Old Testament. Elijah of Tishbe was a lone figure from the remote part of Gilead east of the Jordan. One of the better known characters in the Old Testament, he also made an impact on later Judaism and on the New Testament writers. A contemporary of the Israelite kings Ahab and Ahaziah (874-852 b.c.), Elijah represented a class of prophets who were normally not associated with any sanctuary or prophetic guild (but see 2 Kings 2:3-7 ). He challenged Ahab, whose policies were designed to replace the Israelite idea of kingship with the ancient Near Eastern concept of monarchy and royal law. Elijah defended Yahweh's sovereignty over history and justice, as well as over false gods (1 Kings 17-18).
The stories of Elijah (known as the Elijah cycle) dominate much of the latter half of 1 Kings (17-19, 21) and the early chapters of 2 Kings (1-2). The chronological order of the cycle is uncertain, making the course of Elijah's life obscure. The cycle was incorporated into the theological history of Israel and Judah, without which our knowledge for the reign of Ahab would be almost unknown. It contained six separate narratives that included several anecdotal stories about Elijah's life that may have circulated independently among his disciples in the northern kingdom. All but the last were concerned with the clash of Baal and Yahweh. Elijah appeared to vindicate the distinctive character of the people of God when their identification was threatened by Ahab's liberal policies. He also answered Jehoshaphat's question ( 2 Kings 3:11 ) and sent a letter to Jehoram ( 2 Chron 21:12-15 ).
Elijah appeared on the scene without warning, introduction, or genealogy ( 1 Kings 17:1 ) to deliver an oracle to Ahab announcing a drought, presumably a punishment for defection to the Baal cult. Afterward, he returned to Zarephath where he was miraculously sustained ( 1 Kings 17:17-24 ). God then chose a Gentile believer (the Phoenician woman of Zarephath) to shame his people and to rebuke Jezebel, Ahab's Phoenician queen, showing that there was a Yahwistic believer in her own country. The unfailing water supply shows that Godnot the kingwas the dispenser of the water of life. Chrysostom said that Elijah learned compassion in the house of the widow so he could be sent to his own people. Yahweh did not just intervene at critical times in the affairs of people, but was now accessible to believers in the ordinary affairs of life ( 1 Kings 17:12 ).
Three years later there was a break in the drought and Elijah was successful in ending Baal worship at Carmel. The Baal priests were not completely destroyed; they actually continued on past the end of the Ahab dynasty, until the time of Athaliah of Judah (who was related to Ahab's royal house). Elijah helped Israel understand that Yahweh guided the fortunes of the nations; even the Baal cult was under his control. Yahweh, not Baal, had the power of life and death, and was the giver of rain and good things. The Carmel story showed a reminiscence of the change of political and religious sovereignty from Tyre to Israel. Israel was not truly synchretistic; Baal or Yahweh would be king, but not both ( 1 Kings 18:21 ). Ahab was not wholly Baalist; his family bore Yahwistic names, and he consulted with Yahweh after the encounter with Elijah ( 1 Kings 20:13-15 1 Kings 20:22 1 Kings 20:28 ). The Tyrian cult of Baal Melqart may have been a pseudo-monotheistic movement that precipitated this struggle. Israel now saw the mediation of God's will in history and the interpretation of his divine will.
Elijah's success was merely temporary; he fled to Mount Horeb (although this may not be in chronological order) to escape Jezebel's wrath ( 1 Kings 19 ). Here, the small voice of God was in direct opposition to the noisy and primitive sounds of the Canaanite deities, which pointed toward a more spiritual and transcendent concept of Yahweh. The theophany in 1 Kings 19 is similar to Exodus 33:19, and like the story of the widow, may show that God is to be found in the daily affairs of humans, rather than in supernatural phenomena.
Like Amos in a later period, Elijah showed an astute social concern, emerging as a leader with strong ethical ideals ( 1 Kings 21 ). The Naboth incident shows a social dimension in the clash between Israelite law and Canaanite kingship. By appropriating Naboth's land as crown property, Ahab was out of his jurisdiction. Inalienable land in Israel was in principle hereditary, although Yahweh was the true owner. In this position, God demanded the rule of law and justice, and watched over ethical and legal morals. Elijah, whom Ahab saw as a blood avenger (v. 20), is introduced with dramatic suddenness only at the end of this section, confronting Ahab for taking possession of the vineyard. The king was indicted for infringing on two of the ten commandments that were recognized as the basis for society: murder and forcible appropriation, both capital offenses. The curse concerning Ahab was not literally executed on him, however, but on his successor. This may have been because of his repentance, but probably was due to the Hebrew idea of the extended self, taking for granted the cohesion of life and liability between generations. Ahab's dynasty ended because of the Naboth incident, not because of the Baal struggle. Later, Elijah protested Ahaziah's appeal to Baal-Zebub, the local god of Ekron ( 2 Kings 1:9-15 ; Josephus called this god "the lord of the flies, " as did the Ras Shamra texts ). Elijah was here described as a hairy man with a shaggy cloak, evidently the insignia of a prophet ( 2 Kings 1:8 ).
