Burned to a Crisp

Then he sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty men.

And he answered and said to him: “Man of God, thus has the king said, ‘Come down quickly!’ ”

So Elijah answered and said to them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” And the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

Again, he sent a third captain of fifty with his fifty men. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and pleaded with him, and said to him: “Man of God, please let my life and the life of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight. Look, fire has come down from heaven and burned up the first two captains of fifties with their fifties. But let my life now be precious in your sight.”

And the angel of the LORD said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So he arose and went down with him to the king. Then he said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’ ” (2 Kings 1:11-16)

Bad things happen to those who oppose God and don’t ask for mercy. Ahab, the king of Israel in Samaria had died and his son, Ahaziah had become king in his place. His mother, Jezebel, was still alive. Ahaziah fell through a lattice and seriously injured himself. Instead of seeking God’s help, he sent messengers to consult a false god. Elijah intercepted the messengers and told them that Ahaziah would die from his injuries.

Unlike his father Ahab, who repented at the prophet’s words, Ahaziah sent soldiers to arrest Elijah. The first group died when Elijah called fire down on them. Ahaziah sent a second contingent to get Elijah, and the same thing happened to them. And so Ahaziah sends a third group. The leader of the third group begged for mercy, and Elijah granted it. Elijah went with them and when he faced Ahaziah, he simply reiterated what he had told the king’s messengers: you’re going to die. So Ahaziah died and his brother Joram took the throne in his place. Unlike his father Ahab, Ahaziah did not repent or humble himself before God. He remained defiant and suffered accordingly.

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Jezebel is Dog Food

Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. Also concerning Jezebel the LORD said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.’ Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.”

(Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD drove out before the Israelites.)

When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.” (1 Kings 21:20-29)

Jezebel was the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians and the wife of Ahab. Together, they had led their people into worshipping other gods. Elijah the prophet had been their nemesis for a long time; there was no love lost between them. Elijah prophesied against him, predicting disaster for his family: like the previous two royal dynasties (those of Jeroboam and Baasha), his too would be cut off and replaced by some other family. Worse, his wife would not just die, but become food for dogs. For an Israelite, the most important thing was to have offspring and to have a proper burial. Ahab learned that he and his family would have neither.

His response to Elijah’s words was not to breathe out threats, or to arrest him, or to lock him away. Instead, he humbled himself: he took the prophet’s words seriously and reacted appropriately.

The consequence was that God showed him mercy. The punishment would still fall on his family, but it wouldn’t happen for as long as Ahab lived. Repentance is always possible, and in the face of repentance, God is quick to show mercy and grace.

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Hit Me!

About this time the LORD commanded a prophet to say to a friend, “Hit me!” But the friend refused, and the prophet told him, “You disobeyed the LORD, and as soon as you walk away, a lion will kill you.” The friend left, and suddenly a lion killed him.

The prophet found someone else and said, “Hit me!” So this man beat him up.

The prophet left and put a bandage over his face to disguise himself. Then he went and stood beside the road, waiting for Ahab to pass by.

When Ahab went by, the prophet shouted, “Your Majesty, right in the heat of battle, someone brought a prisoner to me and told me to guard him. He said if the prisoner got away, I would either be killed or forced to pay seventy-five pounds of silver. But I got busy doing other things, and the prisoner escaped.”

Ahab answered, “You will be punished just as you have said.”

The man quickly tore the bandage off his face, and Ahab saw that he was one of the prophets. The prophet said, “The LORD told you to kill Benhadad, but you let him go. Now you will die in his place, and your people will die in place of his people.”

Ahab went back to Samaria, angry and depressed. (1 Kings 20:35-43)

What God asks people to do doesn’t always make obvious sense. But who do you trust more? Yourself or God? Ben-Hadad was the king of Aram and he had led an army against Israel. Ahab’s victory over the invader could have been utter and complete: not only was Ben-Hadad’s army destroyed, the king was in Ahab’s hand. But instead, Ahab freed the captured king and made a peace treaty with him.

So God sent a prophet to bring a message of judgment against Ahab. And once again, the prophet’s job was not an easy one. Rather than simply giving him words to say, God turned the prophet into a prop to illustrate the message. Worse, when his friend refused to injure him, he had to pronounce a death sentence against him. Sometimes God’s judgments seem very harsh.

Most people would not want to hurt a friend; one can understand his reluctance to strike a prophet. But God had demanded it, and the friend had known that it was a command from God. The law is quite clear: anyone who sins defiantly is blaspheming God and must be cut off from his people (see Numbers 15:30-31). The refusal of the friend to abide by the word of God is what led to his death, because he knew better.

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Pay Attention

“Say thus to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “As I live, surely those who are in the ruins shall fall by the sword, and the one who is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in the strongholds and caves shall die of the pestilence. For I will make the land most desolate, her arrogant strength shall cease, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that no one will pass through. Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land most desolate because of all their abominations which they have committed.” ’

“As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 33:27-33)

When people hear new things, most of the time the words just go in one ear and out the other. Ezekiel’s first vision and call to the role of prophet occurred when he was about thirty years old (Ezekiel 1:1). He had been taken into captivity in Babylon, along with many of the upper classes of Jerusalem, during the reign of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, who had also been taken into captivity as well. This happened about a decade before Nebuchadnezzar would destroy Jerusalem and burn the temple down.

Ezekiel’s ministry was primarily to his fellow captives, warning them about what was going to happen to the people left behind in Jerusalem and Judah. But God explained that until his prophesies came true, the people would not believe him. For them, Ezekiel was merely a source of entertainment. Nothing more. No one took him seriously.

The people claimed that they heard him, they mouthed all the right words. But in reality, they cared nothing about God or his prophet. Just because people hear the words of God doesn’t mean they’ll choose to change their lives.

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Burning Man

By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. He cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD: “O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.’ ” That same day the man of God gave a sign: “This is the sign the LORD has declared: The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.”

When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, “Seize him!” But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back. Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD.

Then the king said to the man of God, “Intercede with the LORD your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.” So the man of God interceded with the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored and became as it was before. (1 Kings 13:1-6)

God’s gift of a throne didn’t come without strings. Solomon’s son lost the ten tribes of the north because of his idolatry. God had told Jeroboam that he would become their the king. But Jerusalem remained the place where people went to worship God. It was also where the king of Judah, David’s heir, ruled. Fearful that his new kingdom would be undermined by continued faithfulness to God in Jerusalem, Jeroboam decided to establish new places of worship to secure his political position. He built golden calves and set them up in Dan and Bethel. He established a separate priesthood to officiate at the shrines he had built. (see 1 Kings 12:25-33)

He did all this, despite the fact that God had given him his kingdom. He simply didn’t trust God. For his unfaithfulness to God, because of the sin he led his people into, God eventually sent a prophet to proclaim judgment against him.

Jeroboam’s reaction to the words of the prophet are predictably unwelcoming. But God protected his spokesperson and even granted healing to Jeroboam in the midst of the pronouncement of judgment. But Jeroboam never repented of what he had done: he maintained the false religion he had created for political purposes, and so the prophet’s words came true.

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You’re the Man!

Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul.

‘I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these!

‘Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon.

‘Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’

“Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight.

‘Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.’ ”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. (2 Samuel 12:7-13)

Just because God is merciful doesn’t mean there’s no punishment. David took Bathsheba to his bed, got her pregnant. Then, in attempting to hide what he had done, he had her husband put into the front lines of a battle so he would die.

David was guilty of two crimes that were punishable by death: adultery and murder (see Leviticus 20:10 and Numbers 35:31). According to the Bible, there were no mitigating circumstances, no sacrifice that could be offered, no restitution that could be paid.

But the prophet Nathan told David that God had taken his sin away and that he wouldn’t die. David got mercy, rather than full justice.

Despite the mercy, however, David still suffered. The infant born of the illicit relationship died. His first born son, Absalom, the heir to the throne, murdered his younger brother Amnon after he raped his sister Tamar. Later, Absalom led a rebellion against David and took David’s concubines as his own. Absalom died in the resulting civil war and David was restored to his throne. Bathsheba gave birth to another son, Solomon, who would take the throne after David. God was merciful—but David still suffered for his sins.

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Killing Everyone

Samuel also said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

So Saul gathered the people together and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand men of Judah. And Saul came to a city of Amalek, and lay in wait in the valley. (1 Samuel 15:1-5)

God’s mercy for Israel meant judgment for the Amalekites. When Israel was on its way out of Egypt, the Amalekites attacked them at a place called Rephidim. Joshua led a fight against them. Moses stood with his staff raised. While he held it up, Israel was winning. If he lowered his hands, the Amalekites started to win. So Aaron and Hur held his hands up until Joshua and his men were finally victorious. God told Moses that he would one day blot out the name of the Amalekites (see Exodus 17:14 and Deuteronomy 25:17-19).

Therefore, when Samuel told Saul to wipe out every last Amalekite, he was telling Saul to fulfill a promise that God had made Moses.

Saul, however, did not completely carry out the will of God. He spared the Amalekite king, Agag, along with the best sheep and cattle. This violation of God’s command would cost Saul his throne. Samuel told Saul that obedience was better than sacrifice and that rebellion and arrogance were like divination and idolatry. Saul was, for all practical purposes, rejecting God—just as that unnamed man in the time of Moses had rejected God by insisting on gathering wood on the Sabbath.

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Priestly Misconduct

A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Didn’t I reveal Myself to your ancestral house when it was in Egypt and belonged to Pharaoh’s palace? I selected your house from the tribes of Israel to be priests, to offer sacrifices on My altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in My presence. I also gave your house all the Israelite fire offerings. Why, then, do all of you despise My sacrifices and offerings that I require at the place of worship? You have honored your sons more than Me, by making yourselves fat with the best part of all of the offerings of My people Israel.’

“Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says:
‘Although I said
your family and your ancestral house
would walk before Me forever,
the Lord now says, “No longer!”
I will honor those who honor Me,
but those who despise Me will be disgraced.

“‘Look, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestral family, so that none in your family will reach old age.’” (1 Samuel 2:27-31)

Eli thought he loved his sons. But his choices showed he loved neither them nor God. Eli did nothing to change things. He criticized his sons and told them they should change their behavior, but he did nothing more than talk. Though he had the power to strip them of their position and to replace them with others, he abdicated his responsibility as a priest and as their father. He allowed them to continue serving.

God therefore told Eli that he would do what Eli wouldn’t: he’d remove Eli’s sons from their positions. This couldn’t have come as a surprise to Eli. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, had died simply for offering “unauthorized fire” (see Leviticus 10:1-2). Eli’s sons were guilty of far worse: greed and idolatry.

Although God had promised Aaron’s grandson that his descendents would always serve as priests, God was forced to make a modification to his promise. Although God’s gifts, his promises are irrevocable (see Romans 11:29), the contracts he makes, like any contract, can be modified. There were other descendents of Aaron, others who could be priests. Just the one piece—Eli’s piece—of Aaron’s family would be cut off.

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Welcome to Your Execution

Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua son of Nun. When Moses had finished saying all these words to all Israel, he said, “Take to heart all these words to which I give witness today and urgently command your children to put them into practice, every single word of this Revelation. Yes. This is no small matter for you; it’s your life. In keeping this word you’ll have a good and long life in this land that you’re crossing the Jordan to possess.”

That same day God spoke to Moses: “Climb the Abarim Mountains to Mount Nebo in the land of Moab, overlooking Jericho, and view the land of Canaan that I’m giving the People of Israel to have and hold. Die on the mountain that you climb and join your people in the ground, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and joined his people.

“This is because you broke faith with me in the company of the People of Israel at the Waters of Meribah Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin—you didn’t honor my Holy Presence in the company of the People of Israel. You’ll look at the land spread out before you but you won’t enter it, this land that I am giving to the People of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 32:44-52)

Moses would have to die before he could visit Israel. The Israelites ran out of water at a place called Meribah Kadesh. Previously, Moses had gotten water from a rock by hitting it with his staff. But this time, God told him to just talk to the rock. Instead, he angrily whacked at it while he yelled at the Israelites. The water had still come out: God intended to take care of his people regardless. Getting water from the rock wasn’t magic that required just the right incantation. The water came from God. But Moses had not obeyed God. He’d let his temper get the better of him.

Because of his disobedience, God decided to punish him by not allowing him to reach the Promised Land. God told Moses exactly where and when he would die, as if he were a prisoner on death row being led to the gallows. God would let Moses see the Promised Land, but not enter it alive.

Years later, on the Mount of Transfiguration, together with Elijah, Moses finally visited the land he’d been barred from in life, when he met with Jesus on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee (see Luke 9:28-36).

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Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them—through the Israelite and into the woman’s body. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.

The LORD said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Cozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family. (Numbers 25:6-15)

Giving into temptation doesn’t lead to happiness. Balak, the king of Moab, had asked Balaam to curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam offered Israel repeated blessings. But he had told Balaam that he could harm Israel by sending women to seduce the Israelite men into idolatry (see Numbers 25:1-3, 31:15-16, Revelation 2:14).

When Phinehas, one of Aaron’s grandsons, witnessed an Israelite man taking a Midianite woman into his tent, he took direct action and killed them both with a single blow. The Midianites were allied with the Moabites. God praised Phinehas for his zeal and rewarded him with a promise: his descendents would always be priests before God.

Phinehas’ actions might seem disturbing to us, but as a priest, he was acting not as a vigilante, but as a representative of the people. The Israelites had made a contract with God that they would worship him alone and obey his regulations. The consequence of disobedience was severe. In fact, it was just this sort of disobedience that would lead God, a few hundred years later, to send Israel into captivity in Babylon. Phinehas was working to try to keep that from happening, just as a police officer might use deadly force if necessary to keep a criminal from harming someone.

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