SYNCRETISTIC RELIGION NULLIFIES THE FEAR OF GOD AND VIOLATES THE EXCLUSIVITY OF THE COVENANT RELATIONSHIP
These events mark a major watershed in the history of the Jewish nation. After repeated warnings and persistent pleas by the prophets, the judgment of the Assyrian Captivity finally arrives in 722 B.C. How tragic for the cream of the crop of Israel’s men to be removed from the Promised Land and from their families and deported into unfamiliar cities in Persia – far from the blessings of the covenant nation. These events foreshadow the coming Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C. for the southern nation which failed to learn the lessons of history. Syncretistic religion is nothing more than superstition and going through the motions of religious rites – devoid of a personal relationship with the living God who demands exclusive loyalty and devotion.
Kathleen Kenyon: God’s people had become disloyal to their Suzerain who had brought them redemptively out of Egyptian servitude. They had expressed disloyalty by worshipping other gods (17:15- 17). And they did all this despite his persistent reminders to them through his spokesmen, the prophets, that what they were doing constituted high treason. The inevitable result was the judgment of God, a judgment which took the form of exile from the land of promise.
I. (:24-28) SYNCRETISTIC RELIGION NULLIFIES THE FEAR OF GOD –
PREDICAMENT OF RELIGIOUS IGNORANCE OF THE SAMARITANS
A. (:24) Displaced — Origin of the Samaritans
“And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon and from Cuthah and from Avva and from Hamath and Sephar-vaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel. So they possessed Samaria and lived in its cities.”
MacArthur: After its conquest by the Assyrians, the cental hill and coastal plain region of the former northern kingdom of Israel became an Assyrian province, all of which was called “Samaria” after the ancient capital city (cf. vv. 28, 29). The Assyrian king, Sargon II, settled alien people, who came from widely scattered areas also conquered by Assyria, into the abandoned Israelite towns. Babylong and Cuthah were located in southern Mesopotamia. Hamath was a town on the Orontes River in Syria. The exact location of Avva and Sepharvaim are unknown. These people, who intermarried with the Jews who escaped exile, became the Samaritans – a mixed Jew and Gentile people, later hated by NT Jews (cf. Mt 10:5; Jn 4:9).
Whitcomb: Isaiah had predicted that the process of deporting Israelites and importing foreigners with the consequent destruction of the ethnic identity of the northern kingdom (and the formation of a new mongrel race called Samaritans) would take sixty-five years beginning in 734 B.C. (Isa. 7:8). Thus, “the king of Assyria” in II Kings 17:24 who completed this monumental task must have been Esarhaddon, the grandson of Sargon, whose reign ended in 609 B.C., exactly sixty-five years after Isaiah’s prophecy. This is confirmed by the fact that the Samaritan half-breeds who hindered the work of Zerubbabel and Joshua in rebuilding the Jerusalem temple insisted that “we sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assyria, who brought us up hither” (Ezra 4:2).
B. (:25-28) Desperate — Indoctrination into the Practices of Judaism
1. (:25) Physical Threat Attributed to Failure to Fear the Lord of the Land
“And it came about at the beginning of their living there, that they did not fear the LORD; therefore the LORD sent lions among them which killed some of them.”
MacArthur: Lions were employed occasionally as instruments of punishment by God (cf. 1Ki 13:24; 20:36).
Whitcomb: It is noteworthy that so many Israelites vanished for the scene during those years that lions began to multiply beyond control. God had long since warned the nation: “If you walk contrary to me . . . I will send the beast of the field among you, which shall rob you of your children, and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number; and your ways shall become desolate” (Lev. 26:21-22; cf. Exod. 23:29). Having utterly rejected the mild warnings of two she-bears in the days of Elisha (cf. II Kings 2:24), the land was now literally overrun with thousands of lions.
2. (:26-28) Priestly Teaching of the Practices of Judaism Designed to Placate the Lord of the Land
a. (:26) Ignorance of Judaism is the Perceived Problem
“So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, ‘The nations whom you have carried away into exile in the cities of Samaria do not know the custom of the god of the land; so he has sent lions among them, and behold, they kill them because they do not know the custom of the god of the land.’”
b. (:27) Instruction by the Jewish Priest Should Solve the Problem
“Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying, ‘Take there one of the priests whom you carried away into exile, and let him go and live there; and let him teach them the custom of the god of the land.’”
