THE MIRACLES OF ELIJAH AND ELISHA
V. Prophetic Authority (1 Kings 19)
It is interesting to see how the authority of the prophet of Yahweh is displayed again and again in these passages. But now that authority will be used to its fullest intent to establish kings and prophets of Yahweh’s own choosing. The chapter certainly illustrates the point that Daniel would make so powerfully later on, that the Lord God of heaven sets up kings and deposes kings, for all the power resides with him.
In chapter 19 we follow the travels of the prophet Elijah. The story begins with the report of the death of the prophets of Baal to their patroness, Jezebel. And in a rage she vowed by her gods to get Elijah--by the next day. This was a vow she could not fulfill, because Elijah fled for his life, and got as far away as possible. James reminds us that Elijah was a man who had the same passions we have--he was not a "fugitive from a wax museum," but he was perfectly human. And although he had the great moment of triumph on Mount Carmel, when Jezebel sought his life, he fled in fear.
He ran for his life from the region of the Valley of Jezreel in the northern part of the land all the way to Beersheba, far to the south and west of Jerusalem. And even though he had put about 150 miles between Jezebel and himself, he went another days journey into the desert where he might be safe. But there he prayed that Yahweh would take his life (shades of the foolish prayer of Jonah). If Elijah truly wanted to die, he did not have to flee this far--Jezebel would have been happy to do the job. His prayer was filled with self-pity; he thought that with the great victory at Carmel things would have gone better. Instead, he stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest.
Elijah was awakened by the Angel of Yahweh, believed to be a pre-incarnate appearance of the Lord. The Angel had prepared food and drink, for the prophet needed strength for his journey. When Elijah was strengthened, he went for forty days and nights, all the way to Horeb, which is Mount Sinai down at the tip of the Sinai peninsula. There he found a cave and spent the night.
It was at Horeb that Yahweh had revealed himself in the beginning to Moses, where he gave the Law to the nation of Israel. This was truly Israel’s holiest mountain to date; and it was remembered for the fire and clouds and earthquakes that had accompanied the appearance of Yahweh. Now the God of Israel would reveal himself to this "prophet like Moses" (see Deut. 18).
But the revelation took the form of a piercing question: "What are you doing here?" The poet Eliot warns, "Beware of the Stranger who knows how to ask questions." The response of the prophet again reveals his true humanity: "I have been very zealous . . . . [they have] put your prophets to death . . . . I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too." He feared Jezebel and fled; if he had feared the LORD more, he would have prayed. But God used this moment, and this holy place for Israel, to give the prophet a new commission.
As he had done with Moses, God told Elijah to stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD was about to pass by. Then a great and terrible wind tore the mountain and rocks apart--but the LORD was not in the wind. After that there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. Then came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. Finally, the LORD spoke to him in a whisper, a still, small voice, clear and real: "What are you doing here?" And Elijah responded with the same answer. But God gave him his new commission--and informed him that he had 7,000 who had not bowed down to Baal. Elijah was not the only one left--but he was the one God wanted to use.
His new commission was to travel all the way north from Sinai to Damascus, quite a lengthy journey. There he would anoint the next king of Damascus, a man named Hazael. Then he was to go to Israel and anoint Jehu as king over Israel. Then he was to anoint Elisha to succeed him. These would be God’s new instruments for opposing Baalism in the land. The chapter ends with the choosing of Elisha. Elijah found him plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. He went up and threw his mantel over him, a sign that he would be the one to carry on Elijah’s work. Elisha burned his wooden implements and slaughtered all the oxen and cooked the meat on the fire and gave it to the people to eat. He was not going to turn back from his new calling in life.
The Authority Motif
The chapter reminds us of several motifs that we have already seen in the ministry of Elijah. But what stands out in the chapter is the distinction between the religion of Baal and the religion of Yahweh. The fire, the earthquake, and the shattering wind would all have been clear signs to the Canaanites that Baal was there. But Yahweh is not in them--he is over them. Yahweh reveals himself by the spoken word, and his prophets are spokesmen and women for him. The Israelites, and at times Christians, expect God to be in the spectacular things. But as Elijah declared at the beginning of chapter 17, Yahweh is the living God--and he speaks words to his people. Yes, he can use the spectacular when it suits his purpose, such as in proving Baalism wrong. But the Word of God is not mysterious; it is his clear revelation to his people. And the prophet was given authority to speak for him.
The authority of the prophet also was displayed in his anointing kings and prophets. What is truly amazing here is that Elijah was to anoint Hazael. He was the king of Aram, meaning Syria, the city being Damascus. These were the enemies of Israel, both militarily and religiously. This was Baal country! Yahweh had authority over the land of Canaan, over the weather and the crops, as we have seen; but it is also Yahweh who sets up kings in the Canaanite territories.
But Elijah was also to anoint Jehu. This meant that Ahab’s and Jezebel’s days were numbered. Jehu would take care of them, and their false prophets--with a vengeance. And whatever he lacked, Elisha would provide.
The point of the chapter is that the prophet of Yahweh has the authority of heaven behind him, and not the prophets of Baal who have no authority. They were murderers and false prophets; their patroness was a murderer, and wanted to kill Elijah. But Yahweh’s mission for Elijah was not complete. He would oversee the dramatic change of dynasties in two countries and the prophetic office as well.
The Book of Deuteronomy recorded two tests of the true prophet that God would raise up who would be like Moses. The first in chapter 13 is fidelity to the Torah. It did not matter if they did signs and wonders--if their message did not harmonize with the Word of God, they were false prophets. This should teach even Christians today not to be deceived by signs and wonders alone, but to test the message with the Word of God. The other test according to chapter 18 is whether or not what he says comes to pass. If the prophet declares what is to happen, then if he is a true prophet it will happen. But the predictions and the miracles were all to authenticate the message, just as it would be in the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, the true prophet like Moses.