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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
The Reign Of Ahab King Of Israel c. 872-851 BC (16.29-22.40).
The reigns of the previous seven kings of Judah and Israel have been covered in a short space (15.1-16.28). The reign of Ahab will now take up almost the whole of the remainder of 1 Kings (from 16.29-22.40). This, however, was not due to the importance of Ahab politically, but occurs because he was in continual conflict with the prophets of YHWH. It was these conflicts which were considered important by the prophetic writer. His initial prolonged encounter was with Elijah the prophet (chapters 17-19, 21), he had dealings with an unnamed prophet (chapter 20) and he had dealings with Jehoshaphat, a righteous king of Judah, who caused him to have dealings with Micaiah, a third prophet. He was thus of note because of YHWH’s dealings with him, and especially because his wife Jezebel, sought to establish Baalism in the face of the efforts of Elijah and the other prophets to maintain the truth of pure Yahwism. It is describing a conflict for the soul of Israel.
The whole section can be summarised as follows:
A. Elijah flees and is fed by ravens indicating YHWH’s control of the living creation in the midst of famine (17.2-7).
B. Elijah is sustained by the miraculous provision of meal and oil indicating YHWH’s control over the inanimate creation in the midst of famine (17.8-16). |
C. Elijah raises the dead son of the widow to life indicating YHWH’s control over life and death in the midst of famine and death (17.17-24).
An Initial Summary Of The Reign Of Ahab (16.29-34).
The account of Ahab’s reign commences with an initial summary of his reign indicating its corruption in the eyes of YHWH. We can compare the initial summary that opened Solomon’s reign in 3.1-4. In this summary it is made clear that Ahab ‘did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH above all who were before him’, and this is expanded by reference not only to following in the sins of Jeroboam with his syncretistic Yahwism, but also to his willingness on behalf of his wife Jezebel to encourage the distinctive worship of Baal.
Note that in ‘a’ Ahab reigned over Israel, and in the parallel the depths to which his reign fell was that child sacrifices were offered in Israel. In ‘b’ he did evil in the sight of YHWH above all who went before him, and in the parallel he provoked YHWH to anger more than all the kings who were before him. Centrally in ‘c’ he instituted full Baal worship in Samaria.
16.29 ‘And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years.’
Ahab came to the throne in the thirty eighth year of Asa of Judah, and reigned over Israel in Samaria for twenty two years. The name Ahab means ‘brother-father’, or ‘Abba is my brother’. This may have been a throne name claiming close association with Baal, or with El (as father), chief of the Canaanite pantheon. The Assyrians called him ‘Ahab the Israelite’ (Ahabbu (mat) sir’ilaia).
16.30 ‘And Ahab the son of Omri did what was evil in the sight of YHWH above all who were before him.’
Ahab sank to a depth that none other had before him. The previous kings had bastardised Yahwism by making it syncretistic. Ahab, heavily under the influence of his wife Jezebel, sought to introduce pure Baalism and thus oust Yahwism altogether.
16.31 ‘And it came about, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.’
Ahab no longer followed the syncretism of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. He had married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal the king of the Sidonians (i.e. of Tyre), and under the influence of his wife sought to dispense with Yahwism altogether as far as the court were concerned, for he ‘went and served Baal and worshipped him’.
This was not just a contest about two different perceptions of the living God. It was a battle to decide whether men would look to the God of creation, who was concerned for men, and required them to walk righteously before Him, and called them to account when they fell short, or would look to the forces of nature, which they could manipulate and turn to their own advantage, while living as immorally as they liked. Baalism was a nature religion. Baal represented the source of storm and rain, and the crude openly sexual ‘worship’ was with a view to persuading him and his consort Asherah to make the land fruitful and supply plentiful rain. The people of Israel had cause to be aware of what the lack of rain did. Every hot summer everything around them would die, apart from what was artificially watered. But then the rains came and life sprang up everywhere. They saw in this the results of the activity of ‘the gods’. And their aim was to stimulate these gods (who they otherwise considered had little concern for them) into action by simulating their behaviour.
Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel was clearly a political one, sealing a treaty between Israel and Tyre, securing for Israel a market for their agricultural produce and their olive oil, and for Tyre the supply of these products on a permanent and lasting basis. But there is no doubt that Ahab was enamoured of his wife, and deeply influenced by her and her worship of Baal Melkart.
Ethbaal is probably a transliteration of ‘Itto-baal’ (Baal is alive) based on the cry to Baal , ‘Baal the Mighty is alive, the Prince, Lord of the earth exists’, which occurred each year when Baal was seen as coming back to life as the crops began to grow and the trees became fruitful. Eth-baal was king of Tyre and its surrounding area, taking for himself the ancient title ‘king of the Sidonians’, as Hiram II would later, and ruling for thirty two years (c.887-856 BC).
Jezebel was probably in Canaanite ’i-zebul (‘where is the Prince?’) with ‘zebul’ altered by the author or his source to ‘zebel’ (dung). This too arose from the cry to Baal, ‘Where is Baal the Mighty, where is the Prince (’i-zebul), Lord of the earth?’ as the worshippers sought to stir him back into life by their own sexual antics with cult prostitutes.
16.32 ‘And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.’
Indeed Ahab raised up an altar to Baal in a temple which he built for Baal in Samaria. This may have been as a temple for his wife to worship in but it would seem to many as though Baalism was now launched as the official religion of the king, and all those who wanted to please him served Baal. Samaria had become the centre for Baal worship, just as Jerusalem was the centre for YHWH worship. Ahab, however, continued also to recognise YHWH as is apparent from the names of his sons. He found himself on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand was Yahwism, his ancestral religion (as distorted by Jeroboam), of which he was king-priest as Jeroboam had been, and on the other was the influence of his wife (again it was the curse of foreign princesses as it had been with Solomon). Unlike Jezebel Ahab appears to have been torn between the two. The kingdom of Israel can therefore be seen as being split into three groups, with Ahab hovering between them, those who worshipped God truly under the guidance of the prophets, those who worshipped God in a half-hearted and diluted way in the sanctuaries set up by Jeroboam, and those who were whole-hearted for Baal. In fact we learn later that his wife Jezebel recognised this, and instituted a persecution of the prophets of YHWH, seeking to have them all put to death (18.13). Things were getting very serious.
This did not, of course, mean that the whole nation necessarily worshipped only Baal. A whole nation could not be persuaded to drop its old, deep-rooted traditions at the whim of a king and queen. Those who engaged in the syncretistic worship of YHWH outside of Samaria would continue to do so, and Jeroboam’s centres and high places would carry on as usual. What Jezebel was concerned about, and was attacking, was pure Yahwism, with its rejection of all other gods. For she recognised the potential that it had to destroy Baalism. As Elijah did she recognised that you could not really worship YHWH and Baal.
16.33 ‘And Ahab made the Asherah, and Ahab did yet more to provoke YHWH, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him.’
Ahab also made the Asherah-images, which were symbols of the goddess Asherah/Ashterah who was a consort to Baal, and these were set up along with the pillars and images of Baal. Thus Ahab provoked YHWH to righteous anger more than any other king before him.
16.34 ‘In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho. He laid its foundation with the loss of Abiram his first-born, and set up its gates with the loss of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.’
The depths to which things had fallen in Israel came out in that a man who wanted to rebuild Jericho felt that he could reverse Joshua’s curse by sacrificing his two sons, presumably to Baal, knowing that no one would do anything about it. Things were at a very low ebb.
In Joshua 7.26 Joshua gave this charge after the destruction of Jericho - “cursed be the man before YHWH who rises up and builds this city Jericho. With the loss of his firstborn will he lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son will he set up its gates.” It was on this basis that Hiel, probably stirred by religious fervour for Baal, behaved as he did. There are a number of theories about this. Some have argued that all it meant was that his sons died as a result of accidents during the building. But that is unlikely, simply because the curse was taken seriously, and no father would under those conditions have allowed his sons to be involved in the building of the city, and especially not after he lost the first. Besides the reason for mentioning the incident here was in order to bring out the depths to which Israel had sunk under Ahab.
It should be noted that Joshua’s purpose had not been to encourage such a situation (i.e. the sacrifice of two sons, which to him would have been an horrific thought). His aim had been to prevent the rebuilding of Jericho at all, and he had succeeded in that while the hill of Jericho had been at times inhabited, it had never again become a walled city.
The Rise And Credentials Of Elijah The Tishbite, The Prophet Of YHWH (17.1-18.2a).
Having surveyed the lives of eight kings after Jeroboam and Rehoboam (two in Judah, and six in Israel including Ahab) it is almost incredible to stop and consider that only one hundred years have passed since the death of David, when the kingdom of Israel/Judah was at the height of its power, and YHWH reigned supreme in the land, and only seventy six years since the completion of the Temple and Solomon’s palace complex. And now, while the southern kingdom of Judah had prospered in its worship of YHWH under Asa, in the northern kingdom the true followers of YHWH were being hunted to their deaths, and there remained only ‘seven thousand men’ who had not bowed the knee to Baal (many, of course having fled to the south). This was not so much the action of Ahab, who appears to have hovered between Baalism and Yahwism, as of a rampant Jezebel.
It was at this crisis point that God raised up a man of God who would to some extent turn the tide, and whose successor would even be consulted by kings. His name was Elijah, and he came from Transjordan where he had taken refuge with may worshippers of YHWH in Gilead (‘the sojourners of Gilead’).
Suddenly and unexpectedly he strode into the presence of the mighty Ahab, recognisable as a prophet by his garb, and declared to him without fear or favour that no rain would henceforth fall in Israel until he gave the word. This was a startling and most significant statement. Rain was seen by Baalism as the prerogative of Baal, god of rain and storm. Who then was this man who claimed that he could override Baal and prevent his activity? It was a challenge on a huge scale. Let Elijah be proved wrong, and Yahwism would be discredited.
But Elijah was not proved wrong, for Israel entered into a period of famine the like of which had not been seen for many a long day. The result was that Israel enjoyed neither Summer dew nor Autumn and Spring rains. Inevitably, having made such an announcement, Elijah had to go into hiding. Until his word proved true it could only sound like treason and blasphemy. And the punishment for such attitudes was death.
One outstanding emphasis in the passage is that of ‘the word of YHWH’ and its equivalent (seven times in the passage 17.2, 5, 8, 14, 16, 24; 18.1, and forty six times in the whole of Kings). Here especially, and throughout the book, YHWH is seen as acting in power through His word. The Creator, Who created by His word, stands in stark contrast to the feeble Baal who cannot resist His word.
Chapter 17.1-18.2a form a united narrative within an inclusio (17.1 and 18.1-2a), consisting of three vignettes, the first two illustrating how Elijah was sustained through the famine, and the third revealing his power to raise the dead. Such miracles as this occur only at times of great stress and unusual difficulty. Scripture does not see miracles like this as the norm. They occurred during the deliverance from Egypt. They will occur here while the faith of Israel is being dragged back from the brink. And they would occur again when God’s Son came into the world and his followers went out to win the world for Christ. Otherwise miracles are rare.
Note that in ‘a’ rain in Israel will be dependent on the word of Elijah as the representative of the living God of Israel, and in the parallel YHWH sends Elijah to declare to Ahab that the rains will come again. In ‘b’ Elijah’s life is restored daily by ravens, and in the parallel the life of the widow’s son is restored by Elijah. Centrally in ‘c’ Elijah, and the household with whom he was living, are sustained by God’s miraculous provision.
What then was the significance of these miracles, and why should the prophetic author have include them here?
Thus these miracles were a testimony to Baal’s helplessness and YHWH’s total sovereignty over event. But they only accomplished that because they happened.
17.1 ‘And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the sojourners of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As YHWH, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there will not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.’
As so often with the prophets of YHWH in Kings, Elijah (‘my God is YHWH’) suddenly strides unexpectedly onto the scene (compare 13.1), and by his appearance and declaration Baalism, with its emphasis on Baal the god of rain and storm, is blatantly revealed as powerless to stand against YHWH, the living God of Israel, and against His word through His representative Elijah. Elijah’s promise was that from this moment on, whatever Baal may do, there would be no dew or rain in Israel except at Elijah’s word. It was a direct challenge to Baal (which will be even more vividly portrayed in chapter 18) to demonstrate that he could counter YHWH’s ban, if indeed he could. The famine may well have already been in progress when Elijah appeared, with Elijah appearing in order to emphasise what the source of the famine was. It would continue on into ‘the third year’ (18.1).
While clearly aimed at the royal court, (also as a direct challenge), we must not see this judgment of famine as limited to them, for the people of Israel as a whole were mainly involved in seeking to ensure rain from Baal/YHWH by perverted sexual behaviour. They were all involved in sin against YHWH and were all therefore about to learn the folly of what they were doing. The withholding of rain is regularly depicted as pointing to the sin of those who suffer from it (8.35; Leviticus 26.4, 19-20; Deuteronomy 11.17; 28.23-24; Amos 4.7-8).
Note the emphasis of Elijah on the fact that this would be evidence that YHWH, the God of Israel, was a living God Who could act in situations as He wanted, and that he himself was the personal emissary and chosen servant of YHWH (‘before Whom I stand’). Note also that the dew here was almost as important as the regular rains. The dew in the hot summers formed a valuable source of moisture on the mountains. (Interestingly the dew is not mentioned in the warnings either of Leviticus or of Deuteronomy, although its contribution to the fruitfulness of the earth is described in Genesis 27.28, 39. Compare also Deuteronomy 32.2; 33.28; 2 Samuel 1.21).
Such a famine as is predicted here (had it been usual it would have demonstrated nothing) was a rare occurrence in Palestine. An even worse one had occurred while Joseph was Prime Minister of Egypt centuries before, which had caused Israel to seek refuge in Egypt, and a similar one had stirred up the conscience of Israel about the behaviour of Saul’s house towards the Gibeonites (that had been ‘three years, year after year’ - 2 Samuel 21.1). But this one was to be severe enough for it to be seen as warranting Elijah’s death, for we learn later that Ahab constantly had his spies out making a thorough search for Elijah so that he could put him to death (18.10). This was why God made provision for his safety in unusual ways.
Of course the famine’s worst effects would only be introduced slowly. Once the rains failed to come the seed that had been stored ready for planting would be carefully preserved, and would be used as it became necessary. While this would limit the stocks of grain available when the rains actually came (which themselves would be used when things became desperate) it would mean that people could survive, even though at a low level. Furthermore people who lived in such circumstances would know the water sources that were available and where water could be found in limited amounts once the need got to great, and they would be carefully preserving the water in their cysterns. They were experts at conserving water, and the animals would be allowed to die first. Thus it would only be as the famine entered its third year that things began to get really desperate. But recovery from such extensive famines could occur very speedily once the rains came.
Menander also records a severe famine around this time which he claimed lasted a year and affected Phoenicia under Ittobal of Tyre, but he may well have underestimated the famine (when after all does a famine start?), and the mountain ranges of Lebanon may also have ensured a shorter famine in that area.
Elijah would appear to have come from Tishbe in Gilead (Transjordan) and the description of him as a ‘sojourner in Gilead’ may suggest that he was there as a refugee from the persecution rampant west of the Jordan (compare Judges 17.7).
Elijah Is Fed By Ravens At The Brook Cherith (17.2-7).
Having made his public declaration Elijah was then advised by YHWH to go to the east of Jordan, to one of the wadis that fed the Jordan, where he was promised that he would be fed by ‘rbm. Pointed as ‘orebim this would indicate ‘ravens/crows’. Pointed as ‘arabim it would indicate wandering Arabs. (The original text had no pointing). In a time of drought the Arabs would have dying cattle from which they could supply meat to Elijah, and for that reason they would not want to move far from water, which would explain why they hung around the Jordan at this time. However, in a similar way, scavenger birds would have more carcases available from which they could bring meat to Elijah, and this appears the more likely meaning as it illustrated the author’s desire to portray the power of the God of creation in making His creatures do His will. Others, however, point out that by taking it as ‘Arabs’ we have (together with the widow of Zarephath) two parallel examples of God providing for His servant through ‘foreigners’, when his own people had turned against him (but had Jesus seen it in this way, surely he would have included it as an example in Luke 4.25). It makes little difference in the end. The point was that the power of YHWH would ensure that he was provided for.
Note that in ‘a’ Elijah was sent to the Wadi Cherith were he would have a supply of water, and in the parallel the Wadi dried up and he had to move on. In ‘b’ the ravens would feed him there, and in the parallel the ravens did feed him there. Centrally in ‘c’ Elijah obeyed the word of YHWH.
17.2-3 ‘And the word of YHWH came to him, saying, “Get yourself away from here, and turn yourself eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is before the Jordan” ’
As a prophet Elijah then received the word of YHWH which told him to leave Samaria and go to the Wadi Cherith, east of Jordan (or overlooking the Jordan) to a deserted spot where he could find a hiding place where Ahab’s men could not find him.
17.4 “And it shall be, that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”
There he would be able to drink water from the Wadi, regularly refreshing himself, and he was promised that YHWH would send the ravens (or wandering Arabs) to feed him. This is not strictly comparable with Exodus 16, although it similarly indicates that YHWH can feed His people how He wills.
17.5 ‘So he went and did according to the word of YHWH, for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, which is before the Jordan.’
Unlike Israel Elijah obeyed the word of YHWH. He went and dwelt by the Wadi Cherith by the Jordan, was fed and was content.
17.6 ‘And the ravens brought him food and flesh in the morning, and food and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the brook.’
And there he received food and flesh which was brought to him by large scavenger birds (or wandering Arabs) both morning and evening. If we wish to rationalise we should consider that there would be so many dead beasts around, due to the drought, that the scavenging birds would be collecting larger amounts of food than normal and may well have dropped some by Elijah as they flew by or even have come to rest nearby. Presumably it was as popular site for ravens. Thus YHWH may well have used this natural situation in order to feed Elijah. Palestinian ravens could be sixty five centimetres (two feet) long and only scavenged for meat that was comparatively fresh. They would thus carry reasonably sized pieces of comparatively fresh meat which would be edible to human beings.
17.7 ‘And it came about after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.’
But inevitably after a while as a result of the lack of rain the Wadi began to dry up. Elijah would now have to look elsewhere for water.
YHWH Makes Provision For Elijah With A Widow Of Zarephath (17.8-16).
The water in the Wadi Cherith having almost dried up, God now directed Elijah to go to Zarephath, where He would arrange for a widow woman to provide his need. Zarephath was on the Lebanese coast road between Tyre and Sidon, thirteen kilometres (nine miles) south of Sidon. It was mentioned in the 13th century BC papyrus Anastasi 1. It was also mentioned by Sennacherib and Esarhaddon.
To this Phoenician town Elijah made his way, and was provided for even more miraculously than at the Wadi Cherith. God was making clear to him that He could provide all that he needed under all circumstances. Although Baal could not produce grain and oil for his worshippers from the fields, the living God was able to supply both abundantly from a small jar.
This remarkable incident regularly causes much scepticism today among those who close their eyes and then say, ‘I cannot see’. But there are in fact well authenticated parallels of similar occurrences having happened in the present day, for those who have eyes to see.
Note that in ‘a’ God sent Elijah to a widow who would provide for his needs, and in the parallel his needs were miraculously provided. In ‘b’ he called on the woman to give him a drink and in the parallel she did so. In ‘c’ he called on her for bread in time of great famine, and in the parallel she was assured that on doing what he had asked she would never go without bread. Centrally in ‘d’ the awful situation was pinpointed, that he had come to a family who were starving to death.
17.8-9 ‘And the word of YHWH came to him, saying, “Arise, get you to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Look, I have commanded a widow there to sustain you.” ’
Once more, by the Wadi Cherith, Elijah received ‘the word of YHWH’. He lived his life constantly listening for that word. And this time God told him to go to Zarephath, a town of Sidon, outside Ahab’s territory, where he would be provided for by a widow woman who had a son. There in Phoenicia was a true believer in YHWH who was obedient to his will, in total contrast to the proud king of Israel.
17.10 ‘So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks, and he called to her, and said, “Fetch me, I pray you, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” ’
So Elijah, in obedience to YHWH’s word, went to Zarephath as YHWH had commanded him. It was a long and weary journey, with limited sustenance and very little water along the way, but he did not hesitate for a moment. God had spoken and he would do it. And when he approached the city gate he came across a woman who was gathering sticks. The woman was a widow. Calling to her, he asked, “Fetch me, please, some water in a cup, so that I might drink.’
In normal circumstances this would simply have been the request of a stranger needing help, which had to be fulfilled in accordance with the laws of hospitality. But all knew that these were not normal circumstances. It was a time when every bit of drinking water was precious, and she had to consider the needs of her own family. Water was running out, and no one was sure where the next cupful was coming from. But she recognised from his clothing that he was a prophet of YHWH, and so because of her love for God, she heeded his request. She may well have been an Israelite woman sojourning in Sidon.
17.11 ‘And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, “Bring me, I pray you, a morsel of bread in your hand.” ’
Realising from her quick response that this must be the woman that YHWH had told him about, Elijah then called after her, “And also please bring me a piece of bread at the same time”. It was a bold request for he knew that bread was in short supply due to the famine. But Elijah recognised that if this was the woman chosen by YHWH as his helper he should find out straight away.
17.12 ‘And she said, “As YHWH your God lives, I have not a cake of bread, but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the cruse, and, see, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” ’
The woman’s reply confirmed the heartbreaking situation. She had no bread, only a small handful of grain and a small vessel of oil that she had been eking out, as she hoped and prayed that the famine might end. For many weeks now they had lived on limited supplies, and had gone continually hungry. But now she had reached the end of her supplies and was gathering sticks in order to have one last meal before she and her beloved son simply waited until they died of hunger. This would, of course, have been a situation multiplied a thousand times across the land. The people were undoubtedly suffering severely, and as so often happens the believers were suffering along with those who deserved their suffering because of their sinfulness. We should note, however, that for the large majority their suffering had not brought them to repentance. Had they done so God would have heard them. But their hearts were still hardened. They would still take heed to the prophets of Baal.
