Monthly Archives: April 2023

1 Kings 17 Elijah the Prophet Emerges

1 Kings 17: 1-7 Elijah’s Declaration

1 Now 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.” 2 The word of the LORD came to him, saying, 3 “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 So 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. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. 7 But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Particularly in the Northern Kingdom of Israel we have seen prophets occupy a large role in the transition between royal dynasties. Yet, these prophets have not been listened to by the kings of Israel as they kings have drifted further away from loyalty to the LORD the God of Israel. Now under King Ahab are actively promoting the worship of Baal. With the sudden appearance of Elijah we see a dramatic interruption of the narrative of the kings of Israel where the prophetic voice emerges as to challenge the unfaithful (in the view of the narrator of First Kings) stewardship of these kings. As Walter Brueggemann states of the emergence of these prophets:

It is impossible to overstate the historical, literary, and theological significance of this intrusion that features in turn, Elijah (1 Kings 17-21 along with 2 Kings 1-2), Miciah (1 Kings 22), and Elisha (2 Kings 3-9). The three are completely unexpected, uncredentialed, and uninvited characters in the royal history of Israel. According to the tale told, they enact the raw unfiltered power of Yahweh that lies completely beyond the command of the royal houses. Indeed, their presence in the narrative service to expose the inadequacy and lameness of the kings as shapers of history, in order to assert that real authority and real energy for historical reality lie outside the legitimated claims of monarchy. (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 207)

Elijah the Tishbite in an important symbol in the practice of Judaism. Elijah is present at circumcision ceremonies, the seder table, and is to be the herald of the messiah. In Christianity Elijah is associated with John the Baptist and many of Elijah’s acts which demonstrate the LORD’s power will be mirrored by Jesus in his ministry. Elijah’s name is a combination of the generic word for god ‘El’ and the name of the LORD the God of Israel ‘Yahweh” and means ‘Yahweh is my God.’ In Alex Israel’s description on the biblical persona of Elijah:

Elijah is a zealot (19:10, 14)—agitated, demanding, and passionate; he is the brusque, itinerant prophet who causes fire to descend from heaven to earth, and who ends his life by ascending heavenward in a fiery chariot (II Kings 2:11). (Israel, 2013, p. 229)

There is some debate about Tishbe, the geolocation given to Elijah because there is no known site for this town. Some have speculated that Elijah is a foreign follower of the LORD the God of Israel who was in Gilead at the time of Ahab, but regardless of his origin he becomes the defender of the worship of the LORD of Israel and the challenger to Ahab’s promotion of Baal as the favored deity of the north.

Throughout the articulation of the law in Deuteronomy there are consequences for turning away from the worship and the commandments of the LORD the God of Israel. Drought and the failure of the land to produce the food needed for life is one of the frequently articulated consequences.

Take care, or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshipping them, for then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain and the land will yield no fruit; then you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you. Deuteronomy 11: 16-17 (see also Deuteronomy 28:22)

Elijah invokes the LORD in his declaration that there will be neither rain nor dew until he calls for rain as a fulfillment of these consequences.[1] Elijah’s declaration challenges both the prosperity that Ahab’s reign has brought to Israel and the claims of Baal worship. Baal in Canaanite religion is a storm god and when there are periods of drought it is presumed that death (personified as a deity in Canaanite religion) has slain Baal and conversely when the rains come Baal has conquered death. (NIB III: 126) Much like the signs and wonders in Egypt where the LORD demonstrated power over the Egyptian gods (Exodus 7-11) now the LORD demonstrates mastery over Baal by withholding the rains.

Elijah’s withdrawl to the Wadi Cherith east of the Jordan returns the prophet to Gilead. Ravens become the strange providers of the nourishment that the prophet needs to survive in this wilderness environment. Although ravens are considered unclean birds and do have some negative associations in scripture[2] this scene also share similarities with God’s provision for Israel in the wilderness with manna and quails.[3] Ravens are a large bird and are capable of bringing a larger quantity of food than many other birds would be capable of. The Talmud adds the entertaining element that the ravens are either stealing food from the table of King Ahab or King Jehoshaphat in Jerusalem and bringing it to the wadi for the prophet. (Israel, 2013, p. 233) Yet, as the drought continues, and the prophet continues to remain hidden in east of the Jordan river the waters of the wadi dry up and the prophet begins to encounter the dangers felt throughout the land as the rain and dew are withheld. God will need to provide a new place where the prophet can survive the presumed threat from King Ahab and the lack of food and water in the drought.

1 Kings 17: 8-16 Elijah and 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.” 10 So 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.” 11 As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” 12 But 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.” 13 Elijah 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. 14 For 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.” 15 She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. 16 The 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.

Apparently the effects of the drought are not only being felt in Israel, but also in the region of Tyre and Sidon. Geographically this is not a long distance (approximately 40-50 miles as the raven flies depending on where East of the Jordan Elijah is coming from), and it is not surprising that they would encounter the same weather patterns. From a theological perspective, which is central to the narration of First Kings, it also extends the judgment against Baal into the land where Baal is expected to reign. Now the LORD the God of Israel will provide food in this Phoenician commercial city for the widow where King Ethbaal and Baal cannot. Yet, Elijah’s demonstrations of the power of the LORD will not be a public spectacle but will take place in small ways that would be unnoticed by many in this city. Elijah’s demonstration of the LORD’s power will be seen only by those who pay attention to the widow and her plight.

On arriving in Zarephath and discovering the widow that the LORD indicated he immediately asks her for water and then food. The widow still has some water to share, but she is preparing to make a final meal for herself and her son before starvation takes its course. The widow must recognize Elijah as an Israelite, for the oath she swears is by the LORD, Elijah’s God. She does not claim the LORD as her own God, but she recognizes Elijah as an Israelite and still is willing to share water with him. Elijah still demands her hospitality and to be served first before she feeds herself and her son, and the widow apparently complies. The promised provision of oil and flour continues to provide for her and perhaps those in her network during the drought as the LORD provides for the widow and her son, two individuals who are among the most vulnerable in the event of an extended drought. Elijah who has been isolated at the Wadi Cherith is now presented with a human face to the impact of the drought that he declared on the land.

1 Kings 17: 17-24 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. 18 She 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!” 19 But 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. 20 He 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?” 21 Then 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.” 22 The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 Elijah 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.” 24 So 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.”

Although there is no correlation in the text between the desperate situation of the widow and her son prior to the arrival of Elijah and the onset of his mysterious illness, prolonged lack of sustenance can have significant physical impacts on the body. In many ways the widow and her son become representative of the impact of the drought upon the land and likely many mothers were seeing their sons (and daughters) suffer as food becomes scarce. Even with the grain and the oil now providing sustenance the crisis of a child who stops breathing places the future in jeopardy for this family and the presence of the worshipper of the God of Israel in the land around Sidon may be viewed by the woman as a reason for Baal to curse her son, or as the text indicates she may view Elijah’s God as judging her. Elijah has called for judgment but has never appealed for mercy until this incident where the widow’s son lies lifeless. Now, on behalf of the widow, he intercedes with God calling on God for healing. Elijah speaks to God first in accusation and then imploring God three times for the ‘life’[4] of the child to return and the LORD responds to Elijah’s requests. Elijah’s revival of the widow’s son allows her to proclaim that Elijah is ‘a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.” Elijah’s LORD has demonstrated power over both famine and an illness that has led her son to death’s door. For the first time Elijah enters into the space between the people and God.

The struggle of the widow and her son put a human face on the drought. Other children are certainly dying as food and water become scarce. Elijah dropped from the public space and retreated first to the Wadi Cherith and then to Zarephath. In the aftermath of the revival of the widow’s son, he returns to confront both King Ahab and the prophets of Baal who have alienated the people of Israel from the LORD their God.

[1] Alex Israel has an enlightening discussion of the Jewish debate about whether Elijah initiates the drought expecting the support of the LORD or whether he is responding to God’s word. This is one of the benefits of seeking Jewish readings of the Hebrew Scriptures which often have insights often neglected in Christian biblical studies. Although I will not end up following either direction Israel highlights my thoughts were shaped by this discussion. (Israel, 2013, pp. 230-240)

[2] Leviticus 11: 15, Psalm 147:9, Job 38: 41

[3] Exodus 16

[4] This is the Hebrew nephesh which is often translated ‘soul’ is rightly rendered as ‘life’ here. The Hebrew idea of nephesh is not the Greek idea of an immortal soul which continues beyond the mortal body, nephesh is the essence of life itself.

