Author Archives: Neil

1 Kings 21 Naboth’s Vineyard

1 Kings 21: 1-16 Two Competing Worldviews: Naboth and Ahab/Jezebel

1 Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. 2 And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” 3 But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” 4 Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, “I will not give you my ancestral inheritance.” He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.

5 His wife Jezebel came to him and said, “Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?” 6 He said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, ‘Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it’; but he answered, ‘I will not give you my vineyard.'” 7 His wife Jezebel said to him, “Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

8 So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. 9 She wrote in the letters, “Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; 10 seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, ‘You have cursed God and the king.’ Then take him out, and stone him to death.” 11 The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, 12 they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. 13 The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, “Naboth cursed God and the king.” So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. 14 Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, “Naboth has been stoned; he is dead.”

15 As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, “Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead.” 16 As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.

The story of competing worldviews about land has occurred many times throughout history. As white settlers moved across the United States they understood land ownership as something that could be bought legally while the Native Americans understood their relationship with the land very differently, they were tied to the land. Similarly in this story the understanding of land as inheritance comes into conflict with the view of land as commodity. Modern readers live in a commodity-based understanding of land, and yet the covenant that Israel was to live under was always an alternative to this worldview.

The story of Naboth and Ahab takes place in Jezreel, a town in the tribal holding of Issachar roughly nine miles east of Megiddo. (Cogan, 2001, p. 477) It is unclear whether the Omri family (which king Ahab is a member of) had land in Jezreel prior to becoming a royal family or if this is land acquired after their dynasty began, but there is some royal compound here that Ahab hopes to expand. The lower elevation in comparison to Samaria has led some to label this as a ‘winter palace’ which would be warmer in the winter season (NIB III: p. 155) but Jezreel has already figured prominently in the story as the location where King Ahab returned to after Elijah’s duel with the prophets of Baal.

The last of the Ten Commandments addresses coveting that which belongs to the neighbor, and here the importance of this commandment becomes demonstrated through the injustice of the story. Ahab desires the vineyard of Naboth to be converted into a vegetable garden for his own possession. From a commodity-based perspective he offers a fair exchange for the value of the vineyard either in money or in property. The key feature of the vineyard is its proximity to the property that Ahab already owns; he will be joining his neighbor’s property to his own. It is possible that Ahab’s indication that it will be a ‘vegetable garden’[1] may be a subtle way to suggest the land is less value since the only other time this word is used in the Hebrew Scriptures is Deuteronomy 11: 10 which contrasts the bountiful promised land with the ‘vegetable gardens’ which require irrigation in Egypt to be productive. Regardless of appraised value Ahab’s desire to obtain the vineyard is frustrated by Naboth’s adherence to the view that the land is an inheritance which cannot be sold.

Within the law of Israel there is a deep understanding of the land as a gift from God that cannot be sold. Leviticus 25: 23-24 for example states:

The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.

Leviticus 25 outlines the expectation for families to redeem the land of their kin who have fallen into a position where they sell a piece of property. Even if the land is sold it is to revert back to the original family in Jubilee years. This concept of redeeming land underlies the actions of Boaz in the book of Ruth. The prophets often protest against the wealthy who acquire the inheritance of their neighbors and who, in the words of Isaiah: “Ah, you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left alone in the midst of the land.” (Isaiah 5: 8, see also Micah 2:2) Naboth stands in the tradition of the law of Israel when he proclaims that to sell his land would be a profanation of the LORD because it would be viewing the land as his possession to dispose of rather than the land that God has provided for him to work. Yet, Solomon viewed the land as a possession which could be sold off to King Hiram to pay his debts (1 Kings 9:11-13) and the kings of the Omri dynasty parallel many of the actions of Solomon which model their wisdom off the wisdom of the nations which is based on trade and accumulation rather than trusting the provision of the LORD.

Jezebel, who learned the Phoenician values of her family and nation, views the lands as a commodity which can be acquired and royal power as an implement to be used to take what the king desires. The narrative does not include Ahab explaining the rationale for Naboth’s rejection to Jezebel, he merely relates his refusal. Jezebel acts on the king’s behalf, telling him to get up[2] eat and be cheerful as she gifts him the desire of his heart. Whether Ahab is involved in Jezebel’s action of coordinating the fall of Naboth is unclear, but she is acting in Ahab’s name and utilizes his seal to give weight to her letters. Writing letters is a way in which nobles have distanced themselves from being the instrument of death but it is clear that Jezebel and Ahab are behind the death of Naboth. Similar to David sending a letter to his general Joab with instructions that lead to Uriah’s death, Jezebel’s instructions to place two belial[3] men opposite Naboth at the fast and to accuse him cursing God and the king. Exodus 22:28 declares that one is not to revile God or curse a leader of the people, yet the death penalty in the law seems to be reserved for someone who blasphemes the name of God. (Leviticus 24: 16) It does take two witnesses to testify against another, thus the need for two ‘scoundrels’, but the plan involves the knowing consent of the elders and nobles to put the ‘scoundrels’ in place and being complicit in the accusations that these men make at the instructions of Jezebel in the name of Ahab. It takes many accomplices for the innocent man to be declared guilty and stoned outside of town and possibly left unburied.[4]

Ahab’s coveting of Naboth’s vineyard has led to these two ‘scoundrels’ bearing false witness while the elders and nobles maintain a conspiracy by their silence which allowed for the unjust murder of an innocent man. The death of an innocent in the land contaminates the land. Just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground, the blood of Naboth cries of to God. This is why there is a method of making atonement for an unsolvable death (Deuteronomy 21: 1-9) so that innocent blood may not continue to testify against the people. Now the innocent blood of Naboth speaks against the entire conspiracy of the rulers that have schemed to join field to field and who have disregarded the ways of the God of Israel.

The land is not for Ahab to take, just as the booty from the LORD’s victory was not Ahab’s to spare. (NIB III: 156) Ahab and Jezebel chafe at the way the Israelite way of viewing land which constrains their power to acquire what they desire. Ahab is told to “go”[5] and take possession, which Ahab does. Ahab, Jezebel, and the elders and nobles may feel that their actions have no consequences, but the LORD is ready to respond to the protest of the innocent blood of Naboth which cries out from the land. Desiring has led to death and death is answered by the proclamation of God’s prophet.

1 Kings 21: 17-29 Elijah Confronts Ahab and Ahab’s Repentance

17 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: 18 Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. 19 You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.”

20 Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, 21 I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you, and will cut off from Ahab every male, bond or free, in Israel; 22 and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha son of Ahijah, because you have provoked me to anger and have caused Israel to sin. 23 Also concerning Jezebel the LORD said, ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel within the bounds of Jezreel.’ 24 Anyone belonging to Ahab who dies in the city the dogs shall eat; and anyone of his who dies in the open country the birds of the air shall eat.”

25 (Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD, urged on by his wife Jezebel. 26 He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the LORD drove out before the Israelites.)

