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Old Testament: 2 Kings

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Elisha Refuses the Gifts of Naaman, Pieter Franz de Grebber (1637)Second Kings continues the story where 1 Kings left off. Chapters 1-2 complete the presentation of Elijah's prophetic ministry. Chapters 3-9 depict the ministry of Elijah's successor, Elisha. Chapters 9-10 relate the defeat of Baal that occurred in Jehu's purge and the end of the Omride dynasty. Athaliah's seizure of the Judean throne and the restoration of Davidic rule under Joash are recounted in chapters 11-12. The rest of 2 Kings details the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to Assyria in chapters 13-17, followed by the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah to Babylon in chapters 18-25 despite the righteous reigns of Hezekiah (chapters 18-20) and Josiah (chapters 22-23).

So What?

Second Kings uses the history of the kings of Judah and Israel to explain the destruction of Jerusalem to those experiencing exile in Babylon in the hopes that they might gain a new self-understanding. It is a story of the monarchy's failure and deserved judgment. But it is also a story of God's unrelenting commitment to his people through divine words of hope, judgment, summons, and warning, as God seeks to maintain God's covenantal relationship with the people. We, too, need to hear that a patient and merciful God awaits our response and listens to our prayers.

Where Do I Find It?

Second Kings is the twelfth book in the Old Testament, immediately after 1 Kings and before 1 Chronicles.

Who Wrote It?

Ancient tradition identifies Jeremiah as the author of 1 and 2 Kings. Today, many scholars believe that 1 and 2 Kings are the concluding part of the Deuteronomistic History and that various older traditions have been gathered together and edited by a nameless exilic editor or editors.

When Was It Written?

The final event recorded in 2 Kings occurred in 561 B.C.E. Since the return from Babylon (538 B.C.E.) is not recorded, one assumes that--as part of the Deuteronomistic History--2 Kings reached its final form sometime between these dates during the Babylonian exile.

What's It About?

Second Kings is a continuation of 1 Kings that seeks to answer the questions of God's people living in Babylonian exile by presenting an interpretation of the history of Israel and Judah through the lens of the theological tenets of the book of Deuteronomy. It suggests that their plight was not due to the failure of God's promise to David. Rather, their own failure regarding such matters as worship outside the central sanctuary, idolatry, and other covenant violations brought about their destruction at the hands of Assyria and Babylon.

How Do I Read It?

Second Kings looks like a history of Judah, the southern kingdom, and Israel, the northern kingdom. While important historical information is presented, some of it is at odds with the presentation found in 1 and 2 Chronicles. Both Chronicles and Kings should be read as theological, rather than historical, presentations of the years of the monarchy. Kings is designed to demonstrate the reasons for the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722/721 B.C.E. and Judah's exile to Babylon in 587/586 B.C.E.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

I.    Elisha Continues Elijah's Ministry (2 Kings 1:1--8:29)
The Elisha cycle of narratives continues the battle against Baal begun in the Elijah cycle (1 Kings 17-19).

A.    Conclusion of Ahaziah's Reign (2 Kings 1:1-18)
The end of the account of Ahaziah's reign begun in 1 Kings 22:51-53 relates his illness and attempts to consult the god of Ekron.
B.    Elisha Succeeds Elijah (2 Kings 2:1--2:25)

Elisha succeeds Elijah and carries on the battle against Baal.
C.    Jehoram of Israel Consults Elisha (2 Kings 3:1-27)
Jehoram seeks Elisha's counsel in the war against Moab.
D.    Elisha's Miracles (2 Kings 4:1--6:7)
A collection of six episodes present Elisha as a worker of miracles.
E.    Elisha's Political Involvement (2 Kings 6:8--8:15)
Elisha functions as political advisor in battles with Syria (Aram) and encourages Hazael's overthrow of the Syrian king Ben-hadad.
F.    Jehoram and Ahaziah of Judah (2 Kings 8:16-29)
Jehoram of Judah is strongly censured for his alliance with Ahab of Israel, cemented with his marriage to one of Ahab's daughters. The reign of Ahaziah, his son, is similarly condemned for these foreign alliances with the Omrides.

