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Whenever someone dies, we usually say things like, “He died in a car wreck last year. He was shot last month. He died of leukemia yesterday.” Yet no matter what the earthly circumstances are, there’s one succinct description that always applies: “God killed him.” At some point, God will kill every one of us. How He kills us isn’t important. What matters is why. God will either kill us because He is pleased with our service on earth and eager to bring us to a better place, or He will strike us down in anger because He is fed up. We really want to go out the first way, but most people do not. King Ahaziah of Israel was an example of God striking someone dead in anger.
The account of Ahaziah’s death is found in 2 Kings 1. At this point in Israel’s history, the country is split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Each kingdom has its own line of kings, and they often don’t get along with each other. Ahaziah ruled in the north around the time that King Jehoram ruled in the south. But Ahaziah doesn’t rule long. He’s just a brief flash in the pan after the super evil King Ahab dies.
Shortly after this Ahaziah reigns in Israel, there will be another Ahaziah who reigns in Judah. Same name, two different men. The first Ahaziah reigned for two years, the second one reigned only one year. The first dies in bed, the second one is murdered by a man named Jehu. In this post, we’re talking about the first Ahaziah.
Ahaziah’s father was King Ahab—one of the most evil kings in all of Israel’s history. Ahab was a devoted Baal worshiper. During his reign, he married a very evil woman named Jezebel, who was also obsessed with Baal and tried to force everyone to worship her god. That was fine with Ahaziah. He was a big Baal fan. Yahweh found Ahaziah’s devotion to Baal extremely irritating, so one day He shoved Ahaziah through the lattice of an upstairs room. No doubt Ahaziah hit the ground very hard. He probably felt his bones go crack-crack-crack-crack. Suddenly it hurts too much to move. The next thing we know, King Ahaziah is lying in bed completely crippled. With every day that passes, he’s looking a little worse. “Am I going to live or die?” Ahaziah wonders fearfully. It’s time to ask Baal.
So Ahaziah sent out messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.” (2 Kings 1:2)
Now if Ahaziah had been a little smarter, he would have recognized that Yahweh had caused his injuries in the first place and he would be searching his heart for conviction. After all, when God brings trials into our lives, He’s always trying to teach us something. But Ahaziah isn’t interested in anything Yahweh has to say. He only wants to hear from Baal.
God decides that He’s not just going to stand by and be insulted why this little brat pays homage to demons. As Ahaziah’s messengers set out on their mission, Yahweh sends an angel to the prophet Elijah and instructs him to intercept the king’s men before they reach their destination.
“Go and confront the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is there no God in Israel? Why are you going to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether the king will recover? Now, therefore, this is what Yahweh says: You will never leave the bed you are lying on; you will surely die.’” So Elijah went to deliver the message. (2 Kings 1:3-4)
The ever obedient Elijah rushes out the door to obey. He intercepts the messengers and delivers Yahweh’s message. The messengers return to the king, who demands to know what this brazen fellow looked like.
They replied, “He was a hairy man, and he wore a leather belt around his waist.”
And Ahaziah said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite!” (2 Kings 1:8)
A hairy coat was traditional prophet attire in these times (see Zech. 13:4). The description of the clothes together with the brazen tone of the message is all Ahaziah needs to make a positive identification. It’s that outspoken prophet Elijah—the one that Jezebel tried so hard to kill. How very annoying. Ahaziah isn’t about to be told off by some hairy rebel. He sends out one of his army captains along with fifty soldiers to bring Elijah back by force. The captain and his men find the prophet sitting on top of a hill. Who wants to climb if they don’t have to? The captain figures he’ll just order the prophet to come down.
The captain said to him, “Man of God, the king has commanded you to come down with us.”
But Elijah replied to the captain, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and destroy you and your fifty men!” Then fire fell from heaven and consumed them all. (2 Kings 1:9-10)
Whoops. So much for intimidation tactics. The captain and his men are now reduced to smoke and ashes. This scene reminds us of the famous contest on Mount Carmel, where Elijah called down fire from Heaven to consume a water soaked sacrifice to Yahweh. The point back then was to prove Yahweh’s supremacy over Baal, who never showed up to receive his offering. This second terrifying rain of fire has nothing to do with Baal. Yahweh is simply making the point that He doesn’t take orders from a rebel king.
