The pink slip; two new kings and a prophet – Friday 10th week in ordinary time – 1 King 19:9a, 11-16 (but I suggest you read till verse 18)

First Kings 19, leaves us with a troubling and tragic picture of the once-great prophet of God, Elijah; now fearful, curved in on himself, faithless, and ultimately disobedient to his call. In today’s first reading we see the decommissioning of a prophet

The narrative so far….

Ahab was a ninth-century king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel and joined her in worshiping Baal. Elijah appeared as the champion of the Lord, announcing a drought. Following the contest between YAHWEH and Baal at Mt. Carmel, which the Lord won, Elijah orchestrated the slaughter of the prophets of Baal
The people of Israel had repented on seeing the prophets of Baal defeated and then put to the sword.

Such a dramatic display should have been enough to finally put an end to idolatry in Israel. The people had endured a three year famine and then this campaign of shock and awe should have at last firmly plant the kingdom of God in the hearts of the Northern Kingdom. But this repentance lasted only until Jezebel found out what happened. No sooner did the Israelites reach Samaria than they turned to Baal once again, and Elijah was forced to flee for his life.

Elijah’s response to this opposition from Queen and people is surprising. Previously he has not hesitated to stand up to King Ahab (17:1; 18:17-18) and to the prophets of Baal, but now he is fearful and flees to Beer-sheba, the southernmost settlement in Judah, well out of reach of Jezebel, queen of Northern Israel.

From Carmel to Horeb…..

Elijah travels forty days and nights through the wilderness and arrives at Horeb where the Lord had appeared to Moses and the Israelites, Horeb” is another name by which Mt Sinai is known. While in the wilderness, Elijah is miraculously provided for by an angel (1 Kings 19:3-8). Arrested by fear of Jezebel’s threats, Elijah sinks deeper and deeper into the depths of unbelief to such a degree that even a powerful theophany, on par with the revelation Moses received on Sinai (see Exodus 34), does not move him from unbelief into faith. Jezebel’s threats and not YAHWEH’S word motivate Elijah’s actions, to the point that Elijah’s career comes to a somewhat anticlimactic and tragic end.

The tragic nature of Elijah’s fall from glory is made all the more apparent when juxtaposed with 1 Kings 18, where Elijah boldly faces down the prophets of Jezebel, insisting upon the primacy of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7).

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