In considering something of the life of Elijah the prophet, it is remarkable how he appeared on the pages of scripture without any preamble or record of his life, and he disappeared from the scriptures equally dramatically. He served the Lord in one of the darkest days of Israel’s history and he did so with faithfulness and fearlessness, putting his own life in jeopardy.
If we want a reason for this study, we might think of James’ comment about Elijah, ‘Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are’, Jas. 5. 17. Whilst we may not think we have any similarities with such a mighty prophet, there are clearly lessons for each of us to learn in our lives for the Lord.
We have said that Elijah served in one of the darkest days of Israel’s history. Reading the closing verses of 1 Kings chapter 16 will confirm this for us. We read, ‘But Omri wrought evil in the eyes of the Lord, and did worse than all that were before him’, v. 25. After twelve years of such an evil rule, Omri died and ‘Ahab his son reigned in his stead’, v. 28. One might have hoped that things could not get any worse than they had been under the reign of Omri, yet the scripture records, ‘Ahab … did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him’, v. 30. Again, verse 33, ‘Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him’. The list may seem short, but it is significant.
What a catalogue of disobedience!
We may feel that we are labouring in difficult days, but these examples of Old Testament servants are left there for our learning and encouragement. Like Elijah, we have a God who will equip us to meet the challenges.
He is known as ‘Elijah the Tishbite’ and he was ‘of the inhabitants of Gilead’, 1 Kgs. 17. 1. We will search in vain for any other biblical reference to this place with which Elijah is identified. Tishbeh, or Tishbi, is obscure, difficult to pinpoint, but this is interesting in itself - that such an obscure, and hitherto unknown place, should suddenly produce a mighty man of God. What a testimony to the grace of God! It has nothing to do with the place. It has nothing to do with the person. It has all to do with God - He has His man in place and ready to be used when God needs him. Isn’t that what we should be? For us, it may not be a calling to the front line of the conflict, like Elijah, but whatever God wants us to do we should be able and willing to do it when God calls.
Think about the simplicity of this verse. Elijah walks all the way from Gilead into Samaria to the king’s palace. Assuming he did so with the necessary introductions, he walks into the presence of the king to deliver a message of rebuke and divine judgement. The writer of the scripture makes no play upon the significance of this very bold act, yet, as we read on in 1 Kings, we will quickly get a picture of the danger that Elijah put himself in. Ahab was a wicked and amoral king. Jezebel, his wife, was even worse. The danger was real. Similarly, we have a message that people don’t want to hear. It is a message that God will not allow people’s sin to go unpunished. We have a message from God, but do we have the courage to state it?
‘As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word’, v. 1.
The name Elijah means ‘My God is Jehovah’. That, in effect, is how he introduces himself to the king. He states clearly that it is the God of heaven before whom he stands or whom he serves - not Baal or any other idol. In the midst of an idolatrous nation, a nation confirmed in its idolatry by its king, Elijah takes his stand for God.
But there is more than that, ‘As the Lord God of Israel liveth’. He reminds the king of the God who had established a covenant with His people Israel. Ezekiel presented the desire of God before the people of his day, ‘That the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, neither be polluted any more with all their transgressions; but that they may be my people, and I may be their God, saith the Lord God’, Ezek. 14. 11.
This was ever God’s desire, and that purpose of God Ahab had deliberately gone against.
Isn’t it remarkable to think that in spite of man’s rebellion and waywardness, God hasn’t closed the door of opportunity? What a testimony to the longsuffering of God, ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’, 2 Pet. 3. 9!
Revealing the mind of God, Elijah also tells of the penalty of rejecting that message, ‘there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word’, v. 1. But what is the basis of Elijah’s confident message? There are two reasons:
The message of divine judgement upon a sinful world is not popular. People have never liked to hear it - they dislike it today as much as they ever have. But the message we carry comes with all the authority of the revealed mind of God - it is a message from the Bible. Although we should not major upon matters of judgement to the exclusion of all else, in faithfulness to the word of God we should mention it in the gospel.
But there is more to Elijah’s message than what is upon the surface. Why does Elijah bring God’s message of divine judgement in the form of a drought? God could have brought Israel’s enemies in judgement upon them. He could have brought a disease or some form of pestilence to indicate His displeasure. Why a drought?
As we have said, it was a fulfilment of scripture, but it was also appropriate that such a judgement should be meted out against those who had turned to idolatry with Baal. In effect, Baal was the sun god, the one responsible for the fertility of the ground.1 In Ahab’s mind, Baal was the one who controlled the dew and the rain. He was responsible for the good crops and the prosperity of the land. Elijah throws down the challenge, ‘the Lord God of Israel liveth’, v. 1. In essence, Elijah states, ‘this dumb and dead idol before whom you prostrate yourself is going to be shown to be what he is - nothing more than a man-made image and invention’. Baal will be shown to be the god of futility rather than fertility. He will be shown to be helpless before the God of Israel, and his followers will bear the consequences of their ill-founded activity.
‘And the word of the Lord came unto him’, v. 2. Elijah had ‘put his neck upon the line’. He had delivered his message and aroused the anger of the king and queen. There is now a price on his head, a price that will grow for every day that the promised drought continues. Do we have the courage of Elijah? It was said by Paul of Priscilla and Aquila, ‘who have for my life laid down their own necks’, Rom. 16. 4. It is a remarkable testimony.
However, think also of the confirmation that God gives to Elijah. At this point, Elijah needed divine protection more than anything and we are told, ‘the word of the Lord came unto him’, v. 2. When the Lord commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel, He said unto them, ‘Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen’, Matt. 28. 20. It is interesting that Elijah was not spared from the effects of the drought, but he was brought through it with the assurance of divine provision. He came to know experimentally what the disciples were promised, ‘lo, I am with you alway’. May we be encouraged in our service for the Lord!
William Smith, Bible Dictionary, e-sword resource. Geoffrey Bromiley (Ed.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Erdmans, 1959.