Second Kings continues the sorry tale of the decline of the Divided Kingdom, punctuated by a few bright spots in the southern kingdom of Judah and spectacular events surrounding the prophet, Elijah’s successor was Elisha. The schools of prophets seemed to know that Elijah was about to be taken and kept asking Elisha whether he knew. I can’t help smiling over the apparent exasperation of Elisha, “Stop reminding me!” It’s the trouble with godly prophets. They seem to know everything!
Sacrifice To The Gods
I had to think a bit about 3:27, where the battle is going against the king of Moab and in desperation he offers his first-born son as a burnt offering to the god, Chemosh, on the city wall. The text tells us that as a result, “The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land.” Some understanding of this seems to be that God was displeased with Israel’s King Ahab in some unspecified way and turned the tide back and/or that Israel were so disgusted by the sacrifice that they retreated. However, I have to say that it doesn’t read that way to me. Perhaps here we have one of those tantalising biblical glimpses into a spirit world where there is war going on, which is somehow linked in places with our physical world (Compare with Daniel’s vision in Daniel 10, especially verse 13). Could it be that the Moabite king’s heinous sacrifice did indeed energise evil in some way as to temporarily turn the tide? I don’t want to suggest that God was somehow overpowered, rather that individual battles, as part of the greater war on evil, may be more complex than we think. There is also an acknowledgment that behind Chemosh is Satan, who is powerful, though ultimately defeated in God’s overall purposes. It’s just a thought!
Naaman And The Servants
The story of the healing of Naaman’s skin disease is a reminder that grace comes without cost. Only the act of obedient response was required. The means by which Naaman receives the message of healing comes through an unnamed young servant girl, Elisha’s servant Gehazi, and Naaman’s own servant. It is still the servants of God who proclaim Good News and it is still God who brings it to effect in the lives of people.
Against The Odds
I like the story in chapter 6. First, Elisha’s statement in the face of impossible odds: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then, Elisha’s servant enabled to see the hills full of horses and chariots (another glimpse behind the scenes!). Next, the Arameans are struck with blindness and led into their enemy’s capital. You can imagine the look on their faces when they could suddenly see where they were. But here, in contrast to so many other acts of cruelty and revenge in Kings, Elisha recommends an act of grace where they are fed and sent home. “So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory” – the cycle of revenge was broken, at least in the short term. We could do with more of Elisha’s wisdom!
The Purge of Jehu
Jehu is a contrast to Elisha. At one level he carries out a purge of much of the evil of Israel in response to an apparent prophecy from God, but at another (as I heard one speaker express it), he took far for more delight in his task than any sane man should. I note that you could see him coming from a great distance. He drove like a madman! I also note that afterwards he continued worshipping the golden calves that his predecessor, King Jeroboam, had set up. It’s one thing to do the will of God, it’s another matter how you do it.
Exile And The Judgement Of God
Israel’s Exile to Assyria and Judah’s later Exiles to Babylon are clearly explained by the writer and the prophets as the judgement of God…
“All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God… They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced…
…They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless” 17:7-8, 15
The catalogue of Judean King Josiah’s reforms is a catalogue of how far Judah had fallen. All the good things King Hezekiah had done were then undone by King Manasseh and the changes that Josiah instigated then unravelled under subsequent kings, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar was complete. Only a poor remnant remained in the Land.
We are usually reluctant to ascribe disasters and world events to the judgement of God. It should be noted that Israel and Judah had pledged a special covenantal relationship with God, which made them especially accountable for their idolatry. All I will add here is that God has revealed himself to the world through the things he has made and particularly through Jesus Christ. To ignore the Creator and his directions for life is to invite trouble at an individual, international and environmental level. The other message of Kings is, however, that when we do turn to God, he brings guidance and deliverance so that people may live in peace and enjoy his goodness in this life and the next.