CHAPTER 20. —AHAB
Pursuing the history of the Ten Tribes in so far as it affords illustration of the ways of providence, notice must be taken of the message delivered by Elijah to Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard, as interpreted by the events in which it was afterwards fulfilled. Ahab had taken possession of another man’s vineyard after effecting the owner’s destruction, or concurring in his wife Jezebel’s measures to bring that destruction about. Elijah, by divine command, met Ahab in the vineyard and in the very act of taking possession of it, and addressed the following words to him:
“Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed and also taken possession? . . . In the place where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine. . . . Behold I will bring evil upon thee, etc.” (1 Kings 21: 9-13).
Here was an intimation of a divine work of retribution which God would cause, and which should comprise the apparently trifling detail, that Ahab’s blood should be licked by dogs on the very spot where the murdered man’s blood was shed. This was one of those details that could not be humanly arranged for and yet which though divinely caused, came about in a perfectly natural way. Ahab, wounded in battle, is put in his chariot, which receives on the floor of it a large quantity of the blood issuing from his wound. He dies, and is driven home dead in his chariot. Afterwards the chariot is washed by a man-servant; it is taken to the pool of Samaria for the purpose. The spot is the spot where Naboth was murdered. The water swills the blood upon the stones, the sniffing dogs gathering around lick it up. The finger of God is not visible at any part of the transaction, and yet the transaction was subject to divine guidance. Apart from this, there were many contingencies that might easily have interfered with the fulfilment of the blood-licking prediction. In the first place, as the battle in which Ahab was wounded was a defeat for Israel, it might easily have happened that the chariot was captured, and the wounded king in it, in which case the blood would never have been washed on to the flags of the pool of Samaria. In the second place, there was a long distance between Ramoth-gilead and the pool of Samaria, and it might easily happened (and would have been natural) that the chariot should be wiped out for the honour of the dead long before the end of the journey. In the third place, arrived at home, it would have been no marvel for the chariot to have been washed privately in the king’s stables, or in some other convenient spot where the blood of Ahab would never have been brought into contact with the spot that witnesses Naboth’s murder. But the word of the Lord had decreed, and therefore, the chariot safely arrived home, with the blood unremoved from the floor of it, and was duly taken to the very right spot where also the dogs were available for their part of the appointed retribution. This incident was subject to divine control. Nobody would be conscious of it. Everybody would act a natural and unconstrained part, and yet the whole matter invisibly kept in a certain groove. The man who took the chariot to the pool of Samaria would simply feel that that was the handiest place to give it a thorough washing. He would be caused to feel this, but would be conscious only of the feeling and not of its cause.
An incident of the same description pertains to Jezebel. She also, as the leading spirit in the plot to murder Naboth, was included in the message of retribution:
“The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel” (1 Kings 21: 23).
This was worse than the sentence on Ahab, as the case demanded. Though Ahab’s blood was to be licked, he himself was to be buried, but Jezebel was to be eaten by the dogs—a very unlikely thing to happen to a queen in actual authority to the last moment of her life—a thing to be divinely caused, and yet which was brought about in a perfectly natural way. Jezebel survived Ahab fifteen years as queen-mother during the reigns of her sons Ahaziah and Joram. At length the moment arrived for the fulfilment of the prophecy. Jehu, one of her military captains, rebelled against her son and was proclaimed king in his stead. After his proclamation, he proceeded to destroy the entire family and relations of Ahab. Having, in the execution of this work, killed Joram, the king, and the king’s cousin, Ahaziah, king of Judah, he came to Jezreel, where Jezebel was. Jezebel hearing of his arrival, dressed herself specially well, and as Jehu entered the gate of the palace where she was, she stood at an open window and greeted him with taunts. Jehu, looking up to the window, demanded with loud voice who of the inmates was on his side. On this, several eunuchs presented themselves at the windows. Throw her down” was his order concerning Jezebel. The order was obeyed, and down she was thrown, falling on the ground among the feet of Jehu’s horses, by which she was trampled to death: Jehu then went into the palace, leaving Jezebel dead on the ground. Having partaken of a repast with his captains, he bethinks himself of the rank of the dead woman, and, as “a king’s daughter,” orders her to be buried. But those who went to carry out the order, could not find the king’s daughter to bury.
