Harry E. Shields
See the Introduction to 1 and 2 Kings at the beginning of 1 Kings on p. 479. See the combined outline for 1 and 2 Kings on p. 481.
COMMENTARY ON 2 KINGS
1:1–8. Because 1 and 2 Kings were originally one book, the book of 2 Kings opens where 1 Kings left off, by giving more information about Ahab’s son and successor to the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel, Ahaziah (853–852 BC). As was pointed out in the introduction, the Hebrew title melakim ("Kings"), indicates that the "book of Kings" was originally one book. That is why the statements about Ahaziah in 1Kg 22:51–53 serve as a natural transition into the events of 2Kg 1. Ahaziah’s reign was short-lived—only two years (1Kg 22:51), and he provoked the Lord to anger because of his evil ways (v. 53).
In his brief reign, Ahaziah faced two major problems, one political and one physical (vv. 1–2). First, Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. The actual details of this rebellion are described in 2Kg 3. Second, Ahaziah was seriously injured when he fell through the lattice in his upper chamber (1:2). A typical Middle Eastern upper chamber was a room on the roof, either with a window covered by latticework for privacy, or an open roof area surrounding latticework that served as a wall; this lattice could easily be broken. That may be one of the reasons the law provided practical legislation to minimize the kind of danger posed by these chambers (cf. Dt 22:8).
This injury became the central event in 2Kg 1. As a result of his illness, Ahaziah sent messengers … to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron (v. 2). No reason is given as to why the king did not seek counsel from one of the prophets of Baal in his own country. Ekron was a major Philistine city, located between Jerusalem and Gath (cf. Jos 13:2; 1Sm 5:10). Some commentators suggest that he did so because he wanted to keep his illness private from the larger population, or wanted to go to the primary residence of the god from whom he was seeking counsel, or because Ekron was geographically close at hand (Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 172).
No matter what the cause, Ahaziah revealed his true character by inquiring of the pagan gods whether I will recover from this sickness. On their way the messengers were intercepted by Elijah the Tishbite, whom these individuals apparently did not know (cf. vv. 7–8). Elijah had a probing question, asked three times in the narrative to emphasize the king’s spiritual condition: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? (v. 3; see vv. 6 and 16, which have slight variations in wording). Ahaziah failed to learn from Israel’s most recent events at Mount Carmel (the Lord’s victory over the prophets of Baal, cf. 1Kg 18) and at Ramoth-gilead (Ahab’s death as prophesied, cf. 1Kg 22) that the Lord alone was God and supreme over everything, including one’s health.
Many commentators conclude that the name Baal-zebub means "Baal/lord of the flies," and was a deliberate corruption by Hebrew scribes to make light of the pagan deity. However, the original name was more likely Baal-zebul, meaning "Baal the exalted" (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 170). This name, spelled "Beelzebul," appears several times in the NT as a synonym for "Satan" (cf. Mt 10:25; 12:24, 27; Mk 3:22; Lk 11:15, 18–19). The author’s point was that Ahaziah was pursuing the wrong god. As a result, Elijah announced that the king would remain in his bed and he would surely die (v. 4).
Elijah was instructed by the angel of the Lord where to go (vv. 3, 15). The Hebrew word for angel (malak) simply means "messenger." This angel should not be assumed to be a preincarnate appearance of the Messiah who sometimes appeared to people in the OT to reprimand, encourage, or give instructions for specific tasks (cf. Gn 16:7–13; 18:1–33; Ex 3:2; Nm 22:22; Jdg 13:19–22; 16:3). When "the angel of the Lord" refers to the preincarnate appearance of the Messiah, His deity is acknowledged with acts of worship by those who see Him, or He is further identified with names of God. Since neither of these occurs here, this angelic messenger could have simply been a messenger from God telling Elijah where to go, in contrast to the messengers sent by Ahaziah to Ekron (vv. 5–8).
When the messengers returned, the king must have been surprised at such a quick turn-around, for he asked them, Why have you returned? (v. 5). They told how an unidentified man came up to meet them and told them to take a message to the king. The same inquiry about no God in Israel, (vv. 3, 6, 16), along with the prediction of the king’s death, was repeated by the messengers. The king asked, What kind of man was he …? (V. 7), and soon he realized from their description it was Elijah the Tishbite (v. 8).
1:9–16. One would assume that such a harsh indictment about the king’s spiritual condition and his future would motivate Ahaziah to repent and call for mercy from the prophet (cf. 1:6, 8). Instead, the king sent … a captain of fifty with fifty of his soldiers to arrest Elijah (v. 9). Elijah’s exact location was not identified, but the soldiers seemed to know the hill where he was stationed. The first captain identified Elijah as a man of God, and asked him to Come down per the king’s command (v. 9). The phrase, man of God throughout 1 and 2 Kings refers to one who had a special message or prophetic office given by God (cf. 1Kg 12:22; 13:1; 17:18; 20:28; 2Kg 1:9; 4:7; 5:8). In scenes reminiscent of the events on Mount Carmel, Elijah said in response to the first two captains who came to arrest him, If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty (vv. 10, 12).
Immediately the fire of God came down and consumed the first two captains and their soldiers. Just as the Lord had appeared on Mount Carmel (cf. 1Kg 17–18) as the God who controls nature and shows Himself in fire, so here He appeared again as the God who judges those who turn away from His grace and power to seek help from other gods. Even though Ahaziah and the first two captains did not comprehend the revelation of God in their midst, a third captain did understand the spiritual significance of all that was happening (v. 13). He bowed down on his knees before Elijah, and begged him for mercy on his life and the lives of his men. Many people in Israel were bowing their knees to Baal and the Asherah poles in their midst, but this soldier wanted to avoid the fire … from heaven (v. 14) and to experience mercy from the Lord.
Even though this officer bowed before Elijah, he was well aware that the prophet represented the true God. This captain’s words and his posture reveal that he sought mercy from God (vv. 15–16). Elijah was then informed by the angel of the Lord (cf. 1:3) to go down with the third captain and appear before the king. Elijah was told not to be afraid (v. 15), and he responded to the angelic message with courage. Earlier the prophet was intimidated by Jezebel’s threats on his life and ran as far away from Samaria as possible (cf. 1Kg 19:1–18). But life had changed for Elijah, and unlike Ahaziah, the prophet had come to know that God is supreme over kings and the force of nature. So it was the spiritually wise thing for him to obey the messenger.
1:17–18. The chapter closes with a summary of Ahaziah’s life. The only additional information from what was recorded is that he died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken (v. 17; cf. 1Kg 22:51–53). Since Ahaziah had no son, Jehoram became king in his place (v. 17). This Jehoram was a brother to Ahaziah, and for that reason he is also referred to as a son of Ahab (cf. 2Kg 3:1). The time of ascension for this Jehoram of Israel was in the second year of a king by the same name in Judah. This other Jehoram was the son of Jehoshaphat (cf. 1Kg 22:41–50; 2Kg 3:1).
7. Elisha, Prophet to the Northern Kingdom (2Kg 2:1–6:23)
The various kings in Israel and Judah transitioned from one to another, and the same was true of the prophets: Elijah would eventually be replaced by Elisha (cf. 1Kg 19:16). Like Elijah, Elisha would perform miracles to authenticate the message the Lord gave him for the kings and people, primarily of the northern kingdom.
a. Elisha Given the Prophetic Office of Elijah (2Kg 2:1–25)
2:1–6. Though not stated directly, the actions of Elijah in vv. 1–14 indicate that he must have known that his departure was at hand. Here the miraculous conclusion to his life is presented without introduction: And it came about when the Lord was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind (v. 1). On two different occasions (vv. 3, 5) the sons of the prophets knew that the time of Elijah’s departure was at hand, so both Elijah and Elisha must have known as well.
Although Elijah was leaving, there was evidence that God would be present in Elisha’s ministry. First, Elisha was persistently faithful to stay with Elijah, even when he was told to stay here and not continue on with Elijah, first to Bethel, then to Jericho, and on to the Jordan (vv. 2, 4, 6). But Elisha would have none of it. Each time Elijah asked him to remain while he himself moved on to another location, Elisha responded, I will not leave you (vv. 2, 4, 6).
2:7–14. As Elijah and Elisha traveled together, visiting the sons of the prophets along the way, they eventually reached the Jordan River where fifty men of the sons of the prophets also joined them (v. 7). In one last demonstration of God’s hand on his life, Elijah took his mantle [his outer garment] and folded it together and struck the waters (v. 8). Immediately the waters were parted. Those looking on must have had thoughts of a similar time when God wanted to confirm the ministry of Joshua as he and the people crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land for the first time (cf. Jos 3:7–10). On this occasion, the two prophets crossed over on dry ground (v. 8).
When they were on the other side, Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for the man who was about to become his successor. Elisha responded, Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me (v. 9). The words "double portion" appear in Dt 21:17 as the amount that a firstborn son would inherit to assist in the care of the father’s estate. In this context, where Elisha called Elijah his father (v. 12), the association with Dt 21:17 seems reasonable. Even though Elijah told his student that what he was asking for was a hard thing (v. 10), Elijah told Elisha that if he saw him when he was taken from him, the request would be granted.
Then as the two men kept walking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared, and took Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven (v. 11). The chariot and horses were identified as the chariots of Israel, a manifestation of the presence of the Lord (v. 12; cf. Ezk 1:4–14; Hab 3:11). They are a demonstration of His strength, power, majesty, and protection. They separated Elijah and Elisha from each other, and then Elijah went up to heaven by the whirlwind. The power of the Lord is frequently associated with the power of fire, wind, and storms (e.g., Ex 13:21; Jb 38; 40:6–14; Pss 29:3–9; 77:18; 83:15; Is 19:1; Ezk 1:4). Like Enoch, Elijah went into the presence of the Lord without experiencing death (cf. Gn 5:24).
Elijah’s ministry was suddenly concluded, but the question still remained as to whether God was still active in Israel. The first piece of evidence for God’s continued presence in Israel and in Elisha’s ministry came as an exclamation, when Elisha cried, My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen! (v. 12). This expressed both Elisha’s amazement at the manifestation of God’s power and grief over the loss of his great mentor. But it was also confirmation that he had been an eyewitness to Elijah’s being taken up (cf. v. 10), and therefore he would receive the double portion of Elijah’s spirit that he had asked to receive.
As further evidence of God’s presence in his life, Elisha took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces as a sign of his grief (v. 12; cf. Gn 37:29, 34; 44:13; Jos 7:6). As Elijah was taken up, the mantle of Elijah fell to the ground. Elisha picked up the garment and stood by the bank of the Jordan (v. 13). Then Elisha struck the waters … and crossed back over the Jordan (v. 14). The Lord attested to Elisha’s succession of Elijah’s ministry by showing the two men had the same power to part the Jordan (vv. 8, 14). Another evidence of the transfer of power and spiritual leadership was the parallel of Elisha and Joshua parting the Jordan at the beginning of their ministries, probably in the same area near Jericho (vv. 4, 18; cf. Jos 3:13–17). There is even a link between their names: Elisha means "God saves," and Joshua means "the Lord saves."
2:15–18. The sons of the prophets who had observed this dramatic scene at the Jordan confirmed that a new prophetic leader was in their midst, saying, The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha (v. 15). But they apparently still had doubts about whether Elijah had actually departed permanently. So they asked Elisha for permission to go and search for Elisha’s master (v. 16) while he stayed at Jericho. After some resisting, Elisha let them go on a three-day search, in which they failed to find the departed Elijah (v. 17).
2:19–22. A second piece of evidence that proved that God was still at work in Israel and through Elisha occurred when the men of the city of Jericho approached him about a problem with their water supply. Apparently the curse enacted earlier (cf. Jos 6:26) was still posing problems for the people who lived in Jericho; in any case, the water of this pleasant oasis city was making the people sick. The city leaders stated that the water was bad and the land … unfruitful (v. 19). Elisha asked the men to bring him a new jar containing salt (v. 20). When they complied, he took the salt to the spring and threw salt on the water. He then stated on the Lord’s behalf, I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer (v. 21). Elisha’s action completely reversed the curse that had hung over the city for centuries. A similar act of water purification and spiritual renewal was recorded by Moses (cf. Ex 15:22–27). Again Elisha had demonstrated by his actions that God was present and working in great power.
2:23–25. The third piece of evidence confirming Elisha as the legitimate successor to Elijah is recorded in the prophet’s response to the mockers. This event should not be misunderstood as the harsh actions of an irritable old man, because there is more to the story than first meets the eye. As Elisha returned to Bethel … young lads came out from the city and mocked him (v. 23). They yelled, Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead! (v. 23). Elisha turned and cursed them in the name of the Lord (v. 24).
Two things need to be kept in mind when reading this account. First, Bethel was still one of the leading centers of idolatry in the northern kingdom (cf. 1Kg 12:29, 32–33; Am 7:13). The designation young lads (qatan nahar) is best understood from context to mean an "insignificant, untrained young adult," not a small child or little boy. This group of young adult lads represented the spiritual disregard that the citizens as a whole had for God and His prophets.
Second, the expression go up was an insult that may have meant, "Go away like Elijah" (House, 1 and 2 Kings, 260). If that is the case, the insult was against not just Elisha, but against God, because they were saying Elisha should "go away and take his God with him!" When Elisha saw them, he pronounced a curse on them for their attitude toward the prophet of the God of Israel (cf. Lv 26:21–22). Almost immediately two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads, so that they experienced the supernatural judgment of the Lord for their attitude (v. 24; cf. 3:6–16). At his parting from Elijah, Elisha had asked the question, Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah? (v. 14). Now, the answer was clear: the Lord was working in and through his servant, Elisha!
b. Elisha Confirms His Authority (2Kg 3:1–27)
In the previous chapter Elisha was clearly verified before the sons of the prophets as God’s appointed successor to Elijah. In this chapter, the new prophet’s sphere of influence extended to the political realm. Two important concepts must be kept in mind: (1) Elisha must be introduced to the kings of Israel and Judah to show that God is present and working through him. (2) The events were a further substantiation that God desires for His people to call on Him for divine assistance when they go into battle (cf. 1Kg 8:44–49). Jehoram/Joram, king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat king of Judah, joined forces to fight their common enemy, the king of Moab. Before they went to the battle, Jehoshaphat persuaded Jehoram to consult a prophet of the Lord.
3:1–3. Following the death of Ahaziah (cf. 1:17), his brother Jehoram … became king over Israel.… He did evil in the sight of the Lord, even though he removed a sacred pillar dedicated to Baal (v. 2). But God was opposed to him because he clung to the sins of Jeroboam (v. 3), who had established a corrupted system of worship in Israel with the golden calf altars at Dan and Bethel. Jeroboam had encouraged the northern kingdom to engage in various forms of self-made religion and a watering down of allegiance to God alone (cf. 1Kg 12:25–30).
3:4–8. King Jehoram soon faced a major test of his power by one of his vassals, Mesha king of Moab (v. 4). The Moabite Stone (cf. comments above on 1Kg 15:16–24) was constructed by this same King Mesha to report on his military achievements. The Stone refers to this battle, but with much more positive outcomes for Mesha and his army. Chapter 3 records the story from the vantage point of Israel’s "theological history." And following the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against the king of Israel (v. 5). King Jehoram decided to take action by mustering his troops and heading south (v. 6).
Along the way he invited Jehoshaphat the king of Judah to join him in the ensuing battle. The request was a logical one, since Jehoshaphat’s son—also named Jehoram—had married Ahab’s daughter. Jehoshaphat enthusiastically agreed to go to battle. His only initial question had to do with the route they were to follow. There is no evidence of either king calling for prophetic insight, so Jehoram announced that they would travel the way of the wilderness of Edom (v. 8). This too seemed like a wise decision, since Judah controlled Edom (cf. 1Kg 22:47) and a vassal king had been appointed to give governance to the country.
3:9–12. The initial military strategy for the kings of Israel … Judah and Edom to join forces against Moab seemed like a good plan. But when they made a circuit of seven days’ journey, and there was no water (v. 9), both soldiers and animals were now threatened. Jehoram concluded that the situation they were in was the Lord’s doing to give them into the hand of Moab (v. 10). But Jehoshaphat, who still had spiritual insight, asked if there was a prophet of the Lord in their midst (cf. 1Kg 22:7). One of Jehoram’s servants knew what the king himself did not know, namely, that Elisha was nearby. So at the urging of Jehoshaphat the three kings—Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and the king of Edom—proceeded to gain an audience with Elijah’s successor.
3:13–20. As soon as the kings came into Elisha’s presence, the prophet was quick to express his disdain for Jehoram. Elisha sarcastically said to Israel’s king, What do I have to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother (v. 13), meaning, "Why do you even bother consulting a prophet of the Lord God, when you worship the pagan gods of your father and mother; why don’t you go seek advice from them?" Again, Jehoram gave his assessment that the Lord was going to hand them over to the people of Moab. His comment revealed how much Israel’s king did not know about God and His ways.
