A Hill on Which to Stand
Explore the Bible Series
January 9, 2011
Background Passage: I Kings 16:29-22:53 (II Chronicles 17:1-22:4)
Lesson Passage: I Kings 18:20-21, 37-39; 19:1-3, 13-18
I have heard the stories of Elijah since my earliest childhood, and you can find no more engaging, fascinating narratives in all of literature. Elijah became a critical figure in Hebrew history, and his life, as interpreted by early Christians, became an important foreshadowing of the arrival of the Messiah, especially of the Messiah’s forerunner, John the Baptist. The story, as told in I Kings, revolves around several important characters.
1. Elijah the Tishbite: The Bible reveals little about the background of this prophet. He came from Tishbe, in Gilead (the region directly east of the Jordan River), a city unknown to modern Bible students, and he centered his prophetic work on the Northern Kingdom. Unlike most of the other Old Testament prophets, great miracles attended the life of Elijah: three years of drought, the miraculous provision for the woman of Zarephath, raising the son of the widow, and the confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Also, I Kings tells of Elijah’s extraordinary transport to heaven in a chariot of fire, thus embellishing the miraculous nature of the prophet’s life. Furthermore, Elijah played an important role in Hebrew prophecy concerning the coming of Christ. Malachi predicted that Lord’s forerunner would come in the spirit of Elijah, and Luke claimed that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy (Luke 1:17). The Synoptic Gospels record Elijah’s appearance, along with Moses, on the Mount of Transfiguration (for instance Matthew 17:4).
2. Ahab of Israel: This weak, vacillating monarch reigned over Israel for twenty-two years 874-853 B.C.), years characterized by idolatry and moral compromise. He married Jezebel, princess of Sidon, and she contributed to the spiritual demise of Ahab’s reign. I Kings says he sinned more than any previous king of Israel; yet, at times, he seemed to revere Jehovah. He compromised his faith rather than engaging full-blown idolatry. Ahab enjoyed some military success, but a third, and final, campaign against the Syrians ended in the king’s violent and disgraceful death.
3. Jezebel of Sidon: Daughter of Phoenician King Ethbaal, this woman’s name has become synonymous with immorality and spiritual degradation. She persuaded her weak husband to worship Baal, and promoted an elaborate pagan priesthood in Israel. Apparently, she possessed a raging, murderous temper (attempted to kill Elijah) and an insatiable greed (the episode concerning Naboth’s vineyard). Like her husband, she met with a violent and shameful end.
4. Elisha: Successor to Elijah, Elisha received the mantle of authority from his mentor. He came from a farming family in Abel-menorah (location unknown). His story, introduced in I Kings, is developed more clearly in II Kings (please recall that he ancient Hebrews did not divide these books).
5. Jehoshaphat of Judah: This king of Judah ruled, after his father Asa’s death, for twenty-five years (873-848 B.C.). Generally, Jehoshaphat remained faithful to Jehovah, but he approved of a marriage between his son Jehoram and Ahab’s daughter, Athaliah. This union had catastrophic consequences for both Israel and Judah (See II Kings 11:1-3).
I. Ahab’s Rise to Power (16:29-34)
A. Ahab’s lineage (16:29-30): Omri, Ahab’s father, governed Israel for twelve years, and his son continued the paganism of his forefathers. The text uses familiar words to describe Ahab’s idolatry, “… did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him.” These words, repeated several times in I Kings, become an axiom for terrible sin.
B. Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel (16:31-34): The Phoenicians worshipped Baal, and Jezebel brought her paganism to Samaria. Ahab, eager to please his demanding wife, erected a temple and an altar to honor Baal. Also, with Ahab’s approval, a man named Hiel rebuilt the city of Jericho, and, to assuage the curse on the site, Hiel apparently sacrificed two of his sons to Baal. Some scholars believe Hiel sealed the boys, in clay containers, into the very walls of Jericho.
II. The Prophetic Ministry of Elijah (17:1-19:21)
A. The drought over Israel (17:1-18:46)
1. Elijah at the Brook Cherith (17:1-7): After predicting a terrible drought, Elijah retreated, at God’s direction, to a secluded brook where God miraculously provided for the prophet’s physical needs. Elijah, a native of Gilead, must have known this area, a small wadi that empties into the Jordan River. Eventually, the drought dried up the brook, necessitating Elijah’s removal, at God’s direction, to Zarephath, in Phoenicia.
2. Elijah in Zarephath (17:8-24): God directed the prophet to the home of a poor widow, a home she shared with her son. When Elijah met the woman, her situation was desperate; indeed, she had only a little flour and oil to sustain her starving child. Elijah directed her to make a small cake (perhaps like a small roll of bread) for him, and, of course, she briefly balked at his request. After a momentary hesitation, she roasted the meal for Elijah. According to the text, her faith produced a miraculous, on-perpetual provision for the needy family. After this remarkable event, the poor woman’s son grew ill and died, but Elijah raised the boy, by the power of God.
3. Obadiah’s rescue of the Lord’s prophets (18:1-19): After three years of famine, God directed Elijah to confront Ahab; so, the prophet returned to Israel and contacted the king’s steward, a man named Obadiah (not to be confused with the prophet Obadiah). He was godly man who helped conceal one hundred prophets on whom Jezebel had issued a death warrant. Obadiah served as a liaison between Ahab and Elijah. After some negotiations, Elijah met Ahab and challenged the king’s prophets to a showdown, of sorts.
4. Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal (18:20-40): In a sense, Elijah had already challenged the worship of Baal, the fertility god of the region. Pagans believed the Baals controlled rainfall and fertility of crops and livestock. Three years of drought confronted the Israelite superstitions about the gods. Now, however, the contest reached its climax. The familiar story of Elijah calling down fire from heaven brought an end to the drought and severely crippled Israelite confidence in Baal. The people, moved by the demonstration of God’s power, killed the pagan prophets, near the Brook Kishon (Mount Carmel and Brook Kishon are located near the Mediterranean, in upper Israel).
5. The end of the drought (18:41-46): After the execution of the prophets of Baal, Elijah prayed earnestly, and the rainclouds gathered, thus bringing relief to the parched region.
6. Elijah’s flight from Jezebel (19:1-18): Angered by the execution of her priests, jezebel threatened to kill Elijah; so, the frightened prophet fled to the Sinai wilderness. Elijah’s hoped that God would kill him—apparently he believed God would exercise more mercy than Jezebel. An angel appeared to the prophet and provided the beleaguered man with food and rest; then, in a tremendous act of mercy, God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice. Frankly, Elijah bore some of the marks of depression: a desire for solitude, suicidal thoughts, and self-pity; nevertheless, God showed mercy to the poor, broken man. Even severe depression does not preclude usefulness in the cause of a merciful God. The Lord instructed Elijah to anoint Hazael as king of Israel and Jehu as king of Israel. Also, God told the prophet that 7,000 Hebrews had not bowed down to the Baals—God still had a remnant of people who remained faithful.
7. The call of Elisha (19:19-21): As Elijah set himself to his divinely appointed tasks, he encountered a young farmer named Elisha. By casting his mantel on the young man, Elijah symbolically entrusted Elisha with the work of a prophet. After worshipping God and bidding farewell to his family, Elisha followed Elijah.
III. The Continued Reign of Ahab of Israel (20:1-22:40)
A. War with the Syrians (20:1-43): “Ben Hadad” may have been an honorific title rather than a personal name, and it appears that several Syrian kings bore this title. More than thirty city-states had succumbed to Syria’s aggression, and these vassals allied with Ben Hadad to assail Israel. At first Ahab tried to placate his enemies, but his compliance finally pushed him to the edge of his tolerance. When Ahab resisted, a drunken Ben Hadad moved to attack Israel. Two unnamed prophets directed Ahab’s war efforts, and a matter of months, Israel defeated the Syrians. The critical Battle of Aphek produced horrific Syrian casualties, and Ben Hadad humbled himself before Ahab, in an effort to spare his life. Ahab did spare the Syrian king, but, in doing so, he brought upon himself the judgment of God.
B. The theft of Naboth’s vineyard (21:1-29): A man named Naboth owned a vineyard, in Jezreel, near the king’s palace. Ahab wanted the vineyard for his own uses, but Naboth, honoring his ancestral home, refused to sell the vineyard. Like a spoiled child, Ahab pouted with this rebuff, but Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, took matters in her own hands. She conspired with corrupt officials to bring false charges against Naboth and, after a sham trial, have the man stoned. After Naboth’s murder, Ahab took the land. Elijah, hearing of this terrible injustice, condemned the Israelite king to a violent, disgraceful death. Also, Elijah predicted that dogs would eat the flesh of Jezebel. Horrified by this prediction, Ahab repented of his sin; therefore, according to the text, God postponed his judgment until Ahab’s son became king. Then, God determined to devastate the lineage of Ahab. The king and queen died horribly, but the destruction of Ahab’s family did not take place until the reign of Joram, son of Ahab.
C. Renewed warfare with Syria (21:1-40): Ahab and Jehoshaphat allied against Ben Hadad in hope of recovering land still under Syrian control. Before sealing the alliance Jehoshaphat wanted to consult the prophets, but he distrusted the “prophets” valued by Ahab; so, the king of Judah insisted on hearing from the Prophet Micaiah, a man of integrity. As Ahab anticipated, Micaiah mocked the false messages of the king’s “prophets”; then, in unmistakable terms predicted the defeat of the Israel/Judah alliance. Precisely as Micaiah said, the Syrians routed the Hebrew forces, and Ahab died in battle. Soldiers washed Ahab’s chariot, and the dogs licked the king’s blood.
D. A summary of Jehoshaphat’s monarchy (22:41-50): The passage provides a brief summary of Jehoshaphat’s reign, a reign generally characterized by moral and spiritual reform. However, the king made two serious mistakes: the continuance of the idolatrous high places and his foolish alliance with Ahab.
reign of Ahaziah of Israel (22:51-53): Ahaziah continued the evil ways of his
parents during his two-year reign.