2 Kings overview

A book of judgment and transformation

The downward slide of the promised land to ruin is punctuated by 3 themes of grace and promise from God.

First he speaks extraordinarily through the prophets.  The opening chapters are moments from the lives of Elijah and Elisha, who have God’s grace and abundance poured through them.  They are given signs of power that echo moses and prefigure the ministry of Jesus.  A promise that in all the chaos, God is still active and speaking loud and clear. He’s not abandoned Israel or mankind.

Second the focus on the line of David being preserved, the mechanics of how the promise of a king is being transformed into the promise of a messiah.

As the book progresses, the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon grow in power.  The northern kingdom, Israel falls to Assyria, and later the southern kingdom of Judah falls to Babylon, and Jerusalem’s walls and temple are completely destroyed.

In both cases its clear from the narrative we are to view it not as the triumph  of evil, but the judgment of God through the exercise of power by men, just as we weren’t to view the destruction of Canaan peoples as evil when the promised land was settled.

Its impossibly harsh, but that is judgment.  The wages of sin is death, as Jesus said, sooner or later.

The third sign that all is not lost are two godly kings right before the final destruction.  This seems specific to the Jewish promise, not so much the greater plan of human salvation.  The jews will return, and these reigns form a model of Judaism that will be restored.

The last substantial King Josiah is the first to have celebrated the passover, out of all, including David.  He is sent a copy of the law, and loves it and God with all his heart. The coming destruction by the Babylonians is staved off for the entirety of his reign.

After this seemingly complete annihilation of Abraham’s covenants in any recognisable earthly form, the walls, the temple, Jerusalem will against all odds be rebuilt and the passover will continue to be celebrated until the time of Jesus when it will branch off to be turned into the meal of his sacrifice for christian believers still today.

I expected Kings to be a depressing book, but it says that in despair hope is sometimes greater than you think.  Sometimes you need to let go of what you  think is important to God to actually hear him.  

I’m writing this summary in a week that includes two tragic sad deaths and a divorce in our network of friends. 

But God is in control, it may not feel like it, but he is, the signs are there.

God’s power is not diminished, but is expressed through prophets not kings

1 King pretends god doesn’t matter, but can’t escape him

Elijah to Elisha, transfer of prophetic ministry models Moses, anticipates Christ

3 God via Elisha gives a victory, a great example of participating in blessing

4 Miracles of Elisha, read like Jesus’ symbols of abundance, life, fruitfulness

5 Healings of Elisha, including a foreign military commander – its about the heart

6 The point of signs and wonders – changing hearts is more important

7 Elisha brings words of God that break a famine, but the King is too proud to repent

8 Prescient of Jesus, Elisha weeps at the coming judgement he cannot change

God’s salvation will come through a king’s line, not kings and kingdoms 

9 The kingdoms come close to unity, but preserving the line of David takes priority

10 Who’s using who? The King uses religious zeal to justify consolidating his power in civil war, but God is using him to judge and end the kingship

11 A woman hides a boy. David’s kingdom will fail, but Salvation will come from his line

12 Southern King Jehoash. Godly, but a sense of doom has fallen over the kingship

13 Death of Elisha who gives the King a chance to show boldness of faith. He fails.

The fall of the kingdoms – slowed by 2 reigns of compassion and godliness

14 Theme of faithlessness continues with some very ordinary kings

15 7 kings in one chapter, to little effect. Neighbouring kingdoms get stronger…

16 The worst king, a craven puppet to Assyria, worships anything but Jehovah

17 The northern kingdom falls to Assyria

18 Southern kingdom’s Hezekiah is godly. The Assyrians are coming for him

19 Victory against Assyria, definitely an answer to prayer

20 Hezekiah gets 15 extra years which he uses well and ill.  I meditate on time.

21 Next king is as bad as the worst northern king. God’s prophets predict doom

22 The godly king Josiah brings out God’s compassion, delaying judgment

23 Josiah celebrates passover, loves God, a foil to Solomon, preserving the faith

24 The final kings, Babylon overuns Jerusalem

25 Temple, walls, everything destroyed, united in judgment the promised land all gone

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2 Kings 25

Details the utter destruction of Solomon’s Jerusalem. The walls are broken down, the houses burned, the temple destroyed. The last King, zedekiah, is defeated ironically on the plains of Jericho the scene of God’s first mighty victory for the chosen people in the promised land.

His children are slaughtered in front of him then his eyes put out and he’s slapped in chains. A governor is put into Jerusalem and all but very few of the Israelites are taken away, so Jerusalem is mostly a foreign population.

The book ends with a of note of mercy from the king of Babylon. The second last King has been carried away to Babylon. He is eventually released and allowed to dine before the king in the palace. He’s given a small income and lives out his days in dignity.

The message seems to be: this is not about the king of Babylon being the devil. He is the vehicle of judgement.

This is about God judging the evil of the chosen people.

It’s the sad end of a massive narrative that started with the promise to Abraham of a chosen people, though slavery in Egypt, rescue, the period of judges in the promised land then Kings in the promised land and now it’s all gone.

