The Word Made Fresh
1Ahab told Jezebel what Elijah had done, and that he had killed all the prophets of Baal. 2Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say to him, “May the gods kill me also if I don’t take your life by this time tomorrow.”
3Elijah was afraid then and fled for his life. He came to Beersheba in Judah and left his attendant there, 4then continued alone a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a lonely broom tree and sat down beneath it, and he prayed, “I’ve had enough, LORD. Take my life away, for I’m no better off than my ancestors.” 5He lay down under the tree and went to sleep. Suddenly, an angel nudged him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6He awoke, and saw beside his head a cake baking on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, then lay down again. 7The angel came a second time and nudged him and said, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” 8He arose to eat and drink again, and with the strength that food gave him he traveled forty days and nights until he came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 9He spent the night in a cave there.
The LORD’s word came to him. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10Elijah answered, “I have given my all for the LORD, the God of multitudes. But the Israelites have turned away from your promise to them. They have torn down your altars and put your prophets to death. I’m the only one left, and they are looking to kill me, too.”
11The LORD said, “Come outside and stand on the mountain and watch; the LORD is about to pass by.”
A powerful wind arose that blew mountains away and split boulders before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. Then there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12Then there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And then there was a quiet whisper, almost inaudible. 13At that, Elijah pulled his wrap over his face and stepped out to the cave’s entrance. He heard a voice say, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14And Elijah said again, “I have given my all for the LORD, the God of multitudes. But the Israelites have turned away from your promise to them. They have torn down your altars and put your prophets to death. I’m the only one left, and they are looking to kill me, too.”
15The LORD said, “Go back the way of the Damascus wilderness. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-Meholah to take your place as prophet. 17Whoever avoids Hazael’s sword will be killed by Jehu, and whoever avoids Jehu’s sword will be killed by Elisha. 18But I will save seven thousand in Israel – everyone who has not bowed down to Baal or kissed his idol.
19Elijah left Horeb then. He found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. As Elijah passed by the twelfth where Elisha was, he threw his wrap over him. 20Elisha left his oxen and ran after him. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I will follow you,” he said.
Elijah said, “Go on back, then. What claim do I have on you?”
21So Elisha returned. He slaughtered the oxen. He used the yokes and harnesses to build a fire and cook the meat. He gave it to the people, and they ate it all. Then he caught up with Elijah and became his attendant.
1-3: Jezebel is determined to do away with Elijah, so he skedaddles to Beer-Sheba in Judah, well south of Jerusalem on the edge of the wilderness; it is one of the places Abraham lived.
4-8: Elijah is traveling back through his peoples’ history. He goes a day’s journey into the wilderness below Beer-Sheba and lays down to die. He is no better off than his ancestors, he says, as he lays there on the ground they once walked. An angel twice rouses him and gives him bread and water. Elijah finally rouses and travels 40 days (his ancestors took 40 years) to Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai; it is the place where God gave Moses the Law.
9-10: He spends the night in a cave, and hears God ask what he’s doing there. He replies that he has been zealous for the LORD, but the Israelites have rebelled and killed all the prophets. (Maybe sort of in the same way Elijah killed the prophets of Baal? It’s a wonder anybody is left.)
11-18: God summons him to the mouth of the cave, but Elijah is confronted with a spectacular display – wind and earthquake and fire – and then a barely audible voice. Things got very quiet. He then goes to the cave entrance, and hears God once again asking why he is there. He replies with exactly the same words as before, as if he has been rehearsing for this meeting with God. God tells him to head back to the north, beyond Israel to Damascus. There he is to anoint Hazael king of Aram. This is surprising because Aram (precursor kingdom to Syria) has been and will continue to be an enemy of Israel (see 11:23-25 for example). He is also to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel, which makes Elijah a direct threat to Ahab. And he is to anoint Elisha as his own successor. A great slaughter will ensue, God says, but 7000 of the faithful will be spared.
19-21: Elijah carries out the last order first. He finds Elisha and throws his wrap over him. No actual anointing takes place, which is annoying to fundamentalists but doesn’t really bother most people. Elisha takes this as an invitation to be Elijah’s disciple, and asks for time to say farewell to his parents, which Elijah grants. Many centuries later, Jesus will turn down a fellow who wants to say goodbye to his family first (Luke 9:61-62). In any event, Elisha slaughters his oxen (12 of them, of course), cooks the meat and gives it to the people, then catches up with Elijah. All this must have taken a day or so, and by golly, it never says he actually kissed his Mom and Dad goodbye. I hope they got to see him.
Elijah travels forty days to Horeb where God gives him three tasks which will change Israel’s story. Noah experienced forty days of rain and flood, and then sent out three birds to discover dry ground. Jesus spent forty days apart to contemplate the task before him, which finally led to three days in the tomb and a resurrection. When you have an important, life-changing decision to make, that timing is a good formula to consider.