The Inescapable, Unavoidable Will of God

28 Now the rest of the acts of Josiah and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? 29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him. 30 And his servants carried him dead in a chariot from Megiddo and brought him to Jerusalem and buried him in his own tomb. And the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and anointed him, and made him king in his father’s place.

31 Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he began to reign, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. 32 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 33 And Pharaoh Neco put him in bonds at Riblah in the land of Hamath, that he might not reign in Jerusalem, and laid on the land a tribute of a hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. 34 And Pharaoh Neco made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the place of Josiah his father, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. But he took Jehoahaz away, and he came to Egypt and died there. 35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh, but he taxed the land to give the money according to the command of Pharaoh. He exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, from everyone according to his assessment, to give it to Pharaoh Neco.

36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. 37 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done. 

1 In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him. And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans and bands of the Syrians and bands of the Moabites and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah to destroy it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servants the prophets. Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon. – 2 Kings 23:28-24:4 ESV

In his ongoing attempt to redeem the spiritual soul of the nation, King Josiah had bitten off more than he could chew. His many reforms and his ongoing battle against idolatry and apostasy were more than enough to keep him busy. But as the king of a powerful nation, he also had the responsibility to keep abreast of all the military and political machinations taking place in the region. At his point in history, the Assyrians were still the dominant force in the region, but the Babylonians were beginning to exert their formidable influence. They were an up-and-coming superpower that posed a real threat to Assyria’s global empire.

Josiah received word that the Egyptian army was on its way to Carchemish on the Euphrates River, where they were to join Assyrian forces in a battle against the upstart Babylonians. For some reason, Josiah made the fateful decision to oppose this military alliance between Egypt and Assyria.

After Josiah had finished restoring the Temple, King Neco of Egypt led his army up from Egypt to do battle at Carchemish on the Euphrates River, and Josiah and his army marched out to fight him. But King Neco sent messengers to Josiah with this message:

“What do you want with me, king of Judah? I have no quarrel with you today! I am on my way to fight another nation, and God has told me to hurry! Do not interfere with God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” – 2 Chronicles 23:20-21 NLT

Perhaps Josiah was hoping that the Babylonians would bring an end to Assyria’s longstanding stranglehold on the region. Long after the Assyrians had called off their siege of Jerusalem, they remained a constant threat to Judah. So, Josiah rallied his troops and intercepted the Egyptian army as it made its way to Carchemish. But King Neco, the Pharaoh of Egypt, warned Josiah not to interfere, claiming to have a divine mandate from God.

But Josiah refused to listen to Neco, to whom God had indeed spoken, and he would not turn back. Instead, he disguised himself and led his army into battle on the plain of Megiddo. – 2 Chronicles 23:22 NLT

Josiah refused to believe that Yahweh was behind this unholy alliance between the Egyptians and the Assyrians. He couldn’t see any reason why God would direct the pagan king of the Egyptians to join forces with the already powerful and deadly kingdom of Assyrian. It made no sense. But Josiah failed to understand that God was orchestrating His sovereign will and raising up the nation of Babylon as His agent of judgment against Assyria for its role in the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. And Josiah was also unaware that God was preparing to use Babylon to destroy the nation of Judah.

Ignorant of God’s plans, King Josiah decided to take matters into his own hands and led his troops into battle against the Egyptians. They intercepted the Egyptian army at a place called Megiddo and in the ensuing battle, King Josiah was killed. The author of 2 Kings states that “Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him” (2 Kings 23:29 ESV). But in 2 Chronicles 35, we’re told that Josiah had disguised himself. It seems that Josiah’s little ploy to hide his kingly identity failed. King Neco recognized Josiah instantly and ordered his death.

But the enemy archers hit King Josiah with their arrows and wounded him. He cried out to his men, “Take me from the battle, for I am badly wounded!” – 2 Chronicles 35:23 NLT

The wounded king was placed in another chariot and returned to the city of Jerusalem, where he died. After giving their fallen king a state funeral, the people chose Jehoahaz as his replacement. This choice seems a bit odd because Jehoahaz was Josiah’s middle son and, therefore, not the next in line to the throne. But it seems that the people were looking for a king who would bring back the old way of life to which they had grown accustomed. They missed the days of Manasseh and were regretting all the reforms that Josiah had instituted in Judah. So, they chose the son of Josiah who represented their best chance at bringing back the good old days. And it appears that picked just the right man for the job.

He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, just as his ancestors had done. – 2 Kings 23:32 NLT

But Jehoahaz’s reign would be short-lived. The people failed to take into account that King Neco might have something to say about who took Josiah’s place on the throne of Judah. Just three months into his reign, Jehoahaz was deposed by the Pharaoh and taken captive to Egypt, where he died. Neco filled the vacancy with Eliakim, the older brother of Jehoahaz, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. This young man became little more than a vassal to the Pharaoh and was forced to make an annual tribute payment to the Egyptians. To do this, he imposed a debilitating tax on the people of Judah. The prophet provides a brief but sobering summary of the sad state of affairs in the southern kingdom of Judah after the death of Josiah.

Do not weep for the dead king or mourn his loss.
    Instead, weep for the captive king being led away!
    For he will never return to see his native land again.

