2 Kings 17:1-23.
The Consequence of Rejecting God
American Journal of Biblical Theology August 1, 2004 Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com Scripture quotes from KJV
The history of ancient Israel, recorded in 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles reveals a pattern that can illuminate similar patterns in human behavior today. It is George Santayana who is credited with saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," and there is certainly a clear parallel between the events of ancient Israel and the events in the world today.
The history of Israel starts with the promise that God made to Abraham that through him God would bless the world, that through him a vast nation would be formed, and that God would provide Abraham and his nation with the land on which to thrive. All of God's promises to Abraham have been fulfilled: through Abraham's descendants, Jesus was born, the One who would bless the world. From Abraham the community of believers has been formed, first among the people of Israel, and second among the Gentiles who have turned to God in faith. However, God's promise of the land was conditional, predicated by the people's obedience. God promised to provide an eternal home for those who turn to Him in faith. The grant of the Canaan land to the nation of Israel is an archetype of that promise, and in that type we see God's purpose for mankind, and God's ultimate judgment.
God preserved the nation of Israel, and in the events surrounding the exodus from Egypt, God communicated his purpose for His people with clarity: they are to worship Him and Him alone; He is to be their God, and they are to be His people. The maintenance of the promise to Abraham is held by God, but the covenant with the people was predicated by their honoring God as God. Salvation is to be found in God alone, and not by any other source.
Given the promise, given the Law of Moses, given the Word of God through the prophets, the people had all they needed to maintain their faith in and obedience to God. However, the attractions of the world would prove too tempting to a mankind who would prefer the sensual stimulations of the moment over a future promise. Mankind simply cannot keep to a system of law. Pride and self-will will always overpower the tenets of law, making each person a law-breaker. Without God's grace there is no hope for anyone.
The nation of Israel, from its own pride and self-will, wanted a kingdom that is similar to those surrounding them rather than the theocracy that God had provided. The prophet Samuel warned against this decision and accurately prophesied the consequences of such a decision. The people's choice for King was Saul, who was followed by David, the only king who truly sought God's purpose for the kingdom. His son, Solomon, though well-known for his wisdom, placed the nation into bondage to itself when he chose to exhaust the nation's financial and personnel resources in his projects to rebuild the cities. Solomon placed the worship of God by the nation low on his priority list as he only conducted worship on the required holy days. His son, Rehoboam took over the kingdom as a young man and, determined to reign in power, hardened the burden on the conscripted workforce resulting in a civil war. This king, from the tribe of Judah, was left with Judah as the other tribes seceded and formed the northern kingdom of Israel under Jereboam.
The pattern for the future was set. The divided nation forgot its commitment to God. Jeroboam initiated the worship of golden idols, opening the door to the worship of all manner of pagan gods in the northern kingdom. A short succession of kings by birth was followed by the rapid succession of kings by violence as the northern kingdom of Israel spiraled downward into a black hole of apostasy. Their turn from God was both legislated by the Kings and approved by the people. The nation of Israel rejected God, that same God that saved them from the Egyptians 800 years before.
The situation in Judah was similar, but unlike the kings in the northern kingdom, those in the southern kingdom continued to maintain the Davidic line of succession, occasional kings attempted to restore worship in the temple, and many of the traditions that were initiated in the Mosaic law were maintained. However, the people of Judah had the same problem as the people of Israel as both nations turned its back on God and embraced the cultural gods of their neighbors.
2 Kings 17:1.
In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel nine years.
By the time we get to 2 Kings 17, the northern kingdom was entirely apostate. Hoshea was king over Israel. Hoshea's violent ascension to the throne was and supported by the Assyrians who by this time were treating Israel as a vassal state. Hoshea was bound to pay tribute to Assyria, a payment similar to "protection" paid to extortionists in return for security from their violence. When Shalmaneser obtained the throne of his father, the time appeared ripe to Hoshea to make an attempt to break free from Assyrian control. God or God's Word played no part in Hoshea's decisions.
2 Kings 17:2.
And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him.
From the time that Jereboam 1 introduced the golden calves into the place of worship, the nation continued to add the pantheon of pagan gods to their religious practices. We understand that the kings of Israel before him also did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, implying that Hoshea was even more hardened against the word of God than his predecessors.
