Fire From Heaven (Phil Johnson)

2 Kings 1   |   Sunday, November 16, 2014   |   Code: 2014-11-16-PJ

The episode we'll be looking at this morning is in 2 Kings

chapter 1. We'll cover the whole chapter this morning. And

in order to get through it, I want to take a different approach.

I want to walk you through the narrative of the entire

chapter. And then we'll tie it all up at the end with a look at

three important spiritual lessons we can glean from this


Let me begin reading in 2 Kings 1.

"After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel." Stop

there for a moment, and I'll do my best to explain the

political, historical, and geographical context with the

simplest possible overview.

Moab was the nation on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea.

If you can visualize the area, Israel and Judah occupied the

area West of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. Moab

occupied a region of similar size on the east side of the Dead

Sea. The Moabites were the descendants of Moab, who was

the son born to Lot's eldest daughter after her incestuous

relationship with her own father.

Genesis 19 describes how after the destruction of Sodom

and Gomorrah, Lot's daughters were living in a cave in the

wilderness. Their mother was dead (turned into a pillar of

2 Kings 1 2

salt). The city where they grew up and had all their

relationships had been reduced to a smoldering wasteland

filled with volcanic rocks. And Lot's daughters despaired of

ever getting married. So they got their own father drunk and

each had sex with him. The wicked immorality of Sodom

had so defiled them that they thought that was the best way

to carry on the family name. Both girls became pregnant, and

the elder daughter bore a son whom she named Moab. He

was the father of the Moabites. Lot's younger daughter had a

son named Ben-AmmiCand he was the father of the


The Israelites considered the Moabites close relatives as

well as close neighbors. They spoke the same language. They

had common ancestors and many common traditions. But

they served different Gods. (More about that in a minute.)

So the relationship between Israel and the Moabites was

an uneasy one. Sometimes the Moabites and Israelites were

allies, and sometimes they were enemies. The most familiar

Moabite in Scripture was Ruth, grandmother of David. She

became a proselyte to the Hebrew faith, so her marriage to

Boaz was legal and legitimate. And it meant that the Davidic

line, from which Christ descended, included at least one wife

who came from the Moabite nation. It also meant that king

David himself was one-quarter Moabite.

And when David was being pursued by Saul, it was the

Moabites who helped hide and preserve him. According to 1

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Samuel 22:3-4, David put his parents under the protective

care of the king of Moab while David himself hid from Saul

in caves and desolate regions.

But when David ascended the throne, the relationship

changed, and the Moabites for a time became David's

enemies. Scripture doesn't describe any particular conflict or

event that led to this change. I gather the Moabites had

political reasons to be friendly to David while he was the

chief rival of Israel's sitting king, but as soon as he became

king himself, he instantly and automatically became a

political rival to the king of the Moabites, so they no longer

regarded him as a friend.

In any case, during David's reign there was a war between

Israel and Moab, and David conquered the Moabites and

completely subjugated them. For several generations the

Moabites were forced to pay tribute to the king of Israel. But

for the remainder of David's life, and increasingly during the

reign of Solomon, relations between Israel and Moab were

essentially peaceful.

I mentioned that the Moabites worshiped a deity of their

own making. Their god was an idol named Chemosh

(keMOSH). They are sometimes referred to in Scripture as

"The people of Chemosh" (Numbers 21:29; Jeremiah

48:46)Cand Chemosh himself is referred to in 1 Kings 11:7

as "Chemosh the abomination of Moab." Both the culture and

the pagan worship of the Moabites became a serious

2 Kings 1 4

stumbling-block to the Israelites during that prolonged peace

that began under David and extended into Solomon's reign.

In fact, Solomon's backsliding began with a kind of

ecumenical embrace of Moabite culture and religion.

(Solomon also absorbed corrupt spiritual values from other

neighboring nations, too, so the Moabites weren't the only

bad influence on him.)

