Ki Tisa

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In the 9th century BCE, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was prosperous and powerful. While some worshiped God, most people adopted idolatrous practices when serving God or served Canaanite gods outright. For two decades, King Ahab increased Israel’s idolatry. He allied with King Ithobaal I of Tyre (Phoenicia), marrying its princess, Jezebel. In Israel’s capital, Samaria, she built a temple where she, Ahab, and the people worshiped the regional rain god, Baal, and the fertility goddess, Asherah. Jezebel persecuted those who served God, and put God’s prophets to death. Nonetheless, Ahab appointed Obadiah, who greatly feared God, over his royal household. A disciple of God’s prophet, Elijah, Obadiah saved 100 prophets from Jezebel by hiding them in caves and feeding them.

In response to these idolatrous changes, Elijah appeared, publicly decreeing a drought and famine against the Kingdom of Israel. For three years, Elijah hid as Ahab and his allies sought to find and kill him. The Haftarah opens as God instructs Elijah to confront Ahab. Obadiah and Ahab were each scouting out food to preserve their work animals from death. Elijah encounters Obadiah and asks him to bring Ahab. Obadiah is awed by Elijah’s sudden appearance but fears that Ahab will kill him if Elijah disappears before meeting Ahab. After Elijah reassures Obadiah, Elijah and Ahab meet, each accusing the other of responsibility for the drought. Elijah instructs Ahab to assemble the entire people, 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah to Mt. Carmel. Ahab complies with Elijah’s command, though the Asherah prophets do not appear. Elijah challenges the people to stop worshipping both God and Baal, but they do not commit. Elijah then proposes a test to show which god will send a fire to consume its prophets’ sacrifice. This will show which deity heeds its prophets’ prayers, controls nature, and is responsible for Israel’s prosperity and power. The people accept this test.

Granting every advantage to Baal’s prophets, Elijah taunts their beliefs as they sacrifice, pray, and ritually slash themselves all day. Baal does not consume their bull. Elijah constructs an altar to God, disadvantaging himself by repeatedly dousing it, his bull, and a surrounding trench with water. After a single prayer, a heavenly fire descends, consuming not only the bull but also the altar and its water. In response to this spectacular miracle, the people declare, “The Lord, He is God! the Lord, He is God!”

Haftarah Breakdown

Verses 18:1-2: God tells Elijah to confront Ahab, and that He will end the three years of intense drought in Samaria.

I Kings 18:1

After a long time, the Lord’s word came in the third year [of the famine] to Elijah, saying: “Go, appear to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the ground.”

וַֽיְהִי֙ יָמִ֣ים רַבִּ֔ים וּדְבַר־ה' הָיָה֙ אֶל־אֵ֣לִיָּ֔הוּ בַּשָּׁנָ֥ה הַשְּׁלִישִׁ֖ית לֵאמֹ֑ר לֵ֚ךְ הֵרָאֵ֣ה אֶל־אַחְאָ֔ב וְאֶתְּנָ֥ה מָטָ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃

Verse 18:3-6: At the same time, Ahab and his God-fearing servant, Obadiah, are seeking food for their animals.

I Kings 18:5

Ahab said to Obadiah, “Travel in the land to all the springs of water and to all the wadis. Perhaps we will find grass to save the horses and mules alive, so that we will be deprived of [all] the beasts.”

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אַחְאָב֙ אֶל־עֹ֣בַדְיָ֔הוּ לֵ֤ךְ בָּאָ֙רֶץ֙ אֶל־כׇּל־מַעְיְנֵ֣י הַמַּ֔יִם וְאֶ֖ל כׇּל־הַנְּחָלִ֑ים אוּלַ֣י ׀ נִמְצָ֣א חָצִ֗יר וּנְחַיֶּה֙ ס֣וּס וָפֶ֔רֶד וְל֥וֹא נַכְרִ֖ית מֵהַבְּהֵמָֽה׃

Verses 18:7-16: Obadiah meets Elijah, who tells him to inform Ahab of his return. Fearing Elijah’s disappearance before Ahab comes to him, Obadiah tries to stop Elijah’s request by recounting his life of righteous acts. After Elijah promises to appear to Ahab, Obadiah tells Ahab that Elijah has arrived.

