Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Then Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab.THE
SECOND BOOK OF THE KINGS,
THE FOURTH BOOK OF THE KINGS
Ch. 2 Kings 1:1-18. Sickness of Ahaziah, King of Israel. His messengers sent to enquire of Baalzebub are destroyed by Elijah. Ahaziah dying is succeeded by his brother Jehoram (Not in Chronicles)
1. Then [R.V. And] Moab rebelled against Israel] The conjunction is the simple copulative. The less severance that is made between the portion of Ahaziah’s history in 1 Kings and that which is given in this chapter the better. The so-called two books of Kings are but one, and the division has been made quite arbitrarily and in the middle of a reign.
We have no record in Scripture how Moab came to be subject to Israel; but the inscription on the Moabite stone shews us that Israel and Moab were in conflict in the days of Omri, Ahab’s father. Of their previous subjugation by David we read 2 Samuel 8:2, after which we have no mention of them till this passage. It is by no means improbable that on the secession of the ten tribes, the Moabites became subjects of Israel, as the tribes on the east of Jordan all appertained to the northern kingdom. The death of Ahab, and the national prostration of the Israelites after their defeat at Ramoth Gilead would be counted a good opportunity for the Moabites to strike a blow for their freedom. The heavy burden laid upon them is seen from 2 Kings 3:4 where their tribute is specified as ‘an hundred thousand lambs and an hundred thousand rams with their wool’. Cf. also Isaiah 16:1. We know from the history of the settlement of the Israelites (Numbers 32:1-4) how well suited for cattle rearing were some parts of the Transjordanic country. From the nature of the Moabite tribute it is very likely that their whole wealth was in their flocks and herds.
after the death of Ahab] Ahab’s death was quite unexpected, and perhaps no long time elapsed between that event and Ahaziah’s fall. Affairs were sure to be out of joint, and would invite subjects who felt their yoke heavy to try and cast it off.
And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said unto them, Go, inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease.2. And Ahaziah fell down through a [R.V. the] lattice] From the use of the word rendered ‘lattice’ elsewhere (cf. Job 18:8), it must mean some kind of net or trellis-work put in front of an open space, a window or a balcony. As it is said the king fell through it, we may most probably conclude that an Oriental window space with its trellis-work is intended. The description of it as ‘in his upper chamber’ shews that it cannot have been a palisade round the flat roof of the house, as some have thought, which broke away as he was leaning on it, and let him fall down. Josephus (Ant. IX. 2. 1) represents the king as having fallen as he was coming down from the housetop.
and was sick] The verb is employed, as here, of sickness caused by wounds, and also of ordinary disease (cf. 2 Kings 13:14) as in the case of Elisha. It is also used metaphorically (cf. Song of Solomon 2:5; Song of Solomon 5:8).
inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron] The son of Jezebel follows his mother’s example in his adherence to false gods. It was probably because Ekron was the nearest shrine of such a divinity that Ahaziah was sending thither. Ekron was the most northern of the five great Philistine cities, and so most easily within reach from Samaria. It is not possible to say, from the form of the two Hebrew words which make up the name Baal-zebub, whether they are in construction or in apposition. The latter word signifies ‘a fly’, and the LXX. taking them as in apposition rendered ‘Baal, the fly’, as though the image of the god had been in that form, just as Dagon’s image, in the neighbouring Ashdod, was in part at least like a fish. But it seems more natural to regard the words as in construction, so that ‘the Baal (or lord) of flies’ would be an epithet implying that the god was supposed to be an averter of flies, these insects being, especially in hot countries, a very serious pest. Such among the Greeks was Ζεὺς ἀπόμυιος (Paus. v. 14. 2), and among the Romans a deity supposed to possess this fly-dispelling power was named ‘Myiagrus’ and ‘Myiodes’ = the fly catcher. (Plin. x. 28. 40; xxix. 6. 34.)
whether I shall recover of this disease] R.V. sickness. The noun is from the same root as the verb rendered ‘was sick’, just before. There must have been some oracle at Ekron, for it was an answer that Ahaziah sought. He did not send his messengers to make supplication for his recovery. The LXX. adds at the close of this verse ‘and they went to inquire concerning him’.
But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say unto them, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron?3. Elijah the Tishbite] See on 1 Kings 17:1. For a similar message to the prophet cf. 1 Kings 21:17. We know from 2 Kings 4:25 that Elisha was often to be found on Mt Carmel where there was most likely a school of the prophets (see 2 Kings 2:25). It may be that Elijah also made his most settled dwelling there. At this time he went and took up a position on some height (see below, verse 9) which commanded the road by which the messengers were journeying from Samaria to Ekron.
the king of Samaria] When the city of Samaria had been built and made the royal residence, the name ‘Samaria’ soon came to be used as the equivalent of ‘Israel’ for the kingdom of the ten tribes. See before 1 Kings 21:1.
Is it not because there is not a God in Israel] R.V. Is it because there is no God in Israel. The Hebrew could employ a double negative, as the Greek sometimes does, but the sense intended is given in English by the single one. This rendering the A.V. employs in Exodus 14:11 where the original is in the same form as in the verse before us: ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt’; and for a similar double negative in the Hebrew of Ecclesiastes 3:11 the A.V. gives ‘so that no man can find out’. The same form of phrase is repeated below in verses 6 and 16.
