What makes 2 Kings special?
Second Kings is actually the second half of a single book (1 and 2 Kings) that was divided into two parts, because it was too long to fit on one scroll. Together the books continue the history of the nation that was begun in 1 and 2 Samuel. As in 1 Kings the history is told in a special way. The story moves back and forth between reports of the kings in Judah (the southern kingdom) and reports of the kings in Israel (the northern kingdom). That allows the reader to compare what was going on in the south with what was going on in the north.
Why was 2 Kings written?
The destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. was the major event that prompted the writing of 2 Kings. The smashing of the city walls, the burning of the temple, and the humiliation of the people resulted in a religious crisis among the survivors. God had promised to protect Judah and allow its kings to rule forever. But when Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was burned, the line of rulers from David’s family line also came to an end. Together, these events threatened to destroy the people’s trust in God, who seemed to have abandoned them.
The history as recorded in 1 and 2 Kings was completed after the destruction of Jerusalem, so the books are a response to this event. Second Kings shows the people that their kings, and not God, had been unfaithful. God had been very patient with Israel and Judah, even after the people and their leaders disobeyed God and worshiped idols. Prophets were sent over and over to warn the people and their kings to stop worshiping other gods and turn back to him. Finally, the people were punished. The two kingdoms were destroyed, and the people were forced to live in foreign nations.
Nathan’s promise to David that one of his descendants would always rule Israel (2 Sam 7) is repeated often in 1 and 2 Kings. This repeated promise was intended to encourage the people to have hope that one day in the future, Israel’s punishment would end, and they would once again be ruled by a king descended from David’s family.
What’s the story behind the scene?
Second Kings is presented as an historical account of three hundred years of Israel’s and Judah’s monarchy. But it is important to realize that the authors were also writing this history as an interpretation of the events that led to the destruction of the nation. As a result, these pages are also filled with an emphasis on traditional values, with frequent warnings against unfaithfulness, and with calls for obedience to God’s commandments.
On several occasions the authors explain why certain events have taken place (2 Kgs 17.7-23) or whether or not a particular king was good or bad. Sometimes these explanations appear in the speeches or statements made by God, a king, or a prophet (1 Kgs 9.3-9; 11.11-13; 14.7-16; 2 Kgs 20.16-18; 22.15-20).
How is 2 Kings constructed?
The following outline divides the book into three major sections. The first section (1.1—8.15) relates many stories about the prophet Elisha. The second section (8.16—17.41) reports the history of the two kingdoms until 722 B.C. when the Assyrians defeated the northern kingdom of Israel, destroyed Samaria, its capital city, and led the people away as captives. That left Judah, the southern kingdom, alone as an independent nation. The final section (18–25) reports the history of Judah until 586 B.C., when it was defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The capital city of Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple that Solomon had built, and many of the people were taken to Babylonia as prisoners. The book ends on a somewhat hopeful note with the release of King Jehoiachin from prison.
- The prophet Elisha (1.1—8.15)
- Elisha follows Elijah as prophet (1.1—2.25)
- Elisha and Joram (3.1-27)
- Elisha’s miracles (4.1—8.15)
- Kings of Judah and Israel (8.16—17.41)
- Jehu and his house (9.1—14.29)
- The last days of Israel (15.1—17.41)
- Judah alone (18.1—25.30)
- King Hezekiah and the Assyrian invasion (18.1—20.21)
- Two evil kings: Manasseh and Amon (21.1-26)
- King Josiah and his reform (22.1—23.30)
- The fall of Jerusalem (23.31—25.30)
The Prophet Elisha
Second Kings begins with the last of the stories about Elijah the prophet. He condemns King Ahaziah (chapter 1) and then he goes up into heaven, leaving Elisha to carry on the work of being the Lord’s prophet (2.1-18). The section that follows in 2.19—8.15 tells of Elisha’s meeting with Joram and of the many miracles he does for people. The miracles rather than messages condemning the religious practices of the kings are the main focus of the Elisha stories.
Elisha Follows Elijah as Prophet
The life and work of the prophet Elijah are nearly at an end. Three stories about Elisha’s faithfulness as a disciple of Elijah (2.1-8) are followed by three stories demonstrating the transfer of prophetic power (2.13-25) from Elijah to Elisha.
Elisha and Joram
The war with Moab shows how the relationship between the godly prophets and Israel’s disobedient kings was often tense.
The stories about Elisha demonstrate the power of the prophetic word in all areas of life. The contrast between the power of the prophet and the ineffective power of the kings is deliberate.