1 Kings 15:32-16:34 Unrest in Israel

1 Kings 15: 32- 16:7 King Baasha of Israel

32 There was war between Asa and King Baasha of Israel all their days.

 33 In the third year of King Asa of Judah, Baasha son of Ahijah began to reign over all Israel at Tirzah; he reigned twenty-four years. 34 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, walking in the way of Jeroboam and in the sin that he caused Israel to commit.

16:1 The word of the LORD came to Jehu son of Hanani against Baasha, saying, 2 “Since I exalted you out of the dust and made you leader over my people Israel, and you have walked in the way of Jeroboam, and have caused my people Israel to sin, provoking me to anger with their sins, 3 therefore, I will consume Baasha and his house, and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat. 4 Anyone belonging to Baasha who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the field the birds of the air shall eat.”

5 Now the rest of the acts of Baasha, what he did, and his power, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel? 6 Baasha slept with his ancestors, and was buried at Tirzah; and his son Elah succeeded him. 7 Moreover the word of the LORD came by the prophet Jehu son of Hanani against Baasha and his house, both because of all the evil that he did in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and also because he destroyed it.

King Baasha of Israel reigns for twenty-four years, but the only real information that First Kings relays to us is the length of his reign, that he is the recipient of a prophetic denouncement, and “the stereotypical data including a predictable negative verdict of as a Northern king.” (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 197) This is reported as a time of continual strife in Israel, but the battle lines do not seem to change since they will be engaged with the same Philistine city twenty-five years later. Although it is unclear whether Baasha’s father is the aged prophet Ahijah, it is clear that he will receive a nearly identical prophetic utterance as his father gave to Jeroboam. Like Jeroboam he will finish his reign and be buried, but his son’s reign will be short and in a violent overthrow the line of Baasha will end. If Baasha is the son of Ahijah the prophet[1] it is even more disturbing that upon assuming the mantle of king he changes to follow the path of Jeroboam nor changes after the declaration from Jehu son of Hannai. It is clear that prophets in Israel will be instrumental in the rise and fall of dynasties that are, in the perspective of First Kings, a result of the God of Israel’s actions.

The brief reports on the five kings in this chapter of First Kings quickly bring us to the next major focal point. The prophets have already emerged in the life of Israel, but this succession of kings and their decline in covenantal faithfulness will lead to the emergence of the two great prophets: Elijah and Elisha. Although the books of 1 and 2 Kings are named for the progression of kings, the kings will often be the antagonists while the prophets will be the protagonists of the narrative (especially in Israel).

1 Kings 16: 8-14 The Brief Reign of King Elah of Israel

8 In the twenty-sixth year of King Asa of Judah, Elah son of Baasha began to reign over Israel in Tirzah; he reigned two years. 9 But his servant Zimri, commander of half his chariots, conspired against him. When he was at Tirzah, drinking himself drunk in the house of Arza, who was in charge of the palace at Tirzah, 10 Zimri came in and struck him down and killed him, in the twenty-seventh year of King Asa of Judah, and succeeded him.

11 When he began to reign, as soon as he had seated himself on his throne, he killed all the house of Baasha; he did not leave him a single male of his kindred or his friends. 12 Thus Zimri destroyed all the house of Baasha, according to the word of the LORD, which he spoke against Baasha by the prophet Jehu — 13 because of all the sins of Baasha and the sins of his son Elah that they committed, and that they caused Israel to commit, provoking the LORD God of Israel to anger with their idols. 14 Now the rest of the acts of Elah, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?

