2 Kings 9-19
Since the prophet Samuel, anointing the next king of Israel has been a regular part of the prophetic work. Elisha is about to anoint Jehu, the next king of Israel. This time, instead of sending a prophet with only a command to find the next king, God actually gives Elisha the name of the man to anoint.
God tells Elisha to do the anointing and to get out. This is because of Jehu’s top priority as king: to erase the memory of Ahab and Jezebel from Israel. To start with, Jehu must take out Joram, a key military leader. As he approaches the palace where Jezebel is staying, he calls out for some help from below. Some eunuchs, who would have been charged with attending to Jezebel, heard Jehu. They were also at their wit’s end with the wicked queen, so they throw her out of the window to the ground. The nearby horses trample her to death to the point where no one recognizes her. All that’s left is her skull, her feet, and just the palms of her hands. This is a fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy concerning Jezebel all the way back from 1 Kings 21. God will not withstand evil for very long. God is patient, but that patience has a termination date.
This included the slaughter of Ahab’s seventy sons. They were wicked rulers, as well. Jehu sent word to those serving under those sons to do this difficult task. He also, either personally or through his followers, took out the servants and priests who had aligned themselves with Ahab.
Besides that, Jehu is also faithful to eradicate Baal worship from the land. He essentially tricks the followers and priests of Baal into coming to one place, saying that he’s going to worship Baal even more than Ahab, and will make a sacrifice. Once everyone is there, Jehu orders his men to slaughter all those inside the temple of Baal. And as icing on the cake, the turned the temple of Baal into a public bathroom. That is the appropriate way to deal with the place where idols are worshiped.
But Jehu is not perfect. He continues to permit worshiping of the golden calves throughout the land. Because he was faithful in a little, God granted that his sons would reign after him. The promised land, though, was only promised as long as faithfulness continued. Since Abraham, and throughout the Psalms and prophets, there were calls for the nations to come to the mountain of God and worship him there. Canaan was always intended to be just the beginning. But when the people are faithless, the land doesn’t grow, but shrinks. It will not be until Jesus Christ, the true Israelite, comes in the flesh and establishes the kingdom on the earth, that the growth of the kingdom to include the nations begins to take place. And by the time you get to the end of the book of Revelation, you see how all the nations are flooding to Jerusalem to worship God there. The eternal state does not seem to be the end of national identity, but the right ordering of it.
The focus moves back to Judah for a time. Athaliah, the queen mum, is upset that her sons will no longer be ruling in Judah. Naturally, she begins to slaughter the king’s family. However, Joash, the king’s son, is spared. He will reign in his father’s place. Jehoiada the priest hatches a scheme to protect Joash and install him as king. He knows that Athaliah has to go. So he orders the temple guards to bring Joash out of hiding, encircle him, and to slaughter anyone who comes near him. Athaliah now knows that Joash survived and comes to harm him, likely along with troops. But she and all those who follow her are defeated and killed. Joash is installed as king, and Judah’s Baal temple is destroyed.
How are we to take all the bloodshed we’ve seen in the chapters up until now? There are a few comments that help make sense of it.
First, Israel was a nation with its own set of laws, and breaking some of them involved the death of the perpetrator. We don’t often hear about the lessers violations, which makes the capital punishments much more common to the story. And notice that the ones carrying out the capital punishments are officials such as the king and his army, not a bunch of vigilantes. And when it comes to the church, we must remember we are a nation of priests, not an earthly nation. We do not carry out capital punishments by our own authority. In this age, God has charged civil authority with the power of the sword (cf. Romans 13).
Second, it’s common today to have a much more accommodating stance toward things God clearly calls sin. Most punishments seem too harsh to our sophisticated minds. Church discipline is two-fold: formative and corrective. Formative discipline is worship, Bible study, prayer and fellowship groups, and the like. It’s what forms us as Christians day-to-day. If we didn’t call it discipline, we’d never think of it like that. Corrective discipline is how we address specific, unrepentant sins in a person’s life who professes to be a Christian. Most of the time, this is not a public event. It’s a closed-door, private meeting between parties. And most of the time, it doesn’t even get to the level of church leadership involvement (cf. Mathew 18). If it does, biblical commands, respect for the individuals, and decorum prevents us from announcing such tragic outcomes in public worship when, Lord willing, many guests/non-believers are with us.
But Joash is not perfect, either (Note: some Bibles have the name here spelled differently, often as “Jehoash”. But it’s simply an alternate spelling of Joash.). He does not tear down the high places, or altars away from the temple. But he does seek to repair the temple in Jerusalem. It had a rough beginning, but after several years, Joash had got the priests on board with the repairs. It’s a good reminder that destruction can happen quickly, but change in the right direction takes time.
Joash’s story is also one of tragedy at the end of his life. When the king of Syria makes his way to Jerusalem, Joash hopes to fend him off by pilfering the temple treasury and giving it to Hazael. His servants turn on him (for an unknown reason) and kill him. His son Amaziah becomes king.
