First remember the alternating pattern of the history of Israel in the book of Kings:
Hoshea – #7
It is in this context that we reach the significant seventh king named Hoshea. The evaluation of Hoshea in Kings: “He did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, yet not as the kings of Israel who were before him” (2 Kings 17:2).
Interesting that it never mentions Jeroboam the First. Implication is that Hoshea (meaning “salvation”) is a better king than many in Israel but still the judgment of exile came.
Hoshea became the vassal of the king of Assyria but then went back to Egypt for help, so the king of Assyria invaded and besieged Samaria for 3 years.
The text then explains extensively the reason for the exile of Israel:
“And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against YHWH their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods and walked in the customs of the nations whom YHWH drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. And the people of Israel did secretly against YHWH their God things that were not right…” (2 Kings 17:7-18).
This text in 2 Kings 17 explains the cycle formula much the same way that Judges 2 did for the book of Judges. Among the sins Israel did: (1) built high places in all their towns, set up pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, made offerings on the high places, (2) abandoned the commandments, made images of 2 calves, worshiped the host of heaven, served Baal, burned their sons and daughters as offerings, used divination and omens. All this provoked YHWH to anger. So He sent them prophets and seers to warn Israel and Judah. But they would not listen. “They went after false idols and became false” (v.15). So YHWH removed them from His sight.
This whole section is worth quoting at length but the basic structure of that portion is to say what God did for Israel (brought them out of Egypt), lists the evils they did, provoked YHWH to anger, and then said that God sent them prophets to warn them, then it says what God did for Israel (gave their fathers His statutes and covenant), it lists the evils they did (this time the more serious evils – Asherah mentioned in both), provoked YHWH to anger, and then said that God removed them out of his sight.
“None was left but the tribe of Judah only” (v.18).
“Judah also did not keep the commandments of YHWH their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. And YHWH rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of the plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight” (2 Kings 17:19-20).
The text is telling us that everything that has happened to Israel will happen to Judah, just later. Then the next three verses give us the historical overview of the nation of Israel from Jeroboam the First onwards. He set the pattern that Israel followed until the exile.
The Assyrians brought in people from various other nations to live in Samaria but YHWH sent lions to kill some of them because they did not fear Him. So the king of Assyria sent a priest back to teach the people living in Samaria how to fear YHWH. “But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived” (2 Kings 17:29). This is the first use of the word Samaritans in the Bible (seen again in NT). They are people from various nations who mixed together in Samaria and ‘learned’ to fear YHWH but mixed that with their own religions.
The text even says, “To this day they do according to the former manner. They do not fear YHWH, and they do not follow the statutes or the rules or the law or the commandment that YHWH commanded the children of Jacob, whom he named Israel” (2 Kings 17:34). This is somewhat in tension with what the text says before and after this. The text before and after says that they feared YHWH and also served their carved images (2 Kings 17:33, 41). But the section in between (2 Kings 17:34-40) has a slightly different perspective. Either evaluation shows you why the Samaritans only used the Torah. The text is mocking this mixed worship.
Kings of Judah
The rest of the book of Kings shifts to the southern kingdom of Judah (except for the reminders like 2 Kings 18:9-12). Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-20, Manasseh (21:1-18), Amon (rapid 21:19-26), Josiah (22:1-23:30), and then names in rapid succession: Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:31-35), Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:36-24:7), Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:8-17), and Zedekiah. This is a total of eight kings with the last four in rapid succession. The +1 King in the pattern of 3+1+3+1 (Zedekiah) was king for the final punch.
Hezekiah’s reign begins with the standard formula – dating his reign by the king of the other kingdom. This has the effect of tying the nations together and reminding us that what happened during the reign of Hoshea (the king by which Hezekiah was dated) will happen to Judah.
The evaluation of Hezekiah: “And he did what was right in the eyes of YHWH, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made” (2 Kings 18:3-4).
The people had made the bronze serpent into an idol and named it Nehushtan (which sounds like the words for bronze and serpent).
This is quite a revival – not so lame as previous Davidic revivals had been. The text continues, “He trusted in YHWH the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to YHWH. He did not depart from following Him, but kept the commandments that YHWH commanded Moses” (2 Kings 18:5-6).
“And YHWH was with him; wherever he went out, he prospered” (2 Kings 18:7a).
This reminds us of the language promised in Joshua 1. Thus now Hezekiah is the new Joshua (and Josiah will be the new David). Appropriately then Hezekiah rebelled against the king of Assyria and would not serve him and struck down the Philistines as far as Gaza.
