Thursday, June 29, 2017

Death of a Nation

5 Then the king of Assyria invaded the entire land, and for three years he besieged the city of Samaria. 6 Finally, in the ninth year of King Hoshea’s reign, Samaria fell, and the people of Israel were exiled to Assyria. . . . 7 This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. 8 They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. 9 The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the LORD their God. They built pagan shrines for themselves in all their towns, from the smallest outpost to the largest walled city. 10 They set up sacred pillars and Asherah poles at the top of every hill and under every green tree. 11 They offered sacrifices on all the hilltops, just like the nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of them. So the people of Israel had done many evil things, arousing the LORD’s anger. 12 Yes, they worshiped idols, despite the LORD’s specific and repeated warnings. 13 Again and again the LORD had sent His prophets and seers to warn both Israel and Judah: “Turn from all your evil ways. Obey My commands and decrees—the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey, and that I gave you through My servants the prophets.” 14 But the Israelites would not listen. They were as stubborn as their ancestors who had refused to believe in the LORD their God. 15 They rejected His decrees and the covenant He had made with their ancestors, and they despised all His warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the LORD’s command not to imitate them. 16 They rejected all the commands of the LORD their God and made two calves from metal. They set up an Asherah pole and worshiped Baal and all the forces of heaven. 17 They even sacrificed their own sons and daughters in the fire. They consulted fortune-tellers and practiced sorcery and sold themselves to evil, arousing the LORD’s anger. 18 Because the LORD was very angry with Israel, He swept them away from His presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land. 19 But even the people of Judah refused to obey the commands of the LORD their God, for they followed the evil practices that Israel had introduced. 20 The LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel. He punished them by handing them over to their attackers until He had banished Israel from His presence. 21 For when the LORD tore Israel away from the kingdom of David, they chose Jeroboam son of Nebat as their king. But Jeroboam drew Israel away from following the LORD and made them commit a great sin. 22 And the people of Israel persisted in all the evil ways of Jeroboam. They did not turn from these sins 23 until the LORD finally swept them away from His presence, just as all His prophets had warned. So Israel was exiled from their land to Assyria, where they remain to this day. 2 Kings 17:5-23 (NLT)

The Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Kings describe the highest and lowest period of ancient Israel history from 970 to 586 BC. The books open with King David ruling the united kingdom of Israel with the living God as the true King of Israel. However, the book of Kings finishes with a divided nation and the Jews deported from their Promised Land into to foreign exile. Because of the people’s continual disobedience and unfaithfulness to the living God and His covenant, God allowed the Jewish nation to be divided into two nations with Israel in the North with ten tribes and Judah in the South with two tribes (see 1 Kings 12). 

Similar to the Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Chronicles, the Hebrew text originally treated 1 and 2 Kings as one book, called in the Hebrew tradition simply “Kings.” Another Old Testament book, 2 Chronicles, covers the same historical period as the book of Kings. Moreover, the book of Kings forms the background for other Old Testament prophetic books of the Bible, including Amos, Hosea, Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk. During Israel’s period of the Kings, God graciously sent His prophets to warn and correct the rulers of Israel.

Together 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings relate the whole history of Israel’s kingdom from its rise under the ministry of the prophet Samuel, the kingship of David and Samuel, and to its fall at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians.  The author of the book of Kings arranged his material in a manner that provides a sequel to the history found in 1 and 2 Samuel. In general, the book of Kings describes the history of Israel and Judah’s rulers in relationship to their faithfulness to God and His covenant. The guiding theme of the book of Kings is that the welfare of Israel and its rulers depended on their submission to and faithfulness to God and obedience to the Sinai covenant. 

Many scholars believe 1 and 2 Kings were created and later edited from 539 to 330 BC during Israel and Judah’s foreign exiles. A review of the book of Kings suggests the author wrote the book to explain to God’s people living in foreign exile why God allowed their defeat and exile from the Promised Land (see 2 Kings 17:7-23; 2 Kings 18:9-12; 2 Kings 21:12-15). The Judah’s reformation attempts to turn the people’s hearts and minds to God and His covenant under King Josiah is viewed as too little and too late (see 2 Kings 23:26-28; 2 Kings 24:3). The reason for Israel and Judah’s exile came because of Israel’s stubborn persistence in unfaithfulness and disobedience to God and His covenant.  God patiently and graciously endured His people’s disobedience and sinfulness for centuries in the Promised Land. After much patience and grace, God imposed His covenant curses upon His people for their repeated disobedience and unfaithfulness to Him and His commands (see Leviticus 26:27-45; Deuteronomy 28:58-68). From the very beginning, the living God wanted a relationship with His people, an inward heart faithfulness and love to Him, and obedience to His righteous commands (e.g., see Exodus 19:1-Exodus 23:33).

Yet, despite Israel and Judah’s foreign exiles, the author of Kings reveals God kept His promises to all of Israel and David’s eternal kingship. God is faithful to His promises (e.g., see Joshua 23:14-16; 1 Kings 8:56). The author of Kings affirmed the promise of the Davidic covenant, which promised David a “lamp,”  who will always sit on his throne from the line of family line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah (e.g., see 2 Samuel 7:14-16; 1 Kings 11:36; 1 Kings 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19; 1 Chronicles 17:4-14). In the final four verses of the book of Kings, God maintained an heir from King David’s family line that eventually leads to Jesus the Messiah, the true King of Israel and all nations (2 King 25:27-30, see also 2 Samuel 7:14-16). Ultimately, the Davidic covenant was fulfilled in the birth of Israel’s greatest King and Savior, Jesus the Messiah (see Matthew 2:1-2; Matthew 16:16; Luke 1:32-33). Matthew’s genealogy presents Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises to David to be the King of all (Matthew 1:1-17; see also Isaiah 49:6). The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 9 through 11 reveals God’s eternal love and faithfulness to His covenant people of Israel (see Romans 11:1-2).

