The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Know Your Bible Lesson 16: Evil Kings, Good Prophets

KYB 16

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As we begin our next lesson, Ahab has just died in the north and Jehoshaphat [jay-HO-suh-fat] has turned his focus back onto Yahweh in the south. Ahab’s son Ahaziah [ay-huh-ZI-uh] becomes king in the north and right away we’re told he’s an idolatrous yuck. He worships Baal, just like Ahab did, and he’s going to be so irritating to Yahweh that Yahweh is going to shove him off a balcony. But before we get there, Jehoshaphat is having troubles in the south.

JUDAH IS ATTACKED

Sometimes your neighbors suddenly decide to gang up against you. They combine their armies, and come marching over to beat you up. By the time you hear about it, there isn’t much time to prepare. This is what happens to Jehoshaphat. He’s busy trying to keep all of Judah focused on Yahweh when he gets the news that three of his neighbors have joined forces against him.

Invasion of Judah

There’s nothing to do now but pray, and everyone runs to the Temple in Jerusalem to call on Yahweh for help. And Yahweh does help. He helps so much that when the men of Jerusalem go out to face their foes, all they find are a bunch of dead bodies. While the people were busy praying, Yahweh started messing with the minds of the approaching armies and soon the three allies were attacking each other with such vengeance that none of them survived. Because the army was so massive, they had a ton of stuff, and we’re told that it took the Israelites three days to carry off all the plunder. Well, three cheers for Yahweh (see Applying 2 Chronicles 20: Learning from Jehoshaphat).

ALLIANCE AND GREED

Now with God blessing Judah so much, we just can’t understand why Jehoshaphat once again forms an alliance with the wicked king of the north. In our last lesson, we learned how Jehoshaphat actually married into Ahab’s family, and now he’s making a military treaty with Ahab’s son. As we progress through this period, we’ll learn that these little contracts really tick Yahweh off because they are a case of men putting their trust in human strength instead of God (see Prophets in Action: Isaiah Walks Around Naked). And what’s with Yahweh’s follower partnering with Yahweh’s enemy?  Should Christians enter into contracts with Satan worshipers? Of course not. Jehoshaphat is being very foolish here, and the next thing we know, he’s showing signs of corruption. The two kings decide that they’ll build a fleet of ships to go do some lucrative trading. Jehoshaphat is already rolling in wealth thanks to Yahweh, so what does he need more gold for? He doesn’t, and Yahweh finds the whole venture insulting, so He wrecks the ships and they never sail.

AHAZIAH’S FALL

Meanwhile, Yahweh is fed up with Ahaziah’s rotten attitude in the north. One day Ahaziah is standing on his second floor balcony and whoops—he falls through the railing and slams onto the ground below. Major ouch. Ahaziah is now lying crippled in bed and the prognosis isn’t good. We humans are always trying to get a glimpse into the future, so Ahaziah sends some messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub [BALE-zeh-bubb]. There are many versions of Baal in the land. The title “baal” simply means “lord,” so the Zebub suffix identifies which Baal we’re talking about. Baal-Zebub means “lord of the flies.” In the ancient world, gods were invented for every aspect of life. There was a god for the ground, a god for the sky, a god for weather, a god for fertility, a god for love, and a god for all of those pesky critters in life such as flies.

So let’s see what we have here. Baal-Zebub is the god of flies and his main worship center is in the city of Ekron [EH-krawn]. Ekron is an important city in Philistia [fill-IS-tee-uh]. Philistia is the home of the Philistines [FILL-uh-steens], who have always been archenemies of Israel (the famous giant Goliath [go-LIE-uth] was a Philistine). So Ahaziah, an Israelite, is going to troop over to his enemies to ask for advice from an ugly god who isn’t even real. Yahweh finds this highly insulting. Even from his sick bed, Ahaziah is finding ways to provoke Yahweh to anger. Clearly the little brat needs to die.

