2Ki_1:11-12. Again also he sent unto him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said unto him, O man of God, thus hath the king said, Come down quickly. 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.
MANY things recorded in the Old Testament appear at first sight to savour of harshness and severity. The utter extirpation of the Canaanites, and the judgments inflicted occasionally on the Israelites themselves, were doubtless such dispensations as we cannot contemplate without feeling that “God is very greatly to be feared.” The instance before us is of a very terrific nature; and we may be ready to wonder, how a good man could deliberately call fire from heaven to consume two whole companies of fifty each, when they had no alternative but to fulfil the orders given them, or be put to death for a violation of them. But, if any thing appear to us inexplicable, it is owing to our ignorance, and not to any inequality in the divine government. As to the conduct of Elijah, we will proceed to shew,
How it may be vindicated—
As being “a man of like passions with us,” he might err, and did err, on some occasions; but in this matter he did nothing that was in any wise unbecoming his high character. Consider,
The provocation given—
[This was exceeding great. Ahaziah walked in all the steps of his father Ahab: and this alone was abundantly sufficient to call forth the displeasure of God against him. But he had now been pouring contempt on God in a more than ordinary degree. He had fallen through a lattice, and the injury he had received was likely to prove fatal. Anxious to know what the event would be, he sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron. By this conduct he declared, not to Israel only, but even to the heathen themselves, that there was no God in Israel able to solve the question, and that the god of Ekron, a city of the Philistines, was superior to him. What an insult was this to the God of Israel, “whose name is, Jealous!” And what a tendency had this to confirm the heathen in their idolatry, and to justify them in their rejection of the true God!
Besides this, when Jehovah sent his servant Elijah to reprove the messengers, and to give them the information which they were going to seek, Ahaziah, instead of humbling himself for his offence, and preparing for his latter end, rose up in anger against the God of heaven and earth, and sent a band of soldiers to seize the prophet, in order to wreak his vengeance on him. He knew that Elijah was a most distinguished prophet of Jehovah, and yet he determined to slay him, for no other reason than because he had delivered the message which God had sent him to deliver. What was this but to contend with God himself?
But further, when the whole band with their commander were consumed by fire from heaven, the enraged king did not at all relent, but sent another, and another band, as though he was determined never to relinquish the unequal contest.
Can we wonder that God should inflict signal vengeance on such a man, and mark the evil of his conduct in the severity of his punishment?]
The judgment inflicted—
[Fire was sent from heaven to consume the men. But could Elijah do this? or was he any other than the mere organ of the Deity, to announce the judgment, and assign the reason of it? When Moses entreated of God to interpose and shew whom he had chosen for his high-priest, fire came forth to consume all the competitors of Aaron; or when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, with all their families, were swallowed up alive in the earth according to the prediction of Moses; was Moses the author of the judgments? The people indeed foolishly complained of him as such; but it is manifest that it was Jehovah alone, and not Moses, that inflicted these punishments on the offending people. So it was with Elijah: he did not even pray for the judgments as one under the influence of revenge, but merely denounced them according to the will of his Divine Master. The terms in which they were denounced are worthy of notice. The captains, in calling him “a man of God,” did not mean to honour, but insult him: it was as though they had said, ‘Thou boastest of Jehovah as thy Master; but we come to thee in the name of a greater king than he: King Ahaziah says, Come down, come down quickly.’ Then says Elijah, ‘If I be a man of God, you shall have a proof of it, and of the greatness of that King whom I obey.’ He had before desired fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice, and it produced no permanent effect upon them: now therefore he declares from God, that they shall be the sacrifice, and fall a prey to the devouring flames.
What was there here that can in any way reflect upon the character of Elijah? He was but the organ to declare, what a holy and offended God saw just occasion to inflict.
If it be said, that the soldiers themselves acted under the orders of another, we answer, that they could not but know the character of Elijah, who had confounded all the worshippers of Baal; and that they should rather have submitted to have military law executed upon them, than be the instruments of man to fight against God.]
The ends for which it was inflicted—
[Almost the whole nation of Israel had rejected God: and all the means which had been used to bring them back to their allegiance to him, had failed. Now they had an evidence which, it might be reasonably hoped, they could not withstand. The information, conveyed by Elijah to the king’s messengers, was sufficient to convince both the king and his people, that Elijah’s God was omniscient: and, when they still refused to acknowledge him, and rose up in arms against him, the judgment he inflicted was sufficient to convince them that he was omnipotent: and had it produced this salutary effect, the judgment, how severe soever it may appear, would have been an act of mercy. The temporal destruction of a few would have been a merciful expedient for the salvation of a whole people. If it produced not this happy effect, the fault was not in God, but in them.]
Thus justifiable in every view was this conduct of Elijah. Let us then proceed to shew,
How it may be improved—
As the dispensation appears dark, it may be proper to throw some further light upon it: and, when our views of it are rectified, it will afford us some valuable lessons. We will improve the subject therefore,
In a way of caution—
[We must not imagine that we are at liberty to act in all things as the prophets did, or even as our blessed Lord himself did. Their peculiar office gave them an authority, which we are not called to exercise. This thought is of great importance; for, if we do not advert to it, we may think ourselves justified in a line of conduct which is most opposite to the path of duty. The Apostles themselves materially erred in this very way. They supposed that this conduct of Elijah afforded a proper precedent for them; and therefore when the inhabitants of a Samaritan village refused to receive them, they proposed to our Lord, “Wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elias did?” But our Lord said, “Ye know not what spirit ye are of: for the Son of Man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them [Note: Luk_9:53-56.].” Here our Lord rectifies their apprehensions. They were under the influence of a vindictive spirit, and were wanting to make Jehovah the avenger of their wrongs. But this was very different from the spirit of Elijah, and quite contrary both to the precepts and example of Christ. Christ was injuriously treated by all ranks and orders of men, yet did he never exert his power to destroy his enemies: on the contrary, he sought with invincible patience to convert and save them. On one occasion indeed he did, when an armed band came to apprehend him, strike them all backward with a word [Note: Joh_18:6.]; but he only struck them down; he did not strike them dead, though he could as easily have done the one as the other: his design was to bring this history to their remembrance, and to shew them that they were fighting against God. On other occasions, he wept over the most inveterate of his enemies, and at last laid down his life for them; and, after his resurrection, commanded that the very first offers of salvation should be made to them. This then is the manner in which we are to act. We must never seek to avenge ourselves; but must rather bless them that curse us, and do good to them that despitefully use us, and persecute us. We may indeed heap coals of fire upon their heads; but it must be, to melt them into love [Note: Rom_12:20-21.]. The rule that is universally established for the regulation of our conduct, is this; “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”]
In a way of instruction—
[Two things only will we notice under this head; namely, The danger of persecuting the saints of God; and, The security of all who trust in God.
Behold one party slain by fire from heaven; and soon after, another party, of fifty each! What has called forth these signal acts of vengeance? They sought to lay hands on a faithful servant of the Lord. We do not indeed expect that all persecutors will be visited with the like judgments: but we know what God hath spoken respecting them; “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.” We know also what our blessed Saviour has said; “It were better that a millstone were hanged about their necks, and that they were cast into the depths of the sea, than that they should offend one of his little ones.” And would it not have been better for those hundred soldiers and their captains to have been thus treated? Verily, if they had been so treated for refusing to persecute a servant of the Lord, we would have congratulated them on the occasion, as martyrs in the cause of God. Or even if they had been so treated on other accounts, still they would at least not have perished under such a load of guilt as now lay upon them. People now make a mock at religion, and turn the very names by which God designates his people into terms of reproach; and, if they were not restrained by human laws, would proceed to all the cruelties that have been practised in former times: but let it be remembered, that Christ himself is wounded in the person of his saints: as he said once to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” so now he regards his people’s cause as his own, and will surely recompense into the bosoms of their enemies whatsoever shall be said or done against them. “Precious in his sight is the blood of his saints.” Remember this, ye who revile and persecute the children of God: they may appear weak, and unable to avenge themselves; but “their Redeemer is mighty,” and will in due time execute the fulness of his wrath upon his enemies, precisely as he did in the days of old [Note: 2Ch_36:15-16.].
On the other hand, he will protect his people, as he did this distinguished prophet. He will be “as a wall of fire round about, and the glory in the midst of them.” Most unanswerable is that question, “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” If God be for them, who can be against them? “Let the weak then say, I am strong:” let them say with David, “Though an host should encamp against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid.” In the hands of our adorable Lord we are safe, “nor can any pluck us out of them.” We should not, it is true, court persecution: but if it come for the Lord’s sake, we may expect to have “strength given us according to our day,” and to be made “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”]