One of the reasons dating of the reign of individual kings can be difficult is because they’re dated based off of each other. We’ve read repeatedly that the new king of Israel/Judah began reigning in the xxth year of the king of Judah/Israel. We can learn more exact dates by comparing the numbers of years reigned with extra-biblical sources.
Back in Judah, Jehoahaz begins to reign as king. He’s a wicked king, and God allows Syria to invade. As the king goes, so goes the nation. While Jehoahaz seeks the Lord, the people continue to rebel. At this point, neither the northern nor the southern kingdom has a righteous king.
As Elisha is about to die, King Joash approaches him one last time. Elisha wants to confirm with Joash that they will defeat Syria by the Lord’s power. As an illustration of that promise, Elisha has Joash shoot an arrow out of an eastern window, since that’s the direction of Syria. To confirm the promise, Elisha tells Joash to strike the ground with the arrows. Joash is timid and only taps the ground three times. Elisha tells him that he should have struck the ground more than that, as the promise comes from God. So now, Israel will only defeat Syria three times.
In an interesting aside, after Elisha dies, another dead man, who died in battle with the Moabites, falls into his grave. Because he touched Elisha’s body, he is resuscitated. We’re told that this takes place in the spring, so this takes place roughly a year after the preceding verses. This is not rightly called a resurrection, because resurrection is an event that takes place at the end of the age. Only Christ has rightly been resurrected as a foretaste of the final resurrection of the righteous.
But was Elisha’s body magic? Not quite. Elisha had been given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. It’s also telling that this note is passed over quite quickly. Right before this story, we’re told that Joash will only defeat the Syrians three times. Immediately after this story, we’re told that that’s exactly what happened. So most likely, the resuscitation of this dead man is to both remind and prove to Joash that the final words of Elisha were true. Propehcy > reminder > fulfillment.
I could sit here and summarize all of the kings for you, but that’s all it’d be—a summary. All of those wicked kings are simply to show God’s patience with his people. Fast-forwarding to 2 Kings 17, we finally arrive at the fall of Israel by Assyria. From this point, the Israelites of the northern kingdom are taken into exile. The Assyrian practice of exile looked like moving people around from their empire. Once they captured a new place, they would remove some of the natural inhabitants and move people from other places in their empire to the newly acquired land. It was a way of assimilating their kingdom and removing a national identity. People without a national identity are easy to control. One easy way to remember this is “Assyrians practiced assimilation.”
In contrast, the Jews down south were not mixed when Babylon captured and exiled them. King Nebuchadnezzar left the poorest Jews to farm the land in Judah and took the fittest and wealthiest to Babylon with him (think of Daniel, Shaddrach, Meshach, and Abednego). After less than seventy years, the Jews were permitted to return, which is barely two generations. Not much of the Jewish/southern identity was lost.
Once the other nations were planted in Israel, they began to start worshiping the false gods that they had before. Some Israelites did not assimilate with the pagans, but many did. This is the reason that there was such tension between the Jews (those who were left in southern Judah) and Samaritans (those who were left in northern Israel) in Christ’s day. Jews viewed Samaritans as mutts and traitors.
We are now introduced to the prophet Isaiah. He does of course have his own prophetic book, but he will prophecy with King Hezekiah before Babylon takes over. Judah will have their own run-ins with Assyria, but they will prevail. There will be a remnant, but Judah will not favor much better than their northern brothers and sisters.
Acts 6 is famous for revealing the role of the deacon, or more accurately, the proto-deacon. The apostles understand that their primary task is preaching, teaching, and prayer. And yet, that does not mean the physical needs of the congregation are of no concern. Instead of selecting seven men themselves, they tell the congregation to do that. It says something that the apostles, who were charged with writing Scripture, did not choose the deacons themselves. That authority rested in the congregation. The apostles would confirm the selections, but the selections themselves would come from the congregation.
The qualifications for the proto-deacon were a man “full of the Spirit and of wisdom”, so it wasn’t just the good ol’ boy system. The diaconate may not the be teaching and leadership office of the church, but they must still be men of noble character. Eventually, the role of the deacon will become one of modeling servanthood for the congregation. The result of a robust teaching ministry coupled with servant-ministry was the increase of the gospel.
Stephen, one of the first deacons, would become the first Christian martyr. Some Jews were arguing with Stephen, because he was performing miraculous signs to accompany his ministry. And here we see the necessity of wisdom being a key quality of a deacon. Because he knew the Scripture and could debate his detractors, no one was able to win an argument against him. As they did with the Lord, they finally accuse him of blasphemy that he may be put to death.
