Elijah the prophet
Part 3 in a continuing series
The call of Elisa — we left off at 1 Kings 19:18 and resume at 1 Kings 19:19
The Call of Elisha
19So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him. 20And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee? 21And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.
1 Kings 19:19-21 — King James Version
For space considerations I hope and pray readers of this series will complete the reading for further understanding, of 1 Kings 20 and 1 Kings 21:1-16, as we will now resume here with 1 Kings 21:17-29
Elijah Denounces Ahab and Jezebel
17And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 18Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which is in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to possess it. 19And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine.
20And Ahab said to Elijah, Hast thou found me, O mine enemy? And he answered, I have found thee: because thou hast sold thyself to work evil in the sight of the LORD. 21Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel, 22And will make thine house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, for the provocation wherewith thou hast provoked me to anger, and made Israel to sin. 23And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. 24Him that dieth of Ahab in the city the dogs shall eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat.
25But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. 26And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.
27And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. 28And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, 29Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.
1 Kings 21:17-29 — King James Version
Elijah and Elisha
Elijah and Elisha are two of the most well-known prophets of Israel. They both served in the northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah is first introduced in 1 Kings 17 as the prophet who predicted a three-year drought in the land. After being miraculously fed by ravens, he later stayed with a widow and her son, and that family experienced God’s supernatural provision of food (see part 1 in this series).
After Elijah’s defeat of the prophets of Baal when he called down fire from heaven, the drought ended. Rain fell, and Elijah fled from the evil Queen Jezebel, who had vowed to kill him (1 Kings 19). Reaching Mount Horeb, Elijah heard the voice of God tell him to anoint two kings as well as Elisha as a prophet. He did this, and Elisha immediately joined him (1 Kings 19:19–21).
Elijah later condemned King Ahab for murder and the theft of a vineyard and predicted Ahab’s death and that of his wife, Jezebel (1 Kings 21:17–24).
In 2 Kings 1, Elijah called down fire from heaven to destroy two groups of 50 men sent from King Ahaziah. A third group of men was led by a captain who begged for mercy and was spared judgment. Elijah went to Ahaziah and proclaimed the king would die from his sickness, a prophecy that was soon fulfilled.
In 2 Kings 2, Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan River on dry land, and Elisha, knowing that Elijah would not be with him much longer, asked to be blessed with a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah was taken directly into heaven by a chariot of fire. Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle and used it to cross the Jordan again on dry land. He received the double portion he had asked for and performed many miracles in Israel. Some of Elisha’s miracles were the turning of bad water into clean water (2 Kings 2:19–22), causing a widow’s oil to fill many jars (2 Kings 4:1–7), and even raising a boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:32–37).
Before he was taken to heaven, Elijah left a letter for King Jehoram of Judah that spoke of judgment against him. It stated, in part, “The LORD will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day” (2 Chronicles 21:14–15). The prophecy soon came true (verses 18–20).
Elijah and Elisha were both greatly respected by those in the “school of prophets” (2 Kings 2 and 4:38–41) as well as by the kings of their nation. Their impact led to revival among some of the Israelites during a dark stage of its history. During the wicked reigns of Ahab and Ahaziah, God had His men leading the charge for righteousness.
Elijah and Elisha’s combined legacy continued to influence Israel for some time. Even the New Testament speaks of the expected return of Elijah, a role fulfilled by John the Baptist, the forerunner or the one to announce the coming of the Messiah (Mark 1).
The prophet Elijah’s life
The Prophet Elijah is one of the most interesting and colorful of all biblical characters, yet his life was so filled with turmoil that today we might say he was up one day and down the next. Because Elijah was at times bold and decisive and at other times fearful and tentative, we have much to learn from him. In the narratives in which Elijah is the central character, we find principles that demonstrate the victory in the life of a believer as well as defeat and recovery. There are ways in which Elijah demonstrated the power of God and an instance where he plumbed the depths of depression.
