Here is a prayer from the Orthodox Church to use before reading:
Master who loves us, shine Your eternal light in our hearts that we may better know you. Help us to fully understand Your gospel message. Instill in us respect for Your holy commandments, that by overcoming our worldly desires we might live a spiritual life of thoughts and deeds which pleases You. We ask this of You, O Christ our god, for You are the light of our souls and bodies and You we glorify with Your eternal Father and Your all-holy good and life-giving Spirit now and forever. Amen.
An Outline of 2 Kings from Nelson and Seow:
I. 2 Kings 1:1-2:18 The Conclusion of Elijah’s Ministry
II. 2 Kings 2:19-8:29 The Career of Elisha
E.6:1-23 More Miracles:two more stories of miracles.
Verses 1-7 Elisha raises a sunken ax head. On one hand, this seems like a trivial event for the author to record. However in ancient Israel, iron was scarce and mostly reserved for military use. Losing a borrowed ax head would cause the person considerable debt.
Verses 8-23 Elisha overcomes the troops of Aram. In this story Elisha, through his unique powers, knows what the king of Aram will do. In verse 13-14 the king seems to think that he can capture Elisha, an odd idea given Elisha’s ability to know the king’s plans. Elisha’s dealings with the enemy troops is humorous and gracious. The troops are not killed or captured (the king’s plan for Elisha) but rather are given a feast and then sent home. What do these two stories and the previous stories tell us about Elisha? Elisha seems to be concerned with incidents both large and small. A lost ax head and the invasion of Israel and the healing of Naaman and the feeding of 100 men, nothing appears to lie outside Elisha’s concern.
F. 6:24-7:20 The Siege of Samaria: This is another account of dealing with the Arameans but this story seems only loosely connected to the previous story. There is a severe famine and unappetizing food and small amounts of food cost an exorbitant price. “Dove dung” is probably the term for some sort of seed pods. We have the tragic story of women so hungry they plot to kill and eat their children. Jehoram the king appears unable to do much but for some reason wants to kill Elisha. The events in verses 32-33 are difficult to figure out. In any event, Elisha knows the king plans to kill him. The king blames God for the nations troubles and Elisha prophesies good news. The king’s officer expresses disbelief. In an odd turn of events, the siege is lifted. Lepers, who are outcasts, discover the empty camp and become the bearers of good news. The lepers motives are not entirely pure, the fear of punishment influences their actions. There is enough food in the camp that Elisha’s prediction comes true and the disbelieving officer is trampled by people on their way to the food.
G.8:1-6 Restoring a Widow’s Property: This is the woman from 4:8-37. Elisha warns the woman of impending famine and she leaves the country. It appears that her leaving resulted in the loss of her land. Since the woman is the one who approaches the king it also appears her husband has died and she is a widow.Fortunately Gehazi is telling the king this woman’s story just as she arrives to plead her case. Elisha is not present in this story but still his influence is powerful.
H. 8:7-29 Elisha, Jehoram and Ahaziah: Now, although we don’t know why, the king of Aram seems out Elisha. Elisha’s response is difficult to understand. Is he telling Hazael to lie when he says to tell the king he will recover even though he knows the king will die? In any event, Elisha is setting Hazael up to take the throne. Indirectly 1 Kings 19:15 is fulfilled but by Elisha rather than Elijah. Verses 16-29 tell of the reigns of Jehoram (Joram) and Ahaziah. 1 Kings 22:50 and 2 Kings 1:17 have already mentioned Jehoram.
III. 2 Kings 9:1-10:36 The Reign of Jehu: In 1 Kings 19:15-16 Elijah is told to anoint Jehu as king of Israel. Elisha sends another prophet to Jehu to anoint him king. The prophet’s instructions to Jehu reiterate the prophecy of Elijah from 1 Kings 21:21-24. In verses 14-29 Joram and Ahaziah are killed. The phrase “Is it peace?” can also be translated “Is all well?” The king Joram is evidently concerned about Jehu’s intentions. Notice that Jehu and Horam meet on the ground of Naboth. ( Recall 1 Kings 21 that Elijah has spoken judgment on the house of Ahab for Naboth’s murder. “Idolatry and witchcraft” or “whoredome and sorceries” are ways of talking about wickedness and association with other gods. Ahab was shot in the back with an arrow while in his chariot (1Kings 22:34) and now also Joram. Ahaziah is also shot in his chariot. THen Jehu kills Jezebel and Elijah’s prophecy is fulfilled. Calling Jehu “Zimri” is an insult. Recall the Zimri was a ursurper of the throne who ruled for only seven days. And then Jehu tills Ahab’s descendants. The reference to seventy sons is an expression that tells us Jehu went after all possible heirs to the throne. Jehu sends a letter to local leaders challenging them to fight for “your master’s house”. The leaders pledge their loyalty to Jehu who asks for the heads of the sons as proof of loyalty. In verse 12 Jehu meets some people who evidently don’t know what has happened to Ahaziah. After all this, Jehu tricks the prophets of Baal into coming to one place so they can be killed and the temple of Baal destroyed. There is some wordplay in this passage. The Hebrew verb for “to serve” abad sounds like the verb “To destroy”. In verses 28-36 we have a summary and assessment of Jehu’s reign. He receives a mixed review. He has ended the worship of Baal but not the golden calves and has not followed the law carefully.
The story of Jehu is disturbing. There is much violence and the violence seems to be presented as God’s will. But does Jehu’s violence truly bring about Shalom? But can there be peace when atrocities are left without response? Yet the prophet Hosea ( about a century later) states God’s judgment against Jehu for his actions (Hos 1:4-5). There do not appear to be any simple or satisfying answers to the questions of justice, violence, peace and the will of God.
Read More About It:
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of 2 Kings
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Nelson, Richard D. “1 and 2 Kings” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.
Romer, Thomas, “2 Kings” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition, Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.
Seow, Choon-Leong “The First and Second Books of Kings” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol 3, Keck, Leander E. ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1999.
Stinespring, William F. and Burke O. Long “ 2 Kings” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.