|"The Flight of the Prisoners" by James Tissot (1836-1902)|
This week I’ve been studying 2 Kings. The book covers over 260 years, from the death of King Ahaziah of Israel through the fall of the northern kingdom to the fall of the southern kingdom.
This book is the conclusion of what scholars have called the Deuteronomistic history, beginning with Deuteronomy and including Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. The hypothesized source for the narrative provides a theological explanation for the fall of Judah, as well as a bridge to a return from exile. Remember that these books (Joshua through Kings) are called the Former Prophets in the Jewish Bible, because the prophets are important figures among these narratives, and the upcoming prophetic books speak to the historical and theological circumstances of the kingdoms.
My Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible points out some important aspects of 1 and 2 Kings. One is that the narratives not only including kingly history but stories of everyday people affected by government policies. Notice how both Elijah and Elisha take the time to help those in need.
Another aspect: true power lies not in the kings, but in the word of God expressed in the prophets (p. 482-483). In fact, the narratives express a suspicion of power, whether used for good or bad purposes (p. 484).
Still another aspect is that God is involved in public life as well as the hearts of individuals (p. 484).
And also, the books express the reality that security is of God alone---not even the sources of the people’s trust, like the Davidic kingdom and Solomon’s temple, are secure if God is not safeguarding them (p. 532).
As with interpreting the Torah, one must seek faithful ways to interpret narratives and provisions from an ancient time. An Iron Age monarchy and society differs from our contemporary technological society and representative democracy. But the books of Kings “suggest that a life that recognizes and confesses vulnerability is a life of well-being an power through God… a life that involves releasing our tight grip on all our arrangements for power so that God may inaugurate hopeful newness. For the Church, that is a familiar message. It is the witness of the cross, ever challenging, ever compelling” (ibid., p. 533).
Here are highlights of 2 Kings. Some of my books indicate that the chronologies of the text are difficult to reconcile. These approximate dates of the prophets and the kings’ reigns come from chronological charts in Bernhard W. Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament (third edition, Prentice Hall, 1975).
The first block of material is the history of the divided kingdom to the revolt of Jehu.
* Death of Ahaziah of Israel (849), 1:1-18; he beseeches Baalzebub for help instead of the Lord.
* Elijah and Elisha, 2:1-25: Elijah is taken into heaven in a fiery chariot, and Elisha assumes his mantle and embarks on his prophetic ministry—beginning with his famous curse of 42 little boys who called him “baldhead.” For more on Elisha's "adventures," see for instance http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/elisha
* Jehoram of Israel (849-842), 3:1-27, and his successful campaign against the Moabites.
* Miracles and other works of Elisha, 4:1-8:15. Among his miracles, he promised a son to the Shunammite woman and later raises the son from the dead and otherwise helps her; he made poisonous stew edible; he healed the Gentile Naaman of his leprosy; he fed a hundred people with a little food; he makes man’s iron ax head float so that he could recover it; and others.
* Jehoram of Judah (849-842), 8:16-24
Ahaziah of Judah (842), 8:25-29
Jehu of Israel (842-815), 9:1-10:1-36. Elisha anionts Jehu, who with his men kill Jezebel, and then Jehoram, and Ahaziah was also mortally wounded. Jehu and his men subsequently kill all of Ahab’s family, avenging the death of Naboth (9:21, 25, 26), and also massacre worshipers of Baal. Jehu’s faithfulness to God resulted in a substantial dynasty (15:12) but Jehu did not continue to follow God’s laws (10:31), and so the Lord trims off parts of Israel (10:32-36).
* Athaliah and Joash of Judah (842-837, 837-800), 11:1-21
Joash’s reforms, 12:1-21. He repairs the temple and also uses temple gold to make Hazel of Aram withdraw from Jerusalem.
* Jehoahaz of Israel (815-801), 13:1-9
Jehoash/Joash of Israel (801-786); Elisha’s death, 13:10-13:25.
Amaziah of Judah (800-783), 14:1-22, who warred against Israel.
Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746), 14:23-29, who did evil, but God saved the kingdom for the time being.
About here, it should be noted that the prophets Amos and Hosea prophesied to the Northern Kingdom in about the 740s and 750s.
* Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (783-742), 15:1-7, who did what was right but also did not remove the foreign altars and so God struck him with leprosy.
Remember that the northern prophet Isaiah dated his prophetic call to the year King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6:1).
* Chapter 15: stories of horrible violence, bribery, conspiracy, idolatry, and assassination, though ending with the reign of Uzziah’s son Jothan, who like his father was righteous yet did n’t remove the false offerings.
Zechariah of Israel (746-745), 15:8-12
Shallum of Israel (one month in about 745), 15:13-16
Menahem of Israel (745-738), 15:17-22
Pekahiah of Israel (738-737), 15:23-26
Pekah of Israel (737-732), 15:27-31
Jotham of Judah (742-735), 15:32-38
* Ahaz of Judah (737-715), 16:1-20, who was an evil ruler, but he saved Judah from the threats of Aram and Israel by paying tribute to Assyria’s ruler Tiglath-pileser.
* Finally the northern kingdom is attacked and conquered by Assyria during the reign of the last king, Hoshea of Israel. 17:1-6. The Deuteronomistic historian comments extensively on the sins that led to Israel’s fall (17:7-23), and describes the resettlement of the area. Among the new settlers were the people who became known as Samaritans. (Samaria is the area of the land's central region, earlier associated with the tribes Ephraim and Manasseh.)
Here are Assyrian reliefs from that time period, in the British Museum. (My photos from a 2011 visit)
* From chapter 18 to the end of 2 Kings, the kings are of Judah:
Hezekiah (715-687), 18:1-8-20:1-21. Hezekiah was righteous and also tore down the high places, false idols, and other idols. Even the bronze snake of Moses’ time had become an idol, and he destroyed it (18:4). But he faced the challenge of the Assyrians, too, who besieged Jerusalem. The mockery of Assyrian representatives hastens the divine deliverance. (2 Kings 19 is identical to Isaiah 37, and that prophet is a key focuser in both.)
* Manasseh (687-642), 21:1-18, Hezekiah’s son, was very wicked and did much evil. This is the last straw. Although 2 Chronicles 33:11-19 records the king’s repentance, God’s judgment against Judah was now certain because of Manasseh's idolatry and violence.
* Amon of Judah (642-640), 21:19-26, was also evil, but
* Josiah (640-609), 22:1-25:30, was a righteous king who prepared the temple, and in doing so recovered the book of the law (probably the text of Deuteronomy 12-26) and with great sorrow sought to renew the covenant and to initiate reforms throughout the kingdom. Sadly, God’s wrath was still kindled against Judah, and Josiah was killed in an unfortunate meeting with Pharaoh Neco.
The prophets Zephaniah (about 628-622), Jeremiah (about 626-587), Habakkuk (about 605), and Ezekiel (about 593-573) are from this general period, while 2 Isaiah was exilic: about 540.
* Jehoahaz (609), 23:31-33, briefly reigned, but he was taken captive by the Pharaoh. His successor Eliakim/Jehoiakim (609-598, 23:34-24:6, also did evil in God’s sight, as did Jehoiachin (598-597), 24:7-12. In his eighth year as king, he was taken prisoner by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who looted Jerusalem and carried away many inhabitants. Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah as king. But Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrible end of Zedekiah and his sons (25:1-7). Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was burned, demolished, and looted. Nebuchadnezzar appointed the ill-fated Gedaliah to be governor of the land of Judah (25:22-26).
Remember all the history of the tribes of Israel in Genesis, Joshua, and Judges? That all comes to an end in 2 Kings, with only Judah, Benjamin, and the priestly tribe Levi remaining. Is the promise of God to Abraham--many descendants, and a land of their own--finished, too?
The conclusion of the book is a sign of hope: the Judahite ruler Jehoiachin (who is, of course, of the family of David) is freed from prison and is well treated for the rest of his life (25:27-30). Tragic as the situation is for God’s people, this is a sign of hope that God has not abandoned his covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. Yet--as we saw with the conclusion of Deuteronomy--faithfulness to God will likely continue without attachment to the land.
One of my older books comments this way about the end of 2 Kings: "Whilst there is life, there is hope; we may not despair. God can turn the dungeon, when he pleases, into a palace. When our friend the great King shall sit on the throne of his kingdom, then he shall loose the bands of death, change the prison garments of his saints, clothe them with immortality, and placing their throne next his own, make them sit down with him, and reign in glory everlasting" (Rev. Thomas Haweis, The Evangelical Expositor; or, a Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. 1 (Glasgow, Blackie & Son, 1834), p. 678).
It would be good to recap the historical books that we've traversed, make some connections, and to look ahead. The following material is from one of my other blogs.
* The historical books Joshua through Kings have several major themes. One is the keeping of the covenant: God will reward faithfulness and will eventually punish wickedness and apostasy. A recurring reminder is the way God redeemed his people from Egypt (e.g., 1 Kings 6;1, 8:9, 16, 21, 51, 53; 9:9; 12:28; 2 Kings 17:36; 21:15), a reminder which is of course a significant aspect of the Torah. So the historical books connect back to the Torah in narrating (1) God's faithfulness across the centuries, and (2) the people's failure to keep their part of the covenant---especially because their kings have failed.
