Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
1 Kings 18 – Three years after the drought begins, the Lord sends Elijah to Ahab. Now Ahab’s man in care of the palace is Obadiah, a man who reveres the Lord greatly; he has hidden 100 of the Lord’s prophets in a cave to protect them from Jezebel, who wants to kill them.
Ahab goes off with Obadiah in search of grass to sustain his horses and mules; they go off in different directions to look. Obadiah meets Elijah and recognizes him. and tells him to go and report to Ahab that Elijah has come to see him. Ahab has been looking for Elijah everywhere and demanding oaths from people where he has looked swearing that Elijah is not in their kingdom. Obadiah is afraid that if he goes and reports that he has found Elijah, Elijah will get himself carried off somewhere by the Lord and Obadiah will be left looking like a liar. Elijah promises Obadiah that this will not happen. The Jerusalem Bible note indicates these sudden disappearing acts were always part of the story of Elijah.
When Ahab sees Elijah, they dispute over which one of them is the one who has brought the drought on to Israel. Elijah tells Ahab to assemble all Israel before him at Mt. Carmel and bring with him 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. He does, and Elijah addresses them: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (18:21). He orders that two bulls be brought, slaughtered and cut into pieces; the 850 prophets will take one and Elijah [the only remaining prophet of the one Lord God] the other. Each will call on the name of his god and the god who answers with fire will be declared “God” (18:24). They agree. The prophets of Baal go first; they call on their god all day. Elijah mocks them when they get no response. They slash themselves with swords and lances but still “there was no voice, no answer, and no response” (18:29).
Then it is Elijah’s turn. He takes 12 stones (for the number of tribes) and sets about rebuilding the damaged altar of the Lord (18:30); he digs a trench around it “large enough = to hold about four gallons of water” (18:32) and places wood on the altar and pieces of a bull on top of the wood. He has them pour water on the offering, so much that it runs down around the altar and fills the trench around the altar. Then he addresses the Lord: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and you have turned their hearts back” (18:37). Fire comes down and consumes the offering, and the altar beneath it. “When the people saw this, they threw themselves on the ground and exclaimed, ‘The Lord is God, the Lord alone is God!’” (18:39).
To end it, Elijah then orders the prophets seized and brought down to the wadi Kishon where Elijah kills them. Jerusalem Bible says they “suffer the fate of the conquered in the warfare of the times.”
Then Ahab is told to go eat and drink, that he, Elijah, hears the roar of rain approaching. Elijah goes on top of Mt. Carmel to wait. He sends his servant seven times to go and look out towards the sea. The seventh time, they see a little cloud rising out of the sea. Soon there is a heavy rain. Ahab rides off in his chariot to Jezreel, but Elijah beats him there, running to the gates of the town.
Luke 2:1-20 – The Emperor Augustus orders a census to be taken, during the reign of Quirinius, governor of Syria. Joseph must return from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the town where those in the house of David must register. Brown (Introduction to the New Testament) points out that there are historical problems with the narrative here. “There never was a census of the whole Empire under Augustus (but a number of local censuses), and the census of Judea (not of Galilee) under Quirinius, the governor of Syria, took place in AD 6-7, probably at least ten years too late for the birth of Jesus. The best explanation is that, although Luke likes to set his Christian drama in the context of well-known events from antiquity, sometimes he does so inaccurately” (233). “The events Luke will describe actually took place in a small town in Palestine, but by calling Bethlehem the city of David and setting them in a Roman census Luke symbolizes the importance of those events for the royal heritage of Israel and ultimately for the world Empire” (233).
Mary, Joseph’s “intended” (they are engaged) is pregnant. While they are there she gives birth in a barn “because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7).
Shepherds in the area experience the presence of an angel who announces to birth to them—“good news of great joy for all the people” (2:11). The Messiah is born. They will find him “wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (2:12). When the angels (heavenly host) leave, the shepherds go into Bethlehem to see what the Lord has made known to them. When they saw him, “they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed. . .” (2:17-18). Far from starting the narrative with admonitions of secrecy, here we have a great and joyous announcement from heaven to all who live on earth. There is no secret here of “who” it is who is born. It is made known to both the lowly (here shepherds) and the great (in Matthew, magi).
I cannot help here but bring up one of my favorite Quaker references to one of the passages here – William Penn’s use of the inn in 2:7. In his great book No Cross, No Crown he says “You, like the inn of old, have been full of guests; your affections have entertained other lovers; there has been no room for your savior in your soul. Therefore, salvation has not yet come into your house, though it has come to your door and you have long claimed it.”