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    Ravens and the Prophet

by Robert Weston  

The Challenging Counterfeit
Chapter twenty four

  Ahaziah . . . sent messengers, saying to them, "Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury." But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, "Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!’" So Elijah went. (2 Kings 1:2-4)  

Ahab was dead. His son, Ahaziah, had been crowned in his place, and the kingdom of Moab seized its chance to revolt against Israel. Ahaziah did nothing to put the rebellion down, for, like Belshazzar, he was intent only on his personal pleasures. Ahaziah had learnt nothing from God’s dealings with his father, but displayed all the worst excesses of both his parents.

One day, Ahaziah was leaning over the balustrade of his upper room when it collapsed. So severe were the injuries he sustained when he fell, that he turned to the ancient shrines of Canaan for help and guidance. To do so was a public denial of the Lord God of Israel. After all, Baal-Zebub was no more than the Philistine god of flies and the dung heap – and it was only a few years since the Baals had been shown on Mount Carmel to be spectacularly impotent.

Elijah had been God’s messenger to Ahab on three previous occasions. Now, as he neared the end of his life, the Lord entrusted him with a message to Ahab’s offspring. This episode is less well-known than the confrontation on Mount Carmel, but in its way it was just as perilous a mission as his original visit to the royal court had been. The Lord gave gave Elijah the message that Ahaziah would die on his sick bed because he had turned from the Lord.

Elijah met the king’s messengers, and they in turn passed on the Lord’s warning to the king. Instead of embracing the opportunity to have Elijah as his friend and adviser, Ahaziah responded by sending fifty of his crack troops to arrest the prophet. So far as he was concerned, Elijah was nothing less than a traitor.

Ahaziah’s commandos came across Israel’s senior watchman sitting on a hill. But they were unable to arrest him! At this supreme moment of danger, Elijah again turned his face to heaven and cried out to his Lord. – and just as the mob which sought to do away with the Lord Jesus were unable to succeed, so these soldiers found themselves pitted against the unseen power of Heaven and inexplicably thwarted,(1)

Ahaziah had chosen to follow the Baals, and the Lord preserved His servant’s life, and in such a way as to demonstrate His holiness. The fire, which had previously fallen from heaven to destroy the sacrificial bull on Mount Carmel, blazed down once again to incinerate all fifty of the soldiers.

The Fire Falls a Second Time
‘If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!’ Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men.
(2 Kings 1:10)

Ahaziah had chosen to follow the Baals, and the Lord preserved His servant’s life, and in such a way as again demonstrated His holiness. The fire, which had previously fallen from heaven to destroy the sacrificial bull on Mount Carmel, blazed down again to incinerate all fifty of the soldiers.

We can see so much of Jezebel, in the way Ahaziah handled this crisis. Rather than repenting in the face of so great a miracle, he rejected the word he had been sent and attacked the person who gave it. (There are many who do the same today). Convinced that might was right, the king sent out a second force of fifty men – who met an equally sudden, fiery end.


We may safely presume that the third contingent of soldiers would have fared no better, had not the captain prudently thrown himself on Elijah’s mercy. Here is a word that both touches and sums up God’s heart. Studying the theme of mercy in a concordance is rather like looking up ‘Smith’ or ‘Brown’ in an English telephone directory!

As Peter would one day receive unexpected guidance to venture into the house of a Gentile centurion, so now the Spirit of God bade Elijah not to be afraid of this captain, but to follow him.(2) The Lord was with His prophet as he made one last visit to the royal palace. Elijah delivered a final, uncompromising message to the king. Because Ahaziah had acted as though there was no God in Israel, and had turned instead to foreign gods, he would surely die. And so it turned out to be. Barely two years into his undistinguished reign, Ahaziah died, unmourned by all.

The Pagan Challenge

What, then, are we to make of these two examples of fire from heaven destroying those who opposed the work of God?

We know, from the standpoint of life beyond the Cross, that we are called to bless our enemies, rather than to call down fire on them – but we are also called to resist evil.(3)

The Prayer Book uses strong language in its prayers against the work of evil men. For example: ‘Abate their pride; Assuage their malice and confound their devices.’

We may not often hear such language today, yet there are times when the proper prayer should undoubtedly be less, ‘O Lord bless so and so,’ so much as ‘O Lord, confound Ahithophel and turn his counsel into foolishness.’(4)

These are the moments when we are called to exercise the authority of the Lord into situations that would otherwise remain locked in the grip of enemy forces. This is a weighty work, and one that needs to be done carefully and corporately.

We may certainly feel sorry for the unfortunate soldiers (who were, after all, doing no more than following their orders) but it is also important to remember the threat that Ahaziah posed. Nothing less than the cause of God was at stake in the life of the nation. Elijah was not only in imminent danger of being put to death, he was also caught up in intensive spiritual warfare against a monarch who looked set to continue the worst excesses of the previous regime.

We can never afford to forget that our battle is with the unseen powers of darkness, and not with flesh and blood. Elijah’s mission was to call the people back to the living God, and to show them that the vile Baals had nothing in common with Him. How relevant this is to our own generation! After all, if God were no different, or no greater than Baal, and all religions were equally as capable of leading us to God, then the Lord Jesus need never have died on the Cross.

The uncertainties of our own age, coupled with man’s propensity to seek for hidden knowledge, explain in part why over sixty percent of all women in Great Britain regularly read their horoscopes. The popularity of occult activities such as palmistry, spiritualism, tarot cards, ouija boards, paganism, yoga and TM is self evident. Such things correspond in many ways to the ancient shrines of Canaan. But why do people turn to these deceptive powers of darkness, when all we need to know about the future is to be found in the Bible?(5)

We have seen how God specifically commissioned Elijah to challenge Ahab about the murder of Naboth.(6) There comes a time when it is unacceptable to remain silent. Intimacy with God does not mean shrinking from confrontation – but we do need God’s wisdom in knowing how to help people who have become involved in pursuits that will lead their soul astray.

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1 Luke 4:28-30 2
2 Kings 1:16; cf Acts 10:1-11:18
3 Luke 9:54-56; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9
4 2 Samuel 15:31, 17:14
5 Read Isaiah 8:19-22
6 1 Kings 21:17f