* Another major theme is experience of the Land (ha-aretz)—the land promised to Israel since Abram in Genesis 12. As we saw in the Torah, God guides his people, establishes his covenant with them, gives them his law, and leads them to the Land under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua. Holding and keeping the Land, though, remains a challenge across the centuries: the campaigns and conquests of Joshua are only the beginning of that story.(1)
* Connected to the Land is the history of the monarchy. Commentators like Anderson note that while the tribal confederacy of the Judges period had problems with faithfulness and idolatry, those problems were different from other nations in that they were defined by their covenant to the Lord. But once Israel had a king, an additional temptation was added: becoming a nation like any other nation. Certainly God’s power was operative, for instance, in the selection of Saul and David and the ongoing life of the people, especially in light of the Philistine threat. But, as Anderson notes, the true successors of the judges were the prophets rather than the kings: “the religious faith of the Confederacy [the Judges] survived its collapse and found new expression in Israel’s prophetic movement. Israel was not allowed to identify a human kingdom with the Kingdom of God, for Yahweh alone was king.”(2)
Unfortunately, that meant that Israel and Judah had eventually to collapse, as warned by the prophets, in order that the remnant could become truly faithful to the covenant.
When we explore the stories of David and his successors, we notice difficulties building. Although Israel became a renowned kingdom (occasioning the famous Queen of Sheba’s visit in 1 Kings 10:1-10), we also hear of the horror of the hanging of Saul’s seven sons (and the tragic figure of the concubine Rizpah: 2 Sam. 21:1-14), continued conflict with the Philistines (2 Sam. 21:15-22), terrible results of David’s census (2 Sam. 24), the rebellions and difficulties within David’s own family (2 Sam. 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2), the many stories of violence and idolatry and corruption among the narratives of the kings, and eventually the division of the kingdom following Solomon’s death.(3)
On the other hand, the possibilities of monarchy gave rise to the hope for a future king who would reunite the people and regain and surpass the possibilities of peace and prosperity---as we read in the famous messianic passages that we specially embrace during Advent and Christmas: Isaiah 7:10-17, 9:2-7, and 11:1-9.
Thus, within these stories, David emerges as a kind of “typology” for God’s rule.(4) The two mountains, Sinai and Zion, stand for the two covenants of God, and Nathan’s prophecy (2 Samuel 7) links David’s descendants to God’s Sinai covenant. All earlier ambivalence about a monarchy changes to a confidence in God’s rulership through David’s line--God's remarkable commitment to his people via David. And since David is identified with Jerusalem (Zion) in his selection of that place as capital, Zion became identified as God’s own city, the city of God's peace (Ps. 46, 48, 76, and others).(5)
Of course, the line of David, also celebrated in the psalms (2, 20, 31, 45, and others) connects to the later messianic hope that grows in Israel’s history and, for Christians, finds fulfillment in Jesus.
* Another theme of these biblical books is the Jerusalem temple. The Temple, promised to David and constructed during Solomon’s reign, is connected to the history of the Tabernacle before it (Ex. 35-40) and, of course, to the Land itself. David’s hope for a great, permanent house in the Land for God is not fulfilled, but his son Solomon constructs the facility (2 Sam. 7, 1 Kings 5-8). Like the monarchy, the Temple did not survive the collapse of Judah and Jerusalem in 586 (1 Kings 25:8, 9, 13-17), but the Temple serves in Israelite memory through the exile in, for instance, the dynamic vision of a restored Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. Following the exile, the high priest Jeshua and the governor Zerubbabel, helped by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, supervise the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 3-6). After the Old Testament period, Herod the Great began work on a restored temple in 20-19 BC, a building effort still going on during Jesus’ time. Herod’s temple was finally completed, ironically, just a few years before the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD.
