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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 13

 

 

Verses 1-9

The Reign Of Jehoahaz, King of Israel (814/13-798 BC).

On the death of Jehu, his son Jehoahaz ascended the throne of Israel. It was at a time when Assyria had not troubled the area for many years, and were being kept busy elsewhere with attacks on its north-west and eastern frontiers, having previously put down a great revolt in Nineveh and other important centres (mentioned in the Eponym Chronicle - 827-822 BC). Thus there was no restraint on the now powerful kingdom of Aram, and they took advantage of it to pulverise a now weak Israel (weakened by Jehu’s purges) over a number of years. It was a shortsighted policy, for by diminishing the military power of Israel they were rendering helpless a possible ally who in the time of Ahab had been able to supply two thousand chariots in the alliance against Assyria. Now Israel was to be reduced to ten chariots which were probably mainly for ceremonial occasions. They would be able to provide no assistance if ever Assyria invaded again.

And invade they did, for things had got to such a pass that Jehoahaz turned helplessly to YHWH, and YHWH heard him, with the result that in 804 BC Aram found itself trying and failing in an attempt to keep back the might of Assyria (see note on Hazael above, after 2 Kings 10:36). YHWH had raised up an unlikely ‘Saviour’, and the consequence was that Aram was in itself pulverised and Israel were for a while left unmolested, even if almost unable to defend themselves. Assyrian records suggest that Israel were paying ‘heavy tribute’ to Assyria.

Analysis.

a In the three and twentieth year of Joash the son of Ahaziah, king of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned seventeen years (2 Kings 13:1).

b And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin. He did not depart from them (2 Kings 13:2).

c And the anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Aram (Syria), and into the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael, for a long time (or ‘continually’) (2 Kings 13:3).

d And Jehoahaz besought YHWH, and YHWH listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how that the king of Aram oppressed them (2 Kings 13:4).

e And YHWH gave Israel a saviour, so that they went out from under the hand of the Aramaeans (Syrians), and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents as previously (2 Kings 13:5).

d Nevertheless they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, by which he made Israel to sin, but walked in them, and there remained the Asherah also in Samaria (2 Kings 13:6).

c For he left not to Jehoahaz of the people except for fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen, for the king of Aram destroyed them, and made them like the dust in threshing (2 Kings 13:7).

b Now the rest of the acts of Jehoahaz, and all that he did, and his might, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? (2 Kings 13:8).

a And Jehoahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria, and Joash his son reigned instead of him (2 Kings 13:9).

Note that in ‘a’ Jehoahaz began to reign, and in the parallel he slept with his fathers and his son reigned instead of him. In ‘b’ he did evil in the sight of YHWH and in the parallel his acts can be found in the official annals of the kings of Israel. In ‘c’ Israel were subjected to Aram for a long time, and in the parallel they ended up almost defenceless. In ‘d’ Jehoahaz turned to YHWH in a prayer for help, and in the parallel he nevertheless continued to walk in his sins. Centrally in ‘e’ YHWH raised up a saviour for His people enabling the to live quietly and at peace.

2 Kings 13:1

‘In the three and twentieth year of Joash the son of Ahaziah, king of Judah, Jehoahaz the son of Jehu began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned seventeen years.’

Jehoahaz’ reign is described in the usual terms dated on the basis of the corresponding king of Judah, coming to the throne in the twenty third year of Joash of Judah.. The one year discrepancy with 2 Kings 12:1 is explicable in terms of the different methods of assessing reigns in Israel and Judah already described. Jehoahaz reigned for seventeen years. In 2 Kings 13:10 Jehoahaz’s son began to reign in the thirty seventh year of Joash (Jehoash) king of Judah, but according to the figures here it should have been in the thirty ninth/fortieth year (23+17). This suggests that Joash had two/three years co-regency.

2 Kings 13:2

‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin. He did not depart from them.’

He also continued in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, supporting the sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan with their syncretistic Yahwism. The activities of Jehu had not led to a return to pure Yahwism, and unofficial worship was still taking place at high places around the country.

2 Kings 13:3

‘And the anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Aram (Syria), and into the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael, continually.’

