Elijah—The Prophet of Restoration
A. C. Sas
The condition of Israel
In the days of king Ahab, the people of Israel were in a terrible apostasy. The very king was in the leading role of that appalling condition. The Bible informs us that “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord above all that were before him. And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him” ().
Baal was worshipped as the supreme divinity, the god of fertility. The king, priests, and prophets were all worshipping this false god.
We do not have much information about Elijah prior to his appearance before Ahab. The Bible introduces him abruptly as “Elijah the Tishbite.” He came from Tishbe, a town in the land of Gilead. Elijah did not make any special introduction to the king; he simply transmitted to him the message of the Lord. Strange was his message: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” ().
Sure enough, drought and famine followed—and because of the shortage of food in the land, God directed the prophet to dwell beside the brook Cherith, near the Jordan River, where He promised to feed him. He sent him bread and meat to eat, and provided water from the brook for him to drink.
Soon the drought became so terrible that even the brook Cherith dried up. So, the Lord sent Elijah to the home of a widow and her son. He was bidden to tell the widow to take her very last bit of flour and oil to make him a little cake, and then to prepare one for herself and her son afterwards. It would appear to be selfishness to ask the widow to prepare food for him first, and then for herself and her son. But in this way she was being tested. By faith she obeyed—and the Lord miraculously stretched the food of her household to last until the drought was over. (See.)
The drought was so terrible that there was not even any grass to be found for the animals to eat. “And there was a sore famine in Samaria” (). The king was very angry and called for Elijah, blaming him for the prevailing calamity as he greeted him with the implied accusation: “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” (verse 17). God’s messenger was not afraid or scared, but rather rebuked the king, saying: “I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim” (verse 18).
Now Elijah took the lead by telling the king to gather all the people and the prophets of Baal to meet at Mount Carmel. “The command was issued by one who seemed to stand in the very presence of Jehovah; and Ahab obeyed at once, as if the prophet were monarch, and the king a subject.”1
As they assembled together 450 prophets of Baal, 400 prophets of the groves (), and the people, Elijah challenged them all with a direct, penetrating message: “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word” (verse 21).
The people were in a terrible confusion and so hardened by disobedience that they could not discern between the true God and Baal. They kept silence.
“Not one in that vast assembly dare reveal loyalty to Jehovah. Like a dark cloud, deception and blindness had overspread Israel. Not all at once had this fatal apostasy closed about them, but gradually, as from time to time they had failed to heed the words of warning and reproof that the Lord sent them. Each departure from rightdoing, each refusal to repent, had deepened their guilt and driven them farther from Heaven. And now, in this crisis, they persisted in refusing to take their stand for God.”2
Surrounded by thousands, Elijah boldly stood alone. Yet heavenly angels were at his side.
Elijah challenged the people to give both Jehovah and the followers of Baal a chance to allow the true God to answer by fire.
As a result, “outwardly bold and defiant, but with terror in their guilty hearts, the false priests prepare their altar, laying on the wood and the victim; and then they begin their incantations. Their shrill cries echo and reecho through the forests and the surrounding heights, as they call on the name of their god, saying, ‘O Baal, hear us’ (verse 26). The priests gather about their altar, and with leaping and writhing and screaming, with tearing of hair and cutting of flesh, they beseech their god to help them.
“The morning passes, noon comes, and yet there is no evidence that Baal hears the cries of his deluded followers. There is no voice, no reply to their frantic prayers. The sacrifice remains unconsumed.
“As they continue their frenzied devotions, the crafty priests are continually trying to devise some means by which they may kindle a fire upon the altar and lead the people to believe that the fire has come direct from Baal. But Elijah watches every movement; and the priests, hoping against hope for some opportunity to deceive, continue to carry on their senseless ceremonies. . . .
“At last, their voices hoarse with shouting, their garments stained with blood from self‑inflicted wounds, the priests become desperate. With unabated frenzy they now mingle with their pleading terrible cursings of their sun‑god, and Elijah continues to watch intently; for he knows that if by any device the priests should succeed in kindling their altar fire, he would instantly be torn in pieces.
“Evening draws on. The prophets of Baal are weary, faint, confused. One suggests one thing, and another something else, until finally they cease their efforts. Their shrieks and curses no longer resound over Carmel. In despair they retire from the contest.”3
Restoring the worship of the true God
“It is the hour of the evening sacrifice, and Elijah bids the people, ‘Come near unto me’ (verse 2). As they tremblingly draw near, he turns to the broken‑down altar where once men worshiped the God of heaven, and repairs it. To him this heap of ruins is more precious than all the magnificent altars of heathendom.
“In the reconstruction of this ancient altar, Elijah revealed his respect for the covenant that the Lord made with Israel when they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. Choosing ‘twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, . . . he built an altar in the name of the Lord’ (verses 31, 32).”4
Before Elijah could expect any success in his work, before he could ask God to answer his prayer, he had to perform a work of restoration. And so he did. He repaired the altar of God that had been broken down. Not until this reformation was completed could the rain be expected.
“The altar completed, the prophet makes a trench about it, and, having put the wood in order and prepared the bullock, he lays the victim on the altar and commands the people to flood the sacrifice and the altar with water. ‘Fill four barrels,’ he directed, ‘and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water’ (verses 33–35).”5
Elijah did not need to cry for hours in order to receive an answer to his prayer. The Bible tells us that as soon as he prayed, fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. His prayer was short and to the point: “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (verses 37, 38).
As the people witnessed the powerful manifestation of God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer, their reaction was positive. “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God” (verse 39).
