June 30, 2015.
Daily Reading: I Kings 19-22.
Background: I Kings 14-18.
Concepts and Connections.
When a man of God is afraid: After his bold stance against Ahab and the hundreds of prophets of Baal and the Asherah, here we read of one woman who was able to make Elijah turn and run in fear with one simple threat. Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, could easily take the award one of the most wicked women in scripture. All she had to do was tell Elijah that she was going to kill him, and he ran. Ahab didn’t have this power, nor did the false prophets. And as the Lord would soon point out to Elijah, neither should have Jezebel had this power. Elijah goes a days journey into the wilderness, and twice he is visited by an angel who gives him food to sustain him, for he has a long journey ahead. After the second meal, he travels for 40 days and nights until he reaches Mount Horeb, the mountain of the Lord (where Moses saw the burning bush, see Exodus 3:1-2), where he finds a cave to lodge in. When he came to the cave, the Lord asked him a question: What are you doing here? This is an interesting question. The Lord knows all, He knew why Elijah ran, He knew that he was going to come to the mountain (remember the angel that was sent to Elijah before his journey), and He knew the situation in Israel. However, He asks Elijah what he is doing. He is making a point. Elijah answers with a dismal answer: “I’ve done the work of the Lord, but no one will listen. Everyone is evil. There is no fear of the Lord. I am the only one left, and now they want to kill me!” Before the Lord addresses Elijah’s answer, however, He tells him to go out and stand on the mount of the Lord, where the Lord would show him an awesome display of His power. Note what the record says. There was a great wind that tore pieces of the mountain, but the Lord was not in the wind. There was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. A fire, but the Lord was not in the fire either. Then there was a low whisper, or a still small voice. The implication is that this is where the Lord was to be found. Though He posses great power, dominion over all creation, He was there to answer Elijah in a gentle breeze. “What are you doing here Elijah?” Still, Elijah gives the same answer; he still fears that he is the only one left. The Lords answer was direct: “Get up, you have work to do. Anoint Hazael king of Syria, Jehu king of Israel and Elisha prophet in your stead. There are 7,000 people in Israel who have not bowed to Baal. You are not the only one left.” It is good for us to remember when we begin to think that we are the only ones left who are serving the Lord, or some of the few a least, that the Lord still has those on His side that we might not even know about. Elijah draws himself back together, gets up and finds Elisha, who finishes up what he is doing and immediately goes to minister to Elijah. There was work to be done, and it was time to let the power of the Lord drive out the fear.
Conflict, divine intervention and personal responsibility: Taking a break from Elijah, chapter 20 records the account of Ben-hadad’s conflict with Israel. Ben-hadad was the king of Syria, and he had mustered a great army against Israel, sending a messenger to the Ahab, the king of Israel, to tell him that his silver and gold, wives and children are his. The king of Israel, seemingly to avoid conflict that would likely end in defeat, sent back word to Ben-hadad consenting to his terms. Ben-hadad then took it a step further, saying that his servants would come in and take whatever the king of Israel loved in his house. The king understood that Ben-hadad was looking to start a fight, so he gathered the elders for counsel and they told him not to consent. This made Ben-hadad set his army in position against Israel. Then the Lord sent a prophet to the king telling him that He was going to give Syria into his hands to let them know that He was the Lord. Thus, the king of Israel went out against Ben-hadad just as he was told, and Israel won the first battle agains them. Ben-hadad escaped, however, and the prophet came to the king of Israel again to tell him that the Syrians were going to attack once again, assuming that Israel’s “gods” were gods of the hills and not of the plain. To make the power of the Lord, who is God of all, known to the Syrians, He would again give them into Israel’s hands; thus He did. As Syria was being defeated, however, the servants of the king told him that the kings of Israel were known for their mercy, and they went to the king to ask for mercy. The king of Israel lets Ben-hadad live, because he said he was his brother, even promising to restore his land. Thus Ahab made a covenant with Ben-hadad. This covenant, however, displeased the Lord, for he had given Ben-hadad in to Ahab’s hand, devoting him to destruction. Ahab had the responsibility to destroy Ben-hadad because of the intervention of God, and he didn’t do it. A prophet again came to Ahab to tell him of his wrongdoing, saying that the Lord would require his life for the life of Ben-hadad. Ahab then goes to his house vexed because of the situation.
