In 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian forces met Pharaoh Necho II at Carchemish near the Euphrates river, a little south and west of the ancient city of Haran. In a decisive battle, Babylon defeated Egypt and all the kings between Carchemish and Egypt became subservient to Nebuchadnezzar – including Jehoiakim. Four years later, Nebuchadnezzar marched directly on Egypt, without success. This failure emboldened Jehoiakim to rebel against Nebuchadnezzar, and the Babylonian king punished him unmercifully with onslaughts from mercenary forces. Jehoiakim was taken to Babylon (cir. 601 B.C.), along with Daniel and other royal officials, where Jehoiakim died.
Jehoiakim was replaced by his son Jehoiachin, but spiritually, there was no improvement in Judah. In 597 B.C., He too was taken captive to Babylon along with the very best of everything – including the utensils used in the temple service and those of the priestly family like Ezekiel. Jehoiachin was replaced by his uncle, Mattaniah, whose name, in a show of supreme power, was changed by Nebuchadnezzar to Zedekiah.
Chapter 24 relates the all-too-brief stories of the last kings of Judah, but her fall came not from incompetent politics nor from military weakness. The writer is plain in attributing these disasters to the spiritual bankruptcy of the monarchy. The prophets will blame it on the people of God in general, but the author of Kings focuses on the spiritual failures of leadership. Ancient kings busied themselves with matters of rule and policy. God intended them to deal with only three things: knowing the word of God, modeling the word of God, and teaching the word of God. The Lord Himself intended to take care of rule and policy.
Coming home from unfamiliar territory in Maryland a while back I turned on my GPS. Gradually, it led me into familiar Virginia territory, but I left it on anyway. Then, absent-mindedly, decided to change my destination. The GPS, not having been apprised of my new plans, began “recalculating.” I should have turned it off, but instead, I tuned it out. Until I finally heard it say: “giving up.”
With Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, God seems to have said: “giving up.” The Lord said: “I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. . . I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. . . because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger from the day their forefathers came out of Egypt until this day” (2 Kings 21:12).
The account of Josiah’s reign informs us of how far Judah had wandered from the Lord. They had lost their Bible, and no one seems to have missed it – for years. The temple had become an ecumenical mecca for gods of every religious persuasion and practice. Rooms had been set aside for cult prostitution. Support for the Lord’s priests was shared with priests of other religions.
Josiah moved magnificently to undo all this religious toleration, but it was not enough. The point of no return had been passed. Disaster in retribution was coming. Josiah, as a blessing for all his work, was simply not allowed live to see the dark days ahead.
Any way but the Lord’s way is the wrong way. And those who pursue the wrong way will eventually find themselves unable to return. That’s the way it works. Evil is not to be toyed with.
Of all the kings of Judah in the divided kingdom period, not one comes close to Hezekiah in faithfulness to the Lord. Many have walked in the footsteps of David. Many have done “what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” But until Hezekiah, no one has destroyed the “High Places.” The High Places were sacred spots to the Canaanites where worship and sacrifice was offered to the Lord. God had forbidden their use and commanded their destruction. His people didn’t listen.
It may have been that they hesitated to offend the Canaanites whose land they had occupied. More likely, however, the High Places simply offered convenient places of worship, helping to avoid the time-consuming trips to Jerusalem where God had “caused his name to dwell.”
The world will not understand why we live and worship the way we do unless they come to know the Lord. And they will not come to know Him as he really is, if we adopt a service to him that is more convenient to us and less obedient to Him.
Hezekiah offers us an example of a life so often lived by Christians. He was obedient to God, but he had little faith. His life was full of fear in days of trial, and he often forgot the God who blessed him when things were good. Obedient? Yes. A man of faith? Not so much. God wants both.
Ahaz is the 12th monarch of Judah since the division of the empire. The first king, Rhoboam, did evil. Likewise, his son, Abijah, had a heart “not fully devoted to the Lord.” That changes with the third king, Asa, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord..” Asa’s grandson and great-grandson will not be devoted to the Lord, but after them, the next four kings are noted for their faithfulness.
In fact, of the twelve monarchs (that includes one queen, Athaliah), half of them are noted for their faithfulness to the Lord. Of them all thus far, however, Ahaz will be the worst. He seemed to do everything in his power to offend the Lord and curry the favor of the pagan nations around him. Most galling had to be the replacement of the Lord’s altar in the temple with a copy of one found in a pagan temple in Damascus. Ahaz appropriated the Lord’s altar for himself to be used as a personal tool of divination to seek the Lord’s counsel.
You have to wonder why he bothered.
You also have to wonder why he was so blind. The text says that he was following “the ways of the kings of Israel.” And where had such behavior gotten them? Many of them had been carried off into captivity. Before his reign was out, the rest of them would be deported. Israel was gasping for breath and Ahaz determined to follow in their footsteps.
