1 Kings 22:29-2 Kings 2:25
First Kings 22 brings to a close the reign of King Ahab in the Northern Kingdom. Chapters 20 and 21 had anticipated his death by giving specific reasons that the judgment of God would fall upon Ahab. His treaty with Ben-hadad when he should have killed the pagan king and the murder of Naboth and the theft of his vineyard violated the law of Deuteronomy and made Ahab's life forfeit. First Kings 22:1-38 narrates the final fateful events in Ahab's life. The remainder of chapter 22 summarizes the reign of Jehoshaphat in the Southern Kingdom and introduces Ahab's son, Ahaziah. The treatment of Ahaziah passes from 1 Kings 22 to 2 Kings 1 with no structural or literary breaks. Originally the two books had been one, and they were only divided into the present format when the Old Testament was translated into Greek.
Second Kings 1 is built around the encounter between Ahaziah and Elijah over the king's consulting with Baalzebub, the god of Ekron. Apart from the few verses in 1 Kings 21:17-28, this is the first mention of Elijah since the end of 1 Kings 19, where he had summoned Elisha to join his ministry. Second Kings 2 presents the end of Elijah's life and ministry and the beginning of Elisha's prophetic ministry.
The Death of Ahab - 1 Kings 22:29-40
The occasion of Ahab's death was a battle that he waged against the Syrians for the purpose of regaining possession of Ramoth-gilead. For reasons that are not explained, Jehoshaphat, the king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, was visiting Ahab and was invited to join in the battle. Jehoshaphat's desire to ask the direction of Yahweh before going into battle sets the stage for most of verses 5-28.
After Ahab quickly assembled four hundred prophets who promised victory Jehoshaphat asked for a prophet of Yahweh to be given the chance to speak. The fact that Jehoshaphat did not regard any of the four hundred prophets as giving a reliable message, nor was he willing to consider them as prophets of Yahweh, is instructive. Ahab then produced Micaiah, but confessed hatred of that prophet because he never prophesied good things for Ahab. That comment is ironic, for within a few verses Micaiah will prophesy Ahab's death. Further insight into the political pressure of the Israel's spiritual world can be gained in verse 13. There the messenger who summoned Micaiah announced to him that all the other prophets has prophesied victory and that he was expected to do the same.
When Micaiah then prophesied victory Ahab was so suspicious that he urged the prophet to tell the truth. At that point Micaiah reversed his words and spoke of Ahab's death. The vision of Israel scattered on the mountains as sheep without a shepherd made use of a typical Israelite metaphor. Several Old Testament prophets spoke of the king of the nation as a shepherd. (Ezekiel 34 is the clearest and longest example.) The flock represented the nation. To see the flock without a shepherd spoke of the death of the king in this context. The phrase, like sheep without a shepherd, was picked up in Matthew 9:36 and Mark 6:34 to describe the devastating lack of caring leadership for the people. It had no direct connection to the vision of Micaiah that indicated Ahab's death.
When Ahab told Jehoshaphat that such a dire prophecy was more consistent with his expectations of Micaiah, the prophet related another vision in verses 19-23. He painted a picture of a debate in the throne room of God over by whom and how Ahab could be enticed to go to battle at Ramoth-gilead and be killed. A spirit is commissioned by the Lord to go to all Ahab's prophets and to function as a lying spirit in their mouths promising victory so Ahab would be enticed to battle and to his death. Ahab then had Micaiah imprisoned pending the outcome of the battle.
Ahab's fundamental dishonesty and cowardice emerge in his proposal in verse 30. He disguised himself as a common soldier but insisted that Jehoshaphat wear his royal robe into the battle. It is appears obvious to the modern reader that Ahab did not wish to be identified as the king as the battle progressed in hopes that he would not become a target of the Syrians. Given the mind of the ancient world it is also likely that Ahab believed that wearing the clothing of a commoner would avert the evil fate prophesied by Micaiah. We have records indicating that kings in Mesopotamia would lay aside their royal robes on certain days believing that the evil powers could not find them in different clothing. This is a magical view of the world in which objects such as clothing can be substituted for the people involved. A personal view of the world would suggest that disguise could not fool the plan of God that was unfolding against Ahab.
To ask why Jehoshaphat was so foolish as to agree to Ahab's plan is a typical modern question. However, the Biblical author was intent on showing that Ahab could no longer avoid the judgment of God rather than on analyzing the rationality of Jehoshaphat. Verse 31 highlights the issue. Ahab had disguised himself to avoid the promised judgment of God. The Syrian king specifically instructed his army to ignore the common Israelite soldiers to fight with Ahab alone. Thus Ahab's disguise should have guaranteed his survival.
