God Disciplines His People
Lesson Focus: This lesson can help you evaluate your obedience to God and repent of trusting in other things.
Acknowledge Our Sin: 2 Kings 17:7-11.
 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 from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods  and 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 practiced.  And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city.  They set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree,  and there they made offerings on all the high places, as the nations did whom the LORD carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the LORD to anger, [ESV]
Summary: The narrator rehearses the causes that necessitated the divine punishment. His indictment of Israel begins with a reminder that God alone had released the Israelites from their oppression and bondage in Egypt and had brought them to the Promised Land. Their historical foundation was essentially a spiritual one. Having brought Israel from bondage to glorious freedom, God had every right to expect them to walk in newness of life, as befitting a redeemed people. The opposite, however, proved to be the case. The shameful record of Israel’s spiritual harlotry is catalogued. Against the clear prohibitions of God, the people entered into the patterns of worship practiced by the pagan nations God had driven out of the land. Israel’s own kings formally initiated this apostasy, and all Israel followed their devious plan to pretend to worship God in the official state religion. Matters grew even worse. The external rites became more openly false. Israel’s worship included setting up sacred shrines and Asherah poles, the following of pagan incense customs, worshiping at cultic high places, and even open idolatry. Although God had driven the nations that practiced these abominations out of the land, Israel continued to corrupt itself with them.
[7-11] The brevity of the account of the fall of Samaria in 17:6 contrasts with the long enumeration of the sins which caused it, in the rest of this passage. The main part of this passage is the exposition of the causes of the national ruin. It is an inquiry into the diseases that killed a kingdom. In the center stands verse 13, telling of the mission of the prophets. Before it, verses 7-12 narrate Israel’s sin, which culminates in provoking the Lord to anger . After it, the sins are reiterated with noticeable increase of emphasis, and again culminate in provoking the Lord to anger . So we have two degrees of guilt – one which led to the sending of the prophets, and one which led to the destruction of Israel. The first words of verse 7 give the purpose of all that follows: namely, to declare the causes of the calamity just told. Note that the first characteristic of Israel’s sin was ungrateful departure from God. There is a world of pathos and meaning in their God, which is enhanced by the allusion to the Egyptian deliverance. All sins are attempts to break the chain which binds us to God – a chain woven of a thousand linked benefits. All sins practically deny His possession of us, and ours of Him, and display the short memory which ingratitude has. All sins have that other feature hinted at here – the contrast, so absurd if it were not so sad, between the worth and power of the God who is left and the other gods who are preferred. The essential meanness and folly of Israel are repeated by every heart departing from the living God. The double origin of the idolatry is next set forth. It was in part imported and in part homemade. We have little conception of the strength of faith and courage which were needed to keep the Jews from becoming idolaters, surrounded as they were by such. But the same are needed today to keep us from learning the ways of the world and getting a snare to our souls. Now, as ever, walking with God means walking in the opposite direction from the crowd, and that requires some firm courage and strength. The blindness of Israel to the consequences of their sin is hinted in the reference to the fate of the nations whom they imitated. They had been cast out. We, too, have examples enough of what godless lives come to, if we had the sense to profit by them. The God who cast out the vile Canaanites and all the rest of the wicked crew before the Israelites has not changed, and He will treat Israel as He did them, if Israel come down to their level. Outward privileges make idolatry or any sin more sinful, and its punishment more severe. Another characteristic of Israel’s sin is its being done secretly . This word refers to the attempt to combine the worship of God and of idols, of which the calf worship is an instance. Elijah had long ago taunted the people with trying ‘to hobble on both knees,’ or on ‘two opinions’ at once; and here the charge is of covering idolatry with a cloak of Jehovah worship. A varnish of religion is convenient and cheap, and often effectual in deceiving ourselves as well as others; but ‘as a man thinks in his heart, so is he,’ whatever his cloak may be; and the thing which we count most precious and long most for is our god, whatever our professions of orthodox religion. The idolatry is then described, in rapid touches, as universal. Wherever there was a solitary watchman’s tower among the pastures there was a high place used for idol worship, and they were reared in every city. Images and Asherim deformed every hilltop and stood under every spreading tree. Everywhere incense loaded the heavy air with its foul fragrance. The old scenes of unnamable abomination, which had been so terribly avenged, seemed to have come back, and to cry aloud for another purging by fire and sword. The terrible upshot of all was to provoke the Lord to anger. The New Testament is as emphatic as the Old in asserting that there is the capacity of anger in the God whose name is love, and that sin calls it forth. The special characteristic of sin, by which it thus attracts that lightning, is that it is disobedience. As in the first sin, so in all others, God has said, ‘You shall not do this thing’; and we say, ‘Do it we will.’ What can the end of that be but the anger of the Lord?
