Through the Bible in a Year: 2 Kings 1

This Week’s Readings

Monday, June 11: 2 Kings 1-5
Tuesday, June 12: 2 Kings 6-10
Wednesday, June 13: 2 Kings 11-15
Thursday, June 14: 2 Kings 16-20
Friday, June 14: 2 Kings 21-25

Next week we will read Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon.

The overall year’s plan is here.

2 Kings: General Comments

At the end of this week, you will have completed most of the history of Israel as it is known in the Hebrew Scriptures. Chronicles is the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, and it covers the same time period as 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings do. In fact, in many languages, those books are not known as Samuel and Kings, but they are 1, 2, 3, and 4 Kings.

Kings ends with the capture of Judah by the Babylonians. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the return from Babylon, and Esther describes a small period during the Babylonian captivity. Several of the prophets address either the Babylonian captivity or afterward as well.

After Ezra and Nehemia, there is no Biblical history of Israel until the Gospels, a 400-year gap. Protestants know this period as "the 400 silent years," but that’s not accurate. There are 4 books of the Maccabees giving the history of Israel during the 3rd and 2nd century B.C. Two of those are in the Roman Catholic Bible, and some Orthodox versions of the Bible have all four.

It appears that all Christian teachers of the period immediately after the apostles were familiar with the Maccabbees, as well as with Tobit and Ecclesiasticus, books that are found only in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testament Scriptures. It’s likely they were familiar with all seven books that are called "the Apocrypha" and are contained in Roman Catholic Bibles, but not Protestant ones.

I’m not going to discuss whether they ought to be in the Bible. Even Jerome, who translated the Latin Vulgate which the Roman Catholic Church used throughout the middle ages, set those seven books in their own category separate from the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, Christian teachers should be familiar with them. If it’s worth it to know the history of Israel up to and immediately after the Babylonian captivity, it’s worth knowing it all the way to the time of Christ. Maccabees gives great insight into the culture of the Gospels because the Pharisees were basically trying to carry out the reforms that the Maccabees instituted, though their attitude was such that they made God mad, while God was with the family of the Maccabees.

So whether we consider the seven books of "the Apocrypha" to be Scripture or not, we who consider ourselves students of God’s word—and especially if we consider ourselves teachers—should at least be familiar with them. Our predecessors, including Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Anabaptist leaders, were deeply familiar with them.

2 Kings 1

At the end of 1 Kings, Ahab was shot by an arrow in battle even though he was disguised. You can hide from men, but you cannot hide from God. Ahaziah his son is now king, and Jehoshaphat is still king of Judah, having survived the battle that killed Ahab.

Also, Ahab’s evil wife, Jezebel, is still alive, though God will rectify that eventually as well.

The reigns of Jehoshaphat, and the two Jehorams, the king of Judah and the king of Israel, are wickedly difficult to reconcile. Verse 17 of this chapter says that Jehoram of Israel became king in the second year of the reign of Jehoram of Judah. Yet 2 Kings 3:1 says that he became king in the 18th year of the reign of Jehoshaphat. 1 Kings 22:51 gives us basically the same time frame as 2 Kings 3:1 because it says that Ahaziah became king in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat, and he only reigned two years. Taking into account that two years doesn’t mean "two years exactly to the day (or month)," it makes sense that Ahaziah’s son Jehoram would be king in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat reigned 25 years. How could his 18th year also be the 2nd year of the reign of Jehoram of Judah, Jehoshaphat’s son?

We get a clue in a few chapters. 2 Kings 8:16 says that Jehoshaphat was still king when his son Jehoram began to reign.

Here is the general understanding of Biblical scholars:

When Jehoshaphat went with Ahab to fight against the Syrians, the battle we just read about in which Ahab died, he left the administration of the kingdom in the control of his son Jehoram. Thus Jehoram became a viceroy or co-regent with his father starting in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign.

