On the Plains of Moab Blog
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October 23, 2011, 5:50 PM

The Challenge of Interpretation

Today, I gave you a modified rendering of Elijah's run down to Mount Sinai.  The most popular understanding of Elijah's run from Jezebel has him scared and mad.  He's disobedient and flees like a coward.  God has to upbraid him and kick his hiny back north to finish the job.  "Get back up there, Elijah -- don't you know who I AM?

However, there is another interpretation that is gaining traction these days, and that understadning is not a negative one.  It hinges on another translation of the Hebrew text.  Instead of "Elijah was afraid and ran" it goes like this, "Elijah saw what was up and departed south."  Big difference there.  With this understanding, Elijah's leaving was a form of judgment on the nation.  He goes back down to Mount Sinai, goes into God's courtroom, and argues like a prosecuting attourney, and then God pronounces judgment.  The prophet is heart-broken for Israel -- but he is also filled with righteous indignation.  Unlike Moses on the mountain years before, Elijah does not ask for mercy for the people.  However, it is kind of cool that God is merciful without being asked to be merciful!  Sure, Ahab and his kin are going to be brought down in a way reminiscent of the former leader of Libya (real messy), and the people will have to endure hardship and oppression from a hostile neighboring king -- but God will preserve them through it all.  Afterall, God had to this point 7000 knees that hadn't bowed to Baal!

Now, taking that into account, I had a decision to make.  Which interpretation to give you?  I chose to go with the well-worn path...but, I saw in it a touch of mercy and humanity.  I couldn't escape the mood of the prophet.  I couldn't help but see the passion and gentleness in the response of God.  Perhaps one day I will move towards this more covenantal understanding of the passage.  But for now, I see the PLMs in the prophet.  Make no mistake about it, it is there!

If anything, please understand that there are always decisions of interpretation going on in prep for a sermon.  Sometimes it is easier; other times it is painfully hard.  I guess God wouldn't have it any other way.  Perhaps that is why there is a need for so many preachers?

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