2 Kings 8:1-10:17
The focus of 1 and 2 Kings has been on the prophets Elijah and Elisha from 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 8. Though there have been sections that recounted battles and the summaries of kings, most of the material has dealt with the two prophets. The first fifteen verses of 2 Kings 8 continue the stories of Elisha, but 2 Kings 8:16 returns to the historical chronicles of kings for which 1 and 2 Kings is famous. Second Kings 9 and 10 focus on the reign of Jehu.
The Problem of the Shunammite Woman - 2 Kings 8:1-6
The first six verses of 2 Kings 8 deal with the Shunammite woman who had built the guest room for Elisha described in 2 Kings 4. He had prayed for her to have a son who subsequently died, but Elisha had restored the son to life. This story is presented in the past tense. Elisha "had said" to this woman to leave her home in Shunem because Yahweh had called for a famine. The story is told as if it were the reminiscence of one of Elisha's followers, probably Gehazi. The story appears to be chronologically out of place here, since it is connected with the woman whose story is told in 2 Kings 4 and since Gehazi is regarded as healthy with no hint of the leprosy that came upon him in 2 Kings 5:27. Some scholars believe that since Gehazi initiates the action that this event took place after Elisha's death. In that case also, the story is misplaced chronologically.
There is no way to place a date on the famine or even to identify it with a famine mentioned elsewhere. (Some scholars believe it was the famine described in 2 Kings 6 associated with the siege of Samaria, but there is no way to support such an argument.) The Hebrew literally states that Yahweh had "called" the famine. This suggests that it was part of the plan of God for judgment on the Northern Kingdom. The woman chose to migrate to the land of the Philistines to try to survive the seven-year shortage of food. Philistine territory was the southwest coastal plain of Judah. It comprised an area mostly south and east of present day Tel-Aviv in Israel. It was the most fertile section of Palestine. The prevailing westerly winds off the Mediterranean provided regular rain. The area called the Shephelah was especially fertile. The flight to Philistia was reminiscent of Abraham's trip to Egypt to escape famine described in Genesis 12:10-20 and Isaac's move to the Philistine area of Gerar mentioned in Genesis 26. As in the case of both the patriarchs, the move caused problems.
When the woman returned after the seven years of famine she encountered difficulty in regaining possession of her house and property. It is not clear whether she placed control over the property in the hands of the government when she left, or whether the king had taken possession in her absence without her permission. The laws of the ancient Middle East allowed for both possibilities, but in any case it appears that she was in the long process of regaining control of her property.
The text presents it as a coincidence that Gehazi was chatting with the unnamed king of the Northern Kingdom about the exploits of Elisha. While he was telling the king of the miraculous events of 2 Kings 4 the woman's case came to the king for judgment. Gehazi then introduced the woman and her son as the very people he had been telling about. The king was so impressed by the whole combination of circumstances that he appointed a government official to personally oversee her case. Not only was her land restored but she was to be paid for all the revenue that the land had produced for the crown during her absence.
The story line basically moves from helplessness to intervention to restoration. This is a common flow of thought for the miracles of both Elisha and Jesus. (It is a common structure for all miracle stories.) Two things should be noted. First, Elisha appears only at the beginning of the story where he tells the woman to leave Israel because of the famine. The intervention is carried out by Gehazi, whose integrity has been severely damaged by the events narrated in 2 Kings 5:20-27. However, Gehazi's intervention takes place primarily by telling the king of various exploits of Elisha. Thus, Elisha is still the hero and by extension the restoration is to be seen as the work of God. When God, through His prophet Elisha, takes an interest in the life of a person, redemptive action will follow.
A second point that is also important is that the intervention was in the arena of economic and social justice. This is another clear example of God's interest in the weak and powerless widow being treated fairly by the king. -1- Through His prophet, God sees to it that justice is done for the woman and her son. While we might not expect God's intervention in every traffic ticket that we think to be unfair, it is clear that God is concerned for justice.
Elisha and the Rise of Hazael - 2 Kings 8:7-15
Without announcement Elisha reappears on the scene traveling to Damascus, the capital of Syria. Syria was the major military enemy of the Northern Kingdom during Elisha's lifetime. The Syrian king, Ben-Hadad, was sick when Elisha arrived, and he sent Hazael to meet Elisha and to inquire about his (Ben-Hadad's) recovery. Several unique perspectives are at work in this story. The first is that Ben-Hadad is fully aware of Elisha's reputation and abilities. It is possible that Ben-Hadad was the king of 2 Kings 5 who allowed his commander in chief, Naaman, to travel to Israel to seek healing of his leprosy. However, that is never mentioned in chapter 5. The impression this narrative gives us is that the word of God has been so powerful in Elisha's life that even foreign kings are fully aware of his ministry.