Solomon's decline was motivated, first of all, by his desire

to please the women in his harem. First Kings 11 is a

chronicle of Solomon's spiritual collapse. First Kings 11:1-2

says, "Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along

with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite,

Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which

the LORD had said to the people of Israel, 'You shall not enter

into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely

they will turn away your heart after their gods.' Solomon clung to

these in love." Verses 6-8 go on to say,

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD

and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father

had done.

7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the

abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of

the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem.

8 And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made

offerings and sacrificed to their gods.

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9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his

heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel,

who had appeared to him twice

10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he

should not go after other gods. But he did not keep what

the LORD commanded.

In other words, Solomon, living the life of a Lothario,

embraced a kind of ecumenical compromise that mirrored his

moral promiscuity. He let his passion for women degrade his

character, undermine his faith, and overrule the wisdom God

had given himCand that compromised the entire nation

under his rule. It led to a nationwide spiritual decline and

religious confusion that culminated in the divided kingdom

and opened the door to abominations like Jezebel and Ahab.

It also left the people of Israel susceptible to divine judgment

and earthly defeat. So all Israel suffered years of exile,

misery, and spiritual confusion. That all began in Solomon's

time, and the Moabite influence was one of the major factors

that sabotaged Solomon's faithfulness.

Anyway, when Solomon died, the kingdoms of Israel and

Judah split. Judah, the southern nation (consisting of just two

tribesCJudah and Benjamin) stayed true to the line of

Davidic kings. The northern kingdom, Israel, consisted of the

other ten tribes, and they were ruled by a succession of

renegade kings, none of whom had any legitimate right under

2 Kings 1 6

God to rule. All the kings of Israel were wickedCno

exceptions. And some of them were profoundly wicked.

Control over Moab seems to have passed out of

Solomon's line and was taken over by the northern kingdom,

under that long dynasty of wicked and unbelieving Israelite

kings. We draw that conclusion because when the Moabites

finally revolted against the Hebrews, it was the Kings of

Israel they waged war against.

The first Moabite revolt was in the time of Omri. Omri

was the father of Ahab. (You know Ahab from our study of

Elijah's life years ago. He was the hapless king who married

Jezebel and unleashed the rankest kind of idolatry into the

northern kingdom.) Scripture doesn't record anything about

the Moabite revolt against Omri, but a thorough record of

that whole episode was later made and inscribed in stone in

Phoenician letters by King Mesha, the Moabite king who led

the revolt mentioned here in 2 Kings 1. The stone on which

that inscription was made was discovered by a German

missionary in 1868. It's one of modern archaeology's most

intriguing finds, known as the Moabite stone.

And we don't have time to get into it this morning, but if

you want to read a good story, look up the history of the

Moabite stone on the Internet or in a Bible encyclopedia

when you get home. The French and the Germans got into a

bidding war over the stone. Each country wanted it in their

national museum. And when Ottoman government officials

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discovered what incredible sums of money were being

offered for this artifact, they decided to handle the bidding

themselves, so they sent word from Damascus to the

Bedouins who had possession of the stone and ordered them

to turn it over. The Bedouins decided they didn't want

anyone else getting possession of the artifact, so they built a

fire under it, and when it was fiery hot, they poured cold

water over it, shattering it into several pieces. They

distributed the smaller fragments among themselves for

good-luck charms. The larger pieces were collected and

reassembled, and you can see the Moabite Stone in the

Louvre Museum in Paris today.

Anyway, fortunately for the study of archaeology, before

the Arabs destroyed the stone, the French had made what is

known as a "squeeze." They used papier mâché to take an

impression of it. Their squeeze was partly damaged because

the paper was still too wet when it was removed from the

stone. But most of the inscription was good enough to enable

archaeologists to reassemble the fragments. And the

inscription told the history of the Moabite nation during a

period of time that coincides almost precisely with the life of

Elijah and the record of 2 Kings. Like every other

archaeological discovery so far, it confirms every detail of

the biblical account.

We learn from the Moabite stone that the Moabites

revolted during Omri's reign, but they were subdued again

2 Kings 1 8

and forced to pay tribute to Ahab. Second Kings 3:4

describes the tribute Ahab demanded: "Now Mesha king of

Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of

Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams." (The

statement uses a verb tense that suggests this tribute was paid

regularly, probably annually.)

