In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. And this occurred because . . .
(2Kings 17:6-7a ESV)
2 Kings 17 is a chilling postmortem of Israel, the northern kingdom. Since the twelve tribes of split into Judah and the rest, Israel; since the first king of Israel, Jeroboam, built golden calves in the north to worship so that people would not go to worship where the glory of God dwelt in the south, king after king in Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, following Jeroboam’s lead. And as goes a peoples’ leaders, so goes the people.
And so, the cause of death of a nation is listed in excruciating detail:
- they had feared other gods
- they had walked in the ways of the nations
- they did secretly against the LORD things that were not right
- they set up for themselves pillars of worship
- they served idols
- they did wicked things
- they would not listen to the prophets
- they would not believe in the LORD their God
- they despised His statues and commandments
- they went after false idols thus becoming false themselves
- they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD
- and so, they provoked the Lord to anger
As Dane Ortlund points out in his book, Gentle and Lowly, because God’s mercy is “pent up, ready to gush forth” and “ready to burst forth at the slightest prick”, you never read of God being “provoked to mercy” or “provoked to love.” But when it comes to being angry, because God is slow to anger (Ex. 34:6) “it takes much accumulated provoking to draw out His ire.” And that’s what Israel did. Thus, because of their persistent rebellion, eventually God uses the king of Assyria to remove them from the land of promise.
But here’s what struck me this morning. Even though God removed a people from the place where He said He would dwell in their midst, He didn’t move out Himself.
After removing the people of Israel from the land, the King of Assyria populates it with people from a variety of other lands. And immediately the lion population so increases in number and aggression that the “cause” of this “effect” is clear.
So the king of Assyria was told, “The nations that you have carried away and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the law of the God of the land. Therefore He has sent lions among them, and behold, they are killing them, because they do not know the law of the God of the land.”
(2Kings 17:26 ESV)
The God of the land. The people of the God of the land had been exiled because of unfaithfulness, yet the God of the land remained. They had been redeemed to testify to the nations concerning the God of the land, now God would make Himself known directly. The nation may have died, but the presence of the eternal, immortal God remained. While Israel might be forgotten for a time, He would make Himself known always.
And so, the King of Assyria sends priests of Israel back to the land to “dwell there and teach them the law of the God of the land” (17:27) and they “taught them how they should fear the LORD” (17:28).
Behold the God of the land. Slow to anger, yet righteous and just. Faithful despite a fallen people. Making Himself known to all those made in His image if they would have eyes to see and ears to hear. Offering to all the opportunity to know Him, for “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).
A God who has always acted in grace. A God who has always sought to show men and women He alone is deserving of glory.
Behold our God.