Archive for the ‘Baal’ Tag

David Versus the Philistines   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of David

Image in the Public Domain





2 Samuel 5:17-25

1 Chronicles 14:1-17


Save me, O God, by your Name;

in your might, defend my cause.

Hear my prayer, O God;

give ear to the words of my mouth.

–Psalm 54:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


Saul became the King of Israel with a charge to defeat the Philistine threat.  He failed for nearly twenty years.  Some time after David became the undisputed King of Israel, he defeated Philistine forces and liberated Israel from that threat, for a while.  (2 Samuel 5:17 is vague regarding the passage of time.)  God was fighting for Israel and advising David, the texts emphasized.

These passages contain references to previous passages.  The Israelite capture of idols as war booty indicates the opposite of the Philistine capture of the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4).  Exodus 14:25 and Judges 5:20 also mention God taking a side and intervening.

Interestingly, “Baal” functions as a name of God in 2 Samuel 5:20.  This is not entirely surprising.  I know of other religious connections between the Israelites and their neighbors.  For example, some of the Psalms indicate Egyptian or Canaanite influences; the texts use extant hymns as models.  Also, “El” and “Elohim” are Jewish names of God.  A student of ancient comparative religion may know that El was the chief Canannite deity and the presiding officer of the divine council, the Elohim.  The use of “Baal” for YHWH in 2 Samuel 5:20 prompts me to wonder about Ishbaal, son of Saul.  I wonder of the “man of Baal” was the “man of YHWH,” literally.  “Baal” means “Lord” or “Master.”  Perhaps the most famous Baal is Baal Peor, the Canaanite storm god and one the Baals.








Called to Serve God   1 comment


Above:  The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, by Raphael

(Image in the Public Domain)


The Collect:

Holy God, our strength and our redeemer,

by your Spirit hold us forever, that through your grace we may

worship you and faithfully serve you,

follow you and joyfully find you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22


The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 19:19-21

Psalm 40:1-11

Luke 5:1-11


Some Related Posts:

Luke 5:1-11:


He has put a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise to our God;

many shall see and fear

and put their trust in the Lord.

–Psalm 40:3, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)


The ELCA Daily Lectionary of 2006 pairs two stories of people called to discipleship.  First we read of Elisha leaving his family behind to follow Elijah.  Then we have an account of Jesus calling his first several Apostles, already acquainted with him.  Sts. James and John, sons of Zebedee, were our Lord’s cousins through St. Mary’s sister.  And St. Simon (Peter) was their business partner whose mother-in-law Jesus had cured in the previous chapter.

None of these men (except Jesus) were perfect.  St. Simon Peter was quick to speak before he thought sufficiently.  The brothers jostled for positions of privilege in the Kingdom of God.  And Elisha, as Walter Harrelson wrote n the 1962 Encyclopedia Americana,

offered no word of protest against Jehu’s bloody purge of Ahab’s 70 sons and others of his kin, of Ahaziah’s 42 brethren, and of the worshipers of Baal (II Kings 10).

And he

cursed playful children for mocking him, whereupon bears devoured them (II Kings 2:23-24).

–Volume 10, page 214

Yet, as Harrelson notes, Elisha also showed mercy on Syrian captives, healed Naaman, and cared about the common people of the kingdom.  The good came mixed with the bad.

Elisha and the Apostles did much that was great in the name of God.  They changed the world the better.  And so can I.  So can you, O reader.  The same power which flowed through them is available to us.  We can be effective instruments of God by divine grace.






Adapted from this post:


Radical Inclusion in Christ   1 comment


Above:  Christ Pantocrator


Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236


The Assigned Readings:

1 Kings 18:1-19 (September 1)

1 Kings 18:20-40 (September 2)

1 Kings 19:1-21 (September 3)

Psalm 110 (Morning–September 1)

Psalm 62 (Morning–September 2)

Psalm 13 (Morning–September 3)

Psalms 66 and 23 (Evening–September 1)

Psalms 73 and 8 (Evening–September 2)

Psalms 36 and 5 (Evening–September 3)

Ephesians 1:1-23 (September 1)

Ephesians 2:1-22 (September 2)

Ephesians 3:1-21 (September 3)


Some Related Posts:

1 Kings 18-19:

Ephesians 1-3:


What I have written briefly of this above will explain to you my knowledge of the mystery of Christ.  This secret was hidden to past, generations of mankind, but it has now, buy the Spirit, been made plain to God’s consecrated messengers and prophets.  It is simply this:  that the gentiles are  to be equal heirs with his chosen people, equal members and equal partners in God’s promise given by Christ Jesus through the gospel.

–Ephesians 3:4-6, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)


The account from 1 Kings boils over with peril–for Obadiah, for Elijah, and for all those who worshiped Baal and other false gods.  The body count is staggering–four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal in 18:40 and an undisclosed number of idol worshipers in 19:18.  The underlying reason for hostility to  many Gentiles in the Old Testament was that many Hebrews succumbed to Gentile false gods and cultic practices, thereby ceasing to be a light to the nations.  But was a massacre the right way to shine positive light?  Of course not!

There were, of course, as I have written in other posts, faithful Gentiles.  Ruth comes to mind immediately.  She even became an ancestor of David and Jesus.  But she adopted the Hebrew religion.

That provides a nice segue into Ephesians.  Paul or someone writing as Paul or revising dictations of an imprisoned Paul wrote of unity in Christ.  In Christ God reconciled with people and brought about human unity.  The church was (and is) the chosen instrument of this unity.  In Christ, the great epistle says, all other divisions fall away.  All of us in Christ are children of God, so we will receive a great inheritance.

This is grand and lofty theology.  So why have we of organized Christianity turned on each other so often?  Why have we even slaughtered each other sometimes?  We do not understand.  Or, if we do understand, we reject the message.  We (broadly speaking) use God as a blunt weapon to marginalize those whom God has called “insiders”, so many who have thought of themselves as insiders have betrayed the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Inclusion in Christ  is too radical a notion for many people to accept, for hurdles to jump through make us confortable.  They provide labels which reassure many falsely.  These labels are idols, in fact.  But Jesus jumped through the hurdles and knocked them down; may we cease to re-erect them.









Adapted from this post:


Yahweh: Accept No Substitutes   1 comment

Above:  Baal 


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


1 Kings 17:1-6 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Elijah the Tishbite, an inhabitant of Gilead, said to Ahab,

As the LORD lives, the God of Israel whom I serve, there will be no dew or rain except at my bidding.

The word of the LORD came to him:

Leave this place; turn eastward and go into hiding by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.

He proceeded to do as the LORD had bidden:  he went, and he stayed by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.  The ravens brought him bread and meat every morning and every morning, and he drank from the wadi.

Psalm 121 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills;

from where is my help to come?

2  My help comes from the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

3  He will not let your foot be moved

and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

4  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel

shall neither slumber nor sleep;

5  The LORD himself watches over you;

the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

6  So that the sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

7  The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;

it is he who shall keep you safe.

8  The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in,

from this time forth for evermore.

Matthew 5:1-12 (An American Translation):

When Jesus saw the crowds of people he went up on the mountain.  There he seated himself, and when his disciples had come up to him, he opened his lips to teach them.  And he said,

Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need, for the Kingdom of God belongs to them!

Blessed are the mourners, for they will be consoled!

Blessed are the humble-minded, for they will possess the land!

Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty for uprightness, for they will be satisfied!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy!

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God!

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called God’s sons!

Blessed are those who have endured the persecution for their uprightness, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them!

Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you, and falsely say everything bad of you, on my account.  Be glad and exult over it, for you will be richly rewarded in heaven, for that is the way they persecuted the prophets who went before you!


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 5:  Monday, Year 1:

Matthew 5:

Remember Your Servants, Lord:



With this post the Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following returns to 1 Kings.  The last time I was here via this reading plan was at this URL:  So it is appropriate to begin with grounding in the narrative.  The dates come from The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford University Press, 2004), page 2111.

