After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel. Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay injured; so he sent messengers, telling them,
‘Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.’
But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite,
‘Get up, go to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?” Now therefore, thus says the Lord, “You shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.”’
So Elijah went. The messengers returned to the king, who said to them,
‘Why have you returned?’
They answered him,
‘There came a man to meet us, who said to us, “Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him: Thus says the Lord: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but shall surely die.”’
He said to them,
‘What sort of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?’
They answered him,
‘A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.’
‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’
Ahab has died and been succeeded by his son Ahaziah who apparently puts his trust in the gods of his mother. Having suffered serious injury in a fall, Ahaziah seeks an oracle from Baal-zebub, the patron god of Ekron (a Philistine city), about his chance of recovery.
So Elijah is summoned into action once more, to go and intercept the king’s messengers. The text implies that no sooner was Elijah summoned than he instantly appears before the messengers. He suggests that their mission indicates that the God of Israel has been rejected by the king; and then declares in the name of Israel’s God that Ahaziah will not recover but will die. Exit Elijah.
The messengers go home and are questioned about their unexpectedly rapid return by the king. They report having met a man and convey exactly to Ahaziah what the prophet had said to them. The king demands to know who it was and a description is given, whereby the king knows it was Elijah.
‘A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist’ isn’t much of a description. This is the only time it occurs and it is surprising that no mention is made of Elijah’s hallmark mantle. However it is the picture of Elijah that tradition has remembered and it is used in the Gospels to establish the prophetic credentials of John the Baptist (Matt.3:4; 11:13-14; Mk.1:6).
What kind of figure does it evoke? I imagine someone of stature, who is resilient, who sits lightly to possessions of all kinds. Someone who embodies faith in God; and dependence on God for daily needs. Someone who is unencumbered by everyday responsibilities and ready to go in the service of God, whenever and wherever.
I wish I was more like this as a disciple of Christ!
Almighty God, you call us to trust in you and to serve you alone. Human status and achievement has no bearing on your love for us. We rejoice in this truth and offer you our worship and our praise as we seek to model our daily living on the pattern of your son, Jesus Christ. Sustain us as your servants and use us as your messengers to the world. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Downing Place URC in Cambridge
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