1 Kings 17-19
Elijah fed by ravens
Background: The nation of Israel has gone from bad to worse. Israel’s first king, Jeroboam, introduced an unauthorized El worship by setting up two calves in the nation. Now, King Ahab would not only bring heresy into Israel, but apostasy. Ahab married Jezebel, a princess of Phoenicia. Phoenician nation were a group of Sea People that came from the Greek Islands. Jezebel brought with her the god Baal, a powerful Canaanite/Phoenician storm god, who would be Jehovah’s arch-nemesis throughout the period of the Divided Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Both gods were gods of power, fertility, and strength. According to tradition, both were divine sons of El from before the Creation. Both claimed the same territory. Canaanites worshiped Baal long before Moses brought Israel to the Promised Land. Yet Abraham had worshiped Jehovah centuries before in the land of Canaan and was promised the land by Jehovah. Both gods had a consort/wife. Baal’s wife was Astarte, though in the Hebrew Bible is named Asherah (who is Jehovah’s consort), the goddess of wisdom and fertility, represented by the Tree of Life and the sacred grove.
In this period, Jezebel sought to forever make Baal the god of the land. She supported the priests of Baal, hundreds eating at her table in Jezreel. She also sought out and murdered all the prophets of Jehovah. That is, she killed all but one: Elijah. He alone was Jehovah’s prophet and representative in the land of Israel. He would spend much of his life in hiding, and the rest of the time in direct confrontation with Ahab, Jezebel, and Baal’s priests.
Elijah Seals the Heavens
1 Kings 17
Why would a prophet of God seal the heavens so they do not rain for three years? Wasn’t he aware of the sufferings it would cause the people of Israel? While Ahab and Jezebel were Elijah’s key enemies, the people were the ones that would go without. Droughts first cause the crops to die and the waters to dry up. With no crops nor water, eventually the animals that depend upon grass/hay/fodder would also die. Famine first brings about the death of all animals that eat only vegetation. With dead and dying animals bloating in the Sun, pestilence would be the next great disaster to hit mankind. Flies and maggots would become common place, spreading illness and disease. The poor would be hit hardest, and would usually die first in such circumstances, while the king and queen would find ways to keep comfortable and well fed.
Why would God allow Elijah to bring about drought, famine and pestilence? The Book of Mormon suggests that such actions cause people to humble themselves and turn to God in humility. Nephi, son of Helaman, saw the people in open warfare and heading towards a complete destruction. Only drastic actions could save them:
“3 And it came to pass that in this year Nephi did cry unto the Lord, saying:
4 O Lord, do not suffer that this people shall be destroyed by the sword; but O Lord, rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent and turn unto thee.
5 And so it was done, according to the words of Nephi. And there was a great famine upon the land, among all the people of Nephi....
7 And it came to pass that the people saw that they were about to perish by famine, and they began to remember the Lord their God; and they began to remember the words of Nephi.
8 And the people began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders, that they would say unto Nephi: Behold, we know that thou art a man of God, and therefore cry unto the Lord our God that he turn away from us this famine, lest all the words which thou hast spoken concerning our destruction be fulfilled.
9 And it came to pass that the judges did say unto Nephi, according to the words which had been desired. And it came to pass that when Nephi saw that the people had repented and did humble themselves in sackcloth, he cried again unto the Lord” (Helaman 11:3-9).
In Nephi’s instance, the people were about to destroy themselves with the sword. In Elijah’s case, the people were spiritually destroying themselves with the worship of Baal. In creating a three year famine, Elijah was softening their hearts for them to return back to Jehovah.
Elijah raises widow’s son
Still, Elijah was mindful of the suffering. In staying with the poor widow and her son, he ensured their survival during the famine. When the widow’s son was hit with pestilence, it provided Elijah with an opportunity to display Jehovah’s power. In raising the child from the dead, he ensured not only survival from the famine, but brought about conversion to Jehovah:
“And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24).
Elijah versus the Priests of Baal
1 Kings 18
The famine continued for three years. Those surviving the famines and plagues are duly humbled and ripened for conversion. They seek an answer to their starvation, which King Ahab has not been able to provide for them. Before turning on the spigots of heaven, Elijah’s opportunity to show Jehovah’s power and that Jehovah would end the drought was at hand.
“17 And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel?
18 And he answered, I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.
19 Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel’s table.”
Note that many blamed Jehovah and Elijah for the drought, including Ahab. But Elijah explained that the drought occurred not because people were following Jehovah, but because they had rejected Jehovah and ran after Baalim (plural of Baal). Elijah called forth all the priests of Baal and Asherah. Hundreds of priests against just Elijah in a literal dual to the death. The sacrifice would show just which God had real power in Israel.
“24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. “
This is the ancient trial or test of fire. A testimony that is sealed by fire was a true one. We see the trial of fire in the Book of Mormon with Abinadi:
“9 Now Abinadi said unto him: I say unto you, I will not recall the words which I have spoken unto you concerning this people, for they are true; and that ye may know of their surety I have suffered myself that I have fallen into your hands.
10 Yea, and I will suffer even until death, and I will not recall my words, and they shall stand as a testimony against you. And if ye slay me ye will shed innocent blood, and this shall also stand as a testimony against you at the last day.
11 And now king Noah was about to release him, for he feared his word; for he feared that the judgments of God would come upon him.
12 But the priests lifted up their voices against him, and began to accuse him, saying: He has reviled the king. Therefore the king was stirred up in anger against him, and he delivered him up that he might be slain.
13 And it came to pass that they took him and bound him, and scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death.
14 And now when the flames began to scorch him, he cried unto them, saying:
15 Behold, even as ye have done unto me, so shall it come to pass that thy seed shall cause that many shall suffer the pains that I do suffer, even the pains of death by fire; and this because they believe in the salvation of the Lord their God” (Mosiah 17:9-15).
King Noah almost released Abinadi, because he feared the trial of fire. Later, King Noah would also be slain by fire for his sins, even as Abinadi prophesied.
Meanwhile, in 1 Kings 18, we read that Baal’s priests built their altar and spent the entire day praying, shouting and cutting themselves in an attempt to have Baal light their sacrifice. But it was to no avail. Even Elijah’s mocking that they needed to dance harder and shout louder, for perhaps Baal was asleep or deaf, did not cause the altar to light with flame.
Then it was Elijah’s turn:
“30 Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.
31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the Lord came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time.
35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
37 Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.
38 Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God” (1 Kings 18:30-39).
Elijah rebuilt the sacred altar at Carmel that was broken down due to neglect or perhaps vandalism by Jezebel’s priests. The bullock or bull was a symbol of Baal’s strength, fertility and power. The wood symbolized Asherah, goddess of wisdom, fertility and the grove. He soaked the offering and the altar until there would be no doubt that it was God that consumed the sacrifice, and not just a parlor trick. God’s power was shown in that fire came down from heaven consuming not only the bullock and wood, but the stones, dust, and even the water in the trench.
There was no doubt about it. The people saw with their own eyes that Baal was unable to light his sacrifice on fire, while Jehovah consumed everything. Israel fell on their faces and proclaimed Jehovah as their God. Only now that they had been humbled by three years of famine and drought were they ready to repent and truly embrace Jehovah as God. This same action, if done at the beginning of the drought, would not have impressed them for long and the people would have continued to worship Baal. But now it mattered. If Jehovah had power to consume even rocks with fire, he had power to end the drought.
Elijah called upon the people to slay the 450 priests of Baal, and they gladly did. Interestingly, the Bible does not say that the priests of Asherah were harmed at all. Some, such as David Larsen at the Heavenly Ascents blog, believe it is because the Asherah and her priests were a later addition by the Deuteronomists to justify their destruction of Asherah’s groves and to remove the Tree of Life out of the temple worship. However, I believe it is possible that Elijah did not slay them because Asherah was part of the worship of Jehovah, even as his consort/wife. Jehovah took back his consort from Baal, his arch-nemesis, and restored her in the proper worship of Jehovah. Not only did Elijah’s challenge restore Jehovah as God of Israel and defeat Baal, but it also restored Asherah as Jehovah’s wife.
With Israel now returned to the worship of their true God, Elijah turned to Ahab and told him to stop fasting, go eat and prepare for rain. The drought was over.
Still, Small Voice
1 Kings 19
While Ahab may now have started down the road to repentance and believing in Jehovah again, Jezebel was beside herself. She had slain almost all the prophets of Jehovah in Israel. Now, Elijah had slain all the priests of Baal. This became a major setback in Baal worship, as the temples and sacred high places to Baal had no priests to sacrifice to the god. Jezebel sought revenge and demanded Elijah’s head. Elijah fled into the land of Judah for safety. He was fed by an angel, then wandered to Mount Horeb, fasting 40 days and nights. Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, the mountain where God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. This was the place where Moses had his theophany, or grand vision of God, and Elijah also went there in hopes of having his own grand experience.
On the Mount, Elijah awaited on God in a cave:
“11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks 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:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?”
Note that even with Moses, Elijah was able to see the Lord pass by him. But Elijah noted that God was not in the wind (probably a whirlwind), the earthquake, or the fire. Remember, Jehovah recently used fire to consume the altar. While these are great powers, they are not God. Some Canaanites saw in these powers the gods they worshiped. However, Jehovah was to be found in the still, small voice. Elijah recognized that and only went out of the cave when he heard the voice.
How often are we distracted or absorbed by the loud noises of society around us? How often do we seek answers or even God in the powers of the earth? How often do we sit quietly enough that we can even hear the still, small voice of the Spirit?
“ 14 And he (Elijah) said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Elijah was tired. He spent three years enduring a famine, hiding out from Jezebel and Ahab, and watching the sons of the prophets of Jehovah slain by Jezebel. He was ready for his mission to be over, and God agreed. The Lord commanded him to anoint new kings for Syria and Israel, and to anoint his own replacement.
“And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria:
16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.
17 And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.”
The reign of Baal’s terror would soon end in Israel. Between Hazael of Syria, Jehu of Israel, and Elisha the prophet, the worship of Baal would be ended, at least for a time. And Elijah was reminded that his works had made a big difference, even though it may not have seemed that way:
“18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.”
Elijah’s efforts had converted thousands. The worship of Jehovah in Israel was not dead, but was still very much alive. And in the following generation of kings and prophets, Jehovah would have greater power in Israel.
David Larsen’s Heavenly Ascents on Elijah and Lesson 28: http://www.heavenlyascents.com/2010/07/27/the-great-elijah-stories-ot-lesson-28/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+HeavenlyAscents+%28Heavenly+Ascents%29&utm_content=Google+Reader
William G. Dever, Does God have a Wife? http://www.amazon.com/Did-God-Have-Wife-Archaeology/dp/0802863949/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1280257633&sr=8-1
Margaret Barker website: http://www.margaretbarker.com/
Daniel Peterson, Nephi and His Asherah: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223
Johanna H. Stuckey, Asherah and the God of the Early Israelites: http://www.matrifocus.com/LAM04/spotlight.htm
Wikipedia, Asherah: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asherah