This section is drawn from a series of articles in Needed Truth magazine, published in 1978 and 1993. It provides a very useful summary of the service of Elijah. The writers, George Kennedy and Alan Toms, used the English Revised Version when quoting passages of Scripture, and these are included in the text below. However, if you place your cursor over the Bible reference, it will also display the English Standard Version.
“Elijah was a man of like passions with us, and he prayed with prayer that it might not rain”” (Jas.5:17 RVM).”
However remarkable the work and privileges of Elijah, it will be profitable for us to remember we are considering a man of “like passions with us”. If we keep this in mind we shall not consider him from afar but be profited through his experiences in teaching, in reproof, in correction, in instruction which is in righteousness (2 Tim.3:16). Let us not only learn about Elijah but also learn from Elijah.
The story of Elijah’s public ministry begins in 1 Kgs.17 but the Holy Spirit complements the Old Testament through the pen of James showing that his spiritual experience had a private beginning long before. “He prayed”. Men of God must learn to pray privately before they may stand before kings. The man of God whom we see standing before king Ahab had first of all stood before the Lord, the God of Israel (1 Kgs.17:1). There he had learnt God’s Word and had prayed according to the will of God. Elijah had prayed according to the Word of God, knowing the scripture, “Thou… shalt not turn aside… to go after other gods to serve them . . . The LORD shall send upon thee cursing, discomfiture and rebuke . . . because of the evil of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken Me. . .. And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. The LORD shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust” (Deut.28:14-24). Thus his prayer was answered with a great famine, as the Lord Jesus Himself so described it (Lk.4:25).
Concerning the background of Elijah we know very little. Rather, we are caused to consider “the Spirit and power” (Lk.1:17) which were manifested in his life. He came from Gilead, possibly from a place called Thesbon (Septuagint), a Tishbite. His tribe presumably would have been Reuben or the eastern half of Manasseh or (the writer suggests) Gad. Elijah comes to mind when we read Gen.49:19 and Deut.33:20,21. His name means “Jah is God” and would seem to indicate that God-fearing parents had named him. It was with the truth embodied in his own name that he challenged the people on Mount Carmel. “If the LORD be God, follow Him” (1 Kgs.18:21).
He was a hairy man and wore a leather girdle (2 Kgs.1:8) and a mantle (1 Kgs.19:19). He was undoubtedly a physically fit man who could put his face between his knees in prayer (1 Kgs.18:42), could run ahead while Ahab rode a distance of some 15 to 20 miles (1 Kgs.18:40-46) after the slaying that day of 850 1 false prophets (v.40); and on the last day of his earthly life walked perhaps in excess of forty miles from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan and beyond perhaps toward the mountains of Moab.
Elijah was raised up by God with a ministry towards the ten northern tribes of Israel. King Ahab was on the throne, a wicked man with perhaps an even more wicked wife, Jezebel. “There was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to do that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. And he did very abominably in following idols” (1 Kgs.21:25-26). This woman of Zidon had brought the worship of Baal into common practice and turned the hearts of the people to her idols. Perhaps Elijah would keep the injunction that “three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the LORD God” (Ex.23:17) but we have no record of any of his dealings with Judah or Jerusalem except for one notable exception.
In character Elijah was fearless although at times he knew what it was to be afraid. During the severe drought he had gone from the brook Cherith which is before (east of?) Jordan through to Zarephath “which belongeth to Zidon”. Truly a man of God under divine protection, he passed through the breadth of hostile and unbelieving Israel to the very region of Jezebel’s origin. He reverenced God, covering his face in his mantle (1 Kgs.19:13) and bowing himself down upon the earth (1 Kgs.18:42). He was very jealous for the Lord (1 Kgs.19:10,14) and consequently knew the loneliness, isolation, discomfort and suffering of the godly. Himself a man of decision he called for decisive action by others, saying “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (1 Kgs.18:21). He poured contempt upon the vain hope of the people who had forsaken the knowledge of the true God (1 Kgs.18:27). And yet the man who had stood before the king, before the people, before 850 false prophets carrying knives and lances while he taunted them, “went for his life” before the threat of a woman (1 Kgs.19:2-3), and gave up hope, longing to die (v.4). Possibly later also he feared when the captains and their companies of fifty men were sent to take him (2 Kgs.1, noting verse 15), and he brought the fire of God down upon them.
Of interest is how this man of God appeared to others. To the widow of Zarephath and to the third captain Elijah was “thou man of God”. To Obadiah who feared the Lord greatly, but apparently secretly, Elijah was “thou, my lord Elijah”. To wicked Ahab he was “thou troubler of Israel” and “O mine enemy”. Well might any saint long for a like spiritual stature through the Word of God and through prayer that it should provoke such responses from such diverse persons.
The recorded instances of Elijah’s praying are to be found in Jas.5:17, “that it might not rain”; 1 Kgs.17:20-21, “let this child’s soul come into him again”; 1 Kgs.18:36, “that Thou art God in Israel”; 1 Kgs.18:42 with Jas.5:18, “he bowed himself down, and he prayed again”; 1 Kgs.19:4, “that he might die”; 1 Kgs.19:10,14 with Rom.11:2, “he pleaded with God against Israel”. And there on a sad note the record of his prayer life is ended.
There are many lessons to be learnt by sinner and saint from the stories concerning Elijah but from the man himself there is a vital lesson to be learnt in 1 Kgs.18,19. Elijah’s great desire, expressed in prayer (1 Kgs.18:37), was to turn the people’s heart back again. And to this end he wrought by fire (v.38) and by sword (v.40). But the messenger with Jezebel’s threat showed that the longed-for national conversion had not occurred and he fled to Beer-sheba far south of Jerusalem, putting as much distance as possible between him and Jezebel, and cried concerning his mission that “I am not better than my fathers”. We cannot doubt his deep agony of disappointment and in consequence of it he pleaded against Israel. God fed him and then sent him to Horeb, where Moses had met God at the burning bush (Ex.3:1) and where God had spoken to His people “out of the midst of the fire” (Deut.4:10,15). But now God will not speak in fire. First He sent a great and strong wind which rent the mountain and brake the rocks in pieces, and then an earthquake, and then a fire but the Lord was not in these. He was in “a sound of gentle stillness” (1 Kgs.19:12 RVM). This is a lesson not easily learnt. Even the Lord’s disciples asked, “Lord, wilt Thou that we bid fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”, possibly having in mind the action of Elijah in regard to the companies of fifty (2 Kgs.1) but the Lord turned and rebuked them (Lk.9:54-55 RVM).
