The book of 2 Kings continues the history of the nations of Israel and Judah until the time of their captivity for their sins. What can we learn from 2 Kings?
The reigns of most of the kings described in 2 Kings were characterized by continuous disobedience and apostasy, resulting in the deportation of the people of Israel and Judah to the lands of their enemies.
Halley’s Bible Handbook gives the following concise summary of the events covered in 2 Kings:
“II Kings is a continuation of I Kings, beginning about 80 years after the Division of the Kingdom, and carrying parallel accounts of the two kingdoms on for about 130 years, to the Fall of the Northern Kingdom; and then proceeding with the further history of the Southern Kingdom for another 120 years, to its Fall. The book covers the last 12 kings of the Northern Kingdom, and the last 16 kings of the Southern Kingdom … a period, in all, of about 250 years.”
Outline of 2 Kings
Below is a brief outline of the book of 2 Kings:
I. Elisha’s ministry to the northern kingdom of Israel (chapters 1-8).
- Elijah’s final acts, including being transported to another location.
- Elisha’s ministry and numerous miracles.
II. Collapse of Israel; decline of the southern kingdom of Judah (chapters 9-17).
- Succession of the various kings of Israel and Judah.
- Hoshea, the last king of Israel, rules as Assyria’s vassal king.
- Samaria falls and the people of Israel are taken captive by Assyria.
III. Kings of Judah to the fall of Jerusalem (chapters 18-25).
- Hezekiah revives the worship of God in Judah.
- Descendants of Hezekiah return to idolatry.
- Josiah’s reforms.
- Sons of Josiah return to idolatry.
- Fall of Judah and its capital, Jerusalem.
Highlights and lessons for us
The book of 2 Kings covers a period of history longer than the national history of the United States, with many stories and lessons for us today. Below are just a few highlights.
Was Elijah taken to heaven?
When God transferred Elijah’s prophetic responsibilities to Elisha, He did so in a dramatic way! But has the whirlwind that took Elijah away been misunderstood?
If Elijah went to heaven, then why did Christ state that “no one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man” (John 3:13)?
Where did Elijah really go?
The Bible states that Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:1, 11). But there are three heavens mentioned in the Bible.
- The third heaven is the heaven where God’s throne is located (Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:49), and no man has entered this heaven (John 6:46; Hebrews 8:1-5).
- The second heaven is the vast expanse of the great universe. This is where the sun, moon and stars are located (Genesis 1:15-17).
- The first heaven is made up of our atmosphere where airplanes fly and where we get oxygen to breathe (Genesis 1:20).
Elijah was taken by the whirlwind into the first heaven and deposited in an unidentified location on the earth. About 10 years later Jehoram (also called Joram), one of the wicked kings of Judah, received a letter from Elijah informing him that due to his sinful ways, he was going to die from a serious sickness. Two years later the king became ill and died, just as Elijah predicted (2 Chronicles 21:12-15, 18-20).
This story provides confirmation that Elijah was still alive on the earth about 10 years after being taken up by the whirlwind.
The book of Hebrews states that the ancient prophets, which would certainly include Elijah, died without receiving the promise of eternal life (Hebrews 11:32, 39), but are asleep in the grave until Christ returns to give them their reward (verse 40).
Elijah was a mortal, flesh-and-blood human being and was subject to death. He is asleep in the grave awaiting Christ’s return, when he will be resurrected—together with the righteous saints—to eternal life. Read more about this in the article “Enoch and Elijah: Are They in Heaven?”
King Hezekiah’s fervent prayers answered
Hezekiah was one of the few righteous kings of Judah. He and his people faced a grave danger when Sennacherib, king of Assyria, invaded the land. What happened next is a remarkable lesson of answered prayer.
The king was greatly distressed when the Rabshakeh, an Assyrian leader, verbally threatened the inhabitants with death and followed up his threats with a letter outlining doom and gloom if the inhabitants of Jerusalem did not capitulate (2 Kings 18:13-37; 19:1-4).
Hezekiah sent messengers to the prophet Isaiah, who returned with a message from God: “Do not be afraid of the words which you have heard” (19:6). The king then took the letter from the Rabshakeh and “went up to the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD,” praying for God’s intervention (19:14-19). His heartfelt, impassioned prayer was answered. “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard’” (verse 20).
