Elisha and The Call of Elijah & The Ministries of Elijah

I bet Ahab is scarred now. What’s up with Jezebel, I’ve heard that name, but nothing good.

The “Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III” is a black limestone Neo-Assyrian bas-relief sculpture from Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), in northern Iraq, commemorating the deeds of King Shalmaneser III (reigned 858-824 BC).

It is the most complete Assyrian obelisk yet discovered, and is historically significant because it is thought to display the earliest ancient depiction of a biblical figure – Hoshea King of Israel.

The traditional identification of “Yaw” as Jehu has been questioned by some scholars, who proposed that the inscription refers to another king, Jehoram of Israel.

Its reference to ‘Parsua’ is also the first known reference to the Persians.

Tribute offerings are shown being brought from identifiable regions and peoples.

It was erected as a public monument in 825 B.C. at a time of civil war.

It was discovered by archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard in 1846 and is now in the British Museum.

Description
The obelisk features twenty reliefs, five on each side.

They depict five different subdued kings, bringing tribute and prostrating before the Assyrian king.

From top to bottom they are:

(1) Sua[disambiguation needed] of Gilzanu (in north-west Iran),

(2) “Hoshea of Bit Omri” (Jehu of the House of Omri),

(3) an unnamed ruler of Musri (probably Egypt),

(4) Marduk-apil-usur of Suhi (middle Euphrates, Syria and Iraq), and

(5) Qalparunda of Patin (Antakya region of Turkey).

Each scene occupies four panels around the monument and is described by a cuneiform script above them.

On the top and the bottom of the reliefs there is a long cuneiform inscription recording the annals of Shalmaneser III.

It lists the military campaigns which the king and his commander-in-chief headed every year, until the thirty-first year of reign.

Some features might suggest that the work had been commissioned by the commander-in-chief, Dayyan-Assur.

“And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and withal how he had slain all the prophets with the sword.

Then Jezebel sent a messenger unto Elijah, saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time.

And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongeth to Judah, and left his servant there” (1 Kgs 19:1-3).

Omride Dynasty
Following the death of King Solomon, the United Monarchy dissolved and split into the Divided Kingdoms of Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The Omride dynasty was the most infamous family to rule Israel, especially in the view of the biblical writers, but then the expansionist ambitions of the Neo-Assyrians from Mesopotamia in the eighth century BCE spelled an end to the Kingdom of Israel and gave rise to the tradition of the Ten Lost Tribes.

Five Assyrian records, some of which with known duplicates, are known to refer to either “Land of Omri” or “House of Omri.” An archaeological reference to Omri and his unnamed son is found in the Mesha Stele, the only Northwest Semitic inscription known to reference this name.

Biblical Account
The Bible generally portrays the Omrides unfavorably, stressing their apostasy from the religion of Yahweh in favor of Baal. It devotes little attention to Omri aside from noting his establishment of the dynasty and foundation of Israel’s new capital of Samaria.

In contrast, his son Ahab is the subject of an extended narrative focusing on his troubled relations with the prophets Elijah and Elisha. He is depicted as a weak personality allowing himself to be led by his strong-willed wife Jezebel of Tyre, who advocated Baal worship.

Note is also made of the dynasty’s diplomacy, which connected it by marriage to Tyre and Judah and brought about a rapprochement with the latter after a long series of wars. The Biblical account of the later Omrides concerns the revolt of Moab, their conflict with Damascus over Ramoth-Gilead, the dynasty’s extinction in Israel at the hands of Jehu, and Athaliah’s usurpation of the throne of Judah on the death of her son King Ahaziah.

Elijah walked into the wilderness for a day before he sat down under a juniper tree and felt that he was going to die.  He then said to God,

“It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.

And as he lay and slept under a juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat.

And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink, and laid him down again.

And the angel of the Lord came again the second time, and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.

And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lordcame to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?

And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord 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.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, theLord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? (1 Kgs 19:4-13).

Elijah then explained to God how upset he was with Israel, what he did, and that Jezebel said she was going to kill him.

And the Lord said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria:

And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room.

And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay.

Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 Kgs 19:15-18).

Relief from the Black Obelisk
Possibly Hoshea, or Jehu’s ambassador, bows before Shalmaneser III.
The second register from the top of the Obelisk is thought to include the earliest surviving picture of a biblical figure.

The name appears as mIa-ú-a mar mHu-um-ri-i.

Rawlinson’s original translation in 1850 seminal work “On the Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia” stated:

“The second line of offerings are said to have been sent by Yahua, son of Hubiri, a prince of whom there is no mention in the annals, and of whose native country, therefore, I am ignorant.”

Over a year later, a connection with the bible was made by Reverend Edward Hincks, who wrote in his diary on 21 August 1851:

“Thought of an identification of one of the obelisk captives — with Hoshea, king of Israel, and satisfying myself on the point wrote a letter to the Athenaeum announcing it”.

Hincks’ letter was published by Athenaeum on the same day, entitled “Nimrud Obelisk”.

Hincks’ identification is now the commonly held position by biblical archaeologists.

The name is now commonly read as

“Yaw, son of Omri (Bit-Khumri”, understood by Hincks as the Biblical Jehu, king of Israel.

The identification of “Yaw” as Jehu has been questioned, based on the fact that Jehu was not an Omride, as well as transliteration and chronology issues.

The stele describes how Hoshea brought or sent his tribute in or around 841 B.C.

Hoshea severed Israel’s alliances with Phoenicia and Judah, and became subject to Assyria.

The caption above the scene, written in Assyrian cuneiform, can be translated:

“The tribute of Hoshea, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.”

So Elijah left and found Elisha plowing the 12 yoke of oxen before him and cast his 1 mantle upon him.  Elisha left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said,

“..Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee.  And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee? 

And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him” (1 Kgs 19:20-21).

Kulturkampf
The German term About this sound Kulturkampf (help·info) (pronounced [kʊlˈtuːɐ̯kampf], literally “culture struggle”) refers to German policies in relation to secularity and reducing the role and power of the Roman Catholic Church in Prussia, enacted from 1871 to 1878 by the Prime Minister of Prussia,

Otto von Bismarck.

Bismarck accelerated the Kulturkampf, which did not extend to the other German states such as Bavaria.

As one scholar put it,

“the attack on the church included a series of Prussian, discriminatory laws that made Catholics feel understandably persecuted within a predominantly Protestant nation.”

Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans and other orders were expelled in the culmination of twenty years of anti-Jesuit and antimonastic hysteria.

In 1871, the Catholic Church comprised 36.5% of the population of the German Empire, including millions of discriminated Poles.

In this newly founded Empire, Bismarck sought to appeal to liberals and Protestants (62% of the population) by reducing the political and social influence of the Catholic Church and attempting to eradicate the Polish nationality.

Priests and bishops who resisted the Kulturkampf were arrested or removed from their positions.

By the height of anti-Catholic legislation, half of the Prussian bishops were in prison or in exile, a quarter of the parishes had no priest, half the monks and nuns had left Prussia, a third of the monasteries and convents were closed, 1800 parish priests were imprisoned or exiled, and thousands of laypeople were imprisoned for helping the priests.

Bismarck’s program backfired, as it energized the Catholics to become a political force in the Center party and revitalized Polish resistance.

The Kulturkampf ended about 1880 with a new pope willing to negotiate with Bismarck, and with the departure of the anti-Catholic Liberals from his coalition.

By retreating, Bismarck won over the Center party support on most of his conservative policy positions, especially his attacks against Socialism.

King Ben-hadad of Syria gathered all his men and 32 other kings and attacked Samaria.  He then sent messengers to King Ahab that said, Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine. 

“And he sent messengers to Ahab king of Israel into the city, and said unto him, Thus saith Benhadad,

Thy silver and thy gold is mine; thy wives also and thy children, even the goodliest, are mine.

And the king of Israel answered and said, My lord, O king, according to thy saying, I am thine, and all that I have.

