2 Kings 13:1-25.

Stay the Course!

        American Journal of Biblical Theology               July 18, 2004            Copyright © 2004, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com          Scripture quotes from KJV


The books of the Kings and the Chronicles of those kings as recorded in the Bible contain a detailed history of the days of the kings of Israel from Saul through the demise of the nation of Israel.  This period spanned approximately 400 years.   It may also be interesting to note that the period of the kings started about 400 years after the nation was taken out of Egypt, an event that took place about 400 years after God called Abraham.  Also, it was about 400 years from the demise of the nation until the coming of Christ.

The writer of the history of the kings summarizes the experience of each king and his impact on the nation, chronicling each through their genealogy, and setting the dates based upon the length of their tenure.  With this information, it is not difficult to ascertain the actual dates of the events that take place in the books of Kings and Chronicles.  As we look at chapter 13 in this study, we will see evidence of this form.

What we will also see is how the attraction of the sensual and desirous sins of the world continually drew the kings away from God, and though they might start their reign with some allegiance to God, they tended to wander back to the world after their reign began, and by so doing, led the nation away from God.  Why is it so difficult to stay the course?  How often do we see people proclaiming faith in God, yet soon their testimony is nullified by their return to apostasy?  The Apostle Paul often described the Christian journey as a race towards a goal, and towards the end of his testimony (2 Timothy) he proclaims that he has run the race to its finish.  God did not call us to get into the race, but then take excursions off of the track, nor did he call for us to take shortcuts that would also take us off of the track.  When we study the life of the kings of Israel, we may be led to wonder if they were in the race at all.  We may recall that Saul was anointed King by Samuel only because the people wanted a king against God's will.  God permitted the dynasties, allowing the people to experience the consequences of their choice.  Saul failed to complete the race, turning away from God and leading his nation into conflict within itself.  Saul was replaced by David who as "a man after God's own heart," lifted the nation to its most obedient point ever.  However, this revival was short-lived when his son, Solomon gave only lip-service to God, and in his zeal to rebuild the nation, bankrupted the nation and placed its people into bondage by conscription.  His son chose to harden the bondage, resulting in the division of the nation into two kingdoms, Judah and Israel.  The remaining secession of kings demonstrate a cycle of faith and apostasy where the revivals of faith tend to become more rare, and the apostasy (living apart from God) becomes the norm.  Finally, the apostasy of the nation results in the end of the dynasties as each nation is taken into captivity from 400 - 350 BC.  

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. 

We were introduced to Joash in 2 Kings 11.  Joash was taken to the temple as an infant and anointed King at the age of 7 under the tutelage of the high priest.  His reign turned the nation from the apostasy of his father, Ahaziah.  We see here how the chronicler uses the tenure of the kings to establish dates.  It was in the 23rd year of the reign of Joash in Judah that Jehoahaz, the son of Jehu is elevated to serve as the king of Israel.  

2 Kings 13:2-3. 

 2And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which made Israel to sin; he departed not there from. 3And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he delivered them into the hand of Hazael king of Syria, and into the hand of Benhadad the son of Hazael, all their days. 

Why is it that the King has so much influence in the nation, and so much ability to lead the nation away from God?  In today's culture we might not understand the influence of an ancient King.  What the king declared was the law of the land, and his every wish was followed.  The king literally owned all of the property of the kingdom, and his declarations concerning its use were followed.  Each king was anointed in the temple in a ceremony that was intended to declare his allegiance and obedience to God, and to establish the kingdom as one under God.  However, the kings usually lacked the true commitment to God that the rituals defined, and chose to lead the nation into sin by rejecting the law and lifestyle and the purpose that God intended for his people, and embracing the sensual idolatry of the pagan world around them.  Jehoahaz was one more king who built altars to the pagan gods.  By so doing, the nation was REQUIRED to participate in the idolatrous behavior of its king, and so the nation was led away from God.  Jehoahaz is described as remaining firmly entrenched in his sinful behavior, having left the race of faith entirely.  Jehoahaz had no interest in or intention to return to obedience to God.  The consequences of such a decision is devastating for the nation whom God called to obedience through Abraham.  

