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The Life and Times of Elijah (5)

J Hay, Comrie

JEZREEL (1 Kings 21)

Evidently, Ahab had his equivalent of Chequers or Camp David at Jezreel, and his neighbour was the godly Naboth. His name means "fruits", and his character reflected the meaning of his name. New Testament believers are encouraged to bring forth fruit unto holiness, to produce the fruit of righteousness, to manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Bearing the fruit of Christian character is only possible as we abide in Him.

All kinds of neighbours are found in the Bible. Elisabeth had nosey neighbours who tried to interfere (Lk 1.57-63). The formerly blind man had noisy neighbours who argued about his healing (Jn 9.8-9). The Samaritan had a needy neighbour to whom he showed kindness (Lk 10.29-37). The widow had nice neighbours who loaned her empty vessels (2 Kings 4.1-7). Naboth had a nasty neighbour who was complicit in his death and in the death of his sons (2 Kings 9.26). Whatever type of neighbour you have, your obligation is to "love thy neighbour as thyself".

Our chapter commences with the very familiar, "…after these things". After what things? After God had on two occasions preserved the tiny army of Ahab against enormous odds, and Ahab had gained cities as a result (20.34). Now he casts his greedy eyes on another man’s vineyard! What base ingratitude! After he had appeared so merciful in sparing Ben-hadad, he is now party to the assassination of Naboth. How fickle is the human heart! On two occasions David spared Saul, but wedged in between these incidents he had to be talked out of eliminating Nabal! Try to avoid the inconsistency that is illustrated by these events.

Ahab’s offer to Naboth was tantalising (v.2). Who would not want something bigger and better? Or who would not want sufficient capital to finance an easier life? But such grandeur was unacceptable to Naboth if it was achieved by disobedience to the Word of God (v.3; see Lev 25.23). Others were ensnared by the lure of material prosperity. Well-watered plains attracted Lot (Gen 13.10). Lush pastureland enticed the two and a half tribes (Num 32.1). Dreams of oliveyards and vineyards mesmerised Gehazi (2 Kings 5.26). For Naboth, devotion to God was more important than personal advancement. Let us all take note.

For the second time, the petulant king went home "heavy and displeased" (v.4). Annoyed by his huff, Jezebel discovered the cause, and with diabolical cunning she contrived a solution. She was the power behind the throne, as was Herodias. So too will be the great whore who will sit upon the scarlet beast, the religious influence behind the political power, until these political forces tire of her interference and rise to destroy her (Rev 17).

Jezebel’s plot involved forgery (v.8) and slander (v.10). At Thessalonica, forged letters were used in an attempt to destabilise the young assembly (2 Thess 2.2). Slander has also been used to devastating effect. As a consequence of slander Joseph was incarcerated for years (Gen 39.20), David was hunted like an animal (1 Sam 24.9-10), and Mephibosheth was stripped of his possessions (2 Sam 16.4). Here, a man lost his life. In the New Testament, the word rendered slanderer or false accusers is exactly the same Greek word as is so often translated devil! Don’t be involved in doing his work for him!

The city fathers were spineless individuals who meekly complied with the sealed instructions, so different from the priests who robustly opposed Uzziah’s attempt to usurp their office (2 Chr 26.16-20). Never co-operate with any sinful enterprise: resist it without fear or favour. The case against Naboth had to be watertight, so two (false) witnesses were brought! How hypocritical people can be. Remember the religious leaders who wanted to remain ceremonially pure, while all the time clamouring for the crucifixion of the Lord (Jn 18.28). There is a danger about being scrupulous about some things yet offenders in big issues, those who "strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel" (Mt 23.24, RV).

