Where Are the Gods?

26 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebnah, and Joah, said to the Rabshakeh, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it. Do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” 27 But the Rabshakeh said to them, “Has my master sent me to speak these words to your master and to you, and not to the men sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?”

28 Then the Rabshakeh stood and called out in a loud voice in the language of Judah: “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria! 29 Thus says the king: ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you out of my hand. 30 Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord by saying, The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ 31 Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria: ‘Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 32 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” 33 Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? 35 Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’”

36 But the people were silent and answered him not a word, for the king’s command was, “Do not answer him.” 37 Then Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came to Hezekiah with their clothes torn and told him the words of the Rabshakeh. 2 Kings 18:26-37 ESV

This entire scene is filled with a sense of nervous anticipation. The people of Judah are lining the eastern walls of the city, overlooking the Kidron Valley, where the Assyrian army lies spread out before them in numbers too great to count. But their eyes are locked on the three emissaries whom King Hezekiah commissioned to discuss terms of peace with the Assyrians. Eliakim, Shebnah, and Joah hold the fate of the nation in their hands. The people know that the negotiating skills of these three men will determine whether Judah stands or falls. So, all eyes are fixed on the momentous scene taking place at the base of the walls of the city.

But the Rabshakeh, or supreme commander of the Assyrian army, is not interested in peace negotiations. He has come to demand the unconditional surrender of the city and its inhabitants. He and his troops have repeatedly proven their superior power and he is confident that the city of Jerusalem will be one more domino to fall as they continue their conquest of Palestine. Speaking on behalf of his commander-in-chief, the Rabshakeh declares Hezekiah’s rebellion to be ill-conceived and ill-fated.

“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? – 2 Kings 18:19-20 NLT

With the citizens of Jerusalem looking on and listening in, this arrogant military commander summarily dismisses any likelihood that the Egyptians will come to the aid of the city. The last-minute military alliance that King Hezekiah made with Pharaoh will prove disappointingly insufficient. The Rabshakeh sarcastically compares Pharaoh to a cane or walking stick made from a reed. It may appear to give support, but it will shatter as soon as any weight is placed upon it.

And the overly confident Assyrian commander informs the Jewish emissaries that if they are holding out hope that Yahweh will come to their rescue, they will find themselves sorely disappointed. Their deity will join a long list of other gods who proved unsuccessful in stopping the Assyrian juggernaut. And, hoping to further undermine their faith in divine rescue, the Rabshakeh announces to the people of Judah that Yahweh had ordered their destruction.

“What’s more, do you think we have invaded your land without the Lord’s direction? The Lord himself told us, ‘Attack this land and destroy it!’”  2 Kings 18:25 NLT

Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah could sense that all this boastful rhetoric was having its intended effect. The Rabshakeh had purposefully delivered his message in Hebrew so that all the people on the wall could hear what he had to say. And they were growing increasingly more concerned. When the king’s three emissaries asked that the conversation be switched to Aramaic, the Rabshakeh refused and called out in a loud voice, “Do you think my master sent this message only to you and your master? He wants all the people to hear it, for when we put this city under siege, they will suffer along with you. They will be so hungry and thirsty that they will eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (2 Kings 18:27 NLT).

At this point, the Rabshakeh turns his attention to the people on the walls of the city. He begins to sow seeds of doubt and suspicion by raising questions concerning King Hezekiah’s intentions and trustworthiness. By addressing the people directly, the Rabshakeh hopes to foment an uprising within the walls of the city, inciting the citizens to turn on their king and demand that he spare their lives by surrendering to the Assyrians. And to help sweeten the pot, the Rabshakeh offers them tempting promises of peace and prosperity.

“Don’t listen to Hezekiah! These are the terms the king of Assyria is offering: Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey. Choose life instead of death! – 2 Kings 18:31-32 NLT

Look closely at what the Assyrian king is offering the people of Judah. Essentially, this pagan king is putting himself in the place of God, promising to meet all their needs. He will supply them with ample food and drink. He will provide them with fresh water. And he will take them to “a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards, olive groves and honey.” That should sound familiar. When God had called Moses to rescue the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, He had promised to lead them to a “fertile and spacious land…a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 NLT). And after God had successfully freed them from their captivity and led them to the land of Canaan, He had reminded them again of His promise to give them “a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9 NLT).

Now, centuries later, here was the pagan king of Assyria offering to replicate what God had done for His chosen people. If they would only turn their backs on Yahweh and trust in King Sennacherib, he would provide for all their needs and take them to a new “promised land.”

Sennacherib was placing himself in the role of God, declaring himself to be the source of life and death. By placing their trust in him, they would be assured of peace, prosperity, and life. But centuries earlier, Moses had delivered a much different message to the people of Israel. As they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the land of promise for the very first time, he had warned them:

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NLT

Sennacherib was playing God. This over-confident king with an overactive ego was daring to place himself on equal standing with God Almighty. And he was attempting to persuade the people of Judah to abandon their hope and trust in Yahweh by offering them a “better” promised land.

But while the people on the wall were disturbed by what they heard, they obeyed King Hezekiah’s command and remained silent. And the three emissaries, their clothes torn in an act of mourning, returned to the king and reported all that they had heard. It was a dark day in Judah. The enemy was at the gate. The allies of Judah were nowhere to be found. But despite the boasts of the Rabshakeh, the God of Judah was still on His throne and in complete control of all that was happening. He alone held the power of life and death in His hands. And King Sennacherib and his overconfident military commander were about to discover the painful lesson that they were no match for the all-powerful God of Judah.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When the Odds Are Against You

13 In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. 14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me. Whatever you impose on me I will bear.” And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. 16 At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord and from the doorposts that Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria. 17 And the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rab-saris, and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they arrived, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is on the highway to the Washer’s Field. 18 And when they called for the king, there came out to them Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebnah the secretary, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder.

19 And the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: On what do you rest this trust of yours? 20 Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war? In whom do you now trust, that you have rebelled against me? 21 Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it. Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him. 22 But if you say to me, “We trust in the Lord our God,” is it not he whose high places and altars Hezekiah has removed, saying to Judah and to Jerusalem, “You shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem”? 23 Come now, make a wager with my master the king of Assyria: I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them. 24 How then can you repulse a single captain among the least of my master’s servants, when you trust in Egypt for chariots and for horsemen? 25 Moreover, is it without the Lord that I have come up against this place to destroy it? The Lord said to me, “Go up against this land and destroy it.”’”  2 Kings 18:13-25 ESV

King Hezekiah instituted a variety of reforms in Judah, including the restoration of the temple of God and the reinstitution of the sacrificial system. He also reconsecrated the priestly order, challenging these men to recommit themselves to their God-ordained role as the spiritual leaders of Judah.

Not long after becoming king, Hezekiah had to deal with yet another long-neglected aspect of Judah’s worship: The annual celebration of Passover. He was informed that “the people had not been celebrating it in great numbers as required in the Law” (Deuteronomy 30:5 NLT). So, Hezekiah sent couriers throughout the kingdom of Judah with letters calling the people to gather in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

“O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, so that he will return to the few of us who have survived the conquest of the Assyrian kings. Do not be like your ancestors and relatives who abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and became an object of derision, as you yourselves can see. Do not be stubborn, as they were, but submit yourselves to the Lord. Come to his Temple, which he has set apart as holy forever. Worship the Lord your God so that his fierce anger will turn away from you.

“For if you return to the Lord, your relatives and your children will be treated mercifully by their captors, and they will be able to return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful. If you return to him, he will not continue to turn his face from you.” – Deuteronomy 30:6-9 NLT

Some of the people responded in derision, refusing to gather for this sacred celebration. But the majority of the people heeded Hezekiah’s call and “a huge crowd assembled at Jerusalem in midspring to celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (Deuteronomy 30:13 NLT). As a result, the Passover was reinstituted and the nation experienced a much-needed spiritual renewal.

