Bible studies in the life of Elijah
Elijah, Ahab and the arrow shot at random
By Fraser Gordon
Last time we looked at how Elijah had fled from Jezebel and went all the way down to Mount Horeb, crawled into a cave and there God told him that He was going to present Himself before him. Amazing manifestations from the Lord took place, but Elijah didn’t come out of the cave until he heard that still small voice. God asked Elijah the same question twice –“What are you doing here?” and we looked last time at the fact that Elijah wasn't completely honest with God. He made the same comment both times “I am the only one you have left.” So God took him at his word and simply said “I want you to go and anoint three people, Elisha, Hazael, and Jehu.” His ministry was coming to an end. It is interesting that in the life of Elijah I can only find that he anointed Elisha. The other two things that God requested him to do was to anoint the Hazael king over Syria and Jehu to be King over Israel but it was actually Elisha who did that. I am not sure why this was as the bible makes no comment about it.
So continuing on with Elijah, the last part of his ministry is one of tutoring Elisha to be prophet in his place. John the Baptist had a similar ministry to prepare Israel for the coming of the Lord. John had to decrease that the Lord might increase. In the six years between God speaking to Elijah on Mount Horeb and when he was caught up to heaven in the chariot of fire, he just comes in and out of scripture. His life however, is so intertwined with that of King Ahab, up to and including Ahab’s death, that it’s very interesting to see what happens in 1 Kings Chapter 21.
Thou shall not covet thy neighbours vege garden!
1 Kings 21:1-2, Now it came about after these things that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard which was in Jezreel beside the palace of Ahab king of Samaria. (2) Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, "Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden because it is close beside my house, and I will give you a better vineyard than it in its place; if you like, I will give you the price of it in money."
We look first at King Ahab. He has everything he could ever need, but he still wants more. He looks out of the window in his palace and sees a beautiful vineyard which is right next door and says “That should be mine… I want it for my vegetable garden!” As king he would have had many vegetable gardens of his own, but no, he sees what belongs to his neighbour, Naboth, and wants that. His thought is that because the land is next to him, and he wants it, he should have it.
1 Kings 21:3 But Naboth said to Ahab, "The LORD forbid me that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers."
We learn that Naboth was actually a man of faith who followed the laws concerning land in Israel. The land was actually God’s, and each tribe had been allotted a certain portion. They were tenants under the God of Israel, and the land meant a great deal to them as it was their tribal inheritance. So far so good, but now Ahab comes on the scene. He tries to bargain with Naboth, offering to buy the land from him or give him another vineyard, but Naboth refuses. His response was “The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you.” He saw the inheritance factor as something that was really important,and not a thing that could be given away or sold. Ahab was willing to give him another vineyard, or its price, but that actually meant nothing to Naboth. To him it was a spiritual inheritance which had been passed down to him by his fathers, and this was what counted. Contrast this with Esau who sold his inheritance for a pot of stew! Naboth wouldn’t even allow the king to take the vineyard because it was something God given, which his fathers had worked for. Jewish people only sold their land if they were in a state of dire poverty and then it was only to be sold within the tribe. After a period of 50 years, on the year of jubilee, it would be returned. In this way God made provision for the people so that they would not permanently lose their inheritance. So Naboth, was not going to give his land up!
The King who never grew up!
1 Kings 21:4 So Ahab came into his house sullen and vexed because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he said, "I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers." And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and ate no food.
Somehow this reminds me of something that children may do. Ahab has just spat the dummy! He has coveted this guy's piece of land, and even though as king he has everything he could ever need, he covets his neighbours land. When he doesn’t get it he becomes very sulky. He lies on his bed, turns his face away, refuses to eat and uses all the tactics that 4 or 5 year old kids do when they can't get their own way, it’s just a form of control really.
1 Kings 21:5-7 But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, "How is it that your spirit is so sullen that you are not eating food?" (6) So he said to her, "Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you a vineyard in its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.'" (7) Jezebel his wife said to him, "Do you now reign over Israel? Arise, eat bread, and let your heart be joyful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."
1 Kings 21:13-16 Then the two worthless men came in and sat before him; and the worthless men testified against him, even against Naboth, before the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death with stones. (14) Then they sent word to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned and is dead." (15) When Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth, the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." (16) When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab arose to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
We have seen that Ahab was actually a very weak king who was always ruled by his wife, Jezebel. She called the shots the whole way through his reign, causing him to do exactly what she wanted. When you follow this story through you see that she uses false accusation against Naboth in order to get his vineyard and brings him like a lamb to the slaughter. He is called before the elders and two false witnesses come forward and actually say that this guy has blasphemed God. It is almost a mirror image of what happened to Christ. He was accused falsely by two witnesses and led like a lamb to the slaughter. Naboth is taken out and stoned to death – even though he is innocent and a righteous man, he is led out to die - as were all his sons as well (see 2 Kings ch 9). Jezebel was getting rid of all ties to the land. So Ahab was willing to allow his wife to do the dirty deed while he sulked in his room! It is into this situation that Elijah comes back onto the scene.
