2 Kings 17
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics

I. A FOOLISH SERVICE. The life of every man is a service of some sort. We cannot, even if we would, be absolutely our own masters. Some men are the servants of self. Some are the servants of others. Some are the servants of good. Some are the servants of evil. Some are the servants of money, or of pleasure, or of their passions. What higher epitaph could be written over any man's tomb than the simple words, "A servant of God"? What higher choice could any man make than this, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"? But that was not the choice which Hoshea made. He thought the service of God was slavery. He chose the service of the King of Assyria. What fools men are sometimes! How blind to their own best interests! The prodigal son in his father's house had every comfort, consideration, and care. But he thought there was too much restriction. He would like to have more of his own way. And so he went away from his father's house. But he was glad enough to return. He did not find the service of the world and of sin quite so pleasant as he expected. So many discover, when it is too late, "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

II. A FAITHLESS SERVANT. Hoshea was unfaithful to God. And the man who is unfaithful to the claims of God - the highest of all claims - is generally unfaithful to his fellow-men. So it was in this case. "The King of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea." Hoshea had entered into engagements which he did not fulfill. The best security for right dealing between man and man is obedience to the Law of God. The history of nations and individuals teaches us that. The nation where God is honored, where the Word of God is read, is generally superior to others in the industry, contentment, and prosperity of its inhabitants. The man who fears God is the man who can be depended on. "He backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor." - C.H.I.

In the twelfth year of Ahaz King of Judah began Hoshea the son of Elah to reign in Samaria over Israel nine years, etc. Hoshea, the king here mentioned, was the nineteenth and last King of Israel. He lived about seven hundred and twenty years or more before Christ. After a reign of nine years his subjects were carried away captive to Assyria, and the kingdom of Israel came to an end. The selection we have made from this chapter presents to us - Aspects of a corrupt nation. A nation appears here as an unfortunate inheritor of wrong; as a guilty worker of wrong; and as a terrible victim of wrong.

I. AS AN UNFORTUNATE INHERITOR OF WRONG. Upon Hoshea and his age there came clown the corrupting influence of no less than eighteen princes, all of whom were steeped in wickedness and fanatical idolatry. The whole nation had become completely immoral and idolatrous. This king - the last of the Israelitish - it is said, "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, but not as the kings of Israel that were before him." If one shade better than his predecessors, he was, notwithstanding, a man whose character seems unredeemed by one single virtue. It is one of not only the commonest, but the most perplexing, facts in history that one generation comes to inherit, to a great extent, the character of its predecessor. The thoughts, the principles, and the spirit that animated the men of the past, come down and take possession of the minds of the men of the present. Though the bodies of our predecessors are moldering in the dust, they are still here in their thoughts and influences. This is an undoubted fact. It serves to explain three things.

1. The vital connection between all the members of the race. Though men are countless in number, and ever multiplying, humanity is one. All are branches of the same root, members of the same body, links in one chain. None can be affected without affecting others; the motion of one link propagates an influence to the end of the chain. None of us liveth unto himself. Solemn thought! Our very breathings may produce ripples upon the mighty lake of existence, which will spread in ever-widening circles to the very shores of eternity. There are mystic springs connecting us with the universe. Can we move without touching them? Can we give a touch that will not send its vibrations along the arches of the boundless future? The effects of a man's influence, either for good or evil, will be determined by his moral character. A bad man is a moral curse; the influence that streams from him will be moral poison. A good man, under God, is a blessing; his influence, like the living waters, will irrigate and beautify the mental districts through which it flows.

2. The immense difficulty of improving the moral condition of the race. There have been men in every age and land who have "striven even unto blood" to improve the race. Poets have depicted the charms of virtue, moralists have reasoned against wrong, martyrs have died for the right; and during the last eighteen centuries, throughout Christendom, the best men throughout all communions have struggled hard to bring the world's mind under the supreme reign of the true, the beautiful, and the good. But how miserable has been the result! Evil is everywhere the dominant force - dominant not merely in markets and governments, but even in Churches. Those of us who have lived longest in the world, looked deepest into its moral heart, and labored most zealously and persistently for its improvement, feel, like Sisyphus in ancient fable, struggling to roll a large stone to the top of a mountains which, as soon as we think some progress has been made, rolls back to its old position, and that with greater impetuosity. Scripture everywhere recognizes this difficulty, and speaks of the work as a "race," a "battle," a "crucifixion." I question whether the world is morally much better than it has ever been.

3. The absolute need of superhuman agency spiritually to redeem the race. Philosophy shows that a bad world cannot improve itself, cannot make itself good. Bad men can neither help themselves morally nor help others. If the world is to be improved, thoughts and influences from superhuman regions must be transfused into its heart. Moral goodness must come in a new form, and ply new agencies. Herein is the gospel: "When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."

II. AS A GUILTY WORKER OF WRONG. Hoshea and his people were not only the inheritors of the corruptions of past generations, but they themselves became agents in propagating and perpetuating the wickedness. See what is said of Hoshea here. "The King of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea." This is only one specimen or development of this man's wickedness. See what is said of his people. "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." So that while they were the inheritors of a corrupt past, they were at the same time guilty agents in a wicked present. Strong as is the influence of the past upon us, it is not strong enough to coerce us into wrong. Gracious Heaven has endowed every man with the power of thought and resolve sufficient, if he uses it, to rise above the influence of the past, and to mount into a new moral orbit of life. He has the power to stand on the firm rock of his own individuality, and to say to the swelling sea of depravity, as its waves are approaching him, "So far shall thou come, and no further." Because the father has been bad, there is no just reason why the child should be bad also. Because all the generations that have gone have been bad, there is no reason why this generation should be wicked. We are not like logs of wood on the surging seas of past wickedness, but rather like those snowy birds that can at pleasure mount from the billows, and quit them for the wide fields of air.

