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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
2 Kings 17

 

 

Verses 1-41

HOSHEA, AND THE FALL OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM

B.C. 734-725

2 Kings 17:1-41

"As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon: the water."

Hosea 10:7

As a matter of convenience, we follow our English Bible in calling the prophet by the name Hosea, and the nineteenth, last, and best king of Israel Hoshea. The names, however, are identical, and mean "Salvation"- the name borne by Joshua also in his earlier days. In the irony of history the name of the last king of Ephraim was thus identical with that of her earliest and greatest hero, just as the last of Roman emperors bore the double name of the Founder of Rome and the Founder of the Empire-Romulus Augustulus. By a yet deeper irony of events the king in whose reign came the final precipitation of ruin wore the name which signified deliverance from it.

And more and more, as time went on, the prophet Hosea felt that he had no word of present hope or comfort for the king his namesake. It was the more brilliant lot of Isaiah, in the Southern Kingdom, to kindle the ardor of a generous courage. Like Tyrtaeus, who roused the Spartans to feel their own greatness-like Demosthenes, who hurled the might of Athens against Philip of Macedon-like Chatham, "bidding England be of good cheer, and hurl defiance at her foes"-like Pitt, pouring forth, in the days of the Napoleonic terror, "the indomitable language of courage and of hope,"-Isaiah was missioned to encourage Judah to despise first the mighty Syrian, and then the mightier Assyrian. Far different was the lot of Hosea, who could only be the denouncer of an inevitable doom. His sad function was like that of Phocion after Chaeroneia, of Hannibal after Zama, of Thiers after Sedan: he had to utter the Cassandra-voices of prophecy, which his besotted and demented contemporaries-among whom the priests were the worst of all-despised and flouted until the time for repentance had gone by forever.

True it is that Hosea could not be content-what true heart could?-to breathe nothing but the language of reprobation and despair. Israel had been "yoked to his two transgressions," but Jehovah could not give up His love for His chosen people:

"How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I surrender thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I treat thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is turned within Me; I am wholly filled with compassion! I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger. I will not again destroy Ephraim: For I am God, and not man. The Holy One in the midst of thee! I will not come to exterminate!"

"They shall come after Jehovah as after a lion that roars! For he shall roar, and his sons shall come hurrying from the west, They shall come hurrying as a bird out of Egypt, And as a dove out of the land of Assyria; And I will cause them to dwell in their houses, Saith Jehovah." {Hosea 11:8-11}

Alas! the gleam of alleviation was imaginary rather than actual. The prophet’s wish was father to his thought. He had prophesied that Israel should be scattered in all lands. {Hosea 9:3; Hosea 9:12; Hosea 9:17; Hosea 13:3-16} This was true; and it did not prove true, except in some higher ideal sense, that "Israel shall again dwell in his own land" {Hosea 14:4-7} in prosperity and joy.

The date of Hoshea’s accession is uncertain, and we cannot tell in what sense we are to understand his reign as having lasted "nine years." We have no grounds for accepting the statement of Josephus ("Antt.," IX 13:1), that Hoshea had been a friend of Pekah and plotted against him. Tiglath-Pileser expressly says that he himself slew Pekah and appointed Hoshea. His must have been, at the best, a pitiful and humiliating reign. He owed his purely vassal sovereignty to Assyrian patronage. He probably did as well for Israel as was in his power. Singular to relate, he is the only one of all the kings of Israel of whom the historian has a word of commendation: for while we are told that "he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord," it is added that it was "not as the kings of Israel that were before him." But we do not know wherein either his evil-doing or his superiority consisted. The Rabbis guess that he did not replace the golden calf at Dan which Tiglath-Pileser had taken away; {Hosea 10:6} or that he did not prevent his subjects from going to Hezekiah’s passover. "It seems like a harsh jest," says Ewald, "that this Hoshea, who was better than all his predecessors, was to be the last king" But so it has often been in history. The vengeance of the French Revolution smote the innocent and harmless Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette-not Louis XIV, or Louis XV and Madame du Pompadour.

