1 Kings 21 has Ahab the king wanting a vineyard owned by Naboth which was next to the palace. The king wants to use it for a garden, but Naboth refuses. Ahab laments to Jezebel who gets in his face asking “Do you now govern Israel? Arise and eat bread and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite”. She’s an evil woman but has a plan to get the king what he wants. “She wrote letters in Ahab’s name….to the elders and the leaders who lived with Naboth in his city….set two worthless men opposite him, and let them bring a charge against him….then take him out and stone him to death”.
It was a pretty elaborate plan and Jezebel used all the community resources to get her way. She manipulated the elders and leaders who went along with her deceit since she had sent the instruction under the seal of the king. And her plan worked. Naboth was convicted and stoned. “Jezebel said to Ahab, Arise, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money, for Naboth is not alive, but dead”. Quite a change from a situation where the king was stymied and unable to get what he wanted.
But God didn’t miss what happened at all. “The word of the Lord came to Elijah….go down to meet Ahab….he is in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession”. God must have had his GPS turned on (God’s Positioning System) as He knew right where Elijah could find Ahab. And Ahab isn’t very excited to see him as he knows it will be bad news. Elijah tells him “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord”. God is going to deal with this evil.
Ahab was in a class by himself. “There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited”. Elijah gave him the bad news but “when Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his flesh and fasted and lay in sackcloth and went about dejectedly”. Repentance always makes an impact in God’s view. God tells Elijah “I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days”. Even though Ahab was one of the worst sinners of all time, when he stopped and repented God was moved. Repentance always brings about God’s attention.
1 Kings 20 has Ben-hadad the king of Syria gathering all his army together to do battle with Israel. He sends a message to Ahab to give up his silver and gold and women and kids. Ahab goes to his elders to see what to do, and they advise that he not give in but prepare for battle. As Ben-hadad gets that messge, he calls his army to their battle stations. A prophet comes along to see Ahab and tells him what to do to be successful. “I will give it into your hand this day, and you shall know that I am the Lord”.
God instructs Ahab to strike first, which he does and has success. Ahab had “listened to their voice and did so” and prepared for another round of fighting in the spring after Ben-hadad got his act together again. After all, he didn’t have all that many people – just the 7000 that God had spared and the elders and leaders. But God is faithful and leads their preparation for the battle that was coming. Another prophet came and said “I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the Lord”.
It was a big battle but the Israelites were extremely effective. They killed many Syrians – “100,000 foot soldiers in one day”. This was possible because of two things – preparation and obedience. God blessed them on both fronts and they were effective in battle. But there was more. The enemy “fled into the city of Aphek, and the wall fell upon 27,000 men who were left”. God took care of the rest of the battle and caused a wall to fall on a lot of those who were left. He is faithful – always faithful – to those who walk with Him.
But partial obedience is just that, partial. And God was not pleased nor satisfied with what Ahab had done. He did not kill Ben-hadad as commanded. And on the bad advice of some of those around him, he makes a bad choice. The man of God comes to him and says “Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people”. Ahab did what he thought was right, but it will cost him his life.
Scripture tells us ‘there is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death”. Obedience is not about our interpretation of what God or His scripture says. It is about doing what God says when He says it. It also isn’t about doing most of what we are told, but being completely obedient to His commands. Are you walking with God that way? Anything less will not end well!
1 Kings 19 has Elijah on the run again. This time from Jezebel who was very unhappy about what Elijah had done. She threatens the prophet and says “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow”. Elijah does what any wise man would do – he gets out of there fast and heads to Beersheba where he left his servant there but he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. An angel came and woke and fed him and told him to prepare for a long journey. “He arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God”.
Elijah arrives and stays in a cave on the mountain. And while there, “the Lord passed by as a great and strong wind….an earthquake….a fire….the sound of a low whisper”. The Lord was not in the first three powerful showings, but He was there when the whisper came. Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave to talk with God. God wants to know why he is there. Elijah tells Him “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts”. Elijah missed convening with God.
Elijah goes on to explaine “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away”. It’s been a rough time for a prophet. They didn’t just disobey, it’s gotten far worse than that. Elijah has been running for his life and isolated from pretty much everyone and everything, and he wants some time with God in peace. God has some work for Elijah to do, so he hands out the assignments.
There were three pretty large tasks on Elijah’s plate from God:
- anoint Hazael to be king over Syria
- Jehu….you shall anoint to be king over Israel
- Elisha….you shall anoint to be prophet in your place
This pretty much upsets the leadership all around. God’s had quite enough. Almost everyone has chased after Baal. But God promises “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him”. And He prepares the next prophet that will follow to carry God’s message to His people. Elijah obeys and comes to the place Elisha is farming. “Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him”. Elisha says goodbye and follows his new leader and mentor. Change is coming!
God tells Elijah to “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth”. Remember that Elijah has been on the run from Ahab since he made the prediction of no rain for three years. But God is ready for a showdown with the gods of Baal and it’s time for Elijah to come back. Ahab had a servant named Obadiah who was over the household. Things were grim and the food is running short. As Elijah comes to find Ahab, he runs into Obadiah instead. Obadiah was a God fearing man and had hid 100 prophets when Ahab had them all killed. As he meets Elijah he says “I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth”. Elijah convinces Obadiah to go find Ahab so they can meet.
“When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, Is it you, you troubler of Israel”? Ahab blamed Elijah for the problems they had been experiencing. But Elijah heard enough of that blame game, and turns the tables on Ahab. Then he asks Ahab to “gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah”. It is the showdown at Mt Carmel – where the gods of Baal will meet up with the God of Elijah. The challenge is laid out: “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him”. Ahab assembles the 850 priests and prophets and the battle is on.
Elijah lets the prophets of Baal go first. They prepare an altar and place a bull on it and call for their God to come. After a long time of no action, Elijah begins to taunt them saying “Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened”. But of course nothing happened – “No one answered; no one paid attention”. Then it was Elijah’s turn and he rebuilt the altar of the Lord and made a trench around it. Then he told the people to “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood….Do it a second time….Do it a third time….the water ran around the altar and filled the trench”. There would be no question whether God showed up or not.
So Elijah prayed and “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench”. God didn’t just show up – He came in a mighty way. That was the end of the prophets of Baal. “Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there”. Elijah heads up Mount Carmel with his servant and prays. And after the servant goes and looks to see what is happening, a cloud began to form and the rains were coming. “The hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel”.
1 Kings 17 has Elijah coming onto the scene. His first job was to deliver some bad news to Ahab. “Elijah….said to Ahab, As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word”. Pretty bad news for a king – no rain for three years – that will mean a whole lot of hardship and unhappy people. So what does Elijah do after giving the bad news? He gets out of town. The Lord tells him to flee to a brook and that He will feed him with his birds.
That worked for a while but then the brook at Cherith dried up and God told Elijah to move to Sidon and have a widow there provide for him. Elijah walks into town and sees the woman, and asks for some water and bread. She tells him she doesn’t have anything to eat, and was down to the last of her flour and oil. But Elijah persists and promises that if she does as God said, she will not run out. “She went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days”.
Obedience always turns out good. This woman did as God instructed through Elijah, and is blessed. “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah”. It wasn’t a temporary blessing. The jar does not go empty. When we trust God and do as He commands, He takes care of the details. We don’t have to wonder if He will do as He says. We don’t have to wonder if He’ll run out of resources. We just have to obey.
A bit later the son of this widow dies, and she is distraught and unhappy with Elijah. So Elijah goes to God and then “he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord….the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived”. God does a miracle through His prophet. Elijah intercedes, and God responds. He prayed and sought God’s touch, and God hears and answers Elijah’s prayers. The woman says “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth”. He brought glory to God and restores this child to his mom.
1 Kings 16 has a number of leadership changes in Israel. Things are pretty stable in Judah during this time as Asa is walking with God and enjoying a rather long time on the throne. But in Israel, things are different as a series of evil kings come and go quickly. “The word of the Lord came to Jehu….against Baasha….Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader….you have walked in the way of Jeroboam and have made my people Israel to sin….I will utterly sweep away Baasha and his house”. Baasha was an evil king and God tells him through the prophet He is taking him and his household out.
“Elah his son reigned in his place….two years”. But then “his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots….came in and struck him down and killed him….and reigned in his place”. Doesn’t look like he did a very good job of checking out his appointment of a leader. It didn’t last long – in fact only seven days – before “Israel made Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel”. The coup wasn’t taken well and the army decided that killing the king wasn’t acceptable, so they took Zimri out by surrounding his city and he killed himself by burning down the kings house with himself inside.
Then things get interesting as the kingdom divides itself in two. “Half of the people followed Tibni the son of Ginath, to make him king, and half followed Omri”. That was short lived as Omri being commander of the army used his force to overtake Tibni. He reigned for 12 years. Unfortunately “Omri did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did more evil than all who were before him”. So we see a number of leadership changes happening here in Israel, but none of these kings walked with God at all.
After Omri, Ahab his son reigned in his place. Ahab was not an improvement at all. In fact, anything but. Ahab was on the throne twenty-two years which gave him more time than most of the kings of Israel to lead them further away from God. And he did a good job of that. “He took for his wife Jezebel….and went and served Baal and worshiped him”. Ahab took evil in God’s eyes to a whole different level once again. He erected an altar for Baal and made an Asherah. Here’s a label that you don’t want to be chasing: “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him”. This was a bad leader who took his people totally away from God.
1 Kings 15 lists the transition of kings leading the people of Judah and Israel. The nation is divided and there are two kingdoms in place, and they don’t get along and are at war continually. The chapter begins telling the history of Judah. “Abijam began to reign….three years….he walked in all the sins that his father did before him….his heart was not wholly true to the Lord”. He takes over for his evil father Rehoboam and continues to walk in sin. God is not pleased with the current leadership, but He never forgets His promises.
“Nevertheless, for David’s sake….because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite”, God does not destroy the kingdom. God is faithful to the tribe of Judah because of David’s faithfulness. Notice how scripture sees David here – he was obedient to God in all but one thing – his plot to get rid of Uriah so he could take Bathsheba as his wife. One major sin that blots his record. Yet God remembers the promises He made to David and honors them.
Then comes a new king. “Asa….reigned forty-one years….did what was right in the eyes of the Lord….the heart of Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days”. The first king since David to walk with God. But things are still a struggle. Baasha king of Israel, has a siege going on against Asa. So “King Asa sent them to Ben-hadad….king of Syria….saying Let there be a covenant between me and you”. He reaches out to make a treaty with the king of Syria to get the Israelite siege stopped, and it works. The Syrians drive the focus away from attacking Judah to protecting their own people.
Things aren’t much better for the leadership of the Israelite part of the kingdom. “Nadab the son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of Asa….two years….He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord….he made Israel to sin….Baasha killed him”. The evil leadership continues and follows in Jeroboam’s footsteps. So Baasha takes over as king and “killed all the house of Jeroboam….according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servant Ahijah”. This was prophesied earlier and now has come to pass – the descendants of Jeroboam are wiped out.
If you ever wonder if leadership matters, studying the kings certainly can make that clear. “It was for the sins of Jeroboam that he sinned and that he made Israel to sin, and because of the anger to which he provoked the Lord, the God of Israel”. God always does what He says. Both kingdoms have struggled with leadership being evil and leading them away from God. But the tribe of Judah is on a better course right now with Asa as he turned to God and brought them back.