Part 1 of "Kings: An Epic Bible Story You've Never Heard"
Thomas Matthews Rooke – 'Elijah Prophesises to Ahab and Jezebel Their End'
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Introduction: ABOUT THIS SERIES
This is a story from the Tanakh, or what Christians call the "Old Testament". I'm actually growing rather fond of the former of these two names because 'Old' Testament seriously downplays its relevance. For reasons that will be made clear, I would frankly prefer to call it the "Awesome Testament" or maybe just the "Wow, That's Both Terrifying and Amazing" book. Anyway, I've chosen to call this story "An Epic Bible Story You've Never Heard" because it comes from two books of the Tenakh that get very little attention in church, but it definitely deserves to be heard. This series is a condensed version of about 35 chapters. I've broken it into five parts: one part per week for five weeks.
You should understand that my priority is telling a story from the Bible. To do that effectively, I've had to make choices about what to cut and what to paraphrase. I did a lot of research to put this story together and I did my best. I know I could have done a lot more research, but I am still learning and hoping my efforts will encourage others to learn what they can. As you read this series week by week, I would encourage you to cross reference it with your own Bible and if you have any questions or if you would like to shed a light on a part of the story I neglect or maybe even misrepresented, I have left the comments open.
Part 1: Prophesy of bones
I think it's good to start a story in a familiar place. Everybody knows David, the greatest king of Israel. During David's rule (after Saul was out of the picture) he had an affair with Bathsheba and through that relationship, a son named Solomon. Solomon later became the wisest king and built a great temple, great enough that several chapters of the Bible are devoted just to how it was built and what the furnishings looked like. The Lord appeared to Solomon, telling him
“As for you, if you walk before me faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’
1 Kings 9:4-5
But then there's this sort of unfortunate caveat:
“But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’”
1 Kings 9:6-9
Does that not sound weirdly specific? It sorta makes you wonder if God knows something Solomon doesn't. Later on, there is another weirdly specific detail that get plugged into its own little paragraph for no apparent reason. It's about a guy named Rezon from Aram:
And God raised up against Solomon another adversary, Rezon son of Eliada, who had fled from his master, Hadadezer king of Zobah. When David destroyed Zobah’s army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Damascus, where they settled and took control. Rezon was Israel’s adversary as long as Solomon lived, adding to the trouble caused by Hadad. So Rezon ruled in Aram and was hostile toward Israel.
1 Kings 11: 23-25
These two bits of information are all of the background we need for now. As it turned out, Solomon did not heed God's warning and Israel did engage in idolatry, but the destruction God promised didn't come in Solomon's own lifetime. Something else happens instead: Enter Jeroboam, a rebellious official of Solomon's court. In light of the promise God gave Solomon, Jeroboam has a fascinating encounter with a prophet named Ahijah.
Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe. I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molek the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in obedience to me, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my decrees and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.
1 Kings 11: 30-33
God actually gave Jeroboam a chance to change history, a chance to be a hero. Ahijah went on to tell Jeroboam that obedience would be rewarded with a presence of God comparable to what David himself experienced. All Jeroboam had to do was receive the position of leadership that would fall into his lap. Solomon's heir, Rehoboam, was already on a course that would induce a rebellion and elevate Jeroboam to the position of a new king. God took care of all the details. In fact, when Rehoboam finally realized what was happening and tried to fix it, God flat out told him (through a prophet)
'Do not go up to fight against your brothers, the Israelites. Go home, every one of you, for this is my doing.’
1 Kings 12: 24
Israel is also known as the Northern kingdom while Judah was the Southern kingdom. The capital of Israel at that time was Samaria while the capital of Judah and the location of the temple was Jerusalem.
Clearly, God's favor was on Jeroboam. But Jeroboam responded in a way that should seem unfathomable, if it wasn't so entirely cut from the cloth of human nature. Jeroboam kicked off his reign with a screw-up so big it might top the list of Biblical screw-ups: Out of fear that people worshiping God would be more likely to travel to Jerusalem to worship in the temple and, in so doing, defect to Judah, Jeroboam designed a solution according to his own bright reasoning. "The people won't travel to Jerusalem to worship," Jeroboam told himself, "if they can worship idols here in Israel."
