4. Conscious known awareness of heavenly authority.

"The god that answers by fire ...He is God.

1Kings17v1interlinear1 Kings 17:1

A statute of Elijah about to slay a priest of Baal. I believe this is situated on the approximate spot where 1 Kings 18 took place.
A statute of Elijah about to slay a priest of Baal. I believe this is situated on the approximate spot where 1 Kings 18 took place.

What few readers take stock off with this opening statement that biblically introduces us to the man of like passions -passions such as we carry – is his assured knowledge of authority. His opening words have an absoluteness about them which is staggering. There was no, “I feel the Lord is saying …” There was not a hint of, “Eh! I think I have a picture …” There was no caveat that even hinted that, “At least that is what I think God is saying!” The man appeared in the chronicles of Israel’s history as if from heaven. Where he came from we know not apart from this place that nobody knows called “Tishbe.” The man approached the king and made an incredible decree of an absolute statement. Elijah carried a “This is how it will be. It cannot be anything else apart from what I say.”  He was a man who was conscious and aware of the authority heaven had given him and was energetically exercising that authority. He had an authority resting upon him that had hitherto been unknown unto this moment.

It was as if he had read the scriptures about what would happen if Israel turned to false gods and/or idolatry. It is as though Elijah had demanded of God that the scripture be fulfilled irrespective of the human authority in the land. The king and queen on the throne of Israel at that point of time had misled masses that followed the direction they had taken the populace and the hundreds of prophets that had stayed silent in fear of their lives. Elijah was, humanly speaking, a total individualist. However, he was totally aligned with and submissive to Yahweh, his Word and His Spirit. He ignored the reality of the culture of the society he lived in and was completely overwhelmed with the statements of scripture and the Spirit that inspired those scriptures.

We have no line of scripture that actually tells us that Elijah read the books of Moses. So called higher critical scholars waffle on about how difficult it is for them to presuppose that there were complete copies of the Pentateuch extant in Elijah’s day, especially in Transjordan Gilead. I fret not. Humble non-academic writers like myself have a solid evidential rationale as to why we believe Elijah would at the very least have access to the first five books of the Bible, but irrespective of whether he did or did not, the motivation, and the stated goal of this prophetic word to Ahab is thoroughly biblical and utterly coherent from what Moses wrote under inspiration, predicted and left for the posterity of Israel’s generation in scroll form.

Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 14.06.42My point is that the contents of the prophetic forecasts of Moses were clearly more concrete in their promises than the reality of what was happening around him. The words in the scriptures, though written hundreds of years prior to Elijah’s birth were more tangible, relevant and permeating the present than the activities and occult screams of Ahab and his wife. The present tense used when he refers to the “Lord God of Israel before whom I stand,” needs to be seen for what it is. It is the reverse of what happens to millions of Christian believers. We ask God for “His presence” and then refer to our daily inter-actions as separate from the time we have spent in His presence. Elijah was in Yahweh’s intimate presence wherever he went, whatever he was about,

And not only that. Elijah’s words tell us that he is more aware of the presence of Yahweh than the oppressive atmosphere of the idolatrous culture, and the reigning earthly monarch of that culture whom he was looking at face to face.  The Heavenly and spiritual realities of God, His presence and His Word were more concrete to Elijah than the flesh and blood, time-space world of matter and physical substance. The prophet’s words defy the temporal realities of this world and forcefully impose the realities of God and His word here on planet earth. What is seen is temporal, what is unseen is eternal. The fact that it is unseen and eternal, does not mean that the realities of God’s word and the realm of the Spirit cannot be made manifest and tangible within the physical world. The spiritual world was in existence before the physical. The physical world came out of the spiritual world. The spiritual is much more impacting and influential on the physical world than any influence of the physical world.

It has Elijah's name on the picture... so it must be he.
It has Elijah’s name on the picture… so it must be he.

