Wibble Wednesday: TL;DR (2 Kings 14–15)

God, is this book ever unexciting. We’re into the territory of dull kings doing dull things.

Short snarky summary: Israel and Judah finally have a falling-out. The kings of Israel, who were briefly not terrible, resume being horrible human beings.

I’m starting to get bored with these kings. I think the writer is too, because he’s just zipping through them, telling us to read about what they actually did in The Annals of the Kings of Israel and Judah (and given how uncompelling the highlights reel is, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, as regards these guys, the fact that we no longer have those books is not all that great a loss).

So we start with Amaziah of Judah. He’s judged as equal in nobility tp his father, and given that Daddy Joash reformed temple finances for the greater glory of God, that’s pretty good, although the author takes a dig at how they both countenanced shrine-worship. A side-note: the shrine worship isn’t idolworship, it’s just decentralized Jehovah-worship. It’s the “decentralized” part that sticks in the craw of these Deuteronomists, of course. Anyways, Amaziah kicks off his reign in a notably interesting way, executing the assassins who killed his father (whose motivations I still don’t wholly know). Anyways, Amaziah the Amazing continues his reign of mediocrity by defeating an extraordinary force of Edomites (ten thousand, which in those days was a lot) and capturing a city, and then, flush with victory, challenges Joash of Israel, who suggests he ought to reconsider. Joash was giving good advice there and it’s a shame Amaziah doesn’t take it, since when he presses forward in battle, he’s routed and taken prisoner while Joash besieges Jerusalem and loots the Temple (which I thought was already looted by the Aramites, back in Chapter 12).

As always, I cn never figure out what God’s thinking. Of course, the age of overt Godly manifestation in battle is over, but still, in a war between favorite sons Judah and wayward sons Israel, how does Israel win? That kind of doesn’t square with God’s favoritism, nor does this military fuckup square with the text suggesting Amaziah was an OK king.

Anyways, Joash dies, leaving the kingdom to his son Jeroboam, and some time later, Amaziah is chased out of Jerusalem by a conspiracy which hunts him down and kills him. Between this and the untimely death of his father, I’m starting to think there is a much more interesting story which we are not being told, of these two kings of Judah and their terrible domestic policies that pissed a lot of powerful people off. Amazah’s son Azariah succeeds to the throne of Israel.

Meanwhile, over in Judah, Jeroboam is mostly boring. He is of course as bad as all his fathers, continuing in the sins of the original Jeroboam, the one who originally split Israel off from Judah. Only two notable things are said about the reign of Jeroboam: first, that he liberated a large chunk of Israel (from whom? we’re not told), and that he was empowered to do so by God’s favor. So we’re not quie done with God deciding the outcome of military conflict, making the whole Judah-Israel outcome above that much more perplexing. The other notable aspect of his reign is that this victory is prophesied by none other than… Jonah son of Amittai! Yup, that’s Jonah of swallowed-by-a-whale fame, so we can place that (obviously fictional, even to the sort of Biblical scholar who gives texts the benefit of the doubt) story in time. Of course, it’s been a wile since I tried to place all of this in “real time”, and at this point that’s pretty doable, since we’ve reached the range of kings for whom there’s some archaeological evidence. So we actually know Jeroboam (and Jonah) lived in the early 8th century BCE, thanks to some verifiable ceramics of the period. Incidentally, there was an earthquake around this time, which doesn’t appear in this text at all.

Now we bounce back to Judah, to follow Azariah. He, like his father and grandfather, was regarded as pretty good in the eyes of God. Apparently not good enough, because God struck him with leprosy, and he had to appoint his son Jotham as regent. The justice of God’s actions simply becomes weirder: the medium-evil Israelite kings enjoy peace, prosperity, and victory, while the mostly-good Judahite kings are struck with disease, rebellion, and defeat. Azariah doesn’t do much, what with being a leper and confined to quarters.

Back in Israel (it’s like watching ping-pong!) Zechariah becomes king, and he’s a bad king, just like his father. Finally their sins come due and Shallum (whoever he is) rebels and publicly murders him six months into his reign, claiming the throne. As a footnote, this is apparently the fulfillment of a prophecy given to Jehu that he gets only four generations for his dynasty. Time’s up for the Jehuites.

