Billy Graham stands in line with many great leaders in the Bible and in particular one fiery and passionate prophet who hosted a crusade of a different sort on top of Mount Carmel. I am, of course, speaking of Elijah. We don’t know much about Elijah’s early life other than the fact that he was a Tishbite (1 Ki. 17:1). Gilead (the other geographical indicator of his hometown) was in the northern Transjordan area, but Tishbe’s precise location is uncertain. While we know little of what Elijah’s life was like before he took on the role of God’s prophet, we do know much about his passion to serve God and to speak his word. His words, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand” indicate that Elijah understood himself to be a representative of the Lord much like an ambassador represents a country today. While the king and the priesthood were supposed to lead Israel in faithful service to Yahweh, there had been no one filling that role. Enter God’s prophet Elijah.
Elijah lived during one of the Northern Kingdom’s most critical points in history. King Ahab had married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and she in turn had drawn the king and the people into Baal worship. Elijah confronts the king’s apostasy in three powerful stories. First he proclaims to the king that a three year drought would come upon the land (1 Ki. 17). This is extremely significant as Baal was considered to be the god of fertility and the lord of the rain clouds. The second great encounter is the aforementioned showdown on Mount Carmel where Elijah and Yahweh take on the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Ki. 18), and lastly Elijah confronts Ahab concerning a vineyard he has illegally and murderously taken possession of (1 Ki. 21). Mixed in between these narratives are two very intimate pictures of this larger than life man of God. After the high of victory on Mount Carmel we see an exhausted and fearful Elijah running for his life from Jezebel (1 Ki. 19). And lastly, as his ministry and life come to a close, we see Elijah investing in his successor before being taken directly into heaven as Elisha looks on (1 Ki. 19:15-21; 2 Ki. 2:1-25).
Next to Moses, Elijah is probably the prophet of God who is most spoken about across the pages of Scripture and in countless books, broadcasts, and pulpits today. Three hundred years after his ministry the prophet Malachi wrote that Elijah would return to once again turn the hearts of the people back to God (Mal. 4:5-6). Four hundred years after that prophecy, the angel Gabriel affirmed the prophecy to John the Baptist’s father (Lk. 1:13-17) and Jesus claimed that indeed John had fulfilled that role (Mt. 11:11-14; 17:10-12; Mk. 9:11-13). Elijah is mentioned as an example in other New Testament passages as well (Mt. 16:14; 27:47-49); Mk. 6:15; 8:28; 15:35-36; Lk. 4:25-26; 9:8, 19; Js. 5:16-18) and makes a guest appearance alongside Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-13; Mk. 9:2-12; Lk. 9:28-45) so it is not surprising that he gets the recognition he does. This also means there is much we can learn from his life.
Perhaps one of Elijah’s greatest, but possibly most unrecognized lesson was the impact he had on his successor Elisha. Without being privy to all the “teachable moments” they must have shared during their time together, we can still see that Elijah’s life took significance by the investment he made in the next generation. I often hear people say they want to leave a legacy behind when they die. I wonder if that’s what Elijah thought as he mentored Elisha. Have you ever considered your legacy is the impact you have on the people who follow after you? You may not have a platform as large as Elijah’s or Billy Graham’s but I am sure there is at least one Elisha in your life. What will you have passed on to that person when God calls you to heaven?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 6/11/2017