2 Kings 18 & 19

Finally, a good and upright king comes to the throne in Judah, Hezikiah. Unlike other kings of the southern kingdom, Hezikiah was completely devoted to the Lord and destroyed the high places none of the previous kings seemed inclined to do. In this context it says, “he “trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel.” I think the contrast is instructive. Why would previous kings of Judah follow the Lord, but not remove the high places? One example from chapter 15 is Azariah:

He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Amaziah had done. The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and burn incense there.

What was the purpose of these “high places”? Remember that when Solomon started marrying all his foreign wives, for political reasons, he allowed high places to be set up in Israel so his wives and their people could appease their gods. He himself, as he grew old (1 kings 11), worshiped these other gods, these worthless idols. I guess we could see these other gods as insurance; in case the Lord didn’t come through, they thought they had a backup. The story in these two chapters shows us that Hezikiah had it right, that he could trust in God alone for deliverance.

The king of Assyria demands obeisance from the king or he will destroy Judah. What does Hezikiah do? He tears his clothes and put on sackcloth and goes into the temple of the Lord. He seeks God because he trusts in him. God can deliver even tiny Judah from the mighty empire of Assyria. Hezikiah completely gets it. We read in chapter 19:

15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim,you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

17 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. 18 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.19 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.”

The Lord is the sovereign creator of the universe, and these other so called gods are not gods at all; they are “fashioned by human hands.” I love this phrase because all idols are merely human constructs; they have no power to deliver any of the things they promise, as we read over and over again in the OT.

Then God sends Isaiah to Hezikiah and says, basically, don’t worry, I’ve got your back. He kills a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians! War over. And their king, Sennacherib, as God predicted, i.e. determined, was slain by his very own sons as he was worshiping in the temple of his own worthless God, who could not deliver him. The Contrast is a beautiful thing. If we would only trust in the Living God, he will ultimately deliver us completely from sin and death.

2 Kings 17

This is a fascinating chapter and the end of the line for Israel. Hoshea is the last king of Israel, and because of their sin they are deported to Assyria. Verses 7-23 tells the whole sordid story. I love verse nine because it encapsulates everything that Israel did in an incredibly profound understatement:

The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right.

It’s just not right what they did! The most powerful indictment of human nature, and not just Israel (because Israel is simply human beings who need a Savior), is what following idols, false gods does to us. Here is from and Enduring Word commentary on the passage:

They followed idols, became idolaters: The NIV translates this, “They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.” The NASB has it, “They followed vanity and became vain.”

“The original is more accurate at this point: ‘They worshipped emptiness and became empty.’ The word here is hebel meaning ‘air,’ ‘delusion,’ or ‘vanity.’ The idea is that they became like the gods they worshipped. They bowed down to nothingness and became nothing.” (Dilday)

I absolutely love this! The reason for the First Commandment is because there actually are no other gods. The reason Calvin is correct, that the human heart is an idol factory, and God saw it necessary to make the first three commandments what they are, is because our sinful nature yearns to find meaning and fulfillment and significance and understanding, etc., in anything other than God. Israel is us! We worship nothing and become nothing; we worship delusion, air, and death is all that results. We think this nothing, our money, power, pleasure, pride, possessions, is everything, and deep down we know it is all nothing. Yet we continue to pursue the lie until we are raised from the dead, from wrath to sonship by His power. Even then idols draw us and we must be reminded daily that we shall have no other God before him! His word, prayer, his church, the sacraments, we must be reminded daily to fight not only inertia, but the constant draw of the lie, “You will be like God . . . ”

The final part of the chapter is about the king of Assyria bringing pagan peoples from all the lands they probably conquered to Samaria. When they get there, they of course do not worship the Lord, so he sends lions to kill them. It isn’t just Israel to whom God’s commands apply, but to all the peoples of the earth. They are of course afraid, so they try to find out what the god of this country requires, and they find a priest to teach them, but of course they don’t really get it, so they worship the Lord, but their other gods as well.

You wonder why God includes this story of pagans also not getting it in the history of the people of Israel. I’d guess it points back to the universalism of the promise to Abram, and forward to Paul taking the gospel to the gentiles. In the last verse it says “while they were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols.” Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. Those first three commandments, and obviously all the rest, apply to every human being who has ever lived, and this history tell us a much broader story than just the story of a certain Semitic people several thousand years ago. And praise God it does!

2 Kings 14-16

The succession of kings moves on leading as we know to the exile of Israel. There are themes throughout each king’s reign that are consistent in each kingdom. In Israel most kings are rotten. Here is an example from chapter 15, reiterated almost verbatim for each king of Israel in these, and previous, chapters:

27 In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. 28 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

In Judah it was different, but not completely. Also from chapter 15:

In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, began to reign. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.

The line of David was better, but it never got it completely right because for some reason the king and the people felt they still needed the protection of other gods. Or they saw no need to take the high places down, which is odd because the Lord was very clear for a very long time that “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The Hebrew can also be translated “besides me.”

