is there about the Land of Israel in particular for it to be made the
homeland of the chosen people? The Bible sings the praises of the land's
abundance and its beauty, but there is nothing religious in that. A theological
dimension appears in Deuteronomy, where a point is made about the difference
between Egypt, which drinks river water, and the land of Israel, which
Rainfall is a symbol of divine providence. Furthermore, according to the
biblical stories, in the great riverine countries a nation's sense of
ownership of its land and mastery of its destiny is reinforced, leading
to the development of tyrannical regimes and slavery. In land that drink
rainwater, on the other hand, man constantly senses his dependence on
God and for that reason such a land will sustain a regime of justice,
free of subjugation.
Rainfall is perceived in the Bible as a means for the edification of the
people. This is most pronounced in the early prophets, and above all in
the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. We learn from that story
that the dependence on rain is a form of trial. There is a great temptation
to use pagan magic to ensure that rain falls, but that defiles the land
and it then vomits up its inhabitants; it was, in fact, the source of
the Canaanites' sin. The people of Israel must learn that only by observing
God's commandments can they dwell in their land and enjoy its bounty.
(The story of Elijah and the prophets follows.)
A summary of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal (I Kings
The Israelite prophet Elijah was active in Israel during the reigns of Ahab
and Ahaziah (9th century BCE). Elijah's central struggle was against the worship
of the Baal cult, which was condoned by the royal court. Ahab, while loyal to
the faith of his people, saw no harm in showing tolerance toward the religion
of the people of Tyre and in establishing a place of worship in Samaria for
the circles close to Queen Jezebel (who worshipped Baal and Asherah).
Elijah first meets with King Ahab in the house of Hiel, the commander-in-chief
of the Israelite army, whom he was visiting to condole with him for the loss
of his sons. When King Ahab says mockingly, "Was not Moses greater than
Joshua, and did he not say that God would let no rain descend upon the earth,
if Israel served and worshipped idols? There is not an idol to which I do not
pay homage, yet we enjoy all that is goodly and desirable..." Elijah rejoins:
"As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall
not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." In pursuance
of His promises, God could not but execute the words of Elijah, and neither
dew nor rain watered the land.
famine ensues, and Ahab seeks to wreak his vengeance upon the prophet. To escape
the king's persecutions, Elijah hides himself.... God, who has compassion even
upon the impious, tried to induce the prophet to release Him from His promise.
To influence him, He has the brook run dry whence Elijah drew water for his
thirst. As this failed to soften the inflexible prophet, God resorts to the
expedient of causing him pain through the death of the son of the widow with
whom Elijah was abiding, and by whom he had been received with great honor.
When her son died... Elijah supplicates God to revive the child. Now God has
the prophet in His power. He can give heed unto Elijah's prayer only provided
the prophet release Him from the promise about a drought, for resuscitation
from death is brought about by means of dew, and this remedy was precluded so
long as Elijah kept God to His word withholding dew and rain from the earth.
Elijah sees there is nothing to do but yield. However, he first turns to Ahab
with the purpose of overcoming the obduracy of the people, upon whom the famine
has made no impression; manifest wonders displayed before their eyes are to
teach them wisdom. The confrontation takes place on Mt. Carmel where Ahab, in
response to Elijah's demands, assembles all of Israel and 850 prophets of Baal
and Asherah. A series of miracles are demonstrated and the story climaxes with
the killing of the prophets of Baal at Elijah's command.
This drama is interwoven with the story of the drought. Shortly after the events
on Mount Carmel, the sky becomes black with clouds and heavy rain begins to
fall. This is seen by Elijah and his followers as a sign that God has forgiven
the repentant people their sin of Baal-worship which had been the cause of the
drought. (The story carries on, however, with continued pagan worship, and with
Jezebel's fury over the massacre of the prophets of Baal and her pursuit of
Elijah and his followers.)
In the later prophets we find a somewhat different variant of this theme.
The land is located between the great river powers (Egypt, Babylonia) and
between the desert and the sea. It is a middle land. It attracts all nations
and is a pawn in the hands of the powers who fight for world dominion.
Those who live in the land are tempted to take part in the struggle between
powers as a way to aggrandize power for themselves. But the only way to
live in the land peacefully and to bring a vision of peace to the world
is by refraining from participation on those pagan power struggles and
by living a life of justice and truth in accordance with the Torah. [back]
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