1 Kings 18-20 The Message Bible

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Elijah Returns to Ahab

18 1  A long time passed. Then God's word came to Elijah. The drought was now in its third year. The message: "Go and present yourself to Ahab; I'm about to make it rain on the country." 2  Elijah set out to present himself to Ahab. The drought in Samaria at the time was most severe. 3  Ahab called for Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. Obadiah feared God - he was very devout. 4  Earlier, when Jezebel had tried to kill off all the prophets of God, Obadiah had hidden away a hundred of them in two caves, fifty in a cave, and then supplied them with food and water. 5  Ahab ordered Obadiah, "Go through the country; locate every spring and every stream. Let's see if we can find enough grass to keep our horses and mules from dying." 6  So they divided the country between them for the search - Ahab went one way, Obadiah the other. 7  Obadiah went his way and suddenly there he was - Elijah! Obadiah fell on his knees, bowing in reverence, and exclaimed, "Is it really you - my master Elijah?" 8  "Yes," said Elijah, "the real me. Now go and tell your boss, 'I've seen Elijah.'" 9  Obadiah said, "But what have I done to deserve this? Ahab will kill me. 10  As surely as your God lives, there isn't a country or kingdom where my master hasn't sent out search parties looking for you. And if they said, 'We can't find him; we've looked high and low,' he would make that country or kingdom swear that you were not to be found. 11  And now you're telling me, 'Go and tell your master Elijah's found!' 12  The minute I leave you the Spirit of God will whisk you away to who knows where. Then when I report to Ahab, you'll have disappeared and Ahab will kill me. And I've served God devoutly since I was a boy! 13  Hasn't anyone told you what I did when Jezebel was out to kill the prophets of God, how I risked my life by hiding a hundred of them, fifty to a cave, and made sure they got food and water? 14  And now you're telling me to draw attention to myself by announcing to my master, 'Elijah's been found.' Why, he'll kill me for sure." 15  Elijah said, "As surely as God-of-the-Angel-Armies lives, and before whom I take my stand, I'll meet with your master face to face this very day." 16  So Obadiah went straight to Ahab and told him. And Ahab went out to meet Elijah.

17  The moment Ahab saw Elijah he said, "So it's you, old troublemaker!" 18  "It's not I who has caused trouble in Israel," said Elijah, "but you and your government - you've dumped God's ways and commands and run off after the local gods, the Baals. 19  Here's what I want you to do: Assemble everyone in Israel at Mount Carmel. And make sure that the special pets of Jezebel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of the local gods, the Baals, and the four hundred prophets of the whore goddess Asherah, are there."

The Contest on Mount Carmel

20  So Ahab summoned everyone in Israel, particularly the prophets, to Mount Carmel.

21  Elijah challenged the people: "How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it's Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!" Nobody said a word; nobody made a move. 22  Then Elijah said, "I'm the only prophet of God left in Israel; and there are four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal. 23  Let the Baal prophets bring up two oxen; let them pick one, butcher it, and lay it out on an altar on firewood - but don't ignite it. I'll take the other ox, cut it up, and lay it on the wood. But neither will I light the fire. 24  Then you pray to your gods and I'll pray to God. The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God." All the people agreed: "A good plan - do it!" 25  Elijah told the Baal prophets, "Choose your ox and prepare it. You go first, you're the majority. Then pray to your god, but don't light the fire." 26  So they took the ox he had given them, prepared it for the altar, then prayed to Baal. They prayed all morning long, "O Baal, answer us!" But nothing happened - not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made. 27  By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, "Call a little louder - he is a god, after all. Maybe he's off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he's gotten involved in a project, or maybe he's on vacation. You don't suppose he's overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?" 28  They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives - a ritual common to them - until they were covered with blood. 29  This went on until well past noon. They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened - not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response. 30  Then Elijah told the people, "Enough of that - it's my turn. Gather around." And they gathered. He then put the altar back together for by now it was in ruins. 31  Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Jacob, the same Jacob to whom God had said, "From now on your name is Israel." 32  He built the stones into the altar in honor of God. Then Elijah dug a fairly wide trench around the altar. 33  He laid firewood on the altar, cut up the ox, put it on the wood, and said, "Fill four buckets with water and drench both the ox and the firewood." 34  Then he said, "Do it again," and they did it. Then he said, "Do it a third time," 35  and they did it a third time. The altar was drenched and the trench was filled with water. 36  When it was time for the sacrifice to be offered, Elijah the prophet came up and prayed, "O God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I'm doing what I'm doing under your orders. 37  Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance." 38  Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench. 39  All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, "God is the true God! God is the true God!" 40  Elijah told them, "Grab the Baal prophets! Don't let one get away!" They grabbed them. Elijah had them taken down to the Brook Kishon and they massacred the lot.

Elijah Prays for Rain

41  Elijah said to Ahab, "Up on your feet! Eat and drink - celebrate! Rain is on the way; I hear it coming." 42  Ahab did it: got up and ate and drank. Meanwhile, Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bowed deeply in prayer, his face between his knees. 43  Then he said to his young servant, "On your feet now! Look toward the sea." He went, looked, and reported back, "I don't see a thing." "Keep looking," said Elijah, "seven times if necessary." 44  And sure enough, the seventh time he said, "Oh yes, a cloud! But very small, no bigger than someone's hand, rising out of the sea." "Quickly then, on your way. Tell Ahab, 'Saddle up and get down from the mountain before the rain stops you.'" 45  Things happened fast. The sky grew black with wind-driven clouds, and then a huge cloudburst of rain, with Ahab hightailing it in his chariot for Jezreel. 46  And God strengthened Elijah mightily. Pulling up his robe and tying it around his waist, Elijah ran in front of Ahab's chariot until they reached Jezreel.

Elijah Flees to Horeb

19 1  Ahab reported to Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, including the massacre of the prophets. 2  Jezebel immediately sent a messenger to Elijah with her threat: "The gods will get you for this and I'll get even with you! By this time tomorrow you'll be as dead as any one of those prophets." 3  When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba, far in the south of Judah. He left his young servant there 4  and then went on into the desert another day's journey. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all - to just die: "Enough of this, God! Take my life - I'm ready to join my ancestors in the grave!" 5  Exhausted, he fell asleep under the lone broom bush. Suddenly an angel shook him awake and said, "Get up and eat!" 6  He looked around and, to his surprise, right by his head were a loaf of bread baked on some coals and a jug of water. He ate the meal and went back to sleep. 7  The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, "Get up and eat some more - you've got a long journey ahead of you." 8  He got up, ate and drank his fill, and set out. Nourished by that meal, he walked forty days and nights, all the way to the mountain of God, to Horeb.

9  When he got there, he crawled into a cave and went to sleep. Then the word of God came to him: "So Elijah, what are you doing here?" 10  "I've been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies," said Elijah. "The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I'm the only one left, and now they're trying to kill me." 11  Then he was told, "Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by." A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn't to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn't in the earthquake; 12  and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn't in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. 13  When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, "So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?" 14  Elijah said it again, "I've been working my heart out for God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, because the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed your places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I'm the only one left, and now they're trying to kill me." 15  God said, "Go back the way you came through the desert to Damascus. When you get there anoint Hazael; make him king over Aram. 16  Then anoint Jehu son of Nimshi; make him king over Israel. Finally, anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17  Anyone who escapes death by Hazael will be killed by Jehu; and anyone who escapes death by Jehu will be killed by Elisha. 18  Meanwhile, I'm preserving for myself seven thousand souls: the knees that haven't bowed to the god Baal, the mouths that haven't kissed his image."

The Call of Elisha

19  Elijah went straight out and found Elisha son of Shaphat in a field where there were twelve pairs of yoked oxen at work plowing; Elisha was in charge of the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak over him. 20  Elisha deserted the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Please! Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye - then I'll follow you." "Go ahead," said Elijah, "but, mind you, don't forget what I've just done to you." 21  So Elisha left; he took his yoke of oxen and butchered them. He made a fire with the plow and tackle and then boiled the meat - a true farewell meal for the family. Then he left and followed Elijah, becoming his right-hand man.

Ahab Defeats the Syrians

20 1  At about this same time Ben-Hadad king of Aram mustered his troops. He recruited in addition thirty-two local sheiks, all outfitted with horses and chariots. He set out in force and surrounded Samaria, ready to make war. 2  He sent an envoy into the city to set his terms before Ahab king of Israel: 3  "Ben-Hadad lays claim to your silver and gold, and to the pick of your wives and sons." 4  The king of Israel accepted the terms: "As you say, distinguished lord; I and everything I have is yours." 5  But then the envoy returned a second time, saying, "On second thought, I want it all - your silver and gold and all your wives and sons. Hand them over - the whole works. 6  I'll give you twenty-four hours; then my servants will arrive to search your palace and the houses of your officials and loot them; anything that strikes their fancy, they'll take." 7  The king of Israel called a meeting of all his tribal elders. He said, "Look at this - outrageous! He's just looking for trouble. He means to clean me out, demanding all my women and children. And after I already agreed to pay him off handsomely!" 8  The elders, backed by the people, said, "Don't cave in to him. Don't give an inch." 9  So he sent an envoy to Ben-Hadad, "Tell my distinguished lord, 'I agreed to the terms you delivered the first time, but this I can't do - this I won't do!'" The envoy went back and delivered the answer. 10  Ben-Hadad shot back his response: "May the gods do their worst to me, and then worse again, if there'll be anything left of Samaria but rubble." 11  The king of Israel countered, "Think about it - it's easier to start a fight than end one."