Kings of Judah and Israel
The stories about the kings of Judah and Israel are interrupted by the Elijah and Elisha stories (1 Kgs 17.1—2 Kgs 8.15). But now the writers of 1 and 2 Kings resume their descriptions of the reigns of these kings. The stories alternate between the two kingdoms and focus mainly on the way the kings sinned against God by allowing idol worship. The disobedience of Israel’s rulers eventually leads to Israel being defeated by Assyria.
Jehu and His House
Jehu, an army officer who becomes king of Israel, fulfills Elijah’s prophecy (1 Kgs 19.16,17) by overthrowing Omri’s ruling family. Under the leadership of the next king, Jeroboam II, the northern kingdom of Israel enjoys its most prosperous period.
The Last Days of Israel
After Jeroboam II, the fall of the northern kingdom became inevitable. The destruction of Israel is blamed upon the failure of the people and the kings to obey God’s commands.
This final major section relates the history of Judah, the surviving southern kingdom, from 722 B.C. until its own destruction and captivity in 586 B.C. Most of these chapters are concerned with two of Judah’s greatest kings, Hezekiah (18.1—20.21) and Josiah (22.1—23.30). Even these godly kings, however, could not undo the evil of Judah’s worst king, Manasseh (21.1-18), or prevent the coming disaster.
King Hezekiah and the Assyrian Invasion
Hezekiah, one of Judah’s greatest kings, struggled to free his people from Assyrian domination and was the first king to eliminate the local shrines honoring other gods.
Two Evil Kings: Manasseh and Amon
Manasseh ruled Judah for fifty-five years, longer than any other king of Israel or Judah. He is remembered as an evil and sinful king.
King Josiah and His Reform
Josiah begins religious reforms in Judah after Hilkiah discovers The Book of God’s Law in the Temple.
The Fall of Jerusalem
Following the death of Josiah, the fall of Jerusalem became inevitable.
Questions about 2 Kings 1.1—8.15
1. How are Elijah and Elisha alike? How are they different? What words or phrases would you say best describe Elisha? Who functions like an Elisha in our world today?
2. Elisha performed about twice as many miracles as Elijah. Do you think that is what he meant when he asked for “twice as much” of Elijah’s power? (2.9) See also Deut 21.15-17. Explain your answer.
3. What happened to the chief officer who doubted God’s power? (7.1,2; 17-20) Do you believe God finds all doubt unacceptable? Why or why not?
4. Why does the author often not mention the specific names of Israelite or foreign kings in the stories about Elisha?
Questions about 2 Kings 8.16—17.41
1. Review the story of King Jehu’s reign as king of the northern kingdom (9.1—10.36). What means did he use to come to power? What is your reaction to the killing of Ahab and the other acts of violence in these chapters? Compare the description of how the prophet Elisha commissioned Jehu to rescue Israel from the King Ahab (2 Kings 9.4-10) with the words of the prophet Hosea (Hos 1.4,5). What do you make of these passages?
2. The author of 2 Kings consistently condemns the kings of Israel for allowing the people to worship idols. Why do you think the people of Israel and their leaders were attracted to worshiping the Canaanite fertility gods?
3. Idols in 2 Kings are statues made of wood or stone. But idols can also be understood to be anything other than God that people turn to for comfort and protection. What are some idols that people worship today? How does this affect people’s relationship with God?
4. Some historians have identified King Jeroboam II as one of Israel’s most important political and military leaders. Israel (the northern kingdom) experienced prosperity and a certain amount of political stability during his rule. The Bible, however, has little to say about this king’s accomplishments (2 Kgs 14.23-29). Why do you think that is so? What does the author of 2 Kings want the reader to understand about Jeroboam as a ruler of the Israelites? For further insight into the problems Israel faced during Jeroboam’s reign, read the words of the prophet Amos (Amos 2.6-8; 5.10-13; 6.4-14; 8.4-6).
Questions about 2 Kings 18.1—25.30
1. Why were the reforms of the good kings Hezekiah and Josiah not enough to turn away God’s anger and prevent the de-struction of Jerusalem by Babylon? (2 Kgs 23.26, 27)
2. Why do 1 and 2 Kings generally criticize the kings of the northern kingdom (Israel) more severely than those of the southern kingdom (Judah)?
3. What did Hilkiah the priest find in the temple, and how did King Josiah respond to what he found? (22.3—23.23)
4. To what extent do you think national and world leaders are guided by their personal faith? How does your own faith affect your opinions about, or your votes for, leaders?
5. Why might Evil-Merodach’s unexpected kindness toward Jehoiachin have raised the hopes of the first readers of 2 Kings? (25.27-30)
6. Name two important things you learned while reading and studying 2 Kings? What questions do you still have about the people, events, or key themes in the book?
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