Profile Of The Prophets - Elijah

by Joseph Hunting

Elijah is unique among Israel's prophets. He was caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire and will again reappear in the last days according to the prophecy of Malachi: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (4:5).

His ministry was to the ten northern tribes known as Israel when Ahab was king. The Scriptures reveal Ahab as a self-willed evil monarch who married Jezebel, who was also an idolator and a murderess.

By contrast, Elijah, although there is no recorded book under his name, strides through the pages of Tenach, fearlessly denouncing the sins of Ahab and Jezebel. He was also instrumental in turning back the northern kingdom, even though only temporarily, from the worship of idols to that of the God of Israel.

It is interesting to recount some of the events in the ministry of this remarkable prophet. He commanded the elements so that there was no rain in Israel for three and a half years. During the severe drought he was sustained by ravens which brought him food morning and evening at the brook Cherith. When water in the brook dried up God directed him to the home of a Gentile widow in Zarephath who, with her son, was likewise facing death through starvation. Elijah arrived on her doorstep just as she was about to prepare their last frugal meal, and she told the prophet of her plight and purpose.

Scripture describes the miracle that followed their meeting: "And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as you have said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth" (1st Kings 17:13-14). And so it was.

In the process of time the widow's son fell ill and died, and once again Elijah demonstrated God's power in his life by raising the dead lad to life again.

After the great contest with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel Elijah took off on a mini marathon run to Jezreel, a distance of about sixteen miles, for when Jezebel heard that Elijah was instrumental in slaying the 850 priests of Baal she swore that within twenty-four hours his life would be forfeit.

What was it that transformed this fearless servant of God into a man of fear before Jezebel? Had he not controlled the very elements, raised the dead and called down fire from heaven? He certainly was not afraid of Ahab. Indeed, he held him in contempt. Could it be that the events of the past twenty-four hours exhausted him both physically and spiritually? Perhaps so, for James reminds us that "Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are" (5:17).

Whatever the reason, Elijah fled from the presence of Jezebel. It seems that his run from Carmel to Jezreel was but a training gallop, for this time he "went for his life and came to Beersheba" , a distance of about 100 miles.

Exhausted, Elijah sat in the shade of a juniper tree and pleaded with God to take his life. The man who had been so magnificent at Carmel was now drained of his spiritual resources. But worse, he knew that he had failed in fleeing from Jezebel. One can only conjecture at the plight of this broken man as he fell asleep hoping never to awaken again.

What follows is a demonstration of Divine Love overshadowing Elijah even when all seemed lost. Again, let the Scripture show forth this tender care. "And as he lay and slept under the juniper tree, behold, then an angel touched him, and said unto him, Arise and eat. And he looked and behold there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head. And he did eat and drink and laid him down again.

"And the angel of the LORD came again the second time and touched him, and said, Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee. And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meal forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God" (19:5-8), a further 180 miles.

I have climbed to the summit of Mt. Sinai on two occasions. It is an awe-inspiring experience to gaze upon the jagged granite crags that stab the skyline at dawn. God had previously met Moses on this spot in a frightening display of fire, thunder and dense smoke and this time He appeared to Elijah in an equally frightening and awesome display of Divine power.

But first the Lord asked Elijah a very direct question. "What are you doing here, Elijah?" , to which the prophet replied: "I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword; and I even I only, am left; and they seek my life to take it away" (19:10).

This man who had been so accustomed to demonstrating the power of God in the past was now to be reminded of the mighty power he had lost sight of. God called him forth from the cave and passed by in one of the most frightening demonstrations of Divine power ever given to mankind. The wind literally tore the granite rock mountain asunder "and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD."

This was followed by an earthquake, which was followed by a flash of fire from heaven -- a nerve-shattering display of power if ever there was one. But then came the still small voice again to Elijah in the eerie silence that followed: "What are you doing here Elijah?" There was no recrimination, no accusation of cowardice, for God knew his man. He was recommissioned by the Lord and even went back eventually to confront Jezebel and Ahab and accuse them both of the murder of Naboth.

Elijah's ministry concluded with the younger man Elisha who was to take over the prophetic role as God's mouthpiece to Israel. Finally the day came when the two men stood by the River Jordan. Elijah's last act was a miracle of similar magnitude to the parting of the river when Joshua and all Israel passed over on dry ground.

What more fitting climax could there be to Elijah's life than his exit to heaven in a chariot of fire? Let Scripture tell the story. "And it came to pass as they went on and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder: and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (2nd Kings 2:11).