Elijah was aware that the authority to bring rain that had been given him would not have a need to be utilised for  “these years.” The man was here to stay. He was no “fly by night” big mouth who would disappear never to be seen again.  His words let it be known that even though he physically would not be seen for “these years” (a period of time that turned out to be three and a half years) his words would hang over the ground, the heavens, the clouds, the laws of precipitation from the Mediterranean sea or the sea of Galilee, and the physical universe as it existed in Elijah’s generation for 1,240 days – three and a half years.  He was to be physically absent for “these years” nevertheless present by the word of God that he had spoken and left behind him.

The rain would not have stopped over idolatrous Israel if Elijah had not said so. God does nothing without revealing His plans and intentions to His prophets. The prophetic word does not take place until and unless it is spoken. The prophetic word is an event. “No more dew or rain until I say so,” is what the prophet said, and immediately it was spoken, the machinery that runs the cosmos was altered. Elijah the prophet was an official mouth piece of God. When he spoke it was as if  God had spoken. “No more rain or dew until I say”, had as much authority and power as “Let there be light” when it was spoken into the darkness by the Almighty Himself.

Elijah was given the tiniest drop from the infinite ocean of God’s omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. Books and professors talk of the communicable attributes of God and how they are clearly differentiated from the non-communicable attributes. But what is Elijah’s prophecy if it is not a slight drop of God’s “omni attributes.” Elijah was privy to the future.  He was educated in the past writings of Moses where quill was put to parchment by the inspiration and moving of the Holy Spirit.  It was, as it were, in his wallet (whatever the eighth century BC equivalent was). The power to stop rain and to grant rain was in his mouth, in his being and under the auspices of Elijah’s own volition. Elijah was about to travel out of Ahab and Jezebel’s kingdom and walk northwards to a place called Zarapheth, and yet he carried a tiny morsel of God’s omnipotence by holding the rain back from the land and conceivably millions of people down south in Israel and – presumably – the southern kingdom of Judah. Elijah could move and travel. The word he had spoken over a place remained.

We learn at this point that there are different depths of prophetic gifting. While hundreds were hiding in caves and staying silent, their prophetic calling and gifting was in no way compromised. Some prophets see further than others. Some prophets see deeper than others. Some prophets are bolder than others. Some prophets say things that can be ignored without loss. Some prophets shake the world by what God has made them privy to.

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 17.38.18

Elijah walked with divine authority brooding over him. It was authority so much higher than the king of Israel as not to be even compared. Years in the future of the real-time of 1 Kings 17:1, a Syrian king wrote to one of Ahab’s successors saying, “Heal my most beloved servant of his leprosy.” The king of Israel of that day was in utter despair when he addressed the servant with his leprosy and read the royal missive from the enemy kingdom of Syria. But the king with all his authority and knowledge and aristocratic court was utterly ignorant that there was a prophet in Israel who carried authority that the king knew nothing of.  His lowly servants told him of a man called “Elisha”. It is difficult to conceive that he had not encountered Elisha prior to that time. But the servant Naaman was thereafter directed to the kingly prophet Elisha and was famously healed. That story is for another time, but the principle was current and present here with Elijah. Divinely imparted authority was seen, known, sensed and experienced wherever Elijah went and neither King Ahab nor the wicked Queen Jezebel had a clue as to who and what they were dealing with. Some saw the Tishbite as a thorn in the side of the kingdom and the royal family. Some saw him as a tramp, a homeless wild man that did not deserve the time of day.  Others were hushed at the thought of the mighty prophet, and trembled before his word. Ahab and Jezebel would, as did Pharaoh in the days of Moses, rue the day  they decided to even attempt to ignore or counter the word of God that was delivered by the moth of the prophet from Gilead.

“No rain till I say so.” It was just as hard to calmly believe and accept those words as kosher, as it would be if such a statement was made in the 21st century.

The foundation of the New Testament church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. May we taste the sweet authority and direction of prophets of God in this day and generation.

This artist obviously thought Elijah had an audience beyond only Ahab. It makes sense, but 1 Kings 17 does not say.
This artist obviously thought Elijah had an audience beyond only Ahab. It makes sense, but 1 Kings 17 does not say.

 

3.“No Rain Until I say so?”  What? How? When? Where?

