Elijah, The Prophet


Elijah, The man!

When we mention the name Elijah, what picture comes to mind? How do you visualise the prophet Elijah and what do you know of him? Write it down and keep it in your Bible somewhere and at the end of this series of lessons, we will see if your perception of him has changed.

There was a prophet of God, from Tishbite, whose name was Elijah. Elijah’s name meaning “My God is Yahweh” reflects his character as a man totally dedicated to God. Because of this commitment, God was able to use Elijah powerfully. His is one of the most colourful and exciting biographies in the bible. His story is told in the middle of the accounts of the Kings of Israel and Judah, between 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 2.

These chapters recount three aspects essential to understanding Elijah’s role and ministry. The miracles, the messages and the man himself. But we are going to start with the man himself followed by the message and then the miracles.

He was a Gileadite which was a region east of the Jordan, an area which had been allotted to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The loneliness of the prophet Elijah encompasses every part of his life and ministry thus, in the capital and the northern kingdoms; he would have been a “country yokel.”

He was probably regarded by many as a fanatic from an uncivilized backwater of the kingdom yet, it is from such backwaters, that God often chose prophets and messengers whether it was from Gilead or Galilee.

This often serves as a witness against people who regard themselves as better than the rest, for God can find among them, the so-called righteous, no one with sufficient faith as a messenger of the divine word. In Elijah’s case, his ministry brought him into contact with those who had no regard for his simple religion of worshipping “Yahweh” alone, because they were already worshipping other so called deities that they had put before the one true God.

They preferred the sophisticated religion of the urban Canaanites which integrated gods from such powerful and wealthy centres such as Tyre. Idols such as Baal, Ashtoreth, Bel or Nebo – gods made of wood, gold or silver.

Elijah’s call to confront this wickedness was an example of a called lone minister, standing against the power of hundreds of opponents supported by the state. 1 Kings 18:19.

God’s effectiveness was unhindered by the uneven sides. Indeed, it all the more dramatically displayed the power of faith at work. But such an experience could only enhance the feeling of loneliness which Elijah must have felt.

For two years, he had been in hiding with few companions other than a widow and her son. 1 Kings 17:1-24 which we will cover in a later lesson. Therefore, it is no surprise when Elijah fearing the reprisals of Jezebel the wife of Ahab the king of Israel, fled for his life to Horeb. 1 Kings 19:1-8.

Elijah believing himself to be the only prophet left in Israel seeks sanctuary in a cave where he encounters the Lord who informs him that there are 7000 faithful souls left in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The divine presence does not rely on such demonstrations of power as miracles or great acts such as dividing the red sea, the burning bush the manna from heaven etc. But in the “quietly spoken word.”

Further, his work would not be alone because others were doing the same thing in different parts of the land, so, therefore, we today should not be thinking we are on our own and that there is nothing we can do as God is constantly working with us and through us, using our talents that he has given us to promote His message. This can be as simple as just talking to someone.

How else do you think we can promote God’s message? Does it take courage? What kind of opportunities should we look for?

The story continues

God’s plan for Elijah as his representative was to send him to the king to dissuade him from Baal worship to turn him back to the one true God. Now Ahab the son of Omri became King of Israel and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years. 1 Kings 16:29 onwards.

Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. It came about that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal King of the Sidonians who were Baal worshippers. God specifically told the children of Israel that they were not to marry out with their own people so Ahab’s first sin was to marry a Sidonian who introduced him to idol worship. He possibly thought that he could have a foot in both camps by worshipping “Yahweh” and Baal simultaneously.

Ahab built a temple to Baal in Samaria and Asherah which were meant to be representations of El the wife of the chief Canaanite god. By doing this he provoked and angered the Lord God more than any other king of Israel. Elijah was sent by the Lord to vigorously oppose both the words and actions of both Baal worship and those who engaged in it.

Elijah’s relationship with Ahab was the most significant illustration of the clarity of the prophet’s message and the failure to repent on the part of Ahab. No king of Israel received as many warnings and yet no king of Israel fell as deeply into sin as Ahab.

Elijah’s ministry began with a warning to Ahab of drought. 1 Kings 17:1

“Now Elijah the Tishbite from Tishbite 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.”

This obviously went right over King Ahab’s head because all he could do was send out search parties to try and capture the prophet.

