For my weekly quiet time today, I studied II Kings 8.
Hazael replaces Ben-Hadad as king of Syria. Essentially, Hazael soaks a blanket in water and places it over Ben-Hadad’s face, and Ben-Hadad dies. John MacArthur says that Hazael was suffocating Ben-Hadad. Josephus says that Hazael was using the wet blanket as a net, as he strangled the sick king. And, for some reason, the Jewish commentator Rashi contends that Hazael simply wanted to cool off Ben-Hadad.
Speaking for myself, I’ve read this passage to mean that Hazael suffocated and drowned Ben-Hadad, killing him that way.
Hazael was not the son of Ben-Hadad, but rather his servant. That means that Hazael was a usurper. On this, an Assyrian source agrees. The annals of the Assyrian king, Shalmanesar III, refer to Hazael as the son of a nobody. The reason that this Assyrian source is talking about Hazael is that the Assyrian king invaded much of Syria, but couldn’t take Damascus. Hazael managed to defend it successfully, on more than one occasion.
When Ben-Hadad becomes sick in II Kings 8, he sends Hazael to Elisha with gifts, to inquire of the prophet whether or not Ben-Hadad would recover. The Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary says that Ben-Hadad was doing more than seeking Elisha’s forecast of the future; rather, Ben-Hadad was trying to bribe Elisha into putting in a good work for him before God, so that God would heal him! Whether Ben-Hadad was inquiring or requesting healing, it’s interesting how a prophet of the God of Israel has so much clout in Syria, a non-Israelite country! This may be partly because people in the ancient Near East respected the power of any god, even one from another nation. But I’d like to think that Naaman had an effect in his homeland of Syria: that Naaman told the Syrians he knew about how the God of Israel had healed him of his skin disease, and so the Syrians began to respect the Israelite God. The Syrians continued to worship their own gods, but they recognized the power of the LORD.
Did Elisha instruct Hazael to lie to Ben-Hadad? In v 10, Elisha tells Hazael that he is to say to Ben-Hadad that he (Ben-Hadad) will live, even though, in actuality, Ben-Hadad will die. The Septuagint and Josephus essentially take this at face value: Elisha tells Hazael to mislead Ben-Hadad. Maybe they figured that Elisha wanted Ben-Hadad to die happy, or (conversely) that he desired for Ben-Hadad’s last moments be miserable. Hazael told Ben-Hadad that he would recover, and the next day he killed him! Elisha’s message of recovery may have lifted Ben-hadad up and given him hope, but it was a great fall to Ben-Hadad emotionally when Hazael was suffocating, drowning, or strangling him! Did Elisha seek to punish Ben-Hadad for his invasions of Israel (I Kings 20; II Kings 6-7)? Ben-Hadad had made Israel feel insecure: was it now Ben-Hadad’s turn to experience what he had inflicted on others?
In the fourth century C.E., we see an attempt to argue that Elisha was not telling Hazael to lie. Ephrem the Syrian states that Elisha was instructing Hazael to speak the truth to Ben-Hadad: Ben-Hadad would recover from his illness! The problem for Ben-Hadad was that, even though he would recover, Hazael would kill him the next day! So Elisha wasn’t lying when he conveyed to Ben-Hadad that he (Ben-Hadad) would recover. This is the explanation that’s adopted by John Gill, John MacArthur, and others.
In the Masoretic Text, the ketiv and the qere are different. The ketiv presents Elisha telling Hazael to inform Ben-Hadad that “You will surely not live.” That would mean that Elisha wanted Hazael to tell Ben-Hadad the truth, and that Hazael disregarded Elisha’s instruction when he told Ben-Hadad that he would surely recover. The qere, what was read in synagogues, went with the view that Elisha desired for Hazael to tell Ben-Hadad that he would recover.
Hazael was a humble servant (although there are commentators who act as if his humility was fake!). When Elisha tells Hazael with sadness that he (Hazael) will become king of Syria and will ruthlessly persecute Israel, Hazael asks Elisha how he can say that about him, a dog? Hazael doesn’t believe that he’s important enough to commit atrocities! But Hazael returns to Ben-Hadad and kills him. He has started on the path of evil. Did Elisha put Hazael on this path through the power of suggestion, or did Elisha simply foresee that Hazael would follow it? Elisha was saddened by the thought that Hazael would hurt Israel. Yet, when God told Elijah to anoint Hazael as king, God predicted that Hazael would kill many Israelites, presumably as judgment for their sins (I Kings 19:15-17). Was Elisha putting Hazael onto the dark path, making Hazael the sort of person who would be an effective instrument of judgment in the hands of the Almighty?