The Just and Righteous Judgment of God

17 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 18 “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19 And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Have you killed and also taken possession?”’ And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood.”’”

20 Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord. 21 Behold, I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel. 22 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 anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have made Israel to sin. 23 And of Jezebel the Lord also said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the walls of Jezreel.’ 24 Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat.”

25 (There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel.)

27 And when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. 28 And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster upon his house.” 1 Kings 21:17-29 ESV

Ahab was busy surveying his newly acquired vineyard when he received a surprise visit from his old arch-nemesis, Elijah the prophet. The king had been making plans to transform Naboth’s vineyard into his own personal garden, but Elijah was about to replace Ahab’s dream with a nightmare.

Elijah, speaking on behalf of God, leveled the charge against Ahab in the form of a condemning question: “Haven’t you committed murder and taken possession of the property of the deceased?” (1 Kings 21:19 NET). Elijah wasn’t looking for a confession from Ahab because his guilt was well-established. Jezebel’s little ploy to falsely accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king had fooled no one, most especially God. And before Ahab could respond, Elijah delivered the next part of his message.

“This is what the Lord has said: ‘In the spot where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will also lick up your blood—yes, yours!’” – 1 Kings 21:19 NET

It’s important to recall that Ahab was already under a curse from God for his refusal to execute Ben-hadad, the king of Syria. After Ahab had decided to spare Ben-hadad so that he might sign a trade agreement with him, God had sent a prophet with a dire pronouncement:

Because you have spared the man I said must be destroyed, now you must die in his place, and your people will die instead of his people.” – 1 Kings 20:42 NLT

Ahab had spared the life of a man whom God had condemned to death, and then he had murdered a man who undeserving of death. And, as a result, Ahab found himself under a double-curse from God. The first prophet had told Ahab that he would die for his first act of rebellion against God. Now, Elijah informed Ahab that his murder of Naboth had determined the nature of his death. It would be a violent and humiliating death, with the king’s blood poured out on the very same spot where Naboth had been unjustly stoned to death. And the only ones present at his death would be the wild dogs that would feast on his blood.

But Elijah’s words appear to have made no impact on Ahab. He simply responded, So, my enemy, you have found me! (1 Kings 21:20 NLT). He expresses no fear. He acknowledges no guilt. So, Elijah provided the stubborn and unrepentant king with further details concerning his fate. The prophet had traveled all the way to Jezreel for this confrontation because Ahad was totally committed to doing evil in the sight of the Lord. He had no morals or scruples and displayed no fear of or respect for Yahweh. He did whatever he wanted to do without ever considering whether his actions were in keeping with the will of God. And now he would learn the price he would have to pay for his rebellion. Ahab would face the same fate as two of his predecessors: Jeroboam and Baasha.

“I will bring disaster on you and consume you. I will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel! I am going to destroy your family as I did the family of Jeroboam son of Nebat and the family of Baasha son of Ahijah, for you have made me very angry and have led Israel into sin.” – 1 Kings 21:21-22 NLT

Ahab’s dreams of building a kingdom and a legacy that would last for generations had been forfeited. There would be no dynasty because God was going to eliminate all his male heirs. Ahab would have no sons to sit on his throne after him. And it should be noted that Elijah delivered this message on the very plot of land on which Ahab had hoped to build a garden. His dreams of fruitfulness were being dashed by God. He and his wicked wife, Jezebel, would be the last of their line because God was going to wipe out their heirs and destroy all hope of them propagating their legacy of sin and rebellion. Elijah let the king know that Jezebel would also pay dearly for her role in leading Israel into idolatry and apostasy. In fact, Ahab’s entire household would end up suffering degrading deaths as judgment for his sin.

“Dogs will eat Jezebel’s body at the plot of land in Jezreel. The members of Ahab’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.” – 1 Kings 21:23-24 NLT

At this point, the author provides a parenthetical commentary, intended to explain the harshness of God’s judgment. When it came to committing acts of wickedness and evil among the rulers of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel were the poster-couple. Despite the abysmal track records of Jeroboam and Baasha, Ahab and Jezebel had managed to establish an all-new low when it came to doing evil in the sight of the Lord.

Even for the callous and hard-hearted Ahab, this news was far more than he could bear. When the full scope of God’s judgment had finally registered in Ahab’s brain, he was devastated.

…he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly. – 1 Kings 21:27 ESV

And, evidently, his display of sorrow and repentance was real because God acknowledged it as such.

“Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has done this, I will not do what I promised during his lifetime. It will happen to his sons; I will destroy his dynasty.” – 1 Kings 21:29 NLT

Because Ahab had finally managed to display a semblance of humility and remorse for his actions, God would show mercy to Ahab. He would allow Ahab to live out his life, but Ahab’s son, Joram, would have to suffer in his place. Joram would have his blood spilled on the ground where Naboth was stoned to death (2 Kings 9:25-26). And there is no indication that Jezebel ever repented, so she would still have to endure the judgment God had prescribed for her many sins. Her humiliating and gruesome death is recorded in the book of 2 Kings.

When Jezebel, the queen mother, heard that Jehu had come to Jezreel, she painted her eyelids and fixed her hair and sat at a window. When Jehu entered the gate of the palace, she shouted at him, “Have you come in peace, you murderer? You’re just like Zimri, who murdered his master!”

Jehu looked up and saw her at the window and shouted, “Who is on my side?” And two or three eunuchs looked out at him. “Throw her down!” Jehu yelled. So they threw her out the window, and her blood spattered against the wall and on the horses. And Jehu trampled her body under his horses’ hooves.

Then Jehu went into the palace and ate and drank. Afterward he said, “Someone go and bury this cursed woman, for she is the daughter of a king.” But when they went out to bury her, they found only her skull, her feet, and her hands.

When they returned and told Jehu, he stated, “This fulfills the message from the Lord, which he spoke through his servant Elijah from Tishbe: ‘At the plot of land in Jezreel, dogs will eat Jezebel’s body. Her remains will be scattered like dung on the plot of land in Jezreel, so that no one will be able to recognize her.’” – 2 Kings 9:32-37 NLT

Ahab and Jezebel had lived their lives according to their own standards. They had attempted to replace Yahweh with their own gods. They had repeatedly violated His commands and had ruled the people of Israel according to their own selfish agenda. But they would pay dearly for their rebellion. Their wickedness would result in the righteous and just judgment of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The High Cost of Getting Your Own Way

1 Now Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. And after this Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house, and I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him, for he had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and would eat no food.

But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “Why is your spirit so vexed that you eat no food?” 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.’” And Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal, and she sent the letters to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city. And she wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and set Naboth at the head of the people. 10 And set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out and stone him to death.” 11 And the men of his city, the elders and the leaders who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. As it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and set Naboth at the head of the people. 13 And the two worthless men came in and sat opposite him. And the worthless men brought a charge against Naboth in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, 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.” 16 And as soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it. 1 Kings 21:1-16 ESV

Chapter 20 ended with the statement: And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria” (1 Kings 20:43 ESV). The author used two Hebrew words, sar and zāʿēp̄, to describe Ahab’s state of mind. And like most words in the Hebrew language, these two words carry a range of meanings. When we read that Ahab was “vexed and sullen,” it conjures up images of an unhappy child who is pouting because he didn’t get his way. But Ahab wasn’t just throwing himself a pity party; he was angry and resentful. And it’s easy to understand the intensity of his emotions when we consider the severity of God’s judgment. Ahab had chosen to spare the life of Ben-hadad so that he could sign a potentially lucrative treaty with him. But this decision was had not been God’s will, and Ahab would suffer greatly for it.

“Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.” – 1 Kings 20:42 ESV

With that bit of bad news still ringing in his ears, Ahab had left the Valley of Aphek and returned to his palace in Samaria. When he arrived, he was in a dark mental state. The New English Translation describes him as “bitter and angry.” He deeply resented the punishment meted out to him by God. The Hebrew word sar conveys the idea of a stubborn, almost rebellious resistance to this God-ordained fate. And the word zāʿēp̄ lets the reader know that Ahab was wearing his emotions on his sleeve. His anger was visible. Since he couldn’t take out his anger on God, it spilled over onto all those around him. Even his neighbor, Naboth.