So Elisha had to enlighten him, as well as to inform all three kings about what was going to happen next. Elisha expressed more disdain for Jehoram, by stating that if it were not for the presence of Jehoshaphat, he would not look at Jehoram (v. 14). As God’s representative, Elisha was declaring God’s utter contempt for the sinful practices carried out in the northern kingdom. However, Elisha did call for a minstrel and the hand of the Lord came upon him to deliver a prophecy (v. 15). Using musicians during times of prophetic disclosure was common in ancient Israel. However, Elisha’s practice was not prescriptive for all generations of God’s people. It was simply one resource he used until he heard from God (House, 1 and 2 Kings, 263). And when the prophecy came to him, Elisha told the men to make the valley full of trenches (v. 16), because the valley was about to be filled with water. And exactly as Elisha had predicted, water came by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water (v. 20). The miracle happened about the time of offering the sacrifice of the morning.
According to Ex 29:38–46, the priests were to provide daily sacrifices in the morning and near the end of each day. The offerings were to be a reminder that God is constantly present with His people and that He is the God of deliverance. Therefore, the presence of water coming in a miraculous way at the time of the morning sacrifice would have reminded the kings that God was still in their midst. Elisha not only predicted the provision of water in a miraculous way, but there were two other important details to his prophecy: (1) God’s provision of water was a slight thing in the sight of the Lord (v. 18); and (2) once the Israelites engaged the Moabites in battle they were to strike every fortified city … fell every good tree and stop all springs of water, and mar every good piece of land with stones (v. 19). This second part of the prophecy would have some bearing on how the events of chap. 3 concluded.
3:21–27. When the Moabites learned of the military force coming against them, they prepared for battle. All the able bodied men put on armor and those too old for direct combat stood guard on the border. Early in the morning they looked in the valley, saw the water and mistook it as blood (v. 22). Their interpretation of what they saw was that the three kings had fought together and … slain one another (v. 23). As Moab proceeded to enter the scene and take the spoil that remained, they were surprised by the attack as the Israelites arose and struck the Moabites, so that they fled before them (v. 24).
In accord with Elisha’s prophecy they destroyed the cities; and each one threw a stone on every piece of good land and filled it (v. 25) to totally disable the Moabite resources, until they got to Kir-hareseth, the capital of Moab (cf. Is 16:7, 11; Jr 48:31, 36) where they left its stones, but did not totally destroy the city. When the king of Moab realized that he was about to be defeated, he tried to attack the king of Edom, but was defeated (v. 26). In a final act of desperation the king of Moab offered his oldest son … as a burnt offering on the wall (v. 27). The abominable practice of child sacrifice was part of the Moabite worship of Chemosh (cf. 16:3; Nm 21:29; 1Kg 11:7; Jr 7:31; 48:46). At this detestable practice, great wrath against Israel occurred, and they … returned to their own land.
This is an obscure verse. Some commentators explain the wrath as divine wrath that resulted from Israel provoking the Moabites into engaging in human sacrifice, which was abhorrent to God (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzch, The Books of the Kings in COT reprint [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s, 1975], p. 306). However, this seems unlikely in view of the fact that it was the King of Moab, not Israel, who engaged in this despicable act. Other commentators suggest that the wrath was superhuman strength extended toward Israel as the Moabites rallied around their king when they saw his willingness to sacrifice the heir to the throne (House, 1, 2 Kings, 264). Still others see Israel turning away from the battle because they found the action of human sacrifice too despicable to watch. However, it seems preferable to view the wrath as divine wrath because Israel failed to fulfill everything Elisha had prophesied (cf. v. 19). At Kir-hareseth they went only to the fortress itself and stopped. They were to learn that when victory is snatched away by disobeying God’s marvelous deliverance (cf. Ex 29:38–46), defeat will occur. The three kings were also learning that there was a new prophet in the land who would speak for God.
c. Elisha Performs Miracles to Substantiate His Message from God (2Kg 4:1–6:23)
Despite the division into chaps. 4–6, these passages have a common purpose of showing still further that Elisha was God’s representative both to Israel and the surrounding nations. Through the use of seven selected miracle-laden events, the author laid out a case to verify to the first readers in the Babylonian exile that God is King, He is present, and His commandments are to be obeyed. These miracles might be referred to as "compassion-miracles," since they were administered to people facing very severe personal challenges, while at the same time verifying the ministry of the prophet.
(1) The Miracle of the Widow’s Oil (2Kg 4:1–7)
4:1–7. The first of these miracles involved a widow, identified as a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets (v. 1; cf. 1Kg 18:20; 20:25; 2Kg 2:3; 2:7; 9:1). She went to Elisha because her husband had died and the creditor had come to take her two children as slaves (v. 1). The scene indicates that a "school of prophets" came under the leadership and tutelage of men like Elijah and Elisha. Even so, these men carried out ordinary lives that included family life and work. But in the case of this woman, bills had mounted up and she was not able to meet her family obligations.
Hearing her request, Elisha inquired as to what she had in her house. This question implied that she may have had something that could be sold or traded to produce income. She said she had nothing except a jar of oil (v. 2). The prophet then told the woman to borrow vessels of different sizes and begin to fill them. Two things stand out in the orders he gave: first, he told her, Do not get a few (v. 3); and second, he told her, Shut the door behind you and your sons (vv. 4–5). The point of the second command was to help the woman see that the overflowing supply of oil was from the Lord and that the forthcoming miracle was not a public demonstration, but a private provision. The woman did as commanded and soon the borrowed vessels were full (v. 6). Only when the final vessel was full did the oil stop. Elisha then told the widow to sell the oil and pay her debt and live on the rest (v. 7). Through the Lord’s (and the prophet’s) compassion the woman and her sons were able to avoid a tragedy.
(2) The Miraculous Healing of the Shunammite Woman’s Son (2Kg 4:8–37)
The second account in this series of miracles involved a Shunammite woman. Shunem was a town located in the Jezreel Valley (cf. Jos 19:18; 1Sm 28:4; 1Kg 1:3) in the heart of the Baal worshiping population of Israel. The story has similarities to Elijah’s dealings with the widow of Zarephath (cf. 1 Kg 17). In both accounts women showed hospitality to the prophet, both had a need arising from the death of a son, and in both cases the Lord used the prophet to miraculously meet their need and raise the dead. Like the parallel accounts of the parting of the Jordan (cf. 2:8 and 14), the story of the two women confirmed Elisha’s office following Elijah. The story is the longest one in 2 Kings 4, and it has two parts to it.
4:8–17. The first part introduced Elisha to a prominent woman, a woman of social and economic influence (v. 8) living in Shunem. Out of her apparently sizable economic resources she persuaded Elisha to eat food in her home (v. 8). In addition, after recognizing that he was a holy man of God, she persuaded her husband to make a little walled upper chamber, fully furnished, so when Elisha comes to us, that he can turn in there to have a place to stay (vv. 9–10). During one of Elisha’s visits he instructed his servant, Gehazi, to inquire and see if there was anything he could do for her, either to speak to the king or to a captain on her behalf (v. 13). Gehazi reported his conversation with the woman to Elisha and pointed out that the woman had no son and her husband was old (vv. 11–14). Barrenness was a great tragedy in ancient Israel and the problem is often addressed in the OT (cf. Gn 11:30; 25:21; 29:31; Dt 7:14; Jdg 13:2; 1Sm 1:1–11). Acting out of compassion, Elisha announced to the woman that she would have a child in the next year (v. 16). The shock of the announcement prompted the woman to beg of the prophet that he not lie to her, for she would be too disappointed if his prediction failed. Miraculously, however, the woman conceived and bore a son the following year (v. 17). God and Elisha were true to their word.
4:18–21. The second part of the narrative introduces a tragedy that occurred many years later. When the child was grown, he was apparently working with father when he cried out, My head, my head (v. 19). Quickly a servant carried the young man to his mother and he sat on her lap until noon, and then died (v. 20). She laid him on the bed in Elisha’s room and closed the door.
4:22–28. What followed revealed the commendable faith the woman had in God and Elisha—faith not readily seen in Israel. She called her husband and asked for a servant and a donkey to run to the man of God and return (v. 22). There was no mention of the child’s death, but clearly she wanted help from Elisha because her son was so sick. Her husband, detecting that something was not right, asked why she would be seeking for Elisha when it was neither new moon nor sabbath (v. 23). These were biblical festival days when the faithful Jewish community would gather to worship (cf. Ex 16:23; 20:9–10; Nm 29:6; 1Sm 20:25; Neh 10:32–33; Ps 81:3; Ezk 46:1). Perhaps this woman often met with Elisha at those times, so her husband was surprised she would be seeking the prophet on an ordinary day, for he did not seem to know the gravity of his son’s sickness. Her response to her husband’s inquiry was simply, It will be well, indicating her faith in the power of God (v. 23).
The woman found Elisha on Mount Carmel (v. 25; cf. 1Kg 18). The prophet had already seen her coming from a distance and sent Gehazi to find out if everything was well with her and her family. Again she was evasive in her answer, saying, It is well (v. 26). However, Elisha discerned that something was wrong, even though the Lord had hidden the reason from him. She reminded Elisha that she did not ask for a son and she had also asked Elisha, Do not deceive me. The implication was that if God had given her this wonderful gift of a son, why was he now being taken from her?
4:29–37. Elisha’s solution was to send Gehazi back to the woman’s home and lay Elisha’s staff on the lad’s face (v. 29). Gehazi did so (v. 31), but the woman informed Elisha that she would not leave. She wanted the prophet at her son’s side, and nothing else would suffice. So with Gehazi running ahead, while Elisha and the woman followed to the child’s bedside. Sadly, Gehazi came back to report that the lad had not awakened (v. 31). Then Elisha arrived to find the lad was dead (v. 32). Elisha went into the boy’s room, shut the door … and prayed to the Lord. The prophet also lay on the boy’s body twice until the boy was finally raised from the dead (v. 35). Both Gehazi and the Shunammite mother were called to the room, so that the woman could take up her son (v. 36). Here in the ministry of Elisha, the Lord confirmed His power to raise the dead, just as He had done with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (cf. 1Kg 17:8–24).
(3) The Miracle of Healing the Poison Stew (2Kg 4:38–41)
4:38–41. A third miracle of compassion occurred at the time Elisha returned to Gilgal. Once again, there was a famine in the land (v. 38); perhaps as in the days of Elijah, it was the direct result of God’s judgment (cf. 1Kg 17–18).
Elisha met with some of the sons of the prophets and ordered his servant to prepare a pot of stew (v. 38). The command was carried out by one who went out into the field to gather herbs to add to the stew. Apparently the man retrieved wild gourds that were sliced … into the pot, but unknown to him they were poisonous (v. 39). Elisha was alerted to the poisonous food: O man of God, there is death in the pot (v. 40). Elisha ordered that meal, that is flour, be added to the stew, and then the prophet ordered the people to eat because there was no harm in the pot (v. 41). Like purifying of the water of Jericho with salt (cf. 2:21), it was not the flour meal that made the food safe to eat; it was a miracle from the Lord. In God’s compassionate mercy many people were rescued from harm.
(4) The Miracle of the Feeding of a Hundred Men (2Kg 4:42–44)
4:42–44. A fourth miracle was recorded when a man came from Baal-shalishah (a village in Ephraim, near Gilgal, v. 38), and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits (v. 42). At the festival of first fruits people were to bring the first of their harvest to the tabernacle, and later to the temple (cf. Lv 23:17–21; Dt 18:3–5; Nm 28:26–31). They were to be brought to the priests for their regular provision, since the tribe of Levi had no land of their own as did the other tribes.
However, most of the priests in the northern kingdom under Jeroboam’s reign had fled south to the kingdom of Judah (cf. 2Ch 11:14). So it was only logical that a man in the northern kingdom who loved the Lord would bring first fruits to Elisha, who was ministering like a priest in the northern kingdom. Immediately, Elisha ordered that the gift of food be used to feed the people (v. 42). However, his attendant, probably Gehazi, questioned whether there was enough food to feed the hundred men who were gathered (v. 43). Elisha responded, Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over’ (cf. Mt 14:15–21). The attendant did as the prophet commanded, and food was available to eat and to collect afterward according to the word of the Lord.
(5) The Miraculous Healing of Naaman the Leper (2Kg 5:1–27)
One of the most memorable narratives in the Bible records Naaman the Aramean’s healing from leprosy. The story contains a series of contrasts throughout: Naaman vs. the Jewish slave girl; the king of Israel vs. the king of Aram/Syria; Elisha vs. Naaman; and Naaman vs. Gehazi. But the climax and the purpose of the story is that Elisha refused to be rewarded for something God alone had done (vv. 15–16).
5:1–5. Naaman was introduced according to his position and reputation. He was the captain of the army of the king of Aram (Syria) on the northern border of Israel. He was a great man … and highly respected (v. 1). But anything Naaman accomplished was because the Lord was working through him. Even his victories came from the Lord’s hand. But the one problem that stood out in Naaman’s life was the fact that he was a leper (v. 1). The medical condition today called leprosy (or Hansen’s disease) differs from the skin conditions described in Lv 13:1–46, which seemed to include a number of diseases of the skin. Hansen’s disease would have been so debilitating that Naaman would not have been able to carry out his normal duties as a military officer. This was not the case with Naaman. So he may have had some other skin disease, possibly severe eczema or seborrhea.
The first major contrast in the passage placed Naaman alongside a little girl from the land of Israel who had been captured and placed in the care of Naaman’s wife (v. 2). The girl had no power in contrast to Naaman, who had both social and military power. Yet she was the one God used to guide her master to discover the Sovereign of the universe (v. 3). When Naaman heard indirectly through the girl that there was a cure for his leprosy in Israel, he went in and told his master, the king of Aram, about what he had heard (v. 4). The king of Aram (Syria) sent Naaman with a letter for the king of Israel, along with ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold and ten changes of clothes (v. 5). Both the king and the military commander believed that healing could be purchased.
5:6–7. When Naaman arrived in Israel, the letter he was carrying stated the intention of the trip, namely, that the king of Israel might cure him of his leprosy (v. 6). But King Jehoram interpreted the request as a provocation for war between Israel and Aram. Not knowing what to do, Jehoram tore his clothes in an expression of frustration and despair over being put in a position to be like God (v. 7), i.e., being responsible for momentous decisions.
5:8–14. The situation would be a platform for the living God to make Himself known. So when Elisha learned of Jehoram’s response to the letter, he told the king to send Naaman to him. Elisha’s purpose was to show that there was a prophet in Israel (v. 8). This expression is a way of saying, "So that he might know that there is a God in Israel."
Another contrast is seen in how Elisha handled the situation as opposed to Naaman’s response to the prophet’s orders given in v. 10. Elisha did not initially meet the Aramean commander face to face, but instead sent a messenger, telling him, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean (cf. Lv 13:6, 17, 23, 28, 37, 39), that is, "You will be healed." Elisha was responding on the basis of his faith in God, whereas Naaman primarily assumed he would be respected and healed on the spot. Naaman was insulted and furious; he interpreted the command as disrespectful to his station in life and as a mere religious ritual. From his perspective he could have carried out what he perceived as a ritual in one of the rivers in Aram, Abanah and Pharpar (v. 12).
But Elisha wanted the commander’s thoughts to be directed elsewhere—to the God of Israel and His power. Naaman could have stormed away and provoked the very military conflict Jehoram feared (cf. v. 7). But his servants intervened to encourage him to do what the prophet directed (v. 13). Their reasoning was simply that if Elisha had asked Naaman to do some great thing, he would have done it; so why not wash and be clean as the prophet directed? Naaman listened to their advice, again being humbled by the words of people from lower stations in life and finding great benefit (cf. vv. 3–4, 13). What Naaman did was according to the word of the man of God, that is, according to God’s direction. The result was that his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean (v. 14). The point was that from the perspective of the OT law, Naaman was restored both physically and spiritually. However, his spiritual condition would not be clearly revealed until later (vv. 15, 17).
5:15–19. Realizing that he had been healed, Naaman returned to the man of God, along with his entourage, and made a surprising confession. What was even more impressive was his change of attitude toward Elijah. He stated, Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel (v. 15). The story of Naaman illustrates God’s faithfulness to Gentiles. Anyone who turns to the God of Israel, even in the period of the OT, would find grace, forgiveness, and a relationship with Him. Even citizens of Israel did not have the same conviction. And as a result of his healing, Naaman wanted to reward Elisha with the valuable gifts he had brought from Aram (v. 15). In another surprising move in the narrative, Elisha refused Naaman’s offer (v. 16). In view of God’s miraculous intervention and Naaman’s profession of faith, this was not the time to receive money for something God had done.
Naaman apparently realized that God had healed him, but now he would be in a difficult situation when he returned to Damascus, where the God of Israel was not worshiped. So he asked Elisha for two things. The first was to provide him with two mules’ load of earth (v. 17). It was a common idea in the ancient world that a deity could be worshiped only on its own home soil; so Naaman wanted to bring home with him the soil of Israel. His motives may have been good, but his understanding of the Lord was immature (Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 192). Naaman’s second request was for forgiveness for future duties that would be imposed on him as a result of his position (v. 18). He knew that he would have to accompany the Aramean king to worship the Aramean false god of war, Rimmon. Naaman knew that God would see him going into the house (temple) of the pagan god, and so he asked for a special pardon. Elisha extended that pardon when he said, Go in peace (v. 19). The entire interaction with Naaman reflected back on the Abrahamic covenant and God’s intentions to bless people from all nations (cf. Gn 12:3), as well as the fulfillment of Solomon’s prayer that "all the peoples of the earth may know Your name" (1Kg 8:41–43).
