I Kings 19
1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.
2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
Unlike his boldness in chapter 18, we see Elijah cowering into fear by going back to Beersheba, the well of the oath made between Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:31), hiding in the region of Judah instead. Again, this emphasizes on the weakness of the LORD’s election of a seemingly inappropriate and humble servant to do his bidding more clearly portrayed in the person of the rejected and humbled Christ.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
5 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.”
6 And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again.
7 And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”
8 And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.
It is under the shade and protection of this broom tree that the Angel, the Son of the Father, goes to feed Elijah for the journey is too great for him (v.7). Look at the tenderness of our LORD God, reaching out to us intimately ensuring that we are not tempted beyond our abilities (1 Corinthians 10:13). Such is the power of the food provided by the Son of God that Elijah went on to ensure the temptation and the trial for forty days and forty nights (c.f. Genesis 7:4, 7:12; Exodus 24:18, 34:28) until he reached Horeb, the mountain range of which Sinai was one of the summits (Exodus 3:1, 17:6, 33:6; Psalm 106:19). This is a reminder of Moses’ standing before the Father on the same Mount, and here Elijah is hiding in the same remarkable place where Moses led the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt towards Canaan. Back then, the tribes were united under the banner of the Angel who led them in the pillar of cloud and fire – and now, we return to the dire situation of the reluctant prophet leading the Israelites back to a restored faith in Jesus.
9 There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He said, “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.”
11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He said, “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.”
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.”
Note, Christ coming to Elijah as “the word of the LORD” and questioning Elijah “What are you doing here…?” (v.9). Elijah’s response is the same in v.10 and 14, as bookends to the mighty display of God’s synchronized power of might and intimacy. Elijah is in nothing short of despair – a man who believes that he is the only one left and fears for the day when not one prophet remains to intercede for Israel.
Where, on the same Mount in the region of where the commandments were given through Moses; the same Mount where Moses met Jesus (Exodus 3); and it is on the same Mount that the Word of God, the Son of the Father, commanded Elijah to “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD”. Elijah witnessed the Father, just as Moses witnessed the Father on the third day (Exodus 19). Yet, this time it is not the giving of the law – but it is a transition from “a great and strong wind” which tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before Him; then an “earthquake”; then a “fire”. The Holy Spirit in the wind (ruach) (Revelation 7:1), to earthquake (Revelation 8:5, 11:13-19, 16:18), to fire (Revelation 20:14-15, 21:18). It is after the passing of these prophetic elements of the book of Revelation that we reach the end: a low whisper (v.12). It is to this low whisper that the same Angel, the Word of God, the Son of God – the qol of God (Hebrew literal translation of ‘voice’ – c.f. literal translation of Exodus 20:18 where the Voice is seen). The question is repeated – and the Word is the LORD, just as the Word was with the LORD (John 1) in this majestic feat on the Mount of Horeb. It is this joint connection between Elijah, Moses and Christ on Mount Horeb which explains their joint meeting at Jesus’ transfiguration in Mark 9.
It is interesting from v.15 onwards that we see the LORD’s hand over a nation aside from Israel – that he would appoint the prophet from Judah to anoint a king Hazael (whom God sees) to be over Syria. Though he does not appear until 2 Kings 8 (under the observation of Elisha, the prophet in Elijah’s place), this prophecy pertains to the eventual preservation of 7,000 in Israel in light of the overarching defeat of the nation by Assyrians and Babylonians by the end of 2 Kings.
The LORD also cares for the appropriate election of Jehu (Jehovah is He), the son of the saved (Nimshi) to anoint as the new king over Israel, and the salvation of God (Elisha) as the son of the judge (Shaphat) of the meadow of dancing (Abel-meholah) as the prophet in Elijah’s place. These pertain to things in 2 Kings 9. The full meaning of the prophecy in v.17-18 would be made clear at that stage when the ultimate authority is not given to the king of Syria, nor to the king of Israel, but by the prophet Elisha (v.17) – reminding us that the spiritual Israelite is more authoritative than that of a king. It is the LORD’s preparation of those who have either kissed Him, or kissed Baal – the romantic language used as a potent imagery against the faithlessness of the nations. The importance of the appointment of Elisha is made apparent when the first focus here is his election, and not the anointing of Hazael nor the anointing of Jehu which is yet to come:
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.
