Friday Bible Blogging - 2 Kings 1 to 2 Kings 10
This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
As I stated in the introduction to my first entry dealing with 1 Kings, 1 and 2 Kings were originally a single book, so 2 Kings is merely a continuation of 1 Kings. The characters and stories in the first 10 chapters of 2 Kings aren't particularly well-known, outside of a few more stories with Elijah and his successor, Elisha. On a gruesome note, there is human sacrifice and cannibalism, but it's mostly just stories of kings fighting each other and the politics involved.
After a single verse that stated, "After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel", there was a story concerning Ahaziah, then king of Israel. He "had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber", and was stuck in bed injured severely. He wanted to send messengers to ask the prophets of Baal-zebub if he would recover, but God sent Elijah to intercept the messengers, and tell them that Ahaziah was going to die. When the messengers returned to Ahaziah with Elijah's prophecy, Ahaziah sent "a captain of fifty with his fifty men" to bring back Elijah to him, but Elijah caled on God, and "fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty". A second command and his men met a similar fate. When the king sent a third set of troops, the commander got on his knees and pled with Elijah. This time, Elijah went along with the captain, and repeated his prophecy in person to the king, and the king subsequently died. Since Ahazia had no sons, his brother, Jehoram, succeeded him.
It's interesting to note the name of the Moabite god. In reality, it was probably Baal-zebul, but the writer of this passage was playing a rather juvenile joke by changing it to Baal-zebub which translates literally as "lord of the flies".
There were several contradictions in these chapters concerning when kings took the throne. Fo example, in verse 17 of this chapter, Jehoram became king in the second year of King Jehoram, while in chapter 3, verse 1, it was the eighteenth year of King Jehoshaphat of Judah.
Chapter 2 covered the death of Elijah, and literally passing on the mantle to Elisha. The chapter began with Elijah telling Elisha, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel," and Elisha replying, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." They got to Bethel, and the prophets there asked Elisha if he knew that the Lord was about to take Elijah. Elisha responded, "Yes, I know; keep silent." This was repeated again for Jericho, and then partially repeated a third time to go to the Jordan. This time, there were 50 other prophets following along. In an act reminiscent of Moses, Elijah took his mantle (a cape or cloak), rolled it up and stuck it in the water, and the water parted, allowing him and Elisha to cross.
Once across the Jordan, Elijah offered a final request to Elisha, and Elisha asked for "a double share of your spirit." Elijah told him it would be hard, but that he'd do it so long as Elisha saw Elijah being taken away. Then, a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire came down and separated them, and Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind.
Elisha picked up Elijah's mantle, went back to the Jordan, and parted the waters himself. The 50 other prophets who had followed them to the Jordan insisted on sending out a search party for Elijah, but obviously, he was nowhere to be found.
There was a minor miracle from Elisha - throwing salt into a well, turning the water into pure water.
There was another miracle that's rather infamous among skeptics. A group of young boys came to make fun of Elisha, shouting "Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!" For that bit of youthful mischief, Elisha "cursed them in the name of the Lord", and two bears came to maul them, killing 42 of the boys.
According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), 42 was a number commonly associated with death in that region, from this passage, to Jehu killing 42 people in Chapter 10, to there being 42 judges of the dead in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
Chapter 3 was back to describing kings. Let me just make a note here that it can get a bit confusing following all these names when many of them sound similar to someone not familiar with ancient Hebrew names. Even worse, the names aren't exclusive. For example, there's a Jehoram son of Ahab who was a king of Israel, and Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat who was a king of Judah. On top of that, some kings were referred to by multiple names, e.g. Jehoram/Joram of Israel. And as I described last week, the narrative jumps so quickly from one king to the next that it's hard to keep up.
