The Last Days of David--Prosperity of Israel Under Solomon--Executions of Adonijah, Joab and Shimei--Solomon's Dream--His First Court Judgment--Building of the Temple-- Other Construction Work--The Visit of the Queen of Sheba-- Her Amazement at the Luxury of Solomon's Court and State Dinners--Dedication of the Temple--Solomons Fall From Grace Through Women--The Radical Leader Jeroboam--Solomon's Death--Rehoboam's Method in Suppressing Discontent-- The Revolution--The Division into Two Kingdoms--Bloody Days in Israel--King Ahab and His Terrible Queen--Literary Splendour of the Narrative--Appearance of the Prophet Elijah-- The Long Drought--The Contest with the Prophets of Baal-- The Rain--Jezebel's Threat and Elijah's Flight--His Despair and his Visions--Naboth and His Vineyard--The Espionage Act--Ahab Confronted with Elijah--His Fate Foretold--His Repentance--Johoshaphat, King of Judah--His Alliance with Ahab--The Plan for War on Syria--Gathering of the Soothsayers--The Holy Prophet Micaiah--Defeat and Death of Ahab--The Last Hours of Elijah--His Prophecy to King Ahaziah--The Two Captains and Their Disastrous Mission-- Elijah and Elisha--The Last Walk Together--The Chariot of Fire--The Falling Mantle--Character of Elijah.
The last days of David are depressing to contemplate; the old lion was sick and helpless and at the mercy of women. Rebellions and fighting brought the smell of blood even into the death-chamber, and the chilly invalid shuddered with something more than the cold. In sleepless meditation, he must often have remembered the days of his brilliant youth, his triumph over Goliath, the long talks and walks with Jonathan, and the hour when he was anointed king. If he could only have looked into the future, he would have been comforted; for then he would have known that greater than all his mighty deeds of war, more splendid than all his royal splendour, were his magnificent poems. David the fighter and David the statesman have a sincere place in history; far above them is David the Poet.
Then sat Solomon upon the throne of David his father; and his kingdom was established greatly.
Israel reached its highest point under the leadership of the Wise King; he inherited his father's
common sense and literary genius. But he was forced to begin his reign by killing his brother. Among David's sons, Solomon had a monopoly of wisdom; Adonijah appears to have been a preposterous fool. No sooner had he been forgiven for attempting a coup d'état, than he came to Bathsheba and asked that she would beg Solomon to give him Abishag the Shunammite--who had been the old king's nurse--in marriage. Solomon kept the fifth commandment; when his mother entered the royal apartment, the young king rose, bowed down to her, and had a seat brought for her at the right hand of the throne; thus letting the courtiers have an example in etiquette. She kept her word to Adonijah, and in all seriousness put the fatal petition. Perhaps she knew exactly what would happen.
Solomon did not often lose his temper; but this time he flew into a wild rage, and said fiercely, Why not give Adonijah the kingdom also? and he ordered the instant death of the presumptous prince. The mighty man Benaiah was Executioner; and he dispatched Adonijah with his own hand. Then it was the turn of old General Joab, who for the first time in his life, was afraid, and fled to the altar for sanctuary--like many men, having recourse to the church only when in extreme peril; it did him no good, for Benaiah slew him in the holy place. Shimei, who had cursed David, was informed that he could remain in safety so long as he stayed at home; but after awhile, his servants ran away, and
he pursued them. He was therefore executed by the efficient Benaiah. With these three enemies out of his path, Solomon's throne was firmly established. One night Solomon dreamed that the Lord God appeared to him, and asked him to name the thing he most desired, and Solomon said,
Thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in....
Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great people?
We cannot help remembering the decision of Paris, and its consequences. He passed by wisdom to get the fairest woman for his wife, who brought general woe in her train; whereas Solomon chose wisdom, and was rewarded with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines--who also brought disaster.
In his dream Solomon heard the Voice saying that because he had asked for wisdom rather than long life, riches, revenge or pleasure, he should become not only the wisest among the sons of men, but that his kingdom should be of unparalled splendour, so long as he kept the true faith.