“Elisha came to a resolution presently, but begged a little time, not to ask leave, but only to take leave, of his parents. This was not an excuse for delay, like his (Luke ix. 61) that desired he might bid those farewell that were at home, but only a reservation of the respect and duty he owed to his father and mother. Elijah bade him to back and do it, he would not hinder him; nay, if he would, he might go back, and not return, for any thing he had done to him. He will not force him, nor take him against his will; let him sit down and count the cost, and make it his own act. The efficacy of God’s grace preserves the native liberty of man’s will, so that those who are good are good of choice and not by constraint, not pressed men, but volunteers. 3. That it was a pleasant and acceptable call to him, which appears by the farewell-feast he made for his family ( 21), though he not only quitted all the comforts of his father’s house, but exposed himself to the malignity of Jezebel and her party. It was a discouraging time for prophets to set out in. A man that had consulted with flesh and blood would not be fond of Elijah’s mantle, nor willing to wear his coat; yet Elisha cheerfully, and with a great deal of satisfaction, leaves all to accompany him. Thus Matthew made a great fast when he left the receipt of custom to follow Christ. 4. That it was an effectual call. Elijah did not stay for him, lest he should seem to compel him, but left him to his own choice, and he soon arose, went after him, and not only associated with him, but ministered to him as his servitor, poured water on his hands, 2 Kings iii. 11. It is of great advantage to young ministers to spend some time under the direction of those that are aged and experienced, whose years teach wisdom, and not to think much, if occasion be, to minister to them. Those that would be fit to teach must have time to learn; and those that hope hereafter to rise and rule must be willing at first to stoop and serve.”
I Kings 20:
1 Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathered all his army together. Thirty-two kings were with him, and horses and chariots. And he went up and closed in on Samaria and fought against it.
2 And he sent messengers into the city to Ahab king of Israel and said to him, “Thus says Ben-hadad:
3 ‘Your silver and your gold are mine; your best wives and children also are mine.’”
4 And the king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.”
5 The messengers came again and said, “Thus says Ben-hadad: ‘I sent to you, saying, “Deliver to me your silver and your gold, your wives and your children.”
6 Nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants and lay hands on whatever pleases you and take it away.’”
The son of the Syrian god – Ben-hadad, the king of Syria demands “the best wives and children, and silver and gold” (v.3) – followed with a greater demand of what is in the houses of Ahab’s servants’ houses, and lay hands on whatever pleases them (v.6). It is to the grander and more ‘unreasonable’ request of v.6 that Ahab refuses, though he had wholeheartedly given the king himself and “all that [he has]” (v.4). Ahab has suffered much – that the prophets of Baal and Asherah were slaughtered in chapter 18, that these false gods have failed Israel in the battles against Syria. Yet, this is but a natural progression of reliance on self-made gods which are dead – affecting not only himself but the nation of which he is the head. Israel, if united as one (Judges 20:11), would otherwise prosper under the Anointed King who unites them under the banner of the Heavenly Father.
7 Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land and said, “Mark, now, and see how this man is seeking trouble, for he sent to me for my wives and my children, and for my silver and my gold, and I did not refuse him.”
8 And all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen or consent.”
9 So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Tell my lord the king, ‘All that you first demanded of your servant I will do, but this thing I cannot do.’” And the messengers departed and brought him word again.
10 Ben-hadad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people who follow me.”
11 And the king of Israel answered, “Tell him, ‘Let not him who straps on his armor boast himself like he who takes it off.’”
12 When Ben-hadad heard this message as he was drinking with the kings in the booths, he said to his men, “Take your positions.” And they took their positions against the city.
The exchange between Ben-hadad and Ahab is an exchange based on empty pride. Ben-hadad who swears by “the gods” (v.10), and Ahab who preaches humbleness (v.11) are both victims of their own demise. Ahab and Jezebel are exactly those who have assumed the victory of their Baals and Asherah; Ben-hadad was wrong to assume victory over Israel. Yet, the victory still comes to Ahab not because of his idolatry, but because of the LORD’s faithfulness to Israel from which the Son will be born and cut off.
13 And behold, a prophet came near to Ahab king of Israel and said, “Thus says the LORD, Have you seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
14 And Ahab said, “By whom?” He said, “Thus says the LORD, By the servants of the governors of the districts.” Then he said, “Who shall begin the battle?” He answered, “You.”
15 Then he mustered the servants of the governors of the districts, and they were 232. And after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand.
Yet, in face of the various kings (33 kings including Ben-hadad himself v.1), a prophet came near to Ahab and preached what Ahab needed to hear. Victory by the servants of the governors of the districts; as if such men were not already humble by their stature, the numbers were also humble (v.15 – mere 232). The battle, however, must be started by the king of Israel (v.14) – and achieved by the humble servants, by those (likely those who haven’t yet bowed their knees nor kissed Baal) 7,000 (1 Kings 19:18), to ensure that glory is given to the true LORD (Proverbs 21:31):
16 And they went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings who helped him.
17 The servants of the governors of the districts went out first. And Ben-hadad sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men are coming out from Samaria.”
