ELIJAH: Murder, and the Doom of Ahab

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So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and vexed, and came to Samaria.
–1 Kings 20: 43

IT is significant that the words describing Ahab’s state of mind on returning from Jezreel to Samaria after his unsuccessful negotiation with Naboth for his vineyard…

…are precisely the same as those formerly used in regard to the impression made on him by the prophet’s message (1 Kings 20: 43).

god-idolatry-discipleship-1-GoodSalt-stdas0022-254x300On both occasions he “was much [and rebelliously] excited and angry.” The identity of terms indicates identity of feelings. The same self-assertion, dependence of God, and want of submissiveness which had led to his release of, and covenant with, Ben-hadad, and inspired feelings of rebellion and anger on hearing the Divine message, now prompted his resentment Naboth’s conduct.

The summer palace of Jezreel was the favorite retreat of King Ahab and Jezebel. The present somewhat marshy plain of Esdraelon, the almost bare mountains of Gilboa, and the miserable village which now occupies the site of Jezreel, and overlooks the ruins of Bethshan, can afford no adequate idea of what the place was in the days of Ahab and Jezebel and of their immediate successors. Then the mountains of Gilboa were richly wooded, and sweet springs brought freshness to the air and luxurious beauty to the vegetation of Jezreel, even as they carried fertility into the great plain beneath, which in the summer light shimmered and trembled like a sea of golden corn. At the northern declivity of Gilboa, where it descends, steep and rocky, on a knoll about 500 feet high, stood Jezreel. Protected from the fierce southern sun by the delicious shade of Gilboa, that rises up behind, it looked “as a place suited to a summer-residence in the East” northwards, across the plain to the mountains of Galilee, to Tabor, and in the distance to snow-capped Hermon. The height descended into the valley of Jezreel, where a sweet spring rippled, and close by gathered into a pool. Eastwards, you would look down on Bethshan, and, across the deep depression of the Jordan valley, to the mountains on the other side on which rested the blue and purple light. To the west you might sweep those fifteen miles to Mount Carmel, and perchance the westerly breeze might carry up the plain the fresh scent of the sea. Such was the Jezreel of Ahab and Jezebel” the nearest, the safest, the sweetest summer- retreat from Samaria.

Naboth's VineyardOn the east and south-east, where the hot Limestone rock shelves into the valley beneath, are to this day wine-presses. They mark the neighborhood of where the vineyards of Jezreel must have been, among them that of Naboth. Right above was the royal palace, narrowed and cramped within the city walls, of which indeed it seems to have formed part. Manifestly it would be object of desire to acquire the land nearest to the palace, with the view of converting it into a garden. What such a garden might bear, and what sweet outlook on it could be enjoyed from the windows of the palace, may be judged from the lemon-groves still existing in the near neighborhood. But Naboth, the owner of the coveted piece of land, could not be tempted to part with it by the king’s offer of either a better vineyard or an equivalent in money. It was the ancestral possession of the family of Naboth, and piety towards God combined with reverence for the memory of his fathers to forbid the unholy bargain. It is a healthy sign to find such stern assertion of principle so fearlessly uttered. Israel could not be wholly sunken in corruption and idolatry so, long as it numbered among its peasant proprietors men like Naboth, nor could the service of Jehovah have left its households when even in Jezreel a burgher could appeal from the demands of an Ahab to the authority and law of his God. And it affords happy evidence of what the legislation of the Pentateuch had secured for Israel, that even in the worst times an Ahab dared not, like a heathen monarch, lay hands on Naboth, nor force him to surrender the inheritance of his fathers.

ahab_2It is another mark of that self-willed and uncontrolled frame of mind which had determined the bearing of Ahab towards Ben-hadad, and then towards the prophet sent to rebuke him, that he could not brook the refusal of Naboth. It was utter and childish petulance, as well as unbridled selfishness to, act as he did on his return to Samaria. He turned his face to the wall and refused to eat bread. In Samaria at least all was submissive to his will” thanks to the strong hand of Jezebel. But, outside her sway, he was always encountered and opposed by Jehovah: now by His prophets, then by His worshipers. Here was a power which he dared not resist, yet to which he would not submit. But Jezebel shared neither the feelings nor the scruples of her husband. She dared what she would, and she would what she dared. She now spoke to the king as a strong unscrupulous woman to a weak and unprincipled man. She must have known what had prompted the refusal of Naboth –although it deserves notice that, in his account of what had passed, the king had studiously omitted all reference to it (verse 6). Similarly, Ahab must have known that when Jezebel demanded the royal signet, with which official documents coming directly from the king were stamped, she must have had in view some scheme of violence. And often does it seem more convenient –certainly more easy –to remain in willful ignorance, than to learn what would call for our active resistance, or, in the absence of it, fill our conscience with uneasiness. And while remaining in willful ignorance, Ahab may have flattered himself that he had not incurred responsibility in the murder of Naboth.

JESEBEL PLOTS MURDER77The measures of Jezebel were at least plain and straightforward old Mosaic civil order still continued in Israel by which jurisdiction, even in matters of life and death, lay in the first instance with the “judges and officers” of a place (Deut. 16:18). This local “senate,” consisting partly of elected life-members, partly of what may be designated a hereditary aristocracy, might in times of corruption become subject to court influence, especially in a small royal borough such as Jezreel. Jezebel knew this only too well, and with a terrible frankness wrote to each member of that senate what would seem the king’s directions. By these each recipient of the letter would become a fellow-conspirator, and each feel bound to keep the horrible secret. As if some great sin rested upon the city (compare 1 Sam. 7: 6), and, in consequence of it, some heavy judgment were to be averted, (2Chron. 20: 2-4; Jer.36: 6, 9), the eldership of Israel gathered the people to a solemn fast. If it had been so, and some great sin had been committed or were even suspected, it would have been the duty of the city thus to purge itself of guilt or complicity. For according to the deep and true idea which underlay all the institutions of the Old Testament there is solidarity (as it is called in modern language) between those whom God has placed side by side. There is solidarity between all the members of the human family –solidarity of curse and of blessing, of judgment and of promise, because all have sprung from a common stock. There is solidarity also in a city, since ten righteous men might have preserved Sodom from destruction; solidarity in a nation, since the sins or the piety of its rulers were returned in blessing or in judgment on the people” a solidarity which as it pointed back to a common ancestry, also pointed forward to the full and final realization of its inmost meaning in that great brotherhood of believers which Christ came to found. And hence it was that, when blood had been shed and the doer of the crime remained 21: 1-9), and that, as here, when a great crime was supposed to have been committed, all would humble themselves in fasting before they put away the evil-doer from among them.

1 Kings 21 Naboth StonedIn the assembly thus called Naboth was to be ”set on high,” not in order to assign him an honorable place, so as the more effectually to rouse public indignation when one so honored was convicted of such crime, nor yet to give the appearance [of impartiality to the proceedings that were to follow. Evidently the fast had been appointed in humiliation for a sin as yet unknown to the people, and the assembly was called to set before them the nature of this crime. For this purpose Naboth was “set on high,” as one incriminated before the elders, against whom witnesses were to rise and on whom judgment was to be pronounced by the people of his own city. This explains (ver.10) how these “two sons of Belial” who were to bear false testimony against Naboth were “set before him.” The sacred text only informs us that the two witnesses (compare Deut. 27: 6, etc.; 19: 15; Numb. 35:30) testified that Naboth had “blasphemed” “uttered blasphemous language against” God and the king.” It is scarcely conceivable that Naboth should not have made some defense, nor that the people would have given so ready credence to such a charge against one so well known, if some colorable confirmation could not have been found for it. May it not have been that the refusal of the vineyard to Ahab had become known to the townsmen of Naboth, and that these two sons of Belial were suborned to say that Naboth had at the same time pronounced in their hearing a curse upon Ahab –perhaps also that he had uttered threats of resistance? Such a solemn curse would be regarded as an act of blasphemy, not only against the king but primarily against God, Whose authorized representative the king was (compare. Ex. 22: 28). But blasphemy against God was to be punished by stoning (Deut.13:10; 17:5).

As in all such cases, the punishment was immediately carried out, and apparently in Naboth’s own vineyard, where the witnesses would, according to our suggestion, have located the “blasphemy” spoken in reply to the request of the king. It is not necessary to suppose (as some commentators have done) that the property of a man stoned for such a crime was treated like that of one on whom the ban was pronounced, since in that case it would have been laid waste, not given to the king (Deut. 13: 16). But it was quite natural that the property of one who had been found guilty of high treason should be forfeited to the Crown. And so when the elders of Jezreel informed Jezebel that Naboth was stoned, she could tell her royal husband to go and take possession of the vineyard that had been refused him for purchase by “the Jezreelite,” since Naboth was dead.

storyofahab_3There was bitter as well as haughty irony in the words of Jezebel, as if she had felt herself a queen whose wishes and commands were above all law, human or Divine, and could not be resisted by God or man (ver.15). The text gives no indication that she had informed Ahab of the manner of Naboth’s death; nor did the king make inquiry. But there was far more terrible irony of fact in what followed the words of Jezebel. On receiving the welcome tidings of Naboth’s death, Ahab “rose up” to go and take possession of the coveted vineyard, –perhaps the very day after the judicial murder (compare 2 Kings 9:26). But on that day Jehovah had bidden Elijah arise and meet Ahab with the Divine message, just as the king thought himself in secure possession of the fruit of his crime, as if there were no living God in Israel. We can picture to ourselves the scene. Ahab has come in his chariot from Samaria, apparently attended by his chief officers (2 Kings 9:25). Before entering his palace at Jezreel “on the way to it” he has reached the vineyard of Naboth. He is surveying with satisfaction his new possession, perhaps giving directions how it should be transformed into “a garden,” when of a sudden there stands before him not one of the sons of the prophets, nor an ordinary seer, but the terrible figure of the Gileadite, with his burning eyes, and clad in the rough cloak of black camel’s hair, girt about with a leathern girdle. It must have recalled to Ahab his first apparition in the midst of Samaria, when the prophet had announced to his startled hearers the three years’ drought, and then so suddenly and tracelessly vanished from sight. And the last time he met the prophet had been on Mount Carmel; the last glimpse had been when through the blinding rain he saw the dark figure running before his chariot to the very gate of Jezreel, as if he had come to herald the triumph of Jehovah, and to bring back a new God-devoted king. That had been a weird sight of the prophet, through the storm; and it had been a short dim dream of Ahab’s to make the scene on Mount Carmel a reality in Israel. With Jezebel came back to him the evil spirit of his “madness;” nay, it had even sought, or consented to, the destruction of him who but yesterday had visibly brought God’s fire on the broken altar, and God’s rain on the parched land.

images (6)And now Elijah stood once more before him and Ahab knew only too well why.

It was for briefest but unmistakable message. Its first sentence swept away all self-deception. It had not been Jezebel but Ahab who had killed. And now he had taken possession, as if there were not Jehovah in heaven, nor yet the eternal reflection of His Being, and the permanent echo of His speaking, in right and truth upon earth. Having thus not only wakened the conscience of Ahab, but vindicated the authority of Him in Whose Name he spoke, the next sentence of Elijah’s message announced stern, strict, even literal retribution.

The retort of Ahab we regard as a childish lament to the effect that Elijah, who had always been his personal enemy, had now at last “found him” in some actual sin, on which he might invoke Divine punishment. It was an admission, indeed, in that moment of surprise, of his guilt and apprehension of the Divine punishment announced. But it conjoined with it this –if not in excuse, yet as a counter charge –that Elijah was his personal enemy, and had lain in wait for the occasion to call down Divine judgment upon him. It was against this attempt to make it a merely personal controversy that Elijah’s answer was directed (ver.20). “I have found (not ‘thee’), because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of Jehovah.” What the prophet had spoken was not the outcome of personal enmity, nor was what had occurred the result of a sudden temptation or rash mood of the king, but of the whole direction of life which Ahab had deliberately chosen. And in this two elements were closely marked: that he had sold himself as a slave (Rom. 7: 14), so that he had no longer freedom of action, but had, as it were, images (4)to obey his master’s behests; and that he had so sold himself, consciously or unconsciously, “to do the evil in the sight of Jehovah.” Accordingly, the judgment which Elijah announced was not merely personal to Ahab, as what he said about the dogs licking his blood ; but it also struck his dynasty and doomed it to extermination for this twofold reason: “on account of the wrath which thou hast caused to go forth, and hast made Israel to sin.” On the other hand, this general judgment should not take the place of personal punishment upon the doers of such a crime as the judicial murder of Naboth. The dogs would “eat Jezebel at the wall of Jezreel,” while a similar fate would overtake all the posterity of Ahab in the city (as in regards, of Samaria) or in the field. These must be regarded as personal judgments denounced on personal sins. This is also indicated by the interpolated remarks of the writer of the narrative (in verses 25, 26). But the actual punishment might be averted or modified by personal repentance, although not as regarded that pronounced on the national guilt in which the rule of Ahab had involved Israel.

If evidence of the truth of this narrative –and, as connected with it, of this whole history –were required, what is told in conclusion would furnish it. For a legendary story would not have represented Ahab as repenting and yet not renouncing his former courses. But this also is true to life. As formerly what he witnessed on Carmel, so now the words of Elijah went straight to Ahab’s heart. He no longer disguised the truth from himself, nor sought to divert his mind by thoughts of personal animosity on the part of the prophet. It was against Jehovah that he had sinned, and before Jehovah he humbled himself. As a mourner he rent his clothes; as a penitent he wore sackcloth; as guilty he fasted; and as one staggering under a heavy load of grief and sin, he walked softly. And all this publicly –in the sight of all men. It was fitting, if we may venture on the expression, and in accordance with God’s previous declaration of judgment, that the living God Who had seen and avenged the crime done in secret should also acknowledge the repentance shown in public. Accordingly the word of Jehovah came once more to Elijah to declare that the personal repentance of the personal sin had brought remission of the personal punishment, though not of that denounced on the dynasty. The visible judgment, by which all were to perceive the retribution of God’s justice, was delayed to the time of his son, and would have been delayed still further had he shown like repentance. But only delayed “for retribution must follow such open sin. And so the remembrance of it was kept up; and even this, in merciful warning to Ahab’s son. But when the dogs licked up the blood of Ahab, as they washed the chariot stained with his gore, they recalled the yet unfulfilled judgment that hung like a dark cloud over the house of Ahab (1 Kings 22: 38). But this was in Samaria, not in Jezreel, nor in the portion of Naboth, for, as the prophet had foretold, God brought not “the evil” itself, only its warning remembrance, in the days of Ahab. But on Jezebel would it descend with the terrible reality of a literal fulfillment.