And so it was that from that time forth the Word of the Lord did not come singularly by Elijah; others were used, not by fire nor by sword but by the faithful speaking of God’s Word. “Is not My word like as fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jer.23:29). God said to Elijah, “The journey is too great for thee” and gave him Elisha for a companion and minister, while others would also speak for God. Among these were an unnamed prophet (1 Kgs.20:13), and “another” (1 Kgs.20:35) and Micaiah (1 Kgs.22:8). And by the time that Elijah was to be taken up by a whirlwind there were companies of prophets in Bethel and in Jericho and in Gilgal (2 Kgs.2:3,5; 2 Kgs.4:38) and probably even in the city of Samaria itself where Micaiah lived. Elijah was used of God to confront Ahab in the matter of Naboth (1 Kgs.21) and to rebuke Ahaziah (2 Kgs.1) but over long periods (for example, three years — 1 Kgs.22:1; two years — 1 Kgs.22:51) there is no word of Elijah’s public ministry. However, it may be that Elijah engaged in the teaching and preparation of these “sons of the prophets”.
Dear Elijah! God has not forgotten his heart’s desire to turn the people’s heart back again and Elijah will perhaps in a coming day labour in Jerusalem itself in preparation for the coming of the Son of Man to “turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal.4:6). We are disposed to think that Elijah will be one of the two witnesses mentioned in Rev.11:3-13. Their testimony will be for three and a half years during which they will shut up the heaven that it rain not; and in the hour of their ascension in the cloud there will be a great earthquake, causing the deaths of seven thousand. But in 1 Kgs.19 God would not plead by an earthquake with His erring people. In 2 Chron.21:12-15 Elijah bears his last prophetic word and it would seem that this was done by a letter prepared before the prophet’s departure. Jehoram was a king of Judah, not of Israel, but he had the daughter of Ahab to wife, and the word of Elijah seems thus to have pursued the house of Ahab, to which he refers in his letter. The written word ought to have had a strong impact upon the king’s mind.
Finally, we think of Elijah who had gone up by a chariot of fire and by horses of fire by a whirlwind into heaven (possibly from near Mount Nebo as we consider the places he visited on that day), coming again in glory with Moses to the mount of transfiguration, that holy mount (2 Pet.1:18) where they spake of the more wonderful departure that Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Lk.9:30-31).
There is very much more in the story of Elijah which could be studied with profit but we close with two points. Firstly, the twice repeated question of the Lord to His servant — “What doest thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs.19:9,13); a searching question at any time for a servant of God. And secondly, we love the faith of the godly prophet who could hear the sound of the abundance of rain when there was as yet no cloud, not even as small as a man’s hand (1 Kgs.18:41,44). Elijah, a man of like passions with us, could hear by faith when sight showed nothing, and so “he prayed again”.
By G. K. Kennedy, of Sydney, Australia
Now here is the second series of articles, by Alan Toms, published in Needed Truth magazine in 1993:
By A.F. Toms, Leicester, England
Elijah was a unique man, introduced to us in 1 Kgs.17 without any record of his parents or his tribe. We are simply told he was a Tishbite from the mountainous country of Gilead which is on the east side of the Jordan. That part of the land belonged to Manasseh and Gad, so possibly he came from one of those tribes. And he had a nature which seemed to correspond with the rugged hills from which he came. His name is remarkable too. My God is Jah is its meaning, and surely God must have guided his parents when they chose such a name for their boy. On Gilead’s hills, maybe as a youth, he decided he was going to live up to his name and he presented himself to God. To that point we must all come if we wish to be used by God. In the spirit of Paul’s entreaty in Rom.12 we present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God. Elijah did just that, and God took him at his word and used him in an outstanding way.
Let us remind ourselves of the days in which he lived. We first read of him during the reign of wicked king Ahab. About 60 years before, when Rehoboam came to the throne, the kingdom was divided into two tribes and ten. Rehoboam was king over the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and God raised up Jeroboam to be king over the ten tribes of Israel. But he was not a good king. Time and again the divine record says he made Israel to sin. He introduced a spurious worship setting up a golden calf in the north and south of his land and he persuaded his people to worship in these places rather than going to God’s house in Jerusalem. He was afraid, of course, that if they went into Judah’s territory to worship he might lose them altogether. He set a bad example and the kings who followed him in quick succession were all wicked men, and Ahab was the worst; God distinctly says so. He married Jezebel who was the daughter of the king of the Zidonians and she was even more wicked than her husband. Through her influence the worship of Baal was introduced and this idol worship led Israel far away from God. It was during Ahab’s reign that a man called Hiel rebuilt the city of Jericho against God’s explicit instructions. Did he not know what God had said? Surely he did, but he chose to ignore it, and his attitude was characteristic of those days. They were rebellious days. The people were going their own way and deliberately defying God and His Word. The result was fearful sin, such as God must judge. He therefore chose Elijah from the hills of Gilead to be His mouthpiece.
Those who love the Lord may well be concerned about the days we are living in, for in many respects they are similar to the days when Elijah served the Lord. All around us in our nations there is a disregard for God’s Word and oftentimes an open defiance of God, which results in lawlessness as it did in Elijah’s day. We emphasize the similarity for our encouragement, for as we study the life and times of Elijah we shall be strongly reminded that God was still on the throne, and still in complete control. So He is today. It remains for those of us who love Him and honour His Word to be true to Him at all times. Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, was Paul’s word to Timothy from his Roman prison, and it is his word to us also. Let us ask God for courage to stand bravely for what is right and true and then we shall find that God will lead us in triumph in Christ.
When Zacharias and Elisabeth were told they were going to have a son in their old age, God’s message through His angel was that he would use him to turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord, and also that he would go before His face in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk.1:5-25). So we find many similarities in these two great leaders. Both served at times of national crisis. Both were used to call the people back to God and the remarkable power evident in their service could only have been by the Spirit of God. We serve by the help and power of the same gracious Holy Spirit. That is one reason why the lessons from Elijah’s experiences can be so helpful to us.
At Cherith’s Brook (1 Kgs.17)
“Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth” (v.24). So said the widow woman to Elijah when he brought her dead son to life. He had lived with this woman and her son, so they had had plenty of opportunity to observe his way of life, and this was her conclusion. Elijah was a man of God. What makes a man a man of God? What was there about Elijah that made him answer to this title? When he went to speak to king Ahab he described himself as a man who stood before the Lord. The angel who spoke to Zacharias said, “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God” (Lk.1:19), and Elijah did the same, waiting the divine command, ready to speak what God said and ready to go wherever God sent. That is what makes a man a man of God.
