Bible studies in the life of Elijah
Elijah – The background and introduction to his times
By Fraser Gordon
I would like to start teaching on the character of Elijah so we will look at some of the lessons we can learn from his life. He is a massive character from the Old Testament and we will pick up the story in 1st Kings 16. This study will explore the background and context in his day leading up to Elijah bursting onto the scene.
The background – Beware the Boam’s!
We need to go a little way back to understand the days in which Elijah lived. After Solomon died the kingdom split between his two sons. The Southern Kingdom was ruled by Rehoboam and the Northern Kingdom by Jeroboam. Jeroboam didn't want all his people going down to Jerusalem, which was in the southern kingdom, for the festivals. He was afraid that he would lose the people from the north down to the south. So he actually set up temples of worship in the Northern Kingdom. He set up one temple in the north which was in Dan and one in the southern part which was at Bethel. Now in those temples he put golden calves that the people could worship. Israel quickly returned to idolatry. Do you remember the story of how Moses led the people out of Egypt and was up the mountain a long time? The people couldn't wait so they threw all their gold into the fire and out popped a golden calf and they began to worship it! Well you don't have to go far to see the same old things troubling the nation of Israel. This king Jeroboam did exactly the same thing. He set up two temples within his half of the land and within those temples he put golden calves so that the people would worship them and not Jehovah. So idolatry was beginning to spread within the land. So let’s pick up the story in 1 Kings 16:28-30:
And just when you thought things couldn’t get worse... Introducing Ahab!
1 Kings 16:28-30 Omri rested with his fathers and was buried in Samaria. And Ahab his son succeeded him as king. (29) In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab son of Omri became king of Israel, and he reigned in Samaria over Israel twenty-two years. (30) Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him.
Now we are introduced to this king Ahab and what scripture says about him is that he actually did more evil than all that were before him. Not a good introduction to this king!
1 Kings 16:31 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.
So Ahab is the king of Israel when Elijah comes into scripture. In verse 31 above, it also says that it was a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam. And those sins, as mentioned above, were setting up temples with golden calves to stop the people going to Jerusalem to worship. For Ahab this was just a minute thing, something of little importance. It didn't really mean that much. But then you are introduced to this woman Jezebel... What do we know about Jezebel? She is a well-known and strong-willed woman in contrast to Ahab who was pretty weak. Obviously it was an arranged marriage for she was a Sidonian princess who came from the region of Tyre and if you know anything about Tyre in scripture, you will know that Ezekiel has lots to say about the king of Tyre. The king of Tyre actually personifies Satan himself in his attitudes in raising himself up. So Jezebel came from this region and she introduced into Israel all of these foreign gods and foreign acts of worship to them. Now her objective really was to seduce the people of Israel and lead them astray. So she introduced Baal worship. She gets a mention in the book of Revelation in Jesus’ letter to Thyatira, where He is commending all the churches and rebuking them for their strengths and weaknesses. When it came to this church, He said “You have allowed this woman to seduce you with her teachings”. So the actual spirit of Jezebel is one that wants to lead people astray. And what you see with this woman is that she is really, really strong, really active, and has come into power with a king that is quite weak. So she actually changes the direction of Ahab. At first pluralism was okay. In other words you could worship Jehovah and worship Baal and that was fine. However, it didn't stay that way. It wasn't long before she was killing off all of the Lord’s prophets and tearing down all of the altars that remained unto Jehovah and planting Asherah shrines everywhere throughout the land. When she started off it was okay to worship both but she ended up destroying, or trying to destroy, any mention of Jehovah or Yahweh throughout the land.
Glimpses of the future from the past...
