Elijah (אֱלִיָּהוּ "Whose/my God is the Lord", also Elias (NT Greek Hλίας), is a prophet of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. His name has been variously translated as "the Lord is God", "whose God is the Lord", "God the Lord", "the strong Lord", "God of the Lord", "my God is the Lord", "the Lord is my God", and "my God is Jehovah".
In the Hebrew Bible
Elijah is first introduced in 1 Kings 17:1 as delivering a message from God to Ahab, king of Israel in the first half of the ninth century BC. He is sometimes known as "The Tishbite", being from the town of Tishbe.
Having delivered his message to Ahab, he retired at the command of God to a hiding-place by the brook Cherith, beyond Jordan, where he was fed by ravens. When the brook dried up God sent him to the widow of Zarephath, a city of Zidon, from whose scanty store he was supported for the space of two years. During this period the widow's son died, and was restored to life by Elijah (1 Kings 17:2-24).
During these two years a famine prevailed in the land. At the close of this period of retirement and of preparation for his work, Elijah met Obadiah, one of Ahab's officers, whom he had sent out to seek for pasturage for the cattle, and bade him go and tell his master that Elijah was there. The king came and met Elijah, and reproached him as the "troubler of Israel". It was then proposed that sacrifices should be publicly offered, for the purpose of determining whether Baal or the Israelite God was the true God. This was done on Mount Carmel; the result was that a miracle took place convincing those watching that Baal was false and that the Israelite God YHWH(יהוה), was the true and only God. The prophets of Baal were then put to death by the order of Elijah.
Jezebel, enraged at the fate that had befallen her priests of Baal, threatened to put Elijah to death (1 Kings 19:1-13). He therefore fled in alarm to Beersheba, and went alone into the wilderness, and sat down in despondency under a juniper tree. As he slept, an angel touched him, and said unto him, "Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee." He arose and found a cake and a cruse of water. Having partaken of the provision, he went forward on his way for forty days to Horeb, where he took residence in a cave. Here God appeared to him and said, "What dost thou here, Elijah?" In answer to Elijah's despondent words God manifests to him his glory, and then directs him to return to Damascus and anoint Hazael king over the Arameans (Syria), Jehu king over Israel, and Elisha to be prophet in his room (1 Kings 19:13-21.
Some six years after this, he warned Ahab and Jezebel of the violent deaths they would die (1 Kings 21:19-24; 22:38). He also, four years afterwards, warned Ahaziah, who had succeeded his father Ahab, of his approaching death (2 Kings 1:1-16). During these intervals he probably withdrew to some quiet retirement, no one knew where. His interview with Ahaziah's messengers on the way to Ekron, and the account of the destruction of his captains with their fifties, suggest the idea that he may have been in retirement at this time on Mount Carmel. The Carmelites have a tradition that they were founded by Elijah at this time.
The time now drew near when he was to be taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:1-12). He went down to Gilgal, where there was a school of the prophets, and where his successor Elisha, whom he had anointed some years before, resided. Elisha was solemnized by the thought of his master's leaving him, and refused to be parted from him. "They two went on", and came to Bethel and Jericho, and crossed the Jordan, the waters of which were "divided hither and thither" when smitten with Elijah's mantle. Arrived at the borders of Gilead, which Elijah had left many years before, it "came to pass as they still went on and talked" they were suddenly separated by a chariot and horses of fire; and "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw him go up and cried "The Chariots and horses of Israel!" "Elisha receiving his mantle, which fell from him as he ascended.
Elijah's chosen successor was the prophet Elisha; Elijah designated Elisha as such by leaving his mantle with him (2 Kings 2:13-15), so that his wish for "a double portion" of the older prophet's spirit (2:9), in allusion to the preference shown the first-born son in the division of the father's estate (Deuteronomy 21:17), had been fulfilled.
Jews believe that the prophet Elijah will return to foretell the coming of the Messiah.
Other Biblical Elijahs
The Elijah spoken of in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 is by some supposed to be a different person from the foregoing. He lived in the time of Jehoram, to whom he sent a letter of warning (compare 1 Chr. 28:19; Jeremiah 36), and acted as a prophet in Judah; while the Tishbite was a prophet of the northern kingdom. But there does not seem any necessity for concluding that the writer of this letter was some other Elijah than the Tishbite. It may be supposed either that Elijah anticipated the character of Jehoram, and so wrote the warning message, which was preserved in the schools of the prophets till Jehoram ascended the throne after the Tishbite's translation, or that the translation did not actually take place until after the accession of Jehoram to the throne (2 Chr. 21:12; 2 Kings 8:16). The events of 2 Kings 2 may not be recorded in chronological order, and thus there may be room for the opinion that Elijah was still alive in the beginning of Jehoram's reign.
How deep the impression which Elijah made "on the mind of the nation" of Israel may have been, can be judged from the fixed belief, which rested on the words of Malachi (4:5, 6), which many centuries after, prevailed that Elijah would again appear for the relief and restoration of the country.
When Jesus asks who people say the Son of Man or Christ is, his disciples replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (Matthew 16:14), which was referring to the belief of some of the Jews at the time that Jesus was, in fact, Elijah returned from heaven.
New Testament references
None of the old prophets is so frequently referred to in the New Testament as is Elijah. The priests and Levites said to John the Baptist (John 1:25), "Why, then, dost thou baptize, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah?" Saint Paul (Romans 11:2) refers to an incident in his history to illustrate his argument that God had not cast away His people that He foreknew. James (5:17) finds in him an illustration of the power of prayer. (See also Luke 4:25; 9:54.)
John the Baptist shared several characteristics with Elijah: the reproofs of both were noted for their sternness and power (Luke 9:8); and according to Matthew 11:11, John the Baptist was the Elijah that "was to come" (Matt. 11:11, 14). The also had"the same connection with a wild and wilderness country; the same long retirement in the desert; the same sudden, startling entrance on his work (1 Kings 17:1; Luke 3:2); even the same dress, a hairy garment, and a leathern girdle about the loins (2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4)."
Elijah appears in the Synoptic Gospels at the Transfiguration of Jesus. Jesus became vividly bright, and was accompanied by both Moses and Elijah. This event was witnessed by the apostles Peter, John, and James.
Some Christian theologians of a conservative, pre-millennial perspective, believe that Elijah must return to physically die here on earth eventually, perhaps as one of the 'two witnesses' in the Book of Revelation. This plays into many eschatological scenarios. Conservatives who come from amillennial or preterist positions would see John the Baptist as a fulfillment of this expectation. Christian theologians of a more liberal persuasion would interpret Elijah's eschatological significance in a less literal sense.
Orthodoxy and Elijah
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Prophet Elijah is revered as a Saint. His Feast Day is July 20. As his triumph over the priests of Baal took place on Mt Carmel where he may have spent his latter years, many hill-top chapels in Greece are named after him.
- Elijah Details various events in the life of Elijah and relates Elijah to the Passover/Pesach story.
- Jewish Encyclopedia Entry on Elijah
- Catholic Encyclopedia Entry on Elijah
- Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Cosmic Voyages - Mentions (in passing) the story of Elijah being carried up to heaven in a flaming chariot as an inspiration for human flight
- Elijah by Rob Bradshaw Extensive dictionary style article.
- Biblaridion magazine: Elijah redivivus: The role of Elijah in New Testament eschatology