So Omri slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria: and Ahab his son reigned in his stead. And in the thirty and eighth year of Asa king of Judah began Ahab the son of Omri to reign over Israel: and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty and two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.( I Kings 16:28-31)
The Story of Elijah and Elisha takes place at the lowest time, morally and Spiritually in all of the history of Israel. God often answers in unusual ways in such times, and sends Prophets into hopeless situations to his backslidden people.
How bad were the times leading up to the ministry of Elijah?
- The Kingdom of Israel had a split, shortly after Solomon’s death.
- Ten tribes broke away .
- The new King of the ten tribes, Jeroboam set up a new State religion, in order to keep his constituency separate from the Temple worship at Jerusalem. He didn’t want them to go back.
- A series of increasingly evil Kings came, one after another to rule and reign over the ten tribes. All of them imposed the apostate state religion on Israel.
- A King named Omri arose, who was particularly evil.
- He had a Son who seceded Him, named Ahab, who ruled over the ten tribes for 22 years.
- Ahab married a Sidonian Priestess named Jezebel, who hated the God of Israel and persecuted any true worshippers who remained.
- Ahab and Jezebel set about to re-establish Baal worship, the original worship of the Canaanites whom the Israelites had driven out.
Ahab and Jezebel reared up a Temple to Baal, and an Altar of sacrifice, in the Capitol city of Samaria. Jezebel appointed 450 priests of Baal and this initiated a persecution of true worshippers throughout Israel, which had nothing less than the extermination of all that was of God or any who worshipped God.
He also planted a Grove, a sacred place dedicated to the obscene worship of Ashteroth, Baal’s consort.No King of Israel had ever gone so far to insult God as Ahab had.
Baalism is a fertility religion which uses Sympathetic magic rituals to insure the fertility of the Land, and the control of the weather as well as the fertility of the people.
The ‘worship’ practices are appalling, they are so depraved and sexually immoral that God commanded Israel to wipe out all traces of Baal worship in the promised land, with prejudice!
Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.( Exodus 34:13)
Such worship rituals involved male and female temple prostitution, orgies, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and countless other dark and depraved practices. Many of these rituals took place in “Sacred groves”, trees planted in a special arrangement as temples to Baal and His consort and in which fertility rituals would take place.
Finally, it was shortly before Elijah appeared, that a prominent Israelite, Hiel took upon himself to rebuild Jericho, the city destroyed in the days of Joshua.In such times of apostasy, it is almost as if those who hate God are driven seek to outdo each other in acts of daring blasphemy.
Joshua Himself had called for a curse upon any who would rebuild Jericho, and that curse being the death of his first and last Sons.
And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.( Joshua 6:26)
It is not clear whether Hiel suffered the outcome of the curse in process of building the city, or that he possibly sacrificed his Sons on an altar as an act of defiance. Such was the spirit of boldness to do evil in the days of Elijah. It seemed as though God had abandoned Israel, leaving the ten tribes to her own devices, and giving her over to her lusts without access to the temple, worship, priesthood or witness.
But God is good, and merciful, and would not just let Israel go. If King and Priest fail in their function, God raises up Prophets.
In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun. ( I Kings 16:34)
Alfred Eidersheim seems to capture the spirit of the action of Hiel perfectly in His Bible History;
WITH the enthronement of Ahab and Jezebel, the establishment of the worship of Baal as the state-religion, and the attempted extermination of the prophets and followers of the LORD, the apostasy of Israel had reached its high point. As if to mark alike the general disregard in Israel of the threatened judgments of God, and the coming vindication of Jehovah’s Kingship, Holy Scripture here inserts a notice of the daring rebuilding of the walls of Jericho, and of the literal fulfillment of Joshua’s curse upon its builder *