The book of 2 Kings is the continuation of the history of the divided nations of Israel and Judah. Here we are introduced to the ministry of the prophet Elisha, who follows Elijah (2 Kings 2). Elisha has a remarkable ministry, with twice as many miracles as God worked through Elijah (2:9). Interestingly, miracles are not that common, even in biblical history. The three main periods of miraculous signs and wonders occur during the times of Moses and Joshua, then Elijah and Elisha, and later, Jesus and the Apostles.
With Elijah, and Elisha, and the prophets to follow them, we have the period of prophetic activity in the OT. They are the loyal advocates for the Lord, sometimes giving encouragement and support to the current kings, but often speaking in opposition to them. The latter is more often the case, because nearly all the rulers of the northern kingdom (Israel) and many of the rulers of the southern kingdom (Judah) are unfaithful to their covenant relationship with the Lord. Most of these kings not only follow the nation into sin, but also lead the way into idolatry and injustice. The prophets’ job is to call them out, pronounce judgments, give promises, and point to the future reign of a righteous kingdom. Some of the later prophets left recorded writings, which we will read later, beginning with Isaiah and ending with Malachi.
The stories of Elisha foreshadow the ministry of our Lord Jesus: his kindness to marginalized individuals like a widow, the Shunamite woman, and Naaman the leprous Syrian. He works wonders, like raising a child from the dead, and multiplying food miraculously. He calls for faith, as when he tells Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan. Elisha dies in chapter 13, is buried, and later, his bones are the occasion of the resurrection of a man whose body was thrown into his tomb (13:21). As we read the OT we must try to be aware of the echoes we hear in the NT.
At this point we are given an encouraging word about God’s faithfulness to his covenant people: “But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now.” (13:23)
The history of the kings bounces back and forth between the kings of Judah (south; capital: Jerusalem) and the kings of Israel (north; capital: Samaria). Samaria will fall to the Assyrians (chapter 17) in 722 BC; and Jerusalem will fall to the Babylonians (chapter 25) in 586 BC. The historical books to follow, 1 and 2 Chronicles, will retell much of this same history, but with a focus upon Jerusalem, the temple and priesthood, and God’s work in the history of the nation.
One question that comes up as people read the Old Testament, is… why is there so much violence? How can God be a party to all the warfare, bloodshed, and violence that is depicted? Much has been written on this, but at least three things need to be emphasized:
1) Violence is a perennial aspect of our world, even today. We here in the West can sleep in safety and peace only because we have a good policing system at home and a strong military overseas, which keeps much violent conflict away from our own land. But people are not essentially any better now than then. If our system breaks down you will soon see chaos and violence in the streets. We post-moderns are certainly not as enlightened and peaceful as we think we are.
2) The conflicts and wars we see in the OT are designed to point us to a very real spiritual conflict behind all of life. See Ephesians 6:12. Good is constantly opposed by evil, righteousness is opposed by unrighteousness, and the true God is opposed by idols and false gods. This is the very real conflict which is behind much conflict we see today.
And 3) God is sovereign enough to use even wars, violence, and bloodshed, along with bad kings and evil rulers, to further his own good purposes in history. There will come a day when all weapons of violence will be put away, and all conflicts will end. As the prophet Micah wrote,
“He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.” (Micah 4:3-4 ESV)
Below is a handy chart made by Dr. Howard Hendricks many years ago to summarize the timeline of the OT and its books: