Friday, March 7, 2014

First Kings: Bummer for Baal

Let’s see… we were about to start talking about Ahab and Elijah, right?

Now, the Ahab we’re talking about was a king of Israel, not a whale-obsessed ship’s captain. Just so we’re clear. And we’re told that Ahab did more evil than all of the people who came before him, because not only did he allow cults to other gods to flourish like his predecessors did, but he married a Sidonian chick named Jezebel and converted to the worship of her god Baal.

So because Ahab was so awful, God sent his prophet Elijah to inform Ahab that there would be a three year drought. Then God sent Elijah into hiding (presumably so Ahab wouldn’t retaliate) in the wilderness east of the Jordan, where he had ravens bring him food every day. But after a bit, because of the drought, Elijah ran out of water to drink and God sent him to the city of Zarepath. There, he met a starving widow and her son, whose nearly exhausted supply of food God multiplied so that she could feed Elijah as well as herself. But even with their food worries taken care of, tragedy still lingered in the form of the son coming down sick and dying. But fear not, for Elijah was on the case:

1 Kings 17:20 And he cried out to Yahweh, ‘O Yahweh my God, have you brought calamity even on the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?’ 21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to Yahweh, ‘O Yahweh, my God, let this child’s life come into him again.’ 22 And Yahweh listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.”

So there you go. Miraculous resurrection. God defeating death via Elijah long before doing it via Jesus. And in such a sweet setting – a heartfelt plea for the life of a young boy, answered with a miracle. What a refreshing change of pace!

After three years of drought, God sends Elijah to go have a word with Ahab. Apparently in the meantime, Jezebel had ordered all of the prophets of God killed so they couldn’t compete with the prophets of her own god, but Ahab’s servant Obadiah had hidden a hundred of them away in caves and provided them with food and water.

Elijah confronts Ahab and demands that he gather “all Israel,” along with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah at Mount Carmel. And for some reason, even though Ahab clearly regards Elijah as just a troublemaker, he does as he demands.

When everyone is gathered at Mount Carmel, Elijah proposes a challenge between Baal and Yahweh (for some reason, even though the prophets of Asherah are invited, they aren’t included as part of the challenge). Each of them will prepare a burnt offering to their god, but they won’t set it on fire. Instead, they are to pray to their respective gods to light the fire for them. The prophets of Baal go first, and even though there are 450 of them there praying and entreating their god, the offering fails to light. Elijah spends his time mocking their efforts, at one point suggesting that maybe Baal isn’t answering because he’s off somewhere taking a dump.

Then Elijah makes his offering, and when his preparations are done he takes the extra step of completely soaking it in water. I guess he was worried about the artistic merit score from the Russian judge, and was hoping to pick up extra points on technical difficulty.

When Elijah calls out to God, a fire descends from heaven so hot that it not only consumes the offering, but destroys the altar and evaporates all the water that had puddled around it. Everyone watching is stunned, and falls down to worship God. Then Elijah, magnanimous in victory as all of God’s prophets invariably are, orders the people to seize the prophets of Baal and kill them all. After this, finally, the drought ends and the rains come.

Don’t we ordinarily consider it a bad thing to engage in human sacrifice as a means of ending droughts? Or for any reason, really? I guess it just really depends on which god you’re sacrificing to.

When Jezebel hears about all this, she sends a messenger to Elijah to let him know she intends to have him killed. Why she didn’t just send several people with orders to actually kill him instead, I have no idea, but he responds to the gracious warning by fleeing like a little bitch. Which seems like odd behavior for someone who supposedly has unequivocal proof that God s on his side and just successfully ordered “all of Israel” to murder hundreds of Jezebel’s prophets. What is he scared of? Couldn’t he just order those same people to murder her as well?

But anyway, Elijah flees into the wilderness, where God has an angel feed him while he journeys to Mount Horeb. There, Elijah whines to God about how he’s the only guy in all of Israel still loyal to God and everybody wants to kill him. You’d think lying straight to God’s face like that would have consequences, but apparently it doesn’t work that way. Instead, God sends Elijah to go anoint some guy named Hazael to be king of Syria and Jehu to be king of Israel (and why, exactly, would anyone in Syria care who a disenfranchised priest of an Israelite god tells them should be king?), and to anoint a guy named Elishah to be prophet after him. Yes, there will now be a pair of prophets named Elijah and Elishah. Good luck not getting them confused.

Then God promises to use those anointed fellows to kill shitloads of Israelites until there are only seven thousand left. Because mass murder remains the one-size-fits-all solution.

Anyway, Elijah finds Elishah, who agrees to follow him and marks the occasion by sacrificing a couple dozen of his family’s oxen (I’m certain they were thrilled at the spontaneous destruction of that much wealth). The Bible then takes a break from following Elijah for a bit (without mentioning whether he carried out the orders to anoint new kings in Syria and Israel) to go on at length about some of Ahab’s wars with Syria. Since there are some stories worth repeating covered in that aside about Ahab, I think the transition here is a good place to take a break for now. We’ll get into those stories next time.

Until then, be well!

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