I. The Divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (2 Kings 1:1–17:41)
I. The Divided Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (1:1–17:41)
A. The Reign of Ahaziah in Israel (1:1-18)
1:1 Having learned at the end of 1 Kings that King Ahaziah of Israel “served Baal” (1 Kgs 22:53), we will soon catch a glimpse of the king’s devotion to this abominable god. When Ahaziah’s father Ahab died, Moab—who had been paying tribute to Israel (see 3:4)—rebelled. The international political landscape was changing, leading to an approaching war.
1:2 King Ahab had been an idolater, and his son Ahaziah was a chip off the old block. Even when he suffered a serious injury by falling from a window, he sought a word from Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, rather than the Lord. “Baal-zebub” means “Lord of the Flies.” With this term, the author was intentionally mocking this false god, by changing the name “Baal-zebul,” which means “Lord of Glory,” to something less impressive. Ahaziah chose to look to a Philistine idol (Ekron was a Philistine city) for help. And, though the king hadn’t inquired of the true God, he was about to receive an answer from him anyway.
1:3-4 The prophet Elijah the Tishbite had been a thorn in King Ahab’s side. His son Ahaziah was about to get a dose of the same harsh treatment he’d received from the prophet. God told Elijah to intercept the king’s messengers and deliver to them a question and a pronouncement. First, he asked Ahaziah why he was seeking advice from a foreign god—as if Israel had no God of their own (1:3). Second, as a result of the king’s failure to seek the Lord, Elijah sent him a divine prognosis: he would certainly die (1:4).
1:5-12 When the messengers returned and relayed the news (1:5-6), the king only needed a physical description to know exactly who the prophet of doom was: Elijah the Tishbite (1:7-8). Apparently, Ahaziah had learned nothing from his father’s encounters with Elijah. This was the same prophet who had stood on a mountain and called down fire from heaven (see 1 Kgs 18:30-40). Nevertheless, the king sent a captain with his fifty men to take Elijah into custody (1:9).
The captain demanded that this man of God come with them (1:9). But, if he was truly a “man of God,” why were fifty soldiers trying to arrest him? Given the respect he should’ve been shown, Elijah said, If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men. And, in an instant, they were wiped out (1:10). Unfortunately for captain number two and his men, Ahaziah was not deterred. The second captain made the same demand of Elijah but insisted that he come with them immediately (1:11). But, the only thing that happened immediately was a doubling of the body count (1:12).
1:13-15 It seems the king was short on wisdom and long on expendable troops because he sent a third detachment. But, the third captain wasn’t as bold as the other two. He fell on his knees and begged Elijah not to wipe them out (1:13). In light of the captain’s humility and recognition that Elijah was truly a man of God, the Lord told Elijah to accompany them to the king (1:13, 15).
1:16-18 Ahaziah accomplished two things through his efforts to take Elijah into custody: the death of more than a hundred of his men and the opportunity for Elijah to pronounce God’s judgment in person. The prophet repeated his earlier prophecy. Ahaziah was an idolater who would not recover from his injury; he would certainly die (1:16). And, indeed, Ahaziah died in accordance with the Lord’s pronouncement. His son Joram, who would also prove to be faithless, succeeded him to the throne (1:17).
B. The Departure of Elijah and the Ministry of Elisha (2:1–8:15)
2:1 As the previous chapter revealed, Elijah had lost none of his power, but it was time for him to be taken up to heaven and pass on the spiritual baton of prophetic leadership (2:1). Elisha, the man whom God appointed to be Elijah’s helper and successor (see 1 Kgs 19:16, 19-21), was aware of this, as the following narrative makes plain.
2:2-3 As the two men were traveling together, Elijah told Elisha to stay in Gilgal because the Lord was sending him to Bethel (2:2). But, Elisha refused to abandon his mentor. At Bethel, they encountered some sons of the prophets. The phrase doesn’t mean “children of the prophets”; instead, it was apparently some sort of school or seminary (a prophet training center). Having divine insight, they asked Elisha whether he knew that God would take his master away that day. Elisha knew, but he didn’t want to talk about it (2:3).
2:4 Elijah’s next destination at the Lord’s command was Jericho. And, once again, he told Elisha to stay behind. Was this a test for Elisha? He knew that God was taking Elijah away within hours, and he also knew that he was to be Elijah’s successor. Was Elijah testing his protégé to see if he was ready to accept his divine responsibility? If so, Elisha showed no sign of turning back from his calling. Once again, he declared, I will not leave you. Elisha’s insistence demonstrated his commitment to accepting the mantle of leadership.
2:5 In Jericho, they visited another community of the sons of the prophets (see commentary on 2:2-3). Just like the group in Bethel, they asked Elisha if he knew God was taking Elijah away. Again, perhaps filled with sorrow, Elisha told them to be quiet.
2:6-7 For the final time, Elijah told Elisha not to follow him. But, Elisha vowed again to accompany his master and walked with him to the Jordan River (2:6). Each one of the locations along their route was a place where God’s presence and power had been demonstrated. It seems, then, that Elijah wanted Elisha to review with him key locations memorializing God’s acts to build up Elisha’s confidence in God’s presence and power being with him.
When the pair reached their destination, fifty men from the sons of the prophets arrived with them (2:7). They knew it was time for Elijah to depart, so they had traveled to say farewell to Israel’s faithful prophet. They would also serve as witnesses to the transfer of prophetic authority.
2:8-9 Elijah then performed his final miracle by parting the Jordan with his mantle, a sleeveless outer garment, so he and Elisha could cross over on dry ground (2:8). Once there, the elder prophet asked his successor if he had any final requests. So, Elisha boldly asked, Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit (2:9).
This was no random request. Elisha was likely thinking of Deuteronomy 21:17, which states that a “firstborn” son was entitled to “two shares” of his father’s estate. Based on God’s own testimony (see 1 Kgs 19:16), Elisha was to be anointed prophet in Elijah’s “place.” Elijah was his spiritual “father” (see 2:12), and Elisha was his heir, so to speak. It was a legitimate request, and Elisha knew he would need an extra dose of divine enablement for the tasks that lay ahead.
2:10-12 Though the request was legitimate, it was not Elijah’s to grant. So, he stated the condition for Elisha’s plea to be granted. If God chose to honor Elisha’s request, he would actually see Elijah being taken away by God. And, as they continued along their way, a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire suddenly appeared. Elijah climbed aboard and went up into heaven.
Though Elijah didn’t die, he was still taken away. Elisha grieved the loss of his mentor. It appears he called Elijah both my father, a title of respect, and the chariots and horsemen of Israel, an acknowledgment that Israel’s true strength was not in their army but in this one who faithfully delivered the Word of God (2:12).
2:13-14 When the chariot had faded into the distance, Elisha picked up Elijah’s fallen mantle, which was the symbol of his authority. As Elijah’s successor, he put the mantle to work by striking the Jordan with it (2:13). Then, Elisha showed that he knew the true source of power. The power wasn’t in him, nor was it in the garment. It was in the Lord God. Then, the waters of the river parted just as they had for Elijah (2:14).
2:15-18 The sons of the prophets from Jericho recognized that a transfer of authority had taken place, so they showed deference to Elisha (2:15). Nevertheless, they asked to go and search for Elijah (2:16), though it’s not clear why. Even though they knew that Elisha had assumed Elijah’s role, they may have thought that Elijah would make a landing somewhere after his supernatural flight. (After all, it’s not every day that someone rides to heaven in a fiery chariot never to be seen again!) Or, it could be that they thought God would leave his body behind somewhere so that they could bury it.
Whatever the sons of the prophets thought had happened to Elijah, Elisha didn’t want them to search (2:16). He knew Elijah was gone. But, they urged him to the point of embarrassment (2:17). So, Elisha let them search, but to no avail (2:17-18). Elijah wouldn’t be seen again—until several hundred years later when he appeared with Moses on a mountain in Israel, talking with the Son of God (see Matt 17:1-3).
2:19-25 If anyone questioned whether Elisha had received a double dose of divine power as he had requested (2:9), he answered their concerns with amazing demonstrations of power—both for healing and for judgment. First, he provided a miraculous cure for water that had turned bad (2:19-22). Then, when some small boys . . . jeered at Elisha, he cursed them, and the Lord brought swift judgment on them by means of two . . . bears (2:23-24). Scholars debate the meaning of the phrase translated “small boys” here; it could refer to young men. Regardless, they mocked God’s prophet by saying, Go up, baldy! (2:23). Apparently, they wanted Elisha to go away, to “go up” like Elijah had done, never to be seen again.