And the messengers came again, and said, Thus speaketh Benhadad, saying, Although I have sent unto thee, saying, Thou shalt deliver me thy silver, and thy gold, and thy wives, and thy children;

Yet I will send my servants unto thee to morrow about this time, and they shall search thine house, and the houses of thy servants; and it shall be, that whatsoever is pleasant in thine eyes, they shall put it in their hand, and take it away” (1 Kgs 20:3-6).

The King of Israel called on the elders of the land and asked what he should do and they told him not to do that.  So the king of Israel sent the messengers back with…

“…All that thou didst send for to thy servant at the first I will do: but this thing I may not do. And the messengers departed, and brought him word again.

And Benhadad sent unto him, and said, The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me.

And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.

And it came to pass, when Ben-hadad heard this message, as he was drinking, he and the kings in the pavilions, that he said unto his servants, Set yourselves in array. And they set themselves in array against the city.And, behold, there came a prophet unto Ahab king of Israel, saying, Thus saith theLord, Hast thou seen all this great multitude? Behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord.

And Ahab said, By whom? And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Even by the young men of the princes of the provinces. Then he said, Who shall order the battle? And he answered, Thou” (1 Kgs 20:9-14). 

Ahab then counted his soldiers, 232,000, then he numbered the people and there were 7,000.  And at noon they travelled towards Syria. 

And some of Ben-hadad’s men came and told him that men from Samaria were coming.  And he told them that it didn’t matter if they came in peace or war, to take them alive. 

The men and their army approached Ahad and they were killed, and the other Sryians fled, so Israel pursued them.

“And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter, but king Ben-hadad escaped” (1 Kgs 20:21).

“And the prophet came to the king of Israel, and said unto him, Go, strengthen thyself, and mark, and see what thou doest: for at the return of the year the king of Syria will come up against thee.

And the servants of the king of Syria said unto him, Their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.

And do this thing, Take the kings away, every man out of his place, and put captains in their rooms:

And number thee an army, like the army that thou hast lost, horse for horse, and chariot for chariot: and we will fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they. And he hearkened unto their voice, and did so.

And it came to pass at the return of the year, that Benhadad numbered the Syrians, and went up to Aphek, to fight against Israel.

And the children of Israel were numbered, and were all present, and went against them: and the children of Israel pitched before them like two little flocks of kids; but the Syrians filled the country.

And there came a man of God, and spake unto the king of Israel, and said, Thus saith the Lord, Because the Syrians have said, The Lord is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the Lord.

Archaeological dig at Tel Dan
In the Tel Dan inscription, a Syrian king (probably Hazael) admits that “the kings of Israel entered my father’s land,” indicating that the Omride dynasty controlled territory in Syria, stretching south through Moab.

A sizable army is also evidenced, as shown in the inscription of the Assyrian leader Shalmaneser III (858–824 B.C.) who refers to an opposing force of 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers belonging to Omri’s son, “Ahab the Israelite.”

Assyrian sources referred to Israel as the “land of the house of Omri,” or the “land of Omri” for nearly 150 years.

Even Jehu, who ended the Omride dynasty, was mistakenly called “the son of Omri” by Shalmaneser II.

Archaeological evidence regarding the construction of palaces, stables, and store cities indicates that Israel under the Omrides had surpassed its southern neighbor.

The site of Omri and Ahab’s impressive palace at Samaria has been uncovered for more than a century.

Moreover, recent investigations have reassigned the dates of several important structures formerly attributed to Solomon to the time of Omri and Ahab.

Impressive fortifications, administrative centers, and other improvements at Megiddo and Hazor led Finklestein and others to conclude that “The Omrides, not Solomon, established the first fully developed monarchy in Israel.”

And they pitched one over against the other seven days. And so it was, that in the seventh day the battle was joined: and the children of Israel slew of the Syrians an hundred thousand footmen in one day.

But the rest fled to Aphek, into the city; and there a wall fell upon twenty and seven thousand of the men that were left. And Benhadad fled, and came into the city, into an inner chamber.

And his servants said unto him, Behold now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us, I pray thee, put sackcloth on our loins, and ropes upon our heads, and go out to the king of Israel: peradventure he will save thy life” (1 Kgs 19:22-31).