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Taken from, THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH FROM THE REIGN OF AHAB TO THE DECLINE OF THE TWO KINGDOMS.
Written by, Alfred Edersheim, M.A., D.D., Phd.
Edited for thought and sense

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar known especially for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). 

Edersheim was born in Vienna of Jewish parents of culture and wealth. English was spoken in their home, and he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local gymnasium and also in the Talmud and Torah at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered the University of Vienna. His father suffered illness and financial reversals before Alfred could complete his university education, and he had to support himself.

He converted to Christianity in Pest when he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Church of Scotland chaplain to workmen engaged in constructing a bridge over the Danube. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred was married to Mary Broomfield. They had seven children. In the same year he was ordained to the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was a missionary to the Jews at Iaşi, Romania for a year.

On his return to Scotland, after preaching for a time in Aberdeen, Edersheim was appointed in 1849 to minister at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. In 1861 health problems forced him to resign and the Church of St. Andrew was built for him at Torquay. In 1872 Edersheim’s health again obliged him to retire, and for four years he lived quietly at Bournemouth. In 1875 he was ordained in the Church of England, and was Curate of the Abbey Church, Christchurch, Hants, for a year, and from 1876 to 1882 Vicar of Loders, Bridport, Dorset. He was appointed to the post of Warburtonian Lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn 1880-84. In 1882 he resigned and relocated to Oxford. He was Select Preacher to the University 1884-85 and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint 1886-88 and 1888-89.

Edersheim died at Menton, France, on March 16, 1889.

ELIJAH: When Ahab obeyed God

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The mission of Elijah must have had other more deep-reaching results in Israel than even those with which God had comforted His servant.

The “seven thousand” who had never bent the knee to Baal, must also have been greatly quickened and encouraged by what had taken place on Carmel. Nay, it could not but have made lasting impression on King Ahab himself. Too self-indulgent to decide for Jehovah, too weak to resist Jezebel, even when his conscience bothered him, or directed him to the better way, the impression of what he had witnessed could never have wholly passed from his mind. Even if, as in the case of Israel after the exile, it ultimately issued only in pride of nationality, yet this feeling must ever afterwards have been in his heart, that Jehovah He was God” “the God of Gods'” –and that Jehovah was in Israel, and the God of Israel.

It is this which explains the bearing of Ahab in the first wars with Ben-hadad of Syria. It need scarcely be said that this monarch was not the same, but the son of him who during the reigns of Baasha (1 Kings 15:20) and Omri had possessed himself of so many cities,both east and west of the Jordan, and whose sovereignty had, in a sense, been owned within the semi-independent Syrian bazaars and streets of Samaria itself (1 Kings 20:34). To judge from various notices, both Biblical and on Assyrian monuments, this Ben-hadad had inherited the restless ambition, although not the sterner qualities of his father. The motives of his warfare against Ahab are not difficult to understand. It was the settled policy of Syria to isolate and weaken the neighboring kingdom of Israel. With this object in view, Ben-hadad IV. (the father of this king of Syria) had readily broken his league with Baasha, and combined with Asa against Israel. But since the days of Omri the policy of both Israel and Judah had changed. Their former internecine wars had given place, first to peace, and then to actual alliance between the two kingdoms, cemented at last by the marriage of the son of Jehoshaphat with the daughter of Ahab (2 Chron. 18:1 ; 2 Kings 8:18).

Adding to the cause for this uneasiness of Syria must be affixed the close alliance between Israel and Tyre as indicated, if not brought about, by the marriage of Ahab with Jezebel. Thus the kingdom of Israel was secure both on its southern and western boundaries, and only threatened on that towards Syria. And the increasing prosperity and wealth of the land appear not only from the internal tranquility that obtained during the thirty-six years of the reign of Ahab and his two descendants, but also from the circumstance that Ahab built so many cities, and adorned his capital by a magnificent palace made of ivory (1 Kings 22:39). Lastly, the jealousy and enmity of Benhadad must have been increased by his own relations to the great neighboring power of Assyria, which (as we shall see)were such as to make a dangerous alliance between the latter and Israel an event of political probability.

In these circumstances, Ben-hadad resolved to strike such a blow at Samaria as would reduce it to permanent impotence. At the head of all his army, and followed by thirty-two vassal kings, or probably rather chieftains, who ruled over towns with adjoining districts within the territory between the Euphrates and the northern boundary of Israel he invaded Samaria. He met with no opposition, for, as Josephus notes {Ant. 8:14, 1), Ahab was not prepared for the attack. But even if it had been otherwise, sound policy would have dictated a retreat, and the concentration of the Israelitish forces behind the strong walls of the capital. This proved a serious check to the plans of Ben-hadad. The Syrian army laid, indeed, siege to Samaria, but the heat of the summer season, – the character and habits of his allies, and even the circumstance that his own country seems to have been divided among a number of semi-savage chiefs, must have proved unfavorable to a prolonged warfare. Ben-hadad might have succeeded if at the first onset he could have crushed the small, hastily-raised forces of Ahab by sheer weight of numbers. But the slow systematic siege of a well-defended city, into which Ahab had evidently gathered all the leading personages in his realm and all their wealth, must have appeared even to a boastful Oriental a doubtful undertaking, which might at any time be converted into a disaster by the sudden appearance of allies to Israel from Judah, Tyre, or perhaps even from Assyria.

It was probably shortly after the commencement of the siege of Samaria, that Ben-hadad sent envoys to demand in imperious terms the absolute submission of Ahab (1 Kings 20:2). At least so the latter seems to have understood it, when he declared his readiness to agree to his enemy’s terms. But whether Ben-hadad had from the first meant more, or his insolence had grown with what he regarded as the necessities and fears of Ahab, the next day other heralds came from Ben-hadad, requiring in terms of extreme and wanton insult, not only the surrender of Ahab, but that of Samaria; and especially of the palaces of its nobility, for the avowed purpose of plunder. It was evident that Ben-hadad intended, not the surrender of Ahab, but the destruction (“evil”) of the capital, and the ruin of the whole land (ver.7). Possibly the apparently strange demand of Ben-hadad (ver.6) may indicate a deeper scheme. To oblige Ahab formally to submit, would be of comparatively small, at most, of only temporary use. On the withdrawal of Ben-hadad the hostility of Israel would, as experience had shown, once more break forth under Ahab, or some new military leader, and threaten Syria with the same or even graver danger than before. But if the spirit of the leaders could be crushed by having their substance taken from them, then the chiefs of the people would not only be detached from their native monarchy, which had proved powerless to protect them, but in future rendered dependent on Syria, and hence led to seek the favor of Ben-hadad, instead of giving their allegiance to their own Israelitish rulers.

