This article focuses on the prophet Elijah, but three other individuals with the name appear in the Bible:
ELIJAH ĭ lī’ jə (Hebrew אֵלִיָּ֣ה, אֵלִיָּ֨הוּ, Yahweh is my God, KJV, twice, ELIAH; Gr., LXX, ̓Ηλίου; ̓Ηλίας, G2460; KJV, NT, ELIAS)
Nothing is known of his family and little of his geographic origin. The Bible states clearly that he was from Gilead (
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,”
Elijah was a man of great physical endurance; his feat of running before the chariot of Ahab from 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 (
King Ahab and the Drought
The Biblical account introduces Elijah with a dramatic and sudden appearance before King Ahab (
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” (
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.
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” (
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
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.
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.
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” (
Elijah had prophesied that the house of Ahab would be destroyed (
The Letter to Jehoram
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 (
Elijah in later Scriptures
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 (
When Jesus was dying on the cross, He cried out to God (“Eli,” “my God”) and the bystanders thought he was calling Elijah (
Paul, arguing for the principle of a remnant of Israel, referred to the 7,000 faithful worshipers in the time of Elijah (
The fate of the soldiers of Ahaziah (
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. 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