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An Allegory for July 4, 2020

I’ve been feeling somewhat discouraged lately, as I guess we all have. Every day, it seems, more bad climate news slaps us in the face. Add to that the covid pandemic, unrecognized by Trump and disregarded by his followers, and racial injustice, not unrecognized but rather played upon by Trump and his sycophants. It really makes me want to scream. We have as president one who is a murderer and is adored by crowds after the manner of Hitler and the Nazis. The dire circumstances remind me of the Hebrew prophet, Elijah.

If he was a real person, he would have lived about 3000 years ago. Most likely, what we have today are legends that began when the hill people of Palestine began to invade the rich coastal plain, and they focus on the conflict between two types of culture. The hill people worshipped a god of war called Yahweh, and the farming plains people worshipped fertility gods, chief of whom was Baal. Elijah was a prophet of Yahweh, and one of the legends is particularly relevant to America today.

The book of Kings in the Hebrew scripture adds greater detail, making the story that much more poignant, but the essence is as follows. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel ruled the land and they were not nice people. Being of the plains, they worshipped Baal and killed the prophets of Yahweh. Elijah was the last prophet standing and challenged the priests of Baal to a contest to prove to the people which god was the real god. Two altars were prepared for sacrifice. 450 priests of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah danced all day around one pyre, slashing themselves, moaning and groaning and calling upon their god to ignite the flame, but all to no avail. Elijah taunted them: perhaps your god is deep in thought, or on vacation, or relieving himself. When it was Elijah’s turn, he had water poured over the wood and he alone implored the Lord to ignite the sacrifice. The flames appeared, evaporating the poured-on water and even consuming the rocks and dust. In the ecstasy of his victory, Elijah had the Israelite mobs gather the priests of Baal, and he slew them. All of them.

When news of the defeat and slaughter of her priests reached Jezebel, she flew into a rage and ordered Elijah be executed. Fearful for his life, he fled, eventually hiding in a cave. While hiding, there came a mighty wind, tearing mountains apart and shattering rocks. But, we are told, the Lord God was not in the wind. And then an earthquake. But god was not in the earthquake. And then a fire, but, again, god was not in the fire. And then Elijah walked to the face of the cave, and heard sheer silence, followed by a gentle whisper, a still, small voice, saying quite simply, Elijah, what are you doing here? with emphasis on the word here.

Hiding, Lord, for Jezebel seeks to kill me. Take me now, Lord, for I am old and tired and I have served thee long and well. But then the Lord’s voice takes on a new tone, no longer still and small but powerful and commanding: Go! Go back to where you came from. And when you get there, anoint a new king and anoint a new prophet. Raise the army and start the revolution. The followers of Baal will die by the sword.

It’s a good story. But what does this have to do with America today? Suppose we demythologize the allegory and think only of Elijah, a man living in a corrupt country. The government has gotten rid of all who share his beliefs. The people of the land have turned their back on the law. Depressed and tired he runs away and hides. Help does not come from the expected sources, and so he is left alone in sheer silence. It is then he realizes that he must return and take up the fight.

The same, do doubt, is true for us. We must continue the fight. The fight against global warming. The fight against an absolutely inept if not evil administration that cares for naught that which is right and true. The fight against stupidity and for education. And last but not least, the fight against the dark force that lies behind all, the immoral unequal distribution of wealth. This is the path that leads from despair and discouragement to hope and change. It must be our path.

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