Prophet in Crisis
Melakhim I 18 ends with Eliyahu's victory over the Baal prophets at Mt. Carmel. The reader expects Eliyahu to be jubilant at his success at bringing the people back to God. Yet, in Melakhim I 19, Eliyahu is a portrait of despair. As he flees from the queen, he requests that Hashem take his life. He subsequently turns to Hashem and complains that the Children of Israel have forsaken His covenant:
וַיֹּאמֶר קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי לַי"י אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת כִּי עָזְבוּ בְרִיתְךָ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת מִזְבְּחֹתֶיךָ הָרָסוּ וְאֶת נְבִיאֶיךָ הָרְגוּ בֶחָרֶב וָאִוָּתֵר אֲנִי לְבַדִּי וַיְבַקְשׁוּ אֶת נַפְשִׁי לְקַחְתָּהּ.
And he said: 'I have been very jealous for the Lord, the 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.'
Considering that the last words said by the people on Mt. Carmel were, "י"י הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים", one wonders from where this complaint is coming. Is there any evidence in the text that the nation had reverted to idolatry between the last chapter and this one? Regardless, what is the intent behind Eliyahu's words? Is he simply venting his frustration to Hashem, or is there some implied request in his rant? If the latter, what is it that Eliyahu is asking Hashem to do?
In response to Eliyahu's words, Hashem reveals Himself to the prophet:
(יא) וַיֹּאמֶר צֵא וְעָמַדְתָּ בָהָר לִפְנֵי י"י וְהִנֵּה י"י עֹבֵר וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי י"י לֹא בָרוּחַ י"י וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ לֹא בָרַעַשׁ י"י. (יב) וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ לֹא בָאֵשׁ י"י וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה.
(11) And He said: 'Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.' And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke 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; (12) and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
What is the meaning of this revelation? What do the wind, earthquake, and fire all represent? Why is it emphasized that Hashem was not found in these forces of nature, and what is to be learned from the contrast to the "small still voice"? Finally, how does this revelation constitute a response to Eliyahu? Is Hashem agreeing or disagreeing with him?
"קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי" Take 2
Somewhat surprisingly, after Hashem's revelation, He and Eliyahu have exactly the same conversation that they had previously. Hashem repeats, "מַה לְּךָ פֹה אֵלִיָּהוּ" and Eliyahu responds, as before, "קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי". Why are the two repeating themselves? How is each response a reaction to the revelation and the message that Hashem was trying to express through it?
After this initial conversation, Hashem conveys a triple directive to Eliyahu that he should anoint: Chazael as king over Aram, Yehu as king in Israel, and Elisha to be the next prophet. He adds that, together, these three will decimate Israel, leaving alive just the righteous remnant which had not worshiped idolatry. How do these commands relate to the earlier discussion between Eliyahu and Hashem? Do they provide an explanation for the revelation,1 or are they a separate response to Eliyahu's complaint?
- Chorev – Is there any significance to the fact that the revelation occurs in Sinai? Did Eliyahu head there of his own initiative, or did Hashem lead him there? If the latter, why does Hashem open his conversation with the question, "מַה לְּךָ פֹה אֵלִיָּהוּ"?
- Parallels to Moshe at Sinai – Our story shares much in common with Hashem's revelation to Moshe at Sinai in the aftermath of the Sin of the Golden Calf. Both events follow a national revelation which appears insufficient to keep the nation from reverting to idolatry, leading the prophet to approach Hashem and request death. In both, there is a forty day period without food, revelation, and covering of the face.2 What is the significance of these parallels?
- Fulfillment of mission – Though Hashem entrusts Eliyahu with three tasks, he fulfills only one of them, the appointment of Elisha. Chazael and Yehu are anointed by Elisha only after Eliyahu's death. Why does Eliyahu not fulfill the entire mission assigned to him?