The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
The Eliyahu Narratives
Yeshivat Har Etzion
Shiur #59 - Chorev
Part 8: Was the Mission Fulfilled? (continued)
By Rav Elchanan Samet
2. The Prophecy of Punishment in our
Narrative vs. Its Realization in the Days of Elisha
It turns out
that the decree that Chazael, Yehu and Elisha will serve as God's agents in
punishing Israel is not dependent on Eliyahu's criticism. The nation has sealed its fate by its
own actions. Indeed, although
Eliyahu is relieved of the heavy burden of appointing these personalities to
their respective stations (for reasons addressed at length in the previous
shiur), the nation of Israel is not exempted from the punishment that it
deserves. Chazael and Yehu are
eventually appointed by a prophet, so that they can wield their sword over
Israel. Nevertheless, a comparison
between God's words to Eliyahu concerning the destruction that these kings will
inflict, and what actually happens – as described further on in Sefer
Melakhim – gives rise to several questions.
all, let us examine how God's words to Eliyahu filter down through the words of
Elisha and of his disciple to the kings whom they appoint.
is told: "It shall be that those who escape from the sword of Chazael shall be
put to death by Yehu, and those who escape from the sword of Yehu shall be put
to death by Elisha. And I shall leave of Israel seven thousand – all the knees
that have not bowed to Ba'al, and every mouth that has not kissed it." (17-18)
when Elisha notifies Chazael that he is going to reign over Aram, he tells
know the evil that you are going to do to Benei Yisrael; you will set their
strong places on fire, and kill their young men with the sword, and dash their
infants, and rip up their pregnant women." (II Melakhim 8:12)
one of the "…sons of the prophets," Elisha's disciple, anoints Yehu at Elisha's
order, he tells him:
shall smite the house of Achav, your master, and you shall avenge the blood of
my servants, the prophets, and the blood of all of God's servants, at the hand
of Izevel. And the whole of Achav's
house shall die… and Izevel shall be consumed by dogs in the portion of
Yizre'el, with none to bury her." (II Melakhim 9:7-10)
But when we
compare God's words to Eliyahu with the reality that is supposed to come about,
we encounter several difficulties:
The punishment that Yehu brings upon the house of Achav and all the
worshippers of Ba'al in Israel is described at length in II Melakhim
chapters 9-10. But this precedes
the punishment inflicted by Chazael.
Why, then, does God initially describe it as the completion of the
punishment brought about by Chazael?
The punishment inflicted on Israel by Chazael is described for the first
time in the days of Yehu:
those days God began to cut off parts of Israel, and Chazael smote them
throughout the borders of Israel. From the Jordan eastwards, all the land of
Gil'ad, of Gad and Reuven and Menasheh, from Aro'er which is by Wadi Arnon, and
the Gil'ad, and the Bashan." (II Melakhim 10:32-33)
the text is speaking of the smiting (and perhaps even the conquest) of the
eastern side of the Jordan. Far
more grave is the punishment that Chazael is described as inflicting in the days
of Yehoachaz, son of Yehu:
anger burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hand of Chazael, king of
Aram, and into the hand of Ben-Hadad, all their days.
the king of Aram oppressed them.
did He leave for Yehoachaz any followers except for fifty horsemen and ten
chariots and ten thousand footmen, for the king of Aram had destroyed them and
had made them like the dust from threshing." (II Melakhim 13:3-4,7)
punishment comes about a long time after Yehu's actions against Israel (in the
days of Yehu's son, and some of it is brought about by Chazael's son). It is difficult to match this with the
punishment foretold in the days of Eliyahu while Achav and Izevel ruled over
Israel: more than a generation has passed since then, Achav's dynasty has been
annihilated, and the worshippers of Ba'al have already been put to death by
Elisha's words to Chazael, which we quoted above, do not appear to be
fulfilled. Chazael admittedly
destroys most of the army of Yehoachaz, king of Israel ("…followers" – here
meaning those who followed him into war), but there is no textual evidence of
him annihilating a civilian population (women and children) with great cruelty,
as described by Elisha.
The most puzzling problem is that Elisha is described, in God's words to
Eliyahu, as a prophet who will bring death upon Israel, completing the
punishment inflicted on them from without by Chazael, and from within by
Yehu. How distant this image is
from Elisha, whose activities are described at length in the text – all acts of
help to various individuals and to the nation of Israel as a whole. The text portrays Elisha's actions as
the exact opposite of the role destined for him in Eliyahu's prophecy!
commentators address themselves mainly to the issue of the order in which these
three personalities acted – the opposite of what was told to Eliyahu. The Abarbanel explains the discrepancy
as follows (with the basis of his thesis in the words of the Ralbag):
God said, 'Those who escape from the sword of Chazael shall be put to death by
Yehu, and those who escape from the sword of Yehu shall be put to death by
Elisha,' this does not mean that Chazael's sword precedes the sword of Yehu
chronologically, and that Yehu's sword precedes that of Elisha, nor that such
precedence implies greater vengeance – as some commentators have suggested [the
reference here apparently being to the Radak, on verse 15]. I believe that what it means is that God
appointed three agents of His Providence to punish these sinners with their
lives – each according to what he deserved.
is set up to punish Israel in his wars, and to destroy them, and this is
mentioned first, since its scope is vast.
