Sunday, May 24, 2015

Bible Commentary - 2 Kings Introduction

And thus we begin the second half of the book of Kings.

So what do I want to say about the 2nd book of Kings?  In so many ways, it shares a lot of the same themes and patterns as 1st Kings, so perhaps I should recommend my introduction to 1st Kings to my readers as a starting point.

This book has three, or perhaps four, major sections, depending upon how you count them.  It begins with Elisha's succession to Elijah and Elisha confirms himself as God's prophet through many miracles.  Then there is a long progression of kings as the northern kingdom Israel slips deeper and deeper into idolatry, which is followed by a renewed series of military conflicts between Israel, Aram, Judah, an emerging Assyria and later, Babylon.  Lastly, there are several brief revivals in the southern kingdom Judah under the leadership of Hezekiah, Josiah and a few other kings, but ultimately it is not enough to turn the tide as idolatry seeps into the southern kingdom.  In the end, both Israel and Judah are conquered and deported to foreign lands as a punishment from God for forsaking the covenant.

Comparing these themes to 1st Kings, there are a lot of similarities.  Elisha performs great miracles the same way (and sometimes even the same miracles) as Elijah.  The long moral decay that began immediately after David's kingship continues in both the 1st and 2nd books of Kings.  In 1st Kings, Jezebel is an evil queen of Israel who commits idolatry and murders a bunch of people.  In 2nd Kings, Athaliah is an evil queen of Judah who commits idolatry and murders a bunch of people.  The frequent aggression against foreign powers is also the same.

The biggest differences are that the foreign powers are getting stronger and stronger.  Where Aram oppressed Israel, Assyria burns their capital and massacres them.  When Judah defeats Assyria, Babylon crushes Judah multiple times.  I also do not think we had any major revivals in 1st Kings.

On the whole though, I think 1st and 2nd Kings have very similar themes.  I think the main distinction is that 1st Kings shows the beginning of Israel's slide into idolatry and 2nd Kings shows the conclusion, i.e. destruction.  This is the destruction that Moses promised in Deuteronomy 28:64 and elsewhere.  2nd Kings ends on a despairing note, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the people exiled to Babylon.  But if we remember the things Moses said, we should remember that destruction was not the last word.  Moses said that if, in the land of exile, the people of Israel would remember the LORD and cry out to them, he would hear and gather them back to the land of the promise (Deut 30:1-10).

I think it is important for my readers to feel both of these emotions.  I think the book of Kings is written to give us that sense of doom, that depression that sinks in as things keep getting worse and worse.  The revivals awaken our hearts to hope, but it is a hope that fades all too quickly and into a greater darkness than what we found before the revival began.  One of the biggest themes of this commentary has been to interpret books the way the author intended us to read them, and I think one of the strongest themes of Kings is the despair and humiliation that comes upon Israel and Judah as they fall away from the LORD.  It begins with spiritual decay, but it concludes with their destruction as a sovereign entity.  I want my readers to feel that despair because I think that is one of the most important purposes of this book.

But we should not despair so greatly that we forget what Moses said about the exile.  Even after the destruction of everything they loved, all their national treasures stolen and taken out of the land of the promise, Moses promised that if the people of Israel turned back to God, then God would not forsake them.  He would bring them back to their home and would plant them again in their own land and inheritance and would not forsake the covenant.  God's faithfulness exceeds the greatness of his wrath in the face of Israel's transgressions.  Even as we go through the darkness of the exile, we should always remember that God's faithfulness and mercy to Israel has not yet been expended and the book of Kings is not the end of the bible.  The exile out of the promised land is not the end of the story.

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