Shortly after waking, Solomon had occasion to try his judicial powers. Two women came before him, with one baby, of whom each claimed to be the mother. After listening carefully to what both had to say, the king ordered a sword to be brought, and
gravely proposed to divide the child into two equal portions, so that each woman might have her fair share. To one this seemed agreeable; but the other cried out: "Give her the child!" And Solomon said that it was clear who was the real mother; and she departed in peace, with her baby in her arms.
Solomon made alliances with Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and with Hiram, king of Tyre, his father's friend and admirer. These were the days of peace and prosperity, two things usually associated in fact.
Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry......
And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, ail the days of Solomon.
King David had planned to build a house for God; but he was forbidden to do so, because he had been a man of blood.
Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build an house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight.
Behold, a son shall be born to thee, who shall be a man of rest. . . .
He shall build an house for my name.
David reluctantly but obediently relinquished his purpose; but he felt that he ought to make some necessary preparations for the structure.
Solomon my son is young and tender, and the house that is to be builded for the Lord must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries; I will therefore now make
preparation for it. So David prepared abundantly before his death.
Then he sent for the crown prince, and gave him this solemn and affectionate admonition:
And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found of thee: but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever.
Take heed now; for the Lord hath chosen thee to build an house for the sanctuary: be strong, and do it.
David left Solomon the architect's plans for the building, so the young king could begin work without delay upon the temple designed for the worship of the Lord. With the assistance of King Hiram, who sent lumber floating down in rafts along the coast, and furnished skilled carpenters, the edifice was completed in seven years. It was ninety feet long, thirty feet wide, and forty-five feet high. Solomon was an enthusiast in construction work; it took thirteen years to build his palace, and in addition he built a stately Court House, panelled in cedar, and a fine palace for his Egyptian wife. Down on the shore of the Red Sea, he constructed a Royal Navy, with expert ship-builders furnished by King Hiram.
When the holy temple was complete, it was dedicated with solemn and appropriate exercises, Solomon making a prayer in the presence of the whole
congregation; it was a long and earnest petition for God's mercy toward his people. It is interesting to see that the same spiritual conception of God which had been the characteristic idea of the Hebrew religion since the days of Abraham, was clearly set forth in this prayer, so that the people might not be led into any notion of idol worship:
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee: how much less this house that I have builded?
The Queen of Sheba, a country far to the South, had heard of the wisdom of Solomon, and came with a list of difficult questions, to discover if the reports of his sagacity were accurate. I wish I knew what was on this examination paper; all we know is that Solomon passed it with errorless ease.
The Queen came like a queen, with a long train of courtiers and attendants, with many camels bearing spices and gold and precious stones, presumably to make an indelible impression on the learned king; but when she saw the way things were done in Jerusalem, she felt like a country girl; "there was no more spirit in her." She confessed that she had not believed what she had heard of Solomon and his regal splendour, and therefore came to see for herself; but the half had not been told. Evidently the state dinner that Solomon arranged in her honour exceeded in luxury anything she had ever seen or heard of. Women naturally love such things; she went into a rhapsody of praise. She gave to the
king whole fortunes in gold and precious stones; and in return Solomon gave her everything she asked for, "beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty." I particularly like that last phrase.
The contemptuous reference to silver in the following verses is perhaps meant as a climax in the description of the grandiose court.
And all king Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver: it was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon.
For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks. . . .
And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars made he to be as the sycomore trees that are in the vale, for abundance.
All this was too good to last. Things began to go wrong. Cherchez la femme. Solomon's curiosity in women led him into many marriages with the strange daughters of Paganism, and as he grew old and more easily flattered, these women turned away his heart from the God of Israel. The other Hebrew kings nearly all remind us of David by contrast; although he was not impeccable in conduct, that same splendid loyalty which made him true to Saul and to Jonathan, showed itself most notably in his fidelity to Jehovah. He never once faltered in his religion.
This cannot be said of Solomon. The wisest man in history was changed into a fool by women, just
as the strongest man had been. He not only was an apostate, he worshipped the gods that of all false gods were particularly abominable.
At this moment appears the sinister figure of Jeroboam, the son of Nabat. He was a mighty man of valour, clever and ambitious, trusted by Solomon. One day while walking in the fields outside Jerusalem, he encountered the prophet Ahijah; the holy man took a new garment, tore it into twelve pieces, and gave ten to Jeroboam, signifying that Israel was to be separated, and that Jeroboam should reign over ten tribes. He also gave the young gentleman much good advice. Jeroboam took the cloths, and rejected the counsel. Solomon heard of the favour shown to his officer, and he sought to kill him. But Jeroboam fled into Egypt, and remained in exile until the death of the king.
