Menahem of Israel, one of the last rulers of the northern kingdom, got Israel entangled with the Assyrian Empire (2 Kings 15:17–22), and that led finally to the end of the nation. The kings after Menahem grew tired of sending tribute to Assyria each year, and King Pekah of Israel attempted to throw off the yoke of Assyria but failed to get Judah to join him against the empire (vv. 27–29; 16:5–9). Finally, Hoshea ascended the throne of Israel in about 731 BC (15:30). Peaceful relations were restored between Assyria and Israel, for Hoshea resumed the practice of sending funds annually to Assyria (17:1–3).
However, this peace did not last. King Hoshea decided to stop sending tribute to Assyria, seeking to ally Israel with Egypt against the larger empire. This was the last straw for Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria. He invaded Israel and laid siege to Samaria in order to deal once and for all with Assyria’s insubordinate client state. Samaria fell and Israel became a wholly owned part of the Assyrian Empire. To keep the Israelites from revolting again, Assyria took the majority out of their land and moved them to the heart of the empire (vv. 4–6).
This is what happened to Israel when we consider things from the perspective of human history. However, the author of 2 Kings looks to the providential hand behind human history to give us a fuller explanation of why Israel actually fell. The northern kingdom went into exile not ultimately because it revolted against a stronger empire but because it sinned against the Lord (vv. 7–8).
What follows is a litany of the sins of northern Israel, which are all too familiar to us now after studying the history of this nation in 1 and 2 Kings. The focus is on idolatry, which gives birth to all other transgressions. We read about the “offerings on all the high places,” the worship of Asherah and Baal, human sacrifice, and all the other acts of false religion practiced in the north (2 Kings 17:9–23). God removed the Israelites from their land, for although He was their God, they were unwilling to be His people. The Lord had warned them centuries earlier that persisting in idolatry would lead finally to their exile (Deut. 28:15–68). But Israel proved by its repeated rejection of prophets such as Jonah, Hosea, and Amos that it had no intention of ever returning to the Lord (2 Kings 17:13).
Israel’s exile reveals that the patience of God has limits. He will cast out of His blessed presence all who reject Him as their Lord.