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1 Kings 17:1-19:21 – Elijah Battles Baal

Summary

First Kings draws on another source for these dramatic stories that relate the battle between Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the Canaanite god Baal.

Analysis

Omri was followed by his son, Ahab. Ahab's queen, Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre (a city in modern Lebanon), tried to introduce the worship of Tyrian Baal as the state religion of Israel and violently dealt with any prophetic opposition. The confrontation between Jezebel and her lord, Baal, and Elijah and his lord, Yahweh, will occupy the closing chapters of 1 Kings and the first third of 2 Kings. Chapters 17-19 form a self-contained triptych of Elijah: the first panel presents Elijah's call (17:1-24), the second his success as Yahweh's prophet (18:1-19:1), and the third his dismissal (19:2-21).

In chapter 17, Elijah bursts upon the scene with the declaration that there "will be neither dew nor rain these three years, except by my word" (v. 1, emphasis added). Usually the word of the Lord precedes the prophetic announcement; since it now follows in verse 2, Elijah's outburst is shown to be premature. He must learn what prophets are all about. At the Wadi Cherith (vv. 3-6) he is sustained by ravens and learns to obey ("went and did according to the word of the LORD" v. 5). When the wadi dries up he moves to Zarephath (vv. 7-16) where he learns to minister to a widow who, in turn, sustains him and obeys the word of Elijah (v. 15a). Finally (vv. 17-24), Elijah learns to pray in an intercessory fashion and God obeys Elijah by restoring life to the widow's son (v. 22). The widow now recognizes that Elijah is a prophet (as does the reader) when she says, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth" (v. 24).

In chapter 18, the actual contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal is engaged on Mount Carmel. Each side erects an altar and prepares a bull for sacrifice, but no fire is kindled. The contest consists in seeing which god will send fire for the sacrifice; that god will be the true god and worthy of worship. The prophets of Baal pray, dance, and even slash themselves with swords in an endeavor to invoke Baal's aid, all with no success. After taunting the prophets and ridiculing their ineffective measures and nonresponsive god, Elijah douses his altar with twelve jars of water (where this water came from in the midst of a three-year drought is a mystery) and calls upon the name of the Lord, who responds immediately with a bolt of lightning ("fire of the LORD") that laps up the water, consumes the bull and (to the utter joy of the "high-place-hating" Deuteronomistic editors) the altar itself. The prophets of Baal are then destroyed in accordance with Deuteronomy 13:13-15. This middle panel of the triptych exalts Elijah as Israel's true prophet even as it displays Yahweh as the true God.

In chapter 19, the scene shifts to Mount Horeb (Sinai) where Elijah, depicted as Moses, cowers before the wrath and death threat of Jezebel. When asked what he is doing so far from the battle against Baal, the prophet offers a long lament about the futility of the cause (v. 10). God responds with a non-theophany of wind, earthquake, and fire, again recalling the theophany to Moses at this very spot (vv. 11-12; compare Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 4:12). But when God again asks what Elijah is doing, Elijah responds with the same pitiful lament (1 Kings 19:13-14). As a result, God has no other option than to gently dismiss the "burned out prophet" from his duties and prepare the way for the next line of defense in the battle with Baal: Elisha, Hazael, and Jehu, emphasizing that it is God who battles Baal, not the prophets. When the prophets are willing, God will use them; when they are not, God will find others.

1 Kings 17:1-19:21

Elijah Predicts a Drought

17Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe* in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.’ 2The word of the Lord came to him, saying, 3‘Go from here and turn eastwards, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.’ 5So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. 7But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

The Widow of Zarephath

8 Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, 9‘Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.’ 10So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.’ 11As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ 12But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.’ 13Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.’ 15She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.

Elijah Revives the Widow’s Son

17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18She then said to Elijah, ‘What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!’ 19But he said to her, ‘Give me your son.’ He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. 20He cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?’ 21Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, ‘O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’ 22The Lord listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, ‘See, your son is alive.’ 24So the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.’

Elijah’s Message to Ahab

18After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year of the drought,* saying, ‘Go, present yourself to Ahab; I will send rain on the earth.’ 2So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria. 3Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Now Obadiah revered the Lord greatly; 4when Jezebel was killing off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets, hid them fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water.) 5Then Ahab said to Obadiah, ‘Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis; perhaps we may find grass to keep the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.’ 6So they divided the land between them to pass through it; Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.

7 As Obadiah was on the way, Elijah met him; Obadiah recognized him, fell on his face, and said, ‘Is it you, my lord Elijah?’ 8He answered him, ‘It is I. Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.’ 9And he said, ‘How have I sinned, that you would hand your servant over to Ahab, to kill me? 10As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom to which my lord has not sent to seek you; and when they would say, “He is not here”, he would require an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you. 11But now you say, “Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.” 12As soon as I have gone from you, the spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where; so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have revered the Lord from my youth. 13Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred of the Lord’s prophets fifty to a cave, and provided them with bread and water? 14Yet now you say, “Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here”; he will surely kill me.’ 15Elijah said, ‘As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.’ 16So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him; and Ahab went to meet Elijah.

17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ 18He answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. 19Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’

Elijah’s Triumph over the Priests of Baal

20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. 23Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. 24Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’ All the people answered, ‘Well spoken!’ 25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’ 26So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. 27At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ 28Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come closer to me’; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; 31Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name’; 32with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. 33Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, ‘Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt-offering and on the wood.’ 34Then he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. Again he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time, 35so that the water ran all round the altar, and filled the trench also with water.

36 At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ 38Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. 39When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.’ 40Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.

The Drought Ends

41 Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain.’ 42So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; there he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. 43He said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look towards the sea.’ He went up and looked, and said, ‘There is nothing.’ Then he said, ‘Go again seven times.’ 44At the seventh time he said, ‘Look, a little cloud no bigger than a person’s hand is rising out of the sea.’ Then he said, ‘Go and say to Ahab, “Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.” 45In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. 46But the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; he girded up his loins and ran in front of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

Elijah Flees from Jezebel

19Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

Elijah Meets God at Horeb

11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’ 15Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.’

Elisha Becomes Elijah’s Disciple

19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ Then Elijah* said to him, ‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?’ 21He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

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v 2.2.7
10 February 2011

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