His patron Tiglath-Pileser ended his magnificent reign of conquest in 727, soon after he had seated Hoshea on the throne. The removal of his strong grasp on the helm caused immediate revolt. Phoenicia especially asserted her independence against Shalmaneser IV He seems to have spent five years in an unavailing attempt to capture Island-Tyre. Meanwhile, the internal troubles which had harassed and weakened Egypt ceased, and a strong Ethiopian king named Sabaco established his rule over the whole country. It was perhaps the hope that Phoenicia might hold out against the Assyrian, and that the Egyptian might protect Samaria, which kindled in the mind of Hoshea the delusive plan of freeing himself and his impoverished land from the grinding tribute imposed by Nineveh. While Shalmaneser was trying to quell Tyre, Hoshea, having received promises of assistance from Sabaco, withheld the "presents"-the minchah, as the tribute is euphemistically called-which he had hitherto paid. Seeing the danger of a powerful coalition, Shalmaneser swept down on Samaria in 724. Possibly he defeated the army of Israel in the plain of Jezreel, {Hosea 1:5} and got hold of the person of Hoshea. Josephus says that he "besieged him"; but the sacred historian only tells us that "he shut him up, and bound him in prison." Whether Hoshea was taken in battle, or betrayed by the Assyrian party in Samaria, or whether he went in person to see if he could pacify the ruthless conqueror, he henceforth disappears from history "like foam"-or like a chip or a bubble-"upon the water." We do not know whether he was put to death, but we infer from an allusion in Micah that he was subjected to the cruel indignities in which the Assyrians delighted; for the prophet says, "They shall smite the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek." {Micah 5:1} Perhaps in the title "Judge" (Shophet, suffes) we may see a sign that Hoshea’s royalty was little more than the shadow of a name.

Having thus got rid of the king, Shalmaneser proceeded to invest the capital. But Samaria was strongly fortified upon its hill, and the Jewish race has again and again shown-as it showed so conspicuously in the final crisis of its destiny, when Jerusalem defied the terrible armies of Rome-that with walls to protect them they could pluck up a terrible courage and endurance from despair. Strong as Assyria was, the capital of Ephraim for three years resisted her beleaguering host and her crashing battering-rams. About all the anguish which prevailed within the city, and the wild vicissitudes of orgy and starvation, history is silent. But prophecy tells us that the sorrows of a travailling woman came upon the now kingless city. They drank to the dregs the cup of fury. {Hosea 13:13} The saddest Northern prophet, "the Jeremiah of Israel," sings the dirge of Israel’s saddest king.

"I am become to them as a lion; As a leopard will I watch by the way; I will meet them as a bear bereaved of her whelps, And rend the caul of their heart, And there will I devour them like a lioness: The beast of the field shall tear them Where now is thy king, that he may save thee in all thy cities? And thy judges, of whom thou saidst, ‘Give me a king and prince’? I give thee a king in Mine anger And take him away in My wrath."

For three years Samaria held out. During the siege Shalmaneser died, and was succeeded by Sargon, who-though he vaguely talks of the kings his ancestors, and says that he had been preceded by three hundred and thirty Assyrian dynasts-never names his father, and seems to have been a usurping general.

Sabaco remained inactive, and basely deserted the miserable people which had relied on his protection. In this conduct Egypt was true to its historic character of untrustworthiness and inertness. Both in Israel and in Judah there were two political parties. One relied on the strength of Egypt; the other counseled submission to Assyria, or-in the hour when it became necessary to defy Assyria-confidence in God. Egypt was as frail a support as one of her own paper-reeds, which bent under the weight, and broke and ran into the hand of every one who leaned on it.

Sargon did not raze the city, and we see from the "Eponym Canon" that its inhabitants were still strong enough some years later to take part in a futile revolt. But we have one dreadful glimpse of the horrors which he inflicted upon it. They were the inevitable punishment of every conquered city which had dared to resist the Assyrian arm.

