“And the watchman told, saying, He came even unto them, and cometh not again: and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously.” – 2 Kings 9:20
Even if there were nothing else of interest in 2nd Kings, it was worth the read just so that I could accidentally stumble across the origin of the name of one of my longtime favorite bands. I don’t know why I never thought about where their name originated from before this (and I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember), but now I know. And let me tell you, the guy they’re named after, Jehu, is a beast. But we’ll get to that later. For now I’ll just give more good news: While 1st Kings was not the most riveting book I’ve read thus far, 2nd Kings was considerably more entertaining and action-packed.
This book picks up where 1st Kings left off in following the succession of the kings of both Israel and Judah. 2nd Kings, however, comes to a clear and decisive end to both successions, and let’s just say that it does not end well for anyone. That is, unless you’re an Assyrian or a Babylonian (i.e. not God’s people). Summarizing this book poses the same difficulty as 1st Kings, because there are so many characters (i.e. all the kings plus a few prophets) to follow. So I decided to summarize it in tabular form this time instead. Click on the image at the right to see it full size. If the cursor turns into a magnifying glass icon when you hover over the image after it opens in the new tab, click it again to blow it up to full size.
I’ve listed the two successions of kings next to each other so that you can see who was king on each side of the fence (Israel as compared to Judah) during the same time window as the other. So for instance, you’ll see that Jehu’s reign over Israel overlaps Athaliah and Joash’s reigns over Judah. Another thing you may notice when looking at the lineage of kings is that Israel does not have a great track record in 2nd Kings when it comes to good vs. evil kings. Literally every king on the Israel side is evil, or turns evil eventually. At least Judah has about a 41% run rate of good kings vs. bad, which is better than Israel’s rate of basically 0% good.
The other important things to note are as follows:
- You’ll see on the left that Israel is completely wiped out midway through the book. In chapter 17, Assyria defeats Israel, takes over the land, and deports all Israelites to Assyria. Bam, done. And this is God’s will, for all the sins that Israel has been committing up until that point (king Ahab’s family in particular is a major target; he was one of the kings from 1st Kings). You may recall that there was a passage towards the end of 1st Kings that implied that God was planning to wipe out Israel, but I wasn’t sure when it was gonna happen. Well, this is when it happens.
- When you get to the bottom of the table, you’ll see at the right that even the tribe of Judah and their land (Jerusalem) are defeated by the Babylonians at the end of the book (chapter 25), and everyone is deported to Babylon. Any of those left in Jerusalem then flee to Egypt. Again, this is God’s will. In this case, it is specifically punishment for the fact that king Manasseh, as you’ll see in the table, is VERY bad – more bad than any of those before him. (Remember that “bad” generally entails not following God’s rules, and worshiping other gods, thereby encouraging the people of your land to do the same). But as it typically tends to happen in the Bible, God takes his sweet time before finally exacting the punishment.
So yeah that is pretty much the gist of 2nd Kings. When the kings and the people of the land don’t follow God and when they worship other gods, bad things happen. And because of this, by the time we get to the end of 2nd Kings, God has purposely destroyed every single thing he set up for his people when he helped them escape Egypt in Exodus, and when he set up Israel for them to begin with. Everything is gone by the end of this book, and any Israelites that have survived all this mess, are in exile.
Side Note: Check out this map for some visual context on where all this stuff is/was, in Bible times. It shows the land area that is Israel vs. Judah, and it also shows Assyria at the top right and Aram right below that. Babylon is not shown here but I think it’s to the east of the map. Egypt is southwest of what’s shown in the map.
Hmm. I … don’t think there’s any good stuff in this book. Well o.k., Elisha the prophet (you may recall from 1st Kings that he is Elijah the prophet’s successor) does heal some people of illnesses along the way, and magically provides food for some people who need it. Elijah dies in chapter 2 and Elisha asks if he can have “double Elijah’s spirit.” God grants it to him. So if you thought Elijah was super cool and magic, Elisha is even way cooler. He can part waters just like Moses did. He fixes a bad water situation in Jericho so the people there can avoid getting sick from the water and so their crops will grow.
In chapter 4, he performs a miracle for a poor widow so that she can earn some money for herself and her son. He performs another miracle on another woman to allow her to conceive even though she’s old, and when that child later becomes ill (or injured?) and dies, Elisha brings him back from the dead. He feeds 100 people in another town from 20 loaves of bread. In chapter 5, he heals Naaman, the commander of the Aramean army, from leprosy. When Naaman tries to pay him for his services, he refuses.
