Q&A: Send Me a Letter - 2 Chronicles 21:12

Send Me a Letter - 2 Chronicles 21:12

Question

Elijah was translated and yet sent a letter to Jehoram? 2 Chronicles 21:12

Answer

2 Chronicles 21:12 Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet, which said: "This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: 'You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah.'"
Jehoram became king in Judah and sinned (2 Chron. 21:11). In 2 Chronicles 21:12, Elijah sent a letter in response to Jehoram's sin. Elijah had not been translated at this point (2 Kings 2:1-11).

A normal approach to a solution says Jehoram, son of Ahab, reigned in Israel from approximately 852 to 841 B.C. and Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, reigned in Judah from approximately 848/9 to 841/2 B.C. (Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings). So, Elijah had not been translated "yet" and sent the letter (2 Chron. 21:12).

However, the above possible solution is not without its difficulties. R.B. Dillard deals with many of the solutions and difficulties:

Form/Structure/Setting.

12-15 In the nonsynoptic portions of the Chroniclers history the author frequently reports prophetic speeches that pronounce weal or woe on the acts of the individual kings; here, however, it is not a speech, but a letter. Jehoram was a son-in-law of Ahab, and it is Ahabs nemesis Elijah who announces judgment on Jehoram in Judah for his following the ways of the Omrides and for the fratricide that began his reign.

The historicity of the letter has been contested. The main issue is chronological: a straightforward reading of 2 Kgs 2-3 suggests that Elijah had already been taken to heaven and that he was succeeded by Elisha during the reign of Jehoshaphat. He would not have been living during the reign of Jehoram to write a letter; it is not probable that the Chronicler intends us to think the letter was written prophetically before Elijahs death or that it was in some way transmitted from heaven. Other arguments against the historicity of the letter are arguments from silence and less compelling, but nevertheless have some weight: (1) the deuteronomic historian held such a high view of Elijah that had he known of such a letter, he would have mentioned it, had there been so much as a hint of its existence; (2) no literary activity on the part of Elijah or Elisha is elsewhere reported in Kings; (3) their ministries are set in the Northern Kingdom. In light of this evidence most scholars have concluded that the letter is the Chroniclers own composition, reflective of his theological concerns. C-M (415) considered it a pure product of the imagination; Rudolph (267) called it legendary, and Myers (122), apocryphal.

This approach to the data is not without problems of its own, however. 2 Kgs 1:17 reports the accession of Joram of Israel in the second year of Jehoram of Judah. Joram had succeeded Ahaziah; Ahaziah's death had been prophesied at the time by Elijah (2 Kgs 1:16). This information means that Elijah was alive during the first few years of Jehorams reign, at least during the years of a possible coregency (see above on v 5); it suggests that he may well have lived into the reign of Jehoram long enough to have knowledge of Jehoram's murder of his brothers.

Since 2 Kgs 23 appears to portray Elishas independent actions after the death of his mentor, Shenkel (Chronology, 1012) regards it as evidence for competing chronological systems and concludes that the Chronicler was following a chronological scheme preserved in the OG Kings; the tension with 2 Kgs 2-3 would reflect changes in the chronology of the MT subsequent to the composition of Chronicles.

A less drastic solution to the chronological problem suggests that the incidents of 2 Kgs 3 are dischronologized, i.e., not to be read as chronologically subsequent to Elijah's assumption in 2 Kgs 2: Elisha no doubt was already functioning as a prophet prior to his receiving Elijahs mantle and could have participated in the events of 2 Kgs 3 while Elijah was still alive. The only conclusion to be drawn from 2 Kgs 3:11 is that Elisha, Elijahs associate, was in the camp, not that Elijah was already dead (Keil, 397).

Though the ministry of Elijah is set in the Northern Kingdom, at least some involvement with the South is reported in his journey to Beersheba and on to Sinai (1 Kgs 19:3, 8), though this incident does not show any political interaction with Judean kings.

The dischronology of 2 Kings 3 being where I presently lean, and although I am unsure of the mechanics, this said, Elijah sent the letter.

Reference

Thiele, Edwin R. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. Grand Rapid, MI: Zondervan, 1983.

Dillard, R. B. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 15, 2 Chronicles. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).