The Life of Elijah

In a few weeks, we will be starting a new sermon series on “The Life of Elijah.” What follows is an introduction to this subject for our congregation. I share it here with the hopes that others may also find it profitable. Enjoy!

THE LIFE OF ELIJAH

Elijah hailed from Tishbe, which is believed to be in the land of Gilead (on the eastern side of the Jordan River). Other than that we know next to nothing about Elijah’s family and background[1] as he appears in the biblical text almost as quickly as he disappears from earth itself (compare 1 Kings 17:1 & 2 Kings 2:11).

For all the obscurity of his origins, however, Elijah remains one of the central figures of the Old Testament literature and faith, second only to Moses himself.[2] For he even ‘reappears’ in redemptive history in the person of John the Baptist who was called, like Elijah, to prepare the way of the Lord (Malachi 4:5 & Luke 1:17). This ought to be no surprise to us when we discover that Elijah’s name means “My God is Yah(weh).” Elijah’s calling was to free Israel from her bondage to Baal and bring her back into the fold of the LORD, the covenant God of Israel.

Some of the most striking and memorable incidents in the life of God’s Old Testament people are recorded in the Elijah cycle: we remember his heroic stand against Jezebel, God’s miraculous provision through the ravens and the widow, raising the widow’s son from the dead, the showdown on Mount Carmel, his struggle on Mount Horeb (Sinai) with God’s purposes, and his spectacular ascent into heaven. His feats, words and convictions unto this end show us a man who was prepared to serve his God, whatever the cost. More so, all of these are recorded so that we can see our faithful covenant God, preserving His people and keeping the promise of the Messiah alive.

Thus, Elijah is a type of Christ: our Lord, like Elijah, came from humble beginnings and also faced much opposition from the religious and political leadership of His day. He, ever the steadfast servant of God, in His own ‘mountaintop experience’ taught the law of God with authority (the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5-7), exposing the idolatry of His time with exactness and precision.

Jesus the greater Elijah, raised the son of a widow, not by calling upon God as did Elijah, but by His own power (Luke 7:11-17). He too struggled with God’s purposes for His life, but not just as a suffering servant but also to prepare Himself to be our sacrifice for sins. And our Lord ascended into heaven too, and yet He did not merely leave His legacy with the disciples (as Elijah did with Elisha) but told these men that all authority in heaven and earth was His (Matthew 28:1ff.).

In short, the life of Elijah is a foreshadowing of the coming kingdom that would be inaugurated by Christ, for the advancement of the knowledge of God. How much better  this kingdom as it is found not only amongst God’s people, Israel, but even in the world itself, as the Gentile nations would abandon their idols for the living God (see 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Indeed, if Elijah’s legacy was primarily about confrontation with the false gods of his day, how much more so is Christ’s, who Himself “is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20).


[1] One commentator notes: “[a]s so often in the Bible, details are suppressed because the message is supremely important” (emphasis mine). Dale Ralph Davies, 1 Kings: The Wisdom and the Folly.
Some have suggested that Elijah was not (by birth) an Israelite since the word “inhabitants” in 1 Kings 17:1 is the same word that is elsewhere translated as “sojourner” which would refer to non-Israelites who dwelt in the land of Canaan. What is abundantly clear, however, is that (if this is true) Elijah has a much stronger faith in the God of Israel than many Israelites themselves (as Rahab & Ruth before him).
[2] Illustrated by the fact that both Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus (representing the “Law and the Prophets”). See Luke 9:30ff. 

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