At some point after the victory over the Syrians, Ahab visited his summer palace in Jezreel. One day, while surveying the grounds of his palace, he noticed Naboth’s vineyard, which was located nearby. Seeing that this was fertile land, Ahab determined that it would make a fine spot to plant a garden for his palace. So, he approached Naboth with an offer.

“Since your vineyard is so convenient to my palace, I would like to buy it to use as a vegetable garden. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or if you prefer, I will pay you for it.” – 1 Kings 21:2 NLT

But Naboth politely turned down the king’s generous offer, explaining that the land on which the vineyard was located was part of his inheritance. According to Mosaic Law, the Israelites were forbidden to sell the land that God had given to them as their inheritance. The book of Leviticus outlined this divine prohibition against property transactions involving land dedicated to the various tribes of Israel.

“The land must never be sold on a permanent basis, for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me.” – Leviticus 25:23 NLT

The book of Numbers provides further clarification concerning God’s ban on the transfer or sale of any of the land He had allotted to the 12 tribes.

The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. – Numbers 36:7 NLT

Naboth was simply obeying the law as given by God to Moses. He was legally prohibited from accepting Ahab’s offer. But none of this mattered to Ahab. And Naboth’s firm but polite response produced in Ahab the same effect as God’s earlier warning of judgment.

And Ahab went into his house vexed and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him – 1 Kings 21:4 ESV

Ahab responded with bitterness and anger. But notice that his anger was not directed at Naboth but at what Naboth had said. When Naboth informed the king that he could not sell him the land, his justification had been based on the law of God. Once again, God had interfered with Ahab’s plans, and it left him a strong sense of resentment and frustration. His anger was with God and His constant intervention into his affairs. Ahab couldn’t even buy a vineyard without running into this ever-present God who seemed to stick His nose into everything. Denied his desire for a garden, Ahab allowed his anger to turn to depression and deep despondency, even refusing to eat.

Concerned about the deteriorating condition of her husband’s mental health, Jezebel asked Ahab for an explanation. But notice the brevity of his reply. Rather than give Jezebel the full context of his conversation with Naboth, he simply states that he made a fair offer that was summarily rebuffed. His recollection of what Naboth said is anything but accurate. He mentions nothing about God’s ban on the sale of tribal land. He simply states that Naboth refused his offer.

Frustrated by her husband’s sullen state and obvious lack of initiative, she accuses him of forgetting who he is and the kind of power he possesses. “Are you the king of Israel or not?” she asks him. From Jezebel’s perspective, Ahab had abdicated his divine rights as the king. He was the sovereign over all of Israel, and he had the power to do whatever he wanted to do. No one, including Naboth, had the right to stand in his way. And to prove it, she implemented a plan to put Naboth in his place and the vineyard in her husband’s possession.

This pagan queen, who had introduced the worship of Baal to the nation of Israel, hired false witnesses to accuse Naboth of cursing the God of Israel. These men were to show up at a fast, held in honor of Yahweh, and declare that Naboth had cursed both God and the king. And Jezebel had pre-arranged with the elders of Jezreel that they would immediately stone Naboth to death for this fictitious crime.

And everything went just as Jezebel had planned. Naboth was falsely accused and executed. When the elders of Jezreel informed Jezebel that Naboth was dead, she immediately shared the good news with 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.” – 1 Kings 21:15 ESV

Notice that Ahab asks for no explanations. He doesn’t ask his wife a single question concerning Naboth’s well-timed death. He simply got out of bed, put on his royal robes, and took possession of the land that would soon be his new garden. He got what he wanted and didn’t seem to care how it had happened. But Jezebel’s actions had only made things worse. She had falsely accused an innocent man and had orchestrated his unlawful execution. And she had still violated God’s law concerning the land inheritance. According to Mosaic Law, Naboth’s land would have passed on to his descendants. God had made it clear that the land He had given to the tribes as their inheritance was to remain within their possession.

“…give the following instructions to the people of Israel: If a man dies and has no son, then give his inheritance to his daughters. And if he has no daughter either, transfer his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. But if his father has no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan. This is a legal requirement for the people of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”  – Numbers 27:8-11 NLT

Jezebel’s murder of Naboth was wrong on every level. She had violated a range of divine decrees to get her husband what he wanted. Her blind ambition resulted in unconscionable behavior that would only exacerbate God’s judgment against her husband. Ahab had his vineyard. Jezebel had her husband back. But their joy would soon turn to sorrow. They had both gotten what they wanted, but their personal achievements would come with a high price. Ahab’s new garden, while free, would cost him dearly. And Jezebel’s plot to murder Naboth, while successful, would come with a hefty price tag for which she would pay dearly.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

29 And they encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle was joined. And the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left.

Ben-hadad also fled and entered an inner chamber in the city. 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 put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads and go out to the king of Israel. Perhaps he will spare your life.” 32 So they tied sackcloth around their waists and put ropes on their heads and went to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please, let me live.’” And he said, “Does he still live? He is my brother.” 33 Now the men were watching for a sign, and they quickly took it up from him and said, “Yes, your brother Ben-hadad.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.” Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and he caused him to come up into the chariot. 34 And Ben-hadad said to him, “The cities that my father took from your father I will restore, and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” And Ahab said, “I will let you go on these terms.” So he made a covenant with him and let him go.

35 And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said to his fellow at the command of the Lord, “Strike me, please.” But the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as you have gone from me, a lion shall strike you down.” And as soon as he had departed from him, a lion met him and struck him down. 37 Then he found another man and said, “Strike me, please.” And the man struck him—struck him and wounded him. 38 So the prophet departed and waited for the king by the way, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. 39 And as the king passed, he cried to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the midst of the battle, and behold, a soldier turned and brought a man to me and said, ‘Guard this man; if by any means he is missing, your life shall be for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ 40 And as your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” The king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” 41 Then he hurried to take the bandage away from his eyes, and the king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 And he said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.’” 43 And the king of Israel went to his house vexed and sullen and came to Samaria. – 1 Kings 20:29-43 ESV

The arrival of spring in Israel was accompanied by the revitalized and greatly enlarged Syrian army. King Ben-hadad had led his forces to the Valley of Aphek, carefully avoiding any confrontation with the Israelites in the hill country, where he believed their gods wielded special power. A battle on the level plains of Aphek would give his chariots a distinct advantage and help ensure a victory over the hated Israelites.

For six days, the two armies remained in their respective camps, waiting for the opportune moment to launch the attack. The much smaller Israelite force was led by King Ahab, who had been received word from a prophet that God would give them the victory that day.

“Because the Syrians have said, ‘The Lord is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,’ therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” – 1 Kings 20:28 ESV

Ben-hadad was operating on misinformation. His advisors had convinced him that the Israelites’ gods were limited in their power. They were “gods of the hills” (1 Kings 20:23 ESV) and would be incapable of dictating the outcome of the battle as long as the Syrians fought the Israelites on neutral ground. But Ben-hadad would find that his strategy for success was greatly flawed. He had amassed a huge army and had chosen the ideal location that would eliminate any interference from the gods of his enemy – or so he thought.

On the seventh day, the battle began. And much to Ben-hadad’s shock and dismay, his forces were quickly overwhelmed by Israel’s inferior army. The author summarized the battle by stating, “the people of Israel struck down of the Syrians 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. And the rest fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left” (1 Kings 20:29-30 ESV).

We’re not told the size of Ben-hadad’s army, but these numbers reflect staggering losses that would have proved devastating to the Syrians. In one day, in a single battle, they lost 127,000 men. And the mention of the 27,000 who were crushed by the walls of the city is intended to reveal the hand of God in this victory. It is a subtle yet unmistakable reference to Israel’s victory over the city of Jericho when they first entered the land of promise. For six days, the Israelites had marched around the circumference of the city. But on the seventh day, following God’s instructions, they circled the walls seven times and then blew their trumpets.

So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. – Joshua 6:20 ESV

And what the Israelites did next is important. Following God’s commands, they devoted everything in the city to destruction.

…they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. – Joshua 6:24 ESV

With this as a backdrop, Ahab’s actions and the reaction of God will make much more sense. Having escaped the battlefield and successfully avoiding the falling wall, Ben-hadad sought refuge inside the city. He was trapped and at the mercy of King Ahab. So, his advisors counseled him to surrender and appeal for clemency. After all, they advised him, “the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings” (1 Kings 20:30 ESV).

