The Old Testament emphasizes the Lord’s dealings with His people Israel. However, it also makes clear that while God had a special relationship with the descendants of Abraham, He was and remains Lord of all the nations. The affairs of non-Israelite nations did not escape His notice or control.
One example of this is found in today’s passage. Elisha, the prophet in Israel during the reigns of several of its most wicked kings, made his way to Damascus, the capital of Syria (2 Kings 8:7). We do not know why Elisha was there, but he clearly had no fear of Syria even though it had earlier tried to capture him (6:8–23). Interestingly, King Ben-hadad of Syria, on his sickbed, inquired of Elisha as to whether his sickness would lead to death (8:7–8). Ben-hadad was no saint, but he knew to consult the one true Lord of all when he was in dire straits. He was wiser than other kings of Israel such as Ahaziah, who looked for help from false gods when he was ill (1:1–2).
Ben-hadad sent his servant Hazael to make the inquiry, and the Lord revealed to Elisha that Ben-hadad would surely die and Hazael would take his place on the throne (8:9–10). Yet, this was not a case of God’s merely knowing the future, for Hazael was the Lord’s choice to be the new king of Syria. After all, He had commanded Elijah to anoint Hazael as Syria’s king (1 Kings 19:15). This shows that God is Lord of the nations, the One who raises up and puts down leaders for His people and for those who are not His people. Moreover, the Lord is not a passive observer of the future who sees what will happen and then merely responds. He knows the future because He has ordained—established or determined—the future, working out all things according to His sovereign will (Isa. 46:8–11; Eph. 1:11).
God raises up the leaders of the nations, but that does not mean He approves of all their actions. Elisha wept after announcing God’s plans for Hazael, for the Lord also told the prophet that Hazael would harm Israel greatly (2 Kings 8:11–13). Indeed, the Lord would bring wicked nations against His people in judgment and discipline, but He would judge those nations as well, since they would seek to steal, kill, and destroy, not to be holy instruments in His hands (Hab. 1–2).
Hazael took Syria’s throne from Ben-hadad by murder, and Syria’s own historians in extrabiblical documents report that Hazael was a usurper of the monarchy (2 Kings 8:14–15). But ultimately, Hazael became king because the Lord ordained his reign over Syria.