is most improbable that no Greek or Roman historian or geographer should have mentioned it. Against these arguments there is nothing to be set but a statement of Josephus, in the first century of our era, that the Ten Tribes still existed beyond the Euphrates in his day (he does not say in a collective form); and a similar declaration of Jerome in the fifth. Neither writer has any personal acquaintance with the countries, or speaks from his own knowledge. Both may be regarded as relating rather what they supposed must be, than what they knew actually was the case. Again, neither may mean more than that among the Hebrews of the dispersion (Act 2:9) in Parthia, Media, Elam, and Mesopotamia were many Israelites. On the whole, therefore, it would seem probable

(1) That the Ten Tribes never formed a community in their exile, but were scattered from the first; and

(2) That their descendants either blended with the heathen and were absorbed, or returned to Palestine with Zerubbabel and Ezra, or became inseparably united with the dispersed Jews in Mesopotamia and the adjacent countries. No discovery, therefore, of the Ten Tribes is to be expected, nor can any works written to prove their identity with any existing race or body of persons be regarded as anything more than ingenious exercitations.—Speaker's Comm.

—Esdras has a vision of the Ten Tribes separating themselves from the heathen and migrating to a distant land, never before inhabited by men (2Es ). Perhaps this vision of Esdras was the starting point of all the speculations about the "Lost Tribes," for they have been lost and found in nearly every part of Asia, Europe, and North America. But vague traditional tales and ingenious speculations are of little weight to counter-balance the abundant testimony of Scripture on the subject, which may be stated as follows:—

1. A considerable portion of the Israelitish population never went into the Assyrian exile. The first deportations were by Pul and Tiglath-Pileser, and in all probability were composed of fewer captives than Sargon carried away after the capture of Samaria and the fall of the Northern Kingdom. Sargon's inscription, which would not be likely to make too low an estimate, mentions 27, 280 captives; but the Northern Kingdom must surely have had a population far exceeding these numbers. Multitudes were of course slain in the siege of Samaria and in previous wars; but supposing the captives to be ten times the number given, what became of all the rest of Israel, which in David's time numbered 800,000 warriors, which implied a population of many millions (2Sa ). Only the cities of Samaria seem to have been depopulated, so that in other and remoter districts of the kingdom a larger majority of the populaton seem to have been left to care for the land. Thus the Kingdom of the Ten Tribes ceased to exist; but numerically the mass of the people ware left in their ancient homes. Certain it is that they were not all carried into exile.

2. The captives were not allowed to settle in one district. Perhaps a majority were placed in Halah and along the Habor; but others, and how large a proportion does not appear, were scattered abroad in various cities of Media. This fact of their being scattered throughout various parts of the vast Assyrian empire argues against the notion of their continuing their tribal distinctions, and especially of their perpetuating the Ten Tribes as an organized community.

3. There is reason to believe that ofter the fall of Samaria the old enmity between Judah and Israel began to cease. In the reign of Hezekiah numbers of the tribes of Israel accepted the public invitation to celebrate the Passover at Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30); and at the close of the Passover "all Israel that were present went out" and destroyed all the signs of idolatry "out of all Judah and Benjamin, in Ephraim also and Manasseh" (2Ch ). The like thing was done by Josiah (2Ki 23:19; 2Ch 29:7; 2Ch 35:8). Such a coming together in their now oppressed land would rapidly efface from Judah and Israel their ancient bitterness and jealousy. The better portion of all the people would see and obey the manifest will of Jehovah, and the rest, having no bond of union, would gradually die and fade away.

4. The prophets, with one voice, represent both Judah and Israel returning together from their exile. More than a century after the fall of Samaria, Judah also was led into exile, and Jeremiah, who flourished at that time, began at once to comfort them with prophecies of a restoration. (Compare Jer ; Jer 30:3; Jer 33:7; Jer 1:4; Eze 37:21-22; Isa 11:11-13; Isa 14:1; Hos 1:11; Mic 2:12). So we may believe that the chastisement of the exile not only cleansed all Israel from idolatry, but also utterly crushed out the tribal feuds and jealousies. Some of these prophecies are doubtless Messianic, but all have more or less to show that in their exile Judah and Israel became united in all their higher sympathies and hopes, and were thus prepared, whenever opportunity offered, to return together to the land of their fathers.

5. Finally: All we know of the subsequent history of Israel tends to show that in the lands of their exile, and elsewhere, Judah and Israel became largely intermingled. It is likely many of the exiles from Judah were settled in cities and districts already occupied by descendants of those Israelites from the cities of Samaria, who had been carried off by the Assyrian kings more than a century before. Since the captivity the common name for all Israelites, wherever scattered abroad, is Jews. With the fall of Samaria, "the kingdom of the house of Israel" had no longer an existence, but was largely absorbed by Judah; and therefore it is not to be wondered at that no express mention is made of descendants of the Ten Tribes returning along with Judah from exile. But there were vast multitudes of Judah and Israel that never accepted the offer to return to the father-land. They are spoken of as "scattered abroad" in the Persian empire (Est ). They are referred to on the day of Pentecost as "out of every nation under heaven" (Act 2:5-10). Josephus speaks of the great numbers of Jews who, in his time, dwelt in Babylon, Mesopotamia, and beyond the Euphrates (Antiq. xv. 22; iii. 1; xviii. 9, 1). Paul speaks of "our Twelve Tribes" Act 26:7); and James addressed his Epistle "to the Twelve Tribes scattered abroad." From all this we infer, that after the Babylonish exile, the old dominion of "Judah and Israel" became lost—all the scattered tribes became intermixed, no one region held any one tribe, or any definite number of tribes—the name of Jews was applied to them all; the Ten Tribes, as a distinct nation, had long ceased to exist, and the whole body of Israelites throughout the world became amalgamated into one people, recognizing themselves as the descendants and representatives of the twelve ancient tribes.—Whedon.

—Respecting the fate of the captives we have had the statement of their transplantation to certain districts of Assyria and Media, where we almost lose sight of them. Nor is this surprising. The gradual contraction of the limits of the Samaritan kingdom suggests, what the inscription of Sargon confirms, that the numbers carried captive at last were far less considerable than is commonly supposed. Their absorption in the surrounding population would be aided by their long addiction to the practices of idolatry; and the loss of reverence for their religion involved absence of care for the records of their national existence. As they furnished no confessors and martyrs, like Daniel and "the three children," so neither did they preserve the genealogies on which Judah based the order of the restored commonwealth. But yet their traces are not utterly lost. The fact that a priest was found among them, to teach the Samaritans to fear Jehovah, proves that they maintained some form of worship in His name. The Book of Tobit preserves the record of domestic piety among captives of the tribe of Naphthali. After the great captivity of Judah, it is most interesting to see how continually Ezekiel addresses the captives by the name of Israel. The prophetic symbol of the rod of Judah and "the rod of the children of Israel his companions" being joined into one, in order to their restoration as one nation, as Isaiah also had predicted, seems to imply that all that was worth preserving in Israel became amalgamated with Judah, and either shared in the restoration, or became a part of the "dispersion" who were content to remain behind, and who spread the knowledge of the true God throughout the East. The edict of Cyrus, addressed to the servants of Jehovah, God of Israel, would find a response beyond the tribe of Judah, and though none of the Ten Tribes appear, as such, among the returned exiles, there is room for many of their families in the number of those who could not prove their pedigrees. As for the rest, according to the very images of the prophet,

Like the dew on the mountain,

Like the foam on the river,

Like the bubble on the fountain,

They are gone, and FOR EVER.

