We have here the reign and ruin of Hoshea, the last of the kings of Israel, concerning whom observe,
I. That, though he forced his way to the crown by treason and murder (as we read 2Ki 15:30), yet he gained not the possession of it till seven or eight years after; for it was in the fourth year of Ahaz that he slew Pekah, but did not himself begin to reign till the twelfth year of Ahaz, 2Ki 17:1. Whether by the king of Assyria, or by the king of Judah, or by some of his own people, does not appear, but it seems so long he was kept out of the throne he aimed at. Justly were his bad practices thus chastised, and the word of the prophet was thus fulfilled (Hos 10:3), Now they shall say We have no king, because we feared not the Lord.
II. That, though he was bad, yet not so bad as the kings of Israel had been before him (2Ki 17:2), not so devoted to the calves as they had been. One of them (that at Dan), the Jews say, had been, before this, carried away by the king of Assyria in the expedition recorded 2Ki 15:29, (to which perhaps the prophet refers, Hos 8:5, Thy calf, O Samaria! has cast thee off), which made him put the less confidence in the other. And some say that this Hoshea took off the embargo which the former kings had put their subjects under, forbidding them to go up to Jerusalem to worship, which he permitted those to do that had a mind to it. But what shall we think of this dispensation of providence, that the destruction of the kingdom of Israel should come in the reign of one of the best of its kings? Thy judgments, O God! are a great deep. God would hereby show that in bringing this ruin upon them he designed to punish, 1. Not only the sins of that generation, but of the foregoing ages, and to reckon for the iniquities of their fathers, who had been long in filing the measure and treasuring up wrath against this day of wrath. 2. Not only the sins of their kings, but the sins of the people. If Hoshea was not so bad as the former kings, yet the people were as bad as those that went before them, and it was an aggravation of their badness, and brought ruin the sooner, that their king did not set them so bad an example as the former kings had done, nor hinder them from reforming; he gave them leave to do better, but they did as bad as ever, which laid the blame of their sin and ruin wholly upon themselves.
III. That the destruction came gradually. They were for some time made tributaries before they were made captives to the king of Assyria (2Ki 17:3), and, if that less judgment had prevailed to humble and reform them, the greater would have been prevented.
IV. That they brought it upon themselves by the indirect course they took to shake off the yoke of the king of Assyria, 2Ki 17:4. Had the king and people of Israel applied to God, made their peace with him and their prayers to him, they might have recovered their liberty, ease, and honour; but they withheld their tribute, and trusted to the king of Egypt to assist them in their revolt, which, if it had taken effect, would have been but to change their oppressors. But Egypt became to them the staff of a broken reed. This provoked the king of Assyria to proceed against them with the more severity. Men get nothing by struggling with the net, but entangle themselves the more.
V. That it was an utter destruction that came upon them. 1. The king of Israel was made a prisoner; he was shut up and bound, being, it is probable, taken by surprise, before Samaria was besieged. 2. The land of Israel was made a prey. The army of the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, made themselves master of it (2Ki 17:5), and treated the people as traitors to be punished with the sword of justice rather than as fair enemies. 3. The royal city of Israel was besieged, and at length taken. Three years it held out after the country was conquered, and no doubt a great deal of misery was endured at that time which is not particularly recorded; but the brevity of the story, and the passing of this matter over lightly, methinks, intimate that they were abandoned of God and he did not now regard the affliction of Israel, as sometimes as he had done. 4. The people of Israel were carried captives into Assyria, 2Ki 17:6. The generality of the people, those that were of any note, were forced away into the conqueror's country, to be slaves and beggars there. (1.) Thus he was pleased to exercise a dominion over them, and to show that they were entirely at his disposal. (2.) By depriving them of their possessions and estates, real and personal, and exposing them to all the hardships and reproaches of a removal to a strange country, under the power of an imperious army, he chastised them for their rebellion and their endeavour to shake off his yoke. (3.) Thus he effectually prevented all such attempts for the future and secured their country to himself. (4.) Thus he got the benefit of their service in his own country, as Pharaoh did that of their fathers; and so this unworthy people were lost as they were found, and ended as they began, in servitude and under oppression. (5.) Thus he made room for those of his own country that had little, and little to do, at home, to settle in a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey. In all these several ways he served himself by this captivity of the ten tribes. We are here told in what places of his kingdom he disposed of them - in Halah and Habor, in places, we may suppose, far distant from each other, lest they should keep up a correspondence, incorporate again, and become formidable. There, we have reason to think, after some time they were so mingled with the nations that they were lost, and the name of Israel was no more in remembrance. Those that forgot God were themselves forgotten; those that studied to be like the nations were buried among them; and those that would not serve God in their own land were made to serve their enemies in a strange land. It is probable that they were the men of honour and estates who were carried captive, and that many of the meaner sort of people were left behind, many of every tribe, who either went over to Judah or became subject to the Assyrian colonies, and their posterity were Galileans or Samaritans. But thus ended Israel as a nation; now they became Lo-ammi - not a people, and Lo-ruhamah - unpitied. Now Canaan spued them out. When we read of their entry under Hoshea the son of Nun who would have thought that such as this should be their exit under Hoshea the son of Elah? Thus Rome's glory in Augustus sunk, many ages after, in Augustulus. Providence so ordered the eclipsing of the honour of the ten tribes that the honour of Judah (the royal tribe) and Levi (the holy tribe), which yet remained, might shine the brighter. Yet we find a number sealed of every one of the twelve tribes (Rev. 7) except Dan. James writes to the twelve tribes scattered abroad (Jam 1:1) and Paul speaks of the twelve tribes which instantly served God day and night (Act 26:7); so that though we never read of those that were carried captive, nor have any reason to credit the conjecture of some (that they yet remain a distinct body in some remote corner of the world), yet a remnant of them did escape, to keep up the name of Israel, till it came to be worn by the gospel church, the spiritual Israel, in which it will ever remain, Gal 6:16.