Comments on the Second Book of Kings
The second book of Kings continues the history of the two separated kingdoms, Judah and Israel. with the prophet Elisha replacing Elijah as God's witness. both of truth and grace. Other prophets also witnessed and suffered for their faithfulness. In the books of Kings special prominence is given to the ministry of prophets, in contrast to the books of Chronicles. where the priests and Levites are more often noticed. This is consistent with the fact that Kings deals specially with the government of God as the true Ruler over the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, while the books of Chronicles more particularly emphasise the grace of God. For this reason the ten tribes (Israel) are more prominently seen in the books of Kings, while much more is said of Judah in the books of Chronicles.
No believing king is found in Israel, though in Judah there were some. Yet even in Judah there was not one king who had a really bright end to his life. Hezekiah might have hid if he had died when the Lord first told him he would, but he spoiled it when the Lord allowed him 15 years extra. Jotham had a relatively good reign, but he did not banish the high places of worship.
AHAZIAH'S FALL AND DEATH (Ch.1:1-18)
Verse 1 reports that after Ahab's death Moab rebelled against Israel. As to this, chapters 3 and 4:27 give us a full account. Ahaziah, king of Israel, suffered a fall in his own home in Samaria and was badly injured. Because he had no knowledge of the God of Israel, he sent messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the idolatrous god of Ekron, if he would recover from this serious injury (v.2).
But God intervened by sending Elijah to intercept the messengers with the question, "Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?" Then he adds the solemn pronouncement that Ahaziah would not leave his bed, but die (v.4). Elijah simply gave this message and left.
The messengers therefore knew it was futile to go to the god of Ekron and they returned to Ahaziah, telling him of the man who met them and of his message from the God of Israel (v.6). In questioning them, about the man, he realised that he was Elijah the Tishbite (vv.7-8), who had given his father a similar fateful message which had proven true (1 Ki.21:19).
Ahaziah therefore sent a captain with fifty men to apprehend Elijah. What he intended to do with Elijah is not clear, but Elijah's arrest would certainly not avert the death of Ahaziah, who ought to have been concerned about his relationship to God now that death threatened him. Elijah was found sitting oil the top of a hill (v.9), and the captain arrogantly cold him. "Man of God, the king has said, Come down!" But the poor man had to learn that in dealing with God, it is utmost folly to adopt a haughty attitude. Elijah replied, "If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men" (v.10). This fearful judgment fell immediately and his whole company was destroyed. Such an act of God ought to have been warning enough to Ahaziah, yet he sent another captain with fifty men. This captain was just as arrogant, using the same words, but adding the word "quickly" to his demand (v.11). Elijah answered him just as he had answered the first captain, and with the same disastrous results (v.12).
Ahaziah learned nothing from these two fearful occasions. and he sent another captain with fifty men. This captain at least was more sensible, realising that a humble attitude rather than an arrogant one was the only way to act as before the God of Israel. He fell on his knees before Elijah. pleading for his life and for the life of his men in view of his knowing of the other groups having been burned to death (vv.13-14).
God always honours such an attitude as this, and the angel of the Lord told Elijah to go down with the captain and have no fear. Elijah therefore went, not to prison, but to the king (v.15). Before the king he delivered the same message he had before sent to Ahaziah. Because Ahaziah had recognised no God in Israel, and desired to inquire of a false god, therefore the God of Israel had passed sentence that Ahaziah would die in his bed (v.16).
Ahaziah could certainly not change anything by making Elijah suffer, so Elijah was evidently free to leave after delivering his message. His words were soon fulfilled by the death of Ahaziah. who sadly showed no sign of repentance toward God. He had no son, so his brother, Jehoram, became king of Israel. This took place in the second year of another Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, who ruled in Judah (v.17). Other acts of Ahaziah are said to be recorded in the chronicles of the kings of Israel.
Though in 1 Kings 19:21 we read of Elisha following Elijah and becoming his servant, yet Elisha is not mentioned as identified with Elijah when Elijah later gave messages to Ahab (1 Ki.21:17-19) and to Ahaziah (2 Ki.1:3-17). But when God is about to take Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven, both Elijah and Elisha are seen together (v.1). They are seen first at Gilgal, the place where the men of Israel were circumcised, speaking of the judgment of sin in the flesh.
Elijah asked Elisha to wait at Gilgal because the Lord had sent him (Elijah) to Bethel (v.2). But if one has learned the lesson of Gilgal with its negative self-judgment, and has opportunity to go to Bethel ("the house of God"), should this not be far more attractive to him? More than this, Elisha wanted to be where his master was (v.2). Do we have the purpose of heart to be firm in, not leaving our Lord?
At Bethel there were sons of the prophets who had received information from some source, so that they asked Elisha if he knew the Lord would take away Elisha from him that day. He responded, "Yes, I know; keep silent!" These sons of the prophets were not prophets themselves, but living on their fathers' reputation, and Elisha knew their words were without the conviction of faith.
Again Elijah asked Elisha to wait at Bethel since the Lord had sent him to Jericho. Bethel was some distance from Gilgal, and it would be just as great a distance back to Jericho. Why did God give Elijah such a journey? The spiritual significance of this must be the answer Gilgal speaks of Israel's initial relationship with God, when sin in the flesh is judged. Bethel shows Israel's relationship to God in the closeness of communion with Him that is indicated in being in His house. Now Jericho is to remind Elijah of God's victory over evil on behalf of His people, as seen in Joshua 6.
Elisha was just as firm this time as he was before in saying he would not leave Elijah. There is good spiritual instruction in this. Elijah's ministry had been specially that of righteousness calling for judgment an evil, while Elisha in his ministry emphasises the grace of God. These two ministries are not to be separated. When grace is preached, it must not ignore righteousness. John the Baptist emphasised God's righteousness insisting on repentance. When Christ came preaching grace, He fully justified John and his ministry, though He went beyond John in His matchless ministry of grace.
The sons of the prophets at Jericho met Elisha with the same words as those at Bethel had done, and Elisha answered as he had before, "Yes I know; keep silent! (v.5) If the sons of the prophets were speaking for God, Elisha would certainly not have silenced them, but as is true with many preachers today, they were merely repeating what they had heard from someone else.
For the third time Elijah asked Elisha to wait, for the Lord had sent him to Jordan. Elijah may have intended this as a test for Elisha, and Elisha passed the test, showing a lovely, firm decision of faith (v.6). The Jordan illustrates another step in Israel's relationship with God, for it speaks of death. Israel had passed through that river when the waters were rolled back (Josh.3:15-17) To properly learn the lesson of death, we must be brought to recognise that it is really a great blessing for the believer, for it brings him into the greatest joys possible.
Fifty sons of the prophets were interested to see what would happen, and stood some distance away, but had not the faith to be identified with Elijah as Elisha was. When they arrived at Jordan, Elijah rolled up his mantle and struck the water with it (v.8). Amazingly, the waters were divided, so that the two or them walked over on dry ground. The power of death thus yielded to a higher power, for the mantle speaks of the Spirit of God by whom the believer triumphs over death through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor.15:54-57). Elijah, knowing he was to be taken away, asked Elisha what he might do for him first. Elisha desired only a double portion of Elijah's spirit. This was a hard thing, Elijah said, but would be done if Elisha saw him when he was taken (vv.9-10)
Then God performed an astounding miracle. A chariot of fire with horses of fire appeared, separating Elijah from Elisha, and Elijah was caught up by a whirlwind into heaven (v.11) What a sight for Elisha! How could he ever forget it? Deeply affected, he cried out, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!". More than this, he tore his clothes in, two, symbolising self-judgment and repentance, for he knew himself to be unworthy of being the servant of God.
Also he took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him. The mantle speaks of the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that had been on Elijah, but when passed on to Elisha there was a double portion involved. This speaks of the two-fold power of the Spirit of God, giving ministry to Elisha that added the truth of God's grace to the ministry of righteousness. Thus, "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (Jn.1:17)
This history of Elijah's translation corresponds to that of John the Baptist being replaced by the Lord Jesus. For John was the same type of prophet as Elijah (Lk.1:17), beginning a work that could only be completed by the Lord Jesus, in whom there is a double portion of the Spirit of God. Thus Elisha is a type of Christ, but specially of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col.1:27). In fact, Elijah's translation also reminds us of the ascension of Christ to glory, who has shed forth His Spirit on the Church of God, so that we might be His representatives in ministering grace and truth to the world around us.
Returning to the Jordan, Elisha used the mantle to strike the water, at the same time saying, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" (v.14). The answer to his question was immediately given, for the waters were again divided for Elisha to pass over. The Lord God of Elijah was with Elisha.
The sons of the prophets who had come from Jericho recognised immediately that the spirit of Elijah was resting on Elisha, and they bowed to him (v.15). However, they showed a woeful lack of discernment by asking Elisha to let 50 strong men of the sons of the prophets go and search for Elijah in case the Spirit of the Lord had dropped him somewhere! Why did they not stop to think that since the Spirit of God was upon Elisha, Elisha could find out simply enough if Elijah was on earth. Their words lacked any thought of direction from God. But they had told Elisha the Lord would take Elijah away. Where was the faith to believe what they had said? If we speak messages for God, let it be with the firm conviction that God has spoken.
Elisha told them not to send anyone. Yet they foolishly urged him to allow them to go. So he gave them their way (v.17), as God sometimes does in order that people may learn by experience what they ought to learn by His Word. They therefore wasted three days in their fruitless search, so that then Elisha reminds them of their folly in not accepting his word to begin with (v.18).
MIRACLES OF GRACE AND OF JUDGMENT (vv.19-25)
Though Jericho was the city God had cursed (Josh.6:17) and the men of the men of the city tell Elisha the water is bad and the ground barren (v.19), yet Since Elisha is a type of Christ, he brings the grace that can overcome the curse. He asked for a new bowl requiring that salt be put into it. The new bowl speaks of new creation setting the old aside. The salt pictures righteousness in contrast to the unrighteousness that had incurred the curse of Jericho. Elisha threw the salt into the source of the water and the water was healed. Besides this the Lord said there would be no more barrenness. This miracle is typical of the coming millennial age, when the Lord will heal the land of Israel, to be a land fit for a renewed people. Thus, the first of Elisha's miracles is one of grace.
However, grace does not ignore righteousness. As Elisha left Jericho to go co Bethel, some youths of the city, who had no doubt heard of the translation of Elijah, but were sceptics, accosted him with taunting words, "Go up, you baldhead!" (v.23). This was plain mockery of the fact of Elijah's translation, just as today there are those who make a mockery of the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus. This is one evil that God will not tolerate. Elisha was no weakling. He turned and pronounced a curse on these youths in the name of the Lord. They would hardly be prepared for having two female bears come out of the woods to maul 42 of them! Whether any of them were killed we are not told, but if not killed they would not forget a lesson like that!
Thus, the first two miracles of Elisha illustrate the double portion of Elijah's spirit, showing the ministry of grace and the ministry of righteous government, which are not contrary to one another, but rather complementary of each other.
JEHORAM, JEHOSHAPHAT AND MOAB (vv.1-27)
Jehoram, Ahab's son, reigned, over Israel 12 years and followed the sinful example of Jereboam, though not doing so wickedly as Ahab, for he got rid of the idolatrous pillar of Baal that Ahab had made.
Moab had been put under tribute to Israel, the Israelites requiring from Moab 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams, regularly, no doubt every year (v.4). But when Ahab died the king of Moab rebelled against Israel, evidently refusing to render the yearly tribute (v.5).
Jehoram therefore prepared to attack Moab, but feeling some inadequacy, wanted the help of Judah, a stronger company. Just as Ahab had asked Jehoshaphat to help him in battle, so Jehoram asked him the same (v.7).
Why had Jehoshaphat not learned from his previous experience? But believers too easily allow their kindly feelings to lead them into wrong situations, and Jehoshaphat yielded, compromising himself, his people and his armies. The more prominent one is, the more harm he will do by his bad example. Israel was engaged in the false worship of idols, and Jehoshaphat's friendliness with Jehoram was unfaithfulness to God.
While Jehoshaphat's agreement to go with the king of Israel to fight against Moab was a serious compromise of any devotion to God, yet the Lord bears with much that is not according to His will. The question is asked, "Which way shall we go up," and the answer was "By way of the wilderness of Edom" (v.8). Edom is a type of the flesh, so they go up by way of the barrenness of the flesh, a contrast to being led by the Spirit of God. No wonder that, after seven days' march they found no water either for themselves or their animals. The flesh can provide no true refreshment. Having not been led by God, what else could they expect? Jehoram was stricken by apprehension. How could he say that the Lord had called these kings together? (v.10). He had not consulted the Lord, nor had Jehoshaphat.
But Jehoshaphat at least now recognised their need of the Lord, and asked if there was a prophet of the Lord available to be consulted (v.11). It so happened that Elisha was in the area, so Jehoshaphat, Jehoram and the king of Edom (who had evidently joined them) went to Elisha (v.12). That prophet had a biting message for Jehoram, asking him why he did not go to the idolatrous prophets of his father and mother (v.13). No doubt Jehoram realised that those prophets could do no good in a case of serious emergency, and he told Elisha these three kings were in imminent danger of being overcome by Moab.
Elisha responded by telling him that if Jehoshaphat had not been with him, Elisha would have no regard whatever for Jehoram (v.14). God does make a difference between believers and unbelievers, though at this time Elisha did not reprove Jehoshaphat for his friendliness with Jehoram. Yet Jehoshaphat should surely have had serious twinges of conscience when he heard Elisha's wards.
Because the whole situation was a compromising one, Elisha asked for a musician (v.18). A disturbed spirit need the soothing ministry of the Word of God (of which the music speaks) to find the quietness of the Lord's presence. As the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha, and he gave the Lord's message, "Make this valley full of ditches" (v.16). Though they would not observe wind or rain, yet those ditches would be filled with water for the men and animals to drink. More than this, the Lord said He would also deliver the Moabites into their hands (v.18). He would show His faithful care for Israel, His people, in spite of their low and disobedient condition.
Because Moab stands for what is opposed to the character of the God of Israel, Israel is told to attack every city of Moab, cut down every good tree, stop up every spring of water and ruin, every good piece of land with stones (v.19). Moab is typical of the principle of religious self indulgence. "Moab has been at ease from his youth; he has settled all his dregs, and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into captivity. Therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed" (Jer.48:11). This principle must be zealously destroyed by Israel.
But Israel ought to have learned by this not to be like Moab in any way. Indeed, Israel's practices had too sadly followed the practices of Moab, so that Moab was an object lesson. If the principle of evil should be judged, then certainly the practices should be also.
As the Lord had promised, the next morning the land was filled with water (v.20), coming at the time the meal offering was offered. Thus the thirst of men and animals also was relieved. But the water served a two-fold purpose. As the Moabites came to fight against Israel, the early morning sun shining on the water made it appear as red as blood (v.22). The Moabites knew that this was not an area where water was normally found, and concluded they were observing blood, thinking it was the blood of their enemies, apparently shed in fighting against one another (v.23). Thus, expecting no opposition, they approached to take the spoil.
What a surprise for them to find themselves attacked by the armies they thought were dead! Moab fled before Israel and many of their troops were killed. Israel entered the land of Moab and destroyed their cities. They covered every good piece of land with stones, stopped up the springs of water and cut down all the good trees (v.25). How effective this would prove in disturbing the smug self-satisfaction of Moab, having "been at ease from his youth"! Moab would be left with hard work rather than ease.
The king of Moab, being desperate, took 700 swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they were repulsed. Being thus frustrated, the king of Moab took his oldest son and offered him as a burnt offering to his idolatrous god, as though this foolish measure would change the tide of war! But such is the folly of unbelief. It is added, "there was great indignation against Israel" (v.27). Israel had gained the victory and had slaughtered many Moabites, but did this encourage the Moabites to again render tribute to Israel? Nothing is said about this, but if tribute was resumed, it would certainly be resumed grudgingly.
THE WIDOW'S OIL (vv.1-7)
The history of the Kings is again interrupted to make way for the ministry of Elisha. The bad example of the kings had brought about poverty in the land, and God provided grace in the ministry of Elisha the prophet to meet this condition of poverty.
The sons of the prophets were not always dependable men. A widow of one of these men pled with Elisha for help because her deceased husband had not provided for his family and the creditor wanted to take his two sons as slaves (v.1). How striking is the spiritual lesson in this case. A son of a prophet should surely provide for his family the spiritual food they need, yet there are many who are not feeding on the good things of the Word of God, so that they are in danger of becoming merely in bondage to law rather than enjoying the pure grace of God. When the grace of God has been neglected, the tendency always is to revert back to a legal standard which is bondage to law-keeping. This condition has greatly infected Christendom today.
Elisha asked the widow, "what do you have in the house? (v.2). She answered that she had "nothing in the house but a pot of oil." She had no idea of the resources in a pot of oil. For the oil speaks of the Spirit of God. If we see great lack, great weakness in the Church, the house of God, today, do we not remember that the Spirit of God is still in God's house? Is this a small thing?
What then do we need? Only vessels that may be filled with the Spirit. But they must be emptied of all else, so as to be filled with God's Spirit. Elisha tells the widow to borrow empty vessels from her neighbours (v.3), and in private pour out the oil into all the vessels (v.4). No matter how much failure and departure has impoverished the Church of God, the Spirit of God is still abundantly sufficient to bring blessing to every empty vessel who is submitted to the Lord.
The vessels were borrowed, just as we are not our own, for we are the Lord's. All the vessels that were brought were filled, and when no more vessels were available, the oil ceased (v.6).
The woman then came and told Elisha what had taken place (v.7). So we too should seek the Lord's presence to enjoy sharing with Him the blessing that results from simple obedience to His Word. Elisha told her to sell the oil and pay her debt, then she and her sons were to live of what remained. Thus, the Spirit of God provides the resources by which we can pay our debt to all men, - a debt of love that seeks the eternal blessing of others (Rom.13:8). The Spirit also provides the resources for living a life pleasing to God (Gal.5:16-18).
THE WOMAN OF SHUNEM (vv.8-37)
We have seen in the multiplying of the widow's oil the grace of God coming into circumstances where there was great failure and need in Israel. Now in this section the woman of Shunem is a beautiful example of the fact that there was still in Israel a remnant characterised by genuine faith. When Elisha came to Shunem this notable woman invited him to a meal in her home (v.8), so that her hospitality encouraged him to stop there whenever he passed that way.
Thus, by frequent contact she perceived that Elisha was a holy man of God. She wisely took time to learn this, but then her hospitality became genuine love for the man of God. Not content with having him eat with them on occasion, she asked her husband that they should build on their house a small upstairs room for Elisha to lodge in when he came. Her genuine subjection to her husband was such that he willingly accepted her suggestion, though he did not evidently have the same energy of faith as she had (v.23).
Though they were in good circumstances, she did not ask for a richly furnished room for Elisha. She knew that the prophet would not want this, but would appreciate the simple furnishings she suggested; a bed, speaking of rest, so necessary for a man of God; a table, signifying communion or fellowship; a stool (or chair) symbolising learning, such as "sitting at the feet of Jesus;" and a lampstand, which pictures testimony (v.10). These were simple necessities, but ample for a servant of the Lord.
Elisha appreciated this kindness and care on the part of the woman, just as the Lord Jesus values the faith of believers who desire His comfort and His presence. When he came to the house to rest, he told Gehazi, his servant, to call this Shunamite woman. Then expressing his appreciation of her kindness, he asked what he could do for her. "Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?" (v.13). How many people would take eager advantage of such an opportunity! But not her. She simply replied, "I dwell among my own people." She was content with the blessing the Lord had given her. How good it is too if we are content with the fellowship of the saints of God. Such faith is of true value.