Jews did not so much concern themselves with theology as Christians do. They were far more concerned about keeping the law and the best way to do it. The Talmud, an ancient Jewish collection of texts from the 400s, is a commentary on the Jewish law and how it should be kept. It was an oral tradition Jews claimed originated in the time of Moses. But it is not a systematic theology of God, salvation, etc. Theology proper was really introduced when Christians moved into the Gentile world and had to communicate the gospel to a wide variety of cultures. This is the scenario in which the first Christian martyrs found themselves. This is the reason Paul sought to kill so many Christians. It was not primarily about a deficient view of God; it wasn’t even about a redefinition of the law. The problem was that Christians said they were not bound to keep the Mosaic law as a condition of the new covenant.
Stephen defends the status of the new covenant in Christ’s blood as superior to the covenant made on Mt. Sinai. He recounts major sections of Jewish history to bolster his argument. Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the old covenant and the author of the new covenant. Jews should see that in the fulfillment of the old covenant, the new covenant is not bound by the regulations of the old. Theologian Gerald Bray notes that if Jesus was just introducing a new sect within Judaism, he might have very well been eventually approved by the Jews. After all, the Jews killed the prophets but eventually canonized their writings. But Jesus was not about new interpretations; he was about fulfillment.
We are introduced to Saul at Stephen’s stoning. He has apparently been active in his attempts at eradicating the Christian faith for some time. He is both imprisoning and murdering Christians. Saul “approving” of Stephen’s execution may be more than just him being glad that it took place; he may have officially approved of his execution as a Jewish religious leader—a Pharisee.
Philip, another deacon, is traveling and preaching. He even goes to Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom (pre-exile). They had an Israelite heritage, but they had intermingled and intermarried with pagans. Many Jews hated the Samaritans because of it. But the gospel is now spreading out from the Jewish center from which it originated.
Philip will also be sent to Gaza. He famously meets an Ethiopian along the road who is reading from the prophet Isaiah. Like Philip, he seems to be leaving Jerusalem. He’s not a Jew, but he was in Jerusalem to worship. Gentiles were permitted to worship in a particular section of the temple as a foreshadowing of the nations coming to God on his holy mountain in the age to come. Now Philip will have the opportunity to preach the good news of how Jesus Christ has fulfilled the very passage from Isaiah the Ethiopian is reading.
Immediately, the Ethiopian asks to be baptized, so that must have been a component of Philip’s message. Here we see a consistent pattern: preaching, followed by belief, followed by baptism. Baptists see this as the pattern to follow in the church to this day. Others, primarily those who baptize infants, see this pattern as particular only to the first generation of Christians. Because every Christian was a new convert, the argument goes, everyone would out of necessity be baptized after a confession of faith. Subsequent generations of children from Christian families would be baptized in the same manner that every generation of children in Israel was circumcised. Instead of baptism being a response to the proclamation of the gospel as it was with the Ethiopian, baptism is an “administrative change” from circumcision. Since Abraham’s whole household was circumcised as the first generation of the covenant, the first generation of Christians were also all baptized.
The issue arises when we equate circumcision with baptism. Circumcision was the sign of the old covenant. In Romans 4:11, Paul clearly says that circumcision was the seal of the old covenant. He then says in Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30 that the Holy Spirit is the seal of the new covenant. It is a fallacious argument to equate circumcision with baptism, as if we traded in a Camry for a Civic—just a different version of the same thing. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God is what has replaced circumcision, not baptism. In fact, circumcision for the Christian is a circumcision of the heart.
There are a great many arguments against the baptism of the offspring of Christian parents, but that’s enough of a Baptist tirade for now. Back to Acts.
The same Saul who officially approved of the death of many Christians is about to be called to strengthen many Christians. On his way to carry out more murderous threats with the full authority of the high priest, he is met by the risen Lord. Saul learns that in persecuting the church, he is persecuting Christ. Christ is the head of the church, and the church is the body of Christ. To wound one is to wound the other. There is a spiritual tie between the head in the heavens and the body on the earth.
One of Saul’s greatest difficulties will be convincing Christians that he’s actually coming to strengthen the churches that he originally intended to persecute. But he essentially trades one enemy for another. Instead of the Christians fearing him, the Jews will now try to kill him on several occasions. He flees to Jerusalem and meets with the other apostles to recount his conversion. Barnabas has befriended Saul, and he affirms Saul’s conversion in front of the apostles.
The apostle Peter returns to the story for a brief time. He heals a man named Aeneas and a woman named Dorcas. After meeting with Cornelius in chapter 10, he essentially takes a back seat to the ministry of Saul/Paul to the Gentiles. As an aside, God did not change Saul’s name to Paul. Saul is a Jewish name, and Paul is a Greek name. As both a Jew and a Roman citizen, he would be recognized by both cultures.
Psalm 126: The Lord has been good before, and he will be good in the future.
Psalm 127: Whether it’s a city or a family, the Lord is the builder.
Psalm 128: The fear of the Lord is a guard against your life.
Psalm 129: The wicked seem free, but God has a plan for them as well.
Psalm 130: My sins are innumerable, but God’s mercy is greater.