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THIS WEEK’S STUDY: 1 Kings 16:8-21:29

MEMORY TEXT: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10).

LONELY BUT NOT ALONE: Elijah was a great man of God — and a human being. He walked into Ahab’s palace all alone and hid by the brook Cherith alone. He faced the widow’s dead son alone, stood by the altar of God on Mt. Carmel and led Ahab’s chariot through driving rain — all alone. Elijah was a human being, a lonely one — the loneliness was incredible, intense, unbearable. But he was not alone. What about his servant, his God, and the seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal?


I. A NEW ROYAL HOUSE: 1 Kings 16:8-34




DOES THIS LAND BELONG TO GOD? The confrontation between Ahab and Elijah, the struggle between Yahweh and Baal, the contrast between Carmel and Horeb — all flow together in one of the most powerful stories in Scripture.

On several counts the story shows that what Scripture does not say may be almost as important as what Scripture does say. Inspired writers feel no obligation to please the “public press.” Their words are for God’s people — for us, for our “admonition” (1 Cor. 10:11).

Thus it should come as no surprise to read a great deal in Scripture about Ahab, even though we now know that his father Omri was more famous in the secular world. Scripture dismisses Omri’s reign with eight verses and the terse judgment that he did “more evil” than any of the kings before him (1 Kings 16:21-28).

Judged by strictly political standards, Omri was powerful and successful. He re-conquered Moab and re-established a key alliance with Phoenicia, sealing the treaty with the marriage of his son Ahab to the Tyrian princess Jezebel. Omri built a new capital, Samaria, and left his mark in the secular annals of his day. Assyrian records referred to Israel as the “land of Omri” for a hundred years after the end of the dynasty and even called Jehu, the man who destroyed the house of Omri, the “son of Omri.”

But Omri’s fame made little difference to the author of Kings. For him, the crucial question was “Who is God in Israel?” And because that question came to a head during the time of Ahab and Jezebel, Kings tells us more about Ahab than about Omri.

The author of Chronicles, however, tells us even less about Omri and almost nothing about Ahab. For him, the battle up north was over. His goal was to rebuild confidence in Jerusalem, in the temple, and in the house of David. Thus, not only does he skip over Omri and Ahab, but also Elijah and Elisha. Because they served in the northern kingdom, Chronicles tells us nothing about these great men of God — except for one brief reference to a letter from Elijah. The author of Kings, guided by the Spirit, largely ignored Omri; the Chronicler, guided by that same Spirit, largely ignored the entire history of the northern kingdom. Thus, if we want to learn about Elijah and Ahab, Yahweh and Baal, Carmel and Horeb, the book of Kings is our source. That is the focus of our lesson this week.

I. A NEW ROYAL HOUSE: 1 Kings 16:8-34

Elah, Zimri, Tibni and Omri — hardly household names, but all reigned briefly or contended for the throne of Israel. Omri finally took control and reigned twelve years. Non-biblical sources show Omri to have been a successful king. But for readers of the Bible, his son Ahab is the memorable name.

  1. What sins pushed Ahab’s reputation even lower than Jeroboam’s? 1 Kings 16:30-33.

When Jezebel came from Tyre, she brought her religion with her. Baal was a Canaanite male fertility god, Asherah his female companion. Ahab worshiped them both.

The fertility religion of the Canaanites was passionate and degrading. Especially at the transitions of the seasons, “sacred” male and female prostitutes celebrated fertility rites on earth, a reflection of what they imagined to be happening among the gods. Baal’s followers believed that if they performed Baal’s rites on earth, he would honor them with rain, thus ensuring the fertility of the soil and rich harvests.

The contrast with the simple beauty of Israel’s religion was sharp and decided. Israel celebrated harvest festivals, too, but not with fertility orgies to guarantee the cycle of nature. When Israel came for worship, she came with songs of gratitude to her Creator and Redeemer. One day the Lord would come to reign on earth. This was the God who blessed the soil and made it fruitful. They came to sing praises to Him.

