DENYING ACCOUNTABILITY AND RESISTING GOD PROVE DISASTROUS SINCE GOD IS A CONSUMING FIRE
This chapter wraps up the story of the reign of Ahaziah that was begun at the end of 1 Kings – showing that the break between 1 and 2 Kings is very artificial. The impact of Ahab and Jezebel continues in the idolatry and hatred for the Word of God demonstrated by their son. It should be shocking to the readers to see the King of Israel consulting Baal in a time of crisis. Elijah reinforces the certain connection between idolatry and judgment. God is a consuming fire and cannot be ignored or resisted.
William Barnes: Yahweh simply will not tolerate (for the good of his people) any formal religious “inquiries” of any other deities (who, after all, do not even exist) . . . Yahweh will not be mocked. His people and their leadership, if they try to sneak off to seek direction from such “deities,” had better be ready to face disaster as severe as any described in the present chapter. It cannot be otherwise. Of course, our God is a God of love, incredible patience, and amazing grace; but even in the New Testament, lies and subterfuge on the part of God’s people (such as Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1–11) may lead to sudden death and severe fear falling upon “the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:11). That is surely the primary message of the present chapter of 2 Kings.
Donald Wiseman: The historian shows that the clash between Elijah, with his belief in the Lord God (Yahweh) as supreme, and the Israelite monarchy who still relied primarily on other deities, continues. Ahaziah is reproved for consulting a foreign god (vv. 2–8) and his attempt to reverse the judgment pronounced by Yahweh upon him is shown dramatically (vv. 9–17a). The issue is still the same as at Carmel. God demonstrates by fire that he will not share his supremacy with any other. The second book of Kings follows the first without a break.
August Konkel: The prophet Elijah did not envision a pluralistic society that would seek to equally accommodate all versions of faith and values. In his context it was intolerable that the king should actively adhere to the religious values of a surrounding culture. In this he fearlessly confronted the state authority. The modern ideals of pluralism are good and necessary; coercion in matters of faith is not God’s way. However, justice in such a plurality is an exceedingly difficult matter, and the church increasingly will find the power of the state oppressive. This should not cause fear or despair; Christ will build his church, and government authority will not prevail against it.
I. (:1-8) DON’T FORGET YOUR ACCOUNTABILITY TO GOD
A. (:1-2) Weakness Reveals the Object of our Faith –
Where do we turn for help?
1. (:1) Weakness Politically in Ahaziah’s Kingdom Exploited by Moab
“Now Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab.”
Dale Ralph Davis: Second Kings begins on a positive note: Ahab is dead. You may think that is a nasty sentiment, but you must remember that Ahab was a conduit that allowed pagan sewage to engulf Israel (1 Kings 16:29–34), one who tolerated injustice (1 Kings 21), and who hated God’s word (e.g., 1 Kings 22). But the Ahabs always die—that is good news. The bad news is that Ahab, Jr., follows him. Ahaziah is a chip off the old, dead block. Welcome to Israel, 852 bc.
Peter Pett: One of the consequences of this was that Moab, parts of which had been tributary to Israel for ‘forty years’ (per the Moabite Stone), since the time of Omri, rebelled and obtained their freedom. The news of Ahaziah’s accident might well have been the spur to Mesha of Mob to make the attempt, although preparations for the rebellion may well have commenced during the last days of Ahab. Ahab may well have intended to crush the rebellion after he had reclaimed Ramoth-gilead.
2. (:2a) Weakness Physically Due to Ahaziah’s Fall
“And Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber which was in Samaria, and became ill.”
Mordechai Cogan: Most commentators think the reference is to a trellis or screenlike structure over a window or the open area of the roof (so Thenius, Kittel, Burney). Qimḥi took it to be a skylight covering.
MacArthur: Ahaziah’s rooftop room was enclosed with crossbars of interwoven reed or wood strips, which shut out direct sunlight while letting in cool breezes. It was not sturdy enough to keep Ahaziah from falling to the ground below (for unexplained reasons).
3. (:2b) Weakness Drove Ahaziah to Baal Instead of to the Lord
“So he sent messengers and said to them, ‘Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.’”
William Barnes: This is one of the five Philistine cities, located on the border between Judah and Philistia (cf. Josh 13:3), thus some distance southwest of Samaria. Perhaps the unexpectedness of this location (Baal Zebul was worshiped particularly in the land of Phoenicia, northwest of Israel) was an attempt to confuse Elijah and his God (cf. the similar pattern, in a number of respects, found in 1 Kgs 14:1–18, which also involved the life-threatening illness of a royal personage and an analogous attempt to disguise the nature of the formal inquiry being made to the deity as to the likelihood of his recovery).