III. AS A TERRIBLE VICTIM OF WRONG. What was the judicial outcome of all this wickedness? Retribution stern, rigorous, and crushing. "Then the King of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years." "This was the third and final expedition of Shalmaneser against the whole of Syria, and it seems to have been after the lapse of a year or two from his second expedition. What new offence had excited his wrath has not been recorded; but as a determined resistance was made by his refractory vassal, Shalmaneser prepared for a regular siege of Samaria, which, through the stubborn valor of the Israelites themselves, or with the aid of Egyptian troops, lasted for nearly three years. At length the city capitulated; or, if Josephus is correct, was taken by storm. But the glory of this conquest was not enjoyed By Shalmaneser, who had been suddenly recalled by the outbreak of a domestic revolution occasioned, or at least encouraged, by his protracted absences from his capital. He was dethroned by the insurrection of an ambitious subject, and he seems to have died also before the fall of Samaria" (Dr. Jameson). Thus the whole of the inhabitants, one and all, were carried away by tyrannic force. "From inscriptions in the palace at Khorasbad," says a modern expositor, "which record the number of Israelitish captives, it appears that 27,280 were transported into Assyria from Samaria and other parts of the kingdom of Israel. The removal of entire populations from vanquished countries to some other portion of the conqueror's dominions had not been adopted, so far as reliable history testifies, as the policy of any ancient sovereigns in the East until it was introduced and acted upon by the later Assyrian kings. Soldiers when taken captive in battle, women and children belonging to the conquered enemy, it had, indeed, for ages been the custom to carry into the land of the victor. And even numerous tribes of foreigners, resident within the territory, and reduced to a state of bondage, like the Israelites in Egypt, had frequently, by the arbitrary will of ancient kings, been dragged to different quarters of their kingdom to labor on the public works." Here is the temporal retribution, at any rate, of two hundred years of idolatry and wickedness. During this period Israel had sinned away its liberty, its property, its country. The ten tribes sinned themselves into slavery, destitution, and everlasting obscurity. For where are they? Two thousand years have rolled away since this terrible catastrophe, and none can tell us who they are or where they are. "Be sure your sins will find you out." Retribution may move silently and slowly, but ever with a resistless step. It follows the sins of a nation as well as of an individual. It was the crimes of the Israelites that ruined the kingdom, and made them the victims of this terrible catastrophe. So it ever is; the great dynasties and kingdoms of the past have met with the same fate by the same inexorable law of retribution. There are sins in our England that are working towards its ruin. The sins of a nation work, like the subterranean fires, underground. The nation may have arts lovely as the landscape, institutions apparently grand and firm as the old mountains. But whilst the people revel in their exuberance of resources, their natural beauties, and in the grandeur of their institutions, and that for ages, sin, like an ocean of fire underground, will one day break out in flames, that will destroy the whole, as in the case of the ten tribes. - D.T.

We learn from the inscriptions that Hoshea, the murderer of Pekah, only secured his throne by acknowledging the supremacy of the King of Assyria. It was not long, however, before he conspired to achieve his independence. This led to the final overthrow of the kingdom.


1. Hoshea's better character. It is said of this last King of Israel that he did evil in the sight of the Lord, "but not as the kings of Israel that were before him." The testimony rather points to the great wickedness of the earlier kings than implies any exceptional virtue in Hoshea, who came to the throne by blood, and showed no more reliance on God than the others. His character, however, must have had some redeeming qualities. Possibly he tried to check some of the excesses of wickedness in the land, and to discountenance at least foreign idolatries. The unfavorable judgment we are sometimes compelled to pass on men's characters as a whole need not blind us to what is praiseworthy in them.

2. A hopeless task. It is both curious and pathetic to see this last flicker of a better disposition in the kings of Israel just before the end. But even had Hoshea been a better ruler than he was, it was probably now too late to do the nation any good. Every attempt to bring the people back to God had proved in vain, and corruption had reached a height which made a crisis inevitable. The carcass was there, and the vultures were preparing to descend upon it. We have a modern example in the state of the French nation prior to the great Revolution. A nation, like an individual, has its day of grace, and if that is sinned away there remains only "a fearful looking for of judgment" (Hebrews 10:27).


1. A policy of double-dealing. Hoshea's desire from the first was to free his land from the yoke of Assyria. Some attempt of this kind, probably at the death of Tiglath-pileser, brought down upon him the new king, Shalmaneser, who compelled his submission, and exacted tribute. But Hoshea was not faithful to his engagements. While still pretending loyalty to Shalmaneser, he was carrying on a system of intrigue with So, King of Egypt (Sabaco). They "made a covenant with the Assyrians," and at the same time "oil was carried into Egypt" (Hosea 12:1). It was not God Hoshea trusted in, but an alliance with Egypt. He relied on treachery, on double-dealing, on clever intrigue, to get him out of his difficulties. This kind of policy never permanently succeeds.

2. Open revolt. When Hoshea thought himself strong enough, he threw off his allegiance to Shalmaneser. He brought him no present, as he had done year by year. He was playing a desperate game, but he seems to have thought himself secure. A people is justified in rebellion against foreign authority when it is strong enough to make success probable; but God's blessing could hardly be looked for on an attempt which was cradled in duplicity, and in which God himself was totally ignored.

3. A bruised reed. As might have been anticipated, so failed Hoshea in his hour of need. His "oil" and other presents had been sent in vain. The King of Assyria came against him; but there was no movement on the part of Egypt for his help. He had trusted in the staff of a bruised reed (2 Kings 18:21). How manifold are the disappointments of those who rely on "the help of man" (Psalm 60:11), and put their "trust in princes" (Psalm 146:3)! Hoshea himself was captured, and shut up in prison. His ultimate fate we do not know.


