Lecture 19: 2 Kings
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: 2 Kings
Tonight we look at a period of time in which great materials are produced. The whole Book of Isaiah is produced during this time. Such a huge chunk of Isaiah looks forward to the time period after the exile that it is appropriate to look 2 Kings in connection with that time period. It is one of the grandest books of all Scripture and a huge prophetical book. We also look at Micah and Nahum and we are going to take a look at a small portion of 2 Kings and as well a small portion of Chronicles, mainly as a reflex compared to the material that we have in Kings. In so doing we trust that God will be with us. Let’s ask Him to do so by prayer.
Father we would love to have Your word better and clearer in our minds. We know that You know how to help that process. So we pray that you will be with us and that will grow in our ability to appreciate and use Your word for good purposes. We ask for Christ’s sake. Amen.
I. The Assyrian Empire
So there was an extensive Assyrian empire but it gets no further, no closer to Jerusalem and Judah or Israel than Damascus which is southwestern Syria. The empire of the Assyrians is not at first a big problem but in 640 BC, which is where our time period concludes tonight, the empire is across all habitable regions of the great Arabian Desert, fully including all of Syria, Israel, Judah, almost all of Egypt, parts of modern day Turkey, and a huge portion of what today would be Armenia. It is massive. That is a development that we contend with during this time period. A number of references that we make tonight, a number of things you read in the commentaries, things that you read about in the actual books that you look at are dealing with the significance of the rise of the Assyrian Empire.
II. Tiglath-Pileser III
Tiglath-Pileser III’s actual name in Assyrian meant “the Tigress River has provided an heir.” In the Bible he is called by just one syllable out of that name, Pul. It is a nice abbreviation because can you imagine his mother and all the time she would have to spend calling him home, “Tiglath-Pileser III, come for supper,” pretty soon it is cold. The empire is, to a considerable degree, launched into the domain of the Israelites, into the area that the Assyrians called “across the river” meaning across the Euphrates River and what we would call Palestine or Syria, Palestine, by this guy Tiglath-Pileser III.
A. Why Expand?
When he came to power in 748 he said, “We’re going to expand.” Why did people do that? What was going on in the minds of kings that would make them have this lust for land? Why did they want to grab more and more? The answer is, basically, that it was an economic consideration. When a king comes to power, if he wants to build new temples, they are going to be very expensive. If he wants to build new palaces, they are going to cost a lot of money. If he wants to have wealth for his people and do public works projects and dig new canals, all of it is expensive.
B. Tax, Toll and Tribute
Where do you get the money? You get money in the ancient world from tribute, tax, and tolls; the three T’s, tribute, tax and toll. We even have in a number of Biblical texts those three mentioned. They do not all have T’s in the Hebrew. Tribute is what money you can force another country to pay you every year. If you conquer a country you can say, “You’ve got a choice: I’ll kill you all or you can send a payment to my capital every year.” That was very popular. It was a great system. It was a kind of what you might call “protection money”. In American culture we have gangsters who go to a store and they say, “You have a choice, we’ll throw a brick through the window or you can give us thirty dollars a week,” so the store owner pays the thirty dollars a week for protection from the gang. It is like that.
Then also there was a regular taxation system. You know Jesus was born in Bethlehem because the Romans were taxing everybody. Joseph owned some property in Bethlehem because he is a descendent of David and that is David’s family town. They normally would be at home in Nazareth, meet with the tax collectors, and have their property surveyed. In that connection Jesus was born. That is what the Romans did just like everybody else before them had done it.
Then there is also a toll. Troops are garrisoned at key points on the roads. If you want to travel off the roads, good luck. It is very hard to travel in Palestine off the roads. So at narrow points on the roads, between hillsides that make it difficult to go around, military stations like tollbooths would collect money.
Basically what happens is a king wants to have the money for grand things and asks, how am I going to get it? He ends up just taking it from another country. The other countries do not like this. Naturally they want to fight and they will resist in every way that they can. The story of the Assyrian Empire is a story of conquering and then drawing back because you cannot keep enough occupation troops everywhere to do everything you might like and then countries eventually say, “Okay let’s give it a try. Let’s stop paying tribute, tax, and toll and see if we can get away with it.” If the original conquering empire is strong enough, back will come the troops and they will conquer you again. You get lots of these cycles. It is not behind the scenes; it just is not always super-visible unless you realize that it is why the Israelites are threatened by the Assyrians and why some of the events we will talk about tonight even happened. Tiglath-Pileser launches it and by 745 BC, three years into his reign, he already had begun the process of expanding his empire and his first military raids into Palestine, Israel, Judah, and other places as early as 745 BC.
Let’s look at 2 Kings where this kind of thing is described because we have not had a chance yet just to talk about 2 Kings as a book.
A. Elijah and Elisha
The first eight chapters are especially devoted to Elijah and Elisha. Elisha comes into the picture after Elijah who is all alone is very discouraged and Elisha is his first disciple and then gradually the mantel is moved over to Elisha who is his heir. In 2 Kings 2:9, Elisha asks an interesting thing of Elijah. Elijah asks, “what can I do for you before I am taken from you? I know that my life is short and you’re going to be my successor.” Elisha says to him, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” That is quite a statement to make. How do people get portions of God’s spirit? Could I have a single portion and somebody here have a double portion? Could somebody else have a double portion compared to that person, so it is a four-to-one ratio of that person to me spiritually? Is that the way the Holy Spirit works? Some people have thought so based on this passage. It is really, however, a misunderstanding of an idiomatic way of speaking about something. In ancient Israel the heir that is the heir, the oldest child in a family always got the double portion of whatever the parent was leaving to the children. If there were three children, the oldest would always get double what any of the others would get. The double portion is an idiomatic way of saying “inheritance”. I got my double portion or people might say, “Your dad is pretty old now, I suppose you will be coming into your double portion pretty soon, hey Ralphie?” and Ralphie might say, “Yeah, I’m going to miss my dad but he has put it aside for me.” That would be the way it would be spoken of.
What Elisha is really asking is, “May I inherit your ministry. May I, in fact, carry on your work, not just that I will succeed you as a prophet, but may I really step into your shoes?” Elijah says 2 Kings 2:10, “You’ve asked a difficult thing. Here is how you will know: if you see me when I’m taken from you it will be yours.” He is saying that this will be a sign from God telling you to carry on my ministry directly and unbroken, not just to have your own, but to carry on in my place exactly as my full heir. “If not,” he says, “if you don’t see me, you won’t be my heir. It does not mean you can’t be a prophet you just won’t be my heir.”
He does get to see him. He sees a fabulous thing; he sees a chariot and horses of fire appear and Elijah is taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha sees this he cries out, “My father, my father,” that is what the people called any prophet or teacher. He says, “The chariots and the horsemen of Israel.” He is so excited, he gets to see him go and he also gets to see a vision of Israel’s chariot. This is a great thing. It also means that he now will carry on the ministry of Elijah. How does this work? In particular, his ministry is endorsed by miracles. Actually, this is one of the closest parallels to Jesus Himself. If you look at the ministry of the Lord Jesus, all the Gospel writers will point out to you that He did so many miracles that many people said, “You just had to believe.” That happens with Nicodemus in John 3. He comes to Jesus, what does he say? He says, “Teacher we know You are sent from God because nobody could do all these miracles You do and not be sent from God.” That is what he says. So miracles are sometimes used by God to give credentials to somebody. I think this is the way it still works today. You may not need a miracle to convince the first congregation that you take, but some people in some places may. It is very interesting how that works. In some parts of missionary activity and so on, miracles seem to happen in greater numbers. They are things that give credit. They are ways that God shows, in affect, what kind of power He has and therefore uses through an individual.
Miracles are also a reminder of what heaven is like. Do not every forget that. The essence of a miracle is that it is a little bit of a glimpse into the wondrous things of eternal life. If someone is miraculously healed from an illness, everybody in heaven will be healed; there is no illness in heaven. The one sure thing you can say if you are a Christian is that all your illness will one day be healed, but it may not come until death and the transformation into heavenly existence. Once in a while God causes it to come in this time, in this place, and that is very exciting. Elisha can use some of those miracles just like Elijah could because it is a tuff situation they have got. These prophets are preaching to heterodox people who are worshipping idols in northern Israel and that is not easy. They have tons of opposition and are giving stern warnings that are not well-received. The miracles help to convince people: “I don’t like what he says, but how can you deny that he must be someone from God?”
B. Jehu Massacres Baal / Ashara Worshippers
Then a dramatic thing happens in chapter 9 and 10, a Yahwist northern king massacres everyone of the Baal and Ashara worshippers. It is a vast ad wild massacre. This is not necessarily the way to solve problems but he did it. It certainly shook up supporters of Baal and Ashara worship and increased a focus on Yahweh. Sadly it was a kind of brutally produced revival. Although it did not last long, it was certainly evidence of how strongly someone like Jehu felt he had to deal with the dominant Baal and Ashara worship that the government certainly advocated.
C. Focus on Kings of Judah
Then the focus is more on the kings of Judah in chapters 11 to 14.
D. Destruction of the North
In 15 to 17 is recorded the destruction of the north. It is captured by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Its population is partly exiled and partly replaced. You can read in 2 Kings 17 about that replacement, how people from all over other places in the Assyrian Empire were, by a king named Asherbanapal, relocated into what then became known as Samaria. That is, of course, where the issue of the Samaritans and the Jews in New Testament times comes from. These Samaritans living in the north were neither ethnically nor religiously pure Jews. They had many strange notions and doctrines, and they were what we would regard today as a cult. The Judeans, the Jews, regarded the Samaritans as members of a cult and did not even want to associate with them and a lot of what happens in the New Testament relative to the Samaritans is against that background.
E. Hezekiah, Manasseh, Josiah
The chapters that we partially look at tonight, 18 to 25, is a chunk of material in which Judah continues on for a whole century and a half. Three kings stand out in this century and a half, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Manasseh. What is fascinating is that Manasseh is right in the middle. I listed the two good guys first then Manasseh second. If you think about it, you have a good king Hezekiah and he institutes a number of reforms. Some of that is what Isaiah helps to inspire and encourage. Then a terrible king after him, Manasseh, who has the longest reign of any Israelite or Judean king. He had a fifty-five year reign; so the worst guy reigned the longest. Then you have Josiah, the last good guy in chapters 22 and 23.
F. Fall of Jerusalem to Babylonians
Then comes the story of the fall of Jerusalem in chapter 25 and there it is the Babylonians. It was the Assyrians who captured the north but the Babylonians have taken over the Assyrian Empire and extended it by the time 2 Kings is over. If you have a big enough appetite and a big enough risk-taker you can say, “Let’s not just conquer some small nations, let’s swallow up this huge empire that we’ve been paying tribute, tax, and toll to. That is basically what the Babylonians did. It took years; it was a terrible struggle for almost a whole decade of bitter fighting but they succeeded in capturing that empire. That is a little overview of 2 Kings and what is going on. The northern Israel is gone and there is only one southern tribe, Simian and Judah together had kind of merged but it is all just called Judah after a while, that is the remainder of the still independent, still functioning and worshipping people of God.