The word of the Lord came to Elijah then saying, “Go away from here and turn eastward and hide in the Cherith Ravine east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.”

So, he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Cherith ravine and stayed there.

“The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening and he drank from the brook.”

In time the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land then the word of the Lord came to him and told him to go to Zarephath in Sidon and stay there.

Elijah and the widow of Zarephath

1 Kings 17:8-24 / 1 Kings 18:1-16. How will Elijah deal with the hard times of drought and famine that will befall the land in this lesson?

Close to the city, Elijah met a woman gathering wood. God identified her as the widow he had told him to meet. Elijah greeted her and asked if he could have a drink of water. As she was going to get it he called after her and said “Could you bring me some bread as well?” The woman replied, “I have only enough oil and flour left to make a loaf of bread for myself and my son and after that, there is nothing so we will starve” “Have courage and hope” replied Elijah “and I promise you that your bowl will never be empty of flour and hour jar will always have oil until God sends the rain”.

Have faith in God today and trust Him for a miracle tomorrow!

The woman must have had a very strong faith as she did not question Elijah’s instructions. She did as she was told and neither she, her son nor Elijah wanted for food until the drought ended. Lessons we can learn from this is that we have to learn to trust the Lord implicitly in all aspects of our life and know that all our needs will be met. Note that we say needs and not wants.

One day the widow’s son became sick and died. She was so distraught that she accused Elijah of coming to punish her sins by causing the death of her son. How often do we lash out at the people who love us and do the most for us when we are in trouble?

Elijah had a room at the top of her house so he ordered the woman to give him the child’s body and he carried him upstairs to his own room. Laying him on the bed he cried to God asking that the boy’s life be restored. He stretched himself over the body three times and God took pity on the mother and against all odds restored life to the boy.

This was the first instance of a person being resuscitated and Elijah makes it quite clear that he expected an answer to his prayer rather than bodily contact although this could be seen as mouth to mouth resuscitation. God caused it to work. Then the woman said to Elijah “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the lord in your mouth is truth”.

By this time the drought had lasted three years. King Ahab had searched high and low for Elijah and the remaining prophets during this time but had been unsuccessful. The king had a servant Obadiah who was in charge of King Ahab’s household.

Unknown to the king Obadiah was a faithful follower of Yahweh and had hidden 100 prophets in caves because Jezebel was hounding and killing any prophets she could find. He hid them in groups of 50 in two separate caves and provided them with food.

The king sent out Obadiah to search in any valleys and springs to find grass and fodder to feed the animals in the kingdom. The king decided to go with Obadiah to search in the valleys and springs and they split up. The king went in one direction and Obadiah in the other.

In the meantime, God had shown himself to Elijah and instructed him to go to Ahab with the message that God would send rain. As Obadiah was walking along Elijah met him. Obadiah recognised Elijah and was amazed that he was still alive.

“Is it really you Elijah my Lord?” “Yep, it’s me” said Elijah “now I want you to go and tell your master that I am here.”

Obadiah freaks out “What sin have I committed that you are handing your servant into Ahab’s hands to be put to death!” “You realise he has been searching everywhere for you. There is not a nation or kingdom where my master has not sent someone to look for you. And whenever a nation or kingdom claimed you were not there he made them swear they could not find you – and now you want me to go to Ahab and tell him you are here!”

Obadiah at this point is panic-stricken. He’s scared witless that if he tells the king about Elijah and the king cannot find him then Obadiah will be for the chop plus the fact he has been hiding prophets in caves. He told Elijah that he had been a faithful follower of the Lord since his youth.

“As the Lord, almighty lives whom I serve,” said Elijah, “I will see Ahab today”

Scared as he was, Obadiah went to the king and told him and the king went to meet Elijah. Interestingly, all this time Ahab had been searching for Elijah but Elijah could only be found when God was ready. All his searching was in vain.

“Is that you who has brought all this catastrophe on Israel?” said Ahab. “No” Elijah answered, “it’s you and all your predecessors have caused this trouble. You have brought it on yourselves. You have forsaken God’s commandments and worshipped the Baals.”

It’s about time we found out just how effective all your idols and gods are so gather all Israel at Mount Carmel.

