Though the destruction of the kingdom of the ten tribes was but briefly related, it is in these verses largely commented upon by our historian, and the reasons of it assigned, not taken from the second causes—the weakness of Israel, their impolitic management, and the strength and growing greatness of the Assyrian monarch (these things are overlooked)--but only from the First Cause. Observe, 1. It was the Lord that removed Israel out of his sight; whoever were the instruments, he was the author of this calamity. It was destruction from the Almighty; the Assyrian was but the rod of his anger, Isa. 10:5. It was the Lord that rejected the seed of Israel, else their enemies could not have seized upon them, 2 Kgs. 17:20. Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? Did not the Lord? Isa. 43:24. We lose the benefit of national judgments if we do not eye the hand of God in them, and the fulfilling of the scripture, for that also is taken notice of here (2 Kgs. 17:23): The Lord removed Israel out of his favour, and out of their own land, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. Rather shall heaven and earth pass than one tittle of God’s word fall to the ground. When God’s word and his works are compared, it will be found not only that they agree, but that they illustrate each other. But why would God ruin a people that were raised and incorporated, as Israel was, by miracles and oracles? Why would he undo that which he himself had done at so vast an expense? Was it purely an act of sovereignty? No, it was an act of necessary justice. For, 2. They provoked him to do this by their wickedness. Was it God’s doing? Nay, it was their own; by their way and their doings they procured all this to themselves, and it was their own wickedness that did correct them. This the sacred historian shows here at large, that it might appear that God did them no wrong and that others might hear and fear. Come and see what it was that did all this mischief, that broke their power and laid their honour in the dust; it was sin; that, and nothing else, separated between them and God. This is here very movingly laid open as the cause of all the desolations of Israel. He here shows,
I. What God had done for Israel, to engage them to serve him. 1. He gave them their liberty (2 Kgs. 17:7): He brought them from under the hand of Pharaoh who oppressed them, asserted their freedom (Israel is my son), and effected their freedom with a high hand. Thus they were bound in duty and gratitude to be his servants, for he had loosed their bonds; nor would he that rescued them out of the hand of the king of Egypt have contradicted himself so far as to deliver them into the hand of the king of Assyria, as he did, if they had not, by their iniquity, betrayed their liberty and sold themselves. 2. He gave them their law, and was himself their king. They were immediately under a divine regimen. They could not plead ignorance of good and evil, sin and duty, for God had particularly charged them against those very things which here he charges them with (2 Kgs. 17:15), That they should not do like the heathen. Nor could they be in any doubt concerning their obligation to observe the laws which they are here charged with rejecting, for they were the commandments and statutes of the Lord their God (2 Kgs. 17:13), so that no room was left to dispute whether they should keep them or no. He had not dealt so with other nations, Ps. 147:19, 20. 3. He gave them their land, for he cast out the heathen from before them (2 Kgs. 17:8), to make room for them; and the casting out of them for their idolatries was as fair a warning as could be given to Israel not to do like them.
II. What they had done against God, notwithstanding these engagements which he had laid upon them. 1. In general. They sinned against the Lord their God (2 Kgs. 17:7), they did those things that were not right (2 Kgs. 17:9), but secretly. So wedded were they to their evil practices that when they could not do them publicly, could not for shame or could not for fear, they would do them secretly—an evidence of their atheism, that they thought what was done in secret was from under the eye of God himself and would not be required. Again, they wrought wicked things in such a direct contradiction to the divine law that they seemed as if they were done on purpose to provoke the Lord to anger (2 Kgs. 17:11), in contempt of his authority and defiance of his justice. They rejected God’s statutes and his covenant (2 Kgs. 17:15), would not be bound up either by his command or the consent they themselves had given to the covenant, but threw off the obligations of both, and therefore God justly rejected them, 2 Kgs. 17:20. See Hos. 4:6. They left all the commandments of the Lord their God (2 Kgs. 17:16), left the way, left the work, which those commandments prescribed them and directed them in. Nay, lastly, they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, that is, they wholly addicted themselves to sin, as slaves to the service of those to whom they are sold, and, by their obstinately persisting in sin, so hardened their own hearts that at length it had become morally impossible for them to recover themselves, as one that has sold himself has put his liberty past recall. 