Ben-hadad agreed with his servant, and he said to Israel,

“I pray thee, let me live. And he said, Is he yet alive? he is my brother.

Now the men did diligently observe whether any thing would come from him, and did hastily catch it: and they said, Thy brother Benhadad. Then he said, Go ye, bring him. Then Benhadad came forth to him; and he caused him to come up into the chariot.

And Ben-hadad said unto him, The cities, which my father took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make streets for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria. Then said Ahab, I will send thee away with this covenant. So he made a covenant with him, and sent him away.

And a certain man of the sons of the prophets said unto his neighbour in the word of the Lord, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man refused to smite him.

Moabite Stone – The Mesha Stele – 930 BC
I am Mesha, son of Kemoshmelek, the king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father was king over Moab for thirty years, and I became king after my father.

And I made this high place for Kemosh in Qarhar . . . because of the deliverance of Mesha, and because he has saved me from all the kings and because he caused me to see [my desire] upon all who hated me. Omri, king of Israel — he oppressed Moab many days, because Chemosh was angry with his land.

And his son succeeded him, and he also said I will oppress Moab. In my day he spoke according to this word, but I saw my desire upon him and upon his house, and Israel utterly perished forever.

Now Omri had possessed all the land of Medeba and dwelt in it his days and half the days of his son, forty years, but Chemosh restored it in my day. And I built Baal-meon and I made in it the reservoir and I built Kiryathaim. And the men of Gad had dwelt in the land of Ataroth from ofold and the king of Israel had built for himself Ataroth. And I foutht against the city and took it, and I slew all the people of the city, a sight pleasing to Chemosh and to Moab.

And I brought back from there the altar-hearth of Duda and I dragged it before Chemosh in Kiryoth. And I caused to dwell in it the men of Sharon and the men of Meharoth (?).

And Chemosh said to me: “Go take Nebo against Israel”; and I went by night and fought against it from break of dawn till noon, and I took it and slew all, seven thousand men, boys (?), and women, and girls, for I had devoted it to Ashtar-Chemosh.

And I took from there the altar-hearths of Yahweh, and I dragged them before Chemosh. And the king of Israel built Jabaz and dwelt in it while he fought with me and Chemosh drove him out from before me. And I took from Moab two hundred men, all its chiefs, and I led them against Jahaz and took it to add unto Dibon.

And I built Qarhar (?), the wall of the forests and the wall of the hill; and I built its gates and I built its towers, and I built the kings house, and I made the sluices (?) for the reservoir of water in the midst of the city.

And there was no cistern in the midst of the city, in Qarhar (?); and I said to all the people: “Make you each a cistern in his house;” and I cut the cuttings for Qarhar (?) with the help of the prisoners of Israel. I built Aroer and I made the highway by the Arnon. And I built Beth-bamoth, for it had been destroyed. And I built Bezer, for it was in ruins….(Chi) of Dibon wer fifty, for all Dibon was obedient. And I ruled. And I ruled a hundred….in the cities which I had added to the land. And I built [Mede]ba dnd Beth-diblathan. And [as for] Beth-baal-meon, there I placed sheep-raisers….sheep of the land… And [as for] Horonaim there dwelt in it….and…..Chemosh said unto me: “Go down, fight against Horonaim,” and I went down and….Chemosh in my day, and from there…..and I…….

Then said he unto him, Because thou hast not obeyed the voice of the Lord, behold, as soon as thou art departed from me, a lion shall slay thee. And as soon as he was departed from him, a lion found him, and slew him.Then he found another man, and said, Smite me, I pray thee. And the man smote him, so that in smiting he wounded him.

So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face.

And as the king passed by, he cried unto the king: and he said, Thy servant went out into the midst of the battle; and, behold, a man turned aside, and brought a man unto me, and said, Keep this man: if by any means he be missing, then shall thy life be for his life, or else thou shalt pay a talent of silver.

And as thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone. And the king of Israel said unto him, So shall thy judgment be; thyself hast decided it.

And he hasted, and took the ashes away from his face; and th’ed to utter destruction, therefore thy life shall go for his life, and thy people for his people.