Brings the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah (these were female prophetesses) who eat at Jezebel’s table. Interesting to realise that Jezebel surrounded herself with all these prophets and Ahab condoned her actions and followed along like a sheep.

Ahab sent messengers throughout the land and brought the prophets to Mount Carmel. Picture the scene. Here they are upon this mountain there are 850 Baal and Asherah prophets plus all the people. A daunting scenario as Elijah faces them on his own.

With no preamble, Elijah comes straight to the point.

“How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him. But if you wish to worship the foreign Gods, The Baals, follow them.”

There was silence. The people would be afraid many knew that there was only one true God but they also enjoyed the pleasures and other benefits that came from following Ahab in his idolatrous worship. Elijah was the only one to stand boldly and publicly against the prophets. When the people failed to respond Elijah then asked that a test be made between the foreign Gods and his own.

A good point to make here is the difference between false prophets and true prophets. False prophets worked for political purposes to benefit themselves. They held positions of great wealth, gave false messages and spoke only what the people wanted to hear. The false prophets were an obstacle to bringing god’s word to the people.

They would bring messages that contradicted the words of the true prophets. They gave messages that appealed to the people’s sinful natures and comforted their fears. False prophets told the people what they wanted to hear and true prophets told God’s truth.

True prophets worked for spiritual purposes to serve God and the people. They owned little or nothing, spoke only true messages and they spoke only what God told them to say no matter how unpopular that was.

Elijah and the prophets of Baal

1 Kings 18:20-46. Elijah told King Ahab to bring the Prophets of Baal and Asherah to Mount Carmel along with all the people. This done Elijah then takes control of the situation. Elijah would take an Ox and kill it as a sacrifice. He would lay it on pieces of wood without starting any fire and the 450 prophets of the Baal would do the same.

He would pray to God, and they would pray to their gods to set the wood on fire. They would see who was the one true God. And the people agreed. From early morning, till noon the people ranted and raved and called upon Baal to answer their prayers. Leaping around the altar to no avail. At noon Elijah mocked them “Call louder for he is a God. Either he is occupied or gone to the toilet or maybe he has gone on a journey or maybe he is sleeping and needs to be awakened!”

I love that, maybe Baal is on a toilet break! Elijah is really showing how stupid these people are. This caused the prophets to become incensed and cry out all the louder.

They cut themselves according to their custom, with swords and lances until their blood gushed out, a practice that was expressly forbidden under the Mosaical law. They continued in vain, until the evening sacrifice but no one answered and no one paid attention. Then Elijah said to the people “Come near me”.

So, all the people came near to him and he repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down. (It is possible that the altar had been built by people of the Northern ten tribes after the division of the kingdom and that it had been destroyed by the agents of Jezebel.)

Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob by doing this he called attention to the covenant unity of Israel as the people of God in spite of her political division. What was about to happen concerned the entire nation, not just the northern ten tribes.

So, with the stones, he built an altar in the name of the Lord and dug a trench around it large enough to hold two measures of seed which in liquid is about 26 pints or fifteen litres.

He then arranged the wood and cut the ox into pieces and laid it on the wood. Elijah then said “Fill four large jars or pitchers with water and pour it on the offering and the wood and he said to do it a second and a third time. The water flowed around the alter saturating everything and running down filled the trench.” In total, there were 12 large pitchers filled with water.

At the time of the evening sacrifice Elijah prays to God saying “Oh Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel Let it be known that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command” “Answer me, Oh Lord answer me that these people may know that you are God and that you have turned their hearts back to you again.”

With that the Lord caused fire to come down from heaven that burnt up not only the sacrifice but the wood, the stones and the soil and also evaporated the water in the trench. When the people saw it they fell on their faces and said “The Lord He is God! The Lord He is God.”

Elijah told the people to seize the prophets of Baal and not let any of them get away. He had them brought down to the Kishon valley where they were slaughtered.

Elijah said to Ahab “Go eat and drink for there is the sound of heavy rain.”

Elijah went back up Mount Carmel and crouching down put his head between his knees. He said to his servant go and look toward the sea. The servant went and came back and said there was nothing there.

Seven times Elijah repeated his command and on the seventh time, the servant reported there was a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea. Elijah said to his servant go down and tell Ahab, hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.