Heed God’s Warnings: 2 Kings 17:12-15.
 and they served idols, of which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this."  Yet 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 fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets."  But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.  They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them. [ESV]
Summary: Despite the fact that God had sent prophets to warn the people to turn from this wickedness, Israel kept associating itself with the abominations of the Canaanites. It also appropriated their punishment. Just as God had driven out the Canaanites, so He would drive Israel out into exile. The warning proved futile. Stubborn in their ways, the Israelites refused to acknowledge God’s commands and warnings. Like the surrounding nations, they followed worthless idols and became useless to God. They tried every sort of idolatry, from that involving the calves of Jeroboam to the poles of Asherah, from the worship of the heavenly hosts to that of Baal, and the loathsome practice of human sacrifice. Divination and deliberate sorcery had further corrupted their spiritual experience. Most basic of all, they had not only denied God’s covenant with them, but they had also refused the God of the covenant by rejecting His rightful sovereignty over them.
[12-15] Verse 13 gives the pleading of Jehovah. The mission of the prophets was God’s reply to Israel’s rebellion, and was equally the sign of His anger and of His love. The more sin abounds, the more does God multiply means to draw back to Himself. The deafer the ears, the louder the beseeching voice of His grieved and yet pitying love. His anger clothes itself in more stringent appeals and clearer revelations of Himself before it takes its slaughtering weapons in hand. The darker the background of sin, the brighter the beams of His light show against it. Man’s sin is made the occasion for a more glorious display of God’s character and heart. It is on the storm cloud that the sun paints the rainbow. Each successive stage in man’s departure from God evoked a corresponding increase in the divine effort to attract him back, until at last He sent His Son. The one desire of God’s heart is that sinners would return from their evil ways, and He presses on them the solemn thought of the abundant intimations of His will which have been given from of old, and are pealed again into all ears by living voices. His law for us is not merely an old story spoken centuries ago, but is vocal in our consciences today, and fresh as when Sinai flamed and thundered above the camp, and the trumpet thrilled each heart. That divine voice leaves no man as it finds him. If it does not sway him to obedience, it deepens his guilt, and makes him more obstinate. There is an awful alternative involved in our hearing of God’s message, which never returns to Him void, but ever does something to the hearer, either softening or hardening. The mission of the prophets changed forgetfulness of God’s statutes into rejection of them, and made idolatry self-conscious rebellion. Alas, that men should make what is meant to be a bond to unite them to God into a wedge to part them farther from Him! But how constantly that is the effect of the gospel, and for the same reason as in Israel, that they did not believe in the Lord their God. The miserable result on the sinners’ own natures is described with pregnant brevity in verse 15: They went after false idols and became false. The worshipper became like the thing worshipped, as is always the case. The idol is vanity, utter emptiness and nonentity; and whoever worships nothingness will become in his own inmost life as empty and vain as it is. That is the retribution attendant on all trust in, and longing after, the trifles of earth, that we come down to the level of what we set our hearts upon. We see the effects of that principle in the moral degradation of idolaters. In verses 16-17 we find a further description of the details of the idolatry but with additions and with increased severity of tone. We hear now of calves and star worship, and Baal, and burning children to Moloch, and divination and enchantment. The catalogue is enlarged, and there is added to it the terrible declaration that Israel had sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord. The sinner who steels himself against the divine evidence, does not merely go on in his old sins, but adds new ones. Refuse to hear God’s pleadings, and you will sell your freedom, and become the lowest and only real kind of slave – the bondsman of evil. Once again the anger of the Lord is provoked; but this time it comes in a different guise. The armies of the Assyrians, not the prophets, are its messengers now. Israel had made itself like the nations whom God had used it to destroy, and now it shall be destroyed as they were.
Learn from God’s Discipline: 2 Kings 17:18-20.
 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.  Judah also did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced.  And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight. [ESV]
[18-20] To be swept out of His sight  is the fate of obstinate rejection of His commandments and pleadings. Israel made itself the slave of evil, and was made the captive of Assyria. Self-willed freedom, which does as it likes, and heeds not God, ends in bondage, and is itself bondage. God’s anger against sin speaks pleadingly to us all, saying, ‘Do not this abominable thing that I hate.’ Well for us if we hearken to His voice when ‘His anger is kindled but a little.’ If we do not yield to Him, and cast away our idols, we shall become vain as they. Our evil will be more fatal, and our obstinacy more criminal, because He called, and we refused. These captives, dragging their weary limbs, with despair in their hearts, across the desert to a land of bondage, were but shadows, in the visible region of things, of the far more doleful and dreary fate that sooner or later must fall on those who would have none of God’s counsel, and despised all His reproof, but cling to their idol till they and it are destroyed together.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Verses 7-11 conclude with the statement: they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger. What things did the people do that caused God to be angry? Why was God angry at these things? Does God still get angry today at these types of sin? Why or why not?
2. Why did God send His prophets to the people ? What does this action show about God’s nature and His desire for His people?
3. How did the people respond to God’s call for repentance? How does verse 15 describe the result of the people’s disobedience to God? Do you see the same thing happening today? What lessons can we learn from this passage?
1, 2 Kings, Paul House, NAC, Broadman.
1, 2 Kings, R.D. Patterson, EBC, Zondervan.
Expositions of Holy Scripture, Alexander Maclaren, digital.
II Kings, Commentary on the Old Testament, C. F. Keil and E. Delitzsch, Eerdmans.