Idolatry Continues

“So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day” (v. 41).

- 2 Kings 17:24–41

Ancient Assyria was not known for being kind to its conquered peoples. Sometimes they would cut off the hands and other body parts of their captives. The practice of exiling and resettling conquered peoples, of course, was profoundly damaging both emotionally and financially to those conquered. When taking people into exile, the Assyrians often pierced the lips and noses of their captives and attached ropes, creating leashes of sorts (see Amos 4:2). Clearly, the exile of the northern kingdom was an event of tremendous suffering that we can barely comprehend.

When the Assyrians took a people from their land, they did not leave that land without inhabitants. Instead, they brought in other peoples to resettle the area just conquered. These new peoples were from other lands, so they would presumably not have the same attachment to their new home. Thus, they were less likely to revolt in order to escape Assyrian control. Today’s passage tells us that after taking most, but not all, of the Israelites away from the promised land, the Assyrians “brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel” (2 Kings 17:24).

At first, these new peoples did not fear Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the Lord killed them with lions (v. 25). So, the Assyrians brought in an Israelite priest to instruct them in the worship of Yahweh (vv. 26–28). Note the assumption that Yahweh was the God only of that piece of territory in the ancient Near East (v. 26). That reflects the common pagan religious views of the time that tied gods to specific lands and had little room for the idea that there is one God who rules over all creation. The author of 2 Kings, of course, does not endorse that view but mentions it with a hint of irony. The preceding verses of chapter 17 have already told us that the God worshiped in the promised land was actually God over Assyria as well, for He used Assyria to discipline His people.

The new peoples in the land of Israel continued in idolatry, worshiping Yahweh alongside other gods (vv. 27–41). History tells us that the Israelites who remained there after Samaria fell intermarried with these pagan peoples. Their descendants were the Samaritans mentioned in the New Testament, who stopped worshiping other gods but still followed corrupt worship practices. Once false religion takes hold, it is hard to root it out entirely.

Coram Deo

Although today’s passage paints a bleak picture of continuing idolatry, there is a faint note of hope with the reminder that God will deliver those who fear Him from their enemies (2 Kings 17:39). This was the lesson that the original readers of this book, who were living in exile, were to learn. It remains a lesson for us as well. Deliverance from one’s enemies is possible only if one remains committed to the Lord and the true worship of God.

Passages for Further Study

Nehemiah 4
Luke 9:51–56
John 4:1–42
Acts 8:9–25

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