Reigns of the Kings of Judah (Davidic Dynasty):

Rehoboam (928-911 B.C.E.)–17 years

Abijam, a.k.a. Abihah (911-908 B.C.E.)–3 years

Asa (908-867 B.C.E.)–41 years

The text criticizes all these monarchs, frequently for idolatry.

Reigns of the King of Israel:

House of Jeroboam:

Jeroboam I (928-907 B.C.E.)–22 years

Nadab (907-906 B.C.E.)–2 years–overthrown in a palace coup

House of Baasha:

Baasha (906-883 B.C.E.)–23 years

Elah (883-882 B.C.E.)–2 years–overthrown by a chariot commander, Zimri

House of Zimri:

Zimri (882 B.C.E.)–1 week–overthrown by the army commander, Omri

House of Omri:

Omri (882-871 B.C.E.)–12 years

Ahab (873-852 B.C.E.)–22 years

The text criticizes all these monarchs, frequently for idolatry.

Now we are ready to begin the devotional text.


Baal, a Canaanite deity, was allegedly responsible for sending the rains.  So what better way, according to the narrative in 1 Kings, for Yahweh to demonstrate the imaginary nature of Baal than to impose a drought upon Israel, where Baal worship was widespread?  This Yahweh, by the way, also protected and fed his prophet, Elijah, who delivered the prophesy of the drought.

The Matthew version of the Beatitudes, in Edgar Goodspeed’s An American Translation, includes this line:

Blessed are those who feel their spiritual need, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.

But perhaps the New Living Translation (first edition, 1996) offers the best rendering:

God blesses those who realize their need for him,

for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.

(The second edition (2004) of the New Living Translation, by the way, has a different rendering of the first Beatitude, an odd hybrid of the first line of Matthew and Luke Beatitudes.)

We human beings are inherently religious.  Even varieties of Atheism are merely types of Fundamentalism.  Just listen to militant Fundamentalists, who are evangelical in their unbelief.  For much of human history polytheism was the nearly universal default mode.  Monotheism, a great moral and theological advance, did not gain immediate and widespread acceptance in the corners where it existed.  For much of the Old Testament most Hebrews were polytheists, a reality against which biblical prophets inveighed.  The worship of Yahweh was widespread, but many of his devotees also bowed down to Baal, Astarte, and other deities.  The message of the prophets was to worship Yahweh alone.  The fault with the great bulk of spiritual seekers was that they sought to fill their spiritual needs at too many venues. The blessed spiritual seekers of Matthew’s first Beatitude are those who, if you will pardon my analogy, fill up their gas tanks at God’s gas station only.

May the first Beatitude, not the condemnations from 1 Kings, describe us. May we love and honor the one God who loves us.  There is a God-shaped hole inside each of us; may we fill it with God alone.  May we accept no substitutes.






Adapted from this post:


Posted February 5, 2012 by neatnik2009 in 1 Kings 17, Matthew 5, Psalm 121

Tagged with , ,

Idolatry, Part I   3 comments

Above:  Baal


Judges 2:11-19 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

And the Israelites did what was offensive to the LORD.  They worshiped the Baalim and forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.  They followed other gods, from among the gods of the peoples around them, and bowed down to them; they provoked the LORD.  They forsook the LORD and worshiped Baal and the Ashtaroth.  Then the LORD was incensed at Israel, and He handed them over to foes who plundered them  He surrendered them to their enemies on all sides, and they could no longer hold their own against their enemies.  In all their campaigns, the hand of the LORD was against them to their undoing, as the LORD had declared and as the LORD had sworn to them; and they were in great distress.  Then the LORD raised up chieftains who delivered them from those who plundered them.  But they did not heed their chieftains either; they went astray after other gods and bowed down to them.  They were quick to turn aside from the way their fathers had followed in obedience to the commandments of the LORD; they did not do right.  When the LORD raised up chieftains for them, the LORD would be with the chieftain and would save them from their enemies during the chieftain’s lifetime; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their moanings because of those who oppressed and crushed them.  But when the chieftain died, they would again act basely, even more than the preceding generation–following other gods, worshiping them, and bowing down to them; they omitted none of their practices and stubborn ways.