The translation of Elijah into heaven occurs in an anecdotal section concerned mainly with Elisha ( 2 Kings 2:1-12 ). Elijah was associated with the prophetic guilds in Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho. He did not bequeath his staff to Elisha, but his cloak, which had a spiritual not a magical power. Elisha desired a double portion of Elijah's spirit, a stipulation in Hebrew law whereby the eldest son received his share and was equipped as the true successor to his father. The whirlwind and sudden disappearance of Elijah, with the addition of a theophany, emphasize God's presence in the incident.
In later Old Testament prophetic tradition, Elijah was associated with the day of the Lord ( Mal 4:5-6 ), and was soon to be sent by God on the behalf of the people. He was described as similar to the messenger in Malachi 3:1 (which also may have been an allusion to Elijah, since both prepared the way for Yahweh). The purpose of Elijah's coming was either to pacify family quarrels ( Mal 2:10-16 ), culminating in a new social order, or to restore the covenant relationship.
Later Jewish Tradition. Elijah was prominently featured in popular legend and theological discussion of eschatological expectation during the intertestamental period. The reason for this may be his enigmatic rapture in 2ki 2:11 (the reward for his zeal for the law, according to 1 Macc 2:58, ; which fostered the idea of his sinlessness ), and the prophecy of his return in Malachi, which nurtured the idea of him becoming a messianic figure from the heavenly kingdom who came to purify the priesthood. He was said to be an intercessor for Israel in heaven, a heavenly scribe who recorded the Acts of men, and who had an eternal existence (Ecclus 48:1-14).
New Testament. The New Testament, which mentions the prophet nearly thirty times, shows the influence of the late Jewish tradition of Elijah being the forerunner of the Messiah. The expectation of Elijah's return occurs frequently in the Gospels ( Matt 17:10 ; Mark 9:11 ). Many were convinced that either Jesus ( Matt 16:14 ; Mark 6:15 ; 8:28 ; Luke 9:8 Luke 9:19 ) or John the Baptist ( John 1:21 John 1:25 ) were the expected prophet. Although John denied that he was Elijah, he wore the prophet's style of clothing (a mantle of camel's hair and a leather girdle Matt 3:4 ; Mark 1:6 ). Moreover, Jesus said that John went forth as Elijah in spirit; he was thus the symbolic fulfillment of the prophet's mission ( Matt 11:14 ; Mark 8:28 ; Luke 1:17 ).
Although the tradition that Moses and Elijah would appear together in the last days was not to be found in rabbinic Judaism, both of these Old Testament characters were present and spoke at the transfiguration of Jesus, testifying to the importance of the impending events as eschatological ( Matt 17:3-4 ; Mark 9:4-5 ; Luke 9:30 Luke 9:33 ). Some have seen the two as representing the Law and the Prophets, which were now both considered to be subservient to Christ.
Jesus' prayer on the cross with the opening words of Psalm 22:1, "Eli, Eli" (My God, My God) was either misunderstood or willfully misinterpreted as a petition for help to Elijah ( Matt 27:46-49 ; Mark 15:34-36 ). Jewish lore identified Elijah as a helper in time of need, and since Elijah did not come, Jesus' petition was considered a failure. The church, however, did not accept this figure of Elijah; only Christ himself would be called on in stressful times.
Various events of Elijah's life are alluded to in the New Testament. James uses Elijah as a powerful example of a supplicant ( 5:17 ), relying on Jewish tradition, which credited Elijah with a reputation for prayer (although this is not specifically mentioned in 1 Kings 17-18). He also describes the passage of time of the drought in 1 Kings 18:1 as three and a half years (cf. Luke 4:25 ; Rev 11:6 ). James attempts to refute the Jewish tradition of the sinlessness and eternal nature of the prophet by stating that Elijah was a man "just like us." His prayers were effective because he was righteous.
Jesus used the story of God sending Elijah to the widow of Zarephath to show that the Gentiles were not to be excluded from salvation ( Luke 4:25-26 ). Later church tradition takes the two witnesses of Revelation to be modeled after Moses and Elijah ( Rev 11:3-6 ). They were given the power to shut up the heavens and to bring the fire of judgment like Elijah in 1 Kings 17-18 (cf. Mal 4:5 ; Ecclus 48:1-14). In a similar vein, Jesus rebuked the sons of Zebedee for wondering whether they should call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan village ( Luke 9:54 ).
Paul uses the rabbinic model of Elijah and the idea of the remnant of Israel in Romans 11:2-5 (see 1 Kings 19:10-18 ). Just as Elijah became aware that a remnant of true believers still existed in Israel, Paul understands that there was still a sacred remnant of Jews who were elected by grace.
Mark W. Chavalas
Bibliography. F. Anderson, JBL85 (1966): 46-57; H. Bietenhard, NIDNTT, 1:543-45; J. Gray, I-II Kings; J. Jeremias, TDNT, 2:928-41; H. H. Rowley, BJRL43 (1960): 190-219; R. W. Wallace, Elijah and Elisha.
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whose God is Jehovah.
Having delivered his message to Ahab, he retired at the command of God to a hiding-place by the brook Cherith, beyond Jordan, where he was fed by ravens. When the brook dried up God sent him to the widow of Zarephath, a city of Zidon, from whose scanty store he was supported for the space of two years. During this period the widow's son died, and was restored to life by Elijah ( 1 Kings 17: : 224 -24).
During all these two years a famine prevailed in the land. At the close of this period of retirement and of preparation for his work (Compare Galatians 1:17 Galatians 1:18 ) Elijah met Obadiah, one of Ahab's officers, whom he had sent out to seek for pasturage for the cattle, and bade him go and tell his master that Elijah was there. The king came and met Elijah, and reproached him as the troubler of Israel. It was then proposed that sacrifices should be publicly offered, for the purpose of determining whether Baal or Jehovah were the true God. This was done on Carmel, with the result that the people fell on their faces, crying, "The Lord, he is the God." Thus was accomplished the great work of Elijah's ministry. The prophets of Baal were then put to death by the order of Elijah. Not one of them escaped. Then immediately followed rain, according to the word of Elijah, and in answer to his prayer ( James 5:18 ).
Jezebel, enraged at the fate that had befallen her priests of Baal, threatened to put Elijah to death ( 1 Kings 19:1-13 ). He therefore fled in alarm to Beersheba, and thence went alone a day's journey into the wilderness, and sat down in despondency under a juniper tree. As he slept an angel touched him, and said unto him, "Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee." He arose and found a cake and a cruse of water. Having partaken of the provision thus miraculously supplied, he went forward on his solitary way for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God, where he took up his abode in a cave. Here the Lord appeared unto him and said, "What dost thou here, Elijah?" In answer to his despondent words God manifests to him his glory, and then directs him to return to Damascus and anoint Hazael king over Syria, and Jehu king over Israel, and Elisha to be prophet in his room ( 1 Kings 19:13-21 ; Compare 2 Kings 8:7-15 ; 9:1-10 ).
Some six years after this he warned Ahab and Jezebel of the violent deaths they would die ( 1 Kings 21:19-24 ; 22:38 ). He also, four years afterwards, warned Ahaziah (q.v.), who had succeeded his father Ahab, of his approaching death ( 2 Kings 1:1-16 ). (See NABOTH .) During these intervals he probably withdrew to some quiet retirement, no one knew where. His interview with Ahaziah's messengers on the way to Ekron, and the account of the destruction of his captains with their fifties, suggest the idea that he may have been in retirement at this time on Mount Carmel.
The time now drew near when he was to be taken up into heaven ( 2 Kings 2:1-12 ). He had a presentiment of what was awaiting him. He went down to Gilgal, where was a school of the prophets, and where his successor Elisha, whom he had anointed some years before, resided. Elisha was solemnized by the thought of his master's leaving him, and refused to be parted from him. "They two went on," and came to Bethel and Jericho, and crossed the Jordan, the waters of which were "divided hither and thither" when smitten with Elijah's mantle. Arrived at the borders of Gilead, which Elijah had left many years before, it "came to pass as they still went on and talked" they were suddenly separated by a chariot and horses of fire; and "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven, "Elisha receiving his mantle, which fell from him as he ascended.
No one of the old prophets is so frequently referred to in the New Testament. The priests and Levites said to the Baptist ( John 1:25 ), "Why baptizest thou, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias?" Paul ( Romans 11:2 ) refers to an incident in his history to illustrate his argument that God had not cast away his people. ( James 5:17 ) finds in him an illustration of the power of prayer. (See also Luke 4:25 ; 9:54 .) He was a type of John the Baptist in the sternness and power of his reproofs ( Luke 9:8 ). He was the Elijah that "must first come" ( Matthew 11:11 Matthew 11:14 ), the forerunner of our Lord announced by Malachi. Even outwardly the Baptist corresponded so closely to the earlier prophet that he might be styled a second Elijah. In him we see "the same connection with a wild and wilderness country; the same long retirement in the desert; the same sudden, startling entrance on his work ( 1 Kings 17:1 ; Luke 3:2 ); even the same dress, a hairy garment, and a leathern girdle about the loins ( 2 Kings 1:8 ; Matthew 3:4 )."
