Do You Have Faith Like Elijah’s?
HUMAN society today undermines faith. Intellectuals scoff at the existence of God. Religious hypocrites make a mockery of God. And the secular world increasingly acts as if God simply does not matter. Whether these attitudes intimidate a person, or discourage him, or infect him with apathy, in any case the result is the same: His faith is eroded. No wonder the apostle Paul called lack of faith “the sin that easily entangles us”!—Hebrews 12:1.
Perhaps that is why Paul made a point of drawing our attention to the lives of men and women of strong faith. (Hebrews, chapter 11) Such examples can inspire us and bolster our faith. For instance, let us consider the prophet Elijah, focusing on just the early part of his long and full prophetic career. He lived during the reign of King Ahab and his pagan consort, Queen Jezebel, at a time when, as now, faith in the true God was at a low ebb.
The Corrupt Ten-Tribe Kingdom
What a pair they made! Ahab was the seventh king of the ten-tribe Kingdom of Israel. Wicked though his six predecessors had been, Ahab was worse. Not only did he perpetuate the land’s corrupt calf worship but he married the foreign princess Jezebel, thereby introducing a stronger form of the worship of the false god Baal than the land had ever known.—1 Kings 16:30-33.
Jezebel had been immersed in Baalism from infancy. Her father, Ethbaal, a priest of Ashtoreth (Baal’s wife), had murdered his way to the throne of Sidon, the kingdom just north of Israel. Jezebel influenced her morally weak husband to establish Baalism in Israel. Before long, there were 450 prophets of that false god and 400 prophets of the goddess Asherah in the land, all eating at the royal table. How disgusting their form of worship was in the eyes of the true God, Jehovah! Phallic symbols, fertility rites, temple prostitutes (both male and female), even the sacrifice of children—such were the trappings of this revolting religion. With Ahab’s blessing, it spread unhindered through the kingdom.
Israelites by the millions forgot Jehovah, the Creator of the earth and its water cycle. To them it was Baal who blessed the land with rains at the end of the dry season. Every year they looked hopefully to this ‘Rider of the Clouds,’ this so-called god of fertility and the rainy season, to end the dry spell. Year after year, the rains came. Year after year, Baal got the credit.
Elijah Proclaims a Drought
It was probably at the end of a long, rainless summer season—just when the people were beginning to expect Baal to usher in the life-giving rains—that Elijah appeared on the scene.* He bursts into the Bible record with the suddenness of a thunderclap. We are told little of his background, nothing of his parentage. But unlike thunder, Elijah was not the harbinger of a rainstorm. He announced to Ahab: “As Jehovah the God of Israel before whom I do stand is living, there will occur during these years neither dew nor rain, except at the order of my word!”—1 Kings 17:1.
Picture this man, clad in his rustic garment of hair. He is a native of the rugged hills of Gilead, likely raised among humble shepherds of the flocks. He stands before the mighty king Ahab, perhaps right in his vast palace, with its fabled house of ivory, its rich and exotic decorations and imposing idols. There, in the bustling fortified city of Samaria, where the worship of Jehovah is all but forgotten, he tells Ahab that this god of his, this Baal, is impotent, a nonentity. For this year and for years to come, Elijah declares, there will be neither rain nor dew!
Where did he get such faith? Did he not feel intimidated, standing there before this arrogant, apostate king? Perhaps. Over a thousand years later, Jesus’ half brother James assures us that Elijah was “a man with feelings like ours.” (James 5:17) But note Elijah’s words: “As Jehovah the God of Israel before whom I do stand is living.” Elijah kept in mind that as Jehovah’s servant, he was standing before a much higher throne than Ahab’s—the throne of the Sovereign Lord of the universe! He was a representative, an emissary, of that throne. With this perspective, what had he to fear from Ahab, a puny human monarch who had lost Jehovah’s blessing?
It was no accident that Jehovah was so real to Elijah. The prophet had surely studied the record of God’s dealings with His people. Jehovah had warned the Jews that he would punish them with drought and famine if they turned to worship false gods. (Deuteronomy 11:16, 17) Confident that Jehovah always fulfills his word, Elijah “prayed for it not to rain.”—James 5:17.
Faith Expressed in Following Direction
For the moment, though, Elijah’s proclamation put him in mortal danger. It was time for another aspect of his faith to come into play. In order to stay alive, he had to be faithful in following Jehovah’s instructions: “Go away from here, and you must turn your way eastward and conceal yourself at the torrent valley of Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And it must occur that from the torrent valley you should drink, and the ravens I shall certainly command to supply you food there.”—1 Kings 17:3, 4.
Elijah obeyed immediately. If he wanted to survive the drought and famine that befell his land, he had to rely on whatever provisions Jehovah made for him. This was by no means easy. It meant concealing himself, living in complete isolation for months on end. It meant eating meat and bread carried to him by ravens—carrion-eating birds deemed unclean in the Mosaic Law—and trusting in Jehovah that such meat was not carrion but meat that had been properly bled according to law. So unlikely does this extended miracle seem to some Bible commentators that they suggest that the original word here must have meant “Arabs” and not “ravens” at all. But ravens were the ideal choice. No one would suspect that these lowly, unclean birds flying off into the wilderness with their scraps of food were actually feeding Elijah, whom Ahab and Jezebel were seeking in all the kingdoms round about!—1 Kings 18:3, 4, 10.
As the drought dragged on, Elijah may well have grown concerned over his water supply in the torrent valley of Cherith. Most of Israel’s torrent valleys dry up in times of drought, and “at the end of some days,” this one did too. Can you imagine Elijah’s feelings as the water gradually slowed to a trickle and the pools sank lower day by day? Surely he must have wondered what would happen when the water was gone. Nonetheless, Elijah faithfully stayed put. It was not until the stream was dry that Jehovah gave him his next set of instructions. Go to Zarephath, the prophet was told. There he would find sustenance at the home of a widow.—1 Kings 17:7-9.
Zarephath! That town belonged to the city of Sidon, where Jezebel hailed from and where her own father had ruled as king! Would it be safe? Elijah may have wondered. But “he rose up and went.”—1 Kings 17:10.
Jehovah Provides Sustenance and Life
His obedience was soon rewarded. He met up with the widow as foretold, and he found in her just the kind of faith that was so absent among his countrymen. This poor widow had only enough flour and oil to make one last meal for herself and her young son. Yet, even in her extreme need, she was willing to make bread for Elijah first, trusting in his promise that Jehovah would keep her jar of oil and her jar of flour supplied as long as there was a need. No wonder Jesus Christ recalled this widow’s faithful example when denouncing the faithless Israelites in his own day!—1 Kings 17:13-16; Luke 4:25, 26.
In spite of this miracle, though, both the widow’s faith and Elijah’s were about to face a severe test. Her son died suddenly. Overwhelmed, the widow could only assume that this tragic blow had something to do with Elijah, the “man of the true God.” She wondered if she was being punished for some past sin. But Elijah took her lifeless son from her arms and carried him to an upper room. He knew that Jehovah could provide more than sustenance. Jehovah is the source of life itself! So Elijah prayed earnestly and repeatedly for the child’s life to return.
Elijah was not the first to have such faith in the resurrection, but in the Bible record, he was the first used to perform one. The boy “came to life”! The joy of his mother must have been a sight to behold as Elijah brought her son to her with the simple words: “See! Your son is alive.” No doubt in tears, she said: “Now, indeed, I do know that you are a man of God and that Jehovah’s word in your mouth is true.”—1 Kings 17:17-24.
“My God Is Jehovah”
How touching, and how appropriate, that Elijah’s name means “My God Is Jehovah”! In a time of drought and famine, Jehovah gave him food and drink; in a time of moral chaos, Jehovah gave him sound guidance; in a time of death, Jehovah used him to restore life. And it seems that each time Elijah was called on to exercise his faith in his God—by trusting in Him to provide, by following His directions, by relying on Him to sanctify His name—he was rewarded with still more reasons to put faith in Jehovah. This pattern held true as he continued to accept difficult and even frightening assignments from his God, Jehovah; in fact, some of his most spectacular miracles lay yet ahead of him.—See 1 Kings, chapter 18.
It is much the same for Jehovah’s servants today. We may not be fed miraculously or be used to perform a resurrection; this is not the era for such miracles. However, Jehovah himself has not changed one bit since Elijah’s day.—1 Corinthians 13:8; James 1:17.
We too may receive some daunting assignments, some difficult and frightening territories to reach with our God-given message. We may well face persecution. We may even go hungry. But to faithful individuals and to his organization as a whole, Jehovah has repeatedly proved that he still guides and protects his servants. He still gives them the power to carry out whatever tasks he has assigned them. And he still helps them to endure whatever trials may come upon them in this troubled world.—Psalm 55:22.
Both Jesus and James say that it did not rain in the land for “three years and six months.” Yet, Elijah is said to appear before Ahab to end the drought “in the third year”—no doubt counting from the day he announced the drought. Thus, it must have been after a long, rainless dry season when he first stood before Ahab.—Luke 4:25; James 5:17; 1 Kings 18:1.
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Do you, like Elijah, have faith that Jehovah will care for the needs of his servants?