Insight From the Two Books of Kings
ON ONE occasion when Jesus was speaking in his hometown of Nazareth, he said something that provoked a surprisingly strong reaction. The inhabitants of Nazareth seemingly were wondering why he had not performed as many miracles there as he had in other towns. In telling them why, Jesus used two Scriptural examples. Here is what he said:
“Truly I tell you that no prophet is accepted in his home territory. For instance, I tell you in truth, There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, so that a great famine fell upon all the land, yet Elijah was sent to none of those women, but only to Zarephath in the land of Sidon to a widow. Also, there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed, but Naaman the man of Syria.” (Luke 4:24-27) At these words, those listening became filled with anger and tried to kill Jesus. Why did they respond so violently?
To find the answer, we have to look back into the Hebrew Scriptures and read the histories of Elijah and Elisha. The first-century Christians were thoroughly familiar with these books, and so were their Jewish listeners. On numerous occasions Christian Bible writers referred to events and personalities in these earlier books to illustrate a point, as Jesus did here. These references were instantly recognized and understood by the listeners. If we are to get the full point of Jesus’ teachings, we need to recognize those references too.
The truth is, it is impossible to understand the Christian Greek Scriptures fully unless we are familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. The histories of the prophets Jesus referred to, Elijah and Elisha, are recorded in the two books of Kings. Let us consider these two books to illustrate this point and see how a knowledge of them gives us a deeper and more vivid understanding of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
An Unfavorable Comparison
First of all, why were the inhabitants of Nazareth so upset when Jesus referred to two miracles performed more than 900 years earlier by Elijah and Elisha? Well, Jesus was clearly comparing the Nazarenes with the Israelites of the northern kingdom of Israel during the days of Elijah and Elisha, and according to the two books of Kings, Israel was not in a good spiritual condition at that time. The Israelites had gone right over to Baal worship and were persecuting the prophets of Jehovah. Elijah was actually fleeing from his own countrymen when a widow in Zarephath, in a foreign country, took him in and fed him. That was when he performed the miracle Jesus referred to. (1 Kings 17:17-24) Israel was still riddled with Baal worship when Elisha healed the Syrian army chief Naaman of his leprosy.—2 Kings 5:8-14.
The inhabitants of Nazareth did not appreciate being compared with the paganized Jews of those days. Was Jesus’ comparison justified? Evidently so. Just as Elijah’s life was in danger in Israel, so Jesus’ life was now in danger. The record tells us: “All those hearing these things in the synagogue became filled with anger; and they rose up and hurried him outside the city, and they led him to the brow of the mountain upon which their city had been built, in order to throw him down headlong.” But Jehovah protected Jesus, as he had earlier protected Elijah.—Luke 4:28-30.
King Solomon’s Glory
That is one example of how the two books of Kings flesh out, as it were, the words of Jesus and the early Christians. Consider another example. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encouraged his listeners to rely on Jehovah in the matter of material necessities. Among other things, he said: “Also, on the matter of clothing, why are you anxious? Take a lesson from the lilies of the field, how they are growing; they do not toil, nor do they spin; but I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.” (Matthew 6:28, 29) Why did Jesus refer to Solomon here?
His Jewish listeners would have known because they were familiar with the glory of Solomon. It is described at some length in the book of First Kings (as well as in Second Chronicles). They would likely have remembered, for example, that the food for Solomon’s household each day “proved to be thirty cor measures of fine flour and sixty cor measures of flour, ten fat cattle and twenty pastured cattle and a hundred sheep, besides some stags and gazelles and roebucks and fattened cuckoos.” (1 Kings 4:22, 23) That was a lot of food.
Besides that, the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year amounted up to “six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold,” well over 250 million dollars (U.S.) at current values. And all the ornaments of Solomon’s house were of gold. “There was nothing of silver; it was considered in the days of Solomon as nothing at all.” (1 Kings 10:14, 21) As Jesus triggered their recollections of these things, his listeners quickly got the point of what he was saying.
Jesus referred to Solomon in another context. Some scribes and Pharisees had demanded that he perform a sign, and Jesus answered: “The queen of the south will be raised up in the judgment with this generation and will condemn it; because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, but, look! something more than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:42) Why was this reference a strong rebuke to the listening religious leaders?
If we are familiar with the first book of Kings, we know that “the queen of the south” was the queen of Sheba. She was clearly a great lady, queen of a wealthy realm. When she visited Solomon, she brought with her “a very impressive train,” expensive oil and “very much gold and precious stones.” (1 Kings 10:1, 2) Peaceful communications between national rulers are usually undertaken by means of ambassadors. Hence, for the queen of Sheba, a reigning monarch, to travel personally all the way to Jerusalem to see King Solomon was unusual. Why did she do it?
