July 13, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: The story of the prophet Elijah

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in the Office of Readings next week tell us about the prophet Elijah, one of the most important men in the Old Testament. They begin with the final five verses of Chapter 16 of the First Book of Kings.

Elijah devoted his life to proving the sovereignty of Israel’s God over foreign gods. His adversary was Jezebel, who controlled her husband, King Ahab, “who did evil in the sight of the Lord more than any of his predecessors” (1 Kgs 16:30). Jezebel was the daughter of the king of Sidon in modern Lebanon. She worshipped the god Baal.

Baal was the Canaanite god of fertility so Elijah had to demonstrate that the Lord, not Baal, controlled the weather. He proclaimed to Ahab that there would be no rain, and a drought ensued. During the drought, he went first across the Jordan River, where he was fed by ravens. Then he traveled to Zarephath in Sidon, where a widow provided for him miraculously. He also brought a boy back to life while he was there.

Then Elijah returned to Israel and met with Ahab. He told Ahab to assemble the people of Israel and the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Chapter 18 tells us about the great confrontation there. Baal’s prophets were unable to call down fire from heaven to start their sacrificial fire, but Elijah’s Lord did so.

With the people proclaiming, “The Lord is God!” (1 Kgs 18:39), Elijah slit the throats of the 450 prophets.

Then, knowing that Jezebel would try to kill him, Elijah fled Israel and went to Judah. He continued on for 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb, where Moses had received the Ten Commandments. The 40 days and nights correspond to the 40 years the Israelites were in the desert. At Mount Horeb, he heard the word of God, not in the wind, an earthquake or fire, but in a small whispering voice.

Next week’s readings then jump ahead to the story of Ahab coveting the vineyard of Naboth, and Jezebel arranging to have Naboth killed so Ahab can take the vineyard. As he was doing so, he met Elijah, who predicted that God would punish him. Dogs would lick up his blood, he said. Ahab repented.

Chapter 22 tells us of the battle in which Ahab is killed, his blood draining into his chariot. When it is washed, dogs licked up the blood.

Next week’s readings conclude with Chapter 2 of the Second Book of Kings, the story of Elijah being assumed into heaven and his spirit passing on to Elisha. This reading has Elijah parting the waters of the Jordan River as Moses had the sea in Exodus. Elisha duplicates this feat.

In the New Testament, the Synoptic Gospels tell us that the people identified John the Baptist with Elijah. At Jesus’ transfiguration, the three Apostles see him talking with Elijah and Moses.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus referred to both Elijah and Elisha after his rejection at Nazareth (Lk 4:25-27). St. Paul refers to Elijah in his Letter to the Romans (Rom 11:2). †

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