1 Kings 16:8-18:15
Today, we are back to a list of the successive kings of the Northern area of the Holy Land (Israel) as opposed to the kings in the South (Judah).
The son of Baasha, Ela, only reigned for two years before he was assassinated by Zimri, one of his officials, whilst he was getting drunk. Zimri killed off all Baasha’s family, in accordance with the prophecy of Jehu, as soon as he was seated on the throne.
Zimri only reigned for seven days in Tirzah. The Israelites rebelled against him, having heard about how he plotted against Ela and they proclaimed the commander of the army, Omri, king instead. The army laid siege to the palace and Zimri set the palace on fire around him.
Omni fought off a rival to the throne and then reigned for twelve years. ‘He sinned more than all those before him’ (1 Kings 16:25). His son, Ahab, succeeded him and was even more wicked. It was trivial for him to commit all the sins of his ancestor Jeroboam and he also married the evil Jezebel, daughter of the king of the Sidonians. He set up an altar and pole to worship the Canaanite fertility deities who had always been a trap for the Israelites ever since the Moabite women had first seduced them (Num.25:1-3). Ahab infuriated God more than any of the previous kings of Israel (1 Kings 16:33). It was time for someone to stand up against his abominable practices.
Jericho was rebuilt during the reign of Ahab by Hiel of Bethel. Both his first born and his youngest son died in the process in accordance with the curse imposed by Joshua 6:26. This demonstrates the wickedness of the time; people were prepared to go against ancient laws to rebuild cursed cities for political / commercial / reasons of pride despite it costing them their own children. Child sacrifice would also have been routinely practiced under the rule of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel.
Elijah the prophet stood up to Ahab. He said there would be no dew or rain for the next few years until he commanded it (1 Kings 17:1). God told Elijah to flee and hide in a ravine. He was to drink from a brook and ravens had been ordered to feed him (doesn’t seem very hygienic). Ravens have a history of performing God’s work for him and must not be eaten (Lev.11:15 and Deut.14:14. Noah sent a raven out from the ark looking for dry land (Gen.8:6-7). I carry a blessed St. Benedict medal with me. This medal is often carried by exorcists. Picking it up in the morning and putting it in a pocket, calls down the protection of God through the intercession of Saint Benedict, the patron saint of Europe. On the front of the medal, are depicted some of the notable events of Saint Benedict’s life. Jealous monks tried to poison him several times but he was always protected supernaturally. Once, his goblet of wine was poisoned but it shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. When his bread was poisoned, a raven flew down and snatched it away. It’s common to lose food to birds where I live. Voracious gulls are all too keen to snatch chips and sandwiches. Ravens seem to keep an eye on major saints, even after death. I went to visit the grave of Saint Patrick in Northern Ireland and a raven kept a very close eye on me from the top of the church tower. I feel he was checking me out, to ensure I was showing an appropriate level of respect for this great saint.
As there was no rain, the brook that Elijah was drinking from eventually dried up. God told Elijah to go to Zarephath because he had commanded a widow there to feed him. Elijah came to the town gate, saw a widow gathering sticks and correctly assumed that this was the one. Following God is not complicated. The poor widow and her son were starving and only had a tiny bit of flour and oil left. She and her son were planning to eat it before dying. Elijah told her not to be afraid. He proclaimed that by God’s power, if she had sufficient faith to make bread for Elijah first, then her jar of flour and her jug of oil would not run dry until God gave rain. This miraculously happened (1 Kings 17:15-16). They didn’t have excessive amounts of flour and oil to give away, they just miraculously received their needs each day because of their combined faith. God kept them alive and dependent on His daily providence, just as the Israelites had relied on His daily supply of manna in the desert.
Some time later the widow’s son died. Maybe it was all that gluten! Elijah prayed and stretched himself out on the boy three times. God heard Elijah’s cry and brought the boy back to life. This miracle again confirmed that Elijah represented God (1 Kings 17:24).
After three years of total drought, God told Elijah to go back to King Ahab. Ahab’s wife Jezebel was conducting a genocidal campaign against the Lord’s prophets but a righteous man called Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace, had hidden a hundred prophets in two caves and was feeding them. Obadiah met Elijah and recognised him. Ahab had been searching everywhere for Elijah for three years and now he was walking into the lion’s den facing almost certain execution. Obadiah did not want to go and announce Elijah’s appearance to Ahab, because, if Elijah made a run for it, Ahad would surely kill Obadiah out of disappointment. Elijah reassured Obadiah that he would not run away. (1 Kings 18:15). This passage shows that even in the middle of great evil, there are still some good people performing righteous acts. Obadiah had hidden the prophets, despite the personal risk to himself, just as brave people hid Jews during the Second World War. There is always a holy remnant left in the most evil of societies.
Paul had now travelled to Thessalonica. He went to the Jewish synagogue on three Sabbath days to prove, from the scriptures, that Jesus had to suffer and rise from the dead. Some of the Jews were persuaded in addition to a ‘large number’ of God-fearing Greeks‘ (Acts 17:4). It appeared easier to convert open-minded Gentiles than the Jews, who were more brainwashed in religious tradition. The remaining Jews were jealous. They formed a mob and started rioting.
Paul and Barnabas were sent to Berea by the other believers, for their own protection. The noble Bereans received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures to confirm Paul’s word (Acts 17:11). Unfortunately, the hostile Jews from Thessalonica went after them and Paul was then brought to Athens, where he had to wait for Silas and Timothy.
Of course, Paul could not be idle and so he reasoned in the synagogue and the marketplace about Jesus, having been greatly stressed by the city being full of idols. The Athenians were interested in philosophy and new ideas and brought Paul to a meeting of the aristocratic ruling council, the Areopagus, to find out more. This was a golden opportunity for Paul to spread the gospel to the most influential people in Athens. Tomorrow, we will reflect on the magnificent speech that he delivered to them.
We should never forget the miracles and wonders that God performed to lead his people out of Egypt. That is why a reading is read out from Exodus at the Easter Vigil (Exodus 15:1-18).
God performed an even greater wonder to rescue us from our death sentence. Jesus is the new and infinitely greater Moses. He is our Good Shepherd, our precious Saviour.
The Jews were saved by the blood of the Passover lamb and went through water to be saved from death. We are made anointed children of God by going through the waters of baptism.
We have been saved by the precious blood of God’s only son. We have been redeemed and given the priceless gift of eternal life. We have been given the Holy Spirit by baptism, who will lead and guide us with his fire twenty-four hours a day (Ps.78:14). Our hard hearts will be split open, so that abundant streams of living water and loving power can flow from them (Ps.78:15).