What can we learn from the life of Elijah?

Last updated on September 13, 2021

Elijah first arrives on the scene in the Bible in 1 Kings 17 when Ahab was king of the northern kingdom of Israel. Very little is known about him except that he was a Tishbite – possibly meaning the place of his birth was Tishbe.

Historical context

At this point in Israel’s history, the nation of Israel was divided into two – the Northern kingdom, known as Israel and the Southern kingdom known as Judah. The southern kingdom on the whole still adhered to the worship of God and the temple was the center of worship for them.

The Northern kingdom had turned away from the king Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, and followed Jeroboam and made him king. In order to secure his kingdom he introduced idol worship and as a result the Northern Kingdom went farther and farther away from the Lord.

When Elijah comes on the scene, the king is Ahab, married to Jezebaal, who had been a priestess for Baal and Baal worship. She was renowned for her wickedness and led Ahab and the Northern kingdom deeper into sin.

Elijah’s life

In Elijah’s first appearance he confronts king Ahab with a prophecy from God that there would not be any rain for the next few years as a result of the kingdom’s wickedness.

From there God tells Elijah to go to the East side of Jordan to a brook called Kerith (Cherith). He was able to drink from the water of the brook and God fed him by sending ravens with meat and bread each day. When the brook dried up, Elijah was told by God to go to a widow in Zerephath. The journey was at least 120 miles but Elijah probably went a long way round to avoid being detected by Ahab’s spies who were looking for him.

God takes care of Elijah and the widow

The widow had been affected by the results of the drought and was out gathering firewood to make one last meal for her and her son when Elijah met her. He asked for a drink of water, and when she turned to get it for him he asked for something to eat.

This is when the widow informed him that she didn’t have anything except some flour and oil, just enough for her and her son’s last meal. Elijah asked her to make something for him first, and then gave the promise that the flour and oil would not run out for as long as it was needed.

As a result of this encounter, Elijah stayed with the widow and her son for the rest of the drought. During this time the woman’s faith was tested a second time when her son died. She questioned why this had happened but Elijah had no answer – he said “give me your son” and then took him to an upper room and cried out to God, for the woman and her son. The Lord answered Elijah’s cry and the son was raised to life. The widow was then convinced of Elijah’s calling and status as a man of God.

Who is the true God?

After three years of drought came the great encounter with Ahab and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Ahab the king was not repentant nor did he acknowledge God’s judgment through the drought. He still blamed Elijah.

Elijah set up a meeting with the king and himself, plus 450 prophets of Baal and any of the people who wanted to come. This was a show down between God and Baal. The plan was straight forward: there would be two altars with sacrifices prepared. The prophets of Baal would call on Baal to send fire, and then Elijah would call on God to send fire – whoever answered with fire for the sacrifices would be acknowledged as the one true God.

The prophets of Baal went first, and for hours called on Baal to send fire. Finally Elijah prepared his sacrifice, doused it with water and then called upon God who answered immediately with fire, consuming the sacrifice, wood, stones and even the water that was still at the base of the altar. At this, the people recognized God’s hand and shouted “the Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God”.

Elijah ordered the death of the false prophets. Then told Ahab that God would send rain. This happened. Sadly, after the victory of Carmel, Elijah ran away into the wilderness in fear of his life as Jezabel threatened to kill him.

God gives Elijah new strength and new tasks

Finally he sat under a juniper tree and told God that he had had enough and wanted to die. God gently dealt with him. He allowed him to sleep, prepared some food and water for him, and then let him sleep some more. God then led him to Horeb where he spent the night in a cave, and then God appeared to him. He recommissioned him, and reminded Elijah that even though he felt afraid and alone, God still had people who were worshiping him in Israel.

God gave Elijah three tasks: to anoint Jehu King of Israel, Hazael king of Aram, and Elisha to succeed him. Elijah went, anointed Elisha and he became Elijah’s servant.

After these main events in Elijah’s life he appears a few more times

  • 1 Kings 21 – to confront Ahab about his part in having Naboth killed so that he could obtain his vineyard.
  • 2 Kings 1 – to confront King Ahaziah, Ahab’s son, with a prophecy that he would die.
  • 2 Kings 2 – Elijah is dramatically taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.

Elijah in the New Testament

Elijah is mentioned in the New Testament 30 times, many of these are to do with Jesus (see below). In Romans 11 the apostle Paul reminds us that Elijah felt completely alone but God still had Israelites who were still faithful to him. James 5:17 talks about Elijah being human just as we are, and yet his prayers were very effective.

Jesus Christ and Elijah

The two well-known references of Elijah with Jesus are

  1. That John the Baptist would come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17) as forerunner of Jesus, and Jesus himself confirms that John fulfilled the prophesy the Jews held that Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Messiah (Matthew 17:12).
  2. The second being that Elijah joined Jesus and Moses on the mount of transfiguration. See Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13 and Luke 9:28-36.

Some lessons for us

  • Elijah was a man anointed by God to proclaim God’s word at a time in Israel’s history when it seemed they were far from God and the country’s leaders were not interested in Him. God has appointed us as His people to proclaim the message of salvation at a time when people seem far from God, and many of world’s leaders have no interest in Him.
  • God provided for Elijah, and hid him for as long as was needed. Jesus promises us that he will also provide all that we need (Matthew 6:33f) when we seek to do His will and obey Him.
  • Elijah was a human being just like us (James 5:17) and although he did accomplish great things for God he also suffered from a period of self-doubt, fear, and wanting to die. This came immediately after his great victory at Mount Carmel. We need to remind ourselves that we too are in a spiritual battle and it is likely and to be expected that when God has used us in some way, our enemy the devil will be trying his hardest to discredit us, tempt us and accuse us in order that we will stop being a threat to him. Being able to listen to God’s voice and taking time out to be refreshed, revived and restored is not just a nice thought but something that everyone who is a child of God needs to take note of so that we will not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrews 12:3).
  • Elijah was a man who stood out from the crowd. He dressed differently (2 kings 1:7-8), and was instantly recognizable. We don’t need to conform to the rest of the world, or try to be like them in order that the world will accept us; nor do we need to be so strangely different that people make fun of or ridicule us. As children of God we need to be confident in who we are in Christ, and live a life that is different from the rest of the world so that people will see that our lives are different and glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

Thanks to GospelImages for the image.

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