Today's reading brings us to the end of the northern kingdom of Israel. And there are a lot of names. In chapter 15 alone there are 15 kings named, covering a span of nearly 35 years. Nine of the kings are from the northern kingdom of Israel, four of them reigned in the southern kingdom of Judah, and one king from Assyria, Pul or as he is more commonly known Tiglath-Pileserlll. There is a sort of rhythm to the accounts of these kings, especially the ones who reigned in Israel. The accounts begin, in the such and such year of the reign of the king of Judah, this man became king in Israel. He reigned for a certain number of years AND he did evil in the sight of the Lord. Some of the kings were more evil than others but all of them failed to walk in the ways of the Lord. There are also many references to Jeroboam. He was the first king of the northern kingdom after the tribes split when Solomon died. In an attempt to keep the Israelites out of Judah, Jeroboam had two golden calves made for the people to worship. He put one in Dan to the north and the other in Bethel in the southern part of the northern kingdom. And every king after him worshiped idols. The price to be paid for this disobedience is steep.
Jehoahaz of Israel reigned for 17 years and during this time Syria controlled almost all of the northern kingdom. The king of Syria, Hazael, allowed Jehoahaz very little control, even controlling how many horses and chariots he could have. But, Jehoahaz realized they were in dire straits and called on the Lord for help. In an amazing act of mercy, the Lord answered his prayer. However, this did not change idol worship in Israel. Jehoahaz was followed by his son Jehoash who reigned for 16 years. By the time he had come to power the Assyrians has overcome Syria and they were forced to pay a heavy tribute to the Assyrians. King Hazael of Damascus died and his successor was much weaker. Jehoash defeated him three times. The major world powers were shifting and during the reign of Jehoash’s son Jeroboam II the Israelites regained some power and territory. In fact, now the tables were turned and there were countries who were paying tribute to Israel. The upper and middle classes became very prosperous and life was good. It was during the reign of Jeroboam II that the prophets Hosea, Joel, and Amos ministered. It was also the time period when Jonah belatedly embarked on his reluctant mission to Nineveh, which was a very weakened city at the time.
Chapter 13 brought us the news of Elisha’s death. Unlike the death of Elijah, he died a normal death but we see the powerElisha possessed. His death is recorded quite unceremoniously...just four words. Elisha died and was buried. We are told that every spring Moabite raiders appeared in Judah. People knew to watch for them but a raiding party surprised some residents of Judah who were burying a dead man and they threw the man's body into Elisha's grave. When the body touched Elisha's bones the man came to life and stood up. Even in death the mere presence of Elisha's body was sufficient for a miracle. It isn't that there was magic in his bones. It is a demonstration of the power of God associated with His servant.
We turn our attention now to a king from Judah. In chapter 15 we read about King Azariah. He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and he reigned 52 years. We don't read much about him here other than he was afflicted with leprosy. It isn't until we read 2 Chronicles that we see a much bigger picture of this king and what he was able to accomplish. This is the king Uzziah we read about in the prophet Isaiah's call story. He begins the account by saying in the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. Uzziah may be the name he took when he became king. We will write more about him when we reach 2 Chronicles.
Zechariah reigned in Israel for six months. He was the last king of the house of Jehu. It was back in 10:30 we read that there would be descendants of Jehu on the throne for four generations. That promise was fulfilled. He was killed by Shallum who ruled for one month before he was killed. His successor ruled for 10 years but only because he was willing to pay a heavy tribute to the king of Assyria. This was Menahem. He was followed by his son Pekahiah and grandson Pekah. Between them they reigned 22 years. Hoshea conspired against Pekah and killed him, taking over the throne. He too did evil in the eyes of the Lord but not like his predecessors. Once again there were power shifts in the world around Israel and Judah. A new strong man had appeared in Egypt and it appears Hoshea wanted to have relations with him. They could forge an anti-Assyrian coalition. Hoshea had been paying tribute to Assyria and now had stopped. By this point in time Israel had been reduced to a very small area, the Ephramite region immediately surrounding the city of Samaria.This resulted in a three-year siege of Samaria that was successful for Assyria.
It was customary in ancient practice to deport large numbers of influential citizens of a conquered country or city to decrease the possibility of rebellion. So, the Israelites were sent to Assyria while the Babylonians and Arameans were transferred to Israel. This mixing of various peoples would break down ethnic distinctions of the people and weaken the loyalties the people had. Many of the poor and lower-class Israelites were left in Israel. Some of them worked the land and others worked the vineyards and olive groves so that the Assyrians could then receive the produce of the land for themselves. Together this collection of people became known as Samaritans. These transplants were not in Israel long before the Lord sent lions among them, killing some of them. This was because these new people did not worship the Lord either. Remember people often worshiped the god of the land they were in but these people brought their own.
A deported Israelite priest was sent back to instruct the Samaritan population in the worship of the Lord. The end result was a curious mix of various forms of paganism with the apostate religion of the northern kingdom. They did learn the fear the Lord but continued to practice their own religions as well. The last part of chapter 17 is a scathing indictment of the northern kingdom. They did not worship the Lord. They did not keep the laws and commands and ordinances laid down by the Lord of the covenant. And we are reminded once again that only the Lord is the redeemer of Israel.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W