5:20–27. A final contrast occurred in details between Gehazi, Naaman, and Elisha. Gehazi had been an eyewitness to a number of miraculous interventions from God through Elisha (cf. chap. 4). Unfortunately, Gehazi was troubled that his master had spared this Naaman (v. 20), and had not received from Naaman what he had brought to Israel as a gift. So Gehazi decided to take things into his own hands and get something for himself. He pursued Naaman on his way back to Aram, concocting a story of Elisha suddenly needing to feed guests who had come into his presence. Naaman accepted Gehazi’s request and gave him two talents of silver and two changes of clothes which he had originally brought as a gift for Elisha (vv. 21–23).
The "rewards" were carried partway back to Gehazi’s home, where he deposited them in the house (v. 24). Gehazi assumed that his plan was foolproof, but God sees everything! Nothing can be hidden from His sight. When Elisha asked Gehazi where he had been, Gehazi said, Your servant went nowhere (v. 25). Knowledge of Gehazi’s deception was grievous to Elisha, for he said, Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? (v. 26). The prophet implied that Gehazi’s actions were inappropriate for all that God had done and revealed about Himself. It was not a time to receive money … clothes … olive groves … vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants (v. 26). It was a time for worshiping and serving the God who miraculously intervened in a non-Israelite’s life and made Himself known. As a result of Gehazi’s brazen sin, the leprosy of Naaman, Elisha said, would cling to Gehazi and his descendants. Along with the grace showed Naaman for his faith, there was also chastisement of Gehazi for his greed.
(6) The Miraculous Recovery of the Axe Head (2Kg 6:1–7)
6:1–7. Earlier in his ministry, Elisha had been involved with great acts of personal compassion, as an expression of God’s loving care. Here we see another aspect of the prophet’s power and God’s concern for the everyday issues of life. The miracle of the axe head reflects the value of tools to their workmen at this period. The setting for the account in these verses was in another meeting Elisha had with the sons of the prophets (v. 1). They expressed to their prophet-leader, The place before you where we are living is too limited for us. The Hebrew literally reads, "where we sit before you," and implies that some sort of place for instruction was being described. These students under Elisha’s instruction said that where they were meeting was too small, and proposed that they go to the Jordan and build a larger facility (v. 2). Elisha agreed to the proposal, and after some urging, he agreed to accompany them on their journey.
However, in the process of cutting down some of the trees, a worker’s axe head fell into the water (v. 5). He called out to Elisha, explaining that the axe head he was using was borrowed (v. 6). Loss of the tool would have put him in debt, and as with the widow in chap. 4, the indebtedness would have put him under a financial burden he would be unable to bear. Elisha asked where the axe head fell, then he threw a stick into the water, causing the axe head to float. The worker retrieved the axe head and presumably returned to his task. Skeptics can argue over the plausibility of such a miracle, but to do so is fruitless. The conclusion should be that God can do anything He chooses. And He is concerned about both "great" and "small" things in the lives of His people. Although the miracle involved the recovery of an axe head, the motivation for the miracle was compassion for the worker who had borrowed and lost it.
(7) God’s Miraculous Protection of Elisha (2Kg 6:8–23)
6:8–12. The last of the "compassion-miracles" (for which, see the comments introducing chap. 4) tells of another time when Aram was warring against Israel (v. 8) and the Lord gave an amazing victory. One of the Arameans’ strategies was to set up places to ambush the armies of Israel. The only problem was that Elisha, the man of God (v. 9), knew of the raids and would alert the king of Israel: Beware … for the Arameans are coming down there ahead of time so that his soldiers would avoid attack. This disclosure took place enough times that the king of Aram assumed that he had a traitor in his midst (v. 11). But one of the king’s servants informed him that it was not a traitor but Elisha, the prophet, who even knew what the king would speak in his bedroom (v. 12). The point was that as the messenger of God, Elisha knew what God revealed to him, and God knew absolutely everything, including the most private things a king might say.
6:13–17. Learning that Elisha was the culprit who was frustrating the king of Aram’s military strategies, he ordered his army to Dothan, a city northeast of Samaria near Mount Gilboa, where Elisha was staying. The Arameans surrounded the city at night so as to capture Elisha (v. 14). The next morning Elisha’s attendant awakened to discover the Aramean forces ready to attack. He came to Elisha for insight as to what they should do. Elisha’s response was, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them (v. 16). Then Elisha prayed … and the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw the mountain … full of horses and chariots of fire (v. 17), the very same phenomenon that Elisha himself saw when his mentor, Elijah, was taken up into heaven (cf. 2:11). The God who was with Elijah was confirming to both the prophet and his attendant that He was with them.
6:18–23. When the Aramean soldiers came down from the mountains to capture Elisha, the prophet prayed that God would strike them with blindness. And the Lord struck them with blindness according to the word of Elisha (v. 18). Elisha led the blinded troops into Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom. It was Elisha’s way of demonstrating to the king of Israel and his subjects God’s power and compassion (vv. 19–21). When King Jehoram saw the Aramean soldiers, he asked Elisha, Shall I kill them? But Elisha’s orders were to treat them with compassion, like those you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow, and to set a great feast for them (vv. 22–23). Then with their sight restored, the once-captured men were allowed to return to their homeland. The result was that the marauding bands of Arameans did not come again into the land of Israel (v. 23). What a hostile king intended for evil, God worked through His prophet to bring about good. And He showed that nothing is obscure or hidden from the mind of God.
8. Elisha Predicts the Siege of Samaria Will End (2Kg 6:24–7:20)
Through a variety of miraculous events, it became clear that Elisha was the God-ordained successor to Elijah. Now the prophet’s ministry was directed to King Jehoram and those living with him in the northern kingdom’s capital city of Samaria, which was under attack.
6:24–25. Once again war had broken out and Ben-hadad king of Aram attacked Samaria. The narrative set the stage for what was about to follow, stating that the siege was so severe that the famine in Samaria made even food that would not usually be eaten, a donkey’s head, an unclean animal (cf. Lv 11:2–7; Dt 14:4–8), be sold for an exorbitant price of eighty shekels, or two pounds, of silver; and a forth of a kab, or two quarts, of dove’s dung, probably used for fuel, sold for five shekels, six months’ wages of an average worker.
6:26–33. This section gives the bleakest report of the famine. While King Jehoram was passing by on the wall to survey all that was happening, a woman called to him for help. But the king himself was destitute, telling her, If the Lord does not help you, from where shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the wine press? (v. 27). He then inquired about her specific need. The scene portrayed a situation that was the opposite of what Solomon faced in the dispute between two women (cf. 1Kg 3:16–28).
However, Jehoram lacked the wisdom of Solomon. In fact, there was no hope in sight, outside of the merciful intervention of God, to help the people in their desperate circumstances. The woman informed the king that she had an agreement with another woman to cannibalize her son and then the next day they would eat the other woman’s child. But the second woman reneged and had hidden her son so they would not eat him (vv. 28–29). This was the kind of sin God said would happen because of the rebellion of His people (cf. Lv 26:27–29). In his despair and anger over what he had just heard, Jehoram tore his clothes, a sign of grief (v. 30; cf. Gn 34:31) and announced a death sentence against Elisha, assuming that he was the cause of the siege, famine, and all that was happening (v. 31).
How quickly Jehoram had forgotten the prophet’s earlier assistance in revealing the whereabouts of Aramean raiding parties (cf. 6:9). While sitting in his house with the elders of the city, Elisha revealed that a messenger from Jehoram was on his way to take away my head (v. 32). He told the elders to shut … and hold the door shut against the messenger, because the king was close behind him. The prophet made a subtle statement as to who was the real cause behind the famine when he referred to Jehoram as the son of a murderer, a reference to the murderous practices of the kings of Israel who had killed the prophets of God (v. 32; cf. 1Kg 18:4, 13–14; 21:10, 13). Jehoram blamed Elisha for the suffering, just as Ahab had blamed Elijah for the drought in his day (cf. 1Kg 18:10, 16; 21:20).
But when the messenger finally arrived, he appeared not to have Elisha’s execution on his mind but cast blame on the Lord, stating that this evil was from Him (v. 33). As the ongoing narrative would reveal, the Lord was not to be morally guilty as if He had acted capriciously in ordaining the siege and its resultant famine. Instead, the idolatry of Jehoram and his subjects caused God to inflict such misery against Israel as a justifiable act of judgment (cf. 3:2).
7:1–2. After receiving the messenger, Elisha announced the word of the Lord for the elders and the king’s messenger. By this time Jehoram himself may have appeared, because a royal officer on whose hand the king was leaning, meaning that he was Jehoram’s "right-hand man," was within the hearing of Elisha’s prophecy (v. 2). Elisha’s prophecy had two elements. The first was that the previous high inflation caused by the Aramean siege would be totally reversed tomorrow, the next day. The statement implied that good things were about to happen. The second statement was a judgment against the doubting king’s royal officer. When he heard what Elisha said, he responded by saying with great sarcasm: Behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, could this thing be? (v. 2). Because of the officer’s skepticism Elisha announced that he would see the fulfillment of this prophecy, but he would not eat of it (v. 2). No one could anticipate how quickly and accurately this prophecy would be fulfilled.
7:3–11. There were four leprous men at the entrance of the city gate (v. 3). They obviously were outcasts because of their physical condition, and they knew that their days were limited. They contemplated that if they tried to enter the city, the famine would overtake them with all the others held captive inside. So the other alternative was to go over to the camp of the Arameans and give themselves up. They reasoned that they had a 50/50 chance of living (v. 4). When they went to the Aramean camp as planned at twilight the next day, they were surprised to find that the camp had been deserted (v. 5). The Lord had caused the army of the Arameans to hear a sound of chariots and a sound of horses, even the sound of a great army (v. 6). The Arameans thought that Jehoram had hired the Hittites or the Egyptians to come to his aid, but clearly a direct, miraculous intervention of the Lord had caused the Arameans to think they were under attack and they fled for their lives (v. 7).
When the camp was deserted, livestock, food, silver and gold and clothes had been left behind, so the four lepers amassed the spoils with great excitement (v. 8). But as they were enjoying all that had been left behind, the lepers realized that they were not doing the right thing by keeping everything to themselves. They concluded, This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent (v. 9). So they left their discovery and went to the gatekeepers in Samaria and told them what they had found, announcing that the Aramean camp had been completely abandoned and abundant resources for the city’s survival had been left behind (v. 10).
7:12–15. When the king got word about the lepers’ discovery, he was skeptical of the report, thinking it was a military ambush to get into the city (v. 12). There was no indication that he recalled Elisha’s earlier prophecy (v. 1). But starvation conditions in Samaria were so horrible, one of his servants suggested that they had nothing to lose in sending some men out to see if the lepers were telling the truth (v. 13). So he sent two chariots with horses to go and see if the report was accurate (v. 14). As they went, they learned that all the way was full of clothes and equipment which the Arameans had thrown away in their haste (v. 15).
7:16–20. When the news came back to the city, the people went out and plundered the camp (v. 16). And it happened just as the man of God had spoken; because of the abundance of good supplies in the camp, food would now be inexpensive (vv. 1, 18). In fact, the king even appointed his royal officer, who had answered the man of God with his mocking question (vv. 1, 18) to have charge of the gate as the people went out (v. 17). But stampede-like conditions occurred and the royal officer was trampled to death, just as the man of God had said (vv. 17, 20). He did see the abundance of food, but he did not eat it (v. 2). God’s Word was fulfilled exactly, but in a most unexpected way.
9. Elisha Carries out the Prophecies Originally Spoken through Elijah (2Kg 8:1–9:13)
The pace of events in 2 Kings accelerated as Elisha’s ministry continued. The argument made throughout this commentary has been that God is the true King over Israel and the world, and that human kings were to represent His will and ways as outlined in Dt 17:14–20. However, in the space of a lifetime, the average citizen in the kingdom might question whether God cared and would keep His Word. The chapters that follow make the case that God does care and is truthful in all that He says in most convincing ways.
8:1–6. The narration now returns to another event in the life of the Shunammite woman whose son Elisha had restored to life (cf. 4:8–37 and the comments there). The woman had been advised by Elisha, Arise and go elsewhere for the Lord has called for a famine … on the land for seven years (v. 1). The woman did as Elisha asked and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years (v. 2). When she finally returned, it appeared that her land had been confiscated, so she appealed to the king for her house and for her field (v. 3). Her actions would have been the right thing to do in view of the laws of restoration (cf. Ex 21:2–3; Dt 15:1–6). When she made her way into King Jehoram’s presence, the king was talking with Gehazi, the servant of the man of God about how Elisha had raised this same woman’s son from the dead (vv. 4–5). God’s sovereignty and faithfulness would appear again and again in the remaining chapters of the book.
While Gehazi and the king were talking, the woman came to plead her case for the return of her land and Gehazi pointed her out, This is the woman and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life (v. 5). When the king asked the woman to confirm Gehazi’s story, she did so. Then the king ordered, Restore all that was hers and all the produce of the field from the day that she left the land even until now (v. 6). Nothing in the text indicates that Gehazi had been restored to health following the judgment of leprosy against him (cf. 5:27). However, this woman, because of her faithfulness in obeying the word of the Lord through Elisha, had seen both the restoration of life and property. God’s sovereignty watches over those who care for His messengers.
8:7–10. Several years had passed since God’s prophecy came to Elijah about anointing three men (cf. 1Kg 19:15–17). In God’s encounter with Elijah, the prophet was told that he was to anoint three people to key roles in national and international events: Hazael was to be anointed king in Aram; Jehu was to be anointed king in Israel; and Elisha was to be anointed Elijah’s successor. But Elijah carried out only one inauguration before he was taken up into heaven (cf. 2Kg 2). Had Elijah disobeyed God? Had the Almighty forgotten what He said He would do? This section (chaps. 7–15) shows that in spite of what Elijah was not able to do, God still carried out His will through Elisha in the spirit and office of Elijah.
At this point, without explanation, Elisha came to Damascus, where Ben-hadad king of Aram was sick (v. 7). King Ben-hadad learned of Elisha’s presence and sent Hazael to inquire as to the prospects of his recovery. Ben-hadad also sent a very impressive gift for Elisha, apparently hoping to buy a good report (vv. 8–9). While addressing Elisha with the king’s request, Hazael referred to the king as your son Ben-hadad king of Aram (v. 9). The title was a way of showing the respect the king had for both Elisha and the Lord.
In response to the question about the king’s recovery, Elisha gave an unusual response: Go, say to him, ‘You will surely recover,’ but the Lord has shown me that he will certainly die. The prophet indicated that Ben-hadad would recover from the disease, but he would die from another cause (v. 10).
8:11–15. After giving Hazael the message for the king, Elisha looked steadily at him and the man of God wept (v. 11). Elisha explained he was weeping because I know the evil that Hazael would do to the sons of Israel (v. 12), and told him in details the horrible things he would do. In keeping with the prophecies, Hazael then returned to his master, gave him Elisha’s message, and the following day assassinated Ben-hadad by smothering him. Just as the prophecy had said, Hazael became king in his place (v. 13; cf. 1Kg 19:15).
8:16–23. Now the focus shifts to political events in the southern kingdom of Judah. It is clear that spiritual apostasy was not simply an issue with the northern kingdom alone. The typical succession formula employed throughout the book was used here, noting that in the fifth year of Joram the son of Ahab king of Israel … Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah became king (v. 16). Two things were important in describing Jehoram’s reign. First, he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, indicating he followed the pagan practices of the northern kingdom (v. 18). The reason for his orientation to evil was that the daughter of Ahab became his wife. The narrative that follows in chaps. 8–12 describes a steady spiritual decline in Judah that lasted for approximately 15 years.
However, the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David His servant (v. 19). What God had promised to David in 2Sm 7:12–15 prompted years of mercy and patience for Judah. And yet Jehoram (called Joram in 2Kg 8:21) had his own troubles. Edom chose again to revolt against Judah (v. 20). Jehoram/Joram attempted to put a stop to the insurrection by taking his army into battle at Zair, near Edom, but his army was surrounded at night and they barely escaped (v. 21). Edom never came under Judah’s control again (v. 22).
8:24–29. Following the reign of Joram/Jehoram, Ahaziah his son became king in Judah (841 BC; cf. 2Ch 22:1–9). His reign took place in the twelfth year of Joram/Jehoram the son of Ahab in Israel (v. 25). The succession description and the marriage alliances continued to explain why Judah faced spiritual decline. Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, was the granddaughter of Omri king of Israel (v. 26) and the daughter of wicked Ahab (cf. 1Kg 16:1–22:40) who became a wicked queen of Judah (cf. 2Kg 11:1–16). Ahaziah’s leadership was evil, because he was a son-in-law of the house of Ahab (v. 27). As he moved further away from a life shaped by the law of God, the more evil would have an influence on the land. Ahaziah of Judah was also drawn into further military campaigns with his northern counterpart (v. 28). In the battle with Hazael king of Aram, the Arameans wounded the king of Israel (Joram/Jehoram). Learning of his brother-in-law’s injury, Ahaziah went down to see the king of Israel because he was sick. His presence providentially placed him in Jezreel and ultimately led to his own death as recorded in chap. 9.
