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Week 9, Day 1

I Kings 19. 1-18

I hate to be a broken record but—

This week’s passage is again plucked out of a very stirring larger story that should be read in its entirety if the smaller passage is going to hold. So unless you are already very familiar with the story of Elijah, you would do well to begin at I Kings 16:29 and read through chapter 19. This won’t get you to the famous flaming chariot swinging low to take Elijah home (that’s not until II Kings. 2), but it will round out the character of Elijah for you and show how complex a man he was, and how complicated was his political and religious climate.

“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.’” (17.1)

Elijah comes out of nowhere—no title, no resume, no references; just shows up to announce a drought that will not end until he says so. You could almost forgive King Ahab for failing to take Elijah seriously.

Almost. Ahab had just married Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon. Jezebel was an ardent worshipper of Baal, who, interestingly, was the god of weather—rain and storms and such. To please his wife, Ahab built a temple to Baal and promoted the worship of Baal among his Israelite subjects, thus doing “more to provoke the anger of the LORD, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him” (I Kings 16.33).

When Yahweh brought Israel out of Egypt their covenant arrangement was that they would trust only Yahweh and Yahweh would provide for their needs. But life in Palestine in the 8th century B.C. was hard on a good day. So the Israelites did what people have always done—what many of us do today—they hedged their bets. They took Yahweh for their main God, but kept Baal as an insurance policy. If Yahweh got a little bit mad at them one day and held back the rain, they could always appeal to Baal to help out.

Elijah will have none of that. He calls Israel back to her roots, back to trust in Yahweh alone. His methods are harsh, but the issues are serious.

Here are the questions Elijah pressed on the Israelites: Who are you going to trust? How much are you willing to risk? Will you trust Yahweh even if, for a while, it appears you have placed the wrong bet?

Challenging questions for his people. They are, very likely, worth our consideration, as well.

Prayer: In our complicated world, Patient God, bring us to a place of trust. In the dark night, in drought of spirit, water our souls and grant us peace. Amen.

I 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 for 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.’

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