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1st September 2017

James 5v17-18
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

I find Elijah fascinating. We get the impression that some Old Testament heroes achieved what they did partly through their own strength, but not Elijah. Elijah seems to me to have been a rather shy man - an introvert - perhaps given to depression. He achieved great things but, afterwards, he seemed to need to take time to be alone. He even prayed for death at least once. Elijah wasn't a strong man, but he had a strong faith, and so he's a great example to us that we can all achieve great things for God, if we will only trust Him. Elijah was a man just like us, but he was a great man - through faith.

We first we hear of Elijah when God sends him from his home in Gilead, east of the Jordan, to Samaria, the capital of Israel, to prophesy to King Ahab. Ahab had married Jezebel, a princess from Sidon in Lebanon, and she'd encouraged him to turn away from the true God and worship the pagan gods Baal and Asherah. Despite the very great danger, Elijah obeyed God. He told Ahab, "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word".

Afterwards, God sent Elijah to the Kerith Ravine to hide - alone - from Ahab's hit squads. Ravens brought him food twice a day. Talk about "give us this day our daily bread"!

As the drought that Elijah had prophesied began to bite, famine came, and the water in the ravine dried up. God sent Elijah to Zarephath, a town in the territory of Sidon, ruled by Jezebel's father. Elijah met a widow there, and asked her for some food and water, but the widow and her son were starving. They only had enough for one more meal. Nevertheless, Elijah asked her again for some food, and he prophesied that they would never run out of food or oil, as long as the drought lasted. The widow did as she was asked, and God fulfilled his promise to her.

But her son died. Elijah took the boy from his mother's arms, carried him to his own room, laid him on his own bed, and lied on top of him. He prayed, and God brought the boy back to life.

After more than two years of drought and famine, God sent Elijah back to Ahab. Jezebel had been busy killing as many of the Lord's prophets as she could lay her hands on, but Elijah obeyed God again. When they met, Ahab said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel". Elijah replied "I haven't made trouble for Israel, but you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the Lord's commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel."

On the mountain, Elijah spoke up, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him". He challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest. They'd make two altars, and sacrifice a bull on each. The prophets of Baal would pray to him, and Elijah would pray to the Lord, and whichever god burnt up their sacrifice would be seen to be the true God.

The prophets of Baal prayed, and danced, and cut themselves, and prophesied, from morning till afternoon, but nothing happened. Elijah taunted them, saying , "Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he's deep in thought, or busy, or travelling. Maybe he's sleeping and must be woken up". When the prophets of Baal finally gave up, Elijah told the people to drench the Lord's altar with water, and then he prayed, and fire from God fell from heaven and burnt up his sacrifice.

The people cried out "The Lord - He is God! The Lord - He is God!" Elijah ordered them to seize the prophets of Baal, and slaughter them in the valley at the foot of the mountain.

That day, the rain came. Once the idolatry ended, the drought ended.

But Ahab told Jezebel about the contest, and how Elijah had killed all her prophets, and she vowed revenge. Elijah ran for his life. Elijah was a man just like us. Although he'd been God's representative in the wonderful miracle on Mt Carmel, he was now gripped with fear. He'd had enough. He needed time alone. He ran south out of the Northern kingdom of Israel, through Judah, and when he reached the southern border of Judah, he left his servant behind and went alone into the desert. He found a broom tree, sat down in its shade, and prayed for death. He fell asleep.

An angel woke him and gave him food. He ate the food, and fell asleep again. The angel woke him again, and gave him more food, and said "Get up and eat, because the journey is too much for you". Elijah ate the food, and then he walked all the way to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.

Elijah spent a night in a cave at Horeb and, in the morning, he had an encounter with God, who asked him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah said that he'd been jealous for God, but the Israelites had rejected God's covenant, broken his altars, and killed his prophets, and Elijah was the only one left. God told him to go outside, because the Lord was about to pass by.

A great wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rock. Then there was an earthquake. Then there was a fire. But the Lord wasn't in any of these. After the fire, there was a gentle whisper. Then Elijah went out and God repeated his question, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah gave much the same answer as he'd given before.