King Solomon was very wealthy, but so was the queen of Sheba. She would not undertake such a journey just to see a rich monarch. However, Solomon was not only rich but he “was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.” (1 Kings 10:23) Under his wise rule “Judah and Israel continued to dwell in security, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree, from Dan to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.”—1 Kings 4:25.
It was Solomon’s wisdom that attracted the queen of Sheba. She was “hearing the report about Solomon in connection with the name of Jehovah. So she came to test him with perplexing questions.” When she arrived in Jerusalem, “she came on in to Solomon and began to speak to him all that happened to be close to her heart. Solomon, in turn, went on to tell her all her matters. There proved to be no matter hidden from the king that he did not tell her.”—1 Kings 10:1-3.
Jesus, too, possessed outstanding wisdom “in connection with the name of Jehovah.” In fact, he was “more than Solomon.” (Luke 11:31) The queen of Sheba, who was not a Jewess, made a long, inconvenient journey just to see Solomon for herself and to benefit from his wisdom. Thus, surely the scribes and Pharisees should have listened appreciatively to the one ‘greater than Solomon’ when he was right there in front of them. But they did not. “The queen of the south” appreciated God-given wisdom far more than they did.
Allusions to the Prophets
During the period of history covered in the books of First and Second Kings, the rulers in the 12-tribe kingdom—and later in the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah—were kings. At that time Jehovah’s prophets were very active among His people. Outstanding among these were Elijah and Elisha, to whom we have already referred. Jesus’ reference to them in Nazareth was not the only time they were mentioned in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Hebrew Christians wrote about the faith of God’s servants of earlier times and, as one example of this, said: “Women received their dead by resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:35) Doubtless he had in mind Elijah and Elisha, both of whom were used to perform resurrections. (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:32-37) When three of Jesus’ apostles became ‘eyewitnesses of Jesus’ magnificence’ during the transfiguration vision, they saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. (2 Peter 1:16-18; Matthew 17:1-9) Why was Elijah chosen to represent the line of pre-Christian prophets who bore witness to Jesus? If you read the account of First Kings and see his great faith and the mighty way he was used by Jehovah, you will understand the answer.
Nevertheless, Elijah was really just an ordinary person like us. James referred to another event in First Kings when he wrote: “A righteous man’s supplication, when it is at work, has much force. Elijah was a man with feelings like ours, and yet in prayer he prayed for it not to rain; and it did not rain upon the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the land put forth its fruit.”—James 5:16-18; 1 Kings 17:1; 18:41-46.
Further Echoes From Kings
Many other references in the Christian Greek Scriptures contain echoes from the two books of Kings. Stephen reminded the Jewish Sanhedrin that Solomon built a house for Jehovah in Jerusalem. (Acts 7:47) Many of the details of that building work are in the first book of Kings. (1 Kings 6:1-38) When Jesus spoke to a woman in Samaria, the woman said to him in surprise: “‘How is it that you, despite being a Jew, ask me for a drink, when I am a Samaritan woman?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9) Why did the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans? The account in Second Kings describing the origin of this people sheds light on the matter.—2 Kings 17:24-34.
A letter found in the book of Revelation to the congregation of Thyatira contains this strong counsel: “Nevertheless, I do hold this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and misleads my slaves to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20) Who was Jezebel? The daughter of a Baal priest in Tyre. As the first book of Kings tells us, she married King Ahab of Israel and became queen of Israel. Dominating her husband, she introduced Baal worship into an already apostate Israel, brought a host of Baal priests into the land and persecuted Jehovah’s prophets. Ultimately, she died a violent death.—1 Kings 16:30-33; 18:13; 2 Kings 9:30-34.
The woman showing the spirit of Jezebel in the congregation of Thyatira was evidently trying to teach the congregation to practice immorality and to violate God’s laws. Such a spirit had to be exterminated in the congregation, just as the family of Jezebel had to be exterminated from the Israelite nation.
Yes, we need the Hebrew Scriptures in order to understand the Christian Greek Scriptures. Many details would be meaningless without the background that the Hebrew Scriptures provide. Jesus and the early Christians, as well as the Jews that they spoke to, were thoroughly familiar with them. Why not take the time to make yourself equally familiar with them? Thus you will take the fullest advantage of “all Scripture,” which is “inspired of God and beneficial for teaching.”—2 Timothy 3:16.