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CHAPTER XXI

HOSHEA, AND THE FALL OF THE NORTHERN KINGDOM

b.c. 734-725

2 Kings xvii. 1-41

"As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the water."—Hos. x. 7.

As a matter of convenience, we follow our English Bible in calling the prophet by the name Hosea, and the nineteenth, last, and best king of Israel Hoshea. The names, however, are identical (הֹושֵׁצַ), and mean "Salvation"—the name borne by Joshua also in his earlier days. In the irony of history the name of the last king of Ephraim was thus identical with that of her earliest and greatest hero, just as the last of Roman emperors bore the double name of the Founder of Rome and the Founder of the Empire—Romulus Augustulus. By a yet deeper irony of events the king in whose reign came the final precipitation of ruin wore the name which signified deliverance from it.

And more and more, as time went on, the prophet Hosea felt that he had no word of present hope or comfort for the king his namesake. It was the more brilliant lot of Isaiah, in the Southern Kingdom, to kindle the ardour of a generous courage. Like Tyrtæus, who roused the Spartans to feel their own greatness—like236 Demosthenes, who hurled the might of Athens against Philip of Macedon—like Chatham, "bidding England be of good cheer, and hurl defiance at her foes"—like Pitt, pouring forth, in the days of the Napoleonic terror, "the indomitable language of courage and of hope,"—Isaiah was missioned to encourage Judah to despise first the mighty Syrian, and then the mightier Assyrian. Far different was the lot of Hosea, who could only be the denouncer of an inevitable doom. His sad function was like that of Phocion after Chæroneia, of Hannibal after Zama, of Thiers after Sedan: he had to utter the Cassandra-voices of prophecy, which his besotted and demented contemporaries—among whom the priests were the worst of all388388   Hos. iv. 4; v. 1, "Hear ye this, O priests ... ye have been a snare on Mizpah," etc.; vi. 9, "The company of the priests murder by the way to Shechem."—despised and flouted until the time for repentance had gone by for ever.

True it is that Hosea could not be content—what true heart could?—to breathe nothing but the language of reprobation and despair. Israel had been "yoked to his two transgressions,"389389   Hos. x. 10 (so R.V., and in the main the versions after the Hebrew margin). LXX., ἐν τῷ παιδεύεσθαι αὐτοὺς ἐν ταῖς δύσιν ἀδικίαις αὐτῶν; Vulg., "cum corripientur propter duas iniquitates suas"; A.V., "When they shall bind themselves in their two furrows." I believe that the "two iniquities" may mean two cherubs at Bethel. See x. 15: "So shall Bethel do unto you because of the evil of your evil." but Jehovah could not give up His love for His chosen people:—

"How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?

How shall I surrender thee, Israel?

How shall I make thee as Admah?

How shall I treat thee as Zeboim?

Mine heart is turned within Me;237

I am wholly filled with compassion!

I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger;

I will not again destroy Ephraim:

For I am God, and not man.

The Holy One in the midst of thee!

I will not come to exterminate!

They shall come after Jehovah as after a lion that roars!

For he shall roar, and his sons shall come hurrying from the west,

They shall come hurrying as a bird out of Egypt,

And as a dove out of the land of Assyria;

And I will cause them to dwell in their houses, Saith Jehovah."390390   Hos. xi. 8-11.

Alas! the gleam of alleviation was imaginary rather than actual. The prophet's wish was father to his thought. He had prophesied that Israel should be scattered in all lands (ix. 3, 12, 17, xiii. 3-16). This was true; and it did not prove true, except in some higher ideal sense, that "Israel shall again dwell in his own land" (xiv. 4-7) in prosperity and joy.

The date of Hoshea's accession is uncertain, and we cannot tell in what sense we are to understand his reign as having lasted "nine years."391391   2 Kings xvii. 1 is inconsistent with xv. 30, 33, and it is wholly useless for our purpose to enter into complicated chronological hypotheses, every one of which may be erroneous. We have no grounds for accepting the statement of Josephus (Antt., IX. xiii. 1), that Hoshea had been a friend of Pekah and plotted against him. Tiglath-Pileser expressly says that he himself slew Pekah and appointed Hoshea.392392   Schrader, K. A. T., p. 255. His must have been, at the best, a pitiful and humiliating reign. He owed his purely vassal sovereignty to Assyrian patronage. He probably did as well for Israel as was in his power. Singular to relate, he is the only one of all the kings of Israel of whom the historian has a word of commendation; for while we238 are told that "he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord," it is added that it was "not as the kings of Israel that were before him." But we do not know wherein either his evil-doing or his superiority consisted. The Rabbis guess that he did not replace the golden calf at Dan which Tiglath-Pileser had taken away (Hos. x. 6); or that he did not prevent his subjects from going to Hezekiah's passover.393393   Seder Olam, xxii. 2; 2 Chron. xxx. 6-11. "It seems like a harsh jest," says Ewald, "that this Hoshea, who was better than all his predecessors, was to be the last king." But so it has often been in history. The vengeance of the French Revolution smote the innocent and harmless Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette—not Louis XIV., or Louis XV. and Madame du Pompadour.

His patron Tiglath-Pileser ended his magnificent reign of conquest in 727, soon after he had seated Hoshea on the throne. The removal of his strong grasp on the helm caused immediate revolt. Phœnicia especially asserted her independence against Shalmaneser IV. He seems to have spent five years in an unavailing attempt to capture Island-Tyre. Meanwhile, the internal troubles which had harassed and weakened Egypt ceased, and a strong Ethiopian king named Sabaco established his rule over the whole country.239394394   See Herod., ii. 137; called So (Heb., Sô or Seve) in 2 Kings xvii. 4. Perhaps Shebek, the founder of the twenty-fifth dynasty. LXX., Σηγώρ; Vulg., Sua; Manetho, Sabachon. In the Eponym Canon he is called an Egyptian general, Sibakhi, who helped Gaza against Assyria, and was defeated. The ka appended at the end of his name (Egyptian Shaba-ka) is thought by some to be the Cushite article. The race of the priest Hirhor died out with Piankhi, and the Ethiopians elected a noble named Kashta. Shabak was his son. He conquered Sais, and burnt his rival Bek-en-raut alive (b.c. 724). His dynasty ruled for fifty years; he was succeeded by Sevechus (Shabatok), and he by Tehrak (Tirhakah). It was perhaps the hope that Phœnicia might hold out against the Assyrian, and that the Egyptian might protect Samaria, which kindled in the mind of Hoshea the delusive plan of freeing himself and his impoverished land from the grinding tribute imposed by Nineveh. While Shalmaneser395395   His name means "Salmân, pardon." We have no monuments or inscriptions of this king; only an imperial weight. was trying to quell Tyre, Hoshea, having received promises of assistance from Sabaco, withheld the "presents"—the minchah, as the tribute is euphemistically called—which he had hitherto paid. Seeing the danger of a powerful coalition, Shalmaneser swept down on Samaria in 724. Possibly he defeated the army of Israel in the plain of Jezreel (Hos. i. 5), and got hold of the person of Hoshea. Josephus says that he "besieged him"; but the sacred historian only tells us that "he shut him up, and bound him in prison." Whether Hoshea was taken in battle, or betrayed by the Assyrian party in Samaria, or whether he went in person to see if he could pacify the ruthless conqueror, he henceforth disappears from history "like foam"—or like a chip or a bubble—"upon the water." We do not know whether he was put to death, but we infer from an allusion in Micah that he was subjected to the cruel indignities in which the Assyrians delighted; for the prophet says, "They shall smite the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek."396396   Mic. v. 1. Perhaps in the title "Judge" (Shophet, suffes) we may see a sign that Hoshea's royalty was little more than the shadow of a name.

Having thus got rid of the king, Shalmaneser proceeded to invest the capital. But Samaria was strongly fortified upon its hill, and the Jewish race has again240 and again shown—as it showed so conspicuously in the final crisis of its destiny, when Jerusalem defied the terrible armies of Rome—that with walls to protect them they could pluck up a terrible courage and endurance from despair. Strong as Assyria was, the capital of Ephraim for three years resisted her beleaguering host and her crashing battering-rams. About all the anguish which prevailed within the city, and the wild vicissitudes of orgy and starvation, history is silent. But prophecy tells us that the sorrows of a travailing woman came upon the now kingless city. They drank to the dregs the cup of fury.397397   Hos. xiii. 13. The saddest Northern prophet, "the Jeremiah of Israel," sings the dirge of Israel's saddest king.398398   Hos. xiii. 7-11. The prophecy is rhythmic, though not written in actual poetry.

"I am become to them as a lion;

As a leopard will I watch by the way;

I will meet them as a bear bereaved of her whelps,

And rend the caul of their heart,

And there will I devour them like a lioness:

The beast of the field shall tear them....

Where now is thy king, that he may save thee in all thy cities

And thy judges, of whom thou saidst, 'Give me a king and prince'?

I give thee a king in Mine anger,

And take him away in My wrath."