While what happened to the boys may seem like a harsh judgment, we must remember that this is exactly what God warned Israel about when he made his covenant with them. In Leviticus, the Lord told his people what he would do if they were hostile toward him and refused to obey: “I will send wild animals against you that will deprive you of your children” (Lev 26:21-22). Ultimately, then, this scene is a judgment upon godless parenting. Parents have a responsibility to lead their children to God. Leading children away from him is disastrous for both parents and their offspring.
3:1-9 Joram, another son of Ahab, inherited the throne of Israel (3:1). Though he was not as bad as Ahab and Jezebel, he was still evil in the Lord’s sight (3:2). For some time, Moab had been subject to Israel, paying tribute in the form of huge numbers of lambs and the wool from just as many rams (3:4). Mesha, the king of Moab, evidently sensed a weakness in Israel with the quick changes in leadership and rebelled (3:5). But, Joram gathered his army and asked good King Jehoshaphat of Judah to join him in attacking Moab (3:6-7). Jehoshaphat agreed, and Edom joined the alliance. But, as the three kings and their armies marched down the eastern shore of the Dead Sea toward Moab, their water supply suddenly ran out (3:7-9).
3:10-12 The idol-worshiping king of Israel blamed the Lord for their predicament (3:10). But, Jehoshaphat wouldn’t let Joram’s blasphemous charge stand. So, he called for a prophet of God to speak to the dilemma. When he heard that Elisha . . . who used to pour water on Elijah’s hands—that is, serve Elijah—was available, Joram probably shuddered (3:11). For even if Joram didn’t know of Elisha, he surely remembered Elijah—the one who had prophesied judgment and death on both his father Ahab and his brother Ahaziah. But, whatever Joram was thinking, Jehoshaphat was convinced that they needed to hear from this divine spokesman. So, he convinced the king of Israel and the king of Edom to go with him to visit Elisha (3:12).
3:13-18 Notice how Elisha greeted King Joram of Israel: What do we have in common? Go to the prophets of your father and your mother! (3:13). In other words, he said, “You’re an idolater, Joram! What are you doing coming to see me? Go ask your idols for advice!” Then, Joram demonstrated that he deserved Elisha’s contempt by repeating his accusation against the Lord. The only thing that kept Elisha from showing Joram to the door was his respect for King Jehoshaphat (3:14). And, because of that respect, Elisha gave a remarkable prophecy of a miraculous supply of water in a dry land that would meet their need (3:16-17). He also informed the three kings that God would hand Moab over to them (3:18).
3:20-27 Everything happened just as Elisha predicted. Not only was the water supply a miracle in itself, but God also used it to fool the Moabite army into thinking that the ground was soaked in the blood of their enemies as if they’d been fighting each other (3:20-23). When they approached to steal the spoils, Moab’s army had to flee because Israel attacked and pushed them all the way back to Kir-hareseth, Moab’s major city (3:24-25). After that, King Mesha was so desperate for help that he committed the heinous sin of sacrificing his firstborn son and heir as a burnt offering on the city wall. As a result, great wrath was on the Israelites, perhaps from Moabites, though the text isn’t clear. Then, Israel withdrew and returned to their land (3:27).
4:1 Just as 1 Kings included an extended narrative of Elijah’s ministry (see 1 Kgs 17:1–19:21), so also 2 Kings includes an extended narrative of that of his successor, Elisha (4:1–8:15). The order in which his miraculous deeds are presented in these chapters may or may not be chronological. The author might have arranged them topically.
At the beginning of Elijah’s ministry, he had miraculously provided for a widow and raised a dead boy to life (see 1 Kgs 17:8-24). Elisha was about to do the same. One day, a wife of one of the sons of the prophets (see commentary on 2:2-3) cried out to Elisha that her husband had died. Apparently, her debt was great, so the creditor was coming to take her children as slaves to work off what was owed. She was in an economic, emotional, familial, and spiritual crisis. Her destitution may have resulted from the fact that true prophets were not honored in the largely apostate northern kingdom of Israel. In going to Elisha, she was seeking a spiritual solution for her dilemma.
4:2-7 All the widow owned was a single jar of oil (4:2). Elisha told her to borrow all the empty containers from her neighbors that she could, which must have sounded like an odd response to what she’d shared (4:3; see 4:1). With that done, she was to begin pouring oil into them (4:4).
Miraculously, the widow soon found that oil kept pouring out of the jar until every container gathered was full (4:5-6). By obeying the Lord’s word through Elisha, the widow had enough oil to sell so that she could pay off her debt and then live on the remaining money (4:7).
This story is a reminder that God’s Word does not always seem to make sense to us. But, he’s God, and we’re not. Blessings—sometimes physical but always spiritual—come when we respond to his Word with faith and obedience.
4:8-9 Elisha ministered to another faithful woman who lived in Shunem, a town near Jezreel. She was a prominent woman and had a husband—unlike the late prophet’s poor widow (see 4:1-7). Yet, God was mindful of her faith, too, as well as her desire for a child. She recognized Elisha as a true prophet from the Lord, so she opened her home to this holy man of God as a resting place on his travels (4:9).
4:10-13 Elisha was grateful for her hospitality, so he sought a way to reward her. He sent his attendant Gehazi to find out what she might want, even if that meant speaking on [her] behalf to the king or the commander of the army (4:11-13). That’s a remarkable statement given that Elisha was talking about the evil King Joram. So clearly, Elisha had influence even though he spoke for God amid an idolatrous administration. This is a classic example of God’s kingdom agenda in operation. He can give his people influence in the civil government when they are faithfully serving him in their primary sphere of spiritual authority.
4:14-17 Elisha’s hostess said she was content, but Gehazi noticed that she had no son, and her husband was old. Thus, she had little chance of motherhood (4:14). So, Elisha promised her a son within a year, a promise that God would fulfill (4:15-17).
For the readers of 1–2 Kings, both those who experienced Babylonian exile and their descendants, this story served as a reminder that God honors faithfulness to him and his covenant. Every person in Israel and Judah, from king (3:13-14) to lowly prophet’s widow (4:1-7), was responsible for his or her response to the Lord.
4:18-24 Sometime later, the Shunammite woman’s son fell ill while helping his father with the harvest (4:18-19). Then, he tragically died in his mother’s arms (4:20). She put the boy in Elisha’s room and immediately made plans to visit the prophet (4:21-22).
4:25-28 When Elisha saw her coming, he sent Gehazi to find out why she had come, but she wouldn’t reveal the reason for her visit to Elisha’s attendant (4:25-26). The woman knew where her hope for her son lay, and she didn’t want to see anyone but Elisha. She clung to his feet, and Elisha could see her anguish (4:27). Her questions to Elisha are heartbreaking (4:28). Essentially, she asked, “Why would God give me a son that I never asked for, only to take him away?” She was experiencing the mystery of suffering.
4:29-37 Elisha hastily sent Gehazi ahead with his staff to lay on the boy’s face, while he and the woman followed behind (4:29-30). However, the staff produced no results (4:31), indicating that this job wasn’t going to be easy. So, Elisha prayed to the Lord, and he lay on the boy, just as Elijah had once done (4:33-34; see 1 Kgs 17:21-22). The boy’s flesh became warm, but he didn’t wake (4:34). After this, Elisha paced in the house—perhaps praying more—then bent down over him again. This time, the boy’s eyes opened (4:35). Then, no doubt to her great delight, Elisha gave the woman her son (4:36-37).
For only the second time in the Old Testament, God responded to the prayers of one of his servants and raised someone from the dead. These miracles were foretastes of the power Jesus Christ would wield as he raised people from the dead (see Luke 7:11-17; 8:52-56; John 11:1-44). And, Christ’s miraculous resurrections, of course, were just a foretaste of his own resurrection that would serve as a promise of resurrection for all those who believe in him (see John 11:25-26; Acts 26:23; 1 Cor 15:20-23).