A second unusual aspect of the story is the extremely large gift that Ben-Hadad sends to be available as a courtesy expression of appreciation should Elisha announce his recovery. Forty camel loads of Damascus goods represented tremendous wealth in the ancient world. The text gives no idea about what kind of goods might have been on the camels, but contemporary evidence indicates that tools, weapons, costly furniture, and products such as apricots and wine were often the merchandise carried by camel to trading centers like Damascus.
A third unusual aspect of this story is the identity of Hazael. One commentator calls him the crown prince, but it appears that he was simply an officer of the king, Ben-Hadad. Assyrian inscriptions describe him as Hazael, Son of Nobody, apparently indicating that he had no royal blood. He went to meet Elisha as an officer of the king. He returned with a promise and scheme of replacing Ben-Hadad on the throne.
A final unusual aspect of this story is the way in which Elisha responds emotionally to the vision of the future that he saw unfolding. Usually Elisha has functioned unemotionally or with roughness. Though he has frequently been portrayed as showing compassion, it is rare to portray him as weeping. Especially it is a rare thing to weep before the officer of a foreign king while telling that officer that he would replace that king on his throne. Here we see some of the pathos that would surface again later in Jeremiah and Jesus. The unfolding of the will of God is not always a pleasant matter. We misunderstand God and His authentic prophets when we expect them to regard judgment with pleasure. There is sensitivity to the pain and loss that will come with the necessary historical processes by which God works in judgment of His people, Israel. If the prophet of God feels such pain, we should realize how much more God Himself grieves at the cost of human disobedience. Our disobedience not only brings pain into our lives but also into the heart of God.
Verse 15 has been interpreted to mean that Hazael did not murder Ben-Hadad. Such a view holds that he merely moistened the cover to provide relief and when he returned he discovered that Ben-Hadad had smothered. However, the Assyrian records are clear that Hazael murdered Ben-Hadad, and that is the more natural way to read verse 15. If the old king were aged and ailing, smothering him with a wet sheet would have been an easy way for Hazael to kill him without external evidence of murder. Assyrian records also indicate that Hazael did not have a distinguished reign. One who would stoop to murdering his own king in such a fashion will not have a bright future in the world that God governs.
The significance of this story is two-fold. The first is the compassion of Elisha that has already been mentioned. The second is the way in which Elisha exercises authority over the throne succession of Israel's enemy, Syria. We do not tend to regard a person of God as having much political influence. Even in the Old Testament the general assumption was that the prophet's power from God gave him authority over Israel's kings. This is an unusual story in that it affirms that the man of God acts to declare and determine the destiny of foreign powers. There is no limit to where the prophet's authority will be exerted, because there is no limit to the authority of God.
Joram and Ahaziah - 2 Kings 8:16-29
Verses 16-29 provide the historical summaries of the reigns of two kings of the Southern Kingdom, Joram (Jehoram) and Ahaziah. The focus of 1 and 2 Kings has been on the Northern Kingdom since 1 Kings 15:25. With the exception of a few comments about Asa and Jehoshaphat, all the kings mentioned in the intervening chapters have been from the Northern Kingdom.
This period of the history of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms is extremely confusing. Both kingdoms have a king named Joram or Jehoram who reigns approximately at the same time. Some English translations will use one version of the name (Joram) for one king and the other (Jehoram) for the other king. Other translations seem to use the opposite. Some use one name consistently for both kings. It appears that both kings ruled for almost the same period of time, from about 849-842 BC (see Israelite Kings). One of the kings may have been co-regent with his father for a while, since verse 16 describes Jehoram of the Southern Kingdom coming to the throne in the fifth year of King Jehoram of the Northern Kingdom. However, this conflicts with the dating given in 2 Kings 1:17 and 2 Kings 3:1.
Jehoram of the Southern Kingdom is not given good marks by the author of 2 Kings. In fact, his reign is described as being like that of the kings of the Northern Kingdom. There is not a much more negative remark that could have been made on Jehoram's leadership. Spiritually, he was bankrupt and took the Southern Kingdom deep into the idolatry - probably Baal worship - that had been the bane of the Northern Kingdom. The author also notes unapprovingly that Jehoram married one of the daughters of Ahab and Jezebel. Subsequent material will reveal this lady's name to be Athaliah and she carried on the ruthlessly wicked tradition of her mother, Jezebel.
