This chapter describes the history of the Samaritans. After this chapter the book continues with the kings of Judah. Most tribes of the north have already been taken away. The empire now contains only Samaria and the surrounding areas. Hoshea, who also came to power by murder, reigns over this.
1 - 4 Hoshea King over Israel
1 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea the son of Elah became king over Israel in Samaria, [and reigned] nine years. 2 He did evil in the sight of the LORD, only not as the kings of Israel who were before him. 3 Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against him, and Hoshea became his servant and paid him tribute. 4 But the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea, who had sent messengers to So king of Egypt and had offered no tribute to the king of Assyria, as [he had done] year by year; so the king of Assyria shut him up and bound him in prison.
We return to the ten tribes realm, the end of which we read in this chapter. It has been mentioned before that Hoshea is the new king of Israel (2Kgs 15:30). Also of him must be said what is said of all the kings of Israel, that he does what is “evil in the sight of the LORD”. What does not follow is that he does as Jeroboam did, that is to say that he worships the calves made by Jeroboam. It seems that this cannot be said of him because these calves probably have already been taken away (Hos 10:5). If someone doesn’t do an evil, it doesn’t mean he’s better. He may not have been able to do so.
King Hoshea is good at conspiracies. He has previously forged a conspiracy against Pekah to kill him and become king (2Kgs 15:30). Now he has forged a conspiracy with the king of Egypt, with whom he secretly seeks support. The king of Assyria, however, discovered this conspiracy. Hoshea is captured and taken as a prisoner to Assyria. Another reason for his imprisonment is that he no longer pays the tribute imposed on him by the king of Assyria. All this means his downfall. The prophet Hoshea also writes about the downfall of king Hoshea (Hos 10:7; 11:5).
5 - 6 Israel Deported
5 Then the king of Assyria invaded the whole land and went up to Samaria and besieged it three years. 6 In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Habor, [on] the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.
Not only king Hoshea is taken away in captivity. The king of Assyria invades the whole land, besieges Samaria and captures it in and carries the entire population of Israel away into exile to Assyria. This happens in the ninth year of Hoshea, which is the last year of his reign (verse 1). The people of God have fallen into slavery and are forced to serve a foreign king in a foreign country.
This is the inglorious end of a (part of a) people that once among another Hoshea, the son of Nun, that is Joshua (Num 13:2,8,16), has entered the land. Now they are being libelously deported from the land under king Hoshea, the son of Ela. The reason for this is explained in detail in the following verses.
In the time ahead they will mix with the Gentiles in the midst of which they live. That seems to mean that Israel’s name has disappeared from the earth’s surface. But God keeps an eye on His people (cf. Jam 1:1; Acts 26:7). At the end of time He will bring back a remnant into his land of the tribes he had to disperse in His discipline (Isa 11:12; Deu 30:2-4; Psa 147:2; Isa 56:8).
During the reign of king Hoshea, the prophet Hoshea also spoke of the glorious restoration of the ten tribes realm, together with the two tribes realm. In Hoshea 11 we hear that the Lord in His mercy says about them: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel?” (Hos 11:8). In Hoshea 13 the LORD says that He shall “ransom them from the power of Sheol” and “redeem them from death” (Hos 13:14). Also in Hoshea 14 He speaks of His work in Israel and what He will be for them, that He will heal them and that He will be as dew for them (Rev 14:4-9). If we know this, the history of this chapter looks different indeed.
7 - 23 Reason for the Deportation
7 Now [this] came about because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and [in the customs] of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. 9 The sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. 10 They set for themselves [sacred] pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 11 and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations [did] which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD. 12 They served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, “You shall not do this thing.” 13 Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets [and] every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.” 14 However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God. 15 They rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and [went] after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the LORD had commanded them not to do like them. 16 They forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves molten images, [even] two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 Then they made their sons and their daughters pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him. 18 So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah. 19 Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs which Israel had introduced. 20 The LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight. 21 When He had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. Then Jeroboam drove Israel away from following the LORD and made them commit a great sin. 22 The sons of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they did not depart from them 23 until the LORD removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets. So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day.