When the Syrians saw the royal robes of Jehoshaphat they assumed that he was Ahab and pressed the battle against him. Verse 32 notes that Jehoshaphat cried out but gives no further explanation before mentioning that the Syrians realized he was not Ahab and left him alone. The specific word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for Jehoshaphat's cry implies that he cried out in prayer. It is also possible that he uttered his war cry and summoned the men of Judah to his aid, which would have told the Syrians he was the wrong king.
Verse 34 clearly states that the bowshot that proved fatal to Ahab was done "at random" or "by chance." (NRSV: unknowingly). The Hebrew construction meant that the archer was innocently unaware that he was shooting toward the king of Israel. This specific detail is designed to show that God's will was accomplished in spite of Ahab's disguise and the Syrian strategy. The sneakiest effort to avoid death and the most haphazard bowshot were put together by God to accomplish his purpose. When God is ready to act, neither human avoidance nor human ignorance will prevent His will from being accomplished.
It is not clear whether Ahab the coward attempted heroically to lead Israel in the battle after being wounded. Verse 34 states that he commanded his chariot driver to turn and take him out of the battle. The impression is that Ahab was running to try to save his life once more. Verse 35 indicates that Ahab remained propped up in his chariot at the front through the day and died from loss of blood. Whether Ahab stayed at the front for heroic purposes or the chariot was simply not able to get out of the battle line is impossible to know now. However, it is not important, unless one is more interested in the question of Ahab's heroism than in the fulfillment of God's will. As Brueggemann aptly notes, "No amount of heroism compensates for defiance of God's truth."
Verse 35 notes that Ahab's lifeblood ebbed from his body into the bottom of the chariot. This detail is important because verse 38 mentions that the chariot was washed in Samaria after Ahab's body had been returned to his capital for burial. And as the chariot was being washed, the dogs licked up the blood of Ahab, fulfilling the word of Yahweh to Elijah in 1 Kings 21:19.
The author adds a strange note. Not only did the dogs lick the blood of Ahab, prostitutes bathed in the pool where the bloody chariot was washed. Most commentators believe that this was simply a superstitious act. Blood was believed to convey life and power and the king was thought of as the channel of blessing and fertility. By the magic of contact, the prostitutes hoped to receive part of the life power of Ahab by washing in his blood.
While such reasoning may have motivated the prostitutes, the mention of their bloody bath functions ironically. Ahab had led Israel in patronizing Baal worship, which used cultic prostitutes as part of worship. His worship of Baal apparently arose from the desire to "work both sides of the aisle" - to appease both Baal and Yahweh. How ironic that the king who put such hope in Baal ends up having Baal's prostitutes trying to use his blood to enhance their power. Baal worship did not pay Ahab very good dividends for his investment. It paid very poor dividends for its cost. Disobedience to God always pays extremely poor dividends compared to its cost.
The Reign of Jehoshaphat - 1 Kings 22:41-50
The general pattern of 1 and 2 Kings after the death of a king is to shift to the other [either Northern or Southern] kingdom to introduce a king who came to the throne during the reign of the dead king. Thus when the file on Ahab was finally closed in verse 40 the author shifts to the Southern Kingdom of Judah to present the reign of Jehoshaphat. The focus of all of 1 Kings 17 - 2 Kings 8 is on the Northern Kingdom, so the reign of Jehoshaphat does not gain a lot of attention. Its primary function in the book of Kings is to establish the context for the brief rule of Ahab's sons. Second Chronicles 19-20 provide a much more detailed picture of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat ruled twenty-five years according to 1 Kings 22:42, and most scholars believe that his reign was from about 873 BC to 848 BC. He is given general praise by the author of Kings because he followed the way of his father, Asa, and did right in the sight of God. The Hebrew word translated "right" literally means "straight." Jehoshaphat lived a straight life; there was no crookedness or deviation in him.
Verse 46 further notes that he expelled the remaining male temple prostitutes, probably from Baal worship, in Judah. However, he was not able to take away the high places where Baal worship would return. Sacrifices and incense were still offered in those forbidden worship centers. The author of Kings also comments that Jehoshaphat made peace with the Northern Kingdom. It appears that the author looked with favor on this peace initiative since the two political entities really were one nation under God. However, 1 Kings is silent about the marriage contract made between Jehoshaphat and Ahab by which Jehoshaphat's son, Jehoram, was married to Ahab's daughter, Athaliah.
