1 Kings 20-22
Ben-hadad of Syria is trying to make Samaria a principality or a “vassal state”. When he says that he will take away all the gold and children from Ahab, that’s his point. Everything will be subject to his rule. Ahab is probably willing to accommodate a stronger military leader. But as Ahab will find out, Ben-hadad’s military is far less organized than he expects it to be. He wins a couple of battles again Syria quite easily.
The “sons of the prophets” were a group of men who were active prophets in Israel. They were not necessarily the offspring of a former prophet. Later, the prophet Amos will say, “I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet,” even while he is a prophet. He simply means that he doesn’t have a lifetime, ongoing appointment as a prophet and does not belong to the college of prophets. Prophets were rarely a respected breed, so they often stayed together. Earlier, in 19:10, Elijah had mourned that he was the only prophet left in Israel. But that clearly was exaggeration.
Naboth’s vineyard is an interesting story because it is relying on Old Testament land laws. Selling land for perpetuity was not allowed. There was a year of jubilee every seven years where any land that was sold to pay off debts was given back to the original families and tribes allotted by Moses and Joshua. What Ahab demands from Naboth is illegal. Naboth is an honorable man in that he will not break the law, even for the king.
Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, sees an opportunity to show her strength. In plotting Naboth’s murder, she seals her own fate. Ahab knows full well what Jezebel has done, and God sends Elijah to confront him and call him to repentance. Jezebel was certainly a wicked woman, but Ahab showed no opposition to her wickedness. Ahab lives a few more years and continues to fight Syria. The imagery of dogs licking up his blood and prostitutes bathing in it is picked up later in Revelation.
His son Ahaziah becomes king. First Kings has focused heavily on the northern kingdom of Israel up to this point, but it ends by noting that Jehoshaphat is now king in the southern kingdom of Judah. He stands in contrast to Ahaziah, a wicked man who worshiped Baal.
2 Kings 1-8
Ahaziah’s life is a mess. He is an idol worshiper, and now he’s been hurt by a fall. He has no power over his own nation, nevertheless foreign nations. God sends Elijah to him to pronounce his fate. There is no recourse for Ahaziah. Though he tries to find out more from Elijah by sending a few groups of sun-scorched soldiers, God’s word will stand. Ahaziah dies.
2 Kings 2 begins Elisha’s ministry apart from Elijah after his death. The Old Testament did present the idea that the righteous were with God after death, but the most common metaphor for describing the location of the deceased was in the depths of Sheol. So we should see Elijah’s being taken up into heaven as extremely significant.
God’s chariots come to receive Elijah. All of the individual pieces of this experience speak to God’s majesty. Horses are powerful creatures, and God is all-powerful. The chariots were weapons of war, and God commands his armies against his enemies. Fire is almost always a symbol of God’s presence and glory. And since Elisha receiving a double portion of Elijah’s spirit depended on him being Elijah being taken to heaven, there was no way he could have missed such a spectacle.
Elisha tears and removes his clothes to wear Elijah’s cloak, symbolizing that he is lamenting Elijah's absence but also picking up where Elijah left off. In the same way Elisha witnessed Elijah’s ascent into heaven, so too did the apostles witness Christ’s bodily ascension into the clouds. And the water parting for Elisha to cross over safely clearly calls back to God parting the Red Sea for the safety and salvation of the Hebrews leaving Egypt.
Elisha’s first solo flight as a prophet comes when the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom join together to go against Moab. Elisha has no patience for the wickedness of Israel and Edom, but for Judah’s sake, he will prophesy.
The main problem is a lack of food and water, and that’s what draws the kings to Elisha. Music is often associated with prophecy, but not in a mystic/pentecostal/new age sense. When the pagans included music in their “prophecies”, the purpose was to put the prophet in a trance and speak nonsense, something akin to speaking in tongues today. They would also often harm themselves as part of the process, usually by cutting or whipping themselves. Any music involved in biblical prophecy completely avoids hypnotic ecstasy. While the exact reason for combining music and prophecy is not made explicit, it shouldn’t surprise us that worship is still to this day considered a mix of prayers, music, and preaching (which the New Testament considers prophecy if seen as primarily speaking God’s words after him).
