2 Kings 1-2

2 Kings begins with the simple statement: “After Ahab died, Moab rebelled against Israel”. Moab had been under Israel’s control since the beginning of the divided kingdom. The northern kingdom controlled a vast area, much larger than the southern kingdom of Judah. But their control is weakening under the deteriorating administration that is known for the evil they did in the sight of the LORD.

Ahab’s son Ahaziah is now king, he will reign for two years and is currently confined to his bed due to an injury made in a fall. King Ahaziah sends his messengers to Philistine city of Ekron to inquire of their god Baal-Zebub whether he would survive his injury. Even after the repeated encounters with Elijah during his father’s life, including the recent fulfilled prophecy about his father’s death, Ahaziah still persists in seeking out pagan gods. He may have had the same attitude as Ahab, seeking only good news from the pagan gods, not the bad news received from Elijah. But, his failure to inquire of Yahweh, the God of Israel, reveals the depth of his apostasy. He was looking for some favorable prophetic word from Baal-Zebub, rather than hear the TRUTH from the LORD.

Nonetheless God sends an angelic messenger to Elijah telling him to meet the messengers of Ahaziah to give them the true message from the LORD. Ahaziah sends messengers to a false god instead the Lord God Almighty sends him a direct message: “You will not leave the bed you lie on, for you will certainly die!” Elijah delivers the message then retreats to the top of a hill to await Ahaziah’s response.

The messengers return to the king and report the message from the prophet. Ahaziah asks for a description of the prophet and they reply “He was a hairy man and had a leather belt tied around his waist.” The king said, “He is Elijah the Tishbite.” Ahaziah knows who Elijah is and immediately sends a captain and 50 men to forcibly bring Elijah to the king. Ahaziah’s response is to send an army against one man, like Jezebel. Pagan beliefs at that time thought that if they killed the prophet or cause him to recant then they could nullify the curse. We are reminded of Queen Jezebel’s searching for Elijah and her killing of the prophets of God. The captain approaches the mountain and demands that Elijah come down, Elijah replied to the captain, “If I am indeed a prophet, may fire come down from the sky and consume you and your fifty soldiers!” Fire then came down from the sky and consumed him and his fifty soldiers. So Ahaziah sends another captain and 50 men to retrieve Elijah, and fire from God came again and consumed the men. Then the king sent a third captain and 50 men, but this time the captain approached Elijah with respect for the LORD and His prophet, he assumed a position of submission and pleaded for the life of his men and himself. The LORD’s angelic messenger said to Elijah, “Go down with him. Don’t be afraid of him.” So he got up and went down with him to the king.

Elijah said to the king, “This is what the LORD says, ‘You sent messengers to seek an oracle from Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron. You must think there is no God in Israel from whom you can seek an oracle! Therefore you will not leave the bed you lie on, for you will certainly die.’” He died just as the LORD had prophesied through Elijah. In the second year of the reign of King Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat over Judah, Ahaziah’s brother Jehoram replaced him as king of Israel. He will rule for twelve years.

Elijah and Elisha are traveling through Israel; this last journey together will go from Gigal to Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan River. As they begin Elijah told Elisha to stay in Gigal but he will travel to Bethel. Three times Elisha will say, “As certainly as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” Two times in their journey Elisha is met by prophets of the LORD who tell him that Elijah will die soon. Determined to be with his father in the faith till the very end Elisha refused Elijah’s suggestion that he remain comfortably in Gilgal. Additionally a dying person often pronounced blessings on others and Elisha did not want to miss out on this opportunity to receive God’s blessings on his life and ministry.