“They found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands” (2 Kings 9: 35).
Jezebel had been eaten by the dogs outside, while Jehu and his companions were eating and making merry inside. Thus had been fulfilled “the word of the Lord, which He spake by His servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel.” It had come about in a perfectly natural way, yet it was a divinely-caused occurrence. Though men were used to bring it about, men had not helped to bring it about as a matter of recognised programme. They had not performed their part wittingly. Jehu, it is true, understood that he was executing a divine purpose in the extirpation of the house of Ahab; but even he had forgotten all about this prophecy about the dogs eating Jezebel, and was struck when those who went to bury her by his command came back and told him she had been eaten by the dogs. He then remembered that was what Elijah had foretold. How easily, as in the case of Ahab’s blood it might have turned out otherwise. How unlikely to the last moment that dogs should eat the queen. Jehu’s readiness to respect her rank in the matter of interment, shows that even the instrument employed to execute the vengeance had to be momentarily blinded to give the dogs their chance.
The mode of Ahab’s death was an illustration of the same thing. It happened (as will be recollected) on the occasion of an expedition against Ramoth-gilead, in which Ahab was joined by Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Before starting out on this expedition, Ahab had consulted the prophets of Baal—the clergy who enjoyed Jezebel’s favour, from whom he received unqualified encouragement to proceed. At the request of Jehoshaphat, who was not satisfied, another prophet, the prophet of Jehovah—Micaiah—was sent for. His answer to the question whether they should prosper in their expedition against Ramoth-gilead was not soothing to Ahab.
“I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the Lord said, These have no master, let them return every man to his house in peace.”
The two went to Ramoth-gilead, nevertheless. Ahab professed to disregard Micaiah’s foreboding, but he was manifestly uneasy. He said to Jehoshaphat,
“I will disguise myself and enter into the battle; but put thou on thy robes.”
He thought thus to elude the danger. In point of fact he ran into it. We cannot escape from God. The king of Syria, against whom they were fighting for the recovery of Ramoth-gilead, had strangely instructed his captains to fight neither with small nor great but only with Ahab. Whatever may have been the motive of this order—(perhaps it was the effect of a divine predisposition on the king of Syria’s part to bring about the destruction of Ahab in a direct manner)—the result was that the armies did not come into close quarters at the outset. The Syrian captains sought for Ahab, but could not find him, because of the disguise in which he had concealed himself. They therefore held off their troops from the onset. But one man could not be restrained:
“A certain man drew a bow at a venture.”
The arrow thus sent without human orders had a divine mission. It sped towards Ahab in the ranks, and, with unerring aim, penetrated between the joints of his armour and inflicted the wound of which he died before the day was over. Then a proclamation issued to the host, dismissing every man to his home; and the picture was seen which Micaiah had sketched beforehand: all Israel scattered upon the hills as sheep that have no shepherd. Now, the man discharged the arrow because he felt inclined to do it. It seemed a perfectly natural act to him and to those who witnessed it: but it was an act divinely impelled and divinely guided, as the sequel, in the light of Micaiah’s prophecy, showed: whence we derive the conclusion that an action without any higher apparent origin than human caprice, may have a divine character, though nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand have no such character. It all depends on whether the action comes within the compass of a divine purpose, and of this we cannot definitely judge. It is sufficient to realise that an action being natural does not exclude it from the category of divinity. The value of the reflection will be felt in the experience of all who commit their way to God in the confidence that all things work together, because made to work together, for the good of such.
A case of providence being affected and diverted by human action was furnished in the life of Ahab before he came to the unhappy end just considered. He appears to have been deeply impressed with Elijah’s having denounced his appropriation of the vineyard of Naboth. It is written that—
“When Ahab heard these words, he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went softly.”