We are reminded here that any invasion is seen by the prophetic author as an indication of YHWH’s anger. Were YHWH not angry He could in one way or another have ensured that it did not happen. The consequence of YHWH’s anger at Israel’s disobedience to His covenant resulted in a number of Aramaean invasions by Hazael and his son Benhadad (acting as Hazael’s commander-in-chief) in which Israel were badly mauled. Indeed we learn later that as well as being unable to recover Transjordan from Hazael (see 2 Kings 10:32-33), he also lost a number of cities to him west of Jordan (2 Kings 13:25).

2 Kings 13:4

‘And Jehoahaz besought YHWH, and YHWH listened to him, for he saw the oppression of Israel, how that the king of Aram oppressed them.’

In the end Jehoahaz turned in his extremity to YHWH in genuine prayer from the heart. And the result was that YHWH, who could see Israel’s suffering at the hands of the king of Aram, listened to him and responded to his prayer.

2 Kings 13:5

‘And YHWH gave Israel a saviour, so that they went out from under the hand of the Aramaeans (Syrians), and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents as previously.’

And in consequence of Jehoahaz’s prayer YHWH gave Israel a saviour who removed the burden of the Aramaeans from them so that the children of Israel were able to dwell peaceably. ‘In their tents’ is a technical description signifying in their homes (brought forward from their wilderness experience). They no longer had to continually flee into the mountains or otherwise be driven from their homes by the Aramaean incursions. (Although we learn from Assyrian inscriptions that out of gratitude for this deliverance they paid tribute to Assyria).

‘Gave Israel a saviour.’ This probably refers to the successive invasions of Aram by Adad-nirari III of Assyria whereby the power of Aram was for a time broken. In 804 BC the Assyrians recorded victories over Hazael of Aram (under his Aramaic name of Mari) whereby the cities of Aram were crushed one by one so that in the end Hazael had to surrender in Damascus and pay heavy tribute, although Damascus was never taken. A further invasion by Adad-nirari in the days of Benhadad III added to their miseries, and to a further weakening of their power. Being defeated by the merciless Assyrians not only meant great loss of wealth, but also resulted in huge loss of manpower and arms. This interpretation is confirmed by the wording ‘gave them a saviour’. To some extent this is based on the similar idea in Judges, but there the saviours were ‘raised up’ out of Israel (Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15; compare 2 Kings 2:16; 2 Kings 2:18). Here the saviour was ‘given’ from outside.

Other saviours have been suggested such as Elisha on the basis of 2 Kings 13:14-20, Joash on the basis of 2 Kings 13:17; 2 Kings 13:19; 2 Kings 13:25, and even Jeroboam II on the basis of 2 Kings 14:27. But none of them really fit the situation unless we see the answer to prayer as very much delayed, which is not the impression we are given.

2 Kings 13:6

‘Nevertheless they did not depart from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, by which he made Israel to sin, but walked in them, and there remained the Asherah also in Samaria.’

But in spite of YHWH’s deliverance the people of Israel did not return to YHWH with a true heart. They continued in the ways of Jeroboam, worshipping at syncretistic sanctuaries run by false priests, something symbolised by the Asherah pole/image still remaining in Samaria, something which Jehu had apparently overlooked (compare 1 Kings 16:33). His main fury had been against Baal.

2 Kings 13:7

‘For he left not to Jehoahaz of the people except for fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen, for the king of Aram destroyed them, and made them like the dust in threshing.’

For YHWH had through the depredations of the king of Aram reduced their armed forces to a pitiful remnant, with only fifty horsemen, ten chariots and ten military units of footmen. If the footmen were not regular soldiers, but conscripts, then Israel’s fortunes had fallen very low indeed. The accumulated sins of Israel had reaped their reward. Compare Amos 4:10; Amos 5:3. According to the Assyrian records, in the days of Ahab Israel had been able to field two thousand chariots and ten thousand footmen, but the latter had probably been trained soldiers rather than the militia. The pride of Israel had thus been reduced to a bunch of farmers.

‘Made them like the dust in threshing.’ In other words the remnants that were left when the good grain was removed.

2 Kings 13:8

‘Now the rest of the acts of Jehoahaz, and all that he did, and his might, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’

Once again we are referred to the official annals of the kings of Israel for further information about what happened during his reign. ‘His might’ simply means ‘the level of his strength’ and is part of the stereotyped formula. It is not an indication of great power at any stage. It was of a low level.

