THE FALL OF THE NORTH 2 Kings 14–17
“The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites” (2 Kings 17:24).The unbroken succession of wicked kings wore away the religious and moral foundations of Israel, and led inexorably to the fall of that nation to Assyria. One bad choice may not bring ruin. But a series of wicked choices surely will.
Conditions in Israel deteriorated rapidly. Ruling houses were established by assassination or imposed on the people by Assyria. As history marched inexorably toward national disaster no one seemed to sense a need to turn back to God.
Amaziah of Judah was defeated and humiliated by Israel (14:1–22) before being succeeded by his son Azariah (Uzziah) (15:1–7). In Israel, Jeroboam II ruled 41 years (14:23–29). He was succeeded by a series of kings who ruled briefly (15:8–26), and under pressure from Assyria (vv. 27–31). In Judah the son of Jotham (vv. 32–38), Ahaz, bribed Assyria to invade Syria (16:1–20). The Northern Kingdom was crushed by Shalmaneser of Assyria, and the Israelites exiled from their land because “they forsook all the comands of the Lord their God and made for themselves . . . idols.” Assyria resettled the northern territory with foreigners (17:1–41). KING LIST
Understanding the Text
“Glory in your victory, but stay at home!” 2 Kings 14:1–22 Amaziah’s victory over Edom fueled his ambition and he declared war on Jehoash of Israel. Second Chronicles 25 reports that he had trusted foreign gods, and the subsequent defeat was to teach Judah not to turn from the Lord. Apparently Amaziah was captured and taken to Israel, but released after the death of Jehoash and sent back to Judah. Those in power there apparently resisted the king’s return and assassinated him. How much better for all of us to remain close to the Lord and be satisfied with what He gives us. “Jeroboam . . . became king in Samaria” 2 Kings 14:23–29. The reign of Jeroboam II is dismissed in our text with a mere seven verses. Yet Jeroboam II was undoubtedly Israel’s most successful and notable ruler. The military power of Syria (Aram) had been destroyed by the Assyrians, and Jeroboam took advantage of this weakness. The territory Jeroboam captured rivaled that held in David and Solomon’s day. He occupied Damascus and gained control of the trade routes which linked the ancient world, winning revenues which made Israel rich. But Israelite society was disrupted, as those with new wealth bought up farmlands and forced the dislocation of the population. Cities became overpopulated and poverty increased. Heavy taxes were laid on all, and the rich corrupted the justice system in their favor. Both Amos and Hosea ministered in Israel during Jeroboam II’s time, and spoke out boldly against the era’s injustice and corrupt religion. In view of the political and sociological significance of the time of Jeroboam II, it’s striking that the Bible says so little about him. Perhaps the answer is found in perspective. Compared with eternity, worldly accomplishments count for little. God saw fit to give Israel relief from oppression under Jeroboam II. But neither king nor people used this last opportunity to turn to the Lord. “Azariah. . . . reigned in Jerusalem 52 years” 2 Kings 15:1–7. The revival of Israel’s fortunes under Jeroboam II were matched by prosperity in Judah during Azariah (Uzziah’s) long reign. As was the case with many of Israel’s and Judah’s kings, during this extended period Uzziah was co-regent with his father or his sons. According to 2 Chronicles 26 Uzziah’s leprosy was a punishment for infringing on the rights of the priesthood. He lived in beth ha-hophshith, which may mean a “house of freedom,” and indicate he was relieved of all duties. It is no blessing to be set aside and unable to contribute. How important to remember that Christians, even if disabled, can labor in prayer for others. Through prayer we can have a significant part in the lives of others and in the work of Christ. “Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver” 2 Kings 15:17–16:20. The dominance of Assyria is increasingly shown in the stories of Israel’s and Judah’s kings after 750 B.C Menahem paid Pul of Assyria 75,000 pounds of silver to prop up his claim to the throne. In essence Israel became a vassal state. Pekah lost northern Israel’s lands and many of her people to Tiglath-Pileser. Ahaz of Judah bribed Tiglath-Pileser to invade his enemies, Syria and Israel. The Assyrian was of course delighted to do so. Ahaz’s association with the Assyrian was spiritually disastrous, for when the king went to Damascus to submit to the Assyrian monarch he was fascinated with a new-style altar, and had it copied for use in Jerusalem. The offerings made on it by Ahaz fall in the category of fellowship offerings (16:15–16; cf. Lev. 1–7). Fellowship offerings symbolizing close relationship with God, made on a foreign altar in violation of Mosaic Law? It is easy to claim one has fellowship with God. But true fellowship with God is displayed by obedience to His Word. “Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea” 2 Kings 17:1–41. The final destruction of Israel came when Hoshea refused to pay Assyrian tribute and sought help from Egypt. Samaria was captured after a three-year siege, and the Israelites were deported. Then foreigners were brought in by Assyria to resettle the land. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was no more. The question remains, would Judah, Israel’s sister to the south, learn from Israel’s destruction?
Heaven and Hell (2 Kings 17)
I know that many people are disturbed by the notion of hell. Heaven is one thing. But hell? A place of everlasting punishment? While the story of Israel’s decline includes no mention of eternal punishment, it does incorporate principles which bear on the question. In earlier chapters of 2 Kings few editorial comments were made. Except for a formula which told whether a ruler did right or evil in God’s eyes, the stories of Israel’s and Judah’s kings are told in simple, sparse prose, and readers are left to draw their own conclusions. But in this chapter the writer draws conclusions for us. The final disaster which befell Israel happened “because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God.” They “worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them.” “They rejected His decrees and the covenant” and “followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.” “They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire,” “practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil.” The principle the writer established echoes throughout Scripture. God holds man responsible for his sins. The nearly 200 years during which God withheld final judgment on Israel speaks of His grace. But the invasion of the Assyrians reminds us that judgment will surely come. Heaven and hell? Yes. God’s patience today in withholding judgment on our sins still reflects His patience. The Bible’s warnings about hell remind us that despite God’s grace judgment will surely come.
We, like history, need to testify to others of both God’s grace and His commitment to judge sin.