A nation wiped out forever – Monday, 12th week in ordinary time – 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13- 15a, 18
The text of today tells us of the tragic fall of Samaria, the capital of Israel; the northern kingdom in 721 BC. The Northern Kingdom has variously been called Israel, Samaria or the Ten Tribes, as opposed to the Southern Kingdom known also as Judah.This took place under the evil reign of King Hoshea. Hoshea was king in the north while Ahaz was king in the south. Hoshea had assassinated King Pekha and took the throne and started his own brief dynasty which he reigned for nine years. Like the kings in the north before him, he did evil in the sight of the LORD but by no means the worst of the kings of Israel.
When Tiglath-pileser III died in 727 BC he was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser V (727-722. There were two super powers on the international stage at this time; Assyria to the north and Egypt to the south. Hoshea chose to become a vassal king to the Assyrians and paid tribute money. But the king of Assyria uncovered a conspiracy by Hoshea; for Hsohea had sent messengers to Sais, which was at that time the capital of Egypt in the hope of forming new allies. He then stopped paying tribute to the Assyrians. Hoshea did not look to the LORD for help, he looked to Egypt. Shalmaneser who got wind of this conspiracy would have none of this; he imprisoned Hoshea
Now that the king was imprisoned the nation was ripe for the plucking. The Assyrians besieged Samaria for three years. The fact that it took Assyria that long to break Samaria’s resistance is a testimony to the good wall Omri and Ahab had built around the capital city. This was a long, dedicated campaign to finally crush the rebellious kingdom of Israel, who had defied the power of the Assyrian Empire. Two hundred years and 19 kings after the time of Solomon the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell.
The Assyrian conquest policy was simple. Displace the conquered people so that they cannot regroup. They led the captives away on journeys of hundreds of miles, with the captives naked and attached together with a system of strings and fishhooks pierced through their lower lips. They deported all but the very lowest classes back to the key cities of their empire, either to train and utilize the talented or to enslave the able.
The second part of the reading is a commentary on why all of this happened. Perhaps the people of Israel asked, as they did, where is the LORD, but it was not the LORD who had deserted them, it was they who failed to listen to the LORD repeatedly. It was due to the Samarians’ continual worship of the idols worshipped by their conquerors. (It seems that it was this kind of situation that Jesus was referring to when he told the Samaritan woman that she had had five “husbands”. Each time it was conquered by an invading force, Samaria had adopted the religion of its new masters.)
When the Lord finally executes his judgment, it is humiliating and degrading. The inscription from the Prism of Sargon II the son of Shalmaneser who seems to have finished the siege possibly due to the assassination of his father (or simply took credit for it) states that 27,280 people with their chariots and their gods in whom they trusted were taken into exile.
The divine historian explains the fundamental reasons for the conquering and captivity of the Northern Kingdom. At the root, it was a problem with sin. It wasn’t geopolitical changes or social causes – it was sin. Israel as people and a nation had conformed themselves to the godless nations around them.
One may be inclined to think that this was too harsh a punishment. When God brings judgment, He first brings warning – and often many warnings over a long period. It is only after these warnings are rejected that the judgment comes. It was evident that the sin of the people was not only their breaking of God’s commandments but also against his patient love for them.