Good morning! Today in 1 Kings 18-19 we have several impressive and memorable stories about the prophet Elijah—his challenge to the prophets of Baal, and his experience of God in “the sound of sheer silence.” The first story shows us an attempt to win people’s loyalty through proof, and the second shows God’s presence not in that which is fearsome but in that which is intimate.
Elijah has been hiding from Ahab all the three years of drought, but God tells him to speak with Ahab at last. The servant Obadiah’s conversation with Elijah shows just how fiercely Ahab has searched for Elijah, leaving Obadiah in mortal fear of even mentioning the prophet’s name. The confrontation between Elijah and Ahab leads to a mighty challenge—proof of whose God is really worthy of worship. The jury (and the prize) is all the people who gather to see what will happen between 450 prophets of Baal and the lone man Elijah. The Baal prophets are not rewarded with fire from heaven for their offering, and even when Elijah makes his offering dripping wet his prayer brings fire from heaven. This convinces the people, who capture the prophets of Baal and Elijah kills them all. Heavy rain comes, ending the drought at last. While this story is impressive and memorable, I’m not sure it’s a helpful story in the long term. The supernatural demonstration doesn’t persuade the people forever. That’s the problem with putting God to the test—sooner or later something else persuades us that our memories of divine deliverance are false.
In chapter 19, Jezebel’s threat on Elijah’s life makes him forget God’s protection, which has saved him many times before. Elijah flees out into the wilderness and prepares to die there. It takes an angel awakening him not once but twice to partake of heavenly food before he has courage to go on. He then journeys for 40 days/nights to Mount Horeb (aka Sinai), where he experiences God’s presence up close and personal. Perhaps the tenderness of God is what’s most memorable here. God shows up not in fierce wind, earthquake or fire, but in the intimacy of sheer silence. This is where frightened Elijah can start to truly hear God again. Contrasting this with the fearful fire from heaven in the last chapter, I’m left wondering whether pyrotechnics are good for magic acts and flashy displays, but they don’t go deep into a person’s soul. Perhaps it takes time, stillness and reflection for human beings to truly sense God’s presence and guidance. Regardless, in the stillness Elijah hears God’s marching orders—anoint an Aramean king (curious all by itself), then anoint successors to King Ahab and to himself. We see Elisha’s immediate response at the end of the chapter. While Elijah’s impressive display against the Baal prophets persuaded a multitude to fear God and God’s prophet, it’s the intimacy implied by a mantle thrown over the shoulder that invites Elisha to let his life be changed in service to God. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Kings 20-21. Thanks for reading!