Christian Churches of God
Trouble in Israel and Judah
(Edition 1.0 20080707-20080707)
For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach them and without the law, but in their distress they sought God and He was found by them. This paper has been adapted from chapters 114-117, Volume V of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
Trouble in Israel and Judah
We continue here from the paper A Kingdom Divided (No. CB104).
King Asa rebuilds the altar
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Azariah (son of Obed) and he went out to meet King Asa as he was returning from the battle.
"Listen to what else I have to say, King Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin", Azariah called out. "God is with you, and He will stay with you as long as you obey Him. Whenever you look for Him you will find him. If you disobey and forsake Him, He will forsake you. Without the Creator's help and protection, life can be uncertain, miserable and even worthless.
"Recall Israel's past. Whenever the nation turned from God, great trouble developed among the people. No one was safe at home or in the streets or fields; crops failed and disease increased. Neighbouring nations started wars. Even the priests couldn't help, because most of them forgot God's Laws. However, when the people repented and turned back to God, He was always ready to forgive and help them. God has told me to remind you to keep these things in mind and to remain strong by being loyal to God. If you do, your nation shall prosper and can depend on God for its protection" (2Chr. 15:1-7).
Asa was so encouraged by these words that as soon as he returned to Jerusalem he destroyed the idols in the land of Judah and Benjamin and the cities he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. He also rebuilt the altar of the Lord in front of the Temple.
Then he gathered all the people of Judah and Benjamin and the people from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon, who had settled among them. They had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the Lord God was with Asa (2Chr. 15:8-9).
They all came to Jerusalem in the Third month of the 15th year of Asa’s reign. Asa sent word over all Judah and Israel that the day would be observed at Jerusalem with special services and ceremonies. The occasion for this assembly may have been the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (cf. Lev. 23:15-21), which is observed in these times in late May or June by those who obey God's Law.
Seven hundred cattle and seven thousand sheep were sacrificed that day from the plunder they had captured in the battle. Then they entered into a covenant or contract to worship only the God of their fathers and agreed that anyone who refused to do this must die, whether old or young, man or woman. The people responded with loud cheers and trumpets and horns. They made it known to the king that they wanted to make a public promise to God that they would do their best to live by God's Laws, and that they were in favour of death to anyone who failed to obey.
The people were in earnest in this matter and they sought God and He was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side (2Chr. 15:10-15).
King Asa even removed his mother, Maacah, from her position as queen mother, because she had made an Asherah-idol. He cut down the idol and burned it. Although Asa did not remove idol temples in Israel his heart was fully committed to the Lord, all his life. He brought back treasures of gold and silver into the Temple and the articles that he and his father had dedicated. There was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of King Asa’s reign (2Chr. 15:16-19).
Asa's efforts to help Israel and Judah by turning to God and abolishing idolatry resulted in a period of peace and prosperity. That period probably would have lasted longer if Asa hadn't acted unwisely in a situation that developed between the two nations of Israel and Judah, in which the king of Judah looked for help in the wrong direction.
Jeroboam, former ruler of the ten tribes of Israel had died thirteen years before. He was succeeded by a son, Nadab, who became king in the second year of Asa’s reign. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father’s sin, which he had caused Israel to commit. He did nothing to remove idolatry from the nation (1Kgs. 15:25-26).
During a skirmish with the Philistines in the town of Gibbethon, Nadab was killed after only two years as king. He wasn't slain by Philistines, however. His death was planned by a man from the territory of Issachar, whose name was Baasha. He killed Nadab in the third year of King Asa of Judah and succeeded him as king (1Kgs. 15:27-28).
Baasha immediately killed all the descendants of King Jeroboam, so that not one of the royal family was left. This was the fulfillment of the prediction made by Ahijah the prophet to Jeroboam (1Kgs. 13:33-1Kgs. 14:16). His family line was wiped out and someone else took over the rulership. There was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel throughout their reigns (1Kgs. 15:28-32).
In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha, son of Ahijah became king of all Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned 24 years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam and his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit (1Kgs. 15:33-34).
