Bible Story Book Index
The Bible Story
Volume 5, Chapters 120-128
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?"
"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.
Bible Story Book Index
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.)
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.
Bible Story Book Index
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.
Bible Story Book Index
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.)
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!"
Bible Story Book Index
"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.)
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!
Bible Story Book Index
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!"
Bible Story Book Index
"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!"
Bible Story Book Index
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!"
Bible Story Book Index
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.
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.
Bible Story Book Index