One man declares war against the ruling demonic tyrants and all hell.
Wow! Shock horror! Ladies and gentlemen, may I now personally introduce you to one of the most extravagantly powerful men of God in the entire Bible. I cannot fully compare him to Christ, as the Master is intrinsically and essentially incomparable. However, as a human being, to the degree of limitations that Christ chose to restrict Himself to, this man Elijah expanded far beyond the ordinary extremities that mankind can be elevated to in their pursuit to emulate God incarnate to the degree that in purpose and power he exudes the aroma of Christ profusely. It may have been some 800 years before Christ humbled Himself to become man not thinking it robbery to be equal with God, but this man, this Tishbite, this man of like passions such as we, as a member of the fallen race, aspired and so ascended into a state of grace and power – and ultimately to glory – that causes us, even in New Testament times, to see him as an example to follow in striving to be like the Master.
This man took prophecy and the delivery of “a word from God” not only to a new dimension, but into another galaxy, light years away from even the likes of Moses and Samuel. He himself took upon his own shoulders a taste of imparted divine responsibility and stepped into the divine will and preference in his contemporary “time – space” world. The world would never be the same after his interaction with the insipid, idolatrous, effeminate, weak King Ahab.
To misquote the Rev. Sykes in Harper Lee’s novel “To kill a Mockingbird”, whether your name is “Miss Jean Louise” or anything else, “Stand up! Elijah the Tishbite is passing.”
This prophetic explosion that is bigger and louder than Krakatoa takes less than thirty seconds to read. And in those thirty seconds, the Tishbite has appeared, spoken, and then departed leaving all and sundry present in a state of total shock. PTSD. “Post Tishbite stress Disorder.” It was so surreal. I can imagine Ahab, and those of his court that were undoubtedly present in a state of shock and awe asking each other, “Did I really see and hear what just happened?” “Was it a man?” “Where did he come from?” and the most mysterious question of all, “Where did he go?”
Was Jezebel present at this moment? From what we understand of Jezebel’s character and philosophy of life, she may have turned purple and had cardiac arrest on the spot, or, then again, she may have just laughed and ordered him killed on the spot … if she was present, that is. We leave the answer to that query to your imagination.
It seems that everything about Elijah defied the greater narrative of dress sense of the age. Especially in the court of Ahab and Jezebel where indulgence, soft silks and fine dress would have been the norm. why do I say this? Because of the remarks of Elijah as given in scripture. In 2 Kings 1, when he contradicted the king’s messengers and sent them back with a tail between their legs, the king, Ahaziah by name, angrily asked the messengers what the man looked like who had stopped them on their royal errand. “He was a hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist,” said the messengers. “It is Elijah the Tishbite,” said the king with assurance (2 Kings 1:8).
Because of the parallel drawn by Jesus and other scriptures, the Tishbite is always seen as dressing the same as John the Baptist in the gospels. Matthew 3:4 state “John himself had a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist.” This word picture is embellished by Zechariah the prophet who in a certain context which is for another time, he writes, “And on that day every prophet who prophesies will be ashamed of his vision, and he will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive.”
On top of these morsels of information, because of poets, professors, scholars and preachers reading between the lines it has been generally assumed that Elijah was a huge, muscular hairy character because of the pictures of his activities through his biblical biography suggesting he was a man of great energy, a presence that caused people to stand back in awe, and the presence of Yahweh that obviously sat and brooded upon him.
He must have been a striking and almost shocking sight to those that ever caught a glimpse of him. He was known – initially because of his opening line in 1 Kings 17:1 – to be a prophet of Yahweh. However, he did not at all carry the appearance, the life, the dress or even the talk of other religious leaders. There was no frame of reference that could be used to define or describe him. All other leaders were properly, fashionably, well-dressed, well-fed, sophisticated, and worldly. Elijah obviously, by all we read of him, cared for none of those things and even made a point of separating himself from them. His garment of camel’s hair and his leather belt about his waist were as plain and drab as Gilead where he came from. His clothes were, I am told, remarkably practical and long-wearing and far from being comfortable or fashionable.
Elijah’s very dress, food, and life-style were in themselves a rebuke to the self-satisfied and self-indulgent Baal and Asherah worshipping religious leaders of Israel and Ahab’s court. It was also a rebuke to most of the people, who, though they may not have been able to indulge in the privileges of their leaders, nonetheless admired and longed for the same advantages.
By the way, we need to state that Elijah’s purpose was not to turn the people into hermits or ascetics as he seemed to be. He called on no one, not even his servants and Elisha, as well as the schools of then prophets, to live or dress as he did. But his manner of living was a dramatic reminder of the many loves and pleasures that keep people from exchanging their own way for God’s. The character and point of Elijah’s clothes and diet was to be plain, durable, merely sufficient and possibly also to rebuke the indulgent garb and diet of his respective nemeses Ahab and Jezebel.
This unique man did not have any equivalent of a Levitical background or any equivalent seminary degree or Hebrew yeshiva education. He claimed no following or prophetic school under his auspices.
Elijah appears from “nowhere,” makes a one sentence remarkable statement assuming authority over the very climate of the Lavant and then “disappears” as suddenly as he arrived.
In the most naked and minimal slavish adherence to the original Hebrew, 1 Kings 17:1, in traumatising us to the biblical vision of this man arriving in the narrative, simply states:
“And Elijah the Tishbite of the inhabitants of Gilead said to Ahab, “As lives Yahweh the elohe of Israel whom I stand before, there shall not be these years dew nor rain except – except at my word.”
