THE BIBLE STORY
VOLUME 5
1987

Table of Contents
Introduction
Chapter 104 CIVIL WAR THREATENS
Chapter 105 CIVIL WAR
Chapter 106 A PLAGUE OF NUMBERS
Chapter 107 GOD CHOOSES SOLOMON
Chapter 108 SOLOMON BUILDS THE TEMPLE
Chapter 109 SOLOMON DEDICATES GOD'S TEMPLE
Chapter 110 KING SOLOMON'S SINS
Chapter 111 A KINGDOM DIVIDED
Chapter 112 ISRAEL'S TURNING POINT
Chapter 113 SAFETY ONLY UNDER GOD!
Chapter 114 TROUBLES IN ISRAEL AND JUDAH
Chapter 115 ELIJAH AND THE FAMINE
Chapter 116 "IF THE LORD BE GOD, FOLLOW HIM!"
Chapter 117 "O LORD, TAKE AWAY MY LIFE!"
Chapter 118 SYRIA CHALLENGES GOD
Chapter 119 DESPOT GOES UNPUNISHED
Chapter 120 STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
Chapter 121 WHEN A KING REPENTS
Chapter 122 VICTORY WITHOUT WAR
Chapter 123 A CHANGE OF MANTLES
Chapter 124 "BECAUSE ONE MAN HAS CHARACTER"
Chapter 125 WHEN MIRACLES MADE NEWS
Chapter 126 "BUT IT'S ONLY A WHITE LIE!"
Chapter 127 UNCOVERING MILITARY SECRETS
Chapter 128 ELIJAH'S LETTER
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INTRODUCTION
by Herbert W. Armstrong

In response to overwhelming demand this fifth and revised
volume of "The Bible Story" is published. We are thrilled, and
overjoyed, because of the enthusiastic acceptance of Volumes I
through IV.
Those who have read the previous four volumes know that
there has never been a Bible story book like this. There have, of
course, been many Bible story books -- too many, of a kind. But
candidly they seemed, to me, to have no mission, except to
entertain children. They seemed to try to compete with the
exciting fiction of violence of which youngsters see entirely too
much on television -- or read in cheap novels or comic books.
These children's Bible story books were a series of
disconnected blood-and-thunder stories drawn from certain
biblical incidents. There was no connection between one and
another, or with the gospel. They were shorn of their real
meaning. They seemed to me to degrade the Bible in children's
minds. The real connection of these biblically recorded incidents
with the MEANING and PURPOSE of life -- of God's message to
mankind -- was ignored. Yet all these incidents are recorded in
the Bible BECAUSE they have real and deep MEANING. They teach
vital lessons that ought to be made plain to children -- and to
adults as well!
Years ago this realization plagued me. God had called me to
an important ministry which He was blessing with rapid and
constant growth. But the children were being neglected in this
ministry. How could I supply this lack? For years it was a
frustrating dilemma.
HOW could I get to growing children a real knowledge of God
-- of the Creator and His vast creation -- of His power,
authority, and rulership over all He created -- of the very
PURPOSE in having put humans on this earth -- of the vital
CONNECTION between these biblical incidents and the meaning of
life?
It is ten times more difficult to UNLEARN error than to
learn TRUTH. This, then, was the dilemma that challenged me:
children today are being reared in the same old secular pagan
philosophies and customs, with the addition of the so-called
scientific approach that has arrived with the acceptance of the
theory of evolution. This attempt to explain the presence of a
creation without the existence of a Creator has become the basic
concept by which all causes, origins and purposes are explained.
By the time innocent children have been inoculated with this
anti-God poison and reached maturity, most of them have much to
unlearn before their minds can accept original truth. An inborn
prejudice has been set up. And prejudice is an absolute barrier
to the entrance of TRUTH into the mind.
But what could I do about it?
In due time God supplied the man for this important
undertaking. Basil Wolverton was a nationally known artist in the
United States. His work appeared in more than fifty nationally
circulated magazines. He was both an artist and a trained writer.
He was converted through the "World Tomorrow" broadcast many years
ago. He was a student and teacher of the Bible.
In November, 1958, "The Bible Story" started serially in "The
Plain Truth".
But it is NOT written ONLY for children! We like to say it
is written for children from 5 to 105! Mr. Wolverton wrote in
simple, understandable language, easily read by children at the
nine-to twelve-year-old level, yet INTERESTING to adults as well!
With professional expertness, Mr. Wolverton makes this
story-flow gripping and thrilling in plain and simple words.
Parents can read this book to four-and five-year-olds, and, with
a little explaining, make it understandable and also absorbing
and interesting.
"The Bible Story" is definitely NOT a series of disconnected
stories of excitement and violence with no special meaning. Our
purpose is to tell simply, in language children can read and
understand, plainly, yet interestingly the story of the Bible
itself, beginning at the beginning. A continuous story thread
runs through the entire Bible. Not many have ever grasped this
amazing yet important fact. Most people read a verse here or a
chapter there, failing to properly connect them, or understand
the true continuity of the Bible story.
Mr. Wolverton stuck to the literal biblical account. He has
taken author's license to portray certain incidents in
conversational style, or to fill in, for purposes of clarity and
realism, a few "tomatoes on the window sill." Yet he was
zealously careful to avoid adding to, or detracting from, the
real and intended meaning of the sacred Scriptures.
The present volume is a continuing memorial of Basil
Wolverton, who died in December 1978, and is presented to you as
a ministry of love, without money and without price. It is our
fervent hope that it will bring to you and your children
enlightenment, interesting reading, understanding, and abundant
blessings from its original and TRUE AUTHOR, Jesus Christ.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 104
CIVIL WAR THREATENS

DAVID WAS warned that Absalom, his son, was near and would
probably try to attack Jerusalem in a violent effort to seize the
government of Israel. King David and hundreds of his faithful
subjects, soldiers and servants and their families hurriedly
moved out of the city so that it wouldn't become a scarred site
of battle. (II Samuel 15:13-23.)
When David realized that the ark was being taken from its
place in Jerusalem, he was very upset.


King David's Secret Agent

"Don't bring the ark out of Jerusalem," David told the
priests, Zadok and Abiathar. "Return it to where it was. It
shouldn't be exposed to the uncertainty of travel. We should rely
on God, not the ark."
Zadok and Abiathar obeyed with the understanding that by
staying in Jerusalem they could also observe what would take
place there and inform David of the circumstances. David hardly
knew whom else he could trust in this time when so many of his
subjects were deserting him. (II Samuel 15:24-29.)
He felt that this terrible situation could be the result of
past sins concerning Uriah and Uriah's wife, as God had warned.
(II Samuel 12:7-10.) Accordingly, he decided to walk to the top
of Mount Olivet, just east of Jerusalem, to pray to God. This he
did in a repentant manner, covering his head and wearing nothing
on his feet. Many others accompanied him, weeping as they went.
After a period of worshipping at the top of the hill, David
was approached by a friend by the name of Hushai, who was not a
warrior, but a counselor. Hushai spoke of his desire to accompany
the king wherever he would go. (II Samuel 15:30-32.)
"Instead of going with me," David told him, "you could help
me more if you would return to Jerusalem and join Zadok and
Abiathar to keep me posted, through their sons, of how matters
take place in Jerusalem when Absalom arrives there. Perhaps you
can even come into Absalom's confidence and wisely offset any
advice that might be given to him by Ahithophel, who forsook me
for my son." Hushai wanted to do anything he could for the king.
He obediently returned to the city. (II Samuel 15:33-37.)
On the way down Mount Olivet, David was hailed in a
respectful manner by a man named Ziba. He was a servant of
Mephibosheth, a son of Jonathan, who was Saul's son and David's
boyhood friend. Ziba was leading two donkeys heavily loaded with
food. When David asked him where he was taking it, Ziba told him
that the donkeys were for carrying David and the members of his
family, by turns, so that they wouldn't become so weary by
walking.
"The bread and the fruit are for keeping up the strength of
the young men, and the goatskin of wine is to refresh any who
become faint if you have to go into the desert," Ziba explained.
"I trust you will return soon to your throne."
"Where is Mephibosheth?" David asked. "I'd like to thank
him."
"This isn't my master's idea," Ziba replied. "He stayed in
Jerusalem. He feels that he should be the new king because he is
of the royal family of Saul."
David was surprised and disappointed to hear that one he had
thought of as being so loyal should suddenly become almost as
ambitious as Absalom. Under the strain of his distress, David
made an error in perception.
"You seem to be more faithful to me than Mephibosheth is,"
David observed. "I think you deserve everything that belongs to
him."
Ziba bowed low and grinned with satisfaction. He had just
lied about Mephibosheth, who was still loyal to David. The wily
servant was making every effort to obtain David's goodwill and
gratitude. He was certain that it would be well worthwhile,
because he was convinced that David would return to the
leadership of Israel (II Samuel 16:1-4.)


Curses and Hatred

Later, as David and his followers moved along a ravine well
outside of Jerusalem, a man of Saul's tribe came running along
one bank of the gully, throwing stones at David and those with
the king. He angrily shouted insults and curses, and accused
David of having murderously taken the throne of Israel from Saul.
"Now at last you're paying for all the bloody crimes you've
committed!" the Benjamite yelled. "Your own son is taking from
you what you took from Saul! Get out of Israel before someone
carries you out as a corpse!"
Abishai, second in command of Israel's military forces, was
among those accompanying David. When he noticed what the angry
man was doing, he became angry too.
"Why should this miserable dog be allowed to treat you like
this?" he asked David. "Let me send men up the bank to catch him
and cut off his head!"
"No!" David quickly replied, holding out a restraining hand.
"Your way isn't the way I wish to take in this matter. Let him
curse me. God allows him to curse me. God hasn't prevented my son
from seeking my life, so why should He prevent this man from
showing his hate for me? It could be that if I patiently endure
abuse, God will have mercy on me, and will perhaps rescue me from
this time of trouble."
Begrudgingly Abishai restrained his men. The angry Benjamite
continued shouting and throwing stones and dust until he became
weary and hoarse. Then he disappeared over the side of the
ravine. David and the hundreds of people moved on to the
northeast toward the Jordan valley. (II Samuel 16:5-14.)
Meanwhile, Absalom and his soldiers and supporters moved
into Jerusalem from the south, triumphantly taking over the
undefended city. Among those who welcomed the king's son was
Hushai, David's friend who had agreed to return to Jerusalem to
try to help David in any way he could.
"God save the king!" Hushai kept on shouting as Absalom
passed up a street with his guards.
Absalom smugly looked around to see who was greeting him so
enthusiastically, not realizing the words were meant for King
David instead of for him. When he recognized Hushai, whom he knew
was a close friend of his father, he ordered the procession
halted.
"What are you doing here?" he called out to Hushai. "What
has become of your loyalty to my father? I'm surprised that you
haven't fled with him and his few remaining subjects!"


"Situation Ethics"

"Whoever is chosen by God to be king, and whoever is
preferred by the people, that is the man I choose to be with,"
Hushai declared. "I served your father well, and now I am ready
to serve in your presence, too." (II Samuel 16:15-19.) Hushai
really meant he would serve David in Absalom's presence.
Conceitedly assuming that Hushai was seeking to come over to
his side, and knowing him for a wise and capable man, Absalom was
pleased to welcome him as one of his advisors. Shortly afterwards
he held a council meeting to decide what his next major move
should be. Here was the opportunity for Ahithophel, David's
disloyal former advisor, to make a base suggestion aimed at
forcing Absalom and his father even further apart. Ahithophel
knew that a reconciliation between David and Absalom would be
disastrous to himself.
"The ten women who were left in your father's palace were
his wives," Ahithophel whispered to Absalom. "As victor, you
should openly take them as YOUR wives. I shall see that the
public soon hears you are abhorred by your father. When it is
common knowledge, people will take a more definite stand on one
side or the other. The result will undoubtedly be in your favor."
You see, Ahithophel, like many people today, believed in
"situation ethics."
Absalom went by Ahithophel's advice, and took his father's
ten wives. They were actually concubines, women who were
part-time mates. (II Samuel 16:20-23.) God allowed this crime as
the fulfillment of a prophecy made to David through Nathan. The
old prophet had told the king that someone else would openly take
his wives because he had taken Bathsheba, Uriah's wife. (II
Samuel 12:9-12.)
Later, Ahithophel gave Absalom more counsel. It was a simple
plan by which David's son could quickly and surely become the
undisputed king of Israel.
"Let me have twelve thousand of the best Israelite soldiers
available to us," the advisor told Absalom. "I'll take them
tonight in pursuit of David and the people with him. We'll make
sure that David dies, but that no one else is harmed. Those who
escape won't be pursued, but we'll bring back as many as we can
to join you, including those soldiers who have been so attached
to David in recent years. Our greater numbers will be their
speedy undoing."
The idea was to Absalom's liking, as well as that of his
leaders. (II Samuel 17:1-4.) However, Absalom called for Hushai,
explained Ahithophel's proposal, and asked what Hushai thought
about it.
"Ahithophel is a wise counselor," observed Hushai, "but I
don't believe his plan for this situation is good," Hushai knew
the plan would work. So he just said it wasn't good.
"Even twelve thousand men probably couldn't as much as find
David, and he'd have to be found to be killed," Hushai said,
making the most of this opportunity to belittle Ahithophel's
idea. "David is an old hand at war strategy. In his state of mind
now, he's probably being especially wary not to be overtaken.
He's like a mother bear that has had her cubs taken away from
her. He can be both furious and clever. Undoubtedly he's hiding
in some cave or pit right now, separate from his people, with his
soldiers concealed to trap any who come looking for him, even in
greater numbers than theirs. If his men were to kill just some of
the twelve thousand of yours, your new recruits may panic. Israel
would rally at once to your father's side, and you would lose
your chance at the throne. You would be most unwise to follow
Ahithophel's advice on this matter." (II Samuel 17:5-10.)


Counterespionage Service in Action

"Then suggest a better way to help me into quickly becoming
the undisputed king of Israel," Absalom impatiently demanded.
"I suggest that many more men than twelve thousand be used
against David," Hushai replied. "Soldiers should be drafted from
all parts of Israel to build you a mighty army that you can
personally lead into battle anywhere without fearing defeat. Then
you can be certain of taking David and destroying all who would
defend him. If he is hiding out in the open, he will surely be
found. If he is concealed in some city, there'll be enough men
available to tear that city down. Besides, you'll need a large
fighting force to repel any surprise attack from outside the
nation."
The thought of being at the head of an army of multiple
thousands appealed strongly to Absalom's sizable vanity, just as
Hushai knew it would. When Absalom made it known that he was
greatly in favor of this plan, his supporters enthusiastically
agreed with him, and that was just as God knew it would be
because He had decided it that way. (II Samuel 17:11-14.)
While plans were being made for drafting a large army,
Hushai went to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, to tell them what
had taken place.
"David must be informed of this," Hushai said. "Send a
message to your sons, wherever they are, and instruct them to
take word to the king."
The priests told a certain woman what to do and say. She
sought out their sons, Jonathan and Ahimaaz, where she knew they
were hiding outside Jerusalem, and conveyed the message to them.
They took it to David, who learned that he should hurry eastward
across the Jordan River as soon as possible. There was the chance
that Absalom would change his mind and decide to immediately send
a small army in pursuit of the king.
Contacting David wasn't without its perils. Just as the
priest's sons started on their mission, they passed a young man
who recognized them. It wasn't long before Absalom heard that
Jonathan and Ahimaaz were seen hurrying northward. Absalom
guessed that something contrary to his welfare could be taking
place. He sent soldiers to find the priests' sons and bring them
back for questioning.
Aware that something like that might happen after they were
recognized, Jonathan and Ahimaaz decided to delay their trip for
a little while, lest they be overtaken in open country. They
sought refuge at the home of a friend who was loyal to David, and
not any too soon. Absalom's men were scouring the neighborhood,
and even entering and searching homes. When they came to the home
where the priests' sons were hiding, their search was in vain.
After the soldiers had gone, the woman of the house went outdoors
to where some ground corn was spread on a cloth. She took up the
corn in the cloth, thereby uncovering the mouth of a well from
which Jonathan and Ahimaaz climbed out and went safely and
thankfully on their way.
After David had been told what had been taking place, he and
those with him set off at a brisk pace eastward across the Jordan
River. They crossed the stream that same night and continued to
the northeast. (II Samuel 17:15-22.)
Ahithophel was told that Absalom favored building a large
army over the next few days instead of a quick pursuit of David
with only a few thousand men. When the advisor learned that his
suggestion wouldn't be followed, he realized that Absalom's cause
was lost. Ahithophel was very wise in politics. (II Samuel
16:23.) He knew that any delay long enough to raise up a large
army would give David time to recruit a loyal army among the
rugged cattlemen of the eastern tribes. This would mean that
support for David would grow even faster than support for
Absalom. Absalom wouldn't stand much chance of overcoming that
support, since David's army would have better leadership.
Ahithopel knew then that he had been very foolish for deserting
David, that there was no more political future for him, and that
he would soon be regarded as a traitor to his nation and probably
be put to death as one.
Later, somebody found him hanging lifeless from a rafter in
his home. He knew that it would eventually happen to him, and he
preferred that it would come about by his own hand. (II Samuel
17:23.)


Eastern Tribes Are Loyal

David's group soon reached the city of Mahanaim on the south
border of the territory of Manasseh, adjoining the territory of
Gad. There they were welcomed to stay by loyal Manassites and
Gadites. Loyal clan chiefs quickly began to rally support around
King David. Every day more and more followers joined David from
all parts of Israel, most of them having come to volunteer for a
growing army.
While King David was at Mahanaim, even Shobi, son of the
former king of Ammon, brought gifts and help to David and the
people with him. So did two chief Israelites, Barzillai and
Machir of the tribe of Manasseh. Having heard that the Manassite
city was overcrowded and short on food because of the many
guests, they sent beds, metal basins, earthen vessels, grains,
beans, lentils, flour, honey, butter, cheese and even sheep.
David was very thankful for these needed things. (II Samuel
17:27-29.)
So many people came to join David that it was necessary for
him to count them and put leaders in command of an organized
army. It was divided into three parts, with Joab, Abishai and
Ittai in charge.
Meanwhile, Absalom's army had been mobilized. It wasn't as
large as David's son hoped it would be, but he didn't have the
patience to wait for the size of fighting force Hushai had talked
about. Anxious to pursue David, Absalom moved his army across the
Jordan River to a wooded area on the high plains south of
Mahanaim.
When David heard that Absalom's army was so close, he
ordered his officers to take their troops out to meet Absalom
before his army could surround the city of Mahanaim. David
intended to go along, but the chief men under him pointed out
that it was going to be a battle for the safety of the king, and
that he should remain in the city and pray for God's help. (II
Samuel 18:1-3.)
"So be it," David finally agreed, addressing Joab, Abishai
and Ittai. "One reason I want to go is to see that Absalom is
taken prisoner without being harmed. If I can't be there, then it
is the responsibility of you three." (II Samuel 18:4-5.)
Absalom was surprised and troubled when he heard that
David's smaller army was coming to meet his. He was disappointed
that he wouldn't get a chance to besiege Mahanaim. Riding on a
mule at the head of his army, he tried to convince himself that
David's men were bluffing, and would not be so foolish as to
actually clash with a much larger number of troops.
At last the two armies were very close. Then they rushed
together in deadly combat. There was the thumping of many feet, a
clashing of swords, shrieks of pain and the rattle of armor.
Absalom was aware that all about him his men were falling, but no
one tried to attack him or even get near him. The noisy, bloody
action moved on, leaving him alive and strangely alone among his
dying soldiers.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 105
CIVIL WAR

THE ARMY of Absalom and the smaller army of David had rushed
together in battle on the high plains east of the Jordan River.
(II Samuel 18:1-6.) Absalom, mounted on a mule, found himself
surrounded by his dead and dying men, but he hadn't even been
attacked.
Then Absalom became aware that his father's well-trained
soldiers, even though smaller in number than those of their
Israelite enemies, had begun to rout Absalom's quickly mobilized
and ill-trained army. His men were running for their lives in all
directions, furiously pursued by David's experienced troops.


Absalom Defeated

There was nothing for the shocked Absalom to do but follow
his men. Most of them tried to escape in a nearby forest known as
the Wood of Ephraim, though it wasn't in the territory of
Ephraim. This forest may have been the spot where Jehpthah's army
had defeated the army of Ephraim many years previously. (Judges
12:1-6.)
Riding under an oak tree with low-spreading boughs, Absalom
was either caught by the head in a forked branch or got his hair
tangled in the branches. The original Hebrew in this instance is
not specific. The mule raced on, leaving its rider dangling with
his feet off the ground. He struggled to release himself, but he
was only half-conscious because of the blow to his head when
caught in the crotch of the branch. He couldn't force or wriggle
himself loose. (II Samuel 18:6-9.)
One of David's men saw Absalom hanging from the oak limb,
and reported it to Joab, who demanded to know why he hadn't
walked up to the helpless man and killed him.
"If you had brought him to me dead, I would have given you a
fancy armor belt and ten pieces of silver," Joab stated.
"But everyone knows that David wants his son brought back
unharmed," the man countered. "I wouldn't have done anything to
Absalom for a thousand pieces of silver. Why should you want me
to go against the king's wishes?"
"I don't have time to discuss the matter," Joab said
impatiently. "Just show me where Absalom is." Joab was more
concerned about David's safety and the unity of the nation than
he was about David's love for his rebellious son. Joab was also a
murderer at heart.
When Joab and ten of his men found David's son still hanging
by his head from a tree limb, Absalom was barely moving. Contrary
to David's order, Joab threw three heavy, metal darts into
Absalom's chest. Joab's ten men then yanked him down from the
tree and made certain, by use of their swords, that his life was
ended. (II Samuel 18:10-15.)
Absalom might have died even though Joab and his ten men
hadn't attacked him. But Joab had disobeyed David.
Absalom's body was thrown into a pit in the forest and
covered with a heap of stones. Fairly close to Jerusalem Absalom
had already caused a monument to be erected to his memory in the
event he didn't have a son to carry on his name. Instead of being
buried there, he ended up in a hole in the Wood of Ephraim.
Joab instructed the trumpeters to sound a signal that the
battle was over and that this needless bloodshed should be
stopped. About twenty thousand men died that day. Almost all of
them were from Absalom's army. More than half that number lost
their lives by trying to escape into the forest, where they died
from injuries, by fatigue, from being trapped by their pursuers
and even by the attacks of wild beasts. (II Samuel 18: 16-18.)
Ahimaaz, son of Zadok the priest and one of the two young
men who had taken a message from Jerusalem to David days
previously, was present at the battle site. Being an athletic
young man with a desire to be helpful, he hoped that he could be
the one to run with the news of battle back to David. He was so
anxious for this opportunity that he boldly suggested it to Joab.


Eager to Report Violence

"This isn't a very good time for you to be a messenger,"
is a happier one for the king. Surely you wouldn't want to be the
one to tell him that his son is dead."
Ahimaaz was disappointed, especially after Joab sent a young
Ethiopian runner off for Mahanaim to tell David that the battle
had been won. Joab intended that the runner should give only news
of the battle's outcome, but without telling anything about
Absalom.
"Let me be a second runner," Ahimaaz suggested to Joab.
"Even though I arrive later, I would very much like the
opportunity to take news to the king."
"I don't understand you," Joab frowned. "There would be no
reward coming to you for bringing news that somebody else already
has brought.
But go ahead and run if it means so much to you."
Ahimaaz eagerly set off in pursuit of the Ethiopian. At a
certain point he turned off on a different route, through level
country, which he knew would help him reach Mahanaim sooner, even
though the distance was greater. By the time he wearily neared
the city, the other runner was behind him. A watchman on the wall
saw Ahimaaz approaching and called down to David, who was waiting
in a high enclosure near the main gate, to tell him that there
was a man running toward the city. (II Samuel 18:19-24.)
"If he is alone, then probably he is bringing a message,"
David observed concernedly.
"Now I see another man running behind him," the watchman
called down.
"Another runner could be bringing even more news," David
said. By that time the watchman recognized Ahimaaz by the way he
ran. He told David, who was certain that the priest's son would
be bringing only a good report. (II Samuel 18:25-27.)
"I have good news!" Ahimaaz breathlessly called out as he
neared the gate.
He looked up to see the king, and crouched down with his
forehead to the ground in a gesture of respect. He was happy that
David was there to personally receive his message.
"Today the great God has saved you from your enemies!"
Ahimaaz excitedly shouted up to the king. "Your men have won the
battle!"
"I am thankful to God," David answered. "You say my men have
won the battle, but if my son's army has been defeated, what has
become of my son?"
"When Joab sent me, there was much excitement about some
matter," Ahimaaz carefully replied. "I started out before I could
learn what it was all about."
"Stay here while I talk to the other messenger who is coming
behind you," David told Ahimaaz. "Probably he can tell me more"
(II Samuel 18:28-30.) David anxiously awaited the next message.
As the tired Ethiopian neared the gate he shouted between
gasps that he had been sent to tell the king that God had
destroyed David's enemies by giving a complete victory to his
army.
"Is my son Absalom safe?" David anxiously called down to the
messenger.
"May all your enemies die as your son did," the Ethiopian
blurted out, not realizing how blunt his answer was to the king.


The Criminal Pitied

Shocked and sick at heart, David went to his living
quarters. On the way he couldn't help weeping, muttering
Absalom's name repeatedly, and wishing aloud that he could have
died in Absalom's stead. So great was David's affection for his
son that he seemed to forget all the evil and even murderous
intentions Absalom had harbored toward him. (II Samuel 18:31-33.)
A report rapidly spread to David's army that the king was
almost ill with grief because of Absalom's death. From there the
news was carried to other areas, soon plunging much of the nation
into a state of mourning, whereas people who were faithful to the
king should have been pleased and happy because David's army had
won. But King David's excessive grief for Absalom and his seeming
lack of concern of his faithful subjects quickly gave them a
feeling of despair. They felt that their devotion to David had
been rejected.
Instead of returning to Mahanaim with triumphant jubilance,
the men of David's army silently skulked back as though they had
committed some kind of crime. Soon they began to feel resentful.
(II Samuel 19:1-4.)
The gloomy attitude of David in spite of his offense to so
many people angered Joab. Without any effort to be respectful to
his superior, Joab rudely told David what he thought.
"Your attitude has made the people feel dejected," Joab
declared in a tone of irritation. "Instead of being thankful to
your army for saving your life and the lives of your family, you
have caused the men to feel ashamed. You act as though you care
more for your enemies than you do for your friends. Would it have
pleased you if Absalom had lived and your troops would have died?
Only you can bring your subjects out of the gloom that is over
the nation. It's up to you to come out of your solitude and go
out and show your good will and gratitude. If you don't, your
army and your followers will forsake you before this night is
over, and you'll run into far more trouble than you've had all
your life!"
In spite of this emphatic, even insolent talk, David didn't
command Joab to cease speaking, although the king thought much
less of his army commander from then on. He realized that the
blunt Joab was right about showing gratitude to the army and his
friends. Shortly David appeared in public to greet the people and
dispel their gloom with cheerful words of thanks and
friendliness. Within a few days many Israelites were in a more
pleasant mood. (II Samuel 19:5-8.)
At the same time there was growing unrest in many parts of
the land. The civil war had all but torn the nation apart. There
were still many who wished that Absalom had become king. Others
were displeased because David didn't return to Jerusalem after
the victory over Absalom's military forces. (II Samuel 19:9-10.)
But the people of the tribe of Judah, who made up a large part of
Absalom's following, weren't anxious for David to return. Because
Jerusalem was at the border of the territory of Judah, the
attitude of the people there naturally gave David a reason for
concern.
"Remind the leaders of Judah that I am of their tribe and
that I am looking to them for their support and confidence,"
David declared in a message to Zadok and Abiather, the priests at
Jerusalem. "Tell Amasa that I am going to remove Joab as
commander of my army, and that I wish to replace him with Amasa,
the commander of my son's defeated army."


Welcome to Dissension

When news of this intended change went throughout Judah, the
people were pleased because Amasa was also of the tribe of Judah
and Joab was disliked by so many in that tribe. David was aware
of that. His strategy was wise for more than one reason.
Amasa went through Judah persuading the tribal elders to
support King David. Soon the inhabitants of Judah began to be
friendly toward David. They even sent a delegation of leaders to
him to inform him that he was welcome back to Jerusalem as king
of the nation. When the people of that tribe heard that David was
about to leave Mahanaim, thousands of them swarmed down to
Gilgal, and from there eastward to the Jordan River. (II Samuel
19:11-15.)
By the time David, his family and many of his followers
appeared on the east side of the Jordan, a special ferry had been
built for bringing the king across the river. As David stepped
off on the west bank, a roar of welcome went up from the throats
of the great crowd.
Among the first to come to greet David was Shimei, the
Benjamite who had angrily thrown stones at David when the king
was previously fleeing from Jerusalem. With him were a thousand
other Benjamites to help Shimei impress King David. All of them
bowed toward. David as he came across the river. Ahead of them
Shimei threw himself on the ground before the king.
"I am the one who cursed you and threw stones at you when
you were escaping from Absalom," Shimei despairingly confessed.
"Because I know how wrong I was at the time, I was the first here
today so that I might ask you to forgive me and forget my foolish
and disrespectful conduct." (II Samuel 19:16-20.)
There was an awkward silence while David gazed at the
prostrate man. Abishai, Joab's brother, gave a signal to some of
his soldiers, who strode forward and roughly jerked Shimei to his
feet.
"Any man who curses our leader, who was chosen by God,
deserves only death!" Abishai growled. "Is that not right, my
king?"
"As king of Israel, it is my responsibility to make such
decisions," David spoke out with subdued anger. "I don't
understand why you should choose to make them for me,
particularly when I don't approve of them, and I am not in favor
of this man or any other man being put to death on this day!"
His face red with embarrassment, Abishai barked at his men
to release Shimei, who fell trembling to the ground again.
"I shall pardon the things you regret doing to me," David
told the Benjamite. "You shall not die. Return to your home in
peace." (II Samuel 19:21-23.)
As the procession started toward the west, David noticed the
familiar figure of Mephibosheth, Saul's crippled grandson. When
David had been on his way out of Jerusalem because of Absalom
threatening to take the city, Mephibosheth's servant, Ziba, had
told the king that his master had expected to become king. David
was so disappointed by Mephibosheth's attitude that he had
decreed that Ziba should take over Mephibosheth's possessions.
(II Samuel 16:1-4.)
"I regretted to hear from Ziba that you were hopeful of
becoming king when I left Jerusalem," David told Mephibosheth. "I
had thought you to be loyal to me." (II Samuel 19:24-25.)
"I never had the idea of becoming king, and I have always
been loyal to you," Mephibosheth declared staunchly. "Ziba lied
to you about me. Because of that, I lost everything I owned. But
why should I cry about that when you have already done so much
for my family?"
David could tell that the man was speaking the truth. He
looked at Ziba, who was standing uncomfortably off to one side,
trying to hide his expression of guilt.
"I told you before that you could have your master's
possessions," David said to Ziba. "Now that I find that you
didn't tell me the truth, I want you to give Mephibosheth's
property back to him and divide the produce of the land as
before."
"He is welcome to all of it," Mephibosheth said. "All that
matters to me now is that my king is returning to his home to
rule." (II Samuel 19:26-30.)
Barzillai, the Manassite who had been David's foremost host
in Mahanaim, also accompanied King David across the Jordan. David
invited Barzillai to accompany him to Jerusalem so the king could
honor him for all he had done for David at Mahanaim. Being an
aged man, Barzillai insisted upon returning home. But he allowed
his son Chimham to go with King David. (II Samuel 19:31-40; I
Kings 2:7.) Apparently King David gave this young man a share of
his own family's inheritance at Bethlehem. (Jeremiah 41:17.)


Another Insurrection

After parting with Barzillai and the people of Mahanaim who
had become close friends to him, David later went on to Gilgal
and from there to Jerusalem. But while this trip was taking
place, the leaders of the various tribes began to argue about the
manner in which the king was conducted back to the capital. There
was much ill will among the other tribes because the people of
Judah had taken over the ceremonies that had to do with David's
return. Feeling ran higher and higher in this matter. (II Samuel
19:41-43.) This mounting envy was the start of strife that would
promptly divide the nation of Israel.
A Benjamite named Sheba, a scheming and ambitious man of
much influence and means, realized that the time could be right,
even during David's triumphant return to Jerusalem, for ten of
the tribes to form an army with which Judah could be controlled
or even overpowered.
"We don't have enough voice in the government in Judah,"
Sheba declared to the people. "We should band together to build
our own power!"
Men from every tribe except Judah flocked to Sheba. But the
tribe of Judah escorted David safely to Jerusalem. (II Samuel
20:1-2.) When David found out that an army was being recruited to
be used against Judah, he told Amasa, his new army commander, to
assemble an army within three days.
In his desire to be more obedient, David put away the ten
concubines he had left to take care of his home, and never had
anything more to do with them than to see that they were cared
for the rest of their lives. (II Samuel 20:3-4.)
Amasa failed to get a fighting force together in three days.
David turned to Abishai, Joab's brother and an experienced
military leader, and ordered him to pursue Sheba with the troops
who were with David in Jerusalem. Abishai started northward. With
Abishai was his brother Joab, ambitious to regain command of the
army.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 106
A PLAGUE OF NUMBERS

AMASA David's new commander, had taken soldiers northward to
pursue Sheba and the rebellious Israelites. David decided that
Amasa was too slow and Abishai, a more experienced officer, would
do much better. So Abishai was sent with more troops.
Joab went with Abishai because he was intent on regaining
command of the army. When they overtook Amasa, Joab pretended to
be friendly with him, but suddenly ran his sword into Amasa's
chest. (II Samuel 20:1-10.)


A Cruel Age

In plain view of many soldiers Amasa fell by Joab's cruel
and deceptive action. He died in great agony. Not a man had the
courage to protest. Joab then proceeded to boldly take over the
command of Amasa's soldiers as well as those of his brother,
Abishai.
Joab and his soldiers continued northward in their pursuit
of Sheba's army. Perhaps Sheba would have escaped if it had not
been for a reliable report that Sheba and his men were in the
city of Abel. When Joab and his men arrived at Abel, which was
south of Mount Lebanon in the territory of Dan, they were unable
to batter their way through the gates.
Unhampered by the inhabitants, who made no move to defend
themselves, Joab's troops piled a bank of sand and rocks up
against one section of the wall, so that they could use battering
rams against the higher, thinner part of the wall. (II Samuel
20:11-15.)
When they were about to break through, a wise woman appeared
on top of the wall and loudly requested to speak with Joab.
Action ceased while Joab came forward to identify himself and
find out what the woman wanted.
"We are a peaceful, faithful people!" she called down. "Why
have you come here to destroy our city?"
"I'm not here for the purpose of destroying a city!" Joab
shouted back. "I am here to capture a Benjamite by the name of
Sheba, who with his army is fortified within your walls. He has
conspired against King David, and deserves to die. If your city
doesn't give him up to us, we'll come in after him. We'll subdue
him even if we have to tear your city apart!"
"What if we deliver him to you?" the woman asked.
"If you do that, we'll go away in peace," Joab promised.
"Then do no more damage to our walls," the woman said. "Give
us a little while, and we'll throw this Sheba's head out to you!"
There was no way of knowing whether or not the woman had
enough influence to fulfill her promise. But Joab waited. In any
event, she was a person of considerable influence there, and
managed to have Sheba beheaded. The head was tossed down to Joab,
who made certain that it was really Sheba's head. As he promised,
Joab left Abel and returned to Jerusalem to report to David that
another plan to take over the government of Israel had been
foiled. (II Samuel 20:16-22.)
David was relieved to learn that the present danger was
over. But he was disappointed and troubled because Joab had
forced his way, even by murder, back into the command of the army
of Israel. David could hardly change the situation, inasmuch as
Joab was so admired for his ability as an army officer -- though
he had enemies. God was obviously allowing Joab to remain as
commander. Even the king of Israel couldn't do much to change
that.
David took advantage of this period of peace to improve the
organization of his government and to appoint officials to
various responsibilities. (II Samuel 20:23-26.)


Murder Brings Famine

During the next year the amount of rainfall in Israel was so
small that there was a serious crop failure throughout the land.
The following year the rainfall was even less. The year after
that there was an even greater drought. David was very concerned.
He was certain that God had brought on the condition for some
specific reason. He asked the priests, Zadok and Abiathar, to try
to find out why God had withheld rain from the Israelites.
An answer came from God to the priests, who told David that
the famine had come to Israel because of Saul. He had ordered
many Gibeonites to be slain in spite of a promise Joshua had made
that they wouldn't be killed even though they were Canaanites.
David called the leaders of the Gibeonites to find out how
they felt about the matter. He was told that they remembered the
incident with very strong feelings, and that they still expected
some kind of settlement from the Israelites, but not with money,
valuables or property.
"To right that wrong made by Saul, payment must be made with
seven lives from the family of Saul" the Gibeonites firmly
stated.
On behalf of the nation David promised to give the seven men
to the Gibeonites. (II Samuel 21:1-6.) This would seem to be a
heartless thing to do, but something had to be done, because a
whole nation was suffering a famine brought on by faithless King
Saul who broke the agreement between Israel and the Gibeonites.
Seven men were chosen from among Saul's descendants and turned
over to the Gibeonites. Mephibosheth was excluded because of the
oath of perpetual friendship between his father Jonathan and King
David. (I Samuel 20:12-17, 42.) The Gibeonites hanged the seven
men David gave to them. The hanging corpses were protected from
wild beasts and birds for some time. They weren't cut down until
it started to rain days later when David finally took pity on
their guardian. (II Samuel 21:7-14.)
When he was much younger, David had led his army in a long
and successful struggle against the Philistines. For years they
had remained subdued. Now a small army of them appeared on the
west border of Judah to threaten the Israelite civilians living
there. When the aging king heard of it, he set out with troops to
stop the invaders before they could grow in numbers or penetrate
farther into Israel.
A little while after the Israelites attacked the
Philistines, David found that the vigorous action of battle was
very tiring to him. He grew so weary that he sank to his knees on
the ground. The champion of the Philistine troops, a giant named
Ishbi-benob, thought that David was wounded, and that this was a
wonderful opportunity to become famous as the slayer of the king
of Israel. (II Samuel 21:15-16).
Casting aside his huge spear, which was much heavier than
the average man could use, Ishbi-benob pulled out his oversize
sword and rushed toward David. Abishai, brother of Joab, noticed
the giant charging toward David with his sword upraised. Abishai
leaped forward in time to thrust his shield over David just as
the Philistine slashed viciously at the king. The blow landed on
Abishai's shield, or otherwise it would have meant instant death
for David.
Ishbi-benob was enraged at Abishai's action. He yanked back
his sword to thrust at Abishai, but the smaller man was too quick
for him. It was the giant who fell from a sword thrust, and not
the Israelite. When the Philistines saw that their champion was
dead, they gave up the fight and fled westward back to their home
territory.


Another Temptation

David had come very close to losing his life because of the
weariness that was natural for a man of his years. His officers
and advisors begged him not to go into the battle again. They
pointed out to him that it would be a blow to the whole nation if
he were killed in battle. Besides, it would invite unqualified
men to seek control of the kingdom. (II Samuel 21:17.)
Not long afterward the Philistine troops moved back into
Judah. Again the champion was another giant, this one named Saph.
David didn't go with his soldiers for this encounter, which
resulted in victory for the Israelites when a man named Sibbechai
courageously stood up to Saph and killed him in hand-to-hand
combat.
Undaunted, the Philistines came into Judah a third time, and
with still another giant, a brother of Goliath. As before, the
Philistines hastily retreated when their champion was overcome by
an Israelite named Elhanan.
The Philistines couldn't seem to learn that having giants on
their side wasn't necessarily a guarantee for victory. For a
fourth time they came into Israel, this time accompanied by a man
who was unique not only for his enormous size, but because he had
six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. Apparently
the Philistines thought that this freak would somehow impress and
terrorize the Israelites to the point that they would give up.
The giant was killed by David's nephew Jonathan, regardless of
all his extra toes and fingers. For the fourth time the
Philistines retreated to their home country. This ended, for a
time, a period of trouble for Israel. (II Samuel 21:18-22.)
To show his thanks to God for protection, blessings and
promises, David was inspired to compose a song. It is recorded in
the Bible from II Samuel 22:2 to 23:7.
Surrounded by capable leaders and protected from invasion by
many heroes (II Samuel 23:8-39), Israel's matters were going
well. David allowed himself to feel too secure and powerful. He
began to wonder just how many people were in his kingdom, and how
Israel compared in numbers to other nations. The more he thought
about it, the more he was tempted to take a census, although God
didn't want such a thing to be done.
At last the king called in Joab, his army commander, and
asked him to take men to every part of Israel to find out how
many men were fit for army duty.
"May all the people in our land be multiplied by God a
hundred times," Joab remarked. "But no matter what their numbers,
sir, it surely would displease God if we were to count them with
the purpose of trying to measure our nation's strength. If we
were to find that it is greater than we think, we could be
tempted to make some unwise moves against other nations."
"For one who obviously has been without fear of God," David
observed after giving Joab a long stare, "your present concern
with what could displease the Creator shows quite a change in
your thinking."
"Believe as you choose," Joab replied in his usual brusque
manner. "I don't think the idea is wise, and I know that the
officers under me think the same."


