The Exegetical Value of the Masoretic Accents in 1 Kings 18:29

1 Kings 18:29 – And it came about at the passing of the midday, that they prophesied intensely until the offering of the oblation; but there was no voice, and there was no answer, and there was no attentiveness.

וַֽיְהִי֙ כַּעֲבֹ֣ר הַֽצָּהֳרַ֔יִם וַיִּֽתְנַבְּא֔וּ עַ֖ד לַעֲל֣וֹת הַמִּנְחָ֑ה וְאֵֽין־ק֥וֹל וְאֵין־עֹנֶ֖ה וְאֵ֥ין קָֽשֶׁב׃

The interpretive benefit of the Masoretic accents is a debatable topic.  However, since these were originally cantillation marks (for singing and hence memorization), they at least play a minimal role in where the emphasis of the verse may lie.  The accents do not always point to an important interpretive key to a verse, but they can provide insight into an interpretation. 

In 1 Kings 18:29, the Masoretic accents provide direction on where to break the translation in order to emphasize that no one heard the crying of the prophets of Baal.  The ESV translates 1 Kings 18:29 as, “And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.”  This translation is not inherently bad, and it captures the general idea of the verse and can be trusted.  However, the Hebrew accents place even more emphasis on the idea that no deity in the entire cosmos heard the outcry of Baal’s prophets. 

The athnaḥ is the key accent in 1 Kings 18:29.  In the translation above, the athnaḥ would be represented by the semi-colon after “oblation.”  It represents a minor, but significant pause in the verse.  Following the athnaḥ, the Hebrew Bible gives a three-fold negation all with the negative particle אֵין; “there was no voice, there was no answer, and there was no attentiveness.”  This three-fold negation provides an emphasis similar to the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of Isaiah 6, and the athnaḥ sets these phrases off grammatically.  This minor change in the punctuation of 1 Kings 18:29 emphasizes the lack of response from anyone in the cosmos.  Absolutely no one, neither in the created world nor in the spiritual world, heard the cry of the prophets of Baal. 

The deafness of false deities reminds us of the folly of turning to anything/anyone besides the Lord God.  The Lord God has provided every good and perfect gift to his people in Christ.  As Peter said in John 6:68, “to whom would we go?”  The deafness of false deities helps us realize how ridiculous we are to call on any “god” besides the Lord.  There will be no voice; there will be no answer; there will be no attentiveness.  No other deities exist, indeed they cannot exist.  The Lord God is the only God (2 Kgs 19:19; Ps 86:10; Isa 37:16; John 1:18; 1 Tim 1:17; Jude 25).

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