Forming Faith Blog

Troubler of Israel (1 Kings 18)

King Ahab accuses the prophet Elijah of being a troubler of Israel, even though it is his own idolatrous leadership that is causing the trouble. But aren’t we all called to be troublemakers?

Image of Mount Carmel, where Elijah was the troubler of Israel.
Chadner, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
God’s Way of Leading

We are continuing to make our way through the Histories, the theological narratives of the tribes, kingdom, and now kingdoms of Israel (and Judah). In the last three weeks, we have been specifically focusing on what the kings of Israel can teach us about leadership—specifically leading God’s way.

The first week focused on King David and his call to be the shepherd king of Israel. He might not have always succeeded in this calling—to put it mildly—but his heart was (usually) in the right place. Then, we skipped a generation to David’s grandson Rehoboam, who managed to fracture the kingdom during his coronation! He unintentionally echoed the tyranny of the Egyptian pharaoh, with Jeroboam’s plea for mercy on behalf of the forced labor taking on the echo of Moses. Sadly, Jeroboam failed to lead the northern kingdom of Israel in God’s way, instead leading them to idolatry echoing the golden calf in Exodus 32.

The History of Israel

Today’s reading skips to the eighth king of the northern kingdom of Israel: Ahab. Now, Scripture is clear that the kings of Israel do not follow God. But Ahab takes the cake.

Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made a sacred pole. Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him.

1 Kings 16:30-33

The narrative of 1 Kings shows the political strife and death of the previous kings of Israel, but with Ahab, we have the first stories of God’s direct intervention.

Troubler of Israel

The prophet Elijah comes on the scene without much introduction, immediately addressing Ahab with a message from God: the kingdom will experience a drought. I think it’s assumed that this is a punishment for Ahab’s sins. Elijah, knowing that he’s provoked the wrath of the most powerful person in the kingdom, goes into hiding, first in a wadi and then with a widow in a town north of Israel.

Then God calls Elijah to return to Ahab and announce an end to the drought. Ahab greets him with an accusation:

“Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”

1 Kings 18:17

Ahab means that as an insult, and Elijah takes it as such. The prophet turns the accusation around and states that it is, in fact, Ahab who is the troubler of Israel by violating the way of God he should be following.

Is It True?

A quick browse through an online concordance reveals that the Hebrew word for trouble (akar) is negative. Full stop. The disruption that this represents is opposed to the shalom (God’s peace) that is God’s way.

But, in another sense, is it really a bad thing to be a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace? That kind of depends on what kind of peace is being disturbed. If the peace is just, then disturbing this peace is a bad thing. But if the “peace” is an unjust status quo, then aren’t we called to disrupt it?

The status quo of Ahab’s kingdom is far from just. We don’t get much information about the social realities, but we know that the prophets of false gods are honored while the prophets of YHWH are killed. We can also surmise that, if Jezebel is truly feeding 850 prophets at her table during a drought, then the people of the lower classes are barely eking out an existence.

God the Troubler

As an obedient prophet, Elijah is acting out the trouble for Israel that God is calling him to do. God does not want Ahab’s status quo to be undisturbed. And a three-year drought is a great disturbance.*

But the drought was not enough. If nothing else, the idolatrous religious establishment became even more entrenched with Jezebel’s wholesale slaughter of many of YHWH’s prophets. So, the second major disturbance comes. Elijah tells Ahab to gather the prophets of both Baal and Asherah along with the people of Israel to Mount Carmel. The text itself doesn’t give any further explanation, but Ahab clearly follows through.

Then, with a sign that could not be clearer, YHWH is shown to be the one true God and Baal is shown to be a fraud. One verse beyond our assigned reading gives the true disruption of the religious establishment.

Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.

1 Kings 18:40
Faith Formation Connections

If you are working with a younger set of faith formation participants, I might suggest treading lightly on the mass murder bits. But I do think that it’s a useful take on the story that, as a leader, Elijah disturbed the status quo when it was wrong.

Our main idea for this lesson across all our products is:

A good leader leads us back to God.

I would add to this that a godly leader leads us back to God’s way of justice, too.

Point to God, work for justice,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

*A troubling thing, if you think about it, is that the drought most affected those without privilege and power, surely killing many and bringing suffering to others. That the drought is explicitly explained as God’s doing makes this a difficult passage for me.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the worship elements “Opening Prayer and Confession” from our Living the Word: Cross+Gen Worship resource. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge into full-time intergenerational worship, then you can also purchase worship guides for Advent & Christmas, Lent, Festivals, and even Single Worship Guides!

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