With Naboth dead, Ahab was quick to claim the vineyard (v.16), but God had observed the conspiracy and the murder (vv.17-19)! Why had He not intervened? Why did He not intervene when John Baptist was beheaded, or when Stephen was stoned, or when James was executed? He could have if He had so chosen, but on occasions, in His sovereignty, He allows what we call tragedies or accidents. Why do good men suffer, and why are needed men taken? Can God not prevent these happenings? The three who faced the fiery furnace had the conviction that He could: "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us…But if not…" (Dan 3.17-18). They never doubted His ability, but was it His will? Life holds great mysteries, and on occasions, without having reasons, we have to bow to the sovereign will of God.

Elijah confronted Ahab with his guilt. His message from God made it clear that the king was held responsible for his wife’s behaviour, and that the sowing and reaping principle would come into play (v.19). These are sobering lessons. Further, his crimes affected his family, as did those of Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Num 16), Achan (Josh 7.24) and Gehazi (2 Kings 5.27). Everything done has ramifications for those connected to us, including the family, and so there would be no dynasty in the line of Ahab (vv.21-24). The severity of the judgment is defended in vv.25-26. This man was uniquely evil, just as Job was uniquely upright (Job 1.8). Hezekiah was unique in his trust in God (2 Kings 18.5), and Josiah in his wholehearted commitment to every aspect of the law of God (2 Kings 23.25). How good to be well known and special for the right reasons!

It is a credit to the mercy of God that because Ahab humbled himself, much of the predicted judgment was deferred (vv.27-29). However, within three years he was gone, the victim of what men would call "a lucky shot", but in reality an arrow directed by the very finger of God (22.34). Elijah does not feature in the circumstances of his death, but the less familiar Micaiah does, a man as hated as Elijah himself (22.8). God is not dependent on one man, and He is certainly not dependent on what we would call a prominent man. In ch.20, two, or perhaps three unnamed prophets had confronted Ahab. Even when Elijah was still around, God was using others, some of the 7,000 of whom Elijah took little account! Perhaps you regard yourself as little known in comparison to some who are household names: you serve in an obscure location in comparison to those who seem to be in the mainstream. See yourself as crucial in working out divine purpose. Accomplish the tasks for which he has chosen you rather than others who appear to be more important.

THE HILLTOP (2 Kings 1)

After Ahab died, his son Ahaziah reigned for a short time. A fall from an upper chamber was life threatening, and, even although Baal had been discredited at Carmel, he sent to enquire of Baal-zebub (v.2). Evidently his widowed mother was still exerting considerable influence! Alerted by God, Elijah intercepted the messengers and sent them back with a message of judgment which they relayed accurately to their lord (vv.3-6). Already, God was taking steps against the house of Ahab as foretold in the history of Naboth’s vineyard. Elijah’s appearance identified him as the source of the message (vv.7-8); hence the orders for his arrest. His potential captors acknowledged him as a "man of God" just as Herod knew that John Baptist was "a just man and an holy" (Mk 6.20). The opponents of God’s people, if honest, should be able to testify to their integrity.

From the hilltop, Elijah called down fire from heaven to devour two bands of soldiers, a miracle of judgment that proved that he really was a man of God (vv.10,12). James and John wanted a similar fate for a hostile Samaritan village, but had to learn that a spirit of vengeance is foreign to the followers of Christ (Lk 9.51-56).

The third captain was conciliatory, and under orders from heaven Elijah went with him: "be not afraid of him" (v.15). How kind God is, in giving a message of encouragement when sending His servant into intimidating circumstances! Ananias enjoyed the same support when called upon to encounter the dreaded Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9.10-18).

Face to face with the king, Elijah proclaimed the same message of judgment as had been conveyed through the messengers. What he said about the man behind his back was exactly the same as what he said to him face to face. Similarly, what the Lord Jesus said about the Pharisees and scribes in their absence, was the same as what He said as He confronted them personally. It is an important lesson for us all. We must avoid the hypocrisy of Ahithophel. His words were "smoother than butter" and "softer than oil", but in reality, were "drawn swords" (Ps 55.21).

To be continued.

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