And there is a little bit of a picture or type here of what it will be like in the last days. Pluralism, that you can worship multiple gods, is only valid in society to a point but then it gets nasty. A lot of the West has been founded on Biblical principles and I was thinking about things that are coming in. There is a lot of legislation being passed in America and Western countries through the “hate speech” agenda to curb what can and cannot be said. The tide is actually changing in our Western countries. There was a bill passed in America in 2009 stating that it was offensive to call homosexuality a sin as the Bible calls it. You could be prosecuted for speaking about it in that way. It's interesting that some pastors are now open to prosecution for speaking against it. There have been pastors in Sweden, Canada and America that have been taken to court because they have said in church that this kind of behaviour as far as God is concerned is actually wrong. So tolerance only lasts so long and it is going to be like that, I believe, in the last days. It will come down to the essential issue which is Jesus Christ and who He said He was. He didn't say He was one of the ways to the Father, but I AM the only way. The principle that is played out here in the time of Ahab will again have its time further down the track. We know, looking at the end times, that Christians will suffer a lot and pluralism won't be accepted. There will be a time when our point of view will be abhorrent to the world’s way of thinking. But God always has His people. Elijah was one but he thought he was the only one! Yet when you read the whole story you find that God says that “there are 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal in the land”.
So Jezebel introduces Baal worship. Does anyone know who Baal was? It was the Canaanite god…a male deity that she brought in. Baal was the god of the rain and the god of fertility. It was the god of the crops, like the farming god. Whenever they wanted to pray for rain, they would pray to Baal. So she really was the main instigator in leading Ahab astray but also she led the people in this type of worship throughout the whole land.
1 Kings 16:32-33 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. (33) Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.
So Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom where he built another temple to Baal. Ahab made a wooden image and did more to provoke the Lord God to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him. In God’s sight this man was wicked in what he did.
Beware the 500 year old curse!
1 Kings 16:34 In Ahab's time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the LORD spoken by Joshua son of Nun.
So... what on earth is all that about? When Joshua came into the land of Canaan the first city to oppose him was Jericho and the entire nation of Israel walked quietly around the city. God told them that “this is going to be My battle and this is the way I want you to do it. I want you to march around the city everyday not saying a word and on the seventh day I want you to march around it seven times and then at the end I want you to shout”. The people obeyed and on the seventh day the walls came down. It was something that God did miraculously apart from any fighting the Israelites had to do. They looked absolutely stupid but that is the way that God chose to do it. Once the city was levelled Joshua pronounced a curse upon the city and he said “Cursed be the man who tries to rebuild it, he will lose his eldest when he lays the foundation and his youngest when it’s completed.”
Now for 500 years after Joshua pronounced that curse, no one had dared to rebuild Jericho. For obvious reasons! And the Holy Spirit puts it in here to show the state that Ahab was in. No one dared to rebuild for they knew the scriptures... they knew that a curse had been pronounced by Joshua so no one was going to put it to the test. But because Ahab had no concern for the things of God, he and Jezebel tried to remove all acts of worship to Jehovah, so this guy Hiel, under Ahab's reign, rebuilds it. And according to Joshua’s word, this very thing happened. He lost his eldest son when he laid the foundation, but he didn't stop there! He carried on, losing his youngest son when they put the gates on the city. All it's trying to show here is the state of the nation at that time and what it was actually like. There is no fear of God in Ahab's mind or that of Jezebel’s.
Time for godliness to step in... Introducing God’s amazing prophet!
When you get to chapter 17 you are introduced to Elijah and I really want to only have a look at verse 1 in this study because he bursts onto the scene.
1 Kings 17:1 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."
There is no genealogy given about Elijah. He is a little bit like Melchizedek in that there is no family history… he just appears. He is a really interesting character almost like Peter in the New Testament. He had some really good strengths but he has also got massive weaknesses. He is someone you can relate to – he is not a superman... he has many weaknesses. But he also does some wonderful things for the Lord. He is the first person to raise someone from the dead and we know that he himself did not experience death - he was taken away in a chariot. When you get into the New Testament he appears with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration to talk about Christ going to the Cross. He is probably one of the two witnesses that return in the last days. So Elijah, and the Spirit of Elijah, in the Jewish mind, is really big. He will restore the children back to the fathers as the prophecy in Malachi 4:6 tells us. In other words, his ministry is one of restoration. He will bring the people back to Jehovah.