The word of the Lord - The king shall reap what he has sown
1 Kings 21:17-19 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, (18) "Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth where he has gone down to take possession of it. (19) "You shall speak to him, saying, 'Thus says the LORD, "Have you murdered and also taken possession?"' And you shall speak to him, saying, 'Thus says the LORD, "In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours." There is a period of about three to five years here where Elijah is right out of the scene. We don't know what he was doing during that period of time but the word of the Lord came to him saying “Get up and go down to the vineyard of Naboth and present yourself to Ahab.” In the past Elijah had actually run from what he was called to do but here you have him going forward again to speak on behalf of the Lord against this wicked king. Elijah meets Ahab in the vineyard where he has gone to take possession, so you can imagine that he would have been planning what he was going to do with his newly acquired vegetable patch! He would have been thinking, “I will have my cabbages down that row, I will have my tomatoes over here, and my olive trees in this area so that when I look out of my window this place will look like a beautiful garden.” Then onto the scene arrives this hairy man with a belt around his waist who says “Thus says the Lord.” Elijah’s arrival would have been the last thing that Ahab would have wanted, but God had noticed all that had gone on!
1 Kings 21:20 Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" And he answered, "I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the LORD.
Was Elijah his enemy or his friend? Really, for the king, anyone who spoke into his life was his friend. It's amazing how sin distorts everything. The bible tells us that “As iron sharpens iron, so is a man with his friend.” What we need in our lives are people who can see things about us that are not right and are also able to tell us. Elijah was actually God’s gift to Ahab, but Ahab saw him as his enemy, because he hated being reproved. So his words to Elijah were “Have you found me, oh my enemy?” He should have seen that Jezebel was his real enemy. He had been called to rule the nation but is being ruled by his wicked wife in allowing her to make the decisions for him. Elijah has come to call him to account and stop him. However, when sin distorts, it turns everything around and those that are actually speaking truth into your life are seen as an affront to you.
A feast for birds and dogs...
1 Kings 21:21-26 "Behold, I will bring evil upon you, and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel; (22) and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked Me to anger, and because you have made Israel sin. (23) "Of Jezebel also has the LORD spoken, saying, 'The dogs will eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.' (24) "The one belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city, the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the field, the birds of heaven will eat." (25) Surely there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD, because Jezebel his wife incited him. (26) He acted very abominably in following idols, according to all that the Amorites had done, whom the LORD cast out before the sons of Israel.
So here you have Elijah pronouncing judgement upon the house of Ahab and also upon Jezebel. And yet, of all the strange things to happen with this wicked king, none are stranger than what happens next:
1 Kings 21:27-29 It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently. (28) Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, (29) "Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son's days."
Ahab repents! I am not sure that Elijah would have been expecting him to repent, but what I really love about God is that no matter how much a person has failed, even if judgement has been pronounced, the door to forgiveness is not fully closed. There is always enough room for man to right his ways and put his foot in the door and repent. Elijah had just pronounced judgement on Ahab, but now there is actually a response from him. Think about Jonah with Nineveh, he was sent to tell them that destruction was coming their way and the whole city took heed to his word and repented. They turned from their wickedness - which really displeased Jonah because he didn't like the fact that God would actually forgive the heathen nations. Repentance means to turn right away from sin towards God. It is a 180 degree turn and actually a full turning from our own ways. You see this with Zaccheus in the New Testament, (the little short man that climbed the tree to see Jesus better). He was a tax collector and robbed his own people, and was a go between the Romans and the Jews who hated him for this. Jesus simply said to him “Zaccheus come down; I am going to eat at your house today.” Zaccheus repented and said “Look, I have sinned and done wrong and I am going to restore everything that I have taken from others fourfold”. So you see that repentance is a full turning of a man's ways. Not only is he sorry for what he has done, but he does what he can to right the wrong he has done. I love the story of Manasseh too, for it also shows that it doesn't matter what a man has done and no matter how wicked a person has been, there is always room for forgiveness if they repent. In 2nd Kings and Chronicles you have the story of Manasseh and he has to be one of the worst dudes in the Bible. The word says that he just filled Jerusalem with blood. He removed everything from the temple and put in idols and he went so far in his wickedness as to offer his children as sacrifices to false gods. He murdered his own children! And the word says that there was no one like him to do evil. We also read that Gods’ judgement came upon Israel, and they were carried off into captivity - yet in that place Manasseh humbled himself before God and repented of his evil ways and remembered the truths that his fathers had passed down to him and turned back to God. Because of this God brought him back to the throne of Israel, and he set about to put right all the wrong that he had done. That is what repentance is, it is a full turning, not just being sorry for what you have done but it is actually seeking to do that which is right. So Manasseh got rid of all the idols and he turned the heart of the nation back towards God. And whether you are the thief on the cross who repented at the eleventh hour, there is always hope. All that the thief needed to do was to believe that Jesus was the Christ.
