Sunday School Lesson #28

July 11, 2006 | 20 comments
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Lesson 28: 1 Kings 17-19

Elijah

We know from passages in the New Testament and, especially, from Latter-day revelation, that Elijah is one of the most important prophets to have lived. (In the Jewish tradition, he is second only to Moses.) Yet we know almost nothing about him. Why do you think that is?

In addition to the story of his life, in these and the next few chapters of scripture, we have Malachi’s prophecy that Elijah would come to bind the hearts of the fathers and the children (Malachi 4:5), as well as the repetition of that prophecy in several places, notably in D&C 2:1-3, where we are told that his coming will bring a restoration of the sealing priesthood. (See also D&C 110:13-16). The Savior thought the prophecy was so important that he repeated it during his ministry to the Nephites.

Of Elijah, Joseph Smith said:

The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God, even unto the turning of the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the hearts of the children unto the fathers, even those who are in heaven. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 337)

The Spirit of Elias is first, Elijah second, and Messiah last. Elias is a forerunner to prepare the way, and the spirit and power of Elijah is to come after, holding the keys of power, building the temple to the capstone, placing the seals of the Melchizedek priesthood upon the house of Israel, and making all things ready; then Messiah comes to his temple, which is last of all. (Documentary History of the Church, 6:254)

As my friend Arthur Bassett has noted, there is considerable difference between Elijah’s mission and what we know of his life: he brings the sealing power, but the only sealing we see him do is the sealing of the heavens; the sealing power unites families, but we see no family for him; the sealing power creates an eternal community, but we see him live a solitary life; the work of sealing is mostly associated with the temple, but have no record of any connection between him and the temple in Jerusalem.

There are strong parallels between Elijah and John the Baptist: Elijah is a secluded prophet, dressed in leather and crying repentance in the wilderness; part of his mission is accomplished on the banks of a stream; those who most oppose him are a wicked king and queen, and the queen is the one most actively seeking his death; he restores a priesthood (the sealing priesthood) to the earth in the latter-days. Elijah is also somewhat like Melchizedek, in that we know virtually nothing about his personal background. John the Baptist was a forerunner. Was Elijah? If so, how?

Background

The story of Elijah is primarily a story of his conflict with Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked king and queen of Israel (the northern tribes). Ahab has become king after a series of assassinations, insurrections, and civil war, giving Israel six kings in approximately thirty-six years.

Chapter 17

Verse 1: This is the first reference we have to Elijah. It is as if he comes from out of no where. Why do you think the text introduces him in this sudden, dramatic fashion? The name Elijah means “Yahweh is God.” What is the significance of that name for his work? Rather than “Tishbite” describing where he is from, most contemporary scholars assume that it means “settler.” In these circumstances, why is it important for Elijah to announce that God is a living God? What does it mean to us to say the he is living rather than dead? What would be an example of a dead god? The first thing we see of Elijah is his prophecy. Why did he seal the heavens? The drought lasted for three years (1 Kings 18:1), and it was serious and wide-spread enough that it may be referred to in other historical records (for example, but not only, in Josephus’s Antiquities 8:13). Announcing the drought amounted to announcing a challenge to Baal, Ahab’s god, who claimed to be the god of rain and fertility. Why do you think the Lord would command such a challenge? Why do we not see such challenges today?

Verses 3-7: Why do you think the Lord told Elijah to hide? How does what the Lord doesfor Elijah relate to the wider drought? In other words, what lesson is being taught here? Is there anything symbolic about the use of the raven rather than another bird? Is it significant that the raven was an unclean bird (Leviticus 11:15). How does Jesus use this story? (See Luke 4:24-25.)

Verses 8-24: Presumably Elijah did many things worth reporting. Why do you think the writer chose to tell us this particular story? What does it teach? Does it show us anything important about Elijah? Is it significant that this story and a story about Elisha are similar? (See 2 Kings 4:18-37.) Is it significant that Sidon (“Zidon” in the KJV) was a Gentile city and, so, the widow was probably a Gentile? Under the same circumstances, how would you have taken Elijah’s command? How does this story illustrate that “whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap” (D&C 6:33)? After the widow has fed Elijah, her faith is tried again by the death of her son (verse 17). What does she think has happened (verse 18)? Does the fact that, on the one hand, she calls Elijah a man of God, and on the other hand, she questions his integrity, say something about her feelings at the time? How does Elijah’s miracle answer her question? Does that teach us anything about how we should deal with those who accuse us? We read this story as one about the trial of this widow’s faith, and of course, that is reasonable. But can we also read it as a trial of Elijah’s faith? For example, what might he have thought when he arrived in Zaraphath? Why is healing of the sick such an important sign of the prophet and, later, of the Christ?

