Shiur #19: Chapter 16 - Achav: An Introduction
Sefer Melakhim: The Book of Kings
By Rav Alex
Achav: An Introduction
is characterized by political stability, military strength, peace and
cooperation between the Northern and Southern kingdoms. The development of a new
capital city, Shomron, gave a spirit of renewal to the
evil in the eyes of the Lord; he was worse than all who preceded him. He followed all the ways of Yerovam ben
Nevat and the sins which he committed and caused
There is a
certain inconsistency in the verses here.
If "Omri followed all the ways of Yerovam," then why is he "worse than
all who preceded him?" We can
that it was Omri who set the negative trajectory of the kingdom, aligning it
through economic, cultural, and religious ties with the wealthy trading region
of Omri, became king over Yisrael in the 38th year of King Assa of
his son Achav to the daughter of the King of Sidon. His name was Etba'al, the Ba'al suffix
indicative of the spiritual allegiances of
with Phonecia compounded by Achav's marriage to Izevel, thrusts Ba'al to the
very center of Israelite life in the
were overwhelming. In the era of
Achav, Baal became the official religion.
Israelites had frequently dabbled in other gods, but the people always
perceived their fundamental alignment as oriented towards Hashem. Now, with the "Beit Ha-Ba'al"
functioning as the exclusive means of worship in the capital city of
One may ask
how Achav, an Israelite king, could have fallen so thoroughly into the hands of
the Ba'al, a foreign deity. In
today's western world, with its separation between religion and state (to one
degree or another), we fail to understand the degree to which economic and
political alliances, on the one hand, and religious orientation, on the other,
went hand in hand. We see, time
after time, throughout Tanakh that when
Let us add
some wider comments by the famous scholar of the
the frequent triumphs of Canaanite polytheism in
A LITTLE ABOUT THE BA'AL
The chapters we are about to study describe the ongoing struggle between two personalities: Achav the king, and his nemesis, the great prophet Eliyahu. The Baal is at the focal point of the tension. The tool or medium which generates much of the drama is a drought, a simple absence of rain. Is there a connection between Ba'al and the rain? There certainly is a direct link.
Ba'al is a
god which was endemic to both
As we mentioned in an earlier shiur, we should not be tempted to see the Ba'al as merely a figurine or a molten image. There were whole worlds of mythology that animated the Ba'al, and the entire religion, with its colorful pantheon of gods, must have appeared very sophisticated. Moreover, the accessibility of the rituals associated with Ba'al must have been tempting, especially in arid years. Ba'al was associated with its female counterpart, the Ashera, which came in two possible representative forms, either a tree, or alternately, a female form, frequently a woman who was clearly pregnant or nursing. The theory was that the rain (the male god) penetrates the earth, giving fertility to the tree (the female). Hence, sexual rituals were frequent in the ceremonies of the Ba'al.
this in order to help us understand the magnetic allure of this deity, such that
from the time of the Judges (Shoftim 2:11) through the
HA-ELI AND THE CITY OF
As we continue through the lines describing Achav and his kingdom, we encounter a mysterious and seemingly disconnected pasuk:
reign, Chiel from Beth-El built
What is this
pasuk referring to? What is the connection between building
To answer the first question, we need look no further than the verses in Yehoshua (6:26), in which Yehoshua pronounces an oath:
the Lord be the man who shall build the city of
abrogated this oath. He built
Some wish to
frame this occurrence within the perspective of homecoming and exile. After all, the first city that
CRISIS OF VALUES
But I would prefer to take a simpler direction and explain this event in the perspective of the national sense of priorities, the degree to which the nation is in touch with their identity. Let me explain.
The entry to
In time to
come, when your children ask their fathers: What is the meaning of these stones?
Tell your children: Here the Israelites crossed the
In other words, these monuments were intended to educate, to instill a legacy, a sense of national heritage and historical importance. Similarly, the ruined hill of Jericho would symbolize for eternity the miraculous victory of the founding of the country.
it take for Chiel to take a national heritage site and to build upon it? It
would be similar to the travesty of a developer who wanted to build luxury
housing on the
If Chiel can
It is at this juncture that we meet the overwhelming personality of the prophet Eliyahu, who enters the story unannounced and, in characteristic Eliyahu fashion, with a devastating pronouncement:
As the Lord lives, the God of Israel whom I serve, there will be no dew or rain except at my word. (17:1)
Again, a non-sequitur. What is the connection between the events here? The midrash offers an ingenious narrative that connects the otherwise distinct and dislocated pesukim, offering a new story that reconstructs the continuity of the story:
What is the
sequence here? Eliyahu and Achav went to comfort Chiel in his mourning. Achav said to Eliyahu: Is it possible
that the curse of the student [Joshua] was fulfilled, and the curse of Moshe
Rabbeinu was not fulfilled? After all, it states, "If you stray and serve other
God's anger will be ignited against you and he shall close the heavens
and there shall be no rain." All
This creative midrash manages to connect Achav's flagrant idolatry, the preordained death of Chiel's sons, and Eliyahu's radical pronouncement.
But beyond the linkage, it focuses our attention on the central bewilderment regarding Achav's reign and Eliyahu's impatience about it. The problem is this: Achav is the most serious sinner thus far amongst the Israelite kings; he has made idolatry the official Israelite religion and abandoned God entirely. And yet, his kingdom is flourishing. This goes against all the predictions of the Torah! The midrash portrays Achav at Chiel's shiva house scoffing at the notion that Chiel's sons might have died as a result of Chiel's sin, his abrogation of God's word. Achav hasn't witnessed or experience any correlation between his (lack of) faith and the national fortune.
And it is at this point that Eliyahu steps in and swears in God's name "as God lives" that there will not be rain until he allows it. As if to say I will uphold the honor and commitment of God; I will enforce the Torah's pledge, the divine stipulation. If Achav is going to continue with his idolatry, Eliyahu insists that there can be no rain. And indeed, chapter 17-18 describe a three year drought.
Eliyahu's outburst raises serious questions. If Eliyahu is outraged, why is God not angry? Is Eliyahu correct? Furthermore, is Eliyahu making his pronouncement as an emissary of God, or as a man, a concerned Jew who sees the idolatrous rule of Achav and seeks to protest this departure from traditional Jewish faith?
We shall take up these questions in our shiur next week, as we study chapter 17.
 See Ralbag, who offers a different explanation.
 See Micha 6:16, in which Omri is implicated in the same sinful category as his son Achav.
 And it would appear that there was more than a single ensemble of prophets see 18:19, 22. Note how they are denoted as "eating at the table of Izevel."
 18:4, 13; 19:2; and see how Achav threatens the prophet of God in 22:26-27.
 This is reflected especially in the story of Navot's vineyard in ch.21.
 Uncharacteristic to Sefer Melakhim, in which kings are singled out for punishment, in our case, Izevel receives her own condemnation from God (21:23); her influence upon Achav is noted in 21:25. See also the fulfillment of God's prophecy in Melakhim II 9:35.
 Good examples are Achaz in Melakhim II, ch.16, and, of course, Menashe in ch.21, both pf whom were under Assyrian influence.
 Moed Katan 2a-b; Bava Batra 28a
 See Devarim 11:10-12
 See how they both appear together in 18:19.
 Some have viewed this anecdote as a footnote to the worship of Baal. For example, " it was a frequent practice - in an effort to placate their gods - to kill young children and bury them in the foundations of a house or public building at the time of construction In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn..."" Howard E. Vos, An Introduction To Bible Archaeology, Revised edition (Chicago: Moody Press, 1953), p. 19.