The history of the kingdom of Israel is sad and sordid. One would think it would not be a subject from which to draw an exhortation. Nevertheless, by contrasting the behavior of Israel’s last king Hoshea with Judah’s king Josiah and then with Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, we shall be uplifted indeed.
Hoshea claimed the throne of Israel after he had assassinated Pekah, the son of Remaliah. Interestingly, a crude type of justice was carried out, for Pekah had also murdered his predecessor prior to his taking the throne and then reigned for 20 years of unremitting evil. The wonderfully compressed history of Israel’s last days as a nation is found in II Kings 17. Hoshea came to power in 731 BC, and reigned for nine years in Samaria. His highest accolade was that he was not as bad as the kings of Israel that were before him! “And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, but not as the kings of Israel who were before him” (II Kgs. 17:2).
With Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, on the rampage throughout the middle-east, Hoshea had no choice but to submit to this terrible power. As a vassal, he foolishly tried to ally himself with Egypt, thus incurring the wrath of Assyria and resulting in the siege of Samaria. After three years of starvation and horror, Israel capitulated and surrendered. Hoshea was imprisoned and had many of the people transported to Assyria (II Kings 17:1-6). According to Assyrian records, only 27,290 Israelites were deported, disproving the theory that the ten tribes were lost. Credence is given to this fact when we read that Hezekiah, after the transportation, invited the Israelites that remained in the land to his great Passover feast, many of whom responded positively (II Chron. 30:6, 9).
Influenced by evil practices
Time and time again God had unsuccessfully pleaded with rebellious Israel to amend its ways. They adopted the customs and practices of the surrounding nations, setting up images and sacred pillars in high places, sacrificing their children to idols and worshipping the host of heaven (II Kings 17:13-14,17). These are the very things that God had expressly forbidden: “Take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them…for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deut. 12:30-31 NKJV).
This was the arena in which Hoshea and his subjects lived and reveled, and what is more: “The children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city” (II Kings 17:9). From the loneliest outpost to the most populated city, these obscene practices prevailed. The word ‘secretly’ is often translated ‘to overlay’, so the sense could be that they covered up the things that were wrong in God’s sight, ignoring His word, and continued to worship in ways of their own invention.
Law and testimony
Throughout verses 13 to 16 the words commandments, statutes, testimonies and covenant occur. The commandments were the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses; the statutes were the particular laws flowing from those commandments; the testimonies were the prophetic predictions consequent upon both negative and positive behavior. In the aggregate, commandments, statutes and testimonies constitute the law and the prophets. Isaiah’s well known words come to mind: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Is. 8:20). Of course, the covenant was the outcome of the gracious promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All of the edicts and promises held sacred by their fathers, the Israelites in Samaria chose to ignore. They paid a terrible price for their willful disobedience.
Good king Josiah
Like a breath of fresh air, we read of good king Josiah, who reigned in Judah approximately 80 years after Hoshea’s era in the northern kingdom:
And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book. And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the Lord their God. And all his days they departed not from following the Lord, the God of their fathers (I Chron. 34:31-33).
In marked contrast to Hoshea, Josiah loved the Lord from a child and eagerly sought to understand His will, being determined to follow His precepts to the best of his ability. Leading by example, Josiah held the people to God’s standards of belief and behavior. Under his instructions there was vigorous purging and reform. Throughout the land every vestige of the old order of idolatry and the associated gross immorality was removed.
Negative and positive behavior
The best that could be said about king Hoshea was that he was not as bad as his predecessors. Hoshea, measuring himself against a standard of behavior set by unrighteous men, must have thought that he wasn’t doing too badly. It is always a mistake to measure oneself by worldly standards and the behavior of others.
Josiah, on the other hand, used the standard of God’s word. It was immaterial to him what was the current fashion of belief and its outworking; the only thing that mattered to this wise man was obedience to the Lord God. A fitting epitaph is recorded of Josiah: And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him (II Kings 23:25).
In the process of time, however, came one who was perfect and sinless: In our Lord we see none of the rationalization of Hoshea but rather the amplification of the zealous response of Josiah of whom he was the antitype. Jesus the Christ walked with his Father, keeping His commandments, testimonies and statues with all his heart. He was the “Word made flesh” who dwelt among us (John 3:14), and the embodiment of the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Hoshea looked at his contemporaries and thought that he was doing better than they and even better than his predecessors. He covered the word of God and overlaid it with the foolishness of the flesh, measuring himself against a standard of behavior set by unrighteous men. Josiah, on the other hand, looked into the word and rent his clothes, crying out in repentance when he realized his unworthiness. For the rest of his life he devoted himself to seeking God’s will and leading his people into ways of righteousness.
The king of righteousness
Towering above these men, and every man, is the Son of God, to whom we look and whose example we attempt to follow. In obedience to his command, we have gathered together to remember his death and resurrection in the memorial of bread and wine. It is a simple rite, not overlaid with unscriptural tradition or the ornate trappings of wealth and outward show. We partake of the emblems in love, fellowship and obedience born of an appreciation of all that has been done for us.
As we do so, brethren and sisters, let us rededicate our lives after the manner of king Josiah and his people when confronted with the living word. They responded to the written Law of Moses, but we respond to the very word made flesh who gave himself for us in love, in order that we might have life. Let us determine to honor the covenant we have made with our heavenly Father through His Son, by living our lives according to His will — not comparing ourselves with others, but to the Lord himself. In so doing, we will learn how to express our love for our Father and for one another in preparation for the coming of the perfect King of righteousness.
“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world” (I John 4:17).