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2 Kings 17:7-23 – Theological Interpretation of the Fall of Israel


The 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.

2 Kings 17:7-23

This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They had worshipped other gods 8and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced.* 9The people of Israel secretly did things that were not right against the Lord their God. They built for themselves high places at all their towns, from watch-tower to fortified city; 10they set up for themselves pillars and sacred poles* on every high hill and under every green tree; 11there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. They did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger; 12they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, ‘You shall not do this.’ 13Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the law that I commanded your ancestors and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.’ 14They would not listen but were stubborn, as their ancestors had been, who did not believe in the Lord their God. 15They despised his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their ancestors, and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false; they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do as they did. 16They rejected all the commandments of the Lord their God and made for themselves cast images of two calves; they made a sacred pole,* worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal. 17They made their sons and their daughters pass through fire; they used divination and augury; and they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. 18Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone.

19 Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. 20The Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel; he punished them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had banished them from his presence.

21 When he had torn Israel from the house of David, they made Jeroboam son of Nebat king. Jeroboam drove Israel from following the Lord and made them commit great sin. 22The people of Israel continued in all the sins that Jeroboam committed; they did not depart from them 23until the Lord removed Israel out of his sight, as he had foretold through all his servants the prophets. So Israel was exiled from their own land to Assyria until this day.

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