Wednesday, June 21, 2006

And he had a stubborn son

Ahaziah king of Israel (not to be confused with a king of Judah by the same name) injured himself in a fall.
So he sent messengers, saying to them, "Go consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury."

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?' Therefore this is what the Lord says: 'You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!'" So Elijah went.

from 2 Kings 1
Whenever I read this passage, I keep hoping that the king will say, "D'oh! Let me inquire of a prophet of the Lord instead!" But the words don't change; no matter how many times I read it, Ahaziah always does the same thing: he sends a captain with 50 men to arrest Elijah. When they are all killed, he sends another captain with another 50. And another.

Why does he do that? I'm sure he didn't wake up that morning and say to himself, "Today I've decided to deny reality, pursue false gods, and ignore good advice." Rather, like his father, he surrounded himself with the wrong advisers, then he believed them.

Anyway, look at this third captain. Rather than telling Elijah, "the king says, 'Come down!'" the third captain begs him to spare his life. The lovely Carol remarked on how wise this captain was. He couldn't just refuse the king's order, but he wasn't insane either. (I heard somewhere that insanity consists in doing the same thing and expecting different results.) So he took a wiser approach than the previous captains. This approach actually worked; Elijah went with him.

Effectively, the king told this 3rd captain: "Yeah, two captains and 100 soldiers have all died trying to arrest this guy, but I want you to take another 50 and do what they couldn't."

Sometimes engineers are told by their bosses to do the "impossible": "Two teams have tried and failed to produce this project; now you get to try." What do you do if you're the engineer? Maybe you could go to a startup or something, but you may have some really good reasons why not. Maybe thousands of reasons -- or if you're really hot or really lucky, hundreds of thousands of reasons. So you need a wiser approach. Exactly what that would be for you, I won't venture to say, but this captain found a creative way to do what he was told and yet stay alive. (I have to wonder about the 2nd captain, though.)

Anyway, Elijah goes with this 3rd captain, and delivers his message in person. Somehow I get the picture that Ahaziah could have, even at this point, repented -- like his father did:
When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: "Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son."
1 Kings 21.27-29
But Ahaziah didn't, and more's the pity.

The fact that we end up with two stories of stubbornness, one pretty much right after the other, suggests to me that this may be an important theme: not just stubbornness, but a stubborn insistence on pursuing false gods.

Do you or I do that? Of course we don't "worship false gods," but speaking for myself, I've done things I think will make me feel good about myself -- which may be the moral equivalent in the modern-day industrial-prosperity-based society we live in. Not that there's anything wrong with wanting to do a good job, to do something that feels good to accomplish -- but we get in trouble by pursuing that instead of pursuing God.

revised 6/25

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