Hayes: So we were talking last time about the
Deuteronomistic historian and their interpretation of the
events that befell Israel, a very special interpretation
that would make it possible for Israel to remain intact after
the destruction of the state, the temple and the national
basis of their society. And according to the
Deuteronomist, it’s the sin of idolatry,
specifically the sin of idolatry and particularly the
idolatry of the king, for which the nation is
punished with exile and destruction.
Punishments come for other sorts of sins,
but the national punishment of exile and destruction follows
upon the idolatry and particularly the idolatry of the
king. So in the book of 2 Kings,
a king who permits sacrifice only at the Jerusalem Temple is
praised no matter what other faults he may or may not have,
and one who does not is condemned, no matter what other
accomplishments he may have to his credit.
Now the Deuteronomistic historian is aware that the
historical record doesn’t lend itself very easily to this kind
of interpretation. Because there are some good
kings who reigned very briefly, and there are some very bad
kings, on their view, who reigned for a very long
time. Manasseh is a case in point.
He reigned for over 50 years
and is viewed as the most wicked of all kings.
Sometimes disaster would strike right after the rule of a king
that the Deuteronomist would view as a good king because of
their faithfulness to Yahweh, and sometimes it would not
strike after the rule of a king that was viewed to be very
wicked. So the Deuteronomist sounds the
theme of delayed punishment– delayed punishment,
deferred punishment. So for example,
Solomon’s misdeeds in allowing the building of altars for the
worship of foreign gods to please his many wives,
his foreign wives, is blamed for the division of
the kingdoms, but the punishment was deferred
until after his death and the time of his sons,
and then you have this split between north and south
with Jeroboam and Rehoboam reigning,
respectively, in the north and south.
The Deuteronomist sees Israel’s
defeat at the hands of the Assyrians in 722 as deferred or
delayed punishment for the sins of Jeroboam I.
Jeroboam I, 922 or so, came to the throne and
installed two cultic centers at Dan and Beth-El,
erecting golden calves. This is seen as a sin,
for which the nation was punished 200 years later.
As for the southern kingdom of
Judah: you had some good kings in the view of the Deuteronomist
in the south. Hezekiah–he’s judged to be a
good king; he instituted sweeping reforms
and got rid of idolatrous altars and managed to maintain Judah’s
independence against the Assyrians.
But his son Manasseh, who reigned for a large part of
the seventh century, is viewed as extraordinarily
wicked. He turned the Jerusalem temple
into a pagan temple, and it was a time of great
misery for those who were loyal to Yahweh, a time of great
terror. And yet, he reigned a long time.
His eight-year-old grandson,
Josiah, came to the throne upon his death, sometime,
probably, in the 630s. And the Deuteronomist views
Josiah as a good king. We’ve already heard about,
or read the story which is reported in 2 Kings 22,
of the refurbishing of the temple, which happens when he’s
about 25 or 26 years old; discovers the book of the law,
reads it, and is distressed because its terms are not being
fulfilled. And so Josiah orders the
abolition of outlying altars and pagan cults.
He brings all of the priests to Jerusalem and centralizes all
worship there in Jerusalem. So in the Deuteronomist’s view,
Josiah is believed to be a very good king for purging the
country of these idolatrous rites and centralizing worship.
But the sin of Manasseh was too
great and it had to be punished. So a prophetess,
a prophetess named Hulda, tells Josiah that God plans to
bring evil punishment on Judah for these sins,
but it will be after Josiah’s lifetime as something of a mercy
to him. And, in fact,
it’s in the next generation that Judah falls.
In 586 the walls of Jerusalem
are breached and the Temple is destroyed, and the king at that
time, King Zedekiah,
is blinded and taken in chains into exile with his court.
And only the poor are left
behind. This is the Deuteronomist’s
attempt to account for these anomalies within their
historiosophic view. And the result of the
Deuteronomist’s interpretation was remarkable.
Because if the defeat of the nation were to be seen as the
defeat of the nation’s god by the god of the conquering
nation, then the Israelites would have
turned from the worship of their god, Yahweh,
and embraced the new ascendant god Marduk.
And undoubtedly, there were Israelites who did
do this. That would have been the
argument of history in their view.
But not all did. For some, defeat did not lead
to despair or apostasy because it could be explained by the
likes of the Deuteronomistic historian or the Deuteronomistic
School as fitting into the monotheistic scheme.
This did not impugn God’s
kingship or lordship over the universe, it was proof of it.
God was punishing Israel for
the sin of idolatry, which was in violation of his
covenant. And to punish Israel,
he had raised the Babylonians. They were merely his tool.
The historiosophy of the
Deuteronomistic historian finds it classic expression in 2 Kings
17. I’m going to skim through
sections of it so you can see the argument that’s laid out
there: In the ninth year of
Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria [the capital of
the northern kingdom]. He deported the Israelites to
Assyria and settled them in…[various places].
This happened because the
Israelites sinned against the Lord their God,
who had freed them from the land of Egypt,
from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
They worshipped other gods and followed…the customs which the
kings of Israel had practiced. Putting, again,
the blame on the kings as the head of this idolatry.
