The exile came about because of sin: The children of Israel sinned against God, their God, who had delivered them from Egypt and the brutal oppression of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They took up with other gods,
fell in with the ways of life of the pagan nations God had chased off, and went along with whatever their kings did.
They did all kinds of things on the sly, things offensive to their God, then openly and shamelessly built local sex-and-religion shrines at every available site.
They set up their sex-and-religion symbols at practically every crossroads.
Everywhere you looked there was smoke from their pagan offerings to the deities - the identical offerings that had gotten the pagan nations off into exile. They had accumulated a long list of evil actions and God was fed up,
fed up with their persistent worship of gods carved out of deadwood or shaped out of clay, even though God had plainly said, "Don't do this - ever!"
God had taken a stand against Israel and Judah, speaking clearly through countless holy prophets and seers time and time again, "Turn away from your evil way of life. Do what I tell you and have been telling you in The Revelation I gave your ancestors and of which I've kept reminding you ever since through my servants the prophets."
But they wouldn't listen. If anything, they were even more bullheaded than their stubborn ancestors, if that's possible.
They were contemptuous of his instructions, the solemn and holy covenant he had made with their ancestors, and of his repeated reminders and warnings. They lived a "nothing" life and became "nothings" - just like the pagan peoples all around them. They were well-warned: God said, "Don't!" but they did it anyway.
They threw out everything God, their God, had told them, and replaced him with two statue-gods shaped like bull-calves and then a phallic pole for the whore goddess Asherah. They worshiped cosmic forces - sky gods and goddesses - and frequented the sex-and-religion shrines of Baal.
They even sank so low as to offer their own sons and daughters as sacrificial burnt offerings! They indulged in all the black arts of magic and sorcery. In short, they prostituted themselves to every kind of evil available to them. And God had had enough.
God was so thoroughly angry that he got rid of them, got them out of the country for good until only one tribe was left - Judah.
(Judah, actually, wasn't much better, for Judah also failed to keep God's commands, falling into the same way of life that Israel had adopted.)
God rejected everyone connected with Israel, made life hard for them, and permitted anyone with a mind to exploit them to do so. And then this final No as he threw them out of his sight.
Back at the time that God ripped Israel out of their place in the family of David, they had made Jeroboam son of Nebat king. Jeroboam debauched Israel - turned them away from serving God and led them into a life of total sin.
The children of Israel went along with all the sins that Jeroboam did, never murmured so much as a word of protest.
In the end, God spoke a final No to Israel and turned his back on them. He had given them fair warning, and plenty of time, through the preaching of all his servants the prophets. Then he exiled Israel from her land to Assyria. And that's where they are now.
The king of Assyria brought in people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and relocated them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the exiled Israelites. They moved in as if they owned the place and made themselves at home.
When the Assyrians first moved in, God was just another god to them; they neither honored nor worshiped him. Then God sent lions among them and people were mauled and killed.
This message was then sent back to the king of Assyria: "The people you brought in to occupy the towns of Samaria don't know what's expected of them from the god of the land, and now he's sent lions and they're killing people right and left because nobody knows what the god of the land expects of them."
The king of Assyria ordered, "Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them."
One of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came back and moved into Bethel. He taught them how to honor and worship God.
But each people that Assyria had settled went ahead anyway making its own gods and setting them up in the neighborhood sex-and-religion shrines that the citizens of Samaria had left behind - a local custom-made god for each people:
for Babylon, Succoth Benoth; for Cuthah, Nergal; for Hamath, Ashima;
for Avva, Nibhaz and Tartak; for Sepharvaim, Adrammelech and Anammelech (people burned their children in sacrificial offerings to these gods!).
They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively - they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines.
They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from.
And they're still doing it, still worshiping any old god that has nostalgic appeal to them. They don't really worship God - they don't take seriously what he says regarding how to behave and what to believe, what he revealed to the children of Jacob whom he named Israel.
God made a covenant with his people and ordered them, "Don't honor other gods: Don't worship them, don't serve them, don't offer sacrifices to them.
Worship God, the God who delivered you from Egypt in great and personal power. Reverence and fear him. Worship him. Sacrifice to him. And only him!
All the things he had written down for you, directing you in what to believe and how to behave - well, do them for as long as you live. And whatever you do, don't worship other gods!
And the covenant he made with you, don't forget your part in that. And don't worship other gods!
Worship God, and God only - he's the one who will save your from enemy oppression."
But they didn't pay any attention. They kept doing what they'd always done.
As it turned out, all the time these people were putting on a front of worshiping God, they were at the same time involved with their local idols. And they're still doing it. Like father, like son.
Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved. (The Message Bible Online)