Day 166: Responding in Faith
1 Kings 17:1-7 Before Israel had kings, God called forth judges to guide his people out of idolatry and back to fidelity to the Mosaic Law; in the age of kings, he called forth mighty prophets to guide the kings and the people to faithfulness to the covenant, especially whenever they strayed from his path. Here, Elijah was called to combat the pagan idolatry and immorality of Ahab and Jezebel. The long and difficult drought was understood to be God’s punishment for Ahab’s sins, and it also provided the setting by which God would show his power through Elijah.
Ch 17:6 The feeding of Elijah by the ravens is reminiscent of the manna provided to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. (CCC 1094, 1334)
Ch 17:7-24 Elijah taught the widow at Zarephath about faith and trust in God’s Word. The woman was short on food, but with Elijah’s assurance her supply of flour and oil lasted miraculously for the duration of the drought. Her faith was further confirmed when her son died and Elijah’s prayer raised him back to life. (CCC 2583)
Ch 18:1-19 Ahab had been searching for Elijah ever since he began prophesying against the king’s idolatry. At great personal risk, Elijah arranged to visit Ahab. Obadiah bore witness that many in Israel remained secretly faithful to the one true God.
Ch 18:20-39 A contest between Elijah and hundreds of pagan prophets served as a test of faith for the people of Israel. Elijah means “the Lord is my God,” which was the cry of the people when Elijah’s holocaust was set ablaze through an extraordinary divine intervention. Elijah’s prayer, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me,” is repeated in the Eucharistic Prayers of the Byzantine Rite. (CCC 2582-2583)
Ch 18:26 Unlike the prayers of some of the Gentiles, who believed that magical powers would be unleashed merely by repeating the correct formulas and incantations, Christian prayer is a conversation with God. Vocal prayer, whether memorized or spontaneous, is a raising of the body, heart, and mind to God. (CCC 2766)
Ch 18:38-39 The fire called down by Elijah is a type of the Holy Spirit (TYPOLOGY!!), who changes and renews us through his transforming power. In Scripture, fire is often a sign of God’s presence, as when Moses saw the burning bush (cf. Ex 3:4) and when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire (cf. Acts 2:3). The fire of the Holy Spirit is not a fire of destruction but of purification and love. (CCC 696)
Ch 18:40 The order to kill the false prophets might seem a harsh and unacceptable act in light of the New Covenant of Christ. However, it was the prescribed penalty under the Mosaic Law, which represented an incremental stage in God’s gradual regathering of his people under his eternal law and the fullness of Revelation culminating in the Incarnation. (CCC 53)
2 Chronicles 19:1-11 Jehoshaphat erred in his alliance with Israel, but God looked favorably on him because of his effort to eradicate idolatry. He established a judicial system of judges in each city along with an appeals process in Jerusalem to be presided over by certain Levites, priests, and heads of families. All were reminded that, since their authority came from the Lord, they had to conduct themselves fairly and ethically at all times. (CCC 1899, 1901, 1918, 2234)
Song of Solomon 5:1-8 The lover comes knocking at the door of the beloved, but the beloved, for whatever reason, is slow to answer, When she finally opens the door, her lover is gone, and she is anguished. For the Christian, this account is a lesson to be ready and watchful always for Christ’s call and to be swift and sure in responding to him. (CCC 1090, 1400, 1843, 2854)
Ch 5:9-16 The lover is described in terms of strength and beauty, which is seen in Christian tradition as an allegory of the perfection of Christ.
(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)
Key Event 42: Jezebel Leads Israel Astray (1 Kings 18-21; 2 Kings 9)
King Ahab brings trouble on Israel by marrying the pagan princess Jezebel and sharing in her idolatry (1 Kings 16:30-31). Both are devoted to the god Baal and violently opposed to the Lord's prophet Elijah. Using royal authority to commit injustice, Jezebel famously arranges the murder of Naboth and steals his vineyard for Ahab (1 Kings 21).
Key Event 43: Elijah Defeats the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-40)
In order to demonstrate that the Lord alone is God, Elijah arranges a contest between himself and 450 prophets of Baal. The prophets are challenged to call upon Baal, the god of storm and lightning, to send down fire to consume their sacrificial offering, but nothing happens. When Elijah calls upon the name of the Lord, his sacrifice is consumed with fire from heaven even though he has gone to the extra lengths of drenching his sacrifice with water.
Ahab and Elijah
Ahab marries a princess from Sidon, Jezebel, the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon.
Jezebel’s father’s name, “Ethbaal,” contains the name of the pagan god, Baal, who will be the greatest temptation to idolatry for the remainder of Israel’s kingdom.
Jezebel is the power behind the throne, and with her influence, Ahab builds an altar and temple for Baal in the capital of Samaria.
