Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Mt 11:28

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Apr 21, 2 Kgs 1-3

Today's readings are 2 Kings 1-3.

In the Jewish Bible, 1 & 2 Kings are one volume combined with 1 & 2 Samuel. They were divided into four volumes when the Hebrew text was translated into Greek. Taken together, they are a history of Israel as a monarchy under David, then under Solomon, then divided into two nations, Israel to the North and Judah to the South.

Overall, it is a sobering record of the fall of both nations. God gave specific guidelines to the leaders of Israel (Dt 12), nearly all of which are violated by the kings of the divided kingdom as it existed after the death of Solomon.

As we will see, Israel falls first, then Judah. As the tale develops, we’ll see that 1 & 2 Kings, reveals four attributes of God: (1) His grace, in how He sends prophets to warn the kings of their downfall, (2) His faithfulness in continually refining both kingdoms in spite of their disobedience, (3) His holiness in exacting discipline for their rebellion, and (4) His sovereign authority over all nations as He continually uses pagan nations to do His sanctifying work in both kingdoms. 

If we read through 2 Kings carefully, and consider it a book filled with practical lessons rather than a history book, we will see some of ourselves in Israel and Judah and become more aware of God's sanctifying grace in our lives.

In 2 Kings 1:1-4, Ahaziah, king of Israel, is injured and perhaps dying. As an example of how far he has fallen, we read that he wants to practice divination to see his future and sends men to a Philistine city (Ekron) to consult Baal-zebub. Elijah intercepts the messengers and queries the king while prophesying his death (2 Kgs 1:5-8).

Ahaziah, desperate to hear something more favorable, sends three groups of fifty soldiers each to bring Elijah back. The first two groups are consumed by fire from heaven, the same type of fire that came down when Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal (1 Kgs 18:25-40). That incident would be one that all of Israel would be familiar with, even the king. The third group repents and is spared. Elijah returns with the third group and delivers the prophecy personally (2 Kgs 1:9-16).

What just happened? Did God arbitrarily kill innocent men who were merely doing the bidding of their king?

Elijah was a prophet of God, sent by God to Israel to deliver His truth. Ahaziah wanted to hear something that was more beneficial to him than the truth. He wanted to change the truth to his favor and preference. Ahaziah had the option of throwing himself on the mercy of God and asking forgiveness but chose to try to manipulate God’s messenger instead. The first two groups of soldiers demanded that Elijah obey the king rather than God. They aligned themselves with an ungodly and evil king, doing his will rather than honoring and worshiping God—and they died. The third group revered and feared God more than their king—and were spared.
True to Elijah’s prophecy, Ahaziah dies and Jehoram, also known as Joram, becomes king (2 Kgs 1:17-18). Jehoram is a brother to Ahaziah (2 Kgs 3:1)

Elijah, knowing his time is near an end, takes Elisha on a tour to introduce him other prophets of God. Elijah is establishing Elisha as his successor. In an echo of Peter and Jesus, Elisha professes his commitment to Elijah three times (2 Kgs 2:1-6).

Elijah and Elisha are accompanied by fifty men (there’s that number again!). When they get to the Jordan River God parts the waters so Elijah and Elisha can cross to the other side where Elisha asks Elijah to bless him by asking God for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha’s request is like that of an eldest son asking for his lawful inheritance (Dt 21:17). It’s not a request to exceed what Elijah has done but one that acknowledges Elisha as Elijah’s replacement.

Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:9-12). Note, he is not taken up in the chariot and horsemen, who stand between Elisha and Elijah. They are a symbol of God’s protection and provision (chariots and horses are a sign of power), but not Elijah’s “ride” to heaven.

Elisha performs signs and wonders, establishing him among the people as Elijah's replacement (2 Kgs 2:15-22). God is making sure Israel has a prophet to convey His word to them. Yet again, we see God's grace toward a fallen nation.

One of the signs occurs when a group of young men who had mocked Elisha is eaten by bears (2 Kgs 2:23-25). Apparently, God is gravely serious about defending His faithful prophets against detractors and those who would mock the work God is doing among His people. God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7).

Jehoram is a better king than his brother but evil, nonetheless (2 Kgs 3:1-3).  Moab, who has an ongoing debt of a vast number of livestock owed to Israel (the numbers quoted in v 4 are meant to convey multitudes rather than an exact figure) rebels (2 Kgs 3:4-6). Joram calls upon the king of Edom and the king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, for help (also related in 1 Kings 22). The armies run out of water and face defeat when Elisha rebuffs Jehoram but consults the Lord for the sake of Jehoshaphat, who is a descendant of David (2 Kgs 3:14-19). The Moabites lose the battle with God's intervention (1 Kgs 3:20-25).

But the king of Moab, Mesha, sacrifices his son before Israel can fully take Moab. Human sacrifice is strictly prohibited (Dt 18:10). When the armies of Israel see the sacrifice, they withdraw out of fear 2 Kgs 3:27). The text does not tell us, at this point, if that is a wise decision or not.

The alliance between Jehoshaphat and Jehoram seems to produce a lot of confusion and heartache. We should take this as a caution against getting too intimately involved with ungodly people. As believers, we’re not called to isolate ourselves from those around us. However, neither are we called to depend on them and align ourselves so thoroughly that it begins to impact our spiritual welfare. Jehoshaphat is learning this lesson. 

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