". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


How and Why to Read 2 Kings in 2023

August 19, 2023

Do you feel world-weary? For 2,000 years, Christians have scanned our sin-steeped surroundings and concluded, “Surely God is about to pour out his judgment.” There are solid biblical warrants for this: we know God’s holiness, his promises to judge sin, and his past record of doing so. Yet, for reasons known only to himself, God has withheld the full measure of his judgment — for now. So, we wait for the end, not fully understanding, only waiting. It feels like our historical moment bears some similarities to the history of Israel and Judah in the book of 2 Kings.


2 Kings is a book about endings: the end of Baal worship, the end of Israel (10:29-17:41), and the end of Judah (18:1-25:30). It originally formed one book with 1 Kings, which covered the temple’s construction, the kingdom’s division, and the drama between Elijah and Ahab. That first half concluded with King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah allied in battle against Syria, but Ahab died and left the crown to his son Ahaziah. This book accelerates, covering roughly 300 years and a total of 28 kings.

In contrast to the frequent prophecies in 1 Kings, after Elisha’s death (13:20), the only prophets named are Jonah (14:25), Isaiah (19:2-20:14), and Huldah (22:14-20), with an unattributed prophecy in Manasseh’s time (22:10-15). However, we know from their own books that the ministries of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Zephaniah overlapped with specific kings, while prophecies of Joel, Nahum, and Habakkuk (Obadiah is hard to place) must also have been written in this time frame.

In 2 Kings 1:1-10:28, God put an end to Baal worship in Israel and the dynasty of Ahab that established it. God accomplished this using Elisha, Jehu, and Hazael, as he had told Elijah (1 Kings 19:15-18). The centerpiece of this section (4:1-6:7, see also 2:19-25, 8:1-6) focuses on Elisha’s ministry, which resembled and then surpassed that of Elijah, typifying how Jesus’s ministry would resemble and then surpass that of John the Baptist. On either side of this, God saved Israel, according to Elisha’s prophecy (3:1-27, 6:8-7:20).

Before and after these events, God raises up some characters and brings down others. God replaced Ahaziah, king of Israel, with his brother Jehoram, after sick Ahaziah sought an omen about his recovery from a foreign, pagan Baal (1:2-18). God replaced Ben-hadad, king of Syria, with his servant Hazael, after sick Ben-hadad sought an omen about his healing from Elisha (8:7-15). God replaced Elijah with Elisha as his prophet (2:1-18), and he replaced Jehoram with Jehu as king of Israel (8:25-9:29). Jehu then exterminates Jezebel (9:30-37), Ahab’s descendants (10:1-17), and all the worshipers of Baal (10:18-28). Amid these upheavals, both kingdoms begin to decline; Moab revolted from Israel (1:1), and Edom revolted from Judah (8:16-24).

As a note, those not terribly familiar with this book may be confused by the similar names of the kings. One reason why they are so similar is that many kings were given names that related to the Lord; any name that begins with “Jeho-” or ends with “-iah” has a meaning related to “Jehovah.” Additionally, several kings had identities because the dynasties were intertwined. Judah’s Jehoram married Ahab’s daughter (8:18), making him brother-in-law to Israel’s Jehoram. His son Ahaziah was nephew-in-law to Israel’s Ahaziah and grandson to Ahab, which is why Jehu killed him, too. Israel and Judah will later have kings name Jehoash (or Joash) and Jehoahaz, too.

In 2 Kings 10:29-17:41, God put an end to idolatrous Israel. Hazael afflicted Israel, annexing all their territory east of the Jordan (10:32-33) and practically destroying their army (13:3-7). But, in general, Israel at first (10:29-36, 13:1-25, 14:23-29), seemed stable and strong — relative to Judah — based upon God’s promise to Jehu that his “sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel” (10:30). Despite their continuous idolatry, the Lord saved Israel from the Syrians because he “saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter” and “had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel” (14:26-27).

By contrast, four rulers of Judah in succession died by assassination (11:1-12:21, 14:1-22), Ahab’s daughter Athaliah nearly wiped out the whole line of David (11:1), the treasury to repair the temple was emptied to pay tribute to Syria (12:18), and the best king picked a fight with Israel and suffered a crushing military defeat that ended with Jerusalem’s wall broken down (14:11-14). Judah’s next king, Azariah or Uzziah (15:1-7), was actually an improvement, even though he became a leper (15:5), a sign of God’s judgement.

Yet the relative fortunes of Israel and Judah quickly turned. After the fourth generation from Jehu, Israel descended into a rapid series of coups (15:8-31), in which the only ruler who wasn’t assassinated paid tribute to the king of Assyria “that he might help him to confirm his hold on the royal power” (15:19). During the reign of Israel’s penultimate monarch Pekah, Assyria annexed a huge chunk of northern Israel (15:29). Judah began an alternating pattern of good (15:32-38) and bad (16:1-20) kings that would continue until its final decline. Besieged by both Syria — which even conquered Judah’s Red Sea port — and Israel, Judah’s idolatrous King Ahaz bribed Assyria to help, and Assyria responded by conquering Syria (16:7-9). Ahaz then ordered the priests to build a new altar in the temple, constructed after one he saw in Damascus (16:10-16) — his heart so loved idols, he would even worship defeated gods.

Finally, Assyria conquered the northern kingdom and carried the people away into exile (17:1-6). Explaining this point merits the most extensive break from the narrative (17:7-23): the people disobeyed God’s law, turned away to idols, and refused to listen to the prophets he sent. After exiling its inhabitants, Assyria repopulated the land with pagans (17:24-41), but gave them one exiled priest to teach them about Israel’s God. The result was that these half-Judaized gentiles, who were the Samaritans of Jesus’s day, “feared the Lord but also served their own gods” (17:33).

In 2 Kings 18:1-25-30, God put an end to idolatrous Judah. After conquering Israel, Assyria invaded Judah, now under godly Hezekiah, but God supernaturally saved Judah because of Assyria’s blasphemous taunts (18:1-19:37). When God tested Hezekiah (20:1-21), he passed one test but failed another, which prompted God to foretell the Babylonian exile (20:17-18). Then Judah’s worst king, Manasseh (21:1-18), reintroduced all the idolatrous and abominable practices Hezekiah had abolished, and even went further by shedding “very much innocent blood” (21:16); for Manasseh’s evil, God promised to destroy Judah and Jerusalem (21:10-15).

The one brief respite in this final decline was Josiah (22:1-23:30), who began to reign at eight-years-old after his evil father Amon was assassinated (21:19-26). Josiah repaired the temple, led a reformation, desecrated all the idols he could find, and restored Passover. The sad spiritual state of Judah was most clearly illustrated when the priests found the book of the law while repairing the temple (22:8) — everyone had completely forgotten about it, priests included! Yet the Lord had Josiah die in battle (23:28-30), to hasten Judah’s end.

Judah in its final years was a weak pawn in the larger struggle between Babylon and Egypt, who deposed three of the four final kings (23:31-25:7). Three times Babylon captured Jerusalem and took treasure and exiles back to Babylon. In the final sack of Jerusalem (25:8-21), Babylon destroyed the city. Babylon appointed the governor, but he was assassinated, and the remaining people fled back to Egypt, the land of slavery, in fear (25:22-26). What a bitter conclusion! Yet the final verses offer a slight glimmer of hope: one exiled king is released from prison and given a pension in Babylon (25:27-30). It’s not much, but it’s something.

Lessons about God

2 Kings teaches us many lessons about God, which mesh perfectly with the accompanying prophetic commentaries of Israel’s history. We know that God is true, that he does not bear false witness. While sad and tragic, the events recorded in this book really happened. And the divinely inspired author records them faithfully.

We also know that God had the author record the information that matters most to him. For many of the kings, we know little about their reign — the level of prosperity, the wars and battles they fought, the public works they completed, or even their families. But we do know whether they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, whether they worshipped other gods, and whether they permitted the people to openly worship other gods. God brought about the end of Ahab’s dynasty, the end of Israel, and the end of Judah all for the same reason: they had turned away from him to idols. Whom we worship is what matters most to God.

2 Kings teaches us that God is mighty. He raises up prophets and kings. He overthrows kings and kingdoms by his providence. He even foretells the death of a king or destruction of a kingdom. He reverses the course of military campaigns, and rescues those who, to human eyes, have no chance of victory. He saved the armies of Judah and Israel from perishing of thirst while fighting against Moab. He saved famine-stricken Samaria from the beleaguering Syrians. He repeatedly saved Israel again and again, even though the Syrians were more powerful. Most dramatically, he directly intervened to save Jerusalem from Assyria.

We also learn that God is righteous. He punishes wicked nations and people. In 2 Kings, Israel and Judah are guilty of doing everything Moses exhorted God’s people not to do in the law, particularly Deuteronomy (see, for example, Deuteronomy 7:25-26, 12:29-31, 18:9-14). God meticulously records Israel committing all the same abominations for which he drove out the Canaanites before them (Deuteronomy 18:12), and he applies the same standard and punishment to Israel. This was further justified because of the blessings and curses of the covenant, and because of God’s forewarning Israel that this is exactly how he would respond (see Deuteronomy 28-32).

Yet we also learn that God is merciful. God did not destroy the nation of Israel as soon as we might have expected. He could have wiped out Israel after Ahab’s wickedness, yet he preserved them for another hundred or more years. Then when Israel was exiled, the author recorded, “Judah also did not keep the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the customs that Israel had introduced. And the Lord rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until he had cast them out of his sight” (17:19-20). Yet Judah had another hundred years. God also repeatedly sent prophets, incremental judgments, and other opportunities — all designed to bring the people to repentance, which they would not do.

Finally, we learn that God is holy. He is utterly unlike other gods and not satisfied with partial worship or halfhearted obedience. Although Israel’s King Jehoram put away the Baals, God struck him down for clinging to the sins of Jeroboam. Although many of Judah’s kings worshipped the one true God, yet he recorded against them that they did not remove the high places. Although the Samaritans learned about God, yet God did not accept their syncretism.


These truths about God are not barren and abstract proposition; if understood properly, they will produce change in our lives. Knowing that God cares about whom we worship encourages us to avoid idolatry, including heart idolatry. Understanding his holy jealousy sharpens that point and should make us extra vigilant to worship him alone. There are no divided allegiances in the kingdom of heaven.

Understanding God’s mighty power should lead us to fear and obey him. Consider the case study from 2 Kings 5, where the pagan Naaman submits to the God of Israel and is cleansed of his leprosy, while the prophet’s servant Gehazi has a heart consumed by greed, and leprosy clings to him. By obedience and fear, the one is washed clean. By rebellion, the other is made more obviously filthy.

Understanding God’s righteousness and mercy should drive us back to the gospel. It gives us both a positive and a negative reason to repent of our sins and place our trust in the righteousness of Christ. It shows us more clearly how seriously God considers sin and how thoroughly he judges it. It encourages us to repent by showing us how rich in mercy he is and how eager to forgive.

Finally, we know that God is good. Neither the decline and fall of Israel and Judah, nor the dismal, decadent last days in which we live are God’s last best plan for the world. We should eagerly hope in faith for a righteous king, a just society, and God’s righteous rule. The present lack only helps the goodness of that final day shine forth more clearly, as we wait for it and pray.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.