For three years Samaria held out. During the siege Shalmaneser died, and was succeeded by Sargon, who—though he vaguely talks of "the kings his ancestors," and says that he had been preceded by three hundred and thirty Assyrian dynasts—never names his father, and seems to have been a usurping general.399399   Till the discovery of the Assyrian records, Sargon (Sharru-kênu, 'the faithful king') was but a name. The Jews knew but little of him. He is but once mentioned in Scripture (Isa. xx. 1), and was probably confused by some Jews with other kings. Yet he reigned sixteen years (722-705), and his records give the annals of fifteen campaigns. In 720 he crushed a confederacy headed by Yahubid of Hamath, and reduced that city to a "heap of ruins." He then advanced against Hanno, King of Gaza, who was in alliance with Sabaco, and defeated the combined forces of the Philistines and Egyptians at Raphia, half-way between Gaza and the Wady-el-Arîsh, "the torrent [nachal] of Egypt." Sargon was at the time too much occupied with other enemies to pursue his advantage over Egypt; for Armenia, Media, and other countries needed his attention. This encouraged Ashdod to rebel, and its king, Azuri, refused his tribute (see Isa. xx. 1). Sargon deposed him, and put his brother Ahimit in his place. Relying on Egyptian promises, Philistia joined Judah, Edom, and Moab in defying Assyria. They deposed Ahimit as an Assyrian nominee, and put Yaman in his place. Egypt, as usual, failed to help, and in 711 the Assyrian Turtan, or Commander-in-chief, took Ashdod after three years' resistance, and carried its people into captivity. The punishment of Egypt was reserved for the subsequent reigns of Esarhaddon (681-668) and Assurbanipal. See Driver's Isaiah xlv. (Isa. xx.). Isa. xiv. 29-32 is an ode of triumph for the Fall of Philistia.

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Sabaco remained inactive, and basely deserted the miserable people which had relied on his protection. In this conduct Egypt was true to its historic character of untrustworthiness and inertness. Both in Israel and in Judah there were two political parties. One relied on the strength of Egypt; the other counselled submission to Assyria, or—in the hour when it became necessary to defy Assyria—confidence in God. Egypt was as frail a support as one of her own paper-reeds, which bent under the weight, and broke and ran into the hand of every one who leaned on it.

Sargon did not raze the city, and we see from the Eponym Canon that its inhabitants were still strong enough some years later to take part in a futile revolt. But we have one dreadful glimpse of the horrors which he inflicted upon it. They were the inevitable punishment242 of every conquered city which had dared to resist the Assyrian arm.

"Samaria shall bear her guilt,

For she hath rebelled against her God.

They shall fall by the sword:

Their infants shall be dashed in pieces,

And their women in child shall be ripped up."400400   Hos. xiii. 16.

Sargon's own record of the matter on the tablets at Khorsabad is: "I besieged, took, and occupied the city of Samaria, and carried into captivity twenty-seven thousand two hundred and eighty of its inhabitants. I changed the former government of this country, and placed over it lieutenants of my own. And Sebeh, Sultan of Egypt, came to Raphia to fight against me. They met me, and I routed them. Sebeh fled."401401   See De Hincks in Journ. of Sacr. Lit., October 1858; Layard, Nin. and Bab., i. 148. The Assyrians were occupied in the unsuccessful siege of Tyre between 720-715, during which years Sargon put down Yahubid of Hamath, whose revolt had been aided by Damascus and Samaria. In 710 he marched against Ashdod (Isa. xx. 1). In 709 he defeated Merodach-Baladan at Dur-Yakin, and reconquered Chaldæa, deporting some of the population into Samaria. In 704, in the fifteenth year of his reign, he was assassinated, after a career of victory. He inscribes on his palace at Khorsabad a prayer to his god Assur, that, after his toils and conquests, "I may be preserved for the long years of a long life, for the happiness of my body, for the satisfaction of my heart. May I accumulate in this palace immense treasures, the booties of all countries, the products of mountains and valleys." Assur and the gods of Chaldæa were invoked in vain;243 the prayer was scattered to the winds, and the murderer's dagger was the comment on Sargon's happy anticipations of peace and splendour.

Israel fell unpitied by her southern neighbour, for Judah was still smarting under memories of the old contempt and injury of Joash ben-Jehoahaz, and the more recent wrongs inflicted by Pekah and Rezin. Isaiah exults over the fate of Samaria, while he points the moral of her fall to the drunken priests and prophets of Jerusalem. "Woe," he says, "to the crown of pride of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley of them that are smitten down with wine! Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one [i.e., the Assyrian]; as a tempest of hail, a destroying storm, as a tempest of mighty water overflowing, shall he cast down to the earth with violence. The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden underfoot: and the fading flower of his glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be as the first ripe fig before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up."402402   Isa. xxviii. 1-4. Israel had begun in hostility to Judah, and perished by it at last.

