Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
sickness in that home. Royalty, or rank, or riches cannot keep sickness out. Ahaziah had been looking through the window of his chamber, or, as some think, leaning over the frail baluster of wicker-work which ran round the roof on the inner or courtyard side, when the lattice-work gave way, and he was precipitated into the court beneath and seriously injured. But there are homes of sickness that are nevertheless happy homes. The sufferer is happy; the other members of the family are happy. Why? Because they all know that Jesus is there. They hear his voice saying, "It is I: be not afraid." They took Christ into their house when all was going well with them, and they find that he does not leave them when sickness comes. But it was not so with Ahaziah. How a man will bear sickness depends a good deal on what his life and character have been when he was in health. This is true physically. It is true also in a moral and spiritual sense. The bad man is generally afraid of sickness. Yes; for he is afraid of death. What about Ahaziah's previous history? We have it summed up in the closing verses of 1 Kings. "He did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin: for he served Baal, and worshipped him, and provoked to anger the Lord God of Israel, according to all that his father had done." Oh, the tremendous influence of a bad example. Ahaziah was in alarm about this illness. He wanted to know if he was to recover. He had forsaken God when in health; perhaps he does not think that God would hear him now. Or perhaps he has been so hardened in sin that he really believes his heathen god can help him. So he sends messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub at Ekron, whether he would recover of his disease.
I. THE CAUSE OF SEEKING AFTER STRANGE GODS. What is the secret of that idolatry which in all ages has taken such a hold of the human heart? Why is it that such a people as the Hebrews, descended from one who lived so entirely under the power of the invisible God as Abraham did - they who in their Passover had a constant reminder of God's existence and power, and in their ten commandments a constant reminder of his mind and will, - why is it that they so far forgot God as to sink into the degrading worship of the heathen deities? Or, to bring it more home to ourselves and our own surroundings, why is it that men and women who know that Christ died for them, who therefore know the priceless worth of their immortal souls, who bear in the very name of Christian a constant reminder of the Son of God, and who have in the precepts of the gospel the highest code of morality ever taught to man, - why, is it that they too forget God, reject his mercy, set at naught his counsels, and writ have none of his reproof? Why is it that in our Christian land so many are living in practical heathenism? Why are they so few who read the Bible, and, of those who do read it, so few who obey its teachings? Why so many thousands who never enter the house of God? Why is it that a really religious daily newspaper it is almost impossible to find, while nearly all our daily newspapers largely devote themselves to advance the interests of the theatre, the race-course, and the betting-ring? Truly it may be said that our nation has gone after strange gods. What is the secret of it all? Largely this, the love of what is seen, more than of what is unseen. This is at the root of all idolatry. It is this that makes men such an easy prey to sin. They are absorbed in the interests and pleasures of the body only. They forget the interests of the immortal soul. They live for the present, but neglect the future. They live for self, but neglect God. They lay up treasure on earth, but have no treasure in heaven. We see this love of what is seen - this going after strange gods - in much of the philosophy of the present day. Men deny God, the God of the Bible, the intelligent, wise, powerful, provident, holy, loving Creator of the universe. And what do they substitute for him? A mere negation. At best matter or force. Here plainly they are absorbed in what is seen. They make a god of matter. They forget that only mind could produce mind, only soul could produce soul, that only an intelligent Being could produce the order and control the workings of the universe. Strange gods, indeed - gods of which they have no certainty - they set up in place of the God of our Christian faith. We see this love of what is seen operating also in the case of the money-lover. It is not wrong to acquire wealth, provided it is rightly won and rightly used. But there are many who make a god of money. It occupies all their thoughts while they are awake. When they are asleep, they dream of it. Even the sabbath, supposed to be devoted to the worship of God, is often devoted to meditations on money and how to get it. Yet even for the present life there are things more precious than money. Men who sacrifice everything for money soon find that they have lost things which money cannot buy.
