2 Kings 17:7–15, 18–20comment (0)
July 14, 2013
By Jeffery M. Leonard
Related Scripture: 2 Kings 17:7–15, 18–20
God Disciplines His People
2 Kings 17:7–15, 18–20
God’s People Sinned (7–11)
Think of the land that forms the Middle East, and the image that comes to mind is likely one of arid desert dotted by the occasional rocky outcropping, a wandering herd of camels, perhaps an oasis and a stand of palm trees in the distance. While the land of Israel is firmly ensconced in the Middle East, there is a great deal more variety to Israel’s terrain than this image would suggest. The southern part of Israel is indeed a dry and hardscrabble land. With little rain and an abundance of rocks, this is a wilderness best suited for tending sheep and goats. But the north, this is a land more reminiscent of California’s Napa Valley than Arabia’s sun-drenched deserts. The north of Israel is a land of ample rain, verdant fields and abundant crops.
In such a land of plenty, it is perhaps not surprising that the people were often seduced by a god who seemed perfectly matched to this region: Baal. In the imaginations of the people of northern Israel and their neighbors even further north in Phoenicia, Baal was the god of the thunderstorm, just the sort of god farmers eager for regular rainfall might turn to for aid.
There is some evidence that the worship of Baal alongside the worship of Israel’s true God, the LORD, was at least tolerated if not endorsed in Israel’s early history. Worship of Baal is only mentioned four times in the first 300 chapters of the Bible, and the epithet “baal,” meaning husband, master or lord, is attached even to Israel’s God during this period. Saul names his younger son Ish-baal (1 Chron. 8:33), intending the meaning, “man of the LORD who is master,” not “man of the god Baal.” In time, though, a very specific crisis would render this sort of loose compatibility and the use of “baal” as a descriptor for God unacceptable. This crisis took the form of a person: Jezebel.
God’s People Were Warned (12–15)
Jezebel was determined to break the uneasy détente that had existed between Baal and the LORD in Israel’s early history. Not content to let Baal be worshipped alongside Israel’s God, Jezebel set out with missionary zeal to promote the worship of Baal and Baal alone among the people. Her mission might well have succeeded, had not a determined opponent arisen to challenge her every move. This opponent bore the name Elijah, literally, “My God is the LORD.” Responding to Jezebel’s provocations, Elijah would insist not just that Israel’s God, the LORD, was superior to Baal but that the LORD was God and Baal was no god at all.
Through the drought Elijah sent against the land (an attack directed specifically at Baal) and the contest with prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah sought to call the people of Israel back to the worship of the one true God. Elijah would be followed in this endeavor by a line of prophets who would issue the same call. Hosea, for example, would urge the people of the north that their true husband was the LORD and not Baal, that the fertility their land enjoyed was from the LORD and not this foreign deity. In one of the great tragedies of biblical record, though, the people of the north could not be persuaded to abandon their dalliance with Baal. And when the people would not abandon their foreign gods, God carried through with His threat to abandon them.
God’s People Were Disciplined (18–20)
No other event in the Bible is described in such terrible detail as the fall of the northern kingdom, Israel. Deuteronomy 28 describes the people’s descent into madness and even cannibalism as they languished under Assyrian siege. Finally, 2 Kings 17 recounts the awful fall of the capital Samaria and the utter destruction of the once beautiful land. These passages, though, are not directed toward the actual victims of the Assyrian onslaught. Written roughly a century later than these events, they are not a warning to the already dispersed Israelites. They are instead a plaintive call to the surviving Judeans. They are the call of a group of prophets who beg the inhabitants of the south to heed the lesson of Israel’s fall, to abandon the trivial gods of their foreign neighbors and to turn once and for all to the true God of Israel.