By J.R. Miller
2 Kings 17:6-18
The story of the ten tribes from the beginning, was a story of mistake and disloyalty. There was a divine promise to Jeroboam that if he would be true to the Lord, that blessing would follow him. "It shall be, if you will hearken unto all that I command you, and will walk in My ways, and do that which is right in My eyes, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as David My servant did; that I will be with you, and will build you a sure house, as I built for David, and will give Israel unto you." But Jeroboam paid no heed to the divine Word. Almost immediately after the founding of his kingdom, he set up places of worship at two points in his kingdom, with calves of gold and priests, and established a national feast, that his people might be drawn away from the worship at Jerusalem. Thus at the very beginning the new kingdom, was characterized by a departure from God.
Starting thus in an open apostasy from God, the history of the nation was from beginning to end--a continuity of idolatry and all evil. There were no bright spots in it. The Southern kingdom of Judah had its wicked kings and its periods of evil--but the Northern Kingdom had nothing but sin in its story! In all its career--its course was downward. It had nineteen kings--but not one of them was a godly man. At last the end came. The king of Assyria captured Samaria, and carried Israel away. This was the end of the Ten Tribes, which are sometimes called the "lost tribes." Doubtless many of them lost their nationality by marriage with the heathen. Some of the better ones, no doubt, joined the Jews who returned to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah.
The ten tribes had warnings enough--but they disregarded them. Opportunities for salvation came, even down to the very last--but the condition always was repentance and a return to God--and the people would not accept the condition. So they went on from bad to worse--and at last were destroyed. They fell into the hands of their enemies, and were carried away as captives.
While this story is before us, we may think of its parallel in the history of every one who persists in unbelief and rejection of Christ. Sin puts yokes upon men's necks, and chains upon their limbs--binding them hand and foot and carrying them away into hopeless bondage. The fatal end of such sinning, is illustrated in this carrying away of Israel. "There is no danger in my case," says one; "I mean to be a Christian by and by--after I have had a good time for a while." But meanwhile the little threads of careless habit, of sinful neglect, of pleasant wrong-doing, are weaving themselves into cords, and the cords are growing into cables!
A sailor reported to the captain during a storm, that the water was gaining upon the vessel. The captain drove him away with angry words--he was too busy to give attention to the sailor's report. Again and again the warning was given, and each time it was unheeded. At last the barge was sinking and the men were ordered to the life-boat. There was not a moment to spare. A cable bound the boat to the barge, and the captain took his knife to cut it; but as he turned to do this his face turned pale with horror--the cable was an iron chain!
This is the story of thousands of lives. Men do not know until the last moment, when it is too late, that they are hopeless captives, passing to their doom in chains which they cannot break. The time to throw off such chains--the only time when it is possible to do so--is before they grow into strength.
The historian goes back and tells us the reason for the pitiful doom that befell these tribes. "The children of Israel did secretly things that were not right against the Lord." Secret sins bring ruin--just as surely as sins that are open! Of course, one may keep a fair reputation among men, when committing only secret sins, wearing the white garments of a fair reputation ,while his inner life is spotted. But the sins themselves which are thus kept hidden--work their ruin just as completely and inevitably as if they were open, public sins!
We must mark that it was sin which brought about this doom on the ten tribes. The historian may explain in natural ways, the cause of the downfall of the kingdom. But whatever the political or other reasons may have been--the real reason was sin. Sin always brings calamity! Here is a man who grew up in a gentle, beautiful home. He had brightest prospects, finest opportunities. He was well taught, nurtured in an atmosphere of holiness, of purity, of prayer. Today he is a criminal, wearing chains, sentenced to twenty years for homicide. It is not an accident, a piece of 'bad luck," that he is now where he is. All this penalty came for his sinning against the Lord. The homicide was not the first sin--it was the end of a long series which probably began in a boy's little disobedience to his mother one day.
A definite form is given to the charge against these tribes. "They served idols." Not only did they turn away from their own God--but they turned also after the gods of the heathen. It is always so. Idolatry is not an extinct form of evil. We may not worship idols made of stone or wood--but if we leave the true God--we are worshiping some idol. We cannot keep our hearts empty. If God is not in them, some other god is in His place. These people, instead of following God and His ways, followed the ways of the heathen round about them.
We need to learn well, the lesson against conforming to the world. Many Christian people seem to be on astonishingly familiar terms with this world. They are not extreme or puritanical Christians. They have been emancipated from the bondage of the old-time, strict Church life, so they boast. Yes, yes--emancipation, is it? So, no doubt, the Israelites talked--as they indulged their heathen liberties. They were liberal Hebrews--but what came of their liberty in the end?
They were not left without warning. The narrator tells us that the Lord had testified unto them by the hand of every prophet, saying, "Turn from your evil ways!" They could not say they had not been warned of the danger toward which they were drifting. Prophet after prophet had come and with solemn words and severe threatenings, declared to them God's will, outlining to them the outcome of their course, unless they would turn away from it. Some of the noblest and most faithful prophets who ever spoke to men for God, delivered their fearless messages to the kings and people of this nation. One of these was Elijah, who thundered his stern warnings in the days of Ahab. Another was Elisha, whose ministry was long-continued and was faithful and almost Christlike in its tenderness.
God never fails to warn them and tell them of the way of safety. But men may perish in spite of the divine faithfulness. Many have been lost in the midst of holiest privileges. There is only one way of escaping sin's penalties--the sinner must turn from his evil course--and walk in the paths of God's commandments. No mere sentimental or emotional turning to God avails.
The charge is clearly made, that the people persistently refused to obey God's commandments. "They would not hear--but hardened their necks!" That is always the story. Men are not lost, because of any lack of goodness and mercy in God Himself. People sometimes say, "God is too good to punish sinners." Very true, in a sense. God does not desire to punish. But men persist in their sins.
We need not think of God as being angry as men are; that is, of raving in fury. Yet God is angry with sin and cannot endure it. "Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of His sight!" After all the pleadings and warnings, all that the divine love could do--this was the end. The same sad story happens in many a home. Father love or mother love never can save a child from sin--if the child persists in his evil way. God cannot lift an impenitent sinner into the holiness of the heavenly kingdom, unless the sinner repents.