Introduction to...


There arose a prophet like fire,
Whose word was like a burning furnace...
By the word of God he shut up the heavens;
Fire descended three times,
How awesome you are, Elijah...

--Ben Sirach

There was no one quite like Elijah. Other prophets were more prominent, but Elijah's "spirit and power" was the standard by which all others were measured.

F. B. Meyer wrote with the charm of another, older age,

(Elijah) made his age. Towering above all others of his time, he cleft his way through the crowds of meaner souls; and withstood the onslaughts of evil; as a rock shakes off the waves that break on it into volumes of spray. By heroic exploits, and by deeds of superhuman might he strove single-handed against the tides of idolatry and sin that were sweeping over the land. In this he reminds us perpetually of Martin Luther, and of John Knox; those spiritual giants who by reason of their faith could appropriate the power of God-as the lightning-conductor can rob the thunder-cloud of its electric stores and bring them to earth.

Elijah appeared at a critical moment in Israel's history, just as she was about to slide over a precipice and plunge to her doom. Baal worship and the orgiastic rites that accompanied this devotion had spiritually gutted the nation. The priests and priestesses who presided over the cult had settled into every nook and cranny of national life.

Yahweh's altars had been dismantled; his prophets had been silenced and were in hiding; his worshippers were a mere handful, scattered and intimidated by the scope of evil around them, their existence known only to God. And behind it all was the diabolical duo-Ahab and Jezebel.

Elijah ambled out of the back-country of Gilead and into Ahab's court, armed only with the confidence that God was unquestionably alive. Single-handedly, he checked the terrible progress of Israel's evil, turning them away from their figment gods and back to the living and true God.

The gruesome and violent altars of Baal were torn down and replaced by enduring reminders of God's goodness; courage was inspired in the timid remnant of the faithful; schools were opened for the training of a new generation of prophets and an impetus was given toward godliness that endured for generations to come.

Elijah was the greatest of the prophets. His name was synonymous with success for nine hundred years after his death, his fame surpassing the greatest and most famous of Israel's leaders.

Malachi could find no better symbol of the fabled forerunner of the Messiah than to compare him with the prophet of Carmel: "I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes" (Malachi 4:5).

Four hundred years later, Gabriel, standing in the Holy Place, said of John the Baptist, "He will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17).

Malachi wrote, describing Messiah's forerunner,

See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse (Malachi 4:5,6).

When John's movement was stirring the land and the people were thinking that Malachi's Elijah had come back to earth, a deputation was sent from Jerusalem to ask, "Are you Elijah?" (John 1:21). And then, when one greater than John appeared and set everyone to pondering his sayings, the people concluded, though wrongly, "He is Elijah!" (Mark 6:15).

These attributions are indications of Elijah's towering greatness. What he did was unique in the annals of faith. Would that we were like him-that God would put his "spirit and power" upon us, that we would become the source by which the fullness of God can poured out to weary and empty men and women in our culture.

If it can be shown that Elijah's place in history was the result of some inherent quality that he possessed then his story has no meaning for us. But if, to use James' expression,"Elijah wasjust like us" (James 5:17), if his accomplishments were based on sources of strength and qualities of life that anyone can acquire, then his story is our story as well.