Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament2 KINGS 1
AHAZIAH, KING OF ISRAEL, INQUIRED OF BAAL-ZEBUB
Verses 1, 2
And Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. And Ahaziah fell down through the lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said unto them, Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover of this sickness.
And Moab rebelled against Israel
(2 Kings 1:1). David had defeated and subjugated the Moabites, putting to death at least two-thirds of their armed services (2 Samuel 8:2); and, of course, they became a part of the great empire of Solomon. From inscriptions upon the Moabite Stone, we learn that Moab rebelled upon the occasion of the division of Solomon's empire and regained their independence for a time, but that they again lost it to Israel during the reign of Omri. Later in 2 Kings 3:4-27 there is a fuller report of this rebellion of Moab, but apparently this brief mention of it occurs here as a preliminary to the explanation of why Ahaziah was unable to suppress the rebellion due to his injury.
The event that precipitated Moab's rebellion was the defeat and death of Ahab in the battle of Ramoth-gilead. "In Oriental empires the death of a brave and energetic king was always the signal for a revolt of the subjected peoples."F1
Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron
(2 Kings 1:2). The word inquire here is of special interest. It is a technical term for seeking divine revelation. It is used almost exclusively for resorting to a place with a religious objective (Amos 5:5; Deut. 12:5; Gen. 25:22; Exo. 18:15; Ezek. 14:10; etc.).F2
The word Baal-zebub, as indicated by Ugaritic tablets was spelled Baal-zebul, meaning "lord of the dwelling," but as it stands in the Hebrew it means, "lord of the flies."F3 This change of meaning probably resulted from a Hebrew deliberate misspelling of the name of that detestable god. Later in history, "The Rabbis, by making an additional slight change in the spelling, altered the name to mean, the dung god,"F4 or the "god of the dunghill."F5
Ahaziah's sending messengers to inquire of Baalzebub was designed as a public insult to the true God of Israel, a maneuver which required the direct intervention of God Himself to checkmate it for the sake of the chosen people. God moved at once to destroy Ahaziah and to demonstrate before all men the stupid futility of Ahaziah's insulting preference for the Canaanite Baal over the true God of Israel.
ELIJAH INTERCEPTED HIS MESSENGERS AND PROPHESIED THE DEATH OF AHAZIAH
Verses 3, 4
But the angel of Jehovah said to Elijah the Tishbite, Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say unto them, Is it because there is no God in Israel, that ye go to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus saith Jehovah, Thou shalt not come down from the bed whither thou art gone up, but shalt surely die. And Elijah departed.
The angel of Jehovah
(2 Kings 1:3). The importance of this event is stressed by the appearance of this Mighty Angel to Elijah. Some identify him with the great Christophanies of the O.T., and Dentan was probably correct in his statement that, The Angel of the Lord who appears in 2 Kings 1:3,15 is actually the Lord himself.F6 Gen. 22:15-16 speaks of the angel of the Lord and the Lord as being the same.F7
(2 Kings 1:4). The word therefore means `for this reason,' the reason being Ahaziah's total apostasy from God, for which sin God sentenced him to die as a result of his fall. it is implied that he might have recovered if he had acted otherwise.F8
AHAZIAH LEARNED ELIJAH'S IDENTITY FROM THE MESSENGERS
And the messengers returned unto him, and he said unto them, Why is it that ye are returned? And they said unto him, There came up a man to meet us, and said unto us, Go, turn again unto the king that sent you, and say unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Is it because there is no God in Israel, that thou sendest to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? therefore thou shalt not come down from the bed whither thou art gone up, but shalt surely die. And he said unto them, What manner of man was he that came up to meet you, and told you these words? And they answered him, He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite.
There can be little doubt that Ahaziah's seeking Elijah's identity was for one purpose only -- that of putting the prophet to death.
He was a hairy man
(2 Kings 1:8). The RSV is doubtless correct in its rendition of this clause as, He wore a garment of hair-cloth. This was the traditional clothing of God's prophets, for Zechariah wrote of false prophets, Who put on a hairy mantle to deceive (Zechariah 13:4). Also John the Baptist's garb of camel's hair and a leather girdle (Matthew 3:4) in imitation of his forerunner is sufficient commentary on this phrase.F9 It was not intended to be a comfortable garment, because, It was one of professional austerity.F10
AHAZIAH'S ARMED MEN TRY IN VAIN TO ARREST ELIJAH
Then [the king] sent unto him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he was sitting on the top of the hill. And he spake unto him, O man of God, the king hath said, Come down. And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. And again he sent unto him another captain of fifty and his fifty. And he answered and said unto him, O man of God, thus hath the king said, Come down quickly. And Elijah answered and said unto them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
We find no agreement whatever with a great many writers who deplore this act of God's destruction of "innocent men," who it is said, "were only obeying orders." Nonsense! William Whiston explained exactly why these men deserved to die. They knew that Elijah was a true prophet of God, and that they were sent to bring that holy man to Ahab for the sole purpose of Ahab's murdering him, and yet they knew that God was the Supreme King in Israel, and that Elijah was doing the will of the True King. "They certainly knew that they were under the theocracy. Therefore, when they sought to capture Elijah and bring him to Ahab, their doing so was nothing less than the grossest impiety, rebellion against God, and treason in the highest degree. It was sin of the worst nature that they had consented to obey the orders of the apostate reprobate Ahaziah.
"What should they have done? They should have acted after the manner of Saul's guards who, when ordered to slay the priests of Nob, knowing the order to be contrary to the will of God, refused to obey it!
"Officers and soldiers alike must learn that the commands of their leaders and rulers cannot justify them in doing that which is wicked and sinful in the eyes of God."F11
Hitler's soldiers who ran the death camps were "obeying orders," of course, but that never justified what they did.
