Melakhim Bet Chapter 1
Moav rebels against Israel following the death of Ahav; however, we will not learn more about the details of the uprising until later. Ahazya, son of Ahav, falls from the attic of his residence and sustains serious injuries. He sends messengers to Baal Zevuv, god of Eqron, to inquire whether he will survive his accident or not. Eliyahu the prophet is sent by Hashem to intercept Ahazya’s emissaries and sends them back to Ahazya with a harrowing message.
Ahazya’s behavior in seeking guidance from a foreign god implies that there is no God in Israel, and is the ultimate desecration of Hashem’s name; therefore, he will not recover from his illness and will die imminently. From the content of the communication and the messengers’ description of the appearance of the man who confronted them, Ahazya correctly infers that it was Eliyahu, and he sends a company of fifty troops to apprehend and probably kill the prophet.
The first group of soldiers approach Eliyahu and order him to surrender to them by the command of the king; instead, a fire descends from heaven and consumes Ahazya’s men. Undeterred, Ahazya sends a second set of troops who are even more aggressive and meet the same fate. When a third delegation arrives, the leader begs Eliyahu to have mercy on their souls and not to destroy them.
Eliyahu receives a command from Hashem not to fear these men but to accompany them to the bedside of their master. In the presence of Ahazya, Eliyahu once again announces the Divine decree that the king will die for having cast aside the God of Israel and gone in search of guidance from foreign deities. Ahazya indeed perishes and, since he had no sons, his brother, Yehoram, reigns in his stead.
There are a couple of key points worth highlighting in this chapter. Ahazya has certainly departed even more from the fold of Israel than his father did. While Ahav participated in idol worship and endorsed it, at a fundamental level he acknowledged Hashem and valued his Jewish identity. Ahazya has abandoned that identification and awareness entirely, as evidenced by his dispatch of messengers to Eqron to inquire about his fate. This loss of any regard for the God of Israel cost Ahazya his kingdom.
Eliyahu Hanavi’s interactions with the messengers who approach him are quite instructive. On the surface, his reaction of incinerating them with heavenly fire seems excessive. However, when we consider the interactions more deeply, we can understand Eliyahu’s motives more clearly. There is a “contest” here between the word of Hashem as declared by Eliyahu, His messenger, and the “word of the king” as declared by his messengers.
Ahazya’s attempt to seize and execute Eliyahu was prompted by his desire to demonstrate that he could extinguish the Divine pronouncement by eliminating its spokesperson. The messengers intercepted by Eliyahu made the correct decision, forsaking their role as agents of the human king and embracing the mission of conveying Hashem’s word. The two groups of soldiers, by contrast, refer to Eliyahu as the “man of God” yet invoke the supreme authority of Ahazya, a mere human king who intends to thwart the Almighty’s designs. In fact, the second group is even more brazen in its language than the first (although they keep their distance, perhaps hoping to be “out of range” of Eliyahu’s miraculous firebombs), insisting that Eliyahu rush and conveying Ahazya’s demands in the language of prophecy – “so says the king” – as if setting him equal to God. This indicates that they have failed to take the implications of the first group’s demise to heart.
Although these officers and troops were just “following orders”, they were morally responsible for their behavior. In taking the “wrong side” in this dispute, they suffer the consequences of attempting to undermine God’s word, learning that Hashem’s will and his messenger cannot be overcome by human resistance, artifice or attack. Only the last delegation, which accepts the Divine authority of Eliyahu’s position and the inviolable nature of God’s word, is spared – they had the wisdom and humility to appreciate that human might was powerless against Hashem, and that all they could do was serve as agents to support Eliyahu and enable him to proclaim his message to the king.