Following Jezebel, Ahab turned from the simplicity of the worship of Yahweh to the degraded worship of Baal. Jeroboam had introduced images into Israel’s worship, but under the guise of the worship of Yahweh. Ahab’s apostasy, however, was nothing but bold-faced paganism. Yet the fact that he included a form of Yahweh’s name in the names of his sons, Ahaziah and Jehoram, suggests that he did not abandon the worship of Yahweh, but spent his life in agony, torn between allegiance to Yahweh and to Baal.

When Elijah cried out on Mount Carmel, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21, RSV), he was speaking directly to Ahab. The story of Ahab’s life is the tragic story of a man who limped back and forth between two different opinions, between two radically different religions.


  1. Why was Elijah’s announcement particularly significant for a king tempted to worship Baal? 1 Kings 17:1.

Elijah could not have picked a better issue to force a choice between Yahweh and Baal. Baal was the storm god who made it rain, the god of fertility. When Elijah declared in the name of the Lord that it would not rain again until the Lord said so, he was challenging the worship of Baal on the crucial question: Who is the god of the land? Did Baal bring the harvest of fruits and grains? Or did the Lord?

  1. How does your Bible actually print the name of the God of Israel in 1 Kings 17:1: lord, Lord, LORD, or Yahweh?

Background information on the names for God in the Old Testament, can enrich our understanding of the test between Baal and the true God. The key Hebrew words are as follows:

Elohim: translated as God (1 Kings 17:1), god (1 Kings 18:25), or gods (1 Kings 20:23). This general term for deity can refer to the one true God or to any god; although the Hebrew word is plural in form, it can be singular in meaning (god or God) as well as plural (gods). In a broader sense it can also refer to any supernatural being, good or evil, including angels. In Psalm 82, for example, where “God” is said to hold judgment among the “gods,” the text might be more understandable to us if “gods” were translated as “angels.”

Adonai: translated as “lord” and may be used of any authority figure (Elijah, in 1 Kings 18:7; Ahab, in 1 Kings 18:11; God, in 1 Kings 3:10). In later Jewish history and continuing in Christian circles, this title or the translation of it into other languages, became the popular substitute for the personal name of God.

Yahweh: the personal name of Israel’s God, usually indicated in English translations either by LORD or GOD (in all capitals to distinguish it from Adonai [Lord] or Elohim [God]). Revealed and explained to Moses in the wilderness of Midian (Exodus 3:13-15), the name was actively used by Jews until the post-exilic period when they began avoiding the use of Yahweh in public worship, substituting “Adonai,” the Hebrew word for “Lord.” They reasoned that if they never actually said the word “Yahweh,” they would never break the command, “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD (Yahweh) your God (Elohim) in vain.”

First in Greek, then in Latin, and then in virtually all translations among Jews and Christians, the Jewish practice was continued and the equivalent of “LORD” was substituted for Yahweh in the Old Testament. Most of the recent English translations continue the practice of using LORD (all caps) for Yahweh. Notable exceptions are the Jerusalem Bible and the New Jerusalem Bible which consistently use “Yahweh”for the divine name in the Old Testament.

The word “Jehovah” was a late medieval invention, never used by Jews. It consists of the rather curious combination of the consonants of Yahweh (JHVH) and the vowels of Adonai (JaHoVaH). The basic rule to remember when reading translations of the Old Testament in English is: LORD or GOD (with all capital letters) represents an original “Yahweh.”

  1. Given the nature of popular religion, how do you think Ahab and Jezebel might have reacted to Isaiah’s mockery of other “gods”? See Isaiah 44:9-20.

In a modern culture where the reality of other “gods” has diminished, people often have difficulty grasping the nature of the struggle between Yahweh and Baal. Isaiah made fun of those who would be so foolish as to worship a chunk of wood or a piece of hammered metal. But in Ahab’s day, Baal seemed very real, at least for many of the people. For them, the choice was not between a chunk of wood and the true God, but between two potent deities, one by the name of Yahweh, and one by the name of Baal.

