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: 2 Kings continues the account of Ahaziah’s reign.
A. 1:1-18 Elijah versus Ahaziah: Verse 1 seems out of place as Moab’s rebellion is not otherwise mentioned in this chapter. Alternatively, it might indicate that Moab’s rebebellion is linked with the Ahab’s unfaithfulness. Ahaziah is injured and sends messengers to consult with the god Baal-Zebub. Ekron is 22 miles west of Jerusalem so Ahaziah seems to be going out of his way to consult with this god rather than the God of Israel. Elijah intercepts the messengers and gives them a message from God. Notice in verse 8, Ahaziah knows right away that the man was Elijah. Twice Ahaziah sends men up to Elijah to bring him to the king. “Hill” in verse 10 is better translated “mount”. Fire from heaven consumes the men just as fire from heaven consumed the offering on Mount Carmel. Read Luke 9:54-55 remembering that Samaritans were descendants of the northern kingdom. Ahaziah dies and his brother Joram succeeds him.
B 2:1-18 Elisha Inherits Elijah’s Mantle: Now the text turns to Elijah and Elisha. The story of Joram/Jehoram will continue in chapter 3. Notice that Elisha will not leave Elijah. They stop at Bethel, Jericho and then the Jordan River. Elijah’s striking the Jordan river echoes Moses’ actions (Exodus 14:16,21-22). Asking for a double portion refers to the legal right of the first born for 2/3 of an inheritance. Elisha is asking to be treated as Elijah’s heir. After Elijah is taken up, Elisha picks up the mantle ( which Elijah threw on him earlier) and in actions that recall Joshua, parts the Jordan river (Joshua 3:7-17). The prophets search for Elijah ( in spite of Elisha’s reluctance) and do not find him, showing the reader that Elijah is gone from the earth. Elijah does not have a burial site and remember that no one knows where Moses’ burial site is.
II. 2 Kings 2:19-8:29 The Career of Elisha
A. 2:19-25 Two Deeds of Prophetic Power: Now two stories that tell us about Elisha’s power and authority. First he makes bad water good. This reminds us of Moses making bitter water sweet in Exodus 15:23-25. Secondly Elisha curses the boys who taunt him and they are killed by bears. To us this seems like an overreaction. But the story is not about ethics but theology- God (and God’s prophets) have the power to bless and curse to save life and take life.
B. 3:1-27 War with Moab: Joram and Jehoram are variants of the same name. Joram, we are told was bad but not as bad as his parents. The King of Moab rebels and as when Ahab fought against the Arameans, the King of Israel enlists the help of the weaker ally Judah. Edom was a vassal of Judah. For some reason, the three kings take the long way to Moab. Perhaps they were trying to attack from an unexpected direction. They run out of water and decide to ask a prophet and Elisha’s name comes up. Elisha seems reluctant to prophecy for them, but then does. Wind and rain are elements typically associated with Baal. Commentators think that verse 19 is not a promise about what God wills but rather a prediction of what the kings will do. ( This violates the Law, Deut 20:19-20) What Elisha says, happens. You, the reader, might recall another time water was blood red. Also there is a word play here as Edom also means red. The king of Moab sacrifices his son, the future king and then “The fury against Israel was great” or “And great wrath came upon Israel”; “they withdrew and returned to their own land”. Whose wrath or fury? Commentators suggest it was the wrath of God rather than the wrath of the Moabite god. In part this is based on the Hebrew words used which typically refers to God.
C. 4:1-44 Elisha’s Ministry of Life: Now Elisha does several acts and miracles some of which echo the actions of Elijah. First oil ( 1 Kings 17:8-16, the widow of Zarephath), then Elisha predicts the birth of a son, who then dies and is resurrected by Elisha (1 Kings 17:20). Notice that both these actions seem greater than what Elijah did, there is an abundance of oil, enough to sell, not just enough to live on and the son seems to have been dead for longer and more difficult to raise. Then Elisha makes poisoned food safe to eat and then feeds a hundred people. Consider how these actions are similar to what Jesus does. Also notice what Elisha does is not grand, involving kings and nations, rather his actions help the suffering, the poor and the bereaved. How is the wealthy Shunammite woman portrayed? Here again is another story of a woman of action.
D.5:1-27 Naaman and Gehazi: The story of the healing of Naaman is a familiar one. Leprosy is a word used for many skin diseases. The “great man” learns from a captive “young girl” what he must do. For some reason the king of Aram sends Naaman and a letter to the king of Israel rather than Elisha and the king is worried this is some sort of act to start a war. But Elisha hears about this and sends for the man. Elisha doesn’t need to see Naaman in order to heal him. ( Can you think of when Jesus healed someone without seeing them?) Naaman takes some soil home with him because ancient people believed that gods could only be worshiped on their own soil. Naaman also asks for forgiveness when he accompanies the king to worship Rimmon the storm god. What do you think of Elisha’s reply?
Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, is not so happy that Elisha did not accept any gifts from Naaman. Gehazi doesn’t ask for everything Naaman has brought ( see v5). Naaman gives Gehazi more and has his servants carry the gift for Gehazi. Then Gehazi hides the gifts and lies to Elisha. Gehazi is cursed. Notice how Naaman the outsider is healed and Gehazi the “insider” is cursed. See Luke 4:27.
These stories of the wealthy Shunamimite woman and Naaman are well know. Pay some attention to how carefully and skillfully they are written. What do these stories tell us about Elisha and what do they tell us about God? We have made reference to several links between these stories of Elisha and events in the New Testament. What do you think these connections tell us?
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.