Dale Ralph Davis: We also meet a trenchant idolatry here. We must not think Ahaziah’s resort to Baal-zebub was simply a sudden act of desperation in a moment of weakness. Flip back your Bible page to 1 Kings 22:52–53, where the writer summarizes the policy of Ahaziah’s reign. ‘He served Baal and bowed down to him’ (v. 53). In verse 2 (of the present text) Ahaziah only displays the consistency of his ‘faith’. His appeal to Baal was not a knee-jerk reaction in a sudden emergency. Baal has always been Ahaziah’s deity of choice; he has had no place for Yahweh. His idolatry was due to preference, not to ignorance or weakness.
William Barnes: The Hebrew “name” for this god means “lord of the flies,” but this was not his original name or title! Presumably, the deity in question is a local manifestation of Baal Hadad, otherwise known in Phoenicia as Baal Zebul (“Baal the prince”). The Hebrew here thus employs the similar-sounding pejorative word zebub (“flies”) for the original epithet zebul (“prince”). This mocking substitution is also attested in the New Testament references to Satan as “Beelzeboul” and “Beelzebub” (cf. the NLT mg for Matt 10:25; 12:24; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15). A comparable phenomenon in the OT is the sarcastic pattern of substituting the term bosheth [TH1322, ZH1425] (shame) for Israelite names containing references to Baal. See, e.g., “Ishbosheth” for Esh-baal in 2 Sam 4:1 (cf. NLT mg); “Mephibosheth” for Merib-baal in 2 Sam 4:4 (cf. NLT mg); and “Jerub-besheth” for Jerub-baal (another name for Gideon) in 2 Sam 11:21 (cf. NLT mg).
Charles Swindoll: God is displeased with any occult involvement. God is dishonored by any specific pursuit of the future that does not find its source in His Word. But let me reassure you, God is delighted when we trust Him only. The Lord strengthens those who put their trust in Him.
B. (:3-4) Prophetic Intervention Condemns the Folly of Idolatry –
Is there no God in Israel?
1. (:3a) Messengers of Ahaziah Intercepted by Elijah
“But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, ‘Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria’”
Constable: The angel of the Lord here (v. 3) was perhaps the pre-incarnate Christ (Gen. 16:9; 1 Kings 19:7; 2 Kings 19:35; et al.).
August Konkel: The impact of the struggle in the narrative is achieved through the double meaning of the word “messenger” (malʾāk). This Hebrew word refers to both the “angel [of the Lord]” and to the “messengers [of the king]” (v. 3). God exercises his authority through the first messenger, while King Ahaziah can do nothing more than extend his power through military messengers. The divine messenger counters the first messengers of the king, subverting their quest. The king’s messengers in effect return with an oracle from Yahweh rather than Baal-Zebub (1:5–6).
2. (:3b) Misdirected Inquiry of Ahaziah
“and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’”
Dale Ralph Davis: Yahweh’s words are repeated three times (vv. 3, 6, 16)—clearly they highlight the central concern of the narrative. When Ahaziah sends to Philistia he implies Israel has no God; when he appeals to Baal-zebub he is implying that Yahweh is either non-existent or irrelevant and inadequate. (Is this not, in principle, the essence of all our idolatry? By taking first recourse to other helps and supports we subtly confess the inadequacy and insufficiency of Yahweh to handle our dilemmas.) So Yahweh’s intrusion is anything but affable and courteous. He sends Elijah to cut off and stifle the king’s godless expedition.
3. (:4a) Mortal Injury Prophecied
“Now therefore thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’ “
4. (:4b) Mission of Intervention Ended
“Then Elijah departed.”
C. (:5-8) Even Powerful Kings Cannot Escape Divine Accountability –
There is a God in Israel
1. (:5-6) Reporting to Ahaziah the Prophecy of His Death
“When the messengers returned to him he said to them, ‘Why have you returned?’ 6 And they said to him, ‘A man came up to meet us and said to us, Go, return to the king who sent you and say to him, Thus says the LORD, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but shall surely die.’”
Donald Wiseman: The swift return of the messengers assured the king that they had not had time to go to Ekron, about seventy-two kilometres from Samaria, and return, hence the question. God intervened yet again through his servant to keep the messengers from their destination, for if Ahaziah had obtained a verdict from Baal-Zebub it might have belittled Yahweh in the popular estimation. . .