Later, in the 23rd year of his reign, Jehoshaphat retired and turned the kingdom completely over to his son and died two years later. It’s in the 23rd year of Jehoshaphat’s reign that Jehoram, his son, marks the beginning of his reign, except right here in 2 Kings 1:17, where the historian, for some unknown reason, marks Jehoram of Judah’s first year as the year he became co-regent with his father.

Understand, I am no defender of Biblical inerrancy when it comes to science and history. I don’t have any problems with spots where it is basically impossible to line up two Bible passages historically. I call those contradictions because I don’t believe that God feels any obligation to divinely enhance the memory of certain events so that Gospel writers and Jewish historians get every detail and conversation correct down to the word. For example, even skilled commentators are at a loss to explain why the Gospel of John says that the Pharisees stayed out of Pontius Pilate’s court so they could be clean to eat the Passover (18:28). According to the other Gospels, Jesus and his disciples had eaten the Passover the evening before. Various explanations are given by commentaries, none of which I find satisfactory. My explanation? John wrote his Gospel late in life, in the A.D. 90’s, about 60 years after the events transpired. Because Jesus’ death was so associated with the Passover, and perhaps also because John was by then used to reckoning days by Greek time rather than Jewish time, he remembered the day wrong.

But in the case of 2 Kings 1, I agree with the commentators. I think the historian gives the dates he does because of Jehoram’s co-regency with his father. I don’t think there’s a Bible contradiction or historical error here.

Bible Contradictions?

Some you may be in shock at my suggestion that there might be historical or scientific errors in the Bible. I’m not sure what to do about that because they’re undeniable. Job 37:18 says the sky is as hard as a metal mirror. 1 Samuel 2:8 says the earth is set on pillars. Genesis 1:7 says there’s a "firmament," a word that means something hard, separating waters above from waters beneath, and the creation account in Genesis 1 really doesn’t match the creation account in Genesis 2, even if you try to say that Genesis 2 is only talking about creating the Garden of Eden.

There are plenty of numbers that don’t line up between Kings and Chronicles and the list of those who came from Babylon to Jerusalem in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are similar, but not the same.

Apologists (people who defend a religion, in this case Biblical inerrancy) have explanations for the things I’ve written above, but I find most of them not just dissatisfying, but often embarrassing.

I have simply never understood why the inspiration of a spiritual book requires ancient people to understand modern science or nail down small nuances of history without any errors or contradiction. In modern courts, the testimony of two witnesses who tell exactly the same story down to the smallest detail is considered suspect. The court assumes they’ve collaborated. Contradictions between witnesses on minor details enhances their credibility, it does not detract from it.

The earliest Christian writing outside the Bible is called 1 Clement, and it’s a letter from the church at Rome to the church at Corinth. Some in the early church considered it inspired, and it was attached to the New Testament in a codex that dates from the fourth century. It’s a beautiful, encouraging writing. In it, however, the author uses the Phoenix bird as an illustration of resurrection. We now know the Phoenix bird does not exist, but should we ignore the powerful spiritual truths in 1 Clement because he didn’t know that the Phoenix bird was just an Egyptian legend?

2 Kings 2

This is another example of the kind of shape Elijah was in. The trip from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho was at least 50 miles. Crossing the Jordan would have added a couple miles to that.

Elisha cursing the children is shocking to us. I have no explanation that would stop it from being shocking, but perhaps the following explanation by Augustine will make it less so. This is taken from bible.cc in the Keil & Delitzsch section:

"The insolent boys," [Augustine] says, "are to be supposed to have done this at the instigation of their parents; for they would not have called out if it had displeased their parents." And with regard to the object of the judicial punishment, he says it was inflicted "that the elders might receive a lesson through the smiting of the little ones, and the death of the sons might be a lesson to the parents; and that they might learn to fear the prophet, whom they would not love, notwithstanding the wonders which he performed."

