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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Hebrews Eliyah', אֵלַיָּה , whose God is Jehovah, 2 Kings 1:3-4; 2 Kings 1:8; 2 Kings 1:12; 1 Chronicles 8:27; Ezra 10:21; Ezra 10:26; Malachi 4:5; elsewhere in the prolonged form Eliya'hu, אֵלַיָּהוּ; Sept. ᾿Ηλιού v.r. ᾿Ηλίας; N.T. ῾Ηλίας ; Josephus, ᾿Ηλίας, Ant. 8:13, 4; Vulg. Elias), the name of several men in the O.T., but the later ones apparently all namesakes of the famous prophet.
I. "ELIJAH THE TISHBITE," the Elias" of the N.T., a character whose rare, sudden, and brief appearances, undaunted courage and fiery zeal — the brilliancy of whose triumphs — the pathos of whose despondency-the glory of whose departure, and the calm beauty of whose reappearance on the Mount of Transfiguration — throw such a halo of brightness around him as is equalled by none of his compeers in the sacred story.
1. Origin. — This wonder-working prophet is introduced to our notice like another Melchizedek (Genesis 10:4; Genesis 10:18; Hebrews 7:3), without any mention of his father or mother, or of the beginning of his days — as if he had dropped out of that cloudy chariot which, after his work was done on earth, conveyed him back to heaven. "Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead," is literally all that is given us to know of his parentage and locality (1 Kings 17:1). The Hebrew text is אֵלַיָּהוּ הִתַּשְׁבַּי מַתּשָׁבְי גַלְעָד . The third word may be pointed (1), as in the present Masoretic text, to mean "from the inhabitants of Gilead," or (2) "from Tishbi of Gilead," which, with a slight change in form, is what the Sept. has (ὁ ἐκ θεσσεβῶν ). The latter is followed by Ewald (Isr. Gesch. 3:486, note). Lightfoot assumes, but without giving his authority, that Elijah was from Jabesh-Gilead. By Josephus he is said to have come from Thesbon — ἐκ πολεως θεσβώνης τῆς Γαλααδίτιδος χώρας (Ant. 8:13, 2). Perhaps this may have been read as Heshbon, a city of the priests, and given rise to the statement of Epiphanius that he was "of the tribe of Aaron," and grandson of Zadok. (See also the Chron. Pasch. in Fabricius, Cod. Pseudep. V.T. p. 1070, etc.; and Quaresmius, Elucid. 2:605.) According to Jewish tradition — grounded on a certain similarity between the fiery zeal of the two-Elijah was identical with Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest. He was also the angel of Jehovah who appeared in fire to Gideon (Lightfoot on John 1:21; Eisenmenger, 1:686). Arab tradition places his birthplace at Gilhad (Jalud), a few miles north of es-Salt (Irby, page 98), and his tomb near Damascus (Mislin, 1:490). The common assumption — perhaps originating with Hiller (Onom. page 947) or Reland (Pal. page 1035) — is that he was born in the town of Thisbe (q.v.), mentioned in Tobit 1:2. But, not to insist on the fact that this Thisbe was not in Gilead, but in Naphtali, it is nearly certain that the name has no real existence in that passage, but arises from a mistaken translation of the same Hebrew word which is rendered "inhabitants" in 1 Kings 17:1. (See TISHBITE).
2. Personal Appearance. — The mention of Gilead, however, is the key- note to much that is most characteristic in the story of the prophet. Gilead was the country on the further side of the Jordan — a country of chase and pasture, of tent-villages and mountain castles, inhabited by a people not settled and civilized like those who formed the communities of Ephraim and Judah, but of wandering, irregular habits, exposed to the attacks of the nomad tribes of the desert, and gradually conforming more and more to the habits of those tribes; making war with the Hagarites, and taking the countless thousands of their cattle, and then dwelling in their stead (1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:19-22). (See GILEAD).
With Elijah this is seen at every turn. Of his appearance as he "stood before" Ahab — with the suddenness of motion to this day characteristic of the Bedouins from his native hills — we can perhaps realize something from the touches, few, but strong, of the narrative. Of his height little is to be inferred — that little is in favor of its being beyond the ordinary size. His chief characteristic was his hair, long and thick, and hanging down his back, and which, if not betokening the immense strength of Samson, yet accompanied powers of endurance no less remarkable. (See HAIR). His ordinary clothing consisted of a girdle of skin round his loins, which he tightened when about to move quickly (1 Kings 18:46). But in addition to this he occasionally wore the "mantle" (q.v.), or cape, of sheep-skin, which has supplied us with one of our most familiar figures of speech. In this mantle, in moments of emotion, he would hide his face (1 Kings 19:13), or when excited would roll it up as into a kind of staff. On one occasion we find him bending himself down upon the ground with his face between his knees. Such, so far as the scanty notices of the record will allow us to conceive it, was the general appearance of the great prophet — an appearance which there is no reason to think was other than uncommon even at that time. The solitary life in which these external peculiarities had been assumed had also nurtured that fierceness of zeal and that directness of address which so distinguished him. It was in the wild loneliness of the hills and ravines of Gilead that the knowledge of Jehovah, the living God of Israel, had been impressed on his mind, which was to form the subject of his mission to the idolatrous court and country of Israel.