Such, then, was the end of the once brilliant kingdom of Israel—the kingdom which, even so late as the reign of Jeroboam II., seemed to have a great future before it. No one could have foreseen beforehand that, when, with the prophetic encouragement of Ahijah, Jeroboam I. established his sovereignty over the greater, richer, and more flourishing part of the land assigned to the sons of Jacob, the new kingdom should fall into utter ruin and destruction after only two and a half centuries244 of existence, and its tribes melt away amid the surrounding nations, and sink into a mixed and semi-heathen race without any further nationality or distinctive history. It seemed far less probable that the mere fragment of the Southern Kingdom, after retaining its separate existence for more than one hundred and sixty years longer than its more powerful brother, should continue to endure as a nation till the end of time. Such was the design of God's providence, and we know no more. The Northern Kingdom had, up to this time, produced the greatest and most numerous prophets—Ahijah, Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Nahum, and many more.403403   2 Kings xvii. 13, "by all the prophets, and all the seers," (chôseh). Hāvernick thinks that the nebi'îm were such officially. It had also produced the loveliest and most enduring poetry in the Song of Songs, the Song of Deborah, and other contributions to the Books of Jashar, and of the Wars of Jehovah. It had also brought into vigour the earliest and best historic literature, the narratives of the Elohist and the Jehovist. These immortal legacies of the religious spirit of the Northern Kingdom were incomparably superior in moral and enduring value to the Levitic jejuneness of the Priestly Code, with its hierarchic interests and ineffectual rules, which, in the exaggerated supremacy attached to rites, proved to be the final blight of an unspiritual Judaism. Israel had also been superior in prowess and in deeds of war, and in the days of Joash ben-Jehoahaz ben-Jehu had barely conceded to Judah a right to separate existence. More than all this, the apostasies of Judah, from the days of Solomon downwards, were quite as heinous as Jezebel's Baal-worship, and far more deadly than the irregular but not at first idolatrous cultus of Bethel.245 The prophets are careful to teach Judah that if she was spared it was not because of any good deservings.404404   See Amos ii. 4, 5; Isa. xxviii. 15; Jer. xvi. 19, 20; Ezek. xx. 13-30, etc. Yet now the cedar was scathed and smitten down, and its boughs were rent and scattered; and the thistle had escaped the wild beast's tread!

In the former volume we glanced at some of the causes of this, and the blessings which resulted from it. The central and chiefest blessing was, first, the preservation of a purer form of monotheism, and a loftier ideal of religion—though only realised by a few in Judah—than had ever prevailed in the Northern Tribes; secondly, and above all, the development of that inspiring Messianic prophecy which was to be fulfilled seven centuries later, when He who was David's Son and David's Lord came to our lost race from the bosom of the Father, and brought life and immortality to light.

And it was the work purely of "God's unseen providence, by men nicknamed 'Chance,'" which, dealing with nations as the potter with his clay, chooses some to honour and some to dishonour. For, as all the prophets are anxious to remind the Judæan Kingdom, their success, the procrastination of their downfall, their restoration from captivity, were not due to any merits of their own. The Jews were and ever had been a stiff-necked nation; and though some of their kings had been faithful servants of Jehovah, yet many of them—like Rehoboam, and Ahaz, and Manasseh—exceeded in wickedness and inexcusable apostasy the least faithful of the worshippers at Gilgal and Bethel. They were plainly reminded of their nothingness: "And thou shalt speak and say before the Lord thy God,246 A Syrian ready to perish was my father, and he went down into Egypt, and sojourned there with a few, and became there a nation."405405   Deut. xxvi. 5. "Fear not, thou worm Jacob: I will help thee."406406   Isa. xli. 14.

But this was the end of the Ten Tribes. Nor must we say that Hosea's prediction of mercy was laughed to scorn by the irony of events, when he had given it as God's promise that—

"I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger,

I will not again destroy Israel;

For I am God, and not man."407407   Hos. xi. 9.

The words mean that mercy is God's chiefest and most essential attribute; and, after all, a nation is composed of families and individuals, and in political extinction there may have been many families and individuals in Israel, like that of Tobias, and like that of Anna, the prophetess of the tribe of Asher, who found, either in their far exile, or among the scattered Jews who still peopled the old territories, a peace which was impossible during the distracted anarchy and deepening corruption of the whole period which had elapsed since the founding of the house of Omri. In any case God knows and loves His own. The words,

"I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger;

For I am God, and not man,"

might stand for an epitome of much that is most precious in Holy Writ. God's orthodoxy is the truth; and the truth remaineth, though man's orthodoxy exercises all its fury and all its baseness to overwhelm it. What hope has any man, even a St. Paul—what hope had even the Lord Himself—before the harsh,247 self-interested tribunals of human judgment, or of that purely external religionism which has always shown itself more brutal and more blundering than secular cruelty? What chance has there been, humanly speaking, for God's best saints, prophets, and reformers, when priests, popes, or inquisitors have been their judges? If God resembled those generations of unresisted ecclesiastics, whose chief resort has been the syllogism of violence, and whose main arguments have been the torture-chamber and the stake, what hope could there possibly be for the vast majority of mankind but those endless torments by the terrors of which corrupt Churches have forced their tyranny upon the crushed liberties and the paralysed conscience of mankind? The Indian sage was right who said that "God can only be truly described by the words No! No!"—that is, by repudiating multitudes of the ignoble and cruel basenesses which religious teachers have imagined or invented respecting Him. Because God is God, and not man—God, not a tyrant or an inquisitor—God, with the great compassionate heart of unfathomable tenderness,—therefore, in all who truly love Him, perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment. Sin means ruin; yet God is love.408408   See my Minor Prophets, 6-97.


