Were the Captains and Their Fifties Just “Put to Sleep”?

2 Kings 1:12 says:

“And Elijah answered and said unto them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.” (2 Kings 1:12)

Here is a question regarding that verse that was submitted to this site:

“I read your article on Elijah and the soldiers etc. and I really appreciated it. In Tim Jennings’ Sabbath School class a couple of weeks ago he was defending his belief that God doesn’t kill, He just puts people “to sleep.” He uses the story of Elijah as an example.

I am having a hard time with that concept. I understand the first and second death and that the first death is a sleep. But I don’t think God did that as there is no reason why He should have had to, as you explain in telling the story. Tim says that therefor no one has died yet; they are just asleep. Okay, but these young men, the soldiers have been asleep for 3000+ years and they never got to live, have a family, etc. Or learn about salvation if they didn’t know. Besides burning someone up is a rather cruel way to put someone to sleep. Can you help me with this one? Thank you so much.” – Rosie

My Response: Good questions Rosie. Let me say first that Tim Jennings has some very good explanations of concepts important to understanding the character of God. I have met him personally and believe he is sincere. He has made a significant contribution which is why he is included as a contributor on this site. Having said that, as the disclaimer on the contributors page says, I do not necessarily agree with everything the featured contributors say. Regarding this question, I, respectfully, see this matter differently than Tim does.

Here are my reasons.

1. The Ten Commandments

These include “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exo 20:13). If “no one has died yet” and “they are just asleep” (assuming you are quoting Tim correctly) then anyone who has killed another person has only put them to sleep and has not violated the sixth commandment.

2. Treatment of Enemies

Enemies were to be treated in a manner that shows love to them and points them to a loving God:

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matt 5:44)

I would question whether burning men to a crisp who were just following orders fits that directive. Jesus said “Father forgive them” in relation to men who were nailing Him to a cross. Witness the quite different way in which Elisha (with a double portion of the spirit – 2 Kings 2:9-12) dealt with enemies similarly sent to capture him. (2Kings 6:14-23)

3. Prophets were not Perfect

It is interesting that scripture specifically says regarding Elijah “Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are …” (James 5:17) We tend to think of Biblical prophets as without fault and anything they did must have been correct. But that is not true. See my five-part study starting at Bible Prophets Were People Too on my other website.

4. “The Fire of God”

This phrase really causes problems in people’s minds – “the fire of God came down from heaven” (2 Kings 1:12). However, the story of Job helps to clarify. It says the same thing about the fire that burned up Job’s children:

“While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.” (Job 1:16)

The story of Job gives us a behind-the scenes-look at what is really going on:

“And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.” (Job 1:12)

Satan was given permission to afflict Job and it was Satan that caused the fire to come down as Rev 13:13 shows he is capable of doing. An important principle to recognize is that scripture often says God did something that, in fact, He merely allowed. Read more at https://characterofgod.org/love-takes-responsibility/ and https://characterofgod.org/i-create-evil/

5. Fear is Not from God

Doesn’t this description of the third captain of fifty soldiers sound like he was afraid for his life?

“And he sent again a captain of the third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight.” (2 Kings 1:13)

God does not operate in this way. See the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary for the word “fear.”

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim 1:7)

6. Why Kill?

Also, as you stated, there was no reason God had to kill these soldiers. In fact, this account has done nothing but make God look bad which Satan has every motive to do.

7. Probation Closed

I have heard the idea that God merely puts people to sleep and when they are raised (woken up) they resume their thoughts and would have opportunity to yet accept God.

It is in this life (which could be called a period of probation) that we are to choose either of two paths. There is no scriptural evidence of any opportunity after the second resurrection at the end of the 1000 years that anyone changes sides. Scripture describes only two general resurrections:

“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” (John 5:28-29)

The first resurrection is also called “the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:14)

More details of the timing of resurrections here. For God to end someone’s opportunity to choose eternal life is contrary to scripture. Consider:

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

 8. The Spirit Behind Such Action

When Jesus was headed towards Jerusalem He was not well-received by the Samaritans. Notice His disciples’ reaction and Jesus’ response:

“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them …” (Luke 9:54-56)

Jesus was distancing Himself from the attitude that would want to do such a thing and identifying the spirit behind James’ and John’s proposal and Elijah’s action. That seems rather inconsistent with the suggestion that heaven would approve of what Elijah did.

9. Other Biblical Events

There are other stories which raise similar questions such as the story of Ananias and Sapphira, when carefully examined, shows zero evidence to implicate God for their deaths (or, if you prefer, putting them to sleep).

10. Pioneer Writings

Early writers of the SDA church of which Tim is a member also disagree with his position. For anyone who might be interested, see a number of such statements here.

See my more-detailed treatment of Elijah here and here.

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