Peter Pett: The problem was severe enough for the new inhabitants to appeal to Sargon pointing out that because ‘they did not know the law of the land’ the god of the land had sent lions among them to kill them. It should be noted that while on the one hand the Assyrian kings could be cruel in their tyranny, they were also on the other hand concerned for their subjects once they had colonized them. They wanted them to be semi-independent while looking to their ‘father’ the king of Assyria. After all satisfied people contributed to the wealth of Assyria. Thus he took notice of their complaint.
c. (:28) Indoctrination Program Implemented
“So one of the priests whom they had carried away into exile from Samaria came and lived at Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.”
R. D. Patterson: One of Israel’s exiled priests returned to the land and reinstituted the worship of the Lord at Bethel, the traditional cult center of the northern kingdom. The religion, however, that such a priest would teach would be the false worship institute by Jeroboam. The result was a mixture of truth combined with the corrupted experience of Israel (now deepened by two centuries of growing apostasy) and the pagan rites brought by the new settlers.
Dale Ralph Davis: Then too the priest who comes to enlighten these pagans settles in Bethel, one of the original sites for calf worship (1 Kings 12:25–33). Does that indicate his preference for Jeroboam theology? In any case, any priest from the former northern kingdom would likely propagate more syncretism than orthodoxy.
Albert Barnes: The priest sent to the colonists was not a true Yahweh-priest, but one of those who had been attached to the calf-worship, probably at Bethel. Hence, he would be willing to tolerate the mixed religion, which a true Yahweh-priest would have unsparingly condemned.
Peter Pett: This is the first mention of the term ‘Samaritans’ in the Bible, but we must not mix these up with the Samaritans of New Testament times who were ardent monotheists based around Shechem, who had their own copy of the Law which they sought to live by.
C. (:29-31) Depraved — Embracing Religious Multiplicity
1. (:29-31a) Making Familiar Idols
“But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived. 30 And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, 31 and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak;”
• Nibhaz. A dog-like idol.
• Tartak. Either a donkey or a celestial body, Saturn.
• Adrammelech. Perhaps the same as Molech, worshiped in the form of the sun, a mule or a peacock.
• Anammelech. A rabbit or a goat idol.
Peter Pett: This multiplicity of gods are now described. ‘Succoth-benoth’ probably means ‘the booths of Banitu’, a Babylonian goddess also known as Ishtar/Astarte (parallel with Asherah). As the name implies (‘the booths of prostitutes/daughters’) it was probably not a very savoury religion. Yahwism was unusual in expecting an ethical response. ‘Nergal’ (‘lord of the great city’) had his cult centre in Cuthah and was noted for bringing havoc on the world through plagues, war, pestilence and floods. His consort in the under-world was Ereshkigal. Ashima, Nibhaz and Tartak would be local deities of their own people. Adram-melech (or Adar-melech – ‘the lordship of Melech’) and Ana-melech (possibly Anu-melech – ‘the king Anu’) had similar features to Melech of the Ammonites and encouraged child sacrifice. Thus the gods that Samaria had previously turned to (2 Kings 17:16-17) were simply introduced in another form.
2. (:31b) Maintaining Abominable Practices
“and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech the gods of Sepharvaim.”
D. (:32-33) Double-Minded — Attempting to Both Fear the Lord and Continue to Serve Their Pagan Gods
1. (:32) Attempting to Fear the Lord
“They also feared the LORD and appointed from among themselves priests of the high places, who acted for them in the houses of the high places.”
2. (:33) Continuing to Serve Their Pagan Gods
“They feared the LORD and served their own gods according to the custom of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile.”
Whitcomb: Each group of importees from Babylon, Cuth, Hamath, Avva, and Sepharvaim (from various extremities of the Fertile Crescent – II Kings 17:24, 30, 31) maintained their basic loyalty to their own gods, and either added Jehovah to the already crowded pantheon or perhaps called their favorite god by the name of the local deity, Jehovah, whom they sought to placate by this means.
Biblical Illustrator: The first thought which I think suggests itself to our mind, is of the curious inconsistency of their conduct. They worshipped the true God; and, along with Him, they worshipped various false gods. Now, this seems strange to us. We cannot imagine a man being at once a Christian, a Mohammedan, a Jew, a heathen, and an atheist. You must make your choice what religion you will profess: you cannot profess several inconsistent religions together. But it is just because Christianity has so thoroughly leavened our ways of thinking, that there appears to us anything strange in the conduct of these inhabitants of Samaria. For Christianity, we all know, is an exclusive religion. It not merely calls men to believe in itself, but to reject every other faith. It not merely claims to be right and true: but it boldly says that every other faith is wrong and false. The God of the Bible not merely commands us to worship Him: He commands us to worship no one else. This is their great characteristic as compared with all other religions. Christianity is a faith which admits no rivals, no competitors: it demands to stand alone. And the true God is not the God of this land or that land: He is the God of all the earth: He tolerates no brother near His throne. But it was not so at all with the gods of false religions: with the gods whom these poor Samaritans worshipped; no, nor with the gods and goddesses who were worshipped by the polished nations of Greece and Rome. It did not follow that because you held Jupiter to be a true god, you held Mercury or Apollo to be false gods. It did not follow because you worshipped Dagon, that you failed to worship Moloch. It did not follow that Beelzebub would feel himself slighted, because you offered a sacrifice to Rimmon. Each false god had his own province, and he held by that. And so you can see that these ignorant Samaritans, when they “feared the Lord, and served their own gods,” had no sense at all of the inconsistency,–of the self-contradiction,–of what they did, such as that which we might feel.