One artist's impression of 1 Kings 17:1. (I don't think Elijah would have had a hood!)

Follow my thoughts and my inner understanding as I dissect what we are dealing with in 1 Kings 17:1.

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ELIJAH’S SELF-ACKNOWLEDGED STATUS AND LOCATION

Elijah’s position geographically, spiritually and mentally

A sanitised view of both Elijah and Jezebel methinks. But good artwork.
A sanitised view of both Elijah and Jezebel methinks. But good artwork.

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.

Oh! The drama! Melodrama perhaps.
Oh! The drama! Artistic Melodrama perhaps.

“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

One artist's impression of 1 Kings 17:1. (I don't think Elijah would have had a hood!)
One artist’s impression of 1 Kings 17:1. (I don’t think Elijah would have had a hood!)

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.

Deuteronomy 11:16
Deuteronomy 11:16

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)

1 Kings 8:35
1 Kings 8:35
1 Kings 8:36
1 Kings 8:36

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:

James 5:17
James 5:17

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.

Screen Shot 2019-02-21 at 14.06.42What 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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 17.38.18

2. The Combat of the Age Commences.

Artist's impression of Elijah (or is it John the Baptist?). I know they were both remarkable prophets, but where did either of them have a cross around his neck?

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One man declares war against the ruling demonic tyrants and all hell.

Whether it was indoors or outdoors I know not. Whether Jezebel was present or not I know not. Of all the artist's impressions of the scene if 1 kings 17:1 this one picture I think has the closest picture to what Elijah looked like.
Whether it was indoors or outdoors I know not. Whether Jezebel was present or not I know not. Of all the artist’s impressions of the scene if 1 kings 17:1 this one picture I think has the closest picture to what Elijah looked like.

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.”

 

Wonderfully dramatic. But nothing of Elijah's appearance matches the biblical description. I wish I could produce paintings like this though.
Wonderfully dramatic. But nothing of Elijah’s appearance matches the biblical description. I wish I could produce paintings like this though.

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).

 

Nice 21st century Tee-shirt Elijah! Sanitised Watchtower art. Remove the shirt and it might be a little closer to the biblical word picture.
Nice 21st century Tee-shirt Elijah! Sanitised Watchtower art. Remove the shirt and it might be a little closer to the biblical word picture.

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.

Too stilted. Too static. At least Elijah is bare chested. But sandals and a comfortable coat doesn't suit my taste. But the thought of 1 Kings 17:1 is there.
Too stilted. Too static. At least Elijah is bare chested. But sandals and a comfortable coat doesn’t suit my taste. But the thought of 1 Kings 17:1 is there.

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.

Ah! We're getting a little nearer to it here. "No rain till I say so!" is definitely in his face.
Ah! We’re getting a little nearer to it here. “No rain till I say so!” is definitely in his face.

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.

 

Not 1 Kings 17:1. But the hairy clothes are getting there. The Tee-shirt is a misnomer.
Not 1 Kings 17:1. But the hairy clothes are getting there. The Tee-shirt is a misnomer.

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.”

 

No! No! No! Nothing like him.
No! No! No! Nothing like him.

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.

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1. People at midday groping about like blind people in the dark.

James 5:17

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One artist's impression of 1 Kings 17:1. (I don't think Elijah would have had a hood!)
One artist’s impression of 1 Kings 17:1. (I don’t think Elijah would have had a hood!)

I am very aware that some people do not appreciate history. Memories of school days I suppose. Too many dates to remember, and too many detentions if those dates weren’t remembered.  It’s a good job we are all wired differently. I love history. When I say that, I am not wanting to delude myself or my readers that I know a lot of history, but I can confidently assert that you would be hard pushed to find anybody who has a deeper interest and fascination – nay! obsession – with history, dates, stories, and the consequences in their future ( stuff that is now history to us).

I also have engaged with many Christians over the years who think that history demeans the scriptures and detracts from the word of God embodied in the text. Well! Let me declare I am a believer in the entire bible, I believe the contents, the significance and the power of everything contained in both the Hebrew Bible as well as the New Testament. I also believe that Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s remarkable quote i.e. “A text without a context is a pretext,” is nearly always true.

