1, 2. Elijah faced what unpleasant task, and in what ways were he and Ahab different?
ELIJAH longed to be alone with his heavenly Father. But the throngs around him had just seen this true prophet call down fire from heaven, and many of the people were no doubt eager to curry favor with him. Before Elijah could ascend to the heights of Mount Carmel and approach Jehovah God in private prayer, he faced an unpleasant task. He had to speak to King Ahab.
2 The two men could hardly have been more different. Ahab, bedecked in royal finery, was a greedy, weak-willed apostate. Elijah wore the official garb of a prophet—a simple, rustic robe, possibly of animal skin or of woven camel or goat hair. He was a man of great courage, integrity, and faith. The day that was now drawing to a close had revealed much about the character of each man.
3, 4. (a) Why had it been a bad day for Ahab and other Baal worshippers? (b) What questions will we discuss?
3 It had been a bad day for Ahab and other Baal worshippers. The pagan religion that Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel, championed in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel had been dealt a severe blow. Baal had been exposed as a fraud. That lifeless god had failed to light a simple fire in response to the frantic pleas, dances, and ritual bloodletting of his prophets. Baal had failed to protect those 450 men from their well-deserved execution. But the false god had failed in something else, and that failure was about to be made complete. For over three years, the Baal prophets had implored their god to end the drought afflicting the land, but Baal had proved unable to do so. Soon, Jehovah himself would demonstrate his supremacy by ending the drought.—1 Ki. 16:30–17:1; 18:1-40.
4 When, though, would Jehovah act? How would Elijah conduct himself until then? And what can we learn from this man of faith? Let us see as we examine the account.—Read 1 Kings 18:41-46.
A Prayerful Attitude
5. What did Elijah tell Ahab to do, and does it seem that Ahab had learned anything from the day’s events?
5 Elijah approached Ahab and said: “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the turmoil of a downpour.” Had this wicked king learned anything from the day’s events? The account does not say specifically, but we find here no words of repentance, no request that the prophet help him approach Jehovah and seek forgiveness. No, Ahab simply “proceeded to go up to eat and drink.” (1 Ki. 18:41, 42) What about Elijah?
6, 7. For what did Elijah pray, and why?
6 “As for Elijah, he went up to the top of Carmel and began crouching to the earth and keeping his face put between his knees.” While Ahab went off to fill his stomach, Elijah had an opportunity to pray to his heavenly Father. Note the humble posture described here—Elijah on the ground with his head bowed so low that his face was near his knees. What was Elijah doing? We need not guess. The Bible, at James 5:18, tells us that Elijah prayed for the drought to end. Likely he was offering such a prayer on top of Carmel.
7 Earlier, Jehovah had said: “I am determined to give rain upon the surface of the ground.” (1 Ki. 18:1) So Elijah prayed for the fulfillment of Jehovah’s stated will, much as Jesus taught his followers to pray some one thousand years later.—Matt. 6:9, 10.
8. What does Elijah’s example teach us about prayer?
8 Elijah’s example teaches us much about prayer. Foremost in Elijah’s thoughts was the accomplishment of God’s will. When we pray, it is good to remember: “No matter what it is that we ask according to [God’s] will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14) Clearly, then, we need to know what God’s will is in order to pray acceptably—a good reason to make Bible study a part of our daily life. Surely Elijah also wanted to see an end to the drought because of all the suffering among the people of his homeland. His heart was likely full of thanksgiving after the miracle he had seen Jehovah perform that day. We likewise want our prayers to reflect heartfelt thanksgiving and concern for the welfare of others.—Read 2 Corinthians 1:11; Philippians 4:6.
Confident and Watchful
9. What did Elijah direct his attendant to do, and what two qualities will we consider?
9 Elijah was sure that Jehovah would act to end the drought, but he was not sure when Jehovah would act. So, what did the prophet do in the meantime? Note what the account says: “He said to his attendant: ‘Go up, please. Look in the direction of the sea.’ So he went up and looked and then said: ‘There is nothing at all.’ And he went on to say, ‘Go back,’ for seven times.” (1 Ki. 18:43) Elijah’s example teaches us at least two lessons. First, note the prophet’s confidence. Then, consider his watchfulness.
Elijah eagerly sought evidence that Jehovah was about to act
10, 11. (a) In what way did Elijah show his confidence in Jehovah’s promise? (b) Why can we have similar confidence?
10 Because Elijah had confidence in Jehovah’s promise, he eagerly sought evidence that Jehovah was about to act. He sent his attendant up to a high vantage point to scan the horizon for any signs of impending rain. Upon his return, the attendant delivered this unenthusiastic report: “There is nothing at all.” The horizon was clear, and the sky, evidently cloudless. Now, did you notice something unusual? Remember, Elijah had just told King Ahab: “There is the sound of the turmoil of a downpour.” How could the prophet say such a thing when there were no rain clouds to be seen?
11 Elijah knew of Jehovah’s promise. As Jehovah’s prophet and representative, he was sure that his God would fulfill His word. Elijah was confident—so much so that it was as if he could already hear the downpour. We might be reminded of the Bible’s description of Moses: “He continued steadfast as seeing the One who is invisible.” Is God that real to you? He provides ample reason for us to put that kind of faith in him and his promises.—Heb. 11:1, 27.
