Study Guide

2 Kings

2 Kings Introduction

No, not "Two Princes" by The Spin Doctors—that hypnotic, catchy earworm from 1993. 2 Kings is a book of the Bible. There—we're glad we could clear that up.

In case you haven't just finished 1 Kings, and aren't already breaking out in a hot sweat, what with your fevered eagerness to start in on 2 Kings, we'll re-cap a few things about the two Books of Kings, as a whole. They're part of the Deuteronomistic history. "Gee whiz," you say, sitting down your Capri Sun juice box in consternation—"What does that mean?"

Well, it means that the Book of Deuteronomy, and its religious legal code, helped inspire the viewpoint of the Books of Kings' editor (or editors). In fact, 2 Kings describes what appears to be the discovery of a version of the Book of Deuteronomy, which inspires King Josiah to hack down sacred poles and slaughter priests on the altars they've made to foreign gods. So, there you go—drop the word "Deuteronomistic" at parties and win the respect and fear of your besties.

Sticks and Carrots

In line with the above, The Second Book of Kings takes a pretty black and white view of the rulers it discusses. You might be a king who prevents starvation and improves sanitation, but if you bow down to one sacred pole dedicated to a female goddess, you get discarded into 2 Kings' "totally wicked" pile. However, those are the rules of the game according to the Deuteronomy-inspired outlook of the book. It's all about intense religious law and hard monotheism. The kings and prophets who adhere to those standards end up being the heroes of the work.

A big part of the work's purpose is to explain why the Assyrians were able to destroy Israel and why most of the inhabitants of Judah were sent into exile in Babylon. The book hammers home this point with insistency: it's because they turned away from God, worshipping deities like Moloch with child sacrifice or Asherah with sacred poles. Even the good guys, who start to get the right idea, often aren't perfect. Their efforts to turn things around don't last long and can't prevent destruction and exile.

Essentially, the book is a way of interpreting the past through a specific religious perspective. It names names, hands out sticks and the occasional carrot, picking at the various faults it sees as leading to destruction. At the same time, it gives a picture of the ideal, right way of doing things—which could work, if only people managed to really get it together for once. The history it tells both threatens and promises. 

What is 2 Kings About and Why Should I Care?

Normally, we would simply say, "This is a book where ferocious bears fatally maul a crowd of forty-two children"—assuming that that's more than enough to get anyone interested. And that really does happen—but as it is, we'll try to show you that there's more to 2 Kings than bears attacking kids, dogs eating a wicked queen's corpse, the angel of destruction slaughtering 180,000 Assyrian soldiers, and blasts of fire from heaven killing scores of warriors (although, again, all of those things totally happen here).

We're all about the timeless, human truths here at Shmoop. And those timeless, human truths in the Second Book of Kings are, as the title perhaps implies, often about power.

Some of the kings in here are seriously ruthless—they make Frank Underwood from Netflix's House of Cards look like an amateur (although, actually, that would probably be an exaggeration; Frank's on their level). The book takes a long, hard look at "What It Takes" to gain and retain power, and what it finds isn't pretty: conspiracies, assassinations, intrigue, and ruthless manipulation. These kings kick it Machiavelli-style.

Righteous Rebels and Rogues

At the same time, there are plenty of good guys in 2 Kings, and the book has a lot to say about courage, perseverance, sticking to your convictions under pressure, and more. Like Elijah in 1 Kings (who also appears in the first two chapters of the sequel), the prophet Elisha is one of the major heroes of 2 Kings, and we suppose you could say he lives by the same motto as Kanye West in his present day lyrics: "I'm a man of God / My whole life in the hand of God… / So you better quit playing with God!" (The more things change, the more they stay the same, we guess.)

But people do keep playing with God, and Elisha is determined to stop them. A few righteous kings, like Hezekiah and Josiah, get in on the act, along with more prophets. When the chips are down, the righteous people step it up—although (spoiler alert) in the end, Israel and Judah are destroyed and almost everyone is sent into exile in Babylon. Nevertheless, the book gives some inspiring examples of people who stuck up for a cause greater than themselves, in addition to cataloguing the rogues' gallery of ruthless power seekers.

2 Kings Resources

Websites

Bible Gateway
This site has pretty much every translation and version of the Bible you could possibly desire—except for maybe a translation into Klingon. Someone needs to get on that.

