Study Guide

2 Kings Themes

  • Betrayal

    There are bad betrayals and good betrayals in 2 Kings. The bad betrayals involve the various conspiracies that bring down different kings. For example, when Hazael smothers the sick king Ben-Hadad of Aram with a wet piece of cloth, we can safely say that that's, well, pretty low. But God commands Jehu to essentially betray Joram and kill Jezebel and Ahab's whole family. It would normally be an act of treason, but instead God makes it good, sanctioning it. The same is true when Jehoiada orders Athaliah's death. She got into power by slaughtering her own family members (not good), hence committing treason against her is really the right thing to do.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. What do all these conspiracies and assassinations say to you about the nature of rulership in the ancient Near East? What did a ruler need to do to avoid these betrayals and rebellions?
    2. Is Jehu a good guy? Why do you think so?
    3. Do the qualities that make Jehu so successful at rebellion help or hamper his rule in other ways?
    4. In what ways do the negative characters of 2 Kings betray God? How do they pay for it? Do they always pay for it?
  • Loyalty

    While betrayal is clearly a really bad thing (duh), its opposite quality—loyalty—is usually rewarded and praised by God (yay). But the people of 2 Kings need to go through trials of faith and difficulty to remain loyal—the Shunnamite woman whom Elisha helps would be a good example. She's clearly one of the most courageous characters in the book. Also, different kinds of loyalty are demanded from different people. Naaman can still bow down in the temple in Aram when he needs to, for example. The expectations for the way kings and prophets show their loyalty are different.

    Questions About Loyalty

    1. What forms does loyalty take in 2 Kings? Do the prophets and the virtuous kings of 2 Kings have different ways of expressing their loyalty? If so, what are they?
    2. In what ways does God repay people who remain loyal to him in this book?
    3. What do you make of the exception God makes for Naaman, allowing him to bow down in a strange temple when he's forced to? What does this say about God's more merciful nature, in addition to his flexibility?
    4. What kind of sacrifices do the book's heroes and heroines need to make to retain their loyalty to God or to righteous kings and prophets? What are the costs as well as the rewards of loyalty?
  • Power

    In the song "Power," Kanye West poses the question "You got the power to let power go?" That question basically means the same thing as, "Do you have the power to remain humble?" The people who do have that power tend to do pretty well in 2 Kings. Elisha wields huge amounts of power—he can even resurrect the dead, but he's extraordinarily humble. His entire life revolves around God.

    At the same time, there are powerful people who don't have the power to surrender in some way. Sennacherib and Manasseh are good examples of this tendency: their bread-and-butter is murder and destruction and pride. But the fate of Sennacherib demonstrates where this leads: he boasts about defeating God, and then is utterly crushed. His own sons end up murdering him.

    Questions About Power

    1. How does God share power with prophets like Elisha? To what extent are the prophets in control of the power they have? Or is it all in God's hands? Why do you think so?
    2. What would you say are the main differences between the way a king like Sennacherib and a king like Josiah wield power? Are there some similarities, as well?
    3. Do you think that, given how corrupting power can be, the kings of Judah were doomed to abuse their power and eventually get thrown into exile? Was there any hope things could've gone another way?
    4. How powerful is God, exactly (if that question can be answered)? Is there anything in 2 Kings that isn't under his control?
  • Warfare

    War: all the time. There's tons of warfare in 2 Kings. War is, like, the main thing that kings do—it's all over the place. Sometimes these wars are fought for selfish or trivial or stupid reasons—like when Amaziah fights Jehoash of Israel out of pure brashness. But at other times, wars are fought for self-defense or to advocate for some higher moral cause. God himself is a warrior at times, fighting to assert his own invincible will over the smaller, individual wills of mortals.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. What do you personally think about the wars fought 2 Kings? Do you think you could've fought in one of them? Why or why not?
    2. Are any of these wars necessary or in some sense justified, either by modern or by ancient standards?
    3. Is the role of God in 2 Kings essentially as a warrior God? Or does he have more dimensions than that?
    4. Are the people who start unjust wars always punished in 2 Kings?
  • Religion

    Considering that this is, you know, the Bible, religion is a pretty big theme. In this case, it has to do with the clash between different interpretations of ancient Israelite religion. The people following the "sins of Jeroboam" in Israel, for example, probably thought that they were worshipping God in the correct manner. Some scholars think that the golden calves created by Jeroboam I weren't supposed to actually be gods, but were supposed to represent them. And the foreigners who move in to Israel from other countries end up worshipping Israel's God along with their own.

