2 Kings 17:7-23 – Theological Interpretation of the Fall of Israel
SummaryThe editors of 2 Kings insist that the fall of Samaria was God's judgment upon Israel's apostasy and intimate a similar fate for Judah.
This crucial text functions as a justification of God's decision to destroy Israel, an explanation of why it occurred, and a warning that Judah is next. The structure is important. Until this point, the narrative has confined itself to instances of royal apostasy: the establishment of rival sanctuaries with golden calves in Bethel and Dan and the introduction of Baal into the cult by Ahab (1 Kings 13:33-34; 14:16; 15:26, 30; 16:2, 19; 2 Kings 10:31; 13:2, 6, 11; 14:24; 15:9, 18, 24, 28). But this indictment is concerned with "the people of Israel" (vv. 7, 9, 22) and their continuing in the sins of "the nations whom the LORD drove out," that is, Canaan (v. 8); the kings merely frame (vv. 8, 21-22) the indictment of the people who are said to have set up high places (v. 9) opposed in Deuteronomy 12:2-4; erected pillars, sacred poles (v. 10) opposed in Deuteronomy 7:5; and served idols (vv. 12, 15, 16) opposed in Deuteronomy 5:8; 13.
Even more curious is the attribution to Israel of sins only committed by Judah: making children pass through fire (v. 17), opposed in Deuteronomy 18:10, but only appearing in Judean contexts (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; 23:10); employing divination and augury (v. 17), opposed in Deuteronomy 18:10-11, but only appearing in Judean contexts (2 Kings 21:6); and refusing to heed prophetic warnings (vv. 13-14)-but the prophets only announce doom in the north; they do not warning or counsel repentance.
Most curious is the intimation in verses 19-20 that Judah will share the disastrous fate of Israel unless they repent. Of course, Judah did follow in the path of Israel, worshiping other gods (22:17), making idols (21:11; 23:24), and refusing to heed the prophets (21:9); as a result, God's anger was kindled against Judah (21:6, 15; 23:19, 26; 24:20).
Finally, in verses 21-23 we arrive at what might have been the original indictment of Israel. This would mean that verses 7-20 are a later expansion, added after Judah had fallen to Babylon. As such, the indictment stands over against the people as a whole.