And because Izevel and the children of Achav, both younger and older, and
the priests of Ba'al and the idolators, would not be going out to war and would
not die there, [God] set up Yehu, who would slay and put to death all of the
house of Achav and all of the idolators.
He [Yehu] would not do this to [all of] Israel, for he would be king and
would have mercy on them, so he would annihilate [only] the seed of Achav and
because those that Chazael would kill in war would be men of war, and those that
Yehu would kill would be [only] of the household of Achav and the idolaters,
therefore God readied Elisha ben Shafat; through his prophecy he would know and
recognize those youth who were removed from the commandments, as Chazal
teach (Sota 46b), and who would eventually end up sinning and sowing evil
(Ibid.); he would kill them by cursing them.
for this reason that [God] said, 'Those that escape from the sword of
Chazael' – in other words,
those who were not accustomed to going to war and who would not fall by his hand
– referring to the wife of Achav and his sons and all of his descendants and the
priests of Ba'al. For these, God
set up Yehu, to kill them, and this preceded Hazael, for there was no
preparation for Chazael to kill them.
'And those who escape the sword of Yehu' – these are the youth: when Yehu
killed and the idolaters, he would not kill the youth, for they were not
deserving of punishment and he did not know what would become of them later
on. For this reason God set up
Elisha, who would curse them so that they would die, since he could recognize
them as future idolaters.
the text does not describe these evils in their chronological order, but rather
in accordance with the Divine decree that each would perform that which was
proper for him to do: Chazael would smite the nation, Yehu – the idolaters, and
Elisha – the youth."
adopts an altogether different approach.
Without changing the simple meaning of God's words to Eliyahu in any way,
he resolves the discrepancy in the order by adopting the Abarbanel's explanation
as the answer to a different question – which we discussed in the previous
shiur: why did Eliyahu not fulfill the mission given to him, passing it
on to Elisha instead? The Malbim writes as follows:
shall come and anoint Chazael… and Yehu…' – The [actual] order is not so, for
first Elisha is anointed, then Yehu, and afterwards Chazael. But further on (21:29) I explain that
because of Achav's repentance, the decree was changed, such that the killing of
Yehu [i.e., the killing that Yehu would perpetuate] would not be in his days,
but rather only in the days of his son, and for this reason Yehu was not
anointed by Eliyahu, but rather by Elisha, and the anointment of Elisha precedes
the anointment of Yehu. Likewise,
the decree of Chazael is also changed and postponed… Thus, the prophecy that "those who
escape from the sword of Chazael shall be put to death by Yehu" accords with the original decree,
but afterwards it happened in the reverse order."
"repentance," which the Malbim perceives as the explanation for all of the
changes that occur in the fulfillment of the prophecy, obviously refers to the
repentance in the vineyard of Navot, following Eliyahu's rebuke (in
solutions proposed above do provide satisfactory answers to the question of the
discrepancy in order between God's words to Eliyahu and their historical
realization in reality. But the
list of questions that we posed above includes another discrepancy: it seems
that the punishment inflicted by the agents appointed by God was much lighter
than that hinted at in God's words to Eliyahu. All three agents did cause harm to
Am Yisrael, but the harm was limited in scope: Chazael smote
principally the men of war, Yehu annihilated the house of Achav and a relatively
limited number of Ba'al-worshippers, and Elisha caused the death of only
forty-two youth who scoffed at him.
This is not what we were led to expect by God's words to Eliyahu:
who escape from the sword of Chazael shall be put to death by Yehu, and those
who escape from the sword of Yehu shall be put to death by Elisha. And I shall
leave of Israel seven thousand…" (17-18)
There is no
satisfactory answer to this question in the commentaries quoted above.
