A Summary of Elijah’s Life
The Great Famine
Wearing a garment of hair and a leather belt, from the town of Tishbe in Gilead, a dramatic figure confronted Ahab the king of Israel. “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand,” he warned, “there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
Then the prophet Elijah retired to the quiet of a small brook, Cherith. He drank its water, and the ravens of heaven brought food to him in a miraculous provision. When the brook dried, he headed to the town of Zarephath, a Sidonian town. There, he asked a starving widow and her son to share their last meal with him. They agreed, and Jehovah miraculously provided for them through the remainder of the famine. When the widow’s son died, Elijah cried to God, who revived the child.
Confrontation and Contest
In the third year of the famine, Elijah headed back to king Ahab, learning that a massive manhunt was underway for his life. In a tense confrontation with the idolatrous king, Elijah told him to gather all Israel, including 850 idolatrous prophets, to Mount Carmel. The king obeyed, and the prophet proposed a contest: which religion could call down fire to burn up a sacrifice? The prophets of Baal attempted this unsuccessfully for hours, but Elijah, after soaking the sacrifice in gallons of water, called down the fire of the Lord, which completely consumed the offering.
With his point proved, Elijah seized the prophets of Baal and personally slaughtered them at the brook Kishon. Then he went to the top of Mount Carmel, pleaded with the Lord for rain, and finally observed with satisfaction as a terrific thunderstorm was unleashed on the dessicated land of Samaria.
Fugitive from the Queen
At the moment of his greatest triumph, Elijah’s courage appeared to fail. Jezebel, the heathen queen, stated her intention to murder him, and Elijah, now at the city Jezreel, fled the country. Travelling to the southern city of Beersheba in the kingdom of Judah, Elijah left his servant and headed even farther south, into the desolate wilderness. In a fit of despair, he begged God to kill him. In response, God sent an angel to strengthen him, and Elijah went farther south to the sacred mountain, Horeb.
At Horeb, Elijah found God – not in a fierce wind, powerful earthquake, or devouring fire, but in a still, small voice. He pleaded with God, arguing that he was the only true worshipper left. Jehovah, however, told him to anoint new kings – Hazael in Syria and Jehu in Israel. At the same time, he encouraged Elijah that 7000 men were still faithful to the true religion.
Elijah returned to anoint the new kings. As he passed by a plowman, Elisha, he threw his cloak on him, symbolizing a call to ministry. Elisha sacrificed his oxen, turned them into a feast for the people, and followed Elijah.
A Rebuke for the King
When Elijah appeared again, he had another tense confrontation with king Ahab. The king, coveting the vineyard of his neighbor Naboth, complained to his wife that Naboth would not sell. Jezebel contrived a crafty plan to murder Naboth. Seizing his vineyard, she presented it to her husband, and Ahab was overjoyed.
Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” Elijah answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD.” Elijah then issued a dire execration on Ahab and Jezebel, and the king – in a surprising show of humility – put on sackcloth and repented before God, gaining mercy for himself.
Conflict with Ahaziah
No further conflicts arose between Ahab and Elijah, but Ahaziah, the son of Ahab, soon came to the throne. When he fell ill, he sent messengers to an idol, Baal-zebub, to see if he would recover. Elijah intercepted the messengers, predicting that Ahaziah would die, and the fateful message was transmitted to the king.
The king, enraged, sent a company of fifty soldiers to arrest the prophet, who was then sitting on top of a hill. “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty,” the prophet said to the military captain. The soldiers were immediately burnt up. Another fifty came, and perished in the same way. A third group of fifty survived when their captain humbly begged the prophet to turn himself in. The prophet presented himself to the king, issuing the same message of death, and the king died.
Letter to Jehoram
Though a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel, Elijah later sent a letter to Jehoram, the corrupt king of Judah, warning of trouble because of his apostasy. The king later suffered military disaster and agonizing disease.
Elijah, presumably at Samaria (the capital city of Israel), journeyed with Elisha toward the river Jordan, passing by Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. As they journeyed, the sons of the prophets repeatedly warned Elisha that his master would be taken that day. Elijah tried to convince his companion to stay behind, but the stubborn assistant refused. Elijah struck the waters of Jordan with his cloak, and they parted before him. Elisha, meanwhile, begged to receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.
Suddenly, the two men were separated by flaming horses and chariots, and Elijah was carried away in a whirlwind to heaven. His cloak falling to the ground, Elisha picked it up, inheriting a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha was later persuaded to send fifty men to search for the missing prophet, but Elijah was not seen again until Christ’s transfiguration. There, briefly appearing to Peter, James, and John, he spoke with Jesus and Moses about the Messiah’s upcoming crucifixion.