The house of Jeroboam and the house of Baasha are portrayed in parallel methods in the book of Kings. Both houses receive a nearly identical prophetic judgment that will be delayed until the reign of their sons. Both sons will reign roughly two years (technically Elah will reign less than two years before he is assassinated). Both houses will be brutally massacred by the new house seizing power. Elah is portrayed drinking with some of his forces while the remnant of the forces of Israel are engaged in the siege of Gibbethon. There is an implicit criticism in the text for Elah who stays behind in Tirzah drinking himself drunk while his forces are engaged in warfare. Ironically Elah finds this safe space away from the continual warfare of his reign the place of his greatest danger.

Although text may indicate Zimri acted alone in both assassinating the king and then culling his family and friends, it is unlikely he would be able to do this without support from either his troops or the cohort at Tirzah. In the bloody manner of power transitions in the ancient world, he removes any possible ‘redeemer’[2] from the household of Elah. This act of betrayal within the confines of a private party would be a breach of both trust and hospitality etiquette, but this type of trickery has happened before in Israel.[3] Azra, the steward of the palace at Tirzah and the person in whose house the murder occurs, also does not attempt to avenge the death of Elah. Azra either actively assists Zimri in his murderous plot or passively allows this to occur under his roof.

1 Kings 16: 15-20 King Zimri’s Week Long Reign

15 In the twenty-seventh year of King Asa of Judah, Zimri reigned seven days in Tirzah. Now the troops were encamped against Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, 16 and the troops who were encamped heard it said, “Zimri has conspired, and he has killed the king”; therefore all Israel made Omri, the commander of the army, king over Israel that day in the camp. 17 So Omri went up from Gibbethon, and all Israel with him, and they besieged Tirzah. 18 When Zimri saw that the city was taken, he went into the citadel of the king’s house; he burned down the king’s house over himself with fire, and died — 19 because of the sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the LORD, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for the sin that he committed, causing Israel to sin. 20 Now the rest of the acts of Zimri, and the conspiracy that he made, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?

The ending of the dynasty of Jeroboam initiates a power struggle in Israel. The forces deployed in the siege of Gibbethon maintain their allegiance to Omri their commander, and this force turns from its focus on Gibbethon to dealing with the internal unrest in Israel. Now the forces that were engaged in a long siege against a foreign city quickly overpowered the defenses of Tirzah in less than a week. Zimri’s weeklong reign comes to an end when the forces loyal to Omri quickly enter the city and Zimri ends his life and destroys the royal complex in Tirzah. Zimri’s conflicted and brief reign which began with treachery and quickly reaches its fiery end is viewed in the same light as all the previous kings of Israel (evil in the sight of the LORD) although Zimri probably didn’t have any time to make any significant changes in the trajectory of the life of Israel. Presumably Zimri’s entries in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel would be brief if this record was ever discovered. Zimri’s name will become synonymous with treachery and betrayal.[4]

1 Kings 16: 21-28 The Beginning of the Omri Dynasty in Israel

21 Then the people of Israel were divided into two parts; half of the people followed Tibni son of Ginath, to make him king, and half followed Omri. 22 But the people who followed Omri overcame the people who followed Tibni son of Ginath; so Tibni died, and Omri became king. 23 In the thirty-first year of King Asa of Judah, Omri began to reign over Israel; he reigned for twelve years, six of them in Tirzah.

24 He bought the hill of Samaria from Shemer for two talents of silver; he fortified the hill, and called the city that he built, Samaria, after the name of Shemer, the owner of the hill.

25 Omri did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; he did more evil than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and in the sins that he caused Israel to commit, provoking the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger by their idols. 27 Now the rest of the acts of Omri that he did, and the power that he showed, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel? 28 Omri slept with his ancestors, and was buried in Samaria; his son Ahab succeeded him.

The elimination of the treacherous Zimri does not bring peace to Israel. Omri, who conquered Tirzah, will struggle with the people loyal to Tibni son of Ginath for four years prior to eliminating this challenge to his authority. Omri’s twelve years as the king of Israel emulates aspects of both King David and King Solomon. Like David claiming Jerusalem as the city of David, now Samaria will become the city of Omri, and we know from the archeology of Samaria that an impressive city was constructed on the site. (Cogan, 2001, p. 419) The change in location for the capital from Tirzah to Samaria also facilitates trade connections with Israel and Tyre, and Omri places Israel on a path to be a trading nation like it had been under Solomon’s united kingdom, and once again Phonecia (Tyre and Sidon) becomes a primary partner.