In a little while, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose and heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to the city Jezreel. Jezreel was situated about fifty-five miles north of Jerusalem. Here the kings of Israel had a palace and the court often resided there. 2 Samuel 2:8-9. In or near the town was a temple of Baal and Asherah.

The palace of Ahab was on the eastern side of the city forming part of the city wall. The palace of Jezebel was on the city wall with windows facing east. Then the hand of the Lord was on Elijah and he girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel. Elijah ran the six miles back to the city in order to give Ahab a last chance to turn from his sin before joining Jezebel in Jezreel. His run also ensured that the correct story of what happened would reach the town of Jezreel.

Jezebel’s reaction to Elijah

1 Kings 19:1ff. Jezebel was a princess, the daughter of Ethbaal king of Tyre and Sidon and the wife of Ahab king of Israel who ruled from 874 B.C. to 853 B.C. In biblical Hebrew, her name means “There is no nobility”.

This name is probably a deliberate distortion of her given name which was either “Where is the Prince (Baal) or the Prince Baal exists” which praised her god, Baal. The writer of Kings misconstrued her name to show his utter contempt for her actions and her religion. He characterized the queen as utterly evil.

Jezebel devoted herself to bringing the worship of Baal and his consort Asherah to Israel. She employed 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophetesses of Asherah, 1 Kings 18:19 and persecuted the prophets of the Lord including Elijah. She also extended her religion by violating Israel’s concept of limited monarchical power, Deuteronomy 17:14–20. Read the footnote on Deuteronomy 17:14–20.

When Naboth refused to sell his God-given inheritance to Ahab she arranged for his execution. Jezebel’s defiance of the Lord Led Elijah to prophesy that dogs would devour her body. Although she lived at least 10 years after Ahab’s death she died as Elijah predicted when Jehu had her thrown from her window.

But we get ahead of ourselves. To re-cap, Elijah had had the prophets of Baal killed and then ran ahead of Ahab to the city of Jezreel where Jezebel was waiting for news. He did this so he could make sure the citizens of the town knew exactly what had just happened. When Ahab arrived at Jezreel he went straight to Jezebel and told her everything that Elijah had done and how he had killed all her prophets with the sword.

We cannot begin to imagine how incensed Jezebel was. She must have been almost frothing at the mouth in anger. How dare this little man defy her and her god Baal. She sent for her servant and told him to send a messenger to Elijah. Where was Ahab at this time? The Bible doesn’t say but I suspect he was cowering in a corner keeping well out of the way of his wife’s anger.

She sent a messenger to Elijah saying “May the god’s deal with me, be it ever so severely if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them (them being the prophets of Baal).”

Even though all her prophets were dead Jezebel still had great power and influence and Ahab at this point, has lost control over her and is unable to restrain her. Elijah realises at this point that one of Israel’s main sources of apostasy is still spewing out its poison and fearing for his life he runs along with his servant to Beersheba the southernmost city of Judah.

Leaving his servant in Beersheba, he himself went on alone a day’s journey into the wilderness and after praying that he might die he lay down and slept under a spreading broom bush. Often discouragement sets in after great spiritual experiences, especially those requiring physical effort or involving great emotion.

Elijah was probably physically and spiritually exhausted at this point and was maybe starting to doubt himself, so to lead him out of his depression God let him rest and have something to eat then God confronted him with the need to return to his mission and that was to speak God’s words to Israel because Elijah’s battles were far from over. There was still work for him to do. In other words, God wasn’t finished with him yet.

All at once an angel touched him and said “Arise and eat.” He looked around and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water. He ate and drank then lay down to rest again. The angel came a second time and told him to eat and drink as he had a hard journey ahead of him and needed to build up his strength. He was to head to Mount Horeb (Mount Sinai) which was 250 miles south of Beersheba, a journey which was to take him forty days and forty nights. Sustained by the Lord, just as Moses had been on Mount Sinai and Jesus had been in the wilderness. Interesting to remember that centuries later Moses, Elijah and Jesus would meet together on a mountain top, Luke 9:28- 36

Elijah still feeling unsafe and vulnerable decides to head to the wilderness of Sinai where he finds refuge in a cave.

“What are you doing here?” said God. Elijah has a good moan. He complains that he has been zealous for God and killed all the prophets of Baal yet Jezebel is now threatening to kill him whom he believes to be, the only faithful survivor.