He even builds an “Asherah” (possibly a sacred pole or wooden statue bearing an image of the naked goddess) dedicated to a Canaanite goddess, the consort of Baal.
Asherah worship involved cult prostitutes typical of Canaanite fertility liturgy.
Later in the story, we are told that Jezebel personally funds fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah.
With Jezebel, all the Torah’s admonitions against marrying a foreign wife are clearly flouted by a foreign queen who gives Israel the best demonstration of the reason for those laws.
Elijah the prophet delivers a grim message 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.” (1 Kgs 17:1)
The drought comes as a chastisement for Ahab’s Baal worship.
Elijah is careful to identify that he represents the “Lord (Yahweh) the God (Elohim) of Israel,” clearly proclaiming that Yahweh, not Baal, is the God of Israel.
Deuteronomy’s covenant curses warned that breaking the law would bring, among other things, severe drought (Dt 28:22-24).
Elijah’s prophecy is a declaration to Israel that these curses are now coming because of the nation’s apostasy.
Soon after the encounter with Ahab, God sends Elijah north to the foreign land of Sidon, Jezebel’s homeland, to a Gentile widow who will care for him.
The widow is at the end of her food supply.
Elijah tells her that neither the meal in her jar nor the oil in her cruse will run out (1 Kgs 17:14).
This provision is ironic, since Baal is a fertility deity who is supposed to provide bread and oil, yet now in his homeland these things are no longer available except in the house where Yahweh’s prophet dwells.
After the widow’s son falls ill and stops breathing, Elijah beseeches God, and the child’s life is miraculously restored.
The scene ends with the widow declaring: “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth. (1 Kgs 17:24)
The odd phrase “the word of the Lord in your mouth” echoes Elijah’s declaration to Ahab that no rain will come, except by “the word of my mouth” (many translations smooth this phrase out in 1 Kings 17:1 by dropping the word “mouth” and simply use “by my word”).
This repetition is an invitation to join the Sidonian woman in “knowing” the word of Yahweh and his prophet.
This recalls the theme of “knowing” traced in the Exodus story and on through the Conquest of Canaan.
As with Rahab, a Gentile comes to “know” Yahweh and his work, while, ironically, the King of Israel does “not know” Yahweh as the Lord of Israel.
The prophet of Yahweh must be fed at the table of a Sidonian widow, while the 450 prophets of Asherah and Baal eat at Jezebel’s table in Israel (1 Kgs 18:19).
One house will find blessing and the other woe, and the difference is not in geography but rather in hospitality to the Lord’s servant.
In the third year of the famine, God summons Elijah to appear before Ahab.
God accomplishes with his summons what Ahab’s long, unsuccessful search for the prophet could not.
As soon as they meet, Ahab calls Elijah the “troubler of Israel,” but Elijah retorts that it is the king who is the source of Israel’s trouble for forsaking the commandments of the Lord and following Baal.
Ahab’s words and actions all point to the recognition however grudgingly given, that Elijah is indeed in a position of control concerning the famine.
For Ahab, it is a first step in recognizing Elijah as a true prophet and therefore also recognizing that Yahweh must be the one true God.
So it comes as little surprise that the king obeys when Elijah commands Israel to gather at Mount Carmel.
Elijah also commands Ahab to bring the fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah.
Carmel will be the place of competition between prophets and gods.
The 450-to-one odds do not look good for Elijah.
But this is just how God prefers it, so that it will be clear that there is only one Lord, and that with him nothing is impossible.
Elijah addresses the people: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (1 Kgs 18:21)
The people do not answer Elijah’s stinging rebuke.
Indeed, the very word “answer” lies at the heart of the story’s plot.
Noting the pattern of when there is and is not an “answer” in the narrative will illuminate the purpose of this pivotal event at Carmel.
With the people’s refusal to answer his summons to choose whom they will serve, Elijah proposes a contest between himself and the prophets of Baal.
Baal’s prophets will choose a bull, slaughter it, and lay it out upon wood, and Elijah will do the same.
Then each will call on the name of their god.
The god who answers by fire, he is God.
The contest is all about which “answers.”
The people agree to these terms, so the 450 prophets of Baal slaughter their bull, and from morning until noon they call, saying “O Baal, answer us!”
They limp around the altar, intensifying their cries by cutting themselves so that their blood flows, all a part of their occult custom of calling on Baal.
The description of their “limping” around the altar recalls Elijah’s earlier appeal to Israel to stop “limping” with two different religious loyalties.
Inconsistency of faith is embodied by an inconsistent gait; one can only walk straight with one God.
In spite of their intensified efforts the “time of the offering of the oblation” approaches and “there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded” (1 Kgs 18:29).
The silence suggests an absence; there is no “answer” because there is no Baal.
Meanwhile, Elijah builds an altar of twelve stones in honor of the twelve tribes of Jacob, a prophetic sign reminding Israel that they should consist of twelve tribes, not just the ten that have separated themselves from Jerusalem.
Elijah builds the altar in the name of Yahweh, lays upon it the wood and the pieces of the bull, and digs a trench around the altar, commanding the people to take four large jars of water and pour them upon the sacrificed bull and wood.
Three times the sacrifice and the wood are doused, so much so that the trench fills with water.
Then as the time for the oblation arrives, Elijah calls out to God, “Answer me O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back.” (1 Kgs 18:37)
Elijah calls out to Yahweh and Yahweh answers.
Here we see one of the great theological word pairings of the Hebrews, to “call” and to “answer.”
To “call,” in Hebrew, kara, and to “answer,” anah, are two key words found throughout the Psalms.
Indeed, one of God’s vital characteristics in the Psalms is that he is the God who “answers,” perhaps stemming from the Exodus, where the people “cry out” to God (Ex 2:23), and God answers, bringing redemption.
God answers Elijah with fire from heaven so great that it consumes not only the water-soaked sacrifice and its wood but also the water-filled trench.
The people immediately fall on their faces and confess, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kgs 18:39).
Now we see the prophetic significance of Elijah’s name, which means, “Yahweh is my God,” as the people come to share Elijah’s confession of faith.
The people decide to serve the Lord, and they put to death the prophets of Baal.
After all this, Elijah predicts that rain is once again coming to the land, and the story ends with a great rain.
Recalling the Exodus
In his prayer, Elijah asks God to answer so that the people will “know” that he is God.
This continues the theme of “knowing” from the Exodus.
Now Elijah, a new Moses, works mighty signs to bring Israel herself back to faith in Yahweh.
Similarly, the theme of the “name,” particularly the name of God, is found throughout the Carmel story, as prophets on both sides call upon the names of their gods.
Just as God revealed his name to Moses at the Exodus and in that name Moses performed mighty deeds, now, Elijah performs mighty deeds in the name of the God who revealed himself at the burning bush.
This name is still powerful, and those who call on it are still answered.
The rest of the story of Elijah-and of his protege and successor, Elisha-is full of miraculous deeds of might.
The only other time in Israel’s ancient history that contains such an abundance of miraculous stories is the Exodus, when Yahweh competed for Israel’s loyalty with the gods of Egypt, directing Moses’ mighty signs against the Egyptian deities with the pedagogical aim of teaching both Egypt and Israel to “know” the one true God.
God manifested his power so that his people would come to know him as true and all the other gods as false.
The same is true for the Elijah and Elisha narratives.
These prophets perform signs that show Canaanite religion as utterly empty and powerless.
The drought Elijah announces is directed against Baal, who is worshiped as the storm god who brings rain.
The failure of the prophets of Baal at Carmel is preceded by three years of Baal’s failure to end the drought, forcing Ahab to search for the prophet of Yahweh, the God he has forsaken.
Only Elijah’s prayer, answered by the fire of Yahweh, brings rain to Israel.
The storm that follows the sacrifice of the prophets of Baal illustrates Yahweh’s majesty and Baal’s impotence.
Indeed, Baal, who was known as the god of fire and lightning, cannot generate a single spark for his 450 prophets of Carmel, while Yahweh’s fire consumes the sacrifice and the water surrounding it.
All the mighty deeds of Elijah and Elisha are, likewise, aimed at underscoring the failure of Baal and the Canaanite cult, and illustrating that the only one who can provide for Israel is Yahweh.
(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)
We get introduced to Elijah today in 1 Kings and in a deeper way to Ahab
Ahab was mentioned yesterday, the King in the North
Ahab was one of the WORST kings of Israel
Elijah prophesied a drought
There’s a drought!
For 3 years, it doesn’t rain
A couple of things happen
God commands Elijah to go to the brook Cherith and says, “I’m going to feed you.”
Elijah responds with FAITH
That is SO IMPORTANT
So Elijah goes to Cherith, the ravens feed him and he drinks from the brook
At one point, God says to go to Zarephath
So Elijah goes to Zarephath
What 1 Kings is revealing is that Elijah is someone who LISTENS to the Word of God and OBEYS the Word of God
This sets Elijah distinctly apart from some of the kings and people we have been hearing about
They may HEAR the Word of God, but they do not ACT on the Word of God
Elijah invites OTHERS to be faithful as well
Like the widow of Zarephath
She has a little bit of flour and oil, she’s going to eat it with her son, and then they will die
Elijah tells her to bring her a cake (hopefully red velvet or maybe ANGEL FOOD CAKE? 😉)
Elijah is INVITING her to FAITHFULNESS
THAT IS THE KEY
Even when her son dies, he invites her EVEN MORE DEEPLY INTO FAITHFULNESS
Elijah responds with FAITH (by asking God to raise the boy from the dead in case you missed that part 😉)
THIS IS SO SO CRITICAL
Now we have an incredible showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel
This is a CRITICAL MOMENT
At the beginning of 1 Kings 18:20-22, Elijah doesn’t ask the PROPHETS OF BAAL or AHAB these important questions
He asks the PEOPLE OF ISRAEL
The people continue going back and forth between belonging to Baal or belonging to the God of Israel
“How long will you go limping with your two different opinions?”
“How long will you stumble being of two minds?”
“How long will you say, ‘I partly belong to the Lord but don’t fully belong to the Lord’?”
Elijah is asking this question and THEY DON’T ANSWER
So he says, “Ok here’s the deal. Here’s a showdown between the prophets of Baal and the prophet of God. The God who answers with FIRE, THAT ONE IS GOD.”
So this is SO SO CRITICAL
The people DO NOT ANSWER when they are asked, “Do you belong to the Lord God, or do you belong to someone else?”
They are UNCOMMITTED
So Elijah makes it clear that there is a God who IS COMMITTED
God is COMMITTED TO YOU
God is COMMITTED TO HIS PROMISES
God is COMMITTED TO HIS COMMANDMENTS
GOD IS GOING TO ANSWER
This is the key thing for SO MANY OF US
We have the INVITATION TO RESPOND to God who is COMPLETELY FAITHFUL TO US
WE ARE NOT ALWAYS FAITHFUL TO GOD
How is it that God continues to LOVE US when we do not LOVE HIM BACK?
How is it that God is COMMITTED to being FAITHFUL to us when WE ARE NOT FAITHFUL TO HIM?
THAT IS WHAT HAPPENS
THAT IS THE WHOLE STORY OF THE BIBLE
We have all these BAD PEOPLE
We even have all these GOOD PEOPLE WHO DO BAD THINGS
God is going to CONTINUE TO BE WITH US
God is going to CONTINUE TO CHOOSE US
God is going to CONTINUE TO LOVE US
We also have a different story where Jehoshaphat, who is a good king in Judah
He makes a treaty with Ahab, the evil king of Israel to go against Ramothgilead
Jehoshaphat escapes the battle but Ahab does not
Jehu, the son of Hanani the seer told Jehoshophat, “You should not have entered into a league with the king of Israel.”
“Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?”
Ahab was a BAD KING
Ahab was a FALSE KING
Ahab was a FAITHLESS KING
Along with his wife, Jezebel
Jehu reminds Jehoshaphat that he did this and that he wouldn’t get away with this
Jehoshaphat did some good
2 Chronicles 19:3 “Nevertheless some good is found in you, for you destroyed the Asherahs out of the land, and have set your heart to seek God.”
We can make missteps like Jehoshaphat and STILL BELONG TO THE LORD FULLY
We also will learn more about the death of Ahab in the next couple of days
Before that, we will learn more about evil King Ahab
We will also journey with Elijah and his successor over the next couple of days
YOU ALL HAVE BEEN SO FAITHFUL!!
KEEP IT UP!!
PRAY FOR EACH OTHER
PRAY FOR FR. MIKE
Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we thank you. We thank you for your love for us. We thank you for the way in which you reveal to us how you work once again in history, how you work in our lives, how you work through ups and downs, and how you work through our faithfulness and even in the midst of our unfaithfulness. You don’t abandon us. You don’t give up. You continue to call us back to you. Help us to respond to that call with our whole heart, our whole strength, our whole might, our whole mind, and with everything we are in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
5:1 This verse is a prefiguration of the eucharistic banquet. The myrrh represents Christ’s death, which is made present in the Sacred Liturgy. The honey referenced here recalls the manna in the desert, which “tasted like wafers made with honey” (Ex. 16:31) and which prefigures the eucharistic host. The wine here represents Christ’s blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant. The milk, as with 4:11, refers to orthodox teaching. The invitation to drink deeply is a call to communion between the lovers.
5:4 Taken literally, this seems to be a sexual reference, but, allegorically, this represents the indwelling of Christ in the heart of his faithful.
5:5 The emphasis on myrrh here should remind us that it is only through the death of Jesus Christ that we are made his bride. Christ gives his flesh to us in his death.
5:6-8 This can be allegorically understood as the apostles and disciples being in anguish after the death of Christ and before his glorious resurrection. The soul of the believers “sank,” but it rose again on the third day as Christ emerged from the tomb.
5:7 The watchmen represent death and the devil, who seemed to have won as Christ breathed his last. But it was by his very death that he “overcame the sting of death” (Te Deum).
5:10-16 These verses joyfully proclaim the Risen Christ, who is “radiant” and victorious over sin and death. His resurrected body is the epitome of human and divine beauty.
My Study Color Code
■ Suffering, Martyrdom ■ Places ■ The Church, Sacraments, Divinity ■ Horticultural Imagery ■ People ■ Messianic Kingship ■ Sin, Death, Decay