In order to
explain the matter, let us return to the hypothesis that we proposed in the
previous shiur: the mission imposed upon Eliyahu was a sort of test for
the prophet, to see to what extent he would be prepared to take practical action
against his nation. The lack of
fulfillment of the mission by Eliyahu reflects his retraction of the demand for
revenge against Israel, "I have been exceedingly zealous for God…"
But here we
must ask: the mission is not altogether cancelled (for the punishment that
Israel deserves is not because of Eliyahu); rather, it is simply transferred
from Eliyahu to Elisha, and it is for this reason that we find Elisha appointing
Chazael and Yehu, after Eliyahu is taken up to heaven. What, then, is the significance of
Eliyahu removing this mission from his own shoulders and transferring it to his
disciple? After all, the punishment will ultimately be carried out. Moreover – it is fair of Eliyahu to give
over this mission – which he himself no longer desires – to his disciple?
In order to
answer this question we must first clarify a more fundamental issue: is there
any connection between the content of a prophecy and its fulfillment in reality,
and the personality of the prophet who receives that prophecy? Is the prophet
merely a vessel for conveying God's word, or is he to some extent a partner in
molding the process by which God's words are applied in reality? It would seem
that the principle set down by Chazal, that "no two prophets prophesize
in the same style"
(Sanhedrin 89a), applies not only to their monologues, but also to
their style of action. Each
prophet's unique style of action reflects his personality and his influence in
the application of the prophecy in reality.
expression of this is to be found in the Babylonian Talmud (Megilla
14b). When the Sefer Torah was
found in the Temple precinct in the days of Yoshiyahu, the king sent his
messengers to Chulda, the prophetess, rather than to Yirmiyahu, the major
prophet of the generation:
seek out God on my behalf and on behalf of the nation, and on behalf of all of
Yehuda, concerning the words of this book that has been found, for great is the
wrath of God that has been kindled against us… So Chilkiyahu the priest went… to
Chulda, the prophetess…" (II Melakhim 22:13-14).
asks: "How could Yoshiyahu put aside Yirmiyahu, and send to her?" Several answers are proposed. The first of them is: "Rabbi Shila said:
Because women are merciful."
is significance to the identity of the prophet who speaks God's words (which, in
the case of Yoshiyahu, would certainly be words of rebuke and punishment), and
the fact that the prophecy comes through a woman can have a softening
In light of
this we can understand the significance of the appointment of Chazael being
transferred from Eliyahu to Elisha.
Elisha, while a loyal disciple of Eliyahu and his attendant, pouring
water over his hands, is a prophet whose personality and manner of action are
completely different from those of his master. Almost all of his actions are acts of
salvation extended towards individuals and towards the nation as a whole. The transfer of responsibility for
appointing Chazael to his hands therefore symbolizes an attempt to soften the
punishment. This is no mere
theoretical consideration, but rather an effect that is clearly illustrated in
the manner in which Elisha goes on to act.
In his encounter with Chazael, where he appoints him king over Aram and
tells him of the imminent death of his master, Ben-Hadad, Elisha adopts a
held his countenance as long as he could, and then the man of God wept. And
Chazael said: Why does my master weep? And he said: For I know the evil that you
are going to do to Benei Yisrael; you will set their strong places on fire, and
kill their young men with the sword, and dash their infants, and rip up their
pregnant women. And Chazael said: But what is your servant, who is a dog, that
he should do this mighty thing? And Elisha said: God has shown me that you will
be king over Aram." (II Melakhim 11-13)
If later on
we find no evidence of Chazael acting with such cruelty (although he succeeds in
conquering parts of the land on the eastern side of the Jordan, and later on
also wipes out a large portion of the Israelite army), this may be explained by
Elisha's weeping at the dramatic moment when he tells Chazael that he will soon
be king. The news of his imminent
new status, conveyed to Chazael by God's prophet, thereby granting legitimacy to
his reign, must have accompanied him for the rest of his life, along with the
memory of the prophet who bore these tidings weeping bitterly. Perhaps this influenced him, moderating
his actions against Israel.
Here we are
witness to the prophet's influence over the realization of the prophecy that is
conveyed through him, in ways that are clearly discernible: not through the
formulation of the prophecy, nor through prayer or supplication for mercy, but
rather through overt psychological influence over the king who serves as God's
agent in bringing punishment upon Israel.
possibly imagine Eliyahu weeping as he appoints Chazael?
from all of the above is that the transfer of the task of appointing Chazael
from Eliyahu to Elisha is itself a testimony to Eliyahu's abandonment of his
critical, prosecuting approach towards Israel, and represents part of his
"repentance." By handing over to
Elisha, Eliyahu reveals his wish to soften the punishment. He knows that if he himself were to
carry out the mission it would not only be a punishment to himself, but would
also not be to the benefit of the nation.
Handing over the mission to Elisha is not only the removal of an
unpleasant task from his own shoulders, but also represents a gesture aimed for
Israel's benefit – it is a gesture that will to some extent ease the punishment
that Chazael is destined to inflict on them.
by Kaeren Fish