Timothy was another young man who had the distinction of being called a man of God, and he was urged to flee from such things as the love of money and to follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and meekness.
Away in the hills of Gilead Elijah heard of the fearful sin of God’s people the other side of Jordan and his spirit was burdened about it. God’s name was being dishonoured and Elijah decided the time had come when something must be done about it. God had plainly said “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; and the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and He shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit” (Deut.11:16,17). The days in which he lived answered exactly to that description and Elijah knew that God must be true to His Word, that the rain must be withheld until His people turned to Him in repentance. So he began to pray. James tells us that. We would not know, apart from the word in Jas.5, that Elijah prayed fervently that it might not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Having received the assurance that God had heard his prayer, he then went boldly to king Ahab with his message, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word”. He knew only too well that Jezebel had put some of the prophets of the Lord to death but at this time he was fearless. “As the LORD, the God of Israel liveth” (v.l) was his word, and therein lay his strength. God was still alive despite the fact that all but seven thousand of Israel’s people worshipped Baal, and He was still their God.
When he had delivered his solemn message at Ahab’s court, Elijah went out, and then God had a message for him. He told him to hide himself by the brook Cherith. Away in that lonely place God was going to provide for him during the famine, and at the same time teach him many lessons that could only be learned in a place of seclusion. God has done the same thing with many of His servants. Joseph’s years in the prison, Moses’ time in the far side of the desert, Paul’s three years in Arabia were all used as training periods. And there is no doubt Elijah’s time by Cherith’s brook was put to good use. “I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there”. Ravens, Lord? You can almost hear the query that must have risen in his mind. Would they not devour the food long before it reached him? But he did not argue with God. The record distinctly says, “he went and did according unto the word of the LORD”. Simple words but what a lesson they contain. It was the obedience of faith.
By Cherith’s brook he learned that with God all things are possible. As long as he was there, never a morning or evening passed without the ravens delivering his supply of bread and meat. He was better fed than the prophets Obadiah hid in the cave. And he had quietness to learn the lessons God had to teach him. So, like the Thessalonians, his faith grew exceedingly. And so will ours, in the very same way, by taking the promises of God at their face value and acting upon them. As we do so, God will be glorified in our lives. God loves to be taken at His Word. We honour Him when we take His promises and claim them by faith. “The LORD is good” said Nahum, “a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knoweth them that put their trust in Him” (Nah.1:7). And not only does God know and love such men and women of faith, but David speaks of those who put their trust in God before the sons of men. In other words, he is reminding us that the world is looking on, and people around us take note if we are trusting in the Lord. Our lives affect others, so let us encourage one another to trust in the Lord at all times and to claim the sure promises of His Word. “Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is an everlasting rock” (Isa.26:4).
In the Widow’s Home (1 Kgs.17)
In loneliness by Cherith’s brook Elijah communed with God and doubtless he learned many a lesson which prepared him for the experiences which lay ahead. He was dwelling in the secret place of the Most High and learning the sweetness of abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. But Cherith’s brook began to dry up. He watched the level of water getting lower and lower and doubtless he wondered what God was going to do. Every morning and evening when the ravens arrived with his ration of food he was reminded of God’s unfailing care, so he would learn not to be anxious. And when the brook finally dried up, and not before, God spoke again. How important that we each learn that lesson, not to move until God speaks. Sometimes we are apt to get impatient and make our own plans in life, when if we waited God would show us His way.
All in good time God spoke again to Elijah. “Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee”. God’s instructions were clear and they left no room for argument. Zidon was the very place where Jezebel’s father was king and it looked as though he would be putting his head in the lion’s mouth! However, faith learns to trust when God leads the way and the scripture distinctly says “he arose and went to Zarephath”. That is the obedience of faith, and it points up a most important lesson for us, to trust and obey when God speaks to us, even though we cannot see the way ahead.
Elijah set off on his long journey, some eighty to a hundred miles, and when he reached the gate of the city, there was the widow gathering sticks for a fire to bake the very last cake for herself and her son. Not a likely sort of person to care for God’s prophet. But that was just the point. God was leading His servant to the most unlikely places and the most unlikely people to teach him that his trust must be in God and in Him alone. There was a measure of humbling in the experience too. God could have provided for His servant in the home of some wealthy person had He chosen to do so, but He didn’t. Elijah had to learn to be content in the home of a very poor widow, for godliness with contentment is great gain. Elijah was learning his lessons in God’s school and so also was the widow. When she explained she had only a little meat left and a drop of oil and that she was baking the last cake for herself and her son, the word from God’s prophet was “make me … a little cake first”. God first, that was the lesson. “Seek ye first His kingdom, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt.6:33). The things the Master referred to were the daily necessities of life. Never a command without an accompanying promise, both for ourselves and the widow, for Elijah added “thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel. The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth”. And to the woman’s credit it is recorded “she went and did according to the saying of Elijah”. They are simple words but we cannot emphasize too strongly the important lesson they contain. God loves that sort of obedience that starts immediately to do what He says, without any protest or argument.
The woman’s faith was abundantly rewarded, for it says “the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the Word of the Lord, which He spake by Elijah”. Of course they didn’t. How could they, for God had spoken and His word can never fail. But we notice God did not fill the barrel with flour, nor the cruse with oil. She did not receive a supply for the next week or two. No, it was a day by day supply. Each morning she found sufficient for another day. “Give us this day our daily bread”, and in answer to that prayer God’s supply never failed. Surely the woman and her son would never forget that lesson. Nor Elijah, for in that humble home God taught him more about the life of faith.
Zarephath means “place of refining” and it was a refining experience for him, such as the apostle Peter speaks of when he says that manifold trials are for “the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth, though it is proved by fire” (1 Pet.1:7). Through life’s experiences God leads us, sometimes allowing trials to come so that our faith may be strengthened, “for the proof of your faith worketh patience. And let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, lacking in nothing” (Jas.1:3,4). So let us take courage, if sometimes the way seems hard. It may well be our heavenly Father is allowing it for our good and for His praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Raising the Dead (1 Kgs.17)
It was in a widow’s home God provided for His prophet when the rain was withheld for three and a half years, but while he was staying there the widow’s son fell sick and died. Elijah could not understand why God had allowed this great sadness in the life of the woman whom He had commanded to care for him. However, he took the dead body of the lad to his own room and laid it on his own bed, and he stretched himself upon it three times and prayed “O LORD my God, I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again”. The Bible record says “the LORD hearkened unto the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1 Kgs.17:21,22). This is the first instance in Scripture of resurrection from the dead, and Elijah was the instrument God used.