I Kings 18:12

When I leave you, the Lord’s spirit will carry you off to I don’t know where. [But] when I come and tell Ahab and he does not find you, he will kill me. Yet your servant has revered the Lord from my youth!

וְהָיָ֞ה אֲנִ֣י ׀ אֵלֵ֣ךְ מֵאִתָּ֗ךְ וְר֨וּחַ ה' ׀ יִֽשָּׂאֲךָ֙ עַ֚ל אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־אֵדָ֔ע וּבָ֨אתִי לְהַגִּ֧יד לְאַחְאָ֛ב וְלֹ֥א יִֽמְצָאֲךָ֖ וַהֲרָגָ֑נִי וְעַבְדְּךָ֛ יָרֵ֥א אֶת־ה' מִנְּעֻרָֽי׃

Verses 18:17-20: Elijah confronts Ahab, declaring that the idolatry of Ahab and his royal house caused the drought. Elijah summons the prophets of Baal and Asherah to a confrontation at Mount Carmel.

I Kings 18:18

[Elijah] replied, “I have not brought trouble on Israel; rather it is you and your father’s house [who have troubled Israel] by your abandonment of the Lord’s commandments, and you have followed the Baalim.”

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א עָכַ֙רְתִּי֙ אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֥י אִם־אַתָּ֖ה וּבֵ֣ית אָבִ֑יךָ בַּעֲזׇבְכֶם֙ אֶת־מִצְוֺ֣ת ה' וַתֵּ֖לֶךְ אַחֲרֵ֥י הַבְּעָלִֽים׃

Verses 18:21-24: Elijah extorts the people to follow God alone but they silently refuse. He then arranges a prophetic contest between him and Baal’s prophets. Each side will offer a bull to its respective god; the god who answers is the true deity.

I Kings 18:24

Call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god that answers by fire is [the true] God. All the people replied, saying, “Well said!”

וּקְרָאתֶ֞ם בְּשֵׁ֣ם אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֗ם וַֽאֲנִי֙ אֶקְרָ֣א בְשֵׁם־ה' וְהָיָ֧ה הָאֱלֹהִ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲנֶ֥ה בָאֵ֖שׁ ה֣וּא הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַיַּ֧עַן כׇּל־הָעָ֛ם וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ ט֥וֹב הַדָּבָֽר׃

Verses 18:25-29: Baal’s prophets pray and slash themselves for most of the day, but their bull is not consumed. Elijah taunts and insults them for being unable to rouse their god.

I Kings 18:29

When the afternoon passed, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the afternoon sacrifice. There was no voice, nor any to answer, nor any that heard.

וַֽיְהִי֙ כַּעֲבֹ֣ר הַֽצׇּהֳרַ֔יִם וַיִּֽתְנַבְּא֔וּ עַ֖ד לַעֲל֣וֹת הַמִּנְחָ֑ה וְאֵֽין־ק֥וֹל וְאֵין־עֹנֶ֖ה וְאֵ֥ין קָֽשֶׁב׃

Verses 18:30-36: Elijah and the people repair God’s broken altar and ready it for his sacrifice. They also douse it in water.

I Kings 18:34

[Elijah] said, “Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood”. He said, “Do it a second time,” and they did it a second time. He said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time.

וַיֹּ֗אמֶר מִלְא֨וּ אַרְבָּעָ֤ה כַדִּים֙ מַ֔יִם וְיִֽצְק֥וּ עַל־הָעֹלָ֖ה וְעַל־הָעֵצִ֑ים וַיֹּ֤אמֶר שְׁנוּ֙ וַיִּשְׁנ֔וּ וַיֹּ֥אמֶר שַׁלֵּ֖שׁוּ וַיְשַׁלֵּֽשׁוּ׃

Verses 18:37-39: After a short prayer by Elijah, God consumes the sacrifice, the altar, and the water. In response, the people declare God as the true deity.

I Kings 18:39

And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, “The Lord, he is God! The Lord, he is God!”

וַיַּרְא֙ כׇּל־הָעָ֔ם וַֽיִּפְּל֖וּ עַל־פְּנֵיהֶ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ ה' ה֣וּא הָאֱלֹקים ה' ה֥וּא הָאֱלֹקים׃

With emendations, all translations are from  To dedicate, comment, or subscribe, email