God gave Elijah some new instructions, telling him to go back, and then to anoint a new king over the land of Aram, and to anoint Jehu as king over Israel, and a new prophet, Elisha, who would succeed Elijah. And then God told him that he wasn't the only faithful one left in Israel - there were 7,000 others. Elijah the loner had had no idea.

Elijah found Elisha, threw his cloak over him as a sign that Elisha would take over his ministry, and then walked away. Elisha had to run after him to accept his new role. Elisha was to be Elijah's servant, but we get the impression Elijah would have preferred solitude.

Some time later, King Ahab wanted to buy a vineyard from a man named Naboth. He offered him a good price, but Naboth didn't want to sell. Queen Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be falsely accused and executed. When Naboth was dead, Ahab took possession of the vineyard. God sent Elijah to prophesy to Ahab, "Have you not murdered a man and seized his property? This is what the Lord says, 'In the place where dogs licked up Naboth's blood, dogs will lick up your blood.'" And Elijah prophesied that God would destroy Ahab's descendants and that "Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel".

Ahab repented, and God delayed judgement, saying "I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son".

Ahab was succeed by Ahaziah, who fell through a ceiling and thought he might die from his injury. He sent men to ask the false god Baal-Zebub (from which we get the word "Beelzebub") if he'd recover, but Elijah met them on the way, and sent them back to Ahaziah, and gave them a prophecy to repeat to the king, saying that because he consulted an idol instead of the Lord, he would die of his injury.

Ahaziah sent fifty soldiers to arrest Elijah. They found him sitting on top of a hill, probably alone. Jesus, too, liked praying in the hills because of the solitude. Their captain ordered him to come down, but Elijah prayed for fire to come down from heaven and kill them, and it did. Ahaziah sent another fifty men and the same thing happened. Ahaziah sent a third group of fifty men. Their leader pleaded with Elijah for their lives, and this time God told Elijah to go with them, and he obeyed God. When he saw Ahaziah, he repeated the prophesy.

Ahaziah died just two years after ascending the throne. He was succeeded by his brother, Joram.

The time came for Elijah to leave this earth, and go to be with the Lord. Elijah travelled from Gilgal to Bethel. He told Elisha to say in Gilgal but Elisha insisted on coming with him. Then Elijah travelled to Jericho. Again he asked Elisha to stay behind, and again Elisha insisted on going with him. Then Elijah went to the River Jordan. Again he told Elisha to stay behind, and again Elisha refused. They'd gone round in almost a circle. It seems Elijah wanted to die alone but Elisha wouldn't let him. And fifty other prophets followed them.

Elijah rolled up his cloak and struck the river with it, and the river parted. Elijah crossed over. He was back in Gilead, the land of his birth. Suddenly, a chariot of fire separated Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. He was one of only two people in the Old Testament who didn't die. Elisha pickup up Elijah's cloak and went back to Israel as its leading prophet.

When Joram had reigned for 12 years, Jehu shot him and ordered his body to be thrown down in Naboth's field. Jehu then went to Jezreel, where he found Jezebel and had her thrown out of the window. She was trampled to death by the horses, in fulfilment of Elijah's prophesy years earlier.

Again and again, we see that Elijah was a very solitary man. But we also see that he was a very obedient man. It's not just the extroverts that can powerfully glorify God. It's the obedient. As has been said many times before, God does not call the equipped, He equips the called. Whatever our emotional makeup, God can use us mightily, if we will do what He tells us.

We also see clearly that, after serving God in a public way, Elijah needed time to recover. He needed solitude, whether in the Kerith Ravine, on under the broom tree in the desert, or on Mt Horeb, or when Elisha joined him. Some of us need more recovery time than others, but we all need some.

Elijah's story is one of ups and downs, triumphs and loneliness, victories and deserts. In the story of the widow's son, we see great compassion. In the story of the contest on Mt Carmel, we see great faith. In Elijah's interviews with King Ahab we see great courage. In the story of the Kerith Ravine we see great patience. But in the story of the journey in to the desert we also see fear and despair. In the story of the meeting with Elisha, we see a degree of unfriendliness. Elijah even wanted to die alone. We're all a mixed bag of good and bad. We're all works in progress, even the great Old Testament prophets. And God can use us all, if we will be obedient.

Elijah's story wasn't over. We read in Matthew 17 that he appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration, together with Jesus and Moses, which shows us how great a man, and how important a historical figure, he was.