2. In particular. Though they were guilty (no doubt) of many immoralities, and violated all the commands of the second table, yet nothing is here specified, but their idolatry. This was the sin that did most easily beset them; this was, of all sins, most provoking to God: it was the spiritual adultery that broke the marriage-covenant, and was the inlet of all other wickedness. Hence it is again and again mentioned here as the sin that ruined them. (1.) They feared other gods (2 Kgs. 17:7), that is, worshipped them and paid their homage to them, as if they feared their displeasure. (2.) They walked in the statutes of the heathen, which were contrary to God’s statutes (2 Kgs. 17:8), did as did the heathen (2 Kgs. 17:11), went after the heathen that were round about them (2 Kgs. 17:15), so prostituting the honour of their peculiarity, and defeating God’s design concerning them, which was that they should be distinguished from the heathen. Must those that were taught of God go to school to the heathen—those that were appropriated to God take their measures from the nations that were abandoned by him? (3.) They walked in the statutes of the idolatrous kings of Israel (2 Kgs. 17:8), in all the sins of Jeroboam, 2 Kgs. 17:22. When their kings assumed a power to alter and add to the divine institutions they submitted to them, and thought the command of their kings would bear them out in disobedience to the command of their God. (4.) They built themselves high places in all their cities, 2 Kgs. 17:9. If in any place there was but the tower of the watchmen (a country tower that had no walls, but only a tower to shelter the watch in time of danger), or but a lodge for shepherds, it must be honoured with a high place, and that with an altar. If there was a fenced city, it must be further fortified with a high place. Having forsaken God’s only place, they knew no end of high places, in which every man followed his own fancy and directed his devotion to what god he pleased. Sacred things were hereby profaned and laid common, when their altars were as heaps in the furrows of the field, Hos. 12:11. (5.) They set them up images and groves—Asherim (even wooden images, so some think the term, which we translate groves, should be rendered) or Ashtaroth (so others)--directed contrary to the second commandment, 2 Kgs. 17:10. They served idols (2 Kgs. 17:12), the works of their own hands and creatures of their own fancy, though God had warned them particularly not to do this thing. (6.) They burnt incense in all the high places, to the honour of strange gods, for it was to the dishonour of the true God, 2 Kgs. 17:11. (7.) They followed vanity. Idols are called so, because they could do neither good nor evil, but were the most insignificant things that could be; those that worshipped them were like unto them, and so they became vain and good for nothing (2 Kgs. 17:16), vain in their devotions, which were brutish and ridiculous, and so became vain in their whole conversation. (8.) Besides the molten images, even the two calves, they worshipped all the host of heaven—the sun, moon, and stars: for it is not meant of the heavenly host of angels; they could not rise so far above sensible things as to think of them. And, withal, they served Baal, the deified heroes of the Gentiles, 2 Kgs. 17:16. (9.) They caused their children to pass through the fire, in token of their dedicating them to their idols. (10.) They used divinations and enchantments, that they might receive directions from the gods to whom they paid their devotions.
III. What means God used with them, to bring them off from their idolatries, and to how little purpose. He testified against them, showed them their sins and warned them of the fatal consequences of them by all the prophets and all the seers (for so the prophets had been formerly called), and pressed them to turn from their evil ways, 2 Kgs. 17:13. We have read of prophets, more or less, in every reign. Though they had forsaken God’s family of priests, he did not leave them without a succession of prophets, who made it their business to teach them the good knowledge of the Lord, but all in vain (2 Kgs. 17:14); they would not hear, but hardened their necks, persisted in their idolatries, and were like their fathers, that would not bow their necks to God’s yoke, because they did not believe in him, did not receive his truths, nor would venture upon his promises: it seems to refer to their fathers in the wilderness; the same sin that kept them out of Canaan turned these out, and that was unbelief.
IV. How God punished them for their sins. He was very angry with them (2 Kgs. 17:18); for, in the matter of his worship, he is a jealous God, and resents nothing more deeply than giving that honour to any creature which is due to himself only. He afflicted them (2 Kgs. 17:20) and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, in the days of the judges and of Saul, and afterwards in the days of most of their kings, to see if they would be awakened by the judgments of God to consider and amend their ways; but, when all these corrections did not prevail to drive out the folly, God first rent Israel from the house of David, under which they might have been happy. As Judah was hereby weakened, so Israel was hereby corrupted; for they made a man king who drove them from following the Lord and caused them to sin a great sin, 2 Kgs. 17:21. This was a national judgment, and the punishment of their former idolatries; and, at length, he removed them quite out of his sight (2 Kgs. 17:18, 23), without giving them any hopes of a return out of their captivity.
Lastly, Here is a complaint against Judah in the midst of all (2 Kgs. 17:19): Also Judah kept not the commandments of God; though they were not as yet quite so bad as Israel, yet they walked in the statutes of Israel; and this aggravated the sin of Israel, that they communicated the infection of it to Judah; see Ezek. 23:11. Those that bring sin into a country or family bring a plague into it and will have to answer for all the mischief that follows.