Elijah and Elisha: two Old Testament prophets with annoyingly similar names and a collection of weird stories.
Epic battles with false prophets, receiving food from birds, administering healing by lying on top of dead people, delivering curses resulting in brutal bear-mauling, and going to heaven in whirlwind of fiery chariots and horses… Elijah and Elisha’s stories in the book of 1 and 2 Kings just seem, well, strange.
We first meet Elijah after the golden reign of King Solomon crumbles and the kingdom splits into Judah and Israel. A significant cultural darkness develops, particularly in the Kingdom of Israel. Israel rejects God’s chosen king and appoints its own—Jeroboam—embracing his messed-up approach to worship.
Israel’s wrong worship of God leads them further and further away, multiplying and resulting in the flagrant idolatry of King Ahab, who begins to worship Baal. When things seem to be as bad as they can possibly be, God sends Elijah to speak the word of the LORD.
It is in this context of darkness that Elijah—and then Elisha—represent God, weird stories and all. Here are three things these prophets have taught me about God.
- God is greater than the darkness
Spiritual darkness, culture’s moral decline, persistent sin, physical suffering, persecution… the context for the Christian life feels overwhelmingly dark.
And yet through Elijah and Elisha I see that God has power over the weather, over sickness, over infertility, over death, over animals, even over the rulers of the day. Ahab and Jezebel appear to be overwhelmingly powerful, but their strength is no match for God’s. Their brutal demise is prophesied and comes to pass just as God said.
I’m tempted to fear the darkness and doubt God’s power, to look around at society and despair. But I am reminded that God is greater than culture and that he still speaks—even in times of darkness.
- God provides
The story of Elijah and Elisha is miracle-dense, with quirky provisions in a variety of situations. We see God’s provision of income for widows, multiplying food for over 100 men, victory over enemies, food and clean water.
I am thankful for a God who provides for all my needs, physical and spiritual, for a God who shows his power in small and large victories, and most of all, I am thankful for a God in whom I can trust for salvation.
- God uses ordinary people
After a massive victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah’s life is threatened by Queen Jezebel and he flees to Horeb, falling into a spiritual depression. God mercifully provides comfort, food, water and rest. Then, as Elijah is close to giving up, God appears. Not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the gentle whisper. God reminds Elijah that he is not alone.
Elisha was a farmer and Elijah was an ordinary guy with obvious doubts and weaknesses, but God used them powerfully to speak his word and represent his truth during a time of cultural darkness.
I often feel weak and ill-equipped for the tasks ahead, when spiritual battles feel too heavy and the darkness feels overwhelming.
I am encouraged to remember God’s power displayed in the weakness of his prophets. Even when they were weak to the point of failure God provided enough to carry them through and accomplish his purposes.
Why tell these stories?
The books of 1 and 2 Kings cover a vast timespan, and other prophets were certainly active and speaking on God’s behalf during this time, in fact their prophecies are contained in other parts of Scripture—so why focus on Elijah and Elisha? And why is the narrative so concerned with these ‘weird’ stories?
I can’t help but see the similarities between these men and the life and miracles of Jesus. Just as Elijah precedes Elisha (one with a double portion of blessing) so John the Baptist comes before Jesus (preparing the way for ‘one greater than I’).
I remember what the writer of Hebrews says: ‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.’ The stories of Elijah and Elisha testify to me of God’s greatness; and the even greater miracles of Jesus Christ confirm his identity as God’s Messiah, his chosen King of kings.
During the lofty heights of Solomon’s reign the story bursts with golden light, grandeur and prosperity, but the thread of decline is already starting to unravel. When God’s people have descended into complete darkness and even the kings live flagrantly evil lives and worship idols, God’s prophets show me that God is still there, he is still great, and he is still God.
What did two weird prophets teach me about God?
To trust in God and listen to his voice over the noise of the darkness.
I am tempted to panic when I look at our culture, to feel as though I am ‘on the wrong side of history’, but I am reminded that God is greater than culture. I am reminded to look to Jesus.