The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, including the priests, the Levites, all who came from the land of Israel, the foreigners who came to the festival, and all those who lived in Judah. There was great joy in the city, for Jerusalem had not seen a celebration like this one since the days of Solomon, King David’s son. Then the priests and Levites stood and blessed the people, and God heard their prayer from his holy dwelling in heaven. – Deuteronomy 30:25-27 NLT

Things were looking up in Judah. The nation’s spiritual condition was on an upward trajectory. But there was trouble on the horizon. It had been 21 years since the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. And while Judah had been graciously spared, the Assyrians remained a constant threat in the region. This powerful enemy had a new king, Sennacherib, who reinvigorated his predecessor’s grand ambitions to conquer all of Palestine. Sennacherib had established a military base in Lachish, just 28 miles from the capital city of Jerusalem. This obvious threat to Judah’s sovereignty forced Hezekiah to join an alliance with Phoenicia, Philistia, and Egypt. But to demonstrate the futility of any armed resistance, the Assyrians launched a series of raids within Judah that resulted in the easy capture of a number of well-fortified cities. This devastating turn of events forced Hezekiah to rethink his strategy and appeal to the mercy of Sennacherib

King Hezekiah sent this message to the king of Assyria at Lachish: “I have done wrong. I will pay whatever tribute money you demand if you will only withdraw.” – 2 Kings 18:14 NLT

The year was 701 BC, and Hezekiah was in the 14th year of his reign. He had been a good and godly king, choosing to walk in the ways of David. Unlike many of his predecessors, Hezekiah had “remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses” (2 Kings 18:6 NLT). As a result, “the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did” (2 Kings 18:7 NLT). And yet, here he was facing the very same threat that had brought about the fall of Israel. The Assyrians were just 28 miles away and King Hezekiah found himself having to open up the coffers of the royal treasury in order to raise a hefty ransom to protect the capital city of Jerusalem.

The king of Assyria then demanded a settlement of more than eleven tons of silver and one ton of gold. To gather this amount, King Hezekiah used all the silver stored in the Temple of the Lord and in the palace treasury. Hezekiah even stripped the gold from the doors of the Lord’s Temple and from the doorposts he had overlaid with gold, and he gave it all to the Assyrian king. – 2 Kings 18:14-16 NLT

To come up with this exorbitant ransom, Hezekiah was forced to desecrate the very temple he had painstakingly restored. To pay off this pagan king, Hezekiah ordered that the house of God be stripped of its gold and silver. This decision must have pained Hezekiah greatly. But it appeared that he had no other choice. And to make matters worse, his costly and compromising decision proved ineffective. Though Hezekiah had faithfully met the full terms of Sennacherib’s demands, the Assyrians still ended up besieging Jerusalem. A massive army marched from Lachish and “took up a position beside the aqueduct that feeds water into the upper pool, near the road leading to the field where cloth is washed” (2 Kings 18:17 NLT).

The army of Assyria gathered just outside the eastern walls of Jerusalem, where they set up camp in the Kidron Valley. Their intentions were clear. And when Hezekiah was summoned by the representatives of King Sennacherib, he chose to send three emissaries to negotiate with the Assyrians. Evidently, the 11 tons of silver and one ton of gold were not going to be enough. The Assyrians wanted more. King Sennacherib would not be satisfied until Jerusalem and all Judah were under his control and part of his ever-expanding global empire.

In spite of all his reforms and ongoing efforts to renew the spiritual state of Judah, Hezekiah still found himself facing the same fate as the apostate kings of Israel. The very same Assyrians who had destroyed Samaria 14 years earlier were now camped outside the walls of his own capital city. But unlike his contemporaries in Israel, King Hezekiah had been faithful to Yahweh. He had done all the right things.

Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. – 2 Kings 18:5-6 NLT

And yet, his kingdom was under siege. His royal city was being threatened by a pagan king with grand aspirations of global dominance. But this time, the Assyrians were going to find that they had overstepped their bounds and were facing a foe far more powerful than any they had ever encountered. Judah had a far greater ally than the Egyptians, Phoenicians, or Philistines. They had God Almighty on their side.

But Sennacherib’s spokesman would downplay all of these potential allies, even ridiculing any hope that the God of Judah would come to their aid.

“But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem? – 2 Kings 18:22 NLT

This pagan representative of King Sennacherib had no understanding of who Yahweh was or the kind of power He wielded. To the Assyrians, Yahweh was just one more god among many, and He would prove no less able to stand against their superior forces as any of the other gods of their conquered foes. In fact, this Assyrian emissary had wrongly assumed that Hezekiah must have offended the God of Judah when he had ordered the destruction of all the altars and shrines throughout the land. From his pagan perspective, Hezekiah was in a no-win situation. Judah’s military allies would prove hopeless and helpless, and their God had turned against them. He even insinuated that the Assyrians had been sent by the God of Judah to punish them.

But while the situation looked bleak, Hezekiah was about to discover that his God had not abandoned them. The odds were not in Judah’s favor, but because of the faithfulness of Hezekiah, Judah would find that their God was going to respond favorably toward them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Spirit of Spiritual Syncretism

29 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. 30 The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

34 To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear the Lord, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, 36 but you shall fear the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm. You shall bow yourselves to him, and to him you shall sacrifice. 37 And the statutes and the rules and the law and the commandment that he wrote for you, you shall always be careful to do. You shall not fear other gods, 38 and you shall not forget the covenant that I have made with you. You shall not fear other gods, 39 but you shall fear the Lord your God, and he will deliver you out of the hand of all your enemies.” 40 However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner.

41 So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. 2 Kings 17:29-41 ESV

So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods.”

That phrase appears twice in the closing verses of chapter 17, and it aptly summarizes the spiritual state of the nation of Israel after its fall to the Assyrians. Many of its citizens had been captured and exiled to various locations in Assyria. Their vacancies were filled by people from other conquered nations who were forced to relocate to Israel and start new lives. This sudden influx of refugees from foreign countries turned Israel into a veritable melting pot and, ultimately, resulted in intermarriage between the Jews and their new neighbors.

These newly transplanted inhabitants found themselves living in a foreign land where they didn’t understand the language or customs. They were strangers living in a strange land, but they found some comfort in the fact that many of their gods already had shrines dedicated to them in Israel. The ten northern tribes had been assimilating the gods of other nations for years. Under Jeroboam’s leadership, they had created their own gods, complete with temples and priesthood. Under Ahab and Jezebel, they had adopted and promoted the worship of Baal and Asherah. And along the way, other kings of Israel had been embracing the false gods of their foreign allies. So, the new arrivals to Israel found an atmosphere of religious tolerance and ecumenism.

If you recall, immediately after these foreign refugees had arrived in Israel and taken up residence in the abandoned cities of Samaria, they began worshiping their false gods. The land on which they lived belonged to Yahwah, and He took offense at their actions. They were living on land that He had set apart as holy and given to the descendants of Abraham as their inheritance. It was to have been a place where they lived in obedience to His will and where they worshiped Him alone. Their failure to do so had resulted in their defeat and deportation. But their departure had not changed the sanctity of the land or voided the covenant commitment God had made with His people. There was still a remnant of Jews living in the land of Israel and He expected them to keep their end of the agreement they had made with Him.

So, when these foreigners began to worship their false gods on land that belonged to the one true God, they found themselves experiencing divine judgment.

But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. – 2 Kings 17:25 NLT

As a result, the king of Assyria ordered that one of the exiled Israelite priests be sent back so that he might instruct the immigrants in the proper worship of Yahweh.

So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord. – 2 Kings 17:28 NLT

This highly pragmatic plan implemented by the king of Assyria was evidently successful. But while many of the new arrivals eagerly adopted Yahweh as their God, they simply added Him to their growing list of deities. He became just one more god to whom they offered their sacrifices in order to win favor and good fortune.

These new residents worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests to offer sacrifices at their places of worship. And though they worshiped the Lord, they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations from which they came. – 2 Kings 17:32-33 NLT

With the sudden arrival of these various people groups, the religious landscape of Israel became ever more crowded and confused. Almost overnight, the idolatrous state of Israel exploded with new options and opportunities as the number of false gods continued to increase. The already tolerant and easily tempted Israelites found themselves surrounded by a virtual sea of new gods from which to chose.