* The fall of Jerusalem in about 586 BC and the subsequent exile of the people in Babylon in 586-536 BC (2 Kings 24:18-25:30 and Jer. 52:1-34) are key events for the entire Bible.(6) Even if you’re a regular Bible reader you may miss the tremendous significance of the exile; the whole Bible radiates before and after that catastrophe.(7) We know little about the forty years in the wilderness (passed over in silence between Numbers 17:13 and 20:1), and we also have comparatively little history in the Bible about the exile itself, besides 2 Kings 25, Jeremiah 52, Lamentations, Psalms 79 and 137.(8) But the whole biblical history beginning with God’s promises to Abraham comes to a catastrophic turning point at the exile; much of the prophetic writings in the Bible reflect issues before, during, and after the exile; and the promises of God to David for a future Davidic monarchy become a great hope of Israel following the exile. The upcoming books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the post-exilic efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple and to reestablish the people on the Land. (9) That post-exilic hope is understood in the New Testament as being fulfilled in Christ.(10)
In addition to these themes and connections, we find numerous other connections within the biblical books:
* The connection of Noah’s curse of Canaan (Gen. 9:25-26) with the Canaanite tribes who figure throughout the historical books.(11)
* The ongoing theme of the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-16, Num. 13-14, Deut. 25:17, 19, Judges 3:13, 1 Sam. 15, et al.), connecting Joshua with Saul and later Hezekiah (1 Chr. 4:41-43).(12)
* The ongoing theme of Bethel (Josh. 18:21-22, Judges 1:22-26, 20:18, 26-28, 1 Sam. 7:16, 1 Kings 12:26-32, 2 Kings 17:27-28, 2 Kings 23:15-23, Ezra 2:28, Neh. 7:32, 11:31).(13)
* The connection of the places Gilgal (Josh. 4:19-5:12, 1 Sam. 11:15, 13:1-10) and also Gibeon (Josh. 9:3-27, 2 Sam. 2:12-3:1. As one commentator puts it, “The story [of Gibeonites] signals radical Davidic centralization by highlighting Joshua’s fulfillment of Yahweh’s command.” But also these Joshua stories connect to the law of herem (Deut. 7:1-6, 20:16-18), wherein God requires the annihilation of the people and prohibits the taking of spoils, a requirement at which Saul failed in his handling of the Amalekites.(14)
We also find interconnections of the historical books with the New Testament. Anyone struggling with the relevance of the historical books with Christian faith can take comfort that these books are foundational for our faith.
* The great themes of Yahweh’s covenant and salvation. The name “Joshua” is in Hebrew the same name as “Jesus,” meaning “Yahweh saves.”
* The theme of the Land. The Land is not spiritualized in the Old Testament the way that it tends to be in the New. In the Old, we speak of the actual land and its possession. Deutero-Isaiah begins to move in a more spiritual direction (Isa. 44:24ff, 49:14ff), and in the New Testament, Jesus himself becomes the “place” where God dwells (John 1:14).(15)
* The theme of the Kingdom of God. The phrase is not used in the Old Testament, but the kingdom of God is the principle theme of Jesus’ preaching and connects with God’s sovereignty through Israel’s history. As Graeme Goldworthy puts it, “While the Old Testament is everywhere eloquent in describing the sovereignty of God in history to work out his purposes, Jesus declares that he is the goal of that sovereign working of God.”(16)
* The theme of a new kind of monarchy under David’s descendant, Jesus. In his person and work, Jesus brings themes like the Lamb of God, the sufferings of David, and the suffering servant of Isaiah into the theme of the king of Israel: thus, when Jesus is killed, the charge against him is “king of the Jews.”(17) But in his suffering and death is victory over sin and death, and the ambiguities of the Israelite monarchy are understood to be resolved.
* The theme of the Temple. The New Testament never explicitly mentions the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, an odd omission. Jesus quotes Jeremiah concerning the Temple, and he himself is understood to be the new temple (John 2:20-22). Paul, in turn, calls each of us “temples of the Holy Spirit” in that God’s presence dwells within us (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
* The realities of post-exilic Judaism provide a more subtle connection. Groups like the Pharisees and Sadducees , as well as the Essenes and Zealots, formed in response to the needs of the people during the post-exilic time, as did institutions like synagogues, Sabbath requirements, and festivals to which Jews—many living in different parts of the world after the exile—came to Jerusalem (e.g., John 11:55 and also Acts 2:5-11).
* Not only is the exile a decisive turning point for the whole Bible—a climax of a long drama but also a new beginning for Jews and later for Christians—scholars hypothesize that the compilations and editing of law codes and historical materials happened as during and after the exile. Thus, the exile and the restoration necessitated the composition of the Bible itself!
* Of course, the Jews who became the first Christians were post-exilic Jews who, like other Jews, looked to another kind restoration of Israel’s fortunes. The Christians saw that restoration and monarchical fulfillment in the Jew Jesus, and they based that hope upon exilic texts like Isaiah 40-66.
* It is worth noting that exilic language flavors many Christian hymns, especially those that refer to our heavenly home to which we live in hope. In childhood Vacation Bible School I learned that peppy song “Do Lord” with its evocation of “Glory Land.” I also learned “Bringing in the Sheaves,” based on the post-exilic Psalm 136 and the struggle of returning exiles to reestablish agriculture.
