The famine at the time of Elijah (Lk 4:25-4:26)

“In truth!

I say to you!

There were many widows

In Israel

At the time of Elijah.

The heavens

Were shut closed for

Three years and six months.

There came

A great famine

Over all the land.

Yet Elijah was sent

To none of them,

Except to a widow

At Zarephath,

In Sidon.”

 

ἐπ’ ἀληθείας δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, πολλαὶ χῆραι ἦσαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡλείου ἐν τῷ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτε ἐκλείσθη ὁ οὐρανὸς ἐπὶ ἔτη τρία καὶ μῆνας ἕξ, ὡς ἐγένετο λιμὸς μέγας ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν

καὶ πρὸς οὐδεμίαν αὐτῶν ἐπέμφθη Ἡλείας εἰ μὴ εἰς Σάρεπτα τῆς Σιδωνίας πρὸς γυναῖκα χήραν.

 

There are no similar stories in Mark and Matthew.  Luke uniquely had Jesus tell this story about Elijah as found in 1 Kings, chapter 17:1-16.  John the Baptist had been compared to Elijah, a major almost romantic 9th century BCE prophet, whose name appears more than 100 times in the biblical literature.  Elijah also appeared with Moses in the transfiguration of Jesus mentioned later in this work.  Elijah’s influence on the evangelical authors was very important, just like here.  There were a series of stories about Elijah when King Ahab (874-853 BCE) was king of Israel.  Elijah, commanded by Yahweh, went to a northern town near Sidon, probably a Phoenician town.  He provided a widow and her family with a never-ending jar and jug that provided meal and oil for her and her household until the drought came to an end.  Luke pointed out with a solemn pronouncement (ἐπ’ ἀληθείας δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν) that there were many widows (πολλαὶ χῆραι ἦσαν) at the time of Elijah (ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἡλείου), in Israel (ἐν τῷ Ἰσραήλ).  The heavens were closed or shut down (ὅτε ἐκλείσθη ὁ οὐρανὸς) for 3 ½ years (ἐπὶ ἔτη τρία καὶ μῆνας ἕξ).  Thus, there was a great drought across the whole land (ὡς ἐγένετο λιμὸς μέγας ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν).  However, Yahweh sent Elijah to none of the Israelite widows (καὶ πρὸς οὐδεμίαν αὐτῶν ἐπέμφθη Ἡλείας).  Instead Elijah was sent to a widow at Zarephath, in Sidon (εἰ μὴ εἰς Σάρεπτα τῆς Σιδωνίας πρὸς γυναῖκα χήραν).

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They example of northern Israel (Mic 6:16-6:16)

“You have kept

The statutes of Omri.

You have kept

All the works

Of the house of Ahab.

You have followed

Their counsels.

Therefore,

I will make you

A desolation.

I will make your inhabitants

An object of hissing.

Thus,

You shall bear

The scorn of my people.”

The statutes of King Omri (885-874 BCE) and King Ahab (874-853 BCE), the kings of northern Israel, favored the Baal worship and various injustices in Samaria.  They had followed the bad counsels of these northern kings of Israel.  Thus, Yahweh was going to make them a desolation.  The people of the north would become an object of hissing, as they bore the scorn of Yahweh’s people.

The Rechabites (Jer 35:2-35:2)

“Go to the house

Of the Rechabites!

Speak with them!

Bring them

To the house of Yahweh,

Into one of the chambers!

Then offer them wine

To drink!’”

This short chapter is all about the Rechabites. They get their name from Rechab, who was mentioned in 1 Chronicles, chapter 2, listed under the descendants of Hur. They seem to be descendants of Hammath, a northern city, or Hemath, a Kenite, who was also called Hobab. The Rechabites were not descendants of Jacob, but Kenites, a people originally settled in that part of Arabia called the land of Midian. They may have been the descendants of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, who was a Kenite. Thus these Rechabites were not true Israelites, but were friendly to the Israelites. They were generally nomads in the desert, living in tents. The most prominent Rechabite may have been Jehonadab or Jonadab, the son of Rechab, in 2 Kings, chapter 10, where he joined with King Jehu of Israel (841-814 BCE) in helping wipe out the family of King Ahab of Israel (874-853 BCE). Yahweh told Jeremiah to go to their house, talk to them, and bring them back to the Temple in Jerusalem. There he was to find a chamber in the Temple and offer these Rechabites some wine. This seems like a simple task.

The death of the false prophets (Jer 29:21-29:23)

“Thus says Yahweh of hosts,

The God of Israel,

Concerning Ahab,

The son of Kolaiah,

As well as Zedekiah,

The son of Maaseiah.

‘They were prophesying a lie

To you in my name.

I am going to deliver them

Into the hand

Of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

He shall kill them

Before your eyes.

On account of them,

This curse shall be used

By all the exiles from Judah

In Babylon.

‘Yahweh makes you

Like Zedekiah,

Like Ahab,

Whom the king of Babylon

Roasted in the fire.’