It is the result of this attitude on Ahab’s part that constitutes the case in question.
“The word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before Me? Because he humbleth himself before Me, I WILL NOT BRING THE EVIL IN HIS DAYS but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house” (1 Kings 21: 27).
If the repentant and humble attitude of a man like Ahab warded off an intended visitation of providential evil, we may learn the wisdom of that emendation of evil ways which is the constant inculcation of the Spirit of God calling to the sons of men in the scriptures. We should never despair, but, confessing our sins and forsaking them, seek that mercy at the Father’s hand which at the last moment may defer appointed punishment.
Unexpected and improbable deliverances are sometimes characteristic of the ways of providence when sufficient reason exists for them. An illustration of this is found in the reign of Ahab’s second successor. Samaria, the capital of the Ten Tribes, was besieged by the Syrians under Benhadad. In the continuance of the siege, famine prevailed in the city so greatly that two women agreed to boil and eat their sons. The first, having carried out her part of the covenant, the second, with the pangs of hunger allayed by the horrible repast, hid her son. The first then complained to the King, who was shocked beyond measure at the whole case, and ignorantly attributed the evil case of the city to the machinations of Elisha the prophet who was also in the city. He sent messengers to take Elisha that he might be slain. Elisha met the menace by a welcome but incredible intimation:
“Thus saith the Lord, tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.”
A more apparently impossible deliverance could not have been propounded. It was a natural remark that was made by one of the king’s nobles when he heard of it:
“If the Lord would make windows in heaven, might this thing be?”
The scepticism thus evinced was severely rebuked. No marvel. It was an insult to Jehovah who had given so many proofs of His speaking by Elisha. It brought upon the perpetrator a prompt sentence of exclusion from the benefit.
“Behold thou shalt see it with thine eyes but shalt not eat thereof.”
Tomorrow came, and with it the occurrence of the seemingly impossible. The investing army having become the subject of a panic, broke up and fled, leaving all their stores behind them. The inhabitants of the beleaguered city issued forth and found themselves in possession of plenty with the result of bringing down prices to the point predicted in Elisha’s statement. And how did the unbelieving nobleman fare? Was he miraculously struck dead? No. This part of the prophecy was fulfilled also in a natural way. Having charge of one of the gates, he was trampled to death by the crowding and excited people who in their hunger could not be restrained from getting out to help themselves. The whole situation was invisibly controlled by the angels who, in a way that appeared natural, did a work that was in reality a work of God.
“Are not they ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Hebrews 1: 14).
They are: and consequently if we are earnest believers of the gospel and faithful performers of the will of God, our affairs which on the surface may be all natural in their evolutions and combinations, will be divinely regulated for our good. It is a matter of promise, knowing that God has not and cannot change. The times of the Gentiles do not interfere with God’s love of His own, and His power and willingness to take care of them. He may give them bitterness in the cup, and they may seem forsaken, as in the case both of David (1 Samuel 27: 1) and “great David’s greater son” (Matthew 27: 46): but they will find in the progress of time and experience that well-being and joy are the sequel and even the result of all the evil to which God may subject His children in this time of the night.