For this is what the Lord says about Jehoahaz, who succeeded his father, King Josiah, and was taken away as a captive: “He will never return. He will die in a distant land and will never again see his own country.” – Jeremiah 22:10-12 NLT

With Josiah’s death, the period of reformation in Judah came to an abrupt end. He had been the heart and soul behind all the changes that had taken place. And without him, the people would revert to their old ways. Virtually overnight, the conditions in Judah took a dramatic turn for the worse. Judah was now a vassal state, ruled by a puppet king who answered to the Pharaoh of Egypt. Josiah’s attempt to stop the Egyptians from joining forces with the Assyrians had failed. In 605 BC, just four years after Josiah’s death, these two armies would be defeated by the Babylonians at the Battle of Carchemish. This unexpected victory by the Babylonians over the Egyptians and Assyrians would prove to be a game-changing event in the history of the middle east. It was catapult Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, into the role of the most powerful ruler on earth. With his defeat of the Assyrians, Nebuchadnezzar took over all the lands they had conquered, dramatically increasing the size and influence of his empire.

Eventually, the Babylonians would rest control of Judah from the hands of King Neco of Egypt. And Jehoiakim would find himself answering to yet another, more powerful, king. But as we will see, Jehoiakim will try to resist his new overlord, refusing to submit to his authority. Like his father, Josiah, Jehoiakim fails to see the sovereign hand of God behind all that is taking place. He is short-sighted in his outlook, and intent on making the most of his less-than-ideal circumstances. And the prophet Jeremiah records God’s stinging condemnation of Jehoiakim’s arrogant and self-centered approach to leadership.

And the Lord says, “What sorrow awaits Jehoiakim,
    who builds his palace with forced labor.
He builds injustice into its walls,
    for he makes his neighbors work for nothing.
    He does not pay them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build a magnificent palace
    with huge rooms and many windows.
I will panel it throughout with fragrant cedar
    and paint it a lovely red.’
But a beautiful cedar palace does not make a great king!
    Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink.
But he was just and right in all his dealings.
    That is why God blessed him.
He gave justice and help to the poor and needy,
    and everything went well for him.
Isn’t that what it means to know me?”
    says the Lord.
“But you! You have eyes only for greed and dishonesty!
    You murder the innocent,
    oppress the poor, and reign ruthlessly.” – Jeremiah 22:13-17 NLT

Unlike his reform-minded father, Jehoiakim had no heart for God. He was a self-obsessed man who used his power and position to improve his own lot in life while allowing the nation of Judah to continue its slide into apostasy. When Neco was forced to abandon his hold on Judah, Jehoiakim saw it as an opportunity to assert his independence. But he failed to understand the gravity of his situation. He had no clue that Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians had been chosen by God to bring judgment against the nation of Judah. In attempting to resist the Babylonians, Jehoiakim was actually opposing the will of God. And he would pay dearly for his obstinance. For three years, God would send the Babylonians, Arameans, Moabites, and Ammonites against the rebellious nation of Judah. And the author leaves no doubt as to the purpose behind these raids.

These disasters happened to Judah because of the Lord’s command. He had decided to banish Judah from his presence because of the many sins of Manasseh. – 2 Kings 24:3 NLT

Little did Jehoiakim know that he was facing the beginning of the end. The coming judgment of Judah was imminent and unavoidable.

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

Our Sovereign God

1 Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God. She went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years. And at the end of the seven years, when the woman returned from the land of the Philistines, she went to appeal to the king for her house and her land. Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.” And while he was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and her land. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, “Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now.”

Now Elisha came to Damascus. Ben-hadad the king of Syria was sick. And when it was told him, “The man of God has come here,” the king said to Hazael, “Take a present with you and go to meet the man of God, and inquire of the Lord through him, saying, ‘Shall I recover from this sickness?’” So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, all kinds of goods of Damascus, forty camels’ loads. When he came and stood before him, he said, “Your son Ben-hadad king of Syria has sent me to you, saying, ‘Shall I recover from this sickness?’” 10 And Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, ‘You shall certainly recover,’ but the Lord has shown me that he shall certainly die.” 11 And he fixed his gaze and stared at him, until he was embarrassed. And the man of God wept. 12 And Hazael said, “Why does my lord weep?” He answered, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel. You will set on fire their fortresses, and you will kill their young men with the sword and dash in pieces their little ones and rip open their pregnant women.” 13 And Hazael said, “What is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” Elisha answered, “The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.” 14 Then he departed from Elisha and came to his master, who said to him, “What did Elisha say to you?” And he answered, “He told me that you would certainly recover.” 15 But the next day he took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place. 2 Kings 8:1-15 ESV

Hazael meets prophet Elisha and asks for healing for his master, King Ben Hadad of Syria (2 Kings 8). Wood engraving, published in 1886.

It’s difficult to determine exactly when the two stories that open up chapter eight took place. But the author’s decision to include them at this point in his narrative doesn’t appear to have been based on a desire for chronological accuracy. He was trying to make a point about the spiritual conditions in and around Israel, and so he used the stories of two very different characters as illustrations. One we have met before. The Shunammite woman was first introduced to us in chapter four. She was a faithful follower of Yahweh who had shown gracious hospitality to Elisha and his servant, providing them with shelter and food every time they passed through her town. And God had rewarded her generosity to His servant by allowing her to conceive and bear a son, something she had never been able to do. But sometime in his early childhood, her son became ill and died. Her joy turned to sorrow. But the prophet of God intervened and restored the child to life. And now, in chapter eight, the author decides to pick up the story where he left off.

Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, “Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.” – 2 Kings 8:1 ESV

The prophet informed the Shunammite woman about a famine that God was about to bring upon the land because of Israel’s ongoing apostasy. He gave this faithful servant of Yahweh the opportunity to escape and find shelter until the seven years of famine had passed. And she took the prophet’s advice and fled with her family to the land of the Philistines. But seven years later, when the famine was over and she returned to Shunem, she was homeless and landless. It could be that she sold her husband’s inheritance before she left seven years earlier. But it could be that the crown had confiscated her land in her absence. But in either case, the Mosaic law required that she be given the right to reclaim her land at any time (Leviticus 25:23-28). It would have been part of her husband’s inheritance and protected by law.

So, upon her return, she headed straight to the palace to make an appeal to the king. It seems likely that her husband had died. We know from chapter four that he was more advanced in years (2 Kings 4:14). Yet it could be that he was alive but physically incapable of presenting his case before the king, so his wife acted on his behalf.

This is where the story gets interesting. In a display of divinely inspired timing, the woman arrived at the palace at the exact moment when Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, was having a conversation with King Jehoram. The fact that Gehazi was standing before the king would indicate that this story took place before he had been stricken with leprosy (2 Kings 5:20-27). The author doesn’t reveal the purpose behind Gehazi’s appointment with the king, but he does let us know what they discussed.

Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.” – 2 Kings 8:4 ESV

Jehoram’s relationship with Elisha had been anything but cordial. Like all the kings of Israel, he had a love-hate relationship with God’s prophet. Jehoram was the son of Jezebel and, like his wicked mother, he had continued to lead the people of Israel in the practice of idolatry. So, it seems a bit out of character for him to ask Gehazi to regale him with all the exploits of the prophet of God. But, once again, this reveals the divine timing and providential planning behind all that is taking place in the story. God was orchestrating everything, down to the last detail.

It just so happened that as Gehazi was telling Jehoram how Elisha had restored the woman’s son to life, she walked in the door. Gehazi, shocked at seeing the woman show up at just that moment, exclaimed, “My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life” (2 Kings 8:5 ESV). This wasn’t a case of kismet, karma, fate, or good luck. It was the sovereign will of God Almighty on display. He had pre-ordained and orchestrated it all. And the result was that the king ordered the immediate restoration of the woman’s land, “including the value of any crops that had been harvested during her absence” (2 Kings 8:6 NLT). He richly rewarded her for her faithfulness.

And this sets up the second story. In this one, the location shifts from Samaria, the capital city of Israel, to Damascus, the capital city of Syria. In verses 1-6, the author presented the story of a faithful servant and a curious king. But in verses 7-15, he tells a strikingly different story about an unfaithful servant and a critically ill king. These stories are arranged as they are for a reason. They are meant to stand in stark contrast to one another. But they are also intended to demonstrate the sovereign hand of God over all that takes place. From the palace of the king of Israel to the royal court of the pagan king of Syria, God is in full control of all things. There is nothing that escapes His notice or falls outside His divine jurisdiction.

In another display of divine timing, Elisha has arrived in Damascus at the very same time that Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, has become ill. Upon hearing of Elisha’s presence in his capital, Ben-hadad determines to take advantage of this fortunate opportunity. He sends Hazael, the governor of Damascus, to ask Elisha whether he will recover from his illness. And, in a not-so-subtle attempt to garner a favorable response from the prophet, Ben-hadad includes a lucrative welcome gift. And when Hazael delivers the king’s gift and message to Elisha, the prophet responds with a rather cryptic answer.

“Go and tell him, ‘You will surely recover.’ But actually the Lord has shown me that he will surely die!” – 2 Kings 8:10 NLT

What followed this exchange was a long and awkward staredown between Elisha and Hazael. The prophet knew exactly what was going on in Hazael’s heart. God had revealed to Elisha exactly what the governor was planning to do. So, he locked eyes with Hazael, perhaps hoping that the awkward silence would lead the governor to have second thoughts about his evil plan. But there was no confession from Hazael. Instead, Elisha began to weep. He knew exactly what was going to happen and the long-term ramifications for the people of Israel.

“I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!” – 2 Kings 8:12 NLT

God had given Elisha a glimpse into all that was going to take place. Ben-hadad would recover from his illness but would die at the hands of Hazael. And when Hazael ascended to the throne of Syria, he would wreak havoc and destruction upon the nation of Israel. He would become God’s chosen instrument of judgment upon His unfaithful people. And this had always been part of God’s sovereign plan.

All the way back in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, we have the story of Elijah running from the threat of Jezebel’s revenge. He escaped to the wilderness where he sought shelter in a cave. But while there, he received a visit and a message from God.

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. 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

Don’t miss the significance of what is going on here. Years earlier, God had commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Syria. And Elijah had obeyed that command. This means that long before Elisha showed up in Damascus and had his face-to-face encounter with Hazael, this man already had God’s divine seal of approval to be the next king of Syria. He had already been anointed by Elijah but had not yet assumed the throne. But it was just a matter of time. It was inevitable and unavoidable because it had been ordained by God.