Shallum doesn’t last long either. After one month the upstart Menahem comes from the countryside and kills Shallum. Menahem is a monster. He marches on Tiphsah (which might be the same place as Thapsacus, an ancient city on the Euphrates, but that’s a hell of a long way into Syria), murders all the people, and “rips open its pregnant women”. Menahem also enacts an onerus emergency tax to pay off the invading Assyrians. Somehow in spite of doing everything wrong (and being a bad king in the same way his predecessors were, esoteric idolworshipping sins having nothing to do with being a horrible human being), he manages to survive to pass the throne on to his son Pekahiah, who after two scant years is overthrown in a palace coup by the courtier Pekah. During Pekah’s reign, the Assyrians come back and conquer pretty much the entire northern half of the kingdom. Pekah himself is done in by a conspiracy and the conspirator Hoshea ascends the throne.

This entire dynastic crisis occurs while Ahaziah is king. Firstly, Ahaziah is king for a long time—upwards of 50 years, and secondly, this action moves quick, with all these kings dying distinctly unnatural deaths of extreme stabbiness. So it’s not until Pekah is on the throne that Ahaziah is formally succeeded by his son Jotham, who has actually been running the nation for a while. Basically nothing at all is said about Jotham: he’s a good king, like his forefathers, but he doesn’t eradicate the shrine practice, he repairs the Temple, &c. Same stuff we’ve already seen from kings of Judah, really..

Next chapter Assyria gets serious. So maybe we have some excitement. Or at least a good exile.

A few weird errors appear in these chapters. Ahaziah is bewilderingly called “Uzziah” in verse 15:13, and 14:28 calls Jeroboam’s realm “Judah in Israel”, which is wrong regardless of how much legitimacy you give to the Israelite independent kingdom.


Wibble Wednesday: Namespace collisions (2 Kings 12–13)

Oops, nearly forgot that it was Wednesday! But there’s still time to write up a quick wibble.

Short snarky summary: Israel and Judah keep having kings with the same names. They also have nicknames, which could easily be used to distinguish them, but instead they just make matters more confusing. Meanwhile, Elisha finally dies and Israel is still at war with Aram.

When we last checked in, both Judah and Israel had basically had their dynastic lines decimated. In Israel, Jehu overthrew the Ahabite line, while over in Judah, after the incidental death of the king in the Israelite coup, the queen mother (Ahab’s sister) murdered every heir she could get her hands on and held power for six years, only to be herself displaced by a priestly coup under the authority of an heir she had missed. So, as we check in now, Israel is under the leadership of the military upstart Jehu, while Judah is led ostensibly by the child Joash (who seems to be called “Jehoash” about half the time) but, reading between the lines, is really ruled by the priest Jehoida, who has the boy-king’s ear.

Chapter 12 spends a lot of words on what Judah was like under Joash. Recall that the Deuteronomists regarded the Israelite monarchy as completely illegitimate, and considered the Judahite monarchy much more ambivalently: yes, they were monarchs, which was bad, but they were also the Davidic dynasty, which is good. So generally speaking they take pains to say nice things about Judahite kings (except for Ahaziah and to a lesser extent Jehoram). Joash is no exception: there’s a slight backhanded indication that Joash was unworthy in failing to dismantle the practice of shrine worship, but on balance the text says that he “did what was pleasing to the Lord”. But the text mostly focuses on some rather dull logistics of how Joash’s godly intentions were put into action. The central element of Joash’s reform is temple monies: the Temple routinely received funds from people either as freewill donations or as part of some sort of sacrificial expiation practice, and Joash ordered that individual priests receiving money should use those funds to repair dilapidations of the Temple. However, after some time, Joash is dismayed to discover that pretty much no repairs are being done on the Temple at all! Reading between the lines, it looks like in his conference with the priest Jehoida they come to the conclusion that individual priests are simply not to be trusted with this cashflow and decide to revamp the procedure for taking donations: the priests will neither take cash nor use their own labor and funds to repair the Temple; instead, funds are pooled and labor outsourced.

The end result of this deliberation is that Jehoida basically invents the pushke, setting aside a box with a slot in its lid for money to be deposited by the “priestly guards” (which I assume are not actually the priests themselves, who have been taken completely out of the financial loop), and which later gets checked and emptied by the high priest and royal scribe for disbursement to laborers to repair the Temple. A few addenda appear to these rules: the money is used only for repairs, not for ornamentation, and money brought as part of the guilt or sin offerings (two specific types of sacrifice; I went through gory details way back in the day in Leviticus) was not put in the repair fund but was rather the property of the presiding priest.