After forty years of undisturbed rule, Solomon died, and his son Rehoboam succeeded. As soon as the news reached Jeroboam, he came to the young king with a huge company, at Shechem, and demanded certain concessions, apparently submitting a bill of rights on behalf of the people. Rehoboam invited them to return in three days, and they would receive an answer. Then he asked the old statesmen who had sat in committee with Solomon, what he had better do. They wisely suggested a conciliatory attitude, for they knew sedition was in the air; but a group of young sycophants took the opposite view. They advised him to put on the manner of
imperial arrogance, and to say "My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins; my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions."
As a rule, young men are more severe and more intolerant than the old, that is, in dealing with others; it takes years of experience to bring tolerance and charity.
Rehoboam, like the fool he was, followed the advice of fools, and answered the people roughly. The result was a revolution which split the nation. Jeroboam became king of Israel, reigning over ten tribes; Rehoboam king of Judah, with the tiny tribe of Benjamin in addition.
The glory departed from the Hebrew people; from now on we have a succession of wars, and rebellions; the nation lost its soul in apostasy, as many nations have; false gods became the object of fashionable worship, and there began an era of wickedness and degeneration; for as is usually the case, decay in morals followed hard upon decay in religion. In human nature, the two are inseparably joined.
Was there ever a national history written with less patriotic bias? Instead of exalting the pride and splendour of the people, the historians demonstrate their folly and wickedness and shame. Perhaps the Hebrew chronicles are the only ones who have ever consistently put God and Truth above patriotism.
In spite of his remarkable ability and industry, Jeroboam's name will always be held in infamy, not because he directed the revolution against the son of Solomon, but because it was he who led the whole nation of Israel into the worship of false gods. The historians allude to him again and again as the head and front of this offending.
Two years before the death of Jeroboam, Asa became king of Judah; he was a righteous man, and was so devoted to the worship of Jehovah that he expelled his own mother from the throne, because she persisted in idolatry. Meanwhile Israel fell into confusion and violence; their kings were consistently bad. Elah had his throne in Tirzah, and spent most of his time getting drunk; while in this condition he was assassinated by Captain Zimri, who reigned seven days. The people did not like this man, and made Captain Omri king, who laid siege to the city of Tirzah. When Zimri saw there was no chance of escape, he made a funeral pyre of his own house, setting it on fire from within, and so perished. Omri had to fight for his throne with another pretender, whom he conquered in battle and slew, and so established his claim. He made Samaria the seat of the kingdom, did evil like his predecessors, and is chiefly remembered today for having been the father of Ahab.
Ahab was a scoundrel, who cynically married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon, and openly followed her religion in worshipping the Phoenician
god Baal. It is in the reign of this degenerate, when all Israel seemed given over to idolatry and sensuality, that a fiery evangelist appeared, Elijah the Tishbite.
General wickedness often arouses some great protestant. Virtue and holiness are never extinct, and the extreme of fashion brings its opposite. The zeal for God in the heart of Elijah was by the prevailing scepticism and immorality fanned into flame.
From now on the narrative is magnificent. We have the dramatic contrast between the evil of society and the stern voice of the prophet of the Lord. The story takes us through thrilling adventures, proceeding from climax to climax.
We know nothing whatever of the parents or ancestors of Elijah. He came from Tishbe in Gilead, and was strange and uncouth in appearance. He was a hairy man, clad in a rough mantle. No character in history is more romantic; there is about him an air of wild and solitary grandeur. There is immense dignity in his loneliness as he stands in the midst of the frivolous court, and harshly declares God's message to the selfish king. The very name Elijah means My God is Jehovah.