1. The siege of Samaria. The King of Assyria now marched against Samaria, which bravely held out for three years. Had details been given us, it would no doubt have been found that this was one of the great sieges of history - great in its horrors, as well as in its after-results. We may picture the extremities of the famine of 2 Kings 6. repeated with additional horrors of anarchy and bloodshed; or, with perhaps more truth, we may draw our ideas of this siege from the descriptions of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (cf. 2 Kings 24., 25.). That was the concluding act in the history of the southern kingdom, as this was the concluding act in the history of the northern. Both were long-delayed, and in the end terrible judgments of God. The cup of iniquity was full, and another cup - the cup of God's wrath - was now put into the nation's hand (cf. Psalm 75:8). The city at length fell, and the final blow descended.

2. The captivity of the tribes. We read on the monuments that, after the fall of Samaria, the King of Egypt, alarmed probably for his own safety, approached, and was defeated by Sargon, Shalmaneser's successor. In any case, help was now unavailing for the unhappy Israelites. The children of Israel were removed from their cities, and carried away captive into Assyria, being scattered up and down in the places named. 27,280, according to Sargon, were taken from Samaria alone. What sorrow was here! Torn from their land, exiles from house and home, forced to eat unclean things in Assyria (Hosea 9:3, 4), their national existence extinguished, ruled by the heathen, - all because, when they knew God, they would not glorify him as God, but gave his glory to dumb idols, and defiled his land with their abominations, and misused the gifts he had so richly bestowed on them (cf. Hosea 2.). - J.O.

Here is the beginning of the dispersion of Israel. Soon that favored nation will be "a people scattered and peeled." These verses give us the explanation of Israel's exile. It is a solemn warning against the neglect of opportunities.

I. COMMANDS DISOBEYED. "They rejected his statutes" (ver. 15); "They left all the commandments of the Lord their God" (ver. 16); "They served idols, whereof the Lord had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing" (ver. 12). Consider:

1. Whose commands they disobeyed. The commands of the Lord their God. It was he who had brought them out of Egypt. It was he who had brought them into the promised laud. It was he who had made of them - a race of humble shepherds - a great nation. When God gave the Ten Commandments, he prefaced them by reminding Israel of his claim upon them. "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." This was a strong reason for obedience. "The preface to the ten commandments teaches us that because God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments." God has a similar claim:

(1) Upon every human being. This is the claim of creation and preservation and providence. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." Whether men like it or not, they cannot get rid of God's claim upon them.

(2) Upon every Christian. He has brought us out of the house of bondage. "In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love."

2. What commands they disobeyed. All God's commandments were for their own good. They were rational and wise commandments. To forbid idolatry was to forbid a sin which in itself was ungrateful and dishonoring to the true God, and which was degrading and demoralizing in its consequences. Oh that men were wise, that they would consider the consequences of sin for time and for eternity! "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding."


1. God's forbearance and mercy. God did not cut them off at once for their sin. Time after time he forgave them. He sent them his prophets to invite them to return to him, to give them premises of pardon and blessing, to point out to them what must be the inevitable consequence of perseverance in sin. His anxiety to save them was very great. The phrase used in Jeremiah is a remarkable one. "They have not hearkened to my words, saith the Lord, which I sent unto them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them." What a wonderful and touching description of God's desire to save! - "Rising up early." As if he wanted to be before men. As if he wanted to anticipate their temptations by his messages of warning and of guidance. If we make God's Word our morning study, what a help we shall find it in the difficulties and temptations and duties of each day!

2. Man's folly and blindness. "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" (ver. 14). All the warnings were in vain. "They sold them- selves to do evil in the sight of the Lord" (ver. 17). Is it not a true description of the life of the sinner? He imagines that sin is freedom, and he finds it to be the most grinding and oppressive slavery. He is "led captive by the devil at his will." The sinner serves a hard master. "They caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire" (ver. 17). How cruel is heathenism! How it crushes out the tender feelings of humanity and kindness! Look upon the picture of it as presented in its Molochs, in its Juggernauts, in its suttees. See how the aged and the sick are left alone to die. Contrast with all this the spirit and work of Christianity, its care for the sick and the poor, its sympathy for the oppressed. Heathenism makes slaves; Christianity emancipates them. This is true alike of the slavery of the body and the slavery of the mind.

3. Sin's bitter fruit. "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." Calamity is never causeless. If we are afflicted, let us see whether the cause may not be in our own hearts, in our own lives. What a warning is here to Churches! What a warning against unfaithfulness, against setting up human ordinances in the worship of God! "Remember, therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent." What a warning is here against neglect of opportunities! If we fail to use our opportunities and privileges, they will be certainly taken from us. Let us give an attentive ear to the warnings of God's Word, to the everyday warnings of God's providence. "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh They would none of my counsel, they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices." - C.H.I.

The Bible does not simply relate, but draws aside the veil and shows us the innermost springs of God's providence, and how they work. It teaches us to understand the deepest causes of the rise and fall of nations. The causes it insists on are not economical, or political, or intellectual, but religious, and its lessons are for all time. We may say of this survey of Israel's history - these things "are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (1 Corinthians 10:11). We have here -


1. Ingratitude to God. This is put in the foreground. It was the Lord "their God "Israel had sinned against - the God who had brought them up from Egypt, who had delivered them from bondage, who had made a nation of them, who had given them a land to dwell in, who had bound them to himself by solemn covenant. What people were ever under stronger obligations to obedience! Yet they apostatized, and "feared other gods." Sin appears more heinous against a background of mercies received. It is worse for a nation that has known God, that has possessed pure ordinances, and has been graciously dealt with by him, to backslide, than for another that has been less favored. Our own nation has been blessed in these respects as few have been or are. Correspondingly great are our responsibilities. The individual may reflect that the fact of spiritual redemption - salvation through Christ - places him under greater obligations than could spring from any temporal deliverance.

