Who You Gonna Listen To?
Haftarat Ki Tisa, 1 Kings 18:1–39
Michael Hillel, Netanya, Israel
I remember being a gangly, nearsighted, almost nerdy teenager, without the academic bent, during my high school years. When I decided to go into the Marine Corps in my senior year, very few of my peers were supportive of the idea. “You will never make it in the Marines” was the comment I heard more often than not. Well, I spent twelve years in the Marines and remain a proud Marine to this day. A year after I went into the Corps, I met and rather quickly married my wife. This time, some of the comments were, “You’ll never make it a year.” This year we will celebrate our 46th wedding anniversary. Coming to Israel, I knew that I would eventually be in full-time ministry, but again I was told, “You aren’t cut out for ministry; find something else for your hand to do.” Of all the rejections, this one hurt the worst. Interestingly, Hashem opened a number of doors for me over the years to be involved in various ministry activities, which includes leading a chavurah on the Mediterranean coast. One thing these three episodes have taught me is that we should listen to what God says over what man says, especially when man says something can’t be done.
This week’s haftarah from 1 Kings 18 is best known for Elijah’s victory over the priests of Ba’al at Mount Carmel, which led to a massive return of the people of Israel (the northern kingdom) to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Often overlooked in this well-known passage is the reception Elijah received on his way to Carmel and during the interactions that occurred there.
A little background is helpful here. For three years Israel has been in a drought brought about at the word of Elijah.
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” (1 Kings 17:1)
Now, three years later, Hashem sends Elijah to tell Ahab that he will send rain. Since Elijah is the source of the drought, he is persona non grata in Israel. The first person whom Elijah encounters on his way to meet Ahab is Obadiah, “who was in charge of the palace [and] . . . feared Adonai greatly” (18:3). However, instead of praising Hashem at this meeting, Obadiah becomes fearful because Elijah wants him to tell Ahab that Elijah is back. In essence Obadiah asks Elijah if he is handing him over to Ahab to be killed (18:9–14). Thus, we see that Elijah’s first reception is less than favorable. Then when Elijah does meet Ahab, instead of welcoming Elijah and possibly bringing about the end of the drought, Ahab retorts, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” (18:17). Ahab obviously does not accept his or his wife Jezebel’s responsibility for the drought, blaming it solely on Elijah.
Finally, maybe the hardest reception is from the people of Israel who are gathered on Mount Carmel to see what the prophet will do. Elijah throws down the gauntlet, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If Adonai is God, follow him; but if Ba′al, then follow him” (18:21). And the people do not say anything. Elijah receives no encouragement from a fellow man of God, the king, or the people who are bound to Hashem in covenant relationship. Instead he receives skepticism, accusation, and unresponsiveness. With such a reception, at least in the natural, why would Elijah want to continue in his mission?
Doubt, criticism, and apathy are not the seedbed of success and victory. Blogger Ana Erkic notes
If someone keeps criticizing you, you should stop for a moment and consider what it really means. It doesn’t have anything to do with you—it has to do with their own fears and insecurities.”[i]
Had Elijah been derailed by the reception he received, the story may well have had a much different ending. Had the king’s attitude or the people’s apathy been the motivating factor, the drought may not have ended, and the priests of Ba’al would have won by default. However, Elijah had a word from the Lord, and it was that word that motivated him, that strengthened him to accomplish what he was sent to do. In The Message paraphrase, Eugene Peterson creatively renders Proverbs 3:5–6:
Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Part of trusting God from the bottom of our heart is knowing that he desires our best and that the dream or desire of our hearts runs in tandem with his desire for our good. So the key here is first trusting Hashem and then listening to Hashem’s guidance. When we do that, we can trust that he will lead, guide, and direct the dream or goal to its successful conclusion. Trust in him and do not be swayed by those who would attempt to heap criticism and doubt upon your dreams. Rav Shaul likewise encouraged the believers in Colossae when he wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17).
Remember, the successful completion of a goal or the realization of a dream is but a stop or, better yet, a marker on the journey of life. Our eyes are not to be on the markers; rather they are to be on the one who walks with us, leading and guiding us to be the very best that we can be, wherever that journey might take us.
[i] https://www.lifehack.org/523208/others-may-doubt-you-but-you-always-have-to-believe-in-yourself, accessed on February 15, 2019.