Sunday, July 18, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #28 "After the Fire a Still Small Voice"

1 Kings 17-19

The previous lesson focused mainly on the kings of Judah:  Rehoboam, Abijah(m), Asa, and especially Jehoshaphat.  During this same time period, a succession of kings each ruled Israel very briefly: Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Tibni and Omri (1 Kings 15:26, 34; 16:13, 19, 21, 25), each one an idolator.  When Ahab, the son of Omri, began to rule, the time was ripe for the Lord's vengeance, as "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him" (1 Kings 16:33).  What was the issue?  It is stated previously in verse 31:  "As if it had been a light thing [as if it weren't enough] for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat [which was to worship Jehovah inappropriately and not as the only God], [he also] took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him."  The false god Baal hadn't been found in Israel since Gideon threw him out in Judges 6, many generations before, but now Ahab allowed Jezebel to bring him back.

Abruptly, it seems, the next chapter begins with the prophet Elijah (whose name means "Jehovah is my God") sealing up the heavens, but it is actually logical and chronological.

THE STORY OF ELIJAH'S LIFE

Teaching Tip:  Post wordstrips of the miracles performed by Elijah in random order on the board (just the first sentence of each on the list below). Have the class arrange them into chronological order.  As each wordstrip is posted chronologically by a class member, share the details of the event (the part after the first sentence).
  • Withheld the rain and the dew.  (1 Kings 17:1)  The miracles that Elijah performed were in direct defiance of the worship of Baal, who was considered to be the storm god, "responsible for bringing life-giving rains at certain times of the year and thus restoring fertility to the land. After the yearly rainy season, the ground got progressively drier, and eventually all vegetation died. During this period, Baal was thought to be in the power of the god of death and sterility. In this verse Elijah announces that...Baal has nothing to do with bringing rain and fertility. In reality the Lord controls both rain and drought, fertility and sterility, and life and death." (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 547)
  • Survived famine in hiding by being fed by ravens.  (1 Kings 17:3-4)  An alternate translation for the word "brook" in this account is "wadi" (Harper-Collins). A wadi is a stream bed that contains water only in the rainy season.  Obviously, this was not the rainy season, so even though it dried up eventually, finding water there was a miracle.  Obadiah is a sub-hero in this story, as he rescued and sheltered 100 prophets from Queen Jezebel's wrath (1 Kings 18:3-4).  The severity of the famine was extreme, causing King Ahab and his governor Obadiah to personally go out in search of pasture for their animals, although they probably each had a searching party with them (1 Kings 18:3-6). 
  • Perpetuated flour and oil for a widow's household.  (1 Kings 17:10-16) Widows had no means of financial support, so if they had no extended family to care for them, they could quickly become destitute.
  • Raised the dead.  (1 Kings 17:17-23)  This is another dramatic show of Jehovah's power vs. the idol's power, a powerful reminder to the children of Israel throughout generations as the story would be re-told:  The Lord God could actually overrule death (Harper-Collins).
  • Drew fire from heaven.  (1 Kings 18:21-39)  According to the people's belief, as the storm god, Baal should have easily been able to draw fire from heaven (Harper-Collins). Indeed Andrew Clarke's Bible Commentary claims the priests of Baal rigged their altars with fires beneath them, working through a system of tunnels, so that the sacrifices would appear to ignite spontaneously (quoted in Institute Manual, p. 61).  The duel with Elijah's God would have looked like an easy win to the priests of Baal.  It must have astonished them when their elaborate system failed.  (You can see pictures of Mt. Carmel here.)  (For more detail on Mt. Carmel itself, which is actually not a mountain peak but a ridge, click here.)
  • Killed 950 idolatrous priests.  (18:40)  (BiblePlaces.com also has a picture of the statue of Elijah killing the priests, which is found on Mt. Carmel.  Just scroll down.)  Who knows how Elijah actually killed the priests--likely he led the people in killing them--but he was following the Law of Moses:  the penalty for advocating worship of idols was death (Deut. 13:1-5).
  • Called a rainstorm.  (1 Kings 18:41-45)  Elijah placed himself in a position of ultimate worship and prayer, low to the ground, facedown.  Elijah's servant was probably sitting where the Baha'i Shrine of the Bab is today on Mt. Carmel, looking out toward the sea. To see the present-day view, click here and check out the top right photo.  If after watching that cloud swell up until the sky was roiling and black, Elijah did actually run ahead of Ahab to Jezreel, it was better than a half-marathon: 17 miles.
  • Was visited and fed by an angel twice during his time of greatest despair.  (1 Kings 19:1-7)  Unfortunately, Jezebel (who seemed to wear the pants in the royal family), was not humbled and converted by the fantastic display of divine power at Mt. Carmel, but enraged.  Elijah's astonishment and disappointment must have been overwhelming:  After controlling the elements for three years, after raising the dead, after all the mighty priesthood power he displayed in the duel with the priests of Baal, after condeming them all to death, after calling a storm from heaven himself, he was back in hiding again.  Even a mighty prophet of God who can control the elements, cannot control a human soul who refuses to repent.  Elijah felt such a sense of despair and uselessness that he requested of the Lord death.
  • One meal carried him for 40 days and 40 nights on a journey to Mt. Horeb.  (1 Kings 19:8-21)  Remember that the term "40 days and 40 nights" is symbolic.  (See a previous post.)  By going from Mt. Carmel to Mt. Horeb (which is Mt. Sinai) Elijah was retracing the steps of the Children of Israel and Moses backwards.  It was a journey of 150 miles to an outdoor temple, a journey to seek the comfort of God.  (More on this event in the next section.) 
  • Called fire from heaven to destroy 100 soldiers.  (2 Kings 1:10, 12)  The king who succeeded Ahab, Ahaziah, had suffered a fall.  He asked his fate of the idol Baal-zebub (a local version of Baal), rather than the prophet of the Lord.  Because of this, the Lord told Elijah to prophecy his death.  This, of course, did not please the king and three times he sent 50 soldiers to bring Elijah to him for punishment, but the first two times, Elijah destroyed them with fire from heaven, something that Baal was purported to be able to control.  Finally, with the third company, whose leader acted respectfully, acknowledging Elijah as a prophet, he went peaceably, but his prophecy did not change.
  • Brought a plague upon the kingdom of Judah.  (2 Chron. 21)  Jehoram, the son and successor of the great and righteous king Jehoshaphat of Judah, had allied himself with the kingdom of Israel by marrying the daughter of Ahab, thus uniting the kingdom briefly.  Because of his idolatry, Elijah sent him a letter, prophecying a plague of dissentery among his people, which actually killed the king himself. 
  • Parted the River Jordan and walked through on dry land.  (2 Kings 2:8)  This miracle was performed by Elijah on the day he left the earth, and is the basis of the Negro spirituals about the crossing of Jordan equaling death and entrance to Heaven.
  • Was taken into heaven in a chariot of fire.  (2 Kings 2:11)   The source of another beautiful Negro spiritual, "Swing low, sweet chariot."  It would be a great way to go.
LISTENING TO THE LORD

