Humor in … Kings?!

I was reading Kings chapter 18 today as part of my daily Bible reading. There has been chapter after chapter about how this king was wicked and that king turned away from the Lord and built altars to false gods, and various people were slaughtered. But suddenly I found myself chuckling.

God has inflicted a three-year drought on Israel. He decides to end it, so he tells the prophet Elijah to approach king Ahab “so I may send rain”. On his way to see Ahab Elijah meets Obadiah, who oversees the palace. Elijah tells Obadiah to go to Ahab and tell him that Elijah wants to see him. Obadiah’s response is, ““What sin have I committed that you are ready to hand your servant over to Ahab for execution?'”

Execution? What for?

Obadiah goes on, “‘My master has sent to every nation and kingdom in an effort to find you. When they say, “He’s not here,” he makes them swear an oath that they could not find you. Now you say, “Go and say to your master, ‘Elijah is back.’ [a quote within a quote within a quote — how do I punctuate that?!]”.

What made me laugh was this: “But when I leave you, the Lord’s spirit will carry you away so I can’t find you.”

In other words he seems to be saying, “You’re so holy that the Lord is constantly whisking you from place to place. You tell me to have Ahab come to meet you, but as sure as he comes you will have vanished again and Ahab will have my head! No way man!”

Elijah has to promise Obadiah that he won’t be whisked away by the Spirit: “As certainly as the Lord who rules over all lives (whom I serve), I will make an appearance before him today.” Only then will Obadiah go and fetch Ahab.

Later in the chapter is the famous scene where Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal and Asherah to make a burnt offering to their god without using fire. So all the false-god prophets go into their invocation rituals, shouting and mutilating themselves into a frenzy, but no fire appears to consume their bull. Elijah sits there amused: “Yell louder! After all, he is a god; he may be deep in thought, or perhaps he stepped out for a moment or has taken a trip. Perhaps he is sleeping and needs to be awakened.”

My son tells me he learned in school that the Hebrew for “stepped out” actually means “turned aside”, which apparently was an idiom for going to the bathroom.

Pretty neat to think of this ancient writer injecting a bit of humor into the story that’s still enjoyed thousands of years later. Or maybe that’s just the way it happened.

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