Thursday, February 09, 2023

2 Kings 13:10-25

2 Kings 13:10–25 (NIV)✞: Jehoash King of Israel

Since I’m blogging through the Old Testament using the New International Version (NIV), I’m typically using their section headings as guides in how I break up my posts. In this case, in retrospect, I’m wondering if I should have used the English Standard Version (ESV) section headings instead, since this feels like a couple—if not a few—stories lumped together under one NIV section heading, whereas the ESV broke it up a bit more – although even they don’t break it up as much as I might have, since there are some mini stories at the end of this passage.

But oh well, I had finished writing the post before this thought occurred to me…


This is an interesting passage in terms of its structure: the author(s) sum up the reign of Jehoash right at the begining, in verses 10–13✞, and then backtrack to go back and talk about the death of Elisha (at which Jehoash was present), and then there are a bunch of little stories/anecdotes at the end in which the author(s) go back and forth throughout the timeline.

But first, Jehoash’s reign:

10 In the thirty-seventh year of Joash king of Judah, Jehoash son of Jehoahaz became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned sixteen years. 11 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit; he continued in them.


12 As for the other events of the reign of Jehoash, all he did and his achievements, including his war against Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? 13 Jehoash rested with his ancestors, and Jeroboam succeeded him on the throne. Jehoash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel.

2 Kings 13:10–13 (NIV)✞

(That mention of, “are they not written in the annals of the kings of Israel” is a common pattern used in describing kings that I usually skip quoting.)

And then, as mentioned, we backtrack to Elisha’s death. Jehoash visits him on his deathbed—I don’t know if he’s visiting Elisha because he’s dying or if it’s a coincidence—and he says something to Elisha that I’d always found strange, until I read the ESV Study Bible notes and realized that it’s actually very simple and that I should have figured it out all along:

Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

2 Kings 13:14 (NIV)✞

I had always read Jehoash’s words about “the chariots and horsemen if Israel” and wondered if he was referring to the chariots that had carried away Elijah (knowing that Elisha was on the verge of joining him), but it’s much simpler than that: we just read in the previous passage that Jehoash’s father Jehoahaz was severely beaten by the Arameans, and the author(s) specifically mentioned in verse 7✞ that Israel had been reduced to 50 horsemen and 10 chariots (along with 10,000 foot soldiers), so when Jehoash cries aloud about “the chariots and horsemen of Israel” there’s no mystery, he’s just being very, very literal: he thinks the nation of Israel is about to be destroyed because they have few chariots or horsemen left!

Elisha isn’t as dumb as I am, however, and understands what Jehoash is talking about, so he delivers a prophecy through a couple of demonstrations. First, he has Jehoash shoot an arrow out the east window, and then tells him that this is, “The LORD’s arrow of victory, the arrow of victory over Aram! You will completely destroy the Arameans at Aphek.” (verse 17✞). I should note that the ESV Study Bible notes point out that, “Aphek lay eastward of the main Israelite territory in Transjordan, the direction in which Jehoash shoots the arrow and from which the Syrian threat to Israel typically came.”

After this Elisha tells Jehoash to strike the ground with the remaining arrows in his hand so he does so, but only a few times before stopping. Elisha gets angry with him, saying he should have struck the ground five or six times in which case he would have completely defeated the Arameans; as it stands he will only defeat them a few times.

After this we are presented with a few little mini stories.

First, there is a final miracle performed by Elisha—or rather, by his body—after his death:

20 Elisha died and was buried.


Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. 21 Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet.

2 Kings 13:20–21 (NIV)✞

Then we’re given a bit of context about how much trouble Hazael, king of Aram, has caused for Israel, though it’s given in reference to Jehoash’s father Jehoahaz:

22 Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. 23 But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.

2 Kings 13:22–23 (NIV)✞

And finally the author(s) come back to Jehoash himself to talk about his defeat of the Arameans:

24 Hazael king of Aram died, and Ben-Hadad his son succeeded him as king. 25 Then Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recaptured from Ben-Hadad son of Hazael the towns he had taken in battle from his father Jehoahaz. Three times Jehoash defeated him, and so he recovered the Israelite towns.

2 Kings 13:24–25 (NIV)✞, emphasis added

I probably didn’t even need to highlight the text showing that Johoash defeated the Arameans exactly three times, but… I did.


There are a few thoughts I had on this passage, which I’ll get right into.

Striking the Ground

When I read verses 14–19✞ as a modern reader I have to wonder how Jehoash could have possibly known he was supposed to strike the ground with the arrows more times than he did. In his shoes I might have done the same thing! After all, it seems kind of silly to be getting down on your hands and knees on the ground and striking it!

It’s possible that the context of the situation would have been enough information for Jehoash to have known that more was expected of him, and he was “refusing” to do so. But it’s also possible that Jehoash’s problem was exactly the same as mine: maybe he just thought it was silly for a king to be getting down on his hands and knees and striking it with a handful of arrows! I think we can all be guilty of going to God for help in times of need and yet knowing deep in our hearts that we’re only willing to go so far if He asks anything of us. It’s a sign of a man refusing to humble himself before God.