27 When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. 28 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.”

Elijah emerges on the scene once more to carry the condemnation of the LORD to Ahab. Elijah becomes the LORD’s voice to advocate for Naboth. Naboth’s condemnation is similar to the condemnation that David receives when he manipulates the battlefield by letters to cause Uriah’s death and takes ‘possession’ of Bathsheba as his wife. (2 Samuel 12:9) The short declaration to Elijah is essentially blood will pay for blood, the blook of the king for the blood of the innocent Naboth. One may attempt to defend the distance that Ahab introduces into the situation since Jezebel wrote the letters and the elders and nobles put the ‘scoundrels’ in place and carried out the sentence on Naboth, but in God’s view the king is ultimately responsible. His actions and his allowing Jezebel to use his name and seal are leading the elders and the nation astray.

Elijah is viewed by Ahab as his enemy, and Elijah’s role throughout his ministry has been to confront Ahab when he has turned away from the ways of the LORD. His actions are evil, and they are modeling these evil ways for the people of Israel. The LORD is repaying ‘evil’ for ‘evil.’[6] Ahab will bear the same fate as his predecessors who deviated from the way of the LORD, and his punishment parallels the declarations against their houses. (1 Kings 14:11, 16: 4) Some believe that the declaration about Jezebel is a later addition which parallels the story of 2 Kings 9: 30-37. Regardless Elijah’s declaration to Ahab pierces his bluster, perhaps it is the parallels with what happened to his predecessors or the thought of his own life being the cost of ‘purchasing’ the field of Naboth. Jezebel tried to make her king cheerful, but now after the confrontation with Elijah he goes about dejectedly.

The text makes a side note to indicate that Ahab, from the point of view of 1 Kings, is the singular example of doing evil in the sight of the LORD. Yet, the LORD quickly responds with mercy towards Ahab when he fasts, puts on sackcloth, and shows signs of repentance. Like David, the LORD wants to forgive Ahab. The consequences are delayed until the next generation as Ahab is given yet another chance to amend his ways. Elijah has been sent multiple times to the king to get him to change his ways, and this seems to be the nature of God. God does not want to give up on these kings, but when the choose to follow the ways of acquisition and exploitation the God must answer the blood that testifies from the land. God’s forgiveness and God’s justice are always in tension, but it is the tension of a God of hesed (covenant faithfulness) and mercy.

[1] Hebrew gan yaraq

[2] Hebrew qum  (rise, get up, arise)

[3] This is the Hebrew word (beliya’al)that will eventually become one names for the devil or a demon (2 Corinthians 6:15). “It refers to an act that is sinful (Deuteronomy 15:9) and evil (1 Sam 30: 22; cf. Nah 1:11) that upsets “a basic behavioral norm…the violation of the relationship between the individual, community and God.” (Cogan, 2001, p. 479)

[4] Later in verse 19 the indication is that dogs lick up the blood of Naboth and the parallelism with the accusation in verse 24 indicate that Ahab’s curse is to be left unburied and consumed by dogs.

[5] Again, the Hebrew qum. The parallelism between the first time Jezebel tells Ahab to ‘arise’ and here when she again tells him to ‘arise’ is obscured by the NRSV using two words to translate this verb.

[6] The NRSV’s translation: I will bring ‘disaster’ obscures the parallelism in the text.

Digital Worship June 4, 2023

The online contemporary service and the sermon from this service are embedded at the bottom of the post.

Holy Trinity Sunday, June 4, 2023

We are gathered in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy   Spirit.


Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the            inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Most merciful God, we confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as           ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.

In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for his sake God forgives us all our sins. As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire  forgiveness of all your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.



The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.   And also with you.

Prayer of the Day

O God, on this day you open the hearts of your faithful people by sending into us your Holy Spirit. Direct us by the light of that Spirit, that we may have a right judgment in all things and rejoice at all times in your peace, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

First Reading: Genesis 1: 1-31

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
6And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
9And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
14And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16God made the two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night — and the stars. 17God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
 27So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them.
28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.                                                                

Psalm: Psalm 8


1O LORD, our Sovereign,
 how majestic is your name in all the earth!
 You have set your glory above the heavens.
 2Out of the mouths of babes and infants
 you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
 to silence the enemy and the avenger.
 3When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
 the moon and the stars that you have established;
 4what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
 mortals that you care for them?
 5Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
 and crowned them with glory and honor.
 6You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
 you have put all things under their feet,
 7all sheep and oxen,
 and also the beasts of the field,
 8the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
 whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
 9O LORD, our Sovereign,
 how majestic is your name in all the earth!

  Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13

11Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
13The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


Sermon: Pastor Adam Stockton

Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Assisting Minister

Let us pray:

Trusting in God’s abundant mercy, let us offer our prayers for a world in need.

A brief silence.

We pray, O God, for the church. Help us to live as witnesses of your love and grace so that the whole world may recognize your mercy is greater than our human capacity to restrict it.                                                                                   

God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray, O God, for creation. Tend forests and fields and safeguard all cattle, birds, and wild animals. Preserve lakes, rivers, and oceans and send rains to water the earth. Revive lands recovering from natural disasters.                     

God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray, O God, for the nations. Awaken in our leaders compassion for people who have too often felt forgotten or neglected, and inspire policy solutions that promote equity and inclusion. Protect and bless all who sacrifice to guard our freedoms, including: Ben, Brycen, Clayton, Daniel, Dillan, Ethan, Evan, Luke, Michael, Ryan, Spencer, Sydney, Tyler B. and Tyler G.                     

God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We pray, O God, for all who are in need. Accompany anyone enduring chronic illness, any who suffer in secret, and those grieving a loved one’s death. Send healing for all who plead for relief from sickness or pain, especially: Aubrey, Betsy, Billie, Brandi, Brenda, Carol, Dan, Emily, Eliza, Iver, Jamie, Janet, Johanna, Judy, Karen, Karson, Laurie, Lisa, Maureen, Patrick, Pete, Sandy, Steve, Tom and Zak and the friends and family of Brandon Kidd and those we pray for in our hearts (pause)                                                           

God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord, we pray for the ministries of the ELCA and the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod, we also lift up in prayer today: Immanuel Lutheran Church, Posey, First Lutheran Church, Longview and NT-NL Renewing Congregations Table.                                                                                           

God, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader: In trust and hope, we commend to you, O Lord, all for whom we pray. Amen.

Sharing of the Peace


Offering Offering may be given in the offering plate or electronically through the app. If you want to honor your electronic gift during the offering there are cards on the usher’s table for that purpose.

Words of Institution

Lord’s Prayer

 Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer

A: Let us pray. Lord Jesus, in this sacrament you strengthen us with the saving power of your death and resurrection. May these gifts of your body and blood create in us the fruits of your redemption and grace in our lives, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.



