ELIJAH ELIJAH – a (simplified) background King David’s Rule (c1045BC): a time of war when David victoriously consolidated the Kingdom of Israel King Solomon’s rule (c1000BC): a time of peace, international trading and economic prosperity; sadly in the end many Israelites were treated badly as Solomon’s lust for possessions, wives and fine food increased. This resulted in the splitting of the Kingdom into Israel (10 northern tribes) and Judah (2 southern tribes) c975BC.
This study notes provide the core content of a bible study. While the core message of the study has been captured for you to read, written text can not fully express the sense of anointing upon the discussion of the word or the joy of corporate fellowship. We encourage you to pray before you begin reading that the Lord would open your heart and mind to be receptive and responsive to God’s message contained within this study. There may be times when you find it difficult to reconcile God’s truth to your own opinion or worldview, God’s truth is eternal, it does not change, our understanding of the truth does change as we allow God to work in our hearts and minds.
King Jeroboam King Ahab
Read 1 Kings 16v29-34 Throughout many of the prophetic books of the Bible, Israel’s downfall is attributed to the sins of Jeroboam. 1 Kings 15v26 says: He did evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father and in his sin which he made Israel sin – and this phrase is roughly repeated and held against most of Jeroboam’s descendants. His evil practices were continued in the reign of Ahab and exacerbated by Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. Jeroboam had built centres of worship with golden calves (forbidden by God). Ahab and Jezebel re-introduced the worship of Baal (a Canaanite god) and licentious orgies to the goddess Ashtoreth, including human sacrifice. Jezebel (a Phoenecian) also ordered the killing of people who worshipped the true God and she had all the Lord’s prophets killed with the sword, except those who were in hiding. See 1 Kings 18v4
Baal was the god of fertility in all aspects of life: human, animal and vegetable. It was believed he had power over wind and rain and therefore over the harvest. By God’s goodness in providing the spring and autumn rains Israel had prospered. But the worshippers of Baal (mostly Israelites who should have known better!) claimed it was all down to their god. Baal worship was an abomination to the Lord. To see why, read:- 1 Kings 14v23&24; Jeremiah 19v5 & Jeremiah 7v9,10
At this – the worst of times in Israel’s history – God raised up the prophet Elijah. In many ways Elijah can be thought of as another Moses – sent to bring deliverance.Both Moses and Elijah are “types” or symbols of Jesus, the great deliverer. Notably it was Moses and Elijah who appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17v1-13)
Romans 11v2 tells us that God did not reject rebellious, unholy Israel, but in his grace and love for them he sent Elijah. Enter Elijah on the scene with the words: (1 Kings 17v1) 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. This was a direct confrontation between Elijah and Ahab, God and the Baal followers.
Q. James 5v17 says Elijah was a man just like us – does that mean we can be just like him?
Elijah – 1 Kings chapter 17Growing faith Read verses 1-6: Elijah (at the risk of his own life) delivered God’s message to Ahab (v.1), challenging the so-called power of Baal. It was a message of confrontation, and it was also a message of judgment which would come upon good and bad alike. But God provides for those who are his and put their trust in him (v 3&4). And there has to be an element of obedience (v5). Wouldn’t it have been easier for Elijah to go back to his home and stockpile some food and water? But Elijah knew that if God sends us somewhere his provision and presence go with us. Through obedience Elijah experienced the miracle of the ravens- albeit a hand-to-mouth existence. Sometimes God wants to test our faith and increase our confidence. When we pray for provision we need to examine our motives: is God the object of our worship or is it what he can give us?
Read verses 13-16: The miracle was greater because God used a woman, a widow, someone who had nothing. There are some Biblical principles here: “Seek first God’s Kingdom .. and these things will be added to you” – see Matthew 6v33. The first loaf was for the man of God (given to God) given in faith that more would miraculously be supplied – and it was! “God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise .. and so that no-one may boast” – see 1 Cor. 1v27-29. Provision was not from a rich person. There was no doubting it came from God. God chose a destitute, heathen woman from the land of Queen Jezebel. Would we “turn our nose up” at such help or would we recognize it as from God? We need to look beyond the instrument that God uses to develop our faith, whether it be circumstances, illness or difficulty. Its purpose is to bring us closer to Him. If God could use the ravens and the woman, he can use US.
Read verses 17-24: Tragedy struck (v17). As often happens, the woman “hit out” at God (v18). She had heard all about God, and she knew his material provision first-hand (v15) but she didn’t have faith in him. Maybe she even treated Elijah like a lucky charm. What happened changed that: Now I know the truth (v24). The Lord knows it’s not good for us to be free from times of testing. When things are easy we become selfcentred and less trusting of God. But God is faithful and compassionate. We see that through Elijah’s words (v 20,21).