9:1–3. So far in the historical narrative of 2 Kings, God fulfilled His word to Elijah concerning Elisha and Hazael (cf. 1Kg 19:15–17). These first two of three predictions were now fulfilled. The third prophecy, concerning Jehu, was about to unfold.
It may seem strange that Elisha did not have a more direct hand in what transpired in vv. 1–13. Instead, Elisha called one of the sons of the prophets and prepared him for an important task. The urgency of the mission was revealed in the words Gird up your loins (v. 1), meaning to gather up one’s long outer garment and get ready for action. The mission must have had a high degree of danger associated with it, because this same messenger, after completing his assignment, was to open the door and flee (v. 3). His specific task was to search out Jehu and anoint him as king over Israel (cf. vv. 2–3). Jehu and his soldiers were in Ramoth-gilead, an important city east of the Jordan (cf. 1Kg 22), engaged in battle with Aram, a battle in which Israel’s king Joram had been wounded (cf. 8:28).
9:4–10. When the young man who was sent by Elisha arrived he found Jehu sitting with the captains of the army (v. 5). The young man poured the oil on his [Jehu’s] head, and told him, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I have anointed you king over the people of the Lord, even over Israel’ (v. 6). Jehu had a twofold task: (1) to strike the house of Ahab, and (2) avenge the blood of the Lord’s servants, both the prophets and those who served Him in indirect ways (v. 7). Words originally spoken about the demise of Ahab’s house (cf. 1Kg 21:21) were repeated for Jehu’s benefit. The house of Ahab was to become like the house of Jeroboam, since both kings had led the people into spiritual rebellion for which the nations were now reaping the pain of their sin (v. 9). After giving Jehu this stark message the young man opened the door and fled just as Elisha had instructed (vv. 3, 10).
9:11–13. When Jehu came out from his meeting with the young man his servants asked, Is all well? In other words, "What happened?" Perhaps they saw the oil on his head and wanted to know more. They referred to the son of the prophet who had appeared to be a mad fellow, which shows the spiritual condition of Jehoram’s/Joram’s soldiers. At first Jehu dismissed their inquiries: You know very well the man and his talk (v. 11). But he finally admitted, Thus and thus he said to me, ‘Thus says the Lord, "I have anointed you king over Israel." ’ Those who were with Jehu hurriedly took their garments, laid them at his feet, blew the trumpet, and declared, Jehu is king! (v. 13). God’s word to Elijah had come to pass. What the Almighty says is to be taken as faithful and true—always!
10. Jehu of Israel: A Bad King Who Takes Actions that Fulfill Prophecy (2Kg 9:14–10:36)
The prophecy given to Elijah about Jehu’s anointing as king of Israel, the northern kingdom, was now fulfilled. This section describes the purifying work of Jehu in five stages: (1) his assassination of Jehoram (9:15–26); (2) his assassination of Ahaziah (9:27–29); (3) the execution of Jezebel (9:30–37); (4) the execution of Ahab’s 70 sons (10:1–17); and (5) the execution of Baal worshipers (10:18–28). The section closes with a summary of Jehu’s own shortcomings and the beginning of the end of the northern kingdom (10:29–36).
9:14–20. Jehu had just been anointed as the new king of Israel by a representative of Elisha (841–814 BC; cf. 2Ch 22:7–12), and conspired against Joram/Jehoram, the reigning king of Israel. At this time, King Joram/Jehoram was on his way back to Jezreel to heal from his wounds (v. 15; cf. 8:29). At the same time Ahaziah king of Judah, had traveled to Jezreel to meet Joram because they were forming an alliance against the Aramean attack (v. 16). In his strategy to replace Joram, Jehu had secured Ramoth-gilead so that no one would escape or leave the city to run and inform Joram of Jehu’s military threat to the throne (v. 15). Jehu himself set out in a chariot to apprehend Joram. As he approached Jezreel, a watchman standing on the city tower saw a company of people headed in the direction of the city.
Confused by the approaching military, King Joram sent a horseman to ask the purpose of this military approach: Is it peace? the rider asked Jehu (vv. 17–18). The first watchmen did not return, perhaps taken captive by Jehu’s army. Finally, as the chariots got closer, the watchman reported that the driving is like the driving of Jehu … for he drives furiously (v. 20). The word translated furiously is the same word used to describe the son of the prophet as a "mad fellow" (v. 11). Jehu was a reckless charioteer and was easily recognizable by his distinct driving style. The watchmen did not understand why Jehu would be coming to Jezreel.
9:21–26. When Joram/Jehoram (king of Israel) realized that Jehu was on his way, both he and Ahaziah (king of Judah) went out, each in his chariot … to meet Jehu (v. 21). Interestingly, the meeting was at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite where Elijah prophesied the end of the line of Ahab (v. 21; cf. 1Kg 21:2–3, 13, 19). Joram again asked if Jehu’s appearance was a peaceful one. Jehu responded, What peace, so long as the harlotries of your mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many? (v. 22). Jehu identified the continuing occult ("witchcraft") sin and unfaithfulness to the God of Israel ("harlotries") of Ahab and Jezebel (cf. 1Kg 16:31), who were Joram’s family (cf. 3:1).
Joram immediately realized the treachery of the situation (v. 23) and tried to escape, but Jehu drew his bow … and shot the king of Israel through his heart (v. 24). After Joram died in his chariot, Jehu, now Israel’s new king, ordered Bidkar his officer to cast Joram’s body on the property that Ahab had stolen from Naboth (v. 25; cf. 1Kg 21:2–3, 13–24). Jehu remembered Elijah’s oracle against him (Ahab) and understood that everything that happened at Joram’s death occurred according to the word of the Lord (v. 26). Although Elisha had spoken against Ahab, since Joram/Jehoram was the son of Ahab (3:1), his death was a fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy (cf. 1Kg 21:19).
9:27–29. When Ahaziah the king of Judah saw Jehu kill Joram, he tried to escape for his life. However, Jehu pursued him and Ahaziah was mortally wounded on his escape to Megiddo and died there (v. 27). He was eventually carried … to Jerusalem where he was buried in the city of David (v. 28). The summary of the reign of Ahaziah says he became king in Judah in the eleventh year of Joram, king of Israel (v. 29), but elsewhere it says that he became king in the "twelfth year of Joram" (cf. 8:25). The discrepancy is best resolved by understanding that ancient records handled partial years of a king’s ascension in different ways (see Introduction: Background).
9:30–37. The next act of divine purification, and fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy, concerned Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife and the mother of King Joram/Jehoram. The idolatrous queen heard of Jehu’s arrival in Jezreel, and dressed for the occasion by painting her eyes and adorning her head to meet Israel’s new king (v. 30). She referred to Jehu as Zimri, his master’s murderer (v. 31). Zimri had taken the throne of Israel by assassination and had a brief seven-day reign in Israel (cf. 1Kg 16:8–20). Jezebel was mocking Jehu by associating him with the failed reign of Zimri, but that would not be the case with Jehu. Jehu asked Jezebel’s officials, Who is on my side? (v. 32). They demonstrated their allegiance to him by obeying Jehu’s command, Throw her down (v. 33). At once the horses … trampled her body underfoot. Later, when Jehu ordered Jezebel be given a decent burial, his attendants found that nothing was left except her … skull and the feet and the palms of her hands (v. 35). Jehu recognized what Elijah had prophesied about her had come to pass: In the property of Jezreel the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel (v. 36; cf. 1Kg 21:23).
10:1–11. Jehu had not completed the task Elisha’s messenger gave to him, for he had to finish dealing with the house of Ahab who had seventy sons in Samaria (v. 1). Up to this point, most of the events regarding Ahab’s house took place in Jezreel. But since Samaria was the capital of Israel, Jehu needed to move to secure his authority there. One potential threat would have been anyone from Ahab’s family who had a legitimate claim to the throne. To eliminate the threat, Jehu wrote letters to officials in both Samaria and Jezreel, specifically to those who were guardians of the children of Ahab (v. 1). He challenged them to identify the best and the fittest of Ahab’s sons, and place him on the throne (v. 3). His tactic was to make the leaders of the former dynasty choose sides. Out of great fear (v. 4) they informed Jehu that they were his servants and would do whatever he asked of them (v. 5).
Apparently not accepting their word, Jehu wrote a letter to them a second time, telling them to combine their words with action. His specific challenge was to bring the heads of the seventy sons of Ahab to Jezreel where Jehu would meet them. The leaders slaughtered them … and put their heads in baskets, and sent them to Jehu at Jezreel (v. 7). Jehu then had his officials pile the heads … in two heaps at the entrance of the city gate (v. 8). A common practice in the ancient world was for conquering leaders to intimidate the citizens into obedience (House, 1, 2 Kings, 292). When the citizens awakened the next morning, they observed a shocking display (v. 9). Jehu spoke to the people telling them, Know then that there shall fall to the earth nothing of the word of the Lord, that is, not one word spoken by the Lord will ever fail. He reminded them that what they saw before their very eyes was what the Lord … spoke through His servant Elijah (v. 10). Jehu wanted it to be clear that this change in regimes was not his doing, but the work of the Lord. Then Jehu killed all who remained of the house of Ahab … until he left him without a survivor, just as the Lord had said (v. 11; cf. 1Kg 21:20–24, 29).
10:12–17. Jehu then traveled from Jezreel to Samaria. On the way his entourage met relatives of Ahaziah king of Judah. They apparently were unaware of their own king’s demise or the death of Joram of Israel. When they announced that they had come to greet the sons of the king and the sons of the queen mother, Jehu may have thought they too were potential rivals like the 70 sons of Ahab (v. 1). Therefore he seized all forty-two of them and killed them at the pit of Beth-eked ("the house of shearing"); apparently the shepherds were killed in a place, unidentified by archaeology, where their bodies would not quickly be found (v. 14).
While still on his journey to Samaria, Jehu met Jehonadab the son of Rechab (v. 15). Nothing is said about the man’s background or political inclinations, other than the fact that he was coming to meet Jehu. The Rechabites were a Jewish sect who required that their followers not drink wine, and they were commended by Jeremiah for their spiritual devotion (cf. Jr 35:14–19). Both men had an interest in eliminating the ongoing threat of Baal worship, so Jehu invited Jehonadab to ride in his chariot and observe the zeal he had for the Lord (v. 16). When they arrived in Samaria, Jehu killed all who remained to Ahab in Samaria, until he had destroyed him, that is, the house of Ahab (v. 17). All that Jehu had done was in fulfillment of God’s words through Elijah (cf. 1Kg 21:21).
10:18–28. Through the influence of his wife Jezebel, Ahab had introduced Baal worship to Israel (cf. 1Kg 16:31–32). With Jehonadab now part of his entourage, Jehu deceptively invited all the prophets of Baal and all his worshipers to come and join him in a great sacrifice for Baal (v. 19). His ruse was set up under the pretense that though Ahab served Baal a little, Jehu would serve him much (v. 18). In a general way, the scene has similarities to Elijah’s confrontation of the Baal worshipers on Mount Carmel (cf. 1Kg 18), except that the prophet was open about his intentions and Jehu was deceptive.
When the worshipers arrived, Israel’s new king made sure that none of the servants of the Lord, but only the worshipers of Baal were inside the house of Baal (v. 23). Prior to the gathering, Jehu had stationed … eighty men outside with orders to kill every single worshiper when he gave the command (v. 24). When the worshipers finished offering the burnt offering, Jehu gave the command and everyone inside the temple was executed. In addition, he made sure that other instruments of worship—the sacred pillar of Baal as well as the actual house of Baal—were destroyed completely and made into a latrine (vv. 26–27). What Elijah began, Jehu completed. Thus Jehu eradicated Baal out of Israel (v. 28).
10:29–31. Jehu was not like King David, however; although he ended Baal worship in Israel, Jehu did not depart from the worship of golden calves that were at Bethel and that were at Dan by which Jeroboam had made Israel sin (cf. 1Kg 12:26–32; 13:33–34; 14:16). Yet, for Jehu’s zealous actions against the idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel, the Lord honored him for doing what was right in His eyes (v. 30). As a result, the Lord promised Jehu that he would have sons of the fourth generation who would sit on the throne of Israel (v. 30). However, this zealous king did not walk in the law of the Lord … with all his heart, and he continued in the sins of Jeroboam (v. 31).
10:32–36. Since Jehu and his successors did not follow the Lord completely, the Lord began to cut off portions of land from Israel (v. 32). Hazael, who had been appointed earlier by Elisha to rule in Aram, stepped up his attacks on the northern kingdom. Slowly the Israelites lost territory on their borders. Jehu’s twenty-eight years began with great promise, but like so many kings before and after him, personal ambition kept him from leading the people in righteousness and blessing (v. 36).
11. Athaliah and Joash of Judah: A Bad Queen and a Good King (2Kg 11:1–12:21)
After detailing the major political and religious upheaval in the northern kingdom, the focus again moves to the southern kingdom of Judah. The text shows that political, national, and spiritual conditions always come back to "matters of the heart."
11:1–3. When news arrived in Jerusalem that Athaliah’s son Ahaziah had been executed in Jezreel, she took immediate action to secure the throne for herself by destroying all the royal offspring (v. 1). Athaliah was the granddaughter of Omri and the daughter of Ahab (cf. 8:16–26) and had became the wife of the Judean king Jehoram. She reigned as the only queen of Judah (841–835 BC; cf. 2Ch 22:1–23:21). However, her wicked plan to be the sole heir to the throne was not foolproof, because another member of the royal family, Jehosheba, the daughter of King Joram, rescued a lone survivor, Joash (v. 2). Jehosheba was also the wife of the high priest, Jehoiada (cf. 2Ch 22:11). For six years, the child Joash was hidden by his aunt in the house of the Lord, unknown to the reigning queen (v. 3).
11:4–8. In the seventh year of Athaliah’s reign, Jehoiada sent and brought a group of men who were assigned to serve as guards for the soon-to-be king, Joash. These men were identified as the captains of hundreds of the Carites and of the guard (v. 4). The Carites, also called Cherethites (cf. 1Sm 30:14; 2Sm 8:18; 15:18; 30:14) were possibly Phoenician mercenaries, who sometimes served as bodyguards to the king. Jehoida mustered his courage (cf. 2Ch 23:1) to protect the boy-king, and gave specific instructions to these Carites to be with the king at all times. Anyone who broke through their ranks to bring harm to Joash was to be put to death (v. 8).
11:9–12. Besides Jehoiada instructing the royal guard regarding their daily routines, he also supplied them with the necessary resources to carry out their orders. He gave them the spears and shields that had been King David’s (v. 10). These were probably the gold shields that David brought with him after the defeat of the Aramean king Hadadezer (cf. 2Sm 8:7). At a specific point in time designated by Jehoiada the priest, he brought the king’s son out and put the crown on him and gave him the testimony (v. 12). The testimony often referred to the tablets that Moses received from the Lord when he returned from meeting with God on Mount Sinai, and these were kept in the ark of the covenant. But in this context the term more likely refers to the copy of the law that the king was to read daily (cf. Dt 17:14–20). As the high priest placed the crown on Joash’s head, and anointed him king of Judah, the people who had gathered clapped their hands and said, "Long live the king!" (v. 12).
11:13–16. The noise of cheering people got the attention of Athaliah as she came to the … house of the Lord, the temple (cf. 1Kg 3:1). Her immediate response to seeing the boy and the jubilant people was to tear her clothes in an act of grief. She shouted that what was happening was treason (v. 14). Earlier, the high priest had ordered that anybody who broke through the ranks of the guards was to be put to death (v. 8). And here was Athaliah defying the priest’s orders. Therefore Jehoiada, the man now temporarily in charge of political and religious activities, ordered, Bring her out between the ranks, and whoever follows her put to death with the sword (v. 15). Athaliah was seized, taken away to the horses’ entrance of the king’s house, and put to death (v. 16).
11:17–21. With Athaliah no longer a contender for the throne, the high priest Jehoiada took a serious step in bringing about a spiritual renewal within the southern kingdom. He made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people (v. 17). The details of the actual covenant were not included, but Jehoiada probably developed a covenant that was similar to the prayer Solomon prayed for the nation to be faithful to the Lord (cf. 1Sm 8). Also, this covenant probably reflected God’s covenant with David in 2Sm 7:1–17 (House, 1, 2 Kings, 299). Jehoiada’s aim, however, was that all those gathered at Joash’s coronation would be the Lord’s people and not simply citizens focused on their self-interests (v. 17).