But the scheme was foiled by the clumsy frankness of its avowal. Ahab summoned to his council the elders of Israel. He told them how on the previous day he had expressed to Ben-hadad his willingness to make absolute personal submission and surrender of all that he possessed –as Josephus, no doubt, correctly puts into his mouth –for the sake of their preservation and peace. But the new terms which Ben-hadad proposed involved the leaders of the people as well as himself, and meant ruin equally to them all. In these circumstances, “the elders” counseled the absolute rejection of the terms demanded. Their advice was ratified by a popular assembly (ver.8). These measures of Ahab were wise. Besides, the bearing of Ben-hadad must have indicated even to a ruler less astute than Ahab, the weakness and folly of his opponent. And, instead of attacking the city, on the refusal of his terms, as he would have done had he been sure of his army, Ben-hadad now only sent a message of ridiculously boastful threatening, to which Ahab replied with calm dignity (vs. 10 -11).

Thus, for a time at least, Ahab seems in the school of adversity to have learned some of the lessons which his contact with Elijah might have taught him. Besides, it is only reasonable to suppose that both the composition of the force outside the city, and the utter demoralization of its leaders, were known in Samaria. A summer campaign in Palestine would have tried even the best disciplined troops. But the Syrian host contained a motley following of thirty-tow Eastern chiefs, who probably had little other interest in the campaign than the hope of plunder. It was an army incoherent in its composition, and unwieldy from its very numbers. Hitherto their advance had been unchecked, and its progress, no doubt, marked by the desolation of the country along their straggling line of march. Their easy success would make them not only more reckless, but also unwilling to engage in serious fighting, especially in those hot and enervating days, when their leaders lay in the cool shadow of their booths, indulging in drunken orgies. It was a dissipated rabble, rather than an army.

Ben-hadad and his allies were engaged in a midday bout when the reply of Ahab to the Syrian challenge arrived. Received under such circumstances, we scarcely wonder that it provoked the order of Ben-hadad to make immediate preparation for an assault on the city. But in whatever sense these preparations consisted, –whether in the advance of siege engines, or a massing of the troops, they could scarcely have been very effective, since all the Syrian chiefs continued at their orgies, so that the hour of battle surprised them while incapacitated by intoxication (ver. 16).

Matters were very different within Samaria. There a prophet appeared, to announce not only deliverance from the Lord, but to point its lesson in the contrast between the great multitude of the enemy, and the small number of Israel’s host, by which they were to be defeated. This, with the view of showing to Ahab and to Israel that He was Jehovah, the living Covenant-God, Who gave the victory.

Thus the teaching of Elijah on Mount Carmel was now to find its confirmation and application in national blessing. And that the influence of that scene had not been, as Elijah had feared, only temporary and transient, appears even from the presence of a prophet in Samaria, and from the whole bearing of Ahab. He is neither doubtful nor boastful, but, as having learned the prophetic lesson, anxious to receive plain Divine direction, and to follow it implicitly. Apparently the land was parceled out among “princes of the shires,” either hereditary chieftains of districts, or governors appointed by the king: an arrangement which throws further light on Ben-hadad’s previously expressed purpose; to permanently to break the power of these leaders of Israel. These ” princes of the shires ” seem to have been each resounded by a small armed retinue: ”the young men” (comp. 2 Sam. 18:15). By these, numbering in all only 232 men, the victory over the great Syrian host was to be achieved. It only remained for Ahab to inquire, “Who shall commence the warfare?” For in such a victory the main condition would be exact conformity to all Divine directions, in order to show that all was of God, and to give evidence of the principle of faith on the part of the combatants.

Having received the direction that he was to begin the battle, Ahab lost no time. At midday –probably of the following day –when, as no doubt was well-known in Samaria, Ben-hadad and his thirty-two confederates were “drinking” themselves ”drunk” in the booths, the 232 of the body-guard of the princes marched forth, followed by the 7000 men which formed the army of Israel. Although this number naturally reminds us of the 7000 who had not bent the knee to Baal, there is no need to regard it as referring to them, or (with the Rabbis) to “the true children of Israel.” The precise number (232) of the body-guard points to an exact numeration, nor need we perhaps wonder if in the wonder-working Providence of God there was a striking coincidence between the number of the faithful and that of Israel’s victorious host.

The same wonder-working Providence appears in the manner in which victory was granted. As so often, we mark the accomplishment of a result, miraculous when viewed by itself, yet, as regards the means, brought about in the order of natural causation. And thus we ever learn anew that although too frequently we do not perceive it, we are constantly surrounded by miracles, since Jehovah is the living God; and that hence ours should be the faith of a constant expectancy. It reads as we might have expected in the circumstances, that, when Ben-hadad was informed that men had come out from Samaria, he commanded in his drunken conceit and boastfulness, they should not be attacked, but made captives and brought to him. It may have been that those who were sent to execute this command went not fully armed. At any rate they seem to have been quite unprepared for resistance; and when these 232 Israelitish soldiers cut down each a man, no doubt following it up by further onslaught, the Syrians might naturally imagine that this was only an advanced guard, which was intended to precede a sortie of the whole garrison of Samaria.

A panic, not uncommon among Orientals, seized the unprepared and unmarshalled masses, whose officers the while lay drunken in the booths. The very number of the Syrians would make a formation or rally more difficult, while it would afterwards increase the confusion of what soon became an indiscriminate flight. At this moment King Ahab issued from Samaria with his whole army. Whether, as our present Hebrew text bears, the king struck at the war-horses and war-chariots of the enemy, with the view of capturing them, or, as the ancient Greek translators (the LXX.) seem to have read, he “took” them,” implying that there had not been time to harness the war-chariots when the Israelitish host was among them “the result ” would be the same. Ben-hadad, followed by a few horsemen, escaped by hasty flight as, the word used in the original conveys, on a “chariot-horse,” showing how sore was the stress when the king was obliged hastily to escape on the first horse to hand.

If it were necessary to demonstrate the compatibility of direct Divine help, and of reliance upon it, with the most diligent use of the best means, the narrative which follows would show it. After this great victory the king and people might have indulged in outward, or still worse, in professedly religious security to, the neglect of what was plain duty. But the same prophet who before had announced Divine deliverance, now warned Ahab to gather all his forces, and prepare, for that –“at the turn of the year,” that is, in the spring (comp.2 Sam. 11:1), he might expect another attack from Syria. And to make best preparation for the coming danger, in obedience to the Divine word, would not supersede but presuppose faith, even as we shall work best when we feel that we have the Divine direction in, and the Divine blessing on, our undertakings.

It was as the prophet had told. It seems quite natural that the courtiers of Ben-hadad should have ascribed the almost incredible defeat of such an army to supernatural causes, rather than to the dissipation and folly of their king. They suggested that the gods of Israel were mountain-deities, and that the rout of Syria around mountainous Samaria had been due to this cause. But the result would be far different if the battle were waged in the plains, man against man, and not gods against men, (“but, on the other hand, we shall fight with them in the plain [see, if] we shall not be stronger than they!”) The grounds of this strange suggestion must be sought partly in the notions of the heathen world, but also partly in the sin of Israel. The ancient heathen world worshiped not only gods on the heights, but gods of the heights, and the sin of Israel in rearing altars and chapels on “the high places” must have led to the inference that the national worship was that of mountain-deities. Thus did Israel’s disobedience bring also its temporal punishment.