2. Heathenish ways. The positive wickedness of the people is next detailed. The heart of man cannot exist without an object to fill and occupy it; and if God is neglected, something else must be found to take his place. The Israelites rejected Jehovah, but they took to following idols. They would have none of his statutes, but they walked in the statutes of the heathen, and of the kings of Israel. It is to be remembered that the heathen worships here referred to were saturated through and through with lust and vileness. It was because of the nameless abominations connected with them that the Lord, after long forbearance, cast out the former inhabitants from Canaan (Leviticus 18:24-32; 20:1-6). Yet these were the ways into which Israel turned back in the land which God had given them. May we not fear as we think of the vices, the impurities, the filthy abominations, which abound in our own nation?

3. Zeal in the service of idols. Israel had no heart for the service of God, but they showed unbounded zeal in the service of their idols. Publicly, and in secret also, in every city, on every hill, and under every green tree, wherever even there was a watchman's solitary tower, there they set up their high places, burnt incense, and "wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger." The children of light may well learn a lesson from the children of this world in respect of zeal. If only one tithe of the earnestness with which men serve the devil were put into the service of God, how rapid would be the spread of true religion! The wicked throw the whole energy of their souls into their follies, their pursuit of pleasure, their service of the world, the devil, and the flesh. But how slack-handed and half-hearted oftentimes are Christians! What wonder God's cause suffers!


1. God's prophets sent. God did not leave Israel to sin without trying every means to turn the people from their evil ways. Prophets were sent, and these not one or two, but "all the prophets" and "all the seers." They were sent both to Israel and to Judah. They spoke in God's Name to the people, testified against their sins, and exhorted them to return to the ways of right. They warned them also of the consequences of disobedience (ver. 23). Thus it was shown that God has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth (Ezekiel 18:32). The fact of warning being given is a great aggravation of guilt if sin is persisted in. It leaves the transgressor without excuse. In our own land, warnings abound. The Bible is widely circulated, the gospel is faithfully preached; there is no lack of voices proclaiming the need and duty of repentance. If men perish, it is not in ignorance. They sin against light, and their blood is on their own heads.

2. Their testimony rejected. The efforts of the prophets to bring the people back to God proved unavailing. No heed was paid to their warnings; rather the people grew bolder and more daring in sin. If faithful counsel does not soften, it hardens. Judged by outward results, no class of preachers ever had less success than the Hebrew prophets. Their exhortations seemed as water spilt upon the ground. Yet through them was preserved and kept alive in the nation a remnant according to grace (Romans 11:5), and to it belonged the great future of God's promises. The stubbornness of the Jewish character was proverbial - they were, and had ever been, a stiff-necked people. The root of their evil was they "did not believe in the Lord their God." When they did believe, the same basis of character discovers itself in their unyielding tenacity and perseverance in serving God and obeying the dictates of their conscience (cf. Daniel 3.).

3. Aggravated wickedness. The people latterly threw off all restraint in the practice of their evil. It was no longer "secretly," but openly, that they rejected the statutes of the Lord their God and his covenant, and the testimonies which he testified, against them. It but aggravated the evil that in name they still claimed him as their God, and professed to do him honor, while in reality they had "left all his commandments," and had changed the whole substance of his religion. The form is nothing if the heart is wanting (Matthew 15:7-9); but the Israelites changed even the form. They went after vanity, and became vain, imitating the heathen who were round about them, and unblushingly introducing the worst heathen abominations into their own worship.

(1) They changed the fundamental law of Israel in making molten images - intended to represent Jehovah, no doubt, but still idols - Baalim.

(2) They imported the Phoenician Baal-worship, with its pillars and asheras, and its licentious rites - another direct violation of fundamental laws.

(3) They went further afield, and imported from Babylonia or Assyria the worship of "the host of heaven " - another thing directly forbidden on pain of death (Deuteronomy 17:2-7).

(4) Still unsatisfied, they abandoned themselves to the horrid rites of Moloch, and to the practice of every kind of divination and enchantment - the last and lowest stage in a people's religious degradation. This also was most emphatically forbidden to the Israelites under the most severe penalties (Leviticus 20:1-6). Thus they literally "sold" themselves to do evil, throwing off all shame or pretence of regard for God's authority, and became confirmed and wedded to their evil ways. In heart and outward conduct they had absolutely and utterly apostatized from God, and seemed bent only on provoking him to anger. Instead of marveling at their final rejection, one wonders how a holy God should have borne with them so long. But is not God's patience with sinners and peoples still just as wonderful? Their iniquities literally go up to heaven before he cuts them off.

III. JUSTICE NO LONGER TARRYING. If the Lord's justice tarries, it does not sleep. And when the blow does fall, it is all the more severe that it has been so long delayed.

1. Israel rejected. This people had rejected God, and God now rejected them, as he had from the first threatened he would do (Leviticus 26:14-29). He did not cast them off without the warning afforded by many premonitory judgments. But when neither judgment nor mercy was regarded, and the cup of their transgression was brimming over, he gave them up, and "cast them out of his sight." They were carried away out of their own land to Assyria, and never, as a nation, returned.

