April 25 Reading: II Kings 15-17 Commentary
“Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God…” (II Kings 17:5-7)
We have mentioned before that all the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord. II Kings 15 tells us about five of those kings who did not follow the Lord. It was a pattern of religious behavior that was never broken, not even close.
The sins of Israel would finally catch up with them. During the reign of Hoshea, the nation was conquered by the Assyrian army in 722 BC, just as the word of the Lord had said. Their sin led to their downfall much faster than the Southern Kingdom of Judah.
Judah survived longer than Israel and from time to time had godly leadership. But they had their share of evil kings as well, including King Ahaz (II Kings 16) who did the unthinkable – practicing child sacrifice like the heathen nations surrounding him. That is really hard to think about, that their sins would reach to that depth – to sacrifice your own children in the name of religion.
It brings into focus words from the book of Jeremiah “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). So when you are wondering why you see so much wickedness in the world, that verse explains it. We are all born sinners, capable of doing many evil things. It is only through the power of God that we can turn from our own wickedness as we trust in Jesus as Lord of our life.
II Kings 15 – 2 Good Kings and 5 Bad
II Kings 15 runs through a grouping of kings of Judah and Israel. The listing for the kings of Israel includes:
1. Zechariah – reigned 6 months in Samaria until Shallum conspired against him and killed him (v. 8-10). His reign was the fourth since Jehu, thus ended the promise of God to Jehu (see II Kings 10:30) to extend his family dynasty through four generations (v. 12).
2. Shallum – reigned one month in Samaria after he killed Zechariah. He was assassinated by Menahem. Of note, is the barbaric act he did while attacking Tiphsah against the pregnant women there – he ripped them open (v. 16).
3. Menahem – reigned 10 years in Samaria. He paid tribute to Pul, king of Assyria, who was becoming the dominant power in region (vs. 19-20).
4. Pekahiah – reigned two years in Samaria. He was killed by Pekah in the citadel of the king’s house (v. 25).
5. Pekah – reigned 20 years in Samaria. Hoshea led a conspiracy against him and killed him (v. 30).
Of four of these kings the Bible states they, “did evil in the sight of the Lord; [they] did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin” (vv. 9, 18, 24, 28).
The only one not given this phrasing was the one-month king Shallum. Perhaps he gets no further description because his reign was so short. Or maybe it was obvious to the readers that he was evil because of his abuse of the pregnant women in Tiphsah.
Azariah and Jotham: Kings of Judah
The two other kings listed in II Kings 15 are Azariah and Jotham.
Azariah (also known as Uzziah) was the son of the godly king Amaziah of Judah. He became king at 16 years of age and is credited with a 52 year rule in Jerusalem, even though some of that time was reigning when his father was captive and co-reigning with him when he was released from captivity.
For the most part, he did was was right in the eyes of the Lord. The high places of worship were still not removed and the people burned incense and sacrificed there. We also read in verse 5 that the Lord struck him with leprosy until he died. The sin that caused God to bring this upon him is discussed further in II Chron. 26.
When he died, his son Jotham reigned for 16 years in Jerusalem. He too did what was right in the eyes of the Lord as his father had done. II Chron. 27 tells us that he oversaw an extensive building program in Jerusalem and engaged in war with the Ammonites.
II Kings 16 – Ahaz Rules in Judah
Ahaz was next in line to rule Judah. But after a run of successive kings who served the Lord, Ahaz, “did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his father David had done. But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel” (v. 2-3).
In fact, he was so evil that, “he made his son pass through the fire [child sacrifice associated with Baal worship], according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out from before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree” (vv. 3-4).
For his sin, God sent Rezin king of Syria against Ahaz at Jerusalem. Rezin could not prevail against Jerusalem. However, he continued the seige until Ahaz called upon Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria for assistance. The king of Assyria came to Ahaz’s aid, went up against the people of Syria at Damascus and killed Rezin (vv. 7-9).
Ahaz’s paganism ran deep. On his way to Damascus to meet the Tiglath-Pileser, he took the bronze altar from the temple with him and put it beside pagan altars on which he was offering sacrifices to the Lord. He also began to dismantle other parts of the temple (vv. 17-18).
II Kings 17 – The Northern Kingdom of Israel Ends
After Ahaz died, Hoshea became the last king of Israel to reign in Samaria. His reign lasted 9 years and once again “he did evil in the sight of the Lord” (v. 2). To that end, the Lord brought Shalmaneser king of Assyria “up against him and Hoshea became his vassal and paid him tribute money” (v. 3).
Hoshea did not take kindly to paying Shalmaneser tribute. Evidently, he conspired with the king of Egypt to form an alliance. Shalmaneser found out about it and took Hoshea and bound him in prison (v. 4).
Then “the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes” (vv. 5-6)
Why God Judged Israel
Verses 7-23 read like a bullet point list of issues that led to Israel being taken away captive to Assyria. In general the issue was that “Israel had sinned against the Lord their God” (v. 7). But the passage spells out clearly what that meant.
The people had:
1. Feared other gods more than the Lord (v. 7).
2. Followed the ways of the nations the Lord had cast out (v. 8).
3. Conducted secret affairs against the Lord (v. 9).
4. Built high places for pagan worship, set up sacred pillars and wooden images “on every green hill and under every green tree” (vv. 9-10).
5. Disobeyed the second commandment (see Ex. 20) by worshipping idols (v. 12, 15).
6. Neglected to hear the words of the prophets God sent to them and became stiff-necked like their fathers (vv. 13-14).
7. Rejected God’s laws and abandon His covenant with them (v. 15).
8. Constructed worship centers around the tow golden calves Jeroboam created (I Kings 12), worshipped Baal, and “all the host of heaven” (v. 16).
9. “Caused their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and soothsaying, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger” (v. 17).
So for all that, “Israel was carried away from their own land to Assyria” (v. 23).
Assyria Resettles Samaria
Once Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom, they brought in their own people to settle the land (v. 24). However, because they did not fear the Lord, something interesting happened. The “Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them” (v. 25).
In their pagan superstition, they assumed this was because they did not understand the rituals of the “God of the land” and that he was punishing them for their shortsightedness (v. 26). So they asked the king of Assyria to send back priests they had taken captive to teach the people the ways of the God of the land (v. 27). The king agreed and sent back a priest who lived in Bethel and taught the people to fear the Lord (v. 28).
Even though they were taught to fear the Lord, it does not appear that the teaching took hold. The Assyrians now living in the land continued to worship their own gods. They practiced their pagan rituals, including sacrificing their children. And we are told specifically that they did not fear the Lord (v. 29-34).
Questions to Consider:
The kings of Israel led the people into egregious sinful practices. How bad was it? Child-sacrifice-level bad. It shows us the human condition is capable of anything. Only by God transforming the heart can people be changed. Are you allowing God to change your heart everyday to be more like Him?
Sin will always catch up with you. It always has consequences. Israel learned that the hard way. They were conquered and forced to live in exile because of their disobedience to the Lord. What sin do you need to repent and turn from?
What other points would you want to know about in our II Kings 15-17 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.