But to their general advice the courtiers of Ben-hadad added certain practical suggestions, to avoid the secondary causes to which they attributed their late defeat. The tributary ” kings” were to be dismissed, and their places filled by governors. This would give not only unity to the army (comp. 1 Kings 22:31), but these officers, appointed by Ben-hadad himself, would naturally take a more personal interest in the cause of their king. And, instead of the former army, Ben-hadad was to raise one equal in numbers, but –as the text has it– “from those with thee ” (that is; thine own subjects).

In these well-conceived measures there was only one, but that a fatal, flaw. They proceeded on the supposition that the God of Israel was like one of the heathen deities. And this point was emphasized in the defeat of the Syrians, which was announced to Ahab by “a man of God,” probably another than “the prophet” who had formerly been commissioned to him. But it deserves special notice that this message only came after the invasion of the Syrian host. Thus would the temptation be avoided of neglecting all ordinary preparations: faith would be tried, and also called forth; while, by this prediction, and from the disparity between Israel and the host of Syria, Israel would once more learn to recognize in this deliverance that Jehovah He was God.

The winter rains had ceased, and the spring wind and sun had dried the land. There was a fresh crispness in the air, and a bright light over the scene, when the immense Syrian host swarmed down into that historic battlefield of Israel, the great plain of Jezreel. We are carried back in imagination to the scene of Saul’s last fatal defeat (1 Sam. 29:1), and beyond it to that of Gideon’s glorious victory. Once more the foe lay at Aphek, with his back against the hill on which probably the fortified city of that name stood, and facing the plain where it is broadest. As in imagination we travel southwards to the highlands, and to those mountains among which Samaria lies embosomed, we feel how literally Ben-hadad had acted on the suggestion of his servants to avoid a contest with the mountain-deities of Israel. It was the very time and place for Jehovah to show forth that great lesson which underlies and sums up all revelation. Of the Israelitish host we know not the numbers ” only that, as they camped in two divisions on the opposite side of the valley, perhaps beneath the two spurs of the ridge that juts into the plain from the south-east, they seemed like two little flocks of kids –so small and weak, as compared with their enemies. For seven days the two armies lay observing each other. From the circumstance specially mentioned in the text, that the Israelites had gone out “provisioned”(ver.27, margin), and even from their camping in two divisions, we infer that the object of Ahab was to remain on the defensive, which, indeed, the inferiority of numbers rendered imperative. Besides, the Jewish position was most happily chosen. It barred the advance of the enemy, who could not move forward without first giving battle to Israel.

The Syrians must have perceived the advantage of Ahab’s position, with his back to the base of his operations, while the division of Israel into two camps might enable them to envelop their enemies if they attempted an advance, in which case the very size of the Syrian army would, from its unwieldiness, prove a serious difficulty. But the danger of idle delay in a hostile country, and in an Eastern warfare, was nearly as great. And so on the seventh day the attack was made –as we judge, by the Syrians. Their defeat was crushing. The great Syrian host of 100,000 was destroyed, and the men who either made their way from the battle-field to Aphek, or who had been left there as a garrison, experienced another and even more terrible calamity. While crowding into the gates, or else while occupying the ramparts, which had probably been hastily thrown up or strengthened, a wall fell upon 27,000 of their number.

Further defense being thus rendered impossible, the previous confidence of Ben-hadad gave place to abject fear. He fled from room to room ” into the innermost chamber. His servants, who had formerly given such warlike counsel, now advised him to sue in most humble manner for his life, holding out the hope of the mercifulness of the kings of Israel of which they had heard. There is an ominous sound in this. The kings of Israel had never been distinguished for mercy. But they had only too often shown their sympathy with the heathen kingdoms around, and manifested a desire to make alliance with them, and to conform to their ways. Yet, even so, it is not easy to explain the conduct of Ahab when the Syrian envoys of Ben-hadad appeared before him, in true Eastern manner, with sackcloth on their loins and ropes round their necks, suing only for the life of him who now ostentatiously styled himself Ahab’s slave.” It could scarcely have been due to weakness of character when Ahab broke into the almost joyous exclamation,”Is he yet alive?” Nor could it have been merely from kindness of disposition that he ostentatiously substituted: “he is my brother” for the designation, “thy slave Ben-hadad,” used by the Syrian envoys.

They were not slow to perceive the altered tone of the king. They favorably interpreted and laid hold on that which had come from him; and they said: “Thy brother Ben-hadad.” Presently, at Ahab’s invitation, Ben-hadad himself was brought, and made to stand by the side of the king in his chariot ” both in token of companionship and for more private conversation. In truth, nothingness than a treaty of alliance was in hand between them. Ben-hadad undertook to restore the towns which his father had taken from Ahab’s father (in a warfare of which we have no other record) and to allow to Ahab the same rights and privileges as to having “streets,” or rather ” bazaars ” –what in modern language would be called an Israelitish “factory” –in the Syrian capital, which Ben-hadad’s father had possessed in Samaria; and with this covenant Ahab dismissed the Syrian king.

We have said that it is not easy to understand what motives could have prompted an act which, even politically, was a grave mistake. Was it flattered vanity on the part of Ahab, or sympathy with the heathen king, or part of his statecraft to secure, not only an ally, but a vassal on the northern flank of his kingdom, or all these combined ? In any case he must have looked upon the victory over the Syrians in a manner far different from that in which it had been announced to him by the God who had wrought it. Ahab no longer thought of Jehovah; he inquired not as to His purpose or will.

There was an ominous similarity between his conduct and that of Saul in regards to Agag (1 Sam. 15) Evidently, Ahab claimed to have himself gained the victory, and felt sure that in like circumstances “should Ben-hadad rebel” he would equally gain it once more. It was he, and not the Lord, who would shape and direct the destinies of Israel. Jehovah was only the national deity of that Israel of which Ahab was the king. And so the error of the Syrians was substantially repeated by Ahab, and the lesson which Jehovah would have taught by their defeat had to be learned anew by Israel and its king –this time in judgment.

This explains the commission with which God now charged one of “the sons of the prophets. –We mark that the expression here occurs for the first time. It referred to those associations under the leadership of some prophet (hence sons of the prophets)which, in the decay of religious life in Israel; served such important purposes, alike for the preservation of religion, and in the execution of the Divine behests. In fact, they would recall to Israel, what, as a nation, Israel had been destined to be, and ever keep it before them. Thus they represented, so to speak, ideal Israel in the midst of apostate Israel. To a member of this community it came “by the word of Jehovah” –that is, by direct command from Him –to confront Ahab with such a symbolic (or parabolic) presentation of his late conduct as would show it in its true light, and lead the king to pronounce sentence on himself. Thus only could a man like Ahab be convicted, if not convinced, of sin.