"The world with stones instead of bread It promised riches; in a day II. THE CONSEQUENCE OF SEEKING AFTER STRANGE GODS. "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 Baal-zebub the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." The strange deity that Ahaziah sought after had not served him much. Strange gods have never been much help to those who seek after them. They have not helped the heathen nations, but their degrading and demoralizing worship has always been a source of weakness and decay. It is the same with all the strange gods that men serve everywhere - with all the passions and desires to gratify which they spend their energies and time. We read of King Ahaz that he turned away from the true God to serve the gods of Damascus, because Syria enjoyed prosperity. He said, "Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me? But, says the Bible narrative, they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel" (2 Chronicles 28:23). How many a man has done like Ahaz - turned his back upon God, and found that the strange gods whom he served proved to be his ruin! Many a man has lived without God when in health, who was very glad to seek him when sickness came and death was drawing nigh. It is told of a skeptic called Saunderson, who was a great admirer of Sir Isaac Newton's talents, but who made light of his religion when in health, that when on his death-bed he was heard to say, in mournful entreaty, "God of Sir Isaac Newton, have mercy on me!" But, as many a one has found, it may be too late then to seek the Lord. Such are the consequences of seeking after strange gods. The same message which was sent to Ahaziah will one day be sent to us - this part at least: "Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." The way to prepare for that message is to accept the messages of life. The way to prepare for sickness is so serve God while in health. - C.H.I.
It promised riches; in a day II. THE CONSEQUENCE OF SEEKING AFTER STRANGE GODS. "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 Baal-zebub the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." The strange deity that Ahaziah sought after had not served him much. Strange gods have never been much help to those who seek after them. They have not helped the heathen nations, but their degrading and demoralizing worship has always been a source of weakness and decay. It is the same with all the strange gods that men serve everywhere - with all the passions and desires to gratify which they spend their energies and time. We read of King Ahaz that he turned away from the true God to serve the gods of Damascus, because Syria enjoyed prosperity. He said, "Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me? But, says the Bible narrative, they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel" (2 Chronicles 28:23). How many a man has done like Ahaz - turned his back upon God, and found that the strange gods whom he served proved to be his ruin! Many a man has lived without God when in health, who was very glad to seek him when sickness came and death was drawing nigh. It is told of a skeptic called Saunderson, who was a great admirer of Sir Isaac Newton's talents, but who made light of his religion when in health, that when on his death-bed he was heard to say, in mournful entreaty, "God of Sir Isaac Newton, have mercy on me!" But, as many a one has found, it may be too late then to seek the Lord. Such are the consequences of seeking after strange gods. The same message which was sent to Ahaziah will one day be sent to us - this part at least: "Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." The way to prepare for that message is to accept the messages of life. The way to prepare for sickness is so serve God while in health. - C.H.I.
II. THE CONSEQUENCE OF SEEKING AFTER STRANGE GODS. "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 Baal-zebub the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." The strange deity that Ahaziah sought after had not served him much. Strange gods have never been much help to those who seek after them. They have not helped the heathen nations, but their degrading and demoralizing worship has always been a source of weakness and decay. It is the same with all the strange gods that men serve everywhere - with all the passions and desires to gratify which they spend their energies and time. We read of King Ahaz that he turned away from the true God to serve the gods of Damascus, because Syria enjoyed prosperity. He said, "Because the gods of the kings of Syria help them, therefore will I sacrifice to them, that they may help me? But, says the Bible narrative, they were the ruin of him, and of all Israel" (2 Chronicles 28:23). How many a man has done like Ahaz - turned his back upon God, and found that the strange gods whom he served proved to be his ruin! Many a man has lived without God when in health, who was very glad to seek him when sickness came and death was drawing nigh. It is told of a skeptic called Saunderson, who was a great admirer of Sir Isaac Newton's talents, but who made light of his religion when in health, that when on his death-bed he was heard to say, in mournful entreaty, "God of Sir Isaac Newton, have mercy on me!" But, as many a one has found, it may be too late then to seek the Lord. Such are the consequences of seeking after strange gods. The same message which was sent to Ahaziah will one day be sent to us - this part at least: "Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." The way to prepare for that message is to accept the messages of life. The way to prepare for sickness is so serve God while in health. - C.H.I.
I. WORLDLY ROYALTY IN A HUMILIATING CONDITION.
1. Here is a king in mortal suffering. "And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick." Nature has no more respect for kings than for beggars; her laws treat them as ordinary mortals.
2. Here is a king in mental distress. On his bed of suffering the king's mind was most painfully exercised as to what would be the issue of his bodily suffering. He sends messengers to the idols in order to ask whether "I shall recover of this disease." No doubt the fear of death distressed him, as indeed it distresses most.
3. Here is a king in superstitious darkness. He had no knowledge of the true God, no enlightened religious feeling, and he sent his messengers to an idol - the god of flies-to know whether he should recover or not. What a humiliating condition for royalty to be in! And yet it is a condition in which kings and princes are often found. The other subject of thought here is -
II. PERSONAL GODLINESS TRULY MAJESTIC. Elijah is an example of personal godliness, though, in a worldly sense, he was very poor, and his costume seemed to be almost the meanest of the mean. "He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins." But see the majesty of this man in two things.
