Ikings 16:29–18:18. The War of God Against Baal. I. Elijah in Silence.
Key Notes: Baalism and the Drought. Five characters and their roles. Giving up the last bit of life. Obadiah's courage.
After more than 60 years of misrule by Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Tibni and Omri, Ahab came to power in Ephraim and ruled for 22 years. He created a major crisis that took forty years to resolve--the formal introduction of Baal worship.
16:29–34. Ahab was allied to Phoenicia by his marriage to Jezebel, daughter of Eshbaal, the king of the Sidonians and priest of Baal. Eshbaal means "Baal lives." Ahab built a temple for Baal in Samaria and made a Asherah. The word Asherah is translated "grove" in the King James Bible The Asherah is associated with Ashterte , the Canaanite goddess (IK.18:19) of fertility. A tree, or a pole is associated with her worship.
Hiel of Bethel apparently sacrificed two of his children in the rebuilding of Jericho, as prophesied by Joshua. (Josh.6:26). Bones of babies have been found in the foundations of Canaanite cities. More details of Baal worship will come later.
17:1–7. Elijah, one of the greatest OT prophets of God, emerged from nowhere (Tishbe of Gilead has not been located), confronted Ahab with the announcement of a drought--but no explanation--and disappeared. Janes 5:17 says Elijah prayed fervently to stop the rain. He was incognito for three and a half of his some seven years of work. At first he was in the desert by the brook Cherith (also unknown), fed by ravens. Ravens are unclean birds, but Elijah was not eating ravens. The food they would bring would also be unclean, but God commanded them, and that was enough for Elijah.
17:8–16 In time the brook failed. God directed Eljah to Zarephath of Sidon where He had commanded a widow to feed him. So Elijah evaded Ahab, and went into the territory of Eshbaal. He found a widow looking for fire-wood and asked her for water. As she turned to go, he asked her also for a piece of bread. She said there was nothing left except one last meal for her and her son.
Elijah asked her to feed him first. We gasp. She must have gasped.
But Elijah promised her in God's name that she and her son would be fed through the drought. She obeyed. She had nothing to lose. The word of God was true, and she fed herself, her son and the prophet for perhaps two years, with meal and oil.
17:17–24. Her young son was suddenly sick and unable to breathe (?asthma). As in all of us, the thought that sickness is punishment for sin came to her in a rush and she then accused the prophet of causing the death of her son. Elijah took the boy to his upper room and asked God why He had brought calamity on the widow by slaying her son. He did not wait for an answer but begged God to save the child's life. His action suggests compression of the child's chest. The child revived and his mother was even more confident of Elijah and God.
18:1–6 Three years went by and Ahab went with his steward, Obadiah, in search of grass in valleys and springs, hoping to save their animals. (Lk.4:25 and Jm.5:17 specify that the drought lasted 42 months.) Elijah showed himself first to Obadiah ("Servant of God"). Elijah told him to inform Ahab that he had returned, but Obadiah panicked. Ahab had searched all the neighboring countries without success, putting the nations on oath. Obadiah would go back a word to Ahab and Elijah would disappear again and Obadiah would be executed. He had already risked his neck by protecting 100 prophet of the Lord from Jezebel, feeding them bread and water in a cave. Elijah promised to go to Ahab.
18:7–18 Ahab greeted Elijah with a snarl: "You troubler of Israel". Elijah retorted that Ahab had troubled Israel by following the Baals.
Comments: Our text is loaded with instruction and application.
1). Why the drought? Baal was the god of rain, storms and fertility. The spring burst of new life, lambs and kids, corn and grapes was his gift to the world. Through Eshbaal of Sidon and Jezebel, wife of Ahab, Baal worship had official sponsorship and captured the northern kingdom. Most of the prophets of God were slaughtered by Jezebel. (18:4). At the height of the crisis there were only 7000 of a probable million people who had not bowed the knee to Baal. IK.19:18
God's first word is that Baal does not live. He cannot bring the rain; Elijah had stopped it under God's authority. There will be other modes of attack on Baal: prayer, miracles, and swords will be used. The war will go on for forty years until Baal worship is exterminated from the Northern Kingdom.
Baal worship was expressed in fertility rites which involved the use of sexual symbols, sacred prostitution, and child sacrifice. It was utterly corrupt. God had warned Israel early about sexual sins of the Canaanites such as incest, intercourse between males or with animals, "...lest the land vomit you out when you defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you." (Lev.18:28).
Baal's influence had been present from the beginning of Israel's national life. Israel was first seduced by Baalism as the people emerged from the wilderness. (Num.25). 25,000 died then.
We find Hebrew children with Baal names; Saul had a son named Eshbaal (IChr.8:33) and Jonathan had a son Merebbaal. IChr.8:34
The war against Baal was started by Elijah in IK.17 but was finished by Jehu, king in Ephraim about forty years later. IIK.10 However, Manasseh, son of Hezekiah revived the cult (IIK.21:3) near the end of Judah's national life.
Worship of Baal and Ashterte / Aphrodite /Venus has not be revived in modern society, but the sexual revolution looks similar. We have sex gods and goddesses. We are unnecessarily sexualizing many aspects of culture. Destructive effects are everywhere: divorce, fornication, child abuse, incest, rape, abortion, homosexuality, and pornography. The "social" diseases are a euphemism for the venereal diseases, named from Venus, originally 5 diseases, now up to 35. At the end of 2000, there were 36 million people with AIDS world-wide.
And our society goes on its mad path to destruction. Where is our Elijah?
Elijah, unlike the writing prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, etc., was a man of action, with few words. Perhaps 50 sentences of his are recorded in I-II Kings. For half of his estimated seven years of service he was silent, out of country, assuring the care of two non-Israelites. One wonders how he felt, knowing that the suffering of the nation was under his control. His silence is part of the message. "It will not rain until I say so" speaks volumes, especially when the "say so" is long delayed. There are uses of silence.
IK.17 is mostly about the Widow of Zarephath. Jesus used her story to teach the people of Nazareth. There were many widows in Israel but Elijah was sent to none of them but to Zarephath. (Lk.4:26). The villagers of Nazareth were furious because the message was so clear. When Israel does not listen, God will give her blessings to the Gentiles, the pagans.
The widow gave the last thing she had in this life to the prophet and hence to God. How could God demand that she give up her life and the life of her son--admittedly doomed to die in a month anyway, with or without the last cake--for this strange Man of God? The answer is in the lesson, because the resources provided by God fed three people for perhaps 700 days. She gave up one cake; she got thousands back. We should not hesitate to give to God.
It is not a strange thing that the prophet does, asking to be fed first. God asks the best and the first: the first fruits (Deut.18:4), the first-born son (Ex.13:13), the first-born of cattle (Ex.13:12), the first ten percent of income (Lev.27:30)--and our heart's devotion beside. (Deut.6:4). Sacrifice animals must be the best stock, without blemish. Lev.23:12
What of the sickness of the Widow's son? Was it a punishment for sin? We do not know but Jesus said not necessarily. (Jn.9:3). Jesus said that the man born blind was so that God might be glorified. God was glorified in this case, and her faith in Him was confirmed.
Obadiah is a delight. He works for God while standing next the King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He protects the prophets from Jezebel at the risk of his life. No protest; just faithfulness in action.
With whom do I identify?
Ahab, trying to keep his wife happy by doing evil?
The prophet, in exile of his country, waiting in silence for years?
The widow who risked all she had to feed the prophet?
The boy, alive by a miracle, under the shadow of a great man?
Obadiah, working for God in Ahab's palace, under Jezebel's nose?