The always shrewd and self-aggrandizing Ahab probably saw this as an opportunity to ingratiate the defeated Syrian king and secure a beneficial treaty between their two nations. By allowing Ben-hadad to live, Ahab hoped to open up new trading opportunities that would further enhance his power and wealth. But at no point does the passage show Ahab seeking the will of God in this matter. God had given him the victory, but Ahab was taking the credit by determining the fate of the defeated Syrian king.

God had promised to give the Syrians into Ahab’s hand, and He had delivered on that promise. And the unexpected victory was intended to reveal to the Israelites that Yahweh was Lord. With his decision to spare Ben-hadad, Ahab was essentially declaring himself to be lord. He was in control. It was his kingdom, and, as sovereign, he believed he had the right to decide what was best for Israel.

Ahab struck a deal with Ben-hadad, agreeing to return land that had once belonged to the Syrians on the condition that they set up trading posts. Ahab was in it for what he could get out of it. This arrangement with the Syrians made strategic and fiscal sense in his mind. By securing a treaty with the Syrians, he could create a buffer on his northern border, providing protection from the Assyrians’ growing menace. But he also knew he could benefit financially by gaining access to the Syrian’s lucrative trading business. In Ahab’s mind, this was a win-win scenario.

But God had other plans. He commissioned yet another prophet, sending him with a word of warning to Ahab. But to carry out his assignment, the unnamed prophet was required to sustain an injury that would allow him to gain access to the king. When this prophet asked one of his colleagues to assist him, his request was denied. His fellow prophet refused to take part in this bizarre plan, and it ended up costing him his life.

“Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, a lion will kill you as soon as you leave me.” And when he had gone, a lion did attack and kill him. – 1 Kings 20:36 ESV

This man’s refusal to do what the prophet of God said was essentially a rejection of God’s will, and he was condemned for his disobedience. As strange and difficult to understand as it may be, this incident is meant to illustrate the importance of following the will of God. Like Ahab, this unnamed prophet had decided to operate according to his own will. And just as God had held his reluctant and disobedience prophet culpable for his actions, so too would he hold Ahab accountable for his decision to spare the life of Ben-hadad.

The prophet finally found someone to strike him in the face, creating a convincing injury that would allow him to disguise himself as a wounded soldier. His face covered in a bandage, the prophet sat beside the road, waiting for King Ahab to pass by. When the king arrived, the man explained that he had been in the battle that day. At some point, he had been given the responsibility to watch over a prisoner. He was warned that he would be killed or forced to pay a substantial fine if he allowed the prisoner to escape. But while the man had been distracted, the prisoner had gotten away.

And Ahab, who had just extended undeserved mercy to the king of Syria, refused to show a fellow Israelite any mercy or empathy. He simply stated, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it” (1 Kings 20:40 ESV). And with those callous words, Ahab unwittingly condemned himself. As soon as the prophet removed the bandage that covered his face, Ahab recognized him as one of the prophets of Yahweh. And what Ahab heard next left him “vexed and sullen” (1 Kings 20:43 ESV).

“This is what the Lord says: Because you have spared the man I said must be destroyed, now you must die in his place, and your people will die instead of his people.” – 1 Kings 20:42 NLT

Ahab had stubbornly refused to acknowledge Yahweh as Lord. He continued to view himself as the true sovereign over Israel. But because he chose to reject God as King, Ahab and his people would suffer the fate intended for Ben-hadad and the people of Syria. Ahab’s self-centered and self-promoting actions would bring the judgment of God and turn a divinely ordained victory into death and defeat. One way or the other, Ahab and the people of Israel were going to know that God is Lord.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Faithful Few

1 Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it. And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.’” And the king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” The messengers came again and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children.” Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.’”

Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, “Mark, now, and see how this man is seeking trouble, for he sent to me for my wives and my children, and for my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him.” And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen or consent.” So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Tell my lord the king, ‘All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.’” And the messengers departed and brought him word again. 10 Ben-hadad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” 11 And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself as he who takes it off.’” 12 When Ben-hadad heard this message as he was drinking with the kings in the booths, he said to his men, “Take your positions.” And they took their positions against the city. 

13 And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the Lord, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 14 And Ahab said, “By whom?” He said, “Thus says the Lord, By the servants of the governors of the districts.” Then he said, “Who shall begin the battle?” He answered, “You.” 15 Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. 1 Kings 20:1-15 ESV

With the opening of chapter 20, both Elijah and Elisha, his newly commissioned replacement, suddenly disappear from the scene. Elijah will not be mentioned again until verse 17 of chapter 21. It would appear that he and his young protégé were busy fulfilling the command of God.

“Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” – 1 Kings 19:15-16 ESV

After Elijah had cast his cloak on Elisha, the two of them must have spent a significant amount of time searching for Hazael and Jehu. They would have begun their journey in Abel-meholah, Elisha’s hometown, located about 25 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. As they made their way north to Damascus in Syria, the sovereign plan of God continued to unfold in the land of Israel. In his former state of disillusionment and despair, Elijah had thought he was the last prophet alive in Israel, but he was about to be proven wrong. While he and Elisha were busy searching for the new kings of Syria and Israel, God was going to raise up other prophets to act as His spokesmen to King Ahab.

God’s miraculous defeat of Baal on Mount Carmel had left Ahab and Jezebel unphased and unrepentant. The loss of their 450 prophets had not diminished their enthusiasm for their false god. And they had failed to acknowledge the sudden end of the three-and-a-half-year drought as a gracious act of God. This arrogant and prideful couple remained stubbornly opposed to the God of Israel. But just as the prophets of Baal had been no match for Yahweh, so Ahab and Jezebel would soon discover that their power and prominence would provide them no protection against the judgment of God.

With the end of the drought, the famine that had plagued the land slowly abated. But now, Ahab found himself facing a threat of a different sort. Any sense of relief he felt from the drought’s ending and Elijah’s sudden disappearance quickly faded when the Syrians laid siege to the capital city of Samaria. Surrounded and facing a confederation of forces that greatly outnumbered Israel’s army, Ahab found himself in a difficult situation. And the terms of surrender he received from King Ben-hadad made things far worse.

“Your silver and gold are mine, and so are your wives and the best of your children!” – 1 Kings 20:3 NLT

Operating from a position of weakness, Ahab was forced to agree to Ben-hadad’s terms but stubbornly refused to comply. Perhaps he was trying to buy time. But his delay only aggravated the problem, causing Ben-hadad to up the ante.

“I have already demanded that you give me your silver, gold, wives, and children. But about this time tomorrow I will send my officials to search your palace and the homes of your officials. They will take away everything you consider valuable!” – 1 Kings 20:5-6 NLT

Ahab had been able to survive the drought, living in luxury as his people suffered and died. But now, he was facing the loss of everything he held near and dear. Ben-hadad was threatening to steal Ahab’s glory, and for a man whose identity was derived from what he possessed, this message got his attention.

Ahab, desperate to preserve his status and prevent the loss of everything he considered of value, consulted his advisors. They convinced him to refuse any further negotiations with the Syrians. Their advice was that he keep his original commitment to give up his wives and children and pay Ben-hadad a large tribute of silver and gold. But he was not to allow the Syrians access to the capital so they could plunder all his possessions. Eager to protect his personal domain, Ahab took their counsel and sent word to Ben-hadad. But his message was not well-received. Ben-hadad reacted with anger and issued his final word on the matter in the form of a vow.

“The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.” – 1 Kings 20:10 ESV

The words of Ben-hadad are eerily similar to those delivered by Queen Jezebel to Elijah after he had destroyed the 450 prophets of Baal. She, too, had made an oath to her false gods, swearing to kill Elijah or face their judgment.

“So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” – 1 Kings 19:2 ESV

It’s interesting to note that Ben-hadad, a pagan, believed that his gods were real and capable of giving him success in battle. Yet, Ahab, king over the chosen people of Yahweh, makes no mention of any gods whatsoever, including the gods of his wife. He was operating in his own strength and according to the wisdom of men. And he displays his arrogance and over-confidence in his response to Ben-hadad.

“A warrior putting on his sword for battle should not boast like a warrior who has already won.” – 1 Kings 20:11 NLT

As would be expected, Ben-hadad was infuriated by Ahab’s boastful message and ordered an immediate attack on the city. He was done negotiating with this pompous and pride-filled fool. And, as those reading this story, we fully expect and even hope that God will allow Ahab to get what he so justly deserves.

