The Ministry of Elisha
2 Kings 8:1-10:36
One of the most famous sermons of the 20th century was preached by R. G. Lee, pastor of the great Bellevue Baptist Church of Memphis, Tennessee; its title, "Pay Day, Some Day." In this sermon R. G. Lee catalogues some of the greatest sinners in the OT (including Jezebel) and the punishment God sends upon them for their sins. In each situation judgment came upon the person who had flagrantly violated God's Law. In some cases punishment came swiftly upon the heels of the transgression; in others it came much later. Yet in each situation judgment did come.
In this present passage judgment is coming upon the house of Ahab. Because Ahab had allowed Jezebel to introduce the worship of Baal into the northern kingdom of Israel and because Ahab and Jezebel had used the judicial system to murder Naboth and seize his property, God had told them that one day He would wipe out their dynasty. Ahab had already died a violent death. Now the rest of Ahab's family was going to experience the judgment God had prophesied would come.
Unfortunately the northern kingdom of Israel was not going to be the only one which received the brunt of this judgment. Jehoshaphat, the good king of the southern kingdom of Judah, had entered into alliance with Ahab. His sons continued this policy of alliance with the northern kingdom even to the extent that Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram marries Ahab's daughter, Athaliah. Because Judah had dallied around with Ahab's idolatry, she too would reap some of the judgment hitting the northern kingdom.
THE SHUNEMITE WIDOW'S LAND IS RESTORED TO HER (8:1-6)
The author of 2 Kings now takes us back to seven years previous in which Elisha warns the Shunemite woman about a famine which is about to afflict the northern kingdom and which will last for 7 years. By this time she most likely is a widow since the text does not even mention her husband once during this passage. (Also, later she approaches the king, something her husband would have done if he had been alive.) Upon Elisha's advice, she heads for Philistia, modern-day Gaza Strip. Because the Shunemite widow has been kind to Elisha in the past, Elisha is repaying her in kind. (Unlike the land of Israel which is always just a few inches of rainfall away from being a desert, the Gaza Strip is so close to the coast that it gets consistent rainfall.)
After the seven years of famine are over, the Shunemite widow returns to her land, only to find it occupied by someone else. Because she had "abandoned" the land, the land most likely fell to the king. She approaches the king and asks for her land back. As she approaches, Gehazi, Elisha's former servant who most likely has been cured of leprosy and now enjoys a favorable relationship with the king, is telling Jehoram the king some of the tales of Elisha's ministry. As she is approaching, Gehazi is telling Jehoram about Elisha miraculously raising the Shunemite's son from the dead. When she requests for her land back and when the king realizes that this is the Shunemite lady of the story, he immediately grants her request. He goes even further. He commands that the produce which her land had yielded during the 7 years should be given to her as well. This action vindicates Elisha's advice to her to go to Philistia during the famine.
Why is this story though here in 2 Kings? At first glance it seems unrelated to the stories surrounding it. The fact though is that the theme of this story is the same theme which resounds throughout the following chapters: devastation and restoration. In this first story the woman has been devastated by the 7 years of famine and by the loss of her land; however, by the story's end, the land has been restored to her. In the following chapters we see that Israel and Judah have been devastated by the house of Ahab. Now God is going to bring His devastation upon the house of Ahab, both in Israel and in Judah. At the end of this devastation, God is going to restore godly worship in the kingdom of Judah through the reign of good king Joash.
WRATH UPON THE HOUSE OF AHAB (8:7-10:36)
Wrath Upon the Northern Kingdom through the Reign of Hazael 8:7-15)
At this time Elisha completes one of the main purposes of Elijah's ministry, anointing Hazael to be the next king over Syria, after the death of Ben-Hadad. Although the text describes Elisha anointing Hazael and Hazael murdering Ben-Hadad, the main point of the passage is that Hazael is going to conduct a murderous campaign against the northern kingdom of Israel. Not only will Hazael's armies kill men, women, and children, they will also rip open the bellies of women who are bearing children. Why is this going to happen? Although Ahab and other kings had led Israel astray, she had allowed herself to be led astray. She was responsible to God for the her lapse into idolatry. As a result, God is systematically going to chip away at the nations of Israel and Judah until they are mere shadows of the great nations they had once been. Within 75 years Israel will be reduced to such a pitiful state that the Assyrian armies under Sennacherib will be able to overwhelm her.
