The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
The Eliyahu Narratives
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #:56 - Chorev
Part 7: The Mission (15-18)
The Difficult Question
God said to him: Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damesek, and you
shall come to Chazael and anoint him as King of Aram.
And Yehu, son of Nimshi, you shall anoint as king of Israel, and Elisha, son of
Shafat, of Avel-Mechola, you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
that God entrusts to Eliyahu, following the indecisive conclusion of their
protracted debate, appears at first to have no connection with what preceded it:
what does the appointment of new kings (for Aram and for Israel) and a new
prophet (Eliyahu's successor) have to do with the question of Divine policy
towards the sinful nation of Israel? And what do these personalities have to do
with the argument over Eliyahu's approach?
we continue reading, and discover the purpose of these appointments, the
connection becomes more apparent:
And it shall be that whoever escapes from the sword of Chazael will be put to
death by Yehu, and whoever escapes from the sword of Yehu will be put to death
But I shall leave amongst Israel seven thousand: all the knees that did not bow
to Ba'al, and every mouth that did not kiss it.
figures will assume positions that will enable them to terribly punish
Israel. It seems, then, that it is
Eliyahu's view that has prevailed in the argument. His call for revenge on Israel is being
answered, and his aspiration for God's word to be effected amongst the nation
"in a strong wind, in an earthquake and in fire" is about to be fulfilled. How is this possible?
The relationship between the mission and the preceding revelation as the
answer to the question.
this question we must re-examine our discussion of the significance of God's
revelation in verses 11-12, and the connection between it and the mission that
is now being entrusted to Eliyahu.
Let us consider the interpretation proposed by Prof. Y. Zakowitz, in his
commentary on this chapter ("Kol Demama Daka: Form and Content in I
Melakhim 19," in Tarbitz 51, 5742, pp. 329-346):
take note of the striking connection between the description of the revelation…
(verses 11-12) and the mission that is given to Eliyahu (verses 15-18), both of
which express God's response to the prophet's complaint and to his call for
revenge. The two answers – the
symbolic one, presenting the revelation that is perceived through the senses of
sight and hearing (verses 11-12), and the one clarifying to the prophet what he
needs to do – are related to one another like a riddle and its solution. The identical response by the prophet to
God's repeated question ('What do you seek here?') testifies that the prophet
did not solve the riddle the first time around; he needs further clarification…
This relationship between the revelation and its interpretation is not unusual
in Tanakh. M. Weiss writes:
'There are a few instances of revelations in which that which becomes known to
the prophet by [Divine] voice seems to be nothing but a chronological
succession, with no thematic connection to what was previously revealed to him
in a vision – as though the vision was no more than a stage prop, and after that
screen is in place the [Divine] Word comes… I intend to demonstrate a structural
regularity that is created, and the consistent relationship between that which
seen and that which is heard… The vision and the voice explain one another, and
the mutual contact between them creates the message of that unit.'"
between the revelation and the mission that follows is noted by the Malbim, in
his commentary on verse 14:
told him that… He would punish the nation through Chazael and Yehu and Elisha;
these [three personalities] would correspond to the three symbols of punishment
that he had seen – the wind, the earthquake, and the fire."
elaborate upon the Malbim as follows: the order of the forces that Eliyahu sees
in the revelation moves from the furthest to the nearest. The wind comes from afar and
destroys everything in its path;
the earthquake emerges from the depths of the earth – but only directly beneath
the point where the destruction takes place; while the fire devours – in its
place – whatever it takes hold of.
The order of the personalities who will bring punishment upon Israel
follows the same pattern: Chazael will come upon Israel from afar; he is King of
Aram. The rebellion of Yehu will
arise from the midst of the nation of Israel, revealing the profound popular
dissatisfaction with the reign of the house of Achav. Elisha will act at the most overt and
immediately layer: amongst the nation itself.
Zakowitz broadens this parallel and awards it deeper significance. Before returning to his article, let us
first briefly address a literary model that is quite common in Tanakh –
the "three and four" model.
Zakowitz devotes an entire, important book to the discovery of this model
and a clarification of its significance (Of Three… And of Four, Jerusalem
5739). At the beginning of his book
he writes the following:
are literary units in Tanakh that consist of four layers: the first three
echo one another; the transition from one element to the next does not usually
entail any change or progress. The
fourth element represents a sharp turning point; a change that is the crux and
climax of the literary unit. This
literary model… is extremely common in Tanakh. It appears in various literary genres
and plays a role in the molding of many and varied topics."
Let us now
return to our chapter and Zakowitz's article about it. The description of the revelation
(verses 11-12) is arranged in accordance with the literary model of "three and
four." Three destructive natural
forces appear in the beginning, and the "small, silent voice" follows them, is a
Let us set
out the description of the revelation in such a way as to highlight this
A great and mighty wind, breaking apart mountains and shattering rocks
in the wind was God;
And after the wind – an earthquake,
But not in the earthquake was God;
And after the earthquake – a fire,
in the fire was God;
And after the fire – a small, silent voice.
Let us now
return to the article:
"Despite the similarity
between the elements comprising the description – each being preceded with the
words, 'And after the…,' then a repeat of the words, 'Not in the…,' and then the
closing word – 'God,' we see a deliberate variation. The narrator elaborates in the
description of the first destructive power – the wind – and notes its
manifestation in and effect on nature.
No such elaboration characterizes the descriptions of the earthquake or
the fire, so as not to interfere with the rapid and intense rhythm leading us to
the appearance of God Himself.
