Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 38. Ahab King Of Israel, Elijah The Prophet

Prophets And Kings
Day 38
Ahab King Of Israel
Elijah The Prophet

This mornin we meets two quite famous characters of Scripture: wicked King Ahab of Israel and the great prophet Elijah.

1 KINGS 16:29-34
1 KINGS 17:1
King Omri reigned twelve years in Israel and now that he is dead and buried his son Ahab reigns in his place. "In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years." (1 Kings 16:29) We learned yesterday that Omri moved the capitol city to a hilltop he named Samaria, where he built a large fortress wall and a palace. This is where Ahab sits on the throne.

"Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him." (1 Kings 16:30-31) Ahab thought little of the rampant idolatry in the nation and the two golden calves that were set up in Jeroboam's time. He even thinks little of the laws his father made in regard to bowing down to the gods of Jeroboam. Ahab brings in an entirely new god, one that Israel has never worshiped before: the storm god Baal of the Canaanites. 

Because he was considered a bringer of rain on the earth, Baal was worshiped as one who gives sustenance by making the land produce food. Because this bringing forth of life from the ground was linked with renewal or fertility, he was somewhat of a fertility god as well. 

Baal worship in Israel involved witchcraft-type spells and rituals along with fertility rites such as the use of temple prostitutes. Ahab chose to marry a woman who was deeply committed to these practices. Likely he married her to make a political alliance with the kingdom of Sidon but he did not marry her on the condition that she would convert to the God of Israel. Instead he did a shocking and unheard of thing: he converted to the god of Sidon. No wonder we are told he "did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him". 

"He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him." (1 Kings 16:32-33) In Deuteronomy the Lord commanded the Israelites to cut down the Asherah poles of the Canaanite territories they were taking over. They were forbidden to set up Asherah poles themselves. It's difficult to determine now exactly what purpose the actual poles served but they were set up on the high places where pagan rituals were performed. Since Asherah was a fertility goddess we can only imagine the sexual sins that took place in the vicinity of these poles. 

In reading about Ahab we get the feeling he's going out of his way to rebel against the God of Israel. It's as if he's shaking his fist in God's face while asking Him what He plans to do about it. There's something perverse about Ahab that makes him take delight in blatantly engaging in pagan worship while flinging this fact in God's face at the same time.

"In Ahab's time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun." (1 Kings 16:34) On the day Jericho fell before the Israelites Joshua said this, "Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates." (Joshua 6:26) This was a prophetic word that Joshua spoke under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jericho was not to be rebuilt because the Lord had judged it and had sentenced it to destruction. The man who relaid the foundations would lose his firstborn son and the man who rebuilt the gates would lose his youngest son. We don't know whether these sons of Hiel perished of natural health causes, of injuries they sustained during the construction, or whether they might have been sacrificed. Some Canaanite cultures had a horrific tradition of "foundation sacrifices" which meant they would kill and entomb their firstborn son in the foundation or they would kill their youngest son and built his body into a wall of the gates of the city. This could be how the sons of Hiel perished during the rebuilding of Jericho because we have seen just how far into Canaanite idolatry the Israelites have fallen by now.

In the midst of such dark sin the word of the Lord comes to a man who will become a great prophet. As the psalmist assures us, "Even in darkness light dawns for the upright." (Psalm 112:4a) Not every citizen of the land has forsaken the Lord and from among those who remain faithful He will raise up a mighty prophet. "Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word." (1 Kings 17:1) 

A drought is coming and no amount of crying out to the storm god Baal will bring relief. Israel will find no help in her false god. The Lord Himself, the one who brought Israel by the hand out of Egypt, is about to show His children who controls the rain and the fruitfulness of the ground. No activities performed at the temples of the sex cult of Asherah will be able to cause even one grain of wheat to sprout. God alone is the creator of life and He is the one provides for mankind. Elijah, a mighty man of God, comes to Ahab with a prophecy that will prove he is speaking the word of the Lord, for only at his word will any rain fall. This is a sign that God, the one true God, has sent him. Elijah stands boldly before the throne of Ahab and declares, "The Lord, the God of Israel, lives." God is not dead! Baal will never replace Him. Though the people have tried to replace the Lord in their hearts, they will never be able to replace Him in reality, because the Lord is God and He is the only God. Ahab and the kings before him have tried to push God out of sight and out of mind but a showdown is soon coming. Then the nation will see who is God and who is not. 

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