II. (:34-40) SYNCRETISTIC RELIGION VIOLATES THE EXCLUSIVITY OF THE COVENANT RELATIONSHIP –
PATTERN OF COVENANT VIOLATION BY THE JEWS
A. (:34) No Exclusive Fear of God and No Covenant Obedience
“To this day they do according to the earlier customs: they do not fear the LORD, nor do they follow their statutes or their ordinances or the law, or the commandments which the LORD commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel;”
August Konkel: The end of Israel becomes the occasion for a concluding exhortation on the failure of the covenant from the time of the Exodus “to this day” (v. 34). This phrase resumes the prophetic sermon describing disobedience that led to the end of Israel “to this day” (v. 23; niv, “and they are still there”), which was broken off by the description of the repopulation of Samaria (vv. 24–33). The final summary repeats the phrase: “To this day” the people fail to observe the loyalty of the covenant oath they have taken (vv. 40–41). Repetitive phrases are typical in Hebrew narrative to mark the beginning and end of a distinct literary unit within a larger composition.
B. (:35-39) Fear of Other Gods in Violation of the Exclusivity of the Covenant
1. (:35) Covenant Stipulations
“with whom the LORD made a covenant and commanded them, saying, ‘You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down yourselves to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them.’”
2. (:36) Covenant Faithfulness on the Part of God
“But the LORD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, and to Him you shall bow yourselves down, and to Him you shall sacrifice.”
Adam Clarke: We see in this verse three important points:
1. The object of their worship.
2. The reasons of that worship; and,
3. The spirit and manner in which it was to be performed:
a. In fear
c. By sacrifice.
3. (:37-38) Covenant Requirements for God’s People
“And the statutes and the ordinances and the law and the commandment, which He wrote for you, you shall observe to do forever; and you shall not fear other gods. 38 And the covenant that I have made with you, you shall not forget, nor shall you fear other gods.”
John Gates: This is a clear reference to the fact that Exodus and Deuteronomy were written by Moses and could not have been composed at a later date. If these books were done at a later date, as the critics hold, how could God have deported his people for sinning against his commandments and statutes?
Dale Ralph Davis: Note how stringently the covenant insists on exclusive devotion to Yahweh. One runs into three negativized verbs in verse 35: Israel must not bow down, serve, or sacrifice to other gods. Verses 36–37 invert normal grammar and put the direct or indirect objects first in the clauses for emphasis:
But Yahweh who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great might and with an arm stretched out—him you must fear, and to him you must bow down, and to him you must sacrifice, and the statutes and ordinances and instruction and commandment which he wrote for you, you must be careful to do …
He does the same in verse 38 (‘the covenant’) and verse 39 (‘but Yahweh your God you must fear’). And lest we miss the point, he hammers it into us three times: ‘You shall not fear other gods’ (vv. 35, 37, 38). Covenant religion is exclusive religion, the faith that bashes our both-ands to bits with its either-or.
4. (:39) Covenant Promise for the Faithful
“But the LORD your God you shall fear;
and He will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.”
C. (:40) Divine Revelation Replaced with Religious Tradition
“However, they did not listen, but they did according to their earlier custom.”
(:41) EPILOGUE – SYNCRETISTIC RELIGION OF THE SAMARITANS
A. Practicing Duplicity
“So while these nations feared the LORD, they also served their idols;”
Dale Ralph Davis: So pagan religion creates what it likes; biblical faith receives what is revealed. Pagans worship based on what they prefer; biblicists must worship based on what God declares. The biblical worshiper must submit; the pagan worshiper may concoct. . .
Verse 41 breathes such an air of hopelessness, succeeding generations aping the commitments of the former ones. Religion is not necessarily a good thing. There’s such a thing as condemning religion; there’s such a thing as a religion that damns.
B. Perpetuating Duplicity
“their children likewise and their grandchildren,
as their fathers did, so they do to this day.”