When Elijah and Elisha approach the Jordan River the 50 prophets from Jericho watch from the shore as Elijah folds up his cloak and strikes the water with it. The water immediately divided, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “What can I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha answered, “May I receive a double portion of the prophetic spirit that energizes you.” Elijah replied, “That’s a difficult request! If you see me taken from you, may it be so, but if you don’t, it will not happen.” Elisha is not asking for twice the ministry or power of Elijah. He is asking for the inheritance of Elijah’s ministry, as a firstborn son would receive a double portion Elisha was asking to be the successor of Elijah and to be privileged to carry on his ministry under God. Elijah is leaving the inherited double portion in the Lord’s hand, but reveals that if Elisha sees Elijah taken up to be with the LORD that would be the sign that he has received his request. This was not a condition for Elisha to receive the double portion but the evidence that he would.

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appeared. They went between Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah went up to heaven in a windstorm. This whirlwind was similar to the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness, it represented God’s presence. Elisha responds with grief, he tore his own clothes as an act of mourning over the loss of this great spiritual warrior. From then on Elisha would wear Elijah’s cloak and would serve with the authority and power it symbolized.

Elisha picks up Elijah’s cloak and begins his journey alone retracing the path he took with Elijah. He stood on the shore of the Jordan, folded his cloak as Elijah had, struck the water of the Jordan and the river parted again showing he now possessed the power of Elijah. The 50 prophets of the LORD from Jericho were standing on the shore and witnessed him doing this. As Elijah approached them they bowed down to the ground in respect.

Then they make a request to send 50 men to search for Elijah, for the wind sent from the LORD may have carried him away and dropped him on one of the hills or in one of the valleys. Elisha had no doubt that Elijah was in heaven with God, but the men were insistent so they looked for three days but could not find any trace of Elijah.

While Elisha was in Jericho the men of the city approach him to do something about the water which has gone bad and was killing their crops. Jericho is experiencing the curses of the covenant, their wells are bitter and their land is unproductive. Elisha instruct them to get a new jar with some salt in it, he goes out to the spring and throws the salt into it. Elisha says, “This is what the LORD says, ‘I have purified this water. It will no longer cause death or fail to produce crops.” Salt is known to both preserve and purify, but adding salt to water normally makes water worse, not better. When the salt was put into the Jericho water the situation miraculously improved. This miracle showed the people of Jericho that the Lord, not Baal, the so-called god of fertility, could heal their barrenness.

From Jericho Elisha retraces his journey to Bethel, remember that Bethel was one of the alternate worship sites in direct conflict with God’s covenant. As Elisha approaches the town he is met by a large group of young boys who are heckling him, calling him names. The youths were expressing their disdain for the Lord’s representative – Elisha, saying his baldhead showed he was without power. Elisha turned and called down God’s judgment on the boys, and then two bears come out of the woods and rip the 42 boys to pieces. From there Elisha travels to Mount Carmel then on to Samaria the capital of Israel. Elisha’s ministry would continue what Elijah began on Mt. Carmel, with the power and authority of his spiritual mentor.

1 Kings 22

1 Kings ends with the appearance of peace and blessings for both Israel and Judah. King Ahab made a treaty with his northern neighbors that both secured his safety from the rising power of Assyria and produced great wealth for him personally. There had been peace for three years; additionally King Ahab and King Jehoshaphat made a peace alliance secured by marriage between his daughter and Jehoshaphat’s son. King Jehoshaphat of Judah was very wealthy and greatly respected, his strength and prosperity are seen as a blessing, which results from faithfully seeking of God.

In the third year of peace King Jehoshaphat visits King Ahab. Ahab states that Ramoth Gilead belongs to Israel, but Ben Hadad of Syria has not returned the town according to agreement in the treaty. King Ahab wants to seize the town but needs Judah’s help to be confident of victory. King Jehoshaphat quickly agrees to support Ahab on the condition that they “First seek an oracle from the LORD.”

Ahab assembles 400 prophets to inquired of the LORD, asking “Should I attack Ramoth Gilead or not?” These prophets were appointed by Ahab, they gave Israel an appearance of proper worship but in reality they were paid to give Ahab the answers he wanted. They had no concern about obtaining and relating the true word of the LORD. Their desire was to give the king the kind of advice they thought he wanted to hear. This would please the king and he would favor them.

King Jehoshaphat discerns that their quick answer to Ahab’s request reveals they did not have the mind of the LORD. Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there not a prophet of the LORD still here that we may ask him?” Ahab admits that there is still one prophet, Micaiah, but Ahab hates him because he will not prophesy what he wants to hear, he proclaims only disaster and not prosperity. The godly King Jehoshaphat cautions Ahab about saying such things about a prophet of the LORD and Ahab reluctantly sends for Micaiah.

King Ahab and King Jehoshaphat are sitting on their respective thrones, dressed in their robes at the entrance to the gates of Samaria. All of Ahab prophets are prophesying before them. Zedekiah, Ahab’s head prophet, made iron horns and said, “This is what the LORD says, ‘With these you will gore Syria until they are destroyed.’” All the prophets were prophesying the same, saying, “Attack Ramoth Gilead! You will succeed; the LORD will hand it over to the king.”

When the messenger from Ahab went to Micaiah, he delivered the message saying, Look, the prophets are in complete agreement that the king will succeed. Your words must agree with theirs; you must predict success.” But Micaiah said, “As certainly as the LORD lives, I will say what the LORD tells me to say.” When Ahab asks Micaiah should we attack or not? Micaiah replies by repeating the exact words of the false prophets. Ahab, the king who had been so resistant to the word of Yahweh, was quick to recognize the lie and demanded a true prophecy. The king said to him, “How many times must I make you solemnly promise in the name of the LORD to tell me only the truth?” The irony of this encounter is easily seen, Ahab never asked for “only the truth”, quite the opposite, but Micaiah sarcastic comment somehow prompts Ahab to demand a true word from the LORD.

The result was that Ahab walked into a trap: if he dismissed Micaiah’s encouraging words as a lie, he must also dismiss the encouraging words of the other 400 prophets! The time for sarcasm was over. Micaiah related the burden of the Lord in all its devastating simplicity and force. Micaiah said he had seen, perhaps in a vision, all Israel scattered over the hills of Gilead like sheep without a shepherd, wandering and in need of leadership. The LORD had told the prophet that these sheep had no master, obviously a reference to Ahab. After the shepherd would be killed in battle the sheep would return home without being pursued by the enemy. Micaiah continues his prophetic word by declaring that a lying spirit would deceive King Ahab through the mouths of all his prophets. “So now, look, the LORD has placed a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours; but the LORD has decreed disaster for you.”

Zedekiah steps forward and hits Micaiah on the jaw and said, “Which way did the LORD’s spirit go when he went from me to speak to you?” Zedekiah is trying to divert attention away from his false prophets claiming that Micaiah is the lying spirit. So Micaiah delivers another prophecy, “Look, you will see in the day when you go into an inner room to hide.” After Ahab is killed in battle the false prophets will flee in terror and hide in an inner room.

King Ahab orders Micaiah to be put in prison until he returns safely from battle. His hatred for Micaiah and God’s word compels him act in accordance with the prophecy that has forecast disaster for him. Micaiah parting words to Ahab, “If you really do safely return, then the LORD has not spoken through me.” The prophet also called on all those present to remember his words for they would prove that the LORD had spoken through him when his prophecy came to pass.

Despite Micaiah’s warning King Ahab and King Jehoshaphat attacked Ramoth Gilead. King Ahab thinking he could avoid the consequences of Micaiah’s prophecy devises a plan that would keep him safe and shift the outcome of the prophecy to King Jehoshaphat. Ahab proposes that Jehoshaphat dress in his royal robes while Ahab will dress as a common solider. It is puzzling to us why Jehoshaphat would go along with this plan, but the naïve Jehoshaphat trusts his relative, unaware of the personal hatred of Ben Hadad towards Ahab.

The King of Syria orders all of his commanders to go after only one person, Ahab the king of Israel. They chased down Jehoshaphat who is dressed as a king, but Jehoshaphat cries out and the Lord helped him. God drew them away from him for when the chariot commanders saw that he was not the king of Israel they stopped pursuing him.