So, Deuteronomists are big on priesthood and big on the Temple: how do we read this in that framework? In some ways, this chapter feels anti-ecclesiastical: it indicates the front-line priests are untrustworthy, and reroutes their responsibilities to the high priest and a representative of the monarchy. On the flip side of this, there’s an emphasis of rebuilding the Temple as an important responsibility, one larger than individual power, and that might be an even bigger theme for the authors than the notion that priests are generally good would have been.

Meanwhile, at the end of this chapter the effort spent beautifying and enriching the Tempe turns out to be for naught, because Hazael (who Elisha anointed as king of Aram, in a rather morally dubious display) invades and marches on Jerusalem, only desisting when Joash sends him the Temple’s treasury and sacred goods. We aren’t told much more about Joash, although we are referred as always to the tantalizing and probably no longer extant Annals of the Kings of Judah for more details. Joash finally dies when assassinated by his courtiers for reasons left uncleear, and is succeeded by Amaziah (who regrettably is never identified with the cognomen “the Amazing”).

But what’s going on in Israel at this time? Well, Jehu’s entire reign, and succession by his son Jehoahaz, was covered bck in Chapter 11, and in Chapter 13 we get a very brief recap of Jehoahaz’s accession. Jehu was given backhanded approbation for destroying the Ba’al cult despite not removing other non-Jehovite cult elements in Israel, while jehoahaz, who continues in his father’s ways without the benefit of having been involved in a cultural coup, is dubbed “displeasing to the Lord”. So God does what he always does when he’s angry at Israel in this stage of history: sets them up to be conquered by the Arameans, and then feels bad about it. In particular, both Hazael and later his son Ben-hadad (which, confusingly, was also the name of Hazael’s predecessor; see Chapter 8) harry the crap out of Israel until Jehoahaz pleads with God to save Israel, and then, in one of the most understated descriptions of heroism even, “the Lord granted Israel a deliverer, and they gained their freedom from Aram”. Oh, how far our descriptions of heroes have fallen since the Book of Judges, where this deliverer would have gotten his own story. Hell, even the least well-characterized deliverer of Israel up to this point managed to get a name (Shamgar son of Anath), a signature weapon (cow-poking stick), and a specific accomplishment (beating six hundred men to death), but here we just get an exceedingly generic deliverance. But Jehoahaz’s Israel apparently remains an impure and weak society, both continuing in their idol-worshippin’ ways and, thanks to Aram’s raids, militarily ineffectual as well. Finally, Jehoahaz dies, to be succeeded by his son… Joash, also known as Jehoash. Are you kidding me? We have two kings (the king of Israel and the king of Judah), with two names (Joash and Jehoash) and the text can’t figure out a way to make them distinguishable? No, really, in discussing both of them, both names are used completely interchangably. I swear the Deuteronomists did this just to piss me off. The good news is that the kings hardly overlap in time. And, as you might expect, since he has “of Israel” after his name, Joash of Israel can be distinguished from his namesake because he’s a bad king (I know, we’re all shocked), continuing in the unacceptable practices of, er, revery other king of Israel.

Chapter 13 closes out with the return of a character we haven’t seen in a while. Ever since Jehu mounted the throne, Elisha’s kept a low profile, probably because none of Jehu’s dynasty have merited the kind of scolding Elisha loved to deliver to the kings of Israel. Surprisingly Elisha is missing from that one-verse deliverance story too, since the one thing he seemed to do more often than scolding kings of Israel was dragging their unworthy asses out of military messes. But now he’s old and dying, and King Joash (the Israelite one) goes to see him and mourn his passing. Before he goes, though, Elisha takes the time to deliver a prophecy, telling Joash to fire an arrow and prophecying vctory over Aram. Then he tells Joash to stab the earth with the arrows, and Joash stabs three times, which apparently was the wrong thing to do (heaven forfend Elisha ever explain these things), because Elisha gets angry and says, if he had only stabbed more, Israel would defeat Aram utterly, but instead they’ll only rout Aram thrice.