When the Shunamite woman indicated she was not interested in material rewards, Elisha questioned Gehazi, "What then is to be done for her?" Gehazi knew that in Israel it was a reproach for a couple to have no children, and he told Elisha that she had no son and her husband was old (v.14). This situation would require more than the patronage of the king or commander of the army. It would require God's intervention, and Elisha had the simple confidence that God would indeed intervene.
In having the Shunamite woman called again, Elisha told her that about the same time the next year she would embrace a son (v.16). This was far more than the woman could have imagined, and she protested that his words seemed false. No doubt she had deeply desired a son, but had come to the point of being content without him. Is it not often true that when we learn to be content without something for which we have yearned, the Lord then allows us to have what we desired? Thus, the spirit of being content with what God gives will bear unexpected fruit.
A year later Elisha's words came true: the woman gave birth to a son (v.17). We are not told how she felt then, but the following history shows how greatly she treasured her son.
It would be four or five years later perhaps that the boy went into a field to his father, where harvest was in progress. Likely it was a hot day and the boy complained of pain is his head, which may have been from sunstroke. His father knew he needed his mother, and had a servant carry him to her (v.19). She held him in her arms briefly, then he died.
In laying her son's body on the bed of Elisha (v.21) she was virtually commending her sorrow to Elisha, just as we are told to "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you" (Ps.55:22). She knew she herself could do nothing for her son now. But she was purposed to get to the man of God as soon as possible. She asked her husband for a donkey and a servant so that she might go to Elisha and return. It may seem strange that she said nothing to her husband about their son's death, but in this case it was the man of God she needed, not her husband. There are some things we may not feel free to share with the closest relative, but must take them only to the Lord Jesus.
Her husband questioned why she should go to the man of God when is was not a special religious day. He was like many formal type Christians who think Christianity is good for only certain days. But every believer should realise he needs Christ for every day of his life. In this case also the woman had a deeply serious need, but she only answered her husband, "It is well" (v.23). Thus she shows the lovely submission of genuine faith. Though her heart was breaking, her, self-restraint is beautiful. She told the servant, "Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you" (v.24). This firm, decided purpose of the woman surely speaks to us as to whether we have the same definite purpose of heart in getting to the Lord as soon as possible with our problem.
As she approached Mount Carmel Elisha saw her in the distance, and told Gehazi to run to meet her and ask if it was well with her, her husband and her child (v.26). But it was not the servant she wanted, and she answered him briefly, "It is well." It was her faith that moved her to say this, not any thought of deception.
How different was her attitude when she came to the man of God! She held him by the feet (v.22). This was the clinging dependence of one in deep distress of soul. Gehazi came to push her away, but Elisha said, "Let her alone." This surely reminds us of Mary of Bethany when she anointed the feet of Jesus (Jn.12:3). Judas objected to her doing this, and the Lord Jesus told him, "Let her alone." Just as Gehazi did not understand the distress of soul that troubled the Shunamite woman, so Judas could not appreciate the adoration of the Lord Jesus that Mary expressed in her anointing Him, Elisha knew there was something deeply troubling the woman.
Then out of the anguish of her heart she asked him, "Did I ask a son of my ford? Did I not say, do not deceive me?" (v.28). Immediately Elisha knew the child had died, and he told Gehazi to take Elisha's staff, with his undivided attention being focused on laying that staff on the boy's face. He was not to linger even to greet anyone on the way or to respond to anyone's greeting. Elisha's staff is symbolical of the law of God. But what could the law do, even in a servant's hands or in the hands of religious Pharisees? The law could tell a living person how to live, but what of a dead person? In the Old Testament the law was given opportunity to give life if it could, but it only proved people to be dead in sins, just as the staff on the boy's face did nothing.
The woman showed beautifully too that she had no faith either in the servant or the staff, but her faith in the man of god remained steadfast. How it must have refreshed Elisha to hear her words, the same words he himself had uttered to Elijah in Chapter 2:2,4,6. She would not leave Elisha.
At the insistence of the woman of Shunem, Elisha willingly went with her, though Gehazi had gone before. In coming back, Gehazi could only report that the child had not awakened, just as the law can only confirm the fact that mankind is dead in sins. Elisha in coming in to the child, shut the door and prayed. The actual bringing to life of the child was not to be witnessed by anyone. Then Elisha lay on the child, with his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hand on his hand (v.34). How clearly this shows us that life can only come from life. In picture, the Lord puts His mouth on our mouth, breathing in the breath of life, that will have pure effect on what we speak. His eyes on our eyes speak of light coming from His eyes to enlighten ours. His hands on our hands pictures the work of His hands giving to our hands the ability to work for Him. Elisha stretching himself on the child speaks of the energy the Lord expends to give life to us.
The flesh of the child became warm. Was he alive? Yes indeed! But Elisha, after walking back and forth in the house, came again to repeat what he had done. Though life was in the child, the full vigour of life was lacking, so that the second action of Elisha was necessary to produce "life more abundantly" (Jn.10:10). The child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. The sneezing speaks of the fact that life has power in itself to clear the channels of life, just as sneezing clears the channels of the respiratory system. The seven times speaks of the completeness of the work done. The Lord does not make us barely alive, but brings us to a state of enjoying the full vigour of life.
Elisha then told Gehazi to call the woman, and he simply said to her, "Pick up your son" (v.30). His heart was so full he did not trust himself to say more, and her heart was so full she could say nothing, but she bowed at his feet to the ground, took up her son and went out (v.37). They understood one another perfectly. But now the woman had learned, not only of the grace and power of God in giving life, but that same grace and power in resurrection life. In fact, Shunem means "double rest," and this dear woman had learned this double rest in the birth of her son and in his resurrection.
POISON BANISHED FROM THE POT OF STEW (vv.38-41)
Elisha, coming to Gilgal, found a famine in the land. The sons of the prophets were gathered before him, evidently to be taught. Food was a necessity, just as spiritual food is for us, so Elisha told his servant to boil stew in a large pot for the sons of the prophets. One of the sons of the prophets, desiring to be helpful, went out to gather herbs and found a wild vine, from which he brought a large number of gourds, slicing them into the pot. But he did not know the gourds were poisonous (v.39), just as too many Christians lack discernment of harmful teachings and accept them without question. There are many glaring false doctrines that Christians would generally immediately refuse, but some other doctrines do not seem so bad, yet are seriously evil, such as the denial of the eternal Sonship of Christ, or the claiming that Christ could have sinned (though He did not sin).
When the men tasted the stew, they cried out to Elisha, "There is death in the pot" (v.40). They could not eat it as it was, just Christians cannot assimilate false doctrine without serious consequences.
But Elisha knew the remedy He told them to bring flour (or meal) (v.41). This reminds us of the meal offering which speaks of the Lord Jesus in the absolute perfection of His Manhood, with every particle of the flour denoting some precious virtue of His character. His Manhood was infinitely more marvellous than that of any other man, for He had no part in the sinful nature that all others had inherited from Adam. Thus, a right regard for the perfection of the glory of the Lord Jesus will effectively banish every evil doctrine.
FOOD MULTIPLIED (vv.42-44)
Evidently the famine was still causing a food shortage when a man came from Baal Shalisha, bringing twenty barley loaves and newly ripened grain to Elisha. The loaves were no doubt the size of a roll or bun. It seems the man brought these as a present to the man of God. But Elisha did not put these away for himself. He instructed his servant to give them to the people (v.42). The servant objected that this amount of food was nothing for 100 men. But Elisha insisted that he do what he was told, for he said, "They shall eat and have some left over" (v.43). Thus the Lord miraculously multiplied the provision so that all ate and had food left over. How much greater was the multiplication when the Lord Jesus fed 5000 men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two small fish! (Jn.6:8-13). At that time 12 baskets were left over.
Thus, verses 38-41 show that the quality of the food was ordered by Elisha (typically Christ) and verses 42-44 indicate that Elisha (Christ) provides the quantity of food.
NAAMAN THE LEPER HEALED (vv.1-19)
The history continues in this chapter to focus attention, not on the kings, but on Elisha the man of God. When the kings had failed so badly the Lord used a prophet as the real connection between Himself and the people. This was pure grace, as the chapter concerning Naaman shows. Naaman was not an Israelite, but a Syrian army commander. He was indeed an apt candidate for the grace of God, for though he was a great man in the world's eyes, he was afflicted with the loathsome disease of leprosy (v.1), a figure for sin that afflicts all mankind.
The Syrians had captured a young girl of Israel who was made a slave of Naaman's wife (v.2). It would be natural that she should be bitter and resentful against Naaman since she was taken from he own home and family, but the knowledge of God had evidently taken possession of her heart, for she showed kind concern for Naaman in desire that he might be cured of his leprosy, telling her mistress that if only Naaman were with the prophet in Samaria (Elisha) he would be healed (v.3). This was remarkable faith, for there were none in Israel who had been healed of leprosy (Lk.4:27). Thus, her confidence was not in the healing, but in Elisha, just as we should have confidence in the Lord Jesus personally, rather than in the blessing He might bring.
In spite of the insignificance of the messenger (the girl), Naaman was impressed enough to tell the king of Syria what he had heard (v.4). The king of Syria, naturally thinking that if anyone in Israel could heal sickness, it must be the king of Israel, then sent with Naaman a letter to the king of Israel, together with silver and gold and clothing. The letter was clear in demanding that the king would cure Naaman of his leprosy.
The king of Israel was shocked when he read the letter, and thought that Syria was only seeking an occasion to engage in war with Israel (v.7). Was he God, to kill or make alive?
Elisha heard of the king of Israel's predicament and sent word to him to send Naaman to Elisha and he would know there was a prophet in Israel. Of course the king of Israel willingly did this, and Naaman with his horses and chariot came to Elisha's door (v.9).
Elisha did not even come out to see Naaman, but simply sent a message to him. "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean" (v.10). But Naaman considered this an insult and in furious anger went away. He is a picture of many unbelievers who do not believe in the simplicity of the gospel of the grace of God, and become angry when told they can only be cleansed from their sins (which leprosy pictures) by grace, accepting the Lord Jesus as the One who went into the waters of death for them. Did Elisha not realise that Naaman was a great man? Should he not have had the respect for Naaman that would lead him to come to Naaman himself instead of sending a messenger? Why did he not come out and put on a suitable display of at least waving his hands over the leprosy and heal it?
More than this, there were rivers in Samaria, his own city, that were better than this muddy little Jordan River (v.12). Why could he not at least choose his own river? There are many like Naaman who object to God's simple plain gospel because it humbles the pride of man. The Jordan River is the river of death, flowing as it does into the Dead Sea, from which there is no outlet. Naaman was virtually told to wash in the death of Christ, which is the only way of salvation. The seven times was a test of his submission. Seven is the number of completeness, and therefore Naaman was called upon to completely submit to the Lord in self-judgment.
However, Naaman had servants who were wise, and they greatly pled with him to change his mind, reasoning with him that if he had been told to do something great, would he not have done it? Why not then do the simple thing he had been told?
Notice the number of means the Lord used to humble the great man. First, a little slave girl's message, then being sent to a lowly prophet rather than the king, then also a messenger sent to tell him to wash seven times in Jordan; then his servants pleading with him to change his mind, and finally his dipping in Jordan seven times. Those things were all humbling, but led to Naaman's great blessing.
As he was told, he went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times. After each time he would look at his leprosy and find no change whatever until the seventh time. But then, what an amazing change! The leprosy was gone and his flesh restored like that of a little child (v.14). Beautiful picture of new birth! If Naaman had only known the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 18:3, how he would have delighted in the truth of them! - "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." Not only was his flesh like that of a little child, but his attitude was changed to that of a little child. He returned to Elisha in true humility, giving every credit to the God of Israel, expressing his deep appreciation to the man of God (v.15).
Naaman was so deeply appreciative of his healing from leprosy that he wanted Elisha to receive a gift to express his appreciation. He had come with willingness to pay for his healing. Now he had gotten this freely, so he simply desired to show his appreciation by a large gift to Elisha.
Elisha answered, "As the Lord lives before whom I stand, I will receive nothing" (v.16). Even receiving a gift after such grace shown, would not rightly represent the God whom Elisha served. He wanted the Gentile to learn that the blessing of God is absolutely and only by grace. Though Naaman urged him to receive it, Elisha refused. What a lesson for every servant of God!
Then Naaman made the request that he might take two mules' loads of earth from Israel, which he would use to make an altar of earth to the Lord (Ex.20:24), for he would in the future offer sacrifices only to the Lord, and no longer to idols. Already also, his conscience troubled him as regards his role in accompanying his master, the king of Syria, into the temple of Rimmon. He was required to go there, but would be an unwilling participant in this idolatrous worship, so he expressed the desire to Elisha that the Lord would pardon him for this (v.18).
Elisha however neither forbade him to go into the temple of Rimmon, nor encouraged him to do so. He would not put him under bondage, but gave him the encouragement of God, saying only, "Go in peace." This matter was left to Naaman's own faith and conscience. We don't know how the matter turned out. Naaman might have explained his conscientious concerns to the king of Syria, and by this be excused. But there is no doubt that Elisha desired him to have peace in heart and conscience.
THE FOLLY OF GEHAZI (vv.20-27)
Gehazi, though Elisha's servant, did not share the faith of Elisha. Instead of appreciating Elisha's unselfish example, he succumbed to the greed of his own heart when he saw the large gifts that Naaman would have given Elisha, and in coveting these things, he even dared to use the Lord's name, imitating Elisha's words, "As the Lord lives," to justify his pursuing Naaman to enrich himself dishonestly (v.20).
When Naaman saw Gehazi running after him, he got down from his chariot, asking, "Is all well?" (v.21). Gehazi, with cunning deceit, answered yes, but that Elisha had sent him to say that two young men of the sons of the prophets had come to him and needed both money and changes of clothing (v.22). Of course Naaman was glad to give him more than he asked, which required two of Naaman's servants to carry it. As they came near the house, Gehazi took the goods from the servants and hid them inside the house.
Brazenly he went in to Elisha's presence and when asked where he had gone, he coolly lied that he had gone nowhere (v.25). Just as Judas thought he could deceive the Lord Jesus when he kissed Him (Mt.27:49), so Gehazi thought he could deceive the prophet of God. Judas had witnessed the Lord's discerning the thoughts of other people (Mt.12:25; Lk.5:22), but he had no faith to apply such facts to his own conduct. So with Gehazi. He knew Elisha was a true prophet of God, yet thought he could get away with deceiving him. Such is the folly of unbelief. It was greed in both cases, but Judas never used the thirty pieces of silver for himself, and what could Gehazi do with his ill-gotten gains after Elisha had exposed his sin, telling him he knew of Naaman's turning back from his chariot to meet Gehazi? Was it a time to receive money, clothing or anything else? God's grace had been shown to Naaman. Was it a time for Gehazi to spoil the pure truth of God's grace by receiving anything? (v.26).
Then Elisha pronounced the awful judgment of God upon Gehazi, who immediately was inflicted with the leprosy of Naaman (v.27). What a picture this whole history is! A Gentile enemy of Israel was healed and manifestly brought in true faith to God, while a Jewish servant of the prophet suffered the solemn judgment of God. While Elisha's miracles were more of grace than of judgment, yet just as in the New Testament Ananias and Sapphira were immediately stricken dead for greed and falsehood (Acts 5:1-10) at a time when the grace of God in Christ Jesus was being beautifully proclaimed by the apostles, so the judgment of Gehazi was pronounced at a time when grace had been so beautifully shown to Naaman, a Gentile stranger. Gehazi was outwardly near to Elisha, just as the chief priests and elders of Israel were outwardly near to God, but in heart were so far away that the Lord Jesus told them, "tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you" (Mt.21:3).
There are many who think of grace as being the expression of God's indulgence with evil. But how far is this from the truth! The grace of God is seen rather when men's hearts are broken down in true self-judgment because of their sins. When this is true, grace lifts them up and gives them blessing infinitely beyond all that they might have asked or thought. Grace teaches us to abhor sin and "to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age" (Tit.3:11). Naaman himself bears witness to this.
"TOO SMALL FOR US" (vv.1-7)
The sons of the prophets are often spoken of in connection with Elisha's history, but when banded together, they did nothing (so far as the record goes) that indicated they were led by God. Once do we read of one of the sons of the prophets carrying a message from God. Elisha told him to take a flask of oil and anoint Jehu to be king over Israel, giving him a message from God at the same time. The son of the prophet did so alone (2 Ki.9:1-10). This was work done for God, for the young man acted by faith, without help from others. Another case was that of one of the sons of the prophets telling his neighbour to strike him (1 Ki.20:35). When he would not, a lion killed him. Then another did strike and wounded him. This man was acting alone at the Word of God, so that afterward he was called a prophet (1 Ki.20:38), and he fearlessly brought God's message to Ahab (ch.20:39-42).
The general tendency was for the sons of the prophets to live on the reputation of their fathers, which was not personal faith. These young men had evidently been attracted to Elisha and were living with him. But the time came when they felt themselves too confined (v.1). If it is not faith that has brought us into the place of enjoyment of the Lord's presence, we too will begin to feel too confined. It is natural to desire a larger place for ourselves than that which God has provided, and there are many today who direct their energies into building something that will satisfy them.
These men did not want to dwell where Elisha was in their midst, but they wanted his presence with them in what they were doing (v.3). How much like many Christians today who feel restricted where two or three are gathered together to the name of the Lord Jesus, yet in building their own churches they desire the Lord to go with them.
Elisha let them have their way and graciously went with them, just as we know today that the Lord often blesses those who are building in their own way. It was not Elisha who suggested or directed this project, though he did not oppose it. But rather than ambitiously building for ourselves, is it not wiser to be content with what the Lord Jesus says, "On this Rock I will build My church" (Mt.16:18)? Since believers are a vital part of His church, it is inconsistent of us to be building another church. Yet in the Lord's sovereign wisdom and grace, He does give His blessing to those who have some good motives, though mixed with selfish motives.
We do not read of the work of these men having any good and lasting result. In fact, the record only reports that as one man was cutting down a tree the head of his axe flew off into the water. He did not even appeal to his fellow workers, but rather told Elisha. "Alas master, for it was borrowed" (v.5). This is too often the case with "sons of the prophets." The axe speaks of the truth of the Word of God, a tool that can be most effective when well used. But we may be using "borrowed" truth, that which someone else has gained for his own profit, but which we have not really acquired in our own souls. It may have been learned intellectually in a Bible school, but not vitally in the school of God. If so, there will always be some sort of failure in our work.
However, just as the man appealed to Elisha, we may appeal to the Lord Jesus, who is sufficient for every need. Elisha cut off a stick from a tree and threw it into the water (v.6), and the iron axe head miraculously floated to the top of the water. The stick reminds us of a connection with the cross of Christ, as the stick is connected to a tree.
SYRIANS - BLINDED, CAPTURED AND RELEASED (vv.8-23)
Though the commander of the Syrian armies had been healed through and Israelitish prophet (ch.5), the king of Syria was still determined to wage war against Israel. His plan was to ambush Israel's army, deciding by consultation with his servants where his army should camp to best accomplish his purpose (v.8).
But the Lord revealed to Elisha what Syria was doing, and he warned the king of Israel, Jehoram, not to pass in the direction of Syria's camp (v.9). Jehoram sent spies who confirmed that Syria's camp was in the place of which Elisha told him. This happened more than twice. If we pay attention to the Word of God we shall be preserved from the deceptions of the enemy. God was by no means showing His approval of Jehoram by giving him this information, for Jehoram was not approved by God (2 Ki.3:14). But God rather showed the king of Syria that Israel was God's nation, and He would protect them in spite of their bad king.
The king of Syria was so disturbed that his plans were known to Israel that he thought there must be a traitor in his own court (v.11). But one of his servants knew (by whatever means) that Elisha the prophet told the king of Israel the words the king of Syria spoke in his own bedroom (v.12). Certainly this information could come to Elisha only by the power of God, and the king of Syria ought to have realised he was dealing with One infinitely higher than himself. In such a case, the only wise thing for him to do was to leave Israel alone.
Having received knowledge that Elisha was revealing to the King of Israel the secrets of the King of Syria in planning warfare, the King of Syria foolishly decided to fight against God by taking Elisha captive, possibly hoping to kill him. He sent horses and chariots and a great army with the intention of capturing one lone, defenceless man! Similarly, the chief priests and Pharisees sent "a great multitude with swords and clubs" to arrest the Lord Jesus (Mt.26:47), though He had no weapons and nothing like an army to protect Him. Why did they think it necessary to have such crowds, either in the case of the Lord Jesus or in that of Elisha? Because they were afraid of spiritual power, but thought that overwhelming numbers could defeat that power. How pathetically foolish! The Lord Jesus showed His superior power in speaking the words, "I Am," causing all the crowd to go backward and fall to the ground (Jn.18:6). Thus they were helpless before His face, yet He allowed them to get up and take Him prisoner! Why? Because He had said His hour had come (Jn.17:1).
The Syrian armies came by night and surrounded the city (v.14). They used all the strategies of a major war engagement! Elisha's servant, when he rose early in the morning, was terrified and asked, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" (v.15).
With perfect calmness Elisha answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (v.16). Then he prayed that the Lord would open the servant's eyes, and the young man saw the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha (v.17). Is there any less protection for believers today? Believers may not see the angel of the Lord camping round about us, but this is nevertheless true (Ps.34:7). Those redeemed by the blood of Christ have no reason to fear any enemy, for God is their Protector.
Elisha prayed that the Syrians might be stricken with blindness, then went boldly out to them, telling them, "This is not the way, nor is this the city" (v.19). Then he led them in their blindness to Samaria, where they were surrounded by Israel's men. He prayed again, asking the Lord to open their eyes, and they found themselves prisoners in the enemy's camp! (v.20).
The king of Israel eagerly asked Elisha if he should kill these men, but Elisha refused to give him permission, asking him if he would kill men whom he had taken captive. Rather, he told Jehoram to give them food and water and allow them to return to their master (v.22). What a lesson for these men! Though God had shown them His great power, yet He would also show them His great grace. Would they ever forget an experience like this? The king prepared a great feast for them before sending them away. We are told therefore that the bands of Syrian raiders did not come any more into the land of Israel.
THE SIEGE OF SAMARIA BY SYRIA (vv.24-33)
The grace shown by the king of Israel to the Syrians did not, however, have a very lasting effect. For though the Syrians did not send bands of raiders to Israel, yet Ben-Hadad king of Syria took his whole army to lay siege to the City of Samaria (v.24).
The siege caused severe famine in the city, so that a donkey's head was sold for 80 shekels of silver and a small amount of dove's droppings for 5 shekels. Why did the king of Israel not even consider praying to the Lord in this predicament? He could speak of the Lord (v.27), but had no faith whatever in God's sovereign goodness.
A woman cried out to the king for help, but not asking for food. Rather, she had a complaint against another woman with whom she had made an agreement that they would kill and boil their sons on different days so that they could eat. She claimed she gave her son the first day, whom they killed and ate. Now she said the other woman had hidden her son when it was her turn to provide him as food (vv.26-29).
Certainly the king could not remedy this matter, and was so affected that he tore his clothes, a sign intended to express repentance, though true repentance was not in the king's thoughts. In fact, when he tore his clothes, people were able to see that he had sackcloth underneath (v.30). The sackcloth was also intended to be a sign of repentance, but he was wearing it as a sort of religious charm, hoping by this means to remedy the bad situation of Israel. This was merely hypocrisy.
Verse 31 is a proof of his hypocritical attitude. He swore by God that Elisha must be killed. Why? Because Elisha was the one person in Samaria who represented God and Jehoram blamed God for the famine. Certainly God could have prevented it, but He did not, for the famine was an infliction because of Jehoram's guilt. Instead of Jehoram judging himself, he determined to judge Elisha, the one man through whom he could have found deliverance. But his judging Elisha was the one way he could show his hatred toward the God of Israel. How many there are who bitterly condemn the Lord Jesus when they are in trouble! Yet He is the one source of true help for them!
Elisha, sitting in his house with the elders of the city, knew perfectly well that King Jehoram had sent a man to kill him, and told the elders of this, instructing them to shut the door and not allow the man to come in (v.32). He spoke of Jehoram as "this son of a murderer," for Ahab was certainly a murderer. But God would see to it that His servant was protected.
Serious trouble ought to melt people's hearts, but the heart of Jehoram was only hardened instead. Blaming the Lord for the famine, he said, "Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?" (v.33). But if he would not wait for the Lord, what could he do?
GOD INTERVENES (vv.1-20).
The prophet whom Jehoram wanted to kill then gave a wonderful message of grace from God. What a response to the callous folly of the king of Israel! Elisha tells them, "Hear the word of the Lord: Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria" (v.1). This was the word of the Lord, yet an officer of the king answered derisively, "If the Lord would make windows in heaven, could this thing be?" (v.2). He was like many today who mock at the message of God's grace. But Elisha told him solemnly that he would see with his eyes the food being sold so cheaply, but he would not eat of it. How sad for one to see others greatly blessed by the grace of God, and he himself having no share in it!
Now we are told of four lepers at the gate of Samaria. They were outside the city, where lepers were always put to isolate them from others. Being also without food, they reasoned that they might as well surrender to the Syrians, who might give them food. If not, the worst they could do was kill them, which was preferable to dying by starvation (vv.3-4).
They went to the camp of the Syrians and were astonished to find no one there (v.5). The Lord had intervened, to cause the Syrians to hear a great noise as of a huge army, so that they thought Israel must have hired the Hittites and the Egyptians to fight against Syria. As well as the great noise, no doubt it was God's work to put such fear in the minds of the Syrians that they decided to flee, leaving all their equipment and provisions behind (vv.6-7).
The lepers immediately found food and drink to satisfy their hunger and thirst, and also carried from the tents silver and gold and clothing, taking this away to hide it (v.8).
However, they were soon awakened in heart to realise they were not right in concealing from Samaria the fact chat food was available for them right now. If they waited even till morning, they feared the Lord might punish them (v.9). So they called the gatekeepers of the city to tell them of the surprising flight of the Syrians, leaving such great provisions behind them (v.10). We who are believers in the Lord Jesus might well take a serious lesson from this. We have been infinitely blessed by the gospel of God's salvation. Are we doing right if we conceal it from others?
When the King of Israel heard this he was suspicious that the Syrians had gone only a short distance away to trick Israel into coming out of the city so as to catch them with the gate open (v.12). But one of his servants made a sensible suggestion that several men go with horses to find out what the situation really was (v.13).
Taking two chariots with horses, the messengers found the evidence that the Syrian army had indeed fled, for the road was full of garments and weapons that the Syrians had thrown away in their haste to escape. The messengers then returned with this surprising yet welcome news (vv.14-15). The people then went gladly out to plunder the tents of the Syrians. The amount of plunder they took was so great that Samaria was well supplied with food. As Elisha had foretold, a seah of fine flour was sold for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel (v.6).
The officer who had mocked Elisha saw this, for he was appointed by the king to take charge of the gate. But the excited people trampled him in the gate so that he died (v.17). Probably he was trying to restrain the crush of the people and they swarmed over him. The words of Elisha and of the officer are recalled in verses 18 and 19, to impress on us the truth of the prophecy of God and the sad defeat of the unbeliever, for his words against the Lord were proven vain.
This history has shown the folly and pride of King Jehoram, but the contrasting grace of God in relieving the condition of the people in spite of Jehoram's opposition to God and to Elisha. God did not at this time repay Jehoram for his evil in attempting to murder Elisha, though He did quickly recompense the officer just for his haughty words in reply to Elisha. We do not hear at all of how King Jehoram responded to the way in which Elisha's prophecy was fulfilled, though he partook of the blessing that resulted. But such men are not changed by the great goodness of the Lord.
THE SHUNAMITE AGAIN (vv.1-6)
The Shunamite woman is typical of the godly remnant of Israel. She had learned the grace of God in giving new life (ch.4:17) and further in resurrection power (ch.4:32-37). Now she is to learn His grace in sustaining her in time of famine and in restoring all her possessions. Elisha tells her to leave and go wherever she may find a place, because the Lord had called for a seven year famine. This reminds us of the seven year tribulation that is to come specially upon Israel, though affecting all the world.
The nation Israel will suffer dreadfully at that time, but the godly remnant are pictured in the woman of Revelation 12. "The woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the presence of the serpent (Rev.12:14). The Lord Jesus, in Matthew 24:15-18 warns the disciples concerning that time, to flee from their homes in Israel.
This woman of Shunem must have been widowed by the time Elisha spoke to her, for he told her to take her household. If her husband had been living, Elisha would have addressed him. She took her household and stayed in the land of the Philistines seven years. At the end of that time she returned, but her property had evidently been appropriated by the government, so that she went to appeal to the king for her property.
The Lord ordered matters in such a way that the king was talking with Gehazi, who had been the servant of Elisha, but was now a leper (v.4). It may seem strange that the king would talk with a leper, but he was curious to know about the miracles in Elisha's life, There is no indication that these miraculous things had any vital effect in turning Jehoram to the Lord, but like so many people, he liked to be entertained by spectacular things. Herod hoped to see some miracle done by the Lord Jesus (Lk.23:8), but he had only contempt for Him personally.
However, as Gehazi was telling the king about the miracle by which Elisha restored the son of the woman of Shunem to life, the woman herself appeared. Gehazi then told the king that this was the woman of whom he spoke (v.5). Of course the king asked the woman about it and she confirmed the truth of that incident. It was the Lord Who had ordered things in this way, thus having such effect upon the king that he willingly commanded that all the woman's property should be restored to her as well as all the proceeds of the land for the seven years she had been absent.
This is a lovely picture of the completeness of the restoration of blessing to the remnant of Israel at the beginning of the millennium. She was blessed beyond all she had asked, just as believers today are told that our Lord is able to do "exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Eph.3:20).
BEN HADAD AND HAZAEL (vv.7-15)
The Lord had cold Elijah to go to Damascus and anoint Hazael to be king over Syria (1 Kings 19:15), but Elijah did not do this, nor did he anoint Jehu as king of Israel, as he was told. This was done by one of the sons of the prophets in 2 Kings 9:6. But now Elisha went to Damascus, certainly led by the Lord to do so. The king of Syria, Ben Hadad, was sick, and when told the man of God had come there, he sent his army commander with a present to ask Elisha if he would recover of his disease (vv.1-2). When it became a matter of possibly involving death, he knew it was no use appealing to his idols.
The present Hazael brought was amazing, - 40 camel-loads of every good thing of Syria! We are not told that Elisha accepted this, and in fact we may be sure he did not. Hazael then presented Ben Hadad's question, would he recover of this disease (v.9).
Elisha told him to tell Ben Hadad that he would recover. However, he added, "The Lord has shown me that he will really die" (v.10). Under normal circumstances he would recover, but Elisha knew the treachery of Hazael and looked him straight in the eyes till he was ashamed; "and the man of God wept" (v.11). When Hazael asked why he wept, Elisha answered that he knew the evil that Hazael would do to the children of Israel, setting their strongholds on fire, killing their young men, dashing their children to death and ripping open their pregnant women (v.12). Hazael protested, was he a dog to act so wickedly? But a dog would not do those things: he was much worse than a dog. "Elisha answered, The Lord has shown me that you will become king over Syria" (v.13).
Hazael returned to Ben Hadad with the message that he would recover. Of course Hazael knew he was acting in gross wickedness when he privately smothered Ben Hadad to death by a thick cloth soaked in water (v.15), but we can easily imagine how he would rationalise his action. He would feel safe in doing what he did, for had the prophet not said that Ben Hadad would die and Hazael would reign in his place? Also the king was sick and who would suspect he had not died of his sickness?
THE BRIEF REIGN OF JEHORAM IN JUDAH (vv.16-24)
Joram, the son of Ahab, had reigned in Israel five years when Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat took the throne of Judah. Instead of following his father's faith, he followed his father's bad example in identifying himself with evil men. He reigned only 8 years. His father had shown friendship with Ahab, and Jehoram married Ahab's daughter Athaliah, a woman as wicked as her mother Jezebel (v.18). In spite of this evil in Judah, the Lord refrained from destroying it, for the sake of His promise to David that He would sustain the kingdom through David's sons (v.19).
In Jehoram's days Edom revolted from the authority of Judah and made a king over themselves (v.20). Jehoshaphat had at least kept Edom under control, but not so Jehoram. By faithfully walking with God we shall be able to keep the flesh under control, but when faith wavers, the flesh will soon assert itself in wilful evil.
Jehoram (also called Joram) made an attempt to subdue Edom again (v.2), taking all his chariots with him and attacking by night, but his own troops fled. Edom was too strong, just as the flesh is too strong for mere human energy. Thus Judah regained no authority over Edom to the day of the writing of this report. Libnah also revolted at that time. Libnah means "whiteness," so that we are taught by this that Judah lost control of moral purity at the time they lost control of the flesh. This will always be true. If we do not keep the flesh in subjection, we shall not possess moral purity.
Joram (or Jehoram) died without regaining what he had lost, though he was buried among the kings in Jerusalem (v.24).
AHAZIAH'S VERY BRIEF REIGN (vv.24-29)
Ahaziah, son of Jehoram, took the throne of Judah when his father died (v.25). His age was only 22 years, and he reigned only one year in Jerusalem. His mother, Athaliah, had come from Israel, not Judah, and Ahaziah followed the wicked ways of his mother and her parents (v.27).
He allied himself with Joram, king of Israel, to fight against Hazael, king of Syria. In that battle Joram was wounded and returned to Jezreel to recover from his wounds (v.28). Ahaziah was so friendly with him that he went down to visit him. But Chapter 9 shows us that God was intervening with some serious results for these two kings.
JEHU ANOINTED KING OF ISRAEL (vv.1-13)
Elijah had been told to anoint Jehu king of Israel (1 Kings 19:16), but had not done it. Now later Elisha commissions one of the sons of the prophets to anoint Jehu, telling him he would find him at Ramoth Gilead (v.1). Explicit directions were given him to anoint Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi, taking him to an inner room to do this. Jehu was an officer in the army of Joram, son of Ahab.
What was the reason for a secret anointing rather than a public anointing? King Saul was anointed privately by Samuel (1 Sam.9:27; 10:1), and David was anointed in the privacy of his father's house by Samuel (1 Sam.16:3), but later publicly at Hebron he was anointed king over Judah (2 Sam.2:4), and later still he was publicly anointed king over all Israel at Hebron (2 Sam. 5:3). The private anointing tells us of God's working behind the scenes to indicate whom He desires to rule. At first only David's father's household were witnesses of this choice of God, just as today only the household of faith recognises that Jesus is God's chosen King. At the end of the tribulation Judah will first be brought to recognise Him, then also the rest of Israel, and Christ will be publicly acclaimed.
But as regards the private anointing of Jehu, this reminds us that God always works behind the scenes to set up rulers among the nations, as we are told, "There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God" (Rom.13:1). In David's case God could publicly approve of him because he is a type of Christ. In Jehu's case, though God gave him the place of king, God would not indicate His approval of the man personally. All human government is ordained by God, though God may not approve of the ruler personally.
Elisha told this son of a prophet to simply deliver his message and leave (v.3). The young man did as he was told. Coming to a place where the officers of the army were sitting, he told Jehu he had a message for him (v.5), calling him, "Commander." Jehu went into another room with him and the young man immediately poured the oil on his head, giving him the word of the Lord that Jehu was appointed king over Israel. But he added the commission of the Lord to Jehu, that he was to strike down the house of Ahab, that God might in this way avenge the blood of God's prophets shed by Jezebel, Ahab's wife (v.7). "For," he said, "the whole house of Ahab shall perish; and I will cut off from Ahab all the males in Israel, both bond and free" (v.8). More than this, "the dogs shall eat Jezebel on the plot of ground at Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her" (v.10). Certainly God knew well whom He was choosing for this solemn work, for Jehu was just the kind of man to do it.
After delivering his message to Jehu, the young man quickly left. Jehu returned to the company of officers, who questioned him about the message from the person they considered a "madman." When he told them the man had spoken in the name of the Lord, declaring Jehu king, the officers immediately responded by surrendering their garments to Jehu and blowing trumpets in an elevated place, announcing, "Jehu is king.
JEHU KILLS HIS MASTER (vv.14-26)
The wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel which was continued by their son Joram was reason enough for the people to welcome a leader who would destroy this evil authority Jehu, a determined, dominating character, knew how to take advantage of the situation. He had no idea of what humility means, no spirit of self-judgment at all, but full of bold willingness to judge others, and he proceeded immediately to do such work. We have seen in Chapter 8:29 what is repeated in Chapter 9:15 that King Joram had returned to Jezreel to recover from battle wounds.
Jehu did not simply give orders that news of his being king was not to be carried to Jezreel, but told his officers, "If you are so minded let no one leave or escape from the city to go and tell it in Jezreel." He knew how to involve others in his plans, so that in the event of failure, he would not bear all the blame.
Having control of the army, Jehu drove in his chariot with his company to Jezreel. A watchman saw them coming and reported it to Joram, who told him to send a horseman to ask, "Is it peace?" Jehu answered him, "What have you to do with peace?" (v.19), and did not allow the horseman to return. A second horseman was sent out with the same result. When the watchman reported this, at the same time saying that the driving was like that of Jehu who drove furiously, the king ordered his chariot. Ahaziah also, who was visiting Joram, took his own chariot, going out to meet Jehu. They were not prepared for what they found. They met on the property that Ahab had stolen from Naboth when Naboth was murdered at Jezebel's command. Calling out, "Is it peace, Jehu," Joram received the chilling answer, "What peace, as long as the harlotries of your mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?" (v.22).
Joram called this treachery, but it was actually rebellion of his own army officers, and it was the judgment of God against the house of Ahab. Turning to flee, Joram received from Jehu an arrow in his back that pierced his heart (v.24). Then Jehu gave orders that Joram's body was to be thrown into the field that belonged to Naboth, for Jehu remembered that the Lord had told Ahab that he would repay him in that plot of land. Thus Jehu could carry out the word of the Lord in Judgment against others, though he knew nothing of the grace of God.
AHAZIAH ALSO KILLED (vv.27-29)
Ahaziah was able to prolong the advent of his death for a short time by fleeing, but was shot in his chariot, escaped to Megiddo, where he died. Though he was not Ahab's descendant, he had identified himself with Ahab's son (in fact having married Ahab's daughter), so that he suffered the same fate as Joram. He was the son of a godly king (Joram of Judah), but made the wrong friends. At least his body was brought to Jerusalem and was buried with his fathers. He had reigned only one year.
JEZEBEL'S DREADFUL END (vv.30-37)
Jezebel was no longer a young woman, but just as full of vanity as ever. When she heard of Jehu having come to Jezreel she put paint on her eyes, adorned her head and looked through a window. Did she think she could impress Jehu this way? As Jehu came in the gate, she insolently called him Zimri, asking him if it was peace (v.31). Zimri had killed Elah the son of Baasha when he was drinking himself drunk (1 Ki.16:8-9), and usurped the throne of Israel. He only reigned seven days and committed suicide (1 Ki.16:15-18). Jezebel called Jehu "murderer of your master," but she ignored the fact of her guilt in murdering many people.