In the execution of this commission the “son of the prophet” went to one of his colleagues, and, telling him that it was “by the word of Jehovah,” bade him “smite” him. It was conduct not unlike that of Ahab when this behest was resisted by the prophet. Remembering these two things: that the person addressed was also a “son of the prophets,” and that he had been informed that it was “by the word of Jehovah,” we can understand the Divine judgment which so speedily overtook him when he was torn by a lion. For the fundamental idea, the very law, of the prophetic was absolute, unquestioning obedience to the command of God. This was the lesson to be taught by these associations and their leaders, and it explains how sometimes exceeding strange things were given them to do in public, that so in the absoluteness of their obedience they might exhibit the absoluteness of God’s authority. Hence not to have visited with signal judgment the disobedience of the prophet would have been not only to contravene the principle on which the whole prophetic institution rested, but also the very lesson and message which was to be conveyed to Ahab. But what one “son of the prophets” had refused, another soon afterwards did. Then the “son of the prophets,” now smitten till he was wounded,” disguised himself with a bandage upon his eyes,” and waited for the king by the way. The reason of his appearing as a wounded man was that he might appeal to the king with the more show of truth, and of claim upon his interference, as wounded in the fight. And a symbolism may also have been designed. For, as the prophet’s conduct was intended to represent that of the king, it might be wished to anticipate this possible excuse of Ahab that the difficulty of his circumstances had rendered it not easy to retain Ben-hadad by the analogous case of a wounded man, who might have fair ground of excuse if he allowed his prisoner to escape.

The story which the wounded prophet told the king was to the effect that, while in the battle” and this is an important point, as intended to indicate that Ahab was only like a soldier engaged in a warfare in which God, and not the king of Israel, was the commander “one had turned aside and bidden him have safe custody of a captive, with this injunction: “If he be missed [as when the prisoners are mustered], thy life shall be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver.” From the language we infer that the person who handed over the prisoner was represented as a superior officer; that the battle itself was ended, and that the captive was a very valuable prisoner, since such a price was set upon him. But while the pretended soldier “was busy here and there” –or, as it has been proposed to be read: “looked here and there” –the prisoner escaped. In these circumstances he appealed to the king that he might not be punished as threatened by his leader. The king had no hesitation how to decide. He told him that in recounting his story he had already pronounced sentence upon himself. Then the prophet, having removed the bandage from his eyes, so that the king recognized him, announced the application of the Divine parable. The war had been Jehovah’s, not Ahab’s, and Ben-hadad had been the “banned” of the Lord. “Because thou hast let go forth out of thine hand (custody) the man of my ban (compare Lev. 27:29), therefore thy life shall be for his life, and thy people for his people.”

The judgment pronounced was not only righteous, but alike the necessary sequence of God’s dealings throughout this history, and of Ahab’s bearing in it. And in the judgment the people as a whole must also share. For even if theirs had not been the same spirit as that which had prompted the conduct of Ahab, yet the public acts of rulers are those of the nation, and national sins are followed by national judgments. Ahab had been on his triumphant return to Samaria, there to receive the popular applause for his achievements, when, in presence of all his retinue, he was thus publicly confronted by the prophet’s message. He now “went to his house much excited and angry.” And this also casts further light both on what Ahab had done, and on what he was about to do.

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Taken from, THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH FROM THE REIGN OF AHAB TO THE DECLINE OF THE TWO KINGDOMS.
Written by, Alfred Edersheim, M.A., D.D., Phd.
Edited for thought and sense

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar known especially for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). 

Edersheim was born in Vienna of Jewish parents of culture and wealth. English was spoken in their home, and he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local gymnasium and also in the Talmud and Torah at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered the University of Vienna. His father suffered illness and financial reversals before Alfred could complete his university education, and he had to support himself.

He converted to Christianity in Pest when he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Church of Scotland chaplain to workmen engaged in constructing a bridge over the Danube. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred was married to Mary Broomfield. They had seven children. In the same year he was ordained to the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was a missionary to the Jews at Iaşi, Romania for a year.

On his return to Scotland, after preaching for a time in Aberdeen, Edersheim was appointed in 1849 to minister at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. In 1861 health problems forced him to resign and the Church of St. Andrew was built for him at Torquay. In 1872 Edersheim’s health again obliged him to retire, and for four years he lived quietly at Bournemouth. In 1875 he was ordained in the Church of England, and was Curate of the Abbey Church, Christchurch, Hants, for a year, and from 1876 to 1882 Vicar of Loders, Bridport, Dorset. He was appointed to the post of Warburtonian Lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn 1880-84. In 1882 he resigned and relocated to Oxford. He was Select Preacher to the University 1884-85 and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint 1886-88 and 1888-89.

Edersheim died at Menton, France, on March 16, 1889.

ELIJAH: A flight from Glory

The-Dream-of-Elijah,-1650-55

AS UNSPEAKABLY grand as had been the scene on Mount Carmel, we instinctively feel that it was the outcome of the Old Testament.

But we cannot conceive it possible under the New Testament dispensation. In so saying we do not so much refer to the ironical taunts which Elijah had addressed to the priests of Baal, when compassion, gentleness, and meekness might have seemed befitting, since it was necessary effectually to expose the folly as well as the sin of idolatry, and this was best done in such manner (comp. Isa. 40:18, etc. ; 41:7 ; 44:8-22; 46:5-1 1 ; Jer. 10:7, etc.). Nor do we allude only or mainly to the destruction of the priests of Baal. This was simply in obedience to the Old Testament Law, and was grounded alike on its economy, and on the circumstances of the time. Taking the lowest view, it was an act of necessary self-preservation, since the two religions could not co-exist, as the conduct of Jezebel had recently proved. But there is a higher view than this of the event. For the fundamental object of Israel’s calling and existence –the whole typical import and preparatory purpose of the nation –was incompatible with even the existence of idolatry among them. Finally, there is this essential difference between the Old and the New Testament dispensation”that under the latter, religion is of personal choice, heart willingness being secured by the persuasion of the Holy Ghost; while under the Old Testament (from its nature) religion was of Law. Religious liberty is a principle which necessarily follows from a religion of free choice, where God no longer addresses Himself to man merely, or mainly, with the authority of a general Law, but appeals to the individual conscience with the persuasion of a special invitation.

Under the Old Testament, of which the fundamental principle was the sole Divine authority of Jehovah (Ex.20:2, 3), idolatry was not only a crime, but a revolt against the Majesty of heaven, Israel’s King, which involved the most fatal consequences to the nation. Yet even so, we repeat it, the scene on Mount Carmel could not have been enacted in New Testament times.

But while fully admitting this distinctive standpoint of the preparatory dispensation, it would be a most serious mistake to forget that the Old Testament itself points to a higher and fuller manifestation of God, and never more distinctly then in this history of Elijah. Attention has already been called to the analogy between Elijah and John the Baptist. At this stage we specially recall three points in the history of the latter. It seems as if the Baptist had expected that his warning denunciations would be immediately followed either by visible reform,or else by visible judgment. But instead of this he was cast, at the instigation of Herod’s wife, into a dungeon which he was never to leave; and yet judgment seemed to slumber, and the Christ made no movement either for the deliverance of His forerunner, or the vindication of his message.