God has used Assyria as a disciplinary rod for His people. The direct reason for the deportation by the king of Assyria was the uprising of king Hoshea. But the spiritual backgrounds are of course much more important and far-reaching. The spiritual backgrounds that are the underlying reason for the deportation, which are the justification for it, are given in detail in the following verses.
The whole description makes it clear that God, on the one hand, has been very patient and, on the other hand, is finally forced to pass this judgment on His people. The historian reviews the entire history of God’s people, not only of the ten tribes, but of all twelve tribes.
There is given an abundance of reasons for the deportation, all of which are closely interrelated, why God has done this with His people. It happens because they had sinned and not only during the reign of and by king Hoshea. The Spirit of God goes all the way back to the beginning of their history as people of God. From then until now, Israel’s sin has accumulated. It all finds its origin in the worship of “other gods” (verse 7).
The veneration of other gods has led to the walking “in the customs of the nations” (verse 8). This is mentioned as the first sin. We see here a picture of the development of Christianity. This has led to the thinking of things “which were not right against the LORD their God” (verse 9). They have made their own places to sacrifice God.
In those self-conceived and homemade places they sacrificed to the idols (verse 11). We also know this in Christianity, where everything that takes us away from the true God is to be called idolatry. For this we are strongly warned (1Jn 5:21).
The next step is that the people have surrendered themselves to the gods, began to serve them and this against the explicit prohibition of the LORD (verse 12; Exo 20:3-5). The LORD has given an explicit prohibition, but after that He also has not let Himself without witness about His will. He has “warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets [and] every seer” to repent and to return from their evil ways and to observe His statutes again. Instead of listening, the people rejected the testimony of God. They have despised God’s statutes, while keeping the statutes of the nations. Both His servants and His statutes are despised (verses 13-15).
To replace the service in Jerusalem they have made two golden calves. They have bowed down before them. They even let their sons and daughters go through the fire. So they sold themselves to the devil. The purpose of all this is to badger and offend the LORD and to provoke Him (verses 16-17).
The result is that the LORD has become “very angry with Israel” and has cast them out of His sight. There was no tribe left, except Judah. Only a few of the other tribes have stayed behind in the land (verse 18).
The fact that Judah is the only tribe left is not a matter for Judah to congratulate themselves. In this whole enumeration of the sins of Israel, in a single verse (verse 19) something is also said about Judah. Judah will not do better. This is to prevent Judah from boasting that they are not as bad as the ten tribes. Such an attitude would be very inappropriate and very unjustified, because they follow Israel, albeit at a distance, in evil. They will even overtake Israel when it comes to committing injustice. The result is that all Israel, the twelve tribes, are rejected by the LORD from before Him (verse 20).
The judgment of His people has in fact already begun with the tearing of the realm (verse 21). Jeroboam, the first king of the ten tribes, preceded them on the way of departure from the LORD. It is a way that God’s Spirit describes here as a way in which “great sin” is committed. Jeroboam’s sin is general and also persistent. They did not depart from this (verse 22).
It is tragic that of the people of God must be said that they did not to depart from all the sins of Jeroboam. That means they have persisted. What a contrast with their attitude towards the LORD. It should have been so that they would not have departed from the LORD by persevering in following Him.
In verse 23 follows the conclusion of all the listed sins of the people. God keeps to what He has said, even if it is a word of judgment about unfaithfulness. All His servants, the prophets, have announced the judgment. Now it must come. “So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day.”
The tribal bonds may have disappeared, but for the few there is always a path of faithfulness and faith that can be gone with and for God. That is true at all times. God always provides a remnant that goes the way of faith. So we see that in the time of Jeroboam faithful believers go to Jerusalem (2Chr 11:16). They only want to serve God in relation with the true altar. They have literally separated themselves from the ten tribes.