But 2 Kings 3:5 says when Ahab died and his son

Ahaziah took the throne, the Moabites revolted a second

time. (Here's the verse: "But when Ahab died, the king of Moab

rebelled against the king of Israel." That simply reiterates what

we already read in the opening verse of 2 Kings 1: "After the

death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel." This second

revolt was successful where the earlier revolt in Ahab's time

had failed. Both the Scriptures and the Moabite stone focus

on this second Moabite revolt.

From the biblical narrative, it appears the Moabites were

successful at least partly because of Ahaziah's failure to

respond aggressively to the revolt. He sent his armies out to

wage war, but he himself stayed home, in the safety of his


I have a suspicion about why Ahaziah may have stayed

home. In 1 Kings 21, when Elijah confronted Ahab, Elijah

prophesied that Ahab and all his offspring would be utterly

destroyed, his bloodline wiped from the face of the earth.

First Kings 21:21. Elijah confronts Ahab in the vineyard of

Naboth, and the Lord speaking prophetically through Elijah

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tells Ahab: "I will bring disaster upon you. I will utterly burn you

up, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel.

And I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son

of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the

anger to which you have provoked me, and because you have

made Israel to sin." He goes on (verse 24): "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 heavens shall


(So this was a gruesome prophecy of utter destruction,

and 2 Kings 10:1 says Ahab had 70 sons in Samaria, so this

was no small family, and it was no small judgment to wipe

them all out.)

Now remember that Ahab was killed in battle, even

though he disguised himself as the king of Judah. An archer

fired off a random arrow, and it penetrated between the joints

of Ahab's armor, and he was fatally wounded. That arrow

was clearly guided by God Himself. The judgment Elijah

foretold was obviously beginning to come to pass. No

wonder Ahaziah was afraid to go into battle. He may have

figured he would be safe if he just stayed away from the

battlefield. As if he could escape the wrath of God by hiding

in the safety of his own palace! As if God's hand of judgment

couldn't reach him there!

But Ahaziah's palace turned out not to be such a safe

place, either. Second Kings 1:2: "Now Ahaziah fell through the

2 Kings 1 10

lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick"Cthat is,

he was seriously injured, bedridden with internal bleeding or

a wound of some kind that was clearly life-threatening.

A lattice is a screen or a grate made of crisscrossed

wooden strips. This could have been a vent or a kind of

skylight between the roof and a lower floor. Or more likely it

was a flimsy decorative substitute for a parapet or a

balustrade around the perimeter of the roof. Moses' law

demanded that every rooftop that was accessible to people

have a parapet. The idea clearly was to have a guard-rail so

sturdy that people couldn't accidentally fall off the roof. But

some builders obeyed only the letter of the law and ignored

its purpose. They sometimes made decorative but flimsy

parapets out of wooden lattice-work. Those may have been

the kind of parapets used on the king's palace in Israel.

So Ahaziah either carelessly backed into the lattice-work

or stupidly stepped on a flimsy vent or skylight made of

lattice-work, and the lattice gave way. He fell, obviously

some distanceCeither into the courtyard of the palace, or

through the roof into one of the rooms

Scripture doesn't describe his injuries, but they were

clearly serious. And naturally, Ahaziah wanted to know if his

injuries were going to prove fatal. See the second half of

verse 2: "he sent messengers, telling them, 'Go, inquire of

Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this


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Now this is the first mention of Baalzebub in Scripture.

Baalzebub was a Philistine deity. His name meant, "Lord of

the flies." That was fitting, for the land of the Philistines was

thick with fliesCas that area still is to this day. And the

Philistines evidently believed the infestation of flies signified

that the Lord of the flies lived in their land, so they made this

fly-god one of their main deities. They had some famous

oracles who claimed to be able to tell the future. They

usually gave flattering prophecies with predictions so

ambiguous that they could hardly miss, but the Philistine

oracles nonetheless had gained fame throughout Israel. They

were sort of the "Psychic Friends Network" of Elijah's time.

