THE people of Judah had assembled in Jerusalem to ask God for protection from a huge invading army. They were surprised when a Levite went before the crowd at the temple and announced that God would spare the nation. (II Chronicles 20:1-17.) "God has told me," Jahaziel declared, "to tell you that He will fight for us! There will be no action necessary from our army. But the Creator wants us to go out tomorrow to where the enemy is camped, to see for ourselves how He will deal with the invaders. He will do this for us because of the prayers and obedience of our king and thousands of our people!"
Three Armies Against God
Jehoshaphat was as surprised as anyone else by this unusual pronouncement. Matters could have become very awkward if the king had decided that Jahaziel should prove his statements. God caused matters to work out by giving Jehoshaphat the capacity to see at once that this man was being used by God in these critical hours. Relieved to hear this almost unbelievable news, Jehoshaphat fell to his knees and bowed his head to the ground. The people followed his good example, remaining prostrate while the king gave a prayer of thanks. Afterward, the Levites praised God with an instrumental and choral concert. (II Chronicles 20:18-19.) Next morning the army of Judah marched off to the southeast to meet the invaders at a location Jahaziel had mentioned in his declaration. Jehoshaphat admonished the people to believe God and His prophet. The soldiers weren't first to go. They were led by the Levites, who sang and played anthems as they moved along. Behind the army came a crowd of the people of Judah, curious to learn just how God would fight against the enemy. Meanwhile, only a few miles away, the horde of Ammonites, Moabites and troops of Seir were about to grind to a halt on the march toward Jerusalem. The Moabites and Ammonites had begun to regret asking the men of Seir to join them in an invasion of Judah. Now, with victory seemingly only hours away, they didn't relish the thought of sharing the spoils of that victory with others. Resentment mounted with the Moabites and Ammonites until it led to a plan to get rid of the unwelcome allies by turning back from the line of march and ambushing them from boulders and rises on both sides. Taken by surprise and caught from two directions, the men of Seir were mercilessly disposed of in a short time. In closing in on their victims, some of the spears and arrows of the Moabites and Ammonites overshot so far that some of the attackers became victims. A vengeful attitude quickly developed into action between the soldiers of the two nations. Some of them started hurling spears and shooting arrows. This was followed by some close combat with swords and knives. More troops joined in to help their comrades. Soon all the soldiers were fighting for their lives among themselves. The battle finished only after there was no one left to fight. If any remained alive, it was only because they were clever enough to escape.
God Rewards Faith
When Jehoshaphat and his army reached the region through which the enemy was supposed to be marching, they came on a gruesome sight. Thousands of corpses were strewn out before them almost as far as they could see. The Israelites were sobered by what God was able to do. (II Chronicles 20:20-23.) Having seen the defeat of their enemies, the Israelites didn't turn around and walk away. There was much wealth in such a great army, and it wasn't God's will that it should spoil and corrode or become lost. They gathered so much spoil that they found that carrying all of it away at one time was too much for them. For three days the men of Judah worked at collecting and carrying away arms, clothing, food, jewels, gold, silver and other valuable articles from the invaders. Next day, before returning to Jerusalem, they assembled to thank God for what He had done for them. Jehoshaphat led his army back into the capital while thousands cheered in welcome. The Levites in the parade resumed their music, inspiring a festive mood to quickly develop among the people. The march ended as the king came before the temple, where Jehoshaphat reminded the crowd that although festivity was in order, a spirit of thankfulness should come first. (II Chronicles 20:24-28.) News of the strange fate of the enemies of Judah soon reached the nations to the east and south of the Dead Sea. Travelers through eastern Judah told of seeing the vast spread of corpses. Others later claimed that a whole valley was strewn with skeletons. The people of Moab, Ammon and Seir weren't the only ones who were dismayed by these reports. Rulers of other nearby countries were troubled by what the mysterious God of Israel had done. For the next several years there was peace in Judah. (II Chronicles 20:29-30.) During the early part of this period of peace, Jehoshaphat planned to build a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber, a port at the end of the east finger of the Red Sea. This was the same port from which Solomon had sent ships southward into the Arabian Sea and to Africa and India and to other distant easterly lands. Judah's king hoped that he could be at least half as successful as Solomon had been in bringing back unique valuables from strange lands. Unhappily, the plan didn't have God's approval, and for a reason of which Jehoshaphat should have been quite aware. After Ahab died, his son Ahaziah became king of Israel. As the son of Jezebel, he couldn't be expected to do better than his mother and father. He had been reared with pagan instruction. He was allowed to rule Israel for only two years.