How deep the impression was which Elijah made "on the mind of the nation may be judged from the fixed belief, which rested on the words of ( Malachi 4:5 Malachi 4:6 ), which many centuries after prevailed that he would again appear for the relief and restoration of the country. Each remarkable person as he arrives on the scene, be his habits and characteristics what they may, the stern John equally with his gentle Successor, is proclaimed to be Elijah ( Matthew 11:13 Matthew 11:14 ; 16:14 ; 17:10 ; Mark 9:11 ; 15:35 ; Luke 9:7 Luke 9:8 ; John 1:21 ). His appearance in glory on the mount of transfiguration does not seem to have startled the disciples. They were 'sore afraid,' but not apparently surprised."
God the Lord
(my God is Jehovah ) has been well entitled "the grandest and the most romantic character that Israel ever produced." "Elijah the Tishbite,... of the inhabitants of Gilead" is literally all that is given us to know of his parentage and locality. Of his appearance as he "stood before" Ahab (B.C. 910) with the suddenness of motion to this day characteristic of the Bedouins from his native hills, we can perhaps realize something from the touches, few but strong, of the narrative. His chief characteristic was his hair, long and thick, and hanging down his back. His ordinary clothing consisted of a girdle of skin round his loins, which he tightened when about to move quickly. ( 1 Kings 18:46 ) But in addition to this he occasionally wore the "mantle" or cape of sheepskin which has supplied us with one of our most familiar figures of speech. His introduction, in what we may call the first act of his life, is the most startling description. He suddenly appears before Ahab, prophesies a three-years drought in Israel, and proclaims the vengeance of Jehovah for the apostasy of the king. Obliged to flee from the vengeance of king, or more probably of the queen (comp. ( 1 Kings 19:2 ) he was directed to the brook Cherith. There in the hollow of the torrent bed he remained, supported in the miraculous manner with which we are all familiar, till the failing of the brook obliged him to forsake it. His next refuge was at Zarephath. Here in the house of the widow woman Elijah performed the miracles of prolonging the oil and the meal, and restored the son of the widow to life after his apparent death. 1Kin 17. In this or some other retreat an interval of more than two years must have elapsed. The drought continued, and at last the full horrors of famine, caused by the failure of the crops, descended on Samaria. Again Elijah suddenly appears before Ahab. There are few more sublime stories in history than the account of the succeeding events --with the servant of Jehovah and his single attendant on the one hand, and the 850 prophets of Baal on the other; the altars, the descending fire of Jehovah consuming both sacrifice and altar; the rising storm, and the ride across the plain to Jezreel. 1Kin 18. Jezebel vows vengeance, and again Elijah takes refuge in flight into the wilderness, where he is again miraculously fed, and goes forward, in the strength of that food, a journey of forty days to the mount of God, even to Horeb, where he takes refuge in a cave, and witnesses a remarkable vision of Jehovah. ( 1 Kings 19:9-18 ) He receives the divine communication, and sets forth in search of Elisha, whom he finds ploughing in the field, and anoints him prophet in his place. ch. 19. For a time little is heard of Elijah, and Ahab and Jezebel probably believed they had seen the last of him. But after the murder of Naboth, Elijah, who had received an intimation from Jehovah of what was taking place, again suddenly appears before the king, and then follow Elijahs fearful denunciation of Ahab and Jezebel, which may possibly be recovered by putting together the words recalled by Jehu, ( 2 Kings 9:26 2 Kings 9:36 2 Kings 9:37 ) and those given in ( 1 Kings 21:19-25 ) A space of three or four years now elapses (comp. ( 1 Kings 22:1 1 Kings 22:51 ; 2 Kings 1:17 ) before we again catch a glimpse of Elijah. Ahaziah is on his death-bed, ( 1 Kings 22:51 ; 2 Kings 1:1 2 Kings 1:2 ) and sends to an oracle or shrine of Baal to ascertain the issue of his illness; but Elijah suddenly appears on the path of the messengers, without preface or inquiry utters his message of death, and as rapidly disappears. The wrathful king sends two bands of soldiers to seize Elijah, and they are consumed with fire; but finally the prophet goes down and delivers to Ahaziahs face the message of death. No long after Elijah sent a message to Jehoram denouncing his evil doings, and predicting his death. ( 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 ) It was at Gilgal --probably on the western edge of the hills of Ephraim-- that the prophet received the divine intimation that his departure was at hand. He was at the time with Elisha, who seems now to have become his constant companion, and who would not consent to leave him. "And it came to pass as they still went on and talked, that, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." (B.C. 896.) Fifty men of the sons of the prophets ascended the abrupt heights behind the town, and witnessed the scene. How deep was the impression which he made on the mind of the nation may be judged of from the fixed belief which many centuries after prevailed that Elijah would again appear for the relief and restoration of his country, as Malachi prophesied. ( Malachi 4:5 ) He spoke, but left no written words, save the letter to Jehoram king of Judah. ( 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 )
e-li'-ja ('eliyahu or (4 times) 'eliyah, "Yah is God"; Septuagint Eleiou, New Testament Eleias or Elias, the King James Version of New Testament Elias):
\I. THE WORKS OF ELIJAH
1. The Judgment of Drought 2. The Ordeal by Prayer 3. At Horeb 4. The Case of Naboth 5. Elijah and Ahaziah 6. Elijah Translated 7. The Letter to Jehoram
\II. THE WORK OF ELIJAH
\III. CHARACTER OF THE PROPHET
\IV. MIRACLES IN THE ELIJAH NARRATIVES
\V. ELIJAH IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
\ VI. LITERATURE
(1) The great prophet of the times of Ahab, king of Israel. Elijah is identified at his first appearance (1 Kings 17:1) as "Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the sojourners of Gilead." Thus his native place must have been called Tishbeh. A Tishbeh (Thisbe) in the territory of Naphtali is known from Tobit 1:2; but if (with most modern commentators) the reading of the Septuagint in 1Ki is followed, the word translated "sojourners" is itself "Tishbeh," locating the place in Gilead and making the prophet a native of that mountain region and not merely a "sojourner" there.
\I. The Works of Elijah.
In 1 Kings 16:29-34 we read of the impieties of Ahab, culminating in his patronage of the worship of the Tyrian Baal, god of his Tyrian queen Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31). 1 Kings 16:34 mentions as another instance of the little weight attached in Ahab's time to ancient prophetic threatenings, the rebuilding by Hiel the Bethelite of the banned city of Jericho, "with the loss" of Hiel's eldest and youngest sons. This is the situation which calls for a judgment of Yahweh, announced beforehand, as is often the case, by a faithful prophet of Yahweh.
1. The Judgment of Drought:
Whether Elijah was already a familiar figure at the court of Ahab, the narrative beginning with 1 Kings 17:1 does not state. His garb and manner identified him as a prophet, in any case (2 Kings 1:8; compare Zechariah 13:4). Elijah declared in few words that Yahweh, true and only rightful God of Israel, whose messenger he was, was even at the very time sending a drought which should continue until the prophet himself declared it at an end. The term is to be fixed, indeed, not by Elijah but by Yahweh; it is not to be short ("these years"), and it is to end only when the chastisement is seen to be sufficient. Guided, as true prophets were continually, by the "word of Yahweh," Elijah then hid himself in one of the ravines east of ("before") the Jordan, where the brook Cherith afforded him water, and ravens brought him abundant food ("bread and flesh" twice daily), 1 Kings 17:2-6. As the drought advanced the brook dried up. Elijah was then directed, by the "word of Yahweh," as constantly, to betake himself beyond the western limit of Ahab's kingdom to the Phoenician village of Zarephath, near Sidon. There the widow to whom Yahweh sent him was found gathering a few sticks from the ground at the city gate, to prepare a last meal for herself and her son. She yielded to the prophet's command that he himself should be first fed from her scanty store; and in return enjoyed the fulfillment of his promise, uttered in the name of Yahweh, that neither barrel of meal nor cruse of oil should be exhausted before the breaking of the drought. (Josephus, Ant, VIII, xiii, 2, states on the authority of Menander that the drought extended to Phoenicia and continued there for a full year.) But when the widow's son fell sick and died, the mother regarded it as a Divine judgment upon her sins, a judgment which had been drawn upon her by the presence of the man of God. At the prayer of Elijah, life returned to the child (1 Kings 17:17-24).
"In the third year," 1 Kings 18:1 (Luke 4:25; James 5:17 give three years and six months as the length of the drought), Elijah was directed to show himself to Ahab as the herald of rain from Yahweh. How sorely both man and beast in Israel were pressed by drought and the resulting famine, is shown by the fact that King Ahab and his chief steward Obadiah were in person searching through the land for any patches of green grass that might serve to keep alive some of the king's own horses and mules (1 Kings 18:5,6). The words of Obadiah upon meeting with Elijah show the impression which had been produced by the prophet's long absence. It was believed that the Spirit of God had carried Elijah away to some unknown, inaccessible, mysterious region (1 Kings 18:10,12). Obadiah feared that such would again be the case, and, while he entreated the prophet not to make him the bearer of a message to Ahab, appealed to his own well-known piety and zeal, as shown in his sheltering and feeding, during Jezebel's persecution, a hundred prophets of Yahweh. Elijah reassured the steward by a solemn oath that he would show himself to Ahab (1 Kings 18:15). The king greeted the prophet with the haughty words, "Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel?" Elijah's reply, answering scorn with scorn, is what we should expect from a prophet; the woes of Israel are not to be charged to the prophet who declared the doom, but to the kings who made the nation deserve it (1 Kings 18:17,18).