Hezekiah’s wholehearted prayer resulted in the destruction of the Assyrian army, and 185,000 soldiers were killed by an angel from God in one night (verses 35-36).
The power of prayer
The Bible records many such instances where God miraculously intervened in the lives of people who sought Him through earnest prayer. Christ taught His disciples to pray to “our Father,” who is ever present and is all powerful. As His children, we can talk to Him often, sharing our daily life—our sorrows and our joys—with Him.
We can have confidence that God hears our prayers when “we ask anything according to His will” (1 John 5:14). As the prophet Jeremiah stated, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
King Hezekiah’s life and the lives of his people were spared through his heartfelt and fervent prayers.
It is up to us not to neglect this powerful tool God has given us. Read more about prayer in the article “How to Pray.”
Captivity of Israel by Assyria
God in His mercy sent prophet after prophet to confront the kings of Israel in an effort to turn them around from their sins and apostasy. The prophets’ warnings fell on deaf ears, and finally God removed the northern 10 tribes out of the land He had given them.
Israel was guilty of the most abominable and detestable wickedness, not only serving Baal, but performing infant sacrifices (2 Kings 17:16-18).
God would no longer tolerate such behavior and permitted the Assyrian army to conquer the kingdom of Israel and carry them into Assyria around 721 B.C.
Captivity of Judah by Babylon
More than 100 years later, after three invasions by the Babylonians over a period of about 20 years, Judah was conquered, Jerusalem destroyed and the people deported to Babylon.
The first incursion by Nebuchadnezzar occurred around 604 B.C. during the reign of Jehoiakim when the Babylonian army entered Jerusalem. The Babylonians transported selected temple treasures and certain captives, including Daniel, to Babylon (2 Kings 24:13; 2 Chronicles 36:5-7; Daniel 1:1-3, 6).
The Babylonians returned again in 597 B.C. and took the rest of the temple treasures and a large number of people, including King Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, captive to Babylon (2 Kings 24:8-16). Zedekiah was appointed king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar (verse 17).
The third and most destructive conquest took place in 586 B.C. Despite taking an oath that he would not, Zedekiah rebelled against Babylonian rule (2 Chronicles 36:13).
After a terrible and devastating 18-month siege, the city of Jerusalem fell to the invading Babylonian armies. Dreadful looting, loss of life and utter destruction of Jerusalem and the temple occurred, and “thus Judah was carried away captive from its own land” (2 Kings 25:8-21). All were taken but the poorest of the people, who were left under the governor, Gedaliah.
Captivity a result of Israel’s rejection of God’s generous offer
Just before giving the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai, God made an incredible offer to the Israelite people: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people … and you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).
The Israelites agreed to these terms and affirmed their allegiance to God, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient” (Exodus 24:7).
But the history of the Israelites over hundreds of years demonstrated their unfaithfulness to their covenant with God, as they treacherously forsook Him for pagan gods and disobeyed His commandments.
What a tragic end to a people who were repeatedly warned that they would go into exile if they did not obey. In the end, by their sins they brought upon themselves suffering, hardship and bondage under a cruel and unforgiving nation.
God’s love for Israel
Jesus Christ expressed the concern and care that God had for the people of Israel who stubbornly refused to respond to His correction. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).
This expression of concern certainly reflects the love God has shown in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. He was not harsh and unfeeling in the Old Testament as some imagine.
God loves us all and wants us to repent and obey Him—for our good.
Israel lost forever?
The book of 2 Kings is the last book in the Former Prophets division of the Old Testament. It ends with the lamentable and tragic demise and destruction of the nations of Israel and Judah.
Has the final chapter of the history of Israel been written, or is there still a glorious story waiting to unfold in the future? The answer may surprise most people.
There is an exciting prophecy for Israel and Judah contained in the Word of God. Israel will yet become the model nation God intended her to be!
Notice this prophecy of when God will forgive their sins and make a New Covenant with Israel and Judah: “Behold the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. … I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. … For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
The apostle Paul also understood there would be a glorious future for Israel (Romans 11:1-2, 26-27; see the article “All Israel Will Be Saved!” for an explanation of why Paul wrote this). So the story of the people of Israel is not yet completed. The good news for them, and the rest of the world, is still ahead.
Individually we can respond to God’s teachings and become part of the hope and magnificent future God is planning for those who are faithful to Him and His Word. Read more in the sections on “Christian Conversion” and the “Kingdom of God.”
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