John Wesley adds this, from the same page:

If any of these children were more innocent, God might have mercy upon their souls, and then this death was not a misery, but a real blessing to them, that they were taken away from that education which was most likely to expose them not only to temporal, but eternal destruction. In the name – Not from any revengeful passion, but by the motion of God’s Spirit, and by God’s command and commission. God did this, partly, for the terror and caution of all other idolaters and prophane persons who abounded in that place; partly, to vindicate the honour, and maintain the authority of his prophets; and particularly, of Elisha, now especially, in the beginning of his sacred ministry.

2 Kings 3

A notable miracle happened in this chapter, and God delivered Israel, Judah, and Edom through the words of Elijah. However, I want to point out the role of the minstrel in this chapter. It was as the minstrel played and Elijah got into God’s presence that the word of God came to him.

Verse 27 is another horrifying occurrence. It’s impossible to tell just by looking at the verse whose wrath is being discussed. The Keil & Delitzsch commentary says that the Hebrew phrase used here is always used of divine wrath in every other occurrence in the Hebrew Scriptures. So they understand it to mean that God was angry with Israel for occasioning such a sacrifice.

If that’s true, there’s still no way to know in what way the Israelites felt that divine wrath. The result was that they went home. It’s possible that they were simply sickened by the sight, for the king burned his son to death on the wall.

Rabbinic tradition teaches that the king of Moab was told by advisors that the Israelites had power against him because their founder, Abraham, had offered his son as a burnt sacrifice in quick obedience to God. (Of course, we know that God supplied a replacement, but the king of Moab didn’t know.) So the king of Moab did the same, hoping for the same power the Israelites had.

I’m pretty sure that in this case, rabbinic tradition is just the speculation of rabbis centuries later.

2 Kings 4

Shunem was near Jezreel, some 30 miles northeast of Samaria, which was the king of Israel’s capitol. Abishag, the young maiden who kept King David warm in his old age, was also from Shunem.

Note that when the Shunammite came to Elisha, he said that the Lord had hidden her problem from him. It seems that this was unusual and that in most cases, Elisha would have known what it was that was troubling the people who came to him. Powerful prophet!

The rest of this chapter is devoted to miracles that Elisha performed.

Make sure you’re reading the Scriptures and not just my commentary. These are great and inspiring stories.

Don’t think they can’t happen to you. If you listen to God, there are many opportunities to witness your own miracles. Maybe they won’t be as spectacular as some of Elisha’s, but spiritual Christians can normally list numerous places where they have seen the intervention of God in their lives or the lives of others after prayer.

I remember once being prompted by God to ask the church to pray for a drought to end here in Tennessee (spring, 2008, I think). When I asked the church to pray, one of the sisters in the church asked if we could pray for the rain to start on Tuesday because she was taking many children to the zoo on Tuesday. We laughed, but we prayed, and the rain started while they were in the parking lot leaving the zoo on Tuesday.

We had of course all been praying for an end to the drought, but on that day God was ready to do something about it, and he let us have a hand in seeing something special. This sort of thing can be ordinary life for a church of disciples, who love God, believe in his Son, know his promises, and who rely on his mercy daily.

2 Kings 5

Jesus uses Naaman as an example in his preaching. He points out that there were many lepers in Elisha’s day, but the only one that he healed was Naaman the Syrian. It made the Jews so mad that they tried to kill him (Luke 4:27-30).

There’s lessons for us in that story. We have to beware of excluding people. (Of course, we also have to beware of including people that we shouldn’t, as Jehoshaphat found out when he was rebuked by a prophet for going to war with Ahab.)

Gehazi’s greed is also a lesson to us. How many of us, given the opportunity, would have followed in his footsteps? He wasn’t stealing. He was just greedily taking advantage of an opportunity that wasn’t his to take advantage of.

There’s a lesson to be learned from Naaman as well. He had an expectation of how he was to be healed, and he almost missed his healing because of it.

I’d sum up those lessons this way: A spiritual person is flexible, brave (standing up to and against the wicked), merciful (open to all who come to God honestly), and trusts God strenuously.

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