2 Kings picks up where 1 Kings left off, which is no surprise since it is really all one great book. 2 Kings begins with the story of Ahaziah who was evil like his father Ahab. Ahaziah had a serious fall and wondered whether he would recover. Rather than inquire of the Lord, he chose to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron. Because of this, an angel speaks to Elijah and tells him to instruct Ahaziah that he will not recover. We may not be as evil as Ahaziah, but sometimes we too seek for answers in the wrong places, rather than going to the Lord. At the end of chapter one we read that Ahaziah’s brother, Jehoram, succeeded him as King of Israel because Ahaziah had no son.
In 2 Kings 2 we learn about the passing of the mantle of prophecy from Elijah to Elisha. Elisha asks to have a double share of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah tells him that he will be granted his request if he sees Elijah being taken from him. Elijah, subsequently, has perhaps the most dramatic departure from earth recorded in Scripture. He is taken to heaven in a chariot of fire, from whence one of my favorite movies gets its name. We soon learn that Elisha has indeed inherited a double portion of Elijah’s spirit for he is able to part the waters of the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle.
2 Kings 2 ends with the strange story about a group of small boys taunting Elisha: “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” Elisha curses the boys and two she-bears come out of the woods and maul all forty-two boys.
This story raises questions on a number of levels. Why was Elisha not mature enough simply to ignore these boys? Was it fair for Elisha to use his power in this way? Was the mauling really a just punishment for these boys taunting Elisha? Where is God in all of this?
C. S. Lewis has this insightful comment on this passage:
My own view about Elisha and the bears (not that I haven’t known small boys who’d be much improved by the same treatment!) and other episodes is something like this. If you take the Bible as a whole, you see a process in which something which, in its earliest levels (those aren’t necessarily the ones that come first in the Book as now arranged) was hardly moral at all, and was in some ways not unlike the Pagan religions, is gradually purged and enlightened till it becomes the religion of the great prophets and Our Lord Himself. That whole process is the greatest revelation of God’s true nature. At first hardly anything comes through but mere power. Then (v. important) the truth that He is One and there is no other God. Then justice, then mercy, love, wisdom.
In 2 Kings 3 we learn that Jehoram, son of Ahab, ruled over Israel for twelve years and did what was evil in God’s sight, though he was a little better than his parents because he removed the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Jehoram formed an alliance with Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom to fight against the king of Moab who refused to deliver sheep to him as he had to his father, Ahab. Once again, Jehoshaphat is the only one who inquires of the Lord through the prophet about the course of action they should take. Elisha, out of respect for Jehoshaphat, consents to give to these three kings an ingenious plan from the Lord that allows them to win their battle against Moab.
Finally, in 2 Kings 4, we see more of Elisha’s exercise of the double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha enables a widow to multiply a jar of oil into many jars so that she is able to sell and live on the proceeds. Then Elisha goes to live with a wealthy woman who bears a son at Elisha’s word, even though her husband is old. After the child is born and grows to be a young boy he suddenly falls dead one day and Elisha is able to bring him back to life by the same method his mentor Elijah used. Elisha lies on top of the boy and prays over him.
In these and other stories, we see the power of God at work in and through Elisha. However, I agree with C. S. Lewis: far more important than the power of God is justice, mercy, love, and wisdom. We will certainly see some of these qualities as we continue our study of 2 Kings.