This is the second of three tangents that I thought of after reading Pete Rambo’s post “Tearing Down the Asherim“.
There is an interesting aspect that has long confused me about the confrontation between Elijah and Baal that is recorded in I Kings 18. But I think I perhaps now understand. Here we go, starting with verses 17-19.
17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is this you, the cause of disaster to Israel?” 18 He said, “I have not brought disaster to Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals.
19 Now then, send orders and gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, together with 450 prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”I Kings 18:17-19
Note that 450 prophets of Ba’al and 400 prophets of Asherah who ate at Jezebel’s table were summoned to Mount Carmel. Further note that the 400 prophets of Baal were specifically described as having the royal favor of a truly wicked woman.
The Baal prophets tried all day to summon Baal to send fire on the altar. Elijah mocked them mercilessly.
But at eventide, Elijah called on YHVH and He immediately responded with fire falling from Heaven.
Now here’s the interesting part that has long confused me.
I Kings 18:40
40 Then Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slaughtered them there.
There were 450 prophets of Baal that Elijah executed. But what happened to the 400 prophets of Asherah who ate at Jezebel’s table? Some may argue that the reference to ‘the prophets of Baal’ was inclusive, but can we be sure?
It is possible that not even the gutsy Elijah could order the prophets of Asherah to be executed. Why might that be? He was still terrified of Jezebel as we see further in the story….