Jehoram of Israel was noted as better than his parents, since he tore down the pillar of Baal, but that he still "clung to the sin of Jeroboam", worshipping at the high places. Soon after he became king, King Mesha of Moab rebelled against Israel, so Jehoram gathered troops to march against him. He got King Jehoshaphat of Judah to fight alongside him. Unfortunately, after seven days of marching, they were out of water and couldn't find any more to drink. In desperation, they summoned Elisha. Elisha made a strange request, asking for a musician. While the musician was playing, "the power of the Lord came on him", and Elisha was able to deliver God's words. God would provide them with water, but then they were supposed to utterly destroy Moab and its inhabitants. The next morning, water flowed to them, pooling up in the countryside. The Moabites, seeing the water in the light of the sunrise, thought it was blood, and that the Israelites had turned on each other in the night. They rushed into the camp expecting to plunder it, only to be attacked by the Israelites.
The Israelites did as God had commanded, chopping down trees, stopping up wells, and in general razing the land. In desperation, the Moabite king took his firstborn son, "and offered him as a burnt-offering on the wall". And with that, "great wrath came upon Israel", so they quit fighting and returned home. It's striking that a human sacrifice would be so effective. This was probably a holdover from polytheism, and the Moabite's god, Chemosh, coming to their rescue due to such a valuable sacrifice.
Chapter 4 was a series of miracles performed by Elisha. The first was for a poor widow who was on the verge of losing her children to a creditor (i.e. into slavery). The only possession of any value she had left was a jar of oil. So, Elisha instructed her to collect jars and vessels from her neighbors, go home, shut the door behind them, and start pouring oil into the vessels. Lo and behold, her single jar filled all the vessels she'd gathered, and she was able to sell the oil to pay her debts.
The second miracle was telling a woman who seemed to be a friend of his (he stayed with her while traveling) that even though her husband was old, that she would conceive and bear him a son, which of course came true. An interesting side note on this family is that Elisha used his servant, Gehazi, as an interpreter to talk to them.
Some time later, when the boy had grown up some, he died rather suddenly after developing a headache working the fields. The mother had him put on the bed where Elisha stayed when he visited, and then sent for Elisha. Gehazi went ahead of Elisha, but could do nothing. When Elisha arrived, he prayed for the boy, then "he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands" - apparently transferring some of his own vital spirit to the boy, and then the boy sneezed seven times and revived.
The fourth miracle was throwing some flower into a pot of stew that had been cooked with poison gourds, making the stew safe to eat.
The fifth miracle occurred when a man came to Elisha with "twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain". Elisha had him feed 100 people with those meager supplies, and there were even leftovers. This seems to be the inspiration for the New Testament story with Jesus feeding people with the bread and fish.
The commander of the Aramean army, Naaman, had some sort of skin disease - translated as leprosy, but not actually leprosy. Elisha's reputation was known far and wide, so the king of Aram sent Naaman to the king of Israel, along with a letter asking the Israelites to cure Naaman. The Israelite king at first thought it was a setup, a pretext for war when the disease couldn't be cured, but Elisha heard what was going on and sent for Naaman. He told Naaman to bathe in the Jordan seven times, and he would be cured. Naaman was at first insulted, thinking Elisha was blowing him off ("Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?"), but his servants convinced him to follow Elisha's advice, and Naaman was cured of his disease. This convinced him in the truth of Yahweh, and he became a convert. He only asked for forgiveness since he would have to go through the motions of worshiping Rimmon with his king back in Aram. (This is another example of a juvenile word play. According to the NOAB, the god's name was probably Ramanu - "the Thunderer". But here it was changed to something that sounded like the Hebrew word for pomegranate.)
Although Naaman wanted to give Elisha valuable gifts in exchange for this miracle, Elisha refused. However, as Naaman was leaving, Elisha's servant, Gehazi, saw an opportunity to make some money. He caught up to Naaman, and told him a lie about two prophets having just shown up, and Elisha wanted the gifts for them. Naaman gladly gave Gehazi the gifts, but Elisha knew what happened (psychic powers), and he told Gehazi that he was going to be punished, "Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you, and to your descendants for ever." And again, this punishment is on his descendants as well as him.
Elisha performed another miracle. While his group of prophets were cutting down trees to build a new dwelling place for them, one dropped his axe head in the water, and it was borrowed from somebody else. So Elisha threw a stick in the water, and the iron axe head floated up to the top, where it could be retrieved.
