“And I praise the dead who have already died, more than the living who are still alive (Ecclesiastes 4:2).” It’s definitely easier to honor the dead than it is the living a lot of the time, because simply by virtue of no longer being with us, we’re able to look back on them as the best versions of themselves, rather than having to confront their flaws or inadequacies like we do with the people we actively engage with every day. When someone dies, they become frozen in time. We can only imagine how they would react to our changing circumstances, so in some ways they become whatever we want to be – our inner champions, challengers, supporters, and in different times the voices in our minds, talking to us throughout our lives.
When I was reading through this psalm, there was a verse that I thought would be my reflection inspiration, but as I came towards the end of the chapter, I changed my mind. I read this verse: “For he will not take anything in his death; his glory will not descend after him (Psalms 49:18).” This is a concept that’s been analyzed a lot, and many thinkers and authorities have reflected on the philosophical concept of us not taking anything with us when we ultimately die. But even though it’s well known and well developed, there’s a reason that it’s remained timelessly relevant. While I know a lot of people who are focused on amassing things for while they’re alive, so many more have internalized the need to create a legacy of their lives and values for future generations. Particularly through my work in philanthropy, I have the pleasure of knowing so many visionary leaders who are giving of their time and wealth by prioritizing giving and instilling these values in the next generation. Our children and the legacies that we leave are the ways that we live beyond death.
God tells Ezekiel to gather ‘those appointed over the city,’ which I take to mean the leaders or guardians of Jerusalem. Each one brings a weapon with him, and they’re also accompanied by a scribe. God speaks to the scribe first. “And the Lord said to him, ‘Pass through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and you shall mark a sign upon the foreheads of the men who are sighing and moaning over all the abominations that were done in its midst (Ezekiel 9:4).” This seems like a throwback to the Exodus and the angel of death passing over the houses of the Israelites that were marked. I find it interesting that these physical markers are needed to determine the fates of the people. Couldn’t God, or His emissaries, tell which people were good and which were evil without the marks? Does it say something about the physical marks that we as people need to determine who’s in our tribe, or club, or family?
Anyway, the leaders of the city are encouraged to be ruthless in their slaughter of the people. They smite the majority of the city, causing Ezekiel to cry out to God. But God is unyielding, and the destruction continues.
It’s very late, but I’m committed to sticking to my daily chapter, so this analysis may be short and not particularly articulate. Jeroboam is king in Israel and Azariah becomes king of Judah. He’s a young king, taking the throne at sixteen, but he reigns for a long time. We hear his mother’s name, as well as his father’s, which, as in previous chapters, leads me to believe that she was a significant figure of the time. “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, like all that Amaziah his father did (Kings II 15:3).” So much of this is repetitive. Once again the altars aren’t removed, and I’m wondering why the people don’t just finally learn from their mistakes once and for all. God brings a plague to the king, and Azariah’s son Jotham takes over the throne. Jeroboam also dies, and his son Zechariah takes the throne in Israel for a short period of time. He only gets six months on the throne, but quickly does evil.
“And Shallum the son of Jabesh revolted against him and struck him before the people and slew him, and reigned in his stead (Kings II 15:10).” Shallum reigns for a month before Menahem the son of Gadi comes and kills him. This guy came pretty much out of nowhere, and he seems pretty terrible. “Then Menahem attacked Tiphsah and all those therein and its boundaries from Tirzah; since he did not open, he attacked it; he ripped open all its pregnant women (Kings II 15:16).” If that’s a literal statement, it’s barbaric. If it’s metaphorical, it must still stand for something completely awful. Menahem reigns for ten years, and both he and his people continue to sin. The Assyrians invade during his reign, and Menahem essentially pays them off from taxes from the people. Then he dies and his son Pekahiah takes the throne. Following the pattern of this book, he reigns for two years, is evil, and there’s a rebellion against him. He is killed, and Pekah, who is not a relative but rather the son of one of his officers, becomes king.
Pekah has a longer reign – twenty years – but he is evil also, and loses a lot of the land to the Assyrians. Then he’s dispossessed and dies too. There’s a new king in Judah at this time, Jotham the son of Uzziah. “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord; like all that his father Uzziah did, he did (Kings II 15:34).” How refreshing. But the altars still exist, so it’s not that idyllic. And Jotham dies, and the chapter that chronicles all of these basically forgotten kings comes to an end.
We hear about more kings, as is obviously the theme of this book. And, in an interesting turn of events, we once again hear about the mother of a king. I wonder what these women had to do in order to merit mention in the text, while so many others are passed over. But we don’t hear any details beyond the name in this case before moving back to the narrative of Amaziah. “And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, however, not like his father David; like all that Joash his father did, he did (Kings II 14:3).” But once again the altars to other gods aren’t removed, and pagan sacrifices are still made.
