Jacques Ellul was Professor of Law and Sociology and History of Institutions at the University of Bordeaux. He has published several hundred articles and over thirty books.
The book was prepared for Religion Online by William E. Chapman.
(ENTIRE BOOK) Second Kings does not come to mind as a source for reflection and insight for a Christian understanding of how a person of faith deals with politics. Nor would most commentators chose to make Elisha the focal figure for such a study. However, Ellul’s treatment furnishes one with a feast of careful analysis and insight for any person of faith seeking guidance in how to live as a Christian in a political world.
Ellul provides an initial statement about his purpose, specifically, why he chose Second Kings as the place to guide his reflections on how the faithful go about the political aspect of their lives. Suggesting that Second Kings is the most political in Scripture, he outlines why it is important for the Christian who is concerned about politics, in whatever sense that term is used. This initial taste of Ellul introduces the reader to Ellul’s approach as an exegete.
- Chapter 1: Naaman
Ellul begins with a study of the interaction of Naaman and Elisha. As the title suggests, the focus is on Naaman rather than on Elisha. Working through the biblical account step by step, Ellul reads the text carefully, finding hints of how God works through people, those who are faithful, as well as those who are not. This analysis results in insights regarding how God accomplishes his purpose through people who make both wise and unwise choices.
- Chapter 2: Joram
What does one do when things are at their blackest? Ellul turns next to Joram who faces a deeply distressing situation. This provides the stimulus for reflection on the role of the prophet amid the worst situation. There is also delicate analysis of how God works through decisions of humans whether or not they are responsive to God’s word through the prophet.
- Chapter 3: Hazael
This account adds yet another dimension to the interplay of God with the world where human purpose is shown to be only temporarily effective when it is disobedient to God’s purpose. The prophet must be faithful, even when the word from the Lord is a hard word. Even those who disobey this word end up evidence of how God works out God’s purpose. The bitter realism of the passage becomes stark evidence of how God triumphs.
- Chapter 4:Jehu
Ellul plunges even deeper into the mystery of how God’s purposes are accomplished through human agency. Jehu is not a pleasant person, but a sort of enforcer. Using the choice of transparency versus opacity, Ellul shows how Jehu fulfills prophecy without being a witness to God’s mercy and love. The relevance to contemporary church life is clear and challenging. The final sentence poses a question which offers the reader one final challenge worth one’s persistence.
- Chapter 5: Ahaz
The next political figure in Second Kings is Ahaz. After an intense analysis of this king’s policies and history, Ellul reflects at length on how his encounter with Isaiah demonstrates how politics emerge as the substance of Second Kings. The chapter ends with a challenging reflection on God’s Holy Spirit with particular reference to what it means to act prophetically in the present.
- Chapter 6: Rabshakeh
This chapter deals with an encounter between Hezekiah and an emissary of Assyria, Rabshakeh. The foreign representative delivers a prophetic message, which Hezekiah receives as a Word from the Lord. Rabshakeh proceeds to challenge Israel and their God. The challenge provides Ellul opportunity to reflect on politics and faith, with a probing analysis of propaganda which identifies how “modern” this passage is.
- Chapter 7: Hezekiah
The final chapter explores Hezekiah’s role in this crisis, which Ellul sees as one of a faithful sovereign. Hezekiah sees that the crisis is beyond politics, since the Assyrians have impugned God. There is a limit to politics, and thus of all human intentionality. The final section is a discussion of “miracle” which establishes how God can be sovereign without diminishing human agency.
- Postscript: Meditation on Inutility
Ellul closes reflecting on the role of humanity in God’s purpose. This is at the same time both an indictment on a world bent on achievement, as well as a celebration of human freedom as a great gift. At the end of this reflection, Ellul sums up in brief compass a theological review of the tour through Second Kings.