The historian of the Kings here digresses, in a manner unusual to the Old Testament, to give us a most interesting glimpse of the fate of the conquered people, and the origin of the race which was known to after-ages by the name "Samaritan."

Sargon, when he had sacked the capital, carried out the policy of deportation which had now been established248 by the Assyrian kings. He achieved the double purpose of populating the capital and province of Nineveh, while he reduced subject nations to inanition, by sweeping away all the chief of the inhabitants from conquered states, and settling them in his own more immediate dominions. There they would be reduced to impotence, and mingle with the races among whom their lot would henceforth be cast. He therefore "carried Israel away" into Assyria, and placed them in Halah, north of Thapsacus, on the Euphrates, and in Habor, the river of Gozan409409   Not as in A.V., "Habor, by the river of Gozan."i.e., on the river in Northern Assyria which still bears the name of Khabour, and flows into the Euphrates—and in the cities of the Medes.410410   2 Kings xvii. 6. The LXX. has "rivers" and "mountains": ἐν Ἀλαὲ καὶ ἐν Ἀβὼρ ποταμοῖς Γωζὰν καὶ ὅρη Μήδων. The river is not Ezekiel's Chebar. These deportations en masse of a whole population, with their women and children, their waggons and flocks, are depicted on Sargon's series of tablets in his splendid palace at Khorsabad. He replaced the old population by Dinaites, Tarplites, Apharsathchites, Susanchites, Elamites, Dehavites, and Babylonians, after carrying away the great bulk of the better-class population.411411   Ezra iv. 10. "The great and noble Asnapper" of the passage is either some Assyrian general, or a confusion of the name Assurbanipal.

After this the historian pauses to sum up and emphasise once more the main lesson of his narrative. It is that "righteousness exalteth a nation, and sin is the reproach of any people." God had called His son Israel out of Egypt, delivered His chosen from Pharaoh, given them a pleasant land; but "Israel had sinned against Jehovah their God, and had feared other gods, and walked in the statutes of the heathen." They had failed therefore in fulfilling the very purpose249 for which they had been set apart. They had been intended "to uplift among the nations the banner of righteousness" and the banner of the One True God. Instead of this, they were seduced by the heathen ritual of

"Gay religions full of pomp and gold."

They decked out alien institutions,412412   2 Kings xvii. 9. Heb., "covered"; A.V. and R.V., "did secretly," rather "perfidiously"; LXX., ἠμφιέσαντο λόγους ἀδίκους κατὰ κύριον; Vulg., Et offenderunt verbis non rectis dominum suum. and alike in frequented and populous places—"from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city"—set up matstseboth (A.V., "pillars") and Asherim on every high hill. The green trees became obumbratrices scelerum, the secret bowers of their iniquities. They burnt incense on the bamoth, and served idols, and wrought wickedness. Useless had been the voices of all the prophets and the seers. They went after vain things, and became vain. Beginning with the two "calves," they proceeded to lewd and orgiastic idolatries. Ahab and Jezebel seduced them into Tyrian Baal-worship. From the Assyrians they learnt and practised the adoration of the host of heaven.413413   Star-worship is not mentioned in the Book of the Covenant (Exod. xx.-xxiii.) or the oldest sections of the Mosaic Law. It is first forbidden in Deut. iv. 19, xvii. 3, when contact with Syrians and Assyrians made it known (comp. Job xxxi. 26-28; Jer. viii. 2, xix. 13; Zeph. i. 5). The language of 2 Kings vii.-xxiii. frequently reflects the prohibitions of Deuteronomy (see Deut. xii. 2, 30, 31, iv. 19, v. 7, 8, xvi. 21, xviii. 10, xxxi. 16, etc.) From Moab and Ammon they borrowed the abominable rites of Moloch, and used divination and enchantments by means of belomancy (Ezek. xxi. 21, 22) and necromancy, and sold themselves to do wickedness.

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Nor was this all. These idolatries, with their guilty ritualism, were not confined to Israel, but also

"Infected Zion's daughters with like heat,

Whose wanton passions in the sacred porch

Ezekiel saw, when, by the vision led,

His eye surveyed the dark idolatries

Of alienated Judah."