3. History. — The northern kingdom had at this time forsaken almost entirely the faith in Jehovah. The worship of the calves had been a departure from him, it was a violation of his command against material resemblances; but still it would appear that even in the presence of the calves Jehovah was acknowledged, and they were at any rate a national institution, not directly imported from the idolatries of any of the surrounding countries. (See CALF).
They were announced by Jeroboam as the preservers of the nation during the great crisis of its existence: "Behold thy gods, O Israel, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 12:28). But the case was quite different when Ahab, not content with the calf-worship — "as if it had been a light thing to walk in the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat" — married the daughter of the king of Sidon, and introduced on the most extensive scale (Josephus, Ant. 9:6, 6) the foreign religion of his wife's family, the worship of the Phoenician Baal. What this worship consisted of we are ignorant — doubtless it was of a gay, splendid, and festal character, and therefore very opposite to the grave, severe service of the Mosaic ritual. Attached to it and to the worship of Asherah (A.V. "Ashtaroth," and "the groves") were licentious and impure sites, which in earlier times had brought the heaviest judgments on the nation (Numbers 15:1-41; Judges 2:13-14; Judges 3:7-8). But the most obnoxious and evil characteristic of the Baal religion was that it was the worship of power, of mere strength, as opposed to that of a God of righteousness and goodness — a foreign religion, imported from nations the hatred of whom was inculcated in every page of the law, as opposed to the religion of that God who had delivered the nation from the bondage of Egypt, had "driven out the heathen with his hand, and planted them in," and through whom their forefathers had "trodden down their enemies, and destroyed those that rose up against them." It is as a witness against these two evils that Elijah comes forward. (B.C. cir. 907.)
(1.) What we may call the first act in his life embraces between three and four years — three years and six months for the duration of the drought, according to the statements of the New Testament (Luke 4:25; James 5:17), and three or four months more for the journey to Horeb and the return to Gilead (1 Kings 17:50–19:21). His introduction is of the most startling description: he suddenly appears before Ahab, as with the unrestrained freedom of Eastern manners he would have no difficulty in doing, and proclaims the vengeance of Jehovah for the apostasy of the king. This he does in the remarkable formula evidently characteristic of himself, and adopted after his departure by his follower Elisha — a formula which includes everything at issue between himself and the king — the name of Jehovah — his being the God of Israel — the Living God — Elijah being his messenger, and then — the special lesson of the event — that the god of power and of nature should be beaten at his own weapons. "As Jehovah, God of Israel, liveth, before whom I stand," whose constant servant I am, "there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." Before, however, he spoke thus, it would seem that he had been warning this most wicked king as to the fatal consequences which must result both to himself and his people from the iniquitous course he was then pursuing, and this may account for the apparent abruptness with which he opens his commission. What immediate action followed on this we are not told; but it is plain that Elijah had to fly before some threatened vengeance, either of the king, or more probably of the queen (compare 19:2). Perhaps it was at this juncture that Jezebel "cut off the prophets of Jehovah" (1 Kings 18:4). We can imagine Ahab and Jezebel being greatly incensed against Elijah for having foretold and prayed that such calamities might befall them. For some time they might attribute the drought under which the nation suffered to natural causes, and not to the interposition of the prophet; and, therefore, however they might despise him as a vain enthusiast, they would not proceed immediately to punish him. When, however, they saw the denunciation of Elijah taking effect far more extensively than had been anticipated, they would naturally seek to wreak their vengeance upon him as the cause of their sufferings. But we do not find him taking one step for his own preservation till the God whom he served interposed. He was directed to the brook Cherith, either one of the torrents which cleave the high table-lands of his native hills, or on the west of Jordan, more in the neighborhood of Samaria, perhaps the present wady Kelt. (See CHERITH). There, in the hollow of the torrent-bed, he remained, supported in the miraculous manner with which we are all familiar, till the failing of the brook obliged him to forsake it. How long he remained in the Chelith is uncertain. The Hebrew expression is simply "at the end of days;" nor does Josephus afford us any more information. A vast deal of ingenuity has been devoted to explaining away Elijah's "ravens." The Hebrew word, עֹרְבִים , orebim', has been interpreted as "Arabians," as "merchants," as inhabitants of some neighboring town of Orbo or Orbi. By others Elijah has been held to have plundered a raven's nest, and this twice a day regularly for several months! (See RAVEN).
His next refuge, under the divine guidance (1 Kings 17:9), was at Zarephath, a Phoenician town lying between Tyre and Sidon, certainly the last place at which the enemy of Baal would be looked for. The widow woman in whose house he lived is thought, however, to have been an Israelite, and no Baal-worshipper, by some who take her adjuration by "Jehovah thy God" as an indication. But the obvious circumstances of the case, and her mention by our Savior (Luke 4:26), imply her heathen character. Here Elijah performed the miracles of prolonging the oil and the meal, and restored the son of the widow to life after his sudden death. The traditional scene of his meeting with the widow was in a wood to the south of the town (Mislin, 1:532, who, however, does not give his authority). In the time of Jerome the spot was marked by a tower (Jerome, Ep. Paulk). At a later period a church dedicated to the prophet was erected over the house of the widow, in which his chamber and her kneading-trough were shown (Anton. Martyr and Phocas, in Reland, p. 985). This church was called τὸ χηρεῖον (Acta Sanctorum). The Jewish tradition, quoted by Jerome, was that the resuscitated boy was the servant who afterwards accompanied Elijah, and finally became the prophet Jonah (Jerome, Pref. to Jonah; and see the citations from the Talmuds in Eisenmenger, 2:725).
