Elijah and Elisha 12
Elijah and Elisha 12.
Today we continue on in the series on Elijah and Elisha – it is the stuff of Sunday-school stories: fed by ravens, the widow’s food that never ran out, the contest on mount Carmel, meeting יהוה at Horeb. It is dramatic stuff! Exciting stories! Miraculous! God at work! We love to tell the stories of Elijah. But there is one story of Elijah that I’ve never told at Sunday-school; I asked Rhoda, and she hasn’t either; Hannah is really getting too old for Sunday-school now, and she has never heard it. It is the story before us today in 2 Kings chapter 1 [P]. We have moved on a book, now in the second book of Kings, and time has moved on too; there is now a new king in Israel. Ahab died – and that is an interesting story but it doesn’t feature Elijah, so it is outside my brief – if someone ever did a series on the sovereignty of God, they might relate it. However, now Ahaziah, Ahab’s son is on the throne. Let’s pick it up in verse one: [P] [2 Kings 1:1–17 Now Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. [P] And Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber which was in Samaria, and became ill. [P] So he sent messengers and said to them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I will recover from this sickness.” [P] (Ekron was in Philistine territory, they worshipped Baal. He was going to another country to enquire from an idol. Baal-zebub means “lord of the flies” the story that accompanied these pictures said this: “as you probably know, flies are attracted to dead things. Doesn't sound like the best choice for medical-aid does it?” [P] so off went the messengers) But the angel of יהוה said to Elijah the Tishbite, [P] (as always, Elijah is there, hearing from God. Nothing has changed. His ministry is not over. יהוה is still speaking to him, and he is passing on what יהוה says – that is simply what a prophet does) “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore thus says יהוה, ‘You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” [P] Then Elijah departed. When the messengers returned to him [P] (that is to king Ahaziah) he said to them, “Why have you returned?” (there hadn’t been time to get to Ekron and back) They said to him, “A man came up to meet us and said to us, ‘Go, return to the king who sent you and say to him, thus says יהוה, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore, you shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but shall surely die.’”’” (they faithfully conveyed what Elijah said) He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came up to meet you and spoke these words to you?” [P] They answered him, “He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” (Ahaziah knew him alright. It was not because he did not know of the prophet that he sought guidance from Baal-zebub) [P] Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty. (a platoon of 50 armed soldiers to arrest one aging prophet – a bit of overkill!) [P] And he went up to him, and behold, he was sitting on the top of the hill. And he said to him, [P] “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, (they called him “man of God” but did they mean it? Was he really? They would see if he really was or if it was a meaningless title. We are called Christians – Christ in us! But is it real?! Is our life supernatural or are we just like everyone else? Where is the proof of the pudding?) “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” (he wasn’t making it easy for God. It was not a likely thing to happen. If he merited the title “man of God” then there had to be something Divine, powerful, super-natural. He put God on the line – did He regard him as a man of God? If we are Christians – it should be evident! The thing is that יהוה considered him to truly be a man of God because He vindicated him!) [P] Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. (It may have been an extreme sounding thing, but God did it; why? Because Elijah was indeed a man of God! He would be a liar if fire didn’t come down) [P] So he (that is Ahaziah) again sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty. [P] And he said to him, “O man of God, thus says the king, ‘Come down quickly.’” Elijah replied to them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” (fire came down last time. He knew that is what יהוה would do; yet, he called for fire again) [P] Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. So, he (that is Ahaziah) again sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. [P] (Ahaziah was, what I would call, a slow-learner) When the third captain of fifty went up, he came and bowed down on his knees before Elijah, [P] and begged him and said to him, “O man of God, please let my life and the lives of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight. Behold fire came down from heaven and consumed the first two captains of fifty with their fifties; but now let my life be precious in your sight.” (he was not as slow a learner as the king). The angel of יהוה said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So, he arose and went down with him to the king. [P] (as always, Elijah did what יהוה said) Then he said to him, “Thus says יהוה, ‘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 where you have gone up, but shall surely die.’” (It is exactly the same message that he had sent before with the king’s messengers. There was a consequence for his rejection of יהוה, his refusal to trust Him) So Ahaziah died according to the word of יהוה which Elijah