I remember talking to a man at work and he just couldn't accept the fact that a man on death row guilty of the most horrendous crimes could repent of his sin and be received into glory. He just couldn't accept that fact. But the truth is that the door is always open if a man repents of his crimes.
Now back to Ahab and his repentance…is he sorry for his deeds, or just that he has been caught out? Or is he afraid of the judgment that Elijah has just pronounced upon him? Many people are like this when they are caught out, but they are not really sorry that they have sinned. They are not really sorry that they have done wrong. Ahab’s life is like this, there is nothing to show between here and the end of his life that he actually seeks to put right the wrongs that he has done. He didn’t seek to restore the nation back to God, and there is no evidence of him putting right anything that he had done wrong. He never called his wife to account or anything like that. When I look at Ahab, I think that maybe he was just sorry that he had been caught, and didn’t want to die. His repentance was incomplete! We have been having trouble at work with a young workmate who doesn’t do his job properly. He continually takes short cuts and last week he did something really wrong and got found out. You can only do wrong for so long before you get caught, and he got caught out doing the absolute basic of what he is paid to do. It was just idleness and laziness on his part but like Ahab, he was sullen and sulky that he had been found out. He was not sorry for what he had done and will probably do it again because he did not face up to his laziness and repent.
Ahab back to his old tricks
1 Kings 22:1-4 Three years passed without war between Aram and Israel. (2) In the third year Jehoshaphat the king of Judah came down to the king of Israel. (3) Now the king of Israel said to his servants, "Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, and we are still doing nothing to take it out of the hand of the king of Aram?" (4) And he said to Jehoshaphat, "Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?" And Jehoshaphat said to the king of Israel, "I am as you are,my people as your people, my horses as your horses."
Now Jehoshaphat was a little bit concerned for he has aligned himself with Ahab. Remember that Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah and Ahab is the king of Israel. So Jehoshaphat said “Please enquire of the Lord today” - for he wanted to know whether this battle was from the Lord or not. So the king of Israel gathered 400 prophets, and he said to the 400 “Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to fight or shall I refrain?” And they said “Go up for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king.” Then Jehoshaphat - still not convinced, said “Is there still not a prophet of the Lord here that we may enquire of him?” So here you have 400 prophets saying “Yes, you go up,” but he is unsure and wants to know whether these men are the real deal or not.
The king of Israel then said to Jehoshaphat “There is still one man.” His name is Micaiah the son of Imlah. Earlier, Elijah had believed he was the only prophet remaining, but here we are introduced to another one that God is using. There are actually three that spoke into the life of Ahab. An unnamed one, Elijah, and this man Micaiah. Though the message of Micaiah was not pleasing to Ahab, for Ahab added ‘but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.’ Jehoshaphat realised however that if this man is a prophet of the Lord it is wrong to say that there is something wrong with him. But both Elijah and Micaiah were considered Ahab’s enemies, for these men spoke into his life and he couldn't handle that. He is opposed to anyone who actually pointed out that what he is doing is wrong. Instead of them being his friend, he considered them his enemies. So again the problem really is with Ahab.
1 Kings 22:9-11 Then the king of Israel called an officer and said, "Bring quickly Micaiah son of Imlah." (10) Now the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting each on his throne, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets were prophesying before them. (11) Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made horns of iron for himself and said, "Thus says the LORD, 'With these you will gore the Arameans until they are consumed.'"
So here we have this man named Zedekiah who comes in who is quite an aggressive leader. This is a type of the last days when there will be a false prophet who goes for the visual effects. This man puts horns on his head and starts rooting the ground and says “This is what is going to happen,” but he is actually a dominant false prophet and persecutes. So three years have passed and this man is brought in and Ahab doesn't like him. Then you get to verses 19-23 where there is a really small, obscure passage in the bible which gives insight into the heavenly realms. It is interesting to look it up to see what other people have to say about it. Lots of people pass it by because they are just not sure what to do with it!