Mesha Stele: stele of Mesha, king of Moab, recording his victories against the Kingdom of Israel. Basalt, ca. 800 BCE. From Dhiban, now in Jordan. Shared by Neithshabes under CC 3.0.

We know from archeology that the time of Omri was a time when Israel was able to oppress Moab for many years. Samaria was a city built to withstand a siege and would later endure for three years against a siege by the Assyrian army. It seems to be a time where Israel’s wealth, power and influence are on the rise while the nation continues its spiritual decline. The prosperity that Omri experiences through trade and military might seems to make Omri and his dynasty less concerned with maintaining the covenant faithfulness desired by the LORD the God of Israel, and in adopting the trading practices of the surrounding nations he also invites in many of the forces that led to Solomon’s eventual foolishness.

1 Kings 16: 29-34 The Beginning of the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel is Israel

29 In the thirty-eighth year of King Asa of Judah, Ahab son of Omri began to reign over Israel; Ahab son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. 30 Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him.

31 And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. 32 He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made a sacred pole. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him. 34 In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho; he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spoke by Joshua son of Nun.

Assyrian stela of Shalmaneser that reports battle of Qarqar By Yuber – from en wiki, Public Domain,

King Ahab in international circles was well known and we know from the Assyrians that he contributed a sizable force to the anti-Assyrian coalition at the Battle of Qarpar in 853 BCE. (NIB III:124) His marriage to Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon forges a political and economic alliance with the Phoenecians. Like Solomon who entered into numerous marriages to seal economic and political alliances, Ahab becomes both trading partner, relative by marriage, and ally of Ethbaal. Also like Solomon who eventually allowed his wives to build worship sites for the gods of their homelands, Ahab allows the introduction of the worship of Baal. Jezebel comes to Israel with the beliefs and values of her upbringing in Phoenecia.

Jericho, the fortress city destroyed when the tribes of Israel entered the promised land was cursed by Joshua in Joshua 6:26. Generations later Hiel of Bethel rebuild Jericho and finds the curse in place. Some have conjectured that Hiel is participating in human sacrifice as a way of appeasing the gods, but the text views the deaths of his oldest and youngest sons as the result of the curse uttered upon the destroyed city. The waste of Jericho was an enduring witness of the power of the LORD who brought them into the land, but now it is one more walled city of a kingdom trusting in its own power.

Ahab seems to follow the paths of Solomon that lead both to prosperity but also to foolishness. Israel under Ahab may be indistinguishable from the surrounding nations. Yet, the LORD is unwilling to abandon Israel. Previously God has used prophets to announce to the kings of Israel their unfaithfulness, and now with at the apex of this turning away from the LORD the prophet Elijah arises to be a thorn in Ahab’s side, but also to reorient the people away from Baal and to invite a return to their covenant with the LORD the God of Israel.

[1] It is likely that the text attempts to differentiate between Ahijah the Shilonite and Ahijah of the house of Isachar.

[2] Male kindred is the NRSV’s translation of the term that means redeemer. Although accurate in a familial sense, the term redeemer also indicates the one who is responsible for righting the wrong done to the family member.

[3] For example the story of Ehud and King Eglon in Judges 3.

[4] See 2 Kings 9:3

Review of the Melody of Trees: 10 Tales from the Forest by Helen Whistberry

Helen Whistberry, The Melody of Trees: 10 Tales from the Forest

For me a five-star book is something that either I want to read again or something that is so profound it makes an immediate impact. There are lots of ways that books can be compelling: a unique idea, an interesting set of characters, a complex plot, an artistic use of the English language and more. Reading is also a subjective experience, so what appeals to me as a reader may be very different for you. I read a lot for both pleasure and work but these short reviews are a way for me to show my appreciation for the work and the craft of the author of the reviewed work.