The Israelites committed
against the Lord their God acts which were not right:
They built for themselves shrines in all their
settlements, from watchtowers to fortified
cities; they set up pillars and sacred
posts for themselves on every lofty hill and under every leafy
tree; and they offered sacrifices
there, at all the shrines, like the nations whom the Lord
had driven into exile before them.
So now he’s going to follow through since they behaved the
same way, to drive them into exile also.
They committed wicked acts to vex the Lord,
and they worshipped fetishes, concerning which the Lord had
said to them, “You must not do this thing.”
The Lord warned Israel and
Judah by every prophet [and] every seer,
So God didn’t just stand by idly.
He was constantly sending prophets, messengers to tell
them to turn back to the covenant.
And we’ll start talking about those prophets today.
He sent warnings by “every
prophet [and] every seer,”
saying, “Turn back from your wicked ways, and observe My
commandments and My laws, according to all the Teaching
that I commanded your fathers and that I transmitted to you
through My servants the prophets.”
But they did not obey; they stiffened their necks,
like their fathers who did not have faith in the Lord their
God; they spurned His laws and the
covenant that He had made with their fathers and the warnings
He had given them. They went after delusion and
were deluded;…they made molten idols for themselves–two
calves– and specifically now,
the sin of Jeroboam at Dan and Beth-El, two calves,
“and they made a sacred post and they bowed down to all the
host of heaven, and they worshipped Baal.”
(We’ll hear more about that
today.) They consigned their sons and
daughters to the fire; they practiced augury and
divination, and gave themselves over to what was displeasing to
the Lord and vexed him. The Lord was incensed at Israel
and he banished them from His presence;
none was left but the tribe of Judah alone.
Nor did Judah keep the commandments of the Lord their
God; they followed the customs that
Israel had practiced. So the Lord spurned all the
offspring of Israel and He afflicted them and delivered
them into the hands of plunderers,
and finally He cast them out from His presence.
It’s a very depressing ending of things that started so
auspiciously back in Genesis 1. But if the Deuteronomist laid
the blame for the tragic history of the two kingdoms at the door
of the sin of idolatry, and particularly the idolatry
of the royal house, a different answer will be
provided by Israel’s classical prophets–no less an answer,
no less an interpretation, and no less an interpretation
that was intended to shore up faith in this God that one might
think had abandoned His people. We’ll be turning to the
prophetic answer to this great crisis that faced the Israelites
in the next lecture. In this lecture,
I first want to talk about the phenomenon of prophecy and some
of the prophets who appear in the historical narrative.
So, in the historical books
that we’ve been looking at in the section of the Bible we call
the Former Prophets–remember, the section called the Prophets
we divide into Former Prophets and Latter Prophets:
the section we call Former Prophets is a historical
narrative; it runs from Joshua through 2
Kings, and it reads like a narrative–in that material,
you have several prophets who appear, and they play a very
important role in the national drama.
The prophets of the tenth century, the ninth century BCE
were associated with religious shrines.
On occasion they were associated with the royal court.
But starting in about the
eighth century, you have prophets whose words
were eventually set down in writing,
and they come to be in the books that now bear the names of
the prophets to whom they are attributed.
So these prophets, the ones whose words get
recorded in books that bear their name,
these prophets we call the literary prophets or the
classical prophets, in contrast to the prophets who
are characters in the stories that we read from Genesis
through 2 Kings. So there are two kinds of
prophets. The literary prophets:
those books are collected together in the section we call
the Latter Prophets. I hope this is making sense.
So Former Prophets is the
historical narrative, which happens to feature kings
and prophets as characters in the narrative.
The Latter Prophets, those are the books of
prophetic oracles that bear the name of the person who gave the
utterance, or the oracle. Okay?
And as I just said, the literary prophets,
just like the Deuteronomist, struggle to make sense of
Israel’s suffering and defeat and to come up with an
explanation and a message of consolation.
And we will get to that next time.
Today we’ll look at the phenomenon of prophecy in
ancient Israel by comparing or examining narratives in Samuel
and Kings particularly, narratives that feature
prophets. And that will provide very
important background for the next lecture,
when we turn to the books of the literary or classical
prophets and the themes of that literature.
Now, prophecy was very widespread in the Ancient Near
East. It took different forms in
different societies, but ultimately very widespread.
We know of ecstatic prophets
from Second Millennium BCE texts in Mesopotamia.
Seventh-century Assyria also has ecstatic prophets.
Their primary focus was on
delivering oracles for kings, usually favorable.
It was always wise to give a
favorable oracle to your king. And we have ecstatic prophecy
in the Bible also, among the earliest prophets in
particular. The term ecstasy,
when it’s used in this context, refers to the state of being
overcome with such powerful emotions that reason seems to be
suspended, self-control is suspended,
what we might think of as, you know, normative behavior.
normal behavior, these are suspended.
Ecstatics would employ music
and dance; they would induce a sort of
emotional seizure or frenzy. They would often be left
writhing and raving, and the Bible attributes this
kind of ecstatic state to the Spirit of the Lord,
the Spirit of Yahweh, which falls upon a prophet or
rushes upon a prophet, comes upon a prophet and
transforms him then into some sort of carrier or instrument of
the Divine Will or the Divine message.
We’ll see that we have bizarre behavior among many of the
prophets. We even have bizarre behavior
among many of the later literary prophets.