Those from Babylon worshiped idols of their god Succoth-benoth. Those from Cuthah worshiped their god Nergal. And those from Hamath worshiped Ashima. The Avvites worshiped their gods Nibhaz and Tartak. And the people from Sepharvaim even burned their own children as sacrifices to their gods Adrammelech and Anammelech. – 2 Kings 17:30-31 ESV

The worship of Yahweh became increasingly more diluted and defused as a spirit of syncretism and religious pluralism spread over the land. The fall of Israel did not result in a spirit of repentance and religious reform among God’s people. His judgment of them was met by indifference and continued apostasy.

They continue to follow their former practices instead of truly worshiping the Lord and obeying the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands he gave the descendants of Jacob, whose name he changed to Israel. – 2 Kings 17:34 NLT

There appears to be no remorse or repentance on the part of God’s people. Their neighbors had been taken captive and exiled to Assyria, but they remain just as committed to living in disobedience to God’s laws. And it seems that those who found themselves living as captives in Assyria were no less stubborn and unwilling to return to Yahweh. And yet, when King Solomon had dedicated the newly constructed temple, he had asked God to show mercy on His disobedient people, should they find themselves in exile and call out for help.

“If your people Israel are defeated by their enemies because they have sinned against you, and if they turn to you and acknowledge your name and pray to you here in this Temple, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and return them to this land you gave their ancestors.” – 1 Kings 8:33-34 NLT

But they hadn’t turned and acknowledged God’s name. They had not prayed and asked for God’s forgiveness. Both those in exile and those living in the land of Israel had continued to disobey God’s commands and violate His covenant agreement. And the author makes it clear that God was serious about His commands and His covenant.

For the Lord had made a covenant with the descendants of Jacob and commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow before them or serve them or offer sacrifices to them. But worship only the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt with great strength and a powerful arm. Bow down to him alone, and offer sacrifices only to him. Be careful at all times to obey the decrees, regulations, instructions, and commands that he wrote for you. You must not worship other gods. Do not forget the covenant I made with you, and do not worship other gods. You must worship only the Lord your God. He is the one who will rescue you from all your enemies.” – 2 Kings 17:35-39 NLT

They had no excuse. The remnant of Israelites still living in the land knew exactly what God expected of them, but they continued to reject His word and refused to repent. And while the new residents were given instruction in the proper worship of Yahweh, they simply added Him to their long and growing list of god options.

So while these new residents worshiped the Lord, they also worshiped their idols. And to this day their descendants do the same. – 2 Kings 17:41 NLT

This last verse is meant to convey a sense of inevitability and determinism. Nothing was going to change. They were fully committed to doing things their way, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. And we know that by the time Jesus appeared on the scene, the long-term implications of this syncretistic and overly tolerant religious mindset had resulted in the division between the Jews and the Samaritans. The foreigners who were transplanted into Israel by the king of Assyria, ended up intermarrying with the remaining Jewish population. These mixed marriages brought about an assimilation of cultures and religions that produced a population that became known as the Samaritans. The Samaritans were considered to be half-breeds by the Jews of Jesus’ day and were treated as second-class citizens. They practiced a religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with aspects of paganism and idolatry. As the Samaritan confessed to Jesus, they even had their own place of worship, outside the confines of Jerusalem (John 4:20).

Chapter 17 of 2 Kings brings the story of the northern kingdom to a dramatic and somber close. Part of the nation is living in exile in Assyria. The rest remain in the land but are marked by a spirit of spiritual syncretism and moral compromise. There will be no more kings to rule over the ten tribes. They will remain under God’s judgment and experience the curses He had warned would come should they choose to disobey. But now, the author turns his attention back to the southern kingdom Judah. As of now, they remain free to follow the commands of God. But will they? The author provides a not-so-subtle hint as to what lies in store of the people of Judah.

Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land. But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced. – 2 Kings 17:18-19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

The God of the Land

19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20 And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam the son of Nebat king. And Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22 The people of Israel walked in all the sins that Jeroboam did. They did not depart from them, 23 until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had spoken by all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

24 And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. 25 And at the beginning of their dwelling there, they did not fear the Lord. Therefore the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them. 26 So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the god of the land. Therefore he has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the god of the land.” 27 Then the king of Assyria commanded, “Send there one of the priests whom you carried away from there, and let him go and dwell there and teach them the law of the god of the land.” 28 So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel and taught them how they should fear the Lord. 2 Kings 17:19-28 ESV

The northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, and as verse 18 indicates, the defeat of the ten northern tribes left only the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet none of this should have come as a surprise. God had repeatedly sent His prophets to warn of the coming fall of Israel. Even the prophets like Micah, who ministered to the southern kingdom of Judah, were ordered to declare God’s words of judgment against Israel’s capital city of Samaria.

“So I, the Lord, will make the city of Samaria
    a heap of ruins.
Her streets will be plowed up
    for planting vineyards.
I will roll the stones of her walls into the valley below,
    exposing her foundations.
All her carved images will be smashed.
    All her sacred treasures will be burned.
These things were bought with the money
    earned by her prostitution,
and they will now be carried away
    to pay prostitutes elsewhere.” – Micah 1:6-7 NLT

And Isaiah, another prophet to the southern kingdom, had also predicted the fall of Samaria.

What sorrow awaits the proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel.
It sits at the head of a fertile valley,
    but its glorious beauty will fade like a flower.
It is the pride of a people
    brought down by wine.
For the Lord will send a mighty army against it.
    Like a mighty hailstorm and a torrential rain,
they will burst upon it like a surging flood
    and smash it to the ground.
The proud city of Samaria—
    the glorious crown of the drunks of Israel—
    will be trampled beneath its enemies’ feet. – Isaiah 28:1-3 NLT

But God had also sent His prophets directly to the people of Israel. Despite their apostasy and unfaithfulness, He continued to raise up men like Amos, to deliver His message of pending judgment for their sins.

Announce this to the leaders of Philistia
    and to the great ones of Egypt:
“Take your seats now on the hills around Samaria,
    and witness the chaos and oppression in Israel.”

“My people have forgotten how to do right,”
    says the Lord.
“Their fortresses are filled with wealth
    taken by theft and violence.
Therefore,” says the Sovereign Lord,
    “an enemy is coming!
He will surround them and shatter their defenses.
    Then he will plunder all their fortresses.” – Amos 3:9-11 NLT

Hosea was another prophet to the northern kingdom who had also clearly communicated God’s displeasure and His intention to punish them for their rebellion.

…they have deserted the Lord
    to worship other gods.

“Wine has robbed my people
    of their understanding.
They ask a piece of wood for advice!
    They think a stick can tell them the future!
Longing after idols
    has made them foolish.
They have played the prostitute,
    serving other gods and deserting their God.” – Hosea 10-12 NLT

Decade after decade, the kings of Israel had led the nation down a path of destruction. They had been warned but had refused to listen. And the author of 2 Kings reminds his readers that the Israelites had no one to blame but themselves.

Jeroboam drew Israel away from following the Lord and made them commit a great sin. And the people of Israel persisted in all the evil ways of Jeroboam. They did not turn from these sins until the Lord finally swept them away from his presence, just as all his prophets had warned. – 2 Kings 17:212-23 NLT

The fall of Israel should have been a wake-up call to the people living in Judah. As they witnessed the fall of their northern neighbor, they should have recognized it as the hand of God Almighty. “But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced” (2 Kings 17:19 NLT). It was God’s desire that Judah would take notice of Israel’s fall and refuse to follow their example of idolatry and apostasy. The prophet Hosea shared God’s heart when he wrote, “Though you, Israel, are a prostitute, may Judah not be guilty of such things” (Hosea 4:15 NLT).

But the handwriting was on the wall. The fate of Judah was sealed. God knew exactly what was going to happen. The people of Judah would fail to learn from Israel’s mistake.

