History as Lesson in the Books of Kings

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of December 6. Enjoy!

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As we begin to conclude this semester’s brisk survey of the Old Testament from Genesis to the fall of the divided kingdoms, I have gained a deeper appreciation of the narrative that Jesus understood. Throughout this study, I have learned to draw more intentionally from the Hebrew Scriptures to comprehend Jesus’ place in the history of Israel, a process sure to continue into the semester to come. But these books are not just a grand prologue to Jesus’ ministry; rather, they are an elaborate history of Yahweh and his revelation to a chosen people who so often failed to worship him authentically and exclusively. While they may be stepping-stones to Jesus, it is important for the modern church to realize that these Scriptures are also preserved for purposes far greater than the trampling of our feet during the walk of faith. It is from this perspective that I look to the book of 2 Kings—writings chiefly concerned with the demise of Israel and Judah and their latter leaders—for three ever-significant theological themes.

2 Kings 4 profiles Elisha’s relationship with a “well-to-do woman” of Shunem (2 Kgs 4:8 NIV), to whom he prophesies that a son will be born almost as a gift in exchange for her hospitality. Some years later the son died after experiencing head pains, and the unnamed woman wishes to plead for help from Elisha. The Shunammite’s husband questions her immediacy, saying, “Why go to him today? . . . It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath” (2 Kgs 4:23 NIV). This man seems rooted in a perspective that also plagues modern believers, namely that our accessibility to God is somehow heightened on Sundays and while sitting in church pews. Knowing that Elisha and Yahweh would be available any day of the week, the Shunammite woman possesses a deeper understanding of this divine truth that we should also not forsake.

Naaman, a Syrian army official of Aram, was granted success from Yahweh and “was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy” (2 Kgs 5:1 NIV). Seeking a cure to his skin disease, Naaman eventually found himself at the doorstep to Elisha’s abode. Elisha’s messenger gave apparently unfavorable advice, as Naaman would say, “I though that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy” (2 Kgs 5:11 NIV). Naaman found as many who lift prayers and requests to God often do: sometimes the answers we receive are not the answers we want to hear. But even in a round-about way, God’s wisdom prevails; the simple cleansing procedure cured Naaman’s leprous skin.

In the following chapter, a woman approaches King Jehoram of Israel with a heart-breaking story about a hungry acquaintance whose persuasion drove her to cannibalism, an act that was not reciprocated with the sacrifice of the persuasive woman’s son (2 Kgs 6:26-33). Jehoram offers no resolution to the woman’s plea. In effect, the pericope “honors a prophet and assesses a king while ignoring or condemning the desperate situation of two women and their children.”[1] Jehoram, bent on blaming Yahweh—and, by association, his leading prophet—reacts by calling for Elisha’s head. The shocking story is an unfortunate example that some will reject God at every available opportunity, often blaming him and his followers for their problems.

These three theologically insightful themes demonstrate that 2 Kings is more than simple, skip-able historical account of the royal houses of Israel and Judah. Instead, the text is certainly “alive” and worthy of study by modern Christians on its own merits. While believers most often find themselves concerned with the gospels and Pauline epistles, as disciples we should take heart that Jesus himself found inspiration from 1 and 2 Kings, even to the point of inciting a riot at the Nazarene synagogue over comparisons to the works of Elijah and Elisha (Lk 4:24-30). Indeed, the good news—the εὐαγγέλιον—of the books of Kings warrants preaching today. Those who withhold such knowledge are like the lepers of 2 Kings 7, who lamented, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves” (2 Kgs 7:9 NIV).


[1] Gina Hens-Piazza, “Forms of Violence and the Violence of Forms: Two Cannibal Mothers Before a King,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 14, no. 2 (Fall 1998), 91-104.

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