The drought continued, and at last the full horrors of famine, caused by the failure of the crops, descended on Samaria. During this time the prophet was called upon passively to suffer God's will; now he must once again resume the more active duties of life; he must make one great public effort more to reclaim his country from apostasy and ruin. According to the word of the Lord, he returned to Israel; Ahab was yet alive, and unreformed; Jezebel, his impious consort, was still mad upon her idols; in a word, the prophets of Baal were prophesying lies, the priests were bearing rule by their means, and the people loved to have it so. The king and his chief domestic officer had divided between them the mournful duty of ascertaining that neither round the springs, which are so frequent a feature of central Palestine, nor in the nooks and crannies of the most shaded torrent-beds, was there any of the herbage left, which in those countries is so certain an indication of the presence of moisture. No one short of the two chief persons of the realm could be trusted with this quest for life or death — "Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself." It is the moment for the reappearance of the prophet. Wishing not to tempt God by going unnecessarily into danger, he first presented himself to good Obadiah (1 Kings 18:7). There, suddenly planted in his path, is the man whom he and his master have been seeking for more than three years. Before the sudden apparition of that wild figure, and that stern, unbroken countenance, Obadiah could not but fall on his face. Elijah requested him to announce to Ahab that he had returned. Obadiah, apparently stung by the unkindness of this request, replied, "What have I sinned, that thou shouldest thus expose me to Ahab's rage, who will certainly slay me for not apprehending thee, for whom he has so long and so anxiously sought in all lands and in confederate countries, that they should not harbor a traitor whom he looks upon as the author of the famine," etc.
Moreover, he would delicately intimate to Elijah how he had actually jeoparded his own life in securing that of one hundred of the Lord's prophets, and whom he had fed at his own expense. Satisfied with Elijah's reply to this touching appeal, wherein he removed all his fears about the Spirit's carrying him away (as 2 Kings 2:11-16; Ezekiel 3:4; Acts 8:39), he resolves to be the prophet's messenger to Ahab. Intending to' be revenged on him, or to inquire when rain might be expected, Ahab now came forth to meet Elijah. He at once charged him with troubling Israel, i.e., with being the main cause of all the calamities which he and the nation had suffered. But Elijah flung back the charge upon himself, assigning the real cause to be his own sin of idolatry. Regarding, however, his magisterial position, while he reproved his sin, he requests him to exercise his authority in summoning an assembly to Mount Carmel, that the controversy between them might be decided by a direct miracle from heaven (compare Matthew 16:1). Whatever were his secret motives, Ahab accepted this proposal. As fire was the element over which Baal was supposed to preside, the prophet proposes (wishing to give them every advantage), that, two bullocks being slain, and laid each upon a distinct altar, the one for Baal, the other for Jehovah, whichever should be consumed by fire must proclaim whose the people of Israel were, and whom it was their duty to serve. The people consent to this proposal, because, it may be, they were not altogether ignorant how God had formerly answered by fire (Genesis 4:4; Leviticus 9:24; Judges 6:21; Judges 13:20; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1).
Elijah will have summoned not only all the elders of Israel, but also the four hundred priests of Baal belonging to Jezebel's court, and the four hundred and fifty who were dispersed over the kingdom. The former, however, did not attend, being, perhaps, glad to shelter themselves under the plea that Jezebel would not allow them to do so. Why Mount Carmel, which we do not hear of until now, was chosen in preference to the nearer Ebal or Gerizim, is not evident. Possibly Elijah thought it wise to remove the place of the meeting to a distance from Samaria. Possibly in the existence of the altar of Jehovah (18:30) — in ruins, and therefore of earlier erection — we have an indication of an ancient sanctity attaching to the spot. On the question of the particular part of the ridge of Carmel which formed the site of the meeting, there cannot be much doubt. (See CARMEL).
There are few more sublime stories in history than this. On the one hand the solitary servant of Jehovah, accompanied by his one attendant, with his wild shaggy hair, his scanty garb, and sheepskin cloak, but with calm dignity of demeanor, and the minutest regularity of procedure; on the other hand, the prophets of Baal and Ashtaroth, doubtless in all the splendor of their vestments (2 Kings 10:22), with the wild din of their "vain repetitions" and the maddened fury of their disappointed hopes, and the silent people surrounding all — these things form a picture which brightens into fresh distinctness every time we consider it. Having reconstructed an altar which had once belonged to God, with twelve stones — as if to declare that the twelve tribes of Israel should again be united in the service of Jehovah — and having laid thereon his bullock, and filled the trench by which it was surrounded with large quantities of water, lest any suspicion of deceit might occur to any mind, the prophet gives place to the Baalites- allows them to make trial first. In vain did these deceived and deceiving men call, from morning till evening, upon Baals — in vain did they now mingle their own blood with that of the sacrifice: no answer was given — no fire descended. Elijah having rebuked their folly and wickedness with the sharpest irony, and it being at last evident to all that their efforts to obtain the wished-for fire were vain, now, at the time of the evening sacrifice, offered up his prayer. The Baalites' prayer was long, that of the prophet is short — charging God with the care of his covenant, of his truth, and of his glory — when, "behold, the fire came down, licked up the water, and consumed not only the bullock, but the very stones of the altar also." The effect of this on the mind of the people was what the prophet desired: acknowledging the awful presence of the Godhead, they exclaim, as with one voice, " The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God!" Seizing the opportunity while the people's hearts were warm with the fresh conviction of this miracle, he bade them take those juggling priests and kill them at Kishon, that their blood might help to fill that river which their idolatry had provoked God to empty by drought.