It contains important lessons, for we live in a world where many around us are spiritually dead, described as dead through their trespasses and sins, and therefore completely insensitive to God and to His claims upon them. Elijah did not give the lad life. Only God can give life. But Elijah was used in the process, as we long to be used as men and women, boys and girls are brought to the experience of the new birth, to receive eternal life through faith in Christ.
What lessons can we learn from this incident that will help us in our deep desire to be used in this way? Two points stand out clearly. Firstly, Elijah was a man in contact with God, and secondly, he was willing to make contact with the dead boy, unpleasant though that must have been.
In regard to the first point, Elijah was a righteous man and James says “the supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working” (Jas.5:16). He prayed the prayer of faith. Heb.11:33,35 distinctly says “through faith …women received their dead by a resurrection”. We are reminded of the words of the Lord Jesus “all things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and of course it’s true, but how can we believe and pray this prayer of faith unless we are assured of the will of God? So we must link the Master’s promise with the further word in 1 Jn 5:14 “this is the boldness that we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, he heareth us”. Must we not ask therefore that the Lord the Spirit, our great prayer-helper will guide us into the will of God, putting a burden of prayer into our hearts, and then we can present that prayer in the assurance that God will answer it to His glory. Further, we notice that Elijah prayed persistently. Three times he stretched himself on the lad and prayed his earnest prayer. God could have given life the first time, but He chose to do so on the third occasion so that Elijah might prove his earnestness. Men ought always to pray and not to faint the Master said, and He went on to teach us about the importunity of prayer (Lk.18:1-8).
From Elijah we learn these lessons, that prayer is to be simple, specific, earnest and in faith, and then we read, “the LORD hearkened unto the voice of Elijah”. Wonderful words! God in heaven answering a man’s prayer. How we long that that might be true of us.
However, it was not by prayer alone that new life was brought to the lad. Elijah had to make contact with him, and that is our second point, and he did so in his own room and on his own bed. It touched Elijah personally. It cost him something. He had to put aside any feelings of revulsion he may have had. “I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (1 Cor.9:22) and that will cost something. We remember the Lord Jesus said “Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men”. What is involved in coming after Him? “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk.9:23).
Saying “No” to ourselves is perhaps one of the hardest things we have to learn. How shall we learn it? A careful study of the master Soul-winner, working with individuals, as for instance, in the early chapters of John’s gospel, will introduce us to some of the things involved. He was not upset about being disturbed at night by the Jewish ruler. He was glad to rise and talk with him, to meet the need of his burdened heart. He was prepared too for the long and weary walk to Sychar in the heat of the day, for that was the only time He could meet the Samaritan woman at the well. And the pool at Bethesda did not repulse Him, for He knew the man who had been there for thirty eight years desperately needed His help. How deeply He cared. He was making contact with souls who needed Him urgently and He Himself was the great Life-giver. From heaven He had come, vacating its throne for a little while so that sinners dead through their trespasses might be brought to new life through Him. It cost Him everything. He was on His way to Calvary where He was “cut off, having nothing”. “The Son of God … loved me, and gave Himself up for me”. And one way we shall show our love to Him is by reaching out to those whom He died to save. May God help us to maintain that vital contact with Him through faith and prayer and to make contact with as many as possible whom we can introduce to our Saviour and Lord. It will cost us something, but through eternal ages we shall be glad we did.
At Carmel (1 Kgs.18)
“How long halt ye between two opinions?” was the question with which Elijah challenged the people of Israel when he gathered them on mount Carmel. They were all there, the king and his people, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, all gathered at the word of Elijah2. The angel Gabriel spoke to Zacharias about the spirit and power of Elijah, and it was remarkably demonstrated at Carmel, for they obeyed his word without dispute.
Maybe the people expected he would give them rain, but before the rain could come sin had to be judged. For years they had yielded lip service to God but in their hearts they were idol-worshippers and the long years of drought had not changed them. So the call rang out “How long halt ye between two opinions?” The word could be translated “to totter” like a drunken man whose feet go first one way and then another. That is how His people had been behaving, like the double-minded man whom James speaks about, unstable in all his ways. But God cannot be satisfied with that. He is a jealous God and He claims, and deserves, the undivided loyalty of our hearts.
The people had no answer to Elijah’s challenge, so he proposed they build two altars and offer two bullocks, and let them call on their gods, and he would call on the living God, and the God who answered by fire, let him be God. Elijah knew his God. He knew what Heb.12 tells us that our God is a consuming fire. He appeared to Moses in a flame of fire when the bush burned and was not consumed. When He met Israel at Sinai He descended to the mountain in fire and when He led them through the wilderness it was by a pillar of fire by night. Elijah was confident that in response to his prayer, God would answer by fire. The prophets of Baal went first for they were many, and although they called on the name of Baal from morning to noon there was no answer. Elijah mocked them, but it made no difference when they slashed themselves with knives until the blood flowed. Of course not! for the gods they served had ears which could not hear.
Then it was Elijah’s turn. The people watched intently as he took twelve stones, one for each tribe, and with them he built an altar in the Name of the Lord. Around it he dug a trench which was filled with water and the bullock cut in pieces on the altar was drenched with water also. It was the time of evening sacrifice as Elijah stepped forward to pray, the time when the burnt offering was being consumed on the altar at God’s house in Jerusalem. And Elijah began to pray, “O LORD, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel” reminding them of God’s promises to their forefathers and to them as a nation. God was a covenant-keeping God. He never failed to keep His promises and on that ground Elijah now called upon Him. His Name had been greatly dishonoured in Israel, a fact which he deeply lamented, and he now called on God to clear His Name of all dishonour. “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”. That was the great burden of his heart, that God’s Name would be glorified. “Father, glorify Thy Name” the Lord Jesus prayed, and that must ever be the burden of our hearts as we pray forward the work of God. “Not for us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give glory”.
And there was a second burden on Elijah’s heart as he made his impassioned plea to God. “Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that Thou, LORD, art God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again”. It was all so completely in tune with God’s deepest desires, and God in heaven answered by fire. The fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the dust, and even licked up the water in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and cried, “The LORD, He is God: the LORD, He is God”. Sin was judged that day, the false prophets were slain in the Kishon valley, and then they were ready to receive the rain. “Get thee up, eat and drink” said Elijah to the king, “for there is the sound of abundance of rain”. Ahab could not hear it, but Elijah could, for he was in touch with God. He knew so well that God was going to be true to His promise and that the rain was already on its way.
The apostle Peter spoke about seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. How our hearts long for them. Then let us learn the lesson of Carmel’s mount and be quick to judge sin in our lives. The next step will be to claim the promise of Mal.3 and bring the whole tithe into God’s storehouse, to give Him the first place in our lives that belongs to Him, and then He will fulfil His Word and open the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing such as we have not room enough to contain it.
Praying for Rain
On mount Carmel Elijah stood boldly before the people as he urged God’s claims upon them. But later when he climbed to the top of the mountain he was no longer pleading with men, but with God, and he bowed himself to the ground with his face between his knees.
That praying man has much to teach us about the important subject of prayer, and the first lesson is the basic one that we have to ask to receive. James comments on this experience in Elijah’s life, and reveals that it was because of Elijah’s prayer that God withheld the rain in the first place. And then he adds, “he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit” (Jas.5:18). But God had already promised the rain. That was the message he sent to Ahab, “I will send rain upon the earth”. Why then did Elijah need to pray for it? The answer is that it is a principle with God that He gives in answer to our prayers. “Ask, and it shall be given you” the Lord Jesus taught, “for everyone that asketh receiveth” (Matt.7:7,8). Conversely James says “ye have not, because ye ask not” (Jas.4:2). That’s a heart-searching word and we might well ask ourselves if it is true in our lives. Is God’s blessing being withheld simply because we have not learned the importance of asking in prayer?
The precious and exceeding great promises of God which fill our Bibles are to be claimed by faith and prayer. God is honoured when we reverently remind Him of them and claim them through the prayer of faith.
Then we notice that Elijah sought the solitude of the mountain top to be alone with God, reminding us the Lord Jesus said “when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall recompense thee” (Matt.6:6). How important that we make time in our busy days for the secret place if we are going to be strong to serve the Lord.
Thirdly, Elijah prayed specifically. He asked that it might not rain and then just as definitely, three and a half years later, he asked God to send the rain. There is no doubt that God wants us to come to Him with our specific requests, and sometimes He lays burdens upon our hearts, so that we shall come to Him, pouring out our hearts for those very things.
Then we find that Elijah prayed fervently. He prayed with prayer, the margin of the R.V. says. He was deeply in earnest about it. There are degrees of earnestness, for it says about our Lord Jesus in Gethsemane’s garden that being in an agony He prayed more earnestly. Prayer was made earnestly by the Church in Jerusalem when Peter was in prison: the word means “to stretch out” like a piece of elastic. It’s wonderful when we are so burdened about what we are asking for that our hearts reach out to God in deep earnestness.
Point number five is that Elijah prayed in faith. That is clear because each time he prayed he sent his servant to look for the coming clouds. “Watch and pray” the Lord Jesus said (Matt.26:41), and when the apostle Paul urged the Ephesians to be praying at all seasons in the Spirit, he added “and watching thereunto in all perseverance” (Eph.6:18). The Lord Jesus gave us a remarkable promise when He said “all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matt.21:22). How can we pray that sort of believing prayer? Surely it requires that the Holy Spirit guide us into the mind of God on that particular matter. Elijah knew that it was God’s will to send the rain, so he prayed in faith, looking confidently for the answer.
Linked with that is the sixth point of Elijah’s persistence in prayer. He did not give up until the answer was received. Six times he prayed and each time the servant reported there was nothing. But he kept on praying. We “ought always to pray, and not to faint” the Master said. On the seventh time the servant came back to say there was a cloud the size of a man’s hand. Surely it teaches us that if we have a burden upon our hearts we should keep on praying until God gives an answer.
Point number seven is that Elijah prayed as guided by the Holy Spirit. One version of the verse in Jas.5 says “the inworking supplication of a righteous man availeth much”, and the One who works in us for our guidance and help in prayer is the Holy Spirit. “In like manner the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity: for we know not how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit Himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom.8:26). What a wonderful contemplation, the Holy Spirit so burdened within us that He groans as He directs us into prayer according to the will of God. Praying at all seasons in the Spirit is an aspect of prayer we maybe need to learn more about.
Finally “the supplication of a righteous man availeth much” (Jas.5:16). Elijah’s strong praying was backed up by a righteous life. He was a man in touch with God. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps.66:18). “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God” (1 Jn 3:21), and that is the boldness we need so much.
Discouraged (1 Kgs.19)
“Elijah was a man of like passions with us” (Jas.5:17). “A man just like us” is the NIV translation and this chapter shows us how true that was. The man who on Carmel was so strong and fearless is now seen in the depths of despair and running for his life. And the reason? Because Jezebel the queen had threatened to kill him. He was a very tired man, of course, and he had been under great stress, and when he heard the queen was after him, faith gave way to fear and he ran as fast as he could go! If only he had stopped a moment to consider what Jezebel had said. “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time”. She was referring to her heathen gods and they had proved themselves very ineffective! They could not produce rain during the drought, nor call down fire from heaven even though their priests leapt about the altar and called on them from morning to evening. They were indeed “things of nought” as God described them. If Jezebel was trusting in those gods her threat did not amount to very much. But Elijah was in no state to reason the matter out.
He put as great a distance between the queen and himself as he could and sat down under a juniper tree, a very discouraged man, so much so that he requested for himself that he might die. Dear Elijah, if only he had known what God had in store for him. He was not going to die; at least not for thousands of years. Some consider that during the tribulation period he will die, for he will be one of God’s two witnesses at the time of the antichrist, and they are going to be killed and their dead bodies will lie on the streets of Jerusalem for three and a half days (Rev.11:3-12). But as far as his present service was concerned he was going to have an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom. A whirlwind was going to sweep him to glory. Little did Elijah know about that as he sat under his juniper tree.
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me?” (Ps.42:5). The sons of Korah had obviously felt the same way, as many of us do at times. Periods of discouragement can lead to deep depression, and we need to remind ourselves that Korah’s sons went on to say, “Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God”. And how shall we hope in Him? Jeremiah supplies the answer when he says, “His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him” (Lam.3:22-24). When faith lays hold of the promises of God we once again begin to praise Him, and the Lord brings us safely through as He did His servant Elijah.