But God’s ways are not our ways. While we see the Syrians’ attack as the hand of God against wicked King Ahab, the author reveals that God has other plans altogether. As Ahab and the citizens of Samaria brace themselves for the coming attack, God sends a prophet with a message of hope.

“This is what the Lord says: Do you see all these enemy forces? Today I will hand them all over to you. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” – 1 Kings 20:13 NLT

This statement shocks and surprises us. It seems so unexpected and undeserved. Why in the world would God do such a thing for an arrogant and egotistical man like Ahab? He was idolatrous and had led the entire nation of Israel into apostasy. Among all the kings of Israel, he was the poster boy for wickedness and immorality. And yet, here was God giving him a message of divine deliverance.

Ahab responds with a series of questions rather than drop to his knees in humble repentance and gratitude for God’s gracious intervention. First, he asks, “By whom?” He demanded details. Ahab wanted to know who would get the credit for the victory. And the prophet replied, “By the servants of the governors of the districts” (1 Kings 20:14 ESV). Much to Ahab’s disappointment, God was not going to use him as the means of delivering the decisive blow to the Syrians. That prompted Ahab to ask, “Who shall begin the battle?” (1 Kings 20:14 ESV). He desperately wanted to know if he would have any part to play in this divine deliverance. And, once again, to our surprise and dismay, God informs Ahab that he will have the privilege of putting God’s plan into play.

With God’s plan clearly articulated, Ahab set about putting the pieces together to make it happen.

Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand. – 1 Kings 20:15 ESV

This verse should bring to mind the promise God had made just before He sent Elijah on his mission to anoint the future kings of Syria and Israel.

“I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” – 1 Kings 19:18 NLT

God had promised His reluctant prophet that He would raise up a remnant from among the apostate people of Israel, and He would use these faithful few to accomplish His will. Now God was using Ahab, the apostate king of Israel, to choose the 7,000 faithful whom God would use to defeat the Syrians in battle. Ahab would begin the battle, but he would not secure the victory. That privilege would fall to those who had not bowed down to Baal.

None of this was about Ahab. He was the king, but, in reality, he was nothing more than a bit player in God’s sovereign plan for the redemption and restoration of His people. Ahab may have worn the crown, but God was King over Israel. And while Ben-hadad’s superior numbers appeared to give him the advantage, God had the faithful few. He was going to bring about a great victory, using those few who had refused to bow their knees to Baal.

God was about to reveal His power through weakness. And He would do so through those whose presence was unknown but whose faith had remained unwavering. With God on their side, this faithful remnant would defeat the enemy, and their unexpected victory would bring great glory to God. And in the Song of Moses recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, we’re given an explanation for the kind of victory God is about to bring.

How could one person chase a thousand of them,
    and two people put ten thousand to flight,
unless their Rock had sold them,
    unless the Lord had given them up?
But the rock of our enemies is not like our Rock… – Deuteronomy 32:30-31 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Learning to Trust the Plan of God

15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me 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?” 21 And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. 1 Kings 19:15-21 ESV

The last three-and-a-half years had taken their toll on Elijah. He had been living in a God-ordained exile in a remote village in the region of Sidon. And while God had miraculously cared for him during that time, he had to live with the knowledge that there was a bounty on his head. King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, had never forgiven him for the drought he had placed on the land of Israel. And Elijah must have woken up every morning wondering if that would be the day God called him to confront Ahab and Jezebel one more time.

When that day finally came, Elijah obeyed God and made his way to Mount Carmel, where he challenged King Ahab to pit his 450 prophets of Baal against Yahweh, the one true God. And that battle ended up being a lopsided affair, with Elijah’s God as the clear victor and the false god of Ahab and Jezebel exposed as a fraud and a failure. And the dead bodies of his 450 prophets, strewn across the Jezreel Valley, were evidence of his decisive defeat.

But Elijah’s hope for revival in the land was soon replaced by fear for his own life. Jezebel had vowed to kill Elijah for his slaughter of the 450 prophets of Baal. And he had responded to this news by running away. The prophet of God seemed to have lost all faith in God. And yet, even in his deep state of depression and despondency, Elijah was ministered to by God. Yahweh met Elijah right where he was, in the midst of his doubt and despair, and graciously provided him with a visual demonstration of His power. Yet the wind, earthquake, and fire only frightened Elijah, causing him to take refuge in a cave. But it was the quiet whisper of God that drew him out. And the gentle voice of God asked Elijah to explain his presence there. What was he doing so far from the scene of the recent victory over Baal? Why was he in hiding? And Elijah had repeated his earlier answer:

I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” – 1 Kings 19:14 ESV

Elijah described himself as alone and afraid. He had convinced himself that he was the last man standing, with no one to do battle at his side. In the heat of the moment, he had conveniently forgotten about the 100 prophets that God had used Obadiah to protect and preserve (1 Kings 18:13). Elijah felt alienated and alone, but his feelings were not based on reality. God even informed Elijah that He had preserved a remnant of “7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (1 Kings 19:18 NLT). Elijah was far from alone, and God was far from finished with Elijah. And rather than rebuke His wavering prophet, God gave him his next assignment.

“Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.” – 1 Kings 19:15 ESV

Despite his recent display of faithlessness and fear, Elijah would play a significant role in the next phase of God’s plans for Israel. God gave Elijah three assignments: First, he was to anoint a new king over the Syrians or Arameans. Then, he was to anoint a new king over Israel’s northern kingdom. Finally, he was to anoint his own successor. God provides Elijah little in the way of details. Other than the names of the men he was to anoint, Elijah had no way of knowing what any of this meant or how it would all turn out. But God was letting Elijah know that there were plans in the works of which he was unaware. Whether Elijah realized it or not, Ahab’s days were numbered, and the Syrians would end up playing a part in his eventual demise. There would be a new king in Israel one day. God had defeated the false god, Baal, and now He was going to mete out final judgment on the man responsible for Baal’s presence in Israel.

As if to further convince Elijah that he was not alone and that his mission was far from over, God revealed that the three men Elijah was to anoint would carry on the work that he had started at Mount Carmel. Elijah had slaughtered the 450 prophets of Baal, but there were far more who needed to face the judgment of God for their apostasy and rebellion.

“Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha! – 1 Kings 19:17 NLT

Judgment was coming. God was preparing to purge Israel of all those who had bowed the knee to Baal, and He would start at the top with Ahab and Jezebel. But this divine plan to cleanse Israel would not happen overnight. In fact, it would last long after Elijah was gone. That’s why God informed Elijah that he was to anoint his successor.

“…anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet. – 1 Kings 19:16 NLT

God already had Elijah’s replacement identified and ready to carry on His divine plan for Ahab’s punishment and Israel’s purification. A big reason for Elijah’s dejection was because the revival that had started at Mount Carmel had stalled. When he had heard the people cry out, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39 ESV), he had truly believed that God had turned back the hearts of the people. He had expected to see an amazing renewal take place. He may have even believed that Ahab and Jezebel might repent and accept Yahweh as the one true God. But instead, the ever-defiant queen had threatened him with death.

But while Jezebel remained unwavering in her commitment to Baal, Elijah needed to understand that God was unphased by her actions. As the sovereign, omniscient God of the universe, He had a plan in place to deal with Jezebel, Ahab, and all those who had bent the knee to Baal. And while Elijah might not live to see the final phase of that plan, he would play a decisive role in its preparation.

Revived and encouraged by God’s news, Elijah made his way to Abel-meholah, located in the Jordan Valley. While God had clearly told Elijah to travel to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint Hazael to be king of Aram (1 Kings 19:15), it would appear that this was meant to be his final destination. On his way from Mount Sinai, he had to pass through the Jordan Valley, so it only made sense to stop there first and find the man who would be his replacement. He found Elisha plowing with a pair of oxen in a field. This agrarian scene is significant for several reasons. First, it conveys an image of hope and expectation. After three-and-a-half years of drought, the rain had come, and now Elisha was preparing his formerly sun-baked fields for planting. He was anticipating a fruitful harvest sometime in the future. But Elisha’s presence in the field also reveals that he was a man of the land. He was not an influential figure with great wealth and prominence. He was a nondescript nobody whose only credentials were his calling by God.