Jehu called out, "Who is on my side?" (v.32). Moses had said, "Who is on the Lord's side?" (Ex.32:26), a much more appropriate word than that of Jehu. Two or three eunuchs looked out a window, and he told them, "Throw her down" (v.33). When they did so, Jehu had his horse trample her underfoot.
Not many men would feel like eating after such work, but Jehu went inside to eat, and drink, leaving Jezebel's body lying on the street. Only after satisfying his own appetite did Jehu think of burying Jezebel, which now he said should be done because she was a king's daughter (v.34). But when his servants went to bury her, they found only her skull, her feet and the palms of her hands (v.35). Her body had been eaten by dogs, even her bones taken away! The skull would remind us of the imaginations of her head; the feet, that her feet had been swift to shed blood; the palms of her hands, that her works were wicked. Who would envy a remembrance of this kind? Her end was swift and terrible, just as the Lord had predicted through Elijah.
AHAB'S SONS KILLED (vv.1-11)
Ahab had 70 sons in Samaria and Jehu was purposed to put them to death also. He chose the method of demanding by letter that the rulers and elders of Israel should choose one of Ahab's son as king to fight against Jehu (vv.1-3). The rulers were terrified by this proposal, for they knew Jehu would easily defeat them. They decided therefore to be the servants of Jehu and sent word to him that they would not make anyone king, but would submit to his authority (vv.4-5). Jehu took full advantage of this situation and wrote to them again, telling them to bring the heads of the sons of Ahab to him the next day. Thus Jehu was spared the work of killing them himself, for the rulers cut off the heads of these 70 sons and brought them in baskets to Jehu (vv.6-7).
Jehu gave orders to lay the heads in two heaps until morning (v.8), at the entrance of the gate. This was the most public place in the city, where all who entered or left the city would see them. Jehu did not shrink from causing such a display. One would think at least that the heads should have been buried, but Jehu went out in the morning and said to the people, "You are righteous. Indeed I conspired against my master and killed him; but who killed all these?" (v.9).
The answer was that they were killed because of Jehu's word, but Jehu implicated the people in this slaughter in order to unite them all under his authority. But he added what was certainly true, that nothing would fail of all that the Lord spoke concerning the house of Ahab, for He had already done what He had spoken by Elijah.
Not only Ahab's relatives were included in the purge of Jehu, but the great men in Ahab's government and other close associates and idolatrous priests (v.11).
AHAZIAH'S BROTHERS KILLED (vv.12-14)
Jehu then, going to Samaria, met 42 men whom he asked who they were. They were the brothers of Ahaziah, the king of Judah, who had recently been killed, and they were coming to greet others of their family (v.13). Though they were not the direct descendants of Ahab, yet since Ahaziah was the grandson of Ahab, Jehu considered all of these identified with Ahab's sin and commanded that all 42 of these be taken and killed.
THE REST OF AHAB'S FAMILY KILLED (vv.15-17)
Jehu intended to be altogether thorough in his judging the house of Ahab. On the way to Samaria he met Jehonadab the son of Rechab who was coming to meet Jehu. Jehonadab is spoken of in Jeremiah 35:6 as commanding his sons not to drink wine, not to build houses, not to sow seed or plant a vineyard, but to dwell in tents. The reason for this is evident. He recognised that the condition of Israel under Ahab was obnoxious to God and he wanted to separate himself and his family from such a condition. His sons honoured him, though this record in Jeremiah is some years later, when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel (Jer.35:11).
Jehu questioned Jehonadab, who responded favourably to him, evidently because he knew that Jehu was carrying out the Word of the Lord against the evil of Israel. Jehu invited him into his chariot, telling him, "Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord" (v.15). Jehu was not exactly a humble man! - and actually his zeal was not altogether for the Lord, for it had a great deal of self mixed with it.
At Samaria Jehu finished the work of destroying all the family of Ahab (v.17). The number this involved was very large indeed, but it did not include Athaliah, the mother of Ahaziah, who was as wicked as her mother Jezebel. We may wonder why Jehu did not seek her out to kill her after he had killed her son and her mother. Of course she was at Jerusalem, not Samaria.
BAAL WORSHIPERS KILLED (vv.18-28)
However, Jehu was not yet finished his work of destruction. He called the people together and told them, "Ahab served Baal a little, Jehu will serve him much" (v.18). Therefore he ordered that all the prophets, servants and priests of Baal should come to a solemn assembly that promised a great sacrifice for Baal. The people had no idea that Jehu was acting deceptively so as to have all Baal worshipers gathered together in order to destroy them (v.19).
When the notice was sent out, the worshipers of Baal came from every direction to fill the temple of Baal (v.21). To be sure there were only Baal worshipers there, Jehu ordered them to wear vestments (v.22). Then he and Jehonadab went in to tell these people to search among them to be sure there were no servants of the Lord there, but only worshipers of Baal (v.23). These worshipers began to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings, but were interrupted by an invasion of 80 of Jehu's guards and captains, who slaughtered them with their swords. Also, they destroyed the idolatrous pillars by fire, then tore down the temple of Baal. Not only the people, but every detail of their idol worship must be destroyed. Thus Jehu destroyed the worship of Baal from Israel. His zeal was certainly unquestioned!
JEHU'S HALF-WAY OBEDIENCE (vv.29-36)
Jehu's zeal for the Lord stopped short of abolishing the idolatrous worship of the golden calves in Bethel and Dan which had been introduced by Jereboam the son of Nebat (v.29). Yet the Lord did commend Jehu for having destroyed the worship and the worshipers of Baal and the house of Ahab. Because of this the Lord promised that the sons of Jehu would reign over Israel for the fourth generation (v.30). We might have expected that Jehu would be so thankful for God's grace toward him that he would have sought from that time to diligently obey God's Word. But he paid no attention to the law of God.
We hear no more of Jehu's exploits, but rather that the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel through the attacks of Hazael, king of Syria (v.32). Jehu was a determined warrior, but he evidently could not stand up to Hazael. Why not? Because his protection of idolatry in Israel rendered him weak before the onslaughts of the outside enemy. Thus Hazael conquered all Israel's land from Jordan eastward (v.33).
Verse 34 tells us that the rest of the acts of Jehu are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel. This is not the scripture Book of Chronicles, which deals more with Judah than with Israel, and in this very little is said about Jehu. But at the death of Jehu he was buried in Samaria, and Jehoahaz his son took the throne. Jehu had reigned for 28 years, plenty of time for him to repent and bow to the Word of God, but he was not so inclined.
ATHALIAH SEIZES CONTROL OF JUDAH (vv.1-3)
The fact that Jehu did not kill Athaliah left Judah exposed to the wickedness of this cruel daughter of Jezebel. Since her son had been killed, she herself killed her grandchildren, so that none of them could rule (v.1). However, she missed one of these, Joash the son of Ahaziah, who was hidden by his aunt, Jehosheba the sister of Ahaziah. Joash was only a year old at the time and was cared for by a nurse in secret (vv.2-3). The condition of Judah was so low at the time that no one was able to resist Athaliah's vicious usurping of authority over the land.
JOASH FINALLY CROWNED KING (vv.4-12)
After six years had passed, Jehoiada the priest found courage given of the Lord to gather together captains and body guards to the house of the Lord, where he made a covenant with them and showed them Joash the king's son (v.4). Certainly it would be a relief to these men to find that there was a living heir to the throne, specially after the ordeal of bearing with Athaliah's callous authority. Satan was behind the murder of all these children, but God made sure one was left to carry on the title to Judah's throne, though in the genealogy of Matthew 1 the names of Ahaziah, and Amaziah are omitted because Athaliah was their progenitor (Mt.1:8). There Joram is said to have begotten Uzzah, but Joram actually begot Amaziah, to whom Uzzah was born. The Lord saw fit to drop the three names from the register because of the wickedness of Athaliah.
Jehoiada gave instructions that one third of the officers who served on the Sabbath would watch over the king's house, one third on guard at the gate of Sur and one third at the gate behind the escorts. These were to guard against any possibility of assault upon the house (vv.5-6). Two contingents of those who went off duty on the Sabbath should also keep watch of the house of the Lord for the king (v.7), and the king (Joash) was to be surrounded on all sides by armed men. Anyone who came within range was to be put to death. The king was to be kept guarded at all times.
The captains followed these instructions, and Jehoiada gave them spears and shields that had belonged to David and were kept in the temple of the Lord (vv.9-10). Thus the king was surrounded and protected. If there were any friends of Athaliah, they had no opportunity to do anything to oppose the coronation of Joash. Jehoiada crowned him and anointed him, giving him the Testimony, the written proof of his kingship. Clapping their hands, the people proclaimed, "Long live the King!"
ATHALIAH EXECUTED (vv.13-16)
When Athaliah heard the noise of this celebration, she came to the temple and saw Joash standing by a pillar, as was the custom at a coronation, while leaders and trumpeters were there supporting the king. All the people were rejoicing with blowing of trumpets. Athaliah tore her clothes and cried out, "Treason, Treason!" But Joash was the true king. Athaliah was guilty of far worse than treason-She was a mass murderer and a usurper who had no right to the throne.
She required no trial. Everyone knew her wickedness that demanded her death. Jehoiada gave orders to the captains and officers of the army to take her outside, for she must not be executed in the house of the Lord. If anyone took her side, that person must be killed also (v.15). She was taken out by way of the horse gate and executed. Solemn end for this wicked daughter of a wicked couple!
A NEW BEGINNING BY COVENANT (vv.17-21)
The Lord had one man, Jehoiada the priest, to stand in the gap at this time. The king was only seven years old, but Jehoiada was a faithful and able mentor for him. Jehoiada acted as a priest of God should act, beginning by making a covenant between the Lord, the king and the people. This was consistent with the dispensation of the law of God, under which Israel was at the time. Under grace today, vows and covenants are forbidden (Mt.5:33-37). But Jehoiada sought to bring Israel back to the obedience of law, which was right at the time.
The covenant being made, then all the people of the land tore down the temple of Baal. Jehu had done this before in Israel, but as long as Athaliah was living, she could preserve Baal worship in Judah. Mattan, the priest of Baal, was killed before the altars. In contrast to the house of Baal, Jehoiada appointed officers over the house of the Lord (v.18). With the house of the Lord being cared for first, then a great retinue escorted the king from the house of the Lord to his own house, where he sat on the throne of Judah (v.19). At this time the king, being so young, was dependent on others, and particularly on Jehoiada the priest. But all the people of the land rejoiced and the city was at peace and quiet because they were relieved of the tyranny of Athaliah (v.20).
JEHOASH REPAIRS THE TEMPLE (vv.1-16)
Jehu bad reigned seven years in Israel before Jehoash took the throne of Judah, so that the two were contemporary for 21 years (ch.10:26). Until the time that Jehoiada died, Jehoash was kept from evil (v.1), though after the death of Jehoiada, Jehoash was influenced by leaders in Judah to leave the house of the Lord and worship wooden images and other idols (2 Chron.24:15-18).
However, in the earlier years of his reign, Jehoash was rightly influenced by Jehoiada, though the high places still remained, where the people sacrificed and burned incense (vv.2-3). They would say they were sacrificing to God, but it was disobedience, for God had told Israel to sacrifice only in the place that He chose (Deut.12:5,11), which was Jerusalem. Yet Jehoash was concerned for the proper welfare of the temple of God and gave orders that the money for which the people were assessed and that which they voluntarily brought was to be used for the repair of the temple (vv.4‑5). It is not told us at what age Jehoash first gave these orders, but by the time Jehoash was 30 years of age the priests had not repaired the damages of the temple (v.6).
It was Jehoash who confronted the priests with this failure. it seems strange that Jehoiada had been lax in this necessary work. of repairing the temple, so that Jehoash took the initiative. At this time the faithfulness of Jehoash was commendable. He called Jehoiada and other priests to reproach them with their laxity and to command that they use the money they already had in the work of repair, demanding no more from the people.
However, Jehoiada bored a hole in the lid of a chest and placed it beside the altar, and whatever money was brought voluntarily by the people was put into the chest (v.9). This was filled more than once (v.10), and the proceeds were put into bags and counted by the king's scribe and the high priest, a necessary witness as to the amount gathered.
The money was then given to those who did the work, having oversight over the house of the Lord, as well as masons and stonecutters, and for bringing timber. It is noted, however, that basins of silver, trimmers, sprinkling bowls, trumpets or articles of gold and silver were not included in this work of repair (v.14). Does this not tell us that, though there was a good measure of recovery, yet the finer details of the worship of the Lord were still lacking? This too frequently happens even in the Church of God today. Seriously concerned saints may be exercised to recover the main features of the worship of God, but too often the silver basins are lacking, that is, the emphasis on the truth of redemption by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. Or the trimmers might be ignored, speaking of the absence of lowly self-judgment in our worship. Or the sprinkling bowls may be absent, the bowls from which blood was sprinkled before and on the mercy seat. For sometimes, even in worship, we forget how valuable to God is the reminder of the blood of Christ having made atonement for sin in God's sight. Trumpets too, the musical side of worship, with its many notes of praise, may not be present. Indeed, today literal musical instruments may be used, but their spiritual significance hardly known. Articles of gold speak of that which is strictly for God's glory, and articles of silver speak of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. These ought to be most prominent in worship, and yet in many churches today there is a measure of worship without attention given to these precious details.
How good it is to see that the workmen dealt faithfully (v.15), not as under bondage. How vital a matter this is in Christian testimony too.
JEHOASH COMPROMISES WITH HAZAEL (vv.17-18)
Hazael, the wicked king of Syria had aspirations of greatness. He fought against Gath, a Philistine city, and captured it (v.17). Then he set his sights on Jerusalem. Jehoash made the sad blunder of not appealing to the Lord, but rather of sacrificing the sacred wealth that was in the temple, to compromise himself and satisfy the greed of Hazael (v.18). Did he not stop to think that the treasures he gave to Hazael actually belonged to the Lord, so that he had no right to give them away? Do we also make the serious blunder of giving up any truth of the Word of God to satisfy the enemy of our souls? The Word of God tells Timothy, "O Timothy, guard what was committed to your trust" (1 Tim.6:20). When God entrusts us with His truth, let us not dare to give it up, whatever enemy threatens us!
THE DEATH OF JEHOASH (vv.19-21)
No more is said in Kings of the further failure of Jehoash, though 2 Chronicles 24:15-22 shows us how far astray he went in disobedience to God after the death of Jehoiada, even putting to death Zechariah the prophet who reproved his transgression.
It is little wonder that the death of Jehoash was so tragic. When he rebelled against serving the Lord, his own servants rebelled against him, and as a result of a conspiracy, two of them killed Jehoash (vv.20-21). Thus a reign that began well ended in ignominy and shame. Jehoash was buried in Jerusalem and Amaziah, his son, took the throne.
JEHOAHAZ REIGNS IN ISRAEL (vv.10-13)
Jehoash reigned in Judah 40 years (ch.12:1), and in his 23rd year Jehoahaz took the throne of Israel (v.1). He reigned 17 years, so it would appear both these kings died about the same time, but verse 10 seems inconsistent with this, whatever may be the explanation.
Jehoahaz followed the sins of Jereboam the son of Nebat, as his father Jehu had done (v.2). None of the kings who reigned in Israel (the twelve tribes) were godly men, but all followed the idolatry that Jereboam had introduced. Again the Lord's anger was aroused against Israel, so that they were oppressed by Hazael the king of Syria and by his son Ben-Hadad (v.3).
Such oppression was required by Jehoahaz before he would turn in any measure to the Lord, but then he did plead with the Lord who answered him graciously by giving relief through an unnamed deliverer (vv.4,5), and they were restored to their former status of dwelling in tents.
In spite of God's kindness in answering prayer, Israel continued in their idolatrous worship of the idols Jereboam had set up and also a wooden image in Samaria. The army of Israel was left pathetically weak with only 50 horsemen, ten chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers, as a result of the destruction brought upon them by the Syrians. The 17 years of the reign of Jehoahaz issued only in defeat and disaster, but verse 8 tells us that the rest of his acts and his might are recorded in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel, though these are not the scripture books of Chronicles. At his death his son Joash succeeded him on Israel's throne (v.9).
THE REIGN OF JOASH OVER ISRAEL (vv.10-13)
Verse 10 indicates that the reign of Joash over Israel overlapped the reign of Jehoash of Judah for three years. Joash of Israel reigned 16 years and maintained the same character of disobedience to God as did the former kings of Israel, clinging still to the idol worship that Jereboam had introduced. Other acts of Joash are said to be recorded in the books of the chronicles of the kings of Israel (v.12), and the death of Joash is mentioned in verse 13. However, there are other matters recorded in this chapter and up to chapter 14:15 concerning the reign of Joash, so that chapter 14:16 repeats the information concerning his death.
ELISHA'S DEATH (vv, 14-21)
Until this time Elisha remained the one real link with God that was available to the kings of Israel, - a testimony against their evil, but a testimony to the grace of God that was available to them if they would only seek Him. The time had come now that Elisha was to be taken away by death. Joash, knowing this, and feeling his own incompetence, went to visit Elisha and wept over him. He was deeply affected, for even an unbeliever can be affected by the prospect of a godly man dying. Though he may have had no intention whatever of being godly himself, yet he respected the godliness of Elisha and realised that his intercession for Israel was keeping the nation from ruin. How striking it is that Joash repeats the very words of Elisha spoken on the occasion of Elijah's translation (ch.2:12), "O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!" (v.14). Elisha had felt the loss of Elijah, now Joash anticipated the loss of Elisha and felt it. After all, he was the king of God's nation Israel. He knew something of the history of his nation and of God's miraculous translation of Elijah, and was affected by this.
King Joash of Israel, in visiting Elisha on his deathbed, needed a serious message from Elisha. Though Elisha was a prophet of grace, yet he spoke rather of warfare to Joash, for Israel had enemies that they ought to destroy, just as saints of God now have enemies to whom they must show no mercy, - enemies who are not merely human, but satanic, who seek to deprive us of our proper spiritual blessings. Elisha told Joash to take a bow and arrows, then when the king held the bow, Elisha put his hands on the king's hands (v.15:16). Opening a window to the east (toward Syria), the king was told to shoot the arrow, which he did. What did Elisha mean by this? That Joash was to strike the Syrians till they were destroyed (v.17). Syria, meaning "exalted" stands for that principle of evil spoken of in 2 Corinthians 10:5, "arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God." We today must not use carnal weapons for this, but spiritual weapons, "mighty in God for the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Cor.10:4).
Elisha then told Joash to take the arrows and strike the ground, which Joash did three times (v.18). Elisha was angry with him for stopping at three times, telling him he ought to have struck the ground five or six times. But the obedience of Joash was only half-hearted, with the result that he would only defeat Syria three times. We too may be only half-hearted in our resisting the enemies of God. This is compromise which only leads to further trouble.
Elisha died and was buried (v.20). Elijah had been caught up to heaven without dying, as many saints will be at the coming of the Lord. Elijah thus pictures the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus. But Elisha, in his death, pictures the value of the death of Christ to give life to those who contact Him by faith. For as the Israelites were burying a man a band of Moabite raiders appeared and they hurriedly put the man into Elisha's grave. When his body touched the bones of Elisha the man revived (v.21). Thus too does everyone who by genuine faith contacts the Lord Jesus in His sacrificial death, find the reviving power of resurrection life.
OPPRESSION AND RELIEF (vv.22-25)
As Elisha had told Hazael he knew all the evil Hazael would bring to Israel (ch.8:12), so Hazael pursued a course of cruel oppression against Jehoahaz and his kingdom (v.22). Yet in spite of this cruelty, the Lord had compassion on Israel to give them some real help, because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so they were not cast out of their land. The longsuffering patience of God is wonderful, but patience is not indifference, and God must eventually judge.
Hazael died, however, and his son Ben Hadad became king of Syria. Then Joash, son of Jehoahaz, recaptured the cities Hazael had taken from his father. As Elisha had promised, Joash defeated Ben Hadad three times, but this did not destroy the power of Syria.
AMAZIAH RULING IN JUDAH (vv.1-20)
Joash had only reigned briefly in Israel before Amaziah the son of the other Joash (or Jehoash) became king in Judah. He was 25 when crowned king and reigned 29 years. His mother's name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. She must have been a commendable character, for her son was comparatively obedient to the Lord, though not as faithful as David had been (v.2). He was much like his father, Jehoash, with many things to his credit, though the high places of worship were still maintained during his reign, where the people sacrificed and burned incense (v.3).
When he was established in his kingdom Amaziah rightly executed the two men who had murdered his father (ch.12:21). Yet Amaziah was not vindictive, for he respected God's word in Deuteronomy 24:16, "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers, a person shall be put to death for his own sin." Therefore the children of the two men were not put to death (v.6).
Amaziah did good work in judging Edom, killing 10,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. Edom pictures the flesh, so that spiritually this victory was over the flesh. May we also judge the flesh unsparingly (v.7). He also took Sela by war, changing its name to Joktheel. These names seem not too certain as regards a spiritual interpretation, but Amaziah was rightly defeating the enemy and putting him in subjection.
However, Amaziah's success in defeating the enemies of the Lord seems to have awakened the pride in him of thinking he could subdue the ten tribes of Israel also. When Rehoboam gathered a great army with the same object in view, God sent word to him, "You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel (1Ki.12:24). Separations between brethren are not going to be healed in this way. But Amaziah sent messengers to Joash, king of Israel, wanting to battle with Israel (v.8). If Israel attacked, the case would be much different, but Amaziah ought to have known better than to initiate a conflict with his brethren the children of Israel.
When Amaziah foolishly determined to attack his brethren, the ten tribes of Israel, Joash sent him a crushing reply, using a parable that belittled Amaziah by calling him a "thistle" challenging a cedar tree, with the result that a wild beast trampled the thistle (v.9). Thus the unbeliever reproved the believer, for Joash discerned that because Amaziah had defeated Edom he was flushed by the pride that thought he could defeat Israel also. He advised Amaziah to stay at home, for in meddling with trouble he would fall, and Judah with him (v.10).
But Amaziah stubbornly refused to listen, and took his army to fight Israel. Amaziah's pride at the time was such that he felt no need of consulting the Lord. Can we wonder that the Lord therefore allowed Judah to be badly defeated by Israel and to flee for their lives?
Amaziah himself was captured, and the king of Israel came to Jerusalem, breaking down the wall from the gate of Ephraim to the corner gate, a length of 400 cubits (about 600 feet), and took all the articles of gold and silver that were in the house of the Lord (vv.13-14). What a lesson is this for us! By meddling where we have no right we shall find the wall of our separation from the world broken down, and more seriously still, the precious things belonging to the Lord which we hold in trust. will be stolen from us! Let us pay close attention to the words Paul wrote to Timothy, "O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust" (1 Tim.6:20).
Thus Amaziah and all Judah were humiliated before the idol-worshipping Israelites, though Amaziah's life was spared. But 2 Chronicles 25:14 shows us the reason that God allowed the shameful defeat of Amaziah by Israel. When Amaziah had defeated the Edomites, he brought Edom's idols back to his own house and bowed down to them and offered incense to them. God sent a prophet to reprove him for this, but Amaziah insolently refused his message. Thus Amaziah had slipped badly from his first actions of obedience to the Lord.
Joash of Israel died fifteen years before Amaziah did (vv.16-17), but there is no indication of Amaziah's recovery from idol worship. He was no example of godliness to his subjects. and his own people conspired against him in Jerusalem. He fled for his life to Lachish, but was followed there and killed. How sad an end to a reign that had begun well!
The body of Amaziah was brought back again to Jerusalem for burial (v.20), and the people appointed his son Azariah to reign in his stead. Azariah (called Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 25: 1) was only sixteen years old in beginning his reign. Here it is only mentioned of him that he built Elath and restored it to Judah after the death of his father (v.21).
A SECOND JEREBOAM REIGNS IN ISRAEL (vv.23-29)
This Jereboam was the son of Joash king of Israel, and reigned in Samaria for 41 years, but as did all the kings of Israel, he followed the ways of the first Jereboam in disobedience to the Lord (v.24). He did, however, benefit Israel by restoring land that belonged to them. "For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter; and whether bond or free, there was no helper for Israel" (v.26). How good that the Lord gives some measure of gracious encouragement to His people, though they are in a pathetic state. Thus He saved them from enemies by the hand of Jereboam, who did some good things in spite of his general condition of disobedience to God. This included his recapturing land that had belonged to Judah (v.28), for Judah in her weakness had suffered such loss. At the death of Jereboam, his son Zechariah took the throne.
AZARIAH'S REIGN IN JUDAH (vv.1-17)
The reign of Azariah began after Jereboam had reigned 27 years in Samaria. We have seen Azariah (Uzziah) was only 16 years old when he began to reign, and reigned 52 years in Jerusalem (v.2). His mother (Jecholiah) must have been a believer, for Uzziah's reign generally was honouring to the Lord (v.3). It is noted, however, that he did not remove the high places of worship, where the people burned incense (v.4).
Nothing more is said here of Azariah's reign, though we are told that the Lord struck him with leprosy, so that he was kept in isolation till he died. But 2 Chronicles 26 tells us he prospered greatly in ruling Judah, but his greatness became an object of pride to him and he dared to assume the place of a priest by entering the temple to burn incense. When resisted by the priests in this action, he became very angry and immediately God struck him with leprosy in his forehead (1 Chron.26:16-20). Thus Azariah's good reign was spoiled by the pride of disobedience to God.
Having leprosy, Azariah was no longer fit to reign over Judah, so that his son Jotham was given this authority. We are not told how long a time Azariah had leprosy, but when he died, Jotham was inaugurated as king (v.7). He did not reign one-third as long as his father did (only 16 years), nor did his reign end as sadly. No doubt it was as well that he died when he did, before he had time to spoil his reign by disobedience.
ZECHARIAH REIGNS IN ISRAEL (vv.8-12)
Zechariah was the son of the second Jereboam and he reigned only six months in Israel. He was the fourth in the line of Jehu to reign, and the last, as the Lord had told Jehu (ch.10:30). He continued the evil ways of the kings of Israel before him, and nothing is said in his favour before another Israelite, Shallum, conspired against him and killed him publicly (v.10). Thus Shallum seized the throne for himself.
SHALLUM, A USURPER, REIGNS (vv.13-15)
But if Zechariah's reign was short (6 months), that of Shallum was much shorter - only one month! Those who grasp after power are very soon left powerless. Menahem, the son of Gadi decided to show Shallum that two could play the game of murdering a king. Menahem went to Samaria, killed Shallum and took the throne of Israel (v.14). Notice, that in both of these cases there was no spiritual power among the elders of Israel to choose a man for a king who might be a capable and faithful ruler, therefore a man of violence could seize power for himself. Of course Israel was in such a state of disobedience to God that they would not even consider asking God who should be king. The Book of Chronicles does not even mention the reign of Shallum, nor in fact the reign of Zechariah in Israel, so that verse 15 does not refer to the scriptural Book of Chronicles, but to another book that is not scripture.
MENAHEM'S WICKED REIGN (vv.16-22)
Though Israel never possessed all the land on the west side of the Euphrates River, Menahem attacked Tiphsah, on the west bank of the Euphrates, and because the inhabitants did not surrender he treated them with cruel violence. It is specially noted that he ripped open all the pregnant women, evidently causing death to both mother and child. Though the Lord had before ordered the destruction of all the Canaanites, yet He certainly did not suggest any such cruelty as this.
Menahem reigned ten years (v.17). We may wonder why he was allowed this long a reign when he was just as bad a king as Zechariah and Shallum had been. But God does not always explain His reasons for such things, and we are wise to simply give Him credit for knowing well what He is doing. Menahem was guilty of the same evils as the kings before him, still embracing the gross idolatry of the first Jereboam, "who made Israel sin."
When Pul, the Assyrian king, came against the land at this time, Menahem bribed him with a thousand talents of silver to refrain from attacking Israel. In these histories of the kings, this is the first we read of the king of Assyria but not many years later the King of Assyria, Tiglath Pileser, took some of Israel captive (2 Kings 15:29), and a few years later (ch.17:5-6) the rest of Israel was taken captive by the Assyrians.
Menahem's bribe to the Assyrian king, was of money exacted from the people of Israel, specially from the wealthy, who would no doubt rather give this than to have Assyria reduce the whole nation to poverty. At the death of Menahem, his son Pekahiah became king of Israel (v.22).
THE REIGN OF PEKAHIAH (vv.23-26)
Pekahiah continued the wearying list of ungodly kings in Israel, reigning only two years and persisting in the idolatry introduced by Jereboam the son of Nebat (vv.23-24). Nothing is recorded as a credit to him, and one of his officers, Pekah the son of Remaliah conspired with others to kill Pekahiah. Two of his accomplices are named, and 50 others, not named, were included in the conspiracy (v.25). Pekah then took the throne of Israel.
Verse 26 announces that the rest of the acts of Pekahiah are recorded in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel, but again it is not the scriptural Book of Chronicles, for Pekahiah is not even mentioned there.
PEKAH'S REIGN IN ISRAEL (vv.27-31)
Just at the end of Azariah's reign in Judah, Pekah began to reign in Israel, continuing his reign for 20 years (v.27). His life too was evil, for he clung to the idolatrous worship of Jereboam the son of Nebat. who made Israel sin (v.28). He was not able to resist the attack of Tiglath Pileser king of Assyria, who captured the inhabitants of many Israelite cities and took them to Assyria. Thus Israel was gradually being tom from their land, and Chapter 17:5-6 shows their complete captivity.
Though Pekah was unable to resist Assyria, he did have the more dubious distinction of killing 123,000 men of Judah in one day! (2 Chron.27:6). How often it seems we do more damage to our own brethren than we do to the power of our enemies! Thus there was nothing in the reign of Pekah that relieved the picture of dark ignoring of the God of Israel. As he had conspired against Pekahiah, so his servant Hoshea conspired against him and killed him. How sad and tragic is the history of the kings of Israel! Hoshea took the throne of Israel then, and as we shall find in Chapter 17:1, he reigned only nine years before Israel was taken captive by Assyria.
JOTHAM KING IN JUDAH (vv.32-38)
Jotham stands in refreshing contrast to the kings of Israel. Beginning at age 25 years, he reigned 16 years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jerusha, likely a godly woman (v.33), for his reign was consistently good, according to the ways of Uzziah. In verse 35 we are told that, though Jotham failed to remove the high places from Judah, yet he did build the upper Gate of the house of the Lord. Thus, in spite of his lack of faith in getting rid of the high places of worship, he did have serious respect for the house of the Lord, God's only centre of worship. 2 Chronicles 27 tells us also that he built extensively on the wall of Ophel - the wall speaking of godly separation, - and he built cities, fortresses and towers. Such building for the Lord is something we too should be concerned about. Also, Jotham defeated the Ammonites (2 Chron.27:5). The original king of Ammon was Nahash (2 Sam.10:2), which means "a serpent," so Ammon stands for religion that harbours "doctrines of demons," which must be totally refused by Christians. In spite of the comparatively good reign of Jotham, the condition of Judah remained low enough that the Lord began to send enemies against Judah, - Rezin king of Syria and Pekah king of Israel, - so that when Ahaz son of Jotham reigned, Pekah killed 120,000 men of Judah in one day. Jotham died at age 41 and was buried in Jerusalem. Ahaz his son then took Judah's throne.
THE WICKEDNESS OF AHAZ (vv.1-4).
Ahaz stands in startling contrast to his father. His mother's name is not mentioned, perhaps because she was not worth mentioning. Ahaz was 20 years old when he began to reign and reigned 16 years, so that he died at the early age of 36. He seemed to revel in doing evil, not only following the ways of the kings of Israel, but adopting the wicked worship of the nations the Lord had dispossessed because of their evil, - even sacrificing his son to the flames of idolatrous worship. It is a mercy that he had another son, Hezekiah, who proved to be a godly man. Ahaz sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, the hills and under every green tree, but the house of the Lord (God's centre), and the altar of the Lord meant nothing to him.
ATTACKS AGAINST AHAZ (vv.5-9)
The Lord did not leave Ahaz without warning as to his evil actions, but sent Rezin king of Syria and Pekah king of Israel against Judah, to besiege Jerusalem. Yet they could not overcome Ahaz, for the Lord also was gracious to Judah (v.5). Ahaz ought to have realised that God was slow to destroy Judah because Of his Own promise and because Jotham father of Ahaz, had been a godly ruler.
However, Rezin captured Elath, a city of Judah, and drove tile people of Judah out of the city, allowing the Edomites to take possession of it (v.6). This spurred Ahaz to appeal, not to God, but to the king of Assyria, Tiglath Pileser, telling him that he (Ahaz) was his servant and asking his help against Syria and Israel. How foolish a move was this on the part of a king of Judah! It cost him something too. He stole from the Lord the silver and gold that was in the house of the Lord as well as taking silver and gold that were in the treasuries of the king's house, to pay the king of Assyria for his protection (v.8).
Then the king of Assyria attacked Damascus, capital of Syria. defeating and killing Rezin king of Syria, taking the people into captivity. Thus Assyria was strengthening its kingdom to become a great empire.
AHAZ ATTRACTED BY A SYRIAN ALTAR (vv.10-20)
Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath Pileser, likely to congratulate him for his victory. But while there Ahaz saw a Syrian altar that he evidently liked better than the altar of the Lord. He therefore sent the pattern of the altar to Urijah the priest at Jerusalem, instructing him to build one like it for the worship of Judah (v.10). Ahaz was therefore a religious man, but choosing wicked religion above the true worship of the Lord. Christendom has been guilty of the same evil in imitating the false worship of unbelievers. But why did Urijah not have the spiritual strength to resist this evil of the king? Instead of resisting, he fully concurred with this false worship and had built the altar by the time Ahaz returned (v.11).
Ahaz then, ignoring the altar of God, offered burnt offerings, meal offerings and drink offerings on the altar he liked, sprinkling the blood also on the altar (v.13). We are not told whether the priest was the intermediary for this or not, but Ahaz could boast of having some details correct, while being basically rebellious against God. The Lord Jesus spoke of the scribes and Pharisees teaching, "Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it" (Mt.23:18). But the Lord called these teachers "Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?" (v.19). The gift speaks of Christ's sacrifice, but the altar pictures Christ Himself the basis of the value of the sacrifice. Therefore, the altar of Ahaz signifies his introducing a false Christ. How dreadful is such an evil as this!
Not only did Ahaz introduce an idolatrous altar into the temple worship, but he displaced the copper altar that was in front of the temple and put it on the north side of his new altar (v.14). The Lord had the copper altar placed in front of the temple because it speaks of the only way of approach to God, which is Christ as the One whose sacrifice is indispensable, But how many today are like Ahaz, pushing Christ out of the way and despising the value of His perfect sacrifice.
Ahaz then gave orders to Urijah totally contrary to God's Word, and the weak priest was ready to disobey God. All of the offerings were offered on the new altar of Ahaz. Ahaz knew something of the offerings and he wanted to keep up a show of religious zeal while refusing the very basis of all true worship, the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, while he put the copper altar out of the way, he told Urijah it could be used as a charm for him "to enquire by" (v.15). If there were hard problems or danger threatening, he could use the copper altar, just as men today consider Christ as One to be consulted if they are in trouble, but this only amounts to superstition with no faith whatever in Christ Himself. Thus they want Christ to be merely their servant, not their Lord.
The bold sacrilege of Ahaz was further seen in his treatment of the lavers (v.17) which were placed for the washing of the sacrifices, speaking of the perfect purity of the Lord Jesus. Ahaz removed the lavers from their bases. The basic fact of the purity of the Lord Jesus is also given up today by many who dare to dispute the sinless perfection of the Lord of glory. Some say that He had a nature that could have sinned, but that He did not give into that tendency. Such teaching is false, for the basic fact is that "in Him there is no sin" (1 John 3:5). Being totally sinless, it was therefore impossible for Him to sin.
The copper sea also, that which was for the daily purification of the priests, Ahaz removed from the oxen that supported it and set it on a pavement of stones (v.17). The oxen, (animals for sacrifice) picture the fact that our own purity as priests is primarily based on the value of the sacrifice of Christ. The water in the sea speaks of the Word of God which purifies, but since we by nature are sinners, the oxen of sacrifice are basic to our purification in practical life. But the pavement of stones pictures mankind in their so-called "good works," a useless (though proud) basis that ungodly men prefer. How sadly is this type of evil repeated in our own day! Mere natural religion always substitutes human merit for Christ!
Ahaz also removed the Sabbath pavilion which had been built in the temple, and he removed the outer entrances from the house of God ("on account of the king, of Assyria" v.18). Things God had ordained were removed so as not to offend the king of Assyria. Ahaz feared the king of Assyria, but had no fear of God before his eyes. Let us be careful not to allow the opinions of men to influence us against the clear Word of God.
More of the history of Ahaz is found in 2 Chronicles 28, and though we are told in Kings that Ahaz was buried with his fathers, yet Chronicles tells us (v.27) that he was not brought into the tombs of the kings of Israel. His son Hezekiah took the throne of Judah (v.20).
HOSHEA REIGNING IN ISRAEL (vv.1-4)
Hoshea had conspired against and killed Pekah (ch.15:30), so that Hoshea began to reign over Israel in the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah. He reigned only nine years. In common with previous kings of Israel, he did evil in the sight of the Lord, but did not sink to the same wicked level as others had (v.2).
At this time Assyria was becoming more and more aggressive and Hoshea found it necessary to submit to the king of Assyria by paying him tribute (v.3). However, the king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea had sent messengers to Egypt, evidently with the desire that Egypt should back up Israel in resisting Assyria. Hoshea apparently thought that with this backing he could cease sending tribute to Assyria, but the king of Assyria arrested Hoshea and put him in prison (v.4). No record is given of Hoshea's death.
THE CAPTIVITY OF ISRAEL BY ASSYRIA (vv.5-23)
In Chapter 15:29 we have read of Tiglath Pileser king of Assyria taking captive the Israelites east of Jordan and all the land of Naphtali. Now we read that the king of Assyria besieged Samaria for three years, finally taking it and all Israel, moving captives to areas in Assyria, Halah and the cities of the Medes. This was a sweeping judgment of God against His people Israel, and the ten tribes have never been restored to their land since that time. It was evidently before this, during the first six years of Hezekiah's reign in Judah that Hezekiah sent messengers to Israel to invite them to come to Jerusalem for his great Passover. Compare 1 Kings 18:10; 2 Chron.30:1-11). Now that God has allowed this great dispersion of the ten tribes, only a miraculous intervention of God at the end of the Tribulation will bring His people Israel back to their land.
A RECAPITULATION OF ISRAEL'S HISTORY (vv.7-23)
Verse 7 now reminds Israel that though God had kindly brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the bondage of Pharaoh, yet from that time they continually sinned against the Lord and had feared other gods (v.7). They had followed the statutes of the nations the Lord had expelled from the land of Canaan before the children of Israel (v.8). Though warned against this many times. Israel paid no attention to God's warnings.
Adding to their disobedience, they did secretly things they knew were not right against the Lord (v.9). Were they so dense they did not consider the Lord sets "our secret sins in the light of His countenance?" (Ps.90:8). But unbelief does not give credit to God for being who He is. They also built for themselves (not for God) high places in all their cities. These high places were for professed worship, but God had told them their worship must be in the place that He would choose, - Jerusalem.
They set up for themselves sacred pillars and wooden images on high bills and under green trees. They would no doubt say that these things were to remind them of God, but God had forbidden such things, and using them always lowered God in their estimation, so that the things themselves eventually became the objects of their worship. They burned incense (which speaks of worship) in the high places "like the nations" who were dispossessed for such evil, and did wicked things that provoked the anger of the Lord (v.11).
They served idols in spite of the Lord's warnings not to do such things and in spite of His testifying against them when they did so, sending many prophets to command them to turn from their wicked ways and keep God's commandments (vv.12-13).
Over and over again they refused every appeal of the Lord and stiffened their necks in stubborn rebellion against His authority (v.14). Thus, having given up any respect for God Himself, they were quite free to reject His statutes and His covenant that He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus, they wanted freedom to do their own will, following the folly of other nations, not realising that that kind of freedom was only painful bondage to sin (v.15).
Leaving the commandments of God, what else could they find as a substitute? Only the worship of idols. Thus, verse 16 refers back to the great sin of Jereboam in making two golden calves, one put in Bethel, the other in Dan, and making these the centres of Israel's worship. But when once a thing like this is done, the evil does not stop there. They then began to worship all the host of heaven, having "many gods and many lords" (1 Cor.8:5), and Baal became a favourite idol.
This evil worship led to other abuses, such as causing their sons and daughters to pass through the fire, offering them as sacrifices, thinking that such horrible evil would gain favour with God or with their gods (v.17). Witchcraft and soothsaying accompanied such abuses. Witchcraft was used in invoking curses on people. Soothsaying is predicting the future with the object of soothing people. This is the way evil spirits claim to predict the future, to make people feel good, as the false prophets did in trying to make Ahab comfortable in going to fight for Ramoth Gilead (1 Kings 22:12). Only Michaiah prophesied the truth, that Ahab would die in his attempt to gain Ramoth Gilead (1 Kings 22:17). Israel "sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord," that is, they virtually sold themselves as slaves to satanic power.
Though the Lord bore patiently with Israel for years, yet the day finally came when He removed them from their land, leaving only the tribe of Judah at that time (v.18). Yet Judah is mentioned also as having failed to keep the commandments of the Lord, following too in the way of Israel. So the writing was on the wall for Judah also, but the godliness of some of their kings delayed the captivity of Judah for some years.
Verse 20 goes back to Israel, however, to speak of God's rejection of these 10 tribes, afflicting them and delivering them into the hand of plunderers, culminating in their captivity by Assyria. It was God who tore Israel from the house of David after Solomon's death, when Jereboam was made king and drove Israel from following the Lord, causing them to commit a great sin. Their bad condition was exposed by their willingness to follow a wicked leader and accept all his sinful decrees and actions (v.22). Thus the Lord removed Israel out of His sight, as the prophets had foretold, and gave them up to the captivity of Assyria.
STRANGERS SETTLED IN SAMARIA (vv.24-41)
The king of Assyria was purposed to see that the Israelites could not again take possession of their land, so that he brought people from other areas east of Canaan to replace the Israelites (v.24). But God was jealous for His land, and because the new settlers had no fear of God, He sent lions among them, killing some of them (v.25). This awakened some fear in their minds that it was the God of the land they had to deal with, and the people had no knowledge of His ways.
When foreigners replaced Israel in their land, the Lord allowed Lions to attack and kill some of them. They supposed this was because they did know the character of "the god of the land." Their fears were not moved by conscience toward God, but by superstition. All they needed, they considered, was to know the rituals of the religion of Israel (v.26). The king of Assyria knew no better, so he commanded that a priest from Israel should go back to the land to teach the people the rituals of the god of the land (v.27). How could this be when they had no centre such as God had decreed? - the centre being symbolical of Christ, the only way of approach to God. But unbelief is impervious to Him, and the priest himself had little knowledge of God, for he had been linked with the idolatry of Jereboam and all Israel had long ago left God's centre - Jerusalem - to establish a religion that had 2 golden calves as its symbol. This priest taught the people how they should fear the Lord (v.28), but his instruction would be painfully lacking.
Thus the people from these other nations who settled in the land brought their own religion with them and made idols, placing them in shrines in high places which the Samaritans had before established, so that Samaria became something like the United States at that time, a residence for every kind of contradictory religion. The Babylonians had their idol, the men of Cuth another idol, the men of Hamath another, the Avvites two more, while the Sepharvites burned their children as sacrifices to two gods of Sepharvaim (vv.29-31).
Outwardly they feared the Lord (v.32), but contradicted that fear by appointing "for themselves" priests of the high places. They liked to copy the fact of God appointing priests, but God's appointment was only of the sons of Aaron, and they were priests of God in connection with God's temple, not the high places. Today the same evil is seen all around us. People claim to respect God, but their works are in flat contradiction to His Word, often adopting the rituals of foreign nations.
Verse 34 puts the whole matter in a true perspective. Though verse 33 says, "they feared the Lord," yet verse 34 says they continued following their former rituals, "they do not fear the Lord." Their claim of verse 33 was false and empty. Thy did not really fear the Lord, nor did they follow the statutes and ordinances of the Lord, or the law and commandment which the Lord had commanded the children of Jacob, otherwise named Israel. With them God had made a covenant, charging them, "You shall not fear other gods, nor bow down to them nor serve them nor sacrifice to them" (v.35). But now Samaria had become totally corrupted by this false worship of various descriptions.
We are reminded that the land really belonged to the nation God had brought up from the land of Egypt with manifest power, and Israel was to fear Him (v.36). His statutes, laws and ordinances they were told to be careful to observe and to refuse to fear other gods. They were not to forget the covenant the Lord had made with them, but fear the Lord, who would honour their subjection and preserve them from the bondage of their enemies (vv.37-39).
But now the land was given over to those who paid absolutely no attention to the commands of God. These nations who entered the land therefore showed an appearance of fearing the Lord, but actually served their carved images. Their children and their children's children followed the same course of evil. Samaria continued to have a sprinkling of Israelites among them, but they did not relieve the picture of guilty despising of God's law. It only added to the mixture of many elements of evil.
THE REIGN OF HEZEKIAH IN JUDAH (vv.1-16)
In Judah the reign of Hezekiah provided a refreshing relief to the tendency of departure from God. It was during his reign that Assyria took Samaria into captivity, but Hezekiah's faith and obedience to God preserved Judah from the same fate at that time. Jotham had been a good king, but Ahaz his son was just the opposite. Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz, but he stands in beautiful contrast to his father. He was 25 years old when taking the throne of Judah, and he reigned 29 years in Jerusalem. His mother's name is told us also (v.2).
How good to see that he removed the high places (v.4). Other kings before him had nor done this. But even though Solomon had introduced the worship in high places, Hezekiah by his judgment of the high places plainly declared his disagreement with Solomon. Solomon's reign was illustrious, but this gives no right to others to follow him in his acts of disobedience to God. Hezekiah destroyed every vestige of idolatry from Judah, breaking down the sacred pillars, cutting down the wooden image, and breaking to pieces the bronze serpent Moses had made (v.4). Why did he do this? Was it not right for Moses to make that serpent? Yes, Moses was right in making it, but he did not make it as an object of worship, and Judah had debased it to this end, burning incense to it. He called it "Nehushtan," meaning merely "a bit of bronze."
The simplicity of Hezekiah's faith in the Lord God of Israel was such that no king, either before or after him, was to be compared to him (v.5). He held fast to the Lord, putting His interests first, keeping His commandments as declared in the law of Moses (v.6). Therefore of course the Lord was with him, making him prosper in every undertaking. Also by the power of God he was able to do what the king of Israel could not do. He rebelled against the king of Assyria rather than serving him (v.7). He also subdued the Philistines as far as their city of Gaza (v.8).
Verses 9-11 refer to what we have already read in connection with Hoshea, king of Israel. It was in the fourth year of Hezekiah that the king of Assyria began his siege of Samaria, taking the city captive in Hezekiah's sixth year. Thus the larger part of the nation Israel was taken into captivity while Judah and Benjamin were preserved by having the most faithful king reigning over them at the time. Verse 12 repeats the reason for the captivity of the ten tribes. They did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, but transgressed His covenant conveyed to them through Moses. Not only did they not do what was commanded them: would not listen.
Eight years later, however, the king of Assyria attacked and captured the fortified cities of Judah, though not including Jerusalem (v.13). We do not read that Hezekiah appealed to the Lord at this time, so this may have been a time when his faith wavered, for he told the king of Assyria, "I have done wrong." At least he showed a submissive spirit and was willing to pay tribute to Assyria. He was assessed 300 talents of silver and 30 talents of gold. In order to pay this he took all the silver from the house of the Lord and from his own house and stripped the gold from the doors of the temple and from the pillars. This would be humiliating to him, and we cannot but wonder if this might not have been avoided if he had earnestly sought the Lord's intervention, as he did later, when the Lord miraculously intervened to deliver Jerusalem and send the king of Assyria away in humiliating defeat (ch.19:35).
JERUSALEM BESIEGED (vv.17-37).
The tribute Hezekiah sent to the king of Assyria was, he found, no guarantee of his protection from attack. Hezekiah might have kept the gold and silver and still not be defeated by Assyria, as he found by experience in trusting the Lord. The king of Assyria proved himself treacherous in sending a great army against Jerusalem (v.17).
If we compare verse 2 with verse 13, it becomes evident that it was at about this time that Hezekiah's sickness threatened his death, for he reigned 29 years, and 15 of those years were added to his life after his illness. But it was in the 14th year of his reign that Sennacherib came against Judah.
The leader of the Assyrian army (called the Rabshakeh) called from outside Jerusalem for a consultation with Hezekiah, who sent three of his trusted men to hear what the Rabshakeh had to say. Of course the city was protected by walls and barred gates. The Rabshakeh then declared that "the great king, the king, of Assyria" demanded to know where the confidence of Judah was placed, accusing Judah of speaking "mere words" in saying they had plans and power for war. It may be a question whether Judah had actually said this or not, but he asked, "in whom do you trust, that you rebel against me?" He assumed Judah might have enlisted Egypt for help, as Israel had done before (ch.17:4). But Hezekiah had not expressed any confidence in Egypt.
Rather, as the king of Assyria considered likely, Hezekiah's trust was in the Lord God. But he says that Hezekiah had acted in opposition to the Lord, for he had taken away the high places which the king of Assyria considered necessary in the worship of the God of Israel (v.22). He did not realise that the very fact of Hezekiah's removal of the high places was evidence of his trust in the living God.
The Rabshakeh offered then a bribe of 2000 horses if Judah would pledge allegiance to the king of Assyria (v.23). He adds to this the warning that they would not be able to repel one captain of the Assyrians, though they put their trust in Egypt. Thus, he knew how to appeal to both their greed and to their fear. More than this, he wanted them to think that even the Lord was against them, for he tells them that the Lord told him to go against the land and destroy it (v.25). Thus, in common with many religious men today, he did not hesitate to use the Lord's name deceitfully.
The three servants of Hezekiah asked the Rabshakeh to speak in the Aramean language, rather than expose the common people to his words in Hebrew (v.26). They should have realised their request would be futile, and indeed it only encouraged the Rabshakeh to speak more loudly to all the people on the wall, urging them to hear the words of the great king of Assyria (v 28). If he could not persuade the leaders of the people, he would do his utmost to weaken the people themselves. Did he think he would persuade them not to trust in the Lord?
Rabshakeh, in speaking to the men of Judah, accused Hezekiah of deceiving his own people by his confidence that the Lord would deliver them. Would the Lord deliver Jerusalem? Yes! Assyria found very soon that the Lord whom they claimed sent them against Jerusalem was a God of awesome power and judgment and would judge them for their deceitful claim of representing Him, though He delayed His intervention for a time as a test to Hezekiah's faith (ch.19:35).
Thus, the Rabshakeh urged the people, "Do not listen to Hezekiah" (v.31). Rather, he wants them to listen to the king of Assyria, who demanded a present from them to make peace, and bow to his authority, so that for a time they could remain in their own places, eating every one from his own vine and his own fig tree, and drinking from his own cistern. But for how long? "Until I come and take you away to a land like your own land" (v.32). He was telling them they would be just as well off in his land as they would be in Jerusalem. If this was so, why take them away? People may tell us we would be just as well off if we left the Assembly of God and went to a denomination, as though the denomination was like God's assembly. Can we depend on the Lord or not? The Rabshakeh urged them not to listen to Hezekiah's word that the Lord would deliver them. How many arguments there are to undermine faith!
He tried hard to direct their minds away from the Lord to other things, such as the gods of the nations (v.37). Had any of them been able to deliver a nation from the hand of the king of Assyria? What of the gods of Hamath, Arpad, Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? And what of Samaria? (vv.33-34). All of these had fallen to the bondage of Assyria. The answer is simple. None of those nations was depending an the only true God. But Hezekiah honestly sought the grace and guidance of the God of all the earth. The Rabshakeh argued that since none among all the gods of the nations had been able to deliver those nations from Assyria, how could Hezekiah expect the Lord to deliver him? (v.35).
However, the people did not question him or argue with him. They answered nothing, for Hezekiah had so instructed them (v.36). Thus the whole matter was left in God's hand. They could wait His time to intervene as He saw fit. Eliakim, Shebna and Joah brought to Hezekiah the report of what the Rabshakeh had said. They did so in a spirit of self-judgment, with their clothes torn, not in bitter animosity, nor in any spirit of self-confidence, but rather in the lowly humility that realised they had no power of their own, and were instead concerned that God Himself would intervene on their behalf.
GOD'S ANSWER THROUGH ISAIAH (vv.1-7)
Hezekiah, when he heard the report, showed the same humble attitude as his three servants had. He tore his cloches and put on sackcloth, the symbol of repentance and self-judgment. This was negative, but he also cook the positive action of going into the house of the Lord. There he would find positive help. No doubt it was through the Lord's guidance that he sent Eliakim and Shebna and the elders of Israel to Isaiah the prophet.
The message they brought to Isaiah from Hezekiah was, "This day is a day of trouble and rebuke and blasphemy, for the children are come to the birth, but there is no strength to bring them forth" (v.3). Similar distress has been often repeated in the history of the Church. A climax arises that finds saints of God pathetically weak in meeting the attacks of the enemy. What is their resource? Only the grace of God. Thus Hezekiah asked Isaiah for his prayers that God would rebuke the words of the Rabshakeh and preserve the small remnant of Israel that was left in the land (v.4).
When the servants brought this message to Isaiah, the prophet needed no hesitation in telling them to report to Hezekiah the words of the Lord, telling him not to be afraid of the boasting words from Assyria, for God took account of those words which had blasphemed Him (v.6). God would work behind the scenes, causing the king of Assyria to hear a rumour to drive him back to his own land, where he would suffer death by the sword among his own people (v.7). His own sons killed him (v.37). Thus, respite was given to Hezekiah for a short time when the rumour caused Rabshakeh to leave Jerusalem because the king of Assyria had another front of battle with Libnah (v.8).
ANOTHER THREAT FROM SENNACHARIB (vv.9-13)
But Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was not finished with Jerusalem. Though he was told of the King of Ethiopia coming to make war against him, he was still determined to subdue Jerusalem, and sent messengers again to Hezekiah, haughtily telling him, "Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria" (v.10). Sennacherib considered there was proof enough that Jerusalem would fall in the fact that the gods of the nations had not been able to deliver them from the domination of Assyria (vv.11-13).
Since none of the nations had been able to resist Assyria, Sennacherib was fully confident that the God of heaven and earth could not deliver Jerusalem either.
He sent a message to Hezekiah in the form of a letter. When Hezekiah received the letter he spread it out before the Lord (v.14). Rather than answer the letter himself, he committed it entirely to the Lord. Could the Lord be trusted to answer? Yes, indeed! If we too commit such things to the Lord, rather than fighting or arguing, can we not trust the Lord to answer better than we might imagine?
Then Hezekiah prayed and in his prayer he did not first plead for help, but beautifully gives God His place of absolute pre-eminence and dignity, "O Lord God of Israel, the One who dwells between the cherubim, You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You made heaven and earth" (v.15). Does this not remind us of the instructions of the Lord Jesus as to how to pray? - "Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name." "Father" speaks of God's primacy, "in heaven" speaks of His supremacy, and "Hallowed be Your name" speaks of His dignity as apart from all others.
Thus, in giving God His place, we take the place of totally dependent creatures. In such dependence Hezekiah entreated the Lord to incline His ear to hear and observe the words of Sennacherib by which he was actually reproaching the living God Himself (v.16). He confesses the fact that other nations and lands had been subdued by the king of Assyria, burning their gods in the fire since they were only idols of wood and stone (vv.17-18), but Hezekiah was appealing to the only true God to save Jerusalem from this haughty king. He did not confine the reason for this to Jerusalem's need for deliverance. Rather, he desired that all the kingdoms of the earth should know that God is the Lord, and He alone. Is it possible that God could ignore a plea such as this? Certainly not!
THE ANSWER OF GOD (vv.20-34)
We do not read on this occasion that Hezekiah sent to Isaiah for help. But God immediately sent word by Isaiah to assure Hezekiah that his prayer was heard (v.20), and much more was added which would encourage and strengthen the faith of the godly king.
Verse 21 uses strong words indeed, speaking of the virgin, the daughter of Zion despising and laughing to scorn the king of Assyria, shaking her head against him. This is not intended to be an example for us to follow in the way we deal now with enemies of the truth, but it is God's Word as regards what was a righteous response at that time to the man who was a wicked enemy of God. For God questions Sennacherib, "Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice, and lifted up your eyes on high?" The answer is most solemn, - "Against the Holy One of Israel (v.22). By means of his messengers Sennacherib reproached the Lord, telling Him in effect that Assyria had enough chariots to reader God helpless against him. The proud boasting of Sennacherib continues through verse 24. He said he would cut down the tall cedars of Lebanon and its cypress trees, rendering the whole country defenceless against his power.
God's answer to him is seen in verses 25-28. How withering indeed if only the king of Assyria had paid attention to it! Had he not heard long ago that God had made the forests of Lebanon and the waters the king boasted of drying up? It was the God who made these things who had given power to Sennacherib to crush fortified cities into heaps of ruins. Because God was behind this, therefore the inhabitants of those cities were without power to defend themselves (v.26) and became totally confounded. They were as the grass of the field, green for a time, then withering. But this is true of all mankind by nature (Ps.103:15-16). Though these nations gave way to Assyria, Assyria would yet give way and perish as the grass. How futile was her boasting then!
God knew Assyria's dwelling place and all her activities, including her rage against God Himself (v.27). If she had confined her animosity to the nations she conquered, she may not have fallen so soon, but since adding her blasphemy against the God who had exalted her, therefore God would put His hook in her nose and His bridle in her lips and turn her back by the way she had come (v.28). Thus, God may use one nation to punish another, but when that nation is then puffed up with pride, God knows how to reduce it to a humiliating level.
Verse 29 introduces a sign for Jerusalem, however. They would continue in the land to eat that year "such as grows of itself," a volunteer crop. They had evidently been unable to sow any crop, so could not depend on a harvest, but God would provide what was necessary for them. The same would be true for a second year, probably because of continued unstable conditions. But in the third year they were to sow and reap, to plant vineyards and eat of their fruit (v.29). Thus for three years Jerusalem was assured they would be safe from the depredations of the enemy.
Continuing His prophecy of blessing to Judah, God tells them that their small remnant who have escaped the offence of Assyria would "take root downward and bear fruit upward" (v.30). A stable character of being properly rooted would result in fruit "upward", that is, fruit for God. "For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and out of Mount Zion they that escape (v.31- JND trans.). The remnant of Judah would not be so shut up in Jerusalem as to be prisoners there. It is not escaping from Mount Zion, but escaping from Sennacherib, "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." How good for Jerusalem to depend on Him!
Therefore the Lord declared that the king of Assyria would not come into Jerusalem, nor even shoot an arrow there. In fact, he would not come against it with a protecting shield nor build a siege mound against it (v.32). Before he was able to get that far, God would intercept his progress, and make him return by the same way he came. For God would defend the city to save it. Why? For His own name's sake and for the sake of David, God's servant (vv.33-34).
GOD'S JUDGMENT ON SENNACHERIB (vv.25-37)
Though God is wonderfully patient as regards the cruelty, and arrogance of His enemies, this does not mean He is indifferent, as many would like to think. He gives time for repentance, but when it is clear that men will not change, then sudden awesome judgment falls from a righteous God. Hezekiah had trusted God, and though the answer seemed slow in coming, it did come in God's time. In one night the angel of the Lord killed in the camp of Assyria 185,000 men! (v.35). What a shock to those who remained!
Perhaps Sennacherib realised that Hezekiah's God was greater than Sennacherib, and he left Jerusalem with his remaining army, returning to Nineveh. But there he did not turn to the true God, as his experience told him he ought to; but while he was worshipping in the temple of Nisroch. his idolatrous god, two of his own sons killed him and escaped to the land of Ararat (v.37). Nisroch was no protector of his deluded worshiper. But the living God was behind this judgment on Sennacherib. Though the wheels of God's government, grind slowly their results are absolutely certain.
FIFTEEN YEARS ADDED TO HEZEKIAH'S LIFE (vv.1-11)
"In those days was Hezekiah sick and near death" (v.1). This took place about the time that Assyria captured the fortified cities of Judah (ch.18:13), for Hezekiah had reigned 14 years at that time. Since he reigned 29 years in Jerusalem altogether, then the 15 added years began at the time of the invasion of the king of Assyria. God is wise in the way He has these things reported. If He had intertwined the history of Hezekiah's sickness with the attack of the king of Assyria, we likely would not give due regard to each of these occasions. Being reported separately, there are no complications to detract our attention from either.
When Hezekiah became sick, Isaiah was sent by the Lord to tell him, "Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live." (v.1). This was a shock to the godly king and he wept bitterly, crying to God from his bed to tell Him to remember Hezekiah's walk of faith and devotion to God (vv.2-3). Hezekiah did not want to die and he felt he deserved to live longer. But did he think that God had forgotten his devotion to Him? Did God not know everything concerning the entire situation? If he had died then, he would have been with the Lord and would have been relieved of the many distressing exercises of heart that tried his faith severely. Indeed, if he had died when the Lord told him to, he would have been the only king of Israel or Judah having a really bright end. Even Jotham, his grandfather, who was generally faithful to God, failed in his allowing the high places of worship to continue (ch.15:34-35). Hezekiah removed all these high places (ch.18:4), as did Josiah later (ch.23:13), for Manasseh had rebuilt the high places his father had destroyed (ch.21:3).
As Isaiah was leaving after delivering his message, the word of the Lord came to him, "Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears: surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord" (vv.4-5). More than this, God would add 15 years to his life. He would deliver him and Jerusalem from the hand of the king of Assyria. This itself shows that this sickness of Hezekiah took place before Jerusalem was delivered from Assyria's attack. The Lord would defend the city, not even for Hezekiah's sake, but for His own sake and for the sake of David His servant (v.6).
The Lord, however, did not heal Hezekiah apart from a natural remedy. Isaiah ordered that a lump of figs should be placed on Hezekiah's boil, and he recovered (v.7). God had made the figs and He knew they would be effective in this case. If one would demand that God should heal him, yet refuse a natural remedy, this would not be faith healing, for faith gives God credit for supplying whatever means of healing He sees fit.
God showed compassion to His servant Hezekiah by granting him healing, with the promise of 15 added years. But we have serious lessons to learn from this history. Was the word of the Lord not enough for Hezekiah to rely upon? No! He asked Isaiah to give him a sign to confirm God's promise that he would go up to the house of the Lord the third day (v.8). Are we also like Hezekiah and the nobleman of John 4:46-53, to whom the Lord said, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe"? (v.48). Yet nevertheless the Lord would grant Hezekiah his desire for a sign.
Isaiah gave Hezekiah a choice: would the shadow go forward ten degrees or backward ten degrees? Actually either way this would be an amazing miracle, but Hezekiah thought it an easy thing for the shadow to go forward since it would do so in time anyway, but not 10 degrees at once. So Hezekiah asked that the shadow go backwards. Isaiah prayed to the Lord for this and the shadow went backward 10 degrees, as the sundial bore witness.
We are reminded in this of Joshua's long day, when the sun stood still "for about a whole day" (Josh.10: 12-13). It is reported that scientists have calculated that a whole day is missing in the world's history, and that after Joshua's time there was a discrepancy of ten degrees less than one day, but after the time of the kings of Israel this became exactly one day. Wonderful are the ways of God!
However, this sign had a deeper significance than appears on the surface. God was virtually stopping time to have Hezekiah live 15 years longer. Would we want time reversed in our lives? If God gave us time to live some years over again, would we do better than before? Hezekiah found through experience that things don't work that way. For in his added 15 years he spoiled the devotedness of his testimony for God, as we see soon after.
Babylon is then introduced into the history. At that time Babylon was part of the Assyrian Empire, but later took control of Assyria so as to become a greater power than Assyria had been. But at this time the king of Babylon was very friendly toward Hezekiah, and sent messengers with letters and a present to Hezekiah because he heard Hezekiah had been sick.
Hezekiah, apparently flattered by the attention, showed no caution in responding to the messengers. He showed them the house of his treasures, his silver and gold, spices and precious ointments and all his armoury, as well as everything else that evidenced his wealth. Why did he do this? Apparently in order to impress them with how much he had. They must have stayed some days at Jerusalem to see all that he had to show them.
2 Chronicles 32:25 comments on this occasion, "Hezekiah did not repay according to the favour, shown him, for his heart was lifted up, therefore wrath was looming over him and over Judah and Jerusalem. Thus pride in his wealth caused him to make this fateful blunder.
Isaiah came and asked Hezekiah what the messengers had said and where they came from. He answered that they came from a far country, Babylon. It may be the king of Babylon was already contemplating rebellion against Assyria and was looking for other nations who might help to further his cause. But Hezekiah, godly man as he was, forgot to inquire of God as to these men. He was not swayed by the lion-like rage of Assyria, but was deceived by the serpent character of Babylon, its friendly, flattering appeal. How we need to be on our guard in both cases, and take every matter to the Lord.
Isaiah then inquired as to what these messengers had seen in Hezekiah's house, and the answer was that they had seen everything (v.15). Did Hezekiah think it was commendable that he had showed his treasures to men of whom he had no previous knowledge? If so, Isaiah's message for him from he Lord would be a shock, "the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon: nothing shall be left, says the Lord" (v.17). Besides this, some of Hezekiah's sons would become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Thus Judah would be humiliated and Hezekiah's sons would be humiliated.
Hezekiah's response to this message at least indicated that he was submissive to God's word, for he said that word was good. But he added "Will there not be peace and truth at least in my days?" Is this not too limited a viewpoint? Did he have no real concern for the days of his successors in Judah? In the New Testament both Paul and Peter were deeply concerned about the conditions in the Church of God after their departure (2 Tim.4:5-6: 2 Pet.1: 13-15). Should we not also be concerned about those who follow after us? We wonder therefore if Hezekiah was not sufficiently impressed with the seriousness of his failure. Yet 2 Chronicles 32:26 tells us that Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, so that the captivity of Judah did not take place in his days.
Verse 20 speaks of other acts of Hezekiah being recorded in the book of the Chronicles of the kings of Judah, specially of his bringing water into the city by means of a tunnel (or aqueduct). This emphasises the positive character of goodness on Hezekiah's part. The supply of water reminds us of the great spiritual necessity of the ministry of the Word of God. If our reputation includes such positive good done for the people of God, this is worthwhile. But little is said to Hezekiah's credit in the last 15 years of his reign. We may well wonder if he afterwards felt it might have been better for him to die when God first told him to. At his death his son Manasseh took the throne.
MANASSEH'S WICKED REIGN (vv.1-18)
Manasseh was 12 years old when he began to reign, therefore he was born three years after Hezekiah's sickness and recovery. But in contrast to his father, he was the most wicked king to ever reign over Judah. We may well wonder what his mother Hephzibah was like. His reign was a long one, - 55 years, - but he followed the example of the ungodly nations whom the Lord had dispossessed to give Israel the land (v.2). He rebuilt the high places that his father had destroyed, he made a wooden image and worshiped all the constellations of the heavens, the sun, moon and stars. He also built idolatrous altars in the house of the Lord and in the two courts of the house (vv.4-5).
Besides this, he made his son pass through the fire (offering him to the god Molech), practised soothsaying and witchcraft and consulted with spiritists and mediums. Thus he committed himself wholly to the gross wickedness of the idolatry of the nations, even setting a carved image of Asherah in the house of the Lord, the house which the Lord had chosen as His centre in Israel. In doing this his desire was to keep Israel from wandering from the Lord and being scattered (v.8)! How foolish an attitude, for Israel's preservation was dependent on their being careful to obey the commandments of the Lord as given through Moses.
But Manasseh showed utter contempt for God in the way he treated God's temple. He so seduced the people that they paid no attention to God's commands, but practised worse evil than the ungodly nations whom God had destroyed so that Israel could take the land (v.9).
The Lord therefore spoke by the prophets (not only by one prophet), declaring with awful solemnity that because Manasseh had engaged in greater wickedness than the Amorites and had caused Judah to sin with his idols, therefore the Lord would bring such calamity on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of all who heard of it would tingle. This judgment of Jerusalem would be no less severe than that of Samaria and the house of Ahab, Jerusalem being wiped clean as a dish when wiped and turned upside down. Supposing Manasseh did reign for 55 years (v.1), that made no difference to the certainty of God's judgment. God's patience is too often mistaken for indulgence or indifference, but the longer He shows patience, the more awesome and terrible we can expect His judgment to be.
What contrast would this be to the preserving, protecting care of God over Hezekiah when he was attacked! God would forsake the remnant of His inheritance, the small number who had first proven faithful to Him but had turned away in foolish subjugation to the folly of their wilful king (v.14). Their enemies would defeat and plunder them because of their evil in provoking God to anger from the time of their deliverance from Egypt and throughout their history.
Added to this guilt in the case of Manasseh was his cruelty in shedding much innocent blood. Thus, violence accompanied his corruption. It is usually true that when one becomes corrupt in his attitude toward God, he will become violent toward others.
This book of Kings says nothing about the repentance of Manasseh, which 1 Chronicles 33:12-13 records, for Kings deals mainly with the matter of responsibility, while Chronicles emphasises the grace of God. There we learn that Manasseh was taken captive by Assyria and imprisoned in Babylon. In his affliction he humbled himself and turned to the Lord, so that his character was changed for the last short time of his life. It is amazing that one so wicked would be brought to genuine repentance, but the grace of God is able to save the most guilty. Sad to say, however, it is an exceptional case, for one who has lived a totally wicked life has so hardened himself against God that he will not give up his rebellion. No doubt, however, Manasseh owed a great deal to the godliness of his father, and though it took long to break him down, yet the training of earliest years eventually had its effect.
When his 55 year reign was finished, he died and was buried in the garden of his own house, and his son Amon became king. How sad that a long reign of 55 years produced really nothing but evil, so that though Manasseh will be in heaven, nearly all of his life's work wilt be burned up.
AMON'S SHORT REIGN (vv.19-26)
Amon was 22 years old when taking the throne of Judah, and reigned only for two years, in sharp contrast to the 55 years of his father's reign. He followed his father's example of wickedness, but with no repentance such as his father showed (vv.20-21). He did have the advantage of knowing of his father's repentance, but this had no effect on him. The Lord evidently knew that two years was sufficient for Amon to repent. But nothing is said of him to his credit. He walked in cold refusal of the ways of God, choosing idols instead, and his own servants conspired against him and killed him in his own house (vv.22-23). How sad an end for one who had a godly grandfather!
However, Amon's servants were not able to take control of the government. The people of the land intervened and executed the servants responsible for Amon's death. This appears to be the energy of faith, for they made sure that one of the true line of David took the throne (v.24), even though he (Josiah) was only eight years old.
Other acts of Amon were evidently written in a book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah, but not in the scriptural book of Chronicles, for nothing more is said there than in this book of Kings. But his burial was honourable, for he was of the line of David.
JOSIAH'S GOOD REIGN (22:1 - 23:30)
From Josiah's beginning to reign at eight years of age, his reign was faithful and godly, for he walked in the ways of David, the first of Israel's godly kings (v.2), just as we today should gain our instructions from the first days of Christianity rather than from men who have followed through the years. How much more important is the teaching of the apostles whom the Lord appointed than that of Martin Luther, J.N. Darby or any other outstanding man of history.
2 Chronicles 34:3-7 tells us what is not recorded in 2 Kings, that in the eighth year of Josiah's reign, at age 16, he began to seek the God of his father David, and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places and idolatrous images, making a clean sweep of every element of idolatry, even burning the bones of the idolatrous priests on their altars. In fact, he went beyond Judah in his zeal for the honour of God, doing the same in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim and Simeon, as far as Naphtali. He did this in spite of the fact that these tribes were under Assyrian bondage and people from other nations had been introduced among them. Thus, at age 20, the faith of Josiah was remarkably energetic.
Chapter 22 of 2 Kings then begins with the record of Josiah's initiative in repairing the house of God, which took place in his 18th year, the age of 26 (v.3). He had sent messengers to Manasseh and Ephraim, as well as Judah and Benjamin, to collect money for the purpose of repairing the house, which had lapsed into a degraded state through the abuse of Josiah's father and grandfather (2 Chron.34-.8-9).
Now Josiah sends Shaphan the scribe to ask Hilkijah the high priest to count the money they had received and give it to those doing the work, who were overseers in the house of the Lord, - to carpenters, builders and masons - to buy timber and hewn stone to repair the house (vv.4-6). But, interestingly, they were not required to give any accounting of the way the money was spent, for they were depended on to deal faithfully. This is a lovely characteristic of a true revival among the people of God, not a humanly planned revival, though it did begin with the godly exercise of the young king, whose faith proved an effective example to others.
THE BOOK OF THE LAW DISCOVERED (vv.8-20)
Though God had commanded in Deuteronomy 17:18-19 that the king of Israel was to write a copy of the law for himself and learn it well, Josiah did not even know that such a book existed. No doubt Manasseh and Amon had ignored God's Word completely, so that when Hilkijah the high priest found the book of the law in the house of God, it was a total surprise to him and to Josiah. Certainly the high priest should have known the law, but the faith of Josiah was required to wake up the high priest. It is true in our day too, when there is genuine concern about the house of God, the Church, this will lead us to the Word of God.
When Shaphan the scribe read the Word of God to the king, Josiah was painfully shocked and tore his clothes (vv.10-11). For this was a message far more serious and solemn than he had ever expected. He commanded five of his servants, including the high priest and the scribe, to inquire of the Lord concerning the law and its warning of judgment against the very evils that Josiah had inherited from his fathers. For the scriptures plainly declared the wrath of God against the disobedience of which he knew his fathers were guilty (vv.12-13).
To ask about the book that so affected King Josiah, his servants went to a prophetess, Huldah, who lived in Jerusalem (v.14). It is sad that there were no male prophets to consult. At times of a low condition amongst God's people, because of a sad faithlessness among men, the Lord will use a woman in the way a man would normally be used. Deborah is another example of this (Judges 4:1-4).
Huldah was a faithful woman who told Josiah's servants the plain, uncompromising truth from God: "Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants - all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read - because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the work of their hands. Therefore my wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched" (vv.16-17). Huldah simply confirmed what Josiah had read in scripture, that a dreadful judgment would fall on Jerusalem, expressing the fierce anger of the Lord against their wickedness.
However, Huldah's prophecy also held some measure of comfort for Josiah. Because his heart was tender, and therefore he had humbled himself before the Lord when he heard the Word of God, he had torn his clothes in self-judgment and had wept before the Lord, the Lord had taken full account of his repentance (vv.18-20). For this reason the Lord assured Josiah that he himself would be taken away by death before the time of Judah's solemn calamity. This may remind us of Isaiah 57:1, "The righteous perish, and no man takes it to heart: merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from the evil." How often thus does God take away a godly person before some great trouble that would be most painful for him to witness!
JOSIAH'S COVENANT AND JUDGMENT OF IDOLATRY (vv.1-20)
Being king in Judah and therefore the representative of all the people, Josiah realised his responsibility of involving them all in hearing the Word of God. Beginning with the elders, he called the people to the house of the Lord. Thus, elders, priests, prophets and the common people were gathered (vv.1-2). There Josiah himself read all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which would include the five books of Moses.
The king then made a covenant before the Lord to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments, testimonies and statutes with all his heart and soul, and to perform all that was written in the book. All the people also agreed to this covenant (v.3).
Making such promises was not forbidden under law, though Israel's many broken covenants should have warned Josiah that Judah would do no better in the future than they had done in the past. When the Lord Jesus came, however, He publicly declared, "Again, you have heard that it was said of those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is God's throne: nor by earth, for it is His footstool, nor by Jerusalem. for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your Yes be "Yes" and your No, "No". For whatever is more than these is from the evil one" (Mt.5:33-37).
The Lord Jesus can swear by God's name, for His word cannot be broken, but Israel's history has proven to us that, no other human can be trusted to perform his vows or promises. This was ratified in the case of the covenant Josiah and Israel made, for Jehoahaz the son of Josiah led Israel back into the same idolatry they were delivered from in Josiah's day.
However, at this time there was energy of faith, predominantly in the case of Josiah, to get rid of the idolatry introduced by Josiah's fathers, Manasseh and Amon. Josiah gave orders to Hilkijah the high priest and priests under him as well as to the doorkeepers to bring out of the temple all the articles that were made for Baal and Asherah and other false gods. These were taken outside of Jerusalem and burned (v.4).
But there was much more to do in cleansing Judah from the overflowing tide of idolatry that had invaded the land. Josiah removed the idolatrous priests from the high places in the cities of Judah, and all those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun, to the moon and to the constellations of stars in the whole heaven (v.5). Judah had multiplied her gods beyond measure. A wooden image had been put in the house of the Lord, just as many churches introduce images that look nice but are an insult to the Lord Jesus. Josiah burned the image at the brook Kidron and threw the ashes on graves (v.6), signifying that the idolatry was worthy only of the corruption of death.
Josiah broke down the houses of the Sodomites (v.7 JND trans.) that were in the house of the Lord where the women wove hangings for the wooden image. How bold had wickedness become to thus invade the house of the Lord!
Josiah, in firm decision for the Lord, brought all the priests from the cities of Judah and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, thus rendering the places unusable, from Geba to Beersheba, not a short distance (v.8). Other high places also he broke down.
The priests of the high places were thus dispossessed of their occupation, but did not come up to the altar of the Lord in Jerusalem. They evidently had no energy of faith to change completely from their accustomed idolatry, but they ate unleavened bread among their brethren (v.9). Was this not an attempt to cover their sin by a show of religious zeal? For the unleavened bread symbolises a separation from evil, but the show apart from the reality of separation is hypocrisy.
Josiah also defiled Topheth, where idolaters practised the offering of their children to Molech by fire (v.10). How can people feel that they are spiritually zealous in carrying out such abominable practices? But they are totally deceived by Satan. Also there were horses and chariots dedicated to the sun at the entrance to the house of God. Josiah removed the horses and burned the chariots (v.11).
On the roof there were altars made by the kings of Judah, certainly an insult to God whose altar outside and that inside the temple both spoke of Christ. Other altars expose men's desire to have other gods. Beside these Manasseh had made altars in the two courts of the house of the Lord. All of these Josiah broke down and pulverised, throwing their dust into the brook Kidron (v.12).
Other high places east of Jerusalem and south of the Mount of Olives Josiah also defiled. It is called the mount of Corruption because Solomon had corrupted it by building high places for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites (v.13). We can well imagine people objecting to Josiah, saying that these were long established high places and had the dignity of King Solomon's approval. But Josiah was concerned about God's approval and what offended God must be destroyed. Josiah also broke in pieces the sacred pillars and cut down the wooden images and filled their places with the bones of men (v.14). This may refer to those who defended the idolatry and suffered death for this.
Bethel, only 12 miles from Jerusalem, had been taken by Jereboam in his rebellion against Rehoboam, but of course the ten tribes had no authority left in Israel, so Josiah broke down the altar and the high place that Jereboam had introduced, crushing the high place to powder and burning the wooden image there (v.15). There also he saw graves on the mountain, evidently graves of those who had been engaged in the worship at the high place. He had the bones taken from the graves and burned on the altar. This was a fulfilment of the prophecy of the man of God who had come to Jereboam when he was at his idolatrous attar (1 Kings 13:1-2).
Seeing another gravestone, he asked about the person buried there, and was told this was the grave of the man of God who had prophesied of what Josiah had just done (v.17). So his grave was left unmolested. This involved too the bones of the prophet who lived in Bethel, but whom we are told here had come from Samaria (ch.18), for he had buried the first prophet in his own grave and told his sons to bury him there also (1 Kings 13:11-32).
Josiah's purging of the land extended to all the cities of Samaria from which he took away all the shrines of the high places introduced by the kings of Israel (the ten tribes). He executed all the priests of the high places and defiled their altars by burning men's bones on them (v.20). Thus, as far as it was possible, Josiah completely cleansed the land of Israel from their idolatry. We would likely expect the faith of this young king to so influence his son that he would follow his father's steps, but sadly Jehoahaz reverted to the same evil the previous kings of Judah had been guilty of (vv.31-52).
THE PASSOVER KEPT
But Josiah's energy was not limited to getting rid of evil. The positive character of his faith is seen beautifully in verses 21-23. He commanded all the people to keep the Passover to the Lord according to God's directions in the Book of the Covenant. The Passover was in remembrance of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, and looked forward to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on Calvary.
It is most striking that such a Passover had never been held in Israel throughout all the history of the kings of Israel or of Judah. Not even that in Hezekiah's time (2 Chron. 30) could compare with this one carried out by Josiah. Though in Kings there are only three verses referring to the Passover, it is more fully described in 2 Chronicles 35:1-19. At this time Josiah was only 26 years old, yet it was his own energy of faith that initiated this wonderful Passover and carried it out in obedience to the word of God. This illustrates the fact that a young man may be a faithful example to believers, as Timothy, a young man, was told to be (1 Tim.4:12).
UNUSUAL FAITH DID NOT AVERT GOD'S JUDGMENT (vv.24-27)
Verse 24 tells us how fully Josiah removed every form of idolatrous practice in Judah and Jerusalem, banishing all who consulted with mediums and spiritists, and not only public idols, but household idols, for he wanted nothing allowed to continue that was forbidden by the book Hilkijah had found in the house of the Lord.
It is therefore a wonderful commendation given him in verse 25. No king before him or after him had turned to the Lord so fully with all his soul and with all his might as did Josiah.
Yet God had told Josiah that His wrath had been aroused against Judah because of all their iniquity and that wrath would not be quenched. This is repeated in verse 26. The Lord did not turn from the fierceness of His great wrath against Judah. Josiah's faithfulness had only delayed the judgment during his own reign. Even though Manasseh had been converted in his later years, the evil he had been guilty of was enormous, and Judah had been greatly defiled by this. Though God's grace may triumph over man's sin to save him from eternal judgment, yet God's government requires the judgment of whatever evil has been done. Therefore God would remove Judah from their land, just as He had allowed Israel to be removed. Jerusalem, God's centre, and God's house in Jerusalem would be cast off, in spite of God's name having been established there.
JOSIAH'S SAD DEATH
Much more is written in the Book of Chronicles concerning the good reign of Josiah, but it is tragically sad that the end of his reign was not so bright as were the years before. Why was Josiah not content with his having honoured the Lord in those relationships in which God had placed him? It seems that he thought that since God had used him in great blessing to His people, the Jews, then God would also back him up in intervening in the disputes of other nations. If Pharaoh Necho had been coming to fight against Judah, Josiah would have had proper cause to go to war, but this was not the case. Perhaps he had not read Proverbs 26:17, "He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears." 2 Chronicles 35:21 quotes the warning of Pharaoh Necho to Josiah, not to interfere, but in spite of this Josiah persisted stubbornly, even disguising himself (2 Chron.35:22).
But his disguise did no good. The only person we hear of as dying in that battle was Josiah himself. God was acting behind the scenes, and He would not allow his otherwise faithful servant to get away with this unseemly conduct. He was killed at Megiddo, and his body taken by chariot back to Jerusalem, a long distance, and buried there. Chronicles tells us that all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him (2 Chron. 35:24). He died at the early age of 39 years. His son Jehoahaz was then anointed king in Judah.
THE BRIEF REIGN OF JEHOAHAZ (vv.31-33)
Jehoahaz, at 23 years of age, reigned only 3 months. In that brief time he followed the evil that Manasseh and Amon had done (v.32), a sad contrast to the godliness of his father. Evidently also Josiah's assault against Pharaoh Necho had only drawn the ire of Pharaoh against Judah, and Pharaoh found Judah so vulnerable that he took Jehoahaz captive, putting him in prison at Riblah in the land Hamath and imposing a tribute on the land of 100 talents of silver and one talent of gold (v.33). Thus, though Israel had been delivered from the bondage of Egypt, Egypt came after them to Canaan to put them in bondage again!
Yet Judah was allowed to have a king, but a king of Pharaoh's choice (v.34). Eliakim was also a son of Josiah, but evidently one easier for Pharaoh to handle. Pharaoh changed his name to Jehoiakim. When Pharaoh returned to Egypt he took Jehoahaz with him, and Jehoahaz died there. He had become king at age 23, reigning only three months, so he was a younger brother of Eliakim, who was 25 when he took the throne. It was the people who made Jehoahaz king, no doubt because they preferred him to his older brother. But Pharaoh reversed the people's decision.
JEHOIAKIM'S EVIL REIGN (23:35 to 24:6)
Having been appointed by Pharaoh as king over Judah, Jehoiakim was evidently fully subservient to Pharaoh, taxing the people of the land to pay the tribute of gold and silver that Pharaoh required (v.35). But he was not at all subservient to the Lord, rather he engaged in the same evil his fathers had done, Amon, Manasseh, etc., which involved the worship of idols and the oppression of the people.
Pharaoh was not able to maintain his dominance over Judah, however, not that Judah was able to break it, but because Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon displaced Pharaoh and took his place in making Jehoiakim his servant (v.24). For three years Jehoiakim remained subject to Nebuchadnezzar, then rebelled (v.1), not because of faith in the living God, but because he would not bow to the governmental results of his sin.
Since Jehoiakim decided that he would not bow to the governmental results of his evil ways, the Lord sent against him bands of marauders from four different nations (v.2). This concentration of troubles for Jehoiakim should certainly have humbled his heart before God, but we read of no change in the character of the man.
Judah was gradually being reduced to nothing in the days of Jehoiakim. In 2 Chronicles 36:5-6 we read that he was taken in fetters to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Evidently he died there after his 11 year reign (v.6). Yet Judah remained for a time still having its own government, for Jehoiachin, son of Jehoiakim, reigned for a brief three months (vv.6-8). But the king of Egypt did not come back to Judah, for Nebuchadnezzar had proven himself superior to Egypt's power, having taken control of the land Egypt had formerly subdued.
JEHOIACHIN'S REIGN AND CAPTIVITY (vv.8-12)
Jehoiachin (also called Coniah) was only 18 years of age when he reigned for three months, but this was time enough to prove his evil character, following the course of his father, evidently in idol worship (vv.8-9). Jehoiachin took the wise course of surrendering to Babylon and, with his servants, was taken prisoner (v.12).
As well as taking Jehoiachin, his family and officials captive, Nebuchadnezzar took away all the treasures of the house of God and the treasures of the king's house, cutting in pieces the articles of gold that Solomon had made in the house of the Lord, evidently to more easily transport them to Babylon (v.13). This fulfilled the word of the Lord to Hezekiah by Isaiah in chapter 20:16-18.
More than this, Nebuchadnezzar carried away captive all the captains and mighty men of valour, numbering 10,000 (v.14) and all the craftsmen and smiths, one thousand (v.16). Only the poorest of the people remained, for Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make sure that Jerusalem would become incapable of ever rising to prominence again.
Jeremiah 22:24-30 speaks most solemnly about the judgment of God upon Jehoiachin, who is also called Jeconiah or Coniah. "Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol, a vessel wherein is no pleasure? Why are they cast out, he and his descendants, and cast into a land which they do not know? O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord: Write this man childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days, for none of his descendants shall prosper sitting oil the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah."
Though Jeconiah is included in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 1:11-12, yet none of his actual descendants ever ruled in Judah. and the Lord Jesus was not the actual descendant of Jeconiah, for He was born of the virgin Mary. Matthew 1 is confined to the official line, coming down to Joseph, rather than having any connection with the actual tine which is given in Luke 3:23-38. There, Joseph is called "the son of Heli" (v.23) where it manifestly means "son-in-law," for Matthew 2:18 says that "Jacob begot Joseph," Therefore Luke records the genealogy of Mary.
ZEDEKIAH MADE KING IN JUDAH (vv.17-20)
However, Jerusalem's destruction was not yet complete. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah , the uncle of Jehoiachin, as king in Judah (v.17). His name was Mattaniah, but changed to Zedekiah by Nebuchadnezzar, who thus emphasised his authority over him. Zedekiah was 21 years old and reigned 11 years in Jerusalem, but practised the same evil that Jehoiachin had, dishonouring God by idol worship (v.19). Jeremiah 37-39 records the history of Zedekiah's reign, showing the utter weakness of the man, yet his stubborn persistence in evil. He foolishly rebelled against the king of Babylon in spite of Jeremiah's warnings to him.
THE TOTAL CAPTIVITY OF JUDAH (vv.1-21)
In the ninth year of Zedekiah's reign Nebuchadnezzar came and besieged Jerusalem, building a wall around it. Jeremiah told Zedekiah, by the word of the Lord, that if he would surrender to the king of Babylon, he would live and the city would not be burned with fire, but if he would not surrender the city would be burned and he (Zedekiah) would not escape (Jer. 38:17-18), but because of Zedekiah's fear of the Jews he would not surrender.
The siege continued for one and a half years, till the 11th year of Zedekiah's reign (v.2). Their supply of food was exhausted (v.3) and also at that time the city was broken through. But instead of surrendering to the king of Babylon, all the men of war and Zedekiah sought to escape at night by way of a gate between two walls (v.4). How did they expect to escape when the army of the Chaldeans surrounded the city? At least, Zedekiah and his sons were caught, though others of his men were scattered from him (v.5).
Zedekiah, being captured, was taken to Riblah where his sons were killed before his eyes, then his own eyes were put out (v.7). How solemn a judgment for a king of Judah! But it is typical of Israel's eyes being blinded at the present time because of unbelief (Rom. 11:7-8), a spiritual blindness that has continued through history from the time of their dispersal among the Gentiles.
Nebuchadnezzar seems to have had no more hope that Judah would be subject to him, so he had Nebuzaradan. his servant go to Jerusalem and burn the house of the Lord, the king's house and all the houses of the officials (v.9). He realised the Jews must have no centre of gathering, and thus the temple, so magnificently built in the time of Solomon, was destroyed by fire. What is there in Christendom that would answer to this? God's true Centre in the Church is Christ Himself. But is this realised today in the professing church? Rather, Satan has succeeded in blotting out the clear recognition of Christ as God's one Centre, with the resulting confusion of many sects and denominations striving against each other.
Besides this the army of the Chaldeans broke down the walls of Jerusalem all around, so that the city would have no protection from marauders (v.10). Thus today, in the professing church, the wall of separation has been broken down, so that unbelievers have easily come in to work havoc.
Also, the rest of the people in the city, as well as those who surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar, were carried away captive to Babylon (v.11). The devastation was complete, and since that time there has not been another king of Israel, though Herod, an Edomite, was called king in Matthew 2:1 and another Herod followed him (Acts 12:1). These were not of Israel, but were mere vassals of Caesar.
However, the captain of the guard left some of the poor of the land as vinedressers and farmers. It is possible, since they had taken so many away captive, that they brought some aliens in to replace them, as was the case among the ten tribes when they were so decimated by the King of Assyria (ch.17:24), but no mention is made of this here.
Evidently verses 13-17 refer to what took place before Nebuzaradan burned the temple. The bronze pillars and the bronze sea were broken in pieces to be taken to Babylon. Besides this the firepans, basins and things of solid gold and solid silver were also taken (vv.14-15). The bronze of the many articles was so great in quantity as to be beyond measure (v.16). All these things were God's property and are symbolical of what can only be properly appropriated by faith, but in being taken to Babylon, (which means 'confusion"), they were placed in connection with idol worship. Today also false religion has appropriated for itself what really belongs to God and uses it for its own unholy profit.
Verse 19 then Lists a number of men whom the captain of the guard found in the City, Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the second priest, three doorkeepers, an officer in charge of the men of war, five men of the king's close associates, the chief recruiting officer of the army and sixty others who were found in the city. Nebuzaradan took all of these captive and brought them to the king of Babylon at Riblah (v.20). None of them were allowed to live, but all were put to death by Nebuchadnezzar's order (v.21). This completed the captivity of Judah and the desolation of Jerusalem.
Though no king was allowed to rule over Judah, it was necessary that some form of government should be kept in control of the country, so Nebuzaradan appointed a man who was a descendant of the kings, Gedaliah, the son of Ahikam, to be governor of the people who were left in the land (v.22).
When it became known that Gedaliah had been appointed as Governor, officers of the armies and their men who had scattered from Judah came to Mizpah, where Gedaliah resided. Among these were some prominent men, specially Ishmael and Johanan (v.23). Gedaliah was purposed to remain in the land and to be subject to the king of Babylon, and he took an oath to this affect before these men, requiring them also to serve Nebuchadnezzar. This was the wise thing to do, for God had brought them down and rebellion would have been rebellion against God. Thus too in Christendom, because of the sad failure in testimony, God has allowed confusion (the meaning of Babylon) to take possession of the church publicly, and it is only right that we bow to the shame of our confusion, not expecting ever to return to the bright Pentecostal days of the Church.
This is a principle that is too frequently ignored, or even refused, by believers of the present day, for it is popular to accept the world's attitude that we should fight for our own rights. Therefore those who realise they should bow to the government of God are considered weaklings. Some proudly think that by their heroic efforts they are going to bring in another Pentecost, and in fighting for this cause, they will sadly persuade themselves they are really accomplishing something when their work is manifestly only a poor imitation of the early days of the Church.
It is important to consider that Gedaliah required an oath from the number of prominent men who came to him, that they would dwell in the land and serve the king of Babylon. It was God who had put them in that position because of Judah's previous guilt, and faith could only bow to it.
Jeremiah 40 and 41 furnishes an enlarged history of events at this time, a passage well worth considering if we are to have our thoughts rightly formed. Johanan, whose name means "Jehovah is gracious giver" had clear discernment that Ishmael was a traitor and had come with the intention of killing Gedaliah. He warned Gedaliah against Ishmael, but Gedaliah did not believe him. Gedaliah, being governor, symbolises the government of God, and Johanan, God's grace. Ishmael reminds us of the son of the bondwoman, Hagar (Gen.16), and he pictures the legal covenant (Gal.4:21-25). Can legal minded men be depended on to be subject to God's government? No indeed! If one claims to be keeping the law, he deceives himself and he will not hesitate to deceive others too. In fact, like Ishmael, he will destroy true government. Johanan (grace) was a true friend of government (Gedaliah), but sadly Gedaliah was deceived by Ishmael, who could agree to a covenant then very soon break it and murder the governor he had come to serve!
In the seventh month, just two months after Jerusalem had been burned (vv.8-9), Ishmael came with ten men (reminding us of the ten commandments) and killed Gedaliah and those who were with him, at Mizpah (v.25). This murder took place immediately after Ishmael had deceitfully eaten with Gedaliah (Jer.41:1-2). In fact, on the second day after this happened, there were 80 men who came from Shechem, Shiloh and Samaria with desire to meet with Gedaliah. Ishmael met them, weeping, and guided them into the city, where Ishmael and his men killed them except for ten men who bribed Ishmael to let them live (Jer.41:4-7).
Verse 26 (of 2 Kings 25) speaks of all those people who had come to Gedaliah deciding to go to Egypt because of fear of the Chaldeans, or Babylonians. Again, Jeremiah furnishes more information about this. Johanan and others with him asked Jeremiah to enquire of the Lord as to what they ought to do now that Gedaliah was gone (Jer.42:1-3). This should not have been difficult, for they had accepted the oath of Gedaliah to remain in the land. Now they told Jeremiah that whatever the Lord said, they would obey. However, when Jeremiah told them the Lord clearly declared that they would be blessed if they remained in the land under the domination of Babylon, he also told them they had been hypocritical in saying they would obey the Lord, for they had already decided they would go to Egypt and were only hoping that God would confirm this. Therefore they would suffer more in Egypt than they expected to in Israel (Jer.42:522). The result was that they did just what Jeremiah told them they would, yet accused him of speaking falsely in the name of the Lord (Jer.43:1-3).
JEHOIACHIN RELEASED, BUT NOT RESTORED (v.27-30)
Jehoiachin (Coniah) remained a captive for 37 years in Babylon, and then a new king, Evil-Merodach, decided to release him, speaking kindly to him and giving him a place of dignity above other kings who had evidently been also brought to Babylon (vv.27-28). We are not told why he showed this favour to Jehoiachin, but this is a striking picture of grace shown to one who has long been in shame and disrepute. Is it not a foreshadowing of the eventual recovery of the nation Israel from their long history of disobedience to God? This was not because Jehoiachin was worthy of grace, but rather that the grace was solely from the kindness of the king of Babylon, just as Israel will be brought back from misery and bondage by the sovereign work of God in grace toward them.
No longer did Jehoiachin wear prison garments, but was given provision of food "before the king" all the days of his life. Thus he was a subject of both mercy and grace, for mercy is compassion shown to one in need, while grace freely gives abundant provision to satisfy every need and much more. A regular allowance was given him for each day as long as he lived. He was not restored to his place as king of Judah, nor will any men of Coniah's descendants ever reign as king, but they will rejoice in recognising the Lord Jesus as the true King of all Israel and they will be greatly blessed all the days of their life.
We have surely seen in these books of Kings the clear proof that no man is worthy to hold authority over men. This is not only true of the many kings who were ungodly and rebellious, but also of those who were the most faithful and devoted. In fact, not one of all the kings of Judah and of Israel enjoyed a really bright end to his reign. Contrast this with the brightness of the end of Paul's history (2 Tim.4:6-8), a lowly servant of God in prison! Only the Lord Jesus is worthy of supreme authority, He who is "King of kings and Lord of lords."
Thus, though the books of the kings are full of sorrow and failure, they end with a bright promise of great blessing for Israel. How good indeed is our great God!
Leslie M. Grant