And, lastly, in consequence of this disappointment, spiritual darkness appears to have gathered around the soul of the Baptist. One almost feels as if it had been needful for such a messenger of judgment to become consciously weak, that so in the depression of the human the Divine element might appear the more clearly. And it was also good that it should be so, since it led to the inquiring embassy to Christ, and thus to a fuller revelation of the Divine character of the Kingdom. The same expectation and the same disappointment are apparent in the history of Elijah on the morrow of the victory at Carmel. But they also led up to a fuller manifestation of the meaning and purpose of God. Thus we see how the Old Testament itself, even where its distinctive character most clearly appeared, pointed to that fuller and more glorious manifestation of God, symbolized, not by storm, earthquake, or fire, but by “the still small voice.”

If Elijah had lingered in Jezreel in the hope that the reformation proclaimed on Mount Carmel would be followed up by the king, he was soon to experience bitter disappointment. There is, however, good reason for inferring that the impression then made upon the mind of Ahab was never wholly effaced. This appears not only from the subsequent relations between the king and prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 20), but even from his tardy repentance after the commission of his great crime (i Kings 21:27-29). Indeed, it might almost seem as if, but for the influence of Jezebel upon the weak king, matters might at least temporarily have taken a different turn in Israel.

But if such was the effect produced upon Ahab by the scene on Mount Carmel, we can understand that Jezebel’s first wish must have been as soon as possible to remove Elijah from all contact with the king. For this purpose she sent a message, threatening the prophet with death within twenty-four hours. It need scarcely be said, that, if she had been so bold as really to purpose his murder, she would not have given him warning of it. and that the reference to twenty-four hours as the limit of his life must rather have been intended to induce Elijah to immediate flight. And she succeeded in her purpose “not, indeed, from just fear on the part of the prophet, but also from deep disappointment and depression, for which we may in some measure find even a physical cause in the reaction that must have followed on the day after Carmel.

Strange as it may seem, these felt weaknesses of men like Elijah come upon us with almost a sense of relief. It is not only that we realize that these giants of faith are men of like passions with ourselves, but that the Divine in their work is thereby the more prominently brought out. It deserves special notice that Elijah proceeded on his hasty journey without any Divine direction to that effect. Attended only by his faithful servant, he passed without pausing to the farthest boundary of the neighbouring kingdom of Judah. But even that was not his final destination, nor could he in his then mood brook any companionship. Leaving his servant behind, he went into the wilderness of Paran. In its awful solitude he felt himself for the first time free to rest. Utterly broken down in body and in spirit he, cast himself under one of those wide-spreading broom trees, which seemed as if they indicated that even in the vast, howling wilderness, the hand of the Great Creator had provided shelter for His poor, struggling wanderer.

There is something almost awful in the life-and-death conflicts of great souls. We witness them with a feeling akin to reverence. The deep despondency of Elijah’s soul found utterance in the entreaty to be released from work and suffering. He was not better than his fathers; like them he had vainly toiled; like them he had failed; why should his painful mission be prolonged? But not so must he pass away. Like Moses of old, he must at least gain distant view of the sweet land of beauty and rest. As so often, God in His tender mercy gave His beloved the precious relief of sleep. And more than that, he was to have evidence that even there he was not forsaken.

An angel awakened him to minister to his wants. God cares for the body; and precious in His sight is not only the death, but also the felt need of His people. The same great Jehovah, whose manifestation on Carmel had been so awful in its grandeur, condescended to His servant in the hour of his utmost need, and with unspeakable tenderness, like a mother, tended His weary child. Once more a season of sleep, and again the former heaven-given provision for the journey which he was to make –now in the guidance of God.

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Taken from, THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH FROM THE REIGN OF AHAB TO THE DECLINE OF THE TWO KINGDOMS.
Written by, Alfred Edersheim, M.A., D.D., Phd.
Edited for thought and sense

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar known especially for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). 

Edersheim was born in Vienna of Jewish parents of culture and wealth. English was spoken in their home, and he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local gymnasium and also in the Talmud and Torah at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered the University of Vienna. His father suffered illness and financial reversals before Alfred could complete his university education, and he had to support himself.

He converted to Christianity in Pest when he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Church of Scotland chaplain to workmen engaged in constructing a bridge over the Danube. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred was married to Mary Broomfield. They had seven children. In the same year he was ordained to the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was a missionary to the Jews at Iaşi, Romania for a year.

On his return to Scotland, after preaching for a time in Aberdeen, Edersheim was appointed in 1849 to minister at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. In 1861 health problems forced him to resign and the Church of St. Andrew was built for him at Torquay. In 1872 Edersheim’s health again obliged him to retire, and for four years he lived quietly at Bournemouth. In 1875 he was ordained in the Church of England, and was Curate of the Abbey Church, Christchurch, Hants, for a year, and from 1876 to 1882 Vicar of Loders, Bridport, Dorset. He was appointed to the post of Warburtonian Lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn 1880-84. In 1882 he resigned and relocated to Oxford. He was Select Preacher to the University 1884-85 and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint 1886-88 and 1888-89.

Edersheim died at Menton, France, on March 16, 1889.

ELIJAH: A pastor among wolves, and Ahab’s desperate decision

 

ElijahTitle

Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.
–1 Kings 18:21

In the breathless silence that ensued upon this challenge Elijah now stood forward…

…and pointing to the white-robed crowd of priests over against him, he recalled to king and people that he and he only remained, that is, in active office and open profession –a prophet of Jehovah. Single-handed, therefore, he would go to the contest, if contest of power it were against that multitude.

Power! They worship as God the powers of nature; let them then make trial as to on whose side these powers which are in nature are arrayed. Let this be the test: the priests of Baal on their side, and he on his, would each choose a bullock and prepare it for sacrifice, but not kindle the fire beneath,” and it shall be the Elohim who shall answer by fire, He is the “Elohim.”

A shout of universal assent greets the proposal. Under the circumstances it would be of greatest practical importance that the futility of Baal-worship should be exhibited in the fullest manner. This explains the details of all that follows. Besides, after a whole day of vain appliance of every resource of their superstition, the grandeur of Jehovah’s majestic interposition would also make the deeper impression. But although from Elijah’s point of view it was important that the priests of Baal should first offer their sacrifice, the proposition was one to which no objection could be taken, since Elijah not only gave them the choice of the sacrificial animal, but they were many as against one. Nor could they complain so far as they regarded the test proposed by Elijah, since their Baal was also the god of fire, he was the very Sun-god himself.

Now commences a scene which baffles description. Ancient writers have left us accounts of the great Baal-festivals, and they closely agree with the narrative of the Bible, and only furnish further details. First rises a comparatively moderate, though already wild cry to Baal; followed by a dance around the altar, beginning with a swinging motion to and fro. The howl then becomes louder and louder, and the dance more frantic. They whirl round and round, running wildly through each other’s ranks, always keeping up a circular motion, the head low bent, so that their long disheveled hair sweeps the ground.

Ordinarily the madness now became infectious, and the onlookers join in the frenzied dance. But Elijah knew how to prevent this. It was noon, and for hours they have kept up their wild rites. With cutting taunts and bitter irony Elijah now reminds them that, since Baal was Elohim, the fault must lie with them. He might be otherwise engaged, and they must cry louder. Stung to madness, they become more frantic than before, and what we know as the second and third acts in these feasts then ensues. The wild howl passes into piercing demoniacal yells. In their madness the priests bite their own arms and cut themselves with the two-edged swords which they carry and with lances.