Elijah the Tishbite came from the inhabitants of Gilead. Apparently Gilead was a wild, rugged country area... a farming area. They were known for their really rough life style in the way that they lived. So he just turns up and says to Ahab “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The only thing that is really said about him is in the book of James and what James says gives you a little hint into some part of his life because you don't know how God was dealing with him through all of this time. In James chapter 5 verse 16-18 it says:
James 5:16-18 ...The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (17) Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (18) Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
So James is speaking of a righteous man and then he gives the example of Elijah. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours. So straight away he is saying that this guy wasn't perfect. And he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months! And he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.
So you are just given this little snippet into Elijah that he was a man of prayer. And he was a man that prayed earnestly. You just get this little picture that as he is watching the faith of his people wane away and seeing the land go towards idolatry, you see that he was really deeply concerned for the faith of Jehovah and for where the people were going. And he prayed earnestly as he watched all the temples of Jehovah being torn down and replaced by Baal worship. There was something in the heart of Elijah that just drove him towards prayer and the New Testament just gives you that little snippet there. And he prayed, and he prayed and it came to a point where he actually had to confront Ahab. So you see it was a small thing for Elijah to stand before a king because he had spent that much time previously in the presence of Jehovah.
Elijah - A weather forecaster who is actually accurate!
And it says here in1 Kings 17 verse 1 that he stands before Ahab and says ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years except by my word.’
The first thing that he proclaimed to Ahab was that the God of Israel lives and for Elijah this was a reality because he had agonised over the people and he had spent that time earnestly in prayer about what to do. He knew that Jehovah lived, and he said that he stood before him. Elijah could stand before Ahab for he was always conscious that he stood before God first and foremost. As mentioned earlier, Baal was the god of rain. So the actual judgement that Elijah is giving is a confrontation between who is the true God. Elijah comes right on the scene and says “there is not going to be any rain”. When you watch the weather and people stand up and predict things about what it is going to be like, if someone announced “it's not going to rain until I say so” you would think that was quite a big statement. It's a huge statement. You would think that they have gone loopy! I would love to know what Ahab thought of that statement. And it actually didn't rain, as the book of James tells us, for three and a half years! No rain – it’s an act of judgement upon the house of Ahab. Not only that, but I was interested to read that there wasn't going to be any dew either. I work as a green keeper and the first thing we do every morning is mow the grass and dew is quite a problem for us. When there is no dew the grass is a lot tidier than when there is. I was looking at dew and I thought – what actually makes it? How does it form... do you know? Where does dew come from? I asked my fellow green staff and they all had differing opinions. Some of them thought it was moisture that came up out of the ground. Some of them thought that the plant excreted a certain amount of moisture. But we looked it up and it’s actually moisture in the air. When the temperature reaches a certain point, the moisture in the air condenses and it forms on thin surfaces. So that is why you see it on grass or cobwebs and leaves. I was working with a green keeper the other day and we were talking about dew and he said to me “You don't realise how much water there is in dew. A hectare of grass can sometimes contain up to a thousand litres of water!” Now that’s a lot of moisture! So to fulfil the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah that there wouldn’t be any rain or any dew, God kept the conditions at the right point for all that time! There was nothing going onto the ground. And dew in the scriptures is always a picture of blessing... the dew of Hermon – it’s a picture of His blessing coming down. So this is a judgement - both that there would be no rain and not even dew on the ground until Elijah said so.
We can see that there is a figurative storm brewing! You have this massive confrontation coming between Baal, who is the god of rain, fertility and crops and Jehovah. It will last a period of three and a half years. This is what it is about: Who is the true God? Elijah was the man to bring the challenge to Ahab and as we follow the story through there is a big conflict coming between the prophets of Baal and this one prophet of God. There are actually 800 prophets against Elijah and we shall examine this confrontation as we progress in the study of the life of Elijah.