1. In receiving communication from heaven. "But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite." A truly godly man is ever in correspondence with Heaven; his "conversation is in heaven."
2. In reproving the king. "Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that thou sendest to inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron?" The thing called religion in many countries is just strong enough to reprove the poor, but too weak to thunder reproof into the ear of the corrupt and pleasure-seeking monarchs. In his reproof he pronounces on him the Divine judgment, "Thou shalt not come down off that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die."
CONCLUSION. Which is the better, do you think - a throne or a godly character? Fools only prefer the former; the man of sense, thoughtfulness, and reflection would say the latter. - D.T.
2 Kings 3.) Moab, one of the conquests of David (2 Samuel 8:2), perhaps regained its independence after the death of Solomon, and, if the Moabite Stone can be trusted, was again subdued by Omri, Ahab's father. Now, on the occasion of the death of Ahab, it renewed the attempt to throw off the Israelitish yoke.
1. The original conquest had been not unstained by cruelty. These things burn into the memory of peoples.
2. The rule of Omri and Ahab had been most oppressive (2 Kings 3:4). Nothing else could be expected from these godless monarchs. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (Proverbs 12:10). Half the rebellions and revolutions in the world have their origin in oppression and misgovernment.
3. Ahab and Israel had just sustained a severe defeat, that viz. at the hands of the Syrians (1 Kings 22.). This weakened the Israelitish power, and gave a favorable opportunity for revolt. Those whom we hold in subjection by force, not love, cannot be blamed if they take the earliest opportunity to get rid of our yoke.
4. Israel and Moab were divided by religion. This is the deepest ground of severance among peoples, Nationalities based on different religious faiths constantly tend to fall asunder. Any unity in which they are held can be only external. The federation of the race can only be accomplished on the basis of the worship of the One Jehovah, and the one Lord Jesus Christ.
5. God used these revolts as a means of chastisement (cf. 1 Kings 11:23). Under David, the greatest theocratic ruler, the kingdom was built up, consolidated, extended. The revolt from God, both in Judah and Israel, was signalized by the revolt of dependencies. Will our own Britain hold its foremost position among the nations, or will its greatness too decay, and its power be shorn by successive breaking off of its colonies? The answer, we believe, will depend very much on its fidelity to God. - J.O.
1 Kings 21:29), Ahab's successor on the throne reigned for two inglorious years. His evil character is described in the words, "He walked m the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin" (1 Kings 22:52). A weak ruler, he was probably the mere tool of his mother Jezebel, whose worst qualities he inherited. In determined idolatry, open defiance of Jehovah, and vindictive persecution of God's servants, as shown by his attempt on the life of Elijah, he is the true child of the "cursed woman" (2 Kings 9:34). Even on his death-bed he shows no such compunction as occasionally visited his father Ahab (1 Kings 21:27). Undeterred by examples and warnings, he "hardened his neck' in a way which led to his being "suddenly destroyed" (Proverbs 29:1).
I. THE FATAL FALL. The faineant king came to his end in a manner:
1. Sufficiently simple. Idly lounging at the projecting lattice-window of his palace in Samaria - perhaps leaning against it, and gazing from his elevated position on the fine prospect that spreads itself around - his support suddenly gave way, and he was precipitated to the ground, or courtyard, below. He is picked up, stunned, but not dead, and carried to his couch. It is, in common speech, an accident - some trivial neglect of a fastening - but it terminated this royal career. On such slight contingencies does human life, the change of rulers, and often the course of events in history, depend. We cannot sufficiently ponder that our existence hangs by the finest thread, and that any trivial cause may at any moment cut it short (James 4:14).
2. Yet providential. God's providence is to be recognized in the time and manner of this king's removal. He had "provoked to anger the Lord God of Israel" (1 Kings 22:53), and God in this sudden way cut him off. This is the only rational view of the providence of God, since, as we have seen, it is from the most trivial events that the greatest results often spring. The whole can be controlled only by the power that concerns itself with the details. A remarkable illustration is afforded by the death of Ahaziah's own father. Fearing Micaiah's prophecy, Ahab had disguised himself on the field of battle, and was not known as the King of Israel. But he was not, therefore, to escape. A man in the opposing ranks "drew a bow at a venture," and the arrow, winged with a Divine mission, smote the king between the joints of his armor, and slew him (1 Kings 22:34). The same minute providence which guided that arrow now presided over the circumstances of Ahaziah's fall. There is in this doctrine, which is also Christ's (Matthew 10:29, 30), comfort for the good, and warning for the wicked. The good man acknowledges, "My times are in thy hand" (Psalm 31:15), and the wicked man should pause when he reflects that he cannot take his out of that hand.
