Bible Commentary: 2 Kings 17:24-41

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2 Kings 17:24-41

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Resettlement of Samaria

The Assyrian form of captivity consisted primarily of population displacement. Israel had been removed from the land and placed in cities north and east around the Caspian Sea. But the land of Israel was not left unpopulated. Instead, peoples from other nations were brought in.

The repopulating of the land with non-Israelites did not occur all at once right after the Israelites were taken into captivity. It began at this time. Of Samaria Sargon said, "The town I rebuilt better than it was before and settled therein peoples from countries which I myself had conquered" (Daniel Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1927, Vol. 2, Part 4: Sargons's annals). And we do know that Sargon began extensive shifts in the population of his provinces, as was mentioned in the highlights for our previous reading.

But there are other indications from history and Scripture that the bulk of resettlement did not take place for several decades. Ezra 4:2 and verse 10 mention this task as having been carried out by the Assyrian kings Esarhaddon (681-668 B.C.) and Osnapper (generally identified as Esarhaddon's son and successor Asshurbanipal, 668-626 B.C.), both of whom reigned during the days of Hezekiah's son Manasseh.

History, as mentioned, also helps us understand what happened. The cities listed in 2 Kings 17:24 as the places of origin of the foreigners were in the Assyrian-controlled areas of Syria and Babylonia--Babylon being the principle place named.

While Babylon, the "holy city" of pagan Western Asia, had been the crown jewel of the Assyrian Empire, it nevertheless served as a constant headache for the Assyrian rulers. Over the past few decades, the state of Babylonia had erupted in rebellion several times. Notice the following about the early reign of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.): "The turmoil in Babylonia was of long standing but had been exacerbated by the arrival of Aramean immigrants, who, with the native stock, created a formidable political entity known as Kaldu (= Chaldeans). Eventually this would give rise to the Neo-Babylonian Empire" (Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 393). It was the Neo-Babylonian Empire that would eventually take Judah into captivity. But it would not appear for some time.

Tiglath's son Shalmaneser V (727-722 B.C.) also had to deal with the Babylonian problem. Then, upon his death following the final overthrow of Samaria, the problem exploded once again. Assyria was now under the rule of the usurper Sargon II (722-705 B.C.). "Sargon's accession prompted numerous uprisings throughout the empire. In 720 he began to address these problems by engaging an alliance of Elamites and Babylonians at Der (Bedrai), eighty miles northeast of Babylon. He was probably defeated, though each side claims victory. The leader of the Babylonian forces was none other than Marduk-apla-iddina (Merodach-Baladan in the Bible [see Isaiah 39])" (Merrill, p. 408).

Merodach-Baladan, of the Sealands dynasty, had led the Babylonians in past conflicts with Assyria. Yet the previous year, he became the actual king of Babylon. The fact that he remained king until 710 supports the conclusion that the Babylonians probably won the battle of 720--or at least secured a draw. It is interesting to note that they were allied with Elamites in their fight against Assyria, for Elam was ancient Persia--the location to which much of the remnant of the northern kingdom of Israel had been moved only two years prior. Might there, then, have been Israelites fighting alongside the Babylonians against the Assyrians at that time? It is certainly possible.

Sargon returned to Damascus and Samaria immediately after this battle to put down a new rebellion throughout the Syro-Phoenician region, as we saw in the highlights for the previous reading. Perhaps, though failing to depose Merodach-Baladan in Babylon, he had managed to capture a great many Babylonians at this time and transferred them to Syria and Israel.

Merodach would be removed from office 10 years later but would reclaim the kingship for a short time in 703 B.C. before being put down by the Assyrians again. The back-and-forth struggle between Assyria and the Chaldeans of Babylonia would eventually lead to Babylon being sacked by the Assyrian king Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.) in 689.

We would expect this sacking to have been followed by massive deportation. And indeed, as shown above, Scripture does corroborate the fact that Babylonian peoples were moved into Israel and Syria in the years after the sacking occurred by Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. Syria is included here because mention is made in Scripture of resettlement taking place not just in Samaria but in other places "beyond the River" (Ezra 4:10), meaning from the perspective of those east of the Euphrates (compare verse 11)--thus indicating the whole of Syria and Phoenicia. This makes sense because the Assyrians had deported not just the Israelites but also the original Syrians (the Aramaeans), having taken many of them far north to Kir at the time of Israel's first deportation (2 Kings 16:9; see Amos 1:5). Esarhaddon's records even state that after he destroyed the Phoenician city of Sidon, he restocked it with people from Mesopotamia.

Considering the events in Samaria described in 2 Kings 17, it is likely that the problem with wild animals (verse 25) happened early on when there were few settlers--probably in the time of Sargon. Whatever the case, the problem caused these settlers to conclude that they were not worshiping the local territorial god properly, so they arranged for one of the priests of Bethel to return and show them how to properly worship the god of the land. This resulted in a form of religion that mixed elements of the law of God, as corrupted by the apostate northern kingdom, with numerous forms of paganism. While these people in a sense "feared the Lord" (verses 32-33, 41), this was really only superstition, lip service and rituals--for they nevertheless "served their own gods" (verse 33). In fact, verse 34 says they did "not fear the Lord"--that is, not really.

What a bizarre turn of events this was, in light of the fact that the precise reason God eventually caused the downfall of Israel and then Judah was their corruption of the religion He gave them. Clearly at work was the unseen hand of the god of this world, Satan the devil, ever active in deceiving the masses away from the true God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9).

Descendants of these people were still in the land to cause grief to the Jews when they were permitted to return from Babylonian captivity. And some of these imported peoples continue in the land of Israel to the present day. By the time of Christ they had come to be called Samaritans--after the land of Samaria. Yet the Jews have also referred to them as Cuthites, after one of their lands of origin. These people worshiped then as now at Mount Gerizim (compare John 4:20-21).

Over time they conformed many of their teachings and practices to the Jews who returned from Babylon, having received from them the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses. And they began copying it and passing it down themselves. (The Samaritan Pentateuch is often used for comparison purposes, especially in producing new Bible versions.)

Yet while the Samaritans embraced much of the truth, their religion was still terribly corrupted with their former paganism. Indeed, there appears to be a connection between the Samaritans and the rise of a great counterfeit Christianity centered in Rome yet derived from the "Babylonian mystery religion" (see Revelation 17)--mixing the true worship of God and the knowledge about Christ with the ancient pagan practices of the Babylonian Samaritans, particularly under the early leadership of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9). We will see more connections between the Babylonian Samaritans and Rome in the highlights for our next reading.