Q. Why does God often give us only what we need and no more? (v.7)
Q. What did this miracle accomplish? (For the woman, for Elijah)
Read verses 7-12: At the same time as challenging Ahab and the Israelites, God is working in Elijah’s life – not giving him everything he wants – but deepening his trust and faith. And so the brook dried up; and Elijah was asked to walk some hundred miles north-west (v9) to Zarephath (near Sidon) in the knowledge that there would be a widow who might help him! Again Elijah obeyed because he knew God to be faithful. If we want to experience God’s provision for whatever our need is we have to take that step of faith (v 9: “go”, “stay”). To be in God’s will, will often mean a test of our faith. God led Elijah to the widow who only had enough flour left for one meal (v 12)! What would our reaction have been to that scenario?
1 Kings chapter 18 – Elijah
Q. Why do we tend to measure God’s provision by what we can see?
Read verses 1-6: This is a telling phrase, “after a long time”! Israel had suffered three years of drought, but God told Elijah it was about to end. Standing on this knowledge, this promise (“I will send rain”) Elijah sets out to challenge Ahab and the prophets of Baal. On the way he meets Obadiah (a Godly man, not the author of the Book of Obadiah). Obadiah was a secret believer. He was devout, and he risked his life to protect 100 of the Lord’s prophets by hiding them in caves – there are thousands of caves in the Carmel range. He was Ahab’s trusted right-hand man but his greater (albeit secret) allegiance was to the Lord. He was sent out to find grass for Ahab’s horses (he had horses to draw 2,000 chariots according to the Kurkh stele/stone which is now in the British Museum).
Read verses 7-15: What a “coincidence”! God had arranged for Obadiah and Elijah to meet. Obadiah – although a Governor in the land – revered Elijah the greater prophet. He tells Elijah that Ahab has searched everywhere for Elijah (does this give us the reason why God sent Elijah so far north to live with a poor widow, it was such an unlikely place that he was not found?). Now that Obadiah knew where Elijah was he was fearful for his life. He’d been living for the Lord faithfully, but he knew how volatile Ahab could be. Consider: Ahab had the evil influence of Jezebel on the one hand and the Godly influence on the other.
Q. Does God sometimes put us in difficult places as a “balance” – a good influence to counteract the bad? Read verses 16-21: Elijah was called “troubler of Israel” – he was stirring the people up. He threw out a direct challenge to Ahab whose sin was that he had abandoned God and followed Baal. And Ahab obeyed him, surprisingly, assembling 850 prophets on Mount Carmel. Ahab – like Pilate – tried to appease God and man; he was hedging his bets. The message of Elijah is the message of the Bible: Make your mind up! “Choose this day who you will serve” (Joshua). You cannot serve God and other things/people/ religions. If we call him Lord at all, He must be Lord of all. Read verses 22-29: Elijah thought he was the only prophet of God left (chapter 19v18 tells us otherwise). He was certainly the only one on Mount Carmel. He throws down the challenge: The god who answers by fire is the real God. Baal represented the sun-god and control of the weather. If there was any substance to this it should be easy! But, although the prophets of Baal spent about 12 hours whipping themselves into a frenzy and drawing their own blood, nothing happened. Read verses 30-39: In very simple contrast, Elijah builds his altar, smothers it in water (which would avoid any accusation of fraud) and prays a simple prayer - not for fire! - but that the people would repent and worship. Then the fire fell and the people watching fell before God, proclaiming him Lord. The fire fell literally, but God put fire in people’s hearts, too. Read verses 40-46: The prophets of Baal who had deliberately opposed God, led the Israelites astray and made them depraved were to be put to death in accordance with O.T Scripture (see Deut. 13v5; 17v2-5). Now Elijah plays God’s trump card. He first seeks God (v42) and he already knows rain is on its way even though it cannot be seen. But he waits for the first tiny cloud and then proclaims that the God of Israel sends the rain. No-one could now argue that it was sent by Baal! And Elijah warns Ahab to get to Jezreel in his chariot
before the flood stops him. Miraculously Elijah runs a marathon (it was a good 20 miles) and arrives in Jezreel before Ahab!
Q. How can we apply “standing on God’s promise” to our lives today?
1 Kings chapter 19 – Elijah Read verses 1 & 2: Ahab gave Jezebel a biased report – he didn’t tell her the whole truth. The Lord God had sent fire and rain but that received no mention from Ahab, neither did he give the Lord any honour for it. Instead he used the account to inflame Jezebel’s anger all the more (Elijah had killed all her prophets). So she sent a threat to Elijah to say he would be dead within 24 hours. Ahab “threw away” God’s opportunity for him and his people to turn back to the Lord.
Q. Do we always give God the glory for the things he has done – or do we start talking about the person or the circumstances? Read verses 3-5a: Elijah was afraid, fed-up, depressed, exhausted and wanted to die. What a contrast from the previous chapters! Why? He was disappointed when things didn’t work out as he expected. I guess, like most of us, Elijah thought a great miracle would turn the people back to God. He was wrong. The reaction of Ahab and Jezebel was not what he had expected and so he was facing disappointment on a big scale. He was feeling a failure – he had prayed for God to turn Israel’s heart back (18v7) and it hadn’t happened. He now felt useless and frustrated. All he wanted to do was sit under a tree in the desert and die!
Q. What is the connection between our expectations and feelings of failure/depression? Read verses 5b-9a: Angel cake! Some believe that the Angel of the Lord was a manifestation of God himself (maybe even the pre-incarnate Christ). The Angel gave him sleep, and food, and strength for his journey, which eventually took him to Mount Horeb (Sinai – the place where God had revealed himself to Moses), where he slept in a cave. God didn’t reprimand him but met him at his point of need (spiritually, physically and mentally). Read verses 9b – 13a: God asked the challenging question, “Why are you here Elijah?”. I suggest Elijah didn’t really know, didn’t really understand his own feelings. But God was about to show him. There followed 3 amazing events (storm, earthquake, fire) and then a quiet whisper from the Lord. The reality of God’s presence was in the quiet stillness of an individual
with God. It doesn’t usually take place in the thunder and fire or great public miracles, but in the hearing of God’s voice, God’s Word. Read verses 13b-18: Surprisingly, when God asks Elijah the same question again, Elijah gives the same answer – he still feels there is nothing left. But God’s reply is for him to get up and get on with it – there’s work to do! He has to anoint Hazael and Jehu; and Elisha will be there as a backup. And then God explains that in fact there were 7,000 people in Israel who were still faithful believers. It wasn’t as bad as Elijah had thought all along.
Q. How can wrong thought patterns stop God from working in our lives? Read verses 19-21: The call of Elisha: he was working in the field when Elijah came and ‘threw his cloak around him’ – a symbolic action showing that he was being called to a life as a prophet. It was immediately understood by Elisha who had no hesitation in obeying the call to follow. He did two things to separate his old life from the new. He said ‘goodbye’ to his parents and shared a celebration meal with what he had. He well and truly ‘burned his bridges’ and showed his commitment.
Q. How can we apply the “cloak”/the call of God to our lives?
1 Kings chapters 20 & 21 – Elijah Read 1 Kings chapter 20. Elijah is not mentioned here but it is worth reading this chapter as it tells of the events that began to bring about the end of Ahab’s reign; there is a battle of wits and strategy as the King of Aram (Syria) tries to bring Ahab down. This time however, with help from another prophet, Ahab wins the battle; but (against God’s will) he lets the King of Aram go free in return for land and trading rights in Damascus – the main city of Aram. Ahab’s Palaces: Ahab had two palaces, one of which was very ornate and inlaid with ivory (see 1 Kings 22v39). One palace was in Samaria, the capital of Israel and the other was in Jezreel – Jezebel’s home town. Ahab would appear to have been living in the Jezreel palace at the time of the miracle on Carmel (see 1 Kings 18v46). It has been suggested that they used Samaria in the summer and Jezreel in the winter because it would have been warmer. Read 21v1-4: Sometimes there is a conflict between doing what is right in God’s eyes and doing what might seem best for ourselves and others. Here is a case in point: rich King Ahab was willing to pay; he would get the vineyard, and Naboth would be well rewarded and compensated.
BUT – this was part of Naboth’s ancestral inheritance (Read Lev 25v23 and Num 36v7) and God had laid down the law that land must stay within the family and that all the land belonged to God anyway. King Ahab recognized this and didn’t pursue it, but he did go off in a sulk and he was still coveting the vineyard (breaking the tenth commandment)! Israel’s kings were under God’s law and answerable to God. Read 21v5-16: Once again we see Ahab not telling Jezebel the whole truth (see chap. 19v1&2). He neglected to tell her Naboth’s reason for not selling. We already know that Jezebel was a Baal worshipper and a murderer (18v4) so her reaction comes as no surprise. Acting fraudulently she calls for a religious fast and frames Naboth; falsely accusing him of a crime which is punishable by death – cursing God and the King. She even involves the elders and nobles and the people who stoned Naboth (all thinking they were doing the right thing). Jezebel’s character: cold, calculating, disregarding of human life and callous. Ahab, by association, wasn’t really any better – he took possession of the vineyard. Read 21v17-22: God saw and reacted, sending Elijah to pronounce his judgment on Ahab. Elijah prophesies that where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood they will also lick up Ahab’s. Ahab’s sin was that he had sold himself to do evil. He had sold himself to the King of Aram in a treaty (previous chapter) for peace and for trading rights rather than depending on God. He had sold himself to Baal and allowed Baal worship at Israel’s altars. He had sold himself to Jezebel and gone along with all her heinous schemes. His lust for wealth and self gratification was fuelled by Jezebel. Read 21v23-29: Jezebel was to receive the same punishment. There is a surprising twist to the end of the story! Ahab repented publicly (sackcloth and ashes and a change of character – meek instead of proud) and his repentance caused the Lord to defer judgment. Even someone as bad as Ahab can receive God’s forgiveness if they are truly repentant and change their ways. God is a God of grace.
