2 Kings 8:7-16:20 includes much political-prophetic intrigue. This is not a unit of text, per say, not a particular section, but actually many sections. The first tells us about the Syrian political situation with Elisha the Prophet playing a prominent role. Then we see the house of David and its troubles becuase it has become part of the house of Ahab, which the prophets had declared would be destroyed. The text then moves to the only slight bright spot in Israel’s (the northern kingdom) history of kings: Jehu. Jehu was anointed king by the order of Elisha. King Jehu was responsible for executing Jezebel, the wicked queen-mother, and carrying out judgment on the house of Ahab and the prophets of Baal. Then we return back to the southern kingdom of Judah before the rapid progression through kings of both kingdoms. There are a number of patterns in the history of these nations that are very insightful.
2 Kings 8:7ff continues with the king of Syria, Ben-hadad, sending Hazael to inquire of Elisha. This Gentile king knows who to ask whereas we have recently seen the king of Israel seeking Baal-zebub. Ben-hadad wanted to know if he would recover from his illness. And Elisha told Hazael to tell the king that he would recover, even though he would die. And Elisha wept. When Hazael asked why, Elisha explained that he knew that Hazael would become king of Syria and do horrible things to Israel. With this news Hazael went back to the king of Syria and murdered him after telling him that he would recover from his illness.
Actually the Hebrew is more ambiguous. Did Elisha tell Hazael to lie? The text can be translated, as Leithart suggests, this way: “Say, ‘not living you shall live,’ and YHWH shows me that dying he shall die.” This may mean then that Hazael is supposed to tell the king of Syria that he will “not live.” The word “not” sounds like the prepositional phrase “to him.” Thus Hazael interprets Elisha’s words as, “Say to him, living you shall live, and YHWH shows me that dying he shall die.” Thus Hazael leaves the “not” out of his answer to the Syrian king, “Living you shall live.”
This section resembles things we have seen before: someone on their sick bed inquiring of a prophet, the prophet telling of the end of their house, and the formulaic “__ became king in his place.”
This reinforces another theme of the book of Kings – YHWH is God over all the nations, not just God in Israel and Judah.
Elijah was supposed to anoint Hazael as king over Syria (1 Kings 19:15-18) though we never see him do so. Elisha has taken his place.
To put these things into perspective: remember that the King of Israel now is the best of his house (the Omrides, and specifically the house of Ahab) and just the opposite of Ahab he returned land to the Shunnamite woman whereas Ahab seized the vineyard of Naboth. So the narrator’s evaluation of him was much less negative than his predecessors and we see that play out in the story just before this text. But now the delayed judgment is at hand as Hazael becomes king of Syria. A similar thing will later happen to Judah – even though they will have some good kings later the judgment would come soon after.
Do not forget that this king of Israel, while not as evil as his predecessors is still evil.
Leithart (p.213) notes the following pattern: Elijah ends a drought (1 Kings 18), Jezebel swears to kill Elijah (1 Kings 19:2), Elijah goes to Horeb (1 Kings 19:3-8), Elijah to anoint Hazael and Jehu (1 Kings 19:17); Elisha ends a famine (2 Kings 7), Jehoram swears to kill Elisha (2 Kings 6:31), Elisha goes to Damascus (2 Kings 8:7), Elisha anoints Hazael and Jehu (2 Kings 8:13, 9:1-3). The turning point is seeking to kill the prophet.
Kings of Judah
The two kings of Judah mentioned next are evaluated by comparisons with the kings of Israel:
“And [Jehoram] walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH” (2 Kings 8:18).
“[Ahaziah’s] mother’s name was Athaliah; she was a granddaughter of Omri king of Israel. He also walked in the way of the house of Ahab and did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, as the house of Ahab had done, for he was son-in-law to the house of Ahab” (2 Kings 8:26b-27).
The Jehoram cycle is brief. It mentions that YHWH was not willing to destroy Judah for the sake of David the servant of YHWH and God’s promise to David. And it tells us about the revolt of Edom from Judah (this makes us think of the earlier revolt of Moab from Israel). And then there is the typical conclusion formula about the rest of the acts of Jehoram (spelled alternately Joram) and how he died and was buried and his son Ahaziah reigned in his place. The fact that Jehoram and Ahaziah are also names of kings of Israel shows us Judah following in the steps of Israel.
The problem for Judah is that now their kings are part of the Omride dynasty, the house of Ahab, which the prophets have declared will be destroyed. This was highlighted by the stress on the Omri-Ahab connection to the kings of Judah. The fact that the Ahaziah of Judah cycle begins by noting that he reigned for one year is ominous. This is especially so if you note that it is the 12th year of Joram of Israel (who remember only reigned for 12 years, cf. 2 Kings 3:1). Then at at the point where we would expect Ahaziah of Judah to have note of the prophetic word concerning the promise to David, it is missing.
