2 Kings 23-25

2 Kings 23-25…A flicker of hope.

The end of this reading (particularly the conclusion of 2 Kings 25) is something like that faint breeze of hope in an otherwise dark landscape. The previous section ended with a bleak picture of loss and sadness for the nation of Judah: no land, no city, and no temple. Some were killed brutally, others taken into exile. And we were left wondering if Judah would ever be restored? Would it all be darkness from here on? Then we come to end of this book of 2 Kings and there is a flicker of hope.

A new king of Babylon took the throne and a change occurred. Jehoiachin, king of Judah, was released from prison. The Babylonian king, Scripture says, “spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor” in Babylon. Jehoiachin was permitted a place at the king’s table where he ate well “for the rest of his life.” Moreover, Jehoiachin was given a regular allowance to support himself and his family.

In the face of the utter darkness of 2 Kings 25:1-26, we get not a floodlight of promise, but still a glimmer of hope. Perhaps the reader is expected to remember God’s everlasting promises to Judah in 2 Samuel 7:13-16 and 1 Kings 11:39. Judah may have forgotten God, but God had not forgotten His people.

Of course, it would still be another five centuries of ongoing oppression under foreign nations, but eventually, out of that darkness, the Light of Christ would come (see Matt. 1:12-16). The book of 2 Kings ends with a glimpse of that coming glorious restoration.

2 Kings 20-22

2 Kings 20-22…Flawed leaders.

Although the record of leadership in 1 and 2 Kings shows marked failure, rulers like Hezekiah and Josiah were largely faithful. These kings were righteous, but even they could not keep God’s covenant flawlessly. This section of 2 Kings records the occasion when Merodach-baladan, the king of Babylon, sent envoys to Hezekiah, who put on a show of all his treasures and his armory. Clearly this was a mistake, for Isaiah the prophet rebuked him, proclaiming that the empire that came to check out Hezekiah’s resources would be the same empire to exile his sons. Isaiah regarded this error as so troubling that he recorded it in his own book of prophecy.

Deuteronomy 17:16 explains why Hezekiah erred. The king of God’s people was not to go to Egypt to acquire many horses, which were a significant part of ancient Near Eastern armies. This was really a warning against military alliances with foreign powers to bolster Israel’s forces, and Hezekiah knew this warning. Matthew Henry says the Babylonian king “found himself obliged to Hezekiah … for the weakening of the Assyrian forces, and had reason to think he could not have a more powerful and valuable ally.” Hezekiah had successfully resisted Sennacherib of Assyria, and Babylon came knocking at his door to see if Judah might be of help against their common enemy — the Assyrian empire. In showcasing his military and economic strength, Hezekiah implied an alliance was possible.

If good kings like Hezekiah failed, what hope did Israel have for the monarchy? Only the hope that God would put His Messiah on David’s throne (Ps. 110).

2 Kings 17-19

2 Kings 17-19…Invisible reality.

Scripture records many occasions on which the kings of Israel and Judah rebelled against the larger empires of their day (i.e. Rome, Egypt, Assyria, etc.) with whom they formerly made treaties. Violating these alliances invariably earned the wrath of these empires. This section of 2 Kings records the point at which Hosea of Israel broke covenant with Assyria, and the result was that the northern kingdom was taken into exile in 722 BC (2 Kings 17:1–6). Almost 150 years later, in 586 BC, the same thing happened to Judah when that land rebelled against Babylon (24:1–25:21).

This is a perfectly reasonable and correct explanation of the aforementioned historical realities, and is in fact what we are told in Scripture. Yet history is always more complicated, and this interpretation, while accurate as far as it goes, does not tell the whole story. The author of 2 Kings also goes “behind the scenes” to give us God’s perspective on what happened. As we see in 17:7–23, even though the rebellion of Israel against another empire might have been the immediate event that sparked the exile, the ultimate cause of Israel’s expulsion from the land was flagrant covenant violation, especially the grievous sin of idolatry. Thinking they could rebel against the Lord with impunity, God’s covenant people brought judgment on their own heads, just as their covenant Lord promised would happen (Lev. 26:14–39).

