II. The Divided Kingdom (1 Kings 12:1–22:53)

12:1 God’s judgment on Solomon was exacted during the reign of his son. The previous chapter explained the what and the why of what happened: the kingdom would be torn from Solomon’s son and divided in two because of Solomon’s unfaithfulness. This chapter explains the how. God used the bad advice Rehoboam received from his younger advisers and his foolishness in listening to carry out his promise.

Zarephath was a hot, dry village located in Sidon (modern-day Lebanon). This was the home turf of Jezebel (see 16:31), so, in a sense, God had sent Elijah to the idolatrous “Baal Belt.” Elijah was going into enemy territory to demonstrate that the Lord is the true God who alone has power over creation and can even provide in the den of Satan.

17:10-14 Zarephath was suffering from the drought, too. When Elijah entered the town, he met a poor widow and asked for a drink of water and a piece of bread (17:10-11). She got the water, but noted that providing bread was another matter. She and her son were on the verge of starvation. There was only a bit of flour and oil left. She was about to prepare their last meal; then they would die (17:12).

Elijah challenged the widow to act on faith and feed him first with the last of her flour for bread (17:13). She knew that the Lord was his God (17:12), and Elijah was declaring that the Lord God of Israel would supply her needs if she trusted him (17:14).

17:15-16 The widow believed God’s word through Elijah and did as he said. The result was a miraculous provision of food lasting many days (17:15). Her flour jar did not become empty, and the oil jug did not run dry (17:16). Even in the face of certain death, she acted on faith, trusting in the word of the living God, and he provided. This reinforces a New Testament principle: we should give others the very thing we wish God would give to us (see Luke 6:38).

17:17-21 After this, however, the widow’s son became ill and died (17:17). Having been exposed to the holiness of God through his miraculous works, she was aware of her own iniquity. She believed her sin had come to God’s attention through Elijah’s presence in her home. Thus, in her mind, God was punishing her for her sin by putting her son . . . to death (17:18). Elijah responded by taking the boy from her arms and carrying him to the upstairs room where he was staying. Then, he laid him on his own bed and began to pray (17:19-20).

Elijah’s prayer showed that even he did not understand why God had brought about this tragedy (17:20). The Lord had sent Elijah to this woman and her son, and he had spared their lives through Elijah. So, why take her son’s life? Regardless of the reason, Elijah knew the sovereign God who held all the answers and who had the power to restore life. So, the prophet stretched himself out over the boy three times and cried out to God to give the child his life back (17:21).

Remembering how God has answered us in one trial can serve as a foundation for trusting him when we enter the next trial. This story also demonstrates that we (like the widow) can piggyback on the spirituality of others when we need God to resurrect something in our lives.

17:22-24 God graciously answered Elijah’s prayer, and the boy’s life came into him again (17:22). Imagine the look on the mother’s face when Elijah brought him down from the upstairs room and said, Look, your son is alive (17:23). That moment confirmed her faith in the Lord as the true God (17:24). The miracle also no doubt strengthened Elijah’s faith for the tests he was about to face as he returned to Israel to confront Ahab and the prophets of Baal.

18:1-4 After the drought had lasted a long time, God sent Elijah to Ahab to announce that he would send rain (18:1). The prophet obeyed, and on the way to Samaria, he encountered Ahab’s servant Obadiah (18:2-3). Obadiah was in charge of the palace. But, he was also a faithful believer who greatly feared the Lord and took a hundred prophets and hid them [from Jezebel] . . . and provided them with food (18:3-4). Like Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah, Obadiah held a position of trust and responsibility in the palace of an unbelieving ruler. Only in Obadiah’s case, the ruler was the king of Israel whose queen had slaughtered the true prophets of the true God (18:4).

18:5-15 In hopes of saving his animals, Ahab had sent Obadiah out looking for any grazing land that might be left after years of drought (18:5-6). It was on this search that Obadiah met Elijah, to his amazement (18:7). Elijah told Obadiah to let Ahab know he was back and wanted to meet him (18:8). But, Obadiah feared that Elijah was pronouncing his death sentence. Ahab had put a price on Elijah’s head. If Obadiah told the king that he had found Elijah, and then the prophet failed to appear, surely Ahab would put his servant to death (18:9-14). But, Elijah assured Ahab’s servant that he would make an appearance, declaring his confidence in the Lord of Armies (18:15).

