Last Sunday, I mentioned that Josiah King of Judah, who was remembered as being like no king before him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart. (2 Kings 23:25) What an incredible epitaph!
At the opposite end of the scale, we find Ahab the King of Israel. The Bible records that no king did more evil than Ahab. (1 Kings 16:30) Interestingly, it is during the reign of Ahab, that we find the ministry of Elijah.
One of Ahab’s great sins was found in his choice of wife. The land and the people paid dearly for Ahab’s choice. He married the daughter of the Ethbaal (whose name means ‘with Baal’), and he was the King of Sidon.
Sidon is a place that is often found in the Bible. In Matthew 11:22 and 24, Jesus tells us that it will be more bearable on the day of Judgment for the residents of Sidon (and Tyre) than it will be for the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because they did not repent upon witnessing the works that were done in them. For Sidon to be used in that context, indicates that God’s wrath is kindled against the town Ahab’s Queen. And indeed we find that it was a Canaanite city that had frequently oppressed Israel and harshly treated the people of God. For Ahab to take a wife from these people was an affront to God, for it meant making a pact with the devil.
Ahab’s Queen has a well known but unusual name. Her name is meant to be Jezebaal, which translates ‘Baal is exalted’. Instead, her name is changed to Jezebel, meaning ‘I will not be ruled by my husband’. She certainly lived up to her name. On arrival, she induces Ahab to introduce both the worship of Baal and set up altars for him.
This act of promoting Baal worship provokes the anger of God. Because of this, God instructs Elijah to pronounce three years of drought upon the Land. (1 Kings 17:1) During this time, God provides for Elijah. Two of those years are spent in Sidon! (1 Kings 17:9) Imagine that. God is not concerned with the schemes of petty people. Those whom God has a purpose for, are safe despite their surroundings. We need to take heart at that and be reminded, that the battle belongs to the Lord. We do not fight for our own causes, God uses us as His servants to achieve His purposes.
As the account moves toward the day where Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal, we often overlook an important point. In the three years leading up to this confrontation, Jezebel has busily been arresting and slaughtering the prophets of God. The Hebrew word used (karath) is quite brutal. It is used for chopping and splitting wood from a fallen tree. When used of people, it often means beheading, and when used in terms of an animal carcass it would be translated as butchering. The tense in which the word was used tells us that she was not finished in her pursuit of God’s servants.
Many scholars of old, believe that when Elijah put 850 of Jezebel’s prophets and priests to death, it was an equitable judgment of God. They point out that God inflicted a severe drought on the Land, removing all blessing from a Kingdom that killed His prophets, from the time Jezebel began her campaign, till the day of Elijah’s victory.
An interesting side note is the meeting between Ahab and Elijah, where the contest is scheduled. Ahab begins the encounter with a deceitful accusation against Elijah, calling him the one who brings trouble to Israel. There is nothing unusual in this. The guilty almost always project their own sins onto others and blame their ‘opponents’ for the problems they have caused. In this case, Israel suffers for Ahab’s sin, yet Ahab blames Elijah. In truth, it is Elijah who brings the Word of God into the situation and Ahab cannot endure the idea that God is displeased with him.
In difficult times, we can be encouraged through Scripture such as this, knowing that what happens to us as God’s people is important to God. God will provide for us amid adverse times. He will also remember the times where His faithful servants are treated badly and will hold those who persecute the righteous to account. When we suffer on account of the name of Jesus, a reward awaits us in Heaven (Matthew 5:12).