Lecture 9: 1 & 2 Kings (Part 2)
Course: Understanding the Old Testament
Lecture: 1 & 2 Kings (Part 2)
1 & 2 Kings (continued)
Rise and Fall of Jeroboam’s Family (1 Kings 12–15)
In 1 Kings 12 to 15 we have the rise and fall of Jeroboam’s family. Jeroboam is the first king of the Northern Kingdom and he serves that land starting in 930 B.C. when Solomon dies. Solomon’s son Rehoboam succeeds his father. But he also succeeds in making the people of the Northern portion of the land very mad. They ask for tax relief and for less burdens, Solomon has taxed them heavily and used them as laborers for his projects, and so they ask him for some relief. But Rehoboam speaks harshly to them and they revolt against him. So Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, is left with just Judah and Benjamin as his kingdom.
But Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom receives ten tribes. God makes him king and yet when he becomes king he sets up an alternative religion. Even though God made him king and God revealed the fact that He made him king through the prophets this king does not believe God will sustain him. He fears that if he allows his people to go Jerusalem for the festivals outlined in Moses’ books and allows them to go and offer their worship and their sacrifices there, he will lose them forever. So he does not trust the Lord.
He sets up an alternative religion that is described to us in 1 Kings 12 and 13. You recall that Moses had said only Levites should be priests. Jeroboam said anyone from any tribe could be a priest. You will recall that Moses said that the people were to gather in Jerusalem in one place or I should say Moses said they would gather in one place for their festivals and for the Day of Atonement and that God had revealed that place as Jerusalem. Jeroboam decided to set up two major sanctuaries – one in the Northern part of his kingdom and one in the Southern part. So he said you could go to either one of those places, but you could not cross the border into Judah. So he set up new places of worship.
Third, you will recall what Moses said there will be no images of God used in worship. That is the second commandment – You shall not make any image of God. And yet Jeroboam set up calves as symbols of God and God’s power and God’s strength and fertility. But the people then had an image that they could worship. And Moses said they are to keep their religion free from mixture of other religions of Canaan. But clearly Jeroboam decided to mix in the religious emphases on idols and he also mixed Israel’s religion with Canaanite worship of Baal, because Baal was often depicted as a bull in his full powers.
So Jeroboam set up an alternative religion that was very much like, in some ways, the religion that Moses had set up. That is they still talked about Yahweh, they talked about the Exodus, they talked about the Lord. But in many, many ways the religion diverged from what God had set up. And so a prophet speaks to Jeroboam in chapter 14 and tells him that his kingdom cannot endure. His descendants will only last a few generations and as we go through chapter 15 we see that this is what happens. His lineage dies out and eventually it is usurped by an outsider who begins his own lineage, his own kingdom. We should say that in the Southern kingdom Rehoboam and his descendants continue on. But they are not very faithful followers of Yahweh. They allow many divergences from Moses’ teachings and they allow idols to be worshipped in the land.
Rise and Fall of Omri’s Family (1 Kings 16 – 2 Kings 10)
In 1 Kings 16 to 2 Kings 10 the emphasis lies on the Northern kingdom. And as I’ve said it is about the rise and fall on Omri’s family. Omri was a powerful king who was able to set his descendants on the thrown of the Northern Kingdom. Omri came to power between 885 and 880 B.C. And during a short reign that lasts only a few years he achieves a great deal.
According to 1 Kings 16 he stabilizes the government and builds a capital city that he calls Samaria. His son Ahab succeeds him and then the descendants of Ahab govern Northern Israel for some time. Omri also arranges a marriage for his son Ahab, arranges that he be married to Jezebel, the King of Tyre’s daughter. Tyre was a nation just to the north of Israel. And so Omri thought it best to marry his son to the neighboring king’s daughter so as to have peace in the area.
Omri was so impressive to other nations that Northern Israel was called the House of Omri by other nations long after his death. As important as Omri is, however, it is his son Ahab who takes precedence in chapter 17 and following. But even more than that there is a prophet who dominates the next several chapters. That prophet’s name is Elijah.
Elijah bursts onto the scene in 17:1. Because of Ahab’s sins there will be no rain except at my word. What are the sins of Ahab? Well they are many but chiefly Elijah is concerned that Ahab has allowed his wife Jezebel to bring Baalism into the land. You will recall that Baal is the fertility god, that there are strong sexual and economic facets to the worship of Baal. Jezebel is a committed worshiper of Baal in fact she imports 400 prophets of Baal to be missionaries throughout the land. One of the beliefs of Baalism was that it is Baal who makes it rain therefore fertilizes the ground.
So, Elijah challenges Baal worship by saying only Yahweh can make it rain and only Yahweh will say when it will rain and He will say so through Elijah, His prophet. The rain is withheld. There is a terrible drought. During this drought God provides for Elijah through miraculous means and through the hospitality of a widow in 17:1-17. Elijah demonstrates his prophetic powers by multiplying the widow’s food sources and by raising her son from the dead in 17:14-23. Elijah is truly a man of God. He is doing God’s work and speaking God’s word accurately. He qualifies as a God sent prophet.
According to chapter 18 three years of drought pass. The resulting famine becomes severe. Finally Elijah meets with Ahab who calls the prophet the troubler of Israel in verse 17. Elijah says it is the king, not the prophet, who is the problem. It is the king who troubles Israel because it is the king who has rejected God and begun to serve Baal.
To illustrate God’s power and Baal’s non-existence, Elijah proposes a great duel. He and Baal’s prophets will pray on Mount Carmel and whichever deity answers with fire from heaven, lightening from heaven, that is the God who will be sovereign. This is the God who deserves to be served. The king and the people agree to this contest.
On the mountain 450 prophets of Baal all supported and fed by Jezebel oppose Elijah. They place a bull on an altar and ask Baal to consume it. For half a day they pray, shout and dance but Baal doesn’t answer. Elijah taunts them; he suggests that Baal maybe asleep or busy or perhaps using the bathroom (18:27). They respond with frantic worship that lasts until late afternoon but no answer comes.
Elijah takes over. He has the altar soaked with water three times according (18:30-35). So if fire falls from heaven it will have to burn up a very wet sacrifice. He prays that God will prove His power and vindicate Elijah’s ministry (18:36-37). And without delay fire falls from heaven, burns the sacrifice, scorches the earth and evaporates the water. The people see that the Lord is God and they put Baal’s prophets to death. Having achieved this victory, Elijah says it will now rain and rain it does. But this great miracle does not result in faith by Ahab and Jezebel. Instead, Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah. The prophet flees but sustained by the Lord and His promises he returns to further ministry.
In chapter 20 the Lord continues to help Ahab and defeat his enemies despite his unfaithfulness. In chapter 21 in a naked act of aggression Ahab and Jezebel seize a man’s field and put him to death. Elijah tells the king that he will lose his life because of this and Jezebel will as well. Ahab repents for a time, Jezebel never does.
Three years pass before the first part of Elijah’s prophecy against Ahab and Jezebel comes true. According to 1 Kings 22 both portions of Israel, both the 10 Northern tribes and the two Southern tribes decide to fight together against Syria. Ahab decides to go out to battle but a prophet named Micaiah warns him that he will go to his death if he goes to battle. False prophets tell Ahab that he will be fine. And yet when he goes out to battle, according to word of Micaiah the prophet, which is in concert with the threats that Elijah has already given to Ahab, King Ahab dies in battle. His life ends just as the prophetic word had said.
When we come to the book of 2 Kings, Elijah continues his prophetic ministry in chapter 1. But then in chapter 2 he is taken up into heaven. He does not have to see death as the rest of us do. He was taken up to be with God. He is replaced by his associate Elisha who asks that God give him a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Several scholars have noted that Elisha does twice as many miracles as Elijah. Be that as it may, he has a great ministry for the Lord.
In chapters 3 and 4 Elisha speaks to the kings of Israel and Judah about their battles and about the Lord’s help. Elisha also helps a widow in need by multiplying resources for her. He also raises from the dead the son of a woman who is helping support him. So just as Elijah raised a young man from the dead in 1 Kings 17, so Elisha does the same in 2 Kings 4. The parallel accounts are intended to help us understand that these are two great prophets both of them serving the Lord.
In 2 Kings 5 we have an important story of Elisha healing a man named Naman. Naman was a leper, he had a skin disease. He was also a great warrior; he had defeated Israel many times. So he came to Israel seeking healing from his leprosy. And Elisha was able to help him be healed. Naman confesses faith in Yahweh as the only God. So 2 Kings 5 gives us one of the accounts in the Bible that allows us to see God saves Gentiles. We also see this fact in the book of Jonah. And we also see this fact in the book of Ruth and the book of Daniel. There are several gentile conversions in the Old Testament. 2 Kings 5 is one of the exciting and clearly told ones.
Elisha’s ministry oftentimes saves Israel’s kings from defeat. We see him helping them in this way in chapters 6 and 7 of 2 Kings. We also see that Elisha understands what will happen to Israel in the future. In chapters 8 and 9 he predicts who will be the king of Syria and he predicts who will be the king of Israel. He is a man whose word always comes true. He is a man who always sticks to covenant that God gave Israel through Moses. He is a man who reaches out to bless people from other nations just as God said would happen in the Abrahamic covenant. So he proves a worthy successor to Elijah.
God uses Elijah and Elisha to encourage Israel to repent. They validate their claim to speak for God by performing extraordinary acts. Although Elijah probably captures the imaginations of more readers than Elisha partly because he is compared to John the Baptist in the New Testament, in many ways Elisha’s career surpasses his. Future biblical prophets follow their example of especially in the messages they preach. Elijah and Elisha set the tone for future prophets. They speak the word of God with accuracy, they uphold the covenant fully. Their predictions come true. Their actions are always market by integrity. They do become discouraged, they have very human emotions, but they are worthy precursors to prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 Minor Prophets.
About 10 years after Ahab’s death, Omri’s descendants cease ruling Northern Israel just as Elijah had promised. In 841 B.C., Elisha anoints Jehu, Northern Israel’s army commander as king. Jehu immediately kills both the king of Northern Israel and the king of Southern Israel according to 2 Kings 9. Next he orders Jezebel slain. She remains proud and defiant to the end (9:30-37). But her death brings to pass the threat that Elijah had given in his career, that Ahab and Jezebel would die for the sins they committed as king and queen of Israel.
Once he’s killed Jezebel, Jehu also puts to death the remaining descendants of Omri (10:1-17). He lures the priests of Baal to the temple and executes them all (10:18-27). Thus Omri’s house falls. The Baal worship that they champion has been crippled. Jehu himself doesn’t worship idols yet neither does he follow the Lord’s law carefully (10:28-31). So the mighty house of Omri has risen and it has fallen. The prophets have spoken to it and spoken against it.
The Decline and Fall of Northern Israel (2 Kings 11–17)
In 2 Kings 11 to 17 the author highlights Northern Israel’s decent towards exile. You recall that in Leviticus 26 and also in Deuteronomy 27 and 28 that Moses warned the people that if they sinned against God He would discipline them and try to bring them back to Himself. And we see that He does this through wars and through famines and through droughts and through other means in 1 Kings 16 to 2 Kings 10.
He also sends prophets to warn them. We see Elijah, we see Elisha, we see Micaiah, we see others. But Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27 and 28 remind us that if the discipline and the preaching do not avail, God will drive the people from the land. And this is what happens in 2 Kings 11 to 17 to the Northern portion of the kingdom.
The descent quickens in these next seven chapters. Four of Jehu’s descendants govern after him in the North; none of them serve Yahweh fully. All of them practice the sins of the house of Jeroboam. That is, they follow Jeroboam’s version of worship and all of its abhorrent ways rather than the worship set forth by Moses.
The third of these kings, Jeroboam II, enjoys military and economic success (2 Kings 14:28). His military might is good. His economic success is evident but the anonymous author of 1 and 2 Kings assess him by spiritual standards. And he fails in this area. He does not worship the one true God and worship Him alone. To punish Northern Israel and to continue to warn them of coming defeat God allows Syria to oppress them in chapters 13 and 14.
After Jeroboam II five more kings serve before Northern Israel’s destruction in 722 B.C. The first is assassinated, the second serves 10 years. During this time Assyria becomes a major threat to the whole region. We have come to about 740 B.C. At this point in time the great nation of Assyria became a major threat to the entire world and, of course, then to Canaan, to Israel, to Judah.
The Assyrians were based in what we know today as Iraq. And they marched against Israel as early as 740 B.C. led by their mighty king Tiglath-Pileser III who ruled from 745 to 727 B.C. The fierce Assyrian army threatened Syria, Israel, Judah, Philistia and even Egypt. The kingdom of Israel decided to pay the Assyrians to stay away (15:19-20). But soon they decide to reverse policy and begin to fight against Assyria. A king named Pekahiah is murdered by a successor name Pekah (15:23-26). Assyria threatens Israel and this time the king refuses to pay the Assyrians to leave them alone.
Therefore, according to 15:29, Tiglath-Pileser conquered portions of Northern Israel and deports some of the Israelites to Assyria. This would have occurred about 733 to 732 B.C. The covenant consequences stated in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27 and 28 begin to take effect. Parts of Israel go into exile; still there is time to repent. Unfortunately, Northern Israel refuses to seek God. Hoshea becomes their last king in 732 B.C. His tenure leads to religious and political disaster. He does not cooperate with Assyria (17:4). Therefore, the Assyrians attack Northern Israel, lay siege to Samaria, and capture it in 722 B.C. Many Israelites are killed and enslaved. Others are deported to Assyria (17:6).
To summarize a bit then, Jehu dies in 814 B.C. There are several kings who serve between 814 B.C. and 722 B.C., the last of these is Hoshea, who serves between 732 to 722 B.C. In 722 B.C. Assyria defeats Northern Israel. They had already captured many persons and had really taken control of the region 10 years before in 732 B.C. But after 722 B.C. Northern Israel ceases to operate as a sovereign nation with its own king. They become completely a portion of the Assyrian empire.
Everything Moses and the prophets have warned about has come true, Israel’s idolatry, disregard of the covenant and the prophets, and participation in religious rites have angered God and led to their defeat. The prophets’ prediction of disaster have proven true (17:8-23). Of course, we can see that political mistakes were made, but it was spiritual errors that caused Israel’s downfall. Yahweh is the Lord of history. He is the covenant God of Israel. He is working out his purposes in history. He has asked Israel to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, and in general despite the witness of a minority embodied by Elijah and Elisha, a majority of people turn away from the Lord and He allows them to go into exile.
The Decline and Fall of Southern Israel (2 Kings 18–25)
2 Kings 18 to 25 describe the last years of Judah’s kingdom. There are two positive kings in this time: Hezekiah, who is highlighted in chapters 18 through 20, and Josiah, who is highlighted in chapters 22 and 23.
So before Judah disintegrates, two significant kings try to lead religious renewal. The first king is Hezekiah. He rules about 715 to 687 B.C. He has seen the destruction of the Northern kingdom. And he is a man who receives almost unqualified praise by the author of 1 and 2 Kings as one who avoids the mistakes of the Northern kings. 2 Kings 18:3-5 says his faith is like David’s for he worships only Yahweh and destroys all idols. In 18:6 says Hezekiah obeys Moses law. In 18:7 it says he refuses to pay money to Assyria and rejects their ownership of Judah.
His faithfulness does not bring him an easy life. Assyria leaves Jerusalem alone when they destroy Northern Israel but they invade Judah later and defeat every city in Judah except for Jerusalem. They lay the land completely waste. God spares Jerusalem, thus He spares David’s kingdom for a time. But Hezekiah is now king over very little. God provides an extraordinary miracle to deliver Jerusalem from Assyria’s hand. In fact, God strikes 185,000 soldiers from Assyria dead, according to 2 Kings 19. But David’s kingdom has been reduced to a tiny fragment. They have a faithful king. This king listens to the prophets. In fact, he calls upon the prophet Isaiah who listens to him and does what he tells him what to do. Nonetheless, Judah’s days are numbered.
Hezekiah dies is 687 B.C. and he is followed by his son Manasseh. This king rules until 642 B.C. And he is one of the worst kings in Israelite history. He leads the people to worship many idols. He builds altars to the gods that are represented by the stars. He engages in occult practices. He offers human sacrifices. The prophets warn him and he has them killed. The book of 2 Chronicles tells us that in his old age, Manasseh repents. This is wonderful news, at the same time the damage has been done to the nation. The country is in an awful state.
Josiah governs in Jerusalem from 640 to 609 B.C. He is only a boy when he becomes king. When he becomes a man he puts away all the idols that are in the land. He has the temple restored, refurbished, and put back in the shape that Moses and Solomon intended. He sends the news throughout the land that the people may worship again in Jerusalem. He does everything he can to restore the nation to worship of the one, true and living God. But the people never accept his reforms.The writer of 1 and 2 Kings finds no fault with his life and work but the people never accept his beliefs.
Josiah dies in 609 B.C. In the three years prior to that, Babylon who had always been a part of the Assyrian empire, but an unhappy part of the empire, was finally able to defeat the Assyrians and take over all of their territory and be free of their Assyrian overlords. It was in 609 B.C. when Josiah dies. The circumstances were that Egypt was trying to march through Judah to help defeat the Babylonians. For once, Assyria and Egypt are on the same side. Josiah engages the Egyptian army and is killed in a battle. Israel and Judah have lost their last good king.
From 609 to 587 B.C. the people have a series of kings. All of them fail to bring the people to the Lord. None of them is as dedicated to serving the Lord as Hezekiah and Josiah. By 605 B.C., Judah is dominated by Babylon. Babylon decides who will be king in Judah. And as a show of their strength, Babylon comes to Jerusalem and takes several captives. Among the exiles taken at this time include Daniel and his friends as we know them Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of Daniel 1 to 3.
God is trying to help Judah understand that their days are numbered if they do not repent. The prophet Jeremiah is trying in particular is trying to help them come to their senses. But they do not. In 597 B.C. Babylon comes again and takes more captives. This time they do so because there is rebellion in Judah against their rule. Among the exiles taken at this time Ezekiel was taken away into Babylon as Daniel had been in 605 B.C.
And finally in the last 10 years of the kingdom of Judah, Zedekiah serves as Judah’s last king. He rebels against Babylon and in 587 B.C. the Babylonians have had enough. They send their armies to Judah, conquer the land, come to Jerusalem, break down the city walls, tear down the temple, torch the entire place. Jerusalem is a ruin. 2 Kings 25 tells us of this terrible event. The book of Lamentations sings sorrowfully of what it means for the city and its nation to fall.
The reforming kings Hezekiah in chapters 18 to 20 and Josiah in chapters 22 and 23 are unable to bring the people back to the Lord. The prophet Isaiah, the prophet Jeremiah, and others, seek to preach to the people, write to the people, and try to help them come back to God but the people refuse. And so the covenant consequences outlined by Moses in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27 and 28 come to pass. Israel is out of the land; Judah is out of the land. All 12 tribes have suffered losses.
I should say some people remained. There were always Israelites left in the land. There were not 10 lost tribes of Israel, there were always some people living in the land. Not just in Judah and around Jerusalem and in Benjamin but also in the whole of the country of Israel, the former country of Israel. So there were always some people in the land. And yet many, many souls had been taken captive to a variety of places in the world.
In fact, the Israelites were scattered into Babylon and into Assyria in the north, and were scattered as far south as Egypt and Ethiopia. And they were everywhere else in between. And some remnants of them still in the land of promise. One has to ask at this stage, with the nation defeated, Israel no longer a nation, the temple destroyed, all the evidence of the kingdom of priests seems to be torn down.
All Is Not Lost (Deuteronomy 30)
But we need to remember another passage from Deuteronomy. We need to remember Deuteronomy 30:1ff. And I’d like to read just a few of these verses. This passage tells us that all is not lost with the people, Deuteronomy 30:1-6: “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call into mind all the nations where the Lord your God have driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey His voice in all that I command you today, with all of your heart, with all of your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you. And He will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If you are outcasts are in the outermost parts of the heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you and from there He will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed that you may possess it. And He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring so that you will love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all your soul that you may live.”
You see these six verses that I just read teaches that Moses knew that eventually the people would be driven from the land. But he also knew this – that the Lord will not be left without followers. That the promises to Abraham and to Moses and to David will come true. He said that when the people would wake up in the land where they had been driven and return to the Lord and to serve Him in a covenant relationship, that He would bring them back to the land. And that He would restore them. And so as we come to the end of 2 Kings, we need to know that already the Law has taught that even the loss of the land is not God’s final word for His people. That He can restore and He will restore. And we must simply wait as the Old Testament unfolds for this restoration.
Conclusion to the Former Prophets
But for now we have certain problems. We read about some of these in texts like Psalm 89 where it talks about how God has created the heavens and the earth and He has made a special relationship, a special covenant with Israel and then makes special promises to David, that David will have an eternal kingdom. But what of this eternal kingdom if there is no descendant of David on the thrown. What will God do? What of the promise that the people will be a kingdom of priests in the land? What of the witness of the Lord? What of the promise to Abraham that his descendants will be a blessing to all nations? What about Israel’s repentance and their desire to return to the land? How will these things unfold? These are questions that we are left with as we conclude the first half of the prophets section of the Old Testament.
As we finish these Former Prophets, as we come to the end of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings we have seen about 900 years of history. We have seen what happens in the history of Israel. How God keeps His promise to Abraham, brings the people into the land, fulfills the word of Moses that He will chose a place where the people will worship Him. Fulfills His promise that Israel will be a blessing to other nations. But yet fulfills the threats that said if Israel turns away from Him, that they cannot keep their land.
We have seen in these 900 years of history God’s truthfulness, God’s faithfulness. We have seen great unfaithfulness, by several, in fact most of the people of Israel. But we have seen great acts of faithfulness. We can remember Joshua and that generation. We can remember Deborah in her time. We can remember faithfulness of Samuel and of David at his best. Of Solomon at his best and Elijah and Elisha and Isaiah and Hezekiah and Josiah. Yes, there were faithful people in those days. And yet they were unsuccessful in stopping what was happening to the nation.