Elijah (14 Feb 2021)

How much do you know about the Old Testament figure, Elijah?

We can know quite a bit about him.  He is quite a figure in the Old Testament and he is mentioned 30 times in the New Testament.

When you read the passage in the two books of Kings in the Bible you get some distinct impressions about him such as, Elijah knew what he was doing, where he was going and was ready for it.  You can see he was absolutely confident about his role and relationship with God, was ready to stand up to those who did not submit to God and could even be a quite irascible.

Also, you can’t help be impressed with the way he left.  He didn’t die! He just went and in a pretty dramatic way. I can see some distinct advantages in going like that – “a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.” Way to go!

Elijah lived some 900 years before Christ and you read all about him in the books 1 and 2 Kings. The last mention of him in the Old Testament is the last thing mentioned at all in the Old Testament.

About 450 years before Christ Malachi wrote (Malachi 4:5-6) ‘See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.’

The readers of the Bible were told to expect Elijah to appear again, this time as the fore runner to announce the arrival of the Messiah, the Saviour. As readers of the New Testament, especially over recent weeks, you know you’ve heard of Elijah even if you don’t remember the details of his life and of his leaving. He pops up in the Bible records around the birth of Jesus, and John the Baptist.

For example, since Malachi had prophesied Elijah’s return, when John the Baptist started calling people to repentance and told them to look out for the coming Messiah he was asked who he was. Although his role was like that of the prophesied Elijah, he replied that he was not Elijah and nor was he the Messiah who was about to turn up.

When John sent his disciples to ask Jesus about who he was Jesus sent John the message that he was the expected Messiah as could be seen from the works that he did.  Jesus then told the crowd that, “if you are willing to accept it, he John the Baptist is the Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:14)

in 2 Kings 1:8 we read Elijah ‘had a garment of hair and had a leather belt round his waist.’

In Matthew 3:4 we learn “John the Baptist’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt round his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.”

Clearly they had things in common.

One day, Jesus took “Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain where Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” (Matthew 17:1-3) Once again, a voice from God said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

An experience like that leaves all disciples of Jesus, including us, of course, in awe of who Jesus is, committed to be obedient to him and confident that while we might die as Moses did, that there is eternal life ahead of us as there was for both Moses and Elijah. In the meantime we should listen to Jesus and do as he says!

As Jesus died on the cross he cried out to God his Father and some near him thought he was calling for Elijah.  Minutes later Jesus breathed his last and even the Roman Centurion standing in front of Jesus confessed, “surely, this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-39)

There are specific referrals in the New Testament to at least four of the major events from the life of Elijah which means there are four lessons which are meant to be encouragement and example for us.

The Kings of Israel over the years were a mixed bag of poor, a dead loss and an occasional glimmer of OK. “Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel for twenty-two years. Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.” (1 Kings 16:29-30)

God’s response was to send him a message, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.’ There followed three years of drought and famine during which the Lord wonderfully kept Elijah supplied with food and water.

For example, the Lord sent Elijah to a widow in Zarephath and asked her for lodging and for bread.  She replied, “‘I don’t have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug.” He told her to go ahead and bake the bread which she did day after day. However, the flour did not run out and the oil jug was always miraculously full. Elijah, the widow and her son were supplied with food.

(1 Kings 17)17Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18She said to Elijah, ‘What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’

19‘Give me your son,’ Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20Then he cried out to the Lord, ‘Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?’ 21Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, ‘Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!’

22The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, ‘Look, your son is alive!’

In Luke 24 Jesus refers to this episode and pointed out that there were many widows in Zarephath but that Elijah was sent to this one, a gentile, not a Jew. Jesus was likening the Pharisees to the evil King Ahab, meaning get yourself sorted, be faithful to our God or you will be overlooked. The righteousness of the Pharisees is not acceptable.  Lesson number one, first to the Jewsis that gospel will go to the Gentiles and unless you straighten up you Jews will miss out. The synagogue leaders were as furious about this as Ahab had been and chased Jesus from the city. Of course, the lesson flows on to us. Get sorted or you will miss out.

After a long time, in the third year of the drought, God told Elijah “‘Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’” (1 Kings 18:1)

Elijah set out to do this and met Obadiah, a devout believer in the Lord and the King’s administrator and told him to let the King know he where he was.  By now King Ahab was a very angry man, not enjoying the punishment the Lord had put him and his people through, so Obadiah was terrified at the idea of confronting the King with Elijah, the perceived source of all his troubles.

While Elijah had been secure and hidden Ahab had been sending out men to search for Elijah seeking to have him killed.  At the same time, the King’s wife, Jezebel, had been leading the King further astray and having God’s faithful prophets slaughtered but Obadiah had secretly hidden 100 of them in caves – all the more reason Obadiah had to fear confronting the king.