"Samaria shall bear her guilt, For she hath rebelled against her God. They shall fall by the sword: Their infants shall be dashed in pieces, And their women in child shall be ripped up." {Hosea 13:16}

Sargon’s own record of the matter on the tablets at Khorsabad is: "I besieged, took, and occupied the city of Samaria, and carried into captivity twenty-seven thousand two hundred and eighty of its inhabitants. I changed the former government of this country, and placed over it lieutenants of my own. And Sebeh, Sultan of Egypt, came to Raphia to fight against me. They met me, and I routed them. Sebeh fled." The Assyrians were occupied in the unsuccessful siege of Tyre between 720-715, during which years Sargon put down Yahubid of Hamath, whose revolt had been aided by Damascus and Samaria. In 710 he marched against Ashdod. {Isaiah 20:1} In 709 he defeated Merodach-Baladan at Dur-Yakin, and reconquered Chaldaea, deporting some of the population into Samaria. In 704, in the fifteenth year of his reign, he was assassinated, after a career of victory. He inscribes on his palace at Khorsabad a prayer to his god Assur, that, after his toils and conquests, "I may be preserved for the long years of a long life, for the happiness of my body, for the satisfaction of my heart. May I accumulate in this palace immense treasures, the booties of all countries, the products of mountains and valleys." Assur and the gods of Chaldaea were invoked in vain; the prayer was scattered to the winds, and the murderer’s dagger was the comment on Sargon’s happy anticipations of peace and splendor.

Israel fell unpitied by her southern neighbor, for Judah was still smarting under memories of the old contempt and injury of Joash ben-Jehoahaz, and the more recent wrongs inflicted by Pekah and Rezin. Isaiah exults over the fate of Samaria, while he points the moral of her fall to the drunken priests and prophets of Jerusalem. "Woe," he says, "to the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley of them that are smitten down with wine! Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one [i.e., the Assyrian]; as a tempest of hail, a destroying storm, as a tempest of mighty water overflowing, shall he cast down to the earth with violence. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden underfoot: and the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be as the first ripe fig before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up." (Isaiah 28:1-4) Israel had begun in hostility to Judah, and perished by it at last.

Such, then, was the end of the once brilliant kingdom of Israel-the kingdom which, even so late as the reign of Jeroboam II, seemed to have a great future before it. No one could have foreseen beforehand that, when, with the prophetic encouragement of Ahijah, Jeroboam I established his sovereignty over the greater, richer, and more flourishing part of the land assigned to the sons of Jacob, the new kingdom should fall into utter ruin and destruction after only two and a half centuries of existence, and its tribes melt away amid the surrounding nations, and sink into a mixed and semi-heathen race without any further nationality or distinctive history. It seemed far less probable that the mere fragment of the Southern Kingdom, after retaining its separate existence for more than one hundred and sixty years longer than its more powerful brother, should continue to endure as a nation till the end of time. Such was the design of God's providence, and we know no more. The Northern Kingdom had, up to this time, produced the greatest and most numerous prophets-Ahijah, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Nahum, and many more. It had also produced the loveliest and most enduring poetry in the Song of Songs, the Song of Deborah, and other contributions to the Books of Jashar, and of the Wars of Jehovah. It had also brought into vigor the earliest and best historic literature, the narratives of the Elohist and the Jehovist. These immortal legacies of the religious spirit of the Northern Kingdom were incomparably superior in moral and enduring value to the Levitic jejuneness of the Priestly Code, with its hierarchic interests and ineffectual rules, which, in the exaggerated supremacy attached to rites, proved to be the final blight of an unspiritual Judaism. Israel had also been superior in prowess and in deeds of war, and in the days of Joash ben-Jehoahaz ben-Jehu had barely conceded to Judah a right to separate existence. More than all this, the apostasies of Judah, from the days of Solomon downwards, were quite as heinous as Jezebel’s Baal worship, and far more deadly than the irregular but not at first idolatrous cultus of Bethel. The prophets are careful to teach Judah that if she was spared it was not because of any good deservings. Yet now the cedar was scathed and smitten down, and its boughs were rent and scattered; and the thistle had escaped the wild beast’s tread!