Hezekiah was not without fault, as we see in his ‘repentance’ toward Assyria.
2 Kings 18:13, 17-37 is found also as Isaiah 36. Remember that Isaiah is the next book of the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah is the first great prophet in Judah since the division of the kingdoms. Before this the great prophets were primarily in the northern kingdom of Israel.
Isaiah is the prophet in the Hezekiah cycle whereas during most previous kings of Judah there was simply a mention of what the prophet Nathan had said to David.
Hezekiah gave the king of Assyria “all the silver that was found in the house of YHWH and in the treasuries of the king’s house” (this language should remind you of other good kings of Judah who did likewise: Asa (1 Kings 15:18), Jehoash (2 Kings 12:18), Amaziah (2 Kings 14:14) as well as evil kings of Judah like Rehoboam and Ahaz (and the exile language for evil Jehoiachin).
Hezekiah also stripped the gold from the temple doors to give to the king of Assyria. These details are found in Kings but not Isaiah.
Hezekiah was the first king to do what was right with regard to tearing down the high places. The Rabshakeh (a military title) of Assyria misunderstanding YHWH worship accused Hezekiah of removing the high places and altars of YHWH worship and telling people they had to go to the temple in Jerusalem. The Rabshakeh spoke in Hebrew rather than Aramaic because he was trying to influence popular opinion, which may have agreed with him about the high places.
2 Kings 19, which is also Isaiah 37, shows us the prophet Isaiah in the Hezekiah cycle. Isaiah reassured Hezekiah and prophesied the fall of Sennacherib, king of Assyria. The king of Assyria died via a conspiracy of two sons of his. Such conspiracies have been common in Kings.
2 Kings 20 tells us about Hezekiah’s illness and recovery. This too has been a common motif in Kings. Like those other illness situations the prophet told the king whether he would live through the illness.
2 Kings 19 included Hezekiah’s prayer regarding Sennacherib king of Assyria and 2 Kings 20 included Hezekiah’s prayer regarding his illness. YHWH heard his prayer both times. And both times Isaiah gave him YHWH’s answer. Both times the number 3 is significant (2 Kings 19:29 – three years; 2 Kings 20:5 – three days). On the third day Hezekiah would be healed and go into the house of YHWH. His healing was a resurrection of sorts. Both of the stories also include a sign that Isaiah’s words would come to pass.
2 Kings 20:1-11 is very similar to Isaiah 38, which Isaiah adds a writing of Hezekiah after he had recovered.
2 Kings 20:12-19 is also Isaiah 39 (as with all of the quotes there are some minor variations).
2 Kings 20:20-21 is the concluding formula for the Hezekiah cycle: “The rest of the deeds of Hezekiah and all his might and how he made the pool and the conduit and brought water into the city, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah?” Death notice.
The Hezekiah cycle ends, “and Manasseh his son reigned in his place.”
The pattern of the evaluations of these kings of Judah is the following:
After the best king of Judah, Hezekiah, then his son Manasseh was the worst king of Judah. It is also worth noting that both good kings of Judah in this section (Hezekiah and Josiah) are followed by evil kings.
Manasseh was so wicked that the evaluation says that he led Judah “astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom YHWH destroyed before the people of Israel” and the prophet part of the cycle quotes YHWH’s “servants the prophets” as saying that he had “done things more evil than all the Amorites died, who were before him.”
This means that sin has reached a climax in Judah such that God’s judgment must come. The first specific sin that the text mentions was that Manasseh rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed and continues, “and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them” (2 Kings 21:3). He burned his son as an offering, used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with wizards. The list sounds very similar to the reasons for the end of Israel. He put the Asherah in the temple of YHWH.
As with the people of Israel it says that the people of Judah “did not listen” to the Torah of YHWH’s servant Moses. Then for the prophet section of the cycle we see the prophets who confronted Manasseh as “His servants the prophets” (2 Kings 21:10). This phrase was also found back in the explanation of the cycles for Israel (2 Kings 17:13).
As we might expect given the comparisons, the prophet part of the cycle of Manasseh prophesies the exile of Judah. And the cycle ends the traditional way.
The Amon cycle is brief, he only reigned for 2 years as opposed to the 55 year reign of Manasseh. The evaluation of Amon compared him to his father Manasseh. And he died as the result of a conspiracy at the hands of his servants. But the people killed the conspirators and made Josiah king in his place. And the cycle ends the traditional way.