A Forbidden Alliance
In spite of what had happened because of his teaming with Ahab against the Syrians, Jehoshaphat finally let Ahaziah join him in the building of the ships after first refusing to be his partner. The two kings planned to share in any profit they made in trade with other nations. (I Kings 22:41-49; II Chronicles 20:31-36.) When the fleet was well under construction, a prophet named Eliezer came to Jehoshaphat with some disagreeable news. "God has sent me to tell you that you shouldn't have become a partner with Ahaziah in sea commerce," the prophet respectfully told the king of Judah. "Because you have joined with an evil man, this effort will surely fail." "You mean that there is a curse on the venture?" Jehoshaphat asked unhappily. "It won't get to the venture stage," Eliezer replied. "God won't let the ships sail out of the port." After the prophet had gone, the king was very discouraged. The ships, which were especially large, were almost ready to be launched. If he withdrew his workmen and his financial support, the expensive project would have to be taken over by Ahaziah, who wasn't prepared to handle it alone. Jehoshaphat felt that he had no choice but to continue what he had started, at the same time trusting God would reconsider his situation or that Eliezer had been mistaken about the matter. After the ships had been launched and fully outfitted, they lay at anchor in the upper end of the gulf of Aqaba. The king of Israel and the king of Judah came to Ezion-geber to inspect the fleet before the ships departed on their maiden voyages. There was a crowd present, including dignitaries from many parts of the land. Just before the inspection tour was to take place, a wind came up. It became so strong that it wasn't safe for boats to take the kings and others out to board the ships. Waves grew larger and higher. The ships began to roll and toss, their masts swaying a little lower with the passing of every swelling ridge of water. Then one of the ship's anchor lines snapped. It was evident then to the excited onlookers on the shore that the gale was about to cause a major catastrophe. The loosed vessel rammed into the nearest leeward one. The shins were so large and had so much surface for the surging water to strain against that they snapped apart. Other ships fell apart by only the action of the turbulent water. Within minutes every vessel was sunk or broken. Workmen who hadn't been drowned clung desperately to floating debris. The birthplace of Israel's largest sea fleet since Solomon's time had become its graveyard. As the wind meanwhile abated, Jehoshaphat was without words. While Ahaziah and others around him shouted with excitement and cursed the weather, the king of Judah was vividly recalling how the prophet Eliezer had told him that the ships would never sail out of the port of Ezion-gaber. He realized how foolish he had been not to heed the prophet, no matter how unhappy or angry Ahaziah would have become. (II Chronicles 20:37.) At the moment the king of Israel was very unhappy, but gradually he regained some composure and ceased making angry and profane remarks. Suddenly he turned to Jehoshaphat. "Why should we let a freak wind discourage us?" he asked. "Instead of brooding over this, we should start building a new fleet right away!"