So yeah. There are a few good things. But as it always goes with the Bible, there’s no way I can call Elisha “good”, because he also does some terrrrible things. Most of them are just orders he’s carrying out from God of course, but there is also one other thing he does of his own volition that is SOO awful that it is actually hilarious. So much so, as a matter of fact, that I laughed hysterically out loud by myself when I read it. But still … awful. I’ll get to that in the next section.
Man. The bad stuff that happens in this book is a loooong list. I’m going to have to cut this down to the bare essentials, and it is going to be extremely difficult, because there is a lot of major stuff here. Let’s get right to it.
Elisha, the Punk Kids, and the She-Bears
I mentioned in the “Good Stuff” section that Elisha the prophet performs many miracles in 2nd Kings. Chapter 2 is where he first takes over for Elijah after his death, and he gets to first start “practicing” his craft. He parts the river Jordan Moses-style, he helps the people of Jericho clear up a bad water sitch, and then … he does that thing I mentioned earlier that is so ridiculously horrible that it actually made me laugh out loud upon reading it. The passage is so short that I will just copy/paste it the entire thing here:
2:23 And [Elisha] went up from [Jericho] unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. 2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare (read: mauled) forty and two (42) children of them. 2:25 And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.
Umm. I just. I have no words for this. This might be the most amazing thing I have read in the Bible up until this point, though. It is so random, so horrific, so beautifully succinct, it is just perfect from every angle. Which is why, of course, the internet provides us with such entertaining interpretations of it:
And then, try to not get this song in your head:
Jehu’s Rampage for God
In 1st Kings, God told Elijah that he would eventually appoint a king named Jehu, who would be a major player in God’s plan to wipe out most of the Israelites as punishment for their sins. In chapter 9 of 2nd Kings, this finally happens (through Elisha, because Elijah is dead by this point). Elisha tasks a young prophet with anointing Jehu (who I think is an army commander) as king (mind you, this happens when Joram is still king of Israel, but he is in the midst of recovering in Jezreel from wounds he got in battle with the Arameans). The young prophet finds Jehu and does as he is told: “Then the prophet poured the oil on Jehu’s head and declared, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anoint you king over the Lord’s people Israel. 7. You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel. 8. The whole house of Ahab will perish. I will cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free.'” He also says that Jezebel will be eaten by dogs. “Then he opened the door and ran.” (just like Elisha told him to).
When Jehu gets this random message from a guy who, for all he knows, is just some lunatic off the street, he wastes NO time in getting right to business. He takes his troops and they go straight to Jezreel, where Joram is recovering, and Ahaziah king of Judah is visiting him. When Jehu gets there, Joram and Ahaziah go out to ask Jehu what he wants and whether he comes in peace. Jehu replies, “How can there be peace, as long as all the idolatry and witchcraft of your mother Jezebel abound?” So Joram turns and flees, and yells to Ahaziah, “Treachery, Ahaziah!” Jehu draws his bow and shoots Joram between the shoulders and kills him. He instructs his men to throw Joram’s body on the land that belonged to Naboth (remember when Joram’s grandpappy Ahab killed Naboth and stole his land/vineyard in 1st Kings?) Jehu then kills Ahaziah king of Judah too.
Next stop on Jehu’s rampage tour comes our old pal Jezebel’s house. Remember her from the end of my 1st Kings review? Well, Jezzie, looks like it’s finally time to pay the piper. Jehu gets to Jezzie’s and she does up her hair and makeup and looks out her window at him as he enters the gate. She yells down, “Have you come in peace, Zimri, you murderer of your master?” Jehu responds, “Who is on my side? Who?” Two or three eunuchs look down at him. Jehu tells the eunuchs, “Throw her down!” So they do, and her blood spatters on the wall when she lands. The horses on the ground trample her for good measure. Jehu then goes into her place and eats and drinks, and tells his men, “Take care of that cursed woman, and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.” But when they go out to get her body, all that’s left of her is her skull, her feet and her hands. They tell Jehu, and he responds, “This is the word of the Lord that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh. Jezebel’s body will be like refuse on the ground in the plot at Jezreel, so that no one will be able to say, ‘This is Jezebel.’” Yep.
