Who was the prophet Elijah in the Bible?
To some, he is the prophet of the mountains.
To others, he is the prophet of fire. But one thing we can all agree on is that Prophet Elijah was one of the most influential Old Testament prophets.
He is the greatest of the prophets since Moses and before the advent of John the Baptist.
Incredible, might even be termed as Elijah’s ministry had a very short period, and yet the impact was so phenomenal that we are still talking about it today.
Elijah is a Hebrew name (sometimes spelled as Elias), and it translates to mean “Yahweh is God.”
We can infer from his ministry that he lived up to his name because he helped put a stop to Baal worship and restored the worship of Yahweh.
In one of his famous acts, he challenged the prophets of Baal before the entire nation. This is what he said;
“How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing. 1 Kings 18:21
As the story goes, Elijah proved that “Yahweh is God.”
There is nothing incredible about the call of Elijah.
In fact, he seems to appear from nowhere.
The Bible doesn’t tell us much about his background, e.g., about his childhood or family.
Here is how the Bible introduces Elijah in his debut in the book of 1 Kings:
Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was among the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as the LORD lives—the God of Israel before whom I stand—there will be neither dew nor rain in these years except at my word!”n1 Kings 17:1
From the above scripture, we know that Elijah was a Tishbite, and he lived in Gilead.
Tishbe was a region in Gilead.
That’s all the background the Bible gives on Elijah. However, historical documents show that he was a son of Savah, and they lived to the west of River Jordan.
Elijah started his ministry approximately 800 years before the coming of the Messiah.
He started his ministry when Israel had strayed from worshipping the true God and had started worshipping foreign gods that had been introduced by Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife.
But the problem didn’t begin with Ahab.
For a long time, Israel had been led into error by the various kings who were evil.
For the most part, the end of their rule would be summarized with the statement, “He did evil in the sight of Jehovah after the manner of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin.”
Even though this refrain was common when narrating the story of the king of Israel, Ahab took the evil to a whole new level.
King Ahab had many notable achievements.
He established new cities, defeated the army of Benhadad, and made the nation prosperous. However, the evil he brought to Israel almost makes his achievements meaningless.
Here is what the Bible says about Ahab’s evil legacy:
He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him. 1 Kings 16:31-33
It is believed that Ahab was seeking to establish an alliance with the Zidonians, who were a strong and prosperous nation.
And he figured the best way to unite the two nations was to adopt the religion of the Zidonians.
As a consequence, he married Jezebel, a Zidonian, who helped him in his efforts to introduce Baal worship in Israel.
This angered God so much that he called the prophet Elijah to not only warn the king and the entire nation but also begin a process of rebuilding God’s altar in the nation.
The man from Tishbe
As we have already seen, the name Elijah means “God is Jehovah.”
Whenever Elijah introduced himself, he was literally saying, “My God is Jehovah.”
It would seem that God had prepared Elijah from the time of his birth because the very mention of his name was a statement of protest against the worship of Baal and any other foreign God in Israel.
As we have already established, Elijah was also described as the Tishbite.
According to some Bible scholars, this title not only tells us where the prophet hailed from but also introduces him as a reformer.
It is hard to pinpoint where exactly Tishbite was, but it is believed to be a small and inconsequential village.
As such, Elijah likely spent his formative years in poverty and obscurity. This in itself is not unique to Elijah because most of God’s prophets – including Jesus, almost always came from humble backgrounds.
Just like the sturdiest trees are usually not found in sheltered nooks but in areas where they are exposed to the elements, God often raised his servants from the most unlikely of places.
Of Jesus, Nathaneal asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Such must have been the reaction that Elijah got. The fact that the Bible mentioned that he was a Tishbite, a place that we know very little about from scripture, proves this point.
God wanted to emphasize that Elijah was a nobody before his call into the ministry. As someone once put it, God does not call the qualified – he qualifies the called.
Even though the Bible is quiet about it, Elijah’s struggles due to his humble background are what must have turned him into a revolutionist.
Tishbe was from the region of Gilead, and even though Gilead had some similarities with Judah and Israel, there were still noticeable differences.
For instance, the region was punctuated with tent villages, and it was not as civilized as Ephraim and Judah.
The people of Gilead were largely nomadic in lifestyle, and that left them vulnerable to banding attacks and other dangers of nature. Growing up in such an environment had an impact on the rugged nature of the prophet Elijah.
We can, therefore, safely infer that Elijah presented his rugged look before King Ahab.
He was not exquisitely dressed, and he did not speak in polished phrases either.
His looks, coupled with the sad message he brought to the king, must have struck terror in the hearts of Ahab and his advisors.
Elijah is an Old Testament reformer who is comparable to the reformers of the early church.
