In the book of Kings, we once again see the familiar pattern of bad kings of Israel rejecting the covenant with God, leading to idol worship and false gods. Elijah and other men were prophets sent by God to passionately and authoritatively call Israel back to faithfulness. God sent these prophets to help Israel, but they were largely rejected.
This 470-year period of Israel’s unfaithfulness builds tension in the narrative. When God rescued Israel from Egypt and established them as a nation, He gave the the choice… Blessing, or cursing. Life, or death. Obedience, or judgement. They had the choice.
With each new generation the suspense builds and the question lingers, “For how many generations will God’s immense patience and mercy toward His people cause Him to withhold His just judgment?”
Time and again, God sends to prophets to urge Israel to turn back to God. Many of the Israelites (especially in Jerusalem) believe that as God’s people they were immune to judgment. But prophets like Isaiah and Elijah came specifically to convince them otherwise. God and His judgment are near, so they must choose. Repent, or die.
By 2 Kings 17, the choice is made.
2 Kings 17:13–15 (NLT)
Again and again the LORD had sent his prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey my commands and decrees—the entire law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through my servants the prophets.”
But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the LORD their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the LORD’s command not to imitate them.
At last, God pronounced His judgement. The entire northern kingdom of Israel is conquered by Assyria.
2 Kings 17:18–20 (NLT)
Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land. But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the Lord their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced. The Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel. He punished them by handing them over to their attackers until he had banished Israel from his presence.
Afterwards, the southern kingdom, Judah, has a near-fatal encounter with Assyria. But God, passionately desiring His covenant people, promises to do mighty deeds to preserve and protect those willing to repent and be faithful to Him and His covenant.
2 Kings 19: 30-31 (NLT)
And you who are left in Judah, who have escaped the ravages of the siege, will put roots down in your own soil and will grow up and flourish.
For a remnant of my people will spread out from Jerusalem, a group of survivors from Mount Zion. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
So the message is clear: Not even Jerusalem, the capital city of God’s people, and the location of His very presence atop Mt. Zion, was immune to God’s justice. About 160 years after this Assyrian invasion, Jerusalem falls to the Babylonian Empire and the survivors of Judah are taken into exile. The entire nation is lost from the Promised Land.
Does this mean God’s promise has failed?
Understanding what happens in 2 Kings 17, what does it mean for Israel to have been sent into exile?
In 1 and 2 Kings, what stood out to you most from story after story of kings “doing what was evil in the eyes of the Lord?”
As you read through these stories, did you find yourself hoping for God to bring judgment on Israel, or for God to show them patience and mercy?
How do you think it would have felt, emotionally and physically , to have been a Jew living in Jerusalem during this exile?
If you were one of the lucky ones to have survived the downfall and were trying to make sense of things in exile, what kinds of questions or confusion or theological frustrations would this catastrophic turn of events have brought up in you?
What kind of story do you wish you would have read in the Old Testament so far? If you had a magic wand, what would you have naturally wanted to change about the way the Biblical authors tell Israel’s story?
How does the way the Bible tells this story reveal God’s character?
In what ways does it reveal something about humanity?
As you try to learn wisdom from the story and stories of the Old Testament, which characters should you try to identify as? Do you identify more as a frustrated slave in exile, a wanderer (physically and existentially) such as Abram, the poor foreign widow in Zarephath, one of Israel’s kings or prophets, like Bathsheba being taken advantage of and unprotected, or like King David using your power to take advantage of others for your pleasure, etc.?