In spite of the wickedness of Jehoram and his wife, the Lord did not destroy the Southern Kingdom because of His commitment to David. This is an important reminder of the powerful influence for good that a man after God's own heart can have. One hundred and fifty years after David's reign, the effect of his right relationship with Yahweh was still benefiting the Southern Kingdom.
The author of 2 Kings gives one illustration of the worthlessness of Jehoram's leadership. The context is a rebellion of Edom against Judah, the Southern Kingdom. First Kings 22:47 indicates that Jehoshaphat had reduced the power of Edom and placed a deputy loyal to himself on the throne there. Such an arrangement may be the reason that Edom cooperated with Israel and Judah in the ill-fated invasion of Moab described in 2 Kings 3. Jehoram was perceived as so weak that the Edomites apparently killed the deputy (according to the Jewish historian, Josephus), and according to verse 20 they had placed their own king on the throne.
Jehoram then mounted an invasion of Edom with his chariot forces. However, his leadership was so inept that his army fled, and Jehoram was forced to withdraw in shameful defeat. The author of 2 Kings then noted that Edom had remained in rebellion against Judah "to this day." If 2 Kings was written early in the Babylonian Captivity, the remark was true. In fact, Edom gave at least moral support to Babylon in their final invasions and devastations of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The book of Obadiah is a song of condemnation of Edom for that opposition to the Southern Kingdom.
Second Kings gives no information about the death of J[eh]oram king of Judah. Second Chronicles 21:4-20 is devoted to J[eh]oram of Judah. A letter of judgment from Elisha announcing J[eh]oram's death appears in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15. The subsequent verses describe that death as occurring from an incurable disease of the bowels. He was said to have died in great pain. However, 2 Chronicles 21:20 makes the devastating remark that J[eh]oram passed away "to no one's regret." What a sad commentary on a life lived out of the will of God!
Verses 25-29 introduce Jehoram's successor on the throne in Jerusalem, his son Ahaziah, who only reigned for one year. Chapter 9 will relate Ahaziah's death at the hands of Jehu. The chronology of Ahaziah is quite confused. Second Kings 8:25 states that he became king of Judah in the twelfth year of King J[eh]oram king of Israel. Second Kings 9:29 says that it was in the eleventh year of J[eh]oram. He is described as being twenty-two years old, but the Hebrew text of 2 Chronicles 22:2 states that he was forty-two years old. Some translations use the name Jehoahaz in 2 Chronicles to refer to Ahazaiah.
What is clear is that Ahazaiah was extremely wicked, along the same lines as his father. His reign only lasted for a year before he was struck down by Jehu (2 Kings 9:27-29). A terrible price was exacted from Ahaziah and J[eh]oram for their evil. In fact, a terrible price was paid by the whole nation (both Southern and Northern Kingdoms) for the idolatrous practices the people got into by following their wicked kings. Yet, though evil was so destructive, it did not have the last word. The last word always belonged to God. We see God affirming mercy for the sake of David in verse 19. The very survival of God's people when other nations in similar circumstances disappeared from the face of the earth is another example of God having the final word over evil.
The Rise and Reign of Jehu - 2 Kings 9:1-10:36-
Second Kings 9:1-10:11 describe the bloody accession of Jehu to the throne of the Northern Kingdom. Second Kings 10:12-36 provides the treatment of the reign of Jehu. He was king for twenty-eight years, usually thought to be 842-815 BC (see Israelite Kings).
The story begins with anointing of Jehu. This marks the completion of the final unfulfilled instructions of Yahweh to Elijah back in 1 Kings 19:16. From both 1 Kings 19:16 and 2 Kings 9:1-3 we can see that the initiative for this significant shift in history came from God. Elisha instructed one of his students from the school or company of the prophets to go and anoint Jehu as king of the Northern Kingdom. This is the last time Elisha is mentioned in 2 Kings until the narratives of his death in chapter 13. Thus the author portrays the final action of his ministry as completing the work that God gave Elijah to do. The long delay in the anointing of Jehu and the fact that it was accomplished by a student of Elisha rather than by Elijah should remind us of the mystery of God's timing and human will.
The young prophet was clearly instructed to separate Jehu from his companions and to anoint him in an inner room. No explanation is given as to why the anointing was to be private rather than public. However, we may observe that in this way Jehu has control over how the news of his anointing will be spread, and the present king of the Northern Kingdom (J[eh]oram) will not be suspicious and prepared to resist the transition that was being willed by God. The way Jehu managed the gift of the private anointing can be debated. Certainly verses 11-13 are not clear as to whether Jehu sensed the empowering presence of God or was giddy with ambition or was just shocked.