Of course, even dead Elisha can’t stop meddling. The story of Elisha’s death ends with a coda that, during annual Moabite raids, a funeral was interrupted and the hurried mourners dumped the corpse into Elisha’s grave, which was for some reason still open, I guess. When the corpse touched Elisha’s bones, he comes back to life. And this is really the last miracle Elisha’s involved in, although I can totally see a precedent here for the unsettling Catholic practice of keeping and ascribing miraculous curative powers to the bits and pieces of saints.

Chapter 13 ends with the military acts of Joash’s reign. They’ve already been prophesied, so it’s probably not much of a surprise to learn that Joash thrice turns back the Aramean tide, and liberates some previously captured Israelite towns.

Oh, it’s going to be so dull without Elisha around to liven things up with his miracles and tongue-lashings. Now for chapters we have nothing to look forward to except military maneuvers.

Wibble Wednesday: There Will Be Blood (2 Kings 9–11)

Back on track!

Short snarky summary: after spending chapters on end standing on the sidelines clucking and shaking his head disapprovingly, Elisha finally bothers to take action agains the house of Ahab.

I honestly have found the whole Elisha-Jehoram relationship completely incomprehensible. Ol’ Eli has, time and again, pulled Jehoram’s fat out of the fire on military misfortunes. Back in Chapter 3 he insulted Jehoram copiously but still guided him to victory over the Moabites (as a favor to king Jehoshaphat of Judah, however); in Chapter 5 he defused a potentially incendiary diplomatic situation with Aram by curing an Aramean general of leprosy; in Chapter 6 he deluded an Aramean raiding force into surrendering to the king; in Chapter 7 he prophesied the flight of an Aramean siege party. Maybe he just hates Arameans more than he hates Jehoram, but Elisha’s actions are not those of someone who is willing to let the monarchy meet its own well-deserved demise.

But for no apparent reason at all, he decides to finally, in Chapter 9, take the action which has been brewing against the Israelite monarchs since at least 1 Kings 18, when Elijah triumphed over Ahab’s chosen priests. He didn’t kill Ahab then, and the Elijah-Elisha team let countless opportunities to compass the death of Ahab and his heirs slip by since, but finally now Elisha takes action, sending a subprophet off to anoint the military commander Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat (confusingly not the Judahite king of that name — Jehu’s grandfather is Nimshi, while Jehshphat the king was the son as As) as the king of Israel. Now, Israel already has a king, namely, Jehoram of the house of Ahab, but the prophet anointing Jehu charges him first off with the destruction of the house of Ahab, making it like all the other aborted dynasties of Lsrael and leving Jezebel’s corpse to be eaten by dogs.

Notably, this whole prophesy is delivered to Jehu while he’s out on maneuvers with the rest of the military, and when the rest of the officers ask Jehu what the “madman” wanted, Jehu lies really badly and ends up having to come clean to them, with the (presumably unexpected) result that they all declare for him and join his cause, so that Jehu’s mission and charge rather suddenly becomes a full-fledged military coup. In conference the leaders decide on a stealth attack, so they return to Jezreel,, where Jehoram is convalescing (from a wound in the last chapter) and King Ahaziah of Judah is visiting him. A footnote, here: the last two kings of Judah, Joram and Ahaziah, have both been themselves tied to the house of Ahab and are thus, in the eyes of the narrative, tainted. Ahaziah is not to be confused with the Israelite king of the same name, who was Jehoram’s elder brother and preceded him; it’s all very confusing. Anyways, this Ahaziah is Ahab’s nephew by way of his mother Athaliah, although he’s descended patrilineally from the Davidic dynasty. For Jehoram and Ahaziah, this return of the army is nothing particular to worry about, so they send messengers to inquire how things are going and carry on, but Jehu keeps not sending the messengers back. Finally, not having gotten news, Jehoram and Ahaziah themselves ride out to meet Jehu, and in response to Jehoram’s polite inquiry into affairs, Jehu launches into this extraordinary rant, calling Jehoram’s mother Jezebel a whore and a witch among other colorful insults. Jehoram realizes this is not the behavior of a faithful subordinate and flees, trying to warn Ahaziah, but both Jehoram and Ahaziah are overtaken and slain with arrows.