L:    As God has claimed us as his own in Christ,

       we seek to follow Christ with these marks of DiscipleLife:

§Praying Daily

§Worshiping Weekly

§Studying the Bible

§Serving Others

§Building Spiritual Friendships

§Giving to God and our Neighbors in Need

§Engaging God’s Mission

Dismissal: “Go in peace, serve the Lord. Thanks be to God” Alleluia

Review of Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most by Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasmun, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

Miroslav Volf has been an influential theological voice for me since his publication of Exclusion and Embrace and I have learned a great deal from his writing over the past two decades. Volf has been wrestling with the question of what makes a life worth living in his publications for the last eight years and this book feels like the successful culmination of years of writing, teaching, and seeking wise partners from his position at the Yale Divinity School and the Yale Center for Faith and Culture. His previous books on this topic (Flourishing: Why we Need Religion in a Globalized World and For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference) have helped frame the questions that now A Life Worth Living provides a guide for working through. A Life Worth Living models the class that Volf, Croasmun, and McAnnally-Linz teach at Yale, as well as at Danbury Federal Correctional Institute where they invite their seekers to consider several faith and wisdom traditions as they pose several key questions that are a part of seeking an authentic life. These questions include: What is worth wanting? What is the place of happiness in an authentic life? What is the authority are we responsible and what traditions form our vision of truth? How does a good life feel and what role do negative emotions/suffering have in the good life? What is worth hoping for? How should we live and what provides for a meaningful life? How do the various answers come together to form a life worth living? How does our good life fit within our bigger picture of the world? What do we do when we fall short of our visions of what life should be? How do we react to the suffering we experience and the suffering we encounter in the world around us?

One of the gifts of this book is it invites the reader into an encounter with a diverse set of wise voices who provide very different answers to each of the questions the book poses and provides a spectrum of possible answers for one willing to engage the questions. It is not a difficult book to read and it does not expect any previous engagement with philosophy or theology, instead coming out of the experience of teaching both undergraduates and inmates it simplifies the voices which come from across the religious and non-religious spectrum into an approachable set of stories. But the simplicity of the presentation does not take away from the deep nature of the reflection prompted by the questions that the book presents. This is an invaluable resource for those seeking to live a life that authentically reflects the values of the person trying to construct a life worth living.

1 Kings 20 King Ahab and the Conflict with Aram

1 Kings 20: 1-21 The Conflict with King-Hadad of Aram Begins

1 King Ben-hadad of Aram gathered all his army together; thirty-two kings were with him, along with

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

horses and chariots. He marched against Samaria, laid siege to it, and attacked it. 2 Then he sent messengers into the city to King Ahab of Israel, and said to him: “Thus says Ben-hadad: 3 Your silver and gold are mine; your fairest wives and children also are mine.” 4 The king of Israel answered, “As you say, my lord, O king, I am yours, and all that I have.” 5 The messengers came again and said: “Thus says Ben-hadad: I sent to you, saying, ‘Deliver to me your silver and gold, your wives and children’; 6 nevertheless I will send my servants to you tomorrow about this time, and they shall search your house and the houses of your servants, and lay hands on whatever pleases them, and take it away.”

7 Then the king of Israel called all the elders of the land, and said, “Look now! See how this man is seeking trouble; for he sent to me for my wives, my children, my silver, and my gold; and I did not refuse him.” 8 Then all the elders and all the people said to him, “Do not listen or consent.” 9 So he said to the messengers of Ben-hadad, “Tell my lord the king: All that you first demanded of your servant I will do; but this thing I cannot do.” The messengers left and brought him word again. 10 Ben-hadad sent to him and said, “The gods do so to me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria will provide a handful for each of the people who follow me.” 11 The king of Israel answered, “Tell him: One who puts on armor should not brag like one who takes it off.” 12 When Ben-hadad heard this message — now he had been drinking with the kings in the booths — he said to his men, “Take your positions!” And they took their positions against the city.

13 Then a certain prophet came up to King Ahab of Israel and said, “Thus says the LORD, Have you seen all this great multitude? Look, I will give it into your hand today; and you shall know that I am the LORD.” 14 Ahab said, “By whom?” He said, “Thus says the LORD, By the young men who serve the district governors.” Then he said, “Who shall begin the battle?” He answered, “You.” 15 Then he mustered the young men who serve the district governors, two hundred thirty-two; after them he mustered all the people of Israel, seven thousand.

16 They went out at noon, while Ben-hadad was drinking himself drunk in the booths, he and the thirty-two kings allied with him. 17 The young men who serve the district governors went out first. Ben-hadad had sent out scouts, and they reported to him, “Men have come out from Samaria.” 18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive; if they have come out for war, take them alive.”

19 But these had already come out of the city: the young men who serve the district governors, and the army that followed them. 20 Each killed his man; the Arameans fled and Israel pursued them, but King Ben-hadad of Aram escaped on a horse with the cavalry. 21 The king of Israel went out, attacked the horses and chariots, and defeated the Arameans with a great slaughter.

This story of conflict between King Ben-hadad of Aram and King Ahab of Israel has puzzled many readers of 1 Kings.  Several historical scholars have argued that this conflict between Aram and Israel may actually have occurred during the reign of King Jehohaz (2 Kings 13: 1-9) at least thirty-five years later when Ben-hadad continues his father King Hazael’s work of oppressing Israel. It is possible that a later story was brought forward to make a point about King Ahab, but it is also plausible that a Ben-hadad attempted to oppress Israel at different times (names were often repeated in families).[1] Perhaps even more perplexing than the historical question is the vastly different allegiances of King Ahab from the previous chapters where he was in conflict with Elijah. Baal and the prophets of Baal are absent, a lone prophet of God becomes a central advisor, and the king is well acquainted enough with the prophets of the LORD to recognize a member of the ‘sons of the prophets’ when they speak to him later. (Israel, 2013, p. 273) Also missing in action are Elijah and Elisha. The ‘sons of the prophets’ will feature heavily in the Elisha stories, and it is possible that Elijah is preparing Elisha to assume the mantle of his work. Yet, as a foreign oppressor comes and the LORD promises to demonstrate God’s power by handing over a vastly superior force into the hands of Ahab these key prophets are absent.

Despite all the perplexing elements for the narrative the central theological point is clear: the fate and security of Israel rests in the LORD’s hands and not in the hands of the king or his limited military. King Ahab is not going to deliver Samaria by his military might, his political acumen, or his leadership through the conflict. The victory is a demonstration of the sovereignty of the LORD the God of Israel and the proper response is obedience. Ahab will ultimately fail, like many previous leaders, in this final test of obedience and will trust in his own ability to negotiate a favorable peace rather than trusting in the LORD who provided the victory. In the eyes of 1 Kings this is a critical theological error.

King Ben-hadad of the Arameans gathers a large coalition of leaders and sends a large force of chariots and horsemen which besiege Samaria. His initial demand is received as a demand that King Ahab become a vassal king of this large well-equipped coalition,[2] paying tribute and surrendering captives to ensure his loyalty. King Ahab initially consents to this proposal seeing it as a way to avoid a larger conflict and his initial response declares his willingness to subjugate himself to King Ben-hadad, yet the second demand is a more arduous invasion of King Ahab’s sovereignty and the kingdom. Ben-hadad’s promise to send his servants to take whatever pleases them is viewed as a provocation because it strips Ahab of his power to protect the people and his household. Ahab and the elders refuse to consent and in the initial war of words Ben-hadad taunts that he will reduce Samaria to destruction so completely that his followers will not be able to gather a handful of dust from their remains. Ahab replies with a taunt that one who is just preparing to fight should not boast like a victor taking off his armor. The negotiations are over, King Ahab has failed to avoid conflict with a superior coalition and the siege begins in earnest as the Aramean forces take positions around Samaria.

An unnamed prophet enters the narrative. Unlike previous times when the prophets of the LORD were hunted by Jezebel and those loyal to her, now a prophet has access to the king. The prophet declares that the upcoming victory is another demonstration to Ahab of the power of the LORD. This improbably victory is not due to the skill of the vastly outnumbered forces that Ahab can command, but instead is a way for Ahab and the people to know ‘that I am the LORD.’  Knowing that the God of Israel is the LORD is to acknowledge the sovereignty of the LORD the God of Israel also means obedience to the LORD’s expectations. The prophet does not invoke that this falls under the rules of a ‘holy war’[3] but instead answers the king’s questions about how to initiate the battle and how the king is to lead. The identity of the two hundred thirty-two men who serve the district governors[4] is not clear from the context and has been a source of debate. It is unlikely that they are ‘professional soldiers’ as we think of people who are a part of a standing military, and they may be the personal protectors or enforcers for the regional leaders. Regardless of their identity they will be the first ones sent out, followed by the seven thousand Israelites that will engage the Arameans. The number seven thousand intentionally links the reader to the seven thousand who have not bent their knee to Baal who are the faithful remnant that the LORD identifies to Elijah. (1 Kings 19:18)

When the initial representatives of Israel emerge from the city an already drunk King Ben-hadad gives the order to capture them alive whether they are seeking peace or conflict. In the early stage of a siege the expectation is that there is not much that the leaders need to supervise so the drunken kings may not be as surprising as it would be for a modern leader to be drunk on the battlefield. From a military perspective the Israelites have the element of surprise, and the momentum of the battle quickly springs in their favor as they encounter an opponent who focused on a later clash rather than the emergence of an immediate threat. The leaders of the Aramean coalition are inhibited from leading their forces by their heavy drinking and Ahab’s forces take advantage of this surprised force. Yet, 1 Kings writes from a theological perspective and from that perspective the entire strategy, execution and victory is the work of the LORD and a demonstration of the LORD’s power over a superior military force.

1 Kings 20: 22-30a The Defeat of King-Hadad

22 Then the prophet approached the king of Israel and said to him, “Come, strengthen yourself, and consider well what you have to do; for in the spring the king of Aram will come up against you.”

23 The servants of the king of Aram said to him, “Their gods are gods of the hills, and so they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. 24 Also do this: remove the kings, each from his post, and put commanders in place of them; 25 and muster an army like the army that you have lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot; then we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” He heeded their voice, and did so.

26 In the spring Ben-hadad mustered the Arameans and went up to Aphek to fight against Israel. 27 After the Israelites had been mustered and provisioned, they went out to engage them; the people of Israel encamped opposite them like two little flocks of goats, while the Arameans filled the country. 28 A man of God approached and said to the king of Israel, “Thus says the LORD: Because the Arameans have said, ‘The LORD is a god of the hills but he is not a god of the valleys,’ therefore I will give all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” 29 They encamped opposite one another seven days. Then on the seventh day the battle began; the Israelites killed one hundred thousand Aramean foot soldiers in one day. 30 The rest fled into the city of Aphek; and the wall fell on twenty-seven thousand men that were left.

The surprising victory at Samaria buys some time for King Ahab, but the survival of King Ben-hadad means that in the spring the Arameans will return to continue the fight. Again, the unnamed prophet is the central advisor in the story giving King Ahab advice which follows. Yet, on the opposite side of the conflict Ben-hadad’s advisor also gave him advice to prepare for the next battle. Both sets of advisors are coming from different theological perspectives as they provide military guidance for their respective leaders.

The advisors of Ben-hadad follow pretty conventional military advice for the technology of the day couched in a theological proposition about the God of Israel. There is a distinct advantage for a military force which depended on chariots as a key maneuver element to fight on level ground. Military planners often look for ground that will enhance their technological advantage or reduce their disadvantages. The Arameans will be the ones who choose the next battlefield, and they choose Aphek. There are multiple places in the region named Aphek, but this is most likely the Transjordan site near the modern day Golan Heights.[5] (Cogan, 2001, p. 466) Yet, the theological rationale for encouraging King Ben-hadad to make these decisions is that they believe the gods of Israel is are ‘gods of the hills’ whose ability to influence the fight will be negated by moving the location of the conflict.[6]

A second man of God comes to the king of Israel with a promise that the LORD will deliver this force into the hands of Israel both to demonstrate to the Arameans the error in their thinking and to demonstrate once again to Ahab that ‘I am the LORD.’ Even though the Arameans fill the country, and the Israelites look like two little flocks of goats, Israel is not reliant upon its military might but the LORD’s deliverance. The seven days wait before the conflict echoes the six days of marching and the fall of Jericho on the seventh day.[7] Like Jericho the defeat for the Arameans is massive. The number of one hundred twenty-seven thousand dead seems impossibly large, but the theological effect is that this massive army is removed by God’s action on the battlefield and at the wall of Aphek. Although the battle is never declared a ‘holy war’ the parallels with Jericho begin to give the battle that feel which will prove crucial in Ahab’s decision in the aftermath of the LORD’s triumph.

1 Kings 20: 30b-43 King Ahab’s Political Choice and Theological Blunder

Ben-hadad also fled, and entered the city to hide. 31 His servants said to him, “Look, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings; let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes on our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will spare your life.” 32 So they tied sackcloth around their waists, put ropes on their heads, went to the king of Israel, and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad says, ‘Please let me live.'” And he said, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.” 33 Now the men were watching for an omen; they quickly took it up from him and said, “Yes, Ben-hadad is your brother.” Then he said, “Go and bring him.” So Ben-hadad came out to him; and he had him come up into the chariot. 34 Ben-hadad said to him, “I will restore the towns that my father took from your father; and you may establish bazaars for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” The king of Israel responded, “I will let you go on those terms.” So he made a treaty with him and let him go.

35 At the command of the LORD a certain member of a company of prophets said to another, “Strike me!” But the man refused to strike him. 36 Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the LORD, as soon as you have left me, a lion will kill you.” And when he had left him, a lion met him and killed him. 37 Then he found another man and said, “Strike me!” So the man hit him, striking and wounding him. 38 Then the prophet departed, and waited for the king along the road, disguising himself with a bandage over his eyes. 39 As the king passed by, he cried to the king and said, “Your servant went out into the thick of the battle; then a soldier turned and brought a man to me, and said, ‘Guard this man; if he is missing, your life shall be given for his life, or else you shall pay a talent of silver.’ 40 While your servant was busy here and there, he was gone.” The king of Israel said to him, “So shall your judgment be; you yourself have decided it.” 41 Then he quickly took the bandage away from his eyes. The king of Israel recognized him as one of the prophets. 42 Then he said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have let the man go whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall be for his life, and your people for his people.'” 43 The king of Israel set out toward home, resentful and sullen, and came to Samaria.

Throughout the conflict agents of the LORD the God of Israel have informed King Ahab that by these victories that Ahab will know that “I am the LORD.” These surprising military events should demonstrate to Ahab that God is the only refuge and support that the king needs. Yet, when presented with an opportunity to negotiate the reclamation of territory and trading rights for Israel, Ahab chooses to rely upon his skills in making a treaty. Ahab makes a political choice and a theological blunder. In the end Ahab trusts in crafting a commonsense deal rather than a zealous adherence to trusting in God and the results are disastrous for his household and Israel.

