30 September 2018: Elijah
We have come to the last of the Old Testament heroes we are remembering this year, Elijah. When I looked at Elijah’s history I decided it was so interesting that I was being called to recount that in my “sermon slots” today instead of preaching a sermon. I was scheduled to preach at the 8 o’clock Communion Service and at Evening Prayer at 4:30.
Our assistant priest presided at the 8 o’clock Communion and at the 10:30 Communion, where he was also preaching. He told me after the 8 o’clock service that what he had prepared was almost identical to what I had said.
Briefly, Elijah’s history is as follows:
- He lived in Israel some time after that country had split from Judah following the death of Solomon, when Israel was ruled by the wicked King Ahab. Ahab had married Jezebel, a worshipper of the false god Baal and had persuaded Ahab to follow Baal as well.
- Elijah tells Ahab that there will be no rain for three years. God then sends him to the Wadi Cherith, where ravens bring him food every morning and every evening and he drinks the water from the wadi.
- When the wadi runs dry the LORD sends him to Zarephath, where he meets a widow who only has a minute quantity of flour and oil to feed herself and her son. She intends to make a loaf to share with her son and envisages that they will then both die of starvation. However, Elijah persuades her to take him in and the flour and the oil never run out.
- When the widow’s son dies, Elijah prays to the LORD three times for his restoration. The boy recovers and Elijah hands him back to his mother.
- In the third year of the drought, Elijah issues a challenge to Ahab and Jezebel and the 450 prophets of Baal. The 450 prophets of Baal will build an altar, lay a sacrifice on it and call on Baal to send down fire to consume it. Elijah will do the same, calling on the LORD. The true god will be the one who sends down the fire. Baal’s prophets call on him all day but without any response. Elijah then rebuilds an altar to the LORD, lays a sacrifice on it, soaks it in water and then calls on the LORD, who duly consumes everything with fire.
- The 450 prophets of Baal are killed. In her fury Jezebel threatens to have Elijah killed and he flees into the wilderness. There he encounters the LORD, who speaks to him not in a voice of thunder but in a “still small voice” (according to the Authorised Version; the New International Version describes it as “a sound of sheer silence”, which I find very evocative).
- Sometime later, when Jezebel has Naboth killed so Ahab can take over his vineyard, the LORD sends Elijah to meet Ahab at the vineyard and tell him that, because of what he has done, disaster will fall on him and his family. When Ahab repents, the LORD defers the punishment to the days of his son.
- Ahab is killed in battle and succeeded by his son Ahaziah. Ahaziah falls out of a window and sends messengers to the temple of Baal in Ekron to ask whether he will recover from his injuries. The LORD gets Elijah to meet the messengers and turn them back with the message that Ahaziah will never leave his bed.
- Ahaziah then sends three successive troops of fifty men, with their captains, to fetch Elijah. The first captain commands Elijah “Man of God, come down.” Elijah replies “If I am a man of God, may fire consume you and your fifty,” which it does. The same things happens with the second troop of fifty. The captain of the third fifty does not command Elijah to come but pleads with him to do so instead. Elijah goes and tells Ahaziah that, because he wanted to consult Baal instead of the LORD, he will never leave his bed. Ahaziah dies as Elijah foresaw.
- The final story about Elijah tells of him being taken into heaven in a chariot of fire, witnessed by his successor, Elisha.