2 Kings 8:7–15 (NIV)✞: Hazael Murders Ben-Hadad
For this passage the action moves out of Israel and Judah and goes up to Aram, where the king, Ben-Hadad, is ill.
7 Elisha went to Damascus, and Ben-Hadad king of Aram was ill. When the king was told, “The man of God has come all the way up here,” 8 he said to Hazael, “Take a gift with you and go to meet the man of God. Consult the LORD through him; ask him, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’”
This man Hazael obeys his king and goes to consult with Elisha with the king’s gift, and asks whether the king will survive. And then things get… interesting? Weird?
10 Elisha answered, “Go and say to him, ‘You will certainly recover.’ Nevertheless, the LORD has revealed to me that he will in fact die.” 11 He stared at him with a fixed gaze until Hazael was embarrassed. Then the man of God began to weep.
12 “Why is my lord weeping?” asked Hazael.
“Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,” he answered. “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.”
13 Hazael said, “How could your servant, a mere dog, accomplish such a feat?”
“The LORD has shown me that you will become king of Aram,” answered Elisha.
So it seems Elisha has been sent to Aram to deliver two prophecies:
- A false one to the king of Aram, telling him he’ll survive when he actually won’t, and
- A true one to Hazael, informing him that he will succeed Ben-Hadad as king of Aram
Though… see more on this below. The “false” prophecy might not actually be false.
Hazael definitely takes Elisha’s words to heart, however: he goes back and delivers the false prophecy to the king, telling him he’ll live, but then, not even waiting for Ben-Hadad to die, the next day he gets a wet cloth and suffocates Ben-Hadad to death, taking over as king himself.
My thoughts on this passage kind of go from least important to most important:
- Elisha accepted Ben-Hadad’s gift
- Remember Naaman? He was from Aram, too!
- Haven’t see seen Hazael’s name before?
- Why is this passage???
The King’s Gift to Elisha
Not that it’s a huge point but the king of Aram sends a gift to Elisha, which I’m guessing would be the custom at the time: if you’re going to consult with a prophet, s/he needs to get paid! In the past we’ve seen Elisha make a point of turning down such gifts; see, for example, the healing of Naaman in Chapter 5.
In this case, however, no mention is made of Elisha turning down the gift. It seems that the healing of Naaman in Chapter 5 wouldn’t have showcased God’s power as well if Elisha had accepted payment for the miracle, whereas, in this case, showcasing God’s power doesn’t seem to be the point. Not that the passage(s) explain why gifts are sometimes accepted and sometimes not, I’m just trying to draw conclusions.
Speaking of Naaman, we should recall that he himself was also from Aram, though his name isn’t mentioned in this passage; I don’t know how much time has passed, perhaps Naaman isn’t around anymore, or perhaps he just doesn’t feature into the story.
It wouldn’t surprise me, however, if Ben-Hadad knows who Elisha is because he knows of the miracle that had been performed for Naaman. When the king’s men tell him about Elisha being in town they just refer to him as “the man of God” in verse 7✞, and everyone seems to know who that is; not “a prophet” or “a representative of the god of the Israelites” or “a powerful man” or whatever, but “the man of God” – oh, you mean Elisha?
Who is Hazael?
It’s worth pointing out that we’ve seen Hazael’s name before! One of Elijah’s appointed tasks from the LORD had been to anoint Hazael king of Aram. We’ve seen the name a few times through our journey through 1 Kings:
- Although the name isn’t mentioned in the text of 1 Kings 2 I included a quote from the ESV Study Bible that pointed out much of the work of Elijah was focused on a “war” between God and Baal, which wouldn’t end until, “Elisha has succeeded Elijah, and Hazael and Jehu have appeared.”
- In 1 Kings 19:9–18 we see the actual instruction from God to Elijah to anoint Hazael king of Aram.
- In 1 Kings 19:19–21 his name is, again, not mentioned in the text, but I included a quote from the ESV Study Bible pointing out that Elijah had never carried out his task of anointing Hazael.
And so now the uncomfortable task of anointing him king of Aram falls to Elisha.
Why is God sending Elisha?
The biggest question I have around this passage is why God is handling events the way He is.
- Why does he need to send Elisha to “anoint” Hazael?
- I keep putting “anoint” in quotes because Elisha doesn’t actually “anoint” Hazael, he just delivers a prophecy. But Elisha is (sort of) carrying out God’s original instruction to Elijah to “anoint” Hazael so the term is stuck in my head.
- Why the ruse of telling Ben-Hadad a false prophecy, only to tell Hazael the real one?
- Given Elisha’s reaction Hazael is clearly going to be a terrible king—to the people of Israel, at the very least!—so why take such elaborate care to tell him about all of this?
In terms of the prophecy to Ben-Hadad, which I’d always read as being a “false” prophecy (and so treated it as such above), I was wondering this reading through if it was actually more of a true prophecy, which Hazael perverted. That is, I’m wondering if Ben-Hadad would have recovered if Hazael hadn’t killed him. The ESV Study Bible takes things a bit further, pointing out that there is also a complexity around the translation of the Hebrew text, which provides yet another option:
2 Kings 8:10 say to him, “You shall certainly recover.” This is what the Hebrew text says. But the word translated “to him” (Hb. lo) is sometimes to be read as the negative word “not” (the Hb. word lo’ has virtually the same sound as the almost identical Hb. word lo). If this is the case, then Hazael is to say to Ben-hadad, “You will certainly not recover” (see ESV footnote), and Hazael would have lied to the king (v. 14). But if the Hebrew of Elisha’s statement does indeed mean “You shall certainly recover,” it could have been a truthful prediction about the course of Ben-hadad’s sickness that was still negated when Hazael murdered him—i.e., Ben-hadad could have recovered had Hazael not murdered him. Alternatively, some have suggested that Elisha’s statement was in fact deceptive, to lull the king into a false sense of security, so that he would be unprepared for Hazael’s attack.
ESV Study Bible
So I think I have my answer on the “ruse,” in that there’s a good chance it was never a ruse in the first place. Personally I’d always assumed it was, along the lines of lulling Ben-Hadad into a false sense of security as the ESV Study Bible suggests as a third option, but that was also before I thought too deeply about it. I’m now leaning toward assuming it wasn’t a ruse, though the two options that would make it not a ruse are pretty equal in my mind in terms of plausibility (not being a scholar of ancient Hebrew).
But that still leaves the larger question: Why is this happening in the first place? Why is God sending Elisha to Aram to “anoint” the next king – especially given Elisha’s advance knowledge about what a terrible king Hazael is going to be? Yes, this is Elisha carrying out an instruction that had originally been given to Elijah, but why was that instruction given? Why did God want Elijah to anoint Hazael king of Aram? I’m not even asking why He wanted Hazael to be king of Aram, but why the point of sending one of His prophets to anoint him as such?
The only theory I have, which is based on very little, goes back to the ESV Study Bible calling out this “war” between God and Baal. Perhaps Ben-Hadad and/or the nation of Aram were big proponents of Baal worship, which will come to an end with Hazael (regardless of how bad Israel will suffer at his hand)?
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