A prophecy callback occurs here: Jehu orders Jehoram’s corpse thrown into he field of Naboth the Jezreelite, as vengeance for Naboth. Remember Naboth? Back in 1 Kings 21 Ahab desired a plot of land for a garden, and offered to buy it off of Naboth, who refused to sell, so Jezebel engineered a trumped-up charge of treason against him, had him executed, and them seized his land. Elijah promised that the dogs would lick Ahab’s blood in the fields for this miscarriage of justice (which Ahab himself hadn’t actually perpetrated; that was his wife, with the complicity of corrupt local officials), but apparently only now does the curse get fulfilled, by Ahab’s kin. Ahaziah, by contrast, is shipped back home to sleep with his fathers: he may be a shit, but he’s a shit of the Davidic dynasty, and they get treated with dignity.

Anyways, most of the principal Ahabites are dead now, but Jehu still has to contend with the dowager Jezebel. Jezebel faces her death with a certain amount of dignity: she dresses formally for the occasion, and addresses jehu boldly by the nme of “Zimri”, which is basically an accusation of treason: Zimri was the officer who fomented a rebellion against his king Baasha back in 1 Kings 16, and who was himself struck down shortly after by Ahab’s father Omri. So the taunt takes a bit of unpacking, but Jezebel is basically accusing Jehu not only of treason, but of treason which contains the seeds of its own undoing. On Jehu’s orders, the palace eunuchs (perhaps fearing a reprisal from the new king) throw Jezebel out the window to be trampled by Jehu’s horses. Eventually Jehu realizes that it’s awfully undignified (not to mention politically inexpedient) to let Jezebel, who is after all actually foreign royalty, rot away in the sun, and orders her body brought in and delivered to her kin, but her body has been utterly destroyed (presumably eaten by dogs, too, although we don’t get an explicit callback to that prophecy).

Meanwhile, having consolidated a power base, Jehu issues a challenge to the guardians of Ahab’s remaining heirs, telling them to raise up a king to the throne and protect him as best they can. Rather than rise to this challenge, the guardians surrender, and at Jehu’s command murder Ahab’s seventy children and send their heads to be piled up at the gate of Jezreel. After executing a few more various intimates of the house of Ahab, Jehu declares the work of extinguishing the Ahabites complete and sets out for the capital of Israel, in Samaria. As luck would have it, on the way he encounters a delegation of Ahaziah’s kin, and when he identifies them, slaughters them too (Ahaziah’s mother was Ahab’s sister, so presumably they’re included in the ban on the house of Ahab). Oddly, none of this seems to cause a political risis, which seems weird: Ahaziah and the visiting delegation, both of whom were killed, were actually not Israelites, but were people of great importance within Judah. It seems there should be war between Judah and Israel after this flagrant violation of the peace existing between the kingdoms, but we get no word of anything of the sort happening.

Also on the trip Jehu recruits a lieutenant, Jehonadab, and promises that together they’ll strike a blow for Godliness. They do this by staging a massive public sacrifice to Baal, bringing in Baalites from all over Israel and putting on a full ritual show, but immediately after the burnt offering, Jehu orders in a contingent of eighty soldiers to massacre the worshippers. Having murdered the hell out of everyone even remotely culturally connected to the old regime, Jehu orders the temple of Baal knocked down and turns the ruins into a public toilet. And yet for all this, the end of the text offers an equivocal view of Jehu: sure, he exacted God’s revenge and eradicated Ba’al-worship, but he didn’t remove the cult objects dating all the way back to Jeroboam’s day, so he wasn’t quite good enough. Anyways, he is succeeded by his son Jehoahaz.

Meanwhile, a very similar coup is playing out in Judah. Judah, like Israel, has had its king slain by Jehoram and power devolves onto the dowager Athaliah (King Ahaziah’s mother and Ahab’s sister). Presumably to cement her power, Athaliah promptly turns around and murders every potential heir, but Ahaziah’s sister secretly smuggles Joash, one of her nephews, out of the palace before the purge, and Joash spends his childhood hidden at the Temple while Athaliah reigns. But just in Judah, a military coup is brewing. Jehoiada (who is introduced with no context but whom we later learn is the high priest) meets with the royal guard and lets them know there is an heir, and successfully coopts the guard. Jehoiada then crowns the young king in sight of the palace guard, and the dowager, summoned by the commotion, realizes she’s been betrayed but is immediately captured, removed from the temple, and executed. Jehoida destroys the Baal cult in Judah just as Jehu did in Israel, and he places Joash on the throne.