    But 2 Kings advocates the Deuteronomy-inspired picture of faith: God is one, and cannot be worshipped through depictions or images or sacred poles. Implicitly, God can only be fully worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem. That's why the high places and Jeroboam's golden calves are considered to be so bad. 2 Kings is a great place to study the way these sort of theological wrestling matches take place, since it often ends up involving real physical conflict.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Why do the Israelites engage in forms of worship other than worshipping their God? What do you think their motivation in doing this foreign practice is—what are they getting out of it?
    2. How does the king of Moab manage to repel the Israelites by sacrificing his own son to Chemosh? Does this imply the Chemosh is "real," even in the God of Israel's eyes—or is there another explanation?
    3. What does "The Book of the Law" that Josiah and Hilkiah discover seem to say about the proper way to worship God? What conclusions can we draw based on Josiah's actions after reading it? (Compare it with the actual Book of Deuteronomy, if you've read it.)
    4. What does Hezekiah's destruction of the bronze serpent, which Moses used to keep the Israelites safe in the desert, mean? What Moses did was apparently a good thing—so could there have been a proper way of treating the bronze serpent?
  • Sin

    Sin, for the authors of 2 Kings, is a form of forgetfulness, you could say. When people forget God, they tend to fall into sin. This takes the form of engaging in various prohibited religious practices, but also in generally selfish deeds. Gehazi tries to take advantage of a situation for his own benefit by fleecing Naaman and ends up being cursed with leprosy, for instance. People who commit the worst sins tend to be putting themselves at the center of their world—taking a giant swim in Lake Me—instead of some higher cause or reality.

    Questions About Sin

    1. What kind of sins are present in 2 Kings? What are the worst ones?
    2. What makes sin so attractive? What draws people in 2 Kings to sin? (Think about Gehazi disobeying Elisha for a relatively small example.)
    3. Is the sin of pride at the root of other sins, for the characters in 2 Kings? What about Sennacherib, for instance?
    4. What are God's methods for combating sin in 2 Kings? How do his prophets, like Elisha, fight against sin?
  • Justice and Judgment

    Justice and judgment provide the response to the previous category: sin. Justice is what punishes or cleanses sin, after all. The God of 2 Kings is big on justice, though he's not without his merciful side, as well. Sometimes, though, the punishment might not seem to fit the crime (at least, to the contemporary reader), like when a crowd of children mocks Elisha and are then attacked and killed by wild bears. (Overreaction much?)

    Justice, in the Biblical sense, frequently takes on some pretty hair-raising forms, like when Josiah slaughters disobedient priests on their own altars. The ultimate act of justice in 2 Kings may be the most devastating: the departure of Judah into exile. The mercy of God tends to resolve things in a relatively peaceful way, like when he extends the life of Hezekiah. But justice is harrowing. There may be a greater purpose lying behind such retribution, leading towards a time of peace (as Isaiah and other prophets predict). Yet, as 2 Kings ends, it seems like that time is still very far off...

    Questions About Justice and Judgment

    1. In 2 Kings, is God's justice working? Is it, for the most part, getting people to improve or not?
    2. Are innocent people punished along with the guilty in 2 Kings? If so, could that be at all justifiable?
    3. Also, we should probably cover that bear attack thing… Is it somehow just for God to kill kids for calling Elisha "baldhead"? Do you think the narrator considers it just?
    4. On a related note, is God sometimes simply beyond justice and injustice?