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Old Testament | 2 Kings | Summary

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Summary

The first part of 2 Kings (Chapters 1–17) continues the story of the parallel kingdoms of Israel and Judah, culminating in Israel's destruction at the hands of Assyria in 722 BCE. The rest of the book (Chapters 18–25) relays the similar fate of Judah, who despite the efforts of two good kings (Hezekiah and Josiah) similarly fell to idolatry and was destroyed by Babylonia in 586 BCE.

The Divided Monarchy until Israel's Fall

  • Elijah continues to promote the worship of Yahweh until his career comes to an end in impressive fashion—he is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind as his successor Elisha looks on.
  • Like Elijah, Elisha performs miraculous feats, even resurrecting people from the dead.
  • Israel and Judah continue to go to war against the surrounding states. Elisha at times works outside Israel, including anointing Hazael as king of the Arameans, Israel's enemy to the north.
  • Hazael clashes with King Joram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah.
  • The Israelite military commander Jehu, having been anointed by Elisha, orchestrates the murder of both Joram and Ahaziah on their way home from battle with Aram.
  • During Jehu's coup, the Israelite queen mother Jezebel, wife of Ahab, is thrown down from a window to her death, and every descendant of Omri is killed, concluding his dynasty.
  • Meanwhile, Ahaziah's mother, Athaliah, seizes power in Judah and attempts to murder all rivals, but Ahaziah's young son Joash is hidden by the priests.
  • After six years in power, Athaliah is ousted by Jehoiada the priest, who places seven-year-old Joash on the throne.
  • The descendants of Jehu and Joash continue to reign in the northern and southern kingdoms for several generations. The majority of kings north and south "did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh."
  • After almost a century of relative peace, in the late 8th century BCE incursions by rulers of the powerful Neo-Assyrian Empire begin to plague the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
  • Israel resists Assyrian aggression, while Judah becomes a vassal of Assyria.
  • The Assyrian King Shalmaneser invades Israel, destroys the capital city of Samaria, and scatters the Israelites in exile. Because of its many violations of Yahweh's commandments and worship of other gods, the Northern Kingdom has been destroyed forever.

The Final Years of Judah

  • With Israel vanquished, Hezekiah comes to the throne of Judah. 2 Kings praises him as a religious reformer who removed heterodox shrines from the land.
  • Another Assyrian king, Sennacherib, invades Judah, but withdraws after Hezekiah pays heavy tribute.
  • Hezekiah dies. His son, Manasseh, reverses all of his father's reforms and is characterized as the worst king in Judah's history.
  • Manasseh dies after a long reign.
  • Shortly after, Manasseh's grandson, Josiah, becomes king and is characterized by 2 Kings as an excellent king who obeyed Yahweh.
  • The high priest Hilkiah rediscovers a "book of the Torah" in the treasury of the temple and brings it to Josiah, who begins a new major reform.
  • Josiah renews the covenant with Yahweh and purges all heterodox shrines and religious practices from the land, but is unexpectedly killed when going to meet the Egyptian pharaoh.
  • After Josiah's death, a series of kings rule Judah, which becomes a pawn in the greater war between Egypt and Babylonia.
  • Judah ultimately sides with Egypt—the wrong decision—and in response Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, exiles the Judahite elite to Babylon and installs a puppet ruler, Zedekiah.
  • Zedekiah foolishly rebels against Nebuchadnezzar, who now responds by razing Jerusalem and destroying the temple.
  • The kingdom of Judah falls, but 2 Kings ends with a glimmer of hope by noting that the exiled Judahite ruler Jehoiachin (a descendant of David) survives in Babylon, providing hope for a future renewal.

Analysis

The primary task of the rest of 2 Kings is to explain the events leading up to the downfall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE and of Judah in 586 BCE. This story is key to understanding the entire Deuteronomistic History. Here, the narrative spanning Joshua's conquest, the judges, and all the kings of Israel and Judah comes to its two most consequential outcomes. All the warnings about unfaithfulness to Yahweh's commands and prohibitions of worship of other deities anticipate these momentous events.

The demise of the Northern Kingdom is straightforward in 2 Kings. None of its rulers worshipped Yahweh properly. The Assyrian conquest of the kingdom is explained thus: "This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against Yahweh their God. ... They had worshipped other gods and walked in the customs of the nations ... and in the customs that the kings of Israel had introduced" (2 Kings 17:7–8).

Explaining the downfall of Judah presents a more challenging quandary for the Deuteronomistic History. Although the kings of Judah had many failures of their own, the Deuteronomistic History presents the unbroken Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem as Yahweh's anointed leadership for all Israel, a throne "established forever." Confounding the problem is the detail that two of Judah's later kings, Hezekiah and Josiah, took dramatic steps to correct the wrongs of their day and reform Judahite religion and society. But these reforms must be understood as too little too late. The blame is placed on the vilified Manasseh, who undid all of Hezekiah's reforms during a 55-year reign: "Still Yahweh did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath ... because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him" (2 Kings 23:26). 2 Kings thus gives a dramatic and painful conclusion to the long saga of the Deuteronomistic History. But with the notice that King Jehoiachin survives in exile, it hints at the possibility of a sequel.

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