The Jehoiada story presumably touches on a point important to and familiar to the Deuteronomists: cooption of the kingship by the priesthood. The Deuteronomists were generally not big fans of the monarchy as an institution, and only really trusted the priesthood and would grant modest allowances to a king actually descended from the line of David. To them, subordinance of the monarchs to the priestly caste was pretty much the best monarchy they could envision. So it’s not surprising they think Joash is a return to the Good Old Days of Judahite glory. Tune in next week, when we see just how Joash implements a religious revival in Judah.

Wibble Wednesday: Fugitive Arameans (2 Kings 6–8)

OK, no excuses for further delay. It’s been the end of the semester, and I’ve generally been dealing with other stuff, but the semester’s over and I have no reason not to continue writing this. Part of the problem is that Kings is such a slog. There are a lot of chapters where, really, nothing interesting happens.

Short snarky summary: a lot of back-and-forth wars with the Arameans ensue. Against this backdrop, Elisha continues to work miracles until everyone’s sick of them.

So Aram seems to be the Foe-of-the-Day. Back in the last chapter, Aram seemed rather appeased when their general Naaman was cured of leprosy through Elisha’s advice. But now they’re back and they’re going to fight with Israel for chapters on end. A brief reminder of who the hell these people are: both Biblical and Assyrian sources locate Aram around Damascus and points eastward thereof, to the northeast of Israel. This means that they’re actually geographically pretty far from most of the other nations acknowledged by the Bible: Moab, Judah, and Edom are all well to its south, so Israel is pretty much the only neighbor they have to get into tiffs with (off to their east is unincorporated tribelands, while to the north are the increasingly terrifying Assyrians). They’re arguably a bigger wheel at this point in history than Israel itself is; certainly the independent archaeological record suggests a far wider-ranging and more significant Aramean influence than Israelite influence. The Aramites were also frequently racked by disunity, though, and tended to operate more as a weak confederation of states than as a unified kingdom, which may be how Israel and other nations occasionally get the better of them.

But before we get to the war with Aram, we have another medium-lame miracle from Elisha. Elisha’s coven of prophets (do prophets come in covens? My copy of An Exaltation of Larks is silent on this matter) has decided that the place they are (we don’t even get any details on where it is) is too crowded, so they want to move, build houses, and spread out. Elisha consents to join them, and then, while chopping trees for their lodgings, one of them drops his ax-head into the water. When he tells Elisha that it was borrowed, Elisha drops a straw into the water, magically causing the axhead to float. As miracles go it’s pretty clear why this is not one that gets a lot of play. I mean, I get that, at th time, an iron blade was a valuable thing and dropping one in the water was a Big Deal, but causing a lump of iron to float is, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty mediocre miracle.

But now it’s time for the Aramean follies! Aram keeps setting up camp in Israelite territory, while every single time Elisha warns the king of Israel to steer clear of wherever the Arameans are camped. There are several things which are unclear. First, it’s not clear why Elisha is, once more, doing Jehoram a favor when he really, really doesn’t much like Jehoram, and second, it’s not clear why Jehoram doesn’t make better use of this intelligence, to outflank the Arameans or otherwise raid their camps, instead of just avoiding them and prologing the stalemate. But, in any case, the king of Aram, stymied time and again, eventually learns that Elisha’s to blame and descends in siege upon the city of Dothan where Elisha’s sheltered.

Henceforth the story becomes mildly trippy. Chariots of fire surround the Arameans, and on Elisha’s command, the Arameans are struck with blindness. Then Elisha actually goes out and talks to the Aramean host, saying, “You’re in the wrong place. I’ll take you where you want to be,” and leads them right into the king’s court of Samaria, where on Elisha’s command they are cured of their blindness and taken captive by the king. The king asks if he should kill them (addressing Elisha, peculiarly, as “Father”), and Elisha says that, no, they should be treated courteously and sent on their way in peace.

