Calling Fire Down from Heaven.

2 Kings 1.

In about two years the judgment pronounced upon Ahab in the vineyard of Naboth was executed, and in the place and manner described by Elijah. Ahaziah, his son, reigned in his stead; and he walked in the way of his father, and in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin (1 Kings 22:52) - that is, he combined in his worship every form of idolatry practised at that time in his kingdom; and thereby he provoked to anger the Lord God of Israel, according to all that his father had done. And yet he had known Elijah (see v. 8), and must therefore have heard of his warnings and of his mission from Jehovah. But he had not profited by what he had seen and heard, notwithstanding the fact, of which he must have been cognisant, that judgment was suspended over his own head. It was to be verified in his case that "he, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."

The manner however in which he was dealt with did but reveal the Lord's tender pity, while unveiling, at the same time, the desperate hardness of Ahaziah's heart. He had, as men would say, an accident, and as a consequence was ill. Opportunity was thus vouchsafed to him to examine his ways and to turn to the Lord. Instead of doing the one or the other, he sent an embassy into the land of the Philistines to enquire of their god Baalzebub ("lord of flies") if he should recover of his disease. He thus proved that he had no confidence in his own gods; and yet he would not (for the carnal mind is enmity against God) turn to the only Source whence succour could be obtained. How foolish and perverse is the sinful heart of man!

The eyes of the Lord were upon this wicked sinner, and He sent His angel to direct Elijah to go up and meet the king's messengers. His message was brief and decisive: "Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die." It is much to be observed, as illustrative of God's judicial ways, that, while it had been said during the reign of Ahab that the Lord would bring evil upon the king's house in his son's days, Ahaziah is dealt with on the ground of his own wickedness and apostasy. With this record before us, it is not open to any objector to maintain that Ahaziah suffered because of the sins of his father. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" is God's own declaration, and hence the sentence passed upon Ahab's house was not executed until his son had himself incurred the anger of the Lord God of Israel by an act of apostasy, which equalled, if it did not transcend, the worst deeds of his father. God is always justified when He speaks, and clear when He judges.

The messengers of the king returned, and reported to him what they had seen and what they had heard; and, in answer to their master's question, they described the man whom they had met. He was, they said, an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. The son of Ahab instantly knew that it was Elijah the Tishbite, revealing thus that he had not only heard of his deeds, but that he was also acquainted with his appearance and person. A less hardened sinner might have been terrified by the reappearance of the prophet, but Ahaziah was only provoked to more daring impiety. He knew well that Elijah was Jehovah's messenger, but what of this? Was not Ahaziah the king of Israel? And thus beguiled by Satan, he determined to arrest the man who had dared to send him such a message. Accordingly he sent a captain of fifty, with his fifty soldiers, to apprehend the prophet and to bring him before the king. This was a deliberate challenge given by the idolatrous monarch to the God of Elijah.

In obedience to the royal command, the captain took his soldiers, went, and found Elijah sitting on the top of a hill. (v. 9.) It would almost seem that the officer recognised Elijah's true character. "Thou man of God," he called him, adding, "The king hath said, Come down." Was Elijah to be obedient to the king's summons? It is true that believers are to be subject to the higher powers, and that to resist the power is to resist the ordinance of God (Rom. 13), as long as the power is exercised within its own appointed domain. But if that power seeks to penetrate into the sphere which God has reserved to Himself, then as Shadrach Meshach, and Abednego, and as Peter and John, refused to comply with the commands they respectively received, so ever the power has to be resisted. Elijah had acted under a divine commission, and he was still in the divine hand, and hence, at whatever cost, he must be obedient to the word of the Lord.

It would be a strange misinterpretation to suppose that Elijah, in calling fire down from heaven to consume the captain and his fifty, was prompted by fear for his own life, and a desire for self-preservation. He, who had fled at Jezebel's threat, was fearless in the presence of the king's soldiers, because, having been restored again to communion with Jehovah's mind, he was the willing vessel of Jehovah's power. He was therefore Jehovah's servant in what he did; for the time had now come for judgment to commence. Ahaziah had dared to stand up as an adversary of Elijah, and of Elijah's God; and God stepped in to vindicate His servant, and to warn the king and his misguided people of the consequences of persevering in their present course of apostasy and open hostility. Judgment swift and rapid descended upon those who were sent to take the prophet, to arouse, if possible, the insensate people from the stupor of their folly and sinful condition.

The king's unrepentant state is sufficiently revealed by the fact that he despatched, even after such a warning, a second captain with his fifty to the prophet; and increased urgency is implied by the addition of the word "quickly" in the second captain's address to Elijah: "O man of God, thus hath the king said, Come down quickly." It is as if the king could brook no further delay. The same result followed, for the fire of God (the reader should notice that it is now called the fire of God) came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. The Lord God of Israel was thus as a wall of fire round about His servant for his protection, and as "fiery indignation" to devour his adversaries. It is a principle running through both the Old and New Testaments that God ever identifies Himself with His messengers; and Ahaziah was thus, even if he knew it not, assailing Jehovah Himself in the person of His servant, and at a time too when he himself was under the just judgment of God. (1 Kings 22:53.)

Insensible to the significance of these divine manifestations of warning and judgment, and determined at all costs to secure his end, he sent a third captain with his fifty. This officer was either a worshipper of Jehovah, or he had been impressed by the fate of his two predecessors. His whole attitude betrayed a different mind and spirit from the first messengers of the king; for he "went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight. Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in thy sight." Three things mark his humble address: he assumed the place of a suppliant; he acknowledged the judgment of God upon the previous captains; and he owned that his life was in Elijah's hands as Jehovah's servant.

God heard and answered his appeal, and directed Elijah, through His angel, to go down with the captain, and not to be afraid of him. With that prompt and unreasoning obedience, which ever characterised Elijah in his service, "he arose, and went down with him unto the king." The knowledge that he was in the Lord's path imparted courage, and the consciousness that he was overshadowed by divine power assured him that neither the king nor the king's officer could harm him; and he therefore went fearlessly into the palace, and to the bedside of the enraged and wicked monarch. But what had the king gained? Simply the repetition of the message of judgment which had been first delivered to him by those whom he had sent to enquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, whether he should recover of his disease. It was now uttered again over his bed by Elijah himself, and it contained the king's irrevocable doom; for the next verse tells us that the king "died according to the word of the Lord."

Many reflections might be made; one only is given. Attention has been called to the prophet's unquestioning obedience, and it may also be pointed out that his fidelity in delivering his message is no less conspicuous. The message he received he gave without enlargement or addition. He was careful only to convey it in the form in which it was communicated. It might be well for the servants of the Lord to ponder this feature, and to ask whether the power of the Holy Ghost would not more frequently accompany their ministry if Elijah's example in this respect were more studiously followed.