God’s promises to King David at 2 Samuel 7 makes the ultimate difference throughout much of the books of Kings and makes the Judean dynasty from King David unshakable even while the dynasties of the Northern Kingdom of Israel were like reeds “shaken in the water” (see 1 Kings 14:15). Kingship in the Northern Kingdom was afflicted with instability and violence.  Twenty different kings reigned in the Northern Kingdom until the Northern Kingdom’s fall in 722 BC by the Assyrians. In the Southern Kingdom of Judah, there were also 20 different rulers spanning a period of about 345 years until the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC by the Babylonians.  These Judean rulers were all descendants of King David, except Queen Athaliah.  Queen Athaliah was from the family line of evil Ahab and Jezebel, and she briefly reigned in Judah after the death of King Ahaziah.  God graciously kept King David’s family line. Good likes like Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah were included from David’s family line while the Northern Kingdom of Israel has no good kings.

There is little conclusive evidence as to the identity of the author of Kings.  The Jewish Talmudic tradition credits the prophet Jeremiah as the author of the book of Kings. However, few today accept Jeremiah as the author because the book of Kings does not specify Jeremiah’s authorship.  Other biblical scholars argue the book of Kings were written by Levites, priests, wise men of Jerusalem, or possibly another unknown prophet. Whoever were the original author or authors of 1 and 2 Kings, these two books were deeply influenced by the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, often called the “second law.”  The book of Deuteronomy essentially summarizes the Mosaic Law Code that included the Sinai covenant. In fact, the book of Deuteronomy influenced many of Israel and Judah’s prophets. 

Deuteronomy’s influence of 1 and 2 Kings is clearly signaled in the opening section of the books with King David’s last instructions to his son, Solomon. King David instructed his son Solomon to seek and obey the living, to walk in all God’s ways, and keep God’s statutes and His commandments with all his heart and with all his soul (e.g., see 1 Kings 2:1-4; referencing Deuteronomy 4:6, 23-31; Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Deuteronomy 8:6; Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Then almost all the succeeding rulers of Israel and Judah are weighed in relation to obeying the One true and living God and the Mosaic Law Code as reflected in Deuteronomy (e.g., see 1 Kings 12:25-33; 1 Kings 14:1-16; 2 Kings 16:1-4). For this reason, biblical scholars refer to the author or authors of the book of Kings as “Deuteronomists.”

The author of Kings never intended to present the book of Kings as a social, political, nor economic history of Israel’s kingship under principles of modern day history.  The author repeatedly refers the readers to other sources for more detailed information about the reigns of the various rulers (e.g., see 1 Kings 11:41; 1 Kings 14:19, 29; 1 Kings 15:7, 31). Moreover, the author emphasized a king’s commitment to God and His commands rather than the king’s social, political, or economic assessment.  For instance, world history considered King Omri one of Israel’s most important rulers.  Omri established a powerful dynasty and made Samaria the capital city.  According to the ancient Moabite Stone, Omri was the ruler who subjugated the Moabites to the northern kingdom.  Long after Omri’s death, Assyrian rulers referred to Jehu as the “son of Omri.”  Yet despite Omri’s political importance, the author of Kings discussed Omri’s reign in only six verses (see 1 Kings 16:23-28) along with the statement that Omri “did evil in the eyes of the LORD and sinned more than all those before him” (see 1 Kings 16:25).

Nevertheless, the author of Kings gave the most attention to those kings whose reigns were either important deviations from or obedience to God’s covenant. For example, the book of Kings provides extensive treatment of King Ahab’s reign not so much of Ahab’s extraordinary political importance, but because Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel caused widespread Baal worship in Israel (see 1 Kings 16:29-22:10). Moreover, the author of Kings uses the life and reign of King David as a standard by which the kings were measured (e.g., see 1 Kings 9:4; 1 Kings 11:4, 6, 33, 38; 1 Kings 14:8; 1 Kings 15:3, 5, 11; 2 Kings  16:2; 2 Kings 18:3; 22). King David was faithful to God and His covenant, and he encouraged Israel and its leaders to seek faithfully and obey the Lord God (e.g., see 1 Kings 2:1-4; 1 Chronicles 28:8-10, 20-21). As the Old Testament reveals, David had complete trust and confidence in God’s power, sovereignty, and justice.

First and Second Kings were written in the form of a historical narrative, specifically, a record of kings succession. The main rhetorical format of the Kings’ history is the summary of individual kings’ careers, consisting of the name of each king, what kingdom the king ruled (Israel or Judah), the date of the king’s accession to the throne, the length of his reign, his religious and other policies, the details of his death, and the name of his successor. However, the book of Kings is as much theological as historical. The authors of Kings wrote the book not to provide every historical detail. The book of Kings seeks to interpret the history of Israel and Judah along theological lines, showing what happens when political and spiritual leaders foolishly choose to worship false gods or man-made gods, such as Baal and Asherah, instead of wholeheartedly loving and obeying the One true God of heaven and earth. As a result, the author of Kings present Israel and Judah’s history not as an interplay of human action but as the unfolding of Israel’s historical destiny under the guidance of an omniscient and omnipotent God, who rules all of history in accordance with His sovereign plans and promises (e.g., see 1 Kings 8:56; 2 Kings 10:10).  The God of Israel is indeed in control of all nature and all history.

