All About Elijah - Lesson 1
Introduction – Elijah - Yah(weh) is my God (el) - a unique persona - the only person in scripture who avoided death.
His story and that of Elisha take up almost a third of the Books of Kings, as if to interrupt the flow of earthly power (and frequently its abuse) with a sense of the spiritual, the Divine, and His interests – a “prophetic counterforce.”
He was taken up to Heaven in a whirlwind to continue serving people - sometimes as an angel, sometimes as a person, as:
1. The angel of the covenant - he attends every brit milah (male Circumcision)
2. One who stirs the mercy of God not to punish the people when they stray;
3. One who frequently visits sages to study with them;
4. One who will restore the hearts of the parents to the children and the children to the parents;
5. One who visits people to help, heal, comfort those in need, and is remembered for good; and, for Jews,
6. One who has a place at the Passover Seder table and will herald the coming of the Messiah and help bring the era of peace; and
7. One whose ongoing life hovers around the life of Jesus. (He appears as out-of-the-blue, for example, as did John the Baptist.
His sojourn with the widow parallels Jesus’ with such people.
He enacts, sometimes with miracle, the reality of abundance in a world of seeming scarcity.
He raises a dead child.
We’re in the presence of life-giving power that can transform defeat, despair, and death.
We read of an experience of 40 days in the wilderness.
There’s ascension to Heaven.
In life, he
The setting is 500 years after Joshua’s warning, a time when the evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel have introduced the people of the Northern Kingdom to the service of Baal and caused (against Joshua’s curse) the city of Jericho to be rebuilt. This Queen, too, was especially despicable, notably in her murder of righteous prophets of God.
Elijah encounters Ahab, a king who had set up idols on every hilltop.
I. Read I Kings 17:1-4
1 Elijah from Tishbe, who was one of the settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as the Lord lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.” 2 Then the Lord’s word came to Elijah: 3 Go from here and turn east. Hide by the Cherith Brook that faces the Jordan River. 4 You can drink from the brook. I have also ordered the ravens to provide for you there.
A. What do you notice here? Why is it odd, and perhaps troublesome?
(Elijah swears before the king that there will be no dew or rain during these years, “except by my word.”
This seems not to have been at God’s call; it’s at his.
Shouldn’t there have been drought in response to the idolatry, and at God’s call? Had God given up on the people? Was He giving them more time to get right before consequences?
Control over the rain was one of 3 keys that had never left Divine protection. Yet, here, the Gemara suggests Elijah sought that key. Or, it could be said that Elijah is acting on his own volition, convinced God would heed his word. So, while Elijah is acting on behalf of God, God brings the drought to fulfill Elijah’s oath.
B. While this may be justifiable, isn’t there a presumptuousness that is worrisome? Some say Elijah was actually Pinchas and returned. Don’t the two share a quality?
(The opponents of God are particularly odious, and Elijah seems unwilling to remain silent or patient with any further disparagement of God occurred. It’s to be God, with a dismissal of all other options, including Baal, who was seen as a fertility god, and maker of rain.
Yet, he goes out on his own, and there are severe consequences for all, including his people, in the drought. Does he care? Does he simply think it’s a price that needs to be paid?
We later learn that God was concerned at the loss being too severe. Yet, Elijah is more resolute (perhaps more so than even God). Is this an unacceptable and unjust degree of righteousness?
God later retrieves the key when Elijah seeks a key of revivification, and God directs Elijah to inform Ahab that God will restore the water (perhaps to show ultimately that the nourishment by rain can’t be withheld by God forever even though people have not been fully repentant).
In the meantime, God bids Elijah to go into hiding to avoid the wrath of the King and Queen.
II. Elijah is sustained while hiding in a brook by ravens. Some say it was ravens to teach Elijah to be more caring of the people’s pain, for if a bird that is cruel by nature can care for him, he can care for others and be more empathetic for their suffering.
Further, the river where Elijah hides dries up. Some say this was to teach Elijah as well. (Or was it to test him?)
III. Read I Kings 17:8-16, the tale of the widow and her son.
8 The Lord’s word came to Elijah: 9 Get up and go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there. I have ordered a widow there to take care of you. 10 Elijah left and went to Zarephath. As he came to the town gate, he saw a widow collecting sticks. He called out to her, “Please get a little water for me in this cup so I can drink.” 11 She went to get some water. He then said to her, “Please get me a piece of bread.”
12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any food; only a handful of flour in a jar and a bit of oil in a bottle. Look at me. I’m collecting two sticks so that I can make some food for myself and my son. We’ll eat the last of the food and then die.”
13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go and do what you said. Only make a little loaf of bread for me first. Then bring it to me. You can make something for yourself and your son after that. 14 This is what Israel’s God, the Lord, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.” 15 The widow went and did what Elijah said. So the widow, Elijah, and the widow’s household ate for many days. 16 The jar of flour didn’t decrease nor did the bottle of oil run out, just as the Lord spoke through Elijah.
A. What do you make of Elijah’s asking her to feed him? What do you make of the gift she receives for helping him? What do the food, water, flour, and oil represent?
(One who loves and gives is loved and provided for by God, and should be by her fellows.)
This show of generosity reminds us of Rebecca. She reminds us of the woman of virtue.
We are to have faith that by giving charity our resources will be more than replenished. Yet, her initial reluctance is also understandable because there is a limit on giving charity that prevents us from starving and being totally destitute.
Her willingness to give under these circumstances shows how much faith she had in God (without fear), her understanding that Elijah was a holy person, and a degree of kindness that was extraordinary and inspiring.)
B. Note Elijah is the source of life in a world in which death is taken to be final. This is accentuated in subsequent verses in which he brings the widow’s son back to life.
IV. Read I Kings 18:15-2
15 Elijah said, “As surely as the Lord of heavenly forces lives, the one I serve, I will appear before Ahab today.”
16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab. He told him what had happened. Then Ahab went to meet Elijah. 17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is that you, the one who troubles Israel?”
18 Elijah answered, “I haven’t troubled Israel; you and your father’s house have! You did as much when you deserted the Lord’s commands and followed the Baals. 19 Now send a message and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel. Gather the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
20 Ahab sent the message to all the Israelites. He gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel.
Here we see Elijah setting up a gathering at the top of Mt. Carmel for the purpose of staging a confrontation between him and God versus the false prophets and Baal. Whose offering would be accepted, and whose would be rejected? This would resolve the drought.
It was set to determine whether the cause of suffering was Elijah and the drought or the abandonment by the king of the mitzvot and the worship of idols. He is “a troubler of Israel,” certainly that part of it that’s corrupt and worshipping of idols.
A. Did this call come from Elijah or from God?
(There’s disagreement. Offerings were not to have been made here normally, so some say God must’ve made a separate call for this. Yet, if Elijah was God-directed, why did he cry out to God to answer him at the time of the offering?
Sources are cited to support both. But if it came from Elijah, how does he (we) justify the offering be made in a place other than where the Bible ordains it?
B. Can we violate the Bible to sustain the Bible?
(Perhaps, temporarily, it’s ok when it’s to defeat idolatry. What does that mean?)
V. In I Kings 18:21-35,
21 Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions? If the Lord[a] is God, follow God. If Baal is God, follow Baal.” The people gave no answer.
22 Elijah said to the people, “I am the last of the Lord’s prophets, but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. 23 Give us two bulls. Let Baal’s prophets choose one. Let them cut it apart and set it on the wood, but don’t add fire. I’ll prepare the other bull, put it on the wood, but won’t add fire. 24 Then all of you will call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers with fire—that’s the real God!”
All the people answered, “That’s an excellent idea.”
25 So Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of these bulls. Prepare it first since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but don’t add fire.”
26 So they took one of the bulls that had been brought to them. They prepared it and called on Baal’s name from morning to midday. They said, “Great Baal, answer us!” But there was no sound or answer. They performed a hopping dance around the altar that had been set up.
27 Around noon, Elijah started making fun of them: “Shout louder! Certainly he’s a god! Perhaps he is lost in thought or wandering or traveling somewhere.[b] Or maybe he is asleep and must wake up!”
28 So the prophets of Baal cried with a louder voice and cut themselves with swords and knives as was their custom. Their blood flowed all over them. 29 As noon passed they went crazy with their ritual until it was time for the evening offering. Still there was no sound or answer, no response whatsoever.
30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here!” All the people closed in, and he repaired the Lord’s altar that had been damaged. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob—to whom the Lord’s word came: “Your name will be Israel.” 32 He built the stones into an altar in the Lord’s name, and he dug a trench around the altar big enough to hold two seahs[c] of dry grain. 33 He put the wood in order, butchered the bull, and placed the bull on the wood. “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the sacrifice and on the wood,” he commanded. 34 “Do it a second time!” he said. So they did it a second time. “Do it a third time!” And so they did it a third time. 35 The water flowed around the altar, and even the trench filled with water.
Elijah presses the people to choose and then the false prophets to proceed (knowing that they would fail and create the best chance for the people to come back when God accepts his offering). Then he prepares and makes his offering.
The people previously have acted in some ways as loyal to God and in others as idol worshippers (believing in alternative forces and spiritual intermediaries). Through this battle, Elijah asserts, “You can’t have it both ways!”
There was tremendous appeal to steer away from God and powerful pressure from the king/queen to do so.
The Vilna Gaon thinks they had believed in God but that God had left the world to function sort of automatically. This fire wakes them up to the reality of God’s continuing presence and the issue being forced.
1. Do people have this confused/mixed orientation today? How? Does it take such a display to turn us back? What would it be?
2. The people were at first reluctant to respond.
VI. Read I Kings 18:36-40, where there’s a spectacular fire from Heaven in response to the afternoon offering, and the people return.
36 At the time of the evening offering, the prophet Elijah drew near and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. I have done all these things at your instructions. 37 Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, Lord, are the real God and that you can change their hearts.”[d] 38 Then the Lord’s fire fell; it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up the water in the trench!
39 All the people saw this and fell on their faces. “The Lord is the real God! The Lord is the real God!” they exclaimed.
40 Elijah said to them, “Seize Baal’s prophets! Don’t let any escape!” The people seized the prophets, and Elijah brought them to the Kishon Brook and killed them there.
A. Elijah beseeches God to confirm that, “I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.”
B. He says in 37, “Answer me, Lord, answer me,” so these people will know you are God and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Why a double of “answer me?”
(1. A petitioner often will repeat words to show emphasis.
2. One may be for fire, and the other for rain.
3. One may be to show it was not sorcery, and the other that he was petitioning in his and his student’s merit.
4. One was to establish you are God, and the other that Elijah is your prophet.
5. One was to establish that You are God in Israel, and the other that you are the God (of all? on that day? in the time of the Messiah? the God of forgiveness? or that God Who into future days remains the God, the Source and Prime Mover of all existence? The Malbim)
6. Could one be to bring the people back, and the other to confirm Elijah’s leadership?
C. Carmel seems to have been a huge event that turned people tremendously and profoundly. Yet, there was no move to remove Jezebel. Indeed she threatened the next day to slay Elijah, and he was forced to flee the country.
Was this successful, or not?
(Clearly, there was a renewed faith in God. God seeks the return of rain. The pursuit of Baal seems to have been finished. Jezebel’s power was clearly weakened. True prophets returned to the palace. The future king of Israel, Yehu, will ultimately demolish Baal worship.
This day was a powerful influence forever on people of faith. The fast ends. The rains come. The false prophets were executed. Elijah honors Ahab, thinking he’s in a state of repentance.
But all isn’t transformed instantly and fully. The struggle, including that with Jezebel, goes on.
VII. Jezebel threatens Elijah, who then flees to the wilderness. He requests to die and for God to take his soul.
(Perhaps Ahab had not repented. Jezebel must have been very threatening. Elijah somehow did not have the power to kill her. Why not? Where was God? Where were the newly restored people? He seems very isolated. His work seems done, too. Or perhaps he saw that his work in the real world was done and he was ready for the world to come.)
IX. Elijah sleeps under a solitary tree. An angel wakes him up to go and eat. The food appears. He goes to sleep again. The angel gets him up to eat more, saying “there is a long way ahead for you.” So, he arises and walks for 40 days and nights, until he gets to the mountain of God (Mt. Sinai!
Next Week - Lesson 2 of All About Elijah