What happens next appears strange to our modern sensibilities. Elijah walked up to this man, placed his cloak across his shoulders, and then simply walked away. What kind of bizarre ritual did this represent? How was Elisha to take this unexpected action from this unknown stranger? Amazingly, it seems as if Elisha fully understood the significance of Elijah’s symbolic act. The text tells he “left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, ‘First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!’” (1 Kings 19:20 NLT). Perhaps God had already prepared Elisha for this moment, having revealed His plan through a dream or vision. He could have sent an angelic messenger to prepare Elisha for the prophet’s arrival. But whatever the case, Elisha seems to have been unphased by what transpired and fully aware of what it meant. He immediately stopped his plowing and followed the man of God. His words and actions reveal that he knew who Elijah was and what he was asking him to do. His only request was that he be allowed to say goodbye to his family.

Elijah’s response to his request comes across as rather flippant.

Go back again, for what have I done to you?” – 1 Kings 19:20 ESV

But, in a sense, Elijah was simply emphasizing that this had all been God’s doing, not his. He was simply the messenger. Elisha was free to do as he pleased. And the young farmer-turned-prophet demonstrated his commitment to accept the call of God. He took the plow, the symbol of his former occupation, and used the wood to build an altar. Then, on that altar, he offered up the two oxen with which he had been plowing. Elisha literally burned any and all bridges to his former life. He bid his parents and his past goodbye and “arose and went after Elijah and assisted him” (1 Kings 19:21 ESV).

As Elijah and Elisha made their way from the Jordan Valley, the first phase of the second half of God’s plan began. The revival Elijah had longed for and given up on was coming. His God was not yet done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Lord, He is God

22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” 25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull 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.” 34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time. 35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and 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. 37 Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38 Then the fire of the Lord 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. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” 40 And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. 1 Kings 18:23-40 ESV

The battle for the hearts of the people of Israel was about to begin. Having accepted Elijah’s challenge, King Ahab had decreed that the people assemble at nearby Mount Carmel. He also ordered the 450 prophets of Baal to come, ready to prove the power of their god. But as Elijah stood before the gathered assembly, he issued them a stern challenge.

“How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” – 1 Kings 18:21 ESV

His words are reminiscent of those spoken by Joshua hundreds of years earlier, as he addressed the nation of Israel near the end of his life. He too had called the people to choose who they were going serve, the one true God or the false gods of Egypt and Canaan.

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15 ESV

The fickle nature of the Israelites had not changed much over the centuries. They remained prone to chasing after any and every god who came along. They were equal-opportunity idolaters who seemed to have no sense of guilt or shame. Their willingness to accept and affirm any and all gods placed before them had been a problem from the beginning. While they never entirely abandoned their worship of Yahweh, they were constantly trying out new gods in a vain attempt to cover all their bases. Their syncretistic approach to religion and worship was driven by self-interest and greed. In a sense, they seemed to operate on the belief that two gods would be better than one. But Elijah was demanding that they make up their minds. He would not allow them to play the field and continue to offend Yahweh with their spiritual adultery.

In an attempt to stress the lopsided nature of the battle that was about to ensue, Elijah claimed that he was the only prophet of Yahweh still standing in Israel. But he was wrong and he knew it. In his earlier encounter with Obadiah, he had learned that there were at least 100 prophets whom God had spared. But Elijah chose to ignore this detail so that he could paint as bleak a picture as possible. At that moment, the odds were 450 to one. He was the sole prophet of God, preparing to face the overwhelming numbers of the prophets of Baal.

But Elijah knew that this day was not about a battle between him and the more numerous adversaries on the other side. It would be a divine display of Yahweh’s power and Baal’s impotence. Just as Baal had been unable to stop the ravages of the drought that had devasted the land for three years, he would prove incapable of hearing and answering the desperate cries of his prophets.

Elijah set the rules of the contest. Each side was to select an appropriate sacrifice, then offer it up on an altar before their respective god. Then they were to cry out to their deity of choice, and whichever god responded by consuming the offering with fire would prove to be the true god.

In describing the ensuing scene, the author clearly attempts to lampoon the efforts of the prophets of Baal. Their energetic and somewhat odd behavior displays their desperate hope that their god will show up.

…they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made. – 1 Kings 18:26 NLT

And the harder they try to garner the attention of their seemingly distant and disinterested god, the more Elijah taunts their efforts.

“You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” – 1 Kings 18:27 NLT

In desperation and growing frustration, they resort to shedding their own blood, vainly hoping that their self-mutilation might appease and awaken their god to action. But the author summarizes their prolonged and ineffective efforts with the simple statement: “there was no sound, no reply, no response” (1 Kings 18:29 NLT). Their god remained silent and unseen.

Broken and bloodied by their hours-long effort to call down fire from their god, they finally gave up. Then it was Elijah’s turn. After rebuilding the altar to Yahweh that Jezebel had ordered destroyed, Elijah had the altar and the sacrifice drenched in water. He purposefully stacked the deck against God, creating what would appear to be impossible odds. Elijah used 12 stones to build the altar and then drenched the altar and the sacrifice with 12 large jars of water. Even though this event was taking place among the ten tribes of the northern kingdom, Elijah wanted them to realize that Yahweh was the God of all Israel. They were a divided nation because of idolatry. But in God’s eyes, they were still His chosen people.

And Elijah’s simple prayer illustrates his belief that God longed to restore His covenant people. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still loved His people and greatly desired that they would repent and return to Him.

“O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.” – 1 Kings 18:36-37 NLT

No histrionics. No desperate displays of emotional cajoling and pleading. Elijah simply asked God to display His power so that the people might know He was there and that He cared. Elijah was asking God to demonstrate His covenant faithfulness in spite of their unfaithfulness. And, unlike Baal, God heard and responded.

Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! – 1 Kings 18:38 NLT

The impact of this divine demonstration of power was immediate. Blown away by this supernatural display, the people fell on their faces and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!” (1 Kings 18:39 NLT). The altar to Baal remained untouched, just as the prophets had left it. But the altar to Yahweh had been completely consumed, rocks and all. God had more than accepted the sacrifice that Elijah had offered. And in doing so, He confirmed His power, reconfirmed His covenant commitment, and validated His prophet. He was the one true God, and Elijah was His chosen messenger.

And as a final demonstration of God’s unparalleled greatness and His prophet’s authority to act on His behalf, Elijah ordered the capture of every single prophet of Baal. The people obeyed his command and brought all 450 of these false prophets to the Kishon Valley, where Elijah meted out divine judgment and justice on every single one of them. These men had played a major role in the nation’s spiritual decline. They were the visual representation of their false god, and their lies and deception had caused the people of Israel to abandon Yahweh for a god that was nothing more than a figment of man’s fertile imagination.

Looking on as this unexpected scene unfolded before their eyes, King Ahab and his wife Jezebel had to have been reeling from the shock of it all. Not only had their god not shown up, but his prophets had been destroyed. But, as we will see, rather than repent for their sins against God, they will respond in anger and resentment, attempting to take out their wrath on God’s messenger. This arrogant and self-consumed couple will continue to reject Yahweh, stubbornly refusing to admit, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Word of the Lord

1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” And the word of the Lord came to him: “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” 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, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.” 11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 And she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14 For thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.’” 15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah. 1 Kings 17:1-16 ESV

Almost as if out of nowhere, a new character appears on the scene. His sudden and unexpected arrival seems intended to accentuate the divine nature of his mission. We’re given no background story and little in the way of biographical information, other than his name and the identity of his hometown.

His introduction into the narrative is timed to coincide with the rise to power of King Ahab and his Sidonian queen, Jezebel. With this new power couple ruling over the northern kingdom of Israel, the spiritual state of the ten northern tribes has reached an all-time low. The author ended chapter 16 with an unflattering description of their influence over the nation.

…he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:31-33 ESV

To say that Ahab had managed to anger God more than any of his predecessors is saying a lot. He was following in the footsteps of some world-class. all-star-quality apostates. But when it came to wickedness and unfaithfulness, Ahab set the new gold standard. He became the proverbial poster boy for all that is wicked and ungodly, while his wife managed to earn herself a permanent spot in the hall of infamy.