The final comments about Jehoshaphat deal with his efforts at shipping. This is the first mention of Israelite (or Judahite) shipping since the time of Solomon (1 Kings 9). A power vacuum in Edom made this possible. First Kings 11:14-22 mentioned Hadad's uprising against Solomon. However, verse 47 notes that at the time of Jehoshaphat there was no king in Edom. This allowed Jehoshaphat to attempt to revive the shipping industry earlier developed by Solomon out of Ezion-geber.
Verse 48 is a bit puzzling. English versions suggest that Jehoshaphat had ships built to sail to Ophir for gold, but that they didn't because they were wrecked at Ezion-geber. Some scholars believe he had the old ships of Solomon refurbished, but that they proved unseaworthy. Others believe that Jehoshaphat tried to build a new fleet of ships, but that he used only Judahite craftsman who were not capable of building a ship seaworthy enough to get out of port. That may be part of the point of verse 49. When Ahaziah, Ahab's son who succeeded him in the Northern Kingdom, offered to form a partnership in the shipping business Jehoshaphat refused. Because of their connections with the Phoenicians we assume Ahaziah could have provided skilled ship builders. However, Jehoshaphat declined the offer and apparently died shortly thereafter.
The Reign of Ahaziah - 1 Kings 22:51 - 2 Kings 1:18
The final three verses of 1 Kings introduce the reign of Ahaziah, son of Ahab, in the Northern Kingdom. Ahaziah reigned only two years and continued the evil tradition of the Northern Kingdom that he had inherited from Ahab, his father, and from Jeroboam, the first king who led Israel into idolatry. Ahaziah perpetuated the worship of Baal and provoked Yahweh to anger over this on-going violation of the First Commandment.
After these general statements about Ahaziah, 2 Kings 1:2 notes the injury to the king when he fell through the lattice in his upper chamber. The upper chamber usually referred to an enclosure on top of the flat roof of the typical Israelite house. Often there was no roof over the upper chamber; it was simply enclosed by a light wood lattice that allowed air and light to pass through, but prevented clear vision. The palace in Samaria would have had a more elaborate set of balconies and terraces on the roof, but they were apparently enclosed with a similar lattice formed from interweaving many small pieces of wood or reeds. Though the lattice afforded privacy, it would not support one's weight, as Ahaziah painfully discovered. Josephus, the Jewish historian who wrote nine hundred years later suggested that the king tripped on the stairs and plunged through the latticework. We will never know how the accident happened; the author of Kings only mentioned it as the cause of Ahaziah's illness.
In the course of his ensuing sickness he sent messengers to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, whether or not he would recover. The name Baalzebub meant "Lord of the flies" in Hebrew, and various interpretations of its meaning have been offered. Some scholars associate the title with the god who controlled diseases because of the association between flies and disease. However, that observation seems to arise from modern scientific knowledge rather than a Biblical or ancient Near-Eastern tradition connecting Baalzebub to disease. Other scholars suggest that belief in Ekron interpreted the buzzing of flies as the coded message from Baal. It is also possible that Baalzebub is the corruption or deliberate twisting of another title that expressed honor to Baal by the inhabitants of Ekron. In any case the author of 2 Kings had no use for any of the baals and the Baal of Ekron was no exception. Furthermore, Ekron was a Philistine city. Regardless of the reputation for healing that Baalzebub might have had, he was the god of a political and military rival.
To inquire of such a deity about one's health and future was a serious affront to Yahweh. Elijah was instructed to send a message to Ahaziah that because he had consulted with Baalzebub instead of seeking Yahweh he would not recover. The rest of chapter 1 is devoted to the story of the communication and fulfillment of that message. The events that are described are tragic and seem pointless to the modern reader. However, in the flow of the narrative, these details highlight the wrongness of seeking help from another god. They also demonstrate the horrible consequences of such action.
The story begins with a play on words that English translations obscure. The Hebrew word for "angel" as verse 3 translates it is the same word as that translated "messenger" in verses 2, 3, and 5. Thus the original readers would have felt the impact in this way: "Ahaziah sent messengers to inquire of Baalzebub . . . But the messenger of Yahweh said to Elijah, 'Go meet the messengers of Ahaziah and tell them . . .'" Whether the messenger of Yahweh was an angel, or a human prophet, or the Holy Spirit, or even Jesus as some think in other passages, is not the point of this passage. The point is that Ahaziah's messengers were not of Yahweh. They were being sent in pursuit of the wrong message because they were being sent to inquire of the wrong god. In the final analysis, he messenger is no better than the message, and the message is totally dependent on the One from whom we receive that message. Ahaziah could not receive any help from Baalzebub and the proclamation of his death by Yahweh was the most powerful way of communicating that fact.