Ezekiel, for example, will engage in all kinds of
unusual, outrageous, dramatic behavior as a vehicle
for the communication of his message.
And I think this is the heritage of the ecstatic
prophecy that was so much a part of Ancient Near Eastern
prophecy. But not all biblical prophecy
has this ecstatic character. The Hebrew word for prophet is
a navi, and the word navi seems
to mean one who is called, or perhaps one who announces.
That’s important because it
signals to us that a prophet is someone who is called to
proclaim a message, to announce something,
called by God to carry a message.
And so in the Bible we have this phenomenon of what we call
“apostolic prophecy.” An apostle is merely a
messenger. The word “apostle” means
messenger, one sent with a message.
So apostolic prophecy–this refers to messenger prophets.
They are called by God and
charged with a mission. They can even be elected
against their will. They must bring the word of God
to the world. This is very different from
prophets who are consulted by a client and given a fee to divine
something. This is different.
This is the deity now charging
a prophet with a message to a people.
So these apostolic prophets are represented in the Bible as the
instrument of God’s desire to reveal himself and to reveal his
will to his people. And many scholars have noted
that, in a way, Moses is really the first in a
long line of apostolic prophets in the Bible.
In some ways, his call and his response are
paradigmatic for some of these later classical prophets.
In many of the literary
prophets you will read, they will contain some account
of their call, of the sudden,
dramatic encounter with God. Usually the call consists of
certain standard stages. You first have this unexpected
encounter with God. Maybe a vision of some kind or
a voice that issues a summons or a calling.
And then you have the reluctance of the individual.
And that was also paradigmatic
with Moses, wasn’t it? The reluctance of the
individual concerned to answer this, but ultimately the
individual is overwhelmed and eventually surrenders to God and
his persuasiveness. That happens in many of the
prophetic books. So in the Bible this kind of
apostolic prophecy is a little different from ecstatic
prophecy. It’s also distinct from
divination. Divination is an attempt to
uncover the divine through some technique, or,
excuse me, the divine will,
through some technique, perhaps the manipulation of
certain substances, perhaps inspecting the entrails
of a sacrificed animal. Divination of this type as well
as sorcery and spell casting and consulting with ghosts and
spirits are all condemned by Deuteronomy.
This is a very important part of the Deuteronomist’s diatribe
against the practices of other nations.
But the fact that Deuteronomy polemicizes so vehemently
against these practices is a sure sign that they were
practiced–they were practiced at a popular level.
This is probably what
Israelite-Judean religion consisted of to some degree.
And some of you will be looking
in section, I know, at the story of the Witch of
Endor–when Saul goes to a witch to conjure up the spirit of,
the ghost of Samuel to consult with him.
Moreover, we do have divination in the Yahweh cult itself.
But this was performed by
priests. They consulted some sort of
divinely designated oracular object or objects.
We call these the urim
and the tummim, which should be familiar to all
of you here at Yale. But urim and
tummim are usually untranslated in your text,
because actually we don’t really know what they mean.
They might be related to the
word for light, which is or,
and the word for, you know, integrity,
perhaps, or perfection, which is tam.
It’s probably something like
abracadabra, a little bit of a nonsense
syllable that plays on words that did have meaning.
We don’t really know what the
urim and the tummim were,
but they are said to be assigned by God.
We think they, it may have been colored stones
that were manipulated in some way by the priest to give a “yes
or no” determination to a question.
But these were said to be assigned by God as a means that
he himself authorizes for divining his will.
And so, the Deuteronomist
accepts these. But in general,
it’s the view of the Deuteronomistic historian that
divination, sorcery and the like are not
only prohibited, they’re quite distinct from the
activity of prophets. That’s not what the prophets
were about, according to the Deuteronomistic representation.
The Hebrew prophet wasn’t
primarily a fortuneteller. And I think this is a very
common misconception. The navi,
the prophet, was addressing a very specific
historical situation and was addressing it in very concrete
terms. He was revealing God’s
immediate intentions as a response to the present
circumstances. And the purpose of doing this
was to inspire the people to change, to come back to faithful
observance of the covenant. Any predictions that the
prophet might make had reference to the immediate future as a
response to the present situation.
So in reality the prophet’s message was a message about the
present, what is wrong now, what has to be done to avert
the impending doom or to avert a future calamity?
There were some women prophets in Israel.
None of them are found among the literary prophets,
that is to say none of those books bearing the names of the
prophets who uttered the oracles in them are named for women.
So we have no women among the
literary prophets, but you do have prophetic or
prophesying women besides Miriam in the Pentateuch.
There’s also Deborah,
who was a tribal leader and a prophet featured in Judges 4 and
5. I mentioned Hulda,
her advice is sought during the reign of King Josiah.
And you also have Noadiah.
Noadiah prophesied in the
post-exilic period. So this doesn’t seem to be
limited to males. Prophecy and kingship are
closely connected in ancient Israel.
And this is going to be very important.
You’ll recall, first of all,
that the king is the anointed one of Yahweh,
and it’s the prophet who’s doing the anointing.
And that makes the connection
between kingship and prophecy quite strong.
If you think about Israel’s first two kings,
you also see a strong link with the phenomenon of prophecy.