In the former volume we glanced at some of the causes of this, and the blessings which resulted from it. The central and chiefest blessing was, first, the preservation of a purer form of monotheism, and a loftier ideal of religion-though only realized by a few in Judah-than had ever prevailed in the Northern Tribes; secondly, and above all, the development of that inspiring Messianic prophecy which was to be fulfilled seven centuries later, when He who was David’s Son and David’s Lord came to our lost race from the bosom of the Father, and brought life and immortality to light.

And it was the work purely of "God’s unseen providence, by men nicknamed ‘Chance,"’ which, dealing with nations as the potter with his clay, chooses some to honor and some to dishonor. For, as all the prophets are anxious to remind the Judaean Kingdom, their success, the procrastination of their downfall, their restoration from captivity, were not due to any merits of their own. The Jews were and ever had been a stiff-necked nation; and though some of their kings had been faithful servants of Jehovah, yet many of them-like Rehoboam, and Ahaz, and Manasseh-exceeded in wickedness and inexcusable apostasy the least faithful of the Worshippers at Gilgal and Bethel. They were plainly reminded of their nothingness: "And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God, A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation." {Deuteronomy 26:5}

"Fear not, thou worm Jacob: I will help thee." {Isaiah 41:14} But this was the end of the Ten Tribes. Nor must we say that Hosea’s prediction of mercy was laughed to scorn by the irony of events, when he had given it as God’s promise that-

"I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, I will not again destroy Israel For I am God, and not man." {Hosea 11:9}

The words mean that mercy is God’s chiefest and most essential attribute; and, after all, a nation is composed of families and individuals, and in political extinction there may have been many families and individuals in Israel, like that of Tobias, and like that of Anna, the prophetess of the tribe of Asher, who found, either in their far exile, or among the scattered Jews who still peopled the old territories, a peace which was impossible during the distracted anarchy and deepening corruption of the whole period which had elapsed since the founding of the house of Omri. In any case God knows and loves His own. The words,

"I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger; For I am God, and not man,"

might stand for an epitome of much that is most precious in Holy Writ. God’s orthodoxy is the truth; and the truth remaineth, though man’s orthodoxy exercises all its fury and all its baseness to overwhelm it. What hope has any man, even a St. Paul-what hope had even the Lord Himself-before the harsh, self-interested tribunals of human judgment, or of that purely external religionism which has always shown itself more brutal and more blundering than secular cruelty? What chance has there been, humanly speaking, for God’s best saints, prophets, and reformers, when priests, popes, or inquisitors have been their judges? If God resembled those generations of unresisted ecclesiastics, whose chief resort has been the syllogism of violence, and whose main arguments have been the torture-chamber and the stake, what hope could there possibly be for the vast majority of mankind, but those endless torments by the terrors of which corrupt Churches have forced their tyranny upon the crushed liberties and the paralyzed conscience of mankind? The Indian sage was right who said that "God can only be truly described by the words No! No!"-that is, by repudiating multitudes of the ignoble and cruel basenesses which religious teachers have imagined or invented respecting Him. Because God is God, and not man-God, not a tyrant or an inquisitor-God, with the great compassionate heart of unfathomable tenderness, -therefore, in all who truly love Him, perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. Sin means ruin; yet God is love.

The historian of the Kings here digresses, in a manner unusual to the Old Testament, to give us a most interesting glimpse of the fate of the conquered people, and the origin of the race which was known to after-ages by the name "Samaritan."

Sargon, when he had sacked the capital, carried out the policy of deportation which had now been established by the Assyrian kings. He achieved the double purpose of populating the capital and province of Nineveh, while he reduced subject nations to inanition, by sweeping away all the chief of the inhabitants from conquered states, and settling them in his own more immediate dominions. There they would be reduced to impotence, and mingle with the races among whom their lot would henceforth be cast. He therefore "carried Israel away" into Assyria, and placed them in Halah, north of Thapsacus, on the Euphrates, and in Habor, the river of Gozan-i.e., on the river in Northern Assyria which still bears the name of Khabour, and flows into the Euphrates-and in the cities of the Medes. He replaced the old population by Dinaites, Tarpelites, Apharsathchites, Susanehites, Elamites, Dehavites, and Babylonians, after carrying away the great bulk of the better-class population.

