The current manual combines in a single lesson the three most widely known episodes in the life of Elijah the prophet (his sealing up the heavens, his contest with the priests of Baal, and his reliance on “the still, small voice” after becoming discouraged in the battle with Israel’s idolatry). One of the “additional teaching ideas” even brings up the whole “spirit of Elijah” message of the latter days. That’s too much material for one class period at any teacher’s skill level – this may be the lesson that forces even the most die-hard cover-it-if-it’s-in-the-manual teacher to be picky and choose the most relevant among the many options given.
In the 1930s and ‘40s, the seminary program, using Ezra C. Dalby’s Land and Leaders of Israel: Lessons in the Old Testament (Salt Lake City: Church Department of Education, 1930) as their textbook, filled three class periods with the story of Elijah, without even reaching the sealing powers of the spirit of Elijah.
Elijah, the Tishbite Prophet
Lesson Text: I Kings 16:29-34; 17.
Responsive Reading: Isaiah 6:3-12.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.” – Psalms 56:11.
The Message of the Lesson
Zeal for God
The seeds of idolatry planted by Jeroboam have done their work. About fifty years have passed since the death of the first king of the ten tribes, and already six men have occupied the throne. Ahab, the present ruler, has married a Sidonian princess, and she has practically turned the whole nation over to the worship of Baal. Most of the prophets of Jehovah have been slain by her orders, and the religion of Israel is dead in the land. It was an easy step from the worship of the images of bulls to the worship of other idols. Jeroboam succeeded better than he anticipated in weaning the people away from the sacred city of Jerusalem and the holy temple, with its Ark and Tabernacle and other shrines. All interest in this central place of worship is gone, and not one voice is raised in defense of the true faith.
Yes, one. Suddenly, without any preface or introduction, the mighty figure of Elijah bursts upon the scene as a flash of lightning at midnight. Like the great Melchizedek, he seems to have come “without father, without mother, without descent.” We have no record of his birth; and when his work was done, he left the scene of his ministry without tasting death. He was called a Tishbite, but there is no record of such a place as Tishbi. All we know is that he came from Gilead, that land of romance and beauty beyond the Jordan. he appears and disappears without any announcement or warning, but leaves a wholesome fear in the hearts of all idolaters whenever he comes in contact with them. His influence remains with his hearers.
On his first appearance at the court of Ahab, he made one startling announcement, and was gone before anyone realized the full significance of what he said: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” That was all, but it was enough. Moses had said that drought would be God’s punishment for idolatry. This was a declaration of the fulfillment of that prediction. The Lord’s word never fails of fulfilment.
The message of Elijah marked the beginning of more than three years’ famine, one of the very worst recorded in the history of Israel. The distressed people reaped the fruit of their apostasy, but instead of turning to the Lord in the spirit of repentance, they blamed Elijah for their suffering and hunted for him that he might be put to death. Jezebel particularly sought his life; but God had warned him to flee beyond Jordan, and there he was safely hid “by the brook Cherith,” from which he obtained water, and the Lord provided him with food.
As the famine grew more severe, the brook dried up, and once more God intervened to save Elijah’s life. The word of the Lord bade him go to the Sidonian city of Zarephath in Phoenicia, where a widow would care for him. This was in the very heart of Jezebel’s own land, and she would be less likely to look for him there than within the borders of Israel. He arrived after a long and dangerous journey, faint with hunger and thirst. Near the city gates he saw a woman gathering sticks, and asked her for some water; and as she went to fetch it, he called to her again and asked also for a morsel of bread. The poor woman had to confess that she had no bread, but only a handful of meal and a little oil in a cruse. She told him that she was gathering sticks to make one last meal for herself and son, and then lie down and die.
Elijah, strong in faith, told her to have no fear, but first supply his urgent needs, and after that make a meal for herself and son; promising her at the same time that until God sent rain the barrel of meal should not waste nor the cruse of oil fail. She believed his promise, and for many days, perhaps nearly two years, he remained at her home. “And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail,” according to his promise.
