The Courage of Elijah
The political condition of Israel was somewhat stabilized when the house of Omri became the royal family. From the time when the last descendant of king Jeroboam, the leader responsible for dividing Israel from Judah, was slain, political upheaval prevailed. After Jeroboam's death, Nadab ruled for two years before Baasha conspired against him; Baasha ruled twenty-four years. After his death, Elah ascended the throne but ruled only two years before Zimri killed him. Zimri ruled only seven days when Omri killed him. After a period of some division, he was able to unite all of Israel behind his able leadership. His political and military sagacity is seen in his selection of the hill Samaria for his capital (1 Kgs. 16:24). His reign is also known for its wickedness (1 Kgs. 16:25).
Upon his death, Ahab ascended the throne of Israel. In order to further secure the kingdom, Ahab entered a political alliance with Zidon, having it sealed by his marriage to Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal who was king of Zidon (Kgs. 16:31). "For the first time the chief wife of an Israelite king was one of the old accursed Canaanite race" (Arthur P. Stanley, Lectures on the History of the Jewish Church, Vol. 11, p. 317). Ahab was a rather weak man, easily influence by those near to him.
Jezebel was a domineering woman who was steeped in idolatry, in the worship of the Sun-god Baal. Ahab reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove" (1 Kgs. 16:32-33). Jezebel not only wanted idolatry practiced in Israel, she also instituted religious persecution in the systematic elimination of the prophets of Jehovah (1 Kgs. 18:4). Prophets hid in caves to escape the sword of Ahab and Jezebel. Those who were faithful to the Lord were suffering persecution. With the power of the throne being used to establish Baalism and to eliminate the worship of Jehovah, the future of God's people looked bleak.
God's Servant Elijah
Into this situation, God's servant Elijah ("Jehovah is my God") appeared. He was from Gilead (1 Kgs. 17: 1) and was known as the "Tishbite." He was a hairy man who wore a leather girdle around his loins (2 Kgs. 1:8). This rugged prophet fearlessly appeared before king Ahab and announced, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word" (1 Kgs. 17: 1).
The judgment of a drought was quite fitting inasmuch as Baal was the Sun-god "The Phoen writer Sanchuniathon (Philo Byblius, Fragmenta II) accordingly says that the children of the first generation of mankind 'in time of drought stretched their hands to heaven toward the sun; for they regarded him as the sole Lord of heaven, and called him Beel-samen, which means "Lord of Heaven" in the Phoen language and. is equivalent to Zeus in Gr... (A.H. Sayce, "Baal, " L S. B. E, Vol. 1, p. 345). Baal's consort was Astarte; together they would have been responsible for fruitful seasons and vegetation. But they were powerless before the judgment of Jehovah as announced by the prophet Elijah.
To preserve himself alive, Elijah resorted to the brook Cherith during the famine where he was sustained by the ravens which came there in search of water (1 Kgs. 17:1-7). The ravens brought him bread and flesh both morning and evening. During this time, Elijah was a hunted man (1 Kgs. 18:10-12). When the brook finally dried up, Elijah went to the Phoenician village of Zarephath where he lived with a Gentile widow and her son throughout the remainder of the famine. God sustained the prophet by miraculously multiplying the bread and oil of the widow (1 Kgs. 17:8-24). During this time, the widow's son died and Elijah raised him from the dead (1 Kgs. 17:17-24).
The Contest On Mount Carmel
After three and one-half years of drought (Jas. 5:17), the Lord sent Elijah to confront Ahab. Ahab and his chief servant Obadiah (who had hid one hundred prophets of God from Jezebel's wrath and sustained them) were traveling throughout Israel looking for enough grass to keep the king's horses and mules alive. Elijah appeared to Obadiah and instructed him to tell Ahab that he would meet with him. When they met, Ahab said, "Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" Elijah replied, "I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father's house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim" (1 Kgs. 18:18). Though this king had been responsible for the death of many prophets of God, Elijah courageously confronted and rebuked King Ahab.
Elijah told Ahab to call four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Astarte together on Mount Carmel along with all of Israel. Elijah stood alone as the prophet of God. He was without fear, knowing that one man standing with God is a majority in any country regardless of the opposition. When the people arrived, Elijah said, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kgs. 18:21). A contest was devised in which the prophets of Baal would build and altar, lay a sacrifice on it, and appeal to Baal to send fire to consume the sacrifice. Elijah would to the same. The God who answered with fire would be the God whom Israel would worship.
The prophets of Baal went first. After building their altar and placing the sacrifice on it, they began crying for Baal to send down fire, a job relatively easy for the Sun god. They cried from morning till noon to no avail. At noon, Elijah mocked them saying, "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked" (1 Kgs. 18:27).(1) The Baal prophets responded with more intense appeals to their god. "They cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them" (1 Kgs. 18:28).(2) This continued until the time of the evening sacrifice.
