Today we finish the book of 1 Kings. Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal, which Ahab reports to Jezebel (19:1). She doesn’t take it so well. She sends a message to Elijah that she plans to kill him (v. 2), so Elijah goes on the run (v. 3). In verse 4, we see the Moses allusions begin again. Elijah goes into wilderness. He prays that God would kill him because of the burden of Israel (see Num 11:14-15). Elijah is supernaturally sustained without food for “forty days and forty nights” on Mt. Horeb/Sinai (v. 8 – see Ex 34:28 – remember, these are the same mountain).
Like Moses, Elijah meets with God, who passes by him (v. 11 – see Ex 34:6). On the mountain, there is fire and an earthquake (vv. 11-12 – see Ex 19:18). Elijah hides his face from within a cave from God’s presence (v. 13 – see Ex 33:22). What is important to note, however, is not the similarities between Elijah and Moses, but the difference in what God does up on Sinai/Horeb. Rather than establish what will set Israel apart from all the other nations around them (the giving of the Law), God establishes the undoing of the nation through their own sin. That is why He was not in the wind, fire, or earthquake, but the ensuing silence (“low whisper” means “soothing stillness”). God was not going to repeat what He had previously done when He called Israel as His own. He is going to undo the nation.
So God sends Elijah to do a few things. First, he is to anoint Hazael as king over Syria (v. 15). God would bring foreign nations against Israel (v. 17). Then, he was to anoint Jehu as king in Israel and Elisha as prophet (v. 16). The anointing of Jehu will actually be done by one of Elisha’s servants (2 Kings 9:1-6) and Jehu will eliminate the house of Ahab as God’s judgment on Ahab (2 Kings 10:17 – see 1 Kings 21:21-22). God also promises to save those from Israel that have not worshiped Baal (v. 18). There may not be many of them, relatively speaking, but Elijah is not alone. That only few would be left is an allusion to one of the curses for disobedience in Deuteronomy 28:62. The number 7,000 may also be symbolic.
The chapter ends with the call of Elisha (vv. 19-21). Elijah casting his cloak on Elisha is a symbolic call to the prophetic work (v. 19). Elijah’s “what have I done to you” is saying that this call is not from Elijah, but from God (v. 20). Elisha sacrificing the oxen which with he was plowing is a total commitment to leave behind his old life and embrace God’s calling on his life (v. 21). Elisha now “assisted” Elijah. We see a parallel to the Moses-Joshua relationship (see Ex 24:13, Josh 1:1-5).
Chapter 20 begins detailing the war between Ahab and Ben-hadad. Even before Jehu and Hazael (see 19:16), God is causing unrest in Israel through Syria. Note how quickly Ahab gives in to the demands of Ben-hadad (20:3-4). In verse 6, the demand amounts to a surrendering of the land. Upon Ahab’s refusal to fully surrender (v. 9), Syria prepares to attack (v. 12). We see again in verse 13 a supernatural work designed to prove the truth of God. And God performs that work (vv. 20-21). We see God repeat the work and the word (vv. 28-30). Note that the Syrians see a spiritual aspect to this physical war (v. 23). Ultimately, Ben-hadad is defeated and Ahab accepts terms of peace (v. 34).
In verse 35, we see that there was a group of prophets. This is perhaps the group Obadiah saved alive in 18:4. The death of the prophet who refused to obey God (v. 36) sheds some more light on 13:24. The prophet’s parable (vv. 39-42) is reminiscent of Nathan’s parable against David in 2 Samuel 12:1-6 in that the king’s reaction incriminates himself. God gave Syria into Ahab’s hand for a reason: that Ahab would know He is YHWH. In releasing Ben-hadad, Ahab did not obey God (v. 42), nor acknowledge Who He is. This is reminiscent of Saul’s failure to kill Agag in 1 Samuel 15:9. Ahab would share his fate.
Chapter 21 begins with the story of Naboth’s vineyard. We see in this account Ahab’s weakness (21:4) and Jezebel’s ruthlessness (v. 10). Jezebel is shown again to be the real power in Israel. God then condemns both Ahab and Jezebel for their actions (vv. 17-24). Note how this is just the continuation of the cycle begun with Jeroboam. The language is even the same (v. 24) as the curse pronounced on Jeroboam (14:11) and Baasha after him (16:4).
In verses 25-26, we see a description of Ahab’s wickedness. He is described as more evil than anyone before him. His sin is compared to the sin of the Amorites, who were the target of Israel’s “devotion to destruction” during the conquest (see Gen 15:16, Josh 24:15). And yet, when Ahab repents of his sin (v. 27), God relents from carrying out His judgment until after Ahab’s death (v. 29 – see v. 21).
Chapter 22 details the end of Ahab’s reign. We see an alliance between Israel and Judah for the purpose of retaking land the Syrians had seized (22:2-4). Before the king of Judah goes to war, however, he wants to inquire of God like David always did (v. 5). So Ahab calls his prophets. Note that there are about 400 of them, and note that they tell Ahab “the Lord” will give him victory (v. 6). But notice in your Bible that it is not “the LORD” but “the Lord.” This is not YHWH they are referring to. This is why Jehoshaphat (literally means “YHWH’s judgment”) asks specifically for a prophet of “the LORD” – of YHWH (v. 7).
Notice though: after Ahab summons Micaiah, the prophets of Ahab start to prophecy in the name of YHWH (vv. 11-12). We see why when Micaiah prophesies. His first prophecy is understood as sarcasm by Ahab (vv. 15-16). Micaiah then prophesies of Ahab’s death (v. 17) using the shepherd-king language we have seen before. But it is Micaiah’s next prophecy that explains the other prophets (vv.19-23).
Micaiah describes the heavenly council (v. 19). God seeks input from His holy ones (angels) on how to kill Ahab (v. 20). After some discussion, a “spirit” comes forward and stands before YHWH and offers to entice Ahab out to battle (v. 21), by putting lies in the mouths of his prophets (v. 22). This is what played out in verses 11-12. In verse 24, one of Ahab’s prophets accuses Micaiah of being the liar. But the truth will be known (v. 28).
In verse 30, Ahab dupes Jehoshaphat into being the target for the enemy. That Ahab is not arrayed like the king and blends in with the army is ironic. The shepherd (king) is not leading his flock (see v. 17). The ploy works in Ahab’s favor, because Syria attacks Jehoshaphat (v. 32) until they realize he is not Ahab (v. 33). In verse 34, we see that a Syrian soldier disregards his king’s command (see v. 31) and “randomly” fires an arrow in the direction of Israel. But there is no such thing as chance (see Prov 16:33). God kills Ahab. Verse 36 fulfills verse 17. Verse 38 fulfills 21:19. His son Ahaziah takes the throne (v. 40).
Verse 41 takes us back in time again to the start of Jehoshaphat’s reign. He was righteous like Asa, but did not stop idol worship among the people (v. 43). He did, however, stop some of the cultic practices (v. 46). The book ends with a description of Ahaziah (vv. 51-53). Things are still only getting worse for Israel…