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[ee LIE juh] (the Lord is my God)

An influential prophet who lived during the ninth century B.C. during the reigns of Ahab and Ahaziah in the northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah shaped the history of his day and dominated Hebrew thinking for centuries afterward.

Elijah's prophetic activities emphasized the unconditional loyalty to God required of the nation of Israel. His strange dress and appearance (2 Kings 1:8), his fleetness of foot (1 Kings 18:46), his rugged constitution that resisted famine (1 Kings 19:8), and his cave-dwelling habits (1 Kings 17:3; 19:9) all suggest that he was a robust, outdoors-type personality.

Elijah was opposed to the accepted standards of his day, when belief in many gods was normal. He appears in the role of God's instrument of judgment upon a wayward Israel because of the nation's widespread idolatry. The miracles that Elijah performed occurred during the period when a life-or death struggle took place between the religion of Jehovah and BAAL worship.

Elijah's views were in conflict with those of King Ahab. Ahab had attempted to cultivate economic ties with Israel's neighbors, especially Tyre. One of the consequences was that he had married Jezebel, a daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre. Ahab saw no harm in participating in the religion of his neighbors, particularly the religion of his wife. Therefore, he established a center of BAAL worship at Samaria. Influenced by Jezebel, Ahab gave himself to the worship of Baal. Suddenly Elijah appeared on the scene.

Prediction of Drought. As punishment against Ahab for building the temple for Baal worship at Samaria, Elijah predicted that a drought would grip the land. Then he fled to the eastern side of the Jordan River and later to Zarephath on the Mediterranean coast to escape Ahab's wrath. At both sites he was kept alive through miraculous means. While staying at a widow's home, he performed a miracle by bringing her son back to life (1 Kings 17).

Contest on Mount Carmel. After the drought had lasted three years, the Lord instructed Elijah to present himself before Ahab with the message that the Lord would provide rain. Elijah then challenged the 850 prophets of Baal and Asheroth to a contest on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:21). Each side would offer sacrifices to their God without building a fire. The ignition of the fire was left to the strongest god, who would thereby reveal himself as the true God.

While praying to God, Elijah poured water over his sacrifice to remove any possibility of fraud or misunderstanding about the offering. When Elijah's sacrifice was consumed by fire from heaven, the people of Israel responded strongly in favor of God (1 Kings 18:39). Then the prophets of Baal and Asheroth were slaughtered at Elijah's command (1 Kings 18:40), and God sent rain to end the drought (1 Kings 18:41-46).

Flight from Jezebel. Queen Jezebel was furious over the fate of the prophets of Baal. She vowed that she would take revenge on Elijah. He was forced to flee to the desert south of Beersheba, eventually arriving at Mount Horeb-the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments. It is significant that this loyal follower of the Law came at last to the place where the commandments were first given. Like Moses, Elijah was sustained for 40 days and nights in the wilderness.

While Elijah was at Mount Horeb, the Lord revealed Himself in a low, murmuring sound. The prophet received a revelation of the coming doom on Ahab and Israel (1 Kings 19:14). Then Elijah was given a threefold charge: he was instructed to anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as the future king of Israel, and Elisha as the prophet who would take his place (1 Kings 19:16). These changes would bring to power those who would reform Israel in the coming years.

Naboth's Vineyard and Challenge of Ahaziah. In the years of war that followed between Ahab and BenHadad of Syria, Elijah did not appear (1 Kings 20). But he did appear after Jezebel acquired a family owned vineyard for Ahab by having its owner, Naboth, falsely accused and executed (1 Kings 21). Elijah met the king in the vineyard and rebuked him for the act (1 Kings 21:1-24). Ahab repented, and Elijah brought him word from the Lord that the prophesied ruin on his house would not come during his lifetime, but would occur in the days of his son.

Shortly after Ahaziah, the son of Ahab, took the throne from his father, he was involved in a serious accident. He sent messengers to inquire of BaalZebub, the god of Ekron, whether he would recover. Elijah intercepted the messengers and predicted his death because of his belief in other gods (2 Kings 1:1-17). This event would also be a fulfillment of the doom pronounced earlier upon Ahab's house.

Twice King Ahaziah sent a detachment of soldiers to capture Elijah. But both times they were consumed by fire from heaven. The third group sent by the king begged for mercy, and an angel of God directed Elijah to go with the commander to see the king. Elijah repeated his message of doom to Ahaziah, who soon died (2 Kings 1:9-17). Elijah's prophecy that Jezebel would meet a violent death was also fulfilled (2 Kings 9:36).

Ascension to Heaven. The prophet Elijah did not die. He was carried bodily to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1-11). This was an honor previously bestowed only upon ENOCH (Gen 5:24). ELISHA, the only witness to this event, took up Elijah's mantle which fell from him as he ascended. He carried it during his ministry as a token of his continuation of Elijah's ministry (2 Kings 2:13-14).

Elijah's influence continued even after his ascension into heaven. King Jehoram of Israel received a letter from the prophet seven years after his ascension, indicating that the king would be punished severely for his sins (2 Chron 21:12-15).

Elijah's Contribution. The prophet Elijah understood that the nation of Israel had a mission to preserve its religious system-the worship of the one true God-in a pure form without any mixture with idol worship. Elijah was strongly opposed to the worship of pagan gods such as Baal and Asherah. This uncompromising stand often endangered his life by bringing him into conflict with those in positions of power, especially Queen Jezebel and her followers.

Elijah's impact on the prophetic movement among the Hebrew people was extensive. He stands as the transitional figure between Samuel (the adviser and anointer of kings) and the later writing prophets. Like the prophets who followed him, Elijah emphasized Israel's responsibility for total commitment to their God and the covenant responsibilities which God and His people had sworn to each other. Both these ideas are more fully developed in later prophets, such as Amos and Hosea.

In later Jewish thought, the messianic age was frequently associated with Elijah's return. The Old Testament spoke of the reappearance of Elijah. The prophet Malachi prophesied that the Lord would send Elijah before the day of the Lord arrived. According to the New Testament, this prophecy was fulfilled in the coming of JOHN THE BAPTIST (Matt 11:4; 17:10-13; Luke 1:17). John the Baptist was similar to Elijah in his preaching as well as his dress and physical appearance (Matt 11:7-8; Luke 7:24-28). During Jesus' earthly ministry, some identified him with Elijah (Matt 16:14; Luke 9:8).

The New Testament also mentions the reappearance of Elijah in person. Along with Moses, he appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17:3).

1 Kings 18:17-39

Elijah's interview with Ahab


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