Ben-hadad’s servants convince their king to allow them to attempt to negotiate for his life. When they declare that the kings of Israel are ‘merciful’ kings they reference a central theological word often related to God: The Hebrew word hesed. Hesed is a rich word which can be rendered covenant faithfulness, grace, or mercy. It is God’s hesed that Israel relies upon. Now Ahab is to be manipulated by this property of hesed. The servants come out in sackcloth and with ropes on their heads to indicate their subservience to the Israelites. This has echoes of the way the Gibeonites trick the Israelites into sparing them in Joshua 9. These servants who may have been the same ones that would have been sent to plunder the house of Ahab, now come to make a humble appeal for the life of their king. Even though Ahab was previously treated with disdain by Ben-hadad, he extends the courtesy of calling him ‘brother’ and this allows Ben-hadad and Aram to negotiate terms of peace. With territory restored and trading rights promised King Ahab makes the political choice to allow his enemy to live. Peace between Aram and Israel will only last for three years.

King Ahab may have several political reasons to negotiate with the king of Aram. The return of land and the ability to expand trade with a neighbor are powerful incentives on their own. Ahab is also aware of the emergence of the Assyrians which will pose a threat to both Israel and Aram and may be looking for a military alliance with Aram to bolster the nations security. (Israel, 2013, p. 282) There is also the possibility that ‘class solidarity’ may play a part in Ahab’s considerations. (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 250) It may be fine for thousands of soldiers to be slaughtered but kings may be seen as ‘brothers.’ Ahab and Ben-hadad make a covenant[8] and the battle has ended.

Yet, the messengers of the LORD have to relay God’s displeasure at Ahab’s covenant which spares the life of Ben-hadad. We see the ‘sons of the prophets’ (NRSV company of prophets) appear for the first time. The sons of the prophets will feature heavily in the Elisha cycle, but now we encounter an unnamed prophet who declares to another to strike him. The failure of the first man to strike this prophet results in his death in a similar manner to the prophet who disobeyed in 1 Kings 13:24. Once the second man strikes the prophet and wounds him he departs to wait for the king. He is disguised with a bandage over his eyes because he is apparently known by sight to the king and portrays himself as a wounded soldier from the battle.

The prophet tells the king a ‘juridical parable’ where the offender is caught in the trap thinking the narrative is about someone else and then finding it refers to them. The most famous example of this type of parable is when the prophet Nathan confronts King David after sleeping with Bathsheba and ordering Uriah’s death.[9] Here the disguised prophet portrays himself as responsible for a man’s life and allows him to disappear in the chaos of the battlefield. Aram allows the words of the narrative to condemn the prophet only to find himself the one who has release one he was responsible for. King Ben-hadad was to be ‘devoted to destruction’ which translates the Hebrew herem. Herem is the practice of war referred to for the people that the Israelites were to eliminate in Deuteronomy 20: 16-18 (see also Deuteronomy 7: 1-5, 25-26). The story bears striking similarities to King Saul sparing King Agag of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) which results in the LORD’s rejection of Saul-although in the battle with the Amalekites the prophet Samuel invokes this concept of herem where they are to be completely committed to destruction. Only at the end of the narrative do we hear that the King of Aram was ‘devoted to destruction’ but like Saul, Ahab’s life and lineage are now marked.

This is a difficult passage to wrestle with. The theological blunder of Ahab is clear: he trusted in his own ability to bring about a better settlement for Israel even in the demonstration of the LORD’s might. The LORD wanted Ahab to acknowledge his power, authority, and protection and to respond with obedience and trust.  Even if the number of deaths here are significantly inflated, one of the difficult challenges for any reader of scripture is reconciling the God of hesed with the God who calls for herem. How does one balance mercy with obedience, political realism with faithfulness. These are not easy questions. I’ve wrestled with Violence and the Bible in other places in these reflections. But the overarching message that I believe the narrator of 1 Kings wants us to understand is that we are to orient our trust to be in the LORD and the LORD’s provision and protection and not in our own ability to negotiate.

[1] The prefix ‘Ben’ in names means ‘Son of’. Ben-hadad is literally the son of Hadad, likewise the common name Benjamin means ‘son of my right hand.’

[2] Chariots and horses were still viewed as the central military advantage in warfare of this time period.

[3] Hebrew herem, see the discussion of below on 20: 30b-43.

[4] Hebrew naari sarei hamedinot. This term not used at other times to help provide contextual clues for these ‘young men.’

[5] The Golan Heights is still a contentious piece of land that both Israel and Syria claim. Israel captured most of this territory in 1967 and annexed it in 1981. Syria still claims that the land is theirs.

[6] Judges also makes note of the Israelites being unable to clear the Canaanites and Philistines from the planes because of their iron chariots. (Judges 1:19) See also Joshua 17:16-18.

[7] Joshua 6

[8] Hebrew b’rith another key theological concept in the Hebrew Scriptures often linked with hesed.

[9] 2 Samuel 12, see also 2 Samuel 14 for another example when the woman of Tekoa confronts King David.

Review of Babel: An Archane History by R.F.Kuang

R. F. Kuang, Babel: An Archane History

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.

Babel is a book that is going to evoke a strong reaction from its reader. I love languages and have done a lot of work in translating and so a magical system which is built upon the distortion in meaning between languages when they are engraved on a silver bar was a fascinating concept. The attention to translation and understanding languages as systems of value and meaning may be boring to some readers, but for me this discussion resonated strongly. It is a story which can celebrate both the magic of the university but also the dark side of academia when it becomes tangled with the goals of the empire. The book deals with the difficult reality of colonialism and the difficult choice that the non-white students at Babel must make as they discover the ways in which their work is being used to exploit the countries of their birth. This is a smart, well written story set in a nineteenth century world modified by the advantages of enchanted silver working.

Robin Swift loses his family to sickness in China and is given a chance to come to England to be prepared for Babel, the Royal Institute of Translation at Oxford University. Robin Swift and his classmates Ramy, Victoire, and Letty become incredibly close as students at Babel, and as either non-white students or women they must navigate the wealthy, white, and male world of Oxford. They live a privileged life as Babel students who receive a full scholarship and a generous stipend, but they are also asked to commit themselves wholeheartedly to their studies. All of them are gifted students who have been trained for much of their life for this course of study. When Robin meets a person who looks like an older version of himself, he finds himself entangled with a secret society called Hermes. The Hermes society opposes the work Babel does to further the colonialism of the British Empire. Robin later sees the impact of the Royal Institute of Translation on his motherland of China and how it is allied with the trading companies who want to export opium to his home. This experience initiates a chain of events that sets Robin and some of his friends in opposition to the work of not only Babel but the empire itself.

R. F. Kuang does an excellent job of helping the reader see the world through the eyes of Robin, and to a lesser extent Victoire and Letty. It portrays the world of a brilliant young man who is often viewed as both important to the work of the Institute and by extension the empire, but who also is never fully accepted as a person who belongs at Oxford or in England. The characters are caught in the tension between the magic of the place and the devilish manipulation of the world using language. It is a sharp book both in its intelligence and its cutting and sometimes painful perspective on the abuse of both knowledge and people.