After this wonderful manifestation of God’s power, “Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there” (verse 40).
A great work of reformation had been accomplished. Now they could expect the blessings of the rain to come. Elijah went up to the mountain to pray, and his faith was tested severely as he asked for the coming of the rain. Six times he prayed, and there was no sign or indication of rain. On the seventh time, the servant of Elijah came to him with the news: “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand”
All the people were happy to see that the rain had come, except Jezebel the queen. A wicked woman hardened in sin, she responded with a bitter threat to destroy God’s prophet just as he had destroyed the false prophets.
Again the faith of Elijah was tested. He fled to the desert, thinking that only he was left as a worshipper of the true God. Now he just wanted to die, so he asked the Lord to take his life. Weary and exhausted, he lay down under a juniper tree to sleep. An angel came to him, woke him up and bade him to eat the baked cake and drink from the cruse of water he had brought. After eating and drinking he went to sleep again. The angel bade him the second time to eat and drink, for his journey to Mount Horeb would be very long. He journeyed forty days to come to the Mount of God, and near the mountain he entered a cave in the wilderness, to be safe from wild beasts. God sent an angel and inquired of him: “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Elijah explained his grievance: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” ().
The Lord commanded Elijah to come out of the cave. A very strong wind was blowing, and after that there was an earthquake, and then a fire. But the Lord was in none of these. A still, small voice was heard again, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” The prophet repeated the same grievance. When he thought that everything was over and he alone had remained faithful—and now even his life was threatened—the Lord revealed to him that not everything was over. There were another 7,000 faithful Israelites who did not worship Baal.
Now the Lord commanded Elijah to return not to Carmel, but further north to Damascus—and to anoint a king over Syria, anoint another king over Israel, and anoint a prophet to take his place. The work of God must not stop. It was to continue and expand.
Comparisons between Elijah and John the Baptist
• Elijah was a great prophet.
• Elijah taught in the wilderness.
• Elijah rebuked the king.
• King Ahab had a wrong marriage.
• Jezebel killed the prophets of God.
• Elijah was discouraged and disappointed.
• Elijah was a restorer, a reformer.
• Elijah made progress in his diet.
• Elijah was threatened by death.
John the Baptist
• John the Baptist was a great prophet.
• John the Baptist taught in the desert.
• John the Baptist rebuked the king.
• King Herod was involved in a wrong marriage.
• Herodias caused John the Baptist to be killed.
• John the Baptist had doubts.
• John the Baptist was a reformer.
• John the Baptist was a vegetarian.
• John the Baptist was put to death.
John the Baptist
• John the Baptist was a restorer, or reformer.
• John the Baptist was a vegetarian.
• John the Baptist prepared the way for the first coming of Jesus.
• John the Baptist adopted simplicity of dress.
• John the Baptist called sin by its name.
• John the Baptist died for telling the truth.
God’s remnant people
• God’s people are restorers and reformers.
• God’s people are vegetarians.
• God’s people will prepare the way for Christ’s second coming.
• God’s people adopt simplicity of dress.
• God’s people call sin by its name.
• Many of God’s people are martyrs for Christ, defending the truth.
There are many lessons that we could learn from the life of Elijah:
Elijah’s diet was progressive. At first, bread and meat; then bread, oil, and water; and then bread and water. By the time he was fitted for translation, he was partaking of the simplest diet. As by faith we prepare for translation, progress will likewise be seen in our health habits as well.
The prophet fearlessly rebuked king Ahab because of his apostasy, his turning away from the true God, for giving himself over to idolatry, and because he had entered into an unlawful marriage relationship—and with all this he was misleading the people.
Elijah understood that before the rain could come, a work of restoration must be completed. Likewise, before the latter rain will be poured out, the work of restoration, or reformation, must be completed and the people of God must be found without fault, ready for the finishing of God’s work on earth and ready for translation.
When, like Elijah, God’s servants are assailed with despondency and discouragement, thinking that there is no use to press forward—and when they plan to abandon their labor and service for God, the “small still voice” comes to their ears, asking: “What doest thou here?” The voice whispers something like this: “I sent you to work in my vineyard, but who sent you here to hide from your calling”?
The servants of God represented by Elijah might be taken away (they may cease from their labors), but the work must not stop. It will continue with others until the whole earth will be enlightened with the present truth—the righteousness of Christ, His character reflected from His faithful people. With me or without me the message of salvation will reach the uttermost parts of the world. But it is a great honor and privilege to be coworkers with God! There is only one thing that will remain, and that is what we have done for Jesus. All the rest, the Philistines with all their wealth to whom our talents are lent, will perish. The souls that are saved by our efforts are stars placed in our crowns as a reward for earnestly working for the Lord.
John the Baptist was the Elijah that was to come and “restore all things” (6having a simple diet like Elijah had before his translation.; ). He rebuked Herod who was involved in a wrong marriage relationship ( ), just as Elijah rebuked king Ahab who also had a wrong marriage relationship. John the Baptist was a vegetarian,
The people of God who are waiting for the second coming of Jesus are represented by both Elijah and John the Baptist. The Lord has declared: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” ().
God’s remnant people will promote the work of reformation, or restoration: “And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in” ().
“Those who are to prepare the way for the second coming of Christ are represented by faithful Elijah, as John came in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for Christ’s first advent. The great subject of reform is to be agitated, and the public mind is to be stirred. Temperance in all things is to be connected with the message, to turn the people of God from their idolatry, their gluttony, and their extravagance in dress and other things.”7“Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of the Saviour shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. It is the privilege of every Christian, not only to look for but to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”8
Are you ready?