Did Eljiah Send a Letter to King Jehoram Years After the Prophet Was Already Dead?
According to 2 Chronicles 21, during the reign of King Jehoram, the fifth king of Judah, “a letter came to him from Elijah” in which the prophet rebuked the wicked king and predicted his painful disease and death (2 Chronicles 21:12-15). This account, however, has drawn criticism from some1 since 2 Kings records Elijah being taken up into heaven in chapter 2—six chapters before Jehoram is mentioned as beginning his eight-year reign over Judah (2 Kings 8:16-24). Thus, inquiring minds want to know how Elijah could have penned a letter to a king if the prophet was no longer on Earth?
There are at least two possible, reasonable answers to this question. First, as with many other recorded biblical events,2 it may be that the account of Elijah’s miraculous translation into the spirit realm recorded in 2 Kings 2 was not placed in that particular section of Kings for strict chronological purposes. If the apostle John could place the account of Jesus cleansing the Temple at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:13-22),3 and do so, as some contend, for thematic or theological purposes, rather than chronological reasons, could the inspired penman of Kings not have done something similar? We agree with Keil and Delitzsch, who concluded:
It is impossible to fix the year of Elijah’s ascension. Neither the fact that it is mentioned after the death of Ahaziah of Israel, which he himself had personally foretold to that ungodly king, nor the circumstance that in the war which Jehoshaphat and Joram of Israel waged with the Moabites prophet Elisha was consulted (ch. 3), warrants the conclusion that Elijah was taken from the earth in the interval between these two events. It is very obvious from ch. 3:11 that the two kings applied to Elisha simply because he was in the neighborhood, and not because Elijah was no longer alive.4
Elisha had entered upon this relationship to Elijah long before Elijah’s departure from the earth (1 Kings 19:19ff.). Elijah may therefore have still been alive under Joram of Judah.5
Interestingly, King Jehoram of Judah is actually mentioned in 1 Kings 1:17—before Elijah is translated into heaven. This verse certainly establishes the fact that Jehoram was alive during the time of Elijah and likely hints at the co-regency of Jehoram and his father King Jehoshaphat (cf. 2 Kings 8:16-24),6 which admittedly may cause some confusion when attempting to make precise chronological judgments regarding certain events in Kings and Chronicles.
Even if the events in 2 Kings 1-8 are recorded in a more strict chronological order, however, and Elijah had actually left Earth prior to Jehoram’s independent reign as king began, there still is no proven contradiction between these passages and what the chronicler recorded about Elijah’s letter to Jehoram. Second Chronicles 21:12 does state that “a letter came to” Jehoram “from Elijah the prophet,” but notice that the text does not say that Elijah personally delivered the letter. One simply cannot prove that the text is implying that Elijah was still alive. It could very well be that the prophet Elijah wrote a prophetic letter about King Jehoram’s future sickness and death, which was delivered to the king (perhaps by Elisha) years after Elijah left the Earth. If uninspired people who pass from this life can leave letters and other forms of communication for family members to read (or watch) after their deaths, could a divinely inspired prophet not have arranged for a letter, which he wrote long before, to be delivered at a particular time after his death? To ask is to answer.
Although some may become disturbed upon initially comparing 2 Kings 2 with 2 Chronicles 21, a fair and sober assessment of the text reveals logical explanations for the differences found therein. Perhaps the differences are the result of the events of 2 Kings 2 not being placed in a strict sequential order in the text. Or, it could very well be that Elijah wrote the letter of 2 Chronicles 21 as a prophetic letter before his departure from Earth and long before Jehoram became the sole King of Judah. One thing is certain: no justifiable contradiction has been proven.
1 Steve Wells (2016), “The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible,” www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/2chr/21.html.
2 See Eric Lyons (2005), “Alleged Chronological Contradictions,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=13&article=1582.
3 As opposed to the end of it, which is where Matthew, Mark, and Luke place the event.
4 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch (1996), Commentary on the Old Testament: 1 & 2 Kings; 1 & 2 Chronicles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson), 3:209-210.
6 See R.D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel (1988), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 & 2 Kings, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 4:173.