And God had made it clear to Elijah that He would one day use Hazael as His instrument of judgment upon the rebellious people of Israel.

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. 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.” – 1 Kings 19:17-18 ESV

Now, that prophecy was about to be fulfilled. God had shown Elisha what was about to happen and the thought of it brought him to tears.

“The Lord has shown me that you are to be king over Syria.” – 2 Kings 8:13 ESV

The judgment of God was about to come upon the people of Israel. And while He had rewarded the Shunammite woman for her faithfulness, He was about to bring death and destruction upon unfaithful Israel. And the author closes his story with the fateful words: “the next day he [Hazael] took the bed cloth and dipped it in water and spread it over his face, till he died. And Hazael became king in his place” (2 Kings 8:15 ESV).

The man whom God had ordered Elijah to anoint years earlier, was now the king. The sovereign will of God had been fulfilled. And the next phase of His plan for the rebellious people of Israel was about to begin.

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

Under God’s Judgment, But Unrepentant

1 In the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twelve years. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, though not like his father and mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it.

Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. But when Ahab died, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. So King Jehoram marched out of Samaria at that time and mustered all Israel. And he went and sent word to Jehoshaphat king of Judah: “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you go with me to battle against Moab?” And he said, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses.” Then he said, “By which way shall we march?” Jehoram answered, “By the way of the wilderness of Edom.”

So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom. And when they had made a circuitous march of seven days, there was no water for the army or for the animals that followed them. 10 Then the king of Israel said, “Alas! The Lord has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 11 And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the Lord here, through whom we may inquire of the Lord?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 12 And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the Lord is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.

13 And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” 14 And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.” 2 Kings 3:1-14 ESV

When Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, died just two years into his reign, his brother Jehoram became the next king of Israel. And he proved to be just as evil as his father and brother. Yet, he did use his royal power to eliminate the worship of Baal in Israel. But “he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it” (2 Kings 3:3 ESV). He refused to remove the false gods that Jeroboam had erected in Dan and Bethel, and his failure to do so kept the spirit of idolatry and unfaithfulness alive in the land of Israel. Rather than call the people to repentance and encourage a return to Yahweh, Jehoram simply maintained the status quo, allowing the people to continue to place their hope in the golden calves Jeroboam had created.

But Jehoram soon found himself in need of divine assistance. His father, who had been a wicked and oppressive king, had managed to make a lot of enemies. One of them was the king of Moab. During his reign, Ahab had forced the Moabites to pay an annual tribute that consisted of “100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams” (2 Kings 3:4 ESV). But the Moabites found this annual levy to be onerous, and, as soon as the king of Moab heard of Ahab’s death, he refused to make any further payments.

Jehoram viewed this as a blatant act of rebellion against his authority as the king of Israel. His primary concern was not with the loss of the annual tribute but with the potential loss of respect he would face if he did not deal decisively with this blatant affront to his royal reputation. So, he determined to teach King Mesha of Moab a lesson. Jehoram mustered all the fighting men of Israel and then called on Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, to come to their assistance. Jehoram wanted Jehoshaphat to provide troops and access through Judah’s land because he planned to attack Moab from the south.

King Jehoshaphat agreed to assist Jehoram, stating, “I will go. I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” ( 2 Kings 3:7 ESV). This was the second time that King Jehoshaphat threw in his lot with the king of Israel. Back when Ahab had been king, he had requested Jehoshaphat’s help in attacking the Syrian-held city of Ramoth-gilead. And Jehoshaphat had responded to Ahab with the very same words of commitment: “I am as you are, my people as your people, my horses as your horses” (1 Kings 22:4 ESV).

Surely, Jehoshaphat had learned a lesson from that first ill-fated alliance with the king of Israel. It had almost cost him his life and had ended with Ahab dying in a pool of his own blood on the floor of his chariot. But the king of Judah proved to be a slow learner. He agreed to Jehoram’s request, providing Israel with military assistance and unhindered access to Moab through the land of Judah. But because the southern approach to Moab would require Jehoram’s forces to pass through the land of Edom, he had successfully coerced the king of Edom to join their expedition.

For seven days, the combined forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom marched around the Dead Sea’s southern tip, an inhospitable region where rain was rare and fresh water was in short supply. And long before they were able to reach their final objective, they ran out of water. They were in the middle of a virtual wasteland, with no means of slaking the thirst of their troops, horses, or pack animals. This mighty military force had come to a screeching halt. And in a state of panic, Jehoram cried out, “The Lord has brought the three of us here to let the king of Moab defeat us” (2 Kings 3:10 ESV).

It’s interesting to note that in his greatest moment of need, Judah’s apostate king utters the name of yᵊhōvâ – Jehovah, the one true God of Israel. He doesn’t call on the golden calves of Jeroboam. He doesn’t mention Baal, the god his father and mother worshiped. Instead, he interpreted their dire circumstances as a divine judgment from the hand of Jehovah. He concluded that God was out to destroy them.