And Ahaziah decided he would send messengers to the

fly-god's oracles to tell him if he could expect to live.

This occult curiosity about the future cost him his life.

God despises all forms of occult fortune-telling, and He

strictly forbade His people to engage in that sort of evil.

Listen to Deuteronomy 18:9-12:

When you come into the land that the LORD your God is

giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable

practices of those nations.

10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns

his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who

practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens,

or a sorcerer

2 Kings 1 12

11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who

inquires of the dead,

12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the

LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your

God is driving them out before you.

There were several similar prohibitions in the law. Through

Moses, God gave the people a zero-tolerance policy against

all the occult arts. It is absolutely clear from those

commandments that God does not regard any form of occult

fortune-telling as a matter to be trifled with. Before you read

a horoscope or consult a fortune-teller and make a

superstitious decision because of what some self-styled

prophet says, remember that this is a very serious sin. It was

an especially serious sin for a ruler on the throne of Israel.

He of all people needed to honor and obey God, not consult

these petty Philistine deities like the fly-god. It was bad

enough for the people to be tempted to be lured into occult

and pagan practices. But when the king engaged in such

behavior, it always brought certain and severe judgment.

Saul lost his kingdom because he went to a fortune-teller.

And here Ahaziah lost his life because he wanted to inquire

about his future from the fly-god.

Notice, however, that God sovereignly hindered Ahaziah

from getting any advice from Baalzebub. Verse 3:

But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite,

"Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of

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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?

4 Now therefore thus says the LORD, You shall not come

down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you

shall surely die.'" So Elijah went.

Here we see a instance of Elijah's trademark appearances.

Some of you will remember from our study of Elijah several

years ago that one of Elijah's idiosyncrasies is the way he

always appears out of nowhere, confronts his enemies, and

then disappears before they have time to react. This episode

is no exception.

And Elijah has bad news for Ahaziah: "You shall surely

die." You'll never get out of bed again. And he tells Ahaziah's

messengers to go back with that message to their king.

It will become apparent in a moment that these men had

no idea who Elijah was. Maybe they were too young to

remember the contest between Elijah and the prophets of

Baal on Mt. Carmel. They were servants in Ahaziah's court,

the next generation after Ahab, it's probably a given that tales

of Elijah's spiritual triumphs were not frequently the topic of

conversation in that household.

But it is interesting (isn't it?) that these men immediately

halted their journey, turned right around, and went straight

back to Ahaziah's bedside. They had been sent on a mission

by their king, but after this one short encounter with a

2 Kings 1 14

stranger, they abandoned their assignment and returned


What was it about Elijah that made them take orders from

him rather than obeying their master's orders? Obviously, his

physical presence alone was somewhat intimidating.

Furthermore, from what we know of the character and

personality of Elijah, it is probably safe to assume that his

delivery was stern, and severe, and intense.

But it wasn't merely a matter of style that prompted these

men to obey Elijah rather than their master. When a man of

God is under the control of the Spirit of God, that man's

message is empowered by the spirit in an inscrutable way so

that the message penetrates even the hardest of hearts. Elijah

clearly knew what they were sent on their quest to learn. And

Elijah spoke with the authority and the power of God

Himself. Who can resist that?

Verse 5: "The messengers returned to the king, and he said

to them, 'Why have you returned?'" Ahaziah knew they had not

been gone long enough to get to Ekron and back. Verse 6:

And they said to him, "There came a man to meet us, and

said to us, 'Go back to the king who sent you, and say to

him, Thus says the LORD, 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 to which you have gone up, but you shall surely


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7 He said to them, "What kind of man was he who came to

meet you and told you these things?"

8 They answered him, "He wore a garment of hair, with a

belt of leather about his waist." And he said, "It is Elijah

the Tishbite."

You would think Ahaziah would be terrified at this, right?

He knows from long experience that Elijah speaks for God.

Elijah had never once been wrong about anything. At his

word a three-year long drought was startedCand then finally

after three years he gave the word and it rained again. He

called down fire from heaven on Mt. Carmel. (He was about

to do a couple of repeat performances, but Ahaziah didn't

know about that yet.)

When Elijah confronted Ahab in Naboth's vineyard in 1

Kings 21, the prophet knew everything about Ahab's

treachery against Naboth. He correctly predicted Ahab's

demise because of it. Now he was telling Ahaziah that he too

would die soon.

But Ahaziah's response, rather than fear and repentance, is

anger and vindictiveness against Elijah.

But Elijah was only the messenger. God was the one

Ahaziah was really opposing. It was a foolish response.

Verse 9:

Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his

fifty. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a

2 Kings 1 16

hill, and said to him, "O man of God, the king says, 'Come


10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, "If I am a man

of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you

and your fifty." Then fire came down from heaven and

consumed him and his fifty.

Wow. This was apparently an instantaneous thing. This fire

from heaven didn't just kill these guys and char their bodies.

It consumed them. All fifty fit neatly into an ash tray when

Elijah was done with them.

(One of the earliest viral videos on the Internet showed a

guy igniting a sack of charcoal by burning some liquid

oxygen. He poured the stuff from a container he held on a

pole from at least 10 feet away. And it flared up for a second,

and then immediately went away. And what was left was a

melted steel barbecue grill and the ashes from a sack of

Charcoal. Instantly consumed. That's something like what

happened here, only the fire fell from heaven.)

That should have waked Ahaziah up. Because somehow

word got back to him about what had happened. Evidently

there were witnesses to this instantaneous cremation, and the

witnesses reported back to the king.

Verse 11:

Again the king sent to him another captain of fifty men

with his fifty. And he answered and said to him, "O man of

God, this is the king's order, 'Come down quickly!'"

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12 But Elijah answered them, "If I am a man of God, let fire

come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty."

Then the fire of God came down from heaven and

consumed him and his fifty.

This guy doesn't learn, does he? You'd think the point would

be clear by now. ButC

Verse 13: "Again the king sent the captain of a third fifty with

his fifty." You get the feeling Ahaziah would have kept

sending men until his whole army was destroyed by fire from

heaven. But this third captain was a wise man, and he

humbled himself before Elijah:

And the third captain of fifty went up and came and fell on

his knees before Elijah and entreated him, "O man of God,

please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of

yours, be precious in your sight.

14 Behold, fire came down from heaven and consumed the

two former captains of fifty men with their fifties, but now

let my life be precious in your sight."

15 Then 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.

That scene always makes me smile. After all that

spontaneous human compunction, Elijah just agrees to go

with these men to Ahaziah's bedside. They didn't have to

force or cajole him. He comes to Ahaziah of his own free

willCand I mean "free will" in the Calvinist sense, because

2 Kings 1 18

notice that he goes at the Lord's bidding. He arrives at the

Palace, and he is shown into the room where Ahaziah lies on

his deathbed.

Verse 16:

and [Elijah] 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.'"

17 So he died according to the word of the LORD that

Elijah had spoken. Jehoram became king in his place in

the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king

of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son.

Then the biblical record of Ahaziah closes with the last

verse in this chapter (verse 18): "Now the rest of the acts of

Ahaziah that he did, are they not written in the Book of the

Chronicles of the Kings of Israel?"

So there you have the story. It's a simple one, really, but

it's filled with spiritual lessons. I want to draw out a few of

the key ones for you.

First, considerC

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Ahaziah had followed in his father's wicked footsteps. He

had also followed his mother's wickednessCand to the

degree that he was really just a puppet ruler for Jezebel. She

told him what to do. She was the real power behind the

throne in Israel, just as she had been during her husband's

wicked reign. Ahaziah's short reign was so marked by

wickedness that God judgment was inevitable, sooner rather

than later. And you can see the hand of divine displeasure in

the accident Ahaziah suffered.

Ahaziah despised God. So God gave him over to his own

sin. In fact, Ahaziah's life reveals how often our sinful

rebellion carries its own consequences. Ahaziah had already

rejected the truth. Therefore he had no option but to pursue a

lie. And that is why he sought a forecast from a lying,

demonic oracle.

