Elijah vs. the World

Elijah on Mt CarmelThis is a statue of Elijah erected at Mt. Carmel

 

By Elijah I am referring to the Butcher of Baalites, the Killer at Kishon, the Annoyer of Ahab, the one, the only (his words not mine) prophet of the LORD.  In the other corner we have the enemies of the LORD, the purveyors of perversity, the ransackers of righteousness, the malevolent malcontents, Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal.

In the display on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18:20-40, Elijah squares off against the prophets of Baal who not only represent Baal but also represent their rulers Ahab and Jezebel at whose table they eat (at least according to 1 Kings 18:19).

More is going on in this scene than may be gleaned at a glance.  Elijah implies two things by calling for this gathering at all.  First, by demanding that the people of Israel chose between the LORD and Baal, Elijah excludes the options of religious relativism and syncretism.  This wasn’t just a showdown to see which God was stronger, it was call to the people of Israel to choose whom to follow.

Further, by this same demand, Elijah also excludes what today we call religious tolerance or coexistence.  As events play out, the severity of this exclusion becomes more apparent through Elijah’s words, method of sacrifice, and actions.

Elijah’s words are used to mock Baal and his prophets through a series of explanations as to why Baal has not yet responded to his prophets invocations.  According to Elijah, Baal may be day dreaming or sleeping or gone on a trip or relieving himself.  His words prompt the prophets to progress from their chanting and dancing to wailing and acts of self-mutilation that resulted in gushing blood.

When Elijah begins preparing for his own sacrifice, he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been demolished.  He then dug a trench around the altar and had water poured over the altar three times soaking the wood for the fire, the sacrifice itself, and the ground around the altar including the trench which was filled.

Unlike the Baalites, Elijah does not chant or dance or wail or bleed.  He makes a request to the LORD for the LORD to:

  1. show himself God in Israel
  2. show that Elijah is his prophet
  3. show that this whole display was the LORD’s idea
  4. show that the LORD is God
  5. show that the LORD has turned back the hearts of the people

And unlike the Baalites, Elijah is met with an immediate response of consuming fire; fire that burned up the offering, wood, stones, dust, and water.  This overkill response to Elijah’s overkill demonstration with the water was a further mockery of Baal and his prophets.

Then there was Elijah’s massacre of all of the prophets of Baal after bringing them to Kishon.

Through smack talk, humiliating displays, and slaughter, Elijah, as the LORD’s prophet, made clear that Baal and his followers would not be tolerated in Israel, not even as a separate coexisting group.

Of course, then he ran away from Jezebel.

 

For more on the royal couple and the complicity of the people of Israel, see here.

For more on the relationship of Ahab and Jezebel, peek over here.

Yes, Dears

bart-simpson-generator

Solomon is famous for his wealth, his wisdom, and his women.

Certainly, the picture of his wealth is the extravagance of his palace and his Temple.  His wisdom and his women, however, are more fluid, more intertwined and are, in fact, inversely proportional.

We see Solomon’s request for wisdom in 1 Kings 3:9-12:

9 “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.”

The we see in 1 Kings 11 that he “loved many foreign women” and eventually had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.  Whatever your take on polygamy, that’s a bit much to handle.  With three hundred sixty-five days in a year and a thousand anniversaries, someone is going to end up with hurt feelings.  He must have had the flower shop on speed-dial, and half his wealth must have been spent on apology gifts.

All this is in direct defiance of Deuteronomy 17:17 which instructs that when Israel finally gets a king, that king had better keep his wife collecting addiction in check or his heart will be turned away from the LORD.  This is, of course, exactly happened to Solomon’s heart in the course of his “gotta marry’em all” campaign.  Solomon “went after” Ashtoreth of the Sidonians, Milcom of the Ammonites, Chemosh of the Moabites, and Molech, building altars and making sacrifices to the gods of his wives.

So the question is…the question that I’ve never heard anyone ask, the question that plagues my sense of common…sense… The question is:  If Solomon was as wise as the text proclaims him to be, how was he so foolish as to bind himself to a thousand women from various cultures with differing beliefs and allow himself to be oriented away from the God who gifted him with the “wisdom” he now abandons?  Or more succinctly, how can such a wise man, in his wisdom, abandon wisdom?  And perhaps more succinctly still, how can a wise man be so foolish?

 

For profile on Solomon’s life, click here.

For a pondering of Biblical polygamy, pop on over here.

Reckoning

Ishbosheth_is_slain from Maciejowski Bible“Ishbosheth is Slain” from the Maciejowski Bible

Contrasting with the previous post about David’s murderous ways, this post takes a look at the kindness and compassion of David.  I know, I know…he’s complicated.

2nd Samuel opens with David learning of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.  In 1st Samuel, Jonathan was depicted as David’s closest friend who saved David’s life from Saul’s murderous machinations.  The reader will not be surprised to witness David’s grief over Jonathan’s death.

The reader will be surprised by David’s lament over Saul’s death, that is, if the reader is reading rightly.  In chapter one of 2nd Samuel, we see David’s lamentation.  Both Saul and Jonathan are mentioned four times in the lament.  His displeasure was so great at the news of their deaths that he had the messenger killed, though in fairness, the messenger had claimed to have assisted in Saul’s death.

Later, in chapter four, when two brothers kill Ish-Bosheth, another son of Saul who was ruling Israel after the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and bring his head to David as a gift, David is not pleased.  In fact, his response was to have the brothers put to death.

Also mentioned in chapter four, but the focus of chapter nine, was Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son who lived in hiding fearing death at David’s hand.  David actually sought out descendants of Saul and Jonathan to give back to them Saul’s family property.  In the case of Mephibosheth, David also invited him to eat at the king’s table.

While this preference for Jonathan and his line makes sense in light of their friendship, David’s lament over Saul’s death and anger over Ish-Bosheth’s murder suggest a different motive.

Reflecting back on David’s refusal to kill the LORD’s anointed, i.e. Saul, in 1st Samuel, and viewing that as an attempt to keep anyone from killing the LORD’s new anointed, i.e. David, David’s kindness to the line of the previous king may have been an attempt to set a precedent for the treatment of deposed kings in the event he was forced from the throne.

In summation, I suppose even David’s kindness is wrought with death and intrigue.  As I said, he’s complicated.

For more on Ish-Bosheth, click here.

For a look at Ish-Bosheth and Mephibosheth in 2nd Samuel and 1st Chronicles, click here.

For a Mephibosheth hymn, take a gander over here.

It’s Nothing Personal

DAVID GIVES THE LETTER TO URIAH-GRENICO-17TH CEN-11X11

In addition to leading David’s army to victory on multiple occasions, Joab may have been David’s hitman.  Let’s look at three instances described in 2nd Samuel that illuminate Joab’s nature.

First, in 2nd Samuel 3, after Saul’s death, David’s rise to power in Judah, and fighting between David and Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth of Israel, Abner, the military leader of Israel to the north and Joab’s counterpart, defects to David.  According to the text, upon learning of Abner’s defection, Joab intercepts the traveling Abner and kills him.  The text is clear in pointing out that David had no forehand knowledge of Joab’s intent to kill Abner.

Second, in 2nd Samuel 18, Absalom, after he has murdered David’s eldest son, has usurped David’s throne, and has made war with David gets his head stuck in a tree as he is riding on his mule.  When news of this incident reaches Joab on the battlefield, Joab, after insulting the messenger, quickly impales Absalom with three javelins.  We are reminded by the messenger, as he describes the situation to Joab, that David had given instructions not to harm Absalom.

Third, in 2nd Samuel 20, David instructed Amasa, who had been made captain of the army by Absalom and was Joab’s cousin, to pursue Sheba, the leader of the current rebellion.  Amasa delayed in carrying out his orders.  Upon meeting up with Joab later during the pursuit of Sheba, Joab, with one deceitful left-handed jab to the gut, kills Amasa.  No mention is made of David’s response to Amasa’s delay.

In all three scenarios, Joab had a motive to murder.  The defecting Abner was a potential threat to Joab’s military position.  Absalom would likely have had Joab executed once David was defeated.  Amasa was another threat to Joab’s position.

Additionally, David also had a motive for murder.  Abner had been the military leader of David’s enemy, and his defection may have been a trick.  Absalom had killed his eldest son, taken his kingdom, and was currently seeking his life.  Amasa had delayed obeying David’s order allowing the rebel Sheba to potentially escape.

Though the text either explicitly or through silence denies David’s involvement in these deaths, Joab as hitman fits the story better than Joab as an unruly murderer that David continues to keep as his “right-hand” man.

One further clue to Joab as David’s hitman is the whole business with Uriah.  David sends Uriah to Joab with a note telling Joab to put Uriah at the front of the battle and then to draw the rest of the men back leaving Uriah to die.  Joab did this.  No motive is presented for Joab to have caused Uriah’s death.  At the very least, in this instance, Joab acted as David’s hitman, and this presents a lens through which we may view the previous three murders.

For more on Joab as a political maneuverer, see this page.

If you are considering Joab as a baby name, see this page.

David is In

David Showing Goliath's Head by Caravaggio“David Showing Goliath’s Head” by Caravaggio

David is portrayed in first and second Samuel as the anti-Saul.  As Samuel seeks out the new king in 1st Samuel 16, he first believes David’s brother Eliab to be the candidate based on outward appearance.  Samuel is then rebuked by the LORD for this assumption and told that the LORD looks at the heart rather than the outward appearance.

While not explicitly stated, this would indicate that David was not an impressive physical specimen though the text does describe him as handsome.  Additionally, as the youngest son he had no inheritance, and as a shepherd he mostly lived outside with sheep.  David was not the outwardly exceptional man Saul was.

Neither was David’s heart like Saul’s.  Not only David’s superior heart the basis for the LORD’s selecting him, David exhibits behavior that displays the inward differences between Saul and himself.