In the middle of their sin-fueled and self-absorbed reign, God decides to deliver a message to them, utilizing an obscure and unknown man named Elijah. This will not be the first time God has sent a prophet to deliver a message to a wayward and rebellious king. When Jeroboam had made the fateful decision to replace Yahweh with his own false gods, an unnamed prophet had appeared on the scene with a dire message for the king, and he demonstrated God’s anger by destroying one of the altars Jeroboam had dedicated to his false god. Later on, Jeroboam sent his wife to consult with another prophet of God, in hopes of getting a prognosis regarding his young son’s illness. But what he got was bad news. He was told that his son would die and that every one of his male heirs would die before they could inherit the throne. In other words, any hopes of establishing a dynasty would be destroyed.

As the seventh king to reign over the northern kingdom of Israel, Ahab would not be the first to receive a message from God. But, in his case, the prophet would play a more pronounced and prolonged role in his life. The sins of Ahab and his wife were so egregious that God made his prophet a permanent fixture in their kingdom.

Elijah’s very first encounter with the king and queen was far from favorable. He stood before this powerful couple and boldly proclaimed, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1 ESV). That took guts and a fair amount of faith. He was claiming to have the God-given authority to withhold rain from the kingdom of Israel. Any way you look at it, this had to come across as a less-than-veiled threat to Ahab and Jezebel. But before they had time to cut this arrogant upstart down to size, God gave him instructions to get out of town.

“Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. – 1 Kings 17:3 ES

Elijah had done his job, but now it was time for God to prepare him for the next phase of his assignment. Before sending his prophet back into the mouth of the lion’s den, God planned to equip him for what was to come. He was determined to make Elijah a faithful and obedient messenger, strong enough to handle all the vitriol and violence that was about to come his way. Standing up to Ahab and Jezebel was not going to be easy, so God graciously eased Elijah into his new role with a hands-on experience that would teach him to trust and obey.

While in God’s preparatory school for prophets, Elijah was miraculously fed and cared for. He received a twice-daily ration of bread and meat, delivered to his cave by ravens. And outside the cave was a ready source of clean, pure water. But in time, “the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land” (1 Kings 17:7 ESV). In other words, Elijah’s prediction of drought had come true and he was suffering just like everyone else. And without rain, that meant there was no more bread or meat for the ravens to deliver. Elijah’s little oasis in the wilderness had become a death trap. So, God gave him new instructions.

“Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” – 1 Kings 17:8 NLT

This would have been a long and arduous journey under normal conditions, but the presence of drought made it even more so. Interestingly, God sent Elijah to a city in the region of Sidon, the very kingdom over which Jezebel’s father was king. Elijah was being sent to the very place Ahab had acquired a queen and her false god, Baal. Zarephath lay in between Tyre and Sidon, two of the most prominent Phoenician cities. But as the story makes clear, the drought had made its way all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

God had provided Elijah with few details regarding what to do when he arrived in Zarephath. The prophet had no food and had received no word from God regarding when and how it would come – if it did at all. So, when Elijah encounters a widow gathering sticks, he decides to throw himself on her mercy. He asks for a drink of water and a morsel of bread. But then he finds out that this woman’s state was worse than his own.

“I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.” – 1 Kings 17:12 NLT

The drought had left this woman with no food with which to feed herself or her young son. The drought had taken its toll. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that Baal, the god of the Phonecians, was considered a fertility god. He was the provider of bountiful blessings, whether in the form of crops or children. And yet, this woman was living in a drought and watching her young son starve to death. There was nothing bountiful taking place in Zarephath. Baal was nowhere to be found.

Then, God gave Elijah a message to deliver to the woman.

“Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” – 1 Kings 17:13-14 NLT

While the god of the Phoenicians had failed to provide, the God of Israel would meet her needs and preserve the lives of both her and her son. Even in a time of drought, God would miraculously provide flour and oil in abundance – until He decided to open up the skies and end the drought.

And the woman faithfully obeyed the word of the prophet and There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah” (1 Kings 17:16 NLT). God graciously provided for this Sidonian widow and her son, and He continued to meet the needs of His prophet. But more than anything, God was teaching Elijah that He could be trusted. He was greater than the god of the Phoenicians. He was more powerful than the god of Ahab and Jezebel. The brook may have dried up, but the resources of God remained unending and plentiful. The ravens may have stopped showing up, but the miracle-working power of God remained undiminished. There was no circumstance too great for God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Another New King But the Same Old Story

15 In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, Zimri reigned seven days in Tirzah. Now the troops were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, 16 and the troops who were encamped heard it said, “Zimri has conspired, and he has killed the king.” Therefore all Israel made Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that day in the camp. 17 So Omri went up from Gibbethon, and all Israel with him, and they besieged Tirzah. 18 And when Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king’s house and burned the king’s house over him with fire and died, 19 because of his sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for his sin which he committed, making Israel to sin. 20 Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and the conspiracy that he made, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?

21 Then the people of Israel were divided into two parts. Half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king, and half followed Omri. 22 But the people who followed Omri overcame the people who followed Tibni the son of Ginath. So Tibni died, and Omri became king. 23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel, and he reigned for twelve years; six years he reigned in Tirzah. 24 He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver, and he fortified the hill and called the name of the city that he built Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill.

25 Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in the sins that he made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols. 27 Now the rest of the acts of Omri that he did, and the might that he showed, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 28 And Omri slept with his fathers and was buried in Samaria, and Ahab his son reigned in his place. 1 Kings 16:15-28 ESV

Zimri’s time in the spotlight was short-lived. This former chariot commander in Israel’s army had murdered King Elah and declared himself the new sovereign over the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. But his reign would last only seven days. Word of his seemingly successful coup attempt reached his fellow soldiers, who were encamped against the Philistines at a place called Gibbethon. Upon hearing of King Elah’s death, the troops threw their support behind Omri, who was the commander of all Israel’s armies. They rejected Zimri’s claim to be king and, instead, nominated his superior officer as the obvious choice to replace Elah. Zimri may have caused the vacancy on the throne, but Omri would be the one to fill it.

Within days of seizing the throne from Elah, and having secured his victory by liquidating every member of the king’s household, Zimri was safely ensconced in Tirzah, the former king’s capital. But one day he woke up to find that the city was being besieged, not by Philistines or some other foreign power, but by Omri and the rest of the Israelite army. Just seven days into his reign, Zimri had managed to instigate a civil war for which he was completely outmanned and unprepared for the situation. Stealing the throne had been easy, but retaining it was going to be far harder than he could have imagined.

Recognizing the futility of the situation, Zimri chose to take his own life rather than surrender. He knew that Omri would order his execution for the murder of Elah, and it’s likely that he knew Omri had his own kingly aspirations. So, Zimri locked himself in the citadel of the king’s palace and burned the entire structure to the ground. In doing so, he controlled his own fate and managed to rob Omri of a palace from which to rule. If he couldn’t sit on the throne in Tirzah, neither would Omri.

But the author makes it clear that while Zimri had taken his own life, it had still been a case of divine judgment for his sins against God.

…he, too, had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight. He followed the example of Jeroboam in all the sins he had committed and led Israel to commit. – 1 Kings 16:19 NLT

When Zimri had entered Tirzah just days earlier, any thought of suicide would have been the last thing to enter his mind. He was focused on the future and dreaming of his newfound power and prestige. After all, he was the self-made king, the supreme ruler over all of Israel. And as he sat on his throne in Tirzah, his mind would have been filled with thoughts of success and not suicide. But had he read the proverbs collected by Israel’s former king, Solomon, he would have understood that his plans were irrelevant if they stood in opposition to the will of God.

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21 NLT

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

Zimri had plans for greatness, but he died in the smoldering rubble of the palace he had stolen through deceit and treachery. God had used this ambitious and self-consumed man to punish Elah for his wickedness, but He would not allow Zimri to benefit from his actions. His reign lasted exactly one week, then ended as quickly as it had begun.

But the sad state of affairs in Israel was far from over. While Omri had managed to seize the capital and secure the crown for himself, the nation was about to enter a time of division and disunity. Just as God had split Solomon’s kingdom in half, Omri would find himself ruling over a divided nation.

But now the people of Israel were split into two factions. Half the people tried to make Tibni son of Ginath their king, while the other half supported Omri. – 1 Kings 16:21 NLT

When Omri had received the news that Zimri had killed King Elah, he had been leading his troops against the Philistines, the dreaded enemies of Israel. But now, as the King of Israel, he found himself going to war against his own people. A civil war had broken out and Omni was forced to lead his troops in battle against the supporters of his rival, Tibni. The nation had become divided. And rather than throwing their collective allegiance behind God Almighty, they were choosing sides and putting their hopes in two extremely flawed and fallible men.

