II Kings 8–9. Elisha Is Given a Political Role.

Key Notes: The woman of Shunem is restored. An allegorical interpetration. Elisha anoints two assiassins. God in judgment and blessing.

Until now, and even in the first few verses of IIKings 8,  Elisha has been active in pastoral care and protection of the people of Israel. In these chapters, he set in motion ominous judgments for Israel, a new king for Syria and a new king for Israel. Both were able military men, called of God, but unprincipled and violent.

8:1–6 The Shunemite (IIK.4:8–37) returned to her home near Jezreel after the prophet had sent her away into Philistia for seven years to escape famine in the land. She came before Jehoram just as Gehazi was reciting stories of Elisha’s miracles to the king. She had been the focus of the stories about her son. She appealed for the return of her property, and the king granted her request as well as the profits for seven years’ land use.

8:7–15 Elisha visited Damascus, suggesting his acceptance among the Syrians as well as Israelites. It was a time of peace between the countries. Benhadad sent Hazael with a huge amount of goods to the prophet to find out if he would recover from his illness. A train of 40 camels would carry a fortune in fine cloth (damascene or Syrian damask), valuable weapons (the Damascus blade), dates, figs and cheeses, wood and ivory furniture. We are not told what the prophet thought of such a reward, but we assume he rejected it.

Hazael brought this message: “Your son, Benhadad, says ‘shall I recover from this illness’? Elisha told Hazael to report back that Benhadad would recover, but that in fact God revealed to him that he would not recover. [Hazael, not his illness, will kill him.]

It is ironic that Benhadad sent Hazael who was to be his assassin to Elisha. Elisha began to weep. God had told him that Hazael was to be the next king of Syria and that he would commit atrocities against the people of Israel. Hazael appeared to be pleased by the prospect. It would be a great thing to be king of Syria and slaughter the Israelites, men, women and children.

When he returned to Benhadad,  Hazael reported Elisha’s words: he said Benhadad would recover. But the next morning, presumably while the king lay in a stupor, Hazael smothered him with a wet cloth.
Now Israel was in big trouble.

8:16–24 The brief account of Jehoram of Judah, son of Jehoshaphat is more fully told in Chronicles.
Before Jehoshaphat died,  all seven of his sons were given rich inheritances  including fortified cities. Jehoram was given the throne as the oldest. When he became king, he killed his six brothers. He was like Ahab, with Ahab’s daughter Athaliah as his wife. IChron.21:1–7
During his tenure, Edom revolted and he escaped with his life trying to subdue them. IIChron.21:8–11
He led Jerusalem and Judah astray, to prostitute themselves. The Greek word (porneia) is the one for sexual sin.
Elijah sent a letter, probably drafted prophetically before he left earth, denouncing Jehoram’s unfaithfulness, his bad influence on his country and his murder of his brothers. He prophesied a plague on his family and a painful bowel disease that would take his life. IIChron.21:12–15
Jehoram was harassed by Philistines, Arabs, and Ethiopians who ransacked his palace and left him only one son. IIChron.21:16–17
He died miserably and in great pain from a bowel disease and was not honored for his eight years of reign.
It appears that Jehoram of Judah was even worse than Jehoram of Israel, who reigned at roughly the same time. IIChron.21:18–20

*The family trees are in the next lesson. IIK.10

IIK.8:25–27 Jehoram of Israel went to fight Hazael at Ramoth-Gilead. Ahaziah of Judah, son of Jehoram of Judah and Athaliah of Israel, joined in the fight. Ramoth-Gilead east of the Jordan River was under repeated Syrian attack. During Ahab’s life, it was in the hands of the Syrians and Ahab died trying to recapture it. IK.22:29-. Jehoram of Israel was wounded in the battle and went to Jezreel to convalesce. Ahaziah went with him to Jezreel where Jezebel lived. This turned out to be crucial.

9:1–13 Elisha dispatched one of the sons of the prophets to the battle of Ramoth-gilead with a flask of oil to anoint Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat (not related to the good king of Judah) as king of Israel. He was to leave at once. The prophet anointed Jehu “king over the people of the Lord, over Israel”. He also cited Elijah’s devastating prophecy to Ahab (IK21:20–24) but we cannot tell if Elisha had told him to repeat that or not. Then he left quickly.
His officer-companions wanted to know what Jehu was doing with “this mad fellow”—such was the reputation of the sons of the prophets. Jehu told them that he was anointed king of Israel and his fellow officers, servants of Jehoram, saluted him.

9:14–29 Jehu told his fellows not to say anything. Then he drove his chariot furiously to Jezreel. The messengers that were sent to intercept him were pulled into his train. “Is it peace, Jehu?” the messengers, Jehoram and Jezebel asked, each in turn. The fierceness of Jehu’s ride apparently made his purpose clear. He was on the war-path.

