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Authors: William H. Stephens

Tags: #Religion, #Old Testament, #Biblical Biography, #Elijah

Elijah

BOOK: Elijah
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Elijah

William H. Stephens

©Copyright William H. Stephens

Previously published by Tyndale House (1976) under
The Mantle
and later by Thomas Nelson as
Prophet of Fire

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number

76-1325

ISBN 0842340238

 

Contents

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Epilogue

 

Preface

 

Three men loom very large in Israel’s history: Moses, Elijah, and Ezekiel. The first is well-known, the last two are mysterious, but Elijah is the most enigmatic of the three. He bursts on the scene, already a giant, and we know next to nothing about his origins. He is at once a phenomenal hero and a curious quitter. He was unmovable during Baal’s greatest strength, yet he ran after Baal’s back-breaking defeat.

Much of the answer to this strange, fiery, lonely prophet is found in a study of his adversary: Baalism. The story is harsh. Baalism was a sensuous and cruel religion, yet its appeal to sex and power captivated the minds of the Israelites. Baalism almost overwhelmed the land. Israel came as close to religious annihilation during Elijah’s day as she did during the Babylonian captivity.

Elijah’s story needs to be told today. The parallels between ninth-century B.C. Israel and twentieth-century A.D. America are striking. The current emphasis on economic power by large corporations and wealthy men, along with the sex orientation that runs throughout our society from advertising to side street pornography, together call for Elijah’s story to be told. Perhaps we can learn from his, and from Israel’s, experience.

Some scenes in
The Mantle
will shock those men and women who love the biblical text, men and women after my own heart. Yet I could not leave out those scenes that reveal Baalism for what it was. In no other manner could Elijah’s story be told, nor could the parallels to our day be made. The scenes are not fabrications; they are true to the nature of Baalism, uncovered through eight years of research in books both musty and new, in libraries of several cities. Almost every incident actually occurred in similar fashion in religions closely related to Phoenician Baalism. Every description of idols and rituals is true to history. Elijah truly fought a giant.

I have been true, as well, to the biblical record, and have tried to tie together what we know with what legitimately might have been. In this process of historical fiction Elijah’s story will, I hope, help us grapple with the revelations God gave the world through that great prophet.

Who knows? Perhaps new prophets will rise above this day.

William H. Stephens

Nashville, 1976

 

Chapter One

 

The palace was built on the highest point of the hill of Samaria. Jezebel could see the sea from the courtlike roof. She came here during those rare moments when she could be alone, for the view refreshed her. Sea was home.

A slight breeze blew in from the Great Sea to tease Jezebel’s purple robe, which hung to her ankles in three short, overlapping tiers. Light gusts gave an occasional glimpse of ornate silver ankle clasps.

A beautifully embroidered outer girdle gripped her midriff. Jezebel’s beauty was fragile but striking. She easily could become fleshy. Her coal black hair, arranged high on her head and crowned with a tiara, made her round face appear a bit longer. Soft features, combined with an olive-colored complexion without the slightest hint of roughness from the sun, belied a brilliant, scheming mind. Thin, well-groomed eyebrows outlined large and expressive eyes, which she further accented by using a silver probe to draw black antimony powder along the edges of her eyelids. She had practiced using her eyes all through her younger years. Now, when the trust of a man was important she would make them as deep and lustrous as a gazelle’s.

Jezebel pulled her mantle closer around her shoulders. Spring was only just beginning to stir, and the breeze still held some chill. The view of the Great Sea from her parapet was striking. She looked west, down the Vale of Barley. The sea glistened just over a range of hills in the distance. Home. How she longed to see the white sails against the rock harbor, the wind filling them as they put out to sea. But destiny put her here. And Melkart was destiny.

Five years had gone by since her marriage to Ahab. Two kings had arranged the marriage. Ahab’s father, Omri, king of Israel, was one of them. The other was Ethbaal, king of Phoenicia, her own father. She often relived that moment, horrible and grand, when she first learned of the alliance.

Ethbaal had asked her to stroll with him along the walkway on top of Tyre’s city wall. She had no idea what he was to announce. They had said little, Jezebel enjoying just being with her father. She remembered the tinkling sound made by the tiny bells that lined the edge of his robe. He was short, not much taller than she. Jezebel had inherited his eyes, but, being a woman, she knew better how to use them. Ethbaal’s were less controlled, more apt to burn unchecked with the fierce conviction that nearly always dominated his speech.

“Jezebel.” He called her name softly. They stopped walking and he pointed out to sea toward three ships that approached the city. She looked at him quizzically. “Jezebel, those ships. Where do you suppose they have been?”

“Why, to Egypt, I suppose.”

“Yes, to Egypt, and farther than Egypt. And what do you suppose was their cargo?”

Jezebel hid her irritation at the childhood quiz. “The dyed cloths and artwork of our country.”

“Yes.” Ethbaal’s eyes glowed with pride. “And colored glass, jewels, perfume, embroidery, and our beautiful bronze cups. We have much to offer the world. Look around you, Jezebel. What do you see?” His arm swept in an arc to take in the city walls.

