King Ahaziah sent a captain with his fifty men to Elijah. When the captain went up to him, he was sitting on top of the hill. He announced, “Man of God, the king declares, ‘Come down!’”
Elijah responded to the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men.
So the king sent another captain with his fifty men to Elijah. He took in the situation and announced, “Man of God, this is what the king says: ‘Come down immediately!’”
Elijah responded, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” So a divine fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men.
Then the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. The third captain went up and fell on his knees in front of Elijah and begged him, “Man of God, please let my life and the lives of these fifty servants of yours be precious to you. Already fire has come down from heaven and consumed the first two captains with their companies, but this time let my life be precious to you.”
The angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him. Don’t be afraid of him.” So he got up and went down with him to the king.
Then Elijah said to King Ahaziah, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron—is it because there is no God in Israel for you to inquire of his will?—you will not get up from your sickbed; you will certainly die.’”
Ahaziah died according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken. Since he had no son, Joram became king in his place. This happened in the second year of Judah’s King Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat. The rest of the events of Ahaziah’s reign, along with his accomplishments, are written in the Historical Record of Israel’s Kings.2 Kings 1:9-18
Near the end of Elijah’s time on earth, the evil King Ahab was killed in battle and replaced by his equally evil son, Ahaziah. When Ahaziah is injured in a fall, he inquires of a Philistine god instead of Yahweh for word on whether he would recover. God sends Elijah to rebuke Ahaziah for seeking answers from other gods and predicts his death. Ahaziah responds by sending a captain with 50 soldiers to bring Elijah to him.
As we read through the Bible, especially the Old Testament, we come across passages that are challenging to wrap our brain around and this is definitely one of them. Ahaziah has to send three different units to capture Elijah. The first two units 50 are consumed by fire after Elijah calls it down on them. The third captain appealed to Elijah for mercy even before delivering Ahaziah’s message. An angel of the Lord intervenes and tells Elijah to go with the men and not be afraid. He then delivers the same rebuke and prediction of death directly to Ahaziah.
When reading this story it can be challenging to comprehend how a loving God could kill 102 men in such a violent way for just following the orders of their king. Perhaps the case could be made that the two captains were disrespectful and worthy of punishment but that still leaves us with the 100 men that made up these two units and said nothing to Elijah. One blog I recently read makes a point that there is a distinction in the language of this passage and fire that consumed the sacrifice on Mt. Carmel. At Mt. Carmel, the passage specifically says the fire was “fire from the Lord.” In this case, it is referred to as “fire from heaven.” This may be an indication that this was, in fact, not God’s design but was the result of Elijah’s own pride and not seeking God first in responding to the men. If this were the case, there are other places in Scripture (Job in particular) where fire from the sky was attributed to God but the context would indicate that Satan was more likely imitating a fire miracle to make it look like a punishment from God. The ambiguity is difficult to think through.
One thing we can be sure of, though, is that when we look through the lens of Jesus, it does not seem to be God’s will to wipe out people in this way. In one incident, John and James wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village for not allowing Jesus to enter the village. Some manuscripts site this story about Elijah as the example that John and James used to justify their plan. Jesus’ response to this request was to rebuke them. Some manuscripts go on to quote Jesus as saying they did not know the spirit they represented when they made such a request. At the very least we can see this as a warning to not be so quick to use Elijah’s actions here as a justification for vengeance. It’s not so cut and dry. The “Jesus lens” helps us to understand the character of God even when we encounter passages like this.
- How can the “Jesus lens” help you in your understanding of tough passages?