Ezekiel the prophet, who ministered during the first quarter of the sixth century BC, gives us a key insight into the character of God. Ezekiel 18:23 states, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the LORD God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Our holy Creator punishes sin and wickedness, but He does not take sadistic delight in doing so. In fact, the Lord prefers to show mercy over wrath.
Today’s passage provides several illustrations of this truth. The author of 2 Kings returns to the northern kingdom of Israel to tell us about two kings whose reigns began or took place entirely during the reign of King Joash of Judah. The first of these kings was Jehoahaz, the son of King Jehu, who had brought an end to the dynasty of Ahab (2 Kings 9–10). King Jehoahaz was not really an improvement over the previous kings of Israel, for he continued in the sins of Jeroboam I, who introduced idols into the worship of Yahweh, the one true God and Lord of Israel (2 Kings 13:1–2; see 1 Kings 12:25–33). So, in keeping with the curses attached to God’s covenant with Israel, the Lord handed the Israelites over to their enemies, specifically, Syria (2 Kings 13:3; see Lev. 26:25). Jehoahaz, however, cried out to the Lord, and God sent a savior to rescue Israel, possibly Assyria, whose periodic wars with Syria at the time diverted Syria away from Israel and Judah. The Lord saved His people from their foes, though Israel certainly did not deserve rescue—a clear demonstration of His desire to show mercy. However, Israel did not respond to this rescue with gratitude but continued in its idolatry (2 Kings 13:4–9).
We also read about King Jehoash of Israel, who succeeded his father King Jehoahaz. Note that Jehoash of Israel is a different man than King Jehoash or Joash of Judah (2 Kings 11:21–12:21). Jehoash of Israel was likewise an idolater, but the Lord showed mercy on Israel anyway during his reign, which occurred during the final days of the prophet Elisha. God again rescued Israel from Syria during the reign of King Jehoash, son of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:14–25).
Of special note is the resurrection of the man who came into contact with the body of Elisha (vv. 20–21). Many commentators believe this was a sign to show Israel that the power of God’s words would continue after Elisha died. That is, the Lord would still rescue Israel from Syria and other enemies, as He did while Elisha was alive, if Israel would return to the Word of God.