21 June 2010

2 Kings 17:5-18

"Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah alone." (v.18)


This is a bitter story and a hard word to hear for a broken people. The date is 721 BC. God's anger against God's covenant people wipes them out, leaving just the tribe of Judah remaining in the land.

The story can be told from several perspectives. The writer of 2 Kings interprets this disaster spiritually: the cause is Israel's idolatry - the nation's wilful turning away from God's commandments, especially the first command to worship God alone. Since Israel has rejected God, God rejected Israel. This account leaves many questions about promises made but then abandoned - on both sides of a covenant relationship.

The prophet Hosea gives us a window on a different story. He tells us of political machinations - Israel manipulating Egypt against Assyria by plotting alliances and breaking them just as easily for political advantage (eg Hosea 7:11). Hosea tells Israel to trust in God, not in the country's own devices. This account also raises many questions. At what point does trust look like foolishness? Does God bless only if we trust enough?

Historians tell us of an Assyrian empire whose rise is unstoppable. At its peak Assyria covered most of what is now Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and some of Turkey. Against such a power Israel, tiny and politically divided, is nothing. We know stories like this all too well - as we recognise the feelings of helplessness or rage against tyrannical regimes that crush all in their path.

The inevitable end comes after a prolonged siege of the nation's capital - Samaria. As was the custom, the leading citizens are taken into captivity to break the back of any possible rebellion and the occupied country is settled by loyal Assyrians. So Israel becomes Samaria, a failed state even until Jesus' time, despised for its apostasy (the abandonment of its religion and morality).

To Ponder

Which perspective on this terrible event (if any) do you find most helpful, and why?

The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died in his struggle against Nazism wrote a hymn just before he died, which in one verse says:

"And when this cup You give is filled to brimming
With bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand."

Could you sing this hymn?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr David Hewlett

David is currently principal of The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education in Birmingham. He is an ordained Anglican priest and is an authorised minister within the British Methodist Church - a relationship that he has valued enormously.