Whence Cometh Elijah, Best You Hide Ya

In Melachim I (I Kings), chapter 16, we read of the evils of Israel’s wicked King Achav (Ahab). Among other ills, Achav worshipped the idol Baal, built a temple to the same, as well as promulgating Asherah worship. He married the wicked Izevel (Jezebel), a Phoenician princess, who had the true prophets of Israel hunted down and murdered. Achav’s wicked deeds “angered the Almighty more than all the kings who were before him.”

Famously, these events led Achav into a confrontation with the prophet Eliyahu (Elijah), who would command the heavens to withhold their rains pending the king’s repentance (ch. 17), and later the climactic showdown at Mt. Carmel between Eliyahu and the prophets of Baal (ch. 18).

Strangely, though, in the middle of these events, the narrative deviates from the story of Achav to tell us about Chiel (Hiel), who rebuilt the city of Yericho (Jericho), defying the curse of Yehoshua (Joshua), and suffering the consequences, losing all of his sons in the process in accordance with the curse (16:34).

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 113A) asks why the prophet interjects the story of Chiel between the recounting of Achav’s wicked actions and Eliyahu’s decree that the rains be withheld on Achav’s account. The Talmud explains, with the following story, how the events surrounding the death of Chiel’s sons led to the stoppage of the rain:

Achav was a friend of [Chiel]. He and Eliyahu came to visit [Chiel] during his period of mourning. [Achav] sat and said: ‘…Now the curse of Mosheh (Moses) has not been fulfilled, as it says, ‘If you will turn astray and serve other gods… the wrath of the Almighty will be enflamed against you and He will stop up the heavens [and there will be no rain]’ (Deuteronomy 11:17), and this man (i.e. me, Achav) has erected an idol upon every hillock, yet the rain has not stopped so that one may go and worship it! (I.e. It had been raining so much that the roads were so muddy that it was impossible to travel to a place of idol worship [Rashi].) Yet, the curse of [Mosheh]’s disciple, Yehoshua, (that the one who rebuilds Yericho will suffer the death of all his sons) is fulfilled?’ Immediately, ‘Eliyahu the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilad (Gilead) said: ‘As the Almighty G-d of Israel lives, there shall be no dew or rain…’ (Melachim I 17:1).

While Eliyahu certain seems to have “taught Ahab a lesson” regarding questioning the prophecy of Mosheh, until Eliyahu arrived, it appears that Ahab was right that Mosheh’s prophecy had not come true. Why was it necessary for this discussion to take place before Mosheh’s prophecy was brought to bear? And why did it take a special proclamation by Eliyahu to bring about the stoppage of rain? Why did it not simply happen automatically in accordance with the verse in Deuteronomy? I am still searching for an answer to this conundrum, if any readers can offer insights in the comments.


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