“The arrogance of Israel testifies against her;
    Israel and Ephraim will stumble under their load of guilt.
    Judah, too, will fall with them.
When they come with their flocks and herds
    to offer sacrifices to the Lord,
they will not find him,
    because he has withdrawn from them.
They have betrayed the honor of the Lord,
    bearing children that are not his.
Now their false religion will devour them
    along with their wealth.” – Hosea 5:5-7 NLT

It would be just a matter of time before Judah experienced a similar fate. While they had enjoyed a limited degree of spiritual success due to the efforts of a few of their kings, they were still guilty of emulating the sins of Israel. A love affair with false gods would continue to plague the nation, leading them to turn their backs on Yahweh. Though they continued to offer their sacrifices at the temple, the day was coming when God would no longer tolerate their hypocritical displays of faithfulness. That is why Hosea wrote, “When they come with their flocks and herds to offer sacrifices to the Lord, they will not find him” (Hosea 5:6 NLT).

It was the prophet Isaiah who declared God’s displeasure and disgust with Judah because their worship of Him was and meaningless. They were just going through the motions.

“These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

The people of Judah had ring-side seats to the divine destruction of Israel. After witnessing the fall of their northern neighbor, they must have realized that the king of Assyria would not limit his conquest to the capture of Samaria. He would continue south and they would likely be his next victim.

After having conquered Israel, the Assyrians took many of its citizens as captives. Then they began a repopulation campaign, importing people from other conquered territories like Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim. These non-Jews were forcibly relocated into the towns of Samaria, filling the vacancies left by the exiled Israelites. The Assyrians expected these migrant workers to tend the land in order to maintain its production capacities. But God had other plans.

Because these foreigners knew nothing about Yahweh, they continued to worship their own gods. But they were now living on land that belonged to the God of Israel. Just because the people of Israel were gone did not mean that God had vacated the premises. It had been His land all along, and the Israelites had been nothing more than His stewards. In their absence, God was going to protect the integrity of His name and the sacredness of the land He had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was holy land because He had consecrated it and set it apart. And God was not about to let it revert to its former state. When God had given the land to Joshua and the people of Israel, He had tasked them with the removal of all the pagan nations that currently occupied its borders. And He was not about to let the land revert to its former state of pagan idolatry. So, when the new arrivals began to worship their false gods, Yahweh sent lions to attack them. The news of this divinely ordained act of judgment reached the king of Assyria.

“The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.” – 2 Kings 17:26 NLT

Amazingly, the pagan Assyrians recognized the hand of God in all of this. They were more attentive to the actions of Yahweh than the people of Israel had ever been. And the king of Assyria took immediate action.

“Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” – 2 Kings 17:27 NLT

It’s interesting to note that this lone priest was sent to Bethel, one of the two cities where King Jeroboam had placed his golden idols (1 Kings 12:25-30). Perhaps the king of Assyria knew that this town had become a key focal point of pagan worship. It would have made sense for these idol-worshipers to seek out those places within Israel where they could offer sacrifices to their false gods. And because Jeroboam had erected shrines in Bethel and Dan, these would have been attractive destinations for these newly arrived occupants who were looking for something that would remind them of home. So, the priest was sent to Bethel which, in Hebrew, means “house of God.”

This priest was tasked with instructing the new residents in the proper worship of God. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. The people of Israel, who had been chosen by God, had refused to worship Him. So, He had removed them from the land. The king of Assyria sent foreigners to replace the exiled Israelites and then ordered that they be instructed in the proper worship of Yahweh. This pagan king did what none of the kings of Israel had ever done, and it was all the work of God.

But as will become clear, these new converts to Judaism would prove to be no different than the Israelites. Unwilling to give up their idols, they would simply add Yahweh as another option in their arsenal of deities. And the pattern of syncretism and unfaithfulness would continue. The land had new occupants, but it was the same old story. Their worship of God would be nothing but man-made rules learned by rote. Like the Israelites before them, they would just be going through the motions.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

Things That Were Not Right

1 In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea the son of Elah began to reign in Samaria over Israel, and he reigned nine years. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him. Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria. And Hoshea became his vassal and paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So, king of Egypt, and offered no tribute 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. Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it.

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. 10 They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, 11 and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, 12 and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, “You shall not do this.” 13 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”

14 But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15 They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 18 Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only. 2 Kings 17:1-18 ESV

Chapter 17 marks the beginning of the end of the northern kingdom of Israel. It had been two centuries since God had divided Solomon’s domain in half and placed the ten northern tribes under the leadership of Jeroboam. Now, some 200 years later, God was about to bring judgment upon His disobedient children. And it all takes place during the reign of Hoshea, who will have the not-so-pleasant privilege of serving as the last king of Israel. Like many of his predecessors, Hoshea had come to the throne by means of intrigue and insurrection. Under King Pekah’s leadership, Israel had suffered great losses in terms of both land and lives. King Tiglath-Pileser had conducted a relentless campaign of terror, eventually capturing “the towns of Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, and Hazor. He also conquered the regions of Gilead, Galilee, and all of Naphtali, and he took the people to Assyria as captives” (2 Kings 15:29 ESV). 

These actions left the nation in a state of disarray and weakened Pekah’s hold on the throne of Israel. Hoshea took full advantage of the volatile conditions and launched a coup that results in Pekah’s assassination and his own ascension to the throne of Israel. But he had chosen a poor time to become king. The Assyrians had completely dominated and demoralized the Israelite army, leaving Hoshea with no choice but to become a vassal to King Tiglath-Pileser. He was nothing more than a puppet king, answering to the more powerful king of Assyria. But when Tiglath-Pileser was forced to return to Mesopotamia to deal with problems in his own land, Hoshea rebelled and declared Israel to be free from Assyrian rule. He stopped all tribute payments to Assyria and, in an effort to prevent further invasions, he made an alliance with the Egyptians. Things appeared to be going in his favor.

Tiglath-Pileser eventually died and was replaced by his son, Shalmaneser. For two years, the new king of Assyria remained preoccupied with problems on the home front. But in 725 BC, he once again set his sights on the land of Philistia. One of the first things Shalmaneser did was order the arrest and imprisonment of the recalcitrant king of Israel. Hoshea was removed from the throne and placed in a prison cell, where he would wait out the fall of his kingdom. For three years, the Assyrians laid siege to the capital city of Samaria, and in 722 BC it fell.

…in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. They were settled in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. – 2 Kings 17:6 NLT

But even worse than the fall of the capital was the capture and deportation of the people. They were forcibly removed from the land and taken as prisoners to Assyria. They were herded like animals and marched out of Israel, never to step foot in the land of promise again. And the author makes it painfully clear why they were suffering this horrific fate.

This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. – 2 Kings 17:7 NLT

And none of this should have come as a surprise. God had warned them repeatedly that they would face serious consequences if they chose to rebel against Him. Long before they had entered the land of Canaan, God had given them a detailed description of what would happen if they refused to remain faithful to their covenant commitment to Him. Moses pulled no punches when he outlined for them the devastating consequences for their rebellion.

“The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you.” – Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT

“You will have sons and daughters, but you will lose them, for they will be led away into captivity.” – Deuteronomy 28:41 NLT

“Just as the Lord has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, the Lord will find pleasure in destroying you. You will be torn from the land you are about to enter and occupy. – Deuteronomy 28:63 NLT

And now, centuries later, the words of Moses had been proven true. God had done what He had said He would do. And the author of 2 Kings puts all the blame on the people of Israel.

They had followed the practices of the pagan nations – vs 8

The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. – vs 9

They built pagan shrines for themselves – vs 9

They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles – vs 10

They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them – vs 11

Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the Lord’s specific and repeated warnings. – vs 12

And they had done all of this despite the repeated warnings of God’s prophets.

Again and again the Lord had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.” – 2 Kings 17:13 NLT

But they had refused to listen. They rejected the words of the prophets and refused to believe that God would follow through on His warnings. In fact, the author states that “they despised all his warnings” (2 Kings 17:15 NLT). And it had all begun as soon as God had placed the ten northern tribes in the hands of Jeroboam. In response to this tremendous responsibility given to him by God, Jeroboam had ordered the creation of two idols of gold made in the form of a calf. These false gods became the first of many that the people of Israel would worship in place of Yahweh.