Two other events transpired on this important day in Judah’s history. First, the people went to the house of Baal, and tore it down (v. 18). The purging activities that took place under Jehu in the north were not occurring in the southern kingdom. Second, those individuals who had been protecting Joash brought him down from the house of the Lord … to the king’s house … and he sat on the throne of the kings (v. 19). At seven years of age, Joash became king to the delight of all the people (vv. 20–21). Following the coronation of Joash, the city was quiet (shaqat means "undisturbed" or "at peace"). Not only was there political peace, but after a long time of spiritual rebellion the people were at peace (quiet) with God, their true King, for the actions that they had taken against the encroachment of Baal worship.
12:1–3. Here Joash is identified by his other name, Jehoash. His rule is summarized, and the details of his activities given in vv. 4–21. He did right in the sight of the Lord all his days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him. However, after the death of Jehoida, Joash/Jehoash "abandoned the house of the Lord … and served the Asherim and the idols" (2Ch 24:18; for details of Joash’s rule and decline, cf. 2Ch 23–24). In spite of Jehoash’s early noble efforts at keeping the Davidic covenant, he did not remove the high places (v. 3).
12:4–16. Under Jehoiada’s influence, Jehoash/Joash was concerned about the care of the temple. At the time of Jehoash’s reign the temple was well over a century old. The priests were responsible for collecting money for the regular maintenance of the building, but this duty had apparently been neglected. So Jehoash commanded them to take both the regular assessment of the worshipers as well as voluntary offerings that came from the people (money which any man’s heart prompts him to bring into the house of the Lord, v. 4). But in the king’s twenty-third year of his reign, the priests had not repaired the damages of the house (v. 6).
At that point Jehoash asked his mentor, Jehoiada the priest, to follow a different system. No longer were the priests to collect the money. Instead Jehoiada … took a chest and bored a hole in its lid and put it beside the altar (v. 9). The king’s scribe and the high priest then took the money, counted it, and gave it to the workers to carry out necessary repairs (vv. 11–12). The priests did not require an accounting from the men … for they dealt faithfully with the money and the tasks assigned to them (v. 15). Other income collected from the guilt offerings and … the sin offerings continued to go to the priests for their regular care, since they had no land of their own to work as did other Israelites (v. 16). All these activities concerning the temple indicate Jehoash was following the Lord while he was under the influence of Jehoiada the priest.
12:17–18. Yet a person’s spiritual orientation can change quickly, especially when threats and conflicts enter that person’s life. And so it was with Jehoash. Near the end of his reign, after the death of Jehoiada, Hazael king of Aram was on a military campaign to capture new lands. Some commentators suggest that Hazael wanted to capture the southern trade routes that ran through Judah (e.g., House, 1, 2 Kings, 303). Whatever the cause, Jehoash … took all the sacred things from the temple and from his own treasury and sent them to Hazael king of Aram as a bribe to keep him from attacking Jerusalem. Then he [Hazael] went away from Jerusalem (v. 18). The work that Judah’s king put into repairing the temple was undone more quickly than it began. There is no indication that the king sought the Lord for strength or wisdom in dealing with the threat from Hazael; instead, Jehoash/Joash made a foolish decision. At the end of his reign he even had "Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest … stoned to death" when the priest confronted the king about his sinful behavior (2Ch 24:20–21).
12:19–21. In spite of a dramatic, and seemingly godly beginning, Joash/Jehoash’s life came to a tragic end. In response to his murder of Zechariah (cf. 2Ch 24:25), his servants arose and made a conspiracy and struck down Joash/Jehoash (v. 20). He died at the house of Millo, the part of Jerusalem fortified by Solomon (cf. 2Sm 5:9; 1Kg 9:15) on his way to the nearby neighborhood of Silla. After Joash/Jehoash had been given a safe haven in the house of the Lord, it was the Lord who gave him over to judgment. The "quiet" that began with his reign (11:20) was replaced with the shouts of divine judgment, and he was buried … with his fathers [family] in the city of David (v. 21), but "not … in the tombs of the kings" (2Ch 24:25). Joash is a powerful illustration that there is no such thing as secondhand faith. He had never made his relationship with the Lord his own, and obeyed only as long as his mentor/spiritual leader Jehoiada was alive. However, once Jehoiada died, so did Joash’s pretext of walking with the Lord.
12. Jehoahaz and Jehoash of Israel: Bad Kings in the Last Days of Elisha (2Kg 13:1–25)
13:1–9. Again the account moves back to events in the northern kingdom with the introduction to a new king, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu, who reigned for seventeen years (v. 1). Jehoahaz was the first of four descendants that the Lord told Jehu would sit on his throne. But as with the other kings of Israel, Jehoahaz also did evil in the sight of the Lord, following the sins of Jeroboam and leading the people to do the same (v. 2). As a result, the anger of the Lord came against the people. God is loving and forgiving, but His patience would not last forever (v. 3). The Lord responded to the sins of Jehoahaz and the people by giving them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Aram and his successor Ben-hadad II (v. 3). And the Lord’s chastisement brought needed change, because in the depths of their suffering the king entreated the favor of the Lord, who listened to him as He watched the severe, horrible oppression that Hazael inflicted on His people (v. 4).
One of the consistent themes of 1 and 2 Kings is the Lord’s compassion in response to the cries of His people. The Lord gave Israel a deliverer, so that they escaped from under the hand of the Arameans (v. 5), but no statement is made as to who this deliverer was. Keil argues that Jehoahaz’s two successors, Jehoash/Joash (v. 10) and Jeroboam II (cf. 14:23), recaptured lands previously captured by the Assyrians (Keil, The Books of the Kings, 375). However, the one person who was consistently sought after by Israel’s kings for help in times of political crisis was Elisha (cf. 13:14–21). One commentator writes, "It appears likely, then, that Elisha, the only figure in Israel’s history who consistently makes Syria fear him, is indeed Israel’s redeemer one last time" (House, 1, 2 Kings, 306). The dark cloud that hung over Jehoahaz’s noble attempt to seek the Lord is the fact that after a time of peace brought by Israel’s deliverer, the people did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam (v. 6). As a result Jehoahaz’s army was decimated, and he died as a king who apparently stopped pursuing the mercy and power of God in his activities (vv. 8–9).
13:10–13. King Jehoahaz was succeeded by his son, Joash (also referred to as Jehoash) as king of Israel. He too did evil in the sight of the Lord by pursuing the practices of Jeroboam (v. 11). After his death, Jeroboam [II] sat on his throne, succeeding him. After the summary statement regarding the death of Joash/Jehoash, the narrative looks back on Joash’s reign to when he sought the aid of Elisha, just prior to the prophet’s death.
13:14–19. King Joash approached Elisha, when the old prophet became sick with the illness of which he was to die, to talk with him about a military problem. Joash/Jehoash addressed the prophet, My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen! (v. 14). The greeting showed the king’s honor and deference toward Elisha, and his recognition of the power of the Lord to which Elisha had been an eyewitness (cf. 2:1–12; 6:17).
The king was looking for military help, but the prophet realized that help ultimately comes from God. Elisha proceeded to give Jehoash/Joash an opportunity to embrace the powerful work of God. He told him to take a bow and shoot an arrow out of a window toward the east (v. 17). After Jehoash did so, Elisha announced that the action was symbolic of the victory the Lord was about to give him over Aram at Aphek, about 40 miles northwest of Jerusalem (v. 17). Then the prophet asked the king to take the arrows nearby and to strike the ground. Elisha gave no indication as to how long Jehoash was to do this. But the king struck the ground only three times and stopped (v. 18). But Elisha announced you should have struck five or six times. Now, however, Israel would only experience three victories over their northern enemy when they could have seen Aram destroyed as an enemy (v. 19). God had given His servant, the king, an opportunity for greater blessing, but the blessing was limited by his lack of faith.
13:20–25. These verses address the ongoing power of Elisha, even after his death. Elisha ministered from the reign of Ahab (853 BC) to the reign of Jehoash (which began 798 BC), giving the prophet a ministry of about 56 years. After Elisha was buried, probably in a cave or tomb somewhere in the northern kingdom (the exact location is unknown), bands of the Moabites frequently invaded Israel in the spring of the year (v. 20). Following Israel’s failed attempt to subdue the Moabites as a vassal state (cf. 3:1–27), the Moabites apparently attacked Israel at will. On one of these occasions some men were burying a man when the Moabites struck. In their haste to flee to safety they threw the dead man into the grave of Elisha, probably his cave-tomb. When the man’s body touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet (v. 21). Just as Elisha had restored the Shunammite’s son to life, even in death he was restoring life in a nation that was spiritually dying every day.
One of the themes in Elisha’s ministry was that of the kindness and compassion of God. After Elisha’s death, the Lord was gracious to Israel and had compassion on them … because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 23; cf. Gn 12:1–3; 15:1–21; 17:1–27; 26:1–3). Also, God was not willing to destroy them or cast them from His presence until now (v. 23). The phrase until now is better translated "to this day," meaning "to this point in history," a declaration that God would always be faithful to His people (cf. Jr 31:31–37). Elisha had directed the people again and again to the covenants of the Lord. Therefore, even though Aram attacked Israel frequently, God bestowed His love on His covenant people. Even when Ben-hadad II came to power, God gave Joash/Jehoash king of Israel three opportunities to recover the cities of Israel, just as Elisha had predicted (v. 25; cf. 13:19). God was consistently faithful to His people, even though Israel was not faithful to Him.
13. Amaziah of Judah: A Good King; and Jehoash of Israel: A Bad King (2Kg 14:1–22)
14:1–7. While Joash/Jehoash was ruling the northern kingdom, Amaziah, the son of Joash (not Joash, king of Israel) came to power in Judah (796–767 BC; cf. 2Ch 25:1–28). He did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like David. But he did according to all that Joash [of Judah] his father had done (v. 3; cf. 12:4–12). Like his father, though, Amaziah did not remove the high places, and this encouraged the citizens to continue in their idolatry (v. 4). At the same time, Amaziah showed some preference for obeying the law, because even though he killed the servants who murdered his father … he did not put to death their sons (cf. Dt 24:16). In contrast to Jehu in Israel who went on a killing spree, Amaziah showed restraint and obedience to God’s commandments. Likewise, he went to war against Edom and gained a measure of success (v. 7).
14:8–10. After Amaziah won battles against Edom, he challenged Jehoash … king of Israel to face him in battle. Jehoash responded with a parable. The strong cedar was Jehoash, and Amaziah was the thorn bush that could easily be trampled. The parable emphasized the foolishness of Amaziah’s plan. Jehoahaz acknowledged that Amaziah had indeed defeated Edom, but he would not win a battle against the northern kingdom, but would fall in defeat and Judah with him (v. 10).
14:11–14. But Amaziah would not listen, and the two nations met near the Judean town of Beth-shemesh, about 15 miles west of Jerusalem (v. 11). Judah was defeated by Israel (v. 12), and Jehoash tore down the wall of Jerusalem where he captured Amaziah and took all the gold and silver and all the utensils which were found in the house of the Lord (vv. 13–14). Although Amaziah was remembered as one of the good kings of Judah, and this passage described his defeat in straightforward fashion, 2Ch 25:20 makes it clear that Amaziah’s idolatrous ways led to his defeat.
14:15–22. Verses 15–16 summarized the reign of Jehoash king of Israel, then the text returned to a short description of Amaziah’s reign (vv. 17–20). Even though Amaziah had been captured by Jehoash, Amaziah still outlived his northern contemporary by fifteen years (v. 17). However, Amaziah was also subject to a conspiracy by his own people. After fleeing to Lachish, a fortress city 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem, he was captured and killed there (v. 19). His son, Azariah, also known as Uzziah (cf. 2Ch 26:1; Is 6:1) was made king in his place. He was instrumental in expanding Judah’s southernmost borders when he built Elath, the port on the Red Sea (v. 22).
14. Jeroboam II of Israel: A Bad King (2Kg 14:23–29)
The events in this section (chaps. 14–17) recount the final reigns of the kings of Israel and their counterparts in Judah prior to the north’s fall to Assyria (cf. 2Ch 25–28 as well as the books of Amos and Hosea). At this point in Israel’s history her old arch-enemy to the north, Aram (Syria), was on the decline and the kingdom of Assyria was rising in power and influence, threatening the kingdom of Israel.
14:23–29. The continuing narrative of the northern kingdom provides a mixture of history and theological commentary. Jeroboam [II] the son of Joash king of Israel became king in Samaria, where Jehoram had also been made king (v. 23; cf. 3:1). Because Samaria was a major city of the northern kingdom, it was sometimes used as a synonym for Israel (cf. 1:3). Two things were said of Jeroboam II that revealed important theological markers. First, he was the second king to be called Jeroboam, and he was like his namesake in that he did evil in the sight of the Lord (v. 24). And yet, despite Jeroboam’s evil during his forty-one year reign, he restored the border of Israel almost to the extent of the Solomonic kingdom (v. 25). In fact, the restoration was linked to the word of the Lord that the prophet Jonah had spoken (the same Jonah who traveled to Nineveh with God’s message to the Assyrians, cf. Jnh 1). This is the only mention of Jonah’s message or ministry in Israel before his mission to Nineveh. This event revealed the grace and kindness of God in the midst of spiritual rebellion.
A second important theological marker concerned the covenant-keeping character of the Lord. The Lord saw the affliction of Israel, and did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash (vv. 26–27). God graciously used an evil king to preserve His people. Israel had a short respite of prosperity and expansion, but like the kings before him, Jeroboam slept with his fathers … and Zechariah his son became king in his place (v. 29).
15. Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah: A Good King (2Kg 15:1–7)
15:1–7. It is important to read 2Kg 15 in conjunction with 2Ch 26. Two important details of Azariah’s life are highlighted here and further explained in 2Ch 26. First, Azariah (also named Uzziah; vv. 13, 30, 32, 34; cf. Is 6:1) became king of Judah at the age of sixteen and served for fifty-two years (792–740 BC; cf. 2Ch 26:1–23). He did right in the sight of the Lord (v. 3). His shortcoming was that he did not remove the high places (v. 4), a common failure of the kings in Israel and Judah. The second item related to Azariah’s reign was that the Lord struck the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death (v. 5). The reason for the leprosy is detailed in 2Ch 26:16–21: Uzziah arrogantly entered the temple to burn incense, usurping the role of a priest. The books of 1 and 2 Kings are mainly a straightforward historical record, while 1 and 2 Chronicles provides more theological comments. At Azariah’s death Jotham his son became king in his place (v. 7).
16. Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, and Pekahiah of Israel: All Bad Kings (2Kg 15:8–26)
These four kings who reigned near the end of the northern kingdom were, like all the kings of Israel, evil rulers. Their reigns were not given in many details, but the highlights of their reigns showed their spiritual condition.
15:8–12. In brief, Zechariah the son of Jeroboam became king over Israel in Samaria (753–752 BC). His reign lasted only six months. Like the other kings in the north he did evil in the sight of the Lord and did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat (v. 9). The significant factor in this turn of events is that at the end of Zechariah’s six-month reign, Shallum conspired against him and killed him (v. 10). This was significant because it was the word of the Lord which He spoke to Jehu (v. 12; cf. 10:30). God proved again that what He said would certainly come to pass.
15:13–15. In a similar manner, Shallum … reigned one month in Samaria (752 BC). His reign was so short that his merits or shortcomings were not even mentioned. The quick change of administrations no doubt added to the increasing economic, political, and spiritual instability of the northern kingdom. Shallum was assassinated in Samaria by Menahem, who became king in his place (v. 14).
15:16–18. While Azariah was king of Judah, Menahem became king over Israel and reigned ten years (752–742 BC). Two of Menahem’s actions revealed his extreme brutality. First, he attacked the region of Tiphsah ("Tappuah" in the LXX; cf. Jos 6:8; 17:7–8), on the border of Ephraim and Manasseh in the northern kingdom. When the people would not submit to his sovereignty, he attacked it with brutal violence (v. 16). Second, he did evil in the sight of the Lord (v. 18).
15:19–22. Menahem had to deal with the growing power of Assyria, whose leader at that time was Pul. This Assyrian king is identified in other historical records as Tiglath-pileser III (745–724 BC; Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 236). When Pul came against Israel, Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver (v. 19). But the money was not simply to "buy off" an attack from Assyria. It was also to strengthen the kingdom under his rule (v. 19). That is, he wanted the backing of Assyria to strengthen his hold on the throne in Israel (Ibid.). The way he was able to pay for Assyrian assistance was to exact the money from Israel (v. 20). Assyrian military forces did not remain in the land of Israel, but Menahem did not win the favor of the people. This made things more difficult for his son Pekahiah who would rule after him (v. 22).
15:23–26. Menahem’s son, Pekahiah, reigned just two years (v. 23). Like the kings before him in Israel, he did evil in the sight of the Lord (v. 24). The text does not state exactly, but perhaps the increasing economic pressure led to a conspiracy by Pekah son of Remaliah (v. 25). Joining with two other men and fifty men of the Gileadites, Pekah killed Pekahiah in his castle, and Pekah became king (vv. 25–26). The sins of the leaders were making life difficult for the northern kingdom. Eventually forces within and without the kingdom would destroy the nation altogether.
17. Pekah of Israel: A Bad King (2Kg 15:27–31)
15:27–31. The northern kingdom was in decline spiritually, following the sins of Jeroboam; socially, suffering for excessive taxation; and politically, under the constant threat of takeover by Assyria. Throughout Pekah’s reign of twenty years, his followed the common pattern: he did evil in the sight of the Lord and he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam (v. 28). The Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser (cf. Pul in v. 19) was expanding his empire to control all of Mesopotamia. During Pekah’s reign, Tiglath-pileser … came and captured several cities in the northern kingdom (v. 30). Even all the land of Naphtali was taken captive.
So Pekah made an alliance with Rezin king of Aram (Syria). Then they united against Judah under the rule of king Ahaz (cf. v. 37; 16:6). Their goal was to force Judah to join them in military action against Assyria, who was threatening both Aram and Israel (also known as Ephraim) at this time. This was the beginning of the so-called Syro-Ephraimite war, which figured prominently in the prophecies of Is 7–9. Hoshea the son of Elah, who became the last king of Israel (cf. 17:1–5), apparently thought if Pekah and his anti-Assyrian policies were to continue, it would just incite Assyria to take more territory from Israel. So he made a conspiracy against Pekah, put him to death and became king in his place.
18. Jotham of Judah: A Good King (2Kg 15:32–38)
15:32–38. After recording a series of kings in the northern kingdom, the text returned to events in Judah. During the second year of Pekah’s reign in Israel, Jotham replaced his father, Uzziah, as king of Judah (750–732 BC; cf. 2Ch 27:1–9). Again, two features characterized Jotham’s life. First, his 16-year reign was associated in part with the fact that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord (v. 34). His only shortcoming, like the kings before him, was that the high places remained and the people resorted to idolatry and unsanctioned sacrifices (v. 35). The second important item related to Jotham’s reign was that the Lord began to send Rezin king of Aram and Pekah of Israel against Judah (v. 37; cf. comments above on 15:27–31).
If Jotham did right in the Lord’s eyes, why did the Lord send conflict into his life? Neither this chapter nor 2Ch 27 give specific reasons. However, Patterson and Austel speculate that the issue was designed by the Lord to become a test for Jotham’s son and successor, Ahaz (Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 241). If that was the case, then Ahaz failed to display the spiritual qualities of his grandfather and father. The other possibility, and more in keeping with the ongoing theme of 1 and 2 Kings, was that many of the kings in Judah were only halfhearted in their devotion to the Lord, and this may have been the case with Jotham. Deuteronomy 17:14–20 makes it clear that the king was the representative of the true King. Halfhearted devotion would eventually lead to total corruption. God would allow whatever was necessary to call His people to rely on Him.
19. Ahaz of Judah: A Bad King (16:1–20)
16:1–4. The text first addressed the character and overall spiritual condition of Ahaz (735–716 BC; cf. 2Ch 28; Is 7). He reigned for sixteen years in Jerusalem, although the dates of his reign amount to 20 years, because some of those years were a coregency with his father (House, 1, 2 Kings, 335–36). Although a king of Judah, he walked in the way of the kings of Israel (v. 3). What was slowly destroying the northern kingdom was now going to be a growing spiritual dynamic in the southern kingdom as well. More specifically, Ahaz made his son pass through the fire, that is, he offered him as a child sacrifice to a pagan god, an abominable act condemned by God (v. 3; cf. Lv 18:21; Dt 12:31; 2Kg 16:3). In addition, Ahaz participated in the idolatrous sacrifices that occurred on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree (v. 4).
16:5–9. The war described in these verses came about because Ahaz refused to join in an alliance with Aram and Israel against the growing threat of Assyria (cf. comments above on 15:27–31; Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 243). Other nations were also threatening the stability of Judah (cf. 2Ch 28:17–18). In the midst of these threats, Judah’s apostasy was on the rise, and Ahaz elected to develop his own military strategy rather than call on the Lord for help, leading to unhealthy spiritual and regional alliances (cf. Is 7:3–17). Therefore, Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, requesting that he come and deliver him from Rezin and Pekah (v. 7).
The severity of the invasion from the north was so great that 120,000 soldiers from Judah were killed in one day (cf. 2Ch 28:5–6). After Ahaz took the silver and gold from the house of the Lord and … the king’s house, and after sending a present to Tiglath-pileser, the Assyrians agreed to help Judah (vv. 8–9). A subsequent Assyrian invasion against Aram took place and Damascus was captured. But this alliance was not as good as it initially appeared. The Chronicler noted that although Ahaz gave silver and gold to Tiglath-pileser, "it did not help him" (2Ch 28:21). This short-term victory was soon to lead to great spiritual erosion.
16:10–18. Ahaz made a trip to meet with the victorious king of Assyria (v. 10). There the king saw an altar, made a pattern of it, and sent it to Urijah the priest to be constructed (vv. 10–11). On his return, Ahaz approached the altar and started to sacrifice on it (v. 12). He removed the bronze altar Solomon had constructed for the purpose of daily sacrifices, and started to engage in temple worship in a way that differed from that set forth by the Lord (v. 14). Three specific sacrifices were mentioned: the burnt offering symbolizing forgiveness and communion; the evening meal offering symbolizing dedication; and the drink offerings symbolizing the joy of life poured out to God (v. 15; Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 244).
Ahaz engaged in the appearances of worship, but his heart was far from the Lord. This was an abomination to God (cf. Dt 18:10–13; Is 29:13). To make things even worse, Ahaz cut off the borders of the stands … took down the sea from the bronze oxen … and put it on a pavement of stone (v. 17). He even went so far as to remove the covered way for the sabbath, apparently a passageway for the king to walk from his palace to the temple on the Sabbath. All this was done because … the king of Assyria had made Israel a vassal state (v. 18).
16:19–20. The fourth and final excerpt from Ahaz’s life described his death in the usual pattern of referring to another historical source for information: the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (v. 19), and noting that Ahaz slept with his fathers, and was buried, followed by the name of his successor (v. 20). The one bright spot in the life of Ahaz was that he had a son, Hezekiah, who would reign in his place and bring spiritual light to bear on Judah’s ongoing history.
20. Hoshea of Israel: A Bad King and the Fall of the Northern Kingdom (2Kg 17:1–41)
17:1–6. The last king in the northern kingdom was Hoshea, who reigned for nine years (c. 732–722 BC). Two things stand out about Hoshea. First, from a spiritual perspective he did evil in the sight of the Lord, only not as the kings of Israel who were before him (v. 2). God had been patient with His covenant people, but judgment had to be rendered in accord with His Word (cf. Dt 28:47–50). Second, there is a political/historical perspective regarding the events during the reign of Hoshea that culminated in the northern kingdom being taken captive by Assyria.
Initially, Hoshea was a vassal to Shalmaneser king of Assyria (v. 3), but he conspired against the Assyrian king by attempting to develop an alliance with So king of Egypt (v. 4). He is difficult to identify because by 722 BC Egyptian leadership had shifted several times, including Piankhy, Tefnakht, and Osorkon IV (House, 1, 2 Kings, 339). What is clear is that Shalmaneser responded to Hoshea’s attempted coup and shut him up … in prison (v. 4). Then the king of Assyria invaded the whole land and went up to Samaria and besieged it three years (v. 5). In 721 BC, the northern kingdom was captured and its citizens were carried … into exile to Assyria, a policy that had now become commonplace whenever the Assyrians took control (v. 6). Israel’s deportation fulfilled God’s Word that came through His prophets years earlier (cf. 1Kg 14:15–16). (For the Assyrian deportation policy, see the comments below on 17:24–41.)
17:7–17. This section is the low point of 1 and 2 Kings. Besides telling what happened, it also gives information on why it happened—the disaster that came on Israel and was yet to come on Judah (v. 19). The primary reason for defeat and exile was a failure to fear the Lord in accord with His covenant (cf. vv. 36–37). Following the description of Hoshea’s demise, this chapter can be divided into three sections: (1) Israel’s sinful choices (vv. 7–17); (2) the Lord’s response to those choices (vv. 18–23); and (3) the ongoing sins that corrupted the land (vv. 24–41).
The cause of Israel’s fall to Assyria was spiritual failure, not military or political failure. The sons of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God … and they had feared other gods (v. 7). They embraced the customs of the nations whom the Lord had driven out … and the customs of the kings of Israel which they introduced (v. 8). The sons of Israel did things secretly (v. 9) has the idea of "ascribing" things to the Lord that simply were not true—the kind of things Jeroboam did when he implied that it was acceptable to the Lord for Israel to worship the bulls he had constructed at Bethel and Dan (Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 249). This reveals that God’s people feigned worship, but were actually rebelling against God by their forbidden religious practices: They served idols concerning which the Lord had said to them, "You shall not do this thing" (v. 12). The Lord warned Israel and Judah to turn from their evil ways or face the consequences described in Dt 28–29 (v. 13). But they refused and stiffened their neck like their fathers (vv. 14–17).
17:18–23. Initially the Lord responded to Israel’s spiritual rebellion with grace and patience. He consistently warned them to turn away from their idols and back to His commandments (v. 13). When they refused to do so, the Lord was very angry with Israel (v. 18). In fact, this section is presented between two literary "bookends." The text states that the Lord in His anger removed Israel from His sight (v. 23; v. 18 says He removed them). This was true not only of the northern kingdom. Judah also walked in the customs which Israel had introduced (v. 19). The nation’s ongoing sins resulted in terrible consequences in which Israel’s descendants were afflicted and cast out of His sight (vv. 20, 23). The Lord gave them opportunities for repentance through all His servants the prophets, but they would not listen (v. 23). Therefore, the consequences of judgment were fair and certain: a life of exile.
17:24–41. However, even with Israel’s deportation, the land was not completely void of spiritual rebellion. Assyria’s policy was to take a captured nation’s populace and relocate them in other places to reduce the possibility of insurrection, and to import people from other lands into the captured land. So the king of Assyria brought people from other nations and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the sons of Israel (v. 24). Early on in the resettlement process these nations did not fear the Lord. Like the Israelites they replaced, these new settlers did not worship the God of Israel. But this was the Lord’s land, and He wanted that to be known, so He sent lions among them which killed some of them (v. 25). The new citizens somehow perceived that their affliction was from the Lord, even though they did not know His name or customs (v. 26). So they appealed to the king of Assyria for relief.
Under the providential hand of God, the Assyrian king sent back one of the priests of Israel whom he carried away, and this priest taught them how they should fear the Lord (vv. 27–28). The concept of fearing the Lord or fearing/worshiping other gods permeates the entire chapter (cf. vv. 7, 25, 33–34, 37–38). The Lord had called His people to fear Him from the very beginning of their covenant relationship (cf. Gn 17:1–5; Dt 1:17; 31:12). However, Israel, Judah, and the nations who resettled the land were always halfhearted in their worship. The author summarized the ongoing corruption of humanity by saying, So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day (v. 41). Centuries later Jesus dialogued with another citizen of the land about the quality of religion that occurred in Samaria and in Jerusalem (cf. Jn 4:7–45). Religious syncretism would continue for centuries. And only the true King who was to come would be able to transform the hearts of the citizens of the land. Only then would they be inclined to fear the Lord as He intended.
III. The Kingdom of Judah after the Fall of Israel (2Kg 18:1–25:30)
A. The Kings of Judah Prior to the Babylonian Invasion (2Kg 18:1–23:30)
The journey through 1 and 2 Kings takes its final turn at the beginning of chap. 18. The road laid out for Judah’s monarchs looked much like the one laid out for their northern brothers. However, while all the rulers of the northern kingdom did evil in the sight of the Lord, there were a few good kings of Judah who followed Him. For example, Hezekiah and Josiah were intentional about serving the Lord by keeping His law (cf. 18:6 and 23:25); however, in the end even the good kings of Judah were disobedient. This led to the very disasters God had predicted (cf. Dt 28:15; 2Kg 17:19–20). In these remaining chapters, the case for God’s judgment is clear; yet, at the same time, there are glimmers of grace and hope for the people of Judah who were bound together with a covenant-keeping God (cf. Gn 17:19; 2Sm 7:16).
1. Hezekiah of Judah: A Good King (2Kg 18:1–20:21)
Hezekiah’s success was clearly the Lord’s doing (v. 7). However, spiritual successes occur in the context of historical and political events. Hezekiah reigned from approximately 715 BC to 687 BC. During that time the Assyrians were the dominant force in the region. However, Israel also had its challenges with other powers in the region. The Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V (c. 727–722 BC), captured Samaria (vv. 9–10; cf. 17:5–6). He was followed by Sargon II (c. 722–705 BC), who was the Assyrian ruler during Hezekiah’s early reign in Judah.
Sargon II faced growing opposition from Babylon as soon as he came to the throne. In fact, because of these problems with Babylon the Assyrians did not campaign in Judah’s territory. When Sennacherib (c. 705–681 BC) ruled Assyria, insurrection in other parts of the Assyrian kingdom was suppressed and efforts were directed toward Judah. Perhaps while Assyria was preoccupied with Babylon, Hezekiah may have thought the timing was right to resist Assyrian power (House, 1, 2 Kings, 352). Whether this was part of the Judahite king’s reasoning or not, Hezekiah also had the Lord’s empowerment on his side (v. 7).
18:1–3. Hezekiah’s positive reign of twenty-nine years (716/15–687 BC; cf. 2Ch 29:1–32:33) was because he did right in the sight of the Lord (v. 3). Unlike his predecessors, he was favorably compared to David.
18:4–6. Hezekiah removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah (v. 4). But the item that is given the greatest attention was the destruction of the Nehushtan, meaning "a piece of bronze" (v. 4). This was the bronze serpent that Moses had made (cf. Nm 21:8–9) when the people of Israel spoke out against Moses and the Lord. In response the Lord sent poisonous snakes against the rebels. When they appealed to Moses for relief, the Lord told him to make a bronze serpent. When the afflicted people looked at the serpent in faith they would live. But apparently, this bronze serpent was kept among the temple furnishings and the sons of Israel burned incense to it. So Hezekiah broke it in pieces to allow for the proper worship of the Lord. So Hezekiah clung to the Lord and kept His commandments (v. 6).
18:7–12. Because of Hezekiah’s faithfulness, the Lord was with him; wherever he went he prospered. The Lord gave Judah victory over their enemies. Hezekiah rebelled against … Assyria. He also defeated the Philistines … from watchtower to fortified city, a reference to the complete defeat of the nations directly west of Judah (vv. 7–8). At the time Judah was victorious over its enemies, there was a reminder of the subjugation of the northern kingdom by Assyria, when Hoshea king of Israel … was captured (vv. 9–12; cf.17:5–6). The repetition served as a literary device, contrasting the ways of Samaria with the dramatic, righteous ways of Hezekiah (cf. vv. 6, 12). Obedience brought blessing, whereas disobedience to the Lord brought disaster.
18:13–16. In his fourteenth year as king of Judah (701 BC), Hezekiah faced his greatest military threat, Sennacherib king of Assyria. After an extended campaign against Babylon, Sennacherib came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them (v. 13). At that point, in an attempt to appease Sennacherib, Hezekiah confessed that he had done wrong in initially opposing Assyria, and asked for terms of peace to alleviate the impending threat. He was aware of what had happed to the northern kingdom and wanted to prevent the same disaster from befalling Judah. The Assyrian king required of Hezekiah … three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold (v. 14). To pay this huge assessment, Hezekiah gave him all the silver which was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasuries of the king’s house (v. 15). He even stripped the gold he had previously placed over the temple doors and gave that to Sennacherib as well (v. 16).
18:17–25. Not satisfied with Hezekiah’s payments, and seemingly wanting to dispose of the Judean king and his rebellious ways, Sennacherib sent a delegation of military leaders to challenge Judean sovereignty. One of the tactics of Assyrian warfare was to capture water sources and cut off access to the nation being invaded. Meeting at the conduit of the upper pool with Hezekiah’s own delegation was a form of psychological warfare (v. 17). Hezekiah himself did not appear, but Eliakim … and Shebnah … and Joah served as the king’s representatives (v. 18). The name Rabshakeh was a military term for the field commander of Assyria; he increased the pressure on Judah in three ways (v. 19).
First, he intimidated Hezekiah’s delegation by wondering where they had mustered up the courage to challenge Assyria in the first place. He speculated out loud as to whether Judah would rely on Egypt, whom he described as a crushed reed … on which … a man leans, only to have it go into his hand and pierce it (v. 21). His point, one made by the prophets of Judah as well (cf. Is 36:6; Ezk 6–7), was that even if Judah did rely on Egypt, it would only be a matter of time until this weak ally would turn and afflict harm on God’s people.
The Rabshakeh’s second act of intimidation was to imply that Hezekiah had robbed Judah of spiritual strength. Even if God’s people said, We trust in the Lord our God, the Rabshakeh pointed out that it was Hezekiah who had taken away the high places … and altars, and had told Judah that they had to worship in Jerusalem alone (v. 22). The Assyrians had assumed that such a tactic was against God’s will and would weaken them further. The Assyrian commander even went so far as to state that it was the Lord’s will for him to go up against this land and destroy it (v. 25).
