Like promised we continue our story on Prophet Elias, if you haven’t read the first part here is the link to the first post.
It had already been the third year of drought and starvation that ruled all over Samaria when God spoke to the prophet and said:
“Go present yourself before Ahab and I will send rain upon this land”.
When the prophet appeared before the court, Ahab asked him:
“Are you the one who’s troubling my people?” just to receive the answer:
“You and your family trouble the people of Israel by refusing to obey what the Lord commands and allowing the worship of false gods”.
At this point Elias challenges the powers of Baal by proposing a direct test. The people of Israel, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah are summoned to Mount Carmel. There, he criticizes the people of Israel:
“How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God follow him; but if its Baal then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). Notice here that in Hebrew the word “go limping” or “waver” is the same that is used for dance in verse 26, where the prophets of Baal frantically dance. Elias speaks with sharp irony: in the religious ambivalence of Israel, the people are engaged in a wild and futile religious “dance”.
The test goes like this: Two altars are built, one for Baal and one for God and wood is laid upon them. Two oxen are slaughtered and cut into pieces and the offers are placed on the altars. Elias invites the priests of Baal to pray for fire to light their sacrifice. They prayed from morning to dusk without any results. Disappointed, they cut themselves and add their own blood to the sacrifice (a strictly forbidden practice for the Mosaic Law) and again…nothing.
Elias now orders that the altar of God be drenched with water from four large jars poured three times and asks God to accept the sacrifice. Fire fell from the sky, burning down to the ground the wood, the water, the sacrifice and the stones of the altar itself as well. The prophet prayed eagerly and rain fell on the land signaling the end of the famine. Astonished the people kneeled down and repented. Elias seized the moment and ordered the arrest and execution of Baal’s prophets.
When Ahab informed Jezebel about her prophets, she sends a message to Elias threatening his life with result in his departure to Beersheba in Judah. He walked alone in the desert for an entire day and finally he sat under a juniper tree, praying for death. As he was sleeping under the tree, an angel came to him, touched him on the shoulder and said:
“Get up and eat”. As he rose, Elias saw bread and a jar of water. He fell asleep again and the angel came down for the second time, telling him to eat and drink because he had a long journey ahead of him. He obeyed and strengthened by the food the Lord provided, he walked forty days and forty nights until he reached Mt. Horeb, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. He was the first and only person from Israel to go back to Mt. Horeb after Moses and his people left from there, several generations ago. When he arrived, he found shelter in a cave and again the Lord spoke to him: “What do you seek here?”
And the prophet replied:
“I fought with great zeal for you Lord, but Israel has broken its promises, took down your altars and killed your prophets; I am the only one left and now they seek to kill me”.
Up until this time Elias had only the word of God to guide him, but now he is told to come out from the cave and “stand before the Lord”.
A terrible wind passed, but God was not in the wind.
Then a great earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake.
Then a fire passed the mountain but God was not in the fire.
Then a still small voice in a breeze comes to Elias and asks again:
“What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He again evades the question and his wailing is unchanged, indicating that he did not understand the importance of the divine revelation he had just witnessed. God then send him to Damascus to anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king of Israel and finally Elisha as his replacement.
Elias encounters Ahab again (1 Kings 21), after Ahab has taken a vineyard by murdering its owner, Naboth of Jezreel. Ahab wanted the vineyard and offered Naboth a better vineyard or a good price for the land, nevertheless Naboth refused because God had told him not to part with the land. Ahab did accept this answer – even with bad grace – Jezebel however, plotted a method for acquiring the land. She sent letters in the name of Ahab turning the elders and nobles against Naboth making false accusations against him. In result to this, they arranged a feast and when Naboth arrived they stoned him to death. When the word about Naboth’s death came around, Jezebel told Ahab to take possession of the vineyard.
Once more Elias is sent by God to confront them. He appeared before the king and queen with a question and a prophecy: “have you killed and taken possession?” and “where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick up your own blood” (1 Kings 21:19).
After throwing charges back and forth, Elias went beyond the prophecy he was given and told Ahab that his entire kingdom would reject his authority; that Jezebel would be eaten by dogs within Jezreel and that his family would be consumed by dogs as well (if they die in a city) or by crows (if they die in the country). When Ahab heard this he repented in such a degree that God relented in punishing Ahab but did punish Jezebel and their son Ahaziah.
After Elias lived a life according to God’s will and gave God’s word to the people for 25 years, the time had come for him to be taken to the heaven. This miraculous fact is described in the second chapter of 4 Kings as follows:
When Elias and Elisha were approaching the Jordan, Elias asked his disciple not to follow him, because the Lord called for him to Bethel. Elisha refused to leave him and so; they went to Bethel together, to meet a group of prophets that asked Elisha:
“Do you know that the Lord will take your master away from you?”
“I know – he said – but please don’t talk about it.”
Their next stop was Jericho, where the prophets said the exact same thing to Elisha to receive the same answer. Afterwards, the two of them, following God’s orders, walked towards the river Jordan, with fifty prophets following them from a small distance. At some point, Elias took his cloak, folded it and stroke the water with it. The river divided in two and they walked through it stepping on dry land. As they walked on talking, they saw a chariot made of fire and fiery horses separated them from each other. Elias went up in heaven carried by a whirlwind, while he dropped down his cloak for Elisha. That was a sign for the prophets that watched the scene that the prophetic charisma of Elias passed on to Elisha.
On July 20th Orthodox around the world celebrate Elias fiery ascent on heaven and not his memory, because he didn’t die but he was taken alive to be near our Lord.