Paul referred to this in Romans 11:2-5, “2God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah – how he appealed to God against Israel: 3‘Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me’? 4And what was God’s answer to him? ‘I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ 5So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” 

Lesson number two is that God does not leave himself without faithful witnesses even when many do not keep faithful to him. If you sometimes feel you are on your own as a Christian be encouraged to know there are surely other somewhere around who also are keeping faithful to God.  God makes sure of that.

So Obadiah told Ahab where Elijah was, and Ahab went to meet Elijah. When he saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel?’

There’s something that happens from time to time.  God’s messengers are accused of being trouble-makers whereas the trouble comes about because people are not paying attention to the message God is sending them!

18‘I have not made trouble for Israel,’ Elijah replied. ‘But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. 19Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’

Elijah confronted the people with the options.  Either follow the non-god Baal or follow the only God, the Lord.  They gave no reply. 

The 850 prophets of Baal set up an altar and chose a bull to slaughter and placed it on the wood on their altar.  They were then to call on their supposed god to come down and burn the sacrifice. They danced around the altar from morning to night, calling on Baal to come down. Nothing happened.

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ Perhaps he’s gone to the toilet! So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. 

But there was no response, no-one answered, no-one paid attention.

So Elijah took 12 stones to build an altar, put wood and the sacrificial animal on it then had them pour water over it three times until it overflowed into a trench surrounding the altar.

When Elijah called on the Lord to take the sacrifice the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil and licked up the water in the trench.

This demonstration of the useless powerlessness of false gods and the awesome might and power of the one true God was both terrifying and wonderful.

When all the people saw it, they fell prostrate and cried, ‘The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!’ Then Elijah commanded them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!’ They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.

After Ahab died he was succeeded by Ahaziah who also followed false gods. Ahaziah had had an accident and injured himself. He sent messengers to as for help from the idols and false gods. 3But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, ‘Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult false gods? Therefore this is what the Lord says: “You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!” (2 Kings 1)

This King Ahaziah sent out his soldiers to kill Elijah and Elijah’s response was to call down the fire of God from heaven to consume the soldiers.  Ahaziah died in his bed as Elijah had said.

In Luke 9:54 we read that the villagers had rejected Jesus and chased him out of town. His disciples asked him if they should call down fire on these villagers just as Elijah had done. I think I know the feeling! But Jesus turned and rebuked them. What we learn is that God could and has called down destruction on those who offend him. It is possible even in our own time and those who stand against God should be warned! Ultimately, when Jesus returns this is what will happen. Lesson three and the good news is that this is not the way Jesus wants to deal with us! He came to save, not to condemn!

We all know John 3:16 but read what Jesus said in what follows: “16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned”

After dealing with the 850 false prophets God had told Elijah that he would be sending rain onto the drought-devastated land so Elijah told Ahab to go and get ready for heavy rain.  Elijah and his servant climbed up mount Carmel and Elijah began to pray for rain, bent down to the ground with his face between his knees.

Time after time Elijah sent his servant to see if there was any sign of rain while he continued in prayer. Time after time Elijah sent his servant to see if his prayer was being answered and whether there was any rain coming. Eventually on the seventh time he reported a cloud as small as a man’s hand. Straight away the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, and a heavy rainstorm came on.

In James chapter 5 we read, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

We can easily conclude that our prayers are useless.  Why would God listen to me? I am no Elijah! But here we are told Lesson four: the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  Don’t under-estimate the power of prayer and, especially, don’t under-estimate the power of your prayer.

Prayer is not just for special people. Sure, Elijah had his prayer answered, but only after he had prayed  and prayed in earnest  and even then he had to try and try again time after time.  But Elijah was a human being, even as we are.  He was an ordinary human man just like us. Elijah’s prayers were answered and so will ours be.

Four lessons:

  1. Get yourself sorted, be faithful to our God or you will be overlooked – the gospel will go to the others and you will miss out.
  2. God does not leave himself without faithful witnesses even when many do not keep faithful to himself. Remember, you are not alone.
  3. The good news is that 16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned. 
  4. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  Don’t under-estimate the power of prayer and, especially, don’t under-estimate the power of your prayer. If Elijah could pray and be heard, so can you.

A Fifth lesson can be learned from Elijah himself.

We, too, know that God has called each of us into his service and into a relationship with him; God Almighty as our Father and us as his children. We know where we are going and are ready for it.  We can be absolutely confident about our role and relationship with God, and are ready to stand up to those who do not submit to God.