Heroes of the Bible

Immanuel: Elijah

At Mount Sinai, Elijah expressed his desperate need for the Presence of God—Immanuel—as he struggled to lead God’s people against exploitations and evils. As we endure the COVID Pandemic, we can better understand Elijah’s desperate need for this Presence of God—Immanuel—to overcome the greed, lies and violence that were exploiting people, as described in my blog “Jezebel and Ahab: Greed, Lies and Violence”. And as we endure the COVID Pandemic, we can better understand Elijah’s desperate need for this Presence of God—Immanuel—to overcome the evils that were leading people astray toward destruction.

The conception and birth of Jesus “took place to fulfill what the [LORD] had said through the prophet [Isaiah]: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:22-23, paraphrasing Isaiah 7:14).

The name “Immanuel” can also be translated “with us is God” (Isaiah 7:14, translator’s note JSB).

Whether you think about it as “God with us” or “with us is God”, the name “Immanuel” expresses the universal desire to have “God with us” so that “with us is God”.

At Mount Sinai, Elijah expressed his desperate need for this Presence of God—Immanuel—as he struggled to lead God’s people against exploitations and evils.

As we endure the COVID Pandemic, we can better understand Elijah’s desperate need for this Presence of God—Immanuel—to overcome the greed, lies and violence that were exploiting people, as described in my blog “Jezebel and Ahab: Greed, Lies and Violence”.

And as we endure the COVID Pandemic, we can better understand Elijah’s desperate need for this Presence of God—Immanuel—to overcome the evils that were leading people astray toward destruction.

What experiences brought Elijah to his desperate need?

For three years, Elijah had been “self-quarantining”. He wasn’t “self-quarantining” from a virus. He was self-quarantining from Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, and from those who worshipped the false god, Baal.

They were mad because Elijah had prayed for the LORD to bring a terrible drought on Israel. They hated Elijah so much that they wanted to kill him! And so, Elijah went into hiding—into self-quarantining.

Elijah had told wicked King Ahab: “As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1).

“Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Leave here . . . and hide in [a ravine]. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.” (1 Kings 17:2-4).

Elijah “did what the LORD had told him. He went to [the ravine] and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.” (1 Kings 17:5-6).

We can sympathize with Elijah. He couldn’t go shopping for himself. He had to rely on others to deliver food to him. Ravens no less!

Eventually, “the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to [Elijah]: ‘Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there.’” (1 Kings 17:7-8). This city is in modern Lebanon and may well have been outside the direct control of Ahab—a wise choice for a place to hide. (1 Kings 16:31; 18:10).

While in Sidon, Elijah helped a non-Jewish widow and her son. They miraculously received flour and oil that fed themselves and Elijah for the rest of the three years. (1 Kings 17:9-16; Luke 4:24-26).

Elijah even raised her son from the dead, evidently by performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. After this miracle, the non-Jewish “woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.’” (1 Kings 17:17-24).

The situation for Elijah—and for us in this Pandemic—is reminiscent of Israel living in the Wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. During those 40 years of “quarantining”, the LORD our God fed Israel manna “to teach [us] that [a person] does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).

“After a long time, in the third year [of the drought] the word of the LORD came to Elijah: ‘Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.’ So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab”. (1 Kings 18:1-2).

Elijah persuaded Ahab to hold a contest on Mount Carmel. The purpose of the contest was to determine whether Baal or the LORD was the God of Israel.

Four hundred fifty prophets of Baal came to Mount Carmel. But only one prophet of the LORD came. Elijah!

Why? Because the LORD’s other prophets had either been killed by Queen Jezebel or were hiding from her so they wouldn’t be killed. (1 Kings 18:1-20).

“Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21).

The LORD won the contest.

The prophets of Baal called on Baal for hours to send fire to burn their offering. They shouted. They danced. They “slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.” (1 Kings 18:28).

Hours passed. Still no fire.

“Elijah began to taunt them! ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’” (1 Kings 18:27).

More hours passed. Still no fire.

Then Elijah repaired the altar of the LORD. He poured water on the altar, its wood, and the sacrificial bull.

Elijah prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:36-37).

The LORD God proved in spectacular fashion that he was present—that he was Immanuel.

“[T]he fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.” (1 Kings 18:38).

For a brief time, the people turned back to the LORD. “When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The LORD—he is God! The LORD—he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39).

So far so good. The people decided to follow the command in the Law of Moses to “[f]ear the LORD your God, serve him only” (Deuteronomy 6:13; Matthew 4:10; Luke 4:8).

But then, Elijah commanded the people: “‘Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away.’ They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the . . . valley and slaughtered there.” (1 Kings 18:40).

Elijah was tempted by the Power of the Kingdoms of the World. He failed to heed the wisdom of the Law of Moses: “Do not put the LORD your God to the test” (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12).

As Moses and Aaron learned and as Jesus taught, do not manipulate the actions and teachings of God to serve your personal glory and power. (Numbers 20:1-13; my blog “Do Not Jump Off the Temple”).

Instead of using the Presence of God—of Immanuel—on Mount Carmel to teach the people to kill their enemies, Elijah should have taught the people the wisdom given to Moses on Mount Sinai that is found in the Law of Moses immediately after the command not to put the LORD to the test:

“Be sure to keep the commands of the LORD your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you.” (Deuteronomy 6:17-18).

For as Jesus—Immanuel—put it in his Sermon on the Mount:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law [of Moses] or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18).

Elijah found out why it backfires to use the Presence of God—Immanuel—to seek the Power of the Kingdoms of the World.

By the very next day, Elijah was running and hiding once again. Why?  Jezebel swore she would kill Elijah in retaliation for him killing her prophets.

As Jesus taught us, we need to put away our swords because those who live by the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:50-52).

And so, Elijah went into self-quarantine again.

When Elijah reached a safe place in the wilderness, he “came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’” (1 Kings 19:3-4).

Elijah gave up on God. But God didn’t give up on Elijah. God didn’t give up on Israel! (Luke 15:1-32).

And so, Elijah “traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached [Mount Sinai], the mountain of God” where God gave the Law, including the Ten Commandments, to Moses and Israel (1 Kings 19:5-8).

Like Moses before him, Elijah yearned for the Presence of God—Immanuel. (see my blog “Immanuel: Moses”; Matthew 13:17; Luke 10:24).

“The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the Presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’” (1 Kings 19:11).

“[A] great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks . . .” There was an earthquake. And fire (like on Mount Carmel). But the LORD was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Instead, the Voice of God spoke to Elijah in a “gentle whisper”—in a “still small voice”. (1 Kings 19:11-12 NIV & KJV).

Like Elijah, we need to look past vain efforts to hear the Voice of God—the Word of God—in spectacular displays of power, especially if these displays of power tempt us to go astray seeking the Power of Money, the Power of Religion, and the Power of the Kingdoms of the World.

Instead, we need to listen carefully for the gentle whisper, the still small voice, that speaks the Word of the God who is with us—Immanuel.

Some of God’s words for Elijah were specific to him and the challenges he faced. Each of us needs such personalized words from Immanuel.

Furthermore, each of us needs to hear the encouraging words that God spoke to Elijah and that God still speaks to each of us today: there are still Seven Thousand people who remain true to God—“all [those] whose knees have not bowed the knee to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18).

Therefore, we are never truly “self-quarantining” no matter how much it feels as if we are alone. No matter how much it feels:

     —as if everyone else is living on bread alone;

     —as if everyone else is serving false gods such as money, fame and power;

     —as if everyone else is putting the LORD our God to the test; and

      —as if God is not with us and we are not with God.

These feelings of isolation are lies.

We are not alone!

The truth is that we are standing among the Seven Thousand who God has reserved for his purposes.

“Seven Thousand” is not meant as a literal headcount. “Seven Thousand” is chosen to be a symbolic number meaning perfection.

A righteous remnant of Seven Thousand people means that there are a perfect number of people who are loving the One LORD our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our strengths. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

A righteous remnant of Seven Thousand people means that there are a perfect number of people who are loving others by doing for others what we would want them to do for us. (Matthew 7:12; 22:34-40; Leviticus 19:18).

We are numbered among these Seven Thousand who are overcoming the Pandemic of Exploitations and Evils because we are:

     —living on every word that comes from the mouth of God;

     —fearing the LORD our God and serving him only; and

     —trusting God no matter what befalls us.

We are numbered among these Seven Thousand because we are standing with Immanuel and because Immanuel is standing with us. (Matthew 28:18-20).

READ MORE

To read more about Immanuel, please read my blogs “Immanuel” and “Immanuel: Moses”.

To read more about Elijah overcoming exploitations and evils, please read the chapters “Elijah Becomes Discouraged” and “Ahab Takes Naboth’s Vineyard” in my book Healing the Promised Land, at pages 213-234.