Saturday, July 29, 2017

Elijah's World--by Linden Malki

Elijah was an interesting character, and he lived in interesting times.
He appears on the scene when the split between the northern and southern tribes into the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel was only about 60 years in the past.  He is called "the Tishbite", indicating that he was from a place known as Tishbah of Gilead, which was in the far northeastern corner of the original Promised Land, east of the Jordan and overlooking the Sea of Galilee; it is now in Jordan near the Syrian border. This area still has a large historic Christian minority population, and we have not heard of any religious unrest in the area. There are ruins of a Byzantine church in the area, called Mar Elias (St Elijah).*

  Our first mention of him was when God gave him a message for King Ahab of Israel.
In the years since the northern tribes under Jeroboam rebelled against  King Solomon's son Rehoboam (931 BC), there had been four successor kings when a general, Omri, took charge in 885 BC. He built a capital at Samaria, and a healthy economy and foreign policy. However, Jeroboam had built pagan shrines at the northern and southern end of his territory, and encouraged the Israelites to go there rather that Jerusalem to worship. Omri's son Ahab did that one better--married a Phoenician princess, Jezebel, whose father was a major priest of Baal, and who brought a whole regiment of priests with her and tried to wipe out the worshippers of God.

The message from God through Elijah to Ahab was this: there will be no rain nor dew except at God's word.  And there was a drought for three years. God told Elijah to go to the Brook Cherioth, which was in his home terrirory of Gilead, where there still some runoff, and God sent him food. When the brook went dry, God told him to go to Sidon, on the coast of southern Phoenicia, where there was a widow was designated to take care of him. And her containers of flour and oil did not go empty until it rained.  When the widow's son died, Elijah raised him from the dead.

 Elijah was then sent back to Ahab, and challenged Jezebel's prophets of Baal. The test was set up  on Mt Carmel, which is a ridge line that overlooks the coast on one side and the valley of Jezreel on the other. We know the story;  Elijah's sacrifice was accepted by God; the other "gods" offering was ignored. The prophets of Baal and Asherah were killed.Rain fell, Jezebel's threat sent Elijah running away in depression, and an encounter with God at Mt Horeb put him back on his feet. We then read of his calling of Elisha as mentoree and successor; confronting Ahab about a vineyard that he had coveted and Jezebel acquired through a false accusation and murder; and then confronting Ahab's son and successor Ahaziah, who had sent for a word from the pagan god Baalzebub about healing from injuries from a fall. Elijah then told Ahaziah that he had ensured his own death.  The last look we have of Elijah is when Elisha saw Elijah being caught up by a chariot of fire and disappearing. (Fifty prophets from Jericho spent three days looking for him, which pretty well confirms Elisha's experience.)

Elijah was the first of the dramatic prophets which challenged the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to stay on the path God had set out for them; we find Malachi prophesying that Elijah will return to bring hearts back to God before the "Day of the Lord".  John the Baptist was referred to by Jesus as a representation of Elijah (Matthew 18:9-13). Elijah was seen at  Jesus' Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-13) And Jesus pointed out that  it was a woman from a different country and culture who took care of  Elijah.

The return of Elijah is still part of Jewish tradition: at Passover Seders and circumcision ceremonies there is a chair for Elijah and an an invitation given for his return. Jewish scholars, faced with difficult questions, often end the discussion by saying "That answer has to wait for the return of Elijah."

The story of Elijah reminds us that God empowers His followers for great things, even when we are tired and scared, and He takes care of those He calls.

* I have been to this part of Jordan; one of my cousins was a missionary doctor who ran a hospital in the region. Despite the horrible fighting there has been in northern Syria, Jordan has been fairly quiet. It was here that my Assyrian father-in-law told me "Country beautiful. US Government better."

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