An Error Progresses

"I respect your opinion and those of the other officers,"
the king went on firmly. "Nevertheless, I shall meet with you and
those officers to give you the details of how I want the census
taken." (II Samuel 24:1-4; I Chronicles 21:1-4.)
Nine months and twenty days later the unwilling Joab and his
men returned to Jerusalem with their report after spending that
much time in covering almost all of Israel to number the
able-bodied men. (II Samuel 24:5-9.) The report given to David
was that Judah had about half a million men who could serve as
soldiers, and the other tribes, not counting Levi and Benjamin,
could supply over a million men. The grand total included the
standing army and frontier guard. (II Samuel 6:1.) Also the
twelve monthly courses of troops that did garrison duty for King
David at Jerusalem, and the twelve tribal chiefs' reserves. (I
Chronicles 21:5; 27:1-22.)
Joab and his men didn't take a census of the tribe of Levi
because that tribe supplied the priests and their helpers. They
didn't get around to counting the men in the tribe of Benjamin or
completing the census because the census was disgusting to Joab.
Besides, by the time they got back to Jerusalem David was in a
state of great distress and told Joab not to bother to complete
the count. (I Chronicles 21:6; 27:24.)
The prophet Gad had come to the king with the alarming news
that God had disclosed to him that He was very displeased with
David for counting the people, a function that God would have
performed only at His command.
"You would be making a grievous mistake to discount what I'm
telling you," Gad warned. "God told me something terrible to tell
you. He said that because of what you have done punishment will
come to Israel. It will come in one of three ways. God is
allowing you to choose that way!"
"Go on," David muttered, shakily fearful of what Gad was
about to say.
"You must decide between three years of famine for Israel,
three months of heavy attacks by enemy nations and three days
pestilence from God," Gad continued. "Tell me what your choice
is. I must speak to God for you." (II Samuel 24:10-13; I
Chronicles 21:7-12.)
David was quite shocked by Gad's words. For a brief period
he sat and stared blankly while the stark, awful truth sank into
his consciousness that God was again calling him to account for a
sin. But even under the stress it wasn't difficult for him to
make the decision that had to be made.
"Even though God is most powerful, I would rather fall into
His merciful hands than fall into the hands of my vengeful
enemies," the king told Gad. "If famine comes to our nation, I
might not suffer as much as others, but if pestilence comes, it
could fall upon all with equal misery. Therefore tell our God
that if punishment must come to Israel because of my sin, let it
be pestilence. May the Creator have mercy on us." (II Samuel
24:14; I Chronicles 21:13.)
Next morning, in the outlying sections of Israel, hundreds
of people fell dead. It was as though their hearts had stopped
beating. The abrupt deaths were confusing and terrifying to the
people who saw others dropping all about them. They couldn't know
that it was only the start of a terrible punishment sent
supernaturally by God. By the end of the day the mysterious
lethal malady had spread inward over the land, killing thousands
more people.


God's Altar of Mercy

When a whole day had passed, many people were dead. The
awful reports had reached so much of Israel that the nation was
in a devastating state of fear and mourning. But the situation
grew steadily worse, and as a third day rolled around the
pestilence had crept inward across Israel from all directions
almost to Jerusalem. By that time seventy thousand Israelites had
died!
From the death reports that flooded into Jerusalem, it was
evident to David that the area of the capital was the only region
left in Israel where people hadn't been touched by the fatal
seizures. It occurred to the king that possibly God was leaving
Jerusalem till the last so that the thousands living there would
receive the full measure of God's anger.
"I have sinned! I have done a wicked thing!" David loudly
groaned, at last prostrating himself in repentant dejection on
the floor. "Don't let any more of my people die, God! Take me,
instead! Spare those in Jerusalem!" (II Samuel 24:15-17, I
Chronicles 21:14-17.)
Only a little while later that day Gad came to David to tell
him, and other leaders who were dressed in sackcloth as a sign of
mourning and repentance, that God had instructed that a special
altar should be quickly erected at a certain place on Mount
Moriah, a high area on the northeast side of the city.
"God knows that you deeply regret that you did wrong," Gad
said to David. "If you build this altar and make sacrifices there
as soon as possible, God won't allow the awful death plague to
continue."
The king heeded Gad's advice without delay. Together with
some of his advisors, he hurried to Mount Moriah. The top area of
the hill was owned by a local Jebusite king by the name of Ornan
(or Araunah), who had built a threshing floor there. King Ornan's
city, Jebus, was adjoining David's city and the two kings were
friends. Ornan was there at the time threshing wheat with his
four sons.
King Ornan was aware that people were dying in the regions
outside the city, and he was fearful of his sons or himself being
struck down at any time. But he had work to do, and he reasoned
that they would be no safer at home than at work. He was even
more concerned when he looked up to see the brilliance of an
angel above the land and to see David approaching with a few men.
Ornan's first impulse was to run and hide somewhere because he
thought the king wouldn't be coming to visit him at such a time
unless he had some reason to be angry with him. Hesitantly he
went to meet David and inquired how he could be of service to the
ruler.
"I would like to buy this property from you," David told
Ornan.
"If the king desires my property, he can have it," Ornan
declared.
"I'll give you more than a fair price," David said eagerly,
"I need this high spot on which to build an altar to make special
sacrifices to God. If it can be done this very day, perhaps He
won't let any more people die, and Jerusalem could be spared!"
(II Samuel 24:18-23; I Chronicles 21:18-24.)
Ornan stared at the anxious face of the king. He wondered if
selling his property could really be such a matter of life or
death.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 107
GOD CHOOSES SOLOMON

BECAUSE DAVID had gone against divine orders and had taken a
census in Israel, God had caused seventy thousand sudden deaths
in Israel.
Israel's king had then heeded the advice of the prophet Gad,
who had told him that the plague would be stopped if David would
quickly build an altar. The site God had chosen for the altar was
Mount Moriah, a high area on the northeast side of Jerusalem.


God Selects His Temple Site

The spot was owned by a local Jebusite king named Ornan.
Ornan had a threshing floor there and with his four sons was busy
threshing wheat when David arrived. (II Samuel 24:1-18; I
Chronicles 21:1-20.) As king over all the land of Israel, David
could have taken over the place to do as he wished. But it wasn't
his way to conduct himself in such a manner. When Ornan learned
why the king wanted his property, he was very anxious to
cooperate.
"You are welcome to all that I have here without price," he
told David. "If you are in need of wood for the fire, use my
threshing instruments. If you need animals for sacrificing, take
my oxen."
David was pleased at Ornan's willing and helpful attitude.
Because he wanted to act in a hurry, he accepted all that Ornan
offered, but he insisted on paying. The oxen cost the usual price
for farm animals. But David wanted several acres of land so God's
temple could later be built on the spot God had chosen. So he
bought the whole hill at a fair price. (II Samuel 24:19-25; I
Chronicles 21:21-25.) An altar was hastily erected, and animals
were sacrificed on it as soon as possible. God showed His
approval by sending fire from heaven to kindle flames on the
altar.
A little while later servants came to David to inform him
that reports of new plague deaths had suddenly ceased coming in
from surrounding areas, and that no deaths had been reported from
within the city. (I Chronicles 21:26-30).
"That means that God has accepted your prayers and your
sacrifices," Gad assured David. "The plague has been stopped!"
Relieved and thankful, David dropped to his knees to worship
God for being so merciful as to halt the terrible spread of death
before it could reach the people of Jerusalem.
Realizing that this was the place where God wanted His
future temple to be built, David spent the rest of his life
preparing materials and setting aside most of his wealth to pay
construction costs and to decorate the temple. He gave his son
Solomon the complete plans and instructions God had given him. (I
Chronicles 22:1-19; 29:1-19.)
David also thoroughly organized the priesthood and the
government. (I Chronicles, chapters 23-28.)
David's life had been so eventful and wearing that two years
later, although he was only sixty-nine years of age, his body was
as worn and weakened as that of a much older man. Among his
various infirmities mentioned slightly in Psalms 31:10 and 38:3
was his inability to remain
comfortably warm, especially during the cool evenings. Even
though blankets were piled on him, his circulation was so poor
that he always felt chilled.
His servants and advisors decided that the only way he could
be helped was by putting a much younger person close to him, so
that the vigor, strength and warmth of youth would be imparted,
even in a small measure, to the ailing king. Using their own
judgment, the advisors chose a young woman for this purpose --
surprising as it may seem to those who read this account and who
will perhaps be moved to decide that David was again being very
foolish. This wasn't David's idea. The Bible states that she was
very helpful in caring for David and that there was no kind of
wrong relationship. (I Kings 1:1-4.)


A Brother's Schemes

The deplorable thing that resulted from the king's infirmity
was the conduct of Adonijah, at that time David's oldest son.
Adonijah decided that his father was too old and senile to rule
Israel, and that he, Adonijah, should be the one to take his
father's place. He tried to impress the people by copying the
overly colorful ways of the late Absalom when he was attempting
to win the public to his cause. Adonijah chose several very fancy
chariots in which to ride about, and hired fifty men to run in
front of his chariots to loudly announce to the people that an
important person was passing through and to clear the roads or
streets of all obstructions.
David, in his ailing condition, wasn't told of all Adonijah
was doing. On the other hand, he was aware that his son was
strutting around with attendants, but he did nothing about it.
David was very sentimental about his sons, and wasn't always as
firm as he should have been for their good as well as his.
Whatever the situation, David made no move to prevent his
son from trying to take over the reins of the government of
Israel. Adonijah managed to obtain the backing of some of the
influential figures of the nation, including Joab, the military
commander, and Abiathar the priest. Zadok the priest and Nathan
the prophet refused to help him. So did most of the powerful men
and leaders who had been close to David. (I Kings 1:5-8.)
To promote his cause and establish goodwill among his
friends and others whom he hoped to win over to his side,
Adonijah arranged for what we of this age would call a campaign
rally. It was held at a place where such functions were popular,
and where impressive sacrifices were made. Food and wine were in
abundance. The mood of those invited was anything but solemn.
Most of David's sons were asked to attend, as were many high
officials. (I Kings 1:9-10.) Most of David's officers were
ignored. So was Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, the one
David knew God had appointed to be the next king of Israel. (I
Chronicles 28:5.)
Nathan the prophet decided that Adonijah had carried matters
much too far, and that David should be stirred up to do something
about it. Knowing that Bathsheba had great influence with David,
he asked her to go to the king to warn him that there was danger
of Solomon and his mother losing their lives if Adonijah decided
to take extreme measures to obtain full and certain leadership.
"I am aware that you know David wants your son to succeed
him as God has commanded," Nathan told Bathsheba. "You must go to
your husband and tell him that this won't happen unless
Adonijah's ambition is brought to an end at once. God wants David
to do his part. When I know that you are speaking about this
matter to David, I'll join the two of you and repeat that the
matter is extremely urgent." (I Kings 1:11-14.)
Bathsheba was anxious to do what she could to insure
Solomon's stepping into his father's place. She went at once to
David to explain how Adonijah had been acting and how he was
already the king of Israel in the minds of some of the people.
She pointed out that if his following increased and if David
should die, she and Solomon would come to be regarded as enemies
of the state because they were not included in Adonijah's
followers.


The Plot Defeated

It was one of those days when David wasn't feeling too well.
The young woman especially chosen to wait on him was trying to
make him comfortable. Bathsheba could see that the king was moved
by the things she said, but he only nodded or shook his head.
Then it was announced that Nathan the prophet wished to speak
with David, whereupon Bathsheba left. When Nathan came in, he
mentioned to David all that Bathsheba had told her husband, but
in a different way intended to appeal to David's greatest
interests.
"I don't understand why you are allowing another to become
king of Israel when it has long been God's command that Solomon
should come after you," Nathan pointed out to David. (I Kings
1:15-27.)
"Call Bathsheba. Have her come to me at once," David
responded, straightening up and suddenly looking very determined.
Nathan knew as he departed that the king had made a decision
of some kind. He was sure that it was the right one. When
Bathsheba arrived, David spiritedly reminded her that he had made
a vow that Solomon should surely become king of Israel and that
he wished to repeat that vow. Turning from Bathsheba, he told a
guard to call Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet and Benaiah, a
great hero and captain of his guards. (II Samuel 23:20-23; 8:18.)
When these three men arrived, David instructed them to take
Solomon to a public gathering place just outside the west gates
of Jerusalem.
"Benaiah, see that he is accompanied by most of my guards,"
David ordered. "And have him ride on my personal mule. Nathan and
Zadok, you will anoint my son Solomon as the next king of Israel.
Make a public proclamation so that the people will know what is
taking place. After the ceremonies are over, bring Solomon back
here."
"So be it!" Benaiah exclaimed. "I know this is according to
God's will. God has been with you, my king. May He be with
Solomon to exalt the throne of Israel, and to make it even
greater than it has been during your reign."
When the people in and around Jerusalem saw the king's guard
marching before and after the mule-borne Solomon and the two
priests, they swarmed together in increasing numbers to follow
the parade. By the time the ceremonies were over, and Solomon had
been anointed king, a huge crowd had gathered. There were the
sounds of great celebration, including the blowing of trumpets
and pipes and shouts of "Long live King Solomon!" with such
volume that the noise was heard in all the city and in some areas
beyond. (I Kings 1:28-40; I Chronicles 29:20-25.)
Just at this time Adonijah's long, party-like rally to gain
followers was coming to an end. The last meal was over. Guests
were beginning to leave when the sounds of musical instruments
and the shouts of thousands of voices came clearly to Adonijah
and those with him.


Conspirators in Trouble

"There must be trouble somewhere," Joab observed
concernedly. "Perhaps the city is being attacked. What else could
cause such an uproar?"
As the wondering listeners paused anxiously, Jonathan the
son of Abiathar the priest came in from the street to join them.
Adonijah greeted him warmly, remarking what a brave man he was
and that surely he must be the bearer of good news.
"It could be good news for some, but I doubt that it is for
you," Jonathan replied uneasily. "David's son Solomon has just
been anointed the next king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the
prophet. The loud music and shouts you hear are coming from the
huge crowd that witnessed the ceremony. The people are happy and
enthusiastic about it." (I Kings 1:41-48).
A cheerless silence came over Adonijah's guests. Wordlessly
they filed out of the place and hurried to their homes, not
wishing to have anything more to do with any movement to try to
force their erstwhile champion on the throne of Israel. As for
Adonijah, he was the most uncomfortable and fearful. It was
evident that most of the people wanted Solomon to become king,
and that David would deal harshly with anyone who opposed the
king.
There was dancing and singing in celebration of Solomon's
appointment as king. But Adonijah became alarmed at what he
imagined would happen to him because he had tried to become king
against his father's will. So he decided to seek protection at
the tabernacle. There he went to the altar where the sacrifices
were made, and clung to it desperately. The altar was regarded as
a refuge for those who had sinned. Adonijah thought it would be
the safest place for him if David's soldiers should come after
him. (I Kings 1:49-50.)
Solomon had taken over the responsibilities of the ruler of
Israel as soon as he had returned to the palace. Although he was
only about twenty years of age, he was capable of good judgment,
and took his high office very seriously. When he heard that
Adonijah was at the tabernacle and was trusting in the king to
spare his life, he sent men after Adonijah. The would-be king
thought that his end had come when he saw the soldiers swiftly
approaching the altar, and heard one of them order him to come
with them.
"If I step away from this sacred altar, you'll kill me,"
Adonijah shouted fearfully.
Strong arms reached up to wrest him down from the altar. He
was hustled quickly off and brought before Solomon. He prostrated
himself before his half-brother, expecting the new king to give
an order for his execution.
"You know that you have acted foolishly in trying to become
king," Solomon stated. "Because of this, whether you live or die
will depend on how you conduct yourself from now on. If you go
the right way, not a hair of your head will be harmed by any of
my men. Now return to your home."
Surprised and relieved, Adonijah muttered his thanks and
hastily left the palace. (I Kings 1:51-53.)


A Wise Father's Advice

Not long afterward, David informed Solomon that he was about
to die, and that he had some valuable advice to give him. The
advice was the kind that any wise father should give his son, but
there were reminders from the former king of Israel to the new
king.
"Keep God's commandments and statutes and judgments," David
told Solomon. "You will prosper and be successful if you do. God
told me that if my children would live according to His laws, men
of our family would continue on the throne of Israel. So prove
yourself an obedient man, worthy of being a king.
"Consider Joab and the murders he has committed in the name
of warfare. Handle him with care and good judgment, remembering
that he has great influence with many people, but don't let him
live long enough to die of old age. I should have had him
punished by death long before now.
"Be kind to those of the family of Barzillai the Gileadite,
who was such a help to me at the city of Mahanaim while I stayed
there in my forced absence from Jerusalem.
"Consider also the case of Shimei the Benjamite, who cursed
me when I was fleeing from Jerusalem. He tried to make amends by
meeting me at the Jordan river when I was returning to Jerusalem.
I promised him that I would not give orders to have him put to
death. But you know he was guilty. You should deal with him as
harshly as you should deal with Joab."
Some months after Solomon had become king, David died. He
served forty years as king of Israel. (I Kings 2:1-11; I
Chronicles 29:26-30.)
During that time Israel became a powerful nation, but not as
wealthy and powerful as it would have been if David and
especially the people had followed God's laws more closely.
Probably David is the most remembered king of Israel because of
his eventful life and because he wrote a great portion of that
part of the Bible called the Book of Psalms. With much mourning
David was buried in a special sepulchre at Jerusalem. A great
amount of wealth was buried with him, part of which was taken
from his tomb centuries later.
Solomon used unusual wisdom at times during his reign,
insomuch that Israel remained strong and respected by the
surrounding nations. But matters didn't always go smoothly for
the new, young ruler.


Adonijah Tries Again

Adonijah, who had tried to become king, decided that he
would like to marry Abishag, the young woman who had been chosen
to physically strengthen David during his last days. Adonijah
cleverly went to Bathsheba about the matter, knowing that she
would have far more influence with the king than he would have.
Bathsheba promised Adonijah that she would ask her son the
favor. When she did, Solomon became very angry. He considered
Adonijah's request through his mother very improper. He rightly
suspected that this was the beginning of some kind of plot to
seize the government.
"Adonijah might as well have asked for the whole kingdom as
well," Solomon observed wrathfully to his mother. "I warned him
that his conduct would determine his fate. This turn of events
proves to me that he isn't worthy to live!" (I Kings 2:12-23.)
Solomon was concerned mostly by the thought that Adonijah
was making a move to again gain popularity with the people for
the purpose of another effort to become king. He ordered Benaiah,
the commander of the royal guard, to see that Adonijah should be
executed. (I Chronicles 18:17; I Kings 2:24-25.)
Afterward he ordered Abiathar the priest to come before him.
"I know how vigorously you worked for Adonijah to become
king," Solomon frowningly reminded Abiathar. "You were against
David my father, even though you knew God had set him on the
throne. It's my opinion that you deserve death as much as
Adonijah has deserved it." Abiathar's face turned white. Judging
from the king's stern expression, he was about to order another
execution.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 108
SOLOMON BUILDS THE TEMPLE

ABIATHAR the priest, standing before angry King Solomon, expected
to be executed because he had told the people of Israel that
Adonijah should be their king.


God's Sentence

"You are guilty of treason!" Solomon exclaimed to Abiathar.
"But I won't put you to death now because you served for so many
years as priest during my father's reign and shared all his
troubles. However, you are no longer to serve as a priest. Go to
your home in the country outside Jerusalem and stay there." (I
Kings 2:26-27.)
Abiathar's removal from priestly duties brought about the
fulfillment of God's prophecy to his ancestor, the high priest
Eli, who had become careless in his office back in Samuel's time.
God told him that the priesthood would be taken from his family.
(I Samuel 2:12-36.) Abiathar was the last of the descendants of
Eli's family.
When Joab heard what had happened to his co-conspirators,
Adonijah and Abiathar, his usual self-confidence suddenly left
him. Fearing that he would be called before Solomon for
sentencing, he followed Adonijah's example and fled to the
tabernacle, where he claimed special refuge from death by
clinging to the altar.
On learning what Joab was doing, Solomon sent Benaiah to
drag him away from the altar and execute him. When Benaiah
ordered Joab to step away from the altar or be dragged away, Joab
declared that he preferred to die at the altar. Benaiah hesitated
to act. Instead, he reported to Solomon what Joab had said.
"If Joab wants to die at the altar, so be it!" Solomon
decreed. "Then bury him on his property out in the desert."
The grim order was carried out, ending the life of a man who
had been a very capable army commander, but who for years faced
the penalty of death because of his brazen acts of treacherous
murder. (I Kings 2:28-34; II Samuel 3:26-27; 20:8-10.)
Benaiah then became the undisputed commander of the army of
Israel, something that hadn't been possible while Joab and his
supporters had been around to interfere. At the same time Solomon
put Zadok the priest in Abiathar's place. (I Kings 2:35.) Zadok
was of the family of Eleazar, and thus the priesthood returned to
the family God had first chosen to be priests. (I Chronicles 6.)


No Mollycoddling of Criminals

Next Solomon sent for Shimei, the Benjamite who had cursed
David. David had told Solomon that such an untrustworthy man
shouldn't be allowed to live too long.
"Get a home for yourself here in Jerusalem," Solomon ordered
Shimei. "Then stay here. If you ever go outside the walls, you'll
meet with death. If you wish to continue living, stay in this
city."
"You are a good man," Shimei grinned with relief at the king
as he bowed low. "Your humble and thankful servant will do as you
say." (I Kings 2:36-38.)
Three years later two of Shimei's servants ran away from his
home and hid themselves in the Philistine city of Gath. Shimei
was determined to get the two back. When he was told where they
were, he took other servants to Gath, found the runaway couple
and brought them back to Jerusalem. All this was reported to
Solomon, who had Shimei brought before him.
"I warned you that if you ever left Jerusalem you would be
responsible for your death," Solomon reminded the trembling
Benjamite. "You promised then that you would obey that
restriction. Why have you broken you word? Don't you realize that
you're now subject to death? But even if you hadn't gone out of
Jerusalem, you are still guilty of cursing my father the king,
and for that wickedness it's God's judgment that you pay the
death penalty."
By this time Shimei was too frightened to answer. At a
gesture from the king, soldiers removed Shimei from the palace. A
little later he was executed. (I Kings 2:39-46.)


Solomon Marries Pharaoh's Daughter

Although God had told the Israelites that they shouldn't
intermarry with those of other nations, Solomon desired to marry
a daughter of the king of Egypt. There were many beautiful women
in Israel, but the king had received reports that the Egyptian
princess was so beautiful that he made a special effort to become
friendly with the Egyptian king. Pharaoh was pleased that
Israel's leader would make such harmonious gestures. It wasn't
difficult, after that, to arrange for the Egyptian woman to be
brought to Jerusalem, where she was married to Solomon. (I Kings
3:1.)
At that time Solomon built a new palace and continued
construction on a stronger wall around Jerusalem, started by
David. Because matters went so well in Israel, Solomon declared a
special day of worship at Gibeon, where the tabernacle was. In
front of it was the brass altar that had been made by the
Israelites when they were on their way from Egypt to Canaan.
There Solomon and many of his people sacrificed to God. (I Kings
3:2-4; II Chronicles 1:1-6.)
That night Solomon was weary from the many activities of the
day, which included a moving speech to the men of high rank in
the nation. The king fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that he
met God, and that God told him that because he had been obedient
in so many things, he could have anything he wished to ask for as
a special gift from the Creator.
"You have already given me much by being so merciful to my
father and allowing me to sit on the throne of Israel," Solomon
said. "I don't have the wisdom I should have as king. There are
problems and decisions that perplex me. I don't know sometimes
which way to turn. I want to choose the right ways because a
great nation should have great leadership. Above all things I
choose to ask you for special wisdom with which to rightly and
justly rule your people." (I Kings 3:5-9; II Chronicles 1:7-10.)
Solomon dreamed that he prostrated himself before God during
an uncomfortable silence that followed. Had God expected him to
ask for something greater than wisdom? Should he have asked for
good health for his people or for some other thing that would
have been less personal?
Finally God spoke.


A Divine Gift of Wisdom

"Because you have asked for wisdom with which to rule well,
I shall grant you wisdom that is greater than that of any man.
Your wisdom will surpass that of anyone who has ever lived, and
will be greater than that of anyone to live in the future. I am
pleased that you didn't ask for long life, riches or death to all
your enemies. Therefore I shall also give you wealth. You shall
be the most honored of kings. If you obey my laws, I shall give
you a long life."
When Solomon awoke he had a strange feeling that what had
taken place was more than a dream. The more he pondered over it,
the more clearly he realized that God had actually spoken to him.
It was such an outstanding experience for him that as soon as he
returned to Jerusalem, he made more burnt offerings and more
peace offerings, and gave a special feast for his servants and
those who worked with him in the governing of Israel. (I Kings
3:10-15; II Chronicles 1:11-13.)
An example of the wisdom God gave to Solomon is shown in the
case of two women of low character who came before the king to
both claim the same child. They lived in the same house. One gave
birth to a baby. The other gave birth to a child three days
later. The woman who had the first birth claimed that the other
woman accidentally lay on her own child and smothered it. l
"When she discovered it was dead," the first woman told the
king, "she came into my room at night, while I was asleep, and
stole my infant son from me. She put her dead son next to me.
When I awoke to nurse him, I found him lifeless. I thought at the
time that it was mine, but in the morning I discovered it wasn't
my child. This is my child you see before you. I want him back."
"But it didn't happen the way she told it," the second woman
said to Solomon. "This baby is mine. I didn't steal it from her.
The dead baby is hers."
Solomon knew that one of the women wasn't telling the truth.
Probably he could tell which one it was, but he wanted to show up
the untruthful one before those present. He called for a soldier
with a sword to come before him. When the man strode in, weapon
in hand, Solomon instructed him to take the baby.
"Cut this infant in two!" the king ordered the startled
soldier. "Then give half to this woman and the other to that
woman."
"Don't!" exclaimed the true mother, leaping forward in
anguished excitement. "Give her the baby! Please don't harm it!"
"Don't listen to her!" the other woman blurted out.
"That's enough!" Solomon said, holding up a restraining hand
toward the women and the soldier. "Give the child to the woman
who doesn't want you to harm it. She tried to save it, and that
proves that she is its mother."
Reports of this matter, as well as others that had to do
with Solomon's decisions, spread around the nation. People could
discern that Solomon was being inspired by God. Respect for the
king of Israel grew with the news of how wisely he handled
problems. God was keeping his promises made to Solomon in the
dream. (I Kings 3:16-28.)
Solomon enjoyed a peaceable and prosperous reign as the
years went on. Nearby kingdoms such as Moab, Ammon, Syria and
Damascus paid tribute to him. Including all the nations that came
under his authority, Solomon's kingdom extended from the
Euphrates River on the north and east to Egypt and the Great Sea
(the Mediterranean) on the south and west.


Solomon Grows in Fame and Influence

From all parts of the land food was brought to Solomon's
table. To feed everyone in the royal establishment the provisions
for just one day included two hundred and forty bushels of fine
flour, four hundred and eighty bushels of meal, ten
stall-fattened bulls, twenty bulls from pastures and a hundred
sheep and goats. To this was added varying numbers of deer,
antelope and fattened fowl. How many people were fed every day by
this amount of food isn't stated in the Bible, but there must
have been quite a crowd. (I Kings 4:1-25.)
God forbade Israel to maintain cavalry of chariot horses as
part of a standing army. (Deuteronomy 17:14-16.) God didn't want
the nation to build a mighty war machine that would cause the
nation to lose sight of God as their protector and provoke the
jealousy of other nations. However, Solomon accumulated thousands
of war-horses. (I Kings 4:26-28; II Chronicles 1:14-17.) When war
did come in a later age, the Israelites had less success in
battle, using cavalry, than they did before they had any to use.
Until Solomon's time the seats of learning were presumed to
be in Egypt and the east, where the Arabians, Chaldeans and
Persians lived. In these nations were a few men famous for their
exceptional -- and sometimes unusual -- knowledge. There were
seers and sages, and even wizards who received their information
from demons.
Because God had imbued Solomon with an exceptional mind,
good sense and an understanding of people and things, he had more
wisdom than any of the so-called wise men. He also had more
knowledge than most, having a God-given ability to apply himself
diligently to observing, studying and remembering. He could speak
with authority on anything from small insects to animals, and
from minute plants to large trees. He knew much about history,
mathematics, music and other subjects. Probably he had at least a
basic understanding of astronomy. He wrote more than a thousand
songs. Hundreds of his proverbs, of which he produced thousands,
are preserved in the book of Proverbs in the Bible for our
learning. Solomon's fame for wisdom and knowledge became so great
that kings from all nations came in person or sent
representatives to ask his opinions and advice. (I Kings
4:29-34.)
This was the result of the gift from God. When the Creator
makes a promise, He carries it out in full and often unexpected
measure.


Solomon Begins the Temple

Over a hundred miles north of Jerusalem, close to the
territory of Asher, on the eastern edge of the Great Sea, was the
little kingdom of Tyre. Hiram, king of Tyre, had always been
friendly toward David. As a gesture of goodwill, he had sent
craftsmen and materials, about thirty years before, for building
David's home at Jerusalem. Much of it was constructed with cedar
that grew near Tyre. (II Samuel 5:11; I Chronicles 14:1.)
When Hiram heard that Solomon had become king, he sent
emissaries to bring congratulations. Knowing what Hiram had done
for his father, Solomon was appreciative. (I Kings 5:1.) It was
then that the idea came to Solomon to employ the excellent
craftsmen of Tyre to work on the temple he knew should be built
during his reign.
"You will remember that my father wanted to build a temple
that would be dedicated to God," Solomon told Hiram in a return
message taken to Tyre. "He had so many wars to fight in his time
that it wasn't God's will that such a project should be
undertaken. Now Israel is at peace. I intend to build that temple
while my nation is free from strife. It would please me and my
people if your nation would supply cedar and fir trees for
lumber, for which I will pay you in gold, silver or any produce
of Israel you desire. I also wish to hire your expert craftsmen
to work with the men I shall supply as laborers." (I Kings 5:2-6;
II Chronicles 2:1-10.)
Hiram was happy to learn of this. He sent messengers back
soon with a letter to the king of Israel.
"I am honored to do what I can to help you build the
temple," the letter read. "I shall supply all the fir, cedar and
any other kind of trees you need. My men will move the timber
down from the mountains to the sea after cutting it to the sizes
you require. Then they will float it southward to Joppa, and from
there you can transport it to Jerusalem. In payment for this, we
choose to receive produce from your country." (I Kings 5:7-9; II
Chronicles 2:11-16.)
Eventually the timber, carefully cut to Solomon's orders,
arrived in Jerusalem. In return, Solomon sent great amounts of
wheat, barley, oil and wine. Part of it was for Hiram's workers,
and part for Hiram and his household. The part for his household
was sent every year for many years after that. (I Kings 5:10-12.)
At that time there were many people in Israel who weren't
Israelites. Some were prisoners of war from David's reign. Many
others had been drawn to Israel because that nation had become so
famous and respected due to Solomon's reputation for learning and
wisdom. And many came because Israel was peaceful and prosperous.
When Solomon found that there were 153,600 such people, he
decided to use them in the preparation and transport of materials
for the building of the temple, which had long before been
planned by David, through God's inspiration, down to the smallest
detail.
Now it was Solomon's duty to carry out those plans. He put
seventy thousand of the aliens in Israel to work leveling the
temple site and transporting stones and timbers. Eighty thousand
were used to cut gigantic foundation and building stones in the
nearby hills. Thirty thousand men, picked mostly from the
Israelites, were sent in relays of ten thousand at a time to help
the Tyrians with the cutting of timber around Mt. Lebanon. Each
unit worked a month, then rested for two months while another
unit worked. There were so many workers in all that more than
three thousand foremen were required to oversee them. (II
Chronicles 2:17-18; I Kings 5:13-18.)
For years this vast force labored to supply and prepare
timber and stone for the temple. All the materials brought to
Jerusalem were already cut, smoothed and grooved or bored to
exact measurements, so that their placing together was the only
process that remained, though that part required seven years of
labor because of the care and perfection involved. Huge squared
and polished stones, said by some writers to have been up to
thirty feet in length and as much as six feet thick, were slowly
moved into the city by large gangs of men and work animals. These
were for the foundation. They were set into the top of Mt.
Moriah, where a threshing floor had once been, and where David
had later built an altar on which to make special sacrifices
because of a plague that had come to Israel.
With workmen teeming over Mt. Moriah, one can imagine that
there was generally quite a din. The noises of tools on wood and
stone might have been heard all over the city. But it didn't
happen that way. There was no sound of a metal tool because all
cutting, trimming, grinding, drilling and polishing had
previously taken place. (I Kings 6; II Chronicles 3.)
Slowly the temple took shape.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 109
SOLOMON DEDICATES GOD'S TEMPLE

IN THE EARLY years of Solomon's reign the top of Mt. Moriah began
to look much different than it did about a decade before. Then
there was only a threshing floor there. The threshing operations
had been removed so that David could build a special altar. (II
Samuel 24:15-25.)


Lay a Firm Foundation

In Solomon's reign the altar was removed and the top of the
small mountain was leveled off to make a much wider area. The
leveled mountain had to receive the huge foundation stones that
were laboriously moved in to form the base of the temple and its
surrounding flat area. All this was encompassed by a stone wall.
Within it came into being some of the most elaborate and ornate
structures that had ever been built. (I Kings 6.) These beautiful
buildings and their highly decorative interiors had been planned
by David, but God had forbidden him to carry out their
construction because David had so often relied on his army to
protect Israel instead of relying on God. (I Kings 5:2-3.)
The chief architect and skilled metal worker on this great
project was a man from Tyre by the name of Hiram, the same name
as that of the king of that country. Besides putting plans for
the temple into workable order, he also designed and labored on
much of the decorative work and on such things as vessels,
tables, lamps and pillars (I Kings 7.)
Ever since the tabernacle had been constructed when the
Israelites had been at Mt. Sinai, it had consisted mainly of
fabric and skins so that it could be taken down and carried. Now,
at last, the tabernacle was replaced by a beautiful, solid
structure of stone, timber, gold, silver, precious stones, carved
figures, dazzling colors of linen and carved palm trees, flowers
and fruit. As in the original tabernacle, there was the outer
area, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The Ark of the
Covenant was later placed in the Holy of Holies.
To the sides and back of the main buildings were added
chambers for the priests and attendants, and rooms for storing
treasures. The portable brass laver for the priests to wash in,
made at Mt. Sinai, was replaced by a round brass, bowl-shaped
container twenty-one feet across and supported by twelve large
brass bulls.
The main sections of the temple were much larger than
similar sections of the tabernacle. The outer part, or porch, was
about forty-two feet wide. The main building was floored with fir
and had inner walls of cedar. Both were then covered with gold.
Aside from the priest's chambers, this building was about a
hundred and twenty-six feet long, forty-two feet wide and
sixty-three feet high. That wasn't a huge building, but with
other structures, stone-paved court, towers and walls, the whole
establishment covered several acres.
The furnishings of the temple were many, including chains,
candlesticks, tongs, bowls, snuffers, basins, spoons, and censers
to burn incense in. All these were fashioned from brass, gold or
silver, and in a style and skill that made them outstanding in
appearance and quality. (I Kings 6 and 7; II Chronicles 3 and 4.)
The temple was finished, along with its furnishings in the
eleventh year of Solomon's reign. (I Kings 6:1, 37-38; II
Chronicles 3:1-2.) In the next several months Solomon placed in
the temple the very fine furnishings that David had dedicated for
the temple.


Solomon's Invitation

Almost a year after the temple was completed, when abundant
crops had been harvested and it was time for the Festival of
Tabernacles, Solomon invited the leaders of all the tribes of
Israel and all of the chiefs of the clans to come to Jerusalem.
(I Kings 8:1-2; II Chronicles 5:1-3.)
It wasn't necessary for the king to invite anyone to
Jerusalem for the Festival of Tabernacles, because that was an
assembly commanded by God, just as it still is. (See Leviticus
23:33-35, 41; Zechariah 14:16-19; Deuteronomy 16:13-15.)
Observing God's annual Holy Days is as important to God and to
obedient people as is the observance of the weekly Sabbath. (John
4:45; 7:10; Acts 18:21.) Solomon knew that Israelites who
respected their Creator would come to the Fall Festival at
Jerusalem of their own accord. But on this occasion he invited
them to arrive a week earlier to attend the dedication of the
temple. (II Chronicles 7:8-9.)
Thousands upon thousands of Israelites poured into Jerusalem
to attend the greatest occasion since the giving of the Ten
Commandments at Mt. Sinai. There was an elaborate parade in which
the Ark of the Covenant was brought from the place where David
had housed it. The priests and their assistants followed, bearing
the costly equipment, such as bowls and candlesticks, with which
the tabernacle in the wilderness had been furnished.
The ark was carefully and ceremoniously deposited beyond the
holy veil in the Holy of Holies, where had been constructed two
cherubim of olive wood, overlaid with gold. Standing side by
side, each was twenty-one feet high and with two wings ten and a
half feet long, so that their four wings extended out from the
figures for a distance of forty-two feet. The ark was placed
beneath these towering, gleaming statues.
At that time there was nothing inside the ark except the two
tables of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. They had
been there since Moses had put them in the ark at Mt. Sinai. (I
Kings 8:3-9; II Chronicles 5:4-10.)
During the parade and the ceremonious furnishing of the
temple and even long afterward, sacrifices were made at many
places in Jerusalem by priests who weren't otherwise occupied. So
many sheep and oxen were sacrificed and eaten in the next several
days that the number was never known or recorded. The multitudes
of people who had come to the city showed such an enthusiasm for
making offerings that Solomon was quite pleased. What was much
more important was how much God was pleased. He must have been in
some measure, or the next awe-inspiring event wouldn't have taken
place.
Priests were coming in and out of the holy area. At a brief
interval when all were outside for a musical portion of the
dedication, a strange, thick glowing cloud suddenly filled the
temple.
Nearby were the many singers and musicians performing at the
time, possibly rendering the 136th Psalm written by David. When
they noticed what was taking place, it was difficult for them to
continue. Some of the priests tried to get back inside the
building, but quickly retreated when they found that the
mysterious cloudiness was more than just an ordinary mass of
vapor. Then other people who were close to the temple saw the
strange cloud. The festive noise and music died down to be
replaced by an awed silence. (I Kings 8:10-11; II Chronicles
5:11-14.)
Solomon was standing facing the altar, which contained wood
and flesh laid on it for a burnt offering. He turned to the crowd
and enthusiastically pointed to the cloud-like mass that wafted
through the doors and windows of the temple.
"This is a sign that God is with us!" he exclaimed loudly to
the people. "The Eternal -- Yahweh -- the God of Israel has
accepted the house we have built for Him! This has become His
dwelling place!"
While the crowd stood in respectful awe Solomon ascended a
brass platform erected especially for the occasion. From there he
reminded the people how merciful God had been to them ever since
their ancestors had left Egypt, and how the temple had at last
come into being.
Then the king dropped to his knees, held his hands toward
the sky and voiced a prayer with such volume that it could be
heard by thousands. He praised God for how great He is. He
observed that the temple wasn't much of a residence, compared to
the whole universe, for a Creator who was great enough to fill
all the universe. Solomon asked that God would put His name on
the temple nevertheless, as a place where He would come to be
close to His people, and that God would listen to their prayers,
forgive their sins when they repented, and rescue them from their
enemies, famine, disease, drought and pestilence. (I Kings 8:
12-53; II Chronicles 6:1-42.)


The Eternal Answers

Right after Solomon had spoken the last words of the
eloquent and moving address to God, a blinding bolt of fire
hissed down from the sky, followed by a sharp, deafening crack of
thunder. The fire struck squarely on the altar. There was a burst
of thick smoke. When it cleared away only seconds later, the wood
and animal flesh that had been there were entirely gone!
God's dramatic manner of showing that He was pleased with
the temple, the sacrifices and Solomon's prayer caused the
thousands of startled onlookers to bow with their faces to the
ground in reverence. (II Chronicles 7:1-3.)
To encourage the crowd, Solomon waved to the musicians and
singers to continue. They soon regained their composure and went
on with their playing and singing with more zest than ever.
Gradually the people got to their feet and joined them in song.
The sound of their spirited voices could be heard for miles.
Meanwhile, the vapor-like cloud continued slowly swirling through
the temple, still delaying the priests in carrying out many of
their intended duties. A great part of them joined the musicians
with instruments of their own, adding to the volume of the music.
The people were so inspired by the unusual events at the
dedication of the temple that they moved into the days of the
Festival of Tabernacles with an exceptionally happy and
worshipful attitude. There was much activity, including
informative addresses from the king and from the high priest,
musical concerts, periods of mass worship and prayer, dancing,
visiting, dining and the sacrificing and eating of many animals.
It was a happy time. The occasion is one commanded by God for the
benefit of His people. It is to be observed by God's New
Testament Church also, although there is now no need of
sacrificing animal flesh because Christ is the sacrifice for
those who repent, believe and obey God's laws.
Twenty-two thousand cattle and a hundred and twenty thousand
sheep were sacrificed and eaten at the temple dedication alone.
Because the main brass altar was too small to handle the
offerings that were to be consumed, another temporary altar was
erected nearby. (I Kings 8:54-64; II Chronicles 7:4-7.)


A Palace, Too

The cloud departed from the temple after the seven-day
festival -- plus an eighth day that was a Holy Day -- was over.
The Israelites returned to their homes in a joyful and thankful
state of mind. It had been a prosperous year for them, and they
had been brought closer to God because of their experiences at
the temple and the inspiration and instruction they had received
from God through Solomon and the priests. (I Kings 8:65-66; II
Chronicles 7:8-11.) Years later Solomon wrote, among his many
wise observations, one that fitted the occasion well: "When the
righteous are in authority, the people rejoice." (Proverbs 29:2.)
The cost of the temple was more than paid for by the
offerings set aside by David for the project, and by other
offerings made to God over the early years of Solomon's reign.
Solomon's next project was the building of a palace for
himself. It was thirteen years in construction! It took longer to
build than the temple because fewer men worked on it and the king
wasn't as anxious to finish the palace as he had been to finish
the building dedicated to God. The main section was a beautiful
structure of costly stone and cedar more than two hundred feet
long, over a hundred feet wide and as high as a modern six-story
office building. In this part was Solomon's sumptuous throne
room, furnished with costly objects and decorated with precious
stones set in lavish areas of gold. Here was where thousands of
problems were brought to him, and where he made so many of his
wise judgments and decisions.
Another section was built for Solomon's wife, the Egyptian
princess who had been brought up from her native land years
before. (I Kings 7-89:24; II Chronicles 8:11.) Other areas
contained dining rooms, game rooms and guest quarters. One
ancient authority refers to Solomon's palace as being a somewhat
mysterious place, inasmuch as the exact number of rooms remained
a secret. Many of them were allegedly underground, some connected
by obscure passages to vaults.
Whatever the facts, the outstanding one was that Solomon's
palace was a most unusual residence. It was surrounded by vast
porches built of huge blocks of stone. Beyond the porches were
beautiful gardens embellished with unique sculpture. Porticos,
pillars, walls, towers and gateways were supported, connected or
bedecked by hundreds of cedar beams.
As with the temple, much of the material for the palace came
from Tyre or nearby territory in exchange for produce from
Israel. And again Solomon hired the expert artisans from Tyre.