But King Jehoshaphat provided a voice of reason. Rather than assume the worse, he suggested that they seek the aid of a prophet of God to determine what God would have them do. Perhaps God was simply trying to get their attention. It appears Jehoshaphat suddenly realized that they had started this entire endeavor without seeking a word from the Lord. So, he strongly suggested that they do so now.

It just so happened that Elisha, the newly appointed prophet of God, had chosen to accompany the expedition. We’re not told why Elisha was there, but it seems reasonable to assume that his presence had been divinely decreed and ordained. He was there because God, in His providence, had planned it. The very man who had purified the brackish spring water outside the city of Jericho was there in their midst (2 Kings 2:19-22). In their greatest moment of need, when all seemed lost, God had placed His spokesman among them.

So, Jehoram and Jehoshaphat schedule a meeting with Elisha. But the prophet of God took full advantage of Jehoram’s predicament, chiding the idolatrous king of Israel for his apparent lack of faith in his own false gods.

“Why are you coming to me?” Elisha asked the king of Israel. “Go to the pagan prophets of your father and mother!” – 2 Kings 3:13 NLT

It was obvious that Jehoram put no stock in the golden calves of Jeroboam, and he had no faith that Baal or Asherah would come to their aid. And Elisha couldn’t resist the opportunity to rub the king’s nose in the mess he had made of Israel’s spiritual state. Jehoram, like all his predecessors, had stubbornly and arrogantly chosen to reject Yahweh. He had claimed to believe in a new god. But as soon as he found himself in a predicament that called for divine assistance, his faith became as false as his god.

In his desperation, Jehoram ignored the prophet’s stinging rebuke and declared his strong belief that this was all the work of Yahweh.

“No! For it was the Lord who called us three kings here—only to be defeated by the king of Moab!” – 2 Kings 3:13 NLT

Jehoram was convinced that their expedition was doomed to failure. The God of Elisha had it in for them, and there was nothing they could do about it. But there is no sense of repentance or remorse on Jehoram’s part. He does not confess his apostasy and refuses to acknowledge any guilt regarding his idolatry. In his mind, Yahweh was just another God who happened to oppose their plans. And if Jehoram could get Elisha to appeal to his God, perhaps they could be spared. Was there a sacrifice they could make to appease Elisha’s God? Could they do something to make Jehovah happy? Was there a way to get Yahweh to change His mind? That is all Jehoram was interested in and the only reason he was willing to consult with Elisha. And the prophet was not moved by Jehoram’s desperate cries for help. He knew that Jehoram’s interest in Yahweh was motivated by fear and not faith. The threat of divine judgment, while real, had done nothing to draw Jehoram back to God. And Elisha knew that the king of Israel remained unrepentant and unwilling to acknowledge Yahweh as the one true God. He had no respect for Jehoram, but he agreed to intervene because Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, had been the one to suggest that they call on the name of Yahweh.

“As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I wouldn’t even bother with you except for my respect for King Jehoshaphat of Judah. – 2 Kings 3:14 NLT

Here, in the desolate Dead Sea wilderness, the God of Israel was about to show up in might and power. As He had done so many times before, He would intervene in the lives of His rebellious people. In the midst of their unfaithfulness, the always faithful Yahweh would show up and rescue His unrepentant and undeserving people yet again.

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

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

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

Pride Goes Before Destruction

41 Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon? 42 And the time that Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years. 43 And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place.

1 Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had come to Shechem to make him king. And as soon as Jeroboam the son of Nebat heard of it (for he was still in Egypt, where he had fled from King Solomon), then Jeroboam returned from Egypt. And they sent and called him, and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you.” He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the old men, who had stood before Solomon his father while he was yet alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” And they said to him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” But he abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him. And he said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,’ thus shall you say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. 11 And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 And the king answered the people harshly, and forsaking the counsel that the old men had given him, 14 he spoke to them according to the counsel of the young men, saying, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 1 Kings 11:41-12:15 ESV

As God had promised, Solomon was allowed to complete his reign with his kingdom still intact. But upon Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam, who succeeded him to the throne, would find himself facing a God-ordained crisis that would leave his kingdom divided and greatly diminished. It would be easy to sympathize with poor Rehoboam because he is completely unaware of what is about to happen. The day of his coronation should have been one of the most joyous occasions of his life. He was inheriting the vast kingdom his father had established but all the wealth and riches that Solomon had accumulated over the last four decades. He was a lucky young man. But the reader has a distinct advantage over Rehoboam. He knows something of which the new king is most likely unaware. Speaking through the prophet Ahijah, God had promised to divide the kingdom of Israel, awarding ten of the tribes to Jeroboam and leaving Rehoboam with only one.

For the sake of my servant David, the one whom I chose and who obeyed my commands and decrees, I will keep Solomon as leader for the rest of his life. But I will take the kingdom away from his son and give ten of the tribes to you. His son will have one tribe so that the descendants of David my servant will continue to reign, shining like a lamp in Jerusalem, the city I have chosen to be the place for my name.” – 1 Kings 11:34-36 NLT

But any sorrow one might feel for Rehoboam is quickly dispelled when his true nature becomes apparent as he attempts to handle his first official crisis as king. For some undisclosed reason, Rehoboam had decided to hold his coronation ceremony in the city of Shechem, located in the land that belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. His decision to hold this important ceremony outside the city of Jerusalem may indicate that he was aware of the potential problem with Jeroboam. It is likely that Solomon had warned Rehoboam about the potential threat from the Ephraimites. Prior to his death, Solomon had become aware of the prediction concerning Jeroboam, made by Ahijah the prophet, and he had attempted to have Jeroboam murdered. Jeroboam, who was an Ephraimite, had been assigned the task of supervising the conscripted labor force from among his own people. And in performing his duties, he had become aware of the heavy burden Solomon had placed upon the Ephraimites and other northern tribes.

