Jehu vs. Elisha
The centrality of the prophetic word continues in Elijah and his disciple, Elisha. In fact, a large textual stretch covering fourteen chapters (1 Kgs 17 through 2 Kgs 9) focuses primarily on the work of these two prominent prophets. It’s their prophetic activity that drives the narrative forward.
One of Elisha’s more notable confrontations is with King Jehu. He anoints Jehu in 2 Kings 9 and instructs him to wipe out Ahab’s house. Upon becoming king, there’s a bloody battle and assassination, and the story gets pretty messy. Then, in 2 Kings 10, Jehu destroys Baal worship from Israel as he should have, but then continues to worship Jeroboam’s golden calves at Bethel and Dan! He was not attentive to the word of the Lord and he continued to lead Israel down a path of no return.
Israel was headed for disaster, and no one was to blame but themselves. The author pauses in 2 Kings 17 to make sure we know this. All the disaster that came on the northern kingdom was a direct result of its rejection of the word of the Lord. God sent them prophets to confront and correct them, but they persisted in patterns of idolatry, injustice, and rebellion until one day they were wiped out.
Hezekiah vs. Isaiah (2 Kings 18-20)
Unfortunately, Judah was headed towards the same outcome as her big sister. God sent prophets to warn Judah against imitating the ways of Israel. King Hezekiah responded positively to the prophetic word. He removed the high places and cut down the Asherah poles. 2 Kings 18-19 says that Hezekiah held fast to the Lord and kept his commandments. When Assyrian threat came, he cried out to God for help. Through the mediation of the prophet Isaiah, God heard and responded to Hezekiah. Finally a good guy! Right?
If only it were that simple. Later in his reign, Hezekiah makes some pretty foolish moves. When the superpower Babylon emerges as a world threat, Hezekiah invites Babylonian envoys into his storehouses and shows off all of his wealth. His pride makes him and his kingdom vulnerable to attack. This folly incites an oracle of judgment from Isaiah— Judah will also go into exile (2 Kgs 20).
Josiah vs. Huldah
Then, there are more bad guys, including the worst of Judah’s kings, Manasseh, but we also get a surprisingly “good guy” character in 2 Kings 22. Josiah takes the throne, and, during his reign, the law book is discovered and read aloud. Josiah is heartbroken over Judah’s sin and sends Huldah, the prophetess, to inquire of the Lord. What should Judah do?!
The prophetess says that disaster is coming upon Judah because they have forsaken God through idolatry. Josiah won’t experience this disaster because of his humility and repentance, but Judah will also go into exile because of its sin. Although Josiah does renew the covenant and restore the Passover in his day, it’s all just too little too late. Because of Judah’s apostasy, exile is coming. It’s only a matter of time until the prophetic word comes to pass.
Prophetic History vs. Modern History
Do you see how 1 and 2 Kings is really about the prophetic word of God and how it determines the course of Israel’s history, leading up to exile? The prophets continue to tell the kings that if they don’t repent of idolatry and turn back to God, exile is coming. When Yahweh can no longer stomach their outright rejection of his covenant, he gives them over to what the prophets said would happen all along.
But, is that the final word? Is exile THE END for God’s people?
What about the prophets? What happens to them now that all of God’s people are exiled? That’s what next week’s blog is all about. 2 Kings offers us a glimmer of hope, so you’ll want to keep reading to see how God’s story continues in exile.
Until then, it’s sufficient to say that these books cause us to long for a godly king from the line of David who will keep God’s word. We need a prophet who will speak God’s word and a king who will uphold it. If only those two weren’t at odds!
In Jesus, the offices of king and prophet come crashing together. However, it's not in confrontation like the kings and prophets of 1 and 2 Kings, rather it's in sweet communion in a perfect prophet/king-like figure. He is both the prophet like Moses (and Elijah!) who speaks God’s authoritative word and the king greater than Solomon who upholds that word. So, if while you’re reading 1 and 2 Kings, the continual clash between the kings and prophets causes you to ache for something or someone better, you’re right on track. It’s preparing you for the arrival of Jesus, the perfect Prophet-King.
Whitney Woollard is a writer, speaker, and Bible teacher in Portland, OR. She holds her M.A. in biblical and theological studies from Western Seminary and loves sharing her passion for the Bible with others. You can check out her work at her website, whitneywoollard.com