Sending His prophet Elijah to intercept Ahaziah’s men, Yahweh delivers this icy message to the king:

“This is what Yahweh says: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Because of this you will not leave the bed you are lying on. Instead, you will surely die!” (2 Ki. 1:6)

Ahaziah responds to this news by sending out a military captain to go arrest Elijah. Boy does he get the surprise of his life. For the whole fiery story, see Elijah & Ahaziah: Death from Heaven.

Just as Yahweh said, Ahaziah dies after just two years of being king. Good riddance.

Now Ahaziah had no son, so the crown is handed to one of his brothers, Joram [JORE-um]. Joram is another son of Ahab. Oh, joy, more Ahab. We could really use a conspiracy to happen right about now so we could switch to a better family line. One is on its way—but we’ll have to get through Joram first.

CO-REGENTS

Here we need to pause to address the issue of putting exact dates to the reigns of all the ancient Jewish monarchs listed out in the Old Testament. If you sit down with your Bible, a pen, and a calculator, and try to reconcile the accounts of Kings and Chronicles, you’re going to end up totally frustrated. The accounts do not match. You will find many statements which totally contradict each other. For example, in Kings we’re told that Jehoshaphat dies in the south and his son Jehoram takes the throne in the south. Then Joram inherits the throne from Ahaziah in the north. Along comes a war and we’re told that Joram is joining forces with Jehoshaphat—who, according to the text, was already dead before Joram took the throne. So what’s the deal? Is Joram fighting with a ghost? Here’s where we need to learn about co-regents.

When a king goes off to war with his troops—which kings often did in these times—there’s always the chance that he might not come back. To keep the kingdom running smoothly, a father king will promote one of his sons to be co-king, or co-regent. The son runs things while the father is away. The father is still the main man, but the son is given more and more authority over time until dad dies and the son takes over entirely. This sort of thing is happening all throughout Kings and Chronicles but our two historians aren’t bothering to share these details with us. So when they say that someone begins his reign as king, in real life, that man might have already been co-reigning with his father for quite some time. This is what is happening with the Joram-Jehoram confusion.

At the very end of 1 Kings, we’re told that Jehoshaphat dies and is succeeded by his son Jehoram in the south. In 2 Kings 1, we’re told that Joram becomes king in the north two years into the reign of Jehoram in the south. But then in 2 Kings 3, we’re told that Joram became king in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat, who apparently isn’t dead after all. Confusing? Yes. So who’s lying? Technically no one. What’s really happening is that Joram becomes full king in the north two years after Jehoram becomes co-regent with his father in the south. When Joram takes the throne in the north, there are two kings reigning in the south: father and son. Joram then calls on the father (Jehoshaphat) for help in a war. To make matters even more complicated, Joram is short for Jehoram, and the chronicler uses Joram’s full name, so we actually have two Jehorams ruling at the same time. Yeesh.

To keep things simplified, we aren’t going to try and keep track of all this co-regency business (at least not yet). Instead, we’ll just assign each king an approximate date of when his reign started. We include dates only to help us get a sense of time passing, but don’t get hung up on the exact dates, because historians simply can’t make up their minds and you’ll find many different dates floating about on the internet. Here’s what we have so far:

16_king list

There were several Jewish monarchs who had multiple names.  Sometimes the same king is referred to by two different names in the books of Kings and Chronicles.  When this is the case, we put the second name in parentheses for you on our charts.  But to avoid the headache of two Jehorams ruling at the same time, we’re going to do what the author of Kings does and refer the northern Jehoram by his nickname Joram. Whew!

ELIJAH IS TAKEN TO HEAVEN

As the northern kingdom adjusts to a new king (Joram), our faithful prophet Elijah knows that he has reached the end of his time on earth. He hears Yahweh calling him to come home, and he is more than ready. But his younger apprentice Elisha is not at all ready to be separated from a man whom he greatly admires. So when Elijah starts off on his final journey and he tells Elisha to stay behind, Elisha insists on coming along.