1 Kings 19 Elijah Encounters the LORD at Mount Horeb and the Appointment of Elisha

Elijah in the Wilderness By Frederic Leighton (1877-78) – uQG9WGfbc10kDw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,

1 Kings 19: 1-18

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then 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.” 3 Then 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.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He 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. 7 The 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.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9 At 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?” 10 He 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.”

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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When 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?” 14 He 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.” 15 Then 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. 16 Also 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. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Elijah’s triumph over the prophets of Baal and triumphal run before King Ahab quickly dissolves before the vengeful fury of Jezebel. Jezebel becomes the primary opponent of Elijah, not King Ahab, and although she may be unable to act openly on the day of Elijah’s triumph when the rains have returned and the memory of the fire of the LORD consuming the altar and the sacrifice still is fresh on Ahab and the crowd’s memory, she acts through a messenger.[1] The messenger relays Jezebel’s promise of death. Her threat has already eliminated many prophets of the LORD and has sent many others into hiding.[2] Ultimately Jezebel’s warning enables Elijah’s escape, but as Alex Israel points out, “She need not actually kill him; she is happy to see him disappear for another three years!” (Israel, 2013, p. 260) Jezebel views Elijah as a singular threat to the values she represents.

Jezebel as she is represented in the narrative of 1 Kings is the antithesis of the values of the covenantal way of the Torah (the law of Israel). Some have speculated that the canonical portrayal of Jezebel is another example of a patriarchal silencing of a powerful woman, but the issue for the author of 1 Kings is not the power Jezebel wields but how her use of it leads people away from the ways of covenantal faithfulness. Jezebel’s name will become a symbol for all that leads away from faithful adherence to the way of God in both Jewish and Christian thought. For example, Jezebel’s name will later be used in the book of Revelation for a figure who is leading the faithful astray. [3] For the narrative of 1 Kings, Jezebel and Elijah represent the opposing poles which Israel continues to ‘limp’ between. Jezebel represents faithfulness to the Phoenician gods and values of her family while Elijah represents fidelity to the worship and covenantal values of the LORD the God of Israel. Israel often attempted to combine elements of both into their communal life but both Elijah and Jezebel are violently opposed to this accommodation.

There have been many who have speculated on Elijah’s mental state as he flees the threat of Jezebel and heads into the wilderness outside the territory of Israel. He passes over the border into Jerusalem and then leaves behind his servant and heads alone on his journey. In Brueggemann’s words,

He arrives in the wilderness completely spent. He has mustered enormous energy for the dispute at Carmel. And though he has won, he is permitted no chance of exultation. His wish-prayer of v.4 is for death. He is distressed and dismayed. And then he sleeps. He has no energy for anything else. (Brueggemann, 2000, p. 234)

It is possible that after the contest with the prophets of Baal and the run to Jezreel that Elijah is physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted but the scriptures rarely share these details in their narration of the story. Others have speculated that Elijah is in a deep bout of depression as he asks God to end his life, and that is possible although ancient people would not have thought of depression as a clinical issue but merely as a state of melancholia. I would suggest another alternative, one that does not rule out exhaustion or depression, Elijah’s heart is broken. Elijah presided over the defeat and destruction of the prophets of Baal, rallied the people, ran before the king, and still, no one in Israel seems to be able to protect him from Queen Jezebel. Israel’s turn back towards the LORD the God of Israel seems to Elijah to have been washed away by the returning rains and forgotten once they left Mount Carmel. Three years of drought and hiding, the people’s suffering, the prophets’ death all seems to count for nothing and Elijah, for all his zeal, has not managed to change the course of the people. In his words he is no better than those who came before him and failed to change things.

The journey[4] of Elijah has been difficult. The journey that takes him into the wilderness is merely one part of this exhausting journey, but now alone he is content to leave the people behind and appeal to his God for death. Finding a solitary tree in the wilderness, Elijah is ready to renounce his vocation and his life. A messenger set him on this flight, and now another messenger replies to his plea for his journey and his life to end. One messenger threatens death, the second brings nourishment and comfort that brings the prophet back from his wish for death. This angelic messenger from God meets him as he sleeps. Sleep is often a time where God or God’s messengers interact with the faithful. We often discount this space of sleep and dreams but in the scriptures it is often a place where the divine draws close. Yet, this angelic messenger does not bring just guidance but brings tangible food and drink to help restore the prophet’s strength. This passage uses a number of uncommon Hebrew words to talk about the cake, ‘hot stones,’ and jar of water that link us to other critical scenes in the scriptures. The words for ‘cake’ and ‘jar’[5] are the same words that are used when Elijah asks the widow for water and a cake of bread in 1 Kings 17: 8-16, and now Elijah is like the widow and her son nearing the point of death and needing divine provision in a place where no food grows. ‘Hot coals’ or ‘hot stones’[6] is only used here and in Isaiah 6:6 when the seraphs bring a hot stone to purify Isaiah’s lips. (NIB III: 140) Food, drink, and rest are the divine answers to the prophets who has been worn out on the way. The second time the angel awakens Elijah he encourages him to eat again “or the way will be too much for you.” The NRSV’s translation indicates that the food is for the journey ahead to Mount Horeb, but the Hebrew is more ambiguous.[7] It may refer to the forty day and forty-night journey to and sojourn on Mount Horeb[8] but it also may refer more broadly to the way that Elijah will be called to walk as the prophet of God.

Mount Horeb is a sacred space in the imagination of Israel. Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai refer to the same mountain, the mountain where God first spoke to Moses, where the people receive the commandments of the LORD, and critically where Moses goes to appeal to God after the people worshipped the golden calf. The cave that Elijah journeys to is likely the same cleft where Moses hid while God passed by (Exodus 33:22). Elijah is coming to a place where he can encounter God directly. God is bringing Elijah to a place where he can be reoriented to the way of Moses.

In the commandments, the explanation for making not making an idol is, “for I the LORD your God am a jealous God,” and the words[9] translated ‘zealous’ when referring to Elijah is the same word in the commandment for God’s ‘jealousy.’ A close reader might begin to question if Elijah is taking too much responsibility on his shoulders, attempting to be ‘jealous’ in God’s stead. As mentioned above I do believe that Elijah is heartbroken over the seeming inability of Israel to maintain faithfulness to God his own seeming ineffectiveness as a prophet. Elijah is jealous on behalf of God and perhaps angry at feeling left alone to complete this work. Although we know that there are at least one hundred prophets who were rescued by Obadiah, Elijah’s complaint that he is alone to bear the burden of Israel’s unfaithfulness and it is a burden he can no longer bear.

The LORD grants Elijah’s wish for an audience, but it does not transpire as Elijah probably hoped. Baal is a storm god in Canaanite mythology and so the approach of a great wind would be associated with a god of storms, but the LORD was not in this wind which breaks rocks apart. The earthquake and the fire are also forces of immense power and places where God’s presence may be expected but God appears in none of these destructive forces. These things are driven before the LORD as the LORD approaches[10] but when they have passed the LORD is present in the ‘sound of sheer silence.’ The ‘sound of sheer silence’ comes from three Hebrew words: kol -voice or sound, demama- silence, and daka-thin, withered, or granular. The voice can be emerging from the silence or present in the silence, but it is not the terrifying, destructive thing that preceded it. Elijah wraps his mantle around his face and walks into the sound and silence.

