The text of 1 and 2 Kings is really one book, divided just because it was so big in the past; they needed to use two scrolls to contain all its contents (and actually, the modern division is kind of in a silly place…it is cut right in the middle of a story).
So really, we are speaking of one book, beginning to end here. The Book of Kings has a strange emphasis on children. And by children I don’t mean just ‘descendants’ whose names are recorded and they grow up ‘children of Abraham’ in 15 describes the whole society, adults and children alike.
Instead, I mean here children as in the specific age group. It isn’t a given that children are included in any and every biblical narrative. In Judges, a book of somewhat comparable size (give or take) and the only story about a child I remember is the story of Jepthath’s daughter. Genesis has a short bit on the life of Joseph as a young lad, but that’s about it.
Stories tell you things based on how frequently or infrequently they mention concepts, characters, places, or themes. That is, by what they include and what they omit. And the Book of Kings features children prominently. They are in more stories together in the text than many of the large Old Testament books combined.
And so when Jesus says the following words in the Book of Matthew, I don’t think he is simply inventing a completely new ethic about the ‘kingdom of God’…
— Matthew uses a circumlocution and calls the same thing ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ They are the same concept, but Matthew doesn’t use the word ‘God’ to respect the Jewish custom of not pronouncing the divine name. —
…Rather, Jesus is exegeting the concept from the Old Testament and applying it to his own new, teaching about what the Kingdom of God truly looks like.
The Book of Matthew reads, in chapter 18,
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
- Solomon says, “I am but a little child” when he asks for wisdom from God at the beginning of Kings. Rehoboam, his son (who was 41 years old) when he took the throne, it says that he followed the advice of the ‘foolish young men’ (‘young lads’) that he grew up with, and not the wise counsel of others.
- Elisha first rescues a womans two sons from being sold into slavery, then raises from the dead that very same woman’s young son. Later, when people of a particular town insult him Elisha sends a bear after ‘children’ (again, like Solomon uses the word ‘children’ to describe probably his 22 or so year old self, Elisha sends the bears on ‘children of Israel’ who were probably not literal children…the author is playing with irony…the reason the text calls these men children is because they are acting like children [in the foolish sense of the word])
- Naaman is told how to be healed by a young girl, maybe a young teen at most.
- And Josiah, the youngest of the kings, a child (age eight) when he took over is the one who makes reforms to turn the nation of Israel back to the Lord.
Especially Solomon and the young girl manifest ‘childlike faith’ not ‘childlike foolishness’. It’s easy to see where Jesus may have derived his teaching. So when Jesus says you must have faith as a little child, he isn’t inventing a new ethic about the Kingdom of God (ironic, since this called ‘the Book of Kings’), he is reading it straight from what God revealed in the Old Testament in the past. He is saying powerfully and most clearly what God already embedded in the text. Consider the selections below:
Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?
Reheboam’s Childlike Mistake
Then they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to this people today, and will serve them and grant them their petition, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him, and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him.
Elisha and the woman (For more on this see this post)
Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.”…
…When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. He said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out. Then she called to her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.”
When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed.So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the Lord. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.
And Naaman’s Wife’s Servant Girl
Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper. Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.”Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus spoke the girl who is from the land of Israel.” Then the king of Aram said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” He departed and took with him ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold and ten changes of clothes.
Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Jedidah the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. He did right in the sight of the Lord and walked in all the way of his father David, nor did he turn aside to the right or to the left.
Random sidenote: Applying a similar method of observation method to the concept of children in the Gospel of John and his Letters (I didn’t have time to observe the Book of Revelation before posting this)…
…This struck me, for as affectionate and filial Jesus’ love seems to be in the Gospel of John, he only addresses them as some sort of family, brothers or children, once…far different than the perpetual use of that language in 1st John. The two instances they occur are in John 1:12, and John 20:17, bookends.
John only uses family relationship to describe Jesus’ disciples in two places, the prologue, the very beginning, and the very end, the second to last chapter.