Reading Between the Lines

When reading an ancient book, it always helps to view the story through the lens of the author’s culture, as much as we are able. The opening chapters of 2 Kings are filled with a number of interesting linguistic, cultural and historical facts.


Here are just a few things to think about as you read:


2 Kings 1:2  We run across the name "Baal-Zebub,” which means "Lord of the Flies". Why, you may ask, is a god called

Lord of the Flies? Why would anyone give a god that name? Well, no one did. The actual name is Baal-Zabul, which means "Baal the Prince” (a more expected moniker). This intentional change was meant as ridicule against Baal and was a way the author could express his own disdain for Baal worship (check out Matthew 12:24 for an interesting New Testament use of this name).

 

 

2 Kings 1:9-15  We read of how Ahaziah sent three different squads of 50 soldiers each to do something that concerned Elijah (1:15). What was it?  What was the king trying to do with such a show of force against one man and why did Elijah respond as he did? Contextually, Elijah had just pronounced that the king would not recover from his injury (v.4). If this pronouncement was received as a curse against the king, then these soldiers are likely Ahaziah’s attempt to counteract Elijah's pronouncement of his death by killing Elijah first. It was commonly held that killing the one who offered the curse could nullify the curse. If this was indeed the case, it helps us better understand the fire from heaven response.

 

2 Kings 2:9  Elisha asked to inherit a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. From our cultural context, we think Elisha was expressing his desire to have a ministry twice as powerful as Elijah’s! But what did Elisha mean and Elijah hear? Elisha called this an inheritance. Long-standing inheritance laws required that a double portion of the estate go to the first born, the one who had the right to carry on the father's business.  Rather than ask for twice as much as Elijah, Elisha was using terms from local inheritance laws to express his desire to simply carry on Elijah's ministry. It is verified that he received his request because he duplicated Elijah’s water-parting miracle (2:8 and 2:14). Elisha is confirmed as the one to carry on Elijah’s business.

 

2 Kings 2:23  We have the strange story of Elisha, the youths and the bears. Baldness was uncommon among ancient Jews and was considered a disgrace (Isaiah 3:17, 24). It is possible (likely?) that Elisha’s hair was thinning or even gone (why else would they use this epithet?). By calling him "Baldhead" the youth of Bethel (a worship center that used idols to block people from worshiping the LORD) were expressing their city's disdain for God's anointed. By saying “go up,” they may have been voicing their desire that he leave this world like Elijah did. Might they be saying, “Die and leave us alone, Baldy!” The situation sounds potentially volatile when put in this light .

 

Now, before you get caught up in the English word “youth,” don’t let yourself conclude that this was an out-of-bounds response to a youthful prank. The “youths” were a mob of unknown number (the bears got 42 of them, surely some escaped injured and others unharmed). When we add together the location, the history and the people involved, it seems that there was more going on here than simply name calling. And while we are at it, have you ever stopped to ponder how the Lord seems to delight in using people that others find no value in? Paul said that God uses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). It gives me hope that He might even deign to use me for His glory. How about you?

 

2 Kings 3:20  The water in the ditches story was not unique to them. They knew that a wadi could be filled with water by a cloudburst that was miles away. While the filling of the ditches can be explained through a natural cause, it is still supernatural due to the timing and result. God can use the common to do uncommon things. How often do we see His hand and dismiss it as something common or explainable by science?

 

When you read about the gift of food given to Elisha (4:42), did you notice that this gift was from first ripe grain? It seems here that, instead of bringing first fruits of the harvest to the false and apostate priests at Dan and Bethel, some godly folk were obeying the Lord’s law by supplying Elisha and his prophets. Not everyone has left the faith.

 

When Naaman took with him as much dirt as a pair of mules can carry (5:17), he was expressing the common belief that a deity was connected to the land and so could only be worshipped on the soil of the nation to which the deity was bound. Naaman was a true convert and so thought that he needed the soil back in his own land in order to worship God. It reminds me of John 4, when the Samaritan woman asked Jesus about the proper place to worship. You can read His response in John 4:23-24.

 

I hope this brief overview helps sharpen your own awareness of what the author is trying to convey and helps you make your own observations in the pages ahead. In the end, we are too far removed to master every detail of every story and we really don’t have to. Let what you do know speak to you and hold before the Lord the questions you have. He will walk each step with you.

 

Grateful to be on this journey with you,

 

Rob Eyman