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Holman Bible Dictionary
He was a complex man of the desert who counseled kings. His life is best understood when considered from four historical perspectives which at times are interrelated: his miracles, his struggle against Baalism, his prophetic role, and his eschatological relationship to Messiah.
Miracles His first miracle was associated with his prophecy before King Ahab (1 Kings 17:1 ) in which he said there would be no rain or dew apart from his declaration. Immediately after the prophecy, he retreated to the brook Cherith where he was fed by ravens.
His next refuge was Zarephath where he performed the miracle of raising the widow's dead son (1 Kings 17:17-24 ). Here he was first called “a man of God.”
On Mount Carmel his greatest public miracle involved his encounter with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19-40 ). The contest was to determine the true God. The false prophets called on their gods, and Elijah called on His God to see which would rain fire from heaven. After the false prophets failed to hear from their gods, Elijah wet the wood on his altar to the true God by pouring four jars of water over it three times. In response of Elijah's prayer, Yahweh rained fire from heaven to consume the wet wood. As a result of their deception, Elijah ordered the false prophets killed.
Elijah next prophesied that the drought was soon to end (1 Kings 18:41 ) after three rainless years. From Carmel, Elijah prayed. He sent his servant seven times to see if rain was coming. The seventh time a cloud the size of a hand appeared on the horizon. Ahab was told to flee before the storm. Elijah outran his chariot and the storm to arrive at Jezreel.
Baalism Interwoven in the life of Elijah is his struggle with Baalism. Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of Sidon and Tyre (1 Kings 16:31 ), was Ahab's wife and Israel's queen. She brought the worship of her god Baal into Ahab's kingdom. Even “Ahab served Baal a little” (2 Kings 10:18 ). The contest on Carmel showed a contrast between the contesting deities. Yahweh's power and Baal's impotence was further revealed through the drought. A later involvement with Naboth showed the moral superiority of Elijah's faith (2 Kings 9:25-37 ).
Jezebel planned revenge toward Elijah for ordering the false prophets slain, so Elijah retreated to Judah and finally Mount Horeb. There he observed the power of the wind, earthquake, and fire; but the Lord was not seen in these forces. In a small voice the Lord commanded him to go anoint Hazael king of Syria, Jehu king of Israel, and Elisha as his own successor (1 Kings 19:1-17 ).
Prophet His prophetic role constantly placed Elijah in opposition to the majority of the people of his nation. His prophetic confrontations involved King Ahab and later his son Ahaziah. Their toleration of polytheism was the ongoing reason for Elijah's prophetic denunciations.
When Ahaziah fell and injured himself, he sent messengers to ask Baal-zebub (lord of flies) about his fate. Elijah intercepted them and sent word back to Ahaziah that he was soon to die (2 Kings 1:1 ). Ahaziah sent three different detachments of fifty soldiers each to arrest Elijah. The first two units were destroyed by fire from heaven. The captain of the third group pleaded for his life. He safely escorted Elijah to the king where he delivered the prophecy of his pending death personally.
Relationship to Messiah Elijah and Elisha were involved in the schools of the prophets when Elijah struck the waters of the Jordan and they parted to allow their crossing (2 Kings 2:1-12 ). There, immediately after conferring a double portion of his spirit on Elisha (2 Kings 2:9 ), the two were separated by a chariot and horses of fire which carried Elijah away in a whirlwind as Elisha watched shouting, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.”
Malachi promised God would send Elijah the prophet before the coming “day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5 ). John the Baptist was spoken of as the one who would go before Messiah “in the spirit and power” of Elijah (Luke 1:17 ). John personally denied that he was literally Elijah reincarnate (John 1:21 ,John 1:21,1:25 ). Some considered Jesus to be Elijah (Matthew 16:14; Mark 6:15 ).
Elijah appeared along with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus to discuss His “departure.” Here Peter suggested that three tabernacles be built for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (Matthew 17:4; Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33 ).
Paul used as an illustration of faithfulness the 7,000 faithful worshipers in the time of Elijah (Romans 11:2-5 ).
The two witnesses referred to in Revelation 11:6 are not identified by name, but their capacity “to shut heaven, that it rain not” leads many to conclude they are Moses and Elijah.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Elijah'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/e/elijah.html. 1991.