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Where are the Elijah’s of God?

MORNING MESSAGE: John Cline

Scriptures: 1 Kings 17-22; 2 Kings 1,2 

Reader: Diana Harcus

People who get messages from God to pass on to others will tell you that it is not an easy role. Rejection by family, confusion in the minds of others, wariness on the part of listeners: these are all hallmarks of such a life. People don’t want to hear and sometimes are really adamant about it. Queen Jezebel had the prophets of God put to death, yet her time period was not the only one in which that happened. Think of the lives of Jeremiah or John the Baptist – being a prophet is not easy nor desirable. But I thank the Lord for such people, for His spokespeople. Today, we will complete what Ruth Adria started last Sunday in her Lenten Devotional on the prophet Elijah by filling in the other details of his life. We aren’t told much about his background.

Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe 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.” (1 Kings 17:1)

There is no backstory to Elijah given in the Bible other than he was born on the from the east side of the Jordan River, in Gilead, Jordan.

He is described in 2 Kings 1:7,8 as “a leather belt around his waist and a garment of animal skin with hair on it (most likely sheep’s skin or goat’s skin).” He probably had very long hair and a long beard. His costume and look would have been thoroughly that of an ascetic. In other words, he would have looked like John the Baptist, or to put things in their chronologically proper order, John the Baptist would have looked like Elijah the prophet. About prophets, the Bible says,

They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:37,38)

As Ruth mentioned last week, the name Elijah is comprised of two words, El and ijah, meaning “YHWH is my God”. Elijah’s name was a purposeful affront to all those in Israel who had made Baal their god, starting with Jezebel and Ahab who had entrenched the worship of Baal-Zebub, the god of the Sidonians, part of the Phoenicians, located in modern-day Lebanon, north-west of Israel. It is significant that, when Jesus wanted to teach his apostles about what makes a person “clean” or “unclean”, he took them to Jezebel’s area, to Tyre and Sidon, to those cities where Baal-worship reigned and in which people’s thought patterns were controlled by that idolatry. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God to those Phoenicians. Elijah’s ministry started when YHWH God had him go to King Ahab to tell him that a long drought was coming. Besides Elijah’s name itself, that message was also an affront because Ahab and Jezebel believed and taught that Baal was the god of nature, the one in control of rain. But he wasn’t. YHWH God was in control. God then told Elijah to get out of there, for He knew that Jezebel would try to have him killed.

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.” So, he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, 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. (1 Kings 17:2-6)

God was with Elijah, feeding him via food-bringing ravens.

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” (1 Kings 17:7-9)

Again, did you notice where God sent Elijah to? To the town of Zarephath and the region of Sidon. This seems intentional for it was right in Baal’s backyard, that God first declared through Elijah it was not Baal who in control, but Himself/YHWH God.

So, he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her & asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar & a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself & my son, that we may eat it—and die.” (1 Kings 17:10-12)

Did you notice that the woman was not a follower of YHWH? She said to Elijah, “As surely as the Lord your God lives.” She would have been a worshipper and follower of Baal when Elijah first approached her.

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So, there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. (1 Kings 17:13-15)

Elijah showed the widow who YHWH God, the one true God, was. She was starting to understand but then her son died & she blamed Elijah.

“Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, & laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times & cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, & the boy’s life returned to him, & he lived. Elijah picked up the child & carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother & said, “Look, your son is alive!” Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.” (1 Kings 17:19-24)

The widow became a believer, just as a later Phoenician woman would become a believer when Jesus freed her demon-possessed daughter.

After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go & present yourself to Ahab, & I will send rain on the land.” So, Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. (1 Kings 18:1)

Elijah told Ahab to gather the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Baal’s female counterpart, the goddess Asherah, who “ate at Jezebel’s” to meet him on the top of Mount Carmel where they would see who spoke for the divine – those 850 prophets of Canaanite gods or Elijah, the one prophet of YHWH God – and they would see who was all-powerful: Baal or YHWH. Ruth already described the outcome and decisive victory of YHWH and Elijah so I won’t go that, again, but I will point out that historians were confused as to how the prophets of Baal, etc., could seemingly call on their god and fire would break out on their altar, until archaeologists discovered the answer: the priests of Baal, etc., built their altars with secret underground tunnels in which priests would light a fire while the priests up top would claim the god had done it. To make sure such a sleight-of-hand deception would not occur this time, Elijah forced those 850 priests to build their altar out in the open on Mount Carmel in a spot where everyone could see what they were doing. In that famous take-down of Baal and his priests, Elijah – “YHWH is my God” – challenged the Israelite onlookers, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal is God, follow him!” The Israelite people, enraged by the failure of the prophets of Baal and realizing they had been deceived for many years, chased them down and slaughtered them. Elijah then told King Ahab, “Oh, by the way, the drought is about to end now, as well, so you better get down off the mountain before you are caught in the huge rainstorm that is coming.” Both Ahab and Elijah fled to Jezreel, the winter capital of Israel, where Jezebel was awaiting word about her 850 beloved prophets of Baal and Asherah. She would have expected failure for Elijah but…

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So, Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods 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.” Elijah was afraid & ran for his life. (1 Kings 19:1-3a)

Scholars are sure God had something more in mind for Elijah when he sent him to Jezreel after the victory on Mount Carmel, but when Elijah heard Jezebel’s threat, he lost courage and fled for his life. Elijah decided to flee to Mount Horeb, that much-revered spot where God had, centuries before, revealed himself to Moses as YHWH – “I AM WHO I AM” – “There is no god like me”. Elijah needed such a revelation of God for himself. He was depressed; physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. Depression, which catches hold of almost every human being at some point, had seized him. It would be great if we followers and servants of God didn’t have dark days where deep discouragement and depression set in, but those times of depression do often hit after a time of spiritual highs. I am no expert on how to get out of depression but Elijah’s encounters with God give insights. First, Elijah didn’t make it to Mount Horeb before collapsing after only one day of travelling. But God was gracious & met him at his point of need.

