This week, we continue in our Faith Heroes series.
Last week, we picked up the series with a look at Rahab, the prostitute, who is named in the lineage of Jesus and among the greats of scripture. This week, we explore the life of Elijah and set the stage for his successor, Elisha.
Who is Elijah?
Elijah was a prophet during the reigns of Ahab and Ahaziah, kings of Israel somewhere around the ninth century B.C.1 According to scripture he is from Tishbe in Gilead.2 Scholars know little of him prior to his entry onto the scene during this time.
He is one of three individuals in scripture that ascended to heaven without experiencing death:
- Enoch – Genesis 5:23
- Elijah – 2 Kings 2
- Jesus Christ – all four Gospel accounts
Elijah makes a brief appearance in the New Testament in three of the Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) during the transfiguration alongside Jesus and Moses.3
He is known for his ascension to Heaven without experiencing death as well as the epic showdown on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal; however, I am getting ahead of myself.
Let’s dive into Elijah’s ministry now…
Elijah’s Ministry Start
Our first encounter with Elijah, the prophet, is in 1 Kings 17 when he tells King Ahab of Israel that there is going to be a drought. And not just any drought, Elijah says in 1 Kings 17:1,
“As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives – the God I serve – there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”
The Lord clearly guides Elijah to say these words to the king, and I can imagine that the king is not too happy with him.
Elijah is provided for by God’s creatures, but soon, just like Elijah said, the land and brooks dried up.
Elijah Performs Miracles
Not long after the brooks and land dried up, God sent him to the village of Zarephath where he encountered a widow.
A brief side note here – it says in the scripture narrative,
“I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” – 1 Kings 17:9
The curious side of me wants to know how the Lord spoke to this widow. Was it audible? Was it a gentle whisper in her spirit? Was it a dream or a vision?
And my follow-up question would be…how would she recognize Elijah?
Scripture never shares this information with us, but clearly, when Elijah arrives, she recognizes him as the prophet or person she is to feed. There was a problem though, she didn’t have enough food for them.
Elijah first asks for a cup of water, which she proceeds to provide; then he imposes upon her good graces and asks for some bread.
It is at this time that we see the hardship she is experiencing. She says, I only have enough flour and oil for my son and me, and afterward, we will waste away because of the drought.4
Elijah says, I know you only have enough for you, but please feed me first and I assure you there will always be enough flour and oil for your needs until the rain comes.5
I imagine it must have taken a great deal of faith on the part of the widow to put what little flour and oil she had and make that bread for Elijah. I wonder if I would have the same kind of faith if I were faced with this situation today?
And just as Elijah promised, she always had enough flour and oil for food. At some point in time, this widow’s son became ill and died.6
As any grieving mother would do who had a prophet staying with her, she wanted to why her son died. She accused Elijah of pointing out her sins and killing her son.7
Elijah not missing a beat took the child upstairs to his room and asked the Lord why this tragedy has occurred. He then proceeded to stretch himself out on the boy three times, each time asking God,8
“O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.” – 1 Kings 17:21
What I love about this narrative, is God’s response. It says in 1 Kings 17:22,
“The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived!”
Scripture never indicates why God chose to bring this child back to life. It might have been in response to the widow’s faithfulness or it might have been to restore faith in the widow – we just don’t know.
Narratives that include healing are tough, especially in today’s turbulent times. We don’t understand when our prayers seem to go unanswered for healing, and for others God chooses to heal them. God uses all circumstances and situations for His good and glory, and we don’t always understand.
We do see at the end of 1 Kings 17, the widow’s response which might enlighten us as to why God healed her son. It says,
“Then the woman told Elijah,, ‘Now I know your sure that you a man of God, and that the Lord truly speaks through you.’” – 1 Kings 17:24
Sometimes our faith needs a pick-me-up.
Showdown on Mt. Carmel
For some time, King Ahab had been looking for Elijah. Elijah proved to be quite elusive, but one day Elijah showed up in King Ahab’s territory and ran into Obadiah, a God-fearing man who served the king.