Also, the author of Kings stressed the importance of God’s prophets.  The Lord God sent a long succession of His divine representatives to call the kings and His people back to covenant loyalty. The book of Kings gives particular attention the prophets Elijah and Elisha. In the book of Kings, Solomon is the dominant character in the first half of 1 Kings. However, the prophets Elijah and Elisha ministering to the Northern Kingdom of Israel dominate the great middle section of 1 and 2 Kings.  The Elijah and Elisha narratives are discussed from 1 Kings 17:1 through 2 Kings 13:25. Almost a third of the book of Kings are devoted to God’s efforts through His prophets to turn Israel away from idolatry with its worship of Baal and other foreign gods back to wholehearted faithfulness to Him as their true and living God (see 1 Kings 12:25 – 2 Kings 17:41). A host of miracles and vignettes controls the great middle section of 1 and 2 Kings with the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. The author of Kings wanted readers to know that God’s prophets were not merely preachers or poets, but they were channels of God’s power on earth, through word and deed.

The book of Kings is unified by the choices that each king (along with the nation itself) must make between worshipping and obeying the One true God or worshiping so-called gods or idols, such as Baal, Molech, and Asherah. The book of Kings establishes the benefits of worshipping and obeying God and the disaster that follows unfaithfulness and disobedience to the living God. First and Second Kings warns the readers the one true and all-powerful God will punish sin and wickedness, but He also stands ready to forgive those who are repentant (e.g., see 1 Kings 8:22-61; 2 Kings 17:7-23). There is no other god more powerful than the true and living God of Israel, who is the Father of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 8:4). 

The overall theme of the book of Kings is to affirmatively proclaim that the God of Israel is the only true and living God, and He is the Lord and Creator of heaven and earth (e.g., see 1 Kings 8:22-23, 27; 1 Kings 18:15, 36-39; 2 Kings 5:15; 2 Kings 19:15). The one true and living God is not to be confused with the various so-called gods worshiped in Israel and other foreign nations, for these so-called gods are false and simply human creations (e.g., see 1 Kings 12:25-33; 2 Kings 17:16-17; 2 Kings 19:14-19). These so-called other gods are powerless and useless before the true and all-powerful God of Israel (e.g., see 1 Kings 16:13; 1 Kings 18:22-40; 2 Kings 17:15). The true and living God of Israel is powerfully active within His world by His Holy Spirit, and He controls all of nature (e.g., see 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:2-17; 2 Kings 4:8-37; 2 Kings 5:1-18; 2 Kings 6:1-7, 27).

Moreover, the author of book of Kings wrote to affirmatively declare that the true and living God of Israel controls all of world history and not an idol god, king, military army, nation, or false prophet (e.g., 1 Kings 11:14, 23; 1 Kings 14:1-18; 1 Kings 22:1-38; 2 Kings 5:1-18; 2 Kings 10:32-33; 2 Kings 18:17-19:37). God’s control of the world is illustrated most clearly in the way in which His true prophets function within the book of Kings (e.g., see 1 Kings 11:29-39; 1 Kings 13:1-32; 1 Kings 16:1-4; 1 Kings 20:13-34; 2 Kings 19:6-7, 20-34). Much of the book of Kings focuses on wholehearted alliance, love, and faithfulness to the Lord God and no other so-called gods and images such as Baal, Asherah, Chemosh, Molech, and two golden calves (e.g., see 1 Kings 11:1-40; 1 Kings 12:25-13:34; 1 Kings 14:22-24; 1 Kings 16:29-33; 2 Kings 16:1-4; 2 Kings 17:7-23; 2 Kings 21:1-9). As the only true God, the God of Israel, also known as “Yahweh,” demanded exclusive worship! The true and living God of Israel will not take His place alongside the gods. The true and living God of Israel is the only God entitled to our wholehearted love, faithfulness, and worship (e.g., see 1 Kings 8:41-43, 60; 2 Kings 5:15-18; 2 Kings 17:24-41).

Inevitably, worship of these so-gods lead to moral wrongs and disregard for the Lord God’s commandments, which is our wisdom (e.g., see Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 4:6; 1 Kings 21). The true and living God brings His just punishment on violations of His moral commands, whether the sinner be king (Solomon in 1 Kings 11:9-13; Jeroboam in 1 Kings 14:1-18), or prophet (the unnamed Judean in 1 Kings 13:7-25; the disobedient man in 1 Kings 20:35-43), or ordinary Israelite (Gehazi in 2 Kings 5:19-27). The Holy Scriptures clearly teaches we must obey God’s righteous commands from our whole hearts (e.g., see 1 Kings 2:1-4; 1 Kings 11:38). Even in our disobedience, the true and living God is gracious, forgiving, and compassionate to everyone who repents of their sins and turn to Him in faith and obedience (e.g., see 1 Kings 21:25-29; 2 Kings 13:23; 2 Kings 14:27). God’s grace is found everywhere in 1 and 2 Kings (e.g., see 1 Kings 11:9-13; 1 Kings 15:1-5; 2 Kings 8:19). Nevertheless, 1 and 2 Kings do reveal that our sins can accumulate and ultimately leads to God’s just punishment and judgment, not only on individuals but whole nations (e.g., see 2 Kings 17:1-23; 2 Kings 23:29-25:26).

God’s original purpose in establishing Israel had been to bring His blessing to the whole world through Israel’s covenant love, faithfulness, and obedience to Him as their only God (see Genesis 12:1-3). However, the ancient Israelites failed to stay wholeheartedly loving and faithful to God. The book of Kings reveals the tragedies of a nation’s unfaithfulness to the true and living God: the rupture of the kingdom!