had spoken. [P] (what יהוה said, happened).] An interesting story! Not really the stuff of Sunday School stories; we should give it an R16 rating for graphic violence. I want to address just two points from this story. The first is from the king of Israel, Ahaziah. He said to his messengers: “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I will recover from this sickness.” Israel was deep in idolatry, right from its inception. Jeroboam, their first king, had made golden calves as gods. But, this wasn’t even their own idols; this was the god of Ekron, the Philistine god! It is evident from the story that Ahaziah knew of Elijah. He knew that there was a prophet of יהוה, that there was one who heard from יהוה. He could have heard from יהוה if he wanted to; but he did not. He refused יהוה’s voice. He had messengers travel to a foreign country to a dead god, who was the god of death. Ahaziah wanted to know what was going to happen. He was ill, was he going to get better? If you can know the future, then you can plan, you have an advantage. People are eager to know the future: what the weather will be, what the markets will do, we pay people to make predictions even though their results are not that reliable – I always say that if our lab produced results as reliable as the met-service we would all get the sack. Would he recover? – where do we turn to when we are sick? What do we do when it turns to custard? Where do we turn in the time of crisis? [P] Is our trust in יהוה?! Ahaziah went to Baalzebub! We are Christians, we say that we believe in God. We proclaim: [Psalm 121:2 My help comes from יהוה, Who made heaven and earth.] But when we have back pain we go to the chiropractor, have acupuncture! We look to homeopathy and naturopaths for health! All these practices have links to Eastern spirituality that is not of God – it is of the occult! I have known fine Christians who say they trust in God; but the pain has been so bad, that they have turned to alternative healers. The pain may be bad, but it ain’t worth the price! If you involve yourself with spirits that are not the Holy Spirit there will always be baggage, an associated cost! Satan is not there to heal, to give life; but to steal, kill and destroy! He always brings torment, even to his most devoted followers. Now, my job is in the health sector and I don’t mean to denigrate those who work in it; but where is our trust based? Some people can be super-spiritual (maybe super-stupid) and refuse to go to the doctor: “I am trusting in God to heal me.” It all sounds very pious and spiritual; but if I could remove it from the area of health for a moment, perhaps we can see the principle more clearly. There was a king of Judah: Amaziah (just one letter different from Ahaziah) but he was a good king. He had an army of 300,000 – quite a large force. There was war with Edom and he felt he needed more so, he hired another 100,000 from Israel [2 Chronicles 25:7–8 But a man of God came to him and said, “O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for יהוה is not with Israel, with all these Ephraimites. But go, act, be strong for the battle. Why should you suppose that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or to cast down.”] So, he fought Edom and יהוה defeated them. He had his army. He had to “go”, “act” be “strong for battle”. He didn’t sit on his hands and wait for a thunderbolt from heaven. He went to war with his army, but he relied on יהוה not the force of a bigger army. But Amaziah, good king though he was; worshipped the idols of Edom – god’s that had not been able to deliver Edom from יהוה’s power. He relied on these gods and on his army; he went to war against Israel and was defeated. In both these wars he used his army but in one he relied upon יהוה, and had victory; in the other he relied upon his military strength, his previous victory against Edom went to his head; and he was defeated. So, what is the principle? You still use your army but your faith is in God. You still go to the doctor; but your faith is not in the medical profession, but in God. Where is your faith placed?! Is God able to heal? Is He able to deliver? Is He able to save? Then, why go to others?! [P] “Is it because there is no God in Israel ….?” Three times this question comes from the mouth of יהוה in this passage! Ahaziah’s resorting to Baalzebub was a denial of faith in יהוה! A denial of the existence and reality of יהוה! Is there no God at North Beach Christian fellowship?! Why do we resort to other means? We rely on the medical profession, Dr. Google, our insurance policy, our bank balance, our skill and training, on the experts, on technology, science has the answers! Is it because there is no God here?! Look, we come here each Sunday, we sing some songs, hear a message; but is God here?! Is He real?! Or is He just some theological abstraction? Is your Christianity some set of doctrinal precepts; or is it a moment by moment reliance upon the reality of a supernatural God living within you?! Do you even expect Him to be here, to do something?! You cannot get around it; in the early church, God was there and evident in power! He did things! People were healed, demons were cast out, people were disturbed and opposed the church. Things were happening and there was an impact. Paul said: [1 Corinthians 2:1–5 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.] Where is the power of God? God is here! We should be looking to Him, expecting Him to intervene, trusting in Him for our situation – not running to external help. If we do that, it is testifying that our God is impotent! I quoted before: [Psalm 121:2 My help comes from יהוה, Who made heaven and earth.] He made heaven and earth! They are not a cosmic accident. If they were, then God is impotent. But He made the heavens! He made the earth and created all the life that is on it! Is He not able deal with your problem, your crisis?! I recall, when I got baptized, that there was an instantaneous and miraculous change in my life. It was the power of God! What I had been unable to conquer with all my determination and will-power for years, was fixed in an instant. It was the power of God! And I knew it! God is real! Alive! Powerful! Furthermore, He is interested and concerned for you and your situation. He is able! Praise His Name! We know the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and their testimony before Nebuchadnezzar when they refused to bow down to the image he had made, even with the threat of incineration [P] [Daniel 3:17–18 If it be so, our God [P] (their own personal God) whom we serve is able [P] to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver [P] us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”] Utter refusal to consider the demonic alternative, even when staring agonizing death in the face! Is your God real?! Is He imminent?! Are you relying on Him, depending upon Him to come through for you? – for your health, for your relationships – wife, family, in your job, your testimony, your service, for your future? We cannot get through a moment without Him! Is God real?! This always and ever was the issue with Elijah! יהוה is God! Trust in Him and do not turn to others. There is the first point; and that image up there is appropriate for the second point, a rather troublesome issue: that of the calling of Fire from heaven! [P] I mean, that is the reason we don’t tell the story in Sunday School. It sounds rather vindictive – I mean, how are we to apply this passage: call down thunder-bolts on unbelievers?! Actually, I don’t think the matter of calling fire down from heaven is that difficult, the problem is with us: it’s just that it offends our sensibilities. Do you recall some of Jesus’s disciples suggested doing that? [Luke 9:54 they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”] We react against that kind of attitude; and so did Jesus. What was His response?: [Luke 9:55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of! ] That was not the Spirit of Jesus. But we have to face the fact that Elijah is particularly associated with fire: [P] Elijah the pyromaniac! – he had this thing for fire: on Mount Carmel he called fire from heaven; here he calls down fire twice; when he was taken up to heaven it [2 Kings 2:11 As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.] Elijah appears in the book of Revelation as one of the two witnesses: [Revelation 11:5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way.] And that is what those soldiers were intent on doing: harming him. John the Baptist came in the power and spirit of Elijah; and what did he say: [Matthew 3:7–12 The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear (cleanse) His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”] You can’t get around it, Elijah is associated with fire! So, what is this fire all about? What was going on here with this calling down of fire from heaven? First thing to note is that the [P] fire was from heaven – it was from God! [P] Was Elijah some kind of magic man with special powers. No, James tells us that he was a man just like us. Elijah couldn’t make fire come, he had no flame-thrower tucked up his tunic! No, God did this! We might like to make excuses why this was not of God, Elijah was vindictive, or something. No, you can’t get around it. God sent fire from heaven and destroyed 100 men. The question is: why? Well Elijah said, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven” It was conditional on him being a man of God. Was he? יהוה testified that he was indeed a man of God – He vindicated His man [P]. The fire was proof that Elijah was indeed a man of God. יהוה Himself acted in support of His own. He still does! Hallelujah! יהוה is a God who acts! Praise His Name! Unlike the god of Ekron. He has given us His Spirit of power, love and discipline. If there is no super-natural power, no God acting on our behalf; then are we men of God? God acts to vindicate and protect His own. Elijah was under the threat of a powerful military force. God acted to defend. Our faith is not a set of intellectual postulates – it is the reality of a living God who acts on behalf of His own. Although the fire from heaven vindicated the man of God; it was also, rather, vindicating יהוה Himself! [P] Ahaziah was looking to Baalzebub – an impotent idol. Here was a God who is real and powerful. On Mount Carmel, what happened? Fire came from heaven. It was an astounding event that would be long remembered. Everyone knew “יהוה He is God!” that is what they said there, that was the issue, that is what the fire signified. That is still the issue: יהוה is God, not Baalzebub! There was an intimate association of fire from heaven with the reality of יהוה, that He is God, is there and is powerful! Look, even today with all our technology, there is something about fire: it is powerful, consuming, terrifying! That is God; He is powerful, fear inspiring, consuming! [Hebrews 12:29 for our God is a consuming fire.] The fire told them in no uncertain terms that יהוה was present, real, mighty! יהוה was vindicating Himself. Look at when there is a manifestation of Himself: Moses at the burning bush; at Sinai: [Deuteronomy 4:36 Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.]; when Gideon met the angel of יהוה fire consumed the offering, with Sampson’s parents the angel of יהוה went up in the flame. At the inauguration of both the tabernacle and temple, fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifices [2 Chronicles 7:1 Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of יהוה filled the house!] It was the same with David’s sacrifice on mount Moriah. The fire was the presence of יהוה. It will be the same when Jesus comes and is revealed: [2 Thessalonians 1:7–8 when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.] In no uncertain terms, it was evident that יהוה was there! He is God and no one else! יהוה vindicated Himself. There was fire! But let me tell you that fire is not blessing! Fire consumes. Fire is a symbol of JUDGEMENT! [P] Now there are different aspects of judgement, but fire is judgement. The first time fire is mention in Scripture is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: [Genesis 19:24 Then יהוה rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from יהוה out of heaven.] It stands forever as the archetypical picture of Divine judgement. But, judgement is not a blunt instrument, wiping out all in its path. There are different aspects of judgement, and we are familiar with them. It seems that contests are popular entertainment: beauty contest are not so PC these days, but there are singing contests, cooking contests – the formula is the same: there is a panel of judges who deliver their assessment of the candidates. The contestants go through various tests [P] to reveal their talent. That is part of judgement: testing – and testing reveals. That is what fire does; [1 Corinthians 3:10–15 like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. ] The test of fire reveals the quality. It is easy to build a house of straw, but it is of poor quality. It won’t survive the fire. It takes more effort to build a house out of stone, costs more; but it endures. The fire comes and only that which is of quality, what is of God, remains. The testing, the fire reveals what is good and what is not. The worthless don’t make it through the trial. Just as some contestants don’t make it through to the next round. The judges eliminate them – the one who sings off key doesn’t make it. And that is another thing judgement does, it separates: [P] the good from the bad, that of value from that which is worthless. The Bible uses the image of refining metal. The ore is a mixture of metal and rubbish, dross. If you apply the fire, you melt the metal, and the dross floats to the surface and is skimmed off. The bad taken away leaving the good. Thus the metal is purified. [Zechariah 13:9 “And I will bring the third part through the fire, Refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, And I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ And they will say, ‘יהוה is my God.’] A purified people comes through the fire. It cleanses – ritually unclean vessels were passed through fire and they came our clean. [Malachi 3:2–3 “But who can endure the day of His coming? (the day of judgement) and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to יהוה offerings in righteousness.] (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel 22:17–22 all use the same image) Judgement separates good from bad: remember the parable of the tares, at the harvest the worthless was separated from the good wheat and burned. [Matthew 13:30 “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”] Again judgment removes the bad from the good, not the good from the bad; what remains is pure – that may have some bearing on your eschatology ’ [Matthew 13:37–43 as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the harvest is the end of the age. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.] John the Baptist had the same image of separation at the harvest: the chaff was consumed in fire leaving the good wheat remaining. [P] That is what judgement does: it Consumes In our contest, those that are separated disappear into anonymity. But in the judgment they are consumed in fire. God’s wrath is poured out. Fire burns up. Remember those fires on the Port Hills; all in the path was utterly consumed: [P] [2 Peter 3:7 But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:10–13 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.] In judgement, evil is consumed leaving that which is righteous. These soldiers who came to Elijah were tested: those acting on the authority of the idolatrous king were separated from the one who came with a different spirit, humble and respectful. The evil were consumed and the humble were spared. At the end of the age, those who are not in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire. We don’t like the idea of fire coming down and consuming people, that is why we avoid this story. But us not liking it won’t stop it happening! The present earth is reserved for fire, for the day of judgement. Every year I have to attend fire training. Why, so that I am prepared for the possibility of that event. Why does the Bible tell us about a judgement of fire; so that we may be prepared. Will you come through the fire, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego? [P] [Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I AM יהוה your God!] Is your reliance upon יהוה alone? That is the only way through the fire.