The Bible Story
Volume 5, Chapters 110-119
King Solomon's Sins
TO PAY A DEBT to the king of Tyre, Solomon required that the Israelites pay more taxes. With this extra revenue he also built a part of the wall around Jerusalem and repaired and fortified several cities to the northwest and north.
Most of the hard labor on the cities was done by Canaanites living in those vicinities. These Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites were drafted for work, and were regarded almost as slaves. (I Kings 9:15-23; II Chronicles 8:1-10.)
Solomon's Fabulous Voyages
About the same time Solomon increased his fighting force by adding to the numbers of his horsemen and chariots. He even established a navy, but it was more for commercial purposes than for war. The home port was in the Gulf of Aqaba, the east finger of the Red Sea reaching up toward the rock-walled city of Petra. With these ships the king hoped to establish trade relations with distant countries that could supply unusual produce and rare items.
The Israelites had recently become a maritime people. But Solomon had to ask aid of the Tyrians, many of whom were sailors because their people had lived for generations on the eastern shore of the Great Sea. Tyrians trained a number of Israelites in the crafts of shipbuilding and the skills of sailing. Probably the ships were manned by crews that were more Tyrian than Israelite. (I Kings 9:26-28; II Chronicles 8:17-18.)
The ambitious voyages, some three years long, turned out to be profitable for Solomon. In one trip alone his ships would bring back cargoes that were worth fabulous sums. They sailed down the Red Sea, probably putting in at ports on the northeast coast of Africa. From there they went eastward into the Arabian Sea and on to the distant ports of India, Ceylon, Malaya and Japan.
When the ships returned, they brought spices, apes, peacocks, gold, silver, ivory, rare kinds of wood and other kinds of valuable and unique objects that stirred up deep interest and wonder in the many Israelites who had the opportunity to view them or own some of them. (I Kings 10:11-12, 14-15, 22-23; II Chronicles 9:10-11, 13-14, 21-22.)
Queen of Sheba Visits Solomon
Meanwhile reports of Solomon's wisdom and wealth stirred the feminine curiosity of the Queen of Sheba to such an extent that she decided to make a trip to Jerusalem to find out in person how much the reports were exaggerated. The land of Sheba lay in Southern Arabia and in Ethiopia and Upper Egypt and Nubia. At that time the Queen of Sheba (Sheba was a son of Cush, the son of Ham) ruled Ethiopia and Egypt. Historians have so falsified Egyptian history that they have completely lost the identity of this famous queen who is dated in history books over 500 years too early.
The Queen of Sheba, as she is referred to in the Bible, set out from her capital city Thebes with many servants and a large train of camels loaded with spices, gold and jewels. This wealth she presented to Solomon as a gift of friendship when she arrived in Jerusalem.
No Question Too Hard
To test the power of Solomon's mind, the queen asked him the answers to many difficult riddles. In ancient times this kind of mental gymnastic was a sort of equivalent of the higher type of intelligence test of today, except that it was regarded more of a game or a matching of wits. Solomon gave such prompt and outstanding answers that his guest was startled. She then asked him about many practical things, including her personal problems. The helpful and informative replies she received kindled in her a growing respect for the Israelite king.
In the days that followed during her long visit, the queen was amazed at the beauty of the temple, the magnificence of Solomon's palace, the unusual design of his throne, the extraordinary choice of food at his table, the faithful obedience of his servants, the efficiency of his staff members and officers, his superb clothing and the rich attire of those about him and the way in which he made sacrifices to his God with such roaring fires.
"When I heard glowing reports about your wisdom and prosperity, I didn't believe them," the queen admitted to Solomon. "Since coming here I've found that the reports should have been twice as exciting and colorful to completely inform me. Israel must be very happy to have a king like you. Your God must indeed love your people to allow them to have such a wise ruler." (I Kings 10:1-10; II Chronicles 9:1-9.)
When the queen prepared to leave, Solomon didn't allow her camels to be taken back unloaded. She had given him gold of highest quality and of enormous value, besides costly stones and an immense quantity of spices. Not to be outdone, Solomon made a generous remark that could have cost him half his kingdom if his guest had been a very greedy person.
"If there is anything I have that you desire," the king told her, "all you have to do is ask and it shall become yours."
After she had made her choices, Solomon had them carefully packed for her camels to carry. In addition to what the queen asked for, he gave her many gifts he was certain she would like to have but for which she modestly refrained from asking. (I Kings 10:13; II Chronicles 9:12.)
For a long time after the Queen of Sheba had returned up the Nile River to her native country, Solomon continued to prosper. In the course of a year it wasn't unusual for him to receive incredible quantities of gold.
He was given regular tribute by bordering nations. He had established trade agreements with others. His merchant caravans were constantly on the move to and from the north, east and south. From Lower Egypt he brought up an increasing number of chariots and horses. Horses were in demand in Israel. (I Kings 10:24-26; II Chronicles 9:23-24.) God had forbidden their use in war. (Deuteronomy 17:14-16.) Solomon possibly reasoned that this ban applied only to the past. At any rate, he unwisely established a standing cavalry and a chariot brigade. After he obtained all the horses he wanted, those that continued coming from Egypt and elsewhere were sold at a profit to people who wanted them for domestic or sporting purposes. Many mules from Egypt also added to revenue for the king. (I Kings 10:28-29; II Chronicles 9:25, 28.)
Lust of the Flesh
The Bible states, in a figurative manner, that silver was so common in Jerusalem that it attracted little more attention than did the stones on the ground. Solomon had so much silver and considered it so low in value that he wouldn't allow any drinking vessels in his palace that were made of silver. All cups, chalices, goblets and tumblers had to be made of gold. Even some of the equipment for his army was made of gold instead of brass. Some of the soldiers' shields used at state functions were of great value because of the gold content.
With all the income Israel's king received because of his keen business ability, plus the tributes and gifts he received, he became the wealthiest of kings at that time. But this wouldn't have come about without the help of God in many direct and indirect ways. (I Kings 10:16-17, 27; II Chronicles 9:15-16, 27.)
While his wealth was increasing, Solomon remained faithful to God in the regularly required sacrifices and in most other matters of obedience. At the same time he had a growing weakness that increased with his wealth and his fame. It was the desire for the love of many women. His ability and means to obtain them was a great temptation to him. In spite of his wisdom, his choice of wives started with that of an Egyptian princess related, by marriage, to the Queen of Sheba. Possibly this had some bearing on the trade pact he developed with Egypt in his early years as king of Israel. From then on he seemed to have a special liking for foreign women, including those from the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians and Hittites. (I Kings 11:1-2.)
Israel's powerful fighting force kept the pagan nations subdued. Solomon not only succeeded in keeping them in their respective territories, but he included some or parts of some of them in his expanding kingdom. They paid regular, heavy tributes. These were submitted in the form of gold, silver, precious stones, brasswork, cloth and livestock. (II Chronicles 9:26, 28.) It was possible that occasionally a young and pretty daughter of a king or chief was also included, eventually becoming another of Solomon's growing number of wives, of which there were seven hundred! Besides these, the king had three hundred concubines, or secondary wives. (I Kings 11:3.)
When Israel had come to Canaan, God had forbidden His chosen people to intermarry with those of Canaan or nearby nations. The Creator knew that intermarriage with foreigners would result in the Israelites being drawn into the worship of idols and false gods. (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-6; I Kings 11:2.)
That is exactly what happened to Solomon, regardless of his brilliant mind and deep wisdom.
A Thousand Versions of Idolatry
During his years of attempting to please or at least stay on the friendly side of a thousand wives, Solomon was asked by many of them to consider turning to their several gods. At first the king gave in part way to the wishes of his favorites by promising them that he would consider the building of shrines and altars for the worship of their pagan deities.
Solomon gradually lost sight of God and became totally concerned in physical things.
As time passed Solomon made casual promises to so many of his wives that he found it was easier to carry out his promises than it was to listen to repeated, nagging requests -- though probably he almost willingly carried out some of the favors because of his special affection for some of his women.
Solomon therefore ordered small temples to be erected for the worship of the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (also known as Astarte or Easter), for Chemosh the god of the Moabites and for Molech and Milcom, idols of the Ammonites. This was done on the mount just south of the Mount of Olives, in full sight of the temple dedicated to God. (I Kings 11:4-8.)
Meanwhile, Solomon was paying a price for his excesses. Instead of becoming wiser and more mentally alert as he reached middle age, his mind lost much of its God-given brilliance. At that same time he aged rapidly in a physical way, insomuch that he looked older than he was. His unwise manner of living was leading him toward an early grave.
Then came a stinging message from the Creator, whose anger had been steadily growing because of Solomon's turning to idolatry. Whether it came to him in a dream or through some prophet who was close to God, what Solomon learned was a staggering shock to him.
"You have ignored my repeated warning about turning to other gods," God told the king. "Because you have done this thing and have broken so many of my laws, I have decided to take the kingdom of Israel from you!
"I am going to give it to one of your servants. But for the sake of David your father, I will not completely do it while you are alive. You are going to live long enough to witness the start of great trouble in this nation. After you are dead and your son has inherited the throne, it will quickly be wrested from him. Again, out of respect for David and for the sake of Jerusalem, I shall allow your son to retain leadership over the tribe of Judah." (I Kings 11:9-13.)
Years previously, during David's rule, God had spared the life of a young Edomite prince named Hadad when Joab had tried to kill all the males of Edom. Hadad and some of the people had escaped to Egypt. Hadad later returned to his country to enlist a small but powerful army with which to plague Israel. This occurred at the time God told Solomon Israel would be troubled. Another man, by the name of Rezon, a captain in a Syrian army David had defeated, escaped to Damascus and established another small army with which to give Solomon's soldiers more grief. These two men were used by God to plague Israel, especially during Solomon's last days. (I Kings 11:14-25.)
And Now -- a Real Competitor
Then a third man came on the scene to give Solomon even more concern. He was Jeroboam, an ambitious and capable man whom Solomon employed as the superintendent of public work projects in and around Jerusalem. He was the servant God had mentioned in His recent, dire prediction to Solomon.
One day as Jeroboam was coming out of Jerusalem, a man stepped up to him when no one else was around and asked to speak with him. At first Jeroboam didn't recognize the fellow, who suddenly removed a new coat he was wearing. Then Jeroboam recognized him as the prophet Ahijah, who had succeeded Nathan and Gad, prophets in David's time. Ahijah's next surprising move was to violently tear his coat into twelve pieces. He kept two of the pieces and handed the other ten to the astonished Jeroboam.
"These ten pieces of cloth represent ten tribes of Israel," Ahijah said. "Take them."
"But why are you giving them to me?" Jeroboam asked. "God has told me that He is about to tear the kingdom of Israel from Solomon, and that He will give you ten of the tribes over which to rule," Ahijah explained.
"But why me?" Jeroboam queried. "And why only ten tribes?" "Isn't it enough to learn that God chose you?" Ahijah pointed out. "And aren't ten tribes enough? For David's sake and for the sake of Jerusalem, Judah will remain under the rulership of Solomon's family. You will become king over ten of the tribes, which Solomon's family will lose because of the king's disobedience in turning to pagan gods and breaking so many of God's laws. God has instructed me to tell you that if you will be obedient, you and those after you of your family will continue to rule the ten tribes." (I Kings 11:26-39.)
Later, after Jeroboam had thought over the exciting event, he could scarcely contain himself. He had much to say to his family and friends about what he was going to do. His statements soon reached Solomon, who became so envious and angry that he sent soldiers after Jeroboam.
"That man is a traitor!" Solomon declared. "He is scheming to seize my throne! Bring him to me, and I shall sentence him to death!"
Jeroboam had friends in the palace who warned him before the soldiers arrived. He escaped from Jerusalem, but he knew that it would be dangerous to stay anywhere in Palestine or even in bordering countries. He fled all the way to Egypt, where the young king there was pleased to harbor a man of Jeroboam's ability. (I Kings 11:40.)
The highly talented and studious Solomon suddenly died at an age when he should have been at the prime of his wisdom -- at about sixty. If he had been a more temperate and obedient king, probably he would have lived for many more years. The passing of such a famous ruler was a mournful event for Israel and for many people outside Israel. Solomon had reigned for forty years after having become king at about 20 years of age (I Kings 11:41-43; II Chronicles 9:29-31.) Through him God not only did great things for Israel of that time, but also for people of today who gain from reading the books of the Bible Solomon wrote -- Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.
Solomon designated his son Rehoboam to succeed him. After a period of mourning for Solomon, thousands of people gathered at Shechem, about thirty-five miles north of Jerusalem, to witness Rehoboam's being made king. Among those in the crowd was Jeroboam, who had returned from Egypt when he heard of Solomon's death. (I Kings 12:1-2; II Chronicles 10:1-2.)
When Rehoboam appeared before the people on the inaugural platform, he expected them to cheer, but they didn't. He glared disdainfully at them, but his expression changed when he saw Jeroboam moving toward the platform. Many men of high rank were pressing in behind him. None of them looked either pleased or friendly.
Bible Story Book Index
A Kingdom Divided
REHOBOAM, Solomon's son, had come before a public gathering to be proclaimed king officially (I Kings 12:1; II Chronicles 10:1), although he had actually been Israel's new ruler from the time of his father's death. (I Kings 11:43.)
Rehoboam's attitude was that of a young man accustomed to what great wealth could provide. He had little interest in the welfare of his people.
Conflict with his subjects started on his inauguration day. Jeroboam, to whom God had promised rulership of ten tribes of Israel, led a crowd of men from all parts of the nation up to the platform where the new king stood. (I Kings 12:2-3.)
"If you will permit me, sir, I have something to say to you on behalf of the people," Jeroboam addressed Rehoboam.
The king stared impassively at Jeroboam. He resented what he considered an intrusion at a ceremony in which he was the star. He wanted to refuse Jeroboam, but he knew that the crowd would be angry if he didn't agree to listen. Finally he nodded curtly to Jeroboam.
"For years your father has troubled us with heavy taxes," Jeroboam spoke out. "Lately he has forced many men of Israel into heavy labor on various projects. We can't continue under these conditions much longer. Now we're respectfully asking you to help us by lowering our taxes and stopping the draft of men into forced labor."
Rehoboam felt like asking Jeroboam and the others to go mind their own business. Instead, he managed to appear friendly and quite thoughtful, as though the suggestion deserved his royal consideration.
"What you have brought up is something I have thought about," he said. "I want to help my people. Come back here in three days. Meanwhile, I'll confer with my advisors. There will be a decision made by the time we get together again." (I Kings 12:4-5; II Chronicles 10:2-5.)
"Thank you," Jeroboam said, bowing. "If you will help us, we shall serve you well for as long as you are king."
As he promised, Rehoboam went to men who could advise him. First he asked the opinions of older men who had been consultants to Solomon. They told him that he would be wise to consider doing what the people asked, and that he would be looked up to as a good and fair ruler if he would help them out of their trouble. Later, Rehoboam conferred with younger men who were more inclined to his way of thinking.
"Why worry about what the people want?" they asked the king. "Taxes and forced labor aren't hurting them too much. If you decrease what your subjects should give, your income will decrease. Why let the people talk you into something you'll regret? Be stern with them. Show them who's running this nation!" (I Kings 12:6-11; II Chronicles 10:6-11.)
When Jeroboam returned with others to confer with the king, he wasn't too surprised at what happened. The new ruler strode regally out before the crowd and peered at the expectant faces. He was smiling, but his smile was more arrogant than friendly.
Rehoboam's Foolish Decision
"Three days ago you asked me to lower your taxes and demand less labor for projects in Israel," Rehoboam commenced. "I told you I would consult my advisors about these matters, and I did. Now you'll get my answer."
The king gazed about with a growing smile before he continued. Obviously he was savoring those moments while his audience hung on every word he uttered.
"You think my father taxed you too heavily and worked some of you too hard? Then you should appreciate how easy he was on you. I am young and have more competent men working with me and more projects in mind. Therefore I have more power than did my father, and so I am going to require more labor and heavier taxes. Some of you complained because my father's labor gang foremen struck you with ordinary leather whips when you became lazy. You didn't realize how well off you were then. From now on my foremen will beat you lazy ones with whips that have metal tips!" (I Kings 12:12-15; II Chronicles 10:12-15.)
There was silence among the people as Rehoboam's words sank in. Then an angry, muffled muttering could be heard. It died out as the crowd slowly melted away. Jeroboam wasn't as disappointed as he appeared to be. He knew that the people were on the verge of revolting against the king. It was his opportunity to stir them up further, which he promptly did.
As a result, every tribe of Israel except Judah (and Benjamin, the small tribe whose territory adjoined that of Judah) rebelled against Rehoboam. As representatives of the ten tribes were returning in disappointment to their homes, Rehoboam sent the chief collector of taxes to speak to the representatives of the people.
Hours later an excited servant hurried to Rehoboam, who was still staying at Shechem, convinced that the people would passively submit to any extra burden he put on them.
"Adoram your head tax collector has been stoned to death!" the servant exclaimed. "There are reports that the people are prepared to take the lives of anyone who attempts to collect taxes. There are even rumors that an angry crowd is forming to come here and demand to talk to you!"
The frightened king didn't waste time calling for advisors to advise him to leave. It was entirely his own idea to get to his chariot as soon as possible and head swiftly south on the road to Jerusalem, where he knew he would be safer among the people of his own tribe. (I Kings 12:16-19; II Chronicles 10:16-19.)
While Rehoboam was establishing himself in the royal palace, leaders of the ten rebellious tribes met to form a nation separate from Judah and Benjamin. They started by declaring Jeroboam king. His leadership convinced them that he was best fitted to be over them. That was as God had planned it, so that a large part of Israel would be taken from the rule of Solomon's family. Otherwise Jeroboam wouldn't have been allowed to become a ruler as he wasn't of the royal line. (I Kings 12:20.)
Reports of what was going on quickly reached Rehoboam. He began to realize that matters were much more serious than he had been given to believe. He gave orders that all the soldiers of Judah and Benjamin should be mustered to overrun the seceding tribes and force them back into allegiance to the government at Jerusalem.
One hundred and eighty thousand troops answered Rehoboam's call. Just when the king was about to send them into action, a prophet by the name of Shemaiah came to tell him and the people of Judah and Benjamin that God didn't want them to war against the other tribes.
"If you do," Shemaiah warned them, "God will surely bring some kind of sudden and severe punishment on you."
Rehoboam was afraid. Even though some of his young friends and advisors considered him cowardly for doing so, he wisely called off the planned attack.
"I happen to know that if we go to war against our brothers, God won't be with us in battle," he hesitantly explained to his astonished officers. "Dismiss the troops and send them back to their homes."
By striking the king with fear, God prevented a civil war He didn't want to take place. (I Kings 12:21-24; II Chronicles 11:1-4.)
One of the first things Jeroboam did as king was to rebuild and fortify the mountain town of Shechem, which he occupied with a small army after Rehoboam had fled. Shechem had been mostly in ruins since it had been ravaged by Abimelech nearly two hundred years before. Now Jeroboam planned to make it the seat of government of his kingdom. He also rebuilt and fortified the town of Penuel, located east of the Jordan near the Jabbok River. It was on a route to foreign cities, including Damascus to the northeast. Manned by Jeroboam's soldiers, it was an important outpost for checking on caravan traffic moving to and from Jerusalem. (I Kings 12:25.)
In his efforts to strengthen himself as ruler, Jeroboam felt he had to do some scheming. He reasoned that if very many of his people felt obligated to go to Jerusalem to observe God's annual Sabbaths and Festivals, they might repent of their rebellion and feel that Jeroboam had led them astray.
"They'll surely do away with me if they begin to think that way," Jeroboam thought. "Something will have to be done to keep them away from Jerusalem."
Instead of showing obedience and asking God for help in his office of king, Jeroboam chose to pursue the opposite direction by deliberately leading the people away from God. He had two images of calves constructed of gold. One was erected in the town of Bethel, only a few miles north of Jerusalem. The other was set up in the town of Dan, on the east side of the Jordan not far southwest of Mt. Hermon. Jeroboam then made a proclamation to all his people.
"From now on it will not be necessary for you to go all the way to Jerusalem to observe those old Mosaic festivals. Why be under the law?" he said, trying to deceive the people. "There is a golden calf at Bethel in the south and another at Dan in the north. They represent the gods which brought your ancestors out of Egypt. Now it will be easier, more convenient and even safer for everyone to confine your religious duties within the borders of your own land. Priests and their assistants at both locations will assist all who need help or instruction in sacrificing or worship."
A Pagan Priesthood
The "priests" referred to weren't of the family of Levi. They were men of low rank who were willing to conduct sacrifices to idols for whatever they were paid.
Surprisingly, many people fell in with the king's suggestion to break God's law. Instead of being faithful to their Creator, they began making sacrifices to the calf images. Within only weeks Jeroboam's kingdom was infested with one of the evils God had especially warned the people about over the centuries. As for the real priests -- the Levites -- who lived in that part of the land, and the other people in the ten tribes who remained faithful to God, they fled to Judah and Jerusalem. (I Kings 12:26-31; II Chronicles 11:13-17.)
But Jeroboam wasn't satisfied with the change he had made. God's Festival of Tabernacles was soon to be observed. He feared that this happiest time of the year would draw many to Jerusalem, where it had been joyfully kept. In a fanatical attempt to control his subjects in this matter, he denounced God's law. He then announced to the people that there would be no reason for them to go anywhere to observe the start of the Festival on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. He said he had officially changed the date to the fifteenth day of the eighth month -- the period we now know as Halloween! (I Kings 12:32-33.)
To attempt to alter the Holy Days established by God was rash, irreverent, and sinful. Mad as it was, Jeroboam didn't do any worse than others who -- masquerading as God's ministers -- have worked to change or do away with God's Sabbaths down through the ages. Today many churches have summer "camp meetings" instead of observing the Festival of Tabernacles in the fall. They keep Easter instead of Passover, Whitsunday instead of Pentecost. They celebrate the beginning of a new year in the winter, whereas God tells us that the new year begins in the spring. Sunday is regarded as a holiday instead of God's weekly Sabbath, and so on. These flagrant deviations will be corrected over the whole world when Christ comes to Earth to rule. (Zechariah 14:16-19.)
To impress those who came to his centers of worship, Jeroboam often assumed the role of high priest. One-day when he was burning incense before the calf image at Bethel, a man broke through the audience and strode toward the altar.
"God has sent me from Judah to declare a curse on this altar!" he loudly announced. "A child by the name of Josiah shall be born to the house of David! He, too, shall burn something on this altar, but it won't be incense. It will be the bones of you lying priests who sacrifice here!" (I Kings 13:1-2.)
These events were fulfilled many years later just as God prophesied. (II Kings 23:15-17.)
The king turned to peer at the stranger. He put down the incense container and placed his hands on his hips.
"So you are a prophet from Judah!" he said in a mocking tone. "Prove it to me and to these people by giving us a sign. If you fail, we'll know that you are a liar and that you deserve to die for reviling this sacred idol and temple!"
The stranger stared at the king, seemingly at a loss for words.
"A sign!" Jeroboam barked impatiently. "Give us a sign right now or admit that you lied when you said God sent you."
"There is your sign!" the prophet blurted out, pointing to the smoking altar. "That altar shall break apart and dump its ashes on the floor!"
"Well?" Jeroboam asked after seconds had dragged by and nothing happened. "Your time is up. Men, seize this wretch!"
The king extended an arm toward the prophet. Attendants grabbed him and started to drag him away, but stopped when they noticed that something was wrong with their leader. His face was suddenly pale, and his expression was one of stark fright. His bare arm, still outstretched, was somehow hideously white and wrinkled and stiff. He was unable to draw it back or drop it to his side!
While startled people stared, a loud cracking sound came from the altar. It fell apart as though it had been sliced by an invisible bolt of lightning, crashing to the floor in a cloud of smoke, sparks and flying ashes. Shrieking and groaning with fear, the crowd quickly scattered. Even some of the attendants fled. Jeroboam was so shaken by this double blow that he staggered back against the wall. (I Kings 13:3-5.)
"Beg your God to make my arm as it was before!" the king wailed. "I spoke hastily. How could I know that you are a true prophet?"
The attendants were relieved to fall back from the man from Judah, who fell to his knees, thanked God aloud for sparing him, and asked that the king be healed. Almost instantly the withered arm took on its normal color and shape. Jeroboam muttered with satisfaction as he pulled his arm back and forth and flexed it up and down. Soon afterward he recovered his composure. His attitude toward the prophet became very friendly, but at the same time he had trouble hiding his concern about what had happened.
"Come to my home with me and have dinner," he said to the prophet as he motioned to attendants to do something about the altar and the spilled ashes. "I want an opportunity to reward you for what you did about my arm. Besides, I would like to talk to you about becoming one of my priests. It could be very rewarding for you." (I Kings 13:6-7.)
"I wouldn't go with you if you gave me half of your possessions!" the prophet exclaimed. "God told me not to eat nor drink while in this profane town. I'm not even to return by the way I came, lest evil men wait to harm me."
Jeroboam's eyes narrowed as he watched the prophet stride away. Because the man had spurned him and his offer, he wanted to have him seized and put away. But he feared to have him touched lest God should strike again with some ailment more severe than a useless arm.
Jeroboam would have been pleased if he could have known what would soon happen to the prophet. Two brothers who had witnessed what had taken place at the altar hurried home to tell their father, who was also a prophet. The father had failed to leave the country when idol worship started.
"Tell me which way this man went!" the father excitedly asked. (I Kings 13:8-12.)
The trudging prophet from Judah could never have guessed what was about to take place.
Bible Story Book Index
Israel's Turning Point
FROM JUDAH had come a prophet who troubled King Jeroboam of Israel at Bethel. He predicted that one day the bones of the false priests would be burned on the altar there. (I Kings 13:1-6.)
On his way back to his home in the nation of Judah, he stopped to rest in the shade of an oak tree. There he was approached by an older prophet whose sons had witnessed what had occurred at the temple at Bethel. The old prophet slid down from his donkey and eagerly went up to the resting man.
"Are you the one from Judah who prayed that King Jeroboam's withered arm would be healed?" the older man asked.
"I am the one," was the answer. (I Kings 13:7-14.) The older man was pleased. He wanted to become acquainted and find out more about the interesting prophecy he had made about what would happen to the altar at Bethel.
"You look weary and hungry," he said to the resting man. "Come with me to my home and have something to eat and drink."
"I have been told by God that while I am here I must neither eat nor drink," the prophet explained. "I am not to accept help from anyone in this idolatrous area. I am not to retrace my steps. Neither am I to associate with people here. Thank you, but I can't accept your hospitality. I must go now."
The fellow struggled to his feet and started away without another word. The older man hurried after him and put a restraining hand on his shoulder.
"But I, too, am a prophet," he pointed out. "And I, too," he lied, have received instructions from God. I was told by an angel that I should find you and bring you to my home for nourishment."
The prophet from Judah turned to give the other man a searching look. It seemed only reasonable that God wouldn't allow him to continue being too weak and thirsty during his mission, even though he had been warned not to consume anything.
"Because God has spoken to you, I no longer have reason to refuse your kind offer," the prophet said, yielding to temptation. "I would be very happy to return to your house with you."
His eagerness for refreshment caused him to make a terrible decision. He was hungry and thirsty. He wanted to believe that God had spoken to the older man. The painful fact was that the older prophet masqueraded as one of God's prophets, but was in reality a follower of Jeroboam's perverted religion. The older man had made up the story in order to get the other to come home with him. He wanted to question him about the Bethel prophecy. God was allowing the older man, even in his shameful dishonesty, to severely test the obedience of the man from Judah. (I Kings 13:15-19.) The prophet from Judah should not have listened to hearsay.
Later, at the older prophet's home, the meal had just been finished when God again spoke to the man from Judah by a voice from heaven.
"You have disobeyed by retracing your steps at Bethel and by eating and drinking here. Because you have done this, you will never return home. You will not be buried in the tomb where your relatives are buried."
The man from Judah was miserably stunned by the realization that he had been so careless and weak willed as to disobey God and believe the older man's claim that God had contradicted Himself. (I Kings 13:20-22.) Suddenly the prophet from Judah was very afraid of the older man. He wanted to get out of the house and start running back toward Judah. His host, who was as surprised as his guest was at God's sentence of death, was aware of the man's abrupt discomfort and impatience.
The Penalty of Disobedience
"I know that you're anxious to leave," the older man said. "The donkey is saddled."
The guest didn't need a second invitation. He left at once on the donkey. On passing through a desolate area, he was terrified to see a lion standing in the road. The animal rushed toward him and sprang. Those were the prophet's last conscious moments. His punishment was swift for not following God's instructions.
Some men who were traveling on the same road were startled a little later to see a lion standing over a man's body. They hid behind boulders to watch, puzzled because the lion kept on standing over its victim, meanwhile ignoring a donkey grazing only a few yards away. The men wondered why the donkey didn't seem to fear the lion. They couldn't know that both animals were being used by God for a purpose.
At Bethel they told several people what they had seen. (I Kings 13:23-25.)
It wasn't long before the old prophet heard about it. Using another donkey, he left at once to look for the slain prophet, whom he found a short distance away. The lion was still standing there, but when it saw him it sauntered away, leaving him free to go to the dead man, whom he managed to hoist on the waiting donkey and take back to Bethel and bury in his own sepulchre.
"After I die," he told his sons, "bury me in my tomb with this man of God. When his prophecy comes to pass about the bones of some of the men of Bethel being burned on the altar, I have cleverly planned that mine won't be burned there if they are beside those of this prophet from Judah." (I Kings 13:26-32.)
In spite of the supernatural breaking of the altar and the damaging and healing of his arm, Jeroboam didn't split away from the wrong ways he had established. The old false prophet convinced him that since God allowed the prophet from Judah to be killed by a lion, he didn't represent God and his words need not be feared. Even in the face of the warning from God about what would happen to the false priests, Jeroboam continued to hire men for those offices who had little ability and low character. This was going to mean the difference between his staying on as king of the ten tribes and the sudden end of his rule over them. (I Kings 13:33-34.) It was Israel's great turning point.
To warn Jeroboam one more time of his evil ways, God allowed his son, Abijah, to become very ill. Jeroboam was greatly concerned when the boy didn't recover. No one could tell what caused the sickness or how long it would last. But it was obvious that Abijah couldn't live very many more days if he stayed in his weakened condition.
"Perhaps Ahijah the prophet would know what's wrong with Abijah and what should be done for him," Jeroboam said to his wife. "He was the one who told me that I would become king. Possibly he has other supernatural knowledge."
"Would it be wise for you to be seen with him?" Jeroboam's wife asked. "He has made some strong statements about the golden calves."
"I don't intend to see him," the king explained. "I want you to go do that. You'll have to disguise yourself so that you won't be recognized as my wife by anyone who sees you, including Ahijah. Possibly we can outwit God's prophet." (I Kings 14:1-3.)
Jeroboam's wife didn't relish the mission, but she set out with servants and donkeys to travel to Ahijah's home at Shiloh, about eighteen miles to the south. As gifts for the prophet, she took ten loaves of bread, some small cakes and a bottle of honey. (I Kings 14:3.)
Dressing in drably plain clothes prevented her from being recognized on the trip. Deluding Ahijah obviously would be easy, inasmuch as he had become blind! He had servants, but he preferred to open the door after Jeroboam's wife knocked.
"Come in!" he exclaimed. "Come in! I am honored to be visited by the wife of King Jeroboam!"