They set up an Asherah pole and worshiped Baal and all the forces of heaven. They even sacrificed their own sons and daughters in the fire. They consulted fortune-tellers and practiced sorcery and sold themselves to evil, arousing the Lord’s anger. – 2 Kings 17:16-17 NLT

King after king, generation after generation, the people of Israel would repeat the sins of their fathers. And the prophets of God would repeat the warnings of Moses, calling the people to repent and return to their covenant commitment.

But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the Lord their God. – 2 Kings 17:14 NLT

So, God “swept them away from his presence” (2 Kings 17:18 NLT). In a sense, the ten northern tribes ceased to exist. Yes, even after the exile, there would be many who remained in the land, but they would never have another king to rule over them. They would live under the constant threat of enemy attack. The land of promise would become a place of hopelessness and heartache. The residual impact of the Assyrian invasion would be long-term and devastatingly difficult, just as God had warned.

Its armies will devour your livestock and crops, and you will be destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine, olive oil, calves, or lambs, and you will starve to death. – Deuteronomy 28:51 NLT

The people of God had turned their backs on Him. Despite His many blessings and the constant reminders of His covenant faithfulness, they had made a conscious decision to replace Him. He had warned them, but they had refused to listen. And now they were facing the consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

God Will Not Be Mocked

At that time Rezin the king of Syria recovered Elath for Syria and drove the men of Judah from Elath, and the Edomites came to Elath, where they dwell to this day. So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin.

10 When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. 11 And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. 12 And when the king came from Damascus, the king viewed the altar. Then the king drew near to the altar and went up on it 13 and burned his burnt offering and his grain offering and poured his drink offering and threw the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. 14 And the bronze altar that was before the Lord he removed from the front of the house, from the place between his altar and the house of the Lord, and put it on the north side of his altar. 15 And King Ahaz commanded Uriah the priest, saying, “On the great altar burn the morning burnt offering and the evening grain offering and the king’s burnt offering and his grain offering, with the burnt offering of all the people of the land, and their grain offering and their drink offering. And throw on it all the blood of the burnt offering and all the blood of the sacrifice, but the bronze altar shall be for me to inquire by.” 16 Uriah the priest did all this, as King Ahaz commanded.

17 And King Ahaz cut off the frames of the stands and removed the basin from them, and he took down the sea from off the bronze oxen that were under it and put it on a stone pedestal. 18 And the covered way for the Sabbath that had been built inside the house and the outer entrance for the king he caused to go around the house of the Lord, because of the king of Assyria. 19 Now the rest of the acts of Ahaz that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 20 And Ahaz slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David, and Hezekiah his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 16:6-20 ESV

As we have already seen, Ahaz patterned his reign after his contemporaries in the northern kingdom. The author states that “he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel” (2 Kings 16:2 ESV). Rather than promote the worship of Yawheh, Ahaz adopted a variety of pagan gods and not only authorized but encouraged their worship. And as evidence of his personal commitment to these false gods, Ahaz made human sacrifices, offering up his own sons on their altars.

He even made metal images for the Baals, and he made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. – 2 Chronicles 28:2-3 ESV

As a result, God authorized the Syrians and the Israelites to act as His agents of judgment against the kingdom of Judah. And while these two nations ended up making Ahaz’s life miserable, they were not allowed to defeat Judah. Yet their constant attacks resulted in the loss of land and lives. Hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Judah were killed or captured, leaving the rest of the people in a state of constant fear. And because Judah’s army had been unable to prevent these costly attacks, Ahaz was forced to seek assistance from the Assyrians.

So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” – 2 Kings 16:7 ESV

Of course, Ahaz knew Tiglath-pileser was not going to provide assistance without some form of compensation.  So, to pay off his rescuers, Ahaz drained the royal treasury and then pilfered silver and gold from the temple coffers to sweeten the deal. And while Ahaz’s plan came with a high price tag, it proved effective. The Assyrians immediately launched an attack against Damascus, the capital city of Syria. Rezin, the king of Syria, was killed in the battle and the city was taken. When King Ahaz received word of the victory, he traveled to Damascus to meet King Tiglath-pileser. While there, he became obsessed with one of the many altars dedicated to the Syrian gods. He had a model made and sent to Uriah the high priest, who was ordered to build an exact replica in Jerusalem. Uriah complied with the king’s command, and when Ahaz returned to Jerusalem, he offered sacrifices to the Syrian god. And adding insult to injury, he also ordered the removal and relocation of the bronze altar that stood in the courtyard of the temple.

These were just a few of the many “reforms” that Ahaz instituted. He was making wholesale changes to the religious institution that God had ordained for His chosen people. While he didn’t completely abandon the worship of Yahweh, Ahaz did create an unauthorized and fully syncretized form of worship that transformed the religion of Judah from monotheism to polytheism. God Almighty became just one more deity among the many whose altars and high places filled the land of Judah.

But Ahaz would soon discover the error of his ways. In time, the ambitious king of Assyria would turn his sights on Judah.

So when King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria arrived, he attacked Ahaz instead of helping him. Ahaz took valuable items from the Lord’s Temple, the royal palace, and from the homes of his officials and gave them to the king of Assyria as tribute. But this did not help him. – 2 Chronicles 28:20-21 NLT

Once Tiglath-pileser saw how easily Damascus had fallen, he became greedy and determined to make Jerusalem his next point of conquest. So, as he had done before, King Ahaz attempted to buy off the Assyrians. And with the treasures of the palace and temple depleted, he was forced to ransack the private property of his own officials. But, this time, his plan failed. King Tiglath-pileser gladly took his money, but refused to call off his troops. This left Ahaz in a state of desperation. He was left with no other choice but to seek divine help. But rather than seek the aid of Yahweh, Ahaz “offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him” (2 Chronicles 28:23 NLT). Ironically, in an attempt to thwart the Assyrians, Ahaz put his hope in the gods of the nation whom the Assyrians had easily defeated. He unwisely rationalized, “Since these gods helped the kings of Aram, they will help me, too, if I sacrifice to them” (2 Chronicles 28:23 NLT).

But his reasoning proved faulty and it produced a painfully predictable outcome. Rather than providing deliverance from his enemies, these false gods produced “his ruin and the ruin of all Judah” (2 Chronicles 28:23 NLT). With a blatant and stubborn disregard for Yahweh, Ahaz continued to place all his hope in the false gods he had adopted. Not only that, in anger and defiance, Ahaz ordered the desecration of Yahweh’s temple. He even barred the doors to prevent anyone from worshiping or calling upon the one true God.

The king took the various articles from the Temple of God and broke them into pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s Temple so that no one could worship there, and he set up altars to pagan gods in every corner of Jerusalem. He made pagan shrines in all the towns of Judah for offering sacrifices to other gods. In this way, he aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:24-25 NLT

Ahaz did all of this in a misguided attempt to stop the threat of the Assyrians. But what he failed to realize was that the presence of the Assyrians was due to his disregard and disrespect for God. Everything he was doing was going to backfire because he was refusing to give Yahweh the glory and honor He deserved. Ahaz had tried to relegate God Almighty to an inferior status among all the gods. He treated Yahweh with contempt, acting as if He was powerless and incapable of delivering either redemption or judgment. But little did he know that this impotent God was about to bring down judgment against his northern neighbor. And God would use the dreaded Assyrians to accomplish His divine will.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

A Turn for the Worse

32 In the second year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, Jotham the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, began to reign. 33 He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jerusha the daughter of Zadok. 34 And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done. 35 Nevertheless, the high places were not removed. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. He built the upper gate of the house of the Lord. 36 Now the rest of the acts of Jotham and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 37 In those days the Lord began to send Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah. 38 Jotham slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Ahaz his son reigned in his place.

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree.

Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, came up to wage war on Jerusalem, and they besieged Ahaz but could not conquer him.2 Kings 15:32-16:5 ESV

In the northern kingdom of Israel, they were going through kings so quickly that the royal palace needed revolving doors to handle the high traffic volume. In just 14 years, they had gone through six different kings, most of whose reigns ended because of assassination. But back in Judah, it was a different story. Azariah (Uzziah) had served as king for 52 years and for the last 11 years of his reign, his son, Jotham served as his co-regent. Their sharing of the kingly role had been necessitated because Azariah had contracted leprosy and was confined to his home. His disease required that he be quarantined and made governance of the nation almost impossible. So, “Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land” (2 Kings 15:5 ESV). The sad reality is that Azariah’s condition was the direct result of his own pride and his decision to violate the Mosaic law. His disobedience incurred God’s divine wrath and judgment, in the form of leprosy. But despite his condition, Azariah was able to continue ruling over the nation of Judah, with his son’s assistance. This also provided Jotham with on-the-job training that helped prepare him for the day when the monarchy would become his alone.

While the final 11 years of Azariah’s reign were marked by leprosy and forced isolation, he had been a good king. For the majority of his 52-year rule, he had done “what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:4-5 ESV). And it seems that Azariah’s love for God was far more infectious than his disease because the author lets us know that Jotham “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Uzziah had done” (2 Kings 15:34 ESV).

But the author of 2 Chronicles adds a few pertinent details that paint a slightly darker image of this young 26-year-old king.

…except he did not enter the temple of the Lord. But the people still followed corrupt practices. – 2 Chronicles 27:2 ESV

The first part of that statement seems to reflect Jotham’s anger at Yahweh for having struck his father with leprosy. One of the results of Azariah’s contraction of this dreaded disease was that it rendered him unclean and, therefore, unable to enter the temple of God. The book of Leviticus provides the specific command detailing the isolating aspect of the disease.

“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45-46 NLT

It would seem that Jotham’s decision to avoid the temple was either out of resentment for God’s harsh treatment of his father or out of fear that he might suffer a similar fate.  It’s interesting to note that Jotham “built the upper gate of the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 15:35 ESV). According to Thomas L. Constable, the upper gate was “an opening between the outer and inner courts on the north side of the temple near the altar of burnt offerings.” This becomes more relevant when you consider that Jotham’s father had been punished by God because he had “entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16 ESV). In doing so, he assumed the role of the priest, in direct violation of God’s law. Now, his son had built a gate that made entrance into that area of the temple more accessible than ever. Perhaps Jotham intended this construction project to be a not-so-subtle statement about his father’s actions and subsequent punishment.

While Jotham accomplished a variety of noteworthy renovation and expansion projects, he also failed to remove the high places on which the people sacrificed to false gods.  As a result, “the people still followed corrupt practices” (2 Chronicles 27:2 ESV). So, while he was busy making improvements to the temple grounds, the people continued to worship idols. But, for the most part, Jotham proved to be a faithful king who tried to honor God. And this brought about the blessing of God.

Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God. – 2 Chronicles 27:6 ESV

And yet, we also begin to see glimpses of God’s coming judgment against the nation of Judah. While the southern kingdom had managed to remain far more faithful than its northern neighbor, there was still a growing sense of spiritual infidelity among its inhabitants. And we see God responding to this unfaithfulness by allowing the nation of Judah to experience His disfavor in the form of foreign powers who begin to harass and test them.

In those days the Lord began to send Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah against Judah. – 2 Kings 15:37 ESV

Eventually, Jotham dies and his son, Ahaz takes his place on the throne of Judah. But Ahaz does not share his father’s love for God. In fact, the author’s mention of God sending foreign powers against Judah is a kind of foreshadowing. The nation is about to take a dark turn for the worse. Under Ahaz’s reign, the spiritual fortunes of Judah will decline sharply. He will not continue the godly legacy of his father and grandfather. Instead, he will emulate and even eclipse the sins of the kings of Israel.

He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. In this way, he followed the detestable practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 2-4 NLT

Ahaz “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel” (2 Chronicles 28:2 ESV). And his decision to fully embrace the false gods of the Canaanites would cost him dearly. This was a man who became so sold out to idolatry that he regularly “burned his sons as an offering” (2 Chronicles 28:2 ESV). He was willing to sacrifice the lives of his own children in order to win the favor of the gods. But while spilling the blood of his sons failed to garner the attention of his false gods, it did manage to bring down the judgment of Yahweh.

Because of all this, the Lord his God allowed the king of Aram [Syria] to defeat Ahaz and to exile large numbers of his people to Damascus. The armies of the king of Israel also defeated Ahaz and inflicted many casualties on his army. In a single day Pekah son of Remaliah, Israel’s king, killed 120,000 of Judah’s troops, all of them experienced warriors, because they had abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors. – 2 Chronicles 28:5-6 NLT

God would use the Syrians and the Israelites as His instruments of judgment against Ahaz and the people of Judah. But despite Ahaz’s blatant displays of unfaithfulness, God would not allow these outside forces to completely destroy Judah. The situation quickly became a cycle of sin and judgment. Ahaz’s worship of his false gods would bring the judgment of Yahweh in the form of the Syrians and Israelites. These attacks would cause Ahaz to intensify his efforts to gain the favor of his many gods. His desperation to find a solution would produce further idolatry and result in additional judgment from God. But in his stubbornness, Ahaz never stops to consider that repentance and a return to Yahweh might be the best answer to his problem.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

The End Is In Sight

13 Shallum the son of Jabesh began to reign in the thirty-ninth year of Uzziah king of Judah, and he reigned one month in Samaria. 14 Then Menahem the son of Gadi came up from Tirzah and came to Samaria, and he struck down Shallum the son of Jabesh in Samaria and put him to death and reigned in his place. 15 Now the rest of the deeds of Shallum, and the conspiracy that he made, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 16 At that time Menahem sacked Tiphsah and all who were in it and its territory from Tirzah on, because they did not open it to him. Therefore he sacked it, and he ripped open all the women in it who were pregnant.

17 In the thirty-ninth year of Azariah king of Judah, Menahem the son of Gadi began to reign over Israel, and he reigned ten years in Samaria. 18 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart all his days from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 19 Pul the king of Assyria came against the land, and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that he might help him to confirm his hold on the royal power. 20 Menahem exacted the money from Israel, that is, from all the wealthy men, fifty shekels of silver from every man, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back and did not stay there in the land. 21 Now the rest of the deeds of Menahem and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 22 And Menahem slept with his fathers, and Pekahiah his son reigned in his place.

23 In the fiftieth year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekahiah the son of Menahem began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned two years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 And Pekah the son of Remaliah, his captain, conspired against him with fifty men of the people of Gilead, and struck him down in Samaria, in the citadel of the king’s house with Argob and Arieh; he put him to death and reigned in his place. 26 Now the rest of the deeds of Pekahiah and all that he did, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel.

27 In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. 28 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria. 30 Then Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah and struck him down and put him to death and reigned in his place, in the twentieth year of Jotham the son of Uzziah. 31 Now the rest of the acts of Pekah and all that he did, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 2 Kings 15:13-31 ESV

During Azariah’s 52-year reign over the southern kingdom of Judah, things proved to be a bit more unstable north of the border. Israel was having a difficult time keeping its kings alive. In just over 14 years, the ten northern tribes would go through six different kings, and all but one of them would be assassinated by his successor. It was a time marked by extreme political instability and worsening spiritual infidelity. Zechariah’s reign would be short-lived, lasting only six months before Shallum assassinated him and took his place on the throne. But Shallum would break Zechariah’s record for the shortest reign by surviving a single month before Menahem took his life and his throne.

According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Menahem had been the commander-in-chief of Jeroboam II’s army. Evidently, Menahem had taken Shallum’s murder of Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, as an act of treason. So, he took matters into his own hands and executed the usurper to the throne in record time. Of course, Menahem chose to fill the vacancy left by Shallum’s untimely death by declaring himself king. But when some of Israel’s citizens refused to recognize his right to rule, he launched a brutal reprisal against them.