Yes, if Elisha were to ask me, a grown man, to get down on the ground and strike it with arrows, I’d feel silly; of course Jehoash, a king, would feel the same thing multiplied by a hundred! But who am I—who was Jehoash—in the face of God? Jehoash is worried because he has few horsemen and chariots but Elisha knows that God has chariots and horses Jehoash can’t see – remember 6:1–23 in which the city of Dothan was surrounded by the enemy and Elisha’s servant was worried, but God opened his eyes to see His chariots and horses of fire.

How We Read the Bible

Not that it’s about this specific passage, but this might be another good time to mention what I believe to be an important topic for Christians: the fact that we should be splitting our Bible reading between really digging into shorter passages, trying to glean the details out of them, and also reading longer passages in blocks. Both are useful—necessary, even—but I find that Christians can fall into one “style” of reading to the detriment of the other. (And I think most of us tend to do more of the smaller readings than the larger ones; it’s how we’re conditioned to read the Bible through sermons and through our daily reading plans.)

Reading a short passage of just a few verses (or even one) allows us to go really deep into a particular topic and pull out nuances of what God is saying – what He’s really saying, not just what we read on the surface. However, in doing so we’re in danger of losing the larger context into which that small set of verses fall. On the other hand, reading larger passages will give us that context but at the cost of not being able to really think deeply about what we’ve just read.

Combining the two approaches is, in my humble opinion, the best way to read the Bible. For example, if we’re about to read through a book we could sit down and read the whole thing first, cover-to-cover, and then go back and through it bit by bit and do the detailed reading. Maybe we’d even want to stop from time to time to re-read the entire book again if it’s taking a long time to do the detailed readings. In fact, maybe we’d even want to read it a final time at the end, having done so much detailed study in the interim, and be able to get the entire context with the nuance that we pulled out in our detailed readings!

This might sound cumbersome but the fact is that the majority of the books in the Bible can be read in one sitting; they feel long to us because we’re used to getting our Scripture “fed” to us, sermon by sermon, in a manner in which it takes a preacher months to get through a single book—or we read books via our daily devotions in which, again, it takes us weeks or months to get through a single book—but if we just sit down and read a book end-to-end it can almost always be done quickly.

There are exceptions of course; books like Genesis or Isaiah are longer than most, and books like Numbers and Leviticus with long genealogies and lists of laws can be difficult to get through in a single sitting. Arguably, the books of Psalms and Proverbs are exceptions to the rule altogether in that they wouldn’t provide the same benefit in reading end-to-end. However, the majority of books are like 1&2 Kings: they can be read through in a single sitting, before getting into the bit-by-bit study.

The format in which I’m blogging through the Bible is kind of half and half: I’m thinking more deeply about the passages than I would if I was just reading through them in large chunks in my morning devotions, but they’re also in larger chunks than one might normally read in typical detailed studies. But, in this case, being half and half didn’t solve the problem at all: even when I sat down to write this post and read this passage I still didn’t remember the context about the chariots and horses of Israel; if I’d sat down to read the entire book of 1&2 Kings, before getting into the details of blogging through it passage by passage—or even if I’d read 1 Kings, blogged through 1 Kings, and then done the same for 2 Kings—maybe I’d have seen something that should have been obvious, in seeing the two passages back-to-back.

Luckily this particular detail wasn’t so important that it changes anything about my understanding of God, or His relation to His people, or how we are to obey Him. But it is a misunderstanding I carried with me for years—even having read through the Bible numerous times—because of the way I was reading it.

“To this day”

Let’s look at verses 22–23 again:

22 Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. 23 But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.

2 Kings 13:22–23 (NIV)✞, emphasis added

The book of 1&2 Kings would have been completed pretty late in the history of what Christians think of as the Old Testament; here’s what the ESV Study Bible says about the date:

In their present form, 1–2 Kings could not have been written before the sixth century B.C., since 2 Kings 25:27–30 describes the release of King Jehoiachin from prison in Babylon in 561 and the books must therefore date from some time after that. It is possible (and some scholars certainly believe) that this late exilic or postexilic version of Kings builds on earlier editions dating from before the exile of many Judeans to Babylon in 586 B.C., or from the period of the exile itself. There is also evidence that at least some editing of the text took place in the Persian period (539–c. 330 B.C.). Notice, for example, the intriguing references to “the kings of the west” and “the governors of the land” (1 Kings 10:15). These seem best understood as representing a Persian perspective on the region west of the Euphrates, which was administered on behalf of the Persian emperor by governors (cf. Ezra 8:36; Neh. 2:7, 9).

ESV Study Bible

Why is this relevant? Because the author(s) of 1&2 Kings thought it was important for God’s people to know that He had never abandoned them – no matter how often or how badly their ancestors had abandoned Him.

I’ve mentioned (probably a number of times) that the nation of Judah was hit and miss in terms of good or bad kings while the nation of Israel consistently had unfaithful kings from the time of the split until they were carried off into exile (we haven’t gotten there yet), but no matter how far the Northern nation of Israel strayed from God He never abandoned them. Punished them? Yes. Let them be carried off into exile – as He’d always told them would happen if they abandoned Him? Yes. Abandoned them? Never.

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