So, Rehoboam may have moved his coronation to Shechem in an attempt to placate and win over the disgruntled Ephraimites. But this ploy would prove unsuccessful.

From his place of exile in Egypt, Jeroboam heard the news that Solomon had died, and he returned to Israel, where he was promptly appointed the official spokesperson for the tribes of Israel. When Rehoboam arrived in Shechem for his coronation, he was met by a large contingent of the people who made an appeal through their appointed leader, Jeroboam.

“Your father was a hard master,” they said. “Lighten the harsh labor demands and heavy taxes that your father imposed on us. Then we will be your loyal subjects.” – 1 Kings 12:4 NLT

Notice that Jeroboam did not restate the words of the prophet. He did boast about the promise God had made, declaring that he was going to be the next king over ten of the tribes of Israel. There were no threats of insurrection or insurgency. He simply expressed the grievances of the people and their desire to have the heavy burdens of labor and taxation reduced.

This was a defining moment for Rehoboam. He could have seen this as an opportunity to unify the nation by demonstrating his intentions to be a fair and just king. Even though he was the son of Solomon, Rehoboam was going to have win the favor and trust of the people. And he was being given the opportunity to rectify some of his father’s less-than-stellar policies.

Having heard their complaints, Rehoboam sent the people away, assuring them that he would take everything into consideration and return with a decision. As the son of Solomon, the man who compiled and edited an entire book of proverbial sayings, Rehoboam would have grown up hearing all the sage advice his father had gathered.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. – Proverbs 11:14 ESV

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22 ESV

Plans are established by counsel; by wise guidance wage war. – Proverbs 20:18 ESV

Only with sound guidance should you wage war, and victory lies in a multitude of counselors. – Proverbs 24:6 BSB

So, it should come as no surprise that Rehoboam sought counsel. He first “discussed the matter with the older men who had counseled his father” (1 Kings 12:6 NLT). These men advised Rehoboam that he could win over the hearts of the people if he would respond favorably to their request. He could forestall any potential unrest by demonstrating that he was, first and foremost, the servant of all the people. While Rehoboam was from the tribe of Judah, he was expected to serve as God’s shepherd over all the tribes of Israel. By making this concession, Rehoboam could avoid a rebellion and establish himself as a compassionate and caring king.

But Rehoboam didn’t like what he heard. The author flatly states, “Rehoboam rejected the advice of the older men and instead asked the opinion of the young men who had grown up with him and were now his advisers” (1 Kings 12:8 NLT). And in doing so, Rehoboam lived out the truth revealed in the proverbs his father had so painstakingly collected.

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs 12:15 ESV

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. – Proverbs 19:20 ESV

Listen to instruction and be wise; do not ignore it. – Proverbs 8:33 BSB

Unlike his father, Rehoboam had not been given the gift of wisdom from God. He was young and inexperienced and in desperate need of wise counsel. But when he received it, he rejected it, choosing instead to seek out those who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Disliking the counsel of the older and wiser men, Rehoboam turned to his peers for advice. And they were more than eager to give it.

The young men replied, “This is what you should tell those complainers who want a lighter burden: ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist! Yes, my father laid heavy burdens on you, but I’m going to make them even heavier! My father beat you with whips, but I will beat you with scorpions!’” – 1 Kings 12:10-11 NLT

These brash young men appealed to Rehoboam’s ego. They advised him to law down the law and establish his reputation as a no-holds-barred disciplinarian who ruled with an iron fist. These young men knew Rehoboam well and their advice was meant to appeal to his over-inflated ego and his desperate desire to escape the shadow of his father’s reputation. And in a demonstration of his inherent foolishness and pride, Rehoboam heeded the counsel of his peers and handed down his decision to the people. And in doing so, he fulfilled the words of the proverb.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe. – Proverbs 28:26 NLT

Rather than humbly heed the pleas of his people, Rehoboam listened to his own heart. But the author reveals that this was all part of the sovereign will of God.

…it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word. – 1 Kings 12:15 ESV

God didn’t force Rehoboam to do what he did. This stubborn and prideful young man simply acted according to his own sinful nature. But in doing so, he was fulfilling the will of God. Rehoboam’s decision would fuel the fire that would end up burning down his kingdom. In his foolish attempt to establish himself as a great king, Rehoboam was unwittingly destroying his own kingdom. And, once again, he was living out the wisdom of the proverbs.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 ESV

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 Love of the World

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. 1 Kings 11:1-8 ESV

 

In this chapter, the author pulls back the curtain on Solomon’s life, revealing the poorly veiled secret that would prove to be his ultimate downfall. Solomon loved women. And he used his position and power as king to more than satisfy his insatiable desire for the opposite sex. The text reveals the staggering fact that Solomon had amassed a harem of 1,000 wives and concubines. And it had all started with his marriage to the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). This had probably been a marriage of convenience, allowing Solomon to form a close alliance with another powerful nation. He certainly made the most of this marital union by purchasing thousands of horses and chariots from the Egyptians to equip his army (1 Kings 10:28-29).

