King Ahaziah of Israel: Deathbed Faith (1 Kings 22:51–2 Kings 1:18)

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You can find out a lot about a person when they're close to death. Men and women on their deathbeds are given a perspective of life, based on impending death, that reveals much more about them than they might typically let on. As the old saying goes, "There are no atheists in foxholes" (granted, there are no atheists anywhere!). When people are faced with their own mortality, their true beliefs shine through with crystal-clear clarity. Along those lines, it's no surprise that a study cited by the American Academy of Family Physicians indicates that 40% of patients rely on their faith to cope with illness.[1]

But this isn't anything new. In 853 BC, King Ahaziah of the northern Kingdom of Israel also relied on his faith for recovery. Yet, his faith actually became the cause of his death. He had a sincere faith, but there was just one problem—he was sincerely wrong. After suffering a major injury, he called upon the false god Baal-zebub, rather than Yahweh. And it cost him his life.

Like the narratives of other kings prior to King Ahaziah, the writer of 1 and 2 Kings presents Ahaziah's reign in the common three-part pattern: ruler, rebellion, and result. And as with the other kings, this snapshot teaches us a great deal about sin, redemptive history, and the one true God.

Ruler (1 Kings 22:51)

Ahaziah the son of Ahab became king over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, and he reigned two years over Israel. (1 Kings 22:51)

Years before Ahaziah, Scripture depicts the reign of King Ahab, a man who was one of the most notoriously wicked kings in redemptive history. As if it weren't bad enough that previous kings had worshiped statues in the name of Yahweh (cf. 1 Kin. 12:28), Ahab abandoned all pretense and simply worshiped Baal outright. And as they say, "like father, like son." Ahaziah picked up the reigns of the northern kingdom after his father was providentially disposed of in a war with Syria (cf. 1 Kin. 22:34). He continued on as king in the north from 853-852 B.C., while Jehoshaphat (son of Asa) was king in the south.[2]

Rebellion (1 Kings 22:52–2 Kings 1:2)

He did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in the way of his mother and in the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. So he served Baal and worshiped him and provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger, according to all that his father had done. Now Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. And Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber which was in Samaria, and he became ill. So he sent messengers and said to them, "Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness. (1 Kings 22:52-2 Kings 1:2)

Although 1 and 2 Kings were originally one book, they ended up being separated into two individual scrolls in order to make them more manageable to use and read.[3] And the English Bible follows suit. Thus, Ahaziah's reign spans the two books, picking up in 2 Kings right where 1 Kings ended.

As a "chip off the old block," Ahaziah continued promoting Baal worship as the national religion. Yahweh had already shown Ahaziah's father that the false god Baal was worthless, when Elijah triumphed over 400 false prophets in a miraculous show of power on Mount Carmel (cf. 1 Kin. 18:36-40). Yet, that memory apparently didn't seem to phase Ahaziah in the least. Such is the carelessness of sin. Unregenerate man is as spiritually dull as the idol he serves.

And of course, God knows and sees all things, which is why Ahaziah's wickedness provoked God to anger. Scripture makes no apologies for the reality that God is angry with the wicked every day (cf. Psa. 7:11). Modern man may recoil at the truth that God exhibits anger, wrath, and hatred, but those who opt for a "love-only" god are also idolaters.

Those who opt for a ‘love-only’ god are also idolaters.

As it turns out, Ahaziah fell from an upper room of his house (perhaps the roof). Scripture doesn't explain how the "lattice" (mesh fencing) didn't hold up, but the end result was that Ahaziah found himself in serious trouble after the fall, likely from internal bleeding and similar medical complications. And what was his solution? To call upon "Baal-zebub" (meaning "lord of the flies," the Philistine variant name of the fertility god Baal). Although Baal-zebub was thought to be in control of insects, first-century Jews modified the name to "Baalzebul" ("lord of dung") and used it to refer to Satan himself (cf. Matt. 10:25).

At any rate, Ahaziah apparently thought that Baal-zebub could give him some predictive insight as to whether or not he would recover from his injuries. So he sent messengers on a forty-five mile journey to a Philistine temple in order to consult this phony physician.[4] Bad move. After all, idolatry ultimately is an expression of doubt in the ability of the one true God to meet our needs. Ahaziah's decision would prove to be fatal. God would make sure of it.

Result (2 Kings 1:3-18)

But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, "Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, 'Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?' Now therefore thus says the Lord, 'You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.'" Then Elijah departed. When the messengers returned to him he said to them, "Why have you returned?" They said to him, "A man came up to meet us and said to us, 'God, return to the king who sent you and say to him, "Thus says the Lord, 'Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but shall surely die.'"" He said to them, "What kind of man was he who came up to meet you and spoke these words to you?" They answered him, "He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins." And he said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite." (2 Kings 1:3-8)

As was common for Elijah's ministry, he appears on the scene out of nowhere, clearly on mission from God. Specifically, God has him intercept Ahaziah's messengers and deliver the bad news: when you turn from the true and living God, you turn from truth and life itself. Rather than recovering from his injuries, Ahaziah's idolatrous faith would send him to the grave.

When the messengers returned to Ahaziah to deliver Elijah's message, Ahaziah recognized that they weren't gone long enough to have made it all the way to Ekron. So he asks what happened. They relay the news, and Ahaziah presses them for details about who told them the message. After describing the man, Ahaziah instantly knows who it is: Elijah. And that's no surprise. Elijah would have been well-known throughout the land, especially after destroying the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. After all, King Ahab (Ahaziah's father) had referred to Elijah as the "troubler of Israel" because Elijah would not compromise on the truth (cf. 1 Kin. 18:17). Elijah was a prominent man of God who would not back down—and the whole northern kingdom knew it.

Many people (both inside and outside the church) cannot tolerate truth-tellers.

The same is true today. Many people (both inside and outside the church) cannot tolerate truth-tellers. Preach the sovereignty of God over the human will, reject the claims of those who say they personally hear from God, or insist upon the premillennial rapture of the Church, and you are liable to be called the equivalent of a "troubler of Israel." You're mean-spirited. You're divisive.

But as Pastor Mike Riccardi eloquently states,

If a biblical doctrine divides, that is no fault of the biblical doctrine, but of those who defect from it. Doctrine divides, but biblical teaching cannot be "divisive." Those who are divisive are those who defect from the truth. Claiming a particular doctrinal stance is divisive is misguided rhetoric.[5]

It's no wonder that Elijah would later tell his disciple Elisha that continuing on with this ministry would be a "hard thing" (2 Kin. 2:10). Don't expect much fanfare for boldly standing upon the claims of Scripture, even in the face of a religious crowd.

Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him, and behold, he was sitting on the top of the hill. And he said to him, "O man of God, the king says, 'Come down.'" Elijah replied to the captain of the fifty, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty." Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. So he again sent to him another captain of a fifty with his fifty. And he said to him, "O man of God, thus says the king, 'Come down quickly.'" Elijah replied to them, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty." Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. So he again sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. When the third captain of fifty went up, he came and bowed down on his knees before Elijah, and begged him and said to him, "O man of God, please let my life and lives of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight. Behold fire came down from heaven and consumed the first two captains of fifty with their fifties; but now let my life be precious in your sight." The angel of the Lord said to Elijah, "Go down with him; do not be afraid of him." So he arose and went down with him to the king. (2 Kings 1:9-15)

What's the common response when people don't want to hear biblical truth? They try to silence you. In fact, that's a principle that should never be forgotten: sin prefers silence. Whether it's an erroneous doctrinal position, an unbiblical spiritual partnership, or a blatant sin, people simply do not want to be rebuked or corrected. King Ahaziah was no different; pride transcends cultures and times. Thus, by sending captains and their soldiers, he made it clear that he was not interested in sitting down for coffee with Elijah to discuss their differences. And yet, God had already determined the outcome, which is why God would also protect Elijah.

Sin prefers silence.

In a display of power reminiscent of Mount Carmel, God sent fire from heaven twice, killing 102 people on the spot for their participation in rebellion. To the spiritually proud heart, that seems unfair and capricious. But to the heart that understands that every sinner is living on borrowed time—which is an indication of God's kindness (cf. Rom. 2:3-5)—it is fitting justice. As the Potter, God can do with His clay whatsoever He desires (cf. Rom. 9:20). In this case, God desired that Elijah would not be captured, but instead would be protected by yet another miraculous demonstration of His supremacy over a false god.

Of course, Ahaziah's insatiable hatred of Elijah meant that his troops were expendable—he would send as many as needed in order to capture Elijah, even if it meant delivering them down a conveyor belt of judgment. Yet, the third troop learned the lesson. They decided to bow and beg. Of course, when they fell down before Elijah, it was not necessarily out of any kind of repentant heart, but it was out a respectful heart—one that acknowledged the supremacy of God out of sheer, self-preserving fear. This serves as a fitting reminder that whether we are saved by God or submitted by God, one day every knee shall bow to Him (cf. Phil. 2:9-10). The only question is whether or not your kneecaps will still be intact (cf. Psa. 2:9).

Then he said to him, "Thus says the Lord, 'Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word?—therefore you shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but shall surely die.'" So Ahaziah died according to the word of the Lord which Elijah had spoken. And because he had no son, Jehoram became king in his place in the second year of Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah which he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? (2 Kings 1:16-18)

Ultimately, Elijah went to deliver the news to Ahaziah himself: "Your idolatry has brought about your death." Like each of his predecessors, and like men today, Ahaziah preferred believing a damning lie that felt good rather than a saving truth that hurts. He didn't want God's salvation, so all he got was God's supremacy. Instead of deliverance, destruction. God decided that Ahaziah was going to learn the hard way.

Expositor Dale Ralph Davis summarizes the passage well:

There's something haunting then about this record of Ahaziah's brief tenure. In the supreme need of his life he did not seek the real God—that's all we know about him. That's both sad and stupid. Yet Ahaziah is not the focus of the story. God is.[6]

Davis continues:

Of course, you can do what you what you want with this strange story. You can call it legend; you can aver that it deals with a primitive level of religion; you can claim it is morally offensive; or you can face the God of whom it speaks.

The account of this king ends like the others before it: Ahaziah may have had many worldly accomplishments noted in a history book (the non-canonical Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel), but his life ultimately amounted to nothing because of his departure from the truth. As Solomon would say, "I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind" (Ecc. 1:14).

And so it is that the Kingdom of Israel proves itself to be one dumpster fire after another (literally, in this case!). But the reality is, the entire world is one dumpster fire, headed for eternal fire. Sure, during Ahaziah's reign, the Israelites were on a sprint toward the cliff of judgment. But so are Gentiles (cf. 1 Pet. 4:4). Sure, you may not be calling upon Baal, but any other idol will send you to your grave just the same. You may not have turned to an ancient Canaanite false god, but unless you repent, you will likewise perish (cf. Luke 13:3). As John Calvin famously said, "The human heart is an idol factory." Now is the time to learn from Ahaziah's idolatry.

To be clear, this account does not indicate that faith in the one true God guarantees physical recovery in this lifetime, but it does remind us that sin guarantees death (cf. Rom. 6:23). For that reason, God ordained the failure of this nation, in order to show to the world a victory that is found only in His Son. You can't count on the northern Kingdom of Israel, much less King Ahaziah, to lead you to reconciliation with God, but you can count on Jesus. His perfect life, substitutionary death, and triumphant resurrection accomplished the flawless work of redemption that our sin-sick hearts desperately need. Call upon Him as you lie there on your deathbed (cf. Rom. 10:13).


References:

[1] Aaron Seguil, MD, and Karen Phelps, MD, "The Spiritual Assessment," American Academy of Family Physicians, September, 15, 2012, accessed March 6, 2018, https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0915/p546.html#afp20120915p546-b4.

[2] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary: Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse at a Time (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 428.

[3] Tremper Longman, David E. Garland, The Expositor's Bible Commentary: 1 Samuel - 2 Kings (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 23.

[4] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury (Genies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2005), 15.

[5] Mike Riccardi, Facebook, (date unknown).

[6] Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury (Genies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2005), 25.