2 Kings 3:1-4:44
Second Kings 3 and 4 continue the stories in the Elisha cycle of material. Chapter 2 had described the way in which Elisha became the successor of Elijah and the verification of his authority from God through several miracles of authentication. Elisha will continue to be the main character in the narrative into chapter 9 of 2 Kings. He remains in the background through most of the following chapters until his death is described in 2 Kings 13. Like his predecessor, Elijah, Elisha's ministry was primarily carried out in the Northern Kingdom. Like Elijah, he was engaged in a great struggle against the long slide into Baal worship by the Northern Kingdom.
The author of 1 and 2 Kings devoted considerable space in his volumes to Elijah and Elisha. He seemed to want his audience to know that God's judgment on the Northern Kingdom was not harsh or sudden. It came only after the Lord had dealt with Israel through two of the most powerful, Spirit-endowed prophets that ever lived. The fall of the Northern Kingdom came because that kingdom and its leadership remained committed to the worship of Baal at all costs. The Southern Kingdom would later fall to Babylon, and our author seems to want those members of Judah to understand that their present captivity came only after the intense efforts of God to woo the nation back to Himself. To people in captivity, the stories of Elijah and Elisha can only remind them of how strenuously God exerted Himself on behalf of His people. They should have been able to draw the appropriate conclusion about how they should then live. Elijah and Elisha reveal to us the great investment God is willing to make in seeking the allegiance of His people. Their lesson should also instruct us in the level of devotion and commitment that we ought to return to a God who loves us so much.
War Against Moab - 2 Kings 3:1-27
There are three main sections in 2 Kings 3. Verses 1-3 introduce King Jehoram as the new king in the Northern Kingdom succeeding Ahaziah. Verses 4-25 form the body of the chapter and offer an account of an invasion of Moab by an alliance of Israel (the Northern Kingdom), Judah (the Southern Kingdom), and the Edomites. Verses 26-27 give a puzzling account of circumstances that apparently led to the defeat and withdrawal of the invaders from Moab back to their own homelands. At the heart of the chapter stands the miracle performed by Elisha to enable Israel and her allies to gain the upper hand - at least temporarily - in the battle against Moab.
Verses 1-3 open the file on King Jehoram as the king of the Northern Kingdom. Verse 1 describes this king as a son of Ahab, as reigning in Samaria for twelve years, and as coming to the throne in the eighteenth year of King Jehoshaphat, the king of the Southern Kingdom.
Verse 1 is a very difficult verse for historians. Second Kings 1:17 mentions the death of Ahaziah, son of Ahab. Jehoram, his brother, became the king because Ahaziah had no sons. However, that verse implies that Jehoram's ascension to the throne in Samaria took place after the death of Jehoshaphat. At least his ascension is dated in the second year of the reign of Jehoshaphat's son - who is also named Jehoram. Thus the king of the Northern Kingdom and the King of the Southern Kingdom are both named Jehoram, but they were two different people (they became brothers-in-law when Jehoram of Judah married the sister of Jehoram of Israel).
The more difficult confusion is in the dating. Second Kings 3:1 describes Jehoram of Israel becoming king in the eighteenth year of King Jehoshaphat's reign in Judah. Second Kings 1:17 places Jehoram's becoming king of Israel in the second year of Jehoram of Judah's reign. Some scholars postulate that Jehoram of Judah and his father Jehoshaphat were co-regents for a few years. The most common date of ruling given (for both Jehorams) is 849-842 BC (see Israelite Kings).
The evaluation of Jehoram of the Northern Kingdom, given in verses 2-3, is much easier to understand. He did what was evil, though he was not as wicked as Ahab and Jezebel had been. The main positive feature spiritually of Jehoram's evaluation is that he removed the Baal pillar made by Ahab. Though 1 and 2 Kings make no mention of Ahab building a Baal pillar, there is no reason to doubt the mention of it here. Jehoram may have reduced the level of Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom, but he did not back off from the sin of Jeroboam. This suggests that he maintained the images of the calves used for worship in Dan and Bethel (see 1 Kings 12:26-33).
