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The Story of Elijah

The Story of Elijah



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Story of Ilyas (Elias, Elijah), The

He was Ilyas an-Nashabi. It is said that he was the son of Yasin ibn Fanhas ibn Al-Izar ibn Harun.

He was sent to the people of Bal back to the west of Damascus. He called them to worship Allah, the Majestic, the Glorious, and he stressed upon them that they should give up their idol worship whom they had named Ba'l.

His people did not listen to him. They not only refused to believe in him but also opposed him tooth and nail so he had to flee from them. He returned only after their king died and another had taken over. He presented his religion to the new king too. A large number of his subjects became believers but the king had them all killed.

Makhul has reported from Ka'ab that four of the Prophets are alive. Two of them are living on earth, Sayyidina Ilyas, 'alayhis-salam, and Al-Khidr, 'alayhis-salam, and two who live in the heavens, Idris, 'alayhis-salam and 'Isa, 'alayhis-salam. There are quite a number of Israelite stories about him but they are all inauthentic and far-fetched, some of them we do not reject or accept though on the face of it they are untenable. We have argued already that Al-Khidr, 'alayhis-salam, is not alive and the same thing may be said of Sayyidina Ilyas, 'alayhis-salam.

As for the words "salamun 'ala ilyasin", the Arabs pronounce the nun in names very often. Thus "Isma'il" is "Isma'in", "Isra'il" is "Isra'in" and "Ilyas" is "Ilyasin".

Ibn Mas'ud has said that Ilyas was also the name of Idris, 'alayhis-salam. Ad-Dihak and others also hold this opinion. But the correct opinion is what we have already said.

From Stories of the Prophets , Darul-Ishaat Karachi 2000, translation by Rafiq Abdur-Rahman


Contents

According to the Bible, by the 9th century BCE, the Kingdom of Israel, once united under Solomon, divided into the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah (which retained the historical capital of Jerusalem along with its Temple). Omri, King of Israel, continued policies dating from the reign of Jeroboam, contrary to religious law, that were intended to reorient religious focus away from Jerusalem: encouraging the building of local temple altars for sacrifices, appointing priests from outside the family of the Levites, and allowing or encouraging temples dedicated to Baal, an important deity in ancient Canaanite religion. [19] [20] Omri achieved domestic security with a marriage alliance between his son Ahab and princess Jezebel, a priestess of Baal and the daughter of the king of Sidon in Phoenicia. [b] These solutions brought security and economic prosperity to Israel for a time, [23] but did not bring peace with the Israelite prophets, who advocated a strict deuteronomic interpretation of the religious law.

Under Ahab's kingship tensions exacerbated. Ahab built a temple for Baal, and his wife Jezebel brought a large entourage of priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah into the country. In this context Elijah is introduced in 1 Kings 17:1 as Elijah "the Tishbite". He warns Ahab that there will be years of catastrophic drought so severe that not even dew will form, because Ahab and his queen stand at the end of a line of kings of Israel who are said to have "done evil in the sight of the Lord".

Books of Kings Edit

No background for the person of Elijah is given except for his brief characterization as a Tishbite. His name in Hebrew means "My God is Yahweh", and may be a title applied to him because of his challenge to worship of Baal. [24] [25] [26] [27] [28]

As told in the Hebrew Bible, Elijah's challenge is bold and direct. Baal was the Canaanite god responsible for rain, thunder, lightning, and dew. Elijah thus, when he initially announces the drought, not only challenges Baal on behalf of God himself, but he also challenges Jezebel, her priests, Ahab and the people of Israel. [29]

Widow of Zarephath Edit

After Elijah's confrontation with Ahab, God tells him to flee out of Israel, to a hiding place by the brook Chorath, east of the Jordan, where he will be fed by ravens. [30] [18] When the brook dries up, God sends him to a widow living in the town of Zarephath in Phoenicia.

When Elijah finds her and asks to be fed, she says that she does not have sufficient food to keep her and her own son alive. Elijah tells her that God will not allow her supply of flour or oil to run out, saying, "Do not be afraid . For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth." [31] She feeds him the last of their food, and Elijah's promise miraculously comes true. God gave her "manna" from heaven even while he was withholding food from his unfaithful people in the promised land.

Some time later the widow's son dies and the widow cries, "You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!" [32] Elijah prays that God might restore her son so that the trustworthiness of God's word might be demonstrated, and "[God] listened to the voice of Elijah the life of the child came into him again, and he revived." [33] This is the first instance of raising the dead recorded in Scripture. This widow was granted the life of her son, the only hope for a widow in ancient society. The widow cried, "the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth." [34]

After more than three years of drought and famine, God tells Elijah to return to Ahab and announce the end of the drought: Not occasioned by repentance in Israel but by the command of the Lord, who had determined to reveal himself again to his people. While on his way, Elijah meets Obadiah, the head of Ahab's household, who had hidden a hundred Jewish prophets from Jezebel's violent purge. Obadiah fears that when he reports to Ahab about Elijah's whereabouts, Elijah would disappear, provoking Ahab to execute him. Elijah reassures Obadiah and sends him to Ahab.

Challenge to Baal Edit

When Ahab confronts Elijah, he denounces him as being the "troubler of Israel" but Elijah takes notice of his hypocrisy and tells Ahab that he is the one who troubled Israel by allowing the worship of false gods. Elijah then berates both the people of Israel and Ahab for their acquiescence in Baal worship. "How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him but if Baal, then follow him." [35] And the people were silent. The Hebrew for this word, "go limping" or "waver", is the same as that used for "danced" in 1 Kings 18, verse 26, where the prophets of Baal frantically dance. Elijah speaks with sharp irony about the religious ambivalence of Israel.

Elijah proposes a direct test of the powers of Baal and the Jewish God. The people of Israel, 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 prophets of Asherah are summoned to Mount Carmel. An altar is built for Baal. Wood is laid on the altar. An ox is slaughtered and cut into pieces the pieces are laid on the wood. Elijah then invites the priests of Baal to pray for fire to light the sacrifice. They pray from morning to noon without success. Elijah ridicules their efforts. "At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, 'Cry aloud! Surely he is a god either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.'" [36] They respond by cutting themselves and adding their own blood to the sacrifice (such mutilation of the body was strictly forbidden in the Mosaic law). They continue praying until evening without success.

Elijah builds an altar from twelve stones, digs a huge trench around it, lays wood on it, slaughters another ox, cuts it up, and lays it on the wood. He then orders that the sacrifice and altar be drenched with water from "four large jars" poured three times, filling also the trench. [37] He asks God to accept the sacrifice. Fire falls from the sky, consuming the sacrifice, the stones of the altar itself, the earth and the water in the trench as well. Elijah then orders the deaths of the priests of Baal. Elijah prays earnestly for rain to fall again on the land. Then the rains begin, signaling the end of the famine.

Mount Horeb Edit

Jezebel, enraged that Elijah had ordered the deaths of her priests, threatens to kill Elijah. [38] Later Elijah would prophesy about Jezebel's death, because of her sin. Elijah flees to Beersheba in Judah, continues alone into the wilderness, and finally sits down under a shrub, praying for death. He falls asleep under the tree the angel of the Lord touches him and tells him to wake up and eat. When he awakens he finds bread and a jar of water. He eats, drinks, and goes back to sleep. The angel comes a second time and tells him to eat and drink because he has a long journey ahead of him.

Elijah travels for forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, [39] where Moses had received the Ten Commandments. Elijah is the only person described in the Bible as returning to Horeb, after Moses and his generation had left Horeb several centuries before. He seeks shelter in a cave. God again speaks to Elijah: [40] "What doest thou here, Elijah?". Elijah did not give a direct answer to the Lord's question but evades and equivocates, implying that the work the Lord had begun centuries earlier had now come to nothing, and that his own work was fruitless. Unlike Moses, who tried to defend Israel when they sinned with the golden calf, Elijah bitterly complains over the Israelites' unfaithfulness and says he is the "only one left". Up until this time Elijah has only the word of God to guide him, but now he is told to go outside the cave and "stand before the Lord." A terrible wind passes, but God is not in the wind. A great earthquake shakes the mountain, but God is not in the earthquake. Then a fire passes the mountain, but God is not in the fire. Then a "still small voice" comes to Elijah and asks again, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" Elijah again evades the question and his lament is unrevised, showing that he did not understand the importance of the divine revelation he had just witnessed. God then sends him out again, this time to Damascus to anoint Hazael as king of Aram, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as his replacement.

A statue of Elijah in the Cave of Elijah, Mount Carmel, Israel

The Cave of Elijah, Mount Carmel, Israel

Vineyard of Naboth Edit

Elijah encounters Ahab again in 1 Kings 21, after Ahab has acquired possession of a vineyard by murder. Ahab desires to have the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel. He offers a better vineyard or a fair price for the land. But Naboth tells Ahab that God has told him not to part with the land. Ahab accepts this answer with sullen bad grace. Jezebel, however, plots a method for acquiring the land. She sends letters, in Ahab's name, to the elders and nobles who lived near Naboth. They are to arrange a feast and invite Naboth. At the feast, false charges of cursing God and Ahab are to be made against him. The plot is carried out and Naboth is stoned to death. When word comes that Naboth is dead, Jezebel tells Ahab to take possession of the vineyard.

God again speaks to Elijah and sends him to confront Ahab with a question and a prophecy: "Have you killed, and also taken possession?" and, "In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood." [41] Ahab begins the confrontation by calling Elijah his enemy. Elijah responds by throwing the charge back at him, telling him that he has made himself the enemy of God by his own actions. Elijah then goes beyond the prophecy he was given and tells Ahab that his entire kingdom will reject his authority that Jezebel will be eaten by dogs within Jezreel and that his family will be consumed by dogs as well (if they die in a city) or by birds (if they die in the country). When Ahab hears this he repents to such a degree that God relents in punishing Ahab but will punish Jezebel and their son: Ahaziah.