If, however, Yahweh is severe, he is at the same moment merciful. His nasty interruption of Ahaziah’s mission is, if the king could only see, a last opportunity. Yahweh did not allow Ahaziah’s idolatry to proceed in peace but invaded his space and rubbed his face in the first commandment again. Again we see our uncomfortable God: Yahweh is furious, not tolerant; holy, not reassuring; loving, not nice. But there is love in his fury. He won’t let you walk the path to idolatry easily; his mercy litters the way with roadblocks. That is a wonder considering he so detests our idols.
Dilday: This official delegation from the king would certainly not have turned back from their royal assignment just because some anonymous wayfarer asked them to. There must have been an irresistible quality to Elijah’s personality, a forceful spiritual presence, that compelled them to obey this stranger even though they didn’t know who he was.
2. (:7-8) Revealing the Identity of the Prophet
“And he said to them, ‘What kind of man was he who came up to meet you and spoke these words to you?’ 8 And they answered him, ‘He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’”
MacArthur: Elijah wore a coarse wool garment girded at the waist with a leather belt.
Whitcomb: the king’s messengers were stopped en route by God’s war machine, equipped with nothing but a garment of hair and a leather girdle. This dress was a forceful rebuke of the sinful luxury of the aristocracy of Israel, and became such a symbol of prophetic power that false prophets would “wear a hairy mantle to deceive” (Zech. 13:4)! Speaking of Elijah’s later counterpart, John the Baptist, our Lord asked: “What went ye out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment?” (Matt. 11:8; cf. 3:4). But it was more than his rough garments and rugged visage that gave him power against Baal’s henchmen – it was special authority from God Himself.
Keil and Delitzsch: This does not mean a man with a luxuriant growth of hair, but refers to the hairy dress, i.e., the garment made of sheep-skin or goat-skin or coarse camel-hair, which was wrapped round his body; (2 Kings 2:8; 1 Kings 19:13), or (Zech. 13:4, cf. Matt. 3:4, Heb. 11:37), which was worn by the prophets, not as mere ascetics, but as preachers of repentance, the rough garment denoting the severity of the divine judgments upon the effeminate nation, which revelled in luxuriance and worldly lust. And this was also in keeping with “the leather girdle,” (Matt. 3:4), whereas the ordinary girdle was of cotton or linen, and often very costly.
II. (:9-16) DON’T FIGHT AGAINST GOD
A. (:9-10) First Delegation Sent by Ahaziah to Summon Elijah
1. (:9) Contempt for God’s Power and Truth
“Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him, and behold, he was sitting on the top of the hill. And he said to him, ‘O man of God, the king says, Come down.’”
Dale Ralph Davis: Do you send a fifty-man posse to procure a consultant? Some interpreters never understand this passage because they never consider Ahaziah’s intention. Ellison is right: ‘The fifty men were not intended to be a guard of honour! It was an open declaration of hostilities, and Elijah treated it as such.’ Ahaziah planned to silence the word of God through Elijah—probably by liquidating Elijah (cf. the implied danger to Elijah’s life in the angel of Yahweh’s words in v. 15). The king was not inviting Elijah to dinner. Why is this so hard to see? Here is an undefended prophet accosted by royal military muscle. The palace intends to use its police in order to dispose of the prophet.
Constable: Ahaziah showed complete contempt for God’s prophet and Yahweh, whom he represented, by sending soldiers to arrest Elijah. He apparently wanted to get a reversal of the prophecy against him and resorted to massive force to secure it.
Guzik: There were many reasons why Ahaziah wanted to arrest Elijah, even though he already heard the prophecy through Elijah. Perhaps he wanted Elijah to reverse his word of doom and would use force to compel him to do it. Perhaps he just wanted to show his rage against this prophet who had troubled him and his father Ahab for so long. Perhaps he wanted to dramatically silence Elijah to discourage future prophets from speaking boldly against the king of Israel. God assured Elijah that he had nothing to fear from Ahaziah.
2. (:10) Consuming Fire from God
“And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, ‘If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.’ Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.”
Donald Wiseman: Fire links Elijah with Moses again (Lev. 10:2; Num. 11:3) and should have reminded the king that God had already revealed himself and authenticated Elijah by that means (1 Kgs 18:38–39).
Constable: There is wordplay in the Hebrew text that is helpful in appreciating the dialog between Elijah and the first two captains. The first two captains commanded the “man of God” to “come down” (vv. 9, 11). Elijah replied, “If I am a man [Heb. ‘ish] of God, let fire [Heb. ‘sh] come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty” (vv. 10, 12). Sure enough, fire came down on them proving that Elijah was indeed a man of God.
Clarke: Some have blamed the prophet for destroying these men, by bringing down fire from heaven upon them. But they do not consider that it was no more possible for Elijah to bring down fire from heaven, than for them to do it. God alone could send the fire; and as he is just and good, he would not have destroyed these men had there not been a sufficient cause to justify the act.
