Haftarah for Pinhas

The prophet Elijah is so zealous for God, he loses his job.

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The haftarah selection is from Kings I, 18:46-19:21.

The haftarah for Parashat Pinhas features the last, and perhaps most famous, biblical story about Elijah the prophet. Living during the reign of the evil Israelite king Ahab and his even-worse queen, Jezebel, Elijah gained a reputation for working miracles and crusading against idolatry. The haftarah begins just after Elijah has slaughtered 450 worshipers of Ba'al.

Jezebel gets word of the massacre Elijah perpetrated, and she is furious. She vows that on the very next day Elijah's fate will be the same as those he killed. Frightened, Elijah runs for his life. He stops under a bush in the wilderness, feeling defeated. "Enough! Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers," he mutters in despair (19:4).

Elijah falls asleep but is awakened by an angel urging him to eat cake and drink water which had just miraculously appeared at his side. Elijah eats, but again he falls asleep. The angel is persistent and wakes Elijah a second time, telling him to eat and drink because there is a long journey ahead of him.

Elijah in the Wilderness

With the strength he gained from that meal, Elijah walks for 40 days in the wilderness, to the mountain of God at Horeb. He finds a cave there and spends the night.

While asleep in the cave, God appears to Elijah and asks him a powerful, existential question: "Why are you here, Elijah?" (19:9)

Elijah responds with a monologue defending his zealotry: "I am moved by zeal for the Lord, 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" (19:10).

Instead of replying directly to Elijah's claim, God takes Elijah out of the cave and shows him some miracles. First God sends a mighty wind, splitting mountains and rocks--but, the text tells us, God was not in the wind. Then God creates a forceful earthquake. Again the text specifies that God was not in the earthquake. Then God sets a powerful fire--but, once again, we learn that the fire did not contain God's presence. Finally, God brings about a still, small voice.

"Why are you here, Elijah?" (19:13)--God poses this question a second time. But Elijah is unchanged even after experiencing the wind, earthquake, fire, and small voice. He responds to God's question with precisely the same self-important words he used before: "I am moved by zeal for the Lord, for the Israelites have forsaken…I alone am left…" (19:14).

In Elijah's unchanged response, we can see the tragedy of his life. The still, small voice had been God's attempt to teach Elijah that zealotry and grand miracles are not always the best way to serve God's purpose. But Elijah is a man who only knows to act with fire and brimstone; he could not learn the lesson.

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