Prophets of the Bible –

Elijah

1 Kings 16:15-34, Historical background: bad kings in Israel
1 Kings 17:1-16, Elijah comes out of nowhere to proclaim a drought
Random Readings in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 70: 1 Kings 17:1-16, Elijah in the Wilderness, by Ferdinand Olivier
1 Kings 17:17-24, Some people take a lot of convincing
1 Kings 18:1-16, “Ahab’s gonna kill me!”
1 Kings 18:17-29, The prophets of Baal are unsuccessful
1 Kings 18:30-46, God ends the drought through Elijah
1 Kings 19:1-21, Elijah on the lam
1 Kings 21:1-16, Historical background: Naboth’s vineyard
1 Kings 21:17-29, God’s message to Ahab
2 Chronicles 21:1-11, King Joram of Judah, historical background
2 Chronicles 21:12-20, Elijah’s letter to King Joram
1 Kings 22:51 – 2 Kings 1:3-18, Elijah and King Ahaziah of Israel
2 Kings 2:1-18, Elijah and the whirlwind
2 Kings 3:1-20, Elijah’s legacy continues
2 Kings 9:1-10, Historical background: Jehu is anointed
2 Kings 9:11-28, Jehu’s purge of the house of Ahab begins
2 Kings 9:30-37, Elijah’s prophecy against Ahab fulfilled, part 1
2 Kings 10:1-17, Elijah’s prophecy against Ahab fulfilled, part 2
Malachi 3:1-5, 4:1-6, Malachi foretells the return of Elijah

Elijah in the New Testament

Luke 1:5-17, Gabriel’s comments on John the Baptist and Elijah
John 1:19-31, John the Baptist’s comments on himself and Elijah
Matthew 11:1-15, Jesus’ comments on John the Baptist and Elijah
Mark 6:14-20, Herod’s comments on John the Baptist and Elijah
Romans 11:1-12, Paul comments on Elijah
James 5:13-20, James comments on Elijah’s powerful prayer
Matthew 27:45-49, Bystanders think Jesus is calling on Elijah
Luke 4:1, 14-30, Jesus compares his reception to that of Elijah
John 6:1-15, 7:37-44, The people ask questions about Jesus and Elijah
Matthew 17:1-13, The inner circle’s questions about Elijah
Matthew 16:13-15, “And you, who do you say I am?”


More Prophets of the Bible

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1 Kings 16:15-34, Historical background: bad kings in Israel (8/1/16)

I still want to spend most of the year on prophets, so now we’re going back to the prophets. I thought about calling this study “Back to the Future,” since prophets are best-known for predicting the future, but nah, that movie is too old.

One – if not “the” – preeminent prophet is Elijah. Elijah was a prophet who mainly concentrated on the immediate future. He is such a big figure in the Old and New Testaments that I was somewhat surprised when I started planning the study. Not only does he not have his own book of prophecy (which we all knew, right?), but there’s actually relatively little written about him at all, and very few of his prophetic utterances are recorded.

We start with the historical situation that brought God to the point of sending a prophet to the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel, also known as Samaria. One of Israel’s military leaders, Zimri, assassinated King Elah, who was the son of King Baasha, who had come to the throne by assassinating the previous incumbent. Zimri ruled for one week and was in turn assassinated by another military leader, Omri. Well, I suppose strictly speaking he saw that he was about to be killed and committed suicide instead, but still. So after this long string of assassins, we learn that Omri “did more evil things than any king before him.” His son Ahab not only continued all the previous sins, but he married a Philistine princess, Jezebel, a devout Baalist. Ahab “did more to make the LORD God of Israel angry than any king of Israel before him.”.


1 Kings 17:1-16, Elijah comes out of nowhere to proclaim a drought (8/2/16)

We don’t know anything about Elijah’s origins. He appears suddenly on the scene to proclaim a drought. He doesn’t give a reason, but from context we can conclude that God had had about enough of King Ahab’s Baalism and other sins. The drought arrives on schedule, but God tells Elijah where to go that he will be safe. Elijah’s first recorded miracle is a “small” one: the widow’s willingness to give him a meal when she had nothing to give led directly to her survival and that of her son through God’s miraculous provision of oil and flour for the duration of the drought. The fulfillment of these two short-term prophecies, the drought and the oil and flour, demonstrated that he was a true prophet and that his longer-term prophecies should be believed and acted on.


