Today: [2 Kings Chapter Seventeen] The Lost Tribes of Israel. Did you know that there were actually two captivities in the history of Israel? The 10 northern tribes were taken into captivity 100 years before Judah and the southern kingdom went into Babylon. In this chapter we see the events leading up to the first captivity and explore the sad reality that these tribes who went into captivity to Assyria actually within two generations ceased to exist in their tribal identity and simply became an anemic religious culture.
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[2Ki 17:1-41 KJV] 1 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel nine years. 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. 3 Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria; and Hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents. 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.
In this chapter we turn back to the history of the northern kingdom. After many intrigues and assassinations a man by the name of Hoshea now reigns in Israel. He was involved in a siege against Ahaz in the south along with the king of Syria. Ahaz in Jerusalem hires the Assyrians to destroy Syria and take Damascus. Following this Shalmaneser king of Assayria comes against Samaria and it’s king Hoshea becomes his vassal. Initially unknown to Shalmaneser – Hoshea conspires with Egypt to come to their aid and end the Assyrian occupation. Shalmaneser finds out and puts Hoshea in prison. During this time Ezekiel is prophesying as a captive in Assyria that the conspiracy of the northern king will not prosper because while attempting to make covenant with Egypt he has broken faith with the God of his fathers (Ezek. 17).
5 Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years. 6 In 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. 7 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, 8 And 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. 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. 10 And they set them up images and groves in every high hill, and under every green tree: 11 And 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: 12 For they served idols, whereof the LORD had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing. 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.
Shalmaneser finally makes an end of the northern kingdom. He besieges Samaria for three years and ultimately takes them into captivity. If you study the outcome of this terrible act you will find that the 10 northern tribes never returned from this captivity. They went into dispersion and bred themselves out of existence. How is the possible? Jewish tradition can be quite liberal where this matter is concerned but according to strict interpretation of Moses’ law when these dispersed Israelites intermarried in their 2nd and 3rd generation their offspring were no longer considered Jewish. Thus when the first and 2nd generation died out their heirs were merely considered gentiles. Is that the end of the matter? Not quite. While these dispersed peoples lost their tribal identify they did retain, some right down to the modern day a cultural identity rooted in their ancient Jewish traditions. Does that then legitimize them according to the law? No. According to the law not only must they not marry Gentiles but they must marry within their tribe in order to retain their tribal identity. Thus a tribal identify becomes a cultural identity and evolves into a religion we identify as Judaism in various forms that can be found in ancient cultures primarily in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Ethiopia and India. This is important to think about because there are many references to the 12 tribes after the time that they have effectively ceased to exist. Whatever the indication is – if the law of Moses means anything the reference cannot be to literal, genetically pure and cohesive tribes because they no longer exist. Even in Paul’s day this issue was a major distraction among Judaizing Christians who by their doctrine impeached the validity of Gentile conversions because they were not descendants of Abraham:
[1Ti 1:4 KJV] 4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: [so do].
Rather to focus on why these tribes were dispersed and what example we can draw from them. 1.) v. 7 – they sinned against the Lord who brought them out of Egypt. 2.) v. 8 – They walked in the statutes of the heathen that God dispersed from the land in order to give them possession in Israel. 3.) v. 9 – They secretly did those things that were not right against the Lord worshipping and burning incense to Baal within their cities throughout Isreal. 4.) v. 10 – They set up images and groves in the high places. 5.) v. 11-12 – They served idols and images which the Lord expressly forbade.
Where was their accountability? The Lord sent them prophets. During the days of the northern kingdom God sent prophets to them such as Elijah, Elisha, Obadiah, Jonah, Isaiah, Micah and Ezekiel. In fact much of the prophetic writings in the scriptures were focused on calling the northern tribes out of idolatry to serve again the living God. Nonetheless they consistently rebelled and refused to surrender to the dictates of the law of Moses. What can we learn from these actions? Can we make any analogy or draw any comparison between our day and this tragic period of history? We may not worship idols (although our culture is increasingly syncretic and post Christian) but are there idolatrous practices in our lifestyles? Think about the cult of celebrity. We call pop performers, actors and musicians “idols, stars, and celebrities”. This corresponds to the worship of Astarte which Solomon and his wives were fond of even going so far as to established groves and temples to Ashtoreth on the Mount of Olives itself. We may not pray to these people but how much of the Hollywood scene dominates our daily life? Do we make more room for popular culture in our lives than we do the things of God such as the word of God and prayer? I certainly understand that we are dealing with appetites for entertainment and diversion that are very addictive and easily and overwhelmingly will usurp the place of prayer and the study of the word in our lives. No one can impose a standard of expectation upon anyone in this day and age but as sincere Christians (if sincere Christians we claim to be) we must find out what accountability to God looks like in the light of these specific passages.
14 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. 15 And 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. 16 And they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made them molten images, [even] two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 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. 18 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.
The sins of Israel also came to light in the area of their concepts of power and leadership. Just as Israel cried out for a king and chose Saul rather than be ruled through a theocratic government led by God himself – so the northern tribes gave themselves up to the cult of Baal. Baal means “dominative father”. Human nature is always to look for the strong, confident, charismatic leader to follow and give your support to. In our society today ideology no longer drives our decisions regarding leaders as much as charismatic personalities do. It has been said that Abraham Lincoln could never have been elected in the television age because he was so ugly and misshapen in appearance. Franklin Roosevelt, a cripple who had to be carried from place to place could never have been elected in the television age because of his disability. In post WWI Germany many ideologies were battling for the hearts and minds of Germany but it was a charismatic leader with maniacal self confidence who captured the loyalty of the people and plunged the entire world into a holocaust of blood and suffering. The political landscape we see today throughout the world is very much akin to the circumstances that gave birth to Hitler.
The people also sacrificed their children to Molech “making their children to pass through the fire…” Despite all the efforts to champion the cause of the weak and defenseless we cannot ignore the fact that since abortion was legalized over 50 million babies have been aborted, more than the total deaths during WWII. Perhaps we can live with this holocaust as the Germans who ignored the smoke stacks of the death camps but there is a reckoning that cannot be avoided on the horizon. If God sent the northern tribes into captivity from which they never returned can we suppose that he will look the other way if we follow so egregiously in their footsteps? If there is a God – if there is any validity to the scriptures at all then we cannot assume that there is not accounting that will ultimately be extracted upon our decadent modern society as it was in ancient times. Thank God for Jesus! Thank God for a savior who said “though a thousand fall by your right hand and 10,000 at your left it will not come near you….”
19 Also Judah kept not the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. 20 And 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. 21 For he rent Israel from the house of David; and they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king: and Jeroboam drave Israel from following the LORD, and made them sin a great sin. 22 For the children of Israel walked in all the sins of Jeroboam which he did; they departed not from them; 23 Until 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. 24 And the king of Assyria brought [men] from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed [them] in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof. 25 And [so] it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, [that] they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew [some] of them. 26 Wherefore they spake to the king of Assyria, saying, The nations which thou hast removed, and placed in the cities of Samaria, know not the manner of the God of the land: therefore he hath sent lions among them, and, behold, they slay them, because they know not the manner of the God of the land. 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, Carry thither one of the priests whom ye brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land. 28 Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.
After the Israelites were taken into captivity the land was not left vacant. The king of Assyria resettled other captive nations, heathen nations into the land of the northern tribes. However they had problems with wild beasts and other difficulties and petitioned the king of Assyria to send a priest from the captivity to return to Bethel and teach them how to appease the God of the land. This is interesting because we see that the land can become difficult when the “God of the land” is not properly related to. If we believe this – how might the ecological cataclysms and problems we see throughout the earth be actually rooted in the abandonment of faith and rejection of the God of the universe?
29 Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put [them] in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. 30 And the men of Babylon made Succothbenoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 And the Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 So they feared the LORD, and made unto themselves of the lowest of them priests of the high places, which sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. 33 They feared the LORD, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence. 34 Unto this day they do after the former manners: they fear not the LORD, neither do they after their statutes, or after their ordinances, or after the law and commandment which the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel; 35 With whom the LORD had made a covenant, and charged them, saying, Ye shall not fear other gods, nor bow yourselves to them, nor serve them, nor sacrifice to them: 36 But the LORD, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt with great power and a stretched out arm, him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice. 37 And the statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do for evermore; and ye shall not fear other gods. 38 And the covenant that I have made with you ye shall not forget; neither shall ye fear other gods. 39 But the LORD your God ye shall fear; and he shall deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies. 40 Howbeit they did not hearken, but they did after their former manner. 41 So these nations feared the LORD, and served their graven images, both their children, and their children’s children: as did their fathers, so do they unto this day.
Here we see the establishment of the corrupt altar of Samaria that existed in Jesus’ day that was so hated by the Jews. This was a hybrid, syncretic blend of Judaism, Pagan worship and idolatry. They served God in the mount of Samaria. This was the backdrop for the conversation that Jesus had with the woman at the well over what mountain was appropriate to worship in – Samaria or Jerusalem. Jesus brought all this confusion to its terminus when he answered the Samaritan woman thus:
[Jhn 4:23-24 KJV] 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God [is] a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship [him] in spirit and in truth.
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