His third act of intimidation was to emphasize Judah’s lack of military strength and skill. Again the Rabshakeh asked for terms of surrender: Come, make a bargain with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses (v. 23). Then he mockingly speculated as to whether Judah would be able to … set riders on them. He then pointed out that if Judah had no such riders, then how would they be able to repulse one official of the least of Sennacherib’s servants? (v. 24). The Rabshakeh assumed this psychological warfare would certainly instill fear in the king’s heart. But Hezekiah was not ready to surrender.
18:26–27. To combat the intimidating threats the Rabshakeh was hurling, Hezekiah’s three diplomats asked him, Speak now to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; and do not speak with us in Judean [i.e., Hb.] in the hearing of the people who are on the wall (v. 26). They wanted to protect the people from falling further into a state of fear, but the request backfired. The Rabshakeh intensified his threats, this time going beyond diplomatic dialogue to appeal to the people.
18:28–35. First, he cried with a loud voice so that the common citizens within his hearing would consider surrender. He told them not to listen to Hezekiah and his promises that the Lord would deliver them. He asked them to make your peace with him and surrender (v. 31). If they did, he promised, they would be carried off to a land like their own, a land of grain and new wine … bread and vineyards … olive trees and honey (v. 32). This was a deceptive offer to entice the Judeans to surrender; in Assyrian warfare there is no evidence of such kind and prosperous treatment. Then to add more pressure, the Rabshakeh reminded the people that history was not on their side (v. 33). He pointed out Assyria’s long record of victory, then hinted that the true and living God of Israel was just like the gods of the nations they had defeated: Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem from my hand? (v. 35).
18:36–37. Meanwhile, Hezekiah had ordered the people, Do not answer him. The delegation from Judah returned to the king obviously shaken and wondering what to do next. They appeared before Hezekiah in mourning attire, with their cloths torn (v. 37; cf. 6:30).
19:1. Hezekiah was obviously stressed by what had been reported to him. So he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth and entered the house of the Lord (v. 1). This was the response of a king who knew that his nation was facing a terrible threat. Hezekiah was a godly king, so he turned his attention to the Lord and worshiped and sought His help.
19:2–7. Hezekiah also sent a message to Isaiah the prophet (v. 2; cf. Is 37–39), seeking his assistance in the matter. Just as the Lord had prophets ministering in the northern kingdom, most notably Elijah and Elisha (cf. 1Kg 16:29–2Kg 14:16), He had a series of prophets speaking to the kings of Judah as well. Isaiah ministered from the year King Uzziah/Azariah died (739 BC; cf. 2Kg 14:17) until after the death of Hezekiah (686 BC, cf. Introduction to Isaiah and comments at Is 6:1; 36–39). He began his ministry to Hezekiah when Judah was facing the Assyrian attack (cf. 2Ch 32).
The king’s message to Isaiah had three parts. First, he described the severity of the siege that Sennacherib had placed on Jerusalem: a day of distress, rebuke, and rejection. It was so bad that when pregnant women were about to give birth, they had no strength to deliver (v. 3). It was as if they did not want their children to be born under such awful circumstances. Second, Hezekiah raised the possibility before Isaiah that perhaps the Lord would hear the blasphemies of the Assyrian king and rebuke the words which the Lord your God has heard (v. 4). Third, Hezekiah’s appeal to the prophet was that he offer a prayer for the remnant that is left. Hezekiah’s use of the term remnant referred to the inhabitants of Jerusalem in contrast to the people who had been seized in the other cities and towns of Judah (cf. 18:13).
19:8–13. These verses describe an interlude in the siege of Jerusalem. The Rabshakeh went to report how things were going with his war against Hezekiah, only to learn that King Sennacherib had moved to another battlefield in Libnah (cf. 8:22, near the Philistine border). Sennacherib had learned that the Egyptian army under Tirhakah king of Cush had come to fight against him (v. 9). But apparently out of concern that Hezekiah might come and attack him from behind while engaged with the Egyptians, he sent a letter to Jerusalem to try to intimidate Hezekiah. Sennacherib told Hezekiah not to let his God … deceive him into thinking that He would deliver Judah from the king of Assyria (v. 10). Little did Sennacherib realize that he was the one being deceived by his own arrogant heart. However, he returned to the Rabshakeh’s previous taunt that the gods of the other nations he attacked were helpless in combating Sennacherib’s power and might (vv. 12–13, cf. 18:33).
19:14–19. Sennacherib’s messengers had communicated the Assyrian king’s taunt in the form of a letter (v. 9). Hezekiah read the letter, then walked to the house of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord in a symbolic gesture of helplessness and intercession (v. 14). His words to the Lord consisted of an affirmation followed by an appeal. When Hezekiah stated that God was enthroned above the cherubim, he was saying that God was powerful and present with His covenant people. The king took comfort that God was not far away (v. 15). He went on to affirm that God was the exclusive God, the One who alone is the ruler: You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth (v. 15). In addition, Hezekiah acknowledged what he probably had prayed many times before, namely, that God is the One who made heaven and earth (v. 15). Therefore, if the Lord was present, Ruler, and Creator of all things, the only logical response for Judah’s king was to call to Him for the help he needed.
From this simple affirmation, Hezekiah made his appeal to God (vv. 16–19). But he went beyond simply asking for deliverance and relief. He was more concerned with God’s reputation. He acknowledged that Assyria had devastated the nations and their lands (v. 17). But those nations’ gods were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone (v. 18). Therefore Hezekiah’s ultimate request was that through God’s deliverance all the kingdoms of the earth would know that You alone, O Lord, are God (v. 19).
19:20–24. Hezekiah soon received an answer to his prayer through the prophet Isaiah, who announced in authoritative terms, This is the word that the Lord has spoken against him (v. 21). God knew Sennacherib’s innermost thoughts and was about to reveal them. The song started with an indictment against the Assyrian king, who would be despised … and mocked by the daughter of Jerusalem, the city where the Lord had chosen to put His name (cf. 1Kg 8:44). The Assyrian king had continually reproached and blasphemed the Lord, identified as the Holy One of Israel, a title most commonly used by Isaiah of the Lord (v. 22; cf. Is 4:1).
19:25–28. Sennacherib had supposed his mighty strength and advanced weaponry had devastated nation after nation. But God revealed that from ancient times He planned it, and now He was bringing all these things to pass (v. 25). God is the omnipotent One, not Sennacherib! In addition, Isaiah revealed the omniscience of God in the words, I know your sitting down, And your going out and your coming in, and your raging against Me (v. 27). God knew all these things even if the Assyrian king only thought them secretly. And God was going to act in powerful ways.
In the past Assyria had treated their conquered subjects like animals, dragging and pulling them from one land to another. But God announced to Sennacherib, I will put My hook in your nose, And My bridle in your lips, And I will turn you back by the way which you came (v. 28). Assyria’s butchery would come full circle, and they were about to experience what they had afflicted on others. And all at the hands of the true and living King of all the earth.
19:29–34. God’s promise to Hezekiah would be demonstrated with a sign so that both the king and the citizens would know that what was about to happen was from the Lord. Hezekiah’s father Ahaz had been given a sign by the same prophet (cf. Is 7:10–12), but he refused to accept it. Hezekiah was different and would believe. Apparently, under the Assyrian siege Jerusalem was unable to grow the usual crops, causing famine in the city (cf. 19:4). So the sign was agricultural: in the current year after the Assyrian withdrawal, the people of Judah would eat what grows of itself, and in the second year they would eat what came from the same. It was too late in the season to plant new crops, but at least they would be able to go out to the field to gather the produce. Then in the third year they would be able to sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat their fruit (v. 29).
In other words, with every meal the people would have a reminder for three straight years that God was once again their mighty Deliverer. The point was that like these crops that were about to grow, so Israel would again take root downward and bear fruit upward (v. 30). Isaiah promised that the Assyrians would not come to Jerusalem or even shoot an arrow over its walls (vv. 31–32). Instead, the Assyrians would return to their own homeland, never to return to Jerusalem again (v. 33). Why? Isaiah announced that it was because of the zeal of the Lord on behalf of His servant David that He was doing these powerful acts of deliverance (vv. 31, 34). Human faithfulness and the promise of God were at work, and all the world would have a record of it.
19:35–37. Just as the prophet had predicted, the mighty Assyrians were defeated by the miraculous power of the Lord. In the middle of the night, the angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians (v. 35). When Sennacherib and his officials awakened the next morning they saw dead bodies everywhere. Now that their army was destroyed, they had no choice but to return to Nineveh (v. 36). There Sennacherib was killed by his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer while worshiping Nisroch. This event is recorded in history as occurring some 20 years later (Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 268). Another son, Esarhaddon … became king in his place (v. 37). God’s people were saved but not by the military skill of Judah’s king or diplomatic efforts. God Himself was keeping His promises to David and honoring Hezekiah’s passion for Him and His reputation. God was the true victor.
20:1–7. The account of Hezekiah’s illness poses a chronological problem. The phrase in those days (v. 1) seems to connect the event with the preceding deliverance of Jerusalem from Sennacherib. But that seems unlikely because v. 6 suggests that Hezekiah’s illness preceded Sennacherib’s defeat, but also seems to hint that Sennacherib’s invasion was imminent. The dates of Hezekiah’s reign were 716–687 BC, assuming a 10-year coregency with Manasseh (697–643 BC). The fixed date for Sennacherib’s invasion is 701 BC. The likely date for the visit of the Babylonian delegation was 703 BC.
Therefore, it is likely that Hezekiah received his 15-year extension of life (v. 6) shortly before the Babylonian delegation visited him. The illness, which occurred prior to the deliverance from Assyria, is recorded here after Sennacherib’s siege as another demonstration of Hezekiah’s righteous response to God, and served as a model of trust in God for the writer’s original audience among those exiled to Babylon. The parallel account in 2Ch 32:25–26 indicates that Hezekiah’s pride led to this illness (cf. Introduction to 1 and 2 Kings). In the Chronicler’s account the king and the people humbled themselves, thus averting God’s wrath that was probably coming in the form of Sennacherib’s attack.
The narrative can be divided into three parts. First, there was the appeal that Hezekiah made on learning that he would die: Remember now, O Lord, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight (v. 3). There was no mention of Hezekiah’s pride (cf. 2Ch 32:25–26), but the fact that he wept bitterly could indicate that he saw the error of his ways. Therefore, he called attention to his faithfulness in restoring Judah’s worship of the Lord as it was intended it to be. The second part of the narrative was God’s answer to the king’s prayer. He sent Isaiah back to Hezekiah to inform him that He was about to heal him and add fifteen years to his life. But the rationale for doing so was God’s own covenant-keeping character. The Lord stated, I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake (v. 6).
20:8–11. In the third part of vv. 1–11, Hezekiah asked for a sign to affirm that the Lord’s words through Isaiah were true. This was very different from Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, who refused to ask for a sign but was offered one anyway by Isaiah to confirm the Lord’s promise to deliver Judah from the Assyrians (cf. Is 7:11). Hezekiah actually wanted a sign and the Lord accommodated his request. He asked him if he wanted the sun’s shadow to go forward ten steps or go back ten steps? Hezekiah chose the option of the sun going backward ten steps (v. 10), assuming that this was the more significant, since the sun was already moving forward in its natural progression. The sun then moved backward, as seen on the stairway of Ahaz (v. 11). This was a special set of stairs that Ahaz had built as a kind of sundial (Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 274). The placement of Hezekiah’s healing here in the text was intended to show that Hezekiah sought the Lord early in his reign, and this event strengthened his faith to call upon the Lord again when the Assyrians came against him later in his reign as recorded in chaps. 18 and 19.
20:12–15. Another chronological marker introduced an important meeting Hezekiah had with representatives from Babylon. The phrase At that time should be understood in general terms, meaning, at the time of Hezekiah’s reign. Berodach-baladan (who ruled 721–710 BC) a son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah. Sometime soon after the northern kingdom fell, while Assyria was still a regional power, but Babylon was on the rise, the king of Babylon wrote to Hezekiah for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick (v. 12). Hezekiah received the Babylonians, and listened to them, and showed them all his treasure house, perhaps to demonstrate the power and wealth of Judah (v. 13). This visit probably took place early in Hezekiah’s reign when he "prospered" under the hand of the Lord (18:7; cf. 2Ch 32). Certainly it was prior to the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib (701 BC), when Hezekiah’s treasuries would have been depleted. There would have been nothing to show (cf. 2 Kg 18:13–16).
20:16–19. This was the low point in Hezekiah’s reign. He was foolish to show off his wealth to the Babylonian king’s envoys. But why would the narrator want to record Hezekiah’s healing followed by the king’s apparent lack of discernment in showing off his riches? And why did Hezekiah not seem to be troubled by Isaiah’s prophetic announcement of the time when all that is in your house … shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left (vv. 16–18; cf. 24:10–16)? The narrator was not simply focusing on Hezekiah’s actions, but on the plan of God as well. While the king was more righteous than his predecessors (cf. 18:5–6), he also had his weaknesses. And God had His purposes as well. Judah’s spiritual rebellion would have its consequences, and God would be faithful to His word to judge them (cf. 2Kg 17:13, 19). Disobedience would lead to exile. Even if there were glimpses of righteousness in the kingly line of Judah, even the best of kings such as Hezekiah failed to be the promised Son of David, so this history served as a prompt to remind the readers of Kings to keep looking for the righteous Son of David who would be the messianic King. This was the way of Israel’s true King.
20:20–21. Not only are the acts of Hezekiah recorded, but his construction work is still a testimony of his significance. The conduit which he built in Jerusalem to bring water into the city in time of siege was discovered in 1880. He carved a 1,700-foot tunnel from the Gihon spring (cf. 1Kg 1:33, 38) to a reservoir inside the city, the Pool of Siloam (cf. 2Ch 32:30). It includes the Siloam inscription noting the place where the workers met at the mid-point. This engineering marvel is open today for tourists to walk through in the City of David, Jerusalem.
2. Manasseh and Amon of Judah: Two Bad Kings (2Kg 21:1–26)
Despite his failure in showing the treasures to the Babylonians, Hezekiah’s reign was impressive with respect to his personal devotion to the Lord and his desire to serve in righteousness. By contrast, his heirs, Manasseh and Amon, were the epitome of evil. Of both men it was said that they "did evil in the sight of the Lord" (vv. 2, 20). And for 57 years they led Judah away from the Lord, resulting in captivity to Babylon.
21:1–9. Manasseh came to the throne when he was twelve years old (v. 1). He ruled for 55 years (698/697–642 BC). This was the longest reign in Judah’s history, part of which was a coregency with his father, Hezekiah (House, 1, 2 Kings, 377). But it was his evil that is emphasized in the text. The specifics of that evil were recorded in four general areas. First, he rebuilt the high places that his father had torn down (v. 3). This in turn led the people to return to idolatrous practices. Second, he built altars in the house of the Lord; the seriousness of this is emphasized with, of which the Lord had said, "In Jerusalem I will put My name" (v. 4). Manasseh’s act was contrary to what God had prescribed for worship (cf. 2Sm 7:13; 1Kg 8:29). Third, he resorted to all sorts of occult practices. He made his son pass through the fire (child sacrifice), and practiced witchcraft … divination, and the consulting of mediums and spiritists (v. 6). Fourth, he set the carved image of Asherah that he had made, … in the temple, the house in Jerusalem where God said I will put My name forever (v. 7).
This last act was contrary to the very conditions on which the Lord had promised blessing for Israel. He had told His people that He would bless them, only if they would observe to do according to all that He had commanded them (v. 8). But Manasseh led the people down a very different path. Tragically, Manasseh seduced them to do evil more than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the sons of Israel (v. 9).
21:10–15. God was not absent while Manasseh promoted his evil ways. Rather, He made His will known through His servants the prophets, telling the people that He was about to bring a great calamity on Jerusalem and Judah (v. 12; cf. 21:1–3). The judgment to come would be so great that when a person heard about it, both his ears shall tingle (v. 12); the report of the disaster would figuratively hurt a person’s ears to hear. This great calamity was described in the form of three I will statements used to paint a mental picture of the tragedy that would come in 586 BC.
First, God would evaluate the people: I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab (v. 13). That is, He would use a plumb line, a standard measuring line, the same standards for judgment on Judah that He used in judging the house of Ahab. Second, He would use severe measures to purify all of Jerusalem, as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down (v. 13). And third, God said I will abandon the Jewish people, My inheritance (cf. 1Kg 8:51; Dt 4:20) and deliver Jerusalem and Judah into the hand of their enemies (v. 14). This judgment was because they have done evil … provoking Me to anger (v. 15).
21:16–18. The true King was not turning a blind eye to Manasseh’s sin. And in case the judgment to come might seem too harsh for religious malpractice, further evidence was given to prove that God’s judgment would be just. Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another and made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord (v. 16). This phrase is similar to the statement made about Ahab (cf. 1Kg 21:19; 22:35), who killed God’s prophets. The announcement of impending judgment was just in every way. The case against Manasseh concluded by indicating that further information about his reign could be found in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (v. 17; cf. comments above at 1Kg 11:41–43; 14:19). Despite his long reign, Manasseh was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza, likely because his long history of evil deeds rendered him unworthy of burial with the other kings of Judah (cf. 1Kg 2:10; 2Kg 8:24; 8:28). The Uzza mentioned here is probably a shortened form of King Uzziah, in whose palace Manasseh lived, and not a reference to the Uzzah who touched the ark in transit and was struck dead (cf. 2Sm 6:1–8).