Wrath Upon the Southern Kingdom of Judah--Edom's Revolt (8:16-23)
This next episode demonstrates how Israel's idolatry has started affecting the southern kingdom of Judah. It is true that Jehoshaphat had been a righteous king who followed the Lord. The only problem though was that he had aligned himself with Ahab and his household. The close relationship between the 2 kingdoms can be seen first in the fact that Jehoshaphat names his heir after the present king of Israel, Joram, i.e. Jehoram. Next we see that the 2 nations have become too closely aligned because Joram's son, Ahaziah, the next king of Judah, marries one of Ahab's daughter, Athaliah. Because of her too close alliance with Israel, Judah also will suffer God's wrath.
Just as Israel was already in the process of losing land (e.g. Moab in chapter 3), so Judah now is in the process of losing Edom. Once more instead of repenting of her idolatry--no one ever repents in these stories, Judah tries to force Edom back into subjection. Upon invading Edom, Jehoram discovers that he is in dire straits. Not only has he been surrounded by the Edomite army in battle, the main bulk of his army has deserted him. Although he is able to break free from the Edomite strangehold, he loses Edom forever.
Putting the Pieces of the Puzzle Together (8:24-9:13)
God now puts all the pieces of the puzzle together in order to bring wrath upon the house of Ahab. Jehoram, king of Israel, Ahab's son, goes to Ramoth-Gilead (located to the east of the Jordan River and southeast of the Sea of Galilee). The Syrians under Hazael have attacked Ramoth-Gilead; Jehoram decides to defend one of his major cities on the eastern side of the Jordan River. He is accompanied by his brother-in-law, Ahaziah, king of the southern kingdom of Judah. During the battle, Jehoram becomes ill and has to be taken back to Jezreel, site of one of his palaces. This is important because next to this palace was the vineyard of Naboth. Ahaziah is concerned about Jehoram and goes to Jezreel to check on him. You now have 2 major members of Ahab's family together located at the scene of Ahab's most heinous crime.
While all this is going on, Elisha sends a member of the school of prophets to Ramoth-Gilead in order to anoint Jehu as king over Israel. When the prophet approaches Jehu, Jehu is sitting in a circle with some of the commanders of the Israelite army. There is something sinister about the way the OT describes this "circle." Most likely the men in the circle are plotting Jehoram's overthrow. Their quick positive response to what happens next confirms that they are up to no good. The junior prophet takes Jehu inside the building and anoints him king over Israel. After anointing Jehu, the prophet swiftly departs.
At this point Jehu returns to the circle of men. When they ask him what the man wanted, Jehu replies that he was just a crazy man. Not convinced of his response, they ask again what this man wanted. Jehu replies that he was a prophet who had just anointed him king over Israel. Without any hesitation, which was a good sign that they were already thinking of overthrowing Jehoram and replacing him with Jehu, the military commanders jump up, throw their robes on the ground before Jehu, and proclaim him king. Before Jehoram hears of the news and has any time to suppress the rebellion, Jehu immediately heads for Jezreel where Jehoram is recuperating from his sickness.
Jehoram and Ahaziah are Assassinated (9:14-30)
In the meantime Ahaziah is with Jehoram in Jezreel as Jehoram is recuperating. They see in a distance a company approaching the city of Jezreel. They dispatch a messenger to determine what are the intentions of the company approaching. When the messenger encounters Jehu and his men, he asks Jehu if he has come in peace. When Jehu replies: "What have you to do with peace? Get behind me," the messenger understands that Jehu has come to supplant Jehoram. The messenger's response? He joins Jehu. When the messenger joins Jehu's company, Jehoram, still unsuspecting of what is actually taking place, sends out another messenger to ascertain the situation. The second messenger responds the same way the first messenger did; he joins Jehu's rebellion.