Ignoring this tirade, God says “Get up and go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord who is about to pass by.”

A great strong wind was rending the mountain and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake either. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord wasn’t in the fire either and after the fire came a gentle whisper.

When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave and a voice came to him saying “What are you doing here Elijah?”

This is another classic example of how we have to listen to hear the voice of God. It’s not just about going to church on a Sunday singing his praises or working zealously for him but we have to take time out from our busy schedules and sit in the quiet and allow God to come to us Philippians 4:7 tells us that “the Peace of God surpasses all understanding”.

Elijah continues to complain that the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars and killed your prophets and I am the only one left and they are trying to kill me! Then the Lord said to him to go back the way he came. Elijah must have thought “You have got to be joking!”

He was told to go to Damascus which is in the North of the country and anoint an enemy king, Hazael king over Aram. God was going to use the Aramaic kingdom of Damascus to punish Israel for their sins by continually waging war on Israel. God asked Elijah to anoint three people Hazael, Jehu and Elisha.

The second Jehu would become King of Israel and was given the mandate to destroy the house of Ahab which would include all Baal worship. The third person Elijah was told to anoint was Elisha the prophet who would succeed him and Elisha’s job was to work in Israel the northern kingdom to help point people back to God.

Everything seems to be happening in the Northern part of the kingdom as the southern kingdom at that time was ruled by Jehosephat who was completely devoted to god. We have to assume that God was quite happy with the southern Kingdom and he was concentrating on the Northern part. Those who had escaped Hazael’s sword would be put to death by Jehu and those who escaped

Jehu’s sword would be put to death by Elisha thus ensuring the country would be purged of all idol worshippers. God then explained to Elijah that there were 7000 prophets who had not worshipped Baal and are all faithful to him.

Elijah and the anointing of Elishah and Naboth’s vineyard

1 Kings 21:1-29. God was sending Elijah back over the 250 miles where he found Elisha who was to be his successor. Elisha was the son of Shaphat and he was ploughing in his fields. Obviously, his family were wealthy and employed farm labourers to help with the ploughing. The bible tells us there were twelve yolks of oxen and there are 2 oxen per yolk. Elisha himself was driving the twelfth pair.

As Elijah passed he threw his mantle over him. A cloak was the most important article of clothing a person could own. It was used as protection against the weather, as bedding, as a place to sit, and as luggage. It could be given as a pledge for a debt or torn into pieces to show grief.

Elijah put his cloak on Elisha’s shoulders to show that he would become Elijah’s successor. Later, when the transfer of authority would finally be completed Elijah would leave his cloak to Elisha thus transferring his authority to him 2 King 2:11-14.

Elisha ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my Father and my Mother then I will follow You”.

Elisha was prepared to “upticks” and go with Elijah without question. But Elijah told him to go back. Elisha then took his pair of oxen and sacrificed them, burned the plough and its equipment to cook the meat then gave it to the people who ate. This was more than just a feast; it was an offering to the Lord who had chosen Elisha to be his prophet.

Without the oxen, Elisha was burning his boats and could no longer go back to being a wealthy farmer. He then arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him. This was when Elijah’s loneliness was addressed because he was now working alongside other prophets.

Other prophets were involved when the King of Ahab went to war with the King of Aram. All these wars had been prophesied by Elijah. Two years later Ahab returns to his home in Samaria sullen and vexed as things had not gone his way.

As he was walking in the palace he looked out a window and saw the vineyard of Naboth. The vineyard was in Jezreel and was close to the palace. Since it was so close Ahab thought he would buy it from Naboth and turn it into a vegetable garden.

“In exchange for your vineyard I will give you a better one or I will pay you whatever this one is worth,” said Ahab. “No, I can’t give it to you as the Lord forbids me to get rid of my inheritance which has come down to me through my ancestors” Naboth replied. Ahab returned to his palace in a huff puff because Naboth wouldn’t sell him his vineyard. He went into strop and refused to eat. He lay down on his bed and turned his face to the wall. “Why are you not eating?” Jezebel asked him. Ahab said he had offered Naboth money to buy his vineyard or give him another in its place and he wouldn’t do it. “Is this how you act as king” said Jezebel “Get up and eat and cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth!”

