II. The Divided Kingdom (1 Kings 12:1–22:53)
II. The Divided Kingdom (12:1–22:53)
A. Rehoboam, Jeroboam, and the Dividing of Israel (12:1–14:31)
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.
Following Solomon’s death, the people of Israel came together at Shechem to make Solomon’s son Rehoboam their new king (12:1). Shechem was an important historical site for the nation. Upon Abraham’s arrival in Canaan, God appeared to him there and promised the land to his offspring (see Gen 12:4-7). Later, Jacob settled in Shechem (see Gen 33:18-20). Then, after the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the promised land, Joseph was buried there (see Josh 24:32). Shechem was located in the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim; it was the place where the Israelites under Joshua pledged to keep the law of Moses (see Josh 24:16-22). It was also in the northern part of Israel, making it a good choice for Rehoboam’s coronation, which could double as an effort to overcome lingering hostilities between the northern and southern halves of Israel (see 2 Sam 19:40–20:1-2).
12:2-4 It wasn’t long before the people called Jeroboam back from exile in Egypt and made him their spokesman. They approached Rehoboam for relief from the heavy tax and labor load his father had laid on them. Their plea for relief was also a pledge of loyalty if Rehoboam would show some compassion: lighten your father’s harsh service and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you (12:4).
12:5-7 Rehoboam asked for three days to consider his answer (12:5). To his credit, the king asked for advice from the elders who had served his father Solomon, and they answered him wisely (12:6-7). These senior court officials knew that provoking the people would only inflame the divisions that already existed in the nation. They encouraged Rehoboam to be a servant to [the] people so that they, in turn, would serve him (12:7). That’s pretty sound advice because leaders should serve those whom they have authority over by governing in their best interest. As Jesus said, “whoever leads” should be “like the one serving” (Luke 22:26).
12:8-11 Rehoboam rejected the advice of the elders and turned to the young men, his attendants who were from his own generation (12:8). These men encouraged Rehoboam to unload on the people rather than pacify them. As far as they were concerned, it was time for the ungrateful and rebellious subjects to learn a lesson by seeing the new king come down even harder on them than Solomon had (12:10-11).
12:12-16 Foolishly, Rehoboam listened to the wicked advice of his contemporaries (12:13-14). But, the author wants the reader to understand the truth of Proverbs 21:1: “A king’s heart is like channeled water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever he chooses.” Thus, he mentions that this turn of events came from the Lord to carry out his word . . . spoken through Ahijah his prophet (12:15; see 11:29-39). As anyone should have been able to predict, the people reacted angrily to the news, using a cry that was similar to the battle cry Sheba had given when he rebelled against David (12:16; see 2 Sam 20:1).
12:17-19 This was the prelude to division and civil war. Only Judah remained loyal to Rehoboam—along with Benjamin, the small tribe whose territory was next door to them and who remained loyal to the house of David (see 12:21). The extent of Rehoboam’s unpopularity in the north was proven when the people stoned to death Adoram, his head of forced labor, and almost killed Rehoboam himself (12:18-19). Thus, what was supposed to have been Rehoboam’s coronation (12:1) almost became his assassination (12:18).
12:20 The lines were clearly drawn when the ten northern tribes crowned Jeroboam as king over all Israel. The land was henceforth divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, each with its own king.
12:21-24 When he returned to Jerusalem, Rehoboam prepared for war. He was determined not to allow the north to secede, so he amassed an army from Judah and Benjamin to defeat the new rival regime (12:21). But, a man named Shemaiah came to the king with a message from God. The Lord commanded Judah and Benjamin not to go to war against their brothers, and this time Rehoboam wisely listened (12:22-24).
12:25-27 Jeroboam set right to work, building up Shechem for defense and for his headquarters (12:25). But, despite God’s promises to make his kingdom thrive if he would be faithful, the new king was paranoid. Jer-oboam rationalized that if the people in the north continued to visit Jerusalem—the holy city and site of the temple—for worship and religious festivals, their loyalty would eventually return to the house of David and King Rehoboam (12:26-27). What’s more—they would probably kill Jeroboam (12:27). So, Jeroboam decided to solve his theoretical problem himself. And, not only did he fail to look to God for help, but he also eliminated God from the equation entirely.