All this Elijah might lawfully do at God's direction, and under the sanction of his law (Deuteronomy 13:5; Deuteronomy 18:20). Ahab having now publicly vindicated God's violated law by giving his royal sanction to the execution of Baal's priests, Elijah informed him that he may go up to his tent on Carmel to take refreshment, for God will send the desired rain. In the mean time he prayed earnestly (James 5:17-18) for this blessing: God hears and answers: a little cloud arises out of the Mediterranean Sea, in sight of which the prophet now was, diffuses itself gradually over the entire face of the heavens, and now empties its refreshing waters upon the whole land of Israel! Here was another proof of the divine mission of the prophet, from which, we should imagine, the whole nation must have profited; but subsequent events would seem to prove that the impression produced by these dealings of God was of a very partial and temporary character. Impressed with the hope that the report of God's miraculous actings at Carmel might not only reach the ear, but also penetrate and soften the hard heart of Jezebel, and anxious that the reformation of his country should spread in and about Jezreel also, Elijah, strengthened, as we are told, from on high, now accompanies Ahab thither on foot. The ride across the plain to Jezreel was a distance of at least 16 miles; the prophet, with true Arab endurance, running before the chariot, but also, with true Arab instinct, stopping short of the city, and going no further than the "entrance of Jezreel."
So far the triumph had been complete; but the spirit of Jezebel was not to be so easily overcome, and her first act is a vow of vengeance against the author of this destruction. "God do so to me, and more also," so ran her exclamation, "if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time." It was no duty of Elijah to expose himself to unnecessary dangers, and, as at his first introduction, so now, he takes refuge in flight. The danger was great, and the refuge must be distant. The first stage on the journey was Beersheba — "Beersheba which belongeth to Judah," says the narrative, with a touch betraying its Israelitish origin. Here, at the ancient haunt of those fathers of his nation whose memory was so dear to him, and on the very confines of cultivated country, Elijah halted. His servant — according to Jewish tradition, the boy of Zarephath — he left in the town, while he himself set out alone into the wilderness — the waste uninhabited region which surrounds the south of Palestine. The labors, anxieties, and excitement of the last few days had proved too much even for that iron frame and that stern resolution. His spirit is quite broken, and he wanders forth over the dreary sweeps of those rocky hills wishing for death — "It is enough! Lord, let me die, for I am not better than my fathers." The man whose prayer had raised the dead, had shut and opened heaven, he who had been so wonderfully preserved by God at Cherith and Zarephath, and who dared to tax Ahab to his face with being Israel's troubler, is now terrified and disconsolate, thus affording a practical evidence of what the apostle James says of him, that he was a man of like passions with us. His now altered state of mind would seem to have arisen out of an exaggerated expectation of what God designed to effect through the miracles exhibited to, and the judgments poured upon this guilty nation. He seems to have thought that, as complete success did not crown the last great effort he had made to reform Israel, there could not be the slightest use in laboring for this end any longer. It is almost impossible not to conclude from the terms of the story that he was entirely without provisions for this or any journey. But God, who had brought his servant into this difficulty, provided him with the means of escaping from it. He now, alone in the wilderness and at Mount Horeb, will at once touch his heart and correct his petulancy by the ministration of his angel, and by a fearful exhibition of his divine power. The prophet, in a fit of despair, laid himself down beneath a lone "juniper-tree" (Hebrew רֹתֶם אֶחָד, one Rothem-tree). (See JUNIPER).
The indented rock opposite the gate of the Greek convent Deir Mar-Elyas, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which is now shown to travelers as the spot on which the prophet rested on this occasion, appears at an earlier date not to have been so restricted, but was believed to be the place on which he was "accustomed to sleep" (Sandys, lib. 3, page 176; Maundrell, Ear. Trav. page 456), and the site of the convent as that where he was born (Gaysforde, 1506, in Bonar, page 117). Neither the older nor the later story can be believed; but it is possible that they may have originated in some more trustworthy tradition of his having rested here on his southward journey, in all probability taken along this very route. (See a curious statement by Quaresmius of the extent to which the rock had been defaced in his own time "by the piety or impiety" of the Christian pilgrims, Elucidatio, 2:605; comp. Doubdan, Voyage, etc. page 144.) In this position the prophet was wakened from his despondent dream beneath the solitary bush of the wilderness, was fed with the bread and the water which to this day are all a Bedouin's requirements, and went forward, "in the strength of that food," a journey of forty days, "to the mount of God, even to Horeb." Here, in "the cave" (הִמְּעָרָה ), one of the numerous caverns in those awful mountains — perhaps some traditional sanctuary of that hallowed region, at any rate well known — he remained for certainly one night (וִיֶּלֶן ). In the morning came the "word of Jehovah" — the question, "What doest thou here, Elijah? Driven by what hard necessity dost thou seek this spot, on which the glory of Jehovah has in former times been so signally shown?" In answer to this invitation the prophet opens his griefs. He has been very zealous for Jehovah; but force has been vain; one cannot stand against a multitude; none follow him, and he is left alone, flying for his life from the sword which has slain his brethren. The reply comes in that ambiguous and indirect form in which it seems necessary that the deepest communications with the human mind should be couched to be effectual. He is directed to leave the cavern and stand on the mountain in the open air, face to face with Jehovah.
Then, as before with Moses (Exodus 34:6), "the Lord passed by;" passed in all the terror of his most appalling manifestations. The fierce wind tore the solid mountains and shivered the granite cliffs of Sinai; the earthquake crash reverberated through the defiles of those naked valleys; the fire burnt in the incessant blaze of Eastern lightning. Like these, in their degree, had been Elijah's own modes of procedure, but the conviction is now forced upon him that in none of these is Jehovah to be known. Then, penetrating the dead silence which followed these manifestations, came the fourth mysterious symbol — "the still small voice." What sound this was — whether articulate voice or not, we cannot determine; but low and still as it was, it spoke in louder accents to the wounded heart of Elijah than the roar and blaze which had preceded it. To him, no less unmistakably than to Moses centuries before, it was proclaimed that Jehovah was "merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth." Elijah knew the call, and at once stepping forward and hiding his face in his mantle, stood waiting for the divine communication. It is in the same words as before, and so is his answer; but with what different force must the question have fallen on his ears, and the answer left his lips! "Before his entrance to the cave he was comparatively a novice; when he left it he was an initiated man. He had thought that the earthquake, the fire, the wind, must be the great witnesses of the Lord. But He was not in them; not they, but the still small voice had that awe in it which forced the prophet to cover his face with his mantle. What a conclusion of all the past history! What an interpretation of its meaning!" (Maurice, Prophets and Kings, page 136). Not in the persecutions of Ahab and Jezebel, nor in the slaughter of the prophets of Baal, but in the 7000 unknown worshippers who had not bowed the knee to Baal, was the assurance that Elijah was not alone as he had seemed to be.
Three commands were laid on him — three changes were to be made. Instead of Ben-hadad, Hazael was to be king of Syria; instead of Ahab, Jehu the son of Nimshi was to be king of Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat was to be his own successor. These per. sons shall revenge God's quarrels: one shall begin, another shall prosecute, and the third shall perfect the vengeance on Israel. Of these three commands, the first two were reserved for Elisha to accomplish; the last only was executed by Elijah himself. It would' almost seem as if his late trials had awakened in him a yearning for that affection and companionship which had hitherto been denied him. His first search was for Elisha. Apparently he soon found him; we must conclude at his native place, Abel-meholah, probably somewhere about the center of the Jordan valley. (See ABEL-MEHOLAH).
Elisha was ploughing at the time, and Elijah "passed over to him" — possibly crossed the river — and, without uttering a sword, cast his mantle, the well-known sheepskin cloak, upon him, as if, by that familiar action (which was also a symbol of official investiture), claiming him for his son. A moment of hesitation — but the call was quickly accepted; and then commenced that long period of service and intercourse which continued till Elijah's removal, and which after that time procured for Elisha one of his best titles to esteem and reverence — "Elisha the son of Shaphat, who poured water on the hands of Elijah." (See ELISHA).
(2.) For about six years from this calling of Elisha we find no notice in the sacred history of Elijah, till God sent him once again to pronounce sore judgments upon Ahab and Jezebel for the murder of unoffending Naboth (1 Kings 21:17, etc.). How he and his associate in the prophetic office employed themselves during this time we are not told. We may conceive, however, that they were much engaged in prayer for their country, and in imparting knowledge in the schools of the prophets, which were at Jericho and Beth-el. Ahab and Jezebel now probably believed that their threats had been effectual, and that they had seen the last of their tormentor. At any rate, this may be inferred from the events of chapter 21. (See AHAB). Foiled in his wish to acquire the ancestral plot of ground of Naboth by the refusal of that sturdy peasant to alienate the inheritance of his fathers, Ahab and Jezebel proceed to possess themselves of it by main force, and by a degree of monstrous injustice which shows clearly enough how far the elders of Jezreel had forgotten the laws of Jehovah, how perfect was their submission to the will of their mistress. At her orders Naboth is falsely accused of blaspheming God and the king, is with his sons (2 Kings 9:26; romp. Joshua 7:24) stoned and killed, and his vineyard then — as having belonged to a criminal-becomes at once the property of the king. (See NABOTH).
Ahab loses no time in entering on his new acquisition. Apparently the very next day after the execution he proceeds in his chariot to take possession of the coveted vineyard. Behind him — probably in the back part of the chariot — ride his two pages Jehu and Bidkar (2 Kings 9:26). But the triumph was a short one. Elijah had received an intimation from Jehovah of what was taking place, and rapidly as the accusation and death of Naboth had been hurried over, he was there to meet his ancient enemy, and as an enemy he does meet him — as David went out to meet Goliath — on the very scene of his crime; suddenly, when least expected and least wished for, he confronts the miserable king. Then follows the curse, in terms fearful to any Oriental — peculiarly terrible to a Jew, and most of all significant to a successor of the apostate princes of the northern kingdom — "I will take away thy posterity; I will cut off from thee even thy very dogs; I will make thy house like that of Jeroboam and Baasha; thy blood shall be shed in the same spot where the blood of thy victims was shed last night; thy wife and thy children shall be torn in this very garden by the wild dogs of the city, or as common carrion devoured by the birds of the sky" — the large vultures which in Eastern climes are always wheeling aloft under the clear blue sky, and doubtless suggested the expression to the prophet. How tremendous was this Scene we may gather from the fact that after the lapse of at least twenty years Jehu was able to recall the very words of the prophet's burden, to which he,and his companion had listened as they stood behind their master in the chariot. The whole of Elijah's denunciation may possibly be recovered by putting together the words recalled by Jehu, 2 Kings 9:26; 2 Kings 9:36; 2 Kings 9:7, and those given in 1 Kings 21:19-25. Fearing that these predictions would prove true, as those about the rain and fire had done, Ahab now assumed the manner of a penitent; and, though subsequent acts proved the insincerity of his repentance, yet God rewarded his temporary abasement by a temporary arrest of judgment. We see, however, in after parts of this sacred history, how the judgments denounced against him, his abandoned consort, and children took effect to the very letter. (See JEZEBEL).
(3.) A space of three or four years now elapses (compare 1 Kings 22:1; 1 Kings 22:51; 2 Kings 1:17) before we again catch a glimpse of Elijah. The denunciations uttered in the vineyard of Naboth have been,partly fulfilled. Ahab is dead, and his son and successor, Ahaziah, has met with a serious accident, after a troubled reign of less than two years (2 Kings 1:1-2; 1 Kings 22:51). Fearing a fatal result, as if to prove himself a worthy son of an idolatrous parentage, he sends to an oracle or shrine of Baal at the Philistine town of Ekron to ascertain the issue of his illness. But the oracle is nearer at hand than the distant Ekron. An intimation is conveyed to the prophet, probably at that time inhabiting one of the recesses of Carmel, and, as on the former occasions, he suddenly appears on the path of the messengers, without preface or inquiry utters his message of death, and as rapidly disappears. The tone of his words is as national on this as on any former occasion, and, as before, they are authenticated by the name of Jehovah — "Thus saith Jehovah, Is it because there is no God in Israel that ye go to inquire of Baalzebub, god of Ekron?" The messengers returned to the king too soon to have accomplished their mission. They were possibly strangers; at any rate they were ignorant of the name of the man who had thus interrupted their journey. But his appearance had fixed itself in their minds, and their description at once told Ahaziah, who must have seen the prophet about his father's court or have heard him described in the harem, who it was that had thus reversed the favorable oracle which he was hoping for from Ekron. The "hairy man" (אַישׁ בִּעִל עָרשֵׂ, a man, a lord of hair), with a belt of rough skin round his loins, who came and went in this secret manner, and uttered his fierce words in the name of the God of Israel, could be no other than the old enemy of his father and mother; Elijah the Tishbite. But, ill as he was, this check only roused the wrath of Ahaziah, and, with the spirit of his mother, he at once seized the opportunity of possessing himself of the person of the man who had been for so long the evil genius of his house. A captain was dispatched, with a party of fifty, to take Elijah prisoner. He was sitting on the top of "the mount" (הָהָר ), i.e., probably of Carmel. The officer approached and addressed the prophet by the title which, as before noticed, is most frequently applied to him and Elisha — "O man of God, the king hath spoken: come down." "And Elijah answered and said, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty! And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty." A second party was sent, only to meet the same fate. The altered tone of the leader of a third party, and the assurance of God that his servant need not fear, brought Elijah down. But the king gained nothing. The message was delivered to his face in the same words as it had been to the messengers, and Elijah, so we must conclude, was allowed to go harmless. This was his last interview with the house of Ahab. It was also his last recorded appearance in person against the Baal-worshippers. It was this occasion to which the fiery sons of Zebedee alluded (Luke 9:51-56) in a proposal that brought out from the lips of the Savior the contrast with his own benign mission (Trench, Miracles, chapter 4).
(4.) It must have been shortly after the death of Ahaziah that Elijah made a communication with the southern kingdom. It is the only one of which any record remains, and its mention is the first and last time that the name of the prophet appears in the Books of Chronicles. Mainly devoted, as these books are, to the affairs of Judah, this is not surprising. The alliance between his enemy Ahab and Jehoshaphat cannot have been unknown to the prophet, and it must have made him regard the proceedings of the kings of Judah with more than ordinary interest. When, therefore, Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, who had married the daughter of Ahab, began "to walk in the ways of the kings of Israel, as did the house of Ahab, and to do that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah," Elijah sent him a letter (מַכְתָּב, a writing, different from the ordinary word for an epistle, סֵפֶר, a book), denouncing his evil doings, and predicting his death (2 Chronicles 21:12-15). This letter has been considered as a great difficulty, on the ground that Elijah's removal must have taken place before the death of Jehoshaphat (from the terms of the mention of Elisha in 2 Kings 3:11), and therefore before the accession of Joram to the throne of Judah. But, admitting that Elijah had been translated before the expedition of Jehoshaphat against Moab, it does not follow that Joram was not at that time, and before his father's death, king of Judah, Jehoshaphat occupying himself during the last eight or ten years of his life in going about the kingdom (2 Chronicles 19:4-11), and in conducting some important wars, amongst others that in question against Moab, while Joram was concerned with the more central affairs of the government (2 Kings 3:7, etc.). That Joram began to reign during the lifetime of his father Jehoshaphat is stated in 2 Kings 8:16. According to one record (2 Kings 1:17), which immediately precedes the account of Elijah's last acts on earth, Joram was actually on the throne of Judah at the time of Elijah's interview with Ahaziah; and though this is modified by the statements of other places (2 Kings 3:1; 2 Kings 8:16), yet it is not invalidated, and the conclusion is almost inevitable that Joram ascended the throne as viceroy or associate some years before the death of his father. (See JORAM); (See JEHOSHAPHAT); (See JUDAH). The ancient Jewish commentators get over the apparent difficulty by saying that the letter was written and sent after Elijah's translation. Others believed that it was the production of Elisha, for whose name that of Elijah had been substituted by copyists. The first of these requires no answer. To the second, the severity of its tone, as above noticed, is a sufficient reply. Josephus (Ant. 9:5, 2) says that the letter was sent while Elijah was still on earth. (See Lightfoot, Chronicle, etc., "Jehoram." Other theories will be found in Fabricius, Cod. Pseudepig. page 1075, and Otho, Lex. Rabb. page 167). In its contents the letter bears a strong resemblance to the speeches of Elijah, while in the details of style it is very peculiar, and quite different from the narrative in which it is imbedded (Bertheau, Chronik, ad loc.).
(5.) The prophet's warfare being now accomplished on earth, God, whom he had so long and so faithfully served, will translate him in a special manner to heaven. Conscious of this, he determines to spend his last moments in imparting divine instruction to, and pronouncing his last benediction upon, the students in the colleges of Bethel and Jericho; accordingly, he made a circuit in this region (2 Kings 2:1, etc.). It was at Gilgal (q.v.) — probably not the ancient place of Joshua and Samuel, but another of the same name still surviving on the western edge of the hills of Ephraim — that the prophet received the divine intimation that his departure was at hand. He was at the time with Elisha, who seems now to have become his constant companion. Perhaps his old love of solitude returned upon him, perhaps he wished to spare his friend the pain of a too sudden parting, or perhaps he desired to test the affection of the latter; in either case he endeavors to persuade Elisha to remain behind while he goes on an errand of Jehovah. "Tarry here, I pray thee, for Jehovah hath sent me to Bethel." But Elisha will not so easily give up his master — "As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee." They went together to Bethel. The event which was about to happen had apparently been communicated to the sons of the prophets at Bethel, and they inquire if Elisha knew of his impending loss. His answer shows how fully he was aware of it. "Yea," says he, with emphasis, "indeed I do know it (יָדִעִתַּי גִּם 9אֲנַי ): hold ye your peace." But, though impending, it was not to happen that day. Again Elijah attempts to escape to Jericho, and again Elisha protests that he will not be separated from him. Again, also, the sons of the prophets at Jericho make the same unnecessary inquiries, and again he replies as emphatically as before. Elijah makes a final effort to avoid what they both so much dread. "Tarry here, I pray thee, for Jehovah hath sent me to the Jordan." But Elisha is not to be conquered, and the two set off across the undulating plain of burning sand to the distant river-Elijah in his mantle or cape of sheep-skin, Elisha in ordinary clothes (בֶּגֶד, 2 Kings 2:12).
Fifty men of the sons of the prophets ascend the abrupt heights behind the town — the same to which a late tradition would attach the scene of our Lord's temptation — and which command the plain below, to watch with the clearness of Eastern vision what happens in the distance. Talking as they go, the two reach the river, and stand on the shelving bank beside its swift brown current. But they are not to stop even here. It is as if the aged Gileadite cannot rest till he again sets foot on his own side of the river. He rolls up (נָּלסְ ) his mantle as into a staff, and with his old energy strikes the waters as Moses had done before him — strikes them as if they were an enemy (נָכָה ); and they are divided hither and thither, and they two go over on dry ground. What follows is best told in the simple words of the narrative. "And it came to pass when they were gone over, that Elijah said to Elisha, 'Ask what I shall do for thee before I be taken away from thee.' And Elisha said, 'I pray thee let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.' And he said, 'Thou hast asked a hard thing: if thou see me taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.' And it came to pass as they still went on and talked, that, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder, and Elijah went up by the whirlwind into the skies." The tempest (סְעָרָה ), which was an earthly substratum for the theophany, was accompanied by a fiery phenomenon, symbolizing the translation, which appeared to the eyes of Elisha as a chariot of fire with horses of fire, in which Elijah rode to heaven (Keil). Well might Elisha cry with bitterness (צָעִק ), "My father, my father." He had gone who, to the discerning eye and loving heart of his disciple, had been "the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof" for so many years; and Elisha was at last left alone to carry on a task to which he must often have looked forward, but to which in this moment of grief he may well have felt unequal. He saw him no more; but his mantle had fallen, and this he took up — at once a personal relic and a symbol of the double portion of the spirit of Elijah with which he was to be clothed. Little could he have realized, had it been then presented to him, that he whose greatest claim to notice was that he had "poured water on the hands of Elijah" should hereafter possess an influence which had been denied to his master — should, instead of the terror of kings and people, be their benefactor, adviser, and friend, and that over his death-bed a king of Israel should be found to lament with the same words that had just burst from him on the departure of his stern and silent master, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!" (2 Kings 13:14).