How does God deal with the apostasy of those whom He has called to faith?  Many times when one wanders away from God, they remove themselves from God's hand of protection.  God then allows circumstances and the consequences of our choices to illustrate to us our disobedience.  Israel knew well its history of miraculous successes in battle when they were engaged in the conflict within the will and purposes of God.  They came to understand utter defeat as the consequence of being outside of God's will, and recognized it as such.  Consequently, we often see military defeat as the consequence of Israel's apostasy, as we do here in the reign of Jehoahaz.  The nomadic tribes of the middle east were always fighting to gain more land and resources for their nomadic lifestyles, and the age-old blood hatreds among the children of Israel and their neighbors kept them in continual conflict, as they still do.  In the reign of Jehoahaz, it was Hazael who was the king of Syria who overran Israel and deposed Jehoahaz from power.  Later, his son Benhadad would reign in Syria and continue to rule the area of Israel.

2 Kings 13:4-6. 

And Jehoahaz besought the LORD, and the LORD hearkened unto him: for he saw the oppression of Israel, because the king of Syria oppressed them. 5(And the LORD gave Israel a saviour, so that they went out from under the hand of the Syrians: and the children of Israel dwelt in their tents, as beforetime. 6Nevertheless they departed not from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, who made Israel sin, but walked therein: and there remained the grove also in Samaria.) 

We can see that God never abandons us, and is always desiring our repentance from sin so that we might return to a relationship with Him.  As the nation of Israel was oppressed by the Syrians, Jehoahaz finally, but only after utter defeat, turns to God.  The word "besought" implies a desperate plea from a position of utter helplessness.  Jehoahaz, like the prodigal son, was powerless to extricate himself from the situation he had brought upon himself.  Likewise, Christians who wander off of the path of obedience can also find themselves drowning in the consequences of their decisions.  The consequences of sin do not check name tags before exacting their price.  We are not aware of the content of Jehoahaz' plea, but it is evident that God answered Jehoahaz' prayer by turning the attention of the nation of Syria elsewhere.  This may have come from a Syrian conflict with another nation.  There is no evidence of who this "savior" is who released Israel from the grip of Benhadad.

It is evident that the release from oppression was felt by the nation as the people returned to their tents from the protection of their walled cities.  God provided relief for the people following the change of heart by Jehoahaz, the king of Israel.

However, Jehoahaz' petition was neither universal or complete.  It would have been appropriate for the king to have declared to the people the nature of the sin that led them to this point, praising God for their deliverance, and then destroy the system of idol worship in the nation.  However, Jehoahaz' repentance was not complete.  We often see this response as a common one when folks seek God to deliver them from difficulty.  Folks make promises in the fox-hole of their battles only to conveniently forget them when the shooting stops.  When the oppression is relieved, it is the relief that satiates the oppressed, rather than the acknowledgement of the source of that relief.  Jehoahaz and the people simply returned to their idol worship.  Jeroboam, the first king of Israel, established the worship of a golden calf in the temple, and Jehoahaz failed to end this practice.  Furthermore, the "grove" refers to the worship of the female pagan god of fertility, Asherah, the consort of the male pagan god of fertility, Baal.  Worship centered around a large wooden pole in a grove of trees, usually at the top of a hill.  Worship was practiced through a form of "sacred prostitution" with the belief that such sensual behavior would lead the gods to engage in similar sensual activity and by so doing produce fertility in the crops, animals, and people.  Such a grove was placed in Samaria, the capital of Israel.  Like those who's repentance from sin is incomplete, the people of Israel failed to repent fully, and their acknowledgment of God as their deliverer was short-lived.

2 Kings 13:7-9. 

Neither did he leave of the people to Jehoahaz but fifty horsemen, and ten chariots, and ten thousand footmen; for the king of Syria had destroyed them, and had made them like the dust by threshing. 8Now 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? 9And Jehoahaz slept with his fathers; and they buried him in Samaria: and Joash his son reigned in his stead.