The main section of chapter 3 begins with verse 4. Mesha, the king of Moab, is introduced as a sheep breeder who delivered a large annual tribute of lambs and wool to the king of Israel. Moab was the territory east of the Dead Sea, south of Ammon (the area surrounding the capital of modern Jordan, Amman), and north of the land of Edom. Moab had a long history of being dominated by Israel. Second Samuel 8:2 mentions that David defeated Moab and placed it under tribute to him. One of Solomon's wives had been from Moab, and according to 1 Kings 11:7 he built a high place to the Moabite god, Chemosh, for her east of Jerusalem. Verse 4 indicates that regular tribute was paid from Moab to the king of Israel. The fact that the Northern Kingdom received the tribute instead of the Southern Kingdom, which was closer geographically, shows that the Northern Kingdom was militarily more powerful than the Southern Kingdom.
The death of Ahab was a natural time for the Moabites to try to throw off the yoke of Israelite domination. The rebellion of Mesha is one of the rare events mentioned in the Bible for which we also have an account from the other side. Archaeology has discovered what is usually called the "Moabite Stone." It contains the longest inscription from the history of the early monarchies of Judah and Israel. It describes how Mesha threw off the long period of Israelite authority and established the kingdom of Moab as an independent nation again. Mesha credits the Moabite god, Chemosh, with empowering him to accomplish this great military deed.
Although the rebellion was a great victory for Moab, it represented a significant financial loss for Israel. One hundred thousand lambs and the wool of one hundred thousand rams was a large sum. Thus Jehoram was highly motivated to find a way to recapture Moab and regain that income. Verse 6 indicates that he mustered all Israel. To muster the army was one thing, but to muster all Israel meant a great deal of effort involved in the recruitment of local militia or "national guard" to join in the campaign. This effort shows how important Jehoram considered the recapture of Moab.
Though Moab had rebelled against the Northern Kingdom, that freedom and the dreams of territorial expansion that the Moabite Stone reveal meant that the Southern Kingdom had reason to fear. Moab was apparently threatening Judah. Verse 9 notes that the king of Edom also joined the alliance to fight Moab. This indicates the seriousness of the Moabite threat. Edom was the historic enemy of Israel. There was a persistent hatred of Edom on the part of Israel dating back to the time of Moses. That Jehoram and Jehoshaphat would join an alliance with the king of Edom shows that Moab was a serious threat to the security and future of all three nations.
The decision to march by the way of the wilderness of Edom fits in with the information of the Moabite Stone. Moab's military power and expansion was toward the north - toward Ammon, and thus toward Israel and Judah. The way of the wilderness of Edom meant that the combined army of the three-nation alliance marched south from Judah into the Negeb, toward the Sinai desert, before turning east and then north, attempting to come against Moab on its weaker southern front.
Militarily the strategy was correct, assuming the alliance could sustain their supply lines. Verse 9 informs us that they could not, and they ran out of water. There was (and is) very little water in the area south and east of the Dead Sea. This crisis sets the stage for the real action of chapter 3.
Jehoram has been portrayed in a way that is positive for modern readers up to this point. The evaluation of his sin in verses 1-3 was relatively mild for the author of Kings. His response to Mesha's rebellion has been decisive and insightful. His leadership ability has been amply demonstrated by the mustering of all Israel and by convincing Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom to join in an alliance with him. He was the one who shrewdly chose the strategy of flanking Moab and attacking from the rear.
But Jehoram has now reached the end of his resources. Suddenly his worldly wisdom evaporates, and the decisive leader collapses in despair. Self-sufficiency is never adequate to all the tests of life. Jehoram is portrayed as a primary example of one who is supremely confident and cocky in his own abilities and who never considers his need of God. For the original readers of 2 Kings, it was very tempting to think of kings as being above the weaknesses, temptations, and problems of ordinary people. The author has skillfully portrayed Jehoram as a powerful leader - one to whom we are attracted as a model of the kind of leadership this world teaches us to value. But when Jehoram reached the end of his rope he had no place to turn, and his seeming wisdom and leadership appeared very foolish.
On the other hand Jehoshaphat knows what to do in desperate circumstances. He has appeared rather weak and too cooperative with the Northern Kingdom in recent chapters. However, chapter 22 clearly pointed out his right relationship with the Lord. Thus it is not surprising that he would call for a word from God. He knew that God has resources and ways that are not know to men nor available to men. He would have understood well the songwriter's phrase, "When we reach the end of our hoarded resources, our Father's full giving has only begun."