Jehoshaphat Learns a Lesson
Jehoshaphat, gloomily staring out over the bay, turned to give Ahaziah a long look. "No! I'll never make this mistake again!" Judah's king replied curtly, and walked away. Ahaziah's face and hopes fell at the same time. He knew by Jehoshaphat's firm answer that the king of Judah would not supply money for another fleet. When Ahaziah returned to Samaria, he was told that the Moabites, who had been paying regular tribute to Israel since being conquered in David's time, had refused to pay anything after Ahab's death. (II Kings 1:1.) "The Moabites will regret this!" was Ahaziah's angry reaction. "I'll take my army into their land and force them to pay with more than mere tribute!" The government of Israel was far from being burdened with wealth. Revenue from the Moabites was badly needed. Plans were immediately made for an invasion of Moab, but if they included Ahaziah's presence, they were suddenly changed when the king was severely injured in a fall from the top floor of his personal quarters to the floor below. The king of Israel suffered from pain deep within his body, as though vital organs had been bruised or dislocated. There were as many opinions and treatments as there were doctors in that day, but no relief came to the king. Disappointed, Ahaziah decided to inquire of a pagan god what would happen to him. There were many false gods, but the one Ahaziah selected was an idol who was considered, among other things, a deity of medicine. It was the Philistine god of Ekron, called Baal-zebub, another name for Satan. This idol was generally known as the god of flies because he was believed to possess the power to destroy flies, especially where meat sacrifices were made to pagan gods. "Go to Ekron and ask the priests of Baal-zebub to inquire if I shall recover from the cause of my pain," Ahaziah instructed some of his aides. (II Kings 1:2.) On the way to Ekron, which was southwest of Samaria, the aides were stopped when a man boldly stepped in front of the procession and demanded to know why they were going all the way to Ekron to ask for information from the god of flies instead of inquiring of the God of Israel. Ahaziah's men were startled to learn that this stranger knew about their mission. "Go back and tell your king that he is foolish to try to learn something from a god who knows nothing," the man told them. "Why didn't he ask the one true God? Because your king has looked to a pagan god, he won't recover from his injuries. His condition will grow worse, and he will die!" (II Kings 1:3-4.)
Elijah and the King
Impressed by the words and the authoritative manner of the stranger, Ahaziah's men turned about and went back to Samaria. When Ahaziah learned that they had returned so soon, he angrily asked for an explanation. The aides told him what had happened, and how the stranger had predicted his death. "You allowed someone you didn't know to tell you what to do, even against my orders!" the king stormed. "What did this man look like?" "He wasn't a young man," was the answer. "He was a hairy man and his robe was held at the waist by a broad leather belt." "Then it was the prophet Elijah!" Ahaziah exclaimed. "My father told me that he looked like that. That's the man who troubled my father. Now he's back to trouble me, but I won't allow it for long." (II Kings 1:5-8.) A little later, one of the king's captains led a platoon of fifty soldiers out of Samaria. They followed the route taken by the aides on their way to Ekron. They had marched only a few miles when they saw a man sitting alone on a small hill. The captain approached the man, who fitted the description of Elijah. "Are you Elijah, the one who considers himself a prophet of the so-called God of Israel?" the officer called up to him derisively. "I am Elijah," the prophet answered. "Then come down here!" the officer commanded. "I have fifty men to escort you from this hot hill to a cool dungeon in Samaria!" The soldiers laughed boisterously. Some of them yelled out scornful remarks about God and Elijah. "If my men sound rude, please don't feel hurt and bring down fire from the sky on us," the officer said, holding up his hands in mock fear. "I have no power to bring fire down from the sky," Elijah stated. "But the God of Israel has that power, and as sure as I'm a prophet of His, He'll bring down fire on you!" There was more laughter from the soldiers. It was cut short when a bolt of lightning cracked down into the fifty troops, killing them instantly. Although their captain was a short distance away, he didn't escape the searing, shocking force of the fingers of fire. Seconds later, fifty-one charred bodies lay at the base of the hill from which Elijah somberly departed. (II Kings 1:9-10.) Soon afterward, as the prophet rested at another spot on the road between Samaria and Ekron, he was approached by fifty more men, led by a captain, all of whom acted and spoke with disrespect for God and the prophet after the commanding officer had made sure he was talking to Elijah. "Come along with us, and don't try any of your peculiar God-of-Israel type magic," the captain warned the prophet. "I don't deal in magic," Elijah declared. "I leave matters to God, who deals fairly with all, just as He is about to deal with you and your men." Immediately lightning hissed blindingly down on the fifty-one men, electrocuting them just as lightning had dispatched the first fifty-one men sent to arrest Elijah. (II Kings 1:11-12.) Again Elijah moved away from the scene of death. Later, he saw more soldiers coming toward him. He hoped that these would have a different attitude, so that they wouldn't deserve punishment. His desire was carried out when the captain of the approaching soldiers came up to him, fell on his knees, and asked Elijah to spare his men and himself.