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The Fall of Samaria

Date: Aug. 9, 2015

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

2 Kings 17:1-41

Key Verse: 2 Kings 17:39

“Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.”

It’s summertime, and one of the things about summer is that it is blockbuster movie time. This year’s the big movies have been The Avengers: Age of Ultron (which came out a little before summer), Furious 7 (The latest installment in the Fast and the Furious series), Jurassic World (which is now the third largest grossing movie) and Minions. Each of those movies is a continuation of a series of movies, but perhaps one of the greatest series of movies is The Lord of the Rings. It’s been quite a few years since they came out, but they are still great movies to see. In the second movie, The Two Towers, there is a big battle scene. The Battle of Helm’s Deep. Let me set the scene up for you. The bad guys are Sauron and his lackey Saruman. They are trying to conquer the whole world. Saruman wants to take out the nation of Rohan and sends his army of over 10,000 nasty Urukhai to kill everyone. The king of Rohan learns of the attack and evacuates all the people of the capital to Helm’s Deep a stone fortress in the mountains. This fortress has huge stone walls that are nearly impenetrable. They have lasted many wars behind those formidable walls. When the Uruks come, it seems like they cannot get in, but Saruman gave his army gunpowder and made bombs for them. The Uruks put the bombs in the weakest portion of the wall and blew it up. Once the wall was down, the Uruks came rushing in and before long had overrun the fortress. As soon as the wall fell, their protection was gone and Helm’s Deep was nearly lost. Likewise, in today’s passage, the northern kingdom of Israel loses its protection and is entirely destroyed by Assyria.

But before we dig into things, I want to do a little history lesson. As we know, because we read about it today, we see the end of the northern kingdom, but I want to put this all in to perspective. The northern kingdom, Israel was established in 930 BC when Solomon’s son Rehoboam was too boneheaded to see what a stranglehold would do. When Rehoboam became king, the people asked him to lighten the burden that his father Solomon placed on them. The men who advised Solomon advised Rehoboam to give a favorable answer, but Rehoboam turned to his drinking buddies, who honestly must have had a few drinks already because they advised him to be even harsher on the people than his father had ever been. Rehoboam chose to toss back a few of what they were having and listen to his buddies. He told the people that he was going to be harsher than Solomon. The people responded by telling Rehoboam to do something by himself that he should do with his wife and hand gestures may have been involved, too. Then ten of the tribes of Israel split off from Judah and formed the northern kingdom.

They made Jeroboam king and very early on he realized that the people still needed to worship God, but the problem was that God said the place of worship was his temple and that was in Jerusalem…in Judah. He thought that the people would get tired of going to another country to worship and realize how silly this whole splitting-the-country-thing was. If that were to happen, then the only logical thing would be that the people would want to go back to being one nation and that would mean removing Jeroboam as king. Now Jeroboam really didn’t like that idea. I mean, honestly, who would like that idea? The nation’s split was silly. It only made sense to get the nation back together, but Jeroboam did want any of that. To prevent people from leaving Israel and going to Judah to worship, Jeroboam created two golden calves for the people to worship, one in the north and one in the south. He also rejiggered a few things about the faith and let anyone who wanted to could become a priest. For the next two hundred years, king after king refused to remember the Lord in Israel. Every single one of them took to heart the worship at the calves. Ahab, if you remember, thought that the worship at the calves was trivial. It was such a given that he decided to expand his repertoire and worship even Baal. The Lord put up with this insolence for two hundred years. As we heard a couple of weeks ago, he didn’t want to blot out the name of Israel, but that is about to end. In this passage, the Lord doesn’t have such reservations.

Our passage starts out today, “In the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah, Hoshea son of Elah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned nine years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings of Israel who preceded him.” (1-2) If you remember Hoshea became king because he killed Pekah son of Remaliah. Hoshea came to power as Tiglath-Pileser’s vassal. When Pekah and Rezin were attacking Judah, Ahaz king of Judah asked Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria to come and help, and he helped by destroying Rezin and all of Aram. At around the same time, Hoshea murdered Pekah with Assyria’s support in 732 BC, nearly two-hundred years from the division of the kingdom. The passage says that Hoshea did evil in the eyes of the Lord, but not like the kings of Israel before him. It sounds like he wasn’t as bad spiritually as any of the other kings of Israel. He is the first one that the Bible does not explicitly say that he continued in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nabat.

In 727 BC, Tiglath-Pileser died and Shalmaneser became king of Assyria. After the transition of power, Hoshea remained a vassal and paid tribute for a while. The passage says, “Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up to attack Hoshea, who had been Shalmaneser’s vassal and had paid him tribute. But the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea was a traitor, for he had sent envoys to So king of Egypt, and he no longer paid tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore Shalmaneser seized him and put him in prison.” (3-4) Hoshea didn’t like being Assyria’s vassal. In order to remove himself from Assyria’s control, Hoshea reached out to the king of Egypt for help. He wanted to throw off the shackles of repression placed on Israel, but, instead, Hoshea himself was shackled and thrown in prison. With Hoshea in custody, Shalmaneser turns his attention to Samaria and lays siege to it. Samaria was a heavily fortified city and it took three more years before the capital city fell to the Assyrians.