4:38-41 Elisha’s miracles continued. During a time of famine, he was with a group of prophets who had to eat whatever they could find (4:38). So, as Elisha’s attendant made a stew, he added many wild gourds without knowing what they were (4:38-39). Evidently, the gourds were poisonous, for the prophets ate some and cried out in despair: There’s death in the pot (4:40).
Because the prophets were responsible for communicating God’s word to his people, the wild gourd situation was not just a literal dilemma; it shows us the danger of mixing heresy with the truth. When leaders are spiritually sick and contaminated, the people cannot be fed. Notice that only when the substance of flour was added that the food was made edible. Thus, only when the substance of God’s truth is poured in and emphasized can the contamination of false religion be overcome. Elisha miraculously cured the stew so that the men could eat (4:41). The Lord graciously provided for his servants in a time of distress.
4:42-44 Another food shortage was solved by the astounding power at work through Eli-sha. This time, only twenty loaves of barley bread were available to feed a hundred men (4:42-43). Nevertheless, Elisha commanded that it be given to the people to eat. As the bread was distributed, it multiplied until everyone had enough—and there were even leftovers (4:44). Once again, then, we see a foretaste of the miracles of Jesus, who would feed thousands with only a few loaves and fish and have basketsful left over (see Mark 6:30-44; 8:1-9).
5:1 To this point, we have seen Elisha perform miracles for a lowly widow, a prominent woman, and a school of prophets. But, these were all people from Israel. Could those outside the people of God be recipients of God’s grace and power, too? The Lord had promised Abraham that he would bless all the peoples of the earth through him (see Gen 12:3). So, without a doubt, he wanted people from every nation to worship him.
Elijah had ministered to a Sidonian woman (see 1 Kgs 17:8-24), so it’s not surprising to see Elisha bringing God’s grace to a non-Israelite, as well. Given the amount of unbelief and idolatry that existed in Israel, God was determined to glorify his name—even among the Gentiles. Later, when Jesus was rejected in Jewish Nazareth, he reminded his listeners of God’s grace to non-Israelites through Elijah and Elisha (see Luke 4:24-27).
Elisha was about to meet Naaman, a mighty and proud commander of the army for the king of Aram, a nation that often warred against Israel’s evil kings. Naaman was a Gentile who nevertheless experienced God’s favor in battle. But, he had a significant problem—the incurable skin disease of leprosy.
5:2-3 In the course of his raids against Israel, Naaman had brought home a young girl who served [his] wife (5:2). It would be the kindness of this girl and her confidence in the God of Israel that would turn Naaman’s life around. She told her mistress about a prophet . . . in Samaria who could cure her husband’s disease (5:3).
5:4-7 When Naaman explained this to the king of Aram, the king sent him to Samaria loaded down with money and a letter to the king of Israel that included a simple request: “Cure my military commander” (5:4-6). Of course, Israel’s wicked King Joram had no faith in God, so he had no faith that even the prophet Elisha could fix such an earthly problem by divine power. In fact, Israel’s king saw nothing spiritual in the request at all. What he saw was a military disaster waiting to happen. Joram was convinced that Aram’s king was simply picking a fight through such an outlandish note, and he panicked (5:7). He reasoned that if he told Aram’s king that he couldn’t heal his commander, Aram would invade. And, instead of laying the letter before the Lord and asking for his guidance and protection, Joram essentially had a nervous breakdown. (For a dramatic contrast to this, see 2 Kgs 19:14-19).
5:8 When Elisha learned of Joram’s panic attack and unbelief, he told the king to send Naaman to him so that he [would] know there [was] a prophet in Israel. In other words, he said, “You, Israel’s king, don’t believe in the God of Israel. But, when I finish with this foreign general, he will.”
5:9-10 Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house and stood at the door (5:9). If he was expecting the red carpet treatment, he had another thing coming. Elisha didn’t even say hello to him! Instead he sent . . . a messenger to tell Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River to be healed (5:10). This means that, though Elisha intended to heal Naaman’s physical problem, he also intended to deal with his spiritual problem—his pride.
5:11-12 Naaman’s pride manifested itself at once: he got angry. He had expected Elisha to wave his hand over him in the name of . . . his God and cure his skin (5:11). In other words, Naaman just wanted a quick fix to his flesh without recognizing that his real problem was his heart. A lot of people today have the same attitude.
Why, Naaman asked in effect, couldn’t he simply wash in one of his own rivers, which were better than all the waters in Israel? And then, he stormed off in a rage (5:12). This conceited commander wasn’t about to be humiliated by some two-bit prophet from a country that he had been routinely beating up. But, Naaman did not yet realize that his victories hadn’t been his own doing. They had been gifts from the God whose help he desperately needed (see 5:1).
5:13-14 Previously, one of Naaman’s servants—a young Israelite girl—had pointed him toward truth and wisdom (5:2-3). Similarly now, his servants who were with him displayed more wisdom that their arrogant master (5:13). If Elisha had given Naaman some significant task to accomplish, surely he would have done it. So, was he really willing to pass up an opportunity to be healed simply because the cure seemed too mundane? Their argument made sense, so Naaman gave in, obeyed Elisha, and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times. To his astonishment, his skin was restored (5:14).
5:15-16 Naaman had been cured, but he had also been humbled. Notice that when he spoke to Elisha, he referred to himself as [his] servant. And, having left in a rage, Naaman now returned with thankfulness. He said, I know there’s no God in the whole world except in Israel. Elisha had told the king of Israel that this foreign general would soon know there was a prophet in Israel, and Naaman had indeed learned that and much more. He confessed the Lord as the one true God.
To express his gratitude, Naaman offered the prophet a gift (5:15). However, Elisha refused (5:16). He was God’s servant doing God’s work. He wanted to make it clear to everyone that his services were not for sale. The king of Aram may have sent his army commander to Israel in order to purchase his healing. But, Naaman left in God’s debt—not the other way around.
5:17 Given Elisha’s response, Naaman decided to ask Elisha for a gift instead. He wanted to take some of Israel’s soil back home so that he could build an earthen altar and sacrifice to God on it. Previously, he thought the rivers of his homeland were “better than all the waters of Israel” (5:12). But by this point, he’d realized that even Aramean dirt wasn’t good enough for erecting an altar for Israel’s God. If he were to make a burnt offering to the Lord, he would do it on an altar made from the land that the Lord had blessed. And, from that point forward, Naaman wouldn’t sacrifice to any other god but the Lord.
5:18-19 Naaman sought God’s pardon in one matter he’d face back home. He wanted the Lord to forgive him for those times when his king would bow in worship in the temple of his god Rimmon, leaning on Naaman’s arm for support so that Naaman had to bow as well (5:18). Elisha laid no further burden on this new believer and bid him to go in peace (5:19). Whatever shortcomings there were in Naaman’s circumstances, this non-Israelite from an idolatrous land had confessed the Lord alone to be God—unlike the king of Israel and most of his subjects.
5:20-24 The faith of an Aramean commander is immediately contrasted with the duplicity of Elisha’s attendant, Gehazi, who couldn’t bear to see all of the offered money and clothes headed back to Aram (5:20). So, he pursued Naaman and lied his way to one hundred fifty pounds of silver and two new outfits, which he promptly hid in his house (5:21-24).
5:25-27 When Gehazi returned to his duties, Elisha asked an ominous question: Where did you go? This leading question is a reminder that you can’t escape the gaze of an all-knowing God. Gehazi had been deceptive and had dishonored the Lord. Therefore, his punishment would fit the crime. Elisha pronounced his sentence: Naaman’s leprosy would cling to him and his descendants forever (5:25-27). In other words, the faithlessness of this Israelite had earned him the diseased skin that the believing Aramean had left behind.
6:1-3 That one of the schools of the prophets in the northern kingdom was growing was no doubt a tribute to Elisha’s ministry and supervision (6:1). Some of the prophets wanted to build a place near the Jordan because their existing living arrangements were too small, so they asked Elisha to go with them (6:2-3).
6:4-7 While felling trees for the structure, one of the prophets watched as his iron ax head fell into the water. But, the worst part was that it was borrowed (6:5). This student prophet was no doubt poor, making the item difficult to replace. Living as a spokesman for the true God during those dark days in Israel was not a profitable line of work (see 4:1-7). Yet, Elisha’s miraculous recovery of the lost tool showed God’s concern for even the smallest needs of his people (6:6-7).