Ahaziah Edit

Elijah's story continues now from Ahab to an encounter with Ahaziah (2 Kings 1). The scene opens with Ahaziah seriously injured in a fall. He sends to the priests of Baalzebub in Ekron, outside the kingdom of Israel, to know if he will recover. Elijah intercepts his messengers and sends them back to Ahaziah with a message "Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?" [39] [42] Ahaziah asks the messengers to describe the person who gave them this message. They tell him he was a hairy man with a leather belt around his waist and he instantly recognizes the description as Elijah the Tishbite.

Ahaziah sends out three groups of soldiers to arrest Elijah. The first two are destroyed by fire which Elijah calls down from heaven. The leader of the third group asks for mercy for himself and his men. Elijah agrees to accompany this third group to Ahaziah, where he gives his prophecy in person. Ahaziah dies without recovering from his injuries in accordance with Elijah's word. [43]

Departure Edit

According to 2 Kings 2:3–9, Elisha (Eliseus) and "the sons of the prophets" knew beforehand that Elijah would one day be assumed into heaven. Elisha asked Elijah to "let a double portion" of Elijah's "spirit" be upon him. Elijah agreed, with the condition that Elisha would see him be "taken".

Elijah, in company with Elisha, approaches the Jordan. He rolls up his mantle and strikes the water. [44] The water immediately divides and Elijah and Elisha cross on dry land. Suddenly, a chariot of fire and horses of fire appear [39] and Elijah is lifted up in a whirlwind. As Elijah is lifted up, his mantle falls to the ground and Elisha picks it up.

Books of Chronicles Edit

Elijah is mentioned once more in 2 Chronicles 21:12, which will be his final mention in the Hebrew Bible. A letter is sent under the prophet's name to Jehoram of Judah. It tells him that he has led the people of Judah astray in the same way that Israel was led astray. The prophet ends the letter with a prediction of a painful death.

This letter is a puzzle to readers for several reasons. First, it concerns a king of the southern kingdom, while Elijah concerned himself with the kingdom of Israel. Second, the message begins with "Thus says YHVH, God of your father David. " rather than the more usual ". in the name of YHVH the God of Israel." Also, this letter seems to come after Elijah's ascension into the whirlwind.

Michael Wilcock, formerly of Trinity College, Bristol, suggests a number of possible reasons for this letter, among them that it may be an example of a better known prophet's name being substituted for that of a lesser known prophet. [45] John Van Seters, however, rejects the letter as having any connection with the Elijah tradition. [46] However, Wilcock argues that Elijah's letter "does address a very 'northern' situation in the southern kingdom", and thus is authentic. [47]

In Malachi Edit

While the final mention of Elijah in the Hebrew Bible is in the Book of Chronicles, Christian Bibles' reordering places the Book of Malachi, which prophesies a messiah, as the final book of the Old Testament, before the New Testament gospels. [48] Elijah's final Old Testament appearance is in the Book of Malachi, where it is written, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction." [49]

There is a general agreement on the existence of a prophet named Elijah in the Kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. [50] However, the biblical presentation of the prophet cannot be taken as historical documentation of his activity. His career is presented through the eyes of popular legend and subsequent theological reflection, which consider him a personality of heroic proportions. In this process his actions and relations to the people and the king became stereotyped, and the presentation of his behavior, paradigmatic. [51]

Jewish legends about Elijah abound in the aggadah, which is found throughout various collections of rabbinic literature, including the Babylonian Talmud. This varied literature does not merely discuss his life, but has created a new history of him, which, beginning with his death – or "translation" – ends only with the close of the history of the human race. The volume of references to Elijah in Jewish Tradition stands in marked contrast to that in the Canon. As in the case of most figures of Jewish legend, so in the case of Elijah, the biblical account became the basis of later legend. Elijah the precursor of the Messiah, Elijah zealous in the cause of God, Elijah the helper in distress: these are the three leading notes struck by the Aggadah, endeavoring to complete the biblical picture with the Elijah legends. His career is extensive, colorful, and varied. He has appeared the world over in the guise of a beggar and scholar.

From the time of Malachi, who says of Elijah that God will send him before "the great and dreadful day", [52] down to the later stories of the Chasidic rabbis, reverence and love, expectation and hope, were always connected in the Jewish consciousness with Elijah.

Origin Edit

Three different theories regarding Elijah's origin are presented in the Aggadah literature: (1) he belonged to the tribe of Gad, [53] (2) he was a Benjamite from Jerusalem, identical with the Elijah mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8:27, and (3) he was a priest.

Many Christian Church fathers also [54] have stated that Elijah was a priest. Some rabbis have speculated that he should be identified with Phinehas. [55]

According to later Kabbalistic literature, Elijah was really an angel in human form, [39] so that he had neither parents nor offspring. [56]

The Midrash Rabbah Exodus 4:2 states "Elijah should have revived his parents as he had revived the son of the Zarephathite" indicating he surely had parents.

The Talmud states "Said he [Rabbah] to him (Elijah): Art thou not a priest: why then dost thou stand in a cemetery?" [57]

Zeal for God Edit

A midrash [ which? ] tells that they even abolished the sign of the covenant, and the prophet had to appear as Israel's accuser before God. [58]

In the same cave where God once appeared to Moses and revealed Himself as gracious and merciful, Elijah was summoned to appear before God. By this summons he perceived that he should have appealed to God's mercy, instead of becoming Israel's accuser. The prophet, however, remained relentless in his zeal and severity, so that God commanded him to appoint his successor. [59]

The vision in which God revealed Himself to Elijah gave him at the same time a picture of the destinies of man, who has to pass through "four worlds." This world was shown to the prophet by God through symbolism: in the form of the wind, since the world disappears as the wind storm is the day of death, before which man trembles fire is the judgment in Gehenna and the stillness is the last day. [60]

Three years after this vision, Elijah was "translated." [61] Concerning the place to which Elijah was transferred, opinions differ among Jews and Christians, but the old view was that Elijah was received among the heavenly inhabitants, where he records the deeds of men. [62]

But as early as the middle of the 2nd century, when the notion of translation to heaven underwent divergent possible interpretations by Christian theologians, the assertion was made that Elijah never entered into heaven proper. [63] In later literature paradise is generally designated as the abode of Elijah, [64] but since the location of paradise is itself uncertain, the last two statements may be identical.

Ecclesiasticus Edit

"At the appointed time, it is written, you are destined
to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the hearts of parents to their children,
and to restore the tribes of Jacob."

In the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sira, [65] his tasks are altered to: 1) herald the eschaton, 2) calm God's fury, 3) restore familial peace, and 4) restore the 12 tribes.

Elijah's chair Edit

At Jewish circumcision ceremonies, a chair is set aside for the use of the prophet Elijah. Elijah is said to be a witness at all circumcisions when the sign of the covenant is placed upon the body of the child. This custom stems from the incident at Mount Horeb: [66] Elijah had arrived at Mount Horeb after the demonstration of God's presence and power on Mount Carmel. [67] God asks Elijah to explain his arrival, and Elijah replies: "I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thy altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword and I, even I only, am left and they seek my life, to take it away". [68] According to Rabbinic tradition, Elijah's words were patently untrue, [69] and since Elijah accused Israel of failing to uphold the covenant, God would require Elijah to be present at every covenant of circumcision. [70] [71]

Elijah's cup Edit

In the Talmudic literature, Elijah would visit rabbis to help solve particularly difficult legal problems. Malachi had cited Elijah as the harbinger of the eschaton. Thus, when confronted with reconciling impossibly conflicting laws or rituals, the rabbis would set aside any decision "until Elijah comes." [72]

One such decision was whether the Passover Seder required four or five cups of wine. Each serving of wine corresponds to one of the "four expressions of redemption" in the Book of Exodus:

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an out-stretched arm and with great acts of judgment, and I will take you for my people, and I will be your God and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians." [73]

The next verse, "And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord." [74] was not fulfilled until the generation following the Passover story, and the rabbis could not decide whether this verse counted as part of the Passover celebration (thus deserving of another serving of wine). Thus, a cup was left for the arrival of Elijah.

In practice the fifth cup has come to be seen as a celebration of future redemption. Today, a place is reserved at the seder table and a cup of wine is placed there for Elijah. During the seder, the door of the house is opened and Elijah is invited in. Traditionally, the cup is viewed as Elijah's and is used for no other purpose. [75] [76]

Havdalah Edit

Havdalah is the ceremony that concludes the Sabbath Day (Saturday evening in Jewish tradition). As part of the concluding hymn, an appeal is made to God that Elijah will come during the following week. "Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah from Gilead. Let him come quickly, in our day with the messiah, the son of David." [75]

The volume of references to Elijah in folklore stands in marked contrast to that in the canon. Elijah's miraculous transferral to heaven led to speculation as to his true identity. Louis Ginzberg equates him with Phinehas the grandson of Aaron. [77] [78] Because of Phinehas' zealousness for God, he and his descendants were promised, "a covenant of lasting priesthood." [79] Therefore, Elijah is a priest as well as a prophet. Elijah is also equated with the Archangel Sandalphon, [80] whose four wing beats will carry him to any part of the earth. When forced to choose between death and dishonor, Rabbi Kahana chose to leap to his death. Before he could strike the ground, Elijah/Sandalphon had appeared to catch him. [81] Yet another name for Elijah is "Angel of the Covenant" [82]

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi Edit

References to Elijah in Jewish folklore range from short observations (e. g. It is said that when dogs are happy for no reason, it is because Elijah is in the neighborhood) [83] to lengthy parables on the nature of God's justice.