I.        The reign of Solomon (1 Kings 1:1-11:43)
II.       Rehoboam and Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:1-14:31)
III.      The divided kingdom (1 Kings 15:1-22:53)
IV.     Alliance between Israel and Judah (2 Kings 1:1-9:37)
V.      Israel’s prosperity and fall (2 Kings 10:1-17:41)
VI.     Judah survives Assyrian domination (2 Kings 18:1-23:30)
VII.    Judah defeated and absorbed by Babylon (2 Kings 23:31-25:30).

ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).
Zondervan NIV Study Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).

Monday, June 26, 2017

Love and Faithfulness to God

1 As the time of King David’s death approached, he gave this charge (instruction, commands) to his son Solomon: 2 “I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man (be a strong leader). 3 Observe (obey) the requirements of the LORD your God, and follow all His ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go. 4 If you do this, then the LORD will keep the promise He made to me. He told me, ‘If your descendants live as they should and follow Me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.’”. . . 10 Then David died and was buried with his ancestors in the City of David (Jerusalem). 11 David had reigned over Israel for forty years, seven of them in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 Solomon became king and sat on the throne of David his father, and his kingdom was firmly established. 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12 (NLT)

The Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Kings teaches readers about the importance of an individual and a nation’s faithfulness and obedience to God and His covenant. First Kings opens with King David, Israel’s greatest human king, giving final instructions to his son Solomon on the importance of remaining wholeheartedly faithful to God and His covenant. As guardian of the covenant with God, Israel’s rulers came to symbolize the spiritual health of the nation. All kings after King David would be judged by their faithfulness to God and His covenant. First and Second Samuel describe King David’s life and his kingship.

Israel reached its Golden Age under the kingships of David and Solomon.  However, the book of Kings concludes with the true and living God allowing His people’s defeat by foreign powers and their exile into the foreign lands of Assyria and Babylon. The Old Testament book of Lamentations expresses the pain and grief of this tragic period (e.g., see Lamentation 1:1).

What brought about Israel’s defeat? As 1 and 2 Kings reveal, Israel failed to wholeheartedly love and obey God and His commandments and statutes. First Kings 9 warned Israel of destruction if they refused to obey God faithfully and walk in all His ways: 

6 "But if you or your descendants abandon Me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, 7 then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor My Name. I will make Israel an object of mockery and ridicule among the nations." 1 Kings 9:6-7 (NLT)

The Old Testament books of 1 and 2 Kings describe the highest and lowest period of ancient Israel history from 970 to 586 BC.  The Hebrew text originally treated 1 and 2 Kings as one book, called in the Hebrew tradition simply “Kings.” Another Old Testament book, 2 Chronicles, covers the same historical period as the book of Kings. Moreover, the book of Kings forms the background for other Old Testament prophetic books of the Bible, including Amos, Hosea, Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk.  God’s faithful prophets continually warned each ruler and the people about the dangers of God’s judgments if they did not repent and wholeheartedly love and obey the living God.

The two-part book of Kings can be confusing and hopeless to keep straight.  The book of Kings lists 39 rulers: 38 kings and one queen.  Beginning with Solomon’s reign (approximately 971 BC), 1 Kings traces the history of Israel as one nation after David’s death. Chapters 3 through 11 of 1 Kings describe Solomon’s reign of the united kingdom of Israel, including the building of the Temple of God (also known as the First Temple).  Despite Solomon’s success, Solomon’s heart turned away from wholeheartedly loving and obeying the true and living God, and he began to worship other gods as result of his many foreign wives (see 1 Kings 11:1-8).

After Solomon's death, 1 Kings 12 marks the beginning of a civil war that ruptured Israel into two nations: Israel in the North and Judah in the South.  Beginning with 1 Kings 12, Israel is divided into two nations (Israel in the North with ten tribes and Judah in the South with two tribes).  King Solomon’s son Rehoboam succeeded him as king of Israel. However, Rehoboam was immature and reckless, and he lost the ten northern tribes to Jeroboam. Jeroboam, son of Nebat, led Northern Israel into independence from Solomon’s son Rehoboam and Judah (1 Kings 12:1-24). So the ten northern tribes of Israel revolted against Rehoboam forming two separate nations. Nevertheless, God was faithful to Rehoboam and allowed him to keep two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, in the south. Thereafter, the two kingdoms were known as Israel in the North and Judah in the South (see 1 Kings 12:18-24).  In all, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were united for 120 years under kings David and Solomon. Then the kingdoms were divided for approximately 200 years after Solomon’s death. Starting with 1 Kings 13, the book of Kings tells of the dark days for Israel and Judah.

All of the Northern kings were unfaithful and disobedient to the true and living God and not one Northern king followed the ways of God.  The Northern Kingdom brought institutionalized idolatry and corruption into their religion with the worship of gods manufactured by Jeroboam, two golden calves at Dan and Bethel (see 1 Kings 12:25-30). Moreover, Jeroboam institutionalized the creation of shrines on high places and the appointment of unlawful priests (see 1 Kings 12:31-33). The worship of the two golden calves, the shrines on high places, and the unlawful priests became known as the “sin of Jeroboam.” Israel’s worse rulers, King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel, introduced the terrible practice of Baal worship.  Of the 19 Northern rulers, eight kings either were murdered or committed suicide. One king, Zimri, lasted only seven days. 

Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness and idolatry, the true and living God raised up the prophets Elijah and Elisha in the Northern Kingdom to lead Israel. During Elijah and Elisha’s ministries, mighty miracles broke out with unusual frequency.  Through these two mighty prophets, the true and living God led and controlled the Northern Kingdom of Israel because of Israel’s ineffective kingship.  The prophets Elijah and Elisha appeared at a crucial point in the history of the Northern Kingdom, just as evil King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel were changing the official religion from the worship of God to the worship of Baal, a foreign god of Canaan (see 1 Kings 16:29-34). Israel’s idolatry and unfaithfulness to the living God ultimately led to Northern Israel’s exile into Assyria (see 2 Kings 17).

However, almost half of Judah’s rulers remained somewhat faithful to God “doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord” while the others proved wicked and disobedient to God.  Such good kings as Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah in the Southern Kingdom of Judah were godly kings and walked faithfully with God. Despite some good kings, overall Israel and Judah and its people failed to faithfully follow God and walk in all His ways. Idolatry and sinfulness also plagued Judah (see 2 Kings 21:10-16). Many of Judah’s rulers failed to have a wholehearted allegiance to God. 

So, God allowed the North Kingdom of Israel to fall to the Assyrians. Israel disappeared in approximately 722 BC with the Assyrian’s defeat of Israel, and the people of the Northern Kingdom were carried into Assyrian captivity (see 2 Kings 17). After Israel’s defeat by the Assyrian, Judah lasted alone for 135 years until the Babylonians destroyed Judah along with Jerusalem in approximately 586 BC and carried the people of the Southern Kingdom into the Babylon captivity (see 2 Kings 25). Although judgment may appear to be slow, God will judge evil harshly.

The book of Kings ended with a bleak picture: refugees picking through the rubble of Jerusalem, the Jewish people enslaved by foreign powers, and the Jerusalem Temple of God laying in ruins with its treasures carted off to Babylon. At the end of the book of Kings, the Jewish people were scattered across the earth, not to be united as an independent nation for 25 centuries. No independent Jewish nation existed until the 20th century. All along, God’s faithful prophets repeatedly warned Israel and Judah to return to God and His righteous commands. Ever since the Jewish people looked to 1 and 2 Kings when everything fell apart. However, the book of Kings ends with Israel’s hope and restoration as the One true and living God remains ready to forgive all who repent! Despite the destruction of Israel and Judah, God maintained His promise to King David. The line of David continued until the arrival of Jesus the Messiah (see Matthew 1:1-17)!


Amplified Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987).

ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

New Student Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992).

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Elijah /Elisha Narratives and the Gospels

I.          Introduction

            The great middle section of the Old Testament book of Kings is the Elijah and Elisha narratives. The Elijah and Elisha narratives are told at 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 13. Elijah and his successor Elisha figure prominently in 1 and 2 Kings as they prophesied against the wickedness and idolatry of King Ahab and his evil ruling successors of Israel, also known as the Omride Dynasty. Elijah and Elisha’s opposition against Ahab also put him at odds with Ahab’s Phoenician wife, Jezebel. Jezebel was from Sidon, a region north of Israel, and she worshiped the god Baal and promoted Baal worship in Israel. In order to please his wife, King Ahab built a temple and an altar to Baal and Asherah, thus promoting idolatry and leading the entire Israel nation further into sin and away from Yahweh, the true and living God of heaven and earth.
            Secular historians rate the Omride Dynasty that reigned from approximately 885 BC to 841 BC, as one of Israel’s most powerful and capable political rulers. In fact, the Assyrians records call Israel, “the land of Omri.” King Omri, the father of Ahab, expanded Israel’s land, and founded the city of Samaria, which remained Israel’s capital for 150 years. However, the Holy Bible dismisses King Omri for sinning “more than all those before him” (see 1 Kings 16:21-28). 

II.        Overview of Elijah and Elisha

Elijah and Elisha were the first in a long line of important prophets God sent to Israel. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, had no faithful kings to God throughout its turbulent history in the book of Kings, while Judah in the Southern Kingdom, had some faithful kings that worshipped and obeyed God. With no faithful king to lead and proclaim God’s word to the people, God called Elijah and Elisha along with other mighty men and women of God to rescue Israel from its moral and spiritual decline.
Elijah begins his ministry to combat the evil deeds and idolatry of the Omride Dynasty that begin with Omri and his son, Ahab with the worship of Baal and Asherah (see 1 Kings 16:21-34). Those who worshiped Baal believed Baal was the god who brought the rains and bountiful harvests. Asherah was known as a fertility goddess and the mother of Baal.
First Kings 17 announces the sudden arrival of Elijah and his divine ordain of a three-year drought. With this proclamation, Elijah teaches that the Lord God and not Baal nor Asherah controls all life, death, fertility, and infertility. Elijah, whose name means “my God is Yahweh” or “the Lord is my God,” proved to Israel and the world that Yahweh is the only true God of heaven and earth. With his dynamic ministry, the Holy Scriptures has called Elijah the grandest and the most romantic character that Israel ever produced. Moreover, Elijah’s prophetic role has eschatological relations to the Messiah (e.g., see Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 1:17; Revelation 11). For instance, Revelation 11 does not identify by name the two witnesses, but their capacity “to close the sky so that it does not rain” leads many to conclude they are Moses and Elijah (see Revelation 11:5-6). Elijah’s stories are told at 1 Kings 17:1 through 2 Kings 2:18.  
The prophet Elisha begins his ministry to the Northern Kingdom after a chariot of fire takes Elijah away to God (see 2 Kings 2:1-17). The personal name of Elisha mean “my God is salvation.” Before Elijah’s departure, God asked Elijah to anoint a farmer named Elisha as his successor (see 1 Kings 19:16). Elijah appointed Elisha and threw his mantle on him thereby symbolically manifesting God’s plan to bestow the prophetic powers of Elijah upon Elisha (see 1 Kings 19:19; 2 Kings 2:13-14). Elisha faithfully remained with Elijah until the last moments of his teacher's life on earth.
Like his predecessor, Elisha performed many miracles and called all of Israel to return to the living God. The spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:15). Despite Elisha’ efforts, Israel continued to persist in wickedness, unfaithfulness, and idolatry against the true and living God. Elisha faithfully advised and serviced during the reigns of Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram or Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash or Joash. Moreover, Elisha played a major role in Hazael becoming king of Syria (2 Kings 8:7-15). Although Elisha was very famous in his own time, his name appears only once outside the book of Kings (see Luke 4:27). In contrast, Elijah is often mentioned, and John the Baptist is frequently compared to Elijah (e.g., see Luke 7:24-28). Elisha stories are told at 2 Kings 2:1 through 2 Kings 13:25. 

