The last several years of the Northern Kingdom were a chain of disasters.
(Remember, it is only after the fall of the Northern Kingdom that we refer to the whole nation as Israel. Up until now, only the Northern Kingdom is called Israel while the Southern Kingdom is called Judah.)
Here is the list of kings of Israel in those final days:
Zechariah reigned six months and was assassinated.
Shallum reigned for six months and was assassinated.
Menachem reigned ten years but what is recorded as a summary of his time is that he attacked a city and ripped open all the pregnant women. He is also the first to pay tribute or what we would call protection money to Assyria to keep them from attacking.
Pekahiah reigned two years and was assassinated by Pekah.
Pekah reigned 20 years and was assassinated by Hoshea.
Hoshea reigned nine years but was also a subject to the king of Assyria and then ultimately judged a traitor by secretly making deals with other nations to rebel against the king of Assyria. He was the final ruler of the Northern Kingdom and was deported along with the whole population to Assyria. He was fortunate, actually. Assyria was known and feared for the way they treated their conquests – especially those considered disloyal subjects and traitors. I won’t read you some of the more graphic descriptions. Just let me say you would not want to be taken as an enemy of the king of Assyria.
At that time the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom disappear from history. We now refer to them as the Ten Lost Tribes or to a few descendants as the Samaritans and while some believe they traveled from Assyria to other places in the world to become the ancestors of the British people, American Indians or the Mormons, it is pretty clear that they completely assimilated and lost their identity as a people. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained to carry on the name and legacy of the Jews and the line of David.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that the one thing they treasured the most, their political independence from Jerusalem and religious freedom, caused their decline and eventual death as a people? Again, that is the sin of the house of Jeroboam that remained in their system like a cancer for over 400 years. They could never rid themselves of it and it turned out to be fatal.
The freedom to worship more convenient and appealing gods became idolatry. I read something this week that I have thought about ever since. “When the church is mainly watered down to having good experiences, then we can’t be surprised when people walk away once they have a bad one.” They wanted so much to have their own identity and define their own beliefs. The tragedy is they become the ten lost tribes with no identity at all. They created their own worst enemies – not outside forces but themselves and their desire to be independent of restraints.
What must the last years have been like with the constant violent turnover in leaders, palace intrigue, threats from the growing power of outside enemies, tributes, bribes, payoffs, compromises and conflicting treaties, leaders conspiring and making deals with the enemy just to stay in power, and the unpunished arrogance that destroyed the rule of law.
They were not just conquered. They were replaced and forgotten.
The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. To this day they persist in their former practices. They neither worship the Lord nor adhere to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that the Lord gave the descendants of Jacob, whom he named Israel. They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.
You can find a host of explanations for the rise and fall of empires, organizations and nations – even churches. For some there are six steps and for others there are ten or more. All of them have interesting charts and graphs that go along with their explanations. The most famous, frequently quoted and applied to other empires is Edward Gibbons’ work, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” He lists these five characteristics of the last days of the empire:
Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;
Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;
Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;
Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;
Increased demand to live off the state.”
Others have written about the rise and fall of democracies. In fact, there is a current book that is worth reading titled, “How Democracies Die”
Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders—presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power. Some of these leaders dismantle democracy quickly, as Hitler did in the wake of the 1933 Reichstag fire in Germany. More often, though, democracies erode slowly, in barely visible steps.”
― Steven Levitsky, How Democracies Die
One of my favorite writers on the rise and fall of organizations is Ichak Adizes. Here is his lifecycle of organizations. See if you can recognize any similarities to the history of Israel. Is there any language in Scripture that describes the same relationship with God?
Courtship: The fundamental characteristic of the Courtship stage is the founder’s dedication to the concept of business, future possibilities, and plans. Therefore, this phase occurs even before the birth of the organization.
Infancy: After the founder takes the risk, a new venture is born. During this stage processes do not exist because business will do anything for a sale. The organization is oriented to action and nobody cares about paperwork.
Go-Go: If the company manages to survive Infancy, the third stage is also characterized by a lot of activity to deliver results.
Adolescence: This phase is critical because it signals the professionalization of the organization, A conflict exists at this stage because the entrepreneur-founder coexists with professional executives hired to support the founder in the conduction of the firm.
Prime: During this phase the organization manages to balance two aspects that are extremely antagonistic: control and flexibility.
Stability: This stage represents the end of the firm’s growth and the beginning of the firm´s aging. In general, the areas of control and finance become more powerful than other areas of business.
Aristocracy: At this stage the company no longer cares about its customers and is alienated from the market trends. The innovation generated internally begins to disappear.
Recrimination: Also called Early Bureaucracy this phase is characterized by emphasizing the problems and not their solution. Internal fights over territory and power are frequent.
Bureaucracy: If the previous process continues, the organization will reach the bureaucratic stage, which is focused mainly on the compliance of the rules.
Death: from the moment in which the company loses its purpose, it arrives at its Death.
For over 400 years Israel avoided the consequences they deserved because God’s patience and faithfulness kept them alive in spite of their faithlessness. So, while they certainly experienced the stages Adizes describes there is only one reason for their final destruction. It is not sociology, being on the wrong side of history or organizational dynamics. It is this.
“All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh, k in of Egypt. They worshipped other gods, and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices which the Kings of Israel had introduced. The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right.”
Other nations may rise and fall for a host of reasons but none of the countries or empires of the world have the same relationship with God. None are called to be a light to the nations or a peculiar people. No nation has been called into existence and made to be a people who are set apart in the same way as the Jews. There are multiple theories for the rise and fall of nations and empires but there is only one reason for the fall of Israel. It was not the loss of their economy, the rise of bureaucracy, the display of affluence or the corruption of their political leaders. While it was all those things as well, it was that they had sinned against the Lord and worshiped other gods for so many years that there was no longer any desire for repentance.
“They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.. They worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.”
Again, that was the sin of the house of Jeroboam we have talked about before. It was so insidious and pervasive that it outlasted Jeroboam himself. It became the sin of his whole house and all that followed him. It did not go away when he did. It did not die with him. It became a characteristic of almost all the leaders who followed him – even the best. The majority of their obituaries end with “but he followed in the ways of the house of Jeroboam.” Even though 150 years later the Southern Kingdom of Judah along with the tribe of Benjamin is sent into exile there is no “sin of the house” of any particular king. It is as much because they had listened to the false prophets who led the people astray by strengthening the hands of evildoers so that no one turned from his wickedness. The false prophets filled the people with false hope by speaking visions from their own minds and not from the mouth of the Lord. Judah is taken into captivity and exile for seventy years but they are returned to the land and restored. Not so with the ten tribes of the north. They are forgotten and replaced with strangers. They disappear from history entirely. They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
We will never know for sure what happened to those ten tribes but we do know this. There was a moment in time when a sin so corrosive and permanent was introduced that it changed their culture for the next 400 years and finally destroyed them. Nothing could wash away their sins. It was permanent and final.
This is the word of the Lord.