Never was land lost, we say, for want of an heir. When the children of Israel were dispossessed, and turned out of Canaan, the king of Assyria soon transplanted thither the supernumeraries of his own country, such as it could well spare, who should be servants to him and masters to the Israelites that remained; and here we have an account of these new inhabitants, whose story is related here that we may take our leave of Samaria, as also of the Israelites that were carried captive into Assyria.
I. Concerning the Assyrians that were brought into the land of Israel we are here told, 1. That they possessed Samaria and dwelt in the cities thereof, 2 Kgs. 17:24. It is common for lands to change their owners, but sad that the holy land should become a heathen land again. See what work sin makes. 2. That at their first coming God sent lions among them. They were probably insufficient to people the country, which occasioned the beasts of the field to multiply against them (Exod. 23:29); yet, besides the natural cause, there was a manifest hand of God in it, who is Lord of hosts, of all the creatures, and can serve his own purposes by which he pleases, small or great, lice or lions. God ordered them this rough welcome to check their pride and insolence, and to let them know that though they had conquered Israel the God of Israel had power enough to deal with them—that he could have prevented their settling here, by ordering lions into the service of Israel, and that he permitted it, not for their righteousness, but the wickedness of his own people—and that they were now under his visitation. They had lived without God in their own land, and were not plagued with lions; but, if they do so in this land, it is at their peril. 3. That they sent a remonstrance of this grievance to the king their master, setting forth, it is likely, the loss their infant colony had sustained by the lions and the continual fear they were in of them, and stating that they looked upon it to be a judgment upon them for not worshipping the God of the land, which they could not, because they knew not how, 2 Kgs. 17:26. The God of Israel was the God of the whole world, but they ignorantly call him the God of the land, apprehending themselves therefore within his reach, and concerned to be upon good terms with him. Herein they shamed the Israelites, who were not so ready to hear the voice of God’s judgments as they were, and who had not served the God of that land, though he was the God of their fathers and their great benefactor, and though they were well instructed in the manner of his worship. Assyrians begged to be taught that which Israelites hated to be taught. 4. That the king of Assyria took care to have them taught the manner of the God of the land (2 Kgs. 17:27, 28), not out of any affection to that God, but to save his subjects from the lions. On this errand he sent back one of the priests whom he had carried away captive. A prophet would have done them more good, for this was but one of the priests of the calves, and therefore chose to dwell at Bethel for old acquaintance’ sake, and, though he might teach them to do better than they did, he was not likely to teach them to do well, unless he had taught his own people better. However, he came and dwelt among them, to teach them how they should fear the Lord. Whether he taught them out of the book of the law, or only by word of mouth, is uncertain. 5. That, being thus taught, they made a mongrel religion of it, worshipped the God of Israel for fear and their own idols for love (2 Kgs. 17:33): They feared the Lord, but they served their own gods. They all agreed to worship the God of the land according to the manner, to serve the Jewish festivals and rites of sacrificing, but every nation made gods of their own besides, not only for their private use in their own families, but to be put in the houses of their high places, 2 Kgs. 17:9. The idols of each country are here named, 2 Kgs. 17:30, 31. The learned are at a loss for the signification of several of these names, and cannot agree by what representations these gods were worshipped. If we may credit the traditions of the Jewish doctors, they tell us that Succoth-Benoth was worshipped in a hen and chickens, Nergal in a cock, Ashima in a smooth goat, Nibhaz in a dog, Tartak in an ass, Adrammelech in a peacock, Anammelech in a pheasant. Our own tell us, more probably, that Succoth-Benoth (signifying the tents of the daughters) was Venus. Nergal, being worshipped by the Cuthites, or Persians, was the fire, Adrammelech and Anammelech were only distinctions of Moloch. See how vain idolaters were in their imaginations, and wonder at their sottishness. Our very ignorance concerning these idols teaches us the accomplishment of that word which God has spoken, that these false gods should all perish (Jer. 10:11); they are all buried in oblivion, while the name of the true God shall continue for ever. 6. This medley superstition is here said to continue unto this day (2 Kgs. 17:41), till the time when this book was written and long after, above 300 years in all, till the time of Alexander the Great, when Manasse, brother to Jaddus the high priest of the Jews, having married the daughter of Sanballat, governor of the Samaritans, went over to them, got leave of Alexander to build a temple in Mount Gerizim, drew over many of the Jews to him, and prevailed with the Samaritans to cast away all their idols and to worship the God of Israel only; yet their worship was mixed with so much superstition that our Saviour told them they knew not what they worshipped, John 4:22.
II. Concerning the Israelites that were carried into the land of Assyria. This historian has occasion to speak of them (2 Kgs. 17:22), showing that their successors in the land did as they had done (after the manner of the nations whom they carried away), they worshipped both the God of Israel and those other gods; but what did the captives do in the land of their affliction? Were they reformed, and brought to repentance, by their troubles? No, they did after the former manner, 2 Kgs. 17:34. When the two tribes were afterwards carried into Babylon, they were cured by it of their idolatry, and therefore, after seventy years, they were brought back with joy; but the ten tribes were hardened in the furnace, and therefore were justly lost in it and left to perish. This obstinacy of theirs is here aggravated by the consideration, 1. Of the honour God had put upon them, as the seed of Jacob, whom he named Israel, and from him they were so named, but were a reproach to that worthy name by which they were called. 2. Of the covenant he made with them, and the charge he gave them upon that covenant, which is here very fully recited, that they should fear and serve the Lord Jehovah only, who had brought them up out of Egypt (2 Kgs. 17:36), that, having received his statutes and ordinances in writing, they should observe to do them for evermore (2 Kgs. 17:37), and never forget that covenant which God had made with them, the promises and conditions of that covenant, especially that great article of it which is here thrice repeated, because it had been so often inculcated and so much insisted on, that they should not fear other gods. He had told them that, if they kept close to him, he would deliver them out of the hand of all their enemies (2 Kgs. 17:39); yet when they were in the hand of their enemies, and stood in need of deliverance, they were so stupid, and had so little sense of their own interest, that they did after the former manner (2 Kgs. 17:40), they served both the true God and false gods, as if they knew no difference. Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone. So they did, and so did the nations that succeeded them. Well might the apostle ask, What then, Are we better than they? No, in no wise, for both Jews and Gentiles are all under sin, Rom. 3:9.