Signpost for Sunday June 19, 2016: 1 Kings 19:1-15a; Psalms 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-29.
It seems strange to be skipping back and forth in the first book of Kings. We can lose track of events, and the lectionary misses out some of the parts which help to make sense of the rest, and sanitises the record by missing out many of the particularly violent bits.
King Ahab had chosen to marry Jezebel, the daughter of the king of the Phoenician city of Tyre. This made perfectly good political sense, but was in direct conflict with the law given through Moses, which specified that the people of Israel were not to marry the people of the land. The Phoenicians were the maritime trading super power of the time. They set up colonies around the North African coast and perhaps as far west as Cadiz, and they took their religion with them. (Carthage was one of their colonies, and they spoke a dialect of the Phoenician language when they were involved in the Punic wars with Rome some five hundred years after Jezebel’s time. Hannibal was one of their generals, his name means Grace of Baal.) The God of the Phoenicians was Baal-Melqart, together with the goddess Asherah. Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, brought her religion with her, and set about trying to stamp out the followers of the God of Israel. She kept a staff of four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and four hundred prophets of Asherah.
We see in the readings from the book of Kings a conflict between differing belief systems. On the one hand was the covenant with God, and on the other the belief that rulers could do exactly what they wanted to do, being responsible only to themselves. This is a situation which is only too common today, not only with military governments, but also with elected dictatorships.
Perhaps, after killing all the prophets of Baal, and running away after hearing Jezebel’s threat, Elijah had another lesson to learn: let people know the consequences of what they were doing, rather than attempting to force the issue. Of course it may be argued that, since we are heirs, and all of us who believe we are one in Christ Jesus, that it does not really matter, since we are safe anyway. The book of Kings, and the prophets, show otherwise: even the faithful were enslaved and taken into exile.