Elijah we see a prophet to the king and the northern kingdom of Israel. A powerful figure, he brings both king and renegade nation to repentance for national sins. Ahab the king had married Jezebel, the daughter of a Baal priest. Jezebel turns out to be the equal of Elijah in determination and devotion to Baal. She influenced her husband to include the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth along with the worship of Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Elijah’s commission and all of his powers are directed towards bringing the nation to publicly acknowledge God alone. After three years of drought Elijah calls for a showdown on Mt. Carmel, a sacred site for Baal worship. Alone, he faces 400 prophets of Baal and 450 prophets of Ashtoreth. In his address to God Elijah speaks to “Yahweh God of Abraham, Isaac and of Israel”. Instead of “Jacob” he uses “Israel”, the name given by God to Jacob. In this way Elijah publicly links the name of the northern kingdom, “Israel”, with the great ancestor, “Jacob”. Possessing immense courage, Elijah falters only when Jezebel pursues him after his victory on Carmel. God confronts the fleeing prophet in the desert and encourages him to continue his ministry and even to appoint a prophetic successor to carry on his work after he is gone. You might enjoy reading about other of Elijah’s dramatic encounters with Ahab and his son Ahaziah in 1 Kings 21 and 2 Kings 1.
For reflection and discussion:
- Elijah prays to the God of his ancestors. How important is it to use the right titles in speaking to God?
- Elijah perseveres in prayer by repeating his appeal for rain seven times. Why does he persist? Why doesn’t God answer his prayer the first time?
- Does repeated praying amount to a lack of faith if God hears our sincere prayer the first time? Can’t we just trust God to carry out his purpose when he is ready to do so?
- Elijah declares that Yahweh, the God of Israel, will not share worship with any other deities or gods. By contrast, Ahab appears to have taken a mediating position, promoting both the worship of Baal and of Yahweh. Why couldn’t Yahweh, the God of Israel share the pedestal with other gods?
- Is there a distinctive Adventist sub-culture worth preserving?
- How does the church prepare its members for greatness, if greatness requires the capacity to stand alone, to stand for what is right in times of crisis? How do we help our children develop the capacity to question the claims of authority systems and to resist the pull of their culture? How well is the church doing in assisting the development of “conscientious resisters”?
- When success seemed guaranteed on Mt. Carmel, Elijah suffered a severe setback. Jezebel swore an oath to kill Elijah. When he heard of her threat he ran away to save his life. He considered himself to be a failure and asked God to take his life. Why would such a powerful man melt before Jezebel? Why might Jezebel send a message to Elijah that she was going to kill him?
- Can you relate to Elijah’s profound loss of self-confidence? What other great human figures lived with a sense of failure?
- Elijah judged his life to have been a failure. How does a person know when her/his life work has been successful?
- The parallels between Elijah and Moses are striking. Both have encounters with kings. Both confound religious leaders. Both stand on Mt. Sinai waiting for God to pass by them. What is the reader of the Bible to make of these prominent comparisons?
- Twice God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” What is the impact of God asking the question a second time after he speaks in a quiet, gentle voice?
- Elijah has long held a fascination for artists and preachers. Like the legendary cowboy in the American western who comes into town for a shootout with the “outlaws” and then vanishes when his work is done, Elijah appears to be a powerful loner. He runs ahead of the king’s chariot in the driving rain from Carmel to Jezreel. Mendelssohn’s famous oratorio, “Elijah,” attempts to capture the heroic dimensions of the man. What do you find attractive in the story of Elijah?