18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive. Or if they have come out for war, take them alive.”
19 So these went out of the city, the servants of the governors of the districts and the army that followed them.
20 And each struck down his man. The Syrians fled, and Israel pursued them, but Ben-hadad king of Syria escaped on a horse with horsemen.
21 And the king of Israel went out and struck the horses and chariots, and struck the Syrians with a great blow.
22 Then the prophet came near to the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do, for in the spring the king of Syria will come up against you.”
23 And the servants of the king of Syria said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we. But let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.
24 And do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in their places,
25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot. Then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” And he listened to their voice and did so.
It is thus preached to Ahab that this victory was clearly in the LORD’s hand, though should not be taken lightly (v.22) and to be continually equipped and not to become complacent:
43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.
44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.
45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”
What superstition that the Yahweh of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – the God of relationship with men, is labeled as a mere ‘god of hills’ – god of a dead inanimate object. That, again, reveals the poor theology of Ben-hadad, for him to believe that gods are ‘governors’ of a piece of land. Yet, our God is our Saviour, personal, intimate, and corporate.
26 In the spring, Ben-hadad mustered the Syrians and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel.
27 And the people of Israel were mustered and were provisioned and went against them. The people of Israel encamped before them like two little flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the country.
28 And a man of God came near and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD, ‘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.’”
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.
Aphek is a royal city of the Canaanites meaning ‘strength’ – the same place where a Canaanite king was killed by Joshua (Joshua 12:18), a place constantly used by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:1; 1 Samuel 29:1), marking off the eventual demise of Syria in Ben-hadad’s choice to fight against Israel there. For the strength lies in the LORD.
The prophet (v.13, 22), and the man of God (v.28) – are both people aside from Elijah who have reached out to Ahab, to ensure that he is walking in the LORD’s commands to ensure that Israel is not wiped out. This is the LORD’s faithfulness carried out, for He is the God not merely of hills, but also of valleys (v.28), but even moreso the God of Elijah, Elisha, the prophet, the man of God. A mere 7,000 odd people, by the LORD’s strength, defeating the 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. This massacre is nothing short of a miracle. As if hiding in a city called strength is a true refuge for Ben-hadad (v.30)!
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.
Yet, this is where Ahab is clearly not aligned with the LORD who brought victory for Israel, to preserve Israel. Ahab chose to enter a covenant with his “brother” Ben-hadad (v.33) – the same “brother” who tried to conquer Israel, take all things pleasing in their eyes (likely to include the items in the House of the LORD as well) – the same “brother” who relied on the little gods. This is walking out of line of His command (Deuteronomy 7, 32), and an example already demonstrated by Asa in earlier years (2 Chronicles 16:7). What heresy to enter into covenant with a country which does not acknowledge the LORD’s might and sovereignty.
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.
The remaining verses of chapter 20 is reminiscent of 2 Samuel 12 – Nathan’s rebuke of David by use of analogy. What is interesting in both 2 Samuel 12 and with Ahab is that the word of the king is held accountable by the prophet (2 Samuel 12:5-7, compared with v.40). This is therefore the judgment of the king who had weighed the LORD’s justice lightly; for sin is not a light matter, which must require the blood of the innocent divine Son of God to be entirely removed. To let this man go, whom the LORD had devoted to destruction, is to directly spit on the work of Christ. For His work is not a cheap, but an entirely costly grace. Thus, Ahab is judged (1 Kings 22:34-35), but not until after he had eventually humbled himself (1 Kings 21:29). Yet, it still seems that the prophet’s actions in v.35-37 are out of place compared to Ahab’s self-condemnation. It is important, however, to understand the crux of Ahab’s sin. The appearance of mercy on the man’s behalf in v.36, is the same type of ‘mercy’ which Ahab exercised in v.42; yet the LORD’s intent to strike is filled with wisdom, an understanding built upon His coming Son’s work that the LORD shall instead strike the Son, and those who stand outside of Him. For the man to refuse the LORD’s striking of the prophet (who had requested it), it is akin to him usurping the role of the LORD in presuming that His judgment is too harsh; that His wrath is too much. What lies that we should presume anything like that! His wrath is deserving on us, as is His judgment. Yet, His love overflows through His beloved Son, and we are the subject of such grand mercy.