Elijah told Obadiah to go and tell King Ahab where he was, but Obadiah didn’t feel like dying that day and protested to Elijah. After some back and forth, and the promise that Obadiah was not going to die, he went and told the king.9
You can imagine that King Ahab was upset, and so he went out to meet Elijah. Once Ahab arrived, Elijah called him out on the bad stuff he and his family had done.
So, Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a showdown to see whose god is real.10
Four hundred and fifty (450) prophets of Baal were summoned to Mt. Carmel against Elijah. They set up the altars, and Elijah let them choose which bull they wanted to sacrifice. The prophets of Baal got to work and asked him to consume their sacrifice.
The prophets chanted and around noontime, Elijah started mocking them. He said, maybe you need to shout louder or perhaps he is daydreaming or relieving himself or maybe he took a trip. They continued their shouting and cutting themselves into the evening time, but nothing happened.11
By this time, I imagine Elijah resting comfortably and even laughing.
Now it was his time. He reset the altar with twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel, slaughtered the bull, dug a trough around the altar, and filled it with water. In case that wasn’t enough, three times he had people pour water over the sacrifice just to make sure it was wet.
He then prayed to God and asked Him to prove that He (God) had asked him (Elijah) to do this showdown. And suddenly, the fire from heaven came down and consumed the sacrifice, the altar, and the water.12
Let’s just say that it did not end well for the prophets of Baal.
Here Comes the Rain
As we saw at the beginning of the narrative, Elijah said it would not rain for three years. They were now in the third year, and Elijah told King Ahab to head out because the rain was coming.
Ahab did leave, but I wonder if he thought it was kind of weird since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. However, if you just saw the fire come from heaven and all of your prophets slaughtered, you might take Elijah seriously.
Elijah prayed for rain for the land atop Mt. Carmel. He asked a servant to check each time to see if clouds were coming. Six times the servant said no, and on the seventh time, the servant said I see a small cloud.
Well…that small cloud turned into some serious rain clouds. And, because God is amazing, scripture says,
“Then the Lord gave special strength to Elijah. He tucked his cloak into his belt and ran ahead of Ahab’s chariot all the way to the entrance of Jezreel.” 13
Can you imagine if you are Ahab and you are cruising along in your chariot, and then Elijah comes running up next to you? As the king, he would have had the fastest horses and the best chariot. That would have been a sight to behold.
Life is not easy, and as we have seen in Elijah’s life, he took on some mighty foes, and it would be easy for us to think that it was always blue skies and perfect weather, but we Elijah was spent after his battle on Mt. Carmel.
In fact, he became afraid and booked it for the mountains, and hid among the caves. He had enough. It says in 1 Kings 19:4,
“‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said.”
Our impression of God’s servants is that they were superhuman, and they rarely struggled with anything. This is not the case. We have seen this with David, Samuel, Abraham, and Jonah.
The prophets and greats of the Bible were not perfect, only one person was perfect and that was Jesus. What is exciting is God let’s him vent his frustration, but then he comes and meets him where he is at.
He does this for you and me as well.
The Lord says to Elijah,
“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” – 1 Kings 19:11a
The Lord then passed by…
But the Lord was not in any of these events. Then…
“the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went on and stood at the entrance of the cave.” – 1 Kings 19:12-13
The Lord asked Elijah what he was doing here in the mountains, and Elijah said I have served you zealously but I am all that is left. Israel has not followed your commands or covenants, and now they are out to get me. I am exhausted.17
The Lord began to put in place a succession plan for Elijah and to show him that he was not alone. Elijah thought he was alone, but the Lord is reminding him that he is not alone, and God sees everything.
The Lord instructed Elijah to go into the wilderness and anoint three people.
- Hazael – he would be King of Aram
- Jehu – he would be King of Israel
- Elisha – he would be Elijah’s successor and replacement
Additionally, God encouraged Elijah saying,
“I will preserve 7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” – 1 Kings 19:18
When Elijah came to anoint Elisha, he found him in a field plowing with a team of oxen. Elijah threw his cloak around him, turned around, and walked away.18
Elisha must have been aware of the process for anointing prophets because he asked Elijah if he could go and say goodbye to his parents, but already Elijah challenges his devotion to his calling.
“Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.” – 1 Kings 19:20
From the time Elijah talked to him and the time he reached his oxen, he had a change of heart, and killed the oxen and sacrificed them as an offering to the Lord.19
Not sure if Dad was too happy that he slaughtered his oxen, but the meat served the townspeople, and they all ate, and then Elisha left and became Elijah’s servant.20
The Lord prepared the way for Elisha to succeed Elijah, and we need to be preparing ourselves for our successors. I encourage you to think about your work, and who might be a good successor for you. It still would take some time before Elisha was ready to assume Elijah’s position, but they worked together to be prepared.
As you think about your work positions, start praying for your successor that God would be preparing your replacement when the time is right. At the same time, ask God to prepare you for your next assignment or position, and to move you when the time is right.
Over some period of time, Elijah went back and had dealings with King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Vineyards were stolen, citizens killed, but along the way, King Ahab humbled himself before God, and God’s punishment would be carried out on his dynasty and not during this lifetime.
Not too long afterward, King Ahab would die by a random arrow shot from a soldier, and the people of Israel would receive a new king.
Throughout the land, it was becoming common knowledge that Elijah’s time on earth was coming to an end, and he would be taken to heaven without dying.
Each person that asked Elisha said, do you know that Elijah will be leaving you, he replied he did, but don’t say anything.
As the time drew near for Elijah to be taken up to heaven, three times Elijah asked Elisha to stay behind at different cities, but Elisha would not stay and continued on.
When they crossed a river on dry ground, Elijah asked what he could do for Elisha. Elisha replied,
“Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” – 2 Kings 2:9
Elijah said this is difficult, but if you see me leave this earth then your request will be granted. As they were walking along the road, a chariot of fire came between them and took Elijah to heaven leaving behind his cloak.21
When the time was right, Elisha assumed the role of prophet, and his request was fulfilled, and his ministry began.
As we have seen, Elijah was a faithful servant of the Lord and a faith hero. He prepared the way for Elisha, and as we will see next week Elisha is used mightily in the land of Israel.
I encourage you to use Elijah’s example to think about how you can prepare the way for your successor. He built into Elisha, and at the same time, Elisha asked for a generous inheritance. It looks different today for our requests, but when God wants to move us, we need to be ready, and we need to have asked God to prepare the ground for the move.
Take some time today to think about who could come behind you, and serve your staff or be the next leader.
Lord, thank you for the example of Elijah, and for showing us a model for helping us prepare for our successors. We are grateful for the example provided by Elijah in his good times, and in the times when he struggled. I ask that you would be preparing each one of us for our next assignment, and prepare our successors. Thank you for your love and grace. Amen!
- Faith Heroes series
- ELIJAH THE PROPHET A miracle-worker and prophet during the reigns of Ahab and Ahaziah, kings of Israel (ninth century BC);Amy Balogh, “Elijah the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016). ↩
- Like most biblical prophets, nothing is known of Elijah’s life prior to his prophetic activities as recorded in the Bible (other than where he is from—Tishbe in Gilead; 1 Kgs 17:1).Amy Balogh, “Elijah the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016). ↩
- Elijah himself appears in the Gospels at the transfiguration, when he and Moses speak with Jesus and then disappear into a cloud (Matt 17:3–8; Mark 9:4–8; Luke 9:30–36)Amy Balogh, “Elijah the Prophet,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016). ↩
- 1 Kings 17:10-12 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 17:13-14 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 17:15-16 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 17:17-18 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 17:19-21 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 18:1-16a ↩︎
- 1 Kings 18:16-19 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 18:19-29 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 18:30-39 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 18:41-46 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 19:11 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 19:11 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 19:12 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 19:14 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 19:19 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 19:21 ↩︎
- 1 Kings 19:21 ↩︎
- 2 Kings 2:10-12 ↩︎
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