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KD Old Testament Lesson 28: Elijah

Posted by Karl D. on July 18, 2010

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Elijah
Reading: 1 Kings 17-19

1 Introduction

In today’s lesson, Ahab is the King of Israel (Northern Kingdom). Let me back up slightly to the end of chapter 16 which actually introduces Ahab and let’s see how the narrator summarizes Ahab’s reign. Read 1 Kings 16:30-34:

(30) And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him. (31) And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. (32) And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. (33) And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him. (34) In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun.

1.1 Baal in Spades

What do we learn about Ahab? Who is he compared to?

We have Baal references in spades. The text specifically mentions Ahab worshiping, serving, and building a temple to Baal. Also, some of the names contain references to Baal (Although, scholars do point out the Baal means “lord” or “husband” and was used by good Israelites in names (e.g. Saul’s sons: Ishbaal, Meribaal, etc)1):

  • Jezebel’s father is EthBaal. EthBaal (ItoBaal) means “Baal Exists.”2
  • Hacket in her discussion of the name Jezebel explains her name is best understood as meaning “Where is the Prince?” and that this phrase was the “cry of Baal’s divine and human subjects when he is in the underworld.”3

Consider an archaeological find that scholars date to to 8th century BCE (probably early 8th century BCE maybe around 770 BCE). Excavations in Samaria uncovered over a hundred inked notes on pottery shards. The notes contain many names of people who are residents. The majority of the names are Jehovah compound names, but a significant minority are Baal compound names.4

  • What inferences should we draw about the Israelite people and how they worshipped during this time period (this a little after time period as Ahab’s reign)?
  • Do you think this information serves as an important backdrop to this week’s lesson and reading?

1.2 Hiel’s Son

  • What is going on in verse 34? What happened to Hiel’s son during the building of Jericho? Is there a range of possibilities here?

1.3 Ahab Made a Grove

What is meant by “Ahab made a grove?”

  • It appears that the symbol of the Asherah was a pole or tree.
  • Asherah: “The Canaanite mother goddess, associated with lions, serpents, and sacred trees. The word ‘asherah’ in the Bible most often refers to a stylized wooden tree.”5

Consider an archaeological find from Northern Sinai that scholars also date to the 8th century BCE. A storage jar from the find depicts a crowned bovine headed figure along with two other bovine headed figures. The inscription mentions a blessing “by Jehovah of Samaria and his asherah.” 6

  • What do you make of this evidence? What inferences should we draw about the Israelite religion in this time period?

2 Sealing of the Heavens

2.1 Jehovah Versus Baal

Read 1 Kings 17:1:

(1) And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.

  • Note, Elijah means “Jehovah is my God”.7
  • What do we learn about Elijah?
  • Notice that the narrator doesn’t call or mention that Elijah is a prophet when Elijah is is introduced in this verse. I wonder why? Why no mention of his authority?
  • Why does Elijah shut the heavens?
  • Also notice that neither Elijah or the narrator actually say the drought is a punishment from God. I wonder why?
  • Why did Elijah pray for a drought and not something else?

    Note, Baal claims to be the god of storm and fertility. He is present in the dew and the rain.8

2.2 Elijah Hides

Read 1 Kings 17:2-6

(2) And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, (3) Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. (4) And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. (5) So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. (6) And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook.

  • Why did the Lord command Elijah to hide? Is it strange that the first command from God to Elijah that we, as a reader, are privy to involves hiding?
  • Commentators note that the brook talked about in this pericope is a wadi in the Jordan valley and a wadi is a brook that only flows in the rainy season.9 Is this a very good hiding place? What does going to this wadi emphasize or underscore?
  • Why did the Lord send Ravens to feed Elijah? Why not in some other miraculous way? Does sending Ravens hint at a possible comparison to keep our eye on?

2.3 Elijah Goes to Zarephath

Read 1 Kings 17:8-9:

(8) And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, (9) Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee.

The Lord sends Elijah to seek out a widow woman in Zarephath. The city of Zarephath was a Phoenician city and would have been in Baal territory. In fact, Jezebel was from nearby Sidon10

  • Is the location important? What does sending Elijah to Zarephath show or prove?
  • What does seeking out a widow woman emphasize?

3 Elijah Tries to Resign

Read 1 Kings 19:1-4

(1) And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword. (2) Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time. (3) And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there. (4) But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.