Note her mention of ‘two sticks’. She meant, of course, ‘a few sticks’. But this was how number words were often used in those days, not to indicate a particular quantity, but in order to give the right impression. Most people did not think numerically.
17.13 ‘And Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid, go and do as you have said, but make me from it a little cake of bread first, and bring it forth to me, and afterwards make for yourself and for your son. For thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, The jar of meal will not waste, nor will the cruse of oil fail, until the day that YHWH sends rain upon the earth.”
Elijah then assured her that she need not be afraid. If only she would make him some bread, then she could make some bread for herself and her son, and then in accordance with the word of YHWH, the God of Israel, the meal would never run short in the vessel, and the oil would never run short in the jar, until the day that YHWH once again sent rain on the earth.
Note the emphasis on the fact that YHWH was the God of Israel. She had to know that what was coming would not be from the gods of Tyre and Sidon, but would be from the living God.
17.15 ‘And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah, and she, and he, and her house, did eat for many days.’
The woman obediently did what Elijah had asked, and the result was that she and her household fed well for many days. That was one household no longer worrying about the famine, because YHWH’s representative was there.
17.16 ‘The jar of meal wasted not, nor did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke by Elijah.’
And as Elijah had promised, the vessel of meal and the jar of oil did not become empty all the while that the famine lasted. For God has promised His own that, ‘My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4.19).
Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who hid Jews during the second world war, tells of how she and her sister were hauled off to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp when their activities were discovered. They had no idea of the horrors that lay ahead, (nor how long they would last), but because her sister was infirm she managed to secrete into that camp of horror a small bottle of liquid containing vital vitamins. From this bottle she daily gave her sister a small amount, hoping to eke it out as long as possible so that it might help her to survive. But one day another sickly inmate spotted what she was doing and asked what was in the bottle. On learning that it was vitamin supplement she asked if she might have some. Corrie hesitated. There was so little and her sister was dependent on it. But then recognising as a Christian that she could not turn from someone in need she gave her a small amount from the bottle. Soon the news inevitably spread among desperate women and it was not long before every day there were a queue of women wanting vitamins. Corrie said that as she dispensed it she never dared to look into the bottle. It should have run out long before. But day by day and week by week the women came, and the bottle never ran out. And this went on until by chance another continuing source of vitamins became available. And then the bottle ran out. Furthermore this was not something done in private. It was witnessed by a good number of people.
Elijah Raises The Widow’s Son To Life (17.17-24).
In this final miracle God reveals His power of life and death. Sadly many people would have been dying in the area at the time because of the famine, and, when many are dying, death becomes almost accepted as inevitable. The incident brings out that in the midst of those scenes of death YHWH demonstrated that He was present as the Lord of life on behalf of those who looked to His prophets. The lesson is clear. Had they but trusted in YHWH and the words of His prophets, not one of them need have died. While Baal was proving helpless, YHWH was dispensing life. To those with eyes to see the contrast was clear.
Note that in ‘a’ the son was dead and had breathed his last, and in the parallel the son lived and breathed again, confirming that Elijah was a man of God. In ‘b’ the woman accused Elijah ‘as a man of God’ and as having slain her son, and in the parallel YHWH listened to his voice (because he was a man of God) and the child revived. In ‘c’ Elijah carried the son up into the room where he was living, and in the parallel, he lay on the son’s body in his room and called on YHWH to give him back his life that he might live again. Centrally in ‘d’ he sought understanding from God as to why this had happened.
17.17 ‘And it came about after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick, and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him.’
Some time after Elijah had moved into the house, the widow’s son became ill and died. Note the threefold emphasis on the seriousness of what had happened, he ‘fell sick -- his sickness was sore - no breath was left in him.’ The intention is clearly to indicate illness that had resulted in death (only modern man seeks to analyse the situation so as to demonstrate that the breath leaving a body does not mean that it has died).
17.18 ‘And she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O you man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son!” ’
The widow knew that her son was dead and felt that this had happened because of the presence of Elijah. (How quickly we forget our blessings. She had already forgotten that it was because of Elijah’s presence that they were still alive). As she clung to her son’s body she was convinced that it was because she was so sinful that, as a result of the presence of this holy prophet of YHWH who had highlighted her sinfulness, YHWH had taken note of it and had brought this death on her son as a punishment. (Compare Peter’s ‘depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ He too was afraid of being in the presence of someone who had been revealed as being so holy).
17.19 ‘And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the chamber, where he was living, and laid him on his own bed.’
Elijah’s response was to ask her to release her son’s body, and he then carried him up to the ‘room’ in which he himself was living and laid him on his own bed. In view of the widow’s poverty this ‘room’ was probably a make-shift shelter on the flat roof of the house, reached by steps up the outside of the house. Such shelters were often used to house guests as they also enabled the family to have some privacy. In this case it also removed any suggestion of impropriety as a result of Elijah’s presence in the widow’s house.
17.20 ‘And he cried to YHWH, and said, “O YHWH my God, have you also brought evil on the widow with whom I am staying, by slaying her son?” ’
Then he called on YHWH and asked him if there was any good reason why He had brought this natural ‘evil’ (disaster) on the widow through ‘slaying her son’. While ‘moth’ can sometimes be used metaphorically there is absolutely no reason for seeing that as applying here. The thought was that her son was dead as a result of the activity of YHWH.
17.21 ‘And he stretched himself on the child three times, and cried to YHWH, and said, “O YHWH my God, I pray you, let this child’s life come into him again.” ’
Presumably he was satisfied with the reply that he received from YHWH, for he then stretched himself three times on the young man and cried to ‘YHWH his God’ to let the young man live again. His aim may well have been with the hope of ‘life’ flowing from him to the young man because he himself was filled with the Spirit of YHWH. He would not know the mechanics of God’s working (compare how Jesus knew that power had gone out of Him when He healed the woman with the issue of blood - Mark 5.30). But he was looking to YHWH, not to magic, and submitted himself to YHWH’s will. Note that in his view the young man’s ‘life’ had left him, and needed to return again.
17.22 ‘And YHWH listened to the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.’
And YHWH did as he asked. Note the three-fold steps. He listened to Elijah’s voice, and the young man’s life returned to him, and he came back to life. YHWH had raised him from the dead in a complete act of restoration as a result of Elijah’s prayer.
17.23 ‘And Elijah took the child, and brought him down out of the chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother, and Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” ’
Elijah then took the young man down the outside stairs, and entered the house and presented him to his mother, declaring, ‘See, your son lives.’ This was in huge contrast to what was happening to many people in the midst of the extreme famine. While the famine was taking lives, and Baal and Moth were simply standing by and allowing it to happen, with Baal powerless to do anything about it, YHWH was giving life.
17.24 ‘And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of YHWH in your mouth is truth.” ’
The woman was astounded. She knew that her son had been dead. And now here he was alive. In an awed tone she declared, “Now I know in actual experience that you really are a ‘man of God’ (a genuine prophet of YHWH), and that the word of YHWH in your mouth is truth.” She had, of course, already known that he was a prophet. But she also knew that even the most persuasive prophets could turn out to be false (although not usually if they fed people miraculously). What he had done before was convincing. This, however, demonstrated beyond all doubt that Elijah was a true prophet of YHWH. Now it was indisputable. (This message was not only for Elijah. The author wanted it to come home to his readers and hearers).
YHWH Determines To Bring The Famine To An End (18.1-2a).
18.1-2a ‘And it came about after many days, that the word of YHWH came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth. And Elijah went to show himself to Ahab.” ’
Many days having passed, indeed it had reached ‘the third year’, the word of YHWH again came to Elijah. And this time it was with instructions that he make himself known to Ahab because YHWH was about to send rain on the earth once again. And Elijah obediently went to do what YHWH had bidden him, to show himself to Ahab (the man who according to Obadiah was desperately looking for him in order to kill him). This too required an act of faith.
The third year of famine indicated that two years of famine had previously passed, and the third was now in process. Indeed anything less would not have been a sign to Israel. They would have experienced occasional years before when the rains had been slight or had not come. That was no sign. It was the prolonged period of famine that made people recognise that this was unusual.
But before YHWH would once again send the rain something else had yet to happen, a final challenge laid down to Baal that he make it rain, and that he prove that he was the god of storm and lightning by setting fire to a sacrifice being offered on his altar. Once he had done that, then they could believe on him.
The King’s Search For Water In Israel Results In Elijah’s Meeting With King Ahab And The Gathering Of All Israel to Mount Carmel (18.2b-20).
The shortage of water had grown so desperate in Israel that King Ahab himself had initiated a large-scale search for water, in which he himself had been in charge of one of the search parties, while his Prime Minister Obadiah was on charge of the other. It was to Obadiah that Elijah appeared, and he called on him to bring Ahab to see him. Not the three times repeated, ‘Go tell your lord, Behold Elijah!’ If Ahab wanted to meet him, so be it. He was ready to meet him.
But it appeared that King Ahab had been searching everywhere for Elijah with no good intention in mind, and Obadiah, who was a true worshipper of YHWH, feared that if he told King Ahab about Elijah, and then Elijah could not be found, he himself would be put to death. Elijah, however, assured him that Ahab would find him, and when he did finally meet up with Ahab he called on him to gather all the prophets of Baal and all the people, to an assembly at the sanctuary on Mount Carmel.
Note that in ‘a’ Obadiah had gathered the prophets of YHWH into a cave in order to save them, and in the parallel Ahab was to gather the propets of Baal on Mount Carmel in order that Elijah might test them. In ‘b’ the animals and people are dying of thirst while in the parallel the false prophets are feasting at Jezebel’s table. In ‘c’ King Ahab and Obadiah, his chancellor, search the stricken land for water, and in the parallel the rason for the drought is described in that King Ahab has forsaken the commands of YHWH and has followed the images of Baal. In ‘d’ Obadiah asks, ‘Is it you my lord, Elijah?’, and in the parallel Kinh Ahab asks, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israe?’. In ‘e’ Obadiah is to tell King Ahab ‘Behold Elijah (is here)’, and in the parallel Obadiah told Ahab. In ‘f’ Obadiah describes what a dangerous position that would put him in and Ahab’s desperate search for Elijah, and in the parallel he asks whether he really wants him to be executed, which is what would happen of he told him about Elijah, and then Elijah was not there. Centrally in ‘g’ Obadiah reveals the mystique that has gathered around Elijah in all the people’s minds.
18.2b-4 ‘And the famine was sore in Samaria. And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared YHWH greatly, for it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of YHWH, that Obadiah took a hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water).’
Meanwhile the famine was very severe in and around Samaria, with the result that many of the king’s domestic animals were in danger of dying of thirst. So Ahab called for his Prime Minister Obadiah in order to institute a search for water. It is at this point that we learn that Obadiah was in fact a true worshipper of YHWH, and had actually save a hundred prophets of YHWH from Queen Jezebel who had been carrying out a purge against them, by hiding them in a cave and providing them with food and water. We have here a reminder that Israel’s apostasy was not total. There were yet many who preached the truth to the people, even though in danger of their lives.
This was probably the action of a vindictive queen rather than an official attempt to suppress Yahwism, and the prophets may well have been denouncing Jezebel, arousing her anger. Ahab himself is always depicted as swaying between Yahwism and Baal, and he would probably still be acting as king priest at the feasts professedly held to YHWH at the two main sanctuaries of Bethel and Dan. As we have already been told he followed in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, but had added to his sins by allowing his wife to encourage the full-scale worship of Baal.
18.5 ‘And Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land, to all the fountains of water, and to all the brooks. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, so that we do not lose all the beasts” ’
So King Ahab called on Obadiah to assist him in his search for water. They were to search out the springs and the wadis to find any that still contained water. His rather vain hope was to find grass and water so as to save at least some of the king’s domestic animals. His special fear was probably the thought of losing his large number of chariot horses (he would put two thousand chariots in the field against Shalmaneser III of Assyria).
The personal presence of Ahab and Obadiah would be necessary so that if water and grass were found it could be appropriated in the king’s name and under his seal, however much anguish it might cause to the local inhabitants.
18.6 ‘ So they divided the land between them to pass throughout it. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself.’
Accordingly each took a section of the land and Ahab and his search party went one way, and Obadiah with another search party, went another. And the aim would be to find any grass or source of water that could be used to keep alive the king’s domestic animals. It was a desperate measure in a desperate situation and indicated how bad things had become. ‘By himself’ indicates that Ahab was not with him, not that he did not have assistants in his search. Both would have large search parties.
18.7 ‘And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him, and he knew him, and fell on his face, and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?” ’
Here we have another of the dramatic appearances of Elijah out of ‘nowhere’ (compare 17.1). As Obadiah went on his way Elijah appeared before him, and Obadiah immediately recognised him and fell on his face, and cried, ‘Is it you, my lord Elijah?’ This deference from the second person in the land is a reminder of the high esteem in which Elijah was held by many in the land as a true prophet of God, and especially so to a man like Obadiah who was himself a true servant of YHWH.
Obadiah would have been present when Elijah had first appeared to Ahab (17.1), and he was not a person easily forgotten.
18.8 ‘And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah.” ’
Elijah replied that it was indeed he. Then he cried, ‘Go tell your lord, Behold Elijah.’ It was an indication that Elijah wanted to meet Ahab. This cry, ‘Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah’, appears three times in the narrative indicating Elijah’s firm intention. It also draws attention to his divine authority in that he could summon a king in such a way.
18.9 ‘And he said, “In what have I sinned, that you would deliver your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?” ’
But Obadiah was concerned. He did not want to go to Ahab with the news that Elijah was there, only for Ahab to discover when he came that Elijah had vanished. Such a situation would not bode well for the bearer of the news. And he asked Elijah why he was treating him like this. What sin had he committed that Elijah should put him in such a dangerous position? His fear reflected the despotism that had developed in Israel’s kingship so that even the highest servant in the land was not immune. But it also illustrated how intensely Ahab felt about Elijah.
18.10 “As YHWH your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom, where my lord has not sent to seek you. And when they said, ‘He is not here,’ he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they had not found you.”
For he pointed out that King Ahab had been searching everywhere for Elijah with the intention of doing him harm, and that he had done it with special intensity. Thus he would not treat gently anyone who told him where to find Elijah, only for him to discover that Elijah was not there. Note the ‘your God.’ Even as a believer Obadiah recognised that Elijah has a unique relationship with God.
18.11 “And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah.’ ”
And now Elijah was sending him to make his announcement to Ahab. But how did he know that if he did so Elijah would be found?
18.12a “And it will come about, as soon as I am gone from you, that the Spirit of YHWH will carry you where I know not, and so when I come and tell Ahab, and he cannot find you, he will kill me.”
For such was Elijah’s reputation that he feared that as soon as he had left Elijah the Spirit of YHWH would whisk him off somewhere, so that when Ahab came to seek him, Elijah would have gone, and the messenger who had brought the news would suffer accordingly. It may well be that Obadiah knew of cases where this had happened.
(This may suggest that all kinds of rumours had built up when Elijah had been unable to be found anywhere. Surely, the people were saying, it could only be because YHWH Himself kept removing him away out of sight by His Spirit. An aura was clearly growing up around Elijah, The author wants us to compare the facts as he has revealed them with these wild suppositions, although in a way, of course, it was true. YHWH had taken Elijah to places where he could not be found. But not quite so spectacularly. It is man who glories in the spectacular).
18.12b “But I your servant fear YHWH from my youth. Was it not told my lord what I did when Jezebel slew the prophets of YHWH, how I hid a hundred men of YHWH’s prophets by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, Behold, Elijah,’ and he will kill me.”
He asked Elijah to consider the fact that he himself was a true worshipper of YHWH and had been from his youth, and reminded him of how he had saved a hundred prophets of YHWH by hiding them in a number of caves (with which Israel was plentifully supplied). And now Elijah was asking him to take a message which could put him in jeopardy of his life.
18.15 ‘And Elijah said, “As YHWH of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.”
But Elijah assured him that he need not fear, for as truly as YHWH was the living God, and he was His servant who stood before Him (as Obadiah did before Ahab) he would show himself to Ahab that very day.
The title ‘YHWH of hosts’ occurs regularly in Samuel (see especially 1 Samuel 17.45, but compare also Joshua 5.14 where the idea is clearly in mind). It probably came to prominence in the wars with the Philistines, as Israel sought to bolster up their faith in YHWH as their Deliverer. The Philistines were mighty, but with YHWH’s assistance YHWH’s hosts were mightier. By Elijah’s time those hosts included all the hosts of Heaven (2 Kings 2.10-11; 6.17), and probably creation itself (Genesis 2.1). But the main point is to emphasise that YHWH of hosts, the God of the confederation of Israel from of old, is on his side.
18.16 ‘So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah.’
We are not told whether Elijah took any special safety precautions by standing on some inaccessible crag, or something similar. The details are not given. But when Ahab saw Elijah he cried out, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” All Ahab’s efforts to find Elijah, together with his words here, indicate that underneath, in his heart. Ahab knew that it really was Elijah and YHWH who were responsible for the famine. Otherwise why be so concerned about them? But it is an indication of the folly and hardness of men’s hearts that he did not repent, or consider changing his ways. Sinful man is always illogical in his dealings with God. This was in total contrast with David who always responded to such things by seeking God (2 Samuel 21.1)
18.18 ‘And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you, and your father’s house, in that you have forsaken the commandments of YHWH, and you have followed the Baalim.” ’
For as Elijah then pointed out, it was not he who was troubling (bringing disaster on - compare Genesis 34.30; Joshua 6.18; 7.25) Israel but Ahab. It was because Ahab and his father’s house had forsaken the commandments of YHWH and were following ‘the baalim’ (a deliberately contemptuous reminder of the plurality and insignificance of Baal images) that this disaster had come on Israel. There was no one apart from Ahab and the people themselves to blame.
18.19 “Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel to mount Carmel, and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
He then called on Ahab to bring to Elijah on Mount Carmel ‘all Israel’ (the assembly of Israel), together with the numerous prophets of Baal and Asherah who were being fed at Jezebel’s table. This may well have been for a recognised festival which was regularly held there, for it is apparent later that both sides saw Mount Carmel as possessing a sanctuary.
We are reminded here that all nations and religions had their ‘prophets’ who claimed to be inspired by their gods, often going into a state of ecstasy (verse 28), although until the time of Ezekiel the outstanding true prophets of YHWH are presented as remarkably free from such ecstasy (contrast the ecstasy of the false prophet Zedekiah with the reasoned approach of Micaiah in 22.11-28). We should note, however, 1 Samuel 10.5, although their ecstasy was seen as the true work of the Spirit. However, as Deuteronomy 18.21-22 has pointed out, the test was as to whether what they proclaimed came true. Israel too had its share of false prophets (22.11, 24). But it also had bands of genuine prophets who held firmly to the truth of YHWH.
18.20 ‘So Ahab sent to all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together to mount Carmel.’
It is an indication of the awe in which King Ahab held Elijah that he did as he had bid him. The summons went out to all Israel to gather at the sanctuary on Mount Carmel, and all the prophets of Baal were commanded to be there. It was a further indication that in his heart he knew that Elijah could do something about the drought.
In what follows we gather that there was at Mount Carmel, a long mountain ridge stretching out into the sea, divided by many ravines, a true sanctuary dedicated to YHWH which had been allowed to fall into disuse. There was also there a sanctuary and altar of Baal which were flourishing, no doubt encouraged by Jezebel. Mount Carmel with its periodic rains and storms, which regularly included lightning, together with its abundant fruitfulness, would be very suitable as a site for Baal worship. (The lightning dancing around the hills is a spectacular feature of life in Palestine). It may have been partly this contrast in the sanctuaries that made Elijah choose Mount Carmel, for it was his purpose to illustrate the revival of Yahwism, and this site on the borders of Israel and Phoenicia, revered by all, was a good place to do it. There is also a good possibility that it was because he knew that the true prophets of YHWH were hiding in the caves there.
The Contest On Mount Carmel: YHWH Versus Baal (18.21-40).
In this vivid description of the contest on Mount Carmel Ahab is deliberately not mentioned. This was because it was not a contest between Elijah and Ahab, but between YHWH, represented by Elijah, and Baal, represented by his four hundred and fifty prophets. All eyes were to be on the combatants. And it was carried out before all the people so that they could come to their own conclusions. It would end in a complete victory for YHWH by a knockout.
Mount Carmel was probably chosen because it was a high eminence (600 metres, 2000 feet) which was on the borders of Israel and Phoenicia, and thus a very suitable place for a contest between the God of Israel and the Tyrian Baal, while also being chosen because it was a site revered by both where there were recognised sanctuaries.
The contest was dramatic. Each side would prepare an offering for sacrifice, but no fire would be lit under it. Then each side would call on their respective deity to consume the offering by fire from Heaven. Elijah gave the false prophets every opportunity. They had the choice of which bullock they would sacrifice, and as they had the largest number of prophets, they were given as much time as they wanted. They could hardly complain that they had had a raw deal. Then the God Who answered by fire (that is, by lightning that consumed the sacrifice, which was the supposed forte of Baal as the god of storm and lightning) would be established as the true God. The idea of fire coming down from Heaven to consume the sacrifice was taken by Elijah from Leviticus 9.24, where again it was before an assembled crowd. It was thus seen by him as a sign typical of the God of Israel.
It should be noted that Elijah linked the sacrifice that he was about to offer with the period of drought by drenching the sacrifice with water so that the offering would also be a plea for rain, in order that the crowds may know where the coming rain came from. Such a pouring out of water, especially at the feast of Tabernacles (although not there on the offerings) represented a plea for rain. Compare how Samuel poured out water before YHWH, something which resulted in a great storm (1 Samuel 7.6, 10). By this water offering the crowds would recognise that Elijah was including in his sacrifice an appeal for rain.