2. Judah not taking warning. The sad thing was that Judah also, which had begun to walk in the same paths, did not take warning by the fall of the sister kingdom. "The princes of Judah were like them that remove the bound" (Hosea 5:10), and many warnings directed to Judah mingle with the prophetic denunciations of Israel. Yet, notwithstanding partial reformations, the people did not repent. The sight is not unparalleled. If wicked men could be deterred from sin, or led to repentance, by warnings, these are never wanting. History and experience bear uniform testimony that it is well with the righteous, ill with the wicked; men have daily examples of the ruinous effects of vice before their eyes; yet they go on heedless and blinded. It is not a question of reason, but of evil inclination, and wrong bent of will. Sin is truly named folly - it is the absolute unwisdom.

3. The origin of the mischief. Again, the source of all these evils which came on Israel is traced to Jeroboam's fatal step in setting up the two calves. It was he who "drave Israel from following the Lord, and made them sin a great sin." One step in the wrong direction carries many others in its train. That act of Jeroboam had in the heart of it a principle which logically meant the overthrow of the theocracy. It was not only a violation of the fundamental law of the second commandment; but it was an act of self-will in religion; the assertion of the right to set human will above God's ordinances, and change and alter them at pleasure. Once a principle of that kind is introduced and acted on, it cannot be prevented from logically working itself out. The consequences of a wrong step stretch far beyond the results immediately seen or intended. - J.O.

For so it was, etc. We have used the first verses of this chapter, in our last sketch, to set forth the aspects of a corrupt nation. The Israelitish people appear in that fragment of their history as an unfortunate inheritor of wrong, a guilty worker of wrong, and a terrible victim of wrong. These fifteen verses now under our notice present to us three subjects of thought - a great national privilege; a great national wickedness; and a great national ruin.

I. A GREAT NATIONAL PRIVILEGE. We learn here from that the Infinite Governor of the world had given them at least three great advantage - political freedom, right to the land, and the highest spiritual teaching. He had given them:

1. Political freedom. For ages they had been in political bondage, the mere slaves of despots; but here we are told that God had "brought them out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh King of Egypt" (ver. 7). When they crossed the Red Sea, entered the desert, and stepped into Palestine, they were civilly free; the chains that had bound them so long were then completely broken, and each had the common right of liberty. Political freedom is the inalienable right of all men, is one of the greatest blessings of a people, but one which in every age has been outraged by despots. The millions are groaning in many a land still under political disabilities.

2. A right to the land. Canaan was the common right of all; true, it was divided amongst the ten tribes, but this was not for the private interests of any, but for the good of all. What we call "landlordism scarcely existed, and perhaps it would have been as well had it never existed; it bars the common rights of mankind. When one thinks that all the land in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England is in the hands of eight thousand men, a number which could be crowded into Spurgeon's tabernacle, and that thirty millions have no portion in the land, it is impossible not to feel that the condition of things is anomalous. Archdeacon Paley, no mean authority, with his characteristic clearness and common sense, has the following remarkable words. If you should see a flock of pigeons in a field of corn, and if (instead of each one picking where and what it liked, taking just as much as it wanted and no more) you should see ninety-nine of them gathering all they got in a heap, reserving nothing for themselves but the chaff and the refuse, keeping this heap for one, and that for the weakest, perhaps the worst pigeon of the flock, sitting round and looking on all the winter, whilst the one was devouring, throwing about, and wasting it; and if a pigeon more hardy or hungry than the rest touched a grain of the hoard, all the others instantly flying upon it and tearing it to pieces; - if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practiced and established amongst men. Among men you see the ninety and nine toiling and scraping together a heap of superfluities for one (and this one too oftentimes the feeblest and worst of the whole set - a child, a woman, a madman, or a fool), getting nothing for themselves all the while but a little of the coarsest of the provision which their own industry produces, looking quietly on while they see the fruits of all the labor spent or spoiled, and if one of the number take or touch a particle of the hoard, the others joining against him and hanging him for the theft." What boots collecting and publishing facts concerning the sufferings of people, and entitling the tract the 'Bitter Cry of Outcast London,' unless something is done to put a greater share of the land into the hands of the people, not by violence or spoliation, but by a calm and just legislation? Alas! even good men, through a weakness of judgment and the workings of a traditional faith, seem to dream that by multiplying churches and chapels they will hush the "bitter cry." How absurd!

3. The highest spiritual teaching. "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" (ver. 13). One of the fundamental needs of mankind is true ethical teaching; not the teaching of abstruse dogmas and vain ceremonies, but the teaching of immutable law - the "statutes of God." These statutes are not only written on paper, but on every page of Nature's magnificent volume, and on the tablets of human reason and conscience. "Do unto others as ye would have others do unto you." Genuine disciples of such teaching will evermore act rightly towards themselves, towards their fellow-men, and towards their God.

II. A GREAT NATIONAL WICKEDNESS. Possessing all these privileges, how acted these people - not merely the people of Israel, but the people of Judah as well? Was the sentiment of worship and justice regnant within them? Were they loyal to all that is beautiful, true, and good? Nay.

1. They rejected God. "They would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the Lord their God," etc. (vers. 14, 15). They declined the study of his statutes, and renounced his claim on their devotion.

2. They adopted idols. Mark:

(1) The earnestness of their idolatry. With what unremitting zeal they promoted the cause of idolatry! "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" (ver. 9). It is also stated, "They made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal" (ver. 16). Error on this earth is more active than truth, wrong is more industrious than right, the spirit of evil knows no rest, it goes to and fro on the face of the earth. Here, then, is national wickedness. Are we, as a country, less wicked than the nation of Israel? I trow not. True, we are all, for the most part, theoretical theists, but how many practical atheists? For England to a large extent ignores the Almighty. It might be said of most of us, "God is not in all our thoughts."

"With lips they own him Master, in life oppose his Word;
They every day deny him, and yet they call him 'Lord;'
No more is their religion like his in life and deed
Than painted grain on canvas is like the living seed."