We’re not sure how long it takes Ahaziah to hear about this. No doubt God arranged for some witnesses to spread the word about fifty-one smoking corpses lying on the ground—that is, if there were any corpses left. We’re not sure how literally we should take the term “consumed.” But one thing is clear: defiant little Ahaziah is undaunted by this display of supernatural power. It’s amazing how a man can hang on so tenaciously to the words of a phony god like Baal, yet remain completely indifferent to Yahweh’s displays of real power. This is what happens to us when we refuse to put our faith in God: we become spiritually blind to truth, while at the same time we are easily impressed by all forms of deception.
We’re told that Ahaziah dispatches another captain with another fifty men to go out and arrest the troublesome prophet. How would you like to be this second captain? This is before the days of asbestos suits, so these men weren’t wearing flame retardant tunics. What’s going to prevent them from becoming just another pile of smoke and ashes? A little reverence might help, but our second captain seems to be a rather dim bulb. He goes marching out just like his predecessor, and once again orders Elijah down off of his hilltop. He even goes so far as to tell him to hurry up.
The captain called out, “Man of God, the king demands that you come down at once!”
Elijah replied, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and destroy you and your fifty men!” And again the fire of God fell from heaven and killed them all. (2 Kings 2:11-12)
We see a clear pattern developing. Now a third captain is dispatched. Will he be any smarter?
When the third captain of fifty went up the hill, he came and bowed down on his knees before Elijah, 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 please spare my life!” (2 Kings 2:13-14)
At last, someone is showing some long overdue reverence for the mighty Yahweh.
Then the angel of Yahweh said to Elijah, “Go down with him and don’t be afraid of him.” (2 Kings 2:15)
Notice how God tells His prophet not to be afraid. God doesn’t bring up fear unless He knows we’re already struggling with it. Elijah is looking at fifty-one armed men standing in front of him. All he has is a hairy coat and a leather belt. As a human being, it’s tough not to feel intimidated. At this point in time, nasty Jezebel is still very much alive—the woman who has brutally slaughtered many of God’s prophets, and recently put a price out on Elijah’s personal head. Going off with Captain Polite and his men to the royal stronghold of Samaria isn’t Elijah’s idea of a wise move. But now Yahweh tells him not to be afraid. Well, alright. Elijah will try to put on a brave face.
When he is brought before Ahaziah, Elijah repeats the same negative prophecy that Ahaziah’s messengers already told him.
Elijah said to the king, “This is what Yahweh says: Why did you send messengers to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to ask whether you will recover? Is there no God in Israel to answer your question? Therefore, because you have done this, you will never leave the bed you are lying on; you will surely die.” So Ahaziah died, just as Yahweh had said he would. (2 Kings 2:16-17)
Yahweh is fed up with Ahaziah’s disrespect, so He kills him in bed. Ahaziah goes out on a bad note. We don’t want to make his same mistakes. We need to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s convictions in life. When bad things happen, we need to look to Him for guidance and instruction. Now let’s be very clear: injuries and illness are not always indications that God is upset with us. God is far too complex to follow such pat formulas. The Bible gives us many examples of both the obedient and the disobedient enduring all kinds of suffering at the hand of the Lord. Yahweh was extremely pleased with Job, yet He still ripped his life apart–not to punish him, but to mature him in the faith. In Ahaziah’s case, Yahweh was trying to get the man’s attention.
We humans are very stubborn creatures and there are certain lessons we just won’t learn unless God forces us to pay attention. When you’re lying crippled in bed, you end up doing a lot of thinking. If Ahaziah had listened to the Holy Spirit’s convictions and repented, this story might have had a very different outcome. God is very generous, and He often gives us the chance to start over again once we get back in alignment with Him. But the day comes when He gets fed up with our constant rebellion and kills us.
Let’s not miss the fact that King Ahaziah received clear instruction about why Yahweh was angry with him. When the king of Nineveh heard Yahweh prophesying the destruction of his city through the mouth of Jonah, the king of Nineveh did everything he could to try and pacify God’s anger through sincere repentance. Ahaziah, on the other hand, tried to harm God’s messenger. He didn’t care when 102 men lost their lives, he just sent out another round like a man who keeps rolling dice thinking that this time he’ll get lucky. Ahaziah had no respect for God and refused to submit to His Authority. As a result, Ahaziah is probably in Hell, along with many other famous Bible characters. During our brief time on earth, God lets us cling to the delusion that we can defy Him without consequences. But as soon as we die, we realize how foolish we were to think that we could get away with mocking our Creator.