The Life of Elijah
by A.W. Pink
Elijah’s Last Task
After the death of Ahab the judgments of God began to fall heavily upon his family. Of his immediate successor we are told, "Ahaziah the son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria the seventeenth year of the reign of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and reigned two years over Israel. And 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" (1 Kings 22:51-53). Unspeakably solemn is that. The three and a half years" famine, the exposure of Baal’s impotence, the slaying of his prophets there on Carmel, and the awe-inspiring dealings of God with his father, were all known to Ahaziah, but they produced no salutary effect upon him, for he refused to take them to heart. Heedless of those dire warnings he went on recklessly in sin, continuing to "serve Baal and worship him." His heart was fully set in him to do evil, and therefore was he cut off in his youth; nevertheless even in his case mercy was mingled with justice, for "space for repentance" was granted him ere he was removed from this scene.
"Then Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab" (2 Kings 1:1). In fulfillment of Balaam’s prophecy (Num. 24:17), David had conquered the Moabites so that they became his "servants" (2 Sam. 8:2), and they continued in subjection to the kingdom of Israel until the time of its division, when their vassalage and tribute was transferred to the kings of Israel, as those of Edom remained to the kings of Judah—the tribute which the Moabites rendered unto the king of Israel being "a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand rams with their wool" (2 Kings 3:4). But after the death of Ahab they revolted. Therein we behold the Divine providence crossing Ahaziah in his affairs. This rebellion on the part of Moab should be regarded in the light of "when a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:17)—but when our ways displease Him, evil from every quarter menaces us. Temporal as well as spiritual prosperity depends entirely on God’s blessing. When any behave ill to us it should make us at once examine our conduct toward God. To make His hand more plainly apparent, He frequently punishes the wicked after the similitude of their sins. He did so to Ahab’s son. As he had turned from the Lord, Moab was moved to rebel against him.
What has just been pointed out concerns the governmental dealings of God and illustrates an important principle in His "ways" with a nation: by which we mean, it treats of that which relates to time and not to eternity, to the workings of Divine providence and not to the sphere of salvation. Nations as such have only a temporal existence, though the individuals which comprise them have an eternal destiny. The prosperity or adversity of a nation is determined by its attitude and conduct toward God: directly so by those who have His living Oracles in their hands, indirectly so with the heathen—in their case being determined by their conduct toward His people. The Old Testament supplies us with so many examples of this that he who runs may read. The attitude of a nation towards God is to be gauged not so much by the general deportment of its people as by the character of its governors or government. The two are of course intimately related, for where a majority of the subjects are pious, they will not tolerate wickedness in high places, and on the other hand, when those who lead and rule set an evil example, it cannot be expected that those who follow will excel them in righteousness. Whatever be the particular form of government in a country, or whichever party be in power, it is the character and enactments of its executives that are the deciding factor, for they are the ones holding the positions of chief responsibility in the sight of God.
In avowedly "Christian" countries like Great Britain and the U.S.A., it is the churches which regulate the pulse of the nation. They act as the "salt" upon the corporate body, and when their ways please the Lord, He gives them favour in the eyes of those round about them. When the Holy Spirit is unhindered, His power is manifested, not only in calling out the elect, but in subduing sin in the non-elect and by causing the machine of state to support godliness, as was more or less noticeably the case a hundred years ago. But when error comes into the churches and discipline is relaxed, the Spirit is grieved and His power is withheld, and the evil effects of this become more and more apparent in the country by a rising tide of lawlessness. If the churches persist in a downward course, then the Spirit is quenched and "Ichabod" is written over them, as is the case today. Then it is that the restraining hand of God is removed and an orgy of licentiousness comes in. Then it is the government becomes an empty tide, for those in power have no power except what the people have delegated to them, and therefore they act in accord with the depraved desires of the masses. This then is ever the order: turning from the true God, turning to false gods, and then the disturbance of the peace—either social revolution or international war.