Omri eventually defeated Tibni and his forces, securing his place as the king of Israel. Half of the dozen years he ruled over Israel were spent in Tirzah, the former capital of King Elah. But Omri dreamed of establishing his own royal city from which to rule over the ten tribes of Israel. So, he found a favorable spot just west of Tirzah and purchased the land from a man named Shemer. In time, he built a fortified palace on the elevated portion of the land and named his new capital, Samaria.

While the author doesn’t seem to treat this change in the location of the capital city with much importance, his mention of it is meant to be a foreshadowing of things to come. Omri would end up establishing a dynasty that would rule over Israel for an extended period of time. And his newly established capital would become the focal point for Israel’s continuing spiritual decline and the epicenter of the nation’s eventual destruction.

The author chooses to summarize Omri’s 12-year reign in less-than-flattering terms.

Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him. – 1 Kings 16:25 ESV

Israel had a new king and a brand new capital, but they continued to suffer from the same old problem. Omri, like Jeroboam and Nadab before him, failed to use his divinely ordained power as king to lead the people back to God. Instead, he fostered the spirit of spiritual adultery and apostasy. Under his leadership, “The people provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, with their worthless idols” (1 Kings 16:21 NLT). 

On paper, Omri proved to be a highly accomplished and effective king. His 12 years on the throne of Israel were marked by military victories and peace negotiations with the enemies of Israel. He defeated the Moabites and brokered a treaty with Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon. And this last act would prove to have long-lasting implications. As part of the treaty negotiations, Omri approved a marriage alliance between his son, Ahab, and Ethbaal’s daughter, Jezebel. And those two names will come up again.

While Omri appeared to be having success, he was actually operating outside the revealed will of God. His decisions were made without divine input and in direct violation of God’s commands. Hundreds of years earlier, Moses had warned the people of Israel about their interactions with the nations living in the land of Canaan.

When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you. – Deuteronomy 7:2-4 NLT

Like his predecessors, Omri was doing things according to his own plan. But as the proverbs warned, “You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail” (Proverbs 19:21 NLT). Omri’s ambitions to expand his kingdom at any cost would actually lead to the eventual fall of the nation. In his hopes of building Israel into a formidable force in the region, he was actually contributing to its downfall. His refusal to shepherd the people of God back to the fold of God would eventually result in their destruction at the hands of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God is the Ultimate Kingmaker

In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah, Elah the son of Baasha began to reign over Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned two years. But his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him. When he was at Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was over the household in Tirzah, 10 Zimri came in and struck him down and killed him, in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah, and reigned in his place.

11 When he began to reign, as soon as he had seated himself on his throne, he struck down all the house of Baasha. He did not leave him a single male of his relatives or his friends. 12 Thus Zimri destroyed all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke against Baasha by Jehu the prophet, 13 for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel to sin, provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their idols. 14 Now the rest of the acts of Elah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 1 Kings 16:8-14 ESV

Being the heir to a king in Israel could be a dangerous occupation, particularly if your father was under judgment from God. There was Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, who was assassinated in the second year of his reign. Baasha, his murderer, took his place on the throne of Israel. And Baasha secured his kingdom by having the entire extended family of Jeroboam executed. That way there would be no heirs to try and reclaim the throne.

Twenty-four years later, Baasha’s son, Elah ascended to the throne after his father’s death. But he too would enjoy a reign of only two years before being assassinated by Zimri, one of his own military officers. And Zimri also took drastic measures to protect his newfound power and position.

Zimri immediately killed the entire royal family of Baasha, leaving him not even a single male child. – 1 Kings 16:11 NLT

Both Jeroboam and Baasha were under the judgment of God. In Jeroboam’s case, God had placed his entire lineage under a curse because he had led the northern tribes of Israel to worship false gods.

“You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made other gods for yourself and have made me furious with your gold calves. And since you have turned your back on me, I will bring disaster on your dynasty and will destroy every one of your male descendants, slave and free alike, anywhere in Israel. I will burn up your royal dynasty as one burns up trash until it is all gone.” – 1 Kings 14:9-10 NLT

And though Baasha was not a descendant of Jeroboam, he would find himself under a similar curse because he had chosen to follow Jeroboam’s example.

“I lifted you out of the dust to make you ruler of my people Israel, but you have followed the evil example of Jeroboam. You have provoked my anger by causing my people Israel to sin. So now I will destroy you and your family, just as I destroyed the descendants of Jeroboam son of Nebat. The members of Baasha’s family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the field will be eaten by vultures.” – 1 Kings 16:2-4 NLT

These two men had been elevated by God from obscurity to places of power and great influence. But rather than respond to God in gratitude and reverence, they let their success go to their heads. They lost sight of the fact that they had been placed on the throne by God and it was He who deserved their honor, worship, and faithfulness. It was the prophet, Daniel, who told King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, “Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings” (Daniel 2:20-21 NLT). And the psalmist, Asaph,  added, “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:7 ESV).

Power is intoxicating. It has a highly attractive quality to it that, once tasted, can become addictive and habit forming. As has been made abundantly clear, the position of king was highly coveted in Israel. Since Jeroboam, a relative nobody had been able to enjoy his 15-minutes of fame and fortune, everyone believed the position was open to anyone with enough drive and ambition to take it. Baasha had deemed himself a far better candidate than Nadab, so he took matters into his hands, eliminated the competition, and crowned himself king. But in doing so, he failed to realize that he was nothing more than an instrument in the hand of God. The Almighty had used him to bring judgment against the house of Jeroboam. And God would have used Baasha if he had recognized the hand of God in his life and given Him the glory and honor He so richly deserved. But Baasha became blinded by his own glory.

The history of the kings of Judah and Israel has come a long way since the day when Solomon asked God for “an understanding mind” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV). As the newly crowned king of the still united nation of Israel, Solomon was aware of his shortcomings. He knew he was young and ill-prepared to rule over the vast kingdom his father had built. And, faced with the formidable task of following in his father’s footsteps, Solomon had sought the assistance of God.

“I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” – 1 Kings 3:7-9 NLT

Notice that Solomon understood that the people of Israel were God’s chosen people, not his. He was simply a figurehead, serving on behalf of God and by the sovereign will of God. At this early stage of his reign, Solomon seems quite aware of his place on the depth chart. He has no delusions of grandeur or shows no signs of an overinflated sense of self-worth. He is humble, submissive, and fully aware of his need for God’s help. But over his four-decades-long reign, Solomon would grow increasingly more self-reliant and obsessed with the trappings of power and success. He began to seek fulfillment and satisfaction in all the wrong places and, ultimately, he was forced to confess that his quest had left him unfulfilled and dissatisfied.

I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 NLT

In essence, Solomon had become an idol-factory. He manufactured all kinds of substitutes for God, hoping to discover meaning and purpose for his life. In the early days of his reign, he had turned to God. But as the years progressed, he began to seek help and hope in all the wrong places.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 NLT

He had it all, but he had nothing. Surrounded by all the trappings of success, Solomon found himself empty and trapped in an existential maze with no hope of finding the exit. He was lost. Yet the answer to his problem was all around him. It was God who had given him wisdom and wealth. His fame and fortune were the handiwork of God. But Solomon had begun to read his own press clippings and assumed that his greatness was his own doing. He lost sight of God, and that ultimately led him to seek help from his menagerie of false gods. That decision would have long-lasting ramifications, resulting in the division of his kingdom and the rise of men like Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Nadab, Abijah, Baasha, and Zimri.

The pattern established by Solomon continued for generations to come. Each successive king seemed to lose sight of his calling and, in time, lost touch with his God. They each became guilty of making substitutes for God, a fact that the author 1 Kings makes painfully clear.

So Zimri destroyed the dynasty of Baasha as the Lord had promised through the prophet Jehu. This happened because of all the sins Baasha and his son Elah had committed, and because of the sins they led Israel to commit. They provoked the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, with their worthless idols. – 1 Kings 16:12-13 NLT

Late in his life, long after his meaningless quest for significance had left him empty-handed, Solomon came to a painful, yet important epiphany.

Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him? God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him. But if a sinner becomes wealthy, God takes the wealth away and gives it to those who please him. This, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. – Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 NLT

He had allowed God to become obscured by the pleasures and trappings of success. He had spent his entire life pursuing wealth, treasures, fame, and influence. But in doing so, he had turned His back on the very one who had made it all possible. It was God who had placed Solomon on the throne. It was God who had blessed Solomon with wisdom and wealth. And it was God who would take it all away and give it to someone else. Now, years later, the pattern continues to repeat itself, providing further proof of the validity of Asaph’s words: “it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

1 And the word of the Lord came to Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, “Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Anyone belonging to Baasha who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone of his who dies in the field the birds of the heavens shall eat.”

Now the rest of the acts of Baasha and what he did, and his might, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? And Baasha slept with his fathers and was buried at Tirzah, and Elah his son reigned in his place. Moreover, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha and his house, both because of all the evil that he did in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and also because he destroyed it. 1 Kings 16:1-7 ESV

The back-and-forth nature of the author’s writing style can it difficult to keep up with all that is going on. One minute he’s writing about the king of Judah, then he quickly shifts the narrative to focus on the king of Israel. But his side-by-side comparison of the two kingdoms allows him to track the spiritual trajectory of the two nations simultaneously, providing a comparative analysis of their faithfulness and ultimate fate. And, though the nations are divided, they tend to follow eerily similar paths.

With the opening of chapter 16, the narrative has shifted back to the northern kingdom of Israel, where Baasha reigned as king. It’s important to note that this man was not of the royal lineage of Jeroboam. He was a usurper to the throne who had conspired to assassinate Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, who had become the king after his father’s death. Nadab’s reign had only lasted two years, but he had managed to establish a reputation for wickedness that rivaled that of his father.

He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin which he made Israel to sin. – 1 Kings 15:26 ESV

But his death at the hands of Baasha was not a result of his own sin, but because of the actions taken by his father, Jeroboam. When God divided the kingdom of Solomon, He awarded the ten tribes in the north to Jeroboam, making him king over what would now become known as the nation of Israel. But in response to this undeserved promotion, Jeroboam had made the unwise decision to solidify his kingship by creating his own religion, complete with his own false gods and priests. And this had resulted in the people of Israel turning their backs on God. And Jeroboam’s foolish decision brought down the wrath of God, who delivered a prophetic message of judgment upon his entire household.

“…you have done evil above all who were before you and have gone and made for yourself other gods and metal images, provoking me to anger, and have cast me behind your back, therefore behold, I will bring harm upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every male, both bond and free in Israel, and will burn up the house of Jeroboam, as a man burns up dung until it is all gone.” – 1 Kings 14:9-10 ESV

Upon Jeroboam’s death, his son Nadab ascended to the throne. But, as stated earlier, his reign was short-lived. Two years into his reign, God raised up Baasha, “the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar” (1 Kings 15:27 ESV). Seemingly out of nowhere, this man appeared on the scene and led a successful coup that resulted in the death of Jeroboam’s heir and son, Nadab. But Baasha, in an attempt to secure his newfound reign, ordered the annihilation of Jeroboam’s entire family.

…as soon as he was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam. He left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite. It was for the sins of Jeroboam that he sinned and that he made Israel to sin, and because of the anger to which he provoked the Lord, the God of Israel. – 1 Kings 15:29-30 ESV

All that Baasha did was in fulfillment of the word of God spoken through Ahijah the prophet. He was used by God to deliver divine judgment on Jeroboam and his entire household. He was an instrument in the hands of a holy and righteous God, meting out divine justice upon the guilty and purging Israel of its wickedness. But Baasha seems to have been oblivious to God’s role in his meteoric rags-to-riches ascent to the throne of Israel. He saw himself as a self-made man who had asserted his own will and paved the way to his own success.

It’s not difficult to recognize the pattern of autonomy and self-assured independence that shows up in all these stories. The kings of Israel and Judah all seemed to share the same inflated sense of self-worth and over-confidence. As soon as they ascended to the throne, it was as if all the newfound power and prestige went to their heads. They got cocky. They became self-reliant. And they left God out of the picture.

Baasha was no different. This obscure individual from the small tribe of Issachar had, overnight, become the most powerful man in all of Israel. But rather than recognize his rapid ascent to the throne as the handiwork of God, he pridefully assumed it had all been his doing. In the book of 1 Chronicles, there is an interesting statement regarding the tribe of Issachar. It says that it was made up of “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32 ESV). This could indicate that they shared a unique capacity for discernment that allowed them to take advantage of any opportunity in order to further the well-being of their tribe. It seems that Baasha fit this description. He was a pragmatist who had seen an opportunity to improve his lot in life and had seized it. But he made the grave mistake of failing to honor God, and he would pay dearly.

God sent yet another prophet with a message of judgment. And He informed the overly self-confident Baasha that, because he had followed the example of Jeroboam, he would suffer the same fate as Jeroboam.

Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, behold, I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” – 1 Kings 16:2-3 ESV

Baasha had been used by God to wipe out the wicked dynasty of Jeroboam, but rather than call the nation of Israel back to God, he had led them into further idolatry and unfaithfulness. Both Jeroboam and Baasha had been given God-ordained opportunities to do the right thing. Jeroboam had been gifted with the responsibility of ruling over the ten northern tribes. His moment in the sun had been the direct result of Solomon’s unfaithfulness to God. But rather than learn from Solomon’s mistakes, Jeroboam unwisely repeated them.

And the same was true of Baasha. God used him to enact His judgment upon Jeroboam and his equally wicked son. But rather than recognize the hand of God and worship him accordingly, Baasha took credit for his success. He refused to acknowledge God and, instead, chose to continue the wicked practices of the very man God had sent him to replace. So, he would face a similar fate. But, according to chapter 15, Baasha would remain on the throne for 24 years. From a human perspective, it would appear as if his decisions had produced more-than-favorable results. But chapter 15 also indicates that “He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 15:34 ESV). Those 24 years were filled with further acts of wickedness and rebellion against God. So, while the ten tribes of Israel had a new king, they were stuck in the same old rut, continuing to live their lives in open rebellion against God.

But the story of Baasha ends on a sad note. He had been given a chance to redeem and restore the nation of Israel but he refused to do so. As a result, he ended up suffering the judgment of God. And the author makes it clear that Baasha’s punishment at the hands of God was due to two factors. One, because he “had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight (just as the family of Jeroboam had done)” and “also because Baasha had destroyed the family of Jeroboam” (1 Kings 16:7 NLT). Not only would Baasha have to atone for his sin of leading the people into further idolatry and apostasy, but he would be held accountable for his role in Nadab’s death and the destruction of the house of Jeroboam.

From a human point of view, this last point may appear unjust and unfair. After all, God had chosen to use Baasha as His instrument of judgment upon Jeroboam. So, why was he going to be held responsible for what was clearly a God-ordained and divinely sanctioned action? But the Scriptures are full of other incidents when God chose to use an individual or a nation to enact His judgment, but then held them culpable for their actions.

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet records the words of God spoken against the nation of Babylon. They would be responsible for the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. But the prophet clearly states, “Babylon has been a gold cup in the Lord’s hands, a cup that made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank Babylon’s wine, and it drove them all mad” (Jeremiah 51:7 NLT). In other words, they were being used by God to accomplish His divine will. But, at the same time, God would hold them accountable for their role.

“Flee from Babylon! Save yourselves!
    Don’t get trapped in her punishment!
It is the Lord’s time for vengeance;
    he will repay her in full.” Jeremiah 51:6 NLT

The Babylonians did what they did willingly and eagerly. They were used by God to accomplish He will, but everything they did was according to their own wishes. That is why God warns of coming judgment against them because their actions were still considered a sin against Him.

“Yes, prepare to attack Babylon,
    all you surrounding nations.
Let your archers shoot at her; spare no arrows.
    For she has sinned against the Lord.” – Jeremiah 50:14 NLT

While God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are difficult to reconcile, in the end, we must rest in the knowledge that God is not only in control of all things, but he is righteous and just in all that He does. Baasha had been used by God to bring judgment upon the house of Jeroboam, but Baasha would be held accountable by God for his actions. Why? Because Baasha did what he did of his own free will. He had not been an unwilling or helpless actor in the divine drama. And while his actions accomplished the divine will of God, he would not get a free pass from suffering the consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson