Reflection 30th June: 1 Kings 19:1-18

So this is our fifth week in our series on Kings.

 

We have reflected on the paradoxical King Solomon, who was known for his great building projects and wisdom but also his extreme wealth and excessive number of wives, chariots ships, slaves and gold. These he obtained contrary to the limitations on royal authority given in Deuteronomy that explicitly states that a king shall not amass these things.

 

We have reflected on his son Rehoboam who succeeded him. Rehoboam was presented the opportunity to change the relationship between the monarchy and its subjects by lightening the burden his father had placed on them. Despite the wise counsel of the elders who advised him to do this, he did not. He chose instead to follow the counsel of the yes men he had surrounded himself with. So the people led by Jeroboam revolted and the Kingdom splits into the Northern Kingdom of Israel led by Jeroboam and the Southern Kingdom of Judah led by Rehoboam. These kings and the kings to follow all did evil in the sight of the Lord.

 

We have reflected on the story of Elijah, the prophet who comes to pronounce the beginning of an indefinite drought because of the evils of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. King Ahab is the 7th King of the Northern Kingdom in 60 years. He is of no relation to Jeroboam due to various revolts against the king.

 

After this announcement God sends Elijah to hide in the wilderness where he is fed by ravens. He is not though immune to the drought and when the wadi he has been drinking from dries up, God2 tells him to go Zarephath in Sidon, the home country of Queen Jezebel herself, to be fed by a widow. Despite her extreme poverty, the unnamed widow helps him. Because of her generosity and God’s provision the prophet survives.

 

Elijah also revives the widow’s son from death.

 

In the third year of the drought the word of the Lord again comes to Elijah and tells him to return to King Ahab to tell him that the drought is to be broken. However, Elijah does much more than just this. Elijah decides to set up a contest between himself and the prophets of Baal. Two bulls are laid on wood. The prophets of Baal are to call on Baal and Elijah is to call on the Lord and the one who answers with fire is indeed God.

 

The   prophets  of      Baal go    first. They pray and dance and even cut themselves but there is “no voice, no     answer, and no response.”

 

Then comes Elijah’s  turn. He builds  the  altar of Yahweh, with twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. He then drenches his sacrifice with water and calls on the Lord. And ‘Boom!’ Fire comes down and consumes the offering.

 

The drama ends with the people returning to the Lord, the prophets of Baal are killed, and the drought ends.

 

And today we reflect on that and what happens after.

 

Ahab goes home and he tells his wife, the Queen, Jezebel what Elijah has done and Jezebel promises to take revenge on Elijah for the killing of the prophets of Baal by also killing him.

 

Queen Jezebel, is arguably considered the most depraved person in the Hebrew Scriptures. She, like Eve, is often blamed for the faults of her husband. She is often portrayed as a temptress who corrupted her husband and the people of Israel.

 

Throughout the centuries her name has been used to shame and silence women. White slaveowners regularly justified their sexual abuse of enslaved women by insisting that black women were jezebels, that is, naturally promiscuous and tempting.

 

Women in the church who have demonstrated leadership skills, professed a sense of calling or dared to ask questions, open themselves up to the accusation of having a Jezebel spirit.

 

This Jezebel spirit is also provides a nice churchy way of blaming women for adultery and unfaithfulness.

 

In preparation for this sermon I came across the 2017 book “How to get the Jezebel Spirit Out of Your Church, Home and Bedroom.”

 

And just this year Mark Driscoll was kicked off stage of the Stronger Men’s Christian Conference after he called the sword-swallowing act ‘a strip club for women who have the jezebel spirit.” I don’t even know where to start with all the problems with that sentence.

 

Now, I am not trying to justify Jezebel. She is clearly a malicious, conniving, and murderous character. But is she really that much worse than so many others including her husband. In fact here she is only doing what the revered prophet Elijah himself did. He took the lives of the prophets of Baal and now she wants to take his life.

 

And so Elijah flees from her, again into the wilderness. And despite his very recent win against the prophets of Baal he is despondent and he asks God to end his life. Why? He says it because he is no better than his ancestors. We can only speculate as to what he is referring to when he says this (it does not say) but I wonder if it has anything to do with his own revenge killings (that it is worth noting were not in response to the word of the Lord). Nor were they due to a so called Jezebel’s influence on him. They were Elijah’s own initiative. Perhaps Elijah was doing battle with himself about this.

 

However, the Lord does not end his life. Rather an angel comes and feeds Elijah, who then makes his way to Mt Horeb where he again encounters God. Mt Horeb is an alternative name for Mt Sinai.

 

As we discussed last week Elijah, and the prophets before and after him, are deeply rooted in the memory of the exodus story of liberation and the tradition of Moses and Sinai where God gives the 10 commandments to the Hebrew people and they promise to be God’s covenant people by following these commandments. And so it would make sense that Elijah makes his way to this mountain. But God asks him, “what are you doing here Elijah?”

How we understand this question depends on where and how we place the emphasis. Some have claimed God is rebuking Elijah, others think it is a genuine question. Elijah answers, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

 

I imagine Elijah was looking for some sort of affirmation from God for this. Who can blame him? I could be wrong about this but I imagine I am not the only one who has ever tried to make some kind of deal with God based on my own righteousness.

 

However, God refuses to play this game. Rather than affirming Elijah’s self proclaimed zealousness God tells Elijah “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

 

And then, as was read, a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of sheer silence, sometimes translated as the still, small voice or a whisper.

 

I love this.

 

I love this so much because this has God has mostly come to me.

 

But this story in its context is warning to me to assert this is the only way that God comes.

 

This encounter with God is quite different to Moses encounter on this same mountain. In Exodus 20 the Lord descended on Mt Sinai in fire. There was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud and a very loud trumpet blast. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, that billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.

 

It is also quite different to Elijah’s encounter with God in last week’s passage on Mt Carmel in which God also comes as fire.

 

It seems God does sometimes come as fire and earthquakes and wind.

 

It is also however, a warning to those who assume, perhaps as Elijah had started to do, that every fire or earthquake or wind is God reaping out divine punishment. A reminder that perhaps not all zealousness  is of God.

 

In the face of disaster Christians and secular people alike can find themselves glibly declaring, “everything happens for a reason.

 

Perhaps this story asserts that everything happens for many different reasons. Sometimes it is indeed God. Sometimes there is some lesson we must learn. But other times perhaps it is natural occurrences, or our own good or poor choices, or climate change, or even evil forces we know little about.

 

All this to say we need to be exceedingly careful when we are tempted to, “the Bible says. . .” because more often than not the Bible also says. . .

 

Like Elijah, we need to be ever discerning.

 

This is not the easy. It would be so much easier if there was one, clear and obvious right way and explanation for every situation. But this would not be true to the world. And truth I think matters.

 

It is hard to establish what Elijah himself discerns from all this. For when God asks him again he gives the exact same answer.

 

And God tells him to return the way that he has come. To anoint new kings over Israel and Judah along with the prophet Elisha who will take his place.

 

God also reminds he is in fact not the only one left. That there are indeed 7,000 others. Is this also a warning to him and all those who think they and their tribe are the only ones left, the last defenders of truth in hostile world against whom they must fight no matter what it takes?

 

Has he perhaps learned nothing?

 

Or has Elijah perhaps began to glimpse the possibility of another way, a way that is contrary to his own violent and self-righteous responses? Has he begun to recognise himself as no better or      no worse than others and perhaps start to look a little bit harder, a little bit wider for those who might also be God messengers? Will he be able to experience God as silence and worship as the fruit of a humble spirit and a broken and contrite spirit?

 

Will we?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflection 14th July: 1 Kings 21

So this is the sixth week in our series on Kings. For 4 of those weeks we have concentrated on Elijah and his prophetic witness.