A common phrase found in the record of the kings of Israel is “he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 15:24, 28). Jeroboam the son of Nebat was a servant of Solomon who was “ruler over all the charge of the house of Joseph” (1 Kings 11:28). During the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, Jeroboam led the people of Israel in rebellion against the house of David (1 Kings 12:19). After establishing his kingdom, Jeroboam thought:
If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. (1 Kings 12:27-28)
A hundred years later, Jehu was commissioned by God to wipe out king Ahab’s entire household because of their wickedness. Jehu led a massacre of all the Baal worshippers, “But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the LORD God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 10:31). It says in 2 Kings 10:32, “In those days the LORD began to cut Israel short.” The exact meaning of the phrase “to cut short” is not clear, but it appears that God began to reduce the population in Israel until they reached a point where they could no longer adequately defend themselves against their enemies. In 722 B.C., they were conquered by the Assyrians and absorbed into that empire.
About 20-30 years prior to their exile, there was a destabilization in Israel’s leadership. A series of assassinations caused the throne to fall into the hands of Hoshea the son of Elah (2 Kings 15:30). “Hoshea probably represented the faction in the northern kingdom that favored cooperation with Assyria rather than resistance” (Note on 2 Kings 15:30). Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria had already taken possession of several territories in Israel when Hoshea took the throne (2 Kings 15:29). The initial phase of Israel’s captivity took place sometime around 738-732 B.C., within a decade of the death of Uzziah (a.k.a. Azariah) king of Judah.
Uzziah’s son Jotham probably began his reign amidst a great deal of turmoil and confusion in Israel. Jeroboam II’s military conquests (2 Kings 14:28) seemed to be turning the tide in Israel’s favor, but most likely the reduction in size of Israel’s population made it impossible for the expanded borders to be maintained. Even though Israel’s army consisted of seasoned warriors trained over decades due to continual warfare with Syria, the expanded borders may have spread them too thin and caused the people of Israel to become easy prey for the Assyrians.