6:8-10 Sometime later, the king of Aram was waging war against Israel. This is most likely a reference to the same king who sent Naaman to Israel (see 5:1). This probably wasn’t an all-out war because the Arameans were called “raiders” (6:23), but it was still a serious incursion. Despite Aram’s superior forces, Elisha had access to divine intelligence about the schemes of Aram’s king. The ruler couldn’t make the slightest plan in his tent without Elisha relaying it in detail to the king of Israel so he could take appropriate countermeasures (6:9-10).
6:11-14 The king of Aram became so upset that he accused his servants of harboring a spy for Israel (6:11). And, when he learned that Elisha, the prophet in Israel, was the source of his problems, the king sent horses, chariots, and massive army to capture him (6:12-14). Because this was the same prophet who had healed the commander of Aram’s army (5:1-19), however, he wouldn’t be captured so easily.
6:15-16 When the servant of Elisha saw the horde of enemy forces surrounding their city, he cried out, Oh, my master, what are we to do? (6:15). But, Elisha wasn’t worried. He could see with eyes of faith and said, Those who are with us outnumber those who are with them (6:16). His certainty here bears similarities with the apostle John’s exhortation to believers: “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). When we align ourselves with God, our enemy is always outnumbered.
6:17-23 The Lord answered Elisha’s prayer, and his servant saw God’s army. There were horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (6:17); it was a wall of divine protection. Heavenly involvement even extended to striking the enemy army with blindness and allowing Elisha to lead them right into Israel’s camp (6:18-19). There, King Joram was so excited at the prospect of any easy victory that he must have been jumping up and down like a child as he hollered, Should I kill them, should I kill them, my father? (6:21). His term of respect for Elisha was significant, but the sentiment wouldn’t last long. Elisha not only refused to allow the slaughter, but he also commanded that a feast be prepared for them (6:22-23). And as a result, the astonished Aramean raiders withdrew from Israel (6:23).
In this chapter, we see that God provides for the small concerns of his people (a lost ax head, 6:1-7), as well as the big concerns (6:8-23).
6:24-31 Eventually, King Ben-hadad of Aram invaded the northern kingdom again and laid siege to Samaria (6:24). Things got so bad that the city was cut off from the outside world and disintegrated into the horrors of cannibalism. One day, as the king walked on the city wall, a woman told him an appalling tale of feeding on her own son for survival (6:25-29). The Lord had warned Israel that such tragedies would befall them if they rejected him as their King (see Deut 28:53-57). Yet, instead of crying out to the Lord in repentance and pleading for salvation at such news, the king breathed murderous threats against Elisha (6:31).
6:32-33 When the king sent a man to seize Elisha, the prophet rightly called the king a murderer (6:32). The king’s messenger admitted that the siege and famine was from God (6:33). Yet, if that was really his belief, he should have been humbling himself before God rather than threatening his prophet.
7:1-2 Though the king hadn’t sought the Lord, Elisha had a word from the Lord, announcing the end of the siege and of the famine (7:1). The king’s right-hand man was incredulous because such an abundance of food sounded impossible. Therefore, because of the man’s unwillingness to believe, Elisha promised him that he would indeed see the provision, but he wouldn’t eat any of it (7:2).
7:3-7 The news that the Aramean siege was lifted came not from the king’s soldiers, but from four men with the incurable skin disease of leprosy (7:3). They decided they had nothing to lose by going to the Arameans and throwing themselves on their mercy for some scraps of food. The worst that could happen was that the Arameans would kill them, but they were going to die of starvation anyway (7:3-4). So, they set off for the camp, only to find that it was completely abandoned (7:5, 7). The author of 2 Kings informs the readers that the Lord had caused the Aramean camp to hear the sound of chariots, horses, and a large army. Assuming that Israel’s king had hired foreign warriors to save them, the terrified Arameans fled (7:6-7).
7:8-11 The diseased men had a feast and started hauling off the loot when they suddenly had a pang of conscience (7:8). They realized they had to share this good news with their fellow Israelites. If they didn’t, they knew punishment [would] catch up with [them] (7:9). So, they ran back to the city and reported what they had found (7:10-11).
7:12-13 In spite of the wonderful report, the king assumed the worst. As far as he was concerned, the men described a trap. He was sure the Arameans were actually in hiding, ready to pounce on the people when they came out of the city (7:12). Finally, one of his servants said basically the same thing the lepers had said: “We’re going to die anyway, so please at least send some men out to see whether the report is true” (7:13). Sadly, wisdom had to come from the servants and outcasts because the king of Israel had none.
7:14-20 When the messengers investigated, they found that the Arameans had truly abandoned everything—clothes and equipment (7:14-15). And soon, in their mad stampede for food, the starving people of Samaria rushed toward the spoils and trampled the king’s right-hand man, who had been put in charge of the city gate. Therefore, he died just as Elisha, the man of God, had predicted (7:16-20; see 7:2).
8:1-3 Chapter 8 opens with another story about the Shunammite woman whose son Elisha had raised (8:1). Elisha warned the woman about a seven-year famine in Israel, which she and her family avoided by living as resident aliens in the land of the Philistines. But, she must have lost her land as a result of the maneuver, because she had to go to the king to appeal for what was hers (8:2-3).
8:4-6 In God’s providence, the king of Israel was asking Gehazi, Elisha’s attendant, to tell him all the great things Elisha has done (8:4), just as the woman walked in to ask the king to have her property restored. Having just told her tale, Gehazi was able to inform the king that this was the very woman and son whom Elisha had restored to life. The king thus returned to the woman her house and field, as well as the income her field had generated while she was gone (8:5-6). Obviously, the timing of this encounter happened not by chance, but by divine intervention. There are no chance encounters in your life either: “A person’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” (Prov 16:9).
You may wonder what Gehazi was doing in the presence of the king in light of the judgment God placed on him and his progeny for his greed (see 5:20-27). One answer is that he must have been restored due to passing a retest God gave him to redeem himself. Sometimes, God gives us retests in order to offer new opportunities to reverse the consequences of our sin.
I think it’s likely that Gehazi was one of the diseased men in 7:3-11. If so, as one of these lepers who went into the Aramean camp, he said it would not be good to selfishly consume the bounty in secret (7:9)—which is an offense not unlike the deed that brought about his leprosy in the first place. From experience, then, he knew that concealing the sin of greed would bring punishment.
8:7-8 One of Elisha’s last acts as a prophet involved an unusual visit to Damascus to see King Ben-hadad of Aram, an old enemy of Israel (see 6:24). Ben-hadad was sick (8:7). He obviously respected Elisha’s ministry and authority, so he had a man named Hazael take a gift to Elisha and ask him to inquire of the Lord about his illness (8:8).
8:9-15 At first glance, Elisha’s contradictory answer is confusing. If Ben-hadad were sure to recover (8:10), why would the king die? But, when Hazael asked why Elisha was crying, everything became clear. In time, Hazael himself would assume the throne of Aram and then slaughter Israel’s people (8:11-13). Thus, Ben-hadad would have recovered from his illness. But, before he could, Hazael would assassinate him, which is exactly what happened (8:14-15).
C. The Reigns of Two Evil Kings in Judah and Jehu in Israel (8:16–10:36)
8:16-19 For the first time in 2 Kings, the focus shifts to Judah in the south. The first king of Judah described in this chapter was Jehoram, who was the son of the godly king Jehoshaphat (8:16). Unfortunately, he was condemned as evil in the Lord’s sight because he was greatly influenced by his wife, who was wicked Ahab’s daughter (8:18). Thus, the evil of Ahab’s legacy flowed, not only through the kings of Israel, but now also through the kings of Judah. Nevertheless, God in his faithfulness preserved Judah from destruction for the sake of his servant David. The Lord made a covenant promise to give a lamp to David and his sons forever in the form of a king to rule on his throne (8:19). Ultimately, the “forever” of this promise will be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
8:20-29 Jehoram had to deal with the revolt of Edom during his eight-year reign, but he could not bring them under control (8:20-22). He was succeeded by his son Ahaziah, who reigned for only one year, and who was equally evil (8:25, 27). Like his father, he also came under the influence of Athaliah, his mother, the daughter of Ahab (8:26). Ahaziah joined with Joram of the northern kingdom to fight against King Hazael of Aram, but Joram was wounded and went to Jezreel to recover. Ahaziah went to visit Joram at Jezreel (8:28-29); it would be a fatal choice.
