1 Kings 19:9b-18

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Old Testament
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Literary Context

1 Kings is “’history like’ in that it has a chronological framework, the individual stories are structured into a unitary whole, and it is a fairly reliable source for historical evidence” (Nelson 1).  However, this “historical” account is not typical written history as we know it today.  1 Kings weaves an array of literary forms to draw conclusions about God’s will and actions in the lives of His people throughout their history (Nelson 1-2).  Moreover, 1 Kings displays “kerymatic intent” (Nelson 2).  In other words, this material was not composed simply for the transfer of historical information but to call people back into relationship with their Creator.

I Kings, usually designated as part of the Deuteronomistic history, Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, is a prophetic tradition concerned with holiness.  Unlike the priestly tradition which viewed holiness to be attained through ritual observation, the prophetic theme of holiness is displayed by social justice (Gammie 102).  I and II Kings outline the results of obedience and disobedience to Torah (Gammie 116-24).

Two possible methods of authorship and dating for I and II Kings have been suggested.  The first proposes that I and II Kings “underwent two editions” which were completed circa “550 B.C.”  The second method proposes that it was completed by a single writer, rather than a group, whom compiled it sometime “after 561 B.C.” (Finley 338-39).  In addition, the prophet Jeremiah has been suggested as a candidate for this “Historian” (Finley 338).

Historical Context

“The content of I and II Kings is a recounting and a theological interpretation of significant events in Israel’s history from the close of David’s reign through the fall of Jersusalem, with a final notation about Jehoiachin’s release from prison” (Finley 337).  This “history” covers nearly 400 years: the end of David’s reign; Solomon’s reign; the division of the kingdom into North (Israel) and South (Judah); the reigns of the two kingdoms’ monarchies; and the remaining reigns of the kings of Judah after Israel’s destruction (Finley 337; Mariottini 479).  However, this book was likely composed during the Babylonian exile (Nelson 4-5).  Thus, I and II Kings emphasize separation and purity in maintaining a holy community through the keeping of Torah as expressed in Deuteronomy (Mariottini 479).

King Ahab, leader of the northern kingdom of Israel, is remembered best for being an evil king.  In fact, Omri, Ahab’s father, did more evil than any king before him (1 K 16:25).  Ahab outdid his father by doing even more evil than Omri (1 K 16:30).  Ahab also marries Jezebel, an avid worshipper of Baal, prompting him to erect altars and a house for Baal (v. 31).  This is the epitome of evil in the life of Israel.  Israelhad forsaken obedience to Torah by worshipping the false God’s of the surrounding nations.  This was in direct violation to the decree found in the Deuteronomy 6, also known as the Shema.  Israel had violated her part of the covenant, now God has come to fulfill the warning found in the Shema (Deut. 6:14-15).

It has been a whirl-wind of activity in the recent life of Elijah.  Called by God to confront Ahab andIsrael’s wickedness, Elijah brings news of a severe drought that will ravage the land for three years.  Elijah then flees and hides by a wadi, being fed by ravens during his stay (1 K 17:5).  Once the wadi dries out, God then calls Elijah to go to Zarephath where a widow is to take care of him (vv. 8-9).  Even though the widow has food for only one meal, she graciously gives Elijah food upon request (v. 15).  God provides for Elijah, the widow, and her son throughout this time of drought (16).  However, during this time the widow’s son dies (v. 17).  The widow confronts Elijah about this problem (v. 18).  Elijah takes the boy and prays over him until he is revived (vv. 19-23).

After this time, God once again calls Elijah to confront Ahab andIsrael(18:1).  Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a contest between their gods and Yahweh.  Elijah confrontsIsraelto decide who is really God, to which they consent (vv. 21-24).  The false prophets flail, dance, and shout to no avail.  Baal does not shower down fire upon their bull (vv. 25-29).  Elijah then callsIsraelto see what Yahweh will do (v. 30).  Elijah rebuilds the altar and douses the sacrifice with water (vv. 31-35).  Elijah calls upon Yahweh to declare Himself (vv. 36-37).  Fire falls from heaven, consuming the sacrifice, the altar, and the standing water in the trench surrounding the altar (v. 38).  The people worship God and kill the false prophets (vv. 39-40).

Elijah then informs Ahab rains are coming, which happens after Elijah prays to God seven times (vv.41-46).  Ahab returns home and tells Jezebel what has happened atMount Carmel(19:1).  Jezebel flies into a fury, threatening to kill Elijah (v. 2).  Elijah fears for his life and runs away to hide (v. 3).  Elijah seems to experience a deep depression and hopelessness (vv. 4-5).  The angel of the Lord comes to Elijah with food and causes him to sleep after he has eaten.  This process is repeated a second time (v. 7).  Elijah then walks for forty days and forty nights to Horeb (v. 8).  It is at this point that we turn to Elijah’s encounter at themountainofGod,Mount Sinai.

