As you read through the book, here are some motifs to look for:
Whatever God says happens
As in 1 Kings, 2 Kings reiterates that all that happened to Israel’s kingdoms—even their downfall and captivity—was according to the word of the Lord. The dogs eating Jezebel (9:36), the extermination of Ahab’s house (10:10), the restoration of Israel’s borders during the reign of Jeroboam II (14:25), the fall of Jehu’s dynasty in the fourth generation (15:12), and Josiah’s defiling the altar at Bethel (23:15-16) all happen just as God predicted. He had spoken, and “so it was” (15:12).
Prominence of God’s servants, the prophets
The prominence of the prophets continues in 2 Kings. The expression “My [His] servants, the prophets” is a distinctive of 2 Kings and Jeremiah (2 Ki. 9:7; 17:13, 23; 21:10; 24:2; Jer. 7:25; 25:4; 26:5; 29:19; 35:15; 44:4). Virtually unique to 2 Kings is the use of the term “sons of the prophets.” These are not prophets’ actual children but rather a growing number of men who belong to the class of prophets—prophetic guilds. At least one of these prophetic “guilds” was located at Bethel, the center of Jeroboam’s idolatrous worship (2:3).
2 Kings records the transition from Elijah to Elisha, and Elisha dominates the first nine chapters of 2 Kings. He performs roughly double the number of miracles that Elijah did, and many of his miracles are on behalf of the true followers of Yahweh who live in the growingly apostate Northern Kingdom. 2 Kings 4:1-8:15 features Elisha but curiously has no clear chronological connection to the other events in 2 Kings. While the prophets still act as royal advisors in 2 Kings (e.g., Isaiah to King Hezekiah in chapters 19-20), we also see their role in calling Israel back to the law of Moses (17:13) and in warning of coming disaster (21:10; 24:2).
Israel’s evil infiltrates Judah
Ahab’s evil poisons Judah and nearly destroys it. The seemingly innocent statement at the end of 1 Kings that “Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel” (22:44) had huge ramifications. Jehoshaphat married his son Jehoram to Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. She influenced her husband Jehoram to do evil. Their son Ahaziah also did evil and after his untimely death, Athaliah herself seized the throne and attempted to kill every remaining descendant of David (2 Kings 11:1). As someone has said, the Davidic dynasty hung by a thread and, humanly speaking, nearly came to an end. Even years after, Ahab’s religious influence is still being felt in Judah (16:3; 17:19).
End of both Israelite kingdoms
The Kingdom of Israel comes to an end in chapter 17, largely because of Jeroboam’s calf worship that virtually every king of the northern kingdom clung to (vv. 21-22; see also 3:3; 10:29, 31; 13:2, 6, 11; 14:24; 15:9, 18, 24, 28). The Kingdom of Judah continues to the end of 2 Kings, not because of the righteousness of her kings but because of God’s commitment to David (8:19; 19:34; 20:6). King Manasseh’s wickedness was the final straw, though, and after him, God would not turn away from His decree to punish the kingdom of Judah (21:10-15; 23:26; 24:3). God would be unjust to not punish His people when they have rivaled or exceeded the sins of the nations He cast out before them (16:3; 17:8, 15; 21:2, 9).
Rise of foreign powers
Enemies like Aram (“Syria,” KJV), Philistia, Moab, and Ammon are merely local threats, but foreign nations like Assyria and Babylonia come to the forefront of the ancient Near East in 2 Kings. (Assyria, for example, has not been mentioned since the book of Genesis.) Assyria’s Tiglath-pileser and Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar are world-class monarchs! And it is almost as if God raised up these men and their respective nations in order to be His instruments to punish His wayward people.
A future for David’s dynasty
Long gone are the days when the Kingdoms of David and Solomon held political sway far beyond their own borders. Is all that gone forever? Significant in 2 Kings is not just what God says but what God does not say. God did not say that He would “annihilate the name of Israel under heaven” (14:27). Yes, “Judah went into exile from her land” (25:21), but the last scene in 2 Kings is Jehoiachin’s exaltation in Babylon (25:27-30). God still has a plan for David’s line and for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (13:23).
- Explain how the last few words of 2 Kings 15:12 (“and it was so”) summarize a key theme of the entire book.
- Give some examples of prophetic predictions that come true in 2 Kings.
- One of the most remarkable prophetic predictions that comes to pass in 2 Kings is Josiah’s defiling of the altars at Bethel (23:15-16). Compare the fulfillment with the original prediction in 1 Kings 13:2. What makes this prediction so remarkable? (Is Josiah mentioned by name in 1 Kings 13:2?)
- Cite a couple of expressions or terms that are virtually unique to 2 Kings.
- Elijah dominated the last half of 1 Kings. What prophet dominates the first half of 2 Kings?
- What did godly King Jehoshaphat do that unintentionally brought the idolatrous ways of Ahab into the kingdom of Judah? (Do relationships with ungodly people matter?)
- What king of Judah’s wickedness was the “final straw” that led God to pronounce inalterable judgment upon Judah?
- What happens at the end of 2 Kings that suggests that there is a future for David’s line (and for the nation as a whole)?