The people are not a nation again. The promise to Abraham will be realised in Christ’s people, not his literal descendants.

When Jesus will say “the kingdom of God is at hand” is will be a statement laden with all this history of failure. The kingdom will be spiritual.

Israel has another chapter or two in that story, amazingly enough, but it will never have the same hope.

2 Kings 24

Judah is the last tribe standing in the promised land, clinging to Jerusalem. 

Now the Babylonians, king Nebuchadnezzar, take over everything. All the able Israelite people are taken away to Babylon, A puppet king is installed who none the less runs a pathetic rebellion, and the last vestiges of self rule is overrun.

The point is the sin, its all clearly tied to judgement. Manassehs name is mentioned, he was a king particularly keen on occult and bloodshed. 

It’s been a simple loop really. In judges, God said the people shouldn’t have a king. But they were completly corrupt without one. And with one, it turns out. 

I live in a state of grace. Our new rector at church said he learned that sin is not like breaking the law. Its wrong if I speed in the car, but it’s not a personal attack on anyone.

Sin an affront to God. A personal affront. . That is how it is treated here. We are not forgiven lightly.

2 Kings 23

The rest of Josiah’s reign. In a sense he was greater than David. Certainly he was the most godly King since David.

It simply says he loved the lord with all his heart. And he leads the people in that love.  So he actually does remove all worship of other Gods.

He celebrates Passover for the first time since time judges, pre the monarchy.

David, to give him his credit, couldn’t because the temple wasn’t set up.

There is a plan in this blessing of God’s I think. It’s setting a precedent for how the temple worship would operate post exile, though to Jesus day. It’s the true coming of monotheism to Israel. He makes a point of destroying the golden calf set up at Bethel by jeroboam, which reaches right back in tradition to the rebellion of the people in the book of exodus.

It’s a blessing to end the book on, the other end of the scale from Solomon, who squandered so much in a way.

And it really is end game after Josiah. Two of his sons become king in quick succession after he is killed in battle by the Pharaoh. The second son is a puppet king for Pharaoh, virtually his tax collector.  Yes after rediscovering Passover for the first time in many years, they are slaves of Egypt again.

2 Kings 22

One last godly king before exile. Josiah may have been the godliest of all. He renovates the temple and the high priest sends him a book of the law he finds… Presumably its Deuteronomy or something. It has a profound effect on the king.

He asks for words from God and a female prophet Hudah is consulted… They make nothing of the gender, so presumably it was a common occurrence … Don’t tell the conservative ministers in our diocese!

The message is that indeed all the curses written in the law for following idols will call them, but because of Josiah’s penitence it won’t be in his lifetime.

It’s another example of God delaying judgement because of compassion. God doesn’t change his mind much as change his timing. But it was 31 years they got, of peaceful, godly rule. It aligns with a sense I’m getting that prayer is about participating in blessing.

2 Kings 21

Perhaps the fatalism of the godly king Hezekiah in the last chapter was because he already knew his son would be a disaster. 

Manasseh became king at a young age and re established the pantheon of folk Gods, sacrificed his son to Moloch, set up Ashera actually in the temple, consulted wizards and mediums and shed much innocent blood to boot.

There is argument over whether these gods are Canaanite or folk Gods of Israel itself. I guess the calf at least, which they worshipped in the desert came from some folk tradition. Abraham came from a household with Gods. 

The sacrificial system is just an adaptation of the religion that was already there to monotheistic worship of jahweh. God is about substance and we’ve seen faith in him come in many forms. He meets our understanding where it is.

His son rules 2 years and is much the same.

Bad Kings are accompanied by more and more pointed prophetic reaction, this time God says he will wipe Jerusalem clean.

2 Kings 20

Borrowed time.

I don’t know how to take Hezekiah. 

He’s a good, relatively godly king at a time when the kingship is doomed.

This tells the notable spiritual events of his reign, and it’s a strange story of the interaction of God and man, and we aren’t given neat moralising. It is what it is.

He gets sick, is told by God/Isaiah its his time. It is before he has defeated the Assyrians. He prays for more life and is given 15 years. He gets a very appropriate sign from God that the promise is real, the sun goes backwards on the sun dial for a day!

He uses the time to deal with the Assyrians – that was in the last chapter I think?

Next we have the story of him welcoming a Babylonian envoy, which was probably a political move to find alliances.

Hezekiah doesn’t seem that interested in politics but really enjoys showing them all his wealth, he’s got prosperous also in his extra time. He is a minor king, it feels lame, like he’s big noting himself when flattered that his loyalty would matter to Babylon.

Isaiah rebukes his pride with a stark prophesy that Babylon will obliterate the kingdom. His children will be enunchs in the Babylonian court. He simply reacts with relief that it will happen after his time.

Knowing the date of his death and knowing that God has ordained that the Empire will fall has made him fatalistic, predictably. It’s made him an island who takes his comfort from the present. Maybe that is why God doesn’t often tell us the date of our deaths.

I had a friend who spent a year or so on borrowed time knowing she would die from cancer. She got very good at accepting love from her friends, and letting them give her treats. 

