ELIJAH The chief purpose for which God raised up Elijah was to preserve in Israel the worship of Yahweh, Israel’s covenant God. Israel had always been tempted to mix the worship of their God with the religious practices of local Baalism (see BAAL), but matters suddenly worsened after Jezebel became queen. Jezebel was daughter of the king-priest of Philistia and had married King Ahab of Israel. She brought with her a new and more dangerous form of Baalism, which she then tried to make the national religion of Israel. This was the Baalism of the god Melqart, whose influence had already spread south along the Mediterranean coast as far as Mt Carmel (1 Kings 16:30-33).

Early resistance to Baalism

Baal was supposed to control nature and fertility. Therefore, to show the powerlessness of Baal, Elijah announced a three-year drought throughout Israel and Phoenicia. God’s miraculous provisions of food, both in Israel and in Phoenicia, showed that he, not Baal, was the God of nature (1 Kings 17:1- 4,9,16; cf. Luke 4:25,26). Elijah’s healing of the widow’s son confirmed the woman’s faith in the one true God (1 Kings 17:24). After three years of drought, Elijah challenged Ahab to gather Baal’s prophets to Mt Carmel for a public contest to show who was the true God, Yahweh or Baal (1 Kings 18:19-21). The Baal priests considered Mt Carmel to be one of their sacred sites, yet even there they were shamefully defeated (1 Kings 18:40). As a final proof that Israel’s God, not Baal, controlled nature, Elijah announced that God would end the drought by sending a storm. That same day the drought ended (1 Kings 18:41-46; cf. James 5:17-18). Elijah felt that he was fighting alone in his battle with Jezebel’s Baalism (1 Kings 18:22; Rom 11:1- 5). This feeling was strengthened when, in spite of his spectacular victory over Baal at Mt Carmel, nothing in Israel seemed to have changed. The people did not cease from their Baal worship, and Jezebel did not cease from her efforts to kill him. He therefore fled for his life (1 Kings 19:1-3). God directed Elijah south to Mt Sinai, the place where, centuries earlier, he had established his covenant with Israel. There he showed Elijah the difference between spectacular public events and the quiet work of God within people’s hearts. The former may have some use, but Israel would have truly lasting benefits only as people listened to the voice of God in their hearts and responded to it. God assured Elijah that a minority of people in Israel would make the quiet response of faithfulness to him (1 Kings 19:10-12,18). For Israel’s idolatrous majority, however, there would be further violent and spectacular events, but these would be in judgment against them rather than against Baal. God’s instruments of judgment against Israel would be an enemy king Hazael, an Israelite king Jehu, and Elijah’s successor Elisha (1 Kings 19:15-21).

Ministry fulfilled

In addition to opposing Ahab and Jezebel because of their Baalism, Elijah opposed them because of their greed and injustice. After their seizure of Naboth’s vineyard, Elijah announced the judgment of God upon them (1 Kings 21:20-24). Ahab’s son Ahaziah, who came to the throne after Ahab’s death, continued the worship of Baal and likewise met opposition from Elijah. God preserved Elijah from Ahaziah’s attempts to capture him, and then used Elijah to pronounce certain death upon the Baalist king (2 Kings 1:2-4,13-17). The time had now come for Elijah to pass on to Elisha the responsibility for preserving the faithful and preparing judgment for the Baalists. Elijah tested his young successor to see whether he was prepared for the difficult and wide-ranging work ahead, or whether he would rather settle at one of the schools of the prophets (2 Kings 2:1-6). Elisha stayed with Elijah to the end, and in due course received Elijah’s spiritual inheritance (2 Kings 2:9). Elijah’s earthly life ended when he was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Jews of a later era expected the return of Elijah immediately before the coming of the Messiah (Mal 4:5-6; Mark 6:15; 8:27-28). Jesus pointed out that this ‘Elijah’, this forerunner of the Messiah, was John the Baptist (Matt 11:10-14; 17:10-13; Luke 1:17). On the occasion of Jesus’ transfiguration, Elijah and Moses appeared together talking with Jesus about his coming death, and witnessing something of his coming glory. These two men, the great lawgiver and the great prophet, were representative figures from the former era. Their presence symbolized that the one to whom the law and the prophets pointed had now arrived. All the expectations of the former era were now fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Luke 9:28-31; cf. 24:27; see TRANSFIGURATION).

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