The Melody of Trees is a collection of diverse short stories where trees or forests play some role in the story. Each story is short enough to be read in one setting but unique and complex enough to be intriguing. The stories span from mythological to science fiction, some are delightful fairy tales while others are dark stories of ash, death, and darkness. ‘Forest’ is told from the perspective of Forest as an ancient god observing the life and death occurring within its boundaries. ‘Girl of Glass’ is the story of a witch’s daughter who makes a desperate magical bargain to escape her unloving home that requires a heavy sacrifice. ‘Revenant of High Lonesome’ is an interesting combining of fantasy and western themes as a gun for hire determines that a promise made is worth taking on the authorities of a faithless town. ‘The Melody of Trees’ is a story of two people who find themselves in an odd sort of futuristic prison where they must use their skills as an artist and programmer to find an escape. It is a story of the beginning of relationships and learning to trust, but also creativity and intuition. ‘An Invitation of Shadows’ is the story of a young boy who escapes a murderous father leaving behind his loving mother, but learns he has a special power and a difficult choice to make: to heed his mother’s last wish and flee or to return to attempt to save her and his siblings. ‘The Watcher’ follows a cranky elderly man who is living in a retirement home and finds his only solace in watching the field and the forest near the home, but when his environment begins to change in nightmarish ways, he finds that he is also being watched. ‘Written in Ashes’ is a story of doors that should not be opened, of warnings unheeded, and of a darkly magical curse that lies just beyond the normal world for those whose curiosity gets the better of them. ‘Flora and Milo’ is another magical story of a missing mother, an absent father, and two children who follow the animals into the forest learning who is friend and who is foe and the magic the daughter possess. ‘Bad Day on the Job’ is a delightfully absurd story of two hit men in a supernatural world of werewolves, monsters under the bed, summoned demons, ghosts, and a mob boss who crossed the wrong woman. ‘A Gnashing of Teeth’ is another story in a science fiction world where humanity is at risk of being consumed by an invading race of strange beings that resemble the ancient pictures of Seraphim, and a ‘wise one’ who provides hope for a group of survivors.

I found each of the tales engaging and the overall book a delight. I intentionally attempted not to give away too many secrets in my brief summaries of each tale so new readers can discover the strange twists that the stories include. The stories are just long enough to introduce you to a new world and an interesting set of characters, but each story still manages to be complete.

1 Kings 15: 1-31 Kings Abijam and Asa of Judah, King Nadab of Israel and the Unending Conflict Between the Two Nations

By Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: FinnWikiNoderivative work: Richardprins (talk) – Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

There are times where the chapter divisions in the bible do not fit the natural divisions in the text, and so instead of dealing with verses thirty-two and thirty-three in this reflection I will keep the majority of the account of King Baasha, after his assassination of King Nadab of Israel, together in the following reflection which primarily deals with chapter sixteen of First Kings.

1 Kings 15:1-8 King Abijam of Judah

Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam son of Nebat, Abijam began to reign over Judah. 2 He reigned for three years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Maacah daughter of Abishalom. 3 He committed all the sins that his father did before him; his heart was not true to the LORD his God, like the heart of his father David. 4 Nevertheless for David’s sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem; 5 because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. 6 The war begun between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continued all the days of his life. 7 The rest of the acts of Abijam, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? There was war between Abijam and Jeroboam. 8 Abijam slept with his ancestors, and they buried him in the city of David. Then his son Asa succeeded him.

Abijam’s short rule receives a harsh evaluation from the theological perspective of First Kings. As mentioned earlier, the primary evaluation of the kings of Judah in Israel is in terms of Torah-obedience, a criterion that many of the kings would not have considered central. It is worth comparing the very favorable treatment that Abijam (Abijah) receives in 2 Chronicles 13 and the reports of his fidelity to the LORD and the surprising military victory that is the result of this bold trust. The ongoing war between Israel and Judah is mentioned only in passing in this brief account of King Abijam’s reign. The author of First Kings makes the theological claim that the Davidic dynasty continues because of the LORD’s continuing fondness for the patriarch of this line and the promises made to David.

The introduction of the mother of the king, and her role in the next king’s initial reign has brought about some controversy. Some have suggested that Asa was Abijam’s brother so that Maacah could be the mother of them both, others have gone to the extreme of suggesting a sexual relationship between mother and son, but likely this is a confusion related to Maacah’s role as the ‘queen mother’ (see below). Maacah is not specifically named as a foreigner and her father’s name, Abishalom, is likely related to the name Absalom. Yet, First Kings has previously accused Solomon’s wives of leading to his downfall in religious observance and here will imply that Maacah contributed to the unfaithfulness in Abijam’s reign.

