This was a difficult period in the history of God’s people, a time of great change and upheaval. There was struggle from within and pressure from without. The result was a dark moment in the history of God’s people: the collapse and eventual captivity of both nations.
Second Kings picks up the tragic history of the “divided kingdom” with Ahaziah on the throne of Israel, while Jehoshaphat is ruling in Judah. As with 1 Kings, the narrative is difficult to follow. The author switches back and forth between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, tracing their histories simultaneously.
There were nineteen regents in Israel, all of them bad. In Judah, there were twenty rulers, only eight of them good. Second Kings records the last ten kings in Israel, and the last sixteen rulers in Judah. Some of these twenty-six regents are only mentioned in a few verses, while whole chapters are devoted to others. Major attention is directed to those who either serve as a model of uprightness, or to those who illustrate why these nations eventually collapsed.
In the book of 2 Kings, we read of evil rulers, rampant idolatry, and a complacent populace—certainly pulling downward. Despite the pressure to conform, to turn from the Lord and to serve only self, a minority of chosen people moved in the opposite direction, toward God. The Bethel prophets and others, as well as two righteous kings, spoke God’s word and stood for him. As you read 2 Kings, watch these courageous individuals. Catch the strength and force of Elijah and Elisha and the commitment of Hezekiah and Josiah, and determine to be one who swims against the current!
Second Kings continues the history of Israel, halfway between the death of David and the death of the nation. Israel had been divided (1 Kings 12), and the two kingdoms had begun to slide into idolatry and corruption toward collapse and captivity. Second Kings relates the sordid stories of the 12 kings of the northern kingdom (called Israel) and the 16 kings of the southern kingdom (called Judah).
For 130 years Israel endures the succession of evil rulers until they were conquered by Shalmaneser of Assyria and led into captivity in 722 B.C. (17:6). Of all the kings in both the north and south, only two—Hezekiah and Josiah—were called good. Because of their obedience to God and the spiritual revivals during their reigns, Judah stood for an additional 136 years until falling to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
Throughout this dark period, the Bible mentions 30 prophets who proclaimed God’s message to the people and their leaders. Most notable of these fearless people of God are Elijah and Elisha. As Elijah neared the end of his earthly ministry, Elisha asked that he might become Elijah’s rightful successor (2:9). Soon after, Elijah was taken to heaven in a whirlwind (2:11), and Elisha became God’s spokesman to the northern kingdom. Elisha’s life was filled with signs, proclamations, warnings, and miracles. Four of the most memorable are the flowing oil (4:1-7), the healing of the Shunammite woman’s son (4:8-37), the healing of Naaman’s leprosy (5:1-27), and the floating ax head (6:1-7).
Even in the midst of terrible situations, God will have his faithful minority, his remnant (19:31). He desires courageous men and women to proclaim his truth