After a time the widow’s son grew grievously sick, and at last died. The woman was beside herself with grief and terror. She felt that Elijah must have come to bring her sin to remembrance before god, and so cause him to slay her son. The prophet could not bear to have her think ill of him, and said: “Give me thy son.” He took the child to his chamber; and after an earnest prayer he stretched himself upon the body three times, as though to breathe into his lungs and transfer to him his own vital warmth. And he continued to cry to the Lord, saying, “I pray thee, let this child’s soul come into him again.” His prayer was answered; the boy came back to life. Carrying him to his mother, he gave him into her arms again, with the simple statement: “See, thy son liveth!” The overjoyed woman confessed her faith in him as a man of God, and also that Jehovah was the true God.
There is a great lesson in the story of Elijah, that many of us miss. As we have seen, he was on fire with zeal for he honor of Jehovah, and had not the least patience with the apostasy of the people. There was no excuse for it that he could see, and he proposed to bring them back to their allegiance in a drastic manner. Let rain be withheld from the land as an evidence of Jehovah’s displeasure, and famine would bring them to their senses. So he thought. but it had the opposite effect. Instead of bringing the people to repentance, it made them more bitter and sullen. Like begets like.
Elijah had some lessons to learn also, and god permitted him to learn them in the school of experience. The brook Cherith was part of that experience. In this lonely retreat, he could get nearer to God by meditation and prayer. He was shut out from the world and the work he was anxious to perform. He could commune with no one but himself and God. The busy world with its din and noise passed him by, while he waited with what patience he could the outcome.
But God had another experience for him. Under the scotching sun the brook dwindled, until no water remained. Then the prophet was commanded to flee to Zarephath, outside the borders of his own land, and accept the hospitality of one who experience had taught him was an enemy of God. He was to receive protection from an idolatress, a subject of Jazebel’s father.
What Elijah thought of this arrangement we are not told, but he had learned obedience, and did not hesitate to go where he was sent. As he passed by stealth through northern Israel, he saw suffering and distress on every hand because of the severity of the famine, but no sign of repentance. He must have wondered at the strange perverseness of God’s children. How blind they were! Had they not read the word of the Lord to Moses (Deut. 11:16-17), that if they turned to other gods, he would shut up the heaven, and there would be no rain? And yet with this terrible judgment upon them, they wilfully continued in their idolatry. Elijah had no sympathy for such deliberate wickedness.
Just why the prophet was sent to Zarephath, we do not know. Perhaps the Lord wanted to show him that he was interested not alone in the people of Israel, but cared for even a poor Gentile widow. We gather this from the words of Jesus, when he said that in those days there were many widows in Israel, yet Elijah was not sent to them, but to a Sidonian idolatress (Luke 4:25-26). By meeting her, he learned to sympathize with another race than his own, and his stern nature must have been mellowed by the contact. God was trying to teach him that while the Elijah spirit might be needed at times, it was far from the Christ spirit. In that same place where Elijah met the widow, Jesus came many centuries later to extend his mercy to the Syro-Phoenician woman, whose faith was greater than the faith of his own people. (Mark 7:24-30)
Give thanks, O heart, for the high souls
That point us to the deathless goals –
For all the courage of their cry
That echoes down from sky to sky;
thanksgiving for the armed seers,
And heroes called to mortal years –
Souls that have built our faith in man
And lit the ages as they ran.