3. Irremediable. From the bed to which he had been carried up, the king was never to rise. The injury he had received was fatal. Yet a little space was given him - even him - for repentance. His fall might have produced immediate death. These few remaining days, when the sands were running out, were, however, only to demonstrate further his incorrigibility of nature.
II. THE MESSAGE TO EKRON. A sick-bed, with the possibility of the sickness proving fatal, tests most men. It tested Ahaziah. We note in his behavior the following instructive facts:
1. He was moved to apply to some god. Not, indeed, in hope of a cure, but only to obtain information as to the issue of his illness. He sent to consult an oracle, not to ask a blessing. But even in this there is seen the desire for supernatural help, for direct intercourse with the invisible, which men so often feel in their hour of trouble. It was a dark hour for Ahaziah. Life hung in the balance, and he shrank from death with a great dread. He could not wait for the verdict of events, but would fain wrest the secret from a heathen shrine. Piety can afford to leave the issue in God's hands. Impiety dare not do this, and can find no comfort save in the assurance of recovery.
2. He did not apply to Jehovah. Was there not a God in Israel to inquire of? Ahaziah knew very well that there was, and that there were prophets, like Micaiah and Elijah, who would tell him the truth. It need not be questioned that it was an evil conscience, and that only, which kept him from applying to Jehovah. He knew how impiously he had behaved towards Jehovah. He perfectly well understood what kind of reception he would receive from the prophets, and in what language they would address him. He anticipated the nature of the sentence they would pronounce. He dared not, therefore, inquire of the Lord. So when men, in their distress, feel impelled to go to God, they are often held back by the remembrance of past wickedness. They know, if they come, it must be with changed hearts and the renouncing of evil deeds, and for this they are not prepared.
3. He applied to the god of Ekron. Baal-zebub - "lord of flies," as the word means. The oracle of this god had probably some local repute, which led him to select it. Here comes in the element of superstition. The craving after the supernatural in human nature is not to be stilled, and, if it cannot be gratified in a lawful, it will seek gratification in some unlawful way. Saul, forsaken of God, turned to the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:6, 7). "A notorious infidel like Philippe Egalite, though in other respects a man of ability, could yet try to presage his fate by the sort of cup-augury involved in examining the grounds of coffee" The Roman world, in the time of the apostles, was not more characterized by its educated skepticism than by the influx into it of every kind of superstition (cf. Farrar's 'St. Paul,' 2 Kings 19.; Conybeare and Howson, 2 Kings 5.). In our own day, multitudes professing disbelief in God's revelation turn with eager credulity to the delusions of spiritualism. It was to supersede unlawful modes of consulting the invisible world that God gave "the sure word of prophecy" (Deuteronomy 18:9-22).
III. THE UNEXPECTED MEETING. The messengers speed on their way to the shrine of Baal-zebub at Ekron, but their steps are soon to be arrested. Here we notice:
1. A new task for Elijah. "The angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the King of Samaria." The medium of communication is, perhaps, the historical angel of the covenant - he of whom God had said, "Provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my Name is in him" (Exodus 23:21). The Divine side of the calamity which had befallen Ahaziah comes to light in this message by the prophet. Ahaziah had forgotten God, but God had not forgotten him. He is the "jealous God" (Exodus 20:5), who takes the Vindication of his honor into his own bands.
2. A surprise for the messengers. Elijah's appearances partake everywhere of the nature of a dramatic surprise. He comes no one knows whence; he departs no one knows whither. His personality was impressive - "a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins" (ver. 8). Suddenly he confronts the messengers, and puts to them the ironic question, "Is it not because there is not a God in Israel that ye go to inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron?" It is rare that, in fleeing from the path of duty, we do not meet God in the way in some form. Balaam on his journey to the King of Moab; Jonah fleeing from the presence of the Lord to Tarshish; Elijah himself when he fled to Horeb, hearing the voice of the Lord, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" (Numbers 22:22; Jonah 1.; 1 Kings 19:9).
