Is There No God?
2 Kings 1
March 8, 2006
Listen to this Sermon
This is the story of Elijah’s last assignment. God has one final job for his mountain man, and then he will take him home to heaven. The story begins this way: “After Ahab’s death Moab rebelled against Israel. Now Ahaziah…” (v. 1). Ahaziah was Ahab’s son. We find out later that Ahab had two sons, and both of them rebelled against the Lord. When Ahab died his oldest son Ahaziah ascended to the throne of Israel. Remember that Jezebel is still alive. She’s going to live for many more years. She is really the effective ruler of Israel. But one of Ahab’s sons now sits on the throne. He will only be on the throne for two short years and then he will be gone. And it’s the story of how he dies that occupies our attention today.
Now here’s the problem. Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. As far as kingly injuries go, this is a real bummer. If the king injured himself on the battlefield, that would be a manly injury and an honorable way to die. But to fall off the second story through the latticework and hit the ground below, that’s just embarrassing. It’s definitely not something you want to publicize. We don’t how it happened. Did somebody push him? Did he stumble? Was he drunk? We don’t know. When he hit the ground, he was evidently severely injured. And no one could help him. No one in all Israel could heal his injuries. So he thought to himself, “I need some help from above.” Only by above he wasn’t thinking of the Lord God of Israel; he was thinking of someone else.
So he sent messengers sayings to them, “Go and consult Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury” (v. 2).
The name Baal-zebub appears only here in the Old Testament. Baal, of course, was the name of the false god that Jezebel had brought in. He was the god of the sun, the god of the storms, the god of fertility. He was the god of the pagan nations surrounding Israel. The rest of the name means what it sounds like. Zebub actually gives you the sound … Zzzzzebub, Zzzzzebub, it means the buzzing of flies. Baal-zebub literally means “lord of the flies.” Baal-zebub was the particular name for the god of the people of the region of Ekron, a city located on the Mediterranean Sea. It was one of the five major cities of the Philistines. When they offered sacrifices to Baal-zebub, the Philistines believed he could predict the future. To the extent it was true, it was the work of demons through this false god. That’s why Ahaziah wanted to consult Baal-zebub. He wanted to know if he would get better, or if he was going to die from his injuries.
There is only one catch to this story. Israel already had a God, the Lord God of Israel. Instead of turning to the true God, Ahaziah puts his future in the hands of Baal-zebub.
I pause here to comment that on one level we can understand Ahaziah’s desire. All of us would like to know the future. We to know what’s going to happen tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Big corporations spend millions of dollars on consultants who can predict future business trends. If you have a loved one with cancer, you want to know what the future holds. If you have children, you constantly wonder (and sometimes worry) about the decisions they make. At this very moment, I would like to know my own future. At least I think I would. Maybe I wouldn’t be so happy if I knew it. Who knows? If you are an investor, you’d like to know about the stock market. That’s why people watch Cramer give his stock picks on the CNBC called “Mad Money.” People call in and shout “Boo-yah” to Cramer and he shouts “Boo-yah” back. Then they say something like, “Jim, what do you think about Amalgamated Fruit Juice of North Dakota–AFJND?” He punches a button, and up comes the recent stock history of AFJND. Then he begins to shout about how the orange crop in North Dakota isn’t very good this year and how oranges grow better in Florida, but North Dakota wheat is looking good, but he thinks the stock is overpriced. “It’s a dog! Dump that puppy.” And he hits a button and you hear a flushing sound. “I want you in United Onions. They’re best of breed,” he says. And then he goes to the next caller. It’s all bang, bang, bang. And it’s irresistible. It’s mesmerizing. I’ll grant that he’s a good entertainer and very knowledgeable. But there is something more at work here. Cramer is a guru, a genius at the stock market. Or so it seems. I’m not qualified to judge. But I watch because it’s a good performance, and I want to know the future just as much as anyone else. And I don’t even have any money in AFJND or United Onions either.
It becomes much more personal when you’re wondering about your own health or the health of your spouse or your children. You want to know if your children are going to get married, and if so, who’s the lucky person going to be? Will they be happy? Will it last? And how soon will they bring the grandchildren over? You think about your own career and wonder, “Lord, is this what I’m supposed to be doing for the rest of my life? If not, would you please let me know somehow?” That’s perfectly understandable. We all wonder about things like that. “Lord, I have my dreams and my concerns. I have things that weigh heavily on my heart. Lord, what is my own future? Show me the way I should go.”
I don’t criticize Ahaziah for wanting to know if he would recover. That’s natural. But he went to the wrong place. That will prove to be a fatal mistake. And we should not be surprised because when people get desperate, they will turn to any source that promises them help. You talk to a friend on the phone. You call the Psychic Hotline. You look at your horoscope. You might even call a medium, a spiritualist. We all tend to think of mediums as if they were like the Wicked Witch on the Wizard of Oz. Today’s mediums look like you and me. How about that clean-cut young man on the show Crossing Over? He looks like the guy next door. Pleasant. Nice looking. Well dressed but not overdressed. Friendly smile. Casual demeanor. He looks like he could have been the star athlete next door. He looks like the All-American guy. The kind of neighbor anyone would want to have. He even has a book about praying the rosary. You say to yourself, “A good Catholic boy.” And oh yes, he claims to be able to contact your dead relatives. People pay huge money to go to group sessions where he claims to receive messages from someone who has “passed.” He’s good at it too. Very good. Talks fast, makes quick word associations, claims to hear voices or get images from the “other side.” Always the message from the dead is, “We’re doing good. Don’t worry about us. You’re doing well and we love you.” Very comforting.
