|Topical Bible Study||August 1962|
The People in God’s Plan—Lesson XV
I Kings 17:1 – II Kings 2:11
The Prophet Elijah
THE Prophet Elijah was a “Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead.” (I Kings 17:1; 18:1) The name Elijah means “God of Jehovah.”* The appropriateness of this name is seen in the steadfast manner in which Elijah served Jehovah and stood against the false god, Baal, and those who worshiped Baal.
* Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary of the Old Testament, reference No. 452.
Elijah not only served God faithfully as a prophet, but was used by the Lord as a type of important aspects of the divine plan which were to be carried out, beginning with John the Baptist at the end of the Jewish Age. To fully appreciate the typical aspects of Elijah’s service it will be helpful to note some of his outstanding experiences as a servant of God.
Elijah prophesied that there were to be three and one-half Years in Israel without rain. (James 5:17) He was instructed to hide himself by the brook Cherith, where the Lord used ravens to carry food to him. (I Kings 17:2-17) After a while the brook Cherith dried up, and Elijah was instructed by the Lord to go to Zarephath, Zidon, where the Lord said he had instructed a widow to sustain him. (I Kings 17:8-16) A miracle was performed to enable the widow to carry out the instructions she received from the Lord.
A son of this widow fell sick and died, and Elijah, by another miracle, awakened the boy from the sleep of death.—I Kings 17:17-24
After this, and in the third year of the drought, the Lord instructed Elijah to appear before the wicked king, Ahab, whose wife, the queen, was the infamous Jezebel, and stated that he would then send rain upon the earth. (I Kings 18:1) When Elijah appeared before Ahab, he instructed the king to summon all the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel; and Ahab carried out these instructions.—I Kings 18:17-20
On Mount Carmel Elijah arranged a test to demonstrate to the king and the Israelites that Jehovah, not Baal, is the true and living God. First, the prophets of Baal were to present a sacrifice to Baal and call upon him to send fire to consume the sacrifice. Elijah proposed to do the same, praying to the God of Israel.—I Kings 18:21-25
The prophets of Baal first offered their bullock, but when they called upon Baal to send fire to consume it, no fire descended. They kept calling upon Baal until noon; then Elijah mocked them. They continued to cry to Baal, cutting themselves with knives, but of course they failed, for Baal is no god.—I Kings 18:26-29
Elijah then presented his offering to Jehovah. To make it more impressive,. he dug a trench around the altar and filled it with water, and poured water over the sacrifice. When he called upon the God of Israel to accept this sacrifice by fire, there was an immediate response. Having demonstrated that Jehovah is the true and living God, Elijah directed that the prophets of Baal should be destroyed.—I Kings 18:30-40
After the destruction of the prophets of Baal, Elijah informed King Ahab that rain would now come upon the earth. But when Jezebel learned of what had happened she was angry and vowed that she would destroy Elijah. (I Kings 19:1,2) Elijah fled from Jezebel, and the Lord protected him. Then he was directed to go to Mount Horeb, where at the mouth of a cave he witnessed a strong wind which rent the mountains, and then a mighty earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire. After the fire he heard the voice of the Lord, who instructed him to anoint Jehu to be king over Israel, and Elisha to be his own successor as prophet.—I Kings 19:3-21
The final important episode in the life of Elijah was his miraculous parting from Elisha, when a fiery chariot separated them, and he was taken up into the sky in a whirlwind. (II Kings 2:1,9-11) The Common Version English translation of the Bible says that Elijah was taken up into heaven, but we know that this is not a reference to the heaven which is the home of Gad and the angels, for hundreds of years later Jesus said that no man had ascended into heaven.—John 3:13
THE Israelites at the time of Jesus’ first advent were looking for the coming of three outstanding personalities. The important one of these was, of course, the Messiah. But in addition to the Messiah, there was one whom they referred to as “that Prophet” [Greek, “the Prophet”], and another as “Elijah.” (John 1:21) “That Prophet” was to be like unto Moses, whose coming was prophesied by him. (Deut. 18:15-18) The coming of “Elijah” was foretold by the Prophet Malachi, whose prophecy stated that “Elijah” would come “before the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” and would conduct a work of reformation described as turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers.—Mal. 4:5,6
The ultimate and complete fulfillment of both these prophecies will take place during the thousand-year of Christ, for Jesus and his true followers, the church who will reign with him, fill both these positions; that is, of “that Prophet,” and of the antitypical “Elijah.” (Acts 3:22,23) But the Israelites of Jesus’ day did not understand this, and when John the Baptist began his ministry of reformation, calling upon the people of Israel to repent, it raised the question in the minds of some as to the possibility of his being the foretold Elijah; for, as we have seen, the typical Elijah’s work was essentially one of reformation and of reestablishing the worship of the true God in Israel.
