16 September 2011

"Thus says the Lord: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but shall surely die." (v. 6)


Like his father, mother and grandfather before him, Ahaziah, son of Ahab, was denounced in the narrative of the kings of Israel: "he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord" (1 Kings 22:51). He was condemned primarily as a Baal worshipper, breaking the first commandment ("You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3)) and thus provoking Yahweh to anger. The story illustrates the struggle in Israel over several centuries to establish the rule of the one God, Yahweh, over the other Canaanite gods, particularly the storm god Baal and those associated with him. The worship of Baal was widespread in ancient Israel, and he is associated with several shrines under different names. Here he is called Baal-zebub, lord of the flies.

Ahaziah bore the weight of Elijah's condemnation of Ahab's house (1 Kings 21:29), and the passage with which 2 Kings opens is the story of his injury and death. Ahaziah is doomed not only by the earlier prophecy, but also though his own action. Lying critically injured after a fall from an upper storey window, he asks for an oracle from Baal-zebub.

Before the Baal prophets arrive, God sends Elijah to deliver the oracle of Ahaziah's certain death. Sandwiched in between the notice of Ahaziah's injury (verses 1-2) and his death (verse 17), the story of Elijah demonstrates the miraculous power of God. Having been told that Elijah was prophesying his death, Ahaziah sends messengers to bring Elijah to him. Twice the military cohorts go and order Elijah to come with them, and twice he sends fire down upon them and destroys them. This story echoes the earlier episode in 1 Kings, when Elijah demonstrates the power of God in another fiery competition with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:17-40). On the third attempt, an angel, a messenger of God, tells him that he can safely go to the king. Arriving at the king's bedside, Elijah repeats the prophecy that Ahaziah is doomed to death, and immediately Ahaziah dies. The prophecy is fulfilled, the true prophet is recognised, and the power of God over the power of Baal is made clear.

To Ponder

In the New Testament, there were rumours that Jesus was Elijah or one of the other prophets brought back to life (Luke 9:7). What is there, if anything, in Elijah's performance here that is consistent with Jesus' prophetic actions?

When you consider the values of secular society today, what forms of 'Baal worship' do you see, and how should you deal with them?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Susan Graham

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