Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reading in Kings This Week #4 (2 Kings 12-25)

3478This week we finish up the study of Kings accompanied by 1 & 2 Kings The College Press NIV Commentary by Jesse C. Long. This section brings to an end the story of the monarchy in Israel, as the nation goes into exile and the Israel ceases to exist as an independent nation. However, the story ends on a note of hope for the readers in exile, with God indicating that He has not forgotten the covenant with David and will bring restoration some day. Previous posts from Kings are here, here and here. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Chapters 12-13 of 2 Kings record the reign of Joash in Judah (12) and Jehoahaz and Joash in Israel (13). Joash starts out well by insisting that the temple be repaired from the abuse that it endured during the short reign of Athaliah. However, he negates the good he does by failing to trust God when attacked by Hazael of Aram. He strips the temple of the wealth he placed in it and bribes Hazael to leave him alone. He is assassinated by men of his own court and buried in disgrace. Jehoahaz has the promise of God on his kingdom but, like his father Jehu, he removes Baal but fails to remove the golden calves and Asherah poles from the land. In response, God allows Hazael to decimate Israel. When Jehoahaz prays God promises deliverance which is provided during the reign of Joash. Only Joash's lack of faith keeps the deliverance from being complete. The chapter ends with the death of Elisha. However, even after Elisha is dead, God is using him (even his dead bones bring a man to life) to bring deliverance to the nation.

The young king’s reign begins with so much promise. He does right when he sets out to repair and restore the house of Yahweh but ends his reign by stripping the same house of its sacred objects to bribe a foreign king...The end accents the promising king’s turn away from Yahweh. 2 Kings 12, 401

The grace that Yahweh displays to Israel in the surrounding narrative comes from the power and prerogative of Israel’s God. Even after the death of the prophet Elisha—and even after exile—there is the potential for life. 2 Kings 13, 408

The story of Elijah demonstrates that even prophets are fallible. Does Elisha’s backtracking with Jehoash represent not Yahweh’s intentions for Israel, but, instead, the prophet’s own judgmental attitude toward the king—much like Elijah’s attitude toward Ahab (1 Kgs 21:19–29)? In exercising prophetic initiative, the grace that Yahweh has chosen to bestow on Israel is delayed until the time of Jeroboam, when Aram is completely defeated. 2 Kings 13, 411–412

The story now turns to the aftermath of the destruction of Ahab's family with the reigns of Jehoash, Jereboam II and Zechariah in Israel and Amaziah and Azariah in Judah. God has promised Israel and Jehu's family 4 generations of rule in which he will restore the prosperity of the nation. Judah will also benefit from this prosperity. God's blessing on Jehoash sets the stage for the reign of Jereboam under which the two nations come close to the prosperity and size of Solomonic Israel. However, Amaziah and Azariah both act in pride and arrogance. Amaziah is assassinated and Azariah is stricken with leprosy. In the Northern kingdom the prosperity leads, not to repentance, but to luxurious immoral living and idolatry. God keeps his promises of blessing and judgment and Zechariah is assassinated and Jehu's family wiped out. It is a dangerous thing to take God's blessings and spend them on selfish indulgence and personal ambition.

Amaziah’s story is framed to show that another king of Judah with promise dies a violent death—and to foreshadow the end of this tragic narrative, when a king of Judah is taken captive to Babylon. 2 Kings 14.1-20, 421

The considerably compressed account of the fall of Israel that follows has the literary effect of signifying a precipitous decline that cannot be avoided. The sins of Jeroboam are now coming to roost for the northern kingdom...As Shallum takes the throne, the house of Jehu comes to an end. 2 Kings 15.8-12, 427

In chapter 15 the slide toward exile accelerates for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The kingdom is in chaos. Shallum takes the throne by assassinating Zechariah and is himself assassinated by Menahem after only one month. He reigns 10 years and his son Pekahiah begins to rule. He rules for only two years and is assassinated by Pekah. Finally the Assyrians remove Pekah and install Hoshea as king. Menahem speeds the process by inviting the Assyrians into the land to strengthen his bid for the throne. During the reign of Pekah, Kings, for the first time, mentions that Israelites are exiled to Assyria. Very often, the thing you trust in place of God is the thing that will destroy your life. Meanwhile, righteous Jotham rules in Judah but difficult times are about to come.

So, the cycle of conspiracy and assassination continues, about which Yahweh laments, “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval” (Hos 8:4). 2 Kings 15.23-26, 430

With chapter 16-17 the Northern Kingdom comes to an end. It begins with Ahaz the king of Judah who the narrator evaluates as the worst king of Judah up to that time. When Israel and Aram attack Judah, Isaiah offers God's help (the Immanuel prophecy) but Ahaz chooses to hire Assyria to help him instead. It works. Pekah is turned back and Rezin is killed but the cost is high. Ahaz and Judah become vassals of Assyria. Hoshea is placed on the throne of Israel by the Assyrian king but quickly rebels. Assyria invades, destroys Samaria and exiles most of the people throughout their empire. The narrator then directs a sermon toward Judah warning them that if they keep acting like Israel they will receive the same fate. God is the Creator and King of all the universe and refuses to be treated as only a local deity. When we regard God as only one of the things that drives our lives, or when we use Him as a way to get what we want we are acting no differently than the Israelites who bowed to Baal.

With Ahaz, Judah has a king who believes he can manipulate Yahweh, assuming for himself divine prerogative—like Jeroboam and the kings of Israel who followed his apostasy (v. 3). As the storyteller moves to narrate the fall of Samaria, he has portrayed the king of Judah as a king who could sit on the throne of the doomed nation of Israel. The reader wonders if Ahaz has not secured for Judah a similar fate. 2 Kings 16, 441–442

When Israel became like the nations, they did more than worship other gods. They worshiped Yahweh in an idolatrous way. He became just another god to be manipulated and controlled with rituals, sacrifices, and offerings. And the high places especially fostered such an idolatrous view of Yahweh. At the high places, Israel mirrored the worship of the nations. 2 Kings 17.9-12, 450

Yahweh is not simply a local deity who must be worshiped properly. In exile, the people must worship the God of Israel and all creation—exclusively. 2 Kings 17.25-41, 457

Chapters 18-19 describe the battle between "good" King Hezekiah and the Assyrian empire under Sennacherib. The Assyrians have invaded the entire area and conquered every major city, except Jerusalem, during that period. The text makes it clear that Samaria was exiled because they did not trust God, but Jerusalem was spared, and becomes prosperous, because Hezekiah really did trust God. Hezekiah is presented in this section as the new David who will have to struggle to trust against a much more powerful enemy. At first, he tries to pay off the enemy, as did his evil father Ahaz. He may even have asked Egypt for assistance. But when the Assyrians explicitly make this a battle between them and YHWH, Hezekiah places their letter before God and fully places his trust in God and his prophet, Isaiah. God's messenger, who proves to be much more powerful than the Assyrian messengers, wipes out the Assyrian army, Sennacherib is murdered by his own sons and Judah is saved. 

Beyond any other king of Judah, Hezekiah trusts (בָּטַח, bāṭaḥ) in Yahweh, which in Kings functions as a key word in his story. The Hebrew bāṭaḥ occurs in Kings only nine times, all in the Hezekiah narrative. However, the narrator’s layered, ironic presentation will offer reasons for the reader to wonder if Hezekiah always trusts in Yahweh. 2 Kings 18, 466

In an ultimate demonstration of trust, the king spreads [the letter] out before the LORD and prays. His prayer is a window to the underlying man, demonstrating that his expressions of dependence on Yahweh are authentic. What the reader has suspected may have been only political posturing, in the final analysis, turns out to be genuine trust. 2 Kings 19.14-19, 481

“The great king, the king of Assyria” (cf. 18:19) is not able to crush the Judean king, or prevail against the God who is “over all the kingdoms of the earth” (cf. 19:15). Provan writes, “ ‘David’ has once more overcome Goliath.” 2 Kings 19, 486

Chapters 20-21 transition from the reign of Hezekiah to Manasseh and Amon, and record God's pronouncement of the sure destruction and exile of Jerusalem. Reform might delay it for a short while, but the king's sins made exile inevitable. The end of Hezekiah's reign shows the lack of trust that lay in his heart. God performs a great deliverance of the city and miraculous healing and Hezekiah, when the Babylonians ask, attributes it to his treasury and armory. At this point Isaiah announces the inevitability of the exile. The reigns of Manasseh and Amon are the worst in the history of Judah. Jerusalem becomes like Samaria and will suffer the judgment of Samaria. These kings tried to manipulate YHWH to their own ends, but YHWH will not be manipulated. He must be trusted exclusively.

The God “who made heaven and earth” (cf. 19:15), at the request of the prophet Isaiah, performs a miracle for the king of Judah that demonstrates he alone is God—when he makes the shadow return...The God who caused Sennacherib to return (šûb) to his homeland (19:7, 28, 33, 36) and made the shadow return (šûb) ten steps (20:9, 10, 11) could also cause the exiles to return from captivity in a second Exodus! 2 Kings 20.7-11, 489

This king of Judah stands out among those who were before and after him (18:5), but his trust in Yahweh does not forestall the destruction of Jerusalem. When he shows the emissaries from Merodach-Baladan the treasures of Judah, the reader can see a proud heart (cf. 2 Chr 32:25) that is trusting in treasures instead of the God who gave them. 2 Kings 20.12-18, 491

The king does not believe in Yahweh as the one true God. The association with Ahab is ominous for Judah. Other parallels with Ahab will secure this connection and suggest that by allusion Manasseh is Judah’s Ahab. 2 Kings 21, 494

Chapters 22-23 record the reign of Josiah, who the narrator views as the greatest Son of David. He is the reformer who undoes the idolatry of Solomon, Jereboam, Ahab, and Ahaz. Sadly, it is too late for the nation of Judah. God will remove Josiah, with his early death, and spare him the terrible experience of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the nation. Subsequent events will show that the hearts of the people have not changed and exile is inevitable. God still needs to change the heart of the people.

When this faithful king of Judah eradicates foreign worship in Israel and reestablishes the covenant between Yahweh and his people, by allusion he also becomes Moses for a restored Israel (as Solomon was Moses in instituting temple worship). Jeroboam had the opportunity to be Moses and deliver God’s people from the pharaonic policies of Solomon, but instead became Aaron and led them into apostasy. A new Moses, and a true son of David, rescues a generation of Israelites from their forefathers. 2 Kings 22, 501–502

Josiah is the faithful son of David who meets this high standard—and who has taken Judah back to a time before the apostasies of Solomon and Jeroboam. Yahweh has raised up for David a faithful son to sit on his throne. Fulfilling the commandments with all his heart and undoing all of the evil his forefathers introduced, he is Israel’s ideal king! 2 Kings 23.25-27, 518

The neat theological formula which insists that righteousness leads inevitably to success (1 Kgs 2:3) and repentance to forgiveness is fatally undercut. God’s gracious promises to David and Jerusalem (23:27) are in abeyance.” An audience in exile wonders if there is any hope for the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to David. If Yahweh acts, it will be because of his mercy. 2 Kings 23.28-30, 520–521

The death of Josiah spells the end for the kingdom of Judah. The remaining kings are all characterized as evil and nothing will slow the process of destruction. Jehoahaz succeeds his father but, because he still has a pro-Babylon policy, he is captured by pharaoh signaling the new "slavery in Egypt" is on the horizon. Pharaoh places Jehoiakim on the throne, but when Egypt is defeated, he is forced into submission to Babylon. At this time (605 BC) the royal family, including Daniel, is exiled to Babylon. Later, Jehoiakim rebels against Babylon as is crushed. Most of the leaders, nobles and military are now (597 BC) exiled to Babylon and Zedekiah is placed on the throne.

Symbolically, the exile of Jehoahaz to Egypt represents what Yahweh is ready to do to his people. He is about to send them back into captivity in Egypt...The exiles in Babylon can only hope for a second Exodus to return (šûb) them to the land that was promised. 2 Kings 23.31-35, 522

The wealth with which Yahweh blessed the house of David during the reign of Solomon (cf. 1 Kgs 3:1–15) is being given by Yahweh to the king of Babylon. 2 Kings 24, 529

When Zedekiah rebels against the King of Babylon, the army of Nebuchadnezzar lays siege to Jerusalem, enters the city and destroys it. Zedekiah is captured blinded, bound in chains and taken to Babylon. The city is burned and leveled. Even the people the Babylonian king leaves to tend the area are scattered to Egypt when the appointed governor is assassinated. The people of the promised land are back in slavery. The book ends on a hopeful note though, as the Judean king, Jehoiachin, is raised up to a high position in Babylon, much as Joseph was in Egypt. God's promise to David still provides hope that God has not forgotten his exiled people and will bring them a "king from the line of David" to fulfill all his promises.

As Yahweh lost his patience with Israel, he has become impatient with the nation of Judah. They have followed the sins of Israel and, for the same reasons, will be exiled from the land of their inheritance. 2 Kings 24-25, 531

The story of Kings ends where it began—with the promise to David...In spite of Yahweh’s judgment, the lamp for David has not been extinguished. 2 Kings 25, 542–543

An exilic audience can take heart. As Joseph’s deliverance foreshadowed what Yahweh would do for Israel through Moses, perhaps he will raise up another deliverer to bring about a second Exodus. Yahweh may yet keep his promise and establish the throne of David forever. An audience in exile must return to Yahweh, keep covenant, worship him alone, and trust in him as the God of their forefathers. 2 Kings 25.27-30, 543

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