Melachim Bet

We just can't stop learning! ...The Bekiut Nach class of 5766 in a quest to complete Nevi'im Rishonim

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Chapter 1 – Achazyahu.

Make sure that you have read this dramatic and exciting perek. It tells us much about Eliyahu but even more about Nevuah in general and the relationship between the Navi and the king.

The Betrayal.
Achazyahu is not a good king (22:53). He follows the path of his father … or maybe, if we are to be more accurate, he follows that path of his mother (Izevel – see 22:53 again.)

The Perek opens with an unfortunate accident in which Achazyahu is seriously injured. (Some see this as more than an accident. See Malbim.) Apparently he is in a medically critical condition and he wishes to know whether he will be healed from his injuries. I imagine that if he appeals to divine powers, he is looking for a combination of knowledge, and also some medical assistance. However instead of sending to Hashem, he chooses Baal Zvuv – a god in Ekron, one of the Philistine cities.

From the message that Eliyahu receives it is apparent that this act of sending delegates to Baal Zvuv is so severe, so radical that it warrants Achazyahu's death. Why? Maybe we can explain it as an escalation on two fronts. First, Achav served Avoda Zara, but we have never seen a Jewish king resort to Avoda Zara for his personal purposes. But Second, there is an enormous Chillul Hashem here, as the Philistines receive a royal delegation from Shomron enquiring as to their god. Eliyahu phrases it in the following way:

Is there no God in Israel that you go to inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron?" (1:3)

What does this act say about Hashem? That Israel has totally abandoned its God! This is the inverse vision of Yishayahu's image where "many peoples shall go and say; Come let us go up to … the House of the God of Yaakov that hHe may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in his paths." (2:3) The Chillul Hashum is colossal.


It is then, not surprising that Eliyahu confronts the delegates and sends them home. By this act, Eliyahu thwarts the Chillul Hashem, as they never make it to Ekron at all! But Eliyahu goes a stage further, He sends them home in precisely the reverse manner in which they set off… this is to be the undoing of Achazyahu's delegation. Let us explain.

Let us point out that this Perek has a seven-fold "Mila Mancha" or leitwort – leading word. It is the verb Sh"L"Ch. (See passuk 2, 6 twice, 9,11,13,16). Eliyahu does not simply send a message to Achazyahu but rather, uses HIS MESSENGERS in order to deliver his message. Instead of "Lechu dirshu" (1:2), we have "Lechu Shuvu.."(1:7).

There could be many reason for Eliyahu using Achazyahu's delegates but let us raise the following possibilities:
1. It could be that Eliyahu is not allowed in Shomron, and that there is still a death warrant on his head. Hence he needs surrogate to deliver the message.
2. There is something powerful about Eliyahu catching Achazyahu's messengers "in the act." In the same manner in which Eliyahu confronts Acahav davka in Navot's field, likewise, he uses the very instrument of sin to confront Achazyahu.
3. There is a sense that when someone returns "in the way that they came" it is a reversal of the previous action (see the statement in Melachim aleph 13:8 and the Ralbag there.) By sending the messengers home, Eliyahu is actually undoing Achazyahu's act. {In our next Perek we shall suggest something different!}
4. But there is something even more subtle going on here. By using Achazyahu's messengers, Eliyahu is forcing them – Achazyahu's loyal servants – to make a choice. Are they loyal to Achazya or to Eliyahu, to Baal or to Hashem? Here is the key to the rest of the perek where Eliyahu forces Achazyahu's soldiers into submission, by fire and death, so that they will obey Eliayhu rather than the king. It is very reminiscent of the Har Hacarmel story where Eliyahu says to the people, "How long will you keep hopping between two opinions?" and the manner in which he forces them (by fire!) to realise that Hashem is God.

Just imagine the dilemma of Achazyahu's servants as they have to deliver Eliyahu's message to the king that "The bed that you ascended, you shall not descend, for you will most certainly die." How do you deliver that message to the king? But the irony is that Achazyahu's men had become Eliyahu's messengers! (See how they say "Ko Amar Eliyahu!")

BTW do note the use of the roots "Al"h" and "Yr"d". Up and down. These are also key phrases in this perek. Achazyahu FALLS. He then sends messengers says "kum aleh" – ARISE. Eliyahu tells him that the bed which he ASCENDED (al"h) he will nor DESCEND (yr"d) and of course the perek continues with the question as to whether Eliyahu will descend from the hill or whether the officer of the Fifty will ascend the hill.

The Threefold Story – 50 Men

One of the questions that are raised in this story is why Eliyahu had to kill the 50 men sent by Achazyahu. Was it justified? There is some discussion of Achazyah's motive in sending them. Ralbag mysteriously suggests that Achazyahu sent them to honour Eliyahu. Some suggest (Metzudot and barabanel) that Achazyahu wanted to summon him to his palace in order to hear the Nevuah directly … which eventually did happen. The objectionable thing according to both of these explanations was the manner in which the officer addressed Eliyahu putting him at the service of the king. Rav Samet is unhappy with these approaches. He suggests a third motive. That achazyahu wanted to kill Eliyahu and in that way to annul the decree of his own death. This explanation has advantages in that it gives some backdrop to the high drama here. What is at stake is the very authority of Nevua. Achazyahu thinks he can manipulate the devar Hashem by violent means and Eliyahu proves that the Devar Hashem is far stronger that the hands of man.

Structurally, here is a classic structure of 3 and 4 whereby there is a repeated pattern over 3 rounds, leading to a fourth "breakthrough" that emerges from the previous three. (A great example might be Bilaams curses.) In general, the munber 3 is prominent in Eliyahu stories (3 years of famine, 3 pourings of water on har hacarmel, 3 years of peace between Aram and Israel) and of course the theme of fire is an Eliyahu theme.

In this vein, do an exercise whereby you compare the language and body language of each of the three army officers and you will see how there is a distinct progression as the 3rd one fully accepts Eliyahu's role as a representative of God, and hence ASCENDS to him, and BOWS to him, and talks with submission and persuasion and request rather than barking orders at the Navi. You will see how tha language of the Tanach here beautifully demonstrates the gradual submission of Achazyahu's men.

So in summary, this is a perek which describes a titan struggle between the truth of God, and Nevuah, on the one side, and the king, the national representative, who seeks to abandon God, or to see himself as the authority above God's authority. The final scene in the Perek is where Eliyahu is granted entry to Shomron, and delivers the message in person. In the final analysis, the king is forced top accept God's word rather than that of Baal Zevuv, and he is also coerced into receiving Eliyahu is the prophet of Israel.