To Ahab he predicted a drought that might last for years; no rain, no dew shall fall until I give the word. Then he went into retirement by the brook Cherith near Jordan; he drank of the brook, and his food was brought to him by ravens, who were no wilder than he. But when the brook dried,
he went to a certain city, and there at the gate was a woman in widow's weeds gathering sticks. He asked her for food and water; but she was at the last extremity, and said she had left only a handful of meal and a little oil in a cruse; she was gathering sticks for a fire, that she and her son might eat their final repast, and then die. She spoke in a tone of dull despair; but Elijah told her to prepare the food for him first, and there would be left sufficient for her son. Something in the aspect of the stranger signified authority; her faith in his words was so powerful that she gave him the meal she had reserved for her son, and then, to her amazement, the provisions were miraculously renewed, and they fared well every day.
After a time her son fell into a desperate sickness, and soon gave no sign of life. She spoke bitterly to Elijah, asking him if he had come to take her boy away from her. But Elijah took the lad into the loft where he slept, placed his body against him, and the child revived. It was a happy woman who saw the prophet coming down the ladder, carrying a lively youngster in his arms. And the widow knew that Elijah was a man of God.
There was a drought for three years; King Ahab sent everywhere to find Elijah, that he might have his revenge; but the search was unsuccessful. Then one day the prophet appeared in the royal presence, and Ahab asked angrily, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" And he answered boldly, that it was not
he, but the king, that was responsible for the general suffering. As a matter of fact, Elijah was no more responsible for the drought than the thermometer is for the temperature. Every king had his prophet, as every man has his conscience; and the prophets of God were witnesses to the Moral Order in an age of corruption; just as Truth remains true in an age of falsehood.
Elijah then confidently proposed a competitive method to discover whether Baal or Jehovah was the real God. He suggested a public trial by fire, and human nature reveals itself in the cry of the people, "It is well spoken." The contemptible mob, never having any convictions of their own, and caring little for any religion so long as they had health and money, rejoiced in a debate of this nature, which, like almost all religious controversies, appeals only to the sporting instincts. I have seen oral duels on religion in Hyde Park, the crowd looking on exactly as they would at a prize-fight; being more interested in the hits of the antagonists than in the question discussed. It is from this point of view that many read debates between public men; one reason why controversies are generally profitless.
The priests of Baal prayed about their altar all day, mocked at intervals by Elijah, who cried Louder! Perhaps he is asleep, or away on a journey. Finally when the patience both of the priests and of the spectators was wearing thin, Elijah invited the people to inspect his altar. It is interesting to
note that he had many barrels of water poured on it, ostensibly to make the miracle more impressive. Down came the fire and devoured it all; the discomfited priests were slain by Elijah, as they now had no friends. And then, immediately after the revelation by fire came the revelation by rain. "The heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain." The long drought broke in a tempest; Ahab drove furiously in his chariot, and Elijah, in a tension of nervous strength after the excitement of the day, tightened his belt, and ran across country before the royal chariot all the way to the gates of Jezreel.
The water that the prophet ordered poured on the altar has given rise to an interesting theory, running far back in history, but unsuspected by Mark Twain, who made of it a humorous narrative. He describes, in the mouth of a profane old sea-captain, the true explanation of the miracle. "Twelve barrels of water? Petroleum, sir. PETROLEUM! That's what it was! . . . the country was full of it." The Talmud hints at this; and Sir Thomas Browne, in his Religio Medici (1642) gravely remarks,
For our endeavours are not only to combat with doubts, but always to dispute with the Devil: the villany of that Spirit takes a hint of Infidelity from our Studies, and by demonstrating a naturality in one way, makes us mistrust a miracle in another. . . . Again, having seen some experiments of Bitumen, and having read far more of Naptha, he whispered to my curiosity the fire of the Altar might be natural; and bid me
mistrust a miracle in Elias, when he entrenched the Altar round with Water; for that inflammable substance yields not easily unto Water, but flames in the Arms of its Antagonist.
Queen Jezebel was not present at the trial by fire; if she had been, we may be sure that she would never have allowed Elijah to slay her priests. When Ahab told her of the catastrophe, she was furious, and determined to kill her antagonist. But she made the mistake of sending a threatening message to the prophet, which gave him time to escape. He went into the wilderness and sat under a juniper tree, and for once his courage failed him, his spirit was broken; perhaps it was the reaction after his day of triumph. He asked for death, and for an answer received food--the best possible answer to such a request. The meals gave him sufficient strength for a forty days' fast in the wilderness; he reached Horeb, the Holy Mountain. There he went into a cave, but the Voice followed him, and he characteristically replied, "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."