One such story is that of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi. The rabbi, a friend of Elijah's, was asked what favor he might wish. The rabbi answered only that he be able to join Elijah in his wanderings. Elijah granted his wish only if he refrained from asking any questions about any of the prophet's actions. He agreed and they began their journey. The first place they came to was the house of an elderly couple who were so poor they had only one old cow. The old couple gave of their hospitality as best they could. The next morning, as the travelers left, Elijah prayed that the old cow would die and it did. The second place they came to was the home of a wealthy man. He had no patience for his visitors and chased them away with the admonition that they should get jobs and not beg from honest people. As they were leaving, they passed the man's wall and saw that it was crumbling. Elijah prayed that the wall be repaired and it was so. Next, they came to a wealthy synagogue. They were allowed to spend the night with only the smallest of provisions. When they left, Elijah prayed that every member of the synagogue might become a leader.

Finally, they came to a very poor synagogue. Here they were treated with great courtesy and hospitality. When they left, Elijah prayed that God might give them a single wise leader. At this Rabbi Joshua could no longer hold back. He demanded of Elijah an explanation of his actions. At the house of the old couple, Elijah knew that the Angel of Death was coming for the old woman. So he prayed that God might have the angel take the cow instead. At the house of the wealthy man, there was a great treasure hidden in the crumbling wall. Elijah prayed that the wall be restored thus keeping the treasure away from the miser. The story ends with a moral: A synagogue with many leaders will be ruined by many arguments. A town with a single wise leader will be guided to success and prosperity. "Know then, that if thou seest an evil-doer prosper, it is not always unto his advantage, and if a righteous man suffers need and distress, think not God is unjust." [84]

Rabbi Eliezer Edit

The Elijah of legend did not lose any of his ability to afflict the comfortable. The case of Rabbi Eliezer son of Rabbi Simon ben Yohai is illustrative. Once, when walking on a beach, he came upon a hideously ugly man—the prophet in disguise. The man greeted him courteously, "Peace be with thee, Rabbi." Instead of returning the greeting, the rabbi could not resist an insult, "How ugly you are! Is there anyone as ugly as you in your town?" Elijah responded with, "I don't know. Perhaps you should tell the Master Architect how ugly is this, His construction." The rabbi realized his wrong and asked for pardon. But Elijah would not give it until the entire city had asked for forgiveness for the rabbi and the rabbi had promised to mend his ways. [85]

Lilith Edit

Elijah was always seen as deeply pious, it seems only natural that he would be pitted against an equally evil individual. This was found in the person of Lilith. Lilith in legend was the first wife of Adam. She rebelled against Adam, the angels, and even God. She came to be seen as a demon and a witch. [86] [87]

Elijah encountered Lilith and instantly recognized and challenged her, "Unclean one, where are you going?" Unable to avoid or lie to the prophet, she admitted she was on her way to the house of a pregnant woman. Her intention was to kill the woman and eat the child.

Elijah pronounced his malediction, "I curse you in the Name of the Lord. Be silent as a stone!" But, Lilith was able to make a bargain with Elijah. She promises to "forsake my evil ways" if Elijah will remove his curse. To seal the bargain she gives Elijah her names so that they can be posted in the houses of pregnant women or new born children or used as amulets. Lilith promises, "where I see those names, I shall run away at once. Neither the child nor the mother will ever be injured by me." [88]

New Testament Edit

In the New Testament, Jesus would say for those who believed, John the Baptist was Elijah, who would come before the "great and terrible day" as predicted by Malachi.

Some English translations of the New Testament use Elias, a Greek form of the name. In the King James Version, "Elias" appears only in the texts translated from Greek.

John the Baptist Edit

John the Baptist preached a message of repentance and baptism. He predicted the day of judgment using imagery similar to that of Malachi. He also preached that the Messiah was coming. All of this was done in a style that immediately recalled the image of Elijah to his audience. He wore a coat of camel's hair secured with a leather girdle. [89] He also frequently preached in wilderness areas near the Jordan River.

In the Gospel of John, when John the Baptist was asked by a delegation of priests (present tense) "Art thou Elias", he replied "I am not". [90] Matthew 11:14 and Matthew 17:10–13 however, make it clear that John was the spiritual successor to Elijah. In the Nativity of St. John the Baptist in Luke, Gabriel appears to Zechariah, John's father, and told him that John "will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God," and that he will go forth "in the spirit and power of Elijah." [91]

Jesus Christ Edit

In the Gospel of Luke, Herod Antipas hears some of the stories surrounding Jesus Christ. Some tell Herod that Jesus is John the Baptist (whom Herod had executed) come back to life. Others tell him that Jesus is Elijah. [92] Later in the same gospel, Jesus asks his disciples who the people say that he is. The apostles' answer includes Elijah among others. [93]

However Jesus' ministry had little in common with that of Elijah in particular, he preached the forgiveness of one's enemies, while Elijah killed his. Miracle stories similar to those of Elijah were associated with Jesus (e.g., raising of the dead, [94] miraculous feeding). [95] Jesus implicitly separates himself from Elijah when he rebukes James and John for desiring to call down fire upon an unwelcoming Samaritan village in a similar manner to Elijah. [96] Likewise, Jesus rebukes a potential follower who wanted first to return home to say farewell to his family, whereas Elijah permitted this of his replacement Elisha. [97]

During Jesus' crucifixion, some of the onlookers wonder if Elijah will come to rescue him, [98] as by the time of Jesus, Elijah had entered folklore as a rescuer of Jews in distress.

Transfiguration Edit

Elijah makes an appearance in the New Testament during an incident known as the Transfiguration. [99]

At the summit of an unnamed mount, Jesus' face begins to shine. The disciples who are with Him hear the voice of God announce that Jesus is "My beloved Son." The disciples also see Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus. This apparently relates to how both Elijah and Moses, the latter according to tradition but not the Bible, both were translated to heaven instead of dying. Peter is so struck by the experience that he asks Jesus if they should build three "tabernacles": one for Elijah, one for Jesus and one for Moses.

There is agreement among some Christian theologians that Elijah appears to hand over the responsibility of the prophets to Jesus as the woman by the well said to Jesus "I perceive thou art a prophet." [100] Moses also likewise came to hand over the responsibility of the law for the divinely announced Son of God. [101] [102]

Other references Edit

Elijah is mentioned four more times in the New Testament: in Luke, Romans, Hebrews, and James. In Luke 4:24–27, Jesus uses Elijah as an example of rejected prophets. Jesus says, "No prophet is accepted in his own country," and then mentions Elijah, saying that there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah was sent to one in Phoenicia. In Romans 11:1–6, Paul cites Elijah as an example of God's never forsaking his people (the Israelites). Hebrews 11:35 ("Women received their dead raised to life again. ") refers to both Elijah raising the son of the widow of Zarephath and Elisha raising the son of the woman of Shunem, citing both Elijah and Elisha as Old Testament examples of faith. [103] [104] [105] In James 5:16–18, James says, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much," and then cites Elijah's prayers which started and ended the famine in Israel as examples.

Prophet saint Edit

In Western Christianity, Elijah is commemorated as a saint with a feast day on 20 July by the Roman Catholic Church [106] and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. [107] Catholics believe that he was unmarried and celibate. [108]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, he is commemorated on the same date (in the 21st century, Julian Calendar 20 July corresponds to Gregorian Calendar 2 August). He is greatly revered among the Orthodox as a model of the contemplative life. He is also commemorated on the Orthodox liturgical calendar on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (the Sunday before the Nativity of the Lord).

Elijah has been venerated as the patron saint of Bosnia and Herzegovina since 26 August 1752, replacing George of Lydda at the request of Bishop Pavao Dragičević. The reasons for the replacement are unclear. It has been suggested that Elijah was chosen because of his importance to all three main religious groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina—Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Christians. [109] Pope Benedict XIV is said to have approved Bishop Dragičević's request with the remark that a wild nation deserved a wild patron. [110]

Carmelite tradition Edit

Elijah is revered as the spiritual Father and traditional founder of the Catholic religious Order of Carmelites. [111] In addition to taking their name from Mt. Carmel where the first hermits of the order established themselves, the Calced Carmelite and Discalced Carmelite traditions pertaining to Elijah focus upon the prophet's withdrawal from public life. [112] [113] The medieval Carmelite Book of the First Monks offers some insight into the heart of the Orders' contemplative vocation and reverence for the prophet.

In the 17th century the Bollandist Society, whose declared aim was to search out and classify materials concerning the saints venerated by the Church, and to print what seemed to be the most reliable sources of information [114] entered into controversy with the Carmelites on this point. In writing of St. Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem and author of the Carmelite rule, the Bollandist Daniel Papebroch stated that the attribution of Carmelite origin to Elijah was insufficiently grounded. The Carmelites reacted strongly. From 1681 to 1698 a series of letters, pamphlets and other documents was issued by each side. The Carmelites were supported by a Spanish tribunal, while the Bollandists had the support of Jean de Launoy and the Sorbonne. In November 1698, Pope Innocent XII ordered an end to the controversy. [115]

Liturgical commemorations Edit

Since most Eastern Churches either use Greek as their liturgical language or translated their liturgies from the Greek, Elias (or its modern iotacized form Ilias) is the form of the prophet's name used among most members of the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite.

The feast day of Saint Elias falls on 20 July of the Orthodox liturgical calendar (for those churches which follow the traditional Julian Calendar, 20 July currently falls on 2 August of the modern Gregorian Calendar). This day is a major holiday in Lebanon and is one of a handful of holidays there whose celebration is accompanied by a launching of fireworks by the general public. The full name of St. Elias in Lebanon translates to St. Elias the Living because it is believed that he did not die but rode his fiery chariot to heaven. The reference to the fiery chariot is likely why the Lebanese celebrate this holiday with fireworks.

Elias is also commemorated, together with all of the righteous persons of the Old Testament, on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers (the Sunday before the Nativity of the Lord).

The Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone for St. Elias:

The incarnate Angel, the Cornerstone of the Prophets, the second Forerunner of the Coming of Christ, the glorious Elias, who from above, sent down to Elisha the grace to dispel sickness and cleanse lepers, abounds therefore in healing for those who honor him.

The Kontakion in the Second Tone for St. Elias:

O Prophet and foreseer of the great works of God, O greatly renowned Elias, who by your word held back the clouds of rain, intercede for us to the only Loving One.

Pagan associations and mountaintops Edit

Starting in the fifth century, Elias is often connected with Helios, the Sun. The two words have very similar pronunciations in post-classical Greek Elijah rode in his chariot of fire to heaven [116] just as Helios drove the chariot of the sun across the sky and the holocaust sacrifice offered by Elijah and burned by fire from heaven [117] corresponds to the sun warming the earth. [118]

Sedulius writes poetically in the fifth century that the "bright path to glittering heaven" suits Elias both "in merits and name", as changing one letter makes his name "Helios" but he does not identify the two. [119] A homily entitled De ascensione Heliae, misattributed to Chrysostom, claims that poets and painters use the ascension of Elijah as a model for their depictions of the sun, and says that "Elijah is really Helios". Saint Patrick appears to conflate Helios and Elias. [120] In modern times, much Greek folklore also connects Elias with the sun. [121]

In Greece, chapels and monasteries dedicated to Prophet Elias (Προφήτης Ηλίας) are often found on mountaintops, which themselves are often named after him. Since Wachsmuth (1864), [122] the usual explanation for this has been that Elias was identified with Helios, who had mountaintop shrines. But few shrines of Helios were on mountaintops, and sun-worship was subsumed by Apollo-worship by Christian times, and so could not be confused with Elias. [123] The modern folklore is not good evidence for the origin of the association of the sun, Elias, and mountaintops. [124] Perhaps Elias is simply a "natural patron of high places". [125]

The association of Elias with mountaintops seems to come from a different pagan tradition: Elias took on the attributes and the locales associated with Zeus, especially his associations with mountains and his powers over rain, thunder, lighting, and wind. When Elias prevailed over the priests of Baal, it was on Mount Carmel [126] which later became known as Mount St. Elias. When he spent forty days in a cave, it was on Mount Horeb. [127] When Elias confronted Ahab, he stopped the rains for three years. [128] [124]

A map of mountain-cults of Zeus shows that most of these sites are now dedicated to Elias, including Mount Olympus, Mount Lykaion, Mount Arachnaion, and Mount Taleton on the mainland, and Mount Kenaion, Mount Oche, and Mount Kynados in the islands. Of these, the only one with a recorded tradition of a Helios cult is Mount Taleton. [124]

Elias is associated with pre-Christian lightning gods in many other European traditions.

Among Albanians, pilgrimages are made to mountaintops to ask for rain during the summer. One such tradition that is gaining popularity is the 2 August pilgrimage to Ljuboten on the Sharr mountains. Muslims refer to this day as Aligjyn ("Ali Day"), and it is believed that Ali becomes Elias at midday. [129]

As Elijah was described as ascending into heaven in a fiery chariot, the Christian missionaries who converted Slavic tribes likely found him an ideal analogy for Perun, the supreme Slavic god of storms, thunder and lightning bolts. In many Slavic countries Elijah is known as Elijah the Thunderer (Ilija Gromovnik), who drives the heavens in a chariot and administers rain and snow, thus actually taking the place of Perun in popular beliefs. [130] [131] [132] Perun is also sometimes conflated with the legendary hero Elijah of Murom. [133] [134] The feast of St. Elias is known as Ilinden in South Slavic, and was chosen as the day of the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising in 1903 it is now the holiday of Republic Day in North Macedonia.

In Estonian folklore Elijah is considered to be the successor of Ukko, the lightning spirit. [134]

In Georgian mythology, he replaces Elwa. [134] A Georgian story about Elijah:

Once Jesus, the prophet Elijah, and St. George were going through Georgia. When they became tired and hungry they stopped to dine. They saw a Georgian shepherd and decided to ask him to feed them. First, Elijah went up to the shepherd and asked him for a sheep. After the shepherd asked his identity Elijah said that, he was the one who sent him rain to get him a good profit from farming. The shepherd became angry at him and told him that he was the one who also sent thunderstorms, which destroyed the farms of poor widows. (After Elijah, Jesus and St. George attempt to get help and eventually succeed). [135]

Elias has other pagan associations: a modern legend about Elias mirrors precisely the legend of Odysseus seeking a place where the locals would not recognize an oar—hence the mountaintops. [136]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Edit

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges Elijah as a prophet. The Church teaches that the Malachi prophecy of the return of Elijah was fulfilled on 3 April 1836, when Elijah visited the prophet and founder of the church, Joseph Smith, along with Oliver Cowdery, in the Kirtland Temple as a resurrected being. [137] This event is chronicled in Doctrine and Covenants 110:13–16. This experience forms the basis for the church's focus on genealogy and family history and belief in the eternal nature of marriage and families.

In Latter-day Saint theology, the name-title Elias is not always synonymous with Elijah and is often used for people other than the biblical prophet. [138] According to Joseph Smith,

The spirit of Elias is first, Elijah second, and Messiah last. Elias is a forerunner to prepare the way, and the spirit and power of Elijah is to come after, holding the keys of power, building the Temple to the capstone, placing the seals of the Melchizedek Priesthood upon the house of Israel, and making all things ready then Messiah comes to His Temple, which is last of all. [139]

People to whom the title Elias is applied in Mormonism include Noah, the angel Gabriel (who is considered to be the same person as Noah in Mormon doctrine), Elijah, John the Baptist, John the Apostle, and an unspecified man who was a contemporary of Abraham. [140]

Detractors of Mormonism have often alleged that Smith, in whose time and place the King James Version was the only available English translation of the Bible, simply failed to grasp the fact that the Elijah of the Old Testament and the Elias of the New Testament are the same person. [141] Latter-day Saints deny this and say that the difference they make between the two is deliberate and prophetic. The names Elias and Elijah refer to one who prepares the way for the coming of the Lord. This is applicable to John the Baptist coming to prepare the way for the Lord and His baptism it also refers to Elijah appearing during the transfiguration to prepare for Jesus by restoring keys of sealing power. [141] Jesus then gave this power to the Twelve saying, "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." [142]

Elijah/Elias (Arabic: إلياس ‎ or إليا Ilyās/Elyās or Ilya) is also mentioned as a prophet in Qur'an 6:85. Elijah's narrative in the Quran and later Muslim tradition resembles closely that in the Hebrew Bible and Muslim literature records Elijah's primary prophesying as taking place during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel as well as Ahaziah. [c] He is seen by Muslims to be the prophetic predecessor to Elisha. While neither the Bible nor the Quran mentions the genealogy of Elijah, some scholars of Islam believe he may have come from the priestly family of the prophet Aaron. [145] Elijah is rarely associated with Islamic eschatology and Islam views Jesus as the Messiah. [146] However, Elijah is expected to come back along with the mysterious figure known as Khidr during the Last Judgment. [147] Elijah's figure has been identified with a number of other prophets and saints, including Idris, which is believed by some scholars to have been another name for Elijah, [148] and Khidr. [149] Islamic legend later developed the figure of Elijah, greatly embellishing upon his attributes, and some apocryphal literature gave Elijah the status of a half-human, half-angel. [150] Elijah also appears in later works of literature, including the Hamzanama. [151]

Quran Edit

Elijah is mentioned in the Quran, where his preaching is recounted in a concise manner. The Quran narrates that Elijah told his people to come to the worship of God and to leave the worship of Baal, the primary idol of the area. The Quran states, "Verily Elijah was one of the apostles. When he said to his people: "Will you not fear God? "Will ye call upon Ba'al and leave the Best of Creators, God, your L ORD and Cherisher and the L ORD and Cherisher of your fathers of old?" As-Saaffat 123–126 [152]

The Quran makes it clear that the majority of Elijah's people denied the prophet and continued to follow idolatry. However, it mentions that a small number of devoted servants of God among them followed Elijah and believed in and worshiped God. The Quran states, "They denied him (Elijah), and will surely be brought to punishment, Except the sincere and devoted Servants of God (among them). And We left his (memory) for posterity." [153] [154]

In the Quran, God praises Elijah in two places:

Peace be upon Elijah! This is how We reward those who do good. He is truly among our believing servants.

And Zachariah and John and Jesus and Elijah, they were all from among the righteous

Numerous commentators, including Abdullah Yusuf Ali, have offered commentary on VI: 85 saying that Elijah, Zechariah, John the Baptist and Jesus were all spiritually connected. Abdullah Yusuf Ali says, "The third group consists not of men of action, but Preachers of Truth, who led solitary lives. Their epithet is: "the Righteous." They form a connected group round Jesus. Zachariah was the father of John the Baptist, who is referenced as "Elias, which was for to come" (Matt 11:14) and Elias is said to have been present and talked to Jesus at the Transfiguration on the Mount (Matt. 17:3)." [157]

Literature and tradition Edit

Muslim literature and tradition recounts that Elijah preached to the Kingdom of Israel, ruled over by Ahab and later his son Ahaziah. He is believed to have been a "prophet of the desert—like John the Baptist". [158] Elijah is believed to have preached with zeal to Ahab and his wife Jezebel, who according to Muslim tradition was partly responsible for the worship of false idols in this area. Muslims believe that it was because the majority of people refused to listen to Elijah that Elisha had to continue preaching the message of God to Israel after him. [159]

Elijah has been the subject of legends and folktales in Muslim culture, usually involving his meeting with Khidr, and in one legend, with Muhammad himself. [160] In Islamic mysticism, Elijah is associated closely with the sage Khidr. One hadith reported that Elijah and Khidr met together every year in Jerusalem to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. [161] Elijah appears also in the Hamzanama numerous times, where he is spoken of as being the brother of Khidr as well as one who drank from the Fountain of Youth. [162]

Further, It is narrated in Kitab al-Kafi that Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq was reciting the prostration of Ilyas (Elijah) in the Syrian language and began to weep. He then translated the supplication in Arabic to a group of visiting scholars:

"O Lord, will I find that you punish me although you know of my thirst in the heat of midday? Will I find that you punish me although you know that I rub my face on Earth to worship you? Will I find that you punish me although you know that I give up sins for you? Will I find that you punish me although you know that I stay awake all night just for you?" To which Allah then inspired to Ilyas, "Raise your head from the Earth for I will not punish you". [163]

Although most Muslim scholars believed that Elijah preached in Israel, some early commentators on the Quran stated that Elijah was sent to Baalbek, in Lebanon. [164] Modern scholars have rejected this claim, stating that the connection of the city with Elijah would have been made because of the first half of the city's name, that of Baal, which was the deity that Elijah exhorted his people to stop worshiping. Scholars who reject identification of Elijah's town with Baalbek further argue that the town of Baalbek is not mentioned with the narrative of Elijah in either the Quran or the Hebrew Bible. [165]

In the Baháʼí Faith, the Báb, founder of the Bábí Faith, is believed to be the return of Elijah and John the Baptist. [166] Both Elijah and John the Baptist are considered to be Lesser Prophets, whose stations are below that of a Manifestation of God like Jesus Christ, Buddha, the Báb or Bahá'u'lláh. The Báb is buried on Mount Carmel, where Elijah had his confrontation with the prophets of Baal. [167]

Miracle of the ravens Edit

That ravens fed Elijah by the brook Chorath has been questioned. The Hebrew text at 1 Kings 17:4–6 uses the word עֹרְבִים `ōrvīm, which means ravens, but with a different vocalization might equally mean Arabs. The Septuagint has κορακες , ravens, and other traditional translations followed.

Alternatives have been proposed for many years for example Adam Clarke (d. 1832) treated it as a discussion already of long standing. [168] Objections to the traditional translation are that ravens are ritually unclean [169] as well as physically dirty it is difficult to imagine any method of delivery of the food which is not disgusting. The parallelism with the incident that follows, where Elijah is fed by the widow, also suggests a human, if mildly improbable, agent.

Prof. John Gray chooses Arabs, saying "We adopt this reading solely because of its congruity with the sequel, where Elijah is fed by an alien Phoenician woman." [170] His translation of the verses in question is:

And the word of Jehovah came to Elijah saying, Go hence and turn eastward and hide thyself in the Wadi Chorath east of the Jordan, and it shall be that thou shalt drink of the wadi, and I have commanded the Arabs to feed thee there. And he went and did according to the word of Jehovah and went and dwelt in the Wadi Chorath east of the Jordan. And the Arabs brought him bread in the morning and flesh in the evening and he would drink of the wadi.

Fire on Mount Carmel Edit

The challenge to the priests of Baal had the two-fold purpose of demonstrating that the God of Israel was greater than Baal, and that it was he who was the giver of rain. According to J. Robinson, "Some scholars have suggested that the pouring of water was a piece of sympathetic magic." [171]

Hugo Gressmann suggested that the fire that destroyed the offering and altar was lightning, while Ferdinand Hitzig and others [172] thought the water poured on the sacrifice and into the ditch might have been flammable naphtha. Baptist scholar H. H. Rowley rejects both views. [173] Robinson dismisses the suggestion of naphtha with the view that the priests of Baal would have been aware of the properties of naphtha. [171] Julian Morgenstern rejects the idea of sympathetic magic, but supports the interpretation of white naphtha possibly ignited by a glass or mirror to focus the sun's rays, citing other mentions of sacred fire, as in 2 Maccabees 1:18–22. [174]

Ascension into the heavens Edit

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, [even] the Son of man which is in heaven." [175]

Traditionally Christianity interprets the "Son of Man" as a title of Jesus, but this has never been an article of faith and there are other interpretations. Further interpreting this quote, some Christians believe that Elijah was not assumed into heaven but simply transferred to another assignment either in heaven [176] or with King Jehoram of Judah. [176] The prophets reacted in such a way that makes sense if he was carried away, and not simply straight up. [177]

The question of whether Elijah was in heaven or elsewhere on earth depends partly on the view of the letter Jehoram received from Elijah in 2 Chronicles 21 after Elijah had ascended. Some have suggested that the letter was written before Elijah ascended, but only delivered later. [178] The rabbinical Seder Olam explains that the letter was delivered seven years after his ascension. [179] This is also a possible explanation for some variation in manuscripts of Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews when dealing with this issue. [180] Others have argued that Elijah was only "caught away" such as Philip in Acts 8 [d] John Lightfoot reasoned that it must have been a different Elijah. [187]

Return Edit

Centuries after his departure the Jewish nation awaits the coming of Elijah to precede the coming of the Messiah. For many Christians this prophecy was fulfilled in the gospels, where he appears during the Transfiguration alongside Moses. [188] Commentators have said that Moses' appearance represented the law, while Elijah's appearance represented the prophets. [189] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that Elijah returned on 3 April 1836 in an appearance to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, fulfilling the prophecy in Malachi.

The Baháʼí Faith believes Elijah returned as the biblical prophet John the Baptist and as the Báb who founded the Bábí Faith in 1844. [190] [191]

The Nation of Islam believes Elijah returned as Elijah Muhammad, black separatist religious leader (who claimed to be a "messenger", not a prophet). This is considered less important than their belief that Allah himself showed up in the person of Fard Muhammad, the founder of the group. It differs notably from most beliefs about Elijah, in that his re-appearance is usually the precursor to a greater one's appearance, rather than an aftierthought. [192]


Elijah the Prophet

God responded to the prayer of Elijah the prophet and sent fire from heaven.

Story of Elijah summary

About a hundred years had passed in ancient Israel since the time of King David, who had set a high standard of faithfulness and integrity in serving the one true God. Now a wicked king named Ahab did more to provoke God to anger than all the kings of Israel who had come before him (1 Kings 16:33). The date was around 870 B.C.

The apostasy during Ahab&rsquos reign was the result of many years of corrupt kings and increasing evil, until wickedness filled the land. A majority of the people had yielded to Satan and his demons through their worship of the Canaanite gods Baal and Ashtoreth.

Still, God had declared that there were 7,000 persons in Israel who had not worshipped Baal during that very wicked time (1 Kings 19:18).

Earlier, God had sent warnings and waited patiently for His people to separate themselves from the pagan influences that surrounded them and to return to true worship (1 Kings 14:6-16). Now God was going to bring a severe judgment on the nation to stir them to action.

God explains, &ldquoSurely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets&rdquo (Amos 3:7). To announce the punishment and warn the nation to change its ways, God sent a messenger, Elijah the prophet.

Elijah meaning

Elijah&rsquos name means &ldquoYahweh is God&rdquo (New Bible Dictionary) or &ldquoThe Lord Is My God&rdquo (NKJV Study Bible). He is called Elias in the New Testament in the King James Version, based on the Greek version of his name.

Elijah stops the rain (his first miracle)

Elijah is first mentioned in Scripture when he declares to King Ahab that a severe drought would begin immediately to test Israel and its leadership. &ldquoElijah &hellip said to Ahab, &lsquoAs the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word&rsquo&rdquo (1 Kings 17:1).

Withholding rain for 3½ years was the first miracle God did through the prophet. This would bring severe famine throughout the kingdom. The purpose of this punishment was to bring the nation to repentance of its idolatry. Although unpleasant at the time, Elijah likely understood the potentially good effects of such punishment if Israel would repent of its sins.

God always determines the magnitude and duration of punishment that He brings and in this case, He moved Elijah to pray for an end of the rain and later for it to begin again.

Elijah the man of faith

God appointed this man of the desert regions to go before kings, bringing the message of warning and repentance.

Elijah the Tishbite, of Gilead, was a human being just like any of us&mdasha man of similar hopes and dreams, weaknesses and shortcomings, but also a man of deep faith in God. Elijah was a bold, direct-to-the-point prophet of God. By speaking the prophecies of God, he made fierce enemies, but his enemies could not overpower him.

The apostle James would later speak of Elijah&rsquos faith saying, &ldquoElijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit&rdquo (James 5:17-18).

The call of Elijah

Like many of the prophets, Elijah did not seek to be God&rsquos messenger. Instead, God chose him for the job.

Once called, Elijah did not hesitate to take on his mission, even though it appeared that his life would be threatened by the wicked king. Elijah set out at once for the capital city of Samaria to deliver the announcement to King Ahab.

Then God sent Elijah into hiding as the drought dried up the streams and withered the crops of the nation (1 Kings 17:7-15 1 Kings 18:1). First God miraculously fed him by the Brook Cherith.

Elijah and the widow

Then God told Elijah, &ldquoArise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you&rdquo (1 Kings 17:9). This was a surprising turn, since Sidon was a Baal-worshipping area, and because Elijah was hated by another woman from Sidon, Queen Jezebel.

You can read the fascinating story of how the widow&rsquos bin of flour and jar of oil were miraculously multiplied, and how Elijah prayed for God to resurrect her son in 1 Kings 17:10-24).

Elijah and Ahab

Meanwhile, the prophets of Baal were humiliated since they couldn&rsquot invoke their pagan god to end the drought and bring the needed rain upon the land. King Ahab and his officials were furious with Elijah, thinking that he was the cause of so much suffering in Israel and they hunted for Elijah far into foreign lands (1 Kings 18:10).

Finally, the prophet was directed by God to appear before King Ahab again. &ldquoThen it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, &lsquoIs that you, O troubler of Israel?&rsquo And he answered, &lsquoI have not troubled Israel, but you and your father&rsquos house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals&rsquo&rdquo (1 Kings 18:17-19).

Showdown at Mount Carmel: Elijah and the prophets of Baal

Elijah&rsquos greatest public miracle involved a contest with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel. Elijah invited these false prophets and all Israel to a demonstration to show that Baal had no power at all against the God of Israel. The outcome would demonstrate who served the true God (1 Kings 18:19-40).