But Solomon’s infatuation with women didn’t stop with Pharaoh’s daughter. He went on to add other foreign women to his growing harem, including “Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women” (1 Kings 11:1 ESV). And the author points out the underlying problem with Solomon’s actions. Solomon had chosen to love foreign women “from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods’” (1 Kings 11:2 ESV).

Solomon was in direct violation of the command of God, given to the people of Israel during their journey from Egypt to Canaan. God had warned the Israelites that they were not to intermarry with the pagans who currently occupied the land He was giving them as their inheritance. Moses conveyed this command in no uncertain terms.

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are about to enter and occupy, he will clear away many nations ahead of you: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. These seven nations are greater and more numerous than you. 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 7:1-4 NLT

And God had also prohibited the Israelites from having anything to do with the Ammonites and Moabites.

These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the Lord your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the Lord your God loves you. As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites. – Deuteronomy 23:4-6 NLT

But Solomon was a collector. He had a passion for fine things and filled his palace with treasures of all kinds, including women from all over the known world. He treated them like prized possessions, living symbols of his unsurpassed wealth and proof of his obsession with fulfilling his heart’s every desire. Years later, Solomon would confess his narcissistic propensities.

“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!

So 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. – Ecclesiastes 2:8-9 NLT

Despite the warnings of God, Solomon “clung to these in love” (1 Kings 11:2 ESV). Even though Solomon had been gifted with wisdom beyond compare, his obsessive-compulsive tendencies led him to make decisions that were clearly foolish and, ultimately, destructive. God had made His will perfectly and plainly clear.

“The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

But Solomon, emboldened by his wisdom and empowered by his position as king, decided that he knew what was best. Fulfilling his physical desires and passions took precedence over his obedience to God. And he would suffer the consequences for his unfaithfulness.

Whenever a child of God places his will above that of God, he will find himself making constant compromises and concessions in order to justify his actions. He will rationalize his decisions in an attempt to convince himself that he is doing the right thing. In doing so, he allows himself to be driven by his desires, rather than guided by the loving hand of God Almighty. And this pattern of behavior can be clearly seen in the life of Solomon. Back in chapter 3, the author declared Solomon’s love for and commitment to God.

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father – 1 Kings 3:3 ESV

But by chapter 11, things had begun to change.

King Solomon loved many foreign women – 1 Kings 11:1 ESV

Solomon never stopped loving God, but he soon found himself with divided affections and a diminished devotion. His love, or better yet, lust for his many wives made it impossible for Solomon to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His capacity to love God had been severely diluted. He had allowed himself to become distracted by the things of this world. And, as the apostle John makes clear, this love affair with material possessions and physical passions always leads to diminished devotion for God.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.  – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

Chapter 11 provides the sad and sobering turning point in the life of Solomon. Everything had started out so well. He had been appointed by God to replace his father as king of Israel. He had been gifted with great wisdom and rewarded with wealth and fame. His kingdom was marked by peace and prosperity. And he had been given the privilege and honor of building a temple for God. But the honeymoon was over.

Solomon had failed to heed his father’s warning.

“Take courage and be a man. Observe the requirements of the Lord your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go.” – 1 Kings 2:2-3 NLT

God had made a covenant commitment to David.

“Furthermore, the Lord declares that he will make a house for you—a dynasty of kings! For when you die and are buried with your ancestors, I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring, and I will make his kingdom strong. He is the one who will build a house—a temple—for my name. And I will secure his royal throne forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:11-13 NLT

But David had understood that this promise came with conditions. He knew that the covenant blessings would be forfeited if his son refused to remain faithful to God. And David had shared this important caveat with his son while lying on his deathbed.

“If your descendants live as they should and follow me faithfully with all their heart and soul, one of them will always sit on the throne of Israel.” – 1 Kings 2:4 NLT

Yet here we find the son of David committing the unpardonable sin. He had not only disobeyed God by marrying foreign women, but he had begun to worship their false gods.

Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. – 1 Kings 11:5-6 NLT

His love for the world and all the tempting pleasures it offered had turned his heart from the Lord. His life had become a living example of something Jesus later warned about.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” – Matthew 6:24 NLT

It is fascinating to note that Solomon’s love of women eventually produced in him a devotion for their pagan gods. And his affection for these false gods would prompt him to erect shrines or places of worship in their honor. The man who had built the house for Yahweh, the one true God, found himself building altars to Chemosh and Molech, the gods of the Moabites and Ammonites. But notice where he built them – “on the mountain east of Jerusalem” (1 Kings 11:7 ESV). This was the Mount of Olives, the very same place where, hundreds of years later, another son of David would pray the following prayer: “Father… not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). On the same location where Solomon had erected altars to false gods, Jesus would declare His commitment to faithfully fulfill the will of God.

It was on the Mount of Olives that Solomon and his many wives offered up their sacrifices to  Molech and  Chemosh. But in the very same place, Jesus, the Son of David and the Savior of the world would humbly and obediently sacrifice His own will for that of His Heavenly Father.