Artist's impression of Elijah (or is it John the Baptist?). I know they were both remarkable prophets, but where did either of them have a cross around his neck?
Artist’s impression of Elijah (or is it John the Baptist?). I know they were both remarkable prophets, but where did either of them have a cross around his neck?

The history that surrounds the days of Elijah highlight the depths of courage as well as the divine insight that motivated and carried Elijah through his high – profile days. This is not an apology for recounting the biblical history from Solomon’s death to Elijah’s appearance, but a rationale as to why I find it a little bit insipid to read Elijah’s journal without having fully imbibed the nature of the thick darkness that this brightest of prophetic lights entered into.

So; for the sake of those who are uninitiated with the biblical and historical context of the “poof” of divine smoke of the visible shekinah glory of God in which Elijah the Tishbite arrived on the radar, let me just put you in the picture.  Then again, I suppose I should say that If you are comfortably au fait with what happened in the years between Solomon and king Ahab, you may want to skip the following spot of historical chronology and development and move on to the next blog.

Rightly or wrongly I always picture the days of Dickens (as portrayed in his novels) as being a time when England was full of dirt, smoke, grime, evil, poverty, ignorance and just a terrible time for the vast majority of people. In my head, I picture the days that led up to Elijah’s arrival with just the same motif. Things were dark – I mean seriously, morally and spiritually smog ridden and depraved.

Artist's impression of Jerusalem in King David's day.
Artist’s impression of Jerusalem in King David’s day.

The days of David and Solomon are hailed by all and sundry in the know as the brightest and most glorious days in Israel’s history.  Much of the wealth attained through David’s reign was used by Solomon to affect a remarkable grandiose style of court and national life than his father. Solomon built what can only be referred to as a “complex” of structures to enhance his image in the sight of his people and the nations that surrounded Israel. He built his own royal palace, a palace for his Egyptian queen, suggesting that built others for his other wives, he built a “hall of pillars” a “throne room of justice” and a “house of the forest of Lebanon” which is assumed to be his treasury and/or his armoury. On top of that he constructed the glorious Temple we refer to as “Solomon’s”.

Solomon’s extravagance clearly brought him into debt – both personal and national –  forcing him to have to mortgage part of his territory to Hiram king of Tyre.  F.F. Bruce memorably wrote something to the effect that: “the text of First Kings refers to the cities that Solomon built for his chariots and horsemen (1 Kings 9:19 and 10:26) and we may be sure that Solomon’s horses were better housed than many of Solomon’s subjects were.”

Jerusalem in Solomon's day.
Jerusalem in Solomon’s day.

Solomon found it necessary to impose heavy taxes on his subjects and to exact extreme forced labour from them. This sad state of affairs was predicted before Saul was anointed King by the great prophet Samuel. It was light years away from the freedom, joy and prosperity promised by Moses and the legacy of the Law that he left with humanity.

These facts explain how the wine of the prosperity and joy which accompanied the peace that overwhelmed Israel at the start of Solomon’s reign decomposed into the horribly bitter vinegar of disillusionment towards the end of his reign.

Solomon left behind him a nation that was miles away from the ancient ideals that their scriptures inculcated. It meant that if or when the Pentateuch was ever read, it seemed like a dream and a fairy tale that simply was not evident after Solomon’s demise. For all the above reasons Solomon’s death around 930 BC precipitated the collapse of David’s empire inherited by Solomon.

Immediately after the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was torn in two. As far as the Israeli public of the northern tribes were concerned it was their deep – seated complaint that Solomon had abused them. It was the proverbial split between the north and the south. The southern section of the rend had Jerusalem, the temple, the governmental establishment and, so far, forward to the days of Ahab, the descendants of David and Solomon on their throne.

