The books of 1 & 2 Kings have spent the majority of its time following the northern nation, Israel, after the kingdom divided in the days of Rehoboam. We have seen the emphasis on the ministries of Elijah and Elisha as they worked in Israel. But we have seen that Israel has not listened to the prophets and have not turned to the Lord. As we come back to our study of 2 Kings we are going to call this series that covers the second half of the book, Cautionary Tales. The reason is that these final chapters record the fall of God’s people and leave us many truths to learn about why they failed and what God desired from his people. The set up for the coming judgment against Israel and Judah begins in 2 Kings 14.
Righteous Fall To The Wicked (14:1-29)
Our account begins with Amaziah reigning over Judah and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (14:3). He is not worthy of comparison to David, but is like Joash as a generally good king (14:3). He is victorious over the Edomites (14:7) which leads him to pick a fight with the Jehoash, the king of Israel (14:8). The king of Israel’s response is funny. He tells a little parable in verse 9 calling Judah a thistle and Israel a cedar tree. You struck down Edom and now your heart is arrogant. Be content with your glory and stay home so that you do not provoke trouble (14:10). But Amaziah does not listen and goes to war against Israel. Before we read what happens, I want you to think about the situation. Amaziah, the king of Judah, is someone who did right in the Lord’s eyes. Jehoash, the king of Israel, did evil in the Lord’s eyes (13:11). So who do you think is going to win this battle? Look at verse 12. Judah was defeated by Israel. The king of Israel captured the king of Judah, came to Jerusalem, broke down the wall, seized all the gold and silver and the vessels in the temple and the treasures of the king’s palace, and also took hostages back to Samaria. Notice that Israel is pictured as putting Judah into exile. The “more wicked” is defeating the “less wicked.”
There are two important things I want us to see God showing as we walk through a time when these nations are about to fall. First, just because you might be more righteous does not mean that you are going to avoid deserved judgment and wrath. We operate in a wrong way of thinking. We look at life and think that just because we might be more righteous that this means we will not be judged. But God does not operate this way. God always uses nations more wicked to judge those who might think they are less wicked. Just because you are less wicked does not mean you are any less worthy of judgment. Judah’s defeat is foreshadowing their future exile to a wicked nation. Just because you are not “as bad” does not mean your judgment is not coming. Second, just because you win over other nations does not mean your judgment is not coming quickly. Just because a nation has victory does not mean that God is with them or that they are going to avoid judgment. Israel is going to fall first. They should not have seen this victory over Judah as a vindication of themselves. Just because a nation is more wicked does not mean they are not going to win and it does not mean that they will not be judged later. This is seen in the rest of chapter 14 where Jeroboam II takes the throne and extends the border of Israel into the land of Judah (14:25).
Nothing Is Getting Better (15:1-16:20)
Azariah takes the throne in Judah and did right, but does not remove idolatrous worship places. The people are still making sacrifices to false gods through out the country (15:4). Zechariah becomes king in Israel and he does evil in the Lord’s sight (15:9). The dynasty ends with him, just as God had promised (15:12) and Shallum takes the throne in Israel. Menahem kills him and does evil as well. God brings Assyria up against Israel and Menahem pays off Assyria to leave them alone. Pehahiah reigns over Israel who did evil and Pekah killed him. Pekah takes the throne and Assyria attacks again and carried people into exile. Pekah is killed by Hoshea who takes the throne next. We will return to these failed kings of Israel in a moment.
The text turns to the next two kings of Judah who were reigning during these events. Jotham does what is right in the eyes of the Lord (15:34). But nothing changed as the high places were not removed and the people were still worshiping false gods. Ahaz takes the throne in chapter 16 and he did not do what was right, but followed the way of the kings of Israel (16:3). Look at what he does. He even burned his son as offering just like the despicable practices of the nations. When Syria and Israel attack him, he turns to Assyria to help him. To do this, Ahaz emptied the treasures of the temple and his own palace and sent them to Assyria as tribute. The whole chapter describes how Ahaz dismantled anything of value in God’s temple and sent it to Assyria. Judah is tracking the path of sins as Israel.