He also knows the person that is needed in such a desperate moment is not a secular king, regardless of how decisive and worldly-wise that king may be. What is needed is a man of God, a prophet, who can connect between God and Israel. When Elisha was suggested, Jehoshaphat already knew, though Elisha's ministry was in the Northern Kingdom rather than his Judah, that the word of God who flow through him. It is ironic that when the armies desperately needed water that Elisha was described as the one who poured water on Elijah's hands.
The statement at the end of verse 12 that the three kings went down to Elisha instead of summoning him to them is significant. The modern reader might be inclined to think that they learned a lesson from 2 Kings 1 that even kings don't summon a man of God. However, there are also cultural overtones. It shows both their desperation and the fact that Elisha is perceived as the superior partner in the dialogue.
Elisha's response was contemptuously directed to Jehoram. It is clear that he had no desire to be used by the king. As a representative of God, Elisha expresses the frustration and perhaps the disgust of God over being the last resource to be sought. When God is only consulted when human efforts fail, He is not really being treated as, or able to function as, God. Eventually, it is only because of Elisha's respect for Jehoshaphat that he agrees to seek a word from the Lord on behalf of the three kings.
Elisha's call for a minstrel or musician is not explained. Most scholars see this as evidence that Elisha wanted the music to induce excitement or a state of ecstasy in which he could then communicate with God. Many primitive (and some not so primitive) religions use music for such a purpose. It is possible that this is the correct explanation for Elisha's request. However, it is clear that God and Elisha were quite capable of communication without music and without Elisha's emotional state being altered. The Biblical writers understood that music could be used with both positive and negative motivations, as 1 Samuel 10:5-13 and 16:14-23 make clear.
Regardless of Elisha's reason for asking for music, he received a word from the Lord. The expression usually translated "the power of the Lord" literally states that the "hand of the Lord" came upon him. God's touch gave Elisha the message that he needed to the deliver to the three kings.
Various explanations have been given to try to explain by nature how the water could have come up. Whether natural means were the vehicle that God used or not, the text clearly understands that the ensuing events were the result of the power of God. The text is quite clear that God was going to perform exceedingly abundantly beyond what had been asked or imagined (see Ephesians 3:20-21). Not only would God supply an abundance of water for the needs of all the army with its horses and cattle, he would also grant victory over Moab. As the following verses reveal, the extravagant amount of water became part of the way God brought defeat to the Moabites.
Part of the miracle should be seen in the way the Moabites responded in verses 22-23 to the water the next morning. There might have been a lot of explanations that would have occurred to the Moabites of what they saw, but verse 23 ridicules them. Such an illogical, foolish conclusion could only be the work of God miraculously causing the Moabites to think nonsense in order to play into the hands of the allied armies.
Verses 24-26 describe a great victory for the allies. The ecological devastation mentioned in verse 25 demonstrates the completeness of the victory. Some commentaries point to Deuteronomy 20:19-20 as forbidding such destruction of the land of the peoples Israel conquered. However, the instructions of Deuteronomy forbade the ruining of the land because Israel would be using that very land later. Here the ruin of a foreign country was allowed.
Verse 26 gives the climax of the victory. However, there is a strange reversal in verse 27. Mesha, in an act of desperation, sacrificed his firstborn son on the wall. Whether this act so inspired the Moabites that they suddenly fought with such vigor that they quickly turned the tide of the battle is possible. It is also possible that Israel and Judah withdrew from the battle in disgust that such act would be done. At any rate the allies withdrew from the field of battle, and everyone returned home. The impression that we are left with is that Israel and Judah were secure from military invasion by Moab, but that they did not succeed in bringing Moab back into tribute status.
Miracles of Elisha - 2 Kings 4:1-44
Chapter 4 focuses more directly on Elisha. Four miracles are narrated. The first and second include a woman in need. The first and fourth involve a process of multiplication. The third and fourth are linked by the theme of hunger. The sons of the prophets appear in the first, third, and fourth, but Elisha is the common element in all four. All four of the stories move from a description of trouble to an act of prophetic intervention (either by word or deed) to the resolution of the problem with well-being resulting.
Verses 1-7 present a story that was all too common in ancient Israel. A man dies; his widow has no resources to support the family, and the children are sold into slavery. Exodus 21:7 gives an example of a law relating to children sold into slavery because of indebtedness. Amos 2:6 and 8:6 provide insight into the kind of economic oppression that led to such problems.
