Friday, November 6, 2009

Northern Kingdom Prophets: Elijah

Northern Kingdom Prophets: Elijah

The prophets were close students of political as well as religious problems, and as the advisers of kings, they often wielded a decisive influence in the affairs of state.

Elijah, who prophesied in Israel during the dark days of Ahab and his successors, battled mightily against the Baal worship which Ahab and Jezebel had introduced into Israel.
Elijah, a Gileadite of picturesque grandeur, suddenly appeared before Ahab’s court and denounced the prevailing idolatry. By stern word and mighty miracle he did much to restore the worship of Jehovah.

As notable among the events of his life may be mentioned:

  1. Elijah's challenge to the priests of Baal and Ashtoreth and Jehovah’s signal vindication on Mt. Carmel

  2. Elijah's subsequent failure and flight

  3. Elijah's denunciation of Ahab in connection with the murder of Naboth, and his prediction of the overthrow of that wicked king.

  4. Elijah and the chariot of fire

(People to remember from 2 Kings)

Key Facts: Prophet, taken up to heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:1-11)
Key Events in His Life:
Total Bible References: 95

The ministry of Elijah, one of the most colorful and courageous prophets who ever lived, will be considered first in outline subject-matter form, and then presented in actual chronological fashion.
An outline, subject-matter consideration of his life:

  • Elijah and King Ahab:

  1. announcing the three-and-a-half year drought (1 Ki. 17:1)
  2. challenging him to a contest on Mt. Carmel (18:17-20)
  3. predicting the end of the drought (18:41-46)
  4. pronouncing the death sentence upon him and his wife (21:17-24)
  • Elijah and the ravens at Cherith (17:2-7)
  • Elijah and the widow at Zarephath (17:8-15)
  • Elijah and Obadiah (18:1-16)
  • Elijah and the people of Israel (18:20-24)
  • Elijah and the priests of Baal (18:25-40)
  • Elijah and God (19:1-18)
  • Elijah and Elisha
  1. calling him to special service (1 Ki. 9:19-21)
  2. preparing him for special service (2 Ki. 2:1-10)

A chronological consideration of his life:

"Like a meteor suddenly flashing across the darkened sky, [the mighty tishbite] Elijah appears on the scene without historical background, and without warning!" (Dr. John Whitcomb, Solomon to the Exile, p. 50)

  • He announces to wicked King Ahab that a long drought can be expected as a punishment for sin (1 Ki. 17:1). The New Testament writer James refers to this terrible drought as an example of the tremendous power of prayer (Jas. 5:17). James says the drought lasted three-and-a-half years. The lack of rain was a divine punishment for sin. (See Deut. 11:13-17; 28:24; 2 Chron. 7:12-15.)

  • God then orders his prophet to hide himself (from the king’s wrath) by the Brook Cherith at a place east of where it enters the Jordan (17:2). Here he would be fed supernaturally by some ravens.
  • Elijah is now ordered to proceed to a city in Jezebel’s own backyard, called Zarephath, where God has commanded a widow to feed him. After what must have seemed an eternity (possibly a year or longer), Elijah finally graduates from the d.b.i. (Drying Brook Institute). The brook experience almost always precedes the Mt. Carmel challenge in the plan of God for his chosen servants. Paul spent three years in the a.b.i. (Arabian Bible Institute, Gal. 1:18) and Moses passed some forty years on the campus of the s.b.i., Sinai Bible Institute. (See Ex. 3:1; 1 Ki. 17:8, 9.)

  • Again God does the unexpected thing. His prophet who has been fed by some ravens now has his needs met by a lonely and poverty-stricken old widow. Elijah asks the starving widow and her son to share their last available meal with him and promises them that God himself will see to it that their oil and flour containers will always be full until it rains and the crops grow again. By faith the widow shares with him and finds God’s promise to be true (17:10-16).
  • Suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, the widow’s son dies. In her grief-stricken statement at this time, the widow brings out two significant things (1 Ki. 17:18):
  • The testimony of Elijah. Note her phrase, "O thou man of God." Here was a woman who had seen the prophet out of his pulpit and before he had drunk his first cup of coffee in the morning. She saw him as he really was, and still could call him a man of God. The acid test of a man’s true religion is the home test.
  • Her own uneasy conscience. She asks him if he was sent to call her sin to remembrance. Perhaps some shameful and secret deed in her past had constantly plagued her conscience.
  • Elijah carries the lad upstairs, stretches himself upon the lifeless body three times, and prays that God will raise the boy. God hears his prayer. This marks the first of eight body resurrections in the Bible (not counting the resurrection of Christ). These are:
  1. Elijah raises the widow’s boy (1 Ki. 17:22).
  2. Elisha raises the son of a Shunammite woman (2 Ki. 4:35).
  3. Elisha’s bones raise a man whose dead body touches them during a graveyard burial (2 Ki. 13:21).
  4. Christ raises the daughter of Jairus (Mt. 9:25).
  5. Christ raises the son of a widow (Lk. 7:14).
  6. Christ raises Lazarus (Jn. 11:43, 44).
  7. Peter raises Dorcas (Acts 9:40, 41).
  8. Paul raises Eutychus (Acts 20:12).

1. Elijah's challenge to the priests of Baal and Ashtoreth and Jehovah’s signal vindication on Mt. Carmel

  • Elijah is promised by God that he will soon send rain and orders his prophet to confront Ahab again. En route to the palace, Elijah is met by Obadiah, a backslidden believer, who served as household administrator under Ahab. Obadiah attempts to impress Elijah with his good works (he has hidden 100 prophets in a cave from the murderous wrath of Jezebel) and reluctantly and fearfully agrees to inform Ahab of Elijah’s presence (1 Ki. 18:1-16).
  • At their summit meeting, Ahab blames Elijah for all Israel’s trouble.
  • Elijah, however, refuses to accept Ahab’s stupid accusation and challenges Ahab and pagan priests of Baal to a "fire-consuming sacrifice" contest on Mt. Carmel, with the following rules:
  1. Two bullocks would be sacrificed and laid upon two altars, one dedicated to Baal, the other to God.
  2. Both deities would be prayed to, and the real god could prove himself by sending down fire from heaven to Consume his sacrifice (1 Ki. 18:23-25).
  • The priests of Baal pray first, agonizing, screaming, dancing, and even cutting themselves to attract their god’s attention, but all in vain. During this time Elijah mocks them. We read that about noontime, Elijah began mocking them.
  • "‘You’ll have to shout louder than that,’ he scoffed, ‘to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be awakened’" (1 Ki. 18:27, The Living Bible).
  • Then it was evening, and Elijah’s turn. He took twelve stones and rebuilt an old torn-down altar of God in that very area. He then dug a three-foot wide trench around the altar and dumped twelve barrels of sea water into it. Finally, he stepped back and prayed (18:36, 37).
  • The fire immediately fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. Note the order in which the things at the altar were consumed:
  1. The burnt-sacrifice. This speaks of ourselves! (See Rom. 12:1-3.)
  2. The wood. This speaks of our efforts. It is tragically possible for a pastor on a Sunday morning to experience either fire without wood or wood without fire. The first occurs when he isn’t studied up, and the second when he isn’t prayed up.
  3. The stones. This speaks of the difficult things in our lives.
  4. The dust. This speaks of the useless things in our lives.
  5. The water. This speaks of the impossible things in our lives (18:38).
  • Elijah then executed the prophets of Baal.
  • Finally, after a sevenfold prayer meeting, there was a great rain (18:45). God often works in a roundabout way, but he does so to accomplish certain specific things. Thus, through all this:
  1. Elijah received valuable training for his future ministry.
  2. A disrespectful king learned the fear of the Lord.
  3. A heathen woman believed on the name of the Lord.
  4. A young man was raised from the dead.
  5. A backslidden believer was restored to fellowship.
  6. The nation Israel experienced a temporary revival.
  7. A large number of God’s enemies were destroyed.

2. Elijah's subsequent failure and flight

  • Upon hearing of Elijah’s action, Jezebel vowed to kill him in twenty-four hours, and Elijah ran for his life (19:2). This points out two important spiritual truths:
  1. The infallibility of the Word of God. No mere human author would have included the sad account we read here. This part in the life of a fearless man of God would have simply been denied or ignored.
  2. The fallibility of the man of God. Elijah, like David, was a man who failed God in what was supposedly his strongest point. In David’s case it was his purity and in Elijah’s situation it was his courage. But both fell on their faces. They needed the lesson God taught Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.
  • Elijah fled eastward and after a day’s journey he fell exhausted under a juniper tree, praying that God would kill him (19:4). This was prayed some twenty-eight centuries ago and God had yet to answer it. Elijah, like Enoch, participated in God’s first and second space shot. (Compare Gen. 5:24 with 2 Ki. 2:11.) But someday the Lord will allow his prophet to lay down his life for Jesus. (Compare Mal. 4:5, 6 with Rev. 11:3-12.) Both Moses (Num. 11:15) and Jonah (4:3) had also prayed this despondent prayer.
  • As he slept, an angel touched him and fed him (19:5). God often allows his angels to participate in his dealing with man. (See Heb. 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:12.)
  • Elijah was by now totally exhausted, having traveled 150 miles from Jezreel to Beersheba. But now he desperately needed food. Our spiritual and physical natures are so closely entwined that one automatically affects the other. Part of his terrible soul depression was due to the mistreatment of his body. The stomach can affect the soul. (See Ps. 127:2.)
  • God himself finally spoke through a still, small voice to Elijah in a cave, perhaps the same one where Moses had viewed God’s glory some five centuries before. (Compare 19:9 with Ex. 33:21-23.) In spite of his objections to the contrary, Elijah was ordered immediately to perform four tasks:
  1. Get back and start preaching again. Besides, he was not alone as he claimed, for God still had 7000 followers in Israel who had not bowed to Baal (19:15, 18).
  2. Anoint a man named Hazael to be king of Syria (19:15).
  3. Anoint a man named Jehu to be king of Israel (19:16).
  4. Begin training Elisha to succeed him (19:16). In passing, it should be noted (19:10) that Elijah’s prayer here is the only example of an Israelite believer making intercession against his own beloved nation Israel. Paul specifically states that this was indeed the case. (See Rom. 11:1-4.) Needless to say, God has never and will never honor this kind of praying. James and John later expressed the same vindictive spirit concerning some unbelieving Samaritans. (See Lk. 9:55.)
  • Elijah returned and found Elisha plowing in a field. Elijah went over to him and threw his coat across his shoulders.. Elisha thereupon prepared a farewell feast for his family and servants and followed Elijah (19:19-21).

