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There is a very old and famous fable—of either Buddhist or Jain origin—that has been used through the centuries to illustrate what is thought to be a fundamental truth about the religions of mankind. Several blind men were led into a rajah’s (king’s) courtyard, where they encountered an elephant. One felt a tusk and concluded that an elephant is like a spear. Another touched a leg and thought that an elephant is like a tree. Yet another bumped into the side of the beast and thought that it is like a wall. And so on. The rajah heard the activity, came out on his balcony, and told the blind men that they were each encountering only one small part of the magnificent whole.
The lesson by analogy, of course, is that the different religious traditions of the world are all stumbling upon only one particular aspect of ultimate reality and are blind to the total picture. But all the religious hands are touching the same essential truth.
It is easy to see the appeal of this unifying approach to the broad spectrum of religious beliefs. After all, exclusive claims to religious truth are seen by many to be the root of so much violence and suffering in the world as believers in one tradition fight those of other traditions—sometimes for centuries. If at their core all religions are the same, or each is heading toward the same end, then there is no real reason for conflict or quarrel.
Ironically, this fable has built into it an element that is not highlighted in the traditional interpretations but may be the most important issue in the story. How do the blind men discover the truth about their encounter with the elephant? It is revealed to them from above. The rajah steps out on his balcony and from his transcendent perspective, and with his intact sense of sight, communicates to those below the full picture of their experience. The more profound real-world question that emerges from the fable is where is our “Rajah” who can see all and can reveal to us the truth that is not accessible from our limited perspective?
Unless there is some word from above to tell us that all religions are basically the same, there is no good reason to conclude they are, because the evidence is stacked heavily against it. Although one can identify common beliefs and practices, some of the differences among the traditions are stark and irreconcilable.
Compare, for instance, Mormonism, Buddhism, and Christianity on the critical question of what is ultimately real. Mormon scripture teaches that ultimate reality is material or physical and that even God and spirits are material objects whose constituent matter has existed for all eternity. Mahayana Buddhists believe that ultimate reality is emptiness (sunyata) or beinglessness (nisvabhava)—no gods, no matter, no spirit, no self. Christians, by contrast, see ultimate reality in God, who is an eternal, personal, triune Being who created all there is—both physical and nonphysical—from nothing. By any measure these are dramatic differences.
The conflicting ideas are multiplied once other issues are addressed. What is a human being? Why do we exist? What is good? Why is there pain and suffering? Where is history going? How do I reach salvation or enlightenment? Given the deep divergence on such timeless questions, it is completely legitimate to wonder if the essential unity of all religions is really just a noble wish or a pious hope. Indeed, without a word from the “Rajah” to tell us that the contradictions among the great faiths can be overcome, the notion that all religions are the same seems utterly untenable.
Another irony about the fable presented here is that there is excellent reason to believe that there really is a Rajah who has spoken to mankind and has given us the transcendent perspective we need to know the truth. Jesus Christ is a radical figure in the history of the great religious traditions in that he is the only leader who claimed to be the one eternal God in human flesh. He knows the beginning from the end and knows the deepest religious yearnings of all people. He said definitively that there is only one God and only one source of salvation: Jesus Christ Himself. Moreover (and this is very important), Jesus did not leave us with “blind faith” as the only means to know that His claims are true. Rather, He established the truth of His claims objectively through His glorious resurrection from the dead—the central miracle of human history.
The King has indeed spoken from on high. All religions are not the same. And although we are all blind in sin, we can still hear the Savior’s words. He who has ears, let him hear the voice of the King.
2 Kings 17:41 The phrase “until today” was the “today” of the author’s time.
2 Kings 18:1 The “third year” was 715 B.C.
2 Kings 18:2 “Became king,” that is, when his co-regency ended and he became king in his own right. Hezekiah reigned 29 years, until 686 B.C.
2 Kings 18:3 The phrase “what was right” is literally “The Right Thing” (1 Kg 15:11), a deliberate contrast to “The Evil” thing of idolatry that characterized disobedient kings. The author’s ideal king was David, who worshiped the Lord with his whole heart. All other kings were evaluated against David. And, until Hezekiah, no king of Israel or Judah approached this ideal.
2 Kings 18:4 Unlike the other kings, Hezekiah removed the high places.
2 Kings 18:10 The “sixth year” was 722 B.C.
2 Kings 18:13 An almost word-for-word parallel of this passage in 18:13–20:21 can be found in Is 36:1–39:8. This is not surprising, since Isaiah was a contemporary of Hezekiah. Clearly they were using the same source document of Hezekiah’s reign. It is also possible that the author of 2 Kg used Isaiah as his source. The “fourteenth year” was 701 B.C.
2 Kings 18:17 The “Tartan” was the commander in chief. The “Rab-saris” was the chief eunuch/court official. Rabshakeh in Hebrew means “field commander,” but the Assyrian title may have meant “chief cupbearer,” i.e., chief spokesman.
2 Kings 18:26 The Aramaic language is closely related to Hebrew, but is not mutually comprehensible with it. Judeans would have been more isolated than the northern kingdom and so most would not have been able to speak it. However, Aramaic had become the language of diplomacy and international trade and politics.
2 Kings 19:24 Sennacherib had an exaggerated notion of his own greatness, as rulers often do.
2 Kings 19:28 “I will put My hook,” thus treating Assyria the way she treated her defeated enemies. (See Am 4:1–3.)
2 Kings 20:1 “In those days”: This must have been before Sennacherib’s arrival, perhaps 712 B.C. Others suggest 701 B.C.
2 Kings 20:9 Isaiah had also offered Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, the opportunity to choose a sign, but Ahaz had refused (Is 7:10–12).
