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Monday, October 19, 2015

But When Will Elijah Come Into It?

So many prophets, so many names, so many missing books: I hope you're enjoying our trip through the prophets as much as I am, and I'm sure we'll soon come to names more familiar from lists of books in the Bible. This week we're going to meet a familiar prophet without a book of his own - is that like a minister without portfolio in the British government?

(5) More Prophets, Priests and Kings

We usually think of the Northern Kingdom as being “more evil” than the Southern after Israel splits. Read 1 Kings 14:22-25 and see if you think that’s true. What parts of the modern world do we consider more evil? Should we?

After the split, many priests return from the North to the (Southern) Temple, as might be expected. Those who return write Chronicles, which characterizes priesthood as vitally important, and the North as comprehensively evil. Read 2 Chronicles 11:13-17. Do we try to twist things into simple good and evil when the world’s really more complicated?

Shishak of Egypt attacks and removes Solomon’s golden treasures from the Temple, making Judah subservient to Egypt, prophesied by Shemaiah. Read 2 Chronicles 12:5-8.  Is subservience evil? Rehoboam replaces the treasures with bronze, hiding the loss (2 Chronicles 12:9-10, 1 Kings 14:26-27).  What losses do we, our countries, or our churches try to hide?

Rehoboam’s son Abijam is the next king of Judah, followed by Abijam’s son Asa. War continues between Israel and Judah, and prophets continue to speak. Read 2 Chronicles 13:21-22. Iddo continued to write too!  Asa restores the treasures to the Temple, but worship continues on high places – sometimes worship of God; sometimes worship of false gods. God doesn’t seem to hate high places (in Kings anyway: 1 Kings 15:11-15). Can compromise be the right answer?

Meanwhile in Israel, Jeroboam is succeeded by his son Nadab who is killed by Baasha. Baasha destroys the whole royal family, following the traditions of the time and fulfilling the prophesy of Ahijah (1 Kings 14:10-11). Is fulfilling prophesy necessarily a good thing? What about Christians wanting to bring about the End Times by helping Israel today?

Judah is under attack from the South, but triumphs over the Ethiopian army. The prophet Azariah offers God’s support (2 Chronicles 15:1-7), and Asa’s reforms in Judah attract more priests from the North, further provoking Israel. The two kingdoms are at war. Israel stretches the boundaries and builds a fortress at Ramah, so Asa uses Temple treasures to buy aid from Ben-Hadad, the Syrian king in Damascus (1 Kings 15:18-19). When Israel is attacked in the North by Ben-Hadad, the Israelite army retreats from the South and Judah retakes its land.
Do you think any prophets might have spoken out against Asa’s behavior? Read 2 Chronicles 16:7, 9-10. Which other prophets (besides Hanani) do you remember suffering in prison? What messages might modern prophets take risks for?

The prophet Jehu (son of the Southern prohopet Hanani) speaks out against Baasha in the North. Baasha’s son Elah succeeds him. Zimri, a commander in his army, takes a random opportunity to kill him and rebel (1 Kings 16:1-3, 12, 18) then kills himself. Civil war ensues (1 Kings 16:21-22) and Omri prevails. Historically, Omri was a great king, expanding the borders through Syria and Philistia, and becoming well-known outside Israel. Biblically, he’s almost a footnote. Does God have the same view of historical importance as we do? How might this affect our attitude to politics?

Omri is followed by his son Ahab who marries the famous... Jezebel. (1 Kings 16:31-32): The battle of Baal against the one true God is about to begin. It’s a huge battle in spiritual terms. It’s also huge geographically, since marriage with Jezebel is what makes Ahab’s throne safe.
Elijah enters the scene at this point. What events do you remember of his life? Try to write some down before following the references below:
1.       Predicts drought: 1 Kings 17:1-2 This is bigger than it sounds. Elijah is saying his God is greater than Baal – has dominance in land claimed politically by Baal. Is confrontation good? Is it okay to run away sometimes?
2.       Fed by ravens: 1 Kings 17:7-9 Then the water runs out. How might Elijah have felt? How do we respond when we think God’s helping us and his help dries up?
3.       Miraculous flour and oil at the widow’s house: 1 Kings 17:14 What does this tell you about life in Israel at the time?
4.       Raises the widow’s son: 1 Kings 17:20-22 This makes the widow more confident of Elijah’s faith. Do you think it helps Elijah’s confidence? Does this mean bad things can happen for a good reason? When have you seen this?
5.       Elijah is not the only surviving prophet. In Israel/Samaria, prophets are hiding in caves, guarded by Obadiah, who still communicates with King Ahab. 1 Kings 18:3-6 Is it okay to work with the enemy?
6.       Challenges the priests of Baal: 1 Kings 18:19 Prophets who “eat at Jezebel’s table” are basically on the government payroll. Could the mix of religion and politics be dangerous today as well?
7.       Calls down fire from heaven: 1 Kings 18:37-39 Do you think the people are sincere? Are modern believers fickle?
8.       Destroys the prophets of Baal: 1 Kings 18:40 then runs away: 1 Kings 19:3 Whose kingdom does he end up in?
9.       Fed by angels: 1 Kings 19:5-8
10.   Goes to Mount Sinai: 1 Kings 19:8 I’m still guessing Mount Sinai is East of the Gulf of Aqaba and Elijah has continued to run South, through Judah and beyond.
11.   Anoints prophets and kings – Hazael king of Syria in Damascus, Jehu king of Northern Israel, and Elisha the next great prophet 1 Kings 19:15-18. What does God’s promise to reserve 7,000 (7x103) mean to you?
Remember Ben-Hadad of Syria, ally of Asa, king of Judah? 1 Kings 20:1,13. A surprise attack defeats him in the hills, but he guesses God is a god of hills, not plains, and attacks again. 1 Kings 20:23, 28. Who do you suppose the “man of God” is in these stories? Who might be modern day prophets in times of war?
Another man of God opposes Ahab for forming a trade treaty with Ben-Hadad. 1 Kings 20:35-48. Then Jezebel schemes to kill Naboth so king Ahab gets the vineyard he wants. Elijah returns. 1 Kings 21:17-19, 27-29. And there is peace for three years.
What do you suppose Elijah is doing in between these stories? If God has chosen people to be prophets today, what might we find them doing?

Is Ahab’s sin the fact that he married politically, the fact that he married a Baal-worshiper, or the fact that he lost sight of God? Which sins do we tend to focus on when we look at history, at the Bible, or at our neighbors?

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