The very wildness of the speculations of those who have sought them at the foot of the Himalayas and on the coast of Malabar, among the Nestorians of Abyssinia and the Indians of North America, proves sufficiently the hopelessness of the attempt. Have, then, the promises of God concerning their restoration failed? No! They were represented, as we have seen, in the return of Judah; and for the rest, though they are lost to us, "the Lord knoweth them that are His." When God shall reveal out of every nation those who have "feared God and wrought righteousness," all the tribes of believers in Israel will be owned, in some special manner, as His people. That this restoration will not be temporal, but spiritual, seems to be the plain teaching of St. Paul in the passage which forms the great New Testament authority on the whole subject (Romans 9-11).—Dr. Smith's Student Scripture History.


Verses 24-41

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—

2Ki . King of Assyria brought men from Babylon, &c.—Had the land been depopulated there would have seemed promise of the exiles' return; but under the royal direction Assyrian subjects came in and possessed the sacred soil, making it the home of foreigners. This king, called here מֶלֶך אַשּׁוּר is regarded by many expositors as Esarhaddon; but a doubt naturally springs from the fact that Esarhaddon did not come to the throne for some twenty-six years after Shalmanezer, who carried Israel into captivity. From Ezr 4:2 we gain information that Esarhaddon brought these colonists into Samaria.

2Ki . Carry thither one of the priests The country was too thinly populated to subdue the growth of those beasts of prey by which the land had been infested prior to its occupancy by Israel (Jud 14:5; 1Sa 17:34, &c.); now they again multiplied and ravaged the country. Interpreting this as a judgment from God for the neglect of His worship, an exiled priest was sent back to the people to teach them Jehovah's will. And from this event arose that mingled religion which became distinctive of the Samaritans; also the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch, which acquired such historic importance.

2Ki . The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth—"Booths of the daughters," i.e., tents of voluptuousness, where lust was sanctioned as a religious observance. Nergal—Identified in the British Museum inscriptions as Mars, the god of war. Ashima—a goat idol. Nibhaz—a dog. Tartak—an ass, or planet of ill omen. Adrammelech—Either Moloch the Assyrian sun-god; or, as others think, a mule or a peacock. Anammelech—An idol in form of a hare. Thus the Samaritans became a people of varied religious forms and vagaries, the true worship and knowledge of God being perverted by the rival heathenish fallacies and rites which the immigrants of Babylon had brought into the land. So even though Jehovah was in some way "feared" (2Ki 17:32), idolatry was fostered, and they "served their graven images" through generations following (2Ki 17:41).—W. H. J.

HOMILETICS OF 2Ki

RELIGIOUS COMPROMISE

I. That religious compromise is the offspring of human fear (2Ki ). The incursion and ravages of the lions and wild beasts that multiplied so rapidly in the Jordan Valley and the forests of Samaria filled the now scattered inhabitants with dread. Regarding their sufferings as an indication of the anger of some local deity, they were anxious to be instructed in "the manner of the god of the land." Thus it came to pass that Jehovah was worshipped as one of many other deities. Fear—fear of consequences, fear of offending, fear of suffering—leads to the most calamitous compromises. "In morals," says a certain writer, "what begins in fear usually ends in wickedness; in religion, what begins in fear usually ends in fanaticism. Fear, either as a principle or a motive, is the beginning of all evil."

II. That religious compromise is ever productive of error and confusion (2Ki ). What a curious and pitiable jumble of creeds and deities we have here! It is an illustration of what must happen when man is left to himself. The key-note of the paragraph is 2Ki 17:33—"They feared the Lord and served their own gods." They sought to accomplish the impossible—to blend what can never be united, as there are certain metals that can never weld together, and certain fluids that can never coalesce. One part of the day the worshipper enters the temple of Jehovah, and at another part the temple of Succoth-Benoth. So confused and mixed a cultus could not but produce serious misconceptions of religion in the minds of both old and young. The haphazard mixture of glaring colours in the pattern offends the eye and vitiates the taste.