Ahaziah of Judah and Jehoram of Israel came out to meet Jehu in their chariots. Jehoram turned his chariot to escape when Jehu denounced the wickedness of his mother Jezebel. Jehu pulled his bow full strength and shot him dead. His body was thrown on the plot of Naboth’s vineyard in fulfillment of the prophet Elijah’s word. Ahaziah got farther down the road but was also shot and died at Megiddo.

9:30–17 Then Jehu came into Jezreel. Jezebel decorated herself and taunted Jehu out of the window: “You Zimri, murderer of your master”. [Zimri had wiped out the house of Baasha, but only reigned 7 days. IK.16:12–20]. She implied that Jehu was not going to get away with this.
Jehu asked who was on his side. The eunuchs who appeared in the windows threw her down. The horses trampled her body under foot. Then the dogs went after the body. [Did she have no friend in Jezreel even to protect her body?]
Jehu went into the city to eat and drink. When the people came out to bury her, there was nothing left but the skull, hands and feet. Again the prophecy of Elijah was fulfilled.

Comments:

Elisha engineered two coup d’etat. Both were commissioned by God to Elijah. (IK.19:15). But at the time, Elijah had run for his life from Jezebel and he was depleted and discouraged to the point of suicide. He felt that was the only one left. His mission to destroy Baalism had failed. Israel had not really moved away from idols. God told him that all was not lost. There were still 7000 in Israel who had not given in to Baal worship. He commissioned Elijah to anoint Hazael king over Syria and Jehu king of Israel. (Note that both of these assignments were carried out by Elisha.) The final attack on Baalism was beginning.

These chapters carry out half of the further story of the victory over Baal . They are grim, graphic stories of sin and death.
*Jehoram of Judah killed his brothers. He led his country into decadence and died smelling foul and in great pain.
*Jehoram of Israel, son of Ahab and Jezebel, was shot dead by Jehu.
*Ahaziah of Judah, son of Athaliah and grandson of Jezebel had only one year of reign before he too was assassinated by Jehu.
*Jezebel was thrown out the window, killed by her own people who made no pretense of defending her. Her body was desecrated.

In New Testament terms, The wages of sin is death...." (Rom.6:23)

It seems strangely unethical to find the prophets supporting usurpers like Jeroboam (IK.11:31–33), Baasha (IK.16:2), Hazael and Jehu. We think of the prophets as forces for peace, justice, moderation, and order. Here the prophets are ringleaders in the destruction of a society, using political intrigue in combination with spiritual power. They are, however, operating under God’s direction. Our tendency is to think that God can only do “nice“ things, perhaps the “green revolution” or antibiotics, or stock-market prosperity, but He could not be involved in WWII or the Holocaust or the AIDS epidemic. God acts in fiery judgment as well as great blessing.

Elisha is in a dilemma. He has to go against his own people. We see him weeping for the awful destruction of human life that he sees and foresees. He loves his people. He obeys, but his heart is torn for his countrymen. Jeremiah was called “the weeping prophet”, living through the fall of Jerusalem. But what Israel had done to the Canaanites was now being done to them, and for the same reasons.

What is the story of the Shunemite doing in the midst of all this carnage? An intriguing analysis was brought forward from the class as follows:

•The narratives of I-II Kings were assembled after the Exile by a scribe, probably Ezra. They were slanted toward the needs of the exiles, to give them hope for the future.
•The Shunemite represents the true Israel of God that has always supported the prophets.
•She is given a son who dies and is restored to life (Christ).
•She is in exile among the pagans for a long time {seven years is a perfect period of time} representing the Second Diaspora.
•When she returns to Israel, her lands are given back to her with interest, mandated by the king. So Israel will return to prosper in her own land.

The method used for this interpretation is allegorical, finding in the story hidden truths not seen by the casual observer. It is novel and at odds with the way the class is taught. None of my commentators made such an interpretation and I cannot agree either.

Simply, why is this down-to-earth, happy story of the Shunemite is in this place? First of all we need to try to look for the unusual and ask its significance. Second, we need to see the overall message of the book of II Kings. The general message is believed to be the working out of the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy. (Deut.28–30). In this light the Shunemite is that unusual person who honors the prophet and the word of God and is rewarded in the midst of the chaos around her. She is on the positive side of Deuteronomy, which promises blessings.

Like her, we may not be able to stave off the corruption around us, but if we are true to our Lord Jesus and support His work in the world, we will be blessed. (Mk.10:30). Are we not blessed?

"He who through faith is righteous shall live." (Hab.2:4)