"Obey Me and I Will Make You Great"

After Solomon finished building the temple and palace, God
contacted him a second time. Again it was in the same manner in
which He had appeared to Solomon after he had become king and
when he had made special sacrifices at Gibeon. He was awakened
from a deep sleep by a firm, commanding voice speaking his name.
Perhaps he was only dreaming that he had awakened. However it
happened, he realized later that it was God's voice or the voice
of an angel bringing a message from the Creator.
"When you dedicated the temple to me," the voice uttered, "I
answered your prayer by hallowing that place. I put my name there
and occupied the temple with the desire to remain there on and on
into the future.
"If you will obey me as well as did David your father, and
if you will live according to my commandments, statutes and
judgments, men from your family will be on the throne over all
Israel forever. I made the same promise to your father. But if
you or your children turn from my laws to follow pagan religions,
I will cut off Israel from the land I provided. Your nation will
become only a word spoken in mockery and derision. I shall leave
that high temple. It will fall into ruins, and People passing
will ask what I have done to it. They shall learn that it
happened because Israel forsook their God, who had rescued them
from Egypt. If they choose to follow other gods, those gods won't
be able to rescue the people from the evil I shall bring on
them." (I Kings 9:1-9; II Chronicles 7:12-22.)
After this reminder, Solomon renewed his determination to
continue to obey God. His intentions and attitude at that time
were right. He was thankful for his personal prosperity and that
of his nation. But the king had certain strong desires that could
cause trouble for the whole nation unless they were controlled.
When the complete cost of Solomon's palace and his other
public buildings was finally summed up, it was evident that
produce from Israel wasn't enough to fairly pay the king of Tyre
for all he had provided for king Solomon's projects. Solomon
decided that the difference could be generously made up for by
giving the king of Tyre twenty towns in the north border region
of the territories of the Israelite tribes of Asher and Naphtali.
These towns were inhabited by Canaanites, living in the
nation Israel. King Hiram of Tyre was anxious to learn just what
he had obtained. He set out on a tour of his reward, pleased that
his small kingdom could be enlarged by so many towns.
Hiram was somewhat shocked when he found that the towns were
inhabited by mostly rather poor farm workers. Because he
preferred to deal in other kinds of commerce, he was disappointed
that there was so little activity except in agriculture. The
message Hiram soon sent to Solomon was not a happy one for the
king of Israel.
"I have decided that it would not be to the best interests
of either of us for me to accept the proffered towns. Undoubtedly
they are of much greater value to Israel than to my nation. For
you they could be necessary fortifications. For me they are a bit
too far inland to be of sufficient benefit." (I Kings 9:10-14; II
Chronicles 8:1-2.)
This refusal of the towns, a matter which Solomon considered
somewhat of an indignity, meant that some other way would have to
be found for paying Israel's debt to Tyre.
Possibly the king could have come up with some means besides
that he finally chose. (I Kings 9:15.) It had a part in the
eventual downfall of his nation. It has been a cause of other
nations failing financially. Our nation is burdened heavily with
it.
Solomon decided that he would pay Israel's debt on the
palace and other public projects simply by demanding more taxes
from the people.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 110
KING SOLOMON'S SINS

TO PAY A DEBT to the king of Tyre, Solomon required that the
Israelites pay more taxes. With this extra revenue he also built
a part of the wall around Jerusalem and repaired and fortified
several cities to the northwest and north.
Most of the hard labor on the cities was done by Canaanites
living in those vicinities. These Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites,
Hivites and Jebusites were drafted for work, and were regarded
almost as slaves. (I Kings 9:15-23; II Chronicles 8:1-10.)


Solomon's Fabulous Voyages

About the same time Solomon increased his fighting force by
adding to the numbers of his horsemen and chariots. He even
established a navy, but it was more for commercial purposes than
for war. The home port was in the Gulf of Aqaba, the east finger
of the Red Sea reaching up toward the rock-walled city of Petra.
With these ships the king hoped to establish trade relations with
distant countries that could supply unusual produce and rare
items.
The Israelites had recently become a maritime people. But
Solomon had to ask aid of the Tyrians, many of whom were sailors
because their people had lived for generations on the eastern
shore of the Great Sea. Tyrians trained a number of Israelites in
the crafts of shipbuilding and the skills of sailing. Probably
the ships were manned by crews that were more Tyrian than
Israelite. (I Kings 9:26-28; II Chronicles 8:17-18.)
The ambitious voyages, some three years long, turned out to
be profitable for Solomon. In one trip alone his ships would
bring back cargoes that were worth fabulous sums. They sailed
down the Red Sea, probably putting in at ports on the northeast
coast of Africa. From there they went eastward into the Arabian
Sea and on to the distant ports of India, Ceylon, Malaya and
Japan.
When the ships returned, they brought spices, apes,
peacocks, gold, silver, ivory, rare kinds of wood and other kinds
of valuable and unique objects that stirred up deep interest and
wonder in the many Israelites who had the opportunity to view
them or own some of them. (I Kings 10:11-12, 14-15, 22-23; II
Chronicles 9:10-11, 13-14, 21-22.)


Queen of Sheba Visits Solomon

Meanwhile reports of Solomon's wisdom and wealth stirred the
feminine curiosity of the Queen of Sheba to such an extent that
she decided to make a trip to Jerusalem to find out in person how
much the reports were exaggerated. The land of Sheba lay in
Southern Arabia and in Ethiopia and Upper Egypt and Nubia. At
that time the Queen of Sheba (Sheba was a son of Cush, the son of
Ham) ruled Ethiopia and Egypt. Historians have so falsified
Egyptian history that they have completely lost the identity of
this famous queen who is dated in history books over 500 years
too early.
The Queen of Sheba, as she is referred to in the Bible, set
out from her capital city Thebes with many servants and a large
train of camels loaded with spices, gold and jewels. This wealth
she presented to Solomon as a gift of friendship when she arrived
in Jerusalem.


No Question Too Hard

To test the power of Solomon's mind, the queen asked him the
answers to many difficult riddles. In ancient times this kind of
mental gymnastic was a sort of equivalent of the higher type of
intelligence test of today, except that it was regarded more of a
game or a matching of wits. Solomon gave such prompt and
outstanding answers that his guest was startled. She then asked
him about many practical things, including her personal problems.
The helpful and informative replies she received kindled in her a
growing respect for the Israelite king.
In the days that followed during her long visit, the queen
was amazed at the beauty of the temple, the magnificence of
Solomon's palace, the unusual design of his throne, the
extraordinary choice of food at his table, the faithful obedience
of his servants, the efficiency of his staff members and
officers, his superb clothing and the rich attire of those about
him and the way in which he made sacrifices to his God with such
roaring fires.
"When I heard glowing reports about your wisdom and
prosperity, I didn't believe them," the queen admitted to
Solomon. "Since coming here I've found that the reports should
have been twice as exciting and colorful to completely inform me.
Israel must be very happy to have a king like you. Your God must
indeed love your people to allow them to have such a wise ruler."
(I Kings 10:1-10; II Chronicles 9:1-9.)
When the queen prepared to leave, Solomon didn't allow her
camels to be taken back unloaded. She had given him gold of
highest quality and of enormous value, besides costly stones and
an immense quantity of spices. Not to be outdone, Solomon made a
generous remark that could have cost him half his kingdom if his
guest had been a very greedy person.
"If there is anything I have that you desire," the king told
her, "all you have to do is ask and it shall become yours."
After she had made her choices, Solomon had them carefully
packed for her camels to carry. In addition to what the queen
asked for, he gave her many gifts he was certain she would like
to have but for which she modestly refrained from asking. (I
Kings 10:13; II Chronicles 9:12.)
For a long time after the Queen of Sheba had returned up the
Nile River to her native country, Solomon continued to prosper.
In the course of a year it wasn't unusual for him to receive
incredible quantities of gold.
He was given regular tribute by bordering nations. He had
established trade agreements with others. His merchant caravans
were constantly on the move to and from the north, east and
south. From Lower Egypt he brought up an increasing number of
chariots and horses. Horses were in demand in Israel. (I Kings
10:24-26; II Chronicles 9:23-24.) God had forbidden their use in
war. (Deuteronomy 17:14-16.) Solomon possibly reasoned that this
ban applied only to the past. At any rate, he unwisely
established a standing cavalry and a chariot brigade. After he
obtained all the horses he wanted, those that continued coming
from Egypt and elsewhere were sold at a profit to people who
wanted them for domestic or sporting purposes. Many mules from
Egypt also added to revenue for the king. (I Kings 10:28-29; II
Chronicles 9:25, 28.)


Lust of the Flesh

The Bible states, in a figurative manner, that silver was so
common in Jerusalem that it attracted little more attention than
did the stones on the ground. Solomon had so much silver and
considered it so low in value that he wouldn't allow any drinking
vessels in his palace that were made of silver. All cups,
chalices, goblets and tumblers had to be made of gold. Even some
of the equipment for his army was made of gold instead of brass.
Some of the soldiers' shields used at state functions were of
great value because of the gold content.
With all the income Israel's king received because of his
keen business ability, plus the tributes and gifts he received,
he became the wealthiest of kings at that time. But this wouldn't
have come about without the help of God in many direct and
indirect ways. (I Kings 10:16-17, 27; II Chronicles 9:15-16, 27.)
While his wealth was increasing, Solomon remained faithful
to God in the regularly required sacrifices and in most other
matters of obedience. At the same time he had a growing weakness
that increased with his wealth and his fame. It was the desire
for the love of many women. His ability and means to obtain them
was a great temptation to him. In spite of his wisdom, his choice
of wives started with that of an Egyptian princess related, by
marriage, to the Queen of Sheba. Possibly this had some bearing
on the trade pact he developed with Egypt in his early years as
king of Israel. From then on he seemed to have a special liking
for foreign women, including those from the Moabites, Ammonites,
Edomites, Zidonians and Hittites. (I Kings 11:1-2.)
Israel's powerful fighting force kept the pagan nations
subdued. Solomon not only succeeded in keeping them in their
respective territories, but he included some or parts of some of
them in his expanding kingdom. They paid regular, heavy tributes.
These were submitted in the form of gold, silver, precious
stones, brasswork, cloth and livestock. (II Chronicles 9:26, 28.)
It was possible that occasionally a young and pretty daughter of
a king or chief was also included, eventually becoming another of
Solomon's growing number of wives, of which there were seven
hundred! Besides these, the king had three hundred concubines, or
secondary wives. (I Kings 11:3.)
When Israel had come to Canaan, God had forbidden His chosen
people to intermarry with those of Canaan or nearby nations. The
Creator knew that intermarriage with foreigners would result in
the Israelites being drawn into the worship of idols and false
gods. (Exodus 34:11-16; Deuteronomy 7:1-6; I Kings 11:2.)
That is exactly what happened to Solomon, regardless of his
brilliant mind and deep wisdom.


A Thousand Versions of Idolatry

During his years of attempting to please or at least stay on
the friendly side of a thousand wives, Solomon was asked by many
of them to consider turning to their several gods. At first the
king gave in part way to the wishes of his favorites by promising
them that he would consider the building of shrines and altars
for the worship of their pagan deities.
Solomon gradually lost sight of God and became totally
concerned in physical things.
As time passed Solomon made casual promises to so many of
his wives that he found it was easier to carry out his promises
than it was to listen to repeated, nagging requests -- though
probably he almost willingly carried out some of the favors
because of his special affection for some of his women.
Solomon therefore ordered small temples to be erected for
the worship of the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (also known as
Astarte or Easter), for Chemosh the god of the Moabites and for
Molech and Milcom, idols of the Ammonites. This was done on the
mount just south of the Mount of Olives, in full sight of the
temple dedicated to God. (I Kings 11:4-8.)
Meanwhile, Solomon was paying a price for his excesses.
Instead of becoming wiser and more mentally alert as he reached
middle age, his mind lost much of its God-given brilliance. At
that same time he aged rapidly in a physical way, insomuch that
he looked older than he was. His unwise manner of living was
leading him toward an early grave.
Then came a stinging message from the Creator, whose anger
had been steadily growing because of Solomon's turning to
idolatry. Whether it came to him in a dream or through some
prophet who was close to God, what Solomon learned was a
staggering shock to him.
"You have ignored my repeated warning about turning to other
gods," God told the king. "Because you have done this thing and
have broken so many of my laws, I have decided to take the
kingdom of Israel from you!
"I am going to give it to one of your servants. But for the
sake of David your father, I will not completely do it while you
are alive. You are going to live long enough to witness the start
of great trouble in this nation. After you are dead and your son
has inherited the throne, it will quickly be wrested from him.
Again, out of respect for David and for the sake of Jerusalem, I
shall allow your son to retain leadership over the tribe of
Judah." (I Kings 11:9-13.)
Years previously, during David's rule, God had spared the
life of a young Edomite prince named Hadad when Joab had tried to
kill all the males of Edom. Hadad and some of the people had
escaped to Egypt. Hadad later returned to his country to enlist a
small but powerful army with which to plague Israel. This
occurred at the time God told Solomon Israel would be troubled.
Another man, by the name of Rezon, a captain in a Syrian army
David had defeated, escaped to Damascus and established another
small army with which to give Solomon's soldiers more grief.
These two men were used by God to plague Israel, especially
during Solomon's last days. (I Kings 11:14-25.)


And Now -- a Real Competitor

Then a third man came on the scene to give Solomon even more
concern. He was Jeroboam, an ambitious and capable man whom
Solomon employed as the superintendent of public work projects in
and around Jerusalem. He was the servant God had mentioned in His
recent, dire prediction to Solomon.
One day as Jeroboam was coming out of Jerusalem, a man
stepped up to him when no one else was around and asked to speak
with him. At first Jeroboam didn't recognize the fellow, who
suddenly removed a new coat he was wearing. Then Jeroboam
recognized him as the prophet Ahijah, who had succeeded Nathan
and Gad, prophets in David's time. Ahijah's next surprising move
was to violently tear his coat into twelve pieces. He kept two of
the pieces and handed the other ten to the astonished Jeroboam.
"These ten pieces of cloth represent ten tribes of Israel,"
Ahijah said. "Take them."
"But why are you giving them to me?" Jeroboam asked.
"God has told me that He is about to tear the kingdom of
Israel from Solomon, and that He will give you ten of the tribes
over which to rule," Ahijah explained.
"But why me?" Jeroboam queried. "And why only ten tribes?"
"Isn't it enough to learn that God chose you?" Ahijah
pointed out. "And aren't ten tribes enough? For David's sake and
for the sake of Jerusalem, Judah will remain under the rulership
of Solomon's family. You will become king over ten of the tribes,
which Solomon's family will lose because of the king's
disobedience in turning to pagan gods and breaking so many of
God's laws. God has instructed me to tell you that if you will be
obedient, you and those after you of your family will continue to
rule the ten tribes." (I Kings 11:26-39.)
Later, after Jeroboam had thought over the exciting event,
he could scarcely contain himself. He had much to say to his
family and friends about what he was going to do. His statements
soon reached Solomon, who became so envious and angry that he
sent soldiers after Jeroboam.
"That man is a traitor!" Solomon declared. "He is scheming
to seize my throne! Bring him to me, and I shall sentence him to
death!"
Jeroboam had friends in the palace who warned him before the
soldiers arrived. He escaped from Jerusalem, but he knew that it
would be dangerous to stay anywhere in Palestine or even in
bordering countries. He fled all the way to Egypt, where the
young king there was pleased to harbor a man of Jeroboam's
ability. (I Kings 11:40.)
The highly talented and studious Solomon suddenly died at an
age when he should have been at the prime of his wisdom -- at
about sixty. If he had been a more temperate and obedient king,
probably he would have lived for many more years. The passing of
such a famous ruler was a mournful event for Israel and for many
people outside Israel. Solomon had reigned for forty years after
having become king at about 20 years of age (I Kings 11:41-43; II
Chronicles 9:29-31.) Through him God not only did great things
for Israel of that time, but also for people of today who gain
from reading the books of the Bible Solomon wrote -- Proverbs,
Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.
Solomon designated his son Rehoboam to succeed him. After a
period of mourning for Solomon, thousands of people gathered at
Shechem, about thirty-five miles north of Jerusalem, to witness
Rehoboam's being made king. Among those in the crowd was
Jeroboam, who had returned from Egypt when he heard of Solomon's
death. (I Kings 12:1-2; II Chronicles 10:1-2.)
When Rehoboam appeared before the people on the inaugural
platform, he expected them to cheer, but they didn't. He glared
disdainfully at them, but his expression changed when he saw
Jeroboam moving toward the platform. Many men of high rank were
pressing in behind him. None of them looked either pleased or
friendly.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 111
A KINGDOM DIVIDED

REHOBOAM, Solomon's son, had come before a public gathering to be
proclaimed king officially (I Kings 12:1; II Chronicles 10:1),
although he had actually been Israel's new ruler from the time of
his father's death. (I Kings 11:43.)
Rehoboam's attitude was that of a young man accustomed to
what great wealth could provide. He had little interest in the
welfare of his people.


Jeroboam's Sedition

Conflict with his subjects started on his inauguration day.
Jeroboam, to whom God had promised rulership of ten tribes of
Israel, led a crowd of men from all parts of the nation up to the
platform where the new king stood. (I Kings 12:2-3.)
"If you will permit me, sir, I have something to say to you
on behalf of the people," Jeroboam addressed Rehoboam.
The king stared impassively at Jeroboam. He resented what he
considered an intrusion at a ceremony in which he was the star.
He wanted to refuse Jeroboam, but he knew that the crowd would be
angry if he didn't agree to listen. Finally he nodded curtly to
Jeroboam.
"For years your father has troubled us with heavy taxes,"
Jeroboam spoke out. "Lately he has forced many men of Israel into
heavy labor on various projects. We can't continue under these
conditions much longer. Now we're respectfully asking you to help
us by lowering our taxes and stopping the draft of men into
forced labor."
Rehoboam felt like asking Jeroboam and the others to go mind
their own business. Instead, he managed to appear friendly and
quite thoughtful, as though the suggestion deserved his royal
consideration.
"What you have brought up is something I have thought
about," he said. "I want to help my people. Come back here in
three days. Meanwhile, I'll confer with my advisors. There will
be a decision made by the time we get together again." (I Kings
12:4-5; II Chronicles 10:2-5.)
"Thank you," Jeroboam said, bowing. "If you will help us, we
shall serve you well for as long as you are king."
As he promised, Rehoboam went to men who could advise him.
First he asked the opinions of older men who had been consultants
to Solomon. They told him that he would be wise to consider doing
what the people asked, and that he would be looked up to as a
good and fair ruler if he would help them out of their trouble.
Later, Rehoboam conferred with younger men who were more inclined
to his way of thinking.
"Why worry about what the people want?" they asked the king.
"Taxes and forced labor aren't hurting them too much. If you
decrease what your subjects should give, your income will
decrease. Why let the people talk you into something you'll
regret? Be stern with them. Show them who's running this nation!"
(I Kings 12:6-11; II Chronicles 10:6-11.)
When Jeroboam returned with others to confer with the king,
he wasn't too surprised at what happened. The new ruler strode
regally out before the crowd and peered at the expectant faces.
He was smiling, but his smile was more arrogant than friendly.


Rehoboam's Foolish Decision

"Three days ago you asked me to lower your taxes and demand
less labor for projects in Israel," Rehoboam commenced. "I told
you I would consult my advisors about these matters, and I did.
Now you'll get my answer."
The king gazed about with a growing smile before he
continued. Obviously he was savoring those moments while his
audience hung on every word he uttered.
"You think my father taxed you too heavily and worked some
of you too hard? Then you should appreciate how easy he was on
you. I am young and have more competent men working with me and
more projects in mind. Therefore I have more power than did my
father, and so I am going to require more labor and heavier
taxes. Some of you complained because my father's labor gang
foremen struck you with ordinary leather whips when you became
lazy. You didn't realize how well off you were then. From now on
my foremen will beat you lazy ones with whips that have metal
tips!" (I Kings 12:12-15; II Chronicles 10:12-15.)
There was silence among the people as Rehoboam's words sank
in. Then an angry, muffled muttering could be heard. It died out
as the crowd slowly melted away. Jeroboam wasn't as disappointed
as he appeared to be. He knew that the people were on the verge
of revolting against the king. It was his opportunity to stir
them up further, which he promptly did.
As a result, every tribe of Israel except Judah (and
Benjamin, the small tribe whose territory adjoined that of Judah)
rebelled against Rehoboam. As representatives of the ten tribes
were returning in disappointment to their homes, Rehoboam sent
the chief collector of taxes to speak to the representatives of
the people.
Hours later an excited servant hurried to Rehoboam, who was
still staying at Shechem, convinced that the people would
passively submit to any extra burden he put on them.
"Adoram your head tax collector has been stoned to death!"
the servant exclaimed. "There are reports that the people are
prepared to take the lives of anyone who attempts to collect
taxes. There are even rumors that an angry crowd is forming to
come here and demand to talk to you!"
The frightened king didn't waste time calling for advisors
to advise him to leave. It was entirely his own idea to get to
his chariot as soon as possible and head swiftly south on the
road to Jerusalem, where he knew he would be safer among the
people of his own tribe. (I Kings 12:16-19;
II Chronicles 10:16-19.)
While Rehoboam was establishing himself in the royal palace,
leaders of the ten rebellious tribes met to form a nation
separate from Judah and Benjamin. They started by declaring
Jeroboam king. His leadership convinced them that he was best
fitted to be over them. That was as God had planned it, so that a
large part of Israel would be taken from the rule of Solomon's
family. Otherwise Jeroboam wouldn't have been allowed to become a
ruler as he wasn't of the royal line. (I Kings 12:20.)


Jeroboam's Idolatry

Reports of what was going on quickly reached Rehoboam. He
began to realize that matters were much more serious than he had
been given to believe. He gave orders that all the soldiers of
Judah and Benjamin should be mustered to overrun the seceding
tribes and force them back into allegiance to the government at
Jerusalem.
One hundred and eighty thousand troops answered Rehoboam's
call. Just when the king was about to send them into action, a
prophet by the name of Shemaiah came to tell him and the people
of Judah and Benjamin that God didn't want them to war against
the other tribes.
"If you do," Shemaiah warned them, "God will surely bring
some kind of sudden and severe punishment on you."
Rehoboam was afraid. Even though some of his young friends
and advisors considered him cowardly for doing so, he wisely
called off the planned attack.
"I happen to know that if we go to war against our brothers,
God won't be with us in battle," he hesitantly explained to his
astonished officers. "Dismiss the troops and send them back to
their homes."
By striking the king with fear, God prevented a civil war He
didn't want to take place. (I Kings 12:21-24; II Chronicles
11:1-4.)
One of the first things Jeroboam did as king was to rebuild
and fortify the mountain town of Shechem, which he occupied with
a small army after Rehoboam had fled. Shechem had been mostly in
ruins since it had been ravaged by Abimelech nearly two hundred
years before. Now Jeroboam planned to make it the seat of
government of his kingdom. He also rebuilt and fortified the town
of Penuel, located east of the Jordan near the Jabbok River. It
was on a route to foreign cities, including Damascus to the
northeast. Manned by Jeroboam's soldiers, it was an important
outpost for checking on caravan traffic moving to and from
Jerusalem. (I Kings 12:25.)
In his efforts to strengthen himself as ruler, Jeroboam felt
he had to do some scheming. He reasoned that if very many of his
people felt obligated to go to Jerusalem to observe God's annual
Sabbaths and Festivals, they might repent of their rebellion and
feel that Jeroboam had led them astray.
"They'll surely do away with me if they begin to think that
way," Jeroboam thought. "Something will have to be done to keep
them away from Jerusalem."
Instead of showing obedience and asking God for help in his
office of king, Jeroboam chose to pursue the opposite direction
by deliberately leading the people away from God. He had two
images of calves constructed of gold. One was erected in the town
of Bethel, only a few miles north of Jerusalem. The other was set
up in the town of Dan, on the east side of the Jordan not far
southwest of Mt. Hermon. Jeroboam then made a proclamation to all
his people.
"From now on it will not be necessary for you to go all the
way to Jerusalem to observe those old Mosaic festivals. Why be
under the law?" he said, trying to deceive the people. "There is
a golden calf at Bethel in the south and another at Dan in the
north. They represent the gods which brought your ancestors out
of Egypt. Now it will be easier, more convenient and even safer
for everyone to confine your religious duties within the borders
of your own land. Priests and their assistants at both locations
will assist all who need help or instruction in sacrificing or
worship."


A Pagan Priesthood

The "priests" referred to weren't of the family of Levi.
They were men of low rank who were willing to conduct sacrifices
to idols for whatever they were paid.
Surprisingly, many people fell in with the king's suggestion
to break God's law. Instead of being faithful to their Creator,
they began making sacrifices to the calf images. Within only
weeks Jeroboam's kingdom was infested with one of the evils God
had especially warned the people about over the centuries. As for
the real priests -- the Levites -- who lived in that part of the
land, and the other people in the ten tribes who remained
faithful to God, they fled to Judah and Jerusalem. (I Kings
12:26-31; II Chronicles 11:13-17.)
But Jeroboam wasn't satisfied with the change he had made.
God's Festival of Tabernacles was soon to be observed. He feared
that this happiest time of the year would draw many to Jerusalem,
where it had been joyfully kept. In a fanatical attempt to
control his subjects in this matter, he denounced God's law. He
then announced to the people that there would be no reason for
them to go anywhere to observe the start of the Festival on the
fifteenth day of the seventh month. He said he had officially
changed the date to the fifteenth day of the eighth month -- the
period we now know as Halloween! (I Kings 12:32-33.)
To attempt to alter the Holy Days established by God was
rash, irreverent, and sinful. Mad as it was, Jeroboam didn't do
any worse than others who -- masquerading as God's ministers --
have worked to change or do away with God's Sabbaths down through
the ages. Today many churches have summer "camp meetings" instead
of observing the Festival of Tabernacles in the fall. They keep
Easter instead of Passover, Whitsunday instead of Pentecost. They
celebrate the beginning of a new year in the winter, whereas God
tells us that the new year begins in the spring. Sunday is
regarded as a holiday instead of God's weekly Sabbath, and so on.
These flagrant deviations will be corrected over the whole world
when Christ comes to Earth to rule. (Zechariah 14:16-19.)
To impress those who came to his centers of worship,
Jeroboam often assumed the role of high priest. One-day when he
was burning incense before the calf image at Bethel, a man broke
through the audience and strode toward the altar.


God's Warning

"God has sent me from Judah to declare a curse on this
altar!" he loudly announced. "A child by the name of Josiah shall
be born to the house of David! He, too, shall burn something on
this altar, but it won't be incense. It will be the bones of you
lying priests who sacrifice here!" (I Kings 13:1-2.)
These events were fulfilled many years later just as God
prophesied. (II Kings 23:15-17.)
The king turned to peer at the stranger. He put down the
incense container and placed his hands on his hips.
"So you are a prophet from Judah!" he said in a mocking
tone. "Prove it to me and to these people by giving us a sign. If
you fail, we'll know that you are a liar and that you deserve to
die for reviling this sacred idol and temple!"
The stranger stared at the king, seemingly at a loss for
words.
"A sign!" Jeroboam barked impatiently. "Give us a sign right
now or admit that you lied when you said God sent you."
"There is your sign!" the prophet blurted out, pointing to
the smoking altar. "That altar shall break apart and dump its
ashes on the floor!"
"Well?" Jeroboam asked after seconds had dragged by and
nothing happened. "Your time is up. Men, seize this wretch!"
The king extended an arm toward the prophet. Attendants
grabbed him and started to drag him away, but stopped when they
noticed that something was wrong with their leader. His face was
suddenly pale, and his expression was one of stark fright. His
bare arm, still outstretched, was somehow hideously white and
wrinkled and stiff. He was unable to draw it back or drop it to
his side!


Doubters Convinced

While startled people stared, a loud cracking sound came
from the altar. It fell apart as though it had been sliced by an
invisible bolt of lightning, crashing to the floor in a cloud of
smoke, sparks and flying ashes. Shrieking and groaning with fear,
the crowd quickly scattered. Even some of the attendants fled.
Jeroboam was so shaken by this double blow that he staggered back
against the wall. (I Kings 13:3-5.)
"Beg your God to make my arm as it was before!" the king
wailed. "I spoke hastily. How could I know that you are a true
prophet?"
The attendants were relieved to fall back from the man from
Judah, who fell to his knees, thanked God aloud for sparing him,
and asked that the king be healed. Almost instantly the withered
arm took on its normal color and shape. Jeroboam muttered with
satisfaction as he pulled his arm back and forth and flexed it up
and down. Soon afterward he recovered his composure. His attitude
toward the prophet became very friendly, but at the same time he
had trouble hiding his concern about what had happened.
"Come to my home with me and have dinner," he said to the
prophet as he motioned to attendants to do something about the
altar and the spilled ashes. "I want an opportunity to reward you
for what you did about my arm. Besides, I would like to talk to
you about becoming one of my priests. It could be very rewarding
for you." (I Kings 13:6-7.)
"I wouldn't go with you if you gave me half of your
possessions!" the prophet exclaimed. "God told me not to eat nor
drink while in this profane town. I'm not even to return by the
way I came, lest evil men wait to harm me."
Jeroboam's eyes narrowed as he watched the prophet stride
away. Because the man had spurned him and his offer, he wanted to
have him seized and put away. But he feared to have him touched
lest God should strike again with some ailment more severe than a
useless arm.
Jeroboam would have been pleased if he could have known what
would soon happen to the prophet. Two brothers who had witnessed
what had taken place at the altar hurried home to tell their
father, who was also a prophet. The father had failed to leave
the country when idol worship started.
"Tell me which way this man went!" the father excitedly
asked. (I Kings 13:8-12.)
The trudging prophet from Judah could never have guessed
what was about to take place.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 112
ISRAEL'S TURNING POINT

FROM JUDAH had come a prophet who troubled King Jeroboam of
Israel at Bethel. He predicted that one day the bones of the
false priests would be burned on the altar there. (I Kings
13:1-6.)
On his way back to his home in the nation of Judah, he
stopped to rest in the shade of an oak tree. There he was
approached by an older prophet whose sons had witnessed what had
occurred at the temple at Bethel. The old prophet slid down from
his donkey and eagerly went up to the resting man.


Hearsay Evidence

"Are you the one from Judah who prayed that King Jeroboam's
withered arm would be healed?" the older man asked.
"I am the one," was the answer. (I Kings 13:7-14.)
The older man was pleased. He wanted to become acquainted
and find out more about the interesting prophecy he had made
about what would happen to the altar at Bethel.
"You look weary and hungry," he said to the resting man.
"Come with me to my home and have something to eat and drink."
"I have been told by God that while I am here I must neither
eat nor drink," the prophet explained. "I am not to accept help
from anyone in this idolatrous area. I am not to retrace my
steps. Neither am I to associate with people here. Thank you, but
I can't accept your hospitality. I must go now."
The fellow struggled to his feet and started away without
another word. The older man hurried after him and put a
restraining hand on his shoulder.
"But I, too, am a prophet," he pointed out. "And I, too," he
lied, have received instructions from God. I was told by an angel
that I should find you and bring you to my home for nourishment."
The prophet from Judah turned to give the other man a
searching look. It seemed only reasonable that God wouldn't allow
him to continue being too weak and thirsty during his mission,
even though he had been warned not to consume anything.
"Because God has spoken to you, I no longer have reason to
refuse your kind offer," the prophet said, yielding to
temptation. "I would be very happy to return to your house with
you."
His eagerness for refreshment caused him to make a terrible
decision. He was hungry and thirsty. He wanted to believe that
God had spoken to the older man. The painful fact was that the
older prophet masqueraded as one of God's prophets, but was in
reality a follower of Jeroboam's perverted religion. The older
man had made up the story in order to get the other to come home
with him. He wanted to question him about the Bethel prophecy.
God was allowing the older man, even in his shameful dishonesty,
to severely test the obedience of the man from Judah. (I Kings
13:15-19.) The prophet from Judah should not have listened to
hearsay.
Later, at the older prophet's home, the meal had just been
finished when God again spoke to the man from Judah by a voice
from heaven.
"You have disobeyed by retracing your steps at Bethel and by
eating and drinking here. Because you have done this, you will
never return home. You will not be buried in the tomb where your
relatives are buried."
The man from Judah was miserably stunned by the realization
that he had been so careless and weak willed as to disobey God
and believe the older man's claim that God had contradicted
Himself. (I Kings 13:20-22.) Suddenly the prophet from Judah was
very afraid of the older man. He wanted to get out of the house
and start running back toward Judah. His host, who was as
surprised as his guest was at God's sentence of death, was aware
of the man's abrupt discomfort and impatience.


The Penalty of Disobedience

"I know that you're anxious to leave," the older man said.
"The donkey is saddled."
The guest didn't need a second invitation. He left at once
on the donkey. On passing through a desolate area, he was
terrified to see a lion standing in the road. The animal rushed
toward him and sprang. Those were the prophet's last conscious
moments. His punishment was swift for not following God's
instructions.
Some men who were traveling on the same road were startled a
little later to see a lion standing over a man's body. They hid
behind boulders to watch, puzzled because the lion kept on
standing over its victim, meanwhile ignoring a donkey grazing
only a few yards away. The men wondered why the donkey didn't
seem to fear the lion. They couldn't know that both animals were
being used by God for a purpose.
At Bethel they told several people what they had seen. (I
Kings 13:23-25.)
It wasn't long before the old prophet heard about it. Using
another donkey, he left at once to look for the slain prophet,
whom he found a short distance away. The lion was still standing
there, but when it saw him it sauntered away, leaving him free to
go to the dead man, whom he managed to hoist on the waiting
donkey and take back to Bethel and bury in his own sepulchre.
"After I die," he told his sons, "bury me in my tomb with
this man of God. When his prophecy comes to pass about the bones
of some of the men of Bethel being burned on the altar, I have
cleverly planned that mine won't be burned there if they are
beside those of this prophet from Judah." (I Kings 13:26-32.)
In spite of the supernatural breaking of the altar and the
damaging and healing of his arm, Jeroboam didn't split away from
the wrong ways he had established. The old false prophet
convinced him that since God allowed the prophet from Judah to be
killed by a lion, he didn't represent God and his words need not
be feared. Even in the face of the warning from God about what
would happen to the false priests, Jeroboam continued to hire men
for those offices who had little ability and low character. This
was going to mean the difference between his staying on as king
of the ten tribes and the sudden end of his rule over them. (I
Kings 13:33-34.) It was Israel's great turning point.
To warn Jeroboam one more time of his evil ways, God allowed
his son, Abijah, to become very ill. Jeroboam was greatly
concerned when the boy didn't recover. No one could tell what
caused the sickness or how long it would last. But it was obvious
that Abijah couldn't live very many more days if he stayed in his
weakened condition.


Outwit God?

"Perhaps Ahijah the prophet would know what's wrong with
Abijah and what should be done for him," Jeroboam said to his
wife. "He was the one who told me that I would become king.
Possibly he has other supernatural knowledge."
"Would it be wise for you to be seen with him?" Jeroboam's
wife asked. "He has made some strong statements about the golden
calves."
"I don't intend to see him," the king explained. "I want you
to go do that. You'll have to disguise yourself so that you won't
be recognized as my wife by anyone who sees you, including
Ahijah. Possibly we can outwit God's prophet." (I Kings 14:1-3.)
Jeroboam's wife didn't relish the mission, but she set out
with servants and donkeys to travel to Ahijah's home at Shiloh,
about eighteen miles to the south. As gifts for the prophet, she
took ten loaves of bread, some small cakes and a bottle of honey.
(I Kings 14:3.)
Dressing in drably plain clothes prevented her from being
recognized on the trip. Deluding Ahijah obviously would be easy,
inasmuch as he had become blind! He had servants, but he
preferred to open the door after Jeroboam's wife knocked.
"Come in!" he exclaimed. "Come in! I am honored to be
visited by the wife of King Jeroboam!"
The woman was so startled that she lost her composure and
temporarily couldn't think what to say. It was unnerving to be
instantly recognized by a blind man with whom she had no
acquaintance. What she didn't know was that God had told Ahijah
only a little while before that she was coming, the reason for
her visit and what he should say to her.
"Why have you tried to conceal who you are?" Ahijah asked.
(I Kings 14:5-6.)
"My husband thought it was necessary," she replied uneasily.
"How did you know who I am?"
"God told me," the prophet answered. "He also gave me a
message for you to take to your husband. You are to convey to him
all that I'm about to tell you."
Jeroboam's wife was suddenly filled with fear by the feeling
that she was about to hear something terribly unpleasant.
"Tell Jeroboam," Ahijah began, "that God wants to remind him
that he was given a high honor and a very special opportunity
when most of the kingdom of Israel was taken away from the house
of David and given to your husband to rule. He could have become
a great man by following David's example of obedience. Instead,
he foolishly chose to mislead the people by causing them to turn
to worshipping metal images -- an evil pursuit in which he has
outdone any ruler of Israel before him." (I Kings 14:7-9.)
Jeroboam's wife became more uncomfortable by the second
because she knew that the accusations were true. But the most
shocking part of the prophet's utterance was yet to come.


Prophecy Fulfilled

"Inasmuch as Jeroboam has acted so wickedly," Ahijah
continued, "God will bring evil times to him. He will lose his
rulership. God has already chosen another man to reign in his
stead. Any of Jeroboam's family who try to rule Israel shall be
destroyed by this man. Then God is going to shake this nation as
a strong stream shakes a reed. The people shall be driven out of
the land and scattered in other countries because they have
worshipped the idols their king has set before them.
"As for your son Abijah, whom you came to ask about, he
shall die as soon as you return home. None of your husband's
family shall receive a proper burial except him. That he shall
have because he didn't want his father to set up idols for Israel
to worship." (I Kings 14:10-16.)
Jeroboam's wife was pale and trembling as she left Ahijah's
house. She couldn't wait to get back to the town of Tirzah, where
Jeroboam had moved his palace after deciding to leave Shechem. At
the same time she feared to go home because of Ahijah's prophecy
that her son would die as soon as she returned. She hoped
desperately that the prophet would be wrong, but when she reached
the room where Abijah had been confined to his bed for many days,
she was told that he had just died. (I Kings 14:17-18.)
Matters weren't going much better in Jerusalem. The true
priests and many other faithful Israelites had swarmed into Judah
from the other ten tribes to escape idol worship. (II Chronicles
11:13-17.) But after three years a large part of Judah and
Benjamin had turned to the abominable practices and customs of
pagan religions. Rehoboam didn't set out to promote idolatry as
Jeroboam did, but he was so absorbed in his own interests,
including his eighteen wives and sixty concubines, that he failed
to give proper attention to the welfare of his subjects. (I Kings
14:21-24; II Chronicles 11:18-23.)
In the fifth year of his reign Rehoboam received a shocking
surprise. A messenger came from the desert of Shur between the
Sinai peninsula and Judah to report that a large army was moving
northeastward toward Jerusalem. Reports disclosed that at least
sixty thousand horsemen, twelve hundred chariots and uncountable
thousands of footmen were moving steadily toward Jerusalem.
The Egyptian army and their allies were about to attack
Israel!
Rehoboam was nearly overcome with panic. His dwindling army
was somewhere off to the north, involved as usual in skirmishes
with Jeroboam's troops. With Israel divided, there wasn't enough
military strength to even defend Jerusalem's walls.
Days passed, during which many defenseless towns in southern
Judah were attacked and easily taken over by the Egyptians. In
that time Rehoboam managed to muster enough troops for defense of
the city, but there weren't enough to send out to meet the
invaders. (II Chronicles 12:1-4.)


