2 Kings 10:18-13:9
The author of 1 and 2 Kings was trying to make sense of the devastating loss of the temple, the Davidic kingship, and the land of Israel. Though the first eleven chapters depict Solomon in great splendor, they also reveal the seeds of disobedience that would yield the devastating harvest of exile. The distribution of material shows that the author of 1 and 2 Kings regarded the time of Ahab as most pivotal in the decline of the nation.
Less than five chapters (covering just over fifty years) after the record was closed on Solomon, Ahab was introduced in 1 Kings 16:29. The opening paragraph on Ahab stated that he did evil more than all the kings who preceded him (1 Kings 16:30) in that he led Israel into unprecedented Baal worship. The focus of 1 and 2 Kings turned to the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, but the background of their ministries was always the reign of Ahab and his successors. Those two great prophets represented God's best effort to regain the loyalty of Israel in the face of their Baalistic syncretism. From 1 Kings 16 into 2 Kings 9, Ahab and his two sons Ahaziah and J[eh]oram led Israel into deeper and deeper sin despite of the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. Amazingly, almost one third of 1 and 2 Kings is devoted to this twenty-seven year period in Israel's history.
The first third of 1 and 2 Kings painted Israel's history from about 960-870 BC, from Solomon to Ahab. The middle third portrayed the reign of Ahab and his sons from 870-840 BC. The final one third of 1 and 2 Kings rushes from 840-586 BC. Once Ahab had unleashed the epidemic of Baal worship, Israel's punishment was sure. The author had only to move quickly through the various stages of decline in the dreary record of Israel's fall. But even as the gloomy picture unfolds, Yahweh graciously persists in trying to win Israel back.
The rise and reign of Jehu is a case in point. Second Kings 9 describes his anointing to be king and his rapid-fire assassinations of J[eh]oram, king of the Northern Kingdom, Ahaziah, King of the Southern Kingdom, and Jezebel, the wicked queen-mother of the Northern Kingdom. God had finally chosen to bring crushing judgment on the house of Ahab through Jehu. Chapter 10 narrates the slaughter of all Ahab's family, Jehu's violent attack on Baalism, and the remainder of Jehu's lengthy reign. Chapter 11 turns to the way God worked in the Southern Kingdom to try to bring renewed covenant faithfulness to His people. Chapter 12 is primarily devoted to J[eh]oash's attempt to repair and revitalize the temple. Chapter 13 returns to describe the unfolding history of the Northern Kingdom under Jehu's successors.
The Reign of Jehu - 2 Kings 10:18-36
Second Kings 10:18-27 describe Jehu's attempt to destroy Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom. After reading of the violence Jehu had already unleashed, the deception of these verses should not be too surprising. Jehu summoned all the leaders of Baal worship and the Baal worshippers and proclaimed that he would outstrip Ahab in the promotion of Baal. He announced a great sacrifice and brought all the Baal devotees into the Baal temple. While checking to make sure that no followers of Yahweh were present, Jehu had surrounded the temple. Upon his signal, the troops were sent in to kill every worshipper of Baal present.
The intrigue and deceit is shocking to modern readers, especially Christian readers. As he addressed all the people, Jehu described Ahab's devotion to Baal as half-hearted. Though he had built the Baal temple in Samaria (see 1 Kings 16:32), Ahab had named his sons in honor of Yahweh. (Ahaziah means Yahweh has sustained and Jehoram means Yahweh is exalted.) However, Jehu's point is not to describe Ahab's waffling behavior accurately but to deceive the Baal worshippers into thinking that he would be even more supportive of their religious activities.
The author of 2 Kings wants the reader to be clear that Jehu was not a Baal worshipper, so the audience is told up front (verse 19) that Jehu was acting with cunning. There is a grim humor on the part of the author of 2 Kings as he relates the deceptive process that Jehu used to attack Baalism. Jehu proclaimed a great sacrifice in verse 19. However, the Hebrew word for "sacrifice" can also be translated "slaughter." In retrospect, Jehu proclaimed (and carried out) a great slaughter. Some commentators also believe that the author intended a pun on the words "worship" or "serve" ('ebed) and "destroy" ('abed).
Jehu continued the farce into a full-scale service of worship to Baal. He called for an assembly of the people to be sanctified, which was the normal language for preparation for worship. The word sanctify carries the basic meaning of set apart or separate in this context. The people were to separate themselves from normal activity for a while to worship Baal. People who set themselves apart from the routines of the world to serve (worship is the same Hebrew word) Yahweh will experience a moral transformation. That is inevitable since Yahweh is a holy God. Devotion to Him draws one into His presence and infects one with His holiness. People who set themselves apart from the routine of the world to serve or worship Baal will experience a transformation toward immorality. That is inevitable since Baal was immoral. Commitment to him infects one with his perversion.
The Bible keenly understands that there is a reciprocal relationship between the object of one's devotion and the nature of one's life. One cannot devote himself or herself to any being or object without being shaped by that object. Modern folks are naive to think that time given to pornography will have no effect on them. The apostle Paul observed in Romans 8:7 that "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God."
The proper vestments for worship were brought out, and Jehu led the group in the worship of Baal. The author creates two stages upon which we may observe the action. The first is the worship of Baal being led by Jehu. On the second stage, we are taken back in time a few hours to Jehu's instructions to his officers in setting up the ambush of the Baal worshippers. In verse 25 the two stages merge back into one as Jehu's officers and guards entered the temple of Baal and slaughtered all his worshippers.
The author passes over the deaths of an entire temple full of people rather lightly. He was more interested in the fate of the "pillar" of Baal. The exact nature of the pillar is uncertain. It was probably a stone, since it was burned, demolished, and destroyed and yet still existed. (Stone objects were often broken in ancient times by burning them and then dousing them with cold water to cause them to break apart.) Based on 1 Kings 16:33, some scholars assume that it was an asherah. Based on the horror of the pillar and the humor of our text, it is likely that it was a phallic symbol. It is typical of the ribald Hebrew humor that the stone penis image symbolizing Baal's fertile powers would become a public latrine.
Verses 28-36 turn to summarizing the reign of Jehu. The first comment is positive. He wiped out Baal from Israel. The second comment is negative. He did not turn from the calf worship that Jeroboam had instituted at Dan and Bethel. The author of 2 Kings had a rather positive evaluation of Jehu. The assassinations of Jehoram, Ahaziah, and Jezebel; the slaughter of Ahab's family members; and the destruction of Baal worship were all regarded by our author as the powerful expression of the will of God. Lest there be any doubt about that, verse 30 presents the word of God Himself commending Jehu. Jehu's actions are said to have carried out what God considered right and in accord with Yahweh's heart.
These are strong words of affirmation, but the first word of verse 31 is "but." Jehu was not careful to walk according to the Torah. This is an example of the Deuteronomic point of view of the author. The Law of God as revealed in Deuteronomy is the standard by which Jehu was evaluated, and he failed to follow that Law. It is also interesting that the author does not criticize Jehu for failing to obey this specific commandment or that one. Rather the Hebrew literally states that he did not guard walking according to the Law with all his heart. Jehu's failure was a failure of the heart. In Biblical thought, that means that Jehu's will was not committed toward Torah observance. One whose heart is intent on guarding or keeping the commandments of God is accepted even when he or she fails in a specific detail of the Law. The condemnation of Jehu illustrates the way that God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).
Part of the Deuteronomic view was that disobedience to God would lead to the loss of battles and eventually of the land of Israel itself. Thus in verse 32 the author notes the Lord (Yahweh) began to trim off parts of Israel. From a purely secular standpoint, Hazael extended the Syrian empire all along the Transjordan (eastern) side of Israel. Though the loss of all that territory would have had a military-political explanation, the author of 2 Kings ignores those factors. Yahweh was reducing the land because of the Israel's sin. Despite Jehu's fervor to purge Baalism from the land, the direction of Israel had been set, and the loss of land mentioned in verses 32-33 only prefigures the eventual loss of all the land in the days ahead.
The Renewal of Judah - 2 Kings 11:1-20
Chapters 9 and 10 present the judgment of God against Ahab and his family through Jehu. It was part of God's effort to win back the allegiance of the Northern Kingdom. However, the final tally on Jehu shows that Israel did not return whole-heartedly to God.
Chapter 11 turns to God's effort to win back the Southern Kingdom. Several important factors must be kept in mind. First, the Southern Kingdom (or Judah) had been ruled by a descendant of David throughout its history. The faithfulness of God to His promises to David has frequently been mentioned as a reason for Judah experiencing grace despite of national disobedience.
Second, Judah's history to this point had not been one of unrelenting disobedience and idolatry. Though there had been kings as wicked in the south as in the north, Judah also had kings who obeyed the Lord and followed in the footsteps of David. Thus there was a heritage of renewal and obedience built into the Southern Kingdom. In fact, from the death of Solomon to the beginning of 2 Kings 11 -a period of 80 years - two righteous kings, Asa and Jehoshaphat, had ruled Judah for 64 years.
