This section of II Kings is devoted to the ministry of Elisha the Prophet. Chapter 8 starts out with the continuation of the story of the Shunammite woman from Chapter 4, but then continues on to describe the fate of nations.
Verses 1-6: The Shunammite Woman Continued
Earlier, in Chapter 4, Elisha raised a women's son from the dead. Now he is telling her to take her family and sojourn as a seven-year famine is coming. She went to the land of the Philistines. When she returned she went to appeal to the king for her land and home to be returned to her.
Meanwhile the king was speaking with Gehazi, Elisha's servant, and asking to hear all of Elisha's miracles.
In the Ryrie footnotes it states that these events are not necessarily in chronological order, since they are a collection about a person and not the kings chronology yet. The Wiersbe commentary says the same. So, it's possible that this story occurred before Gehazi fraudulently took money from the foreign military officer. But I wonder if it is possible that he was humbled by the discipline of the Lord and stayed on as a servant. He couldn't be around Elisha, as he was now unclean, but he could still do his bidding. It would explain why he was hanging out chatting with the king at length. Or maybe he now worked for the king. But it seems like present tense when describing Gehazi as the servant of the man of God.
The Ryrie Study Bible footnotes seems to assume that time went on and this happened after Gehazi became a leper, but that his leprosy was of a type that didn't require isolation; while Wiersbe assumes that the story had to occur before Gehazi became a leper because the king was willing to sit and chat with him. So I am not the only one torn on the timeline here.
Back to the passage. While Gehazi is telling the king about Elisha restoring the life of the Shunammite's son, she was appealing for her land and home. Gehazi recognized her and proclaimed her the woman from his story. The king wanted to hear the story from her.
Once he heard from her, he had one of his officers see to having her possessions restored, as well as what was lost while she was gone.
That's it. That's the whole vignette on this woman. At least for now. It's sandwiched between two stories about kings and royal officers and national issues. And it's not 100% on the chronology.
And it's not 100% clear on the message. It's not exactly an issue of justice. She did abandon her land, so one might assume, others had to work it- in a famine no less. But she was told to go by Elisha; so maybe he's also taking care of her because it was his command.
Or maybe it's a story about grace and seeking and knocking, and the Lord answering even when we don't deserve it and didn't earn it. God putting the right people in the right places to meet our needs and forward his plans.
Or maybe it's about female agency. We don't hear a lot of this woman's husband. Even in the last story he was pretty minor. She seems to carry the load for the family. And she is the one with whom Elisha engages. This is further evidence of Judaism and Christianity furthering women's standing and rights far beyond other religions- ancient and modern. She took an issue of property before the king! That could have gotten her stoned in many religions- including one of the biggest religions in the world today.
The idea of women's agency is throughout the Bible. For example, in the case of the Daughters of Zelophehad, in Numbers 27, daughters explicitly have the right and obligation to inherit property when there is no male heir. And in the new testament, Jesus tells the story of the widow who repeatedly went before the judge for justice until she wore him down. The point of that story wasn't about women's rights; but Jesus chose to tell about a women going before the judge- giving women standing in legal proceedings. This at a time when women were often seen as not much more than chattle.
Wiersbe think that the husband isn't mentioned because he is dead, as evidence he reminds us in the earlier story it tells us that he was older than she.
And maybe it's just one more vignette about Elisha and how he took care of things from national crisis to the provision of one small family who lived on the route traveled frequently by the man of God.
Come to think of it, Elisha's name isn't even in this story after his initial warning. Maybe it's a story about how God can work through men who have fallen away. God is not limited to prophets to get his work done. It's interesting that Elisha tells her. How many others did he warn in advance? Was it a fondness for her or was she to be spared because she was a believer in a land of idolaters? We assume the famine is because of their idolatry- so it would make sense to spare her and then restore her land after.
Verse 7-15: Elisha and Hazael
Before diving in to this passage, let's review what we've already read about Hazael. In I Kings 19 Elijah has had a breakdown from al of the pressure and he has ran to Mt Horeb. After being cared for by the Angel of the Lord (Jesus?) he finishes his journey to Horeb and has a hard conversation with the Lord, at the end of which (in verse 15) God commands him to go back via Damascus and anoint Hazael king over Aram; as well as anointing Jehu king over Israel; and recruiting Elisha.