Baasha went up against Judah and fortified a small town called Ramah. His intention was to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the territory of King Asa (1Kgs. 15:17; 2Chr. 16:1).
When Asa was informed of what Israel was doing he took all the gold and silver that was left in the treasuries of the Temple and palace and sent them off with his officials to Damascus. There they were delivered to Ben-hadad, king of Syria, along with a message.
"Friendly greetings from Asa, king of Judah," the message read. "Let there be a treaty between you and me as there was between your father and my father. I am sending you a gift of silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha, King of Israel, so that he will leave me alone."
Ben-hadad agreed and he sent his armies against some of the cities of Israel. Asa was relieved and pleased to receive a report that several towns in the territory of Naphtali had been captured by Syrian troops. When Baasha received word of the attack he stopped building the city of Ramah and returned to Tirzah (1Kgs. 15:18-21; 2Chr. 16:2-5).
Asa then decreed that all able-bodied men should go to Ramah to help dismantle and transport the stone and timber. The king used these materials to build the towns of Geba and Mizpah in the territory of Benjamin (1Kgs. 15:22; 2Chr. 16:6).
A message of condemnation from the Lord was delivered to King Baasha by a prophet named Jehu to tell him what his and his family's future would be.
“I lifted you out of the dust,” the messenger said, “to make you king of my people Israel; but you have walked in the evil paths of Jeroboam. Because you have lived sinfully and ruled carelessly, causing your people to sin, your fate will shortly become the same as that of Jeroboam. Those of your family who die in the city will be eaten by dogs, and those who die in the fields will be eaten by the birds.”
The message was sent to Baasha and his family because he had angered God by all his evil deeds. His life came to an end soon after Jehu's visit. The king was buried in Tirzah after twenty-three years of incapable rule (1Kgs. 16:1-7).
Baasha's son, Elah, became the next ruler, which was during the 26th year of King Asa’s reign. He lived as his father had lived. Only two years later, while he was getting drunk in the home of Arza, he was slain by a man named Zimri, who had charge of half the royal chariot troops. Having killed the king, Zimri took command of Tirzah and declared himself to be the new king of Israel. Then he had all of Elah's family put to death, leaving not a single male child. So Jehu's prophecy to Baasha was fulfilled (1Kgs. 16:8-14).
At this time the army of Israel was engaged in attacking the Philistine city of Gibbethon. When they heard that Zimri had killed the king, they decided that the commander of the army, Omri, should be the next leader of the ten tribes. So Omri led the army of Gibbethon to Tirzah to besiege it instead.
When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the royal palace and set the palace on fire around him and he died in the flames. He too had sinned like Jeroboam; he had worshipped idols and had caused the people of Israel to sin with him (1Kgs. 16:15-20).
In the months that followed, the people of Israel were divided into two parts as to who should be their next ruler. One half was in favour of Omri, and the other half supported a man named Tibni; but Tibni died, and Omri became king (1Kgs. 16:21-23). The Bible does not explain whether Tibni died as a result of a struggle to rule or from natural causes.
So Omri became king of Israel in the 31st year of Asa, king of Judah. He bought the hill of Samaria and built a city there and called it Samaria after the former owner whose name was Shemer.
Perhaps Omri was used by God to start Samaria, although the king didn't purpose to carry out God's will. As other leaders did before him, he practised idolatry and encouraged his subjects to do likewise. He died twelve years after Zimri's death (1Kgs. 16:23-28).
Ahab, a son of Omri, became the next ruler of the ten tribes of Israel. Unfortunately for the people, his leadership was no better than that of the kings who had gone before him. In fact, he did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than all those before him. Not only did he commit the sins of Jeroboam, but he also married a Canaanite woman whose name was Jezebel. She was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the nearby coastal nation of Zidon. Eventually, Ahab began to serve and worship the pagan god Baal (1Kgs. 16:29-31).
A few years before Ahab's time as ruler of Israel, King Asa of Judah had hired King Ben-hadad of Damascus to help him against King Baasha of Israel (2Chr. 16:1-6).
About this time a prophet named Hanani came to King Asa and said to him, "Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the King of Syria has escaped you". "Remember what happened to the Cushites and Libyans and their vast army with all of their chariots and calvary-men? You relied on God and He delivered them into your hands. God is always willing and able to help those who obey Him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will continue to have wars."
