Profile Of The Prophets - Elijah

by Joseph Hunting

Elijah's entry into Israel's history is briefly stated: "Elijah the Tishbite who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, 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. (1 Kings 17:1). And so this man controlled the elements and withheld rain for three and a half years, raised the dead, and called down fire from heaven. During the famine that accompanied the three year drought he was fed by ravens, and by his word the widow of Zarephath and her son were sustained. "For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth." (17:14).

Elijah was not one to compromise with Ahab, the apostate king of Israel. After the drought had brought a severe famine to Samaria Elijah was commanded by God to confront Ahab. "And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, Art thou he that troubleth Israel? And he answered, I have not troubled Israel, but thou." This confrontation resulted in a contest between four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and Elijah the man of God before all Israel gathered on Mt Carmel. Elijah's challenge to Israel is typical of the man. "And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If Jehovah be God, follow Him: but if Baal, follow him." (1 Kings 18:21).

In the drama that followed Elijah commanded two altars to be built, one for Baal and one for Jehovah. "Then Elijah said unto the people, I even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord, but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under: and call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of Jehovah and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God." Then Elijah commanded that a trench be dug round the two altars and that the altars and bullocks be submerged with water.

I had often wondered how this could be possible after three years of drought. Did Elijah arrange a 'bucket brigade' to the coast? During my visit to Israel in 1961 I visited the place believed to be the place of sacrifice on Mt Carmel about seventeen miles from the coast. At that time Israel had suffered a severe drought, yet at one side of a natural grassy amphitheatre on the slopes of Mt Carmel there was a spring from which a shepherd was watering a flock of goats. I learned that this spring had never been known to run dry and it could well have been the source of the water that Elijah used to submerge the offerings.


So Elijah challenged the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal to call upon their god, constantly mocking them and taunting them that their god must be asleep and needed to be awakened, or perhaps he was on a journey! "And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice nor any to answer, nor any that regarded. And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me." Then the people took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel, and built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he commanded that the altar and the offering be submerged with water.

There was no turning back now, and the ensuing records one of the great miracles and demonstrations of Divine power so frequently evidenced in Elijah's ministry. "And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell upon their faces: and they said, Jehovah, he is the God; Jehovah, he is the God." (1 Kings 18:36-39).

The anticlimax that followed this great triumph and the execution of the prophets of Baal at the river Kishon, reveal the humanity of Elijah. He had fulfilled his mission, the drought was over and the Prophet of Jehovah had magnificently demonstrated to backsliding Israel that the only god was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now Jezebel, Ahab's wife, swore that she would kill Elijah before sunset next day.

What a paradox follows! The man who called the bluff of four hundred and fifty priests of Baal, then of King Ahab, and then challenged Israel to serve Jehovah, fled from Jezebel! He fled to the wilderness of Mt Sinai. But in spite of this temporary lapse, Elijah is one of the greatest of the heroes who stride so magnificently through the annals of Israel's history. The Tenach concludes with the prophecy that Elijah is yet to re-appear and repeat the revival of faith in Jehovah prior to the Great Tribulation, also referred to as the "Time of Jacob's Trouble." "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (Malachi 4:5-6).