Friday, March 26, 2010

2 Kings 1-3: The Rise of Elisha

Now we're on to 2 Kings. Ahab has died and his son is on the throne, but he's gotten sick. He wants to know whether he'll recover, so he sends somebody to ask of some random god, Baal-zebub (is this the good later known as Beelzebub or Belzebul in the New Testament, a synonym for the devil?). God tells Elijah to say to King Ahaziah, are you asking Baal-zebub for help because there is no God in Israel? And also, you're going to die. Elijah sends the message, and Ahaziah sends fifty men to go bring Elijah to him. This is really funny. The captain of the fifty says to Elijah, hey man of God, come down right now. And Elijah says, if I'm a man of God, fire will come down and burn you up. And it does. So then Ahaziah sends another fifty men, and the same thing happens. He sends another fifty men (whatever happened to "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me?), and the captain of the third fifty really doesn't want to die, so he goes to Elijah and bows down and begs for his life and the lives of his men. Smart guy. So Elijah knows this guy is going to show him respect and not kill him, so he goes with them. And he tells the king exactly what he already told him. Ha! I like Elijah. And of course, Ahaziah dies, but he doesn't have a son, so his brother, Ahab's other son, becomes the king.

As far as we know, only two people have ever made it out of this world alive. One was named Enoch. The other was Elijah. I wonder why these two are the ones who never died, and why not anybody else. Ever wonder about that? Well, the Bible doesn't tell us why. But Elijah knows ahead of time that it's about time to go, and so apparently does everybody else. Now, there's this group of guys collectively called "the sons of the prophets." I don't know who they are or why they all hang out together, but they show up from time to time in these books. When Elijah and Elisha pass by them, the sons of the prophets say to Elisha, "do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?" and he says, yes I know; shut up. I like him already. Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan with a cool river-parting move, and then Elijah asks Elisha if there's anything he wants. Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah's spirit to be given to him. I don't know if he meant Elijah's supernatural power, or his ability to speak with God, or his courage, or his vitality, or something like that, but apparently he gets it. And a fiery chariot – I'm thinking that Elijah rode in style, like a stretch limo chariot – comes down from heaven and takes Elijah up.

  After Elisha can't see his master anymore, he takes Elijah's coat that he dropped, and he says something funny. He says, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" Why on earth did he say that? He just saw Elijah get taken up to heaven, so obviously God is pretty close by. What did he mean by asking that? But anyway, he touches the water of the Jordan River with Elijah's mantle, just like Elijah had done to get the water to part on the way over, and the river parts again. Now, to me, when they crossed over the first time, I thought that was a totally pointless stunt. "Hey Elisha, look what I can do!" something like that. But now that Elijah is gone, Elisha needs to know that God really is with him and Elijah wasn't just speaking off the cuff. When he is able to do the same miracle Elijah did, maybe he knows that God truly is with him. And maybe that answers his question.

  So Ahaziah's successor, Jehoram, is just as bad as he and their dad were. But when Moab rebels against Israel, he goes to king Jehoshapat (who is good, remember) for help, and Jehoshapat says he'll help again. Now, we haven't heard a whole lot about Jehoshaphat, mostly just a paragraph saying he was good, and a little anecdote about him and Ahab fighting Aram together, but I'm inclined to like him. He wants peace between Judah and Israel, because remember, God wanted peace between Judah and Israel. Every time a king of Israel asks for his help, this is what he says: "I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses." In other words, your battle is my battle because we are all God's chosen people. He isn't uppity and elitist like "no, you Israelites seceded from Judah, so we don't want to have anything to do with you. We're the good side and you're the bad side." That's not the way it is, and Jehoshapat knows it. This, I think, is how we should treat other Christians, even the ones who belong to churches we may not fully agree with. I'm not talking about cults or living in sin or anything like that (although that would more accurately describe Israel); I mean other people who are believers, just as the Israelites were just as much God's chosen people as the people of Judah. At least, that's what I take away from this.

So they go, and the king of Edom joins them, and they get stuck in a place without water. So they need to call a prophet for help, and somebody suggests Elisha, the former servant of Elijah. So far, Elisha is kind of an unknown – the person has to say that he was Elijah's helper or nobody would know who they were talking about. Anyway, Elisha doesn't want to talk to the kings of Israel or Edom, and only does so because of Jehoshapat, but he won't prophesy to them. Instead he makes a minstrel do it, and the spirit of the LORD comes on the minstrel. Weird! Anyway, so they go into battle, and Moab is losing, and so the king of Moab sacrifices his oldest son as a burnt offering, which is gross and evil, but then a great wrath comes against Israel – super freaky. Maybe because Israel didn't follow God, they were not protected from the dark forces that Moab served. Now, up to this point in the story (meaning the whole Bible), pagan gods have been portrayed as relatively impotent. God made a mockery of Egypt's gods, the gods of Canaan were powerless to save them from destruction, the Philistine idol of Dagon can't even stay upright in the presence of the ark of the covenant, and 6+ hours of screaming and cutting doesn't arouse the attention of Baal. For pretty much the first time, here we see a result, and it comes from what God depicts as one of the most heinous acts a person can do, human sacrifice. These people may just be serving blocks of wood and stone, but there are other powers in this world than good and other supernatural beings besides God and the angels. The darkness is real and so is its power. And that, I believe, is why God wanted Israel to stay far, far away from it. This is a scary part of the story to me.

I was going to go through chapter 8, but this seems like a good place to stop to me.

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