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Ahijah the prophet tearing his brand new fashionable cloak into 12 pieces and giving ten of those pieces to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

The southern state, however, after Solomon’s burial and his son’s succession, was under the almost fascist like reign of Rehoboam. The northern “kingdom” was under the depraved hand of a man called Jeroboam the son of Nebat. He was a man who had superintended the vast public works during the reign of Solomon.  He was, however,  told by the word of the Lord that he would rule over ten tribes at a time when the very suggestion was an unspoken concept of fictitious rebellion – yet – shown by history to have been the true desire of the masses that lived in the “neglected” north of the whole land of Israel. Jeroboam the son of Nebat had, for several reasons during Solomon’s reign, fled to Egypt where it seems he was mentored and tutored into kingship by Shishak, the first Pharaoh of the 22nd dynasty of the double kingdom (i.e. north and south of Egypt). We know that Shishak reigned from 945 BC through to 914 BC. So Rehoboam knew very well the machinery of how royalty worked in his day.

The southern kingdom was known as Judah. That was because despite the fact that within its borders were the tribes of Simeon and Benjamin, they were virtually buried amongst the huge numbers of the tribe of Judah. The northern kingdom was known as Israel, comprising of all the other ten tribes. The people there began to think of Judah as almost alien and at times, sadly, the Davidic rulership down south was even enemy territory. Israel became known, also, as Ephraim.

As an aside, the mention of “Ephraim” as in Psalm 78 calls for a few defining remarks. Referencing the book of Genesis, we see that while sovereignty was at first invested in Judah, the birth-right involving familial headship after the death of Jacob was forfeited by Reuben and given to Joseph. (See 1 Chronicles 5:1-2). Joseph’s sons were actually numbered among the sons of Jacob. This was done when Jacob blessed them as per Genesis 48:5 in the same moments that Jacob blessed all his other sons. The double portion thereby, that is the portion of the senior son (normally the first born), became Joseph’s. The birth-right was inherited by Ephraim who was Joseph’s youngest as per Genesis 48). In the nation’s subsequent history we find that Ephraim was the tribe claiming the right of leadership and taking a prominent part in all the national enterprises. The claim gained support from two factors that were high in the psyche of the people of the north, namely that Joshua the son of Nun, the former great national leader succeeding Moses, was an Ephraimite, and that Shiloh, the site of the Tabernacle and therefore the epicentre of national worship before the northern kingdom instigated, was an Ephraimite city.

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Following the national failure, and particularly that of the priesthood as recorded in the book of Judges as well as the early chapters of 1 Samuel, the primacy of the firstborn was set aside and  God’s sovereign choice fell upon David who was a Judahite, and Zion in Jerusalem was in the heart of Judah’s territory, as well in the heart of God’s ordained earthly kingdom. The divine purpose so clearly declared in earlier scriptures (Genesis 49:1-10. Judges 1:1-2. Psalm 60:7) is thus seen in historical development, culminating in the fulfilment of Isaiah 11:10-13 in Messiah’s glorious reign. It needs to be added and noted that Ephraim, together with its companion tribes in the north, did not submit to David’s kingly authority until seven years after he began to reign over Judah as explained in 2 Samuel chapters 2 and 3. This leads us to conclude that the north/south divide in Old Testament history was a seriously long standing fault line in the tectonic plates of the life of the hebrew people through the centuries.

Signs of rivalry and envy between Ephraim and Judah (Isaiah 11:13) became increasingly evident during the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon. There was also a tendency, sometimes slight and sometimes high profile, to reckon the two tribes and the ten tribes apart. Moreover, we see a readiness on the part of the latter to join rebellious movements (2 Samuel 15 -20) which reached the culminating point in the breakaway under Jeroboam after Rehoboam’s catastrophic succession to the throne after Solomon.  In the prophet’s writings, the northern kingdom of Israel is often referred to as “the house of Joseph” or simply as “Ephraim,” the name of the leading tribe representing the whole ten-tribed nation.

Getting back to the sustained motivation of the national split, Jeroboam, up north, was desperately eager to keep his hold on the people of the now: “Ten tribes of Israel”. However, he lived with the fear that he could lose his kingdom if the masses were to go two or three times a year to the annual feasts in Jerusalem. He thought that old associations with the established religious form, as well as the associations of old friends might overpower and strangle their new-born loyalty to him as their king and ruler. For that sole reason he decided to set up the “worship of Yahweh” in his own kingdom, and built two temple shrines – one at Dan, in the extreme north of the Promised Land  and the other at Bethel, in the extreme south of the newly founded kingdom. Playing on people’s ignorance and vulnerability to religiosity with a bit of pomp and ceremony, in both these places he had installed a golden calf, that “the God of Israel might be worshipped under the form of a bull that eats hay.” Don’t laugh! This man was serious to the point of life or death. The repercussions of this action were so profound that it is impossible to overrate the destructive power it released into the northern society. Ir seeped insipient death for the couple of centuries that the northern kingdom existed.

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A European artist picturing Rehoboam Son of Nebat being censured prophetically for leading the ten tribes into idolatary

To say it clearly and plainly, this sin perpetrated by this rebel king trod underfoot the second commandment of Moses – which forbade the children of Israel to make any graven image or to bow down before the likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath. Such weak and sinful bids for popularity are never forgotten throughout Holy Scripture, be it the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament.

Reading through Israel’s history in the generations that followed, like a demonic mantra from hell we read of many kings and people that committed sins and crimes that followed “the sins with which Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, made Israel to sin.” The northern state of Israel lasted no longer than 208 years and then almost the entire population of the “nation” were scattered around the Middle East – and some think even the Far East and were never heard of again. Thus, we have the factual legend of “The Lost Tribes of Israel.”

A man must reap what he sows. The revolution instigated by Jeroboam came back on his head, and upon the heads of the so-called northern Hebrew nation state. Having sown to the wind, history shows how the people reaped the whirlwind.  Revolutions in Israel occurred time and again and were marinated in betrayal, murder, and bloodshed.

So, stealing a pretentious throne in the year 930 BC, Jeroboam the son of Nebat reigned 21 years or so and the scripture states that, “The Lord struck him and he died”. Piecing together the texts of 2 Chronicles 13 and 1 Kings 14, it seems his was a slow death.

Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 16.35.20He was succeeded by Nadab his son. He lasted only a year. It seems that his soldiers did not approve of his battle strategy, and while besieging a Philistine fortress, a man named Baasha, one of his own people of the tribe of Issachar, killed him (1 Kings 15:25-28).

Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 16.35.50So; it is still 908 BC – 22 years since the revolution, and three kings have ruled Ephraim. Baasha lasted 23 years, and made a city called Tirzah his capital.

Screen Shot 2019-02-13 at 16.34.22He died and his son Elah inherited the troublesome idolatrous state.  Elah it seems had a serious drink problem. A problem that turned fatal. A legendary traitor called Zimri killed Elah whilst the king was in a drunken stupour. Zimri lasted seven days and then seemingly committed suicide by burning down a building while he was in it.  There was certainly something rotten in the state of Israel. After Zimri’s death rebellious divisive people of the northern kingdom had a divisive and rebellious split. The populace of the ten tribes the were hideously divided into two factions. One half chose a mighty warrior called Omri.  The other half wanted a man called Tibni to be king. It was probably some dispute over tribal pre-eminence, but the truth is somewhat obscured. The two leaders and their forces fought each other for several years until Omri’s forces prevailed and Tibni was killed along with his supporting brother. It therefore appears that Tibni was regent over half the kingdom of Israel for a period of four years. Tibni’s death is written in the Hebrew Bible but not detailed nor explained. Omri’s reign is recorded as having started in 881 BC. First Kings 16:28 tells us that he died and was succeeded by his son Ahab. That was 873 BC.  Ahab, who was married to Jezebel, became king in 873. Ahab’s reign was 21 years. Ahab’s reign started 57 years after Solomon’s death and died 74 years after Solomon’s death. This means that Elijah’s sudden appearance in 1 Kings 17:1 took place at the very least 57 years after Solomon’s death, and at the very latest 74 years.

 

Those 57 plus years were truly dark days becoming ever darker as Jezebel settled in her new territory. After the fall outs, the splits and much blood spilling, the kingdom passed into the hands of a cunning idolatrous female witch of a human being. She was the strong one in the royal marriage. Ahab, the scripture declares “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him” (1 Kings 16:33).  Did I tell you how dark these days were?

I have to expand and explain, however, that Ahab’s actions that provoked Yahweh’s anger came about not strictly because his character was more depraved and evilly motivated, but much more because he was insipidly submissive and subjected to a crafty, unscrupulous, and cruel woman filled with hate and stinging selfishness. This woman was so bad that in western society her name is used as a synonym to any woman of bad character. We are talking about Jezebel. Digressing for a moment, I could write a lengthy tome showing how some of the worst crimes that have ever been committed have been wrought by weak men at the instigation of worse – but stronger – spirits than themselves. Ah! We move on.

When youthful Jezebel left the extravagant palace of Tyre to become the consort of Ahab, the newly-crowned king of Israel, it was no doubt regarded as a splendid match. The Royal wedding of the year. At this period of time and within the bookends of this generation Tyre really was the queen upon the Mediterranean in the zenith of her glory. Her colonies dotted the shores of the Great sea as far as the Spanish harbours. Her trading vessels were seen on every known sea and even ventured to the coasts of our own Cornwall for tin. Marrying a princess of Tyre seriously meant that Ahab was punching far above his own weight. Socially and royally, Jezebel was of a different class.  It would seem that As Jezebel left her home for Israel, she actually took with her a considerable number of Baal worshipping priests who would have influenced her religious outlook strongly, and who, therefore, would have exercised an irresistible spell over her – to do her utmost to introduce into Israel the hideous and cruel rites of her hereditary religion.

A western, sanitised take on Jezebel as she was about to be thrown "to the dogs" (literally)out of the window. It looks a bit too "non-eastern to me", but it was the most horrific view I could find on Google.
A western, sanitised take on Jezebel as she was about to be thrown “to the dogs” (literally)out of the window. It looks a bit too “non-eastern to me”, but it was the most horrific view I could find on Google.

Jezebel was a veritable apostle of Baal worship while married to Ahab. First, she seems to have erected a temple to Astarte in the neighbourhood of Jezreel. That old divine FB Meyer likens the people and social structure of Jezreel at the time to be paralleled with the image of Windsor in the UK. Jezebel financially supported her 450 priests. Ahab and Jezebel also built a temple for Baal in Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel at that time. Shrines and temples then began to rise in all parts of the land in honour of these idolatrous false deities, while the altars of Jehovah, like that at Carmel, were ruthlessly broken down. The land literally swarmed with the priests of Baal and of the high placed groves. The institution of, and the priestly hierarchy that came with Baal worship reveling in their sudden rise to power, were ambitiously licentious, and morally debased. The fires of persecution were lit and began to burn with furious intolerance towards anything or anybody that fell short of pure Baal worship. As one writer puts it: “The schools of the prophets were shut up, as grass grew in their courts.” The prophets of the schools ran away into hiding. The darkness was that of a terrible midnight of terror to righteous God-fearing people. The whole land seemed to be silently submitted to the apostasy instigated by Jezebel and weakly allowed by Ahab. Of all the population of Israel, only seven thousand remained who had not bowed the knee to Baal. They were so paralysed with fear they kept so still and quiet that their very existence was unknown even by Elijah in the hour of his greatest loneliness.

And so, in the midst of this political and spiritual anarchy we arrive at 1 Kings 17 and the first verse. One can easily perceive how it was that Elijah appeared in Israel at a most crucial time.  Jezebel imported her idolatrous lifestyle and “foreign god” to Israel. Her influence was very great not merely over her husband, but throughout the kingdom, and as a result, the worship of Baal, the god of the Phoenicians, spread with ever greater force, and was the cause of much trouble that befell the people of Israel.

 

Then -one day the man known as Elijah the Tishbite appeared before Ahab the king – not Jezebel and confronted him with an extremely brief “state of the Nation” speech. And …

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… Ah! But that is for the next time.