Note that in ‘a’ Elijah points to the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal about whom a decision has to be made, and in the parallel he arranges for their deaths at the Brook Kishon. In ‘b’ the test by which the prophets will be judged is described, and in the parallel, having failed it, not one of them is to be allowed to escape. In ‘c’ the contest will determine Who is truly God, and in the parallel the people declare that YHWH is truly God. In ‘d’ the vain efforts of the prophets of Baal are described, and in the parallel the successful prayer of Elijah. In ‘e’ Elijah mocks the prophets because they pray unavailingly all day and receive no answer from Baal, and in the parallel he prays once at the time of the evening sacrifice with a confident prayer that will produce the required result. In ‘f’ they cried aloud and gashed themselves so that their blood flowed like water, and in the parallel Elijah drenches the sacrifice with water. In ‘g’ repeated efforts to obtain an answer are made by the false prophets, and in the parallel Elijah deliberately makes it repeatedly more difficult for him to obtain an answer. In ‘h’ Elijah calls on the crowd to come near, and in the parallel he calls on them to drench his sacrifice with water. Centrally in ‘i’ Elijah repaired the altar of YHWH which was broken down which represented the word of YHWH to Israel.
18.21 ‘And Elijah came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping between the two sides? If YHWH is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.’
Elijah commenced the contest by a direct challenge to the people, vividly depicting them as limping along spiritually as they looked in indecision first to one side and then to the other. Now, he proclaimed, it was time for them to make a final choice between YHWH and Baal. “If YHWH is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” The people hung their heads and had nothing to say.
18.22 ‘Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of YHWH, but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men.” ’
Elijah then summed up the two sets of contestants. On one side stood Elijah, alone. Jezebel had got rid of the other prophets of YHWH (or thought that she had) and he alone was left as a result of God’s mercy. On the other side were four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. It appeared to be no contest. But that is to forget that one with God is a majority.
18.23-24 “Let them therefore give us two bullocks, and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under, and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under. And you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of YHWH, and the God who answers by fire, let him be God.” And all the people answered and said, “It is well spoken.”
He then laid down the terms of the contest. Each side would have a bullock, and the prophets of Baal could even choose which bullock they had. Then they were to cut it in pieces and lay the pieces on the wood which was on their altar. But no fire was to come near it. And he would do the same. After that they were to call on the name of ‘their god’ and he would call on the Name of YHWH. And the God Who answered by fire would be seen as the true God. In the eyes of the watchers it would appear that all the odds were on the side of the prophets of Baal, for Baal was the god of storm and lightning. If YHWH won therefore it would be conclusive. It would prove that the God of Sinai and of Moses was truly among them (Leviticus 9.24). The people heartily agreed with the idea and said that it was well spoken.
18.25 ‘And Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You choose one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first, for you are many, and call on the name of your god, but put no fire under.”
Elijah then turned to the prophets of Baal and called on them to go first because they were many. He wanted them to have as much time as they wanted. He knew perfectly well that what he was asking of them was impossible, for there was no one who would hear their cries. Then they were to prepare their sacrifice, but without putting fire under it, and pray as much as they liked. The more they prayed, the more futile their prayers would appear.
18.26 ‘And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, “O Baal, hear us.” But there was no voice, nor any who answered. And they leaped about the altar which was made.’
So the prophets of Baal took the bullock that had been given to them and dressed it, and called on Baal from morning until noon. Hour by hour they called, but in spite of the hot sun there was no response. And they performed ceremonial dances around the altar as they waited for Baal to answer.
18.27 ‘And it came about at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” ’
When noon came with no response Elijah began to jeer. He wanted the crowds to recognise how helpless these prophets were. So he called on them, if they really thought that Baal was a god, to shout louder. Perhaps he was musing, or relieving himself, or on a journey, or sleeping. The crowds would be aware that these things were never true of YHWH. He neither slumbered nor slept.
18.28 ‘And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them.’
So the prophets of Baal got even more worked up. They were getting desperate. They cried out aloud, and they gashed themselves so that the blood would run out and as a result of their obvious suffering on his behalf stir Baal into action (a practise witnessed to at Ugarit). But none of it worked. There was no response.
18.29 ‘And it was so, when midday was past, that they prophesied frantically (or ‘ranted and raved’) until the time of the offering of the evening oblation, but there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any who regarded.’
Having reached midday they ‘prophesied’ on until the time of the evening sacrifice, hoping to stir Baal into action. That was the time when, as the people were aware, the second daily offering would be made in he Temple of YHWH at Jerusalem. But no voice came, no answer came, and no fire came. There was no one who took any notice.
18.30a ‘And Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me,” and all the people came near to him.’
Then, feeling that he had waited long enough Elijah called on the people to gather round him, and they did so, eager to see what would happen.
18.30b-31 ‘And he repaired the altar of YHWH that was thrown down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of YHWH came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”.
Elijah wanted it to be quite clear Whom they were dealing with, and the serious nature of what he was doing. He was involving the twelve tribes of Jacob/Israel as the people whom YHWH had chosen and named and he was about to offer a sacrifice on the altar of YHWH that had been allowed to fall into disrepair. Let the people learn the lesson well.
The first important lesson here was that there was a genuine and acceptable altar of YHWH which was available for sacrifice. Careless approaches to Scripture have overlooked the fact that sanctuaries at which YHWH ‘had recorded His Name’, were allowed to be used, as well as the Central Sanctuary, even though feasts at the latter were always to be a part of their worship. Deuteronomy 12 had described the Central Sanctuary, which had originally been set up at Shechem and then Shiloh, but it had not excluded all other sanctuaries. And it was well that that was so, for true worshippers of YHWH had experienced times when they were cut off from Jerusalem. At such times the prophets in Israel must clearly have made provision for the people to worship at true sanctuaries rather than at false ones.
The second lesson is that to Elijah Israel/Judah was still seen as one, for he chose twelve stones symbolising the twelve tribes of Jacob, for it was they who had originally been chosen by YHWH. And all were involved in this contest against Baal. So what was about to happen was happening in the name of Israel, for and by a people who had been named by YHWH as His treasured possession (Exodus 19.5-6).
The use of Jacob rather than Israel is explained by the comment that followed. It had in mind the time when Jacob became Israel. In the same way the new Jacob were becoming renewed Israel.
(There is also a lesson here for us. Whenever we recognise that we have fallen away from God the first step back is again to set up the altar of God which has fallen down, in other words recognise our sanctification through the blood of Jesus and seek forgiveness through Him - Hebrews 13.10-14).
18.32-33 ‘And with the stones he built an altar in the name of YHWH, and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt-offering, and on the wood.”
So with the twelve stones he built an altar ‘in the Name of YHWH’. This was clearly in Elijah’s eyes a place where His Name was recorded. And then he made a large trench about the altar because he intended to make an appeal to YHWH for rain by pouring water on the offering and on the altar (compare 1 Samuel 7.6, 10). Then he put the wood in order, cut up the bullock and put the pieces on the wood on the altar. Then he called for four jars filled with water to be poured on the offering and the altar. He was wanting a good deal of rain.
There were clearly springs on mount Carmel where water was available, even in time of drought. Jutting out into the sea it attracted the moisture that arose from the sea. in the hot sun.
The initial ‘and he repaired the altar’ may have been a summary, which was then filled in with the detail. This would be a typically Hebraic way of presenting information, first in summary, then in detail (compare Judges 6.24-26). But it may be that we are to differentiate the building up of the altar with earth, from the placing within it of stones to take the heat of the fire.
18.34 ‘And he said, “Do it the second time,” and they did it the second time. And he said, “Do it the third time,” and they did it the third time.’
Then he called for them to do it twice more, making twelve jars in all. He wanted the whole of Israel/Judah to benefit from the rain. There was nothing parochial about Elijah, he had wide vision, even at this crucial time. He did not forget the wider need.
18.35 ‘And the water ran round about the altar, and he filled the trench also with water.’
Inevitably there was so much water that it ran round the altar and filled the trench with water. Elijah really appeared to be making it difficult for himself. But he had no doubt about what God could do.
18.36 ‘And it came about at the time of the offering of the evening oblation, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, “O YHWH, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.” ’
Then Elijah approached God ‘at the time of the evening offering’. It would appear that in Israel the regular offering at the Temple was duplicated. The people would know that this was the accepted time for prayer to YHWH.
His prayer emphasised Israel’s roots. It was to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob), and he called on Him to make it known that day that it was He alone Who was God in Israel, and that Elijah was his servant, and had done all these things at YHWH’s word.
The use of ‘of Israel’ in the threefold phrase is unusual, emphasising again the transformation that was to take place as the people experienced a renewal. he was not just the God of Jacob, but of Israel. Compare Exodus 32.13 which is the nearest that we have to it. Compare also 1 Chronicles 29.18 where the same formula is used.
18.37 “Hear me, O YHWH, hear me, that this people may know that you, YHWH, are God, and that you have turned their heart back again.”
Then he prayed that through what was about to happen as a result of his prayer, the people might know indeed that YHWH alone was God, and would know that by this means He it was His intention to turn their hearts back to Him again.
18.38 ‘Then the fire of YHWH fell, and consumed the burnt-offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.’
Then at his prayer, ‘the fire of YHWH fell’, and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and ‘licked up the water that was in the trench’. One good lightning strike of supernatural force would be quite sufficient to bring this about, but what was mostly miraculous about it was the timing and the direction. And the significance of it was that YHWH had accepted the offering, including the water offering, and had rededicated His people to Himself (by consuming the stones which represented them, and the burnt offering which also represented them). Lightning as the precursor of rain was common around Palestine, although not such lightning as this.
18.39 ‘And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces, and they said, “YHWH, he is God, YHWH, he is God.” ’
As we might have expected, when the people who had been waiting disappointedly all day for Baal to act, saw this amazing event, they were astounded and ‘fell on their faces’ (compare Leviticus 9.24). They knew now that they were on holy ground. And now they could be in no doubt of the truth and cried out, ‘YHWH, He is God, YHWH, He is God. They would never see things in quite the same way again. YHWH had been vindicated before their very eyes.
18.40 ‘And Elijah said to them, “Take the prophets of Baal. Do not let one of them escape.” And they took them, and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.’
Then Elijah commanded the ecstatic people to seize the prophets of Baal who had proved themselves to be false prophets, and let not one escape. And the crowd seized them and marched them down to the brook Kishon at the foot of Carmel where Elijah had them put to death. They had proved themselves to be false prophets, and the Law required that such be put to death. We are not told what happened to the prophets of Asherah. They would not have been directly involved, and may have prudently slipped away when they saw the failure of their counterparts.
The Sound Of Abundance Of Rain (18.41-46)
His offering, with its water offering, having been accepted Elijah now knew that the rain must follow. And he called on Ahab, who up to this point had been an unimportant bystander in the contest between YHWH and Baal, to make his way to his tent and eat and drink, because the crisis was now past. It was Elijah’s way of letting him know that the rain which would end the long drought was coming, now that YHWH had been vindicated and the prophets of Baal executed. The command to ‘eat and drink’ was a sign that things were getting back to normal.
Elijah, meanwhile, made his way to Carmel’s highest peak, and bowing himself to the ground, put his face between his knees. He was making obeisance towards YHWH. Then he called on his servant to look out to sea and tell him what he observed. But the reply was, ‘nothing’. This happened another five times, and the reply was always the same. But on the seventh time the man cried out, “Behold, there arises a cloud out of the sea, as small as a man’s hand.” Elijah immediately knew that his prayer was answered, and sent his servant to tell Ahab to make for home as quickly as possible before the rains came. Chariots do not do well in muddy conditions. But even while Ahab was setting out the rains came and the result was that Elijah who had set out at a run for Jezreel, overtook Ahab’s mud-bound chariot, and arrived first at the entrance to Jezreel. Apart from the special stimulation by the Spirit mentioned, this need not have been too great a miracle, for the distance mentioned is only twenty nine kilometres (eighteen miles). Elijah was clearly a very fit man, as his coming journey to Horeb would reveal.
18.41 ‘And Elijah said to Ahab, “Get you up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of abundance of rain.” ’
Elijah now knew that the rains would shortly come, and he accordingly directed Ahab, who had clearly been an interested observer at the scene, to go up to this tent and eat and drink, because Elijah had heard the sound of abundance of rain. It was an indication that the problem of the drought was over and fasting could cease (compare Joel 1.14).
18.42 ‘So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel, and he bowed himself down on the earth, and put his face between his knees.’
Fully confident in what Elijah had said, Ahab proceeded to his tent for a meal. Meanwhile Elijah made his way up to the top of Carmel, and there he bowed himself to the earth and put his face between his knees. It was an attitude of total humility and subjection before YHWH. Elijah did not allow his privileged position to cause him to forget Who YHWH was.
18.43 ‘And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look towards the sea.” And he went up, and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again seven times.”
When he had prayed he told his servant to go and look towards the sea and tell him what he saw. But the servant returned and said, ‘there is nothing.’ Elijah then prayed for a further five times, but the servant’s reply was always the same.
18.44 ‘And it came to pass at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, there arises a cloud out of the sea, as small as a man’s hand.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, Make ready, and get you down, so that the rain does not stop you.” ’
But once Elijah had prayed a seventh time the servant returned and declared that he had seen a cloud arising from the sea as small as a man’s hand. That was all an indication that Elijah needed, and he immediately sent his servant to tell Ahab to make ready and get down from the mountain to his chariot lest the rain detain him.
18.45 ‘And it came about in a little while, that the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.’
Ahab did what Elijah had said, but it was not soon enough for the heavens grew black with cloud and wind, and there was drenching rain. And once that rain began to fall it would turn the road into a sea of mud, in which Ahab’s chariot would find the going hard, as he made his way towards his chariot city of Jezreel.
18.46 ‘And the hand of YHWH was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.’
Meanwhile ‘the hand of YHWH’ was on Elijah and tucking in his robe he ran to Jezreel, arriving there before Ahab. It was a journey of about twenty seven kilometres (eighteen miles) and therefore considerably less than a marathon, and Elijah was going cross country. We are given no information about what Elijah wanted in Jezreel. Possibly his aim was simply to demonstrate to Ahab the power of YHWH. Or perhaps he wanted to be on hand in case Ahab needed his help in dealing with Jezebel. It was certainly a reminder to Ahab that what his chariots could do, YHWH could do better.
Depressed At What Appeared To Be Failure Elijah Flees To The Mountain Of God In Horeb (Sinai) And Is Sustained And Recommissioned By YHWH (19.1-18).
Exultant because the battle appeared almost won, and, with King Ahab surely now convinced, Elijah probably felt safe back in Jezreel, but he was to be devastated the next day to receive a message from Jezebel that she intended to have him executed. While Israel as a people had recognised YHWH again, the establishment were still totally against Him. The sudden unexpected turnaround temporarily unbalanced him, and in his panic, he fled for his life, feeling that his cause was now hopeless. It was apparent that he had not really won after all, apart from in the hearts of the general populace. In spite of what had happened on Carmel, Ahab appeared not to be willing to protect him.
His initial destination was the sanctuary at Beersheba in the very south of Judah (compare Amos 5.5; 8.14) where he knew that he would be safe, even from Jezebel’s long arm. But his ultimate destination was Horeb (Sinai), the mountain of God. At times of great stress godly people regularly seek out a hallowed place which they associate with God, and what better place than that where YHWH had made His covenant with Israel? Steeped in the Scriptures Elijah would see it as the very birthplace of the nation. And now that the nation had rejected YHWH he may well have decided that he wanted to go and die there, in the place where he knew that God had given a full manifestation of Himself to Moses and Israel (Exodus 3.1; 19-20). There was nothing left for him to do.
A gracious God sustained him on his journey, and when he did eventually arrive at Horeb it was to experience a remarkable vision and a new commission. He was to learn that God had not dispensed with him yet. The still small voice of God (which had yet preserved seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal) would continue to prevail. Indeed he himself was to anoint the very people who would finally root out Baalism once and for all. Thus he need not fear. YHWH’s will would be accomplished.
The chiasmus of this passage is slightly unusual in that in the second half there is a dual threefold repetition which is clearly revealed in the text (compare Numbers 22.15-40 for a similar chiasmus where important elements are repeated). We may analyse the whole as follows:
Note that in ‘a we are reminded that Elijah had slain all the prophets of Baal with the sword and in the twin parallels we learn both of YHWH’s still small voice and of his plan to eradicate Baalism while preserving a chosen remnant of Israel for himself. In ‘b’ Jezebel seeks Elijah’s life and in the twin parallels Elijah complains of the fact to YHWH. In ‘c’ Elijah went to Beersheba, and in the twin parallels he went to a cave in Horeb and dwelt there. In ‘d’ he took a journey into the wilderness and sat under a juniper tree, and in the parallel he took a journey to Horeb, the mount of God. In ‘e’ the angel called on him to arise and eat, and in the parallel the same thing happened. Centrally in ‘f’ he found himself once more miraculously fed, as at the Wadi Cherith. It was a reminder that God was with him in his flight.
19.1 ‘And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.’
Ahab naturally recounted to the queen the amazing events he had witnessed, including the execution of the prophets of Baal.
19.2 ‘Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.’
But Jezebel was not impressed, Instead her anger spilled over as she considered what Elijah had done, and filled with a determination for revenge, and infuriated that he might be feeling that he had won, she immediately despatched a messenger in order to disillusion him and inform him that she intended to execute him as he had executed the prophets of Baal. The act was one of someone who was controlled by her emotions, hated the thought that anyone should think that they had got one over on her, and could not wait for the actual event. She wanted Elijah to know immediately what was in store for him, so that he could not gloat, and so that he would suffer in the meanwhile. In her view now that he was accessible he had made himself vulnerable. She had after all the whole paraphernalia of the state behind her. From a more sober person this might have been seen as giving Elijah the possibility of escape. From someone like Jezebel it was a sign of arrogance and exasperation. She had no intention that he should escape.
“So let the gods do to me, and more also.” Compare 20.10. This was clearly a standard oath.
19.3 ‘And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.’
But when Elijah received the message he panicked and fled for his life. He knew that she would be as good as her word. And he rose and went to Judah where she would not be able to reach him, and what was more to the farthest point in Judah away from Jezebel. Beer-sheba was seen as the most southernmost town in Judah, as evidenced in the phrase ‘from Dan to Beer-sheba’. It was also a sanctuary frequented by Israelites (Amos 5.5; 8.14).
But that was not his final destination because he had decided to make for Horeb, the place where YHWH had given His covenant to Israel, for he wanted to die there. The sudden turn of events had made him lose hope. So leaving his servant at Beer-sheba he travelled on into the desert wilderness beyond.
19.4 ‘But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree, and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough. Now, O YHWH, take away my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” ’
Having gone a days journey into the desert wilderness he sought the shade of a broom tree. This is a common Palestinian shrub which grows in sand places and can reach four metres (thirteen feet) in height. In the spring it has numerous white pea flowers. Sheltering under the tree from the excessive heat he asked that he might die. He felt that he had failed in his mission, and that there was nothing left for him but death. Such a request demonstrated his recognition that he had no right to take his own life. Life was sacred and belonged to God.
Such despair when what has seemed like amazing success turns into abject failure is natural to mankind. We are all prone to ever-exaggerate what concerns us most.
19.5 ‘And he lay down and slept under a broom tree, and, behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” ’
Then he lay down and slept under a broom tree (not necessarily the same one, broom trees were the only shelter available), and found himself awoken by the touch of a hand. Opening his eyes he was aware of the Angel of YHWH watching over him. Compare how the same Angel of YHWH had watched over Ishmael and his mother in a similar situation in the wilderness of Beer-sheba (Genesis 16.7-13; 21.15-21). And the Angel said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ God had seen the need of His servant for sustenance, and would not leave him to die. It was both an act of infinite compassion, and a pointed reminder to Elijah that God still had a purpose for him.
19.6 ‘And he looked, and, behold, there was at his head a cake of bread baked on the coals, and a cruse of water. And he ate and drank, and laid himself down again.’
And when Elijah looked he saw placed by his head a cake of bread which had been baked on coals, and a jar of water. And he ate and drank as he had been bidden, and then laid himself down to rest again. He was totally exhausted. He had stretched himself beyond his limit.
19.7 ‘And the angel of YHWH came again the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”
When he had slept again the Angel of YHWH came again a second time and touched him, and bade him ‘arise and eat’, pointing out that the journey on which he had set out was proving too much for him. How much better had he waited on YHWH rather than panicking.
It should be noted that these three verses about the Angel of YHWH sustaining him are central to the chiasmus. Without the sustenance provided by YHWH Elijah might well have died. But the very sustenance was proof that YHWH was with him, and had yet more for him to do.
19.8 ‘And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.’
So Elijah arose, and ate and drank, ‘and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God’. This may signify that he took what remained of the food and water with him, eking it out of his journey. Or it may be intended to suggest special divine endurance. For he had no food with him and the journey to Horeb was long an arduous in those conditions. ‘Forty days and forty nights’ often indicates a longish period of endurance. We can compare the forty days and forty nights of the rain at the time of the Flood (Genesis 7.12), and the forty days and forty nights twice spent by Moses in the Mount (Exodus 24.18; 34.28). Compare also the forty days (morning and evening) during which Israel were challenged by Goliath (1 Samuel 17.16). It was the indication of a crisis point in divine affairs.
Horeb was the area in which Mount Sinai was situated so that the range could also be called ‘Mount Horeb’ (Exodus 3.1; 17.6; 33.6; Deuteronomy 1.6, 19; 4.10, 15; 5.2; 9.8; 18.16).
19.9 ‘And he came there to a cave, and lodged there, and, behold, the word of YHWH came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” ’
Arriving at Horeb Elijah sought out a cave where he could sleep, and there the word of YHWH came to him and asked him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19.10 ‘And he said, “I have been very jealous for YHWH, the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” ’
His reply was to explain the situation as he saw it in Israel. He had fought jealously on behalf of YHWH of Hosts, in the face of the forsaking of the covenant by the people of Israel, in that they had thrown down his altars and slain his prophets with the sword, all mainly the work of Jezebel and her minions. And now he found himself alone and without help, and they were seeking to take away his life as well. That was why he had fled.
