Tag Archives: Elijah

Commentary on 2 Kings 1-2 (Elijah Goes to Heaven)

King Ahab, the enemy of Elijah, has died and his son Ahaziah has taken his place as king of Israel (the year is 853 BC). Elijah is still the anointed prophet of God, but his time is coming to an end. Some years earlier Elijah had already selected his successor, a young man named Elisha (see 1 Kings 19), but Elijah had a few remaining things to take care of before he was taken to heaven by God Himself.

As 2 Kings 1 opens, we learn that King Ahaziah has an unfortunate accident. He falls through a window in his home and seriously injures himself. Instead of consulting Yahweh or one of God’s prophets about his condition, he instead sends messengers to consult a Philistine god, Baal-Zebub. Baal-Zebub translates to “Lord of the flies” but most scholars seem to think that the writer of 2 Kings deliberately altered the real name of the god, Baal-Zebul, which means “Lord Prince” or “Exalted Lord,” to ridicule the fictional Philistine god.

The angel of the Lord gives a message to Elijah for Ahaziah: “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending men to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!”

Elijah intercepts Ahaziah’s messengers on their way to Ekron and delivers the message from the angel of the Lord. The messengers return to Ahaziah and relay the message. Ahaziah’s reaction is to send two groups of 50 fifty soldiers to arrest Elijah and bring him to the king, but each group is immolated by fire from God. Amazingly, Ahaziah then sends a third group of soldiers, but this time the captain of the fifty begs Elijah for mercy instead of ordering Elijah to come with him as the previous two captains had done.

The angel of the Lord instructs Elijah to go with this third captain to personally deliver God’s message to Ahaziah. Elijah does indeed deliver the message to the king and the king dies shortly thereafter. His brother, Jehoram (or Joram), takes his place as king of Israel. Jehoram would reign for 12 years before his death, thus ending Ahab’s dynasty, as Elijah predicted.

Chapter 2 of 2 Kings records the passing of the baton from Elijah to Elisha. Elijah knows that today is his last day on earth because God has told him. Elijah travels to three different locations during the day (Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River), each separated by several miles. Each time he arrives, he suggests that Elisha stay behind and rest, but Elisha insists that he follow Elijah wherever he goes that day.

The implication is that Elijah is testing Elisha’s commitment to assuming the responsibility of becoming the primary prophet of God in Israel, taking over Elijah’s work. If Elisha will not follow his master to the very end of his life, then he is not fit to be the Prophet of Israel.

When they reach the Jordan River, Elijah rolls up his cloak, strikes the water, and the river dries up, allowing them to cross on dry land. After they’ve crossed, Elijah asks Elisha what he wants and Elisha responds that he wants to inherit a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Since the firstborn of any man was entitled to his successor as head of the family, and the firstborn would receive a double portion of the inheritance given to all the children, Elisha was effectively asking to become Elijah’s spiritual successor.

Elijah tells Elisha that the evidence that God has chosen Elisha will be if Elisha sees Elijah taken up to heaven. Sure enough, as they are walking, “suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.”

The chariot and horses of fire represent the might and power of the God of Israel. Elijah was used by God to project His power into the land of Israel. Likewise, Elisha would now be the chariot and horses of fire for Israel. Elisha considered Elijah to be a father to him and when Elijah departs in a violent storm, accompanied by chariots and horses of fire, he is overwhelmed and tears his clothes in mourning.

The final day of Elijah and the manner of his departure are full of theological importance. Consider the words of Paul R. House in 1, 2 Kings: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary):

Elijah’s ‘death’ has proven as spectacular as his life. Just as fire from heaven once proved Yahweh is more powerful than Baal, so now a similar heavenly fire proves that Elijah is the prophet par excellence. And just as another fire from heaven protected him from wicked King Ahaziah (1:9–12), so now it removes Elijah permanently from any further dangers or discouragements. Cogan and Tadmor note that this nondeath ‘invested him with the quality of eternal life, surpassing even Moses, the father of all prophets, who died and was buried (albeit by God himself: Deut 34:5–6).’ Because he never dies, Elijah later becomes the symbol for great future prophets, including the forerunner of the Messiah (Mal 4:5–6). Several Jewish legends also rise up concerning him, and the New Testament patterns its portrayal of John the Baptist (Matt 3:1–12; John 1:19–23) and one of the two witnesses of Rev 11:1–14 after Elijah’s ministry.

Elijah is understood by Jews to be the second Moses. His life has several parallels with Moses. John J. Bimson writes in the New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition,

Previous events in Elijah’s life recalled aspects of Moses’ ministry, e.g. like Moses, Elijah received a revelation of God on Mt Horeb, and his slaughter of the prophets of Baal had echoes of the aftermath of the golden calf incident (Ex. 32:25–29). Now he crossed to the eastern side of the Jordan (in a manner similar to the crossing of the Red Sea under Moses’ leadership), where Moses’ ministry also came to an end. Indeed, the end of Moses’ life was almost as mysterious as that of Elijah’s (Dt. 34:6). The parallels between the lives of the two men are underlined in the NT when they both appear speaking to Jesus at his transfiguration (Mt. 17:3).

Bimson continues,

Moses was the mediator of the covenant at Sinai/Horeb, the prophet (Dt. 18:15; 34:10) through whom Israel was brought into that covenant relationship and made the people of God. Elijah was the prophet through whom the people were turned back to the Sinai covenant and Israel’s special status was saved. In short, the parallels with Moses dramatically heighten Elijah’s importance in Israel’s history and in the books of Kings in particular.

Now that Elijah is gone, the reader wonders if God will give Elisha his mantle. Elisha calls out to God and strikes the Jordan River as Elijah did. The river dries up and he crosses back over to the western side, in the sight of a company of prophets. The prophets acknowledge that the spirit of Elijah has passed to Elisha and they bow down in respect.

In the remaining verses of chapter 2, Elisha is twice more confirmed as the successor of Elijah, the messenger of God. First, Elisha travels to Jericho from the Jordan River (just as Joshua did) and performs a miracle which purifies the polluted water supply. Recall that Joshua has cursed Jericho, but Elisha has now lifted the curse.  Second, as Elisha travels from Jericho to Bethel, a large group of young men (more than 40) mocks and threatens Elisha. As Elisha is now the spokesman for God in Israel, the young men are not only insulting Elisha, but they are insulting God Himself. Elisha curses them and God sends two bears into their midst; the bears maul 42 of them.

Just as Elijah is the second Moses, Elisha is the second Joshua. John Bimson writes,

If Elijah is identified as a second Moses, Elisha would appear to be in the mold of Joshua. As Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the people, so Elisha succeeded Elijah, crossing the Jordan on dry land from east to west as Joshua did (14) and following in Joshua’s footsteps by going on to Jericho (15–22). (Even Elisha’s name recalls that of Joshua. Elisha means ‘God is salvation’, while Joshua means ‘Yahweh is salvation’.)

Elisha would serve God in Israel for about half a century and would perform numerous miracles intended to bring the people of Israel back to the true God who brought them out of Egypt.

Commentary on 1 Kings 17-18 (Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah)

In the nation of Israel, since the division of the kingdom, there have been 7 kings and 4 different dynasties (successions of rulers who are of the same family). The year is 874 BC and the eighth king of Israel comes to the throne. His name is Ahab and his reign begins at about the time King Asa of Judah’s reign is ending.

Each of the previous kings of Israel has led the nation further and further from God, but Ahab is worse than all of them. Ahab marries a Phoenician princess named Jezebel in order to secure a trade alliance. Although this alliance helps Israel economically, it leads to spiritual disaster.

Jezebel is a devoted follower of the Phoenician god, Baal-Malquart (referred to as Baal hereafter). Baal is a storm god who is supposed to have power over the weather. Baal worshippers believed that he was responsible for the rain which enabled their crops to grow.

Jezebel’s intention was to have Baal worship replace worship of Yahweh in Israel. Her husband Ahab helped her by building a worship center for Baal in the capital of Israel, Samaria. He also built wooden poles for Asherah, the consort of Baal. Jezebel imported hundreds of Baal prophets into Israel to replace the prophets of Yahweh, whom she murdered.

At the peak of this crisis enters the greatest prophet of the Old Testament (after Moses), Elijah. In chapter 17, verses 1-6, we meet Elijah for the first time when he suddenly appears before King Ahab and tells him that, as a representative of the true God of Israel, there will be a severe drought in Israel for the next few years. Since Baal is supposed to control the rain in Israel, this is meant as a direct challenge to the growing Baal religion.

God then tells Elijah to hide from Ahab for the next few years, lest he be murdered by the king or his wife. God supernaturally sustains Elijah by first leading him to a secret water source and providing him food through ravens. Once the brook dries up, God tells Elijah to travel into the heart of Baal-worshipping Phoenician territory and stay with a widow and her son. Again, God miraculously provides all three of them food during the drought.

While he is staying with the widow and her son, the boy dies and the widow begs Elijah to help. Elijah prays to God and lies on top of the boy three times, after which the boy comes back to life. The widow rejoices, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.” This is the first recorded incident of a person being brought back to life in the Bible.

In the third year of the drought, God commands Elijah to once again confront Ahab. Ahab has been searching for Elijah for three years, but he has been unable to find him. When Ahab sees Elijah, he asks, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” Elijah then issues a challenge to Ahab that he cannot refuse.

“I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the LORD’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

Mount Carmel is evidently a place that held religious significance for both Yahweh and Baal worshippers. It is right on the border of Israel and Phoenicia, on the Mediterranean coast. What better place to have a showdown between these two gods? Once the prophets of Baal and Asherah are assembled on the top of Mount Carmel, in the sight of a large number of Israelites, Elijah explains the contest that is about to take place.