Later Hezekiah sends out an invitation to all areas of the ten tribes to call those who live of God’s people there to come to Jerusalem. Although the masses react negatively, some of the ten tribes respond to the call and come to Jerusalem (2Chr 30:11,18,25). It is also true for God’s people in our time that we must never give up hope that God will maintain the truth of the church as the one body of Christ. If only there is faith to accept this blessing.
There are also revivals in Samaria (2Chr 31:1; 34:6,9,21). So we don’t need to get the impression from this chapter that it is all over with Samaria and the ten tribes. God also knows those in the ten tribes who are His. However, the main line in this chapter is sad.
24 - 28 The New Inhabitants of Samaria
24 The king of Assyria brought [men] from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Avva and from Hamath and Sepharvaim, and settled [them] in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 At the beginning of their living there, they did not fear the LORD; therefore the LORD sent lions among them which killed some of them. 26 So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations whom you have carried away into exile in the cities of Samaria do not know the custom of the god of the land; so he has sent lions among them, and behold, they kill them because they do not know the custom of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, “Take there one of the priests whom you carried away into exile and let him go and live there; and let him teach them the custom of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away into exile from Samaria came and lived at Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.
In verse 24, the thread of history is taken up again. We see how the cities of Samaria are doing after having been carried away into exile. These cities will have new inhabitants. They are populated with people from other nations. Their characteristic is the same as that of God’s people who lived there first, for they fear not the LORD either (verse 25). For this reason the LORD sends lions among them.
A natural reason may be that the number of inhabitants is insufficient to populate the land, giving the wild animals a chance to multiply (Exo 23:29). In any case, the hand of God is in it. He uses the lions to make these people remember that He is there and that they are in His land. The people who have come to live there are people who have nothing to do with God, they do not interfere with Him. However, God does interfere with them. Because these people live in His land, He sends a judgment. God is not the God alone of the land of Israel, but of the whole world.
The inhabitants of the Samaritan cities draw the right conclusion, but the solution to their problem is not correct. While God’s action is aimed at people asking for Him, the king of Assyria is approached. It is clear to him that the lions were sent because of the lack of knowledge of the God of the land. To change this, the king of Assyria commands a priest to go there and “teach them the custom of the god of the land”.
The priest who is sent will undoubtedly be one of the priests of the golden calves. It is a priest of a mixed religion. This man introduces an even more mixed service among the new inhabitants of the cities of Samaria. What he teaches the people of the land about the service of God is nothing but the observance of outer forms as he did when he himself still lived there.
This terrible mixture is also seen in Christianity. Priests of the roman-catholic church have established a mixed religion all over the world. It is a mixture of truth and world. People are driven by the sword into the water to be baptized. That is what made Europe Christian. How much the name ‘Christian’ has become a hollow concept today, goes without saying for those who love and know God’s Word.
29 - 33 The Religion of the Samaritans
29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves priests of the high places, who acted for them in the houses of the high places. 33 They feared the LORD and served their own gods according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile.
In addition to the ritual worship of the God of Israel, each nation also remains faithful to the homemade gods. Externally they do what is appropriate for a faithful Israelite, assisted by an ‘original’ priest. Serving their own gods is perfectly compatible with the service to God as taught to them by the priest. This is what the roman-catholic church did, which made pagan gods Christian, so that everyone can become a supporter of them and still be able to hold on to their own gods, albeit sometimes with other names.
34 - 41 Disobeying the Word
34 To this day they do according to the earlier customs: they do not fear the LORD, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances or the law, or the commandments which the LORD commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel; 35 with whom the LORD made a covenant and commanded them, saying, “You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down yourselves to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them. 36 But the LORD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, and to Him you shall bow yourselves down, and to Him you shall sacrifice. 37 The statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment which He wrote for you, you shall observe to do forever; and you shall not fear other gods. 38 The covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods. 39 But the LORD your God you shall fear; and He will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they did not listen, but they did according to their earlier custom. 41 So while these nations feared the LORD, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.
Verse 34 seems to be another contradiction to the previous verses. In the previous verses it says that they fear the LORD, and now it says that they fear not the LORD. However, it is not a contradiction. The first fear is only outwardly, while in verse 34 it is about fearing with the heart.
A true fear of the LORD, a fear with the heart, is not present among the people. The touchstone for a true fear is whether there is obedience to what God has said in His Word. This obedience is completely absent from the inhabitants of the cities of Samaria. This is clearly stated in verses 34-40. In these verses, the importance of the Word is discussed in detail – “the statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment” (verse 37) – with the conclusion in verse 41.
The conclusion brings us into a next phase of the development of Samaria and the religion that is adhered to there. We find that phase in the Gospels. There we find nothing about an idolatry service carried out by the Samaritans. The Samaritans believe in the five books of Moses and serve God on Mount Gerizim. However, it is a religion that has its roots in what we find here.
In what the Lord Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, we hear how He judges the service: “You worship what you do not know” (Jn 4:22a). Samaritans worship what they do not know. These Samaritans have the Scriptures in their hands in which it is written that the LORD dwells in Jerusalem and that He wants to be worshipped there. The woman knows that and yet she says that “our fathers worshipped in this mountain” that is the mountain Gerizim. Contrary to the clear statements of God’s Word, the Samaritans have their own place of worship with a form they have devised themselves.
In church history we have such a development. What we see in the Samaritans, we see repeated in protestantism. In protestantism, the Word has been recaptured from roman-catholicism and idolatry has been dealt with. But that is not enough to reach the end station. There is something more to come. It is about taking the true place of worship. This can only be made known by the Prophet, the Lord Jesus. He Himself is that true place.
What the Samaritans and Christianity need is the Lord Jesus, the Son of God Who can speak of the Father. Whoever comes into contact with Him is also made aware of the true place of worship. That place is not geographically defined, like Jerusalem, but is spiritual in nature. It is about worship “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:23-24), that is: worship must be done in a spiritual and true way. This means that a completely different basis has to be taken than the one used in Samaria in the time of the deportation.
The contradictions between Jews and Samaritans are great. The Jews despise the Samaritans, but the Lord Jesus does not despise the Samaritans. For us, that means a warning. If by grace we may worship the Father in spirit and truth in the place where the Lord Jesus now dwells, that is where the church meets (Mt 18:20), we may not despise others who go to a place that is not in accordance with the Word. It is pride to know the true place of worship and to look down with contempt on those who do not know this place. Wherever that is found, the Lord disappears from the midst. He cannot be in a place where pride is. There reigns the spirit of Laodicea. There He stands outside, at the door (Rev 3:14-20).
What we read about the Samaritans here, in 2 Kings 17, is not the last thing we hear from them. “To this day” means to the day of the historian. It has already been pointed out previously that in John 4 the Lord Jesus speaks to a woman from Samaria about the highest service of the believer or the purpose of the life of the believer: the worship of the Father.
Something like that we see in Luke 17. There a Samaritan cleansed of his leprosy finds the true place of worship: at the feet of the Lord Jesus (Lk 17:15-16). Following these two examples, we can say that a sister, in John 4, and a brother, in Luke 17, have found this place of worship.
In the familiar parable of the good Samaritan, the Lord Jesus compares Himself to a Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). At the end He asks: ‘Who shows himself to be a neighbor of others?’ The answer is that our neighbor is he who comes to help us in our need. Our neighbor is not the one to whom we must show love, but the neighbor is the one who takes care of us. This means that we see ourselves in the man who fell into the hands of robbers and that we are dependent on someone who wants to be our neighbor. The Lord Jesus became the Neighbor for us. Do we want to take the neighbor’s place in relation to Him and be dependent on His grace?