9:1-4 The time had finally come for the Lord to eradicate the descendants of Ahab and Jez-ebel from Israel. Years before, God had told Elijah to anoint Jehu as the king of Israel for this stated purpose (see 1 Kgs 19:16-17). But, the assignment of anointing Jehu actually fell to Elisha, who sent one of his student prophets to meet with Jehu son of Jehoshaphat (not Jehoshaphat the former king of Judah) in a private ceremony and anoint him as king over Israel in place of the wounded King Joram (9:1-3; see 2 Kgs 8:28-29). Elisha warned the young prophet to run for his life after the anointing to escape any possible reprisal that his act might generate (9:3).
9:5-10 The young man found Jehu, called him aside into a private room, poured oil on his head, and repeated God’s charge: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. You are to strike down the house of your master Ahab (9:5-7). The prophet also predicted the manner of Jezebel’s death and the shameful way her body would be left for the dogs to eat (9:10). These predictions of destruction were consistent with what Elijah had previously announced (see 1 Kgs 21:22-24).
9:11-15 Jehu’s fellow soldiers thought the man who had requested an audience with Jehu (and then ran away) was a crazy person—but, they weren’t buying Jehu’s brush-off of the incident (9:11). When he told them the truth, they rallied around him and declared, Jehu is king! (9:13).
Meanwhile, the army was at Ramoth-gilead with King Joram, fighting against Aram (9:14). Jehu told his new subjects not to let anyone leave Ramoth and not to tell Joram in Jezreel so that he wouldn’t have time to mount a defense before Jehu could get there (9:15).
9:16-20 Jehu had nothing to worry about because God was working his sovereign plan behind the scenes. Jehu made his way to Jezreel, where King Joram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah (both members of Ahab’s house) were together (9:16). The watchman . . . on the tower in Jezreel saw Jehu’s rapid approach and told them, I see a mob! (9:16-17). Joram sent a rider to see if the mob was peaceful (9:17). But, when the horseman relayed the question, Jehu essentially said, “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop talking and join us” (9:18). This happened a second time before the watchman realized that the leader appeared to be Jehu (9:19-20).
9:21-29 Recognizing that this was serious business—but not concerned enough to flee—Joram and Ahaziah rode out to meet Jehu at the plot of land of Naboth the Jezreelite (9:21). It was this very acreage that King Ahab had claimed as his own after Queen Jezebel had Naboth murdered (see 1 Kgs 21:1-16). It would, therefore, be a fitting place for their wicked descendants to be put to death. Joram asked Jehu, Do you come in peace? And, when Jehu made his intentions clear, citing the evil deeds fostered by the king’s family as the reason behind his coming, Joram and Ahaziah fled (9:22-23). But, it was too late. Jehu and his followers shot and killed both of the doomed kings (9:24, 27).
9:30-37 Jehu arrived in Jezreel to carry out one final execution. Queen Jezebel heard about what he had done to her son Joram. So, she painted her eyes and fixed her hair (9:30), probably in mock tribute to Israel’s new king. She also derisively called him Zimri (9:31), a reference to the man who had killed Israel’s king, reigned seven days before killing himself, and was replaced by Ahab’s father, Omri (see 1 Kgs 16:9-20). Jezebel was implying that Jehu would meet the same fate.
Jehu didn’t bother responding. Instead, he called to two of her servants, rightly assuming they’d be willing to throw her to her death. Then, Jehu rode over her corpse with his chariot (9:32-33). That done, he went in to eat and ordered her to be buried. But, when the servants went to do so, they found that dogs had eaten Jezebel’s flesh in fulfillment of the prophecy of Elijah (9:35-36). Thus, early readers of 2 Kings were being reminded that God called to account those in Israel who failed to keep his law and turned to idols—the very sins for which those readers had been exiled.
10:1-3 Jehu knew that his position wasn’t secure as long as there were officials in the kingdom who were still loyal to Ahab’s house. Especially concerning were the guardians of Ahab’s seventy (seventy!) sons in Samaria (10:1). So, Jehu penned correspondence to everyone who had connection to the royal house and challenged them to select the most qualified son of Ahab to fight him for the throne (10:2-3).
10:4-8 These leaders had heard of what happened to Joram, Ahaziah, and Jezebel, and they wanted no part of Jehu’s fury. So they promptly agreed to join his side and obeyed his grisly order to slaughter Ahab’s sons and deliver their heads to him (10:4-7). Jehu displayed them until morning as silent but effective evidence that he had succeeded in conquering the dynasty of Ahab once and for all. Moreover, any resistance against him was futile (10:8).
10:9-11 The next morning, Jehu stood behind the pile of severed heads and made a speech that put his actions in the proper perspective (10:9-10). The people of Jezreel must have been shocked at what they saw and maybe fearful that Jehu’s bloody rebellion would bring the fury of Israel’s government down on their heads. But, Jehu dismissed that idea and took full responsibility for what he did. The Jezreelites and all of Israel needed to hear that what they were witnessing was God’s word spoken against the house of Ahab being fulfilled. None of his plans will fail (10:10).
10:12-17 God’s judgment against Ahab’s family was not complete yet. Jehu executed forty-two members of Ahaziah’s family he met on his way to Samaria (10:11-14). Then, he struck down the rest of the house of Ahab in Samaria . . . according to the word of the Lord spoken to Elijah (10:17). Judgment is God’s work, but Jehu was obedient.
God gave Jehu a companion named Jehonadab son of Rechab, who was a zealous follower of the Lord (10:15-16, 23; see Jer 35:6-7, 14-16). This man agreed with Jehu’s plan to rid the land of Ahab’s influence and Baal worship, so he shook his hand and joined Jehu in his chariot.
10:18-27 When Jehu arrived in Samaria, he arranged the largest house-cleaning of Baal worship since Elijah’s contest on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kgs 18). He called all the prophets . . . servants and priests of Baal to come to a great sacrifice. But, Jehu was acting deceptively, perhaps because he still wasn’t confident of his level of support in Samaria (10:19). In the end, all of the servants of Baal came (10:21). They were excited to find that the new king embraced the new “faith” of Israel that they had dedicated themselves to. And, they packed out Baal’s temple. When Jehu confirmed that there were no servants of the true God present (10:23), he sprang his trap. The king turned his eighty men loose to kill all the idolaters, tear down the temple of Baal, and heap on it the ultimate disgrace by making it into a latrine (10:24-27).
10:28-29 Thus, Jehu eliminated Baal worship from Israel (10:28). Yet, in the next verse, we find that he didn’t turn away from worshiping the gold calves that Jeroboam had set up in Bethel and Dan (10:29). So, while Jehu eradicated a great demonic evil in the land (Baal) and its human representatives (the house of Ahab and Baal’s priests), Jehu nevertheless failed to follow the Lord wholeheartedly. This truth points to the sad reality that Israel would never be fully cleansed of their idolatry. That’s why God would eventually bring his judgment on the northern kingdom, ejecting them from their land entirely.
10:30-36 Because of Jehu’s obedience in the matter of Ahab, however, God did promise him a dynasty of four generations of sons who would rule in Israel (10:30). Yet, God also demonstrated his displeasure with the idolatrous northern kingdom by allowing their land to be reduced through conquests by King Hazael of Aram during Jehu’s reign of twenty-eight years (10:32-36).
D. The Reigns of Good and Evil Kings in Israel and Judah (11:1–16:20)
11:1-3 Jehu had destroyed all of Ahab’s family in the north, but this was not the end of Ahab’s descendants in the southern kingdom of Judah. None was more dangerous than Athaliah, the mother of King Ahaziah (whom Jehu killed). Importantly, she was the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. She proceeded to annihilate all the royal heirs when she saw her opportunity to seize the throne (11:1). But, Jehosheba, who was . . . Ahaziah’s sister, rescued Ahaziah’s son (and Athaliah’s grandson) Joash and, in God’s providence, hid him in the temple six years during Athaliah’s evil reign (11:2-3).
11:4-8 In the seventh year, the high priest Jehoiada decided it was time to act. He gathered a loyal band of men, showed them Joash, and planned a coup against Athaliah (11:4). The idea was to split them into three groups to protect the king’s palace, while also supplying the young king with protection when the coup was revealed (11:5-7). Anyone trying to approach their ranks was to be put to death (11:8).