Note the emphasis on their forsaking the covenant. By doing so they had turned away from YHWH, the Deliverer of Sinai/Horeb.
19.11-12 ‘And he said, “Go forth, and stand on the mount before YHWH.” And, behold, YHWH passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before YHWH, but YHWH was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but YHWH was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but YHWH was not in the fire, and after the fire a still small voice.’
Then YHWH told him to go out and stand on the Mount before YHWH. And when he had done so YHWH gave him a spectacular demonstration of power. First YHWH passed by and a great and strong wind tore at the mountains, causing rents to appear and breaking up rocks. But YHWH was not in the wind. (This clearly means that once the wind had manifested itself, Elijah heard no voice, for we have been told that it was caused by YHWH passing by. YHWH was in the wind, it was just that He did not speak to Elijah through the wind). The violent wind was followed by an earthquake. But similarly although YHWH was in the earthquake, there was no voice. YHWH was not intending to manifest Himself to Elijah in the earthquake. Then there was a flaming fire, but again, although YHWH was in the flaming fire, as He had been on Mount Carmel, it was not the way in which He would speak to Elijah. There was no voice in the fire. YHWH was not manifesting Himself in the fire. It will be noted that all three of these manifestations had been a part of original revelations by YHWH to Moses and Israel (Exodus 10.19; 15.10; Numbers 11.31; Exodus 19.16, 18; 24.17. See also Psalm 18.10-12; 29; Judges 5.4-5). And it will be noted especially that the fire was the means by which He had spoken on Mount Carmel. But the question was, who had really heard it? It had had an instant effect, but it would not be a permanent effect, except in the few. That was why Elijah was here, Because the fire had ‘spoken’ to Ahab but he had not really listened. Now, however, YHWH was manifesting Himself through a ‘still, small voice’. As a result of this voice men would listen. The point was being made crystal clear that YHWH was at that time speaking to those who would listen in Israel, not through devastating events, not through the spectacular fire on Mount Carmel, but through a ‘still, small voice’ within each heart, and through the mouths of His prophets.
19.13 ‘And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his robe, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah? ” ’
We are probably to see the first part of this verse as occurring in response to the command to go forth in verse 11 (‘it’ being that command), what then followed having taken place once he had done so (which is why he wrapped his face in his robe in anticipation of a theophany). This allowed the repetition of the question to be emphasised. Alternately we may see him as having retired into the cave again after the manifestations but before hearing the still small voice, which, once he had hear it prompted him to go again to the mouth of the cave. In this case also it would emphasise the repetition of the question “What are you doing here, Elijah?”, and connect the two sets of verses together. The author was wanting to bring out the second question against the background of all that Elijah had witnessed because, having demonstrated his awesome power, because really Elijah should not have been there. He should have been out proclaiming YHWH so that His still small voice could work in people’s hearts. Now, however, it would emphasise Elijah’s new commission.
19.14 ‘And he said, “I have been very jealous for YHWH, the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” ’
Elijah gives exactly the same response as the first time. It is because Israel has deserted YHWH and he along is standing against the tide. The repetition is deliberately emphasising the awfulness of the situation. Who would have dreamed of such a situation of total rejection of YHWH when Solomon dedicated the Temple amidst such enthusiasm eighty years previously? But we also know that it is only partly true. This was Elijah’s false view of the situation. For at least one hundred prophets had not been slain, and the second man in the kingdom was also a true if secret believer. And there were many others as YHWH will now demonstrate. And that was where Elijah should have been. But now in His grace and compassion he will reveal that these people who have broken the covenant, who have thrown down the true altars, and who have sought to slay the prophets, are themselves about to face devastating judgment (apart from those who repent).
19.15-18 ‘And YHWH said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you come there, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Aram (Syria), and Jehu the son of Nimshi shall you anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shall you anoint to be prophet in your place. And it shall come about, that him who escapes from the sword of Hazael will Jehu slay, and him who escapes from the sword of Jehu will Elisha slay, and I will leave me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him.”
YHWH’s reply was twofold. Firstly He named the names of the three agents through whom He intends finally to rid Israel of Baalism, and called on Elijah to anoint them, and secondly He emphasised that there were still a good number who had also heard, and would hear, the still, small voice. The point was not that the three would arise in the order indicated, but that YHWH would tackle the problem from three angles which would make sure that no one was missed. They would be dealt with either by external warfare at the hands of Aram, bringing judgment on the unbelieving in Israel, or by political cleansing by a Yahwist king, who would purge Israel of Baalism, or at the hands of His future prophet who would eventually take Elijah’s place. In the last case the ‘slaying’ by Elisha may refer to the work of conversion that would take place through his ministry so that they would cease to be worshippers of Baal. They would ‘die’ to Baal. Hazael and Jehu may well represent the wind, earthquake and fire, with Elisha being the finally relevant still small voice, for Elisha would do his ‘slaying’ with words, (although like Elijah he would no doubt arrange for executions where necessary).
And then he emphasised to Elijah that he was actually not alone. For YHWH had reserved for Himself in Israel seven thousand who had remained totally faithful to Him. Like the 144,000 in Revelation 7 this was not intended to be a literal number. Seven was the number of divine perfection, and ‘a thousand’ indicated a large number. Thus they formed the divinely ordained number who had neither worshipped Baal nor kissed his image, but had remained steadfastly true to YHWH.
That the anointing of Hazael (mentioned again in 2 Kings 8) was to take place immediately is apparent from the command to go ‘on his way’ into the ‘wilderness of Damascus’ (used as an illustration in the Qumran scrolls), although this did not prevent him first calling Elisha to follow him. We should notice that Scripture regularly records such commands and then continues on the assumption that the instruction would be carried out, without necessarily recording the fact (compare, for example, Exodus 17.1-7). Thus we are left to assume that Elijah sought Hazael out and anointed him. Abel-meholah where he was to find Elijah, lay in the Jordan valley sixteen kilometres south of Beth-shan, and proceeding to Aram via the Jordan valley was probably his safest route in view of the threat of Jezebel.
It is true that we have no record that Elijah did literally anoint any of the three persons mentioned above, but it may be assumed that he anointed Hazael and Elijah, and possibly also Jehu, simply because we are told of the definite command to do so. And when he did so Hazael and Jehu may well only have seen it as a blessing from a prophet. The anointing of Jehu may, however, be that mentioned in 2 Kings 9.2-3 the anointing being seen as taking place through Elisha, his representative.
Anointing was a regular method of setting someone apart for a holy purpose in the ancient world, and regularly indicated that the person had the status of a vassal. Thus Hazael the king of Aram was to be seen as YHWH’s vassal. The prophet in Isaiah 61.1 was also seen as ‘anointed’, and in his case it resulted in the Spirit of YHWH coming on him. The idea of being anointed, however, is rather that of being set apart to a holy task. It was therefore apposite for a prophet.
The Call Of Elisha (19.19-21).
In obedience to YHWH’s command Elijah then went to seek out Elisha as his successor. Arriving at the field where Elisha was ploughing he threw his robe over him. Elisha would know immediately what that signified. He was being called into his service by Elijah, to be under his command. Accordingly he asked permission to say goodbye to his parents, and held a feast at which relatives and neighbours all partook of his slain oxen. By this he made clear that he was finished as a ploughman, and was leaving his former manner of life. Then he followed Elijah and ministered to him (served him in accordance with his wishes).
Note that in ‘a’ Elijah called Elisha, and in the parallel Elisha ministered to Elijah. In ‘b’ Elisha asked permission to say goodbye to his family, and in the parallel he said goodbye to his family. Centrally in ‘c’ Elijah gives him the option as to what he will do.
19.19 ‘So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was ploughing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth, and Elijah passed over to him, and threw his robe on him.’
Leaving Horeb Elijah followed YHWH’s instructions and found Elisha, the son of Shaphat (probably short for Shaphat-yahu meaning ‘YHWH rules’), who was ploughing with twelve oxen. This was symbolic of the fact that from now on he would ‘plough’ with the twelve tribes of Israel, i.e. all Israel. The yoked oxen would stretch out before him, each yoked with another, pulling the plough, with assistants beside them to control them, and he would come at the rear with the twelfth ox. The fact that he had twelve oxen (which he was later able to slaughter) indicated that he was a comparatively wealthy man.
Having found Elisha Elijah then approached him and threw his prophetic robe, possibly made of goatskin, over him, before moving on. This was a symbolic gesture indicating his desire to have him under his authority, and calling on him, if he was willing, to come under his aegis.
The name Elisha has been found on a seventh century BC Ammonite seal (although not of course referring to this Elisha).
19.20 ‘And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me, I pray you, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
Elisha responded by running after Elijah. He declared himself willing to follow him, but asked first for permission to say a proper farewell to his family. Elijah’s reply was that he was free to do as he wished, for as yet he was not under his authority, (thus confirming that it was a symbolic gesture of appeal, not an act of magic).
19.21 ‘And he returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they ate. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered to him.’
So Elisha returned to his family and no doubt explained the situation. Then he demonstrated once for all the completeness of his dedication by slaughtering his working animals, using the yokes as fuel in order to boil their flesh, and providing a feast, for his neighbours and relatives. After that there was no turning back. Then he arose and went after Elijah as his servant and disciple.
War With Benhadad King Of Aram (20.1-43).
There is no indication at what point in Ahab’s reign these events occurred, but a situation is indicated where the power of the Aramaeans had now grown so great that they had made Ahab into a vassal king who paid tribute to Aram (Syria). This must have been some time into the reign of Ahab, for it is unlikely that it was true of the great Omri (except possibly in the early stages of civil war), but the history has all been ignored by the prophetic author as irrelevant simply because no prophets were involved. In his view Ahab at that stage was simply suffering the consequences of his disobedience and his trust in Baal, and as far as the author was concerned that had been brought out more effectively in the passage about the great drought. But at some stage Benhadad the king of Aram then sought to publicly humiliate Ahab, which resulted in determined resistance, and resulted in his own defeat. And this was seen as important because it was patently YHWH Who had fought for Israel in accordance with the word of a prophet (verse 13).
On returning a second time in order to gain his revenge Benhadad would once again be utterly defeated, and once again we are informed that it was because YHWH fought for Israel at the word of a ‘man of God’ (verse 28). The consequence was that a new treaty was made with Benhadad as the vassal. This treaty was, however, criticised by a prophet because the purpose of YHWH had been that Benhadad be put to death because of his sinfulness, and Ahab was finally informed that by his failure to do that he had forfeited his future security.
The passage thus splits up into three subsections, namely:
It will be noted that the main purpose in all this was so that Ahab might be brought to know that YHWH was truly YHWH, ‘the One Who will be what He will be’. It may well therefore have occurred after the incident on Mount Carmel as God sought to reinforce the impact that that had had on Ahab.
The Initial War With Benhadad (20.1-21).
This war would appear to have been occasioned by a refusal by Ahab to pay the tribute due under a vassalage treaty. Because of this Benhadad came with his allies to enforce the treaty, at which point Ahab submitted. But when Benhadad then tried to extract considerably more than was due, and to humiliate Ahab, Ahab resisted, and was promised by YHWH that victory would be his so that he would recognise YHWH for Whom He was. And the result was that he achieved a great victory.
Note that in ‘a’ Benhadad gathered together his host and his horses and chariots, and in the parallel they are all smitten by the king of Israel. In ‘b’ Benhadad made his demands on Ahab including his children (bn), even the finest, and in the parallel the pick of the ‘children’ (n‘r) go out to him and defeat him utterly. In ‘c’ the king of Israel says that all that he has is Benhadad’s and in the parallel Benhadad looks forward to seizing what the king has sent out. In ‘d’ Benhadad renews his demands and claims not only his silver, gold, wives and children, but also the right to search through all Ahab’s possessions and take what he wanted, and in the parallel report comes to him that young men (n‘r - young men , children) were coming out of Samaria. In ‘e’ Ahab is advised not to listen to the demands of Benhadad, and in the parallel he instead musters his retaliatory forces at the command of YHWH Who pinpoints the ‘young men (children)’for the purpose. In ‘f’ Ahab refuses the demands of Benhadad, and in the parallel YHWH assures him not to be afraid because he will give him victory over Benhadad’s response to his refusal. In ‘g’ Benhadad promises to grind Samaria to dust, and in the parallel he sets his men in array for that purpose. Central in ‘h’ is the injunction from Ahab to Benhadad not to count himself as having won until he has actually done so. It was a reminder to the readers and hearers that when YHWH was involved nothing was certain except that His will would be done
20.1 ‘And Ben-hadad the king of Aram (Syria) gathered all his host together, and there were thirty and two kings with him, and horses and chariots, and he went up and besieged Samaria, and fought against it.’
The crisis now facing Ahab was a severe one. Benhadad of Aram had gathered his forces together and with thirty two ‘kings’, and horses and chariots, was besieging Samaria. This was seemingly because Ahab had previously become Benhadad’s vassal, but had withheld tribute. It was Benhadad who now controlled the trade routes, and had grown rich and powerful.
It is quite clear from this that Benhadad, king of Aram, reigning in Damascus, was the new power in the area. From small beginnings when Rezon had made it his base at the end of Solomon’s reign (11.23-25), Damascus had gradually begun to establish itself, and to organise the Aramaean tribes, and taking advantage of the continual squabbles between Israel and Judah, had grown ever more and more powerful, even assisting Asa against Israel in return for adequate reward (15.17-22), when the Aramaeans had raided Israel’s northern borderlands.
Seemingly by the time of this incident he had gone further, and had reduced Ahab to vassalship. But it would appear from what follows that Ahab had withheld tribute, and Benhadad now therefore called on thirty two ‘kings’ (some local petty kings but mainly tribal chieftains) to aid him in punishing his rebellious vassal, Ahab. The threat of Assyria, which would in the future unite the two kingdoms with others in a common cause, had not yet appeared over the horizon, although we know from Assyria’s assessment of Omri that they had certainly been taking an interest in the area. This incident must have taken place some time before the coming Battle of Qarqar in c.853 BC when the kings of the area united in common cause to fight off the Assyrians under Shalmaneser III, and Ahab contributed ‘two thousand chariots and ten thousand men’. He would die in the following year.
The prophetic author’s interest, however, is not in the history of the period, but in the fact that after His revelation of Himself at Mount Carmel YHWH was making clear that if only Ahab would turn back to YHWH with all his heart, YHWH would be able to deliver him from all his enemies.
20.2-3 ‘And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel, into the city, and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad, Your silver and your gold is mine, your wives also and your children, even the finest, are mine” ’
With Samaria under siege Benhadad sent messengers to Ahab to point out that he was Benhadad’s vassal. It was his intention to receive a large amount of silver and gold, and to take Ahab’s wives and children as hostages to Damascus, hostages for his good behaviour. (Ahab could get many more wives, and he would know that his children would be well treated as long as he kept to the terms of the treaty. Benhadad would probably not have wanted to offend Tyre by taking Jezebel).
20.4 ‘And the king of Israel answered and said, “It is in accordance with your saying, my lord, O king. I am yours, and all that I have.” ’
Ahab, recognising that he had little alternative, yielded to Benhadad’s demands. He was prepared to swear fealty, pay his ransom, and hand over the hostages, in return for Benhadad’s withdrawal.
20.5-6 ‘And the messengers came again, and said, “Thus speaks Ben-hadad, saying, I sent indeed to you, saying, You shall deliver me your silver, and your gold, and your wives, and your children, but I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they will search your house, and the houses of your servants, and it shall be, that whatever is pleasant in your eyes, they will put it in their hand, and take it away.” ’
But Benhadad was not satisfied with that. He wanted to demonstrate his complete superiority over Ahab by humiliating him and walking in and taking whatever could be found of value in Samaria, on top of what had originally been demanded. As Ahab recognised, it was a deliberate insult.
20.7 ‘Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, “Mark, I pray you, and see how this man seeks mischief, for he sent to me for my wives, and for my children, and for my silver, and for my gold, and I did not refuse him.”
Ahab then called together his council, the leading men of the land who had taken shelter in the capital city. He pointed out the humiliating nature of the demand that was now being made, which was on top of the original demand to which he had acceded and sought their advice.
20.8 ‘And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen, or give consent.” ’
Moved to anger by the demands, and probably feeling safe in Samaria which was built to withstand a long siege, the elders and all the people urged Ahab to resist.
20.9 ‘For which reason he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Tell my lord the king, All that you sent for to your servant the first time I will do, but this thing I may not do.” And the messengers departed, and brought him word again.’
That was the reason why Ahab sent the messengers back, repeating the original terms, by which he was willing to abide, but pointing out that he could not accede to the new demands. At this the messengers returned to Benhadad.
20.10 ‘And Ben-hadad sent to him, and said, “The gods do so to me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria will suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” ’
Benhadad’s reply was that he would grind Samaria into such a small pile of dust that there would hardly be sufficient to give a handful to all those who followed him. Alternately he may have had in mind the thought that his followers were so numerous that what Samaria could contribute after he had finished with them would be an insufficiency.
20.11 ‘And the king of Israel answered and said, “Tell him, Let not him that who girds on his armour boast himself as he who puts it off.” ’
Ahab, who was no coward, and whose adrenalin was now flowing, sent his own reply back and suggested to Benhadad that the time for boasting was after he had won the battle, not before. The words are emphasised by the author (central in the chiasmus) as a reminder that man should beware of boasting when YHWH was around.
20.12 ‘And it came about, when Ben-hadad heard this message, as he was drinking, he and the kings, in the pavilions, that he said to his servants, “Set yourselves in array.” And they set themselves in array against the city.’
The message reached Benhadad as he was drinking in his splendid tent with his loyal kings and chieftains, and infuriated he sent out immediate orders that preparations should instantly go forward for reducing the besieged city. The time for talking was at an end.
20.13 ‘And, behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel, and said, “Thus says YHWH, Have you seen all this great host? behold, I will deliver it into your hand this day, and you will know that I am YHWH.” ’
Meanwhile unknown to Benhadad a new power was entering into the equation, for a prophet came from YHWH to Ahab and assured him that the great host that he saw before him would be delivered into his hand that very day so that Ahab would be able to appreciate that YHWH truly was YHWH, the great Deliverer of Israel from Egypt. After the exhibition at Mount Carmel YHWH was giving Ahab another chance.
20.14 ‘And Ahab said, “By whom?” And he said, “Thus says YHWH, By the young men of the princes of the provinces.” Then he said, “Who will begin the battle?” And he answered, “You.” ’
Ahab had been sufficiently impressed by what had happened at Mount Carmel to listen, and he then asked the prophet by whom this deliverance was to take place. Who were those to be involved? The reply brings out YHWH’s sense of humour. Benhadad had demanded Ahab’s children, had he? Well, he could have them. The deliverance would by ‘the young men’ (the word can also mean children) of the princes of the provinces, those not defiled by contact with the court and the Baalism of Samaria.
Ahab then asked whether he should wait for Benhadad to attack, or whether he should attack first, to which the prophet replied that he should attack first.
20.15 ‘Then he mustered the young men of the princes of the provinces, and they were two hundred and thirty-two, and after them he mustered all the people, even all the children of Israel, being seven thousand.’
So Ahab mustered the young men of the princes of the provinces, of which there were two hundred and thirty two, and then he mustered all the available fighting men in Samaria. These numbered ‘seven thousand’ (seven military units). In view of the mention of ‘seven thousand’ chosen servants of YHWH in 19.18, where the idea was of YHWH’s divinely perfect ‘reserved chosen ones’, we are probably intended to see this as indicating YHWH’s divinely perfect fighting force.
20.16 ‘And they went out at noon. But Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the pavilions, he and the kings, the thirty and two kings who helped him.’
Meanwhile Benhadad, confident that Ahab was trapped in the city and could do little or nothing, was getting himself and all his accompanying kings blind drunk. The thought of a full scale attack from within the city was outside his comprehension. Thus when the initial foray of ‘Ahab’s children’ came out of the city at noon he treated it as a joke, something to be dismissed out of hand.
20.17 ‘And the young men of the princes of the provinces went out first, and Ben-hadad sent out, and they told him, saying, “There are men come out from Samaria.”
The initial foray was by the young men of the provinces, and when Benhadad sent out in order to discover what the commotion was about, he was informed that men had come out of Samaria.
20.18 ‘And he said, “Whether they are come out for peace, take them alive, or whether they are come out for war, take them alive.” ’
He probably dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. His commanders in the field could deal with that. And he was so confident that he gave the command that, regardless of whether they had come out to make terms, or whether their aim was more belligerent, the men be taken alive. He did not realise that by this he was merely hampering his forces, who would seek to carry out his wishes. It is much more difficult to take men alive than dead, and his officers would know what the consequences would be for them if too many of their opponents died after they had received that command. Benhadad would not be lenient.
20.19-20 ‘So these went out of the city, the young men of the princes of the provinces, and the army which followed them, and they slew every one his man, and the Aramaeans (Syrians) fled, and Israel pursued them, and Ben-hadad the king of Aram (Syria) escaped on a horse with horsemen.’
Meanwhile the young men came forward determined to prove their worth and to show Ahab that he had chosen wisely, and, with all eyes concentrated on them, they were followed by the seven large units who had also been mustered, but were probably virtually unnoticed. It is possible at this stage that recognising in the young men the usual offer of a ‘trial by combat’ in which chosen men of each side would first fight in order to see whose side the gods were on, Benhadad’s captains sent out the equivalent number of young men to do battle. We can compare how Goliath had similarly challenged the hosts of Israel to provide a champion (1 Samuel 17), and how Joab’s young men had met Abner’s before the battle began (2 Samuel 2.14-16). It was a method of the day.
