The Prophet Series: Elijah, part 1Posted: Fri. Nov, 11 2016
Prophet series: Elijah, part 1
It can be difficult to keep the history of Israel straight in your mind, and what makes it even harder is the national split after Solomon's reign. You have to keep memory of two histories. One thing that you can know for sure is that the northern ten tribes, who adopted the name "Israel" for themselves, were constantly in apostasy. In the north, the worship of Jehovah was scarce. Our God, whom we know to be incredibly patient, answers their deep apostasy with a great extension of prophetic order to keep alive the knowledge of Jehovah in the land. Into this order with an unparalleled display of power and miracles steps the prophet Elijah. He will clearly reveal the vainness of idols and the authority that God had given His messengers. Since the revelation of Elijah's history and works is quite extensive in the Bible, we will reveal him in several parts.
First however, we must remind ourselves of the political and social affairs in Judah and Israel. Our actors cannot fully reveal their parts without first setting the stage of their nation and the lives of those who occupied it. In the south, Judah, the monarchy is always "in the family." The throne always passes from father to son to grandson and so on. This is not true in the north, Israel. This blog will focus on the north so we will leave your refresher history of Judah to the next blog. (I know you're teaming with anticipation)
Israel's first king after the split was Jeroboam. Jeroboam was told he would be king by the prophet Ahijah and was also promised that he would prosper if he followed Jehovah and warned that the exact opposite would be true if he didn't. Well, he didn't. He worshipped false gods as a pagan and his son and successor Nadab followed directly in his footsteps. Nadab was then killed in a military coup headed by the general Baasha who succeeded in murdering all of Nadab's family, making sure that no one could challenge his reign. Little did Baasha know that he was setting an actual political trend. Military revolutions, in which the favorite of the soldiery would ascend the throne of Israel by the murder of the predecessor followed by the extirpation of all rivals who might have claims to the throne became the norm for politics in Israel. It's not a big leap to conclude that this is a very dangerous precedent. Henceforth, the throne of Israel was occupied by a series of military adventurers whose life did not extend beyond their immediate successors.
The following might seem like an episode of Game of Thrones (without the nudity) but this is the real history of the northern kingdom of Israel. It is sad to look at it while knowing and loving the covenant that God made with Abraham and knowing all of the struggle and effort that it took to get Israel in possession of this wonderful land. But alas, man is man.
Baasha's son Elah succeeded the throne. In two years he was murdered in a military coup. Elah was a cowardly and lascivious man who organized and participated in orgies (ok, some nudity) while his army was out on the battlefield. While he was at a friend's house getting drunk, a military commander named Zimri conspired against him, killed him, took the throne, and killed his entire family. It was prophesied by Jehu that Baasha's entire family would be eliminated and here it comes to pass, 1KI 16:1-4.
Zimri's rule lasted all of seven days since he wasn’t exactly the army's favorite leader. (This is why we elect a president through the electoral college in America and not by popular vote) The army prefers Omri who marches against Zimri at the city of Tirzah. Zimri retreated to the only available "safe space," the citadel of the palace, which didn't turn out to be very safe at all, and he set it on fire and perished in the flames. That's a heck of a week for Zimri, like a really bad spring break.
Omri ruled for 12 years. Not much is stated about him or his life, but he did build a new capital. Omri bought the hill of Samaria and built the new capital city of Israel, Samaria. Situated about the center of the land, six miles north-west of Shechem, it occupied a commanding hill, rising from a broad valley, and surrounded on all sides by mountains, through which there was only a narrow entrance from the west. Thus the site of the new capital, which was distinguished by great beauty, was singularly adapted both for observation and defense. The country around was very rich, and the place well supplied with water. A more suitable spot could not have been chosen.
I want you to try and picture Samaria, such a beautiful and well fortified city on a grand hill, walled all around and containing a striking and ornate palace that is filled with well dressed and wealthy people of culture and prestige. I want you to picture the minds of the people that live there, but you must know that they are worshippers of Baal, the sun-god, and his female counterpart Astarte, the moon-goddess. They are intellectuals and cultured but they are also base lovers of lasciviousness. They are selfish and immoral but they think and behave as if they possess the secrets of existence itself. They enjoy fine food and wine as well as strong drink concoctions. They think themselves enlightened sexually and they place sex and fertility at the center of almost everything they do. On a regular schedule they walk up one of the designated hills to bring offerings and burn incense to public statues of Baal and Astarte. They have their own smaller idols in their homes situated on their own altars upon which various offerings are laid and incense is burned. They do this to ensure their prosperity, which they now experience since they have been living in peace and abundance for several years. Did you forget that they are Jews living in the Promised Land?
Now I want you to picture a single man from the wilds of Gilead. He is covered in an upper garment of black camel hair and is girt around his loins with a leather belt, all worn by time and weather as are his skin and shoes. His dress betokens poverty, renunciation of the world, mourning, and stern judgment. He has the look of a man who travels long distances on foot through deserts and over mountains. He is thin, muscle hardened, and somewhat dirty and worn. He has no entourage. He is alone. He carries a small pack containing a few necessities. One has to wonder how he can travel so far on such provisions. He has come from afar and he slowly and unhurriedly approaches the new city of Samaria, capital of Israel, rich and luxurious. He has walked through the gates where the people gather and markets and bazaars are open for the day. Everywhere there is commotion, vendors clamoring for attention. All things are for sale, aromas fill the air with cooking meats and sweet delights, a million calories are on display. Bright fabrics gently moving in the breeze, made with dyes that have come from east and west. Into all of this walks our quiet and purposeful traveler, into the beautiful Samaria. But he is not here to buy something or to find rest for his wearied and dry feet. He is headed towards the palace in which the priests of Baal, effeminate, decrepit, wearing white linen garments and high-pointed bonnets will stare in disbelief at this stern and powerful man. Heads are turned toward him. Whispers are heard, gasps, mocking laughter, but he does not turn to look at them, for he is to go to the palace to actually address the king face to face with a message. He will not address the king as the king's subject or inferior, for he knows that he is not. His humble appearance in the midst of the extravagance and finery of the kings court will not bother him one bit. In fact, he has brought a harsh message for the king and he will deliver it with the harshness that his master first gave it to him. He is the prophet of Jehovah. He is Elijah.
However, it won't be Omri that Elijah is calling on, the builder of the city, but his son Ahab. This is the king of Israel that would marry the infamous Jezebel. She would become the true ruler of Israel and she would consolidate the worship of Baal and Astarte (Ashtoreth in the Bible) as the established religion of Israel. In our next blog we will see her rise to power through her marriage to Ahab and her stance against Jehovah. It is going to be Ahab, Jezebel, Baal, and Israel vs. Jehovah, and Jehovah is going to use a man Elijah to whom He will gift wisdom and power.
The kings of Israel: Of Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Aimri, and Omri the scripture has one thing to say. They walked in the way and in the sin of Jehoboam wherewith he made Israel sin, to provoke Jehovah, the God to Israel to anger. While the truth was uncommon in Israel during these years, about 57 years, Ahab and Jezebel passionately took it upon themselves to fully extinguish it, and God through great love for His people responded with a great order or prophetic knowledge and power. He will never abandon His people, and He will judge those who oppose Him, for Ahab and Jezebel will one day see that taking the battlefield against Jehovah is only an act of self-destruction.
In the name of our faithful God and Savior,
Pastor Joe Sugrue
Grace and Truth Ministries