The first king,
Saul, who was anointed by the prophet Samuel,
is in addition, said to have prophesied himself
in the manner of the ecstatic prophets.
When he is anointed king, he’s then seized by the spirit
of Yahweh. He joins a band of men–and
this is in 1 Samuel 10:5; they’re playing harp,
tambourine, flute and lyre, and he joins them and this
induces an ecstatic frenzy, a religious frenzy,
that transforms him into another man, according to the
text. And on another occasion during
his ecstatic prophesying, Saul strips himself naked.
We have other accounts in the
Bible of ecstatic prophets who would engage in self-laceration.
David, the second king,
is also said to prophesy himself.
He also receives Yahweh’s spirit or charisma from time to
time, in addition to being anointed by a prophet.
Subsequent monarchs aren’t said
to prophesy themselves. So that ends really with David.
It’s only Saul and David who
are among the prophets. But even so,
though subsequent monarchs, do not themselves prophesy,
the connection with prophecy remains very,
very close. And it’s exemplified in several
ways. Again, prophets not only anoint
kings, but they also announce their fall from power.
They are kingmakers and
king-breakers to some degree. Also, you have a remarkable
motif that runs through so much of biblical narrative,
and that’s the motif of prophetic opposition to kings.
Every king had his prophetic
thorn in the side. So you have Samuel against Saul.
You have Nathan against King
David. We’ll talk about him a bit
later. You have other prophets,
Elijah, of course, against Ahab,
Micaiah against Ahab. You have Elisha against the
House of Ahab. Jeremiah is going to also stand
against the king quite dramatically.
So that prophetic opposition to the monarch, to the king,
sort of God’s watchdog over the king,
is an important theme throughout the stories of the
former prophets. And it sets the stage for us to
understand the writings of the named prophets that will come
later. Those are very often given in
opposition to official policy or royal policy.
Very often you have this literary motif that introduces
the prophet’s opposition. The Word of the Lord came to X,
prophet X, against Y, against king Y.
And then you get the content of it: because you have sinned I
will destroy you, I will wrest the kingship from
you and so on. I want to take a quick look,
though, at some of the roles that are played by prophets in
the stories in Samuel and Kings. And I have them listed over on
the far side of the board. The first thing I want to
consider is the notion of what I call “yes-men,” as opposed to
true prophets. Like the kings of Assyria,
the kings of Israel and Judah found it politic to employ
prophetic guilds. And in many cases these court
prophets, who were in the king’s employ, were little more than
endorsers of royal policy. So on numerous occasions we see
these professional prophets, these royal prophets,
at odds with figures that the biblical writer will view as
true prophets. They are truly proclaiming the
word of God and not just endorsing royal policy.
And they proclaim it whether
the king wants to hear it or not, whether the people want to
hear it or not. And the classic example is
Micaiah, the son of Imlah. Micaiah prophesies the truth
from Yahweh even though it displeases the king and
ultimately is going to cost him his freedom–not to be confused
with Micah: Micaiah. His story is told in 1 Kings 22.
This story is a pointed
critique of the prophetic yes-men who are serving as court
prophets for, and automatically endorse the
policy of, King Ahab. He’s the king in the northern
kingdom of Israel in the ninth century.
And during King Ahab’s reign, the kingdoms of the north and
the south, of Israel and Judah, have decided to form an
alliance. They want to try to recapture
some of the territory that has been lost to the north,
territory in Syria. But you didn’t undertake any
military expedition without first obtaining a favorable word
from the Lord. So King Ahab’s prophets–and he
has 400 of them–they are called, and the King asks them,
“Shall I march upon Ramoth-gilead,” this is this
region in the north, “for battle?
Or shall I not?” “March,” they said,
“and the Lord will deliver it into Your Majesty’s hands”.
So we see that prophecy here is
an institution. It is functioning as a source
of royal advice. But the King of Judah,
King Jehoshaphat, he had been perhaps hoping for
an oracle against the campaign. And he says,
“Isn’t there another prophet of the Lord here through whom we
can inquire? And the King of Israel answered
Jehoshaphat, “There is one more man through whom we can inquire
of the Lord; but I hate him,
because he never prophesies anything favorable about me,
only disaster–Micaiah, son of Imlah”.
Well, Jehoshaphat insists and Micaiah is summoned.
And he’s warned by the
messenger who summons him that he’d better speak a favorable
word like all the other prophets.
The messenger says, “the words of the prophets with
one accord are favorable to the king.
Let your word be like the word of one of them;
and speak favorably” . It’s almost an open admission
that the prophets are, you know, little more than
yes-men. So Micaiah answers the king’s
question when he asks about the advisability of marching to the
north. And he says, “March and triumph!
The Lord will deliver into Your
Majesty’s hands.” He’s done what he’s been told
to do: give the same answer as the other prophets.
But he doesn’t use the
prophetic formula. He doesn’t say,
“Thus says the Lord” or some other indication that he’s had a
vision, that he’s prophesying,
that he’s actually conveying the word of the Lord.
And the king seems to sense
this and sense this deception, and he says,
“How many times must I adjure you to tell me nothing but the
truth in the name of the Lord?” So Micaiah lets the king have
it, and he tells of this vision that he received from God,
a vision of Israel scattered among, I’m sorry,
of Israel scattered over hills like sheep.