– Edwin Markham
Questions and Problems
1. Name the six kings who succeeded Jeroboam. (See I Kings 15:25-26; 16:6, 9, 23, 28)
2. Tell all you can about Ahab. (I Kings 16:29-34)
3. Tell about the first appearance of Elijah.
4. Quote his statement to Ahab.
5. What effect did the famine have on the people?
6. Tell of Elijah’s experience at the brook Cherith. Where was it?
7. Why did he leave there? Where did he go?
8. Mention the incidents connected with his stay at Zarephath. Where was this place?
9. What effect did Jeroboam’s religious innovations have on Israel fifty years later? Discuss.
10. In what respect was Ahab a great king? A weak king?
11. What proof have we that it was at Elijah’s request that rain was withheld?
12. Does punishment make people good? Discuss.
13. What reasons can you give for the Lord’s sending Elijah to Zarephath?
14. What did his experience there teach him?
15. What effect did these experiences have on Elijah?
16. What is the message of this lesson to us?
17. Discuss the Memory Gem.
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Eternal Father, we come into thy presence today conscious of our indifference and lack of zeal in thy cause. We are deeply impressed with the intense earnestness and faith of Elijah. In a generation of apostasy and idolatry, he stood alone, bold and unafraid in defense of righteousness and thy holy name. Uncouth, unlearned in the wisdom of men, he was a living flame of fire against the sins of Israel, and king and court trembled at his rebuke. O Father, help us to be like him. Give unto us his loyalty, his courage, his zeal for the honor of thy great name.
Elijah, the Courageous Prophet
Lesson Text: 1 Kings 18.
Responsive Reading: I Samuel 17:43-50.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the god.” – 1 Kings 18:39.
The Message of the Lesson
God or Baal
For three years and six months Elijah remained in seclusion. All efforts to trace him or locate his whereabouts had failed. In the meantime, things had reached a crisis in Samaria. The “sore famine” lay like a withering curse on all the land. No grass grew on the blistering plain; most of the cattle and sheep were dead from hunger. People were starving and dying for want of water. Unless rain came soon, the miserable kingdom would be utterly ruined.
But at this critical juncture, the word of the Lord came to Elijah, “Go, shew thyself unto Ahab; and I will send rain upon the earth.” Without hesitation or fear of consequences, he left his place of concealment at the Sidonian widow’s home, and he entered his own stricken land. The first man he met was Obadiah, the king’s minister, who secretly was loyal to Jehovah, and had concealed and fed a hundred of the prophets whom the wicked queen had sought to slay. Elijah sent a summons to the king by the hand of this minister: “Go, tell thy lord, Behold, Elijah is here.” What a message to a king!
The meeting of the two opposing forces in Israel was dramatic. A burst of anger sprang from the king’s lips. “Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel?” he bitterly exclaimed. Elijah did not quail in the presence of royal wrath. “I have not troubled Israel,” was his courageous answer; “but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and thou hast followed Baalim.”
Elijah was now in a position to give orders to the king, and he commanded that all Israel be summoned to Mount Carmel, and there he would singly meet in their presence all the prophets of Baal, and it would be decided by contest whether Baal or Jehovah should be the God of Israel. Ahab accepted Elijah’s challenge, and messengers were sent in every direction to notify the people of the royal proclamation that called them to Carmel on the following morning.
No more suitable place could have been selected for the enactment of the mighty drama which Elijah staged on that never-to-be-forgotten day, than the summit of Mount Carmel. Projecting as a great promontory sixteen hundred feet high out into the sea, it commands a view in every direction so varied and so beautiful, that no spot can equal it in all the Holy Land. To this day it is carpeted with flowers of every hue, and covered with impenetrable foliage of many varieties of stately trees, and shrubs of all kinds. The name means “Garden of God,” and travelers say that it is “still the fragrant, lovely mountain that it was of old,” with its many hidden dells and flowering glades.
On this ever memorable morning, let us stand on the summit for a moment and view the scenes around us. Looking eastward, thirty miles or a little more, we see the gleaming Sea of Galilee, its shores one day to be the home of him who was to save the world. As the eye turns a little southward from the Sea, there is the galley of Esdraelon and Mount Tabor rising like a monument from the plain. Farther southward still is Jezreel, Ahab’s summer home, and Gilboa, and Ebal and Gerizim with Shechem between the two, and Shiloh farther south, and other mountains and villages. all familiar places, associated with happy memories of god’s mercies to Israel in the days that are gone, but now blistering with heat, and cursed with famine!