Though the harsh Syrian oppression was ended, Benhadad left Israel with a very small army by current standards, and Jehoahaz was unable to rebuild the army.  The hiatus in Syrian oppression was accompanied by a vulnerability that should have caused the people of Israel to continue to thank God for their current safety.  Benhadad did not turn his back on Israel and allow them to rebuild a mighty army, using his superior strength to keep his quarrelsome neighbor in check.  Jehoahaz continued allowing pagan worship both within and without of the temple, and it is this compromise of his responsibility before God and before the people that Israel's continued slide is assured.  When Christians compromise the truth and condone a lifestyle that is ungodly, the result is always a downward spiral that leads only to the pit of apostasy, and leads people away from God.  It is only when Christians stand for what is right, and stay on that path of righteousness that they can truly serve as the salt and light (Matt. 5:14 - 16) that is the very purpose of their existence.  

We see in Jehoahaz another result of an ungodly lifestyle:  his values (or lack thereof) are passed on to his children.  When Jehoahaz died, his son, Joash reigned.  Recall from Chapter 11 that Joash, son of Ahaziah has been serving as the king of Judah, and now Joash, son of Jehoahaz is serving as king of Israel.  To make things more confusing, the scriptures refer to both individuals by both "Joash" and "Jehoash", the latter being the more proper term.  So as we continue our study of this period in the history of Israel, we would do well to try to pay attention to some of the context of the use of the names to stay clear on who is who! 

2 Kings 13:10-13. 

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. 11And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD; he departed not from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin: but he walked therein. 12And the rest of the acts of Joash, and all that he did, and his might wherewith he fought against Amaziah king of Judah, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel? 13And Joash slept with his fathers; and Jeroboam sat upon his throne: and Joash was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel. 

Now at this unique point in time, we have Joash of Judah and Joash of Israel.  It is Joash son of Jehoahaz who's record is chronicled as a that of a copy of his father's: one of leading the nation away from God though the acceptance of and participation in the sins of the current world culture.  In this study we have been likening the Christian walk to that of a race, run on a track of godliness toward a finish line that rewards with the prize of the acknowledgement of a faithful life.  Both Joash of Israel and Joash of Judah started the race with a clear view of the track and of the final goal, but Joash of Israel was already taught by his father that it is satisfactory to compromise the commands of God and adhere to the sinful lifestyles of the pagan world.  Much of the church today is similarly ineffective in its ability to fulfill God's purposes because its members and leaders, like Joash of Israel, are more concerned with being accepted by the pagan world than they are by being accepted by a Holy God.  The church and its members today are beginning to embrace even the most pagan of secular lifestyles under the guise of "tolerance" and love.  However, euphemisms aside, sin is sin, and when the church and its members condone sin, they are running off of the path that is the race set before them, and like Joash of Israel, are leading the church away from God. 

One example of current behavior that is a direct parallel to ancient Israelite pagan practice is the acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriages.  This is the lifestyle of the Baals.  Sexual immorality was the foundation of the worship of Asherah.  Times have not changed that much.  When we see Israel wandering away from God through their acceptance of pagan practices we may want to shout at them to "wake up!" and to see the context of their error, but to do so is also to look at the church today and observe whether the church is practicing the same pagan idol worship today.

2 Kings 13:14. 

Now Elisha was fallen5 sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. 

As Joash of Israel continued to serve as king, he continued to be unable to build the army.  Israel was still under the dominion of Syria through Benhadad the son of Hazael, its king.  Just as Jehoahaz' repentance was not complete, their release from the oppression of Israel was not complete.  God continued to use Hazael, to vex the nation of Israel as the nation of Israel continued to disobey God.  Likewise, as we have considered the state of an unrepentant Christian, it is not surprising that when one's repentance is incomplete, they are not completely delivered from the consequences of their sin.  An obvious example of this is the release from addiction, whether to drugs, pornography, or any other intoxicant that takes us out of God's will.  One can find, through the power of God, victory over the addiction and a power for repentance that can be nothing short of miraculous, yet, because of an incomplete repentance, that same person is later found back in the bondage to the addiction.  When running the race, God will always show the way back to the track, and when back on that track, He also provides the grace to leave the past behind and press toward the mark.  However, when we take our eyes off of the goal and look to the sides, like the farmer who looks back while plowing the field, the wandering off of the track is assured.  