In the reign of Joash, there is a remarkable incident touching the ascendancy which Syria had obtained over the land of Israel. Though not directly in the channel of the ways of providence, it is collaterally related to the subject. It is connected with Elisha’s last illness and the king’s visit to the dying prophet. Joash wept at the prospect of Elisha’s death: and no wonder, for the Syrians had prevailed, and in the death of Elisha, who had practically cooperated with Israel for many years, sending word where the Syrian camp was pitched (2 Kings 6: 9), it would seem to the king as if they were to be forsaken of God. Elisha told the king to get bow and arrows. He then told him to open the window and hold the bow in shooting position, which he did. Elisha then placed his hands in juxtaposition with the king’s hands and told the king to shoot, and the king shot. And the prophet said, “the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance from Syria.” In this symbolic transaction, there was a prophecy that Israel should be delivered from the severity of the Syrian yoke by the hands of Joash. This performance was not altogether a performance of Elisha’s volition. The Spirit of God, which had dwelt so abundantly with Elisha, was moulding the actions of men in miniature resemblance to coming events. This was shown by the next part of the incident. Elisha told the king to take the arrows and strike the ground with them, without telling him how often to do it. The king did what the prophet told, but struck the ground only three times. Elisha was angry, saying he should have smitten the ground five or six times, in which case, he would have smitten the *Assyrians till they were brought under, whereas he would only beat them three times, and leave them still in the field. In the prophet’s anger we see the prophet’s personal solicitude for Israel’s welfare. In the king’s arrested action and the prophet’s commentary thereon, we see the guiding presence of the Spirit of God, protecting the purpose of God from the interference of the will of man. Elisha would have willed the total overthrow of the Syrians, but God willed otherwise. Though He purposed that Israel should not be exterminated (2 Kings 14: 27), and though He willed a measure of relief from Syrian oppression, He also purposed the ultimate triumph of the enemy for a long time because of Israel’s sins, a purpose with which the total consumption of Syria by Joash would have been inconsistent. Consequently he interfered with Elisha’s personal wishes, as he did Isaac’s in the blessing of Jacob, and with Joseph’s in the blessing of Ephraim. We may wonder what connection there could be between the actions of Joash in Elisha’s death-chamber, and the issue of public events afterwards. What difference could it make the number of times he might strike the floor? When we come to be able (as we shall be able if we attain the great honour of divine acceptance and change) to penetrate the secret and invisible laws which govern the evolution of events, we may be able to see that the number of times the floor was struck was not a matter of indifference in a case where the Spirit of God was, sot o speak, laying the foundation of future occurrences. At all events, however this may be, it could not be a matter of indifference what should occur in an enacted prophecy. As a matter of fact, afterwards,
“Three times did Joash beat Benhadad, and, recovered the cities of Israel” (2 Kings 13: 25).
* Bro. Roberts clearly meant Syria—see 2 Kings 13: 15-19
The last illustration of the ways of providence, calling for notice in the history of the Ten Tribes, is that to be found in their removal from the land of their inheritance to regions beyond the Euphrates, from which in a national sense, they have never returned to the present day. The nature of that removal, as regards its outside appearance, is known to all the world. It was the termination of a long series of national disasters, coming on Israel in an apparently natural way during a period of more than one generation. Invasion after invasion on the part of the Syrians and Assyrians broke Israel’s power, until—
“In the ninth year of Hoshea (the last of Ephraim’s kings) the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes”
(2 Kings 17: 6).
Proximately, Israel’s calamities were of purely human origin: but how stands the case from the divine point of view? They were divine doings by human agency. This is testified so abundantly and emphatically that there can be no mistake about the matter. First by Moses God forewarned them when they came out of Egypt:
“If ye will not hearken unto Me and will not do all these commandments, . . . I will bring a sword against you that shall avenge the quarrel of My covenant, . . . and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you” (Leviticus 26: 14-25).
Then by the prophet Ahijah, in the reign of Jeroboam who first led the Ten Tribes astray, the following message was delivered:
“The Lord shall root up Israel out of this good land which He gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the Lord to anger” (1 Kings 14: 15).
And finally, the divine record of these prophecies fulfilled is in the following terms:
“So it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt . . . Therefore the Lord was angry with Israel, . . . and removed Israel out of His sight, as He had said by all His servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day” (2 Kings 17: 18, 23).
Thus by perfectly natural means, a great work of God was done in the reign of Shalmaneser the king of Assyria, 2,500 years ago. It is written:
“He that scattered Israel will gather him.”
The scattering was done by natural means, and so may the gathering be in its first stages. It is this which imparts such interest to the many schemes and motions abroad in the earth at the present time, touching the return of Israel to their own land.
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