Today’s Reading: 2 Kings 1-3
Today’s Reflection: 2 Kings 1:9-10
9) Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his fifty. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.'” 10) But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.
King Ahab’s son Ahaziah worshiped idols and was evil in God’s sight when he became king, just as his father had been (1 Kings 22:51-53). So when he fell ill Ahaziah sent messengers to inquire of the idol Baal-zebub (from whom we get the demonic name Beelzebub) and find out what his fate would be. God sent his prophet Elijah to intercept the messengers and inform Ahaziah that he would die. As Elijah delivered this message he also asked a provocative question: “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub?” When this word, along with this challenging question, were delivered to Ahaziah, he sent an armed guard to bring Elijah back to his palace. As today’s reflection text shows, this simple task turned terrifying for Ahaziah’s soldiers.
This is one of those Bible stories that has a bit of a ‘huh?’ factor. Why would Elijah suggest the king’s soldiers be consumed with fire, and even more interestingly, why did God agree?
Well let’s begin with what the central issue here really is, and it is a question of who is worthy of worship. God had overcome the idol-worshiping people of Canaan to give it to the children of Israel as their Promised Land. It was God who had established Israel as a people and as a kingdom. But Israel had now become so corrupt that it’s kings had forgotten their God and now led the people to worship the idols of the people God had overthrown and cast out.
Ahaziah knew the history of his people, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He knew the tragic end his father’s idol-worshiping ways had led him to. Yet, he continued to put his trust in idols rather than the true God. Elijah’s provocative question was a reminder to Ahaziah that he knew better, and that God knew he knew.
Then Ahaziah sends soldiers to collect God’s prophet. Nothing wrong with this, right? Except he’d only sent messengers to Baal-zebub. A king sends messengers when he wants to communicate or open a dialogue; he sends soldiers when he’s ready for a fight. So Ahaziah was showing God he was ready to fight with him. God was clearly ready to fight back.
Lastly, Ahaziah’s men address Elijah as a ‘Man of God’. It is a statement, not a question. They did not debate his status or the authority of the God he served. And since these soldiers took their charge from Ahaziah, it is clear Ahaziah knew Elijah was a prophet of the true God. So why was Ahaziah defying God, both with his idol-worship and with his treatment of God’s prophet? If you examine the exchange between Elijah and the soldiers it becomes clear that it is Ahaziah’s own words that bring the fire from heaven. Ahaziah’s own recognition of God and God’s prophet condemned him.
What happened to the soldiers symbolizes what happens when we know the truth, but have not obeyed it. Our own words bring fire from heaven—God describes Himself as a ‘consuming fire’ (Deuteronomy 4:24). That fire can convict us and bring us to repentance, forgiveness and restoration. But if we refuse to be convicted, that fire will judge, condemn and result in our destruction.
Romans 2:8-9a – 8) For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9a) There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil.