THE STORY OF ELIYAHU
16:29 Ah’ab son of ‘Omri became king of Yisra’el in the thirty-eighth year of the reign of King Asa of Yehudah1, and for twenty-two years he reigned over Yisra’el2 in the city of Shomron3. [874 - 853 B.C.E.] 1.Judah 2.Northern Israel 3.Samaria
16:30 And Ah’ab son of ‘Omri did what was evil in the eyes of YHWH, worse than all who came before him.
16:31 Not only did he persist in the sinful ways of Yarob‘am4 son of Nebat, but he also took as his wife Izebel5 daughter of king Ittoba‘al6 of Sidon, and consequently he served and worshipped Ba‘al. 4.Jeroboam 5.Jezebel 6.Ethbaal
16:32 He erected an altar for Ba‘al in the house7 of Ba‘al that he built in Shomron. 7.temple
16:33 Moreover, Ah’ab made an Asherah8. Thus he did to provoke the wrath of YHWH the God of Yisra’el, more than all the kings of Yisra’el who preceded him. 8. image of the goddess Asherah?
16:34 In his days Hi’el of Bet’el9 rebuilt the city of Yeriho10; he laid its foundations at the cost of his first-born son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of YHWH spoken through Yehoshua‘11 son of Nun. [Joshua 6:26] 9. Bethel 10. Jericho 11. Joshua
17:1 Now Eliyahu12 the Tishbite, from Tishbe13 in Gil‘ad, declared to Ah’ab: As YHWH the God of Yisra’el lives, before whom I stand, there shall be no dew or rain in the coming years, except at my word. 12. Elijah 13. or: of the settlers
Eliyahu then went into hiding: first in the wilderness, where he was fed by ravens, or perhaps Arabs; and next in the house of a Phoenician widow, whose jar of flour and cruse of oil miraculously remained constantly full, and whose son was resuscitated by the prophet.
Eliyahu on Mount Karmel
18:1 Many days had passed when, in the third year, the word of YHWH came to Eliyahu: Go and present yourself to Ah’ab; I am about to send rain upon the land.
18:2 The famine was now severe in Shomron14 .... 14.Samaria
18:17 As soon as Ah’ab saw Eliyahu he said to him: So it is you, the one who has caused Yisra’el’s trouble.
18:18 And he replied: I am not the one who has caused Yisra’el’s trouble; you are the one, and your father’s house, by forsaking the commandments of YHWH and following Ba‘al15. 15. or: the Ba‘alim
18:19 And now, summon all Yisra’el to meet me at Mount Karmel, and also the four hundred and fifty prophets of Ba‘al and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Izebel’s table.
18:20 So Ah’ab summoned all Yisra’el, and gathered all the prophets together at Mount Karmel.
18:21 And Eliyahu approached all the people and said: How long will you go on limping around on crutches16? If YHWH is God, follow him; but if Ba‘al is, then follow him. 16.or: on two branches (see the end notes)
And the people answered him not a word.
18:22 Then Eliyahu said to the people: I am the only remaining prophet of YHWH, but the prophets of Ba‘al number four hundred and fifty.
18:23 Have two bulls brought to us; let them choose one bull, cut it up, and lay it out on firewood, but not set fire to it; I will prepare the other bull, and place it on the firewood, but not set fire to it.
18:24 You shall invoke your god by name, and I shall invoke YHWH by name; and the one who answers by fire is the real God.
And all the people responded with approval of this proposal.
18:25 Then Eliyahu said to the prophets of Ba‘al: Choose one of the bulls and go first, since there are many more of you; call out to your god by name, but do not light a fire yourselves.
18:26 So they took the bull provided for them, prepared it, and invoked Ba‘al by name from morn till noon, crying: Ba‘al answer us. But there was no sound or reply. And they continued limping around the altar that had been prepared.
18:27 At midday Eliyahu mocked them: Call louder; he is a god, but he may be urinating or defecating; or he has gone somewhere; or perhaps he is asleep and needs to be awakened.
18:28 So they called louder, and as was their custom they gashed themselves with swords and spears until their blood gushed over them.
18:29 And they raved throughout the afternoon until the time of the regular sacrifice1, but still there was no sound or reply or any response at all. 1. 3.00pm
18:30 Then Eliyahu said to all the people: Come closer to me. And they all came closer to him. Then he repaired the ruined altar of YHWH.
18:31 He took twelve stones, one for each of the twelve tribes of Ya‘aqob2, who was given the name Yisra’el3 by the word of YHWH. 2.Jacob 3.Israel [Genesis 32:28, 35:10]
18:32 With these stones he built an altar in the name of YHWH; and he dug a trench around the altar ...
18:33 Having arranged the firewood, he cut the bull up and laid it on the wood.
18:34 Then he said: Fill four jars with water and pour it over the offering and the wood. And he told them to do this a second and a third time.
18:35 The water ran all round the altar, and the trench was also filled with water.
18:36 At the time for the regular sacrifice, the prophet Eliyahu stepped forward and said: O YHWH, God of Abraham, Iskhaq4 , and Ya‘aqob5, today let it be known that you are God in Yisra’el and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your command. 4. Isaac 5.Jacob
18:37 Answer me, O YHWH, answer me, and let these people know that you, O YHWH, are God, and that you are the one who turns their hearts back.
18:38 Thereupon the fire of YHWH came pouring down and consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water in the trench.
18:39 On seeing this, all the people fell on their faces, declaring: YHWH is God, YHWH is God.
18:40 Then Eliyahu said to them: Seize the prophets of Ba‘al; let none of them escape. They seized them, and Eliyahu took them down to the Kishon valley and there slaughtered them.
18:41 Eliyahu then said to Ah’ab: You can eat and drink now; I can hear the sound of rain coming.
18:42 So Ah’ab began eating and drinking, while Eliyahu went up to the summit of Karmel; there he crouched on the ground and put his face between his knees.
18:43 To his servant he said: Go and look out towards the sea. He went and looked but reported that there was nothing at all. And he was told to do so seven times.
18:44 The seventh time he said: There is a little cloud, the size of a man’s hand, coming up from the sea. Whereupon Eliyahu said: Go and tell Ah’ab to harness up and go down, or the rain will stop him.
18:45 Before long the sky became black with clouds and wind, and heavy rain fell as Ah’ab drove1 down to Yizr‘el. 1. or: rode
18:46 And the power2 of YHWH was upon Eliyahu, so that he girded himself up and ran ahead of Ah’ab as far as Yizr‘el. 2. hand
Eliyahu on Mount Horeb
19:1 Ah’ab told Izebel all that Eliyahu had done, and especially that he had put all the prophets to the sword.
19:2 So Izebel sent a messenger to Eliyahu to say to him: May the gods do the same to me and more, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life the same as one of theirs.
19:3 He took fright and fled; he ran for his life, and came to Be’er-sheba‘, which is in Yehudah, and there he parted from his servant.
19:4 He then went a day’s journey into the wilderness, where he came upon a broom-bush; he sat down under it and prayed for death:
This is too much, YHWH; take my life away; I am no better than my ancestors.
19:5 Then he lay down under the bush, and while he slept an angel touched him and said: Sit up and eat.
19:6 He looked round, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and then lay down again.
19:7 The angel of YHWH came a second time, touched him, and said: Sit up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.
19:8 So he sat up, and ate and drank; and on the strength of that food he walked for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
19:9 There he came to a cave and spent the night in it ....
19:11 Then YHWH came passing by: a great tempestuous wind was sundering mountains and shattering rocks before him, but YHWH was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but YHWH was not in the earthquake.
19:12 After the earthquake came a fire, but YHWH was not in the fire; and after the fire the sound of a soft whisper1. 1. or: a still small voice, or: a gentle breeze?
19:13 When Eliyahu heard it he wrapped his face in his mantle and went and stood at the entrance to the cave. Then there came a voice, which said to him: Why are you here, Eliyahu?
19:14 To this he replied: I have shown great zeal for YHWH God of Hosts, but the children of Yisra’el have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword; and now that I am the only one remaining, they are seeking to take my life.
19:15 Then YHWH said to him: Go back by way of the wilderness of Dammeseq2, and go in and anoint Haza’el king over Aram3. 2. Damascus 3. Syria
19:16 And anoint Yehu son of Nimshi king over Yisra’el, and anoint Elisha‘ son of Shapat from Abel-Meholah as prophet in your stead.
19:17 Then whoever escapes from the sword of Haza’el will be put to death by Yehu, and whoever escapes from the sword of Yehu will be put to death by Elisha‘.
19:18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all who have not bent their knees to Ba‘al or kissed him with their lips.
Samaria was attacked by Ben-Hadad of Aram (Syria) but Ahab was able to drive the invader out, and he imposed a trade treaty on Ben-Hadad, allowing Israel to have a trading quarter in Damascus.(1 Kings 20).
The next encounter between Ahab and Eliyahu was over Naboth's vineyard, which Ahab coveted. Izebel (imitating the goddess Anat in the story of Aqhat's bow?) had Naboth accused of cursing God and the King, and he was taken out and stoned to death. Yahweh sent Eliyahu with a message for them:
21.19 Where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, there dogs shall lick your blood too. . . .
21.23 Dogs will eat Izebel in the field of Yizr‘el.
21.24 Of the family of Ah'ab, those who die in the city shall be eaten by dogs, those who die in the country shall be eaten by birds.
21.25 Never was there one like Ah'ab for conspiring to do what is evil in the eyes of Yahweh, at the instigation of his wife Izebel.
21.26 He committed gross abominations, going after idols, as the Amorites had done when Yahweh dispossed them in favour of the children of Yisra'el.
21.27 When Ah'ab heard this, he tore his garments, put sackcloth over his skin, and fasted. . .
21.28 Then the word of Yahweh came to Eliyahu the Tishbite:
21.29 Have you seen how Ah'ab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster upon his house in his own lifetime, but in the lifetime of his son.
Yehoshaphat of Yehudah and Ah'ab of Yisra'el waged war on Aram, and Ah'ab was slain in battle.
22.37 The king was dead; they brought him to Shomron* and buried him there.
22.38 They rinsed the chariot at the pool of Shomron, where dogs licked up the blood, and harlots washed in it, as Yahweh had foretold. *Samaria
22.39 All the other things that Ah'ab did, the ivory house* that he built, all the cities he built, are written in the annals of the kings of Yisra'el, are they not? *(with ivory-covered furnishings)
22.40 So Ah'ab slept alongside his ancestors, and his son Ahazyahu reigned in his stead. . . .
22.51 He reigned over Yisra'el for two years.
22.52 He did what is evil in the eyes of Yahweh, following in the footsteps of his father and mother . . . .
22.53 He served Ba'al and worshipped him, provoking the anger of Yahweh the God of Yisra'el, exactly as his father had done.
2.1.1 After the death of Ah'ab Mo'ab rebelled against Yisra'el.
1.2 Ahazyahu had fallen through a lattice-window in his upper storey in Shomron, and was injured. He sent messengers to inquire of Ba'al-Zebub, the god of Ekron, whether he would recover from his injury.
1.3 Thereupon the angel of Yahweh said to Eliyahu the Tishbite: Arise and go up to meet the messengers of the king of Shomron and say to them: Is there no god in Yisra'el? Why are you going off to consult Ba'al-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore this is what Yahweh says: You will not rise out of the bed you are lying in; you will assuredly die there. . . .
1.7 The king asked them what manner of man it was who had gone up to them and said these things.
1.8 A man clothed in hair* with a leather girdle, they replied.
That was Eliyahu the Tishbite, he said. *or: a hairy man ('lord of hair')
The king sent two successive but unsuccessful contingents of fifty men to arrest him on his hill.
1.11 Man of God, the king commands you to come down immediately.
1.12 If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven* and consume you and your men. *(cp. 18.38)
The next officer pleaded on his knees for mercy, and the prophet was told by the angel of Yahweh that it was safe go to the king, who eventually died.
Eliyahu ascends to Heaven
2.1 When the time came for Yahweh to take Eliyahu up to heaven in a whirlwind. . .
2.11 Eliyahu and Elisha‘ were walking along talking, when suddenly there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire coming between them and separating them; and Eliyahu ascended to heaven in the whirlwind. . . .
The ninth century before the present era saw the rise of the ‘Omri dynasty in Israel, with a new capital city named Shomron (Samaria; 1 Kings 16:24) and a magnificent palace built by Ah’ab (with ivory furnishings; 1 Kings 22:39). This northern ten-tribe kingdom of Israel was clearly seeking to outshine its two-tribe Israelite rival in the south, namely the kingdon of Yehudah (Judah) with its capital city Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) and its Davidic dynasty. In opposition to the temple of YHWH in the south, Ah’ab erected a house for Ba‘al; he did this under the influence of his Phoenician wife Izebel (Jezebel in English Bibles and dictionaries, as a shameless woman with garish colour on her face); the goddess Asherah also held an important place in the new scheme (16:31-33); and there were probably other male and female deities involved too.
A prediction made by Yehoshua‘ at the time of the destruction of Yeriho (Jericho) was fulfilled in this period (16:34). Because building operations in the ancient world often necessitated a human sacrifice, some interpreters have seen this as the explanation of the loss of this builder’s sons; but rather than Hi’el sacrificing his children voluntarily, the prediction seems to require that they were taken from him by YHWH, as a kind of penalty. Notice, however, Mesha king of Moab sacrificing his eldest son to avert disaster (2 Kings 3.27, below).
Because of the apostasy of Israel in their worship of other gods, the prophet Eliyahu (Elijah) was sent to rebuke them: he announced the onset of a drought (17:1) and then went into hiding for its duration, only emerging in the third year (18:1). In the interim, the prophets of YHWH had been massacred, by Izebel’s decree, though a royal official named ‘Obadyahu (whose name characterizes him as a ‘worshipper of Yahu’, that is, of YHWH) had rescued a hundred of them (18:3-4).
When the king and the prophet eventually confronted each other again, Ah’ab greeted him as the trouble-maker who had brought the famine on Israel. But Eliyahu retorted that the king was the real cause of the trouble, through his desertion of YHWH in order to follow ‘the Ba‘alim’. This last term could be a plural of majesty for Ba‘al, or perhaps it means something like ‘foreign gods’. The name Ba‘al is literally ‘Lord’, and was used in Hebrew as an ordinary word for ‘owner’, or ‘husband’ (as a wife’s lord and master and owner!). The feminine form ba‘alah actually designates the woman who was Eliyahu’s ‘landlady’ during his period of concealment: she was a ‘homeowner’ or ‘mistress of the house’ (1 Kings 17:17). It was possible to address YHWH as Ba‘al (Hosea 2:18-19), but the title Adon was used instead (Genesis 15:8, for example, ’Adonay YHWH, ‘my Lord YaHWeH’; which has to become ‘Lord GOD’ in English Bibles which regularly substitute ‘LORD’ for the name YHWH).
In Cana‘anite mythology, Ba‘al was the storm god who brought rain. An ideal opportunity for him to show his prowess was now presented to him. His skill in hurling lightning bolts could be demonstrated by igniting a fire on the altar set up for his contest with YHWH. In the event it was YHWH who sent a consuming fire out of a clear sky (a veritable ‘bolt from the blue’ or some kind of fireball, 18:38) and who broke the drought (18:41-45).
When Israel made the covenant with YHWH at Mount Horeb in Sinai, they took a solemn oath of allegiance and obedience to YHWH. When sacrificial blood was splashed over them they were agreeing to accept death as the penalty for breach of covenant (Exodus 24:7-8). Zeal for the covenant involved exterminating apostates, including anyone who dared to introduce foreign ways into Israel. So it was in the days of Mosheh and Aharon (Moses and Aaron, Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 25:1-9). And the zeal of Eliyahu (19:14 above) led him to bring the sword of execution upon those who fostered foreign gods (18:40) and apostate Israelites (19:17-18). We are told of the execution of prophets of Ba‘al (18:40), but not of prophets of Asherah (18:19); presumably the latter were put to death in the Kishon valley at the same time. This kind of zeal was rekindled in the Maccabean period (1 Maccabees 2:24-27; 2:58 cites Eliyahu as a model).
There are some points to note about the religious contest on Mount Carmel. Eliyahu’s question to the Israelites (18:21) is difficult to translate. The Hebrew term se‘ippim apparently means ‘forked branches’, ideal for use as crutches; or it may suggest a fork in the road with two paths to take. The verb psh. is the same root as ‘pass over’ in Exodus 12:26-27. Its basic meaning seems to involve lameness. It is also used of the actions of the Ba‘al prophets at their altar (18:26). The New English Bible, for example, has them ‘dancing wildly’; on this view they would be hopping from one leg to the other, and this would suit the Israelites’ wavering over the choice between YHWH and Ba‘al (18:21), hence the translation ‘How long will you sit on the fence?’ (literally ‘bestride two branches’).
Eliyahu’s mockery of his opponents’ failure to elicit a response from their god (18:27) suggests that Ba‘al may be otherwise engaged; the verbs he uses are obscure, but Rashi, a Medieval Jewish commentator, was sure it all meant that Ba‘al was either occupied in his privy or asleep in his bed.
The offering made to YHWH was at the time of the regular evening sacrifice (normally a ram, Exodus 28:36-42). It was a whole-burnt-sacrifice (Hebrew ‘olah ‘holocaust’; cp Atonement Day sacrifice in Leviticus 16). After this holocaust, in which not only the sacrifice but also the altar was consumed by fire, Eliyahu knew that the drought and famine would soon be ended, and it was now in order to eat and drink in celebration (18:41). The prophet’s exhilaration (and the hand of YHWH) enabled him to race the king’s chariot in a marathon run of more than 20 kilometres (18:45).
Fleeing from the vengence of Izebel (19:1-3) he came to the place where Mosheh had received his instructions from YHWH (Exodus 3:1, 19:20) and even encountered him in mystic vision (Exodus 24:9-18; 33:18-23). Once again the elements raged around Mount Horeb alias Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16) heralding the appearance of YHWH (1 Kings 19:11-12). The act of hiding one’s head under a cloak during a divine revelation in a cave is later recapitulated by the prophet Muhammad (Qur’an, S.73 ‘Cloaked’, S.74 ‘Mantled’). Eliyahu was taken up to heaven in the end , a rare destiny in ancient Israel.