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Elijah

Elijah, The Prophet

1 Kings 17:1-8

The quintessential prophet of the Old Testament is Elijah. We can learn much from his life as an example. Here is his entry on to the stage of Biblical history:

(1 Ki 17:1-8 NIV) Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word." {2} Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: {3} "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. {4} You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there." {5} So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. {6} The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. {7} Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. {8} Then the word of the LORD came to him:

People

There are two main characters in this story, Elijah and Ahab, the king of the northern kingdom, Israel. Much of the appeal of the story comes from the contrast of their characters, for Ahab is a man of this world, and Elijah the man of God.

Elijah

One of the most striking things about Elijah is that he has no stated ancestry. This is quite unusual in the Old Testament. The Jews were very careful to record ancestry. This has led some scholars to suggest that he might even have been a Gentile. Others draw the parallel to Melchizedek, the priest of God with no ancestry, who is believed to be the pre-incarnate Christ. One thing is certain – he came out of nowhere.

Nowhere, geographically speaking, is the town of Tishbe in Gilead (see map). When a man is referred to by geography rather than by ancestry, it is something to notice. Elijah is from the sticks. But we may note two things about his character which define the man:

  • He is one who serves God. The phrase in the original is that he is one who stands before God. It calls to our minds the picture of the cherubim before God, awaiting His command.
  • He is, as James assures us, a man of prayer. So he is a man who combines the outward life of God’s servant – a man of action who defines himself as standing before God, awaiting His pleasure – with the inner life of prayer.

In the combination of these two we see what kind of man God wants to bring to greatness.

Ahab

Ahab reminds me of no one more than Bill Clinton. I am sorry to say that, but the parallels are striking:

  • First, he is dominated by his wife. She’s the brains of the outfit and the power behind the throne, a woman who plays on his weak character.
  • He is a man – ask Naboth! – who schemes for petty gain. This is a man who, at his wife’s needling, has a man killed (by legal means) to get hold of his vineyard.
  • But – like Mr. Clinton – he is not beyond hope. In the end, he humbles himself before God. His wife, alas, does not. She is proud to her end.

Background

To understand the times in which Elijah lived, we need to know a few more details.

Religion

The worship of Baal and Asherah (also Astarte, Astoreth and several other variants) is, for the most part, extinct. (I exclude those radical feminists who now find Astarte so wonderful). Since these are not common in our time, we need a little bit of explanation.

  • Baal – is the primary male god of the Canaanite religion, centered around Sidon (from which Jezebel came). Worship of this god included such interesting features as infant sacrifice and cannibalism. Represented by the sun, he is the primary male symbol of fertility. He (and Asherah) give birth to 70 other gods who make up the pantheon of this worship style. The name is generic, and sometimes is applied to other, more particular gods.
  • Asherah – is the primary female goddess of this religion. Her worship features temple prostitutes. She is represented by the moon. Lately, worship of this goddess has been revised by certain radical feminists, about whom more later. In her Babylonian guise, she is the root of much of the “New Age” worship. Here, we see her in a cruder form.

Interestingly, the evil nature of the worship of these two has been much softened as of late. The “Noble Savage” myth runs strong in academic circles these days, and we now see the worshipers of these gods as being those who are “at peace with each other and in harmony with their environment.” In fact, this is a religion in which infant sacrifice and sexual infidelity are considered good things, acts of worship. If you substitute abortion for infant sacrifice, I’m not so sure things haven’t changed that much. The fascinating thing is that we now have some “new thinkers” who have revived this religion. Even in our depravity we must have the justification of some form of religion.

Geography

We need to have a map to see where things are in this story:

Map

As you can see, Tishbe is on the western side of the Jordan – which leads to the suspicions about Elijah’s origins. The brook, Kerith, is (according to the traditional site) a transient stream – it normally dries up in the summer.

Ravens

Ravens are clever birds; indeed, one of the most intelligent of species. But there is a lesson in here for us – for ravens are also considered an “unclean” species to the Jew. So the miraculous feeding of Elijah is very unusual in that God uses an animal which is unclean to feed his prophet. The lesson? God’s purposes may be served by angels or ravens, the great or the least. He doesn’t seem to be too fussy that way.

Prophets and Prophecy

Does God use natural disaster to punish a nation?

It’s one of those questions which has come up more frequently in these days of science and understanding. After all, these are “natural” disasters – how could you see the hand of God in them?

Do remember that this is his universe, sustained by his power. The reason that the “laws of nature” are the same today as yesterday is that HE is the same today as yesterday. The artwork reflects the artist.

Perhaps you might remember the Northridge earthquake. I recall the sermons from the next two weeks. In the first sermon, our preacher mildly reproached those who thought God would use natural disaster to punish a nation; it was just one of those trials of life. The next week he pointed out that Northridge, the epicenter of the quake, was also the city in which over 95% of the world’s hard core pornography is physically produced.

You decide.

The role of the prophet

Prophecy, especially in the Old Testament, has two functions:

  • The prophet is to foretell – not in the sense of predicting the stock market, but in terms of outlining the consequences God intends. Foretelling by a prophet always carries an “if” –“if you don’t repent, …”
  • The prophet is to forthtell – to proclaim wickedness for what it is. In this day when everything is relative and there is no absolute truth, some may think this quaint, at best. But the prophet has no choice; this is God’s work for the prophet.

The key to the character of the prophet is this: God does not hide his intentions from the prophet, but rather uses him to proclaim those intentions to the world.

Elijah’s approach

It’s instructive to see Elijah’s approach:

  • He did not go to the people and tell them of the impending drought. He is not to be a political rabble-rouser, or form a political party.
  • He went instead to the source of the problem, the king.

This sounds a lot like church discipline, doesn’t it? Elijah is doing this God’s way, in the hope of producing repentance.

Purpose and Direction

Having delivered his message, Elijah is instructed to retreat. Indeed, he is to go and hide in the wilderness! Why? The instruction is similar to Christ’s instruction to flee persecution. We might look at this and think that a man who would later call down fire from heaven to fall on his enemies would have little fear of a king like Ahab. Perhaps God knew his man; Elijah is a man who calls down fire – but just afterwards will run for his life.

The Wilderness

Why, then, did God have him flee to the wilderness? Surely there would be cities in which Elijah could be safe. I think God was preparing him for greater things:

  • First, in the wilderness he was safe from the temptation to intercede with God on behalf of a pleading people. This would harden him to do what needed to be done later.
  • He also needed to learn God’s providence. The ravens brought him no stockpile; he learned to live from one meal to the next.
  • I suspect he also learned the difference between necessity and desire. The prophets of Baal probably dined in higher style than Elijah. Elijah was fed as befits a servant of God, not in luxury but in necessity.

This is the real point of this story. God is shaping the man Elijah to do great things, and he is doing so by adversity. It is interesting how this part of the story ends: the brook dries up. Elijah could probably see this coming, but note that the brook dries up before God tells him what to do. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof – and one test leads to another.

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