Psalm 51:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;

in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak

and upright in your judgment.

Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,

a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,

and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;

wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins

and blot out all my iniquities.

Matthew 19:16-22 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then it happened that a man came up  to him and said,

Master, what good thing must I do to secure eternal life?

Jesus answered him,

I wonder why you ask me what is good?  Only One is good.  But if you want to enter that life you must keep the commandments.

He asked,

Which ones?

Jesus replied,

Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother; and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The young man replied,

I have carefully kept all these.  What is still missing in my life?

Then Jesus told him,

If you want to be perfect, go now and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor–you will have riches in Heaven.  The come and follow me!

When the young man heard that he turned away crestfallen, for he was very wealthy.


The Collect:

Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Old habits are hard to break, even when doing so is for the best.  One way of breaking an old and bad habit, such as committing idolatry or relying on one’s own wealth, not God, is developing a new, good habit, such as relying on God alone.  This strategy can prove challenging, however.  None of these facts are excuses, just statements of reality.

Fortunately, we do not have to rely on our own power to make these essential changes.  Grace is available to assist us.  But we must cooperate with God.

Let us consider bad habit #1:  idolatry.  Monotheism is a recent development in human religion, in the grand scheme of history.  In the time in which the events of the Book of Judges are set, most people in that region were polytheists.  Deities were localized, specialized, and tied to nature.  And some members of one pantheon resembled those of other pantheons.  Hence Astarte, Ishtar, and Aphrodite were essentially the same character, a fertility goddess.   So, for the Israelites settled in Canaan, the local religious culture was polytheistic.  And many, if not most, of them, blended into it.

Local religious cultures can prove quite powerful.   One might not realize this until one lives as a member of a religious minority in a place.  The person who is different is set apart.  If one is especially susceptible to peer pressure, this can be difficult to maintain.  I am convinced that the pressure to conform within a culture or subculture is generally negative, for it discourages healthy differences.  (I write as one who has dealt with these issues as a liberal United Methodist then more leftist Episcopalian in some very fundamentalist, Southern Baptist-dominated southern Georgia towns and communities.  Fortunately, I have nurtured the habit of resisting peer pressure.)

But the Israelites were the chosen people of God.  Therefore they had great responsibilities to function as a light to the Gentiles.  A bright light stands out in the darkness.  It cannot do its job if it ignores its purpose.

Wealth can be as much of an idol as Baal or Astarte.  All of them distract one from God.  It is upon God alone that one ought to lean and depend spiritually.  Anything else–whether a habit, a tangible object, a collection of said items, money (which is imaginary and psychological, although reified), or a fictitious deity–is a poor substitute.  The wealthy man in the story from Matthew tried to do well, and he succeeded outwardly.  He had mastered what the Lutheran confessions of faith call civil righteousness.  But, as the Lutheran confessions tell us, civic righteousness cannot save us from sin, from ourselves.  Only God can do that.  And the rich young man had a profound psychological attachment to his wealth.

Whatever we are attached to in lieu of God must cease to distract us from God.  For many people of various economic statuses this is not money.  So it will be something else.  It is sports for some people and the Bible itself for others. Anything (other than God) can be an idol if one treats it as that.  So the challenge for you and for me is to identify our idol or idols then to abandon our idolatry forever.  May we do so sooner rather than later.







Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on February 13, 2011

Adapted from this post:


Allegedly Sacred Violence, Part Two   1 comment

Above:  Elijah in the Wilderness, by Washington Allston


This post flows directly from


1 Kings 19:9-16 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

[At Horeb Elijah, on the run from Queen Jezebel] went into a cave, and there he spent the night.

Then the word of the LORD came to him.  He said to him,

Why are you here, Elijah?

He replied,

I am moved by zeal for the LORD, the God of Hosts, for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and put Your prophets to the sword.  I alone am left, and they are out to take my life.

[The LORD called,]

Come out and stand on the mountain before the LORD.

And lo, the LORD passed by.  There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind.  After the wind–an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake–fire; but the LORD was not in the fire.  And after the fire–a soft murmuring sound.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his mantle about his face and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  Then a voice addressed him:

Why are you here Elijah?

He answered,

I am moved by zeal for the LORD, the God of Hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and put your prophets to the sword.  I alone am left, and they are out to take my life.

The LORD said to him,

Go back by the way you came, [and] on to the wilderness of Damascus.  When you get there, anoint Hazael as king of Aram.  Also anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah to succeed you as prophet.


Elijah, on the run for his life from Queen Jezebel, was discouraged.  So God encouraged him and showed him that he was not alone.  Then God gave Elijah other tasks to complete–to choose Elisha (who was to become a prophet also) as a disciple and to anoint new monarchs for Aram and Israel.  If one keeps reading one learns that, between the two new kings, many adherents of Baal will die, with divine approval, according to the author of this part of 1 Kings.

I understand why many people, especially those outside the Judeo-Christian fold, find the Bible disturbing.  Parts of the book are quite violent.  Some of its authors portray Yahweh as bloodthirsty, pronouncing death for those who choose not to worship him.  There are also death sentences for getting caught in adultery, losing a battle, showing great disrespect for a parent, and committing many other offenses.  Such passages help explain why I reject both biblical inerrancy and infallibility, for this divine bloodlust is incompatible with the love I see in Jesus.

I try to understand such bloody passages in context.  Elijah, under the threat of violence from devotees of pagan deities, was a radical monotheist who understood himself to be a soldier in a cosmic war.  People kill in war.  This is, however, the mindset which contributed to the Crusades and the Inquisition, and which provides much fuel to Islamic terrorism.  ”Those are not merely misguided people; they are moral threats.  I can kill a moral threat and still be moral.”  That is the misguided logic of holy war.  There is no such thing as sacred violence or holy war.  If God is love, these cannot exist.

I own the two-disc set of the Terry Jones documentary miniseries Crusades.  In it Karen Armstrong explains simply the moral inconsistency of holy war, in this case, for Christians:  Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies, not exterminate them.  Jesus was wise.






Adapted from this post:


Allegedly Sacred Violence, Part One   2 comments

Above:  Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Image = A screen capture from a DVD

1 Kings 18:40-46 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Then Elijah said to them,

Seize the prophets of Baal, let not a single one of them get away.

They seized them, and Elijah too, took them down to the Wadi Kishon and slaughtered them there.

Elijah said to Ahab,

Go up, eat and drink, for there is a rumbling of [approaching] rain,

and Ahab went up to eat and drink.  Elijah meanwhile climbed to the top of Mount Carmel, crouched on the ground, and put his face between his knees.  And he said to his servant,

Go up and look toward the Sea.

He went up and looked and reported,

There is nothing.

Seven times [Elijah] said,

Go back,

and the seventh time, [the servant] reported,

A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising in the west.

Then [Elijah] said,

Go say to Ahab, “Hitch up [your chariot] and go down before the rain stops you.”

Meanwhile the sky grew black with clouds; there was wind, and a heavy downpour fell; Ahab mounted his chariot and drove off to Jezreel.  The hand of the LORD had come upon Elijah.  He tied up his skirts and ran in front of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

Psalm 65:1, 8-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs;

you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.

You visit the earth and water it abundantly;

you make it very plenteous;

the river of God is full of water.

10 You prepare the grain,

for so you provide for the earth.

11 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;

with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.

12 You crown the year with your goodness,

and your paths overflow with plenty.

13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing,

and the hills be clothed with joy.

14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,

and the valleys cloak themselves with grain;

let them shout for joy and sing.

Matthew 5:20-26 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

For I tell you that unless your uprightness is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never even enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

You have heard that men of old were told “You shall not murder,” and “Whoever murders will have to answer to the court.”  But I tell you that any one who gets angry with his brother will have to answer to the court, and anyone who speaks abusively to his brother will have to answer to the great council, and anyone who says to his brother “You cursed fool!” will have to answer for it in the fiery pit!  So when you are presenting your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother has any grievance against you, leave your gift right there before the altar and go and make up with your brother; then come back and present your gift.  Be quick and come to terms with your opponent while you are on the way to court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.  I tell you, you will never get out again until you have paid the last penny!


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Jesus quoted the commandment forbidding murder.  Then he took the principle further.  A good understanding of this requires the explanation of some technical details.

“Raca,” or “empty-headed fool” or “airhead,” was a very strong insult in Jesus’ culture.  As we say in the U.S. South, “Them is fightin’ words.”  To call someone a “raca” was to express extreme contempt.

Just as there is more than one type of love in the New Testament, there is more than one variety of anger there.  The anger Jesus condemns is that which leads one to plot revenge.  Violent acts, such as murder, flow from such anger.  So Jesus says not even to think about murdering, committing any other violent deed, or causing harm of any sort to anyone.

Revenge, a common plot element in many works of fiction (including Star Trek II), and the desire for it are ubiquitous in real life.  All one has to do to hear of them is follow the news closely.  Yet revenge can never restore life to the dead, undo injuries which have resulted in amputations or paralysis, or erase psychological damage.  We need justice, not revenge, but many of us confuse the two categories.

Jesus, of course, did not, according to the canonical Gospels, refrain from all anger.  He did expel money changers from part of the Jerusalem Temple and excoriate certain religious leaders.  But he did not plot revenge on anybody.  He even asked divine forgiveness for those who crucified him and looked on approvingly.

So far the texts seem holy.  Then we return to 1 Kings 18, where, in verse 40, Elijah kills the 450 prophets of Baal.  This is the conclusion of the “My God can set fire to this altar” showdown.  The lectionary skips verse 40, beginning with verse 41 and the end of the drought.  The chapter itself devotes only one verse to the slaughter of the prophets of Baal, an event which might slip unnoticed between the dramatic contest and the end of the drought.  But let us not look away from uncomfortable Bible verses.

How should we understand the slaughter of Baal’s prophets? I found comments in three study Bibles I checked.  The note in The Jerusalem Bible reads:

In this war between Yahweh and Baal those who serve Baal suffer the fate of the conquered in the warfare of the time.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that Elijah was “faithful to the deuteronomistic perspective” by ordering the execution of false prophets, per Deuteronomy 13:1-18.  (Read the verses for yourself, O reader; they do command violence.)  Then there is the note from The NIV Study Bible:

Elijah, acting on the authority of the Lord, who sent him, carried out the sentence pronounced in the Mosaic law for prophets of pagan deities (Dt 13:13-18; 17:2-5).

I have a t-shirt I wear from time to time.  ”Who would Jesus bomb?” it asks.  (I know; it should say “Whom would Jesus bomb?”)  The question, regardless of whether one uses the objective case, answers itself, does it not?  As an intellectually honest Christian, I seek to follow Jesus more nearly each day.  My success is mixed, but I persist in the effort.  So, to paraphrase the t-shirt, “Whom would Jesus slaughter?”  Nobody, of course; he might use justifiably harsh words, but he would neither condone nor commit the taking of anyone’s life.  And he would neither condone nor commit revenge either.  And Jesus is the Master.  So I side with my Lord.






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Idolatry, Again: Elijah Versus Prophets of Baal   1 comment

Above:  Elijah’s Sacrifice Consumed by Fire

Image Source = Cadetgray

1 Kings 18:20-39 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Ahab sent orders to all Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel.  Elijah approached all the people and said,

How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him!

But the people answered him not a word.  Then Elijah said to the people,

I am the only prophet of the LORD left, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men.  Let two young bulls be given to us.  Let them choose one bull, cut it up, and lay it on the wood, but let them not apply fire; I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, and will not apply fire.  You will then invoke your god by name, and I will invoke the LORD by name; and let us agree:  the god who responds with fire, that one is God.

And all the people answered,

Very good!