2 Kings 17:3.
Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria; and Hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents.
At the time of Hoshea's reign the nation of Assyria (modern Jordan and Syria) had become the most powerful in the region. It exercised its power by conquering its neighbors and taking from those nations the slaves and valuables that would serve their own economy. Control was maintained over neighbors by controlling their respective kingdoms and exacting tribute from their kings. No king would be satisfied to be the servant of another king. The position of king is one of lordship, or ownership, over the people and resources of his kingdom. If he serves another, he is not really the king, but simply the lackey of another. The "presents" referred to here include the regular payments of tribute that were raised by taxing the people of the nation, bringing everyone in the nation under the authority of the neighboring Shalmaneser.
2 Kings 17:4.
And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and brought no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison.
Hoshea decided that it was time to break away from the "protection" payments to the king of Assyria, and knowing that he could not muster a large enough army to defeat Shalmaneser, turned instead to the nation of Egypt for help. At the time, Tefnekht was the Pharaoh of Egypt and his capitol was the city of Sais, which would be represented as "So" in Hebrew. Hoshea attempted to form an anti-Assyrian coalition, an effort that became evident to Shalmaneser when Hoshea failed to make the annual tribute payment. Much to Hoshea's detriment, the Pharaoh of Egypt could not come to Israel's aid. This Pharaoh of the 24th dynasty had just taken power and was still dealing with the internal strife that such a political move entails. At the same time he was vying for power with Piankhy the Pharaoh of Ethiopia for dominance in the region. Confident in the Egyptian assistance, Hoshea had stopped making the extortion payments to Assyria. The payments were made to ward off attack by Assyria, so when Hoshea refused payment, Shalmaneser quickly came to Samaria and took Hoshea prisoner.
It is interesting to note that the nation of Israel was formed by the miraculous protection that God afforded the nation. Mighty armies fell before the outnumbered and outclassed Israelites. Walls fell and the armies of pagan nations scattered when faced by the people of Yahweh. Where was that protection now? Following generations of apostasy, God's hand of protection was lifted from Israel. Many times people will pray for the protecting hand of God and do so without concern over whether or not God will actually protect them. I recall doing missionary work in some moderately hazardous situations, but was able to minister without concern knowing full well that as people were praying for me, God's hand of protection was also over me. I was able to work in confidence, embracing my surroundings rather than being in fear of them. However, I am convinced that if my purpose for being in those situations were self-centered or evil, no such protection would have been afforded by a God who would not approve of my apostasy. In this same way, God's hand of protection that had been so powerful in their past, has been lifted. God would use the Assyrians to bring judgment upon the apostate nation.
2 Kings 17:5-6.
Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. 6In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
After Shalmaneser took the Israelite king into prison he sent his army under the command of Sargon (who would be next in the Assyrian throne) into Samaria to finish off this little annoying nation that refused to pay tribute. Assyria used a process of assimilation that was quite effective. Upon the surrender of the conquered nation, its leaders and people of influence would be taken back to Assyria as slaves. In their place, Assyria would bring the populations from other conquered nations and by so doing, diffusing the self-definition of the nation. With no Jewish leadership, and populated with a Jewish minority, the nation would no longer exist. Rather than a vassal of Assyria, the nation would simply be part of Assyria.
Part of God's hand of protection over the tribes of Israel involved the grant of the land. Though the Israelites never completely took over the land and allowed the pagan natives to remain (against the strict command of the Lord), the years that preceded Hoshea's reign were characterized by the evacuation of neighboring influence. God had removed from the land those who would stand against Israel, and the nation had a short period of peace and prosperity. However, rather than turn to God in thanks, the nation ignored God's gift and continued to sin. So, like the nations that were driven out of the land of promise, now the children of Israel found themselves driven out of the land just as Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden.
2 Kings 17:7-8.
For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods, 8And walked in the statutes of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made.