But the young men of Ahab prevailed, each slaying his man. And in that superstitious age such a portent was devastating to the morale of the opposing army, especially one which was as loosely affiliated as the Aramaeans (verse 24). With this portent, and with their kings and chieftains drunk in their tent, and with seven organised units of Israelites suddenly appearing and bearing down on them the different tribal sections turned and fled (as the Philistines had on the death of Goliath - 1 Samuel 17.51). If the gods were against you, what was the point in fighting?
Meanwhile Benhadad, now aroused from his drunken stupor, recognised the danger and, caught up in the general panic, seized a horse and fled with his cavalry. Cavalry were a relatively new idea in Palestine at the time, and from the Assyrian descriptions of the battle of Qarqar we know that the Aramaeans had twelve hundred of them.
20.21 ‘And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Aramaeans (Syrians) with a great slaughter.’
Seeing the success of his men, Ahab then gathered together all in Samaria who were remotely capable and went out to take advantage of the situation, smiting the horses and chariots, which would not have been anticipating a battle and would have been unprepared, and slaughtering great numbers of fleeing Aramaeans. YHWH had triumphed on behalf of Israel once again. It was a rout.
YHWH Thwarts Benhadad’s Second Attempt On Israel (20.22-34).
It was not likely that Benhadad would take this reverse lightly. While his forces had fled in panic with the result that he had forfeited all the gains and tribute that he had been expecting, and had lost a good number of men, he was still militarily strong, and now he had the further motive in that there was a humiliation to wipe out and a rebellious one time vassal to subdue. Thus he began to prepare himself for a second attempt on Israel.
This time, however the battle was to be fought on grounds of his choosing. This was, indeed necessary, because his men had got it into their minds that in the mountains Israel’s gods were more powerful and it was therefore unwise to venture there. So he amassed his superior numbers and once again set out to deal with Ahab, and this time he was determined to do it on the flat plain at Aphek. This Aphek (there were a number of Apheks, the name merely indicating a source of water) was probably to the east of the Sea of Galilee on the road leading from Damascus to Israel near the junction of the Yarmuk and the Jordan. (Others see it as the Aphek in the Plain of Esdraelon).
Unfortunately for him, however, YHWH was not simply like other gods (a point being emphasised here by the prophetic author). He was the only God, and God of both mountain and plain, and of the whole world. Thus he would punish Benhadad for his impudence, and at the same time give further indication to Ahab that Israel were His chosen people, and that Ahab should therefore look only to Him.
The consequence was that the forces of Aram were one again routed with such severity that Benhadad had to become Ahab’s vassal. But as we shall see, that had not been YHWH’s intention, for He had wanted Benhadad executed so that he could no longer trouble Israel.
The author’s main point in this passage, therefore, is to bring out that YHWH is triumphant anywhere , and is not limited in what He can do. For He is YHWH, the One Who will be what He will be.
Note that in ‘a’ Ahab is warned to prepare himself because Benhadad will come up against him again, and in the parallel, having defeated him, he spares him, makes a treaty with him, and lets him go. In ‘b’ we have the servants advice to Benhadad in which they demean YHWH and proudly muster their army, and in the parallel we have the servants advice to Benhadad in which they demean themselves and put on sackcloth and plead for mercy. In ‘c’ Benhadad and his army come to Aphek, and in the parallel they flee into Aphek to escape from the Israelites. In ‘d’ we have the comparison between the might army of Benhadad, and the tiny army of Ahab, and in the parallel we have a similar comparison, with the tiny army vanquishing the Aramaeans. Centrally in ‘e’ we learn why this was. It was because YHWH was demonstrating precisely what kind of a God He was, and as seeking to bring home to Ahab a knowledge of Himself.
20.22 ‘And the prophet came near to the king of Israel, and said to him, “Go, strengthen yourself, and mark, and see what you do, for at the return of the year the king of Aram (Syria) will come up against you.’
God was now making a determined attempt to win Ahab away from the worship of Baal and the syncretism of Jeroboam to a true worship of Him, and to make him realise that his only hope lay in full submission to Him as YHWH. Thus he sent a prophet to keep Ahab in touch with events, and to remind him of His ever present eye. This prophet advised Ahab to build up his fighting capabilities, and to be careful what he was about, because within a year he could be sure that Benhadad would be back. He was seeking to teach Ahab continual dependence.
20.23 ‘And the servants of the king of Aram (Syria) said to him, “Their god is a god of the hills, therefore they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we will be stronger than they.” ’
Meanwhile, unaware that YHWH knew their every conversation and was plotting against them, Benhadad’s courtiers and commanders were advising Benhadad on his next course of action. As they could not see any other explanation for their previous failure (panic not being seen as an option) they had come to the conclusion that the explanation lay in the fact that Israel’s God had been victorious because He was a ‘god of the hills’. Let them then but fight Israel in the plains and the victory would be theirs.
The importance laid on this by the prophetic author comes out in the repetition of the idea in verse 28 where it is seen as having ‘offended’ God because it was so ludicrously untrue.
20.24-25 ‘And do this thing. Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their room, and number you an army, like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot; and we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we will be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice, and did so.’
Thus their solution was that the army should be reorganised under reliable military commanders who would be responsive to their general, rather than being left in the hands of chieftains who often preferred to do their own thing, especially when booty was available. An army equal in size and military strength to the previous one was then to be mustered under these commanders, and by meeting Israel’s army in the plain they would nullify the effectiveness (they hoped) of their God. It appeared to be a sound plan and might have worked of God had been like the gods of the nations. The snag lay in the fact that He was not.
20.26 ‘And it came about at the return of the year, that Ben-hadad mustered the Aramaeans (Syrians), and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel.’
So ‘at the return of the year’ (there is disagreement as to whether this means around April or around September) Benhadad again mustered his Aramaean troops, and in accordance with the plan went up to the plain around Aphek in order to fight Israel on the flat there. (April is more likely to have been the time chosen simply because it would mean that Benhadad’s army would find growing crops on which they could feed themselves. On the other hand in September there would be plenty of stored crops available in all the farms and towns that they came across).
20.27 ‘And the children of Israel were mustered, and were provisioned, and went against them, and the children of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of kids, but the Aramaeans (Syrians) filled the country.’
Learning of the threat of invasion the children of Israel were also mustered and provisioned, and went against them. And so massive was the army of Aram that the army of Israel appeared like ‘two little flocks of kids’ in comparison. It appeared to be ‘no contest’.
‘Two little flocks of kids.’ We should translate as ‘a few flocks of kids’ with ‘two’ being used as in 17.12 to indicate ‘a few’. The point of the contrast is the size of the Aramaean army as opposed to the comparative fewness of the military units possessed by Ahab.
20.28 ‘And a man of God came near and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, “Thus says YHWH, Because the Aramaeans (Syrians) have said, YHWH is a god of the hills, but he is not a god of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great host into your hand, and you will know that I am YHWH.’
But there was one difference, and that was that YHWH was with Israel, and intended to make quite clear that the foolish words of the Aramaeans about His limitations were nonsense. This is emphasised by the repetition of the words from verse 23. This is spelled out to Ahab with the assurance that the folly of their words would be made clear when Ahab gained the victory. Then he would know truly Who YHWH was, which was the whole point of the exercise.
20.29 ‘And they encamped one over against the other seven days. And so it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined, and the children of Israel slew of the Aramaeans (Syrians) a hundred thousand footmen in one day.’
The outcome was inevitable. The armies encamped opposite each other for seven days, probably awaiting for the propitious time as indicated by their gods and their prophets, and then at the end of that period (‘seven days’ - the divinely appointed time) they joined battle. Unfortunately the god of the plains had forgotten to turn up and the result was that the Aramaeans were totally defeated, and the children of Israel were able to slaughter a hundred units of the enemy in that one day
20.30 ‘But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city, and the wall fell on twenty and seven thousand men who were left. And Ben-hadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner chamber.’
The remainder of the Aramaean army fled to the city of Aphek in order to take shelter there. But the Israelites set about undermining the walls, with the result that the walls caved in on the crowded troops assembled within the city just inside its walls, falling on another twenty seven units of the enemy and killing many of them. Meanwhile Benhadad had taken refuge in an inner chamber.
20.31 ‘And his servants said to him, “Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Let us, we pray you, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes on our heads, and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will save your life.’
His courtiers then came to him and pointed out to Benhadad that whatever he had intended to do to Ahab, the kings of Israel had a reputation for being merciful kings. The author was especially interested in this point because it emphasised the difference between the attitude of the enemy and the distinctiveness of Yahwism. The covenant taught men to be merciful.
So they suggested that they all strip off their robes and put on sackcloth, and wind ropes on their heads, and then go to the king of Israel. Perhaps he would be merciful. Ropes may have been the headgear of the poorest classes, and thus have symbolised humility.
20.32 ‘So they girded sackcloth on their loins, and put ropes on their heads, and came to the king of Israel, and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, “I pray you, let me live.” And he said, “Is he yet alive? He is my brother.” ’.
Suiting their actions to their words, but not risking taking the king with them, his courtiers came to the king of Israel in sackcloth and with ropes wound round their heads, and offered Benhadad’s plea that his life might be spared. And their hopes very much sprang to life when Ahab, instead of speaking in anger rather asked after Benhadad’s welfare and spoke of him as his ‘brother’. He was surprised that he had survived the fierceness of the slaughter.
20.33 ‘Now the men watched him diligently, and sought rapidly to catch whether it were his mind (was really what he was thinking), and they said, “Your brother Ben-hadad.” Then he said, “Go you, bring him.” Then Ben-hadad came forth to him, and he caused him to come up into the chariot.’
Catching on to his tone the courtiers watched him carefully and in the brief time that they had available tried to work out its genuineness. Then they hopefully said, ‘Yes, your brother Benhadad’. To their relief Ahab, in what gave the appearance of an intention to show mercy, then told them to bring Benhadad to him. And the result was that Benhadad was brought out of his hiding place, and Ahab ‘caused him to come up into his chariot’. This may have been a gesture indicating equality, or it may have been a demand for submission.
20.34 ‘And Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities which my father took from your father I will restore, and you shall make streets for yourself in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria.” “And I,” said Ahab, “will let you go with this covenant.” So he made a covenant with him, and let him go.’
Benhadad then ceded back the rights that he had previously claimed over Israel, and at the same time gave Ahab trading rights in Damascus. ‘The cities which my father took from your father’ probably refer to the invasion in the time of Baasha, with ‘your father’ being used loosely (Benhadad would not have a detailed genealogy), although it may be that during the civil war at the beginning of Omri’s reign further marginally owned border towns had been taken which he did not see as important enough to win back (he was busy elsewhere). The streets were streets set apart for trading, and along with the trade routes, control of which would pass back to Ahab, would enable him to build up his treasury. Something which it turns out he used to good effect in that when Shalmaneser III of Assyria invaded the area Ahab was able to contribute two large units of chariots to the allied forces that opposed him at Qarqar. Shalmaneser claimed it as a victory for his side, but as he then withdrew it was clearly not so. (Great kings in those days never suffered recorded defeats, and any closely fought battle was described as a victory. We can compare how when the Egyptians fought with the Hittites both sides are recorded by themselves as having won)
It is disputed whether Benhadad’s father was also Benhadad, this one now being Benhadad II, or whether Benhadad had a very long (but not impossibly long) reign with his father being Tab-rimmon (15.18). But as Baasha lost cities to Benhadad, and he is here called Benhadad’s father, two Benhadad’s are signified. Benhadad (‘son of Hadad’) was probably a dynastic throne name whereby the king was seen as adopted by Hadad The Thunderer, one of the gods of Aram.
Ahab Is Seen By The Prophets As Having Disobeyed YHWH By Not Putting Ben-hadad To Death, And Is Warned Of What The Consequences Will Be (20.35-43).
We have not actually been told that Ben-hadad was ‘devoted to destruction’ (as Agag had been in 1 Samuel 15.13-33) but it may well have been recognised policy in Israel when a captured king fell into their hands, on the grounds that he now ‘belonged to YHWH’. Or it may be that Ahab had been given instructions to that end. Either way his failure to execute Ben-hadad was seen as a gross sin. In those violent days there was good cause to execute such kings, lest they go away and plot revenge for having been humiliated. It will be noted that the prophet goes out of his way to stress the seriousness of Ahab’s failure. He emphasises that in the end it will bring destruction on Israel.
Note that in ‘a’ the man of the sons of the prophets was thwarted and displeased and in the parallel the king of Israel was displeased. In ‘b’ the man was slain for failing to obey the voice of YHWH, and in the parallel Ahab was to suffer for the same reason. In ‘c’ the prophet disguised himself with a headband over his eyes, and in the parallel he removed the headband. In ‘d’ the ‘old soldier’ lays out his case and in the parallel Ahab declares that he has passed his own judgment. Centrally in ‘e’ the failure was due to a careless attitude and being taken up with other things than the will of YHWH.
20.35 ‘And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow by the word of YHWH, “Smite me, I pray you.” And the man refused to smite him.’
The point behind this initial incident is the vital importance of obeying the word of YHWH even if we do not understand why it has been given, with the consequence of failure being death. We must presume that the prophet stressed that what he was being asked to do was ‘by the word of YHWH’, and the man certainly knew that he was a prophet. The man was thus flagrantly guilty of disobeying YHWH. At a time when Yahwists were suffering persecution it was necessary for the status of their prophets to be soundly upheld. (The death did, however, come about by natural means).
‘A certain man of the sons of the prophets.’ We are again reminded that there were still many faithful supporters of true Yahwism in Israel.
20.36 ‘Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of YHWH, behold, as soon as you have left me, a lion will kill you.” And as soon as he was departed from him, a lion found him, and killed him.’
Because the man refused to obey the word of YHWH he was seen as deserving of death, and the prophet foresaw his death at the paws of a lion. And sure enough as he went on his way a lion killed him. It would appear from this and 13.24 that deaths from a wayward lion were not uncommon (it may even have been considered to be ‘YHWH’s executioner’).
20.37 ‘Then he found another man, and said, “Smite me, I pray you.” And the man smote him, smiting and wounding him.’
Then the prophet moved on to a second man who this time obliged, and hit him hard enough to leave marks.
20.38 ‘So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with his headband over his eyes.’
Satisfied with how he looked the prophet then went and waited in a place where he knew that the king would shortly pass. The fact that he did it so openly may suggest that for the time being the persecution of the prophets of YHWH had ceased. Certainly Ahab appears to have become more amenable towards YHWH, something no doubt resulting from what he had seen on Mount Carmel, and from the encouragement that the prophets had given him during his wars.
But the prophet had disguised himself, covering his eyes with a headband. He may well have known that otherwise the king would recognise him.
20.39-40a ‘And as the king passed by, he cried to the king; and he said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle, and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man to me, and said, ‘Guard this man. If by any means he is missing, then shall your life be for his life, or else you will pay a talent of silver.” And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.’
As the king passed by the prophet, pretending to be an old, blind soldier, called on him to give him his judgment. It was quite normal for kings in those days to be called on by individuals to dispense justice, and for them to do so. While it is not mentioned the prophet clearly intended that the kings should notice his injury, and his supposed blindness. As the injury does not play any part in the story that must have been because he was wanting to see if the king would be sympathetic to his case and enquire further.
He described how (theoretically) a fellow soldier on the battlefield had committed to his hands a captured enemy, presumably in return for some payment, and had charged him to keep him safe. If he failed in his duty it would cost him a talent. A talent was a huge amount of money to a common soldier, which both knew would take a lifetime and more to repay. The prophet was trying to arouse the king’s sympathy, and possibly wanting him to take into account his wound and his blindness, which could theoretically have been caused by the escaping prisoner.
20.40b ‘And the king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be You yourself have decided it.’
But the king’s judgment was callous. It meant nothing to him that this blind man would be burdened by his debt for life (or possibly he himself was not really aware of the value of a talent to such a person. He possessed many talents). His judgment was casual. The man had explained his own case. Let him abide by what he had said, and take the consequences.
20.41 ‘And he hurried, and took the headband away from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognised him that he was of the prophets.’
The prophet then took the headband from his eyes and the king immediately recognised him for a prophet. This was probably because they had met before, although it is possible that prophets in those days bore some identifying mark.
20.42 ‘And he said to him, “Thus says YHWH, Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life will go for his life, and your people for his people.’
Then the prophet made clear that he had been speaking about the king himself. He in his blindness had let go the very man whom YHWH had devoted to destruction. His judgment thus returned upon himself. He had failed YHWH and he and his people would have to pay the price of his failure.
20.43 ‘And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria.’
The king, who had probably been very pleased with himself at the treaty that he had made now recognised that he had indeed gone against the custom of YHWH, and became heavy-hearted and displeased. The fact that nothing is said confirms the fact that he was aware that he had done wrong. Benhadad should not have been spared.
Jezebel Arranges Naboth’s Death In Order To Obtain His Vineyard For Ahab Who Is Then Severely Rebuked By Elijah (21.1-28).
The story of Naboth’s Vineyard is introduced here in order to illustrate how grasping and inward-looking Ahab had become, and how greatly he was manipulated by his evil wife Jezebel, leading on to the prophecy by Elijah that proclaims his demise and the demise of his house, something which begins to come about in chapter 21. Central to the story is the right of every Israelite to hold his family’s property, given to them by YHWH, in perpetuity. It was one of the cardinal statutes of Israel. And to retain that land gave the family great prestige. The evil of Jezebel is especially illustrated in the setting up at her instigation of false and lying witnesses, followed by the cold-blooded murder of an innocent man, something in which she also involved a number of others causing them also to disobey the Law of YHWH. Her pollution was thus spreading among the leaders of Israel, causing them to ignore the covenant. It is a reminder of the direction in which Baalism was taking Israel, and goes on to explain that this was why YHWH’s judgment was coming on Ahab. Despite all YHWH’s appeals, and the goodness that He had shown to Ahab, Ahab demonstrates that he was still far from YHWH and His ways in his inner heart.
The chapter therefore closes with Elijah’s clear cut condemnation of Ahab, which is the reason why it is placed here. It fills in the detail behind what the earlier prophet had said in 20.42-43, and pronounces in depth the doom of Ahab’s house in conformity with the fate declared on previous kings by earlier prophets. Even the wording of the denunciation is similar, with Elijah clearly taking up the words of the previous prophets. Such judgment is, however, then delayed because Ahab repents and seeks for mercy, a reminder that, as with David, all God’s judgments can be avoided where men truly repent. But his repentance did not result in a permanent change of heart towards YHWH (as is demonstrated by his view of the prophet Micaiah in the next chapter). Thus the delay also would only be temporary.
The account of Naboth’s vineyard divides up into three parts:
Ahab Craves Naboth’s Vineyard And Is Promised It By Jezebel (21.1-7).
The first step in the downward spiral is that of Ahab coveting Naboth’s vineyard. This was in direct disobedience to the covenant of YHWH (it disobeyed quite blatantly the final one of ‘the ten commandments’). And it demonstrated what coveting came to when it was in the mind and heart of a weak king. Ahab is revealed as weak and foolish and petulant, hardly a good recommendation for a king.
Note that in ‘a’ we learn of Naboth’s vineyard, and in the parallel Jezebel promises it to Ahab. In ‘b’ Ahab asks Naboth for his vineyard, but Naboth refuses, and in the parallel this is the complaint that Ahab makes to Jezebel. In ‘c’ Ahab is heavy and displeased, and in the parallel Jezebel asks him why his spirit is so sad. Centrally in ‘d’ we learn that Ahab is behaving like a petulant small boy, an indication that he is unworthy to be king.
21.1 ‘And it came about after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria.’
The incident is introduced by a general description of the situation. It occurred while Ahab was at his summer (or winter) palace in Jezreel, where he had also been at the time of the incident at Mount Carmel. Nearby that palace in Jezreel was a vineyard that belonged to Naboth the Jezreelite. Note the emphasis on the fact that Ahab was ‘the king of Samaria’. It would be as a result of his taking up that attitude that what follows would result. But there is in it the hint that Ahab was not king of the Old Israel. His attitudes were new-fangled and foreign.
21.2 ‘And Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a garden of herbs, because it is near my house, and I will give you for it a better vineyard than it, or, if it seem good to you, I will give you the worth of it in money.” ’
Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard so that he could use it for a herb garden, and he therefore offered him a better one for it, or the alternative of a very good price. So far, so good. The offer seemed reasonable. But it did not take into account the loss of status that would be involved for Naboth’s family in surrendering the ancient family land, and becoming the king’s tenants.
21.3 ‘And Naboth said to Ahab, “YHWH forbid it to me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you.’
The Israelites had a very strong sense of duty about their family land, for they saw it as having been given to their family by YHWH (Leviticus 25.23-28; Numbers 36.7). Thus Naboth considered that to sell his family land would be to disobey and insult YHWH, and that is why he refused to sell it, or yield it up in any way. At this stage the whole of ‘old Israel’ would have approved.
21.4 ‘And Ahab came into his house heavy and displeased because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he laid himself down on his bed, and turned away his face, and would eat no food.’
But Ahab was not used to not getting what he wanted and he was heavy in his spirit and displeased as a result of Naboth’s refusal. Note the emphasis again on the fact that Naboth had refused to give him ‘the inheritance of my fathers’. Ahab knew that that in Israel that was sacrosanct.
Thus although he was upset he accepted ungraciously that that was the case, and because he was immature in his attitude, instead of saying ‘you are doing what is right in the eyes of YHWH’, he went to his room and sulked. Indeed he did it to such an extent that he refused any food. Such an attitude in a king was disgraceful. It demonstrated his inadequacy as a king, as the prophetic author wants us to recognise. Going with food while sulking was in total contrast with his later going without food when he was demonstrating repentance (verse 27). Here it was petulant, there it was right.
21.5 ‘But Jezebel his wife came to him, and said to him, “Why is your spirit so sad, that you eat no food?” ’
When he did not turn up to eat, Jezebel went to find out what was wrong, and she asked him why he was so unhappy, and why he was going without food.