II.    Jehu Purges Israel (2 Kings 9:1--10:36)
Jehu's bloody story is essentially the account of the end of the Omride Dynasty announced by the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:17; 21:21-24).

A.    Jehu Anointed King (2 Kings 9:1-13)
Elisha the prophet sends one of the prophets to anoint Jehu king of Israel in fulfillment of God's final charge to Elijah (1 Kings 19:16).
B.    Jehu's Violent Purge (2 Kings 9:14--10:36)
Immediately following his acclamation as king, Jehu began the systematic extermination of the House of Ahab, the current representatives of the Omride dynasty. His less violent reforms and policies conclude the account.

III.    Athaliah and Joash (2 Kings 11:1--12:21)
Jehu's purge of the House of Ahab and the worship of Baal resulted in the usurpation of the throne of Judah by the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Athaliah.

A.    "King"Athaliah (2 Kings 11:1-20)
Athaliah, the only female to sit on the throne of either Israel or Judah, attempts to bring the Davidic line to an end.
B.    Joash of Judah (2 Kings 11:21--12:21)
The death of Athaliah and the extensive restoration of the temple are stressed in the account of Joash, a relatively good king of Judah.

IV.    The Collapse of the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 13:1--17:41)
The good kings of Judah experience difficulties while the wicked kings of Israel experience unparalleled prosperity due to God's mercy. Nevertheless, the looming might of Assyria threatens and ultimately destroys the North.

A.    Jehoahaz and Jehoash of Israel, Amaziah of Judah, and Jeroboam II of Israel (2 Kings 13:1--14:29)
Amaziah's successful war with Edom is contrasted with his disastrous war with Israel. His reign is framed by the reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoash, and Jeroboam II of Israel, kings of Israel who experienced God's mercy despite their apostasy.
B.    Azariah of Judah; Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, and Pekah of Israel; and Jotham of Judah (2 Kings 15:1-38)
This complex chapter depicts the turbulent political situation of Israel in the reigns of five of its kings, framed by the relatively stable reigns of Azariah and Jotham in the south.
C.    Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 16:1-20)
Ahaz is portrayed as a weak and indecisive king in the face of external political pressures to align with the anti-Assyrian coalition.
D.    Hoshea and the Fall of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-41)
The reign of Hoshea brings an end to the northern kingdom. The chapter concludes with a theological interpretation of the fall of Israel that demonstrates Israel's thoroughgoing apostasy and intimates a similar fate for Judah.

V.    The Collapse of the Southern Kingdom (2 Kings 18:1--25:30)

The last century and a half of the political life of Judah is presented as a time when the best kings of Judah (Hezekiah and Josiah) alternated with the worst kings of Judah (Ahaz and Manasseh). The appearance of Babylon on the world stage at the end of this period was more than the nation could withstand.

A.    Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:1--20:21)
Hezekiah is one of the best kings of Judah. His religious reforms and courage during the Assyrian campaigns of 701 B.C.E. are given special attention.
B.    Manasseh and Amon (2 Kings 21:1-26)
Manasseh is the worst of the worst in the judgment of the Deuteronomistic editors. He revoked the religious reforms of his pious father, Hezekiah; rebuilt the high places (thus, decentralizing the cult); introduced foreign worship practices; sacrificed his son; and consulted mediums. His son Amon followed the practices of his father in his two-year reign.
C.    Josiah (2 Kings 22:1--23:30)
Josiah is the best king of Judah in the judgment of the Deuteronomistic editors. His reforms were carried out in full accordance with the book of the law (an early form of Deuteronomy) discovered in the temple during his reign.
D.    The Final Days of Judah (2 Kings 23:31--25:30)
The chaos of Judah's final days is depicted in the hapless reigns of Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, and Zedekiah, helpless before the might of Egypt and Babylon. Jerusalem falls to Nebuchadnezzar who destroys the temple and deports the population to Babylon.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

The Deuteronomistic History, of which 2 Kings is a part, addresses the questions of those who had experienced the fall of the north to Assyria in 722/721 B.C.E., the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar II, the destruction of the temple, the end of Davidic rule, and deportation to Babylon in 587/586 B.C.E. Had God abandoned them? Why was Israel's history a history of failure? Especially important in this regard was the explanation that both the fall of the north and the Babylonian exile were due to Israel's and Judah's covenantal violations.