Gordon J. Wenham writes, “The [book of Genesis] begins with the triumphant account of God creating the world in six days and declaring it ‘very good’, and it ends with Joseph confidently looking forward to his burial in the promised land. Judges by contrast opens with the rather ineffective efforts of the Israelite tribes to conquer that land and closes after a most dreadful civil war with the gloomy reflection, ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25).” Story as Torah: Reading Old Testament Narrative Ethically (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 45.
2 Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 162-163. Brevard S. Childs notes that the Old Testament has a presumed “pro-monarchial” source in 1 Sam. 8-12, specifically 9:1-10:16 and 11:1-5, compared with anti-monarchical sources (1 Sam. 8:1-22, 10:17-27, 12:1-25) that view a human king as an act of disobedience to God, the true monarch. Childs looks at the texts’ canonical shape and concludes that, although some of the biblical traditions were hostile to a monarchy, the final form of the text affirms God’s involvement in the monarchy, even though a monarchy was not part of God’s original plan (Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1986], 115). Furthermore, he continues, the career of the greatest monarch, David, becomes deeply significant for Israel’s ongoing hope in God’s redemption (Isa. 9:6-7, Jer. 23:5ff, Ps. 45, 72, 110, and the way David’s speech in 2 Sam. 22 echoes Hanna’s song in 1 Sam. 2). In his Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), Childs sees a similar tension regarding the book of Judges. The book itself connects the moral decline of the period to the lack of a king (18:1, 21:25), but in the anti-monarchical passages of 1 Samuel (e.g. 12:12ff), the office of judges rather than a monarch was God’s intention for Israel. Yet the future hope of Israel lay not in a judge but a Davidic king (150-151).
3 Anderson, Understanding the Old Testament, 184. Under the kingship of Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12) the kingdom divides between the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah). A succession of kings rule Israel for the subsequent two hundred years until the Assyrians conquer that land in about 722 BC (2 Kings 12). The later Babylonians did not compel the resettlement of conquered areas but the Assyrians did. Consequently, the deportation of the tribes in the northern kingdom resulted not only in “the lost tribes of Israel” but also the beginning of the Samaritan (2 Kings 17:1-6, 24-41, 18:9, 1 Chr. 5:26). Later, those from the southern kingdom who returned from Babylonian exile came into conflict with Samaritans in the years following (Hag. 2:10ff, Ezra 10:2ff, Neh. 4:1ff). See Childs, Biblical Theology, 162.
4 A helpful book to me was Walter Brueggemann, In Man We Trust: The Neglected Side of Biblical Faith (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1972), on the freedom of David.
5 Childs, Biblical Theology, 154-55.
6 Ralph W. Klein, “Exile,” The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007), 367-370.
7 As commentator Choo-Leong Seow notes, Judah was destroyed because of persistent disobedience. (2 Kings 17). The righteous Hezekiah forestalled this judgment (2 Kings 20), but his son Manasseh was the worst of all the kings, on par with the northern king Jeroboam. Even Josiah’s reforms could not reverse God’s judgment following Manasseh’s sins (2 Kings 22:1-23:30). Choon-Leong Seow, “The First and Second Books of Kings,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume V (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 5, 6.
8 See Childs, Biblical Theology, 161-163, for several aspects of the period from biblical sources.
9 A book I enjoyed in seminary is Peter R. Ackroyd, Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought in the Sixth Century B.C. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968).
10 Although Israel’s hope is understood to be fulfilled in Christ, themes of the exile still shape the Bible. As Peter-Ben Smith points out, a key biblical theme, beginning with the Garden Eden, is that we are all in exile and long to be redeemed from exile. He points out that the Christian liturgical traditions are filled with the language of exile, and also the exile functions in theologies of liberation (the struggle for freedom amid oppression) and other contemporary theologies. The biblical language about Jesus’ death and resurrection connects to Passover, which of course concerns the earlier exile of Egyptian slavery. Peter-Ben Smith, “Ecumenism in Exile,” World Council of Churches’ website, http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/the-wcc-and-the-ecumenical-movement-in-the-21st-century/relationships-with-member-churches/60th-anniversary/contest/essay-ecumenism-in-exile.html. Accessed 2012.
11 These and the following scripture references are from Robert B. Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume II, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 559.
12 Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 561.
13 Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 562.
14 Coote, “The Book of Joshua,” 562, 566 (quotation on page 562)
15 Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith, chapter 10.
16 Goldworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 52-53.
17 Goldworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible, 53.