After this the historian pauses to sum up and emphasize once more the main lesson of his narrative. It is that "righteousness exalteth a nation, and sin is the reproach of any people." God had called His son Israel out of Egypt, delivered His chosen from Pharaoh, given them a pleasant land; but "Israel had sinned against Jehovah their God, and had feared other gods, and walked in the statutes of the heathen." They had failed therefore in fulfilling the very purpose for which they had been set apart. They had been intended "to uplift among the nations the banner of righteousness" and the banner of the One True God. Instead of this, they were seduced by the heathen ritual of

"Gay religions full of pomp and gold."

They decked out alien institutions, and alike in unfrequented and populous places-"from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city"-set up matstseboth (A.V, "pillars") and Asherim on every high hill. The green trees became obum bratrices scelerum, the secret bowers of-their iniquities. They burnt incense on the bamoth, and served idols, and wrought wickedness. Useless had been the voices of all the prophets and the seers. They went after vain things, and became vain. Beginning with the two "calves," they proceeded to lewd and orgiastic idolatries. Ahab and Jezebel seduced them into Tyrian Baal-worship. From the Assyrians they learnt and practiced the adoration of the host of heaven. From Moab and Ammon they borrowed the abominable rites of Moloch, and used divination and enchantments by means of belomancy {Ezekiel 21:21-22} and necromancy, and sold themselves to do wickedness.

Nor was this all. These idolatries, with their guilty ritualism, were not confined to Israel, but also

"Infected Zion’s daughters with like heat,

Whose wanton passions in the sacred porch

Ezekiel saw, when, by the vision led,

His eye surveyed the dark idolatries

Of alienated Judah."

And thus, when Jehovah afflicted the seed of Israel and cast them out of His sight, Judah also had to feel the stroke of retribution.

And it is idle to object that even if Israel had been faithful she must have inevitably perished before the superior might of Damascus, or Nineveh, or Babylon. How can we tell? It is not possible for us thus to write unwritten history, and there is absolutely nothing to show that the surmise is correct. In the days of David, of Uzziah, of Jeroboam II, Judah and Israel had shown what they could achieve. Had they been strong in faithfulness to Jehovah, and in the righteousness which that faith required, they would have shown an invincible strength amid the moral enervation of the surrounding people. They might have held their own by welding into one strong kingdom the whole of Palestine, including Philistia, Phoenicia, the Negeb, and the Trans-Jordanic region. They might have consolidated the sway which they at various times attained southwards, as far as the Red Sea port of Elath; northwards over Aram and Damascus, as far as the Hamath on the Orontes; eastwards to Thapsacus on the Euphrates; westward to the Isles of the Gentiles. There is nothing improbable, still less impossible, in the view that, if the Israelites had truly served Jehovah and obeyed His laws, they might then have permanently established the monarchy which was ideally regarded as their inheritance, and which for brief and fitful periods they partially maintained. And such a monarchy, held together by warrior statesmen, strong and righteous, and above all secure in the blessing of God, would have been a thoroughly adequate counterpoise, not only to dilatory and distracted Egypt, which had long ceased to be aggressive, but even to brutal Assyria, which prevailed in no small measure because of the isolation and mutual dissension of these southern principalities.

But, as it was, "Assyria and Egypt-the two world-powers in the dawn of history, the two chief sources of ancient civilization, the twin giant-empires which bounded the Israelite people on the right hand and on the left-were cruel neighbors, between whom the ill-fated nation was tossed to and fro in wanton sport like a shuttlecock. They were cruel friends before whom it must cringe in turns, praying sometimes for help, suing sometimes for very life-alternate scourges in the hand of the Divine wrath. Now it is the fly of Egypt, and now it is the bee of Assyria, whose ruthless swarms issue forth at the word of Jehovah, settling in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes, with deadly sting, fatal to man and beast, devastating the land far and wide. Holding the poor Israelite in their relentless embrace, they threatened ever and again to crush him by their grip. Like the fabled rocks which frowned over the narrow straits of the Bosporus, they would crash together and annihilate the helpless craft which the storms of destiny had placed at their mercy. Israel reeled under their successive blows. As was the beginning, so was the end. As the captivity of Egypt had been the cradle of the nation, so was the captivity of Assyria to be its tomb."