Elisha’s next miracle is that of multiplying oil to save the life of a widow and her children. She has no means to pay her debts (which are probably her dead husband’s debts). She is also the widow of one of Elisha’s fellow prophets, so he likely knows her quite well. Oil is multiplied miraculously, and she is able to sell it to get out of debt. God provides.
In contrast to the widow’s poverty, Elisha then meets a wealthy woman who offers him a place to stay. It’s a generous proposal that Elisha gladly accepts, who is likely quite poor himself since he is itinerant. She also provides a place for his servant, Gehazi. As a way of showing his appreciation, he wants to do something for her in return. Another common divine action is that of forming life in the womb of a barren woman. We can’t help but think of women like Sarah and Hannah, godly women who he helped in their time of distress.
The child is born, and as a young man is helping his father in the fields. He complains of a headache and is taken to his mother, where he dies. She places him on Elisha’s bed as she calls for him. She sets out to find him, and when she does, she does what any mother wounded by the death of a child would do, and she lashes out at Elisha. He sends Gehazi back to the woman’s house with his staff. Elisha travels more slowly with the woman back to her house. Elisha laying on the child might seem bizarre, but it’s ripe with meaning. Through Elisha, God gives the young man his sight, breath, and strength back (eyes, mouth, and hands).
Elisha’s ministry, like Christ’s, was full of miraculous healings. Also like Christ, his healings were not only to his own people. From the very beginning, there was a call for the nations to come to Jerusalem and worship God on the holy mountain. While that will only be seen in its fullness in the age to come, now in the church age we see it in its beginning stage. The harvest comes after the sowing. In healing Naaman the Syrian, another Gentile receives God’s goodness. And it very well seems that he believes in the one, true God (2 Kings 5:15).
But Naaman faces the same spiritual struggle every regenerate person does (and let’s assume for a moment that he is regenerate). He is going to go home and be confronted with the idols of his hometown. He will have to interact with people who still worship those idols. He will even have to enter those temples. What is he to do? He no longer wants to participate in idol worship. Even the purpose of taking the two mule loads of earth was likely to construct an altar with lightweight material from Israel so that he might worship God in Syria.
In Naaman, we see a man whose heart has been turned from stone to flesh. He now desires to worship God rightly. And instead of telling him to resign his high position, Elisha simply tells Naaman, “Go in peace.” God places his people in all kinds of positions, from low to high, so that he might be glorified. Why shouldn’t God rule through his own people in every social and cultural position of authority and power? Yes, most of us will live quiet lives of regular piety. But God rules over all, so we should hope and pray that God will position devout believers in all social, cultural, and governmental positions.
As things between Israel and Syria continue to get worse, Elisha receives visions of Syria’s military moves. He is then able to warn the Israelite army of the threats. Another of Elisha’s servants is concerned about an impending Syrian attack, but Elisha is calm. He prays that God would give this young servant spiritual sight for a moment to see the spiritual army that human eyes cannot see. Suddenly, he is able to see the horses and chariots of fire that fill the mountainside.
Since this is the same imagery we were told about when Elijah was taken to heaven (and are only a few chapters apart), we should assume they’re connected. Most likely, only Elisha saw Elijah being taken up since no one else can see the horses and chariots here. More importantly, we see that God is not absent or simply barking orders from heaven. His own armies are fighting alongside the Israelites.
In contrast to the clear spiritual sight of Elisha and his servant, the Syrians are blinded. Spiritual warfare is quite literally going on all around us, and we do not see it. It is not a quaint platitude that God’s angels are fighting all-too-real spiritual battles right now. The book of Daniel even speaks of the arch angel Michael being busy fighting a battle during Daniel’s day.
In their blindness, whether physical blindness or mental confusion, they are taken and fed a feast. They wanted to come as victors, but they were instead guests at a feast. They are then sent back to Syria. This episode could perhaps be a foretaste of all Gentiles being welcomed into the mountain of God and given a feast, such as is imaged in the marriage supper of the lamb. That is the purpose of all Old Testament imagery and types, to ultimately turn our attention to the real thing.
Pentecost was an annual festival fifty days after the Passover, which means this takes place fifty days after the crucifixion. The Holy Spirit is often compared to the wind. We cannot see it, and we cannot control it. Neither can we see or control the Spirit of God. This is what Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3.
Fire is also an important biblical image, which often signifies the presence of God. Think of the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites in the wilderness and filled the tabernacle. Fire is also to be seen as purifying. So, God is present in this upper room, and what they are about to say is the pure word of God.
The issue of “tongues” was generally not a divisive issue until the Pentecostal revivals of the early 1900s. The revivalists believed that speaking in angelic languages was a sign of conversion and told their congregants that they needed to do so. But here in Acts 2, the word for tongues quite literally means languages. And in context, it’s clearly human languages, because the people from all over the empire can’t believe they are hearing people talk in their own languages. What God confused at Babel, he has clarified at Pentecost.
When the apostle Paul is making an argument for why the Corinthian Christians should receive him as an apostle, he roots his argument in the sign-gifts, which includes tongues, or spontaneously being able to speak in foreign languages for the benefit of another. And he calls them the signs of the apostles when he says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:12). The sign gifts were not for everyone, but they marked those who met Jesus, were planting churches, strengthening believers, and writing Scripture.
Peter preaches the first sermon of the post-exaltation-of-Christ New Testament. He draws together several Old Testament passages that specifically identify Jesus as the promised Messiah. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament resulted in thousands being given faith. The church committed to the word of the apostles, supporting other believers, and right worship. Again, as 2:43 tells us, the signs were done through the apostles.
As Jesus had them doing during his earthly ministry, the apostles are physically healing people, in this instance a man unable to walk. The result is that “all the people saw him walking and praising God […] and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (3:9-10). It speaks to the Christ’s power over nature. Healings were signs that pointed the people to the source of true spiritual power, Jesus Christ.
Do healings continue today? Of course, but they are not signs done by apostles. God still is happy to miraculously heal anyone he so desires. But he does the work immediately, meaning without a mediator. There are no more apostles performing signs; anyone who argues otherwise is usually drawing attention to themselves and is likely a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Peter takes the opportunity that this miracle has afforded him to preach to the crowd. The healing was just a jumping-off point for the gospel. Peter again points to the prophets who pointed to Christ. From Abraham, to Moses, to Samuel and forward, all of Scripture is a Christian witness.
What frustrates the religious leaders, who had hoped that the "myth" of Jesus’s divinity had since passed on, is that the people are believing in Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. The number of believers, in a matter of days, has grown from 3000 to 5000+. So naturally, the leaders have Peter and gang arrested. And in good Peter-fashion, he begins to preach to the leaders during his arrest. The issue is still the man who was just healed. The leaders need to know in whose name Peter healed this man. It harkens back to Luke 11 when the crowds insult Jesus by asking if he casts out demons in Satan’s name. Now, the leaders demand that the apostles stop preaching in Jesus’s name.
The apostles tell the other Christians (though they’re not yet called this) about this interaction. Instead of capitulating or accommodating, they pray the Psalms boldly. When these believers prayed, the place was shaken. We may not start an earthquake with our praying, but we can still have the same result: we will be filled with the Spirit and we will speak boldly about Christ.
Christians of every age have two options: let the world dictate what you’re allowed to say, or grow a spine and take the slings and arrows.
The first believers were also extremely generous in their care for others. But not everyone does so with integrity. A husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, want the recognition of being sacrificial without the burden of being sacrificial. There were no laws about how much property Christians could own or what they had to do with it. That’s why their lie was so egregious. They were under no compulsion to do anything except care for their fellow believers. However, they are all too happy to glorify themselves in how much they give.
God cares deeply about the purity of the church. The church is not made up of regenerate and unregenerate people; every true church member knows the Lord for him-/herself (Jeremiah 31). We would rather have a small church that seeks to live righteously than a big church that lives under the pretense of reaching the lost while looking like the lost.
What happened to the church when God struck down Ananias and Sapphira? The people were scared of the church (5:11)! Nobody wanted to join them (5:13)! And yet, because God is in control of salvation, multitudes were added to the church because of it (5:14). We must not shrink back from a faithful witness, and we must not pit righteous living against earthly results. What if the best church growth strategy is the quiet piety of its members?
Psalm 121: The Lord is our helper at every turn.
Psalm 122: The house of the Lord is our safe place.
Psalm 123: The Lord has mercy on those who seek him.
Psalm 124: The Lord is the only reason we are secure.
Psalm 125: The Lord protects the upright and leads away evildoers.