The LXX. takes away the first word of the Hebrew in the next sentence, וִלָכֵן = Now therefore, from its connexion and renders it as a separate phrase, and as if it had been וְלֹא כֵן = καὶ οὐχ οὔτως, putting ὄτι, which has nothing to represent it in the Hebrew, as the connecting particle of the next clause. The same misreading occurs in verses 6 and 16.
Now therefore thus saith the LORD, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die. And Elijah departed.4. And Elijah departed] i.e. to fulfil the command which had been given him by the angel. The LXX. adds ‘and spake unto them’. The compiler of the Kings leaves out here any mention of the first meeting of the messengers by the prophet, because it may be assumed that what the prophet was bidden to do, he did.
And when the messengers turned back unto him, he said unto them, Why are ye now turned back?5. And when the messengers turned back unto him, he said] More literally with R.V., And the messengers returned unto him and he said. The pronoun refers to the sick king in Samaria. They could only have gone a little way on their journey, and their early reappearance caused him some surprise.
‘The errand is soon done. The messengers are returned ere they go. Not a little were they amazed to hear their secret message from another’s mouth, neither could they choose but think: He that can tell what Ahaziah said, what he thought, can foretell how he shall speed. We have met with a greater god than we went to seek. What need we inquire for another answer?’ (Bp Hall’s Contemplations).
Why are ye now turned back?] To accord with the previous clause, render with R.V., Why is it that ye are returned?
And they said unto him, There came a man up to meet us, and said unto us, Go, turn again unto the king that sent you, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that thou sendest to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron? therefore thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.6. There came a man up to meet] The R.V. puts ‘up’ before ‘a man’, because the Hebrew verb signifies ‘to come up’. So in A.V. in the next verse. It would appear as though the prophet had met the messengers very early in their journey while they were going down from the hill on which Samaria was built. They did not know Elijah, for he, like John the Baptist afterwards, was not one of those who were to be found in kings’ houses. And the messengers were most likely some of the persons in close attendance on the king.
Go, turn again &c.] These words are not in verse 3, but they are natural as a preface to the message there given.
that thou sendest] Elijah speaking to the messengers (verse 3) said naturally ‘that ye go’, but they put the words into a form suitable to their position as servants obeying an order. Yet we can see from some parts of the narrative which follows that some of the king’s servants were willing enough to follow where he led them.
And he said unto them, What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words?7. What manner of man was he?] The Hebrew noun which is usually rendered ‘judgement’ is applied sometimes to external appearances of things. Thus Exodus 26:30, ‘Thou shalt rear up the tabernacle according to the fashion thereof which was shewed thee’. From the answer of the messengers it is clear that the dress and external peculiarities are what is here meant. From them Ahaziah was able to judge who the man must be.
And they answered him, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite.8. He was a hairy man] Literally, ‘lord, i.e. possessor, of hair’. This might equally be used of the long hair of the head and beard, or of the shaggy cloak of hair worn as a garment. But when we know of him who came ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’ that ‘his raiment was of camel’s hair and a leathern girdle about his loins’, it seems better to accept the expression as a description of Elijah’s dress. We know too that the prophets (Zechariah 13:4) did wear a mantle of hair, probably adopted from the garb of this greatest among them, Elijah.
It is Elijah the Tishbite] Though the messengers might not know the prophet, the king, from his father’s experience, must have heard a great deal about Elijah, and of his appearance and dress.
Then the king sent unto him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he sat on the top of an hill. And he spake unto him, Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down.9. Then the king sent unto him] Clearly Ahaziah’s design was to arrest and punish Elijah, but considering that the prophet had appeared alone, the number of men sent out against him seems excessive. It may be, however, that in the brevity of the narrative we are not told of Elijah’s movements, and that he had already retired to some centre of the prophetic body; and if so, the king may have apprehended that resistance would be offered to his arrest.
a captain of fifty] One of the subdivisions of the Jewish army was into ‘fifties’. See 1 Samuel 8:12. Greater bodies were ‘hundreds’ and ‘thousands’ (Numbers 31:14).
he sat on the top of a [R.V. the] hill] The word rendered ‘sat’ may also be translated ‘dwelt’ (see marg. of R.V.) and the definite article indicates that some particular hill is intended, therefore the suggestion that Elijah had already withdrawn to Carmel, and that the soldiers followed him thither, is most likely correct.
Thou [R.V. O] man of God] The original is precisely as in verse 13. But in the two first addresses the title was given no doubt in mockery. In the mouth of one who really felt the force of the words there could have followed them no such sentence as ‘the king hath said, Come down’. For a contrast see 1 Kings 17:18; 1 Kings 17:24.