Random Readings in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 70:
1 Kings 17:1-16, Elijah in the Wilderness, by Ferdinand Olivier
(9/7/15)

After the LORD sent Elijah the prophet to King Ahab predicting a great drought, the LORD decided it might be a good idea for his prophet to take a little time off while Ahab cooled off. The crows worked hard to make sure Elijah had something to eat, so I particularly like the credit given to them in this painting of Elijah in the Wilderness, by Ferdinand Olivier.



Previous Step. Next Step.
Elijah in the Wilderness, by Olivier.
"Elijah in the Wilderness" by Olivier,
from the Gamble family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.
1 Kings 17:17-24, Some people take a lot of convincing (8/4/16)

I looked at the Hebrew and sixteen translations (including the Greek) of vs. 17, and only the Contemporary English Version has “Several days later.” All the other translations have some version of “after this” or “some time later,” not specifying a length of time. “Several days” appears to be a bad translation, and it doesn’t even make sense. The widow and her son are starving (vs. 12), Elijah shows up and works a miracle on the oil and flour, and then “several days later” she’s blaming him for her son’s death? That makes no sense. It’s a minor detail here, but it gives me the chance for a reminder: you need to read more than one translation, preferably from two different families of translations. If they don’t agree, you need to think even more carefully than usual about the context and what the meaning might be.


1 Kings 18:1-16, “Ahab’s gonna kill me!” (8/8/16)

I’m sorry I didn’t do “Six Funny Stories,” even though that doesn’t have the ring of “Five Funny Stories,” because this one should have been included. King Ahab has been looking everywhere for Elijah, unsuccessfully, and I gather from what Obadiah says that Ahab was getting a bit irritable. When God tells Elijah to go talk to Ahab, and Elijah tells Obadiah to deliver the message, Obadiah gets hysterical.


1 Kings 18:17-29, The prophets of Baal are unsuccessful (8/9/16)

I have a mental picture of Elijah nonchalantly leaning against a boulder while the 450 prophets of Baal dash around and yell to their god and cut themselves to get his attention. I love Elijah’s sneers: “Hey, yell louder! Maybe your god is asleep! Maybe he’s in the bathroom! Get him out here, and let’s see what he can do.” But my very favorite line is this: “No one answered; no one paid attention.” That’s the problem with any god we create for ourselves: it can’t answer; it can’t pay attention.


1 Kings 18:30-46, God ends the drought through Elijah (8/10/16)

If you had asked me last week the name of Elijah’s servant at Carmel, I would have said “Obadiah.” I would have been wrong; the servant is not named. No matter how often or how carefully we read the Bible, we need to read it again. In contrast to the prophets of Baal, who ran around all day with no response from their god, Elijah makes a brief prayer asking for God to answer so that the people will recognize the true LORD God and repent. KAZAAM!


1 Kings 19:1-21, Elijah on the lam (8/11/16)

Jezebel was devout in her religion, which was Baalism. She supported all those prophets, remember, and when Elijah is responsible for their deaths, she vows to kill him. Elijah takes off for the wilderness, where he spends his time being discouraged and complaining. I understand that. He demonstrated beyond doubt that the true LORD God was real and the false god Baal was not. Instead of turning the country to God and repentance, he gets a price on his head. After a while, God tells him to get back to work and anoint a new king of Syria, a new king of Israel, and a new prophet.


1 Kings 21:1-16, Historical background: Naboth’s vineyard (8/15/16)

Back when the children of Israel first entered the Promised Land, Joshua allocated land to each tribe and family by lot. The land had to stay in each family. Even if someone sold his land, it would automatically be returned to the family during the year of jubilee. Everybody knew this, including King Ahab. So when Naboth wouldn’t sell his vineyard to Ahab, there was nothing Ahab could do about it, and he was bummed. Jezebel, on the other hand, was a Philistine princess, and she figured she could do something about it! Namely, kill Naboth!