(2) The cruelty of their idolatry. "And they caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord" (ver. 17).

III. GREAT NATIONAL RUIN. "Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight" (ver. 18); "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" (ver. 20).

1. Their ruin involved the entire loss of their country. "So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day" (ver. 23). Expatriation is an enormous trial.

2. Their ruin involved the loss of their national existence. "The Lord removed them out of his sight" (ver. 18). The ten tribes are gone, and it may be doubted whether they were ever worth looking after, for they were a miserable type of humanity. "The kingdom of the ten tribes," says Dr. Blackie, "was never restored, nor did the dispersed of Israel ever attempt to return in a body to their land." More than two hundred years of idolatry and wickedness have been followed by more than two thousand years of dispersion and alienation. Having said in their hearts to God, 'Depart from us!' God said to them, 'Depart from me!' The divorce was completed, and till a reconciliation shall take place, its sad, dark fruits must remain.

3. Their ruin involved the retributive agency of Heaven. The Assyrians were only the instruments. It is God's plan to punish the wicked by the wicked. No wonder that amid so gross a perversion of the worship of the true God, and the national propensity to do reverence to idols, the Divine patience was exhausted, and that the God whom they had forsaken by violating covenant, an adherence to which formed their title to the occupation of Canaan, permitted them to go into captivity, that they might learn the difference between his service and that of their despotic conquerors, - D.T.

I. ITS EARLY GODLESSNESS. The land of Samaria was now deprived of its Israelitish inhabitants. The King of Assyria colonized it with heathen immigrants. "At the beginning of their dwelling there, they feared not the Lord." What a mistake to go anywhere without taking God's presence with us! How many journeys are undertaken, how many a business is entered on, without ever a word of prayer being offered to God! How many a home life is commenced without a family altar! As the young Scotch lad said of a house where he stayed for some time, and where there was no family prayer, "There is no roof on that house." "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."

II. ITS SUBSEQUENT JUDGMENTS. "Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which slew some of them. 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" (vers. 25, 26). It was judgment that first made them think of God. It is often so in the history of human life. Men live without God, prayerless, godless lives, so long as all appears to be going well with them. But when sickness comes, or troubles overtake them, or death is drawing near, they cry to the Lord then. There is something mean about this. It is better to call upon God and to come to him in trouble than not to call on him at all; but how much better it is to serve him in health as well as in sickness, in prosperity as well as in trouble!

III. ITS MIXED RELIGION. Samaria tried the experiment of serving the true God and the gods of the heathen at the same time. It tried the impossible task of serving two masters. "They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence" (ver. 33). In their case, as in every case, it proved to be an impossible task. "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" (ver. 34); "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" (ver. 41). They "feared the Lord:" that was profession. "They served their graven images." that was practice. Yet there are many who are trying the same impossible task. They have a certain amount of fear of God. They are afraid to die, afraid of the judgment to come. So they think it desirable to be "religious." They go to church. They read the Bible occasionally, perhaps. They hear the name of good Christians. But it is a name only. Their life cannot be called a Christian life. They serve God on the Sunday in a kind of way, and the world or sin the rest of the week. They try, perhaps, to serve God and mammon. They try to serve God and the world. They are liberal-minded Christians. But this kind of mixed religion is no religion in the sight of God. He cannot have a divided service. This is emphatically brought out in the first chapter of Isaiah. There the inconsistency and uselessness of a religious profession combined with a godless life is clearly shown. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?" "Bring no more vain oblations;" "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow." Here it is plainly taught that a religious profession is worthless without a religious life. If we regard iniquity in our heart, the Lord will not hear us. It is interesting to remember that even this degraded people of Samaria, with their mixed and corrupt religion, were permitted twice at least to receive the gospel message. They were looked down upon with contempt and aversion by the Jews. But there is mercy even for the most degraded. A city of Samaria received Christ himself, and many of its people believed on him, for the saying of the woman who testified, "He told me all things that ever I did." It was even in the apostate city of Samaria that, when Philip went down and preached Christ unto them, "the people with one accord gave heed unto the things which Philip spake," and many of them believed and were baptized. And we read that "there was great joy in that city." Even to these Samaritans, aliens from the ancient Jewish faith, a people despised and hated by the Jews, the gospel of Christ brought great joy. Surely there is here an encouragement for the greatest sinner. Surely there is here a reason for us to hope and work for the salvation even of the most degraded. Surely an encouragement for Christian missions to the heathen. - C.H.I.

And the King of Assyria brought men from Babylon, etc. This fragment of Israelitish history brings under our notice four subjects which run through all human history, and which find their illustration in the events of modern as well as ancient life.

I. THE TYRANNY OF MAN. Here we find the Assyrians committing two great enormities on the men of Israel - driving them out of their own land into Assyria, and taking possession of their own country and home. "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." Who that King of Assyria was at this time who carried away the last remnant of the ten tribes into a foreign land, and brought from various parts of his own country men to occupy their property and their homes, whether Shalmaneser or Esarhaddon, is a question not worth debating. He was a tyrant. The places from which he selected the men whom he placed in the cities of Samaria are mentioned. Cuthah, a city about fifteen miles north-east from Babylon; Ava, situated on the Euphrates, to the north of Babylon; Hamath, the chief city of Upper Syria; and Sepharvaim, supposed to be on a branch stream from the Euphrates, lying about sixteen miles from Babylon. Now, there was tyranny in both cases. There was tyranny in taking the Assyrians from their own countries and placing them in the cities of Samaria; as well as tyranny in taking away the ten tribes from Samaria into foreign regions. Had the exchange taken place with the mutual consent of both parties, there would have been no outrage on the rights of man, but it might, indeed, have conduced to the interests of both parties concerned. Men are constantly changing their countries, especially in this age, when facilities for traveling are increasing every day, when the old countries are becoming over-populated, their resources rapidly decreasing, and new and fertile regions opening up in every part of the globe. All this is right enough, as well as often necessary and truly expedient. But to be forced away from home, this is tyranny, and such tyranny is not extinct even in our England. The tens of thousands that leave our shores every year for strange and distant lands, for the most part do it by a terrible coercion. Not only is he a tyrant who inflicts positive injustice on another, but also he who withholds from another his due. Tyranny is not confined to the throne of despots, but it sits in every heart where there is not a practical regard for the rights of others. It is in Belgravian mansions and ducal castles, where the groans of starving millions around are disregarded, as well as in the palace of the Czar of Russia, where the rights of millions are trodden underfoot.

