Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Elijah and the Passover Ingathering


For some (mostly) unknown reason, Elijah's figure is quite central in the Pesach seder. But Elijah's traditional portrayal is not commensurate with this fiery Biblical figure, who used fire figuratively and literally. He makes a sudden appearance in Scripture, with the following: "And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As YHVH the Elohim of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word'" (1st Kings 17:1).  This word indeed came to pass, with a three-year drought.

No doubt Elijah's ministry reached its zenith in the famous Mount Carmel "showdown". What led to this dramatic event is described in 1st Kings 16:31-33:  "And he [Ahab] went and served Baal and worshiped him.  Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.  And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke YHVH the Elohim of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him". In other words, Ahab made Baal worship an official religion in Israel, something which even his predecessors have not succumbed to. At the behest of Elohim, Elijah meets Ahab sometime after the three years of drought, where each confronts and accuses the other (ref. 1st Kings 18:17).   It is then that Elijah issues the call to gather all of the Ashera and Baal prophets, as well as representatives of all Israel to Mount Carmel, to which Ahab surprisingly consents (ref. 1st Kings 18:19).

"And Elijah came to all the people, and said, 'How long will you falter between two opinions? If YHVH is Elohim, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him'". The literal Hebrew for "faltering between the two opinions" is "skipping – pa'so'ach, same root as "Pesach" – between the two branches". That is to say, 'choose one of the branches!' When the prophets of Baal pranced around the altar it says: "they leaped about" (1st Kings 18:26) – va'yi'phsechu - here is this word again, related to Pesach. "Then Elijah said to all the people, 'Come near to me'. So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of YHVH that was broken down.  And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of YHVH had come, saying, 'Israel shall be your name'" (1st Kings 18:30-31).   Like Moses and Joshua, Elijah made a twelve stone altar, about which it says (literal Hebrew again), "he healed the broken-down altar of YHVH". Was there ever a twelve-stone altar on Mount Carmel? There is no evidence of such. The "healing" that is spoken of, as well as "YHVH's broken altar" must be referring to the broken and divided House of Israel.

At Pesach, in the wilderness, while standing by a mountain, the children of Jacob became a people. On Mount Carmel, where literal reference was made to Pesach, once again representatives of all twelve tribes came together and were addressed by a hopeful prophet, who exhorted them to stop skipping on "two branches". Like Ezekiel, who later would prophesy about two trees being joined into one (ref. 37:15-25), his predecessor was also seeing that "two branches" won't do, they must become one: "If YHVH is Elohim, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him". As long as Israel is divided, skipping on two branches, at least one of those branches is bound to represent Baal.

You know how that episode ended. YHVH proved in no uncertain terms that He was and is Elohim; "Then the fire of YHVH fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.   Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'YHVH, He is Elohim! YHVH, He is Elohim!'" (1st Kings 19:38), all of this in face of the total failure of the false prophets, who met their demise after their pathetic attempts to 'arouse' their deity. The victory scene was awash with the rain that came down after the three-year drought and there was no one more elated than Elijah. "Then the hand of YHVH came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel" (1st Kings 18:46). Elijah was sure that after this event, not only would king Ahab repent, but that here was an opportunity for all of Israel to be reunited. Scripture has supplied us with plenty of hints, as we saw above – the gathering of "all Israel", usage of the verb "p.s.ch", a mountain event, an altar (cf. Ex. 24:4-5), two branches, the "repair" of the twelve stones, and so on. Curiously, even prior to this epic scene, when Elijah was commanded by Elohim to go to Zarephath in Sidon, a foreign land, where he was to be provided for by a local widow, he heard her say to him: "As YHVH your Elohim lives, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die" (1st Kings 17:12 emphasis added). Additionally, when Ahab and Elijah left Mount Carmel, rather than make their way to Israel's capital, Shomron, both of them rushed to Jezreel. Shortly after, the prophet Hosea will use Jezreel ("Yah's sowing") as a symbol for both the scattering and the copious re-gathering of Israel. 

However, the queen, the Sidonian Jezebel, had different plans, and Elijah was forced to flee. Totally despondent and broken, with his mission having failed: "… he prayed that he might die, and said, 'It is enough! Now, YHVH, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"(1st Kings 19:4).  After a forty-day journey he arrived at Horeb, the very place that saw the momentous event that Elijah was hoping to re-enact – the birthing and rebirthing of the People of Israel. However, YHVH Himself proved to Elijah that all the typical manifestations of Himself: fire, earthquake, and wind, similar to those that He had used in the founding-of-the-Nation occasion, were not relevant anymore. He expected Elijah to understand the message of "a faint sound of silence", according to the literal Hebrew (ref. 1st Kings 19:11-12). (Isaiah 30:15:   "For thus says YHVH Elohim, the Holy One of Israel: 'In returning and rest you shall be saved; In quietness and confidence shall be your strength. But you would not'".)  Elijah, however, did not understand.  Elijah still desired the big drama and was fired. Yes, Elohim sacked Elijah but gave him his final commission, to appoint his successor, to coronate Jehu in place of Ahab over Israel, and to appoint Hazael over Syria, instead of Ben Hadad, all of which was also going to affect the kingdom of Judah and bring about a reset in the Middle East (ref. 19:15-17). But the prophet refused this commission (he appointed Elisha only reluctantly). Why?

Elijah, in his refusal to bring an end to Ahab's reign, remembered Ahijah's prediction about the separation of the tribes of Israel and recalled the words:  "And I will afflict the descendants of David because of this, but not forever" (1st Kings 11:39). There was an expectancy that this division would be short-lived, perhaps even only 36 years, and this is what Elijah had in mind on Carmel. There he desired to renew Pesach, in a Mount Horeb fashion (notice that the story of the "two branches" from Ezekiel 37 is read on the Shabbat of Pesach). Elijah's vision is echoed in Malachi 2:10:  "Have we not all one Father? Has not one Elohim created us? Why do we deal treacherously with one another by profaning the covenant of the fathers?" But in spite of the 'failure' of Elijah's hopes and aspirations, and his refusal to act upon the assignment that Elohim had given him, YHVH was not done with Elijah. At the very end of the prophetic scriptures, a very emphatic pronouncement is made: "Remember the Torah of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, and statutes and judgments.  Behold, [IN ORDER TO ENABLE FOR THIS TO HAPPEN] I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of YHVH.  And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:4-6).

Elijah's role has not yet been completed. Before Yeshua's first coming, Yochanan the Immerser, His harbinger, came in the spirit of Elijah "to turn the hearts of the fathers [the patriarchs] to the children" (Matthew 11:13-14; Luke 1:17). Before Yeshua's return, Elijah will have to bring to full the second part of Malachi's prophecy: "to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers [patriarchs]". And if this has begun to take place in our day, this spirit must be active among YHVH's own. Perhaps this is why some of the traits of the two witnesses recall so much Elijah's ministry: "And if anyone wants to harm them [the two witnesses], fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies… These have power to shut heaven so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy" (Revelation 11:5,6, cf. 1st Kings 17:2; 2nd Kings 1:10-13).

Is the "faint sound of silence" which met Elijah at Horeb, a sound that at that time he rejected, meant to be what we are to listen to, in our expectancy to see YHVH bring to completion and fulfillment His word to His people while we prepare for our King's return? During this Pesach let the ears of our hearts be in listening mode, for it is "'not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says YHVH of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).


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