The world in which we live offers a mirage of success. It is successful in luring us away because our vision is focused on the here and now, and we are not looking at the consequences of the world’s leading and our trance-like following. Perhaps that’s why there is so much in the New Testament about “waking up,” not acting like “drunks,” and being sober-minded.
As you read chapter twelve, you will be tempted to remark of Joash: “What a fine fellow, a remarkable change from the dynasty of Ahab.”
But be careful. All is not what it seems. When we read Chronicles we get an entirely different picture of Joash. Both books tell us he was spiritually nurtured by Jehoiada the priest and under Jehoiada’s mentoring, he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Yet later, according to Chronicles, he would abandon the temple and the Lord and even have Jehoiada’s son murdered (see 2 Chronicles 23).
This last part is not mentioned in 2 Kings and it leaves us with a different picture of the king.
One should not (as we often so erroneously do with the Gospels) jam Kings and Chronicles together in order to try and get the “whole picture.” When we do that, we miss the picture intended by the authors in favor of one of our own making.
Nearly half of the verses in 2 Kings 12 are devoted to Joash’s refurbishing the temple. While kings customarily paid for the support of the local shrine in the ancient world, Joash correctly observed that this should be the responsibility of all the people – as well as the king. He put various reforms in place. First, the priests were either ill-suited for the repair of the temple, or couldn’t be trusted to do it, so the work was turned over to craftsmen who could do it properly. Second, care of the money donated became a civil and religious matter with the counting of the money a partnership between the royal administration and the High Priest. Third, repairs on essentials came before luxuries – function was more important than form. And finally, the repair work was on a “pay as you go” method. Credit was neither used nor extended.
As a minister, I find some good advice in all this. Church leaders often get involved in the very material tasks of property management – and are usually poor at it. Property gets neglected and member frustration sets in (not to mention that newcomers often go elsewhere). Money is too often spent on new programs rather than keeping up the ones already in process (it’s always easier to raise money for something new). Work is too often assigned to people who cannot do the job rather than professionals (I’ve lost track of the number of church buildings with faulty wiring or bad plumbing because those tasks were assigned to members who were cheap rather than skilled). But I’m not sure any of these points are intended by the writer of Kings.
Instead, we come to the end of the chapter and all the progress is “given away” to the foreigner Hazael as a ransom for not attacking Judah – and Joash is assassinated. Where was God while his temple was being looted and his anointed killed? The problem was not with God, but still with His people and His king. Their focus seemed to be on the right spot: the temple of the Lord. But that was but an external. While a beautiful building was being refurbished, the spiritual lives of Judah and Joash were falling apart. Attention to the temple didn’t mean repentance, and repentance was what was needed. “The high places were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.”
As you read chapter 10, keep in mind this description of Ahab: “There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel” (2 Kings 21:25-26).
Also remember these words spoken by Elijah to Ahab: “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, [He will] consume your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.
Chapter 10 is the fulfillment of this promise (note the specific reference to this fulfillment in verses 10 & 17). Ahab has been dead for fourteen years. God is not always fast regarding his promises, but His promises are always sure. The “sons of Ahab” may not all be “sons,” but rather are likely descendants of Ahab. Because of their lineage, they would all have some claim to the throne.
On the surface, Jehu seems zealous for God. In reality, he is but a blunt instrument of divine retribution. God gave him the monarchy of Israel. He sought to secure it by massacring the house of Ahab. Here, as sometimes happen, things get complicated. God occasionally chooses a person not because he will follow the Lord, but because God knows his heart and will do what God wants done.
What’s the difference? You see it in the life of Jehu. God wanted the descendants of Ahab killed. Jehu would do that. But one should not suppose that Jehu’s actions were carried out with God’s approval. Hosea will condemn Jehu for the massacre at Jezreel (see Hosea 1:4).
It is one of many texts pointing out the sovereignty of God. The Lord will have his way, but just because God’s way gets done doesn’t mean God’s approval. God wanted Saul removed from the throne, but David could not take Saul’s life. Jehu was given the monarchy of Israel, but his job was not to secure it against all opposition. He was to trust the Lord for longevity. He did not. We must be careful in keeping the will of the Lord. Not all of God’s will is ours to keep. The main thing is to do what Jehu did not: to keep the law of God with all our heart (2 Kings 10:31). Killing the sons of Ahab might have been the will of God, but it was not the law of God for Jehu to do it.
The events of 2 Kings 17 and 18 overlap. So we read in chapter 17 of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser invading and conquering the northern kingdom of Israel. There is a long explanation there for why it happened, but if you’ve been reading even casually, you know the reason. In chapter 18 we read the same story but with less detail because the writer moves from the northern kingdom to the southern kingdom.