John the Baptist denied that he was the foretold “Elijah,” but later Jesus said to his disciples that if they could accept it, John was the “Elijah.” (Matt. 11:14; 17:12) This simply meant that if John’s ministry had accomplished a work of reformation in their hearts and lives, then to them he was the foretold “Elijah.” But so far as Israel as a nation was concerned, John’s work of reformation failed.
In Malachi’s prophecy of the coming “Elijah” he indicates that a failure of the effort to reform the people would lead to a curse by God—“Lest … I [Jehovah] smite the earth with a curse.” The work of John the Baptist to reform Israel was followed in A.D. 70-73 by a great time of trouble which destroyed the nation of Israel. This was the foretold “curse” so far as Israel was concerned.
The work of John the Baptist was merely a token fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy. Another calling upon the people to repent began at Pentecost, and has been in progress throughout the entire Gospel Age. (Acts 17:30,31) This work has been promoted by the church in the flesh. While there are no texts of Scripture which express it in so many words, we think the Bible does support the thought that the church in the flesh fulfils another aspect of the Elijah type.
But here again the work of reformation has failed. The work of John the Baptist was conducted on behalf of the one little nation of Israel, but the church was commissioned to go into all the world to preach the Gospel to all the people of all nations. While the Lord knew that this would not convert the world, it was his will that the church pursue this effort with the same enthusiasm as though it had been designed to be a success. Because of its failure, the Lord again smites the earth with a curse, which is even now blighting the world of mankind, and will become worse. It is the great “time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation.”
During much of the time the typical Elijah conducted his ministry he was obliged to live in a wilderness situation so far as King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel were concerned. This was particularly true beginning with the answer to Elijah’s prayer that no rain fall upon the land. The New Testament informs us that this drought lasted for three and one-half years. (James 5:17) These three and a half years covered the period that Elijah was fed by ravens at the brook Cherith, and also the period during which he was miraculously provided with food while staying at the home of the widow in Zarephath. The rain did not come until after the test which he conducted on Mount Carmel.
During this entire period Elijah was being hunted by Ahab. He emerged from this symbolic wilderness of isolation when the Lord instructed him to appear before Ahab. This, as we have seen, was in the “third year.” The three and one-half years mentioned by James was probably nearly completed by the time Elijah reached Ahab, although there would be sufficient time left to arrange and conduct the Mount Carmel test, for it was not until after this that the rain came.
Taking the view that the church in the flesh is the antitypical “Elijah” during the Gospel Age—which we believe is correct—we have the testimony of the Apostle John that the Lord’s people for three and one-half symbolic years found it necessary to flee into the “wilderness,” where she was fed by God, even as Elijah was. (Rev. 12:20) This wilderness condition was forced upon the Lord’s people during this period by the Papacy, which we believe was prefigured by Ahab as the civil powers, and Jezebel, as the false church. Jezebel is identified in the Scriptures as representing the false church. (Rev. 2:20) These correspondencies help to establish the thought that the church in the flesh has been fulfilling the Elijah type during the Gospel Age.
Elijah passed from the scene in a very unusual manner. While there is no reason to suppose that he did not actually die, yet so far as his successor Elisha was concerned, he merely saw him taken up in a whirlwind into the skies, or the atmospheric heavens. This could well picture the change of the church from the earthly to the heavenly plane of life at the close of the Gospel Age, and prior to the full establishment of the kingdom of Christ.
