Commentary on 2 Kings 17 (Fall of Israel)

The last king of Israel is Hoshea, who rules from 732 – 722 BC. Just as all the other kings of Israel, starting with Jeroboam, Hoshea disobeyed the commands of God recorded in the Torah. The author allows that Hoshea wasn’t quite as bad as his predecessors, but it does not matter.

Hoshea refuses to pay off the Assyrians and seeks a defensive pact with Egypt. This move completely backfires on Hoshea and he is attacked by the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser. Hoshea is captured and the capital of Israel, Samaria, is besieged for three years until it finally falls to the Assyrian army, thus ending the existence of the nation of Israel.

So why did God arrange for Assyria to end the nation of Israel in 722 BC? Why did He turn His back on the 10 northern tribes? The next 16 verses answer these questions.

Verse 8 gives a concise summary: Israel “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.” The people of Israel mimicked the behavior of the pagan nations around them and the behavior of their corrupt kings. God had sent numerous prophets to call the nation to repentance, but none of them were heeded.

Paul R. House, in The New American Commentary Volume 8 – 1 & 2 Kings, notes:

A long time has passed since the prophet Ahijah told the wife of Jeroboam I that idolatry would lead to Israel’s exile (1 Kgs 14:14–16). Over these two hundred years Israel has seemed determined to make this prophecy come to pass. No reform occurs. No real repentance emerges. No leader calls a halt to pagan worship. No prophet is taken seriously. Thus the spare, unadorned description of Samaria’s fall is dramatic only in the sense that it is Israel’s final scene. God’s grace alone has delayed the fall this long.

Thomas L. Constable, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Old Testament:), remarks that “after just over two centuries the Northern Kingdom of Israel ceased to exist as a nation (931–722 B.C.). Seven of her 20 kings were assassinated. All were judged to be evil by God.”

In verses 19-20, the author of 2 Kings writes that even though Judah was spared in 722 BC, God would later render the same judgment on them. They too would be plundered and their leadership deported.

The policy of the Assyrians was to deport the leaders, administrators, and ruling class of their defeated enemies; they were re-settled in Assyrian territory. Then they would move Assyrian leaders and administrators into the conquered area to assume control. In this way, conquered nations could not easily rebel since their leadership had all been deported.  This is exactly what they did with Israel.

The Assyrians moved people from five different conquered nations into Samaria to re-populate the land. After they arrive, they suffer from frequent, deadly lion attacks. Most likely the native lion population had grown due to the human population being decimated during the war with Assyria.

Their reaction to the lion attacks is to assume that the local god of Samaria (the name given to the former nation of Israel) was displeased with them. They call upon the king of Assyria to send them a priest from Israel who could teach them how to placate the god of Samaria. A priest is sent, but would this bring a revival of true religion to the people of Samaria? No.

The author of Kings explains that worship of Yahweh was merely added to and combined with the worship of the other pagan gods. Verse 41 states, “Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did.”

This passage of 2 Kings sheds light on why the Samaritans living during Jesus’s life were so despised by the Jews of that time. The Samaritans were a hybrid group of Jews and other near eastern peoples who had mixed true worship of Yahweh with worship of other pagan gods.