Behold, there came fire down from heaven, and burnt up the two captains of the former fifties with their fifties: therefore let my life now be precious in your sight.
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Caesarius of Arles
Now if you consider well, dearly beloved, you will realize that not only the Jewish people fell through pride, but also those two captains perished from the same weakness. With great pride and arrogance but lacking any humility, the latter came to blessed Elijah and said, “Man of God, the king summons you.” Because they did not give him honor as an old man or reverence as a prophet, the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouth of the prophet, and they were struck down by a blow sent from heaven. The third captain, however, coming with great humility and contrition, as was proper, pleaded in a tearful voice and not only merited to escape punishment but even induced blessed Elijah to condescend to go to the king. All this, dearly beloved, happened for the salvation of all the people, since the good and merciful Lord struck a few people in order that he might heal them all. - "Sermon 125.2"
These wretched men are apt to censure the writings of the Old Testament saying, “How was it just for blessed Elijah to burn two captains with their soldiers by means of fire brought down from heaven?” How justly and mercifully this was done, dearly beloved, we want to indicate briefly to your hearts. In the days of the Old Testament, any crimes or offenses committed among the people were ordered to be physically punished. Thus it is written, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Indeed, some were punished in order that the rest might fear bodily punishment and refrain from sins and offenses. Now, in the time of the prophet, blessed Elijah, all the Jewish people had abandoned God and were sacrificing to idols, not only refusing to honor God’s prophets but even very frequently trying to kill them. For this reason blessed Elijah was aroused with zeal for God and caused some to be punished physically, so that those who had neglected the salvation of their souls might be healed in heart by fearin...
But the stubborn king did not fear the word of the prophet and said in his heart, “He lies.” And so he did not pay attention to his warning, which exhorted him to get rid of the reason of his evils and to repent. He persevered in his stubbornness and, instead of repenting of his pride and being converted, grew more stubborn and sent a captain of fifty with some guards to arrest the prophet of God and lead him to the tribunal. Now, after hearing that the fire had come down and had consumed the captain with his fifty men on the occasion of their effrontery, he sent some others, and again the fire consumed them and made them perish. And [divine] justice decrees this sentence quite rightly, because those who had seen the fire, which had come down at the prayer of Elijah, and had not believed or were converted, were necessarily scorched by the second descent of the fire. And the same punishment was prepared for the third one, who was sent after them, if the terrifying spectacle of the fire ...