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).
Israel has several names in the Old Testament and a new one is seen in chapter seven. In fact, it only occurs this way in that chapter. Israel is called “Joseph,” and “Ephraim” in other places, but in Amos 7 she is called “Isaac.” Perhaps the Lord does this because Israel is stuck in the past as well as in idolatry. She makes regular pilgrimages to Beersheba (Amos 5:5; 8:14) where Isaac was born and where he also witnessed an appearance of the Lord and built an altar.
Israel holds to the faith of her fathers, but not to the way of her Heavenly Father. It is a problem in every generation. Early on, the generation seeks its own way, innovating as it goes and wandering further away from what God wants. Eventually it seeks to return to the “old paths,” but the old ways are but the ways they grew up with, their religious traditions – idols, which were also forged by their wandering forefathers. In Israel’s case, she has journeyed so far from the Lord she no longer knows the way back, and God is not inclined to forgive.
God plans punishments for Israel. The first one is so destructive Amos begs for forgiveness on her behalf. God doesn’t forgive, but He does relent. Then another punishment is seen. This time, Amos doesn’t pray for forgiveness, only that God will stop before Israel is destroyed. God does, but a third punishment is contemplated and from this, there will be no reprieve.
God doesn’t forgive forever, and there is an end to his patience. Each generation must seek the will of the Lord, a will that leads not to comfort with the familiar (the past), but the discomfort of the holy. The way of the Lord has been revealed and it can be known, at least by people who seek to know it above all else.
Chapter six opens with an address to those in “Zion,” which is strange because Amos is a prophet to the northern kingdom, not the southern (where Zion – Jerusalem – is the capital). But this point allows us to make an observation about biblical interpretation. There can be a difference between whom words are spoken to, and who they are for. Amos was the prophet sent to Israel, but the book of Amos was not written for Israel, but for Judah. And so Judah is supposed to learn from the message and experience of her sister nation to the north.
This is an important point for the study of the gospels. While they record what Jesus said, the message may not have the same point Jesus had because the book in which the words are recorded was written by someone other than Jesus with perhaps a different emphasis.
In the prophets, “Joseph” is another name for “Israel” (see Ezekiel 37:16 and Zechariah 10:6), and in chapter six Israel’s great sin is that she has immersed herself in her luxuries and cannot feel the sorrow she should feel for her own (Joseph’s) spiritual decay.
If she believes she is impervious to destruction because of her financial acumen or her military might, she should consider the then disappeared economic greatness of Calneh, the military might of the Hittite city Hamath – both lying far to the north – and the superb glory of Gath to Israel’s south. All these were now far from their heyday. It could, and would, happen to Israel too (and Judah).
The most difficult time to remember God is when things are going well and yet, it’s when things are going well that we are most vulnerable.
Amos was a “southern” prophet sent to the northern kingdom. He wasn’t exactly the sort of person the northern kingdom was going to listen to. After all, he was but a shepherd and a gardener. The northern kingdom was going through the period of her greatest economic prosperity. Unimaginable wealth had become hers. What notice would they pay a shepherd?
But then again, they weren’t going to listen to God, so it didn’t matter who He sent.
Having spoken about the surrounding nations of the northern kingdom (Israel), and having spoken to Israel herself in chapter two, the prophet turns his attention to the entirety of the descendants of Jacob in chapter three, “the whole family I brought up out of Egypt.”
In chapter seven you will find a story of opposition against Amos, but you find hints of that opposition in chapter three. Notice these questions: “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so? Does a lion roar in the thicket when he has no prey? Does he growl in his den when he has caught nothing? Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground where no snare has been set? Does a trap spring up from the earth when there is nothing to catch? When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble?”
Each of these refer to a cause and effect. Two people walk together because they have agreed to do so. The lion roars because he has caught prey.
So “when disaster comes to a city,” it must be the Lord who has caused it (vs. 6).
And, when God’s servants the prophets speak, the Lord must have given them the message.
Amos’ hearers should not question or oppose Amos. He is the Lord’s emissary.
Israel is the recipient of Amos’ message, but in his presentation he calls on the Egyptians and the Philistines (Ashdod) to come witness the poor behavior of God’s people as well as their impending destruction for that behavior. The implied message is that if God will do this to His “chosen” people (3:2), He is not likely to spare the “not chosen.” But the plain message to the proud and rich of Israel is that the people they disdain and despise with be the witnesses of their impending embarrassment.
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.
Jonah must have been a great, powerful, motivating speaker. How else to explain his success in Nineveh?
The writer tells us that Nineveh was a great metropolis, “a visit required three days.” This latter phrase likely simply underscores the greatness of the city. The remains of Nineveh certainly do not indicate that it took a three day journey to cross it. More important than the size of the city is its political position. It would reach the zenith of its power later, but it was the capital of the Assyrian empire. Jack Lewis writes: “Assyria . . . was a nation largely geared for aggressive war. Its atrocities were as proverbial as the records and the art left by its kings make quite clear. . . Its victims lay prone under tyranny, but no national spirit breathed in the corpus. . . Nineveh saw men and nations as tools to be exploited to gratify the lust of conquest and commercialism. Assyria existed to render no service to mankind.”
You can understand then why Jonah didn’t want to preach to them. The very idea that they might repent and escape the wrath of God was repugnant to him.
The message of this itinerant stranger from Israel spread rapidly from street corner to king’s palace and soon, by royal edict, everyone was expressing penitence.
Though I began today’s thoughts with reference to Jonah’s great talent, the fact is, success is not in the hands of mortals. Action is. God gives the success. We’d do well to remember that. There is no place the word of God cannot go, no heart it cannot touch, if we will but simply take it.
In chapters one and two of Joel, all the difficulties that come upon God’s people are the result of their own sins. In other words, they have only themselves to blame. Their punishment is earthly and temporary, and it is brought about by the enemies of God. Though they are enemies and attacking God’s people, they are just doing God’s bidding.
But in chapter three, God brings these evil nations into the Valley of “Decision” (compare 3:2,14) where He judges them for doing His will.
How can that be fair?
The passage speaks to the absolute sovereignty of God. We might reply: “God didn’t actually tell Judah’s enemies to carry them away and enslave them. They did it, and God used that to punish His people.”
And we’d be right, but the text does not exactly say that. The entirety of the situation is pictured as being run by God and this speaks to His absolute sovereignty. God knew what the nations were going to do. He used their predisposition against His own people to discipline them. And then, God punished Judah’s enemies for the actions of their predisposition.
You should not fail to see one other point: God loves His people more than He loves those who are not His people. All the nations are disciplined according to God’s will, but God is only a refuge for Judah.
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.
The story of Naaman emphasizes that the God of Israel is the only God. No other God could heal leprosy. The power of this God, exhibited through His prophet, is seen in this cluster of stories in Kings, but more than that is also seen the need to believe in this God. A poor widow in desperate straits is given oil to spare, but the oil she is given is limited to the number of containers she believes God can fill. The Shunammite provides for the prophet of God and, despite the fact that her husband is old, she becomes pregnant. When her son dies, her faith in God sends her to the prophet who restores the boy to life. Poison stew is rendered harmless with a handful of flour and a hundred men are fed from twenty barley loaves of bread. All this happens when people do what God (through His prophet) tells them.
Naaman is persuaded to do a very simple but detestable thing: dip seven times in a muddy river Jordan. He does it in response to the command of Elisha and is cured.
Naaman, like other people of His day, believed that the god of a people resided in their land; that’s why he asks for two mule loads to take with him back to Syria. In taking the dirt, he is taking a link to the God of Israel who he believes is the only God. Though his understanding of God’s reach is faulty, he does understand this: if Israel’s God is the only god, then it would be blasphemy to worship any other God – so he asks for forgiveness in advance because his job requires him to accompany his king to the temple of the Syrian god Rimmon and worship.
This latter point is crucial to the readers of Kings. They are captives in a foreign land, but their God is not confined to their ancestral land. They believe that. They, then, should act like they believe it and worship only the God of Israel. Naaman understood that. Why can’t they? Why can’t we?