2 Kings 13:9

‘And Jehoahaz slept with his fathers, and they buried him in Samaria, and Joash his son reigned instead of him’

Jehoahaz appears to have died peacefully. He ‘slept with his fathers’ and was buried in Samaria. And his son Joash (or Jehoash) reigned instead of him (and this while Jehoash was reigning in Judah!).


Verses 10-13

Summary Of The Reign Of Jehoash (Joash) King of Israel (2 Kings 13:10-12).

Because the prophetic author wished to keep the episode concerning Elisha’s death outside the regular regnal pattern, the life of Jehoash of Israel is summed up and closed off in the usual way, although in very abbreviated form, before the description of Elisha’s final acts, and the opening of Amaziah’s reign then follows the Elisha incident. We can compare the same pattern with regard to chapter 2, where the taking of Elijah and the establishment of Elisha as his successor takes place after the closing of Ahaziah’s reign but before the opening of Jehoram’s. Furthermore we may also note the fact that Jehoram of Israel’s reign (2 Kings 3:1 to 2 Kings 9:26) which incorporates the other Elisha material was never itself closed off with a closing formula. This deliberate exclusion from the lives of the kings highlights the ‘otherness’ of the death scene of Elisha, and the fact of its heavenly connection.

Analysis.

a In the thirty and seventh year of Joash king of Judah began Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned sixteen years (2 Kings 13:10).

b And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin, but he walked in them (2 Kings 13:11).

b Now the rest of the acts of Joash, and all that he did, and his might with which he fought against Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? (2 Kings 13:12).

a And Joash slept with his fathers, and Jeroboam sat on his throne, and Joash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel (2 Kings 13:13).

Note that in ‘a’ we have the commencement of the reign and in the parallel the closure of the reign, and in ‘b’ the verdict on the reign and the behaviour of the king, and in the parallel reference to the annals of the kings of Israel for further details of the reign. Any central emphasis is deliberately left out, highlighting that what follows is outside the regnal pattern.

2 Kings 13:10

‘In the thirty and seventh year of Joash king of Judah began Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz to reign over Israel in Samaria, and reigned sixteen years.’

Once again, as in the case of Jehoram (Joram), we have parallel kings of Israel and Judah with the same names, i.e. Jehoash/Joash. Jehoash of Israel will reign for sixteen years. The date here excludes Joash of Judah’s co-regency.

2 Kings 13:11

‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin, but he walked in them.’

As with all the kings of Israel he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH because he made no attempt to return to orthodox Yahwism. Rather he maintained the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan. That such a return would have been possible without focusing on Jerusalem comes out in that Elijah (and probably Elisha) were able to worship quite happily and in ‘orthodox’ fashion on Mount Carmel at ‘the altar of YHWH’ (1 Kings 18:30-32). As had happened with Samuel previously when the Tabernacle ceased to function special arrangements could have been made. And the result was that the covenant requirements as a whole were also ignored.

2 Kings 13:12

‘Now the rest of the acts of Joash, and all that he did, and his might with which he fought against Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’

The author deliberately leaves out any mention of particular incidents during the reign prior to this because he wants us to recognise that the purpose of this summary is to emphasise the fact that what occurred on the deathbed of Elisha lay outside the regnal pattern. Thus he moves straight on to a reference to the official annals of the kings of Israel, although with a passing reference to his war with Amaziah king of Judah which will be dealt with shortly.

2 Kings 13:13

‘And Joash slept with his fathers, and Jeroboam sat on his throne, and Joash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel.’

Two obvious changes are made to this closing formula. The first change is the unique reference to ‘sitting on his throne’. This may signify that Jeroboam he did it by determined effort as against other candidates, as in Assyrian annals. On the other hand 2 Kings 15:12 may suggest that the phrase highlights how long the dynasty of Jehu was lasting. In 2 Kings 14:16 we find he ‘reigned instead of him’ which is the usual phrase. The second change is the inclusion of ‘with the kings of Israel’, which only otherwise occurs in 2 Kings 14:16; 2 Kings 14:29, and indicates the continuing of a dynasty.


Verses 10-16

The Reign Of Jehoash (Joash) King Of Israel c. 2Ki 798-782/1 BC (2 Kings 13:10 to 2 Kings 14:16).