12. How did Elijah show that he was watchful, and how did he react to the news that there was one little cloud?
12 Next, notice how watchful Elijah was. He sent his attendant back, not once or twice, but seven times! We might imagine the attendant tiring of such a repetitive task, but Elijah remained eager for a sign and did not give up. Finally, after his seventh trip, the attendant reported: “Look! There is a small cloud like a man’s palm ascending out of the sea.” Can you picture that attendant holding his arm outstretched and using his palm to gauge the size of one little cloud coming up over the horizon of the Great Sea? The attendant may have been unimpressed. To Elijah, though, that cloud was significant. He now gave his attendant urgent directions: “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Hitch up! And go down that the downpour may not detain you!’”—1 Ki. 18:44.
13, 14. (a) How can we imitate Elijah’s watchfulness? (b) What reasons do we have for acting with urgency?
13 Again, Elijah set a powerful example for us. We too live at a time when God will soon act to fulfill his stated purpose. Elijah awaited the end of a drought; God’s servants today await the end of a corrupt world system of things. (1 John 2:17) Until Jehovah God acts, we must keep ever on the watch, as Elijah did. God’s own Son, Jesus, advised his followers: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Matt. 24:42) Did Jesus mean that his followers would be completely in the dark as to when the end would come? No, for he spoke at length about what the world would be like in the days leading up to the end. All of us can observe the fulfillment of this detailed sign of “the conclusion of the system of things.”—Read Matthew 24:3-7.
One little cloud was enough to convince Elijah that Jehovah was about to act. The sign of the last days gives compelling reasons to act with urgency
14 Each facet of that sign furnishes powerful, convincing evidence. Is such evidence enough to move us to act with urgency in our service to Jehovah? One little cloud rising from the horizon was enough to convince Elijah that Jehovah was about to act. Was the faithful prophet disappointed?
Jehovah Brings Relief and Blessings
15, 16. What events unfolded rapidly, and what might Elijah have wondered about Ahab?
15 The account tells us: “It came about in the meantime that the heavens themselves darkened up with clouds and wind and a great downpour began to occur. And Ahab kept riding and made his way to Jezreel.” (1 Ki. 18:45) Events began to unfold at remarkable speed. While Elijah’s attendant was delivering the prophet’s message to Ahab, that little cloud became many, filling and darkening the sky. A great wind blew. At last, after three and a half years, rain fell on the soil of Israel. The parched ground drank in the drops. As the rain became a downpour, the river Kishon swelled, no doubt washing away the blood of the executed Baal prophets. The wayward Israelites too were being given a chance to wash away the terrible stain of Baal worship on the land.
16 Surely Elijah hoped that it would be so! Perhaps he wondered how Ahab would respond to the dramatic events that were unfolding. Would Ahab repent and turn away from the pollution of Baal worship? The events of the day had furnished powerful reasons to make such changes. Of course, we cannot know what was going through Ahab’s mind at the moment. The account simply tells us that the king “kept riding and made his way to Jezreel.” Had he learned anything? Was he resolved to change his ways? Later events suggest that the answer is no. Still, the day was not yet over for Ahab—nor for Elijah.
17, 18. (a) What happened to Elijah on the road to Jezreel? (b) What was remarkable about Elijah’s running from Carmel to Jezreel? (See also footnote.)
17 Jehovah’s prophet began to make his way along the same road Ahab had taken. A long, dark, wet trek lay ahead of him. But something unusual happened next.
18 “The very hand of Jehovah proved to be upon Elijah, so that he girded up his hips and went running ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.” (1 Ki. 18:46) Clearly, “the very hand of Jehovah” was acting on Elijah in a supernatural way. Jezreel was 19 miles (30 km) distant, and Elijah was no youth.* Just picture that prophet girding up his long garments, tying them at his hips so that his legs would have freedom of movement, and then running along that rain-drenched road—running so fast that he caught up with, passed, and outpaced the royal chariot!
19. (a) Elijah’s God-given energy and stamina may remind us of what prophecies? (b) As Elijah ran to Jezreel, what did he surely know?
19 What a blessing that must have been for Elijah! To feel such strength, vitality, and stamina—perhaps even more than he had ever felt in his youth—must have proved a thrilling experience. We might recall the prophecies that guarantee perfect health and vigor to faithful ones in the coming earthly Paradise. (Read Isaiah 35:6; Luke 23:43) As Elijah raced along that wet road, he surely knew that he had the approval of his Father, the only true God, Jehovah!
20. How can we reach out for Jehovah’s blessings?
20 Jehovah is eager to bless us. Let us reach out for his blessings; they are worth every effort we can make. Like Elijah, we need to be watchful, carefully weighing the powerful evidence showing that Jehovah is about to act in these dangerous and urgent times. Like Elijah, we have every reason to place complete confidence in the promises of Jehovah, “the God of truth.”—Ps. 31:5.
Soon after this, Jehovah would assign Elijah to train Elisha, who would become known as the one “who poured out water upon the hands of Elijah.” (2 Ki. 3:11) Elisha acted as Elijah’s attendant, evidently offering practical assistance to an older man.