Third, though Jehoshaphat was described as a righteous king, he did contract a marriage between his son J[eh]oram and Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel of the Northern Kingdom. Thus the perverted influence of the Baalism practiced in the Northern Kingdom was introduced into the royal bloodline of Judah. Jehu's assassination of J[eh]oram and many of his relatives was the beginning of God's severe mercy toward renewing Judah.
Jehu's assassination of Ahaziah (2 Kings 9:27) and then forty-two of Ahaziah's relatives (2 Kings 10:12-14) began the process of purging the influence of Ahab from Judah. The process continued with help from an unlikely source, Athaliah, Ahaziah's mother. At the news of her son's death, she began the systematic killing of all the royal family. No explanation is given for her outburst of violence, but the end result was that she became the ruler of Judah. For the first time in Judah's history someone who was not a descendant of David occupied the throne.
Since Athaliah had usurped the place of God's anointed, the author of 2 Kings does not acknowledge her as a legitimate ruler. The customary formula-statements that always introduce and conclude the reign of each king are lacking. What Athaliah thought about the future of the nation after she had killed off the entire royal family is not mentioned. Perhaps she did not care about the future. She certainly would not have been the first or the last to sacrifice the future good of God's people for the present enjoyment of power.
However, chapter 11 is not about Athaliah. Though the situation must have seemed extremely bleak to the people of Judah for the six years of Athaliah's rule, the reader of 2 Kings learns immediately that God was still at work preserving the integrity of His promises and creating a future of hope for His people.
Verse 2 tells us that Athaliah failed to kill one of the king's sons who is named Joash or Jehoash. (The Bible's habit of using both forms of the name for the same person is confusing. So is the fact that a king with the same two names will come to the throne in the Northern Kingdom about the end of the reign of J[eh]oash of Judah.) Joash was hidden in the temple area for six years by an aunt who 2 Chronicles 22:11 says was also the wife of the high priest, Jehoiada .
How it was that Athaliah would not be aware of Joash's survival is not clear. Second Kings 12:1 indicates that he was not her son. Royal children were often raised by foster mothers. It is possible she did not know of Joash's existence, but it is surprising that such a jealous person would have overlooked such a threat. Perhaps it was only the grace of God at work in preserving Joash. Perhaps her utter contempt for Yahweh and her complete disregard for His temple caused her to pay no attention to what was happening there. At any rate, God preserved a descendant of David to fulfill His promise and to bring Judah back to a right relationship with Himself.
In the seventh year of Athaliah's rule, the high priest, Jehoiada, acted to restore a legitimate king to the throne. The phrase "in the seventh year" is used in Leviticus 25:3-4 in connection with the Jubilee instructions. It may be that Jehoiada acted in a festival year to restore the rightful king and to bring peace and liberty to the land.
The mechanics of the coup attempt were fairly simple. The royal guards were divided into three divisions. On weekdays two divisions guarded the palace and one division was on duty at the temple. On the Sabbath two divisions guarded the temple and one division was at the palace. Jehoiada 's plan was simple; at the time of the changing of the guard for the Sabbath both divisions guarding the palace would go to the temple as per normal operating procedures, but the temple division would stay there rather than coming to the palace. This would take place during the normal changing of the guard time, and no suspicion would be raised until the results were already obvious - all three divisions of the royal guards surrounding the temple and no military personnel at the palace. Apparently Jehoiada also provided weapons or extra weapons for the guards when they surrounded the temple. One would assume that they already were armed, but verse 10 states that Jehoiada delivered spears and shields to the captains. The word translated shields is not the usual word for a shield, and some scholars suggest that it refers to quivers full of arrows.
When the security system was in place, Jehoiada brought out Joash and publicly crowned him as king. The public proclamation and anointing was greeted with a loud shout of "Long live the king!" by the people present. Verse 12 also states that Jehoiada presented Joash with the "covenant." Again, this is not the normal Hebrew word for covenant. Its meaning is not clear, but it appears to describe a document that gave witness to the authority of the King to operate as a representative of God over Judah. Rather than being simply a copy of the Law or of the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), Jones argues that it contained "both the promises of the covenant and its obligations . . . a declaration of the king's adoption by God and the demands made upon him in his new office." This reference to the "covenant" shows the determination of Jehoiada and the Southern Kingdom to turn from the self-serving ways of Athaliah and the family of Ahab and to return to the covenant relationship between God and His people. That fact is emphasized in verse 17.
