Category: Elijah


First Kings 17 introduces the prophet Elijah and gives the account of his dealings with a widow from Zarephath. The chapter notes that the Lord was withholding rain from Israel (verse 1). The drought was in judgment of the nation’s rampant idolatry, led by the royal couple Ahab and Jezebel. In verse 8, the Lord commanded Elijah to go to Zarephath, a town outside of Israel, where a widow would provide food for him. He obeyed, finding a woman gathering sticks. He said to her, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink,” and, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand” (verses 11–12).

The widow, however, was in great need herself. She responded, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die” (verse 13). She expected the meal she was about to fix to be the last for her family. She had no other prospect than to die of starvation.

Elijah’s answer was surely a test of her faith. He told her that she was to make some food for him, anyway, using the last of her ingredients for him. He added a promise: “For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth’” (1 Kings 17:14). The widow’s faith was evident in her obedience. And God was faithful to His promise: “She and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah” (verses 15–16). The widow’s food supply was supernaturally extended, as promised.

Elijah stayed there for some time, living in an upper room of the widow’s house. The woman’s son later died of an illness and, in her anger and grief, she blamed Elijah for his death—she assumed God was judging her for her sin (1 Kings 17:17–18). But Elijah cried out to God: “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!” (verse 21), and the child was restored to life. When the woman saw this, she said, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth” (verse 24).

This account is also mentioned in the New Testament. Early in His ministry, Jesus was speaking in the synagogue of His hometown, Nazareth. He said, “In truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow” (Luke 4:25–26). Jesus’ point was that no prophet is accepted in his hometown. Just as Elijah found more faith outside of Israel than within it, Jesus found little faith in His boyhood home. As if to prove His point, the people of Nazareth grew enraged and attempted to throw Jesus off a cliff (Luke 4:29).

The account of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath offers many insights. First, God often uses unlikely people and sources to accomplish His purposes. Second, God’s mercy extends to all people, both Jews and Gentiles, and the Sidonian widow was blessed for her faith (see Acts 10:34–35). Third, God requires faith (Hebrews 11:6). The widow’s miracle only came after she prepared a meal for Elijah—an act of sincere faith on her part.

The account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal is recorded in 1 Kings 18. After Israel had gone more than three years without rain as a judgment for their idolatry, the prophet Elijah confronts the evil king Ahab and challenges him to a spiritual showdown. The king was to have all Israel gather at Mt. Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of the false god Baal and the 400 prophets of the false goddess Asherah (verse 19).

On Mt. Carmel, Elijah said to the people of Israel, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). The people remained noncommittal at that point. Elijah then challenged the prophets of Baal to prepare a bull as an offering for their god—Elijah would do the same—with this catch: they could light no fire on their altar. The God who answered with fire from the sky would be considered the true God (verses 22–25).

The people agreed that this was a good plan, and the prophets of Baal went first. The pagan prophets cried out and danced around their altar from morning till noon with no answer from Baal. Elijah began to mock them, saying, “Shout louder! . . . Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27).

So the prophets of Baal “shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice” (1 Kings 18:28–29). Despite hours of effort, nothing happened. The historian’s comment hints at the emptiness of Baal-worship: “There was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention” (verse 29).

Elijah then called the people to him as he repaired the altar of the Lord. He used twelve stones and dug a trench around the altar. He then placed wood on the altar and laid the cut pieces of the bull on it. Elijah then had the people douse the altar with twelve large jars of water. The water soaked the sacrifice and the wood and filled the trench (1 Kings 18:30–35).

Once the sacrifice was ready, Elijah prayed, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (1 Kings 18:36–37). Then God did what Baal could never do: the fire of the LORD fell from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, “and also licked up the water in the trench” (verse 38). The people of Israel bowed down and declared the Lord as God (verse 39).

Elijah then commanded the people to put the prophets of Baal to death, in keeping with God’s command in Exodus 22:20. Following this event, the Lord finally ended the drought and sent rain upon the land (1 Kings 18:45).

The miraculous event of fire from heaven was an answer to the prayer of Elijah. God was seeking to turn the hearts of His people back to Himself. He used a time of drought to get their attention and then, through His prophet, performed a dramatic miracle right before their eyes. No one who witnessed that event doubted that the Lord was God and that Baal was a powerless wannabe. The repentance of the Israelites was soon followed by God’s provision of rain.

James teaches us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), and he uses Elijah’s prayer life as a case in point: “Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops” (James 5:17–18).


Elijah had just had a “mountaintop experience” in defeating the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Fire had descended from heaven, the people of Israel acknowledged the Lord, and the false prophets were all put to death. But that experience was followed by an episode of fear and failure in Elijah’s life: the prophet was afraid and ran for his life from Queen Jezebel. The reason is made clear in 1 Kings 19:1–2: “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’”

This death threat caused Elijah to flee a day’s journey into the wilderness (1 Kings 19:4). At one point Elijah was so discouraged that he desired to die: “And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers’” (verse 4).

In response, the Lord sent an angel to bring the prophet food and drink both before and after slept. After the rest and nourishment, Elijah took a forty-day journey to Mount Horeb to meet with the Lord (1 Kings 19:6–8). There, the Lord asked Elijah why he had fled to such a remote location. Elijah’s answer is telling: “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (verse 10). Elijah saw himself as the lone defender of God’s name in Israel. Jezebel seemed to be winning the fight, and Elijah had fled.

During his conversation with God at Horeb, the Lord gave Elijah three important tasks. First, Elijah was to anoint Hazael as king over Syria (1 Kings 19:15). Second, he was to anoint Jehu as king of Israel (verse 16). Third, he was to anoint Elisha as the prophet to take his place (verse 16).

These leaders would help turn Israel away from evil idol worship, including the total destruction of the wicked line of Ahab and Jezebel: “And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death” (1 Kings 19:17). Elijah had dealt a death-blow to Baal-worship in Israel, and the three men Elijah would anoint would remove the remaining vestiges of that particular form of idolatry.

In addition, God offered one important word of comfort to Elijah. During this time when the prophet felt so alone, God said, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). Elijah had thought he was the only one faithful to the Lord, and he took great comfort in the knowledge that thousands of others had never bowed to Baal.


Elijah and Elisha are two of the most well-known prophets of Israel. They both served in the northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah is first introduced in 1 Kings 17 as the prophet who predicted a three-year drought in the land. After being miraculously fed by ravens, he later stayed with a widow and her son, and that family experienced God’s supernatural provision of food.

After Elijah’s defeat of the prophets of Baal when he called down fire from heaven, the drought ended. Rain fell, and Elijah fled from the evil Queen Jezebel, who had vowed to kill him (1 Kings 19). Reaching Mount Horeb, Elijah heard the voice of God tell him to anoint two kings as well as Elisha as a prophet. He did this, and Elisha immediately joined him (1 Kings 19:19–21).

Elijah later condemned King Ahab for murder and the theft of a vineyard and predicted Ahab’s death and that of his wife, Jezebel (1 Kings 21:17–24).

In 2 Kings 1, Elijah called down fire from heaven to destroy two groups of 50 men sent from King Ahaziah. A third group of men was led by a captain who begged for mercy and was spared judgment. Elijah went to Ahaziah and proclaimed the king would die from his sickness, a prophecy that was soon fulfilled.

In 2 Kings 2, Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan River on dry land, and Elisha, knowing that Elijah would not be with him much longer, asked to be blessed with a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah was taken directly into heaven by a chariot of fire. Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle and used it to cross the Jordan again on dry land. He received the double portion he had asked for and performed many miracles in Israel. Some of Elisha’s miracles were the turning of bad water into clean water (2 Kings 2:19–22), causing a widow’s oil to fill many jars (2 Kings 4:1–7), and even raising a boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:32–37).

Elijah and Elisha were both greatly respected by those in the “school of prophets” (2 Kings 2 and 4:38–41) as well as by the kings of their nation. Their impact led to revival among some of the Israelites during a dark stage of its history. During the wicked reigns of Ahab and Ahaziah, God had His men leading the charge for righteousness.

Before he was taken to heaven, Elijah left a letter for King Jehoram of Judah that spoke of judgment against him. It stated, in part, “The LORD will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day” (2 Chronicles 21:14–15). The prophecy soon came true (verses 18–20).

Elijah and Elisha’s combined legacy continued to influence Israel for some time. Even the New Testament speaks of the expected return of Elijah, a role fulfilled by John the Baptist, the forerunner or the one to announce the coming of the Messiah (Mark 1).

Malachi 4:5-6 offers an intriguing prophecy: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” To this day, Jewish Seders include an empty chair at the table in anticipation that Elijah will return to herald the Messiah in fulfillment of Malachi’s word.

According to Malachi 4:6, the reason for Elijah’s return will be to “turn the hearts” of fathers and their children to each other. In other words, the goal would be reconciliation. In the New Testament, Jesus reveals that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy: “All the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:13-14). This fulfillment is also mentioned in Mark 1:2-4 and Luke 1:17; 7:27.

Specifically related to Malachi 4:5-6 is Matthew 17:10-13: “His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. . . .’ Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.”

The scribes were the Jewish religious teachers, mostly Pharisees and Sadducees, who provided commentary on the Jewish Scriptures. Peter, James, and John were familiar with their teachings and asked Jesus about Elijah after seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Jesus clearly stated that Elijah had already come, but, tragically, he was not recognized and had been killed. Jesus then predicted He would likewise die at the hands of His enemies (17:13).

A brief look at the ministry of John the Baptist reveals many notable ways that he was “Elijah.” First, God predicted John’s work as being like that of Elijah (Luke 1:17). Second, he dressed like Elijah (2 Kings 1:8 and Matthew 3:4). Third, like Elijah, John the Baptist preached in the wilderness (Matthew 3:1). Fourth, both men preached a message of repentance. Fifth, both men withstood kings and had high-profile enemies (1 Kings 18:17 and Matthew 14:3).

Some argue that John the Baptist was not the Elijah to come because John himself said that he was not Elijah. “And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not’” (John 1:21). There are two explanations for this apparent contradiction. First, because Elijah had never died (2 Kings 2:11), many first-century rabbis taught that Elijah was still alive and would reappear before the Messiah’s arrival. When John denied being Elijah, he could have been countering the idea that he was the actual Elijah who had been translated to heaven in a chariot of fire.

Second, John’s words could indicate a difference between John’s view of himself and Jesus’ view of him. John may not have seen himself as the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6. However, Jesus did. There is no contradiction, then, simply a humble prophet giving an honest opinion of himself. John rejected the honor (cf. John 3:30), yet Jesus credited John as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy regarding the return of Elijah.

As the metaphorical Elijah, John called people to repentance and a life of obedience, preparing the people of his generation for the coming of Jesus Christ, the One who had come “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10) and to establish the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).

 The Prophet Elijah is one of the most interesting and colorful of all  biblical characters, yet his life was so filled with turmoil that today we might  say he was up one day and down the next. Because Elijah was at times bold and  decisive and at other times fearful and tentative, we have much to learn from  him. In the narratives in which Elijah is the central character, we find  principles that demonstrate the victory in the life of a believer as well as  defeat and recovery. There are ways in which Elijah demonstrated the power of  God and an instance where he plumbed the depths of depression.

Elijah, a  prophet of God whose name means, “my God is Jehovah,” came from Tishbeh in  Gilead, but nothing is known of his family or birth. We first see Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1 where he  suddenly appears to challenge Ahab, an evil king who ruled the Northern Kingdom  from 874 to 853 B.C. Elijah prophesies a drought to come upon the whole land as  consequence for Ahab’s evil choices (1 Kings  17:1-7). Warned by God, Elijah hides near the brook of Cherith where he is  fed by ravens. As the drought and famine in the land deepen, Elijah meets with a  widow, and through her obedience to Elijah’s request, God provides food enough  for Elijah, the woman and her son. Miraculously, her barrel of flour and jar of  oil never run out (1 Kings  17:8-16). The lesson for the believer is that, if we walk in fellowship with  the LORD and obey Him, we will be open to His will, and when we are in God’s  will, He fulfills all of our needs and His mercy to us never runs short.

We next see Elijah as the central character in a face-off with the prophets of  the false god Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings  18:17-40). The prophets of Baal call upon their god all day long to rain  fire from heaven to no avail. Then Elijah builds an altar of stones, digs a  ditch around it, puts the sacrifice on the top of wood and calls for water to be  poured over his sacrifice three times. Elijah calls upon God, and God sends fire  down from heaven, burns the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones and licks up the  water in the ditch. God proved He was more powerful than false gods. It was then  that Elijah and the people kill all of the false prophets of Baal. Such  supernatural evidences of God’s power are not seen today. However, we have  access to the same power as God’s Word works through us and demonstrates the  power of His Spirit in our lives (2  Corinthians 4:7). Elijah is an illustration that it is not the vessel but  God in the vessel that demonstrates power.

After the great victory over  the false prophets, rain once again falls on the land (1 Kings 18:41-46).  However, in spite of victory and provisions from the LORD that he receives,  Elijah enters a period of wavering faith and depression (1 Kings 19:1-18).  Hearing that Ahab’s wife Jezebel has made a vow to kill him, Elijah feels sorry  for himself, hides in a cave, and even comes to believe that he alone was left  of the prophets of God. He got his eyes off of God and onto the details. It is  then that the LORD instructs Elijah to stand on the mountain as the LORD passed  by. There is a great wind, an earthquake, and then fire, but God is not in any  of those. Then comes a still, small voice in which Elijah hears God and  understands Him. When Elijah stopped focusing on the fear of what men could do  and his feelings of being alone, God’s voice was heard, and Elijah went on to be  taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings  2:1-11).

Just as for Elijah, when the believer focuses on the noise  and the tumult of life in this world, we may get our eyes off of the LORD.  However, if we listen for His still, small voice and walk in obedience to His  Word, we find victory and reward. Each biblical character we study has a lesson  for us to use in our walk as believers. Elijah was filled with human frailties  yet was used mightily of God.