Lessons from Naboth’s vineyard: Here we read a rather distasteful tale of envy, false witness and murder, all to take possession of a vineyard that Ahab did not have a right to. Near his house, there was a man named Naboth who owned a vineyard that Ahab wanted for a vegetable garden. Naboth would not sell the vineyard to Ahab, however, because the Lord forbade it (see Leviticus 25:23 and Numbers 36:7). Ahab went back home and threw a pity party about it, telling Jezebel what had happened. Though Ahab just cried about not getting what he wanted, Jezebel took matters into her own hand, setting up the false accusation and execution of Naboth so that her husband could have the vineyard. Under the law, there needed to be two witnesses against someone to convict them of a crime (see Deuteronomy 17:6). So Jezebel tells the elders to find two worthless men who would be false witnesses against Naboth, and after they accused him of cursing God and the king, the people took Naboth out and stoned him. Once Naboth was out of the way, Jezebel told her husband to take possession of the vineyard, which he did. Nothing is hidden from the Lord, however, and Elijah is sent once again to Ahab to prophesy against him. Notice the greeting that Ahab gives Elijah, calling him his enemy, for Elijah usually came with bad news for Ahab, as was indeed the case here. The Lord was going to destroy the house of Ahab as He did the house of Jeroboam and Baasha (see I Kings 14 and 16, respectively). Ahab’s blood would be licked up by dogs where Naboth’s blood was spilt (see I Kings 22:37-38 and II Kings 9:21-26) and Jezebel would be eaten by dogs within Jezreel (see II Kings 9:30-37). However, Ahab humbled himself before the Lord, and the Lord told Elijah that because of this, He would not bring the destruction of the house of Ahab about in his days, but in the days of his son. Note that even after all the evil that the king had done, the Lord was still willing to show mercy on him because he humbled himself before Him.
False prophecy and stubbornness: In this final chapter of I Kings, we encounter an interesting story from which we can pull several lessons and characteristics from it. We find that Syria is still in conflict with Israel, which seemed to be a constant thing throughout the days of Ahab. Notice that Jehoshaphat the king of Judah (who did what was right in the sight of the Lord) had made peace with Isreal and said that he would go up and fight against Syria with Ahab. Being of the good character he was, however, he asked that they inquire of the Lord before they go up. Ahab calls together 400 false prophets that tell them to go up and prosper, but Jehoshaphat (and Ahab) knew that they were not prophets of the Lord, and he asks specifically for one from the Lord. Ahab has one, but he hates him because he never prophesies anything good. Note that Ahab was only willing to listen to prophets that told him things he liked, which is still relevant in our culture today. Nevertheless, he calls for Micaiah, the prophet of the Lord, and on the way, Micaiah is informed of what the other prophets had said and told to say the same. Micaiah, however, will only speak what the Lord tells him to speak. When the king asks him what he should do, he says “Go up and prosper,” but he must have said it with such sarcasm that Ahab might have even been annoyed. When he tells him the message from the Lord, Ahab says, in essence, to Jehoshaphat, “See, I told you so!” Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah, who seems to be the leader of the false prophets, slaps Micaiah and asks how a spirit has gotten past him, and Micaiah tells him that the Lord had sent a lying spirit to the false prophets that they might entice Ahab to go up so that he would die in battle. Note that even though there was a lying spirit sent, the Lord still gave Ahab a chance to hear and accept the truth. Ahab is stubborn, however, and locks Micaiah up until he returns, to which Micaiah says that if Ahab returns, he is not a prophet of the Lord. Then Ahab has an idea, thinking that he can deceive the Syrians (and further deceive God). He tells Jehoshaphat to wear his kingly robes into battle while he disguises himself. Note the providence from the Lord here. The king of Syria has commanded his army to only fight with the king of Israel. They chase Jehoshaphat, but when they realize he isn’t Ahab, they turn back. Then, one archer fires a lone arrow at random, and the arrow is guided right into the back of Ahab. He could not escape the judgment of the Lord. Ahab dies, and the dogs lick up his blood, and his son Ahaziah would reign in his place for 2 years, doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Jehoshaphat, however, did what was right in the sight the Lord, walking in the ways of his father Asa, and he reigned 25 years in Jerusalem, continuing the reform that Asa had begun. When Jehoshaphat died, his son Jehoram reigned in his place.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 75-77.
Strength and honor.