And thus, when Jehovah afflicted the seed of Israel and cast them out of His sight, Judah also had to feel the stroke of retribution.414414   In 2 Kings xvii. 11, for "they did wicked things," the LXX. has κοινωνοὺς (i.e., qedeshîm) ἐχάραξαν καὶ ἑταιρίδας (qedeshôth); i.e., they had depraved hieroduli of both sexes. Comp. Hos. iv. 14; Gen. xxxviii. 21 (where the allusion is to one of the votaries of Asherah).

And it is idle to object that even if Israel had been faithful she must have inevitably perished before the superior might of Damascus, or Nineveh, or Babylon. How can we tell? It is not possible for us thus to write unwritten history, and there is absolutely nothing to show that the surmise is correct. In the days of David, of Uzziah, of Jeroboam II., Judah and Israel had shown what they could achieve. Had they been strong in faithfulness to Jehovah, and in the righteousness which that faith required, they would have shown an invincible strength amid the moral enervation of the surrounding people. They might have held their own by welding into one strong kingdom the whole of Palestine, including Philistia, Phœnicia, the Negeb, and the Trans-Jordanic region. They might have consolidated the sway which they at various times attained southwards, as far as the Red Sea port of Elath; northwards over Aram and Damascus, as far as the Hamath on the Orontes; eastwards to Thapsacus on the Euphrates; westward to the Isles of the Gentiles.251 There is nothing improbable, still less impossible, in the view that, if the Israelites had truly served Jehovah and obeyed His laws, they might then have permanently established the monarchy which was ideally regarded as their inheritance, and which for brief and fitful periods they partially maintained. And such a monarchy, held together by warrior statesmen, strong and righteous, and above all secure in the blessing of God, would have been a thoroughly adequate counterpoise, not only to dilatory and distracted Egypt, which had long ceased to be aggressive, but even to brutal Assyria, which prevailed in no small measure because of the isolation and mutual dissension of these southern principalities.

But, as it was, "Assyria and Egypt—the two world-powers in the dawn of history, the two chief sources of ancient civilisation, the twin giant-empires which bounded the Israelite people on the right hand and on the left—were cruel neighbours, between whom the ill-fated nation was tossed to and fro in wanton sport like a shuttlecock. They were cruel friends before whom it must cringe in turns, praying sometimes for help, suing sometimes for very life—alternate scourges in the hand of the Divine wrath. Now it is the fly of Egypt, and now it is the bee of Assyria, whose ruthless swarms issue forth at the word of Jehovah, settling in the holes of the rocks, and upon all thorns, and upon all bushes, with deadly sting, fatal to man and beast, devastating the land far and wide. Holding the poor Israelite in their relentless embrace, they threatened ever and again to crush him by their grip. Like the fabled rocks which frowned over the narrow straits of the Bosporus, they would crash together and annihilate the helpless craft which the storms of252 destiny had placed at their mercy. Israel reeled under their successive blows. As was the beginning, so was the end. As the captivity of Egypt had been the cradle of the nation, so was the captivity of Assyria to be its tomb."415415   Bishop Lightfoot, Sermons, p. 267.

In any case the principle of the historian remains unshaken. Sin is weakness; idolatry is folly and rebellion; uncleanness is decrepitude. St. Paul was not thinking of this ancient Philosophy of History when he wrote his Epistle to the Romans; yet the intense and masterly sketch which he gives of that moral corruption which brought about the long, slow, agonising dissolution of the beauty that was Greece, and the grandeur that was Rome, is one of its strongest justifications. His view only differs from the summary before us in the power of its eloquence and the profoundness of its psychologic insight. He says the same thing as the historian of the Kings, only in words of greater power and wider reach, when he writes: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness. Knowing God, they glorified Him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings" (ἐματαιώθησαν, the very word used in the LXX. in 2 Kings xvii. 15), "and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" (words which might describe the expediency-policy of Jeroboam I., and its fatal consequences), "and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. For this cause God gave them up to passions of dishonour, and unto253 a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity,"—and so on, through a long catalogue of iniquities which are identical with those which we find so burningly denounced on the pages of the prophets of Israel and Judah.

Even a Machiavelli, cool and cynical and audacious as was his scepticism, could see and admit that faithfulness to religion is the secret of the happiness and prosperity of states.416416   "La quale Religione se ne Principi della Republica Christiana si fusse mantenuta, secondo che dal dottore d'essa ne fu ordinato, sarebbero gli State e le Republiche Christiane più unite e più felici assai ch' elle non sono" (Discorsi, i. 12). An irreligious society tends inevitably and always to be a dissolute society; and a "dissolute society is the most tragic spectacle which history has ever to present—a nest of disease, of jealousy, of dissensions, of ruin, and despair, whose last hope is to be washed off the world and disappear. Such societies must die sooner or later of their own gangrene, of their own corruption, because the infection of evil, spreading into unbounded selfishness, ever intensifying and reproducing passions which defeat their own aim, can never end in anything but moral dissolution." We need not look further than the collapse of France after the battle of Sedan, and the cause to which that collapse was attributed, not only by Christians, but by her own most worldly and sceptical writers, to see that the same causes ever issue and will issue in the same ruinous effects.


In order to complete the history of the Northern Kingdom, the historian here anticipates the order of time254 by telling us what happened to the mongrel population whom Sargon transplanted into central Ephraim in place of the old inhabitants.

The king, we are told, brought them from Babylon—which was at this time under the rule of Assyria; from Cuthah—by which seems to be meant some part of Mesopotamia near Babylon;417417   2 Kings xvii. 24. Comp. xviii. 34. Hence the later Jews comprehensively called the Samaritans Cuthites. Comp. 2 Kings xix. 13; Isa. xxxvii. 13. from Avva, or Ivah—probably the same as Ahavah or Hit, on the Euphrates, north-west of Babylon; from Sepharvaim, or Sippara, also on the Euphrates;418418   Heliopolis, Ptolemy, v. 18, § 7; Isa. xxxvi. 19. Here, according to the Chaldæan legends, Xisuthrus buried his tablets about the Creation, etc. and from Hamath, on the Orontes, which had not long remained under Jeroboam II.419419   From Ezra iv. 2 some infer that the main immigrants were introduced by Esarhaddon, who did not succeed till b.c. 681. He claims to have colonised Syria. It must not be supposed that the whole population of Ephraim was deported; that was a physical impossibility. Although we are told in Assyrian annals that Sargon carried away with him so vast a number of captives, it is, of course, clear that the lowest and poorest part of the population was left.420420   So we see from 2 Kings xix. 13, which applies to the reign of Hezekiah. We can imagine the wild confusion which arose when they found themselves compelled to share the dismantled palaces and abandoned estates of the wealthy with the horde of new colonists, whose language, in all probability, they but imperfectly understood. There must have been many a tumult, many a scene of horror, such as took place in the long antagonism of Normans255 and Saxons in England, before the immigrants and the relics of the former populace settled down to amalgamation and mutual tolerance.

Sargon is said to have carried away with him the golden calf or calves of Bethel, as Tiglath-Pileser is said by the Rabbis to have carried away that of Dan.421421   See Appendix, "The Golden Calves." He also took away with him all the educated classes, and all the teachers of religion.422422   He uses the agency of "the great and noble Asnapper" (Ezra iv. 10) for the deportation (see Botta, 145; Layard, Nin. and Bab., i. 148; Dr. Hincks, Jour. of Sacr. Lit., October 1858), unless Asnapper be a confusion for Assurbanipal (Sardanapalus). No one was left to instruct the ignorant inhabitants; and, as Hosea had prophesied, there was neither a sacrifice, nor a pillar, nor an ephod, and not even teraphim to which they could resort.423423   Hos. iii. 4. Naturally enough, the disunited dregs of an old and of a new population had no clear knowledge of religion. They "feared not Jehovah." The sparseness of inhabitants, with its consequent neglect of agriculture, caused the increase of wild beasts among them. There had always been lions and bears in "the swellings of Jordan,"424424   See Jer. xlix. 19, l. 44; Prov. xxii. 13, etc. and in all the lonelier parts of the land; and to this day there are leopards in the woods of Carmel, and hyænas and jackals in many regions. Conscious of their miserable and godless condition, and afflicted by the lions, which they regarded as a sign of Jehovah's anger, the Ephraimites sent a message to the King of Assyria. They only claimed Jehovah as their local god, and complained that the new colonists had provoked the wrath of "the God of the land" by not knowing His "manner"—that256 is, the way in which He should be worshipped. The consequence was that they were in danger of being exterminated by lions. The kings of Assyria were devoted worshippers of Assur and Merodach, but they held the common belief of ancient polytheists that each country had its own potent divinities. Sargon, therefore, gave orders that one of the priests of his captivity should be sent back to Samaria, "to teach them the manner of the god of the land." The priest selected for the purpose returned, took up his residence at the old shrine of Bethel, and "taught them how they should fear Jehovah." His success was, however, extremely limited, except among the former followers of Jeroboam's dishonoured cult. The old religious shrines still continued, and the immigrants used them for the glorification of their former deities. Samaria, therefore, witnessed the establishment of a singularly hybrid form of religionism. The Babylonians worshipped Succoth-Benoth,425425   Lit., "Daughter-huts" (Selden, De Dis Syr., ii. 7), but probably a transliteration. Zarpanit—"She who gives seed"—was Aphrodite Pandemos (Mylitta—Herod., i. 199). The Rabbis—who only guess—say she represented "the Clucking Hen"—i.e., the Pleiades. There does not seem to be any connection between Succoth and "Sakkuth," the various reading in Amos v. 26, which seems to be the Assyrian Moloch. perhaps Zirbanit, wife of Merodach or Bel; the Cuthites worshipped Nergal, the Assyrian war-god, the lion-god;426426   Said to be worshipped under the form of a cock. the Hittites, from Hamath, worshipped Ashima or Esmûn, the god of air and thunder, under the form of a goat;427427   LXX., Ἐβλαζέρ. Jarchi says these deities were worshipped under base animal forms—but it is more than doubtful. the Avites preferred Nibhaz and Tartak, perhaps Saturn—unless these names be Jewish jeers, implying that one of these257 deities had the head of a dog, and the other of an ass.428428   The Rabbis, from Exod. xxiii. 13; Josh. xxiii. 7, thought they were bound to give scornful nicknames to heathen deities. Hence such changes as Kir-Heres for Kir-Cheres, Beelzebub for Beelzebul, Bethaven for Bethel, Bosheth for Baal, etc. More dreadful, if less ridiculous, was the worship of the Sepharvites, who adored Adrammelech and Anammelech, the sun-god under male and female forms, to whom, as to Moloch, they burnt their children in the fire. As for ministers, "they made unto them priests from among themselves,429429   Not as in A.V., "of the lowest of them," but "of all classes." Comp. 1 Kings xii. 31. who offered sacrifices for them in the shrines of the bamoth." Thus the whole mongrel population "feared the Lord, and served their own gods," as they continued to do in the days of the annalist whose record the historian quotes. He ends his interesting sketch with the words, that, in spite of the Divine teaching, "these nations"—so he calls them, and so completely does he refuse to them the dignity of being Israel's children—feared the Lord, and served their graven images, their children likewise, and their children's children,—"as did their fathers, so do they unto this day."430430   In 2 Kings xvii. 31-38 we again find repeated references to Deuteronomy (iv. 23, v. 32, x. 20, etc.).