If you are one of those readers who likes numbers and dates and time lines, and if you are trying to create one here, you are going to be filled with frustration. The fall of Samaria is dated in chapter eighteen as the seventh year of Hezekiah. Hezekiah didn’t actually become king until about six years later. Is this an error in the Bible? It certainly looks that way, but frankly, the seventh year of Hezekiah might well refer to a later campaign of Sennacherib. There were, after all, at least eight of those and at least two of them were focused against Hezekiah.
What is important is to see correspondences between this story and some others.
In chapter eighteen, Hezekiah offers Sennacherib whatever he demands to be left alone. Sennacherib, “feeling his oates,” rather boldly proclaims that he is superior to the God of Judah and they have no chance against him. This reminds us of The Syrian king Ben-Hadad in 1 Kings 20, who vowed to do whatever he pleased with Israel and there was nothing to stop Him. In both stories there is a tendency to discount the Lord, and in both cases, there is miraculous deliverance. The same God who is at work in one story, is also at work in the other. The story in 2 Kings 18 – 20 is also the hinge on which the two large sections of Isaiah hang (chapters 1 – 35, 40 – 66).
It is interesting that Azariah (also known as Uzziah – see verse 13) gets so little space in Kings. According to Chronicles “He warred successfully against the Philistines, controlled the Arabs in Transjordan and received tribute from the Ammonites. His fame spread to the very border of Egypt through his control of the Negeb by establishing a series of ‘watchtowers in the desert’, one of which was at Qumran over which the later settlement was built. Elat was rebuilt and Ezion Geber enlarged about this time which, with the good relations with the Arabs, enhanced trade. Jerusalem was fortified and given modern defence artillery with the army reorganized and re©equipped. Economically all was well, but when Uzziah became famous and very powerful his pride led to unfaithfulness” to his fall, and to God’s punishment with leprosy (cf. D.J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993)).
But the writer of Kings is not terribly interested in Judah in chapter 15. Israel’s final days are upon her and with her end, he wants to make an observation about why (chapter 17). The only comment he cares to make is that he was punished by God and could not be buried in the ancestral cemetery of the kings of Judah.
During Uzziah’s reign, Israel’s kings will fall in rapid succession. Zechariah will rule six months, Shallum only one. Menahem will rule ten years and Pekahiah only two. Less than thirty years remain before Israel’s total collapse and destruction. Pekahiah rules twenty years and his successor, Hoshea, rules nine years. With Zechariah, the dynasty of Jehu ends and Israel’s throne ceases (with one exception) to be a hereditary one. Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah and Pekah are all assassinated. Israel has less than thirty years left. There will be no turning back the judgment of God.
You will never see this just by reading Kings, but Jehoshaphat was a good king – at least, by most standards – meriting three chapters of coverage in the Chronicles. God was with him and granted him wealth and power.
So much power in fact that peace was effected between Israel and Judah. No one would dare challenge him.
Unfortunately, Jehoshaphat allied himself with the northern kingdom. On two separate occasions, he quite unwisely joins his army to that of Israel (compare 1 Kings 22:4-7 and 2 Kings 3:7 – 11). Likely for purely political reasons (though it is difficult to fathom why he needed to do this) he married his son, Jehoram, to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and sister of Joram (Ahab’s son and successor). He also made his son co-regent with him near the end of his reign (2 Kings 817ff).
Athaliah and Jehoram had a son, Ahaziah, who was killed by Jehu. Athaliah then sought to consolidate the northern and southern kingdoms by killing off all of her husband’s family (including her infant grandson, Joash) – but she was foiled by Jehosheba and her High Priest husband Jehoiada.
This event is of incredible importance. Had it not been for the leadership of this priest and his devotion to the Lord, the Davidic line would have ended – along with the kingship of Judah. It is interesting that God is not said to have taken an active hand in all this, but his providence is throughout the story.
Almost eight chapters have passed since any reference to a succession of kings. The pages have been consumed with the work of God through His prophets Elijah and Elisha. With 2 Kings 8, we return to the story of the kings.
Throughout these eight chapters the story reveals the great presence of God in Israel, and His sovereignty over all the earth – not just sovereignty in Israel.
Near the end of 1 Kings (chapter 19), Elijah, having run in fear all the way to Sinai, is approached by the Lord and told to return to his homeland. There, Hazael will be anointed the new king of Syria, Jehu the new king of Israel, and Elisha the successor of Elijah.
We’ve seen the anointing of Elisha. The other two events are about to come to pass.
Ben-Hadad, king of Syria recognizes that Elisha is the prophet of God – the only God there is. Critically ill, he sends his closest confidant to Elisha to find out if he will survive. Elisha does not anoint Hazael, but confirms that he will be king. Hazael returns to his master and, finding him in a weakened state, finishes him off. This is how the kingship passes from the family of Ben-Hadad to Hazael and, just as 1 Kings 19 gave us a glimpse into Israel and Syria’s political future, so Elisha now gives us a view of Israel’s punishment to come.