The woman was so startled that she lost her composure and temporarily couldn't think what to say. It was unnerving to be instantly recognized by a blind man with whom she had no acquaintance. What she didn't know was that God had told Ahijah only a little while before that she was coming, the reason for her visit and what he should say to her.
"Why have you tried to conceal who you are?" Ahijah asked. (I Kings 14:5-6.)
"My husband thought it was necessary," she replied uneasily. "How did you know who I am?"
"God told me," the prophet answered. "He also gave me a message for you to take to your husband. You are to convey to him all that I'm about to tell you."
Jeroboam's wife was suddenly filled with fear by the feeling that she was about to hear something terribly unpleasant.
"Tell Jeroboam," Ahijah began, "that God wants to remind him that he was given a high honor and a very special opportunity when most of the kingdom of Israel was taken away from the house of David and given to your husband to rule. He could have become a great man by following David's example of obedience. Instead, he foolishly chose to mislead the people by causing them to turn to worshipping metal images -- an evil pursuit in which he has outdone any ruler of Israel before him." (I Kings 14:7-9.)
Jeroboam's wife became more uncomfortable by the second because she knew that the accusations were true. But the most shocking part of the prophet's utterance was yet to come.
"Inasmuch as Jeroboam has acted so wickedly," Ahijah continued, "God will bring evil times to him. He will lose his rulership. God has already chosen another man to reign in his stead. Any of Jeroboam's family who try to rule Israel shall be destroyed by this man. Then God is going to shake this nation as a strong stream shakes a reed. The people shall be driven out of the land and scattered in other countries because they have worshipped the idols their king has set before them.
"As for your son Abijah, whom you came to ask about, he shall die as soon as you return home. None of your husband's family shall receive a proper burial except him. That he shall have because he didn't want his father to set up idols for Israel to worship." (I Kings 14:10-16.)
Jeroboam's wife was pale and trembling as she left Ahijah's house. She couldn't wait to get back to the town of Tirzah, where Jeroboam had moved his palace after deciding to leave Shechem. At the same time she feared to go home because of Ahijah's prophecy that her son would die as soon as she returned. She hoped desperately that the prophet would be wrong, but when she reached the room where Abijah had been confined to his bed for many days, she was told that he had just died. (I Kings 14:17-18.)
Matters weren't going much better in Jerusalem. The true priests and many other faithful Israelites had swarmed into Judah from the other ten tribes to escape idol worship. (II Chronicles 11:13-17.) But after three years a large part of Judah and Benjamin had turned to the abominable practices and customs of pagan religions. Rehoboam didn't set out to promote idolatry as Jeroboam did, but he was so absorbed in his own interests, including his eighteen wives and sixty concubines, that he failed to give proper attention to the welfare of his subjects. (I Kings 14:21-24; II Chronicles 11:18-23.)
In the fifth year of his reign Rehoboam received a shocking surprise. A messenger came from the desert of Shur between the Sinai peninsula and Judah to report that a large army was moving northeastward toward Jerusalem. Reports disclosed that at least sixty thousand horsemen, twelve hundred chariots and uncountable thousands of footmen were moving steadily toward Jerusalem.
The Egyptian army and their allies were about to attack Israel!
Rehoboam was nearly overcome with panic. His dwindling army was somewhere off to the north, involved as usual in skirmishes with Jeroboam's troops. With Israel divided, there wasn't enough military strength to even defend Jerusalem's walls.
Days passed, during which many defenseless towns in southern Judah were attacked and easily taken over by the Egyptians. In that time Rehoboam managed to muster enough troops for defense of the city, but there weren't enough to send out to meet the invaders. (II Chronicles 12:1-4.)
There was great turmoil in Jerusalem when the Egyptian army came in sight of the capital of Judah. The vast force was led by Shishak, the Egyptian king who had harbored Jeroboam after Jeroboam had escaped a death sentence by Solomon. (I Kings 11:37-40.) Also known in historical records as the great chief of the Meshwesh Libyans Sheshonk I of Dynasty XXII, King Shishak brought many Africans who weren't Egyptians. There were Ethiopians, Libyans and even men from a tribe that lived in caves in the mountains along the Red Sea. There were enough horsemen and foot soldiers to surround Jerusalem several ranks deep. The Israelites' only hope was in the city's strong walls, which Solomon had built for such a situation.
The tension grew by the hour. Waiting for an attack that might never come didn't improve the morale of the caged-up Jews. It was possible that the Egyptians planned to besiege Jerusalem until the occupants would surrender because of lack of food. The city was crowded with people, including most of the leaders and officials of Judah and Benjamin. Traffic stopped when the gates were closed and barred.
One man who came into the city just before the gates were shut was Shemaiah the prophet. He was the one who had warned Rehoboam five years before not to start a full-scale war with the ten tribes over which Jeroboam had become king. Shemaiah asked to speak at once to Rehoboam and the leaders of Judah. Rehoboam had a special respect for the prophet. He immediately called the men of high rank together to listen to what Shemaiah had to say.
"I have a message from God for all of you," the prophet began. "He wants you to know that He has sent the Egyptian army against Judah because you and many of the people of Judah have turned away from God and have taken up idol worship and other ways of perversion. The Egyptians will overrun Jerusalem just as they have overrun your towns that have been taken! You will be completely at their mercy!" (II Chronicles 12:5.)
Rehoboam and the others in the room stared at each other in fear. They knew that the only mercy they could expect from their attackers would be sudden death. After Shemaiah had gone out of the room to leave them to their terrifying thoughts, some of them dropped to their knees and called out to God to forgive them for what they had done. Others followed the example, but only because they were so desperate that they yearned to cry out for forgiveness and help. Facing death as they did, they were truly remorseful because of their foolish and corrupt ways.
Later, as some of the men with Rehoboam were still sprawled in humility and dejection, Shemaiah returned to state that he had some news they would welcome.
"God has heard your prayers," the prophet told them. "He knows that you are deeply regretful of leading your people wrongly. Because you have humbled yourselves, God has decided not to allow the Egyptians to destroy you. But they will take this city and you will become their servants and pay tribute. Then you will learn how much better it is to be servants of God than of man."
Rehoboam and the others were on their feet and eagerly crowding around Shemaiah to shower him with questions. At that moment there were frenzied shouts from outside. Through a window Israelite soldiers could be seen milling excitedly about on a part of the walls. (II Chronicles 12:6-8.)
"The Egyptians are attacking!" a breathless servant yelled. The wall guards nervously fingered their spears and bows as they looked down to watch Shishak's many thousands approach and surround Jerusalem.
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Safety Only Under God!
Because the people of Judah and Benjamin had turned to idolatry, God allowed a huge Egyptian army to invade Judah and capture many of its towns. When the Egyptians reached Jerusalem, they intended to break through the massive walls and take over the wealthy capital.
At first God purposed to let the invaders destroy the city's occupants, including King Rehoboam. (II Chronicles 12:1-4.) But he spared them after Rehoboam and other leaders repented of their evil pursuits. (II Chronicles 12:5-7.)
The Temple Looted!
The Bible doesn't tell how the Egyptians managed to get into the city. Probably it was by means of extra heavy battering rams or wall-scaling apparatus. However it was done, the Israelite soldiers atop the walls undoubtedly took the lives of many of the attackers by showering down arrows, spears, rocks, molten lead and anything else they could pour, throw or drop. At the same time arrows from Egyptian bows downed a great part of the would-be defenders, who would have lived if they hadn't resisted.
Once the attackers were inside the city, the outnumbered Israelite soldiers surrendered. They expected to be slain. When the Egyptians merely took away their weapons, they had reason to be puzzled. They didn't know that Shishak had given an order that no Israelite in Jerusalem should be put to death unless he resisted. What Shishak didn't know was that the God of Israel had planted in the Egyptian king's mind the decision to give that order.
It was a bitter episode for Rehoboam when Shishak, followed by his officers and flanked by Egyptian troops strode into the palace where the Israelite king and other leaders nervously waited.
"I am disappointed," Shishak said as he looked about, omitting any formalities that could take place between two kings, even under such unusual circumstances. "I assumed you would meet me in that part of your palace where you usually receive visiting dignitaries. I have heard that the furnishings there are somewhat unique."
Rehoboam knew that his conqueror was telling him that he wished to be conducted to the throne room with its many treasures. He bowed very slightly, and tremblingly led the way. When Shishak saw the ornate, ivory throne, so resplendently bejeweled, his dark eyes glittered with admiration. He walked slowly about, taking in the costly objects in the vast room, but his gaze kept returning to the magnificent throne Solomon had designed.
Scarcely able to control his excitement, Shishak demanded to be shown through the rest of the palace and through the temple. He knew that other treasures were stored elsewhere, and forced the Israelites to disclose the location of the secret rooms, far below ground. After Shishak and his officers were satisfied that they had located most of the wealth of the city, scores of their men poured into the palace, temple and treasury to seize valuable objects and pack them in the costly rugs, draperies and curtains that were at hand. Everything the Egyptian leaders desired was taken. Even the ivory throne was dismantled to be moved to Egypt. Shishak had no intention of leaving such a prize behind, even if it cost the lives of all the Egyptians required to carry it across the desert.
One might wonder what happened to the Tabernacle equipment and furnishings in the sacred rooms of the temple. If Shishak had any awe for the God of Israel, probably he wouldn't have attacked Judah. Having little or no fear of the Creator, he therefore wouldn't leave anything of special value. But God caused Shishak to leave enough furnishings to carry on the temple service. (II Chronicles 13:11.)
Egyptian Bondage Again
When the king of Egypt left Jerusalem with the greatest amount of wealth any conqueror had ever taken from a city, that wasn't the complete cost to the Israelites. Because the people of Judah would remain subject to Egypt, Shishak demanded that they send a regular tribute to him. Such tributes might not have been possible to raise if the Egyptians had devastated the land and ruined the economy. This drain of wealth to Egypt fulfilled the prophecy of Shemaiah that Judah would become a servant to Egypt. (II Chronicles 12:8-9; I Kings 14:25-26.)
In the next few years Judah partly recovered from the invasion. Rehoboam's close brush with death caused him to apply himself more dutifully as ruler. Restoring the costly furnishings of the palace and temple was impossible. Some were replaced by
items of much lesser value. Brass shields, for example, took the place of the gold shields of the palace guards. Inexpensive substitutes were made wherever replacements were needed. (I Kings 14:27-28; II Chronicles 12:10-11.)
What was more important was the establishment of activity at the temple and the halting of pagan religious practices throughout Judah. But in time, as Rehoboam carelessly fell back into his former corrupt habits, the idolatrous customs started to creep back in the land like a poison coursing through a man's bloodstream. Meanwhile, Jeroboam's army continued fighting with Rehoboam's army in occasional small-scale battles. These senseless skirmishes went on all the rest of Rehoboam's life, which ended twelve years after the invasion by the Africans. Solomon's son was buried in Jerusalem where those of the family of David had been entombed. (II Chronicles 12:12-16; I Kings 14:29-31.)
Abijam, one of Rehoboam's many sons, then became king of Judah. Unhappily, he wasn't much of an improvement over his father, whose tendencies and desires showed up in Abijam. God allowed this young man to reign just long enough -- three years -- in order that there would be a continuance of the family of David on the throne and so that he could accomplish at least one outstanding thing in the history of Judah while he was king. (I Kings 15:1-5; II Chronicles 13:1-2.)
The startling report came to Abijam that Jeroboam had mustered 800,000 troops with which he planned to conquer Judah and became ruler of all twelve tribes. Abijam tried desperately to raise an army of the size of Jeroboam's, but he could get only 400,000 soldiers together. In time he could have increased the number. Time was something he didn't have, inasmuch as Jeroboam might march into Judah any day. Abijam wanted to prevent that. (II Chronicles 13:3.)
"We Know God Is with Us!"
He took his army north toward Tirzah, the capital of the ten tribes. The move was none too soon. Jeroboam's army was moving south at the same time. When Abijam learned that the two armies were about to meet, he halted his men at the base of Mt. Zemaraim, a few miles east of Bethel.
A little later Jeroboam arrived with his men. Confident that he had the upper hand, he halted them very close by, as though defying the southern army to dare to start something. As the tension mounted, a strong voice sounded from somewhere above. Many thousands of eyes looked up to see a lone figure standing on the top of Mt. Zemaraim.
"Listen to me, Jeroboam!" the figure called down. "Hear me, you men from Tirzah! You should know that God said only those of David's family should always rule the kingdom of Israel, or at least a great part of it. It was an agreement that is to stay in effect as long as there is salt in the sea. In spite of that, Jeroboam desires to become king of all Israel, even though he is not of the royal family. Nor is he worthy to continue to be ruler of even a part of the kingdom because of his idolatry and because of the ways in which he troubled my father when Rehoboam was a young and inexperienced king!"
By this time Jeroboam and the soldiers of both armies began to recognize the speaker as Abijam, who hoped that he could avert a battle by pointing out that Jeroboam was foolish to attack Judah.
"Do you actually believe that you can prevail against the army of a tribe that has stayed closer to God than you have?" Abijam continued. "What advantage will your greater numbers be to you as long as you have only your powerless calf images to rely on? And how can you expect victory after having put the priests of God out of your land, replacing them with pagan priests? As for us, we are relying on the God to whom we sacrifice at the temple at Jerusalem. WE KNOW HE IS WITH US. You would be wise to not fight against us. If you do, when you hear the sound of trumpets from the priests who are with us you will know that you are about to fail in battle!" (II Chronicles 13:4-12.)
As Abijam slipped out of sight, scattered laughter and hoots of derision came from some of Jeroboam's soldiers. Others seemed to be sobered by what they had heard. Many of them didn't get to hear all that Abijam had to say, having been ordered by Jeroboam to quietly leave and go on the double around Mt. Zemaraim and move up to the rear of the army of Judah.
It was a jolting surprise to Abijam's troops to discover that they were being blocked from the south as well as from the north. Fighting their way free of the two mammoth jaws of humanity appeared impossible. They were so filled with fear that many of them called out loudly to God for help. At a signal from Abijam, who had returned from the top of the mountain, the priests sounded their trumpets with a peal that could be heard for miles.
God Topples House of Israel
The sound had a strong effect on Jeroboam's men. Abijam's words about what would happen when the horns blew were still fresh in their minds. They paused in their charge, fearing that the sound really could be an ill omen. In those same fateful moments Abijam's troops sensed the uncertainty of their attackers. Encouraged, they forgot about escape and turned to rush at Jeroboam's hesitant men. The noisy shouts and sudden fierce conduct of the southern army unnerved the northern army as though by a miracle. Abruptly the frightened men turned and ran, giving their incited pursuers full opportunity to strike them.
Hours later the ground around Mt. Zemaraim was littered with half a million corpses from Jeroboam's army. The remaining 300,000, many of them badly injured, managed to escape in all directions. It was an astoundingly quick end to such a large army. Jeroboam fled when he saw that defeat was certain. Abijam and some of his men pursued, but failed to overtake the fugitive.
After resting for a day from the exhausting strain of battle, Abijam and his men moved on to seize several towns in the nearby regions. The king of Judah didn't plan to take over every town in northern Israel. He wanted only to have control over those that were close to Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 13:13-19.)
Because of his confidence in God in the conflict with Jeroboam, Abijam became a stronger king for a time. Then his personal interests and pursuits became more important to him than the welfare of the people. In his lifetime he married fourteen wives and was the father of thirty-eight children, an achievement that was almost a career in itself. When he began to fall into his father's ways of living, God allowed his life to come to an end. Otherwise, much of the nation probably would have followed his wrong examples. (I Kings 15:6-8; II Chronicles 13:20-22.)
Asa, one of Abijam's twenty-two sons, became the next king of Judah. Even as a very young man, he had observed how idolatry had brought so much trouble to Israel. As soon as he came into power he began a strong campaign to rid his domain of evil religious practices by destroying pagan altars, images and places where idols were worshipped. Besides, he gave his officers orders to put out of the country all who were found to be sodomites, degenerate men who often posed as priests at places of idol worship.
In banishing idolatry, Asa met with an awkward situation in his palace when he found that his grandmother, one of Rehoboam's wives, was an idol worshipper. She had arranged to have a special idol made and set up in a nearby grove for private worship. It was embarrassing to the king to ban the queen dowager from his court, but he had no choice. As for the idol, it was torn down and burned.
As the purge of his nation progressed, Asa proclaimed that the people should look to God and His Commandments for the only right ways of living, and that only then could they enjoy a time of peace. As a result of changes for the better in the people, there was no war for the next ten years.
Again crowds thronged to the temple to worship and sacrifice. It was almost as it had been in the early days of Solomon. However, some sacrificed at places they picked themselves, usually close to their homes. The priests and the altar had been established at the temple for that purpose. Other places should have been removed by Asa. It was the one thing he failed to do in his efforts to help Israel. Otherwise, he lived very close to God. (I Kings 15:9-15; II Chronicles 14:1-5.)
Prosperity Invites Looters
With peace came a measure of prosperity to Judah. It was a time to build new, fortified towns where the borders of the land could be strengthened, and to muster and equip men for better defense. Military might couldn't substitute for God's protection, but if any nation was known to have a small army and poor fortifications, it was almost the same as inviting some greedy king to attack. (II Chronicles 14:6-8.)
As it happened, a covetous king WAS planning to attack Judah. He was Zerah, leader of a nation of Ethiopians. He wasn't very concerned about the size of Asa's army because he believed that he, Zerah, commanded a much larger number of troops. And he was right. There were a million, plus the drivers, archers, and spearmen of three hundred war chariots!
Even before Zerah's northbound army had reached the Paran desert south of Canaan, Asa was notified of the invaders by scouts who constantly patrolled the borders of the nation. Judah's king hastily gathered his 300,000 soldiers from Judah and 280,000 archers from Benjamin and took them southward. If there had to be a battle, he preferred to fight it as far from Jerusalem as possible. It wasn't until he came within a few miles of his enemy, in a valley in southern Judah, that he realized how greatly his troops were outnumbered. He had only about half as many men.
As the two armies faced each other and lined up for battle only a mile or two apart, Asa became very troubled. His capable and experienced officers couldn't give him much encouragement because they felt that the probability of defeat was very great. Asa knew that the lives of over a half million men and the safety of Judah and possibly all Israel depended on the outcome of a fray with the invaders. Only God could alter that obvious outcome. It was time for the king to pray.
"You know that we must stand against these enemies," Asa said to God, "and you know that they are so numerous that they could surround us. But we will go against them in your name, trusting that you will not let them prevail against us, for if they do, and if we are your people, it would be as though they prevailed against you. If helping us in battle were something you are too weak to do, it would be foolish to ask. We know, though, that you have the power to do anything. We're putting our lives into your merciful hands."
By then the Ethiopians and their Egyptian allies had spread out all across the southern horizon and to the southeast and southwest, like a gigantic, curved trap ready to snap shut with bone-crushing force on its victims. (II Chronicles 14:9-11.)
A growing cloud of dust came up from the middle of the valley, heralding the charge of Zerah's chariots, followed at a slower pace by a horde of foot soldiers whose shields, spears and swords glistened sharply in the brilliant sunlight. Shouts from thousands of throats came up the valley like the savage shriek from some kind of massive animal. Only minutes later the rumbling chariots were close, and heading straight toward the ranks of the House of Judah!
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Troubles in Israel and Judah
An army of a million soldiers, led by an ambitious Ethiopian named Zerah, had come from the south to invade the nation Judah. King Asa met them with only about half as many troops.
Knowing that he would probably be utterly defeated unless God purposed otherwise, he earnestly appealed to God for help. (II Chronicles 14:8-11.)
God Overthrows an Army
Unaware that violent storm clouds were quickly gathering overhead, the invaders charged toward the Jews first with their three hundred swiftly-drawn chariots. When they were only a short distance from the first ranks of Asa's archers, a cloudburst struck. At the same instant, God sent a violent earthquake which shattered the ground and quickly halted the chariots' charge. The chariots floundered instead of running down their intended victims. Giant hailstones fell. The Ethiopian charioteers, in panic, fled.
Egyptian records tell of this divine overthrow. Psalm 46:1-11 describes how God did it.
The sudden destruction of the chariot brigade was a bad omen to the invaders. When Zerah's oncoming foot soldiers saw what had happened, they were unnerved. They realized something supernatural had occurred. Their savage shouts died away or turned to murmurs of puzzlement and fear.
The Israelites realized God was helping them. They let loose a cloud of spears and arrows on Zerah's foremost ranks, then rushed in for close combat with swords and spears. The Jews were anxious to fight while the enemy was so disorganized and their will to battle was at a low ebb.
As the fighting went on, the falling back quickly developed into a retreat, and the retreat became a rapid, frantic flight to the southwest. (II Chronicles 14:12.) When the pursuit reached Gerar, a town near the coast south of Judah, the enemy troops tried to make a stand against the Jews, who promptly forced them out of Gerar and on to the south.
While battling their way through the town, Asa and his men discovered why the enemy had tried to fight back at that location. The town was full of loot that had been taken by Zerah and his army on the way north. Gerar, as well as other towns in southern Canaan, had been overrun and the occupants had been slain or taken as prisoners. Some of Zerah's men had been left behind to guard what had been accumulated and brought to Gerar. These guards were chased out along with the thousands of wounded who fled on southward in front of Asa's soldiers.
When it was obvious that what was left of Zerah's fleeing army was too broken up to ever rally and threaten Judah again, the Israelites gave up the chase and turned back to Gerar. There they gathered together the booty left by the defeated invaders, to take it back to Jerusalem. Returning it would have been impossible, inasmuch as some of the rightful owners were dead, and those who weren't could not be located. Besides articles of gold, silver, brass and leather, there were arms, food, clothing and large herds of sheep, cattle and camels. (II Chronicles 14:13-15.)
A "Pat on the Back" from God
When the victorious Asa, riding at the head of his army, was within a few miles of Jerusalem, a small crowd of prominent citizens set out from the city to be first to welcome and congratulate him. But there was one who was ahead of them. He was Azariah, a man God had chosen to take a message to the king. He approached the oncoming army so closely on his burro that one of Asa's officers was about to give an order to have him removed from their path.
"Don't bother him," Asa said. "If he has come out to welcome us, let us stop and honor him for his goodwill."
The king was pleased to learn that this man had made a special effort to be first to welcome the returning victors. He was affected and encouraged much more, however, when he heard more from this fellow.
"Please listen to what else I have to say, King Asa," Azariah called out. "God has told me things I must tell you. You know now that God has answered the prayer you made to Him before going into battle with the enemy from the south. God is with you, and He will stay with you as long as you obey Him. If you disobey and forsake Him, He will forsake you. Without the Creator's help and protection, life can be uncertain, miserable and even worthless.
"Recall Israel's past. Whenever the nation turned from God, great trouble developed among the people. No one was safe at home or in the streets or fields. Crops failed. Disease increased. Neighboring nations started wars. Even the priests couldn't help, because most of them forgot God's laws. But when the people repented and turned back to God, He was always ready to forgive and help them. God has told me to remind you to keep these things in mind and to remain strong by being loyal to God. If you do, your nation shall prosper and can depend on God for its protection." (II Chronicles 15:1-7.)
Asa was so moved by these words that as soon as he returned to Jerusalem he set out with fresh enthusiasm to comb out of Judah and Benjamin any places of idol worship his men had overlooked before. He even sent soldiers to the north to weed out idolatry from the towns his father had captured from the ten-tribed House of Israel after the battle with Jeroboam's army.
People who looked to God for their way of life began to flock to Judah from the ten tribes, especially from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon. They wanted to live in that part of the land that had God's fullest blessings. (II Chronicles 15:8-9.) Every day more Israelites showed up at the temple. That caused Asa to become painfully conscious of the condition of the temple. It hadn't had much repair since being damaged by the Egyptians in Rehoboam's time. Asa tried to restore it and its furnishings to something like their original condition and beauty.
The repair of the temple took place before one of God's annual Sabbaths was due. Asa sent word over all Judah and Israel that the day would be observed at Jerusalem with special services and ceremonies. This day was Pentecost, which is observed in these times in late May or June by those who submit to God's authority.
Asa Remembers God
Animals that had been herded up from Gerar after the rout of Zerah's army were brought to the temple. Seven hundred cattle and seven thousand sheep were sacrificed that day. While these offerings were being made, Asa assured the onlookers that their continued obedience would be rewarded in many ways. The people responded with loud cheers and music. They made it known to the king that they wanted to make a public promise to God that they would do their best to live by God's laws, and that they were in favor of death to anyone who failed to obey.
"I know God is pleased by your attitude and intentions," Asa said to the crowd. "Now let the Creator hear the voices of you who wish to make this solemn promise."
"We will do our best to serve God! If we fail, we deserve death!"
These words from thousands of throats surged out with great volume from around the temple, followed by the blast of horns and more joyous shouting and singing. The people were in earnest in this matter, most of them having been faithful to God, for the most part, during the recent eras of idol worship. (II Chronicles 15:10-15.)
Before Pentecost ended, a long line of Asa's servants carried treasures of gold, silver and brass into the temple. These were some of the valuables Asa's father had taken from Jeroboam's army sixteen years before. Abijam had intended that they should be used to pay for temple repair and service, but he hadn't carried out that intention. At long last Asa dedicated this wealth to God's business in the temple. (II Chronicles 15:18.)
Asa's efforts to help Israel and Judah by turning to God and abolishing idolatry resulted in a period of peace and prosperity. That period probably would have lasted longer if Asa hadn't acted unwisely in a situation that developed between the two nations of Israel and Judah, in which the king of Judah looked for help in the wrong direction.
Jeroboam, former ruler of the ten tribes -- the nation Israel -- had died thirteen years before. He was succeeded by a son, Nadab, who did nothing to remove idolatry from the nation. (I Kings 15:25-26.) During a skirmish with the Philistines in the town of Gibbethon in the territory of Dan, Nadab was killed after
only two years as king. He wasn't slain by Philistines, however. His death was planned by a viciously ambitious man from the territory of Issachar. His name was Baasha, an officer of high rank in Nadab's army. The attack against the Philistines to drive them out of Gibbethon gave Baasha an opportunity to do away with the king. While in command of Nadab's army, he ended the lives of all of Nadab's family and seized control of the ten tribes. (I Kings 15:27-28.) This was the fulfillment of the prediction made by Ahijah the prophet to Jeroboam. (I Kings 13:33-I Kings 14:16.) His family line was wiped out and someone else took over the rulership. (I Kings 15:28-34.)
Asa's Faith Weakens
Baasha was far from pleased because many people of Israel were moving to Judah so that they could get away from the idol worship that still abounded in so many places in Israel. He was also angered by Asa's bold entry into Israel's southern towns to destroy idols. Baasha hoped to soon muster an army strong enough to capture Jerusalem and take over all twelve tribes. With the fighting force he commanded, he dared only seize a small town about six miles north of Jerusalem. This town, called Ramah, was on the main road leading into Jerusalem from the north. Baasha immediately started turning it into a strong fortress. His intention was to gain control of traffic in and out of Jerusalem on the north side. (I Kings 15:16-17; II Chronicles 16:1.)
When Asa was informed of what Israel was doing so close to the capital of Judah, he was quite perturbed. He wanted to avoid war, and yet he wanted to get Baasha and his men away from Ramah. He thought of a possible way to solve the problem. Unfortunately, it was a way that was certain to compound his trouble.
He issued an order that the gold and silver objects in the treasuries of the temple and palace should be packed for moving a long distance. When they were ready, he sent them off by a heavily guarded caravan to Damascus, about a hundred and forty miles to the north. There they were delivered to Ben-hadad, king of Syria, along with a message.
"Friendly salutations from Asa, king of Judah," the message read. "I am sending you treasures from my kingdom to bind an understanding that should profit you more than any agreement you might have with Baasha to keep peace with him and his nation. He is now busily fortifying a town near Jerusalem. If you wish to expand your southern borders without resistance, now is your opportunity."
Ben-hadad could have kept the bribe of gold and silver without doing anything, but he welcomed this chance to take over a part of Israel. Even before his caravan returned, Asa was relieved and pleased to receive a report that several towns in the territory of Naphtali had been captured by Syrian troops. Until then, he wondered if his gifts to Ben-hadad had been wasted. (I Kings 15:18-21; II Chronicles 16:2-5.)
When Baasha heard about the Syrians, he was fearful that they would move on southward, invade Tirzah and plunder his palace. He hurriedly set off for his capital, leaving a small number of soldiers behind to guard the unfinished fortress.
As soon as he was told that Baasha had departed, Asa took soldiers to Ramah to seize it from the outnumbered guards. If it had been finished it would have been an exceptionally strong fortress because of its heavy, wooden beams and massive wall stones. Much unused material was stacked inside the half-built wall. Workmen from Judah could have completed the construction, but Asa didn't want a fortification there.
Asa decreed that all able-bodied men should go to Ramah to help dismantle and transport the stone and lumber to the towns of Geba and Mizpah only a few miles away in the territory of Benjamin. If Ramah no longer existed, Baasha couldn't claim it as a war prize.
Israel's Kings Reject God
Asa's will was carried out. Thousands of men came to Ramah, which soon became only piles of rubble beside the highway. Geba and Mizpah became fortresses instead. (I Kings 15:22; II Chronicles 16:6.)
Meanwhile, King Baasha of Israel was trying to build his army with the intention of conquering Judah. Then, as king of all reunited Israel, he would become militarily strong enough, he hoped, to push back the Syrians and any other enemies who invaded Israel. His ambitions were somewhat dimmed when a prophet by the name of Jehu, sent by God, came to Baasha to tell him what his and his family's future would be.
"God has instructed me to remind you that it was He, and not you, who made it possible for you to become ruler of the ten tribes," Jehu told Baasha. "Someone had to succeed Nadab. You were allowed that privilege. If you had been thankful for it, and if you had led the people according to God's laws, you could have become a much more powerful king and could rule for many more years. But because you have lived sinfully and ruled carelessly, causing your people to sin, your fate will shortly become the same as that of Jeroboam. You and your family shall be cut off from leadership of any part of Israel."
Baasha motioned for guards to escort the prophet out. He didn't wish to hear anything more Jehu had to say. It troubled him, but he didn't want to appear concerned in front of others. If Baasha had been as troubled as he should have been, he would have changed his ways and perhaps God would have spared him. His life came to an end soon after Jehu's visit. The king was buried in Tirzah after twenty-three years of incapable reigning. (I Kings 16:1-7.)
Baasha's son, Elah, became the next ruler. He lived as his father had lived. Only two years later, while he was in a dulled condition from drinking too much, he was slain by a man who had been waiting for just such an opportunity. He was Zimri, one of Elah's cavalry captains. Having dispatched the king, Zimri took command of Tirzah. Then he had all of Elah's family put to death. Jehu's prophecy to Baasha was fulfilled. (I Kings 16:8-14.)
Zimri and his men enjoyed the comforts and pleasures of the palace. They didn't have to share them with officers of the army, because the army of Israel was busy besieging the town of Gibbethon, which had been taken by the Philistines. Zimri was sure that when the Israelite soldiers returned from the siege, they would accept him as ruler without too much trouble.
Matters didn't quite turn out that way. When the soldiers heard what he had done, they decided that their army commander, Omri, should be the next leader of the ten tribes. Omri was pleased to accept this hasty elevation. His first move was to call off the siege and take his army to Tirzah to besiege it instead.
When Zimri was informed that the town was surrounded by the troops he planned to control, and that Omri had come to have him arrested for murder, his future suddenly looked bleak. He ordered his men to defend the gates and the walls, but they saw no reason to die for a leader who wasn't backed by the army of the ten tribes.
By the time Omri's soldiers had broken into Tirzah, Zimri had locked himself alone inside the palace and had hidden in the strongest part of the building. The sound of soldiers running through the streets, pounding on the palace doors and yelling his name was too much for Zimri. He was overcome with panic. Seizing a lighted torch, he set fire to his hiding place. (I Kings 16:15-20.)
"If I can't have this palace, then nobody else will get it!" he screamed.
Bible Story Book Index
Elihah and the Famine
ZIMRI an ambitious and murderous man, had tried to become king of the ten tribes of Israel by murdering King Elah. (I Kings 16:8-10.) Zimri had then hidden in the palace at Tirzah. When the army approached, he had set fire to it, knowing that he would be slain if he were found.
Zimri madly shouted that he would rather see the palace burn than give it up to anyone else. The building and everything in it went up in flames, including Zimri, who was allowed by God to consider himself king for only seven days. (I Kings 16:11-18.)
Disunity in Israel
In the months that followed, the people of the ten tribes were divided into two parts as to who should be their next ruler. Military people were in favor of Omri, but civilians favored a man named Tibni. The dispute continued for such a long time that each man came into power over different parts of the ten tribes. After four years Tibni died, leaving full leadership of the ten tribes to Omri. (I Kings 16:21-23.)
Omri wasn't satisfied with the place in which he lived in Tirzah. He considered it a poor substitute for the burned palace. Besides, he didn't like the location. One day he was riding through a valley situated about ten miles west of Tirzah and over thirty miles north of Jerusalem. He was impressed by the sight of a long, flat-topped hill rising about five hundred feet from the valley floor.
"Find out who owns that hill," Omri told one of his aides. "I want to buy it for my palace site."
When the owner was found, he sold the hill to the king for two talents of silver, a very reasonable sum. Omri's palace was later built there. It was the beginning of what eventually grew into the important city of Samaria.
Perhaps Omri was used by God to start Samaria, although the king didn't purpose to carry out God's will. As other leaders did before him, he practiced idolatry and encouraged his subjects to do likewise. He died twelve years after Zimri's death. (I Kings 16:23-28.)
Ahab, a son of Omri, became the next ruler of the ten tribes. Unfortunately for the people, his leadership wasn't an improvement over that of the kings who had gone before him. In fact, he stooped to some new lows as a king, by marrying a cruel, scheming Canaanite woman who detested God and who was extremely ambitious of forcing idolatry into Israel. She was Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the nearby coastal nation of Zidon. (I Kings 16:29-31.) Ethbaal was a murderer, a thief and a pagan priest who officiated during rites to the goddess Venus, or Astarte, later called Easter.
A Look at Judah
A few years before Ahab's time as ruler of Israel, King Asa of Judah had hired King Ben-hadad of Damascus to help him against King Baasha of Israel. (II Chronicles 16:1-6.) A prophet named Hanani had then come to Jerusalem to tell Asa that he had a message from God for the king.
"God was displeased when you paid the king of Syria to help get King Baasha of Israel away from the Jerusalem area," Hanani said. "If God could rescue Judah from the million Zerah brought from the south, why couldn't He do the same for Judah at any other time as long as you rely on Him? God is always willing and able to help those who obey Him. Because you looked to a nation that has long been an enemy of Israel for your help, you have lost the opportunity to overcome both Baasha and Syria and you shall continue to have wars."
Asa was furious at Hanani because of what he said, even though he knew that he was guilty of buying help from the Syrians.
"Imprison this man!" Asa angrily yelled to his guards. (II Chronicles 16:7-10.)
From that time on Asa's relationship with God deteriorated. He was no longer as close to God as he had been. He lost a compassionate attitude toward his people, insomuch that he wasn't always fair to many of them. In his last years he was unable to walk because of what was probably a gout condition. Whatever it was, it was very severe Nevertheless Asa did not pray to God for relief and healing of this ailment. Instead, he put his total trust in physicians.
He died after ruling Judah for forty-one years, and was buried with great honors in Jerusalem after a very special funeral. (II Chronicles 16:11-14.)
Utter Depravity in Israel
By the time Asa's rule over Judah ended, the hill in Israel where Omri's palace was located had become covered with buildings that comprised early Samaria. Some of these structures were dedicated to the worship of heathen gods. One of them included a huge altar for making sacrifices to Baal, who was supposed to be god of the sun. Another place was a school where instruction was given to men who were recruited to train as priests to carry out the base rites of idol worship brought to the land by Jezebel, Ahab's wicked wife. Samaria had become the capital of idolatry in Israel. (I Kings 16:29-33.)
Jezebel's hatred for those who followed God was so intense that she sent soldiers to kill those men who were known to be true prophets. Ahab didn't object even to this wholesale murder. Oddly enough, his chief steward, Obadiah, somehow managed to remain faithful to God despite his surroundings.
Quite possibly he was meant to be in his high position so that he might help others who were serving God. For one thing, he succeeded in saving the lives of a hundred prophets by hiding them in caves in nearby mountains and sending them food and water to live on. (I Kings 18:3-4.)
Ruled by such a depraved pair, most of the people of the ten tribes were worse off than they had been for years. To add to that, some great calamity was certain to come from God unless Israel turned from idolatry. One day a prophet named Elijah came to the palace at Samaria to speak to the king. He explained that he had made a special trip from the territory of Gilead, east of the Jordan River to bring an urgent message from God to Ahab. Palace aides ordinarily didn't admit uninvited visitors, but when Ahab heard about him he was curious to hear what the stranger had to say.
God Sends Famine
"I have come to warn you that because of the sinfulness of this nation's people, this land will suffer a lack of rain and dew," Elijah told Ahab. "There won't be any more rain until I return to announce its coming."
"Interesting!" exclaimed Ahab mockingly. "Then I suppose you'll be honoring me with another visit a few days from now?"
"I doubt it," Elijah replied. "It will be more like a few years from now." (I Kings 17:1.)
Ahab was in a pleasant mood, or he might have ordered guards to seize Elijah and jail him for being insolent. Besides, he wanted to prove to spectators that he was a fair and compassionate ruler.
"Let him go for now," Ahab said. "He's only a harmless crank."
As soon as Elijah had slipped out of Samaria, he was told by God to go eastward and hide near a certain brook that flowed into the Jordan River. He was informed that he shouldn't be concerned about food because birds would supply it. Even to Elijah, who had great faith in God, the idea of birds feeding him was fantastic. (I Kings 17:2-4.)
When the prophet reached the brook, he looked around till he found a nearby cave for shelter. In it he made a bed of leaves and grass. This was to be his home where he was to stay hidden from human eyes until he was instructed what next to do. It wasn't an unpleasant spot in which to dwell. The cold, clean brook ran close by to supply water for drinking and bathing. From the cave Elijah could look down a ravine to the open valley where the brook joined the river.
Toward evening he began to wonder about food, having walked more than twenty miles from Samaria that day. Elijah was almost as hungry as he was tired. As he rested by the stream, he became aware of a flock of ravens approaching quietly, and then swooping to the ground only a few yards away. They left something lying on a wide flat rock that almost resembled a table. At first Elijah could hardly believe what he saw. There were small pieces of bread and cooked meat on the rock!
The hungry prophet didn't wonder where the ravens had obtained it. He thanked God for it and ate. The bread tasted as though it had been freshly baked, and the meat as though it had been roasted recently. Elijah wasn't concerned about whether or not it was clean meat. He knew that God wouldn't provide him unclean food. After eating all he needed, he spent a time praying and then went into his cave for a night of well-deserved rest.
Next morning, as he refreshed himself at the stream, he saw the ravens flying in, and watched them as each bird carefully deposited on the rock something it carried in its beak. After the ravens had flown away, he again ate more bread and meat.
Elijah wondered where it had come from. Had the birds taken the bread from some bakery or kitchen not too many miles distant? Had they brought the meat from God's sacrificial altar? Or had God miraculously put the bread and meat into the beaks of the ravens and directed them to put it down before Elijah? However it happened, the prophet knew that God caused it to occur. He was thankful for the supply of food in the months that followed. (I Kings 17:5-6.)
Elijah Sent to the Gentiles
During those months, no rain fell in Samaria or the pagan regions for many miles around. Ahab clearly remembered the warning made to him by Elijah and what the prophet had said about the drought ending when he returned to announce it. The king was increasingly troubled. Regardless of his tendency toward idolatry, he feared anything that seemed to come from God.
At last he decided to establish a wide search for Elijah, hoping that the prophet would appeal to God to send rain. All the searchers eventually returned to report failure, whereupon they were promptly sent back to continue the hunt. (I Kings 18:10.) Meanwhile, more streams dried up and more cisterns and wells went dry. The land became a sickly yellow-gray color. The supply of water was dangerously low. (I Kings 18:5.)
About a year or two after Elijah had come to live in the cave, the nearby stream dried up completely. The only way to get water was to go down to the Jordan River, and that meant a risk of being seen. God didn't want Elijah to be discovered yet by anyone who would report his whereabouts to the king.
He instructed the prophet to go to the town of Zarephath, about a hundred miles northward at the eastern edge of the Great Sea. There he was to find a certain widow who was to supply him with food and lodging.
Traveling mostly at night, Elijah was very careful not to be seen. In the daytime he rested and slept in well-hidden shady places in ravines and among boulders. Food and water weren't naturally present wherever he went, but God somehow supplied him with enough to keep up his strength. When he reached Zarephath it was daylight, but because the town was in the idolatrous nation of Zidon, it was very unlikely that anyone would be looking for him except the woman he was to meet.
Just outside the gates of the town he saw a thin, weary-looking woman picking up a few sticks. He had a strong feeling that this was the widow about whom God had told him. He was very thirsty, so he didn't lack for a reason to start a conversation.
"I haven't had any water for hours," Elijah called out to the woman. "If you know where there is water, would you please get some for me?" (I Kings 17:7-10.)
The woman hesitantly approached the prophet and looked at his tired eyes and parched lips.
"I'll get water for you," she said, starting toward the gates, "but I can spare only a little."
"A little is better than none," Elijah observed. "I am very hungry, too. Could you give me a small piece of bread?"
The woman turned back to the prophet a little impatiently. Gentile Widow's Faith
"Sir, I don't have any bread," she told him. "All I have is a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a bottle. When you first spoke to me, I was looking for a few sticks with which to build a fire and bake the oil and flour into a bit of bread. That will be the last food my son and I shall eat. Then we shall starve to death." (I Kings 17:11-12.)
"You and your son won't starve," Elijah said confidently. "The God of Israel has told me about you, and it's not His will that you should die from lack of food. Your jar of meal and bottle of oil will last until God sends rain."
The woman stared at Elijah. Ordinarily she would have considered a man who talked as he did some kind of fanatic, but somehow she felt that the God of Israel had sent him and she trusted God to keep His promise. She motioned to Elijah to follow her, and trudged off to her home within the walls of Zarephath. Later, after Elijah had eaten the biscuit-sized bit of bread the woman had unselfishly made for him, he watched her begin to prepare more with the very last of the oil and flour. He wasn't surprised at what she had to say.
"There is more oil in this bottle than there was before I used it last!" she exclaimed. "And there is more flour in the jar than there has been for days! My memory must be failing me."
"There's nothing wrong with your memory," Elijah assured her. "You were kind enough to attend to my needs first. Because of that, God will see that as long as the drought lasts there will be plenty of oil in that bottle and plenty of flour in that jar."
The prophet's words proved true during the months that followed. Regardless of how much oil the widow poured from the bottle, it always had some left in it. It was the same with the flour jar. It didn't become empty, no matter how much was taken from it. (I Kings 17:13-16.)
During that time, the widow's young son became seriously ill. Days later he died, leaving his mother in an extremely grief-stricken state. To add to her misery, she became somewhat embittered because she felt that Elijah had something to do with her son's death.
"What are you really here for?" she tearfully asked the prophet as she stood before him with the lifeless little form in her arms. "Did you come to seek out my past sins and tell God about them so that He would punish me by taking away my son?"
"Give me the boy," Elijah patiently said to her. "Why?" the woman asked, twisting around so that she was between Elijah and her son.
In spite of the mother's attitude, Elijah reached out and tenderly took the limp body from the mother, who was surprised at her sudden willingness to part with it. The prophet walked up a stairway to his room on top of the house, where he had lived since coming to Zarephath. There he placed the boy on his bed.
"God, I know you must have a reason to bring misery to the woman of this house by taking her son," Elijah prayed. "I don't know what it is, but I know that she has suffered greatly in these past days, and especially in these last hours. I'm asking that in your mercy you would forgive her for any sins she has committed and bring life back to this child." (I Kings 17:17-21.)
By this time the little boy's body had become cold. Elijah lay down very close to it, hoping that his warmth and strength would be of some value while God supplied the spark of life that only the Creator could impart.
The minutes slipped by. The prophet thought he felt a movement in the boy's body, but he couldn't be sure.
Bible Story Book Index
" ... If the Lord be God, Follow Him"
ELIJAH the prophet had been instructed by God to stay hidden in a city near the coast of the Great Sea during many months of the drought that had come to the ten tribes of Israel. (I Kings 17:8-16.)
God Gives Life
The young son of the woman in whose home Elijah stayed had died. He had taken the boy to his room, and had asked God to restore the youngster's life. (I Kings 17:17-21.)
After a while the youngster began to breathe and move. God had answered the prophet's prayer and had brought life back into the youngster!
Elated and thankful, Elijah took the boy back downstairs to the weeping mother.
"Your son lives again, thanks to God's great mercy," Elijah said to the widow.
The kneeling woman glanced up through her tears. When she saw that her son was gazing at her with a weak smile and reaching out for her, she cried out happily, leaped to her feet and eagerly took the youngster into her arms. After a time, when she was able to speak, she told Elijah that the miracle proved to her that he was a man God had sent for a good purpose, and that she regretted making unkind remarks to him. (I Kings 17:22-24.)
Elijah continued to hide in the woman's home. About two years after he had arrived there, God instructed him to go to King Ahab, who still had many men looking for the prophet. Elijah set out at once for the city of Samaria.
By this time conditions had become very severe throughout the land. There was scarcely enough water for the people to drink. Most of their food had to be brought into Israel from distant regions by pack animals. There were dead cattle and sheep everywhere. If the drought continued, the people would soon start to perish from lack of food and water. (I Kings 18:1-2.)
Ahab was almost frantic. Countless sacrifices and prayers had been made to the pagan gods, but the rainless days continued. The ten tribes of Israel were without rain for three and one-half years. (Luke 4:25-26; James 5:17.) The king was convinced that the God of Israel could bring rain, but he was sure that God could be contacted only through Elijah, whom he desperately hoped would be found in time to ask God to save his kingdom.
In one of many attempts to find grass to save his horses, mules and donkeys, Ahab made a two-party search for springs around Samaria. He headed one group to cover a certain area. Obadiah, his chief steward, headed another group to go through a different region. (I Kings 18:3-6.)
As Obadiah's party, mounted on donkeys, slowly combed a parched range of hills, a lone figure appeared on the western horizon. As soon as the figure came close, Obadiah was surprised to recognize him as Elijah, whom he had seen in Ahab's palace. Obadiah slid off his donkey and bowed low before the prophet, whom he greatly respected as a follower of God.
"Aren't you Elijah?" Obadiah asked, suddenly wondering if he could be mistaken.
"I am Elijah," the prophet answered. "I remember seeing you in my brief visit in Ahab's palace. I understand that your king is looking for me. Please go tell him that I am here."
God Protects the Faithful
"If I told Ahab you are here," Obadiah pointed out, "it could mean my death. He has been searching Israel and even other nations for you for three years, to tell you to ask God to send rain. Even though he needs you, he could be in the mood to kill you because you have remained hidden from him. But God would take you away from here before you could be harmed. If I say you are here and Ahab finds you aren't, he'll take my life. Perhaps you heard how Ahab's wife caused the death of many of God's prophets, some of whom I was able to rescue. If he were angered, Ahab wouldn't hesitate to follow his wife's example." (I Kings 18:7-14.)
"Don't be concerned about me or yourself," Elijah told Obadiah. "I promise you that if you go now to tell Ahab where I am, neither you nor I will meet death because of what you do. If Ahab wants to see me, he can do it this same day by coming here."
Obadiah knew that Elijah couldn't make such a promise unless he had special help from God. Without further words with the prophet, he instructed his men to continue on the planned course while he went in another direction to meet Ahab.
"I have found Elijah!" Obadiah called to the king when he had almost caught up to him.
"You mean Elijah the prophet, the man I've been trying to find for three years?" Ahab asked excitedly.
"The same man," Obadiah replied. "He is awaiting you on the other side of that range of hills."
Ahab wasn't pleased to learn that the prophet expected the king to come to him, but he motioned for his men to follow Obadiah, who led the group over the ridge to where Elijah sat resting in the shade of a boulder. Ahab rode close and rudely shouted at him without the courtesy of a proper greeting. (I Kings 18:16-17.)
"So it's you at last!" the king blurted out, frowning down at him. "You've given Israel plenty of trouble these last three years!"
Elijah stood up, stepped toward Ahab and gazed steadily at the angry face.
"You accuse me of troubling Israel?" Elijah asked. "You know I have done nothing to hurt this nation. But you have, and so have the rulers in your family before you. You have caused Israel untold harm by forsaking God and turning to pagan idols and deities."
"Why should we quibble over these things?" Ahab asked. "All that matters now is that you ask your God, if indeed He has control over the elements, to send plenty of rain on our land. Your God is supposed to have Israel's welfare constantly in mind. Surely He won't let this terrible condition continue."
"Don't make the mistake of believing that rain will come to Israel simply by your telling me to pray to God for it," Elijah said. "I am God's servant, not yours."
Ahab was able to restrain himself only because he felt that Elijah's continued existence could mean an end to the drought.
Only One Prophet of God
"So you expect some great reward for your unique services," Ahab exclaimed disdainfully. "Name your price!"
"I do not seek a reward," Elijah replied calmly. "But there is something I am going to ask you to do."
"Aha!" Ahab snorted. "Then you do have your price. What is this favor you have in mind?"
"Send word around the country for the leaders of the people to gather at the eastern end of Mt. Carmel," Elijah answered, ignoring Ahab's insults. "Also gather four hundred and fifty of your priests of Baal at the same place. And tell your queen, Jezebel, to send four hundred of her priests of Astarte. If you will do this, I shall come to Mt. Carmel to consider asking God for rain." (I Kings 18:17-20.)
Although these requests puzzled the king, he knew that asking questions wouldn't help matters. He was so anxious to see the drought ended that he was willing to carry out whatever the prophet requested, even though he disliked Elijah and would have had him killed if there had been nothing to gain by letting him live.
Mt. Carmel is a range of hills extending about eighteen miles southeast of the Bay of Acre on the Great Sea. From the eastern tip of the range, which was where Elijah intended to meet the gathering of leaders and prophets, it was about twenty miles to Samaria. When Elijah arrived there a few days later, thousands of Israelites were congregated on the plain off to the north and east. The prophet promptly climbed to the eastern summit of the range and spoke out loudly to all below.
"How long will it take you people to make up your minds about whom to follow?" Elijah asked, "If you choose God, then follow Him completely and forget about Baal and any other idols. If you choose Baal, then be loyal to him and don't try to mix any of God's laws into that pagan religion. Most of you seem to be trying to worship both God and Baal. What is to be gained by such a foolish pursuit?"
There was no response except silence from the audience. Although they had been living like heathen, they still wanted to call themselves God's people. Elijah waited a minute or two for some other kind of reaction, but there weren't even any hoots of derision.
"Among the thousands assembled here, I am the only prophet of God," Elijah continued. "I am somewhat outnumbered by the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal that King Ahab had brought here by my request. I requested also that he bring four hundred of his queen's prophets who conduct the worship of the goddess Astarte, but obviously his wife refused to allow her priests to associate with a prophet of God. (I Kings 18:21-22.)
"But let us get to the problem at hand. The land and the people here will soon perish unless rain comes. God has held back the rain because so many have turned to idolatry. God is the only one who has the power to release the rain."
This statement brought strong murmurs from the many who felt that their god Baal had just been slighted. There were excited and angry shouts of "Baal! Baal!" from the king's priests. Elijah held up his hands for silence.
"Baal Must Be Asleep"
"Let us carry out a demonstration to prove which deity has the greater power," the prophet continued. "I request that two bullocks be brought here, and that the priests of Baal choose one of them, cut it up and place it on the wood of an unlit altar. I shall have the other bullock dressed and put on the wood of another altar. Then let the priests of Baal call on their god to set the wood of their altar on fire. I shall call on my God to set my altar on fire. The altar that catches on fire should prove who is the true God all of us should follow. Do you agree that this is a fair test?"
"Agreed!" the crowd chorused. (I Kings 18:23-24.) An altar was hastily constructed close to where Elijah stood, and wood was brought to cover it. Two bullocks were led up in sight of the people. One was picked by the priests of Baal, who filed up the hill with great dignity. The animal was slaughtered and cut up before the onlookers, and placed on the altar. The other bullock was put aside for the time being, tethered near God's ancient, crumbling altar that happened to be not far away.
When all was in readiness, a colorful demonstration was made by the priests of Baal. They danced around their altar several times, chanting, singing and yelling as they went. They then prostrated themselves before the altar, entreating Baal in loud, shrill voices to bring down fire so that the wood and bullock could be burned. Nothing happened. The priests then started leaping up and down around the altar. The more athletic ones sprang up on the edges of the altar and then jumped back to the ground, where they groveled in the dirt and screamed for Baal to help them. This continued until noon, while the voices became hoarse and the priests began to sound more like bullfrogs than human beings. At that time Elijah appeared and again addressed the thousands on the plain below.
"You have seen how hard the priests of Baal have worked for the past several hours," Elijah said to the crowd, above the rasping croaks that came only occasionally, now, from the raw throats of the weary priests. "You have seen, too, how futile their vigorous efforts have been. Their god is supposed to be the god of fire. Why hasn't he answered by sparing a bit of himself and igniting the wood on their altar? Could it be that Baal is traveling in some distant land, and has heedlessly left his worshippers to perform their own miracles? Or could it be that he is asleep and that his servants haven't screamed with quite enough volume to awaken him? Perhaps he has gone hunting or visiting and forgot to tell his priests that he would be away for a time. Or possibly he can't be bothered today because he is in the privacy of his bathroom." (I Kings 18:25-27.)
There was a low murmur of laughter from the crowd below. The monotonous and ridiculous gyrations and utterances from the priests of Baal had become ludicrous even to many who were previously inclined to consider Baal a real god with mysterious powers. There were others who were angered by Elijah's jibes. The prophet was aware that he was surrounded by enemies who wanted to do away with him. If he hadn't been certain of protection from God, he wouldn't have dared to make degrading remarks about the king's god.
"Now See What God Can Do"
The priests of Baal couldn't give up and admit defeat in front of their king, who was watching closely. They had to keep on dancing and shouting. But they had another bit of splashy ceremony to carry out. While they swayed and jiggled they produced knives and started slashing at themselves. Even with their bodies caked with blood they continued their frenzied dancing.
"Here us, Baal! Hear us, Baal!" they groaned over and over. Finally weakened from exertion and loss of blood, all they could do for the rest of the afternoon was to mumble incoherent pleadings to their god. Toward evening Elijah appeared on the mountain again to address the people. (I Kings 18:28-29.)
"I see that many of you have gone to your tents and camps because you have tired of the futile performances of the priests of Baal," the prophet spoke out. "Now I ask that you come as close as possible to the foot of the mountain to observe that the God of Israel can do. There is an ancient altar up here that I shall now repair. I shall build it back up with twelve large stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, all of whom should be worshipping God instead of imaginary deities or idols. See for yourselves, now, what will happen when the living God is called on."
At Elijah's direction, wood was placed on the altar. The bullock that had been put aside was slaughtered, cut up and spread out on the wood. A ditch was dug all around the altar. Twelve barrels of precious water, obtained from a nearby spring that was one of the few left in the land, were poured over the sacrificial meat. Wood, altar and ground inside the ditch were thoroughly soaked, leaving no possibility of Elijah or his assistants setting fire to the contents of the altar by any devious means. With all in readiness, Elijah stood before the sacrifice and lifted his voice in prayer. (I Kings 18:30-35.)
"God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Israel, make it known today, through your great power, that you are the one and only real God in Israel. Let it be known to these people that I am your servant, through whom you have caused these matters to be brought about here at Mt. Carmel. Hear and answer this prayer, Lord, so that those here will be convinced that there is no God like you. Cause them to realize the foolishness of looking to anyone or anything but you for their lives and welfare!"
Elijah said nothing more. He didn't scream, dance, leap, roll in the dirt or slash himself. Instead, he stepped back from the altar as though expecting something extraordinary to happen. And it did.
Some of the onlookers noticed a strange object in the sky over Mt. Carmel. It appeared to be a glowing fireball. There were excited murmurs from many throats as the gleaming object descended swiftly to the altar Elijah had prepared. The instant it touched the sacrifice, it burned fiercely, causing a burst of smoke. The glow was so intense that people covered their eyes or turned their heads. Seconds later the fiery essence grew dimmer and disappeared. Not only the meat and wood, but also the stones and water in the ditch had been consumed! There was only a blackened crater where the altar had been!
Bible Story Book Index
"O Lord,Take Away My Life!"
FIRE had descended from the sky about Mount Carmel to consume the sacrifice Elijah had prepared for God. Besides burning up the meat and wood, it burned up the stones of the altar, much of the ground under and around it and the water that lay in the ditch surrounding the altar. (I Kings 18:30-38.)
The Penalty of Idolatry
Fear gripped the onlookers. They fell to the ground, shouting that God was the only God, and that they had sinned in having anything to do with idols. Some of them shouted resentfully at the priests of Baal. Noting the swiftly growing anger of the crowd against the priests, Elijah held up his hands for silence.
"God requires these men of Baal should be punished here and now for leading Israel into idolatry!" Elijah called out. (Deuteronomy 13.) "Come up here and seize them! Don't let a one escape!"
Shouting with wrath, the crowd charged up the mountain to surround the four hundred and fifty priests, who were thrown into panic by this sudden turn of events. Quickly overpowered by greater numbers, the men of Baal become prisoners of the people.
"Take them down to the foot of the mountain," Elijah told those who had arrested the priests. "They will be put to death and their bodies placed in the dry creek bed there." (I Kings 18:39-40.)
Some of the frenzied priests screamed for help from Ahab, who was grimly watching the scene from not far away. The plight of his priests didn't bother the king as much as did the fact that Elijah was in control of the situation. But the sight of the altar being suddenly absorbed by the fire had unnerved him, and he dared do nothing contrary to Elijah's wishes. In response to his priests' appeal he slowly shook his head and turned his back. The struggling, yelling men of Baal were dragged down the mountain to be punished for their sins.
Most of the people returned to their camps or left the region to go back to their homes. Ahab was anxious to learn what Elijah would do about ending the drought, but he did not want to give the appearance of pressing him on the matter. He was relieved when the prophet approached him.
"I know that you're waiting for me to tell you when rain will come," Elijah said. "I can't yet say, but it could happen before many more hours pass. When it does come there will be plenty of it. Why don't you rest and eat while I go about my business on top of the mountain?"
Ahab was greatly encouraged by this statement. He went back into his tent, and Elijah went close to the pinnacle of the east shoulder of Mt. Carmel, where he bowed himself on the ground and sincerely asked God for rain. Shortly he asked his helper to go to the highest part of the mountain to see if there were any signs of cloudiness in the western sky. The man returned a little later to report that the sky was as cloudless as it had been for more than three years.
The Drought Ends
"Go look again," Elijah said, and returned to praying. Shortly the man came back to tell the prophet that the sky was still completely clear. Elijah had him to continue going up and looking and returning at brief intervals to state the condition of the sky. When he came back from his eighth trip to the top of the mountain, the man excitedly informed the prophet that there was a small cloud just above the western horizon.
"Go to King Ahab and tell him that rain will fall very soon," Elijah instructed his helper. "Tell him that he would be wise to get across the plain now in his chariot before the downpour turns the dusty plain into an impassable sea of mud." (I Kings 18:41-44.)
Ahab was almost wild with satisfaction when he heard the news. By then, even from the sheltered site of his tents, he could see a small cloud rising up in the western sky. Excitedly he called his servants to pack the tents and other equipment and move out as soon as possible.
The cloud rose and expanded and Elijah knew God was about to answer his request. For that the prophet took time to utter words of thankfulness. Within an hour or so the small, white cloud would expand completely across the western sky. The vapor grew darker. A strong, high wind started the cloudy masses to churning ominously. This abrupt change in the heavens from a peaceful blue to a boiling dark gray struck deep fear into thousands of people in that part of Israel.
When lightning started to flash and thunder rolled across the plain, Elijah had already hurried down Mt. Carmel. By the time he reached the base, Ahab and his chariot driver were getting started. Soon the rain would be pouring out of the sky and the creek bed would begin to fill with a surge of muddy water to wash away the lifeless bodies of the priests of Baal. Just after Elijah crossed the stream, Ahab passed over with his chariot. And the loaded donkeys weren't far behind. If they had been much later, they could have been swept away by the rapidly rising stream.
One of the towns near the east peak of Mt. Carmel was Jezreel, about twenty miles to the southeast. That was Ahab's goal, and Elijah's, inasmuch as the city of Samaria was too far south to reach before the widespread cloudburst. Ahab's chariot driver galloped his horses before the storm. But Elijah, who was a natural athlete and also had some help from God, outran the chariot all the way to Jezreel. (I Kings 18:45-46.)
Next morning, after causing alarming flash floods over a large part of Israel, the torrent from the sky abated. Later, Ahab and his men continued on safely to Samaria.
As for Elijah, although he was the man who had most to do with the ending of the drought, he was regarded at Jezreel as just another vagrant by innkeepers. He was thankful however, to find a shelter from the downpour. Meanwhile, Ahab was being received with much pomp and honor in the best of the town's inns.
When Ahab told his wife what had happened at Mt. Carmel, Jezebel was furious because of her husband giving credit to the God of Israel for causing rain to come.
"The drought was bound to end naturally sometime," she angrily reminded Ahab. "Are you becoming childish, that you should believe self-styled prophets like Elijah, who time their utterances with unusual events of nature to try to convince people that they have unnatural powers?"
"Events of nature?" Ahab echoed. "Do you consider what happened to Elijah's altar something natural?"
"I wasn't there to see it, and I have only your influenced version of what happened," Jezebel countered disdainfully. "Your childish belief in this rustic prophet has cost the lives of four hundred and fifty men. If I had been foolish enough to send four hundred of my priests, as Elijah impudently requested, probably you would have been willing to let them die, too. If I had been there, matters would have turned out quite differently. It's too late now to undo what you've allowed to be done, but I'm going to see that this Elijah doesn't interfere any more in the religious affairs of Israel!"
"You'll have to find him first, and don't ask me where he is because I have no idea," Ahab said angrily, striding away.
"I'll do more to him than find him," Jezebel muttered, smiling to herself.
Meanwhile, Elijah stayed in Jezreel. The more he observed the people of the town, the more discouraged he became. He had imagined that word would spread how God had shown His power at Mt. Carmel, and that people everywhere would repent. From what he saw in Jezreel, everyone appeared relieved that the drought was over, but they didn't seem to be seeking God in the fervent manner of people who were truly regretful that they had fallen into idolatry.
Jezebel's spies soon discovered where Elijah was. Right afterward a man walked up to the prophet, thrust a piece of paper into Elijah's hand and disappeared. After Elijah read the message on the paper, being already discouraged as he was, his faith in God was a bit shaken. The message was from Jezebel, informing him that she intended to see him dead within twenty-four hours, and that she hoped her gods would kill her if she failed. (I Kings 19:1-2.)
Elijah left Jezreel at once, hoping to get out of the nation of Israel and reach safety in the nation of Judah before Jezebel's men could seize him. His servant, the man who had reported seeing the little cloud from Mt. Carmel, had come with him to Jezreel, and wanted to stay with him in this time of great danger. The two succeeded in reaching Judah and traveling through it to Beer-sheba, a town on Judah's southern border more than eighty miles to the south of Jezreel.
Elijah felt that Jezebel's men could show up even that far south in pursuit of him. He convinced his servant that they would both be better off separated. (I Kings 19:3.) Anxious to get out of a populated area, Elijah went on by himself several miles into the Paran desert that extends down into the Sinai peninsula. Hot, weary, thirsty and hungry, he stopped to rest in the shade of a desert canebrake. By this time he felt sure he could never do any more good among the people of Israel and was so depressed that he wanted to die.
"Let Me Die!"
"I don't want to go on living like this," he prayed. "God, I would rather have you take my life than be murdered by Jezebel's servants."
The prophet was so tired that he fell asleep. Some time later he was awakened by someone shaking him gently by the shoulders. Before he could open his eyes, he heard a voice telling him to get up and eat, but when he was awake and looked around, nobody was in sight.
Elijah settled back, believing that he had dreamed someone had awakened him. He was about to fall asleep again when the pleasant odor of warm bread came to him. He sat up and looked around once more.
This time he was surprised to see a small roll of bread on a flat stone over a bed of hot coals. He picked it off the stone and found that it had just been baked. Then he spied a bottle of water nearby. When he reached for it, he discovered that somehow it was very cool.
Elijah recalled that he had seemingly dreamed that someone had told him to eat. He wondered if this could be some scheme by Jezebel's men to poison him, but he quickly dismissed the idea that such a complex means would be used when it would be simpler to do away with him in his sleep. He could only conclude that God had sent an angel to supply his needs. He gave thanks for it and enjoyably consumed the bread and water.
Relaxed by his repast, Elijah lay down and went back to sleep. Once more, after a good sleep, he felt himself being shaken by the shoulders, and again, when only half awake, he seemed to hear a voice telling him to get up and eat. This second time he was told that he should eat plenty because he would need strength for the long distance he intended to cover. (I Kings 19:4-7.)
He opened his eyes to find that there was nobody about, but there was another larger roll just finishing baking over still-glowing coals, and the bottle he had drained was again full of water. He found he was again hungry and thirsty. Eating and drinking a second time was anything but difficult. Afterward the prophet continued southward.
Walking several miles a day across the arid land, he kept on going until he reached Mt. Sinai, where the Ten Commandments, and lesser laws had been given to Israel six hundred years before. The trip took forty days, during which all he had to eat and drink was what had been miraculously supplied him on the first day into the desert from Beersheba. (I Kings 19:8.)
Part way up Mt. Sinai Elijah found a cave in which he decided to stay for a time. Possibly it was the same cave Moses was in when he briefly glimpsed God. While he was resting there, Elijah heard a voice clearly ask:
"Why have you come here to Mt. Sinai, Elijah?" The prophet was frightened. It was shadowy in the cave, and he imagined that the dark areas he saw could be Jezebel's men who had followed him. He reasoned that no one else would know his name, but after a time it occurred to him that God would know his name, and that the voice might be that of an angel.
This Is Only Small Power
"I have come here to escape being killed by the soldiers of Jezebel, queen of King Ahab," Elijah spoke out, wondering if anyone was listening to him. "I have sadly observed how the Israelites have broken your covenant that was made here at Mt. Sinai. They have forsaken God's altars for those of pagan gods. They have slain the true prophets. As far as I know, I am the only one left, and I won't have much longer to live if my enemies find me. I am dismayed by these events. I have been ambitious for God, but now I am doubtful that I did anything worthwhile. I was sure that Israel would be sobered after what happened at Mt. Carmel. Apparently the people weren't very impressed." (I Kings 19:9-10.)
"Don't be discouraged," the voice said. "Be assured that God is with you. Rest for now, because soon God will come very close to you. When He does, come out of the cave to meet Him."
In spite of being excited and puzzled by what he had been told, Elijah felt encouraged and peaceful, and fell into a deep, refreshing sleep. Next morning he was awakened by the shrill whine of wind, growing stronger by the minute. He jumped up, ran to the mouth of the cave and peered up at the surrounding rocky peaks. The blast of air past the mountain was so great that he had to step back to keep from being swept away. Holding fast to rocks, he looked out to see huge boulders on the brow of the mountain being toppled by the wind. They crashed down from ledge to ledge, landing on the slopes below with thunderous impact. Fearful that some mammoth rock would come grinding down where he was, Elijah went back into the cave, where he remained until the wind abated. At first he thought that the mighty movement of air indicated that God was passing by, but he concluded that God's only connection with the wind was that He caused it.
While he thought about the matter, the cave started to creak and shake. There was a growing rumbling that became so loud that Elijah ran into the open, afraid that the roof of the cave would collapse on him. Outside the cave he saw the terrifying spectacle of mountain peaks swaying and boulders and rock slides plummeting from the heights. Quickly, again, he sought the safety that existed inside the mountain. When the earthquake was over, he decided that the fearsome shaking of the earth wasn't caused by the presence of God but by only a small fraction of His great power.
When he considered it safe to venture out on the ledge again, Elijah looked down on the rubble cluttering the edge of the level expanse where the Israelites had camped on their way to Canaan. The mountain erupted with fiery lava and ash. The sky became filled with dark clouds. Flashes of ball lightning occurred, changing to long streams of chain lightning that crackled and spit down on Mt. Sinai and the surrounding peaks. Massive showers of sparks shot in all directions as the fiery bolts grounded and fused on smoking rocks, filling the air with fumes like those of brimstone.
Bible Story Book Index
Syria Challenge God
IN A CAVE in Mt. Sinai, Elijah was told by a voice that he should come out of the cave to meet God, who would soon be passing by. (I Kings 19:9-11.) Later, there was a very strong wind, followed by a powerful earthquake. Afterward, the prophet decided that God was not in either unusual display of nature.
Then the mountains erupted into volcanic activity and were stabbed by blazing bolts of lightning. Everything vibrated with the tremendous roar of steady thunder. Elijah crouched in fear, wondering if this could be God's manifestation of Himself, but he was afraid to stay outside the cave and watch what was taking place.
That Was Only Small Power
The lightning storm ended as abruptly as it had begun. The prophet walked slowly to the mouth of the cave, not knowing for certain what he would see. It was then that he thought he heard a voice coming from a great distance. Startled and uneasy, he pulled his coat up over his head, hesitant to see whatever or whomever should be waiting for him outside the cave.
After he had groped his way to the ledge, the voice came to him again. It was a clear, quiet voice of small volume. Seemingly, now, it came to him from all directions. (I Kings 19:11-13.)
The prophet let the coat drop off his head. He stared all around, but there was nobody in sight. The only visible moving thing was a column of smoke rising from the tip of a nearby crag that had been struck by lightning.
"I am your God," came the words. "Within the hour I passed by the cave you are in more than once, but I was not in the wind, earthquake or lightning. Now I have come to tell you that you have done well as my servant, though lately you let fear of the woman Jezebel get the best of you. I have more work for you, but you can be of the greatest value only if you rely fully on me and dedicate yourself fully to what you must do."
Elijah was both humbled and encouraged by what God said. He wanted to declare that he would be very enthusiastic about whatever God would require of him, but he was so overcome in the presence of the Creator, even though he couldn't see Him, that he feared to speak.
"Don't be concerned about Jezebel's men," God continued. "Go back to Israel, but don't return by the way you came here. Take a route to the east, as though going to Damascus. In the west side of the Jordan valley, a few miles east of Jezreel, you'll find a man named Elisha. He shall take your place, in due time, as the leading prophet of Israel in these years.
"Later, you will anoint a man named Hazael as king of Syria. You will also anoint a certain Jehu as king to replace Ahab. These two shall be used to punish the disobedient and rebellious rulers of my people. All Israel doesn't deserve punishment, because there are many thousands who have continued to observe my laws and have refused to worship idols." (I Kings 19:15-18; Romans 11:1-4.)
Days later, when Elijah arrived in the area where he had been instructed to go, he inquired about until he found where a man lived by the name of Elisha -- an industrious young man of a well-to-do family. Elisha happened to be plowing with a pair of work bulls when the prophet found him. Eleven of Elisha's men were also plowing in the field. Elijah recognized the man he was seeking. He walked into the field and tossed his cape over Elisha's shoulders as the younger man drove his team by. The surprised plowman pulled his animals to a halt and stared at the stranger.
"I have been told that only prophets of God wear capes like this one," Elisha said, "and that when a prophet tosses his cape over another man, it means that the man has been chosen to become another prophet. Am I to assume that this special honor has come to me?"
"You are right," Elijah answered. "I am a prophet of God, sent to let you know that you have been chosen for a purpose."
Elijah felt that more explanation wasn't necessary at the moment. He knew that Elisha would ask questions soon enough, so he walked away, intending to return later. He heard quick footsteps behind him, and turned to see Elisha running excitedly toward him.
"If God can use me, I'm willing to go with you this very hour," Elisha told Elijah. "But first let me say good-bye to my parents."
"You shouldn't leave without seeing them," Elijah agreed. "When I placed my cape on you, I didn't mean that you have to go with me now. Stay for a little time with your family. I shall return for you."
Elisha was very eager about his call from God. To him this was the greatest day of his life. He wanted the last night with his relatives and friends and servants to be a happy one. He was not in love with wealth. Accordingly, he had his men kill and dress two of his work animals to be boiled for a festive dinner that evening. To show he was permanently giving up his previous job to devote himself wholly to God's service, Elisha used his own plow and yoke for fuel.
Next day Elisha saw Elijah crossing the plowed field. The younger man told his family good-bye and joined the prophet. His parents watched the two disappear over a rise, unaware that their son would one day be a prophet who would become very important in the affairs of the nation. (I Kings 19:19-21.)
About five years passed, during which northern Israel recovered from the three-year drought and became prosperous. For a time matters went rather well for Ahab in spite of his continuing in idolatry. All Israel became lax. Then one morning he was awakened with the jolting report that a large army had surrounded his capital city of Samaria. The flags of Syria and thirty-two adjoining states could be plainly seen. Messengers appeared at the gates to demand an audience with Ahab, who promptly met them.
"We bring to you the words of our king, Ben-hadad of Syria," the spokesman messenger said to Ahab. "He wants you to know that he will call off the siege of your city if you will send out to him tomorrow your gold, silver and the choicest of your wives and children. He expects you to decide immediately and give your decision to us to take back to him." (I Kings 20:1-3.) Israel's prosperity was just too much for these greedy men to resist.
Ahab was stunned. He knew that he could be facing disaster if he appeared anything but agreeable. He reasoned that the only thing to do was at least seem to go along with the demands, and later try to find a way out of the sudden trouble.
"Tell your king, whom I consider my master, that I am at his service and that all I have is his," Ahab shakily told the messengers, hoping that his submissive answer would satisfy Ben-hadad for the time being.
When the king of Syria heard from his messengers what Ahab had to say, he decided that the king of Israel was so frightened that he would submit to any terms. He immediately sent his messengers back to make further demands of Ahab.
"Our king wants you to know that he has changed his mind," they reported. "He has decided not to require that you send him the things he previously asked for."
Ahab was greatly relieved, but his relief didn't last long. "Our king has decided to trust his gods and instead of your going to the trouble of taking to him the things he asked for, tomorrow he will send men into your city to search for and take everything that looks good. He expects you to cooperate fully. Only then will he remove his army from around Samaria."
Ahab was more troubled than ever. He immediately summoned the leading men of the city to explain the situation to them and ask what they thought should be done.
"Don't give in to him," they fervidly entreated the king. "If you let his men inside the walls, the city could be taken over that much sooner. Besides, if we give him what he demands, we can't rely on his taking his army away. Once he gets what is valuable, he might destroy Samaria and the people who are left."
Ahab was fearful of going contrary to Ben-hadad's demands, but he knew that the Israelite elders were right. His courage bolstered somewhat, he surprised the impatient Syrian messengers with what he had to say.
"Tell your king that although I regard him highly and at first consented to what he asked for in the beginning, I can't allow his men to come into my city and take whatever they want."
When Ben-hadad was told what Ahab had said, his fond hope of taking Samaria without a battle was swept away. In its place came a vengeful desire to do away with the city and every person in it.
"May the gods take my life," he muttered angrily, "If I don't set so many men against Samaria that there won't be room enough in the dust of the city for them to stand on! Tell that to the king of Israel!" (I Kings 20:4-10.)
When Ahab heard Ben-hadad's declaration that he would destroy Samaria, he wasn't as frightened as he had been when he first heard from Ben-hadad. He had just enough courage to cause him to send back a caustic answer to the other king.
"Tell your master that his threat to wipe out my city fails to impress me," Ahab instructed the messengers. "Remind him for me that a soldier who is just about to go into battle shouldn't boast about his victories. He should wait until he is returning from battle." (I Kings 20:11.)
The exchange of communications between the two kings had been going on most of the morning. It was about noon when Ben-hadad received Ahab's latest and last message. He was in a spacious dining tent, eating and drinking with the lesser rulers of the provinces close to Syria, whose troops comprised a part of the besieging army.
"Prepare to attack the enemy's city!" Ben-hadad shouted, staggering to his feet. "I would have spared the wretched Israelites until tomorrow, but now Ahab will pay for his insolent remarks by seeing his palace sacked this very day!" (I Kings 20:12.)
While the worried Ahab and his chiefs and royal guardsmen excitedly discussed what should be done, the king was told that a stranger with a vital message had come to speak to him. The stranger identified himself as a prophet and informed the king that God that same day would give Ahab a victory over the huge Syrian army, to remind him again that the God of Israel was the only real deity.
"Why would God tell me that I can be victorious over my enemy?" Ahab asked impatiently, staring doubtfully at the stranger. "I don't even have an army!"
"God wants you to make an army out of the men in the city of Samaria," the prophet answered. "For your leading soldiers, use your royal guards and the experienced retainers who are sons of your clan chiefs. Arm the rest of the men in the city as fast as you can. Prepare them for action right away. If you do these things, God will help you."
"But who will be the head of this motley crowd?" Ahab asked. "God expects you to be," the prophet replied. "If you aren't willing to do that much, you won't get any help from Him." (I Kings 20:13-14.)
Ahab had two hundred and thirty-two skilled soldiers who were his retainers and royal guards. A hasty count of able-bodied men in the city of Samaria added up to seven thousand. Many of them had no training as soldiers. Fast and frantic efforts were made to form what would at least look like an army out of seven thousand, two hundred and thirty-two men. (I Kings 20:15.)
They marched out at noon to face Ben-hadad's army. By this time Ben-hadad and the thirty-two kings with him were drunk.
"Two or three hundred Israelite soldiers have come out of Samaria and are running this way!" someone shouted into Ben-hadad's dining tent.
"Good!" the Syrian king muttered, sinking back on his pillows. "Take them alive for questioning, whether they have come to attack or whether they have come to bargain! I'll teach them what my gods can do!" (I Kings 20:16-18.)
The Victory Is God's
Scores of Syrian warriors were dispatched to meet the small body of Israelites. Confidently they surrounded them, intending to close in and herd them to the Syrian camp. The Israelites rushed at their would-be captors, bringing them to the ground with fast movements capable only of the best-trained soldiers of northern Israel, the king's royal guard.
More Syrian troops ran from their camp to take the place of their fallen fellow-soldiers. At the same time the seven thousand men of Samaria began to pour out of the city.
The sight of them unnerved the Syrians, who assumed that the men crowding out of the gates were as skilled in fighting as the first ones who had come out. Panic-stricken, they turned and raced back, trampling the tents and colliding with other Syrian soldiers preparing to attack. Pandemonium spread like fire among the thousands of soldiers and their officers.
This was the beginning of a surprising and sudden defeat of the Syrians. The lesser kings in Ben-hadad's dining tent decided without delay that they wanted no part of what already looked like a losing war. They fled to their horses and returned northeastward with some of their troops. Ben-hadad wasn't too confused, in his condition, to decide that he should leave, too. He was helped on a horse and raced away with most of the cavalry he had brought to Samaria.
The Syrian foot soldiers, superior in numbers, might have regrouped and crushed the Israelites, but they lost the will to fight when their leaders ran out. Many of them escaped. Others became the victims of the Israelites, who pursued them for a short distance from Samaria.
As for the large number of chariots, the drivers had little inclination to fight a battle by themselves by chasing their enemies over rough ground. Most of them died trying to escape. The area around Samaria became littered with dead and injured horses and broken vehicles. (I Kings 20:19-21.)
Ahab, who had gone with his men to direct them in the defeat of the Syrians, realized that the victory had been a miracle that could come only from the one true God. When news of the event reached the rest of the nation, many in Israel became more conscious of God and His power. Jezebel, of course, scoffed at the belief that God was as great as Baal, Astarte, and even lesser pagan gods and goddesses.
Not long after the short siege of Samaria, the prophet who had told Ahab that God would help him came again to the king to make another prediction and give some advice from God.
"Next spring, after the rains are over, Ben-hadad will return with another large army," the prophet said. "Because of his stinging defeat, he will be more determined than ever to be the victor. Prepare for his invasion by mustering and training as large an army as you are able to get together." (I Kings 20:22.)
At the same time, up at the Syrian capital of Damascus, advisors to the king were trying to convince him that he should challenge the God of Israel again and invade Israel after the spring rains were over and the ground was firm enough for chariots.
"We lost the battle because the Israelite gods dwell mostly in the hilly regions," they profoundly explained to Ben-hadad. "By casting some kind of spell on your men, those gods prevented your riders and foot soldiers from success. If you would build another army as great as the one that surrounded Samaria, and if you would meet Ahab's forces on some wide plain, where the hill gods of Israel have no power, you would surely enjoy a great victory."
"To muster an army as large as the one I had before," Ben-hadad told his advisors, "I would have to use the troops of the province leaders who deserted me. I wouldn't want to take them with me again."
"Use their soldiers, but don't let the leaders go," the advisors suggested. "Tell them that experienced officers will represent them to insure their safety."
Ben-hadad was far from sold on the idea, but after days of thinking it over, he grew increasingly ambitious. (I Kings 20:23-25.)
"Make plans to rebuild my army," he finally announced to his aides. "I am going to challenge the God of Israel and invade the land again!"
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Despot Goes Unpunished
THE ARMY of Ben-hadad, the Syrian king, had been depleted and routed from Israel. (I Kings 20:1-21.) But Ben-hadad decided to enlarge what was left of his army and try again to conquer the limited forces of King Ahab of the House of Israel.
During the next several weeks all able-bodied men were conscripted from Syria and adjoining territories that paid tribute to Ben-hadad. By the next spring the army was as large and as well trained as the one that had unsuccessfully besieged Samaria. (I Kings 20:22-25.)
Feeble Human Protection
At the same time Ahab was mustering and training men for a bigger army. He had been told that the Syrians would make another invasion of Israel after the rainy season was over. When that time came, Ahab had a trained army, but it was pitifully small compared to the Syrian fighting force of many thousands of foot soldiers and hundreds of chariots and cavalry.
Neither side was aware of the size of the other's army until the Syrians came into the plain east of Aphek. When Ahab learned of this, he took his soldiers to the northeast to meet the Syrians. He wanted to head the enemy off in the event another siege of Samaria was planned.
When the Israelites came in sight of the immense number of Syrians spread over the plain, discouragement ran high. At the same time the Syrians felt very confident when they saw that the Israelites had only two small divisions of men. Victory for the invaders looked as though it would be quick and easy. Some of Ben-hadad's officers observed that the previous loss to Syria would be avenged at the cost of moving into Israel with an army that was several times larger than necessary. (I Kings 20:26-27.)
"I'll agree with that only after I know for sure that there aren't more Israelite troops concealed in some gully on the edge of this plain," Ben-hadad told his officers.
When it was evident to Ahab that the Syrians intended to camp where they were at least overnight, he decided to set up camp two or three miles west of them. That evening was an uneasy one for Ahab, who expected at any minute to receive a report that the Syrians were coming. While he was pacing nervously in his tent, an officer announced that a stranger had been picked up on the edge of the camp. And that he claimed that he had a message he wanted to give only to the king of Israel. Thinking that the man might be a Syrian spy, Ahab asked that he be sent to him at once so that he could question him. The king was relieved and a little surprised when the stranger made it evident that he was a prophet with news from God.
"The Syrians have come here with the belief that the God of Israel has power only over the mountains and hilly regions," the prophet told Ahab. "They think that if they do battle with you on a level plain, God can't help you. I have been sent to tell you that He will again give you victory over the Syrian army, so that all will be shown that God has power in every part of every land and over all the Earth, and that great numbers of soldiers, horses and chariots are as nothing to him." (I Kings 20:28.)
"But how does God expect me to overcome such a vast army?" Ahab asked.
God Proves Himself Again
"Camp here seven days," the prophet said. "The Syrians won't make a move until then. Don't be afraid to stand and defy them. God will intervene to perform a miracle, just as He did when Samaria was previously surrounded."
Knowing when the Syrians would attack was a great advantage to Ahab. His men had a week of needed rest, even though they couldn't forget that they were outnumbered. As the prophet had predicted, seven days later the Syrians started swarming westward across the plain. The footmen came first. The cavalry and chariots had been instructed to hold off until the Israelites were all but wiped out, and then to attack whoever was left so that they could have some part in the defeat of their enemies. When Ben-hadad had found that the Israelite army was so small, he decided to preserve the most formidable part of his fighting force to proudly parade unscathed through conquered Israel and cause the people to regard the Syrians with awe and fear.
Ahab's faith in God wasn't very great because he had never turned completely to God for a way of life. As he and his men faced the oncoming enemy, he was fearful that these were his last minutes of existence. He had only a strong hope, instead of a strong belief, that God would save him and his army.
As the two bodies of humanity closed in on the plain, the Israelites knew they were fighting for their lives. The Syrians felt that they wouldn't have to exert much effort defending themselves. Their aim was to kill as many Israelites as possible in the shortest time necessary.
But a strange thing happened as the two armies met. The confident Syrian warriors were suddenly filled with an awful fear that almost instantly turned them into cringing cowards. They dropped their weapons and shields and turned and ran before the amazed Israelites, who at first thought they were pretending to be afraid.
When they saw the Syrians running into each other and stumbling to the ground in wild confusion, the Israelites knew there was no pretense. They took full advantage of the unbelievable situation, charging into the Syrians and dispatching them swiftly. The growing slaughter spread from the foremost ranks of the enemy footmen across the whole army until it became a disorganized, howling, shrieking mob.
By the time the sun had set, a hundred thousand Syrians lay dead on the plain. The Israelite army was almost intact. (I Kings 20:29.)
The rest of the Syrian footmen fled to the nearby walled city of Aphek, where they looked for refuge. The tremendous carnage shocked Ben-hadad. He fled in fright with his cavalry and chariots, following his foot soldiers to Aphek. Ahab and his troops, though very weary, weren't far behind. But by the time they reached the city the Syrians were inside and the gates were barred.
Although Ahab was excited and thankful for the success that had come to his army, he remembered that the prophet had said the victory would go to Israel. He couldn't believe a victory was complete while many thousands of the enemy were taking refuge inside a city against whose walls and gates the Israelites had no equipment for attack.
Walls Are No Protection
As the pursuers paused before Aphek, they saw men appearing on the walls. The number grew rapidly. It was evident that the Syrians intended to make a defense from there if the Israelites came close to the city. Ahab was discouraged. The only thing he could do was besiege Aphek, something he wasn't prepared for because his food supplies were limited. He hadn't planned to carry on warfare very far from Samaria for very long.
The problem was settled very soon in a surprising manner. As Ahab and his men moved a little closer to Aphek, more and more Syrians crowded up on the walls, preparing to hurl anything heavy or pointed down on the Israelites. Suddenly there was a sharp cracking sound from the walls, followed by a growing rumbling. Ahab and his troops stared in astonishment as the walls buckled and collapsed in a ground-shaking roar, sending up a huge cloud of dust. Twenty-seven thousand Syrians went to their deaths in the jumble of stones and heavy beams. (I Kings 20:30.)
Instead of rushing into Aphek after the dust had cleared, Ahab wisely stayed outside where his troops could attack any Syrians who tried to leave the place. Because they were well inside Aphek and back from the walls, Ben-hadad and his top officers escaped death and injury. With the city exposed, the Syrians hurried to hide themselves in the private quarters of the ruler of Aphek. There they discussed what to do next. If they stayed there, they reasoned, it could be the most perilous thing to do.
"The kings of Israel have been known as men who have been unusually merciful to those who ask for mercy," one of Ben-hadad's officers observed. "If we are found concealing ourselves here, probably we'll be slain at once, but if we go out to Ahab with the attitude that we regret what we've done, possibly he'll forgive us and spare our lives. He might even let us go free."
"I can hardly believe that," Ben-hadad said, shaking his head worriedly, "but I agree there's nothing to lose by trying it." Then he added bitterly, "As for regret, I have plenty of that. I deeply regret that I listened to you fellows and others when I was talked into building another army for attacking Israel."
Ahab and his men were alertly watching for anyone trying to escape from Aphek when they saw a group of men pick their way through the wall rubble and slowly approach them. They were dressed in coarse, raggy cloth, and ropes were draped around their necks. These were ancient eastern signs of humility.
"Spare these men," Ahab told his officers. "I want to know what they want."
Ahab stood high in a chariot that had been left behind by the Syrians, so that he was easily recognized as the king of Israel by the men who came close to him and prostrated themselves on the ground.
Mercy Without Wisdom
"We have been sent from your servant, Ben-hadad, who has instructed us to ask you for mercy," the fearful Syrian officers declared. "The king of Syria wants you to know he realizes now that he was very unwise to make war against a neighboring nation whose God is so powerful."
"From what you say, I know now that your king wasn't killed in the collapse of the walls." Ahab replied. "That is welcome news to me. I have no desire to see him dead. In a way, he is a brother of mine because we are kings of adjoining nations." (I Kings 20:31-32.)
The Syrians could scarcely believe what their ears took in. It meant the difference between life and death for Ben-hadad, and probably for them. They were relieved at Ahab's declaration. They reasoned that Ahab surely wouldn't have any further murderous intent toward his enemies.
"We are happy that you have such a fair attitude toward our king," one of the subtle Syrian officers said. "Your brother Ben-hadad will be intensely pleased to learn that you regard him as you have said."
"Go back into Aphek and bring your king out to me," Ahab instructed the Syrians.
Ben-hadad's officers returned through the wall rubble to their leader, whose gnawing fear abated when he learned what Ahab had said. A little later the defeated king emerged with his officers from the broken walls, walking in a slow, respectful manner up to Ahab's chariot. While his officers bowed to the ground, Ben-hadad leaned forward in a stiff gesture of respect. Ahab invited him up in his chariot. (I Kings 20:33.)
"I have made a grave mistake in planning war against Israel," Ben-hadad declared in a strained and embarrassed tone. "I had been told that your God dwells only in the hills and the mountains, and couldn't protect you on the plains. His power must be greater and more far-reaching than my advisors realized."
"The God of Israel is the most powerful of all gods," Ahab said in all sincerity, even though Ahab practiced idolatry, mostly because of his wife.
"I want to be fair to Israel," Ben-hadad nervously continued. "My father took some cities from Israel when your father was king. I will restore them to you. To show you what respect I have for Israel, I will reserve certain streets and dwellings in Damascus, my capital city, for the use of the people of your nation who travel up our way."
If Ahab had been led by God's influence, in the manner in which God's servants are guided, he wouldn't have been so friendly with this man who hated him. Ben-hadad and his advisors should have been seized for their murders and given the extreme punishment. Instead, Ahab treated one of Israel's worst enemies like a guest, suggesting to him that they should agree not to war against each other any more. Of course the grinning Syrian agreed, whereupon Ahab said good-bye to him and let him go on his way to freedom -- and to prepare for war with Israel three years later. (I Kings 20:34.)
When Invaders Are Not Punished
While Ahab was on his way back to Samaria, a prophet stopped the king. He informed the king that the leader of Israel had made a fatal error in giving Ben-hadad his freedom.
"Because you didn't take the life of that heathen king that God has already condemned, your life will be required for his," was the prophet's dismal prediction.
The rest of the trip to his palace was a miserable one for Ahab. He knew the man who had spoken to him was truly a prophet of God, and he had no reason to doubt him. (I Kings 20:35-43.)
It wasn't until he talked to his wife, Jezebel, that Ahab received some measure of comfort, for Jezebel only laughed, as usual, at what God's prophet had to say.
After a season of war, it was a relief to Ahab to get back to the comforts of his palace. While walking about in his garden, he decided that it should be extended so that there would be room to grow more than shrubs, flowers and fruit. He wanted room in which to grow berries, herbs and vegetables for royal consumption.
Just beyond the garden wall was a fine vineyard owned by a man named Naboth. He enjoyed a good income from the sale of his choice grapes, wine and raisins. He was thankful that he had inherited such a valuable piece of property from his ancestors who had taken good care of it. His happy and peaceful life was disrupted the day he was summoned to appear before Ahab.
"I need your vineyard," Ahab told him. "I want to expand my gardens to include other kinds of produce. Your land is next to mine. No other ground is available adjoining my gardens. I'll pay you what your vineyard is worth. If you don't consider that fair, I'll buy a bigger and better vineyard and give it to you for yours." Ahab was guilty of coveting his neighbor's property. (I Kings 21:1-2; Exodus 20:17; Isa. 5:8.)
"I respect your wishes, sir," Naboth replied uncomfortably, struggling to appear composed, "but God's law very plainly states that an inheritance in Israel shouldn't be sold unless the owner is quite destitute, and even then he should have it returned to him when he is able to make payment. If I turned over my inheritance to you for a price, both of us would be guilty before God." (I Kings 21:3; Numbers 27:8-11; Leviticus 25:10-13, 23-28.)
Ahab dismissed Naboth with a wave of his hand. He had his mind set on extending his garden, and this rebuff by a common neighbor quoting God's law greatly upset him. Like a child who had been deprived of a wanted toy, he went to his private quarters, there to stay for many hours in a sulky mood. (I Kings 21:4.) Servants reported to Jezebel that Ahab was in bed and hadn't requested food for many hours. The queen took time out from her many pursuits to go to Ahab and ask if he had started on some kind of ridiculous Israelite fast.
Ahab explained matters to his wife, who had no sympathy for him. She was disgusted that he had considered Naboth's reason for not selling his property.
"This is absurd!" Jezebel scoffed. "Aren't you the king of Israel? Shouldn't your desires come before those of some common grape farmer? Don't brood over this thing. Get up and eat and drink and forget about it for now. I'll handle it for you, and I promise that the vineyard will be yours soon."
Ahab didn't want to know how his wife would get the property. He was certain that she would use devious means that might bother his conscience. He decided to forget about it for a time, Besides, he was hungry.
Using Ahab's signature and royal seal, Jezebel sent letters to prominent men of the city, telling them to proclaim a public meeting and announce that someone had blasphemed God and the king, and that whoever it was would have to die. (I Kings 21:5-10.) Jezebel then hired two men to appear and swear that Naboth was the guilty one!
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