21:19–26. Very little information is given about the reign of Amon, Manasseh’s son and successor. After becoming king at the age of twenty-two, he occupied the throne for only two years (v. 19). Certainly he did evil in the sight of the Lord, as Manasseh his father had done (v. 20). His servants then conspired against him and killed the king in his own house (v. 23). But the people of the land killed all those who had conspired against King Amon, and made Josiah his son king in his place. Like his evil father, Amon was buried in the garden of Uzza (v. 26; cf. v. 18). The repetition of Josiah’s ascension to the throne (vv. 24, 26) served as a reminder that even though evil had prevailed for 57 years, there would be a respite of righteousness during the spiritual revival under Josiah. But Judah’s destiny was certain. God would have to lead His people into exile to propagate a process of spiritual purification.
3. Josiah of Judah: A Good King (2Kg 22:1–23:30)
Israel’s kings had continually provoked God to anger (cf. 2Kg 17:18–19; 23:26), and judgment was on the horizon. But there was also good news. A righteous king, zealous for the Lord’s honor, was about to reign. Despite a short period of revival, however, God would not relent from the impending judgment He promised. Chapters 22 and 23 reveal exactly what God’s intentions were. The account of King Josiah revealed both the heart of Israel’s greatest reformer as well as the heart of God.
22:1–13. Josiah came to the throne at the age of eight and reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem (v. 1). His reign was not as long as that of his evil grandfather, Manasseh, but he was to have a far superior influence. Clearly, he was not influenced by his immediate predecessors, but instead he walked in all the way of his father David (v. 2). At the age of 26, in his 18th year as king, he took steps to repair the damages of the house of the Lord (v. 5). But 2Ch 34:3 indicates that his zeal for God started even earlier, in his 12th year as king.
However, a major discovery in the temple was about to change everything that Josiah did. The high priest, Hilkiah, found the book of the law in the house of the Lord (v. 8). No explanation was given as to why this book (actually a scroll) was absent and where it might have been hidden or misplaced. Deuteronomy 31:24–26 stated specifically that the law was to be placed next to the ark of the covenant. In addition, the king was to have access to this law on a regular basis so that he would know God’s will (cf. Dt 17:14–20).
Apparently, during the reigns of Manasseh and Amon, the law was deliberately set aside as pagan religious practices superseded the worship and law of the Lord. Not knowing how the young king might respond to this discovery, the high priest sent Shaphan the scribe to inform the king of what had just been found (vv. 9–10). He read it to Josiah, and when he did, the king tore his clothes in an act of repentance (v. 11). Almost immediately the king understood the implications of what he had heard. So he sent his officials to find out further what would happen. After all, the kings and the people had not listened to the words of this book (v. 13).
22:14–20. Four of Josiah’s representatives went to Huldah the prophetess to hear how the Lord felt about Israel’s sins and Josiah’s repentance (v. 14). Other prophets, like Jeremiah and Zephaniah, were contemporaries of the king, but a prophetess had Josiah’s ear. Huldah would not give her own opinion, but she clearly gave the king an answer to his request. She began the response by saying, Thus says the Lord (v. 15). God’s wrath was still burning against Judah, and it would not be quenched (v. 17). However, the heart of God was moved by Josiah’s humility and zeal for God’s honor. God said through the prophetess, Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before the Lord … I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes will not see the all the evil which I will bring on this place (vv. 19–20). Josiah would not live to see the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah taken captive to Babylon. Josiah would die in battle (cf. 23:29–30) but at peace with God.
23:1–3. On receiving Huldah’s information, Josiah moved into action. The first thing he did was to implement the process of covenant renewal. He called for a national assembly with special invitations going to the elders … all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, along with the priests and the prophets and all the people (v. 2). No class distinctions were to keep people from coming to the assembly: both small and great were to attend (v. 2). Like Moses and Joshua in the past (cf. Dt 31:10–13; Jos 8:34–35), Josiah read all the words of the book of the covenant (v. 2). The ceremony must have lasted for quite some time. But in the end, the king himself pledged to keep the law, as did all the people (v. 3).
23:4–10. Following the covenant renewal ceremony, Josiah set out to purify the city and surrounding area, even going as far as to Bethel (v. 4), which had been resettled by the Assyrians (cf. 2Kg 17:24). Perhaps with a weakening Assyrian Empire, the Judean king thought he might be able to again unite the two nations of Israel and Judah (Patterson and Austel, "1 and 2 Kings," 287–88). But the reforms had both negative and positive aspects.
Josiah first destroyed all the vessels that were made for Baal worship (v. 4), burning them outside Jerusalem. Then he did away with the idolatrous priests who had assisted the kings in their idolatrous practices (v. 5). In an act similar to Moses’ destruction of the golden calf, Josiah ground the burned Asherah pole to dust and then threw its dust on the graves (v. 6). Throughout these purification acts various elements were burned and thrown on graves, which in Israel was an extreme act of defilement and dishonor (cf. Nm 19:18). Josiah also destroyed the houses of the male cult prostitutes and the high places, along with those priests who encouraged the people in faulty worship (vv. 7–8). He purified Judea from Geba at its northern boundary to Beersheba, its southern boundary. Although later he killed the false priests in Bethel, he did not destroy those in Jerusalem. Instead, he refused to allow them go up to the altar of the Lord to serve at the temple, as part of their judgment (v. 9). He destroyed/defiled Topheth, the valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem dedicated to child sacrifice to Molech (v. 10).
23:11–14. Of particular interest were items not mentioned elsewhere in 1 and 2 Kings, namely, the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun (v. 11). Extrabiblical materials indicate that there was a strong association with horses, chariots, and the worship of the sun (Provan, 1 and 2 Kings, 276). All these idolatrous objects, including the altars … the high places and the sacred pillars were destroyed (vv. 10–14).
23:15–20. In a grand fulfillment of the prophecy made about Josiah in 1Kg 13:26–32, he proceeded to destroy all of the idolatrous objects in Bethel, except for the monument that commemorated the coming of the man of God from Judah who had announced judgment on the altar at Bethel (cf. 1Kg 13:2).
23:21–23. Josiah’s reforms led to a renewed celebration of the Passover (cf. Ex 12; 23:14–17). This feast celebrating God’s redemption from Egypt had apparently been neglected, for such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel (v. 22). This does not mean Passover had not been celebrated at all since the times of the judges, but it indicates that the Passover under Josiah was more extensive than in the past (cf. 2Ch 25:1–19). The obvious point was that Josiah’s celebration was grand in every way. He wanted to be sure the people reflected once again on the redemptive work of God among His people.
23:24–27. What Josiah wanted to do more than anything else was to confirm the words of the law … that Hilkiah the priest had discovered (v. 24). As the account of Josiah’s life came to a close, two aspects of Josiah and the Lord are emphasized. First, Josiah was recognized for his commitment to the Lord: before Josiah there was no king like him who turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might (v. 25; cf. Dt 6:5). God honored Josiah’s zeal for His name. Second, in straightforward fashion the justice of the Lord was highlighted. Despite Josiah’s faithfulness and his reforms, his influence on Judah was limited, for the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath … against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him (v. 26). He did turn His heart toward a man who loved Him and His Word unequivocally, but He would remove Judah … as I have removed Israel. God’s holy plans could not be thwarted.
23:28–30. The acts of Josiah are written in the Book of the Chronicles (cf. 14:19) and the events of his death are sketched out. In 609 BC Josiah moved his forces into the Valley of Megiddo to confront the Egyptian forces led by Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt. At the time Egypt had entered into an alliance with Assyria in an attempt to suppress various revolts within the western part of the Assyrian Empire. Josiah was able to stop Egypt from pursuing the alliance with Assyria, but he was killed … at Megiddo. But true to the prophetic word of God, Josiah was brought … to Jerusalem and buried … in his own tomb (v. 30; cf. 22:20).
B. The Last Kings of Judah Prior to the Babylonian Captivity (2 Kg 23:31–25:7)
After the death of Josiah there were no more good kings of Judah. The nation, which had began with so much promise under David, was now in a tragic spiritual decline which would culminate in its fall to Babylon. God’s holy anger permeates every detail of these closing chapters; more details regarding the lives and spiritual condition of these final kings of Judah is recorded in 2Ch 36.
1. Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim of Judah: Two Bad Kings (2Kg 23:31–24:5)
23:31–33. After his father’s death, Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah came to the throne in Jerusalem (609 BC). He reigned only three months in Jerusalem. Instead of following the righteous example of his father, he did evil … according to all that his fathers, the many wicked kings of Judah, had done (v. 32). He was captured by Pharaoh Neco as part of the Battle of Megiddo, and Judah temporarily came under the rule of Egypt (cf. 23:29–30). Once the people became vassals to Neco, the Egyptian king levied a tax of one hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold (v. 33). This imposed a heavy burden on the people that would weaken them even further. In addition, Neco deported Jehoahaz to Egypt, and he died there (v. 34). There would be another movement of God’s people from the land to Egypt, ironically placing them in the very place where their history and covenant status started (cf. 25:26).
23:34–37. Jehoahaz’s brother, Eliakim, was appointed by Pharaoh Neco to be his vassal king in Judah and changed his name to Jehoiakim (609–598 BC), a process of controlling another person’s personality and reminding him who was in charge. The pressure to appease the Egyptian king must have been great as Jehoiakim taxed the land in order to give the money (v. 35). The prophet Jeremiah gave an even more harsh assessment of Jehoiakim by describing him as a king who oppressed, extorted, and shed innocent blood to accommodate his personal desires (cf. Jr 22:11–17; 26:20–24).
24:1–5. In the struggle for power, Egypt declined and Babylon gained dominance by defeating the Egyptian-Assyrian alliance at the battle of Carchemish on the Euphrates River (605 BC; cf. 24:7). Jehoiakim chose to switch his allegiance from Egypt to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years (v. 1). It may have seemed like a reprieve from Egyptian oppression, but after three years Jehoiakim rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. This led to the first Babylonian siege against Judah to destroy it. The attack not only included Babylonian/Chaldean forces, but an alliance of Arameans … Moabites … and Ammonites, some of Israel’s historic enemies (v. 2). But it was the Lord (v. 3) who orchestrated the attack on Jehoiakim and Judah. Everything happened according to the word of the Lord which He had spoken through His servants the prophets (v. 2; cf. 21:12–15; 23:37).
2. Jehoiachin of Judah: A Bad King (24:6–16)
24:6–16. Following the death of Jehoiakim, his son, Jehoiachin, became king (v. 6). He was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem (598–597 BC). During his reign, Nebuchadnezzar placed a second siege on the city of Jerusalem. Instead of trying to defend the city, Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon … that is, the king of Babylon took him captive in the eighth year of his reign (v. 12; cf. 2Ch 36:10; Jr 52:28). He surrendered himself, along with his family and several of his government officials (v. 12). But in spite of the surrender, Nebuchadnezzar used the occasion to take all the treasures of the house of the Lord and from the king’s house (v. 13). All of this happened just as the Lord had said (v. 13; 22:14–16).
Besides taking the valuable items from the temple, Nebuchadnezzar also deported people, all Jerusalem and all the captains and all the mighty men of valor, totaling ten thousand captives, along with skilled workers of all kinds (v. 14). One of the people captured and taken away at the time of this second siege was the prophet Ezekiel (cf. Ezk 1:1–2). Babylon became the ruling power in Jerusalem. The glory that was established by Solomon was carried away to Babylon.
3. Zedekiah of Judah: A Bad King (24:17–25:7)
24:17–20. In Jehoiachin’s place, Nebuchadnezzar made his uncle Mattaniah king … and changed his name to Zedekiah. He was just twenty-one … when he became king and reigned eleven years in Jerusalem (v. 18; 597–586 BC). He too did evil in the sight of the Lord (v. 19), being compared to Jehoiakim. Jeremiah’s prophecy portrays Zedekiah as a spiritually confusing individual. In Jr 21:1–2, he asked God to save Jerusalem, while at the same time he was not worshiping Yahweh. In Jr 34:1–22, he heard and understood the prophet’s message but did not obey it (cf. especially v. 17). Zedekiah appears to have lacked the consistency of mind and spirit to lead the people. Zedekiah foolishly rebelled against the king of Babylon (v. 20), and he would be the last king of Judah. (See the comments on the Jeremiah passages.)
25:1–7. Zedekiah’s rebellion led to Nebuchadnezzar’s third siege of Jerusalem (589–587 BC). During the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign the rebellion was underway, and Nebuchadnezzar himself came to put an end to the city and the kingdom once and for all (v. 1). A severe famine occurred because of the intensity of the Babylonian attack (v. 3). Then there was a break in one segment of the city and the Judahite warriors panicked. When the Chaldeans (Babylonians) were all around the city, Zedekiah’s soldiers fled at night by way of the gate between the two walls beside the king’s garden (v. 4). Nebuchadnezzar’s army realized what had happened and set out in pursuit of the fleeing soldiers. They overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho and all his army was scattered from him (v. 5). In the very place where Israel had its first victory in conquering the land, it suffered its final defeat before exile. And the king had to watch as the Babylonians slaughtered his sons before him and then they put out (blinded) his eyes. The killing of his sons was the last thing he saw before he was carried off to Babylon (v. 7).
C. The Fall of Judah and Jerusalem (2Kg 25:8–30)
25:8–21. With the army defeated and the capital city conquered, Nebuchadnezzar sent his representative, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, to finish what had been started two years earlier (v. 8). He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem (v. 9; 586 BC). Even more people were deported to Babylon. Only the poorest of the land were left to serve as vinedressers and plowman (v. 12). And the things that Solomon had so carefully crafted were taken back to Babylon, including bronze pillars … the stands and the bronze sea (v. 13). The temple fixtures were described here in the same way they were portrayed at the building of the temple (cf. 1Kg 7:15–22).
In addition, Nebuzaradan rounded up the chief priest, the king’s advisers, and several other city officials to take them to Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian king then struck them down and put them to death at Riblah in the land of Hamath (v. 21). The temple had been ransacked and the religious leaders were dead. The glory of the Lord’s house was gone. A return to worship God, as required by the law of Moses with the required sacrifices, was now impossible. The tragic consequences of disobedience to the Lord had come to pass: So Judah was led away into exile from its land (v. 21).
25:22–26. The few people who were left in the land of Judah needed leadership, so Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah as governor. He was the son of Ahikam, who had served good king Josiah (cf. 22:11–20). The prophet Jeremiah described Gedaliah as an honorable man who wanted to serve Babylon (cf. Jr 40:7–16). As governor he appealed to the remnant left in Judea to live in the land and serve the king of Babylon. If they did, Gedaliah believed that it would be well for them (vv. 23–24). Not everyone agreed with this assessment, so a delegation led by Ishmael the son of Nethaniah came and killed Gedaliah, along with the Jews and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah (v. 25; cf. Jr 40:13–41:15). Then the assassins were afraid of the Chaldeans/Babylonians and escaped to Egypt (v. 26).
25:27–30. With the destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the people taken into captivity, everything seemed hopeless for God’s people. But there was a glimmer of hope in the final treatment of imprisoned Jehoiachin king of Judah (v. 27; cf. 24:6–12). Evil-merodach, whose name means "man of (the Babylonian god) Marduk," was now the king of Babylon. In an unexpected act of mercy he released Jehoiachin from prison in the thirty-seventh year of his exile (561 BC). In addition, Evil-merodach spoke kindly to him and set his throne above the throne of the kings who were with him in Babylon and enabled Jehoiachin to have all his meals in the king’s presence regularly all the days of his life (vv. 29–30).
It may seem strange to include Jehoiachin’s experience of grace while living out his final days in exile. But it is important to keep in mind the theological perspective of the history of these kings. All of 1 and 2 Kings was written with Israel’s law and covenants clearly in view. God had promised that rebellion would bring judgment, but repentance would bring God’s blessings and the promise of return to the land (cf. Dt 30:1–10). At the same time, God’s covenant with David held out the hope of an eternal kingdom for the heirs of David (cf. 2Sm 7:7–17). Therefore, Jehoiachin’s exilic favors indicated in a small way that the "lamp of David" would not be extinguished (cf. 2Kg 8:19).
Israel’s kings were leaders among the people, but the testimony of Scripture is that even these monarchs were simply God’s servants and part of the larger kingdom of priests (cf. Ex 19:6). God would always be the true King! Therefore, it was important that these kings and their citizens alike obey the Lord in all they did. Israel’s exile would not last forever, but it would be long enough to nurture repentance and eventually result in a return to the land of Israel. Although the Davidic line would not be placed on the throne after the return from Babylon, when Israel was back in the land, the people could focus their hearts on the coming of another king. One even greater than David, the promised King Messiah.
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Wiseman, Donald J. 1 and 2 Kings. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993.
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