Three times (verses 3, 6, and 16) the ominous question was asked, "Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron?" Part of the question appeals to Ahaziah's (and the readers') national loyalty. Why go to the foreign god and support the foreign religious-political system when you have a God of your own? Even if Ahaziah had no confidence in Yahweh, he should have acted as if he did simply because Yahweh was the God of Israel. More importantly, Israel's first command from Yahweh was to have no other gods before Him. Ahaziah's action was complete religious-national treason. At least the kings who preceded him in the Northern Kingdom had consulted Yahweh along with Baal. Ahaziah showed shocking contempt by not even inquiring of Yahweh. The tragic consequences are then presented in verses 9-15.
Three times King Ahaziah sends a captain with fifty men to summon Elijah to appear before the king. Each time the captain addresses Elijah as "Man of God" and in the first two appearances says, "Come down."
The response of Elijah is full of Hebrew word plays. "If I am a man (ish) of God let fire (esh) come down and consume you." When the sinning king imperially orders the prophet to come down, the ish (man) of God replied that he would not come down; rather the esh (fire) of God would come down and consume the representatives of the king's authority and power. Ahaziah needed to learn that even the king does not command God or the man of God.
After two such episodes costing Ahaziah two captains and one hundred soldiers, the third captain - apparently on his own, not the king's authority - changed the message. He begged for mercy from Elijah, and God graciously granted his request. Fire did not fall to consume him and his troop. Rather the messenger of God told Elijah to accompany the captain and to deliver the message to the king personally. Elijah did so, and the file on Ahaziah came to an abrupt end with the words, "So he died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken." The last two verses note that Ahaziah had no son and thus his brother Jehoram became the next king.
The modern reader is likely to be most concerned about the 102 soldiers that were consumed by the fire of God. In the ancient world where death was common and life was viewed as the arena of warfare between the gods, the original readers would not be as upset by this as modern Western people are. We are not upset when similar and much larger losses of life take place in warfare, which reflects our idolatry of national interests and values. We will shed the blood of thousands of young men (and now women) to protect economic interests, artificial political boundaries, and the territory of allies. Yet we recoil in horror at the idea that the struggle for a nation to worship the true God should cost any lives.
Ahaziah was defying God and treating God's prophet as his personal slave. God chose to resist in ways that Ahaziah could understand in his own time and culture. Because our time and culture is different it is not likely that God will be sending fire down from heaven to destroy people who are forsaking Him. However, God will (and because of His love He must) respond with power and judgment to assert His reality against the idolatries that we may construct against Him. Israel and Ahaziah needed to learn that no one, not even the king, stood above God or above God's representative. Modern Westerners too must learn that no person, no power, no theory, no institution - nothing stands above God.
Passing the Prophetic Mantle to Elisha - 2 Kings 2:1-25
Chapter 1 established the authority and power of God's prophet. The transition from Elijah to Elisha must inevitably take place, but the question of whether Elisha will inherit the power and authority of Elijah must be answered. The four hundred prophets mentioned in 1 Kings 22:6 and the fifty sons of the prophets mentioned in 2 Kings 2: 7 reminds us that there were plenty of people with the title of prophet. However, only a few demonstrated the unique authority of a true representative of Yahweh. Micaiah and Elijah had possessed that kind of power. Would Elisha? Or would he simply be one among the many claiming the title, but not possessing the power?
Second Kings 2 presents 3 distinct stories, each of which contributes to the answer to the question of Elisha's authority. Verses 1-18 describe a journey to the point Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind and part of Elisha's retracing of his steps. Verses 19-22 present the "healing" of the waters of Jericho, and verses 23-24 tell the strange story of Elisha, the taunting boys, and the bear.
The departure of Elijah is filled with mystery. Verse 11 simply states, "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." The spectacular image that is formed in our minds and the uniqueness that apparently no one else has ever concluded their earthly life in such a manner calls forth a multitude of questions from the modern mind. How did it happen? What really happened? Did it really happen? These kinds of questions often cause us to focus on the miraculous point of departure so much that we miss the real purpose of the author.
First, the author does not seem impressed by the whirlwind. He mentions it in verse 1 in a very casual way. Even verse 11 offers no embellishments or impressions of an absolutely impossible event. Later writers have been very impressed by the whirlwind and the way Elijah departed this earth. The author of Kings was interested in other things.
