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2 Kings

This book is titled "4 Kingdoms" in the Greek Bible.[1]

The second book of Kings describes times of rapid change; not only the political turmoil of the collapse of the northern kingdom and later exile of the south, but also the introduction of money in place of bartering[2 p.78]. Archaeological evidence shows that the earliest coins were fairly shapeless lumps of metal marked with an official stamp (like a Hall-Mark) indicating that they had been checked for being of the right weight, substance, and purity.[3]

As the kings became weaker, the prophets became the focus of historical attention. This book describes events in the life of the prophets Elijah and his successor Elisha, who put God's point of view despite physical threats, and their words were confirmed by many miracles. But their warnings were mostly ignored, and at the end of the book Jerusalem is besieged by the Babylonians.

According to Nehemiah 8:17, the full Law was not followed throughout the period covered by this book.

See Old Testament regarding authorship. The book contains apparent inconsistencies (2 Kings 17:34 appears to contradict 33 and 41) and repetitions (2 Kings 17:1–6 = 2 Kings 18:9–12), which lead scholars to doubt whether it is the work of a single author, despite the consistent style. But the meaning of chapter 17 is clear: the people started worshipping YHWH without stopping worshipping other gods, with disastrous results.

The author presents a mixture of history (probably from existing sources) and his interpretation (e.g. 2 Kings 17:7f).

Commentary

1:8

cf. Matthew 3:4.

2:2–6

Elijah told Elisha to wait while he made his final whirlwind tour of the country, but Elisha came anyway. It seems that both Elijah and the other prophets were trying to guide Elisha away from witnissing his master's departure; did they think it would upset him?

Elijah kept saying "The Lord has sent me to..."; Elisha must understand that a prophet goes at God's command, and speaks the words God provides. The pace sounds as if Elijah was bursting with miraculous energy, and Elisha showed that he had comparable endurance. If it was a test, Elisha passed.

2:8

cf. Exodus 14:21.

2:9–11

The thing Elisha asks may be hard, but not too hard for God. When Elisha asks for a "double portion" he is asking for the eldest son's inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17), in other words, to take over Elijah's work; cf. Acts 1:9. When he sees Elijah depart he knows he has received what he asked for, so he is now the chief prophet to the Jews. This resembles the ascension of Jesus while the disciples watched (Acts 1:9).

Seeing Elijah depart may seem an arbitrary indicator of whether Elisha has inherited the prophet's role, but it might have been a test of whether Elisha could see what God was doing, as Elisha prayed for his servant in 6:17.

2:11

cf. Psalm 104:4, Mark 13:26

2:13–14

Elisha wanted to be like Elijah. He had seen Elijah strike the Jordan with the mantle, and the waters parted, and they walked across without getting wet (verse 8). So after Elijah was taken up into heaven, Elisha could not wait to try it out; and it worked. Elisha was encouraged that God was with him as he had been with Elijah, and those who watched were suitably impressed; God had affirmed his new prophet.

2:24

When Elisha cursed the boys, he put God on the spot; should he harm the boys, despite his love for them, or make his spokesman look powerless? He decided to go along with what Elisha said, though it was not his will. cf. 2 Kings 5:3, Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18.

4:6

cf. 1 Kings 17:14.

4:12

It seems odd that Elisha speaks to the woman through Gehazi, as if he was acting as interpreter, when on other occasions he spoke to her directly.

4:13

See comment on Matthew 10:40–42.

4:14

Gehazi's sensitivity to the woman's needs is admirable—​childless widows often became destitute in old age—​yet he seems only to think in terms of wealth or the lack of it; cf. 2 Kings 5:20.

4:32–35

Elisha was following the example of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:21–22.

4:42–44

Feeding of 100—​cf. Jesus feeding 5,000 (Matthew 14:14 etc.) and 4,000 (Mark 8, and see Jesus's comments in Matthew 16:9–10).

Elisha took what had been brought as an offering to God and used it to feed the hungry; cf. Hosea 6:6 "I desired mercy, and not sacrifice".

5:1

cf. 2 Kings 6:1; Naaman was a key enemy of Israel, so Elisha was showing us how to love our enemies. the way the story unfolds suggests that he needed to learn humility by stages; first he listened to a slave girl, then he asked his king to beg a favour from an enemy king, then he was insulted at Elisha's house, then he listened to his staff when they urged him to obey Elisha, and then he had to bathe seven times in view of his entourage.

5:3

The girl's rash promise that God would cure Naaman is repeated by some churches today, who offer healing to all, apparently without engaging with Luke 4:27 and 2 Corinthians 12:9 which indicate that not everyone is healed of every ailment. Rash promises put God on the spot: must he heal to protect the good name of his servants, or let the sick person go home disappointed? See the comment on 2 Kings 2:24.

5:11

Naaman had every right to be offended; for example, Melchizedek had come out to Abram (Genesis 14:18). Perhaps Elisha was testing his humility, or perhaps acquiring humiity was an important part of the treatment—​see comment on verse 21. The result is a lesson to us: typically we have to take action in support of our prayers, even if that action seems hopelessly inadequate.

Naaman typifies some people's response to God's call. God tends not to call us to what we would do anyway, but to what we would rather not. Naaman thought Elisha's instructions unpalateable and beneath him, so at first he refused to obey; surely he would not then have been healed. Similarly we may refuse God's call and consequently miss his blessing.

5:12

See comments on Baptism in the Appendix. Naaman was disappointed that he was offered nothing dramatic by Elisha; we too may look for something dramatic from God, when he wants to work through the mundane.