3. Elijah's denunciation of Ahab in connection with the murder of Naboth, and his prediction of the overthrow of that wicked king.

  1. Ahab attempts unsuccessfully to purchase a choice vineyard near his palace owned by a man from Jezreel named Naboth. Years back Samuel had warned against land grabbing by Israel’s kings. (See 1 Sam. 8:14.) Even had Naboth wanted to sell his vineyard, the Levitical law would have forbidden him. (See Lev. 25:23; Num. 36:7; Ezek. 46:18.)
Ahab returns home in a sullen mood. Jezebel is told of Naboth’s refusal and informs her pouting potentate to cheer up, as he will soon possess that vineyard. She then writes letters in Ahab’s name, seals them with his seal, and addresses them to the civic leaders of Jezreel where Naboth lives. She commands them to call the citizens together for prayer and fasting. They are then to summon Naboth and pay two lying witnesses to accuse him of cursing God and the king. He then is to be taken out and murdered. This horrible order is carried out to the letter (1 Ki. 21:4-14). His sons are also stoned. (See 2 Ki. 9:26.) Wicked Jezebel, herself a rabid worshiper of Baal, now cleverly appeals to the Mosaic law in obtaining two witnesses against the accused (Lev. 24:17).
This mock trial would have its ultimate counterpart some nine centuries later on an early Friday morning in April as the mighty Creator is judged by his miserable creatures. (See Mt. 26:59-68.) Jezebel is told the news, and Ahab gleefully goes down to the vineyard to claim it (1 Ki. 21:15, 16).

  • God now orders Elijah to confront Ahab in Naboth’s vineyard and pronounces heaven’s curse upon him and his household for their part in the cold-blooded murder of godly Naboth.
  • An angry and doubtless fearful Ahab then hears Elijah’s stern words of judgment (21:19, 21-24). All this literally came true.
  1. The dogs did lick Ahab’s blood, as they had done with Naboth’s blood (1 Ki. 22:38).
  2. His descendants were destroyed. Ahaziah, his oldest son, died in a fall (2 Ki. 1:17), and Jehoram, his youngest son, was murdered by Jehu (2 Ki. 9:24), and his body thrown in the same field where Naboth was buried.
  3. His wicked wife Jezebel was eaten by the wild dogs of Jezreel (2 Ki. 9:30-36).

  • Sometime later, King Ahaziah, wicked northern ruler (and eldest son of Ahab) suffered a severe fall off the upstairs porch of his palace in Samaria. Fearing the worst, he sent messengers to the Philistine temple dedicated to Baalzebub at Ekron to ask this pagan god whether he would recover (2 Ki. 1:1-3). This ungodly son of Ahab was apparently unaware of Israel’s history, for had he been aware, he certainly would not have trusted in a pagan god who was utterly powerless to save his own worshipers against the wrath of the Ark of God (in 1 Samuel 5:10-12). Elijah was instructed by God’s angel to intercept these messengers and send them back to Ahaziah with his prophecy, that due to the king’s idolatry, he would indeed soon die (1:3-6).
  • Ahaziah correctly guessed the identity of this fearless hairy man with the wide leather belt and sent out a captain with fifty men to arrest him. As the soldiers approached him, Elijah called down fire from heaven and they were consumed. Another fifty were sent out and suffered the same fate. The captain of the third group fell to his knees and begged Elijah to spare their lives and come with them. The prophet agreed and soon stood before the king where he repeated similar words he had once said to Ahab, Ahaziah’s father. Shortly after this, Ahaziah died and was succeeded by his younger brother Jehoram (2 Ki. 1:7-17). He had reigned for but two short years.

