The Fall of Samaria
- Describe Israel's pattern of disobedience.
- Tell why God allowed the people of Israel to be carried away by their enemies.
- Tell how we disobey God and how God wants us to live.
As we turn our attention back to the northern kingdom, the ten tribes whose capital is Samaria, we come to a hard lesson. The whole northern kingdom of Israel, the majority of its people, is sent into exile to the east, to Assyria, never to return.
First we get some political and historical background. Hoshea, the last king before exile, is trying to play one empire against another. After having agreed to pay tribute (heavy taxes) to the king of Assyria, Hoshea stops payment and tries instead to make an alliance with another great power, Egypt. But dealing with Assyria is like dealing with the Mafia---they play hardball. Hoshea is thrown into prison, and the Assyrian army marches against Samaria to lay siege for three years, until the city surrenders.
The Assyrians follow their typical practice of sending the population into exile and bringing in another whole population from elsewhere. Evidently this brutal method helped to quell any rebellion. So the whole northern kingdom is depopulated of Jews, and foreigners replace them.
The Jews are sent east and remain to this day in places like Iraq. The replacement people came to be called the Samaritans, who were so despised in Jesus' day.
But most of the chapter is not historical, but theological. The Bible makes it clear that behind these political events God is operating at a level the leaders of this world know nothing about. God works his way in the world to bring both blessing and judgment, even upon his own people.
At the beginning of the "theological" section, starting with verse 7, notice how the Israelites "sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (2 Kings 17:7). The words are heavy with irony. God delivered his people from Pharaoh long ago, and now they are seeking protection from Pharaoh instead of trusting and obeying the God who delivered them.
So now the Assyrians will reverse the Exodus deliverance by bringing the Israelites into another tyrannical slavery. The liberated Israelites now again become someone's slaves.
The Bible makes clear why this happens. The people of the northern kingdom were "as stiff-necked as their ancestors....They rejected [God's] decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors....They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless" (17:14-15).
Of course, God's judgment, while hard, was not swift or arbitrary. The Bible makes it clear that God had held back his judgment for many years while the situation of sinful idolatry only got worse. Over and over, the writer of 2 Kings goes back to the "sins of Jeroboam." It reminds us how crucial leadership is for a people. Both godly and sinful leadership can leave a mark for years.
As dark a picture as this chapter paints, we need to read it in the context of the whole Bible. The God of judgment here is also the God who refuses to break his covenant with Abraham, and Moses, and David. Finally, Israel's true King will come, the rightful Son of David, who will lead his people back and bring the blessing of salvation to the whole wide world.
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