For the new direction to be secure it was necessary that Athaliah disappear from the scene, and verses 13-16 narrate her death. Due to the assassinations by Jehu and herself, she is the only person that must be killed to wipe the slate clean of the influence of Ahab's family and to begin anew in Judah. The new beginning was characterized as a return to covenant in verse 17. The language of covenant is very important here. Implied, but never stated, is the restoration of the Davidic covenant that promised a descendant of David to rule forever in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 7:8-16). More important is the commitment to the covenant established on Mt. Sinai between God and the people of Israel. The comment in verse 17 that "they should be the Lord's people" is a reference to the covenant summary found in several places in the Old Testament, "I will their God, and they shall be my people." It is the renewal of this Mosaic covenant that extended the life of the Southern Kingdom almost one hundred and forty years longer than the end of the Northern Kingdom.
From the perspective of the author of 2 Kings, what is at work here is the ability of the word of God to recreate a people for God. By a return to the covenant laid out in Exodus and Deuteronomy, Judah's existence as Yahweh's people and as a nation was renewed. The covenantal relationship unfolded in the Scriptures is always the basis for the authentic existence of God's people. Israel and Judah found it too easy to try to function as nations simply following the political rules of their historical period. But only by the covenant could they authentically be God's people. It is too easy for the church to drift into cultural assumptions and patterns of existence. That which finally distinguishes the church from clubs and service organizations is the fact that the Word of God calls us into existence. Without returning to the Word to constantly define and renew our mission, we are in constant danger of becoming simply another human organization (and usually not a very good one).
To authentically be the people of God requires that a break be made with ungodly practices. Thus verse 18 describes the destruction of Baal worship in Judah. Covenant relationship with God is incompatible with non-covenantal allegiances and realities. The authors of the Old Testament understood that intolerant truth much better than do most modern Christians. It is also important that the end result of covenant renewal was joy according to verse 20. In fact, joy is not available in any other way. Only when the people of God place themselves under His authority and grace is joy possible.
The Reign of Joash - 2 Kings 11:21-12:21
The introduction to Joash emphasizes the number seven. Second Kings 11:21 states that he was seven years old when he became king. Second Kings 12:1 states that it took place in the seventh year of Jehu's reign. The Hebrew word for seven is sheba and verse 1 states that his mother was from Beer-sheba, the town of seven wells. Second Kings 11:2 also notes that Jehosheba was the aunt who rescued Joash. Perhaps the emphasis on seven is accidental; perhaps it signifies the completeness of the renewal that God was offering to Judah.
Verse 2 states that Joash did right in the sight of the Lord all his days. The reason is because Jehoiada, the high priest, instructed him. It is interesting to note the contrast between the reform efforts in the Northern Kingdom and in the Southern Kingdom. In the North, Jehu was anointed at the instruction of Elisha the prophet, but there is no indication of any continuing relationship between Jehu and Elisha. In fact, 2 Kings 9:11 indicates general disrespect for the prophets by Jehu. The reforms of Jehu got rid of Ahab but did not bring Israel back to Yahweh. On the other hand, it was the high priest who anointed Joash. Jehoiada also shaped Joash's reform efforts around the covenant. He functioned as Joash's teacher and guide as long as he (Jehoiada ) lived. It is significant that the reforms of Joash had a much more positive and prolonged effect than did those of Jehu.
Verse 3 notes that Joash's reforms were not complete. As had been the case with Asa and Jehoshaphat before him, he failed to remove the high places. Scholars debate whether the high places were used to worship Baal or Yahweh. In either case, however, their existence and use violated the instructions of Deuteronomy for centralized worship of Yahweh alone.
The main thrust of chapter 12 has to do with the repair of the house (the temple). Historical documents from other ancient Near-Eastern nations show that repair of the temple was often an important agenda for a new king. Verses 4 and 5 institute a means of raising money to finance the repairs. Thus the statement in verse 6 that twenty-three years later no repairs have been made comes as a surprise. Since verses 9-16 describe a different money raising system and provide the details of how the money will flow into the contractors' hands, it appears that misappropriation of funds was going on under Joash's nose and that he was unaware of it for many years. Though no clear statement of wrongdoing is made, it appears that the priests were skimming off the money for temple repair and using it for themselves.
Financial integrity has often been a stumbling block for the people of God and especially for those in leadership. The problems between Joash and the priests are disturbing but should not be surprising. Evil often finds a way to undercut the renewal of God's people, and it often happens through sin in the lives of the leaders. However, Joash was finally able to restructure the system in a way that provided for the needs of the priests (verse 16) and also insured that all money given for temple repair went directly to the repairs.
