1 Kings 18-20
Now we meet a prophet named Obadiah. I had never even heard of him until I participated in the musical Guys and Dolls in high school and learned it was Sky Masterson’s real name. Even then, the name meant nothing to me; we didn’t read this stuff in my church. Obadiah turns out to be the good guy in charge of bad guy Ahab’s palace. Now I know.
Elijah appears at Ahab’s palace and the two exchange insults before Elijah challenges Ahab to a pissing contest: your god vs my god – we’ll see whose god is the real one. This is a great story – picture it with Harry Potter and Voldemort and you’ll get the idea.
The prophets of Baal go first, but they have no luck. Elijah taunts them…. maybe your god is daydreaming, or ‘on a journey’ (v 27 – interpreted in some translations as a euphemism for relieving oneself). Then Elijah prays to Yahweh, and success – fire erupts! (did you doubt it?) Now the people know that Yahweh is the real god, so they slaughter all the prophets of Baal (what else?) And for the grand cinematic finale, Yahweh sends rain to end the drought! I wonder why no one makes challenges like this today. Wouldn’t that settle things once and for all? Jesus vs Allah? Or Vishnu? Here’s the story in Christianese:
Uh oh – Jezebel’s out for revenge because Elijah just killed all her prophets. Elijah flees (v 3). Why does he need to flee? Yahweh just proved his power in the last chapter; so why doesn’t he protect Elijah now? But Elijah ends up in the wilderness, where an angel feeds him on the first day but then provides nothing more for 40 days and 40 nights. Guess Jesus copied that, too. (BTW, human beings die within 2 weeks without water, and that would probably be even quicker in the desert.) Elijah endures a windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire, but finally god speaks to him in a ‘still, small voice’ (v 12) – there’s one of those well-known phrases we get from the KJV – and tells him to appoint Elisha as the next prophet. Elijah finds Elisha and ‘casts his mantle upon him’ (v 19) – a phrase that has come to be a figure of speech, meaning to select or appoint someone. And Elisha, 12 years old, just up and walks away from his field and follows Elijah – creepy or what?
This chapter features another pissing contest. Ahab goes to war with King Ben-hadad of Aram for no good reason, and defeats him. The Aramean army is convinced that the reason they lost is because Yahweh is a god of the mountains, so they want a rematch on the plains. Yahweh decides to prove that he can’t be beat anywhere (v 28), so he flaunts his power by killing 100,000 Arameans in battle, and 27,000 more by a falling wall. Ben-hadad begs mercy and he and Ahab call a truce and reach an agreement.
Meanwhile, Yahweh sics a lion on an innocent man for disobedience (v 35-36), and then sends a prophet to inform Ahab that because he showed mercy to Ben-hadad, he and his whole family are condemned to die. The underlying messages in this book appear to be that Yahweh is the only god, and absolute obedience and faithfulness are required. Mercy and good deeds count for nothing.