The writer of 2 Kings provides clear reasoning for the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians. They were not destroyed because the Egyptians failed to come to their aid. They were not destroyed because Hoshea could not muster a large enough army to break free from Assyrian control. They were permanently destroyed as a nation because of their rebellion against the God who had formed their nation in the first place. Turning away from God, they followed the mores and culture of the secular world that surrounded them. As they "feared" other gods, they took part in the rituals and activities that were accepted by the secular and pagan social culture. God had cast out of Israel those who had been engaged in those worship practices, and in their absence the people of Israel continued to embrace those gods. The nation had left the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob completely out of the picture while they embraced the gods of the pagan nations. The depth to which the Israelite culture became like the pagan culture is surprising. An outside observer would not be able to discern the difference between a Jew and a Gentile. Calling themselves Jews, they were totally immersed in the secular world culture. Some of the depth of that immersion is described in the verses to follow.
2 Kings 17:9.
And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.
The attitudes, beliefs, and actions of the people of Israel were an hypocrisy to their heritage. Though claiming the heritage of Abraham they "secretly" took part in all of the sensual and self-centered worship and decadence of their pagan world. The range of their activity is mentioned here as they built altars to the pagan gods throughout the land, establishing them in the high places of every city from the borders to the very capital of Samaria. The worship of God that was to be central to the nation was replaced in every populated area by pagan altars. One could not travel through the land without seeing evidence of their worldly bent. The nation of Israel looked more pagan than the pagans.
2 Kings 17:10-12.
And they set them up images and groves in every high hill, and under every green tree: 11And there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the LORD carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger: 12For they served idols, whereof the LORD had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing.
Not only were the pagan altars built in the cities, they were also built on the top of every high hill. This practice was common among the pagans, as they thought that the tops of hills were closer to the gods, making mountains into holy places. The concept of the holy-mountain motif is generic to every Eastern religion, including Judaism which considered Sinai, Carmel, and other mountains holy since they had witnessed the presence of God there. However, the pagans took this concept to the extreme as they placed altars atop every high hill. The Israelites copied this practice, burning incense on the high altars as sacrifices to the pagan gods. The most common altars were stone pillars to Baal and wooden poles to Asherah, the male and female fertility gods, respectively. Worship included "holy" prostitution practiced in an attempt to invoke the gods to copy their sensual behavior and by so doing provide fertility in the crops, animals, and people. The belief was that all reproduction and growth was produced by Baal and Asherah. For the children of god to take part in such a practice is a direct rejection of their faith in God as their true provider of fertility. These sexual and sensual practices were in direct violation of God's laws as well as God's purpose and served only to invoke His anger.
One does not need to go far today to see the same kind of behavior in modern society. The names of the gods have changed, but the people's response to them has not. A god is anything that is given authority that belongs to the one true God. If God is our only Lord, then nothing in creation other than God deserves our allegiance, but we tend to give it away to other things quite readily. If the Lord is not Lord of all of your life, and you have not surrendered completely to Him, giving to Him all that you are and all that you have, that which you have held back is a god. What you are holding for yourself has power over you and by keeping you from trusting completely in God is only an agent of the unholy one's desires. We often quote things such as money and power as gods in today's society. However, inspection will reveal a much larger arena of pagan gods.
In addition to the formal worship of the pagan gods on the hills (Baal) and in the groves (Asherah), they served idols. An idol is any object that is given authority. To do so is to worship a created thing rather than the Creator, Himself. Valuable possessions can become idols to modern people, and what is valuable is a very relative concept. For example, it might be a new car that has a high price tag and an equally high monthly mortgage payment, a payment that draws resources away from other purposes that might serve God more fully. I have seen people who venerate their new car. How does one worship a car? I might wash my car once a year, and only if it was a particularly dirty year, so I consider one who washes their car every day bordering on worship. I have seen people fall in veneration to people, to celebrities in music and sports. Listen to the screaming at a football game and compare that excitement to that which you see from the same people who come to worship God on Sunday morning. When the worship of your favorite football team is more meaningful than worship of God, there is an idol in the midst. We give authority to many things in our lives that may border on or actually be serving as an idol. God has demanded all worship for Himself, as He is the ONLY one worthy of the worship of mankind. The Lord has clearly stated, "You shall not do this thing."
2 Kings 17:13.
Yet the LORD testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.