  • What do we learn about Elijah? How do you explain the difference in the Elijah of chapters 17, 18 and the Elijah of chapter 19?
  • Elijah flees to Beersheba (very southern part of Judah) and the narrator inserts that he fled for his life. Elijah released/left his servant in Beersheba? What does that indicate?

    It may indicate that Elijah is leaving/fleeing the ministry. Elijah is giving up; he doesn’t want to be prophet anymore.

  • Elijah leaves Beersheba and flees further into the wilderness. What does that indicate? Symbolize?
  • Note: juniper tree is rendered in modern translation as a broom tree. A broom tree is actually a bush and it usually does not occur in isolation. Thus Elijah was secluded.
  • How do you explain the difference in the Elijah of verse 3 and the Elijah of verse 4?

    The irony is magnificent here; Elijah fled to save his life, but now he only wants to end it. Ironically by abandoning his ministry he has already lost his life.

  • What does the phrase “for I am not better than my fathers” mean, indicate, or reinforce?
    1. One possibility: Well, his Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are dead. I see this essentially as repeating his request to die. Notice how much Elijah says thing twice. I think this underscores the despair that is part of Elijah’s psyche at the moment. He really isn’t thinking clearly.
    2. Another: Elijah is challenging God. You asked too much of me. You asked more of me than you did my Fathers.

3.1 Go to Horeb

Read 1 Kings 19:5-8:

(5) And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. (6) And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again. (7) And the angel of the LORD came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. (8) And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

  • What do we learn about Elijah and more importantly what do we learn about the Lord?
  • How would you describe Elijah’s attitude in these verses? How would you describe the Lord’s?

    Elijah = Stubborn? Lord = Stubborn/Faithful?

  • Why did the Lord send Elijah to Horeb?

    Sanai = Horeb. Elijah goes to the wilderness (he is lost). God sends him to a holy place (a temple).

  • It took 40 days and 40 nights; how does that connect this story to other pericopes?

3.2 Elijah In A Cave

Read 1 Kings 19:9-10

(9) And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? (10) And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for 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.

  • Why does God ask Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Is it to remind him that the Lord has brought him to a holy place?
  • Elijah asserts that he is alone? What does he mean? is he actually correct? Why does Elijah feel alone? Is Elijah is challenging the Lord again?

4 A Still Small Voice

4.1 A Voice Soft and Gentle

Read 1 Kings 19:11-12:

(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.

  • Why the reference to Wind, earthquake, and fire?

4.1.1 Exodus

Read Exodus 19:16-19:

(16) On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. (17) Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. (18) Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, (19) and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

  • Does the author of Kings want to think of these verses from Exodus when we read 1 Kings 19:11-12?
  • What can we learn from the contrast between these two pericopes?

4.1.2 Still Small Voice

There is quite a bit of variation in how this gets translated:

  1. NRSV = sound of sheer silence
  2. WBC = gentle little breeze
  3. NIV = gentle whisper
  4. NET Bible = soft whisper

Which translation resonates the most with you? Why?

4.2 Elijah Responds to the Still Small Voice

Read 1 Kings 19:13-18

(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? (14) And he 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. (15) 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 Abelmeholah 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. (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.

  • What do you make of Elijah’s response?
  • What do you make of the Lord’s response?
  • How is the Lord’s response related to the “still small voice?”

Footnotes:

1 Devries, Simon J., 2003, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Kings, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 204.

2 Devries, Simon J., 2003, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Kings, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 204.

3 Jo Ann Hackett “Jezebel” The Oxford Guide to People and Places of the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

4 Coogan, Michael D. (editor), 1999, Oxford History of the Biblical World, Oxford University Press, 280.

5 Susan Ackerman
“Asherah” The Oxford Guide to People and Places of the Bible. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

6 Coogan, Michael D. (editor), 1999, Oxford History of the Biblical World, Oxford University Press, 280.

7 Richard J. Clifford “Elijah” The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds. Oxford University Press Inc. 1993. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

8 Devries, Simon J., 2003, Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Kings, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 204.

9 Walsh, J. T., 1196, Berit Olam: 1 Kings, The Liturgical Press, 227.

10 Nelson, Richard D., 2000, “1 & 2 Kings” in Harper Collins Bible Commentary, Harper & Row, 292.

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