The reign of Jehoash, King of Israel presents us with another interesting literary phenomenon, for the author first presents us with a brief summary of Jehoash’s reign, ending in the usual closing formula (2 Kings 13:10-13), and then goes on to describe his presence at Elisha’s deathbed (2 Kings 13:14-21), and his successful wars with Benhadad of Aram (2 Kings 13:22-25) and with Amaziah king of Judah (2 Kings 14:8-14), before ending for a second time, although in slightly altered fashion, with a similar closing formula to that in 2 Kings 13:12-13 (2 Kings 14:15-16). In between all this he opens up the reign of Amaziah, king of Judah (2 Kings 14:1 ff), something which he does not normally do until he has closed down the reign of the king of Israel during whose reign he came to the throne (thus confirming that the first closing formula in 2 Kings 13:12-13 is deliberate).

It is clear from all this that the author has done all this deliberately:

· Firstly because he wanted to continue following his previous pattern of closing off one reign before he opened up another (thus 2 Kings 13:12-13).

· Secondly because as with the taking of Elijah and the confirmatory call of Elisha in chapter 2, which was also placed outside the pattern of regnal formulae, he similarly wanted to put the record of Elisha’s death and its consequences to be outside the pattern of regnal formulae so as to highlight it and separate it off from the history of the kings. Both episodes were seen as in some way other worldly. (Both Elisha episodes include reference to the chariots and horsemen of Israel, giving them a clear heavenly connection).

· Thirdly because he nevertheless recognised at the same time that all that followed did also require to be closed off with a (parallel) closing formula about Jehoash, he introduced a further closing formula in 2 Kings 14:15-16, but in such a way that it was outside the regular pattern (it comes within the opening and closing formulae of Amaziah) and by making it teach a lesson about the reign of Amaziah. The whole section is actually very carefully thought out.


Verses 14-20

The Death Bed Of Elisha (2 Kings 13:14-20 a).

As we have seen, in a similar way to chapter 2 this passage is deliberately put outside the regnal formulae, with Jehoash’s death coming before it and the commencement of Amaziah’s coming after it. Both the passage in chapter 2 and the passage here convey a ‘heavenly’ message (the presence of the fiery chariots and horses of YHWH acting on behalf of Israel) and may therefore be seen as a kind of inclusio of what lies between, covering the life of Elisha. Both passages emphasise Israel’s dependence on ‘the horses and chariots of Israel’, which represent the heavenly host who fight on Israel’s side when they are obedient to YHWH (2 Kings 6:17). It is reminding us that with the presence of Elisha and Elijah the power of YHWH of hosts had been at work on earth in a unique way, as their miracles demonstrate.

In the first passage (in chapter 2) the message was one of hope, with Elijah being taken and Elisha entering Israel over the miraculously parted Jordan and advancing on Jericho and Bethel to take possession of the land. Now that period is over and Elisha is dying, but he wants Jehoash to recognise that the future is still one of hope if only he will trust in YHWH, and he does it by vivid symbolism which indicates that the chariots and horsemen of Israel and the armoury of God (represented by the arrow of YHWH’s victory) will still be with them if they are faithful to YHWH.

The first act of symbolism in this passage is the firing of an arrow which is a symbol of YHWH’s coming victory over Aram. It is the arrow of YHWH’s victory. YHWH is still fighting on behalf of His people. In the second act of symbolism the king is told to strike the ground with the arrows, but because he only does it half-heartedly (three times) he learns that his success will also only be half-hearted. Rather he should have demonstrated his commitment by doing it five or six times. Then he would have been fully successful

Analysis.

a Now Elisha had fallen sick of his sickness of which he died, and Joash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over him, and he said, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen” (2 Kings 13:14).’

b And Elisha said to him, “Take bow and arrows,” and he took to himself bow and arrows. And he said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow,” and he put his hand on it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands. And he said, “Open the window eastwards,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot (2 Kings 13:15-17 a).

c And he said, “YHWH’s arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram, for you will smite the Aramaeans in Aphek, until you have consumed them” (2 Kings 13:17 b).

b And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground,” and he struck three times, and stopped. And the man of God was angry with him, and said, “You should have struck five or six times, then you would have smitten Aram until you had consumed it, whereas now you will smite Aram only three times” (2 Kings 13:18-19).

a And Elisha died, and they buried him (2 Kings 13:20 a).

Note that in ‘a’ Elisha was mortally ill, and in the parallel he died. In ‘b’ he called on the king to fire an arrow which was YHWH’s arrow of victory, and in the parallel he called on the king to strike the ground three times with the arrows, thus only ensuring three victories. Centrally in ‘c’ the arrow fired by the king was the arrow of YHWH’s victory over Aram.

