870 BC to 850 BC, Psalm 4: Light and Twilight

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Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_Le_prophète_Elie_reçoit_d’un_ange_du_pain_et_de_l’eauThis generation is that of the years between 870 BC and 850 BC.

This generation is marked in the kingdom of Judah by the advent of King Josaphat son of Asa. In the kingdom of Israel this generation corresponds to most of the reign of King Ahab (his reign was twenty-two years) and the two-year reign of King Ahaziah son of Ahab. It is also on his reign and on the balance sheet of his reign that ends the first book of Kings [1] and the fourth generation of the night.

The previous generation was marked, among other things, by the appearance of the prophet Elijah, who had deprived the kingdom of Israel of water for three years. The mission of the prophet Elijah continues on this generation: it will attack the prophets of Baal, protected from King Ahab who are on the kingdom of Israel.
Elijah will meet the prophet Obadiah who is described as follows:
  • Obadiah [2] was a devout believer in the Lord.
  • While Jezebel (wife of Ahab [3], daughter of Etbaal, king of the Sidonians, it is probably by her that the cult of Baal was introduced to the kingdom of Israel)  was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water.

elie-baal-00016682Elijah then challenged the prophets of Baal, who numbered four hundred and fifty, so that each one might call on his God. Baal for the followers of Ahab and the Lord for Elijah. After the failure of the prophets of Baal around the bull that they had sacrificed to him, Elijah invokes the Lord around his own sacrifice (a second bull):

  • Then Elijah [4] said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down.
  • Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.”
  • With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed.
  • He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”
  • “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. “Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time.
  • The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.
  • At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
  • Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
  • When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”
  • Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.
This episode illustrates well the first part of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 4 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 6 )

  • To the conductor with melodies, a song of David.
  • When I call, answer me, O God of my righteousness; …
    • Elijah prays to the Lord and wait for his answer.
  • … in my distress You have relieved me, …
    • The prophets of the Lord had been sheltered by Obadiah to avoid the fate of the Baal prophets.
  • … be gracious to me and hearken to my prayer.
    • See the prayer of Elijah.
  • Sons of man, how long will my honor be disgraced? …
    • Here, it is David, author of the psalms, who expresses himself by seeing that his descendants devote themselves to foreign cults.
  • … [How long] will you love futility? …
    • The cult of Baal.
  • … [How long] will you constantly seek lies?
    • The prophets of Baal will not be able to show the reality of the deity whom they worship.
  • You shall know that the Lord has set apart the pious man for Himself; …
    • Elijah will join Obadiah who has remained faithful to the Lord.
  • … the Lord shall hear when I call out to Him.
  • Quake and do not sin; say [this] in your heart on your bed and be forever silent.
  • Offer up sacrifices of righteousness and trust in the Lord.
    • That’s what Elijah is doing.

Jezebel then seeking to kill Elijah, he fled and then takes refuge [5] in a cave on Mount Horeb, the mountain of God. It is there that the Lord manifests himself to Elijah:

  • And [6] the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
  • He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
  • The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.
  • Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
  • After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
  • When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
  • Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
This illustrates the continuation of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 4 associated to this generation, verse 7 )

  • Many say, « Who will show us goodness? » Raise up over us the light of Your countenance, O Lord.

Therefore Elijah will meet [7] Elisha his successor. Ben Hadad, king of Syria decides to attack the kingdom of Israel. A prophet (Elijah?) Will then come to the aid of King Ahab to defeat Ben Hadad and to recognize the Lord. Ahab attacked the king of Syria:

  • They [8] (the troop around Ahab) set out at noon while Ben-Hadad and the 32 kings allied with him were in their tents getting drunk.
This exit led to the victory of Ahab, the victory of the kingdom of Israel. What further illustrates the following of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 4 associated to this generation, verse 8 )

  • You gave joy into my heart …
    • Supporters of Ben Hadad.
  • … from the time that their corn and their wine increased.
    • Ben Hadad was defeated when he got drunk.
Recall again that this generation is the one that corresponds to the end of the first book of Kings.
It had begun with the end of reign of King David to continue on the reign of King Solomon and then the first four generations of the night. This book actually describes the twilight, the border between day and night still under the imprint of King David, the model King.
The end of the book of the first book of kings brings us to the second book of kings, the night is this time black, the influence of King David becomes more distant. He falls asleep definitively to make room for the night in the expectation of dawn or he will be reunited again to his people and his God.
This is what the last verse of the psalm of this generation expresses:

(extract of the psalm 4 associated to this generation, verse 9 )

  • In peace together, I would lie down and sleep, for You, O Lord, would make me dwell alone in safety.

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[1] See: Melachim I – I Kings – Chapter 22, verses 52 and following.

[2] Melachim I – I Kings – Chapter 18, verses 3 and 4

[3] See: Melachim I – I Kings – Chapter 16, verse 31

[4] Melachim I – I Kings – Chapter 18, verses 30 to 40

[5] See: Melachim I – I Kings – Chapter 19

[6] Melachim I – I Kings – Chapter 19, verses 9 to 13

[7] See: Melachim I – I Kings – Chapter 19, verses 15 and following.

[8] Melachim I – I Kings – Chapter 20, verse 16