So, Joash is back off of the track.  He came to Elisha who is near death.  Elisha would ultimately die from the malady that is described in this verse.  However, rather than show concern for Elisha, we see Joash weeping about the diminished strength of his Army.  It might be interesting to note at this point that if the nation of Israel were obedient to God, they would not require an army at all.  Knowing the state of the nation, Joash of Israel went to Elisha, the prophet of Israel who, by this time, was an aged man.  Fifty years have passed since the writer of 2 Kings last mentioned Elisha, and this event would be the last one recorded in his life.  Elisha, and the school of the prophets formed the actual leadership of the remnant of the faithful in Israel, and knowing his faithfulness, Joash was finally drawn to him, hoping to make use of Elisha in a strategic move to increase the size of his army.  So, Joash of Israel makes for an emotional and emphatic plea for the "Man of God" to do something that would restore his army and empower him to extricate himself from the grip of Syria.

2 Kings 13:15-17. 

And Elisha said unto him, Take bow and arrows. And he took unto him bow and arrows. 16And he said to the king of Israel, Put thine hand upon the bow. And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the kingís hands. 17And he said, Open the window eastward. And he opened it. Then Elisha said, Shoot. And he shot. And he said, The arrow of the LORDíS deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria: for thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek, till thou have consumed them. 

Like his predecessor, Elijah, Elisha taught the Word of god through the playing out of imagery that would illustrate God's purpose.  Like his father Jehoahaz, who finally sought God for deliverance from Syria, Joash of Israel was now doing the same by coming to Elisha.  Joash came hoping for a simple miracle at the hands of this well known Man of God.  What he received was quite different.

First, Elisha told Joash to lift his bow.  The language used clearly identifies that this bow was armed with an arrow.  Once lifted, Elisha reached out and put his hands over the hands of the King as he pointed the arrow eastward towards Syria.  This act represented that, because of his seeking God at this point in the life of Israel, God's hand would guide the hand of Joash in the battle for Aphek, a village of Syria.  Elisha prophesied that the defeat of the Syrians at Aphek would be complete.  The arrows that his "little" army would release in battle would be guided by the hand of God.  If the intent of Joash was sincerely one of repentance as he was turning to God at this time, his victory would not only be over Aphek, but over all Syria, and Syria would be utterly destroyed, never to embattle Israel again (vs. 19).  However, like his father, Joash of Israel was only looking for a short-term solution to this crisis, and was not considering the repentance of Israel.  This Elisha illustrated in his next skit.

2 Kings 13:18-19. 

And he said, Take the arrows. And he took them. And he said unto the king of Israel, Smite upon the ground. And he smote thrice, and stayed. 19And the man of God was wroth with him, and said, Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.

I am reminded by Elisha's commands of a similar thought that has arisen in some sports such as golf or baseball when we would try to inspire someone to hit the ball hard.  We might say something like, "pretend that the ball is _______", filling in the blank with something that we would hope the counselee would find inspiring enough to hit the ball with all of his or her might.  There is some argument about the size of the quiver of arrows that Elisha handed to Joash, but it is evident that the arrows were numerous.  Most likely, this was Joash's own bow and quiver, and as the king of Israel that quiver would be quite full.