We notice how gently God dealt with him. He sent His angel to prepare a meal for His weary prophet, and when it was ready, baked over hot coals, he touched him and said, “Arise and eat”. Then he slept again, for “He giveth to His beloved in sleep” (Ps.127:2 RVM). And the angel touched him a second time and there was another meal ready. There was no rebuke (not at this time, at any rate) but just what God knew he needed so much, sound sleep and nourishing food. It reminds us so much of that morning by the sea of Galilee when seven of the apostles came back from their fishing trip and the Lord Jesus had prepared a cooked breakfast for them on the beach. And as He invited those tired men to eat, He served them. What wondrous grace: the Son of God Himself, raised and glorified and visiting them from heaven, and providing for them despite their waywardness. That was a demonstration of the love that “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things”. “Agape” love never fails. It didn’t in this case and it never will.
For our strong encouragement we remind ourselves that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever” (Heb.13:8). The same gentle, tender Master sits today on heaven’s throne and He cares for us as deeply as He did for those fishermen. The writer to the Hebrews highlights His present work upon the throne when he says “we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb.4:15). How thankful we are that He is there at His Father’s side, understanding us so completely in all our frailty, and because “He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted” (Heb.2:18).
“Able to succour” and “able to save”. Putting those two great promises together faith has strong encouragement to draw near to God through Him. For the promise is that “He is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb.7:25). There is no experience in life in which He cannot help; no depths to which we sink from which He cannot deliver us, if we come to God through Him. So when Satan tempts us to despair let us send up our urgent prayer to the throne of grace, and at the right time we shall receive the help we so much need. We shall, for Elijah did, and Elijah’s God is ours.
In the Cave (1 Kgs.19)
When Elijah was sitting under the juniper tree God sent His angel to serve him with the nourishing food he so much needed, and he “went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God”.
When he got there he dwelt in a cave. What memories would come flooding into his mind, for it was at Horeb Moses first met God in the burning bush, and on this very mountain when He gave His law He revealed Himself in fire to His people and the mountain burned and shook. It was here Moses asked God to show him His glory and God hid him in a cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand, and then He passed by and declared the Name of the Lord. Some have wondered if it may have been the very spot where Moses had that great experience with God. Certainly the language used is similar, for it says “the LORD passed by”. Doubtless it was an experience Elijah would never forget.
First there came a mighty wind which tore at the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces and that was followed by an earthquake and then a fire, great demonstrations of the mighty power of God, to remind His discouraged servant that the God who controlled the whirlwind and the earthquake could very well take care of the threats of a wicked queen. But more than that, for it says God was not in the wind, the earthquake and the fire. He sent them, it’s true, and they contained a message for Elijah, but there was something more important, for after the fire there came a still, small voice, the sound of gentle stillness. When Elijah heard it he stood at the entrance of the cave and wrapped his face in his cloak. God was speaking to him.
The same question was repeated. “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Was God giving him an opportunity of confessing his failure and asking for forgiveness? It would have been well for Elijah if he had grasped it, but he didn’t. He poured out the same complaint, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away”. He was feeling very sorry for himself and that may well have been at the root of his trouble, thinking too much about himself. When we get our eyes off the Lord there is always that danger. “Looking unto Jesus the Author and Perfecter of our faith” (Heb.12:2) is an exhortation we must never forget.
In Rom.11 the apostle Paul comments on this incident in Elijah’s life: he quotes what he said to God, and the divine comment is “he pleaded with God against Israel”. That word gives us an insight into the prophet’s mistake. It is one thing to confess the sin of one’s people; many men of God have done that, but always with a view to their forgiveness and restoration. But in his deep discouragement Elijah prayed against them and that was a serious mistake. But let’s get back to the cave and consider Elijah standing at its entrance as he quietened his heart and heard God speaking to him in that sound of gentle stillness.
“I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with his mother” David said, and we need to do that, too. Only as we quieten our hearts shall we hear His voice. If we are full of anxieties and distractions it will be hard to hear God speaking to us. And He wants to speak. “It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh” said the woman in the Song. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me”, says our Beloved. It is His call to our hearts for fellowship with Him. He wants to share with us the rich spiritual blessings He has for us. But we shall need to quieten our hearts first to hear His voice and to obey what He says. “Mary hath chosen the good part” said the Lord Jesus as she sat at His feet, and we shall need to choose, too. God’s word to Elijah was “Go, return”. He had to go back the way he had come, for there were men to be anointed for service and one of them was young Elisha who was to be prophet in Elijah’s place. It is very touching how he threw his cloak over the young man’s shoulders. Elisha hearing the call rose up and followed.
We notice God’s final word to Elijah that day was that there were seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. So Elijah was wrong when he said “I, even I only, am left”. There were seven thousand whose hearts were true to God, although maybe some of them were too timid to make it known. And is it not most likely that Elijah, so bold for God through most of the years of his service, had been a great encouragement to those seven thousand? If only he had realized that he may not have been so discouraged. We also might well take note of that, for as we press on with God, obeying His Word and living to please Him, others will be encouraged by our example. We do not live to ourselves. We are “known and read of all men”. Let us make sure that they will read in our lives something that will encourage them on the heavenward way.
Anointing Elisha (1 Kgs.19)
“Go, return on thy way” was God’s word to Elijah when he met him at the entrance of the cave. Elijah had made a mistake. He had run away without any instruction from God and he had to retrace his steps and go back the way he had come, as we have to do sometimes, when we make mistakes.
One of his immediate tasks was to anoint young Elisha to be prophet in his place. God had another man ready, as He always has, and Elijah found him ploughing in the fields and himself guiding one of the yoke of oxen. This young man was not afraid of a day’s hard work. God had been speaking to Elisha’s heart. He was calling him to His service and now the old prophet arrived with confirmation of the call he had been feeling so strongly. He understood the significance of Elijah throwing his cloak over his shoulders, and when Elijah turned as though to walk away, the young man ran after him. “Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee”, he said. “Go back again”, Elijah replied, “for what have I done to thee”. But that was said to prove him surely, to give him the opportunity of counting the cost. Elisha was equal to it. His mind was made up, his heart was set. Slaying his oxen and burning the ploughing equipment to make a fire to cook the meat, he gave it to the people with him and they ate together in a parting meal, and then he was on his way, following Elijah. He had made the break with family ties. There was nothing whatever to hold him back. It says “he arose and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him”.
It was humble work to start with, but Elisha was content. “Whosoever would become great among you, shall be your minister”, the Lord Jesus said (Mk.10:43), and the younger man would count it an honour to wait upon God’s prophet. Elijah had been a unique man, one who had towered above his fellows. He had withstood onslaughts of evil as a rock shakes off the waves that beat upon it. He was one of the most dramatic figures in Israel’s history.