Another Warning

There was great turmoil in Jerusalem when the Egyptian army
came in sight of the capital of Judah. The vast force was led by
Shishak, the Egyptian king who had harbored Jeroboam after
Jeroboam had escaped a death sentence by Solomon. (I Kings
11:37-40.) Also known in historical records as the great chief of
the Meshwesh Libyans Sheshonk I of Dynasty XXII, King Shishak
brought many Africans who weren't Egyptians. There were
Ethiopians, Libyans and even men from a tribe that lived in caves
in the mountains along the Red Sea. There were enough horsemen
and foot soldiers to surround Jerusalem several ranks deep. The
Israelites' only hope was in the city's strong walls, which
Solomon had built for such a situation.
The tension grew by the hour. Waiting for an attack that
might never come didn't improve the morale of the caged-up Jews.
It was possible that the Egyptians planned to besiege Jerusalem
until the occupants would surrender because of lack of food. The
city was crowded with people, including most of the leaders and
officials of Judah and Benjamin. Traffic stopped when the gates
were closed and barred.
One man who came into the city just before the gates were
shut was Shemaiah the prophet. He was the one who had warned
Rehoboam five years before not to start a full-scale war with the
ten tribes over which Jeroboam had become king. Shemaiah asked to
speak at once to Rehoboam and the leaders of Judah. Rehoboam had
a special respect for the prophet. He immediately called the men
of high rank together to listen to what Shemaiah had to say.
"I have a message from God for all of you," the prophet
began. "He wants you to know that He has sent the Egyptian army
against Judah because you and many of the people of Judah have
turned away from God and have taken up idol worship and other
ways of perversion. The Egyptians will overrun Jerusalem just as
they have overrun your towns that have been taken! You will be
completely at their mercy!" (II Chronicles 12:5.)
Rehoboam and the others in the room stared at each other in
fear. They knew that the only mercy they could expect from their
attackers would be sudden death. After Shemaiah had gone out of
the room to leave them to their terrifying thoughts, some of them
dropped to their knees and called out to God to forgive them for
what they had done. Others followed the example, but only because
they were so desperate that they yearned to cry out for
forgiveness and help. Facing death as they did, they were truly
remorseful because of their foolish and corrupt ways.
Later, as some of the men with Rehoboam were still sprawled
in humility and dejection, Shemaiah returned to state that he had
some news they would welcome.
"God has heard your prayers," the prophet told them. "He
knows that you are deeply regretful of leading your people
wrongly. Because you have humbled yourselves, God has decided not
to allow the Egyptians to destroy you. But they will take this
city and you will become their servants and pay tribute. Then you
will learn how much better it is to be servants of God than of
man."
Rehoboam and the others were on their feet and eagerly
crowding around Shemaiah to shower him with questions. At that
moment there were frenzied shouts from outside. Through a window
Israelite soldiers could be seen milling excitedly about on a
part of the walls. (II Chronicles 12:6-8.)
"The Egyptians are attacking!" a breathless servant yelled.
The wall guards nervously fingered their spears and bows as
they looked down to watch Shishak's many thousands approach and
surround Jerusalem.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 113
SAFETY ONLY UNDER GOD!

Because the people of Judah and Benjamin had turned to idolatry,
God allowed a huge Egyptian army to invade Judah and capture many
of its towns. When the Egyptians reached Jerusalem, they intended
to break through the massive walls and take over the wealthy
capital.
At first God purposed to let the invaders destroy the city's
occupants, including King Rehoboam. (II Chronicles 12:1-4.) But
he spared them after Rehoboam and other leaders repented of their
evil pursuits. (II Chronicles 12:5-7.)


The Temple Looted!

The Bible doesn't tell how the Egyptians managed to get into
the city. Probably it was by means of extra heavy battering rams
or wall-scaling apparatus. However it was done, the Israelite
soldiers atop the walls undoubtedly took the lives of many of the
attackers by showering down arrows, spears, rocks, molten lead
and anything else they could pour, throw or drop. At the same
time arrows from Egyptian bows downed a great part of the
would-be defenders, who would have lived if they hadn't resisted.
Once the attackers were inside the city, the outnumbered
Israelite soldiers surrendered. They expected to be slain. When
the Egyptians merely took away their weapons, they had reason to
be puzzled. They didn't know that Shishak had given an order that
no Israelite in Jerusalem should be put to death unless he
resisted. What Shishak didn't know was that the God of Israel had
planted in the Egyptian king's mind the decision to give that
order.
It was a bitter episode for Rehoboam when Shishak, followed
by his officers and flanked by Egyptian troops strode into the
palace where the Israelite king and other leaders nervously
waited.
"I am disappointed," Shishak said as he looked about,
omitting any formalities that could take place between two kings,
even under such unusual circumstances. "I assumed you would meet
me in that part of your palace where you usually receive visiting
dignitaries. I have heard that the furnishings there are somewhat
unique."
Rehoboam knew that his conqueror was telling him that he
wished to be conducted to the throne room with its many
treasures. He bowed very slightly, and tremblingly led the way.
When Shishak saw the ornate, ivory throne, so resplendently
bejeweled, his dark eyes glittered with admiration. He walked
slowly about, taking in the costly objects in the vast room, but
his gaze kept returning to the magnificent throne Solomon had
designed.
Scarcely able to control his excitement, Shishak demanded to
be shown through the rest of the palace and through the temple.
He knew that other treasures were stored elsewhere, and forced
the Israelites to disclose the location of the secret rooms, far
below ground. After Shishak and his officers were satisfied that
they had located most of the wealth of the city, scores of their
men poured into the palace, temple and treasury to seize valuable
objects and pack them in the costly rugs, draperies and curtains
that were at hand. Everything the Egyptian leaders desired was
taken. Even the ivory throne was dismantled to be moved to Egypt.
Shishak had no intention of leaving such a prize behind, even if
it cost the lives of all the Egyptians required to carry it
across the desert.
One might wonder what happened to the Tabernacle equipment
and furnishings in the sacred rooms of the temple. If Shishak had
any awe for the God of Israel, probably he wouldn't have attacked
Judah. Having little or no fear of the Creator, he therefore
wouldn't leave anything of special value. But God caused Shishak
to leave enough furnishings to carry on the temple service. (II
Chronicles 13:11.)


Egyptian Bondage Again

When the king of Egypt left Jerusalem with the greatest
amount of wealth any conqueror had ever taken from a city, that
wasn't the complete cost to the Israelites. Because the people of
Judah would remain subject to Egypt, Shishak demanded that they
send a regular tribute to him. Such tributes might not have been
possible to raise if the Egyptians had devastated the land and
ruined the economy. This drain of wealth to Egypt fulfilled the
prophecy of Shemaiah that Judah would become a servant to Egypt.
(II Chronicles 12:8-9; I Kings 14:25-26.)
In the next few years Judah partly recovered from the
invasion. Rehoboam's close brush with death caused him to apply
himself more dutifully as ruler. Restoring the costly furnishings
of the palace and temple was impossible. Some were replaced by
items of much lesser value. Brass shields, for example, took the
place of the gold shields of the palace guards. Inexpensive
substitutes were made wherever replacements were needed. (I Kings
14:27-28; II Chronicles 12:10-11.)
What was more important was the establishment of activity at
the temple and the halting of pagan religious practices
throughout Judah. But in time, as Rehoboam carelessly fell back
into his former corrupt habits, the idolatrous customs started to
creep back in the land like a poison coursing through a man's
bloodstream. Meanwhile, Jeroboam's army continued fighting with
Rehoboam's army in occasional small-scale battles. These
senseless skirmishes went on all the rest of Rehoboam's life,
which ended twelve years after the invasion by the Africans.
Solomon's son was buried in Jerusalem where those of the family
of David had been entombed. (II Chronicles 12:12-16; I Kings
14:29-31.)
Abijam, one of Rehoboam's many sons, then became king of
Judah. Unhappily, he wasn't much of an improvement over his
father, whose tendencies and desires showed up in Abijam. God
allowed this young man to reign just long enough -- three years
-- in order that there would be a continuance of the family of
David on the throne and so that he could accomplish at least one
outstanding thing in the history of Judah while he was king. (I
Kings 15:1-5; II Chronicles 13:1-2.)
The startling report came to Abijam that Jeroboam had
mustered 800,000 troops with which he planned to conquer Judah
and became ruler of all twelve tribes. Abijam tried desperately
to raise an army of the size of Jeroboam's, but he could get only
400,000 soldiers together. In time he could have increased the
number. Time was something he didn't have, inasmuch as Jeroboam
might march into Judah any day. Abijam wanted to prevent that.
(II Chronicles 13:3.)


"We Know God Is with Us!"

He took his army north toward Tirzah, the capital of the ten
tribes. The move was none too soon. Jeroboam's army was moving
south at the same time. When Abijam learned that the two armies
were about to meet, he halted his men at the base of Mt.
Zemaraim, a few miles east of Bethel.
A little later Jeroboam arrived with his men. Confident that
he had the upper hand, he halted them very close by, as though
defying the southern army to dare to start something. As the
tension mounted, a strong voice sounded from somewhere above.
Many thousands of eyes looked up to see a lone figure standing on
the top of Mt. Zemaraim.
"Listen to me, Jeroboam!" the figure called down. "Hear me,
you men from Tirzah! You should know that God said only those of
David's family should always rule the kingdom of Israel, or at
least a great part of it. It was an agreement that is to stay in
effect as long as there is salt in the sea. In spite of that,
Jeroboam desires to become king of all Israel, even though he is
not of the royal family. Nor is he worthy to continue to be ruler
of even a part of the kingdom because of his idolatry and because
of the ways in which he troubled my father when Rehoboam was a
young and inexperienced king!"
By this time Jeroboam and the soldiers of both armies began
to recognize the speaker as Abijam, who hoped that he could avert
a battle by pointing out that Jeroboam was foolish to attack
Judah.
"Do you actually believe that you can prevail against the
army of a tribe that has stayed closer to God than you have?"
Abijam continued. "What advantage will your greater numbers be to
you as long as you have only your powerless calf images to rely
on? And how can you expect victory after having put the priests
of God out of your land, replacing them with pagan priests? As
for us, we are relying on the God to whom we sacrifice at the
temple at Jerusalem. WE KNOW HE IS WITH US. You would be wise to
not fight against us. If you do, when you hear the sound of
trumpets from the priests who are with us you will know that you
are about to fail in battle!" (II Chronicles 13:4-12.)
As Abijam slipped out of sight, scattered laughter and hoots
of derision came from some of Jeroboam's soldiers. Others seemed
to be sobered by what they had heard. Many of them didn't get to
hear all that Abijam had to say, having been ordered by Jeroboam
to quietly leave and go on the double around Mt. Zemaraim and
move up to the rear of the army of Judah.
It was a jolting surprise to Abijam's troops to discover
that they were being blocked from the south as well as from the
north. Fighting their way free of the two mammoth jaws of
humanity appeared impossible. They were so filled with fear that
many of them called out loudly to God for help. At a signal from
Abijam, who had returned from the top of the mountain, the
priests sounded their trumpets with a peal that could be heard
for miles.


God Topples House of Israel

The sound had a strong effect on Jeroboam's men. Abijam's
words about what would happen when the horns blew were still
fresh in their minds. They paused in their charge, fearing that
the sound really could be an ill omen. In those same fateful
moments Abijam's troops sensed the uncertainty of their
attackers. Encouraged, they forgot about escape and turned to
rush at Jeroboam's hesitant men. The noisy shouts and sudden
fierce conduct of the southern army unnerved the northern army as
though by a miracle. Abruptly the frightened men turned and ran,
giving their incited pursuers full opportunity to strike them.
Hours later the ground around Mt. Zemaraim was littered with
half a million corpses from Jeroboam's army. The remaining
300,000, many of them badly injured, managed to escape in all
directions. It was an astoundingly quick end to such a large
army. Jeroboam fled when he saw that defeat was certain. Abijam
and some of his men pursued, but failed to overtake the fugitive.
After resting for a day from the exhausting strain of
battle, Abijam and his men moved on to seize several towns in the
nearby regions. The king of Judah didn't plan to take over every
town in northern Israel. He wanted only to have control over
those that were close to Jerusalem. (II Chronicles 13:13-19.)
Because of his confidence in God in the conflict with
Jeroboam, Abijam became a stronger king for a time. Then his
personal interests and pursuits became more important to him than
the welfare of the people. In his lifetime he married fourteen
wives and was the father of thirty-eight children, an achievement
that was almost a career in itself. When he began to fall into
his father's ways of living, God allowed his life to come to an
end. Otherwise, much of the nation probably would have followed
his wrong examples. (I Kings 15:6-8; II Chronicles 13:20-22.)
Asa, one of Abijam's twenty-two sons, became the next king
of Judah. Even as a very young man, he had observed how idolatry
had brought so much trouble to Israel. As soon as he came into
power he began a strong campaign to rid his domain of evil
religious practices by destroying pagan altars, images and places
where idols were worshipped. Besides, he gave his officers orders
to put out of the country all who were found to be sodomites,
degenerate men who often posed as priests at places of idol
worship.
In banishing idolatry, Asa met with an awkward situation in
his palace when he found that his grandmother, one of Rehoboam's
wives, was an idol worshipper. She had arranged to have a special
idol made and set up in a nearby grove for private worship. It
was embarrassing to the king to ban the queen dowager from his
court, but he had no choice. As for the idol, it was torn down
and burned.
As the purge of his nation progressed, Asa proclaimed that
the people should look to God and His Commandments for the only
right ways of living, and that only then could they enjoy a time
of peace. As a result of changes for the better in the people,
there was no war for the next ten years.
Again crowds thronged to the temple to worship and
sacrifice. It was almost as it had been in the early days of
Solomon. However, some sacrificed at places they picked
themselves, usually close to their homes. The priests and the
altar had been established at the temple for that purpose. Other
places should have been removed by Asa. It was the one thing he
failed to do in his efforts to help Israel. Otherwise, he lived
very close to God. (I Kings 15:9-15; II Chronicles 14:1-5.)


Prosperity Invites Looters

With peace came a measure of prosperity to Judah. It was a
time to build new, fortified towns where the borders of the land
could be strengthened, and to muster and equip men for better
defense. Military might couldn't substitute for God's protection,
but if any nation was known to have a small army and poor
fortifications, it was almost the same as inviting some greedy
king to attack. (II Chronicles 14:6-8.)
As it happened, a covetous king WAS planning to attack
Judah. He was Zerah, leader of a nation of Ethiopians. He wasn't
very concerned about the size of Asa's army because he believed
that he, Zerah, commanded a much larger number of troops. And he
was right. There were a million, plus the drivers, archers, and
spearmen of three hundred war chariots!
Even before Zerah's northbound army had reached the Paran
desert south of Canaan, Asa was notified of the invaders by
scouts who constantly patrolled the borders of the nation.
Judah's king hastily gathered his 300,000 soldiers from Judah and
280,000 archers from Benjamin and took them southward. If there
had to be a battle, he preferred to fight it as far from
Jerusalem as possible. It wasn't until he came within a few miles
of his enemy, in a valley in southern Judah, that he realized how
greatly his troops were outnumbered. He had only about half as
many men.
As the two armies faced each other and lined up for battle
only a mile or two apart, Asa became very troubled. His capable
and experienced officers couldn't give him much encouragement
because they felt that the probability of defeat was very great.
Asa knew that the lives of over a half million men and the safety
of Judah and possibly all Israel depended on the outcome of a
fray with the invaders. Only God could alter that obvious
outcome. It was time for the king to pray.
"You know that we must stand against these enemies," Asa
said to God, "and you know that they are so numerous that they
could surround us. But we will go against them in your name,
trusting that you will not let them prevail against us, for if
they do, and if we are your people, it would be as though they
prevailed against you. If helping us in battle were something you
are too weak to do, it would be foolish to ask. We know, though,
that you have the power to do anything. We're putting our lives
into your merciful hands."
By then the Ethiopians and their Egyptian allies had spread
out all across the southern horizon and to the southeast and
southwest, like a gigantic, curved trap ready to snap shut with
bone-crushing force on its victims. (II Chronicles 14:9-11.)
A growing cloud of dust came up from the middle of the
valley, heralding the charge of Zerah's chariots, followed at a
slower pace by a horde of foot soldiers whose shields, spears and
swords glistened sharply in the brilliant sunlight. Shouts from
thousands of throats came up the valley like the savage shriek
from some kind of massive animal. Only minutes later the rumbling
chariots were close, and heading straight toward the ranks of the
House of Judah!
---------------------------------------

Chapter 114
TROUBLES IN ISRAEL AND JUDAH

An army of a million soldiers, led by an ambitious Ethiopian
named Zerah, had come from the south to invade the nation Judah.
King Asa met them with only about half as many troops.
Knowing that he would probably be utterly defeated unless
God purposed otherwise, he earnestly appealed to God for help.
(II Chronicles 14:8-11.)


God Overthrows an Army

Unaware that violent storm clouds were quickly gathering
overhead, the invaders charged toward the Jews first with their
three hundred swiftly-drawn chariots. When they were only a short
distance from the first ranks of Asa's archers, a cloudburst
struck. At the same instant, God sent a violent earthquake which
shattered the ground and quickly halted the chariots' charge. The
chariots floundered instead of running down their intended
victims. Giant hailstones fell. The Ethiopian charioteers, in
panic, fled.
Egyptian records tell of this divine overthrow. Psalm
46:1-11 describes how God did it.
The sudden destruction of the chariot brigade was a bad omen
to the invaders. When Zerah's oncoming foot soldiers saw what had
happened, they were unnerved. They realized something
supernatural had occurred. Their savage shouts died away or
turned to murmurs of puzzlement and fear.
The Israelites realized God was helping them. They let loose
a cloud of spears and arrows on Zerah's foremost ranks, then
rushed in for close combat with swords and spears. The Jews were
anxious to fight while the enemy was so disorganized and their
will to battle was at a low ebb.
As the fighting went on, the falling back quickly developed
into a retreat, and the retreat became a rapid, frantic flight to
the southwest. (II Chronicles 14:12.) When the pursuit reached
Gerar, a town near the coast south of Judah, the enemy troops
tried to make a stand against the Jews, who promptly forced them
out of Gerar and on to the south.
While battling their way through the town, Asa and his men
discovered why the enemy had tried to fight back at that
location. The town was full of loot that had been taken by Zerah
and his army on the way north. Gerar, as well as other towns in
southern Canaan, had been overrun and the occupants had been
slain or taken as prisoners. Some of Zerah's men had been left
behind to guard what had been accumulated and brought to Gerar.
These guards were chased out along with the thousands of wounded
who fled on southward in front of Asa's soldiers.
When it was obvious that what was left of Zerah's fleeing
army was too broken up to ever rally and threaten Judah again,
the Israelites gave up the chase and turned back to Gerar. There
they gathered together the booty left by the defeated invaders,
to take it back to Jerusalem. Returning it would have been
impossible, inasmuch as some of the rightful owners were dead,
and those who weren't could not be located. Besides articles of
gold, silver, brass and leather, there were arms, food, clothing
and large herds of sheep, cattle and camels. (II Chronicles
14:13-15.)


A "Pat on the Back" from God

When the victorious Asa, riding at the head of his army, was
within a few miles of Jerusalem, a small crowd of prominent
citizens set out from the city to be first to welcome and
congratulate him. But there was one who was ahead of them. He was
Azariah, a man God had chosen to take a message to the king. He
approached the oncoming army so closely on his burro that one of
Asa's officers was about to give an order to have him removed
from their path.
"Don't bother him," Asa said. "If he has come out to welcome
us, let us stop and honor him for his goodwill."
The king was pleased to learn that this man had made a
special effort to be first to welcome the returning victors. He
was affected and encouraged much more, however, when he heard
more from this fellow.
"Please listen to what else I have to say, King Asa,"
Azariah called out. "God has told me things I must tell you. You
know now that God has answered the prayer you made to Him before
going into battle with the enemy from the south. God is with you,
and He will stay with you as long as you obey Him. If you disobey
and forsake Him, He will forsake you. Without the Creator's help
and protection, life can be uncertain, miserable and even
worthless.
"Recall Israel's past. Whenever the nation turned from God,
great trouble developed among the people. No one was safe at home
or in the streets or fields. Crops failed. Disease increased.
Neighboring nations started wars. Even the priests couldn't help,
because most of them forgot God's laws. But when the people
repented and turned back to God, He was always ready to forgive
and help them. God has told me to remind you to keep these things
in mind and to remain strong by being loyal to God. If you do,
your nation shall prosper and can depend on God for its
protection." (II Chronicles 15:1-7.)
Asa was so moved by these words that as soon as he returned
to Jerusalem he set out with fresh enthusiasm to comb out of
Judah and Benjamin any places of idol worship his men had
overlooked before. He even sent soldiers to the north to weed out
idolatry from the towns his father had captured from the
ten-tribed House of Israel after the battle with Jeroboam's army.
People who looked to God for their way of life began to
flock to Judah from the ten tribes, especially from Ephraim,
Manasseh and Simeon. They wanted to live in that part of the land
that had God's fullest blessings. (II Chronicles 15:8-9.) Every
day more Israelites showed
up at the temple. That caused Asa to become painfully conscious
of the condition of the temple. It hadn't had much repair since
being damaged by the Egyptians in Rehoboam's time. Asa tried to
restore it and its furnishings to something like their original
condition and beauty.
The repair of the temple took place before one of God's
annual Sabbaths was due. Asa sent word over all Judah and Israel
that the day would be observed at Jerusalem with special services
and ceremonies. This day was Pentecost, which is observed in
these times in late May or June by those who submit to God's
authority.


Asa Remembers God

Animals that had been herded up from Gerar after the rout of
Zerah's army were brought to the temple. Seven hundred cattle and
seven thousand sheep were sacrificed that day. While these
offerings were being made, Asa assured the onlookers that their
continued obedience would be rewarded in many ways. The people
responded with loud cheers and music. They made it known to the
king that they wanted to make a public promise to God that they
would do their best to live by God's laws, and that they were in
favor of death to anyone who failed to obey.
"I know God is pleased by your attitude and intentions," Asa
said to the crowd. "Now let the Creator hear the voices of you
who wish to make this solemn promise."
"We will do our best to serve God! If we fail, we deserve
death!"
These words from thousands of throats surged out with great
volume from around the temple, followed by the blast of horns and
more joyous shouting and singing. The people were in earnest in
this matter, most of them having been faithful to God, for the
most part, during the recent eras of idol worship. (II Chronicles
15:10-15.)
Before Pentecost ended, a long line of Asa's servants
carried treasures of gold, silver and brass into the temple.
These were some of the valuables Asa's father had taken from
Jeroboam's army sixteen years before. Abijam had intended that
they should be used to pay for temple repair and service, but he
hadn't carried out that intention. At long last Asa dedicated
this wealth to God's business in the temple. (II Chronicles
15:18.)
Asa's efforts to help Israel and Judah by turning to God and
abolishing idolatry resulted in a period of peace and prosperity.
That period probably would have lasted longer if Asa hadn't acted
unwisely in a situation that developed between the two nations of
Israel and Judah, in which the king of Judah looked for help in
the wrong direction.
Jeroboam, former ruler of the ten tribes -- the nation
Israel -- had died thirteen years before. He was succeeded by a
son, Nadab, who did nothing to remove idolatry from the nation.
(I Kings 15:25-26.) During a skirmish with the Philistines in the
town of Gibbethon in the territory of Dan, Nadab was killed after
only two years as king. He wasn't slain by Philistines, however.
His death was planned by a viciously ambitious man from the
territory of Issachar. His name was Baasha, an officer of high
rank in Nadab's army. The attack against the Philistines to drive
them out of Gibbethon gave Baasha an opportunity to do away with
the king. While in command of Nadab's army, he ended the lives of
all of Nadab's family and seized control of the ten tribes. (I
Kings 15:27-28.) This was the fulfillment of the prediction made
by Ahijah the prophet to Jeroboam. (I Kings 13:33-I Kings 14:16.)
His family line was wiped out and someone else took over the
rulership. (I Kings 15:28-34.)


Asa's Faith Weakens

Baasha was far from pleased because many people of Israel
were moving to Judah so that they could get away from the idol
worship that still abounded in so many places in Israel. He was
also angered by Asa's bold entry into Israel's southern towns to
destroy idols. Baasha hoped to soon muster an army strong enough
to capture Jerusalem and take over all twelve tribes. With the
fighting force he commanded, he dared only seize a small town
about six miles north of Jerusalem. This town, called Ramah, was
on the main road leading into Jerusalem from the north. Baasha
immediately started turning it into a strong fortress. His
intention was to gain control of traffic in and out of Jerusalem
on the north side. (I Kings 15:16-17; II Chronicles 16:1.)
When Asa was informed of what Israel was doing so close to
the capital of Judah, he was quite perturbed. He wanted to avoid
war, and yet he wanted to get Baasha and his men away from Ramah.
He thought of a possible way to solve the problem. Unfortunately,
it was a way that was certain to compound his trouble.
He issued an order that the gold and silver objects in the
treasuries of the temple and palace should be packed for moving a
long distance. When they were ready, he sent them off by a
heavily guarded caravan to Damascus, about a hundred and forty
miles to the north. There they were delivered to Ben-hadad, king
of Syria, along with a message.
"Friendly salutations from Asa, king of Judah," the message
read. "I am sending you treasures from my kingdom to bind an
understanding that should profit you more than any agreement you
might have with Baasha to keep peace with him and his nation. He
is now busily fortifying a town near Jerusalem. If you wish to
expand your southern borders without resistance, now is your
opportunity."
Ben-hadad could have kept the bribe of gold and silver
without doing anything, but he welcomed this chance to take over
a part of Israel. Even before his caravan returned, Asa was
relieved and pleased to receive a report that several towns in
the territory of Naphtali had been captured by Syrian troops.
Until then, he wondered if his gifts to Ben-hadad had been
wasted. (I Kings 15:18-21; II Chronicles 16:2-5.)
When Baasha heard about the Syrians, he was fearful that
they would move on southward, invade Tirzah and plunder his
palace. He hurriedly set off for his capital, leaving a small
number of soldiers behind to guard the unfinished fortress.
As soon as he was told that Baasha had departed, Asa took
soldiers to Ramah to seize it from the outnumbered guards. If it
had been finished it would have been an exceptionally strong
fortress because of its heavy, wooden beams and massive wall
stones. Much unused material was stacked inside the half-built
wall. Workmen from Judah could have completed the construction,
but Asa didn't want a fortification there.
Asa decreed that all able-bodied men should go to Ramah to
help dismantle and transport the stone and lumber to the towns of
Geba and Mizpah only a few miles away in the territory of
Benjamin. If Ramah no longer existed, Baasha couldn't claim it as
a war prize.


Israel's Kings Reject God

Asa's will was carried out. Thousands of men came to Ramah,
which soon became only piles of rubble beside the highway. Geba
and Mizpah became fortresses instead. (I Kings 15:22; II
Chronicles 16:6.)
Meanwhile, King Baasha of Israel was trying to build his
army with the intention of conquering Judah. Then, as king of all
reunited Israel, he would become militarily strong enough, he
hoped, to push back the Syrians and any other enemies who invaded
Israel. His ambitions were somewhat dimmed when a prophet by the
name of Jehu, sent by God, came to Baasha to tell him what his
and his family's future would be.
"God has instructed me to remind you that it was He, and not
you, who made it possible for you to become ruler of the ten
tribes," Jehu told Baasha. "Someone had to succeed Nadab. You
were allowed that privilege. If you had been thankful for it, and
if you had led the people according to God's laws, you could have
become a much more powerful king and could rule for many more
years. But because you have lived sinfully and ruled carelessly,
causing your people to sin, your fate will shortly become the
same as that of Jeroboam. You and your family shall be cut off
from leadership of any part of Israel."
Baasha motioned for guards to escort the prophet out. He
didn't wish to hear anything more Jehu had to say. It troubled
him, but he didn't want to appear concerned in front of others.
If Baasha had been as troubled as he should have been, he would
have changed his ways and perhaps God would have spared him. His
life came to an end soon after Jehu's visit. The king was buried
in Tirzah after twenty-three years of incapable reigning. (I
Kings 16:1-7.)
Baasha's son, Elah, became the next ruler. He lived as his
father had lived. Only two years later, while he was in a dulled
condition from drinking too much, he was slain by a man who had
been waiting for just such an opportunity. He was Zimri, one of
Elah's cavalry captains. Having dispatched the king, Zimri took
command of Tirzah. Then he had all of Elah's family put to death.
Jehu's prophecy to Baasha was fulfilled. (I Kings 16:8-14.)
Zimri and his men enjoyed the comforts and pleasures of the
palace. They didn't have to share them with officers of the army,
because the army of Israel was busy besieging the town of
Gibbethon, which had been taken by the Philistines. Zimri was
sure that when the Israelite soldiers returned from the siege,
they would accept him as ruler without too much trouble.
Matters didn't quite turn out that way. When the soldiers
heard what he had done, they decided that their army commander,
Omri, should be the next leader of the ten tribes. Omri was
pleased to accept this hasty elevation. His first move was to
call off the siege and take his army to Tirzah to besiege it
instead.
When Zimri was informed that the town was surrounded by the
troops he planned to control, and that Omri had come to have him
arrested for murder, his future suddenly looked bleak. He ordered
his men to defend the gates and the walls, but they saw no reason
to die for a leader who wasn't backed by the army of the ten
tribes.
By the time Omri's soldiers had broken into Tirzah, Zimri
had locked himself alone inside the palace and had hidden in the
strongest part of the building. The sound of soldiers running
through the streets, pounding on the palace doors and yelling his
name was too much for Zimri. He was overcome with panic. Seizing
a lighted torch, he set fire to his hiding place. (I Kings
16:15-20.)
"If I can't have this palace, then nobody else will get it!"
he screamed.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 115
ELIJAH AND THE FAMINE

ZIMRI an ambitious and murderous man, had tried to become king of
the ten tribes of Israel by murdering King Elah. (I Kings
16:8-10.) Zimri had then hidden in the palace at Tirzah. When the
army approached, he had set fire to it, knowing that he would be
slain if he were found.
Zimri madly shouted that he would rather see the palace burn
than give it up to anyone else. The building and everything in it
went up in flames, including Zimri, who was allowed by God to
consider himself king for only seven days. (I Kings 16:11-18.)


Disunity in Israel

In the months that followed, the people of the ten tribes
were divided into two parts as to who should be their next ruler.
Military people were in favor of Omri, but civilians favored a
man named Tibni. The dispute continued for such a long time that
each man came into power over different parts of the ten tribes.
After four years Tibni died, leaving full leadership of the ten
tribes to Omri. (I Kings 16:21-23.)
Omri wasn't satisfied with the place in which he lived in
Tirzah. He considered it a poor substitute for the burned palace.
Besides, he didn't like the location. One day he was riding
through a valley situated about ten miles west of Tirzah and over
thirty miles north of Jerusalem. He was impressed by the sight of
a long, flat-topped hill rising about five hundred feet from the
valley floor.
"Find out who owns that hill," Omri told one of his aides.
"I want to buy it for my palace site."
When the owner was found, he sold the hill to the king for
two talents of silver, a very reasonable sum. Omri's palace was
later built there. It was the beginning of what eventually grew
into the important city of Samaria.
Perhaps Omri was used by God to start Samaria, although the
king didn't purpose to carry out God's will. As other leaders did
before him, he practiced idolatry and encouraged his subjects to
do likewise. He died twelve years after Zimri's death. (I Kings
16:23-28.)
Ahab, a son of Omri, became the next ruler of the ten
tribes. Unfortunately for the people, his leadership wasn't an
improvement over that of the kings who had gone before him. In
fact, he stooped to some new lows as a king, by marrying a cruel,
scheming Canaanite woman who detested God and who was extremely
ambitious of forcing idolatry into Israel. She was Jezebel,
daughter of Ethbaal, king of the nearby coastal nation of Zidon.
(I Kings 16:29-31.) Ethbaal was a murderer, a thief and a pagan
priest who officiated during rites to the goddess Venus, or
Astarte, later called Easter.


A Look at Judah

A few years before Ahab's time as ruler of Israel, King Asa
of Judah had hired King Ben-hadad of Damascus to help him against
King Baasha of Israel. (II Chronicles 16:1-6.) A prophet named
Hanani had then come to Jerusalem to tell Asa that he had a
message from God for the king.
"God was displeased when you paid the king of Syria to help
get King Baasha of Israel away from the Jerusalem area," Hanani
said. "If God could rescue Judah from the million Zerah brought
from the south, why couldn't He do the same for Judah at any
other time as long as you rely on Him? God is always willing and
able to help those who obey Him. Because you looked to a nation
that has long been an enemy of Israel for your help, you have
lost the opportunity to overcome both Baasha and Syria and you
shall continue to have wars."
Asa was furious at Hanani because of what he said, even
though he knew that he was guilty of buying help from the
Syrians.
"Imprison this man!" Asa angrily yelled to his guards. (II
Chronicles 16:7-10.)
From that time on Asa's relationship with God deteriorated.
He was no longer as close to God as he had been. He lost a
compassionate attitude toward his people, insomuch that he wasn't
always fair to many of them. In his last years he was unable to
walk because of what was probably a gout condition. Whatever it
was, it was very severe Nevertheless Asa did not pray to God for
relief and healing of this ailment. Instead, he put his total
trust in physicians.
He died after ruling Judah for forty-one years, and was
buried with great honors in Jerusalem after a very special
funeral. (II Chronicles 16:11-14.)


Utter Depravity in Israel

By the time Asa's rule over Judah ended, the hill in Israel
where Omri's palace was located had become covered with buildings
that comprised early Samaria. Some of these structures were
dedicated to the worship of heathen gods. One of them included a
huge altar for making sacrifices to Baal, who was supposed to be
god of the sun. Another place was a school where instruction was
given to men who were recruited to train as priests to carry out
the base rites of idol worship brought to the land by Jezebel,
Ahab's wicked wife. Samaria had become the capital of idolatry in
Israel. (I Kings 16:29-33.)
Jezebel's hatred for those who followed God was so intense
that she sent soldiers to kill those men who were known to be
true prophets. Ahab didn't object even to this wholesale murder.
Oddly enough, his chief steward, Obadiah, somehow managed to
remain faithful to God despite his surroundings.
Quite possibly he was meant to be in his high position so
that he might help others who were serving God. For one thing, he
succeeded in saving the lives of a hundred prophets by hiding
them in caves in nearby mountains and sending them food and water
to live on. (I Kings 18:3-4.)
Ruled by such a depraved pair, most of the people of the ten
tribes were worse off than they had been for years. To add to
that, some great calamity was certain to come from God unless
Israel turned from idolatry. One day a prophet named Elijah came
to the palace at Samaria to speak to the king. He explained that
he had made a special trip from the territory of Gilead, east of
the Jordan River to bring an urgent message from God to Ahab.
Palace aides ordinarily didn't admit uninvited visitors, but when
Ahab heard about him he was curious to hear what the stranger had
to say.


God Sends Famine

"I have come to warn you that because of the sinfulness of
this nation's people, this land will suffer a lack of rain and
dew," Elijah told Ahab. "There won't be any more rain until I
return to announce its coming."
"Interesting!" exclaimed Ahab mockingly. "Then I suppose
you'll be honoring me with another visit a few days from now?"
"I doubt it," Elijah replied. "It will be more like a few
years from now." (I Kings 17:1.)
Ahab was in a pleasant mood, or he might have ordered guards
to seize Elijah and jail him for being insolent. Besides, he
wanted to prove to spectators that he was a fair and
compassionate ruler.
"Let him go for now," Ahab said. "He's only a harmless
crank."
As soon as Elijah had slipped out of Samaria, he was told by
God to go eastward and hide near a certain brook that flowed into
the Jordan River. He was informed that he shouldn't be concerned
about food because birds would supply it. Even to Elijah, who had
great faith in God, the idea of birds feeding him was fantastic.
(I Kings 17:2-4.)
When the prophet reached the brook, he looked around till he
found a nearby cave for shelter. In it he made a bed of leaves
and grass. This was to be his home where he was to stay hidden
from human eyes until he was instructed what next to do. It
wasn't an unpleasant spot in which to dwell. The cold, clean
brook ran close by to supply water for drinking and bathing. From
the cave Elijah could look down a ravine to the open valley where
the brook joined the river.
Toward evening he began to wonder about food, having walked
more than twenty miles from Samaria that day. Elijah was almost
as hungry as he was tired. As he rested by the stream, he became
aware of a flock of ravens approaching quietly, and then swooping
to the ground only a few yards away. They left something lying on
a wide flat rock that almost resembled a table. At first Elijah
could hardly believe what he saw. There were small pieces of
bread and cooked meat on the rock!
The hungry prophet didn't wonder where the ravens had
obtained it. He thanked God for it and ate. The bread tasted as
though it had been freshly baked, and the meat as though it had
been roasted recently. Elijah wasn't concerned about whether or
not it was clean meat. He knew that God wouldn't provide him
unclean food. After eating all he needed, he spent a time praying
and then went into his cave for a night of well-deserved rest.
Next morning, as he refreshed himself at the stream, he saw
the ravens flying in, and watched them as each bird carefully
deposited on the rock something it carried in its beak. After the
ravens had flown away, he again ate more bread and meat.
Elijah wondered where it had come from. Had the birds taken
the bread from some bakery or kitchen not too many miles distant?
Had they brought the meat from God's sacrificial altar? Or had
God miraculously put the bread and meat into the beaks of the
ravens and directed them to put it down before Elijah? However it
happened, the prophet knew that God caused it to occur. He was
thankful for the supply of food in the months that followed. (I
Kings 17:5-6.)


Elijah Sent to the Gentiles

During those months, no rain fell in Samaria or the pagan
regions for many miles around. Ahab clearly remembered the
warning made to him by Elijah and what the prophet had said about
the drought ending when he returned to announce it. The king was
increasingly troubled. Regardless of his tendency toward
idolatry, he feared anything that seemed to come from God.
At last he decided to establish a wide search for Elijah,
hoping that the prophet would appeal to God to send rain. All the
searchers eventually returned to report failure, whereupon they
were promptly sent back to continue the hunt. (I Kings 18:10.)
Meanwhile, more streams dried up and more cisterns and wells went
dry. The land became a sickly yellow-gray color. The supply of
water was dangerously low. (I Kings 18:5.)
About a year or two after Elijah had come to live in the
cave, the nearby stream dried up completely. The only way to get
water was to go down to the Jordan River, and that meant a risk
of being seen. God didn't want Elijah to be discovered yet by
anyone who would report his whereabouts to the king.
He instructed the prophet to go to the town of Zarephath,
about a hundred miles northward at the eastern edge of the Great
Sea. There he was to find a certain widow who was to supply him
with food and lodging.
Traveling mostly at night, Elijah was very careful not to be
seen. In the daytime he rested and slept in well-hidden shady
places in ravines and among boulders. Food and water weren't
naturally present wherever he went, but God somehow supplied him
with enough to keep up his strength. When he reached Zarephath it
was daylight, but because the town was in the idolatrous nation
of Zidon, it was very unlikely that anyone would be looking for
him except the woman he was to meet.
Just outside the gates of the town he saw a thin,
weary-looking woman picking up a few sticks. He had a strong
feeling that this was the widow about whom God had told him. He
was very thirsty, so he didn't lack for a reason to start a
conversation.
"I haven't had any water for hours," Elijah called out to
the woman. "If you know where there is water, would you please
get some for me?" (I Kings 17:7-10.)
The woman hesitantly approached the prophet and looked at
his tired eyes and parched lips.
"I'll get water for you," she said, starting toward the
gates, "but I can spare only a little."
"A little is better than none," Elijah observed. "I am very
hungry, too. Could you give me a small piece of bread?"
The woman turned back to the prophet a little impatiently.


Gentile Widow's Faith

"Sir, I don't have any bread," she told him. "All I have is
a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a bottle. When you
first spoke to me, I was looking for a few sticks with which to
build a fire and bake the oil and flour into a bit of bread. That
will be the last food my son and I shall eat. Then we shall
starve to death." (I Kings 17:11-12.)
"You and your son won't starve," Elijah said confidently.
"The God of Israel has told me about you, and it's not His will
that you should die from lack of food. Your jar of meal and
bottle of oil will last until God sends rain."
The woman stared at Elijah. Ordinarily she would have
considered a man who talked as he did some kind of fanatic, but
somehow she felt that the God of Israel had sent him and she
trusted God to keep His promise. She motioned to Elijah to follow
her, and trudged off to her home within the walls of Zarephath.
Later, after Elijah had eaten the biscuit-sized bit of bread the
woman had unselfishly made for him, he watched her begin to
prepare more with the very last of the oil and flour. He wasn't
surprised at what she had to say.
"There is more oil in this bottle than there was before I
used it last!" she exclaimed. "And there is more flour in the jar
than there has been for days! My memory must be failing me."
"There's nothing wrong with your memory," Elijah assured
her. "You were kind enough to attend to my needs first. Because
of that, God will see that as long as the drought lasts there
will be plenty of oil in that bottle and plenty of flour in that
jar."
The prophet's words proved true during the months that
followed. Regardless of how much oil the widow poured from the
bottle, it always had some left in it. It was the same with the
flour jar. It didn't become empty, no matter how much was taken
from it. (I Kings 17:13-16.)
During that time, the widow's young son became seriously
ill. Days later he died, leaving his mother in an extremely
grief-stricken state. To add to her misery, she became somewhat
embittered because she felt that Elijah had something to do with
her son's death.
"What are you really here for?" she tearfully asked the
prophet as she stood before him with the lifeless little form in
her arms. "Did you come to seek out my past sins and tell God
about them so that He would punish me by taking away my son?"
"Give me the boy," Elijah patiently said to her.
"Why?" the woman asked, twisting around so that she was
between Elijah and her son.
In spite of the mother's attitude, Elijah reached out and
tenderly took the limp body from the mother, who was surprised at
her sudden willingness to part with it. The prophet walked up a
stairway to his room on top of the house, where he had lived
since coming to Zarephath. There he placed the boy on his bed.
"God, I know you must have a reason to bring misery to the
woman of this house by taking her son," Elijah prayed. "I don't
know what it is, but I know that she has suffered greatly in
these past days, and especially in these last hours. I'm asking
that in your mercy you would forgive her for any sins she has
committed and bring life back to this child." (I Kings 17:17-21.)
By this time the little boy's body had become cold. Elijah
lay down very close to it, hoping that his warmth and strength
would be of some value while God supplied the spark of life that
only the Creator could impart.
The minutes slipped by. The prophet thought he felt a
movement in the boy's body, but he couldn't be sure.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 116
"... IF THE LORD BE GOD, FOLLOW HIM"

ELIJAH the prophet had been instructed by God to stay hidden in a
city near the coast of the Great Sea during many months of the
drought that had come to the ten tribes of Israel. (I Kings
17:8-16.)