Yes. To affirm his own power and to establish the Northern kingdom as a place of worship in itself, Jeroboam introduced a new level of idolatry. He made holidays for worshiping the idols, appointed priests and built shrines. He even credited the idols with bringing Israel out of Egypt. Jeroboam's actions as king were so infamous, he set the precedent for every evil king after him. The Bible says,
This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.
2 Kings 13:34
During this time, while Jeroboam's evil was still only budding, he encountered what the Bible calls a "man of God" from Judah. If I was making this a movie, I would make sure this scene stands out. It's dark and foreboding. Jeroboam is alone. The rain is heavy and the wind is howling. He hardly notices when a figure appears in the darkness and wonders how long it has been there. The figure's eerie and weather voice pierces through the torrential downpour and a crack of thunder. The cinematic effect makes the audience mindful of these words for the rest of the film (hint, hint):
“Altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.’ ”
1 Kings 13:2
Despite the warning from the mysterious figure, Jeroboam does not change his ways and things go South for Israel after that. Without going into detail, the kings of Israel followed in Jeroboam's footsteps by worshipping idols and foreign gods while the kings of Judah were better by comparison, generally worshipping the God of their fathers. Because of this, God was very, very unhappy with Israel and he took a few measures to ensure they were punished. Yet in almost every case, God did not respond immediately, but gave each king a warning and a chance to repent. The most famous of these was a king named Ahab.
When Ahab becomes king, Israel is virtually unrecognizable. The Bible says Ahab considered it "trivial" to commit the sins of Jeroboam. At this time, the menace from Solomon's day – the Arameans – begin to create problems for Ahab. Ben-Hadad, the king of Aram at that time, sends messengers to Israel demanding tribute. At first Ahab is willing to appease Ben-Hadad but later thinks better of it. The two kings exchange their threats but then Ahab is approached by a prophet who claims that the Lord has said he will deliver Ben-Hadad and his vast army into Ahab's hand. It's a curious prophesy considering Ahab's poor standing with God at that time. Ahab asks about this, but the answer comes back cut and dry: God has cinched this for Ahab. Like Jeroboam, all Ahab needs to do is reach out and take it. The kings go to war. The war lasts for several seasons, but Ahab's armies always seem to have the upper hand in every battle. The defeat is so conspicuous, Ben-Hadad begins to wonder if their aren't double-crossers within his ranks. Out of fear of being killed, Ben-Hadad proactively approaches Ahab and frankly asks him to spare his life.
After all God has done to arrange this victory for Ahab, a victory in a rivalry that spans generations, you'd think Ahab would gladly finish the job. Nope. Ahab not only spares Ben-Hadad, but the two kings make a treaty! At this point, the prophets are preeetty unfavorable of Ahab's diplomatic policies. One of these prophets even takes some rather drastic measures to deliver a crystal clear message to Ahab: because he set a man free who was doomed to die, Ahab would be doomed to die instead.
But Ahab doesn't die yet.
Later on, there's an incident with a Jezreelite named Naboth. Naboth owns a famously excellent vineyard. Ahab expresses he would like to purchase the vineyard, but after an attempt at negotiating, he learns Naboth isn't willing to sell the vineyard for any price.
Now Ahab was married to a notorious woman named Jezebel. When Ahab tells her about the vineyard, she tells him that a king can do and should do whatever he wants. Inspired by his wife's pep talk, Ahab sets Naboth up for a crime he didn't commit and, when Naboth is killed for it, Ahab stakes his claim on the estate. In God's eyes, this is a big deal and God calls his Number One Prophet, Elijah, to confront Ahab on the matter. Elijah and Ahab already have what you might call an "antagonistic history," and their conversation goes as follows:
Ahab said to Elijah, “So you have found me, my enemy!”
“I have found you,” he answered, “because you have sold yourself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. He says, ‘I am going to bring disaster on you. I will wipe out your descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in Israel—slave or free. I will make your house like that of Jeroboam son of Nebat [...] because you have aroused my anger and have caused Israel to sin.’
"And also concerning Jezebel the Lord says: ‘Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’
“Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.”
(There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)
When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”
1 Kings 21: 20-28
And so it was that the God of second chances postponed his judgement yet again.
END OF PART ONE