Elijah’s greatest public miracle involved a contest with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel. To show God&rsquos power, Elijah told the large crowd, &ldquoI alone am left a prophet of the LORD but Baal&rsquos prophets are four hundred and fifty men&rdquo (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah continued, &ldquoHow long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him but if Baal, follow him&rdquo (1 Kings 18:21). God would give convincing proof that day that He was Israel&rsquos only true God.

So the contest commenced. Throughout the day, the false prophets called on their god to send down fire and consume an animal sacrifice&mdashbut to no avail.

At the end of the day, Elijah called on Israel&rsquos God to send fire to swallow up the sacrifice prepared for Him. God responded to Elijah&rsquos prayer. In a moment thousands witnessed the fire from heaven consume the carcass, all the water in the trench and all the wet wood, burning up even the stones!

Elijah exposed the deception of the false prophets of Baal and at last the hearts of the Israelites were convinced that only Israel&rsquos God could do this miracle. Elijah then ordered that the false prophets be executed (1 Kings 18:36-40). Then God&rsquos Spirit moved Elijah to pray that it would rain and the rains came, ending the terrible drought (1 Kings 18:42-45 James 5:18).

(Learn more about what God says about false prophets in the article &ldquoFalse Prophets.&rdquo To understand how and why God works through His prophets, read the article &ldquoProphets of the Bible.&rdquo)

Elijah and Jezebel

When the false prophets of Baal were dead, Elijah came under a death threat by Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab. As Israel&rsquos queen, she brought the worship of her god Baal into the nation, influencing King Ahab to worship Baal and set up idols in Israel (1 Kings 16:31 1 Kings 21:25-26). God&rsquos prophets who bring messages of warning are often hated and accused of actually being the cause of such suffering. Jezebel and the false prophets of Baal hated Elijah, and they spared no effort to catch him.

In a moment of human weakness Elijah was deeply discouraged, but it wasn&rsquot long before God reassured Elijah and sent him back again to face King Ahab. Elijah was to deliver the message that Ahab and Jezebel would both die a humiliating death because of all the wicked deeds they refused to repent of (1 Kings 21:20-24).

Elijah and Elisha

God used Elijah to train his successor, Elisha. Elijah &ldquofound Elisha busily engaged in plowing. Coming on him suddenly, Elijah threw his mantle over Elisha, a symbol of Elisha&rsquos call to the prophetic office&rdquo (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, note on 1 Kings 19:19-20).

Elisha stayed with Elijah faithfully until the time God divided the Jordan and then took Elijah away with a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:8-11 for more on what happened to Elijah, see &ldquoAre Enoch and Elijah in Heaven?&rdquo).

History is being repeated

The world today still has its Ahabs and Jezebels. The present age also has its idolatry, though it is more subtle than that of Elijah&rsquos day.

The shrines of pagan worship may not be as visible in a basically Christian-professing society, and there may be very few carved images that people actually worship, yet millions are following after the gods of this world. Today&rsquos idols can be riches, fame, pleasure and the pleasant-sounding fables that occupy the hearts and minds of many who are unwilling and disinterested in learning about God.

End-time Elijah

Sometimes prophecies can have multiple fulfillments. Bible prophecy seems to point to another Elijah-like work that will arise at the end of this age before the coming time of God&rsquos great wrath upon the earth. The prophet Malachi declared, &ldquoBehold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD&rdquo (Malachi 4:5-6).

Was John the Baptist Elijah?

After the transfiguration where three disciples saw Moses and Elijah in a vision, they asked Jesus, &ldquoWhy then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?&rdquo (Matthew 17:10). Jesus explained that John the Baptist was one fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy (verses 11-13).

Similar to the way John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), an end-time fulfillment will feature a commission much like the one of the first Elijah. Similar to the way John the Baptist came &ldquoin the spirit and power of Elijah&rdquo (Luke 1:17), an end-time fulfillment will feature a commission much like the one of the first Elijah. Scripture indicates that an Elijah-like message to repent and obey God will be preached by the Church of God (Matthew 24:14 28:19-20).

What God wants today

We can learn about the message of the final Elijah by studying the mission of John the Baptist. Gabriel brought a message from God that a prophet was coming to announce that Jesus was the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. John the Baptist was that prophet, and Jesus declared that John was an Elijah-like figure, in addition to one who would come later (Matthew 11:14 Matthew 17:12).

An angel declared of John&rsquos mission: &ldquoAnd he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him [Jesus] in the spirit and power of Elijah, &lsquoto turn the hearts of the fathers to the children&rsquo and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord&rdquo (Luke 1:16-17).

The messages of Elijah and the other prophets of the Old Testament played an important role in the establishment of the New Testament Church. Paul told Church members of the first century that they were part of the household of God that had &ldquobeen built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone&rdquo (Ephesians 2:20, emphasis added).

At the time of the end, just before the great and dreadful day of God&rsquos wrath, the world will again be given the same message that was preached by Elijah the prophet. As noted, Malachi 4:5-6 seems to indicate that an Elijah-like work will be done before Christ&rsquos return.

Two witnesses

As the world enters this time of judgment, two witnesses will be given power to stop rainfall for 3½ years&mdashthis time over all nations.

Christ says, &ldquoAnd I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. &hellip These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire&rdquo (Revelation 11:3, 6).

God will take no pleasure in sending these judgments, and disobedient nations will need to be reminded of God&rsquos purpose for them: &ldquo&lsquoDo I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?&rsquo says the Lord GOD, &lsquoand not that he should turn from his ways and live?&rsquo&rdquo (Ezekiel 18:23 see also Ezekiel 33:11).

The message of the two witnesses will again be like that of Elijah. It will be a call to repentance and of preparing a people for Christ&rsquos second coming. Be sure to read more on the role of these two prophets in the article &ldquoTwo Witnesses.&rdquo

Elijah is considered one of the most important prophets of the Old Testament. He faithfully carried out God&rsquos mission in the face of danger and hardship. His was a singular voice of &ldquoone crying in the wilderness&rdquo to rebuke sin in the land and to expose the false prophets and false religions of his day.

In Elijah&rsquos day a revival of true worship was begun. Be sure to read the article &ldquoElisha the Prophet&rdquo to see how God continued the course He had for His people through the next prophet sent to Israel. Elijah&rsquos whole life was devoted to the work of restoring true worship in Israel. His admonition that God&rsquos people faithfully serve Him with their whole hearts remains important for us today.

For more study on the prophecies of the Bible, download our free booklet How to Understand Prophecy.


The Downward Journey

Like the downward trajectory of the nation of Israel where Elijah and Elisha had their prophetic careers, this is the story of a literal downward journey.

Map showing Elijah and Elisha’s journey (in red)

As shown on this map, the Gilgal from which this journey started is not the same as the Gilgal in the story of Joshua’s initial conquest of the Holy Land. (See “What is the Meaning and Significance of Gilgal in the Bible?”) It is another Gilgal located in the highlands above Bethel. Notice that early in the story, when they left Gilgal, it says, “So they went down to Bethel.” Bethel was also situated in the highlands. But Jericho was built in the lowlands of the Jordan River valley. So it was a downward journey from Bethel to Gilgal as well. And of course, the Jordan River was the lowest elevation in that area.

Spiritually speaking, then, this is not a story about our ascending up to higher things. Rather, it is a story about a downward spiritual journey—meaning a time when we are losing our sense of closeness to God and spirit, and getting more engrossed in practical and worldly things. We’ll return to that in a moment.


1. Introduction and Historical Setting for Elijah

The story of Elijah and the nation of Israel is heroic narrative built around the exploits of the main character, Elijah. It is the story of a man raised up by God in a time of conflict in his community, in a time of spiritual and moral degeneracy. He was there to bring the nation back to God, to turn them from their idolatry to a vital faith in the true God, the God of Israel and the Bible.

In heroic narrative, the story focuses on the protagonist, the central figure or hero and his conflicts and encounters as the story moves toward the goal of the narrative. The goal of the narrative and the high point of the story is found for us in 1 Kings 18, the challenge and contest with the prophets of Baal before the people on Mount Carmel.

The purpose of this high mark in the story is spelled out for us in two verses, 18:21 and 18:37. Chapter 17 is the preparation for this event. It is showing us God’s preparation of Elijah and the nation for what will happen on Mount Carmel. Then chapter 19 is the aftermath--the effects of this event on the nation and on Elijah, the hero.

What we must not miss is the fact that the hero or heroine of heroic narrative is a representative person. In other words, the story and its hero capture the universal human situation. The historian tells us what happened, but literary narrative in the Bible tells us more. It shows us what happens in life. 1 The hero, then, becomes a model, an example for faith, for spiritual experience and life, and the conflict he is in becomes an illustration of what we face in life.

Values and virtues, failures and weaknesses, strengths and abilities of the hero and the conflicts he and his society faced show us this is the way life is. They reveal what we need to know, to appropriate, and to avoid as we live in our society.

Thinking about the impact the life of Elijah should have on us in the day in which we live, I am reminded of Psalm 11:3 which asks an important question. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The question was being asked of David by his friends and is another heroic narrative of Scripture. This question forms a fitting introduction for the study of Elijah. The NIV translates this: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Or “what is the righteous one doing?” David’s friends had become fainthearted and depressed over national conditions. They were suggesting that David should flee to the mountain where he fled from Saul (Ps. 11:1). The question relates to a time when law and order were being destroyed. It may have been when Absolom, David’s own son, was seeking to usurp his throne. Or as some suggest, it may have been when Saul was seeking to kill David. Regardless, the foundations refer to the law and order of society based on the Lord’s protective rule through the absolutes of the Word.

This asks a question we are facing in our nation today because our country is under the countdown with its foundations being destroyed by godless humanism. David’s answer is given in Psalm 11:4-7. In short, David’s focus was on the Lord. He contrasted the problems on earth with the sovereign and exalted position of the Lord who sits in heaven, the place of authority and power. 2

The sovereign Lord sits on His heavenly throne, not indifferently, but observantly. He is working out His purposes on earth. Though transcendent, God is also intimately and immanently involved with mankind, especially those who trust Him. David then reminds us that while the Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, He never forsakes the righteous who can, by faith, behold His face and thus experience His strength and courage. The righteous can experience His peace now in the midst of any situation and will one day experience His presence and blessings in God’s eternal kingdom.

