*Good Wednesday morning. I'm off to a late start with my daily post, but as they sometimes say, "Better late than never." (I wonder if that's always true?) Today, we will begin looking at the prophets along with the kings of Israel. We have been looking solely at the monarchy, and how it came into being. If you remember from yesterday there are now two kingdoms (Israel has been divided). There is a king in the north and a king in the south. Samaria is the capital in the north, while Jerusalem is in the south. Now, from chapters 14-17 of I Kings there is a gauntlet of kings. One reign is followed by another. Each king either does "what was right in the eyes of the Lord," or "what was evil." Most of the kings did "what was evil in the eyes of the Lord."
"Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah; 'Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook." (I Kings 17:2,4,6)
Here we are introduced to Elijah, one of the most important figures in the history of Israel. Elijah is a prophet. I want to spend some time explaining the role of a prophet in Old Testament times. Today, when we think of a prophet we think of one who foretells the future. (Or attempts to) Usually, they address end time events. Many of these modern day "prophets" have given particular dates as to when the Lord will return. As a result they have caused many to fork over thousands of dollars, and sometimes even their lives. That was not what an Old Testament prophet was all about.
Prophesy arose in Israel at the same time as the monarchy. Prophets interacted extensively with the kings of Israel/Judah. Sometimes the prophets supported the king, sometimes they did not. The basic function of biblical prophecy was to analyze political and social policies in light of Yahweh's demands of justice, loyalty and faith in him. Occasionally, they made predictions about the future course of events, but they never did it to demonstrate how insightful or divinely inspired they were. No, prophets stood in the breech between divine love and divine anger. A prophet is an intermediary who speaks to people for God and to God on behalf of the people.
"In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became the king of Israel...Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam...,but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him." (I Kings 16:29-33)
Well, there is a lot to say about all this. As you noticed I backtracked a little. (People who are used to my teaching will tell you that I do this all the time) O.K., The setting for the prophetic activity of Elijah is the reign of Ahab of Israel. What do we know about King Ahab? Well,, Comic singer Ray Stevens had a hit song about him: "Ahab the Arab." Oh, sorry! My attempt at a little humor today. (I do stress little) (Ray Stevens did have a song by that title) Seriously, Ahab not only worshipped Baal (the Canaanite storm god) he gave the Baal cult official status in Samaria. The Asherah was a sacred pole associated with this worship.
We also know that Arab was married to one of the most famous women in all the Bible: Jezebel. O.K., she is not necessarily famous for anything other than her name. But, everyone knows the name Jezebel. That I know of, there are two biblical names that are familiar to people, whether they know anything about the Bible or not, but are never given to new babies. They are Judas and Jezebel.
"After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 'Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain (there had been a drought) on the land. So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab." (I Kings 18:1-2)
Elijah has been given quite a task that is certainly not safe. In fact, we are told that "Jezebel was killing off the Lord's prophets. " (I Kings 18:4) He is venturing into treacherous territory. However, Ahab has a man named Obadiah who is in charge of his palace. Obadiah has been secretly hiding prophets in caves. Obadiah and Elijah meet one another and Elijah instructs Obadiah to tell Ahab that he has arrived. Well, this puts Obadiah at risk, because he knows that Ahab has been looking for Elijah for a while. Would Ahab suspect Obadiah had been hiding him. Nevertheless, Elijah declares, "As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today." (I Kings 18:15)
The name Elijah means "My God is Yahweh." From here on out it is Elijah verses the Israelite Dynasty. But, really it is Yahweh verses the Israelite Dynasty. Elijah insists on God (Yahweh) alone, while the Dynasty has made the worship of many gods the norm. In fact, Jezebel wanted to make the cult of Baal the official religion of Israel. Wow! Elijah is up against it!
Elijah is such an important figure in the history of Israel that his name is mentioned twenty-nine times in the New Testament. By comparison Jeremiah (another prophet) is only mentioned three times. In fact, when Jesus asks his disciples what people are saying about him the disciples respond by saying; "Well, some are saying that you are Elijah."
The stage is set for the initial confrontation between Elijah and Ahab. We will see what happens tomorrow and then look at the aftermath. Join me tomorrow. -Pastor Rick