Prophet Elias – An angel on earth, a man on heaven
Even if the great prophet is amongst the most important prophets of the Old Testament he didn’t leave any written monuments, because he lived in the 9th century BC.
His father was Shovak from the town of Thesbi (nowadays El Istib) of Galaad. When he was born his father saw a vision of white dressed men appointing the child the name Elijah (meaning God or divine or “Yahweh is my god”) and swaddling the child in fire and feeding it also with fire. The father went to the temple and asked an interpretation from the priests that told him that “the child will be inhabited by light; his words will be decisions; his life will be according to the Lord and his zeal will be of God’s satisfaction and he shall judge Israel with fire and sword”. Hagiographic information regarding Elias mentions that he was wearing a roan cloth with a leather belt around his waist. He lived a strict ascetic life and he was unyielding in the matters of genuine worship; he couldn’t settle for the Jew’s tendency to affiliate pagan elements, which was very intense at the time.
Elias’s prophetic mission was developed during the reign of the king Ahab and his successor Ahaziah. At that time, the Kingdom of Israel, once united under King Solomon, was divided into the northern Kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah, which retained the historic seat of government and focus of the Israelite religion at the Temple in Jerusalem. Omri, King of Israel, continued policies dating from the reign of Jeroboam, contrary to the laws of Moses. He indented to reorient religious focus away from Jerusalem, encouraging the building of local temple altars for sacrifices, appointing priests outside the family of the Levites and allowing or encouraging temples dedicated to the Canaanite god Baal. Omri achieved domestic security with a marriage alliance between his son Ahab and princess Jezebel, a priestess of Baal and the daughter of the King of Sidon in Phoenicia. Jezebel affecting her husband managed to formally establish Baal’s worship and to succeed that, she ordered the prosecution and execution of God’s prophets. She enforced the destruction of altars while she provided all necessary means for the promulgation of the pagan Phoenician gods. She made Ahab built a temple in the palace and she brought a large entourage of priests of Baal and Asherah into the country. It was the time for Elias to interfere.
He confronted King Ahab and said: “I pledge upon the Lord I serve, the one true God of Israel, that there will be no more rain or dew in the next years, until I command so” – 3 Kings 17:1. This definite forecast from the prophet that people respected – and therefore the king held in high regard – caused the fury of the court and especially Jezebel’s, but the Lord took care of Elias and kept him safe.
Lord said to Elias: “Leave this place and go eastward; hide near the brook of Cherith, east of Jordan. You will drink water from the streamlet and I will order the ravens to take care of your food there (3 Kings 17:24)”. The prophet obeyed and the three year dry season began. Historic information about this dry season is found also in the work of Flavius Josephus Jewish Antiquities (VII, 13, 2). Elias remained hidden there; ravens brought him meat and bread daily and he drank water from the brook. A few days later the brook went dry because of drought. Then he received a new order from the Lord that sends him to the town of Zarephath in Phoenicia. When he reached the gates of the town he met a widow who gathered fire wood.
“Will you please bring me a cup of water and some bread?” asked her.
“I swear on the True Lord’s name, replied the woman, I have no bread at all, just a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug. I have come here to gather some firewood to cook what’s left for me and my son – we will eat it and then we will die”.
The prophet insisted: “Go home, do what you intend to do, bring me a piece of the bread you will make and don’t be afraid. The God of Israel says: the jar of flour will not be used up and the jar of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land”. The woman did as she was told and miraculously the prophet’s promise came true. After a while the widow’s son fell ill and died. The woman cried out to the prophet:
“Why have you come here? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
Elias lifted the child in his arms, took him to his room and prayed so that God would restore her son; this way the veracity and trustworthiness of His word would be demonstrated. 1 Kings 17:22 relates how God “heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again and he revived”. This is the first incident of raising the dead recorded in Scripture. This non-Israelite widow was granted the best covenant blessing in the person of her son, the only hope for a widow at the time. The widow cried, “…the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth”. She made a confession that the Israelites had failed to make.
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The story on Prophet Elias continues in a couple of days, with part 2.
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