And the king of Israel went to his house heavy and displeased, and came to Samaria” (1 Kgs 19:32-43).

1 There are at least four Hebrew terms for mantel.  Is this case it is probably a sole garment, and probably made of sheepskin, such as is worn by the modern dervishes.

The Ministries of
Elijah and Elisha

The considerable power and wealth the Omride Dynasty brought to Israel also rent the fabric of Israelites society.  Phoenician influence at the court in Samaria proved troubling.  This was best symbolized by the marriage of Ahab to Jezebel, a Phoenician princess of Tyre.

Omri was the sixth king of Israel after Jeroboam, a successful military campaigner, and the founder of the House of Omri, an Israelite royal house which included other monarchs such as Ahab, Ahaziah, Joram, and Athaliah.

Mentioned in the Bible as well as other extra-biblical sources such as the Mesha stele and the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, Omri is also credited with the construction of Samaria and establishing it as his capital.

Struggle for the Succession
Omri was “commander of the army” of king Elah when Zimri, “commander of half the king’s chariots”, murdered Elah and made himself king.

Instead, the troops at Gibbethon chose Omri as king, and he led them to Tirzah where they trapped Zimri in the royal palace.

To avoid the certain tortures of capture, Zimri set fire to the palace and died after a reign of only seven days.

Although Zimri was eliminated, “half of the people” supported Tibni in opposition to Omri.

It took Omri four years to subdue Tibni and at last proclaim himself undisputed king of Israel.

Nothing is said in Scripture about the lineage of Omri.

His name is either Amorite or Arabic, suggesting he was a foreign mercenary.

Social and economic tensions built up within Israel society between the privileged classes favored by the royal court, mostly city dwellers whose lifestyles grew increasingly luxurious, and those distrustful of foreign influences, mainly rural elements isolated from political and perhaps economic power. 

An additional source of tension was the official patronage of Baal worship by the royal court.  Ahab built a temple of Baal at Samaria (1 Kgs 18:19). 

In addition, Jezebel ruthlessly suppressed the prophets of Yahweh in Israel.  These policies prompted a major crisis of the soul for Israel. 

In response, God sent two unique prophetic figures – Elijah and Elisha – to minister to the nation.  Both prophets remain enigmatic due to the paucity and nature according to these resources, yet each guided Israel at critical junction.

Elijah was a dour, solitary figure who hailed from Tishbe in Gilead (major references to Elijah are found in 1 Kgs 17-19, 21; 2 Kgs 1-2).

He appeared suddenly and mysteriously when least expected.  An implacable foe of Baalism, Elijah opposed both Ahab and Jezebel publicly as the “troubler of Israel.”

He announced God was sending a drought upon the land, a tactic aimed at the heart of Baalism, whose chief deity brought the rain.  Having made the announcement, Elijah retreated to the brook Cherith, east of the Jordan (1 Kgs 17:1-7).

Next, he traveled to Zarephath near Sidon, where he stayed with a widow and raised her son from death (1 Kgs 17:8-24). 

Elijah found Elisha, presumably at his home village, Abel-meholah. The exact location of Abel-meholah is uncertain, but it seems to have been west of the Jordan River, perhaps near the eastern part of the Jezreel Valley.

Elisha left his fields to become the devoted disciple of Elijah.   Sometime after the death of Ahaziah (850 B.C.), Elisha followed Elijah from Gilgi through Bethel and Jericho to the Jordan River.

Elisha differed in some respects from Elijah.  He appeared frequently in the company of the “sons of the prophets” and functioned more often as a counselor to kings.  The Bible records numerous miracles Elisha performed, among them (2 Kgs 2:19-22, 4:8-37, 4:38-41, 5).

Like Elijah, it is difficult to plot the movements of Elisha, though he often appeared at Mount Carmel and Samaria.   The most prominent role Elisah played was kingmaker.

He was the instrument of political revolution in Damascus and Israel (2 Kgs 8:7-15).  The main difference between the two prophets is that Elijah didn’t die, God took him to heaven, as He had done with Enoch.