Haftarah Pinchas: Reading the Text I
“And the hand of God was upon Elijah, so he girded his loins and ran before Ahab until the approach to Jezreel (I Kings 18:46).” I am sure that Ahab, the king, was pleased and relieved that although the contest on Mt Carmel began as a confrontation between Elijah and him, and Elijah was clearly the hero of the day, the prophet celebrated his great victory by honoring Ahab. Elijah made the point that he did not intend to weaken Ahab’s reign.
Yet, a closer look at this verse adds a few interesting ingredients to the mix. “And the hand of God was upon Elijah,” implies that God’s Hand was not on Elijah until this point. Whatever Elijah had done on Mt Carmel was not an expression of strength derived from God’s Hand; whatever that is.
The verse also implies that Elijah ran before Ahab because God’s Hand was upon him. Elijah must have already been ecstatic over the great miracles he had affected on Carmel, his victory, and that the contest that “proved” God led to the long absent blessing of rain. We can already picture Elijah’s state of mind. Yet, something more happened, God’s hand rested upon him, and that experience led him to honor Ahab.
Perhaps this is the same “Yad HaChazakah” experienced by Moshe and Israel as the Hand of Empowerment. God used Moshe’s hands to initiate plagues and miracles, nurturing Moshe’s inner strength which was so lacking when he stood at the Burning Bush.
Elijah was not just thrilled. He was not just inspired. He won the contest, brought rain, and felt empowered to affect more change; not to topple Ahab, but to change him into a righteous king, and through Ahab, influence all of Israel.
Elijah ran before Ahab to honor him, and to demonstrate that he would now lead the king as his prophet. It was to be an Ahab-Elijah partnership that would lead Israel into an exciting future.
Elijah ran before the king only, “until the approach to Jezreel.” Something happened. Elijah hesitated, which, I believe, is the introduction to the Haftarah, a contrast with Pinchas, a parallel with Moshe, and a message appropriate to the Shabbat before the Seventeenth of Tammuz.
Jezreel was also the home of Ahab’s queen: Jezebel, the source of all the current evil befalling Israel. Elijah would honor Ahab. He would work with him. He would not work with Jezebel. He sensed that his victory over Ahab and Ba’al would be insignificant in comparison to his battle with Jezebel. Elijah hesitated, and he soon lost the joy, inspiration, and the Hand of Empowerment.