Elijah: a shining light in a dark time

The prophet Elijah plays a pivotal role in Old Testament history despite the fact that he doesn’t have a book of the Old Testament that bears his name like many other important prophets.  Aside from being a prophet, Elijah is one of the few people who performed miracles in the Bible.

Although we see miracles throughout the Bible, God is the one who performs the vast majority of them.  Miracles performed by people only come in three eras – Moses & Joshua, Eljiah & Elisha, Jesus & the disciples.  With his miracles Elijah foreshadows the ones that Jesus would perform.  It is no coincidence that Jesus is actually called Elijah as some considered His coming to be a return of Elijah.  Theologically it is not the same as Elijah never claimed to be the Son of God and that alone is a drastic enough difference to stop any discussion in that regard.  However the two are similar in their miracles and it is certainly noteworthy that Elijah never experiences death.

Elijah ministered in the northern kingdom during some of its darkest years under King Ahab.  He would serve as one of the remnant that remained faithful to the Lord during this era.  This didn’t mean that his faith was unwavering however.  Even he had times when he doubted himself and what was going on.

In 1 Kings 17 Elijah tells King Ahab that it will not rain for the next few years unless he commands it.  For some time after this Elijah was fed by ravens and drank from a brook that he stayed near.  Because of the drought though, the brook dried up and God instructed him to go to Zarephath.

In Zarephath Elijah encountered a widow and asked her to bring him some bread.  She had a little flour and olive oil however.  Elijah told her to make bread and that flour and oil wouldn’t run out until the Lord sent rain upon the land once again.  Sometime later the widow’s son died.  Elijah cried out to the Lord and brought the son back to life.

There is probably no more important story in the life of Elijah than 1 Kings 18.  It is here that Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal on top of Mount Carmel.  A challenge is proposed where Elijah and the prophets of Baal each build an altar with a sacrifice upon it.  They will then call upon their god and the one who sends fire from heaven will be acknowledged as the true god.

As expected, Baal never responds to the prophets.  Elijah then proceeded to taunt them and their beliefs by implored them to shout louder because maybe their god was asleep or away.  The prophets worked themselves into a frenzy even slashing themselves with swords in a vain attempt to get the attention of their god.

After this, Elijah built his altar.  For good measure he soaked the wood and everything around it with water which would have been very scarce after three years of no rain.  When Elijah called upon the Lord fire came down from heaven and consumed not only the sacrifice but the wood, the stone altar, and even the water that had filled the trench surrounding the altar.  The people immediately turned on the prophets of Baal and Elijah ordered them to kill all 450 prophets there.  As the prophets were slaughtered rain returned to the land, a small cloud appearing in the distance.

Queen Jezebel, who is even more wicked than King Ahab, vows to kill Elijah for having done this to her prophets of Baal.  This sets Elijah scurrying in fear for his life.  He enters into a depression and asks the Lord to let him die because he is exhausted from running and because he is the only prophet of God left.

The Lord encourages Elijah by assuring him that there are still 7000 people remaining in Israel who have not bowed to Baal.  As a matter of encouragement, Elijah is given two things.  The first is that he’s told to anoint a new king.  This obviously was an indication that Ahab and Jezebel’s days were numbered and God would remove them from power.  On a personal level, Elijah is given a successor as well.  He goes and meets Elisha who immediately leaves all that he has to follow Elijah.  While Elijah struggled with thoughts that he was the only follower of God left, God gives him someone who will be with him until the end.

In 2 Kings 2, it is time for Elijah to leave.  We don’t know how old Elijah was at this time.  It is possible that Elijah was at the end of a normal lifespan and God chose to spare him from death.  It is also possible that age is just starting to take its toll and Elijah was slowing down.  It would seem that whatever the reason Elijah is being taken to heaven at this time, Elisha has completed his mentorship and is ready to take over for him.

It appears that Elijah knows that it is time for him to be called to heaven, and for that matter everyone else apparently knows as well.  As Elijah and Elisha enter several towns, prophets from each town inform Elisha that Elijah was leaving that day.  Elijah seems to want to leave quietly but Elisha will not leave his side.

Finally as the time draws near for Elijah to go, he asks Elisha if there is anything that can be done before he leaves.  Like Solomon once responded wisely to the Lord when offered a free gift, Elisha responds wisely.  He asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Shortly after, chariots of fire come out of heaven and Elijah is carried away in a whirlwind.  All that is left is Elijah’s cloak which Elisha picks up.  As he returns it is apparent that Elijah’s spirit was resting upon Elisha.  The Old Testament records Elisha performing twice as many miracles as Elijah did which shows the double portion of Elijah’s spirit that he requested has come upon him.  2 Kings records many miracles of Elisha including some that were similar to Elijah’s.  Elisha carries on Elijah’s work with the help of his spirit and of course the hand of the Lord.