After the civil war, the military history of Israel and Judah is a slow spiral downwards. There are moments where they are faithful to God, and he grants them victory against the surrounding nations (the previous inhabitants of the land). But increasingly they lose battles, and are eventually defeated by Assyria and Babylon. Within this narrative of decline, though, there are two shining lights – the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Elijah gives the first indication of what it means to live oppressed by an evil force. Ahab, the king of Israel at the time, was the worst king so far in the nation’s history (1 Kings 16:30). He worshipped Baal and Asherah and “did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:33). However, God changes his pattern of response. Instead of sending a foreign army to punish Israel until they repent, he sent Elijah, whose first prophetic act was to stop the rain, and then go and hide (1 Kings 17:1-7). Over the rest of his ministry, Elijah proclaimed God’s judgement against Israel’s kings and called the people to return to worshipping him. His actions were accompanied by spectacular miracles (e.g. 1 Kings 17:20-22; 18:38). When threatened, he either ran (1 Kings 19), or was defended supernaturally by God (2 kings 1:9-13).
God was also protecting Elisha when the King of Aram sent soldiers to kill him:
15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked. 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
18 As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, “Strike these people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. 19 Elisha told them, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria. 20 After they entered the city, Elisha said, “LORD, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the LORD opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria. 21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?” 22 “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” 23 So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. (2 Kings 6:15-23)
God was showing that he was capable of protecting his individual prophets, not just his people as a whole. However, we do not see an end to the war against the previous inhabitants of the land. Elisha frequently prophesied about a battle against these peoples, and gave specific strategic advice (2 Kings 3; 6:8-10; 7:1-20; 13:14-19). However, God was also showing his international power through the Prophetic proclamation. When Elisha healed Naaman, the commander of the Aramean army, he converted one of Israel’s most dangerous enemies to a worshiper of God (2 Kings 5). When Ben Hadad, king of Aram was ill, he prophesied that Hazael would replace him (2 Kings 8:7-15). Finally, Elisha anointed Jehu to replace Ahab as king, and prophesied Ahab death (2 Kings 9)
In these two men, we see development in our understanding of God’s providence. The nations of Israel and Judah still have the mandate to defeat the previous inhabitants, and God supports their battles against them, so long as they are faithful and listen to God’s prophet. Of course, these battle are predominantly won through direct miraculous intervention by God, and not through any military action by his people. This is expressed even more extremely in the individual lives of the prophets. Though they may relay God’s military directions to Kings, we see that, as individuals, they rely entirely on God’s direct intervention for their own protection.