And then this:
And it shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death.
Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all knees that have not bowed to baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.I Kings 19:17-18
This catastrophic prediction is directly from the Lord!
Now, in the fullness of time, we begin to see the events coming to pass in II Kings, under Elisha.
Back to II Kings 8
Elisha traveled to Damascus, whose king was ill.
It's pretty interesting that Elisha went to Damascus at all. Israel had warred with them and against them, and their king had tried to kidnap Elisha. There's a storied history there. But that tells more about me than Elisha. I'm shocked enough that Elisha spends so much time with the king of Israel and now the king of Aram? But where are God's people, especially those called to proclaim God's word (all of us now), supposed to be found. In the highest room in the tallest tower waiting for our fair prince to save us? No. Sharing the light of the world with the world. In Elisha's case this time, he was moving God's plan forward. That should be what we all do with our lives.
When the king heard Elisha the Prophet was nearby, he had his court official, Hazael, take 40 camel loads of treasure to Elisha to inquire if he would recover. The Ryrie footnote made it sound like this was a bribe to heal him; but at a minimum a bribe to foretell the future.
The Wiersbe commentary makes the point of how significant it was for this pagan king to pay such a heavy ransom for just the answer to whether he'd live, not even for healing. This was paid on his own soil. Meaning he thought the God of Israel was, at least, more powerful than his own God. Maybe Naaman had shared his conversion and had worked on the king?
When Hazael met Elisha, he call the king Elisha's son, so it was a very humble approach to the question.
Oddly, in verse 10, Elisha answers by telling Hazael to tell the king that he would recover while confiding in Hazael that surely the king would die. I read this over and over because it seems to be saying that Elisha told Hazael to lie to the king. But, another view could be that Elisha could see that the king would have recovered if not murdered by Hazael.
Wiersbe's interpretation is that he is saying, the sickness is not terminal; but you're going to die by another means.
Then, in verse 11 the pronouns get a little confusing, but it seems that Elisha locks Hazael in a stare until Hazael is embarrassed or ashamed. And the Elisha begins to weep. Hazael asks why and Elisha tells him that Elisha knows about the horrific evil Hazael will dole out to Israel- including some gorey details.
In response, Hazael feigns humility by basically asking, "who me?" Elisha simply states, in response, that the Lord showed him that Hazael would be king. Then Hazael went back, lied to the king and then murdered him.
Wiersbe doesn't interpret this as humility, but as a genuine question about the logistic of him being in a position to "accomplish" these events, since he was just a court official. This makes sense in light of Elisha's response. Elisha was explaining the "how?"- "You're going to be king."
This is now the beginning of the end for Israel.
Verses 16-24: Son of Jehoshaphat
I think we've ended the extended section on the event of Elisha. I really did enjoy it.
We are now back to the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah.
In the fifth year that Joram (Jehoram, son of Ahab) was ruling in Israel, Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, became co-regent king of Judah with his father. He was 32 years old and reigned 8 years.
This is the really sad part...he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, not as a more righteous man, as his father in Judah. He was married to Ahab's daughter- leading him to do evil in the sight of the Lord.
The Lord spared Judah, for David's sake and the promises the Lord made to David. However, they did lose control over Edom; then Libnah revolted. That's all we learn about his reign here. He died and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. His son, Ahaziah, became king.
In the twelfth year that Joram (Jehoram, son of Ahab) was ruling in Israel, Ahaziah, grandson of Jehoshaphat and grandson of Ahab and Jezebel, became king of Judah. He was 22 years old and reigned 1 years in Jerusalem. Not a promising executive summary. He walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, because he was the son-in-law of Ahab. He and his brother-in-law, Joram, King of Israel, joined forces to war against the King of Aram, Hazael. (Remember, Hazael is the man anointed by God via Elijah and Elisha to be king of Syria (Aram). He's part of the tragic proclamation of the Lord of the judgement of Israel.)
Joram, king of Israel, is wounded; and they took him back to Jezreel because he was wounded.