At the spot where we expect to find the prophetic word we find Elisha anointing-by-proxy Jehu (“He is Yah”) the son of Jehoshaphat (“Yah is Judge”) as the king of Israel. As Leithart notes, there are three kings anointed in Kings: Solomon (the temple builder), Joash of Judah (a temple reformer), and Jehu of Israel (the temple destroyer). Elisha sent a John-the-Baptist like character to anoint Jehu as king. The prophet’s servant Elisha sent is described as a madman. Jehu, the anointed king, is a type of Christ who avenges the blood of the prophets and has an entry like Jesus on Palm Sunday (2 Kings 9:13).
Jehu, who had been the commander of the army of Israel, began a new dynasty in Israel. This is a pattern we have seen before. But Jehu is zealous for YHWH – “What peace can there be, so long as the whorings and the sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?” (2 Kings 9:22). Then Jehu had both Joram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah killed. The end of the Ahaziah cycle is odd. The text tells us about his death and burial and then says, “In the eleventh year of Joram the son of Ahab, Ahaziah began to reign over Judah” (2 Kings 9:29). This sounded similar to the opening of the cycle though 11th and not 12th.
The next event is the death and failure to do a burial of Jezebel, the queen mother of Israel.
Then we see the slaughter of Ahab’s 70 sons. It is no doubt significant that there are 70 (7×10). It is the death of the nation so that there might be resurrection life. Also he kills the 42 relatives of Ahaziah.
Next Jehu slaughters the prophets of Baal.
Leithart cites Nelson as saying this is a sevenfold destruction – act of new creation:
1. Joram of Israel (involves deception)
2. Ahaziah of Judah
3. Jezebel (peace, queen mother)
4. 70 sons of Ahab (involves deception)
5. 42 brothers of Ahaziah (peace, queen mother)
6. all remaining loyalists in Samaria
7. temple and worshipers of Baal (involves deception)
I would add that this follows the following chiastic pattern:
Leithart also notes that the pattern alternates from Israel to Judah (it is not perfect since Jezebel and the 70 sons of Ahab are next to each other). But it does suggest that there is an eighth act of destruction that will eventually befall Judah and the temple at Jerusalem.
The evaluation: “Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel. But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan. And YHWH said to Jehu, ‘Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the 4th generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.’ But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of YHWH the God of Israel with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 8:28-31).
Jehu was the only northern king to get a favorable evaluation. He is compared positively to David. He is said to have “done well in carrying out what is right in [God’s] eyes…according to all that was in [God’s] heart” with regard to the house of Ahab. But he was still snared by the snare of Jeroboam, not breaking the first but the second commandment, and so YHWH “began to cut off parts of Israel” (2 Kings 10:32). And after some of the details the text gives us the standard closing formula and a death and burial notice and tells us his son reigned in his place and that he reigned for a total of 28 years.
Kings of Judah
2 Kings 11 is an aside before the cycles resume for Judah. The cycle for Joash/Jehoash (two alternate spellings) begins with 2 Kings 11:21-12:1.
But first there is a threat to the continuation of the house of David. Ahaziah’s mother Athaliah, the aforementioned granddaughter of Omri and daughter of Ahab, slaughtered all of the royal family when she saw her dead son. She is Judah’s Jezebel. But Ahaziah’s sister hid the infant Joash. Meanwhile, the queen mother Athaliah ruled over the land of Judah.
Jehoiada the priest is the one who anointed Joash the king of Judah. They then put Athaliah to death and tore down the house of Baal and broke his altars and images and killed the priest of Baal.
When the Joash/Jehoash cycle begins the evaluation says, “Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of YHWH all his days, because Jehoiada the priest instructed him. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places” (2 Kings 12:2-3).
Thus we have another Davidic revival. This time with a priest involved. King Jehoash oversaw needed repairs to the Temple of YHWH.
Unfortunately, he did not trust in YHWH for protection from Hazael king of Syria but instead paid him a tribute consisting of all the sacred gifts Kings Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Ahaziah had dedicated as well as his own sacred gifts and all the gold in the treasuries of the Temple and his own house. This resembles what King Asa had done (another king who was evaluated somewhat positively).
And Joash has the normal concluding formula, but a brief narrative explaining his death at the hands of some of his servants who conspired against him, a burial notice and the typical “his son reigned in his place” notice.
His son was Amaziah. But we will not see his cycle until 2 Kings 14. 2 Kings 13 returns us to Israel.
Kings of Israel
Jehoahaz, son of Jehu, king of Israel is the next cycle. The evaluation: “He did what was evil in the sight of YHWH and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. And the anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel, and He gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and in to the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael” (2 Kings 13:2-3).