So, she wrote letters in Ahab’s name and sealed them with his seal and sent them to the elders and nobles who were living with Naboth in his city. She told them to proclaim a day of fasting and to put Naboth in a prominent place among the people and seat two scoundrels opposite him and they would testify that Naboth had cursed both God and King then take him out and stone him to death. Jezebel had devised a scheme that appeared legal to get the land for her husband.

By law, two witnesses were acquired to establish guilt and the punishment for blasphemy was death by stoning. Those who twist the law and legal procedures to get what they want today may go about it in a more sophisticated manner but they are still guilty of the same sin as she was. The elders did exactly what Jezebel had told them to do then sent word to the queen that he was dead. As soon as she heard that she said to Ahab “Get up and take possession of the Vineyard. Naboth is no longer alive.”

Ahab did exactly as Jezebel said. Ahab’s willing compliance with Jezebel made him also guilty of murder and theft.

Meantime God “phoned” Elijah.

“Get up and go down to meet Ahab King of Israel who is in Samaria. He is in the vineyard of Naboth where he has gone to take possession of it!” “Speak to him saying – Have you murdered and also taken possession? Thus, says the Lord “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will also lick up your blood!” This came to pass in 1 Kings 22:37-38

Elijah then speaks to Ahab who replies you have found me, my enemy.

“I have found you because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord, because of that God is going to bring disaster upon you. All your descendants will be swept away every male both bond and free in Israel.”

The lineage of Ahab would be wiped out. The lord has spoken also of Jezebel “The dogs will eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.”

The dogs would eat anyone belonging to Ahab who died in the city and anyone belonging to Ahab who died in the country would be devoured by the birds of the air. When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went about looking despondent.

The Lord said to Elijah “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me I will not bring the evil in his days, but will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.” Ahaziah Ahab’s son became king on the death of his father and was as evil as his father and mother had been, and sinned and served Baal. He only reigned for two years. 1 Kings 22:51-53

Three years had passed in peace when there was another war when the prophecy of Ahab’s death was fulfilled and just as Elijah had said his blood was licked up by the dogs. You can read about these wars for yourselves in 1 Kings 22. The wars took part during the life of Elijah but he wasn’t actively involved so we are just concentrating on the life of Elijah.

After the death of Ahab Moab rebelled against Israel. Ahaziah, Ahab’s son fell through the lattice of his upper room in the summer palace in Samaria and he injured himself and became ill. He took to his bed and decides to send messengers to Baal-zebub the god of Ekron to see if he would recover from his injury.

The Lord sent an angel to Elijah and told him to go up and meet the messengers that Ahaziah had sent.

“Is it that there is no God of Israel that you are having to send to Baal-zebub the god of Ekron?” Then said God, “you will not leave the bed you are lying on – you will surely die!”

The messengers returned to Ahaziah and reported everything that Elijah had said to them. The king asked what the man looked like and they described him whereupon Ahaziah recognised that it was Elijah the Tishbite.

The king sends one of his captains with a company of fifty men to ask Elijah to come down off the hill he was sitting on and come and see him. Elijah replied to the captain, “If I am a man of God let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your men!” and it did. The king sent another captain and his fifty men to demand that Elijah come down at once and the same thing happened to them.

For a third time, the king sends another captain and another fifty men but the third captain knew what had happened to the previous two and he fell to his knees before Elijah saying, “Man of God, please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men your servants.”

The angel of the Lord said to Elijah not to be afraid but to go down with them so Elijah went with them to the King. Elijah said to Ahaziah “Is it because there is no God in Israel for you to consult that you have sent messengers to consult Baalzebub the God of Ekron – well because you have done this you are never going to leave that bed – You will surely die.”

And he did. Because Ahaziah had no son, Jehoram his brother succeeded him as king and reigned for twelve years.

Jezebel’s downfall and Elijah’s translation

2 Kings 9:30–37 / 2 Kings 2:1-18. We heard of the prophecy Elijah gave of Jezebel’s downfall “The dogs will eat Jezebel in the district of Jezreel.” 1 Kings 22:23

So you can understand how the prophecy is fulfilled we have to go ahead of ourselves. Elisha has been told by God to go to Yehu the son of Jehosephat the King of Judah and anoint him as the future King.