12:28-30 King Jeroboam sought advice from unnamed advisers (12:28). Whoever they were, they were no wiser than the advisors Rehoboam had followed (12:8-16). He decided that the answer to all his problems was idolatry. To prevent the northern tribes from reuniting with Judah, Jeroboam established a rival system of worship to compete with the true worship of God in southern Jerusalem. He made two golden calves and set them up in Dan and Bethel (12:28-29), cities on either end of his northern kingdom.
The author summed up succinctly the effect this had on the people: This led to sin (12:30). How could it not? Jeroboam had effectively recapitulated the sin Israel had committed at the foot of Mount Sinai. Back then, while Moses was on the mountain receiving God’s law for his people, Israel made a golden calf and worshiped it as the god that had delivered them from Egyptian slavery (see Exod 32:1-6). Jeroboam had apparently learned nothing from his people’s history because he did the exact same thing that had gotten them into such trouble (see Exod 32:35)—only he gave the people two golden calves for the price of one!
12:31-33 In addition to endorsing blatant idolatry, Jeroboam built shrines on the high places, appointed priests . . . who were not Levites, and established a festival to compete with the festival in Jerusalem so that the people wouldn’t have to travel there—all in direct disobedience to God’s commands. The Lord had graciously made Jeroboam king, but Jeroboam “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator” (Rom 1:25). And, he led the people to do the same.
13:1-3 As a result, God’s judgment was coming. The message of that judgment came by way of a man of God . . . from Judah (13:1). That insight tells us the man was living under God’s authority rather than under Jeroboam’s rule. His prophecy is amazing because it named King Josiah from the house of David, who would someday sacrifice on the altar the priests of the high places, whom Jeroboam had appointed and defile it by burning human bones on it (13:2). While Josiah would not be born for almost three centuries, he would indeed do exactly what the man of God said he would (see 2 Kgs 23:15-20). The prophet also gave Jeroboam a sign that his prophecy would be fulfilled: The altar will now be ripped apart, and the ashes that are on it will be poured out (13:3, see 13:5).
13:4-6 Jeroboam didn’t want to hear more; he stretched out his hand in a kingly gesture of authority and ordered the man of God arrested (13:4). But, God gave Jeroboam an unmistakable lesson in who was really in charge by withering the king’s hand and destroying the altar as prophesied (13:4-5). Suddenly, arresting the prophet didn’t seem like such a good idea, so Jeroboam begged the prophet to intercede for him. The man prayed for the king as requested, and God mercifully healed Jeroboam (13:6).
13:7-10 Behind the offer of reward made in verse 7, Jeroboam may have been thinking, “Whew! That was close. I need this guy on my side.” But, the man had his orders. He was not to associate with Jeroboam and was to go home a different way (13:8-10). In other words, true prophets of God are not for sale. Doing the work of the King is its own reward.
13:11-14 The story that follows served as a graphic object lesson on the need for complete obedience to the word of the Lord; it was a lesson that God wanted Jeroboam and the people of Israel to take to heart. There was an old prophet in Bethel whose sons informed him of the man of God and his prophecy against Jeroboam for his apostasy (13:11). The Bethel prophet rode after the man of God and found him on his way back home (13:13-14). The old prophet may have been jealous over the other prophet’s ministry. We simply don’t know why he did what he did.
13:15-19 Whatever his motives, the old prophet (like Jeroboam) invited the prophet from Judah to go back to Bethel and eat with him. The man of God knew what God had commanded him, but the old prophet deceived him, saying that the word of the Lord had come to him and changed God’s original command (13:18). The prophet from Judah should have known better than to believe a prophet from Bethel—a place where Jeroboam’s idolatry ran rampant. But, he foolishly ignored his charge from the Lord and went back to Bethel (13:19).
13:20-32 At dinner, God’s word came upon the old prophet, and he uttered God’s judgment on the disobedient prophet (13:20-22). This unusual story continued with the prophet from Judah being killed by a lion on his way home (13:23-24). And then, unnaturally, the lion and the man’s donkey remained standing still beside the corpse (13:24). In other words, this was no accidental death, but the work of God.
While we aren’t told whether the old prophet from Bethel knew that his deception would lead to the other prophet’s death, he retrieved his body, buried him, mourned him, and affirmed that his prophecy would come true (13:30, 32).
13:33-34 All of these events were public knowledge in Bethel, but the lesson was lost on Jeroboam, who did not repent (13:33). He continued to appoint false priests to serve at the high places (13:33). This was the sin that would ultimately cause the house of Jeroboam to be . . . obliterated (13:34).
14:1-3 The demise of Jeroboam’s family and kingdom did not take long to begin. His young son Abijah became sick, which prompted the king to send his wife to see the prophet at Shiloh, in an attempt to secure the boy’s healing (14:1-2). Ahijah had prophesied Jeroboam’s rise to power, so the king hoped for a favorable word on his son. It’s not clear why Jeroboam wanted his wife to disguise herself (14:2). It could be that he didn’t want the people of Israel knowing that his wife was visiting a prophet of the Lord.
14:4-5 Jeroboam’s wife took food gifts with her to Ahijah, who was blind due to his age (14:4). The great irony is that, despite her disguise and the prophet’s blindness, he knew who she was because the Lord had revealed it to him (14:5). God had a message of doom for Jeroboam that he wanted the prophet to deliver. So, in a sense, it was Ahijah who was sent to the king’s wife, not vice versa.
14:6-9 The blind and elderly prophet must have stunned his visitor with his greeting: Come in, wife of Jeroboam! (14:6). His message was nothing but bad news (14:6). God reviewed everything that he had graciously done for Jeroboam, who was not from the royal line but was made a king anyway. God tore the kingdom away from Solomon and gave a portion of it to Jeroboam (14:7-8). But, Jeroboam proved to be so unfaithful, so unlike David, that his wickedness was greater than all who were before him (14:9).
14:10-11 Jeroboam had sinned so deeply that God was ready to bring disaster on his house. The prophetic picture is graphic: The Lord would wipe out all of Jeroboam’s male descendants, causing his house to be swept away like a pile of dung (14:10). Their bodies would be eaten by dogs and birds (14:11).
14:12-18 As if this insight weren’t bad enough, the Lord declared that Jeroboam’s son, the one whose healing he was seeking, would die (14:12). In fact, when Jeroboam’s wife returned home, the boy died as she crossed the threshold of the house (14:17). He would be the only male member of Jer-oboam’s house to receive a proper burial because . . . something favorable to the Lord . . . had been found in him (14:13). The boy’s immediate death was a sure sign that the more distant parts of the prophecy would come to pass.
The Lord declared through his prophet that he would raise up for himself a king over Israel to wipe out the house of Jer-oboam (14:14). The readers of 1 Kings would see this fulfillment in the next chapter (15:27-29). God’s prophecy was so certain of fulfillment that Ahijah could say, This is the day (14:14), even though the pronouncement of Israel’s scattering (14:15-16) would not be fulfilled until 722 BC when the northern kingdom of Israel would be swept off the map by the Assyrians.
14:19-20 Next, the author informs us that the king’s deeds were recorded in the Historical Record of Israel’s Kings, a historical document lost to history (14:19). Jeroboam reigned for twenty-two miserable years (14:20). His death would usher in a continuing parade of wicked kings that would march the nation all the way to the Assyrian invasion.
14:21-24 When last we saw Rehoboam, his reign in Judah had begun with foolishness (12:1-19). Things didn’t improve. During his seventeen years in Jerusalem (14:21), Judah (like the northern kingdom) fell into gross idolatry. The people did what was evil in the Lord’s sight—this would become a familiar refrain throughout the books of 1–2 Kings. The sin in Rehoboam’s day was even worse than that of Judah’s ancestors, a strong indictment considering their history (14:22). They imitated all the detestable practices of the nations that God had driven out on their behalf (14:24). And, if Israel wanted to live like idolatrous nations, God would treat them like idolatrous nations.
14:25-31 Rehoboam had been on the throne fewer than five years when Shishak of Egypt invaded Judah and threatened Jerusalem (14:25). Though Jerusalem was ultimately spared, Rehoboam still had to pay Shishak a ransom from the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and the treasuries of the royal palace (14:26) to get the Egyptian king to back off. The mighty kingdom of David and Solomon was no longer on top.
Just as alarmingly, Rehoboam had war with Jeroboam during their reigns (14:30). At Rehoboam’s death, he was succeeded by his son Abijam (14:31).
B. The Reigns of Abijam and Asa in Judah (15:1-24)
15:1-8 Rehoboam’s son was a chip off the old royal block. Abijam walked in all the sins his father before him had committed (15:3). Instead of being a defender of true worship, as the king was expected to be, he perpetuated idolatrous practices. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God as his ancestor David had been (15:3). Yes, David had sinned greatly by committing adultery with the wife of Uriah (15:5), but he repented of his deeds. Moreover, he didn’t succumb to idolatry as Solomon and his descendants had done. Thus, for Judah’s kings, the standard of success was how they compared to David. After all, it was for the sake of David that the Lord preserved his royal line (15:4).
Abijam, too, was at war with Jeroboam during Abijam’s brief reign of three years (15:2, 7), an indication that the hostilities between the two kingdoms were at high pitch. When he died, his son reigned in his place (15:8).
15:9-15 Abijam’s death brought his son Asa to the throne. He was a good king—one of a few such blessings to Judah. He reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem (15:10), one more year than either David or Solomon had. He even passed the most important test for a king of Judah: Asa did what was right in the Lord’s sight, as his ancestor David had done (15:11). Evidence for this assessment is provided. He rid the land of male cult prostitutes and the idols that his fathers had made (15:12). He even removed his grandmother . . . from being queen mother because of her idolatry (15:13). Though he didn’t remove the high places, nevertheless he was wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his entire life (15:14). Asa was a shining light of truth in Judah, pointing the way through the fog of apostasy.
15:16-17 Asa did, however, stumble in his reliance on God. Though the author of 1 Kings does not say so explicitly here, the Chronicler records that Asa was rebuked by the prophet Hanani for seeking help from Aram rather than from the Lord (see 2 Chr 16:7-9).
He was also in continual war with King Baasha of Israel (15:16), which revealed a chink in his trust. Baasha started the war against Judah by fortifying Ramah (15:17), which lay on the border of Israel and Judah and was only four miles north of Jerusalem. Likely, this was an effort to isolate the southern kingdom and control the traffic between the two nations.
15:18-22 Instead of turning to the Lord for help, Asa emptied the treasuries of the Lord’s temple and . . . the royal palace to persuade Ben-hadad, the king of Aram (modern-day Syria) to break his treaty with Baasha and attack Israel to relieve his pressure on Judah (15:18-19). Ben-hadad agreed to the deal and attacked Israel from the north, taking a good amount of territory and forcing Baasha to withdraw from Ramah (15:20-21). Asa then had Ramah torn down and built his own defensive towns of Geba and Mizpah with the building materials (15:22).
15:23-24 Overall, Asa was marked by faithfulness to the Lord, as required of a king in David’s line. He was succeeded by his son Jehoshaphat (15:24), whose reign is not covered until the end of 1 Kings.
C. The Reigns of Five Evil Kings in Israel (15:25–16:28)
15:25-32 Between the accounts of kings Asa and Jehoshaphat of Judah come the stories of five kings of the northern kingdom of Israel. These reigns include that of the wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel and their extended clashes with the great prophet Elijah. The reason five straight stories of Israel’s kings are given without mention of Judah’s kings is that Asa had a long reign of forty-one years (15:10), which spanned the reigns of several kings in Israel.
The first of these kings was Nadab son of Jeroboam (15:25-32), who reigned for a brief two years. The only noteworthy fact about Nadab was that he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight (15:25-26). He was assassinated during a battle against the Philistine town of Gibbethon by a man named Baasha, who became king in Nadab’s place (15:27-28). Baasha proceeded to wipe out the entire family of Jeroboam (15:29). This was in fulfillment of the word of the Lord that he spoke against Jeroboam for his own sins and for leading Israel away from God (15:29; see 14:14). Thus, Nadab’s death closed the book on Jeroboam.
15:33-34 Baasha, mentioned in the earlier discussion of Asa (see 15:16-22), reigned twenty-four years on the throne of Israel in Tirzah (15:33), the city where Jeroboam lived (see 14:17). It would serve as the capital for Israel’s kings down to the time of Omri (see 16:23). Baasha gained the kingship by assassination, preventing the reader from expecting godliness from him.
In the same way that Judah’s kings were compared with David, Baasha and the kings of Israel were compared with Jeroboam (15:34; see 14:10-11).
16:1-4 Details of Baasha’s doom were delivered by the prophet Jehu, through whom God expressed his disgust with the king’s sinful ways after God had raised him up from the dust and put him on the throne (16:1-2). From a human perspective, Baa-sha had seized the throne. But, from a divine perspective, nothing happens apart from the supernatural, providential working of God.
Baasha was not only an evil king, but he followed the worst example: Jeroboam (16:2). Therefore, God declared the same judgment on Baasha that he had pronounced on him. He said, I will eradicate Baasha and his house; his descendants would be eaten by dogs and birds (16:3-4; see 14:10-11). This was a dose of divine irony. The king whom the Lord had raised up to wipe out Jeroboam’s family would now have his own family wiped out because he imitated Jeroboam’s idolatry and wickedness.
16:5-7 The writer of 1 Kings notes that wicked Baasha’s reign included accomplishments that he achieved by his might, which were written in the Historical Record of Israel’s Kings (16:5). This kind of thing is repeated in some form in many cases with the kings of Israel. They weren’t necessarily unsuccessful from the human standpoint. But, whatever a man accomplishes is of no consequence in God’s eyes if he isn’t obeying him and living for his glory. So, Baasha’s house was struck down (16:7).
16:8-14 Baasha’s son Elah lasted only two years before being killed by Zimri, one of his army commanders. Zimri assassinated Elah as he was getting drunk (16:8-9). Zimri then assumed the throne and executed God’s judgment on the rest of the house of Baasha, just as Jehu the prophet had declared (16:10-13; see 16:1-4).
16:15-19 Zimri may have been a tool in the Lord’s hand for judgment, but he was no hero. His reign lasted only seven days, making it the shortest in Israel’s history (16:15). That week, the army was still besieging the Philistine stronghold of Gibbethon, where Baasha had earlier killed King Nadab (see 15:27). Zimri’s actions were so unpopular that when word of his murder of Elah reached the army in Gibbethon, its commanders pulled off a coup and made Omri, the army commander, king over Israel that very day in the camp (16:16). Omri then led the men back to Tirzah to remove Zimri from the throne. The army captured the capital city, and when Zimri saw that he was doomed, he entered the citadel of the royal palace and burned it down over himself, dying not just because of his failed attempt to take over, but because he also did what was evil in the Lord’s sight (16:17-19).
16:20-22 The story of Zimri illustrates how far the northern kingdom had descended into chaos. Following his death, the people of Israel were divided (16:21). A man named Tibni had the support of half the people, while the other half backed Omri. The conflict lasted for six years, but because Omri’s followers were stronger (probably because he had the support of the army), they won out. Tibni died in the struggle for the throne, while Omri became king (16:22).
16:23-28 Omri was a strong king who ruled for twelve years, at the midpoint of which he moved the Israelite capital from Tirzah to Samaria (16:23-24), where it remained until the northern kingdom was destroyed by Assyria. But he, too, did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. In fact, he did more evil than all who were before him (16:25). (That is a stunning statement given the heinous sins that the kings who came before him had committed!) The kings of Israel were to walk in the ways of the Lord—that is, to live in ways pleasing to him. But Omri walked in all the ways of Jeroboam (16:26).
You might hope that when Omri died (16:28), the wickedness ended in Israel. But, no. His son Ahab would only make things worse.
D. The Reign of Ahab and the Ministry of Elijah (16:29–22:40)
16:29-31 Omri’s wickedness goes a long way toward explaining the total corruption and evil of his son Ahab, who reigned in Samaria for twenty-two years (16:29). He was more evil than all who were before him (16:30), earning him the shameful title of Israel’s worst king. For him, walking in the sin of Jeroboam wasn’t bad enough. So, he also married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians (or Phoenicians). As a result, Ahab led Israel to worship Baal (16:31), the fertility god of the Canaanites.
16:32-33 Jezebel was committed to advancing Baal worship throughout Israel, and Ahab was happy to help. He set up an altar and built a temple for Baal in Samaria (16:32). And, to add to his perverted worship, Ahab also made an Asherah pole (16:33). Ashe-rah was a fertility goddess and the mother of Baal. Thus, Ahab succeeded in angering God more than any king who preceded him (16:33). And Jezebel, with Ahab’s complicity, led Israel into levels of idolatry that were previously unheard of.
16:34 The chapter ends with a seemingly unrelated account of something that happened during Ahab’s reign. A man named Hiel decided to defy the curse God had pronounced through Joshua on anyone who tried to rebuild Jericho after Joshua destroyed it (see Josh 6:26). The curse was specific: the builder would succeed only at the cost of his firstborn and youngest sons, a price that Hiel paid. The point of this account may be to illustrate two things. First, neglect of God’s Word was rampant during the days of Ahab. Second, just as God’s Word was fulfilled in the case of Hiel, it would also be fulfilled in the case of Ahab. Israel’s worst king wouldn’t escape divine judgment. No matter how many years go by, God doesn’t forget.
17:1 Through the end of 1 Kings and the beginning chapters of 2 Kings, two of Israel’s most famous prophets will share the stage with the royal main characters. Their names are Elijah and Elisha.
Ahab was a wicked king, and he had a powerful ally in Queen Jezebel. But, God had a match for them in the person of Elijah the Tishbite from Gilead. Elijah’s name means, “Yahweh is my God.” This rugged, rough-dressing prophet waltzed into Ahab’s court—seemingly out of nowhere—with a message from the Lord.
Now, God’s prophets usually showed up because something was spiritually wrong with God’s people, and that problem was usually associated with idolatry. Clearly, then, the spiritual breakdown in Ahab’s day had reached monumental proportions. God’s prophet stood between the people and God himself as sort of a last appeal before God would have to address the issue directly from heaven. That would mean severe judgment.
Elijah appeared at Ahab’s court and boldly announced in God’s authority that there would be no dew or rain whatsoever, except as he commanded. This was a direct attack at Baal, a fertility god. His worshipers depended on him to provide rain to ensure good crops. Elijah would demonstrate that the Lord alone was in control of the natural world. He was their source.
Years before, God had warned the people through Moses to be “careful that you are not enticed to turn aside, serve, and bow in worship to other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you. He will shut the sky, and there will be no rain; the land will not yield its produce, and you will perish quickly from the good land the Lord is giving” (Deut 11:16-17). Once again, the author of 1 Kings, who knew Deuteronomy well, highlights how Israel’s unfaithfulness to God’s covenant was causing his judgment to fall on their heads. Or, in this case, how it was keeping his blessing of rain from falling on their heads.
17:2-9 Elijah’s announcement placed him in danger with the king. So, God told him to leave the city and go to the country where a wadi or brook was located. There, he would be fed by ravens—which were unclean birds (17:2-3). Importantly, this would make it easier for the prophet to receive help from a Gentile later. Elijah obeyed and was nourished by the birds bringing him food for a while, until the stream dried up because of the drought (17:5-7).
Nevertheless, God’s provision for his prophet continued and his mission did, too. God sent Elijah to Gentile country, to Zarephath that belongs to Sidon, where a Gentile widow would provide for him (17:9). When God allows his provision to dry up in our lives, it is because he is ready to do a new thing or move us in a new direction.
God was preparing Elijah for the great tests of faith he would soon face on Mount Carmel and afterward. He was teaching his prophet that he could provide whatever was needed both for him and for others. God was also using this opportunity to bring his blessing to a Sidonian household. If the king of Israel, its false prophets, and its people preferred to worship Baal (see chapter 19), the Lord would elicit praise from the mouth of a Gentile woman instead (17:24).
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).
E. The Reigns of Jehoshaphat in Judah and Ahaziah in Israel (22:41-53)
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.