“Well,” Jezebel began hesitantly, not knowing his purpose. “I see a beautiful city, built on a rock off the coast. I see ships and harbors, and the Lebanon mountains. What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to see the lifeblood of Phoenicia, Jezebel. We are rich from trading our own wares, but our greatest asset is our ships and the men who sail them.”

“Father, I am proud of our courageous sailors. Every Phoenician knows of their travels.”

“Look deeper, Jezebel. You are too much the idealist.”

“You, of all people, should appreciate an idealist, father. Are not all priests idealists?”

“Tempered with reality, my dear. I did not become king by being idealistic.”

Jezebel shuddered. She had heard how Ethbaal assassinated Phoenicia’s king and usurped the throne. Now he was both high priest and king.

“What I want you to learn is the importance of trade with the world. We have the greatest navy in the world. If we use it well we can bring even more riches to Tyre. Jezebel, have your tutors taught you of the past alliance between Solomon of Israel and our own brilliant King Hiram?”

“Yes, and of Solomon’s wisdom, too.”

“When you can align yourself with one who is brilliant, that too is a mark of wisdom.”

Jezebel began to understand the significance of the walk. Her smile faded. “What are you telling me, father?”

“I am telling you that Israel controls the main trade routes to the East, to the great cities of Damascus, Riblah, Emesa, Hamath, Aleppo, Charchemish, Haran, and Nineveh. That, my dear, is a prize to be won.”

Blood drained from Jezebel’s face. She leaned against a wall abutment to control her rising impulse to faint. Her response, after a strained moment, began in a whisper, but her voice rapidly regained its strength. “Father, do you mean to use me to seal an alliance with Israel?” Her strength faded then and she buried her face in her hands.

“Jezebel. Jezebel, my dear.” Ethbaal’s voice grew soft. Tenderly, he pulled her to him. “Hear me out. I will not force you to go against your will.”

Jezebel raised her head slowly. She touched her eyes with her handkerchief to keep the tears from streaking her makeup. “All right, father.”

“My dear, Omri is a brilliant man. He has established Israel and has conquered Moab. The country is gaining strength and its borders no longer are marauded by petty kings. His accomplishments are discussed in many great cities of the world.”

Ethbaal released his daughter and stood beside her, looking out toward the sea. He glanced at her after a moment in a vain attempt to read her thoughts. Then he continued.

“Omri has a son called Ahab, a man older than you by twelve years, who already has demonstrated his prowess as a soldier and a leader of men. I have met him. He is as hard as the mountains of his country. He grew up before Omni gained the throne and helped his father conquer the land. His blood is strong.” He smiled and laid his hands on Jezebel’s arm. “I know you well, my dear. You will never be happy with a weak man. I assure you that this man Ahab is not weak. You will like him.”

Jezebel turned around to face the sea. Ethbaal wisely remained silent, leaving her to her thoughts. She had hoped to marry a king from Mesopotamia or Asia Minor, richer countries both in culture and wealth, but as she pondered Ethbaal’s words she could think of no really good reason for her desire. Israel, though, seemed so lacking in social graces. And their religion! In the name of Melkart, what did their Yahweh god have to offer? Still, to be part of a growing country might be an exciting life.

“Father?” She spoke without looking at him. “Has the alliance already been settled?”

“Only discussed, Jezebel.”

“Then you can make two stipulations for me?”

“And what might they be?”

“Ahab must have wives already.”

“Of course. Several. I don’t know how many.”

“I must be his queen if I go.”

“If that were not the case, the alliance would be of only limited value to Phoenicia. I have insisted already on that term. Omri readily agreed, for the alliance is as much to Israel’s benefit as to ours. What is your other request?”

“I must be free to take priests with me and to worship Melkart and Asherah as I choose.”

Ethbaal laughed. “My dear. All marriage alliances of which I am aware carry that stipulation. Then you will be satisfied with the arrangement?”

Jezebel turned to face her father. A mischievous glint flashed in her eyes. She placed her hand teasingly on her abdomen. “Only if Ahab is the man you say he is.”

“That, my fair daughter,” Ethbaal laughed, “is something you may observe soon for yourself.”

“He is coming to Tyre?” Jezebel exclaimed.

“Yes. He must be as near as Carmel now, and he is a fast charioteer. He should be here sometime tomorrow.”

A thrill of excitement passed through her, but priding herself on her maturity, she suppressed her emotion until she could see her proposed husband.

She had felt immediate confidence in Ahab. He was a man, of course, with the normal pride and foolishness of a man, but in the five years of their marriage he had been all the man she could have hoped for.

Ahab was not really handsome, but his rugged, virile features appealed to her. He had not grown up a prince, with a prince’s soft life. As her father had said, he was as hard as Israel’s hills. Her favorite mental picture of him was as she had first seen him, climbing down from his chariot, the folds of his robe still tucked into his waistcloth. His muscled frame supported a large, bearish head. Dust from the road clung to his hair and beard. She had watched his arrival from a palace window and remembered thinking whimsically, “Can’t the son of a king find a cleaner way to ride?”

By the time Ahab had been introduced to her he had washed and put on a clean scarlet robe with an outer garment of purple, tasseled along its edges. She remembered feeling the hardness of his palms and thinking how seldom she had felt calluses on a man’s hands.

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