In any case the principle of the historian remains unshaken. Sin is weakness; idolatry is folly and rebellion; uncleanness is decrepitude. St. Paul was not thinking of this ancient Philosophy of History when he wrote his Epistle to the Romans; yet the intense and masterly sketch which he gives of that moral corruption which brought about the long, slow, agonizing dissolution of the beauty that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome, is one of its strongest justifications. His view only differs from the summary before us in the power of its eloquence and the profoundness of its psychologic insight. He says the same thing as the historian of the Kings, only in words of greater power and wider reach, when he writes: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness. Knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings," the very word used in the LXX in 2 Kings 17:15, "and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" (words which might describe the expediency policy of Jeroboam I, and its fatal consequences), "and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. For this cause God gave them up to passions of dishonor, and unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity,"-and so on through a long catalogue of iniquities which are identical with those which we find so burningly denounced on the pages of the prophets of Israel and Judah.

"Even a Machiavelli, cool and cynical and audacious as was his skepticism, could see and admit that faithfulness to religion is the secret of the happiness and prosperity of states. An irreligious society tends inevitably and always to be a dissolute society; and a dissolute society is the most tragic spectacle which history has ever to present-a nest of disease, of jealousy, of dissensions, of ruin, and despair, whose last hope is to be washed off the world and disappear. Such societies must die sooner or later of their own gangrene, of their own corruption, because the infection of evil, spreading into unbounded selfishness, ever intensifying and reproducing passions which defeat their own aim, can never end in anything but moral dissolution." We need not look further than the collapse of France after the battle of Sedan, and the cause to which that collapse was attributed, not only by Christians, but by her own most worldly and skeptical writers, to see that the same causes ever issue and will issue in the same ruinous effects.

In order to complete the history of the Northern Kingdom, the historian here anticipates the order of time by telling us what happened to the mongrel population whom Sargon transplanted into central Ephraim in place of the old inhabitants.

The king, we are told, brought them from Babylon-which was at this time under the rule of Assyria; from Cuthah-by which seems to be meant some part of Mesopotamia near Babylon; from Avva, or Ivah-probably the same as Aha-vah or Hit, on the Euphrates, northwest of Babylon; from Sepharvaim, or Sippara, also on the Euphrates; and from Hamath, on the Orontes, which had not long remained under Jeroboam. It must not be supposed that the whole population of Ephraim was deported; that was a physical impossibility. Although we are told in Assyrian annals that Sargon carried away with him so vast a number of captives, it is, of course, clear that the lowest and poorest part of the population was left. We can imagine the wild confusion which arose when they found themselves compelled to share the dismantled palaces and abandoned estates of the wealthy with the horde of new colonists, whose language, in all probability, they but imperfectly understood. There must have been many a tumult, many a scene of horror, such as took place in the long antagonism of Normans and Saxons in England, before the immigrants and the relics of the former populace settled down to amalgamation and mutual tolerance.

Sargon is said to have carried away with him the golden calf or calves of Bethel, as Tiglath-Pileser is said by the Rabbis to have carried away that of Dan. He also took away with him all the educated classes, and all the teachers of religion. No one was left to instruct the ignorant inhabitants; and, as Hosea had prophesied, there was neither a sacrifice, nor a pillar, nor an ephod, and not even teraphim to which they could resort {Hosea 3:4} Naturally enough, the disunited dregs of an old and of a new population had no clear knowledge of religion. They "feared not Jehovah." The sparseness of inhabitants, with its consequent neglect of agriculture, caused the increase of wild beasts among them. There had always been lions and bears in "the swellings of Jordan," {See Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 49:1 Proverbs 22:13, etc.} and in all the lonelier parts of the land; and to this day there are leopards in the woods of Carmel, and hyenas and jackals in many regions. Conscious of their miserable and godless condition, and afflicted by the lions, which they regarded as a sign of Jehovah’s anger, the Ephraimites sent a message to the King of Assyria. They only claimed Jehovah as their local god, and complained that the new colonists had provoked the wrath of "the God of the land" by not: knowing His "manner" that is, the way in which He should be worshipped. The consequence was that they were in danger of being exterminated by lions. The kings of Assyria were devoted worshippers of Assur and Merodach, but they held the common belief of ancient polytheists that each country had its own potent divinities. Sargon, therefore, gave orders that one of the priests of his captivity should be sent back to Samaria, "to teach them the manner of the god of the land." The priest selected for the purpose returned, took up his residence at the old shrine of Bethel, and "taught them how they should fear Jehovah." His success was, however, extremely limited, except among the former followers of Jeroboam’s dishonored cult. The old religious shrines still continued, and the immigrants used them for the glorification of their former deities.