Though verse 2 states that Joash did right … all his days, the concluding verses of chapter 12 indicate problems. Verses 17 and 18 mention that Joash plundered the temple treasury to buy off King Hazael of Syria. Hazael accepted the treasuries of the temple in exchange for not invading Jerusalem and threatening Joash's reign. The author of 2 Kings does not condemn Joash for this action but simply records it. However, a statement of condemnation is not necessary for the reader to understand Joash's failure to trust God. Second Kings 7 had already described God's miraculous intervention putting the Syrian armies to flight from their siege of Samaria. There was no need for Joash to resort to human techniques for survival when God had already shown Himself ready to intervene on behalf of His people. Further, the gifts to the treasury of the temple had been given in honor of God; they were not given to be used in a secular undertaking to help a disobedient king survive. This violated the covenant between Joash and his own people.
Verses 20-21 also make it clear that Joash had departed from total obedience to God. He was assassinated by his own servants. Second Chronicles 24:17-26 provides a more detailed account of Joash's spiritual failures and frankly attributes the problems of Joash and Judah to God's judgment for their disobedience. However, the author of 2 Kings is less interested in details at this point. He is ready to show, in rapid-fire description, the disintegration of both kingdoms.
The Reign of Jehoahaz - 2 Kings 13:1-9
Only nine verses are devoted to the reign of Jehu's son, Jehoahaz. He ruled the Northern Kingdom in the tradition of his father by failing to end the calf worship at Dan and Bethel that had been instituted by Jeroboam. The consequences were continual defeat at the hands of the Syrians and a gradual diminishing of Israel's standing army. Verse 5 introduces a mysterious note of grace. In the midst of all the military and political pressure against the Northern Kingdom, God provided an unnamed deliverer who restored the homes of the people of Israel. However, no credit is given to the king. Jehoahaz's story is only one of disobedience and decline. The only source of hope for the people was the occasional intervention of God in their lives.
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 10:18-13:9. Look up the Scripture references that are given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that seemed important to you and describe why they are significant.
2. Select a truth that has a personal application in your life and describe how it applies to you.
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to shape your identity through His Word.
Second Day: Read 2 Kings 13:1-25. Now focus in on 2 Kings 13:10-25.
1. Describe Elisha's final act of ministry to the Northern Kingdom. What did Elisha provide the Northern Kingdom throughout his ministry?
2. What failures or weaknesses of J[eh]oash does the author provide? How should he have responded differently? Have you ever been like J[eh]oash?
3. How was verse 23 carried out for Israel? How has it been fulfilled in your life?
Third Day: Read 2 Kings 14:1-29. Focus on 2 Kings 14:1-16.
1. Verse 6 appeals to Deuteronomy 24:16. Read Deuteronomy 24:16 and explain its meaning for this section of 2 Kings 14.
2. In light of verses 7-10 what would you say Amaziah's main problem was? Have you ever had a similar problem? What was the outcome? How does Proverbs 16:18 apply?
3. What were the consequences of Amaziah's pride? Is pride ever worth the consequences that it brings? Ask the Lord to help you deal with the pride in your life.
Fourth Day: Read 2 Kings 14:1-29. Focus on 2 Kings 14:17-29.
1. How did Amaziah's life end? How was it a fitting end to his reign?
2. What military-political actions did Azariah and Jeroboam both take? Who gets the credit for Jeroboam's actions?
3. How did God use Jeroboam? Did Jeroboam deserve such favor? Why then did God use him to restore Israel? What applications can you draw for your life?
Fifth Day: Read 2 Kings 15:1-31. Now focus on 2 Kings 15:1-16.
1. What is the spiritual evaluation of Azariah's reign? What were the consequences of his spiritual failures?
2. What was the promise God made to Jehu according to verse 12? Can you find and name the four kings who fulfilled that promise? Give the scripture references of the mention of these kings.
3. List one or two promises of God that have been important in your life. Why are they meaningful to you?
Sixth Day: Read 2 Kings 15:1-31. Now focus in on 2 Kings 15:8-31.
1. How many kings of the Northern Kingdom are mentioned in these focus verses? How long did each reign? What does that tell you about that period of history in Israel?
2. How did these Northern kings respond to the threat of Assyria? How do you think they should have responded?
3. In times of great pressure we often rely on human resources. Read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and write a brief prayer asking God to help you trust in Him in all the difficulties of your life.