"Thinkest thou there is no tyranny but that
Of blood and chains? The despotism of vice,
The weakness and the wickedness of luxury,
The negligence, the apathy, the evils

Of sensual sloth - produce ten thousand tyrants,
Whose delegated cruelty surpasses
The worst acts of one energetic master,
However harsh and hard in his own bearing."


II. THE RETRIBUTIONS OF LIFE. "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. 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." Probably the lions had been in the land of Samaria before the settlement of the Assyrian colonists, but after their settlement these furious beasts of prey seem to have been multiplied. Perhaps the colonists were too few in number to keep them down and to check their increase. Still, whatever the natural cause or causes of their increase, it was regarded by the new population as a retributive visitation. The statement of the courtiers to the king was, "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," etc. The law of retribution is ever at work in human history, not only in the lives of nations, but in the lives of individuals. No man can do a wrong thing without suffering for it in some form or other. Nemesis surely, though silently, treads on the heels of wrong. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." The lions of retribution track our steps as sinners stealthily, and are ready to spring on us at any moment. We are far enough from saying that retribution here is adequate and complete; hence there is within all a "fearful looking for" of some future judgment. We do not fully discharge the debt; as we go on it accumulates, and there is a balance to be settled in the great hereafter. Albeit the retribution here is a foretaste and pledge of a judgment to come.

"Nature has her laws,
That will not brook infringement; in all time,
All circumstances, all state, in every clime
She holds aloft the same avenging sword,

And, sitting on her boundless throne sublime,
The vials of her wrath, with Justice stored,
Shall in her own good hour on all that's ill be poured."


III. THE PROSTITUTION OF RELIGION. The Assyrian king, it would seem, in answer to the alarm which was felt concerning the colonists whom he had settled in the cities of Samaria, conceived the plan of adopting religion as the remedy. "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." The priest whom the king sent to them seems to have been one of the exiled priests who had formerly had his head-quarters at Bethel. It is not said this priest took a copy of the Pentateuch with him; perhaps he trusted to his religious intelligence and to his oral abilities. The fact of his being one of the exiled priests, and being settled in Bethel, would imply that he was not a Levite, but rather one of the calf-worshipping priests; his instructions, therefore, would most likely not be very sound or useful. Now, the question is, why did this Assyrian king introduce this religion? Not because he or his people had any faith in it. "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," etc. (vers. 29-31). Several of the gods of these people are here mentioned. "Succoth-benoth." The meaning of this word, which is thought to be "tents or booths of daughters," might seem to point to the places where the Babylonians celebrated impure rites; but here it represents one of the deities. "Nergal" is said to have been worshipped under the form of a cock; and from Layard, in his work on Nineveh and Babylon, we find that a cock was sometimes associated with a priest on the Assyrian monuments. "Ashima," according to some, was worshipped under the form of a he-goat, bald to the very skin. "Nibhaz." This deity was represented in the figure of a dog. "Tartak.' According to the rabbis, this deity was represented in the form of an ass. "Adrammelech." This means the "fire-king," who was worshipped as a sun-god. "Anammelech," a deity worshipped, some say in the form of a hare, and some say in the form of a goat. These were the gods in which the king and the colonists seem to have had faith, and not in the one true and living God. Why, then, did the king send this priest from Bethel to impart to them a knowledge of the God of Israel? Simply as a matter of selfish policy. The attention that they paid to any representation that the priest made of the true God was partial, insincere, and selfish. "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. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence. Unto this day they do after the former manners," etc. Here you have one of the million examples of that religion of policy that has abounded in all lands and times. In every page in history, nay, in every scene of life, we find religion taken up as a means to an end, rather than as the grand end of being. Some use it as a means for secular advantage, others as a means for personal salvation - what is called the salvation of the soul. Rulers employ it as a means to govern the people, and priests employ it as a means to coerce men into ecclesiastical order or conventional morality. In such cases their own personal interests are by no means ignored. This is a prostitution of religion. True religion should ever be pursued as the supreme end of man. In it alone his highest obligations are fulfilled, his full powers employed, his true destiny realized. But, alas! everywhere we find it regarded as a subsidiary and partial element in man's calculations, experience, and life. What is here said applies to millions even in Christendom. "They feared the Lord, and served their own gods." The religion of policy will never rescue man from the rapacious jaws of the lions of retribution.

IV. THE THEISTIC HUNGER OF SOULS. All these men, both the colonists and the Israelites, would have their gods; a god seemed to them as necessary almost as their life. "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." The same hunger for worship which the generations that preceded them possessed and developed had been transmitted to these their children as an innate force in their spiritual constitution. The religious element in man is not a passing sentiment, not a traditional belief, not something superadded to his nature. It is the very core of his being, the substratum in which all his higher faculties inhere, lie who has this element in him (and who has not?) needs no argument to prove the existence of a God. If it be alive within him, all such arguments are an impertinence. The existence of a Supreme Being is independent of all proof. It is written on the consciousness of human nature. Like the fact of our own being, it is too near, too evident, too much a matter of living self, for outward argument to have any force. Faith in God springs from within. It is based on those immutable sentiments of the soul that outlive all theories and defy all skepticism. To deny the existence of God is to offer violence to all that is great and sacred in human nature. - D.T.

