Call to Ministry Series #15: Elijah, part 2
January 2, 2013
Although the call of Elijah does not appear in the stories of the prophet (see the last blog), we gain a lot by looking at Yhwh’s instructions to Elijah.
In most of the Elijah stories we receive some indication of Yhwh’s instructions to the prophet. Yhwh speaks with him. The divine word comes to the man of God – it is “the word of Yhwh.”
We are told the “word of Yhwh came to him [Elijah]” at the beginning of most of the recorded events. In 1 Kings 17:2 the word tells him to go to the Wadi Cherith, east of the Jordan River, and hide. When it is time for him to move, again the word of Yhwh comes telling him to go to Zarephath, a small town south of Sidon in Phoenician territory (1 Kings 17:8-9). So he hides from Ahab in the Transjordan region, a low-population area, then goes to Jezebel’s homeland, both at the instruction of Yhwh.
When it is time to pronounce the drought is over, the word of Yhwh came to Elijah again (1 Kings 18:1). The confrontation at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:17-40) and the flight to the south to hide from the wrath of Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1ff), events for which Elijah is best known, do not indicate any word of Yhwh with instructions. Elijah moved forward in strength and in weakness without recorded instructions from Yhwh. Certainly, Yhwh works against the prophets and prophetesses of Baal and Asherah at Elijah’s prayer, thus affirming God’s hand with the prophet. Even in weakness, Yhwh interacts with Elijah, finally telling him once again to go (1 Kings 19:15) and fulfill three tasks. We know he only accomplished one, the anointing of Elisha. But Elisha completed the other two assignments for his master.
In 1 Kings 21, the story of Naboth’s vineyard reveals how self-centered, idolatrous, and narcissistic Ahab was (see the summary in vv. 25-26). Again, it is the word of Yhwh that tells Elijah to go and confront Ahab about his sin, pronouncing his death due to the murder of Naboth (1 Kings 21:17ff). When Ahab repents, the word of Yhwh tells Elijah to pronounce a stay on judgment until Ahab’s son’s day (1 Kings 21:29).
In Elijah’s final recorded prophetic scene, the one against King Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:1-18), it is the angel of Yhwh that tells the prophet to go to intercept the messengers of Ahaziah (v. 3). We can assume the angel is synonymous with Yhwh because when the king dies it says he died “according to the word of Yhwh” (v. 17).
Yhwh’s instructions to Elijah come in each instance at the beginning of prophetic action. Some words are mundane, such as the words instructing where to hide, although for the prophet’s safety they are crucial. Other instructions specify a pronouncement or judgment in specific terms. In fact, most of the instructions jump out to us in their specificity. Go to the Wadi Cherith. In a land filled with wadis, go to this specific one. There “ravens” will feed you by my command. Some interpreters suppose a misspelling in Hebrew for the word “ravens,” proposing instead to read “Arabs,” meaning Arab Bedouin. Either term is possible, but the point in the context is that the prophet’s need for food is met by Yhwh’s command (v. 4). Go to Zarephath, a town of Sidon (v. 8), a town in enemy territory, where a widow has been commanded to take care of Elijah. As it turns out, her generosity provides deliverance for the prophet and herself and her son.
Noteworthy is the prophet’s response to Yhwh’s words of instruction. He did what Yhwh said (17:5). Yhwh desires obedience; Elijah is obedient. Such a simple thing, yet obedience often is the difference between the faithful and the unfaithful.
Will God’s instructions be so clear and specific to us? I don’t know. Such specificity seems to differ among those called in the biblical stories as well as in modern life. Elijah’s stories are filled with such specific instructions that it would be nice to determine how we might experience the same clear directions. Was he listening better than others or better than us? Was he needier of such specifics? Since he goes further than the word given to him and is affirmed in most of his actions and words as also the word of Yhwh, we can suppose his close and personal interaction with Yhwh was a natural part of his ministry. Perhaps that fact is most important to us. Grow and mature our interaction with the Lord, and our ministry will exhibit the strength of Elijah. Take care of the inner person in relationship with the living Yhwh and we may find more specifics in instruction from God.
The ministry of Elijah discloses a whole lot more than our focus here. James 5:17 tells us Elijah was a man like us. He prayed and was answered. The extraordinary deeds, words, strengths, weaknesses, and even death stand out as examples for us. No real call is revealed, but a life lived in close relationship with Yhwh stands the test of time.