In I Kings, we are first introduced to Elijah as a prophet from Tishbe of Gilead. His prophetic role placed him in confrontation to the kings of Israel and isolation from others of like faith, during the split of the northern and southern kingdoms, after the downfall of Jerusalem around the ninth century. It was time of great despair for God’s people. Doubt set in for many and they began to question God’s existence and promises. Many kings were worshipping other gods, like Baal. Elijah’s faithful obedience sets the backdrop for multiple miracles performed by God to demonstrate He is still in control, crush idolatry and the work of evil king Ahab who provoked God more than any other king, along with his wife Jezebel, who influenced him greatly. Perhaps, even more remarkable than the miracles themselves is the intimate relationship he shared with the Lord. Something still available to us today.
Even in his faithfulness, he was still human and had his faults. One may tend to aspire to be more like Elijah or other biblical characters and look to them as a role model. We can do the same with people around us today. I know of a leader at church that could easily fit this bill in my book, with his humble obedience and words of wisdom, however, we should only strive to be more like Jesus. We should try to be more like the One reflected in the good parts of others’ lives, a not the person themselves. All humans have flaws, but we can also learn from the mistakes of others. With Elijah, in his isolation, we see that he allowed his feelings of loneliness and depression take over and he believes he is the only person left who is faithful to the Lord. But God shows him that there are still others who have persevered, seven thousand to be exact. God comes to find Elijah hiding in a cave, where he ran for fear of his life from the queen, who threatened to kill him. God sends a mighty windstorm so strong it shook the rocks, then he sends an earthquake, and then a fire. But God was not in any of those things. Afterwards, Elijah hears a gentle whisper and knows it is the voice of the Lord. He covers his face and stands at the entrance of the cave. God was showing Elijah that he does not only reveal himself in powerful miracles, if that is all we are looking for, we will often miss Him, as He is most likely found in the stillness of a gentle whisper of a humble heart.
God instructs Elijah to anoint Elisha as his predecessor before he takes him to heaven by a whirlwind. He is one of only three people mentioned in the Bible taken to heaven in bodily form. Enoch before him and Jesus after him. This must have been a great honor to be chosen to be with God and whisked away to heaven by chariots of fire. Elisha asked for and was granted a double share of Elijah’s spirit. It was granted because his motives were pure. He did not selfishly ask for his own gain but to do more for God. We too can ask for great things but should examine our motives to make sure they are pure.
We see God give John the Baptist the power and spirit of Elijah, this fulfills the prophesy of Malachi when he says Elijah will come before the day of the Lord. Later in the NT, Elijah is mentioned and appears with Moses on Mount Sinai to talk to Jesus, where Peter, John and James were invited to go so God could show them who Jesus really was. Moses represents the law; Elijah represents the writings of the prophets (the entire Old Testament) and Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah with divine authority who fulfills both the law and the prophets and is greatest of them all. As Jesus explains in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or writings of prophets. I came to accomplish their purpose.”(emphasis added) We can only understand the OT in the light of Jesus.
Mount Sinai is a sacred place where God met all three at different times and at the same time in Luke 9:28-36, ESV. All three of them, at different times, fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. If we take time to search them out, we can find similarities in the lives of biblical characters who lived at different times. But it is important to remember to look for how each one points us to Christ and ask how we can apply those lessons in our lives today.
To recap the miracles God performed through Elijah:
- God provided food to Elijah by ravens
- Widow’s food multiplied
- Widow’s son raised to life
- Altar and sacrifice consumed my fire
- Calling fire from heaven upon the second 50 soldiers
- Jordan river parted
- Transported to heaven
Big lessons can be taken away from the study of biblical characters that are often overlooked. I have said this before and believe it to be true, as we see in the life of Elijah, if God brings us to it, He will bring us through it. Through faithful obedience we can trust God to provide what we need to carry us through anything He commands us to do.
Brand, C. ed., (2015) Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, B & H Publishing.
Chronological Life Application Study Bible, Tyndale Publishers
ESV Study Bible, Crossway
NLT Study Bible, Tyndale Publishers
Topical ESV Bible, Tyndale Publishers