The narrative of the fall of the northern kingdom concludes with an account of the arrangements made by the King of Assyria for resettling the land of Israel.


1. Their foreign origin. The policy of removing rebellious populations to distant parts - at this time a favorite one with the Assyrians - led not only to the Israelites being carried away to Assyria, but to foreign settlers being brought and put down in their place. The nationalities of the new inhabitants are mentioned. They were men from Babylon, and Cuthah, and Ava, and Hamath, and Sepharvaim. These took possession of the cities of Samaria, and dwelt in them. Behold now God's holy land in the possession of aliens, men without one glimmer of knowledge of the true God and his ways! The Israelites had become heathen in heart, and were removed, and now real heathen were put in their place. In the sight of God the latter were less objectionable than the former. They had never known anything better than heathenism; while the Israelites had sinned against the clearest light and the strongest love. In the judgment day, the heathen will rise up to condemn those who have abused the light of revelation (Matthew 12:41).

2. The visitation of lions. Thick darkness had now settled on the land. Even the outward worship of Jehovah had ceased, and the only gods known were those of the heathen colonists. Yet the land was Jehovah's, and however he might "wink" at the ignorance of a rude, uninstructed people, it was not meet that something should not be done to arouse them to inquiry. The removal of the former inhabitants seems to have led to the multiplication of lions, and these now began to attack the people in a way which convinced them that the God of the land was displeased with them. It is not only the colonists who took this view of the matter. The sacred writer gives the same interpretation. God has his own ways of speaking to the consciences of men, and this was the one now adopted. The people were right in seeing in the visitation a reminder of their neglect of "the manner of the God of the land;" they were wrong in thinking that all that was necessary to remedy this neglect was the performance of certain external rites. It was moral conduct, based on a right knowledge of himself, which "the God of the land" required. But their error was only part of their dark heathen superstition.

3. Their request for instruction. The people were much concerned about the visitation which had befallen them, and their case was reported at once to the King of Assyria, who sent them one of the priests who had been carried away captive, to teach them "how they should fear the Lord." Alas! how shall the blind lead the blind! This priest was himself one who had no right knowledge of Jehovah. He was doubtless one of the priests of Bethel, who had been mixed up with the calf-worship and all the other sins for which Israel had been carried away. It is evident from the results that he gave the people no right instruction. He probably set up again at the Bethel sanctuary the disused rites of the former idolatry, and taught the people some external observances connected with the Name of Jehovah. A religion so deeply corrupted was hardly better than those they already practiced. Jehovah remained to them a local deity, of whose real character they knew nothing, and whom they served from motives of fear.


1. Extraordinary syncretism. An extraordinary scene was now witnessed. The new-comers, once settled in their cities, lost no time in organizing their religions - in this, at all events, setting an example to more enlightened peoples. The high places formerly used by the Israelites stood temptingly ready to receive the new idols. Whatever may have been the character of the priest's instructions, they had no influence in checking the multiplication of strange gods. In the mixture of peoples, each nationality adhered to its own deity. The Babylonians made Succoth-benoth, the Cuthites made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, etc. The result was a chaotic confusion of religions, such as perhaps has never before or since been equaled. The new worships needed priests, and these were made from the lowest of the people. The whole is a sad but instructive picture of heathenism in its want of internal unity, its Babel-like confusion, its destitution of moral character, and its degrading and cruel practices, e.g. the burning of the children in the fire to Adrammelech, etc. Only monotheism can give true unity to life, religion, and worship.

2. Jehovah and strange gods. Meanwhile Jehovah was not overlooked, but had his place given him among the rest. The people "feared the Lord, and served their own gods." This showed, of course, that the first principles of the religion of Jehovah were not understood by them. But is it so uncommon a thing for men - not heathen, but professedly Christian - thus to attempt to combine incompatibilities? Is there not such a thing as attempting to combine the service of the Lord with the friendship of the world, which yet is declared to be "enmity with God" (James 4:4)? Is there no such thing as professing to serve God, yet giving the chief place in the heart to money, pleasure, fashion, or some other spiritual idol, which is duly worshipped upon its own high place? The less glaring idolatries are not always the least sinful. Ere condemning the irrational practices of these heathen, let us sit strictly in judgment on ourselves.

3. The absence of true religion. The cause of all this religious confusion was that the true God was not rightly known. Men may possess theoretically correct notions of God, and not act upon them; but it is impossible to base a right moral or religious life on conceptions of God which are fundamentally erroneous. These colonists did not know Jehovah's real character; they had not been properly instructed in his statutes; therefore they thought they were serving him when they were doing him the highest dishonor.


1. God's ancient covenant. The sight of this indescribable chaos recalls to the historian the memory of that original covenant of God with Israel, by the terms of which the people were pledged not to serve strange gods, but to adhere to Jehovah, their Redeemer from Egypt, and to keep his holy statutes. Had they been faithful to that covenant, how different would have been the result! Instead of being in exile, the nation would have been safe, happy, and prosperous under Jehovah's care.

2. The melancholy contrast. As it was, the people had been driven from their land, and this motley crowd of heathen held possession of it. Their obedience was not better than that of the rejected Israelites, and, so far as experience had gone, they showed no sigma of improvement. It is due, however, to the Samaritans to say that, when better instructed, they did improve, and, in Christ's time, they were as strict monotheists as the Jews, and more willing to receive the gospel. - J.O.

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