She got good at not thinking about the inconvenience when she didn’t die on cue and their life was made messy, because she didn’t have the time to worry about it. It was a gift she gave them which they have many years to treasure. The last year or so of her life was a very beautiful thing.

The biographical note about king Hezekiah mentions that he did engineer an clever water supply that made Jerusalem virtually seige proof, so it’s not like he completly ignored the future. 

The commentary I read judged him for his pride, the bragging, which I understand. But I see a certain humility there too, because he accepted God’s judgment, he didn’t try to change it. He asked for and got a temporary stay of the judgement, and enjoyed it for what it was. 

God gave him it because he was faithful, it was an answer to a godly prayer. But the prayer didn’t alter God’s uber plan to cut down the kingdom as a part of the slow revelation of the true Messiah.

It’s both a mercy and a curse to be given the date of your death. I sort of pray that for me God will come like a theif in the night.  

I don’t know what to learn from this! It’s very interesting though, and it says something subtle about God, and our dialogue with him.

It reminds me of Jesus’ impractical compassionate healings – he would have a chance encounter with someone like the woman who was bleeding, and cure her on to the way to somewhere else, and then have to ban anyone from taking about it because he wasn’t ready to die yet. God can seemingly be distracted by his own compassion, and by our faithful prayers.

2 Kings 19

Despite overwhelming odds against lsrael, which Assyria has its eyes on, God promises victory.

The God-fearing King’s Hezekiah’s first moves are pure David. He reacts with grief – torn clothing, and goes to the house of the lord.

Isaiah reports with the voice of God that He will indeed be saved.

It’s interesting the ways God saves.

When the threats are military, sometimes he does displays of supernatural might. For instance the walls of Jericho or pushing back the Red sea.

Other times he does impossible odds fighting. Most of David’s victories including against Goliath are in this category. Often they whittle down the number of men they take to the battle to show how great God is.

But the quick fixes are God’s at his most pragmatic, when he just wants the silly war gone, he uses our most human vulnerability, our mind.

People get confused, or mistake a sound for an attack, etc.  Here the king will hear a rumour and leave.  It’s so easy for God. And he knows us so well.

We get three statements and a consequence.

A blustery trash talking brag by the Assyrian King’s messenger.

A humble prayer by the king.

A promise from God, via Isaiah which is full of warmth, safety and abundance.

Death comes to a bunch of the Assyrian soldiers overnight. The king hears a rumour and returns home, where he falls victim to court intrigue at his sons hands.

I suppose I’m feeling how hopeless it is to oppose God, even for the most fearsome power on earth. It’s like opposing comfort, safety, opposing love.

Suppose you found out the secret of the universe was abundant love, and you treated that as the enemy. We have nothing to be ashamed of in God.

2 Kings 18

OK so while the kingdom of Israel is dying, the kingdom of Judah gets the best King arguably since David. 

Hezekiah finally not only serves the lord personally but leads the people right, he takes down the sacred poles and high places of worship to other Gods.

God does not actually intervene in this chapter. The Assyrians arrive and trash talk the lord and any thought of resistance. It’s psychological warfare. Or bullying.

The chapter ends with messengers running to the king, tearing their clothes in distress and telling him all that the Assyrians have said.

I had a sleepless night tonight. Nothing in particular to worry about, just the sense of being trapped by being overcommitted at work and at home. 

Cooking for home group tonight. I’ve been thinking about a song I wrote called “don’t forget to pray” and, for all this Bible reading I do, I do often forget. 

I’ve been doing this of and on for a few years now, and it’s well and truly a habit, but it can almost be an escape. I’m a timid person in many ways, prayer leads to a more motivated appreciation of God’s will. I wonder if I’ve been avoiding that.

2 Kings 17

12 tribes in the promised land are whittled down to one.

King Hoshea presides ineffectually over the end of the northern kingdom – all of Israel except Judah.

First he becomes a puppet king under the Assyrians, who are the Empire builders of the era, then he makes a feeble attempt to betray them with an alliance with Egypt. He is imprisoned and the people are exiled.

The writer retells all the ways in which the people have earned their fate since the time of exodus. They have at best treated Jehovah as one of many gods. Worst, and often, they have openly rejected him. He’s sent many prophets but it’s made no difference.

The Assyrians send various people to occupy the land and eventually send back an Israelite priest because lion attacks are viewed as a sign of Jehovah’s displeasure. The priest teaches the new residents of Israel the way of the lord as much as he can.

I don’t have a lot to say. The story has been heading here since, well since the people first left Egypt in a way, but definately since the kingdom split.

I have Christian friends on Facebook who almost daily link to what I think of as Christian apocalypse items…. About how the world is going to hell in a handbasket. But I think it’s important to remember that God remains sovereign and his salvation is eternal.

This is one of those moments, like how the disciples must have felt after Jesus was crucified, when you wonder if God’s plans will ever work out. Yet, here we are.

There is reason to be passionate, but not to despair, to be busy but not overwhelmed.

Help me be functional father… I’m feeling  like I have more in than I can handle, but at the same time I’m aware that a have it very easy, and feeling a bit guilty too.