So he’s seeing sheep, right, without a shepherd.
The implication being that
Israel’s shepherd, who is the king,
is going to be killed in battle and,
like the sheep spread on the hill, Israel will be scattered.
So the king is very irritated
by Micaiah’s prophecy. He says, “Didn’t I tell
you…he would not prophesy good fortune for me,
but only misfortune?” What’s interesting is,
in the section that follows, Micaiah gives an explanation
for why he is the lone dissenter.
He doesn’t accuse the other prophets of being false
prophets. He represents them instead as
being misled, and as being misled by God,
if you will. So for the second time Micaiah
utters the word of the Lord. He has a second vision.
And this vision is a vision of
God, who is seated on a throne and the host of heaven are
gathered around him. And God asks,
“Who will entice Ahab so that he will march and fall at
Ramoth-gilead?” And a certain one comes forward;
he volunteers for this task, and he tells how he’s going to
do this. He says, “I will go out and be
a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.”
And God says,
“You will entice, and you will prevail.
Go out and do it.”
So Micaiah concludes this
vision by saying, “So the Lord has put a lying
spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours;
for the Lord has decreed disaster upon you.”
It’s all part of God’s plan.
God is setting up Ahab for
disaster, presumably as punishment for his many sins,
just as he set up Pharaoh by hardening his heart,
so that he would be punished–hardening his heart
against Moses’ pleas to let the Israelites go.
This is God’s way of insuring their demise and insuring their
punishment. The king’s a little upset.
He doesn’t know whom to believe.
So he doesn’t kill Micaiah on
the spot. He imprisons him;
he puts him on rations of bread and water, just to see what the
outcome of the battle will be first.
And Micaiah agrees to this. He says, “If you ever come home
safe, then the Lord has not spoken through me”.
His prophecy proves accurate,
of course. The king tries to disguise
himself so that no one will know that he is king and no one will
be able to target him in the battle.
So he disguises himself. Nevertheless,
he is killed in the battle and his army scatters.
The story of Micaiah is
polemicizing against what the biblical writer perceived to be
the nationalization or the co-optation of the prophetic
guild. And in the process,
it paints a portrait of what the true prophet looks like.
Micaiah is someone who is
determined to deliver God’s word, even if it’s opposed to
the wishes of the king or the view of the king and the view of
the majority. He’s going to proclaim God’s
judgment, and it will be a judgment against the nation.
It will be a message of doom.
And interestingly enough,
this will eventually become understood as the mark of a true
prophet. You know, the prophet of doom
is the one who’s the true prophet.
As you can imagine, this kind of negativity didn’t
sit well with established interests.
But at a later point in time looking back,
the tradition would single out some of these prophets as the
ones who had spoken truly. So that’s one role.
The true prophet stands up
against the prophetic guilds, the prophets who are employed
by the kings. A second role that we see
prophets playing in this section of historical narrative:
we see prophets as God’s zealots.
And here again there’s a contrast between true prophets
and false prophets. You find it particularly in
those zealous Yahwists, Elijah and Elisha.
The Elijah stories are found in
1 Kings 17-19 and 21. The Elisha stories appear
towards the beginning of 2 Kings 2-9 and a little bit in chapter
13. These materials are good
examples again of independent units of tradition,
popular stories that were incorporated into the
Deuteronomistic history. They are highly folkloristic;
they have lots of drama and color, plenty of miracles,
animals who behave in interesting ways.
That this material began as a
set of folk stories is also suggested by the fact that
there’s a great deal of overlap in the depiction of the
activities of the two prophets. So you have both of the
prophets multiplying food, both of them predict the death
of Ahab’s queen, Queen Jezebel.
Both of them part water and so on.
But in their final form the stories have been interspersed
with historical footnotes about the two prophets and then set
into this framework, this larger framework,
of the history of the kings of the northern kingdom.
So they’ve been appropriated by
the Deuteronomistic School, which, remember,
is a southern, Judean-based Deuteronomistic
School. They’ve been appropriated for
its purposes, which include a strong
condemnation of the northern kingdom, of Israel and her
kings, as idolatrous. So Elijah, Elijah the
Tishbite–which means that he comes from the city of Tishbeh
in Gilead, which is the other side of the
Jordan–Elijah is a very dramatic character.
He comes across the Jordan.
He’s dressed in a garment of
hair and a leather girdle. At the end of his story he’s
sort of whisked away, one of the king’s servants
surmises, by the wind of God. He does battle with the cult of
Baal and Asherah. We associate Elijah most with
the battle with the cult of Baal and Asherah.
This had been introduced by King Ahab to please his
Baal-worshipping queen, Queen Jezebel.
And as his first act, Elijah announces a drought.
He announces a drought in the
name of Yahweh. Now, this is a direct challenge
to Baal, because Baal is believed to control the rain.
He’s believed to control the
general fertility of the land and life itself.
So Elijah’s purpose is presumably to show that it is
Yahweh, and not Baal, who controls fertility.
We have very good evidence that
Baal was in fact worshipped in the northern Kingdom right down
to the destruction. This is something we’ve touched
on earlier as well. It’s quite possible that
Israelites in the northern kingdom saw no real conflict
between the cult of Baal and the cult of Yahweh.
But in the Elijah story the Deuteronomistic historian
represents these two cults as being championed by
exclusivists. It’s one or the other.
Jezebel, Ahab’s queen,
kept a retinue of 450 Baal prophets and was killing off the
prophets of Yahweh. And by the same token,
Elijah is equally zealous for Yahweh.
He refuses to tolerate the worship of any god but Yahweh,
and he performs miracles constantly in the name of Yahweh
to show that it is Yahweh and not Baal who gives life,
for example. He raises a dead child;
he multiplies oil and flour and so on, all of this in the name
of the Lord to show that it is Yahweh, and not Baal who has
true power. But as I’ve mentioned before,
there are some scholars who argue that biblical religion,
again as opposed to Israelite-Judean religion–what
actual people were doing in Israel and Judah,
that’s one thing, but biblical religion,
which is this exclusive Yahwism or the tendency towards
monotheism–there are some who believe that that biblical
religion originated in the activity of zealous prophets
like Elijah and Elisha in the north,
doing battle with Baal worship. After the fall of the northern
kingdom, those traditions, those Yahweh-only traditions,
came south and were eventually absorbed in the Deuteronomistic
School. So this in fact may be the
origin of some: this Yahweh-only party
represented by figures like Elijah and Elisha.
The conflict between the two
cults, the Yahweh cult and the Baal cult, reaches a climax in
the story in 1 Kings 18, this wonderful story in which
Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a
contest. We have to remember that a
severe drought has fallen on the land, which Elijah attributes to
God’s punishment for Ahab’s sin in introducing Baal worship on a
broad scale. Now, Elijah is hiding from the
king, who’s very angry with him for declaring this drought in
the name of God. After three years he returns to
Ahab. Ahab sees Elijah,
and he says, “Is that you,
you troubler of Israel?”. And the prophet responds,
“It is not I who have brought trouble on Israel,
but you and your father’s House,
by forsaking the commandments of the Lord and going after the
Baalim. Now summon all Israel to join
me at Mount Carmel together, with the four hundred and fifty
prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah,
who eat at Jezebel’s table” that are supported by the royal
house. When all of these people are
gathered, Elijah challenges the Israelites.
He says, “‘How long will you keep hopping between two
opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him;
and if Baal, follow him!'”. You’re hopping between two
opinions. So it seems that at the popular
level there is no problem with integrating these two cults,
but you have the prophets of both that are demanding a
certain exclusivity. He’s met with silence.
So Elijah prepares for a
dramatic contest. Two bulls are slaughtered,
and they are laid on altars, one an altar to Baal and one an
altar to Yahweh. And the 450 prophets of Baal
are to invoke their god and Elijah will invoke his God to
send a fire to consume the sacrifice.
The god who answers first, or the god who answers with
fire, is truly God. So the Baal prophets invoke
their god morning to noon, and they’re shouting,
“Oh, Baal. Answer us.”
And the description that follows is wonderfully
satirical. But there was no sound,
and none who responded; so they performed a hopping
dance about the altar that had been set up.
When noon came, Elijah mocked them,
saying, “Shout louder! After all he is a god.
But he may be in conversation,
or he may be relieving himself [in the bathroom],
or he may be on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and
will wake up.” So they shouted louder,
and gashed themselves with knives and spears,
according to their practice, until the blood streamed over
them. When noon passed,
they kept raving until the hour of presenting the meal offering.
[1 Kings 18:26-29;
see note 2] So more hours have gone by and
still there’s no sound and none who responded or heeded.
And then it’s Elijah’s turn.
Elijah sets up 12 stones to
represent the 12 tribes; he lays the bull out on the
altar. He then digs a trench around
the altar and he orders water to be poured over the whole thing
so that it’s completely saturated and the trench is
filled with water. This is going to highlight,
of course, the miracle that’s about to occur.
And then he calls upon the name of the Lord, and instantly a
fire descends from God and consumes everything:
offering, wood, stone, earth,
water, everything. And the people prostrate
themselves and declare, “Yahweh alone is God.
Yahweh alone is God.”
The prophets of Baal are all
seized and slaughtered. Elijah expects an end to the
drought, and a servant comes to report to him that “A cloud as
small as a man’s hand is rising in the west,”
and the sky grows black and there’s a strong wind and a
heavy storm, and the drought is finally over.
The language that’s used to describe this storm is the
language that’s typically employed for the storm god Baal.
It drives home the point of the
whole satire, that Yahweh is the real god of
the storm, not Baal. Yahweh controls nature,
not Baal. It’s God who is effective;
Baal is silent and powerless, and Israel’s choice should be
clear. Yahweh should be the only God
for Israel, just as he is for Elijah, who’s name El-i-yahu
means “my God is Yahweh.” So Jezebel is pretty upset and
she threatens Elijah with execution.
He flees into the desert, and he will spend 40 days and
40 nights on a mountain called Horeb, or Sinai.
That, of course, is the site of God’s revelation
to Moses. Moses also spent 40 days and 40
nights there, and many scholars have pointed
out the numerous parallels between Elijah and Moses.