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

•    Babylonian/Assyrian references to Kings. Several references to people or events in the book of Kings appear in Babylonian or Assyrian sources. The most important are:

  • Sennacherib of Assyria describes his siege of Hezekiah's Jerusalem (701 B.C.E.).
  • Sargon II of Assyria claims in his annals that he conquered Israel and took them into exile (722 B.C.E.) (also recorded in Isaiah 20:1).
  • The battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.E.), to which Ahab of Israel contributed two thousand chariots and ten thousand soldiers.
  • Several kings are mentioned as paying tribute to Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria: Menaham, Pekah, and Hoshea of Israel, and possibly Azariah of Judah.
  • The Moabite Stone (830 B.C.E.) mentions Omri and his son Ahab.
  • The Rimah Stela (796 B.C.E.) states that Jehoash of Samaria brought Adad-nerari III of Assyria tribute.
  • Jehu appears on the Black Obelisk of Kalhu (841 B.C.E.).
  • The Babylonian Chronicle of Shalmaneser V of Assyria records his capture of Samaria.
  • Both Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal of Assyria list Manasseh as one who paid tribute.
  • Several other references to events in the book of Kings appear in the tablets of the Babylonian Chronicle.

•    The book of Kings as history. Kings looks like history, but as one reads, it becomes obvious that it is a very different kind of history than we are accustomed to reading. Accounts in Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and other biblical sources are sometimes presented differently and often flatly contradicted. Omri, known as a powerful ruler in extrabiblical historical sources, receives only eight verses in 1 Kings, all concerned with his apostasy. This difficult question is somewhat eased by the recognition that no biblical book is written with the canons of contemporary ideas of history. Rather than disparage the biblical author's supposed failure to conform to our ideas of what history should be, we should try to determine the theological motivation in presenting these stories this way.

•    Canonical setting. The books of Kings occupy somewhat different places in the Hebrew canon and that of modern English Bibles. In the Hebrew Bible, the books of Kings are considered part of the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). In English Bibles, the books of Kings are considered part of the historical books. Ruth has been placed after Judges and before Samuel because of this historical understanding.

•    Chronology. The chronology of the book of Kings is a major problem. There are at least two reasons for this. First, the material is internally inconsistent. For example, 1 Kings 16:23 states, "In the thirty-first year of King Asa of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel; he reigned for twelve years." But 1 Kings 16:29 says, "In the thirty-eighth year of King Asa of Judah, Ahab son of Omri began to reign over Israel," so that Omri reigned for seven years, not twelve. Did Ahaziah of Judah come to the throne in the twelfth year of Joram of Israel (2 Kings 8:25) or the eleventh (9:29)? Second, when scholars attempt to work from dates known from extrabiblical sources and corroborated elsewhere, relatively fixed dates for the division of the kingdom (931 B.C.E.), the fall of the North (722/21 B.C.E.) and the fall of Jerusalem (587/86 B.C.E.) can be established. But when the total number of years for the monarchies in Israel and Judah are calculated, that of Israel (241 years) does not fit with the 210 years from 931 to 721, and that of Judah (393 years) does not square with the 346 years of 931 to 587. Several "solutions" have been proposed. Most posit the presence of "co-regencies" where two rulers (sometimes father and son) ruled together so that the overlapping years were counted twice. Though this is undoubtedly the case, since at least two (Omri and Tibni in 1 Kings 16:21; and Jotham and Azariah [Uzziah] in 2 Kings 15:5) and possibly three (Jehoram and Jehoshaphat in 2 Kings 1:17) are mentioned in the text, the problem persists because at least five other co-regencies of varying degrees of probability must be assumed.

•    Deuteronomistic History. The theological understanding of history found in the book of Deuteronomy has greatly influenced other biblical books. In its simplest form Deuteronomy insists that obedience--usually in terms of worship in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 12) and faithfulness to the Lord (5:6-7; 6:4-6)--brings military victory and economic success, while disobedience brings national disaster. During the exile, Israel used this understanding of history to explain its rise and eventual fall. The success Israel enjoyed during the united monarchy was attributed to David's faithfulness, while the destruction of Samaria by Sargon V in 722 B.C.E., the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E., and the Babylonian exile were seen as the result of Israel's failure to keep the covenant. The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings present the history of Israel's rise and fall as seen through the theological lens of Deuteronomy and thus are called the Deuteronomistic ("Deuteronomy-like") History.