Given that very real battle between Yahweh and Baal, God devised a test to demonstrate the power of the true God. Elijah declared that Yahweh controlled the rain. Baal’s followers could celebrate their fertility orgies to their heart’s content. But Yahweh would show them who is the true ruler of nature.

  1. How did Moses suggest that Israel could understand the role of the other deities in the world? Deut. 29:16-27, especially 25-26.

Rather than attempt to convince Israel all at once that all the gods of the other nations were simply sticks or stones, God simply told them that the other gods had been “allotted” to other nations. Yahweh was Israel’s God: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Other nations may worship their own gods. But for Israel the issue was clear: worship Yahweh and Yahweh alone.

  1. How does Daniel 10 reinforce the concept of “national” deities? Daniel 10:13, 20-21.

Gabriel was contending against the prince of Persia. Michael, “one of the chief princes,” came to assist Gabriel. Michael was also Daniel’s prince and defender (Dan. 10:21), and would withstand both the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece on Daniel’s behalf.

In Revelation 12:7, Michael is the leader of the heavenly hosts who fights against the dragon, Satan. In light of Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; and Revelation 12:7, Christians have concluded that Michael is none other than Christ himself, the second member of the Godhead.

Not until New Testament times is the role of Satan clarified. In the Old Testament, he and his angels are alive and well as the gods (Elohim) of the other nations — but still under Yahweh’s control. In Job 1 and 2, the “sons of God” (bene elohim) include all the supernatural beings in God’s “heavenly court.” At that time, Satan was still counted among these “sons of God.” Revelation 12:7-12 portrays Christ’s death on the cross as the event that marked Satan’s final exclusion from heaven.

  1. In many modern translations, Deuteronomy 32:8-9 says that Most High “fixed the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God” (RSV), but that Jacob belongs to Yahweh. How does this passage further illuminate the role of the princes of Persia and Greece as described in Daniel 10?

The standard Hebrew Bible reads “sons of Israel” instead of “sons of God” for the last phrase of Deuteronomy 32:8. For the same phrase, the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, reads “angels of God,” a reading which suggests an original “sons of God.” But until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947), no ancient Hebrew manuscript was known that actually read “sons of God.” Now among the scrolls a fragment of Deuteronomy in Hebrew has confirmed the reading of the ancient Septuagint, and that is reflected in most modern translations.

The mysterious “sons of Israel” in the standard Hebrew manuscripts may be an instance where “learned” men — Jewish rabbis in this instance — “changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain” (Early Writings, p. 220). To put the matter bluntly, the Old Testament saw Satan and his angels as being fully under God’s control, but assigned to the other nations of the world, as their gods, their Elohim.

On Mount Carmel, the controversy between good and evil, between Christ and Satan, is enacted in an Old Testament setting: “Who will you worship, Baal (Satan) or Yahweh (Christ)?” The struggle was serious and deadly — deadly serious.

  1. Jezebel may have brought Baal worship to Israel from Phoenicia, but how did Elijah take a witness to Yahweh’s power back to Phoenicia? 1 Kings 17:8-24.
  2. What kind of respect and awe for Yahweh’s power came from Ahab’s own household servants? 1 Kings 18:1-16
  3. Why was the test that Elijah suggested on Mount Carmel particularly significant in the confrontation between Yahweh and Baal? 1 Kings 18:20-29.

In ancient Canaanite inscriptions, Baal is often depicted with a thunderbolt in his hand. The storm god would be expected to answer by fire. Elijah daringly confronted Baal with the most important symbol of Baal’s power. Elijah wanted the true God to win overwhelmingly.

  1. How did Elijah describe God’s action in bringing about a change in the people’s allegiance? 1 Kings 18:37.

Even though Elijah called for a decision from the people, he still understood that it was an act of God’s grace that would transform their hearts. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). New Testament or Old, the key to the kingdom is the same. Salvation is God’s gracious gift to those who choose him.