You need to understand the character of this Philistine

god Baalzebub. His very name, "Lord of the Flies," has a

filthy, foul sound to it, doesn't it? And Baalzebub was as vile

a deity as anyone ever invented. He supposedly ruled the

fliesCthose revolting insects that swarm around every kind

of decay and filth and spread disease and spawn maggots. It

was a fitting image for this kind of god. Who would ever

think of worshiping a deity whose realm was everything foul

and unclean?

2 Kings 1 20

The whole idea of a god who delighted in all that was

unclean was so revolting to the Jews that they altered the

name Baal-zebub slightly to make it Beel-zebulCwhich

meant "god of dung." But you get a sense of how utterly

abhorrent Baal-zebub was to a typical Jew.

In fact, this dung-god Beel-zebul was the consummate

example of a demonic false god. He so epitomized

everything impure and unholyCeverything that opposes the

true GodCso that by the time of Jesus, the name Beelzebul

had become a way to refer to Satan. So when you read the

name Beelzebul in the New Testament, it is a reference to the

devil. And that's a fitting, name for the evil one, isn't it? God

of dung. And Satan himself was in a true but spiritual sense

the real object of every Baal-worshiper's devotion. In 1

Corinthians 10:20, Paul writes "What pagans sacrifice they

offer to demons and not to God." There is a real demonic

energy in all false religion and occultism, and that is one of

the chief reasons the people of God are forbidden to trifle

with such things.

Now consider the irony of the fact that Ahaziah, sitting on

the throne in Israel, had so much contempt for Israel's God

that he would be willing to inquire after the lying oracles of a

loathsome being like Baal-zebub.

But Ahaziah had already rejected the truth, so God gave

him over to lies.

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It is inherently irrational to reject the truth, isn't it?

Suppose the oracle at Ekron had told Ahaziah what he

wanted to hearCthat he would live. That wouldn't make it

true, would it? If the morning horoscope says this is an

auspicious day to launch a new business venture, that doesn't

make it true, does it? Who knows how many people have

destroyed their lives pursuing lies because they have no

choice after they reject the truth.

Listen, we need to hold fast to the truth God has given us

and order our lives by what Scripture says. Modern society

in general has gone the opposite direction, rejecting Scripture

in favor of astrology, psychology, evolution, humanism,

secularism, and a host of other superstitious or rationalistic

lies. But if you turn away from the truth to follow fables, you

in effect give yourself over to Satan, the father of lies. That's

why it was sheer folly for Ahaziah to inquire of the Philistine

oracle in the first place.

Many wicked men sat on the throne of Israel after

Jeroboam's revolt. But this episode was something of a low

point for the whole era, that an Israelite king would inquire

of a Philistine god.

Here's a second lesson. ConsiderC

2 Kings 1 22


There's a remarkable contrast between the Elijah of this

episode and the immature prophet who ran from Jezebel all

the way to the southern end of the Sinai peninsula. Here we

see Elijah confident, bold, unmovable. First, he arrests the

messengers on the road, boldly ordering them to go back and

tell their king what he doesn't want to hear. Then notice in

verse 9 that when Ahaziah's soldiers came looking for him,

"Elijah . . . was sitting on the top of a hill." He knows Ahaziah

wants to kill him, but he doesn't run and hide. His sits in

plain view, on top of a hill, where they will be sure and find

him. And then when they threaten him, he more or less

casually calls down fire out of heaven and reduces them to

ashes. Don't you sort of wish he had shown that kind of

confidence when Jezebel threatened to kill him after the

Mount Carmel showdown?

This is the true Elijah. This is the prophet at his best, most

mature. And what is the reason for the difference? His faith.

As his faith grew strong, so did Elijah. And here he reveals

an amazing, superhuman level of faith. He stands unflinching

before an detachment of fifty armed men, Ahaziah's best

fighting men. And he displays the kind of faith spoken of in

Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, "If you have faith like a grain

of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here

to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for


Fire From Heaven 23

Let me explain something: That kind of faith is a

supernatural faith. It's source is God. Jesus wasn't suggesting

you can summon this sort of faith from within yourself. He

wasn't teaching that if you try real hard you can believe in

yourself strongly enough to command mountains. That

wasn't His point at all. The point is that true faith is trust in a

promise God has madeCbelief in what God has said. Elijah

was a prophet. He knew through his prophetic gifts that God

intended to carry out His judgment this way. In other words,

true faith has both its source and object in God. Elijah was

not exercising some kind of superstitious self-confidence.

His trust was in God, and it was God who performed this


In that same vein, it's important to note that Elijah didn't

call down fire from heaven against these men out of any

personal or petty vindictiveness. If that had been any part of

his motive, God would not have answered with fire.

Some people have trouble reconciling this passage with

Luke 9:55, where James and John wanted to call down fire

from heaven against some Samaritans because they refused

to allow Jesus to pass through their village on His way to

Jerusalem. And Jesus rebuked James and John. And what

about John 3:17? "For God did not send his Son into the world

to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved

through him."

2 Kings 1 24

Just to be clear; Scripture never condemns what Elijah

did, because it wasn't even Elijah who did this; God did it.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, the New Testament

doesn't promote a pacifist agenda. What happened when

Elijah encountered these messengers was an act of God, done

for God's own glory. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself will

one day destroy His enemies with a fiery retribution from


But on that day in Samaria with James and John, Jesus'

mission was a mission of salvation, and James and John were

reacting because they had been personally insulted.

Therefore their desire to call down fire from heaven was

inappropriate and wicked. For all of us who don't have

Elijah's prophetic gift and specific instructions from heaven,

that's pretty much a universal rule. The desire to seek

vengeance is carnal.

But Elijah's fire from heaven was meant by God as a

public display of divine vindication, and a public judgment

against an evil regime that sat on Israel's throne, opposing

Jehovah and all He stood for. Such extreme wickedness

called for a breathtaking, awe-inspiring judgment. That's

why fire was warranted against Ahaziah's soldiers, but it was

not warranted against the Samaritans.

And that brings us to a third spiritual lesson we draw from

this account. ConsiderC

Fire From Heaven 25


In the midst of all this judgment, there is still a constant

display of the Lord's great mercy to His foes. Ahaziah's

injuries are one clear example. He could have died

immediately from his fall. But the Lord graciously spared his

life for a time, giving him an opportunity to contemplate his

impending ruin and an opportunity for repentance. Such an

opportunity is never to be taken for granted. God owes such

mercy to no one.

In fact, contrast Ahaziah's fate with that of his soldiers,

who were destroyed on the spot with no opportunity to seek

any remedy. God is not unrighteous to judge instantly and

summarily like that. But so often He does not. I would guess

that there is not a person in this room who has not been the

beneficiary of the kind of Divine mercy that fires a warning

shot before dispensing justice. God often gives us time to

reflect and warning signs to reflect on before He makes us

taste the consequences of our sin. And those are

opportunities for repentance. I hope you never waste them or

take them for granted. Because Proverbs 29:1 says, "He who

is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken

beyond healing."

This whole episode reminds us that "It is a fearful thing to

fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). "our

God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). Quite literally we

2 Kings 1 26

see the fulfillment of that in what happened to the first two

captains and their fifties.

But the third group of soldiers is a reminder that "God . . .

gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). God's

mercies are never exhausted, and those who humble

themselves before Him and confess their sins can always find


The patience of God is truly a marvel, but we are

cautioned again and again not to take God's longsuffering for

granted or presume on His grace. Scripture says, "Today, if

you hear his voice, do not harden your heart." Whether you are

a believer or not, all these truths are poignant incentives to

careful self-examination. In the words of 2 Peter 3:15, "Count

the patience of our Lord as salvation."

And meanwhile, "exhort one another every day, as long as it

is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the

deceitfulness of sin." Or, quoting 2 Peter 3 again, "You

therefore, beloved . . . take care that you are not carried away

with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But

grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus

Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.