It seems that there was a
conscious literary shaping of the Elijah traditions on the
model of Moses, in more ways than just these
two. We’ll see a few coming up.
Elijah is in great despair at
Sinai. He wants to die.
He feels that he has failed in his fight for God.
And so he hides himself in a
rocky cleft, and this is also reminiscent of the cleft that
Moses hides himself in in order to catch a glimpse of God as God
passes by. Similarly, Elijah hides in a
cleft where he will encounter God.
This passage is in 1 Kings 19:9-12:
Then the Word of the Lord came to him.
He said to him, “Why are you here,
Elijah?” He replied, “I am moved by zeal
for the Lord, the God of Hosts,
for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant,
torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to the
sword. I alone am left,
and they are out to take my life.”
“Come out,” He called, “and stand on the mountain
before the Lord.” And lo, the Lord passed by.
There was a great and mighty
wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of
the Lord; but the Lord was not in the
wind. After the wind–an earthquake;
but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake–;fire; but the Lord was not in the
fire. And after the fire–a soft
murmuring sound. Or perhaps a still, small voice.
A lot of translations use that
phrase, which is very poetic. When Elijah heard it,
he wrapped his mantle about his face and went out and stood at
the entrance of the cave. Elijah seems to be renewed
somehow at Sinai. This was the mountain that was
the source of Israel’s covenant with God.
But whereas the earlier theophonies there at Sinai had
involved earthquake and wind and fire,
the narrative here seems to be making a point of saying that
God is not in the earthquake and the wind and the fire.
He is in the lull after the
storm. This might then be providing a
kind of balance or corrective to the preceding story that we’ve
just had of Mount Carmel, Elijah on Mount Carmel.
God may be the master of the
storm, and Elijah dramatically demonstrated that,
but he isn’t to be identified with the storm in the same way
that Baal was. He’s not a nature god,
and he’s known only in silence. A kind of awesome vocal silence.
In the theophony then that
follows to Elijah, God instructs Elijah to return.
He has to leave Sinai;
he has to return to the people. He has work to do;
he has to foment rebellion, or revolution I should say,
in the royal house. This task is one that Elijah
will not complete. His disciple Elisha will end up
completing it. But the importance in this
scene I think is its emphasis on God as the God of history rather
than a nature god. Israel’s God acts in history;
he’s made known to humans by his acts in history.
His prophet cannot withdraw to
a mountain retreat. He has to return and he has to
play his part in God’s plans for the nation.
So we’ve discussed the prophet as God’s zealot,
particularly as illustrated or exemplified by Elijah and
Elisha. The prophets also had other
roles, and we’ll see this in Elisha.
Elisha succeeds Elijah. The cycle of stories about
Elijah ends with Elijah’s ascent into Heaven on a fiery chariot
in a whirlwind. That’s a detail in the story
that has contributed to the longstanding belief that Elijah
never died. And so Elijah will be the
harbinger of the Messiah. He will come back to announce
the coming of the Messiah. Elijah left his prophetic cloak
to his disciple and successor Elisha.
Elisha’s involvement in the political arena was also
important and highlights another prophetic role we’ve touched on
before, that of kingmaker and
king-breaker. So just as Samuel anointed Saul
king and then David king in private meetings,
you also have Elisha. He sends an associate to
secretly anoint Jehu (Jehu is one of Ahab’s ex-captains) as
king of Israel. This is going to initiate a
very bloody civil war. Jehu is going to massacre all
of Ahab’s family, all of his supporters,
his retinue in Israel. He also assembles all of the
Baal worshippers in a great temple that was built by Ahab in
Samaria, and then he orders all of them
killed and the temple demolished.
So it is a pitched battle, an all-out war between the
Yahweh-only party the Baal party.
We’re not going to be looking at Elisha in great detail,
but I will just point out one last aspect of his prophetic
profile that I think is notable here in the book of Kings.
And that is the characteristic
of prophets as miracle workers. Like Elijah,
Elisha performs miracles. He causes an iron axe to float;
he raises a child from the dead; he fills jars of oil.
He makes poison soup edible.
He causes 20 loaves of barley
to feed a hundred men, and he heals lepers.
These legendary stories,
in which divine intentions are effected by means of the
supernatural powers of holy men, this represents a popular
religiosity. People would turn to
wonder-working holy men when they were sick or in crisis,
when they needed help. And this kind of religious
activity–which was clearly widespread in the Ancient Near
East and in Israel–this kind of popular belief,
this fascination with wonder-working charismatics,
it’s also seen very prominently in the gospels of the New
Testament. A final prophetic role is very
well-illustrated by the prophet Nathan.
Nathan is the classic example of a prophet who serves as the
conscience of the king. In 2 Samuel:
11-12, we have the dramatic story of David and Bathsheba.
King David’s illicit union with
Bathsheba–as you know, she’s the wife of Uriah who is
fighting in the king’s army–his illicit union with Bathsheba
results in her pregnancy. And when David learns that
Bathsheba is pregnant, he first tries to avoid the
issue. He grants Uriah a leave from
the frontlines. He says: Come on home and have
a conjugal visit with your wife. And Uriah is very pious (and it
leaves you to wonder who knew what when).
