Why does God care so much if people worship him? If God loves his creation, why does he punish some for no reason other than the disbelief of another? If he can forgive a man like David, why does he choose not to forgive others? These three questions sprung up as I read the first chapter of 2 Kings.
A king named Ahaziah injures himself in a fall. He sends messengers to consult prophets of another god to see if he will recover. God then tells his prophet Elijah to stop the messengers and say “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!’” (2 Kings 1:3-4).
God’s reaction tells me three things. First, he knows what people on earth are doing. Second, he knows why people do what they do. And third, he has no interest in trying to win Ahaziah back, or show mercy. God immediately condemns him to death for chasing after another god.
The messengers relay Elijah’s message, and Ahaziah sends a company of 51 men to ask Elijah to come back with them to speak with Ahaziah personally.
Elijah answered the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men.
At this the king sent to Elijah another captain with his fifty men. The captain said to him, “Man of God, this is what the king says, ‘Come down at once!’”
“If I am a man of God,” Elijah replied, “may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men. (2 Kings 1:10-12)
A man of God proves he speaks for an all-knowing and loving god by burning 102 people? What point is God trying to make here? I can understand punishing a man for his own sins. But when that punishment gets passed to a man’s family, or others that just work for him, I don’t understand the purpose.
Finally, after a third company comes to Elijah and begs for mercy, Elijah meets Ahaziah. “He told the king, ‘This is what the Lord says: Is it because there is no God in Israel for you to consult that you have sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Because you have done this, you will never leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!’ So he died, according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken” (2 Kings 1:16-17).
Frankly, I don’t understand this reaction by God to this slight against him. Why take time to condemn Ahaziah when Solomon built temple after temple to other gods? Why burn two envoys that asked Elijah to return to the king at all? Because they didn’t beg for mercy? Was Ahaziah being too arrogant by not believing the first messengers and asking to see Elijah himself? It doesn’t make sense.
Later on, Elijah gives way to Elisha, who continues in Elijah’s footsteps as the vessel through whom God speaks. The message continues to be mixed. For example, in 2 Kings chapter 2, Elisha calls on God to purify a contaminated stream so that the villagers who drink from it won’t get sick. In the very next story, Elisha summons two bears to maul 42 young boys because the boys called him names. It’s a strange swing, but seems consistent with the general temperament of God: help can be given to those who ask, but retribution will be swift and brutal for those who defy.
The book goes on to chronicle miracles performed by Elisha that mirror those done by Jesus. Elisha raises people from the dead, heals leprosy, and feeds hundreds of people with very little food. These parallels strengthen the idea that the Old Testament serves in part as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ arrival. Jesus fulfilled many prophecies from the Old Testament, so this seems to be the beginning of those similarities.
Most of the rest of 2 Kings follows a pattern of a king failing to follow god by acting “in the ways of his father.” Generally those actions included serving other gods and building temples to them. There are a few exceptions to this pattern, but I want to focus on one: Jehu.
Jehu is a king who completely destroys those who worship Baal by hosting a fake sacrifice and inviting all followers of Baal in Israel, then sending soldiers in to kill the worshipers. The plan is as ruthless as it is effective and Baal-worship stops during Jehu’s reign. Ironically, however, Jehu worships both God and golden calves, as opposed to God and Baal. Regardless, God is happy to see the Baal-worshipers gone.
“The Lord said to Jehu, ‘Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation'” (2 Kings 10:30). According to this passage the massacre of hundreds of people is right in the eyes of God, so long as those killed do not worship him. Each passing book reinforces the idea that God is vengeful and has little mercy for those who do not obey him. Note that Jehu’s family will be allowed to reign for only four generations. This is because of the aforementioned worship of calves. It’s a strange trade, in that clearly God holds a hard-line view of those who do not worship him. Again, he deems it right to massacre all those who worship Baal. Yet God tolerates the worship of golden idols because of Jehu’s actions against the Baal-worshipers.
One last passage that stuck out to me is 2 Kings 14:6 –
Yet he did not put the children of the assassins to death, in accordance with what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses where the Lord commanded: “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.
The reference to the Law of Moses is Deuteronomy 24:16, but we’ve seen God himself break that law many times over. In the beginning of 2 Kings we see 102 men burned alive for the sin of their king. Returning again to David and Bathsheba, the baby son was killed for David’s sin. Many families have been struck down by God for the sins of one person, and many more have been slaughtered by those obeying God’s commands as Israel expanded. In fact, rewarding future generations for obedience, and likewise punishing future generations for sin, serves as a running them throughout most of the Old Testament. The argument could be made that the laws do not apply to God, and I have no real counter to that argument, but that passage stuck out to me in the midst of a book devoted in large part to fathers sealing the fate of their sons with their own actions.
The book ends with Assyrian king Nebuchadnezzar invading Israel and sacking Jerusalem. He ransacks the treasury, destroys the Temple and enslaves some of the populace. The combination of 1 Kings and 2 Kings essentially shows the rise and fall of Israel as an empire. A nation that thrived or failed, seemingly, on God’s whim.
Thank you for reading,