Josiah took the throne when he was eight years old and reigned for 31 years. He did what was right and walked in the way of David his father and did not turn aside to the right or to the left (Deut 17:20).
Josiah was the king prophesied, as you will remember, back in 1 Kings 13:2. The nation already will be going into exile and his Torah observance would not change that. Josiah oversaw repairs to the temple of YHWH.
And Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Torah in the temple of YHWH. And the king’s secretary read it and then took it and read it to the king. The King repented having heard the words of the Torah and the high priest and the kings servants went to Huldah the prophetess to inquire of YHWH. And she prophesied the exile but said that because Josiah was penitent and humbled himself it would not take place in his days.
Critics today claim that this was when the core of Deuteronomy was written (as the book of Torah that they found was Deuteronomy, 1ed.).
These events are similar to Ahab. Ahab had shown some outward repentance and so the prophet said the judgment would happen during the reign of Ahab’s son. This leaves us expecting the exile will come during the reign of Josiah’s son. In both cases, the surprise is the number of kings before the fulfillment.
Josiah then went about exterminating the idols of the false gods in the land and then even went to the altar in Bethel that Jeroboam I erected and took the bones from the tombs and burned them on that altar fulfilling the “word of YHWH that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things” (2 Kings 23:16). Josiah was told about the prophecy after he had done this. Josiah had great zeal for YHWH like Jehu, king of Israel, had. And like Jehu, his descendants would sit on the throne for four more kings.
Josiah held the first Passover since the days of the Judges during the eighteenth year of his reign. And he put away the mediums, necromancers, household gods, idols, and abominations “that he might establish the words of the Torah that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of YHWH. Before him there was no king like him, who turned to YHWH with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Torah of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Kings 23:24-25). He was the first and only Torah keeping king.
But Torah (law) keeping does not save you.
“Still YHWH did not turn from the burning of His great wrath, by which His anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. And YHWH said, ‘I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there” (2 Kings 23:26-27).
The conclusion formula adds how Josiah was killed by Pharaoh Neco at Megiddo.
Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah
Jehoahaz his son reigned in his place for three months and then Pharaoh Neco put him in chains and made his brother Eliakim the king and changed his name to Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz died in exile in Egypt.
Jehoiakim taxed the land for Pharaoh until Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made him his servant. Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon and the Babylonians went to destroy Judah.
The text sees Babylonian warfare against Judah as fulfilling the words of YHWH’s “servants the prophets” (2 Kings 24:2) in response to Manasseh’s sins.
Jehoiachin his son reigned in his place. Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem during his reign and eventually carried off all of the treasure of the house of YHWH that Hezekiah had foolishly let the Babylonians see. We would expect to see the exile during the reign of Josiah’s son and so far we have seen Josiah’s son, then another son reign, and now his grandson reign.
In a similar pattern to what we saw earlier with a foreign power putting the king in jail and then renaming and putting on the throne another Davidic king (we just saw this with Pharaoh and Eliakim renamed Jehoiakim and put on the throne of Judah) now we see this again with Babylon putting Jehoiachin in jail and placing his uncle Mattaniah (Josiah’s son) on the throne and renaming him Zedekiah. Thus it is during the reign of Josiah’s son that Judah went into captivity. The judgment that would not happen during Josiah’s lifetime happened during the lifetime of Josiah’s son Zedekiah.
For these last four kings also note the pattern:
Jehoahaz reigned for three months
Jehoiakim reigned for eleven years
Jehoiachin reigned for three months
Zedeckiah reigned for eleven years
You cannot tell me that this pattern is not intentional on the part of God. Zedekiah’s evaluation is even to compare him to “all that Jehoiakim had done” (2 Kings 24:19). Both Jehoiakim and Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.
The book ends on the upnote – a Davidic revival, though no indication that now Jehoiachin was anything but evil in the sight of YHWH.
It ends by telling us that Evil-merodach, king of Babylon, during his first year freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison “And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived.”
So ends the former prophets:
Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. The nation is in exile and the heir of David is being exalted even there.
[I made only a couple minor modifications of this text after reading the commentaries, but simply looked for things we had been looking for before as I read the text. Except see this patterns Leithart suggests below.]
1 Kings 1-12
David: on a bed; revived
Solomon: builds idolatrous shrines
Jeroboam I: divides the kingdom; Bethel
2 Kings 18-25
Hezekiah: on a bed; revived
Manasseh: builds idolatrous shrines
Josiah: reunites the kingdom; Bethel