King David will retain his status of being the shining paragon of the Davidic tree, but in a rare moment of candor First Kings remembers the ‘matter of Uriah the Hittite.’ The reign of David in First and Second Samuel is a time of expansion for the people of Israel, and David is remembered for his fidelity to the LORD, but the longer narrative of David in those books is not uniformly positive. David was a warrior king, but he also would deal with significant unrest within his own household and throughout Israel. Yet, the memory of David’s fidelity will be the standard by which all the kings of Israel and Judah will be measured.

1 Kings 15: 9-24 King Asa of Judah and the War With Israel

9 In the twentieth year of King Jeroboam of Israel, Asa began to reign over Judah; 10 he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Maacah daughter of Abishalom. 11 Asa did what was right in the sight of the LORD, as his father David had done. 12 He put away the male temple prostitutes out of the land, and removed all the idols that his ancestors had made. 13 He also removed his mother Maacah from being queen mother, because she had made an abominable image for Asherah; Asa cut down her image and burned it at the Wadi Kidron. 14 But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless the heart of Asa was true to the LORD all his days. 15 He brought into the house of the LORD the votive gifts of his father and his own votive gifts — silver, gold, and utensils.

16 There was war between Asa and King Baasha of Israel all their days. 17 King Baasha of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, to prevent anyone from going out or coming in to King Asa of Judah. 18 Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasures of the house of the LORD and the treasures of the king’s house, and gave them into the hands of his servants. King Asa sent them to King Ben-hadad son of Tabrimmon son of Hezion of Aram, who resided in Damascus, saying, 19 “Let there be an alliance between me and you, like that between my father and your father: I am sending you a present of silver and gold; go, break your alliance with King Baasha of Israel, so that he may withdraw from me.” 20 Ben-hadad listened to King Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel. He conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. 21 When Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah and lived in Tirzah. 22 Then King Asa made a proclamation to all Judah, none was exempt: they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building; with them King Asa built Geba of Benjamin and Mizpah. 23 Now the rest of all the acts of Asa, all his power, all that he did, and the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? But in his old age he was diseased in his feet. 24 Then Asa slept with his ancestors, and was buried with his ancestors in the city of his father David; his son Jehoshaphat succeeded him.

In the narrative of First Kings, the story of King Abijam becomes a foil for his son King Asa. King Abijam continues in the sins of his father Rehoboam and his grandfather Solomon while King Asa is a faithful king in the image of King David. His long reign of forty-one years will overlap seven kings of Israel from four different dynasties. During his reign there is continuity in Judah while Israel endures several internal struggles for power, yet there is an internal struggle within Asa’s reign which results in the removal of the queen mother Maacah and the alteration of the religious practices in the area also probably involved conflict. Yet, First Kings views Asa as one of the kings who is a model of what faithful adherence looks like. The author of First Kings is a political realist even as they evaluate leaders based on their adherence to Torah. The narrator can accept the positive movements towards faithfulness without dwelling for too long on either the remaining high places or the actions of Asa to secure the kingdom’s security using the wealth of the temple. It reminds me of the Christian Realism of Reinhold Neibuhr which tried to meld a serious reckoning with scripture and faith with a realistic approach to the potential of power to be a force of incredible evil and a tool of God’s mysterious working.