Alright, so we have Ahab’s grandson, Ahab’s wife, and Ahaziah king of Judah crossed off the to-do list now, so what’s next for Jehu? Oh right, killing the rest of Ahab’s family. There are still 70 sons in the house of Ahab that are ripe for the picking. So he sends letters to the officials of Samaria/Jezreel, the elders and guardians of Ahab’s children. He dares them to pick the best and most worthy of their master’s sons and set him on the throne and fight Jehu for the throne. They are terrified, and tell him that they’re not going to try to challenge him and appoint anyone else as king. So Jehu responds again and says, “If you are on my side and will obey me, take the heads of your master’s sons and come to me in Jezreel by this time tomorrow.” So the elders do just that – they slaughter all 70 princes and chop of their heads, and send them in baskets back to Jehu. Jehu then takes all the heads and puts them in two piles at the entrance of the city gate until morning.
In the morning Jehu then goes out and speaks to the people and says, “You are innocent. It was I who conspired against my master and killed him, but who killed all these? Know then, that not a word the Lord has spoken against the house of Ahab will fail. The Lord has done what he promised through his servant Elijah.” Jehu then kills everyone in Jezreel who remains of the house of Ahab, along with Ahab’s chief men, his close friends, and his priests, leaving no survivors. After that, on the way to Samaria, he runs into some relatives of Ahaziah king of Judah. When he asks who they are, they say, “We are relatives of Ahaziah, and we have come down to greet the families of the king and of the queen mother.” So Jehu orders his men, “Take them alive!” They take them alive and then slaughter them by the well of Beth Eked – 42 men total.
Whew ok so that was another couple big checks off the to-do list … what’s next? Ohh, the priests of Baal (another god that the Lord does NOT like). Jehu tricks all the priests of Baal into showing up in one place by telling them that he’s going to have a big sacrifice for Baal and that everyone should come for the party. When everyone shows up with their party hats on, Jehu has his men kill all of the priests with swords. Jehu’s peeps then demolish all the temples and shrines to Baal, in accordance with the word of God.
So Jehu is doing great at this point, but sadly, after he does all this awesome stuff, he eventually turns away from the Lord at some point in his life. But still, God tells him, “Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.”
Other Bad Stuff
Lordy lordy. The list of the other bad stuff in this book could fill another thousand words in this blog entry, but I’m trying to keep these entries shorter than Tolstoy novels. So I will just give quick call-outs of the other highlights:
- In chapter 1, Elijah kills 102 of Israel’s army men with “fire from heaven” to prove to the king that he is a man of God.
- In chapter 3, Moab rebels against Israel. Joram king of Israel and Jehoshaphat band together to attack Moab, but first they ask Elisha the prophet for advice. Elisha gives them advice from God on how to trick the Moabites and attack them. They then attack and slaughter the Moabites, destroy the towns, cover the good fields with stones, stop up all the springs, and cut down all the good trees.
- In chapter 5, after Elisha heals Naaman, commander of the Aramean army, of leprosy, Naaman tries to pay him for his help, but Elisha refuses to take payment. But then Elisha’s servant Gehazi gets the bright idea to trick Naaman into giving payment by telling him that Elisha said it was o.k. Elisha finds out about this, and tells Gehazi that as punishment, “Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then when Gehazi leaves from Elisha’s presence, he turns “leprous, as white as snow.”
- You’ll see in the “table of kings” in my summary above that Azariah king of Judah is mostly considered to be “good” by God. However, he has one flaw: He does’t take down the altars to other gods that are there in the land of Judah. Chapter 15 tells us that God punishes him for this by afflicting him with leprosy until the day he dies, and he has to live in a separate house than the palace.
- Well, I already mentioned this in my summary, but obviously God completely wipes out both Israel and Judah (basically all his people) in this book as punishment for their sins.
- In chapters 18 and 19, the king of Assyria threatens king Hezekiah of Judah and his land/people in various ways, including potential attack on Jerusalem. He also talks a LOT of shit about God, saying that God can’t do anything to help the people of Judah. As a response to this, God kills 185,000 Assyrian army men overnight.
- You’ll see in my summary table that king Josiah of Judah is considered to be EXTRA good by God, because he tears down all the altars to other gods in the land. But he also takes this a step further and slaughters all the priests to the other gods, on the altars of their gods. Way to go, Josiah!!
Whew, so that is 2nd Kings. This one was a real thrill ride of a book. Everything that happened may have been terrible, but at least it wasn’t boring. Here is my rating, given that the amount of good stuff in this book was especially low and the amount of bad stuff was especially … intense:
Next up is 1st Chronicles. 29 chapters, aagghh. I hope they aren’t long chapters. 😦