Meanwhile, King Ahab is shot by a random arrow; it struck the king of Israel between the plates of his armor. Ahab is mortally wounded and orders his chariot taken from the battle to a hill to watch the progress. While the battle raged throughout the day, the king stood propped up in his chariot opposite the Syrians. He died in the evening; the blood from the wound ran down into the bottom of the chariot. At sunset the announcement was made that the Ahab was dead, so each one should return to his city and homeland. Despite Ahab’s clever plans to avoid the consequences of the prophecy he is taken down by an apparently random arrow. Ahab is buried in Samaria as God had promised when he repented earlier, his chariot was washed off in a pool and the dogs licked his blood just as the LORD had said it would happen.

Ahab passed away and his son Ahaziah replaces him as king. By the world’s standard Ahab’s reign was a great success, he built luxurious palaces, he won victories in battle and established peace between Israel and Judah. But by God’s standard he was a disaster, he promoted Baal worship, built temples and altars to pagan gods causing Israel to turn away from the LORD.

King Jehoshaphat reigned in Jerusalem for 25 years, he was careful to do what the LORD approved. He removed from the high places the altars and expelled the male cultic prostitutes from Judah. However when the people rebuilt the high places he did not eliminate the false worship from Judah. The LORD made Judah secure, Jehoshaphat became very wealthy and respected. The surrounding kingdoms paid tribute to Judah, because they were afraid of God and how He fought against Israel’s enemies. King Jehoshaphat sent the Levites out to teach in the cities of Judah taking the scroll of the law of the LORD with them. He appointed judges warning them to “Be careful what you do, for you are not judging for men, but for the LORD, who will be with you when you make judicial decisions. Respect the LORD and make careful decisions, for the LORD our God disapproves of injustice, partiality, and bribery.”

2 Chronicles 20 records a great victory for Jehoshaphat. When Moab, Ammon and Meun gather to attack Judah, they were once again greatly outnumbered. Jehoshaphat gathers all of Judah together to fast and seek the LORD’s will. God answers when the Spirit of the LORD speaks through a Levite Priest, saying, “Pay attention, all you people of Judah, residents of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat! This is what the LORD says to you: ‘Don’t be afraid and don’t panic because of this huge army! For the battle is not yours, but God’s. You will not fight in this battle. Take your positions, stand, and watch the LORD deliver you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Don’t be afraid and don’t panic! Tomorrow march out toward them; the LORD is with you!’”

The next morning the men of Judah were ready to march, Jehoshaphat stood up and said: “Listen to me, you people of Judah and residents of Jerusalem! Trust in the LORD your God and you will be safe! Trust in the message of his prophets and you will win.” As they marched ahead of the warriors they said: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his loyal love endures.” When they began to shout praises to the LORD the invading armies started attacking each other, when they arrived at the lookout over the desert all they saw were dead bodies, there were no survivors.

King Jehoshaphat is known for his faithfulness, but he also made some serious mistakes such as allying Judah to Ahab by marriage and joining in the ill-fated attack against Ramoth Gilead. When the King returned to Judah, the prophet Jehu delivered a message from the LORD, “Is it right to help the wicked and be an ally of those who oppose the LORD? Because you have done this the LORD is angry with you!” He later joined with King Ahab’s son Ahaziah to build ships in an attempt to revive the Red Sea expeditions of Solomon’s reign. Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, “Because you made an alliance with Ahaziah, the LORD will shatter what you have made.” The ships were wrecked and unable to go to sea. Later when Ahaziah asked for his sailors to join Jehoshaphat’s, he refused apparently learning from his previous mistakes.

King Ahaziah of Israel will only rule for two years, “He did evil in the sight of the LORD and followed in the footsteps of his father and mother; like Jeroboam son of Nebat, he encouraged Israel to sin. He worshiped and bowed down to Baal, angering the LORD God of Israel just as his father had done”.