God Gives Life

The young son of the woman in whose home Elijah stayed had
died. He had taken the boy to his room, and had asked God to
restore the youngster's life. (I Kings 17:17-21.)
After a while the youngster began to breathe and move. God
had answered the prophet's prayer and had brought life back into
the youngster!
Elated and thankful, Elijah took the boy back downstairs to
the weeping mother.
"Your son lives again, thanks to God's great mercy," Elijah
said to the widow.
The kneeling woman glanced up through her tears. When she
saw that her son was gazing at her with a weak smile and reaching
out for her, she cried out happily, leaped to her feet and
eagerly took the youngster into her arms. After a time, when she
was able to speak, she told Elijah that the miracle proved to her
that he was a man God had sent for a good purpose, and that she
regretted making unkind remarks to him. (I Kings 17:22-24.)
Elijah continued to hide in the woman's home. About two
years after he had arrived there, God instructed him to go to
King Ahab, who still had many men looking for the prophet. Elijah
set out at once for the city of Samaria.
By this time conditions had become very severe throughout
the land. There was scarcely enough water for the people to
drink. Most of their food had to be brought into Israel from
distant regions by pack animals. There were dead cattle and sheep
everywhere. If the drought continued, the people would soon start
to perish from lack of food and water. (I Kings 18:1-2.)
Ahab was almost frantic. Countless sacrifices and prayers
had been made to the pagan gods, but the rainless days continued.
The ten tribes of Israel were without rain for three and one-half
years. (Luke 4:25-26; James 5:17.) The king was convinced that
the God of Israel could bring rain, but he was sure that God
could be contacted only through Elijah, whom he desperately hoped
would be found in time to ask God to save his kingdom.
In one of many attempts to find grass to save his horses,
mules and donkeys, Ahab made a two-party search for springs
around Samaria. He headed one group to cover a certain area.
Obadiah, his chief steward, headed another group to go through a
different region. (I Kings 18:3-6.)
As Obadiah's party, mounted on donkeys, slowly combed a
parched range of hills, a lone figure appeared on the western
horizon. As soon as the figure came close, Obadiah was surprised
to recognize him as Elijah, whom he had seen in Ahab's palace.
Obadiah slid off his donkey and bowed low before the prophet,
whom he greatly respected as a follower of God.
"Aren't you Elijah?" Obadiah asked, suddenly wondering if he
could be mistaken.
"I am Elijah," the prophet answered. "I remember seeing you
in my brief visit in Ahab's palace. I understand that your king
is looking for me. Please go tell him that I am here."


God Protects the Faithful

"If I told Ahab you are here," Obadiah pointed out, "it
could mean my death. He has been searching Israel and even other
nations for you for three years, to tell you to ask God to send
rain. Even though he needs you, he could be in the mood to kill
you because you have remained hidden from him. But God would take
you away from here before you could be harmed. If I say you are
here and Ahab finds you aren't, he'll take my life. Perhaps you
heard how Ahab's wife caused the death of many of God's prophets,
some of whom I was able to rescue. If he were angered, Ahab
wouldn't hesitate to follow his wife's example." (I Kings
18:7-14.)
"Don't be concerned about me or yourself," Elijah told
Obadiah. "I promise you that if you go now to tell Ahab where I
am, neither you nor I will meet death because of what you do. If
Ahab wants to see me, he can do it this same day by coming here."
Obadiah knew that Elijah couldn't make such a promise unless
he had special help from God. Without further words with the
prophet, he instructed his men to continue on the planned course
while he went in another direction to meet Ahab.
"I have found Elijah!" Obadiah called to the king when he
had almost caught up to him.
"You mean Elijah the prophet, the man I've been trying to
find for three years?" Ahab asked excitedly.
"The same man," Obadiah replied. "He is awaiting you on the
other side of that range of hills."
Ahab wasn't pleased to learn that the prophet expected the
king to come to him, but he motioned for his men to follow
Obadiah, who led the group over the ridge to where Elijah sat
resting in the shade of a boulder. Ahab rode close and rudely
shouted at him without the courtesy of a proper greeting. (I
Kings 18:16-17.)
"So it's you at last!" the king blurted out, frowning down
at him. "You've given Israel plenty of trouble these last three
years!"
Elijah stood up, stepped toward Ahab and gazed steadily at
the angry face.
"You accuse me of troubling Israel?" Elijah asked. "You know
I have done nothing to hurt this nation. But you have, and so
have the rulers in your family before you. You have caused Israel
untold harm by forsaking God and turning to pagan idols and
deities."
"Why should we quibble over these things?" Ahab asked. "All
that matters now is that you ask your God, if indeed He has
control over the elements, to send plenty of rain on our land.
Your God is supposed to have Israel's welfare constantly in mind.
Surely He won't let this terrible condition continue."
"Don't make the mistake of believing that rain will come to
Israel simply by your telling me to pray to God for it," Elijah
said. "I am God's servant, not yours."
Ahab was able to restrain himself only because he felt that
Elijah's continued existence could mean an end to the drought.


Only One Prophet of God

"So you expect some great reward for your unique services,"
Ahab exclaimed disdainfully. "Name your price!"
"I do not seek a reward," Elijah replied calmly. "But there
is something I am going to ask you to do."
"Aha!" Ahab snorted. "Then you do have your price. What is
this favor you have in mind?"
"Send word around the country for the leaders of the people
to gather at the eastern end of Mt. Carmel," Elijah answered,
ignoring Ahab's insults. "Also gather four hundred and fifty of
your priests of Baal at the same place. And tell your queen,
Jezebel, to send four hundred of her priests of Astarte. If you
will do this, I shall come to Mt. Carmel to consider asking God
for rain." (I Kings 18:17-20.)
Although these requests puzzled the king, he knew that
asking questions wouldn't help matters. He was so anxious to see
the drought ended that he was willing to carry out whatever the
prophet requested, even though he disliked Elijah and would have
had him killed if there had been nothing to gain by letting him
live.
Mt. Carmel is a range of hills extending about eighteen
miles southeast of the Bay of Acre on the Great Sea. From the
eastern tip of the range, which was where Elijah intended to meet
the gathering of leaders and prophets, it was about twenty miles
to Samaria. When Elijah arrived there a few days later, thousands
of Israelites were congregated on the plain off to the north and
east. The prophet promptly climbed to the eastern summit of the
range and spoke out loudly to all below.
"How long will it take you people to make up your minds
about whom to follow?" Elijah asked, "If you choose God, then
follow Him completely and forget about Baal and any other idols.
If you choose Baal, then be loyal to him and don't try to mix any
of God's laws into that pagan religion. Most of you seem to be
trying to worship both God and Baal. What is to be gained by such
a foolish pursuit?"
There was no response except silence from the audience.
Although they had been living like heathen, they still wanted to
call themselves God's people. Elijah waited a minute or two for
some other kind of reaction, but there weren't even any hoots of
derision.
"Among the thousands assembled here, I am the only prophet
of God," Elijah continued. "I am somewhat outnumbered by the four
hundred and fifty prophets of Baal that King Ahab had brought
here by my request. I requested also that he bring four hundred
of his queen's prophets who conduct the worship of the goddess
Astarte, but obviously his wife refused to allow her priests to
associate with a prophet of God. (I Kings 18:21-22.)
"But let us get to the problem at hand. The land and the
people here will soon perish unless rain comes. God has held back
the rain because so many have turned to idolatry. God is the only
one who has the power to release the rain."
This statement brought strong murmurs from the many who felt
that their god Baal had just been slighted. There were excited
and angry shouts of "Baal! Baal!" from the king's priests. Elijah
held up his hands for silence.


"Baal Must Be Asleep"

"Let us carry out a demonstration to prove which deity has
the greater power," the prophet continued. "I request that two
bullocks be brought here, and that the priests of Baal choose one
of them, cut it up and place it on the wood of an unlit altar. I
shall have the other bullock dressed and put on the wood of
another altar. Then let the priests of Baal call on their god to
set the wood of their altar on fire. I shall call on my God to
set my altar on fire. The altar that catches on fire should prove
who is the true God all of us should follow. Do you agree that
this is a fair test?"
"Agreed!" the crowd chorused. (I Kings 18:23-24.)
An altar was hastily constructed close to where Elijah
stood, and wood was brought to cover it. Two bullocks were led up
in sight of the people. One was picked by the priests of Baal,
who filed up the hill with great dignity. The animal was
slaughtered and cut up before the onlookers, and placed on the
altar. The other bullock was put aside for the time being,
tethered near God's ancient, crumbling altar that happened to be
not far away.
When all was in readiness, a colorful demonstration was made
by the priests of Baal. They danced around their altar several
times, chanting, singing and yelling as they went. They then
prostrated themselves before the altar, entreating Baal in loud,
shrill voices to bring down fire so that the wood and bullock
could be burned. Nothing happened. The priests then started
leaping up and down around the altar. The more athletic ones
sprang up on the edges of the altar and then jumped back to the
ground, where they groveled in the dirt and screamed for Baal to
help them. This continued until noon, while the voices became
hoarse and the priests began to sound more like bullfrogs than
human beings. At that time Elijah appeared and again addressed
the thousands on the plain below.
"You have seen how hard the priests of Baal have worked for
the past several hours," Elijah said to the crowd, above the
rasping croaks that came only occasionally, now, from the raw
throats of the weary priests. "You have seen, too, how futile
their vigorous efforts have been. Their god is supposed to be the
god of fire. Why hasn't he answered by sparing a bit of himself
and igniting the wood on their altar? Could it be that Baal is
traveling in some distant land, and has heedlessly left his
worshippers to perform their own miracles? Or could it be that he
is asleep and that his servants haven't screamed with quite
enough volume to awaken him? Perhaps he has gone hunting or
visiting and forgot to tell his priests that he would be away for
a time. Or possibly he can't be bothered today because he is in
the privacy of his bathroom." (I Kings 18:25-27.)
There was a low murmur of laughter from the crowd below. The
monotonous and ridiculous gyrations and utterances from the
priests of Baal had become ludicrous even to many who were
previously inclined to consider Baal a real god with mysterious
powers. There were others who were angered by Elijah's jibes. The
prophet was aware that he was surrounded by enemies who wanted to
do away with him. If he hadn't been certain of protection from
God, he wouldn't have dared to make degrading remarks about the
king's god.


"Now See What God Can Do"

The priests of Baal couldn't give up and admit defeat in
front of their king, who was watching closely. They had to keep
on dancing and shouting. But they had another bit of splashy
ceremony to carry out. While they swayed and jiggled they
produced knives and started slashing at themselves. Even with
their bodies caked with blood they continued their frenzied
dancing.
"Here us, Baal! Hear us, Baal!" they groaned over and over.
Finally weakened from exertion and loss of blood, all they
could do for the rest of the afternoon was to mumble incoherent
pleadings to their god. Toward evening Elijah appeared on the
mountain again to address the people. (I Kings 18:28-29.)
"I see that many of you have gone to your tents and camps
because you have tired of the futile performances of the priests
of Baal," the prophet spoke out. "Now I ask that you come as
close as possible to the foot of the mountain to observe that the
God of Israel can do. There is an ancient altar up here that I
shall now repair. I shall build it back up with twelve large
stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, all of whom
should be worshipping God instead of imaginary deities or idols.
See for yourselves, now, what will happen when the living God is
called on."
At Elijah's direction, wood was placed on the altar. The
bullock that had been put aside was slaughtered, cut up and
spread out on the wood. A ditch was dug all around the altar.
Twelve barrels of precious water, obtained from a nearby spring
that was one of the few left in the land, were poured over the
sacrificial meat. Wood, altar and ground inside the ditch were
thoroughly soaked, leaving no possibility of Elijah or his
assistants setting fire to the contents of the altar by any
devious means. With all in readiness, Elijah stood before the
sacrifice and lifted his voice in prayer. (I Kings 18:30-35.)
"God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Israel, make it known
today, through your great power, that you are the one and only
real God in Israel. Let it be known to these people that I am
your servant, through whom you have caused these matters to be
brought about here at Mt. Carmel. Hear and answer this prayer,
Lord, so that those here will be convinced that there is no God
like you. Cause them to realize the foolishness of looking to
anyone or anything but you for their lives and welfare!"
Elijah said nothing more. He didn't scream, dance, leap,
roll in the dirt or slash himself. Instead, he stepped back from
the altar as though expecting something extraordinary to happen.
And it did.
Some of the onlookers noticed a strange object in the sky
over Mt. Carmel. It appeared to be a glowing fireball. There were
excited murmurs from many throats as the gleaming object
descended swiftly to the altar Elijah had prepared. The instant
it touched the sacrifice, it burned fiercely, causing a burst of
smoke. The glow was so intense that people covered their eyes or
turned their heads. Seconds later the fiery essence grew dimmer
and disappeared. Not only the meat and wood, but also the stones
and water in the ditch had been consumed! There was only a
blackened crater where the altar had been!
----------------------------------------

Chapter 117
"O LORD, TAKE AWAY MY LIFE!"

FIRE had descended from the sky about Mount Carmel to consume the
sacrifice Elijah had prepared for God. Besides burning up the
meat and wood, it burned up the stones of the altar, much of the
ground under and around it and the water that lay in the ditch
surrounding the altar. (I Kings 18:30-38.)


The Penalty of Idolatry

Fear gripped the onlookers. They fell to the ground,
shouting that God was the only God, and that they had sinned in
having anything to do with idols. Some of them shouted
resentfully at the priests of Baal. Noting the swiftly growing
anger of the crowd against the priests, Elijah held up his hands
for silence.
"God requires these men of Baal should be punished here and
now for leading Israel into idolatry!" Elijah called out.
(Deuteronomy 13.) "Come up here and seize them! Don't let a one
escape!"
Shouting with wrath, the crowd charged up the mountain to
surround the four hundred and fifty priests, who were thrown into
panic by this sudden turn of events. Quickly overpowered by
greater numbers, the men of Baal become prisoners of the people.
"Take them down to the foot of the mountain," Elijah told
those who had arrested the priests. "They will be put to death
and their bodies placed in the dry creek bed there." (I Kings
18:39-40.)
Some of the frenzied priests screamed for help from Ahab,
who was grimly watching the scene from not far away. The plight
of his priests didn't bother the king as much as did the fact
that Elijah was in control of the situation. But the sight of the
altar being suddenly absorbed by the fire had unnerved him, and
he dared do nothing contrary to Elijah's wishes. In response to
his priests' appeal he slowly shook his head and turned his back.
The struggling, yelling men of Baal were dragged down the
mountain to be punished for their sins.
Most of the people returned to their camps or left the
region to go back to their homes. Ahab was anxious to learn what
Elijah would do about ending the drought, but he did not want to
give the appearance of pressing him on the matter. He was
relieved when the prophet approached him.
"I know that you're waiting for me to tell you when rain
will come," Elijah said. "I can't yet say, but it could happen
before many more hours pass. When it does come there will be
plenty of it. Why don't you rest and eat while I go about my
business on top of the mountain?"
Ahab was greatly encouraged by this statement. He went back
into his tent, and Elijah went close to the pinnacle of the east
shoulder of Mt. Carmel, where he bowed himself on the ground and
sincerely asked God for rain. Shortly he asked his helper to go
to the highest part of the mountain to see if there were any
signs of cloudiness in the western sky. The man returned a little
later to report that the sky was as cloudless as it had been for
more than three years.


The Drought Ends

"Go look again," Elijah said, and returned to praying.
Shortly the man came back to tell the prophet that the sky
was still completely clear. Elijah had him to continue going up
and looking and returning at brief intervals to state the
condition of the sky. When he came back from his eighth trip to
the top of the mountain, the man excitedly informed the prophet
that there was a small cloud just above the western horizon.
"Go to King Ahab and tell him that rain will fall very
soon," Elijah instructed his helper. "Tell him that he would be
wise to get across the plain now in his chariot before the
downpour turns the dusty plain into an impassable sea of mud." (I
Kings 18:41-44.)
Ahab was almost wild with satisfaction when he heard the
news. By then, even from the sheltered site of his tents, he
could see a small cloud rising up in the western sky. Excitedly
he called his servants to pack the tents and other equipment and
move out as soon as possible.
The cloud rose and expanded and Elijah knew God was about to
answer his request. For that the prophet took time to utter words
of thankfulness. Within an hour or so the small, white cloud
would expand completely across the western sky. The vapor grew
darker. A strong, high wind started the cloudy masses to churning
ominously. This abrupt change in the heavens from a peaceful blue
to a boiling dark gray struck deep fear into thousands of people
in that part of Israel.
When lightning started to flash and thunder rolled across
the plain, Elijah had already hurried down Mt. Carmel. By the
time he reached the base, Ahab and his chariot driver were
getting started. Soon the rain would be pouring out of the sky
and the creek bed would begin to fill with a surge of muddy water
to wash away the lifeless bodies of the priests of Baal. Just
after Elijah crossed the stream, Ahab passed over with his
chariot. And the loaded donkeys weren't far behind. If they had
been much later, they could have been swept away by the rapidly
rising stream.
One of the towns near the east peak of Mt. Carmel was
Jezreel, about twenty miles to the southeast. That was Ahab's
goal, and Elijah's, inasmuch as the city of Samaria was too far
south to reach before the widespread cloudburst. Ahab's chariot
driver galloped his horses before the storm. But Elijah, who was
a natural athlete and also had some help from God, outran the
chariot all the way to Jezreel. (I Kings 18:45-46.)
Next morning, after causing alarming flash floods over a
large part of Israel, the torrent from the sky abated. Later,
Ahab and his men continued on safely to Samaria.
As for Elijah, although he was the man who had most to do
with the ending of the drought, he was regarded at Jezreel as
just another vagrant by innkeepers. He was thankful however, to
find a shelter from the downpour. Meanwhile, Ahab was being
received with much pomp and honor in the best of the town's inns.


Heathen Fury

When Ahab told his wife what had happened at Mt. Carmel,
Jezebel was furious because of her husband giving credit to the
God of Israel for causing rain to come.
"The drought was bound to end naturally sometime," she
angrily reminded Ahab. "Are you becoming childish, that you
should believe self-styled prophets like Elijah, who time their
utterances with unusual events of nature to try to convince
people that they have unnatural powers?"
"Events of nature?" Ahab echoed. "Do you consider what
happened to Elijah's altar something natural?"
"I wasn't there to see it, and I have only your influenced
version of what happened," Jezebel countered disdainfully. "Your
childish belief in this rustic prophet has cost the lives of four
hundred and fifty men. If I had been foolish enough to send four
hundred of my priests, as Elijah impudently requested, probably
you would have been willing to let them die, too. If I had been
there, matters would have turned out quite differently. It's too
late now to undo what you've allowed to be done, but I'm going to
see that this Elijah doesn't interfere any more in the religious
affairs of Israel!"
"You'll have to find him first, and don't ask me where he is
because I have no idea," Ahab said angrily, striding away.
"I'll do more to him than find him," Jezebel muttered,
smiling to herself.
Meanwhile, Elijah stayed in Jezreel. The more he observed
the people of the town, the more discouraged he became. He had
imagined that word would spread how God had shown His power at
Mt. Carmel, and that people everywhere would repent. From what he
saw in Jezreel, everyone appeared relieved that the drought was
over, but they didn't seem to be seeking God in the fervent
manner of people who were truly regretful that they had fallen
into idolatry.
Jezebel's spies soon discovered where Elijah was. Right
afterward a man walked up to the prophet, thrust a piece of paper
into Elijah's hand and disappeared. After Elijah read the message
on the paper, being already discouraged as he was, his faith in
God was a bit shaken. The message was from Jezebel, informing him
that she intended to see him dead within twenty-four hours, and
that she hoped her gods would kill her if she failed. (I Kings
19:1-2.)
Elijah left Jezreel at once, hoping to get out of the nation
of Israel and reach safety in the nation of Judah before
Jezebel's men could seize him. His servant, the man who had
reported seeing the little cloud from Mt. Carmel, had come with
him to Jezreel, and wanted to stay with him in this time of great
danger. The two succeeded in reaching Judah and traveling through
it to Beer-sheba, a town on Judah's southern border more than
eighty miles to the south of Jezreel.
Elijah felt that Jezebel's men could show up even that far
south in pursuit of him. He convinced his servant that they would
both be better off separated. (I Kings 19:3.) Anxious to get out
of a populated area, Elijah went on by himself several miles into
the Paran desert that extends down into the Sinai peninsula. Hot,
weary, thirsty and hungry, he stopped to rest in the shade of a
desert canebrake. By this time he felt sure he could never do any
more good among the people of Israel and was so depressed that he
wanted to die.


"Let Me Die!"

"I don't want to go on living like this," he prayed. "God, I
would rather have you take my life than be murdered by Jezebel's
servants."
The prophet was so tired that he fell asleep. Some time
later he was awakened by someone shaking him gently by the
shoulders. Before he could open his eyes, he heard a voice
telling him to get up and eat, but when he was awake and looked
around, nobody was in sight.
Elijah settled back, believing that he had dreamed someone
had awakened him. He was about to fall asleep again when the
pleasant odor of warm bread came to him. He sat up and looked
around once more.
This time he was surprised to see a small roll of bread on a
flat stone over a bed of hot coals. He picked it off the stone
and found that it had just been baked. Then he spied a bottle of
water nearby. When he reached for it, he discovered that somehow
it was very cool.
Elijah recalled that he had seemingly dreamed that someone
had told him to eat. He wondered if this could be some scheme by
Jezebel's men to poison him, but he quickly dismissed the idea
that such a complex means would be used when it would be simpler
to do away with him in his sleep. He could only conclude that God
had sent an angel to supply his needs. He gave thanks for it and
enjoyably consumed the bread and water.
Relaxed by his repast, Elijah lay down and went back to
sleep. Once more, after a good sleep, he felt himself being
shaken by the shoulders, and again, when only half awake, he
seemed to hear a voice telling him to get up and eat. This second
time he was told that he should eat plenty because he would need
strength for the long distance he intended to cover. (I Kings
19:4-7.)
He opened his eyes to find that there was nobody about, but
there was another larger roll just finishing baking over
still-glowing coals, and the bottle he had drained was again full
of water. He found he was again hungry and thirsty. Eating and
drinking a second time was anything but difficult. Afterward the
prophet continued southward.
Walking several miles a day across the arid land, he kept on
going until he reached Mt. Sinai, where the Ten Commandments, and
lesser laws had been given to Israel six hundred years before.
The trip took forty days, during which all he had to eat and
drink was what had been miraculously supplied him on the first
day into the desert from Beersheba. (I Kings 19:8.)
Part way up Mt. Sinai Elijah found a cave in which he
decided to stay for a time. Possibly it was the same cave Moses
was in when he briefly glimpsed God. While he was resting there,
Elijah heard a voice clearly ask:
"Why have you come here to Mt. Sinai, Elijah?"
The prophet was frightened. It was shadowy in the cave, and
he imagined that the dark areas he saw could be Jezebel's men who
had followed him. He reasoned that no one else would know his
name, but after a time it occurred to him that God would know his
name, and that the voice might be that of an angel.


This Is Only Small Power

"I have come here to escape being killed by the soldiers of
Jezebel, queen of King Ahab," Elijah spoke out, wondering if
anyone was listening to him. "I have sadly observed how the
Israelites have broken your covenant that was made here at Mt.
Sinai. They have forsaken God's altars for those of pagan gods.
They have slain the true prophets. As far as I know, I am the
only one left, and I won't have much longer to live if my enemies
find me. I am dismayed by these events. I have been ambitious for
God, but now I am doubtful that I did anything worthwhile. I was
sure that Israel would be sobered after what happened at Mt.
Carmel. Apparently the people weren't very impressed." (I Kings
19:9-10.)
"Don't be discouraged," the voice said. "Be assured that God
is with you. Rest for now, because soon God will come very close
to you. When He does, come out of the cave to meet Him."
In spite of being excited and puzzled by what he had been
told, Elijah felt encouraged and peaceful, and fell into a deep,
refreshing sleep. Next morning he was awakened by the shrill
whine of wind, growing stronger by the minute. He jumped up, ran
to the mouth of the cave and peered up at the surrounding rocky
peaks. The blast of air past the mountain was so great that he
had to step back to keep from being swept away. Holding fast to
rocks, he looked out to see huge boulders on the brow of the
mountain being toppled by the wind. They crashed down from ledge
to ledge, landing on the slopes below with thunderous impact.
Fearful that some mammoth rock would come grinding down where he
was, Elijah went back into the cave, where he remained until the
wind abated. At first he thought that the mighty movement of air
indicated that God was passing by, but he concluded that God's
only connection with the wind was that He caused it.
While he thought about the matter, the cave started to creak
and shake. There was a growing rumbling that became so loud that
Elijah ran into the open, afraid that the roof of the cave would
collapse on him. Outside the cave he saw the terrifying spectacle
of mountain peaks swaying and boulders and rock slides plummeting
from the heights.
Quickly, again, he sought the safety that existed inside the
mountain. When the earthquake was over, he decided that the
fearsome shaking of the earth wasn't caused by the presence of
God but by only a small fraction of His great power.
When he considered it safe to venture out on the ledge
again, Elijah looked down on the rubble cluttering the edge of
the level expanse where the Israelites had camped on their way to
Canaan. The mountain erupted with fiery lava and ash. The sky
became filled with dark clouds. Flashes of ball lightning
occurred, changing to long streams of chain lightning that
crackled and spit down on Mt. Sinai and the surrounding peaks.
Massive showers of sparks shot in all directions as the fiery
bolts grounded and fused on smoking rocks, filling the air with
fumes like those of brimstone.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 118
SYRIA CHALLENGES GOD

IN A CAVE in Mt. Sinai, Elijah was told by a voice that he should
come out of the cave to meet God, who would soon be passing by.
(I Kings 19:9-11.) Later, there was a very strong wind, followed
by a powerful earthquake. Afterward, the prophet decided that God
was not in either unusual display of nature.
Then the mountains erupted into volcanic activity and were
stabbed by blazing bolts of lightning. Everything vibrated with
the tremendous roar of steady thunder. Elijah crouched in fear,
wondering if this could be God's manifestation of Himself, but he
was afraid to stay outside the cave and watch what was taking
place.


That Was Only Small Power

The lightning storm ended as abruptly as it had begun. The
prophet walked slowly to the mouth of the cave, not knowing for
certain what he would see. It was then that he thought he heard a
voice coming from a great distance. Startled and uneasy, he
pulled his coat up over his head, hesitant to see whatever or
whomever should be waiting for him outside the cave.
After he had groped his way to the ledge, the voice came to
him again. It was a clear, quiet voice of small volume.
Seemingly, now, it came to him from all directions. (I Kings
19:11-13.)
The prophet let the coat drop off his head. He stared all
around, but there was nobody in sight. The only visible moving
thing was a column of smoke rising from the tip of a nearby crag
that had been struck by lightning.
"I am your God," came the words. "Within the hour I passed
by the cave you are in more than once, but I was not in the wind,
earthquake or lightning. Now I have come to tell you that you
have done well as my servant, though lately you let fear of the
woman Jezebel get the best of you. I have more work for you, but
you can be of the greatest value only if you rely fully on me and
dedicate yourself fully to what you must do."
Elijah was both humbled and encouraged by what God said. He
wanted to declare that he would be very enthusiastic about
whatever God would require of him, but he was so overcome in the
presence of the Creator, even though he couldn't see Him, that he
feared to speak.
"Don't be concerned about Jezebel's men," God continued. "Go
back to Israel, but don't return by the way you came here. Take a
route to the east, as though going to Damascus. In the west side
of the Jordan valley, a few miles east of Jezreel, you'll find a
man named Elisha. He shall take your place, in due time, as the
leading prophet of Israel in these years.
"Later, you will anoint a man named Hazael as king of Syria.
You will also anoint a certain Jehu as king to replace Ahab.
These two shall be used to punish the disobedient and rebellious
rulers of my people. All Israel doesn't deserve punishment,
because there are many thousands who have continued to observe my
laws and have refused to worship idols." (I Kings 19:15-18;
Romans 11:1-4.)
Days later, when Elijah arrived in the area where he had
been instructed to go, he inquired about until he found where a
man lived by the name of Elisha -- an industrious young man of a
well-to-do family. Elisha happened to be plowing with a pair of
work bulls when the prophet found him. Eleven of Elisha's men
were also plowing in the field. Elijah recognized the man he was
seeking. He walked into the field and tossed his cape over
Elisha's shoulders as the younger man drove his team by. The
surprised plowman pulled his animals to a halt and stared at the
stranger.


Careless Prosperity

"I have been told that only prophets of God wear capes like
this one," Elisha said, "and that when a prophet tosses his cape
over another man, it means that the man has been chosen to become
another prophet. Am I to assume that this special honor has come
to me?"
"You are right," Elijah answered. "I am a prophet of God,
sent to let you know that you have been chosen for a purpose."
Elijah felt that more explanation wasn't necessary at the
moment. He knew that Elisha would ask questions soon enough, so
he walked away, intending to return later. He heard quick
footsteps behind him, and turned to see Elisha running excitedly
toward him.
"If God can use me, I'm willing to go with you this very
hour," Elisha told Elijah. "But first let me say good-bye to my
parents."
"You shouldn't leave without seeing them," Elijah agreed.
"When I placed my cape on you, I didn't mean that you have to go
with me now. Stay for a little time with your family. I shall
return for you."
Elisha was very eager about his call from God. To him this
was the greatest day of his life. He wanted the last night with
his relatives and friends and servants to be a happy one. He was
not in love with wealth. Accordingly, he had his men kill and
dress two of his work animals to be boiled for a festive dinner
that evening. To show he was permanently giving up his previous
job to devote himself wholly to God's service, Elisha used his
own plow and yoke for fuel.
Next day Elisha saw Elijah crossing the plowed field. The
younger man told his family good-bye and joined the prophet. His
parents watched the two disappear over a rise, unaware that their
son would one day be a prophet who would become very important in
the affairs of the nation. (I Kings 19:19-21.)
About five years passed, during which northern Israel
recovered from the three-year drought and became prosperous. For
a time matters went rather well for Ahab in spite of his
continuing in idolatry. All Israel became lax. Then one morning
he was awakened with the jolting report that a large army had
surrounded his capital city of Samaria. The flags of Syria and
thirty-two adjoining states could be plainly seen. Messengers
appeared at the gates to demand an audience with Ahab, who
promptly met them.
"We bring to you the words of our king, Ben-hadad of Syria,"
the spokesman messenger said to Ahab. "He wants you to know that
he will call off the siege of your city if you will send out to
him tomorrow your gold, silver and the choicest of your wives and
children. He expects you to decide immediately and give your
decision to us to take back to him." (I Kings 20:1-3.) Israel's
prosperity was just too much for these greedy men to resist.
Ahab was stunned. He knew that he could be facing disaster
if he appeared anything but agreeable. He reasoned that the only
thing to do was at least seem to go along with the demands, and
later try to find a way out of the sudden trouble.


Unexpected Courage

"Tell your king, whom I consider my master, that I am at his
service and that all I have is his," Ahab shakily told the
messengers, hoping that his submissive answer would satisfy
Ben-hadad for the time being.
When the king of Syria heard from his messengers what Ahab
had to say, he decided that the king of Israel was so frightened
that he would submit to any terms. He immediately sent his
messengers back to make further demands of Ahab.
"Our king wants you to know that he has changed his mind,"
they reported. "He has decided not to require that you send him
the things he previously asked for."
Ahab was greatly relieved, but his relief didn't last long.
"Our king has decided to trust his gods and instead of your
going to the trouble of taking to him the things he asked for,
tomorrow he will send men into your city to search for and take
everything that looks good. He expects you to cooperate fully.
Only then will he remove his army from around Samaria."
Ahab was more troubled than ever. He immediately summoned
the leading men of the city to explain the situation to them and
ask what they thought should be done.
"Don't give in to him," they fervidly entreated the king.
"If you let his men inside the walls, the city could be taken
over that much sooner. Besides, if we give him what he demands,
we can't rely on his taking his army away. Once he gets what is
valuable, he might destroy Samaria and the people who are left."
Ahab was fearful of going contrary to Ben-hadad's demands,
but he knew that the Israelite elders were right. His courage
bolstered somewhat, he surprised the impatient Syrian messengers
with what he had to say.
"Tell your king that although I regard him highly and at
first consented to what he asked for in the beginning, I can't
allow his men to come into my city and take whatever they want."
When Ben-hadad was told what Ahab had said, his fond hope of
taking Samaria without a battle was swept away. In its place came
a vengeful desire to do away with the city and every person in
it.
"May the gods take my life," he muttered angrily, "If I
don't set so many men against Samaria that there won't be room
enough in the dust of the city for them to stand on! Tell that to
the king of Israel!" (I Kings 20:4-10.)
When Ahab heard Ben-hadad's declaration that he would
destroy Samaria, he wasn't as frightened as he had been when he
first heard from Ben-hadad. He had just enough courage to cause
him to send back a caustic answer to the other king.
"Tell your master that his threat to wipe out my city fails
to impress me," Ahab instructed the messengers. "Remind him for
me that a soldier who is just about to go into battle shouldn't
boast about his victories. He should wait until he is returning
from battle." (I Kings 20:11.)
The exchange of communications between the two kings had
been going on most of the morning. It was about noon when
Ben-hadad received Ahab's latest and last message. He was in a
spacious dining tent, eating and drinking with the lesser rulers
of the provinces close to Syria, whose troops comprised a part of
the besieging army.
"Prepare to attack the enemy's city!" Ben-hadad shouted,
staggering to his feet. "I would have spared the wretched
Israelites until tomorrow, but now Ahab will pay for his insolent
remarks by seeing his palace sacked this very day!" (I Kings
20:12.)
While the worried Ahab and his chiefs and royal guardsmen
excitedly discussed what should be done, the king was told that a
stranger with a vital message had come to speak to him. The
stranger identified himself as a prophet and informed the king
that God that same day would give Ahab a victory over the huge
Syrian army, to remind him again that the God of Israel was the
only real deity.


Impossible Odds

"Why would God tell me that I can be victorious over my
enemy?" Ahab asked impatiently, staring doubtfully at the
stranger. "I don't even have an army!"
"God wants you to make an army out of the men in the city of
Samaria," the prophet answered. "For your leading soldiers, use
your royal guards and the experienced retainers who are sons of
your clan chiefs. Arm the rest of the men in the city as fast as
you can. Prepare them for action right away. If you do these
things, God will help you."
"But who will be the head of this motley crowd?" Ahab asked.
"God expects you to be," the prophet replied. "If you aren't
willing to do that much, you won't get any help from Him." (I
Kings 20:13-14.)
Ahab had two hundred and thirty-two skilled soldiers who
were his retainers and royal guards. A hasty count of able-bodied
men in the city of Samaria added up to seven thousand. Many of
them had no training as soldiers. Fast and frantic efforts were
made to form what would at least look like an army out of seven
thousand, two hundred and thirty-two men. (I Kings 20:15.)
They marched out at noon to face Ben-hadad's army. By this
time Ben-hadad and the thirty-two kings with him were drunk.
"Two or three hundred Israelite soldiers have come out of
Samaria and are running this way!" someone shouted into
Ben-hadad's dining tent.
"Good!" the Syrian king muttered, sinking back on his
pillows. "Take them alive for questioning, whether they have come
to attack or whether they have come to bargain! I'll teach them
what my gods can do!" (I Kings 20:16-18.)


The Victory Is God's

Scores of Syrian warriors were dispatched to meet the small
body of Israelites. Confidently they surrounded them, intending
to close in and herd them to the Syrian camp. The Israelites
rushed at their would-be captors, bringing them to the ground
with fast movements capable only of the best-trained soldiers of
northern Israel, the king's royal guard.
More Syrian troops ran from their camp to take the place of
their fallen fellow-soldiers. At the same time the seven thousand
men of Samaria began to pour out of the city.
The sight of them unnerved the Syrians, who assumed that the
men crowding out of the gates were as skilled in fighting as the
first ones who had come out. Panic-stricken, they turned and
raced back, trampling the tents and colliding with other Syrian
soldiers preparing to attack. Pandemonium spread like fire among
the thousands of soldiers and their officers.
This was the beginning of a surprising and sudden defeat of
the Syrians. The lesser kings in Ben-hadad's dining tent decided
without delay that they wanted no part of what already looked
like a losing war. They fled to their horses and returned
northeastward with some of their troops. Ben-hadad wasn't too
confused, in his condition, to decide that he should leave, too.
He was helped on a horse and raced away with most of the cavalry
he had brought to Samaria.
The Syrian foot soldiers, superior in numbers, might have
regrouped and crushed the Israelites, but they lost the will to
fight when their leaders ran out. Many of them escaped. Others
became the victims of the Israelites, who pursued them for a
short distance from Samaria.
As for the large number of chariots, the drivers had little
inclination to fight a battle by themselves by chasing their
enemies over rough ground. Most of them died trying to escape.
The area around Samaria became littered with dead and injured
horses and broken vehicles. (I Kings 20:19-21.)
Ahab, who had gone with his men to direct them in the defeat
of the Syrians, realized that the victory had been a miracle that
could come only from the one true God. When news of the event
reached the rest of the nation, many in Israel became more
conscious of God and His power. Jezebel, of course, scoffed at
the belief that God was as great as Baal, Astarte, and even
lesser pagan gods and goddesses.
Not long after the short siege of Samaria, the prophet who
had told Ahab that God would help him came again to the king to
make another prediction and give some advice from God.


Defying God

"Next spring, after the rains are over, Ben-hadad will
return with another large army," the prophet said. "Because of
his stinging defeat, he will be more determined than ever to be
the victor. Prepare for his invasion by mustering and training as
large an army as you are able to get together." (I Kings 20:22.)
At the same time, up at the Syrian capital of Damascus,
advisors to the king were trying to convince him that he should
challenge the God of Israel again and invade Israel after the
spring rains were over and the ground was firm enough for
chariots.
"We lost the battle because the Israelite gods dwell mostly
in the hilly regions," they profoundly explained to Ben-hadad.
"By casting some kind of spell on your men, those gods prevented
your riders and foot soldiers from success. If you would build
another army as great as the one that surrounded Samaria, and if
you would meet Ahab's forces on some wide plain, where the hill
gods of Israel have no power, you would surely enjoy a great
victory."
"To muster an army as large as the one I had before,"
Ben-hadad told his advisors, "I would have to use the troops of
the province leaders who deserted me. I wouldn't want to take
them with me again."
"Use their soldiers, but don't let the leaders go," the
advisors suggested. "Tell them that experienced officers will
represent them to insure their safety."
Ben-hadad was far from sold on the idea, but after days of
thinking it over, he grew increasingly ambitious. (I Kings
20:23-25.)
"Make plans to rebuild my army," he finally announced to his
aides. "I am going to challenge the God of Israel and invade the
land again!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 119
DESPOT GOES UNPUNISHED

THE ARMY of Ben-hadad, the Syrian king, had been depleted and
routed from Israel. (I Kings 20:1-21.) But Ben-hadad decided to
enlarge what was left of his army and try again to conquer the
limited forces of King Ahab of the House of Israel.
During the next several weeks all able-bodied men were
conscripted from Syria and adjoining territories that paid
tribute to Ben-hadad. By the next spring the army was as large
and as well trained as the one that had unsuccessfully besieged
Samaria. (I Kings 20:22-25.)


Feeble Human Protection

At the same time Ahab was mustering and training men for a
bigger army. He had been told that the Syrians would make another
invasion of Israel after the rainy season was over. When that
time came, Ahab had a trained army, but it was pitifully small
compared to the Syrian fighting force of many thousands of foot
soldiers and hundreds of chariots and cavalry.
Neither side was aware of the size of the other's army until
the Syrians came into the plain east of Aphek. When Ahab learned
of this, he took his soldiers to the northeast to meet the
Syrians. He wanted to head the enemy off in the event another
siege of Samaria was planned.
When the Israelites came in sight of the immense number of
Syrians spread over the plain, discouragement ran high. At the
same time the Syrians felt very confident when they saw that the
Israelites had only two small divisions of men. Victory for the
invaders looked as though it would be quick and easy. Some of
Ben-hadad's officers observed that the previous loss to Syria
would be avenged at the cost of moving into Israel with an army
that was several times larger than necessary. (I Kings 20:26-27.)
"I'll agree with that only after I know for sure that there
aren't more Israelite troops concealed in some gully on the edge
of this plain," Ben-hadad told his officers.
When it was evident to Ahab that the Syrians intended to
camp where they were at least overnight, he decided to set up
camp two or three miles west of them. That evening was an uneasy
one for Ahab, who expected at any minute to receive a report that
the Syrians were coming. While he was pacing nervously in his
tent, an officer announced that a stranger had been picked up on
the edge of the camp. And that he claimed that he had a message
he wanted to give only to the king of Israel. Thinking that the
man might be a Syrian spy, Ahab asked that he be sent to him at
once so that he could question him. The king was relieved and a
little surprised when the stranger made it evident that he was a
prophet with news from God.
"The Syrians have come here with the belief that the God of
Israel has power only over the mountains and hilly regions," the
prophet told Ahab. "They think that if they do battle with you on
a level plain, God can't help you. I have been sent to tell you
that He will again give you victory over the Syrian army, so that
all will be shown that God has power in every part of every land
and over all the Earth, and that great numbers of soldiers,
horses and chariots are as nothing to him." (I Kings 20:28.)
"But how does God expect me to overcome such a vast army?"
Ahab asked.


God Proves Himself Again

"Camp here seven days," the prophet said. "The Syrians won't
make a move until then. Don't be afraid to stand and defy them.
God will intervene to perform a miracle, just as He did when
Samaria was previously surrounded."
Knowing when the Syrians would attack was a great advantage
to Ahab. His men had a week of needed rest, even though they
couldn't forget that they were outnumbered. As the prophet had
predicted, seven days later the Syrians started swarming westward
across the plain. The footmen came first. The cavalry and
chariots had been instructed to hold off until the Israelites
were all but wiped out, and then to attack whoever was left so
that they could have some part in the defeat of their enemies.
When Ben-hadad had found that the Israelite army was so small, he
decided to preserve the most formidable part of his fighting
force to proudly parade unscathed through conquered Israel and
cause the people to regard the Syrians with awe and fear.
Ahab's faith in God wasn't very great because he had never
turned completely to God for a way of life. As he and his men
faced the oncoming enemy, he was fearful that these were his last
minutes of existence. He had only a strong hope, instead of a
strong belief, that God would save him and his army.
As the two bodies of humanity closed in on the plain, the
Israelites knew they were fighting for their lives. The Syrians
felt that they wouldn't have to exert much effort defending
themselves. Their aim was to kill as many Israelites as possible
in the shortest time necessary.
But a strange thing happened as the two armies met. The
confident Syrian warriors were suddenly filled with an awful fear
that almost instantly turned them into cringing cowards. They
dropped their weapons and shields and turned and ran before the
amazed Israelites, who at first thought they were pretending to
be afraid.
When they saw the Syrians running into each other and
stumbling to the ground in wild confusion, the Israelites knew
there was no pretense. They took full advantage of the
unbelievable situation, charging into the Syrians and dispatching
them swiftly. The growing slaughter spread from the foremost
ranks of the enemy footmen across the whole army until it became
a disorganized, howling, shrieking mob.
By the time the sun had set, a hundred thousand Syrians lay
dead on the plain. The Israelite army was almost intact. (I Kings
20:29.)
The rest of the Syrian footmen fled to the nearby walled
city of Aphek, where they looked for refuge. The tremendous
carnage shocked Ben-hadad. He fled in fright with his cavalry and
chariots, following his foot soldiers to Aphek. Ahab and his
troops, though very weary, weren't far behind. But by the time
they reached the city the Syrians were inside and the gates were
barred.
Although Ahab was excited and thankful for the success that
had come to his army, he remembered that the prophet had said the
victory would go to Israel. He couldn't believe a victory was
complete while many thousands of the enemy were taking refuge
inside a city against whose walls and gates the Israelites had no
equipment for attack.


Walls Are No Protection

As the pursuers paused before Aphek, they saw men appearing
on the walls. The number grew rapidly. It was evident that the
Syrians intended to make a defense from there if the Israelites
came close to the city. Ahab was discouraged. The only thing he
could do was besiege Aphek, something he wasn't prepared for
because his food supplies were limited. He hadn't planned to
carry on warfare very far from Samaria for very long.
The problem was settled very soon in a surprising manner. As
Ahab and his men moved a little closer to Aphek, more and more
Syrians crowded up on the walls, preparing to hurl anything heavy
or pointed down on the Israelites. Suddenly there was a sharp
cracking sound from the walls, followed by a growing rumbling.
Ahab and his troops stared in astonishment as the walls buckled
and collapsed in a ground-shaking roar, sending up a huge cloud
of dust. Twenty-seven thousand Syrians went to their deaths in
the jumble of stones and heavy beams. (I Kings 20:30.)
Instead of rushing into Aphek after the dust had cleared,
Ahab wisely stayed outside where his troops could attack any
Syrians who tried to leave the place. Because they were well
inside Aphek and back from the walls, Ben-hadad and his top
officers escaped death and injury. With the city exposed, the
Syrians hurried to hide themselves in the private quarters of the
ruler of Aphek. There they discussed what to do next. If they
stayed there, they reasoned, it could be the most perilous thing
to do.
"The kings of Israel have been known as men who have been
unusually merciful to those who ask for mercy," one of
Ben-hadad's officers observed. "If we are found concealing
ourselves here, probably we'll be slain at once, but if we go out
to Ahab with the attitude that we regret what we've done,
possibly he'll forgive us and spare our lives. He might even let
us go free."
"I can hardly believe that," Ben-hadad said, shaking his
head worriedly, "but I agree there's nothing to lose by trying
it." Then he added bitterly, "As for regret, I have plenty of
that. I deeply regret that I listened to you fellows and others
when I was talked into building another army for attacking
Israel."
Ahab and his men were alertly watching for anyone trying to
escape from Aphek when they saw a group of men pick their way
through the wall rubble and slowly approach them. They were
dressed in coarse, raggy cloth, and ropes were draped around
their necks. These were ancient eastern signs of humility.
"Spare these men," Ahab told his officers. "I want to know
what they want."
Ahab stood high in a chariot that had been left behind by
the Syrians, so that he was easily recognized as the king of
Israel by the men who came close to him and prostrated themselves
on the ground.


Mercy Without Wisdom

"We have been sent from your servant, Ben-hadad, who has
instructed us to ask you for mercy," the fearful Syrian officers
declared. "The king of Syria wants you to know he realizes now
that he was very unwise to make war against a neighboring nation
whose God is so powerful."
"From what you say, I know now that your king wasn't killed
in the collapse of the walls." Ahab replied. "That is welcome
news to me. I have no desire to see him dead. In a way, he is a
brother of mine because we are kings of adjoining nations." (I
Kings 20:31-32.)
The Syrians could scarcely believe what their ears took in.
It meant the difference between life and death for Ben-hadad, and
probably for them. They were relieved at Ahab's declaration. They
reasoned that Ahab surely wouldn't have any further murderous
intent toward his enemies.
"We are happy that you have such a fair attitude toward our
king," one of the subtle Syrian officers said. "Your brother
Ben-hadad will be intensely pleased to learn that you regard him
as you have said."
"Go back into Aphek and bring your king out to me," Ahab
instructed the Syrians.
Ben-hadad's officers returned through the wall rubble to
their leader, whose gnawing fear abated when he learned what Ahab
had said. A little later the defeated king emerged with his
officers from the broken walls, walking in a slow, respectful
manner up to Ahab's chariot. While his officers bowed to the
ground, Ben-hadad leaned forward in a stiff gesture of respect.
Ahab invited him up in his chariot. (I Kings 20:33.)
"I have made a grave mistake in planning war against
Israel," Ben-hadad declared in a strained and embarrassed tone.
"I had been told that your God dwells only in the hills and the
mountains, and couldn't protect you on the plains. His power must
be greater and more far-reaching than my advisors realized."
"The God of Israel is the most powerful of all gods," Ahab
said in all sincerity, even though Ahab practiced idolatry,
mostly because of his wife.
"I want to be fair to Israel," Ben-hadad nervously
continued. "My father took some cities from Israel when your
father was king. I will restore them to you. To show you what
respect I have for Israel, I will reserve certain streets and
dwellings in Damascus, my capital city, for the use of the people
of your nation who travel up our way."
If Ahab had been led by God's influence, in the manner in
which God's servants are guided, he wouldn't have been so
friendly with this man who hated him. Ben-hadad and his advisors
should have been seized for their murders and given the extreme
punishment. Instead, Ahab treated one of Israel's worst enemies
like a guest, suggesting to him that they should agree not to war
against each other any more. Of course the grinning Syrian
agreed, whereupon Ahab said good-bye to him and let him go on his
way to freedom -- and to prepare for war with Israel three years
later. (I Kings 20:34.)


When Invaders Are Not Punished

While Ahab was on his way back to Samaria, a prophet stopped
the king. He informed the king that the leader of Israel had made
a fatal error in giving Ben-hadad his freedom.
"Because you didn't take the life of that heathen king that
God has already condemned, your life will be required for his,"
was the prophet's dismal prediction.
The rest of the trip to his palace was a miserable one for
Ahab. He knew the man who had spoken to him was truly a prophet
of God, and he had no reason to doubt him. (I Kings 20:35-43.)
It wasn't until he talked to his wife, Jezebel, that Ahab
received some measure of comfort, for Jezebel only laughed, as
usual, at what God's prophet had to say.
After a season of war, it was a relief to Ahab to get back
to the comforts of his palace. While walking about in his garden,
he decided that it should be extended so that there would be room
to grow more than shrubs, flowers and fruit. He wanted room in
which to grow berries, herbs and vegetables for royal
consumption.
Just beyond the garden wall was a fine vineyard owned by a
man named Naboth. He enjoyed a good income from the sale of his
choice grapes, wine and raisins. He was thankful that he had
inherited such a valuable piece of property from his ancestors
who had taken good care of it. His happy and peaceful life was
disrupted the day he was summoned to appear before Ahab.
"I need your vineyard," Ahab told him. "I want to expand my
gardens to include other kinds of produce. Your land is next to
mine. No other ground is available adjoining my gardens. I'll pay
you what your vineyard is worth. If you don't consider that fair,
I'll buy a bigger and better vineyard and give it to you for
yours." Ahab was guilty of coveting his neighbor's property. (I
Kings 21:1-2; Exodus 20:17; Isa. 5:8.)
"I respect your wishes, sir," Naboth replied uncomfortably,
struggling to appear composed, "but God's law very plainly states
that an inheritance in Israel shouldn't be sold unless the owner
is quite destitute, and even then he should have it returned to
him when he is able to make payment. If I turned over my
inheritance to you for a price, both of us would be guilty before
God." (I Kings 21:3; Numbers 27:8-11; Leviticus 25:10-13, 23-28.)
Ahab dismissed Naboth with a wave of his hand. He had his
mind set on extending his garden, and this rebuff by a common
neighbor quoting God's law greatly upset him. Like a child who
had been deprived of a wanted toy, he went to his private
quarters, there to stay for many hours in a sulky mood. (I Kings
21:4.) Servants reported to Jezebel that Ahab was in bed and
hadn't requested food for many hours. The queen took time out
from her many pursuits to go to Ahab and ask if he had started on
some kind of ridiculous Israelite fast.
Ahab explained matters to his wife, who had no sympathy for
him. She was disgusted that he had considered Naboth's reason for
not selling his property.
"This is absurd!" Jezebel scoffed. "Aren't you the king of
Israel? Shouldn't your desires come before those of some common
grape farmer? Don't brood over this thing. Get up and eat and
drink and forget about it for now. I'll handle it for you, and I
promise that the vineyard will be yours soon."
Ahab didn't want to know how his wife would get the
property. He was certain that she would use devious means that
might bother his conscience. He decided to forget about it for a
time, Besides, he was hungry.
Using Ahab's signature and royal seal, Jezebel sent letters
to prominent men of the city, telling them to proclaim a public
meeting and announce that someone had blasphemed God and the
king, and that whoever it was would have to die. (I Kings
21:5-10.) Jezebel then hired two men to appear and swear that
Naboth was the guilty one!
----------------------------------------

Chapter 120
STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

AHAB king of Israel, greatly desired a vineyard adjoining his
palace garden. Naboth, the owner, refused to sell it to him. (I
Kings 21:1-4.) Jezebel, Ahab's wife, decided that she would
obtain the property for her husband simply by doing away with the
owner. (I Kings 21:5-7.)


A Rigged Trial

Leading men of the city gathered at a public meeting in
Samaria because they thought that they had been summoned by the
king. Jezebel had done the summoning. Ahab didn't know about it.
The meeting was for the purpose of trying one who reportedly (by
Jezebel) had spoken in an evil manner against God and the king.
The leaders had already been informed (by Jezebel) that the man
was Naboth. He was brought to the meeting and placed on a high
platform where all could see him. (I Kings 21:8-12.)
"But I have never said anything against God or the king!"
Naboth remonstrated when he was accused.
"Bring the witnesses!" someone in authority called out.
Two men who were strangers to Naboth were summoned to the
platform to stand in front of the indignant victim of Jezebel's
scheming.
"Is this the man you overheard shouting profane insults
about our king?" the witnesses were asked.
"This is the man," they nodded in accord. "We were passing
by his vineyard at dusk when we heard him making some shocking
statements to a servant. When he saw that we were very close, he
stopped talking and hurried away."
"Stone the blasphemer!" was the shout that welled up from
the crowd, a great part of which included priests of Baal and
their friends and followers.
At a nod from a high official, city police climbed on the
platform and seized Naboth. His loud protests and struggles were
useless. He was dragged to a field outside the city and cruelly
stoned to death before a thrill-seeking crowd.
Not long afterward Jezebel received the news she awaited --
that Naboth was dead and that members of his immediate family
would be taken care of by various underhanded means so that there
would be no one left in Samaria to claim Naboth's vineyard. (I
Kings 21:13-14; II Kings 9:25-26.) Ahab was busy with other
matters, and wasn't sure of what had happened, except that
Jezebel's plans would be effective. That was as Jezebel had
planned. Ahab knew that Jezebel was as thorough as she was
ruthless. Later that day when she saw Ahab, she cheerfully
informed him that Naboth's vineyard was his. (I Kings 21:15.)
"You mean he has changed his mind and has decided to sell
it?" Ahab asked eagerly.
"Better than that," Jezebel answered gaily. "You won't have
to buy it because Naboth is dead!"
"How did he die?" the king queried, staring at his wife
perplexedly. "Even if he is dead, the land will go to someone in
his family."
"Don't be concerned about details," Jezebel snapped
impatiently. "I happen to know that there will be no one to
inherit Naboth's vineyard, and that therefore it is the property
of the crown. Could it be that in spite of the trouble I've taken
to arrange matters for your benefit, you've lost your desire to
expand your gardens?"


The Penalty

"Not at all," Ahab assured her. "I appreciate whatever
you've done for me. Tomorrow I'll take possession of the
vineyard."
Next day Ahab was pleased as he strolled between the neat
rows of grape vines. He planned to remove all but a section of
the best of them and plant other things. First he would have a
high wall built all around, and would have the wall removed that
was between his garden and the vineyard. In Ahab's mind there was
no concern for Naboth. He was certain that Jezebel had brought
about his death. He didn't know how and he didn't want to know.
"Don't you think that the price of this land is much too
high?" a voice came from behind the king.
Ahab wheeled to gaze with irritation at someone he at first
didn't recognize. When he did, he was quite startled. Elijah the
prophet stood staring at him accusingly!
"Elijah!" Ahab exclaimed uncomfortably. "Where did you come
from? Why do you speak of the price of this land as too high?"
"Because I don't think you would want to pay for it with
your life," Elijah replied. "That's the price you'll have to pay
because the owner was murdered. Dogs licked up his blood after he
was stoned yesterday. Because you allowed your wife to plan his
death, and haven't cared about anything except gaining this
vineyard, dogs shall also lick up your blood!" (I Kings
21:16-19.)
The king's face turned ashen gray. He knew that this man of
God didn't make false or futile pronouncements.
"At one time you were my friend," Ahab stammered. "Now you
are my enemy. Otherwise you wouldn't come here to seek me out
just to make evil predictions against me."
"I am doing what God told me to do," Elijah continued. "You
have always been aware of God's laws. You've had plenty of
opportunity to live by them. Because you have persisted in wrong
and shameful ways, you and your family must go the awful way of
Jeroboam and Baasha, who also led the people in the wrong ways.
As for your idolatrous and murderous wife, dogs won't just lick
up her blood. They'll EAT her! Others of your family will share
the same fate. If dogs don't devour them, their flesh is going to
be consumed by scavenger birds." (I Kings 21:20-26.)
Ahab had nothing more to say. He walked slowly away, leaving
the prophet standing in the vineyard shaking his head. The king
returned to his private quarters in the palace and slumped
dejectedly on a couch. He was beginning to realize how much he
had allowed his wife to wrongfully influence him, and how low he
had sunk.
Groaning with misery of mind, Ahab rolled over and madly
yanked his cloak, tearing it in two. Having vented his disgust of
himself, in a limited manner, by ruining his costly clothes, he
lay on the couch and sobbed. The king of Israel was starting to
know the meaning of bitter regret.


Remorse Without Change

For the next several days Ahab was seen only by Jezebel and
his servants. He ceased eating and drinking. His only apparel was
rough sackcloth, a sign of sorrow. His servants wondered why he
refused food, went about in his bare feet and dressed so
shabbily, but they dared not ask him the reason. Ahab's state of
mind was different than it had ever been in his life. He
regretted the way that he had lived, and that was all that
concerned him at the time.
As for Jezebel, she laughed at her husband when he told her
what Elijah had said and raved at him for being sorry and for
fasting.
"My people's gods were here long before the Israelites
brought their God along," Jezebel told Ahab. "Now their strange
religion is driving you crazy. Look at you, lying there in rags
like a beggar! Have you forgotten that you're a king? If your
subjects could see you now, they would lose all confidence in you
as a ruler. If you don't come to your senses, it will be up to me
to rule Israel."
"You've already been doing too much of that," Ahab muttered.
Jezebel gave her husband a long, searching stare. She
wondered if it were possible that Ahab was seriously thinking
about trying to curb her evil pursuits and activities. Finally
she shook her head derisively and walked away, laughing shrilly.
At that time Elijah received a message from God informing
the prophet that although Ahab had not fully repented, he had
become so humbled that God was willing to delay a part of the
curse He had put on the king and his family.
"I will not bring evil on Ahab's family while Ahab is
alive," God told Elijah, "but it will surely come later in his
son's days." (I Kings 21:27-29.)


Strength and Peace Through Law

While unpleasant events were taking place in the house of
Israel, there was peace and prosperity in the house of Judah.
Judah's king Jehoshaphat, son of Asa, was a king who followed
God's laws and worked to put idolatry out of Judah. (II
Chronicles 17:1-4.) He built strong fortifications in the land
and manned them with many well-trained troops. His reliance was
more on God than on his soldiers, but fortifications and troops
were things most of Judah's enemies respected and feared more
than they did the only true God.
Even so, many of the people of surrounding nations were so
conscious of the power of God that they brought gifts to
Jehoshaphat, hoping that their offerings to one of God's royal
followers would help insure their prosperity. Even the
Philistines brought tributes of silver and valuable merchandise.
Arabians from the deserts to the south and southeast brought
flocks of thousands of male sheep and goats.
It was most unusual for neighboring nations to furnish
tributes of their own will, but almost any good thing could be
expected for Judah. God was sending rewards for the obedience of
the Jewish king and the people who followed his example. They
knew what to do because Jehoshaphat had sent priests to all parts
of the nation to instruct the inhabitants of Judah how to live
according to God's laws, and be happy, healthy and prosperous as
a result. (II Chronicles 17:5-11.)
With an army of 1,160,000 soldiers around Jerusalem, besides
those who guarded the cities, Jehoshaphat wasn't bothered with
war or threats of war. Such a large army was possible only
because the national economy was in good condition. Most everyone
in Judah made a good living, and wasn't burdened by excessive
taxes. (II Chronicles 17:12-19.)
During this period of grief for Israel and good conditions
for Judah, a marriage occurred that didn't have God's approval.
It later resulted in trouble for all the twelve tribes. Omri's
granddaughter and Ahab's daughter, Athalia, was married to
Jehoram, Jehoshaphat's son. (II Kings 8:16-18, 26; II Chronicles
21:5-6; I Kings 16:29-31.)
The wedding took place at Israel's capital, Samaria.
Otherwise, Jehoshaphat probably never would have gone there. (II
Chronicles 18:1; I Kings 22:1-2.) His presence provided an
opportunity Ahab had hoped for since he had learned of the
prosperity in Judah. After the wedding, he prepared a great feast
in Jehoshaphat's honor, hoping to find special favor with the
king of Judah. (II Chronicles 18:2.)
"Probably you know that the Syrians still occupy some of the
cities they promised to give back to me," Ahab mentioned to
Jehoshaphat. (I Kings 20:34; I Kings 22:3.) "I've been anxious to
repossess Ramoth-gilead east of the Jordan River, but it begins
to appear that the only way I'll get it back is to drive the
Syrians out."
"You defeated the Syrians twice before," Jehoshaphat
observed. "Surely you can do it a third time."
"I'm afraid not," Ahab said with a gloomy sigh. "In the last
three years the Syrians probably have built another great army
that would dwarf mine. If I commanded a magnificent fighting
force such as yours, I would have no fears. I would be confident
even if I had the use of a mere part of your army. But I can't
ask you to help me with my problems. You have no interest in a
city east of the Jordan."
"I have a great interest in any part of Israel." Jehoshaphat
said. "Why shouldn't I? Your people and we Jews are all
Israelites. If you need help against your enemies, my soldiers
are available to you." (I Kings 22:4; II Chronicles 18:3.)
"You mean you would be willing to send troops against the
Syrians?" Ahab asked, struggling to mask his elation.
"If it's God's will," Jehoshaphat replied. "Before any such
undertaking, we should inquire of God to find out. If it's not
His will, we could be defeated, no matter how many troops we use.
We should ask a prophet of God to inquire." (I Kings 22:5; II
Chronicles 18:4.)
"Of course," Ahab agreed. "I'll see to it at once."
Even though Ahab had gone through a miserable period of
remorse, he did something he thought would insure help from
Jehoshaphat. He called together Jezebel's four hundred prophets
of the groves who had escaped the death penalty for idolatry
earlier only because they had refused to answer Elijah's summons
to Mt. Carmel, where the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal were
executed. (I Kings 18:17-40; 22:6; II Chronicles 18:5.)
"I want you to determine what God would have me do about
sending an army to seize the city of Ramoth-gilead," Ahab told
the prophets. "I wish to do this thing, but if God decrees
otherwise, I'll not act on it. I'll return later to learn what I
should do."


Prophets of Convenience

Knowing what the king's will was, the prophets knew better
than to pass on a negative answer. When Ahab returned they told
him what he wanted to hear -- that he should act to take over
Ramoth-gilead, and that he would be successful.
On learning that four hundred prophets were required to
obtain information from God, Jehoshaphat was quite disturbed. He
knew that not one of them was close enough to the Creator to be
used as a true servant.
"I think it would be wiser to ask just one man who is a true
prophet of God to contact God for us," Jehoshaphat suggested to
Ahab. "That man should be one who has the reputation of living
according to God's laws. I'll not be satisfied in this matter
until I learn what God has to say through someone I'm convinced
is completely dedicated to the Creator's service." (I Kings 22:7;
II Chronicles 18:6.)
Ahab knew what Jehoshaphat meant. He began to feel
ridiculous for calling in four hundred men to do something the
king of Judah knew could be done by only one right one. Elijah
could be the man, but Ahab had no idea of where Elijah was. Then
Ahab thought of Micaiah, the prophet who had warned him that he
would lose his life because he had allowed the king of Syria to
escape from Aphek three years previously. The king of Israel
didn't want to have any more to do with this fellow, whom he
strongly disliked because of the prediction. But he was so
anxious to please Jehoshaphat that he gave his servants orders to
bring Micaiah to his palace.
"I have sent for a man who is reportedly a strong follower
of God." Ahab told Jehoshaphat. "I don't like or trust the fellow
because he came to me some time ago to tell me that I would soon
die. In spite of what he said, I'm still alive and in good
health. If he has anything to say to either of us, I wouldn't
rely on it." (I Kings 22:8-9; II Chronicles 18:7-8.)
"I'll know if he's the right man when I see him," the king
of Judah remarked firmly.
In an effort to impress Jehoshaphat, Ahab arranged for their
two thrones to be placed in a spacious open area near the main
gates of the city. There the two kings sat while the royal guards
of Samaria displayed their skills and equipment. Other groups
entertained with music and dancing.
Then, to Jehoshaphat's surprise, the four hundred prophets,
attired in robes that were alike, slowly marched up to a position
before the kings and began to chant.

"TO RAMOTH-GILEAD YOU SHOULD GO
TO WIN AGAINST THE SYRIAN FOE.
THE CITY SHALL BE YOURS AGAIN
BECAUSE THE LORD WILL HELP YOUR MEN."

While the prophets soberly chorused the lines over and over,
one of them rushed about in a helmet with long iron horns
attached to it. By charging about like a frenzied bull, he
attempted to depict the victory the others were chanting about.
Ahab hoped that his guest would be moved by the performance.
He was, but not in the way the king of Israel had in mind. To
Jehoshaphat it was a silly display at a time when the issue at
hand was serious. His interest lagged until the four hundred
prophets marched somberly away and a man walked up before the
kings and was announced as the special prophet Micaiah. In a loud
voice Ahab inquired of him if Israel should go against
Ramoth-gilead.
"You should go!" Micaiah proclaimed. "God will deliver the
city to you!" (I Kings 22:10-15; II Chronicles 18:9-14.)
Both kings stood up in surprise. They hadn't expected that
kind of answer. Each had a different reason for expecting that
Micaiah wouldn't agree with the many other prophets.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 121
WHEN A KING REPENTS

MICAIAH the prophet stepped before Ahab the king of Israel and
Jehoshaphat the king of Judah. He told them that God would help
Israel take the city of Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians. (I Kings
22:1-15; II Chronicles 18:1-14.) Ahab couldn't believe his ears.
He was certain that the prophet would predict failure.
"Did God actually tell you to tell me that I would succeed
against the enemy?" Ahab demanded.


The Truth Is Out

"He did not!" Micaiah answered so that all could hear.
"That's what your servant who brought me here told me to tell
you. He said that the other prophets had agreed to say that you
would be successful, and that I should say the same thing so that
you wouldn't be disappointed."
Ahab's face turned a deep pink. He opened his mouth to shout
something to the prophet, who hastily continued.
"Here is what God wants me to tell you. The soldiers of
Israel will be victorious against the Syrians, yet they shall be
scattered as sheep that have lost their shepherd. They shall
straggle back to their homes because of the loss of their
leader." (I Kings 22:16-17; II Chronicles 18:15-16.)
"Hear that?" Ahab whispered hoarsely to Jehoshaphat. "I told
you this man would have only an evil report for me. Now he's
trying to predict that my soldiers will come back safely from
battle and that I won't."
"Let me tell you more," Micaiah went on. "I had a vision
from God in which I saw Him sitting on his throne, surrounded by
His angels. God asked them which one would persuade Ahab to
attack Ramoth-gilead, so that he should lose his life there. An
evil spirit came among them and explained that he would manage to
get the king of Israel to go to his doom simply by causing his
prophets to lie to him by telling him that he would overcome the
Syrians. God permitted this, and sent him on his way. Now you
know why your four hundred prophets said you would succeed,
whereas you will actually die if you go to battle." (I Kings
22:18-23; II Chronicles 18:17-22.)
There was murmuring from the crowd and from Ahab's prophets.
The one wearing the helmet with the iron horns, who considered
himself the great holy man, strode up to Micaiah and struck him
in the face with such force that Micaiah almost fell to the
ground.
"Don't try to convince the king that God hasn't worked
through me to tell Ahab the truth!" he angrily shouted. "If there
is a false prophet around here, it's you. If you are the special
servant of God you claim to be, then how did God's Spirit get
from me to you to speak to you?"
As Micaiah gingerly rubbed his head bruises, there was an
expectant silence. The accuser stood glowering at the prophet. He
was unconcerned about what God would do to him because he didn't
have that much belief in God. Ahab was taken in by this dramatic
device. Like all the others watching, he wondered if something
would happen to the man who had struck Micaiah. Nothing did, so
he assumed that Micaiah was a false prophet. Perhaps it didn't
occur to him that God might prefer not to do anything for Micaiah
at that time.
"The king obviously believes you," Micaiah told his
attacker. "God has a reason for not dealing with you now, but not
many days later you'll be running for your life."


Persecution of the Faithful

"Arrest Micaiah!" Ahab called to his guards. "Take him to
the mayor of Samaria and tell the mayor that I want this man put
in prison and kept alive only with bread and water until I return
from taking possession of Ramoth-gilead!"
"If that's the way it's going to be, I'll he consuming much
bread and water," Micaiah observed to the crowd, "because Ahab
won't be coming back alive. Everybody remember what I'm saying
here today." (I Kings 22:24-28; II Chronicles 18:23-27.)
Jehoshaphat was puzzled. He knew that Micaiah was a true
prophet, but he couldn't understand why God didn't come to his
rescue. He concluded that he would leave the matter up to the
king of Israel.
A few days later the two kings, each in his own chariot, led
the armies of Israel and Judah across the Jordan River and into
the high plain country toward Ramoth-gilead. The closer they came
to their goal, the more concerned Ahab became for his life. He
feared Micaiah's prediction would come true because he knew that
his prophets had spoken only what he wanted to hear.
In an attempt to provide more safety for himself, he decided
that he would not approach the enemy in his personal chariot.
Instead, he would use an ordinary army chariot, and wear the
armor of a charioteer instead of his royal robes and insignia. In
short, he wanted to hide his identity by disguise.
As a further precaution, he boldly asked Jehoshaphat to put
on royal robes. The king of Judah considered this an unreasonable
request, but he complied because he wanted to prove to the king
of Israel that he could be a dependable ally. He wasn't too
certain that it was the wisest thing to prove, however, inasmuch
as Ahab had made some unusual demands. (I Kings 22:29-30; II
Chronicles 18:28-29.)
Ben-hadad, king of Syria, had already been informed that an
Israelite army was coming from the west. He immediately
dispatched his army, including many chariots, to meet the enemy
before Ramoth-gilead could be attacked. He remembered all too
well how Ahab and his retainers, the clan chiefs' sons, had led
the small Israelite army in two smashing victories over Syria
twice in four years. (I Kings 20:13-29.)
"Ahab is a great fighter," Ben-hadad told his thirty-two
chief chariot officers. "You thirty-two concentrate on him above
all others. Gang up on him and get him at all costs. Do away with
him, and his army will become a lesser threat." (I Kings 22:31;
II Chronicles 18:30.)
As the Syrian and Israelite armies clashed on a plain south
of Ramoth-gilead, the Israelites were puzzled by the way the
leading Syrian chariots drove through their lines. It seemed as
though these leading charioteers were intent on fighting their
way into the midst of the Israelite army, rather than trying to
destroy as many soldiers as possible. Suddenly several of the
chariots headed toward a certain Jewish area of the Israelite
army, now standing almost motionless. Soldiers scurried to get
out of the way of the charging vehicles, whose riders struggled
to shield themselves from a cloud of weapons. Jehoshaphat,
standing in his chariot, abruptly realized that he was being
personally attacked by the enemy.
"That's Ahab!" some of the Syrian captains kept yelling.
"Destroy him!"
A Sinner Cannot Hide


"I am not Ahab!" the king of Judah desperately shouted,
expecting spears and arrows to come plunging into him at any
moment.
Above the clatter of weapons and the noise of excited
voices, one of the captains, who had seen King Ahab at the battle
three years before, bellowed to the Syrians that the man was
telling the truth -- that he wasn't Ahab. There was a quick
exchange of turbulent remarks between the captains. Then the
Syrian chariots wheeled about and rumbled swiftly away through
the rattle and clank of Israelite arrows and spears hitting the
shields of the riders.
Ahab, watching at a distance, was pleased for having the
foresight to keep himself from being recognized. At the same time
he began to feel panic as he realized that certain chief Syrians
were obviously more interested in getting to him than in fighting
with his soldiers.
At this time some Syrian archer fitted an arrow to his
bowstring, drew it back with all his might and let it fly. It
struck between armor joints of a certain chariot rider in the
Israelite army, causing a deep wound in the man's chest.
That man was Ahab.
"Get me out of here before the Syrians find me or my
soldiers learn that I've been wounded," Ahab told his driver. (I
Kings 22:32-34; II Chronicles 18:31-33.)
As Ahab was being taken from the battle zone, an officer
leaped into the chariot to prevent the king from falling down,
which would have created much attention. Ahab returned to the
battle after the arrow was removed and his mortal wound bandaged.
As the vehicle moved along, nearby troops saw that Ahab was
standing in it with two of his officers. They didn't realize that
he was being held up, and that he was making a great effort to
keep his head erect and to keep fighting.
The battle increased for the rest of the day. By sundown
Ahab had lost so much blood that he died. His officers feared
that news of his death could demoralize his army. Before the
report could get out, they sent out orders that every man was to
return immediately to his country and his home.
The prophet Micaiah had foretold that the soldiers of Israel
would return to their homes because of the loss of their leader.
The prophecy was fulfilled as the army broke up and went back
westward across the Jordan.
Ahab's body was taken back to Samaria in the chariot in
which he died. After the corpse was removed, the chariot was
washed because of the blood the king of Israel had lost. Dogs
came around to lick up the blood, thus carrying out the prophecy
made by Elijah that dogs would one day consume Ahab's blood
because of his disobedience to God. (II Chronicles 18:34; I Kings
22:35-40; I Kings 21:1-19.)


Because of an Unholy Alliance

Unhappy because of how matters had worked out, and
disappointed in himself for having become involved, Jehoshaphat
returned with his troops to Jerusalem. When he was almost there,
riding before his army, a man stood in front of him in the road,
and held up his hand to try to stop the whole vast procession.
Guards ran forward to remove him. Jehoshaphat signaled for a
halt, and asked that the man be brought to him. He turned out to
be Jehu, the prophet who had informed King Baasha that he would
die because he had lived and ruled contrary to God's laws. (I
Kings 16:1-4.)
"What is your reason for standing in the way of the army of
Judah?" Jehoshaphat asked Jehu.
"I have news for you about your future," Jehu answered. "I
know it will interest you because it also has to do with what
will happen to Judah."
While the army moved on, Jehoshaphat conferred with Jehu,
who made some statements that caused the king to become even
unhappier.
"You have been unwise in forming an alliance with an ungodly
king," the prophet told Jehoshaphat. "In the past you have
followed God and have done many good things for your people. God
has been pleased about that, but He is far from pleased about
what you have lately done. Because of it, calamity will come upon
this nation." (II Chronicles 19:1-3.)
The king of Judah was so troubled that during the weeks that
followed he toured every part of his kingdom to carefully inspect
his judicial system. He wanted to make certain that the officials
were conscientious and fair. In some places he made replacements.
In others he added more judges. He admonished every man in
authority to fear God and be completely just, so that God would
give them greater wisdom in making decisions.
When Jehoshaphat returned to Jerusalem, where the high
priest and supreme court of the nation functioned, he made some
changes for the better there, too, besides advising the Levites
and the judges to be courageous in their decisions. Being fair
often requires courage.
Jehoshaphat worked diligently to make conditions right in
Judah, hoping that God would take these things into account, and
that Jehu's pronouncement of trouble wouldn't come to pass. He
even reminded the Levites to be more obedient to their chief
priest, Amariah. (II Chronicles 19:4-11.)
Months later Jehoshaphat received a report that trouble was
on the way to Judah in spite of all he had done since returning
from Ramoth-gilead.
"A massive army is coming this way up the west side of the
Dead Sea!" the king was told. "Moabites, Ammonites and many of
their neighboring nations are surely headed for Jerusalem!"
"Where is this army now?" Jehoshaphat asked, trying to hide
his concern.
"Only a few miles east of Hebron on the west shore of the
Dead Sea," was the answer. (II Chronicles 20:1-2.)
"That is only about twenty miles from here!" the king
exclaimed. "We could be attacked in two days!"
"At the rate the army is moving, it would be closer to three
days at the soonest," it was explained.


"You Are Our God"

Jehoshaphat was stunned, even though he had been expecting
something like this. He immediately called a meeting of his top
officers, who were as upset as the king when they learned that
such a large army was so close. Some of them were in favor of
sending out the army of Judah at once to meet the invaders.
Jehoshaphat disagreed. He knew that there was something that had
to be done before his soldiers went into action.
He sent fast messengers to all parts of Judah to proclaim a
fast and ask the people to pray for the protection of the nation.
Within only a few hours people began flocking to Jerusalem,
anxious to gather there to ask God for help. This crowd wasn't
composed of just the leaders of Judah. The many thousands were
made up mostly of families who wanted to come to the temple.
Jehoshaphat welcomed this opportunity to lead the growing
assembly in prayer. (II Chronicles 20:3-4.)
"God of our fathers, we come to you now to ask for help,"
Jehoshaphat cried out as he stood in the court before the temple.
"We know You are the Supreme Ruler of the universe as well as the
One who controls even every heathen nation of this world. You
have power that none can withstand. You are our God, who drove
out the inhabitants of this land and gave it to the descendants
of Israel forever. Your people lived here and built this temple
for You. In time of war, famine, pestilence or any kind of
national disaster, they came to the temple to ask for help
because they knew that your Presence was in the temple. Again we
are in a time of danger because enemies are invading our land.
When our forefathers came here, they passed in peace by the
Moabites, Ammonites and inhabitants of the land south of the Dead
Sea, even though You could have given the Israelites the power to
destroy them. Now the armies of these nations are close at hand
to attack us. They surely plan to push us out of the land You
gave to Israel. The numbers of the enemy are so great we are
fearful of defeat it we rely on the strength of the army of
Judah. We look to our God for protection and strength. Be
merciful to us!" (II Chronicles 20:5-12; Deuteronomy 2:4-9,
18-19, 37.)


God Listens

After Jehoshaphat's prayer there was a period of quiet
reverence. It was broken by the voice of a man named Jahaziel, a
Levite who strode up beside the surprised king and began to
boldly speak. Jehoshaphat quickly motioned to his guards to let
the man alone.
"Hear what I have to say to you, people of Judah!" Jahaziel
shouted. "Listen to me, King Jehoshaphat and inhabitants of
Jerusalem! Our king has just prayed to God for help. I have been
instructed by Him to give an answer to that prayer. God wants you
to know that we shouldn't be afraid because the invaders are so
numerous. Our army won't have to fight against them. God will
take our part in the battle. All that is expected of us is that
we go tomorrow to meet our enemies and witness what will happen
to them!" (II Chronicles 20:13-17.)
A murmur of surprise came from the crowd. Jehoshaphat was
almost as stunned as he had been when he had first learned of the
invaders.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 122
VICTORY WITHOUT WAR

THE people of Judah had assembled in Jerusalem to ask God for
protection from a huge invading army. They were surprised when a
Levite went before the crowd at the temple and announced that God
would spare the nation. (II Chronicles 20:1-17.)
"God has told me," Jahaziel declared, "to tell you that He
will fight for us! There will be no action necessary from our
army. But the Creator wants us to go out tomorrow to where the
enemy is camped, to see for ourselves how He will deal with the
invaders. He will do this for us because of the prayers and
obedience of our king and thousands of our people!"


Three Armies Against God

Jehoshaphat was as surprised as anyone else by this unusual
pronouncement. Matters could have become very awkward if the king
had decided that Jahaziel should prove his statements. God caused
matters to work out by giving Jehoshaphat the capacity to see at
once that this man was being used by God in these critical hours.
Relieved to hear this almost unbelievable news, Jehoshaphat
fell to his knees and bowed his head to the ground. The people
followed his good example, remaining prostrate while the king
gave a prayer of thanks. Afterward, the Levites praised God with
an instrumental and choral concert. (II Chronicles 20:18-19.)
Next morning the army of Judah marched off to the southeast
to meet the invaders at a location Jahaziel had mentioned in his
declaration. Jehoshaphat admonished the people to believe God and
His prophet. The soldiers weren't first to go. They were led by
the Levites, who sang and played anthems as they moved along.
Behind the army came a crowd of the people of Judah, curious to
learn just how God would fight against the enemy.
Meanwhile, only a few miles away, the horde of Ammonites,
Moabites and troops of Seir were about to grind to a halt on the
march toward Jerusalem. The Moabites and Ammonites had begun to
regret asking the men of Seir to join them in an invasion of
Judah. Now, with victory seemingly only hours away, they didn't
relish the thought of sharing the spoils of that victory with
others.
Resentment mounted with the Moabites and Ammonites until it
led to a plan to get rid of the unwelcome allies by turning back
from the line of march and ambushing them from boulders and rises
on both sides. Taken by surprise and caught from two directions,
the men of Seir were mercilessly disposed of in a short time.
In closing in on their victims, some of the spears and
arrows of the Moabites and Ammonites overshot so far that some of
the attackers became victims. A vengeful attitude quickly
developed into action between the soldiers of the two nations.
Some of them started hurling spears and shooting arrows. This was
followed by some close combat with swords and knives. More troops
joined in to help their comrades.
Soon all the soldiers were fighting for their lives among
themselves. The battle finished only after there was no one left
to fight. If any remained alive, it was only because they were
clever enough to escape.


God Rewards Faith

When Jehoshaphat and his army reached the region through
which the enemy was supposed to be marching, they came on a
gruesome sight. Thousands of corpses were strewn out before them
almost as far as they could see. The Israelites were sobered by
what God was able to do. (II Chronicles 20:20-23.)
Having seen the defeat of their enemies, the Israelites
didn't turn around and walk away. There was much wealth in such a
great army, and it wasn't God's will that it should spoil and
corrode or become lost. They gathered so much spoil that they
found that carrying all of it away at one time was too much for
them. For three days the men of Judah worked at collecting and
carrying away arms, clothing, food, jewels, gold, silver and
other valuable articles from the invaders. Next day, before
returning to Jerusalem, they assembled to thank God for what He
had done for them.
Jehoshaphat led his army back into the capital while
thousands cheered in welcome. The Levites in the parade resumed
their music, inspiring a festive mood to quickly develop among
the people. The march ended as the king came before the temple,
where Jehoshaphat reminded the crowd that although festivity was
in order, a spirit of thankfulness should come first. (II
Chronicles 20:24-28.)
News of the strange fate of the enemies of Judah soon
reached the nations to the east and south of the Dead Sea.
Travelers through eastern Judah told of seeing the vast spread of
corpses. Others later claimed that a whole valley was strewn with
skeletons. The people of Moab, Ammon and Seir weren't the only
ones who were dismayed by these reports. Rulers of other nearby
countries were troubled by what the mysterious God of Israel had
done. For the next several years there was peace in Judah. (II
Chronicles 20:29-30.)
During the early part of this period of peace, Jehoshaphat
planned to build a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, a port at the
end of the east finger of the Red Sea. This was the same port
from which Solomon had sent ships southward into the Arabian Sea
and to Africa and India and to other distant easterly lands.
Judah's king hoped that he could be at least half as successful
as Solomon had been in bringing back unique valuables from
strange lands. Unhappily, the plan didn't have God's approval,
and for a reason of which Jehoshaphat should have been quite
aware.
After Ahab died, his son Ahaziah became king of Israel. As
the son of Jezebel, he couldn't be expected to do better than his
mother and father. He had been reared with pagan instruction. He
was allowed to rule Israel for only two years.


A Forbidden Alliance

In spite of what had happened because of his teaming with
Ahab against the Syrians, Jehoshaphat finally let Ahaziah join
him in the building of the ships after first refusing to be his
partner. The two kings planned to share in any profit they made
in trade with other nations. (I Kings 22:41-49; II Chronicles
20:31-36.)
When the fleet was well under construction, a prophet named
Eliezer came to Jehoshaphat with some disagreeable news. "God has
sent me to tell you that you shouldn't have become a partner with
Ahaziah in sea commerce," the prophet respectfully told the king
of Judah. "Because you have joined with an evil man, this effort
will surely fail."
"You mean that there is a curse on the venture?" Jehoshaphat
asked unhappily.
"It won't get to the venture stage," Eliezer replied. "God
won't let the ships sail out of the port."
After the prophet had gone, the king was very discouraged.
The ships, which were especially large, were almost ready to be
launched. If he withdrew his workmen and his financial support,
the expensive project would have to be taken over by Ahaziah, who
wasn't prepared to handle it alone. Jehoshaphat felt that he had
no choice but to continue what he had started, at the same time
trusting God would reconsider his situation or that Eliezer had
been mistaken about the matter.
After the ships had been launched and fully outfitted, they
lay at anchor in the upper end of the gulf of Aqaba. The king of
Israel and the king of Judah came to Ezion-geber to inspect the
fleet before the ships departed on their maiden voyages.
There was a crowd present, including dignitaries from many
parts of the land. Just before the inspection tour was to take
place, a wind came up. It became so strong that it wasn't safe
for boats to take the kings and others out to board the ships.
Waves grew larger and higher. The ships began to roll and toss,
their masts swaying a little lower with the passing of every
swelling ridge of water.
Then one of the ship's anchor lines snapped. It was evident
then to the excited onlookers on the shore that the gale was
about to cause a major catastrophe. The loosed vessel rammed into
the nearest leeward one. The shins were so large and had so much
surface for the surging water to strain against that they snapped
apart. Other ships fell apart by only the action of the turbulent
water.
Within minutes every vessel was sunk or broken. Workmen who
hadn't been drowned clung desperately to floating debris. The
birthplace of Israel's largest sea fleet since Solomon's time had
become its graveyard.
As the wind meanwhile abated, Jehoshaphat was without words.
While Ahaziah and others around him shouted with excitement and
cursed the weather, the king of Judah was vividly recalling how
the prophet Eliezer had told him that the ships would never sail
out of the port of Ezion-gaber. He realized how foolish he had
been not to heed the prophet, no matter how unhappy or angry
Ahaziah would have become. (II Chronicles 20:37.)
At the moment the king of Israel was very unhappy, but
gradually he regained some composure and ceased making angry and
profane remarks. Suddenly he turned to Jehoshaphat.
"Why should we let a freak wind discourage us?" he asked.
"Instead of brooding over this, we should start building a new
fleet right away!"


Jehoshaphat Learns a Lesson

Jehoshaphat, gloomily staring out over the bay, turned to
give Ahaziah a long look.
"No! I'll never make this mistake again!" Judah's king
replied curtly, and walked away.
Ahaziah's face and hopes fell at the same time. He knew by
Jehoshaphat's firm answer that the king of Judah would not supply
money for another fleet.
When Ahaziah returned to Samaria, he was told that the
Moabites, who had been paying regular tribute to Israel since
being conquered in David's time, had refused to pay anything
after Ahab's death. (II Kings 1:1.)
"The Moabites will regret this!" was Ahaziah's angry
reaction. "I'll take my army into their land and force them to
pay with more than mere tribute!"
The government of Israel was far from being burdened with
wealth. Revenue from the Moabites was badly needed. Plans were
immediately made for an invasion of Moab, but if they included
Ahaziah's presence, they were suddenly changed when the king was
severely injured in a fall from the top floor of his personal
quarters to the floor below.
The king of Israel suffered from pain deep within his body,
as though vital organs had been bruised or dislocated. There were
as many opinions and treatments as there were doctors in that
day, but no relief came to the king.
Disappointed, Ahaziah decided to inquire of a pagan god what
would happen to him. There were many false gods, but the one
Ahaziah selected was an idol who was considered, among other
things, a deity of medicine. It was the Philistine god of Ekron,
called Baal-zebub, another name for Satan. This idol was
generally known as the god of flies because he was believed to
possess the power to destroy flies, especially where meat
sacrifices were made to pagan gods.
"Go to Ekron and ask the priests of Baal-zebub to inquire if
I shall recover from the cause of my pain," Ahaziah instructed
some of his aides. (II Kings 1:2.)
On the way to Ekron, which was southwest of Samaria, the
aides were stopped when a man boldly stepped in front of the
procession and demanded to know why they were going all the way
to Ekron to ask for information from the god of flies instead of
inquiring of the God of Israel. Ahaziah's men were startled to
learn that this stranger knew about their mission.
"Go back and tell your king that he is foolish to try to
learn something from a god who knows nothing," the man told them.
"Why didn't he ask the one true God? Because your king has looked
to a pagan god, he won't recover from his injuries. His condition
will grow worse, and he will die!" (II Kings 1:3-4.)


Elijah and the King

Impressed by the words and the authoritative manner of the
stranger, Ahaziah's men turned about and went back to Samaria.
When Ahaziah learned that they had returned so soon, he angrily
asked for an explanation. The aides told him what had happened,
and how the stranger had predicted his death.
"You allowed someone you didn't know to tell you what to do,
even against my orders!" the king stormed. "What did this man
look like?"
"He wasn't a young man," was the answer. "He was a hairy man
and his robe was held at the waist by a broad leather belt."
"Then it was the prophet Elijah!" Ahaziah exclaimed. "My
father told me that he looked like that. That's the man who
troubled my father. Now he's back to trouble me, but I won't
allow it for long." (II Kings 1:5-8.)
A little later, one of the king's captains led a platoon of
fifty soldiers out of Samaria. They followed the route taken by
the aides on their way to Ekron. They had marched only a few
miles when they saw a man sitting alone on a small hill. The
captain approached the man, who fitted the description of Elijah.
"Are you Elijah, the one who considers himself a prophet of
the so-called God of Israel?" the officer called up to him
derisively.
"I am Elijah," the prophet answered.
"Then come down here!" the officer commanded. "I have fifty
men to escort you from this hot hill to a cool dungeon in
Samaria!"
The soldiers laughed boisterously. Some of them yelled out
scornful remarks about God and Elijah.
"If my men sound rude, please don't feel hurt and bring down
fire from the sky on us," the officer said, holding up his hands
in mock fear.
"I have no power to bring fire down from the sky," Elijah
stated. "But the God of Israel has that power, and as sure as I'm
a prophet of His, He'll bring down fire on you!"
There was more laughter from the soldiers. It was cut short
when a bolt of lightning cracked down into the fifty troops,
killing them instantly. Although their captain was a short
distance away, he didn't escape the searing, shocking force of
the fingers of fire. Seconds later, fifty-one charred bodies lay
at the base of the hill from which Elijah somberly departed. (II
Kings 1:9-10.)
Soon afterward, as the prophet rested at another spot on the
road between Samaria and Ekron, he was approached by fifty more
men, led by a captain, all of whom acted and spoke with
disrespect for God and the prophet after the commanding officer
had made sure he was talking to Elijah.
"Come along with us, and don't try any of your peculiar
God-of-Israel type magic," the captain warned the prophet.
"I don't deal in magic," Elijah declared. "I leave matters
to God, who deals fairly with all, just as He is about to deal
with you and your men."
Immediately lightning hissed blindingly down on the
fifty-one men, electrocuting them just as lightning had
dispatched the first fifty-one men sent to arrest Elijah. (II
Kings 1:11-12.)
Again Elijah moved away from the scene of death. Later, he
saw more soldiers coming toward him. He hoped that these would
have a different attitude, so that they wouldn't deserve
punishment.
His desire was carried out when the captain of the
approaching soldiers came up to him, fell on his knees, and asked
Elijah to spare his men and himself.
----------------------------------------

Chapter 123
A CHANGE OF MANTLES

ONE HUNDRED and two men of the army of Israel had been burned to
death by lightning. They had defied God and attempted to arrest
Elijah and to take him to Samaria. (II Kings 1:1-12.) When fifty
more approached the prophet, their captain fell to his knees
before Elijah and asked for mercy.


Soldiers Learn a Lesson

"We heard about how fire came down from the sky to consume
those who came before us," the humbled officer told Elijah. "We
didn't want to come here after you, lest we suffer the same fate,
but we have been ordered by the king to respectfully ask you to
go with us. We trust that your God knows that we are only
carrying out orders, and that He will spare us." (II Kings
1:13-14.)
Elijah was pleased that this officer would come to him with
such a different attitude. But being taken back to Samaria was
another matter. If that happened, he could be imprisoned or even
face execution.
"Go with him," a voice said to Elijah that only he could
hear, and that he recognized as the voice of an angel.
Regardless of what might happen to him at Samaria, the
prophet obeyed. He nodded to the officer and stepped in with the
soldiers to march with them to the capital of Israel, there to be
taken before Ahaziah. From his bed the king regarded Elijah with
a sort of sullen awe, as though he wondered if the prophet would
call for lightning to strike the palace.
"Why did you ask your God to destroy my men?" Ahaziah
inquired resentfully, although with some hesitance.
"I didn't ask God to destroy your men," Elijah answered.
"God did it for reasons of His own. He also has reasons for soon
dealing with you. Because you looked to a pagan god for advice
and help, instead of the only true God, you shall die in your
bed!"
On orders from the distressed king, Elijah was escorted out
of the city. Soon afterward the prophet learned that King Ahaziah
had died.
The king of Israel had no sons to succeed him. Jehoram, his
brother, became the next king. For the next nearly twelve years
he was to follow in the ways of Ahaziah, whose personal interests
came before those of his people. (II Kings 1:15-18.)
By this time, Elijah had long since established colleges for
training prophets, or ministers of God, at two and possibly three
towns in Israel. After leaving Samaria, he went to visit one of
the colleges, and there conferred with Elisha, who had left his
family about ten years before to be trained as a prophet by
Elijah. Elisha had become the foremost minister under Elijah. It
was evident to students and other followers of God that Elisha
would in time take Elijah's position as the head, under God, of
the colleges and groups of disciples.
That time came with Ahaziah's death. Elijah's work was
finished, inasmuch as he was getting well along in years, and the
Creator had chosen Elisha to deal with the next king of Israel.
Both Elijah and Elisha were aware of these things. They also
realized that Elijah would be taken from his familiar
surroundings, so that he wouldn't be regarded as an old has-been,
as time went on, by his enemies.


Elisha's Loyalty and Dedication

"I should go visit the college at Bethel," Elijah told
Elisha, hoping that he could thus slip away.
"Then I'll accompany you," Elisha said, determined that the
older man shouldn't leave by himself.
Elijah hesitatingly gave in to Elisha's request, and the two
rode on donkeys to Bethel. There some of the students, called in
those days "sons of the prophets," excitedly came to Elisha to
tell him that they had heard that Elijah was about to leave for
some other part of the world.
"I know about it," Elisha told the students. "Don't discuss
the matter around others. There could be some who would start
rumors." (II Kings 2:1-3.)
Following a hasty inspection of the college at Bethel,
Elijah told Elisha that God had directed him to go to Jericho,
and that Elisha should wait for him in Bethel.
"You shouldn't make the trip alone," Elisha hastily
commented. "Count on me to stay with you wherever you go."
Elijah couldn't gracefully forbid the younger prophet to go
with him. Thwarted again in his desire to be alone, he smiled and
nodded to Elisha, who didn't want to part with his superior any
sooner than necessary. When they arrived at Jericho, Elisha was
accosted by students and followers who anxiously informed him
what they had learned about Elijah's leaving.
"I am aware of it," Elisha told them. "Don't tell it around,
or some of our people who follow God might become upset." (II
Kings 2:4-5.)
Shortly afterward, Elijah informed Elisha that he had been
instructed to move on to the Jordan River, and that it was his
wish that Elisha stay behind so that he could make the trip in
lone meditation.
"So be it," Elisha agreed. "If you want to be by yourself
I'll stay behind. But I won't forsake you. I'll be behind only a
short distance so that I can watch for your safety."
This wasn't quite what Elijah meant. He sighed to himself,
but at the same time he was pleased that this man should show so
much loyalty. He shrugged his shoulders in resignation and
motioned for Elisha to accompany him.
When they arrived at the Jordan, Elisha looked back to see
that about fifty men had followed from Jericho to see what would
happen to Elijah. They didn't think that the two prophets would
go any farther. The river in that area couldn't easily be forded,
and they hardly expected the elderly Elijah to attempt to swim
across.
Neither Elisha nor the fifty men from Jericho could imagine
what happened next. Elijah removed his cape, folded it up, walked
to the edge of the river and struck the water with the piece of
clothing. The water, moving from the north, ceased flowing past
the spot where Elijah stood,
but the water that had already passed continued flowing to the
south, leaving an exposed river bed.


God Inaugurates a Leader

While water slowly rose deeper to the north, Elijah strode
across the almost waterless bed of the river with Elisha close
behind him. By picking their way from rock to rock, they kept
from walking in the wet sand and mud. As soon as they reached the
east bank, the growing wall of water broke away and ran swiftly
off the south, and the river soon returned to normal in that
spot. (II Kings 2:6-8.)
While the students from Jericho stared in amazement, the two
prophets walked out of sight on the east side of the river. When
the two were alone, Elijah turned to Elisha.
"I know that you know that I am about to be taken from
here," the older prophet stated. "I know that you have stayed
close to me for that reason, and I appreciate your fidelity. If
there is anything that I can do for you before I go, tell me now
what it is."
"Because I was the first you chose to teach God's ways, I
consider myself as sort of a first spiritual heir of yours,"
Elisha replied. "Because of that, I ask that you give me a double
portion of your special power from God, just as a foremost heir
is entitled to a double portion of his father's property. I need
this so that I'll have the wisdom and power needed to deal with
people and situations."
"Your request is wise," Elijah replied, "but it wouldn't be
possible for me to give you such a thing. Only God can do that,
and it will be up to Him. If God allows you to witness my
departure, then you will know that your request will be granted.
If you don't see me go, it will be a sign that your desire will
be denied." (II Kings 2:9-10.)
As the two men continued to walk eastward from the Jordan,
the sky took on a strange, glowing hue directly overhead.
Something resembling a flaming chariot drawn by flaming horses
emerged from the glowing sky, swooping toward the ground with
great speed. There was a sound like a strong wind. It quickly
grew to almost a roar. The younger prophet was aware that dirt
and sand were stinging his face.
He momentarily closed his eyes. The force of the wind
suddenly abated, although a loud sound remained for a short time.
Elisha opened his eyes and looked around. Elijah wasn't there. A
glance upward gave Elisha a start.
The flaming chariot was being drawn into the sky by what
appeared to be a strong whirlwind. This time the chariot wasn't
empty. Elijah was in it!
"My teacher and master!" Elisha cried out sadly. "You have
been of more value to Israel than all the horses and chariots of
this nation!" (II Kings 2:11-12.)


Which Heaven?

Seconds later Elijah was out of sight. Elisha kept on trying
to keep him in view, but there was nothing to see but empty sky.
The younger prophet finally gave up and picked up Elijah's cape,
which had fallen to the ground. He walked back to the east bank
of the Jordan. There he struck the water with the cape, expecting
that the river would be divided as it had been when Elijah
performed the same act. The Jordan kept on flowing as usual.
"God, give me the power that you gave Elijah," Elisha
prayed, realizing that he had expected a miracle because the cape
was Elijah's instead of looking completely to God as the source
of power.
Again he struck the water with the cape. Immediately the
river broke apart in the same manner it had done only a short
time before. While the fifty men from Jericho watched the
twice-performed miracle, Elisha walked back across the bed of the
river. (II Kings 2:13-14.)
As he strode up the west bank of the stream, his mind was
filled with one question: What had become of Elijah? For many
centuries people have been taught that Elijah was taken from this
planet to the realm where God lives and from which He rules, even
though the Bible states that no one except Christ has ascended
into the heaven where God's throne is located. (John 3:13; Acts
2:29-34.)
The Scriptures show that Elijah was taken up into heaven,
but there are three heavens mentioned in the Bible. The first is
the atmosphere surrounding Earth to a depth of about forty miles,
in the lower part of which birds fly. (Genesis 1:20.) The second
heaven is the space of the whole universe, the starry expanse
that is billions and billions of miles across. (Genesis 1:14-16;
Ezekiel 32:8.) The third heaven is the unseen place or throne
from which God controls the whole universe. (Isaiah 66:1; Acts
7:49; II Corinthians 12:2.)
The first heaven, or atmosphere, is the one into which
Elijah was taken. We live and move in that heaven, inasmuch as we
need air to keep us alive. Elijah was taken up to a high
altitude, but he still remained in the first heaven.
Those who wrongly teach that Elijah was taken to the third
heaven point to an account in the New Testament in which Christ
went with three of his disciples to a mountain to pray. In a
vision the disciples saw Elijah and Moses talking to Christ, who
later told His companions not to tell others about the vision.
(Matthew 17:1-9.)
Because Elijah was taken from his old environment in Israel,
that didn't mean that he died. He was put down safely in a
distant place where he wasn't known, there to peacefully live out
the rest of his life. Wherever that place was, Elijah surely kept
aware of the events taking place both in Israel and Judah.
A full four years later, when an evil man was king of Judah,
HE RECEIVED A LETTER FROM ELIJAH. It warned him that he would
soon become diseased and die because of the terrible things he
had done. (II Chronicles 21:12.) How long Elijah lived after
sending the letter is something that probably won't be known
until the prophet tells about it after he is resurrected and
again taken high into the first heaven to meet Christ coming down
from the third heaven to rule Earth for the next thousand years.
(I Thessalonians 4:15-18; Revelation 5:10, 20:4-6.)


"Elijah is Safe!"

Meanwhile, the fifty men from Jericho hurried to meet Elisha
to anxiously inquire what had become of Elijah. Elisha briefly
explained that God had taken him up in a whirlwind. He showed
them the cape that the prophet had dropped. (II Kings 2:15.)
"That means that you have been given the wisdom and power
that Elijah had," one of the men declared as they bowed before
Elisha.
"Aren't you concerned about Elijah?" another asked. "Isn't
it possible that he has been killed by falling onto some rocky
mountain or into some deep valley? Shouldn't we search for his
remains?"
"God took him up, and God will take care of him," was
Elisha's reply. "There is no reason to look for him."
"But anything could have happened," one of the men insisted.
"Even if Elijah comes down safely, he could become lost. All of
us are anxious to go out and search. Would you deny us this
effort to do something for God's servant?"
"If it's so important to you, go search," Elisha replied,
having been made to feel that he was responsible for Elijah's
absence. "You'll only be wasting your time. God wouldn't take
Elijah for the purpose of dropping him or causing him to become
lost."
For the next three days the fifty men searched for miles
around for Elijah, but they found no sign of him. They returned
to report to Elisha at Jericho, where he was staying for a time.
"I knew that you wouldn't find him," Elisha reminded the
weary searchers. "I also knew that you wouldn't be satisfied
until you had looked for yourselves. Be assured that wherever
Elijah is, he is safe and well, and that God will provide him
with all his needs." (II Kings 2:16-18.)
A few days later, while Elisha was still at Jericho, leaders
of the city informed him that their source of water, a nearby
spring, had become so impure that it was hindering the plant
growth and causing ill health to the people. They hoped that
Elisha could do something about it.
Elisha did. He asked for a container of salt, which he
carried to the spring and dumped therein. The city officials, who
had followed him, were quite startled. The water was already bad
enough without making it salty.
"Why did you do that?" one of the officials asked. "How can
you possibly improve water by putting salt in it?"
"It can't usually be improved," Elisha answered. "But God
instructed me to use salt because it is an emblem of purity. The
salt itself won't improve the waters. God wants you to know that
He has healed these waters, and that from now on they will impart
good health to those who consume it and lush growth to all plant
life in this area."
Right away the people of Jericho noticed how much better the
water tasted. In the months to come they were pleased because of
the healthy growth of trees, shrubs, grass and gardens. This was
the second outstanding miracle God performed through Elisha. (II
Kings 2:19-22.)
Soon afterward, as the prophet was going to Bethel, a group
of rude youths -- often mistakenly translated "little children"
-- came from Bethel to shout insults.
"Look at baldy walking!" they jeered. "Why doesn't he fly
the way he claims old Elijah did?"
"He knows he can't fly!" they taunted him. "He lied about
that crackpot Elijah, and a lot of religious idiots believed
him!"
"Mocking God's servants is mocking God!" Elisha warned them.
"A curse from God should fall on you for acting like this!"
The jeers ceased when angry roars came from a nearby wood.
Seconds later, two huge, snarling bears ambled from under the
trees and charged straight at the youths!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 124
"BECAUSE ONE MAN HAS CHARACTER ..."

A GANG of undisciplined youths had ridiculed Elisha on his way to
Bethel, and had spoken scornfully of the prophet Elijah. (II
Kings 2:22-23.) Right after Elisha had told them that a divine
curse should be on them because of what they had said, two angry
bears ran out of a nearby wood and into the startled crowd.


Moab Refuses Tribute

There were screams of terror and pain as the animals snapped
and clawed at the darting, leaping, scrambling group. The bears
were both females. Possibly their rage came about because their
cubs had been molested by those unruly youths. In any event,
their anger was so great that they seriously injured forty-two of
the youngsters before returning to the forest, growling sullenly.
Some of the screaming youths were able to walk back to
Bethel. Those unable to walk were soon attended by people who
were attracted by the yells of fright and pain.
Elisha's travels next took him to other places after he had
gone to Bethel, and he eventually returned to Samaria in God's
service. (II Kings 2:24-25.)
Jehoram, the new king of Israel, came to the throne just in
time to meet trouble. Ever since Solomon's reign, the nation of
Moab, east of the Dead Sea, had paid yearly tribute to Israel by
sending a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand shorn
rams, whose wool was brought along with them.
Mesha, king of Moab, felt that the time had come to refuse
to pay this tribute. When it was long overdue, and when Jehoram
had received no answer to his reminders to Mesha that Israel
wouldn't allow Moab to be rebellious in the matter, Jehoram
decided to take his army to Moab to force that nation into
sending the sheep and wool. (II Kings 1:1; 3:1-5.)
But there was something that greatly bothered Jehoram. He
was afraid that his army would be chased back to Samaria -- or
perhaps even farther -- by the Moabites. He needed help. Just as
his father Ahab had done, he went to Jehoshaphat to ask him to
send along the army of the nation of Judah to help the ten-tribed
nation of Israel.
"If we don't take care of this matter now," Jehoram told
Jehoshaphat, "the Moabites will consider us weak and eventually
they will invade our countries."
In spite of his doleful experience when he had joined Israel
in battle against the Syrians, Judah's King Jehoshaphat seriously
considered going with Jehoram against Moab. (Jehoshaphat also had
a son named Jehoram.) It wasn't long before he agreed to add his
army to that of Jehoram. He suggested to the king of Israel that
the best route to Moab would be the route around the Dead Sea at
the south end. (II Kings 3:6-8.) Besides, that would take them
through the land of Edom, which was ruled by a deputy who was
under the authority of the king of Judah and would help him. (I
Kings 22:44-47.) Jehoram had also expected that country to join
him and Jehoshaphat against Moab, even though in the past Moab
and Edom (sometimes called Seir), had banded together against
Judah. (II Chronicles 20:10-11.)
The deputy who was king of Edom, seeking to please the more
powerful Jews and Israelites, offered to add his military power
to that of the other two kings. With soldiers of three kingdoms
moving against Moab, a quick victory over the rebels seemed a
certainty.


Three Befuddled Kings

However, misfortune came to the three armies. Their guides
got the roads mixed up and led them on a roundabout journey of
seven days through the desert. There had been no rain around the
southern region of the Dead Sea for many months. The march
through here was a miserable one because water rations for both
men and animals had to be painfully cut and finally ran out.
There was no hope of coming to water until the armies reached the
Zered River, which was the boundary line between Edom and Moab.
(II Kings 3:8-9.)
It was quite a shock to everyone to arrive at the valley of
the Zered River and find that the river bed was completely dry!
The soldiers and animals could hardly be expected, in the heat,
to carry on with any kind of physical exertion for more than a
day or two unless water were found quickly.
"It begins to appear as though God has a plan to get us
together so that our combined thousands of men will fall into the
hands of the king of Moab," the king of Israel unhappily confided
to Jehoshaphat.
"I can't believe that God would have a reason to do such a
thing," Jehoshaphat observed. "Perhaps we should try to find out
what God's will is. For that, we would have to consult a true
prophet. Probably there isn't one within miles of here."
"There is a man who for some reason has come with us from
Samaria," one of Jehoram's officers remarked. "He claims to be a
prophet of God who has been trained under the prophet Elijah. His
name is Elisha." (II Kings 3:10-11.)
"Elisha?" Jehoshaphat echoed with sudden interest. "He is
indeed a man of God. Take us to him at once!"
"As you know, we need water very badly," Jehoram reminded
Elisha when he and the two kings met with the prophet. "We hope
that you can contact God and ask Him where and how we can get
enough water to allow us escape from this dry land."
There was an awkward silence as Elisha stared at the king of
Israel.
"Why do you come to me to ask for help?" the prophet finally
spoke. "Why don't you look to the pagan prophets of Ahab your
father and Jezebel your mother? There are still many of them in
your employ."
"I'm not asking just for myself and my men," Jehoram
continued, intending to be diplomatic. "I'm asking also for the
king of Edom and the king of Judah and their armies. If we can't
find water, all of us will be taken by the Moabites."
"Should I ask God for help for a ruler who continues to
allow idolatry in his land?" Elisha asked. "As for your ally, the
king of Edom, he doesn't believe that the God of Israel is the
only real God. You know that He is, yet you turn to idols at
times and allow your people to do the same."
Jehoram didn't have any more to say. He could have decided
then to renounce idols and demand of his people, if he ever got
back to his country, that they do the same. But he hesitated to
take the step, even in the face of probable defeat and death. He
was relieved by the prophet's next words.
"I don't want to see the king of Judah continue in this
trouble, inasmuch as he is a man who strives for the right ways.
I shall ask God what should be done," Elisha declared. "First,
though, bring me a harpist if you have one with you. I must relax
from my tensions. Music can help me do that." (II Kings 3:14-15.)
The eager Jehoram lost no time in carrying out the prophet's
request. A skilled harpist was available. In those times kings
generally took musicians with them wherever they went, including
war campaigns. Elisha listened to soothing music for a while,
then retired to a private place to contact God.


The Answer Comes

Later, he told the three kings God's answer. "BECAUSE ONE
MAN -- Jehoshaphat -- HAS CHARACTER, God will deliver you all. He
will send plenty of water," concluded Elisha. The prophet told
the kings they should instruct their men to start digging ditches
immediately from the river outward into the lower places in the
narrow valley of the Zered River. And they should build levees
around these areas to catch pools of water.
"God has informed me that this valley will soon receive
plenty of water for your men, your horses and the animals you
have brought with you for food," Elisha explained. "You won't see
any wind or rain, but water will come in time to save you. And
this is only a small thing. God will also help you overcome the
Moabites. You shall take their cities, destroy the valuable
trees, plug their wells and ruin their fields as a punishment for
their sins." (II Kings 3:16-19.)
The kings were happy when they heard the news. Jehoshaphat
thanked God at once. Jehoram hesitantly and somewhat awkwardly
joined him. The king of Edom stood silently not far off. He
couldn't express thanks to a deity he didn't know. Besides, he
wasn't convinced that the prophet knew what he was talking about.
All the rest of that day and that night men worked busily at
digging ditches and pools close to and joining the dry river bed.
Before dawn arrived, the area was a maze of trenches and pools on
the Israelites' side of the channel where the water ordinarily
flowed. At sunrise the work was halted so that morning sacrifices
could be made to God, according to Jehoshaphat's practice.
When the morning sacrifices were finished, lookouts
stationed east of the military camp of the three kings began
shouting excitedly something about water.
Water was roaring in muddy turbulence down the dry river
bed, and startling the Israelites and Edomites by its sudden
presence. It spread far beyond the usual width of the river,
quickly filling the trenches and pools. In a little while the
flood crested and the amount of water gradually dwindled, leaving
millions of gallons of precious water in the depressions the
soldiers had dug.
Even before the sediment had fully settled, men rushed in to
gulp the water. Then they brought their animals to it, and filled
their empty leather water containers. After that, they jumped
into the ditches for refreshing baths. By that time they were
greatly in need of rest, and so were ordered to their tents to
sleep. (II Kings 3:20.)


A Mirage

Meanwhile, off to the north, the Moabite army was on its way
south to meet the invaders. Mesha, king of Moab, had long since
learned of what was going on. His plan was to let the enemy come
into Moab, where his army would be at an advantage as far as the
terrain was concerned. His men were familiar with every rise,
gully, hill, ravine and wady, and were skilled in the art of
ambush and sniping. The Moabite army arrived at the border almost
in time to see their enemies camped in the Zered valley.
Next morning, as the sun came up through an unusual haze,
the Moabites anxiously looked away to their enemies' camp. They
could see no sign of life or movement. They couldn't know that
soldiers there were resting after a long night of vigorous work.
They considered it unlikely that an army would be sleeping so
late. While the Moabites tried to decide what was happening, the
sun went higher, appearing quite red because of recent dust
storms caused by the drought. At a certain point the redness was
reflected in the water-filled ditches and pools.
"The ground down there is covered with blood!" an officer
shouted. "Our enemies must have been fighting among themselves!"
Though this was an absurd observation, to the excited
Moabites it was the only explanation for the reddish appearance
of the area around the camp of their enemies. As the minutes
passed, and none could be seen milling about in the distant camp,
the Moabites became surer that the invaders had quarreled and had
killed one another. Mesha conferred with his officers. They
believed that the lack of activity on the part of the Israelites
and Edomites couldn't have to do with some kind of trickery.
"Then go to the enemy and seize their arms and belongings,"
Mesha ordered. (II Kings 3:21-23.)
Knowing that the Israelites, especially, would have left
much valuable booty, the Moabite soldiers set off hastily. It
developed into a race to determine who would get to the enemy
camp first for the best of the spoils. The nearer the Moabites
came, the more they were convinced that only dead men, if any,
were within the tents. They whooped and shouted with glee, quite
unaware of how foolish they were being.
Israelite and Edomite guards, weary from working all night,
were brought to their senses by the shouts. They leaped to their
feet and screamed warnings to those deep in sleep in the tents.
The half awake occupants came charging out just in time to face
the Moabites, who were so surprised that they turned and rushed
back toward their country. Many of them lost their lives before
they could get out of the Israelite camp. Others were chased far
into their home territory.
During the strong pursuit of the Moabites, the Israelites
and Edomites swarmed through Moabite towns and villages,
destroying buildings, taking spoils, plugging up wells, tossing
tons of stones into fertile fields and chopping down the best of
the trees of the land, thus carrying out the penalty God had
decreed through Elisha. (II Kings 3:24-25.)


A Last Desperate Stand

When the invaders arrived at Kir-haraseth, the capital of
Moab, they found matters more difficult. Kir-haraseth was encased
by high, solid walls, within which Mesha and the remainder of his
army had taken quick refuge. The Israelites and Edomites tightly
surrounded the city and began an assault against its walls.
Mesha knew that the Moabites would be lost if they
continued. Desperate, he called together seven hundred of his top
swordsmen from among his elite guard.
"You will go with me to cut through the enemy just outside
the gate and reach the spot not far beyond where the king of Edom
is stationed," the Moabite king instructed them. "If we destroy
that unfaithful wretch, who used to be my ally, the Edomites
might give up. At the same time we'll be getting the attention of
the Israelites, so that our men on the wall will have an
opportunity to drop stones on the ones who are trying to shatter
the wall base."
Mesha and his picked warriors rushed out of Kir-haraseth
through suddenly opened gates that clanged shut like a giant trap
as soon as the last man was outside. Savage fighting took place
at once as the Edomites closed in. Mesha and his men battled
furiously, downing many soldiers, but they weren't able to fight
their way to where the king of Edom stood in his chariot. Only
after most of his warriors had lost their lives did Mesha order
what remained of his men back to the gate, which was opened just
long enough to admit the retreating Moabites. (II Kings 3:26.)
Personally defeated in battle, and knowing that his enemies
would eventually break through the wall of his strongest city,
Mesha had only one hope left. He would appeal to Chemosh
(Molech), his pagan god of protection. To gain the greatest favor
from this imagined deity, a pagan worshipper had to make a great
sacrifice. Sacrificing to a non-existent god was foolish and
futile. But in this case the sacrifice was terribly tragic. The
offered object had to be a human being, and preferably a child!
While the allied invaders were regrouping themselves after
the sudden sally by the defenders, the Moabite king and some of
his officers appeared on the wall above the main gate. The
assault crews were ordered to cease action, because it was
expected that Mesha was about to make a declaration or request.
(II Kings 3:27.)
To the surprise of the onlookers, wood was quickly piled
before Mesha and set on fire. The king of Moab stretched his arms
toward the flames and smoke, loudly and passionately uttering
something. Then men appeared dragging a struggling young man in
bright clothing. Some of the Edomites recognized him as Mesha's
oldest son, who apparently was about to be sacrificed!
----------------------------------------

Chapter 125
WHEN MIRACLES MADE NEWS

THE armies of Israel, Judah and Edom had pursued the Moabite army
to the Moabite capital city of Kir-haraseth. The king of that
country, Mesha, was desperate. He had a fire built atop that wall
for sacrificing his oldest son to the imaginary pagan god Molech,
trusting that in return Molech would spare him and what remained
of his army. (II Kings 3:21-26.)
Even veteran soldiers shuddered at the manner in which the
king of Moab took the life of the heir to his throne and reduced
him to ashes before the gaze of thousands. Just how much futile
faith Mesha had in Molech can't be known. But here was something
else the Moabite king was counting on. He hoped that his awful
act would fill his enemies with such sickening dread that they
would become too disgusted to continue the siege.
That was what happened. Many Israelites and Edomites wished
to destroy Kir-haraseth and Mesha because of the barbarous act,
but Jehoshaphat and Jehoram decided to call off the siege and
leave the Moabite king to his misery. The allies returned to
their respective countries, and Elisha -- God's prophet --
presumably returned to Samaria with Jehoram's army. (II Kings
3:27.)


Wiping Out Old Debts

In that time Israelites who looked to God for the right way
of life learned mainly from God's prophets and the students they
trained in colleges set up for that purpose. Elisha came to have
many students to whom he was a leader and teacher. Some of his
college students became so learned and advanced in character that
they came to be known as "sons of the prophets." One day the
widow of one of these men came to Elisha to tell him that her
husband had gone into debt before he died, and that his creditor
was about to take her two sons from her to become his servants as
payment of the debt. (II Kings 4:1.)
"If you have any property your creditor can use, let him
have that," Elisha said.
"My only precious material possession is a pot of fine olive
oil," the woman explained. "It wouldn't even begin to pay my
debt."
"Oil is valuable," Elisha observed. "If you had a large
supply of it, you would be well off. You should borrow from your
friends and neighbors every empty pot and jar and crock they can
spare. When no one is present but your sons, take your oil and
pour into each container until it is full."
The woman followed Elisha's advice, wondering what good
could come of using up her oil by pouring so little oil into so
many vessels. Finally, when one of her sons had brought her the
last empty container, she discovered an amazing thing.
All the containers were FULL of oil!
Eagerly she ran to where Elisha was staying to tell him what
had happened. When the prophet smiled at her, she knew that he
had been aware of what had taken place before she had told him.
"What shall I do with all that oil?" she excitedly asked
Elisha.
"Everyone needs good olive oil for cooking," Elisha reminded
her. "Merchants and those from whom you borrowed the containers
will be anxious to buy the oil at a fair price. Then you will be
able to pay your debt with money. There should be enough left
over for you and your sons to live on for a long time." (II Kings
4:2-7.)
This was the fifth major miracle of Elisha recorded in the
Bible. The sixth one began when Elisha had come to the town of
Shunem, about twenty-five miles north of Samaria. A wealthy woman
who was anxious to please God learned that Elisha was there, and
invited him to her home to dine. Because the prophet brought them
much helpful instruction during the visit, the woman and her
husband invited Elisha to stop at their home any time he came to
Shunem. He was pleased to take advantage of their hospitality
every time he passed that way. (II Kings 4:8.)
After a time the woman suggested to her husband that they
add a room to their home, so that the prophet, as well as the man
who often accompanied him, could have a place to rest as well as
eat.
"Elisha is very close to God," the woman reminded her
husband. "The more we associate with him, the closer to God we'll
become."


A Son for the Barren

The extra room was built and used to comfortable advantage
by Elisha and his servant, Gehazi. During one stop at the home,
Elisha decided that this woman who had been so helpful toward him
should receive some kind of reward.
"Ask the lady of the house to come to our quarters," Elisha
instructed Gehazi. "Tell her that because she has been so kind to
us, I would be pleased to ask any favor for her or for her
husband from the king or from any other in high authority in
Samaria."
When Gehazi spoke to the woman, she told him that she was
satisfied with what she had and with her position in life, and
didn't want or need any favors from those of high rank. Elisha
was impressed by what his servant conveyed to him. It proved that
the woman hadn't sought the prophet's company for any purpose
besides wanting to know how to be more obedient to God. (II Kings
4:9-13.)
"There must be something that can be done for her," Elisha
remarked to Gehazi.
"It's probably too late for her to have what she wants
most," Gehazi observed. "She has never had any children, and her
husband is quite old."
"Call her," Elisha said, after a short period of thought.
When the woman appeared before his door, the prophet told
her that he had a special bit of good news for her.
"Less than a year from now, you will be nursing a son,"
Elisha announced. The woman stared at the prophet, wondering why
he should say such a thing.
"Why do you, a man of God, trouble me by making such a
ridiculous statement?" she asked in an unhappy tone. (II Kings
4:14-16.)
"My statement wasn't ridiculous," Elisha assured her. "Soon
you will discover that you are going to become a mother."
The woman turned and walked away, disappointed that this
otherwise sensible man would cause her to feel unhappy by
referring to her as a mother-to-be, even though he was aware that
both she and her husband were well along in years.
Elisha knew that she doubted him, and that his continued
presence would only bother her. Accordingly, he left very soon
with Gehazi.
Not long afterward, the woman began to realize that she was
carrying a child. She knew then that Elisha had intended to make
her happy by what he had said, instead of embarrassing her. (II
Kings 4:17.)
The boy to whom she later gave birth was a great joy to her
and her husband. She realized that this was a miracle God had
performed, as Elisha had promised. She was very thankful. When
the lad was only a few years old, he walked out in a field where
his father was overseeing some reapers. The day was fair and
exceptionally warm. After a while the boy suddenly felt weak and
faint.
"My head hurts," he complained to his father.


A Trial of Faith

The father knew that his son was suffering from severe
sunstroke. He had the boy carried back to his mother at their
home. The lad fell into a coma, and died a few hours later in his
mother's arms.
The woman became frantic. The only thing she could think to
do was place her dead son in Elisha's bed. She hoped that somehow
this act would bring him closer to God, whom she felt might
restore his life.
Leaving her son there, she sent word to her husband to send
from the field one of the young men and one of the burros, so
that she could travel to see Elisha.
Not knowing that his son had died, the husband wondered why
his wife would suddenly wish to visit Elisha, inasmuch as it
wasn't a Sabbath or any of the other special days when the
prophet lectured to assembled followers of God. (II Kings
4:18-23.)
Absorbed in his work, and believing that his son would
recover very soon, he sent the young worker and the burro to his
wife, who had it quickly saddled to carry her as swiftly as
possible to Mt. Carmel, about twenty miles to the northwest,
where she knew Elisha was staying at an ancient retreat he often
occupied.
At the southern tip of the long mountain, where Elisha was
resting with Gehazi, the prophet looked out to the southeast to
see a woman swiftly approaching on a burro, with a young man
running ahead leading it. As they came closer, the prophet
recognized the rider.
"The woman of Shunem is coming," he told Gehazi. "She
wouldn't come here unless she is in need of help. Run out to meet
her and ask if she and her husband and son are well."
"My husband and I are all right," the woman nervously
answered Gehazi when he met her.
A little later, when she reached the prophet, who came out
to greet her, she prostrated herself before Elisha and sobbingly
placed her hands on his feet. Gehazi stepped up to push her away.
"Don't touch her," Elisha told his servant. "Can't you see
that she's in a state of great anguish? Something has happened to
her that God has not chosen to tell me before now." (II Kings
4:24-27.)
"I never told you that I wanted a son," the woman tearfully
said to Elisha. "I was almost happy until you mentioned that I
would have a child. Then I wanted one more than ever before. At
first I thought you were trying to give me a false hope, and I
didn't understand that."
"Are you telling me that your son is dead, and that you wish
he had never been born?" the prophet asked.
"He died hours ago of a sunstroke," the woman sobbed. "If he
had to die so young, I wish he hadn't come into this world."
"Go to Shunem at once," Elisha instructed Gehazi, "Don't
pause on the way even long enough to speak to anyone. Get to this
woman's home as fast as you can run. When you arrive, place my
staff on the boy's face." (II Kings 4:28-29.)
"But I want you to go back with me, Elisha," the woman
pleaded. "I won't leave here until you do."