Next came a story with the king of Aram. Elisha knew exactly where the king was going to camp with his troops (psychic powers, again), and passed the information on to the Israelites. The Aramean king at first suspected a leak from his trusted commanders, but they told him about Elisha. So, the king decided to capture Elisha. He sent an army at night to surround Dothan, the city where Elisha was at the time. In the morning, one of Elisha's attendants was the first to see the army, and went to Elisha to see what they were going to do. To calm the man, Elisha prayed to God to open the man's eyes, "and he saw; the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." The writers of Kings really did believe in the heavenly host as God's literal army.
To save the city, Elisha performed a miracle that reminded me of Star Wars. He prayed to God to "Strike this people, please, with blindness." Then, he went and spoke to them, "This is not the way, and this is not the city; follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek." ("These aren't the droids you're looking for.") So he led them to Samaria, into the hands of the king of Israel. But Elisha wouldn't let the king slaughter them. He was to leave them alive, so that they could return to their homeland and let others know what had happened.
The latter part of the chapter began a story that would be continued in Chapter 7. King Ben-hadad of Aram had laid siege to the Israelite capital, Samaria. During the siege, a woman approached the king of Israel so that he could settle a dispute for her. Her and another woman had made a deal. The other woman had suggested to "Give up your son; we will eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow." Well, after eating the one lady's son on the first day, the other lady hid her son on the second day so that he could be spared. Interestingly, this wasn't seen as murder, since the lady wasn't afraid to approach the king with her story, and the king didn't sentence her to death as a murderer. Rather, he was mad at Elisha for the state to which the capital had sunk, and vowed to cut off Elisha's head. Elisha, being the psychic he was, knew that the king had sent men to capture him. So, he had his doors shut up tight, and talked to the soldiers and the king through the door. The king initiated the conversation, asking why he should still trust in the Lord when things had come to this.
Elisha responded to the king that by the same time tomorrow, there would be so much food that it would be selling for cheap. The captain of the guard doubted Elisha, so Elisha told him, "You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat from it."
During the night, God made the Arameans to hear the sound of an approaching army, which they believed to be the Egyptians and Hittites, so they fled their camp in fear. The next morning, four Israelite lepers who had been living outside the city walls, decided to desert to the Arameans, since their chance of survival was no better where they were. They were the first to find the empty camp, and after taking some food, silver, gold, and clothing for themselves, they went and told the city. The Israelites at first thought it was a trap - a ploy to get them to leave the city. So a couple horsemen were sent out to check for the army, and determined that they really had fled. So, the people of the city rushed out to plunder the camp. The captain who had doubted Elisha was trampled in the rush, fulfilling Elisha's prophecy towards him.
There was a small story in relation to the woman from Chapter 4. In anticipation of an upcoming famine, Elisha sent her away to the Philistines. When she returned after seven years, she had to go to the king to ask for her property back. After telling the king some stories about Elisha, he gave her her property.
Elisha went to go visit King Ben-hadad of Aram when the king was ill. Hazael met with Elisha, and Elisha told him to tell the king that he would recover, even though Elisha knew the king was going to die. He stared at Hazael for a while and then began to weep. When questioned on why, he said it was because he knew all the horrors Hazael would inflict on Israel. Hazael went and told the king what Elisha had told him to tell him, that he would recover. But then came a verse that could be interpreted two different ways, "But the next day he took the bed-cover and dipped it in water and spread it over the king's face, until he died. And Hazael succeeded him." Did Hazael suffocate the king, or was he putting cold compresses on him to ease his fever?
Next came a brief description of King Joram of Judah. He became king, but did evil in the sight of the Lord. Edom revolted during his reign, and even though he took an army to confront them, he had to retreat back to Judah.
When Joram of Judah died, his son, Ahaziah, succeeded him. Ahaziah was actually a son-in-law to Ahab of Israel. Ahaziah fought alongside king Joram of Israel against Hazael. Joram was injured in the battle, so Ahaziah went with him to recuperate in Jezreel.
Now it was time to put an end to Ahab's lineage, for all the evil Ahab had done. Elisha sent a prophet to anoint Jehu as the king of Israel. When the prophet anointed Jehu, he also gave him a message from God that he was to utterly destroy the house of Ahab. After reluctantly telling the other officers what the prophet had told him, the officers declared Jehu to be the king.