III.       Gospel Comparison of Elijah and Elisha
Many similarities are prominent when reading the Elijah and Elisha narratives and the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of the living God. The Gospels draws parallels between the lives of Elijah and Elisha and the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus. The Gospels presented John as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy proclaiming that Elijah would come again before the arrival of the Messiah (see Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 7:24-28). John is pictured in the Gospels as coming in the “spirit” of Elijah before the arrival of Jesus the Messiah (Luke 1:17; see also Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12). The Gospels presents Jesus as the new Elisha.
The Gospels particularly demonstrate John the Baptist’s relationship to Elijah as to their distinctive dress (see 2 Kings 1:7-8; Matthew 3:4). Both Elijah and John the Baptist’s main enemies were women in the royal court who sought their lives. For Elijah the evil woman was Jezebel (see 1 Kings 19:2, 10, 14), and for John the Baptist the wicked woman was Herodias (see Matthew 14:3-12). Also, both Elijah and John the Baptist anointed their successors at the Jordan River and both witnessed the heavens opening and flying objects descending from heaven above (see 2 Kings 2:7-8, 11-12; Luke 3:21-22). Elijah and Elisha saw an approaching chariot of fire (see 2 Kings 2:11-12), and John the Baptist and Jesus saw a descending dove (see Matthew 3:16).
Jesus as well as the prophets Elijah and Elisha had a single-minded commitment to true and living God and the Law of Moses. These mighty men of God were zealous for the Lord God Almighty and His covenant (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:16-18). The Elijah and Elisha narratives and the Gospels affirmed Moses’ teaching from the covenant and the Mosaic Law. The essence of the Mosaic Law is love and faithfulness to the true and living God and loving one another as ourselves (see Luke 10:25-28, cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Leviticus 19:18). Jesus as well as Elijah and Elisha steadily proclaimed love and faithfulness to God and moral fairness for one another. For instance, during Jesus’ testing and temptation in the wilderness, He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:13, Deuteronomy 6:16 and Deuteronomy 8:3 from the Mosaic Law to defeat the evil schemes of the devil (see Luke 4:1-13). Moreover, the Gospels quote Deuteronomy 6:4-6 and Leviticus 19:18 from the Law of Moses when Jesus taught on eternal life and the two most important commandments (see Luke 10:25-28). Jesus would embody what Israel was supposed to be – a nation and people living in obedience to God’s commands.
The book of Kings of often called “Deuteronomic history.” God had long ago set before Israel the way of life and death, blessings, and cursing (e.g., see Deuteronomy 28). The book of Deuteronomy warned Israel about the seductive threat of the foreign religions and foreign gods that the nation would encounter (e.g., see Deuteronomy 12:1-3, 29-32). The book of Kings as well as the Gospels demonstrated that Yahweh, the true and living God of heaven and earth, rules over all kings and kingdoms.
Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, were holy men ordained and sent from the living God (see 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Luke 4:34). The Elijah and Elisha narratives and the Gospels continually affirmed the living God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Law of Moses (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:36-38; 2 Kings 13:22; Luke 10:25-28). Both Jesus and Elijah preached judgment and the need for repentance (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:36-39; Matthew 4:17). Like Jesus, both Elijah and Elisha were filled with God’s power and Spirit that some kings and mighty men honored and while others feared and hated them (e.g., 1 Kings 18:16-17; 2 Kings 1:1-18; 2 Kings 13:14; Luke 4:1, 14). Elijah and Elisha like Jesus spoke and proclaimed God’s words without compromise and authority to the ruling authorities and to the people, and they were committed to turning the people’s whole hearts back to the living God (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:36-39; Luke 4:31-32; Luke 9:11). However, Jesus brought a new covenant relationship of God with His people and “new wineskins” (see Luke 5:36-39; Luke 6:17-42).
Like Jesus, both Elijah and Elisha were people of integrity who did not try to enrich themselves at others’ expense. These mighty men of God sought to protect the needs of the poor against the powerful, greedy, and wicked (e.g., see 1 Kings 21; 2 Kings 4; Luke 6:17-26). Elijah and Elisha like Jesus proclaimed God’s compassion, mercy, and grace. God’s great reward awaits those in heaven who love God and seek goodness, mercy, and compassion like ancient prophets (see Luke 6:20-23). Similar to Elijah’s prediction to Ahab and his evil dynasty, Jesus predicted great sorrow awaits those who maliciously mistreat and harm others (see 1 Kings 21:17-28; 2 Kings 9:14-10:36; Luke 6:24-26). Sadly, Ahab and his wife, Jezebel and their descendants were not honest, hard -working people, but they enriched themselves by murdering and stealing from others (see 1 Kings 21; Luke 8:15).
Like Jesus, many times Israel ruling authorities rejected Elijah and Elisha message from God. However, Jesus, Elijah, and Elisha, like many other faithful servants of God, chose to carry out their faithful ministries for God. Because of Jesus as well as Elijah and Elisha’s faithfulness and commitment to the living God, some Jews and Gentiles also accepted and acknowledged the sovereignty of God (e.g., see 2 Kings 5:15; 2 Kings 13:4-5). Even a widow, a foreigner from Jezebel's home territory, cared for and acknowledged the living God and Elijah as a man of God (see 1 Kings 17:7-16, 24).