2 Kings 13:14

‘Now Elisha had fallen sick of his sickness of which he died, and Joash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over him, and he said, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen.” ’

After a long life and a ministry of over fifty years Elisha was terminally ill, and as a result Joash (Jehoash) of Israel came down to see him. And when he came to Elisha’s bedside he wept at what it was going to mean for Israel. He recognised that in Elisha Israel were losing their most powerful weapon, for the king feared that with him the invisible fiery chariots and horses of YHWH would also depart (compare 2 Kings 6:17; 2 Kings 2:11-12). YHWH would no longer be with His people in the same way.

There is some disagreement about who said, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen.” In 2 Kings 2:11-12 it had been Elisha. Here it could be either Elisha or the king. In 2 Kings 6:21 the king of Israel calls Elisha ‘my father’, which might be seen as favouring a similar situation here. But if it was the king he was clearly well versed in what had happened at the taking of Elijah and Elisha’s original call. This would then suggest the probability of an already existing prophetic writing. This would not be too surprising as we know that some of the prophets did leave their own narratives (e.g. Nathan the prophet; Ahijah the prophet; Iddo the seer - 2 Chronicles 9:29). But either way the significance is the same. Will the death of Elisha bring to an end YHWH’s activity on behalf of Israel?

2 Kings 13:15

‘And Elisha said to him, “Take bow and arrows,” and he took to himself bow and arrows.’

Elisha’s reply was to tell him to take in his hands a bow and arrows, which he then did. The arrows were clearly visible to a king who probably was not spiritually attuned enough to see the chariots and horses of Israel (as he had demonstrated when he thought that they represented Elisha). Arrows were a vivid and well known symbol for the activity of YHWH. In Deuteronomy 32:23 we read, ‘I will heap evils on them, I will spend My arrows on them.’ In the Davidic Psalms 7:13 we read, ‘if a man does not repent God will whet His sword, He has bent and strung His bow, He has prepared His deadly weapons, making His arrows fiery shafts.’ In Psalms 45:5 we read, ‘your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies, the peoples fall under you.’ See also Psalms 18:14; Psalms 64:7; Psalms 77:17; Psalms 144:6; Lamentations 3:12-13; Zechariah 9:14. Thus Elisha was demonstrating that YHWH’s fiery arrows were still at the ready on behalf of Israel.

It is not correct to call this sympathetic magic. Elisha was not trying to influence YHWH. He was demonstrating to the king in vivid pictorial symbolism that YHWH was still at hand to work for him, as 2 Kings 13:17 specifically says. Compare how Jonathan similarly fired arrows in order to convey a message where there was no idea of sympathetic magic (1 Samuel 20:20-22). There is in fact no clear example of sympathetic magic in the Old Testament. It was very much a polytheistic idea. The vivid symbolism of the later prophets was not in order to influence YHWH, but was at YHWH’s command in order to bring home the message to the people. The same is true here.

2 Kings 13:16

‘And he said to the king of Israel, “Put your hand on the bow,” and he put his hand on it. And Elisha laid his hands on the king’s hands.’

By putting his hands on the king’s hands Elisha was demonstrating that even after his death his God would still be active on Israel’s behalf. This will later be emphasised by the raising of a man from the dead by contact with Elijah’s corpse. The death of Elisha would not be the death of YHWH’s active power.

2 Kings 13:17

‘And he said, “Open the window eastwards,” and he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot,” and he shot. And he said, “YHWH’s arrow of victory, even the arrow of victory over Aram, for you will smite the Aramaeans in Aphek, until you have consumed them.” ’

Notice the step by step description of what the king had to do. Elisha wanted the message to be firmly implanted in the king’s mind, and because the Aramaeans regularly invaded via Transjordan (over which they now held control) which was to the east of Samaria, Elisha arranged for the arrow to be fired eastwards. Then when the arrow had been despatched Elisha declared that it was the arrow of YHWH’s victory, even His victory over Aram. It was evidence that Joash of Israel would smite the Aramaeans at Aphek (Tel En Gev on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Compare 1 Kings 20:26 where the Aramaeans had previously invaded via Aphek) until he had consumed them. There were a number of Apheks, which simply means ‘fortress’, but everything points to this Aphek being in Transjordan.

Unlike the servant of Elisha previously (2 Kings 6:17), Elisha knew that the king was not spiritually attuned enough to see chariots and horses of fire at the ready to fight for Israel. Thus he gave him instead a visible sign of YHWH’s victory, one that he could understand and appreciate. And he was to see the arrows as the arrows of YHWH.

2 Kings 13:18

‘And he said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground,” and he struck three times, and stopped.’

Then Elisha told the king to take the remaining arrows and to ‘strike the ground’ with them. Some consider that this was to be done by firing the arrows, with each arrow indicating a victory as it struck the ground. The idea would then appear to be that instead of firing all the arrows in the quiver he only selected three. He was simply going through the motions, not really getting involved in what YHWH wanted to do. This interpretation might appear to be supported by the normal use of the Hebrew verb which indicates ‘smite, slaughter’. Others consider that he was to hold them in his hand and strike the ground with them. Either way he only did it three times, even though it should have been obvious that it symbolised something of great importance. It was clear that he was obeying mechanically rather than thoughtfully and from his heart. He was not really convinced that YHWH would be active on his behalf, and was making no attempt to, as it were, get into YHWH’s mind. His heart was not in it.

2 Kings 13:19

‘And the man of God was angry with him, and said, “You should have struck five or six times, then you would have smitten Aram until you had consumed it, whereas now you will smite Aram only three times.” ’

The king’s lack of enthusiasm angered Elisha, and in spite of his weak condition, he rebuked the king for his lethargy, because it had demonstrated his lack of trust in YHWH and his lack of desire to have for Him to get involved. He informed him that as a result of only striking three times he would only defeat the Aramaeans three times. Had he struck five or six times he would have smitten them until he had consumed them,

2 Kings 13:20

‘And Elisha died, and they buried him.’

These were the king’s last dealings with Elisha before he died. We are not told how long Elisha survived after this, but eventually he expired and was buried. The glorious ministry of Elisha was apparently at an end. But that his powerful influence continued will now be remarkably illustrated. We are not to see the incident that follows as anything but a serious indication that the living God was still with Israel.


Verses 20-25

Joash Smites Aram Three Times As A Result Of YHWH Giving Israel New Strength, Raising Them As It Were, From The Dead (2 Kings 13:20-25).

The parlous state of Israel at this time is demonstrated by the fact that Moabite roving bands were able to penetrate deep into Israelite territory. Israel in Transjordan was under the control of Benhadad III who had succeeded Hazael (2 Kings 10:32-33), and it would appear that he was allowing the Moabites free licence to rove there and attack Israel over the Jordan. Furthermore Benhadad also had control of a number of Israelite cities west of Jordan.

But the ‘saviour’ whom YHWH had sent in order to relieve the pressure on Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:5), the Assyrians under Adad-nirari III, had severely weakened Aram with the result that they were no longer the proposition that they had once been. Thus when Joash came to the throne he was able to recover the cities west of Jordan, and probably much of the land in Transjordan. And that this was through YHWH’s help is brought out by the acted out prophecy of the coming back to life of a man whose corpse touched that of Elisha.

Analysis.

a Now the roving bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year (2 Kings 13:20 b).

b And it came about, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a roving band, and they pushed the man into the sepulchre of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet (2 Kings 13:21).

c And Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:22).

d But YHWH was gracious to them, and had compassion on them, and had respect to them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor did he cast them from his presence as yet (2 Kings 13:23).

c And Hazael king of Aram died, and Benhadad his son reigned instead of him (2 Kings 13:24).

b And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again out of the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael the cities which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war (2 Kings 13:25 a).

a Three times did Joash smite him, and recovered the cities of Israel (2 Kings 13:25 b).

Note that in ‘a’ the Moabites invaded Israel, and in the parallel Joash was able to smite Aram and recover Israel’s cities. In ‘b’ a man was revived from the dead by touching the body of Elisha, and in the parallel a revived Israel, revived through Elisha’s dying words, were able to recover their cities from Benhadad of Aram. In ‘c’ Hazael oppressed Israel continually, and in the parallel Hazael died. Centrally in ‘d’ all this was because YHWH was faithful to His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

2 Kings 13:20

‘Now the roving bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year.’

That the roving bands of Moabites were able to penetrate as far as the grave of Elisha demonstrates the conditions in Transjordanian Israel as a result of the control of Aram, and the weakness of Israel west of the Jordan. Israel were prey to any passing marauders. At this time of year they would be after the grain on the threshing-floors and in the grain stores.

2 Kings 13:21

‘And it came about, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a roving band, and they pushed the man into the sepulchre of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.’

But that YHWH had not forgotten Israel is brought out by an anecdote describing how a corpse which touched the body of Elisha was raised from the dead. This occurred because the men who were burying the corpse intended to bury it in the same cave as Elisha was buried in, and having removed the stone from the entrance spotted a band of Moabite raiders and fled for their lives, unceremoniously pushing the corpse into the cave. As a result the corpse came into contact with the bones of Elisha and immediately revived. It was a symbol of what YHWH was going to do for Israel in accordance with Elisha’s promises to Joash.

2 Kings 13:22

‘And Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz.’

That YHWH’s help was necessary comes out in that Hazael’s pressure on Israel, first through his own activities and then through his son Benhadad, was unceasing all the days of Jehoahaz (Hazael died towards the end of the reign of Jehoahaz). The phrase is to be seen as very much a generalisation. Until the arrival of the Assyrians Hazael had been able to do pretty much what he wanted to Israel, and his oppression had been severe, but the first Assyrian invasions in the time of Hazael had severely weakened Aram, and the second in the time of Benhadad weakened them even further, so that while they still kept their control of the Israelite cities that they had captured, and were probably still a nuisance against a very much weakened and demoralised Israel (thus continuing to ‘oppress them’), they had ceased to be the threat that they once were.

Note how in this brief passage the author is summarising the overall situation from Jehoahaz to Joash so as to bring out YHWH’s goodness to Israel and His faithfulness to His promises to the patriarchs, finishing with the direct fulfilment of YHWH’s promise to Joash through Elisha. The emphasis is all on the activity of YHWH.

2 Kings 13:23

‘But YHWH was gracious to them, and had compassion on them, and had respect to them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor did he cast them from his presence as yet.’

YHWH had not yet cast off Israel, for He still remembered His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in which Israel had a part. As a result of these promises He was gracious to Israel and had compassion on them (that is why He had sent them a ‘saviour’), and did not as yet destroy them or cast them off. Thus their main antagonist, Hazael, died, and YHWH began to revivify Israel. He had still not forgotten them.

Note the ‘as yet’. The prophets recognised that not all Israel were the true Israel. In their view the only true Israel was Israel in obedience to the covenant. And when they ceased in that obedience they would be permanently cut off. After the destruction of Samaria the vast majority of Israel was cut off, and only a few remnants survived and became a part of the Israel that remained. Later Judah would be cut off, and again only a remnant would return. Thus the Israel in the time of Jesus was only a remnant of what had been. But even they would reject the covenant, when they rejected God’s covenant Messiah, and true Israel would survive in the new congregation of Israel, the church (Galatians 6:16; Romans 11:17-28; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9).

2 Kings 13:24

‘And Hazael king of Aram died, and Benhadad his son reigned instead of him.’

One result of YHWH’s compassion was that Hazael died and was replaced by Benhadad III, who ruled over a much weakened Aram, weakened by the ‘saviour’ whom YHWH had sent against them, even the king of Assyria.

(Note. Whether Benhadad was II or III is disputed. It depends on whether there had previously been two Benhadads, or only one who had a very long reign, something which is uncertain. Our knowledge of Aramaean history outside the Old Testament is very limited).

2 Kings 13:25

‘And Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again out of the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael the cities which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war.’

The consequence of this was that a revived Israel under Joash was able to recover all the Israelite cities that Aram had previously occupied, and this possibly included the liberation of parts of Transjordanian Israel (2 Kings 10:32-33), although the latter might have awaited the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). (The prophetic author is not interested in the detail).

‘The cities which he had taken out of the hand of Jehoahaz his father by war.’ This is probably a loose statement with the ‘he’ referring to Hazael, rather than Benhadad, although it is always possible that in his early days Benhadad had taken further cities.

2 Kings 13:25

‘Three times did Joash smite him, and recovered the cities of Israel.’

In accordance with what Elisha had promised Joash was able to smite Benhadad three times, and recover more and more of the cities of Israel. Once again the author is not interested in detailing the history. His emphasis is on the prophetic fulfilment.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-kings-13.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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