I tend to agree with those scholars who see the Elijah-Elisha narrative as consisting of 1 Kings 16:29–2 Kings 13:25, rather than with the more common view that it consists of 1 Kings 17:1–2 Kings 8:15. In the common view Elisha’s appearances in 2 Kings 9:1-3 and 2 Kings 13:14-21 are often treated as parts of other narratives. In the other view, chapters 9-13 of 2 Kings describes the aftermath of what was set in motion by the rest of the Elijah-Elisha narrative and are therefore integral to it.
1 Kings 16:29-34, which immediately precedes today’s reading, introduces us to two primary characters in the Elijah-Elisha stories; namely, Ahab, King of Israel, and Jezebel, his Pagan wife. Ahab is portrayed as exceeding the sins of predecessors by adopting the worship of Baal, the preferred god of his wife Jezebel, with the result that: Achab [i.e., Ahab] did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:33, Douay-Rheims). In a brief snippet we are also informed that a certain man named Hiel: “In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho; he laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his first-born, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun” (1 Kings 16:34 RSVCE).
To anyone who reads through the Elijah-Elisha narrative it is plainly obvious why Ahab and Jezebel are the focus in the introduction-they are integral to the story. But why is Hiel and his rebuilding of Jericho-resulting in the death of his sons-mentioned? The key is to be found in Joshua 6:26 which details “the word of the LORD, which he spoke by Joshua, the son of Nun.” There we read these words of Joshua: “Cursed be the man before the Lord, that shall raise up and build the city of Jericho. In his firstborn may he lay the foundation thereof, and in the last of his children set up its gates.” God’s commands, God’s promises, and his power to fulfill them are major themes in the narrative. That obeying God’s word leads to the preservation of life for one’s self or one’s children is also a major theme which, of course, contrasts with Hiel’s actions resulting in the death of his two sons.
1 Kings 17:1 AND Elias [Elijah] the Thesbite [Tishbite], of the inhabitants of Galaad [Gilead], said to Achab [Ahab]: As the Lord liveth, the God of Israel, in whose sight I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but [except] according to the words of my mouth.
Elijah the Tishbite. Elijah is introduced suddenly, suggesting that by the time of the writing of First Kings he was quite well known in the tradition as a prophet of God. His name is a kind of confession, meaning: “YHWH (the LORD) is my God.” His very name introduces a theme into the narrative, namely who is Israel’s God? Is it Baal, or YHWH? The people appear to have been undecided, caught up in their syncretism; a fact that didn’t sit well with God or Elijah: “How long do you halt between two sides? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people did not answer him a word” (1 Kings 18:21).
As the Lord liveth, the God of Israel. As opposed to Baal who is not Israel’s God, does not live, and cannot give life. Ultimately, this is the whole point of chapters 17-18.
In whose sight I stand. I stand ready to hear his counsel, obey his word, embrace his will.
There shall be no dew or rain these years, but [except] according to the words of my mouth. Baal was a fertility God and the rain was conceived of as his seed whereby he impregnated the earth and made it fertile. God, by giving his prophet-a human being-control of the rain, he shows forth his own power and existence at the expense of the god of Ahab, Baal.
1 Kings 17:2 And the word of the Lord came to him, saying:
1 Kings 17:3 Get thee hence, and go towards the east, and hide thyself by the torrent of Carith [Cherith], which is over against the Jordan;
1 Kings 17:4 And there thou shalt drink of the torrent: and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.
1 Kings 17:5 So he went, and did according to the word of the Lord: and going, he dwelt by the torrent Carith [Cherith], which is over against the Jordan.
1 Kings 17:6 And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the torrent.
These verses are in two parts. The first part consist of God issuing a command (2-3), coupled with a promise (4). The second part consists of the prophet’s fulfillment of God’s command (5), and God’s fulfillment of his promise (6). Tomorrow’s first reading (1 Kings 17:7-16) will have the same basic format but with some added nuance.
Many scholars insist that the reason for the command to hide is due to the fact that the prophet’s life is in danger as a result of the word he spoke to Ahab in verse 1, but nothing is said about Ahab’s response to these words, and the prophet’s life is not here said to be in danger. Other scholars see in the command a preparation of the prophet to trust in God’s providential, protective care, for the time will come when his life is in danger and he flees (1 Kings 19:1-3), becoming dependent on God’s care to maintain his life (1 Kings 19:4-8). This second interpretation makes better sense to me.