When Samaria fell, the king of Assyria took many of the people and scattered them to the farthest reaches of the empire. The Assyrians did this to shame and humiliate the conquered people. It showed that those who were conquered were fully under the power and authority of Assyria and her king. It also prevented rebellion since the people were scattered and it promoted the integration of the people into Assyria. In this case, the king of Assyria took the Israelites from Samaria, which was in the western part of the country and scattered the people to Halah, Gozan and the towns of the Medes. Gozan was in the middle of the country and the towns of the Medes were on the eastern fringes near the Caspian Sea. In one small action, the nation of Israel was no more.

Israel was God’s chosen people. He chose them and raised them up as a nation. For the past two hundred years, God protected his people and, quite honestly, he mentioned that he did not want to blot out the name of Israel. And yet, what changed? What was the egregious error that tipped the scales? Was Hoshea that much worse than all his predecessors? I don’t think so. Our passage makes it seem like he is a little bit better than them, so that can’t be the reason. Maybe the people were uploading and watching too many cat videos. Maybe all the posturing of the politicians were just too much. Maybe they created the unholy union of a single sandwich which had a hot dog on top of a burger and topped with onion rings. Honestly, we don’t know why God chose this time to destroy the nation. Hoshea just might have been too little, too late. He wasn’t as evil, but he was still evil. Hoshea did rate as a Hitler or Stalin in terms of evil, instead he was just a Saddam Hussein: bad but not quite as bad.

God might seem harsh to destroy his beloved people, but the Lord had tremendous grace and patience with Israel. From the time of Moses and the Exodus which was around 1446 BC, the people of Israel kept walking away from the Lord. That would mean that God was patient with the northern kingdom for over 720 years. That is not a snap judgment. Some might say that we should only look at the northern kingdom by itself. In that case, the Lord was patient for over two hundred years. Again, that is not a snap judgment. It takes a lot of patience to bear with a group of people for hundreds of years. Our country has been around for only 239 years. It is not a rash judgment to wait nearly the entire history of our nation before taking action. It shows so much grace for God to have done so, but what did they actually do?

The entire two books of Kings deal with why Israel and Judah were uprooted from the Promised Land and sent into exile. Right here in this passage is the summary of why Israel was deported. The account begins, “All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.” (7-8) The Israelites were once slaves in Egypt. They were the labor force that built that nation into a great power and made it prosperous. In 1446 BC, Moses, under the direction of God, led the people out of Egypt. The Pharaoh changed his mind about letting the Israelites go and pursued them with an army. The people weren’t soldiers; they were slaves and would never stand up to an attack, but the Lord delivered them safely to his mountain Mount Sinai. Over time, they were led to a land that they were promised, a lush and fertile land, full of promise. The only problem was that the land was already occupied and the Lord wanted the Israelites to clear the land of the people because those people were doing despicable things that angered God. The people went in and God won victory after victory for them. The people who were once considered to be giants melted away before the Lord, but instead of establishing God’s kingdom in the land, the Israelites took up the practices of the people that they drove out.

The passage continues, “The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger.” (9-11) The people went against God’s wishes. The Israelites had driven out the previous people in the land, but they started acting just like them. It was like they were infected with the same evil that the previous people were. Everything that the Israelites did made God angry. He had done so much for them, but they did little in return.

You might be wondering why God was so angry. None of what the Israelites did really seems all that bad. It really looks like the people wanted to worship more. They had so much more worship to give that they wanted to spread it to everywhere, but there was a big problem. “They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, ‘You shall not do this.’ The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.’” (12-13) One of the biggest problems was that the people didn’t listen to God. He told them not to worship idols, but they did. When the people started to go astray, the Lord sent prophets to bring them back to him. Yet, they did not listen. It is so frustrating when someone doesn’t listen to you. I’ve got two kids and they hardly ever listen, especially when they are watching something. Last night, my daughter wouldn’t listen. They just had a bath and got dressed and it was time for her to get her hair combed so it wouldn’t knot the next morning. I told her to go to her mother and get her hair combed, but she stayed where she was. My wife told her a number of times to come, but she did not budge. Viola then gave Ella an ultimatum. She either had to come or go to her room. Ella just smiled back and off to her room she was sent. In response, Ella just started bawling and crying. It is so frustrating when somebody doesn’t listen. It causes my blood to boil when it happens. However, God remained patient for centuries and was unwilling to wipe out his people.

When Solomon built the temple, God had a warning for his people, “But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’” (1 Kings 9:6-9)

For all the warning the people had, they still did not listen. The people did not put their trust in God and outright rejected him. The followed worthless idols and they themselves became worthless. There is a saying: “You are what you eat”. It refers to the fact that if you eat well – eat healthy, then you will be healthy, but if you eat junk, then your body will act like junk. Spiritually, there is something similar. When you chase after worthless things, then you will become just as worthless as the thing you chase. The apostle Paul wrote, “just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.” (Romans 1:28-31) This is how God works. He is not a destroyer, but he removes the hand of protection. He protects our souls and when we reject him over and over and over again, there comes a point where he just stops and lets us have what we want and not protect us any more.

