Decline and Fall:
The Second Book of Kings

West Side Moravian Church
February 20, 2011


From first to second

Last month at the end of the first book of Kings we left Israel and Judah troubled by blood and apostasy, but still respected throughout the region and dominating the neighboring nations. This month, the second book of Kings begins by telling us, 1:1After Ahab died, Moab rebelled against Israel. And the book ends, 25 chapters later, saying, King Jehoiachin 25:30was given daily provisions by the king [of Babylon] … until the day he died.

Last month's sermon asked us, What Are You Building? This month the question might be, Is there anything left?

The last efforts of Elijah

As we begin the second book of Kings, Elijah is still alive – and so is pagan religion. In the second verse, we learn that King 1:2Ahaziah fell through a window lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria and was injured. He sent messengers with these orders, Go, ask Baal Zebub, the god of Ekron, if I will survive this injury. Why, we might ask, is the King of Israel inquiring of a pagan idol? Which is exactly what God asks. God 1:3told Elijah …, Get up, go to meet the messengers from the king of Samaria. Say this to them: You must think there is no God in Israel! That explains why you are on your way to seek an oracle from Baal Zebub the god of Ekron. 1:4Therefore this is what the Lord says, You will not leave the bed you lie on, for you will certainly die! At that point Elijah went on his way and the king's messengers went back and told the king.

That sounds like a classic story of prophecy and rebuke. But if you listen closely, you'll hear the degeneracy that has grown into the relationships. When King Ahaziah realized that Elijah had intercepted his messengers, 1:9The king sent a captain and his fifty soldiers to retrieve Elijah. The captain went up to him, while he was sitting on the top of a hill. He told him, Prophet, the king says, Come down! Did you hear it? Come here and say that! Like little children playing in the street: Come here and say that! And the fault is not all on the king's side. Elijah responds with fire from heaven: If I am indeed a prophet, may fire come down from the sky and consume you and your fifty soldiers!

Why would a king and a prophet behave like this? Why do we behave like this? Fear. We already saw in the first book of Kings that kings and villagers were afraid of the prophet, and that Elijah was afraid of Ahab and Jezebel. Here we see the culmination of lives lived in fear.

Is there no way out of this cycle of fear and threat? There is, but in Second Kings we see only fading glimpses of hope. In this story, two companies of soldiers were destroyed and a third company had come to Elijah, trembling with fear. Before Elijah can call down another lightning strike, 1:15The Lord's angelic messenger said to Elijah, Go down with him. Don't be afraid of him. So he got up and went down with him to the king. The prophet of God, feared throughout Israel, is so afraid of the king of God's people that he will not go and visit him until God's angel tells him not to be afraid.

In view of this introduction, it is not surprising that Second Kings is the story of the collapse of Israel and Judah.


Elijah's departure

Second Kings is full of wonderful stories. I am hard pressed not to spend an hour on each one of them. One of the most famous stories is when the Lord took Elijah up to heaven in a windstorm. That one story was the source for at least 500 years of mystical Judaism, in addition to a sermon of mine. Elijah and his special disciple Elisha had crossed the Jordan River into the wilderness. 2:11As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appeared. They went between Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah went up to heaven in a windstorm. 2:12While Elisha was watching, he was crying out, My father, my father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel! That is, you carried the power of God which has kept Israel. And now you are gone.

There is a sermon in the walking along and talking, and many more on a fiery chariot. There's a sermon in how the horses went between Elijah and Elisha. There is an entire sermon in the words of Elisha.

Elisha's work

Elisha quite literally picked up the mantle of Elijah and went back across the Jordan. He does what he can to sustain the relationship between the people and their God. The stories about Elisha's efforts include wonders and blood and floods of food and death and life.

Of all these stories, Jesus refers to only one: the healing of Naaman the Syrian. Elisha's motivation in healing the foreign general was to protect Israel from accusations of treachery and 5:8 …, so he may know there is a prophet in Israel.

Jesus points out that to do this, Elisha had to turn from the internal deficiencies of his own country and face the needs of a military man from Syria. In the theology of the Good News of Jesus, this looking beyond ourselves expresses the universal love and power of God. In the geopolitics of Second Kings, it was also necessitated by the diminishing power of Israel.

Elisha's end

Elisha lived to be an old man, and then he got sick and died. 13:10In the thirty-seventh year of King Joash's reign over Judah, Jehoahaz's son Jehoash became king over Israel. (Besides the excitement of the stories, confusingly similar names are a hallmark of Second Kings. The names even confuse the scribes and the translators.) 13:11Jehoash did evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not repudiate the sinful ways …. 13:14Now Elisha had a terminal illness. King Joash of Israel went down to visit him. He wept before him and said, My father, my father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel! That is, you carried the power of God which has kept Israel. And now you, too, are going.

King Jehoash of Israel had good reason to distrust his military and political power. During his father's reign, Syria had invaded Israel, taken over several northern cities, and turned the country into a vassal state. His father's army had been crushed; 13:7Jehoahaz had no army left except for fifty horsemen, ten chariots, and 10,000 foot soldiers. The king of Syria had destroyed his troops and trampled on them like dust.

Another front opened about the time when 13:20Elisha died and was buried. Moabite raiding parties invaded the land.

But the book tells us that 13:23the Lord had mercy on them and felt pity for them … because of the promise he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. … God was faithful, even when the people were not, and so it was that King 13:25Jehoash … recovered the Israelite cities – if only temporarily.

Even a king whose own religious loyalty was suspect, who tolerated pagan worship in the capital city, even such a king could see that the power of God which was carried by Elisha was the power that protected Israel.

Decline of the monarchy

Joash of Judah

Meanwhile, as we already noted, there was another king named Joash or Jehoash in the south, reigning in Jerusalem. 12:2Throughout his lifetime Jehoash did what the Lord approved. But, lest you think things were better in the south, let me tell you how this Joash came to the throne.

It seems that Ahaziah, his father and king of Judah, had been visiting up north in Israel when Jehu staged a coup and usurped the northern thone. Ahaziah hadn't been able to escape the carnage. 11:1When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she was determined to destroy the entire royal line. (Why? So that she could herself rule as Queen Mother.) 11:2So Jehosheba, the … sister of Ahaziah, took Ahaziah's son Joash and sneaked him away from the rest of the royal descendants who were to be executed. She hid him and his nurse in the room where the bed covers were stored. So he was hidden from Athaliah and escaped execution. 11:3He hid out with his nurse in the Lord's temple for six years, while Athaliah was ruling over the land. Then the priest 11:12Jehoiada led out the king's son and placed on him the crown and the royal insignia. They proclaimed him king and poured olive oil on his head. They clapped their hands and cried out, Long live the king!11:21 (12:1)Jehoash was seven years old when he began to reign.

Joash gets credit for rebuilding the temple, but when the Syrians decided to move south and attack Jerusalem, 12:18King Jehoash of Judah collected all the sacred items … and all the gold that could be found in … the Lord's temple and the royal palace. He sent it all to King Hazael of Syria, who then withdrew from Jerusalem.

Jehoash and Amaziah

Our next story shows the sad state which existed between the northern and southern kingdoms. It features Jehoash of Israel and Amaziah, the son of Joash of Judah. (I told you that the names of Joash, or Jehoash, and of Jehoash, or Joash, would be confusing, but try to follow along.)

14:1In the second year of the reign of Israel's King Joash …, Joash's son Amaziah became king over Judah. 14:2He was twenty-five years old when he began to reign …. 14:3He did what the Lord approved, but not like David …. 14:8Then Amaziah sent messengers to Jehoash …, king of Israel. He said, Come, let's meet face to face. That might sound innocuous to us, but it meant let me see how tough you are. 14:11so King Jehoash of Israel attacked. He and King Amaziah of Judah met face to face … 14:12Judah was defeated by Israel, and each man ran back home. 14:13King Jehoash … captured King Amaziah …, 14:14… took away all the gold and silver … and some hostages. Then he went back to Samaria.

The collapse of the north

You see the pattern: Government was disfunctional. God's rules were ignored. The two kingdoms fought each other. Neighboring states had grown in power. The treasuries were stripped to buy a few years of survival. This isn't a successful strategy for any nation, and collapse first came in the north, in Israel. The primary enemy changed from Syria to the more distant nation of Assyria.

Tiglath-pileser wasn't completely unreasonable. He may have exiled part of the population of Israel, but he did the same to their old enemy, Syria. He was quite happy to do so when Judah's king 16:8Ahaz took the silver and gold that were in the Lord's temple and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as tribute. Money doesn't buy peace, but it can help to spread your misery to your other enemies.

15:27Pekah … became king over Israel. … 15:29During Pekah's reign over Israel, King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel Beth Maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, including all the territory of Naphtali. He deported the people to Assyria. After that defeat, it is perhaps not surprising that 15:30Hoshea … conspired against Pekah …. He assassinated him and took his place as king.

Hoshea fared no better. 17:3King Shalmaneser of Assyria threatened him; Hoshea became his subject and paid him tribute. 17:4The king of Assyria discovered that Hoshea … had sent messengers to … Egypt and had not sent his annual tribute …. So the king of Assyria … 17:5… attacked Samaria and besieged it for three years. After three years, hardly any city could hold out; the capital fell and with it the northern kingdom. 17:6In the ninth year of Hoshea's reign, … Assyria captured Samaria and deported the people of Israel …. 17:24The king of Assyria brought foreigners … and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites.

Struggle for Judah

Reform and foolishness in the south

The north was lost, but the southern kingdom lived on. There were even some attempts at reform. When 18:1Hezekiah became king over Judah … 18:4He eliminated the high places, again, smashed the sacred pillars to bits, again, and cut down the Asherah pole, again. He also demolished the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for … the Israelites had been offering incense to it …. 18:5He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; in this regard there was none like him among the kings of Judah either before or after.

Sometime later a new threat arose, although Hezekiah was not quick-witted enough to realize what he was facing. 20:12Merodach-Baladan …, king of Babylon, sent letters and a gift to Hezekiah, for he had heard that Hezekiah was ill. 20:13Hezekiah welcomed them and showed them his whole storehouse, with its silver, gold, spices, and high quality olive oil, as well as … everything in his palace and in his whole kingdom. 20:14Isaiah the prophet visited King Hezekiah and asked him, What did these men say? Where do they come from? Hezekiah replied, They come from the distant land of Babylon. And Isaiah answered — but you don't need Isaiah. You don't need to be a prophet of God to know what will be the result of this.

Josiah's reforms

The last great reform was under King Josiah. 22:1Josiah was eight years old when he became king …. 22:2He did what the Lord approved and followed in … David's footsteps; he did not deviate to the right or the left. Josiah preferred to put money into rebuilding the temple (rather than into the Assyrian treasury), and so a big construction project was begun. During the construction, an important discovery was made. 22:8Hilkiah the high priest informed Shaphan the scribe, I found the law scroll in the Lord's temple. Hilkiah gave the scroll to Shaphan and he read it. 22:10Then Shaphan … read it out loud before the king. … In response to this discovery, 23:2The king went up to the Lord's temple, accompanied by all the people of Judah … He read aloud all the words of the scroll … 23:3… and renewed the covenant …. All the people agreed to keep the covenant.

Now listen to the litany of some of what Josiah found as he was trying to clean up:

All of this Josiah found, despite the reforms attempted by Hezekiah and some earlier kings.

Even more astonishing is that 23:21 the Passover … as prescribed in this scroll … 23:22had not been observed since the days of the judges; it was neglected for the entire period of the kings of Israel and Judah.

They observed Passover and purged the Temple. 23:26Yet the Lord's great anger against Judah did not subside; he was still infuriated ….

The end of Judah

Finally, the end. 24:8Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king, and he reigned three months …. 24:10At that time the generals of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched to Jerusalem and besieged the city. … 24:12King Jehoiachin … surrendered to the king of Babylon. … 24:13Nebuchadnezzar … 24:14deported all the residents of Jerusalem, … (10,000 people in all). This included all the craftsmen …. There was one brief rebellion after Jehoiachin and the others were taken away, which was crushed. Then 25:11Nebuzaradan, the captain of the royal guard, deported the rest of the people who were left …. 25:12But he left behind some of the poor of the land and gave them fields and vineyards.

Eventually, Nebuchadnezzar himself died and was succeeded by his son. 25:27King Evil-Merodach of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, pardoned King Jehoiachin of Judah and released him from prison. … 25:29Jehoiachin took off his prison clothes and ate daily in the king's presence …. 25:30He was given daily provisions by the king for the rest of his life until the day he died.


That's the end of it. The nations of Israel and Judah have each been invaded, defeated, dismembered, and deported. The last king of Judah is a kept man in Babylon, living on a daily allowance.

We know that there is something more. We know that there will be an end to Exile and a revival of the Jewish state, but there is none of that in Kings. Water only flows downhill, and so does the story of the Kings. And now we have reached the bottom.

Scripture quotations taken from the NetBible.

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