Second Chronicles 7:13-14 reminds us of another privilege and responsibility:

If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

First Chronicles 12 also tells us of another serious time in David’s history when the foundations of the nation were crumbling. As 1 Samuel 26:20 puts it, David was being chased by Saul like a partridge on a mountain. During this time some of God’s people did something else. “Day by day came to David to help him, until there was a great army like the army of God” (1 Chr. 12:22). These men joined together to form a band of men who would stand against the times they were facing. Included among these were the sons of Issachar of whom was said: “Men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chr. 12:32).

What does this mean to us in our day? The righteous need to know what to do and then do it because they know and believe that God sits in the heavens observantly. Withdrawing, becoming bitter, angry, depressed, diseased in our attitudes, or seeking sinful ways of escape is not what the righteous should do.

I am reminded of what Daniel said about those who truly know God. Daniel 11:32 refers to the godless, humanistic mind-set and activity of the last days, especially in the days of the Tribulation. Satan will promote and use this humanistic and demonic mind-set to advance his end-time system and the Man of Lawlessness (the Antichrist). The objective will be to turn people away from God and His covenant promises in the Savior. But Daniel 11:32b tells us even then, as bad as that will be, God will have His remnant who know Him intimately. Regardless of the pressures, they will display strength and take action. We are getting a taste of this now, as Israel did in the time of Antiochus Epiphanies around 175-164 B.C.

You might ask, what does all this have to do with a study of Elijah? He too lived in dismal times. They were times of spiritual apostasy and moral decay. But we find in this colorful and powerful prophet a wonderful illustration of what the righteous should do when the foundations are destroyed. Elijah is one of the prominent figures in the Word of God. His significance is evidenced by over 20 direct references to him in the New Testament, and by his appearance in the transfiguration of the Lord with Moses, the great Law giver. However, to gain greater insight from the example of his life, we need to understand the historical setting in which this great man of God abruptly and suddenly appeared on the scene.

The Historical Setting

In the day in which Elijah lived and ministered, the foundations had crumbled far beyond what King David experienced in his day. As we study the Word, we must always remember that the Bible was written to and about living people in real life situations. It does not represent just a group of ethereal, religious, and proverbial sayings thought up by a group of religious hermits who were isolated from people and from life.

Rather, through the Bible as the Word of God, God has revealed Himself historically, setting forth His eternal truth to real people in real-life situations. Practically speaking, what does this mean? It means we dare not divorce our study from understanding the historical setting of every passage of Scripture if we are going to come to grips with the truth and message of the Bible. Much of its relevance and application to us personally in our need is derived from our understanding of the historical setting in which a passage is written. This is undoubtedly why many of the Psalms begin with a reference to some historical situation.

A Nation in Decay

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel record the establishment , consolidation , and extension of the Theocratic kingdom of God in the reigns of David and his son, Solomon. It was a glorious time--a time of great prosperity in the nation. This was the result of God’s blessing for obedience to the holy absolutes of His Word, or His covenant with Israel according to God’s purpose for the nation among the nations (cf. Ex. 19:4-6 with Deut. 4:6-11 and Deut. 28-30).

Though Solomon began well, about the middle of his reign he began to act foolishly. As is so often the case, in his spiritual decline, his country was gravely influenced as well. He brought upon himself the disfavor of God by permitting the thinking and customs of other nations to influence his decisions and manner of life. This situation developed as a result of the following:

(1) He allowed idolatry to invade his kingdom through foreign marriages, a practice forbidden by the Word (Deut. 17:14-20 Neh. 13:23-27). Marriages were commonly seals of foreign alliances. He had Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Zidonian, and Egyptian wives and this suggests alliances with all these nations. 3

(2) Furthermore, he levied excessive taxes and labor constrictions on the people, without pay, because of his own selfish extravagances. These included some of the very things Deuteronomy 17 warns against. In other words, rather than remaining distinct and separate from the nations, Solomon became like the nations.

Leon Wood calls our attention to a marked contrast between the kingships of Solomon and his father David, a contrast created by the diverse backgrounds of the two rulers. It speaks volumes to us in our day of prosperity, softness, and moral breakdown. 4

David had been raised in the open, watching sheep, and later experienced the testings of a fugitive life.

Solomon, however, had known only the ease of the palace, with its attendant luxuries.

David became a king of action, aggressive and efficient, who could personally lead armies to victory.

Solomon became a king of peace, happy to stay home and content merely to retain the land his father had gained.

David’s court never grew larger than the requirements of his government.

Solomon became lavish to suit his tastes and expensive appetites. As a result, he needed more revenue and raised taxes.

David was more a man of the people.

Solomon was a man of the court.

More significant, David maintained a vibrant faith in God as a “man after God’s own heart.”

Solomon, began well in spiritual devotion, but failed to maintain this basic relationship before God. He fell into sinful ways and finally came under God’s censure.

When Rehoboam, Solomon’s son took over the throne of his father, the ten tribes of Israel (all but Judah and Benjamin), sought a solution to this heavy taxation through the leadership of Jeroboam.

Rehoboam was a young man accustomed to extreme prosperity and luxury. Rather than cut back on the heavy taxation and labor constriction imposed by Solomon, he acted selfishly and foolishly. He refused the counsel of the older men to cut back, and threatened to increase taxes because he wanted to continue enjoying a lavish court. As a result, the ten tribes seceded immediately and there was a division of the kingdom.

Jeroboam then became king of the northern ten tribes of Israel. Rather than seeking the glory of God and the benefit of his people, he followed his own selfish agenda and committed gross sin in the sight of God. He established a substitute worship for his people, two new worship centers, one at Dan and another at Bethel. As symbols for the new places of worship, he made golden images of calves. His proposed aim was to worship Yahweh, but his real motive was political and selfish. He wanted to keep the people from going back to Jerusalem because of his fear they would eventually want to reunite into one kingdom. He put his own desires ahead of God’s will and the good of the people. Of course, this was in direct violation of the Law of Moses. It set the people up for religious syncretism of the true worship of God with the fertility cult of Baal. Without doubt, this new worship of Jeroboam paved the way for the introduction of Baal worship under Ahab and Jezebel in the time of Elijah.

In the southern kingdom of Judah, there were occasionally kings who did good in the sight of the Lord, like Uzziah and Hezekiah. In the northern kingdom, there were no good kings of whom it could be said in the record of Scripture, “they did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” In fact, all eighteen of Jeroboam’s successors continued his substitute form of worship which God held against each as a serious sin. The descriptive sentence, “And he did evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of his father and in his sin which he made Israel sin,” is repeated with variations of most of Jeroboam’s descendants (1 Kgs. 15:26). Not only were these kings evil, but there was a continuous decline. Scripture indicates that the next king was worse than his father. There was continual spiritual and moral erosion, much as we have seen in our nation.

With the rise of Ahab in the time of Elijah, things had reached an all time low. Fifty-eight years had passed since the division of the kingdom. Seven kings had reigned and all were evil. All were idolatrous, but with Ahab idolatry reached an all-time high even to the point of seeking to stamp out the worship of Yahweh altogether. How? Why? Ahab married Jezebel, the famed princess from Tyre, daughter of Ethbaal, King of Tyre. Again, following the poor examples that preceded him, his aim was to seal a pact with Phoenicia for profitable political reasons. His trust was in his own schemes rather than in the Lord. The weak Ahab allowed Jezebel to introduce the worship of the satanic and idolatrous cult of Baal-Melqart into Israel. The worship of Baal, a Canaanite deity, had been observed by Israelites in the days of the Judges and before the establishment of the kingdom. David rid the land of this dirge, but now it was resurrected on a new scale, larger than ever, and this was done by the government, the king.

Likewise today, we have seen every conceivable cult introduced into our society along with the New Age movement. In many ways this too is being promoted by our government, while at the same time Christianity is hindered under the ploy of separation of church and state.

Not only was Jezebel persistent, but she was highly dominant and held a great amount of influence over Ahab. Jezebel did not want Baalism to coexist with the worship of Yahweh. She wanted to completely stamp out the worship of God. This is precisely the way Satan and his world system works. People are often broad-minded with the varying religions and philosophical ideas of the world, but never with the truth. Thus Jezebel slaughtered every prophet she could get her hands on (1 Kgs. 18:4). Today, humanism and the New Age movement would like nothing better than to stamp out Christianity because it stands in the way of Satan’s world wide purposes.

New Agers are not naive enough to believe that everyone will accept the dawn of this new day. Some will oppose the emerging New Order. For these, there is another solution: intimidation, starvation, and liquidation.

Make no mistake: if and when the New Order comes, it will not be because everyone will voluntarily fall in line. Those religions that will not accept the lie that man is God will be systematically eliminated by whatever means is necessary. In the New Age, disarmament will be the guise used to get the nations of the world to surrender their sovereignty to an authoritative global political machine, which will in turn use those weapons (if necessary) to force everyone, especially the religious objectors, to get on board with the new agenda.

Understand Satan’s methodology: there is a vast difference between his advertising and the product that the purchaser receives. George Orwell called it newsspeak . Talk about disarmament but plan to use weapons on those who refuse to accept your agenda. Campaign for individual freedom but plan to eliminate the freedom of those who don’t toe the line. Affirm the value of humanity while at the time you favor the systematic killing of the unborn and eventual death of millions. 5

An Explanation of Baalism

Baal, a Semitic word that means “lord, master, or owner,” was the chief god worshipped by the Canaanites at the time of Israel’s entrance into the land. The head of the Canaanite pantheon of gods was called El, who was regarded as the father of 70 elim or gods. The most popular of these gods was called Baal.