Ahaziah went to Jezreel to visit Joram.
Elisha is back and he sends one of his "sons of the prophets" to "gird his loins" and take a flask of oil to Ramoth-gilead, were the fighting had been taking place in chapter 8.
When the servant arrives, he should
- find Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat
- bring him to an inner room
- pour the flask of oil over his head
- tell him that the Lord says he is now the King of Israel
- "...open the door and flee and do not wait."
I had to laugh aloud at that last one.
That's got to be a pretty intimidating errand when the last step is flee and don't look back!
Before I read on, it occurs to me that this unnamed servant is the actual tip of the spear performing God's command. Way back at Mt Horeb, God told Elijah to anoint Jehu King of Israel, and Elijah passed the duty on to Elisha, who is now sending this man to do it in the fullness of time. I think this would be an example of progressive revelations, even within the Old Testament itself. God gave Elijah the big picture, presumably, so that he would understand what choices he should be making (and teaching Elisha to make) toward the eventual timing for the original prediction and command.
I mention this as a reminder to myself that for us sometimes it seems like the wheels are grinding slowly; but God puts things in motion in HIs own ways for His own reasons; and His Will will be done.
So the servant does as he is told, pour the oil, sends the message and announces that Jehu is to strike the house of Ahab as vengeance for all of the blood Ahab and Jezebel poured out from God's servants and prophets. God promises to cut off all male persons both bond and free from the house of Ahab. He then promises that the dogs will eat Jezebel and she will not be buried.
"Then he opened the door and fled."
Made me laugh again. I love that God includes these little details that make it so much more human than if it were just a dry religious text.
And there's probably a good lesson in there. Sometimes you give the bad news and then get out of God's way.
The Israel and Judah thing can get quite confusing; so it's worth highlighting again that Jehu was the son of Jehoshaphat. That means he was in the family ruling Judah. But he was just anointed to be the King of Israel. This will be the first time someone from the House of David is ruling Israel since its inception.
God seemed to tolerate a long list of ever-increasing evil kings in Israel as these kings led his people people further and further astray. And even though we can never understand the mind of our creator, I have to wonder if this was the final breaking point for tolerating the house of Ahab because it finally contaminated the line of Judah and David?
After Elisha's servant fled in verse 10, Jehu meets with his servants and tries to sort out if this was some sort of trap. When they hear what the young prophet had to say, they submitted to Jehu as king and they began to plot their next steps.
Juhu went to Jezreel, where Joran was healing and Ahaziah had come to visit. Joram tried to send out messengers to see if those coming were peaceful, but Jehu just kept sending them to the rear of his procession, so Joram came out to meet Jehu. Jehu stopped at the property that had been Naboth's vineyard before Ahab and Jezebel conspired to murder him and steal his property against the law of God so that they could grow a garden close to their second palace.
Joram asks Jehu if it is peace and Jehu points out the there can be no peace while Jezebel is playing the harlot with witchcraft.
Wow. Quite an opening line. I did not expect that. But he wasn't wrong.
Joram figured out what's going on and turns to flee. Crying out to Ahaziah for aid. Jehu shots him in the heart with and arrow and tells his officer to dump the body in Naboth's field- fulfilling God's prediction of how Ahab's treachery would eventually end.
Again, to us, the wheel of justice turned slowly, not happening the second we heard God's proclamation; but in the fullness of God's timing.
Then Jehu shot Ahaziah, King of Judah. He hit him, but Ahaziah managed to flee and die elsewhere. Ahaziah was brought to Jerusalem and buried with his fathers.
Next, Jehu went to Jezreel after Jezebel. She heard about it and dress up fancy for a classy dramatic exit from this world. But the Lord had proclaimed a different ending and that's what happened. Jezebel tries to play the part of the cool sarcastic villain to the end; but Jehu simply asks who, standing near her, is on his side. A couple of guys take their cue and throw her down to the street where she is additionally trampled and dies.
Jehu feasts; and although he tells them that she should be buried, being the daughter of royalty, by the time they get back to her the dogs have eaten almost everything, as proclaimed by God. Not the classy ending she envisioned for herself.