The book of 2 Kings includes the history of the divided kingdom as well as that of the surviving kingdom of Judah. We will also read stories about the prophets Elijah and Elisha. These two prophets worked to reinforce the people's need to obey God and repent of their sins. Through it all we will also see God's covenant faithfulness and miraculous power as well as His stern justice when His people refuse to repent. And we will continue to see the lives and reigns of the various kings of the northern and southern kingdoms. God’s people will refuse to repent of their sinfulness, and we will watch as first Assyria in 722B.C. will conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and then the Babylonians in 586B.C. will overthrow Judah. Both Elijah and Elisha would work to demonstrate God’s truth and power to the people. We will see the arrogance of evil kings who defiantly challenged God in word and deed. There were also some good kings, like Hezekiah and Josiah who loved the Lord and were happy to serve Him and walk in His ways. Destruction and exile were two things God’s chosen people never thought they would face. After all, they were God's chosen people. That gave them a false sense of protection and the sense they could get away with anything. At the end of the book there is a glimmer of hope when Jehoiachin was released.
Here are some things to ponder. Ancient pagans believed that the magical power of curses could be nullified either by forcing the pronouncer of the curse to retract their statement or by killing them so that the curse would accompany the person to the netherworld. Baldness was uncommon among the Jews and was considered an object for mockery. It was commonly assumed throughout the ancient near East that a deity could be worshiped only on the soil of the nation to which he or she was bound. And a couple of themes. The first is judgement. This book explains that the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem, the exile of the northern kingdom to Assyria and the southern kingdom to Babylon were all the results of the people's persistent covenant breaking through their idolatry. As the spiritual climate declined so did the political and economic conditions. God was patient but eventually His ancient covenant curses were realized. Second, the prophets. God used prophets to call his people back into a covenant relationship with Him. And they issued warnings of coming judgements if the people failed to repent and return to Him and obey. The two prophets we see here are Elijah and Elisha, both of whom ministered in the northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah began to prophesy to Ahab in 865 B.C. In 850B.C. Elijah is taken up into heaven and Elisha begins his ministry.
After the death of wicked king Ahab, the nation of Moab took advantage of his son Ahaziah and broke their vassalage to Israel. Years before, David had defeated them and Ahaziah’s successor Jehoram would join forces with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah to fight the Moabites. Right off the bat we see Ahaziah’s lack of faith in the Lord. He has an accident in which he falls through the lattice work that likely enclosed an upper balcony to provide air circulation and a bit of privacy. Instead of asking a prophet of the Lord what would happen to him, he tried to consult a pagan god. His messengers were prevented from completing their mission by Elijah because God did not want some sham message coming and encouraging the wicked king. He had already received the word of the living God. In a series of unfortunate events for Ahaziah's military captains and units of men, 100 of them lost their lives to fire that fell from the Lord. Fire is usually a sign of divine judgement and in this case the fire may have been lightening. Baal was supposedly the storm god but once again we see the Lord besting him. Each of the three captains Ahaziah sent approached Elijah with increasing fear of the power of the Lord. The third captain begged to be spared, and the Lord did so. Ahaziah died and left no heir so for a brief period of time, Jehoram ruled both the northern and southern kingdoms.
Chapter two is an extraordinary story, so much so the writer of this book introduces the subject early on. Elijah, like Enoch before him walked with God and then he suddenly went to be with God. Elisha knew his master was going to leave him, and it seems like many others did too. Elisha wanted to be with Elijah to the very end, listen to his counsel, and learn from him. Elijah wanted Elisha to tarry behind, but he was bound and determined to go wherever Elijah went. This was a test of Elisha's devotion. The two men worked together for years and had come to appreciate one another. The statement it is not good for man to be alone applies to ministry too, not just marriage. There were many pairs who worked together in ministry: Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathan, Paul and Barnabas and then Silas. Luke was also a companion of Paul’s. Even Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. We too are called to walk with others, young and old, learning from each other.
Once again, we see water parted, this time Elijah uses his outer garment, rolled up, to strike the water of the Jordan River so he and Elisha could cross on dry ground. It was on the east side of the Jordan that the heavens opened and a fiery chariot with fiery horses appeared. A whirlwind blew and Elijah, the prophet of God vanished alive into heaven. The fire associated with the horses and the chariot indicated the presence of the Lord. Elisha called Elijah ’my father’, underscoring his relationship with his as a spiritual mentor. It was also a sign of his personal sorrow at losing a great and trusted friend. As Elijah ascended into heaven his mantle fell to the ground. Now Elisha picked it up, taking on a prophetic status. This is the mantle Elijah laid across his shoulders all those years ago when he was called to ministry. The mantle was a sign of the power of the living God for Elijah, just like the rod was for Moses and Aaron. Now it would be the symbol of power in the hands of Elisha.
Bethel was one of the centers of idol worship in the land. As he left there Elisha was mocked by a group of young men, probably between the ages of 12-30 who were old enough to discern right from wrong in their decision making. In mocking Elisha, the young men were in violation of God's covenant, so he called down curses on them. Check out Leviticus 26:21-22 here. The young men were not showing respect to Elijah, Elisha, or the Lord and they had to be judged. Two bears mauled them, but they did not die. For the rest of their lives, they bore the scars of disobedience.
We finished off today's reading with Moab rebelling against Israel. Amid all this fighting, the Lord showed grace to Israel even though they were worshiping idols. The Lord did many things for His people to show them His grace. They were also intended to win His people back. A few lives may have been changed but by and large, God's people continued to sin.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W