The Passions of Elijah Part 2 – Elijah and the Captains of 50

If you have not read it, you might want to look at The Passions of Elijah Part 1 Elijah and the Prophets of Baal.

Near the end of his term, Elijah was called upon to meet another crisis, this one involving the son of Ahab, King Ahaziah, who had succeeded his father on the throne of Israel. Ahaziah was sick and had sought to inquire of Baalzebub regarding his recovery. Elijah’s message to him was:

“… Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus saith the LORD, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die. …” (2 Kings 1:3-4)

The king then sent a squadron of 50 soldiers to bring Elijah to him. It is interesting that there was no threat mentioned. It was not like Jezebel’s:

“… So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.” (1 Kings 19:2)

There is no indication that Elijah’s life was in danger. When Elijah finally appeared before the king he simply delivered his message. We are not even told the king’s reaction. There was no indication of an arrest attempt.

What is of particular interest is the reaction of Elijah to the summons delivered by the captain of the 50 men who said, it seems almost respectfully:

“… Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down.” (2 Kings 1:9)

The next verse is one that, in many minds, calls into question the actions and character of God:

“And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.” (2 Kings 1:10)

Fire From Heaven?

Elijah certainly did not bring the fire down. So who did? It is referred to as coming down from heaven. In the incident on Mount Carmel, the fire, undoubtedly from God, is described as “the fire of the LORD” (1 Kings 18:38). In the book of Job, the fire that fell is described:

“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)

We know, from the context of Job’s story, that the “fire of God” was not from God. Satan can also bring fire down from the sky:

“And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,” (Rev 13:13)

So either God or Satan could bring fire down to destroy men’s lives. Which was it in the cases of the groups of soldiers sent to bring Elijah to the king?

I have heard this described as a most difficult case for which those who say God does not kill have no answer. It has been argued something like: “why would Satan instigate the king to send soldiers (We don’t even know that Satan prompted King Ahaziah.) to arrest Elijah (one version said “to kill” Elijah which scripture does not say.) and then destroy those same soldiers? Obviously, God was doing it.” Well hold on, it’s not that obvious! There is an answer and one that does not needlessly charge God with killing people.

We know about some of the passions that Elijah was subject to (as looked at above). Elijah had felt guilty once before for fleeing from danger and his duty. This time he was going to stay at what he considered his post and, perhaps motivated by fear, look for a way to defend himself. Of course, he remembered vividly the fire of Mount Carmel. So let’s look carefully at the story and see if it is at all plausible that the “fire from heaven” might not have been an act of God.

Pride

If Elijah had been acting as a prophet should he would have called on God for protection. Instead, he commanded fire to destroy. Could pride have prompted him?

I mentioned earlier that the wording of the captain to Elijah – “thou man of God” sounded respectful. It is also possible that it was said in a sarcastic tone (which we wouldn’t hear in the reading) calling into question Elijah’s position as a prophet of God and prompting Elijah’s reaction to prove himself. His response using the word “if” likely reflected the implied “if” in the captain’s message. Elijah may have been saying essentially: “You dare to doubt me! Let me show you. I can prove that I am a man of God.”

“And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.” (2 Kings 1:10)

The way Elijah’s response was worded could indicate that he was meaning to defend his position. This is reminiscent of Satan’s temptation of Christ to doubt His position as the Son of God:

“And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” (Matt 4:6)

Unlike Elijah, Jesus’ response was not to prove or defend Himself. He merely quoted scripture: “It is written…”

Giving Satan License

It can happen that through our words or actions we give Satan opportunity to tempt and test us. Peter gave Satan license to severely tempt him due to his bold and prideful claim that though all others should deny Christ he would not.

“Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake.” (John 13:37)

Jesus said to Peter:

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Satan sought to tempt Peter as a result of the apostle’s claim. Peter set himself up for a test. In Elijah’s case, he may have been expressing pride in his position as prophet – “watch what God will do for me.” He was proposing to give undeniable evidence of his position. He proposed the test of the captain’s assertion and Satan would certainly claim that, due to Elijah’s presumption, he should have a role in the test or that God should step back and allow him to act.

Fear

Again, there may have been some fear on Elijah’s part as indicated by the message given to Elijah regarding the words of the third captain:

“And the angel of the LORD said unto Elijah, Go down with him: be not afraid of him. And he arose, and went down with him unto the king.” (2 Kings 1:15)

This indicates that God was okay with Elijah going to the king to personally deliver his message and why wouldn’t He be? And if He was, why would He kill 102 people in the meantime? That makes no sense. God kills a man just for insulting a prophet? And also kills 50 others who are just following orders? (And does this all twice. Also, there is no indication that the third group of 50 men did anything differently than the first two groups.) That all seems rather harsh and inconsistent for a God Who says to turn the other cheek!

Satan’s Strategy

As mentioned earlier, it has been argued that why would Satan instigate the king to send soldiers to arrest Elijah and then destroy those same soldiers?

Satan would have known that God would physically protect His prophet. This was really a spiritual attack to tempt Elijah to act in self-defense and once again lose his hold on God. Certainly, killing off 102 men as collateral damage was no loss to Satan.

We tend to think prophets and “men of God” could do no wrong but they (all of them, not just Elijah) were “subject to like passions as we are.” This is well-demonstrated in this compilation of the sins of the prophets. Satan can gain a great victory if he can destroy a prophet of God whether physically or by breaking the prophet’s connection with God.

A Most Important Principle

At one point, when Jesus was not welcomed at a Samaritan village, his disciples reacted by saying:

“… Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” (Luke 9:54)

The disciples were referring to the event under discussion. In their understanding, the fire was sent by God. Jesus’ response was revealing:

“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. And they went to another village.” (Luke 9:54-56)

They expected that Jesus would approve of their wanting to act like Elijah. However, Jesus reprimanded the spirit behind their response. It was one of revenge not of forgiveness. And it was the same spirit demonstrated by Elijah towards the captains and soldiers.

Jesus would do nothing against people who had rejected Him, the Savior of the world. If God would not act to destroy the lives of the Samaritans for rejecting His Son, the Messiah, why would He act to destroy those soldiers – to cut off any further opportunity for them to learn of and accept truth – for simply doing their duty to escort someone to the king? It was the king who was more at fault for giving the orders.

Jesus’ reaction was simply to go to another village; to walk away from where He was not welcome. This is actually (although not stated as such) an example of Divine “wrath.” There are many cases (I have found over 70 so far) where, in reaction to sin, God in “wrath” leaves, gives up, hands over etc and trouble then comes in His absence from another source. God’s wrath is well defined in Romans chapter 1.

And there is this verse:

“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt 5:39)

The words and actions of Jesus need to be the ultimate test in many more of our scriptural understandings. When someone insults you or your position – turn the other cheek, resist not or simply walk away as Jesus did but certainly don’t wish to burn them to a crisp.

Application

What if you, in serving God in the last days, perhaps despite great victories in witnessing for Him, should succumb to human weakness and fail or lose faith? Remember, you are a man or woman “subject to like passions as” was Moses, as were many who have failed and been rescued by a loving and merciful God and even as was the great prophet Elijah. God will forgive. He will call you back to the path of duty. He is ever merciful and forgiving.

Conclusion

This story is similar to that of Ananias and Sapphira who many people would charge God with killing when there is no scriptural evidence that He did and a perfectly-plausible explanation of how it could have happened otherwise. In the account of Elijah and the captains of 50, there is no scriptural reason to conclude that God was responsible for killing 102 men who were just carrying out the orders of their king. There is not even any indication that the king was wrong in sending for Elijah.

Also, we should not conclude, just because a prophet such as Elijah did something that what he did was correct or God’s will. The prophets were people too. They were subject, as is specifically mentioned for Elijah, to like passions as we are.

The life and character of Jesus should instruct us in such situations. We should be more careful what we charge God with. Also, we must not surface-read scripture. We need to compare scripture with scripture and use sound reasoning based on principles and use the life of Jesus as a standard.