The petulant prophet and his pickle

Published 7:10 am Monday, February 5, 2024

By R.A. Mathews

My cat can be all purrs and snuggles. Unless she’s mad. Then she’ll turn her back on me. “I’m not speaking to you!” she says, without so much as a meow. 

If you have a cat, you know.

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Scripture has such a story. Except it’s a disgruntled prophet who told a king, “I don’t want to look at you or see you.” This happened in the 9th century B.C.— one of the prophet’s many pickles.

If you missed my King Jehu columns, let me quickly orient you. 

At roughly 1,500 B.C., Moses led the Israelites from Egypt, and then Joshua led them into the Promised Land. The Judges followed and, by roughly 1,000 B.C., three kings led Israel—Saul, then David, and then David’s son Solomon. 

After that, Israel was no more.

Civil war split the nation into a northern kingdom (still called Israel) and a southern kingdom (called Judah). The northern kings were mostly evil, as were the first ones of Judah. But then came two good kings of Judah, Asa and his son Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat wanted peace with Israel. He aligned himself with Israel’s King Ahab, and Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, which brings us to the story of the petulant prophet.

After Ahab’s death, Ahab’s son asked Jehoshaphat to join him in battle, and they soon found themselves in a desperate situation. Here’s the passage.

“Now Jehoram the son of Ahab became king over Israel … in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah…

“So King Jehoram … sent word to Jehoshaphat … saying, ‘The king of Moab has broken away from me. Will you go with me to fight against Moab?’

“And (Jehoshaphat) said, ‘I will go …’ So the king of Israel went with the king of Judah and the king of Edom, and they made a circuit of seven days’ journey. But there was no water for the army … Then the king of Israel said, ‘It is hopeless! For the Lord has called these three kings to hand them over to Moab!’” (2 Kings 3:1-11)

Jehoram wrongfully blamed the Lord, but Jehoshaphat turned to Him. 

“…Jehoshaphat said, ‘Is there no prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of the Lord by him?’ And (a servant) … answered and said, ‘Elisha … is here’ … So (they) … went down to him.” (2 Kings 3:13)

That’s when Elisha turned up his nose at Jehoram.

“…Elisha said to the king of Israel, ‘What business do you have with me? Go to your father’s prophets and your mother’s prophets.’” (2 Kings 3:13)

Remember, Ahab and Jezebel had forced Baal upon Israel. 

“…the king of Israel said to (Elisha), “No, for the Lord has called these three kings together to hand them over to Moab.” (2 Kings 3:14)

But God hadn’t called them to fight Moab, Jehoram had. Nevertheless, Jehoram had made his point — Jehoshaphat was going to die alongside Jehoram if Elisha didn’t intervene.

Thus, the petulant prophet’s pickle. 

Elisha told Jehoram, “…if I did not respect Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look at you nor see you.” (2 Kings 3:14)

So, Elisha was forced to help Jehoram. Elisha said, “‘Make this valley full of trenches. For the Lord says this: “You will not see wind, nor will you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you will drink …” And it happened in the morning … and the country was filled with water.

“…Then the (Moabites) got up early in the morning, and the sun shone on the water, and the Moabites saw the water … as red as blood. So they said, ‘…the kings must have … killed one another…’ But when they came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and struck (them) … killing the Moabites.”  (2 Kings 3:16-26)

Here’s the question. 

Could Elisha have avoided his predicament? Jehu had been chosen years before to replace Ahab. God had told Elijah (who preceded Elisha), “Go …  anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi king over Israel…” (1 Kings 19:15-16)

 But Elijah didn’t do it.

Listen, treason was deadly. When God told the prophet Samuel to anoint David, Samuel said what was obvious, “If I go, Saul will hear the news. And he will try to kill me.”  (1 Samuel 16:2) 

Elisha finally did decide to anoint Jehu, perhaps because Elisha found himself in another predicament — the king had vowed to behead him. Even so, Elisha wouldn’t go in person. He sent another prophet, warning him of the terrible danger. (2 Kings 6:31, 9:1-3)

When God guides you, follow Him. Or prepare for the pickles that will come.