Saturday, July 27, 2013

2 Kings 1:1-3:27


Note: In these chapters there are two kings who have the same Hebrew name. To avoid confusion I will follow the NIV's convention of referring to the king of Judah as Jehoram and the king of Israel as Joram.

A doctrine of biblical inerrancy is nonsense.

The teaching that the Bible (by which is usually meant the 66 books of the Protestant canon) is without error or contradiction is, at best, a self-deceptive wishful thinking and, at worst, a dangerous intellectually dishonest denial of reality.

It would be nice to have an inerrant Bible, a reference book full of facts and answers. Take it down off the shelf, find the right verse for whatever question troubles you, et voila, God's will is revealed in black and white. Unfortunately the Bible doesn't work that way. There are not only contradictory verses in the Bible, there are contradictory voices. The book of Deuteronomy and the book of Job have different views of God.

I think that this is actually some of the beauty of the Bible. It does not dictate a single point of view or a single course of action. Instead it invites us to engage our brains, our hearts, our spirits, our moral sensibilities. The Bible brings us into a conversation about God and with God. The Bible, someone tweeted recently, is not an instruction book; it's a wrestling mat.

 I don't think it's going too far to say that the Bible's errors and contradictions are there by some divine intent, to keep us from making an idol of the book, to remind us of the nature of Scripture, to make us think.

Of course you may hold to a doctrine of inerrancy if you wish. But doing so requires that you explain the many little discrepencies like the one found in 2 Kings 1:17b:

Because Ahaziah had no son, Joram succeeded him in the second year of Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah.

and 2 Kings 3:1:

Joram son of Ahab became king of Israel in Samaria in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah and he reigned twelve years.

This is a simple contradiction of fact. It is not terribly important, of course, but it is an error. A Bible with even a small error is not inerrant.

I know that some inerrantists say that the Bible is without error or contradiction only in the autographs that is the writers' original manuscript. This isn't really helpful. First, we do not have the autographs, therefore we do not have an inerrant Bible. This makes a doctrine of inerrancy useless. Second, we have no way of knowing what the autographs actually said. Therefore their inerrancy can neither be proven nor falsified.

There is, of course, an explanation for the discrepancy between 2 Kings 1:17 and 2 Kings 3:1. Creative people committed to the idea that the Bible is inerrant can always come up with an explanation and, in a case where the contradiction occurs within just a page or two, they need to. The question is always how plausible, how likely, how convincing the explanations are. In this case, the contradiction is usually resolved by invoking the notion of coregency.

Coregency occurs when more than one king rules a nation at the same time. We've actually had an instance of coregency in our reading of 1 Kings 16:21. Tibni and Omri were both kings in Israel at that time. I think that there are three factors that differentiate that situation from the problem of when Joram's reign began. First, Tibni and Omri were more rivals than coregents. Second, the nation was divided between these two kings, a circumstance that does not occur here. Third, the text explicitly notes that there were multiple kings.

I suppose that the case of Solomon and David in 1 Kings 1-2 was a coregency, though the narrative suggests that David, nearing death, actually abdicated to his son.

In 2 Kings 15 we will read about Jotham who "took care of the palace" when Azariah was incapacitated with a skin disease. Whether this is actually a coregency is an open question. Jotham does take the throne when Azariah dies. Again, this situation is made explicit in the text.

Actually coregency is a descriptive term and not an explanation at all. Coregency simply means that there were two kings. It doesn't explain why there were two kings. Invoking the concept of coregency gives a name to a situation where, in the timeline of 1-2 Kings, reigns seem to overlap doesn't really increase our knowledge.

Whether the idea of coregency represents an actual situation in ancient Israel and Judah is not clear. It seems to provide a neat way around some discrepancies in the timeline of the books of Kings. Is it too neat? I rather think so. It is a postulate made necessary only by the assumption that the Bible is inerrant. It reads a lot into the text that is not otherwise explicit. (I'm a Lutheran. I'm all about the plain meaning of the text).

One of the things that keeps me from being an inerrantist is the constant need to resort to this sort of explanation.

But back to the story in progress...

When King Ahaziah of Israel is injured, he sends messengers to Ekron to consult Baal-zebub (literally, "The Lord of the Flies," probably a deliberate mocking mispronunciation of Baal zedbul, "Prince Baal"). The messengers are intercepted by a hairy man wearing a leather belt. This is the only description we have of Elijah's appearance. The same description will be applied to John the Baptist in the Gospels. Elijah says that Ahaziah will die. When the king sends troops to fetch Elijah, the prophet calls down fire and kills 100 soldiers. He is powerful, but not terribly nice. Eventually he goes to Azariah and repeats his condemnation. Azariah dies and is succeeded by Joram.

In the second chapter of 2 Kings, Elijah departs this world in a heavenly chariot pulled by flaming horses. This unusual exit, this bodily conveyence to heaven, will play a role in the story of Jesus' transfiguration. Both Elijah and Elisha cause the Jordan river to part, echoing the stories of Joshua parting the same river and Moses parting the Red Sea. Elisha receives a "double portion" of Elijah's power, not twice as much as Elijah had but the share of an inheritance given to the firstborn son.

Like his mentor, Elisha is not to be messed with. He can make poison water sweet. Forty-two boys are mauled by bears for making fun of his baldness. No "sticks and stones can break my bones" here. The punishment seems extreme, but I think this is another way of saying that Elisha is powerful. Elijah and Elisha were warrior prophets.

Joram, king of Israel is no good. He' may not be bad as Ahab, but he's no better than Jeroboam. Ahab was the high-water mark of monarchical depravity in Israel.

When the vassal king of Moab rebels against Israel, Joram joins forces with Jehoshaphat of Judah and the king of Edom in a war. Low on water, the kings consult with Elisha concerning whether to continue against Moab. Elisha shows utter disdain for Joram but, for the sake of Jehoshaphat, and because YHWH loves David's dynasty, Elisha prophesies. Water will be provided. Moab will be defeated.

There is so much water that, when it shines red in the light of dawn, the Moabites think that it is blood. Assuming that the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom have had a falling out and their armies have slaughtered one another, the Moabites rush to plunder the supposed battlefield. The Moabites are routed. To the horror of YHWH's people, the king of Moab sacrifices his own son.

Apparently music helps Elisha prophecy. Does he lapse into a trance? I wonder.

Next: 2 Kings 4-5

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