The transition of leadership does appear to be a major concern for the author. There are several connections between the transfer of leadership from Elijah to Elisha told here and the transfer from Moses to Joshua told in Numbers 27:18-23. Also, the crossing of the Jordan River and the cities of Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho are common to both Elisha and Joshua. Once one recognizes the connection to the succession of Moses by Joshua, then the encouraging words of Yahweh to Joshua, "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you, I will not fail you or forsake you," (Joshua 1:6) come to mind. The transition of leadership is always a fearful time for God's people. And, in the mind of many, Joshua and Elisha never quite measured up to Moses and Elijah. But that is the human conclusion, not God's affirmation. Part of the message of the transition from Elijah to Elisha is that God is not obsessed with the past generation. He is ready to transfer leadership to the new generation.
The mystery of the chariot of fire and the whirlwind warns us that worship rather than analysis is the appropriate response to Elijah's "ascension." However, there are some elements that deserve explanation. The reference to the double portion of Elijah's spirit reflects Israel's language of inheritance. The oldest son or the legal heir received a double portion of the property when it was divided up. Thus Elisha's request was that he be allowed truly to follow in Elijah's footsteps rather than simply being one among many prophets. He was not asking for twice as much as Elijah had, but for confirmation that he was the heir of Elijah.
The condition for receiving such a ministry was that Elisha "see" when Elijah was taken. The Biblical idea of seeing is not simply processing visual images; it means understanding. Elisha's response signals his understanding. First he gave a confession of faith, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" Then he demonstrated repentance. The tearing of his clothing showed a profound sense of unworthiness. Such humility when one has experienced the miraculous hand of God directly signals that Elisha had truly seen and understood.
The rest of chapter 2 affirms that the power of God has really come upon Elisha. In healing the waters he demonstrated the same authority as Moses had. The strange [to us] incident of the bears shows that Elisha is now a holy possession of God and no disrespect will be tolerated. Like the story of the touching of the Ark in 2 Samuel 6:6-7, the message of the holiness of God and those things and people who belong to God are also holy is painfully clear.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to make his word come alive in your heart. Ask him to help you understand how his word should apply to your life.
First Day: Read the notes on 1 Kings 22:29-2 Kings 2:25. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two insights that seemed significant to you and tell why they were important.
2. Select a truth that has a personal application for your life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. After reading Romans 8:14-17 write a brief prayer asking God to make you a true heir of Christ by granting a double portion of His spirit.
Second Day: Read 2 Kings 3:1-27. Now focus in on verses 1-14.
1. What elements in verses 4-11 remind you of 1 Kings 22:1-9?
2. At what point in this story did the kings seek the Lord? Was their timing right? Why or why not?
3. Why do you think Elisha answered the way he did in verse 13? What disadvantages are there for people who only call on God in times of crisis?
Third Day: Read 2 Kings 3:1-27. Focus on verses 13-27.
1. What did Elisha command in verse 16? Did the command make sense or was it ridiculous? Why?
2. Why do you think verse 20 mentioned the "time of sacrifice"? How does it relate to 1 Kings 18:36?
3. Why did the Israelites win the battle against Moab? What lessons can you apply to your life from that victory?
Fourth Day: Read 2 Kings 4:1-44. Now focus on verses 1-7.
1. What similarities do you see between verses 1-7 and 1 Kings 17:7-16? What conclusions can you draw from these similarities?
2. If the oil of these focus verses symbolizes the Holy Spirit or the grace of God, what applications could you make from these verses to your life?
3. How many jars would you bring to God to receive of His grace and His Spirit? What aspects of your life would those jars represent?
Fifth Day: Read 2 Kings 4:1-44. Focus in on verses 8-37.
1. What other Biblical stories come to your mind when you read verses 8-17? Why do you think God granted children in so many cases?
2. What are the similarities between verses 18-37 and 1 Kings 17:17-24? What are the similarities between these verses and Luke 7:11-17 and Acts 9:36-42?
3. What are the differences between the raising of the Shunammite's son and the resurrection of Jesus? Read John 11:21-27 and state your hope of resurrection.
Sixth Day: Read 2 Kings 4:1-44. Now focus on verses 38-44.
1. What role does Elisha play in verses 38-41? How does he represent God in these verses? What application can you make to your role in the work of God?
2. Compare verses 42-44 with John 6:1-15. What similarities and differences do you find? What application does the rest of John 6 make to the feeding of the 5000?
3. Write a brief prayer asking the Lord to feed your spiritually with the Living Bread. Open your heart to truly taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8).