"My God is Yahweh." Elijah the Tishbite, "who was of the inhabitants of Gilead," appears suddenly 1 Kings 17:1 as delivering a message from the Lord to Ahab, warning him that where will be a terrible drought without rain or even dew. Having delivered his message to Ahab, he retired at the command of God to a hiding-place by the brook Cherith, beyond Jordan, where he was fed by ravens. When the brook dried up God sent him to the widow of Zarephath, a city of Zidon, from whose scanty store he was supported for the space of two years. During this period the widow's son died, and was restored to life by Elijah.1
During all these two years a famine prevailed in the land. At the close of this period of retirement and of preparation for his work,2 Elijah met Obadiah, one of Ahab's officers, whom he had sent out to seek for pasturage for the cattle, and bade him go and tell his master that Elijah was there. The king came and met Elijah, and reproached him as the troubler of Israel. It was then proposed that sacrifices should be publicly offered, for the purpose of determining whether Baal or Yahweh were the true God. This was done on Carmel. Two oxen were slaughtered and cut into pieces, with Elijah and the priests each placing a piece of meat on wood. The priests of Baal prayed from morning to noon to light the sacrifice, but without success. Elijah mocked them, and said, "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." The priests cut their own flesh so that their blood fell upon the sacrifice, but at the time of the evening sacrifice, nothing had happened.
Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord, took twelve stones, according to the number of tribes of Israel, and placed the sacrifice on the altar. He then instructed the people to fill four barrels with water and drench the altar three times. He asks God to accept his sacrifice, and 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 the people saw it, "they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God." The prophets of Baal were captured and put to death by the order of Elijah. Then followed rain, according to the word of Elijah, and in answer to his prayer.3
Jezebel, enraged at the fate that had befallen her priests of Baal, threatened to put Elijah to death.4 He therefore fled to Be'er-Sheba, and thence went alone a day's journey into the wilderness, and sat down in despondency under a juniper tree, asking God to take away his life. As he slept an angel touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee." He arose and found a cake and a cruse of water. After having eaten, he went on his solitary way for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God, where he took up his abode in a cave. Here the Lord appeared unto him and said, "What doest thou here, Elijah?" In answer to his despondent words God manifests to him, and then directs him to return to Damascus and anoint Hazael king over Syria, and Jehu king over Israel, and Elisha to be prophet in his room.5
Some six years after this he warned Ahab and Jezebel of the violent deaths they would die.6 He also, four years afterwards, warned Ahaziah (1), who had succeeded his father Ahab, of his approaching death.7 During these intervals he probably withdrew to some quiet retirement, no one knew where. His interview with Ahaziah's messengers on the way to Ekron, and the account of the destruction of his captains with their fifties, suggest the idea that he may have been in retirement at this time on Mount Carmel.
The time now drew near when he was to be taken up into heaven.8 He had a presentiment of what was awaiting him. He went down to Gilgal, where was a school of the prophets, and where his successor Elisha, whom he had anointed some years before, resided. Elisha was solemnized by the thought of his master's leaving him, and refused to be parted from him. "They two went on," and came to Bethel and Jericho, and crossed the Jordan, the waters of which were "divided hither and thither" when smitten with Elijah's mantle.
Arrived at the borders of Gilead, which Elijah had left many years before, it "came to pass as they still went on and talked" they were suddenly separated by a chariot and horses of fire; and "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven," Elisha receiving his mantle, which fell from him as he ascended.
The last mention of Elijah in the Hebrew Bible is in 2 Chron. 21:12.
No one of the old prophets is so frequently referred to in the New Testament. The priests and Levites said to the Baptist,9 "Why baptizest thou, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias?" Paul10 refers to an incident in his history to illustrate his argument that God had not cast away his people. James11 finds in him an illustration of the power of prayer.12 He was a type of John the Baptist in the sternness and power of his reproofs.13 He was the Elijah that "must first come."14 "In him we see the same connection with a wild and wilderness country; the same long retirement in the desert; the same sudden, startling entrance on his work;15 even the same dress, a hairy garment, and a leather girdle about the loins."16
In Islam he is called Ilyas.
- 1 Kings 17: 2-24.
- comp. Gal. 1:17, 18.
- James 5:18.
- 1 Kings 19:1-13.
- 1 Kings 19:13-21; comp. 2 Kings 8:7-15; 9:1-10.
- 1 Kings 21:19-24; 22:38.
- 2 Kings 1:1-16.
- 2 Kings 2:1-12.
- John 1:25.
- Rom. 11:2.
- See also Luke 4:25; 9:54.
- Luke 9:8.
- Matt. 11:11, 14.
- 1 Kings 17:1; Luke 3:2.
- 2 Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4.
- Holy Bible (King James Version). 1979. Nashville: Holman Bible Publisher.