21.6 ‘And he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite, and said to him, “Give me your vineyard for money, or else, if it please you, I will give you another vineyard for it,” and he answered, “I will not give you my vineyard.” ’
His reply to Jezebel sounds very much like that of a spoiled small boy who has not got what he wanted. He had tried to persuade Naboth to sell him his vineyard and he had refused. Note how bluntly he puts Naboth’s reply. It gives the impression that Naboth was just being awkward, when it has previously been emphasised that in fact he was being loyal to his family and to YHWH.
21.7 ‘And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, and eat food, and let your heart be merry. I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.” ’
Jezebel came from a country where the king’s word was law, and there were no such inconveniences as YHWH’s covenant with His people. So she asked him who he thought was governing Israel. Then she assured him that he could start eating again, and making merry, because he could leave it with her. She would soon obtain Naboth’s vineyard for him. Ahab could have been in no doubt that her methods would be crude, for he knew his wife. What he might not have expected was just how crude they would be. He cannot, however, thereby be exempted from blame for what happened.
The second step in the downward spiral was when Ahab abnegated his authority by allowing Jezebel to use his name and seal for a nefarious purpose. This would result in the king’s name being dishonoured and the rulers of Jezreel sinning against their neighbour, by setting up false witnesses, falsely accusing him, and then murdering him in order to steal his land. This was not loving their neighbours as themselves (Leviticus 19.18). YHWH’s commandments were going down like ninepins.
Note that in ‘a’ the letters written in the king’s name and under his seal were sent to the nobles and elders of Jezreel who were Naboth’s neighbours, and in the parallel the consequence was that Ahab was able to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. In ‘b’ Jezebel calls on them to proclaim a fast and falsely accuse Naboth, and in the parallel that is what they do. Centrally in ‘c ’the blame is laid squarely at Jezebel’s door.
21.8 ‘So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and to the nobles who were in his city, and who dwelt with Naboth.’
Jezebel wrote in Ahab’s name and sealed her letters with his seal. So he either knew what she had said, or he demonstrated gross negligence by allowing her to use his authority without checking on what she had written. Either way he was equally guilty. He was quite well aware of the calibre of his wife.
The letters were despatched to the nobles and eldership of Jezreel, men who by their positions were committed to fulfilling the will of YHWH. They also were therefore being involved in her dastardly plot, and in flagrantly disobeying YHWH. This was what Ahab had done to Israel.
Note the emphasis on the fact that they dwelt with Naboth. What they did, they did to ‘a neighbour’, one of their own, to whom they therefore owed a special duty under the Law.
21.9-10 ‘And she wrote in the letters, saying, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people, and set two men, base fellows, before him, and let them bear witness against him, saying, ‘You cursed God and the king.’ And then carry him out, and stone him to death.” ’
In her letters Jezebel instructed the nobles and elders of Jezreel to proclaim a fast on the supposed grounds that Israel had sinned. Then they were to give Naboth a place of honour among the people, after which they were to put him on trial on the grounds that it was he who had sinned in such a way as to bring guilt on the whole people, by ‘cursing God and the king’, and were to bribe two ‘base fellows’ (‘sons of worthlessness’) to testify against him. No one could be sentenced to death in Israel without the testimony of at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17.6; 19.15). Afterwards they were then to carry him outside the city and stone him to death. Death by stoning was necessary because it would be seen as sacrilege for the two witnesses (who would be responsible for the stoning, at least theoretically), or anyone apart from the arresting party, to actually touch the body of a blasphemer against whom they had borne witness. It was to be done outside the city because the guilty party would be seen as ‘unholy’, so that his death must not defile the city (Numbers 15.35-36).
We note from these letters that Jezebel was clearly familiar with the customs of Israel and was deliberately misusing them and manipulating them, and calling on the nobles and elders to assist her in the task. It was flagrant, open and cynical disobedience against YHWH and His demands for righteous judgment, by one who only acknowledged Baal and his standards. Thus by obeying her the Israelite leaders would be uniting with her in her loyalty to Baal, and rejecting the covenant.
21.11 ‘And the men of his city, even the elders and the nobles who dwelt in his city, did as Jezebel had sent to them, in accordance with what was written in the letters which she had sent to them.’
It is then made clear that the nobles and elders of Jezreel kow-towed to Jezebel and did precisely what she asked. They rejected what they knew to be the requirements of YHWH, and even distorted them in order to let Jezebel have her way. It may well be that the Omride family had come from that area and thus had great influence in it, and besides, they knew very well what would happen to them if they did not.
21.12-13 ‘They proclaimed a fast, and set Naboth on high among the people, and the two men, the base fellows, came in and sat before him, and the base fellows bore witness against him, even against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him to death with stones.’
The carrying out of what Jezebel had demanded is repeated in detail so as to bring out the awfulness of what the men were doing. First the pretended repentance for a ‘community’ sin. Then the pretence exalting of Naboth. Then the presentation of two men known to be false witnesses. Then the acceptance of false witness in order to obtain a verdict. Then the carrying out of an act of judicial murder on an innocent man. Ignoring YHWH and His laws they were abnegating all authority and were being totally subservient to Jezebel, and as a result accusing and executing a totally innocent man, a man who was in trouble because he had actually had the nerve to walk in YHWH’s ways and be faithful to him.
‘Cursed God and the king.’ That is, disowned them and rebelled against them, and possibly seeing him as even having blasphemed against the Name of YHWH. In the Hebrew the word used is ‘blessed’ but that is because it was used as a euphemism for cursed, so that no one would be tainted by speaking, even in the third person, of YHWH as having been cursed. For this as a crime see Exodus 22.28 where we read, ‘you shall not revile God nor a ruler of your people’.
21.14 ‘Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth is stoned, and is dead.” ’
Having done that they contacted Jezebel and confirmed that Naboth was stoned and dead, shamed and executed. Note that they had not been at all deceived into thinking that the instructions came from Ahab. They had known all along that the orders had come from Jezebel.
21.15 ‘And it came about, when Jezebel heard that Naboth was stoned, and was dead, that Jezebel said to Ahab, “Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead.’
And as soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth was dead she sailed into Ahab’s presence and informed him that he could now have what he had wanted, and could indeed have it without cost, because Naboth was dead. 2 Kings 9.26 makes clear that his heirs were in some way disposed of as well, leaving no one to inherit. The confiscation of property after a man had been executed for treason is testified to elsewhere in an Aramaean tablet.
21.16 ‘And it came about, when Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, that Ahab rose up to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.’
The news was music to Ahab’s ears, and he immediately rose up to go to Naboth’s vineyard to take possession of it. His conscience was clear. After all, he had had nothing to do with it.
Ahab Is Condemned By Elijah For Both His Past Behaviour And For What Jezebel Has Done And Repents Before YHWH (21.1-26).
We now come to what the account has been building up to, the condemnation of Ahab by Elijah for what he has done, and the condemning of him above all who have gone before him. This is why the story is introduced at all. To illustrate how YHWH’ covenant was being broken and to underlines His subsequent condemnation of those who broke His covenant.
Note that in ‘a’ Elijah is called on to go to Ahab as he stands proudly and arrogantly amidst the vineyard that he has falsely taken possession of, and in the parallel he is later to be spared the worst of the judgment because he has humbled himself before YHWH. In ‘b’ Elijah comes to Ahab with the words of YHWH, and in the parallel Ahab hears the words of YHWH and humbles himself before YHWH. In ‘c’ he is described as having done evil in the sight of YHWH, and in the parallel the same applies. In ‘d’ Ahab’s whole house is to be punished, and in the parallel the same applies. Centrally in ‘e’ the greatest judgment is to come on Jezebel.
21.17 ‘And the word of YHWH came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who dwells in Samaria. Behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone down to take possession of it.” ’
What Ahab and Jezebel had done did not go unnoticed with YHWH. That was the problem for the kings of Israel and Judah. No other nation had gods who were concerned about the behaviour of kings as long as they fulfilled their religious duties, but YHWH was very concerned. And the result was that YHWH came to Elijah the Tishbite and told him to go and see ‘Ahab who dwells in Samaria’. There is an indication here that Ahab was really to be seen as alien to the rest of Israel. He had established his Baal sanctuary in Samaria, so let him have it, but thereby he lost any right to the rest of Israel. By thus ‘dwelling in Samaria’ he had had no right to make claims in Jezreel. But he had made such claims, and he had made them on land that belonged to YHWH, and had taken possession of the vineyard of Naboth, which YHWH had given to Naboth.
21.19 “And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says YHWH, Have you killed and also taken possession?’ And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says YHWH. In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth will dogs lick your blood, even yours.’ ”
Elijah was to declare to Ahab that because he had killed the owner of the land and had himself taken possession of it, the dogs would lick his blood in the very place where they had licked Naboth’s blood. For the scavenger dogs to lick a man’s blood was seen as the man having come to disgrace. They had done it to Naboth because Naboth had supposedly died as a blasphemer, outside the city where the scavenger dogs would be waiting. Well, the same thing would happen to Ahab. He would end up disgraced in the same way because by his actions he had blasphemed against YHWH. (It should be noted that in verse 29 this sentence is partly rescinded. Thus although in the end the dogs did lick his blood as a kind of poetic justice, it would be in a lesser way (22.38). But see also 2 Kings 9.25-26 where it happens in full to his son, just as Elijah had said).
21.20 ‘And Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” And he answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of YHWH.” ’
When Elijah arrived Ahab was both put out and abusive. He knew why Elijah had come and at this stage saw Elijah, and all YHWH’s true prophets as his enemies (compare 22.8). He was thus abusively saying, ‘So you have caught me. And what do you want now?’ But in his heart he knew perfectly well what Elijah wanted. He was fully aware of what had been done in his name, and that Elijah was here to rebuke him for breaking the covenant and God’s Law. He may even have seen Elijah as there because he was standing in as YHWH’s representative as the avenger of blood on behalf of a family which had been rendered helpless, who had now found the culprit. No wonder he saw him as an enemy.
Elijah’s reply was to the point, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of YHWH.” He was immediately facing Ahab up with YHWH and His Law, and indicating that he was a law breaker. He and his wife had coveted, lied, borne false witness, stolen and murdered. They had broken half the commandments. (They had also bowed down to graven images, and put other gods before YHWH, but not in this particular incident).
21.21-22 ‘Behold, I will bring evil on you, and will utterly sweep you away and will cut off from Ahab every man-child, and him who is shut up and him who is left at large in Israel, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah for the provocation with which you have provoked me to anger, and have made Israel to sin.”
Elijah then applied to Ahab the words which had been applied by Ahijah the prophet to Jeroboam in 14.10-11 (see notes on those verses), and by Jehu the prophet to Baasha in 16.3-4. These prophecies would have been recorded in prophetic circles and would have been known to Elijah by heart. They were repeated so as to indicate that Ahab was to be seen as more guilty than both of them put together, something which guaranteed the extinction of his house, because he had provoked YHWH with his sins more than both of them, and had made Israel sin more than any of the others. Thus all that had been prophesied as coming on them would come on him, and more.
21.23 ‘And of Jezebel also spoke YHWH, saying, “The dogs will eat Jezebel by the rampart of Jezreel.” ’
But the worst fate was to be reserved for Jezebel. She would be eaten by the scavenger dogs by the rampart of Jezreel. See for the literal and gruesome fulfilment of this 2 Kings 9.35-36. Once the dogs had finished with her only her skull, feet and the palms of her hands would be left
21.24 “Him who dies of Ahab in the city the dogs will eat, and him who dies in the field will the birds of the heavens eat.”
A similar fate to some extent awaited all the house of Ahab, except in their case they would be allowed to die first. But their bodies would then be disgraced by being eaten by scavenger dogs or scavenger birds. They would receive no proper burial.
21.25-26 ‘(For there was none like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of YHWH, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites did, whom YHWH cast out before the children of Israel).
The reason for this cruel end is given. It was because he had sinned above all who were before him. None had sinned as he had. He had sold himself to do evil in the sight of YHWH (compare verse 20) spurred on, and stirred up, by his wife Jezebel. And this had included his eager following of the idols of the Canaanites/Amorites whom YHWH had for that very reason cast out before the children of Israel. Ahab was not thus condemned just for following a foreign Baal at the behest of his wife, but for engaging in every form of local Baalism, and that included the false worship introduced by Jeroboam the son of Nebat where Yahwism and Baalism had been intermingled.
21.27 ‘And it came about, when Ahab heard those words, that he tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went tenderly.’
When Ahab heard these words he was genuinely moved. His heart was torn, something which he symbolised by tearing his clothes. And he divested himself of his royal robes and dressed in sackcloth, and went without food, and lay down before YHWH in sackcloth, and began to reform himself. Sackcloth was the clothing of the very poor, and was rough on the skin, especially sensitive royal skin. It was seen as a way of humbling oneself. Fasting (going without food in order to denote repentance) was another way of demonstrating sorrow. ‘Going tenderly’ probably represents a temporary change of attitude and a willingness to consider YHWH’s Laws and walk in them (being careful how he walked).
21.28 ‘And the word of YHWH came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Do you see how Ahab humbles himself before me? Because he humbles himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but in his son’s days will I bring the evil on his house.” ’
When YHWH saw his repentance, He pointed it out to Elijah and declared that because Ahab had humbled himself in this way the evil to his house would not come on him in his day, but would rather come in his son’s days. Judgment would be delayed but not removed. (Of course had his sons repented then the judgment would have been even further delayed. But it was not to be - 22.52-53). This aspect of judgment must always be borne in mind. Judgment was always to be seen as avoidable by repentance, as long as the repentance was genuine. Thus judgment was always, at least temporarily, avoidable.
The Final Fate Of Ahab Is Sealed (22.1-40).
As we have seen, prophets have featured all through Ahab’s reign, and here they feature to the end. Ahab could never argue that he had not been given a chance. God gave him plenty of chances. But in the end even his repentance proved to be temporary, and in this chapter he is back to his old unbelieving ways.
As a result of the greater finances which had flowed into Israel after Benhadad’s defeat Ahab was at the height of his power and had built up his chariot force to ‘two thousand chariots’. For we know from Assyrian records that in the previous year (853 BC) Shalmaneser III of Assyria had crossed the Euphrates with a view to obtaining tribute from, among others, the small Aramaean states, and while claiming victory at Qarqar had been forced to withdraw before a coalition of states which had included Ahab of Israel, who had provided ‘two thousand chariots and ten thousand men’. The same inscription tells us that Aram had provided 1200 chariots, 1200 cavalry, and 20,000 men. But it would appear that Aram (Syria) had been sufficiently damaged in the engagement to be at this time no threat to Israel.
The story begins with a determination by Ahab to win back Ramoth-gilead, a city in Transjordan that had belonged to Israel but had been seized and held by the Aramaeans. And he sought joint action between Israel and Judah in order to fulfil that objective. Jehoshaphat the king of Judah was agreeable It would appear that Omri and Ahab had recognised the folly of fighting with Judah, and had instead established friendly relations. Ahab then consulted a number of patently false prophets to approve the venture, but being a godly king Jehoshaphat wanted approval from what he saw as a genuine prophet of YHWH and this finally resulted in Micaiah being called in. To Ahab’s chagrin Micaiah prophesied victory, but stated that in the gaining of that victory Ahab would be slain. As a result Ahab had him put under guard until he returned, so that if, as he expected, his prophecy proved wrong he could be punished. But the result was precisely as Micaiah had forecast, and Ahab returned a dying man only for his blood to be licked from his chariot by the scavenger dogs of Samaria.
Ahab And Jehoshaphat Unite To Regain Ramoth-gilead For Israel And Ahab Learns From A Prophet Of YHWH That They Will Be Successful But That He Will Die In The Attempt (22.1-29).
Ahab’s life has been one of continual contact with prophets of YHWH as YHWH has sought to win him back to true obedience. Indeed that is the only reason why it has been portrayed in such detail, for the prophetic author’s concern has been to demonstrate that the final fall of both Israel and Judah occurred in spite of all YHWH’s attempts to prevent it. And now Ahab’s life will end with a description of one final conflict with a prophet of YHWH, a conflict which illustrates the fact that Ahab’s previous repentance had only been temporary, and that he had soon fallen back into his old ways.
Uniting with Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, Ahab planned to regain Ramoth-gilead from the Aramaeans, and to that end prophets were called on to prophesy what would happen when they made the attempt. His own prophets prophesied complete success. But Jehoshaphat then asked for a genuine prophet of YHWH to be consulted, and this prophet, Micaiah, declared that while the project would be successful, Ahab would die in the attempt. Ahab was not, however, to be dissuaded, for in contrast to this one negative voice about four hundred prophets viewed the situation favourably, and so he had Micaiah put in prison in order that when he returned safely he could punish him as a false prophet. Micaiah’s reply was simply that if he did return in peace then it would be true that YHWH had not spoken though him. But he had no doubt as to what would happen.
Note that in ‘a’ the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat plan to go up against Ramoth Gilead, and in the parallel they do so. In ‘b’ Jehoshaphat asks for the word of YHWH, and in the parallel Ahab has the prophet who brings it put in prison because he does not like what he says. In ‘c’ the king’s false prophets prophesy success for the king, and in the parallel, having been challenged by Micaiah, the false prophet Zedekiah smites him for claiming that it is he who has the Spirit rather than Zedekiah and the false prophets. In ‘d’ Jehoshaphat enquires if there is no prophet of YHWH to speak to them, but Ahab complains that he only speaks evil concerning him, and in the parallel Micaiah says that YHWH has spoken evil concerning him. In ‘e’ the kings sit on their thrones at the gates of the city with all the false prophets gathered around them and in the parallel YHWH is pictured by Micaiah as sitting on His throne with the host of Heaven gathered around Him, and listening to a spirit who will put lies in the mouths of the prophets. In ‘f’ the false prophets vividly portray Ahab’s coming victory, and in the parallel the true prophet vividly portrays his death. In ‘g’ the king’s messenger adjures Micaiah to speak fair words to the king, and in the parallel the king adjures him to speak the truth to him. Centrally in ‘h’ Micaiah forecasts victory, which is partly true, (apart from the small matter of the death of Ahab).
22.1 ‘And they continued three years without war between Aram (Syria) and Israel.’
For three years after the previous encounter there had been no war between Aram and Israel. Indeed, as we have seen above, they had collaborated together in order to see off Shalmaneser III of Assyria. But now Ahab saw the opportunity to obtain back from the Aramaeans control of Ramoth-gilead, an Israelite city in Transjordan. Its return may well have been part of the previous treaty when Ben-hadad had been defeated and had had to yield. But if so it had never been actioned.
22.2 ‘And it came about in the third year, that Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel.’
The visit of Jehoshaphat to Israel may have been simply a ceremonial one, or it may have been to do with trading arrangements. Or it may even have been with the venture that follows in mind. Whichever way it was he was clearly invited to the council meeting which Ahab held with a view to his plan to regain Ramoth-gilead.
22.3 ‘And the king of Israel said to his servants, “You know that Ramoth-gilead is ours, and we are still, and do not take it out of the hand of the king of Aram (Syria)?”
The result of the council meeting is briefly summed up in these words emphasising the fact that Israel had been negligent in not arranging for the deliverance of Ramoth-gilead out of the hands of the king of Aram earlier. In view of what follows we must assume that the council agreed that the attempt should be made.
22.4 ‘And he said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle to Ramoth-gilead?” And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” ’
Ahab then turned to Jehoshaphat and asked him if Judah would help them in their venture. This request confirms that Jehoshaphat was not seen as a vassal, but as an ally. Jehoshaphat’s reply was that what he had was at Ahab’s disposal, both of men and of horses.
22.5 ‘And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, “Enquire first, I pray you, for the word of YWHW.” ’
It was a normal process for any kingdom in those days to consult its gods prior to engaging in an invasion, and accordingly Jehoshaphat requested that YHWH his God be consulted in order to receive a confirmatory ‘word of YHWH’. Jehoshaphat was a true worshipper of YHWH.
22.6 ‘Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall I forbear?” And they said, “Go up, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king.” ’
Accordingly the king of Israel gathered together around four hundred prophets and asked them whether they should go against Ramoth-gilead. From their reply (‘Lord’ not YHWH) it is clear that these were mainly not prophets of YHWH. They were probably mainly prophets of Baal or Asherah, which have already been mentioned as consisting of such numbers (18.19), those slaughtered by Elijah having been replaced. Others of them (like Zedekiah) may have been prophets from the syncretistic sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan, half Yahwist and half Baalist. They were, however, all agreed that he should go ahead because ‘the Lord’ would deliver it into their hands. It was the common practise among such prophets to say what would please the king. But they saw their prophecies as doing more than this. The belief was that their ‘inspired words’ would help to bring about what was predicted. They considered that the more they ‘prophesied’ the more the chance of success.
22.7 ‘But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here a prophet of YHWH besides, that we may enquire of him?” ’
Jehoshaphat easily detected that these were not true prophets of YHWH and was not satisfied with what they said. That may have been due to their methods being contrary to all his experience of prophets of YHWH. He thus asked if there were not a genuine prophet of YHWH of whom they could enquire.
22.8 ‘And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may enquire of YHWH, Micaiah the son of Imlah. But I hate him, for he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” ’
Ahab then admitted that there was a prophet of YHWH named Micaiah, the son of Imlah who could be consulted. But he pointed out that he did not like him because he never prophesied good concerning him, only evil. At this Jehoshaphat demurred. He did not like the implication that lay behind Ahab’s charge. It is, however, confirmation of the fact that Ahab’s repentance had not lasted long.
We may ask why Ahab did not call Elijah. The simple explanation would be that he had no idea where he was, but knew that he was not at present within call. In view of the situation it had to be someone accessible, while Elijah was no doubt out fulfilling his responsibility to take God’s word to the people, and to encourage true Yahwists. The result would be that Ahab would have been at a loss where to find him. As we know, when he does appear, it was always suddenly and unexpectedly. But Ahab had cause to know that Micaiah was around, bravely fulfilling a ministry in Samaria in the face of Jezebel’s hostility and the evident danger that that could have resulted in at any time. Samaria was not a good place for prophets of YHWH to be. It was the religious centre of all that directly opposed YHWH.