I am the only one of the LORD’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God.

Everyone agrees and the prophets of Baal place their bull on an altar and begin praying for Baal to answer with fire. For three hours they shout, but nothing happens. At noon, Elijah begins to taunt them.

“Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”

Elijah’s mocking of the Baal prophets illustrates just how certain he is that the God of Israel is the only true God. Only a man of great conviction would stand in front of a hostile crowd of hundreds and make fun of their most sacred religious rituals!

For three more hours, the prophets of Baal shouted louder and even cut themselves in an attempt to get the attention of Baal. After 6 hours, the supposed storm god of Phoenicia, the god who controls the wind, rain, and lightning, does absolutely nothing.

Elijah tells the prophets of Baal to step aside, for it is his turn. He builds up an altar made of 12 stones, for the 12 tribes of Israel. He then digs a trench completely around the altar. He places some wood and a bull (chopped into pieces) on top of the altar and then instructs bystanders to pour 12 large jars of water on the altar so that the excess water fills up the trench around the altar. If the bull catches fire, there will be no doubt that it is from God.

In one the most dramatic moments in all the Bible, Elijah steps forward and offers this prayer:

O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.

Immediately, “the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.”

The assembled people of Israel loudly proclaim that Yahweh is the true God and they seize the false prophets of Baal and execute them. Elijah then tells Ahab to hurry home because a huge rainstorm is coming. Ahab does as he is told and shortly afterward, the first major rainstorm in years drenches Israel in a downpour, proving that Yahweh is God and Baal is a complete fiction.

Paul R. House, in 1, 2 Kings: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), aptly summarizes the victory of God over Baal:

God sustains and protects his prophets, while Baal lets his die. Yahweh feeds the orphans and widows and raises the dead, while Baal lets the needy suffer and requires Anat to raise him from death. Yahweh can send fire or rain from heaven, but Baal cannot respond to his most valiant worshipers. A god like Baal is no God at all. A God like Yahweh must be God of all. Rain is not just rain here but evidence of the Lord’s absolute sovereignty over nature and human affairs.

Why Don’t We See Miracles Today? – #5 Post of 2009

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Many people wonder why we don’t see miracles such as the parting of the sea, the raising of the dead, and people walking on water.  It seems like miracles were pretty common in the Old and New Testaments, but today nothing like that seems to happen.  Why?

First of all, I believe there are indeed miracles being performed by God today, as I have certainly heard many accounts from Christians that I know and trust.  Most of these accounts, however, are hard to verify as true supernatural events, and they are never captured on CNN for the whole world to see.  So even though miracles seem to be occurring today, they still aren’t typically the public displays of supernatural power displayed in the Bible.

I think one reason we don’t see these public miracles is that God is not confirming new revelation today.  You see, the Bible records some 250 miraculous events, but they are concentrated, according to Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, in three time periods: 1) the time of Moses, 2) the time of Elijah and Elisha, and 3) the time of Jesus and his apostles.

According to the Bible, God used miracles as signs to confirm his messengers (prophets)  to skeptical populations.  Read the Gospel of John to see how John records seven miraculous signs performed by Jesus to prove he was from God.  Likewise, consider Elijah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18).  One of the ways God confirmed his messengers was through miracles.

There were hundreds of years recorded in the Bible with no miracles, so it is false to say that miracles occurred all throughout biblical times.  They did not.  They primarily occurred when God was confirming a new revelation from his prophets.  By the way, this is one reason why Jews and Christians rejected Muhammad as a prophet of God while he was alive.  He did not perform any miracles (Sura 3:181–184).

So, today we do not have new revelation coming from one of God’s prophets, because Jesus and his apostles were the final revelation from God.  Everything God wants us to know about himself, through his prophets, is recorded in the Holy Scriptures.  Since there is no need for new prophets to tell us new things about God, then the need for public displays of supernatural power is absent.

Can God do miracles today?  Of course.  But we should not expect the same kinds and numbers of miracles today as when Moses, Elijah, and Jesus lived.

If Only I Could See a Miracle, I Would Believe

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

If you are a person who says this about Christianity, excuse me for being skeptical.

God performed miracles through Moses, and yet Pharaoh did not believe.

God performed miracles through Elijah, and yet Jezebel did not believe.

Jesus performed numerous miracles that confirmed his power over sickness, weather, and even death.  Ultimately he rose from the dead.  Yet still some who saw these miracles did not believe.

God has provided plenty of evidence that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and rose from the dead.  If you are a person who has heard the gospel message and understood it, but you continue to demand more evidence in the form of miracles, ask yourself if there isn’t another problem.

Is it possible that you just don’t want to believe?  Is it possible that no matter how much evidence you are shown, that no matter how many times God reveals himself to you, that you just will not believe?

If that is the case, search your own heart and figure out why you don’t want to believe.  Where is this barrier of belief coming from?  We can answer your questions about Christianity, but until you deal with your will, our answers will remain unpersuasive.