In addition, these first two captains of fifty with their fifties were grossly disrespectful of Elijah, ordering him to "get a move on," to "come down quickly," "the king has commanded," etc. Even the words, "O man of God," were apparently spoken in contempt and derision, a conclusion supported by Elijah's repeated statement that, "IF I am a man of God, etc."
This writer is aware that many scholars take a radically different view. Montgomery called the commands for fire to come down from heaven and to consume the men, "Preposterous."F12 Honeycutt wrote that, "Few persons would defend the morality of calling down fire from heaven upon groups of fifty as in this narrative."F13
Dentan believed that, "When Elijah twice called down fire from heaven upon soldiers who were innocent executors of the king's will, we must sense an inadequate understanding of God's justice and mercy."F14
We could cite other similar opinions, but there are grave errors in all of them. The executors of Ahab's evil command were not "innocent." Elijah did not destroy the men, God did it! As Keil said, "Ahaziah's sin was punished not by the prophet, but by the Lord himself, who fulfilled the word of his servant."F15 If God had not approved of Elijah's request, he would not have honored it; and when Elijah, along with Moses, stood with the Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, we have the Divine endorsement of what was done here.
One other thing about this. Several have pointed out that Jesus refused the suggestion of the apostles to call down fire out of heaven upon the Samaritans (Luke 9:51-55) as their alleged "proof" that what Elijah did here was wrong. The situations were not in any sense parallel. Samaria would soon receive and obey Christ (John 4), but there was utterly no possibility whatever that the evil offspring of Ahab and Jezebel would ever be anything except an inveterate enemy of God. Besides that, a great wonder from heaven was particularly needed at the time of Elijah's action in order to prevent enemies like Ahaziah from stamping out the true religion altogether. The salvation of all the redeemed of all ages was at stake!
Not only that! With the monarchy of Israel already a lost cause, it was required absolutely of God that his prophets should be respected and honored; and if Ahab had been allowed to kill Elijah, it would have been the precedent for the evil kings of the apostate people to kill all of the prophets continually, and all would have been lost. As Martin said, "This gruesome incident" served notice on all of the wicked rulers of Israel and also of Judah that, "The person of the prophet was inviolate."F16
THE THIRD CAPTAIN OF FIFTY ENTREATED ELIJAH HONORABLY
Verses 13, 14
And again he sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight. Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and consumed the two former captains of fifty with their fifties; but now let my life be precious in thy sight.
Some scholars have supposed that Ahaziah did not hear of the fate of the first two companies that he sent to Elijah, and that if he had heard of it, he would not have sent a third. Such a supposition could hardly be true. The king certainly would have made it his business to find out why the first two detachments failed in their mission. Also, the captain of the third fifty knew all about what had happened and mentioned it in his prayerful request of the prophet. Also his kneeling before the man of God, and his earnest plea for him to spare his life and that of his men cannot be reconciled with any general ignorance concerning what God had done in answer to Elijah's prayer.
This contrast with the attitude of the other two captains accomplished what was intended, and Elijah responded to it favorably.
ELIJAH WENT TO AHAZIAH AND REPEATED HIS PROPHECY
Verses 15, 16
And the angel of Jehovah said unto Elijah, Go down with him: be not afraid of him. And he arose, and went down with him unto the king. And he said unto him, Thus saith Jehovah, Forasmuch as thou hast sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word? therefore thou shalt not come down from the bed whither thou art gone up, but shalt surely die.
Go down with him: be not afraid of him. And he arose, and went down with him unto the king
(2 Kings 1:15). The word him which occurs three times in these sentences is a reference to the captain. The angel of Jehovah assured Elijah in these words that the captain would be Elijah's ally! From this we may believe that even if Ahaziah had ordered him and his fifty men to slay Elijah, this captain would not have done it, but would have refused as the soldiers of Saul had refused to slay the priests of Nob. Thus assured, Elijah went with him and delivered the same prophetic message as before.
AHAZIAH DIED, ACCORDING TO THE PROPHECY OF ELIJAH
Verses 17, 18
So he died according to the word of Jehovah which Elijah had spoken. And Jehoram began to reign in his stead in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat king of Judah; because he had no son. Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah which he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?
And Jehoram began to reign
(2 Kings 1:17). Jehoram is the same as Joram.F17 This is an example of chronological inconsistencies in Kings. A glance at 1 Kings 22:51; 2 Kings 8:16, and 2 Kings 3:14 shows what the problem is. Rawlinson cleared it up by supposing that, Jehoshaphat had associated his son Jehoram with him in the throne upon the occasion of his going to war at Ramoth-gilead.F18
It is strange that both Israel and Judah should have had a king named Jehoram. This happened because Ahab and Jehoshaphat had brought the families together by a marriage, and after that, it was natural for the same name to have later appeared in the royal families of both kingdoms.
Jehoram was another son of Ahab and thus a brother of Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:16). It was his body that Jehu cast upon the plot of ground for which Ahab had murdered Naboth (2 Kings 9:25).
Footnotes for 2 Kings 1
1: The Pulpit Commentary Vol. 5b, p. 1.
2: Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 226.
3: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 340.
4: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 3a, p. 285.
5: Adam Clarke, New Testament, Vol. I, p. 122.
6: The Layman's Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 71.
7: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 340.
8: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 2.
9: International Critical Commentary, Kings, p. 350.
11: William Whiston in Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, p. 277, footnote.
12: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 308.
13: Broadman Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 229.
14: The Layman's Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 72.
15: C. F. Keil, Keil and Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 287.
16: The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 452
17: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 4.