Turning out faces to the north, we behold the great Mediterranean, dotted with ships from every port, coming to and going from the great commercial cities of Tyre and Sidon, thirty and fifty miles away. There is no famine in these larger centers of trade. Wealth of every kind, and food of all varieties are pouring into them from many lands. These strongholds of Baal are blessed with abundance and prosperity, the like of which the land of Israel has never known. Thus, we stand between two great lands, the kingdom of Baal and the kingdom of Jehovah. Around us now are gathered a multitude of people, and at our side is the prophet of Jehovah, in solitary grandeur, confronted by four hundred fifty prophets of Baal. And the king of Israel is there with all his court. No such assembly has ever been gathered before, or will ever be again. Even those present have not the least conception of the mighty principle in religion that is to be settled that day.
It is a tense moment. Every eye is turned on the stern and uncompromising prophet of the desert, the sole representative of Jehovah’s power. Pitted against him are not only the prophets of Baal, but all the kingdoms of this world, and the glory of them. The contest seems to be unequal. What can one man do against the world? But Elijah has no fear of the outcome, for the God of Israel is at his side.
And now he speaks, and the tones of his voice pierce their souls. It seems as if Carmel is shaking under their fee4t. A single sentence, but how significant! “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” What can they answer to that searching question? Awe-struck and ashamed, they stand in hushed and painful silence. Carried by the Spirit of God, the words strike deep into their hearts, and great fear grips the entire assembly.
Then Elijah laid down the conditions of the contest. “The prophets of Baal,” he said, “are four hundred and fifty: I stand alone as a prophet of Jehovah. Let two bullocks be provided for us; they shall slay and dress one, and lay it on wood, but they shall put no fire under. I will slay and dress the other, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under. Then let all you priests of Baal cry to your idols; I will call on the name of Jehovah. The god that answers by fire, let him be God.”
All the people saw that this was a fair challenge, and they murmured assent. But the hearts of the priests of Baal must have sunk within them. They had no such faith in the power of Baal, as Elijah had in Jehovah. Their cause was lost before it began. They knew this; and, of course, Elijah knew it also. but they made a desperate effort to go through with it, and put on a bold face to the very last. All their prestige, and perhaps their very lives, depended on the outcome. Elijah pursued his advantage at every step of the proceedings, belittling their gods, and humiliating them in the eyes of the people. At last, when all their efforts proved useless, he dramatically demonstrated in the eyes of the assembled multitude the power of Jehovah over Baal; for at his request fire came down from heaven, and consumed his bullock.
The people were convinced, and fell on their faces and cried: “The Lord, he is the God1 the Lord, he is the God!”
The contest on Mount Carmel was one of the most important events in the history of Israel. In it lay the germ of the monotheism that would one day grip the heart of the world. If Jehovah was more powerful than the mighty Baal, then it was easy to believe that he was stronger than all other gods. From that conception it was but a short step for the prophet Amos to declare that Jehovah was God, not only of Israel, but of all the nations of the earth. And that was one of the greatest religious conceptions ever given to the world.
Thou art, O God, the life and light
Of all this wondrous world we see;
Its glow by day, its smile by night
Are but reflections caught from thee:
Wher’er we turn, thy glories shine,
And all things fair and bright are thine.
Questions and Problems
1. Locate and describe Mount Carmel.
2. Mention the places that could be seen from its summit in the days of Elijah.
3. Why did the prophet call the people to gather at that place?
4. What was Elijah’s challenge?
5. Give a full account of the efforts of the priests of Baal to call down fire from heaven. (I Kings 18;25-29)
6. Give an account of Elijah’s preparation for the test, and his success. (I Kings 18:30-38)
7. Tell in detail how Elijah secured rain.
8. What great religious truth grew out of this event?
9. Palestine is entirely dependent on the rainfall for its moisture. Describe the country as you see it in your imagination, after three and a half years without rain.
10. What impresses you in the meeting of Elijah and Ahab? Give details of the meeting, as you picture it. Why was Elijah so fearless?
