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In 1 Kings 18:46, after God produces a torrential rainstorm and Ba'al is utterly defeated, Elijah runs ahead of (or before) Ahab to Jezreel. The text has various translations including:

  • until he came to Jezreel (DRA)
  • to the entrance of Jezreel (KJ21)
  • as far as the approaches to Jezreel (NABRE)
  • to Jezreel (NASB)
  • all the way to Jezreel (NIV)

The text then says that Ahab reports the events of Carmel to Jezebel. She reacts by threatening Eljiah's life, and he flees.

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done—that he had murdered all the prophets by the sword. 2 Jezebel then sent a messenger to Elijah and said, “May the gods do thus to me and more, if by this time tomorrow I have not done with your life what was done to each of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. (ch. 19)

There are a two basic questions here. First, what is the best translation of 1 Kings 18:46. Second, does the proper translation shed any light as to how should we view these scenes? Corollary questions include: Was this a race to demonstrate God's power in Elijah, or was Elijah running ahead as Ahab's herald? Did Elijah enter the city after Ahab, or did he stop and stay outside of the gates? Did Elijah and Ahab, both Israelites, hope that Jezebel would repent after hearing of God's victory over Ba'al?

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Here is my literal translation of 1 Kings 18:46 -

And [the] hand of YHWH came upon Elijah and he girded up his loins and ran in the face of Ahab to [the] entrance of Jezreel.

The next verse, 1 Kings 19:1 says this (again, my translation)

And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and all [about] how he executed all the prophets with sword.

Thus, the record as it exists here, involves a time-gap between these two verses.

  • Elijah running ahead of Ahab's chariot to arrive at Jezreel
  • [an unspecified time gap of perhaps a day or two for Ahab to enter the city, be royally greeted, change his clothes, have an extended conversation with Jezebel, a discussion of some time, Jezebel summoning secretaries, composing messages, dispatching messengers to find Elijah to deliver the dire message from the angry Queen.]

However, we are not told exactly what events transpired when Elijah and Ahab arrived at the entrance to Jezreel. We are not told what Elijah did, but one assumes he went home, to a location never disclosed in the Bible, except that he came from Tishbe (1 Kings 17:1); but whether he had a home in Samaria or Jezreel, we do not know.

We do not know if Elijah saluted the King upon his separation of even if they separated at all. We do not know if Elijah entered the city or not. However, the purpose of Elijah's running is apparently:

  • to further demonstrate the power of God and thus, the divine calling Elijah
  • by contrast, Jezebel defied the copious evidence of divine providence (note the triple "all" in 1 Kings 19:1 !!)
  • runners were often appointed in ancient times to make the king's carriage and cortege more impressive.
  • despite defying the kings false prophets and murdering them, Elijah was still loyal to king and wanted to serve him; however, he managed to do this glorifying God and the source of his strength.

That is, Elijah, as God's servant and prophet, was to clearly to restore the true worship of YHWH and eliminate the worship of Baal; that is Elijah's job was theological revolution not political revolution.

Note the comments of the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

  1. Elijah … girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab—It was anciently, and still is in some countries of the East, customary for kings and nobles to have runners before their chariots, who are tightly girt for the purpose. The prophet, like the Bedouins of his native Gilead, had been trained to run; and, as the Lord was with him, he continued with unabated agility and strength. It was, in the circumstances, a most proper service for Elijah to render. It tended to strengthen the favorable impression made on the heart of Ahab and furnished an answer to the cavils of Jezebel for it showed that he who was so zealous in the service of God, was, at the same time, devotedly loyal to his king. The result of this solemn and decisive contest was a heavy blow and great discouragement to the cause of idolatry. But subsequent events seem to prove that the impressions, though deep, were but partial and temporary.
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  • + 1... informative as always. Regarding the phrase you translate as "in the face of" -- is it the same phrase used to describe the men who ran before Absalom in 2 Samuel 15:1, and before Adonijah in 1 Kings 1:5? If so then "before" is probably the better English translation and I'd have to remain open to the idea that Elijah ran as Ahab escort. Sep 17, 2023 at 22:32
  • @DanFefferman - I agree that "before" is a more idiomatic translation, but my overly literal translation left what the Hebrew actually says, the Elijah ran in the face of Ahab (a Hebrew idiom obviously!). BTW, the same word (noun) פָנִי is used in all three of your verses. An added preposition is used to denote "in the face".
    – Dottard
    Sep 17, 2023 at 22:34
  • This tends to confirm the idea that Elijah ran ahead of Ahab not to show him up, but more or less as an escort... Something I hadn't considered until I saw the comment or Rashi to that effect. Sep 17, 2023 at 22:44
  • About Elijah and revolution. It's hard for me to see this as primarily theological: 1 Kgs 19 - 16 You (Elijah) shall also anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, as king of Israel.... 17 Anyone who escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill. Anyone who escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill." I agree that theology was involved but to claim this was not a political revolution is a little like saying the execution of Charles I was not a political act, because the Protestants who killed him were theologically motivated. Sorry, I know this is not the place for this. I'll ask a new question,. Sep 17, 2023 at 22:48
  • @DanFefferman - good point. However, the point remains that Elijah did not remove Ahab from office, God removed him in battle. Until then, Elijah was loyal to the king.
    – Dottard
    Sep 17, 2023 at 23:29

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