11:9-16 The men were armed and stationed; everything was ready (11:9-11). That’s when Jehoiada brought out young Joash, crowned him, and anointed him, as the crowd shouted, Long live the king! (11:12). The commotion attracted Athaliah to the scene, as Jehoiada had hoped it would. When she saw (no doubt with wide eyes) Joash—whom she’d assumed was as dead as his siblings—she cried out, Treason! Treason! (11:14). (Given her treachery in murdering the “royal heirs” (11:1), it’s absurd that she would have the gall to accuse others of treason!) But, it was too late for anyone to save her. The commanders . . . in charge of the army, who were loyal to the rightful king, seized Athaliah, putting her and her followers to death (11:15-16).
11:17-21 The rest of the chapter makes it clear why nobody grieved over the demise of Athaliah. The people of Judah were obviously tired of her wickedness and devotion to Baal worship, and at this stage in the nation’s history, they were still sensitive to the Lord’s honor. Jehoiada led them in making a covenant between the Lord, the king, and the people of renewed faithfulness to God (11:17). The people then showed their sincerity by tearing down the temple of Baal, smashing its altars and images to pieces, and killing Mattan, the priest of Baal (11:18). Joash was just seven years old when officially installed on his throne (11:19, 21).
12:1-3 Joash reigned forty years in Jerusalem (12:1), but his rule was a mixed bag. Joash did what was right in God’s sight, but only as long as his godly mentor, the priest Jehoiada, was alive to keep him on track (12:2; see 2 Chr 24:15-25). Even then, Joash left intact the idolatrous high places where the people of Judah continued sacrificing and burning incense (12:3). Even if some worshiped the Lord (rather than false gods) in these places, doing so was still rebellion to his command to worship him at the Jerusalem temple only. So, unfortunately, Joash was a weak ruler whose devotion to God was only outward.
Is your faith superficial? Or, does it go deep down to the heart?
12:4-8 In spite of his failings, Joash did decide to undertake a renovation program for the temple, which would have been about one hundred years old by this time and in need of repairs. His plan was to have the priests set aside a part of the dedicated silver that they received in offerings from the people to repair whatever damage was found in the temple (12:4-5). But, that plan didn’t work because the priests didn’t follow through. So, by the twenty-third year of his reign, Joash got exasperated and called Jehoiada and the other priests on the carpet for their lack of progress and told them to forget the original plan because he had a new idea (12:6-8).
12:9-16 The king had a box installed by the altar with a hole in its lid. Instead of the priests receiving silver, it was to be placed in this box (12:9). Then, the king’s secretary and the high priest would empty the box and give the money to those overseeing the temple repair work (12:10-11). And, everything was done with honesty and integrity (12:15).
12:17 In 2 Chronicles 24, we learn of the downfall of Joash. Jehoiada, his spiritual mentor, died. Then, Joash became an apostate, serving false gods and even murdering Jehoiada’s son. So, the attack by King Hazael of Aram in view here was God’s judgment against Joash and Judah because they had abandoned the Lord (see 2 Chr 24:24).
12:18-21 Joash didn’t repent or seek the Lord’s help; instead, he bought off King Haz-ael by using the treasuries of the temple and the king’s palace (12:18). So, Hazael departed, but the seeds had been sown for Joash’s destruction. His servants conspired against him and assassinated him (12:20-21). The king had thought he could escape God’s judgment by scheming. But, the only way to escape God’s judgment is by turning to God in repentance and faith.
13:1-3 While Joash was on the throne in Judah beginning repairs on the temple, Jehoahaz son of Jehu rose to power in Israel (13:1). He was the first of the four generations of Jehu’s descendants whom God promised would occupy Israel’s throne (see 10:30). Sadly, though, none of the four was anything to write home about. Jehoahaz did what was evil in God’s eyes by following steadfastly in the sins of Jeroboam, the idolatrous founder of the northern kingdom (13:2). So once again, God used a foreign power (Aram) to serve as an instrument of judgment against his rebellious people (13:3).
13:4-8 When the king saw how badly the king of Aram was afflicting Israel’s people, Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favor (13:4). So, God graciously provided a deliverer who gave Israel relief from the Arameans (13:5), though the deliverer is not named. After the divine deliverance, however, the people went back to their old idolatrous ways (13:5-6)—which sounds like a page out of the book of Judges. So, God kept Israel weak, allowing them only a pitiful army that could easily have been blown away by an enemy like dust at threshing (13:6-7).
13:9-13 Jehoash followed Jehoahaz as king over Israel and reigned sixteen years, but his tenure was like that of his father and grandfather: he did what was evil (13:10-11). Little is said about his reign except that he went to war against his Jewish brothers in Judah (13:12).
13:14 Though there was nothing positive to report about Jehoash’s reign, something significant took place while he sat on the throne. Elisha, the man of God, was dying. When the king heard about the prophet’s illness, he went to see the him, wept, and exclaimed, My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel! (13:14). (This was the same way that Elisha had addressed Elijah when the latter was taken away in a fiery chariot from heaven; see 2:11-12). Thus, in spite of his flaws, King Jehoash had great respect for the aged prophet before him. The king also recognized that Elisha was his divine lifeline if Israel were to receive any aid during their crisis with Aram.
13:15-17 Though Jehoash was generally ungodly, God had mercy on him. Elisha was a true prophet, and God wanted the king to know that coming to him for help was the right thing to do. Elisha told the king to get a bow and arrows (13:15). Then, Elisha put his hands on the king’s hands and had the king shoot an arrow out the east window, in the direction of their enemy, Aram (13:16-17). When the king obeyed, Elisha said victory over Aram would be his.
While Elisha declared a victory that had not yet happened, he gave the king God’s view of the situation. This is a picture of the natural being sanctified by the supernatural when God places his hands on it. When Jehoash had enough faith to follow Elisha’s instructions, the arrow that left his bow was no longer his but, as Elisha said, the Lord’s arrow of victory . . . over Aram (13:17). In other words, the ordinary became extraordinary when linked to the spiritual. The battle was now a spiritual one—not just a physical one, because the weapons of war were now sanctified.
13:18-19 Unfortunately, Jehoash didn’t have the faith to trust God for an even greater victory. God’s supernatural power and promises do not negate our responsibility to act in faith. Elisha told Jehoash to take the arrows and strike the ground (13:18) in order to claim on earth what God had already declared in heaven (see Matt 16:19). It’s not clear whether the prophet wanted the king to shoot his arrows into the ground (as he did with the first arrow), or instead to hold them in his hand and hit the ground. Regardless, the king lacked the zeal that Elisha said he should have displayed. Therefore, Israel would experience only a partial victory, rather than a total one, because he refused to use all the resources at his disposal, indicating a lack of faith and commitment. Complete obedience and engagement are needed for complete victory.
13:20-21 Even after he died and was buried (13:20), the power of Elisha didn’t cease. That’s because the power he’d wielded in life was not his own. Sometime later, a dead man was tossed into Elisha’s tomb. Then, when he touched the prophet’s bones, the dead man came back to life (13:21)!
13:22-25 As Elisha had prophesied, King Jehoash defeated Aram three times, regaining cities that Israel had lost (13:25). God was gracious toward Israel, but not because of their goodness. Instead, God was faithful to his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, their forefathers. Even after all they had done, he had not yet banished Israel from his presence (13:23). What a beautiful reminder that the Lord is “slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth” (Exod 34:6). But, eventually, his patience would run out; in time, the northern kingdom would be defeated and carried away.
14:1-4 The next change in kingship happened in Judah, where Amaziah son of Joash succeeded his father in Jerusalem (14:1-2). The statement made in 14:3 is key. It says, He did what was right in the Lord’s sight, but not like his ancestor David. He did everything his father Joash had done. All the kings of Judah were measured against David, Judah’s greatest king who kept God’s law and received the promise of the Messiah coming from his line. Amaziah upheld the worship of God as Joash had done, at least in the early years of his reign. Yet, he also left the high places standing where the people practiced forbidden worship (14:4).
14:5-7 Amaziah also killed the men who had assassinated his father. But, importantly, he limited his retribution to that prescribed by the law of Moses, an indication of Amaziah’s respect for the law (14:5-6).
