We here find Ahaziah, the genuine son and successor of Ahab, on
the throne of Israel. His reign continued not two years; he died by a fall in
his own house, of which, after the mention of the revolt of Moab (v. 1), we have
here an account. I. The message which, on that occasion, he sent to the god of
Ekron (v. 2). II. The message he received from the God of Israel (v. 3-8). III.
The destruction of the messengers he sent to seize the prophet, once and again
(v. 9-12). IV. His compassion to, and compliance with, the third messenger,
upon his submission, and the delivery of the message to the king himself (v. 13-16).
IV. The death of Ahaziah (v. 17, 18). In the story we may observe how great the
prophet looks and how little the prince.
We have here Ahaziah, the wicked king of Israel, under God's
rebukes both by his providence and by his prophet, by his rod and by his word.
I. He is crossed in his affairs. How can those expect to prosper
that do evil in the sight of the Lord, and provoke him to anger?
When he rebelled against God, and revolted from his allegiance to him, Moab
rebelled against Israel, and revolted from the subjection that had long paid to
the kings of Israel, v. 1. The Edomites that bordered on Judah, and were
tributaries to the kings of Judah, still continued so, as we find in the chapter
before (v. 47), till, in the wicked reign of Joram, they broke that yoke (ch.
8:22) as the Moabites did now. If men break their covenants with us, and neglect
their duty, we must reflect upon our breach of covenant with God, and the
neglect of our duty to him. Sin weakens and impoverishes us. We shall hear of
the Moabites, ch. 3:5.
II. He is seized with sickness in body, not from any inward
cause, but by a severe accident. He fell down through a lattice, and was
much bruised with the fall; perhaps it threw him into a fever, v. 2. Whatever we
go, there is but a step between us and death. A man's house is his castle, but
not to secure him against the judgments of God. The cracked lattice is a fatal
to the son, when God pleases to make it so, as the bow drawn at a venture was to
the father. Ahaziah would not attempt to reduce the Moabites, lest he should
perish in the field of battle: but he is not safe, though he tarry at home.
Royal palaces do not always yield firm footing. The snare is laid for the sinner
in the ground where he thinks least of it, Job 18:9, 10. The whole creation,
which groans under the man's sin, will at length sink and break under the
weight, like this lattice. He is never safe that has God for his enemy.
III. In his distress he sends messengers to enquire of the god
Ekron whether he should recover or no, v. 2. And here, 1. His enquiry was very
foolish: Shall I recover? Even nature itself would rather have asked,
"What means may I use that I may recover?" But as one solicitous only
to know his fortune, not to know his duty, his question is only this, Shall I
recover? to which a little time would give an answer. We should be more
thoughtful what will become of us after death than how, or when, or where, we
shall die, and more desirous to be told how we may conduct ourselves well in our
sickness, and get good to our souls by it, than whether we shall recover from
it. 2. His sending to Baal-zebub was very wicked; to make a dead and dumb idol,
perhaps newly erected (for idolaters were fond of new gods), his oracle, was not
less a reproach to his reason than to his religion. Baal-zebub, which signifies the
lord of a fly, was one of their Baals that perhaps gave his answers either
by the power of the demons or the craft of the priests, with a humming noise,
like that of a great fly, or that had (as they fancied) rid their country of the
swarms of flies wherewith it was infested, or of some pestilential disease
brought among them by flies. Perhaps this dunghill-deity was as famous then as
the oracle of Delphos was, long afterwards, in Greece. In the New Testament the
prince of the devils is called Beel-zebub (Mt. 12:24), for the gods
of the Gentiles were devils, and this perhaps grew to be one of the most famous.
IV. Elijah, by direction from God, meets the messengers, and
turns them back with an answer that shall save them the labour of going to Ekron.
Had Ahaziah sent for Elijah, humbled himself, and begged his prayers, he might
have had an answer of peace; but if he send to the god of Ekron, instead of the
God of Israel, this, like Saul's consulting the witch, shall fill the measure
of his iniquity, and bring upon him a sentence of death. Those that will not
enquire of the word of God for their comfort shall be made to hear it, whether
they will or not, to their amazement.
