Last Updated on May 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 599
Context: During the reign of Solomon (977–937 B.C.) the Israelites became an actual nation; the times were marked by success in international politics, great organization of the country's natural and human resources, and a court famous for its splendor. After Solomon's death, however, the nation was divided into two kingdoms: Israel, in the north, and Judah, in the south. The former drew away because its people had been exploited by Solomon. The people of Judah rebelled against his successors because of the system of indentured labor, and the revolt was put down. Judah subsequently became a pawn of Syria. Israel passed through several dynasties and achieved considerable material progress. Its seventh king, Ahab, married the Tyrian princess Jezebel, thus contracting an alliance with Tyre. Another marriage within the dynasty cemented relations with Judah; and a defensive alliance with Syria, against the Assyrians, was established. These alliances weakened the religious life of the nation; Jezebel was a worshiper of Melkart and Astarte, and other cults were encouraged by royal favor. At this time Elijah appears on the scene to remind Israel that Jehovah is the only true God. He prophesies a severe drought, retires to the wilderness, and is fed by ravens. After the drought has continued for a time he returns and tells Ahab he will send rain again, then causes the prophets of Baal to assemble. They build an altar to Baal, and Elijah builds one for Jehovah; then each calls on his own god to burn the sacrifice. Baal does not respond, but a lightning bolt strikes the altar of Jehovah and ignites the fire. At Elijah's suggestion, Ahab orders that the priests of Baal be slain. Soon after they are despatched, a rain squall is seen approaching, and in a few moments there is a torrential downpour. Elijah has already performed other miracles, but these are particularly impressive. Jezebel is not impressed favorably, however: she sends word to Elijah that she has marked him for death. He flees into the wilderness, is fed by an angel, and takes refuge on Mount Horeb.
And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?
And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.