1 Kings 22 – 2 Kings 2v12 Read 1 Kings chapter 22v1-40: Elijah is not mentioned here, but read the chapter anyway. It is interesting to see how that even though Ahab tried to avoid hearing from God, God spoke truth directly into his life through another prophet, Micaiah. First of all Ahab only listened to his “yes men”. Then when Jehoshaphat asked if there was another prophet he didn’t even mention Elijah, but Micaiah whom he also hated. Jehoshaphat rebuked him for hating the Lord’s anointed prophet. Micaiah used his gift of discernment to show Ahab how a lying spirit was luring Ahab into battle against the Aramites (Syrians).
Ahab went into battle anyway disguised as an ordinary soldier, but a “random” arrow killed him anyway. Micaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled.
Q. Are we willing to say what is right when seemingly everyone else is speaking a lie? Read 1 Kings 22v41 – 2 Kings 1v2: Introducing Ahaziah, Ahab’s son. Jehoshaphat, King of Judah (the southern Kingdom) gets special mention here, because in stark contrast to Ahab and his son Ahaziah, he “walked in the ways of his father ... and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (v43); whereas verse 53 says of Ahaziah, “he served Baal ... just as his father had done”. And in 2 Kings 1v2 we see Ahaziah doing just that. Read 2 Kings 1v3-8: Just as God challenged Ahab directly through Micaiah, he now challenges his son Ahaziah directly through Elijah. Ahaziah asked his men to go to Ekron (Philistine territory) to consult Baal-Zebub – The Lord of the Flies; something that was absolutely forbidden of God’s people. Elijah intervened, stopped the messengers and told them to take back the message from God, “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are asking Baal-Zebub? You will certainly die.” Ahaziah realized it was Elijah from his description (v8). Incidentally, the same description applied to John the Baptist (see Matthew 3v4) who was a second Elijah (read Matthew 11v11-15) and who similarly spoke out God’s truth and challenged the leader of the day, i.e. Herod the Tetrarch. Read 2 Kings 1v9-15: Something similar to the event on Mount Carmel happens – the Lord shows his sovereignty over all other gods by sending fire. We have to realize that the King had no authority in God’s Law to tell the prophet what to do or say and this incident reminds us of God’s authority. We also see here just what lengths God will go to in order to protect his own. So although the destruction by fire seems harsh to us (who are under the New Covenant of grace) God was protecting his word and his Name and his servant. When the angel told Elijah it was safe, he went. Read 2 Kings 1v16-18: Elijah’s word of knowledge comes true and Ahaziah dies. He is succeeded by his brother (probably) Joram, in Hebrew – Jehoram. Read 2 Kings 2v1-6: Elijah had already designated Elisha as his successor (see 1 Kings 19v19-21) and Elijah now knows the time has come for his ascension. Elijah does several things before his time to depart comes. Firstly they go to Bethel, Jericho and Jordan (it is believed that these are places where there were groups of prophets) perhaps to introduce Elisha to them. Secondly, Elijah asked Elisha to remain behind on those three occasions – but we see Elisha pledging to stay with him three times. (This test of Elisha’s faithfulness is reflected in the last chapter of John’s gospel when Jesus reinstates Peter.) Thirdly we see that the prophets also knew that Elijah would be taken up on that day.
Read 2 Kings 2v7-12: With 50 prophets watching near the Jordan, Elijah rolled up his cloak and struck the water so that they crossed on dry ground (remember Moses and Joshua also?). Elisha shows his dedication and earnestness by asking for a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. To receive it he must not let Elijah out of his sight. Notice the chariots of fire separate the two of them. It is a whirlwind that takes Elijah up to Heaven. The final moments of Elijah’s life end in this dramatic event.
Anne O'Brien's study notes for a series of Bible studies on the life of Elijah