12  It happened that when Ben-Hadad heard this retort he was into some heavy drinking, boozing it up with the sheiks in their field shelters. Drunkenly, he ordered his henchmen, "Go after them!" And they attacked the city. 13  Just then a lone prophet approached Ahab king of Israel and said, "God's word: Have you taken a good look at this mob? Well, look again - I'm turning it over to you this very day. And you'll know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I am God." 14  Ahab said, "Really? And who is going to make this happen?" God said, "The young commandos of the regional chiefs." "And who," said Ahab, "will strike the first blow?" God said, "You." 15  Ahab looked over the commandos of the regional chiefs; he counted 232. Then he assessed the available troops - 7,000. 16  At noon they set out after Ben-Hadad who, with his allies, the thirty-two sheiks, was busy at serious drinking in the field shelters. 17  The commandos of the regional chiefs made up the vanguard. A report was brought to Ben-Hadad: "Men are on their way from Samaria." 18  He said, "If they've come in peace, take them alive as hostages; if they've come to fight, the same - take them alive as hostages." 19  The commandos poured out of the city with the full army behind them. 20  They hit hard in hand-to-hand combat. The Arameans scattered from the field, with Israel hard on their heels. But Ben-Hadad king of Aram got away on horseback, along with his cavalry. 21  The king of Israel cut down both horses and chariots - an enormous defeat for Aram.

22  Sometime later the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, "On the alert now - build up your army, assess your capabilities, and see what has to be done. Before the year is out, the king of Aram will be back in force." 23  Meanwhile the advisors to the king of Aram said, "Their god is a god of the mountains - we don't stand a chance against them there. So let's engage them on the plain where we'll have the advantage. 24  Here's the strategy: Remove each sheik from his place of leadership and replace him with a seasoned officer. 25  Then recruit a fighting force equivalent in size to the army that deserted earlier - horse for horse, chariot for chariot. And we'll fight them on the plain - we're sure to prove stronger than they are." It sounded good to the king; he did what they advised. 26  As the new year approached, Ben-Hadad rallied Aram and they went up to Aphek to make war on Israel. 27  The Israelite army prepared to fight and took the field to meet Aram. They moved into battle formation before Aram in two camps, like two flocks of goats. The plain was seething with Arameans. 28  Just then a holy man approached the king of Israel saying, "This is God's word: Because Aram said, 'God is a god of the mountains and not a god of the valleys,' I'll hand over this huge mob of an army to you. Then you'll know that I am God." 29  The two armies were poised in a standoff for seven days. On the seventh day fighting broke out. The Israelites killed 100,000 of the Aramean infantry in one day. 30  The rest of the army ran for their lives back to the city, Aphek, only to have the city wall fall on 27,000 of the survivors.

31  Then his advisors told him, "Look, we've heard that the kings of Israel play by the rules; let's dress in old gunnysacks, carry a white flag of truce, and present ourselves to the king of Israel on the chance that he'll let you live." 32  So that's what they did. They dressed in old gunnysacks and carried a white flag, and came to the king of Israel saying, "Your servant Ben-Hadad said, 'Please let me live.'" Ahab said, "You mean to tell me that he's still alive? If he's alive, he's my brother." 33  The men took this as a good sign and concluded that everything was going to be all right: "Ben-Hadad is most certainly your brother!" The king said, "Go and get him." They went and brought him back by chariot. 34  Ahab said, "I am prepared to return the cities that my father took from your father. And you can set up your headquarters in Damascus just as my father did in Samaria; I'll send you home under safe conduct." Then he made a covenant with him and sent him off. 35  A man who was one of the prophets said to a bystander, "Hit me; wound me. Do it for God's sake - it's his command. Hit me; wound me." But the man wouldn't do it. 36  So he told him, "Because you wouldn't obey God's orders, as soon as you leave me a lion will attack you." No sooner had the man left his side than a lion met him and attacked. 37  He then found another man and said, "Hit me; wound me." That man did it - hit him hard in the face, drawing blood. 38  Then the prophet went and took a position along the road, with a bandage over his eyes, waiting for the king. 39  It wasn't long before the king happened by. The man cried out to the king, "Your servant was in the thick of the battle when a man showed up and turned over a prisoner to me, saying, 'Guard this man with your life; if he turns up missing you'll pay dearly.' 40  But I got busy doing one thing after another and the next time I looked he was gone." The king of Israel said, "You've just pronounced your own verdict." 41  At that, the man ripped the bandage off his eyes and the king recognized who he was - one of the prophets! 42  The man said to the king, "God's word: Because you let a man go who was under sentence by God, it's now your life for his, your people for his." 43  The king of Israel went home in a sulk. He arrived in Samaria in a very bad mood.

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