Elisha had now described the arrows as representing Israel's arrows of victory over Syria.  The command that Elisha now gives is to take those arrows and smite the ground with them.  Joash knows that his army is small, and it will take all that he has to go after the king of Syria.  Though the language is not helpful, the context (Hebrew language is quite contextual) implies that the instruction was for Joash to similarly shoot all of his arrows.  However, for unexplained reasons, Joash of Israel stopped after firing his third arrow.  Just as his father's act of obedience was incomplete, this illustrated that Joash's obedience was similarly incomplete.   Joash's holding back from a complete commitment to God's purpose was clearly illustrated here.

Translated as "wroth" or "angry", one can certainly understand the very deep disappointment that Elisha felt for his King.  He knew that this king would never repent, nor would he ever fully follow the commands of God.  Joash wanted a quick fix to his troubles, and that is all that he would get.  Elisha declared that, since his commitment to the commands of God were incomplete, so would be his success over Syria.  Like the three arrows that Joash did choose to shoot, God would deliver the army of Israel through three battles.  Had Joash unloaded his quiver as Elisha had commanded, his defeat of Syria would have been complete.  Had this happened we would remember the success of the army of Israel in the same context as we remember the miraculous battles of the children of Israel as they approached the promised land and God fought for them against huge odds.  However, no such miracle would come to Joash.  Joash would simply be successful enough in a few skirmishes to hold back the Syrians, but the threat and oppression of Hazael would not be thwarted.

Again, as we consider the actions of Joash, we may want to be critical of his failure to commit completely, we may be reminded of our own failure to commit completely to God.  As God has asked his people and his church to commit fully to Him, what arrows have been left in the quiver?  The most common prayer of acceptance of God's will is, "God, I will give you my all and all .... except ... ".  We fail to give ourselves totally to God, only asking for a quick fix to our immediate concerns.  God may be gracious and guide us through that quick fix only to find ourselves vexed again by the sin that separates us from a complete and full commitment to God.

2 Kings 13:20-25. 

And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. 21And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet. 22But Hazael king of Syria oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. 23And the LORD was gracious unto them, and had compassion on them, and had respect unto them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, neither cast he them from his presence as yet. 24So Hazael king of Syria died; and Benhadad his son reigned in his stead. 25And 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. Three times did Joash beat him, and recovered the cities of Israel..

We see that the prophesy of Elisha came to fulfillment in the continued conflict between Israel and Syria.  Hazael and Benhadad continued to harass Israel through the reigns of Jehoahaz and Joash.  However, when Benhadad became the king of Syria, the success that Elisha prophesied would come to pass.  Joash of Israel took his small army up against Syria battling for the cities east of Galilee that Hazael had taken from Israel in previous wars.  In three of these, Joash was successful, one for each arrow that he had released at the command of Elisha.  The pattern of his father was continued as Syria was held back, but not defeated.

One of the greatest challenges facing the church today, and each Christian as a result, is similar to the challenge faced by the Israelite kings.  The challenge is to stay the course, to finish the race.  One might consider the image of the line of sprinters at the Olympic races.  The track is painted with lines that identify the path to be taken by each runner.  As long as the runner stays in the path set by the judges, his or her contribution to the race continues.  However, if the racer takes his or her focus off of the path and steps into the path of another racer, that runner is disqualified and cannot finish the race.  The church today is largely unconcerned with righteousness, whether in teaching or in lifestyle.  Like the apostate Israel, the church today is more characterized by its acceptance of the world's pagan culture and mores.  It has compromised the truth to the point that there is little difference to be seen between its members and the members of the pagan society within which it is immersed.  Statistics that reveal lifestyle choices such as suicide, divorce, crime, addictions, immorality, etc. are similar within the church and without. 

Joash of Israel did not have to follow the pagan practices of his father, and the church of today does not have to follow the pagan practices of its predecessors.  Like the dead man who was revived by simply touching the bones of Elisha, God's grace is open to all who would turn to him fully in faith and in trust.  Let us pray for the faith that would lead us to unload our quiver of personal desires that hold us back and give to God all of who we are, give to him our desires, and look to Him for His purposes in our lives.  It will only be then that we will fully experience the peace and joy that comes from a complete release from the Benhadads of our lives, for then, we will find God's will.