Sin is no small matter, and its consequences are severe. Those who regard lightly the Lord’s holiness cannot be surprised when they feel the fury of His wrath. If we are in Christ, we need not fear that we will be exiled from the blessed presence of God forever. However, God may still discipline us for our sin, and we may feel the effects of His disciplinary rod on the covenant community just as the righteous remnant went into exile along with the unfaithful Israelites. But if we live a life of repentance, we will learn from the Lord’s discipline and experience joy even in our pain and struggle.

2 Kings 14-16

2 Kings 14-16…Leadership and worship.

Our passage today gives us a glimpse of the coming storm for southern Judah. Leading up to this section, two kings ruled Judah in relative stability for sixty-eight years. Now, with the rise of Ahaz, things take a turn for the worse, and the impending danger for Judah can be seen on the horizon.

First, there was a problem of leadership. Scripture tells us that the kings of Aram and Israel marched against Judah. Aram had already captured the important town of Elath, and now Jerusalem was under siege. What did Ahaz do? Instead of turning to God for help, Ahaz looked to the Assyrian king. Notice the language Ahaz used, typically employed to describe Judah’s relationship with God: “I am your servant and vassal (this word could also be “son”). Come up and save me.” Ahaz then emptied the temple’s treasuries in order to secure this “salvation” from “Father” Assyria. The ploy worked, but Ahaz’s actions clearly indicated a rejection of the true God who saves.

Second, there was the more serious problem of worship. We are told earlier that Ahaz was not a godly king; he followed the ways of Israel, practiced idolatry, and “even sacrificed his son in the fire.” Later, while in Damascus paying homage to Tiglath-Pileser, Ahaz encountered a new altar and immediately ordered one to be built back home. Upon his return, Ahaz employed even further temple remodeling “in deference to the king of Assyria.” While little explicit commentary on these activities in the text, don’t forget the earlier warning: Ahaz was “following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.” The storm was coming; would Judah heed the warning signs?

Most of us would not fall into the extreme categories of sin like Ahaz. But what of the subtler disobedience in today’s reading? Do we look to something other than God for comfort—a large bank account, “safe” neighborhoods and schools, or an insurance policy? Certainly, God can use a variety of means to protect us, but when those earthly means become our only consolation, are we truly trusting God?

2 Kings 11-13

2 Kings 11-13…God is slow to anger.

Sometimes God’s grace of salvation shows up in unexpected places as well, and today’s reading gives us an example of just that. These chapters recount the story of two evil kings of Israel, Jehoahaz and Jehoash. Both received the same indictment: “He did evil in the eyes of the LORD,” and both continued Israel’s pervasive idolatry. As a result, the nation of Israel suffered for its disobedience: the Arameans persisted as a thorn in Israel’s side, oppressing them continually.

Yet in the midst of this oft-repeated cycle of sin and idolatry, surprising moments appear when the kings softened and God’s grace and mercy showed through. Jehoahaz, we are told, unexpectedly sought the LORD’s favor. The response? Seeing their great suffering, “The LORD listened to him” and sent a deliverer (this could also be translated as “savior”) to rescue them (13:4-5). Is this not God’s gracious way? In the midst of humanity’s oppression under sin and death, God sent the ultimate Savior, Christ, to rescue us.

Then there was Jehoash, the second wicked king. Hearing of Elisha’s impending death, the king went to him in tears over the coming loss of God’s prophet in Israel. The response? Through Elisha, God demonstrated the hope of salvation and life. First, Elisha declared the arrow of victory and the three-fold defeat of the Arameans was soon fulfilled. Then came the strange resurrection of a dead man through Elisha’s bones. Both episodes illustrate God’s ability and willingness to extend life and grace to His people, if only they would turn and ask.

2 Kings 8-10

2 Kings 8-10…King Jehu

King Ahab sunk to new lows for royalty in Israel, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He desecrated the faith of Israel, instigated crimes against the prophets of God, and promoted Baal worship. But the disgusting crime that appeared to arouse the anger of the Lord beyond them all was one Jezebel perpetrated on his behalf. She had a man named Naboth killed so that her husband could take his vineyard. The Lord immediately sent Elijah to proclaim judgment on Ahab, his descendants, and Jezebel. Ahab showed remorse, and the Lord showed him some mercy. Jezebel remained defiant to the undignified end.