Chapter 18

How is the story of this chapter related to that of the previous chapter? G

Verses 1-2: Why does the Lord want Elijah to show himself to Ahab?

Verses 3-5: What do we learn about the situation in Ahab’s court from these verses? What kind of person was Obadiah?

Verses 6-16: Why is Obadiah afraid? Why does he keep repeating “and thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold Elijah is here”? How does Elijah calm his fear? Contrast verse 16 with verses 9-15. What does verse 16 show us about Obadiah? Does what Obadiah says in verse 7 help us think about the questions for 1 Kings 17:1?

Verses 17-18: Is Ahab surprised to see Elijah? Of what “trouble” does each accuse the other? The Hebrew word translated “he that troubleth” in verse 17 connotes witchcraft. On what basis might Ahab make that accusation?

Verses 19-24: To say that the priests of Baal ate at Jezebel’s table is to say that they were official members of her court. Why does the writer think it is important to tell us that they are? What do you think Ahab and the people thought would happen when they all gathered at Carmel? Why does Elijah have them gather at Carmel rather than another place, such as Jezreel (Ahab’s palace is there) or Bethel or Dan (where Israel worships)? What do you make of the people’s inability to answer Elijah? He asks them “How long halt [or "limp"] ye between two opinions?” What are the two opinions between which they limp? Is Obadiah an example of a person limping between two opinions? What does your answer suggest about Israel as a whole? (See 1 Kings 19:18.) Note that the word translated “limp” suggests a ritual dance at an altar (as in verse 27). Why does Elijah use that particular metaphorical language here?

In verse 21, the people do not answer Elijah. In verse 24 Elijah puts the contest as a question of which God will answer prayer. We will see in verses 24 and 26 that Baal does not answer his priests. Then in verse 37 Elijah says “Answer me, O God, answer me” (translated as “hear me” in the KJV). So what?

Verses 25-29: The priests do a sacred dance around the altar and cut themselves, a sign of devotion in many ancient religions. Why does Elijah mock them (verse 27)?

Verses 30-40: Is it significant that Elijah offers his sacrifice on an ancient Israelite altar that he repairs? Why does Elijah use twelve stones rather than ten? Notice that when he does so, the writer refers to the Lord change of Jacob’s name to Israel (verse 30). What might Elijah be telling the Northern Kingdom, now called Israel? After all, the kingdom is now divided, with only ten tribes in Israel. Why does Elijah wait until evening to perform this miracle? Why does he dig a trench around the altar and drench it in water? What is the significance of Elijah’s prayer (verse 37)? How do the people respond to his miracle? Why does he have them capture the priests of Baal and kill them?

Verses 40-46: Ahab wasn’t mentioned in the story of the contest between the Elijah and the priests of Baal. Why not? What is the purpose of this story? Does the fact that Elijah tells Ahab to eat and drink suggest that Ahab has been fasting? If so, was he fasting for the success of Jezebel’s priests, for the end of the drought, or something else? What is Elijah doing in verse 42? Why does he keep sending his servant to the point of Mt. Carmel? How violent was the storm? The sentence “[Elijah] ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel” means “Elijah ran as a herald in front of Ahab’s chariot to the entrance of Jezreel.” Why did he do that? Note: the distance was about 15 miles.

Chapter 19

Verses 1-2: Ahab seems pleased with the result of Elijah’s contest, with the rain that has come. Why is Jezebel unhappy? Another translation of verse 1: “And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and all about how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.” Does that shed any light on Jezebel’s anger? What does it say about Ahab? Why for example, did he say “all that Elijah had done” rather than “all that the Lord had done”? If Jezebel intends to kill Elijah, why does she warn him?

Verses 3-4: How do you explain Elijah’s reaction to Jezebel’s threat? Why is the person we have just seen deal with hundreds of priests of Baal now fear in Jezebel’s presence? What does he mean when he says “I am not better than my fathers”?

