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This article focuses on the prophet Elijah, but three other individuals with the name appear in the Bible:

  • An Elijah is listed among the heads of fathers’ houses of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chron 8:27).
  • Among the priests who married foreign women in the time of Ezra was an Elijah, one of the sons of Harim (Ezra 10:21).
  • An Elijah, a son of Elam is named among other Israelites who married foreign wife|wives (Ezra 10:26).
  • Introduction

    ELIJAH ĭ lī’ jə (Hebrew אֵלִיָּ֣ה, אֵלִיָּ֨הוּ, Yahweh is my God, KJV, twice, ELIAH; Gr., LXX, ̓Ηλίου; ̓Ηλίας, G2460; KJV, NT, ELIAS)

    His identity

    Nothing is known of his family and little of his geographic origin. The Bible states clearly that he was from Gilead (1 Kings 17:1), so he was certainly at some time from Trans-Jordan. He is also called “the Tishbite,” which indicates his association with a place named Tishbe, whether in Napthali or east of the Jordan River|Jordan. The Hebrew text of 1 Kings 17:1 adds that he was “of the הַתִּשְׁבִּ֜י of Gilead”; MT gives מִתֹּשָׁבֵ֣י, “of the settlers, sojourners” (cf., less accurately, KJV, “inhabitants”). LXX reads ἐκ θεσβω̂ν, interpreting the term as a placename BDB (p. 986; cf. KB, p. 1042) and many commentators read מְּתִּשְׁבֶּה (or תִּשְׁבֶּה, H9584), followed by the RSV, “of Tishbe.” Though the identity of Tishbe is not known for certain, topographers suggest the possibility of Tisib (or Listib, from Arabic el Istib), some thirteen miles northwest of Gerasa. N. Glueck proposed that a textual error has obscured an original “the Jabeshite, from Jabesh-gilead” The River Jordan [1946], 170; AASOR, 1945-1949, XXVI-XXVIII [1951], 218, 219, 225-227.

    Personal characteristics

    Elijah often is regarded as a wilderness dweller, probably because of his Trans-Jordanian connections, his directed seclusion at the brook Cherith, his identifying apparel (“a garment of haircloth, with a girdle of leather,” 2 Kings 1:8), and his New Testament associations with John the Baptist. His simple attire and diet did not prevent him from moving in more sophisticated circles, and he had repeated opportunities to address the king in person.

    Elijah was a man of great physical endurance; his feat of running before the chariot of Ahab from Mount Carmel|Mt. Carmel to the entrance of Jezreel demonstrates his excellent physical condition. His unhesitating devotion to the Lord made him a bold spokesman for what is right; he did not turn aside from vigorous denunciation of the actions of the hostile king nor did he cringe before the fanatic opposition of the priests of Baal. The human side of Elijah is evidenced in his flight from the vindictive Jezebel, when she sent him the message that she would take his life. The combination of zealous bravery and human failure gives added weight to the power of prayer exemplified in this man of God; he was “a man of like nature with ourselves,” but “he prayed fervently” and God answered him (James 5:17, 18). Elijah was not only an enthusiastic religious leader; he was also an ardent patriot and his energetic service for God was coupled with a sincere concern for the nation of Israel. He also had strong interests in education; he continued the schools of the prophets founded by Samuel and he instructed Elisha in their administration. The “sons of the prophets” regarded him with respect and affection. When he and Elisha left Jericho to cross the Jordan, fifty of the sons of the prophets accompanied them and stood at some distance from them as the two crossed the river (2 Kings 2:7). When Elisha returned alone, the group at Jericho insisted that fifty men be sent to look for him (vv. 16-18), though they had known that he was to be taken away.

    King Ahab and the Drought

    The Biblical account introduces Elijah with a dramatic and sudden appearance before King Ahab (1 Kings 17:1), to whom he declared that there would be neither dew nor rain except at the prophet’s word. After making this prediction, he was directed by the Lord to hide himself by the brook Cherith, east of the Jordan, where he was supplied morning and evening with bread and meat carried by ravens. The identity and precise location of this stream are uncertain; Glueck and Grollenberg suggest Wadi Yâbis. When the waters of the brook dried up, he was divinely commanded to go to Zarephath in the territory of Sidon, where a widow was to feed him. Zarephath is the Sarepta of New Testament times (cf. Greek, Luke 4:26) and the modern Sarafand, between Tyre and Sidon.

    The unfailing supplies

    Arriving at Zarephath, Elijah found a widow whose supplies of meal and oil were nearly exhausted. He requested that she first bake a cake for him and later for herself and her son, and explained that this supply of flour and oil would last until the rains returned.

    Raising the widow’s son

    When the widow’s son became ill and died, the widow blamed Elijah for her loss, but he took the boy to his room, prayed, and stretched himself upon the child’s body three times. When the boy returned to life, Elijah presented him to the mother, who then recognized the divine mission of the prophet.

    The contest on Mt. Carmel and the breaking of the drought: (1 Kings 18)

    After three rainless years the Lord instructed Elijah to present himself before Ahab. On his way the prophet met Obadiah, who was over the king’s household, and told him to go to inform the king that he had come. Ahab came to meet Elijah and greeted him as “the troubler of Israel” (v. 17), but he replied that it was Ahab who troubled Israel, because he had forsaken the Lord and followed the Baals. He further challenged Ahab to bring to Mt. Carmel the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who were subsidized by Jezebel, the queen.

    Those prophets assembled as directed, along with many of the people, and God’s prophet proposed a test to determine who was the true God. The prophets of Baal were to prepare a meat offering and Elijah was to do the same; the god who answered by fire and consumed the offering would be God. The efforts of the Baal worshipers proved to be ineffectual and Elijah mocked them as they tried to induce Baal to receive their offering. Finally he took charge, repaired an old altar of the Lord, prepared his offering, and instructed the people to pour four jars of water on it three times, so that the water soaked the prospective offering and everything about it. When he prayed, God answered with fire from heaven and consumed the offering, the wood, the altar, and even the dust and water about the altar. Then he commanded that the false prophets should be seized and slain, so they were put to death by the river Kishon.

    Elijah next announced to Ahab that a great rain was about to fall. The prophet went to the top of Carmel and prayed. He ordered his servant to go look toward the sea and upon the servant’s seventh trip of inspection a small cloud was seen. Ahab was told to make ready his chariot before the rain stopped him; the sky grew dark, and soon wind and a heavy downpour arrived, but Elijah ran all the way to the entrance of Jezreel in front of Ahab’s chariot and ahead of the storm.

    In Sinai

    Elijah’s flight (1 Kings 19:1-8)

    When Jezebel heard of the death of the false prophets, she swore vengeance on the prophet, who decided to flee, going to the South, to Beersheba and into the wilderness. Overcome by fatigue and strain, he despaired of life, but an angel provided food and drink for him and encouraged him to go on to Mt. Horeb in Sinai, where he found shelter in a cave.

    Revelation and assignment (1 Kings 19:9-18)

    While Elijah was at Sinai the Lord spoke to him and, after sending a powerful wind, an earthquake and a fire, revealed Himself to the prophet in a “still, small voice” (v. 12). The Lord told him that he was to anoint Hazael to be king over Damascus, Jehu to be king of Israel, and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, to be Elijah’s successor in the prophetic office.

    The call of Elisha (1 Kings 19:19-21)

    Elijah found Elisha plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. He cast his mantle upon the younger man, who immediately acknowledged the call but requested the privilege of bidding his parents farewell. The appointments of Hazael and Jehu were not carried out in the time of service of Elijah, but seem to have been left for the ministry of Elisha (see 2 Kings 8:7-15; 9:1-10).

    Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-27)

    When Ahab coveted the vineyard of Naboth to the point of frustration and illness, his wicked Tyrian wife arranged for his gaining the property by means of false charges which resulted in the execution of Naboth. When Ahab went to take possession of the vineyard he was confronted by the fearless Elijah, who both accused Ahab of murder and predicted the violent deaths of Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab gave indication of repentance and the Lord informed the prophet that because of Ahab’s changed attitude the predicted evil would be delayed.

    Elijah and Ahaziah (2 Kings 1)

    After the death of Ahab, his son, Ahaziah, succeeded him. The new king accidentally fell from an upper room of his palace and was seriously injured. To learn of his prospects for recovery, he sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub (“lord of flies”), the god of Ekron (Ugaritic, Baal-zebul; cf. Matt 10:25; Mark 3:22). Elijah intercepted the messengers and sent them back with the message that the ruler was soon to die.

    Ahaziah determined from a description of the prophet that he was dealing with Elijah and he sent a contingent of fifty men to arrest him. Elijah responded to the demand of the captain of the group by having fire from heaven destroy the would-be captors (cf. Luke 9:54, RSVmg.). A second unit suffered the same fate, but when a third captain arrived he pleaded for his life and the Lord directed Elijah to go with him in safety. The prophet personally gave to the king the prediction that he would not recover.

    The translation of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-12)

    When the time came for Elijah to be taken up to heaven, he and Elisha were engaged in their duties with the schools of the prophets, going from Gilgal to Bethel and to Jericho. At Gilgal and Bethel Elijah asked Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha swore that he would not leave him. The sons of the prophets and Elisha knew that Elijah was to be taken away by the Lord. Leaving Jericho the two prophets crossed the Jordan miraculously; Elijah struck the water with his mantle and the waters parted to make a way for them. He asked the younger man what he wanted as a favor from him. Elisha requested a double portion of the spirit of his master and Elijah replied that this would be granted if Elisha saw him as he left. Suddenly they were separated by a chariot and horses of fire; a whirlwind caught up Elijah as Elisha watched and cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”

    Elisha picked up the fallen mantle of his master, recrossed the Jordan and went to Jericho, where the sons of the prophets observed that “the spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha” (2:15). They kept urging that a search be made for Elijah; Elisha reluctantly permitted fifty men to go, but they returned without finding him.