He calls himself a medium and claims to be a spiritist with an uncanny ability to foretell the future and to communicate with the dead. I understand why people go to him because he looks as normal as anybody you’ll ever meet. Please understand. The desire to know the future is not wrong in itself. What’s wrong is going to the wrong place. People who go to mediums are drinking from a polluted fountain, and what they get will not be from God. What they get will be demonically inspired poison that will destroy their souls.
Elijah’s Final Message
Things haven’t changed much in three thousand years. Ahaziah’s great mistake was going to the wrong place. So he sent his messengers down to Ekron. There they are going to somehow get in touch with Baal-zebub to find out if the king will recover from his injuries. We pick up the story again in verse 3: But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ’Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’”
Notice the phrase “go up.” The older translations use the word “arise.” Same as when God told him to confront Ahab over the murder of Naboth. “Arise.” “Get up, Elijah. I’ve got a job for you to do.” Go and ask him one question: “Is there no God in Israel?” Is there no Lord God Almighty in Israel that you should go down to the pagans and you should ask the pagan god about the future? Now comes the bad news for Ahaziah: “You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!” (v. 4).Notice the next phrase: So Elijah went.” That’s all it says. God gave him the message, and Elijah delivered it. Bam! Just like the other times. He shows up out of nowhere, gives the message, and he disappears. Evidently the messengers were so disconcerted that they never made it to Ekron. They went back to the king with this report:
“A man came to meet us,” they replied. “And he said to us, ’Go back to the king who sent you and tell him, “This is what the LORD says: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending men to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!” ’ “ (v. 6).So the king wants to know who dared give such a negative message. I love their answer because it’s clear they have no idea who he is. They describe Elijah this way: “He was a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist” (v. 8). According to L.L. Bean this is what the well-dressed mountain man should always be wearing. The king said, “I know that fellow. That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
Lost People Watch Us
Think about this for a moment. The king knew Elijah. Why? Because Elijah had dealt with his father Ahab. Lost people watch us more than we know. Lost people pay more attention to us than we ever dream. Lost people know more than we think they do. More than anything else, lost people know whether we know God or not. They watch us to see if we’re the real deal. They watch us from a distance. Your co-workers are watching you. Your neighbors are watching you. Your unsaved relatives are watching you. They may not say much to you. You may not be aware of it. You may not even hear from them for years and years and years. But the day will come when you’re going to find out that some people were watching you all the time and drawing conclusions about your faith, your integrity and your honesty. And they are drawing conclusions about the reality of your faith in God.
I believe God often gives lost people amazing insight into the Christians around them. That is to say I believe God’s Spirit gives unsaved people the ability to penetrate to the core of who we are. If you go to lost people and give them a doctrinal exam, they would flunk it. But if you took most lost people and put a group of Christians they know in front of them, I believe most lost people would without any trouble at all be able to say, “He’s for real, she’s for real, and those two in the back, I don’t see anything in them at all.” They may not understand the Trinity or total depravity, and the whole concept of the premillennial return of Christ may be a mystery to them, but lost people can tell the difference between reality and fakery. If you doubt that, just ask some of your unsaved friends, “What do you see when you look at me?” You might be surprised at the answer.
So the king knew. He said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
Now the king sends out some men to capture Elijah. He sent out a captain with his company of fifty men. “The captain went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill” (v. 9). I love that because Elijah is just sitting up there on the top of the hill, talking to the Lord, catching some rays, enjoying the day. He’s not hiding this time. He’s out in the open where anybody can see him. And the captain of the fifty says, “Man of God, the king says come down.” What do you think the king wants? The king wants to throw him in jail. Elijah says, “If I’m a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men” (v. 10). I’m sure that’s the last thing the captain of the fifty wanted to hear. As a matter of fact, it was the last thing he heard because the next sentence says, “Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men.”
Evidently the king was a slow learner because he sent another captain with his fifty men to capture Elijah. Same story, second verse.
“Man of God, this is what the king says, ’Come down at once!’ “ “If I am a man of God,” Elijah replied, “may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men< (vv. 11-12).
Where Could I Go But to the Lord?
Bam! Just like that down came the fire consuming the second captain and the second fifty men. So the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. I doubt they were volunteers. I imagine the captain had to use a little forceful persuasion. The third captain, who was smarter than the king, decided he didn’t want to end up in flames.
This third captain went up and fell on his knees before Elijah.
“Man of God,” he begged, “please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants! See, fire has fallen from heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!” (vv. 13-14).