The people did not wander into apostasy in a vacuum. They are not innocent by reason of ignorance. Though the kings are doubly responsible for leading people into falsehood (James 3:1), the people are just as responsible for taking part in sinful acts for which they have been plainly forbidden. God's plan and purpose for Israel was clearly spelled out in the Law of Moses and through the testimony of the men of God who prophesied against the nation during all the years of their fall into apostasy. These years of final decline were also the years of the prophets such as Micah, Joel, Amos, Malachi, etc., who each warned both Israel and Judah of their inevitable demise. We find God's call to repentance to be a thread that is woven to all of scripture from Genesis to the Revelation of John. Even a cursory reading of the Revelation illustrates God's continual call to repentance and His continual offer of salvation to all who would respond. God's call to repentance is clear and loud all the way to the final judgment. There is no excuse (Romans 1) for any person to fail to repent; all are responsible, and all will inherit the consequences of their decisions. Israel's inheritance for sin was the same as that afforded to all who reject God: separation from Him. As a people who identified their God with their land, exile from their land was an excellent metaphor for separation from God. As Jonah thought he could run from God by running from the land, the people would think that they are leaving God behind as they move into exile in Assyria.
2 Kings 17:14-15.
Notwithstanding they would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the LORD their God. 15And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.
The apostasy of Israel is likened to a refusal to hear and to hardened necks. We see this same obstinence in people today, people who simply do not hear and refuse to see the error of their ways. Unfortunately, some of the most difficult people to bring to repentance are those who are members of the church, members who are loyal and active members of a social religious order, but fail to have a deep and personal relationship with God. They, like ancient Israel, have replace a relationship with God by religious rituals and practices that serve only to appease their conscience and convince them of their obedience to their own religious duty. They will be the first to testify that Jesus is Lord, that God is Good, and salvation comes from the Lord. However, Satan testifies to the same (James 2:19). While believing in the tenets of the faith, they ignore the relationship with God that the tenets point to, and instead of loving God and following Him in obedience, they go after the things of the world, having "done their duty" on Sunday morning. This is a behavior that is similar to that which we see in these verses. The Israelites became vain and self-centered, and went after the things the world had to offer instead of the life of faith that God offers. They rationalized away their sinful behavior and fully immersed themselves in it.
Today there are many who contribute to this rationalization in the name of tolerance and relativism. I was recently told by a Christian pastor that all doctrine is acceptable as long as the one holding to it believes it. My truth is true to me therefore, it is true. This pastor's truth does not agree with mine, but is also acceptable since it is true to this pastor. Both of our positions are fully truth to this individual. However, this pastor passes this same belief on to the congregation, enabling them to select the form of religion they so choose, and by so doing, there is no responsibility to hold to obedience to any of God's commands. The church is not discipling its people and has experienced no growth in many years. One cannot detect a difference in the lifestyle of its members and the lifestyle of the pagan world as its members are fully engaged in the sinful activities of this world and yet show up on Sunday morning to get their one hour of worship in. This position of relativism and tolerance is a pagan position that is fully contrary to God's Word, yet as a social position is being embraced by the church. Tolerance has become an idol that takes our eyes off of the truth. We have come to tolerate sin and give it a prettier name such as "an alternate lifestyle". However, God has not changed, and his judgment on an alternate lifestyle has not changed, regardless of what name we give it. Sin is sin that separates us from God, and the consequences rare eternal. God has clearly charged the faithful to obedience and His Word clarifies truth, and the Holy Spirit conveys it to the heart of every believer. Note how the Israelites "would not hear" and "hardened their necks." We can do the same against the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
2 Kings 17:17.
And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
One might say, "can any society get any lower than one that practices child sacrifice"? Gods other than Baal and Asherah were part of the Israelite pantheon. One of these was the Philistine god, Molech. Worship to Molech involved the sacrifice of children. The people believed that this god required great sacrifice in order to attain his attention. To get that attention people would sacrifice their children by fire. Certainly, we do not see child sacrifice practiced by our modern society. Certainly. If we replace the god of Molech with the god of secular humanism and replace the word "sacrifice" with the word "choice", we come up with a rationalization for elective abortion, a "choice" to terminate a pregnancy for no other reason than personal convenience. The destruction of every single unborn child is the destruction of a soul that God created for fellowship with Him. If the word of today's society is tolerance and compromise, this is one line that Christians should not cross. It is certainly the position of this writer that there is no difference between elective abortion and child sacrifice, and our only justification for the practice is a web of euphemisms and rationalizations the serve to put a sugar coating over the blackest of sins practiced by modern man. (Was that illustrative enough? I just heard hundreds of people hit the "Unsubscribe button!)