Twice Elijah is asked “What are you doing here?” and twice he responds, “I have been 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.” Unlike Moses who goes up the mountain to plead for the people, Elijah goes up the mountain to accuse the people. Elijah had earlier mocked the prophets of Baal for their god’s inactivity, now Elijah is frustrated with the LORD’s response to the unfaithfulness among the people.

He cannot stand that God will sit by and watch as the nation adopts Baal as its deity… God wishes to function in the world via the “still, small voice”; Elijah wants fire, thunder, and earthquake. He cannot accommodate a world in which Jezebel can rule with a free hand, and does not understand why god will not bring the world to order. (Israel, 2013, pp. 266-267)

Elijah is brokenhearted with both the LORD and with Israel and stands caught between both. The world no longer makes sense to this prophet who sees his work on behalf of God met with threats of violence. Elijah is seeking a world where either the LORD acts against Jezebel and those who oppose the prophets or he no longer bears this burden.

The LORD will act and will grant what Elijah wishes, but not in the way that Elijah expects. Elijah does receive a mandate to return to his way, but it is a journey where he will be setting in motion the forces that end the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. The LORD is not going to act through wind, earthquake and fire, nor will the LORD summon the heavenly host, instead the LORD is going to work through the movement of forces within and external to Israel. God will work behind the scenes of history in the transitions of power. Elijah has perhaps in his jealousy overestimated his own significance in feeling that he is the only faithful one left, while God discloses a remnant of seven thousand and has designated another to bear his mantle. Elijah’s wish for his service and life to be at an end will be granted by God, but he is given three final tasks to prepare the way for the future. Ironically, the prophet who has complained about the unfaithfulness of Israel will not fulfill his final directive in the way the LORD directs.

1 Kings 19: 19-21

19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. 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. 20 He 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?” 21 He 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.

Elijah never makes it to Damascus. Instead he approaches his replacement first and casts his mantle upon him. Abel-meholah is closer to Mount Horeb than Damascus and it may reflect an exhausted and broken-hearted prophet ready to pass the mantle of prophecy to another. Elisha, whose name means ‘God is my salvation’, is presumably coming from a wealthy household since he has twelve yoke of oxen to plow with. Yet, when Elijah throws the mantle over him Elisha is willing to leave this life behind, he only asks Elijah’s permission to say farewell. Although Jesus will later say to a disciple who wishes to bury his father, “let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21), there is no judgment expressed by Elijah. There may be a note of regret as Elijah says to Elisha, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” The brokenhearted prophet may not wish for another to leave behind a life of prosperity for a life of deprivation and hardship, a life hunted by those in power. Yet, Elisha in saying farewell not only to his parents, but also the community, sacrifices the oxen and sets out to join Elijah on the way.

[1] The Hebrew mal’ak is used for both the messenger of Jezebel and the angel of the LORD in this passage.

[2] Notably the 100 prophets hidden by Obadiah in the previous chapter.

[3] Revelation 2:20

[4] Journey and way throughout this passage are the Hebrew derek which generally means way, road, distance, or journey.

[5] Hebrew ‘uga and shappahat

[6] Hebrew reshapim

[7] Hebrew mimmeka haddarek (NIB III: 140)

[8] The forty-day journey can be literal, but forty days is also frequently a way that the scriptures refer to a long and complete time. The number forty in Jewish thought often designates completeness, hence forty years in the wilderness, forty days Moses spends on Mount Sinai receiving the law, forty days of temptation, and many other examples.

[9] Quanno qunneti

[10] This imagery is common in scriptures, for example Judges 5: 4-5, Psalm 18:7-10, and Isaiah 29:6

Review of Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik, Uprooted

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.

I read Uprooted when it came out in 2015 and loved it, and a part of my reading habit is including books that I enjoyed previously and rereading them. I’ve read most of what Naomi Novik has written and this is my favorite of her books. Uprooted is set within a fantasy kingdom where a corrupted and malicious forest yearns to destroy the people who find themselves planted near its boundaries. The region is protected by a wizard named Sarkan, but who is commonly known as the Dragon. Every ten years the dragon selects a seventeen-year-old woman to come to his tower for the next ten years. Agnieszka is the protagonist of the story who is the surprise choice of this immortal wizard to spend the next ten years of her life in the Dragon’s tower. Agnieszka soon proves to be a difficult student but a gifted witch with her own relationship to magic which is more intuitive than Sarkan’s more precise and rigid approach. Despite their different gifts and approaches to magic their gifts weave together to allow them to do magic neither would be able to do alone.

The malicious wood plants devious seeds to attempt to entrap Sarkan and Agnieszka and to provoke confusion and conflict in the surrounding kingdoms. The wood makes an intriguing antagonist with its inhuman and corrupted drive to consume, and its ability to corrupt animals, humans, and objects. The story maintains an air of continual tension where the stakes are the destruction of the two kingdoms surrounding the wood. The wood’s manipulation of the vain Prince Marek springs a devilish trap which threatens to destroy Sarkan and Agnieszka as well as the kingdom. Naomi Novik does an impressive job of articulating a beautiful vision of magic within her world that can move between the elitist and rigid abilities of Sarkan and the folkish and musical abilities of Agnieszka.

Uprooted is both a fantasy story but also a coming-of-age story. Agnieszka as a young woman discovers her talents as a magic wielder and her voice within the political struggles of the kingdom but she is also a young woman discovering attraction. The intertwining of Sarkan’s and Agnieszka’s magical abilities unlocks feelings for both but there is also a vast gap between them to be overcome. It is a dangerous but beautiful world with well written characters, a constant threat of destruction by the environment which seeks revenge on all humanity, and a compelling vision of magic. The book invites you to walk barefoot into these dark woods and stay rooted in the magic of the place.

1 Kings 18 Elijah’s Showdown with the Prophets of Baal

1 Kings 18

Elijah Stained Glass Window By Cadetgray – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

1 After 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.” 2 So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. The famine was severe in Samaria. 3 Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Now Obadiah revered the LORD greatly; 4 when 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.) 5 Then 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.” 6 So 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?” 8 He answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.” 9 And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would hand your servant over to Ahab, to kill me? 10 As 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. 11 But now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here.’ 12 As 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. 13 Has 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? 14 Yet now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord that Elijah is here’; he will surely kill me.” 15 Elijah said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” 16 So 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?” 18 He 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. 19 Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

20 So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah 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. 22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Let 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. 24 Then 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!” 25 Then 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.” 26 So 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. 27 At 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.” 28 Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. 29 As 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; 31 Elijah 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”; 32 with 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. 33 Next 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.” 34 Then 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, 35 so that the water ran all around 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. 37 Answer 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.” 38 Then 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. 39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD indeed is God; the LORD indeed is God.” 40 Elijah 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.