2 Kings 20:12 Hezekiah had rebelled against Sargon of Assyria and was looking for political and military allies.
2 Kings 21:1 Manasseh co-reigned with Hezekiah from 697–686 B.C. He reigned in his own right until 642 B.C.
2 Kings 2 Kings 21:3 Manasseh worshiped every god for which there had been precedent in Israel’s history, and then added new ones to the list! The “heavenly host” were astral deities that were popular throughout the ancient Near East. Assyrian influence undoubtedly contributed to Manasseh’s decision to worship them.
2 Kings 21:5 “Both courtyards” is literally “in the two courts.” First Kg 6:36 talks about an inner court and 2 Kg 20:4 about an outer court. In the temple description of Ezekiel’s vision (Ezk 40:17–20), there is both an inner and outer court. Some suggest the second courtyard is that of the royal palace, which was part of the general temple complex.
2 Kings 21:6 “Pass through the fire,” that is, human sacrifice.
2 Kings 21:13 The “measuring line” is the image of a surveyor marking how the destruction of this “urban renewal” will take place.
2 Kings 21:16 The reference to “innocent blood” may include Manasseh’s persecution of the prophets. Isaiah was sawn in two during this time (Heb 11:37). “What was evil,” literally “The Evil,” i.e., idolatry, see note on 3:2.
2 Kings 21:17 Spiritually, Judah went from one extreme to the other. Manasseh’s apostasy was not just spectacular in its own right, but had an even greater contrast with his father, Hezekiah.
2 Kings 21:19 Amon reigned “two years,” from 642–640 B.C.
2 Kings 22:1 Josiah reigned “31 years,” from 640–609 B.C.
2 Kings 22:2 The phrase “what was right” is literally “The Right Thing” (see 1 Kg 15:11), a deliberate contrast to “The Evil” thing of idolatry that characterized disobedient kings. “To the right or the left” is an allusion to Dt 17:20, where the ideal king perfectly obeys the law. Josiah joined the exalted company of David and Hezekiah, serving the Lord with his whole heart.
2 Kings 22:8 The “book of the law” is the book of Dt (see Dt 28:61; 29:21; Jos 1:8). How long had the book of the law been out of public view? It certainly was available to Josiah’s great-grandfather Hezekiah (2 Kg 18:6). Its proper place was next to the ark of the covenant (Dt 31:26). It mostly likely dropped out of sight during Manasseh’s reorganization of temple worship. Did Hilkiah truly “find” it, or did he bring it out of hiding, convinced that Josiah would accept it? We cannot say for sure.
2 Kings 22:20 Although Josiah died a violent death at the hands of the Egyptians at Megiddo, he did not see Judah’s final destruction. This is the “peace” that he had in death.
2 Kings 23:7 “Weaving tapestries” is literally “weaving (in) quarters.” Perhaps this was a reference to the production of ritual garments.
2 Kings 23:8 “Geba to Beer-sheba” were the official northern and southern boundaries of Judah.
2 Kings 23:9 The idolatrous priests (see also 23:5) were removed from their positions, but were allowed to live with their families (“fellow priests”). This was the mercy of the king.
2 Kings 23:12 The roof would be the appropriate place to worship astral deities; hence, the reference to “altars … on the roof.”
2 Kings 23:13 The “Mount of Destruction” is from the Hebrew har hammishchit, and was the deliberate change of the actual name of the place, har hammishchah, the “Mount of Anointing” (probably the Mount of Olives). The idolatry that occurred there was so detestable, they changed the last syllable to reflect the ultimate fate of those who worshiped other gods there.
2 Kings 23:15 Bethel was not a part of Judah. Here Josiah stepped beyond his authority as a vassal of Assyria.
2 Kings 23:19 Nineveh fell to the Babylonians and Medes (Persians) in 612 B.C. Assyria was completely under Babylonian control by 609 B.C. and its hold on Aram and northern Israel faded. For the first time since Solomon, the king could treat the northern kingdom just like the south.
2 Kings 23:25 The highest praise the author of 1 and 2 Kg had for any king, including David or Solomon.
2 Kings 23:29 With Assyria weakening and Babylon on the ascendancy, Egypt saw its chance to retake control of Palestine all the way up to the Euphrates. Why did Josiah confront Neco? He perhaps was pro-Babylon, like his great-grandfather, Hezekiah. More likely, he wanted to contest Egypt’s bid for control of the former northern kingdom of Israel.
2 Kings 23:31 Jehoahaz became king in 609 B.C.
2 Kings 23:36 Jehoiakim reigned “11 years,” from 609–598 B.C.
2 Kings 24:8 Jehoiachin reigned “three months,” from 598–597 B.C.
2 Kings 24:12 The king of Babylon’s “eighth year” was 597 B.C. This is the first time the regnal date of a foreign ruler is used in Kg.
2 Kings 24:18 Zedekiah reigned “11 years,” from 597–586 B.C.
2 Kings 25:8 Nebuchadnezzar’s “nineteenth year” was 586 B.C.
2 Kings 25:22 Jeremiah 40:7–48:18 has a much more detailed account of 2 Kg 25:22–26. Gedaliah’s grandfather was the scribe for King Josiah (22:3); his father was one of those sent to the prophetess Huldah (22:14) and who saved the life of Jeremiah the prophet (Jr 26:24).
2 Kings 25:27 “The year he became king” was 561 B.C.
2 Kings 25:30 The book of 2 Kg ends on a positive although bittersweet note. Not all is lost, for God’s promises still remain. If we learn anything at all from the history of Israel’s kings, it is that idolatry brings disaster, and obedience to God’s law brings hope.
By Craig J. Hazen
The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)