III. That religions compromise creates a class of inferior and incompetent teachers. "They made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests" (2Ki ). There is in the sinful human heart that which responds too readily to what is broad and vague in religious thought. Eccentricity of religious opinion has many imitators. It is an easy matter to procure teachers—and sometimes men gifted with no mean intellectual ability—who are willing to teach what is agreeable to believe and pleasant to practise. A false system of religion never lacks advocates, such as they are.

The sweet words

Of Christian promise, words that even yet

Might stem destruction, were they wisely preached,

Are muttered o'er by men, whose tones proclaim

How flat and wearisome they feel their trade:

Bank scoffers some, but most too indolent

To redeem their falsehoods, or to know their truth.

Coleridge.

IV. That the claims of true religion admit of no compromise (2Ki ). In these verses the writer rehearses the terms of the covenant between Jehovah and His people, and shows that nothing short of full submission and obedience could be acceptable to God. Religion is a necessity of the soul. "The ivy cannot grow alone; it must twine around some support or other; if not the goodly oak, then the ragged thorn; round any dead stick whatever, rather than have no stay or support at all. It is even so with the heart and affections of man; if they do not twine around God, they must twine around some meaner thing." True religion demands the absolute surrender of the whole man to God. When he begins to hesitate, to palter, to compromise, he begins to drift away from God. The Divine claims become an irksome bondage. He seeks to snap one fetter of obligation after another; but when he has snapped the last fetter, as he thinks—a belief in a personal God—he has still himself left. Which is preferable—the golden fetters of a righteous and impartial Ruler, or the tyranny of a Frankenstein monster, generated from the dreary swamps of a perverted self? It is dangerous to trifle with the absolute claims of true religion.

LESSONS:—

1. Compromise may be useful in settling external difficulties, but is inadmissible when it touches vital principles.

2. The man who compromises religious principle, loses caste with those to whom he yields, and loses strength in himself.

3. The claims of Jehovah should be reverently recognised and faithfully observed.

GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES

2Ki . The religion of fear.

1. To be carefully distinguished from a spirit of reverential awe.

2. Is based on a natural dread of suffering and calamity (2Ki ).

3. Will pay court to any deity who promises protection and safety (2Ki ).

4. Readily listens to any teacher who professes to know anything about the deity who is dreaded (2Ki ).

2Ki . Not the veriest Pagan can be excused for his ignorance of God. Even the most depraved nature might teach us to tremble at a Deity. The brute creatures are sent to revenge the quarrel of their Maker. Still hath God left himself champions in Israel. Lions tear the Assyrians in pieces, and put them in mind that, had it not been for wickedness, the land needed not to have changed masters. The great Lord of the world cannot want means to plague offenders. There is no security but in being at peace with God.—Bp. Hall.

2Ki . These blind heathens that think every land hath a several god, yet hold that god worthy of worship; yet hold that worship must be grounded upon knowledge, the want of that knowledge punishable, the punishment of that want just and divine. How much worse than Assyrians are they who are ready to ascribe all calamities to nature, to chance!—who, acknowledging but one God, are yet careless to know and serve Him!—Ibid.

2Ki . Polytheism.

1. Bewilders the worshipper by the multiplicity of gods (2Ki ).

2. Is not scrupulous as to the character of its priests (2Ki ).

3. Makes no distinction between the only true God and false deities (2Ki ).

4. Can never meet the deepest needs of man's nature.

—A country cannot fall lower than it does when each man makes unto himself his own god. We are indeed beyond the danger of making to ourselves idols of wood and stone, silver and gold; but we are none the less disposed to form idols for ourselves out of our own imaginatons, and not to fear and worship the one true God as He has revealed Himself to us. That is the cultivated heathenism of the present day. Some make to themselves a god who dwells above the stars, and does not care much for the omissions or commissions of men upon earth. Others, one who can do anything but chastise and punish, or one in whose sight men forgive themselves their own sins; who does not recompense each according to his works; but forgives all without discrimination, and who opens heaven to all alike, no matter how they have lived upon earth.—Lange.