41 Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of rushing rain.” 42 So 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. 43 He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” He went up and looked, and said, “There is nothing.” Then he said, “Go again seven times.” 44 At 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 say to Ahab, ‘Harness your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'” 45 In a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind; there was a heavy rain. Ahab rode off and went to Jezreel. 46 But 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’s well-known confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel portrays a public demonstration of the LORD the God of Israel’s power over Baal or any other deity. King Ahab’s policies prior to the drought seemed to be leading Israel to a new time of prosperity: they were oriented on trade with Tyre and Sidon, we know from extra-biblical sources that he built up a large stables and chariot force, and Israel seems to be a force among the local kingdoms. Yet, the three years of drought have reduced Ahab and his palace steward to searching for forage for the animals he has collected. There seems to be little concern for the suffering of the population, at least as 1 Kings narrates the story. The horses and donkeys of the royal stables would have been both symbolic of the wealth of the king and instrumental in the military of Israel. Yet, for all their former strength, now these two men are reduced to seeking the last remnants of water and grass to attempt to keep some of their animals alive.

Obadiah is caught between competing loyalties. Obadiah reveres the LORD and has saved one hundred of the prophets of the God of Israel from those loyal to Queen Jezebel. Yet, Obadiah serves in a position of great responsibility and privilege as the steward of the palace. Obadiah is caught between his overt loyalty to the king, and his covert actions to attempt to care for the servants of the LORD. The appearance of Elijah troubles the delicate balance of his life between the LORD and his lord Ahab.

After three years of drought, and the near death of the widow’s son in the previous chapter providing a human face for the suffering of the years, God declares to Elijah that it is now the time to act and to declare that rain is returning to the region. Elijah will no longer hide in the wadi or in foreign territory. Now he is to go directly to Ahab and to bring the challenge directly to the king of Israel. Elijah’s absence from the public scene has allowed Ahab and Jezebel to eliminate many other prophetic voices that would trouble their reign. Now the king who built an altar to Baal and the prophet of the LORD of Israel are finally going to meet for the first time since Elijah declared an end to the rain and the dew.

Obadiah’s encounter with Elijah foreshadows the challenge Israel faces as it ‘limps between two opinions.’ Obadiah reveres the LORD and bows down before Elijah upon seeing him, and yet he is fearful of reaction of Ahab who has set out to destroy Elijah. The initial response of Elijah to “Go tell your lord the Elijah is here” can also mean “Go tell your lord Lo, the LORD is God.”[1] (NIB III: 132) Obadiah, whose name means ‘worshipper of the LORD,’ now has to choose between his loyalty to God and his prophet and the king who seeks the prophet’s life. Obadiah has danced between the two, saving prophets and serving the king, for years and he fears the potential of the king’s wrath. Elijah has been absent for three years as the king sought him and Obadiah fears that the LORD will whisk him away on the wind once he goes to alert the king. Yet, Elijah assures Obadiah that he will be present when the king returns. Obadiah, once the servant to the king, now goes forth as the messenger of Elijah and by extension Elijah’s LORD.

Ahab, on arrival, declares that Elijah is the ‘troubler of Israel.’ From Ahab’s point of view, Elijah declared the drought which has caused great suffering among the people and animals of the kingdom and has unsettled the land. Yet Elijah declares that it is Ahab and his household that have brought this trouble upon Israel by turning their back on the LORD the God of Israel and worshipping Baal. Elijah proposes a prophetic showdown on Mount Carmel so that the people can stop wavering in their loyalties and choose either the LORD or Baal as the focus of their worship.

Elijah’s challenge to the people is met with silence. Without some demonstration the people seem content with their dual loyalties, but when presented with a demonstration they believe that Elijah’s proposal is well spoken. The numerous prophets of Baal are allowed to begin the show by preparing their altar and bull and calling repeatedly upon the name of Baal. Yet there is no voice and no answer. Like the nation of Israel ‘limping’ between different opinions, the prophets of Baal ‘limp’ around the altar.[2] Elijah mocks their ineffectual cries and actions, declaring they should try harder to summon their god’s attention. Finally, the action of drawing blood is added to their cries and ‘limping’ to attempt to draw the attention of Baal but again there is no voice, no answer, and no response.

Elijah calls the crowd to himself after they have observed the priests of Baal in their wailing and limping and bleeding. Elijah build an altar with twelve stones, summoning the people back to their origin as twelve tribes. It is possible that Elijah is rebuilding a previously existing altar that existed on the site, but the construction of the altar with twelve stones harkens back to the actions to their forefathers. The dimensions of the trench around the altar is disputed, but the action of soaking the altar and the offering with water by the people makes the demonstration of the LORD’s power more impressive. Elijah’s brief appeal to the LORD brings about an instant response as the fire of the LORD consumes the offering, the water, the stones, the wood, and even the dust. The people, upon seeing this demonstration, immediately fall on their faces and reaffirm their loyalty to the LORD.

Elijah demands that the prophets of Baal be seized, and he executes them at the Wadi Kishon. Some view Elijah’s actions as similar to Jezebel’s action of killing the prophets of the LORD.  Jezebel and Ahab probably viewed the killing of the prophets of the LORD as a way of eliminating opponents to their reign. Yet, Elijah probably views this execution of the prophets of Baal as essential to cleansing the land from its idolatry and removing a temptation from the people to return to their divided loyalties. The text does not indicate that the prophets of Asherah are present at this event, but the death of these prophets of Baal in the dry streambed Deborah and Barak battled the forces of King Jabin of Canaan (Judges 4) reasserts the dominion of the LORD over Israel.

In the aftermath of the prophetic challenge, Elijah speaks to Ahab in a very civil manner telling him to go eat and drink. Ahab obeys. Elijah returns to Carmel to await the rain, bowing down and presumably praying for the rain to come. Elijah’s servant is told to look for rain clouds and report back, and after seven trips to the pinnacle to look toward the sea the initial rain cloud is seen. Elijah then sends the message to Ahab to return home before the rain makes the journey impossible by chariot. The action of Elijah girding up his loins and running before the chariot of Ahab can be seen as both a demonstration of the hand of the LORD on Elijah in granting him speed and Elijah serving as one who runs before the king and may indicate a second chance for Ahab.

For the moment, Elijah is safe as he enters Jezreel before the king. The rain comes and washes away the blood that was spilled. The crops and animals languishing in the drought finally have a chance of renewal. And Israel has an opportunity to stop limping between its loyalty to the LORD the God of Israel and the gods of the surrounding nations. Yet, Elijah who here runs before the king will soon run away from a vengeful queen and the way of life represented by Baal has not been uprooted. Miracles rarely seem to produce a lasting change in behavior.

The struggles of Obadiah and Israel as they attempt to limp through life with divided loyalties is a struggle that is relevant to the faithful as they attempt to remain true to their faith in the midst of the demands and constraints of the world. There are times where the faithful will have to reassert that they will follow the LORD and reclaim the obedience to the covenant way of life that the LORD expects. Even through the three years of drought where the prophets have been silenced, God has not abandoned the people and will not let Elijah remain in isolation. God continues to call the king and the people back to the way of the commandments. Yet, even Elijah will struggle with the forces that oppose the prophetic call of faithfulness to the LORD the God of Israel.

[1] Because Elijah’s name means the LORD is God there is this double meaning.

[2] Both are using the Hebrew verb psh. All Hebrew verbs are based on three letters and then conjugated into their form.

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