Our God is the God of second, third and fourth chances – how many times have we read that God gives the Kings of Judah and Israel mercy. He reveals himself in mighty miracles in fire, earthquake, and a gentle whisper. He saves them from their enemies multiple times even when they are extremely outnumbered. He warns them, and fulfills the prophecy so that everyone will know that He alone is LORD, both pagans and faithful Jews. God is not limited to mountains or valleys, not contained in an idol or temple and cannot to be manipulated by people like Queen Jezebel and Ahab. He is a God who is tender, caring for Elijah when he is exhausted and afraid, touching him and feeding him. He is a God that is not limited by circumstances; he uses unclean ravens, pagans, widows, kings and lions to accomplish his purposes.

God asks us over and over again, who do you say that I am?

1 Kings 20-21

Once again conflict with Israel’s northern neighbor intensifies. King Ben Hadad II of Syria gathers together 32 rulers of neighboring city-states to attack Samaria and put the capital of Israel under siege. King Ahab seeing that they were greatly outnumbered quickly submits to Syria’s demand of their gold and silver and the best of his wives and sons. At this point Ben Hadad is thinking maybe he didn’t demand enough from Ahab since he so quickly agreed, so he makes a new demand that his men be allowed to plunder the palace and the officials’ houses.

Under the advice of Israel’s leaders, Ahab refuses King Ben Hadad’s new demands. But notice that when it was the enslavement of his wives and children he quickly agreed without their advice, but refuses when the demand would threaten him and his wealth personally. So he said to the messengers of Ben Hadad, “Say this to my master, the king, ‘I will give you everything you demanded at first from your servant, but I am unable to agree to this latest demand.’” So the messengers went back and gave their report.

As expected, the arrogant Ben Hadad refuses this offer and escalates the tensions even more. Ben Hadad sent another message to Ahab, “May the gods judge me severely if there is enough dirt left in Samaria for my soldiers to scoop up in their hands.” The Arameans now threaten to destroy Samaria totally. The king of Israel replied, “Tell him the one who puts on his battle gear should not boast like one who is taking it off.” The point of the saying is that someone who is still preparing for a battle should not boast as if he has already won the battle. A modern parallel would be, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.”

Then the LORD in His mercy gives Ahab and Israel another chance, providing deliverance and fulfilling the prophecy against Israel. As Ben Hadad was preparing to attack, a prophet, whose name is not given, went to Ahab with a message from the LORD. “This is what the LORD says, ‘Do you see this huge army? Look, I am going to hand it over to you this very day. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’” God’s goodness on this occasion obviously was not because of Ahab’s godliness but by God’s own grace and mercy. This was another step in His seeking to get His people to acknowledge that He is the LORD.

Ahab asked the prophet what strategy should be employed. He responded that the LORD would use the young officers of the provincial commanders of the army. The king himself was to lead them into battle. Ahab prepared the troops as instructed and at noon, when Ben Hadad and his 32 kings were resting and getting drunk, he launched his surprise attack. Once again Israel is outnumbered but God wins the victory; they set out at noon while Ben Hadad were in their tents getting drunk because they didn’t think they had anything to worry about. The Syrians fled and Israel chased them, Ben Hadad escaped on horseback, King Ahab and his troops inflicted heavy losses on the Arameans.

After this victory the prophet visited Ahab again warning him to fortify his defenses, because the King of Syria will attack again in the spring. Meanwhile the advisers of Ben Hadad explain his defeat this way, the God of Israel is a “god of the mountains, that’s why they overpowered us, but if we fight them in the plains, we will certainly overpower them”. So they built up their forces and marched out to attack Israel in the spring at Aphek which is a flat battleground as his counselors advised. Compared to the Syrian troops the Israelites looked like “two small flocks of goats, but the Syrians filled the land”. The man of God, evidently the same prophet, informed Ahab that Israel would win this battle. Again he said that the Lord’s purpose was to prove to Ahab (as well as, perhaps, the Arameans and the Israelites) that He is the LORD.

