How do we understand Elijah mocking God's enemies 1 Kings 18:27? By Jack Kettler
“And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.” (1 Kings 18:27)
How is this passage to be understood? Is Elijah mocking non-believers a contradiction in Scripture? Mocking can also be translated to ridicule and taunt. Synonymous with ridicule would be to laugh at or make fun of a promoter of false gods. Synonymous with taunting would be to criticize.
“At noon, Elijah began making fun of them. Pray louder! he said. Baal must be a god. Maybe he's daydreaming or using the toilet or traveling somewhere. Or maybe he's asleep, and you have to wake him up.” (1 Kings 18:27 Contemporary English Version)
For example, it can be asked:
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Is Elijah in violation of this teaching of Jesus?
Or conversely, can Elijah be used as a model for interacting with pagans today?
From the classic Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament on the Kings passage:
“As no answer had been received before noon, Elijah cried out to them in derision: “Call to him with a loud voice, for he is God (sc., according to your opinion), for he is meditating, or has gone aside (שׂי, secessio), or is on the journey (בּדּרך, on the way); perhaps he is sleeping, that he may wake up.” The ridicule lies more especially in the הוּא אלהים כּי (for he is a god), when contrasted with the enumeration of the different possibilities which may have occasioned their obtaining no answer, and is heightened by the earnest and threefold repetition of the כּי. With regard to these possibilities we may quote the words of Clericus: “Although these things when spoken of God are the most absurd things possible, yet idolaters could believe such things, as we may see from Homer.” The priests of Baal did actually begin therefore to cry louder than before, and scratched themselves with swords and lances, till the blood poured out, “according to their custom” (כּמשׁפּטם). Movers describes this as follows (Phnizier, i. pp. 682,683), from statements made by ancient authors concerning the processions of the strolling bands of the Syrian goddess: “A discordant howling opens the scene. They then rush wildly about in perfect confusion, with their heads bowed down to the ground, but always revolving in circles, so that the loosened hair drags through the mire; they then begin to bite their arms, and end with cutting themselves with the two-edged swords which they are in the habit of carrying. A new scene then opens. One of them, who surpasses all the rest in frenzy, begins to prophesy with signs and groans; he openly accuses himself of the sins which he has committed, and which he is now about to punish by chastising the flesh, takes the knotted scourge, which the Galli generally carry, lashes his back, and then cuts himself with swords till the blood trickles down from his mangled body.” The climax of the Bacchantic dance in the case of the priests of Baal also was the prophesying (התנבּא), and it was for this reason, probably, that they were called prophets (נביאים). This did not begin till noon, and lasted till about the time of the evening sacrifice (לעלות עד, not עלות עד, 1 Kings 18:29). המּנחה עלות, “the laying on (offering) of the meat-offering,” refers to the daily evening sacrifice, which consisted of a burnt-offering and a meat-offering (Exodus 29:38.; Numbers 28:3-8), and was then offered, according to the Rabbinical observance (see at Exodus 12:6), in the closing hours of the afternoon, as is evident from the circumstances which are described in 1 Kings 18:40. as having taken place on the same day and subsequently to Elijah's offering, which was presented at the time of the evening sacrifice (1 Kings 18:36).” (1)
The example of Elijah seems to be out of character with general exhortations in Scripture such as:
“Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6)
In line with Colossians, when someone hurls ad hominem attacks our way, we should not respond in kind.
The Apostle Paul presents a case similar to Elijah in the New Testament:
“Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” (Acts 17:22-23)
Did the Apostle Paul violate his teaching in Acts 17, where he called the Athenians superstitious and ignorant?
Speaking the truth at times requires bluntness:
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18 ESV)
“How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.” (Jude 1:18)
How to understand Elijah and Paul in an apologetic context:
Back to 1 Kings 18:27, in another setting, Elijah and the false priests of Baal can be understood as a philosophical worldview apologetic debate. In presuppositional apologetic debates, the Christian will assume the opponent’s view for the sake of argument and then reduce it to the logical conclusion, absurdity. If we see Elijah’s and Paul’s rejoinder to the priests of Baal and the Athenians in this light, both are early forms or examples of a worldview debate.
Elijah’s mocking in a modern apologetic context:
There is a large unusual religious group located in the Rocky Mountains. They believe that their God is a man with a physical body and who can only be in one place at a time. In addition, they believe this God has a father God above him along with great grandfather Gods, on and on.
In the tradition of Elijah, it can be asked how does this god with a body travel and how fast. Does he travel like superman and use a cape? Does he use a spaceship? How does this god communicate with the other gods in his family? An intergalactic phone system? Do these gods have family reunions? Where?
In addition, this god has goddess wives. Do goddess wives cook and clean? Does the god with a body have sex with his goddess wives? If this man-god had 1000 wives, how long could he spend with each wife each day?
“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4-5)
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers comments are right to point:
“(5) Answer a fool according to his folly. — As his folly deserves, sharply and decisively, and in language suited to his comprehension.” (2)
The Hebrew word for the word fool is “nabal” and means senseless. According to God, the fool has no sense and why “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1).
“The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.” (Ecclesiastes 10:12)
A fool can include all types of people, such as prostitutes and politicians.
To answer a starting question, no, Elijah did not violate the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:44. The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:44 is in general; there are exceptions.
Jesus’s condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees documented in Matthew 23:1-39 and Luke 11:37-54 show obvious exceptions to the general teaching in Matthew 5:44.
If Elijah’s mocking or making fun is seen in an apologetic context, the question of sinful mocking disappears. Instead, Elijah’s example is a brilliant use of worldview apologetics.
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28-29)
1. Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 1 Kings, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Reprinted 1985), p. 245.
2. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Proverbs, Vol.9, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 498-499.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: www.TheReligionThatStartedInAHat.com