22.9 ‘Then the king of Israel called an officer, and said, “Fetch quickly Micaiah the son of Imlah.” ’
The king of Israel accordingly called one of his officers, and commanded him to bring Micaiah the son of Imlah into his presence immediately.
22.10 ‘Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah were sitting each on his throne, arrayed in their robes, in an open place at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and all the prophets were prophesying before them.’
Meanwhile Ahab and Jehoshaphat were each seated in state on their thrones, arrayed in their royal robes, in the open space at the entrance of the gate in Samaria, while before them were gathered the large group of prophets brought together by Ahab who were ‘prophesying’. This was the sight that would meet Micaiah when he arrived.
Cities in those days tended to be unplanned, with buildings springing up everywhere, but it was always the practise to leave a large space in front of the gate for gatherings, judicial hearings and meetings of the town elders.
‘In an open place.’ The word can mean literally ‘in a threshingfloor’. However, the word may well have come to signify any open space, or it may even be that there was a large royal threshingfloor at the gates of Samaria which could be use for such a purpose as this. The word is used at Ugarit of a similar ‘open place’.
This description of the kings sitting ‘in state’ with the prophets surrounding them is the basis on which Micaiah will build up his own prophecy when he speaks of YHWH as seated on His throne surrounded by the ‘host of Heaven on his right hand and on His left’ (compare ‘YHWH’s host’ in Joshua 5.14-15; ‘God’s host’ in Genesis 32.2). Micaiah thus drew his picture of YHWH and His host from the royal splendour that he saw before him. It was not intended to be taken as a literal vision.
22.11 ‘And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made him horns of iron, and said, “Thus says YHWH, with these you will push the Aramaeans (Syrians), until they are consumed.” ’
While they were awaiting Micaiah, the other prophets continued prophesying, no doubt continuing in an ecstatic state, and one of them, Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah, made horns of iron and, no doubt flourishing them effectively, said to Ahab, “Thus says YHWH, with these you will push the Aramaeans (Syrians), until they are consumed.” It was a typical example of an acted out prophecy in terms of prophetic symbolism. The horn was a symbol of strength and power.
22.12 ‘And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, “Thus says YHWH, with these you will push the Aramaeans (Syrians), until they are consumed.” ’
All the prophets then chimed in and confirmed, “Thus says YHWH, with these you will push the Aramaeans (Syrians), until they are consumed.” The citing of the name of YHWH (instead of ‘Lord’) indicated that they had all gathered that Jehoshaphat wanted to know what YHWH had to say about the matter, and were duly obliging him.
22.13 ‘And the messenger who went to call Micaiah spoke to him, saying, “Behold now, the words of the prophets declare good to the king with one mouth, let your word, I pray you, be like the word of one of them, and do you speak good.” ’
Meanwhile the officer who had been sent to bring Micaiah, and clearly had sympathy with him, informed him of the ‘good’ things that the other prophets had unanimously declared to the king, and begged him for his own sake to do similarly.
22.14 ‘And Micaiah said, “As YHWH lives, what YHWH says to me, that will I speak.” ’
Micaiah’s reply was simple, “As YHWH lives, what YHWH says to me, that will I speak.” He wanted it known that he would not prophesy anything other than what YHWH declared. He would speak the truth, and the full truth.
This was the difference between true prophecy and false prophecy. False prophecy was an attempt to make the gods do what the prophet wanted. True prophecy conveyed the mind of YHWH.
22.15 ‘And when he was come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we forbear?” And he answered him, “Go up and prosper, and YHWH will deliver it into the hand of the king.” ’
When Micaiah came into the presence of the king, the king then asked him, whether in his view and in YHWH’s view they should go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or should forbear. Micaiah’s reply was that he should go up, for the cause would prosper, and YHWH would deliver Ramoth-gilead into his hand. We may assume from this prophecy that this was in fact what was achieved by the military action. What Micaiah had not, however, delivered was the punch line, and Ahab apparently knew it.
22.16 ‘And the king said to him, “How many times shall I adjure you that you speak nothing to me but the truth in the name of YHWH?” ’
The king was suspicious about Micaiah’s reply. He clearly felt that something was missing in the reply. Perhaps Micaiah had made it clear by his tone. So he adjured Micaiah to tell him the whole truth and hide nothing from him. What he wanted was ‘the truth in the Name of YHWH’, confirmation of YHWH would therefore bring about.
22.17 ‘And he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep which have no shepherd. And YHWH said, These have no master. Let them return every man to his house in peace.”
Micaiah then added to his previous prophecy what he had previously omitted. It was basically that in gaining their success Ahab himself would be killed, leaving Israel without a shepherd. He presented the prophecy in vivid form, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep which have no shepherd.” The idea of kings being shepherds to their people was a common one for kings in the Ancient Near East. Then he added what YHWH had said, “These (people) have no master. Let them return every man to his house in peace.” As a result of Ahab’s death peace would result and the war would be over. All would be able to return home in peace and security.
22.18 ‘And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy good concerning me, but evil?” ’
Ahab was not sufficiently committed to YHWH to accept Micaiah’s words as the truth, and rather saw it as what he might have expected from a man like Micaiah. (He probably thought that he was being deliberately vindictive). So turning to Jehoshaphat he said, ‘Did I not tell you that he would not prophecy good concerning me, but evil?’ His pagan view was probably that Micaiah was trying to bring about his death by prophesying it. (He was, however, sufficiently impressed to make an attempt later to prevent any disaster happening to him).
22.19 ‘And Micaiah said, “Therefore hear you the word of YHWH. I saw YHWH sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.” ’
Micaiah then continued his prophecy. Looking at the splendid scene before him of the kings sitting in state on their thrones, with the prophets gathered around, he used it as a picture of the heavenly court. His description is not to be taken literally. As he looked at them he pictured YHWH as similarly seated on a throne with the host of Heaven around Him, and with lying spirits appearing before Him. As he looked at the false prophets jabbering away it brought to his mind a picture of lying spirits.
22.20 “And YHWH said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.”
What Micaiah was trying to give here was an explanation of the prophesying of the false prophets, and he did it in striking picture terms. His aim, in other words, was to give an explanation of the ‘inspired’ prophets that he saw before him in terms that all would understand and not forget. He was not really suggesting that YHWH actually behaved like this, or that these lying spirits actually appeared before YHWH. Indeed he wanted the people to realise that it was these prophets who were possessed by lying spirits and were thus not actually conveying YHWH’s will at all. But trouble was that many of the people thought that they were. So Micaiah wanted them to recognise that what these prophets were speaking was lies.
22.21 ‘And there came forth a spirit, and stood before YHWH, and said, “I will entice him.” ’
Here, Micaiah was saying, is the real source of the prophecies of the false prophets, a ‘spirit of prophecy’ which sought to entice men into catastrophe, and granted permission to do so by YHWH. In a sense it could be seen as coming from YHWH because nothing could happen without YHWH’s say-so. He was sovereign over all. Compare how even Satan could be described as a ‘son of the Elohim’ in Job chapters 1 & 2. He too was permitted some rein by God (although always on a tight rein).
22.22 “And YHWH said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You will entice him, and will also prevail. Go forth, and do so.’ ”
Micaiah had far too high a view of God to actually believe that YHWH needed help and guidance from a spirit of any kind. This is a folksy explanation of false prophecy based on what he saw before him. (It was king Ahab on his throne who was inviting the advice of lying spirits). What was true was that God was allowing these men to prophesy falsely. Did the people really believe that these false prophets had contact with YHWH? Well if so, let them consider that it has simply led them astray into falsehood. History is full of examples of men who outwardly ‘prayed’ and ostensibly ‘sought God’s will’ and then openly committed glaring sins and crimes, and were continually steeped in lies. As in this case God resisted it by raising up true prophets who reveal the truth.
22.23 “Now therefore, behold, YHWH has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets, and YHWH has spoken evil concerning you.”
Micaiah then explained the meaning of his parable. He very much saw God as the ‘first cause’ of everything, simply because He was sovereign over all things. He thus knew that in the end everything that happened was ‘God’s doing’. But the point was that that was because He had created man and was allowing him to live out what he was. He was allowing man’s behaviour within His sovereign purpose, not instigating it.
‘God has spoken evil concerning you.’ That is, through the false prophets He has allowed them to hear lies about the future (but has combated it by sending His true prophet).
22.24 ‘Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near, and smote Micaiah on the cheek, and said, “Which way went the Spirit of YHWH from me to speak to you?” ’
Infuriated at Micaiah’s suggestion that he was not a true prophet Zedekiah came near and struck Micaiah across the cheek. This was a regular way of indicating that such a person was not to be listened to and had spoken lies. (Compare how Jesus was struck across the cheek when replying to the High Priest - John 18.22). Then he called on Micaiah to justify his statement. Did he not realise that all, as they had watched, had been able to see that he, Zedekiah, had been ‘filled with the spirit of YHWH’ by his very behaviour and actions. Let Micaiah then explain how that spirit had passed on from him to Micaiah. There was nothing about Micaiah’s behaviour which indicated possession by such a spirit.
22.25 ‘And Micaiah said, “Behold, you will see on that day, when you shall go into an inner chamber to hide yourself.” ’
Micaiah’s reply was simple. The true evidence of the spirit of prophecy was that what was prophesied came about (Deuteronomy 18.22). Thus when Zedekiah had to go to his inner room in order to hide himself because of his shame at the failure of his own prophecy, (and knew that Micaiah had spoken truly) he would know the answer to his own question.
22.26 ‘And the king of Israel said, “Take Micaiah, and carry him back to Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king’s son,”
Ahab recognised that what Micaiah was saying would destroy the morale of the army and immediately commanded that he be held in custody. He was to be put in the charge of Amon the governor of the city, and of Joash the king’s son until Ahab arrived back safely. Ahab would have had a good number of sons by his many wives, all having their own royal duties to fulfil in different areas of government. Joash was clearly the son, possibly of a concubine, appointed to be seen as responsible for the safe custody of state prisoners.
22.27 “And say, ‘Thus says the king, put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with food of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.’ ”
The king’s command was that ‘this fellow’ be fed and watered sparsely until Ahab safely returned in full health. Then, his prophecy having proved false, he could be dealt with accordingly.
22.28 ‘And Micaiah said, “If you return at all in peace, YHWH has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, you peoples, all of you.” ’
Micaiah had full confidence in the word that he had received from YHWH and was quite content to await its fulfilment. Indeed he declared quite blatantly, ‘If you do return in full health and wellbeing then it will be true that YHWH has not spoken by me.’
But he did not want to leave the people in doubt about the truth of his message, and so he turned to them and told them to take note of what had been said. “Hear, you peoples, all of you.” His words were carefully preserved and we find the idea behind them used by Micah in structuring his own prophecy (compare Micah 1.2).
22.29 ‘So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat the king of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead.’
All having been concluded Ahab and Jehoshaphat, along with the armies of Israel and Judah, then went up to Ramoth-gilead over the Jordan. Ahab did not believe that what Micaiah had said would come about. Surely four hundred prophets could not be wrong?
The Battle For Ramoth-gilead And The Death Of Ahab (22.30-38)
The prophetic author is not really interested in the details of the battle. His concern is with the failure of the subterfuge which sought to prevent the fulfilment of Micaiah’s prophecy, and with the subsequent death of Ahab and his ‘ritual’ disgracing. For while the king’s body was no doubt being buried with all honours, as a hero of the battlefield, YHWH was revealing his true worth by arranging for his blood, his very life source, to be licked up by scavenger dogs and mingled with the dirt washed from common prostitutes. It was a picture of YHWH’s view of him.
The description of the battle is split into two sections.
The Failure Of The Subterfuge To Prevent The Fulfilment Of Micaiah’s Prophecy (22.30-34).
With what Micaiah had prophesied in mind Ahab was determined to demonstrate that he was wrong. Both he and Jehoshaphat had heard the prophecy, and he thus suggested to Jehoshaphat that in the light of it he should go into the battle disguised, while Jehoshaphat led the attack in full royal armour. Jehoshaphat, who probably believed Micaiah’s prophecy would understand that this was not because of cowardice. It was because Ahab was seeking to change the pattern of life hoping thereby to overturn ‘fate’.
It was always policy to seek to slay the opposing king, because thereby the battle would be ended quickly, the king’s will no longer being relevant. It was, however, never a simple thing to accomplish, as he went into battle surrounded by his elite bodyguard, and was in a well protected chariot, amid other chariots. And by diverting the attention to Jehoshaphat the risk would be even more minimised. There would have seemed to him little reason why he should not come out unscathed, especially as by altering the usual pattern, there was hope that the prophecy, made on the basis of that pattern, might be disrupted. After all, it was four hundred prophets to one! And four hundred were supporting his safety.
Note that in ‘a’ the king of Israel carried out his subterfuge, and in the parallel the subterfuge failed and he was fatally wounded. In ‘b’ the king of Aram’s command was to concentrate on slaying the king of Israel, and in the parallel as soon as they discovered that the man that they were attacking was not the king of Israel they turned their attention elsewhere. Centrally in ‘c’ the chariot captains concentrated on Jehoshaphat, thinking that he was the king of Israel, until his war cry revealed him not to be so.
22.30 ‘And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself, and go into the battle, but you put on your robes.” And the king of Israel disguised himself, and went into the battle.’
Both parties knew the reason for Ahab’s decision. It was simply an act of common sense. While royal leadership needed to be visible, that visibility could be provided by Jehoshaphat. (A king would always be a target and they would not be aware that he was to be an unusually special target) Meanwhile Ahab in his disguise would be recognised by his men while being ‘invisible’ to the opposition, and would thereby hopefully upset the prophecy. In Mesopotamia it was believed that if a king abstained from wearing his royal robes he could divert evil activities on certain days of ill omen. Perhaps Ahab, steeped in paganism, held a similar view).
22.31 ‘Now the king of Aram (Syria) had commanded the thirty and two captains of his chariots, saying, “Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel.” ’
Meanwhile the strategy of the king of Aram was that all his chariot captains should avoid general conflict as much as possible and concentrate on attacking the king of Israel in person. The hope was that by working together they could break though the bodyguard surrounding the king until the opportunity arose for them to attack him in person.
It is probably not a coincidence that the king of Aram had previously had thirty two ‘rulers’ (20.1), and now had thirty two captains of chariots. Each ruler possibly had his chariot arm. Or it may be that ‘thirty two’ was the Aramaean basis for organising and dividing their forces. Either way the thought is that Ahab had wrongfully spared the thirty two captured rulers, and now thirty two chariot captains were set to kill him. He was reaping what he had sown.
22.32 ‘And it came about, when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, that they said, “Surely it is the king of Israel,” and they turned aside to fight against him, and Jehoshaphat cried out.’
Thus when the captains saw Jehoshaphat clothed in royal armour and with banners flying, riding in his chariot at the head of the charge, they assumed that it was the king of Israel, and they all converged on the royal party with a view to killing him.
Meanwhile, elated by the battle Jehoshaphat rallied his men by crying out his war cry, which would be something like, ‘YHWH for Jehoshaphat and Judah’. This was both a prayer for YHWH’s assistance, and a rallying cry (which the Chronicler tells us that YHWH heard).
22.33 ‘And it came about, when the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, that they turned back from pursuing him.’
Once the chariot captains heard his war cry they realised immediately that this could not be the king of Israel, and baffled in their objective turned their attentions elsewhere. The king of Judah was not considered to be of sufficient importance to take up their expertise.
22.34 ‘And a certain man drew his bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the armour, which was the reason why he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn your hand, and carry me out of the host, for I am sore wounded.” ’
One of the Aramaean archers, however, fired his arrow ‘at a venture’ (literally ‘in his simplicity, i.e. at random, not aiming at any particular target, but hoping that it would hit someone. Little did he realise what he would accomplish). His arrow struck Ahab at the point where pieces of his armour met. All armour had such weak points so as to retain flexibility. The arrow caused a deep wound, so much so that Ahab commanded his chariot driver to turn about and take him out of the heat of battle because he was sore wounded. All his attempts to defeat YHWH’s prophecy had failed.
The Death Of Ahab And YHWH’s Arrangements For The Disposal Of His Blood (22.35-38).
To his credit Ahab recognised that his absence from the battlefield would be a blow to his army’s morale, and having had his wound patched up, returned in his chariot into the fray, having in some way been provided with some means of support because of his weakness due to loss of blood. The battle continued to get ever more severe, but he was losing blood fairly rapidly and having fought until eventide he died, and his blood as he was dying, continually ran from his wound into the bottom of the chariot. It would have been a gory sight.
It is quite possible that through his bravery Ahab enabled his forces to gain the victory. But once the news got around at sunset that Ahab was dead, the people left the site of the battle (it was after all Ahab’s battle), and returned to their own homes. (The prophetic author was only interested in the fact that Ahab had died as YHWH had prophesied, not in the course of the battle, but in view of Micaiah’s earlier prophecy we can assume that he intended it to be seen that Israel did succeed in their object).
And while Ahab was no doubt buried with honours the writer makes clear what happened to his blood. It was dishonoured by being licked up by the scavenger dogs and by being washed away in the dirty water in which common prostitutes had washed themselves. Given the importance of the blood to YHWH (all blood had to be offered up to YHWH) this was an indication of Ahab’s total rejection by YHWH. He was being declared to be ‘unclean’.
Note that in ‘a’ Ahab’s blood flowed into his chariot, and in the parallel that blood was licked up by scavenger dogs and washed away in waters made ‘unclean’ by common prostitutes. Centrally in ‘b’ the people returned home in a state of peace and wellbeing. YHWH had granted them His blessing even while he worked out His judgment on Ahab.
22.35 ‘And the battle increased that day, and the king was stayed up in his chariot against the Aramaeans (Syrians), and died at eventide, and the blood ran out of the wound into the bottom of the chariot.’
With Ahab wounded the battle hotted up, and to his credit Ahab recognised that without his presence to encourage them (if they had thought that he was dead they would have withdrawn from the battle) his forces would have been hamstrung. So he had himself patched up, and returned to the battle in his chariot held upright by supports provided because he was weak through loss of blood, and he continued playing a part in the battle all day (he would have had an expert spearman with him in his chariot).
But the blood continued to seep out from his bandaged wound, and as the battle approached its end at eventide he died, with his blood staining the chariot.
22.36 ‘And there went a cry throughout the host about the going down of the sun, saying, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country.” ’
Once the news of his death reached the people at sunset, the battle probably having been won (so Micaiah’s prophecy), they recognised that in accordance with custom, with the planner and organiser of the invasion slain, the invasion was to be seen as over until there was a new king to determine the next action. Accordingly the army (which was not a professional army) disbursed back to their own homes. After all they had only fought because commanded to do so by the king, and now he was dead, it relieved them of their responsibility. They could now get back to seeing to their fields and cattle. The professional soldiers, and the men of Judah, could see to any necessary clearing up.
22.37 ‘So the king died, and was brought to Samaria, and they buried the king in Samaria.’
Meanwhile the king died, and his body was brought back to Samaria, and was buried with honour in Samaria. All seemed well, at least from that point of view.
22.38 ‘And they washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood (now the common prostitutes washed themselves there), in accordance with the word of YHWH which he spoke.’
But he was not honoured by YHWH. YHWH’s view of Ahab was revealed by what happened to his blood. This had stained the bottom of the chariot. The chariot was thus taken to the pool of Samaria, probably a catchment area outside the walls, where it was washed, while the scavenger dogs gathered round to lick Ahab’s blood. While not a literal fulfilment of the prophecy which had stated that this would happen in Jezreel because of the treatment of Naboth (a prophecy (21.19) that had been specifically transferred to his son because of Ahab’s repentance (21.29), and would be fulfilled in 2 Kings 9.25-26), it was a partial fulfilment which brought disgrace on Ahab as well. This would be seen as an indication that his repentance, which had earned the delay, had proved not to be lasting, and thus he shared in the punishment. The remainder of his blood was washed away into the pool where the common prostitutes bathed themselves. There was thus a double disgrace. (Compare how dogs and prostitutes were both paralleled as unclean in Deuteronomy 23.18).
In Leviticus 17.11-14 we are told that, ‘the life of the flesh is in the blood’ which was why what happened to the blood was considered to be so important. So for this to happen to Ahab’s blood was a severe judgment on him.
Ahab’s Obituary (22.39-40).
Ahab’s experiences with the prophets now end with the usual final summary. Anyone interested in his achievements and his secular history could consult the court annals of Israel which had clearly been preserved and brought to Judah. The author was only marginally interested in them.
22.39 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Ahab, and all that he did, and the ivory house which he built, and all the cities which he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’
The ivory house would be built of stone, but with ivory inlaid in the royal furniture and decorations with Phoenician, Egyptian and local motifs. Such houses are known to have been popular amongst great kings (e.g. Nimrud), and were seen as very prestigious. See Amos 3.15 for his view of them. Ahab is also credited with fortifying many cites. He would no doubt have completed Samaria when his father Omri died, and we also know from excavations of his building work at Megiddo and Hazor. Jericho was also rebuilt in his time (16.34). No doubt more information awaits.
22.40 ‘So Ahab slept with his fathers, and Ahaziah his son reigned instead of him.’
That Ahab ‘slept with his fathers’ indicated that he had not been assassinated. His son Ahaziah, third in the dynasty of Omri, (a record in Israel), succeeded him.
The Reign Of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah c. 870-848 BC (22.41-50).
