Trash talking

“Is it peace, Zimri?” When will the trash talking end?

After Elijah’s delivers his message of canine blood licking to Ahab and Jezebel, amazingly Ahab repents and puts on sackcloth (1 Kings 21:27).  YHWH is so impressed that he tells Elijah that he’s going to delay the judgment on Ahab’s house (1 Kings 21:28-29).  Ahab is still killed in battle after he ignores the negative prophecy of Micaiah, and the dogs do get to lick up his blood, just as was predicted in YHWH’s trash speech (1 Kings 22:37-38).

There’s an extended break in the trash talking action until Jezebel is confronted by the usurper, Jehu (see my monograph on his dynasty under “Other books”).  The connection between Jehu and Elijah goes back to when YHWH told Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor and to anoint Jehu as king over Israel (1 Kings 19:16).  Elijah didn’t do that, and neither did Elisha, but eventually Elisha delegated the task to his apprentice (2 Kings 9:1-9).  And when that young prophet anointed Jehu he also repeated the canine dog licking curse, probably because it was so much fun to say (2 Kings 9:10).

As he approaches Jezebel, Jehu is fresh from a slaughter.  He has been on a rampage, killing both the Israelite king, Joram and the Judean king, Ahaziah (grandson of Ahab and Jezebel because of the intermarriage between the royal houses of Judah and Israel–yes, it’s complicated).  So Jehu finally comes to Jezebel who’s up in her tower.  She puts on her make-up (who was she trying to impress?) and then asks Jehu, “Is it peace, Zimri, murderer of your master?” (2 Kings 9:31)

I don’t really like Jezebel, but this is amazing trash-talk.

How is Jezebel talking trash here?  By calling Jehu, “Zimri.”  Zimri isn’t very well known, so don’t be embarassed if you don’t know who he is.  He only reigned for 7 days (1 Kings 16:15-20).  Zimri and Jehu had a lot in common: both were military leaders (1 Kings 16:9; 2 Kings 9:5), and both took the throne by killing his predecessor.  Interestingly, Zimri was basically killed by Omri, father of Ahab, husband of Jezebel.  So, by calling Jehu, Zimri, she’s saying “You’ll only reign a week and you’ll be killed by one of my relatives.”

Impressive, although she was wrong; Jehu reigned 28 years, apparently died of old age and had the longest Israelite dynasty.  Jezebel died when she was throne from the tower by her eunuchs…and her blood spattered on the wall…and she was trampled by horses…and the dogs ate her corpse…and pooped it out onto the field (yes the Bible does say all that–2 Kings 9:33-37)

So, the OT trash talking blogs will probably end here, unless you have more requests…

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Canine blood-lickers, avian flesh-pickers: the trash talking continues

Last time we saw Elijah trash talk Baal’s prophets, then slaughter them.  Jezebel then put out a hit on Elijah, who mysteriously flees and becomes suicidal (the other suicidal prophet is of course Jonah (4:3, 8)).  After YHWH told the depressed Elijah that he could replace him with Elisha (changing the plaque on the door would only involve a few letters), Elijah perks right up, finds Elisha and throws his mantle over him.

Some scholars think this mantle-toss counts as an anointing, but as anointings go, it seems pretty lame and Elijah’s words to his potential apprentice aren’t exactly encouraging–“Go back again; for what have I done for you?” (1 Kings 19:20).

Elijah disappears for a chapter (1 Kings 20), but after Jezebel orchestrates the death of their neighbor Naboth so her husband can take possession of his vineyard, he is called into action again by YHWH for some high quality trash talking (1 Kings 21:1-18).

YHWH tells Elijah to inform Ahab and Jezebel that dogs are going to lick up their blood (1 Kings 21:19-24).  During his interaction with Ahab, Elijah also tells him that if his family members die outside the city, the birds of the air will eat them.  That’s some nasty trash talking.  I’m still waiting for a good Christian book store to sell a poster of canine blood lickers and avian flesh pickers.

I’m sorry this is so graphic, but it is in the Bible and Paul tells us that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Tim. 3:16).

So far, we’ve seen trash talking from David, Elijah and now YHWH.  So, why is trash talking in Scripture?  I’m still waiting for a good answer to this.  Maybe we don’t really think trash talking should be in there?  Or at least it’s not profitable for teaching?

We’ll have a few more installments from this OT trash talking series.

Baal’s bowel movement: Even more OT trash talking

Jezebel, wife of Ahab, has been slaughtering the prophets of YHWH in record numbers (1 Kings 18:4), so Elijah tells Ahab to gather the prophets of Baal and Asherah for a duel on Mount Carmel.  But it couldn’t really be a duel without a little trash talking, right?

The story is familiar from Sunday school (I decided to choose a Sunday school-esque image), so I’ll be brief, but the goal for each side is to provoke your deity to torch your altar.  Unfortunately for his prophets, Baal doesn’t seem to be responding to their petitions.  (Asherah, Baal’s “wife” isn’t mentioned in the rest of the story.)

So, Elijah thought, now’s the time.  “Perhaps, he’s relieving himself?” (1 Kings 18:27).  While the Hebrew is difficult here, so English translations give a wide range of translations, he is either “occupied” (NAS), “is deep in thought” (NIV) or “has wandered away” (NRS).  But if you approach it as trash-talking, which is the only thing that makes sense in this context, then the ESV’s “relieving himself” makes the most sense.  Holladay’s Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon says the verb could be translated as “bowel movement”.

But real trash talking wouldn’t use something quite so sophisticated as “relieving yourself.”  And “bowel movement” would be even worse.  “Your god’s having a BM” doesn’t really cut it.  Genuine trash talking uses slang, the hipper the better, so I’m still waiting for a translation that captures the essence of Elijah’s taunt.  Any suggestions?  “Taking a dump”?

Fortunately for Elijah, YHWH isn’t “busy” when the time comes and he responds to the prophets prayer, sending fire from heaven to torch the saturated altar.   Elijah then orders that Baal’s prophets be slaughtered, which begins a series of taunt speeches between Jezebel and various prophets of YHWH, which will be the focus of future blog posts.

What would you say if someone asked you about the appropriateness of Elijah’s slaughter here?  I’m getting a lot of these kind of questions lately, so I’m looking for some help.

“Smoldering stumps” (Isaiah 7:4): More biblical trash talking

King Ahaz of Judah is worried.  His two rivals to the north, Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel had allied against him, probably to force him into their anti-Assyrian alliance.  The whole nation is fearful, and their hearts are shaking like the “trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isa. 7:2).

So, YHWH sends the prophet Isaiah to calm Ahaz’s nerves, telling Isaiah to talk trash about Rezin and Pekah: “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of those two smoldering stumps of firebrands” (Isa. 7:4).  Yes, I know, “smoldering stumps” loses something in translation (and in the Hebrew there’s no illiteration), but would you expect God to be an expert trash talker?  We can at least give YHWH credit for picking up the tree imagery (stumps, shaking trees) from verse 2 (although that came from the narrator).

But isn’t trash talking supposed to be targeted directly at the insulted party?  Usually, but not always.  As we know from the world of modern sports, when a competitor insults his or her opponent indirectly, it often finds it’s way to their ears (now this happens through the news media).  Trash talking has a dual purpose, to intimidate a foe and to encourage a friend (or oneself).  Here, Ahab needs help.  So, God tells him he doesn’t need to worry about Rezin and Pekah (they’re past their prime, they’ve shot their wad).

Encouragement for Ahaz is given another way.  Interestingly, in this section Ahaz is twice referred to as “the house of David” (Isa. 7:2, 13), an allusion to the Davidic promise of an eternal ruling descendent on the throne of Israel (2 Sam. 7).  So, in essence YHWH is saying, don’t worry about those two losers to the north, I’ve got you covered because you’re a son of David.

A few verses later (Isa. 7:14), YHWH also promises that a young woman (or virgin?) will give birth to a boy named “With-us-God” (Immanuel). As Matthew’s gospel informs us (1:23), the virgin birth/God-with-us theme fits nicely with the birth of Jesus, but a wait of over 700 years for Jesus wouldn’t be particularly encouraging for poor Ahaz who needs help now, so presumably the Immanuel prediction had an earlier fulfillment for Ahaz.

If it’s OK for God to trash talk I assume it’s OK for us, so when should we talk trash?