3. Evil tidings for Ahaziah. The messengers need go no further. The information they sought at Ekron was given them, unasked, from a surer source. An oracle had spoken, but not the one to which they were sent. Ekron's reply was anticipated by Jehovah's: "Now therefore thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." Unhappy monarch I God hath spoken, and no other can reverse it (Numbers 23:20).
IV. THE RETURN TO THE KING. There was that in the appearance, manner, and language of this man who had crossed their path like an apparition which convinced the messengers that God had spoken through him. They accordingly returned at once to the sick king. A few words of explanation sufficed to put him in possession of the circumstances. A guilty conscience is swift to comprehend in such matters. With unerring precision the king's thoughts interpreted the riddle of the mysterious prophet. "What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words?" "It is Elijah the Tishbite." Ahaziah knew what that meant. His feelings would be those of his father Ahab when he exclaimed, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" (1 Kings 21:20). The appearance of Banquo's ghost at the banquet was not more terrible to Macbeth than this crossing of his path by Elijah was to Ahaziah at that moment. HIS sins had found him out. However long the lane of wickedness may be, we may be sure the Avenger stands at the end of it. - J.O.
I. FIRE FROM HEAVEN IS AN ACT OF JUSTICE. It may appear to some that these first two captains and their fifties were hardly dealt with. Some one may say, "It was their duty to obey. They were only executing the king's orders. They were not responsible for the message which they brought from the king to Elijah. It was hard, then, that they should suffer for doing that which it was their duty to do." These are very plausible statements. Let us examine them a little more closely. Let us remember that man is not a mere machine. Every man has an immortal soul, coming from God, going back to God, and accountable to God for its actions. There is such a thing as individual personal responsibility. No external circumstances, no position in life, can ever take away that responsibility. These captains and their men were bound to do their duty to their king. Yes; but not in defiance of the Law and power of God. Where the will of man or the word of man comes into conflict with the will or Word of God, then it is the duty of every human being to say, "We ought to obey God rather than men" These officers and soldiers were really encouraging Ahaziah in his guilt. They knew that he was an idolater. They knew that he was a worshipper of Baal. They knew that the man whom he was sending them to arrest was a servant of the most high God, and his foremost living prophet. They knew of the sentence which had already been pronounced against Ahaziah. Yet here, at his bidding, they go forth as the instruments of his defiance against the living God. They were sharers in his guilt - participes criminis. They were personally guilty before God. We can never shift our own responsibility on to the shoulders of others. It did not make Adam's guilt less that he accused Eve, or Eve's guilt less that she accused the serpent. They were intelligent beings, with the power of free choice. Our plain duty is, if we are in any position or business which requires us to violate the Law of God, at once to give it up. God says, "Them that honor me I will honor." Moreover, they had already been warned of the sin and danger of resisting God. They knew how the prophets of Baal had been slain. They knew how Elijah's prophecy - in other words, God's sentence - against Ahab had come true, that where the dogs licked the blood of Naboth, there they would lick the blood of Ahab, and they knew that a similar doom was foretold against Jezebel. Yet in spite of all these warnings they went forth against the prophet of God. So the sinner has many warnings. How often God's Word and God's messenger have called him to repentance! Perhaps by sickness and suffering he has had reminders of approaching death. By sudden bereavement he has been reminded that "in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." Let him beware of turning a deaf ear to the warning voice. "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh." Further, when we are considering the justice of this fire from heaven, let us remember that the life of God's most useful servant was at stake. It is pretty certain that Ahaziah, when he sent for Elijah, wanted to take his life. It is pretty certain also that, had Elijah gone with either of the first two captains, his life would have been in danger. It was only after the third time of sending that God said to Elijah, "Be not afraid of him." It was only then, perhaps, that Ahaziah realized the uselessness of fighting against God. We hold by the principle that life should not be recklessly sacrificed. But if we are disposed to speak of this incident as reckless sacrifice of life, let us remember what hundreds of lives have been imperiled and sacrificed more than once, even for the sake of a single British subject. No right-minded person would condemn the sending forth of soldiers - many of them to certain death - in such a case as that of Abyssinia, where the lives of British subjects were in danger, or that of the attempted rescue of General Gordon. Before we can cherish a suspicion of injustice against the dealings of God, let us be sure that we have fight and reason on our side. A full examination of all the circumstances will generally banish even such a suggestion from our minds. But, then, there are many cases where we cannot possibly understand or know all the circumstances. In such a case, is it not the only course we can take to bow in submission to the all-wise will of God? "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" For all these reasons I conclude that the fire which came down from heaven upon these soldiers was an act of justice.