2. The Ordeal by Prayer:
Elijah went on to challenge a test of the false god's power. Among the pensioners of Jezebel were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah--still fed by the royal bounty in spite of the famine. Accepting Elijah's proposal, Ahab called all these and all the people to Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:19,20). Elijah's first word to the assembly implied the folly of their thinking that the allegiance of a people could successfully be divided between two deities:
"How long go ye limping between the two sides?" (possibly "leaping over two thresholds," in ironical allusion to the custom of leaping over the threshold of an idol temple, to avoid a stumble, which would be unpropitious; compare 1 Samuel 5:1-5). Taking the people's silence as an indication that they admitted the force of his first words, Elijah went on to propose his conditions for the test: a bullock was to be offered to Baal, a bullock to Yahweh, but no fire put under; "The God that answereth by fire, let him be God." The voice of the people approved the proposal as fair (1 Kings 18:22-24). Throughout a day of blazing sunshine the prophets of Baal called in frenzy upon their god, while Elijah mocked them with merciless sarcasm (1 Kings 18:25-29). About the time for the regular offering of the evening sacrifice in the temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem, Elijah assumed control. Rebuilding an ancient altar thrown down perhaps in Jezebel's persecution; using in the rebuilding twelve stones, symbolizing an undivided Israel such as was promised to the patriarch Jacob of old; drenching sacrifice and wood with water from some perennial spring under the slopes of Carmel, until even a trench about the altar, deep and wide enough to have a two-ce'ah (half-bushel) measure set in it, was filled--the prophet called in few and earnest words upon the God of the fathers of the nation (1 Kings 18:30-37). The answer of Yahweh by fire, consuming bullock, wood, altar and the very dust, struck the people with awe and fear. Convinced that Yahweh was God alone for them, they readily carried out the prophet's stern sentence of death for the prophets of the idol god (1 Kings 18:38-40). Next the prophet bade Ahab make haste with the meal, probably a sacrificial feast for the multitude, which had been made ready; because rain was at hand. On the mountain top Elijah bowed in prayer, sending his servant seven times to look out across the sea for the coming storm. At last the appearance of a rising cloud "as small as a man's hand" was reported; and before the hurrying chariot of the king could cross the plain to Jezreel it was overtaken by "a great rain" from heavens black with clouds and wind after three rainless years. With strength above nature, Elijah ran like a courier before Ahab to the very gate of Jezreel (1 Kings 18:41-46).
3. At Horeb:
The same night a messenger from Jezebel found Elijah. The message ran, "As surely as thou art Elijah and I am Jezebel" (so the Septuagint), "so let the gods do to me, and more also" (i.e. may I be cut in pieces like a sacrificed animal if I break my vow; compare Genesis 15:8-11,17,18; Jeremiah 34:18,19), "if I make not thy life as the life of one of" the slain prophets of Baal "by to-morrow about this time." Explain Elijah's action how we may--and all the possible explanations of it have found defenders--he sought safety in instant flight. At Beersheba, the southernmost town of Judah, he left his "servant," whom the narrative does not elsewhere mention. Going onward into the southern wilderness, he sat down under the scanty shade of a desert broom-bush and prayed that he might share the common fate of mankind in death (1 Kings 19:1-4). After sleep he was refreshed with food brought by an angel. Again he slept and was fed. In the strength of that food he then wandered on for forty days and nights, until he found himself at Horeb, the mountain sacred because there Yahweh had revealed Himself to Moses (1 Kings 19:5-8). The repetition of identical words by Elijah in 1 Kings 19:10 and 14 represents a difficulty. Unless we are to suppose an accidental repetition by a very early copyist (early, since it appears already in the Septuagint), we may see in it an indication that Elijah's despondency was not easily removed, or that he sought at Horeb an especial manifestation of Yahweh for his encouragement, or both. The prophet was bidden to take his stand upon the sacred mount; and Yahweh passed by, heralded by tempest, earthquake and thunderstorm (19:9-12). These were Yahweh's fore-runners only; Yahweh was not in them, but in the "still small voice," such as the prophets were accustomed to hear within their souls. When Elijah heard the not unfamiliar inner voice, he recognized Yahweh present to hear and answer him. Elijah seems to be seeking to justify his own retreat to the wilderness by the plea that he had been "very jealous," had done in Yahweh's cause all that mortal prophet could do, before he fled, yet all in vain! The same people who had forsaken the law and "covenant" of Yahweh, thrown down His altars and slain His prophets, would have allowed the slaughter of Elijah himself at the command of Jezebel; and in him would have perished the last true servant of Yahweh in all the land of Israel (19:13,14).
Divine compassion passed by Elijah's complaint in order to give him directions for further work in Yahweh's cause. Elijah must anoint Hazael to seize the throne of Syria, Israel's worst enemy among the neighboring powers; Jehu, in like manner, he must anoint to put an end to the dynasty of Ahab and assume the throne of Israel; and Elisha, to be his own successor in the prophetic office. These three, Hazael and his Syrians, Jehu and his followers, even Elisha himself, are to execute further judgments upon the idolaters and the scorners in Israel. Yahweh will leave Himself 7,000 (a round number, a limited but not an excessively small one, conveying a doctrine, like the doctrine of later prophets, of the salvation of a righteous remnant) in Israel, men proof against the judgment because they did not share the sin. If Elijah was rebuked at all, it was only in the contrast between the 7,000 faithful and the one, himself, which he believed to number all the righteous left alive in Israel (1 Kings 19:15-18).
4. The Case of Naboth:
The anointing of Hazael and of Jehu seems to have been left to Elijah's successor; indeed, we read of no anointing of Hazael, but only of a significant interview between that worthy and Elisha (2 Kings 8:7-15). Elijah next appears in the narrative as rebuker of Ahab for the judicial murder of Naboth. In the very piece of ground which the king had coveted and seized, the prophet appeared, unexpected and unwelcome, to declare upon Ahab, Jezebel and all their house the doom of a shameful death (1 Kings 21). There was present at this scene, in attendance upon the king, a captain named Jehu, the very man already chosen as the supplanter of Ahab, and he never forgot what he then saw and heard (2 Kings 9:25,26).
5. Elijah and Ahaziah:
Ahab's penitence (1 Kings 21:28,29) averted from himself some measure of the doom. His son Ahaziah pulled it down upon his own head. Sick unto death from injuries received in a fall, Ahaziah sent to ask an oracle concerning his recovery at the shrine of Baal-zebub in Ekron. Elijah met the messengers and turned them back with a prediction, not from Baal-zebub but from Yahweh, of impending death. Ahaziah recognized by the messengers' description the ancient "enemy" of his house. A captain and fifty soldiers sent to arrest the prophet were consumed by fire from heaven at Elijah's word. A second captain with another fifty met the same fate. A third besought the prophet to spare his life, and Elijah went with him to the king, but only to repeat the words of doom (2 Kings 1).
6. Elijah Translated:
A foreboding, shared by the "sons of the prophets" at Beth-el and Jericho, warned Elijah that the closing scene of his earthly life was at hand. He desired to meet the end, come in what form it might, alone. Elisha, however, bound himself by an oath not to leave his master. Elijah divided Jordan with the stroke of his mantle, that the two might pass over toward the wilderness on the east. Elisha asked that he might receive a firstborn's portion of the spirit which rested upon his master. "A chariot of fire, and horses of fire" appeared, and parted the two asunder; "and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kings 2:1-11).
7. The Letter to Jehoram:
In 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 we read of a "writing" from Elijah to Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. The statements of 2 Kings 3:11,12 admit of no other interpretation than that the succession of Elisha to independent prophetic work had already occurred in the lifetime of Jehoshaphat. It has been pointed out that the difficult verse, 2 Kings 8:16, appears to mean that Jehoram began to reign at some time before the death of his father; it is also conceivable that Elijah left a message, reduced to writing either before or after his departure, for the future king of Judah who should depart from the true faith.
\II. The Work of Elijah.
One's estimate of the importance of the work of Elijah depends upon one's conception of the condition of things which the prophet confronted in Northern Israel. While it is true that the reign of Ahab was outwardly prosperous, and the king himself not without a measure of political sagacity together with personal courage, his religious policy at best involved such tolerance of false faiths as could lead only to disaster. Ever since the time of Joshua, the religion of Yahweh had been waging its combat with the old Canaanite worship of the powers of Nature, a worship rendered to local deities, the "Baalim" or "lords" of this and that neighborhood, whose ancient altars stood "upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree" (Deuteronomy 12:2). The god imported from Phoenicia by Jezebel bore also the title Baal; but his character and his worship were worse and more debasing than anything that had before been known. Resistance offered by the servants of Yahweh to the claims of the queen's favored god led to persecution, rightly ascribed by the historian to Jezebel (1 Kings 18:4). In the face of this danger, the differences between the worship of Yahweh as carried on in the Northern Kingdom and the same worship as practiced at Jerusalem sank out of sight. The one effort of Elijah was to recall the people from the Tyrian Baal to Yahweh, the God of their fathers. The vitality of the true religion in the crisis is shown by the fidelity of such a man as Obadiah (1 Kings 18:3), or by the perseverance of a righteous remnant of 7,000, in spite of all that had happened of persecution (1 Kings 19:18). The work begun by Elijah was finished, not without blood, by Jehu; we hear no more of the worship of the Tyrian Baal in Israel after that anointed usurper's time (2 Kings 9; 10). To say that Elijah at Horeb "learns the gentleness of God" (Strachan in HDB) is to contradict the immediate text of the narrative and the history of the times. The direction given Elijah was that he should anoint one man to seize the throne of Syria, another to seize that of Israel, and a prophet to continue his own work; with the promme and prediction that these three forces should unite in executing upon guilty Israel the judgment still due for its apostasy from Yahweh and its worship of a false god. Elijah was not a reformer of peace; the very vision of peace was hidden from his eyes, reserved for later prophets for whom he could but prepare the way. It was his mission to destroy at whatever cost the heathen worship which else would have destroyed Israel itself, with consequences whose evil we cannot estimate. Amos and Hosea would have had no standing-ground had it not been for the work of Elijah and the influences which at Divine direction he put in operation.
\III. Character of the Prophet.
It is obvious that the Scripture historian does not intend to furnish us with a character-study of the prophet Elijah. Does he furnish even the material upon which such a study may profitably be attempted? The characterization found in James 5:17, "Elijah was a man of like passions (margin, "nature") with us," is brief indeed; but examination of the books which have been written upon the life of Elijah leads to the conclusion that it is possible to err by attaching to events meanings which those events were never intended to bear, as well as by introducing into one's study too much of sheer imagination. It is easy, for example, to observe that Elijah is introduced to the reader with suddenness, and that his appearances and disappearances in the narrative seem abrupt; but is one warranted in arguing from this a like abruptness in the prophet's character? Is not the sufficient explanation to be reached by observing that the historian's purpose was not to give a complete biography of any individual, whether prophet or king, but to display the working of Yahweh upon and with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah through the prophets? Few personal details are therefore to be found recorded concerning even such a prophet as Elijah; and none at all, unless they have a direct bearing upon his message. The imagination of some has discerned a "training of Elijah" in the experiences of the prophet; but to admit that there must have been such a training does not oblige us to discover traces of it in the scenes and incidents which are recorded. Distrusting, for the reasons above suggested, any attempt at a detailed representation of the prophet's inner life, one may seek, and prize, what seems to lie upon the surface of the narrative:
faith in Yahweh as God of Nature and as covenant God of the patriarchs and their descendants; consuming "zeal" against the false religion which would displace Yahweh from the place which must be His alone; keen vision to perceive hypocrisy and falsehood, and sharp wit to lash them, with the same boldness and disregard of self that must needs mark the true prophet in any age.
\IV. Miracles in the Elijah Narratives.
The miraculous element must be admitted to be prominent in the experiences and works of Elijah. It cannot be estimated apart from the general position which the student finds it possible to hold concerning miracles recorded in the Old Testament. The effort to explain away one or another item in a rationalistic way is wholly unprofitable. Elijah's "ravens" may indeed be converted by a change of vowel-points into "Arabians"; but, in spite of the fact that Orientals would bring offerings of food to a holy hermit, the whole tenor of the narrative favors no other supposition than that its writer meant "ravens," and saw in the event another such exercise of the power of Yahweh over all things as was to be seen in the supply of meal and oil for the prophet and the widow of Zarephath, the fire from heaven, the parting of the Jordan, or the ascension of the prophet by whirlwind into heaven. Some modern critics recognize a different and later source in the narrative of 2 Kings 1; but here again no real difficulty, if any difficulty there be, is removed. The stern prophet who would order the slaughter of the 450 Baal prophets might well call down fire to consume the soldiers of an apostate and a hostile king. The purpose and meaning of the Elijah chapters is to be grasped by those who accept their author's conception of Yahweh, of His power, and of His work in Nature and with men, rather than by those who seek to replace that conception by another.
\V. Elijah in the New Testament.
Malachi (4:5) names Elijah as the forerunner of "the great and terrible day of Yahweh," and the expectation founded upon this passage is alluded to in Mark 6:15 parallel Luke 9:8; Matthew 16:14 parallel Mark 8:28 parallel Luke 9:19; Matthew 27:47-49 parallel Mark 15:35,36. The interpretation of Malachi's prophecy foreshadowed in the angelic annunciation to Zacharias (Luke 1:17), that John the Baptist should do the work of another Elijah, is given on the authority of Jesus Himself (Matthew 11:14). The appearance of Elijah, with Moses, on the Mount of Transfiguration, is recorded in Matthew 17:1-13 parallel Mark 9:2-13 parallel Luke 9:28-36, and in Matthew 11:14 parallel Mark 9:13 Jesus again identifies the Elijah of Malachi with John the Baptist. The fate of the soldiers of Ahaziah (2 Kings 1) is in the mind of James and John on one occasion (Luke 9:54). Jesus Himself alludes to Elijah and his sojourn in the land of Sidon (Luke 4:25,26). Paul makes use of the prophet's experience at Horeb (Romans 11:2-4). In James 5:17,18 the work of Elijah affords an instance of the powerful supplication of a righteous man.
(2) A "head of a father's house" of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chronicles 8:27, the King James Version "Eliah").
(3) A man of priestly rank who had married a foreign wife (Ezra 10:21).
(4) A layman who had married a foreign wife Ezra 10:26.
The histories of Israel and commentaries on Kings are many. Those which tend to rationalizing tend also to decrease the importance of Elijah to the history. F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 2nd series, V; Maurice, Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament, Sermon VIII; Milligan, Elijah ("Men of the Bible" series); W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet.
F. K. Farr
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