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Is That a Hint?

by Tim O'Hearn

In my family around gift giving times I am famous for my “hints.” The problem is that the clue is often so obscure that nobody can guess what is in the present, or (after opening it) how the hint relates. I have even been known to forget the meaning of the clue. Often a remez (Hebrew for hint) is likewise so obscure as to make the interpretation questionable. Just because the gematria (numeric total based on assigning numbers to letters) of two words is the same, it doesn’t always make sense to say that they must be related, as some Jewish scholars do. Nevertheless there is a passage that makes me wonder whether there might be a true hint in it.

In 2015, Passover comes on April 5. Many things happen on Passover (Pesach); some happen every year, others only incidentally. I am wondering, based on a remez, whether Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel might have happened on Passover.

The Hebrew word translated Passover is, as indicated above, p’sach. It means to pass over, jump over, or to limp. (I am wondering if this last meaning comes from the leaping gait of the one who limps.) Usually the word is used in conjunction with the holiday, Passover. In 1 Kings 18, however, it is twice used separate from the holiday. This double double-entendre might lead one to wonder whether it is a hint that the event happened on the holiday. What do I mean?

In the description of the events on Carmel, the passage says that Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a contest to determine the true God. Before making the challenge, though, he addressed the people gathered there. He chided them for worshipping God and the Baals at the same time. In 1 Kings 18:21 he said, “How long halt [p’sach] ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” He pictures them limping or jumping between the two deities. By asking them why they “pass over” between two opinions, is he reminding them of the day they are supposed to be celebrating; a day of remembrance that God delivered them from the gods of Egypt? Perhaps his choice of words was quite intentional.

The challenge was made. Elijah and the priests would each make an altar, but not light it. The wood and the sacrifice would be laid out properly, and the god that lit the fire himself would be the one to worship. Elijah even demonstrated his confidence by letting the other priests go first.

And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any that answered. And they leaped upon [p’sach] the altar which was made.

These priests were probably Israelites themselves. If not, they were quite familiar with Jewish practice. When a day’s worth of praying and cutting themselves did not get the attention of their deity, did they “pass over” or “leap upon” their altar, in reference to the day on which they held the contest?

No other passage that does not specifically refer to the holiday uses the same word twice. It may just be a coincidence, but many people believe there is no such thing, especially in the scriptures. Just as it was not a coincidence that Esther was chose queen when she was, it may not be coincidence that both Elijah and the prophets of Baal are associated with the word p’sach in the same context. The problem with “hints” is that it is hard to say that one’s interpretation is absolutely correct. But it still leaves one to wonder.