4. Elijah and the chariot of fire

  • Elijah’s magnificent ministry had now come to a close and he would soon be taken heavenward by means of a whirlwind, without dying. He quickly traveled his circuit for the final time, moving rapidly from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan River. At the first three stops he tested the determination of Elisha by suggesting that he might want to drop the hectic life of the prophet and return to his quiet farm. But on each occasion (2:2, 4, 6) he refused by uttering these five fearless words: "I will not leave thee!" Elisha, like Ruth, thus proved worthy for the blessings of God! (See Ruth 1:15-17.) Both at Bethel and Jericho Elisha spoke with the sons of the prophets living in those areas. These men may have been able to trace their heritage back to the prophetic schools of Samuel’s day (1 Sam. 19:20). But what a sorry lot they were.
  1. They were cowardly (1 Ki. 18:4).
  2. They attempted to discourage Elisha (2 Ki. 2:3, 5)
  3. They lacked faith (2 Ki. 2:16-18).
  • When they came to the Jordan River, Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it; and the river divided, allowing them to cross on dry ground (2:8).
  • Elijah then asked Elisha what wish he would have granted before his heavenly departure. Elisha asked for a double portion of his master’s power. He was told this was a hard thing, but that if he were present at Elijah’s translation the request would be granted (2:9, 10).
  • Suddenly a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, appeared and drove between them, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven (2:11). He thus became the second of two individuals who saw glory without the grave. (See Gen. 5:24 for the other person.)

Elijah Speaks:

I've often wondered just how Enoch might have felt. Now I know! Did God remove him in such spectacular fashion as I am experiencing? Amazing! Who would have anticipated in their wildest dreams leaving this earth in a chariot of fire, pulled by horses of fire! (2 Kings 2:11; Genesis 5:24)

In a way it's fitting, though, for fire seems to have accompanied my ministry. It was God's fire that fell from heaven to consume the sacrifice on Mount Carmel. Then, who could forget witnessing that mighty wind, fearful earthquake, and roaring fire on Mount Horeb? Of course, God spoke to me in his still, small voice. Finally, I prayed down great sheets of fire to consume my enemies who were trying to arrest me. And now this, my fiery ride to glory! (2 Kings 1:10-12; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Kings 19:12-13)

I see Elisha standing below with open mouth, taking this all in. Good! This will qualify him for that double anointing from God he requested. (2 Kings 2:9-12)

How ironic to remember I once rather envied that young widow's son whom God allowed me to raise from the dead, wondering if someone might do this for me when I died. He was the first person in history to be raised, you know! But now, miracle of miracles, here I am, only the second person in history to leave this life without dying! Not bad at all for a prophet who once sat beside a dried-up brook, having to depend on ravens to feed him! (1 Kings 17:1-7, 17-24)

Spiritual Lessons from Elijah
  • Elijah learned, as we must learn, that the lowly "drying-brook experience" (1 Kings 17:1-7) is often necessary to prepare us for the lofty "Mount Carmel event" (1 Kings 18:20-40).
  • God's provision will never fail for those who give their all to him (1 Kings 17:8-16; Matthew 6:33).
  • God expects us to build the altar, gather the wood, and prepare the sacrifice (as Elijah did literally in 1 Kings 18:30-37). Then, and only then, will he send the fire of his blessings (1 Kings 18:38).
  • We are never closer to defeat than following our moments of greatest victory. On Mount Carmel, Elijah stood alone against 450 priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:22). Immediately following this, however, he experienced deep despair (1 Kings 19:1-10).
  • God expects us to take care of our physical needs. An empty stomach can sometimes discourage one's soul (1 Kings 19:4-7).
  • God speaks more often in persistent whispers than in loud shouts (1 Kings 19:11-12).
Key Verses
"At the customary time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, 'O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. . . .' Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the ditch!" (1 Kings 18:36, 38).

Miscellaneous notes:

Non-writing prophets
  • Jehu - prophet of Israel who pronounced God's curse upon king Baasha
  • Urijah - Predicted Judah's destruction during Jeremiah's ministry
  • Shemaiah - Forbade Rehoboam (King of Judah) to battle against Israel
  • Elisha - The succe'Ssor of Elijah who prayed for and received a double portion of God's power
  • Ahijah - A prophet from Shiloh who told Jeroboam of the coming rebellion after Solomon's death
  • Huldah - A prophetess whoattested to the genuiness of the law of Moses' book found by Hilkiah, the priest in the temple
  • Elijah - The most famous Old Testament prophet who was a bone in the throat of Ahab king of Israel
  • Micaiah - The prophet who predicted the death of Ahab in a battle with Syria
  • Azariah - The prophet who supported king Asa In his reform efforts
  • Zedekiah - A spineless prophet in the pay of Ahab and the mouthpiece for the 400 prophets whom Ahab consulted to learn the outcome of his proposed battle with Syria.

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