Restored to Life

Elisha had little choice except to start out after Gehazi
with the woman and her servant. When Gehazi arrived at the
woman's home, he found a grieving father sitting beside his dead
son. He touched the lifeless face with Elisha's staff, but
nothing happened.
"I did as you told me, but the boy is still dead," Gehazi
reported to the prophet later when he ran out to meet him.
When Elisha arrived at the home with the woman, he went into
his room alone, shut the door and asked God to restore life to
the boy. Then he stretched himself out on the corpse to impart
warmth to it. At the same time he breathed forcibly into the
youngster's mouth to try to revive lung action. After a time he
got up and walked vigorously about after which he resumed warming
the boy's body and breathing into his lungs. He carried out every
natural means possible to help the boy, at the same time praying
that God would perform a miracle to give him back the spark of
life.
Suddenly the lad started gasping. His breathing had
returned. He opened his eyes to stare confusedly about, having
come back to life after hours in a state of death. This was a
greater miracle than some realize, inasmuch as brain cells die if
they are deprived very long of a supply of oxygen. A person so
affected often ends up mentally ill, but the boy revived to be in
good mental health.
While the prophet watched over the lad, he called Gehazi and
told him to ask the mother to come in. When the woman saw her son
alive, she was so overcome with joy that she fell down weeping
before Elisha.
"Take your son," the prophet said. "He will be all right."
The woman tenderly picked up her boy and slowly walked out,
unable to find words to express her gratitude. (II Kings
4:30-37.)
This was the seventh major miracle God performed through the
obedient Elisha, whose desires and special abilities were in
harmony with his Creator's will. The next miracle occurred when
Elisha was in Gilgal teaching some of his college students. Food
was scarce in that area then because of a drought, and people
were hard put to find enough fresh produce for day-to-day needs.
"I know that many of you are wondering what and where you
will eat after this session is over," Elisha told his listeners.
"There is no cause to be concerned. I have instructed my servant
to prepare lunch for all of you."


Poisoned Stew Made Edible

There were grateful smiles in the audience, but at the same time
something was happening that would later bring no smiles to the
listeners. Because of a lack of garden plants, Gehazi and some
other men were out in the fields searching for edible herbs and
wild vegetables for a stew Elisha wanted prepared.
A large pot of water was already boiling close to where the
prophet's class was assembled. Ingredients of the stew included
several wild gourds plucked from a vine one of Gehazi's helpers
had discovered and thought to be a squash vine. No one connected
with the preparation of the plants realized that the squash-like
gourds were poisonous.
Later, when the contents of the pot were served, there were
immediate expressions of discomfort. A few spat it out
immediately. Elisha, who intended to be served last, inquired
what was wrong.
"It's horribly bitter!" one man exclaimed. "Anything that
bitter must surely be poisonous!"(II Kings 4:38-40.)
"Very likely," Elisha remarked after tasting it. "It's too
bad that this whole big pot of stew should be spoiled at a time
when we're in such need of food. Surely God won't allow us to go
hungry. Bring me a small amount of any kind of ground grain."
Someone brought some meal, which Elisha poured into the pot
and mixed thoroughly with the stew.
"There should no longer be any unpleasant taste," the
prophet said. "Discard what has been served, and serve more in
clean dishes."
The first man to be given more of the stew hesitated at
first, then bravely took a spoonful. Abruptly his face lighted
with pleasure.
"This is delicious!" he muttered between spoonfuls. "How can
it taste so good only minutes after tasting so bad?"
"God can make things right if we are obedient and trust in
Him," the prophet observed as he watched the crowd contentedly
eating. (II Kings 4:41.)
At another place, when the local famine was still being
severely felt, Elisha addressed a gathering of more than a
hundred men who were anxious to hear what he had to say. As he
continued to speak, the prophet became increasingly aware that
his audience was very hungry, and that he could better put across
his message if his listeners could soon be fed. Unhappily, he had
no food for so many people.
Meanwhile, outside the meeting place, a man came with an
offering of twenty small barley loaves and some ears of corn.
When Elisha heard about it? he was very thankful for the sudden
supply of food.
"Give it to the crowd at the end of the meeting," he
instructed. (II Kings 4:42.)
"Give a few ears of corn and twenty tiny loaves to more than
a hundred hungry men?" Elisha's servant asked. "With that little,
you would only whet their appetites for more!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 126
"BUT IT'S ONLY A WHITE LIE!"

ELISHA wanted to feed a hungry crowd that had come to hear him
lecture. But all he had was a few ears of corn and twenty small
loaves of barley bread.
Elisha instructed that these be given to the people. His
servant complained that such a small amount of food for so many
people would be more annoying than satisfying. (II Kings
4:42-43.)


Not Enough Food?

"Distribute the corn and bread as I asked," Elisha said
firmly. "You will find that there will be more than enough."
Grudgingly the servant began passing out the food. But he
grumbled to himself that when the people realized only a few were
to be favored, they would feel anything but friendly to him and
his master. Moments later he became aware that his baskets of
bread and corn were no emptier than when he had started to pass
out the contents. The servant finally noted with astonishment
that the crowd of over a hundred had been served. And bread and
corn were still in the baskets.
Almost frantically he started again, this time swiftly
handing out food in the attempt to empty the containers. Then he
gave up, convinced that every time he took food out, it was
somehow replaced. Blinking in wonderment, he set the baskets,
still full, down beside Elisha, who gave him a knowing grin. (II
Kings 4:44.)
This was the ninth miracle performed through the prophet.


The Case of the Sick Syrian

About this same time, up in the land of Syria, an Israelite
girl, captured by a Syrian raiding band, was turned over to the
wife of Naaman, commander of the Syrian army. Naaman was highly
respected for his ability, bravery and integrity. But all this
was overshadowed by the awful fact that he had leprosy. (II Kings
5:1-2.)
Greatly disturbed to learn that such an able leader had such
a serious affliction, the Israelite handmaid suggested to her
mistress that her husband go to a man in Israel who could cure
Naaman of his leprosy.
"This man, whose name is Elisha, has performed some
wonderful miracles because he is so close to: God," the girl
explained. "If he asked our God to heal your husband, it would be
done." (II Kings 5:3.)!
"I don't think your God would be interested in anyone except
you, Israelites," Naaman's wife observed indifferently.
"That really isn't so, ma'am," the girl said. "Our God is
interested in all people, because He made all people. He wants to
help all who try to live honorably, and surely your husband is an
honorable man."
Naaman's wife ignored her handmaid's suggestion, but a
servant who overheard the conversation told Naaman about it. The
general was so interested that he went to the king of Syria to
ask his advice.
"Go to this Elisha," the king said. "What can you lose? I
have heard that this man has strange powers. I shall give you a
letter to the king of Israel to explain your presence in that
country."
Accompanied by servants, and supplied with plenty of money
and several changes of clothing, Naaman left at once for Samaria.
(II Kings 5:4-5.)
Jehoram, Israel's king, was pleasantly surprised when he
learned that the commander of the Syrian army had come on a
peaceful mission. However, his attitude immediately changed when
he read the letter from the king of Syria. He jumped to his feet
and yanked so violently at his royal coat, in his anger, that he
put a long rip in it.
"The king of Syria is trying to start another war!" he
bellowed. "He sends me a leper to be healed! Does he think that
I'm God, to be able to take or give life? If his general returns
unhealed, he'll probably become so vengeful that he'll send an
army to attack us!" (II Kings 5:6-7.)
Jehoram refused to meet Naaman. He wouldn't even let him
know where he could find Elisha. Somehow the prophet quickly
found out about Jehoram's conduct. He sent word to Jehoram,
before Naaman left Samaria, requesting the king of Israel to send
the general to him.
"This is a matter for me to take care of," Elisha's message
stated. "There is no reason for you to be alarmed. The king of
Syria is not trying to make a reason for war. Let his commander
learn that there is only one real God, and that there is one of
God's ministers in Israel."
A short while later Naaman drove up in his colorful chariot
close to the house in which the prophet was staying. The general
and his aides, mounted on steeds with fancy trappings, waited for
Elisha to come out and greet them. (II Kings 5:8-9.)
Presently a man emerged from the house and walked up to the
chariot.


Puncturing the Balloon of Vanity

"Are you Elisha?" Naaman asked.
"No," the man answered. "Elisha sent me to tell you, if you
are Naaman, that you should go to the Jordan River and immerse
yourself seven times. Then you will be free of your leprosy."
The man turned and went back into the house, leaving Naaman
puzzled. Then he became irritated.
"This prophet fellow didn't even come out to meet me!" the
general bitterly remarked to his aides. "Instead, he sends out a
servant to tell me, a general, what to do. I thought he would at
least come out personally to me, call on his God for the power to
perform a miracle, make appropriate passes over me with his hands
and declare me cured. What sense does it make to be told by an
underling that I should go dip myself seven times in the Jordan?
The high rivers of my own country are cleaner and clearer than
any river in Caanan, especially the Jordan. Wouldn't I be better
off to immerse myself in them? Let's get out of here and return
home!" (II Kings 5:10-12.)
Naaman's party turned back to the north. The way to Syria
took them across the Jordan River. At this point Naaman's aides
carefully pointed out to him that he might be wise to follow the
advice he had been given.


Proof of God

"You expected Elisha to do something grand and dramatic for
you," they reminded him. "Instead, he sent word to you to carry
out something easy and simple. It was so simple that you
ridiculed it. If you had been instructed to do something more
complex and difficult, so you could feel that you were important,
wouldn't you have been more inclined to carry it out?"
"Probably," Naaman answered. "You fellows are trying so hard
to talk me into this thing, that I'll satisfy your desires and
curiosity by dipping myself in this river seven times."
After the general had put himself under the water seven
times, he walked out on the shore to discover, to his amazement,
that the diseased part of his body had become as whole as that of
a healthy boy! (II Kings 5:13-14.)
"I am healed!" Naaman shouted. "The decay in my flesh has
disappeared!"
The general's aides swarmed around him with curiosity,
astounded at what they saw.
"I must go back and thank Elisha!" the overjoyed Syrian told
his men.
When they arrived at the house where Elisha was staying, the
prophet came out to greet them. He knew that Naaman's return
meant that the general had followed his advice. Naaman stepped
out of his chariot and strode happily toward Elisha.
"I did as you said, and I have been healed!" he exclaimed.
"This proves to me that your God is the only real God on this
Earth. All the other so called gods put together could never
perform a miracle such as this!"
"That is true," Elisha nodded. "I would be pleased if more
Syrians realized that."
"There isn't enough gold in Syria to pay for my healing,"
Naaman said, motioning to one of his aides to bring him a bag of
coins, "but it's my pleasure to give you this as a token of my
thanks." (II Kings 5:15.)
"I can't take it," the prophet stated, holding up a refusing
hand.
"But surely you can use it in your work for your God,"
Naaman pointed out. "I want you to accept it."
"Thank you, but I can't," Elisha said firmly, shaking his
head.
Naaman stared at the prophet. He realized that it was
useless to press the Israelite in this matter. He shrugged his
shoulders and passed the bag of gold back to his aide.
"If I can't help this way, I can make offerings to your
God," Naaman observed. "Allow me to take with me all that two of
my mules can carry of the soil of Israel. From it I could
construct an altar to sacrifice to your God." (II Kings 5:16-17.)
"No one should sacrifice to the God of Israel unless he
forsakes idols," Elisha remarked.
"From now on I'll worship only the one true God," Naaman
answered. "There'll be times, though, when my aged and feeble
king will expect me to accompany and assist him to the shrine of
Rimmon, the Syrian god of the sky. I trust that God will forgive
me if I give the appearance of worshipping when I bow with the
king before the altar."
"May God be with you," Elisha said, "and I will pray that
you won't bow before a false god just to please your king." (II
Kings 5:18-19.)


The Love of Money

The Syrians left, unaware that they were being watched from
behind a wall by a man who didn't intend to see the last of them.
The man was Elisha's servant, Gehazi. He had overheard the
conversation between his master and Naaman. A scheme to obtain
some of the Syrians' gold had come to him.
Naaman and his men had gone about three miles when they saw
someone on foot wearily trying to overtake them. The general
recognized him as the man who had informed him, hours before,
what he should do to be healed. He stepped out of his chariot and
walked back to meet him.
"I am Elisha's servant," Gehazi panted. "My master sent me
to try to catch up with you."
"Is anything wrong?" Naaman asked.
"It was, but I trust it will be all right now," Gehazi
answered. "Right after you left, two men came from Mt. Ephraim,
where my master teaches a school for prophets, to inform him that
the school would have to be closed unless a talent of silver
could be paid on back expenses. Even the two men, who are
students, were almost threadbare. Unfortunately, my master had no
clothes to give them, and no money to send back for the school.
Then he thought of you, and how you had offered to help. He
hesitated to send me after you but I persuaded him it should be
done."
"Say no more," Naaman interrupted. "I welcome this
opportunity to assist. In fact, I want you to take TWO talents of
silver back to your master, and I'll see that you get the
clothing that's needed. Two of my men will take these things back
for you. Two talents of silver weigh too much for you to carry."
(II Kings 5:20-23.)
Gehazi shook with greedy anticipation at the thought of
sudden wealth. Besides the costly clothing, two talents of silver
were a great deal of money. But he was worried. If Naaman's men
took all this back to where Elisha was staying. Gehazi's lie
about Elisha needing money would be exposed, and he would be
punished for thievery. The wily servant managed to prevent the
two men from reaching Elisha by talking them into leaving their
load at the north side of a high boulder only yards from the
house the prophet was in.
"My master is probably praying, and wouldn't want to be
disturbed," Gehazi lied. "I'll take the silver and clothing to
the house later. I know that you're anxious to rejoin Naaman and
be on your way back to your country." (II Kings 5:24.)


The Liar Discovered

As soon as the Syrians departed, Gehazi returned to the
house. Elisha said nothing to him about his absence, so the
servant assumed that he hadn't been missed. After dark he made
several trips out to the boulder to bring in his valuables. The
silver alone weighed more than two hundred pounds. He hid the
things in the house in a place he felt certain Elisha wouldn't
find. His head swam with thoughts of how he would buy orchards,
vineyards, cattle, sheep and servants.
"Where have you been today?" Elisha later asked him. "Your
sandals look as though you've traveled quite a distance."
"I didn't even go for a walk," the servant answered.
"Then you did a lot of running," Elisha added. "Otherwise
you couldn't have overtaken Naaman, who left his chariot to go
back to meet you. With what he gave you, it would be possible to
purchase the orchards, vineyards, cattle, sheep and servants
you've been thinking about."
"How -- how do you know?" stammered Gehazi, backing away in
fright.
"God tells me many things," the prophet explained. "He has
told me that because you dishonestly took silver and clothing
from Naaman, you will also receive something else that was his."
"What do you mean? All I told was a white lie," Gehazi
muttered, staring fearfully into Elisha's penetrating eyes.
"You can have his leprosy," was the reply.
Gehazi's wild gaze dropped to his hands. His eyes popped
even wider as he saw that his flesh had suddenly turned a pasty
white! Screaming in anguish, he bolted out of the house and
disappeared in the darkness.
Undoubtedly Elisha soon straightened out matters with
Naaman, whose healing was the tenth of God's miracles through the
prophet. The eleventh miracle was the transfer of the Syrian's
leprosy to Gehazi. (II Kings 5:25-27.)


Returning a Borrowed Tool

The twelfth occurred shortly afterward. The school for
prophets near Jericho became so crowded in its living quarters
that the students suggested to Elisha that they cut their own
lumber along the Jordan River and construct buildings there.
Elisha favored the move, and went with the men to help where he
could.
As one of the men was felling a tree on the bank of the
river, his axe head flew off the handle, spun out over the river
and fell into a deep hole.
"How terrible! I've lost a borrowed axe," the man unhappily
declared to his fellow workers.
Elisha heard about the incident. He went to the despondent
man and inquired where the axe had fallen into the river.
"There in that deep part," was the reply. "It was a borrowed
tool, and I can't afford to pay for it." (II Kings 6:1-5.)
"You'll get it back," Elisha assured him, cutting a branch
from a tree and tossing it into the river where the axe had sunk.
To the amazement of the workman, the axe head came up to
appear on the surface of the water, and drifted downstream with
the branch!
"Get it while it still floats," Elisha said.
The man ran along the river's edge till the branch came
within his reach. There he used it to draw the iron axe head to
the bank. Within minutes he fitted the axe more securely back on
the handle and happily resumed work. (II Kings 6:6-7.)


Spying Without a Spy

About this time the Syrian army made surprise attacks on
certain places in Israel, but the expeditions met with strong
resistance. The Israelites seemed to be aware in advance where
the attacks would be made. This happened so often that the
ambitious, war-minded king of Syria became suspicious and angry.
At last he called a special meeting of his army staff. (II Kings
6:8-11.)
"Someone here is selling information to the enemy!" he
thundered. "If the traitor doesn't confess, I'll have no choice
but to punish all of you with death!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 127
UNCOVERING MILITARY SECRETS

THE Syrian army had been unsuccessful in its relatively small
surprise attacks against Israel. The king of Syria therefore
charged that one of his top military officers must have been
selling information to the Israelite command. He threatened to
punish all his top-ranking officers with death if the traitor
failed to confess. (II Kings 6:8-11.)


Discovering the Informer

"None of us is a traitor sir," one officer spoke up. "But
there must surely be an informer, and that man must be Elisha,
the Israelite prophet. Besides being a worker of unbelievable
miracles, he has an amazing ability to perceive hidden matters.
It's possible for him to know even what you say in the privacy of
your bedroom. Undoubtedly he is aware of your plans of war, and
gives that information to the king of Israel." (II Kings 6:12.)
"I know about him," the Syrian king said, glancing at
Naaman, his general. "If you are right, he can't be allowed to
stay in Israel. I want to know as soon as possible where he can
be found."
The Syrians were on the right track to find the source of
their trouble. Every time they had chosen a place in Israel to
attack, God had informed Elisha, Elisha had informed the king of
Israel and Israelite soldiers rushed to the defense, or avoided
traps.
As soon as it was reported that the prophet was living in
the town of Dothan, about twelve miles north of Samaria, the
Syrian king dispatched a who]e army to that area to capture one
man -- Elisha. Residents of Dothan looked out one morning to
discover, to their fear and bewilderment, that their town was
surrounded by thousands of foot soldiers and mounted soldiers and
hundreds of chariots. Among the startled observers was a young
man who had succeeded Gehazi as Elisha's servant. He hurried to
awake his master, who somehow failed to be dismayed or perturbed.
(II Kings 6:13-15.)
"What is to become of us?" the servant fearfully asked. "The
soldiers must have come to make prisoners of all in this town!"
"Don't be alarmed," Elisha patiently said. "Those thousands
out there might try to harm us, but there are thousands more
nearby who will protect us."
"I don't understand," the servant told the prophet. "All I
see are the thousands of the enemy."
"Open this young man's eyes to see the things that are
invisible to those who don't know you," Elisha asked God.
Elisha then instructed his servant to look up to the top of
the hill on which their house was built.
"The hill is on fire!" the young man exclaimed.
"Look closer," Elisha said.
"The fire is made up of what appears to be flaming chariots,
horses and drivers!" the servant replied in a shaking voice. To
his great alarm, the fiery objects moved down the hill and
surrounded the house. Then they faded from his sight, but he knew
that they continued to remain. God had temporarily given him the
ability to see angelic forces that often surround those who live
close to their Creator by obeying all His rules for living
rightly. (II Kings 6:16-17.)


Elisha Captures An Army

"Confuse those who besiege the town," Elisha prayed. "Cause
them to be uncertain of where they are."
Elisha's prayer was soon answered. Syrian officers came to
the house to inquire about how to get to the town of Dothan.
Obviously they were not aware that they were in Dothan!
"I can show you how to get to any town around here," Elisha
told them. "If you are looking for any certain person, I can
direct you to him, too. I know most of the people in this part of
the country."
"Then you can help us," one of the officers said. "We're
trying to find Elisha, the Israelite prophet."
"I know him well," the prophet told them. "I would be
pleased to lead you to the man you want to find."
"There would be a reward for your trouble," the officer
said. "Because there is disagreement among us as to where we are
and which direction is which, you could be of great value to us."
A little later an unusual scene was viewed by residents of
the area south of Dothan. They saw a man riding on a plodding
donkey, followed slowly by thousands of soldiers who were blinded
to the fact they already had been in Dothan. The man didn't stop
riding till he had led the army up to the walls of Samaria.
Israelite soldiers poured out of the city to quickly surround the
Syrians. But the Syrians seemed indifferent to what was going on,
because they were blinded to the fact that they were soldiers.
The Syrians made no move to protect themselves.
"Bring these men I have brought here out of their muddled
state of mind," Elisha prayed.
Suddenly the Syrians realized, with a shock, that they were
at Samaria and encompassed by Israelite soldiers. Some of the
officers recognized Elisha, the man they had been sent to
capture. They weren't angry with the prophet, because they
couldn't understand how they had come to Samaria. As for keeping
his promise to lead them to himself, Elisha carried out what he
had said he would do. He simply chose another place -- Samaria,
not Dothan -- to be revealed to them. (II Kings 6:18-20.)
Threatened by the encircling Israelites, the Syrians feared
to seize the prophet, who went on into the city. The king of
Israel, greatly excited by the situation, asked Elisha if God
expected them to slaughter the Syrians.
"No," the prophet replied. "Your men have them bottled up so
securely that they are already your prisoners. As such, they
should be fed.
God would have you then give them their freedom."


No Little Border Raid

The king of Israel was surprised, but he did as Elisha said.
The Syrians were even more surprised, and so was their king when
they returned to their country without Elisha. Their ruler was
angry because his army had failed, but he decided to cease
bothering the Israelites with his marauding bands. He reasoned
that it might not be wise to continue troubling a people whose
God had such unusual powers. (II Kings 6:21-23.)
However, after about a year had passed, Ben-hadad the Syrian
king began to change his mind. He decided to try one more time to
conquer Israel -- but not with small raiding bands. For months he
mustered and trained the largest fighting force he could squeeze
out of his people. His army moved suddenly and swiftly
southwestward to surround Samaria before the Israelites could
come out to the defense.
After several days of keeping the people of Samaria penned
in their city, and chasing off all who tried to enter,
Ben-hadad's hope of victory was greatly bolstered. More days
passed while the Syrian king saw success coming ever closer. At
the same time he momentarily expected some grievous surprise from
the enemy, whose God filled him with secret awe whenever he was
warring with the Israelites. (II Kings 6:24.)
Meanwhile, the situation grew very serious inside Israel's
capital, Samaria. Food was so scarce that people ate donkeys,
even though the flesh of those animals is unsuitable for food.
(Leviticus 11.) God had forbidden the Israelites to consume any
unclean creature. Even one of the worst parts of the animal, the
head, was eagerly bought for what would be equal to many of our
dollars or pounds. Other things that ordinarily never would have
been used for food sold for equally ridiculous prices. Every day
the food problem grew worse. (II Kings 6:25.)
One morning Jehoram, the Israelite king, was walking along
Samaria's walls to inspect the defenses when a woman below called
out for help.
"If God hasn't helped you, how do you expect me to?" the
king sarcastically asked. He was weary of hearing complaints.
Then he added, "Probably it would be foolish of me to ask if your
trouble concerns food."
"I wouldn't be starving now if another woman had kept her
part of a bargain we made," the woman sobbed to Jehoram, whose
attention was mostly on the line of Syrian troops extending
around Samaria. "Each of us had a baby boy, and both babies died
for lack of food. We agreed that if I would prepare my baby to
keep us from starving, she would do the same with hers next day.
But she didn't. Instead, she hid him." (II Kings 6:26-29.)
By this time the king had wheeled around and was staring
down at the woman. He could scarcely believe that the lack of
food in the city had begun to turn the inhabitants into
cannibals. This was something God had long since foretold would
happen to the Israelites from time to time if they served other
gods. (Deuteronomy 28:15, 47-53.)
Many of the people of Samaria worshiped Baal. But to
Jehoram's way of thinking, the terrible situation was Elisha's
fault. The king blamed him because the prophet hadn't brought
about some kind of miracle to save the city and its people.
Jehoram was so upset by what the woman had told him that he tore
his clothes.
The king continued to make his round on top of the walls.
His soldiers were surprised to see that underneath his robe he
was dressed in sackeloth, a symbol of mourning. They knew that
the king was at last aware of how desperate their situation had
become. (II Kings 6:30.)
But Jehoram had something else on his mind, too.
"Because he has allowed this evil thing to happen to my
capital, I intend to have Elisha beheaded!" Jehoram declared. "If
I fail to have it done, then may God have me beheaded!"


God Promises Abundance

Elisha was staying at Samaria, and while the king was
starting to carry out his grisly promise, the prophet was meeting
in his living quarters with some of the men who were his
students.
"I am suddenly aware of a move to take my life," Elisha told
them. "The king, who is the son of a murderer, would also become
a murderer by sending a man to cut off my head! That man is on
his way here now, and will be pounding on the door at any minute!
Don't let him in. Hold the door!"
"But he will be accompanied by other soldiers!" one of the
frenzied students excitedly observed. "We can't keep soldiers out
very long!"
"If you can delay them just a minute or two, that should be
long enough," Elisha explained. "The king has changed his mind.
He is hurrying to overtake the executioner and prevent him from
beheading me."
That was exactly what was happening. After sending soldiers
and an executioner to do away with Elisha, Jehoram decided that
he had acted too hastily. Accompanied by some of his officers, he
rushed off to try to prevent the slaying. (II Kings 6:31-33.)
The executioner arrived with troops who surrounded the house
where Elisha was. As predicted, there was a loud pounding on the
door, followed by demands to open it and the sounds of men
struggling to force it in. The king and his officers hurried up
just as the door, temporarily held closed by Elisha's friends on
the inside, fell into a mass of splintered boards. Jehoram barked
for the executioner and soldiers to stay where they were. He
strode past them into the house and up to Elisha.
"Perhaps I should have allowed my executioner more time,"
Jehoram said to Elisha. "Why haven't you prayed that the enemy
would go away, or that fire would come down and burn them up?"
"I have prayed," Elisha answered, "but God is the one who
decides what shall be done. He has let calamity come to Samaria
because of your disobedience and the actions of others,
especially in your city, who have followed your example. But now
that you and the people have sobered, and are looking to God for
help, plenty of food will be available to you by the time another
day has passed. There will be so much of it that people will be
selling what they don't need, and at very low prices." (II Kings
7:1.)
This was such an unexpected declaration that everyone
present stared at Elisha to make certain that he was serious.
Then faces began to light up. Jehoram blinked at the prophet and
looked as though a great weight had suddenly been lifted from
him. But one of his officers, a haughty fellow, glared insolently
at Elisha.
"Do you really expect us to swallow such a fantastic
statement?" he inquired with a slight sneer. "Are we supposed to
believe that God will open windows in heaven and pour down food
into Samaria?"
"It won't happen quite that way," Elisha calmly answered.
"You will believe it when you see how it happens tomorrow. God
isn't pleased with you because of your foolishly doubting His
power to provide food for Samaria. Consequently, you'll not get
any of it." (II Kings 7:2.)
The officer scowled at Elisha, and would have cursed him,
but Jehoram tugged sharply at his arm. The king nodded affably at
the prophet, then walked from the house with all his men except
those who were instructed to remain and install a new door.


Lepers With a Message

Lest their disease be transmitted to others, lepers weren't
allowed to live in Israelite cities. Consequently, lepers often
lived in hovels just outside the gates so they could beg from
passersby. It was this way at the main gate of Samaria. Four
leprous men had lived there for some time. With the city besieged
and the gates barred, the four barely managed to live. The
evening just after Elisha's close brush with death, the lepers
decided they would go out to the Syrian tents and ask for food.
They reasoned that if the Syrians killed them, it would spare
them the agony of dying of starvation in the next day or two. (II
Kings 7:3-4.)
Meanwhile, in the enemy camps around Samaria, a strange
thing was happening. The Syrians imagined they could hear a faint
and distant thundering sound, like the pounding of the hooves of
many horses and the rumbling of the wheels of many chariots. The
noise grew louder and louder to them.
"Israel has hired the armies of the Hittites from Asia Minor
and the armies of Egypt to attack us!" was the fearful thought
that came to the Syrians.
When the sound put into their minds by God had become so
loud that attackers seemed very close, the Syrians suddenly
panicked. They rushed on foot from their camps, leaving even
their horses remaining. (II Kings 7:5-7.)
Later that evening the four lepers cautiously approached a
Syrian tent, calling out that they were from Samaria and needed
food. Although a light burned by the tent, no one came out. The
men moved so close that they could see inside. No one was there,
nor did they find anyone in adjoining tents. They crept inside
one to find things that at first seemed unreal to them -- bread,
cheese, milk, dates, figs, meat and wine.
After gorging themselves till they began to feel ill, they
found clothing and articles of silver and gold. These they
excitedly took to a hiding place outside the camp, then returned
to ransack another tent and hide the loot. By this time they had
so much food and so many valuables in their possession that they
began to be concerned about what would happen if these things
were found in their possession by the king's soldiers.
"Instead of taking more things, we should report that the
Syrians have gone before anyone else finds out," one leper told
the others. "If the king finds out from us, he might reward us."
The others agreed. By tossing stones up on the wall, they
gained the attention of a guard to tell him that the Syrians had
disappeared, leaving behind their possessions, including their
cattle, horses and donkeys.
The excited guard raced off to get word to King Jehoram, who
leaped out of bed and summoned his top officers.
Jehoram's report that the Syrians had departed created a
noisy sensation among his officers. Some of them were anxious to
go out, even while it was yet dark, to look for anything the
Syrians might have left behind. (II Kings 7:8-11.)
"No!" the king commanded. "I've been told that they left
almost everything behind. When daylight comes, they'll expect us
to notice that they're gone. If we go out to investigate,"
Jehoram reasoned, "they'll charge us from behind boulders and out
of ravines and gullies!"
----------------------------------------

Chapter 128
ELIJAH'S LETTER

THE KING of Israel learned that the Syrians had left their camps
around besieged Samaria. (II Kings 7:1-11.) He believed that it
was a ruse to get the Israelites outside the city so that the
enemy, hiding all around, could attack and get through the gates.
"But suppose the Syrians aren't hiding?" one officer
remarked. "Suppose they have gone home. Are we then to continue
staying here day after day?"
"We'll send scouts out to look for them," another suggested.
"Let us take five of the best horses that are left and scour the
country around the city. If we don't return within a short time,
you will know that the enemy is close by."


Famine Today -- Feast Tomorrow

Jehoram nodded in approval. But only two good horses could
be found. The others had been eaten or were too weak from lack of
food. The main gates of Samaria were opened to allow two riders
to speed off on their mounts to search the low points of the
terrain around the city and the Syrian camp for concealed enemy
troops. None were found.
The riders turned to the east. Right away they found
clothing, weapons and other items scattered over the ground. This
was certain evidence that the Syrians had fled toward their home
country. The two Israelites followed the trail of dropped
articles as far as the Jordan. They were satisfied that their
enemies had departed from Israel, though it was a mystery why
they had done so in such haste. (II Kings 7:12-15.)
It was early afternoon when the riders reported to Jehoram,
who was greatly elated with their news. Not before then did he
allow anyone to go out to the Syrian camps. The people had been
eagerly staring at the tents, horses, donkeys and cattle all
morning. They were anxious to get to the cattle, and they wanted
to see if the tents contained food.
So that there would be order at the main gates, Jehoram
assigned one of his officers to take charge there. It happened to
be the one who had spoken disrespectfully to Elisha just the day
before, and who had been told by the prophet that he wouldn't
share in the food that would come to the people of Samaria.
The officer took his place at the gates and gave the order
to open them. As soon as they swung inward, out rushed the mob of
starving people, wildly intent on getting to what the Syrians had
left behind. The officer shouted at them to restrain themselves,
but no one paid any attention to him. He was knocked down by the
running crowd. Hundreds of feet trampled his body into
lifelessness within a very few minutes, carrying out Elisha's
prophecy that the officer wouldn't share in the food God would
supply. (II Kings 7:1-2; 16-17.)
The Israelites swarmed into the Syrian tents, snatching up
everything. Within a short time all the enemy's possessions,
including animals, were taken inside Samaria. There was great
celebrating in the city. People traded Syrian articles. Those who
hadn't raided the Syrian camps were able to buy food at
reasonable prices from those who had gone after it. Elisha's
prediction had come true that plenty of food would come to
Samaria within a day. (II Kings 7:18-20.)
For a while the people of Samaria were possibly better off
regarding edibles than were many people of Israel. Crops hadn't
been plentiful for a long time. The Israelites hadn't had enough
to eat, and the situation continued for seven years before plenty
of rain and full crops came again to the land.
Elisha knew how long the famine would last. He had suggested
to some of his followers that they go to some other nearby
country to live until the famine was at an end. Among them was
the woman of Shunem whose young son had died of sunstroke, and to
whom God, through the prophet, had restored life.
Leaving their home and property rented out, the woman and
her family went to Philistia to live. In those years the
Philistines weren't troubling Israel with their army. The two
nations were never completely at peace, but people of both
countries often crossed the indefinite borders without unfriendly
incidents. (II Kings 8:1-3.)


Miracles Fascinate the King

Years later, when they heard that food was again plentiful
in Israel, the woman and her family returned to their home. To
their dismay, the renters treated them as strangers.
"What are you doing back in Israel?" they coldly asked. "We
thought you had gone to become loyal subjects of the king of
Philistia."
"We had an understanding that we would return as soon as
crops became better," the woman reminded them. "You agreed that
you would then move out."
"It's been so long ago that we don't remember making any
such foolish agreement," the renters answered. "We feel that we
have a right to this property. If you want to try to get what is
ours, take the matter to the king. For now, you had better start
looking for a place to live -- unless you want to return to your
Philistine friends."
The woman and her son took the matter to the king. It
happened that at that time Jehoram had become especially curious
about Elisha's past. He had summoned to his palace Elisha's
former servant, Gehazi. Because the fellow had become a leper,
conversation between the two took place outside, and at a
respectable distance.
"Which one of Elisha's miracles do you consider greatest?"
was one of Jehoram's many questions.
"I can't say which was truly the greatest," Gehazi replied,
"but the one that impressed me most was his bringing life back to
a boy who had died of sunstroke, and who had been dead for
several hours."
At that moment an aide approached the king to point out a
woman who was anxious to consult Jehoram.
"That's the woman whose son Elisha saved!" Gehazi excitedly
exclaimed. "The young man with her is the son Elisha restored to
life!"
After Jehoram had heard their complaint, he immediately
decided to help them. Possibly he would have decided otherwise if
they hadn't had an association with Elisha, whose life fascinated
him. He sent police to remove their renters from their property.
The evicted people were even required to turn over to the
rightful owners all the rent owed for the produce that had been
harvested since their leaving for Philistia. (II Kings 8:4-6.)
Meanwhile, the hasty and empty-handed return of his army
from Samaria greatly bothered Ben-hadad, the king of Syria. He
had a strong feeling that events had some connection with Elisha
and the God of Israel. He fell severely ill about that time, and
felt that he might die.
Then one day he was told that Elisha had come to Damascus,
the capital of Syria. Ben-hadad became excited at this report.
His first thought was that the prophet could foretell what would
happen to him. He hoped that Elisha might even ask the God of
Israel to heal him. He sent forty camels to carry costly jewels,
rare food and fine clothing to the prophet. Each of them carried
something special so that there would be a great display for
Elisha.
"After you give him the gifts, find out from Elisha if and
when I shall recover from this sickness," Ben-hadad instructed
Hazael, the man next in rank under the king in the government of
Syria.


Betrayed by One's Closest Friend

Elisha was impressed and grateful when the camels were
paraded before him to display the presents. Most probably the
prophet didn't accept them. Taking them back to Israel would have
been impossible unless some of the camels could be sent with him.
"As you probably know, the king is quite ill," Hazael told
Elisha. "He would like to know from you if he will die of this
sickness."
"You can tell him that I know through my God that his
illness won't cause his death," Elisha answered. "But something
else will soon cause him to die." (II Kings 8:7-10.)
Hazael was puzzled by this statement. He was also puzzled by
the prophet's sudden strange behavior. Elisha turned from Hazael
to hide his face. It was evident that he was trying to hide tears
that had come into his eyes.
"What is the reason for your sorrow?" Hazael asked.
"I am thinking of the terrible things you will do to the
people of Israel," Elisha replied. "Forts will be burned, young
men will be slaughtered, children will be thrown to their deaths
and pregnant women will be ripped open with swords. Syrian
soldiers will do these things by your orders!"
"My orders?" Hazael queried in surprise. "I don't
understand. How can a man of so little consequence do such great
things?"
"When the time comes, you will demand that Syrian soldiers
perform such cruel acts," the prophet continued. "Within a few
days you will become king of Syria, and you will exert the power
of a merciless ruler on Israel." (II Kings 8:11-13.)
Hazael was stunned at this prediction. He was not as
concerned with what he might do as king as he was at the sudden
news that he would be Syria's next ruler. Now that the
probability of it was brought to him, his desire for such a high
position was abruptly consuming. Struggling to contain his
elation, he showered Elisha with questions. But the prophet would
say no more.
When Hazael returned to Ben-hadad, the king was anxious to
learn at once what the prophet had said about his future.
"He said you would not die from the illness you have,"
Hazael told his superior. He mentioned nothing about the king
dying soon because of something else.
The answer gave Ben-hadad great satisfaction. That night,
instead of going through sleepless hours of concern for his life,
he relaxed and fell into deep slumber. It was his last night of
sleep. Before dawn Hazael managed to slip into his bedroom and
forcefully cover his face with a heavy, wet cloth to suffocate
him. The king soon woke up, but he couldn't shout for help and he
didn't have the strength to fight off the treacherous Hazael, who
was determined to become ruler of Syria as soon as possible.
His new, consuming ambition was shortly realized. As soon as
Ben-hadad was buried, Hazael became king, fulfilling the first
part of Elisha's prediction. The other dreadful parts were to
take place before long. (II Kings 8:14-15.)


Judah Follows Israel

About this time, down in the House of Judah, a son of
Jehoshaphat became king. His name was Jehoram, the same as that
of the king of the House of Israel. His wife Athaliah was the
sister of King Jehoram of Israel and the daughter of Ahab and
Jezebel, worshippers of Baal. Athaliah strongly influenced her
husband toward idol worship in Judah, insomuch that the people
were encouraged in the same evil pursuit. If God hadn't promised
David that there would always be someone on the throne of Judah
from David's family line, the Creator probably would have
destroyed Judah at this time. (II Kings 8:16-19; II Chronicles
21:5-7.)
Jehoshaphat, Jehoram's father, died four years after
granting co-rulership to Jehoram.
Jehoshaphat had seven sons, six of whom he made governors
before he died over as many cities of Judah. Four years after his
eldest son became king, the new ruler ruthlessly sent men to do
away with all six of his brothers, as well as a few other
prominent men in Judah. (II Chronicles 21:1-4.) Old Jehoshaphat,
now dead, never knew what happened to his six other sons. Besides
being a depraved and dangerous man, Jehoram was suspicious of
others who had authority. He didn't want to be opposed, and he
reasoned that those who might threaten him should be put out of
existence.
During Jehoram's reign, the Edomites, who had been paying
tribute to Judah ever since Solomon's time, refused to make any
more payments. To Jehoram, this was cause for war. He took many
foot soldiers, chariots and cavalry to Edom, the rugged country
south of the Dead Sea. The Edomites mustered their scattered
forces to defend themselves, but without success.
The army of Judah returned triumphantly to Jerusalem, but
the victory proved to be a hollow one because the Edomites still
refused to send tribute to Judah. This infuriated Jehoram. He
wanted to return to Edom and wipe out the inhabitants, but the
thought of another miserable march into the rough, arid mountains
there kept him at home.
To make matters worse, another nation ceased sending tribute
to Judah. It was Libnah, a small city-state close to Edom. No
more tribute was ever forthcoming from these two nations. Jehoram
never did anything more about the matter except to continue
threatening the governments of Edom and Libnah. (II Kings
8:20-22; II Chronicles 21:8-10.)


Elijah Warns the King

One day a messenger came to the palace to deliver a letter
to the king, who perused it with a combination of anger and fear.
Here is what he read:
"To the king of Judah from Elijah, the prophet of God:
"You have chosen to live like the pagan-loving kings of the
House of Israel instead of like the God-fearing kings of the
House of Judah. You have caused your people to live in the same
manner.
"Because of this, and because you murdered your brothers,
who had greater character and ability than yours, terrible
trouble and sickness will come on your people. Misery will
overtake your wives and children. Your property and possessions
will be taken from you. You will become increasingly ill in your
intestines. Day after day you will suffer until the insides of
your body become so diseased that they will fall out. That is the
day you will die, and it is not far off.
"God has told me to inform you of what will happen. Because
I am old and unable to come and tell you in person, a capable
messenger will bring you this letter." (II Chronicles 21:11-15.)
Jehoram was infuriated.
"Bring to me the man who came to the palace with this
paper!" the white-faced king shouted.
Men scurried to obey, but the messenger couldn't be found.
Jehoram felt frustrated. From then on he lived in fear of what
would happen. He tried to dismiss from his mind the thought that
Elijah, who had been miraculously taken up in a whirlwind several
years previously (II Kings 2:1-18), was still alive and knew of
his wickedness. Regardless of his fears, he made no change in his
disreputable way of living.


God's Punishment

His predicted troubles started one day when he received a
report from an excited scout that a Philistine army was
approaching from the west. While Jehoram tried to decide whether
to confront the Philistines or stay within the protection of
Jerusalem's walls, another scout arrived to disclose that hordes
of mounted Arabians were sweeping toward Jerusalem from the
south, and had already plundered several towns in the southern
territory of Judah.
Now the king couldn't decide whether to send his army south
to oppose the Arabians, order it west to battle back the
Philistines, split it and go after both intruding armies, or keep
it in Jerusalem and risk a siege. There was more sensible
strategy, but Jehoram didn't have the will to plan. He was
overcome with the gloomy belief that this was the beginning of
the end, and that any military action would be futile.
Jehoram turned matters over to his officers, but by then the
Arabians and Philistines had arrived at Jerusalem at the same
time. In some manner which God had made possible, they managed to
get the gates open and pour inside. The defenders were thrown
into confusion and fell in heaps before the fierce invaders. (II
Chronicles 21:16-17.)
Terrified, Jehoram fled with his family to his palace. On
the way they were overtaken by Arabians on horses. As he ran, the
king glanced back to see his screaming wives and children
snatched up by powerful riders.
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