Elijah's prayer in the cave at "Horeb the mount of God" (1 Kings 19:9-18) has been used as an example of listening to the Holy Ghost, and it is very likely that the King James' Translators were the first to use the term "still, small voice," which has become another name for the Holy Ghost.  It is used only three times in scripture, the other two being in 1 Nephi 17:45 and D&C 85:6, each time clearly refering to the Holy Ghost.

As with some other great spiritual experiences in the scriptures (for example, Lehi's dream, Joseph Smith's First Vision, the Liberty Jail revelation in D&C 121, the vision of the Spirit World in D&C 138), this great, simple revelation came after a period of great trial, and a feeling of near failure.  Elijah was so discouraged, he wanted to die.  He had performed amazing feets of Priesthood power, the people had proclaimed that Jehovah must be Lord, and yet he was still stuck hiding in a cave because of one powerful woman.  What was the use?

He was at a temple mountain, however, the right place for a discouraged person to go.  He heard the Lord ask, "What doest thou here, Elijah?"  His cry of despair was, "I have been very jealous [zealous] for the Lord, the 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."  Although the prayer was sincere and desparate, the answer did not come immediately.  The Lord told him he would get his answer on the mountain. 

Before Elijah left the cave, a wind came, strong enough to break rocks, then an earthquake, and then a fire.  Although Elijah had exercised the power of God himself in mighty ways such as these, he knew they were not always expressions of the Spirit of the Lord.  He knew how to recognize the voice of the Lord.  When they passed, there followed a calmness, a peacefulness, "a still small voice."  Elijah knew this was what he was waiting for.  "He wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering of the cave."  Once again he heard the question, "What doest thou here, Elijah?"

Elijah repeated his heart-rending prayer.  As most of us will do when depressed and discouraged, Elijah "awful-ized" his situation, saying he was the only prophet left, a complete failure, a hunted man. The Lord answered with the positive side of the situation, as He will often do for us.  He gave Elijah instructions on anointing two kings.  He also told Elijah that He had prepared a companion prophet to take over when Elijah's wish to leave the earth was granted.  Between the two kings and Elisha, the wicked idolators would meet their deaths.  And last but definitely not least, he informed Elijah that there were actually 7,000 in Israel who still worshipped the Lord.  Elijah had not been a failure.


ELIJAH'S LATTER-DAY MISSION

There are two verses of scripture that are found in four of the Standard Works; what are they?  The verses proclaiming Elijah's great latter-day mission.  In the Bible and the Book of Mormon, they are exactly the same.  In the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, they are exactly the same.  But the verses in the scriptures that were written in ages past are different than those that were written in the latter days, and that tells us something about our relationship with Elijah:

Malachi 4:5-6 and 3 Nephi 25:5-6:  "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse (Joseph Smith's note: "Now the word turn here should be translated bind, or seal." Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 330)

D&C 2 and Joseph Smith--History 1:38:  "Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.  If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming."