Sadly, Jesus along with Elijah and Elisha paid for their wholehearted commitment to God by experiencing isolation, threats, and rejections (e.g., see 1 Kings 19:1-18; Luke 4:14-29). At 1 Kings 19, Queen Jezebel retaliated by threatening Elijah's life, and Elijah ran after Elijah mightily defeating the priests of Baal and Asherah in the showdown on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:16-40). Elijah struggled with feelings of fear, depression, and abandonment. Despite God's provision of food and shelter in the desert, Elijah no longer wanted to live (see1 Kings 19:4).
Moreover, Elijah chose to work alone during his ministry, and he paid for his sole ministry with isolation and loneliness. However, Elisha and Jesus did not work alone during their prospective ministries. Elisha was often accompanied by a company of prophets (e.g., see 2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 4:38). Similarly, many faithful disciples, women, and followers accompanied Jesus during His public ministry on earth (e.g., Luke 5:8-11, 27-28, 33; Luke 6:17; Luke 7:11; Luke 8:1-4). Elijah often lived apart from the people. However, Elisha shifted the focus and like Jesus lived among the people, preferring the poor and outcast, and stressed life, hope, and God’s grace. Like Jesus, all social classes had access to Elisha, from the lowly widow to foreign kings.
Interestingly, both Elijah and Elisha proclaimed God’s message to the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Elijah and Elisha traveled throughout the Northern Kingdom of Israel proclaiming God’s message. Similarly, Jesus spent a significant portion of His public ministry in Galilee, which is located in northern Israel (see Luke 4:42-44). These mighty men of God toured Northern Israel’s towns and villages with God’s uncompromising words of truth (e.g., see 2 Kings 2:1-8; Luke 4:14-15; Luke 8:1). Moreover, during Jesus’ public ministry, many people from the regions of Tyre and Sidon, Jezebel’s home country that worshipped Baal, came to hear and worship the Son of God (see 1 Kings 16:31; Luke 6:17).
Moreover, supernatural and amazing miracles accompanied Jesus and the ministries of Elijah and Elisha through God’s power and the Holy Spirit working within their lives. God performed mighty works and miracles through Jesus, as well as Elijah and Elisha’s hands. These mighty men revealed God’s power, grace, and healing not only to the Jewish people but also Gentiles (e.g., see 1 Kings 17:8-24; 2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 4:25-17). First, the prophet Elijah predicted the beginning and ending of a three-year drought (see 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:41-46). Then, God worked an overwhelming miracle through Elijah to defeat the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:16-40). Furthermore, Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus restored the dead to life (see 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:8-37; Luke 7:11-17; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56). Both Elijah and Elisha brought food and salvation to widows (see 1 Kings 17:7-24; 2 Kings 4:1-7). Both Jesus and Elisha healed people suffering with leprosy (see 2 Kings 5:1-15; Luke 5:12-16). During Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus brought miraculous healing and restored life. Jesus healed a bleeding woman (see Luke 8:43-48), restored a dead girl to life (see Luke 8:40-42, 49-56), restored life to a Roman ruler’s servant (see Luke 7:1-10), and also restored a widow’s son to life (see Luke 7:11-17). Like Jesus, both Elijah and Elisha had God’s power to control the forces of nature, and heal and control the raging waters (e.g., see 2 Kings 2:7, 13-14; 2 Kings 2:19-22; Luke 8:22-25). Interestingly, Jesus acknowledged the miraculous works of Elijah and Elisha during His public ministry (see Luke 4:24-27).
The majestic display of God’s power over evil was on display during Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus’ lives. Like Jesus, Elijah had power to defeat the forces of darkness and Beelzebub, “the lord of the flies” (e.g., see 2 Kings 1:2; Luke 8:34-37; Luke 9:42-43). For instance, when Ahaziah fell and injured himself at 2 Kings 1, he sent messengers to ask Baal-zebub (lord of flies) about his fate. However, Elijah intercepted these messengers and sent word back to Ahaziah that he was soon to die (2 Kings 1). Ahaziah sent three different detachments of 50 soldiers each to arrest Elijah. Elijah sent fire from heaven to destroy the first group of messengers (see 2 Kings 1:10-12). Similarly, John and James wanted to retaliate against Jesus’ enemies by calling down fire from heaven on the people, as Elijah did on the servants of the wicked King Ahaziah of Israel (see Luke 9:51-56). Interestingly, at 2 Kings 2, Elijah was taken up into the glory cloud by chariots of fire rightfully revealing Yahweh is the God of all natural resources, including fire (see 2 Kings 2:11-12).
Similarly, Elijah prepared the way for Elisha as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for Jesus (see Malachi 3:1; Luke 7:24-28). Elisha followed Elijah’s ministry and demonstrated God's power, yet with compassion, like Jesus following John the Baptist’s ministry.
Nevertheless, Jesus and Elisha spent less time in conflict with evil and more in compassionate care of people. The miracles that occurred during Elisha and Jesus’ ministries put people in touch with the personal and all-powerful God and performed miracles to help those in need. Sadly, Jesus’ public ministry of compassion only lasted three years while Elisha’s ministry that lasted over 50 years and six different kings from King Ahab to King Jehoash. Elisha’s ministry had a major impact on four nations: Israel, Judah, Moab, and Syria (Aram).
Just before Elijah’s departure, Elisha had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (see 2 Kings 2:9), and the Holy Scriptures pointedly records about twice as many miracles performed during Elisha’s ministry. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God is often the Spirit of prophecy. Possession by the Holy Spirit enabled God’s servants to fulfill his or her calling. While other prophets waited nearby, Elisha asked for a “double portion” of the Spirit that was on Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:9).