II. FIRE FROM HEAVEN IS AN ACT OF NECESSITY. More than one reason has already been suggested why this fire from heaven was necessary. It may have been necessary in defense of the prophet's life. It may have been necessary in vindication of the power and honor of God; for it took place at a time of almost universal idolatry and Baal-worship on the part of Israel. This, however, we may be sure of, that, whether we can see the necessity for it or not, fire from heaven is necessary, or God would not send it. There are three uses, which fire serves in the natural world, for which analogies may be found in the spiritual world. These are purifying, destroying, and testing. We need the cleansing fires to purify us in the spiritual life. Perhaps we are becoming too worldly, too much engrossed with the things of this life, laying up for ourselves treasures upon earth. Perhaps we are making an idol of some earthly object of our affection. Perhaps we are becoming spiritually proud. Perhaps we compare ourselves favorably with others, and think how much better we are than they. Then our heavenly Father may think it wise to purify us from such dross as this. And so he calls us to pass through the furnace of affliction, or adversity, or sickness. Thus he humbles us. Thus he keeps us mindful that we are but dust. Thus he keeps us mindful of our dependence upon him. Then the destroying fire is needed in the moral and spiritual world, as well as in the natural world. It was a necessary part of the Divine government that Sodom and Gomorrah should be destroyed. They were a moral plague-spot. The festering limb must be cut off if the body is to be saved. So also Herculaneum and Pompeii were destroyed when they too became a center of moral degradation and corruption. Would it be any wonder, would it be any injustice, if the fire of God would come down from heaven and burn up some of the moral plague-spots of modern times? Would not the world be vastly the better if the gambling-hells and drinking-hells and hells of immorality were burnt up in one vast conflagration? And if they are spared, and if the moral corrupters of others are spared, will it be any better for them in that day when "the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death"? Then there is the testing fire. This also is necessary in the spiritual world. "Wherein ye greatly rejoice," says the Apostle Peter, "though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6, 7). If there were no trials and difficulties, there would be no test, no proof of our faith. And then the time is coming when the fire - the searching, testing fire of God's judgment - shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If our life is built up on Christ, then out of the purifying fire it will come clearer and brighter, from the destroying fire it will suffer no harm, and from the testing fire it will come forth to honor and glory. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43).
III. FIRE FROM HEAVEN IS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH THE DIVINE MERCY. Here we may consider a difficulty which some have raised. When Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, passed through a village of the Samaritans, the people there would not receive him, "because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem." The disciples, in anger, asked him if they should command fire to come down from heaven, as Elijah did, and consume them. The answer of our Savior was, "Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:51-56). Now, the question which some have asked is this - Does not Christ here condemn the action of Elijah? A careful study of the narrative before us would at once dispose of such a question as that. It is said here, "The fire of God came down from heaven." Even if this were not stated, it is obvious that Elijah of himself had no power to bring down fire from heaven, unless with God's sanction and assistance. But a great many commentators and preachers, who would not go the length of saying that Christ condemned Elijah, seem to suggest that he condemned his spirit, as unsuited to gospel times. Even for this suggestion I do not think there is any warrant. Our Savior condemned the disciples for a spirit of vindictiveness and revenge, which probably was intensified by the feeling of prejudice and animosity which existed against the Samaritans. He also stated that he was not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. His work, then, was one of salvation. But those who rejected his salvation were certainly to perish. More than once Christ in the clearest manner teaches this. "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." He foretells the doom of Jerusalem. He foretells the terrible agony of lost souls, who shall go away into everlasting fire; "there shall be the wailing and the gnashing of teeth." The action of retributive justice, therefore, is perfectly consistent with mercy toward the sinner. The consuming fire may be part of a merciful and loving purpose toward the world at large. In the particular case before us, we see that mercy was exhibited as well as justice. The third captain, who showed a humble spirit, and apparently some regret at the work he had to do, was mercifully spared the fate, which had fallen upon the other two. While we speak of the consuming fire of God's justice, we would speak also of mercy for the penitent, of forgiveness, full and free, for every anxious soul, for every returning wanderer. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." - C.H.I.
I. MAN RUINED THROUGH THE CONDUCT OF OTHERS. The messengers which the king sent to Elijah - fifty each time on three different occasions - were all, except the last fifty, destroyed by lightning. This awful judgment came upon them, not merely on their own account - although, like all sinners, they had forfeited their lives to eternal justice - but as messengers of the king. Throughout the human race, in all races and times, there are found millions groaning under the trials and sufferings brought on them by the conduct of others. In this world the innocent suffer for the guilty; the "fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."