Actually it’s not all that hard to understand because every human being is the same way, as I’ve quoted Calvin previously, the human heart is an idol factory. Which is precisely why we need a savior who will impute to us His righteousness, who will satisfy a holy God’s wrath and do what John tells us in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Or what we read from Paul in I Corinthians 1:

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Human nature this side of eternity cannot change, period. Yes there is some improvement in us, maybe even dramatic improvement, but we are still sinners who sin. It could be that God isn’t teaching us through the OT that Israel is pathetic, but that we all are, that we all are in need and inclined to put other gods before him. Thus in the Bible we have a history of redemption, not a history of human perfection or human perfectibility. The Bible isn’t fundamentally a how-to manual, but a who-is manual, i.e. who is our Savior to reconcile us to the living God. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

The idea isn’t that we become better to gain favor with God, but that we already have as much favor with him as we will ever have because we are as righteous before him as Christ! And thus we become better because of that, not our own efforts. The latter flows from the former, not vice-versa. It is God’s change toward us that affects change in us. As John says (! John 1:19), “We love because he first loved us.” From wrath and judge, to Father and love, our lives are transformed.

Chapter 16 is the story of the very worst King of Judah, Ahaz, who I learned lived during the time of the Prophet Isaiah. Not only did he not take down the high places as other kings of Judah did before him, he transformed the temple as a place to worship other gods. And he gave himself up to the protection of the king of Assyria rather than entrust himself to the God of his father David.

 

 

2 Kings 11-13

Chapter 11 was initially confusing to me. Who are all these people! After some time in commentaries, it all became clear that God in his providence was saving the royal line of David through a lot of palace intrigue and death. It’s too convoluted to explain, but God uses whatever means are necessary to make sure his promises are fulfilled, even through less than savory people. A daughter of Ahab and Jezebel actually ruled in Judah for six years, but Joash, who is this decedent was hidden away from the evil queen until he was declared king with the help of a priest.

After this seven year old boy is declared king, this evil woman is killed, and the people at the behest of this priest rededicated themselves to the Lord. All the people tore the temple of Baal down and killed his priest, and once Joash was seated on the throne, the people of the land rejoiced. There was peace after six years of the wicked ruling the land.

Chapter 12 tells the story of Joash repairing the temple, and in biblical time, 40 years passes in one chapter. That’s economy in story telling! Chapter 13 tells of a couple more evil kings of Israel who do what is evil in the eyes of the Lord, surprise, surprise. We also read here, very simply, that Elisha was ill, then died, and was buried. That’s it. Ministry over.

2 Kings 8-10

As you read through the history of God’s people a clear theme emerges examples of which we see over and over again. This theme, and the verse from which it comes is Genesis 12:3. When the Lord had called Abram to leave his land and his family, he give him this promise:

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

You don’t want to mess with God’s people. His purpose in all his dealing with Israel is his ultimate purpose in redemption, that every tongue, and every nation should be blessed with the gospel.

The Lord is also very clear to Israel itself, that they shall not worship or bow down to idols, and if they do they too will be destroyed. This also happens over and over again. Yet because of his promise to Abram, and ultimately himself, God the Father to God the Son, he will see to it that the seed of David will reign forever. In these chapters Kings of Judah fall into worshiping idols, but God remains faithful. Speaking of one of those kings, it says:

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. 19 Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever.

Human failure is another theme, a feature of God’s own people that is never whitewashed in the Bible. Those he has chosen are miserable, pathetic failures, but God will not allow HIS covenant promises to fail because of his promise to Abram, and thus us, is eternal, and irrevocable as Paul says, sealed by his word before the universe was even created! We read in Ephesians 1:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

This juxtaposition weaves its way throughout the Bible: our failure, God’s success, our faithlessness, God’s faithfulness, our stubborn will, God’s sovereign will. What a comforting view, that God’s purposes in redemption are not dependent on us, at all.

Several stories are told in these chapters that embody these themes. The shunammite is blessed because she blessed Elisha. and Ahab, 70 of his sons, and the wicked Jezebel are brutally killed, cursed because they followed false gods. In one of the great you had it coming stories in the Bible, and one showing God’s wry sense of humor, Jehu, king of Israel, orders all the prophets of Baal in the land killed as they are in the temple of Baal, and the people ever after literally pissed on Baal’s place of worship:

27 And they demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.

There could not be a more perfect metaphor for the value of idolatry, and the promises of Satan that anything of value can be found apart from making the living God the center of our existence.

 

2 Kings 6&7

I wonder if there are any redemptive/historical lessons from an ax head floating? And believe it or not, I found a commentary that makes that connection! Others I read try to take some moral or practical lesson from it, which is really annoying. This guy’s argument makes sense because the Jordan River is not just any river; it has a critical role in the history of redemption. Not only does it separate the promised land from the not-promised land, but the people of God go through the waters as they enter the promised land, a type of baptism. And Elijah and Elisha both go through it on dry land, back and forth, to end the former’s ministry, and the latter to start his. And I like the idea of the ax head related to judgment because of the verse in Deuteronomy.