In response to the military and economic threat posed by the incursion of King Baasha of Israel and the construction of the defensive position at Ramah to block trade coming out of Jerusalem and prevent migration to Judah from Israel. Ramah is at a key geographical point between eight and nine kilometers (five miles) north of Jerusalem and is a key road juncture for both north-south and east-west travel. The terrain around Jerusalem is hilly and passages through this area are essential for trade and travel and providing a fortification at Ramah effectively isolates Judah. The narrator of First Kings does not view the action of Asa removing gold and silver from the temple and his own household in a negative light nor does the narrator insist upon trusting God exclusively to provide deliverance. There is a political realism that sees this bribe[1] of Ben-hadad to break his alliance with Israel and open up a two front war for King Baasha. The efforts of Asa may be viewed as shrewd by the narrator, and his conscription of the people to remove the stone and timber of Ramah to build two closer fortifications at the strategic points of Geba and Mizpah helps to secure the northern approach to Israel. Geba is the infamous Gibeah of Judges 20 that results in the near elimination of the tribe of Benjamin, but this location only five and a half kilometers (three and a half miles) from Jerusalem is of strategic importance. The scale of Israel is much smaller than we are used to thinking about in modern times with automobiles and airplanes or in modern combat operations. The original border between Judah and Israel near Bethel is only twenty five kilometers (sixteen miles) and is closer than the distance between the city hall of my suburb of Dallas (Frisco) and the next suburb approaching Dallas (Plano) of twenty miles. The territory is hilly, and the gains of this generational conflict are comparatively small. In contrast, the raid of Ben-hadad into Israel covers a distance of almost twice that between Bethel and Jerusalem causing an immediate removal of troops from the south to deal with a northern threat that previous negotiations (and bribes) had made safe prior to Asa’s bribe.

At the end of the account of King Asa there is a curious note about having diseased in his feet in his old age. Scholars have provided several possible explanations for this note about his feet from the infirmity of old age to leprosy or even noting the times where feet can be used as a pseudonym of genitalia to speculate that he contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Ultimately all such queries are speculation into the end of the long reign of a king viewed in a very positive light in 1 Kings who is noted for both the faithfulness he has but also his power. 2 Chronicles 16 also narrates both the alliance with Aram and the diseased feet of Asa in greater detail but uses these events to condemn Asa’s lack of trust in God (because he trusted in the military might of Aram and sought a physicians care rather than appealing to God). Even 2 Chronicles with these critiques of Asa view his time as a return to faithfulness and a time of stability for Judah.

1 Kings 15: 25-31 The Brief Rule of King Nadab of Israel

25 Nadab son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of King Asa of Judah; he reigned over Israel two years. 26 He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, walking in the way of his ancestor and in the sin that he caused Israel to commit.

27 Baasha son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him; and Baasha struck him down at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines; for Nadab and all Israel were laying siege to Gibbethon. 28 So Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of King Asa of Judah, and succeeded him. 29 As soon as he was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam; he left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite — 30 because of the sins of Jeroboam that he committed and that he caused Israel to commit, and because of the anger to which he provoked the LORD, the God of Israel.

31 Now the rest of the acts of Nadab, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?

In contrast to the long reign of King Asa in Judah, Israel will undergo frequent changes in leadership over the same period. The dynasty of Jeroboam will end only a couple of years after the ascension of his son to power. There has been no repentance after the words of the prophet Ahijah, and now Baasha son of Ahijah (perhaps the same person) is the instrument of God’s judgment on the dynasty of Jeroboam. During a siege of Gibbethon to attempt to recapture[2] a city claimed by the Philistines, King Nadab son of Jeroboam is assassinated by Baasha and then a purge is made of the house of Jeroboam.

First Kings makes the theological statement that the frequent violent transitions in leadership in Israel is a result of God’s judgments on individual kings. From the perspective of societal organization, it is worth considering the other challenges Israel faces in comparison with Judah: ten competing tribes and a large Canaanite base and an ongoing conflict with Judah and the surrounding nations. Many of the dynasties that arise in Israel will come from military leaders who lead a coup (Omri, Jehu, Pekah). (Cogan, 2001, p. 407)

Regardless of the societal challenges that are present in Israel, the narrator of First Kings views them through a theological perspective. It is a theological perspective that looks positively upon the role of prophets in both mediating God’s voice and often God’s judgment. The prophets will be active in setting several of the coups by military leaders in motion and as mentioned above it is possible that a son of a prophet becomes the next king of Israel. The prophets will be a part of the ways in which the LORD, the God of Israel, continues to select the new dynasties in Israel.

[1] Even though the NRSV translates this gift, this term is normally translated as a bribe.

[2] Gibbethon is listed as a Levitical city in the tribe of Dan’s area in Joshua 19:44, 21:23