The division between 1 and 2 Kings is rather arbitrary—right in the middle of a story. Oh well, it’s been like that for centuries 🙂
Unlike 1 Kings, there aren’t any prominent figures in the narrative, so I’ll explore six themes I saw.
1. God buries His workers, but His work goes on.
Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind in chapter 2 and Elisha literally picks up his mantle. Elisha’s death in chapter 13 isn’t the end of things, either. Later in 2 Kings we read of Isaiah and Huldah speaking God’s word to the kings. Outside 2 Kings, lots of other named and unnamed prophets were used of God.
When a great man or woman of God dies, we shouldn’t despair. The Lord’s work will be carried on to completion.
2. God cares for the nameless and the small stuff
Whereas Elijah engaged Ahab and his son Ahaziah, Elisha hang out with the sons of the prophets rescuing their axe-heads and feeding them. Elisha helped a nameless prophet’s widow and an equally nameless woman from Shunem (4:8-37; 8:1-6).
True, Elisha also healed Naaman (5:1-19) and humiliated the Aramean army (6:8-23). But it’s surprising that God had those interventions on the behalf of unimportant people recorded in Holy Scripture.
3. We have a choice whether or not to serve God
Every single king of the northern kingdom was evil in God’s eyes. While they didn’t outlaw the worship of Yahweh, they supplemented it. In the south there was also apostasy and syncretism, but there were a few bright lights—Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah being the brightest.
Godly parentage wasn’t enough: Manasseh son of Hezekiah was one of the most detestable kings in Judah. Half-heartedness didn’t cut it: Amaziah king of Judah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, yet not like David his father.”
Each of them exercised the same choice we have today: to choose or to reject Yahweh as God.
4. Life doesn’t make sense
Manasseh, mentioned above, had the longest reign of any king—55 years—during which he sacrificed his son and practiced sorcery (21:6). Why did God let him rule so long? Why did righteous Josiah die aged only 39?
5. After sin comes judgment
God judges both individuals and nations for failure to keep His law. Jehu wiped out Ahab’s household because Ahab had killed the prophets of God. Yet Jehu didn’t eradicate idolatry, and for that his dynasty was limited to four generations. Israel’s capture by Assyria was a political and military defeat, but the real cause was their sin (17:7-23). Judah likewise went into exile because of sin (24:3-4).
The declension in this period of Israel’s history is comparable to the period of the judges. The difference is that Judges ends with each man returning to his own inheritance (Judges 21:24) whereas 2 Kings ends with Judah away from her land (2 Kings 25:21b): some involuntarily in Babylon, and others voluntarily in Egypt (a reversal of the exodus).
6. Yet there is mercy and grace
Naaman, a foreigner and plunderer of Israel, received grace from Yahweh. The Aramean soldiers, enemies of God’s people, receive a great feast instead of death. Ahab and his family receive warnings of the coming judgment for years before it is carried out. God is merciful to the unfaithful kingdom of Israel—once, and a second time. He single-handedly saves Judah from the Assyrians.
And after 37 years in exile, Jehoiachin, former king of Judah, is released and honoured by the king of Babylon.The message for the original readers was that the story of the Davidic line wasn’t over yet. At this point in salvation history we know it is because of a Son of David that anyone who so desires can receive mercy and grace from God.
Sources: D.A. Carson, Mark Dever, Bob Fyall, John Woodhouse.