1 Kings 21:17-29, God’s message to Ahab (8/16/16)

In the United States (and elsewhere), you can be convicted of a crime because you conspired with or helped the person who did the crime, even if you didn’t personally do the deed. Ahab did not personally kill Naboth, and neither did Jezebel; however, she gave the orders, and he was the one whose greed led her to give the orders. Because they were in a position of power, God held them even more responsible than the murderers themselves. Elijah brings them the bad news that the LORD is very angry not only because they sinned, but also because they caused others to sin.


2 Chronicles 21:1-11, King Joram of Judah, historical background (8/17/16)

King Jehoshaphat of Judah was a devout and good king; his son Jehoram wasn’t. One of Jehoram’s first official acts was to order the deaths of his brothers and several other government leaders. It’s probably not a coincidence that Jehoram was married to the daughter of King Ahab of Israel, where assassination was routine.


2 Chronicles 21:12-20, Elijah’s letter to King Joram (8/18/16)

Most prophecy was spoken. The prophet would go to the king or whomever and say, “This is what the LORD says,” and then pass along the message orally. Here’s one of the rare examples where a prophet, in this case Elijah, delivers the LORD’s message in writing. Elijah seems to have spent most of his time in Israel, so maybe he just didn’t want to make the trip down to Judah. Another unusual aspect of this particular prophetic message is that there is no call to repentance or promise that God will take Jehoram back if he repents. There is only the indictment (“Here’s what you are doing wrong”) and the promise of punishment. The Wesleyan position is that no one is beyond the grace of God or the possibility of redemption; however, Jehoram chose not to repent, and when he died, no one mourned him.

1 Kings 22:51 – 2 Kings 1:3-18, Elijah and King Ahaziah of Israel (8/19/16)

One of the greatest of prophets of the LORD, Elijah, is active in Israel, but the king sends messengers to a Philistine city, Ekron, to get advice from Baal, his mother Jezebel’s god. God and Elijah take offense at this. The king’s third messenger to Elijah begs humbly for his own life and that of his men, and God sends Elijah with him to see the king. The king, however, dies anyway.


2 Kings 2:1-18, Elijah and the whirlwind (8/22/16)

It’s important to read more than one translation. Both Elijah and Elisha know that the time has come that Elijah is going to pass away. In vs. 9, he asks Elisha what he can do for him, and Elisha asks for “a double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. Now, at this point, lots of us are saying, “What’s that about?” Well, the system of inheritance meant that property was divided among the sons, except that the oldest son got two shares. Elisha is asking that he be made the chief spiritual heir of Elijah. All of the original readers knew this, and most translations just have what the Hebrew text says. The Contemporary English Version, however, has an extra half sentence that explains what the text says. (I’ve marked it for you.) I think they should have put that explanation in a footnote, because unless you read more than one translation, you would never suspect that it isn’t part of the original text.

Extract from the Contemporary English Version.
2 Kings 3:1-20, Elijah’s legacy continues (8/23/16)

Some years back, King Jehoshaphat of Judah went to visit King Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 22:1). They were considering going to war, and Ahab’s Baalist prophets were all telling him to go for it. Jehoshaphat said, “Isn’t there a prophet of the LORD that we can ask?” Now Ahab’s son Joram is king in Israel, and Joram wants Jehoshaphat to go to war with him. Jehoshaphat wants to consult a prophet of the LORD again, and this time they get Elisha.

I think verses 11 and 14 are charming. Where Contemporary English Version has “He was one of Elijah’s closest followers” in vs. 11, the Hebrew and most translations say “... who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” What a picture of tender service this paints of Elisha! Then in vs. 14, Elisha says to Joram, “I wouldn’t even look at you if Jehoshaphat weren’t here!” What a picture of the prophet’s scornful rebuke of an errant king!