Seven days passed before the battle began. On the very first day of combat the Israelites inflicted a decisive victory against foot soldiers of the enemy. The rest of their troops took refuge within the city walls of Aphek. But God caused the city wall to collapse on 27,000 while King Ben Hadad hid in an inner room. Ben Hadad advisers tell him to put on sackcloth and surrender to the King of Israel because they had heard that the Israelites are kind and may spare their lives. They went to King Ahab and said, “Your servant Ben Hadad says, ‘please let me live!’” Ahab quickly accepts Ben Hadad plea, calling him “my brother” and proceeds to make a treaty with Syria securing for himself riches and safety. After the Lord so dramatically saves Israel from Ben Hadad, Ahab relies on his own devises to secure the peace with the enemy of Israel failing to acknowledge God as Israel’s protector.

Again God sends Ahab a message through a prophet. The prophet speaks to a companion ordering him to wound him, the man refused and the prophet declares, “Because you have disobeyed the LORD, as soon as you leave me a lion will kill you.” When he left him, a lion attacked and killed him. Then he found another man who was willing to obey the LORD. The prophet then stood by the road, when the king passed by he calls out to the king. Then tells the king a story of how he was charged with guarding a prisoner and if he ends up missing the man will pay with his life. The prophet then says that his prisoner has disappeared. The king quickly judges the man, condemning him to death for allowing the prisoner to go free. At this moment the prophet reveals himself to the king saying, “This is what the LORD says, ‘Because you released a man I had determined should die, you will pay with your life and your people will suffer instead of his people.’” This narrative reminds us of the encounter of King David when the prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins regarding Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. King Ahab refused to be obedient to the LORD to execute Ben Hadad now he will pay for that with his life. Ahab response is to return to Samaria bitter and angry instead of with remorse and repentance.

After the battle of chapter 20, Israel experiences a period of peace and Ahab and Jezebel return to their evil ways. Ahab covets a vineyard that is adjacent to his palace; the vineyard is the ancestral land of Naboth. Ahab offers to pay Naboth for the vineyard, but Naboth replied to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should sell you my ancestral inheritance.” His land was an inheritance from the LORD not from any king. Ahab returns to his palace bitter and angry then lies on his bed pouting, refusing to eat and complaining to Jezebel. The pagan culture of Jezebel did not honor the rights of individuals as laid out in God’s commands. It seemed incredible to her that Ahab would not just take what he wanted. That was how a king should act, according to her way of thinking. If he would not do what was necessary she would do so and without hesitation. Jezebel used the laws of Israel to gain her purposes; she conspired with the men of the city, the leaders and nobles, to accuse Naboth of cursing God which is punishable by stoning. She hired two villains to testify against Naboth and the city leaders did as she directed and stoned Naboth to death. After Naboth’s death is reported to Ahab, he gets up off his bed and takes possession of the vineyard of Naboth. The leading men of Jezreel feared Jezebel more than they feared the LORD because they carried out her orders exactly as she planned.

This time the LORD sends Elijah to confront Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard. This is what the LORD says: “Haven’t you committed murder and taken possession of the property of the deceased? In the spot where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will also lick up your blood–yes, yours! I have found you, because you are committed to doing evil in the sight of the LORD. I will destroy you and cut off every last male belonging to Ahab in Israel, including even the weak and incapacitated. Dogs will devour Jezebel by the outer wall of Jezreel. As for Ahab’s family, dogs will eat the ones who die in the city, and the birds of the sky will eat the ones who die in the country.” Wild dogs lived off the garbage in cities such as Jezreel. Ahab’s descendants would not receive honorable burials but would be consumed by dogs and birds.

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and fasted. He slept in sackcloth and walked around dejected. Elijah’s predicted judgment crushed Ahab. In sincere repentance he humbled himself before the LORD. God noticed Ahab’s change of mind and behavior. Ahab’s life was deep-dyed with sin, but in response to his self-humbling, God showed him some mercy. Elijah delivered the message: “Because he shows remorse before me, I will not bring disaster on his dynasty during his lifetime, but during the reign of his son”. What an amazing story of God’s patience and mercy!