Here are the differences:
  1. The latter-day verses clarify what the Prophet Elijah was to do:  Bring the Priesthood back to the earth.
  2. The word "heart" is made plural in the latter-day scriptures.  Perhaps that is just a change in syntax, or perhaps it is a change in meaning through the ages.  In Bible times, the heart was the seat of thoughts, intentions, and actions.  Today we think of the heart as the sensitive, feeling part of our soul.  Perhaps the real meaning is a combination of both.  If anyone has any thoughts to share on this, please leave a comment below.
  3. A very significant change:  the latter-day scriptures do not say Elijah will "turn the heart of the fathers to the children."  Apparently, that part of the promise has already occurred.  Now his job is to "plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers."  He will make us aware of the righteousness of our ancestors and the promises they have secured for us.  This awareness then, leads us to turn our hearts, our desires, to our ancestors.
  4. The final statement of warning is more severe and far-reaching in the latter-day scriptures.  Rather than the earth being smitten with a curse, "the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming."  This gives us some sense of the urgency and importance of our part in this plan, separate from the role of other generations.
"This is the spirit of Elijah, that we redeem our dead, and connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven, and seal up our dead to come forth in the firest ressurection; and here we want the power of Elijah to seal those who dwell on earth to those who dwell in heaven.  This is the power of Elijah and the keys of the kingdom of Jehovah" (TPJS, p. 337-338).

THE EXPLOSION OF THE SPIRIT OF ELIJAH

Of course, to carry out the promise, three things are needed:
  1. The Priesthood power
  2. The people with the desire planted in their hearts
  3. The places (temples) to bind the families together
We have the Priesthood restored.  Number one is done.  It needs only to spread throughout all regions of the earth.

We have many people, LDS and otherwise, who are crazy about genealogy.  We even had a very popular TV series here in America all about celebrities researching their genealogy ("Who Do You Think You Are?").  Access to records has become widespread: The Ellis Island records, the Freeman Bank Records, and now the New FamilySearch computer program combines loads of records which can be searched from home.  Number two is doing well collectively, but we must each ask ourselves individually whether we are on board, because we each must tie ourselves and our ancestors into this eternal family.

The grandeur, the majesty, and the magnitude of the spirit of Elijah can clearly be seen and easily measured in item Number Three: the spreading of temples throughout the earth.  By paying our tithing, holding current temple recommends, and participating in temple ordinances for the dead, we can further the work of Elijah in the temples.

(Teaching Tip:  You can use the following quiz of Temple Trivia [as if anything related to temples were trivial...] just for fun to illustrate the huge temple-building effort that is going on presently in the world.)
  • After the first 50 years of temple building in this dispensation, how many temples did the Church own and operate?  (Two.  The first two had been abandoned.)
  • After the next 50 years, how many temples were operating? (Seven.) 
  • In the third 50 years, how many more were built?  (Nine, for a total of 16.  Washington D.C. was the ninth, completed in 1977.  The Ensign magazine ran an article entitled, "The 16 Temples of This Dispensation.")
  • It took 161 years to have 50 operating temples on the earth.  How many years did it take to build the next 50?  (Three.  Boston, Masachusetts was the 100th, built in the year 2000.)
  • What is the oldest operating temple in the world?  (St. George Utah)
  • What is the oldest operating temple outside of Utah?  (Laie Hawaii)
  • What is the oldest operating temple outside of the United States?  (Cardston Alberta Canada)
  • What is the oldest operating temple outside of North America? (Bern Switzerland)
  • For which temple was the movie created in order to allow people of multiple languages to attend the same session?  (Bern, Switzerland)
  • Which temple was the first built in a Communist country?  (Freiberg Germany)
  • For which temple did the city leaders rename its street "Temple Drive," and the three blocks surrounding the temple, "Temple," "Genealogist," and "Chapel"?  (Stockholm, Sweden, built in 1985)
  • During which year were a record 34 temples were dedicated? (The year 2000)
  • How many temples are there in Utah (July 2010)?  (13, with two more announced)
  • The 133rd temple was just dedicated in June 2010.  Where is it?  (Philippines Cebu City)
  • How many temples have been announced and are not yet completed?  (19)
  • There is another temple scheduled to be dedicated in August 2010, which was announced 12 years ago.  Where is it being built?  (Ukraine Kyiv)
  • What percentage of the temples are outside of the United States?  (Just over 50%)
  • Which country outside the United States has the most temples?  (Mexico with 12)
  • How many temples are there on the earth today, including those announced or under construction? (152)

Sources for temple data:  lds.org temple page and ldschurchtemples.com.

There is also an excellent article on Elijah in the July 1990 Ensign.

2 comments:

ranford said...

To me "heart" vs "hearts" implies "collective" vs "individual". This is really to your point about how we are doing great collectively but we need to be asking ourselves how we are doing individually.

Because it was not something which happened for the ancients while they lived, they merely needed to know of the (collective) heart of the children and (collective) heart of the fathers so they could be taught the full doctrine of what would come.

However, in our days we each should feel the spirit of Elijah in our own individual heart. So hence it makes sense to talk in terms of all of the individual hearts that will be turned.

This also dovetails nicely with your point about the fact that the turning of the fathers to the children is not mentioned in the latter day account. If it were mentioned perhaps it would have been referred to something like the following:

"...because the heart of the fathers has already been turned to the children..."

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Oooo! I LIKE those ideas! Thanks!