His name means “My God is Jah” and his service for God had been characterized by fearless judgement. But his service was nearly over and the younger man stepping into his place was called to a gentler ministry. Elisha’s name means “My God is salvation” and in many ways his life reminds us of the Lord Jesus in His service. The mighty works Elisha did were mostly for healing and blessing, in contrast to Elijah who was so often called to acts of judgement on account of the people’s sin. The end of his life-work was now in sight, although God graciously gave him a few more years of service.
One of his main tasks during his sunset years was the ongoing training of Elisha in the prophetic ministry and also the sons of the prophets to whom we are first introduced about this time. They appear to have been gathered in groups of fifties and there were groups at Bethel, Jericho and Jordan and maybe in other places too. We are left to imagine how they were brought together, but possibly it was the result of Elijah’s far-seeing vision. He would understand the need for men to lead God’s people and teach them His ways, and so the sons of the prophets, as they were called, were trained for service. They may well have been among the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. We are not told very much about them, although there are frequent references to them at the close of Elijah’s life and throughout the ministry of Elisha. There is no doubt Elijah was used to help them; so much he would be able to pass on to them of the ways and will of God, out of his long experience.
It takes us in thought to Paul’s word to Timothy, “the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim.2:2). God’s truth must be passed on as each new generation rises. It was not just a question of the things Timothy heard Paul saying when he was in his company. It was definite systematic instruction, the older man passing on to the younger a precious deposit of divine truth which he was to treasure and guard and in turn pass on to others. Four generations are envisaged in this one verse, faithful men passing on divine truth as younger men rose to responsibility. And we notice the careful instruction, “the things which thou hast heard from me … the same commit thou to faithful men”. That is important. God’s truth must be preserved and passed on in all its purity, nothing added to it and certainly nothing taken away.
We are living in days when we need to be specially watchful about this, for Satan is doing his utmost to undermine the confidence of believers in the Word of God. We must stand boldly for the truth of the inerrancy of Scripture, that every word of our Bible in the original languages was the inspired Word of God. We believe that “every scripture is inspired of God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Tim.3:16,17 RVM). So let us treasure every part of it and grasp every opportunity of teaching it to others as diligently as we can.
In Naboth’s Vineyard (1 Kgs.21)
Elijah may well have wondered whether because of his failure he had forfeited the right to be used by God. But it was not so. Whatever regrets may have filled his heart in regard to his despondency when he sat under the juniper tree and asked to die, God was taking up His servant once again. It says “the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite”. It was just like the old days when the Word of God came to him and he had to speak it out faithfully and fearlessly. Once again he was being sent with a message to king Ahab. “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, which dwelleth in Samaria: behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth, whither he is gone down to take possession of it”.
Ahab had not changed despite the remarkable demonstration of God’s power on mount Carmel and despite the fact that the prophets of Baal had been slain. He was still the same Ahab and his wicked queen was still scheming behind the scenes. In this case it had to do with Naboth’s vineyard which adjoined the king’s palace. Ahab wanted it badly and offered to do business with Naboth. He was prepared to give him a better vineyard or the value of it in money. But Naboth would not agree. It was his God-given inheritance handed down from his fathers, and he would not let it go. God had said it was to be passed down the family line, so as far as Naboth was concerned it was God’s word versus the king’s, and he was such a man that neither the king’s reward nor the king’s wrath would persuade him to go against the word of the Lord. Fearlessly he stood his ground. He explained it was the inheritance of his fathers and he could not, and must not give it up. All honour to him!
His courage and faithfulness stand on the page of Scripture as a great example to us, for we have an inheritance which God has given us and we are required to guard it with similar diligence. It is not the inheritance of which the apostle Peter writes which is incorruptible and undefiled and reserved in heaven for us. We cannot lose that inheritance. It belongs to all who have been born again. There is another inheritance of which the apostle Paul spoke to the elders of Ephesus, when he said, “I commend you to God, and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). Obedience to the Word of God brought them into an inheritance in God’s house which was something very precious, and was to be guarded by faith. It is referred to in Eph.5:5 “this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God”. That is the kingdom of God over which Christ has been placed in absolute authority, and obedience to His Word and resulting conformity in holy living is required if we would continue to hold our inheritance in it.
We can see then the need for diligence on our part. When Jude set out to write about our common salvation the Holy Spirit directed him to write instead about contending earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The difference between the two subjects is important to notice. Our common salvation has to do with the inheritance which is reserved for us in heaven. There is no need to contend for that. But the faith which has been entrusted to us has to be contended for, because our Adversary is doing his utmost to undermine it. Certainly it is worth contending for, and as we do so we come into our inheritance of divine service within God’s house and kingdom.
Guarding his inheritance cost Naboth his life, for queen Jezebel conspired to have him slain and then Ahab walked into the vineyard to take possession of it; or so he thought. But God in heaven had other thoughts. And that is the point where Elijah comes into the story again. It is the old Elijah we are so familiar with. No trace of fear now, not even of queen Jezebel. “God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline”, and in that spirit Elijah approached the king with his solemn message of God’s judgement. Young Elisha, never far from his side, would take note of how fearlessly and faithfully God’s servant delivered the message. It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful and Elisha was learning this sort of faithfulness from a man who had been true to it nearly all his life. May God help us also to similar faithfulness for it is something which God rates very highly indeed.
Gilgal to Jordan (2 Kgs.2)
“And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal”. It is clear that Elijah knew his last day on earth had come, and the sons of the prophets knew it too, and so did Elisha. But it made no difference to their programme for the day. There were certain places God wanted them to visit, from Gilgal to Jordan, and the chapter is an instructive one for those who are followers of Christ. We see how closely Elisha kept by the side of Elijah and how blessed he was because of it.
At Gilgal their journey started and that was the starting place for the people of God when they first entered the land under Joshua’s leadership. Gilgal means “rolling” and there the men were circumcised and the reproach of Egypt was rolled away. It speaks to us about cutting away from our lives all that appeals to the flesh, for the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life are not of the Father but of the world. The world has so much to offer that is attractive to the flesh, but the follower of the Lord Jesus must say “No” to the world.
Nay world, I turn away; though thou seem fair and good. That friendly, outstretched hand of thine, is stained with Jesus’ blood; If in thy least device I stoop to take a part, All unaware thine influence steals God’s presence from my heart.