2 Kings 9:1-10, Historical background: Jehu is anointed (8/24/16)

Back in 1 Kings 21:22-23, Elijah prophesied to Ahab that he and every male of his household would die, and that Jezebel would die be eaten by dogs. Pretty harsh. Ahab humbled himself before God, so God decided to postpone the punishment. Now it’s time, and Elijah’s heir Elisha sends an assistant to anoint Jehu to carry out the doom on Ahab’s household and to found a new dynasty.

Note that Jehu’s father Jehoshaphat is the son of Nimshi, whereas King Jehoshaphat of Judah was the son of Asa. So Jehu, soon to be the king of Israel, isn’t the son of the king of Judah.


2 Kings 9:11-28, Jehu’s purge of the house of Ahab begins (8/25/16)

Jehu’s assignment was to purge the house of Ahab from Israel. King Joram of Israel is the son of Ahab and Jezebel, so he is under the ban. King Ahaziah of Judah is a relative, but not a descendant of Ahab – he’s a descendant of the kings of Jerusalem. When Jehu kills Ahaziah in the valley of Jezreel, he begins to exceed his authority. Remember the valley of Jezreel, because Jehu’s deeds there come back to haunt his dynasty.


2 Kings 9:30-37, Elijah’s prophecy against Ahab fulfilled, part 1 (8/26/16)

Jezebel may have been a murdering heathen, but you have to admit that she was a spirited murdering heathen! When she hears that Jehu is on his way, she gets all dressed up for the meeting, and then she accuses Jehu of being a murderer. It takes one to know one; don’t forget that she murdered Naboth and all the prophets of the LORD except for Elijah. Elijah’s prophecy that she would be eaten by dogs in Jezreel (1 Kings 21:23) comes grimly true.


2 Kings 10:1-17, Elijah’s prophecy against Ahab fulfilled, part 2 (8/29/16)

Elijah was a genuine prophet who heard the word of the LORD God. Nevertheless, Ahab was the son of the assassin Omri and the husband of the murderous Philistine princess Jezebel. Probably just about anybody could have seen that he and his whole family were headed for a bad end. The prophecy of Elijah was fulfilled through the agency of Jehu, who slaughtered them all. It is remotely possibly that Jehu was telling the truth in disclaiming personal responsibility for the deaths of all of Ahab’s sons (vss. 9-10). Just as in English, “head” has a double meaning in Hebrew – both a body part and an instructor or leader. In light of Jehu’s previous violent campaign against the house of Ahab, his men brought him the body parts of the sons, not the teachers. Jehu says, well, I didn’t do it, but this is what was prophesied.

Notice, however, that Jehu also killed 42 people from the royal household of Judah. He had not been told to do that, and it wasn’t prophesied, and he later got in trouble for it.


Malachi 3:1-5, 4:1-6, Malachi foretells the return of Elijah (8/30/16)

God typically works through you and me and the historical process to bring about justice. What does the LORD require of you? Do justice. When justice needs to be carried out on a grander scale, God whistles up a nation from afar to execute justice. On the great and terrible Day of the LORD, however, God will step into the historical process and execute judgment and justice personally. This is not going to be a fun time for any of us, because even the righteous will be purified like the precious metals in a refiner’s fire.

Fortunately, God is also merciful and longsuffering. Before The Day, the prophet Malachi says on behalf of the LORD, Elijah will return to offer us one last chance at repentance and mutual forgiveness.


Luke 1:5-17, Gabriel’s comments on John the Baptist and Elijah (8/31/16)

Yesterday in Malachi 4:5-6, we read that God “will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” When Gabriel comes to Zechariah in the Temple, the angel tells him that this prophecy is going to be fulfilled in his own son, whom he is to name John. John means “favor of Jehovah,” presumably because God had such great plans for this child.