And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.10. If I be a man of God] The spirit of the Law differs from that of the Gospel, and our Lord forbad (Luke 9:55) his disciples the wish to imitate Elijah. But in the light which he had, Elijah felt that the majesty of Jehovah was outraged, when the name ‘man of God’, which should have signified reverence, was used as a term of scorn. And in the spirit of the Law he calls on God to make manifest that His servants and His message may not lightly be despised. And God in His discipline of the world granted the prophet’s prayer. Bp Hall says ‘There are few tracks of Elijah that are ordinary and fit for common feet. His actions are more for wonder than for precedent. Not in his own defence would the prophet have been the death of so many, if God had not, by a peculiar instinct, made him an instrument of this just vengeance’.
Again also he sent unto him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said unto him, O man of God, thus hath the king said, Come down quickly.11. Again also [R.V. And again] he sent] Ahaziah has no regard for the lives that have been sacrificed. Josephus pictures him as ‘exceedingly angry when the destruction of these fifty was made known to him’ (Ant. IX. 2. 1). Probably also his fierceness was aggravated by his hopeless sickness.
And he answered] The verbs which signify ‘to answer’ are used both in Hebrew and in Greek for remarks made where, as here, no question has been asked.
Come down quickly] The second captain goes in the spirit of the king and adds to the message of the first the demand of speedy obedience. We may therefore consider that his punishment was more deserved than that of the former. But the narrative makes it quite clear that both by the king and his people Jehovah was forgotten, and that some signal mark of His anger was called for to check the wandering after other gods, which had grown up out of Jeroboam’s sin.
And Elijah answered and said unto them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
And he sent again a captain of the third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight.13. a captain of the [R.V. a] third fifty] The LXX. omits the number ‘third’, and the grammar in the Hebrew is not quite regular.
came and fell on his knees] He utters no command, but as a suppliant recognises the power of which Elijah was the representative. Josephus makes him admit that he has only come because the king commanded it.
be precious in thy sight] A common phrase about a life that is spared. Cf. 1 Samuel 26:21; Psalm 72:14.
Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in thy sight.14. Behold, there came fire down from heaven] Here is another point in which the brevity of the narrative leaves much for conjecture. How was the news of the first and second destruction brought, and its nature described? The sending out of an armed band would no doubt attract attention, and persons who were near at hand when the meeting with the prophet took place may have brought the news. Was the second captain sent on his errand without any knowledge of what had happened to his predecessor?
And the angel of the LORD said unto Elijah, Go down with him: be not afraid of him. And he arose, and went down with him unto the king.15. be not afraid of him] Some have taken the pronoun here to refer to the captain. This can hardly be correct. The third messenger was all humility and entreaty, and the only person to be feared was the king Ahaziah, irate because of the destruction of his soldiers and the defiance of his authority.
And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast sent messengers to inquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron, is it not because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word? therefore thou shalt not come down off that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.
So he died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken. And Jehoram reigned in his stead in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah; because he had no son.17. So he died] The whole narrative bears marks of extreme simplicity. Nothing but the barest facts are given, and no attempt made to explain or account for any part of the history. The touches which Josephus adds to the story mark the difference between the early and the later record. He describes the hasty return of the messengers and the king’s astonishment thereat. They relate how the prophet had hindered their further journey. The first captain threatens force to the prophet if he refuse to obey the king’s order, and the second is equally imperative. The third captain is described as prudent and exceeding gentle in disposition, and as speaking friendly to Elijah, and explaining that he himself, as well as the other two bands had only come because they were forced to do so, and that this, of course, the prophet knew. The language and demeanour were acceptable to Elijah and so he followed the captain to Samaria.
which Elijah had spoken] We are told nothing of what must have been a most solemn interview, nor how it came to pass that the prophet was allowed to go without any punishment. Elijah disappears, as is usual in the history, without a word to tell us of his whereabouts.
And Jehoram reigned in his stead] This was the brother of Ahaziah. The LXX. omits in this verse ‘And Jehoram … no son.’ But instead of it after verse 18 there is a long addition, substantially like 2 Kings 3:1-3 below, but the LXX. has the same words in that place also.
in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah] It is extremely difficult to make this statement fit with the rest of the chronological details of the books of Kings. The accession of Jehoram of Israel is here fixed in the second year of Jehoram of Judah, but in 2 Kings 3:1 the same event is assigned to the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah. Now Jehoshaphat reigned 25 years (1 Kings 22:42). If therefore the two statements are correct Jehoram of Judah must, in some form or other, have been counted as king along with his father from about the 17th year of Jehoshaphat’s reign. But according to 2 Kings 8:16, it was in the 5th year of Jehoram of Israel that Jehoram of Judah began his reign. This of course must refer to his independent reign. But Jehoshaphat’s reign of 25 years causes some difficulty, unless we suppose, as the Jews are said to have reckoned, that 25 years might really be only 23 and small portions of 2 other years. Then Jehoram of Israel, who began to reign in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat, might have reigned little more than 5 years when Jehoshaphat died, and when Jehoram of Judah began the 8 years of his independent reign, he having reigned about the same period along with his father Jehoshaphat. This is the generally accepted settlement of the dates, but the chronology of the two kingdoms is far from being clearly marked. Nor is there satisfactory evidence that a son was ever king along with his father.
Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?