2 Kings 1: Elijah's Reproof
This story gives us a picture of Elijah which we must fix in our minds and remember. Ahaziah, a son of Ahab, was now the king in Samaria. He was sick; he had fallen through a lattice in an upper chamber in his palace and was hurt. It was probably a lattice window. You may have seen pictures of such windows in Cairo in Egypt. They did not use glass in their windows, but lattice work, which was often beautifully carved. The windows of upper rooms often projected from the wall, like our bay windows, and in this way had more view and gave more air. There was such a lattice window in the king's house in Samaria.
Ahaziah fell through the lattice and was hurt. He wished to know whether he would get well; but instead of asking the Lord or sending to the Lord's prophets, he sent to "Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron." Do you remember the name Ekron, one of the five Philistine cities to which the ark was taken when it was in the Philistine country? Baal-zebub, "the lord of flies," was worshiped in Ekron, and Ahaziah sent messengers to ask the idol if he should recover. As they were going, a man met them. He was dressed in a rough hairy mantle with a leather belt. He spoke sternly to the messengers. He asked them why they went to inquire of Baal-zebub, as if there were no God in Israel, and he sent them back to the king to tell him that he should die. Who was this man who stopped the king's messengers and rebuked them and sent them back with this message? It was Elijah. When Ahaziah asked the messengers, "What manner of man was he, which came up to meet you and told you these words?" they answered, "He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins." The king knew, and he said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite." Other prophets wore rough mantles (Zech. 13:4), but the hairy mantle belonged especially to Elijah. When they spoke of his mantle, the king knew that it was he.
The king was angry. If he could, he would take Elijah and kill him. He sent a captain with fifty men to take him, and they found Elijah sitting on the top of a hill, perhaps near where he met the messengers of the king on the way between Samaria and Ekron. They called to him to come down, but instead he called fire from heaven and destroyed the captain and his men. The king sent another captain and fifty men, and again fire came down and destroyed them. Do you remember once before when fire had fallen in answer to a prayer of Elijah? The king sent still again the third time a captain and fifty men. This third captain was afraid, knowing what had happened to the other captains and their men. He fell on his knees before Elijah and prayed that he would spare his life and the life of his men. The angel of the Lord now told Elijah not to be afraid to go with the captain to the king. He went and told Ahaziah that he should die, and the prophet's word came true.
The first verse of our chapter says that Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. Who was Ahab? Who ruled after him? See the last verses of I Kings 22. There is something interesting to tell you about this rebellion, but the story comes up more fully in the third chapter, and we will wait.
We must get with the little children the picture of Elijah which this story gives us. As we hear his stern words to the messengers and the king, rebuking them for forgetting the Lord and going to an idol, and as we hear their description of the man with his hairy mantle and his leather girdle, we are reminded strongly of John the Baptist, whom we read of in the Gospels, the stern hardy man of the desert, who came to prepare people for the Lord, preaching repentance and boldly rebuking their sins. (Matt. 3:4) What does the Gospel say of John's raiment? A cloak of camel's hair and a leather girdle. Even this reminds us of Elijah, There was a real likeness between these men.
Someone look back to the story of the ark in the Philistine country. (I Sam. 5) It tells us of the idol Dagon in one of the Philistine cities, and it tells us too of Ekron. Find Ekron on the map, and see the journey which the messengers of Ahaziah were taking from Samaria to Ekron.
Find the reference in the Gospel to Beelzebub, the name Baal-zebub, "lord of flies," in a slightly different spelling. (Matt. 12:24) You see from the way the name is used in the Gospel that it is associated with no good thing, but with evil. "Beelzebub the prince of the devils."
There is another interesting reference to this story in the Gospel. Someone find it in Luke 9:51-56. It was when the Lord and the disciples were going to Jerusalem and the Samaritans of a certain village would not receive Him because His face was as though He would go to Jerusalem. "And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?" How did the Lord answer them? In the old time, the Lord's power was sometimes shown in severe external ways. When He came, He taught people to know Him more truly, showing them His love in works of kindness, just as He opened the stern precepts of the old time in the Sermon on the Mount and taught the Christian law and blessings.