Chabad Lowdown
The Hasidic Jewish organization, Chabad, has muchos interesting articles on Elisha, Elijah, and other 2 Kings related characters. Explore. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111858/jewish/The-Prophet-Elisha-Elijahs-Succesor.htmhttp://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112074/jewish/Joram-Ahaziah-and-Joash.htmhttp://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112315/jewish/Joash-King-of-Judea.htm

Learning = Good
These articles from "My Jewish Learning" give some valuable, level-headed historical context and background info on 2 Kings. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Prophets/Former_Prophets/Book_of_Kings/Elijah_and_Elisha.shtmlhttp://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Prophets/Former_Prophets/Book_of_Kings.shtml

Historical Documents

St. Augustine's Take
The Grand Poobah of Catholic Theologians (or would-be Grand Poobah, if it wasn't for Thomas Aquinas) dishes out his own Jesus-intensive interpretation of the events from 2 Kings.

John Wesley's Take
The Methodist theologian and founder, John Wesley, gives us his own reading of 2 Kings, at the same time, schooling y'all in what he liked to call the method.

John Calvin's Take
Protestant Uber-Reformer and beard aficionado, John Calvin, offers up his own commentary on 2 Kings.

Video

Chariots of Fire
Beaches… running… a classic, synthesizer-enhanced jam… a vague allusion to 2 Kings: this is what it's all about, people. This is the real thing.

Jezebel
This movie has a lot less to do with the Biblical character Jezebel than you might be inclined to think. Watch out, though: Bette Davis's eyes may "look right through you."

West Point Glee Club? West Point Glee Club
The West Point Cadet Glee Club nails this hymn-version of Blake's great poem.

Beyonce Sings It
In this clip from The Fighting Temptations, Beyonce sings a classic spiritual that makes reference to Elijah's chariot, reeling in the audience in the process.

Will You Do the Fandango?
This is the best music video ever made. You should watch it. Admittedly, it doesn't have that much to do with 2 Kings except for the classic line, "Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me."

Audio

Chariots of Fire: The Theme Music
You've seen the video, now bask in the pure audio version. You'll have to imagine that you're running on a beach instead of seeing it, though.

Choral Version of Blake
Here's another choral version of Blake's Elijah-inspired hymn. We just can't get enough.

Godmother of Soul
Etta James provides another rendition of the essential American spiritual.

"Mothership Connection"
This might not initially seem to have literally anything to do with 2 Kings… until you keep listening and realize that they've started singing, "Swing down sweet chariot, stop / And let me ride."

Images

Eastern Orthodox Mural
Elijah ascends to heaven in style. In the mural, he rubs elbows with Jesus, a timid looking ox, and some other folks. An angel guides the chariot's reins.

Sixteenth-Century Slavic Painting
As Elijah takes flight in the chariot, Elisha takes hold of his prophetic mantle—literally. He's sort of tearing it off Elijah's shoulders while Elijah begins his ascent.

Russian Icon
Appropriately bald, Elisha is the elegant, bearded gentleman we've come to know and respect.

Elisha Curses the Crowd of Children
Screaming children run in all directions, as two bears (a little on the small side, in our opinion—they sort of look like big dogs) tackle and devour them. But some of the kids aren't deterred and go on mocking Elisha, anyway—brave, or incredibly dense?

The Miracle at the Grave of Elisha
A dead guy who accidentally gets dumped into Elisha's tomb wakes up alive and refreshed… well, okay maybe not exactly refreshed. He looks a little bedraggled. In fact, he might be asking those women for some Listerine.

Elisha Refusing Gifts
In yet another old-school Dutch painting, Elisha does something unexpected. This time, he's kindly refusing gifts from Naaman after having cured him.

King Hezekiah
Well, there he is—standing around with a crown and scepter and stuff. He appears to be looking at the sun, probably in reference to the miracle where God moved the sun back and granted Hezekiah a few more years of life.

The Death of Jezebel
The famous illustrator Gustave Dore (who illustrated, like, everything in the nineteenth century) shows Jezebel's demise—though she isn't dead yet. Her eunuchs have just about chucked her out the window, while Jehu's men and some hungry dogs wait below.

Destruction of Jerusalem
This depiction of Jerusalem makes it look like a sort of Dr. Seuss-style city of winding walls and towers. Some of the buildings are falling, and part of the city is catching on fire as the Babylonians destroy it. Though most of it looks like it's still holding up—so far.

Isaiah
Michelangelo gives us a surprisingly clean-shaven Isaiah, who chats with a little angel while holding his place in a book with one of his fingers.