In this particular case, the woman had been married to one of the sons of the prophets. Thus her husband had been part of a group of men preparing for or engaged in prophetic ministry. The sons of the prophets represent the closest Israelite parallel to a theological seminary. The only resource the lady had left was her two children and a jar of oil. Elisha instructed her to borrow as many vessels from her neighbors as she could and to pour the oil from her jar into the borrowed vessels. The story does not describe the woman going to her neighbors and borrowing the vessels. Elisha disappears from the scene and we are left with on the narrative of her filling vessel after vessel with the oil from her jar. When all the borrowed vessels were filled, the miraculous supply of oil ended. At that point Elisha comes on stage to instruct her to sell all the oil, pay her debts, and live off the remaining money.
No comments or moral instructions are drawn from the story. The reader is left to ponder the meaning. Obviously, God has miraculously supplied the oil. The obedience of the woman in following the instructions of Elisha is an important part of the miracle. One wonders how many vessels the lady collected from her neighbors and if she wishes that she had borrowed even more when the miracle of the oil was happening. She had no chance to go for more vessels for the oil stopped when the vessels for which she asked were filled.
How often has God promised to meet our need but by our lack of faith we did not expect much and so we are not able to receive much from Him? How often is God ready to pour out from Himself into our lives but we have provided so few containers for his grace? Is the limiting factor of our lives always us - the vessels we bring to God? The supply is ready, God is willing, and there are no limits on His end. The failure to receive may be our failure to believe that God will do "exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we ask or even imagine."
The second story, found in verses 8-37, is the most completely developed in this chapter. It is more complex than the other stories and is told with artistry and insight into human beings. It does not begin by plunging into the problem that will form the crisis of the story. Rather, it sets up the crisis by telling the activity of Elisha that created the very potential for a problem.
Elisha apparently traveled through the village of Shunem (a few miles north of Jezreel) on a regular basis and turned in to eat and spend the evening with a local family. The family was unusual in that the wife was the prominent and wealthy member of the family. To provide better hospitality for Elisha, the woman had a special room built on the roof of the house as a guest room for the prophet. In gratitude Elisha wished to do something for the woman. When he offered to speak to the king or military general she refused. Elisha's offer is unusual in that he seems to consider that the king or the king's army could provide protection or security for the family. Usually Elisha was on the other side, showing that neither the king nor the army could provide security since that could only come from the Lord. However, the woman felt that her family and neighbors would provide adequate protection.
Elisha's servant suggested that a son would be an appropriate gift since the lady and her husband did not have a son. The woman did not receive the prophet's promise of pregnancy and a son very well. Perhaps she had been disappointed too many times before. However, the word of the man of God was fulfilled, and she gave birth to a son.
The circumstances leading to the birth of the son heighten our interest in the rest of the story. Verse 18 does not say how many years passed, but the son became ill while working outside and died. The woman took her dead child to Elisha's room and quickly went to Mt. Carmel to get Elisha. When Elisha saw her coming, he sent his servant, Gehazi, to ask her problem. She refused to tell Gehazi and pushed on until she found Elisha and grabbed hold of his feet. When he discovered the problem, Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff to touch the child, but the mother refused to leave Elisha. Because she refused to leave, he went to Shunem and prayed and touched the boy, and he revived.
Once again the author of 2 Kings makes no theological comment about the birth, death, and resurrection of the son of the Shunemmite woman. We are left to draw our own conclusions. The power of God to grant life is clear in this story. There is no circumstance - infertility or death - that lies outside the power of God. Another conclusion that can be drawn is the importance of the mother's persistence in going to Elisha and having him come personally to attend to the problem. She could have given up at several points before achieving her goal. Neither distance nor time nor Elisha's brush-off deterred her. She refused to accept any substitute. As representative of God, Elisha was the only one capable of meeting her need. The failure of Gehazi to raise the child even using Elisha's staff is also instructive. In that culture the staff of a prophet was considered to carry the power of the prophet with it in a magical kind of way. It is noteworthy that magic did not produce the miracle; God did.