When A Nation Falls (17:1-23)
Chapter 17 brings us back to Israel and to the final king of Israel, Hoshea. He stopped paying tribute to Assyria and so after a three year invasion, Israel is captured and destroyed by Assyria. Why has this happened? Look at 17:7. “And 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.” The first half of the chapter spends its time describing the sins that were committed that caused Israel to fall. Verse 7 continues that the people feared other gods and verse 8 says they followed the customs of the nations and the kings. Look at verse 9 where we are told that the people secretly did the things against the Lord that were not right. In verse 11 we see the people did wicked things, the very things that God said not to do. They do things that they think are in secret. But we clearly see that God sees what is done in secret. The first warning is that we would not accept the practices of the world. What the world says is right is not what God says is right. Listen to what God says is not to be done that our world does today.
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)
The point is that just because the world says these things are right and these things are praised does not mean that we can adopt these practices. A nation falls when it does the very things that God said not to do.
Further, they cannot be convinced to stop. Notice that Israel would not listen when they were told that these things were wrong. In verse 14 God simply says that they were stubborn. They would not listen. They would not stop their sinning. They rejected God’s statutes and covenant that he made with them. Verse 15 says that the people followed the false and became false themselves. The word for “false” in the ESV is the same word used in Ecclesiastes (hebel) that is used to refer to emptiness, futility, and vanity. They followed emptiness and became empty themselves. They followed futility and became futile themselves. They followed useless things and became useless themselves. Judgment comes because the nation can no longer serve God’s purposes. This is an amazing picture of what sin does to us. It makes us empty. We become useless. We are devoting ourselves to our destruction rather than to the purposes of God. I will illustrate this another way. What do you do with something that has become useless? If something no longer serves its purpose, we discard it. A nation falls when it is no longer useful to serving God’s purposes. Israel made themselves useless. They abandoned the commandments of the Lord (17:16), sold themselves to do evil (17:17), and even killed their children as offerings (17:17). Our nation has followed in the same sins as Israel. Israel made themselves useless and are sent into exile.
Lack of Faith (17:24-41)
But I want us to see what God shows us as the ultimate reason for the failure of the people. It is not only the reason for the failure of Israel but it is the reason for failure for all people from all nations. First, look at 17:14 where we see God declaring the problem was that they were like their ancestors who did not believe in the Lord their God. They did not trust God. Now look at what God tells us next.
In verses 24-28 we are told about how Assyria settled the land of Israel. After some difficulties the king of Assyria has one of the priests that had been carried away to go back to Israel to be the Assyrians who live in the land how to fear and worship the Lord. It is as if the Gentiles are given the land of Israel so that they can have a chance to be the people of God and worship him properly. Maybe these Assyrians will do better as they live in the land. Look at verses 32-33.
They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. (2 Kings 17:32–33 ESV)
They feared the Lord but they did not fear the Lord. But then look at verse 34 where it says that Israel did not fear the Lord. They worship the Lord but they do not really worship the Lord. It is a mixed bag that is described. They worship God but they also worship their own gods. They follow their own customs and their own ways. They were told to fear the Lord and worship the Lord alone. But they still made their own gods and followed them in every city. God had also told Israel not to worship other gods but to the keep the covenant (17:38). “However, they would not listen, but they did according to their former manner” (2 Kings 17:40 ESV). Now listen to how the chapter ends and how the account of Israel ends as it pushes the hopelessness even further.
So these nations feared the LORD and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children’s children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day. (2 Kings 17:41 ESV)
The long problem is the lack of faith in the Lord. They worship the Lord but also worship their other gods. God’s final word about Israel is that you cannot worship God and keep doing what you were doing before. They worshiped God but did not turn from the other gods. They worshiped God but did not turn from the customs of the world. They worshiped God but continued to live as they wanted. Consider the legacy that is left. The reason a nation falls and condemnation comes is because the next generation does as the last, continuing a half faith of acknowledging the Lord while serving their idols. One generation embraces this kind of false faith and sets the next generation up for continuing failure and false faith.
First, we need to pray for our nation to turn its heart back to God because it is committing the very sins that caused God to destroy other nations. Second, we cannot participate in those sins. We cannot allow our culture to normalize sins and then we normalize it in our thinking and in our lives. Third, do not be surprised for judgment to come from a nation “more wicked” than our own. This is normal for God to do. Finally, it is God’s important word that we cannot serve him and serve ourselves and our desires. No one can serve two masters. We cannot worship God and worship our own gods. We must choose today who we will serve, just as Joshua declared. We must listen and choose the Lord.