“ Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”  But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God…  Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.” - 2 Kings 17:13-14, 18:
The passage above can serve as a representative summary of the events of 2 Kings. It is not a book of happy stories overall. Perhaps its main lesson may be to show us that covenant breaches bring covenant curses.
Why is the tribe of Judah left? It is because the tribe of Judah is the tribe of David, and David received an unconditional promise from Yahweh that his throne would be established forever. This is recorded in 1 Samuel 7. It is this promise to David that explains why the tribe of Judah is left and no one else.
An Outline of 2 Kings
Chapters 1-8 cover the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. Some of this section reads like a highlight reel for Elisha. Through Elisha, God sends two bears to maul some boys, fills a dry streambed with water, defeats an invading army, makes oil multiply, gives a barren woman a son, raises that same son from the dead or near death, removes poison from a pot, causes grain and barley to multiply, heals a foreign commander of leprosy, and then gives the leprosy to his scheming servant, and more. When we compare some of these miracles to later events, there is a striking resemblance between some of Elisha's acts and some of Jesus's. Fundamental to this is the fact that Elisha succeeds Elijah as the prophet of Yahweh.
Chapters 8-17 cover the kingdoms' declines and Israel's fall to the Assyrians. The text covers various kings in Judah and Israel. It is a rapid-fire succession of brief kingdom biographies with the death of Elisha recorded at the end of chapter 13. Generally, things do not go well. There is slaughtering and there is war. The kings mostly do not follow Yahweh. Jehoash/Joash is a notable exception. Amaziah and Azariah are also exceptions (chapters 14 and 15). Chapter 17 recounts the fall of Israel under King Hoshea to the Assyrians. The bulk of the chapter is not about how Israel fell but why it fell. It describes the sins and abominations Israel had become accustomed to committing. Israel does not fall because Assyria is too powerful. Israel falls because Yahweh decides to remove them from this sight (2 Kings 17:18)
Chapters 18-25 cover Judah's inconsistent reforms and eventual exile. We meet King Hezekiah of Jerusalem in chapter 18. He is described as unique among his peers (2 Kings 18:5-6). Hezekiah successfully withstands assault by Assyrian forces, but due to angelic force rather than human (2 Kings 19:35). Later on, we meet King Josiah, under whose reign the Book of the Law is found (2 Kings 22:8). For us, a quick glance at Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 offers a good idea of what they found. Despite all of Josiah's efforts to reform the nation (2 Kings 23:24-25), God's wrath remained against Judah (2 Kings 23:26-27). Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquers Judah and takes many of the people into exile. 2 Kings ends with King Jehoiachin dining at table in Babylon together with other conquered kings, a testimony to Yahweh's judgment of his people.
Some Benefits of 2 Kings
2 Kings is a sad book. As a continuation of 1 Kings, the story begins in the middle of a downward slide that never reverses course. Modern readers looking to bolster their hope in humanity will find no help in these pages.
For those interested in learning about how a holy God works in a wicked world to keep his promise to undeserving people, this book is a fascinating study. One may reasonably read this book and wonder how God can accomplish any of his purposes when his supposed people are so recalcitrant. There are hardly any two generations that can string together a semblance of faithfulness to Yahweh and the covenant he made with Moses.
When we consider the fact that Yahweh intentionally maintains the tribe of Judah and prevents it from being annihilated by enemies, it boggles the mind to attempt to understand how God orchestrates all of that together in the midst of all the other political, social, and religious upheaval. The only reason Israel persisted as a recognizable people at all is due to Yahweh's covenant with David. If not for the promise to maintain David's throne in 2 Samuel 7, Yahweh would have started over and Judah's fate would have been the same as Israel's.
But God does keep his promises. God does accomplish his purposes. And no amount of idol worship, sin, tyranny, rebellion, or subterfuge can prevent God from doing so. These pages teach over and over again that God does not overlook our sins. He keeps count. We like to flatter ourselves that we are unimportant figures in the vast numbers of people who live and move on this planet, but God knows each one of us intimately and is not thwarted by the sheer numbers of people to know. We can take no shelter in anonymity. God knows each of us exhaustively. So we should take warning that nothing goes unnoticed.
But we should also take encouragement from this. Nothing goes unnoticed! God knows our acts of faithfulness big and small. He knows the suffering we endure for the sake of his name and the love that we show to others. He knows our love for him. He knows our devotion to him. And just as God is displeased by sin, so he is pleased with our obedience.
When we read 2 Kings, we should give up any notion that we can save ourselves. But we should also be motivated to love and follow God because he first loved us. We should read these stories as semi-autobiographical. They are not just about other people. They are about our own hearts. In reading these sad stories about sinners, we are reading about ourselves.
And this is the tragic beauty in a book like 2 Kings. It teaches us about how God worked in history despite the unfaithfulness of his people. But it also teaches us about ourselves and helps to reinforce the fact that we cannot depend upon ourselves for our hope in this life. We must depend upon God or no one at all. If not for his work, then everything fails. But because he promises to work, we can have absolute confidence.