4. Traditionary Views and Character. — Elijah and Moses are the only men whose history does not terminate with their departure out of this world. Elijah appeared with Moses on Mount Hermon at the time of our Lord's transfiguration, and conversed with him respecting the great work of redemption which he was about to accomplish (Matthew 17:1-3). The author of the book of Ecclesiasticus (chapter 48) justly describes him as a prophet "who stood up as a fire, and whose word burned as a lamp." But, with the exception of the eulogiums contained in that catalogue of worthies, and 1 Maccabees 2:58, and the passing allusion in Luke 9:54, none of the later references allude to his works of destruction or of portent. They all set forth a different side of his character from that brought out in the historical narrative. They speak of his being a man of like passions with ourselves (James 5:17); of his kindness to the widow of Sarepta (Luke 4:25); of his "restoring all things" (Matthew 17:11); "turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just" (Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 1:17). In the sternness and power of his reproofs, however, he was a striking type of John the Baptist, and the latter is therefore prophesied of under his name: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Malachi 4:5-6). Our Savior also declares that Elijah had already come in spirit, in the person of John the Baptist. Many of the Jews in our Lord's time believed him to be Elijah, or that the soul of Elijah had passed into his body (Luke 9:8). (See JOHN THE BAPTIST).
How deep was the impression which he made on the mind of the nation may be judged from the fixed belief which many centuries after prevailed that Elijah would again appear for the relief and restoration of his country. The prophecy of Malachi was possibly at once a cause and an illustration of the strength of this belief. Each remarkable person, as he arrives on the scene, be his habits and characteristics what they may — the stern John, equally with his gentle Successor — is proclaimed to be Elijah (Matthew 16:14; Mark 6:15; John 1:21). His appearance in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration does not seem to have startled the disciples. They were "sore afraid," but not apparently surprised. On the contrary, Peter immediately proposes to erect a tent for the prophet whose arrival they had so long been expecting. 'Even the cry of our Lord from the cross, containing as it did but a slight resemblance to the name of Elijah, immediately suggested him to the bystanders. "He calleth for Elijah." "Let be, let us see if Elijah will come to save him."
In the Talmud (see the passages cited by Hamburger, Real-Encykl. s.v. Eliahu) he is recorded as having often appeared to the wise and good rabbis — at prayer in the wilderness, or on their journeys — generally in the form of an Arabian merchant (Eisenmenger, 1:11; 2:402-7). At the circumcision of a child a seat was always placed for him, that, as the zealous champion and messenger of the "covenant" of circumcision (1 Kings 19:14; Malachi 3:1), he might watch over the due performance of the rite. During certain prayers,the door of the house was set open that Elijah might enter and announce the Messiah (Eisenmenger, 1:685). His coming will be three days before that of the Messiah, and on each of the three he will proclaim, in a voice which shall be heard all over the earth, peace, happiness, salvation, respectively (Eisenmenger, 2:696). So firm was the conviction of his speedy arrival, that when goods were found and no owner appeared to claim them, the common saying was, "Put them by till Elijah comes" (Lightfoot, Exercit. Matthew 17:10; John 1:21). The same customs and expressions are even still in use among the stricter Jews of this and other countries (see Revue des deux Mondes, 24:131, etc.).
Elijah has been canonized in both the Greek and Latin churches. Among the Greeks Mar Elygis is the patron of elevated spots, and many a conspicuous summit in Greece is called by his name (Clark, Peloponnessus, p. 190). The service for his day — ᾿Ηλίας μεγαλώνυμος — will be found in the Menaion on July 20, a date recognized by the Latin Church also. (See the Acta Sanctorum, July 20). By Cornelius h Lapide it is maintained that his ascent happened on that day, in the 19th year of Jehoshaphat (Keil, On Kings, page 331). The convent bearing his name, Deir Mar Elyas, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, is well known to travelers in the Holy Land. It purports to be situated on the spot of his birth, as already observed. Other convents bearing his name once existed in Palestine: in Jebel Ajlun, the ancient Gilead (Ritter, Syrien, page 1029, 1066, etc.); at Ezra, in the Hauran (Burckhardt, Syria, page 59), and the more famous establishment on Carmel.
It is as connected with the great Order of the barefooted Carmelites that Elijah is celebrated in the Latin Church. According to the statements of the Breviary (Off. B. Marim Virginis de Monte Carmelo, Julii 16), the connection arose from the dedication to the Virgin of a chapel on the spot from which Elijah saw the cloud (an accepted type of the Virgin Mary) rise out of the sea. But other legends trace the origin of, the order to the great prophet himself, as the head of a society of anchorites inhabiting Carmel; and even as himself dedicating the chapel in which he worshipped to the Virgin! (St. John of Jerusalem, as quoted by Mislin, Lieux Saints, 2:49; and the bulls of various popes enumerated by Quaresmius, volume 2) These things are matters of controversy in the Roman Church, Baronius and others having proved that the order was founded in 1181, a date which is repudiated by the Carmelites (see extracts in Fabricius, Codex Pseudepig. page 1077).
In the Mohammedan traditions Ilyas is said to have drank of the Fountain of Life, "by virtue of which he still lives, and will live to the day of judgment." He is by some confounded with St. George, and with the mysterious el-Khidr, one of the most remarkable of the Moslem saints (see Lane's Arabian Nights, Introd. note 2; also Selections from the Kuran; page 221, 222). The Persian Sojis are said to trace themselves back to Eli. jah (Fabricius, page 1077); and he is even held to have been the teacher of Zoroaster (D'Herbelot, Bib. Or. s.v.).
Among other traditions, it must not be omitted that the words "Eye hath not seen," etc., 1 Corinthians 2:9, which are without doubt quoted by the apostle from Isaiah 64:4, were, according to an ancient belief, from " the Apocalypse, or mysteries of Elijah," τὰ ᾿Ηλία ἀπόκρυφα . The first mention of this appeal to Le Origen (Hon. on Matthew 27:9), and it is no
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Elijah'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/elijah.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.