This was the most recent assignment from my Old Testament course. Part One deals with a summation based on literary devices. Part Two deals with interpretive issues or problems with the narrative. Part three discusses timeless theological or applicational principles of the passage. The passage I chose was 1 Kings 19:1-21.
(Use of any part of this critique requires proper citation.)
The narrative of 1 Kings 19:1-21 begins with Ahab, the wicked seventh king of Israel, telling his Baal-worshiping wife, Jezebel, what Elijah had done. Elijah had summoned the prophets of Baal and Asherah to meet him on Mount Carmel. In short, he proved that God was the true god, and he had the prophets of Baal killed. In consideration of the literary device of comparison and contrast, this passage has interesting similarities and differences from the first account of Elijah’s flee from danger in 1 Kings 17:1-24. In the first narrative under consideration, when Jezebel learned of what Ahab attributed to Elijah alone, she threatened to have his life within 24 hours, and the prophet of God who had bravely won a decided victory fell into fear and ran for his life into the wilderness. In 1 Kings 17, Elijah had been directed by God to flee to the Cherith Brook. Here, God sent a raven to provide meat and bread for Elijah during a severe drought in the land. When the drought had dried up the brook, God told Elijah to go to a Gentile widow in Zarephath and there, he provided for the woman. After she was provided for in a miraculous way, she declared that Elijah was a man of God.
In 1 Kings 19, Jezebel’s threat caused Elijah to flee in fear. This prophet of the true God “was caught up in the backwash of a great victory.” (Swindoll, p. 114) He “arose and ran for his life” (vs 3) “The Lord’s response to his servant is one of grace. He twice sent a messenger of his own to provide Elijah with food and drink, for the prophet was physically exhausted. Sustained by the meal, he traveled South once more for 40 whole days until he came to Mt. Horeb.” (Elijah, Bradshaw) For these forty days and nights, he ate nothing as he traveled to the mountain where he hid in the cave. There God directed him in a still, small voice to go and anoint Hazael as king over Syria, Jehu as king over Israel, and Elisha as his replacement as prophet. He also comforted Elijah by telling him that there were still as many as 7,000 loyalists in Israel who had not bowed to Baal. In this, God revealed to Elijah that he did not have to battle the opposition of Jezebel and her idol worshiping entourage alone. Those whom God told him to anoint along with the 7,000 faithful in Israel would work together to defeat the enemy and return Israel to the God of their fathers. The narrative ends with Elijah putting his mantle on Elisha, and Elisha provides for him and becomes his servant and friend, understanding that Elijah is a man of God.
Even more striking than the comparison and contrast of the two flights of Elijah is the intertextuality the narrative about Elijah in 1 Kings 19 has with Moses. In both instances, Israel had succumbed to the worship of idols. (Exo 32, 1 Kings 18:20-24) Both Moses and Elijah fled into the wilderness in fear of their lives. (Exo 2:15, 1 Kings 19:3) Moses fasted for forty days on Mount Horeb as did Elijah as he traveled to the mountain. (Exo 24:18, 1 Kings 19:8) Robert I. Bradshaw compares Exodus 33:22 and 1 Kings 19: 9, stating that Elijah hid in the same cave where Moses stood. (Elijah, Bradshaw) “Moses and Elijah are the only two Hebrew prophets to have a theophony,” or a manifested presence of God. Moses meets with God after Israel sinned with the Golden Calf, and he pleads with God to spare Israel. Elijah complains to God that Israel had once again forsaken the covenant and did not plead with God but expected the people to change. (Messengers of God: a Theological and Psychological Perspective, Reiss) Perhaps the most pointed aspect is the contrast of God speaking to Moses in thunder, earthquake and smoke, and although Elijah saw thunder, earthquake and fire, God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice from the very same mountain. (Exo 19:16-18, 1Kings 19:11-12, Branson, Edlin, and Green, p. 187)
The writer of the book of Kings, according to Bradshaw, considered Elijah a particularly significant prophet to focus their attention on because, " He was the key to the downfall of Jezebel, both by his direct actions (1 Kings 19:1) and by his anointing of others (by the command of Yahweh) for specific tasks (19:15-17, 19-21; 2 Kings 8:7-15). By the time that the chain of events that he had set in motion had been completed, Jezebel and her children were dead and Baal worship had been eradicated from Israel.” (9:14-10:28 Elijah, Bradshaw)
In sharp contrast to his previous faith-filled boldness in the face of opposition, Elijah ran in terror from the death threats of the idol-worshiping queen of Israel. He had recently seen the power and victory of God over the prophets of Baal, and yet, fear overwhelmed him to the point where he lay down under a broom tree and “this mighty man of prayer - mighty enough to make the rain and the dew stop for three and a half years, and then mighty enough to make it start again at his prayer - now he prayed that he might die..” (1 Kings 19-God Encourages Discourages Elijah, Guzik) What could have brought on such a memory lapse? In Elijah’s weakened state, the God of mercy twice sent His angels to provide for Elijah in his despair in the wilderness. Even when God came to Elijah to ask him why he was hiding in the cave at the mountain, he could only respond, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (1Kings 19:10-14) It appears that Elijah was questioning God why he was under such attack when he had been a faithful, zealous servant.
The problem may have begun with the fact that God did not direct Elijah to set up the contest between the prophets of Baal and Asherah and himself. Although God was faithful to give Elijah the victory, it is a question whether or not God’s divine will, or Elijah’s over-zealous stand as the prophet of God was the basis for the show-down. Elijah had originally summoned the prophets of Baal as well as of Asherah, but according to the Scripture, only the prophets of Baal took on Elijah’s challenge. Therefore, the prophets of Asherah survived the slaying to which the prophets of Baal fell. It could be, as Moshe Reiss suggests, that Elijah feared the retribution of Jezebel through her prophets. (Messengers of God: A Theological and Psychological Perspective of Elijah, Reiss)
Another problem could be seen in that before running or even while he was running in fear, Elijah again did not seek God’s direction or assistance. It certainly was not for a lack of experience with God’s direction that Elijah neglected to seek His counsel. According to J. Hampton Keathley, III, it wasn’t merely that Elijah ran or hid in the wilderness. It was that he did so “without God’s direction and without God as his primary shelter.” (The Crisis of Elijah, Keathley)
In his self proclaimed zealousness, it seems that Elijah was willing to go out on a thin limb for the sake of the Lord. Although this is a noble characteristic in itself, to move in his own power and strength left him vulnerable to the threats of a woman who served a false god. Psalm 44:21 says that God knows the secrets of the heart. Elijah may have made faulty decisions but he made them with a heart to serve and prove God, and to turn God’s people back to Yahweh. Because of this, God gave him the victory, provided for him, and showed His faithfulness and protection.
Even in a state of prolonged fear in the wilderness and in the cave at Mount Horeb, God came to Elijah and gave him clear directions that would give Elijah courage and turn even this circumstance to victory over Ahab, Jezebel, and problem of the nation of Israel serving the false gods Jezebel had introduced to the nation.
There are several lasting theological applications to be gained from this passage of Scripture. Elijah is referred to 29 times in the New Testament, therefore, it behooves us to glean important truths from his experiences.
It would certainly be easy to judge Elijah on his failure of faith as he ran from the threats of the wicked Jezebel. How could he turn on his own experiences with the Lord and flee in fear into the wilderness and then hide in a cave? However, Elijah is a man with human characteristics and is not “immune to doubt and fear, yet he receives miraculous answers to prayer.” (Bradshaw) It appears that Elijah mistook his personal ideas to solve the spiritual issue of Israel’s idolatry for God’s will and way to deal with it. Too often, we can make choices to “run ahead of God.” Quoting from a local pastor, “It’s easier to catch up than to clean up.” Taking our own initiatives without direction from God may be well meaning, but may cause us to bear the consequences that come with moving ahead of the perfect will of God. We might see what we would consider an out-of-control circumstance with passion for the Lord, but we must be careful not to confuse our passionate desire or righteous indignation with God’s will. However, God is merciful, and promises that His mercies are “new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:23) He is a God of second chances, giving us plenty of opportunities to succeed in His name. God wasn’t finished with Elijah when he brought the competition to the prophets of Baal or when he ran from Jezebel and her death threats, and God isn’t finished with us regardless of the turns we may take. As he directed Elijah to a final victory over the enemies of God and Israel, He will direct us into victory over every area of our lives.
God showed Himself faithful to Elijah although initially, he neither felt His presence, nor called on God on his own. Elijah had not experienced the kind of victory he expected after the defeat of the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. The ten tribes of Israel did not turn away from idol worship, and Ahab and Jezebel did not forsake their false gods and turn to the one true God. The result of this victory was the prophet of God feeling despondent and in fear for his life. But God knew what Elijah could not yet know. In 1Kings 19:15-18, God revealed to Elijah the 7,000 faithful followers of Yahweh, and those who God had chosen to lead His people. Together, those who remained in God’s camp would finally triumph over the enemies of God and Israel.
God presence followed Elijah in his wilderness and solitary experiences. Hebrews 13:5tells us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. God knows the end from the beginning, and sees the big picture that we are not yet able to see. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith, it is impossible to please God. We must continue to diligently seek Him in all things, especially those things that are beyond our understanding. It pleases God when we can trust Him in every situation and circumstance, remembering what He has done in the past, but more importantly, remembering who He is.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.” As we win the victory over circumstances through Jesus Christ, we are given tools to minister hope to those who are undergoing similar trials. Our triumphs become the hope and subsequent triumph for those to whom God gives us the opportunity to minister.
The narrative of Elijah’s response to a serious death threat and God’s mercy, concern, and care for him through his experiences contain pertinent life lessons that Christians are able to apply. God is faithful to His children despite their missteps, faithlessness, or wanderings. This was proven in Elijah’s life, and is proven in the lives of believers today. When we are able to learn and apply these lessons, we become ministers of hope, healing, and triumph to those who are in the midst of battle.
Bradshaw, Robert I. “Elijah.”; available from www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_elijah.html.
Branson, Robert D, Edlin, Jim, Green, Tim M. Discovering the Old Testament: Story and Faith. Kansas City, KS: Beacon Hill Press, 2003.
Guzik, David. “1 Kings 19-God Encourages Discouraged Elijah.”; available from www.enduringword.com/commentaries/1119.htm. 2004.
Keathley III, J. Hampton. “The Crisis of Elijah.”; available from http://bible.org/seriespage/crisis-elijah-1-kings-19I-14.
Reiss, Moshe. “Messengers of God: A Theological and Psychological Perspective.”; available from www.moshereiss.org/messenger/07_elijah.html.
Swindoll, Charles R, A Man of Heroism and Humility. Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 2000.