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Introduction to the Book of 2nd Kings

Table of Contents

General Info

See General Info on 1st Kings.    Read First Kings and Second Kings in our Online Bible.

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Brief Survey

The second book of the Kings opens with the role of God’s Prophet to Israel transitioning from Elijah to Elisha, as Elijah is taken to heaven in a chariot of fire.  In chapters 2-8, we see God performing various miracles and guiding Israel to military victories over the Moabites and Arameans (Syria) thru Elisha’s prophetic ministry.  Nevertheless, the spiritual condition of both the Northern Kingdom continued to grow progressively worse (the Southern Kingdom of Judah’s condition was not much better).

The dynasty of Jehu began well (ch 9) when he purged Israel of Baalism by killing the false prophets and burning their temple.  He also killed the remaining members of the house of Ahab, including the evil former Queen Jezebel.  Meanwhile, the boy-king Joash instituted religious reform in Judah, but later sent the temple’s holy items to the King of Syria rather than trusting God for protection (ch 11).  The deterioration and end of the Northern Kingdom occurred swiftly after Jehu’s dynasty ended with the assassination of Zechariah (752 BC), when the four succeeding dynasties rose and fell within the next thirty years (ch 15-16).  Then, in chapter 17, the Assyrians conquered Samaria (northern kingdom of Israel) after a three year siege and deported most of the population.

After the fall of Samaria, the final section of the book (ch 18-25) deals with the remaining years of the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  A large portion of the text is concerned with the reigns of faithful Kings Hezekiah and Josiah.  During Hezekiah’s reign, God repelled the invading Assyrians and added 15 years to the Judean king’s lifespan.  The Assyrians also relocated foreigners from other conquered nations into the Northern Kingdom of Israel (aka Samaria) who inter-married with the remaining Israeli natives. This was the beginning of the half-breed “Samaritans” that were detested by the Jews during the time of the Christ’s first advent seven centuries later.  Josiah received praise for rebuilding the Temple and reforming worship, but the reforms lasted only a short time and God finally allowed Judah to be conquered and destroyed by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (ch 24-25).  Due to God’s grace however, the book ends with a promising sign when Judah’s King Jehoiachin is released from prison by the King of Babylon and given certain privileges.

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Key Verses

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?”  “Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it”.  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan”.  And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.  So the two of them walked on.  Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.  Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it.  The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground...  As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father!  The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”  And Elisha saw him no more.  Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.  He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.  Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it.  “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked.  When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.  The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha”. (2:5-8, 11-15)

The king of Assyria invaded the entire land, marched against Samaria and laid siege to it for three years.  In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.  He settled them in Halah, in Gozan on the Habor River and in the towns of the Medes.  All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced...  So the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence.  Only the tribe of Judah was left, and even Judah did not keep the commands of the LORD their God.  They followed the practices Israel had introduced. (17:5-8, 18-19)

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel.  There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him.  He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses.  And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.  He rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him. (18:5-7)

So the LORD said, “I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, ‘There shall my Name be’”. (23:27)

At that time the officers of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon advanced on Jerusalem and laid siege to it, and Nebuchadnezzar himself came up to the city while his officers were besieging it.  Jehoiachin king of Judah, his mother, his attendants, his nobles and his officials all surrendered to him.  In the eighth year of the reign of the king of Babylon, he took Jehoiachin prisoner.  As the LORD had declared, Nebuchadnezzar removed all the treasures from the temple of the LORD and from the royal palace, and took away all the gold articles that Solomon king of Israel had made for the temple of the LORD.  He carried into exile all Jerusalem: all the officers and fighting men, and all the craftsmen and artisans--a total of ten thousand.  Only the poorest people of the land were left. (24:10-14)

In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin from prison on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month.  He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honor higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon.  So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king's table.  Day by day the king gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived. (25:27-30)

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Author and Date

See Author and Date of 1 Kings.

