2 Kings 17:7–20
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times … ”
“I’m going to count to three … ”
“I’m not asking you. I’m telling you … ”
As parents we build up quite a lexicon of words and phrases to let our children know we expect them to change their behavior. Our love for our children makes us extend grace time and time again.
But most parents have experienced the “enough is enough” moment, and when they do, the children have to face a consequence. Perhaps it is nothing more than toddler-to-teenage misbehavior. But many parents know the heartbreak of watching their children make devastating life choices. And sometimes it’s not the parents who are laying down the consequences. Sometimes it is life itself.
At this point in Israel’s history, it has been over 200 years since the death of Solomon. Israel is divided between north (Israel) and south (Judah). Hoshea is the 19th king of Israel, and there hasn’t been a single good king in the whole bunch. Someone told me a useful mnemonic device to remember this truth about the northern kingdom: N.O.R.T.H. stands for Not One Righteous Throne Here. Time and time again, through “every prophet and every seer” (v. 13), God had warned His people to turn from their idolatry to no avail. Finally in 722 B.C. the Assyrian army invaded Israel, captured its capital city of Samaria and carried the people into exile.
Rather than listening to the prophets and repenting, the people seemed to become even more stubborn and obstinate. The Hebrew writer uses the idiom “they stiffened their necks.” For anyone who’s ever had a pinched nerve or whiplash, you can relate to this word picture. When your neck is stiff, you can’t turn it. And the essence of repentance is turning from your sin.
But God’s people wouldn’t turn. They went even harder after evil. What makes evil so appealing that people reject God? Verse 15 gives an important clue: God’s people followed “the surrounding nations the Lord had commanded them not to imitate.” We often are tempted to sin because we compare ourselves to unbelievers around us, and sometimes it seems like things are going better for them. For Israel, I’m sure they envied the power of the evil Assyrians and compromised their values in pursuit of worldly power. Ironically their rejection of God led to their destruction at the hands of the very nation they were trying to imitate.
Sin has consequences. Rejection of God has consequences. Because of Israel’s idolatry, God removed them from the promised land. Only Judah remained. Note that Judah really didn’t do much better. The southern kingdom would endure for another 136 years or so before it, too, would fall to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
It is clear God did not preserve Judah because they were any better than Israel. Of their 20 kings since Solomon, only eight did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. So why did God allow them to endure for nearly another century and a half? It was because of God’s faithfulness to the promise He made to David that there would always be a descendant of David on the throne (see 1 Chron. 17:11–14 and 2 Chron. 6:16). God is faithful to the promises He makes to His people even when we are faithless in return. As Paul reminded Timothy, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). Praise God for His faithfulness.