We have already come across Jehoshaphat with regard to his alliance with Ahab against the Aramaeans (22.1-38), although that incident was mainly connected with the conflict between Ahab and Micaiah the prophet. (We will also learn more about him as a result of his alliance with Jehoram of Israel against Moab - 3.1-27). What follows now briefly summarises Jehoshaphat’s whole reign. As far as the prophetic author was concerned his life was satisfactory to YHWH, and that was what mattered. The placement of this summary of the reign of Jehoshaphat in this position follows the pattern of the whole book in that his reign began during the reign of Ahab, king of Israel, who has already previously been dealt with (and thus it also began before the reign of Ahab’s successor)
Like Asa his father, Jehoshaphat ‘did what was right in the eyes of YHWH’, although similarly failing to do away with all the unofficial high places, and he did also remove the cult prostitutes out of the land, as his father had done. It is further stressed that he made peace with the king of Israel, the first king of Judah officially to do so since the division of the kingdoms, although we should note that there is no indication of war between Omri and Asa. This was approved of because God’s purpose was always that His people should be one in heart and spirit (hence the Central Sanctuary). One enterprise in which he did, however, fail, was in an attempt to re-establish trading connections with Ophir in partnership with Ahaziah, king of Israel. In the author’s view this venture was clearly disapproved of by God. As we have seen continually throughout the book he frowned on attempts to build up great wealth, and always notes with quiet satisfaction the emptying of the treasury, seeing it as YHWH’s chastening of His people. He had recognised what the process of amassing wealth had done to Solomon’s kingdom, and he disapproved of it. Because of the methods used, and the attitude resulting from it, it had been the main cause for the division of the kingdom.
Note that in ‘a’ we have details of the commencement of the reign, and in the parallel details of its cessation. In ‘b’ we are told what he did which was on the whole right in the eyes of YHWH of which the prophetic writer approved, and in the parallel we are told of an enterprise of which the prophetic author appears to have disapproved. In ‘c’ we are told of his relations with Israel, and in the parallel of his relations with Edom. Centrally in ‘d’ we are referred for details of his history to the official annals of the kings of Judah, and also learn of his removal of cult prostitutes from the land.
22.41 ‘And Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel.’
In accordance with the usual pattern, Jehoshaphat’s reign follows that of the king of Israel who was still alive when he became king, which was Ahab. Asa had reigned for thirty eight years when Ahab came to the throne (16.29), and reigned in full for forty one years (15.10), which might have made us expect here to read of ‘the third year of Ahab’. The difference between three and four years can, however, be explained in terms of part years counted (or not counted) as whole years. The prophetic author took the figures that he found in his sources and did not attempt to reconcile them. Those figures sometimes differed because of different methods of reckoning years in Israel and Judah (e.g. at this time Israel included the part year of accession as a full year when reckoning the length of a reign, Judah excluded it. Both methods were in use among other nations).
22.42 ‘Jehoshaphat was thirty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi.’
Jehoshaphat began to reign when he was thirty five years old, and reigned ‘in Jerusalem’, the city which YHWH chose out of all the tribes of Israel to put His Name there (14.21), because it was the wish of David His servant, who introduced the Ark which bore the Name of YHWH (2 Samuel 6.2 onwards) into Jerusalem his own city. Jehoshaphat was thus the next ‘lamp’ of the house of David (15.4). He reigned there for twenty five years, which probably included four years of co-regency with Asa. As was usual with the kings of Judah his mother’s name is given, demonstrating that he was a true ‘son of David’. The queen mother appears to have held a high position in Judah.
22.43 ‘And he walked in all the way of Asa his father. He turned not aside from it, doing what was right in the eyes of YHWH. However, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places.’
Like his father, but like few kings after him, Jehoshaphat did what was right in the eyes of YHWH. In all his ways he did not turn aside from doing what was right in the eyes of YHWH. He was continually pleasing to YHWH. The only blot on his reign in this regard was that the illegitimate high places at which the people had become used to sacrificing and offering incense were not all taken away, with the result that in some parts they continued to be used for syncretistic worship, mixing up YHWH with Baal and Asherah, to YHWH’s disadvantage.
There was now the Temple and there were legitimate high places (such as formerly on Mount Carmel - 18.32) where the worship was kept pure by the priests and prophets, but along with these there were many syncretised high places, which were ancient local sanctuaries, often also containing a Baal pillar and an Asherah pole/image, where the worship became a mixture of Yahwism and Baalism. These did not retain the purity of worship of the Temple and the legitimate high places, and would in fact later lead the people of Judah into grosser sin. But Jehoshaphat’s position was complicated, as we might have expected when considering such a complicated situation. And it would appear from 2 Chronicles 17.6; 19.3-4 that he did make an effort to remove those which had become too obviously syncretistic, and came to his attention. What was lacking was a full-scale purge. (Note in contrast 2 Chronicles 20.33 which repeats what is said here).
22.44 ‘And Jehoshaphat made peace with the king of Israel.’
Jehoshaphat was also the first king to officially establish peace with Israel. This was mentioned because it was always YHWH’s desire that His people be one in spirit. That had been the reason for the Central Sanctuary among diverse tribes from the beginning. But the author makes no mention here of his marrying of his son Jehoram to the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel as a ‘treaty wife’ (see 8.18; 2 Chronicles 18.1; 21.6). The prophetic author appears to have approved of the idea of peace, but like the Chronicler he did not approve of the marriage, especially in view of its results (8.18).
22.45 ‘Now the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat, and his might that he showed, and how he warred, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?’
As usual the author glides over secular affairs in dealing with the king’s reign, and we are referred for them to the official annals of the Kings of Judah for details of his wars and of his might (some of which, however, we can find in 2 Chronicles 17-10. Also in 1 Kings 22.1-38; 2 Kings 3.1-27). They were of no concern to the prophetic author whose concern was with what pleased or displeased YHWH. We do in fact learn more about them in the narratives in respect of the kings of Israel, which are dealt with in more detail simply because of their interplay with the prophets of YHWH, something which the writer did consider to be of importance, for it demonstrated that YHWH had given Israel every chance, and why they therefore doubly merited what finally came to them.
There is a reminder to us here that much of what we spend our lives in building up is an irrelevance to God. His concern is whether we have walked in His ways and done what is pleasing in His sight. Some labour for earthly honours, but we are to ensure that we seek the honour that comes from God alone.
Note on The Other Activities Of Jehoshaphat.
The Chronicler gives us a great deal of further information about Jehoshaphat, which the prophetic author of Kings was not interested in, for Jehoshaphat was a capable and vigorous ruler as well as being a godly one.
End of note.
22.46 ‘And the remnant of the sodomites, who remained in the days of his father Asa, he put away out of the land.’
One thing that did please YHWH was that he removed the remnants of the cult prostitutes out of the land, something which his father had attempted to do, without fully succeeding. (It was not always easy as they would go into hiding and the people would often be supporting them).
22.47 ‘And there was no king in Edom, a deputy was king.’
It would also appear that Edom was now back under the control of Judah, with Jehoshaphat’s deputy ruling there (compare 2 Kings 3.7-9). We have not been told anything about Edom since the days of Hadad (11.14-22). But as we saw previously Hadad had probably only established himself in the mountainous part of Edom, and we do not know what happened after Solomon died. It is quite possible that the trade routes had remained under the control of the kings of Judah, although subject to attack, and it may have been the nuisance of these attacks which made Jehoshaphat retake control of Edom as a whole.
22.48-49 ‘Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold, but they did not go, for the ships were broken at Ezion-geber. Then Ahaziah the son of Ahab said to Jehoshaphat, “Let my servants go with your servants in the ships.” But Jehoshaphat would not.’
Another feature of Jehoshaphat’s reign, only possible because of his control of Edom, was an abortive attempt to re-commence trading with Ophir (compare 9.26-28). But it proved ill-fated and the ‘ships of Tarshish’ (large merchantmen) which he built were destroyed in a storm while still at Ezion-geber. He appears to have seen that as YHWH’s will and therefore to have resisted any further attempts to persuade him. The fact that the author tells us about this would suggest that he also saw in their destruction the hand of YHWH, and approved of Jehoshaphat’s subsequent decision. He knew that such building up of wealth was partly what had led Solomon astray, and the author always indicates with cynical approval the times when Judah was despoiled of its wealth (e.g. 14.26; 15.18).
22.50 ‘And Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father. And Jehoram his son reigned instead of him.’
Jehoshaphat died peacefully and was not assassinated (he ‘slept with his fathers’) and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his ‘father’. Jehoram his son then reigned instead of him. The house of David continued.
The Reign Of Ahaziah King of Israel c. 853-852 BC (1 Kings 22.51-2 Kings 1.18).
Ahaziah, Ahab’s son and king of Israel, only had a short reign of a few months (two part years) but he amply succeeded during that short time in displeasing YHWH and bringing his wrath on him. He did this by walking in Ahab’s ways, and especially by consulting Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, instead of YHWH, after he had had an accident. His attitude resulted in two of Elijah’s fiercest miracles. This is the reason why his short reign is given so much space in the account.
Note that in ‘a’ Ahaziah began his reign, and did evil in the sight of YHWH, and in the parallel he died according to the word of YHWH. In ‘b’ he served Baal and worshipped him, provoking the wrath of YHWH and in the parallel he is criticised for consulting Baal-ekron instead of YHWH. In ‘c’ the king sent his messengers to consult Baal-ekron, and in the parallel he received a threefold reply from Elijah. In ‘d’ YHWH sent a message through Elijah the Tishbite, and in the parallel the king recognises that his message has come from Elijah the Tishbite. In ‘e’ he was told that he would surely die, and in the parallel he was told the same. Centrally in ‘f’ Elijah stalked away from the messengers, while they returned and reported back to the king.
A Summary Of Ahaziah’s Life (1.22.51-2.1.1).
22.51 ‘Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned two years over Israel.’
Ahaziah began reigning over Israel in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat, and he reigned for ‘two years’, that is, for part of his accession year, and the part year in which he ceased to reign.
22.52 ‘And he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH, and walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, by which he made Israel to sin.’
Like all his predecessors he did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. He walked in the way of both Ahab and Jezebel, (note that the latter is stressed in that the mother is not usually mentioned in statements such as this), with all their evil ways. He also continued to follow the false religious practises instituted by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, leading the people astray with him.
22.53 ‘And he served Baal, and worshipped him, and provoked to anger YHWH, the God of Israel, according to all that his father had done.’
And like Ahab had done he worshipped Baal and served him in all his evil and distorted sexual practises, provoking YHWH to anger (antipathy against sin).
2.1.1 ‘And Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab.’
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. Details of this rebellion by Mesha of Moab are also found in the Moabite Stone (from his point of view).
Ahaziah’s Accident And His Intention Of Consulting The Occult Instead Of YHWH Which Is Thwarted By Elijah (2.1.2-8).
2.1.2 ‘And Ahaziah fell down through the lattice in his upper chamber which was in Samaria, and was ill. And he sent messengers, and said to them, “Go, enquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I will recover of this illness.’
But Ahaziah had an unfortunate accident. He lived in a two-storeyed palace in Samaria and he fell from the upper window or balcony, through the lattice screen which protected it from sightseers, to the earth beneath. Carried to his bed he sent messengers to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, in order to discover whether he would recover, and no doubt hoping for the god to show leniency. It is probable that this god had a reputation for healing. Being an idolater and polytheist Ahaziah believed in many gods, including the family of Baal gods of which there were many. In this, of course, he was bringing discredit on YHWH, and treating Him as of no account.
Baal-zebub means ‘lord of the flies’. Some see it as a deliberate and contemptuous corruption of Baal-zebul, ‘the lord prince’. But there is no reason why there should not have been a god of ‘creeping things’ (compare Ezekiel 8.10), and he is mentioned by the Pharisees when speaking to Jesus in the New Testament as related to Satan (Mark 3.22).
2.1.3 ‘But the angel of YHWH said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, “Is it because there is no God in Israel, that you go to enquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?” ’
The consequence was that the Angel of YHWH went to Elijah the Tishbite and told him to go and meet the messengers of Ahaziah in order to ask the king of Israel through them whether he was implying by his action that there was no living God in Israel Who could be enquired of, and called on. This was a crisis moment for Israel. The question was whether YHWH was no longer to be seen as relevant. The intervention of Elijah and the demonstration miracles that follow were necessary to bring Yahwism back from being side-lined and seen as irrelevant in court circles.
The Angel of YHWH was one of the forms through Which YHWH revealed Himself. We do not know why He is mentioned in this particular case, as usually Elijah appears to have received his prophetic information ‘direct’. It is probably because He was to be the arbiter of judgment, acting powerfully to demonstrate the holiness of YHWH (verses 9-15; compare 2 Samuel 24.16-17). This incident is a warning to us all that we should not seek to the occult for guidance or healing, only to God.
“Is it because there is no God in Israel, that you go to enquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?” The importance of this charge comes out in that it is repeated three times (see verses 6 & 16). This was the question at issue, and it was a vital one.
2.1.4a “Now therefore thus says YHWH, ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but will surely die.’ ”
Elijah’s message from YHWH to Azariah was that because he had consulted Baal-zebub instead of YHWH he would never leave his bed, but would certainly die. The impression given is that had he sought YHWH he would have lived.
2.1.4b ‘And Elijah departed.’
As with his entrances, so with his exits, Elijah was dramatic. Having spoken to the men he ‘departed’. We might translate ‘strode off’.
2.1.5 ‘And the messengers returned to him, and he said to them, “Why is it that you have returned?” ’
The messengers obediently returned to the king without going to Ekron, something which Ahaziah clearly gathered from the short length of time that they had been away. So he asked them why they had come back without fulfilling their mission.
2.1.6 ‘And they said to him, “There came up a man to meet us, and said to us, Go, turn again to the king who sent you, and say to him, Thus says YHWH, Is it because there is no God in Israel, that you send to enquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you will not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but will surely die.” ’
They explained to him about this man who with prophetic authority had told them to inform the king that he would certainly die because he had looked to the occult for advice and healing rather than to God.
2.1.7 ‘And he said to them, “What manner of man was he who came up to meet you, and told you these words?” ’
The king, probably already aware of the truth in his heart, then asked them what kind of man it had been who had come to meet them and had said this to them.
2.1.8 ‘And they answered him, “He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” ’
Sure enough their words confirmed his worst fears. A man wearing goatskin, with a leather belt around him. He well knew who that was. “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” This easy identification of him by his clothing is against the idea that all prophets wore such clothing, although see Zechariah 13.4.
The King Sends His Guards To Arrest Elijah (2.1.9-15).
If fifty assassins had burst in on the king with the intention of killing him, and they had been mown down by his guards, no one would have raised an eyebrow. But because Elijah, who was in equal danger of being executed, called on God for assistance, resulting in the slaying of the would be assassins by God’s fire, eyebrows are raised. We need to remember, however, that God was Elijah’s bodyguard. And the king would not have rested until Elijah had either rescinded the penalty, or was dead. This was an important part of the battle for the soul of Israel.
2.1.9 ‘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 spoke to him, “O man of God, the king has said, Come down.” ’
When Ahab had sent for Micaiah he had sent an official for him (1 Kings 22.9), thus the fact that Ahaziah sent not an official, but a military unit under a commander, in order to bring Elijah indicated his evil intent, and that he was ensuring, knowing Elijah’s extraordinary powers, that there could be no resistance. His intention was clearly malign. He intended to seize Elijah and execute him. An arresting party for one man did not usually consist of a whole military unit. We can compare the size of the party sent to arrest Jesus, because His miraculous powers were known.
The commander went to where he knew Elijah would be, and as he approached the hill he spotted Elijah sitting there on its peak. With great officiousness he commanded Elijah in a peremptory fashion (as officer of the arresting party), “O man of God, the king has said, Come down.” The address ‘man of God’ was probably intended to be sarcastic.
Both Elijah and he knew what this would mean, and the commander was taking no chances. As far as he was concerned he had to obey orders, and Elijah was expendable. On the other hand he was not in any doubt that he was dealing with a ‘man of God’, (a genuine prophet of YHWH), as his method of address makes clear. But as he was no doubt a Baal worshipper, his view was probably that prophets of YHWH were better dead. So there was no mercy in either his heart, or in the hearts of his men. Meanwhile the people would soon be aware of this challenge between YHWH and Baal, and would be very much affected by the outcome. In a sense the whole world was watching in order to see who would prevail.
2.1.10 ‘And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, “If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty.” And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.’
Elijah, recognising the implications of the situation, and no doubt under divine instructions, determined to let God demonstrate once and for all that he, Elijah, was a true prophet of YHWH, and that YHWH was supreme in Israel. And he therefore cried, “If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty.” This would be the proof that he really was a ‘man of God’ of YHWH. He knew that in this case it was him (and Israel’s faith) or them. And accordingly just as had happened on Mount Carmel (although this ‘hill’ was clearly near Samaria) fire came down from Heaven and consumed the arresting party, just as it had consumed the sacrifice on Mount Carmel previously. YHWH was demonstrating that He was with His servant, and saw the arresting party as a kind of burnt offering from the king. It may in fact have been a bolt of lightning, or it may have been the fire of the presence of the Angel of YHWH. Either way it was equally effective.
The significance of his action was clear. Just as YHWH had accepted his offering on Mount Carmel by consuming it with fire, so now He was manifesting His power in a similar way by accepting this ‘offering up’ of the arresting party. It was a grim but poignant reminder of YHWH’s victory on Mount Carmel over the forces of darkness, a victory which had only all too easily been forgotten. Now it was being brought back to mind most vividly.
(If a band of prophets had arrived and fought off the military unit in defence of Elijah, slaying them in the process, we would not have done anything but recognise the justice of it. Why then should fire from YHWH be seen as any different? Especially as it was a necessary reminder to the people that YHWH had not been replaced as the God of Israel, and was also a signal that His prophets should not be harmed by the authorities (who would as a result be more careful in future).
2.1.11 ‘And again he sent to him another captain of fifty and his fifty. And he answered and said to him, “O man of God, thus has the king said, Come down quickly.” ’
When the news reached the king he was no doubt infuriated, but on the basis that lightning never strikes in the same place twice he sent a further military unit, along with its commander, to arrest Elijah. He was not going to allow himself to be thwarted by a few deaths. This time the commander was even more peremptory and unsympathetic, and commanded Elijah to come down ‘at once’. Once again the authority of YHWH was being challenged by a worshipper of Baal, and his servant was being asked to put himself at the mercy of the soldiers, and of the king, neither of whom were reliable. If Elijah turned up with bruises on him it would not concern Azariah. Again YHWH grimly ‘consumed the offering’. It was similar to their being ‘devoted to YHWH’.
2.1.12 ‘And Elijah answered and said to them, “If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.”
The result was exactly the same, a complete repetition of the earlier event. The military unit went the same way as the first, consumed by the fire of YHWH. This activity of God in both these cases is a reminder that on the Day of Judgment all who have rebelled against God will be burned with fire. Then those who are consumed will be numbered in billions. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
2.1.13 ‘And again he sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said to him, “O man of God, I pray you, let my life, and the life of these fifty who are your servants, be precious in your sight.” ’
The king was clearly convinced that all this was just an unhappy coincidence, and without any regard for his men sent a further arresting party. By this time the job had presumably lost its popularity, but the unit in question would be given no option and knew that they had to obey orders. However, they were fortunate in being commanded by a man who had learned to fear YHWH. Thus when he approached the hill he fell on his knees before Elijah and begged that the man of God would be merciful.
2.1.14 ‘Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and consumed the two former captains of fifty with their fifties. But now let my life be precious in your sight.”
He acknowledged that he knew what had happened to the two previous units and prayed that his own life might be precious in Elijah’s sight. The indication was that he only wished him well.
2.1.15 ‘And the angel of YHWH said to Elijah, “Go down with him. Do not be afraid of him.” And he arose, and went down with him to the king.’
Satisfied that Elijah would now be given a fair deal, and could safely go with the military unit, not as a man under arrest, but as someone who was being courteously escorted, YHWH withheld His fire. Instead the Angel of YHWH assured Elijah that he could go with the military party in safety without fear. Accordingly Elijah rose up and went with the men.
Elijah Confirms The Death Sentence On Ahaziah For What YHWH Saw As His Blasphemous Behaviour (2.1.16-19).
2.1.16 ‘And he said to him, “Thus says YHWH, Forasmuch as you have sent messengers to enquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, is it because there is no God in Israel to enquire of his word? Therefore you will not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but will surely die.” ’
When he was brought before the king Elijah then declared to him YHWH’s sentence for the third time. Inasmuch as the king had insulted the God of Israel by turning to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron (in Philistia) for guidance and assistance, instead of to YHWH, he would not again rise from his bed but would surely die. By now the king had recognised the folly of trying to arrest Elijah and clearly allowed him to go (for he appeared later with Elisha).
2.1.17 ‘So he died according to the word of YHWH which Elijah had spoken. And Jehoram began to reign in his stead in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, because he had no son.’
And in accordance with Elijah’s ‘word of YHWH’ Ahaziah died of his injuries, and was replaced by his brother Jehoram as king of Israel, because he had no son. This occurred ‘in the second year of Jehoram, the king of Judah’.
The fact that it occurred in the second year of Jehoram king of Judah clearly indicated that Jehoram of Judah had in fact commenced reigning as co-regent while Jehoshaphat was still alive. (Jehoshaphat reigned for twenty five years (1 Kings 24.42) and Ahaziah had come to the throne in his seventeenth year, dying in little more than a year. Jehoram of Israel thus came to the throne in Jehoshaphat’s eighteenth year, as 2 Kings 3.1 informs us, with Jehoram of Judah as co-regent with Jehoshaphat. Starting with David and Solomon co-regency was the method by which the kings of Judah ensured relatively peaceful succession).
It will be noted that there is no record of his burial. This may have been because he was seen as ‘assassinated by YHWH’).
2.1.18 ‘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?’
The account of Ahaziah’s reign closes with the usual reference for those who wanted further details to the official annals of the kings of Israel.
For Kings part 1 (1-4) click here
For Kings part 2 (5-8) click here
For Kings part 3 (9-11) click here
For Kings part 4 (12.1-16.28) click here
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