The Biblical books of I and II Kings relate the long period of turmoil and strife between inept and evil kings of the divided kingdom of Israel. Especially misguided was King Ahab, who had married a Phoenician princess, Jezebel—a worshipper of a god of fertility, farms, and weather (Baal). Under her influence, Ahab had built a temple and altar for Baal worship. Queen Jezebel had campaigned to kill all possible prophets of Jahweh, but Obadiah (King Ahab’s chief of staff) had surreptitiously and bravely saved and hidden one hundred of them.
The prophet Elijah, whose name means “The Lord is my God,” was thrust onto this scene in dramatic fashion to remind the Israelites of their promise to serve the one true God. Elijah prophesied a drought and famine to last at least three years. He was guided to the home of a poor widow in Zarephath, in pagan territory near Queen Jezebel’s birthplace—an audacious place to escape notice! He saved the widow from starvation and begged God to heal her son.
Jezebel had been frantically seeking Elijah to kill him, so he summoned Ahab, huge crowds of people, and the 450 priests of Baal to Mt. Carmel for a dramatic showdown. Although archeological artifacts depict Baal as a weather god holding an axe and thunderbolt, his lightning to start the sacrificial fire was not forthcoming—despite the pleading cries of the people. Nor was he able later to bring rain to end the long drought.
Elijah and the one true God were clearly the winners, but Jezebel remained a danger. Elijah must escape “forty days and forty nights…to Horeb, the mount of God.” 175 (?) miles away. God’s appearance there was not in the tempest, the earthquake, or the fire, but “in a still, small voice.” Elijah felt renewed and continued as spokesman for God, ultimately earning his reward ascending in a whirlwind to Heaven.