The odd feature about 2 Kings is that unlike the other historical books, it begins right in the middle of a story. With all the others, the previous book has a definite ending (like the death of Saul or the glory of David’s kingship) but between 1 and 2 Kings there is simply a pause for breath before it continues once more. The first two chapters continue the tale of Elijah and his ministry before turning to his successor, Elisha. After that, the book tells of the fall of Ahab’s family (known to historians as the Omride dynasty) before turning its attention to the fall of the northern kingdom (Israel) to the Assyrian Empire and the subsequent fall of the douthern kingdom (Judah) to the Babylonian Empire. The end of 2 Kings marks the beginning of the exile, which lasted until 538 BC.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, 'Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.' Elisha said, 'Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.' (2 Kings 2.9)
As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2.11)
Before him [Josiah] there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him. (2 Kings 23.25)
The story of the fall of both Kingdoms – north then south – is told with the intention of establishing who is to blame for their fall. As you read, notice the factors the writer brings in evidence. Is there anything to be said for the defence?
2 Kings 17-25 tells the story of the fall of the two kingdoms in quick succession, but it is helpful to know that nearly 150 years separated the two events – the northern kingdom fell in 722 BC and the southern kingdom in 597–586 BC.
Jewish tradition attributes the authorship of 2 Kings to Jeremiah, but there is no evidence for this in the book itself, or indeed for any other author. In style and theology it is very similar to Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, and so it is often thought to form part of a collection of writings scholars call the ‘Deuteronomistic histories’.
Next to nothing.
It is suggested that the authors of these 'Deuteronomic histories' were influenced by Deuteronomy and told Israel’s history from that perspective. The key feature here is that Deuteronomy stresses that God’s people will only stay in the land if they remain faithful. Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings tell the story of how God’s people failed to be faithful and so, eventually, went into exile from the land.
No one really knows when these books were written. It is thought that they reached their final form in the sixth century BC, in other words shortly after the Judeans went into exile. They were finalised then in order to explain why the exile had happened at all. It is clear, however, that these final documents were drawn together from already existing sources, many of which would have been written during or shortly after the event described.
The books, therefore, have more than one audience – those who read the first versions of the history and those who read the final text once it was pulled together. Since it is hard to know anything about the first audience we will concentrate on the second.
If it is right that these histories are written to explain why the exile happened, it's clear that the people would have been feeling hurt, despairing and lost. For a sense of what people were feeling then, have a look at the book of Lamentations which provides an accurate insight into their emotions.
More than any other of the historical books, 2 Kings communicates the bewilderment and loss that was felt when the kingdoms fell.
1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings
This is a history book, but it falls into the category of 'theological history' – history with a purpose. It is not telling the story just so that you can know what happened, but so that you can understand why it happened. Many of the historical books of the Bible are like this.
1.1–8.29 Elisha follows Elijah’s example as a prophet
9.1–10.36 Jehu is anointed as king and overthrows the house of Ahab
11.1–12.21 Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, usurps the throne of Judah
13.1–17.41 The downfall of the northern kingdom (Israel)
18.1–25.30 The downfall of the southern kingdom (Judah)
There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
Assyria, Babylon, Samaria, Gilgal, Moab, Edom, Shunem, Aram, Argob, Bashan, Galilee, Beer-sheba, Carmel, Damascus, Dan, Edom, Ekron, Ephraim, Euphrates, Gath, Gaza, Gilgal, Haran, Israel, Jerusalem, Jezreel, Judah, Lachish, Lebanon, Mizpah, Moab, Mount Carmel, Mount Zion, Ramah, Shunem, Northern Kingdom, Southern Kingdom, Tarshish, Tirzah, Zion
Omride dynasty, Ahab, Ammonites, Amorites, Arameans, Asherah, Chaldeans, Edomites, Eliakim, Elijah, Elisha, Gedaliah, Hezekiah, Isaac, Jehoiakim, Jehoiakin, Jezebel, Joshua, Josiah, Manasseh, Medes, Milcom, Moabites, Moses, Nebuchadnezzar II, Philistines, Sennacherib, Shalmaneser V, Sidonians, Tiglath-Pileser III, Zedekiah
altar, Rabshakeh, exile, exilic period, Baal, burnt offering, Cherubim, Feast of unleavened bread, High Priest, idols, Passover, priest, Solomon’s Temple, sons of the prophets, threshing floor, wadi
Prophecy and prophets are important in all of the historical books but especially in 2 Kings. Look out for the prophets' words and how they were fulfilled as you read.
The authors of 2 Kings are by now explicitly telling the story of the demise of the two kingdoms. Notice in particular who they think is responsible and why.
King Josiah was an especially important king because he restored the law to Judah – at least temporarily. Pay particular attention to his reforms and ask yourself why these were so important.
2 Kings tells the story of what distracted Israel and Judah from their life with God. Our lives are very different, but reflect as you read on what the equivalent of idol worship is in our world today.