From Rape to Murder: 1 Kings 18:17-40

1 Kings 18:17-40 We went to a memorial service recently, of a beloved widow who lived a full life, but died rather suddenly.  Each of her four children spoke.  They all told different stories.  Although there were commonalities, each adult son or daughter had his or her own perspective on what was an important memory.  It took all four to  round out the picture of who this person was. And so we get to this difficult passage from the First Book of Kings.  According to the book itself (First Second Kings were obviously one book broken into two scrolls), the authors had various sources, like a preacher giving a eulogy, who interviews surviving family members, but may also look at the internet or at church or community news articles and archives.  Sources for the Books of Kings were the Books of the Annals of the Kings of Israel and the Annals for the Kings of Judah.  Then there were the Book of the Acts of Solomon and sources dealing with the “Elijah Cycle” and the “Elisha Cycle,” Isaiah, and other prophets. The children at the memorial service were making a point with their stories—they were giving evidence that a very good woman had lived and had done much to improve this world.  Similarly, the authors of Kings, according to the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, “selected, combined, and arranged the written and oral traditions of Israel and Judah to express their theological understanding of their histories” (p. 479). We can imagine someone preaching a eulogy from the theological viewpoint that “everything has a purpose,” or—as one of my Spiritual Reflections on biblicaljoe.com is titled: “There Are No Coincidences.”  Indeed, that reflection, written some years ago, refers to this very passage in the First Book of Kings! What’s difficult about this passage, of course, is not that Elijah—God’s favored prophet—causes fire to come from heaven and consume an offering that has been doused three times with water—but that he has the crowds who then come to believe that his God is the “right” God, bring him the 450 prophets of the “wrong” God so that he can slit their throats.  –A mass murder, right there in the Bible!  –No moral comment, no justification offered, no sanctions afterward…all dead. What are we to make of this?  It was a time when the theological understanding was that illness and disease were the consequences of sin; epilepsy was a sign that you were possessed by a demon; blasphemy was punishable by death, and there was no greater crime than infidelity to the “right” God.  There was no separation of church and state.  Infidels did not deserve to live, especially since they were spreading the...

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