He experienced a successful battle against Edom when it tried to rebel against Judah’s control, seizing the city of Sela, which today is the famous rock fortress of Petra in Jordan (14:7).
14:8-10 Amaziah was apparently feeling strong and cocky after the Edomite campaign, so he looked north and challenged Jehoash in Israel to meet him face to face (14:8). Israel’s army was weak after years of being battered by Aram (see the commentary on 13:4-8), so perhaps Amaziah thought this was a good time for Judah to stick it to Israel. Jehoash answered with a parable that ridiculed Judah’s strength (14:9). Then, he warned Amaziah in no uncertain terms: You have become overconfident . . . stay at home (14:10).
14:11-14 The good advice stung Amaziah’s pride. He would not listen. He felt he couldn’t let it pass because he had issued the initial challenge, so his response was predictable.
When Jehoash saw that Amaziah had no intention of backing off, he advanced. The two kings met face to face at Beth-shemesh, about fifteen miles west of Jerusalem (14:11). Just as Jehoash had warned, the battle between them was a complete disaster for the southern kingdom. Judah was routed and fled (14:12). Even worse, Jehoash captured Amaziah. Then, he went to Jerusalem and broke down two hundred yards of the wall, plundered the temple and palace treasuries, and took hostages (14:13-14).
14:15-22 Jehoash’s death was recorded for a second time here, probably because of his battle with Amaziah, an insight that fleshes out what was revealed previously in 13:12. Jehoash’s son Jeroboam became king in his place (14:16). He was the third of the four kings in Jehu’s dynasty, as promised to him by the Lord.
Judah’s King Amaziah was released after Jehoash’s death and lived for fifteen years. But, like his father, he, too, became the victim of assassins who followed him to Lachish when he tried to get away (14:17, 19). He was succeeded by his son Azariah (14:21).
14:23-24 Jeroboam began his reign after the death of his father. He is often referred to as Jeroboam II to distinguish him from the first king of Israel by the same name (mentioned in 14:24). He had reigned with Jehoash for eleven years as co-regent, and altogether he reigned forty-one years (14:23)—longer than any king of Israel up to that time. Spiritually, his rule followed the same distressing pattern as those of his immediate ancestors.
14:25-29 Yet, Jeroboam II was a successful military commander who regained much territory that Israel had lost to Aram. A prophecy concerning this restoration of land was made by Jonah son of Amittai (14:25). (This is the same Jonah tasked with prophesying to Nineveh; see Jonah 1:1). Again, God intervened on behalf of his people out of his compassion. They had suffered much under Hazael of Aram. By God’s grace, Jehoash had begun to reverse this trend (see 2 Kgs 13:22-25) and Jeroboam continued it (14:25-27). He was even able to take Damascus, the capital of Aram (14:28). Upon his death, Jeroboam was replaced by his son Zechariah (14:29), the fourth and final king in Jehu’s dynasty.
15:1-7 Here the author of 2 Kings switches, once again, to the southern kingdom of Judah and the reign of Azariah (15:1); his was the second-longest reign of any king on either side of the border. Dismissing his fifty-two years with only a few verses may seem odd, especially because he was commended as a king who did what was right in the Lord’s sight, except for leaving the high places intact (which almost all the kings of Judah did; 15:2-4). The only other thing included about Azariah was that God afflicted him with a serious skin disease (15:5), which required him to live separately in the later years of his reign while his son Jotham administered. So, what happened?
Importantly, Azariah was also known as Uzziah (see 15:13, 30). In 2 Chronicles, we find some helpful details about his story. Uzziah was one of the most effective kings of Judah, expanding its territory and following the Lord—until he became proud, usurped the role of the priest, and was struck by God with a skin disease for his arrogance (see 2 Chr 26:1-23). Perhaps God left it to the author of 2 Chronicles to fill in the details of Azariah’s reign because 1–2 Chronicles take a special interest in Judah’s kings (see the introduction to 1–2 Chronicles).
15:8-15 Up in the northern kingdom, Zechariah’s evil reign over Israel lasted only six months before a man named Shallum assassinated him publicly and claimed the throne (15:8-10). The writer is careful to note that Zechariah’s reign fulfilled God’s promise to Jehu that four generations of his sons would sit on the throne of Israel (15:12). The usurper Shallum lasted even less than Zechariah: one month. He was replaced by someone who did the same thing to him. Menahem took him out and became king (15:13-14).
15:16-18 Menahem further demonstrated his brutality by attacking the town of Tiphsah because its people wouldn’t surrender—that is, they wouldn’t acknowledge him as king. His murder of all the pregnant women and their children was especially barbaric (15:16). It highlights the horror and cruelty of which fallen human beings are capable. It’s no surprise that the author describes Menahem’s reign as evil (15:18). He was a butcher.
15:19-22 Menahem wasn’t strong enough to handle an invasion by the Assyrians under King Pul in 743 BC. Pul was the throne name of the powerful King Tiglath-pileser III. This is the first mention of Assyria we find in 2 Kings, but it won’t be the last. (In time, this foreign power would conquer Israel.) Menahem gave Pul a huge payment in silver, both to stop the invasion and to get his support as Menahem sought to strengthen his grasp on the kingdom (15:19). Menahem’s attack on Tiphsah had shown that he was not universally liked, and taxing each of the prominent men of Israel to raise the money to pay off the king of Assyria probably did nothing to enhance his popularity (15:20).
15:23-31 Menahem’s son Pekahiah ascended to the throne and diligently followed the apostasy of Jeroboam son of Nebat (15:23-24). He was killed and replaced in yet another military coup by one of his officers, Pekah (15:25). His reign of twenty years (752–732 BC) was another dark period in Israel (15:27-28) and brought the northern kingdom ever closer to the year of its defeat and deportation by the Assyrians (722 BC). King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria invaded Israel again and captured . . . all the land of Naphtali . . . and deported the people to Assyria (15:29). This defeat led Hoshea to organize a conspiracy against Pekah, assassinate him, and claim the throne of Israel (15:29-30). Thus, with yet another coup, yet another wicked king of Israel was replaced.
15:32-35 Back in Judah, Jotham took the throne in place of his father Uzziah and reigned for sixteen years (15:32-33). Happily, just as the bad kings of Israel followed their predecessors in doing evil, Jotham followed Uzziah (also called Azariah) in doing what was right. However, like most of Judah’s kings, he failed to destroy Judah’s high places (15:34-35)—the alternate places of worship that God had forbidden through Moses.
16:1-4 Ahaz son of Jotham was one of the evil kings of Judah (16:1). Not only did he not do what was right when compared to David, but he actually walked in the ways of the kings of Israel—a charge that could not be taken as a compliment (16:2-3). And, as if that weren’t bad enough, Ahaz committed the vile act of sacrificing his son in the fire (16:3).
Hundreds of years earlier, the Lord had warned the people through Moses not to “imitate the detestable customs” of the nations that the Israelites were driving out of Canaan. The first item on the list of forbidden practices was to “sacrifice [one’s] son or daughter in the fire” (Deut 18:9-10). Yet, here was the king of Israel, destroying the most vulnerable members of society. He killed his own son, who was made in God’s image (Gen 1:26). And, whereas previous kings of Judah left the high places intact, Ahaz worshiped false gods at every shrine he could find (16:4). Make no mistake: left unchecked, false theology leads to corruption and violence. Ahaz was wicked to the core.
16:5-9 Judah came under attack by a joint force from Aram and Israel (16:5). If this trouble was a test of faith for Ahaz, he failed it miserably. He did not call out to God for deliverance. Instead, Judah’s king requested deliverance from King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria, pledging his allegiance to him if Assyria would only save him from Aram and Israel (16:7). But, such deliverance doesn’t come free. Ahaz had to pay protection money: silver and gold from the temple and the king’s palace (16:8).
Once he was paid off, Tiglath-pileser not only attacked and captured Aram’s capital of Damascus, but also killed King Rezin as well (16:9). Judah was delivered—for now. But, in ignoring God, Ahaz was cutting off his nation from the only one who could provide true and lasting deliverance.