Samaria, therefore, witnessed the establishment of a singularly hybrid form of religionism. The Babylonians worshipped Succoth-Benoth, perhaps Zirbanit, wife of Merodach or Bel; the Cuthites worshipped Nergal, the Assyrian war-god, the lion-god; the Hittites, from Hamath, worshipped Ashima or Esmun, the god of air and thunder, under the form of a goat; the Avites preferred Nibhaz and Tartak, perhaps Saturn-unless these names be Jewish jeers, implying that one of these deities had the head of a dog, and the other of an ass. More dreadful, if less ridiculous, was the worship of the Sepharvires, who adored Adrammelech and Anammelech, the sun-god under male and female forms, to whom, as to Moloch, they burnt their children in the fire. As for ministers, "they made unto them priests from among themselves, who offered sacrifices for them in the shrines of the bamoth." Thus the whole mongrel population "feared the Lord, and served their own gods," as they continued to do in the days of the annalist whose record the historian quotes. He ends his interesting sketch with the words, that, in spite of the Divine teaching, "these nations" - so he calls them, and so completely does he refuse to them the dignity of being Israel’s children-feared the Lord, and served their graven images, their children likewise, and their children’s children, -"as did their fathers, so do they unto this day."

The "unto this day" refers, no doubt, to the document from which the historian of the Kings was quoting-perhaps about B.C. 560, in the third generation after the fall of Samaria. A very brief glance will suffice to indicate the future history of the Samaritans. We hear but little of them between the present reference and the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. By that time they had purged themselves of these grosser idolatries, and held themselves fit in all respects to cooperate with the returned exiles in the work of building the Temple. Such was not the opinion of the Jews. Ezra regarded them as "the adversaries of Judah and Israel." The exiles rejected their overtures. In B.C. 409 Manasseh, a grandson of the high priest expelled by Nehemiah for an unlawful marriage with a daughter of Sanballat, of the Samaritan city of Beth-horon, built the schismatic temple on Mount Gerizim. The relations of the Samaritans to the Jews became thenceforth deadly. In B.C. 175 they seconded the profane attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to paganize the Jews, and in B.C. 130 John Hyrcanus, the Maccabee, destroyed their temple. They were accused of waylaying Jews on their way to the Feasts, and of polluting the Temple with dead bones. They claimed Jewish descent, {John 4:12} but our Lord called them "aliens," {Luke 17:18} and Josephus describes them as "residents from other nations." They are now a rapidly dwindling community of fewer than a hundred souls-"the oldest and smallest sect in the world"-equally despised by Jews and Mohammedans. The Jews, as in the days of Christ, have no dealings with them. When Dr. Frank, on his philanthropic visit to the Jews of the East, went to see their celebrated Pentateuch, and mentioned the fact to a Jewish lady-"What!" she exclaimed: "have you been among the worshippers of the pigeon? Take a purifying bath!" Regarding Gerizim as the place which God had chosen, {John 4:20} they alone can keep up the old tradition of the sacrificial passover. For long centuries, since the fall of Jerusalem, it is only on Gerizim that the Paschal lambs and kids have been actually slain and eaten, as they are to this day, and will be, till, not long hence, the whole tribe disappears.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 17:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/2-kings-17.html.

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Saturday, December 7th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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