1 Kings 16
Tucked away into this chapter was this curious little detail: "It was during [Ahab's] reign that Hiel, a man from Bethel, rebuilt Jericho. When he laid its foundations, it cost him the life of his oldest son, Abiram. And when he completed it and set up its gates, it cost him the life of his youngest son, Segub." (vs 34) What in the world does this have to do with anything else in the chapter? And why did this man, Hiel, have to pay such a dear price for rebuilding a city?
Do you remember when the Israelites defeated Jericho? Its demise is recorded all the way back in Joshua, chapter 6. It was the first major victory for the Israelites in the Promised Land, and at the time, they razed the city to the ground and destroyed everything and everyone (except Rahab and her family) because of the evil that was so rampant throughout the city. After the battle was over, Joshua made this startling declaration: "At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: 'Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates.'" (Josh 6:26)
Wow. How many hundreds of years had passed since the destruction of Jericho and the prophecy of Joshua? Yet, all that time later, when Hiel decided he was going to rebuild the city, the Bible says that when he began, his oldest son died, and when he finished, his youngest son died.
What’s even more interesting is to ask the question why. Why would they have died? Was God angry with Hiel for disobeying Him? Do you think His attitude was something like, I told you not to do this, and I warned you about what would happen if you disobeyed Me, so now, I’m going to kill your sons! Perhaps. It might be hard to completely rule that out since God had to deal with the Israelites in such a way as to often set up very clear-cut cause-and-effect consequences.
However, there may have been something else at work here. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Hiel got it in his head to rebuild Jericho—one of the wickedest cities in Canaan’s history—during the reign of Ahab. Because Ahab was by far the most evil king in the history of Israel. He was the one most dedicated to the worship of Baal and other pagan gods, so it doesn’t seem surprising that with such an influence, an Israelite citizen might want to rebuild a former pagan metropolis in all its glory.
But there was an interesting footnote about 1 Kings 16:34 at the bottom of the page in my Bible. It said this: An ancient Hebrew scribal tradition reads He killed his oldest son when he laid its foundations, and he killed his youngest son when he set up its gates. That’s interesting! Perhaps God didn’t have a thing to do with the demise of Hiel’s sons. In fact, the Message version of the Bible renders the text this way: "It was under Ahab’s rule that Hiel of Bethel refortified Jericho, but at a terrible cost: He ritually sacrificed his firstborn son Abiram at the laying of the foundation, and his youngest son Segub at the setting up of the gates."
Whoa! For me, that put a whole new understanding on the picture here. Now, instead of God warning of a punishment to come (and remembering His threat hundreds of years later), we have a God who knows the future and knows where evil will eventually lead. Because, of course, one of the awful by-products of most pagan worship was child sacrifice. And if Hiel set out to rebuild an evil city to the pagan gods of the day, perhaps he tried to curry favor from those gods by sacrificing his oldest and youngest sons—an awful and heart-wrenching fulfillment of the prophecy Joshua had uttered so many hundreds of years earlier.
I bet God sometimes wishes He was wrong. But, from a positive angle, this can give us great confidence that God indeed knows the future! And if the Israelites had been sensible of their past, they might have seen the fulfillment of this prophecy as evidence that there was only one Sovereign in the universe. A God who knew them so well that He could predict with unfortunate accuracy what they would do.
So, how is this comforting? Well, I don’t know about you, but I find it immensely comforting to know that God isn’t surprised by anything. He’s not surprised by the evil that comes to us in this life, and He’s not surprised by the evil we perpetrate in this life. Long before we know what’s going on, He has seen the path we’re on, and He’s prepared to help us deal with it—whether it be the fallout of suffering or the consequences of bad decisions.
God knows your future. And that means He knows what’s going to happen to you today before you do. He has seen this day and all the things it holds, and He is prepared to share it with you. If it holds pleasant things, He is prepared to rejoice with you. And if it holds unpleasant things, He is prepared to suffer with you. But one thing He most definitely is not is surprised. So no matter what comes your way today, remember: God already knows about it, and He’s prepared to help you!