Israel and Judah by this time both had evil kings. Joram in Israel and Ahaziah in Judah who had intermarried with the house of Ahab. The two kings were in battle against the Syrians and King Joram was wounded so He decided to return to Jezreel, the palace of Ahab and Jezebel who were his parents, to heal his wounds and Ahaziah King of Judah goes to visit him because he knows Joram is sick. While they are there the watchman spies a company of chariots approaching.

He tells King Joram who says “Take a horseman and go to meet them and ask if they come in peace.” At this point, they didn’t know that it was Jehu. Jehu did not let this horseman return to the palace. Instead, he told him to stay behind him. The King sent out a second horseman and asks the same question “Is it peace?” What do you know about peace?” replies Yehu and kept him behind him as well. The Watchman goes to Joram and says “They have reached the company but they are not coming back and the driving is like Jehu the son of Nimshi as he drives like a madman”

Then King Joram called for his chariot to be made ready and as did Ahaziah King of Judah. They set out to meet Jehu at the property of Naboth the Jezreelite. When Joram saw Yehu he asked have you come in peace Jehu and answered “What peace can there be so long as the harlotries and sorceries of your mother Jezebel are so many?” At this point, it must have dawned on Joram that this wasn’t a social visit and he realised he was in a lot of danger turned about and fled shouting to Ahaziah that there was treachery afoot”

Jehu pulled out his bow and shot Joram between the shoulders right through his heart – quite rightly so as this was why the Lord had sent him He told his chariot officer Bidkar, to pick him up and throw him in the field where Naboth had been killed. Remember the Lord had said he would enact vengeance for the death of Naboth and his sons and this would happen on the piece of ground that Ahab had stolen. This was done.

When Ahaziah saw what was happening he took off up the road to Beth-Haggan and Jehu pursued him and said “Shoot him also.”

They only wounded him in his chariot and he escaped to Meggido where he died. He had only reigned as King of Judah for a year. Jehu returned to Jezreel as he had done what he had been sent to do. When Jezebel hears that he is coming she paints her face and her eyelids and does her hair possible to try to seduce Jehu or she may have realised that her time had come and wanted to look her best as the Queen.

She looked out of the window and as Jehu enters the gates she asks “Have you come in peace you murderer of your master?” He lifted up his face to the window and shouted, “Who is on my side?” Two or three eunuchs looked down at him. Jehu said, “Throw her down.”

They threw her down and some of her blood spattered on the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot. If you read between the lines the possibility is that these three eunuchs had been forcibly made into eunuchs by Jezebel and they would have harboured feelings of revenge which they had now been given a chance to fulfil.

Jehu went in to have something to eat and drink and ordered his servants to bury Jezebel as she was a King’s daughter but when they went to bury her they could only find a skull, her feet and her hands. When they came back and told Jehu he said “This is the word of the Lord which he spoke to his servant Elijah the Tishbite.”

In the territory of Jezreel, the dogs shall eat the flesh of Jezebel and the corpse of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the field in the territory of Jezreel so that no one can say “This is Jezebel”

We now come to the closing chapters of Elijah’s life

When the Lord was about to take up Elijah to heaven a revelation of this event had been made to the prophet, and to his disciples but unknown to him it had also been made known to Elisha in particular, who kept constantly beside him. They were on their way to Gilgal where Elijah had established a school for the sons of the prophets.

Elijah asked Elisha to stay there for the Lord had sent him as far as Bethel but Elisha refused saying he would not leave Elijah. You can understand Elisha’s feelings as he would be thinking that he was never going to see Elijah again. From Bethel where there was also a school for the prophets and then on to Jericho.

Elijah probably wanted to say goodbye to the prophets and also to give them his blessing. In each instance, Elisha refused to leave Elijah.

Fifty men of the sons of the prophets, bands or guilds that were active at this time went with them and stood at some distance from them as Elijah and Elisha reached the shores of the River Jordan. Elijah then took his mantle, rolled it up and struck the water. The waters parted to one side and then the other and they passed over on dry ground.

