Monday, June 27, 2011

Elijah: Troublemaker for God

Which prophet did Ahab call “troubler of Israel”? Elijah (I Kings 18:17)

When Ahab encounters Elijah, the king addresses the prophet as “troubler of Israel” (I Kings 18:17). The only other time this descriptor is used in the Bible it is employed to characterize Achan (I Chronicles 2:7) whose disobedience wronged the entire nation (Joshua 6:18, 7:1, 18-26).

Ahab incorporates a gerund as he uses the verb ‘akar (meaning “to trouble, stir up, disturb, make (someone) taboo”) as a noun. Though many translations render the word as “troubler” (ASV, ESV, NASB, NIV, KJV, NRSV, RSV) this term is not actually in the dictionary. The word “troublemaker” (used by the MSG and NLT) is an accurate translation. Elijah was a troublemaker.

This is a terrible insult and not just due to its severity. Could Ahab not think of anything better? What is your most creative insult?

In the story, Elijah does what prophets do. He confronted the realpolitik (diplomacy based on realism rather than idealistic or religious concerns) of Israel’s kings. Elijah is introduced in the Biblical text by accurately predicting a drought in Israel (I Kings 17:1, James 5:17). The prophet attributed the drought to Israel’s unfaithfulness as Ahab had turned the people’s worship away from God and onto Ba’al (I Kings 18:18). Ahab blamed the messenger (I Kings 18:17).

Have you ever seen someone blame another for a problem they created? Have you? Why do people do this?

At the time of this confrontation, Israel was indeed troubled as the nation had endured three years of drought (I Kings 18:1). Yet it was not Elijah who was the troublemaker of Israel. Elijah courageously corrected Ahab saying, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and you have followed the Baals (I Kings 18:18, NASB).” Elijah was the troublemaker of Ahab, not Israel. Making trouble for politicians tends to be a primary facet of a prophet’s job description.

Who are today’s prophets, those who righteously confront politicians? Who, if anyone, should you be troubling? Can you handle the backlash of being labeled a “troublemaker”?

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