Midway through the second book of Kings, I am finding that I can understand the reading without being totally dependent on study notes. I really was unprepared for the ease of reading these two books after struggling with so much of the ancient literature.
Still, I maintained my discipline by reading the Wesley Study Bible’s notes. And then I began wondering why was it necessary to consider these two books for permanent inclusion in the Bible.
You might wonder why question such a decision, but just in case you are not familiar with the books of Kings, I will provide a bit of a spoiler. These two books are written as a historical narrative (a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end in chronological order).
The narrative style makes the reading more familiar for me, at least. I can understand going from point A to point B and on to point C. It makes sense.
But one of the challenges continues to be the lineage. For one thing, not being schooled in Hebrew or the ancient languages, I struggle with the spelling of the names. The list of fathers, sons and a few wives (notice no daughters) visually seem so similar—maybe one letter difference such as Amaziah and Ahaziah.
Now add to the lineage, there is the geography of the narrative. The ancient Middle Eastern setting is not a strength for me; in fact it is challenging even knowing the 21stcentury geography.
Remember that the chosen 12 tribes have split into two ‘countries’: Israel, the northern kingdom, and Judah, the southern kingdom. Mix in the lineage of the various names and trying to remember whether that family was from Judah or whether it was from Israel further complicates the comprehension of the narrative—which, as you may remember I stated, is easier reading.
The narrative itself tells of all the acts that these leaders did, not only to their own people; but to those that they battled and conquered. The list of killings is extensive, but add to the basic killing some of the violent and horrible behaviors used by the kings and their protégés and one might think the ink used to write the narrative is actually the blood of victims.
Woven into the battle-filled narrative are the evil behaviors that separated the faithful tribes from God. There is trickery. There is worshiping foreign gods. There is “doing what is evil in the eyes of God.” And that brings me back: Why is this narrative part of the Bible?
Maybe one reason is the stories of Elijah and Elisha. The prophets’ stories are woven into the narrative of the leaders (and notice the similar spelling) and are stark contrast of those who remained faithful to those who ‘did evil in the eyes of God’.
As a brief refresher, and to simplify what I have been reading, here is how Elijah is identified on Britannica.com:
Hebrew prophet who ranks with Moses in saving the religion of Yahweh from being corrupted by the nature worship of Baal. Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God” and is spelled Elias in some versions of the Bible. The story of his prophetic career in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reigns of Kings Ahab and Ahaziah is told in 1 Kings 17–19 and 2 Kings 1–2 in the Bible. Elijah claimed that there was no reality except the God of Israel, stressing monotheismto the people with possibly unprecedented emphasis. He is commemorated by Christians on July 20 and is recognized as a prophet by Islam. [accessed on May 27, 2019]
Needless to say the entry on the website Britannica.com is somewhat simplified, but it helps explain the importance of including him in the narrative of Kings.
Prior to Elijah’s death, Elisha enters into the narrative. He was a student of Elijah and in the end became his successor. To summarize his role in the narrative, it is helpful to turn to Britannica.com again:
Elisha, also spelled Elisaios, or Eliseus, in the Old Testament, Israelite prophet, the pupil of Elijah, and also his successor (c. 851 BC). He instigated and directed Jehu’s revolt against the house of Omri, which was marked by a bloodbath at Jezreel in which King Ahab of Israel and his family were slaughtered.
The popular traditions about Elisha (2 Kings 2–13) sketch a charismatic, quasi-ecstatic figure, very similar to Elijah. Like his mentor, Elisha was a passionate exponent of the ancient religious and cultural traditions of Israel, which both felt to be threatened by the ruling dynasty of Omri, which was in alliance with Phoenicia. (King Ahab’s wife, the Tyrian princess Jezebel, was then trying to introduce the worship of Baal into Israel.) As a prophet, Elisha was a political activist and revolutionary. He led a “holy war” that extinguished the house of Omri in Jerusalem as well as in Samaria (2 Kings 9–10).
Though Elisha recruited Jehu to revolt against and succeed Ahab, it was Elijah who was instructed to anoint Jehu as Israel’s king (1 Kings 19:16). This is characteristic of the relationship between the two prophets; in popular estimation Elisha always remains partly in the shadow of his master. The story of the beginning of his apprenticeship (1 Kings 19:19–21) and the account in which he becomes Elijah’s heir and successor (2 Kings 2:8–18) both feature the prophetic “mantle.” In the first, Elijah casts it upon his pupil; in the second, Elisha picks it up. The mantle, cultic garment of the prophet, carries connotations of power and authority. [accessed on May 27, 2019]
Why am I including all the background on the two prophets when I first stated that it was much easier reading the narrative of the books of Kings? Return to the second part of the title/headline: WHY?
As a 21stcentury Christian who has both the Old Testament and the New Testament to read, the narrative of the kings does not line up well with our understanding of the law as taught by Jesus Christ. The violence, the evil, and the bloodshed in the narrative seem counter-productive in understanding God’s law since the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I believe that the story of the prophets that is woven into the kings’ narrative is needed to grasp the significance of God’s effort to maintain the relationship with the twelve tribes of Moses. As the narrative creates the timeline, the lineage, and even the geography of the tribes history, magnifies a few important points:
- God maintains his promise to David despite the generations separating the kings/ people from David;
- God’s time certainly does not match our time; He is eternally patient;
- God sends messengers into our lives, but we have to be alert to them or even to the possibility that prophets and/or angels are trying to be heard yet today;
- God is with us even at our worse; it is up to us to become aware of this and ask forgiveness—even if it means more than once.
Finally, buried in the Wesley Study Bible (p. 469) is a quote from John Wesley’s own notes on Kings:
Wesley argues that such divine actions should be understood in terms of divine mercy rather than in terms of the failure of divine justice (Notes,13:23).
That statement caused me to stop and ponder again how easy it is to think that when bad things happen, it is God’s judgment for something we did wrong. As I visit with others who struggle to understand their own relationship with God, I discover that if life has not been easy or there is tremendous illness and/or pain with which they must deal, there is a real fear that these maladies are due to God’s divine judgment. This then leads them to fear they have not been good enough to join God and Jesus in eternal life.
Wesley’s note places an entirely different light, so to speak, upon the reason why we read the narrative in Kings. We need to realize that the generation after generation that God waited for the faithful to return to him is a picture of God’s divine mercy, not divine judgment.
Now I can answer the question: “Why do we read the narratives of Kings?”
We read the narrative because we learn what divine mercy is. We read the narrative because humanity has done wrong over and over and over again yet God continues to wait for us to return to him. God is patient. God is willing to forgive us when we learn that he waits for us.
Bad things do happen to good people. Life is full of reasons why, but God does not send bad things while he waits on us. He patiently waits for us to accept his love, his grace. He is divinely merciful. All we have to do is accept his presence and his love. He is waiting.
Please join me in a prayer:
Dear merciful God,
Time and time again we behave poorly.
We ignore all the lessons shared in the Bible.
We chose to act in ways that do not follow
the greatest commandment ever taught:
“Love one another.”
Forgive us of our doubt, disbelief, or denial.
Forgive us for hurting others,
physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Forgive us for our own self-judgment
separating us from your love.
May we find peace knowing your divine mercy.
May we shine in the light of knowing your love.
May we offer grace to one another so they too
experience the joy of faithfulness.
In the name of you, our Father,
In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,
And through the Holy Spirit, God within us,