Ask yourself: Are there “gods” in my life that I have written off as mere sticks and stones, when actually they are a potent threat to my spiritual life? Have I, like Ahab and the people of Israel, been limping between two opinions, perhaps without recognizing it?


Yahweh had shown Himself to be Master of nature. Rain came in torrents. Fresh from his triumph, Elijah ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot, descending from the mountaintop of victory into the valley of despair.

  1. To get a feel for the depth of Elijah’s discouragement, compare the places and distances mentioned in 1 Kings 19:1-8 with a modern map and distances you are familiar with. How far did Elijah travel?From Jezreel to Beersheba_______________________________From Beersheba to Mt. Horeb____________________________

“In the experience of all there come times of keen disappointment and utter discouragement, — days when sorrow is the portion, and it is hard to believe that God is still the kind benefactor of His earthborn children; days when troubles harass the soul, till death seems preferable to life. It is then that many lose their hold on God, and are brought into the slavery of doubt, the bondage of unbelief. Could we at such times discern with spiritual insight the meaning of God’s providences, we should see angels seeking to save us from ourselves, striving to plant our feet upon a foundation more firm than the everlasting hills; and new faith, new life, would spring into being” (Prophets and Kings, p. 162).

  1. Mt. Horeb, another name for Sinai, was the place of God’s most powerful revelation to His people. Elijah came to hear lightning and thunder, but how did he actually hear God’s voice? 1 Kings 19:9-18.

“If, under trying circumstances, men of spiritual power, pressed beyond measure, become discouraged and desponding; if at times they see nothing desirable in life, that they should choose it, this is nothing strange or new. Let all such remember that one of the mightiest of the prophets fled for his life before the rage of an infuriated woman. A fugitive, weary and travel-worn, bitter disappointment crushing his spirits, he asked that he might die. But it was when hope was gone, and his life-work seemed threatened with defeat, that he learned one of the most precious lessons of his life. In the hour of his greatest weakness he learned the need and the possibility of trusting God under circumstances the most forbidding (Prophets and Kings, p. 173).

Ask yourself: Have I run many miles in my discouragement, longing to hear God’s thunder — when I should have stopped and listened to a “still, small voice”?


Following the story of God¹s great victory on Mt. Carmel, the book of 1 Kings records two events in the life of Ahab, both of which involve a prophetic judgment of doom: 1) After defeating the Aramean king Ben-hadad, Ahab failed to finish the job: he did not put his “enemy” to death. 2) Ahab fell victim to Jezebel¹s plot to kill Naboth so that Ahab could take the vineyard Naboth had refused to sell him.

  1. How did Ahab respond to prophetic rebuke in these two stories? Is there any clue in the story which could suggest that the next generation also might be able to postpone judgment simply by being faithful? See 1 Kings 21:29.

By granting Ahab a “temporary” reprieve because of heart-felt repentance, God extends hope to all who have committed grievous sins. The troublesome reality of human nature, however, reminds us that such hope can tempt some into carelessness and sin. .

Ask yourself: What do these two stories about judgment and reprieve tell us about how God will deal with us? Which of the two “sins” (i.e. failure to kill Ben-hadad; plotting to have Naboth killed) seems more serious to us today? Can we generalize from these two stories and formulate a theory as to why God seems to handle certain sins more forcefully than others?

FOR FURTHER STUDY: Comments on this week’s lesson are found in Prophets and Kings, pp. 114 – 176.

In 1929, a “library” of Canaanite religious texts was discovered at modern Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) in northern Palestine. These tablets have significantly increased our knowledge of ancient Canaanite religion and culture. Most modern Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias include helpful articles under the heading of “Ras Shamra” or “Ugarit.” We are now in a much better position to know why the prophets were so vocal in their opposition to Baal worship.

SUMMARY: God does not easily abandon His people when they turn to other gods. Nor does He reject a discouraged prophet. God demonstrated that He, not Baal, was master of the land. Then He cared for His prophet. Elijah had clear evidence that he was not fighting the battle all alone.

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