Ahaziah "served Baal and worshipped him and provoked to anger the Lord God of Israel." The Lord God is a jealous God, jealous of His truth, jealous of His honour, and when those calling themselves His people turn unto other gods, His wrath is kindled against them. How many false gods have been worshipped in Christendom during the last few decades! What a travesty of the Divine character has been set forth by the major portion of Protestantism—a "god" whom no one fears. What a mangling of the Gospel has there been in the "orthodox" sections of Christendom, whereby "another Jesus" (2 Cor. 11:4), has displaced the Christ of Holy Writ. Little wonder that, in the inevitable reaction, the multitudes have made gods of mammon and pleasure and that the nation puts its trust in its armed forces instead of the arm of the Lord. Here and there was an Elijah who raised his voice in testimony to the living God and in denouncing modern forms of Baal worship, but who gave ear to them? Certainly not the churches, for they closed their pulpits against them so that, like the Tishbite of old, they were forced into isolation and virtual retirement; and now it seems their last task before God calls them hence is to pronounce sentence of death upon the whole apostate system.
"And provoked to anger the Lord God of Israel. . . Then Moab rebelled against Israel." Though those two statements are separated by the ending of the first book of Kings and the beginning of the second, yet the connection between them is too obvious to be missed. It is the connection of cause and effect, the latter making manifest the former. For many years Moab had been tributary to Israel but now it threw off the yoke. And have we not lived to witness a similar thing with the British Empire? One country after another has severed ties with Britain and become independent. The Bible is no defunct book recording historical events of the remote past, but a living book, enunciating vital principles applicable to every age and describing things as they are today. History repeats itself, not only because human nature is fundamentally the same in all ages, but also because the "ways" of God, the principles of His government, remain unchanged. As the Lord God was provoked by Ahaziah, so He has been provoked by the churches, the politicians and the people of Great Britain, and as His anger was evidenced by His moving Moab to seek her independence, so His displeasure is now seen in His causing one dependency after another to break away from the "Mother country."
"And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick" (v. 2). First, we would note that this verse opens with the word "And," which appears to intimate the king’s response or rather lack of response to what is recorded in the previous verse. What is not found here is solemn and informative, revealing as it does the character of Ahaziah. There was no turning to the Lord for guidance and help. There was no humbling of himself before God and inquiring why this disturbance had entered his realm. Nothing happens by chance, and the curse causeless does not come (Prov. 26:2), therefore the king’s duty was to fast and pray and ascertain what it was that had displeased the Lord. No, we take that back: it would have been downright mockery for him to have done any such thing. There was no need to inquire of the Lord: the king knew quite well what was wrong—he was serving and worshipping Baal, and until his idols were abolished it would be nothing but play-acting, a pious farce, for him to call upon the name of the Lord. Does the reader agree? Does he? Does she? If not, carefully re-read this paragraph. If you concur, is not the application to our own national situation clearly apparent? Unspeakably solemn—yes; indescribably awful—yes. But if we face facts, things as they really are, the conclusion is unescapable.
Let us call attention to another factor which is absent from verse 2. Ahaziah not only failed spiritually but naturally too. What ought to have been his reaction to this revolt of Moab? Why, to have dealt with it with a firm hand and nipped it in the bud. That was obviously his duty as king. Instead he followed the line of least resistance and devoted himself to pleasure. Instead of taking his place at the head of his army and putting down this rebellion by force, he seems to have luxuriated in the palace. Must we not say in such circumstances, that God had given him up to a spirit of madness! He shrank in cowardly fear from the camp and the dangers of the field, and leaving Moab to do as she pleased, with out attempting her re-subjugation, led a life of self-indulgence. Perhaps he recalled the fate which had so recently overtaken his father on the battlefield and decided that "discretion is the better part of valour." But there is no escaping the hand of God when He is determined to smite: we are just as liable to meet with an "accident" in the shelter of our home as if we were exposed to the deadliest weapons on the battlefield.
"And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick." Here was where mercy was mingled with justice: here was where "space for repentance" was granted the idolatrous king. O how long-suffering is God! Ahaziah’s fall did not prove immediately fatal, though it placed him on a bed of sickness, where he had opportunity to "consider his ways." And how often the Lord deals thus, both with nations and with individuals. The Roman empire was not built in a day, nor was it destroyed in a day. Many a blatant rebel against Heaven has been pulled up suddenly in his evil career. An "accident" over took him, and though it may have deprived him of a limb, yet not of his life. Such may have been the experience of someone who reads these lines. If so, we would say to him with all earnestness, Redeem the time that is now left you. You might now be in hell, but God has given you a further season (brief at the most) to think of eternity and prepare for it. O that His goodness may lead you to repentance! Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart. Throw down the weapons of your warfare against Him and be reconciled to Him, for how shall you escape the everlasting burnings if you neglect His so-great salvation?