John 1:19-31, John the Baptist’s comments on himself and Elijah (9/1/16)

Before John the Baptist was born, Gabriel told his father, Zechariah, that he would go out in “in the spirit and power of Elijah ... to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” Apparently John did become a charismatic and powerful preacher, because thousands of people came out to him in the desert to receive his baptism of repentance. Naturally enough, the Pharisees – very devout Jews – are interested in the question of whether he might actually be Elijah, returned to make way for the promised Messiah. John, however, denies that he is anybody special, admitting only to being “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”


Matthew 11:1-15, Jesus’ comments on John the Baptist and Elijah (9/2/16)

Gabriel said that John would go before the Messiah “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” John himself denied being Elijah or even a prophet; he said he was just a “voice in the wilderness.” Jesus not only agrees with Gabriel that John has the spirit of Elijah, but he says that John is the prophet Elijah, sent just as promised by God through Malachi (Malachi 3:1).


Luke 4:1, 14-30, Jesus compares his reception to that of Elijah (8/5/16)

After growing up in Galilee, Jesus began his ministry in Judea, to the south. He worked miracles all over the place, and later he went back home to Nazareth. By that time he was a famous teacher, so naturally they asked him to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Even though they knew he was famous, and even though they had asked him to teach, they were amazed and kept saying to one another, “Isn’t he that kid from down the street?” Nobody from down the street could possibly be important! Jesus pointed out that Elijah – who was very important indeed – didn’t work miracles in his hometown, either, but only in foreign places like Sidon and Syria.


Mark 6:14-20, Herod’s comments on John the Baptist and Elijah (9/5/16)

Herod had a guilty conscience about John the Baptist, as well he should have. When stories of Jesus’ miracles began to circulate, lots of people thought that Jesus might be Elijah. This made some sense. Elijah did miracles; Jesus did miracles. Elijah confronted power and evil; Jesus confronted power and evil. Elijah was to precede the Messiah; the first-century Jews were more than ready for the return of the Messiah. Herod, though, didn’t believe Jesus was Elijah.


Romans 11:1-12, Paul comments on Elijah (8/12/16)

Paul was a student of Rabbi Gamaliel, who is held is esteem in both Jewish and Christian tradition as one of the all-time great authorities on religious law. It therefore comes as no surprise that Paul quotes scripture freely in his own writings. In his letter to the Romans, Paul uses Elijah’s experience with God as an illustration of God’s kindness and care for his people.


James 5:13-20, James comments on Elijah’s powerful prayer (8/3/16)

James wants us to pray in all circumstances. Just in case we are inclined to think that our prayers have no power, he cites the example of Elijah, whose prayers kept rain from falling and then made it start again. And “Elijah was just as human as we are”!


Matthew 27:45-49, Bystanders think Jesus is calling on Elijah (9/7/16)

“Eli” is Hebrew for “My God,” and “Elijah” means “YAH is my God.” (Remember that YAH is one of the names of God that we studied earlier.) When Jesus begins to recite Psalm 22 from the cross, some of the bystanders misunderstand what he is saying and think he’s asking for Elijah to come and rescue him. One of them takes pity on him, but others think, “Ooo, maybe we’ll get to see Elijah work a miracle!”


John 6:1-15, 7:37-44, The people ask questions about Jesus and Elijah (9/8/16)

We saw earlier that “the prophet who is going to come into the world” is Elijah. The reasoning of the people is fairly straightforward: Wrong, but certainly straightforward.


Matthew 17:1-13, The inner circle’s questions about Elijah (9/6/16)

I have a question. The disciples have just seen Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. I believe this is Elijah’s first and last appearance since he disappeared into the whirlwind, if you don’t count John the Baptist. If you do count John the Baptist – and Jesus equated John and Elijah quite some time back, while John was in prison – then Elijah has also already come and gone. So what are Peter, James, and John driving at when they ask, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”


Matthew 16:13-15, “And you, who do you say I am?” (9/9/16)

Elijah was such a forthright prophet in the time of the kings, and such commanding figure in the mind of the first-century Jewish nation, that when the crowds saw Jesus they immediately thought of Elijah. When the disciples report that the people thought Jesus might be John the Baptist or Elijah, he doesn’t say that any of those ideas are completely foolish. He merely asks, “But who do you say that I am?”


More Prophets of the Bible

Major Prophets:
Isaiah

Minor Prophets:
Micah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk
Haggai, Malachi, Obadiah, and Joel

False Prophets

Prophets without Books:
Elijah


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