Then the king [Ahaziah] sent unto him [Elijah] a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he sat on the top of an hill. And he spake unto him, “Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down.”
And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, “If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty.” And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
Again also he sent unto him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said unto him, “O man of God, thus hath the king said, Come down quickly.”
And Elijah answered and said unto them, “If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty.” And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
And he sent again a captain of the third fifty with his fifty. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him, and said unto him, “O man of God, I pray thee, let my life, and the life of these fifty thy servants, be precious in thy sight. Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in thy sight.”
And the angel of the LORD said unto Elijah, “Go down with him: be not afraid of him.” And he arose, and went down with him unto the king. ~ 2 Kings 1:9-15
The Second Book of Kings opens up with king Ahaziah of Israel (the northern kingdom) injuring himself badly in a fall. Instead of seeking God, he sent his servants to inquire from the idol Baalzebub to find out whether he will recover or not. On the way, the prophet Elijah met them. Elijah expressed God’s displeasure with king Ahaziah’s idolatry and prophesied his death from his injury.
When Ahaziah heard the prophecy, he angrily sent his soldiers (in groups of fifty plus a captain) to capture Elijah. The first captain with his fifty men confronted Elijah and demanded he come with them, because the king (Ahaziah) ordered it. Notably, the captain addressed Elijah as “man of God”, which is a way of saying “servant of Elohim”.
Elohim was the first name God used in the Scripture (Genesis 1:1) to identify Himself as he initiated the creation of the universe. The scene between Elijah and the Soldiers can then be described as one in which the servant of an earthly king is ordering the servant of the King of the universe to obey his king. This was a grave error for the captain and his men. If Elijah went with them, because of Ahaziah’s order, it would mean Ahaziah was a bigger, more powerful, king that Elohim.
Elijah’s response to the captain’s demand, therefore, was to simply, but quite devastatingly, to ask God (Elohim) to clarify who was the real King: “If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty.” In other words, Elijah responded to the captain: “Let’s see whose King is bigger”. The captain came with fifty men to apprehend the (singular) man of God. Who would win this battle?
The Scripture tells us that fire did come down from heaven and consume the captain and his fifty men. Elohim’s army was more powerful, much more powerful.
Just like the captain and Elijah, we must wrestle/confront the same two questions: “Who is king?’ and “Which king am I serving?” It is clear that the first captain never properly recognized that God was King with total power and that he was serving an earthly king with no real power. Many are like that captain, never truly acknowledging Elohim as Lord of the universe and never choosing to serve Him. And just like that captain they are in danger of being consumed by fire:
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire ~ Revelation 20:15
Conversely, the servants of Elohim, who recognize Him as King of the universe and King of their lives, have nothing to fear as they walk in His will. Elijah could stare down the captain and his fifty soldiers because he knew God was in perfect control of the situation. What could fifty-one soldiers do to overcome a servant of God? Could fifty-one soldiers overcome the power of God?
Like Elijah, believers should never live in fear of what men can do because we know the security of living in the service of the Almighty, Elohim. No one can harm us as we walk in His will.
Elijah’s and our only fear is to walk/live outside of the will of God. Certainly, if believers choose to live like the captain, ignoring the Lordship of Elohim over their lives, then there is much to fear. As Jesus told His disciples:
Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. ~ Matthew 10:28
After the first captain and his fifty men had lost their lives, king Ahaziah sent a second detail to arrest Elijah. Sadly, they made the same errors of judgment as the first detail, and suffered the same fate. So, king Ahaziah sent out a third detail of men. However, this time there is a change.
The third captain, having seen the fate that befell his two predecessors, decided to think more carefully about the situation. The first thing he realized is that Elohim is King: “and fell on his knees before Elijah, and besought him”. The third captain realized that he should not make any demands of the servant of the Most High, Elohim. But that he should plead with Elohim’s servant to ask Elohim, the true King, for mercy on him and his soldiers. It mattered not what king Ahaziah had said, it mattered only what Elohim, the King of the Universe, would declare.
The third captain got it right! Knowing that rejection of God as his King meant a fiery death, he reconsidered his allegiances: Oh, that we would all do the same!
Undoubtedly, king Ahaziah could arrest and even execute him if he returned without Elijah. But the third captain realized, as should we, that the Ultimate power belonged to God. Earthly king Ahaziah could do nothing (to Elijah or him) without Elohim’s permission.
However, the third captain teaches us one more lesson: the primacy of wisdom over experience. It is often (wrongly) said that “Experience if the best teacher.” However, that is very far from the truth; just ask the first and second captains. When the first and second platoons experienced the wrath of God, it was too late to learn from it.
Similarly, when a speeding driver crashes and dies, it’s too late for him/her to learn the importance of safe driving. Or when a teen overdoses on drugs and dies it also too late for them to learn the dangers of substance abuse. And when Jesus returns as King of Kings, it will be too late for unbelievers to learn the dangers of unbelief.
The third captain, learned from the experience of OTHERS!!! He looked on the situation and refused to ignore the obvious: Elohim alone is King. He didn’t have to experience the wrath of God himself to know it is true. Wisdom taught him to humble himself before Elohim:
The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility. ~ Proverbs 15:33
To live life victoriously we don’t need experiences, we need wisdom. We need God to teach us to walk in humble obedience to Him. He will guide us and He will protect us.
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? ~ Micah 6:8
The third captain realized that, and it saved his life and the life of his men.
Finally, the story ends with the most ironic of twists: God told Elijah to go with the third captain to Ahaziah. This means that the first and second captains could have accomplished their tasks if they had only humbled themselves to God!!!
Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility. ~ Proverbs 18:12
By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life. ~ Proverbs 22:4
The third captain was able to accomplish what his predecessors couldn’t and so he would receive honor in king Ahaziah’s courts. But the honor came because he humbled himself to the real King, Elohim.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. ~ Matthew 6:33
Likewise if we humble ourselves to God, we too will enjoy success (as God defines it) in this earthly life and in eternity; and we will avoid the fires of judgment. Don’t force God to show you who is King: serve Him and be fireproof; challenge Him and you will get fire proof.