As blood begins to flow the frenzy reaches its highest pitch, when first one, then others, commence to “prophesy,” moaning and groaning, then bursting into rhapsodic cries, accusing themselves, or speaking to Baal, or uttering incoherent broken sentences. All the while they beat themselves with heavy scourges, loaded or armed with sharp points, and cut themselves with swords and lances, sometimes even mutilating themselves –since the blood of the priest was supposed to be specially propitiatory with Baal.

Two more hours of this terrible scene have past, and their powers of endurance must have been all but exhausted. The sun has long passed its meridian, and the time of the regular evening-sacrifice in the Temple of Jehovah at Jerusalem has come. From the accounts of the Temple-times left us, we know that the evening sacrifice was offered “between the evenings,” as it was termed, that is, between the down going of the sun and the evening.

In point of fact, the evening Temple service was to commence between two and three p.m. It must have been about the same time that Elijah begins the simple yet solemn preparations for his sacrifice. Turning from the frantic priests to the astonished people, he bids them to draw nigh. They must gather around him, not only in order to be convinced that no deception is being practiced, but to take part with him, as it were, in the service.

And once more Israel is to appear as the Israel of old in happier times, undivided in nationality as in allegiance to Jehovah. This was the meaning of his restoring the broken place of former pious worship by rolling to it twelve of the large pieces of rock that have strewed the ground, according to the number of the tribes. And as he builds the altar, he consecrates it by prayer: “in the name of Jehovah.” Next, the soft crumbling calcareous soil around the altar are dug into a deep and wide trench. Then the wood, and upon it the pieces of the sacrifice are laid in due order. And now, at the prophet’s bidding, willing hands fill the pitchers from the well close by. Once, twice, thrice he pours the water over the sacrifices, till it runs down into the trench, which he also fills.

This, as we suppose, was not merely to show the more clearly that the fire, which consumes the sacrifice in such circumstances, is sent from heaven, but also for symbolic reasons, as if to indicate that Israel’s penitent confession is being poured upon the offering. And now a solemn silence falls upon the assembly. The sun is going down, a globe of fire behind Mount Carmel, and it covers the mountain with a purple glow. It is time for the evening sacrifice.

mt carmel elijahBut Jehovah, not Elijah, would do this miracle; the Hand of the living God Himself must be stretched out. Once more it was prayer which moved that Hand. Such prayer was not heard before –so calm, so earnest, so majestic, so assured, so strong. Elijah appeared in it as only the servant of Jehovah, and all that he had previously done was only at His Word: but Jehovah was the Covenant-God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel, manifesting Himself as of old as the Living and True, as Elohim in Israel: the conversion of Israel to Him as their God being the great object sought for…

He had said it as when first the Tabernacle was consecrated (Lev. 9: 24),or as when King Solomon (1 Chron. 21:26; 2 Chron. 7: 1) brought the first offering in the temple which he had reared to Jehovah, so now the fire of Jehovah leaps from heaven, consuming the sacrifice and the wood, wrapping and burning up the limestone rocks of which the altar was constructed, and with burning tongues lick up even the water that was in the trench. One moment of solemn silence, when all who has seen it falls in awe-stricken worship on their faces; then a shout which seems to rend the very air, and finds its echo far and wide in the glens and clefts of Carmel: “Jehovah, He the Elohim! Jehovah, He the Elohim!”

And so Israel is once more converted unto God. And now, in accordance with the Divine command in the Law (Deut. 13:13 ; 17:2, etc.), stern judgment must be executed on the idolaters and seducers; the idol-priests. The victory that day must be complete; the renunciation of Baal-worship beyond recall. Not one of the priests of Baal must escape. Down the steep mountain sides they hurried them, casting them over precipices, some fourteen hundred feet to the river Kishon, which is reddened with their blood. –But up on the mountain-top lingers King Ahab, astonished, speechless, himself for the time a convert to Jehovah. He also is to share in the sacrifice; he also is to eat the sacrificial meal. But it must be in haste, for already Elijah hears the sighing and low moaning of the wind in the forests of Carmel.

Elijah, himself takes no part in the feast. He has other bread to eat that they know not. He has climbed the topmost height of Carmel and out of sight of the king. None has accompanies him save his servant, whom tradition declares to be that son of the widow of Sarepta who was miraculously restored to life. A most fitting minister, indeed, he would be in that hour.

Once more it was agonizing prayer –not once, but seven times repeated. At each break, the faithful attendant climbs the highest knoll, and looks earnestly and anxiously over the broad expanse of the sea, which is there before him, glittering in full view. At last it comes –a cloud, as yet not bigger than a man’s hand.

But when God begins to hear a prayer, He will hear it abundantly; when He gives his blessing, it will be without stint. Ahab must be up, and quick in his chariot, or the rain, which will descend in floods, will clog the hard ground, so that his chariot would find it difficult to traverse the six miles across the plain to the palace of Jezreel. And now as the foot of the mountain is reached, the heaven is black with clouds, the wind moans fitfully, and the rain now comes in torrents.

But the power of Jehovah was upon the Tishbite. He girds up his loins and runs before the chariot of Ahab. On such a day he hesitates not to act as outrunner to this convert-king; nay, he would himself be the harbinger of the news to Jezreel. Up to the entrance of Jezreel he heralds them; to the very gate of Jezebel’s palace he goes before them, like the warning voice of God, ere Ahab again encounters his tempter.

But there the two must part company, and the king of Israel must henceforth decide for himself to whom he will cleave, whether to Jehovah or to the god of Jezebel.

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Taken from, THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL AND JUDAH FROM THE REIGN OF AHAB TO THE DECLINE OF THE TWO KINGDOMS.
Written by, Alfred Edersheim, M.A., D.D., Phd.
Edited for thought and sense

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage:  Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar known especially for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883). 

Edersheim was born in Vienna of Jewish parents of culture and wealth. English was spoken in their home, and he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local gymnasium and also in the Talmud and Torah at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered the University of Vienna. His father suffered illness and financial reversals before Alfred could complete his university education, and he had to support himself.

He converted to Christianity in Pest when he came under the influence of John Duncan, a Church of Scotland chaplain to workmen engaged in constructing a bridge over the Danube. Edersheim accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland and studied theology at New College, Edinburgh and at the University of Berlin. In 1846 Alfred was married to Mary Broomfield. They had seven children. In the same year he was ordained to the ministry in the Free Church of Scotland. He was a missionary to the Jews at Iaşi, Romania for a year.

On his return to Scotland, after preaching for a time in Aberdeen, Edersheim was appointed in 1849 to minister at the Free Church, Old Aberdeen. In 1861 health problems forced him to resign and the Church of St. Andrew was built for him at Torquay. In 1872 Edersheim’s health again obliged him to retire, and for four years he lived quietly at Bournemouth. In 1875 he was ordained in the Church of England, and was Curate of the Abbey Church, Christchurch, Hants, for a year, and from 1876 to 1882 Vicar of Loders, Bridport, Dorset. He was appointed to the post of Warburtonian Lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn 1880-84. In 1882 he resigned and relocated to Oxford. He was Select Preacher to the University 1884-85 and Grinfield Lecturer on the Septuagint 1886-88 and 1888-89.

Edersheim died at Menton, France, on March 16, 1889.