Verses 9-14: Many commentators assume that Mount Horeb is the same as Mount Sinai. Is there a relation between Moses’s experience on Mount Sinai and Elijah’s on Mount Horeb? Why does the Lord ask Elijah what he is doing in the cave? Is Elijah fleeing or was he sent here by the Lord? Most translations have “zealous” instead of “jealous” in the first part of verse 10. “Zealous” is one of the meanings of “jealous” in King James English, and it is an accurate translation of the Hebrew. Is there perhaps an accusation in Elijah’s claim that he has been zealous for the Lord’s name, perhaps a suggestion that the Lord has not been zealous for his name? Jezebel killed the Lord’s priests (1 Kings 18:4). Why does Elijah say that the people of Israel did it?

Why is the question that the Lord asks after the experience of the wind, earthquake, fire, and still small voice the same as the question he asked before that experience? (Compare verses 9-10 and 13-14.) Elijah’s answer is the same as it was before, so what has this experience changed?

How does Elijah’s experience in these verses contrast with the experience he has just had at Carmel? What does that contrast teach us? Why do you think this experience was important to Elijah after his experience at Carmel? Compare this revelation of God with that we saw in Exodus 19:16-19. What do wind, fire, and earthquake do in each? Why the differences?

Verses 15-21: Why would the Lord tell Elijah whom to anoint as king over Syria, a kingdom outside of both Judah and Israel? What is the point of verse 18. Some have described it as the climax of this story. Can you see how they could understand it that way? The hair-shirt mantle was part of a prophet’s official dress, so putting it on Elisha was a way of saying immediately, “Here is the new prophet.” Since Elisha had twelve oxen, he must have been wealthy. Why does he kill all twelve of them and cook them with the wood from his plow?

To see the rest of Elijah’s story, you may also want to read chapters 21 and 22, and 2 Kings 1-2.

20 Responses to Sunday School Lesson #28

  1. Patty on July 18, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    Here is a great article that sheds a deeper light on the battle with Baal.
    http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll/Magazines/Ensign/1990.htm/ensign%20july%201990.htm/elijah%20champion%20of%20israels%20god.htm?f=templates$fn=document-frame.htm$3.0$q=$x=$nc=8351
    Elijah:Champion of Israel’s God By John A. Tvedtnes

  2. BrianJ on July 23, 2006 at 2:27 am

    I thought it was interesting that Elijah would use up so much water during a severe drought. Is he trying to make a point, other than the obvious one that water should dampen a fire?

  3. Robert C. on July 23, 2006 at 8:46 am

    BrianJ #2: Good point/quesetion. I think the theme of “God providing” is obviously crucial in these chapters (and the scriptures in general, starting at least w/ Moses providing water and mannah in the wilderness through John 4 & 6 w/ Jesus as the bread of life). So I think it’s very significant that God takes away the water in 18:38 and then, in the immediately subsequent pericope, provides water in 18:41. I also think it’s significant that God’s control over all elements is shown–water, fire and wind all figure prominently in these chapters….

  4. JWL on July 23, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    Re: #1

    Patty –

    Thanks for the reference. It provided some great color and background for the lesson.

  5. BrianJ on July 23, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Patty,

    I should have read that article sooner. Excellent! I found some of that information in the NET Bible translator’s notes, but that article is much more detailed.

  6. Robert C. on July 23, 2006 at 7:48 pm

    Here’s a brief Robert Alter quote on Elijah’s succinct response contrasted to Obadiah’s rambly, verbose response in 1 Kgs 18.

  7. Robert C. on July 25, 2006 at 12:56 pm

    In addition to parallels between Elijah and John the Baptist, a recent JBL article considers parallels of Jesus’s ministry with Elijah’s. See JBL v. 124/3 (2005), pp. 451-465, available on-line here.

    Also, for future reference and in case you’ve missed them, FPR has had a very good series of posts on Elijah: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

  8. Robert C. on July 25, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    In addition to parallels between John the Baptist and Elijah, check out: “JESUS, PROPHET LIKE ELIJAH, AND PROPHET-TEACHER LIKE MOSES IN LUKE-ACTS” by J. SEVERINO CROATTO in JBL 124/3 (2005) 451–465 (the entire volume is available online here).

    Also, for future reference and in case you missed the recent flurry of excellent FPR posts for this lesson, check out: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

  9. Adam S on July 27, 2006 at 8:26 am

    Don’t you think this is a little misleading?

    “Does the fact that Elijah tells Ahab to eat and drink suggest that Ahab has been fasting? If so, was he fasting for the success of Jezebel’s priests, for the end of the drought, or something else?”

    There is nothing to suggest fasting. He is only saying the end of the drought is near and that they can start eating and drinking like before. If I am missing something let me know.