The next miracles are works that include all Israel. The Arameans are planning on taking out Israel, but God through Elisha won’t let that happen. When they surround the city, Elisha’s servant freaks out, but Elisha shows him the true nature of this battle:

16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

There is an entire unseen world that most people just assume doesn’t exist. God has legions at his disposal to carry out his will for his people Israel, and of course his church. This is not revealed to us very often, but we know it exists. So Elisha prays for the Aramean army to be blinded, which I think in context doesn’t mean they can’t see anything, but that they are blinded to the presence of the army or people of Israel. He leads them to Semaria and then their eyes are opened. The king of Israel asks Elisha if he should slaughter them, but Elisha on the contrary prepare a great feast for them and then lets them go. Smart move. Because of this the army of Aram quit harassing Israel. God saved them yet again.

Aram doesn’t hold off forever, so maybe it wasn’t a good idea to let the army of Israel’s enemy go. The rest of chapter 6 and 7 tell the sordid story of a terrible famine in Samaria caused by the Aramean army laying siege to the city; the people are so hungry some actually commit cannibalism. The king of Israel, who interestingly is not named throughout these chapters, is pissed. When he hears about this cannibalism, that things have gotten so desperate for the people, he says:

30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body— 31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”

He sees it as Elisha’s fault that this is happening, which it is. Elisha’s hanging out with his guys, the elders, and they hear the King is coming after him, and the text isn’t clear who says it, but someone says this trouble is “from the Lord.” And of course, the Lord will fix it. The Lord sends some kind of vision on the Arameans of advancing armies, and they flee their camp leaving everything behind. The siege over, the people of Israel loot the camp and get what they need to start living again.

The story is told as a tale of unbelief. Elisha says, basically, that there will be so much stuff, that tomorrow everything will be selling for basically pennies, supply and demand. Previously it had said that a donkey’s head was incredibly expensive because of the siege, so now everything sells cheaply, thus the siege will be over. An officer of the king says that is impossible, and Elisha tells him:

“You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”

The man was trampled to death by people clamoring for all the goodies. Moral of the story? Do not question the word of God through the man of God. The Lord will always take care of his people. They can not only trust in his power, but in his good intentions toward them. How much more should we who live on the other side of the resurrection, who are in Christ, with the Bible, the record of God’s work and power in history so easily available to us, completely and unequivocally trust in our Almighty and Sovereign God.

2 Kings 5

One thing you have to love about the Bible is that it has such a realistic presentation of human nature. People are always acting like their fallen selves, and we read one object lesson after another. This chapter is the story of a man, Naaman, being healed but not before he initially rejects God’s provision because it’s not how he envisioned it happening. And another man, Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, who gives into greed and suffers for it.

Naaman was a great commander, but it is pointed out that he had this skin disease. Elisha is so well known for his miraculous deeds, that word gets to Naaman that if he only goes to Samaria and sees the the prophet there he will be healed. So the king whom Naaman serves sensd him to the king of Israel, but when he reads the note about healing this man he tears his robes, as if this king of Aram is trying to set him up. Apparently he’s not too familiar with Elisha. But when the latter hears about it he sends a messenger to tell the king to send the man to him, which he does.

Elisha gives him instructions to go wash in the Jordan River seven times and he’ll be cleansed, and his response is classic human:

11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.

He wanted magic, but the man of God wanted obedience. Faith doesn’t determine means, but accepts whatever means God chooses for his ends. One of his servants confronts him for this stupidity, and seeing the good sense of it, Naaman washes in the Jordan and is healed, his “skin like the flesh of a little child,” and most importantly, “he was clean.” Those with skin diseases were ceremonially unclean, so now that he was clean he could participate in temple worship.

Then the greed. Naaman brought all kinds of goodies to give to the prophet if he was healed, and he offers Elisha the goods, but Elisha refuses. It was God’s power that healed, not his. And Naaman promises that he will never worship another God but the Lord. So he starts off, like the prodigal, wanting to do his own thing, but realizes the error of his ways. Elisha’s servant, however, only sees the goodies and he wants them. So he goes off chasing Naaman, lies to him and gets a bit of the booty, and returns. Elisha asks him where he’s been and he lies, but Elisha knows exactly where he’s been. So his judgment is that Naaman’s skin disease now clings to him, and he was “white as snow.” Needless to say, Elisha was committed to God’s work in God’s way, and Gehazi was not.

Update: I found out reading chapter 6 that the Arameams were enemies of Israel, and Namaan was a commander in the Aramean army, yet Elisha is willing to heal him. God does not discriminate in his blessing, as he promises Abraham and Jacob, through their seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.

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