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9. Elijah

9.4  Elijah And Angels

In achieving all these things with Elijah, God worked through His Angels. When Elijah introduces himself as being a man who stood ‘before the Lord’ (1 Kings 17:1), he used a phrase which is very often, if not normally, applied to standing before an Angel- Gen. 18:22; 19:27; Ex. 14:19; 17:6; Dt. 4:10; Ps. 106:23; Zech. 3:1,3. Elijah sensed his Angel always before him and lived life as if in the Angel’s presence as we should. He assured Obadiah that he was really telling him the truth, because Yahweh of Hosts (Angels) is real, and he stood before those Angels (1 Kings 18:15). A sense of Angelic presence and observation will likewise inspire us to transparent lives, seeing that “thou God seest me” too. Angels also stand before the Lord (1 Kings 22:21; 2 Chron. 18:20), as we stand before the Lord in standing before them; they are our representatives in the court of Heaven. In this sense, therefore, our Angels behold the face of our Father, as do those of the “little ones” in the ecclesia or in our lives. Therefore to turn our faces away from the little ones is to make a breach between our attitude and God’s. For their Angels who represent them are constantly before the presence of God Himself in Heaven.  

The Mantle Of Elijah

In 1 Kings 19:11 the Angel tells Elijah to actually go and stand before the Lord and learn what it really meant; so he had to literally stand before the Angel as He passed by. Yet Elijah hid his face; he was no longer so happy to be before the Lord once he realized the humility and breaking in pieces of a proud man’s spirit that it really implies.  So (1 Kings 19:13) he wrapped his face [s.w. “before” the Lord] in his mantle and “stood” [s.w. ‘stand’ before the Lord] in the cave mouth before the Angel. In Hebrew, the words for ‘face’ and ‘before’ are the same. Too ashamed to really stand before the Lord, Elijah therefore wrapped his face. Earlier, he had been so keen to use this phrase of himself (1 Kings 17:1; 18:15); he had prided himself on the fact that he stood before the Lord. But now he hid his face, a common idiom often used by God for withholding fellowship. The fact we too are God’s covenant people can initially be a source of pride to us as we do our theological gladiatorship with others. But the implications are so far deeper; and through Angelic work in our lives, we too are brought to see this. The word for “Mantle” is translated “glory” in Zech. 11:3; Elijah wrapped his presence in his own glory, rather than face up to the implications of God’s glory. A desire for our own glory prevents us perceiving God’s glory. Perhaps Elijah was being pseudo-humble, misquoting to himself a Biblical precedent in all this, namely that the cherubim wrapped their faces (Is. 6:2). In this case. Elijah was doing a false impersonation of the cherubim, manifesting himself before God’s manifestation of Himself. Only at the very end does Elijah cast away his mantle (2 Kings 2:13), his human strength, allowing himself to merge with God’s glory. He should have cast away his mantle earlier, when he stood before the still small voice on Horeb. The question of 1 Kings 19:13 “Why are you still here, Elijah?” may imply that Elijah should have allowed himself to be carried away by the cherubim, he should have surrendered himself to the progress of God’s glory, rather than so obsessively insist upon his own personal rightness and the wrongness of others. And this was why God’s ultimate response to Elijah’s attitude on Horeb was to dismiss him from his prophetic ministry and enstate Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16). Elijah seems to have finally learnt his lesson, for he calls Elisha to the ministry by ‘passing by’ Elisha as in a theophany, taking off his mantle and throwing it upon Elisha (1 Kings 19:19). He realized that he had hidden behind that mantle, using it to resist participating in the selfless association with God’s glory [rather than his own] to which he was called. But he got there in the end; hence the enormous significance of Elijah giving up his mantle when he finally ascends to Heaven in the cherubim chariot (2 Kings 2:13). 

We read that whilst in the cave, “the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What does thou here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9). This personification of “the word of the Lord” surely refers to an Angel who spoke to Elijah. When we read that the Lord was not in the fire etc., but was in the “still small voice”, perhaps the idea is that the Angel was not visible in the fire, earthquake, wind etc.- but He simply stood there at the end in front of Elijah and quietly spoke to him. The Angel, in a magnificent manifestation of the ‘humility’ of God, was quietly spoken and calm (“still”). The Angel was inviting Elijah to be like Him, to be God manifest by following the pattern of his guardian Angel. 

It could be that after the triumph on Carmel, there had been another vision of God’s glory in order to humble Elijah. I say this on the basis that the description of the cloud in 1 Kings 18:44 “like a man’s hand” recalls “the likeness of a man’s hand” under the cherubim in Ezekiel’s visions. Clouds and rain are invariably part of theophanies. Elijah spoke of how, by faith, he heard “the feet of rain” (1 Kings 18:41 LXX), as if he believed that the Angels were coming with rain. Perhaps Elijah therefore told Ahab “prepare thy chariot” and ride with the rain- i.e. ‘be part of the vision of glory / cherubim chariots on the ground as it passes overhead’. This was the point of Ezekiel’s vision; Israel were to reflect the Cherubim on earth, just As David moved in step with the Spirit / the sound of marching in the mulberry trees. Therefore in 1 Kings 19:42 when in the face of all this, Elijah places his  face between knees, he may be doing the same thing as when he hides his face in the mantle. He sensed the glory of God near him but didn’t want to face up to it personally. He didn’t want to become part of the Cherubic vision of glory, even though he advised Ahab to do so. We must identify ourselves with the vision of God’s glory, and face up to the life-changing implications of it. Elijah ultimately did this, although it took him a lifetime- he was caught up in another cherubic vision and threw away his mantle and became part of the vision of glory; and hence he was called “the chariot of Israel and the [great] horseman thereof” [reading “horsemen” as an intensive plural]. The chariots and horsemen of God appeared; and Elisha perceived that Elijah had finally become identified with them. For Elisha sees them and then describes Elijah as being them- the chariot and horseman of Israel (2 Kings 2:11,12). Finally, Elijah became part of God’s glory; He merged into it rather than resisting it for the sake of his own  glory. He was the charioteer of the cherubim; for his prayers had controlled their direction. This identification of ourselves with God’s glory, this losing of ourselves and our own insistence upon our rightness, and our focus on others’ wrongness...this is the end result of our lives if they are lived out after the pattern of Elijah’s. 

Elijah And Us

Elijah’s example clearly influenced Elisha, both in the nature of the miracles which he performed, and in how when Elisha died, he was likewise seen as “My father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof” (2 Kings 13:14). How Elisha related to Elijah, was how people came to relate to Elisha. This is not only a neat cameo of the immense personal influence which we have upon each other; it reflects how Elisha learnt the lesson from Elijah, which we too must learn, of freely and totally absorbing ourselves in the progress of God’s Angelic, cherubic work to bring about His glory and not our own.

Elijah was a "man of like passions" with us, James says. Contrary to how Judaism perceived him, Elijah is set up as truly our example. Elijah like Moses was seen in very exalted terms by the Jews of Christ’s day. Yet He invites the disciples to see themselves as Elijah, when He comments that they “will not taste of death” until they have seen Him in His glory- a clear reference, in the context, to the appearance of Christ in glory at the transfiguration, along with Elijah. Those who did not “taste of death” “is an expression from the world of Jewish apocalyptic where it refers to men who have been removed from the earth without dying, especially… Elijah”(1). Yet the Lord applies this well known reference to Elijah to all His followers.

(1) Norman Perrin, Rediscovering The Teaching Of Jesus (New York: Harper & Row, 1967) p. 19.