Week 15 – God’s Messengers

Scripture Reading:  1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 2, 4, 6; Amos 1, 3-5, 9; Hosea 4-5, 8-9, 14

Significant Moments in The Story

Elijah challenges Baal and his prophets on Mt. Carmel – 1 Kings 18:17-40

God reveals Himself to Elijah on Mt. Horeb – 1 Kings 19

Elijah carried up by the chariot of fire – 2 Kings 2

Elisha saves Israel from attack from Aram – 2 Kings 6

Key Themes

A chain of bad kings in Israel

After Solomon’s death and the split of the nation of Israel into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Biblical narrative becomes an interweaving of stories of the reigns of the kings in the two kingdoms.  Each king is judged within the Scripture based on their own faithfulness to God and how they lead the people to worship the one God.  The kings of the northern kingdom of Israel are judged most harshly, beginning with Jeroboam, who built golden calves for his people to worship so that they would not travel to Judah and Jerusalem to worship.  After Jeroboam came Nadab (1 Kings 15:25-31), Baasha (1 Kings 15:32-16:6), Elah (1 Kings 16:8-14), Zimri (1 Kings 16:15-20), Omri (1 Kings 16:21-28), and Ahab, who is prominent in the stories of Elijah.  Under each king, Israel grows more and more distant from God, causing God to call out individuals to bring messages of conviction and warning to the kings and to the people.

The prophets

Though we have seen other individuals (such as Samuel and Nathan) who have been identified as prophets, Elijah is the first of what might be considered the prophetic movement that makes up such a large part of the Old Testament.  Whereas earlier prophets seemed to have strong connections with the king and his court, Elijah and those prophets that follow after him often stand outside of the royal palace with a message not only for the king but for all of the people.  We often associate the message of the prophets with predictions of the future.  However, the main theme of the prophets was to point out Israel’s sins, to express God’s anger at Israel’s unfaithfulness, and to call Israel back to a right relationship with God before their choices led to horrible consequences.  As opposed to the former prophets who were often welcomed into the king’s presence, many of the prophets like Elijah and those who followed after him would be rejected and even hunted by the kings who sat on the throne.

 

Background Information

Elijah

Very little is known about Elijah prior to his abrupt introduction in 1 Kings 17:1.  We know that he was from Gilead in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  How he came to be called as a prophet is unknown.  His prophetic work took place during the reigns of King Ahab and his son Ahaziah.

Elijah’s prophetic ministry centered on combating the worship of Baal in Israel.  This particular Baal worship, according to 1 Kings, had been introduced into Israel by Ahab’s wife Jezebel, who was from Tyre.  According to 2 Kings 10:18, Ahab offered Baal “small service”, perhaps indicating that he did not completely abandon the worship of Yahweh.  The Anchor Bible Dictionary points out that all 3 of Ahab’s sons’ names contained a form of the divine name of Yahweh.  However, he clearly allowed and participated in the worship of other gods besides Yahweh, a direct breaking of the covenant.  In 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah asks the people, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?”  Elijah’s prophetic message was centered on proclaiming that Yahweh was the one and only God.  Perhaps the best summary of his teaching comes in the prayer he prays on Mt. Carmel in 1 Kings 18:36:  “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

In 1 Kings 18, Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a contest.  A famine has existed over the land for some time as punishment for Israel’s lack of complete devotion to God.  Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to meet him on top of Mt. Carmel to see whose god can bring fire down upon on altar for a sacrifice.  The challenge is intended to not only reveal God’s superiority but to reveal the foolishness of any other god.  Indeed, the portrayal of the prophets of Baal is comical, and Elijah himself mocks them and Baal.  In short, Elijah is trying to reveal the idiocy of following any god other than Yahweh, the God of Israel.

In 2 Kings 2:11, we are told that Elijah is carried into heaven by a whirlwind.  Because Elijah did not die, over time an expectation grew that Elijah would someday return.  The prophet Malachi would give voice to this expectation in Malachi 4:5-6, when he announced that God would send Elijah before the day of the LORD.  When Elijah came, Malachi said, he would cause the people to repent and turn back to God.  This expectation of Elijah’s return would become an integral part of the gospel accounts of Jesus, as Elijah is seen on the mount of Transfiguration and John the Baptist is identified with Elijah.

 

Elisha

In 1 Kings 19, a depressed Elijah meets with God on top of Mt. Horeb.  There God gives Elijah instructions, which includes anointing Elisha as his successor.  It is Elisha who will ultimately carry out the instructions that God gives to Elijah.

Elisha seems to have come from wealth, based on what we read in 1 Kings 19:19-21.  The fact that he had twelve oxen and that he throws a lavish feast for the people of his town before he leaves with Elijah indicates that he was from a family of means in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Elisha’s prophetic work begins at the end of the reign of King Ahab and spans the reigns of Ahaziah, Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Joash.  All of these kings except for Jehu are remembered as evil for failing to turn to the worship of the one God.  Jehu is praised for wiping out the worship of Baal from Israel.  However, he failed to tear down the golden calves that King Jeroboam had built.

Though we see Elijah perform several miracles, the Biblical account of Elisha focuses heavily on the miracles that he performs.  Many of the miracles are miracles of provision or healing, revealing God as caring about the needs of people – providing for the family of the Shunammite woman, removing the poison from a pot of stew, feeding a town facing famine, curing an Aramean general, even recovering an ax head lost in the river.  Elisha’s miracles make all the more heartbreaking the overall turning from God that we see taking place under each of the kings of Israel.  While God’s heart is open to his people, their hearts are becoming more closed to God and to His prophet Elisha.

As a prophet, Elisha also instigates the revolution that would ultimately take down the family of Ahab.  In 2 Kings 9, Elisha sends a young prophet to anoint Jehu, a commander in the army, as the new king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Following this event, Jehu leads a revolt that kills King Joram (son of Ahab) of Israel, King Ahaziah of Judah, and Jezebel.  As Samuel and Nathan before him and as Isaiah and Jeremiah after him, Elisha stands as a prophet whose message is not just a spoken word but taking an active part in shaping Israel’s history according to the will of God.

 

Amos

Jeroboam II would follow Joash to the throne of Israel.  His reign in Israel would be long and peaceful, and Israel would know expansion and prosperity that it would never know again in its history under Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-27).  Many within Israel seem to have interpreted this peace and prosperity as a sign of God’s favor, perhaps because they have given extravagant support to the official worship of Yahweh.

Amos was a shepherd from the small Judean village of Tekoa who God calls to come to the Northern Kingdom with a message of denunciation.  The two primary themes of Amos’ message are justice and righteousness – “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).  When Amos speaks of righteousness, he is speaking of the willingness to act with benevolence towards another person. Justice is, therefore, the willingness of a society to treat all people with righteousness, not just a few.  According to Amos, righteousness and justice are lacking in Israel, a sign that they are failing to live up to the expectations of a people in a covenant relationship with God (Amos 3:1-2).  Amos lays a harsh blame upon the priests of Israel, believing that the worship life of Israel is calling the people to complacency rather than righteousness and justice (Amos 4:1-5).

Amos mentions specifically Bethel and Gilgal as the root of Israel’s sins (Amos 4:4, 5:5).  Bethel and Gilgal had special significance for Israel’s covenant relationship with God.  Bethel was where God appeared to Jacob in a dream and promised to give him the land on which he slept (the vision of the heavenly stairway, Genesis 28:13).  Gilgal was where Joshua and the children of Israel established a monument of 12 stones to remind later generations that God had dried up the waters of the Jordan River so that Israel could cross into the Promised Land (Joshua 4:20-24).  These two places had become centers for the worship for God, yet it seems that the worship that is taking place there is not worship that calls the people to be God’s people.  The issue for Amos is not so much the worship of other gods as worship that does not provoke the justice and righteousness that should be expected of God’s people.

 

Hosea

Though Hosea’s ministry probably took place simultaneous to or soon after the prophetic ministry of Amos, the circumstances of his ministry and message are very different.  Unlike Amos, Hosea was from the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Little is known about Hosea’s personal life other than the details of his marriage and children that are a part of his prophetic message.  While he addresses Israel’s worship life as Amos did, his concern is much more for the rituals of worship.

Hosea’s message is filled with language of sexuality, prostitution, and adultery.  This is very intentional, as Hosea is proclaiming that Israel, in how it worships, is betraying God (Hosea 4:1).  The problem may not be the worship of gods other than Yahweh; instead, it seems that Israel is trying to worship God with rituals taken from the worship of Baal, including temple prostitution and drunken orgies (Hosea 4:10-14).

Though the promise of grace and restoration is not unique to Hosea, it is perhaps most eloquently stated by Hosea.  The language of betrayal and adultery conveys both the depth of God’s anger (Hosea 11:1-7, 13:1-16) and the power when that anger relents because of God’s love (Hosea 11:8-11, 14:1-9).  Hosea’s message is that mankind’s sin does not wipe away God’s eternal love.

 

Some Questions That Might Come Up

What is it exactly that is taking place on Mt. Horeb in 1 Kings 19?

Elijah is fleeing for his life from Jezebel, who has sworn to kill him after he slaughters the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).  Elijah is praying and asking God to kill him.  Instead, God gives him something to eat and drink and tells him to go to Mt. Horeb to meet with Him.

On the mountain, Elijah is told that the LORD is going to appear to him.  Soon after, there is a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but the Scripture says the LORD was not present in any of these events.  This is significant because these occurrences were often signs of God’s presence. In Genesis 1:2, we are told that a “wind from God” moved over the face of the waters.  In Exodus 3, the burning bush is a sign of God’s presence before Moses.  In Exodus 19:18, Mt. Sinai shakes and trembles as God appears to Israel on the mountain.  That none of these indicates the presence of God is defying of expectation and a cue that we need to keep alert for God’s presence to show up in new and unexpected ways.

Depending on what translation you are reading, Elijah next hears either “a still small voice” or “the sound of sheer silence”.  The second translation is the more accurate translation of the Hebrew; however, the text would indicate to us that Elijah hears something.  It could be that it was a gentle whisper or perhaps the text is indicating that what Elijah hears is what we could describe as “the calm after the storm”.  In any case, the text is contrasting the roar and loudness of the wind, earthquake and fire with the stillness that now follows and is the indicator of God’s presence.

This text refuses to lock us in to only looking for God in certain ways and actions.  God can work and appear in the grand, majestic and loud or in the still, hushed and quiet.

 

Additional Resources

http://www.vtaide.com/gleanings/Kings-of-Israel/kings.html – a listing of the kings of Israel and Judah

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