In 1st Samuel 17, David is indignant at Goliath’s taunting.  Rather than shying back because of Goliath’s greater size and experience, David faces Goliath in single combat trusting in the LORD to deliver victory.  In this same chapter David states that he has also fought “both lions and bears” in his role as a shepherd.

Although Saul repeatedly tries to kill David after David becomes too popular for Saul, David twice spares Saul’s life when presented with the opportunity to kill Saul.

Later in 2nd Samuel 11-12, after David takes Bathsheba, has Uriah killed, and is confronted by Nathan, David not only acknowledges his sin, but turns his heart toward the LORD and is pardoned by the LORD.  Unlike Saul, David is allowed to remain king.

While David was outwardly unimpressive, inwardly according to 1st Samuel 13:14, he was a man after God’s own heart.

For a differing opinion on 1st Samuel 13:14:  see here.

For a four-part essay on the differences between Saul and David:  see here, here, here, and here.

Saul is Out

Saul Attacking David by Guercino in Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome, Italy“Saul Attacking David” by Guercino

Saul was the bees knees.  In the first two verses of 1st Samuel 9 we learn three important facts:

–          Saul’s father was wealthy

–          Saul was significantly taller than the average man

–          Saul was a good looking dude

To challenge the above, the text in chapter ten establishes that Saul was a timid man who initially hid from his fate as king.  What this seems to indicate is that while externally, Saul seemed the man’s man, the ideal figurehead of strength and prosperity, internally, Saul was insecure and fixated on himself rather than focused on the LORD or his people.

Saul’s internal insecurity seems further confirmed by his actions in 1st Samuel 13.  After waiting the agreed upon seven days for Samuel to arrive to make the pre-battle sacrifice to invoke the favor of the LORD, we see Saul decide to make the sacrifice himself instead of continuing to wait for Samuel because he feared that his army would desert him.  We know from Leviticus that the king making such an offering is outside the law, and 2 Chronicles 26:16-21 paints the picture of another king who tried to make an offering himself and was struck by the LORD with leprosy.

And again, Saul’s self-focus is established in 1st Samuel 15 when Saul spares king Agag and keeps the choice loot of Amalek, doing what he thinks is best instead of devoting everything to destruction as he was instructed to do.  Further, Samuel seems aware of Saul’s insecurity as in 1st Samuel 15:17 he states, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel?”

At this point the LORD rejects Saul as king.  Instead of repenting, Saul merely acknowledges his sin and continues to act out of insecurity and self-interest as displayed in his repeated attempts on David’s life, in his inquiry of the medium of Endor, and ultimately in his suicide.

Saul is like a foreshadowing of the whitewashed tombs of the Gospels in that he has the appearance of perfection but is inwardly corrupt.  His strong exterior was ultimately destroyed by his weak interior.

For more on the LORD’s rejection of Saul:  click here.

For a Jewish take on the person of Saul:  click here.

I Swear

The Foolish Vow by SlavujacThe above painting is titled “The Foolish Vow” and is by the painter Slavujac.

Jephthah, in Judges 11, makes a rash vow, and his only child, his daughter, pays the price.  What debate prevails concerning this passage seems to be focused on the nature of the price paid by the daughter.  Was she burned as an offering to God?  Instead, was she dedicated to the LORD’s service for life?

Regarding this debate, which really is not intended to be the topic of this post, Deuteronomy 23:2 informs us that, “If a person is illegitimate by birth, neither he nor his descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD.”  As Jephthah was the son of a prostitute (Judges 11:1), neither he nor his daughter were eligible to be dedicated to the LORD’s service, so that option is out of play.

The point I wish to demonstrate is that Jephthah was a monster.  He was either an ignorant LORD-worshipper who killed his daughter or a prideful self-worshipper who killed his daughter.

That Jephthah made the vow is not in question.

That Jephthah’s daughter was the unintended victim of the vow is also not in question.

What is questionable is Jephthah’s response to his daughter becoming the victim of his vow.  Deuteronomy 18:10 states explicitly, “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering.”  Either Jephthah was unaware of the law and followed through with his vow, or he was aware of the law and followed through with his vow anyway.

Even worse, Leviticus 5:4-6 allows the substitution of a female lamb or goat in the instance of making a rash vow.  Jephthah could have killed a lamb or a goat instead of his daughter and still, from a legal standpoint, been right with God.

Yet worse still, Leviticus chapter 27, which explains the majority of the laws concerning vows, allows Jephthah to redeem his daughter from the LORD for thirty shekels of silver.

In the two months between Jephthah’s realizing the tragedy of his vow and the return of his daughter from the mountains to be burned to death, he didn’t pursue an alternative to her death.  If he didn’t know the law, he was an ignorant religious leader who could have saved his daughter if he had sought out the law; however, if he knew the law and sacrificed his daughter anyway, not only did he directly disobey God, he knew the law provided for his backing out of the vow if he humbled himself and made the rash vow sacrifice or paid the redemption price.

Ergo, monster.

For a more thorough treatment of this argument, see this page.

After that, check out this follow up page that answers questions readers posted in response to the first article.