Study Guide

1 Kings Religion

Religion

Adonijah, fearing Solomon, got up and went to grasp the horns of the altar. (NRSV 1:50)

When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah though he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and grasped the horns of the altar. (NRSV 2:28)

And Adonijah feared because of Solomon, and arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar. (KJV 1:50)

Then tidings came to Joab: for Joab had turned after Adonijah, though he turned not after Absalom. And Joab fled unto the tabernacle of the Lord, and caught hold on the horns of the altar. (KJV 2:28)

When you're backed into a corner, you can always turn to religion for protection. At least until you can't, that is. Why do you think this trick worked for Adonijah but not for Joab? Were there any differences between their two situations?

The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord. Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. (NRSV 3:2-3)

Only the people sacrificed in high places, because there was no house built unto the name of the Lord, until those days. And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of David his father: only he sacrificed and burnt incense in high places. (KJV 3:2-3)

It seems clear that faithful Israelites couldn't just offer sacrifices and burn incense anywhere they pleased. They had to go to special "high" places to do that. Do you think there are spiritual benefits to going to a distinct physical place to exercise religious functions? Any downsides to this approach?

The Lord our God […] incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, which he commanded our ancestors. Let these words of mine, with which I pleaded before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires; so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other. Therefore devote yourselves completely to the Lord our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day.' (NRSV 8:57-61)

The Lord our God […] incline our hearts unto him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, which he commanded our fathers. And let these my words, wherewith I have made supplication before the Lord, be nigh unto the Lord our God day and night, that he maintain the cause of his servant, and the cause of his people Israel at all times, as the matter shall require: That all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else. Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day. (KJV 8:57-61)

There's a lot here in Solomon's dedicatory prayer for the temple. He's praying not just that the Israelites, but "all the peoples of the earth" can know that the Lord is the only legit god around. At the same time, he's admonishing the people—who on "this day" seem to be pretty faithful to God—to stay that way always, keeping the rules and refining their hearts until they're perfect.

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon followed Astarte the goddess of the Sidonians, and Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. […] Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. 8He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrificed to their gods. (NRSV 11:4-6, 8)

For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. […] Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. (KJV 11:4-6, 8)

After a lifetime of devoutness to God, Solomon really falls off the wagon in his retirement and indulges in a veritable buffet of idolatry. That's sort of the opposite of what happens with most old people, don't you think? Although lots of people explore various religions throughout their lives, by the time they're old they've usually picked one and settled deeply into it. Of course, Solomon isn't much like most people.

Then Jeroboam said to himself, 'Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.' So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, 'You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.' (NRSV 12:26-28)

And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David: If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah. Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. (KJV 12:26-28)

This is one of the cagiest political maneuvers in all of 1st Kings. Jeroboam understands the power of religion to influence the people's political views, and recognizes that he can't control their current religion. What's a king to do? In a very creative move, he sort of invents his own. Problem solved.

Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their ancestors had done. For they also built for themselves high places, pillars, and sacred poles on every high hill and under every green tree; there were also male temple prostitutes in the land. They committed all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. (NRSV 14:22-24)

And Judah did evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins which they had committed, above all that their fathers had done. For they also built them high places, and images, and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree. And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. (KJV 14:22-24)

God was very happy with his shiny new temple. But when the people start building similar stuff for other gods, he obviously feels slighted.

Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, 'How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.' The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, 'I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal's prophets number four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.' All the people answered, 'Well spoken!' […] So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, 'O Baal, answer us!' But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, 'Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.' Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response. (NRSV 18:21-24, 26-29)

And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. […] And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made. And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked. And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them. And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. (KJV 18:21-24, 26-29)

This is the ultimate my-religion-is-better-than-your-religion showdown. Elijah is a master trash-talker, and mercilessly pokes fun at the priests of Baal all day long. And we suppose we might do the same thing if we had God in our corner. C'mon, you have to admit: you'd be pretty impressed by a god who can rain down fire on a soaking wet pile of stones.

When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, 'The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.' Elijah said to them, 'Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.' Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there. (NRSV 18:39-40)

And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God. And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there. (KJV 18:39-40)

Apparently the penalty for believing in the wrong god in those days was death. Following this gruesome event, enrollment at the St. Jezebel Divinity College for Future Prophets of Baal probably dropped significantly.