Elijah said to the prophets of Baal,

Choose one bull and prepare it first, for you are the majority; invoke your god by name, but apply no fire.

They took the bull that was given them; they prepared it, and invoked Baal by name from morning until noon, shouting,

O Baal, answer us!

But there was no sound, and none who responded; so they performed a hopping dance about the altar that had been set up.  When noon came, Elijah mocked them, saying,

Shout louder!  After all, he is a god.  But he may be in conversation, he may be detained, or he may be on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.

So they shouted louder, and gashed themselves with knives and spears, according to their practice, until the blood streamed over them.  When noon passed, they kept raving until the hour of presenting the meal offering.  Still there was no sound, and none who responded or heeded.

Then Elijah said to all the people,

Come closer to me;

and all the people came closer to him.  He repaired the damaged altar of the LORD.  Then Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob–to whom the word of the LORD had come:

Israel shall be your name

–and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD.  Around the altar he made a trench large enough for the two seahs of seed.  He laid out the wood, and he cut up the bull and laid it on the wood.  And he said,

Fill four jars with water and pour it over the burnt offering and the wood.

Then he said,

Do it a second time;

and they did it a second time.

Do it a third time,

he said; and they did a third time.  The water ran down around the altar, and even the trench was filled with water.

When it was time to present the meal offering, the prophet Elijah came forward and said,

O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel!  Let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God; for You have turned their hearts backward.

Then fire from the LORD descended and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth; and it licked up the water that was in the trench.  When they saw this, the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out,

The LORD alone is God, The LORD alone is God!

Psalm 16:1, 6-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives my counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave,

nor will your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy,

and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Matthew 5:17-19 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not suppose that I have come to do away with the Law or the Prophets.  I have not come to do away with them but to complete them.  For I tell you, as long as heaven and earth endure, not one dotting of an i or crossing of a will be dropped from the Law until it is all observed.  Anyone, therefore, who weakens one of the slightest of these commands, and teaches others to do so, will be ranked lowest in the Kingdom of Heaven; but anyone who observes them and teaches others to do so will be ranked high in the Kingdom of Heaven.


The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


I took notes for this post and drafted my comments a few days ago.  Now, as I type the final version, I have the first part of Mendelssohn’s Elijah playing.  It is appropriate timing, for the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is about to begin.

There was a real choice between Yahweh and Baal.  This day we have part of the account of the account of the duel of a sort between Elijah, speaking for Yahweh, and 450 prophets of Baal.  Yahweh wins despite seemingly improbable odds.  A fire on a drenched altar? Who had heard of such a thing?

The prophets of Baal, for all their pleading, dancing, and bloodletting, failed.  How could they not?  Baal was imaginary.  This was an unambiguous victory for Yahweh.  Yet the idolatry continued for centuries.  Some people are just stubborn, apparently.

“The Law,” in the context of the Gospels, has layers and aspects.  There are, for starters, the letter (economically and culturally specific to circumstances, which change and therefore fail to apply after a while) of the law and there is the spirit (not tied to circumstances) thereof.  There is the Law of Moses and then there are elaborations upon it which people have added over time.  Jesus is consistent with the best of these traditions (the spirit of the law), not the persnickety details the Gospel writers quote him as contradicting.

The audience for Matthew was Jewish Christian, so this was an important point for the author of that text to make clear.  Jesus was an observant Jew, albeit neither a Pharisee nor a Sadducee.  For Jesus performing merciful deeds was legal and commendable on every day of week.  In contrast, strict Pharisees allowed only the most basic first aid on the Sabbath, delaying more advanced medical attention until the next day.  ”Do the most good you can everyday,” Jesus said with this words and deeds, “including on the Sabbath.”

There is nothing sinful about that.

The choice between goodness and the Law and the Prophets, when one interprets the latter correctly, is an illusion.  When one follows our Lord and Savior’s admonition to love God fully and one’s neighbor as one’s self, the two commandments on which all the Law and the Prophets hang, one keeps the Law.

It is that simple–and that challenging.






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