Since the messengers have not returned, Jehoram decides that he will approach the company itself. He knows that the company is headed by Jehu since the obvious leader of the group is driving his chariot like a mad man, the same way Jehu was known to drive. When Jehoram asks Jehu if he has come in peace, Jehu responds: "What peace, so long as the harlotries of your mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?" It is only now that Jehoram realizes the intent of the company. He wheels around his chariot and heads back for Jezreel, crying out: "Treachery!" Jehu though is too swift for Jehoram to escape. He grabs a bow and arrow, and shoots the arrow between Jehoram's shoulder blades, right through his heart. Divine justice is being implemented here because it is no accident that Jehoram dies at the spot of Naboth's vineyard. God could not be any clearer as to what has brought about this wrath--the sins of Ahab.
Ahaziah likewise panics. He is able to escape for a little while. Apparently he is headed southwest for the capital of Israel, Samaria. Yet Jehu overtakes him and likewise wounds Ahaziah as he is topping the summit of Gur. He then changes his course for the city of Meggido, located to the northwest of Ger. There he dies. The grandfather of Ahaziah, Jehoshaphat had acted unwisely in aligning himself with Ahab's household. His grandson Ahaziah paid the price.
Jezebel is Slain (9:31-37)
There is still one major player left who is to experience God's wrath, Jezebel. First Kings seems to extend some sympathy to Ahab; that sympathy though stops with Ahab. It does not go out to his wife. When it is all said and done, Ahab was a weakling. The major source of problem in Israel was Jezebel. She was the one who had introduced Baal worship into Israel. For her Pay Day was not just Some Day. It was Today.
Although 2 Kings does not say this, Jezebel must know what has happened to her son, Jehoram. When she realizes that Jehu is approaching her palace, he hurries herself into her changing room and adorns herself as a queen, applying cosmetics to her eyelashes, etc. She is going to meet Jehu, not in order to seduce him, but as a queen, brazen, unrepentant, possibly hoping to intimidate him. If that is her motive, it does not work. She looks out the window at Jehu below. She addresses him as "Zimri," a previous supplanter whose reign had not lasted long. She is implying that just as Zimri supplanted his master Baasha and died a few days later at the hands of Omri, so Jehu though successful in supplanting Jehoram will likewise perish soon afterwards. She has not factored in though the fact that Jehu is God's instrument of wrath upon the house of Ahab, something Zimri was not.
Second Kings describes what happens next with one of the most graphic descriptions in the Bible. Jehu asks if any of her servants are for him. Two or three of them take Jezebel and throw her out the window. Apparently a wall is close by because they push her so hard that when she hits the ground, her blood splatters on a nearby wall. Jehu then rears back his horses so that they trample upon Jezebel. To make sure she is dead, Jehu then rides over Jezebel with the wheels of his chariot. Only after he is convinced she is dead, does he go inside to eat some food.
While inside eating, Jehu's conscience is struck by the fact that a queen is outside the window dead and exposed to the animals and to the elements. Although the body is that of an idolater, it is also the body of a queen. Jehu instructs the men to bury her. When they go outside though, they discover that Elijah's prophecy concerning Jezebel has been completely fulfilled. They cannot bury her because the dogs have eaten her. The only things left are the palms of her hands, her feet, and her skull. She will indeed be buried into the earth, but only piecemeal, through the dung of dogs.
Jehu Slays the Sons, the Relatives, the Acquaintances, the Supporters, and the Priests of Ahab (10:1-36)
Jehu is definitely on a mission. By the time he has finished executing God's wrath, he has killed all of Jehoram's sons, his acquaintances, his supporters, and all the priests who had served Baal. When God pronounces judgment, it is never a matter of "if" judgment is coming; it's only a matter of "when."
Two questions are invariably going to be raised: "First, how does this OT view of a vengeful God harmonize with the NT view of a merciful God?" If people have problems with this view of God, then they are going to have problems with the Revelation 20 view of God which pictures God as throwing non-Christians into the lake of fire. God brings judgment in the here and now in order to convince people to turn to Him so that they can avoid this terrible judgment on the last day.
The second question: "Was Jehu a good king?" He started out good by destroying Baalism in the northern kingdom; however, he failed in one major aspect--he failed to rid the northern kingdom of idolatry. 2 Kings tells us that he continued to walk in the sins of Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom after it separated from Judah in the south. The bulls which represented Yahweh and which were located in the southern city of Bethel and the northern city of Dan remained standing. In this area he failed God. Because of this, Israel is headed for the cataclysm of 722-721 BC.