Because the people did not listen to God and his prophets, God made good on his promise and had the people removed from the land. It seems a little harsh, but in many ways, the relationship between a person and God is a lot like the relationship between husband and wife. There is an intimacy in the relationship that we have with God. When the Israelites turned away from God and turned to worshipping idols, it’s like a wife leaving her husband and becoming a prostitute and sleeping with every man she can find. The Lord’s anger is that of a husband of an unfaithful wife. Every time Israel went after an idol, it broke God’s heart. He poured out everything for his people, but all they did was reject him and run after fake gods, stone and wood that did not care about them at all. God bore with his unfaithful wife for two hundred years and eventually, time ran out. He removed his hand of protection and gave them over to the result of their desire and the people were sent away.

After the Israelites were ripped from their land by the Assyrians, they Assyrians grabbed people from the farthest reaches of the empire and brought them to Samaria. The people lived as they did in their home country, but God was not pleased. Lions came and attacked the settlers. It was determined that the people didn’t know the Lord and he was angry with the settlers, so the Assyrians sent a priest back to educate the people in worshipping the Lord. The settlers learned how to worship God, but they did not stop the worship of their own idols. They worshipped God so that the lions would not come and attack, but every other time, they followed their idols. These people were following in the footsteps of the Israelites who were deported for the very same reason.

When we look at the Israelites or the settlers, it is easy to point a finger and wonder why they did not worship God. He didn’t make his presence a secret. His word and desires were explicitly given to his people. When the people went astray, he sent people to bring them back, but they persisted in not listening. God had done so much for his people. He had watched over them and protected them for over seven hundred years, but it was never enough. Why were they never satisfied? The answer is simple. People are sinners. In our natural state, it is in our nature to separate ourselves from God. We don’t need any pushing to walk away from God. It is our default mode. That’s the reason that we need to come to God everyday.

While looking at the passage, it is easy to wonder about our nation. Sometimes it feels like our country is deteriorating. We can choose to blame our culture on that deterioration or we can accept the truth. It is not because of society that society is deteriorating. It is because of the dual nature of the so-called believers. Christians from all walks of life miss the point of their faith. The go to church on Sundays and hear the word of God, but when we go home, we return to lives that are no different than the rest of the world. We scheme and desire like the rest of the world. We can see the benefits that a life with God can bring, but we don’t give ourselves completely to God. Everyday we try and try to get what we want for ourselves. We like to separate our church lives from the rest of our lives. We live segregated lives, with each piece walled off from the others. With the same mouth we praise the Lord at church and curse our neighbors with profanity. For many, God’s grace and love stop at the car door as we battle on the roads.

But God doesn’t want for us to pay him lip service. That’s what the Israelites did. They nominally worshipped God, but it was nothing more than mere tradition. I am guilty of this duality just like everyone else. The deterioration is my fault because I do not live a life completely devoted to the Lord. I sit here and absorb the word of God and listen to his grace given me, but when I leave, I do not follow God’s example with grace. In my frustration and hurt I tend to lash out in rage with screaming and yelling. I don’t want to follow God’s grace; I want my pain to be known and blame everybody for it. This is not the way of God. We cannot live our lives giving them partially to God. We cannot be Christians for a day or part of a day. When we do so, we are not following God. God does not want for us to give ourselves to him for a little while. God wants us, all of us. At the summer conference, we heard a term life-wide Christians. Not only do we have to follow God all of our lives, but we must follow God in every aspect of our lives. Paul again wrote, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Everything that we do should be for God’s glory. When we do that we affect others in a great way. At the end of the passage, we see that the settler’s duality extended to their children and grandchildren. Our influence extends beyond our own lives to generations down the line. When we give ourselves to God fully and trust in him alone, that influence can pass down the generations and break the chain of sin.

In this passage is a verse that speaks volumes. “Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.” (39) God’s hand is the hand of protection. He delivers us from evil and gives us victory over even death. Jesus died for us to be redeemed. He rose from the dead and conquered death. When we follow Jesus and give ourselves entirely to him, we inherit that victory and our greatest enemy is laid to waste. We are sinners but God’s grace is greater than all of our sins. While God’s grace is great, we will still have to face judgment on a day that we do not know. One day, like the Israelites, it might be too late to change our ways, but until that day comes we have to repent of our selfishness and turn to God. We need to surrender ourselves to him and accept the grace that he shows us because it is he who delivers us from the hand of all our enemies. Everything else that we want to seek are just things and can do nothing. It is only Jesus that delivers. Without him, there is only death and abandonment. Let’s take a look at our lives and make a decision to abandon our other pursuits and give our entire lives over to Jesus.

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Daily Bread

I Will Spare Them No Longer

Amos 7:1-9

Key Verse: 7:8b

And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

  “Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them;

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