When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So, he got up and ate and drank. (1 Kings 19:3b-8a)

YHWH God responded with mercy and provision. Thus, the first thing I see is that absolute honesty with God is a helpful move. Elijah said, in effect, “I went through all that for this? What’s the point? What’s the use, no matter what good I do, what victory I win, nothing changes. Jezebel is still going to kill me.” Depression was the end result. But, if we are absolutely honest with God, that is the first step to healing for it gives God the chance to respond and interact.

Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night. (1 Kings 19:8b-9a)

Having been given enough strength by God to complete his journey, Elijah (YWHW is my God) reached his destination, only to hide in a cave on Mount Horeb. There, he let out his frustrations to God, a second step in his healing. God would respond positively.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, & put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, & now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. 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 mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19:9b-13a)

On Mount Carmel, God had revealed Himself as the God of power, but here He showed Elijah that He is also the God of intimacy & whispers. This reminds me of the poem found on a wall in Germany after WW II: “I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when I can’t feel it. I believe in God, even when He is silent.”

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars & your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, & now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, & go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” So, Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. (1 Kings 19:13b-19a)

YHWH God gave Elijah a new assignment, which is the third part of healing. What task is God now giving to you to help you out of your depression? That needs to be determined and then obeyed. Here, YHWH displayed to the Baal worshipping Canaanites that actually He/YHWH was in control over who would be king of any nation. And, then YHWH gave Elijah a new perspective, reminding him that there were 7,000 other prophets of His in the land of Israel. Plus, God gave let Elijah know that he would have a new partner in his task as a prophet, Elisha. Going on, the next time we read about Elijah is the scene from last week wherein Jezebel had arranged for a man named Naboth to be murdered so that her husband Ahab could then take that land as his own. God sent Elijah to deal with Ahab. Not a fun task!

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. (1 Kings 21:17,18)

Elijah told Ahab, “This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’” Ahab was stunned, yet he died shortly after, just as Elijah had prophesied, with his blood being licked up by dogs. But that was not the end of prophesying for Elijah, for Ahab’s son, Ahaziah, then took over as the king of Israel. We read,

After Ahab’s death, Moab rebelled against Israel. Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So, he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.” But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Therefore, this is what the Lord says: ‘You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!’” So, Elijah went. (2 Kings 1:1-4)

Elijah – YHWH is my God – defeating Baal-Zebub’s messengers, one last time. But Ahaziah wouldn’t listen or repent. So, he died. As for Elijah, his own time on earth was about to end. Elisha was with him.

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel. The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.” (2 Kings 2:1-3)

Project map of Gilgal and Bethel and Jericho and Jordan

This was a holy moment, demanding silence and respect, not the excited chatter by the prophets at Bethel. Elijah would have gone to Bethel one last time because it was the home of Baal worship in Israel, the place where the two golden calves proclaiming Baal as god was erected. Elijah went there to taunt Baal and his priests.

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went to Jericho. The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.” (2 Kings 2:4,5)

Again, Elisha called for an end to excited chatter, this time by a company of prophets at Jericho, which was the spot of the Israelites greatest triumph when they had first entered the Promised Land. Then, in a scene reminiscent of that miraculous crossing of the Jordan River by the Israelites all those centuries ago, Elijah crossed the Jordan River to go to his own homeland of Gilead while, at the same time, showing Elisha and those prophets that YHWH was still the same God.

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them walked on. Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. (2 Kings 2:6-8)

Bit by bit, Elijah was teaching Elisha about God’s power and that He was the same “yesterday, today, and forever”. Elisha could trust Him.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. (2 Kings 2:9-15)

Elijah was transported to heaven. Later, Jesus revealed that Elijah would return in the spirit of his forerunner, the one who would prepare the people’s hearts for the Gospel message Jesus would be bringing. That second Elijah would be John the Baptist. Jesus said:

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he (John the Baptist) is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (M 11:13-15)

As Ruth already pointed out last week, Elijah then appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus’ heavenly glory was revealed; and, the apostle James pointed to Elijah as the best human example of one who prayed with powerful effectiveness; and, finally, the apostle John, in the Book of Revelation wrote about “two witnesses”, Elijah and Moses, it is understood, who will bear powerful testimony about Jesus at the time of His return.

So, Elijah is still with us in spirit and will be in our future. Now, those prophets at Jericho asked a fair enough question of Elisha, upon Elijah’s transport to heaven, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” but, a better question for us today is, “Where are the Elijahs of God?”, the people who will pray with power, who will declare that “YHWH is my God”, and who will uncompromisingly hold out for God and His truth in the face of much backlash. Being a prophet is not a task any of us might want, but it is a role needed in our world today. Let’s pray, whether or not we operate with the spiritual gifting of prophecy, that we will be people of such courage, powerful prayer, and uncompromising faithfulness.

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