16:10-16 Initially, Ahaz was so excited at having the pressure off of him that he went to Damascus to meet his new master, King Tiglath-pileser (16:10). This was no meeting of equals, however, because Ahaz was now the vassal of the Assyrian king and had to be careful not to do anything to offend him (see 16:18). That may, in fact, be one reason why Ahaz sent back to Jerusalem a model and complete plans for the altar he saw in Damascus so his high priest Uriah could build it (16:10-11). Tiglath-pileser probably made it known to Ahaz that he wanted the worship of Assyrian gods to be observed in Judah, at least to some extent. Ahaz was ungodly enough to comply without a whimper of protest.
By the time Ahaz returned to Jerusalem, the altar was completed, so he ascended its steps and offered a false version of Israel’s legitimate offerings (16:11-13). Then, Ahaz further offended God by moving the bronze altar that Solomon had made, so he could put his new altar in its prominent place (16:14). He also ordered the faithless priest Uriah to offer on this abomination of an altar three of Israel’s most important offerings: the burnt offering symbolizing forgiveness of sin and communion, the evening grain offering symbolizing dedication, and the drink offerings symbolizing joy poured out before God (16:15).
16:17-20 For reasons not explained, Ahaz also cut other worship items apart, dismantled the Sabbath canopy they had built in the palace, and closed the outer entrance for the king—all to satisfy his Gentile overlord (16:17-18).
The only good thing that came out of Ahaz’s life was his son Hezekiah, who would become one of Judah’s outstanding kings (16:20). Though Ahaz was truly a wicked ruler, Hezekiah serves as a wonderful example of the fact that our futures are not pre-determined by the character of our parents. Even if your parents didn’t follow God, you can follow a different path—a God-honoring path—by God’s grace and your willingness to make a change.
E. The Reign of Hoshea and Israel’s Downfall (17:1-41)
17:1-3 Hoshea became king of Israel by leading a conspiracy to kill King Pekah (see 15:29-30). He would be the northern kingdom’s last leader, and he did not turn from the treacherous path of his predecessors, for he was a ruler who did what was evil in the Lord’s sight (17:1-2). An attack by King Shalmane-ser of Assyria, who had succeeded his father Tiglath-pileser III, made Hoshea his vassal who paid him tribute (17:3).
17:4-6 Hoshea decided to break his vassal agreement with Shalmaneser. Yet, he didn’t do it by seeking the Lord’s help but by engaging in a conspiracy to seek help from So king of Egypt. Hoshea was so confident of his plot that he quit paying tribute to Shalmaneser. But, Egypt’s help was worthless, the plan was discovered, and Hoshea was arrested (17:4). His foolishness and refusal to trust God helped to doom his nation, in fact, because Shalmaneser in his fury over Hoshea’s treachery invaded the whole land and laid siege to Samaria for three years (17:5).
When Samaria finally fell, Shalmaneser deported the Israelites to Assyria (17:6). This occurred in 722 BC. The northern kingdom had lasted more than two centuries. Twenty kings had sat on its throne—every one of them judged as evil in God’s sight.
17:7 The rest of the chapter explains the reasons for this sad ending to the kingdom of Israel. The failure of the kings and the people to keep God’s law and their practice of idolatry brought ruin upon them. The writer of 1–2 Kings leaves no doubt in his readers’ minds why all these disasters befell God’s people: This . . . happened because the people of Israel sinned against the Lord their God who had brought them out of the land of Egypt . . . and because they worshiped other gods. That statement is a summary of everything that follows. The people of Israel and their leaders rejected the God who had rescued them from slavery. They exchanged their living Redeemer for imaginary gods of wood and stone. (Thankfully, as we will see at the close of 2 Kings, he also holds out a flicker of hope because of God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises, even in the face of his people’s complete lack of obedience.)
17:8-10 The indictment against Israel runs for a number of verses, with the offenses piling up. The Israelites imitated the customs of the nations that God had driven out of the promised land—customs that God had explicitly forbidden through Moses (see Deut 18:9). Israel’s own kings —the men who were to lead the people in holiness and faithfulness—adopted these rebellious ways, and the people followed their lead (17:8). They thought they were doing these things secretly while still carrying on the pretense of worshiping God, as if he would be fooled (17:9). But, God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing) and omnipresent (that is, everywhere present). Nothing we do is in secret.
17:11-15 Israel’s wickedness angered the Lord (17:11), who like a loving father caring for the well-being of his children, had commanded them time and again, You must not do this. But they, instead, served idols that could not save them (17:12). This is a critical point, and one that Psalm 115:4-7 drives home. The psalmist wrote this about idol worshipers as well: “Those who make them are just like them” (Ps 115:8). In other words, the people of Israel followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves (17:15). Despite God’s repeated warnings (17:13), they would not listen (17:14). Take note: you become like what you worship.
17:16-17 Of all the customs of the nations that Israel imitated, one was especially horrific: they sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire (17:17). The most vulnerable members of society were put to death by their own parents!
Tragically, this sounds like our own culture in which the appalling practice of abortion is so prevalent. God will not turn a blind eye to the destruction of his image-bearers (see Gen 1:26).
17:18-20 In spite of the author’s condemnation of Israel, Judah was not blameless either. After King Solomon died, the nation of Israel had divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. And, though Judah had several godly kings while Israel had none, that kingdom too, experienced great depravity and fell far from God’s standards. Thus, the author wants to make it clear that Israel wasn’t the only guilty party. He makes a parenthetical comment that even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord . . . but lived according to the customs Israel had practiced (17:19). Though Judah’s punishment was yet to come, they would not escape God’s righteous wrath. In time, Judah would suffer a fate similar to Israel’s.
17:21-23 Back when the Lord tore Israel from the house of David, he gave it to Jeroboam. But, King Jeroboam spurned God’s grace and caused Israel to commit immense sin (17:21). So, finally, after years of Israel following in the footsteps of Jer-oboam, God finally removed Israel from his presence—which was no surprise. He had warned the kings and the people of this very thing through his servants the prophets for years—but they hadn’t listened.
The author helpfully notes that Israel’s people were still in Assyria in his day, years after their homeland’s collapse (17:23).
17:24-26 When rulers in the ancient Near East conquered a nation and took its people into exile, they would often settle peoples from other conquered nations into the newly conquered land. This separation of the people from their lands—and supposedly from their gods—was intended to prevent nationalistic sentiment from arising. Exiling the people and mixing them with other peoples would make them less likely to rebel. Thus, the Assyrians settled all sorts of foreigners in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites (17:24).
Importantly, these foreigners brought their religions and gods with them, a situation to which God responded by sending lions among them, which killed some of them (17:25). These settlers quickly realized that the God of the Israelites was someone to be reckoned with, so they asked the king of Assyria for help because they didn’t know what to do to placate the god of the land (17:26). They wanted to take measures to ensure they didn’t offend what they believed to be the local god in whose land they were taking up residence.
17:27-33 The Assyrian king had an easy solution to the problem: he would send back a deported Israelite priest to teach the foreign residents in Israel how they should fear the Lord (17:27-28). Now, understand that the priest may have been one of the very people who’d led Israel to worship the golden calves erected by Jeroboam. So, the fact that he taught these unbelievers what the Lord required was no guarantee that he lived by those standards or was above blending in with the people as they made and worshiped their own gods, too (17:29). For their part, the new inhabitants didn’t mind mixing worship of the Lord with that of their idols (17:33). The scene here is typical of ancient polytheism and syncretism.
17:34 Here, we get a general indictment against the new inhabitants of what had been Israel. The author says, They are still observing the former practices to this day. These verses, then, explain the origin of the syncretistic Samaritan people of Jesus’s earthly ministry (see John 4). Many of the Israelites who were still in the land following Israel’s overthrow intermarried with the foreign peoples over time until the distinctiveness of Israel’s religion was systematically dismantled and replaced by a smorgasbord of religion in which the Lord was just one deity among many. In effect, everything God had done to set his people apart from the nations around them had been undone by the people of the northern kingdom.
17:35-41 Years before, God had made a covenant with Jacob’s descendants (17:35). He pledged his faithfulness and protection to them, but, in return, they were to be faithful to him. They were to honor him exclusively as their King and live from the perspective of being citizens of his kingdom (17:36-39). Because they’d failed to do this, God kicked them out of the land.
When people from other nations came to live in the land—even though they knew what happened to the former inhabitants—they continued their former practices (17:40). They taught their offspring to mix worship of the Lord with worship of their idols (17:41). What a sad outcome.