It’s a great story. It’s told with a lot of
subtlety and indirection. But Uriah is very pious,
and he refuses: No, how could I enjoy myself
when people are out there dying? which is an implicit criticism
of the king, who just did that very thing.
And so David is foiled there, and he plans to then just
dispose of Uriah. So he orders Uriah’s commanders
to place Uriah in the front lines of the battle and then
pull back so that Uriah is basically left on his own and he
will be killed. And indeed he is.
So David adds murder to
adultery. But not even the king is above
God’s law, and God sends his prophet Nathan to tell the king
a fable. This is in 2 Samuel 12:1
through 14. “There were two men in
the same city, one rich and one poor.
And the rich man had very large
flocks and herds, but the poor man had only one
little ewe lamb that he had bought.
He tended it and it grew up together with him and his
children: it used to share his morsel of bread,
and drink from his cup, and nestle in his bosom;
it was like a daughter to him. One day, a traveler came to the
rich man, but he was loathe to take anything from his own
flocks or herds to prepare a meal for the guest who had come
to him; so he took the poor man’s lamb
and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
David flew into a rage against
the man and said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives,
the man who did this deserves to die!
He shall pay for the lamb four times over because he did such a
thing and showed no pity. And Nathan said to David,
“That man is you.” It’s such a wonderful story,
and it’s wonderful to think that Nathan wasn’t struck down
on the spot. He escaped with his life after
this accusation. But it’s symptomatic of the
biblical narrator’s view of monarchy, the subjugation of the
king to Yahweh, to Yahweh’s teachings,
to Yahweh’s commandments, to Yahweh’s true prophets that
we don’t hear that Nathan is carted off,
but instead David acknowledges his guilt and he repents.
He doesn’t escape all
punishment. For this deed the child of the
union does in fact die, and there’s a great deal of
future strife and treachery in David’s household as we know,
and the writer does blame a good deal of that on the deeds,
these terrible sins of David’s. Elijah similarly is going to
function as the conscience of King Ahab in 1 Kings 21.
There you have a story of a
vineyard. The king covets this particular
vineyard of a particular man. So the king’s wife Jezebel
falsely accuses the man of blasphemy.
That is a capital crime and the man is stoned to death,
even though these are trumped up charges, and his property is
transferred to the crown. Shortly after that,
Elijah appears, and he pronounces doom upon
Ahab and his descendants for this terrible deed.
Ahab admits the sin.
And so his punishment is delayed, but as we’ve seen he is
later killed in battle at Ramoth-Gilead.
So in these stories we see the prophets functioning as
troublers of Israel–certainly from the royal point of view.
And their relationships with
the royal house–these relationships are quite
adversarial. So we’re ready to move into
what we call the period of classical prophecy and the
literary prophets. And that’s a period that begins
with two prophets, Amos and Hosea,
whom we’ll be talking about next time.
The last prophet of the classical prophets was Malachi.
So you have about a 320-year
period. You have the prophets
prophesying from about 750 down to about 430,320 years.
That’s the span of time covered
by these books of the literary prophets.
And these prophets were responding to urgent crises in
the life of the nation. It’s easiest if we think of
them as being grouped around four periods of crisis or four
critical periods, which I’ve listed here.
First we have prophets of the
Assyrian crisis. Right?
Remember the fall of Israel in 722–so around that,
clustering around that time. We have prophets of the
Babylonian crisis, the destruction,
of course, is 586, so we have prophets who cluster
around that time, a little bit before.
Then you have prophets of the
Exile, the years that are spent in exile in Babylon,
and that’s primarily Ezekiel. And then we have prophets of
the post-exilic or restoration community, when the Israelites
are allowed to come back to restore their community.
And we’ll see certain prophets
there. So in the eighth century,
the Assyrian Empire is threatening Israel and Judah.
You have two northern prophets,
Amos and Hosea. The N is for north,
so Amos and Hosea are prophesying in the north,
and they’re warning of this doom.
It’s going to come as punishment for violations of the
Mosaic Covenant. Israel fell in 722.
You have a similar threat being
posed by the Assyrians to the southern kingdom,
Judah. And so you have two Judean
prophets, Isaiah and Micah. They carry a similar message to
the Judeans. So those four we associate with
the Assyrian crisis. With the fall of Nineveh the
capital of Assyria–that fall is in 612 and that’s something that
the prophet Nahum celebrates; then Babylon is the master of
the region–Judah becomes a vassal state but tries to rebel.
And the prophets Habakkuk and
Jeremiah, they prophesy in the southern kingdom,
in Judah. Jeremiah, he urges political
submission to Babylon because he sees Babylon as the agent of
God’s just punishment. We’ll come back and look at all
these messages in great detail. Post-exilic prophet,
or exilic prophet, Ezekiel as I said,
a prophet of the exile who’s consoling the people in exile in
Babylonia, but also asserting the justice
of what has happened. And then finally at the end of
the sixth century when the first exiles are returning to restore
the community, returning to the homeland,
they face a very harsh life. And you have Haggai,
Zechariah promising a better future.
You have prophets like Joel and Malachi who bring some
eschatological hope into the mix.
So that can help frame–those are the ones we’re going to
touch on mostly. We’re not going to hit all of
the prophetic books, but these are the main ones
we’ll hit. And we’ll start with Amos next