The Type Extended
THE Elijah type is brought before us again in the transfiguration vision, when Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on a high mountain, with Peter, James, and John present. They heard a voice from heaven identifying Jesus as the Son of God. (Matt. 17:1-9) In the last verse of the preceding chapter Jesus told his disciples that there would be some of them who would not taste death until they saw him coming in his kingdom. (Matt. 16:28) Peter, James, and John did see him in this vision of the kingdom.
Thus is brought to our attention a further extension of the Elijah type, in the sense that this vision indicates that the Elijah work will be accomplished by Christ, and through the agencies of the kingdom. Here Moses also appeared in vision, the type of “that prophet.” Since this vision is definitely of kingdom power and glory, (II Pet. 1:16-18) we might think of Moses as head over God’s ruling house of servants developed largely during the Law dispensation, representing the earthly phase of the kingdom; and Elijah as the spiritual house of sons, developed during the Gospel Age, as the spiritual phase of the kingdom. Jesus is the chief one in the vision, which shows that through his kingdom not only will all the messianic promises be fulfilled, but also the work foretold to be accomplished by “that Prophet” and by “Elijah.” In connection with the transfiguration vision Jesus said to Peter, James, and John that Elias, or Elijah, truly cometh and restoreth all things.—Matt. 17:11, R.V.
Thus it is that while there was a partial fulfillment of this type in the work of John the Baptist, and a more world-wide attempt on the part of the church in the flesh, the world is actually to be converted to the worship of the true God during the thousand years of Christ’s reign—the “times of restitution of all things.”
ELISHA was anointed by Elijah to be his successor, and after Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind Elisha carried on the work in the spirit and power of Elijah. (II Kings 2:9-17) There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that the Lord intended that Elisha should be a type. He is not mentioned in the New Testament at all. However, we think it is reasonable to conclude that since he carried forward the work of Elijah, this would illustrate the work to be accomplished in earth after the glorification of the church. Elisha’s work in many ways prefigured the work of restoration, or restitution.*
Who was the Prophet Elijah, and what does the name signify?
How did the Lord use Elijah in addition to his being a prophet?
What was Elijah’s first prophecy of record?
How did the Lord care for Elijah during the period of drought in Israel?
What great miracle did Elijah perform while at the home of a widow?
What challenge did Elijah present to King Ahab of Israel? Explain in detail.
What was the result of this challenge, or test, as to the identity of the true and living God?
When rain followed the destruction of the prophets of Baal, were King Ahab and Queen Jezebel pleased?
Whom did Elijah anoint to be his successor?
What three personalities were the Israelites of Jesus’ day expecting to come in fulfillment of prophecy?
When will the prophecies pertaining to “that Prophet” and “Elijah” have their complete fulfillment?
Did John the Baptist to any extent do an “Elijah” work?
Explain the prophecy of Malachi concerning the earth being smitten with a “curse.”
When did a further “Elijah” work begin in the outworking of God’s plan?
Has the “Elijah” work performed by the true church been successful?
Explain the nature of the “curse” that comes upon the world at the end of the Gospel Age.
Explain the manner in which Elijah was in a “wilderness” during the three and a half years of the drought. How did the Lord care for him during this period?
At what time in Elijah’s ministry was the drought upon the land of Israel broken?
What text of Scripture confirms the thought that the church in the flesh during the Gospel Age was typified by Elijah?
What was the principal agent of persecution against the church, and how is this shown in the type?
What is represented by the manner in which Elijah’s ministry was brought to an end?
How is the Elijah type brought to our attention in the transfiguration? Explain the significance of this vision.
When will the antitypical Elijah work of restoring all things actually be accomplished?
What may be represented by the work of Elisha, who succeeded Elijah as prophet in Israel?
SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT THOUGHTS
The work of the Prophet Elijah is definitely identified in the Scriptures as being typical, first of the reformation work conducted by John the Baptist; secondly, the evangelistic work of the church, beginning at Pentecost; and finally of the reformation and restitution work to be accomplished by Christ and the church during the thousand years of the messianic kingdom.