That’s it! Job done! War declared! Ground is taken. Authority of an absolute nature is enforced. Heaven has invaded earth. No “softly softly” here! God has commissioned this man, and by the language he utilised, Yahweh has left it to this man’s own volition that was saturated, soaked and marinaded in the Spirit of the ever-living God to take charge of the war that Yahweh and all of heaven had sanctioned and were endorsing. On earth, he was clearly God’s Commander-in-Chief.
After pawing over dictionaries, lexicons, varied translations, scholars and Hebrew professors, “little old moi” has come up with my own expanded and qualified translation – cum – paraphrase that reads:
“And Elijah the Tishbite foreigner, who was an alien sojourning amongst the Tishbe settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as Yahweh, the God of Israel lives, in whose presence and before whom I stand, that is, the God whom I serve, there will surely be neither dew nor rain in the next few years (which turned out to be three and a half years) except at my word – meaning, until I personally give the word of command for it to do so.”
What the…? Who the …? How the …? Let’s stop and take a deep breath.
See it. Feel it. Enter into it. People would not have known what to conclusively think! Was this hairy, ill clad man mad? Nobody would talk to the king like that – would they? If he wasn’t mad, he was clearly wildly eccentric. Or was he genuinely delivering a word from God? Was he, is he, an authorised mouthpiece of Yahweh? After all, that is what prophecy is i.e. an utterance made by an authorised mouthpiece of the Almighty. Astonishingly, he actually carried more authority than the king. Like Moses, like Samuel, he was not a king – yet he walked, acted and spoke like a king. Up to this moment of time he had done nothing but speak one full sentence. The fact that the scripture starts in 1 Kings 17:1 by telling us his name, we are left with the question that students over two millennia and more have been asking. That question is: Did Ahab and his court know who this man was when he made this opening gambit of input into Israel’s history, or was the editor or scribe who wrote the inspired text possibly years later know who it was because of retrospection at the time of writing?
The point being, that if nobody had ever seen or heard of this man before the “Real Time” moment of 1 Kings 17:1, the gossip and conversation of the next three and a half years – whatever the equivalent was of social media in those days – must have simply chronicled this man’s record of the single statement spoken in the awe – struck face of the king and laughed.
Then … as time passed by, and the early and late rains didn’t come over a few months, people would have recalled. “That silly, strange, bohemian, ill dressed man was, perhaps not silly at all.”
Then after a full year of dryness and drought creeping over all water sources, this man with a Gilead accent would have begun to fill the man on the street with deep respect and mystery. Up through all the different classes of society and into the very court of the king and his Baal worshipping, Asherah loving apology for a queen, gossip, the chit chatting, news carrying populace would have spread the news far and wide. “It seems that Yahweh is not as dead, obsolete and irrelevant as her majesty Queen Jezebel would have us believe, folks. This prophet had king Ahab in the palm of his hand and told Ahab that he and Yahweh were on our case. This man was the ruler, and Ahab (and Jezebel) were his subjects. But, “Shush!” Whatever happens, do not let the Queen hear you talking like this.”
The national gossip stream would have travelled across the Jordan and carried itself into the rough highlands and rustic fields of Gilead. The talk would have been filled about his Gilead accent. Gilead, properly “The Rocky Region,” lay on the east of the Jordan, between the Yarmouk River and the valley of Heshbon. It is part of Jordan today. Gilead was open to the desert on the east, and is comparatively wild. With but few cities scattered within its borders, it suited well to develope the reclusive Tishbite dweller in the wilderness. If the people in Israel did not know it at first, surely the returned echoes of the news from some of the rustics of Gilead, those that knew the Tishbite who wore camel hair and a leather belt, would have messaged back an animated response through the Hebrew grapevine of the day: “Oh yes! That sounds like Elijah the Tishbite. He is the only one that dresses like that – and speaks as directly as we are told. Be careful! Don’t mess with him!”
After eighteen months, two years and then three years of no rain, drought had pressed Israel, Judah, Tyre, Sidon and Zarapheth in Lebanon in desperate days. This man “Elijah the Tishbite” known and seen by so few, was a living legend throughout the middle east.
Attire yourself with the context of the history and time of what we read. With the luxury of us all holding the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, we can access a hold on what made this man tick. We know who and what he was. However, go back to 1 Kings 17:1 and feel what the people felt. The opening days after his statement would have had the uninformed, uneducated and possibly illiterate people thinking and gossiping; “He was either a religious fanatic with severe mental problems – exhibiting his madness before the very king of the nation or, he had a handle on God that is hard for the populace to get a grasp of, as we read it.
Just in case any of my readers are not aware of the whole biblical account here, from the moment Elijah spoke these words it did not rain in Israel for three and a half years. We only know the time span of 1,2775 days (or thereabouts) because Jesus Christ Himself said so. When we bump into and stare at Elijah, we are engaging with a serious example of Godliness.
So; Here we are … and there we were – the Bible reading public – happily browsing through the book of First Kings, happily educating ourselves in God – or, perhaps, disgustingly – reading through the division and split of the kingdom of Israel, watching them as they were sliding into the dark abyss of idolatry, polytheism, and a national cultural life style that turned against God – and suddenly, out of the blue, without so much as a hint of this man’s development or prophetic calling, without the tiniest clue of his presence, his upbringing or his native town (nobody has the slightest factual clue whatsoever where Tishbe is or who the Tishbites were), God Himself throws us a curved ball and this fellow appears – yes – “appears” is the most accurate word to use – and astonishingly, with one spoken sentence, he changes history. Literally – he changes the very course of the history of the Hebrews. And having redirected history by one uttered sentence, he disappears from the scene in Israel and is not seen for 30 months until he returns to give the command for the rain to fall.
I think you have, by this time, grasped my intention to let my readers know the surreal suddenness of the arrival on Israel’s radar of this extraordinary man.
We need hereafter to get into the nitty gritty of the person referred to as Elisha the Tishbite.