The words of the young prophet to Jehu in verses 6-10 are considerably longer than what Elisha told him to say according to verse 3 and longer than what Jehu told his friends that the prophet said according to verse 12. It may be that the narrator purposefully shortened the statements in verses 3 and 12 to relieve the boredom of a threefold repetition of the whole speech. Some scholars believe that story-telling interests are the reason for the different versions of the statement. However, it is also possible that the young prophet chose to give his own interpretation of the anointing to Jehu. If that were the case, then the young prophet may be responsible for pushing Jehu to more destruction than originally intended by God. The author of 2 Kings gives no clue as to whether the young prophet was at fault or not in expanding the anointing speech.
The rebellion of Jehu against the crown began in verse 17. From 2 Kings 9:17-10:28 Jehu moves from one violent murder to another. In fact, the author paints seven scenes of violent acts. Second Kings 9:17-26 describes the assassination of Joram (Jehoram), king of the Northern Kingdom. Verses 27-29 describe the murder of Ahaziah, the king of Judah. Verses 30-37 narrate the killing of Jezebel.
From these three individuals, the bloodshed moves to groups in chapter 10. Second Kings 10:1-11 tell of the slaughter of seventy of Ahab's family so that all the descendants of Ahab are wiped out. Verses 12-14 then portray the killing of Ahaziah's relatives. Verses 15-17 turn to a description of the assassination of all the inhabitants of Samaria who retained loyalty to the family of Ahab. Finally, verses 18-28 describe the slaughter of all the prophets and ministers of Baal. The impression that is given is one of snowballing violence. It appears that God had willed for Jehu to replace J[eh]oram. Perhaps (though not necessarily), the assassination of the reigning king was necessary. In each of the murders of part of Ahab's family - J[eh]oram, Jezebel, and the seventy descendants of Ahab, the narrator or Jehu himself mentions the fulfillment of prophecy. However, one gets the impression that a man started out to accomplish the will and work of God but quickly became carried away by his success, and he unleashed as much, if not more, evil than the king he replaced.
Jehu had been stationed on the "eastern front" at Ramoth-gilead. This was about 15 miles east of the Jordan River and was the line of defense for the Northern Kingdom against King Hazael of Syria. King J[eh]oram had also been at the front but had been wounded and had returned to the winter palace at Jezreel, about 25 miles straight west of Ramoth-gilead, to recuperate (9:15). With the backing of the other commanders of the army, Jehu set out for Jezreel. Jehu's reputation as a chariot driver appears to have been well established. The sentinel in the guard tower announced the approach of Jehu by saying, "It looks like the driving of Jehu son of Nimshi; for he drives like a maniac."
The narrator builds the suspense by describing the two messengers sent out to intercept Jehu. Each asked if he was coming in peace (shalom). To each he replied, "What have you to do with peace?" The meaning of this question is made clear in verse 22. There can be no peace in Israel as long as the worship of Baal and the atrocities of Jezebel and her family continue.
When the two messengers did not return and Jehu continued toward the city, the kings J[eh]oram of the Northern Kingdom and Ahaziah of Judah went out to meet him. How ironically the narrator notes that Jehu met the kings at the property of Naboth whom Jezebel had murdered to gain possession of his vineyard! In quick succession Jehu pulled his bow and arrow, shot J[eh]oram through the heart, threw him out of the chariot on Naboth's land, and pursued the fleeing Ahaziah and had him shot to death also. After a brief funeral notice for Ahaziah, the narration returns to the action at Jezreel.
After killing the two kings, Jehu entered the city and had Jezebel killed. In the midst of the killing, the author paused to note that Jezebel painted her eyes in preparation for Jehu's entry into the city. Hobbs suggests that she wanted to die in style! It is likely that Jezebel feared that Jehu would be "gunning" for her since he had killed the king. However, it is possible that she believed Jehu's earlier military service under Ahab would give her favor with him. It is possible she painted her eyes with the full intention of gaining control of Jehu by flattery and manipulation. If so, her plans were short-lived.
Second Kings 10 continues the gruesome story of the slaughter of the family of Ahab. The mention of the seventy sons of Ahab should not be understood in the literal, biological sense of son as used today. The author is speaking of seventy descendants of Ahab. Jehu sent letters to the capital city of Samaria proposing that a legal descendant of Ahab be made king and sent out to fight with Jehu using the royal resources that remained in Samaria. His tactic was one of intimidation, and it worked. The elders of the city had no specific loyalty to Ahab or his family. If Jehu was more powerful and going to be the next king, they had no interest in resisting him. Jehu managed to manipulate them into killing the seventy descendants of Ahab. When he collected the seventy heads, he noted that all this simply fulfilled the word that the Lord had spoken.