—What a prodigious mixture was here of religions—true with false, Jewish with Pagan, divine with devilish! Every division of these transplanted Assyrians had their several deities, high places, sacrifices. No beggar's coat is more pieced than the religion of these inhabitants of Israel. I know not how their bodies sped for the lions; I am sure their souls fared the worse for this medley. Above all things God hates a mongrel devotion. If we be not all Israel, it were better to be all Ashur. It cannot so much displease God to be unknown or neglected, as to be consorted with idols.—Bp. Hall.

2Ki . The sin of disobedience.

1. All the more grievous when it is the violation of solemn covenant.

2. When committed against a Being who has wrought out great deliverances and bestowed signal blessing.

3. When it is a breach of the plainest and oft-repeated commandments.

4. When it is perpetuated generation after generation.

5. Is an occasion of sorrowful regret to every lover of the Divine law.

2Ki . Rightly they fear him not, because neither truly nor totally. Their religion was galimfrey, a mixture of true and false, which is as good as none; for God will not part stakes with the devil at any hand. Such a religion is a mere irreligion, because—

1. Contrary to God's law which rejects heathen rites (2Ki ; 2Ki 17:36-38; 2Ki 17:40).

2. Contrary to God's covenant, which heathens have nothing to do with (2Ki ; 2Ki 17:38).—Trapp.

—Decay in religious matters, lack of unity of conviction in the highest and noblest affairs, prevents a nation from ever becoming great and strong. It is a sign of the most radical corruption Similarity of faith and community of worship form a strong uniting force, and are the conditions of true national unity. The existence of different creeds and professions by the side of one another is a source of national weakness. It is an error to try to produce this unity by force: it is a blessing only when it proceeds from a free conviction.—Lange.

2Ki . Mongrel religion. This base union of fearing God and serving other gods is by no means obsolete. From generation to generation there have been mongrel religionists who have tried to please both God and the devil, and have been on both sides, or on either side, as their interest led them. Some of these wretched blunderers are always hovering around every congregation.

I. The nature of this mongrel religion.

1. These people were not infidels. Far from it. "They feared the Lord." They did not deny the existence, or the power, or the rights of the great God of Israel, whose name is Jehovah. They had faith, though only enough to produce fear. It was better to dread God than to despise Him; better slavishly to fear than stupidly to forget.

2. They were willing to be taught. The man sent to teach them was a Bethelite, one who worshipped God under the symbol of an ox, which the Scripture calls a calf. He was a very slight improvement upon a heathen; but we must be glad even of small mercies.

3. They were willing to learn, yet they stuck to their old gods. Thus this mingle-mangle religion left the people practically where they were: whatever their fear might be, their customs and practices remained the same. Have you never met with persons of the same mongrel kind? They take delight in divine services, and yet are much at home with the God of this world. Some worship a deity as horrible as Moloch, whose name in the olden time was Bacchus—the god of the wine cup and the beer barrel. There are others who adore the goddess Venus, the queen of lust and uncleanness. Too often the god is Mammon, who is as degraded a deity as any of them.

II. The manner of the growth of this mongrel religion.

1. These people came to live where the people of God had lived. If the Sepharvites had stopped at Sepharvaim they would never have thought of fearing Jehovah; if the men of Babylon had continued to live in Babylon they would have been perfectly satisfied with Bel, or Succoth-Benoth. But when they were brought into Canaan they came under a different order of things. God would not allow them to go the whole length of idolatry in His land. It sometimes happens to utter worldlings that they are dropped into the midst of Christian people. A kind of fashion is set by the professors among whom they dwell, and they fall into it.

2. The Lord sent lions among them. Affliction is a wild beast by which God teaches men who act like wild beasts. This is the growth of mongrelists. First, they are among godly people, and they must, therefore, go a little that way; and next, they are afflicted, and they must now go further still. They argue that if the ills they feel do not reform them, they may expect worse. If God begins with lions, what will come next?

