Relevant Verses: 1 Kings 18:1-40; Revelation 16:12-16
Leading Question: How does one know how to determine the line between the concrete and the abstract in Scripture?
This week’s lesson brings together a vivid and concrete Old Testament story, the battle between Yahweh and Baal on Mt. Carmel, and the battle of Armageddon from Revelation 16:12- 16, which is likely a symbolic battle, though through the centuries, many have tried to shape a concrete trajectory from the story.
Question: Is it possible to determine the “point” of a vision even if one is not sure where to draw the line between the concrete and the abstract?
A vivid example that seems to slip easily between the concrete and the abstract is found in Micaiah’s vision in 1 Kings 22. There, the “point” of the vision is clear: Ahab deserves to die and Yahweh will make it happen. But the concept of the heavenly council in which Yahweh assembles the spirit to discuss how they can make Ahab fall is almost surreal for us.
A clear “point” for the Armageddon narrative in Revelation 16 is less certain, though it seems to suggest the fall of God’s great enemy and nemesis, Babylon.
Question: What is significant about the way 1 Kings 18 describes the conflict between Yahweh and Baal?
Note: The idea of the heavenly court not only helps explain the story of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22, but also the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel. On the basis of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, scholars have been able to provide remarkable “proof” of the idea of a cluster of national deities who compose Yahweh’s heavenly court. A recently discovered Hebrew manuscript from the Dead Sea Scrolls confirms a hunch suggested by the Greek Old Testament. The Greek OT states that the Most High divided the nations according to the “angels of God,” a reading that points to an original Hebrew, “sons of God” (bene ‘Elohim).
At Mt. Carmel, one of those “gods” is Baal, the fertility God from Tyre and Sidon. Typically, Yahweh was not troubled by the worship of the other national deities as long as they stayed home. But Jezebel had brought her god with her to Yahweh’s land. That was when the conflict became serious and deadly. “You shall have no other gods before me,” declared God from Sinai. But don’t you dare bring those other gods into my land! The violence of the Old Testament prophets is confirmed by Elijah’s slaughter of the 400 prophets of Baal after Yahweh’s victory on the mountain.
In the New Testament, Babylon, a richly symbolic term in its original Old Testament setting, is stand-in for the Beast, who deserves to die as much as the prophets of Baal at Carmel.
Question: Is it possible to separate culture and enduring truths in our modern world? Where are we most tempted to compromise? Is it always clear where the line is between legitimate cultural adaptation and illegitimate departure from the faith?