2 Kings 17:6-41: Israel Taken Captive
Do you remember the golden calves which the first King Jeroboam set up for the people to worship at Bethel and at Dan? Do you remember who were king and queen of Israel in the time of Elijah, and how they led the people of Israel away from the Lord to worship Baal? There were other wicked kings after Ahab, and very few among the people were left who thought of the Lord or cared for Him. He had brought them out of Egypt and had led them and cared for them all these years, but they disobeyed Him and worshiped images and the sun and moon and stars and did many wicked things that they learned from the nations about them, even sacrificing their children and burning them in the fire.
Then the Assyrians came from the north. They were a strong people, whose great city was Nineveh on the Tigris River far away. At first they came and made the kings of Israel pay tribute. But at last they took the strong city of Samaria after besieging it three years, and carried the people of Israel away as captives, and they never were brought back to their homes. How sad to be taken away from the land and the homes they loved, perhaps to be separated from family and friends, and to live with strangers in a strange land! And all because they would not remember the Lord and obey Him.
And the king of Assyria brought strange people to live in the towns which the people of Israel had left. They came from several different countries and brought their idols with them. These people had trouble, for lions came and killed some of them. They thought it was because they did not know how to worship the God of the land; for they thought each country had its own god. So the king of Assyria sent back one of the priests of Israel to teach these people how to worship the Lord. He taught them, but they only added this to their other worships; they still worshiped their idols and the Lord as one more god. Years afterward, the people of Jerusalem would not acknowledge these people of Samaria as their brethren: as it was said, “the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans,” and even today there is no friendship between them. We will read the story.
We have learned how the people of Israel left the Lord to worship Baal. The idolatry and the wickedness increased, as our chapter sadly tells us. Read verses 8 to 23. The “high places” were raised places where there were altars to idols. “From the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city” seems to mean “everywhere, in the loneliest and the most thickly settled places.” The tower was for those who watched the docks or the crops in the lonely country. “Groves” were rude wooden images. The “molten images, even two calves” (verse 16) seem to mean particularly the two golden calves that were set up at Bethel and Dan by Jeroboam, the first king of the northern tribes, when they separated from Judah after the days of Solomon. He did it to keep the people from going to Jerusalem and the temple. You read of this in I Kings 12:20 33. It was often referred to as “the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.” (See verses 21, 22 of our chapter.) “The host of heaven” are the sun, moon, and stars, which were so often worshiped. Causing their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire means the sacrificing and burning of children as offerings, especially to the idol Molech. (See verse 31 of our chapter.) The “divinations and enchantments” were lots and signs to which they looked for guidance instead of to the Lord.
The people of Israel were doing very wrong, and when they did wrong they were not safe from their enemies. Then the Lord seemed to them to be angry.
And what was the enemy whose power was now growing and threatening Israel? It was Assyria. In the Book of Jonah you read about Assyria and its great city Nineveh. Please find it on the map. The danger from Assyria was growing. First we read how the king of Assyria came and was bought off with a large present. (2 Kings 15:19-20) Then how the Assyrians took a part of the land of Israel and carried the people captive. (2 Kings 15:29) Afterward, the Assyrians imposed a yearly tribute. (Verse 3 of our chapter) But after a time the king of Israel, looking for help from Egypt, refused to pay the tribute. Then Samaria was besieged three years and taken. Tyre was also taken after five years’ siege. We read of these things on the Assyrian monuments as well as in the Bible. The people of Israel were taken captive, and strangers were brought to live in the cities of Samaria.
Some of the captives were placed “in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan” (Revised Version), which probably means the region west of Nineveh, about the river Khabour, a branch of the Euphrates. Others were placed in the cities of the Medes, which were farther away, to the east of the Tigris River. So the kingdom of Israel came to an end.
Of the strangers who were brought to the land of Israel some were from Babylon on the lower Euphrates. The other places named were perhaps also along the Euphrates, except Hamath, which was the old Hittite city on the Orontes, to the north of Canaan. These strange people brought with them their idols and their heathen worships, and although they learned something about the Lord from a priest of Israel who was sent back to teach them, they kept their idol worships, and they were always regarded by the Jews as strangers. Long afterward when the Jews were rebuilding the temple they would not let these people have part in the work. (Ezra 4:1-4) In the Gospel days the feeling was the same. (John 4:9)
It is sad to think how the people of Israel forgot the Lord and worshiped idols. Do we ever do so? When we let something else stand fist, before the Lord and what is right? And when we do so, we are in danger of being taken captive. “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin,” the Lord said. (John 8:34) We know how a bad habit takes hold of us and makes us its slave. And at the same time it takes us far away from our home in the Holy Land. We are like the prodigal son, in a far country, far from heaven and our Father's house.
1. B what nation was Israel carried captive? To what lands?
2. Were the captives ever brought back? Who occupied their country?
3. What worship had these people?
4. Why was it that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans?
Let some one study further for us the subject of spiritual captivity and of banishment from the Holy Land. (A. 892, 905, 9164)
We must think more particularly of the meaning of this taking captive of Israel by Assyria. First, as to the meaning of Israel. There are in general two faculties of the mind, the will and the understanding. They are represented by the two kingdoms into which the land of Canaan was divided, Israel and Judah. Which faculty does Judah represent, where the Lord was born and where He laid down His life for humanity? And which does Israel represent, where the Lord lived as a youth and man and where so much of His work was done? Judah represents the will with its affections, and Israel the understanding with its intelligence. Israel's captivity, therefore, represents especially the captivity of the understanding when it comes into states of darkness and stupidity through the influence of false beliefs and persuasions. By and by in the story we learn of the captivity of Judah, which represents the will coming under the dominion of evil. (A. 4292, 4750: E. 433)
And what does Assyria represent, the special enemy of Israel? Assyria often has a good meaning. It is compared to the noble cedar of Lebanon. (Ezek. 31:3-9) The name is also associated with one of the streams of Eden. (Gen. 2:14) Both the cedar and the streams of Eden represent intelligence of a noble kind, and we are taught that Assyria stands for the rational faculty. (A. 119) This is a good and noble faculty, but if it grows self-confident and is used to excuse evil, and to make the false appear true, it is the special enemy of the spiritual intelligence which is represented by Israel. “I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent.” (Isa. 10:12-13) The places to which the people of Israel were led captive represent various states of darkness—some more of ignorance and some more of evil—to which the mind is led by false reasoning. (A. 1184-1190) By and by when we study the captivity of Judah we must learn the meaning of their great enemy, Babylon.
The idolatrous people who were brought in to occupy the land suggest the evil and false things which crowd in when truth is gone. (A. 9164) Perhaps in this giving of the Holy Land to heathen people there is also a foreshadowing of the Lord's turning to the Gentiles, and to the Samaritans descended from these very people, when He was rejected by the Jews. The lions which attacked the strangers represent the evil passions to which all are exposed who are not protected by true faith in the Lord. (E. 650; A. 9335)