The third story in chapter 4 appears in verses 38-41. The problem of this story is hunger caused by famine in the land. As Elisha was sitting with the sons of the prophets (his students or disciples), he ordered them to make a big pot of stew. One of the students went into the field to gather herbs. Along with other ingredients he brought some gourds from a wild vine. When they began to eat the stew, it was bad. The phrase of verse 40, "death in the pot," may have meant that the stew was poisonous or simply that it was bitter. In either case, Elisha threw some flour in the pot and "cured" the stew.
Once again, the author does not describe this miracle as the work of God. We are left to draw our conclusions. Out of death the man of God brought life. Perhaps more importantly, when the prophets were without food, Elisha was able to provide them with what they needed.
Finally, verses 42-44 relate the multiplication of twenty loaves of barley and ears of grain to feed a hundred people. At the word of Elisha, the loaves and grain were set before the people; they ate, and there was plenty left over. This story is different than the others in that it specifically mentions the word of the Lord. The commands to give the loaves and grain to the people and to eat and have some left over are not just Elisha's commands. The prophet told the man with the food to feed the others, as the Lord had said. The final comment of verse 44 is that the word of the Lord had been fulfilled. Here the issue is obedience to a word from God.
Chapter 4 narrates a series of miracles accomplished through Elisha. While miracles were an important part of the way prophets proved their legitimacy, there is a special pattern to these miracles. Each of them meets a significant human need. Saving children from slavery, raising a dead child, and feeding the hungry are accomplished in these miracles. These are not attempts to show raw power for the sake of impressing the audience. These miracles show compassion and love from the prophet and thus from God Himself.
For Christians there is no way not to notice the parallels between these mighty acts of Elisha and similar miracles in the ministry of Jesus. There is nothing to indicate that these are somehow "prophetic" of Jesus' ministry. Rather, the will of God is the same throughout both Old and New Testament. He wants to meet human needs. Thus it should not be surprising to find one of God's men in the Old Testament accomplishing a few of the things Jesus would do in the New Testament. The problems that we face can be resolved when God intervenes. Our biggest problem is really believing that God is still able and willing to enter into our lives to meet our needs.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to make his word come alive in your heart. Ask him to help you understand how his word should apply to your life.
First Day: Read the notes on 2 Kings 3:1-4:44. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two insights that seemed significant to you and tell why they were important.
2. Select a truth that has a personal application in your life. Describe how it would apply.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you remain open to all that He might do in your life.
Second Day: Read 2 Kings 5:1-27. Now focus on 2 Kings 5:1-14.
1. Who was it that enabled Naaman to be healed? What application could you make to your life?
2. Why did Elisha ask for Naaman to be sent to him? How would you relate it to Mark 2:10?
3. Why was Naaman angry over Elisha's instructions? In what ways have you expected God to work and were "disappointed" when He worked another way?
Third Day: Read 2 Kings 5:1-27. Now focus in on 2 Kings 5:15-27.
1. What lesson did Naaman learn from his healing? How did it relate to the lesson Elisha wanted to teach the king?
2. How do you feel about Gehazi's actions in these verses? Do you think his punishment was just?
3. Read Joshua 7. What parallels do you see between Achan and Gehazi? What understanding of sanctification does Joshua 7 teach?
Fourth Day: Read 2 Kings 6:1-7:2. Focus on 2 Kings 6:1-19.
1. Why do you think Elisha made the ax head float? What does it teach us about God?
2. What did Elisha want his servant to see when he prayed for the Lord to open his eyes?
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to open your eyes to the resources and possibilities that He is ready to open up for you.
Fifth Day: Read 2 Kings 6:1-7:2. Now focus on 2 Kings 6:20-7:2.
1. Why do you think that Elisha ordered the king of Israel to feed the Syrians and set them free? Did it "work"?
2. Compare and contrast the king's response in verses 24-31 with Solomon's response in 1 Kings 3:16-28. What made the difference in the two kings' responses?
3. What is the point of Elisha's promise in 2 Kings 7:1? Why did the captain doubt it? What causes you to doubt the word of the Lord?
Sixth Day: Read 2 Kings 6:1-7:20. Now focus in on 2 Kings 7:3-20.
1. How did God bring victory over the Syrian (Aramean) army that was besieging Samaria? Who first discovered it? Why?
2. Why was it important to mention that the captain was trampled to death?
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you believe His Word and to trust His promises. Claim a specific promise He has given you.