II. MAN EMPLOYED AS THE EXECUTOR OF DIVINE JUSTICE. These hundred men, messengers from the king, were struck down by Elijah at the command of God. There was no personal vengeance in the act. Elijah was used as the organ of Heaven. God's plan in this world is to punish as well as to save man by man. How was Pharaoh punished, and the Canaanites, etc.? By man. Sinful nations are punished, often by worthless kings and ruthless despots.
III. MAN STEPPING INTO THE PLACE OF THE DEAD. The King Ahaziah dies; Jehoram steps into his place. "So he died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken. And Jehoram reigned in his stead." "One generation cometh, and another passeth away." Places, positions, and the various offices of life are no sooner vacated by death than they are stepped into by others. Thus the world goes on, and the dead are soon forgotten. The greatest man on earth today is but a mere bubble on the great river of human life; he sparkles for a moment, and is lost forever in the abyss. - D.T.
Luke 9:51-56). "When the two apostles appealed to the example of Elijah 'to call down fire from heaven,' he to whom they spoke turned away with indignation from the remembrance of this act, even of the greatest of his prophetic predecessors" ('Jewish Church,' vol. 2. p. 258). We cannot endorse this remark. Jesus, indeed, gently rebuked his disciples, telling them they did not know what manner of spirit they were of, and reminding them that the Son of man was not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. But he did not mean to imply that the spirit which Elijah showed was, in its own time and place, wrong. It was a pure and holy zeal for God's honor, and God sanctioned it by sending the fire. Only there was a better and higher spirit-the spirit of love and grace in Christ; and it was by this the disciples of Christ ought to have been actuated. What was congruous with the old dispensation was not necessarily congruous with the higher spirit of the new. Christ may have intended to suggest also that the disciples were mistaken in thinking that their spirit was exactly that of the Old Testament man of God. He was moved solely by regard for God's honor; in their case personal anger and resentment probably gave an impure tinge to their passion.
I. BEDCHAMBER REVENGE. It is pitiable to see this sick king, within a few hours of his death, instead of humbling himself in repentance, stretching out his puny arm to do battle with God in the person of his messenger. If he must die, he is resolved that Elijah shall die also. This resolve is:
1. A sign of character. It shows the thoroughly hardened and irreligious nature of the man. There are no limits to a sinner's madness in warring against God.
2. An act of infatuation. Knowing what he did of the prophet's history, he might have understood that his enterprise was hopeless. He may have reasoned that, as the blood of prophets had been spilt before (1 Kings 18:4), so it might be spilt again. But he was now crossing a prophet in the direct discharge of his duty, and was thus, in a sense, giving a direct challenge to God. "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth" (Isaiah 45:9). A knowledge of the perilousness of the task in which he was embarking is shown in the fact that a band of fifty men is sent to arrest one prophet (cf. John 18:3). If a band was necessary, it could only be because Elijah had supernatural aid to rely on; and, if he had that aid, no amount of force could overcome him.
3. A trace of evil influence. It is the spirit of Jezebel which breathes in this Heaven-defying resolution. The queen-mother had not forgotten her yet unfulfilled threat, "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time" (1 Kings 19:2). There were old scores to pay off against Elijah, and this wicked woman was no doubt there to strengthen her son in his resolution to pay them.
II. ELIJAH ON THE HILL. The band that was sent to apprehend Elijah found him seated on the top of a hill Observe:
1. The solitary grandeur of his situation. The situation was characteristic. We may say of Elijah what Wordsworth says of Milton, his "soul was like a star, and dwelt apart." He is a strange, solitary figure from first to last - stern, rugged, unconquerable.
2. His moral fearlessness. The appearance of Ahaziah's soldiers inspired him with no terror. He had apparently waited in the neighborhood where he met the messengers, and did not now retreat. Strong in his sense that God was on his side, he did not fear what man could do to him (Psalm 118:6).
3. His invisible protection. The result showed how entirely Elijah was justified in his confidence. "The angel of the Lord," who had sent him on his mission, "encamped around him" (Psalm 34:7), and kept him from all evil. Those who are engaged in Divine work can confidently rely on Divine protection. Not till they had "finished their testimony" was the beast allowed to kill the witnesses (Revelation 11:7). The mountain on which Elijah sat was no doubt as "full of horses and chariots of fire" as the hill of Samaria was in after-days for the protection of Elisha (2 Kings 6:17). What could bands of fifties avail against one thus defended?