“And it was, when the kingdom became well established in his hand, that he slew his servants who had assassinated his father (Kings II 14:5).” He avenges his father’s untimely death. Then, Amaziah sends messengers to the king of Israel, asking for a meeting between Israel and Judah. The meeting turns into a confrontation, and Israel beats Judah. “And Jehoash the king of Israel seized Amaziah the king of Judah, the son of Jehoash the son of Ahaziah, in Beth-shemesh, and he came to Jerusalem and breached the wall of Jerusalem at the gate of Ephraim until the corner gate, four hundred cubits (Kings II 14:13).” Jehoash takes the treasure from the Temple and the king’s palace, and then he dies and is buried in Samaria along with the kings of Israel. Amaziah outlives him by fifteen years, but is assassinated after a rebellion in Jerusalem. More kings are cycled through, and I’m wondering how long it’ll be before the people are reunited under one leadership.
“In the twenty-third year of Joash the son of Ahaziah the king of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu reigned over Israel in Samaria seventeen years (Kings II 13:1).” Once again we have an evil king, and the people turn to sin yet again. God becomes angry with the Israelites, so He allows Hazael of Aram to conquer them. But when Jehoahaz prays to God, He listens to him, and remembers the plight of the Israelites. “And the Lord gave Israel a savior and they went free from under Aram’s hands, and the children of Israel dwelt in their dwelling places as yesterday and the day before (Kings II 13:5).” This sounds almost like a flashback to when Moses was appointed as the leader of Israel back in Exodus. But this time, the hero isn’t named. He’s simply a tool used to save the people in the latest iteration of an ongoing saga.
The people, of course, don’t appreciate this, and sin yet again. Jehoahaz dies, and his son Jehoash takes the throne. So now we have a Joash and a Jehoash at the same time. Nothing like unique names to keep things interesting. Jehoash is evil also, and Joash dies at the same time, leaving Jeroboam on his throne. As these kings live and die, Elisha has been the constant, but now he is ill too. “And Elisha died and they buried him, and Moabite bands would invade the land at the beginning of the year (Kings II 13:20).” Elisha’s death marks the end of yet another era, and seems much more consequential than most of the kings who we hear about for a few verses and then lose. Hazael of Aram also dies, and his son takes the throne. There are ongoing battles with the Israelites, and no real conclusions are reached at the end of this chapter.
So Jezebel is dead, finally. As it turns out, Ahab has seventy sons in Samaria, and Jehu reaches out to their councilors, who raised them. “And now, when this letter reaches you, and your master’s sons are with you, and the chariots and the horses and the fortified city and arms are with you, And you shall select the best and the most suitable of your master’s sons, and place him on his father’s throne, and fight for your master’s house (Kings II 10:3).'” If we’ve learned anything about sibling rivalry in Tanakh, this can only end badly. The advisors are terrified at the very prospect. They respond to Jehu, saying that they can’t choose a king and asking him to do whatever works best for him. So he pushes back, and asks that the seventy sons of Ahab be slaughtered. They obey, and Jehu has the piles of heads placed by the gate of the city.
“And it was in the morning, that he went out and stood, and he said, to all the people, ‘You are righteous. Behold I revolted against my mater and slew him, but who slew all these (Kings II 10:9)?'” He continues to slaughter the house of Ahab, until it is completely wiped out. Then, he goes to Samaria, and runs into the clan of Ahaziah, King of Judah. Then he promptly wipes them out. He’s developing quite the reputation, and it’s a bloodthirsty, unforgiving one. And it only gets worse. “Now Jehu assembled all the people, and said to them, ‘Ahab worshipped the Baal a little; Jehu will worship him much (Kings II 10:18).'” These kings never seem to learn from the misdeeds of their predecessors. Jehu assembles the prophets and priests of Baal. But it’s indicated that he’s actually a double agent, so to speak, and is actually trying to wipe out the cult of Baal by drawing out its adherents. It works, and Jehu ends up abolishing Baal in Israel. So I stand corrected on at least part of my assessment of him.
“However, Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat that he caused Israel to sin; the golden calves that were in Bethel and that were in Dan (Kings II 10:29).” Nonetheless, God promises him that his dynasty will last until the fourth generation, much longer than most kings are able to leave their legacies. This doesn’t stop Jehu from disobeying God’s laws and continuing to sin, though, so God is understandably pissed off with Israel. After twenty-eight years, Jehu dies, and his son assumes the throne.
This is honestly my least favorite book so far. It might have to do with the fact that I’m now writing these posts late at night instead of in the afternoon, but I’m not finding it as easy to follow, nor am I enjoying the narrative. I’m looking forward more to the poetry that I know is to come. Maybe that’ll be more provocative to read.
“And Elisha the prophet summoned one of the disciples of the prophets and said to him, ‘Gird your loins and take this cruse of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth-Gilead (Kings II 9:1).'” While this disciple is there, he is supposed to go to Jehu, one of Jehoshaphat’s sons, and anoint him as king over Israel. Then, he’s immediately supposed to run away. It’s not clear at this point why Elisha himself doesn’t anoint the new king, as was done by the chief prophets of the land in the past. But the boy does as he is told. He goes to Jehu, and anoints him, and gives him a task.