But there’s no profit in kindness, because shortly the Arameans attack again, besieging Samaria until the people inside begin to starve. King Jehoram is deeply upset when one of his subjects tells a horrifying story of making a bargain with another woman to eat their children on alternate days but, after they’ve shared one child’s flesh, the other hid her child. Irrationally, this story makes Jehoram swear vengeance on Elisha. Why Elisha? Nothing about this seems to be his fault. The messenger sent to bring Elisha to be executed seems to blame God, but that’s not really Elisha’s fault either. And Elisha gives good news, anyways, that within 24 hours, food will be plentiful and cheap, but with the dire prognostication that the messenger will not get to taste any of it. This comes to pass when God calls up the sound of an enormous army, and the Arameans flee leaving behind their provisions. Some lepers (who are outcast from the city, and thus not within the beseiged walls), stumble across the Aramean camp while attempting to desert; they then report the miracle to the city, where everybody comes out in great rejoicing to plunder the camp, and in their eagerness trample the aforementioned messenger to death.

In Chapter 8 we move away from these military actions briefly, but Elisha is still the focus of the story. The Shunammite woman from chapter 4, whom Elisha predicted a son for, and whose son died and was revived by Elisha, gets a peculiar curtain call. Elisha returns to her to do another good turn, instructing her to leave the land for seven years while a famine rages. It’s not clear exactly how this fits in timelinewise with everything else, but lets assume it’s in chronological order, so we have the Aramean raids ending in their blindness and capture, then (hopefully some time later) the Aramean siege of Samaria, and then the Shummanite woman’s departure, and then we have a seven-year timeskip because she then comes back (it seems it’d make more sense to have her go away before some of the Aramean battles, so as to not have this “and then, for seven years, nothing happened” gap, but I dunno if the text remotely supports that). Anyways, on her return, she appeals for the return of her land and home, which were apparently occupied by squatters, so Elisha’s servant Gehazi (last seen in Chapter 5 being cursed with leprosy for taking payment for a cure) visits the king of Israel, who asks to know what all Elisha has done. This is a kind of odd and continuity-breaking question for Jehoram to ask, since he knows Elisha pretty well, and was present for most of his miracles, but Gehazi tells him about the one he didn’t know about, which is the revival of the Shummanite woman’s son, and the king is sufficiently impressed to send a eunuch to redress the woman’s complaints.

Next up, we’re told that king Ben-hadad of Aram is old and ill. This particular king is cited as the mastermind behind the siege of Samaria, so maybe the entire seven-year famine bit is supposed to be after everything else and so we’re now at a later date with that great warlord grown aged and feeble. Anyways, Elisha visits Damascus on his wanderings, so Ben-hadad sends Hazael, who later context suggests is a prince of Aram, to ask Elisha if he will recover from his illness. Elisha tells Hazael that Ben-hadad will die, but that he should deceive the king (it is not clear what, if any, purpose this deception serves). Elisha then weeps, explaining that Hazael will deliver horrible destruction on Israel. Hazael, doubting his ability to do such a thing, inquires further, and Elisha prophesies that Hazael will be king. You might think Hazael would swear friendship, or at least swear not to deliver horrible destruction, but he doesn’t, and exactly what Elisha’s role and purpose is here seems murky. He seems to simultaneously regard Hazael well enough to be truthful to him and firmly believe he will do evil things. Then again Elisha demonstrates the same hot-and-cold wllingness to be of service to someone he doesn’t respect vis-a-vis Jehoram, so maybe it’s just how he operates.

After Ben-hadad’s passing, we get a few more kingships passing along. Jehoshaphat, who had been king of Judah long enough to serve alongside Ahab in campaigns against Edom, dies, leaving his son Joram, who is married into the house of Ahab, as his heir. In an unprecedented twist, this king of Judah is assessed by the text as a bad man; usually it’s the Israelite kings who are bad and the Judahites good. God apparently did not favor Joram’s endeavors but, because he was of the house of David, opted not to destroy him: instead he just failed militarily, losing Edom and Libnah in rebellions and eventually dying, succeeded by his son Ahaziah as king.

The final few verses of Chapter 9 detail how Ahaziah ruled. Influenced by his bad dad, he too is a king regarded as evil (for the only crime the text really recognizes, which is idolworship), and spends a lot of time hanging around with the king of Israel, who, confusingly, the text insists on identifying as “Joram son of Ahab” rather than “Jehoram of Israel”. This is confusing in no small part because Ahaziah’s father is also named Joram and is kin (through marriage) to Ahab. Anyways, Ahaziah and Joram fight against Hazael, and Joram is wounded, and they both retire to Jezreel: Joram to convalesce, and Ahaziah to keep him company.

Elisha is finally going to lose patience with these royals next chapter, and punish them for their misdeeds.