Elisha could have stayed at Gilgal if he had so wished. But his mind was made up. He was determined to follow. “As the LORD liveth, and as my soul liveth, I will not leave thee”, he said. So on they went to Bethel which means “the house of God”. However, God’s house was not there any longer. It was now in Jerusalem, and at Bethel Jeroboam had introduced a spurious worship, setting up a golden calf and encouraging his people to worship there. It was all so contrary to God’s desires and repeatedly He spoke about the sin wherewith Jeroboam made Israel to sin.
We need to guard against any form of worship which is opposed to God’s Word. His pattern for Worship and service is set out so plainly in the New Testament scriptures and followers of Christ should adhere to it.
From Bethel they moved on to Jericho, the city of high walls, so challenging to faith. Heb.11 says “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down”. Following Christ will bring us into situations where faith is strongly challenged. Once again Elisha had opportunity to opt out, but nothing was further from his thoughts. “I will not leave thee”, he said and the scripture records “they two went on”.
Jordan was the final place to which God sent Elijah and Elisha went with him. Elijah took his cloak and with it smote the waters of Jordan and they parted to allow the two prophets to go over on dry ground. Then the older man said, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken from thee”, and it drew from Elisha that remarkable request, “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me”. Obviously he was very conscious of the great responsibility resting upon him and he knew he could only go forward by the enabling of the divine Spirit who had been so much in evidence in Elijah’s life. But Elijah said it was a hard thing that he had asked, for the fulness and power of the Holy Spirit is not something which God grants lightly. It calls for a holy life, devoted to God. There are conditions to be fulfilled and for Elisha the condition was “if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee”. And he did! He allowed nothing to come between himself and Elijah, nothing that would obscure his vision of him.
What a lesson for those of us who follow the Lord Jesus. The scripture says “they two went on”, “they two stood by Jordan”, “they two went over” referring to Jordan, and then “as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven”. So God’s great servant was away home to glory, truly an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom.
Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak which fell from him as he went. He knew it well. Had it not rested on his shoulders when God confirmed His call to him, when the old prophet anointed him with oil? Taking it up he stood by the Jordan river. “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he cried. Where is He indeed? He is with His young servant and He proved it by parting the waters of Jordan to allow him to pass over. And the sons of the prophets saw it happen and they said, “the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha”. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto the Father” (Jn 14:12). So said our Lord Jesus and He went on to tell them about the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, through whom this wonderful promise would be made possible. We might well ask ourselves, all of us who serve the Lord in any way, Are the sons of the prophets, our young men and young women, waiting to see a demonstration of God’s power in us?
On the Mount (Matt.17)
The apostle Peter never forgot the experience he had, along with James and John, on the holy mount when the Lord Jesus was transfigured before them. “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty”, he said, “for He received from God the Father honour and glory” (2 Pet.1:16,17). It was His inward glory, the glory of God, shining out from His human body. They had never seen Him like this before. His face shone like the sun and His garments became white as the light. God is light and He covers Himself with light like a garment, so when the Lord Jesus was revealed in power and glory He was enveloped by light that was brighter than the noon-day sun.
Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with the Lord Jesus, and they also were seen in glorious splendour: Moses the great law-giver and Elijah representing all the prophets. They spoke with Him about His departure which was soon to take place at Jerusalem. It was a subject they were both familiar with, for the law and the prophets had foretold that the Christ must suffer and die. As they spoke together the three disciples would be listening. What an experience for them. Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here” and so it was. Any fresh revelation of their Master was good for them, as it is also for us. It will affect our lives as it did theirs.
Then a cloud came and overshadowed them and they were afraid as they entered into it. They need not have been, for they were about to have one of the greatest experiences of their lives. God’s presence was in the cloud, as it had been in the past. When He descended on mount Sinai and gave Moses the law for His people, the mountain was covered with a thick, dark cloud. But this was a bright cloud, for we are “not come unto a mount … that burned with fire, and unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest” (Heb.12:18). No, that belonged to the old covenant and to the giving of the law. We are no longer under that law; we are under grace and the voice out of the cloud brought the supreme message for our day of grace. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” (v.5). God had spoken the same commendation of His Son once before, at the river Jordan when the Lord Jesus was baptized by John, and now once again, the same important, timeless message, with these words added, “hear ye Him”. And when they looked up, they saw no one but Jesus only. Yes, that is the message of this mountain. Whatever other lessons we may learn, and there are plenty, this one stands supreme. It is a timeless message never to be repealed. In Christ the shadows of the law are all fulfilled and now withdraw. Moses and Elijah have gone and Christ alone is seen, transcending all others. “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets … hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son” (Heb.1:1). That is the message. They saw no one, but Jesus only.
Christ alone is to fill our vision, to capture our hearts’ affections, to command our obedience. To Him all authority has been given, in heaven and on earth, and the Father says, “This is My beloved Son … hear ye Him”. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of that word. If all authority has been given to Him, then there is no question that His word must be obeyed at all times. We live in days when the Word of God is being challenged, and when some are casting doubt upon the authority of the word of Christ. We need to hear again the divine command from the holy mount, for our acceptable service to God depends upon our obedience to it.
And is it not interesting, and comforting, that the first words which fell from the lips of the Lord Jesus after the Father’s stirring command were, “Arise, and be not afraid”? They had been afraid, but now the experience of His glory has passed, and they see Him again as they have always known Him, the same gentle, caring Master, and He spoke peace to their hearts. With their fears calmed they wended their way down the mountainside. How they would love to have stayed longer. Maybe that is why Peter proposed building three tabernacles. Did he think the Lord Jesus was going to introduce His glorious kingdom and take up His power and reign? Maybe, but that is not yet. The way to the throne was via the Cross, and down below human hearts were breaking and crying out for the help which He alone could give.
So from the mountain they descended, but not alone. Moses and Elijah have gone, but the One whom they had glimpsed in His glory and power was with them still, in lowly form, still going about and “doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38). As they listened to Him and gave Him the allegiance of their hearts, they had a pan with Him in His ministry to those who were suffering because of sin. And so shall we. One day we are going to see Him in His glory, and not just a passing glimpse, but lasting for ever. Until that glorious day it is our privilege to serve the One whom the Father has delighted to honour.
- Footnote to the articles above: Bible students differ on the number of false prophets slain. Some, as the writers of these articles do, take the combined number of prophets of Baal and prophets of the Asherah (1 Kgs.18:19), while others consider only the prophets of Baal came to Carmel and were slain there (1 Kgs.18:22)
- Same as Footnote 1