5:14

Naaman cleansed of leprosy—​cf. Jesus healing lepers, e.g. Luke 17:16. Naaman undertook to worship only the one true God from now on; this, not money, would be the way to pay his debt for his healing.

5:16

Elisha may have refused the gift to show that it was God, not he, that healed Naaman.

5:17

Naaman undertook to worship only the one true God from now on; this, not money, would be the way to pay his debt for his healing. His request for some earth suggests that he believed that gods were a property of the land, so in order to worship Elish's God at home, he needed Israeli soil there.

5:20

Gehazi had previously shown some pastoral sensitivity (2 Kings 4:14), so this verse represents a sad fall from grace.

5:21

Naaman got down from his chariot to meet Gehazi; he had been healed of more than just leprosy. He had learned a humility that Elisha apparently knew he needed (verse 11), and he had undertaken to worship only God from now on (verse 18).

5:27

Gehazi's doom seems rather arbitrary, though there's a poetic sort of justice in the fact that he wanted Naaman's money but got his disease instead. Naaman had been healed of leprosy and selfishness; perhaps Gehazi got leprosy as a sign that he was selfish?

6:17

cf. Psalm 34:7 and see comment on 2:9–11 concerning being able to see what God is doing.

6:22

Feed your enemy—​cf. Jesus "love your enemy".

7:1

God was defending his people silently, unlike in Judges 7:18. Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

7:16

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

7:18

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

9:13

cf. Luke 19:36.

11

The bravery of Jehoida and Jehosheba in protecting the heir to the throne Joash from Athaliah's purge of the house of David enabled the royalty, and hence the national pattern of life, to be restored, but according to Matthew's and Luke's genealogies of Jesus it did not affect Jesus's lineage.

12:1

The mention of the new king's mother could mean that his lineage was important, but this was a patriarchal society, and his father is not named. The succession accounts indicate that victory in politics and battle were the key factors. Apparently the queen mother was an influential figure, and worthy of mention in the chronicles.

13:5

Rohl[4 p.377] says the unidentified saviour was a pharoah; the Egyptians decided to push the Assyrians out of Palestine.

14:6

Many in those days would have killed the children also, to terminate a lineage that was competing for the throne, but God's law calls for mercy.

14:12

Somehow, relations between the northern and southern kingdoms had deteriorated to the point of outright war, which Judah lost.

15:20

Shekel: see Appendix 2 Money.

17:23

This verse indicates that 2 Kings was written during the exile of Israel.

18:4

This verse refers to Numbers 21:9.

18:9f

The annals of Sennacherib record attacks on the towns and villages of Judah in 701 BCE, which displaced 200,150 inhabitants, and the siege of Jerusalem with King Hezekiah inside.[9]

18:13f

"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold...".[5]

18:17–20:19

cf. Isaiah 36:1–38, Isaiah 38:21—​Isaiah 39:8 which is very similar.

18:21

Egypt's policy was to use Judah as a buffer between them and the Babylonian empire.[6 p.1]

19:32

This verse is the culmination of a series of promises from God via Isaiah to Hezekiah. It promises complete rescue, but lacks details about how or when it will be achieved. Hezekiah can do no more than pray and believe. There are strong parallels with our salvation.

20:20

Hezekiah's tunnel is 500m long and connects the Gihon spring to the Pool of Siloam. Radio dating of vegetable matter found in the plaster lining of confirms a date of 700 BCE.[7]

21:1

Manasseh's name was taken from the eldest son of Joseph and his tribe (Joshua 17:1).

21:13

Measuring line—​cf. Revelation 11:1, Revelation 21:15 and "Canon" in the Appendix.

22:8

See comment on 2 Chronicles 34:14.

22:13

This verse indicates uncertainty about whether a covenant like the Sinai one, once broken, can be renewed. If not, the writer was wasting his time following God. It is healthy to face up to our doubts.

23:24

See comment on Daniel 1:1.

23:25

Josiah is presented as an anointed servant of God; perhaps this was the sort of messiah the people were expecting in Jesus's time.

24:1

See comment on Daniel 1:1.

24:12–17

It is claimed that 24:12 took place on 15 March 597 BCE.[10 p.44]

After the deportation of Jehoiachin to Babyon there was tension between him and his supporters and Zedekiah the puppet king ruling the remnant in Jerusalem.[6 p.2] Ezra 5:14–15 tells us that the sacred vessels were returned after the exile, but the larger ones including the "bronze sea" had been broken up and scrapped.

24:18–25:30

cf. Jeremiah 52:1–34 which is very similar.

25:27

This verse represents the first hint that the exile in Babylon might end in release rather than destruction of the Jewish identity. Nebuchadrezzar's son Amel-Marduk is called "Evil-Merodach" here and in Jeremiah 52:31[8 p.44].

References:

  1. Holy Bible New Revised Standard Version Anglicized Edition, 1998 Oxford: OUP, 1989 & 1995
  2. Bowker, John Complete Bible Handbook London: Dorling Kindersley 1998
  3. New Scientist 5 April 2003 p.26
  4. Rohl, David A Test of Time: The Bible—​from myth to history London: Century 1995
  5. Lord Byron 1815 The Destruction of Senaccherib :13
  6. Breuggeman, W A Commentary on Jeremiah Eerdmans 1998
  7. New Scientist 13 September 2003 p.26
  8. Miller, S. Daniel in Clendenen, E. (General Editor) "New American Commentary" series (USA: Broadman & Holman, 1994)
  9. Roland, Rev. Andy: Bible in Brief (Croydon: Filament 2016) p.59
  10. Coggins, R Introducing the Old Testament Oxford: OUP, 2001

© David Billin 2002–2021