Moving on, Jehu met with relatives of the late King Ahaziah of Judah who were on their way to visit the royal family. Jehu slaughtered all forty-two of them. The modern reader may be perplexed as to why Jehu would be killing the family of the king of the Southern Kingdom. His rebellion was against the house of Ahab in the Northern Kingdom. However, the original Jewish and Israelite readers would have understood very well. Second Kings 8:16-27 mentions the intermarriage between the two kingdoms. Ahaziah's mother was Athaliah, a granddaughter of Ahab. Thus the extermination of the family of Ahab meant that members of the royal family of the Southern Kingdom also had to die. There were serious consequences for a marriage that disregarded loyalty to Yahweh.
The persistent theological theme that runs through these verses is that the death of J[eh]oram and Jezebel is the fulfillment of the word of God given through Elijah back in 1 Kings 21 following the death of Naboth. For all the wickedness of Omri and Ahab and Jezebel and their sons Ahaziah and J[eh]oram in promoting the worship of Baal, it was the murder of Naboth that is mentioned as the reason for the end of their line.
This should be instructive to us. We are often anxious and upset over a variety of "spiritual" sins. Yet God is never as upset over sins that reject and insult Him as He is over sins that destroy people. The error of Baal worship was not just a matter of theological or spiritual mistakes. Rather, Baal worship degraded people - both women and men - in its sexual perversions. It caused people to treat others as objects that could be tossed aside when they became inconvenient. Because of her Baalism, Jezebel was so used to treating people as things that she had no compunction about disposing of Naboth. However, as Brueggemann notes, "The God who governs history has a long memory. Soon or late, there is a settling of accounts." It is too easy for us to condemn others for their spiritual and/or theological errors while our own orthodoxy allows us to ignore our own mistreatment of people. If our relationship with God does not constantly drive us to treat every person we meet as a person made in the image of God and worthy of our love, we have not come to know the God of the Bible.
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 8:1-10:17. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you and tell why they are important.
2. Select a truth that has a personal application in your life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you live a life of obedience to Him.
Second Day: Read 2 Kings 10:1-36. Now focus in on 2 Kings 10:18-36.
1. What did Jehu do right and what did he do that was wrong in verses 18-36?
2. Does the author of 2 Kings approve of Jehu's deception of the prophets of Baal? Do you? When does a right end result justify wrong means of achieving it?
3. How do verses 32-33 explain the historical events differently than a modern news report would have explained them? Is one explanation right and the other wrong?
Third Day: Read 2 Kings 11:1-12:21. Focus in on 2 Kings 11:1-21.
1. What evidence do you see that the anointing of Joash was God's will?
2. What were the positive things that the priest, Jehoida, did in chapter 11? Were any of his actions wrong?
3. What principles would guide you in trying to bring about spiritual renewal in your nation or your church when the leadership opposed such renewal?
Fourth Day: Read 2 Kings 11:1-12:21. Now focus on 2 Kings 12:1-21.
1. What are the positives and the negatives of Joash's reign according to verses 1-3? How did he compare with Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:41-44)?
2. Summarize Joash's plan to finance the repairs of the temple. What are the advantages and the disadvantages of his plan?
3. How important was it to repair the temple? How important is it to you to maintain the church building today? Why?
Fifth Day: Read 2 Kings 11:1-12:21. Focus again on 2 Kings 12:1-21.
1. What connection would you make between the instruction Joash received in the covenant in chapter 11 and the positive accomplishments of his reign?
2. Did Joash do the right thing in verse 18? Why or why not?
3. Read 2 Chronicles 24:17-27. Does it change your estimation of Joash? Why?
Sixth Day: Read 2 Kings 13:1-25. Now focus in on 2 Kings 13:1-9.
1. What evidence of God's judgment against Israel do you see in these verses? Why did that judgment befall them?
2. What evidence of God's favor or grace for Israel do you see in these verses? Why do you think God was so gracious to them?
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to help you respond to His grace in your life with obedience and devotion.
1. In 2 Kings 4 the woman has a husband. However, the text observes that the husband is already old (4:14). Some time has passed between chapter four and chapter eight, at least seven years during the famine. There is no mention of a husband in this second story. Since the Shunammite woman is in charge of recovering the family property upon her return, which would not be the case if her husband were still alive, the conclusion is that the husband has died in the intervening years. It is possible to read the story without this conclusion. However, the emphasis on social justice is still important, since as a woman, even if she were independent and self-sufficient, she would have very little standing in the social structure and still be marginalized.