The "unto this day" refers, no doubt, to the document from which the historian of the Kings was quoting—perhaps about b.c. 560, in the third generation after the fall of Samaria. A very brief glance will suffice to indicate the future history of the Samaritans. We hear but little of them between the present reference and the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. By that time they had purged themselves of these grosser idolatries, and held themselves fit in all respects to co-operate with258 the returned exiles in the work of building the Temple. Such was not the opinion of the Jews. Ezra regarded them as "the adversaries of Judah and Israel."431431   Ezra iv. 1. The actual word "Samaritans" occurs only once in the Old Testament, in 2 Kings xvii. 29. The exiles rejected their overtures. In b.c. 409 Manasseh, a grandson of the high priest expelled by Nehemiah for an unlawful marriage with a daughter of Sanballat, of the Samaritan city of Beth-horon, built the schismatic temple on Mount Gerizim.432432   See Neh. xiii. 4-9, 28, 29; Jos., Antt., XI. vii. 2. Josephus makes Manasseh a brother of the high priest Jaddua (b.c. 333). The relations of the Samaritans to the Jews became thenceforth deadly. In b.c. 175 they seconded the profane attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to paganise the Jews, and in b.c. 130 John Hyrcanus, the Maccabee, destroyed their temple. They were accused of waylaying Jews on their way to the Feasts, and of polluting the Temple with dead bones.433433   Jos., Antt., IX. xiv. 3, XII. v. 5, XIII. ix. 1, XX. vi., XVIII. ii. 2. The bitterly hostile relations between Jews and Samaritans in the time of Christ are illustrated by Luke ix. 52-54. They claimed Jewish descent (John iv. 12), but our Lord called them "aliens" (ἀλλογενής, Luke xvii. 18), and Josephus describes them as "residents from other nations" (μέτοικοι, ἀλλοεθνεῖς). They are now a rapidly dwindling community of fewer than a hundred souls—"the oldest and smallest sect in the world"—equally despised by Jews and Mohammedans. The Jews, as in the days of Christ, have no dealings with them. When Dr. Frankl, on his philanthropic visit to the Jews of the East, went to see their celebrated Pentateuch, and mentioned the fact to a Jewish lady—"What!" she exclaimed: "have you been among the worshippers of the pigeon? Take a259 purifying bath!" Regarding Gerizim as the place which God had chosen (John iv. 20), they alone can keep up the old tradition of the sacrificial passover. For long centuries, since the Fall of Jerusalem, it is only on Gerizim that the Paschal lambs and kids have been actually slain and eaten, as they are to this day, and will be, till, not long hence, the whole tribe disappears.


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