Looking at Elijah

The Old Testament readings in June focus on the prophet Elijah. Elijah is the great prophet of Israel’s story, his name means “My God is Yahweh” and he lives at a time when the kingdom was divided and the rulers no longer provide moral or religious leadership. The Kings are failures in every regard and into the story, without warning or preamble comes a larger than life character who knows that Yahweh is life-giving and powerful, who confronts religious and political power, who would know the despair of loneliness and fear the power of a vengeful queen and yet emerge as the leader of a community of prophets speaking the truth into a suspicious world.

In 1 Kings 17 the land is suffering a famine, Elijah seems to be an outsider who begins to collaborate with Yahweh, he looks for life outside Israel and brings life to a widow and her son who declares “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth”.

In 1 Kings 19 Elijah is on the run. He has had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, he has witnessed Yahweh’s power over the forces of death (see 1 Kings 18) but in doing so he has fallen foul of the wicked Queen Jezebel and he is running deep into the desert – where God finds him, feeds him, questions him, encourages him and in the utter silence send him on a new mission, with a new disciple to pave the way for a return to Israel’s true faith.

In 1 Kings 21 we see the revitalised Elijah stand up to the power of Ahab and Jezebel (Sadly the lectionary will reverse the order of 19 & 21). It is a story about the greed of absolute power and the need to challenge those who abuse power, who steal land from the poor and who live by Ivana Trump’s maxim, “Remember girls, don’t get mad, get everything.”*

Elijah leaves the stage (at least until the Transfiguration) in 2 Kings 2. His mantle is handed over to his disciple Elisha and whilst the deeds of Elisha will be greater it will be Elijah who lives on as the greatest of the prophets, the one who will return to herald the coming of the Messiah. It is a story that mixes “the mysterious among the natural – the transcendent in the ugly history of Israel.”*

As we follow these stories through on Sundays and at the (almost) weekly Bible studies we will find many themes that will seem familiar to our world – how do we respond? What will we hear amongst the words and the silence? Where will we see God’s Kingdom at work? When do we run and when do we stand? and might we like Elijah have to answer the question, “What are you doing here?”

Be Blessed

Craig

* With thanks to Roots bible notes for some of the background and the quotes.

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