•    Northern traditions. Long stretches of the book of Kings consist of stories emanating from northern traditions. These seem to cohere in the center of the literary shaping of the book of Kings around the prophets Elijah and Elisha and the northern ruler Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. Though disputed, a plausible allocation of these possibly related stories would be:

  • Elijah Traditions: 1 Kings 17-19; 1 Kings 21; 2 Kings 1:1-18; 2 Kings 2:1-25; 2 Kings 9:1--10:31
  • Elisha Traditions: 2 Kings 2:1-25; 4:1-7, 8-37, 38-41, 42-44; 5:1-27; 6:1-7; 8:1-6, 7-15; 13:14-21
  • Ahab/Jezebel Traditions: 1 Kings 20:1-43; 22:1-38; 2 Kings 3:4-27; 6:24--7:20; 8:16-29
Their northern roots are best seen in a number of discrepancies from their Deuteronomistic surroundings:
  • The northern provenance of the sites and places mentioned throughout these traditions.
  • Beer-sheba and Beth-shemesh are said to belong to Judah (1 Kings 19:3; 2 Kings 14:11).
  • Elijah is said to have "repaired ["healed" in Hebrew] the altar of the LORD" on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:30). Sacrifice at places other than Jerusalem is strictly forbidden. In fact, there is a lack of any condemnation of calf worship or sacrifice at the high places in these traditions.
  • First Kings 20 and 21 display hostility to Syria (Aram), not to Ahab.

•    Regnal formulas. The reign of every king begins and ends with stereotyped regnal formulas. The typical introduction includes a synchronism of Israel and Judah (until Hoshea of Israel); the king's age at beginning of reign (for kings of Judah); the length of reign; the location of the royal capital (for Israel, "Tirzah" before Omri, then "Samaria"); the queen mother (in Judah) and/or the king's father (in Judah); and an evaluation of the reign. The concluding formula includes a citation of the source; a death notice (Israel and Judah) and place of burial (for Judah); and a succession notice. The formulas often appear with variations or additional material.

•    Sources used in Kings. A number of sources are mentioned in the books of Kings:

  • The Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41)
  • The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel (1 Kings 14:19; 15:31; 16:5, 14, 20; 22:39; and 11 times in 2 Kings)
  • The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:29; 15:7, 23; 22:45; and 11 times in 2 Kings)
  • Other, unnamed sources that appear to underlie major segments of the narrative, including court archives, especially regarding the succession of Solomon (1 Kings 1-2) and the history of the temple (1 Kings 6-7; 2 Kings 23)
  • A relationship between 2 Kings 19:20--20:11 and Isaiah 36:1--39:8 and 2 Kings 25:27-30 and Jeremiah 52:31-34, though priority is difficult to determine
  • Narrative prophetic material in the form of cycles of stories concerning Ahijah (1 Kings 11:29--14:18), Elijah (1 Kings 17--2 Kings 2:18), Micaiah (1 Kings 22), and Elisha (2 Kings 2-13)

•    Synchronism. Throughout 1 Kings 12--2 Kings 25, the reader is confronted with a complicated formula at the beginning of each king's reign such as: "In the X year of the reign of name of Israel, name became king of Judah and he reigned Y years." The formula, called a synchronism, correlates the beginning of the reign of a Judean king with a specific year in the reign of an Israelite king, as in the example above. Correlations of Israelite kings to Judean kings also appear. The primary purpose is to provide a means of presenting two histories at the same time. Theologically speaking, however, this rhetorical device stresses the interrelatedness of these two kingdoms despite the schism following Solomon's death.

•    Textual matters. The Masoretic Hebrew Text (approximately 1008 C.E.) of Kings is generally quite good. Kings is only infrequently represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls of Qumran. While there are significant differences between the Greek versions and the Masoretic Text (for example, the reversal of chapters 20 and 21 in 1 Kings), there is no agreement as to the relationship between them. Many consider the Greek versions, other than the generally approved Lucianic Recension, to be paraphrastic or midrashic in character, prone to expansion and revision especially as regards chronology, and thus inferior to the Hebrew.

•    "To this day." Kings does not record the end of the Babylonian Captivity that occurred in 538 B.C.E. This has led most interpreters to set 538 as the latest possible date for the final form of Kings. Others, however, have challenged this opinion by pointing to the relatively frequent appearance of the phrase "to this day" (1 Kings 8:8; 9:13, 21; 10:12; 12:19; 2 Kings 2:22; 8:22; 10:27; 14:7; 16:6; 17:34, 41; 21:15), which might allow for a later date. This is possible, but it is better to understand these references as inherent in the source itself rather than as additions made by the compilers.

•    Use of traditional material. There is some agreement in recent interpretation that--unlike the Chronicler who freely rearranged, omitted, and occasionally rewrote his sources (of which 1-2 Kings is a prime example)--the compilers of Kings employed their sources to bolster their particular presentation of the monarchy. As such, the compilers of Kings did not misappropriate the data found in their sources. It must be said, however, that they were very selective in their use of traditional material. Readers need to be aware that only those parts of the record that served their purpose, whether theological or didactic, were utilized, leaving a large amount of material behind.

•    What kind of book is Kings? Recent interpretation rejects the designation "history" for Kings, at least in its modern connotation of that which is produced by a critical historian as a factual description of events in the past. Designations such as "historical story" or "theological interpretation of history" are much more common. Clearly there is a telling, or retelling, of the story in a chronological sequence, whether accurate or imposed. The authors/compilers freely rewrote, edited, and fashioned materials and traditions of varying types into a coherent presentation of the monarchy designed to make a theological point.

•    Why are there two books of Kings? Originally the books of Kings were a single work. The modern division into two books obscures the presentation of the reign of Ahaziah, which begins in 1 Kings 22:51 but concludes in 2 Kings 1:18. Kings was divided into two books when it was translated into Greek. The Greek translation actually includes the books of Samuel as well, as indicated by their entitling Samuel through Kings as 1-4 Basileiai (1-4 Kingdoms/Reigns). This larger context is crucial and must be kept in mind at all times.

•    Women in the book of Kings. Women are often found at crucial junctures in the narrative of Kings. Sometimes they are important, but unnamed--for example, a variety of unnamed women play a similar role in the Elisha stories (2 Kings 4:1-7; 8-37; 8:1-6). Named female characters are always given leading roles in the narratives, though usually villainous:

  • Athaliah was the only woman and the only non-Davidic ruler in Judah (2 Kings 11).
  • Jehosheba preserved the only heir of the Davidic dynasty from Athaliah (2 Kings 11:2-3).
  • Huldah, the prophet, provides theological interpretation and guidance to Josiah (2 Kings 22:14-20).

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

•    The ark. The significance of the ark of the covenant varies in the different Old Testament traditions. It is most important for the Priestly tradition. The Deuteronomic tradition, of which Kings is a part, sees Solomon's procession of the ark from the tent prepared by David to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple as the cultic highpoint of the temple dedication (1 Kings 8:1-13). First Kings 8:9, 21 indicate that the ark housed a copy of the law (compare Deuteronomy 10:5; 31:9, 24-26). First Kings 8:16-20, 27-30 insists the temple is a house of prayer where God's name (fame, reputation) dwells, since, in this tradition, God dwells in heaven, not the temple--as the references to God's hearing "in heaven" in each of the petitions of Solomon's dedicatory prayer make clear (1 Kings 8:32, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49). After Solomon, however, the tradition of the ark becomes rather vague. Most assume it remained in the temple for 400 years until it was carried off by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E., though it is missing from the list of plunder taken from the temple in 2 Kings 25:13-17.

•    Centralized worship (Deuteronomy 12). Deuteronomy 12 is important for the book of Kings because of its insistence upon the centralization of worship. When Jeroboam revolted and established the northern kingdom of Israel, he needed to set up shrines in Bethel and Dan as rival sanctuaries to the Jerusalem temple. This became the primary sin that brought condemnation upon all the northern kings in the judgment of the Deuteronomistic editors.

•    The Davidic covenant. Echoes of God's promise and special favors to David in 2 Samuel 7 often appear in the book of Kings; the most important include:

  • When the kingdom divides, God's punishment is delayed, and Solomon's successor is still left with a kingdom, though smaller, for David's sake (1 Kings 11:12-13).
  • The Davidic dynasty is in Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:36; 15:4-5; 2 Kings 8:19).
  • David's faithful obedience is often lifted up as a model (1 Kings 3:3; 11:4, 6, 38; 15:3, 11).
  • God's regard for David delivers Jerusalem from attack in the time of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:34; 20:5-6).

•    Eschatology. Unless it is merely a prolonged "I told you so!" the very existence of the book of Kings suggests that there was hope for the future of the people despite their desperate situation in exile. The portrayals of their past kings would serve as lessons from the past from which they could learn. The emphasis on repentance and forgiveness throughout, but especially in Solomon's great dedicatory prayer (1 Kings 8), would have been an especially attractive avenue of hope. Decisive in this regard is the hopeful conclusion found in the release and elevation of Jehoiachin in 2 Kings 25:27-30.

•    High places, pillars, and poles. These three cultic items were especially abhorrent to the Deuteronomistic editors of Kings due to the affinity of these items with the religion of the Canaanites. High places (bamoth) were sites of Canaanite worship. Pillars (masseboth) were standing stones, possibly phallic, that symbolized Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility. Sacred poles (asheroth) were trees that represented the goddess Asherah.

•    Jeroboam's sin. "Walking in the way of Jeroboam / not departing from all the sins of Jeroboam" is the primary criterion for the negative evaluations of sixteen of the northern kings (1 Kings 15:34; 16:2, 19, 26, 31; 22:52; 2 Kings 3:3; 10:29, 31; 13:2, 6, 11; 14:24; 15:9, 18, 24). What exactly this entailed, however, is difficult to determine. Likely contenders would include:

  • Jeroboam's institution of worship in a place other than Jerusalem--that is, in Bethel in the southernmost area of Israel, and in Dan in the north (1 Kings 12:26-29)--in violation of Deuteronomy 12.
  • Jeroboam's creation of two golden calves, in violation of Deuteronomy 13, installed at the new worship sites in Bethel and Dan with the words, "Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28), virtually the same as those uttered by Aaron upon his production of the golden calf in the wilderness (Exodus 32:4).

•    Kingship in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Deuteronomy provides the blueprint for what kingship should look like:

  • Verses 16-17 regularly appear in the descriptions of Solomon's reign: 1 Kings 4:26; 9:19; 10:14-28; 11:3.
  • The king is to be faithfully obedient to the prescriptions of the Mosaic legislation (vv. 18-19). Most of the kings of Judah and all of the kings of Israel failed in this regard. Josiah, however, literally complied by ruling according to the precepts of the book of the law discovered in the temple (2 Kings 22:8--23:25).
  • The continuation of the monarchy as well as the dynastic succession is tied to the king's faithful obedience (v. 20). 

•    Kingship in Israel. The idea of "kingship" varied between the North (Israel) and the South (Judah). Significant aspects of the northern tradition include the following:

  • 922-722 B.C.E., 200 years
  • Twenty rulers (Zimri, 1 Kings 16:15-20, who only ruled 7 days, was not considered a king as seen by the lack of accession formula and death notice)
  • Assassination of seven kings: Nadab, Elah, Joram, Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, Pekah
  • No positive evaluation from the Deuteronomistic editors

•    Kingship in Judah. The idea of "kingship" varied between the North (Israel) and the South (Judah). Significant aspects of the southern tradition include the following:

  • 922-587 B.C.E., 335 years
  • Twenty rulers (Athaliah, 2 Kings 11:1-21, who usurped the throne, was not considered a king as seen by the lack of accession formula and death notice)
  • David's descendants ruled in an unbroken line from Rehoboam to Zedekiah
  • Positive evaluation for eight kings from the Deuteronomistic editors: qualified praise for Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Azariah, Jotham; unqualified praise for Hezekiah and Josiah

•    A pattern of royal apostasy in the North: Close attention to the regnal formulas of the kings of Israel suggests a pattern of apostasy leading to the fall of the North:

  • The first eight kings (Jeroboam through Joram) all "walk in the way of Jeroboam" and cause Israel to "provoke the LORD to anger."
  • The second group of eight kings (Jehu through Pekah) "did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam."
  • Hoshea, Israel's last king, "did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, yet not like the kings of Israel who were before him" (2 Kings 17:2).

The pattern is unmistakable and may suggest that the first group of kings were the actual apostates. The second group, headed by Jehu the reformer, merely continued in the basic sin of Jeroboam--that is, worship outside of Jerusalem. Hoshea, as the last in the line of apostasy, is not individually responsible for the collapse of the North; it simply took place "on his watch," so to speak.

•    Prophecy and its fulfillment. Unlike the canonical prophetic books, which usually do not indicate a correspondence between prophecy and its fulfillment, the book of Kings is especially concerned to demonstrate that every true prophetic word came to pass. Eleven such instances have been identified (prophecy // fulfillment): 2 Samuel 7:13 // 1 Kings 8:20; 1 Kings 11:29-39 // 1 Kings 12:15b; 1 Kings 13:21-22 // 2 Kings 23; 1 Kings 14:6-10 // 1 Kings 15:29; 1 Kings 16:1-4 // 1 Kings 16:12; Joshua 6:26 // 1 Kings 16:34; 1 Kings 21:21-24 // 1 Kings 21:27-29 (compare 2 Kings 9:7); 1 Kings 22:17 // 1 Kings 22:35-36; 2 Kings 1:6 // 2 Kings 1:17; 2 Kings 21:10-15 // 2 Kings 24:2; 2 Kings 22:15-20 // 2 Kings 23:30. Other possibilities have also been suggested.

•    Prophecy in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). The Deuteronomic test of true prophecy lies in its conformity to the facts of real life and history. The exiles wondered if God was reliable in the face of the apparent failure of God's promise to David. The book of Kings seeks to reassure the people that God remains true to God's word. The exile was not a failure on God's part, but rather a parade example that God would do what God had said: "The LORD sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, bands of the Arameans, bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites; he sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servants the prophets" (2 Kings 24:2, emphasis added). Numerous other places could be cited in support of the fulfillment of prophecy in these terms including: 1 Kings 13:1-2, 5, 21-22, 26, 32; 15:29; 2 Kings 1:17; 7:1; 9:26, 36; 10:17.

•    Temple. In the ancient Near East, as well as in the Bible, and especially in the Psalms (for example, 84:1-2), God is thought to dwell in the temple. In the book of Kings, the Deuteronomistic editors strongly deny that God can be "located" in the temple or indeed anyplace in heaven or on the earth (1 Kings 8:27). Rather, God has chosen for God's name ("fame, reputation") to dwell in the temple, which is really a house of prayer, a tangible focus point for supplication (1 Kings 8).

•    Theodicy in Kings. A theodicy is an attempt to justify how God has dealt with God's people, especially by resolving the problem of evil in ways that maintain God's goodness, justice, and sovereignty. The exiles wondered how God could have allowed the destruction of Jerusalem and their deportation to Babylon. The book of Kings attempts to resolve this difficulty by presenting the exile as the result of the nation's lack of faithful obedience, especially as that obedience is promulgated in the book of Deuteronomy.

•    View of the exile. Chronicles had portrayed the exile as a time of giving the land a Sabbath rest of seventy years (2 Chronicles 36:20-21), suggesting that the Chronicler is thinking of 7 x 70 or 490 years of neglect (Leviticus 26:34-39), possibly the time between the destruction of the first temple and the dedication of the second (587/586-516 B.C.E.). As a result, in Chronicles the land is completely empty so that the land may have its Sabbaths (2 Chronicles 36:21). Kings, however, portrays the exile as God's judgment upon Judah for their breach of the covenant, and it claims that the land was not completely emptied, since some of the poorest people of the land were left to care for the vines and till the soil (2 Kings 25:11-12).

AUTHOR: Mark Throntveit, Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament

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