He was invited to come out, and stand upon the mount. A mighty wind passed, then an earthquake, then a fire; but the Lord was not revealed this time, not even in the fire.
After these ragings of the elements, there came
a still, small voice--a divine whisper. Elijah wrapped up his face, and stood at attention. He was told to anoint certain kings, and also to anoint Elisha as prophet in his own place. The choosing of Elisha may have been a rebuke to Elijah for losing hope, yet it strengthened his heart with the thought that God's messengers would steadily continue the inspired work. But the most significant statement is at the last of this communication:
Yet have I left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.
Elijah thought, as so many zealous ones have thought, that he was alone; that the whole world was given over to evil; that he was necessary to the divine plan; and that after his death, God would not have a friend remaining in the whole world. But he was told that there were many who had not surrendered to error and darkness; many who were keeping the lamp alight. Reformers are surprised when they meet anyone who holds their opinions; but in the blackest ages of history there have always been a sufficient number who have kept the truth and passed it on. They are the salt of the earth.
There was a certain rich man named Naboth, who owned a magnificent vineyard, and it happened to be situated very near the royal palace at Jezreel. Every time King Ahab looked at this fine property, he broke the tenth commandment, and as he had broken the others, he felt no remorse; all he felt at
this time was earth-lust. The king was so eager that he spoke directly to Naboth, saying that he wanted the vineyard for a vegetable garden; he would give in exchange a better vineyard in another locality; or if Naboth preferred, he could receive payment in cold cash. This request was of course equivalent to a command.
Naboth, like some men in the twentieth century, was both rich and religious; he had kept the Mosaic law, being one of the seven thousand; and he was especially faithful to the fifth commandment. His audacity in answering the king is even more remarkable than his faith; for he said in a manner so uncompromising that it did not conceal his contempt, "God forbid that I should give you my fathers' land."
Ahab behaved like a child whose petition for candy has been denied; he went back to his palace, lay down on the bed, turned his face to the wall, and would not come to his meals. Jezebel hovered over him, purred like a tiger-cat, and told him to rise and be merry; for she would give him the vineyard of Naboth. As there are many wives who find it convenient not to ask their husbands where the money comes from, so Ahab did not ask the queen what method was in her mind. He awaited results, having a well-founded belief in the ability of his partner.
When women are bad, they are perhaps more thorough in evil than men; men are tormented by fears and scruples, but women are more interested in
things than in ideas, and go after what they want. Jezebel, like Lady Macbeth, feared the temporising and self-debating nature of her lord; she therefore took the matter in her own hands, and being as clever as she was unscrupulous, soon arranged everything to her satisfaction.
It is interesting to see that she had no difficulty in corrupting the courts; she hired two scoundrels to give false witness, and say that Naboth was unpatriotic; he had been heard to blaspheme God and the King. Any utterance against the state has been in all communities the unpardonable sin. Naboth was immediately condemned under the espionage law; mob sentiment was aroused, and the unfortunate man hustled out of the city gates and stoned to death. No doubt men, women, and children gladly assisted in this holiday performance.
When news was brought to the queen of the success of her plan, she told Ahab to go down and enjoy a walk in his new vineyard, because Naboth was no longer living. The king lost no time in going thither, but his pleasure in his new property was ruined by the presence of Elijah, who stood in the vineyard waiting for him. What a spoil-sport, what a kill-joy is Conscience! Ahab shook with both fear and rage, and said to the prophet, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" The grim, hairy Tishbite answered him sternly, "I have found thee." Then he prophesied that in the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs should also taste the
blood of the king standing before him; that Jezebel should be devoured by dogs near the wall of Jezreel.
Ahab, who lacked both courage and convictions, was smitten with terror; he rent his garments; he wore sackcloth; he fasted; and walked softly. Thus he obtained--one hardly sees why--a reprieve from immediate annihilation at the hand of Jehovah. But he was under sentence of death, and knew he was a doomed man. And every time he was caressed by Queen Jezebel, he must have seen in imagination the horrible dogs eating her body.
Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa, was king of Judah. He was a good man, and seems to have been particularly amiable. For three years there had been no war between Syria and Israel; then Jehoshaphat paid a visit in state to Ahab, and the two kings held a conference. Ahab fatuously desired to make war on Syria. In response to an enquiry, Jehoshaphat said, "I am as thou art, my people as thy people, my horses as thy horses." But he added that before putting their allied forces in battle array, it would be well to consult the prophets of the Lord. Ahab issued an order; four hundred of his own special seers assembled, and with one voice prophesied victory. But the King of Judah was not satisfied either of the wisdom or of the authority of these phrase-mongers; and he enquired with a rare touch of irony, "Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might find out the truth from him?"
Then Ahab reluctantly admitted that there was
one man, Micaiah by name; he was really a prophet of the Lord. "But I hate him: for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil." This naive remark expresses the true feelings of the king, and of thousands of other persons who pretend that they want advice. But Jehoshaphat made a deprecatory gesture, and said he would feel better about it if Micaiah would come.
There followed a dramatic scene. A space was cleared before the gates of Samaria; two thrones were erected, on which sat the two kings, each clad in the royal robes. A group of prophets appeared before them, and spoke of flattering style. A certain Zedekiah, histrionically gifted, had made horns of iron, and shouted, "With these shalt thou push the Syrians, until thou have consumed them." His colleagues greeted this with unanimous support and approval. Meanwhile the courtier that had been sent to fetch Micaiah, fearing that there might be an unpleasant scene, and wishing to avoid embarrassment, undertook to advise him, urging that he join in with the others, and speak fair words. But Micaiah gave the messenger to understand that he took orders only from the Lord God of Israel.
When he appeared before the two thrones, there was an ominous silence, and Ahab, in a tone that may be easily imagined, said, "Micaiah, shall we go against Ramoth-Gilead to battle, or shall we forbear?" The irony of the prophet's reply is magnificent. Seeing what was expected of him, he said
tauntingly, "Go, and prosper." This manner enraged King Ahab, and he demanded the truth. Then the expression of Micaiah's face underwent a change; and he spoke out with indescribable solemnity:
I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd: and the Lord said, These have no master: let them return every man to his house in peace.
Ahab turned to his royal colleague, and cried angrily, "What did I tell you?" But before Jehoshaphat had time to speak, the face of Micaiah took on a rapt expression, like the countenance of a man who sees a strange vision. His mind was distant from the kings and the prophets there assembled; he regarded neither the time nor the place; he saw Jehovah the King of kings seated on the throne of heaven, with the angelic hosts before him:
And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner.
And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him. ... I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.
Zedekiah's professional pride was sorely hurt by this utterance; his iron horns grew hot in his hands; he rushed at Micaiah, struck him fiercely in the face, and said scornfully, "Which way went the Spirit of the Lord from me to speak unto thee?" and Micaiah, unmoved both by insult and by blow,
responded gravely, "Behold, thou shalt see in that day, when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself."
King Ahab prorogued the assembly by commanding that Micaiah be thrown into a dungeon, and fed on miserable rations, until he should return in triumph. But Micaiah told him that he should not return at all, and called all the audience to witness.
What the good Jehoshaphat thought of this extraordinary scene, we shall never know; but he not only consented to enter the battle, he agreed to disguise himself in Ahab's uniform; he was indeed amiable.
Now the King of Syria was out for big game; and he commanded all his captains to pay no attention to anybody except the King of Israel. Therefore when they saw Jehoshaphat in his chariot, the tide of battle turned that way; and the King of Judah cried out, in desperate peril. The Syrians, seeing he was not their man, turned aside; but an unknown archer, taking a mere chance, shot into the host of Israel, and hit Ahab between the joints of his armour; Ahab told the driver to drive to the rear, for he was wounded. Friends supported him all day, so that his condition could not be known by his army; the dying man sat straight in his chariot. The victory was won by the Syrians, and the command to the retreating Hebrews was for a complete dispersion, every man to his home, in accordance with the vision of Micaiah.
King Ahab died at sunset, and as the servants were washing the chariot by the pool of Samaria, stray dogs appeared, who licked up the royal blood, even as Elijah had foretold in the pleasant garden of Naboth.
Ahab was succeeded on the throne of Israel by his son Ahaziah, who followed his father and mother in doing evil continually. It is interesting to observe how much better the kings of Judah behaved than the kings of Israel. The criminal conduct of Jeroboam was a pattern for his followers.