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Historical Background

When the original Book of the Kings was split into two volumes, the dividing point fell near the end of Elijah’s prophetic ministry in the middle of the ninth century BC (see Historical Background to 1st Kings for the conditions leading up to this point).  Coinciding with the end of Elisha’s ministry, both kingdoms lost their political leaders when King Joram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah were killed in the same year (841 BC).  This issued in Israel’s fourth dynasty (ch 10-15) that began with Jehu (841 BC) and ended with the assassination of Zechariah (752 BC).  A temporarily weakened Assyrian Empire allowed the Arameans (Syria) to launch brutal military campaigns against Israel until about 800 BC, when God raised up the strengthened Assyrians to defeat and dominate Aram.  This brought stability to the area and allowed for the economic and political expansion of Israel and Judah over most of the next 50 years.

The political situation soon changed drastically and by 743 BC, Israel became a vassal state of Assyria and their king Tiglath-Pileser III before being conquered in 722 BC (Syria had been conquered by Assyria in 732 BC).  The Assyrians also deported much of the population and relocated foreigners from other conquered nations into the Northern Kingdom of Israel (aka Samaria) who inter-married with the remaining Israeli natives.  This was the beginning of the half-breed “Samaritans” that were detested by the Jews during the time of the Christ’s first advent seven centuries later.

After the fall of Israel, the Assyrians pushed into and conquered most of Judah.  They also besieged Jerusalem in 701 BC during the reign of Judah’s King Hezekiah, but the angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in their camp, forcing them to withdraw (ch 19).  After the reign of evil King Manasseh and near the end of the righteous King Josiah’s life, the Babylonians became the dominant power in the Middle East by conquering Assyria in a series of battles from 612 to 605 BC.  Meanwhile Judah had become dominated by Egypt, so when Egyptian Pharaoh Neco II’s army marched through Judah to aid his Assyrian allies against the Babylonians, Josiah led the Judean army to oppose him (perhaps to gain relief from Egypt oppression, or to gain favor with Babylon, or both).  This strategy backfired when Josiah was killed at Megiddo, and Judah became a vassal to Egypt.  Egypt imprisoned the new King Jehoahaz and placed his brother Eliakim (Jehoiakim) on the throne as a puppet ruler.

After Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II defeated the Egyptians, Jehoiakim switched his allegiance from Egypt to Babylon (605 BC).  It was at this time that the Prophet Daniel and other young Jewish men were forced into exile in Babylon.  Jehoiakim later rebelled, but when the Babylonians invaded, the Egyptians refused to come to Judah’s aid.  As a result, Jehoiachin surrendered and was deported to Babylon in 597 BC.  It was now Babylon’s turn to place a puppet ruler in Jerusalem, choosing Jehoiachin's uncle Mattaniah (Zedekiah).  Eventually, Zedediah also rebelled and the Babylonians conquered and destroyed Jerusalem after a two year siege and deported most of the people in 586 BC.

To demonstrate the goodness and sovereignty of God, an appendix is added to the book indicating the release of Jehoiakim from prison.  Thus, the royal line of David had not come to an end.

For more Information:

See OT History Books for the position of the Kings within the context of the OT historical periods.

See OT Historicity for Historicity of the OT History books.

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See OT History and Monarchy Chronology for timeline of additional historical events.

Second Kings begins near the end of Elijah's ministry (850 BC) and ending with the Fall of Jerusalem (586 BC).   Most dates in this list can be accurately fixed within a year or so.

967-960 BC Building of the Temple (Book of 1st Kings)
931 BC Division of the Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) Kingdoms (Book of 1st Kings)
873-848 BC Jehoshaphat King of Judah
~870-850 BC Elijah Prophet to Israel
~ 853-798 BC Elisha Prophet to Israel
841-814 BC* Jehu King of Israel
835-796 BC Joash (aka Jehoash) King of Judah
796-767 BC Amaziah King of Judah
793-753 BC Jeroboam II King of Israel
791-740 BC Uzziah (aka Azariah) King of Judah
~740-685 BC Isaiah Prophet to Israel
732-722 BC Hoshea last King of Israel
728-686 BC Hezekiah King of Judah
722 BC Israel Conquered and Exiled by Assyrians
705-681 BC* Sennacherib King of Assyria
696-642 BC Manasseh King of Judah
640-609 BC Josiah King of Judah enacts Reforms
627-580 BC Jeremiah Prophet of Judah of Judah
612 BC Assyrians Conquered by the Babylonians (Chaldeans)
605 BC Babylon Invades Judah, Exiles many of the Jews
597 BC Second Invasion by the Babylonians
~597-570 BC Ezekiel Prophet to Exiled Judah
586 BC Fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, Exile of much of the Population, Judah's King Jehoiachin Imprisoned in Babylon
561 BC King Jehoiachin Released from Babylonian Prison

