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9. Elijah

Chapter 9: Elijah

9.1 Elijah's Strength: Elijah And Prayer

Elijah bursts upon the scene in 1 Kings 17:1, describing the Lord as the One “Before whom I stand”. ‘Standing before the Lord’ refers to prayer- Ps. 106:23; Ezra 9:15; Jer. 15:1; 18:20. To live a life standing before the Lord is to live a life of prayer. Hence David and Paul say that prayer can be continual- in that life becomes a lived out prayer, with the practice of living in the presence of God. And straight away we ask ourselves, in lives just as busy as those of David and Paul, whether our self-talk, our minute by minute inner consciousness, is “before the Lord”...or merely the sheer and utter vapidity of the 21st century mind.  

Elijah really is the great example of believing that what we have prayed for, we have already received. He tells Ahab that he hears “the sound of a abundance of rain”, well before the prayer for rain had even begun to be answered (1 Kings 18:41). Elijah announced that there was not to be dew nor rain but “according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Here is an example of being sure of God’s will in what we pray for. If the Lord’s words abide in us, then we will ask what we will and it will be done; yet John also records that if we ask according to God’s will, it will be done for us. Our will and that of the Father come to co-incide as His word takes an ever deeper lodgment in our consciousness. And this is how close Elijah must have been to knowing the will of God. Elijah alludes to Dt. 28 in saying there would be no rain (and 1 Kings 19:14 forsaken thy covenant= Dt. 32)- therefore he could be so sure of being heard. His request that there be “no dew” was inspired by the prayers of Gideon and David, who had prayed just the same things (Jud. 6:37; 2 Sam.1:21; and 1 Kings 18:33 = Jud. 6:20). Likewise the two witnesses of the last days will be inspired in their turn by Elijah’s example to pray that Heaven will be stopped. When it comes to prayer, there clearly is a positive pattern of influence and example both amongst us and from our absorbing the spirit of countless Biblical examples. The righteous man ‘decrees a thing in his heart and it is done’ through his prayers (Job 22:28). The same Hebrew words for ‘according’ and ‘word’ occur in both 1 Kings 17:1 and 24: “There shall not be dew nor rain but according to my word...The word of the Lord in [according to] thy mouth”. Elijah’s word and will had become parallel with those of the Father. This was taken to the ultimate extent by the Lord, in whom the Father’s word was made flesh. But that same word slowly becomes flesh in us too. No longer do we request things that are not the Father’s will as through His word we become more attune to Him. Our experience of answered prayer becomes increasingly positive, reinforcing our faith in Him and our attention to prayerfulness. And this dovetails with our increasingly sensitive reading of His word daily. The Lord intended that we should all pray the prayer of command as Elijah did; for He taught that with faith, we should be able to tell a sycamore tree to be rooted up and planted in the sea (Lk. 17:6). He doesn’t advise that we pray to the Father that the tree, according to His will, be rooted up and transplanted. He wants us to come to so know the will of the Father that we can pray the prayer of direct command. And this is quite some challenge. 

Elijah could be so sure his prayer would be hear because he knew that he was genuinely motivated. His reason for withholding the rain and dew was so that Israel would come to repentance (James 5:16-18)- perhaps through them perceiving that lack of rain was a sign that they had broken the covenant. In this case, Elijah was somewhat harsher than God Himself, who had not yet withdrawn rain from His people. Elijah “shut the heavens”, even though Israel rejected him at that time (Lk. 4:25,26). Their rejection of him is unrecorded in the Kings record, but we are left to reflect upon the wonder of the fact that Elijah’s response to reaction was not to merely hurt back, but to earnestly seek their restoration to God. He “prayed in his prayer” (James 5:17 Gk.)- there was a deep prayer going on within his prayer, words and feelings within words- the prayer of the very inner soul. This was how much he sought their repentance. The James passage sets Elijah up as a pattern for our prayer for our wayward brethren. He really is our pattern here. He clearly saw prayer as requiring much effort; and the way he prays at the time of the evening sacrifice on Horeb suggests that he saw prayer as a sacrifice (1 Kings 18:36).  

This kind of faith in prayer enables a believer to truly follow the Lord’s exhortation to ask for things and believe and feel that we have already received them. Elijah chose the terms of the contest on Carmel to be an answer by fire- for Baal was originally the fire god. Yet Elijah appears utterly certain that God will answer by a bolt of fire, without having asked Him first. He asks God to “answer me” (1 Kings 18:37 NIV) without specifically requesting for fire to be sent down; he brings the situation before God and asks Him to ‘answer’ that situation. And this is why so many of David’s prayers are more a bringing of the situation before God, than a specific request for answers. In 1 Kings 18:41, Elijah tells Ahab that there is a “sound” of rain coming. The same word has just been used earlier, translated as “voice” (1 Kings 18:29) in the context of there being a voice / answer to prayer. So Elijah is saying that there is an answer speaking of much rain to come. There was no sign of rain coming at the time when he started praying, until the little cloud arose. But he calmly tells Ahab that there is a sound / answer of rain coming. Elijah believed in the answer coming before he prayed; he had a very firm faith. And thus ahead of time he told Ahab to eat and drink because of it [had Ahab been fasting? If so, to Yahweh or Baal?]. But all this required quite some passion in prayer. 1 Kings 18:42 says that he cast himself down in prayer. The word occurs only in 2 Kings 4:34,35, as if it was Elijah’s example which inspired Elisha likewise to cast himself down [AV “stretch”] upon the child. The implication is that Elisha did so in prayer; and in passing, we wonder whether this implies that Elijah’s stretching himself upon another child, although a different Hebrew word, was also in prayer. Again we see that Elijah’s prayerful example inspired another. Our attitude to prayer is so easily influential upon others, and we ourselves are likewise easily influenced. It should be no shame nor embarrassment to us to instantly break into prayer, nor to kneel down to further our intensity in prayer, regardless of the social embarrassment  this may involve in some cultures. But I have to ask: Do we cast ourselves down in prayer as Elijah? 

Elijah was evidently in touch with God and knew His will. At the end, he is described as  the charioteer of the cherubim; for his prayers had controlled their direction. This really is how much God is willing to be influenced by our prayers. Elijah had a very developed sense of how God works with us. Thus he asks God to make Israel know how that He “didst turn back their heart” (1 Kings 18:37 RVmg.), he wanted them to know how that potentially, God had made their return to Him possible; Elijah perceived that God may prepare something in prospect that never gets realized in practice because of human weakness [and this should be an endless inspiration to us too]. Yet despite this union with the Father, this didn’t preclude him questioning God. Thus in 1 Kings 17:20, in the midst of another tremendously powerful prayer, Elijah remonstrates with God: ‘Have You brought evil...?’­. The Hebrew for ‘evil’ usually means evil  in the sense of sin- ‘have You brought the result of sin...on her as well as upon this people?’.  This is all part of a passionate, living relationship with a living God. And perhaps the way that the first six prayers of Elijah for rain went unanswered, his need to pray three times for the child to resurrect, were all part of God teaching Elijah that no matter how close we are to Him, we have no right to expect automatic answers to prayer, even if they are according to God’s will. 

For all Elijah’s weaknesses which we may dwell on in later sections, his basic faith and prayerfulness must never be lost sight of. His ascension to Heaven has remarkable similarities with that of the Lord- a group of men sent to take him; Elisha cp. Peter saying ‘I will not deny thee’ (2 Kings 2:2 Heb.); a cloud of Angels receive him; men stand watching on earth; the Holy Spirit given on his ascension… 

Further Implications

As an aside, it’s worth reflecting how the drought brought about by Elijah’s prayer likely affected people other than Israel, in the same way as the famine which brought Joseph’s brothers to Egypt affected many other people. The whole of God’s purpose with this earth is centred around His people; we are so important to Him. I have no doubt that Communism fell in Eastern Europe in the inexplicably quick way that it did, simply because a few of us wanted to preach there; and thousands heard the Gospel and were baptized as a result of it. This is how important we are to God! 

“When Jesus saw the faith of the friends , He said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mk. 2:5). That man was healed for the sake of the faith of others. The widow woman’s son was resurrected because God heard Elijah’s faithful prayer (1 Kings 17:22); and thus Heb. 11:35 alludes to this incident by saying that through faith- in this case, the faith of Elijah, a third party- women received their dead raised to life. The Centurion’s servant was healed for the sake of his faith; Jairus’ daughter was healed because of his faith (Mk. 5:36).