Baal was the most popular because he was considered the god of fertility in all aspects of life--human, animal, and vegetable. Production and prosperity were dependent on Baal. The Ras Shamrah text, an important archaeological find, praises Baal as the god who has power over rain, wind, clouds, and therefore over fertility. Baal was also worshipped as the weather god, the god of storm, of rain and good crops. As you can see, this is very important to the background of 1 Kings 17-19 with the story of the drought and the contest on Mount Carmel.

Worship was localized so that each area worshipped its own Baal. A name from the city or place where Baal was being worshipped was frequently added. This resulted in a variety of names like Baal-Meon, Baal-Hermon, Baal-Hazor, Baal-Zebub, Baal-Marduk, and Baal-Peor. In Elijah’s time, Israel worshipped Baal-Melqart because this was the form of Baalism worshipped at Tyre. Jezebel, a Tyrian princess, introduced the worship of Baal-Melqart into Israel.

Baal worship included the following: (a) The offering of incense and burnt sacrifices (Jer. 7:9) (b) Sometimes the offering of human sacrifices (Jer. 19:5) (c) It especially included licentious sexual activity--including sodomy (cf. 1 Kgs. 14:23-24 15:12 with 22:46).

The slaughter of innocent children and sodomy are sure indications that the foundations of a society have crumbled. We can obviously see the clear parallel to our country today with the very political gay movement and the slaughter of millions of unborn children (called fetuses by those who call themselves pro-choice). These are two terms designed to hide the fact they are killing babies in the womb and are really anti-life. Remember, in the Old Testament Pentateuch (which was the Bible of Elijah), God had a special purpose for Israel. God had promised blessing for obedience, but cursing for disobedience. The curses included shutting up the heavens and no rain meant no production (Deut. 11:8-17 28:1f, 23-24).

An interesting historical reference is found in 1 Kings.16:32-34. First there is the statement of how Ahab provoked the LORD with his idolatry more than all the kings of Israel, This is followed with a seemingly out-of-place reference to the death of the two sons of Hiel who fortified Jericho. All this forms a fitting introduction to 1 Kings 17 and the appearance of Elijah. It was a reminder that God’s promises and warnings are true. They do come to pass. As Hiel had disregarded God’s sure curse on anyone who fortified Jericho (Josh. 6:26), so Israel had disregarded the promised discipline of God for disobedience (Deut. 11:8-17). Here God gave Israel a reminder to demonstrate emphatically that not only is God’s Word true, but God is involved in the life of the nations (including Israel), and Israel was ripe for judgment.

That’s not all. With Elijah’s sudden, dramatic, brave, bold entrance and declaration to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word,” we have a direct confrontation between Yahweh, the living and true God of Scripture, and Baal-Melqart, one of the heathen deities of ancient Babylon. This confrontation comes about through God’s prophet, Elijah, an obscure prophet who suddenly, like lightening out of the blue, confronted a godless Ahab.

God was dramatically challenging Baalism, or the belief of the people in Baal, on the very thing they worshipped Baal for--RAIN! On the one side there was Ahab the King, the ruthless and notorious Jezebel, the impotent and false god Baal, and the Baal priests and priestesses. On the other side was Yahweh and a single servant, the prophet Elijah, a man of faith, deeply committed to God. It was a question of authenticity and power.

Conclusion

As we dig into this story, please note that Elijah’s prayer for the cessation of rain in the land was according to the warnings of the Word. Elijah was not going out on a limb. He was acting on the promises, or in this case, the warnings and principles of the eternal Word of God. He knew God’s Word was true and he was standing firmly on the propositions of Scripture. Furthermore, this prayer for the cessation of rain was designed to bring Israel to repentance, to bring the nation back to Yahweh, the true God. Elijah burned with concern for God’s glory and for his nation. He was also available to the Lord to be used as part of God’s solution. Certainly, as Elijah faced the rigors and crumbling foundations of his day, he had his ups and downs as you and I do. It is through God’s work in Elijah, a man of like passions with us, that we can learn how to handle our ups and downs, fears, and times of discouragement in our day of fallen foundations. We can grasp something of what God is calling us to do.

(1) Do we really know God in such a way that, as Daniel declared, we will display strength and take action?

(2) Are we willing to pray like Elijah and follow God’s direction? Or are we more concerned for our pleasure and business as usual than we are for God’s glory and revival in our nation?

(3) Are we willing to take a stand against the forces stacked against us because we are standing on the promises of God and resting in the assurance of His presence and provision regardless of how overwhelming the situation looks from our viewpoint?

(4) Are we like the men of Issachar, who joined with David to form an army of God in a time of national need to serve the Lord and their nation, because we understand the time and know what we should do?

1 For more on heroic narrative and the Bible as literature, see How to Read the Bible as Literature by Leland Ryken, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1984.

2 The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament Edition , John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, editors, Victor Books, electronic media.

3 Leon Wood, A Survey of Israel’s History , Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1970, p. 293.

5 Erwin W. Lutzer and John F. DeVries, Satan’s Evangelistic Strategy for this New Age, Victor Books, Wheaton, 1989, p. 151.


Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-8)

Ahab returned home to his wife and told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and how that Elijah slew all the prophets of the false god Baal. She was furious and sent a message to Elijah that she would kill him by that time the next day.

Elijah was scared and at a loss for what he should do. He took his concern to God. Though he was at his wit’s end and was ready to give up, the Lord told him to lay down and take a nap. Then God provided food for him. He slept some more and then ate again. The Bible says that Elijah was refreshed and nourished enough to make a 40 day trip to escape from the wicked queen.


Elijah never has anything good to say about wicked tyrants. Near the end of his ministry, Elijah writes a letter informing the southern kingdom of Judah’s wicked king Jehoram that he will die in a most excruciating manner.

Otherwise, Elijah focuses his ministry on the northern kingdom, condemning Israel’s wicked King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and their sons.

Then again, Elijah isn’t just doom and gloom. During three and a half years without rain, the Lord instructs Elijah to hide. First, the Lord tells him to hide by a stream called Cherith east of the Jordan River, where ravens will feed him.

Second, the Lord tells Elijah to hide in a town called Zarephath on the Mediterranean coast between Tyre and Sidon. There a poor widow will feed him from a miraculous supply of grain and oil. In this season of hiding, the Lord graciously cares for Elijah at every turn.

At the end of these years without rain, Elijah calls a national contest on Mount Carmel between the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, and the wicked pagan gods of Baal and Asherah. It’s quite the dramatic story well worth reading or reading again.

After his great triumph atop Mount Carmel, however, Elijah fears Queen Jezebel’s vow to take his life “by about this time tomorrow” (1 Kings 19:2).

Actually, “fears” is an understatement. Elijah flees into southern Judah’s wilderness, collapses under a tree, and begs the Lord to take him before Jezebel’s men find and slaughter him. In other words, Elijah is depressed out of his mind.

In this season of hiding, the Lord sends an angel to revive him and give him his final instructions, including appointing his successor, Elisha.


7. Elijah was Brave

The message Elijah championed rang clear and seemingly easy, but not everyone wanted to hear its contents. Jezebel stood at the front of that line. She sought out and put prophets of God to death. Meanwhile, her husband, King Ahab, allowed it and simply continued worshiping Baal.

An unwelcomed message, however, didn’t deter Elijah. He bravely championed God Almighty and the messages given from Above, even when those messages offered challenges, correction, or bad news for the one receiving them.

He answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here!’” 1 Kings 18:8 WEB

Photo credit: Unsplash-kristopher-roller


Elijah, Op. 70

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Elijah, Op. 70, oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn that premiered August 26, 1846, in Birmingham, England.

The oratorio presents episodes from the story of the biblical prophet Elijah. The title role, sung by a baritone or bass, requires a nearly operatic range of emotional expression for the arias, which are by turns prayerful, weary, and defiant. Three other principal soloists sing more than one role each.

Unusually for an oratorio, Elijah’s orchestral overture is preceded by an aria that introduces the main character and sets the tone for the rest of the work. In it Elijah delivers a stern warning that God will send a drought as punishment for Israel’s embrace of idolatry.

The chorus known in English as “He Watching over Israel” is Elijah’s best-known excerpt and is frequently performed separately from the rest of the oratorio. The famed chorus is immediately preceded by a delicate a cappella women’s trio known as “Lift Thine Eyes to the Mountains.”

Mendelssohn composed the work in German with a libretto using sections of 1 Kings, Psalms, and other books of the Hebrew Bible, but its first performance used an English version of the text. Since then it has been performed in both languages.


Look forward, not back

Elisha knew his master was gone for good. But the company of prophets was not ready to accept it. They asked Elisha to let them search the region across the Jordan to see if God had dropped Elijah on some mountain or in some valley.

Elisha told them not to go.

They kept pressing and urging him until he relented.

After three days of searching, they found nothing. Elisha said, “I told you so!”

Yet the incident has one more lesson for us in our Christian walk:

Look forward, not back.

It’s a common saying—but much easier said than done.

The company of the prophets was looking back to the familiar times of having Elijah as their leader.

But now they had a new leader.

And though Elisha had learned many things from his master, his style would be different. Elijah’s main mission was to stand up for the God of Israel against popular pagan gods such as Baal and Asherah. Elisha was more about doing amazing miracles and advising kings, princes, and commoners alike. Elijah was a lonely voice in the wilderness. Elisha was a man of the people.

Elisha did not merely repeat what his master did. He had his own distinctive voice and mission as a prophet.

Just so, when it comes our time to take up the mantle of leadership, our job is not to repeat what those before us did. Our job is to take up the journey where they left off, and move boldly into new territory—even if our parents and teachers might not understand or appreciate what we are doing.

In the follow-up article, “What is the Spiritual Significance of the Story of Elijah and Elisha?” we will delve into some of the symbolism embedded in this story, and unearth a few of the deeper spiritual insights it has to offer.

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.


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