If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
21 April. 2 Kings chapters 1-4
After the death of Ahab, the book of 1 Kings ends, and today we start on 2 Kings. The authors of this part of the Bible must have had the same sense of the cliffhanging ending as the scriptwriters of a TV drama or the author of a trilogy. “What will happen to Israel after their evil king is shot in the chest with an arrow? Find out when the next book comes out!”
In chapter 1 we hear of Ahab’s successor Ahaziah, But the only story is that of his death from an accident. God refuses to let him survive it because he seeks advice from a false god. It’s interesting to contrast the attitudes of the three army captains sent to bring Elijah to the king – the first two command him to come down, and they and their men are consumed by holy fire, but the third approaches humbly and requests Elijah’s presence, and survives. The lesson presumably is that God is above any earthly king, and so the servants of the earthly king must act as servants to the prophet who is himself a servant of God. This title “servant of the servants of God” is one traditionally held by the Popes, and the present Pope Francis seems to live up (or down) to it, unlike some of his predecessors in past centuries who acted more like despotic rulers themselves.
The scriptwriters release a spoiler at the start of chapter 2, which begins by telling us that Elijah will be taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. This miracle, foreshadowing Christ’s ascension, occurs on the far side of the Jordan. To get there, Elijah parts the waters (as Moses and Joshua did before him), taking Elisha with him. Elisha’s wish to receive a “double portion of Elijah’s spirit” is granted, and after the ascension he parts the waters of the Jordan on his return. Elijah’s other disciples seek him in vain, for like Jesus he had gone for good. No wonder that people subsequently expected Elijah to return in glory, and wondered whether Jesus or John the Baptist might be him. But Jesus was seen on the mountain with Elijah to prove that they were different, and it is now Jesus who Christians expect to return in glory.
Elisha starts to perform miracles, not all of them for the benefit of other people – being short of hair myself, I am intrigued by the summoning of bears to kill the crowd of small boys who mocked him for being bald. Is that really a crime deserving death? Apart from that one, the others were ‘signs’ like the miracles of Jesus, to tell something of God’s nature. Bitter water made drinkable, water provided for the Israelite army, an endless supply of oil, resurrecting the dead son of a poor woman who had fed him, a poisonous stew made palatable, and finally (a story that Jesus must have had in mind when he fed the 5000 people with twelve barley loaves) feeding a hundred people with twenty loaves. Note the prevalence of food and water in these miracles: when Jesus, who promised the water of life and the bread of heaven to his followers, tells us to pray “give us this day our daily bread” (or “our bread for tomorrow” as some translations have it) he really means it, both spiritually and physically!