“And you shall strike the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of My servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants from Jezebel (Kings II 9:7).” The prophetic moment ends, and he runs. Jehu is left with his people, who ask why a seemingly crazy man came to him. He dissembles for a moment, and then tells them that he has been anointed as king. I’m not sure why the messenger needed to run, because the assembled group seems thrilled. Jehu revolts against Joram, and slaughters his men in Jezreel. There’s an all out war between the two factions, with traitors and deceit on both sides.
Finally, we return to Jezebel. She appears at the window as Jehu enters the city. “And he said, ‘Push her out!’ And they pushed her out, and some of her blood splattered on the wall and on the horses, and they trampled her (Kings II 9:33).” This is a quick, terrible end for a terrible woman. Though he showed her no mercy in life, he does show it in death, and allows her to be buried with honor. But her death was so horrific that they only found pieces of her,, fulfilling the prophecy that dogs would devour her flesh. This book is often out of order, so does this mean that the Jezebel saga is finally over?
“Now a woman, of the wives of the disciples of the prophets, cried out to Elisha, saying, ‘Your servant, my husband, has died, and you know that your servant did fear the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two children for himself as slaves (Kings II 4:1).'” So the woman’s husband was in debt, and now her children are potentially up for grabs. Elisha wants to help, so he asks her about her possessions. The woman is deeply impoverished, and all that she owns is a jug of oil. Elisha tells her to borrow as many vessels as she can from her friends and neighbors, and then to pour oil into all of the vessels until there aren’t anymore. She obeys, and the oil lasts enough to fill every vessel. “And she came and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons will live with the remainder (Kings II 4:7).'” Elisha has saved the woman and her children, and she is able to pay the debts of her late husband. Finally, a successful, happy story!
Now, there’s a second woman. Elisha is in Shunem, and there’s a woman there who feeds him every day that he’s in town. The woman tells her husband about him, and the two of them seem to concoct a plan to trap Elisha in their house. Not in a sinister way, I don’t think, but so that he’ll have a place to rest there. He does, and then he asks the woman what she wants from him. It turns out that she’s barren, as is the plight of so many biblical women. “And he said, ‘At this time next year, when you will be alive like now, you will be embracing a son.’ And she said, ‘No, my lord, O man of God, do not fail your maidservant (Kings II 4:16).'” Like other biblical women who are promised a miracle baby, she’s hesitant to believe it, but her dream comes true. She has a baby, and he grows up. But then one day, he suddenly dies. His mother decides to go seek out Elisha. She’s justifiably bitter and angry, but she gets a second miracle. Elisha comes home with her, and brings her son back to life. I honestly never heard this story before. Why don’t we talk more about there apparently having been a resurrection in the Jewish tradition? That’s an amazing story, and I feel like it should be more widely shared. My guess is that it fell out of focus with the rise of Christianity, and there not wanting to be even an implicit acceptance of the concept.
Elisha is clearly a badass prophet. Next, he saves the people during famine. His miracles are amazing, and I’m left wondering why Elijah is the prophet we all know about, while Elisha is more minor, at least in my mind. He’s obviously powerful and did amazing things, so why is he not more central to the tradition?
Elijah and Elisha are together, and it’s almost time for Elijah to die. Well, not to die exactly, according to tradition. “And it was when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, that Elijah and Elisha went from Gilgal (Kings II 2:1).” So Elijah is going to be taken up to heaven, but the oddness and the ambiguity in this verse has led to a great deal of lore about whether or not he really died, and if he’ll return someday. But at this point, Elijah and Elisha stay together and go to Bethel. Both men know that this is the day that Elijah will go to heaven, and Elisha promises to stay with him until that moment. Their travels continue, and they go to Jericho, and then to the Jordan.
“And Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water, and it divided to this side and to that side; and they both crossed on dry land (Kings II 2:8).” There are plenty of allusions here to the previous times when the Israelites have crossed the Jordan, and to when Moses split the sea in the Exodus. At this point, Elijah and Elisha have left the holiness of the land, ceremoniously crossing the border into the unknown and unfamiliar. Elijah asks Elisha what he wants as a reward for his loyalty. All that Elisha wants is a double portion of the spirit of his mentor, which seems like a very noble request. He wants the blessings of the great prophet. It’s a very touching scene. The two clearly have deep affection for one another, and they’re walking and talking in a very intimate way.
“And it was that they were going, walking and talking, and behold a fiery chariot and fiery horses, and they separated them both. And Elijah ascended to heaven in a whirlwind (Kings II 2:11).” I can’t even imagine such a dramatic, awesome scene. Elisha is overwhelmed by it, and cries for Elijah. Elijah was his father figure, his mentor and guide, and now he’s gone. Even though they were together up until the very last minute, they don’t get to say goodbye. I think this shows that no matter what, when someone is taken away, there are always things that we didn’t get to say and feelings of regret over moments that weren’t taken advantage of. But Elisha quickly picks himself up, takes Elijah’s mantle, both literally and figuratively, and goes back to the river. Elisha is now the one who splits the river and crosses back. The disciples, who remained in Jericho, see him returning and know that he is the new prophet. His wish came true, and Elijah’s blessings have settled on him.