Jehu had just been anointed as king of Israel, and God’s first assignment for his new king was to avenge the murder initiated by Jezebel. After killing former king Joram and Ahaziah, king of Judah, Jehu arrived at Jezreel. Jezebel greeted the news with actions befitting her selfish, shallow, wicked nature: she put on makeup and did her hair. Whether divinely directed or simply as a natural response to her wickedness, the previous servants of Jezebel turned on her without hesitation.

Jehu recommended a proper burial for the downfallen queen because of her royal descent, but it was too late. The prophecy of Elijah had come to fruition, an appropriate end for a woman who did as much as anyone in history to influence God’s people negatively. After the dogs were through with her, no one would ever visit her grave or remember her fondly (2 Kings 9:37).

Perhaps we haven’t stooped as low as Jezebel in the volume of our sins—but we are just as susceptible to pride in our own way. Jezebel was more concerned about her external appearance and meeting her selfish desires. Who can claim to be immune to such things? She served as the extreme example of sins that can be routine for us. Take some time today to examine yourself, and see how you are letting the fear of man affect your daily life.

2 Kings 5-7

2 Kings 5-7…The long arm of the Lord.

The nation of Aram (“Syria” in some translations) lay to the northeast of the land of Israel. Throughout the eighth and ninth centuries B.C. Israel and Aram were in a constant state of tension. Military clashes occurred frequently, interspersed with occasional periods of peace. Israel would have kept a close eye on the Aramean armies, for they were perennial rivals.

Understanding the international politics of the day makes today’s reading all the more startling. This healing of Naaman the Aramean was an extension of God’s grace not just to a foreigner, but to the very enemy of God’s people Israel! And from this text we learn important lessons about God’s ways. First, we see that He is the God of the whole world. Our text shows us that it was God who supervised the military victories of the Arameans, orchestrated the arrival of a nameless Israelite girl into the home of the foreigner Naaman, and then extended His grace and healing powers to one outside His people. As Psalm 24:1 proclaims: “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it.”

We also see that God’s ways can affect great change. Naaman expected a lot more attention and fanfare in his healing experience. Instead, he was asked to take a bath in the Jordan. Naaman eventually obeyed, but notice the transformation in his attitude. His initial reaction to Elisha’s command was anger and pride. Thanks to the wisdom of some servants, Naaman shifted to an attitude of obedience. Finally, he softened to a humble confession that “there is no God in all the world except in Israel,” and then made the promise to worship God alone for the remainder of his days. God’s unexpected ways have the power to humble our pride, elicit true confessions of faith, and prompt us to appropriate worship.

Notice, finally, the warning at the end. Countering the message that God’s grace was truly free, Gehazi’s greed and lying undermined that message by asking Naaman for payment. In the end, there was a switch: while Naaman was healed through faith, Gehazi became leprous.

2 Kings 1-4

2 Kings 1-4…Take up your mantle.

When the time came for Elijah to depart from this world, he asked Elisha what he should do for his apprentice before being taken from Israel. At that point, Elisha could have asked for many things. He could have requested courage or boldness in ministry. Elisha could have asked for miraculous power. He might have sought Elijah’s intercession so that the king of Israel would be more willing to listen to the prophet’s student than he was to hear the prophet himself. Yet Elisha requested none of these things. Instead, he asked for a “double portion” of the spirit that was upon Elijah. Of course, enjoying the Holy Spirit’s anointing was key to receiving any of the other things that Elisha might have wanted. However, it is notable that Elisha understood enough not to seek success but rather the person who works in and through His people, namely, the Holy Spirit of God.

As Elijah told his assistant, the fact that Elisha saw him taken up into heaven on chariots of fire meant God had granted the new prophet’s wishes. At that point, Elisha faced a moment of decision. He could take up Elijah’s mantle of prophethood, the anointing of the Spirit, and the rejection by the world that went with it, or he could go his own way. Elisha chose the former option and went on to be one of the greatest prophets in the history of God’s people. We likewise face a moment of decision when the Lord calls us. Will we take up His mantle and follow Him?

As followers of the Lord, we are called to bear witness to Him where we are and insofar as we are able. This is the mantle—or better, the cross—that all of God’s people are given in this new covenant era. We are called not to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16–17), to stand firm for His truth. Like Elisha, we can do that only in the power of the Holy Spirit given to us.