18:16-17 The two foes met, and Ahab immediately cast the blame for Israel’s woes on Elijah. According to Ahab, the prophet was ruining Israel (18:17) because he had proclaimed there would be no rain except at his command (see 17:1). In truth, Elijah had spoken on behalf of God. But, Ahab took out his fury on the prophet who represented him. The wicked king wouldn’t accept responsibility for his nation’s suffering.

18:18-19 But, Elijah was no shy prophet. He boldly spoke the truth. It was Ahab and his father’s family who were ruining Israel because they had abandoned God’s commands and followed the Baals (18:18). Then, Elijah issued a challenge: Summon all Israel to meet me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah (18:19). These numbers indicate the extent to which Jezebel had plunged Israel into gross idolatry. It was time for a faceoff.

King Ahab had integrated idolatry into a system that was supposed to be run on God’s agenda because the Israelites were his people. Israel was suffering because of failed leadership. But, Elijah represented another kingdom orientation. He was not tied to the royal family or any political party. He could speak truth to earthly power without being co-opted or compromised. Elijah was an independent who was committed to the truth and didn’t care who was in power. He represented an entirely different kingdom with a different agenda.

18:20 Ahab summoned all the Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel. He took up Elijah’s challenge, which means that he must have been confident of the outcome. Elijah was a powerful prophet, but 950 to 1 were pretty good odds.

This mass gathering set the stage for one of the most important questions in all of Scripture: Who is the true God? The Lord had declared to Israel that he alone was God. Now, the people were going to have to make up their minds. Would they believe in the God of their fathers? Or, would they continue to follow the gods of the nations?

18:21 Elijah asked, How long will you waver between two opinions? There is no place for double-mindedness on spiritual matters; you can’t have God and the world (see Jas 4:8). Israel was like an intoxicated man who couldn’t walk a straight line but weaved from side to side, and Elijah’s question implied that Israel’s two-timing of God had been going on too long. It was time to choose sides: If the Lord is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him. There is no such thing as neutrality when it comes to the true God and his demand for exclusive worship (see Matt 12:30).

Shockingly, the people didn’t answer Elijah’s impassioned challenge. The people of Israel—the decedents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—couldn’t even bring themselves to affirm that the Lord is the one true God! They didn’t answer because they had lost all conviction. By failing to choose, they had already made their decision.

18:22-24 When the contestants and the audience had gathered together, Elijah set the terms of the coming battle. On one side, the 450 prophets of Baal would receive a sacrificial bull. On the other side, Elijah—standing alone—would receive the other bull. Each side would prepare its bull on an altar, and each would call on their deity to set their offering ablaze. The God who answers with fire, Elijah said, he is God (18:24).

Did the people really expect to see a supernatural response that day? Or, did they have no expectations? Regardless, it’s unlikely that they thought the out-gunned Elijah would come out on top. They simply responded, That’s fine (18:24).

18:25-29 The false prophets got to go first. They slaughtered their bull and called on Baal from morning until noon. But, no one answered. So, they danced around the altar (18:26). Eventually, they became so desperate for a response that they began shouting and cutting themselves, so that blood gushed over them (18:28). Still, the heavens were silent. No one answered, no one paid attention (18:29). This is the outcome for those who trust in anyone or anything besides the true God.

While this was happening, Elijah offered sarcastic commentary on the proceedings. He mocked both the prophets and their god: Maybe he’s thinking it over, he said, maybe he has wandered away. . . . Perhaps he’s sleeping! (18:27). Because Ahab and his prophets had led the people of Israel astray, Elijah wanted to make it clear that their false god and his religion were a lie and a disgrace that had caused the Lord to judge his people. Baal deserved to be mocked.

18:30-31 Finally, Elijah brought a halt to the nonsense and called the people to come to the Lord’s altar (18:30). For it, Elijah used twelve stones (18:31), representing the twelve tribes of Israel. This was a significant object lesson to the crowd watching. Even though the nation was divided at this time, they were still the one people of God; they consisted of the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob. In other words, Elijah was preparing the Israelites to see their God work by calling them to unity.