The last hours of Elijah were at hand; but before his dramatic exit, he spoke terrible words and did terrible things. King Ahaziah fell through a window, and was confined to his bed; he enquired of a pagan god whether he should recover. But the messengers he sent on this mission were encountered on the highway by Elijah, who told them to turn back and tell the king that the only true God declared that he should never leave his bed alive. Ahaziah asked the thoroughly frightened emissaries as to the appearance and manner of the man who spoke to them, and they said, "It was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins." And the king said, "It is Elijah the Tishbite."
Accordingly Ahaziah sent a captain and fifty men to capture the prophet; and when this unfortunate company drew near their destination, they saw the lonely prophet sitting on a throne of his own; sitting on the top of a little hill. The captain, who seems
to have done only his duty, spoke with sufficient respect, saying, "Thou man of God, the king hath said, 'Come down.'" Elijah's answer was a blast of flame from heaven, which devoured the whole company. A second captain was sent out, and he bravely gave the same message, adding adverbially, "Come down quickly." He was greeted by the same fiery answer, which consumed him and his soldiers. A third captain was sent out, and he had learned something by the fate of his predecessors; for although he had been accustomed to command, he saw that he had to do with an exceptional case, and he thought there had been enough playing with fire. He left his fifty men at the foot of the hill, while he, with what terror may be imagined, went up alone to the prophet, fell on his knees, and entreated him: "O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight." Elijah's anger was turned away by this soft question, and he accompanied the men of war to the king's palace. He went into the bed-chamber, and told Ahaziah to his face that he should surely die. And Ahaziah died.
Seldom has anyone shown such eagerness to receive bad news in person; but Ahaziah was a king, and had the obstinacy that so often accompanies density of mind.
Elijah himself had never been afraid of fire. It was his element. With it he had demonstrated his religion against the prophets of Baal, with it he had
annihilated one hundred and two military men, and it was therefore natural that he should depart in a flaming chariot. Accompanied by his heir, Elisha, who was to perform many more miracles than he, the stern old man drew near to Bethel, where Jacob had wrestled with the angel. There the divinity students came out and whispered to Elisha, "Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today?" And he told them tartly that the question was unnecessary. Elijah tested his companion by repeatedly asking him to cease following him; but Elisha, who never lacked assurance, knew that great things were to happen, and that the day would be forever memorable. He refused to depart, and clung to the side of his teacher. When they got to Jericho, the divinity students came out and asked the same question heard at Bethel; and Elisha made the same rejoinder. Fifty of them followed curiously afar off, for wonders were in the air. The two prophets stood on the bank of Jordan; Elijah took his stiff mantle, rolled it up like a staff, and smote the waters, which receded on both sides, and the pair walked over on solid ground. Then Elijah turned to the persevering Elisha, and told him he was about to be taken away. Was there any particular request Elisha had in mind? Immediately Elisha demanded boldly, "Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." Elijah was amazed at the audacity of the petition, but he replied after a moment's thought, that if
Elisha should see him in his departure, he would then know that his heart's desire would be fulfilled. Nothing can exceed the majesty of the language that describes the following scene:
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
Amid the flaming tempest of Elijah's ascension, a dark object came whirling through the air, and fell to the ground; Elisha seized upon it, and took possession. It was the mantle of the departed prophet, and his successor then knew that he was inspired with a double portion of the spirit that had animated the old hero, and given him power to perform many mighty works. The mantle of Elijah had fallen upon Elisha.
Elijah is one of the most famous among the sons of men. His character is more sublime than lovable; for it was his destiny to be a steadfast servant of God among many apostates, and to speak the truth when it was most unwelcome. He is a dark and tragic figure, outlined against a gay and pleasure-loving court; his loneliness is most appealing; and indeed those who devote themselves in all sincerity to the Divine Will must have souls capable
of withstanding the terrors of solitude. They must make their own world, for they do not share the common aims of society. Yet their darkness is lightened by the lamp of the Holy Spirit.
From the literary point of view, the personality of Elijah is of the very essence of romance; he had fallen on evil days, and his menacing face and voice appearing and sounding when most unexpected, have that element of contrast that belongs most particularly to great drama.