News of Elijah’s imminent departure has spread throughout the prophet community and as Elijah reaches the city of Bethel, other prophets come up to Elisha and say:

“Do you know that Yahweh is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.” (2 Ki. 2:3)

It’s hard enough to deal with this loss without being reminded of it every two seconds. Now Elijah is off to Jericho and once again he tries to get Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha insists on coming. No sooner do they reach Jericho then another crop of prophets come out to warn Elisha of what’s about to happen.

“Do you know that Yahweh will take away your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.” (2 Ki. 2:5)

Now Elijah is heading off to the Jordan River and once again Elisha insists on coming. Fifty other prophets follow at a respectful distance. Elijah has been a very prominent figure, and everyone is sorry to see him go.

When they get to the Jordan, Elijah slaps the water with his coat and it parts so that he and Elisha can cross over on dry ground. This is the third time we’ve heard about God dividing water like this in the Bible. The first time was in Exodus when Israel crossed through the Red Sea, and the second time was in Joshua when the Israelites crossed through the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land (see Miracles of Yahweh: Parting the Jordan River). In each case, the ground was bone dry. Yahweh likes showing off.

Now our two prophets are alone together on the other side of the Jordan and Elijah asks his loyal friend:

“Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” (2 Ki. 2:9-11)

This is not the greedy statement it sounds like, but a reflection of how anxious Elisha is about trying to fill the sandals of such a monumental figure in Israel’s history. The fifty prophets waiting on the other side of the Jordan are all followers of Elijah, but Elisha has been specifically chosen out by Yahweh to succeed Elijah as a leader among prophets.  Elijah has some very impressive faith in Yahweh.  He’s a confident guy who Yahweh has shown great favor to, and Elisha is most anxious that God not forget about him after Elijah is gone. Elisha is feeling so overwhelmed by the sorrow of the moment and the task ahead of him that he desperately asks for a double amount of Yahweh’s special anointing.

Now some scholars try to say that Elisha is asking to become the next leader of the prophets by asking to be treated like a firstborn son, who traditionally received a double portion of the father’s inheritance. But this theory doesn’t work because Elisha already knows he has been called to be Elijah’s successor. It’s not a question of will he be the next Elijah, but how will he live up to the high standards Elijah has set. Elisha needs God’s help, and since Yahweh obviously listens to Elijah, Elisha wants Elijah to ask Yahweh to give Elisha a hefty amount of the coveted anointing power that was associated with the Presence of the God. Back when Moses was feeling burned out as a leader during the wilderness journey (Period 2), Yahweh said:

“Bring Me seventy men from Israel known to you as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the tent of meeting and have them stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there. I will take some of the Spirit who is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you bear the burden of the people, so that you do not have to bear it by yourself.” (Num. 11:16-17)

Yahweh’s Spirit was recognized as the Source of all legitimate prophecies, and to prove to other people that a man had received His Spirit, Yahweh often had that man start to prophesy the moment he received the Spirit. This happened to King Saul when he was first anointed king. It also happened to the seventy elders who were anointed to help Moses. Elisha is already a prophet, so prophesying wouldn’t be such a wow thing in his case. Instead, to convince the fifty prophets on the other side of the Jordan that Elisha has His approval, Yahweh will perform some impressive miracles through him. The point is that in this moment everyone—including Elisha—wants very clear confirmation that Yahweh is going to be supporting Elisha in his role as lead prophet.

Now Elijah understands how important this request is to his successor, but he also knows that he’d be going out of bounds to promise anything. So he sets up a little sign: if Elisha sees Elijah depart, then it will mean Yahweh has agreed to give Elisha the special anointing he’s looking for.

As they were going along and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire suddenly appeared and separated the two of them. Then Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a whirlwind. (2 Ki. 2:11)

elijah heaven

In a blaze of glory, Elijah is gone, and Elisha is left holding the cloak that fell from him. So then…has Yahweh remembered about the lonely apprentice or is He too busy celebrating His servant’s arrival in Heaven?

Elisha took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. (2 Ki. 2:14)

Elisha asks where Yahweh is. Yahweh parts the waters to say, “I’m right here with you.” What an awesome moment. What a wonderful God. Crossing through the river on dry ground, Elisha comes up to the fifty prophets who are waiting on the other side.

When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. (2 Ki. 2:15)

In this culture, bowing was as common as handshakes are in America today.  Bowing was a sign of respect and an acknowledgement of someone’s superior social rank.  By bowing to Elisha, these prophets are accepting him as their leader. This makes Elisha feel very encouraged.  Yahweh really is with him. And now, just to build His little man’s confidence up, Yahweh comes up with a string of miracles. He purifies a spring of poisonous water so that a city full of people could start working their farmland. Then, when a large mob of young men start ridiculing Elisha along a roadside, God sends two female bears roaring out of the woods to maul them. Forty-two corpses later, all the fun has gone out of picking on the prophet. With Yahweh as his Guide and Protector, Elisha marches confidently forward to take Israel by storm.

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JORAM, King of Israel

Now Israel’s new king Joram is bad, but he’s not as bad as his Baal-loving father Ahab. Joram even gets rid of the Baal statue his father had made in Samaria, but we’re told that “he clung to the sins of Jeroboam” which means he’s worshiping those two dumb calf-gods instead. Very annoying.

Now when you’re a king, there’s always trouble along the borders of your kingdom. Your neighbors are always looking for their chance to overtake you, and sometimes to keep them in line, you make them your virtual slaves. This means you grind their pride in the dirt by making them give you regular payments of wealth. You tell them that they’d better pay, or else you’ll come and beat them up.  This serves to make you stronger while they hopefully stay weaker. It’s a system that only works as long as you maintain obvious military supremacy.

King Ahab had enough power to grind the king of Moab like this, and Moab’s been shipping regular flocks of sheep over to Israel for quite some time: 100,000 lambs to be exact, plus the wool of 100,000 rams. Well, now the king of Moab is sick of this abuse, and since bully Ahab is finally dead, he decides that it’s time to revolt.

You always look like a weenie when one of your tribute-paying nations successfully breaks free of your tyranny. Such defiance has to be met with violence if you’re going to maintain respect. Since Joram knows he isn’t strong enough to beat Moab on his own, he asks Jehoshaphat in the south for assistance. Jehoshaphat helped Ahab in our last lesson, but he asked to consult a prophet of Yahweh first. He should have done the same thing this time, but instead he just agrees to help and soon our two kings plus the king of Edom are marching out over dry land to go spank Moab.

THE VALLEY OF BLOOD

Boy, is it hot.  After seven days of traveling, the armies are parched and there’s no water in sight. They’re too far out to make it home again without dying of dehydration and Joram starts to panic. It’s now that Jehoshaphat finally asks:

“Is there a prophet of Yahweh around who can inquire of Yahweh for us?” (2 Ki. 3:11)

Someone remembers that Elisha is in the area, so they hurry to find him. And when Elisha arrives at the camp, he has nothing but ice and daggers for Joram.

“Why are you coming to me?” Elisha asked the king of Israel. “Go to the pagan prophets of your father and mother!”

But King Joram of Israel said, “No! For it was Yahweh who called us three kings here—only to be defeated by the king of Moab!”

Elisha said, “As surely as Yahweh Almighty lives, whom I serve, I wouldn’t even bother with you except for my respect for King Jehoshaphat of Judah. Now bring me someone who can play the harp.” (2 Ki. 3:13-15)

Every army brings a harpist along with them on the warpath, right? Who knows, but a harpist shows up, and while he is playing, Yahweh puts His words in Elisha’s mouth. It’s good news for the three thirsty kings: God is going to fill the valley with water and they will spank Moab. Oh, and by the way, God will make the water appear without any rain. Yahweh loves showing off.

