IMITATE THEIR FAITH
He Endured in the Face of Injustice
ELIJAH walked along the Jordan Valley. He had been journeying for weeks, making his way north from distant Mount Horeb. Now, back in Israel at last, he could see changes in his homeland. The effects of the long drought were starting to fade. The soft autumn rains had begun to fall, and farmers were out plowing their fields. It may have brought a measure of peace to the prophet’s heart to see the land healing, but it was the people he cared about most. Spiritually, they were far from well. The plague of Baal worship was still prevalent among them, and Elijah had much work to do.a
Near the town of Abel-meholah, Elijah saw a large-scale farming project under way. There were twenty-four oxen yoked in pairs, and the 12 teams were plowing in tandem, drawing parallel furrows in the damp soil. The man driving the last team was the one Elijah was seeking. It was Elisha, the man Jehovah had selected as Elijah’s successor. Elijah had once thought that he was alone in his loyalty to God, so he was no doubt eager to meet this man.—1 Kings 18:22; 19:14-19.
Did Elijah also feel a bit hesitant about delegating some of his responsibilities, sharing his privileges, or someday being replaced? We cannot say; nor can we rule out the possibility that such concerns crossed his mind. He was, after all, “a man with feelings like ours.” (James 5:17) In any case, the Bible record states: “Elijah went over to him and threw his official garment on him.” (1 Kings 19:19) Elijah’s official garment—likely of sheepskin or goatskin—was worn as a cloak and signified his special appointment from Jehovah. Throwing it over Elisha’s shoulders, then, was a gesture full of meaning. Elijah willingly submitted to Jehovah’s command to appoint Elisha as his successor. Elijah trusted his God and obeyed him.
The younger man, for his part, was eager to help the older prophet. Elisha was not to succeed Elijah right away. Rather, for about six years, he humbly accompanied the older prophet and assisted him, later being known as the one “who used to pour out water on the hands of Elijah.” (2 Kings 3:11) How comforting for Elijah to have such a capable, helpful attendant! The two men likely became fast friends. Their mutual encouragement surely helped both of them to endure despite seeing the terrible injustices prevalent in the land. In particular, the wickedness of the king, Ahab, was going from bad to worse.
Do you ever face injustice? Most of us do in this corrupt world. Finding a friend who loves God can help you to endure. You can also learn much from Elijah’s faith when dealing with injustice.
“GET UP, GO DOWN TO MEET AHAB”
Elijah and Elisha worked hard to build up the people spiritually. Evidently they took the lead in training other prophets, who may have been organized into schools of some kind. In time, though, Elijah received a new assignment from Jehovah: “Get up, go down to meet Ahab the king of Israel.” (1 Kings 21:18) What had Ahab done?
The king was already an apostate, the worst of Israel’s kings up to that point. He had married Jezebel and had caused Baal worship to flourish in the land, with the king himself taking part. (1 Kings 16:31-33) Baalism included fertility rites, ritual prostitution, and even child sacrifice. Further, Ahab had recently disobeyed a command from Jehovah to execute the wicked Syrian King Ben-hadad. Ahab’s refusal evidently had to do with the prospect of monetary gain. (1 Kings, chapter 20) Now, though, the greed, materialism, and violence of Ahab and Jezebel sank to new depths.
Ahab had a palace in Samaria—and quite a colossal structure it was! He also had a palace in Jezreel, some 23 miles (37 km) away. Adjacent to this second residence lay a vineyard. Ahab coveted that bit of land, which belonged to a man named Naboth. Ahab summoned him and offered to give him money or to trade for the vineyard. Naboth, though, said: “It is unthinkable, from Jehovah’s standpoint, for me to give you the inheritance of my forefathers.” (1 Kings 21:3) Was Naboth stubborn? Reckless? Many have assumed so. In fact, he was obeying the Law of Jehovah, which did not allow Israelites permanently to sell land that was the hereditary possession of their family. (Leviticus 25:23-28) To Naboth, it was unthinkable to break God’s Law. He was a man of faith and courage, for he surely knew that it was dangerous to stand up to Ahab.
Ahab, of course, thought nothing of Jehovah’s Law. He went home, “sullen and dejected” that he had not got his way. We read: “He lay down on his bed, kept his face turned away, and refused to eat.” (1 Kings 21:4) When Jezebel saw her husband pouting like a petulant child, she swiftly hatched a scheme to get him what he wanted—and also, in the process, to destroy a righteous family.
It is hard to read of her plot without feeling astonished by its wickedness. Queen Jezebel knew that God’s Law required the testimony of two witnesses for a serious charge to be substantiated. (Deuteronomy 19:15) So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, directing prominent men of Jezreel to find two men willing to launch a false accusation against Naboth—that of blasphemy, which carried the death penalty. Her plan worked only too well. Two “good-for-nothing men” testified falsely against Naboth, and he was stoned to death as a result. Not only that—Naboth’s sons were killed as well!b (1 Kings 21:5-14; Leviticus 24:16; 2 Kings 9:26) Ahab had, in effect, abdicated his headship, allowing his wife to run rampant and destroy those innocent people.
Imagine Elijah’s feelings when Jehovah revealed to him what the king and queen had done. It can be very discouraging when wicked people seem to triumph over the innocent. (Psalm 73:3-5, 12, 13) Today, we often see terrible injustices done—sometimes even by powerful men who claim to act as God’s representatives. We may find comfort in this account, though. The Bible here reminds us that nothing is hidden from Jehovah. He sees all. (Hebrews 4:13) And what does he do about the wicked acts that he sees?
“SO YOU HAVE FOUND ME, O MY ENEMY!”
Jehovah sent Elijah to Ahab. Pointedly, God said: “There he is in the vineyard of Naboth.” (1 Kings 21:18) When Jezebel told Ahab that the vineyard was now his, he got right up and went to enjoy his new acquisition. It never occurred to him that Jehovah was watching. Imagine his expression as he lingered in that vineyard, his head full of dreams about the wondrous garden he would make of the place. But, suddenly, Elijah appeared! Ahab’s blissful countenance changed, twisted with rage and hatred, as he spat out the words: “So you have found me, O my enemy!”—1 Kings 21:20.
Ahab’s words reveal two kinds of folly. First, in saying, “So you have found me” to Elijah, Ahab revealed that he was spiritually blind. Jehovah had already “found” him. He had seen Ahab abuse the gift of free will and enjoy the fruitage of Jezebel’s wicked plot. God saw into Ahab’s heart, where love for a material possession had eclipsed any sense of mercy, justice, or compassion. Second, in saying to Elijah, “O my enemy!” Ahab revealed his hatred for a man who was a friend of Jehovah God and who could have helped Ahab turn from his disastrous course.
We may learn vital lessons from Ahab’s folly. We must ever remember that Jehovah God sees all. As a loving Father, he knows when we stray from the path of what is right, and he is eager to see us change our ways. To help us, he often uses his friends—faithful humans who, like Elijah, bear God’s words to their fellow humans. What a mistake it would be to view God’s friends as our enemies!—Psalm 141:5.
Picture Elijah answering Ahab: “I have found you.” He found Ahab for what he was—a thief, a murderer, and a rebel against Jehovah God. What courage it took for him to stand up to that wicked man! Elijah went on to pronounce God’s sentence on Ahab. Jehovah saw the whole picture—wickedness was spreading out from the family of Ahab and infecting the people. So Elijah told Ahab that God had ordained “a clean sweep,” the extermination of that entire dynasty. Jezebel too would be brought to justice.—1 Kings 21:20-26.
Elijah did not cynically assume that people simply get away with wicked, unjust conduct. That is an easy assumption to make in today’s world. This Bible account reminds us not only that Jehovah God sees what is going on but also that he brings about justice in his due time. His Word assures us that the day is coming when he will put an end to all injustice for all time! (Psalm 37:10, 11) You may wonder, though: ‘Do God’s judgments involve only punishment? Are they also merciful?’
“HAVE YOU SEEN HOW AHAB HAS HUMBLED HIMSELF?”
Perhaps Elijah was surprised at Ahab’s reaction to the divine judgment. The account reads: “As soon as Ahab heard these words, he ripped his garments apart and put sackcloth on his body; and he went on a fast and kept lying down in sackcloth and walking despondently.” (1 Kings 21:27) Was Ahab repenting of his ways?
We can at least say that it was a move in the right direction. Ahab was humbling himself—surely a difficult thing for a proud, arrogant man to do. But was it true repentance? Consider, by comparison, a later king who may have exceeded Ahab in wickedness—Manasseh. When Jehovah punished Manasseh, the man humbled himself, calling out to Jehovah for help. But he went further. He then turned his life course around by getting rid of the idolatrous images that he had set up, making efforts to serve Jehovah, and even encouraging his people to do the same. (2 Chronicles 33:1-17) Do we see such actions on Ahab’s part? Sadly, no.
Did Jehovah notice that Ahab made that public display of his sadness? Jehovah said to Elijah: “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself on my account? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the calamity during his lifetime. I will bring the calamity upon his house in the days of his son.” (1 Kings 21:29) Was Jehovah forgiving Ahab? No, only true repentance would have elicited such divine mercy. (Ezekiel 33:14-16) But since Ahab showed a measure of regret, Jehovah responded with a corresponding measure of mercy. Ahab would be spared the horrific experience of seeing his entire family destroyed.
Still, Jehovah’s judgment of the man stood. Jehovah later consulted with his angels about the best way to fool Ahab into joining the battle that would end his life. Soon thereafter, Jehovah’s sentence on Ahab was carried out. Wounded in battle, Ahab bled to death in his chariot. The account adds this grim detail: When the royal chariot was washed out, some of the dogs licked up the king’s blood. In this public way, Jehovah’s words that Elijah delivered to Ahab were fulfilled: “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, the dogs will lick up your own blood.”—1 Kings 21:19; 22:19-22, 34-38.
For Elijah, Elisha, and all other faithful ones among God’s people, Ahab’s end provided a reassuring reminder that Jehovah did not forget Naboth’s courage and faith. The God of justice never fails to bring punishment for wickedness, whether it is sooner or later; nor does he fail to include mercy in his judgment if there is a basis for doing so. (Numbers 14:18) What a powerful lesson that was for Elijah, who had endured for decades under the rule of that wicked king! Have you been a victim of injustice? Do you long to see God set matters right? You do well to imitate the faith of Elijah. With his faithful companion Elisha, he kept on proclaiming God’s messages, enduring in the face of injustice!
a Jehovah had used a three-and-a-half-year drought to expose the powerlessness of Baal, who was worshipped as a bringer of rain and fertility to the land. (1 Kings, chapter 18) See the “Imitate Their Faith” articles in the January 1 and April 1, 2008, issues of The Watchtower.
b If Jezebel feared that ownership of the vineyard would pass to Naboth’s heirs, she may have felt driven to arrange for the murder of Naboth’s sons. For a discussion of why God allows such acts of oppression, see the article “Our Readers Ask” in this issue.