Menahem destroyed the town of Tappuah and all the surrounding countryside as far as Tirzah, because its citizens refused to surrender the town. He killed the entire population and ripped open the pregnant women. – 2 Kings 15:16 NLT

It’s not surprising that the author describes Menahem’s ten-year reign as evil. He did nothing to restore the spiritual condition of the nation. Instead, he replicated the idolatrous ways of his predecessor, Jeroboam.

It was during Menahem’s less-than-stellar reign that the kingdom of Assyria first appeared on the scene. This up-and-coming nation would prove to be a constant source of trouble for both Israel and Judah. And when the king of Assyria began to test his growing military might by launching raids into Israelite territory, Menahem determined that it was in his best interest to secure an alliance with this powerful new threat to the region. So, he paid a substantial tribute to the Assyrians and funded it by exacting an exorbitant and highly unpopular tax on the wealthiest citizens of Israel. But his strategy appears to have worked.

…the king of Assyria turned from attacking Israel and did not stay in the land. – 2 Kings 15:20 NLT

But little did Menahem know that he was simply buying time. The Assyrians could be bought off, but they were not going away.

Menahem was succeeded by his son, Pekahiah, whose reign would last only two years. Pekahiah was eventually assassinated and replaced by Pekah, the son of the man who commanded his own army. And it was during Pekah’s 20-year, sin-stained reign that the Assyrians showed up again. Evidently, Pekah chose not to continue making tribute payments to the Assyrians, so King Tiglath-pileser ordered the resumption of raids into Israelite territory.

King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria attacked Israel again, and he captured the towns of Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, and Hazor. He also conquered the regions of Gilead, Galilee, and all of Naphtali, and he took the people to Assyria as captives. – 2 Kings 15:29 NLT

The scope and intensity of these raids are simply a foreshadowing of darker days to come. And long before the Israelites had settled in the land of Canaan, God had warned them what would happen if they chose to be unfaithful by refusing to obey His commands.

You will watch as your sons and daughters are taken away as slaves. Your heart will break for them, but you won’t be able to help them. A foreign nation you have never heard about will eat the crops you worked so hard to grow. You will suffer under constant oppression and harsh treatment. You will go mad because of all the tragedy you see around you. – Deuteronomy 28:32-34 NLT

This was just the beginning. But Pekah did not recognize these devastating raids by the Assyrians as the judgment of God. Instead, he “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had led Israel to commit” (2 Kings 15:28 NLT). And eventually, he suffered the same fate as his predecessor. After a 20-year reign, he too was assassinated. Israel’s constant harassment by the Assyrians eventually destabilized Pekah’s reign.

These costly raids and the enslavement of their fellow citizens led the people to grow increasingly more dissatisfied with Pekah’s leadership. Eventually, Hoshea, the son of Elah, took advantage of the unstable situation by instigating a successful coup against the king. He assassinated Pekah and took his place on the throne of Israel. But this latest regime change, like all those that had preceded it, made little difference. The people of Israel remained just as rebellious and unrepentant as ever. And the Assyrians were growing increasingly more powerful with each passing day. The handwriting was on the wall. It would not be long before God fulfilled His promise to bring curses upon the people of Israel for their unfaithfulness and disobedience.

During this time, God had sent His prophets to warn the Israelites about their sinful behavior.

“The people of Israel have sinned again and again,
    and I will not let them go unpunished!
They sell honorable people for silver
    and poor people for a pair of sandals.
They trample helpless people in the dust
    and shove the oppressed out of the way.
Both father and son sleep with the same woman,
    corrupting my holy name.” – Amos 2:6-7 NLT

“From among all the families on the earth,
    I have been intimate with you alone.
That is why I must punish you
    for all your sins.” – Amos 3:2 NLT

“But now bring charges against Israel—your mother—
    for she is no longer my wife,
    and I am no longer her husband.
Tell her to remove the prostitute’s makeup from her face
    and the clothing that exposes her breasts.
Otherwise, I will strip her as naked
    as she was on the day she was born.
I will leave her to die of thirst,
    as in a dry and barren wilderness. – Hosea 2:2-3 NLT

They had been warned but they had repeatedly refused to repent. The kings of Israel had led their people to sin against God. Through intrigue and insurrection, these men had destabilized the nation’s power and then encouraged the people to forsake the one true God. And the time was coming when God would repay them for their unfaithfulness. He would no longer allow His holy name to be desecrated by their constant disobedience of His commands and disregard for His will. They had failed to recognize and appreciate His faithfulness.

She doesn’t realize it was I who gave her everything she has—
    the grain, the new wine, the olive oil;
I even gave her silver and gold.
    But she gave all my gifts to Baal.” – Hosea 2:8 NLT

And they would pay dearly for their mistake.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

Pride Goes Before Destruction

1 In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, began to reign. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And the Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land.’ Now the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? And Azariah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Jotham his son reigned in his place.

In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria six months. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 10 Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place. 11 Now the rest of the deeds of Zechariah, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 12 (This was the promise of the Lord that he gave to Jehu, “Your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” And so it came to pass.) 2 Kings 15:1-12 ESV

Reading this chapter can become a bit confusing because it seems to chronicle the lives of two different kings serving over Judah at the very same time. In verse 1, we are introduced to Azariah, the son of Amaziah. Then in verse 13, we’re told that Shallum became king of Israel during the reign of Uzziah king of Judah. There is a simple solution though. The king of Judah went by two different names. Chapter 26 of the book of 2 Chronicles uses this alternate name exclusively when recording the history of his reign. But they are one and the same man.

As the opening verses indicate, Azariah (Uzziah) ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of his father, Amaziah. He was only 16-years-old at the time of his coronation and would reign for 52 years. Only one other king of Judah would enjoy a longer tenure on the throne of Judah: Manasseh.

Azariah’s lengthy reign brought stability to a nation that had been reeling after the assassination of its prior king, Azariah’s father. It was a time of blessing and prosperity because, unlike so many other kings of Judah, Azariah chose to seek the Lord.

…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper. – 2 Chronicles 26:4-5 ESV

But there are three qualifying words in the above statement: “as long as.” Azariah’s prosperity and success were directly tied to his faithfulness. It was God who made him prosper. And as long as he remained faithful to Yahweh, he experienced His blessings. And, according to the book of 2 Chronicles, those blessings were many.

God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. – 2 Chronicles 26:7-8 ESV

Azariah built cities within the territories he confiscated from the Philistines. He also ordered the construction of fortified towers throughout the land of Judah and had cisterns dug to provide water for his growing herds. Azariah had large land-holdings, consisting of farms and vineyards. He was wealthy, successful, and powerful. His army was well-trained and equipped with the latest weapons technology. And the city of Jerusalem was protected by state-of-the-art fortifications. As a result:

His fame spread far and wide, for the Lord gave him marvelous help, and he became very powerful. – 2 Chronicles 26:15 NLT

Azariah was enjoying the blessings of God. He had it all: Wealth, power, and fame. But you can almost sense that he was ripe for a fall. And the author of 2 Kings cuts to the chase, revealing that Azariah’s days of enjoying the blessings of God were going to be short-lived and followed by a time of judgment and despair.

Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And the Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. – 2 Kings 15:4-5 ESV

The book of 2 Chronicles provides us with the details surrounding Azariah’s fall. And it’s an all-too-familiar story of the pitfalls of pride.

But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. – 2 Chronicles 26:16 NLT

Azariah was a man who became used to getting what he wanted. He had enjoyed unprecedented success. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. His victories were many. His landholdings were great. His wealth was extensive. And his power was unsurpassed. But all of this led to a pride problem. He became to believe that he could get away with anything. But when he entered the sanctuary of God and attempted to usurp the role of the priests, he overstepped his bounds. He violated the Mosaic law and incurred the wrath of God. And it is not as if Azariah didn’t know any better. He was confronted by the high priest and 80 other men of God.