Everyone goes to bed thirsty and when they get up the next morning, water is flowing everywhere! There’s so much water that it can be seen from a great distance—even from the Moabite camp. Squinting their eyes in the morning sun, the Moabite soldiers see red liquid all over the ground. It’s blood—the three kings must have turned against each other and killed each other off! Good! Let’s go steal their stuff!

What a shock it is when greedy soldiers come rushing into the valley only to be met by a well hydrated army that is eager to fight. The slaughter is so bad that the king of Moab takes his oldest son (who was supposed to succeed him as king) and tries sacrificing him to his gods. Nothing like being suddenly grabbed by your father and murdered in cold blood just to try and turn the tide of a war. Of course nothing happens except that sonny boy dies a traumatic death. Those darn idol gods—they’re never there when you need them!

JEHORAM, King of Judah

This is the last we hear of Jehoshaphat. He dies and his co-reigning son Jehoram inherits full powers as Judah’s next solo king. The first thing Jehoram does is murder all of his siblings. You have to be proactive and stop those family arguments before they can even begin.

Now Jehoram’s wife is a daughter of Ahab. King Joram of Israel is a son of Ahab. This means Joram is Jehoram’s brother-in-law. And as a relative of Ahab, Jehoram follows his father-in-law’s yuck example and turns out to be a real creep. It’s no good having another Ahab in the south.  Yahweh gives this little rebel eight years to discover the meaning of reverential submission, and during that time He stirs up Jehoram’s neighbors to fight against him so that there are constant wars. Yet still, snarky little Jehoram just won’t repent of his soul rebellion.  So Yahweh instructs the prophet Elisha to write a letter to Jehoram and here is what it says:

“This is what Yahweh, the God of your ancestor David, says: You have not followed the good example of your father, Jehoshaphat, or your grandfather King Asa of Judah. Instead, you have been as evil as the kings of Israel. You have led the people of Jerusalem and Judah to worship idols, just as King Ahab did in Israel. And you have even killed your own brothers, men who were better than you. So now Yahweh is going to strike you, your people, your children, your wives, and all that is yours with a heavy blow. You yourself will suffer with a severe intestinal disease that will get worse each day until your bowels come out of your body.” (2 Chron. 21:12-15)

It’s just plain dumb and stupid to provoke the God who controls the function and location of your bodily organs. Jehoram starts having horrific bowel problems, and we can all appreciate how embarrassing such a condition would be for a famous public figure. As we’ve been learning all along, God knows what is important to us, and if we want to test the limits of His patience, we will find out just how painful and humiliating His discipline can be.

Adding to Jehoram’s trials, his kingdom gets invaded by several of his enemies and the royal palace gets stripped of all its wealth. Even Jehoram’s wives and sons are hauled away as prisoners, leaving him only his youngest son—Ahaziah [ay-huh-ZI-uh] (aka Jehoahaz [Jeh-HO-a-haz]). After two long years of terrible suffering, Jehoram’s bowels actually come out of his body and he dies. No one cries. No one cares. Jehoram was a jerk.

THE BIBLE: R-RATED MATERIAL

Well, now we know why we leave out certain stories when we make those cute little Bibles for children, right? We have to ease them into stories about men wanting to rape men (see Genesis 19 & Judges 19) and kings having their bowels come out. Double yuck. Ever wonder why the Bible is so gross or why God talks so nasty to people? We haven’t seen anything yet—wait until we start hearing from prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Then we’ll really get into the gross language. But to prepare for it, it’s a good time to understand why God didn’t try to soften the accounts He has preserved for us (see Creating a Different God: How the Bible is Being Changed to Lead You Astray).

At this point, Judah needs a new king and idolatrous Joram is still being annoying in the north. At least Elisha is turning out to be an admirable character, and we’ll learn more about him in our next lesson.

UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 17: All About Elisha

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