    Elijah had prophesied that the house of Ahab would be destroyed (1 Kings 21:21); when Jehu became king he used this prophecy as a basis for the annihilation of all of the relatives of Ahab (2 Kings 10:10, 17).

    The Letter to Jehoram

    In 2Ch 21:12-15 we read of a "writing" from Elijah to Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. The statements of 2Ki 3:11,12 admit of no other interpretation than that the succession of Elisha to independent prophetic work had already occurred in the lifetime of Jehoshaphat. It has been pointed out that the difficult verse, 2Ki 8:16, appears to mean that Jehoram began to reign at some time before the death of his father; it is also conceivable that Elijah left a message, reduced to writing either before or after his departure, for the future king of Judah who should depart from the true faith.

    Elijah and Baalism

    The life of Elijah centers around the conflict between the worship of the Lord and the religion of Baalism. There were many Baals in Israel, but during the time of Ahab the prominent one was Baal-Melqart, the deity of Tyre. Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre and Sidon; she persecuted the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:3, 13; 19:10, 14) and promoted the cult of Baal in Israel (18:19). The drought indicated the impotence of Baal, a supposed nature-god, while the survival of Elijah showed God’s power to care for His own, even at Zarephath, in the home territory of Baal-Melqart. The contest on Mt. Carmel brought the nation of Israel to a place of decision and the subsequent flight of Elijah took him to the scene of earlier revelation at Mt. Horeb. The Naboth affair demonstrated the superior moral content of revealed religion, and the encounter between Ahaziah and Elijah showed that there was a God in Israel superior to Baal-zebub of Ekron. Elijah was throughout the man of God, the prophet and the spokesman of God, and his life testified to the reality and power of the one true God.

    Elijah in later Scriptures

    In His ministry Jesus used the example of Elijah’s reception by the widow of Zarephath to illustrate the scarcity of faith within Israel (Luke 4:25, 26).

    Elijah appeared as a participant in the scene of the Transfiguration, when he and Moses discussed with the Lord the “departure” which Jesus was to accomplish at Jerusalem. On this occasion Peter suggested that three tabernacles should be built for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (Matt 17:4; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33).

    When Jesus was dying on the cross, He cried out to God (“Eli,” “my God”) and the bystanders thought he was calling Elijah (Matt 27:46-49; Mark 15:34, 35).

    Paul, arguing for the principle of a remnant of Israel, referred to the 7,000 faithful worshipers in the time of Elijah (Rom 11:2). The two witnesses of Revelation 11 are not mentioned by name, but the powers ascribed to them are those of Moses and Elijah, e.g., “they have power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying” (v. 6).

    The fate of the soldiers of Ahaziah (2Ki 1) is in the mind of James and John on one occasion (Lu 9:54). In Jas 5:17,18 the work of Elijah affords an instance of the powerful supplication of a righteous man.

    Notes on the Miracles in the Elijah Narratives

    The miraculous element must be admitted to be prominent in the experiences and works of Elijah. It cannot be estimated apart from the general position which the student finds it possible to hold concerning miracles recorded in the Old Testament. The effort to explain away one or another item in a rationalistic way is wholly unprofitable.

    Elijah’s "ravens" may indeed be converted by a change of vowel-points into "Arabians"; but, the whole tenor of the narrative favors no other supposition than that its writer meant "ravens," and saw in the event another such exercise of the power of Yahweh over all things as was to be seen in the supply of meal and oil for the prophet and the widow of Zarephath, the fire from heaven, the parting of the Jordan, or the ascension of the prophet by whirlwind into heaven.

    Some modern critics recognize a different and later source in the narrative of 2Ki 1; but here again no real difficulty, if any difficulty there be, is removed. The stern prophet who would order the slaughter of the 450 Baal prophets might well call down fire to consume the soldiers of an apostate and a hostile king. The purpose and meaning of the Elijah chapters is to be grasped by those who accept their author’s conception of Yahweh, of His power, and of His work in Nature and with men, rather than by those who seek to replace that conception by another.


  • F. Krummacher, Elijah the Tishbite (1838).
  • J. M. Lowrie, Translated Prophet (1868).
  • A. S. Peake, Elijah and Jezebel (1927).
  • R. S. Wallace, Elijah and Elisha (1957).
  • B. L. Smith, “Elijah,” The New Bible Dictionary (1962), 363, 364.
  • S. Szikszai, “Elijah the Prophet,” IDB (1962), II, 88-90.
  • F. W. Robertson, "Sermons, 2nd series, V."
  • Maurice, "Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament." Sermon VII.
  • Milligan, "Elijah ("Men of the Bible" series)."
  • W. M. Taylor, "Elijah the Prophet."
  • References