Jehu went to Jezreel to confront Joram, son of Ahab. After sending out two messengers who fell in behind Jehu, Joram and Ahaziah got in their own chariots to go meet Jehu. After trying to talk to Jehu and realizing that he was out for blood, Joram tried to flee, but Jehu shot him in the back and killed him. Jehu had Joram's body thrown on the ground on the plot formerly belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite, in punishment for having stolen the land (1 Kings 21). Jehu then told some of his soldiers to shoot Ahaziah. Ahaziah was mortally wounded, but managed to make it to Megiddo before dying, after which he was buried properly.
When Jehu entered Jezreel, Jezebel "painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window." This was, apparently, the custom of prostitutes - not exactly a flattering portrayal of an ex-queen. Jehu called out to see who would follow him, and some of the eunuchs who were Jezebel's servants threw her out the window in a rather graphic passage, "So they threw her down; some of her blood spattered on the wall and on the horses, which trampled on her." Jehu, acting almost barbaric, went in to eat and drink before even worrying about her body, then told his followers to "See to that cursed woman and bury her; for she is a king's daughter," as if her father was the only reason she was worth worrying about. But by that time it was too late - the dogs had eaten most of her, and "they found no more of her than the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands."
Ahab had seventy sons still alive. Jehu sent letters to "the rulers of Jezreel, to the elders, and to the guardians of the sons of Ahab", telling them to pick the son who would be next ruler, so that he could confront him. (There's actually a bit of a discontinuity here - why send letters to people in Jezreel when Jehu was in Jezreel himself?) But the elders and leaders were all afraid of Jehu, and responded as such. So, Jehu responded in a rather barbaric way, "If you are on my side, and if you are ready to obey me, take the heads of your master's sons and come to me at Jezreel tomorrow at this time." Which they did, and Jehu piled the heads in two heaps outside the city gate. But then, he used the very acts they'd done under his demand against them. He admitted to being guilty to killing the king, "but who struck down all these?" So, he killed "all who were left of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his leaders, close friends, and priests, until he left him no survivor."
On Jehu's way to Samaria, he met a party of Ahaziah's relatives, who were on their way to meet the king (obviously not knowing what had just happened). Jehu had them captured alive, then taken to the pit of Beth-eked to be killed, "forty-two in all; he spared none of them."
From there, Jehu met up with Jehonadab son of Rechab, who agreed to follow him. So they went on to Samaria, and killed everyone left there who was still faithful to Ahab.
Next, Jehu called together all the prophets of Baal, promising "a great sacrifice to offer to Baal". But once they were all brought together in the temple, Jehu had his soldiers slaughter all of them. Then, he burned the pillar of Baal, destroyed the temple, and had the site turned into a latrine.
And how was Jehu treated for all this slaughter and deceit? He was rewarded by God himself, "The Lord said to Jehu, 'Because you have done well in carrying out what I consider right, and in accordance with all that was in my heart have dealt with the house of Ahab, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.'"
Unfortunately, Jehu wasn't perfect, and continued to worship the golden calves at the high places. Still, Jehu died peacefully, and was succeeded by his son, Jehoahaz.
The footnotes in the NOAB mention multiple stelae that deal with some of the kings described in these chapters. So, there is pretty good evidence that these kings existed, meaning that much of these stories are probably based on real events. However, the stelae don't always agree with the Bible stories, or include information not included in the Bible, so these stories still have to be read with a bit of skepticism. But this leads back to something I wrote last week. I can understand how these events happened, and then the God parts were added in later as post hoc rationalizations. And considering how much time passed between when the actual historical events happened and when the final compilation of Kings was put together, and by who put it together, it's easy to imagine details being changed to fit the redactors' agenda. It's a bit like the far right wing in today's America trying to re-frame the founding of America, casting it as founded on Christian values rather than Enlightenment ideals (see my entry, Response to an Editorial by Pat Boone, for a discussion of this modern day myth). They're incorporating a lot of real history into their narrative, but much of that is cherry picking, leaving out the facts that argue against them, not to mention adding in a bit of myth. It's easy to imagine a similar thing happening a couple thousand years ago.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.