Micaiah’s vision and word from the Lord
1 Kings 22:19-24 Micaiah said, "Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. (20) "The LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said this while another said that. (21) "Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, 'I will entice him.' (22) "The LORD said to him, 'How?' And he said, 'I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then He said, 'You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.' (23) "Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you." (24) Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near and struck Micaiah on the cheek and said, "How did the Spirit of the LORD pass from me to speak to you?"
There are actually two incidents in scripture that I can think of where we are given a little insight into the heavenly realm. One is in the book of Job when Satan actually comes before the Lord and the Lord says to him “Have you considered this servant of mine?” and he replies “Yes.” Satan then accuses Job before God and God allows Satan to do certain things to Job, but he can only go so far because Satan is on a rope. That is one little instance. The other time is here where you have the whole host of heaven standing by on the right hand and on the left of the Lord. The right hand always means favour with God. The fact that it says right and left implies to me that you have both the fallen and good angels there, making up the whole host of heaven. A lot of people don’t know what to make of this passage as it almost implies that God originates evil or is behind evil happenings. But it is actually not that way. He allows lying false prophets and things like that to happen, for His own purposes. So He does allow, but He is not the originator of evil. It is a hard passage because there are not many other passages that go with it to interpret it by, but God does actually allow this lying spirit to speak through the false prophets that they might deceive Ahab. He knew that Ahab would believe a lie rather than the truth.
So you get all the way down to verse 29 and this brings to an end the life of Ahab. He has been warned three times and Micaiah the prophet said “Look, I saw Israel without a shepherd and everyone scattered,” so Ahab was warned that he was going to die but he is in league with Jehoshaphat, so he presses on.
1 Kings 22:29-30 So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah went up against Ramoth-gilead. (30) The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, "I will disguise myself and go into the battle, but you put on your robes." So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into the battle.
I don't know what on earth Jehoshaphat was thinking! He has heard this same prophecy by the prophet who said “I have seen the shepherd struck and all Israel scattered.” There are only two kings and Ahab comes up with this idea “Look, I am going to protect myself. I will disguise myself, but you go in your robes.” So all he has done is put a big bull’s eye on the back of Jehoshaphat and Jehoshaphat has actually agreed to it. Crazy!! But in this passage you have someone who is trying to do all that he can to protect himself in the natural from being killed.
1 Kings 22:31-34 Now the king of Aram had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, saying, "Do not fight with small or great, but with the king of Israel alone." (32) So when the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, "Surely it is the king of Israel," and they turned aside to fight against him, and Jehoshaphat cried out. (33) When the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him. (34) Now a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel in a joint of the armor. So he said to the driver of his chariot, "Turn around and take me out of the fight; for I am severely wounded."
So even though Ahab had made every effort to protect himself and has actually exposed Jehoshsaphat to harm, God actually protected Jehoshaphat! And in contrast to this, we read that a certain man drew his bow at random and struck the king of Israel! So of all the ways for Ahab to die, it is by something that looks like a freak accident. It says that a certain man drew his bow at random. It doesn't say anything about him but all the man has done is to shoot an arrow not knowing where he was firing it. He has just let one go but the bible implies that he didn't know what he was doing. He may have been someone who wasn't really in the battle and thought “I had better get one away, so that when I go home I can tell my wife and children, that was a great battle, I got a few shots away.” So he fires this arrow and it actually becomes the first seeking missile in scripture, because it reached an intended target and it actually hunts Ahab out! It's a shot that is fired at random but it hits the king right in his vulnerable part, between the joints in his armour. This was not the best way for a king to die. It wasn’t even a purposeful shot! If you were going to die the least you could say was that the man got a good shot at me. But with this guy it is just an arrow that is fired out into the air. He didn't even know where he was firing it, yet it hit its target.
1 Kings 22:35-38 The battle raged that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot in front of the Arameans, and died at evening, and the blood from the wound ran into the bottom of the chariot. (36) Then a cry passed throughout the army close to sunset, saying, "Every man to his city and every man to his country." (37) So the king died and was brought to Samaria, and they buried the king in Samaria. (38) They washed the chariot by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood (now the harlots bathed themselves there), according to the word of the LORD which He spoke.
So this ends the life of Ahab. So Elijah was given one task here and that was to come forth and say “Look, why have you murdered and taken possession?” It is interesting that even though Jezebel had done all the work, God still counted Ahab responsible for Naboth’s murder and for the possession of his vineyard. So when you look at Ahab's life, he is someone who ruled the nation of Israel, but whose heart was never fully turned towards God. He was a weak king. He was dominated by Jezebel. I was amazed that he actually did repent partly, but I don't know if it was a full repentance toward God. He went part of the way, but not the whole way. Jezebel has still got to be dealt with and Jehu is responsible for that - he hunts Jezebel down.