3. Notice that the root of this religion is fear. Their hearts go after their idols, but to Jehovah they yield nothing but dread. If sin were not followed with inconvenient consequences they would live in it as their element, as fishes swim in the sea. They are only kept under by the hangman's whip or the jailer's keys. They dread God, and this is but a gentler form of hating him.

4. They had a trimming teacher. The king of Assyria sent them a priest: he could not have sent them a prophet, but that was what they really wanted. He sent them a Bethelite, not a genuine servant of Jehovah, but one who worships, God by means of symbols; and this the Lord had expressly forbidden. I know of no surer way of a people's perishing than by being led by one who does not speak out straight, and honestly denounce evil. If the preacher trims and twists to please all parties, can you expect his people to be honest? Those who are afraid to rebuke sin, or to probe the conscience, will have much to answer for.

III. The value of this mongrel religion.

1. It must evidently be feeble on both sides, because the man who serves Succoth-Benoth cannot do it thoroughly if all the while he fears Jehovah; and he who fears Jehovah cannot be sincere if he is worshipping Moloch. The one sucks out the life of the other. The man is lame on both feet, impotent in both directions. He is like the salt which has lost its savour, neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill.

2. It looked like an improvement. It had a look in the right direction. They feared the Lord only in a certain sense, but inasmuch as they also served other gods, it came to this, when summed up, that they did not fear God at all. The man who is religious and also immoral, to put it short, is irreligious. The value of this mixture is less than nothing. It is sin with a little varnish upon it. It is enmity to God with a brilliant colouring of formality.

3. These Samaritans in after years became the bitterest foes of God's people. Read the Book of Nehemiah, and you will see that the most bitter opponents of that godly man were these mongrels. Their fear of God was such that they wanted to join with the Jews in building the Temple, and when they found that the Jews would not have them, they became their fiercest foes. No people do so much hurt as those who are like Jack-o'-both-sides. The mischief does not begin with the people of God, but with those who are with them, but not of them. As the clinging ivy will eat out the life of a tree around which it climbs, so will these impostors devour the church if they be left to their own devices.

4. How provoking this adulterated religion must be to God. It is even provoking to God's ministers to be pestered with men whose hypocrisies weaken the force of his testimony. How provoking must it be to God Himself! True religion suffers for their falsehood.

IV. The continuance of this evil. "As did their fathers, so do they, unto this day." I am almost obliged to believe in the final perseverance of hypocrites; for, really, when a man once screws himself up to play the double, and both to fear God and serve other gods, he is very apt to stick there. On the anvil of a false profession, Satan hammers out the most hardened of hard hearts.

V. The cure of this dreadful evil of mongrelism. He who in any way tries to serve God and His enemies, is a traitor to God. Suppose God were to treat us after the same double fashion; suppose he smiled to-day and cursed to-morrow. You want one course of conduct from God—mercy, tenderness, gentleness, forgiveness; but if you play fast and loose with Him, what is this but mocking Him? O thou great Father of our spirits, if we poor prodigals return to thee, shall we come driving all the swine in front of us, and bringing all the harlots and citizens of the far country at our heels, and introduce ourselves to thee by saying, "Father, we have sinned, and have come home to be forgiven," and to go on sinning? It were infernal; I can say no less. Lastly, what shall I say of the Holy Spirit? If He does not dwell in our hearts we are lost; there is no hope for us unless He rules within us. None can hang between spiritual death and spiritual life, so as to be partly in one and partly in the other. Be one thing or the other.—C. H. Spurgeon.

—In time the idolatrous dross got purged out, and eventually the Samaritan system of belief and practice became as pure as that of the Jews, though less exact in some of its observances. In some respects it may have been purer, as the Samaritans would have nothing to do with the mass of oral traditions with which, before the birth of Christ, the Jewish system became disfigured and overladen.—Kitto.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/2-kings-17.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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Monday, January 27th, 2020
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