The Prophet Elijah

The Prophet Elijah—1 Kings 18: 21–38

Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, ‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred and fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.’…So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no answer… The prophet Elijah came near and said, ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt-offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench.
— 1 Kings 18: 21-38

Elijah the Tishbite is one of the most fascinating and complex individuals in all of scripture. On the one hand, he is the most faithful, bold, and courageous of all the prophets of God. He is fed by ravens during a horrible drought, assuring him of God’s sustenance. He watches God provide for a struggling widow and her son; again giving him evidence to trust in God. He even witnesses God give life back to the widow’s son after his unexpected death; thus reassuring Elijah of the Lord’s power.

So, it’s no surprise that Elijah would stand alone before 450 prophets of the god Baal and challenge them in such a bold fashion. After all, he has seen God’s handiwork in the past — he’s experienced it himself. Elijah lives as one who expects God to do big things. Think — how might our lives be different if we lived like Elijah; as those whose trust in the Lord was so true that we just expected that God would act in a big way?

On the other hand, Elijah wasn’t such a bold man of God. After the Lord showed his power atop Mount Carmel, revealing the emptiness of pagan worship, one would think that Elijah might have been burgeoned in his faith. But immediately following his (and God’s) victory over the prophets of Baal, Elijah goes into hiding, upon receiving a threat on his life from king Ahab’s wife, Jezebel. He even prays for the Lord to take his life from him. (19: 4) It seems odd that someone who has seen God work so powerfully and miraculously again and again would flee for his life, and even wish himself dead. But Elijah was a complex man.

I wonder if we aren’t sometimes like Elijah. Often times we may feel quite strong and secure in our faith; we experience Christ’s presence with us, and know of God’s love in our life. Other times, however, something may send us into a spiritual spiral, and we question if God is with us at all. Elijah eventually experiences the Lord’s presence in the “sheer silence” or “still, small voice” (19: 12) in the wilderness on the mountain at Horeb. Perhaps that is often where we need to seek after God too; in the quiet times of our lives — away from the busyness and calling of the world. And perhaps we should take comfort in knowing that even folks like the great prophet Elijah experienced times of fear and uncertainty. We’re in good company.

[Editor’s note: Originally published December 21, 2009.]

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