Summary: We cannot afford to be indifferent about God...there are consequences in this life and in the life-to-come.
When I served with the Army’s Air Defense Artillery--both as an instructor at their Branch School, and as a Brigade Chaplain--I used to joke about my role in Air Defense by offering to arrange for fire from Heaven! So you might say this is a fire-and-brimstone sermon!
King Ahaziah assumed the throne in 851 BC, after the death of his father Ahab. Moab saw this shift of power as an opportunity to rebel against Israel. The new king was young and untried. Archeologists discovered the famous Moabite Stone in 1868; it tells the story of their uprising, and is now housed at the Louvre. While mulling over his options, Ahaziah was seriously injured in a fall; perhaps internal bleeding complicated his recovery. Rather than pray to God, he foolishly sought the council of pagans, along with the help of Baal-zebub, literally the “lord of the flies.” Some scholars think that the name of this deity was really Baal-zebul, “lord of the high place” but that the sarcastic author of II Kings changed it in contempt.
Trusting idols over God was hardly out of character for a descendant of Ahab. Such behavior shows that the king did not regard Jehovah as the only deity. He was playing with fire. Elijah the prophet learns of this, and pronounces a message of judgment, that for his rejection of God the king will certainly die. Ahaziah gets an answer all right, but not from the source he sought. Why did he go elsewhere?, Elijah asks. “Is it because there is no God in Israel?” We might ask the same question when we see evil abound. Is there no God in America? To follow in the way of idols--substitutes for God--only leads to moral decay and death.
Where do we go when we’re in trouble? Who do we follow? People become like that which they serve. They reflect their priorities. If we follow anyone or anything other than God, our end will be that of destruction. This incident is a call for us to consider what’s most important in our lives, and where God fits in. God is not to be trifled with or treated lightly; we ignore Him at our peril. There are consequences for rejecting God’s will in this life…and beyond death’s door.
Elijah’s message falls on deaf ears. Rather than repenting, the king sends an army to capture Elijah; Ahaziah thinks he can control and intimidate God’s prophet, but he is sorely mistaken. Once again Elijah calls for fire from Heaven…this time, not to consume a sacrifice, but to destroy the army of a wicked king. Elijah cries out: “If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven!” The Hebrew word for man is ish and the word for fire is esh. The prophet’s response was a play on words which his audience didn’t much enjoy; they were incinerated. This occurs twice, a powerful demonstration of wrath. Hebrews 10:31 warns, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Ahaziah, you’re looking for a divine display? You’ll have one!
This was hardly the only time in history where a military commander was given orders for a mission certain to fail. We can appreciate the desperation of the third company commander who clearly sees the doom awaiting him and his men. He got the point though Ahaziah didn’t! Wrath was about to be issued in triplicate! The captain pleads with Elijah to spare him and his men. He sees clearly what the king does not--that Elijah serves a higher power and authority than the king. Because of his humility (and the OK given by an angel of the Lord’s host), Elijah goes to see the king…but the balance of power has clearly shifted here. Elijah was to be handled roughly…he ends up being handled gingerly. Elijah gives the king the word of the Lord, and God has the last word; the unfit king dies. He was on the throne a mere 2 years.
People joke about God; they speak irreverently about Him, and abuse His Name. Others ignore God; they treat Him with indifference, in the vain hope that they won’t have to answer for their apathy. Still others go their own way, denying that there is a God, which means no accountability. They’re counting on it. They will be more than embarrassed on the Day of Reckoning. Our sovereign God is a consuming fire, One to be feared. We need to wake up from our lethargy and respond to the One who warrants our reverence, awe and devotion.
Atheists and agnostics claim they can’t find God…they can’t for the same reason robbers can’t find a policeman. The rebellion of unbelief gives people an excuse to live lawlessly, however they please. Aldous Huxley admitted, “I had motives for not wanting the world to have meaning…the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation.” If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. All we have are personal preferences…in other words, anything goes. Christian scholar Alistair McGrath notes, “It’s easy to argue that atheism is better than Christianity: you only need to ignore the good side of Christianity and the bad side of atheism.”