This year for the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge I have chosen a single word for each letter of the alphabet. Each of these words is important in the Bible. I am including a story in each post. Links from biblical references go to Bible Gateway.
Zeal appears in the Bible fewer than 40 times depending on the translation searched. This includes zealous and Zealot. Zeal is defined in the Collins Scrabble Dictionary as great enthusiasm or eagerness. Zealot is a political enthusiast (in the New Testament it refers to a member of a particular political group). Zeal is a word connected both with God, whose zeal for justice and righteousness leads to anger, and with his enthusiastic (zealous) servants. It is perhaps worth mentioning that the word enthusiasm is derived from Greek words meaning inspired by or possessed by a god. In the case of believers in the God of the Bible, this is the Holy Spirit.
Two people, who stand out for their zeal have appeared previously in these posts for the A to Z challenge. Elijah, whose story is told in this post and the post for Letter Q and Paul, Letter E and Letter Y.
To jump to the story Elijah’s Zeal for the Lord click here.
In Deuteronomy 29, when the covenant was renewed, verse 20 states that God’s wrath and zeal will burn against anyone, who worships foreign gods (idols of wood, stone or metal). He will not forgive them.
King Saul’s zeal for eradicating the Gibeonites led to trouble, which King David had to deal with. 2 Samuel 21:1-14
Isaiah prophesied to King Hezekiah that the zeal of the Lord would accomplish the prophecies regarding Sennacherib’s fall.
The zeal of the Lord is a recurring theme in the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel.
Baruch zealously repaired a section of the wall of Jerusalem Nehemiah 3: 20
Advice from Proverbs is to have zeal for the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 23:17 Fear is more like awe and respect in this context.
In the New Testament zeal is mentioned in the context of being zealous for a good reason (the fear of the Lord) or for bad motives.
Elijah’s zeal for the Lord
Elijah lived in the time of the wicked King Ahab of Israel, who served Baal, a foreign god worshipped by Ahab’s foreign wife, Jezebel.
Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, told Ahab that there would be no rain and no dew for the next few years except at Elijah’s word.
The Lord told Elijah what he must do next. Elijah obeyed, going to hide in the Kerith Ravine, where ravens brought him bread and meat twice a day and he drank from the brook.
When the brook dried up, because of the drought, The Lord spoke to Elijah again. Again Elijah obeyed, going to Zarephath of Sidon and staying with a widow, who had obeyed Elijah’s instructions, gaining a miraculous supply of food.
Some time later the widow’s son became ill and died. She was angry with Elijah, but he took her son, laid him on his own bed and prayed to the Lord that the boy would live. The Lord heard Elijah’s cry and restored the boy to life. Elijah restored him to his mother, who said, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of God from your mouth is the truth.’ (Letter Y tells a similar story from the New Testament.)
After more than two years the Lord told Elijah to present himself to Ahab, and the Lord would send rain on the land.
Ahab’s wife Jezebel had been killing the prophets of the Lord, but Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace, had hidden one hundred of them in two groups of fifty in separate caves. He had supplied them with food and water.
Ahab had been sending people everywhere to look for Elijah in order to kill him.
Obadiah reluctantly took Elijah to Ahab. What happened next is a very well-known story involving a show of strength between one prophet of the Lord (Elijah) and 450 prophets of Baal. The people were convinced by what happened that Elijah’s God was Lord. Elijah had the prophets of Baal killed. The Lord sent rain as Elijah foretold.
Jezebel was furious that her prophets had been killed. She wanted Elijah dead.
Elijah had already very energetically run faster than Ahab’s chariot to avoid the rainstorm. Now he fled with a servant to Beersheba in Judah. Then he went on alone into the desert. He had lost the will to live, but an angel visited him twice with bread and water. After eating and drinking this he travelled for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.
The Lord asked him, ‘What are you doing here Elisha?’
Elisha claimed to have been very zealous for the Lord. The Lord told Elijah to stand on the mountain, while the presence of the Lord passed by. Then there was a destructive wind, next an earthquake followed by a fire. The Lord was not in any of those. After the fire there was a gentle whisper. ‘What are you doing here Elisha?’
Elijah came to the mouth of the cave and again told the Lord how zealous he had been and how his life was in danger. The Lord commissioned him to go back to the Desert of Damascus and anoint a king of Israel, a king of Aram and Elisha as a prophet to succeed Elijah. Elijah felt that he was alone, but God had seven thousand in Israel, who had not worshipped Baal. The next part of the story can be found in Letter Q: Elijah and Elisha.
The story abridged here may be found in 1 Kings 17-19:18