Furthermore, in order to emphasize the connection between these
destructive forces and God, the narrator links 'Behold, God passed over' and the
description of the wind, by explaining that the wind precedes God's appearance:
final element – the small, silent voice, the climax of this unit and its turning
point – is different. Its title is longer than any of the destructive forces ('a
small, silent voice' as opposed to 'earthquake' or 'fire'), and it also lacks
the concluding phrase that characterizes the three preceding elements…. It is
specifically the absence of this conclusion that serves to highlight the
contrast, since the lack of the negative assertion implies the positive
corollary: while God had not yet appeared, in the preceding destructive forces,
He was present in the small silence."
Let us now
move on to Zakowitz's analysis of the verses describing Eliyahu's mission
"Chazael, Yehu and Elisha
will bring destruction and death upon Israel; of the nation there will remain
only those who are faithful to God and did not go after the Be'alim. The three people who will sow death are
mentioned twice in this unit: first Eliayhu is commanded to anoint the two kings
and the prophet, and the reader is left wondering what connection could exist
between this mission and the prophet's harsh accusations. Then the three are mentioned again – and
now the purpose of the mission and its connection with Eliyahu's complains
becomes clearer. The three
personalities – Chazael, Yehu and Elisha – parallel the three destructive forces
that succeed one another in the description of the revelation: the wind, the
earthquake, and the fire. And just
as the narrator introduces some variation in the presentation of the destructive
forces, so there is variation here, too, despite the almost word-for-word
rhythmic repetition – to the point of creating the rather unusual expression of
'anointing' a prophet (verse 16).
For the purposes of variation, the narrator gradually lengthens the
titles of the three people whom Eliyahu must anoint: first simply 'Chazael,'
then 'Yehu, son of Nimshi' (including the father's name), and finally 'Elisha,
son of Shafat, of Avel-Mechola' (father's name and his city of origin)."
goes on to note the connection between the structure of the "revelation unit"
and the structure of the "mission unit":
we are witness to the final aspect of the correlation between verses 11-12 and
verses 15-18. The mission is also built along the lines of the "three and four"
model: here, too, the fourth element is a contrast to the first three. There, God appeared after the forces of
destruction, in the small, silent voice.
Here, God appears after the revenge, after the slaughter; He has mercy
and leaves a remnant of His people… The remnant is a sign of God's mercy and His
positive relationship towards Israel."
In his final
words above, Zakowitz is referring to the concluding verses of God's mission for
And it shall be that whoever escapes from the sword of CHAZAEL will be put to
death by YEHU, and whoever escapes from the sword of YEHU will be put to death
AND I SHALL LEAVE of Israel seven thousand; all the knees that did not bow to
Ba'al, and every mouth that did not kiss it.
author refers us to several examples – principally from the Book of
Yishayahu (see, for example, Yishayahu 37:31-32), demonstrating
that "leaving a remnant" is an expression of God's mercy towards Israel. As further support for this idea we may
add that the number "seven thousand" is not meant here in its exact,
mathematical sense. R. Y. Kaspi
notes this and comments: "'Seven thousand' – not necessarily [this exact
number]. What it means is – few in
number." Elaborating slightly, the Abarbanel writes: "The intention here is not
that no more than seven thousand souls will remain throughout the land of
Israel. Rather, [the idea is that]
he should not think that after permission has been given to the Destroyer to
wreak destruction… that he will make no distinction between the righteous and
the wicked, for this will not be the case, for at all times 'an angel of God
rests around those who fear Him, and saves them' (Tehillim 34:8)."
does the narrator choose specifically the number seven thousand? It would seem
that the number is chosen for its symbolic significance. What the text appears to be saying is
that there will always be a SANCTIFIED CORE amongst the nation of Israel that
will not become defiled through idolatry, and therefore there will always be a
group of people upon whom God's mercy may extend.
What have we
"gained" from this clear parallel between God's revelation to Eliyahu and the
mission entrusted to him thereafter, in terms of our understanding of the
significance of the mission? How does the parallel help us to answer our
original question? Zakowitz answers:
the description of the actions of the anointed ones (verse 17) it would seem
that God is acquiescing to Eliyahu's bitter accusation… Chazael, Yehu and Elisha
will 'put to death by the sword' to avenge Eliyahu's claim, 'They have put Your
prophets to death by the sword'… It is Eliyahu who has asked for revenge, and it
is therefore necessary that he himself go and exert effort and anoint those who
will perform the revenge. His will
is going to be fulfilled, but it is his own hands that will end up having
spilled this blood. And what
thereafter?… 'I shall leave of
Israel seven thousand' – the attribute of mercy, 'I shall leave,' is the
attribute of God."
that arises from the parallel is therefore one that depicts Eliyahu's mission
not as a comforting response on God's part to Eliyahu's demands, but rather as a
PUNISHMENT TO ELIYAHU HIMSELF: he will now serve as an instrument in God's hand
to carry out a policy that God Himself does not identify with; "God was not in
instruction of the mission to Eliyahu serves to move the prophet from the
theoretical argument, in which a person may demand of God the exaction of the
attribute of strict justice towards Israel, to the practical level, in which
that same person is required to realize the same demand that he made of God,
through his own terrible actions.
Will Eliyahu be capable of carrying out such actions against his people?
Will his hands not tremble at the appointment of a Gentile king so that the
latter may wave his sword over Israel and carry out a great slaughter among
by Kaeren Fish