Elijah’s time as a prophet came about 100 years after King David’s reign. He was our first prophet. King David had set a high standard for faithfulness and integrity as he served God. Now a king named Ahab ruled Israel. The date was around 870 BC. You can find a complete study on King Ahab at Who was Ahab.
(1 Kings 16:33)1NIV New International Version Translations – “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.”
It was not just that Ahab was bad, but his evil behavior filtered into the population. Most of the people had yielded to Satan through their worship of the Canaanite gods Baal and Ashtoreth. King Ahab failed at his principal role as a leader, to guide his nation closer to God. Instead, he guided his people away from God, to the false gods of the day. Ahab broke all the rules and is known to history as the worst king to ever rule. God had tried to send warnings earlier, waiting patiently for His people to separate themselves from the pagan influences surrounding them. All God wanted was for His people to return to true worship (1 Kings 14:6-16). Now God was going to bring severe judgment on the nation. Elijah is first mentioned in Scripture when he declares to King Ahab that a severe drought would begin immediately. “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1).
Withholding rain for 3½ years was the first punishment God administered through Elijah. This brought severe famine throughout the kingdom. The purpose of this punishment was to bring the nation to repentance for its idolatry. Although unpleasant at the time, Elijah understood the potentially good effects of such punishment if Israel would just repent of its sins. The question, however, would be whether the king and the people of Israel could ever understand the purpose behind the economic disaster that was upon them. Satan had prophets too! The prophets of Baal were humiliated since they couldn’t invoke their pagan god to end the drought and bring the needed rain. They were angry.
King Ahab and his officials blamed Elijah stating that he was the cause of the suffering in Israel. This is often the case, those at fault blame others for the distress they have caused. The king’s response was to relentlessly hunt for Elijah far into foreign lands (1 Kings 18:10) seeking nothing more than revenge. In both Hebrew and Greek, the words “vengeance,” “revenge,” and “avenge” have as their root meaning the idea of punishment. “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Unlike humans, God never takes vengeance for impure motives. God’s vengeance is to punish those who have offended and rejected Him.
Elijah the Tishbite, of Gilead, was an ordinary human being just like us. He had his hopes and dreams, weaknesses, and shortcomings. What separated him from others was that he was also a man of deep faith in God. Elijah’s style was to be a bold, direct-to-the-point prophet of God. This style made him many enemies, but his enemies never could stop him. God was on his side!
(James 5:17-18) – “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”
Like many of the prophets to come, Elijah did not seek to be one of God’s messengers. Instead, God chose him. Once called, however, Elijah didn’t hesitate to take on his mission despite the risks to his life. After confronting King Ahab, God directed Elijah into hiding (1 Kings 17:7-15; 1 Kings 18:1). God even fed him during his hiding by the Brook Cherith, a small stream west of Jericho. God eventually told Elijah, “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” (1 Kings 17:9). Elijah was surprised by this since Sidon was a Baal-worshipping area, and because Elijah was hated by another woman from Sidon, Queen Jezebel. God was quite aware that a remnant, 7,000 persons in Israel, did not worship Baal. Elijah’s mission was to help the widow by multiplying what food she had and resurrecting her son (1 Kings 17:10-24). She had been a faithful servant of God. After his time in Sidon, the prophet was directed by God to appear before King Ahab again.
(1 Kings 18:17-19) – “When he saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, you troubler of Israel?’ ‘I have not made trouble for Israel,’ Elijah replied. ‘But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’”
This would become one of history’s most exciting showdowns, Elijah, and God against the prophets of Baal. There would be a contest with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah on Mount Carmel. Elijah invited these false prophets and all of Israel to witness a demonstration showing that Baal had no power at all against the God of Israel (1 Kings 18:19-40).
Elijah’s greatest public miracle involved a contest to show God’s power. Elijah told a large crowd, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets.” (1 Kings 18:22). Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). God would give convincing proof that day that He was Israel’s only true God. An animal sacrifice was placed on an altar. Baal would go first and demonstrate their power by consuming the sacrifice. By the end of the day, nothing had happened. Then Elijah called on Israel’s God to send fire to swallow up the sacrifice prepared for Him. God responded to Elijah’s prayer. In a moment, thousands witnessed the fire from heaven consume the carcass, all the water in the trench surrounding the altar, and all the wet wood, burning up even the stones! Elijah then ordered that the false prophets be executed (1 Kings 18:36-40). Elijah prayed for rain thus ending the drought (1 Kings 18:42-45).
So, what happened next? The poor leadership ruling over the people responded as they always do. Elijah was hated even more and immediately came under a death threat by Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab. As Israel’s queen, she was the one who brought the worship of her god Baal into the nation, influencing King Ahab to worship Baal and to set up idols in Israel (1 Kings 16:31; 1 Kings 21:25-26). Her name would forevermore become synonymous with the definition of an impudent, shameless, or morally unrestrained woman. Jezebel and the false prophets of Baal spared no effort to capture him. Yes, Elijah the prophet was discouraged. But God sent him back again to face King Ahab and deliver one last sobering message. Ahab and Jezebel would both die a humiliating death because they sin against God and refuse to repent (1 Kings 21:20-24).
Despite Elijah’s efforts, the world still has its idol worshipers. We can see the shrines of paganism everywhere around us. They are not carved statues but are found in the pursuit of riches, fame, power worldly pleasure, and live in the hearts of those who despise God’s Truth. God would use Elijah to train his successor, Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-20). And then, in a moment, took Elijah away with a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:8-11).
- Do you think if God sent a prophet like Elijah today, it would make any difference to the people?
- Ideas to Explore: Does common sense help understand a message from God? Why do people ignore good, sound advice? Whom would you believe today?
- Why do people give up on the one and only God?
- Ideas to Explore: Don’t get what they want. Don’t hear what they want. What they want conflicts with God’s plans.
- Who is the greatest influence on the morality of our nation today?
- Ideas to Explore: Churches, family, government, Internet, Media, Cable News, social media?
- If you had to change one thing in our nation today, what would it be?
- Ideas to Explore: Whom would people listen to? Who is held in high respect these days? Whom do people follow today?
- What would you change to lead our nation back to God?
- Ideas to Explore: Family structure, educational systems, churches, etc.
- 1NIV New International Version Translations