This time though Jehoahaz sought YHWH’s favor and YHWH listened to him.
YHWH raised up a “savior” for Israel and they were freed from the power of the Syrians. But the text tells us, “Nevertheless, they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin, but walked in them; and the Asherah also remained in Samaria” (2 Kings 13:6).
After noting the poor estate of the army because of what the king of Syria had done, there is the standard closing formula, death and burial notice, and son reigned in his place note.
Jehoahaz’s son was named Joash/Jehoash. This like the aforementioned king of Judah. The evaluation: “He also did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin, but he walked in them” (2 Kings 13:11). The next verse is the concluding formula, which also mentions war with Amaziah the king of Judah, then the death and burial notes and the text tells us “Jeroboam sat on his throne” between the death and burial notes.
The rest of the chapter then tells us of the death of Elisha during the reign of Joash/Jehoash of Israel. Joash knew enough to inquire of YHWH through Elisha. Elisha told him to strike the ground with some arrows and Joash did three times and stopped. And Elisha tells him that he should have done it more times because it means that he will only strike down Syria 3 times.
Next the text tells us of the death and burial of Elisha.
The chapter closes this way: “Now Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But YHWH was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and He turned toward them, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has He cast them from His presence until now. When Hazael king of Syria died, Ben-hadad his son became king in his place. Then Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again from Ben-hadad the son of Hazael the cities that he had taken from Jehoahaz his father in war. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the cities of Israel.”
After the notice of death and burial for the prophet Elisha is an interesting aside. The text tells us “bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year and as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet” (2 Kings 13:20-21).
Kings of Judah and Israel
The text then moves through several kings of Judah and Israel fairly quickly. The first king of these, Amaziah, and the last king of these, Ahaz, both of Judah, are the ones that get the most treatment.
Amaziah is evaluated somewhat positively (“he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, yet not like David his father,” 2 Kings 14:3). The problem still includes the failure to remove the high places. Interestingly he is commended positively for sentencing his father’s murderers to death but sparing their children in accord with the Torah.
Amaziah was defeated in battle by Joash/Jehoash of Israel. Then we see the concluding formulas for Joash/Jehoash of Israel and Amaziah of Judah. It was another conspiracy that led to the death of the king of Judah and put his son on the throne.
The next cycle is for Jeroboam (a second by that name as King of Israel). “He did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin” (2 Kings 14:24).
Interestingly though the cycle of Jeroboam II of Israel includes the prophet Jonah, the son of Amittai, who spoke the word of YHWH. It was in fulfillment of this word that Jeroboam II expanded the boundaries of Israel because YHWH saw their affliction was bitter and there was none to help them. The text says, “But YHWH had not said that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash” (2 Kings 14:27).
The next cycle is for Azariah of Judah. He did what was right in the eyes of YHWH akin to his father. The main complaint being the high places. This continued revival is so lame that YHWH made him a leper.
Next is the cycle for Zechariah of Israel. He did what was evil, including the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat. He died as the result of a conspiracy ending his house and it is noted that this fulfilled the prophecy given to Jehu that his sons would reign until the fourth generation.
Shallum was the next king of Israel, he was the one who conspired against the heir of Jehu. He reigned for only one month and died from yet another conspiracy. He committed an atrocity against pregnant women in the territory of Tiphsah. This short reign does not get an evaluation statement.
But the next cycle, where the person who killed Shallum reigned, gets the standard evaluation of Israelite kings. This king, Menahem, exacted a fee from the men of Israel to pay off the king of Assyria.
Pekahiah is the next king of Israel. He is the son of Menahem and he reigned for 2 years. He got the same evaluation as his father. And his captain Pekah conspired against him and killed him.
Pekah is the next cycle and gets the same evaluation. It is during his reign that Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and began to capture Israel and carry the people as captives to Assyria. Pekah died as the result of yet another conspiracy this time at the hands of Hoshea the son of Elah who became the next ‘king’ of Israel.
The next cycles take us back to Judah. Jotham is the first king mentioned. He is evaluated positively but with the familiar criticism that he did not remove the high places.
Next is Ahaz of Judah but he is evaluated negatively. “He walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom YHWH drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree” (2 Kings 16:2b-4).
Ahaz made an alliance with Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria and paid him tribute. The Syrians and Israelites had been attacking Judah, so the king of Assyria went and conquered Syria. And Ahaz went to Damascus in Syria after Assyria had conquered it and saw an altar. He had a model of the altar made and sent it to Uriah the priest and had Uriah build it. This was the altar he would use for sacrifices and offerings.
We will look at the end of Israel (C’ and D’ below) next time. But note first this pattern for Israel: