1 Kings 17-18: Elijah the Baptist

We now come to life of Elijah the Tishbite.  He is undoubtedly one of the most famous prophets of the Old Testament, and most quoted saint of the Bible.  His showdown against the prophets of Baal and the constant references to him in the New Testament begs us to scrutinize Elijah’s life and understand the typology of his work in lieu of John the Baptist’s preparation for Jesus’ salvific work on the cross.

 

Let us look at the various references to him throughout Scripture (my emphasis):

Malachi 4:

4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

 

Mark 9:

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.

11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”

12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?

13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

 

Luke 1:

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,

15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,

17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

 

Luke 4:

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.”

24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.

25 But 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,

26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

 

Romans 11:

1 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.

2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel?

3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.”

4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”

5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

 

John 1:

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 

 

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)

25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,

27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

 

James:

15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.

18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

 

It is thus clear that he was a man identified as turning the hearts of fathers to their children, the hearts of children to their fathers (Malachi 4:4-6) – the restoration of the first familial relationship between us adam, sons of God, in order for the restoration of our temporary familial relationship between ourselves and our earthly parents.  And that path shall be prepared by him, that the disobedient may turn to the wisdom of the just (Luke 1:17).  He shall come first, before Christ, to restore all things (Mark 9:12), suffering many things and treated with contempt like the Son of Man (Mark 9:13).  Elijah was a man rejected (Luke 4:24), and was sent not to the multitude of widows in Capernaum, but only to Zarephath – and his disciple Elisha only cleansed one leper out of many in that time – Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27).  In a time of despair, he did not intercede but prayed against Israel, and it is the LORD’s faithfulness that reminded him of His grace in His salvation of the spiritual Israelites (Romans 11:2-4).  John the Baptist shall walk his path, making straight the way of the LORD by the baptism of water (John 1:23-27; Luke 1:17) – and yet, Elijah’s life was ultimately characterized not by his might for he was not a bold king of Judah, nor a king of Israel.  He was a man unknown, with no explicit genealogy in 1 Kings, yet we understand him “whose God is Jehovah”, this stranger (Tishbite) among strangers in Gilead (Tishbe in Gilead).  A godly man of strange origins, characterized by his fervent life of prayer and cleansing of Israel in lieu of the kings’ failures to rid Israel of its collection of foreign altars and idols (James 5:15-18).

 

I Kings 17:

1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

2 And the word of the LORD came to him,

3 “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.

4 You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.”

5 So he went and did according to the word of the LORD. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan.

6 And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

7 And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

 

And upon the LORD’s command, this prayer-prophet begins his path of preparing the LORD’s way not in the way of proclamation.  Nor is it done by force.  The famous prophet begins by hiding by the brook Cherith, on the east of Jordan, away from Jerusalem, the city of peace.  What trust that the LORD provided such basic means (Luke 12:27), of bread and meat and waters from the brook of cutting / piercing.  It is in this drought that we see the LORD’s way being prepared, the chosen prophet in hiding rejected from the capital city of Israel.  This is a type of that worldly famine not merely of bread, nor of water, but of hearing the words of the LORD (Amos 8:11).  Is not Ahab and Jezebel’s time exactly that, for the prophet to hide on the east of Jordan away from Joshua’s crossing (Joshua 4)?

 

8 Then the word of the LORD came to him,

9 “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

10 So he arose and went to Zarephath. And when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.”

11 And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”

12 And she said, “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.”

13 And Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.

14 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.’”

15 And she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days.

16 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.

 

What strangeness indeed, that the LORD should further command Elijah to travel towards the land where Jezebel hails (Sidon), to Zarephath, the ‘smelting place’.  By no means a safe place, Elijah thus traveled further into enemy territory, outside of the camp (Hebrews 13:13) of Israel – but even a widow in Sidon is a servant of the LORD in service to this prophet (v.9).  Not any widow – but a widow of despair (v.12), by no means of great resources but very meek and humble (v.12).  Yet, it is by the LORD, through Elijah, that the miracle of creation is performed before the widow’s eyes – that the jar of flour and the jug of oil shall neither be spent nor empty, until the day of the LORD sending rain upon the earth, representing that great filling of the word of the LORD as the waters cover the sea (Habbakuk 2:14).  This is the same LORD incarnate who spoke to the Samaritan, rejected, woman at the well, and instead of being served, He came to serve and provide the true living waters (John 4).  He is the same LORD who multiplied the provision of bread and fish (Matthew 15).

 

17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.

18 And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”

19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed.

20 And he cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?”

21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”

22 And the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived.

23 And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.”

24 And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

 

What glory of resurrection of this widow’s son!  The type of ‘resurrection-stretching’ emulated by Elisha (2 Kings 4:34) and Paul (Acts 20:10).  Is not this resurrection future clearly understood by Elijah, that he cried and prayed (c.f. James 5) as a righteous man for the child’s life (נפש – soul) to come into him again?  Even the widow did not confirm the man’s prophethood by the miracle of the jar of flour and the jug of oil, until the definitive demonstration of the act of resurrection which could be performed by no other than God and a man of God (v.24).  Yet – note that she already recognized him as a man of God prior to the resurrection (v.18), as if the prophet came to condemn her.  Yet, Christ did not come to condemn, but to save – to confirm that what a ‘man of God’ entails is both the condemnation of those outside of Christ but the salvation of those who stand under His banner (John 3:16-18).  The truth of Elijah’s actions and words were sealed by resurrection which no false prophet could perform.

 

I Kings 18:

1 After many days the word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.”

2 So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria.

3 And Ahab called Obadiah, who was over the household. (Now Obadiah feared the LORD greatly,

4 and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the LORD, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water.)

5 And Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land to all the springs of water and to all the valleys. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, and not lose some of the animals.”

6 So they divided the land between them to pass through it. Ahab went in one direction by himself, and Obadiah went in another direction by himself.

 

After three and a half years, the famine came to an end after a symbolic period of time (c.f. Daniel 7:25, 12:7; Revelation 12:14), a recognition of the coming of the LORD on His straight path.  Elijah showing himself to Ahab is the reckoning of the LORD presenting Himself as the threat to Ahab’s heresies and mock rituals of the Christian faith.  Ahab’s response was not one of repentance, but one of self-salvation (v.5), and Jezebel’s tyranny is at its height as she paves a crooked way for the prophets of the LORD (v.4).  Only Obadiah (the servant of the LORD) and Elijah, the two Christians, could work together to bring in the LORD’s salvation.

 

7 And as Obadiah was on the way, behold, Elijah met him. And Obadiah recognized him and fell on his face and said, “Is it you, my lord Elijah?”

8 And he answered him, “It is I. Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’”

9 And he said, “How have I sinned, that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me?

10 As the LORD your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent to seek you. And when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would take an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you.

11 And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here.”’

12 And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the LORD will carry you I know not where. And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have feared the LORD from my youth.

13 Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the LORD, how I hid a hundred men of the LORD’s prophets by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water?

14 And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, “Behold, Elijah is here”’; and he will kill me.”

15 And Elijah said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.”

16 So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah.

 

Note Elijah’s words in v.15: he is standing before the LORD of hosts.  Obadiah, despite his fear and his deed of hiding a hundred men of the LORD’s prophets (v.12), still stood in fear.  Observe that Obadiah understands the LORD well – that by His Spirit we may be carried to where others know not where (Acts 8:39), for His Spirit works in wondrous ways with those who are fearful of His Anointed Son.

 

Elijah, however, is the man who rose a boy from the dead, and here is Obadiah a servant of the LORD fearful both of Ahab and Yahweh.  In the words of Luke, Elijah walked as one who fears the One who has authority to case into hell (Luke 12:4-5).  Elijah, and Obadiah, both need to bear the reproach of Christ when confronting Ahab (Hebrews 11:26, 13:13).  Such is the man who stood against the king of Israel, daring to label the king as the troubler of Israel clearly proclaiming that he has abandoned the LORD’s commandments and followed other lords (Baals).  It is only fitting that the contest between the one prophet (or two, including Obadiah) against 950 prophets of Baal and Asherah put together at Mount Carmel – a fruitful park of the circumcised lamb.  This is where the Lamb of God’s circumcision, the cutting of his flesh on the cross, demonstrates Elijah’s victory over those who eat at Jezebel’s table (contrast with Exodus 24:11, those who eat and drink with the LORD).

 

17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”

18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals.

19 Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

20 So Ahab sent to all the people of Israel and gathered the prophets together at Mount Carmel.

21 And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word.

22 Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men.

23 Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it.

24 And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”

25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.”

26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made.

27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.

29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.

 

Elijah understood clearly the precepts of the sacrificial bull – and demonstrates that zeal in religion is not inherently a virtue, when the object of worship is dead (v.27).  Their own custom of self-mutilation is exactly contrary to the purpose of the sacrificial bull: as if their own blood could satiate the LORD’s wrath!  These sinners could not have dared believe that their sinful blood could atone themselves!  Yet, such ravings is exactly a revelation of what their dead religion portrays – that of a dead god.  The resounding words: “No one answered; no one paid attention” (v.29).  No fire consumed the sacrifice as a testament to the Christ whom Elijah understood to have died on his behalf, without Elijah’s need to self-mutilate for the Father’s attention.

 

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down.

31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,”

32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahs of seed.

33 And he put the wood in order and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.”

34 And he said, “Do it a second time.” And they did it a second time. And he said, “Do it a third time.” And they did it a third time.

35 And the water ran around the altar and filled the trench also with water.

 

It is deliberate that Jacob is now referred to as Israel (v.31) – for the taking of the twelve stones acts as a symbolism of the unity of Israel under the LORD who gave birth to Israel as His firstborn son (Exodus 4:22).  The wood is cut in shape with the same bull in pieces, laid carefully on the wood, 12 jars of water poured onto the burnt offering and the wood.

 

Yet, note that this is a large amount of water – 12 jars for 12 tribes.  It should be noted that this rain water is exactly the subject of desire of Israel, the reason for the famine.  Now, the famine has not yet ended and there is hardly plenty of water to spare (c.f. v.41-46), suggesting once again the provision of the LORD (or the lack of) has its suggested purpose – and such miraculous provision of water is first applied on the bull, on the wood, and on the altar.  The LORD’s provision is plentiful – each painting a separate picture of Christ.  The bull as the Christ; the wood the cross; the altar built of the twelve tribes of Israel (despite the current split between Israel and Judah) – and the water as the combined judgment of the LORD by rain water (Genesis 7:4) and the provision of His Word after years of drought (c.f. Amos 8:12) – all completed on the third time (Genesis 22:4; Exodus 19:11-16).  This is no arbitrary arrangement of Christ’s crucifixion on the cross as Mount Carmel, the place of the circumcised lamb – for Elijah has done all these things at His word (v.36):

 

36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.

37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.”

38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.

39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.”

40 And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.

 

Matthew Henry:

“He repaired this altar with twelve stones, according to the number of the twelve tribes, 31. Though ten of the tribes had revolted to Baal, he would look upon them as belonging to God still, by virtue of the ancient covenant with their fathers: and, though those ten were unhappily divided from the other two in civil interest, yet in the worship of the God of Israel they had communion with each other, and they twelve were one. Mention is made of God’s calling their father Jacob by the name of Israel, a prince with God ( 31), to shame his degenerate seed, who worshipped a god which they saw could not hear nor answer them, and to encourage the prophet who was now to wrestle with God as Jacob did; he also shall be a prince with God. Ps. xxiv. 6, Thy face, O Jacob! Hos. xii. 4. There he spoke with us…

 

…God immediately answered him by fire, 38. Elijah’s God was neither talking nor pursuing, needed not to be either awakened or quickened; while he was yet speaking, the fire of the Lord fell, and not only, as at other times (Lev. ix. 24; 1 Chron. xxi. 26; 2 Chron. vii. 1) consumed the sacrifice and the wood, in token of God’s acceptance of the offering, but licked up all the water in the trench, exhaling that, and drawing it up as a vapour, in order to the intended rain, which was to be the fruit of this sacrifice and prayer, more than the product of natural causes. Compare Ps. cxxxv. 7. He causeth vapours to ascend, and maketh lightnings for the rain; for this rain he did both. As for those who fall as victims to the fire of God’s wrath, no water can shelter them from it, any more than briers or thorns, Isa. xxvii. 4, 5. But this was not all; to complete the miracle, the fire consumed the stones of the altar, and the very dust, to show that it was no ordinary fire, and perhaps to intimate that, though God accepted this occasional sacrifice from this altar, yet for the future they ought to demolish all the altars on their high places, and, for their constant sacrifices, make use of that at Jerusalem only. Moses’s altar and Solomon’s were consecrated by the fire from heaven; but this was destroyed, because no more to be used. We may well imagine what a terror the fire struck on guilty Ahab and all the worshippers of Baal, and how they fled from it as far and as fast as they could, saying, Lest it consume us also, alluding to Num. xvi. 34.”

 

Thus is the confirmation that the LORD is a consuming fire indeed (Deuteronomy 4:24, 9:3; Isaiah 33:14; Lamentations 2:3; Hebrews 12:28-29).  He is also the visible LORD, the Son of God and the Angel who appeared to Moses in a flame of fire of a bush not consumed.  This fire is the same wrath the Father bore against the Son in propitiation of our sins, and all those who stood outside of the sacrifice were slaughtered at the bottom of Mount Carmel.  They were themselves circumcised, fulfilling the shadow of their own demise.  In their self-mutilation, nothing was further from pronouncing the same judgment upon themselves.  Even the final cry of “the LORD, he is God” no longer beckons the same response from the LORD as His favour towards a saint like Elijah – for He never knew them (Matthew 7:21).

 

41 And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.”

42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.

43 And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times.

44 And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’”

45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel.

46 And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

 

Thus the chapter ends with what has already been confirmed – “the hand of the LORD was on Elijah” (v.46), the same hand that rose from the sea (v.43-44) for there is now the sound of the rushing of rain (v.41).

 

 

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1 Kings 17-18: Elijah the Baptist

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