The angel of the Lord told Elijah to go with him to see the king. Earlier he had stood before Ahab the father; now he stands before Ahaziah the son. It took a certain amount of courage to do that because Ahaziah is sick. He’s now been told by the prophet he’s going to die. A hundred of his soldiers have died, consumed by fire. I’m sure he’s in a foul mood. I am sure Elijah knew that the king might try to put him to death at any moment. What do you think Elijah did? He doesn’t wait for Ahaziah to say a word.
“This is what the LORD says: Is it because there is no God in Israel for you to consult that you have sent messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Because you have done this, you will never leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!” (v. 16)
Is there no God in Israel? What a question for all of us!
Is there no God in your town?
Is there no God in your church?
Is there no God in your family?
Is there no God in your marriage?
Is there no God in your life?
Is there no God to whom you can go in the time of trouble?
Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming thought that I had nowhere else to go.”
Where could I go, where could I go,
Seeking a refuge for my soul.
Needing a friend to help me in the end
Where could I go but to the Lord?
So the king died just as Elijah said he would. There are no details because it doesn’t matter. He’s gone. The only thing that really matters is the first part of verse 17. “So he died according to the word of the Lord.”
Death comes to all of us sooner or later. Last summer I spent a week preaching at Gull Lake Conference Center in Michigan. Twice I heard Daniel Wallace, the director, say, “Hell is hot; life is short.” What is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a while and then vanishes away. Moses prayed, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Shortly before my friend Peter Blakemore died, I saw him for the last time at a pastor’s prayer meeting on the National Day of Prayer. I hadn’t seen Peter in a while because he had been struggling with cancer. I knew he had been through an awful ordeal, but I had no idea how bad it was. When I arrived at the prayer meeting, I knew almost everyone there because they all pastored churches in the same area. There was one man sitting in a wheelchair with two young men around him. Because his back was to me, I didn’t know who it was till I sat down in the circle. Then I saw it was my friend Peter Blakemore. Peter was the pastor of the Harrison Street Bible Church in Oak Park. Before Peter was the pastor, his father had pastored that church for over thirty years. Except for his years in college and graduate school, Peter spent his whole life in Oak Park. When he completed his education, he came back to Oak Park to join his father at Harrison Street Bible Church. And when his father died, he took over the pastorate in his father’s stead. Peter Blakemore was one of the gentlest, kindest, most gracious men I have ever known. He was about forty years old when he died. He left behind a wife and seven children. He was stricken with an extremely rare form of cancer. They sent samples to various places around the country, hoping to find a cure. He had gone through a variety of treatments but nothing worked. The cancer finally had taken over his body with a vengeance. And there he was at the National Day of Prayer with two of his sons.
We bowed our heads and as we prayed, I noticed a strange sound, a sort of rubbing or thumping in a rhythmic fashion. I didn’t know what it was. Peter Blakemore was the last one to pray that day. And he said, “Lord, you know I’ve asked you to heal me of this cancer. And if you do heal me, I will stand up and give you the glory. But if you decide to take me home to heaven, Lord, I’m going to be faithful to you by my life and by my death so that in all things you might be glorified.”
When the prayer meeting was over almost everybody left the room. There were just four of us left–Peter, his two sons, and me. We talked for a while. He told me a little bit about the treatments. Just recently they had heard from the doctors that there was a new kind of tumor growing in his lungs, and the doctors couldn’t even figure out what it was. They said it’s one of two things. If it’s one thing, you’re going to live one to three weeks. If it’s another thing, you’re going to live two or three months. The tumor had grown inside his lungs to the point that it had broken two or three of his ribs. While he was praying, he was hunched over in the wheelchair. The rhythmic thump I heard was the sound of his oldest son rubbing his father’s back to lessen the pain a little bit. Peter told me that the previous Sunday he had preached at his own church for the first time in eight weeks. He preached from the wheelchair on Romans 11:33,“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” “Do you know what that means, Ray?” Peter said it’s like tracing the stars in the skies. When you look up at night and see a star, you know that it is on a path, but if you just look at it, all you can do is see where it is now. You can’t really tell where it has come from or where it’s going to go. And he said, “So it is with the Lord. No one can tell where he started out. No one can tell where he’s going to go. All you know is he’s right there and you’re right there with him, and the future is in his hands.” Then he added, “I told my people last Sunday ‘I have shown you how to live. I’m now going to show you how to die.’” These were his final words to me: “All my life I’ve preached about the grace of God. I’ve had a hard time getting people to listen. Now I don’t have any trouble because they’ve seen the grace of God at work in my life.”
We said farewell and his sons wheeled him out of the room. It was the last time I would see him alive. Two or three weeks later he passed from this life into the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. I thought about what he said and I’ve thought about it many times since then. Who can trace the path of the Lord? You can’t. I can’t. No one can. It is enough to know that we belong to him. He knows what he’s doing. He knows where we are. And when it’s all over, we will be exactly where he wants us to be, with him forever in heaven.
What’s going to happen today or tomorrow? I don’t know. What’s going to happen next week or next month? I don’t know. What’s going to happen next year or ten years from now? I don’t know. But I know someone who does.
Is there is no God is Israel? Yes, there is. And he’s my God too. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future. And we can trust him. Amen.