11. What impresses you in connection with the great contest at Carmel?
12. Was there justification for putting the priests of Baal to death? Discuss.
13. In what respect is the contest at Carmel still carried on? Explain fully.
14. What relation do you see between the Responsive Reading and this lesson?
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Eternal God, the same yesterday, today, and forever, we realize that the contest at Carmel is perpetual. The champions of Baal are never conquered. Jezebel is forever urging them to destroy thy prophets and teachers. People all around us halt between two opinions. Father, give us courage this day to enlist in thy cause. Help us to dedicate our lives to the accomplishment of thy purposes in the earth. We thank thee for the inspiration that comes to us from the great souls of the past. In the light of their lives may we fight for truth and righteousness, until Baal has finally fallen, and Christ is king.
Elijah, the Discouraged Prophet
Lesson Text: 1 Kings 19.
Responsive Reading: Psalms 31:15-24.
Prayer by Student.
Memory Text: “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” – Jeremiah 31:3.
The Message of the Lesson
The Still Small Voice
After his overwhelming victory over the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah imagined that the battle for the supremacy of the God of Israel had been won. The power of Jehovah over Baal had been demonstrated in a manner so striking, that the most skeptical must be convinced. And, as final proof of God’s power, the whole country had been flooded with rain, in answer to Elijah’s prayer. But before the day was over, the prophet was to learn that neither the power to call down fire from heaven nor an answered prayer for rain could affect the obdurate queen. Whether Baal had been defeated or not, Jezebel at least was not defeated, and she was determined that Elijah should not escape her vengeance.
In her way, Jezebel was as much in dead earnest as the prophet was, and as soon as she heard the terrible news from Carmel, she sent a messenger to Elijah to say: “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I make not thy life as the life of one of them by to-morrow about this time.” From our knowledge of the prophet up to this time, we would expect him to treat this message with complete indifference. Surely the man who had dared to stand against the king and four hundred and fifty priests of Baal would have no fear of one woman’s threat.
But it had just the opposite effect. Fear and deep depression gripped him, and we are told: “And when he saw that, he arose, and went for his life.” We are amazed at this desertion of Elijah from his post of duty. It was just the time that he was most needed. He had made a tremendous impression on the people, and they were in a mood to carry through the reform he had begun. Had they not confessed the supremacy of Jehovah? Surely the tide had turned against idolatry, and all that was necessary was for him to lead the movement. It seemed to be Elijah’s great opportunity to accomplish the very thing that was so near his heart, namely, the destruction of idolatry in Israel.
How can we account for his failure in this crisis? It was partly al mental reaction from the tremendous strain he had been under at Carmel. There his spiritual power had risen almost to heaven itself. He felt that he could sway the mind of the nation to his purpose, and that the kingdom was conquered for Jehovah. The message of Jezebel disillusioned him. In the discouragement that followed, he lost his bearings. He imagined that the queen spoke for all the people, when, as a matter of fact, she spoke for herself only. But Elijah seemed to feel that he had failed. And in utter dejection and despair he fled, not so much for the fear of his life, but as a confession of defeat. How many thousands are like him in this respect! They give up just at the moment of victory.
Elijah fled to the south; first to Beer-sheba, Isaac’s old home, nearly a hundred miles away. There he left his servant, while he plunged into the desert wilderness farther to the south. He went on and on, as if he were fleeing not from Jezebel, but from himself. He wanted to forget his loneliness, his despondency, and prayed that he might die because his life had been a failure. He crossed and recrossed the paths where Israel had wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and at last reached Sinai, the Mount of God, where the Law had been revealed to Moses, the very Law that it was Elijah’s mission to restore to Israel.
Elijah took shelter in a cave of Sinai, perhaps the very “cleft of the rock” where Moses had stood when the Lord covered him with his hand, as his glory passed by. In this secluded place, the word of the Lord came to him, saying: “What doest thou here, Elijah?” What, indeed! He was doing nothing; and in the meantime Jezebel was busy. She was overawing the people of God, and snatching from Elijah all the fruits of his labors. “What doest thou here?” There are no idolaters or breakers of God’s commandments at Sinai. Elijah has not yet grasped the full meaning of the question. He excuses himself. He has been jealous for God while the children of Israel have forsaken his covenant and slain his prophets with the sword, and Elijah only is left, and they seek his life also.