  10. Jim F. on July 27, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    No, Adam S, I don’t think the question is misleading. Your interpretation of the remark that they can eat and drink is a reasonable one, but as I was reading it seemed to me odd to tell someone to begin eating and drinking in the context. That suggested that perhaps Ahab had been fasting.

  11. Bob Wilde on July 28, 2006 at 12:30 am

    The FARMS article expands on the Baal v Yahweh theme.
    http://farms.byu.edu/publications/paperschapter.php?chapid=66

  12. annegb on July 28, 2006 at 9:10 am

    Jim, I have been printing these and studying them intently since the Sunday School teacher talked about how Bathsheba brought David down and how little girls tempt little boys, in front of the mothers of the little girls his teenage son had molested. That boy is in jail.

    Which is not the best reason to become more familiar with the Old Testament, but whatever works, I guess.

  13. Adam S on July 29, 2006 at 9:04 am

    Thanks for the reply. I can see what you mean. By the way, I really appreciate the lesson outlines you post here. You do a great job.

  14. BrianJ on July 29, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    I think the widow shows how to respond to “requests” from the Lord. I think her example could be followed when we are extended a calling we do not want or do not feel capable of doing. Truly one of the most life-changing stories in the scriptures for me personally.

  15. Robert C. on July 29, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    Here’s an interesting post that BrianJ posted regarding blind obedience (relevant to the Namaan story) which I think is worth checking out (thanks BrianJ).

  16. BrianJ on July 29, 2006 at 4:29 pm

    A minor point: When it says that Elisha had “12 yoke of oxen,” I think that means 24 oxen, a yoke being two animals. Also, Elisha does not kill all 24, but rather just one yoke (or two animals).

    I’m also wondering about the phrase in italics: “…with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth.” Why does it matter where he stands? Is this something unusual or important? He is plowing with them, so I would think he would naturally be in the rear. Also: how many oxen does it take to drive a plow? Twelve yoke seems like enough to plow through concrete.

    I can still see the importance of Elisha’s actions, despite the little details I don’t understand. He is called to serve, and his first action is to slaughter and destroy his oxen. He is a wealthy man, but doesn’t hesitate to leave that wealth. Moreover, he even destroys that wealth, perhaps symbollically saying, “There is no going back.” I think it is also illustrative of his character that he gives away the meat to the people.

  17. Jim F. on July 29, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    BrianJ, thanks for the correction. Obviously twelve yoke means 24 oxen. And thanks also for noticing that I misread. Again, you’re right that he only killed one. Finally, thanks especially for the pieces to which you and Robert C linked. Good points.

    Robert C, as usual you’ve provided many excellent links to help us think about the chapters for this weeks lesson. Thanks. I hope people are following them. They add quite a bit.

    Bob Wilde, thanks for the link to the FARMS article.

    Annegb, I’m always glad to hear that someone finds the lessons helpful for preparing for Sunday School class. As you point out, your reasons are a little perverse, but in this case perhaps better perverse reasons than no reasons at all.

  18. Robert C. on July 29, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    BrianJ #16: Good question about Elisha and the twelfth oxen. One possible (literary) significance is that I think Elisha died under the twelfth king of Israel (see a list of kings here, the 4th link down on the page).

    Why should’ve Elisha killed all 24 oxen if 2 were enough for the feast? I actually favor viewing the feast in 1 Kgs 19:21 as a farewell feast (see this page for a brief sketch of what I think are the possible interpretations of this feast), and I think your question favors this view.

  19. BrianJ on July 29, 2006 at 6:08 pm

    Robert C, #18: Thanks for the interesting interpretation with the twelfth king. How do you notice stuff like that (all the time)?!

    I can see myself coming back to these verses next year when I teach the Luke 9:61-62 Gospel Doctrine Lesson.

  20. Robert C. on July 29, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    (#18 addenda, Elisha’s death is given in 2 Kgs 13, and Joash/Jehoash—I think there is also a Judean Joash, but I can’t keep all the king names straight—is mentioned in vv. 14 and 25, though I’m sure if both these verses are referring to the same Joash/Jehoash person….)

    BrianJ #19: Since I’m always interested in learning how people search for things, I’ll tell you I searched in Google for “Elisha twelfth significant OR significance” and, hoping to find some sort of Robert-Alter-literary-type article looking at this phrase (I really like how he looks for significance in every little phrase, this is a favorite example of mine), I happened to notice on the second Google page, second link down that Joash was referred to as the twelfth king….