Asa was furious at Hanani because of what he said, so he put him in jail. At that time, he oppressed all the people, in that he wasn't always fair to them. In his last years he became seriously diseased in his feet but he did not pray to God for relief and healing of this ailment. Instead, he put his total trust in doctors.
Asa died after ruling Judah for forty-one years, and was buried with great honours in Jerusalem after a very special funeral (2Chr. 16:7-14).
Ahab went on to build a temple and an altar for Baal in Samaria. Then he made other idols and all this did more to anger the God of Israel than any of the other kings of Israel. Samaria had become the capital of idolatry in Israel (1Kgs. 16:29-33).
Jezebel's hatred for those who followed God was so intense that she sent soldiers to kill those men who were known to be true prophets. Ahab didn't object even to this wholesale murder. Oddly enough, his chief steward, Obadiah, somehow managed to remain faithful to God despite his surroundings.
Quite possibly he was meant to be in his high position so that he might help others who were serving God. For one thing, he succeeded in saving the lives of a hundred prophets by hiding them in caves in nearby mountains and sending them food and water to live on (1Kgs. 18:3-4).
One day a prophet named Elijah came to speak to the king. Elijah was a Tishbite from Gilead. He was sent to oppose Baal worship and those who engaged in it.
"I have come to warn you that because of the sinfulness of this nation's people, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word" (1Kgs. 17:1)
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah and he was told to go eastward and hide near a certain brook that flowed into the Jordan River. He was informed that he should drink from the brook and eat what the ravens brought to him (vv. 2-4). God sent His prophet away so that the people would be without His word and blessings.
So Elijah did as the Lord told him and camped beside the brook. The ravens brought him bread and meat every morning and evening and he drank from the brook (vv. 5-6). So we see that Elijah was miraculously fed by God just like Israel in the desert in the time of Moses. Meanwhile, Israel in the Promised Land was going hungry.
After a while the brook dried up because there was no rainfall anywhere in the land. Then the Lord instructed the prophet to go to the town of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. There he was to find a certain widow who was to supply him with food.
As he arrived at the gates of the city of Zarephath, he saw a widow gathering sticks and he asked her for a cup of water. As she was going to get it Elijah asked for some bread too (vv. 7-11).
"Sir, I don't have any bread," she told him. "All I have is a handful of flour and a little oil in a bottle. When you first spoke to me, I was looking for a few sticks with which to build a fire and bake the oil and flour into a bit of bread. That will be the last food my son and I shall eat. Then we will starve to death."
"You and your son won't starve," Elijah said. "Go ahead and cook that last meal but bake a little loaf of bread for me first. Afterwards there will be enough food for you and your son. The God of Israel has told me that there will always be flour and oil left in your containers until God sends rain and the crops grow again."
So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her son continued to eat from her supply of flour and oil as long as it was needed.
The prophet's words proved true during the months that followed. Regardless of how much oil or flour the widow used there was always plenty left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised (vv. 12-16).
During that time, the widow's young son became seriously ill and he died, leaving his mother grief-stricken. To add to her misery, she became somewhat hurt because she felt that Elijah had something to do with her son's death.
“O man of God,” she cried, "did you come to seek out my past sins and tell God about them so that He would punish me by taking away my son?"
"Give me the boy," Elijah said to her. And he took the boy’s body from her and carried it upstairs to his room on top of the house, where he had lived since coming to Zarephath. There he placed the boy on his bed, and then cried out to the Lord.
"O Lord my God, why have you killed the son of this widow with whom I’m staying?” (vv. 17-21).
Elijah stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord. “O Lord my God, please let this child’s spirit return to him.”
After a while the boy began to breathe and move. God had answered the prophet's prayer and had brought life back into the child! Then Elijah took the boy back downstairs to the weeping mother.
"Your son lives again, thanks to God's great mercy," Elijah said to the widow.
She told Elijah that the miracle proved to her that he was a man God had sent for a good purpose, and that whatever he says is from the Lord (vv. 22-24).
Elijah continued to hide in the woman's home. However, in the third year, God instructed him to go to King Ahab, and He would send rain on the land.
By this time conditions had become very severe throughout the land (1Kgs. 18:1-2).
In one of many attempts to find grass to save his horses, mules and donkeys, Ahab made a two-party search for springs around Samaria. He headed one group to cover a certain area. Obadiah, his chief steward, headed another group to go through a different region (vv. 3-6).
As Obadiah was walking along, Elijah met him. Obadiah bowed low before the prophet, whom he greatly respected as a follower of God.
"Is that really you, Elijah?" Obadiah asked.
"I am Elijah," the prophet answered. “Go tell your master that I am here."
Obadiah then said, "If I told Ahab you are here it could mean my death. He has been searching Israel and even other nations for you for three years, to tell you to ask God to send rain. Even though he needs you, he could be in the mood to kill you because you have remained hidden from him. But God would take you away from here before you could be harmed. If I say you are here and Ahab finds you aren't, he'll take my life. Perhaps you heard how Ahab's wife caused the death of many of God's prophets, some of whom I was able to rescue. If he were angered, Ahab wouldn't hesitate to follow his wife's example".
But Elijah said, “I swear by the Lord God of the armies of heaven, in whose presence I stand, that I will present myself to the king today” (vv. 7-15).
Obadiah then went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet him.
"So it's you at last!" the king said when he saw Elijah. "You've given Israel plenty of trouble these last three years!" (vv. 16-17).
"You accuse me of troubling Israel?" Elijah asked. "You know I have done nothing to hurt this nation. But you have, and so have the rulers in your family before you. You have caused Israel untold harm by forsaking God and turning to pagan idols and deities. Now bring all the people of Israel to Mount Carmel, with all 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel”.
So Ahab summoned all the people and the prophets to Mount Carmel (vv. 17-20).
Then Elijah talked to them, "How long will it take you people to make up your minds about whom to follow? If you choose God, then follow Him completely and forget about Baal and any other idol. If you choose Baal, then be loyal to him and don't try to mix any of God's Laws into that pagan religion. Most of you seem to be trying to worship both God and Baal."
Then Elijah spoke again, "Among the thousands assembled here, I am the only prophet of God who is left. I am somewhat outnumbered by the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal” (vv. 21-22).
“Now bring two young bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without putting any fire under the wood. I will prepare the other young bull and lay it on the wood of the Lord’s altar, with no fire under it. Then pray to your god and I will pray to my God, and the god who answers by sending fire to light the wood is the True God.”
And all the people agreed to this test (vv. 23-24).
Then Elijah turned to the prophets of Baal and told them to be the first to choose one of the bulls and prepare it and call on their god. Again he told them not to put any fire under the wood.
So they prepared the bull, placed it on the altar and called to Baal all morning, but there was no reply. Then they danced around their altar chanting, singing and yelling as they went.
Eventually Elijah started mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder than that to catch the attention of your god. Perhaps he is away on a trip or asleep.”
So they shouted louder, and as was their custom, cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. Still nothing happened. They raved all afternoon until it was time for the evening sacrifice; but there was still no answer from Baal (vv. 25-29).
Then Elijah called the people over and they watched as he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down.
He took twelve stones to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, and used the stones to rebuild the Lord’s altar. Then he dug a trench around the altar and piled wood on the altar. He then cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. People were told to fill four large jars with water and to pour it on the offering and on the wood.
After they had done this he told them to do it again, and they did. Then he told them to do it a third time, and they did. The water ran off the altar and filled the trench (vv. 30-35).
At the time of sacrifice Elijah stepped forward and prayed, "God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Israel, make it known today through your great power, that you are the one and only real God in Israel. Let it be known to these people that I am your servant, through whom you have caused these matters to be brought about here at Mount Carmel. Hear and answer this prayer, Lord, so that those here will be convinced that there is no God like you. Cause them to realize the foolishness of looking to anyone or anything but you for their lives and welfare!"
Elijah said nothing more. He didn't scream, dance, leap, roll in the dirt or slash himself. Instead, he stepped back from the altar and the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench (vv. 36-38).