Many of Elisha’s miracles revealed at 2 Kings 4 have great similarities to the miracles Jesus Himself would later perform (see Isaiah 61:1-3). Elisha used his power to provide a widow with an abundance of valuable oil to save her children from slavery (see 2 Kings 4:1-7). Also, Elisha made a poisonous pottage edible (see 2 Kings 4:38-41), fed a hundred men by multiplying limited resources (see 2 Kings 4:42-44), and miraculously provided water for thirsting armies (see 2 Kings 3:13-22). Once Elisha he made an iron ax head float (see 2 Kings 6:5-7). Elisha graciously restored sight to the blind (see 2 Kings 6:18-20), restored the dead to life (see 2 Kings 4:32-37; 2 Kings 8:4-5; 2 Kings 13:21), and brought good news to the destitute (see 2 Kings 4:1-7; 2 Kings 7:1-2; 2 Kings 8:6).
Similarly, Jesus willingly helped and provided for people. As the Gospels proclaimed, Jesus graciously “healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight” (Luke 7:21, ESV).  During His public ministry, Jesus brought healing to a paralytic man (see Luke 5:17-26). Jesus feed five thousand hurry souls with only five loaves of bread and two fish and everyone was satisfied (see Luke 9:10-17). Importantly, after Jesus’ testing and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus went around doing good and brought God’s healing to everyone in need (e.g. see Luke 4:38-41; Luke 9:11). God’s healing power was strongly with Jesus, and Jesus graciously healed everyone (e.g., see Luke 5:17; Luke 6:18-19; Luke 8:43-46; Luke 9:11). Like Elisha, Jesus restored the people’s sight (see Luke 4:18-19). Also, Jesus helped Simon catch fish (see Luke 5:4-7). Like Jesus, Elisha’s power did not end at death. For when a dead man was thrown into Elisha’s grave and touched his bones, “he revived and stood up on his feet” (see 2 Kings 13:21). Even now, everyone that believes and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior has life! Moreover, Jesus graciously gave His faithful disciples His power and authority to cast out demons and to heal all diseases (see Luke 9:1-2). Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom and the power of God in throughout the regions of Tyre, Sidon, and Northern Israel (see Luke 10:1-24). Jesus commented that many prophets and kings longed to see what His disciples saw and hear during their missionary journey (see Luke 10:24).
The miracles of Jesus as well as the Elijah and Elisha narratives were redemptive to dry the people’s hearts back to God. The display of God’s raw power on Mount Carmel and Jesus’ teaching and miraculous healing were to produce repentance in Israel (see 1 Kings 18:16-46; see Luke 10:1-24). Yet, many people still refused to wholeheartedly love and obey Yahweh, the true and living God. 
Interestingly, throughout Jesus’ public ministry the crowds believed that Jesus was a mighty prophet like Elijah and Elisha. Ruling authorities, kings, and even common people believed Jesus was like an ancient prophet, such as Elijah (e.g., see Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Luke 4:24; Luke 7:16, 39; Luke 9:7-9, 19). In fact, some people considered Jesus to be Elijah (see Matthew 16:14; Mark 6:15). Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus boldly proclaimed the living God's message and performed supernatural miracles such as raising the dead through God’s power and Spirit. The people were correct in believing that Jesus was a prophet, but He was much more — He is God Himself!
Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain and the Elijah and Elisha narratives reveal an “audio-visual display” of God’s living presence and power. God’s living presence and power was present during Elijah’s contest on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:36-39), silent whisper of God’s voice and power (see 1 Kings 19:10-14), and God’s glorious voice at the Mount Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah (see Luke 9:28-36). Interestingly, Elijah appeared along with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus to discuss His “departure” or “exodus” from the world to bring salvation and redemption (see Luke 9:31). Here Peter suggested that three tabernacles be built for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (see Luke 9:33).
Moreover, Jesus as well as Elijah and Elisha concentrated their efforts on the particular needs of the people around them. Elijah confronted and exposed idolatry, helping to create an atmosphere where people could freely worship the true and living God. Interestingly, John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, and John the Baptist challenged and exposed the people’s wickedness like Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:36-39; Luke 3:1-20). Similar to Jesus, Elijah spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. The living God’s power and Holy Spirit supported both Jesus and Elijah for forty days and forty nights (see 1 Kings 19:4-8; Luke 4:1-2, 14).
            The Gospels and the Elijah and Elisha narratives reveal people respected their ministries. For instance, after Jesus’ testing and temptation in the wilderness, reports about Him spread quickly throughout the whole region (see Luke 4:14-15; Luke 7:17). People spoke well of Jesus, particularly because of Jesus’ authoritative teaching and acts of compassion (see Luke 4:18-19, 22, 36-37; Luke 7:21). Similarly, Elijah and Elisha received praised by the kings and the people. For the most part, the people thought well of Elijah and Elisha (e.g., see 2 Kings 13:14).             

IV.       Summary
In summary, the Elijah and Elisha narratives have many similarities to the Gospel message about Jesus. Both the Elijah and Elisha narratives and Gospels of Jesus rightly proclaim that the Lord God of Israel is God of all the earth!