1. He faithfully reproves his sin (v. 3): Is it not because
there is not (that is, because you think there is not) a God in Israel (because
there is no God, none in Israel, so it may be read), that you go to
enquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, a despicable town of the
Philistines (Zec. 9:7), long since vanquished by Israel? Here, (1.) The sin was
bad enough, giving that honour to the devil which is due to God alone, which was
done as much by their enquiries as by their sacrifices. Note, It is a very
wicked thing, upon any occasion or pretence whatsoever, to consult with the
devil. This wickedness reigned in the heathen world (Isa. 47:12, 13) and remains
too much even in the Christian world, and the devil's kingdom is supported by
it. (2.) The construction which Elijah, in God's name, puts upon it, makes it
much worse: "It is because you think not only that the God of Israel is not
able to tell you, but that there is no God at all in Israel, else you would not
send so far for a divine answer." Note, A practical and constructive
atheism is the cause and malignity of our departures from God. Surely we think
there is no God in Israel when we live at large, make flesh our arm, and
seek a portion in the things of this world.
2. He plainly reads his doom: Go, tell him he shall surely
die, v. 4. "Since he is so anxious to know his fate, this is it; let
him make the best of it." The certain fearful looking for of judgment and
indignation which this message must needs cause cannot but cut him to the heart.
V. The message being delivered to him by his servants, he
enquires of them by whom it was sent to him, and concludes, by their description
of him, that it must be Elijah, v. 7, 8. For, 1. His dress was the same that he
had seen him in, in his father's court. He was clad in a hairy garment, and
had a leathern girdle about him, was plain and homely in his garb. John Baptist,
the Elias of the New Testament, herein resembled him, for his clothes were made
of hair cloth, and he was girt with a leathern girdle, Mt. 3:4. He that was
clothed with the Spirit despised all rich and gay clothing. 2. His message was
such as he used to deliver to his father, to whom he never prophesied good, but
evil. Elijah is one of those witnesses that still torment the inhabitants of the
earth, Rev. 11:10. He that was a thorn in Ahab's eyes will be so in the eyes
of his son while he treads in the steps of his father's wickedness; and he is
ready to cry out, as his father did, Hast thou found me, O my enemy? Let
sinners consider that the word which took hold of their fathers is still
as quick and powerful as ever. See Zec. 1:6; Heb. 4:12.
Here, I. The king issues out a warrant for the apprehending of
Elijah. If the God of Ekron had told him he should die, it is probable he would
have taken it quietly; but now that a prophet of the Lord tells him so,
reproving him for his sin and reminding him of the God of Israel, he cannot bear
it. So far is he from making any good improvement of the warning given him that
he is enraged against the prophet; neither his sickness, nor the thoughts of
death, made any good impressions upon him, nor possessed him with any fear of
God. No external alarms will startle and soften secure sinners, but rather
exasperate them. Did the king think Elijah a prophet, a true prophet? Why then
durst he persecute him? Did he think him a common person? What occasion was
there to send such a force, in order to seize him? Thus a band of men must take
our Lord Jesus.
II. The captain that was sent with his fifty soldiers found
Elijah on the top of a hill (some think Carmel), and commanded him, in the king's
name, to surrender himself, v. 9. Elijah was now so far from absconding, as
formerly, into the close recesses of a cave, that he makes a bold appearance on
the top of a hill; experience of God's protection makes him more bold. The
captain calls him a man of God, not that he believed him to be so, or
reverenced him a such a one, but because he was commonly called so. Had he
really looked upon him as a prophet, he would not have attempted to make him his
prisoner; and, had he thought him entrusted with the word of God, he would not
have pretended to command him with the word of a king.
III. Elijah calls for fire from heaven, to consume this haughty
daring sinner, not to secure himself (he could have done that some other way),
nor to avenge himself (for it was not his own cause that he appeared and acted
in), but to prove his mission, and to reveal the wrath of God from heaven
against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. This captain had, in
scorn, called him a man of God: "If I be so," says Elijah,
"thou shalt pay dearly for making a jest of it." He valued himself
upon his commission (the king has said, Come down), but 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. It was not long since Elijah had fetched
fire from heaven, to consume the sacrifice (1 Ki. 17:38), in token of God's
acceptance of that sacrifice as an atonement for the sins of the people; but,
they having slighted that, now the fire falls, not on the sacrifice, but on the
sinners themselves, v. 10. See here, 1. What an interest the prophets had in
heaven; what the Spirit of God in them demanded the power of God effected.
Elijah did but speak, and it was done. He that formerly had fetched water from
heaven now fetches fire. O the power of prayer! Concerning the work of my
hands, command you me, Isa. 14:11. 2. What an interest heaven had in the
prophets! God was always ready to plead their cause, and avenge the injuries
done to them; kings shall still be rebuked for their sakes, and charged
to do his prophets no harm; one Elijah is more to God than 10,000
captains and their fifties. Doubtless Elijah did this by a divine impulse, and
yet our Saviour would not allow the disciples to draw it into a precedent, Lu.