By integrating Biblical data with Assyrian records during the the reign of Shalmaneser III, we can establish the year of Ahab’s death (853 BC) and the first year of Jehu's reign (841 BC) using astronomical calculations based on an Assyrian reference to a solar eclipse.  With these fixed anchor dates, we then work both forward and backward to establish dates for kings of Israel and Judah and other related events.  Other Assyrian, Babylonian and Egyptian documents can also be used to verify the dates.  See the “Conclusion” of Challenges of Dating the Reigns of Kings for more info.

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Themes, Purpose and Theology

See Themes, Purpose and Theology of 1 Kings for more info.

Second Kings continues the book’s central themes of God’s sovereignty and the covenants.  As the spiritual condition of the kings and the people continue to deteriorate, we witness the implementation of the curses for the consistent violation of the covenant with the exile of the northern kingdom of Israel.  The grace of God however, was also on display as He temporarily saved the southern kingdom of Judah from the same fate during the reign of Hezekiah.  Yet, despite the continual reminders from the prophets regarding their covenant responsibilities, most of the remaining Judean kings followed in the ways of those of Israel, so they eventually met the same consequence.  Throughout, the book’s author provides an interpretive historical account of the events for the purpose of showing how God was justified in allowing his people to be conquered and exiled from the land that He had given to them.

We also continue to observe the roles of God’s prophets.  The second book opens with a number of Elisha’s miracles to validate his ministry.  Among the other prophets mentioned in the book, we note Isaiah and Huldah as examples.  Isaiah sent a message to King Hezekiah telling of God’s plan to save Judah by destroying the invading Assyrian army (2Kg 19:1-7).  According to tradition, Isaiah was later martyred by being sawed in half under the rule of Hezekiah’s evil son Manasseh.  Years later, Manasseh’s grandson, King Josiah gave orders to repair the temple.  During the repairs, the priest found the Book of the Law and it was read to Josiah, who sent the priest and others to inquire of the prophetess Huldah since the previous had disobeyed the words of the book.  She sent them back to the king with God’s message that He would indeed bring judgment on Judah because the people had forsaken Him for false gods and idols, but that Judah’s destruction would not occur during Josiah’s reign since he had repented (2Kg 22).

The book concludes with another example of God’s sovereign grace and faithfulness when after the exile of Judah, David’s royal descendant Jehoiachin is released from Babylonian captivity in Babylon (2Kg: 25:27–30).

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Interpretation Hints and Challenges

See Interpretation Hints and Challenges of 1 Kings for more info.

The book of 2 Kings continues the author’s practice of providing a selective history by evaluating each king based upon his faithfulness or disobedience to the covenant.  Hezekiah and Josiah are singled out for their obedience to God’s word (2Kg 18:5-6; 23:25) while Manasseh is condemned for his wickedness and leading the people astray (2Kg 21:2-9).

Turning to interpretive difficulties, we find an apparent conflict between 2Kings 10:30 in which God rewards King Jehu for exterminating the house of Ahab at His command (2Kg 9:6-10) and Hosea 1:4 in which God tells Hosea that He will “punish the house of Jehu for the massacre”.  The obvious question is “Why would God punish Jehu for the killings that God Himself ordered?”  Like most apparent controversies, this can be resolved by looking at the verse in context.

So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel.  However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit--the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.  The LORD said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation”.  Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart.  He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit (2Kg 10:28-31).

Because Jehu not only participated in the worship of false gods, but also caused the people to commit idolatry (repeated by the author for emphasis), he was obviously not loyal or committed to the true God.  So Jehu probably took advantage of God’s edict and carried out the slaughter for personal and political gain.  Thus, God’s condemnation of Jehu in Hosea likely came not for Jehu’s actions themselves, but for his motivations that drove the actions.  We often do the same today.  I’ve lost count of the times that I have done good for selfish reasons rather than for God’s glory.

A related difficulty that often arises in our modern times is the amount of bloodshed that appears to be sanctioned by God.  This controversy is not limited to this book, but involves much of the Old Testament.  We address this concern in general with particular emphasis on the Conquest in our Ethical Question of War article.

We conclude with an issue that we’ve touched on several times in our introduction to the two books of the Kings.  How can God fulfill His promise of an eternal Davidic dynasty when it apparently came to an end with the fall of Judah and David’s descendant Jehoiachin’s exile to Babylon?  Several times throughout the monarchy, the Davidic royal covenant line appeared in peril, such as when Queen Athaliah attempted to kill the entire royal family.  The plan failed when Jehosheba saved the boy Joash by hiding him with a nurse at the temple (2Kg 11).  Each time, despite the disobedience of the kings and the people, God providentially prolonged the line according to His promise (2Sa 7:8-16).  Yet, it appeared that, with the defeat and exile of Judah and the imprisonment of David’s royal descendant King Jehoiachin by the Babylonians, the line had finally come to an end.  The book however, ends on a positive note with Jehoiachin not only being released from captivity, but given a regular allowance and a seat of honor at the table of the Babylonian king (2Kg 25:27-30).

So, by noting the release of Jehoiachin, the author leaves us a strong possibility that the royal line of David might continue and indeed, the story of the Davidic covenant does not end with the Book of the Kings.  Less than 25 years later, the Persians had conquered Babylon and King Cyrus issued an edict allowing any of the Jews to return to Jerusalem to re-build the Temple of the Lord (Ezr 1:1-4).  One of the primary leaders of the first wave of returning exiles was Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel (Ez 2:1-2; 3:8).  We can then move to the beginning of the New Testament for the rest of the story.

The book of Matthew opens with the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (aka Israel) and Judah (Mt 1:2).  After a number of generations, the genealogy reaches David and Solomon (v6) and then continues through the royal line of Judean kings until we read, Josiah the father of Jehoiachin ("Jeconiah" in some translations) and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.  After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel (Mt 1:11-12).  We thus see that Zerubbabel was the grandson of King Jehoiachin.  Continuing down the genealogical line, we finally reach “Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Mt 1:16).  So, Matthew confirms that the royal line continues to Jesus, the continuing fulfillment of the Davidic royal covenant as the eternal King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 17:4; 19:16).

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The second book of the Kings can be divided into three sections.  The first thirteen chapters record the final days of the Prophet Elijah and ministry of his successor Elisha.   Chapters 14-17 describe the decline and fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (the deterioration actually begins in chapter 9 but accelerates in chapter 14).   Finally, chapters 18-25 narrates God's preservation of the Southern Kingdom of Judah during Hezekiah's reign, followed by the rapid decline and destruction of the nation after Hezekiah's death.

1:1 – 1:18 Final Days of the Prophet Elijah's Ministry;  Confrontation with King Azariah
2:1 - 2:25 Elijah taken up to Heaven;  Beginning of the Prophet Elisha's Ministry
3:1 - 3:27 Victory over Moab
4:1 - 6:33 Elisha's Miracles:  Widow's Oil; Woman's son Raised to Life; Poison Purified; Leper Cured; Axhead Floats
7:1 - 7:20 God Delivers Samaria from the Arameans
8:1 - 8:29 Famine in the Land; Two New Wicked Kings in Judah
9:1 - 10:36 Jehu becomes King of Israel;  Bloody Purge of House of Ahab, including the Killing of Jezebel and Baal Worshippers
11:1 - 12:21 Joash becomes King of Judah and Institutes Religious Reforms
13:1 - 13:25 Death of Elisha
14:1 - 15:28 Three Kings of Judah; Six Kings of Israel
16:1 - 16:20 Ahaz becomes Wicked King of Judah; Perverts Temple Worship
17:1 - 17:41 Fall and Exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians
18:1 - 20:21 Reign of Good King Hezekiah of Judah; God Delivers Judah from the Assyrians and Extends Hezekiah's Lifespan
21:1 - 21:26 Wicked Reigns of Manasseh and Amon of Judah
22:1 - 23:37 Righteous King Josiah of Judah renews the Covenant and Institutes Reforms
24:1 - 24:17 Defeat of Egypt and Assyria by the Babylonians; King Jehoiachin imprisoned in Babylon
24:18 - 25:26 Puppet Rulers in Judah Controlled by Babylon; Many Remaining Jews flee to Egypt
25:27 - 25:30 King Jehoiachin released from Babylonian Prison

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