Conveyors of Meaning

            There is a question and response used twice in this narrative.  God asks His prophet, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  To which Elijah responds, “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” (vv. 10, 13-14).  God’s question to Elijah indicates that Elijah is not where God had called him to be.  Elijah responds, stating how rigorously he has served God but now finds his life endangered (vv. 10, 14).

Elijah’s response indicates several important aspects to holiness: God’s nature and covenant obedience.  Elijah calls Yahweh “God of hosts,” acknowledging God as the sovereign Creator of the heavens and the celestial beings.  God is holy because He is Creator.  Elijah also complains aboutIsrael’s disobedience to the covenant found in Deuteronomy and Joshua.  However, Elijah’s experience has not been retribution uponIsraelbut upon the righteous prophets of God.  In a sense, Elijah is declaring God unjust for not upholding His end of the promise.

In verse 11, God commands Elijah to stand on the mountain, Horeb (also known as Sinai), because He is “about to pass by.”  This is important because Elijah is connected with the Mosaic tradition found in Exodus and Deuteronomy.  Moses had been commissioned by God atMount   Sinaiand then given the Decalogue at this very site.  It represents the life and Law given by God at this very mountain.  Now, once again, God will reveal Himself to His chosen mouthpiece.

There are three natural occurrences of power that shake the very foundations of the earth: a great wind; an earthquake, and a fire (vv. 11-12).  Again, this is reminiscent of the theophany onMount Sinaiwhere God is shrouded upon the mountain in smoke and fire and the earth trembles while a trumpet blasts (Ex. 19:18-19).  This display signifies the mystery and yet the availability of God.  However, in the passage of I Kings, God is not found in the mighty forces that shake the foundations of the earth.  Rather, “after the fire a sound of sheer silence” resonates upon the mountain.  At this Elijah cowers beneath his cloak and stands at the entrance of the cave (vv. 12-13).

After asking Elijah yet again why he is here, God then sends Elijah to return the way he came, anoint the king ofAram, anoint a new king ofIsrael, and anoint Elisha as Elijah’s successor.  God then tells Elijah that each of these people that has been anointed will be used as the judgment of God upon the people ofIsrael.  However, God will “leave seven thousand inIsrael, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (17-18).  God has answered Elijah’s plea for justice.

Telos

            The holy God calls to Elijah, drawing him into conversation with the Almighty.  This question points to the recognition that Elijah is not where God has called him to be.  However, God simply and patiently listens to Elijah’s complaint against God.  Elijah blames God for allowing such tragedy to befall him.  It is because Elijah has been faithful that he finds himself running for fear of his life.  Where is the justice for the righteous in that?  However, God does not respond harshly toward Elijah but commands him to go stand on the mountain for He will pass by.  The divine theophany will once again appear at Horeb; however, it will come in a unique fashion.  A mighty wind ravages the mountain yet God is not found therein.  An earthquake rattles the foundations under Elijah but still God is not in its midst.  A fire scorches the mountain yet God is still not found there.  Then, a silence so deafening and heavy breaks upon the mountain.  Elijah cowers and covers his face with his cloak.  The presence of God is immediate and intense.  It is both near and yet mysteriously shrouded.

Once again, God questions Elijah, “What are you doing here” (v. 13).  Elijah still registers his complaint to God.  Apparently, Elijah has missed the point God was trying to make.  God‘s power commands all of nature, but not even that can compare with the power of God’s presence!  Elijah mechanically names Yahweh as “God of hosts.”  Yet, he still questions God’s justice.  Yet, God does not berate Elijah but responds to his complaint.  God will not let the fornication of His people go unpunished.  However, even in the midst of the divine judgment, God is willing to exercise mercy and grace.  Seven thousand faithful will be saved from the sword of judgment.  Even though God’s people had forsaken the covenant, God would maintain His promise.  God had not abandoned His people.            

 

Works Cited

Finley, Harvey E. “I and II Kings.” Beacon Bible Commentary. Vol. II.Kansas City: Beacon Hill P, 1965. 337-437.

Gammie, John G. Holiness in Israel.Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2005.

Harrelson, Walter J., Donald Senior, and Abraham Smith, eds. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha.New York: Abingdon P, 2005.

Mariottini, Claude F. “1 Kings.” The New Interpreter’s Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Ed. Walter J. Harrelson, Donald Senior, and Abraham Smith.New York: Abingdon P, 2005. 479-80.

Nelson, Richard D. First and Second Kings.New York:Geneva P, 2003.

 

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