"And he sent messengers and said unto them, Go, inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease" (v. 2). First, God had crossed him in his affairs, and then He smote him in his body. We have called attention to what this evil king did not do, now we turn to consider the course which he actually followed. Neither of those judgments softened him, and having lived without God in prosperity, so in adversity he despised His chastening hand. Saul in his extremity had inquired of a witch, only to hear of his immediate doom. So Ahaziah now had recourse to the demon-gods of the heathen. He was evidently uneasy at the present state of his health, so sent some of his servants to ascertain of an idolatrous oracle whether or no he should recover from this affliction—proof that his soul was in a worse state than his body. The "Baalim" was a general epithet for the false gods, each having his own peculiar office and district, hence the distinguishing titles of Baal-zebub, Baal-peor, Baal-zephon, Baal-berith. "Baal-zebub" was the idol of Ekron, a city of Philistia, a country noted for "sooth-sayers" (Isa. 2:6).
This "Baal-zebub" signifies "The lord of a fly or flies," probably because, since their country was infested with flies (as modern travelers still report), they supposed he protected them from the diseases which they spread. In Matthew 12:24 we find our Lord terming Beelzebub (the Greek form of spelling) "the prince of the demons," which intimates that under various names and images evil spirits were actually worshipped as gods by the heathen—as is plainly stated in 1 Corinthians 10:20: "the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God." It would appear that at the time of Ahaziah the priests of Baa1 had through their incantations of evil spirits acquired celebrity for their knowledge of future events, much as the oracle of Delphi was held in high repute in Greece some years later. Believing that the idol at Ekron could foresee and foretell things to come, Ahaziah paid him homage. The exceeding sinfulness of such practices is placed beyond dispute by such passages as Leviticus 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Chronicles 10:13. Thus those who consult fortune-tellers, astrologers and "spiritualists" are guilty of a fearful sin, and expose themselves unto the powers of evil.
"When a king of Israel sent to inquire of a heathen oracle, he proclaimed to the Gentiles his want of confidence in Jehovah: as if the only nation favoured with the knowledge of the true God had been the only nation in which no God was known. This was peculiarly dishonorable and provoking to Jehovah" (Thomas Scott). The action of Ahaziah was indeed a deliberate and public rejection of the Lord, a defiant choice of those ways which had called down the wrath of Heaven upon his father. It could not pass unnoticed, and accordingly He who is King of kings, as well as the God of Israel, specifically calls him to account. Elijah was sent to meet the king’s messengers as they went speeding on their way from Samaria, with the announcement of certain death: "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?" (v. 3). Nothing escapes the observation of Him with whom we have to do. His eyes are ever upon all the ways of men, whether they be monarchs or menials: none are too high or independent to be above His control, and none are too low or insignificant to be overlooked by Him. All we do or say or think is perfectly known to the Lord, and in that Day we shall be called upon to render a full account.
"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" (v. 3). The Hebrew is more expressive and emphatic than the English: "Is it because there is no God, none in Israel" that you turn for information to the emissaries of Satan? Not only had the true and living God made Himself known to Israel, but He was in covenant relationship with them. This it is which explains "the angel of the Lord" addressing Himself to Elijah on this occasion, emphasizing as it did that blessed relationship which the king was repudiating—it was the Angel of the Covenant (Ex. 23:23, etc). As such, Jehovah had given clear demonstration of Himself to Ahaziah in his own lifetime.
"Now therefore thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die" (v. 4). Having reproved the awful sin of Ahaziah, the servant of God now pronounces judgment on him. Here then was the last and solemn task of Elijah, to pass the capital sentence upon the apostate king. Unto the widow of Zarephath God had made him "the savour of life unto life," but unto Ahab and now to his son he became "the savour of death unto death." Varied indeed are the tasks assigned unto the ministers of the Gospel, according as they are called upon to comfort God’s people and feed His sheep, or warn the wicked and denounce evildoers. Thus it was with their great Exemplar: both benedictions and maledictions were found on His lips; though most congregations are far more familiar with the former than the latter. Yet it will be found that His "Blesseds" in Matthew 5 are balanced by an equal number of "Woes" in Matthew 23. It should be duly noted that those "woes" were uttered by the Lord Jesus at the close of His public ministry, and though the end of the world may not be at hand (no one on earth knows) yet it seems evident that the end of the present "order" of things, "civilization," is imminent, and therefore the servants of Christ have a thankless task before them today. O that grace may preserve them "faithful unto death"!