One cannot be critical of the child sacrifice of the Israelites and accept the child sacrifice of today without hypocrisy. However, we cannot pass through this discussion without remembering that God is a God of love and forgiveness, and His forgiveness knows no bounds, praise God. He will forgive all sin that has been confessed and repented of, even if that sin is the choice for abortion. Likewise Christians are called by God to be as generous and complete with our forgiveness and embrace those who have been hurt by the consequences of sin, loving them and encouraging them in their repentance as we all need encouragement as we repent of the many sins that we all commit.
The people of Israel also were engaged in "divination and enchantments." These are practices that are intended to ascertain information from satanic sources, the practices of the black arts. Satanism is alive and well today, and people pray to satan just as they might pray to God. Today, thanks to the likes of the Harry Potter books and other examples from literature and entertainment, the practice of Wiccan has become greater and more accepted by society than ever. Wiccan is clearly and openly one of the black arts, one who's practices are defined in the practitioner's "book of shadows" that contain the divinations and enchantments that are used to give their user power over someone else. As a fan of C.S. Lewis and his close friend J.R.R. Tolkein I was braced by someone for criticizing Harry Potter while embracing Frodo. My answer is simple: In the Lord of the Rings, evil and good are well-defined. There is no guessing who the "bad" guys are. In the end, good wins over the seemingly overwhelming power of evil. There is no such judgment in Wiccan, for in it there is no good or evil. The Sorcerer can be the good guy, and by being so accepted, so is his divination and enchantments. The scripture is very clear on God's position on the use of the black arts as it is literally "evil in the sight of the Lord." Because of this, acceptance of the likes of Harry Potter is not appropriate for the Christian, and to embrace the tenets of Wiccan or any other pagan system of belief is just one more step down the slippery slope of sin.
2 Kings 17:18-23.
Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only. 19Also Judah kept not the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. 20And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight. 21For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drove Israel from following the LORD, and made them sin a great sin. 22For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them; 23Until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.
What is God's response to sin? God never changes and his response never changes. Sin is sin, regardless of any pretty name that people give it in order to gloss over its ugliness, and God is a holy and just God who does not accept the practice of sin in His presence. To sell oneself over to sin is to be separated from God, for God separates from Himself those who live in sin, those who reject Him as their Lord. Separation from God is a scary concept, for even in today's world, we see the blessings of God in every walk of life as, "the rain falls on the just and the unjust." Over the years the impact of Christians on society is profound. Though many have expressed philanthropic ideals in helping others, none have been as effective and pervasive as Christians. We see the impact of Christians in service organizations throughout the world. Many of our hospitals and universities were initiated by Christians in an attempt to serve others. If all of the Christians were removed from the world, and the Holy Spirit was removed, the world would be a dark place indeed. It would be a world that would be descriptive of the eternal separation from God.
The consequences of sin is simple: death, which is separation from God. However, all people have sinned (Romans 3:23) and come short of God's glory. No person can look at the apostasy of the nation of Israel and point a finger of judgment, for the same separation that the people of Israel experienced is a just judgment on all people. It is only by God's grace that He determined a way that people can be saved from themselves, and that is simply to turn to God in faith through the saving power of Jesus Christ, who paid the price for the sin of those who would follow Him (Rom. 6:23).
Let us learn from the experience of the Israelites. The church of today is not Israel. Today's church is not characterized by a bold apostasy and an open rejection of God. Today's church, like Judah, still holds to many of the beliefs and traditions of the faith, and while some have wandered far from the truth, there is still a remnant remaining that is faithful and dedicated to obedience to God. One could argue that today's church is more like Judah than Israel. One can also know that it will not be long before Judah finds itself in exile in Babylon under king Nebuchadnessar, an event that is followed by the departure of the Glory of God from the temple in Jerusalem and 400 years when there is no word from God at all until the Glory returns at the birth of a child in Bethlehem. As dark as the years may seem, and as far away as God may sometimes appear, there is always hope; there is always a way, for there is always God's plan for man: confession and repentance that produces forgiveness to those who acknowledge God as Lord of All.