Elijah, a prophet of God whose name means, “my God is Jehovah,” came from Tishbeh in Gilead, but nothing is known of his family or birth. We first see Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1 where he suddenly appears to challenge Ahab, an evil king who ruled the Northern Kingdom from 874 to 853 B.C. Elijah prophesies a drought to come upon the whole land as consequence for Ahab’s evil choices (1 Kings 17:1-7). Warned by God, Elijah hides near the brook of Cherith where he is fed by ravens. As the drought and famine in the land deepen, Elijah meets with a widow, and through her obedience to Elijah’s request, God provides food enough for Elijah, the woman and her son. Miraculously, her barrel of flour and jar of oil never run out (1 Kings 17:8-16). The lesson for the believer is that, if we walk in fellowship with the LORD and obey Him, we will be open to His will, and when we are in God’s will, He fulfills all of our needs and His mercy to us never runs short.
We next see Elijah as the central character in a face-off with the prophets of the false god Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:17-40). The prophets of Baal call upon their god all day long to rain fire from heaven to no avail. Then Elijah builds an altar of stones, digs a ditch around it, puts the sacrifice on the top of wood and calls for water to be poured over his sacrifice three times. Elijah calls upon God, and God sends fire down from heaven, burns the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones and licks up the water in the ditch. God proved He was more powerful than false gods. It was then that Elijah and the people kill all of the false prophets of Baal. Such supernatural evidences of God’s power are not seen today. However, we have access to the same power as God’s Word works through us and demonstrates the power of His Spirit in our lives (2 Corinthians 4:7). Elijah is an illustration that it is not the vessel but God in the vessel that demonstrates power.
Baal was the name of the supreme god worshiped in ancient Canaan and Phoenicia. The practice of Baal worship infiltrated Jewish religious life during the time of the Judges (Judges 3:7), became widespread in Israel during the reign of Ahab (1 Kings 16:31-33) and also affected Judah (2 Chronicles 28:1-2). The word baal means “lord”; the plural is baalim. In general, Baal was a fertility god who was believed to enable the earth to produce crops and people to produce children. Different regions worshiped Baal in different ways, and Baal proved to be a highly adaptable god. Various locales emphasized one or another of his attributes and developed special “denominations” of Baalism. Baal of Peor (Numbers 25:3) and Baal-Berith (Judges 8:33) are two examples of such localized deities.
According to Canaanite mythology, Baal was the son of El, the chief god, and Asherah, the goddess of the sea. Baal was considered the most powerful of all gods, eclipsing El, who was seen as rather weak and ineffective. In various battles Baal defeated Yamm, the god of the sea, and Mot, the god of death and the underworld. Baal’s sisters/consorts were Ashtoreth, a fertility goddess associated with the stars, and Anath, a goddess of love and war. The Canaanites worshiped Baal as the sun god and as the storm god—he is usually depicted holding a lightning bolt—who defeated enemies and produced crops. They also worshiped him as a fertility god who provided children. Baal worship was rooted in sensuality and involved ritualistic prostitution in the temples. At times, appeasing Baal required human sacrifice, usually the firstborn of the one making the sacrifice (Jeremiah 19:5). The priests of Baal appealed to their god in rites of wild abandon which included loud, ecstatic cries and self-inflicted injury (1 Kings 18:28).
Before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, the Lord God warned against worshiping Canaan’s gods (Deuteronomy 6:14-15), but Israel turned to idolatry anyway. During the reign of Ahab and Jezebel, at the height of Baal worship in Israel, God directly confronted the paganism through His prophet Elijah. First, God showed that He, not Baal, controlled the rain by sending a drought lasting three-and-one-half years (1 Kings 17:1). Then Elijah called for a showdown on Mt. Carmel to prove once and for all who the true God was. All day long, 450 prophets of Baal called on their god to send fire from heaven—surely an easy task for a god associated with lightning bolts—but “there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29). After Baal’s prophets gave up, Elijah prayed a simple prayer, and God answered immediately with fire from heaven. The evidence was overwhelming, and the people “fell prostrate and cried, ‘The LORD–he is God! The LORD–he is God!’” (verse 39).
In Matthew 12:27, Jesus calls Satan “Beelzebub,” linking the devil to Baal-Zebub, a Philistine deity (2 Kings 1:2). The Baalim of the Old Testament were nothing more than demons masquerading as gods, and all idolatry is ultimately devil-worship (1 Corinthians 10:20).
Victory over the false prophets
After the great victory over the false prophets, rain once again falls on the land (1 Kings 18:41-46). However, in spite of victory and provisions from the LORD that he receives, Elijah enters a period of wavering faith and depression (1 Kings 19:1-18). Hearing that Ahab’s wife Jezebel has made a vow to kill him, Elijah feels sorry for himself, hides in a cave, and even comes to believe that he alone was left of the prophets of God. He got his eyes off of God and onto the details. It is then that the LORD instructs Elijah to stand on the mountain as the LORD passed by. There is a great wind, an earthquake, and then fire, but God is not in any of those. Then comes a still, small voice in which Elijah hears God and understands Him. When Elijah stopped focusing on the fear of what men could do and his feelings of being alone, God’s voice was heard, and Elijah went on to be taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1-11).
The prophet Elijah and today’s believer
Just as for Elijah, when the believer focuses on the noise and the tumult of life in this world, we may get our eyes off of the LORD. However, if we listen for His still, small voice and walk in obedience to His Word, we find victory and reward. Each biblical character we study has a lesson for us to use in our walk as believers. Elijah was filled with human frailties yet was used mightily of God.
God responded to the prayer of Elijah the prophet and sent fire from heaven.
Elijah the Prophet
The prophet Elijah urged the people of ancient Israel to turn from sin and to return to the true God. His message is just as important for us today.
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’s 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, “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). To announce the punishment and warn the nation to change its ways, God sent a messenger, Elijah the prophet.
Elijah’s 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. “Elijah … said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word’” (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
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—a 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’s faith saying, “Elijah 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” (James 5:17-18).
Elijah chosen by God
Like many of the prophets, Elijah did not seek to be God’s 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).
The prophets of Baal were humiliated when they couldn’t 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. “Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, ‘Is that you, O troubler of Israel?’ And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and have followed the Baals’” (1 Kings 18:17-19).
Showdown at Mount Carmel
Elijah’s 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).
To show God’s power, Elijah told the large crowd, “I alone am left a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men” (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah continued, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). God would give convincing proof that day that He was Israel’s 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—but to no avail.
At the end of the day, Elijah called on Israel’s God to send fire to swallow up the sacrifice prepared for Him. God responded to Elijah’s 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’s God could do this miracle. Elijah then ordered that the false prophets be executed (1 Kings 18:36-40). Then God’s 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 by searching for the article “False Prophets.” To understand how and why God works through His prophets, read the article “Prophets of the Bible.”)
God’s prophets are hated
When the false prophets of Baal were dead, Elijah came under a death threat by Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab. As Israel’s 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’s 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’t 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).
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’s 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’s 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.
An 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’s great wrath upon the earth. The prophet Malachi declared, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD” (Malachi 4:5-6).
Similar to the way John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), this 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’s mission: “And 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, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (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 “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20, emphasis added).
At the time of the end, just before the great and dreadful day of God’s 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’s return. Furthermore, as the world enters this time of judgment, two witnesses will be given power to stop rainfall for 3½ years—this time over all nations.
Christ says, “And I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. … 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” (Revelation 11:3, 6).
God will take no pleasure in sending these judgments, and disobedient nations will need to be reminded of God’s purpose for them: “‘Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?’ says the Lord GOD, ‘and not that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (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’s second coming. Be sure to read more on the role of these two prophets in the article “Two Witnesses.” Also read our article “What Is Repentance?”
Elijah is considered one of the most important prophets of the Old Testament. He faithfully carried out God’s mission in the face of danger and hardship. His was a singular voice of “one crying in the wilderness” to rebuke sin in the land and to expose the false prophets and false religions of his day.
In Elijah’s day a revival of true worship was begun. Be sure to read the article “Elisha the Prophet” to see how God continued the course He had for His people through the next prophet sent to Israel. Elijah’s whole life was devoted to the work of restoring true worship in Israel. His admonition that God’s people faithfully serve Him with their whole hearts remains important for us today.
To Be Continued…