III. THE CAPTAINS AND THEIR FIFTIES.
1. The first captain. Clothed with a little brief authority, this first captain, accompanied by his fifty men, approaches Elijah, and orders him to surrender.
(1) The terms of his summons: "Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down." In the same breath in which he acknowledges him to be a servant of Jehovah, he demands his submission to the wicked King of Israel. Le roy le veult - the king wills it. Thus poor, paltry, human authority ventures to assert itself against the authority of the King of kings. No uncommon thing, it must be said, in history. In the extravagance of its conceit, too often has royal authority presumed to set itself above the law of heaven, and to dragoon, imprison, and coerce those who chose to obey God rather than man. Nor have tools ever been wanting to carry out these infamous behests.
(2) A lurking fear. Notwithstanding his bravado, the officer was not without his own fear of Elijah. He does not boldly mount the hill to secure his prisoner, but stands at a respectful distance, and summons him to "come down." The wicked often inwardly fear the righteous at the very time when they boast most loudly of having them in their power.
(3) The answer of fire. This insolent summons to Elijah, in his character of "man of God," was a direct challenge to Jehovah to vindicate his own honor, and that of his insulted servant. The insult was wanton and public, and must be as publicly met. Elijah met it by invoking God, if he was truly his servant, to send down fire from heaven to consume this blustering captain and his myrmidons. As before, in the contest with Baal's prophets, his prayer was granted, and the answer came by fire (1 Kings 18:21-39). "Elijah will let him know that the God of Israel is superior to the King of Israel, and has a greater power to enforce his commands" (Matthew Henry). Thus at length, gospel dispensation though it is, will fire descend from heaven to consume the hosts of the ungodly (Revelation 20:9).
2. The second captain. One example of this kind should have been enough. But when men are inspired by fury and hate of God, above all, when it is not their own lives they are risking, they are not easily deterred. As if this first defeat but added fuel to the king's anger, the order goes forth for another band to he equipped, and sent to take the prophet. The captain who received the mandate had no choice but to obey, and military pride may have led him to suppress any outward show of misgiving. But it must have been with no small quaking of heart that he set out on this now doubly perilous service. Still Elijah sits on his hill, and, putting as bold a front on matters as he can, the second captain, in the king's name, repeats the summons to come down. "O man of God, thus hath the king said, Come down quickly." Elijah from his height returns the former answer; and once again the thunderbolt descends, and scatters the bodies of this second fifty at the hill's foot beside the first.
3. The third captain. Not even yet will the king own the folly of resistance. Like Pharaoh in conflict with Moses, each new calamity but seems to harden him the more. A third captain is dispatched with the same peremptory orders to seize the recalcitrant prophet.
(1) But this captain is wiser than his predecessors. He does what few in his position could help doing - accepts a lesson from experience. He abandons the insolent tone of previous captains, and, failing on his knees before Elijah, sues for peace. "O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight." He sees the folly of flinging away his life, and the lives of his men, to please a foolish king in a contest as wicked as it was vain.
(2) This prayer robs his mission of its offensiveness, acknowledges God's supremacy, and shows that Elijah's life is in no danger. The angel of the Lord accordingly says to Elijah, "Go down with him: be not afraid of him." By this timely humbling of himself, the third captain
(a) saved the lives of himself and his men;
(b) obtained what the former captains could not obtain by their bullying, viz. that Elijah should go with him.
No fire descended from heaven upon him, for God takes no pleasure in the wanton destruction of human life. And not only was his life spared, but he was saved from the king's anger, by Elijah consenting to accompany him. He was a living example of the truth, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6).
IV. THE WORD OF DOOM CONFIRMED. Brought, not as a prisoner, but as a conqueror, to Ahaziah's bedchamber, Elijah repeated in person the terrible message he had formerly sent by the messengers. "Thou shalt not come down off that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." It is the word of doom, and as such Ahaziah cannot but hear it. This is all he has made of his futile attempts to fight against God - to hear that doom confirmed by the very prophet whose head he had vowed to bring to the dust. The counsel of the Lord, it alone stands; the imagination of the sinner perishes. It is from Christ's own lips that those who now fight against him and despise his gospel will hear their final sentence. - J.O.
Proverbs 10:7). Enough is written to hold him up to after-ages as an example of the certainty of retribution. Then Scripture buries him with the epitaph, "So he died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken." - J.O.