B. (:11-12) Second Delegation Sent by Ahaziah to Summon Elijah
1. (:11) Contempt for God’s Power and Truth
“So he again sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said to him, ‘O man of God, thus says the king, Come down quickly.’”
2. (:12) Consuming Fire from God
“And Elijah answered and said to them, ‘If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.’ Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.”
Wiersbe: These two episodes of fiery judgment were dramatic messages from the Lord that the king and the nation had better repent or they would all taste the judgment of God. The people had forgotten the lessons of Mount Carmel, and these two judgments reminded them that the God of Israel was “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24 and 9:3; Heb. 12:29).
Keil and Delitzsch: The repetition of this judicial miracle was meant to show in the most striking manner not only the authority which rightfully belonged to the prophet, but also the help and protection which the Lord gave to His servants. At the same time, the question as to the “morality of the miracle,” about which some have had grave doubts, is not set at rest by the remark of Thenius, that “the soldiers who were sent come into consideration here purely as instruments of a will acting in opposition to Jehovah.”
C. (:13-16) Third Delegation Sent by Ahaziah to Summon Elijah
1. (:13-14) Conciliatory Approach
“So he again sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. When the third captain of fifty went up, he came and bowed down on his knees before Elijah, and begged him and said to him, ‘O man of God, please let my life and the lives of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight. 14 Behold fire came down from heaven, and consumed the first two captains of fifty with their fifties; but now let my life be precious in your sight.’”
Mordechai Cogan: After two unsuccessful attempts at ordering the prophet down from his mountain perch, during which two companies met a fiery death, a third officer is shown, on his knees, pleading for his life and the lives of his men. As in other narratives of this cycle, Elijah is portrayed as an uncompromising man of God, zealous in his demand for exclusive loyalty to YHWH and terrifying in his acts of retribution (cf. 1 Kgs 17:24).
Dale Ralph Davis: This third captain does not spout the previous arrogance (vv. 9, 11). He is different in his posture (‘and knelt on his knees before Elijah,’ v. 13b), in his purpose (‘and he made a plea for grace to him,’ v. 13c), and in his petition (‘O man of God, let my life and the life of these fifty servants of yours be valued in your eyes,’ v. 13d). The man was clearly terrified, for he fully knew what had happened to the former two contingents. In verse 14 he so much as says, ‘I know I am within a centimeter of destruction—please spare me.’ He knelt, he pled, he trembled—he lived.
August Konkel: The life of Ahaziah calls on the Israelites to make a choice. They can be the people of God and have life, or they can follow the ways of the nations and have death. Will the Israelites choose life in hearing the words of the prophets, or will they be like Ahaziah and seek to escape the divine word of judgment? For the authors of Kings, this power struggle between king and prophet is not a question of political control. Rather, it is a question of the survival of the nation itself. The appeal of the third captain makes this choice clear (1:14); the king is powerless before the messenger of Yahweh. He can do nothing more to save the nation than to save himself.
2. (:15) Courageous Confrontation
“And the angel of the LORD said to Elijah, ‘Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So he arose and went down with him to the king.’”
August Konkel: When the king gets his request to meet his nemesis Elijah face to face, the result is nothing more than a repetition of the inevitable oracle of doom. The repeated exchange of the messengers dramatizes the superior and dangerous power of God connected with the prophetic oracle. God emerges from his remote recess and takes control, first delivering his prophecy through the messengers of Ahaziah and then through Elijah. Each of Ahaziah’s actions moves him inexorably toward the judgment reserved for him because of his rejection of the God of the covenant.
Paul House: A third captain takes a very practical approach to bringing Elijah to Ahaziah. Rather than order him to come, as the previous two captains had done, he begs for his life and the lives of his men and confesses that he knows Elijah has the power to kill them all. This man understands that the prophet serves an authority other than the king and that he cannot manipulate the Lord’s messenger. Because of the captain’s humility and because God’s angel instructs him to go, Elijah goes to see the king.
3. (:16) Condemnation Repeated
“Then he said to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron– is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word?– therefore you shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but shall surely die.’”
III. (:17-18) EPILOGUE – SUMMATION OF AHAZIAH’S REIGN
A. (:17) End of Ahaziah’s Reign
“So Ahaziah died according to the word of the LORD
which Elijah had spoken.”
Donald Wiseman: The evaluation of Ahaziah’s reign has already been given (1 Kgs 22:52–53).
“And because he had no son, Jehoram became king in his place”
3. (:17c) Timing
“in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah.”
B. (:18) Recorded Deeds of Ahaziah
“Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah which he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?”