The pink slip; two new kings and a prophet – Friday 10th week in ordinary time – 1 King 19:9a, 11-16

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).

Elijah’s life descends from fear into disobedience. Twice Yahweh asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (19:9 &13). The short answer would be, “running away from Jezebel,” but that’s not what the prophet says. His answer has three parts (19:10). He vouches for himself to God. He has been seriously and actively committed to the Lord’s cause. He ‘reminds’ God that the Israelites had forsaken His covenant, thrown down His altars, and killed His prophets with the sword and that now only he, Elijah, was faithful and for this Jezebel sought to take his life.

When you examine what Elijah said, he did place some facts but not entirely. He is not the only one left who is loyal to YAHWEH. In fact, Elijah was largely responsible for leading many Israelites to repentance (see 1 Kings 18:38). And what about Obadiah, about whom the text says, he “revered the Lord greatly” (1 Kings 18:3)? We also know that a remnant of 7000 in Israel did not bend the knee to Baal (1 Kgs 19:18). Blinded by fear, Elijah is unable to see YAHWEH’S work on Mt. Carmel and elsewhere. He clings to Jezebel’s words rather than to YAHWEH’s words. This is what fear does to us.

Elijah’s lament was met with an unexpected response. Elijah is given three charges; to anoint Hazael as king of Aram (Syria). Anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel (the Northern Kingdom); and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat as Elijah’s replacement. This new wave of divine agents will finish the bloody religious crusade Elijah began in 1 Kings 18
But in all this we also see something entirely new. For the first time in the Old Testament, a foreign king is to be anointed, the king of Aram or Syria. This king will come against Israel. This is the moment when God began to raise up the nations against his own people. The exile had begun.

Does Elijah actually obey God in these matters? Yes and no. Elijah does throws his mantle on Elisha, who becomes his attendant (1 Kings 19:19-21). There is however an alternate ‘mantle account’ in 2 Kings 2:1-18, which likely comes from a different source that casts Elijah’s departure from the prophetic office more positively. But when it comes to anointing the kings, it is Elisha who commissions Hazael (2 Kings 8:3-15), not Elijah, and Elisha who anoints Jehu (2 Kings 9:1-10), again, not Elijah.

Elijah’s career climaxed on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18), only to plummet on Mt. Sinai (1 Kings 19). As gloomy as it may sound, 1 Kings 19 is the story of Elijah’s decommissioning, and of God’s choice to use another more willing servant.

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