Good morning! For the last week or so we have seen why this section of Hebrew history is called “Kings”. One monarch follows another—sometimes peacefully and sometimes with violence, but none of whom make the sort of impact that Saul, David or Solomon had. That pattern continues today in 2 Kings 15-17, perhaps at an even faster pace, but we reach the final breaking point for northern Israel. The foreign power of Assyria gains more and more influence over Israel in these chapters, and then conquers Israel outright in chapter 17.
We start in 2 Kings 15 with Judah to the south, where things continue to go reasonably well for the monarchs. Azariah begins what turns into a fortuitously long 52-year reign (especially when compared to all the turnover in Israel). The king did develop leprosy that set him apart—explained to us as divine punishment. We read about a series of coups in Israel before Menahem reigns for ten years, and we start to see the Assyrian threat creep into the narrative. Another coup yields Pekah’s twenty-year reign, during which time Assyria takes a chunk of Israelite land and carries people captive. By this time down south, Jotham ascends to the throne in Judah after his father (note that “Uzziah” and “Azariah” are the same person). Uzziah is also probably the king in whose reign the prophet Isaiah had the vision which called him to prophecy in Isaiah 6. Jotham is judged as doing “what was right”, except for those pesky high places he failed to eliminate. These were sacred spaces where people had worshipped their deities for centuries, and whose ritual traditions were considered a stumbling block to orthodox Jewish worship.
Jotham’s son Ahaz was a sinful king on the throne of Judah for sixteen years. What he did in “passing his son through fire” was child sacrifice, considered sacrilegious and forbidden by the covenants with the Hebrew God. His reign brings Judean defeats at the hands of the Arameans, the Edomites and Israel. Ahaz then makes a deal with the Assyrian king for protection, which preserves Judah but strengthens Israel’s enemy. Jotham also imitates the religions of Syria (helped by the Hebrew priest Uriah), supplanting the central altar in the Jerusalem temple with one modeled after the Assyrian altar in Damascus.
When we return to the northern kingdom in chapter 17 we see the full eclipse of Israel, finally swallowed up by Assyria. First the king pays tribute to Assyria, but then when he stops and seeks help from Egypt instead, Assyrian king Shalmaneser imprisons him. There follows an invasion of Israel, a three-year siege before Samaria falls, and then the Israelites are forced into exile in Assyrian cities, becoming the “lost tribes of Israel.” The rest of chapter 17 consists of editorial commentary about why this happened, cataloguing the sins of Samaria. (17:19-20 sounds like it was added later, once Judah had fallen as well as Israel.) The Assyrian king settles others in place of the Israelites, and later sends a Hebrew priest to teach these settlers the ways of Israel’s god (so that the lions of the region will stop attacking them!). Despite this, polytheism runs amok in the land, violating the very first commandment of Mount Sinai. We’re told that these multi-god worshipping traditions continue to the time of the book’s writing. Could these settlers have perhaps been the ancestors of those identified as Samaritans in Jesus’ time? If so, we can see one reason why there was no love lost between later Jews and later residents of Samaria. Historians estimate that this fall of Israel happened around 722 BCE (Before the Common Era). Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 Kings 18-20. Thanks for reading!