Then came the magnificent revelation, one of the profoundest and most spiritual in the Old Testament. Elijah had been using force as his weapon of conversion, and he had failed. Force had left the people hard and indifferent. To convince Elijah that his method was wrong, God tried it on the prophet himself. He visited the mountain with a hurricane that rent the place where he was standing, and broke the gigantic rocks in pieces. Next an earthquake shook the base of Sinai itself, and the mountain trembled. then came a fire which overwhelmed the prophet with its lurid light and destructive force. But Elijah was unmoved by any of these demonstrations of God’ power. After this there was a great calm, and he heard “a still small voice.” And now in the hush and gentleness of the deep silence, the prophet felt that God was near, speaking to his troubled soul.
Amazed and overwhelmed, he wraps his face in his mantle and stands at the entrance to the cave. There again he hears the reproachful question: “What doest thou here, Elijah?” While he has not yet fully grasped the meaning of the vision, and answers as before, the Lord makes clear the reason for his failure. Certainly the killing of Jezebel’s priests would be resisted. If he can kill, so can she. Force begets force. Hate awakens hate, and compulsion is met with compulsion. We do not love God because he shows his power in earthquake, in wind, and in fire. Famine may ruin a land, but it wins no allegiance from the people. The forces of nature have their work to do, and may be necessary at times to vindicate God’s power, but they seldom change men’s conduct.
Elijah’s methods did not work, even on himself. God was not in wind and fire. He sensed him only in the “still small voice.” In that voice was peace to his soul. Despondency, despair, and failure were gone, and he lived again. To be sure, he might still have to rebuke the recreant king, and pronounce a judgment for his sins; but he would never forget the lesson he had learned at Sinai.
God reveals to him that he is to be inactive no longer. There is still a great work for him to do. Three commands are given him: to anoint Hazael to be king of Syria, Jehu to be king of Israel, and Elisha “to be prophet in thy room.” And then to comfort Elijah, the Lord makes known to him that he has still seven thousand left in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal. The prophet is content and returns with joy to his work.
What a wonderful chapter this is! The “still small voice” foreshadows in a most striking way the teachings of Christ. They that take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Mercy, kindness, gentleness are to rule the world. He was stern and inflexible, but his moral earnestness must never be forgotten. With him right is right, and wrong is wrong; and there could be no compromise. Would that we all had the courage to stand as unflinchingly for our ideals as he did for his!
The Gentle Breeze
The raging fire, the roaring wind,
Thy boundless power display;
But in the gentler breeze we find
Thy Spirit’s viewless way.
The dew of heaven is like thy grace,
It steals in silence down;
But where it lights, the favored place
By richest fruits is known.
Questions and Problems
1. Tell in detail how rain came to the land. (I Kings 18:41-46)
2. What was the reaction of Jezebel?
3. How did Elijah receive her message?
4. How do you account for his despair?
5. Relate an experience he had on the desert. (See I Kings 19:4-8)
6. What question did the Lord ask him at Sinai?
7. What new commission was given to Elijah?
8. what reason did Elijah have for thinking that the battle was won with his victory at Carmel?
9. What vivid demonstration did the Lord give him that force would not convert Israel?
10. What is meant gy the “still small voice?”
11. Compare the methods used b Elijah and those used by Jesus.
12. What important message is there in this lesson for us?
Suggestive Closing Prayer
Dear God, thou hast revealed thyself, not only in the thunders of Sinai, but in more quiet ways. Teach us that the “still small voice” is a better revelation of thy true character than earthquake, wind, and fire. Mercy falls upon us like gentle rain, and loving kindness as the dew from heaven. We do not forget that thou art a God of justice, but we remember first that thy name is Love. The revelation of thy Son has taught us that thy glory is to save thy children, and not to destroy them. For this great truth, we love and praise thy name.