Tuesday, August 5, 2014

2 Kings: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

When Ahaziah (son of Ahab) was ruling Israel, he took a bad fall, and was about to die.  So he sent his messengers to plead with a god named Baal-zebub (probably the origin of the satanic name Beelzebub) for his life.  But the prophet Elijah heard about this, and stopped the messengers, and sent them back to the king.  This pissed off Ahaziah, and he sent soldiers to capture/kill Elijah.  But Elijah, being a prophet of God, called down fire from heaven, which burned them all up.  So Ahaziah died childless, and his relative Jehoram became king of Israel.

Then Elijah blessed his apprentice Elisha, and he was taken up alive into heaven, on a whirlwind, in a chariot of fire.  I believe Elijah is one of three Bible characters taken alive into heaven, the other two being Enoch and Jesus.

"Elijah Taken Up Into Heaven" by Lucas Cranach (1534)

Elisha had a rocky start as a prophet.  He purified a contaminated well of water, so far so good.  But then, when some kids made fun of his baldness, he caused two bears to come and rip apart the kids.  Not cool, Elisha.  Not cool.

"The Children Destroyed by Bears" by Gustav Dore (1866)

The kings of Israel and Judah briefly united forces against Moab, their common enemy, and defeated them.  Then Israel and Judah went back to being enemies.

Meanwhile, Elisha performed a series of miracles which bear a striking resemblance to some of the miracles of Christ.  Or rather, since Elisha preceded Christ, I should say that the miracles of Christ bear a striking resemblance to miracles of Elisha in 2 Kings.

First, he magically provided a poor widow with an endless supply of cooking oil.  Then, he raised a boy from the dead.  He miraculously provided a bunch of people with food.  He healed a man with leprosy.  And not just any man.  It was the general of Aram, Israel’s enemy.  Even the way Elisha healed this man (Namaan) was like a baptism.  Namaan had to bathe in the Jordan river.  Then Elisha miraculously made a lost axe-head float.

"The Cleansing of Naaman by Elisha" from the Blblia Sacra Germanaica (15th century)

Not only did he have miraculous powers, Elisha also had divine insight and foreknowledge, which he used to help Israel avoid attacks from Aram, their enemy.  When the king of Aram heard about Elisha, he sent a bunch of soldiers to kill him, which was a rather ungrateful thing to do after Elisha miraculously healed the Aramean general Namaan.

The soldiers of Aram surrounded Elisha’s house, and Elisha’s servant started freaking out.  Elisha, however, remained cool as a cucumber.  He prayed, “Open his eyes that he may see.”  The servant’s eyes were opened, and he saw an invisible heavenly army of horses and chariots of fire.  They had divine protection.  Elisha prayed that the Arameans would be struck blind, so they were.  Elisha then led the blind army of Aram to Samaria, the capitol of Israel.  Then their eyes were opened, and they were in the enemy capital.  But, instead of fighting, the two armies shared a meal, and left each other in peace.

"Elisha Blinds Arameans" by Chris Koelle 

This peace was short-lived, however, because soon after, the king of Aram laid siege to Samaria (Capitol of Israel), and cut off their food supply.  The people were so desperate that they resorted to cannibalism.  For example, a woman boiled her son.  So God scared away the Aramean army, and the Israelites were able to plunder their camp, and eat.

Then the king of Aram became ill, and he sent his son Hazael to Elisha, hoping he might help him live.  Elisha looked intently into Hazael’s eyes and wept.  When Hazael asked why, Elisha said, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the sons of Israel; their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword, and their little ones you will dash in pieces, and their women with child you will rip up.”  Sometimes having divine foreknowledge was not such a pleasant gift to possess.  Usually, it was a lonely burden.  Then the king of Aram died, and Hazael became king.

Meanwhile, the kings of Israel and Judah continued to disobey God by worshipping other gods.  So Elisha anointed a guy named Jehu to be king over Israel, and to be the instrument of divine vengeance against the houses of Israel and Judah.  Jehu drove furiously in his chariot, and assassinated the kings of both Israel and Judah.  Then he assassinated the seventy sons of the dead king Ahab, who did not obey God.  Jehu wiped out the whole line of Ahab, as God had promised in 1 Kings.  He also ordered Ahab's widow, Jezebel, be thrown from a high window, trampled by horses, and eaten by dogs.  Jehu gathered together everyone in the land who worshipped Baal, and slaughtered them all.  Then God blessed Jehu with a dynasty of kings over Israel.

"Jezebel Trampled by Horses and Eaten by Dogs" from the Van Soudenbach Bible

Because of all the inner and outer conflict that had taken place in Israel, the nation began to diminish in size and strength.

Then Elisha died.  But even his grave was holy, because once when some Moabites threw a dead guy in Elisha's grave, the dead guy came back to life.  

There was another civil war between Israel and Judah, which Israel won, and looted the temple in Jerusalem.  Then there was a series of kings in both Israel and Judah.  Some of them inherited the thrones of their fathers.  Others became king through conspiracy and murder.  Each king was judged by the extent to which he followed God’s laws and shunned idolatry.  By this standard, most kings failed.  The kings of Judah tended to be slightly more obedient.  Meanwhile, as a result of their disobedience, foreign and domestic troubles plagued both kingdoms.

And then a major event happened in Israel’s history.  The northern kingdom of Israel was invaded and defeated by the powerful Assyrian Empire.  The inhabitants of Israel were carried off into exile, and the cities were inhabited by Assyrians.  Israel was no more.  Only the much smaller nation of Judah remained.

"Israeli Captives Being Led to Assyria" (Assyrian, 7th Century BCE)

Meanwhile, in Judah, a new king came to power who was good.  His name was Hezekiah.  The Bible says this of him: “He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him.  For he clung to the Lord; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses.”  Because he was so obedient to God, Hezekiah enjoyed divine protection.  When the Assyrian Empire invaded Judah, God delivered them, and they were safe (for a while).

Unfortunately, Hezekiah’s son was not so obedient, nor was his son.  The prophet Isaiah predicted that, because of the sins of Hezekiah’s sons, Judah would ultimately fall.  But before that happened, there was one more good king in Judah, and his name was Josiah.  

During the reign of Josiah, a priest discovered a scroll in the temple, and it turned out the be the book of the law (the Torah, or some version of it).  This book had been lost for many years, and when Josiah read it, he was both happy and sad.  Happy, that the book had been found.  Sad, because Judah had strayed so far from its commandments.  So King Josiah instituted massive reforms in Judah.  He had the law read to the whole city of Jerusalem.  He ordered all idols be destroyed, and all priests of “false gods” be killed.  He also re-instituted the feast of Passover.  Because of Josiah’s reforms, the land had peace.  But, alas, it was not to last.  Josiah’s sons went right back to the old idolatry.

"The Scribe Shaphan Reading the Book of the Law to King Josiah" by Leonaert Bramer (1622)

Then another major event happened in Israel’s history.  The great Empire of Babylon invaded Judah, besieged Jerusalem, and carried most of the people off into exile in Babylon.  Jerusalem was burned and looted.  The Kingdom of Judah was no more.  The Jews were a defeated and scattered people.

"Flight of the Prisoners" by James Tissot (1896)

Stay tuned for what happens next in 1 Chronicles: a Book Report...

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