They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” – 2 Chronicles 26:18 NLT

But rather than repent of his sin, Azariah became angry. He didn’t like being told what he could or could not do. And so, God struck him with leprosy. In just seconds, Azariah’s entire life was turned upside down. He was immediately removed from the temple and, because of his leprosy, would never set foot in the house of God again – for the rest of his life. He would spend the last 11 years of his reign in quarantine and isolation, as his son ruled the nation as his co-regent. Eventually, Azariah died, and his son took his place as king of Judah. He was buried and the only lasting legacy he left behind was his failure. The people would say of him, “He had leprosy” (2 Chronicles 26:23 NLT).

Azariah had fallen prey to the age-old sin of pride. He had failed to heed the warnings of his predecessor, Solomon. In his book of Proverbs, Solomon included the wise but often ignored saying, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs16:18 ESV). And Azariah learned a painful lesson on the pervasive power of pride. Because he had enjoyed the seemingly endless blessings of God, he had wrongly assumed that he could do no wrong. But God has standards, and He expects His children to live according to His will and in keeping with His commands. The king was not exempt from God’s rules, and Azariah learned that lesson the hard way. 

About three years before Azariah’s fateful decision to play priest and offer sacrifices to God, Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, became king in Israel. And the assessment of his reign is a familiar one.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. – 2 Kings 15:9 ESV

Unlike Azariah, Zechariah’s reign was brief, lasting only six short months. And it would end with his assassination by Shallum, who would take his place on the throne of Israel. But Zechariah’s abbreviated reign fulfilled a promise that God had made to Jehu, king of Israel. Jehu had obeyed God’s command and destroyed the house of Ahab. Not only that, he ordered the execution of any who worshiped Baal and turned the temple of Baal into a public latrine. As a reward for Jehu’s cleansing campaign, God made a vow:

“You have done well in following my instructions to destroy the family of Ahab. Therefore, your descendants will be kings of Israel down to the fourth generation.” – 2 Kings 10:30 NLT

Zechariah was the fulfillment of that promise. But his reign would only last half a year. His murder would usher in an era of intrigue, deception, and instability. Over the next 20 years, the northern kingdom of Israel would have six different kings, and only one of them would die a natural death. The rest would be assassinated. It would be a time marked by pervasive wickedness, rampant idolatry, and increasing resistance on the part of the people to heed God’s call to repentance.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

So, He Saved Them

23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam and all that he did, and his might, how he fought, and how he restored Damascus and Hamath to Judah in Israel, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 29 And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, the kings of Israel, and Zechariah his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 14:23-29 ESV

Sometime during the reign of King Jehoash of Judah, the other King Jehoash of Israel made his son, Jeroboam II, his co-regent. He was named after the very first king who ruled over the northern kingdom after God had divided the nation of Israel in half. This division of Solomon’s kingdom was done as a punishment for his idolatry and apostasy. In the latter years of his reign, Solomon had begun to worship the false gods of his many foreign wives.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. 1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV

As punishment for Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God raised up Jeroboam and placed him over the ten northern tribes of Israel. But Jeroboam proved to be just as unfaithful as Solomon. One of his first official acts as king was to establish his own religion, complete with golden calf idols erected in the cities of Dan and Bethel. He even created his own priesthood and sacrificial system so that the ten northern tribes would have no reason to go to Jerusalem to worship at the temple of Yahweh.

And it reveals a lot about the character of King Jehoash of Israel that he chose to name his son after this man. But the author seems to assure his readers that this decision was fitting because Jeroboam II lived up to the reputation of his infamous predecessor.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. – 2 Kings 14:24 ESV

At his father’s death, Jeroboam II transitioned from his position as co-regent to that of king over all the northern tribes, a title he would hold for 41 years. He would become the longest-reigning king in the history of Israel, outlasting the monarchy of King Jehoash of Judah and that of his son, Amaziah. But other than the note describing the sinful disposition of Jeroboam’s reign, the author provides few other details about his accomplishments. There is a brief mention of his expansion of the territorial boundaries of Israel but it would appear that this was the work of God and not Jeroboam.

Verse 25 mentions the name of Jonah. He was one of three prophets, including Hosea and Amos, who ministered to the ten northern tribes of Israel. This is the same Jonah who would later receive a divine commission from God to call the pagan people of Ninevah to repentance (Jonah 1:1-2). But long before Jonah was sent to the Assyrians, his responsibility was to act as God’s spokesman to the kings and the people of Israel. It would appear from the text that Jonah gave King Jeroboam a word from Yahweh, commanding him to expand the borders of Israel, and the king obeyed.

He restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

By faithfully fulfilling this divine mandate, Jeroboam II was able to restore the borders of Israel close to where they had been during the reign of King Solomon. While Jeroboam was anything but a godly king, he did prove to be an accomplished leader who helped reestablish Israel’s power and prominence. In fact, both the northern and southern kingdoms would experience unprecedented prosperity during this period of time. This fact seems difficult to reconcile when you consider that both kingdoms were being ruled over by godless kings who promoted idolatry and apostasy. Yet, the author reveals that God was at work, behind the scenes, protecting and preserving His people.

the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. – 2 Kings 14:27 ESV

God had made a covenant commitment to preserve His people. Despite their repeated demonstrations of disobedience and unfaithfulness, He had never allowed them to suffer the full and well-deserved consequences of their sin. He had stepped in and rescued them time and time again. Long before they ever entered the land of Canaan or established themselves as a nation, God had clearly communicated His expectations to them.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God… – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Then God outlined all the blessings they could expect if they lived in obedience to His will. But He had also warned them that disobedience would bring curses.

But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you… – Deuteronomy 28:15 NLT

The list of potential curses that followed was intense and terrifying and ended with the warning: “The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you[ (Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT).

There would be dire and devastating consequences should they choose to disobey. But as the author of 2 Kings reveals, “the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven” (2 Kings 14:27 ESV). While God had warned of destruction and even eventual deportation, He had never spoken of Israel’s obliteration. He was committed to keeping the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it was Jacob whom God had renamed Israel.

“Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel.

Then God said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 NLT

This scene took place in Bethel, and it just so happens that Bethel became one of the towns in which the original Jeroboam set up a golden calf idol. The very place where God had promised to make of Jacob (Israel) a great nation, Jeroboam I had erected an idol that would lead the people away from Yahweh. He had promoted disobedience and, in doing so, had brought upon the people of Israel the curses of God.  And yet, the author of 2 Kings reveals that God chose to show His rebellious people compassion.

…the Lord saw the bitter suffering of everyone in Israel, and that there was no one in Israel, slave or free, to help them. – 2 Kings 14:26 NLT

Yes, they were rebellious. The people of Israel had forsaken Him time and time again. But God looked on His chosen people and saw them as helpless and hopeless. They had no one to save them. Their kings had proven themselves unwilling and incapable of providing godly leadership. Jeroboam II was no different than his namesake. And yet, God chose to use this godless king to protect His chosen people.

…because the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel completely, he used Jeroboam II, the son of Jehoash, to save them. – 2 Kings 14:27 NLT

God was preserving His people. Not because they deserved it, but because He had a plan that required their continued existence. Hundreds of years earlier, God had made a promise to the patriarch, Abraham:

“I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:17-18 NLT

God had made a commitment to bless the nations of the earth through Abraham’s descendants. Yet, as we have seen, the seed of Abraham had proven to be anything but a blessing. They had brought shame to the name of God through their repeated demonstrations of unfaithfulness. But God was choosing to preserve them because He had a plan in place that would bring about the blessing of the nations. And He would do it through the “seed” of Abraham. And the apostle Paul tells us exactly how God fulfilled that promise.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 NLT

God preserved the Israelites so that Jesus, who was born a descendant of Abraham, might become the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations. And Paul goes on to describe how God’s commitment to protect and preserve the nation of Israel has impacted all the nations of the earth.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. – Galatians 3:28-29 NLT

All along the way, God had been watching out for His chosen people because He had set them apart for a reason. They were to be the conduit through which He brought the blessing of salvation to a lost and dying world. And that is why, even after He eventually sent them into exile in Babylon, God restored them to the land of promise.

“I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:15-16 NLT

God was faithful to keep His promise and preserve His people so that, one day, He might send His Son as the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson