As we read this week, we’re dealing with prophets and kings. Let me remind us again about these two roles within the biblical storyline. They’re both mentioned in Deuteronomy. A king must not acquire many horses or wives or money so that his heart is not turned away from trusting the Lord. He must keep a copy of the law and read it so that he learns to fear the Lord (Dt. 17:14-20). As for prophets, they are truly representing God when they speak in the name of the Lord and their word comes to pass (Dt. 18:22). So, prophets call kings back to covenant faithfulness and deliver oracles of judgment from Yahweh. That’s what we’ll see in our reading this week. The Word of the Lord stands forever.
These chapters are full of interesting and unusual events – including several miracles. While it’s right to think about the fantastical details, it’s more important to remember the foundation of it all is the supremacy and authority of Yahweh. In chapters 1-2, we get a picture of the Lord’s direction for discipleship as we see Elijah model faithfulness for Elisha. In chapter 3 we see the Lord confirm Elisha as a prophet to three kings. Yet, these kings only turn to the word of the Lord when they’re at the end of their own wits (I think we can all resonate with that, sometimes). In chapter 4, as one commentator put it, the author of Kings is piling up stories to show the supremacy and power of Yahweh over debt (1-7), death (8-37), danger (38-41), and deficiency (42-44).
What do you do when God doesn’t act according to your own expectations? Naaman’s pride nearly kept him from experiencing God’s healing. Gehazi’s greed reaps God’s punishment. In chapter 5, God’s grace has global implications. But, in 6:1-7, God’s grace extends even to local and individual problems – when a lost, borrowed axe could’ve led to years of debt, God met the needs of the poor. In the rest of today’s reading, we see the Lord working good for the believing remnant and working punishment for the faithless majority. We’ve seen a God who gives and a God who takes away. And even still, in the midst of infidelity and rebellion (8:16-29), the Lord is still faithful to his covenant promise to David (8:19) – both in preserving David’s throne and in executing judgment on the king’s failure to walk in the ways of David.
The covenant disobedience in the royal palace has festered long enough. In chapters 9-10, we see the swift and thorough judgment of God by an imperfect judge. The Lord’s word spoken by Elijah and Elisha comes to pass when the idolatrous house of Ahab and Jezebel is finally overthrown. Though Jehu is the instrument God uses to accomplish his will, he’s still an extremely flawed instrument. I find that encouraging and convicting at the same time: the Lord uses imperfect people, but we are not exempt from the earthly consequences of our unfaithfulness. In chapter 11, there’s rebellion and chaos again. The line of David is nearly extinguished by Athaliah. I love how Dale Ralph Davis describes chapter 11: “Yahweh’s promise to David was one infant away from proving false and falling to the ground. What a crucial moment! … You see Yahweh’s method don’t you? No spectacular intervention … 2 Kings 11 is another invitation to enjoy – in Scripture, history, and experience – the refreshing subtlety and mighty silence of our God.”
Just as things seem to be turning around for Israel and Judah, it doesn’t last. The decades long disobedience is entrenched. The attempt to repair the temple goes awry at the end when some of the money is used as a bribe for political stability. In the midst of Israel’s evil and God’s punishment, there is a brief moment of hope and deliverance. After the death of Elisha we’re left asking – what now? How will the word of the Lord go forth? Well... the odd story about the man coming back to life after touching Elisha’s bones helps us all to see that the word of the Lord does not perish with his prophet.
It’s a humbling thought that we can do “what’s right in the eyes of the Lord” but not “with a whole heart.” Let this text serve as a warning to us, lest we believe we can do the work of the Lord without the heart of the Lord. Instead, let’s strive to do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way – which may not always be the most practical, logical, or clearest. Let’s walk forward carefully and wisely, trusting that the Lord will be faithful to his new covenant with his people through the blood of Jesus. Those who trust in his Son, he will not blot out of the book of life.
We know and love the story of Jonah. But, I think we can read it with new eyes this time around because of the events happening around the country in the last few weeks and months. Jonah harbors significant prejudice toward outsiders. Yet, his head knowledge of Yahweh’s character confronts his actions. At the end of the book, Jonah is angry because the Lord is merciful and gracious, relenting from disaster.
Again, the Lord makes good on his word and the line of Jehu comes to an end. This leads us into five chaotic rulers in Israel, compared to only two during the same time in Judah (note: Azariah and Uzziah are the same person) and the first inkling of an “Assyrian exile” to come. Throughout the kings of Israel, you’ve likely noticed a common phrase: “the sins of Jeroboam.” Let it be a warning to us that our sins have consequences for the generations that follow. But let it also spur us on to keep a close watch on our doctrine and discipleship. Even when we walk in the ways of the Lord (like Uzziah), pride is a real temptation when we perceive that we are strong.