2 Kings 1-3
In chapter 1 we meet Baalzebub. Apparently Baal simply means lord or master, and originally Baalzebul meant lord of the heavenly house. Baalzebub is a derogatory corruption of this. Over time, the name became Beelzebub, and the meaning came to refer to the prince or leader of the devils or demons opposed to God. By the time of Jesus, Beelzebub had become identified with Satan. Setting the god of opponents in a derogatory light was fairly common then, as it is now. (Wikipedia)
So Azaziah becomes injured, and asks Baalzebub if he will recover. Don’t these Israelites ever learn? You know where this is headed…. He has prayed to the wrong god, so he’s doomed. Enter Elijah, who delivers god’s message and smites 102 of Azaziah’s soldiers with death by fire. Nice touch – that’ll prove whose god is the real one. And Azaziah dies. (Notice how often innocent people receive punishment in the bible? Why pick on the soldiers?)
This chapter bears remarkable similarities to stories of Jesus. The more I read about Elijah, the more I believe Jesus is just a copycat, or that New Testament writers ripped off the story to make Jesus seem more divine. Elisha sticks close by Elijah as he nears death, and a group of prophets asks “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?” (v 5) – totally reminiscent of the final scenes between Jesus and his disciples. Elijah uses his cloak to part the Jordan River to cross it (v 8 – now HE’s the copycat). Next, a chariot of fire appears and Elijah is drawn up by a whirlwind into heaven, with Elisha as witness – parallel this with Jesus’ ascension.
But there’s something else going on here – this is the first mention of going to ‘heaven’ in the bible as near as I can figure out. Up until now, all the Hebrew leaders, even the major patriarchs, have simply died and their bones were buried. There has been no mention of any afterlife so far (unless you count the witch of Endor) and no use of the word heaven that I can find. (Almost all references to the heaven in the bible are in the New Testament.) Why is Elijah so special?
After Elijah goes up into the whirlwind, Elisha picks up Elijah’s fallen cloak and is able to duplicate the parting of the river with it (v 14). From this we get the phrase ‘pick up the mantle’, referring to a successor who inherits the power of his mentor. Elisha is pleased with his new powers and tries them out, first on bitter water, and then on a group of boys who mock him (v 23-25). I see two ways to interpret that scene – either Elisha is pure evil, or he is unaware of the strength of his new powers (sort of like young Harry Potter) and the killing is an accident. But in the second interpretation, it would be Yahweh who’s evil for not intervening on the boys’ behalf to prevent the killing. Either way, there’s no moral example in this story.
The whole story of Elijah was set to music by Mendelssohn. It’s great music! (I sang in the chorus when our local symphony orchestra last performed it.)
The horrors continue. Israel is at war with Moab and the troops run out of water. Elisha just conveniently happens to be handy. Why would he be there? He’s certainly not participating in the battle – in fact he tells the Israelites he couldn’t give a damn (v 14). But music calms Elisha (What, in the middle of a desert battle, someone just happens to have a harp? Do you have any idea what those things weigh?), and he tells them that the lord speaks through him and promises water (and victory). A mirage makes the water look like blood to the Moabites, who turn and run. The Israelites rush in to Moab, and based on Elisha’s instructions (which supposedly come from Yahweh), destroy the land and cut down all its trees. That should be a no-no according to the laws of war in Deuteronomy 20: 19-20. Will they be punished for it, or has Yahweh forgotten those old laws by now? The grand finale – the king of Moab, seeing that he is losing – sacrifices his son as a burnt offering, and for some reason that turns the Israelites away and they so home. Why did it freak them out so badly? No explanation is given.