Because they have

Perpetuated outrage

In Israel.

They have committed adultery

With their neighbors’ wives.

They have spoken in my name

Lying words

That I did not command them.

I am the one who knows.

I bear witness.

Says Yahweh.’”

Yahweh talked about two prophets whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon roasted in a fire. These two prophets were Ahab, the son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah, the son of Maaseiah. There was a king of northern Israel in the 9th century (874-853 BCE) named King Ahab with his wife Jezebel, who had confrontations with the prophet Elijah, as found in 1 Kings, chapters 16-22. However, this Ahab is only mentioned here. Zedekiah has the same name as the current king of Judah. His father Maaseiah was also the father of the priest Zephaniah, mentioned in chapter 21. This Zedekiah is not mentioned elsewhere either. These two prophets were prophesying lies that Yahweh had not commanded, so that they deserved to be killed by the king of Babylon. We do not know exactly what lies they were telling, but they also were adulterers. They may have tried to rebel against the king. Thus their names would be a curse.

Elijah (Sir 48:1-48:3)

“Then Elijah arose.

He was a prophet,

Like a fire.

His word burned

Like a torch.

He brought a famine

Upon them.

By his zeal

He made them

Few in number.

By the word of the Lord

He shut up the heavens.

Three times also

He brought down fire.”

Sirach seems to be relying on the Elijah cycle of stories from 1 Kings, chapters 17-18. This 9th century BCE northern prophet, Elijah, from the east side of the Jordan River in the town of Tishbe, the Gilead, went to the king of Northern Israel, King Ahab (874-853 BCE). Elijah was like a fire as his words were like a flaming torch. He foretold the famine that reduced the number of people in Israel. He foretold this famine, not brought as Sirach said. Elijah was able to control the heavens with his prayers, so that he could bring an end to this drought. He also had a faceoff with the 450 Baal priests or Jezebel’s prophets when he confronted the practices of King Ahab and his wife. Elijah then had Yahweh send down fire on his wet wood. Although the original story did not mention how many times the fire came down, Sirach mentions that it was 3 times.

The predicted punishment of King Jehoram (2 Chr 21:11-21:15)

“Moreover King Jehoram made high places in the hill country of Judah. He led the inhabitants of Jerusalem into unfaithfulness. He made Judah go astray. A letter came to him from the prophet Elijah, saying.

‘Thus says Yahweh,

The God of your father David.

Because you have not walked in the ways

Of your father King Jehoshaphat

Or in the ways of King Asa of Judah,

But have walked in the way of the kings of Israel,

You will be punished.

You have led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem

Into unfaithfulness,

As the house of Ahab led Israel into unfaithfulness.

You also have killed your brothers,

Members of your father’s house,

Who were better than you.

See! Yahweh will bring a great plague on your people,

Your children, your wives, and all your possessions.

You yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, Until your bowels come out,

Day after day,

Because of the disease.’”

This section was not found in 2 Kings. In fact, the insertion of the letter from the prophet Elijah seems like an anachronism. This was an attempt to condemn King Jehoram with a major prophet. There was no other mention of Elijah in the 2 books of Chronicles. In fact, he had been taken up to heaven during the reign of King Ahaziah of Israel, the father of King Jehoram of Israel. Most of Elijah’s dealings were with the northern kingdom of Israel and King Ahab, not with Judah. Nevertheless, the condemnation is clear. King Jehoram has not walked in the ways of his ancestor King David, nor his father or grandfather, King Asa and King Jehoshaphat, but like the kings of Israel and his father-in-law. He has led Judah and Jerusalem astray.   Note that they are considered separate. There is not mention of Benjamin anymore. He had built those high places in the countryside instead of protecting the Temple in Jerusalem. He had killed his 6 brothers, his father’s children. He and his people would suffer a plague. This seems to be a common punishment. He himself will have a disease of the bowels.

The battle at Ramoth-gilead (2 Chr 18:28-18:32)

“So the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead. The king of Israel said to King Jehoshaphat. ‘I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.’ So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle. Now the king of Aram had commanded the captains of his chariots. ‘Fight with no one small or great, but only with the king of Israel.’ When the captains of the chariots saw King Jehoshaphat, they said. ‘It is the king of Israel.’ So they turned to fight against him. However King Jehoshaphat cried out. Yahweh helped him. God drew them away from him. When the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him.”

Once again, this is almost word for word from 1 Kings, chapter 22. King Ahab and King Jehoshaphat went out together to do battle with the Arameans at Ramoth-gilead on the east side of the Jordan River. King Ahab must have expected something because he disguised himself and sent King Jehoshaphat with full robes into battle. In fact, the king of the Arameans had told his captains to kill King Ahab and not anyone else. Obviously the Arameans saw King Jehoshaphat with all his royal robes so that they thought that he was King Ahab. They started to fight against him until King Jehoshaphat cried out to go to battle. Here the biblical author says that Yahweh helped him to draw the Arameans away from him. Then they realized that is was not King Ahab and stopped pursuing him.