Follow my thoughts and my inner understanding as I dissect what we are dealing with in 1 Kings 17:1.
ELIJAH’S SELF-ACKNOWLEDGED STATUS AND LOCATION
Elijah’s position geographically, spiritually and mentally
As clear as clear can be, Elijah was a human being standing on planet earth talking to a rather insipid king named Ahab. To help with the word picture and mental image of the text, if the reader knows anything about English History, I would suggest you summon an image of king Henry VI of England in the fifteenth century (and for a while king of France as well). Ahab was an amplified version of this king Henry (1421-1471), and as most of the main observations that historians make of him are utterly negative, the amplification of Ahab is in the realm of all things negative. Ahab was self-centred, timid, shy, passive, ill-intentioned, and averse to warfare and violence. It may be harsh to say he was mentally simple, but all things inform the senses that if it wasn’t for the strength of people around him both Henry and Ahab, as the colloquial phrase puts it, “would not have known which side of the bed to get out of.” For the reasons of those characteristics Ahab left all major and/or harsh decisions to his dominating loud mouthed wife, Jezebel. If Ahab found it hard to make decisions (and he surely did) Jezebel would make the decisions for him. It would be accurate to conclude from the biblical narrative that Jezebel was as opposite to Ahab as it was possible to be. One could think that Ahab was like an indulged child – effeminate in manner, while Jezebel comes across as a hardened “masculine charactered” woman who was quick to order violence, immorality or murder without flinching. Not that I am suggesting Jezebel looked anything like masculine. In that I believe she was a professional seductress and possibly quite beautiful. On top of all this, Ahab was, it would seem, at times, somewhat mentally unstable.
So; picture the scene. Elijah was physically stood in front of Ahab, face to face, one to one and staring into his eyes. We are not told of anybody else who was present in the confrontation in the real-time of 1 Kings 17:1. However, there were no “court protocols” in Elijah’s approach, his words or mannerisms. The opening words of his declaration give his purpose away. “As the Lord lives before whom I stand.” It could be equally correctly translated, “Before whom I am standing.” Elijah uses the present tense. Elijah states it in a manner that presupposes that Yahweh lives. This was a statement made in the midst of a generation where many subscribed to the error that Yahweh was dead and Ba-al and Asherah were very much alive. Elijah’s statement carries with it a complete submission to the Master he was serving. Elijah’s statement defies the spirit of the age. The Tishbite was spitting in the face of and belittling the zeitgeist of Israel that was dominating the people at that moment. The evil concept of Baal and Asherah were not to be even mentioned in the face of Ahab. Ahab was the secondary passive force that precipitated the rise of Baal worship, Jezebel his strong minded and heavy-handed dominating wife who was a veritable apostle of the immoral and illegitimate cult of Baal.
“Excuse me Elijah, you are stood before the king of Israel. Can we have at least a smattering of decorum and royal protocol please? Perhaps a slight bow in acknowledgement of Israel’s king.” It was however, as if Elijah is more conscious of the presence of invisible Yahweh than he was of the physical presence of the king and whatever the authority was that he claimed. It was as if the same God who tells New Testament Christians to “Honour the King” and who blessed all that sat under the character and reign of David and Solomon – with all the faults that duo carried – was denying the honour to the throne and character that Ahab occupied and presented. It was as if Elijah was subliminally suggesting that the crown he wore was not legitimately carried. Perhaps it was because Elijah was consciously aware that his authority was not only above Ahab’s, but more tangible than anything that society had invested in Ahab and Jezebel.
For this one moment, by proxy of Elijah’s engagement with him, idolatrous lily-livered Ahab was ushered into the presence of Almighty God and was made privy to the will and mind of heaven. “There will be no rain nor dew in the land for the next few years … until I say so.”
Then, as suddenly as entering the court and presence of Ahab, the Tishbite is gone.
“But what about the poor “innocent” masses of Israel? What about all the other nations in the Lavant and surrounding area? What about the animals? What about the farmers? Qualify your statement Elijah! You must be a little off your mind. How extensive will this announced drought be? No man has made such a pronouncement in the history of mankind. What makes you so special Elijah? We shall just get on with life and ignore you. We will not be intimidated by you. We have hundreds of priests of Baal in Israel. You are the one single so called prophet of Yahweh. What chance have you got against us? Just wait till Jezebel hears of this. If I ever catch sight of you again we will deal with you appropriately. With fields full of verdant crops, and the land green and lush after the early and latter rains we will show you who is in charge in Israel.” But Elijah was not present to answer any questions. Some would have been angry. Some would have laughed. Some would have trembled. Some would have ignored the scenario as too melo-dramatic to be real. The legend of the confrontation and the words delivered must have had somebody present as well as the Prophet and the King because the words became famously repeated through the social media of the day and were increased in power and impact the more the story was repeated.
Could the populace gather round the Tishbite and start an “Anti-Baal” movement?
But, no! The roughly dressed hairy man was not to be found. And for the immediate future the entire Lavant, it would seem, was suspended in the Limbo of having Elijah’s words hanging over the entire Middle East.
THE SOURCE OF ELIJAH’S EXPERIENTIAL AUTHORITY
Elijah’s words suggested that he was speaking not only for God, but – wait for it – as God. Elijah did not even suggest that Yahweh told him what to say. His remark was not even prefixed by a, “Thus says the Lord”, or, “This is what Yahweh told me to tell you.” It was a prophetic gift, a prophetic anointing sitting upon his entire being which gave him the conscious authority to speak as an official mouthpiece of Yahweh. Elijah truly assumed more authority than any worldly monarch or ruler had ever carried. The language he used tells us that he had literally taken charge over the climate. His authority and power in this realm seemed absolute. At least, if it wasn’t absolute it was deeper and more comprehensive than anyone that had lived before him had ever manifested. Samuel was near this sort of thing, as was Moses, but never quite as, “smack you in the face” direct as was the Tishbite from Gilead. Elijah’s words assume the absolute veracity and sureness of the Hebrew scriptures. I believe that Elijah must have known what Moses had written in Leviticus 26:14-21 as well as Deuteronomy 11:16-17.
And this needs to be read against Solomon’s prayer at the opening of the first temple in 1 Kings 8:35-36
35 “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and give praise to your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, 36 then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel. Teach them the right way to live and send rain on the land you gave your people for an inheritance. (1 Kings 8 35-36)
We are famously aware of how the drought that Elijah announced was ended. We do not talk so much, however concerning how the drought began. And rest assured dear reader, it started before Elijah met Ahab so abruptly.
The withholding of the rain foretold again and again in the Hebrew Bible as a penalty on apostasy is noted to be an answer to the prophet’s prayer. James 5:17 states:
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.” (James 5:17)
Oh, to get my hands on Elijah’s prayer points that precipitated the moment of 1 Kings 17:1.! Oh, to have been the man that poured water on Elijah’s hands to have heard the entire prayer that closed up heaven and imparted the prophetic reality of authority on Elijah. Like Joshua hanging behind in the Tent of meeting overhearing what the manifest person of Yahweh was discussing face to face with Moses. Like Gehazi standing by the door of Elisha’s room waiting for every sound of his master’s groans and cries whether it be aimed at Yahweh or he himself to valet his master. Perhaps even a person like myself could have turned out as mighty as Elisha if I was following Elijah around as attentively as farmer Elisha did in years future to the time we are considering. Elijah prayed and the normal routine of nature and the skies was halted.
What were the grounds of his case when talking to the Almighty? How tender was Elijah’s heart? How violent was he to bring such cataclysmic results to his prayer! One man praying for the fulfilment of scripture brought an answer that impacted whole nations and possibly millions of people. It is almost surreal when templated over the comparatively insipid prayers and lifeless cries of my own soul. This man was aligning with the scriptures, and despite the fact that he may never have seen a miracle in his own district of Gilead strong convictions concerning the absolute veracity and integrity of the scriptures that the people of Israel treasured. It was (and still is) in the Pentateuchal scriptures that the statement was inscribed that rain would cease if idolatry was submitted to in Israel.
Something happened to Elijah while he made the prayer referred to in James 5:17. Something huge was imparted to his heart, mind and whole being when he stood to his feet after having laid hold of God. As a result of that prayer Elijah left Gilead, crossed the Jordan, marched over to Samaria (which was Ahab’s capital city) and delivered one line to the apology for a king.
The prophet was supremely confident in claiming that his own volitionally spoken words would just as easily bring the rain and dew, as they would first stop it falling. In that one line Elijah revealed and manifested the fulness of the divine enabling imparted to him to stand against the spirit of the age. His words imply that his authority was backed by the presence of Yahweh that was surrounding him. The announcement was supremely heavenly.
ELIJAH’S PERSONAL PREROGATIVES
Finally, we cannot miss the point that Elijah’s statement suggested that he would be carrying the promise of the word with him for years. He does not give a date. He does state that there would be no rain or dew for the next few years. He was choosing to withhold his word. The impact of drought for one year would be cataclysmic. Elijah’s word was plural: “years”. Elijah was choosing to endanger his own life in the drought as he lived with the weight of his own prophetic word rested on him and all he did and everywhere he went.
What awesome responsibility on a man’s shoulders! What an awesome character to carry such a weight! What an incredible anointing to consciously be aware of such authority. The future of the Hebrew people was in the hands of Elijah the Tishbite; the man that was continually standing in the presence of Yahweh the Almighty.