Elijah and John the Baptist. The last words of the Old Testament predict that Elijah the prophet will come to prepare people for the coming of the Lord. (Mal. 4:5-6) In fulfillment of the promise, John the Baptist came. But when they asked John if he were Elias, he said, "I am not." (John 1:21) The Lord speaking of John said, "This is Elias, which was for to come." (Matt. 11:14; 17:10-13) John was speaking literally; he was not the man Elijah come again. The Lord was speaking of John's mission, of his bold message of repentance, which was the same as the message of Elijah. The angel promising John's coming to the father Zacharias said, "He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias," and went on almost in the very words of Malachi. (Luke 1:17) The mission of these two brave servants of the Lord was the same. They were types of the letter of the Word, rebuking evil and calling people to repentance.
As you read about the fire coming down from heaven, you will think of the day on Mount Carmel, when the fire consumed the sacrifice. You will remember also in the Gospel (Luke 9:54) how some of the Lord's disciples spoke to Him of this fire that came from heaven at the word of Elijah. But the Lord came into the world to show His power in works of gentleness and love.
1. Messengers were going from Samaria to Ekron. Where were these two places? Who had sent them? What did they want in Ekron?
2. Who met the messengers by the way? Why did he rebuke them? What word did he send to him who sent them?
3. Why did Ahaziah fail to take Elijah?
4. What sign of Divine power was given at the word of Elijah? When have we learned before of such a sign?
5. How is this story referred to in the Gospels?
The rough hairy cloak of Elijah and of John is an interesting study. It was in keeping with their message, not delicate and spiritual, but stern and even harsh. Garments of the mind are not our deepest motives, but the outer thoughts and words and manners in which affections clothe themselves, and these with John and Elijah were severe. The camel's hair is especially a type of stern literal thought, for a camel represents such power of thinking. That the rough mantle was significant is plain from the Lords words about Johnís clothing: "What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold they that wear soft clothing are in kingsí houses. But what went ye out for to see." (Matt. 11:8) The rough mantle was like the letter of John's message and of all the Word. The soft clothing is its spiritual meaning, and they in kings' houses are especially the angels, who understand that deeper meaning. We may have the same thought about Elijah's hairy mantle. We shall keep it in mind when we read that Elijah when taken up into heaven dropped his mantle to the earth, to be picked up and used by Elisha. There are golden girdles in the Scripture, and linen girdles: why a rough leather girdle for John? (A. 9372, 2576: R. 166)
Ahaziah was sick. A king, and especially a king of Israel, should represent a strong spiritual understanding ruling the life well. But wicked kings like Ahab and Ahaziah represent thought justifying and excusing evil. "Then intelligence may be spoken of as sick, and may be said to have fallen. Ahaziah fell through a lattice. We are taught that a grating represents the external, sensual part of the mind, which guards the way to the understanding and will, and as it were sifts what enters in. The nerves of the senses are such a network on the surface of the body. (A. 9726) Ahaziah's fall would seem to represent weakening of intelligence through trusting in natural appearances. We shall think again of this when we read how Jezebel was thrown from a window to her death. (2 Kings 9:30, 33: A. 655, 3391) Looking to the Philistines for help represents dependence on an intellectual power not associated with good life, for this is the meaning of the Philistines. In Dagon the fish-god we see a picture of such thought of a low natural kind, and in Baal-zebub, the "lord of flies," a picture of thought of the most superficial kind, for such is the meaning of fishes and of insects. (E. 740: A. 7441) Baal-zebub was the god of Ekron, one of the Philistine cities: and Philistia, as we know, represents intellectual power not joined with goodness and usefulness, but with evil pleasure. (A. 1197, 3412) Will the heavenly intelligence be restored to health by looking in this direction? Will it not rather complete its own destruction? This is the meaning of Elijah's message that, because Ahaziah looked to Baal-zebub, god of Ekron, instead of to the Lord, he would surely die.
The fire from heaven which consumed Elijah's sacrifice represents love from the Lord with those who truly worship Him. Love of evil and anger against the Lord is an evil fire that, if allowed to burn, destroys ourselves. It is the fire of hell. Evil love destroying the soul is represented by the fire which destroyed Sodom, and by the fire which consumed the men sent to take Elijah. To save people from such destroying love was the very purpose of the Lord's coming. He would not let His disciples call down fire upon those who opposed Him, but said. "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." (Luke 9:56: A. 2443, 2448)