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 Dwelling Place of God

1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. And all the men of Israel assembled to King Solomon at the feast in the month Ethanim, which is the seventh month. And all the elders of Israel came, and the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who had assembled before him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen that they could not be counted or numbered. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the Most Holy Place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim overshadowed the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the Holy Place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside. And they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. 1 Kings 8:1-11 ESV

After nearly seven-and-a-half years of construction, the temple was finally completed. The only thing left to do was to retrieve the Ark of the Covenant from its resting place in the City of David and transfer it to its new home within the Most Holy place of the new temple. But while this might sound like a relatively easy task after all the time, energy, and effort that went into building the temple, it actually a very difficult and dangerous endeavor. As the son of David, Solomon would have been well aware of the stories surrounding his father’s past attempts to transport the Ark.  And he was not interested in repeating his father’s mistakes.

God had given very specific instructions to Moses regarding the proper way to move the Ark from one place to another. Because it was considered to be holy, it had to be handled with extreme care and treated with deep reverence. And God had provided clear guidelines concerning both how and who was to transport the Ark and the other holy vessels.

When the camp is to set out, Aaron and his sons shall go in and take down the veil of the screen and cover the ark of the testimony with it. Then they shall put on it a covering of goatskin and spread on top of that a cloth all of blue, and shall put in its poles.… And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die. These are the things of the tent of meeting that the sons of Kohath are to carry. – Numbers 4:5-6, 15 ESV

All during the 40-year period when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, long before they settled in the land of Canaan, this was how the Ark was moved from place to place. But after Israel had finally settled in the land, the Ark had come to rest in the town of Kiriath-jearim, and was kept under the care of a man named Abinadab. When David had become the second king of Israel and established Jerusalem as his capital, he determined to relocate the Ark and the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle). So, he consulted with all his officials, including the generals and captains of his army, then he announced his plans to the people of Israel.

“If you approve and if it is the will of the Lord our God, let us send messages to all the Israelites throughout the land, including the priests and Levites in their towns and pasturelands. Let us invite them to come and join us. It is time to bring back the Ark of our God, for we neglected it during the reign of Saul.” – 1 Chronicles 13:2-3 NLT

Having received the unanimous support of the people, David organized an elaborate parade to accompany the Ark on its journey from the home of Abinadab to Jerusalem. It was a festive and joyous occasion, featuring music, dancing, and worshipful celebration of God.

Then David and all Israel went to Baalah of Judah (also called Kiriath-jearim) to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord who is enthroned between the cherubim. They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart. David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets. – 1 Chronicles 13:6-8 NLT

But the joy quickly turned to sorrow. The dancing was replaced by mourning. Because David had violated the commands of God. In his zeal to move the Ark of the Covenant, he had neglected to do so according to God’s clearly revealed will. And, as a result, tragedy struck.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. – 2 Samuel 6:6-8 NLT

God had never commanded the Ark to be transported by a cart pulled by oxen. But David had come up with this ingenious plan as a way of expediting the process of transporting the Ark. In his mind, it would be a much quicker and easier way of getting the job done. But his plan resulted in Uzzah’s death. As the oxen stumbled and the Ark began to fall, Uzzah attempted to steady the Ark with his hand. And, in doing so, he violated the command of God.

“…they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” – Numbers 4:15 ESV

David was angry and frustrated over Uzzah’s death. But he was also confused and wondered how he would ever get the Ark safely transported into Jerusalem. Unsure of what to do, he simply ordered the Ark to be moved to the house of Obed-edom of Gath, where it remained for three months. Eventually, David was informed that the presence of the Ark had resulted in great blessings for Obed-edom. This bit of news seems to have prompted David to take another chance at moving the Ark, but this time he chose to do it God’s way.

So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration. After the men who were carrying the Ark of the Lord had gone six steps, David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. And David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. – 2 Samuel 6:12-15 NLT

Fortunately, Solomon was able to use his knowledge of these past events and the wisdom given to him by God to make the right decision. He chose to follow God’s commands and treat the Ark of the Covenant with the honor and reverence it deserved.

…the priests took up the ark. And they brought up the ark of the Lord, the tent of meeting, and all the holy vessels that were in the tent; the priests and the Levites brought them up. – 1 Kings 8:3-4 ESV

And when the priests had successfully moved the Ark into the Most Holy Place of the new temple, something significant happened. Because they had followed God’s instructions, they received a visible sign that God was pleased with their efforts.

…a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. – 1 Kings 8:10-11 ESV

God showed up. He entered the Most Holy Place, in the form of a cloud, and settled over the Mercy Seat which covered the Ark of the Covenant. This visible manifestation was meant to assure Solomon and the people of Israel of God’s glory and presence. And it was a tangible reminder of how God had revealed Himself to their ancestors in the wilderness hundreds of years earlier.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. – Exodus 40:34-35 ESV

Solomon had managed to build a one-of-a-kind structure of unsurpassed beauty. But it was the presence of the cloud that transformed what was an opulent but ordinary building into the dwelling place of God. Solomon had built a building. But only when God showed up did it truly become a temple. And the apostle Paul would later remind his fellow believers in Christ that they too had become temples of God because of the presence of the Spirit of God within them.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 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