As they walked on Elijah asked Elisha “What can I do for you before I am taken from you?” and Elisha replied, ”I pray you will let me inherit a double share of your spirit”

This request was not, as commonly supposed, for the power of working miracles exceeding the magnitude and number of his masters, nor does it mean a higher endowment of the prophetic spirit for Elisha was neither superior to nor perhaps equally great with his predecessor but the phrase “A double portion” was applied to the firstborn son and therefore, Elisha’s request was simply to be heir to the prophetic office and gifts of his master.

Elijah replied that this was a hard thing he had asked for. He could not and God only could grant such a request and the way he would know if God had answered him was if Elisha saw Elijah being taken from him. If you do not see me, it shall not be so. As they walked on together talking suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated them. Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind to heaven and Elisha saw it and cried “My Father, my Father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen. (One prophet had done more for Israel than all the earthly kingdoms’ chariots and horses) and he saw him no more.”

Distraught, Elisha took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart. Picking up the mantle which had fallen from Elijah he went back and stood on the banks of the Jordan. Taking the cloak, he struck the water with it saying “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah” with that the waters divided to the right and to the left and he crossed over.

The sons of the prophets were waiting for him and said “The spirit of Elijah now rests on Elisha.”

These Prophets obviously didn’t know exactly what had happened and thought that they could go and look for Elijah’s body but Elisha told them not to go. But the prophets harped on continually until Elisha feeling ashamed to refuse them said OK send them and he sent fifty men who searched for three days but they couldn’t find Elijah. They came back to Elisha at Jericho and he said to them “Did I not say – Do not Go.”

So, you could say that this was the official beginning of Elisha’s ministry.

Just as a footnote in Revelation 2:20-23 the Apostle John likens the church at Thyatira to Jezebel. She was an actual woman in the church at Thyatira who was teaching that immorality was not a serious matter for believers.

Her name may have been Jezebel or John may have used the name Jezebel to symbolize the kind of evil she was promoting in the church at that time. Jezebel a pagan queen of Israel was considered to be the most evil woman who ever lived.

Elijah and the New Testament

In New Testament times, there was a general expectation that the Day of the Lord was near, Malachi 4:56. John the Baptist called people to repent, and Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Anxious Jews were able to believe that either John or Jesus might be Elijah returned, John 1:19-21 / Matthew 16:13-14 / Luke 9:7-8.

Because of the vagueness of Malachi, it was possible that Elijah could return at any time. And because no one knew what Elijah looked like, he could be anyone.

Actually, John the Baptist was a good guess, because John dressed like Elijah had (John had camel hair clothes and a leather belt, and Elijah had a sheepskin cape and a leather girdle) and lived in the wilderness. Matthew 3:4.

The Gospels reveal that there was indeed a connection between John and Elijah. Before John was born, an angel said the following about him:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:13-17

Therefore, John was not literally Elijah returned in the flesh, but he did possess the spirit and power of Elijah. Both men were on missions to convince the people to repent. Jesus confirmed that spiritual connection when he explained the following to his disciples:

“And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also, the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.” Matthew 17:10-13

What did Jesus mean when he said that Elijah had already come back, but that he was also still waiting to come back?

He seems to have meant that through John the Baptist, Elijah had spiritually or symbolically returned already, and yet Elijah’s actual return in person was yet to come. If you look closely at the quote from Malachi above, you will see that it never claims that Elijah would return before the Messiah appeared. It just says that Elijah would return “before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.”

That leaves the possibility that Elijah himself will reappear before the second coming of Jesus.

Let’s not forget the appearance of the actual Elijah in the Gospels, in a section called the Transfiguration,  Luke 9:28-36. It was fitting that Elijah appeared alongside Moses in the Transfiguration. Elijah represents the prophets and Moses represents the Law, were similar in many ways, and many parallels may be found in their stories.

For example, both men confronted rulers, fled to the wilderness, ate in the wilderness through miracles, spoke for God, gathered the people at a mountain, encountered God on Mount Sinai, and parted waters.

It is also fitting that both prophets are made aware of the true mission of Jesus. This connects the main figures of the Old and New Testaments, affirming that they are part of the same narrative and that they work together in God’s plan.

Many Jews continue to hope that every Passover, Elijah will return, to usher in the Messianic age. A cup of wine is even set on the table for him to drink, should he walk through the open door. This all goes to show that the mystery of Elijah goes on and on, like the prophet himself, it has never died.