He most likely exhibited the devout nature of Calvin, the simple speech of Latimer, as well as the perfervid impetuosity of John Knox.
Elijah before Ahab
The first recipient of Elijah’s message was King Ahab.
Here is what the prophet spoke:
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” 1 Kings 17:1
Each of the words Elijah spoke is important as they must have carried a lot of weight and significance.
- As the Lord, the God of Israel lives
The first line of Elijah’s message (as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives) was a vow. But it carried a very important undertone.
See, King Ahab represented Baal worship, and even before Elijah pronounced judgment, he called the king’s attention to the fact that it was only Yahweh who lived and all other gods were the works of men.
The first line of the message was a reminder to Ahab that he had profaned the Lord’s covenant and had led the nation astray from the God of Israel.
- Before whom I stand
The second line of the message (before whom I stand) demonstrates the personality of God.
Elijah made it clear that the God of Israel was not just alive and hidden in some distant place, unbothered by what man did.
On the contrary, he was close to those who sought him, and that is why Elijah stood before him.
But standing was also a sign of reverence. Standing before a king (with a slight bow) was one of the ways of honoring the king.
Elijah was, therefore, making it clear that he did not stand before King Ahab but before the God of Israel.
He was making it clear that his obedience and servitude were not for Ahab but for Yahweh.
- there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word
This line affirms the sovereignty of the God of Israel. Israel had erred, and as a result, they had attracted judgment from the Almighty. But as terrible as the judgment was, there are two good things about it.
Firstly, it was not going to last forever.
Elijah made it clear that, at his word, rain would come back again.
Secondly, the judgment would break the hearts of the Israelites and prepare them for a revival once Elijah presents them with the truth as he would at the peak of the drought.
Even though Elijah made other pronouncements and did many other great works, this first message was pivotal because it was his first sign to King Ahab. Just as Elijah prophesied, Israel experienced a severe drought, and the next time they met, King Ahab referred to Elijah as the troubler of Israel:
When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel? 1 Kings 18:17
Ahab’s heart was so hardened that instead of humbling himself to receive God’s mercy, he blamed God’s prophet for the problem Israel was experiencing.
Lessons from Elijah
Elijah was like us
There is no doubt that Elijah did incredible things.
So much so that he is accurately referred to as one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament; it is easy to think of him as a “mighty man of God” who had a special calling.
However, James is quick to remind us that Elijah was a man, just like us.
Elijah was the same kind of person as we are. He prayed earnestly that there would be no rain, and no rain fell on the land for three and a half years. James 5:17
This scripture is meant to encourage and inspire us to demonstrate the same kind of resolve and faith that Elijah did. He was just the same kind of person as we are – except that he had immovable trust and faith in God.
He took God at his word and believed that what God said was final. If we can do likewise, we can also do great things for God – just as Elijah did.
Elijah lived in a time of spiritual decline
Elijah came against a backdrop of seven evil kings who had cumulatively led to spiritual decline and apostasy in Israel.
Just by proclaiming God’s word, Elijah was putting his life on the line. However, he stood boldly and proclaimed the message anyway.
Things were so bad that other prophets went to hide, and Elijah even thought he was alone. Interestingly, we are also living in a time of spiritual decline. These must be the evil days that Paul warned of.
The social issues that we have to deal with today were not there a couple of decades back.
And it seems like the man of lawlessness is already wreaking havoc in the church.
In such an environment, we can learn from the example of Elijah and continue stranding form in our faith. And just as God was with Elijah to the end, He will also be with us. Jesus already promised that he will be with us to the end (Matheew 28:18)
Elijah’s life was characterized by miracles
The drought was the first miracle in the ministry of Elijah, but it was not the last.
Here are some of the other notable miracles:
- He was fed twice a day by ravens for an unspecified duration ( 1 Kings 17:1-6)
- The widow’s flour and oil did not run out at his word (1 Kings 17:8-16)
- He called fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:9-12)
- He divided the waters of Jordan (2 Kings 2:8)
- He was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind ( 2 Kings 2:11)
It would be accurate to infer that his life was surrounded by miracles.
The Prophet Isiah pronounced that God’s people should be for sing and wonder in Israel (Is. 8:18).
In other words, our life should also have lots of supernatural acts. And that can only come if we rely on the miracle-working power of God.
In conclusion, Prophet Elijah stands as a central and revered figure in the Old Testament of the Bible.
His life and ministry were characterized by unwavering devotion to the God of Israel, especially during a challenging period when the people were enticed by the worship of foreign gods.
Elijah’s confrontations with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and his miraculous deeds, such as raising the dead and multiplying resources, showcased the power of the God he served.