9:54. They were now not far from the place where Elias did this act of justice
upon provoking Israelites, and would needs, in like manner, call for fire upon
those provoking Samaritans. "No," says Christ, "by no means, you
know not what manner of spirit you are of," that is, (1.) "You do
not consider what manner of spirit, as disciples, you are called to, and
how different from that of the Old-Testament dispensation; it was agreeable
enough to that dispensation of terror, and of the letter, for Elias to call for
fire, but the dispensation of the Spirit and of grace will by no means allow it."
(2.) "You are not aware what manner of spirit you are, upon this occasion,
actuated by, and how different from that of Elias: he did it in holy zeal, you
in passion; he was concerned for God's glory, you for your own reputation
only." God judges men's practices by their principles, and his judgment
is according to truth.
IV. This is repeated a second time; would one think it? 1.
Ahaziah sends, a second time, to apprehend Elijah (v. 11), as if he were
resolved not to be baffled by omnipotence itself. Obstinate sinners must be
convinced and conquered, at last, by the fire of hell, for fire from heaven, it
seems, will not subdue them. 2. Another captain is ready with his fifty, who, in
his blind rage against the prophet, and his blind obedience to the king, dares
engage in that service which had been fatal to the last undertakers. This is as
impudent and imperious as the last, and more in haste; not only, "Come
down quietly, and do not struggle," but without taking any notice of
what had been done, he says, "Come down quickly, and do not trifle,
the king's business requires haste; come down, or I will fetch thee down."
3. Elijah relents not, but calls for another flash of lightning, which instantly
lays this captain and his fifty dead upon the spot. Those that will sin like
others must expect to suffer like them; God is inflexibly just.
V. The third captain humbled himself and cast himself upon the
mercy of God and Elijah. It does not appear that Ahaziah ordered him to do so
(his stubborn heart is as hard as ever; so regardless is he of the terrors of
the Lord, so little affected with the manifestations of his wrath, and withal so
prodigal of the lives of his subjects, that he sends a third with the same
provoking message to Elijah), but he took warning by the fate of his
predecessors, who, perhaps, lay dead before his eyes; and, instead of summoning
the prophet down, fell down before him, and begged for his life and the lives of
his soldiers, acknowledging their own evil deserts and the prophet's power (v.
13, 14): Let my life be precious in thy sight. Note, There is nothing to
be got by contending with God: if we would prevail with him, it must be by
supplication; if we would not fall before God, we must bow before him; and those
are wise for themselves who learn submission from the fatal consequences of the
obstinacy of others.
VI. Elijah does more than grant the request of this third
captain. God is not so severe with those that stand it out against him but he is
as ready to show mercy to those that repent and submit to him; never any found
it in vain to cast themselves upon the mercy of God. This captain, not only has
his life spared, but is permitted to carry his point: Elijah, being so commanded
by the angel, goes down with him to the king, v. 15. Thus he shows that
he before refused to come, not because he feared the king or court, but because
he would not be imperiously compelled, which would lessen the honour of his
master; he magnifies his office. He comes boldly to the king, and tells
him to his face (let him take it as he may) what he had before sent to him (v.
16), that he shall surely and shortly die; he mitigates not the sentence, either
for fear of the king's displeasure or in pity to his misery. The God of Israel
has condemned him, let him send to see whether the god of Ekron can deliver him.
So thunder-struck is Ahaziah with this message, when it comes from the prophet's
own mouth, that neither he nor any of those about him durst offer him any
violence, nor so much as give him an affront; but out of that den of lions he
comes unhurt, like Daniel. Who can harm those whom God will shelter?
Lastly, The prediction is accomplished in a few days.
Ahaziah died (v. 17), and, dying childless, left his kingdom to his brother
Jehoram. His father reigned wickedly twenty-two years, he not two. Sometimes the
wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power; but those who
therefore promise themselves prosperity in impiety may perhaps find themselves
deceived; for (as bishop Hall observes here), "Some sinners live long, to
aggravate their judgment, others die soon, to hasten it;" but it is certain
that evil pursues sinners, and, sooner or later, it will overtake them; nor will
any thing fill the measure sooner than that complicated iniquity of Ahaziahhonouring
the devil's oracles and hating God's oracles.