The Word Made Fresh
1In the twelfth year of King Ahaz of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria. He ruled for nine years. 2In the LORD’s eyes he was an evil king, but not so bad as the rulers before him in Israel.
3King Shalmaneser of Assyria defeated him and Hoshea became his subordinate and paid him homage. 4But eventually the king of Assyria discovered Hoshea’s treachery; he had sent envoys to King So of Egypt and stopped paying Shalmaneser, and the king of Assyria put him in prison.
5Then the king of Assyria invaded Israel and for three years surrounded Samaria and besieged it. 6Nine years after Hoshea began his reign, Samaria fell. Shalmaneser carried the people into exile to Assyria. He settled them in Halah and Habor on the Gozan river, and in the cities of the Medes. 7All this came about because the people had turned against the LORD their God who had brought them out of their slavery under Pharaoh king of Egypt. They had worshiped other gods. 8They had adopted the practices of the peoples the LORD had driven out of the land before them, and they had followed the sinful ways of the kings of Israel. 9They had acted against the LORD their God by building shrines to foreign gods in all their towns, from settlements to walled cities. 10They erected carved columns and poles on every high hill and under every green tree. 11They brought sacrifices and offerings to the hilltop shrines, mimicking the religions of the peoples the LORD had displaced before them. They were sinful, and the LORD was angry with them. 12They worshiped idols, the very thing the LORD told them not to do. 13Even so, the LORD sent prophets and soothsayers to warn Israel and Judah, to tell them to turn away from their sinfulness and keep the LORD’s commandments and laws that were given to their ancestors through the prophets. 14But they didn’t listen. They were a stubborn people just like their ancestors who did not believe in the LORD their God. 15They hated the LORD’s rules. They hated the agreement the LORD had made with their ancestors. They ignored the LORD’s warnings. They worshiped false gods and became false themselves. They copied the practices of the people around them, the very people the LORD had told them not to emulate. 16They rejected the guidance of the LORD their God and made idol images of two calves. They erected a totem pole to honor a foreign god. They worshiped the stars in the skies. They served Baal. 17They burned their children in fire. They tried to foretell the future through omens. They let themselves be persuaded to do evil things in the eyes of the LORD, things that made the LORD angry. 18The LORD became so angry with them that they were removed from the LORD’s sight, leaving only the tribe of Judah.
19Judah was guilty as well of following some of the customs of the Israelites. 20But the LORD rejected all the people of Israel, giving them over to their enemies who plundered them and took them into exile, away from the presence of the LORD.
21Israel had broken away from the house of David by making Jeroboam son of Nebat their king, and Jeroboam led them away from following the LORD, making them commit great sins. 22Israel continued to follow Jeroboam’s apostacy 23until the LORD removed them out of sight as foretold through the prophets. That is why Israel was taken from their own land to Assyria, where they reside still.
24Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and settled them in the cities of Samaria, displacing the Israelites. 25At first, they did not worship the LORD, and the LORD sent lions, which killed some of them. 26Word reached the king of Assyria that the people he had sent to settle the cities of Samaria didn’t know the rules of the god of the land and that god had sent lions among them to kill them because they didn’t know how to live by that god’s rules.
27Then the king of Assyria said, “Send one of the priests you carried away from there and let him live there and teach them the rules of the god of the land.” 28So, one of the priests who had been captured in Samaria was sent. He lived in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD.
29Still, every nation represented among the people made their own idols of their own gods and put them in the hilltop shrines the people of Samaria had erected. 30The Babylonians made images of their god Succoth-Benoth. The people of Cuth made images of Nergal. The people of Hamath made images of Ashima. 31The Arvites made images of Nibhaz and Tartak. The Sepharvites immolated their children in the fire dedicated to Adrammelech and Anammelech their gods. 32Oh, they also worshiped the LORD, and assigned priests from among themselves to the hilltop shrines. 33But although they did worship the LORD, they also served the foreign gods according to the religious practices they had brought with them from foreign lands.
34To this very day they continue to worship according to their former habits. They do not worship the LORD. They do not obey the laws and rules and ordinances the LORD commanded the children of Jacob, whom the LORD named Israel. 35The LORD made a covenant with them and told them, “You shall not worship other gods. You shall not bow down to them or serve them or sacrifice to them. 36You shall worship only the LORD who brought you out of Egypt with power and a strong presence. You shall bow down only to and offer sacrifices only to the LORD. 37The rules and orders and laws the LORD wrote for you, you shall always obey. 38You shall not forget the agreement I made with you. You shall not worship other gods. 39You shall worship only the LORD your God, and the LORD will rescue you from the hands of your enemies.” 40But the people would not obey and continued to follow foreign religious practices.
41So, the people who were settled in Israel worshiped the LORD, but also continued to bow down to their idols. Their children and grandchildren continued their wicked practices down to this very day.
1-4: Back to Samaria: Hoshea, who assassinated King Pekah (15:30), rules Israel for 9 years. He is judged to have been a bit less evil than his predecessors, but Shalmaneser, ruler of Assyria, invades Israel and Hoshea capitulates and becomes a vassal of Assyria, paying a heavy tax, or tribute, every year. He rebels and tries to form an alliance with Egypt, and Shalmaneser puts him in prison.
5-6: That last verse is fleshed out in more detail here. The Assyrians invade Israel, besiege Samaria and capture the city and Hoshea. The people are also carried away and resettled in other parts of the empire. Captives from elsewhere are then brought in to settle Israelite territory, also known by the name of its capital city, Samaria. The resulting population will eventually come to be referred to as Samaritans.
7-18: Now the author launches into a lengthy diatribe against the northern kingdom to explain why Israel failed as a nation. There is a long list of wicked deeds, but the gist of it is that they forsook the faith of Moses and gave in to the cults of the people of the land.
19-20: Judah is found wanting also and their exile is projected in these verses even though it is still more than 100 years off.
21-23: Israel’s failure is summed up again: God allowed them to be torn from the house of David (Judah) under Jeroboam, who caused them to commit the great crime of turning away from God by launching a rival cult in Samaria. The later historians who compiled the books of Kings and Chronicles never forgave Jeroboam for those two golden calves.
24-28: The Assyrians repopulate the northern kingdom with conquered peoples from elsewhere in their far-flung empire. Not accustomed to the natural dangers of the land, some of them fall prey to wild animals, especially lions. They complain, and the officials who report to the emperor attribute these killings to a lack of knowledge of the “god of the land.” Shalmaneser’s remedy is to send an Israelite priest back to Samaria to teach the new settlers the “law of the god of the land.”
29-34: The people of the land continue, however, to worship their own gods, along now with the God of Israel. This mixed-up religion is one of the things for which the Jews came to despise the Samaritans.
35-40: The covenant God made with Israel is recalled, but the foreigners who are brought in to settle the north do not observe it. They persist in their pagan ways.
41: The people who settle the north worship the LORD along with their pagan deities; their faith is thereby corrupted.
So, the northern kingdom, Israel, finally falls prey to its apostasy from the LORD. We saw this coming when Jeroboam took the northern tribes away to form their own nation after Solomon’s son Rehoboam proved too weak to hold it all together. To prevent them from going to Jerusalem for all the religious festivals, Jeroboam had established shrines in the north, with golden calves to boot. Whenever we turn away from worshiping God who created us, we always risk being captured by the worship of other gods, who are no gods, of course.