18:32-35 Elijah’s elaborate preparations of the altar were designed to leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Lord is the only true God. The prophet even worked against himself. By pouring an abundance of water on the sacrifice and altar, he was making it impossible for the soggy wood and offering to be burned (18:33-35). No human could light such a mess.

18:36-37 Elijah prayed. And what a prayer! The heart of Elijah’s request was that Israel’s God would glorify himself before all of the people that day. What would be the payoff? The people would know that the Lord is God, that Elijah was his prophet, and as a result their hearts would be turned back to him. A prayer for God to be glorified and for his people to be edified is the kind of prayer that God answers.

18:38-40 God’s dramatic response to Elijah’s prayer was heightened by the fact that it was now evening (18:36). The perfect time for a divine fireworks display! Fire fell from heaven, consuming the offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust. The flames even licked up the water (18:38). It would have been obvious to everyone present that the supernatural had invaded the natural world; the spiritual had touched the physical; eternity had invaded history. So, the people of Israel responded in the only appropriate way: they fell on their faces and confessed, The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God! (18:39). And, with the outcome so one-sided, the prophets of Baal were shown to be the frauds that they were. Their fate was sealed (18:40).

18:41-46 With the greatness and uniqueness of the Lord vindicated and confessed, it was time to lift the drought and famine from the land (see 18:1). The prophet informed Ahab that a rainstorm was approaching and went to the summit of Carmel to pray (18:42). Elijah persisted in his intercession until the Lord answered with a downpour. In other words, he took the mental position of a woman in the travail of childbirth as he kept praying. After seven times (the number of completion), the answer came. He even received the bonus blessing of supernatural strength, which enabled him to outrun Ahab’s chariot to Jezreel (18:43-45). Without a doubt, the power of the Lord was on Elijah (11:46). He was on a spiritual mountaintop. But, he was about to enter the valley of the shadow of death.

19:1-2 Though Elijah had won a great victory, he had also ticked off the vicious Queen Jez-ebel. Her god Baal had been mocked and her prophets had been killed—all because of this upstart prophet of the Lord (19:1). Therefore, she threatened to make Elijah like her own prophets—that is, dead by [that] time the following day (19:2).

19:3-8 This was quite a reversal of fortune for Elijah. He became afraid and immediately ran for his life, going deep into Judah’s wilderness (19:3-4). The irony of Elijah’s fear of a godless queen could not be greater, coming on the heels of his greatest victory. But, there he was, exhausted, discouraged, and praying to die, when he finally fell asleep (19:4-5).

Even the strongest saints have weaknesses. Spiritual depression strikes when we least expect it—especially following on the heels of spiritual victory. Remember that even Jesus was attacked after his glorious baptism (see Matt 3:16–4:1).

Elijah may have assumed that, after the victory at Carmel, Ahab would lead Israel in returning to the Lord. Perhaps he’d thought that Queen Jezebel would be cast out of the palace, or that she would raise the white flag and surrender. But, neither of those things happened. Ahab was as weak as ever, and Jezebel was as evil as ever. So, Elijah was disillusioned and ready to give up.

But, God knew what Elijah needed. It began with food and rest. An angel fed him, let him sleep some more, and then fed him some more (19:5-8). Sometimes, what we need is simply a good meal and a good night’s sleep. This gave Elijah the strength he needed to walk forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God (19:8). Horeb was the ancient name for Mount Sinai, where Moses had met God in the burning bush (see Exod 3:1-2), and where God had entered into a covenant with his people (see Deut 5:2). Just as sure as Elijah needed food and rest, he also needed time in God’s presence to get his spiritual feet back under him.

19:9 In a cave at Horeb, the word of the Lord came to him (19:9). He asked the prophet, What are you doing here? Of course, the obvious answer was, “I’m resting.” But, God wasn’t asking Elijah what he was doing at Horeb, but rather what he was doing at Horeb. Why had he fled so far from Israel, where the Lord had called him to minister?

19:10 Elijah was ready with his complaint. He had done everything God had asked of him. But, nothing had changed. In effect, Elijah wailed, “Israel is still in rebellion; your prophets have been killed; and now they’re after me!” As far as he knew, he was the last man in Israel who still followed God. His answer could have been construed as saying, “God, your power was great, but it wasn’t enough. We won the battle, but we’ve lost the war.”

19:11-14 Elijah’s thinking had become foggy; he needed a good dose of truth. God didn’t rebuke him, but rather gave him supernatural illumination (19:11-13). Elijah was awed by this encounter, but God had a reason for displaying his power. The message behind it was this: things were well under control. God’s power had not diminished. In fact, Elijah didn’t need to run and hide because God had more work for him to do. So, God asked him again, What are you doing here, Elijah? (19:13). Still not ready to move forward, Elijah voiced his complaint again (19:14).

19:15-21 God had heard enough. Far from being thwarted, the Lord was about to wipe the throne of Israel clean and remove Baal worship from the nation. And, now that Elijah had experienced a spiritual retreat of sorts, God had his next assignment ready. He commanded the prophet to return to the north and anoint Hazael as king over Aram and anoint Jehu . . . as king over Israel (19:15). These men would exact God’s vengeance on Israel’s sin.

God also told Elijah to anoint his successor: Elisha son of Shaphat (19:16), indicating that Elijah wasn’t as alone as he had feared (19:10). There were other servants of the Lord in the land. In fact, God revealed to his prophet that he had seven thousand followers in Israel who had not bowed to Baal (19:18).

After this word, Elijah found Elisha and called him to serve with him, throwing his mantle over him as a sign that, in time, he would assume Elijah’s role (19:19). Elisha celebrated the Lord’s calling on his life; then he followed Elijah and served him (19:21).

20:1-6 Once Elijah was functioning prophetically again, events began to unfold that would bring about God’s judgment on the house of Ahab and on Israel’s worship of Baal. King Ben-hadad of Aram and his enormous army besieged Samaria, Ahab’s capital, and made harsh demands. Being badly outnumbered, Ahab agreed to them (20:1-4). Yet, Ahab’s concession only made Ben-hadad more greedy. He further demanded that his men be allowed into Samaria to plunder Ahab’s palace and his servants’ houses, as well (20:5-6).

20:7-13 Ben-hadad’s second demand was too much, so Ahab gathered his advisers, all the elders of the land (20:7). They counseled resistance, as did all the people (20:8). Therefore, Ahab sent Ben-hadad a resounding, “No,” and the armies prepared for war (20:9-12). At this point, an unnamed prophet came to Ahab with a promise of victory from the Lord (20:13). Clearly, this encouragement came not because Ahab deserved deliverance or even asked the Lord for help. Rather, the victory over Aram was intended to teach Ahab that the Lord was the true God (20:13). Would Ahab learn the lesson?

20:14-25 The battle proved to be a spectacular success for Israel (20:14-21). Ben-hadad himself barely escaped (20:20). But, Israel was not yet done with Aram. The same prophet informed Ahab that the king of Aram would be back for a new fight the following spring (20:22). Sure enough, Ben-hadad’s advisers gave him bad advice concerning the power of the Lord (their gods are gods of the hill country), so he planned the next battle for the plain where Aram would have an advantage—or so he thought (20:23).

20:26-34 Once again, the man of God prophesied victory for Ahab, which would happen in an even more spectacular way than in the previous battle (20:28). Aram’s defeat was so complete, in fact, that Ben-hadad’s servants advised that they should surrender to Israel and throw themselves on Ahab’s mercy. Ahab accepted Ben-hadad’s surrender and even made a treaty with him and released him (20:31-34). God had handed over Ahab’s enemy so that Ahab might defeat him and worship God. Instead, Ahab made friends with his enemy and forgot about God.

20:35-36 The final verses of the chapter introduce us to another prophet from God. Before he confronted King Ahab, though, the prophet told his fellow prophet to strike him (20:35). When the man refused, he was killed by a lion as a means of judgment. This may seem an odd story. But, these men knew each other; they shared the role of divine spokesmen; and the first prophet was speaking by the word of the Lord (20:35). So, the second prophet should have known better than to ignore it. God’s word is to be obeyed. The consequences for failing to obey can be catastrophic.

20:37-43 The next man was quick to obey. The wound the prophet received allowed him to disguise himself with a bandage (20:37-38). Then, he approached King Ahab with a story (20:39-40) reminiscent of the tale Nathan told to King David after he had sinned—a tale that was designed to entrap him (see 2 Sam 12:1-10). The point of the story was that Ahab had committed a grave sin in releasing Ben-hadad when God had set apart that king for destruction (20:42). Because Ahab had failed to carry out the Lord’s will, he and Israel would suffer. Ahab, ever the pouter, stormed off for Samaria resentful and angry (20:43).

21:1-4 Ahab’s habit of pouting when he didn’t get what he wanted turned deadly when the king of Israel eyed a vineyard belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite that was next to Ahab’s palace (21:1-2). Ahab offered to trade Naboth a better vineyard in exchange for his land or to buy it outright (21:2). But, Naboth refused to sell his ancestral inheritance—rightly so (21:3; see Lev 25:23). As a result, the king went home resentful and angry once again and lay on his bed like a spoiled child, refusing to eat (21:4).

21:5-16 Enter Jezebel, who assured her husband that she would get Naboth’s vineyard for him (21:5-7). The evil queen set in motion a coldhearted plan to have Naboth executed under trumped-up charges (21:8-10). Then, the wicked men whom she conspired with carried out her plan to the letter, until Naboth was stoned to death (21:13-14). With the evil deed done, Jezebel coldly reported his death to Ahab and presented her weak-willed husband with the vineyard he had wanted so much (21:15-16).

21:17-24 God was not about to let this monstrous act go unpunished. So, he called Elijah to deliver his word of judgment on Ahab (21:17-19). Ahab greeted Elijah as his enemy, clearly unconcerned that the Lord’s prophet was paying him a visit (21:20). Immediately, Elijah proceeded to spell out Ahab’s judgment from the Lord: I will wipe out all of Ahab’s males, both slave and free, in Israel (21:21). The king’s posterity would be utterly destroyed, just as the Lord had done to the houses of Jeroboam and Baasha (21:22). The same judgment that had been pronounced on these kings, in fact, was now pronounced on Ahab (21:24; see 14:11; 16:4). Elijah also had a word of judgment for Jezebel. For slaughtering the Lord’s faithful servants over the years, she would finally receive what she deserved: The dogs [would] eat [her] (20:23).

21:25-29 Ahab was the worst of many bad kings in Israel, helped along by the incitement of Jezebel (20:25). Yet, when the king heard his sentence, he tore his clothes, put sackcloth over his body, and fasted (20:27)—these were physical actions intended to convey his repentance. When God saw Ahab’s humility, he relented on destroying his family during his lifetime (21:28-29). Ahab would still die in battle, but he would not see his house destroyed.

22:1-4 The events of chapter 22 set in motion Ahab’s last days. After three years without war between Aram and Israel (22:1), the godly King Jehoshaphat of Judah (about whom we will learn more in 22:41-50) paid Ahab a visit—probably for political reasons. Ahab proposed a joint military campaign between Israel and Judah to retake the Israelite city of Ramoth-gilead from the Arameans (22:3-4).

22:5-7 Jehoshaphat agreed to fight as one army with Ahab—on one condition. He wanted to ask . . . the Lord’s will on the matter (22:5). (This is the reader’s first clue that Jehoshaphat was not like Ahab.) The king of Israel agreed and called about four hundred false, lying prophets to join them. And, through that act, we can see that Ahab’s repentance in 21:27 hadn’t brought about true reform in his life. These prophets would say anything Ahab wanted them to say. So, they assured Ahab of victory (22:6). But, Jehoshaphat smelled a rat. He wanted a second opinion—one from a prophet of the Lord (22:7).

22:8 Ahab admitted that there remained one such prophet: Micaiah. But, Ahab hated him because he never [prophesied] good about [him], but only disaster. That answer laid bare the heart of the king. He didn’t want to hear the truth; he only wanted to hear what was in his favor. Unfortunately, too many people feel the same way. Are you willing to receive the Word of God when it tells you what you don’t want to hear?

22:9-12 After Jehoshaphat rebuked Ahab for his hatred (22:8), Ahab reluctantly sent for Micaiah (22:9). As the kings of Israel and Judah waited for him to arrive, Ahab’s prophets foretold his victory over Aram. One of them, Zedekiah, predicted a glorious triumph (22:11). And to this, all of his fellow lying prophets said, “Amen” (22:12).

22:13-16 Before Micaiah entered the king’s presence, he was coached not to disagree with the other prophets. Micaiah disdained this charade; he was God’s prophet (22:14). But, when he appeared before Ahab, he said what the king wanted to hear: March up and succeed. The Lord will hand it over to [you] (22:15). Ahab recognized that Micaiah was being sarcastic, so he insisted on the truth (22:16). And, if Ahab wanted to hear the truth, Micaiah would give it to him.

22:17-23 God’s prophet said Israel was like sheep without a shepherd (22:17). Their king was a failure, and the Lord was about to do something about it. Micaiah was even given a glimpse into the heavenly throne room to see how God would bring about Ahab’s downfall (22:19-22). What’s fascinating is that none of the remarkable details were hidden from Ahab. The prophet explained exactly what God planned to do, but the king would still move ahead with his plans despite the warning.

A lying spirit volunteered to lead King Ahab astray by telling lies through his prophets (22:22). As you process that insight into what took place in the Lord’s throne room, note two things. First, God did not lie. He permitted this lying spirit’s actions to accomplish his purposes. This is no different than God allowing Satan to act with evil intent so that God can achieve his good kingdom intentions in spite of Satan’s plans (see Gen 50:20). Second, God allowed Micaiah to reveal to Ahab that he was being lied to! He said in effect, “Look, Ahab, your ‘yes man’ prophets are leading you astray.” But, while Ahab was being granted divine truth about the lie, it didn’t matter. He had not responded positively to truth in the past; this time would be no different.

22:24-28 Like so many of God’s faithful prophets, Micaiah was treated violently for speaking the truth (22:24). Then, Ahab had Micaiah thrown in prison and fed bread and water until his own safe return (22:27). But, Micaiah had the last word: Ahab wouldn’t be coming back—at least, not alive (22:28).

22:29-34 Though he had been warned that the battle would end in disaster for him, Ahab went to fight against the king of Aram anyway (22:29). He tried to disguise himself in order to steer the enemy’s fire away from himself (22:30), but you can’t hide from divine judgment. A warrior from Aram shot a random arrow and struck the king of Israel through the joints of his armor (22:34). God takes random shots and makes them hit the bullseye.

22:35-40 Ahab died later that day, and the Israelite army scattered (22:35-36). The king’s body was taken to Samaria and buried, and the dogs licked up his blood (22:37-38)—just as the Lord had foretold through Elijah (21:19). Ahab was succeeded to the throne by his son Ahaziah (22:40).

22:41-50 Scripture declares that a few of Judah’s kings were good, and Jehoshaphat was one of them. He was a reformer like his father, Asa, walking in the Lord’s ways (22:41-43, 46). Unfortunately, Jehoshaphat’s alliances with Ahab and his son Ahaziah proved to be disastrous (22:44, 48-49). And, for these alliances, Jehoshaphat was rebuked by the Lord (see 2 Chr 19:1-2; 20:35-37). When he died, his son Jehoram reigned in his place (22:50).

22:51-53 In Israel, Ahab’s oldest son had a short and fruitless reign because he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight (22:51-52). He walked in the ways of his parents, Ahab and Jezebel, and in the ways of Jer-oboam (22:52). Ahaziah learned well from these three bad examples. He embraced their idolatry and wickedness, and he angered the Lord God of Israel as they had (22:53).

The story of the kings of Israel and Judah is often a depressing one. But, there are moments when God’s goodness and grace come shining through. In spite of the sins of his covenant people, the Lord was committed to fulfilling his kingdom purposes. The story continues in 2 Kings.

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