Elijah then took his turn. He rebuilt the broken-down attar of Jehovah. He slew the bullock and placed him on the altar after putting wood thereon. He had the altar doused three times with water. Then', he calmly called on Jehovah to send down fire from heaven. The Lord responded with fire, consuming the sacrifice, the'wood, the altar and the water. When the people saw this, they bowed before Jehovah. Elijah called upon them to slay the false prophets, which they did.
As Ahab sat with Elijah at the sacrificial meal, Elijah prayed for rain. After three and one-half years of drought, Jehovah sent rain.
Flight To Mt. Sinai
When Jezebel heard of the slaughter of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, she said, "So let the god's do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to morrow about this time" (1 Kgs. 19: 1). Convinced that the drought and the victory on Mount Carmel had done no good, Elijah fled from Jezreel to Beersheba. He went three days journey into the wilderness, sat under a juniper tree (broom bush), and requested for himself that he might die saying, "It is enough; now, 0 Lord, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers" (1 Kgs. 19:4). An angel of the Lord appeared to him, gave him food to eat on two occasions, and instructed him to go to Mount Sinai.
Arriving on Mount Sinai, Elijah dwelt in a cave. The Lord appeared to him and asked him, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" (1 Kgs. 19:9). Elijah replied, "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and 1, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away" (1 Kgs. 19:10). The Lord told Elijah to stand on the mount before the presence of the Lord. Then, the Lord sent a strong wind but the Lord was not in the wind; the Lord sent an earthquake but the Lord was not in the earthquake; the Lord sent a fire but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, the Lord appeared to Elijah, speaking to him in a still, small voice.(3) The Lord gave Elijah three tasks: (1) Anoint Hazael as king over Syria; (2) Anoint Jehu as king over Israel; (3) Appoint Elisha as his successor as a prophet. The appointment of Elisha would encourage Elijah, showing him that the prophetic office would not be completely destroyed, but would continue. Then Jehovah added, "Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him" (1 Kgs. 19:18).
Encouraged by these words of the Lord, Elijah returned to Israel to continue his work. He appointed Elisha to be his successor and, apparently, began several schools of prophets, one in Bethel and another in Jericho (2 Kgs. 2:2-5).
Elijah And The Judicial Execution of Naboth
Sometime later, Ahab desired to purchase the vineyard of Naboth which joined hard to the royal resident in Jezreel. He approached Naboth about purchasing the vineyard but he would not sell his inheritance from his fathers. Ahab went away depressed and pouting like a spoiled brat who did not get his way. When Jezebel saw Ahab's displeasure, she inquired regarding the cause of it. When she found out that it was caused by Naboth's refusal to sell his vineyard, she said, "Dost thou now govern the kingdom of Israel? Arise, and eat bread, and let thine heart be merry: I will give thee the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite" (1 Kgs. 21:7).
Then she plotted the death of Naboth. She arranged for a banquet to be given in Naboth's honor. At the banquet, false witnesses were hired to testify that Naboth had been guilty of blaspheming God and the king. They carried Naboth outside the city and stoned him to death. Jezebel then presented Naboth's vineyard as a gift to her husband.(4)
Jehovah appeared to Elijah, sending him to rebuke Ahab. Courageouly, Elijah obeyed. Knowing full well that one man had already been killed in order that Ahab could have this vineyard, Elijah went to rebuke Ahab. He found Ahab walking in his new vineyard, no doubt admiring its beauties. Elijah said, "Thus saith the Lord, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?... In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine" (1 Kgs. 21:19). Of Jezebel, the prophet spoke, "The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel" (1 Kgs. 21:23).
The conscience of Ahab was not totally destroyed. He repented himself, rent his clothes, put on sackcloth, and fasted. Because of his repentance, the Lord promised not to bring the evil upon Ahab during his day but after his death. Ahab was a weak man under the influence of a mean, wicked, and dominating woman (1 Kgs. 21:25).
The prophecies of Elijah were later fulfilled when a Syrian soldier shot an arrow at random and struck the disguised king of Israel. He died later. As the soldiers washed his chariot, the dogs licked his blood (1 Kgs. 22:38). Later, the prophesy regarding Jezebel was also fulfilled (2 Kgs. 9:36).
Elijah's Confrontation With Ahaziah
Ahaziah followed his father as king of Israel. Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria (2 Kgs. 1:2). He was sick and wanted to inquire whether or not he would recover. Instead of inquiring of Jehovah, he sent messengers to Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, to inquire whether or not he would recover.
Elijah met the king's messengers on the way and gave them this message: "Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die" (2 Kgs. 1:4). He rebuked Ahaziah for sending to Baal-zebub to inquire saying, "Is it not because there is not a God in Israel, that ye go to inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron?" (2 Kgs. 1:3). Elijah departed and sat on top of a hill. The messengers returned and reported the message to Ahaziah. Ahaziah asked them to describe the man. When his messengers described the prophet as a hairy man gird about with a leather girdle, he knew that the prophet was Elijah.
Consequently, he sent a captain with fifty men ordering Elijah to come down from the top of the hill on which he sat. Elijah replied to the captain's orders with these words: "If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty" (2 Kgs. 1:10). Fire came and consumed them. A second captain with fifty men was sent and the same things happened to him and his men. A third captain with fifty men was sent. With fear and trembling, this captain petitioned Elijah to spare his life and the lives of his men. Elijah received the captain and sent the message back to Ahaziah, "Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou has sent messengers to enquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron, is it not because there is no God in Israel to enquire of his word? Therefore thou shalt not come down off that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die" (2 Kgs. 1: 16). Ahaziah died as the Lord had spoken through Elijah.
Elijah's Ascension Into Heaven
When the time for Elijah's departure from this world came, he wanted to visit the schools of the prophets at Bethel and Jericho before his departure. Though Elijah petitioned him to stay, Elisha refused to leave Elijah's side. At both Bethel and Jericho the prophets prophesied that Elijah would be taken away that day.
After visiting the prophets, Elijah headed toward the Jordan River. Fifty sons of the prophets accompanied Elijah and Elisha to the Jordan. When they arrived at the Jordan River, Elijah and Elisha left them to cross over the river. Elijah smote the river with his mantle and the waters parted before them. Elijah said, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee" (2 Kgs. 2:9). Elisha replied, "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me" (2 Kgs. 2:9). Elijah told Elisha that his wish would be granted on the condition that he would see him when he was taken from this earth.
"And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2 Kgs. 2: 10). Because Elisha witnessed this, he was given a double portion of Elijah's spirit and the work of the prophet was continued.
His Heavenly Reward
Only two Old Testament characters were given entrance into eternal rest without experiencing death - Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah. Elijah appeared on another occasion in the Holy Scriptures. He was manifested on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and Jesus (Matt. 17:1-5) when the Son of Man was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Moses was the great lawgiver and Elijah was the representative of the Prophets. Yet, Jesus had superior authority to either the law or the prophets.
Both the nature of his passing and his presence at the transfiguration give indisputable proof that Elijah met the approval of God and died in fellowship with the Almighty. Those of us who so live as to receive eternal life in heaven with God can fully expect to see Elijah there.
Elijah's life stands out to remind us of the courage which we should have in the service of God. "He shows how one man, strong in the support of God and the right, can by fearless courage and absorbing zeal change the whole course of history in his time; resist and overthrow the most crushing tyranny over conscience, and bring in a new victorious epoch" (Cunningham Geike, Hours With The Bible, Vol. IV, p. 57). May we be impressed with his fearless courage as we stand opposed to the forces of Satan.
Here was a man willing to rebuke sin regardless of who was guilty of committing it. He fearlessly rebuked the king of Israel in spite of the fact that the king and his wife were methodically exterminating the prophets of God. He was fearless and bold in his opposition to Ahab, Jezebel and Ahaziah. Each of us needs to imitate the example of this prophet and be willing to rebuke sin wherever we see it practiced - whether it be in the President of the United States, the house of Congress, the State House, the local community, or the local church. In the local church, we must rebuke sin whether the sinner be an elder, deacon, rich and liberal contributor or a powerless widow. We must rebuke sin even if the sinner is the son of an elder or preacher. Like Elijah, we must be fearless and bold in our opposition to sin.
Furthermore, we need to learn from Elijah's flight to Mount Sinai and the lesson that he learned when Jehovah told him that He had seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal to trust in God and His work. Sometimes God is working behind the scenes in ways and manners we do not know in order to accomplish His purposes. In an age when wickedness seems to be getting the upper hand in high places, we need to be reminded that God still has thousands of saints who have not turned aside to wickedness. In an era when preachers are forsaking the Lord and their families to become involved in worldiness, we need to remember that there are hundreds of dedicated, faithful men quietly serving the Lord. Like Elijah who was encouraged by the fact that Elisha would continue his work, we need to take heart by taking note of the large number of younger, capable men who have put their hand to the plow to continue the labor of the Lord.
Drawing strength from men such as Elijah, let us persevere with joy in the labor of love which God has commanded. Even as Elijah was received up into glory, so shall an abundant entrance into the heavenly kingdom be granted to us.
1. Such sarcasm and mockery of false religion would not be tolerated by many thin-skinned Christians today. Comments such as, "I agreed with what he said but did not like how he said it or his attitude," would be heard on every hand if a gospel preacher today acted toward false religion like Elijah did. Perhaps some of us need a good dose of study in the work of the prophets and first century gospel preaching in order to make our skins and spirits tougher.
2. One cannot question the sincerity of these idolaters; the manner in which they abused their body is sufficient testimony to both their honesty and sincerity. Despite the fact that they were Israelites, children of God who were both honest and sincere, they were idolaters separated from God by their sin.
3. The purpose of the Lord's appearing in a small, still voice seems to be to show Elijah that God was working in quiet ways to accomplish His purpose.
4. One cannot help observing that the morality of paganism is far below the standards of God's word. Once one has rejected God and His word as the authority for determining right and wrong in his life, any moral conduct is just as good as any other.
Guardian of Truth XXVII: 17, pp. 522-525