Elijah & Elisha

Two popular and enigmatic prophets

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Both sides are provided with a bullock. They are to prepare their sacrifice, lay it on wood on an altar but are not to set the fire. Both are to call on their respective deities--the sending of fire to consume the sacrifice will serve to indicate the real God. The prophets of Baal, having set up their sacrifice, call fruitlessly on their god.  As Elijah taunts, they bound around their altar gashing their bodies, but all to no avail. As the time of the evening sacrifice nears their sacrifice, remains untouched by fire.

Symbolically Elijah builds his altar from 12 stones representing the twelve tribes. He surrounds the altar with a ditch, lays the sacrifice on the wood and pours water over it until even the ditch is full. He calls on YHWH to let the people know that He is the God of Israel and Elijah is his prophet.  Fire not only consumes the waterlogged sacrifice but the wood, the stone, the dust and the water that was in the ditch.  Faced with such a demonstration, the people declare YHWH to be God and Elijah slaughters the losing prophets.

A Still Small Voice, and the Mantle will Pass On

The rainstorm arrives, but Elijah's triumph places him in danger from Jezebel. He flees to the wilderness where he wishes for death. Again he is sustained by miraculously provided food and drink.  He travels 40 days and 40 nights to the mountain of Horeb (Sinai) where, in a cave, he pours out his despair to YHWH. 

It is here that Elijah encounters YHWH in a kol demamah dakah  (usually translated as "a still small voice").  The significance of this is debated, but one possibility is that this encounter is meant to emphasize to Elijah that the noise and drama of zealotry is perhaps not the best way to do God's will.

Elijah reiterates his despair (perhaps suggesting that he has not understood God's message) and is sent on his way with three commissions, all of which allude to a future in which he himself will not participate; he is to anoint Hazael to be future king over Aram, Jehu to be king over Israel and Elisha to be prophet in his place.

Naboth's Vineyard: A Case of Judicial Murder

Elijah's second confrontation with Ahab concerns Naboth's vineyard and is reminiscent of the David and Bathsheva story.  Naboth's vineyard lies near Ahab's palace, and the king wants it for a vegetable garden.  In exchange, he offers a better vineyard or money.  Naboth refuses to give up his inheritance.  Ahab descends into a serious sulk, so Jezebel devises a plan to obtain the vineyard for her husband.  She has two witnesses falsely testify that Naboth cursed God.  He is stoned to death and Ahab takes possession of the vineyard.

Elijah is sent by YHWH to confront Ahab and prophesy his doom--"where dogs licked Naboth's blood, dogs will lick that of the king".  His entire line will come to an end.  Jezebel too will become food for the dogs.  Ahab's reaction is immediate repentance for which he gains a stay of execution.   The evil will be postponed until the time of his son. 

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Anne-Marie Belinfante is a specialist in Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library.