When the people saw this they fell to the ground, shouting that God was the only God, and that they had sinned in having anything to do with idols.
Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don't let any one escape!"
They seized them and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered them there (vv. 39-40).
Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go and eat and drink for there is a sound of heavy rain coming.” And Ahab did just that. Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel bent down on the ground and put his face between his knees. Now that the people had confessed their sin and acclaimed the true God, Elijah prayed to God to lift the covenant curse and bring the rain.
Shortly he asked his helper to go and look towards the sea. The man returned a little later to report that there was nothing there.
Seven times Elijah said, "Go look again". The seventh time the servant reported that there was a small cloud rising from the sea.
The number seven denotes spiritual perfection. Here it possibly represents the period of return to God in rest and return to His Law.
"Go to King Ahab and tell him that rain will fall very soon," Elijah instructed his helper. "Tell him that he would be wise to get across the plain now in his chariot before the rain stops him" (vv. 41-44).
The cloud rose and expanded and Elijah knew God was about to answer his request. The sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose and heavy rain came down and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.
The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel (vv. 45-46).
Then Ahab told his wife everything that Elijah had done. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah informing him that she intended to see him dead and that she hoped her gods would kill her if she failed (1Kgs. 19:1-2).
Elijah was so afraid that he ran for his life, hoping to get out of the nation of Israel and reach safety in the nation of Judah. His servant, the man who had reported seeing the little cloud from Mt. Carmel, had come with him to Jezreel, and wanted to stay with him in this time of great danger. When they came to Beersheba, Elijah left his servant there. He came to a broom tree and sat under it and prayed that he might die there (vv. 3-4).
"I have had enough Lord,” he said. “Let me die!"
The prophet was so tired that he fell asleep. Some time later an angel touched him and told him to get up and eat.
He looked around and was surprised to see a cake of bread baked over a bed of hot coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again.
Once more, the angel touched him. This was second time he was told that he should eat plenty because he would need strength for the long distance he intended to cover (vv. 5-7). So he got up and ate and drank.
Afterward the prophet continued travelling and it took forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb. There he found a cave where he spent the night. While he was resting there, Elijah clearly heard a voice ask:
"Why have you come here, Elijah?" (vv. 8-9).
Elijah replied, "I have sadly observed how the Israelites have broken your covenant that was made here at Mt. Sinai. They have forsaken God's altars for those of pagan gods. They have slain the true prophets. As far as I know, I am the only one left, and I won't have much longer to live if my enemies find me. I am dismayed by these events. I have been ambitious for God, but now I am doubtful that I did anything worthwhile" (v. 10).
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there the Lord passed by him and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. There was such a blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After that there was an earthquake, then there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire Elijah heard a still small voice (a whisper) and he pulled the cloak over his face and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
God was not in a mighty wind or in the earthquake, nor in the fire. He was in a still small voice. That voice has worked with Israel and the nations for thousands of years.
Then a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (vv. 11-13).
He replied again,“I have been working very hard for the Lord God, but the Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and killed all of your prophets except me. Now they are trying to kill me too.”
Then the Lord said, “Go back by the desert road to Damascus, and when you arrive, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shapat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as my prophet. Anyone who escapes from Hazael shall be killed by Jehu, and those who escape from Jehu will be killed by Elisha! And I reserve 7,000 men in Israel who have never bowed to Baal nor kissed him!” (vv. 14-18).
We see here that for His purpose God had reserved 7000 who had not worshipped Baal while Elijah had thought he was the only one left.
So Elijah went and found Elisha who was ploughing a field with eleven other teams ahead of him. He was at the end of the line with the last team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cape across his shoulders and walked away again.
When a prophet tosses his cape (mantle) over another man, it means that the man has been chosen to become another prophet.
Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah.
"If God can use me, I'm willing to go with you this very hour," Elisha told Elijah. "But first let me say good-bye to my parents."
Elijah said, “Go back! Why all the excitement?”
So Elisha went back and took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the people and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his assistant (1Kg 19:19-21).
We continue this story in the paper Israel Fights Against Syria (No. CB143).