Elijah (אֱלִיָּהוּ "Whose/my God is the Lord", Standard Hebrew Eliyyáhu, Tiberian Hebrew ʾĔliyyāhû), also Elias (NT Greek Ἠλίας), is a prophet of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. His name has been variously translated as "whose God is the Lord", "God the Lord", "the strong Lord", "God of the Lord", "my God is the Lord", "the Lord is my God", and "my God is Jehovah".
In the Bible
Elijah is first introduced in 1 Kings 17:1 as delivering a message from the God to Ahab, king of Israel. He is sometimes known as "The Tishbite", being from the town of Tishbe.
Having delivered his message to Ahab, he retired at the command of God to a hiding-place by the brook Cherith, beyond Jordan, where he was fed by ravens. When the brook dried up God sent him to the widow of Zarephath, a city of Zidon, from whose scanty store he was supported for the space of two years. During this period the widow's son died, and was restored to life by Elijah (1 Kings 17:2-24).
During these two years a famine prevailed in the land. At the close of this period of retirement and of preparation for his work, Elijah met Obadiah, one of Ahab's officers, whom he had sent out to seek for pasturage for the cattle, and bade him go and tell his master that Elijah was there. The king came and met Elijah, and reproached him as the "troubler of Israel". It was then proposed that sacrifices should be publicly offered, for the purpose of determining whether Baal or the Israelite God was the true God. This was done on Mount Carmel; the result was that a miracle took place convincing those watching that Baal was false and that the Israelite God was real. The prophets of Baal were then put to death by the order of Elijah.
Jezebel, enraged at the fate that had befallen her priests of Baal, threatened to put Elijah to death (1 Kings 19:1-13). He therefore fled in alarm to Beersheba, and went alone into the wilderness, and sat down in despondency under a juniper tree. As he slept, an angel touched him, and said unto him, "Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee." He arose and found a cake and a cruse of water. Having partaken of the provision, he went forward on his way for forty days to Horeb, where he took residence in a cave. Here God appeared to him and said, "What dost thou here, Elijah?" In answer to Elijah's despondent words God manifests to him his glory, and then directs him to return to Damascus and anoint Hazael king over the Arameans, Jehu king over Israel, and Elisha to be prophet in his room (1 Kings 19:13-21; compare 2 Kings 8:7-15; 9:1-10).
Some six years after this, he warned Ahab and Jezebel of the violent deaths they would die (1 Kings 21:19-24; 22:38). He also, four years afterwards, warned Ahaziah, who had succeeded his father Ahab, of his approaching death (2 Kings 1:1-16). During these intervals he probably withdrew to some quiet retirement, no one knew where. His interview with Ahaziah's messengers on the way to Ekron, and the account of the destruction of his captains with their fifties, suggest the idea that he may have been in retirement at this time on Mount Carmel. The Carmelites have a tradition that they were founded by Elijah at this time.
The time now drew near when he was to be taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:1-12). He went down to Gilgal, where was a school of the prophets, and where his successor Elisha, whom he had anointed some years before, resided. Elisha was solemnized by the thought of his master's leaving him, and refused to be parted from him. "They two went on", and came to Bethel and Jericho, and crossed the Jordan, the waters of which were "divided hither and thither" when smitten with Elijah's mantle. Arrived at the borders of Gilead, which Elijah had left many years before, it "came to pass as they still went on and talked" they were suddenly separated by a chariot and horses of fire; and "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven, "Elisha receiving his mantle, which fell from him as he ascended.
Elijah's chosen successor was the prophet Elisha; Elijah designated Elisha as such by leaving his mantle with him (2 Kings 2:13-15), so that his wish for "a double portion" of the older prophet's spirit (2:9), in allusion to the preference shown the first-born son in the division of the father's estate (Deuteronomy 21:17), had been fulfilled.
Some Christian theologians of a conservative, pre-millenial perspective believe that Elijah must return to physically die here on earth eventually. This plays into many eschatological scenarios. Conservatives who come from amillenial or preterist positions would probably see John the Baptist as a fulfillment of this expectation, in the time of Jesus. Christian theologians of a more liberal persuasion would tend to interpret Elijah's eschatological significance in a more spiritual sense —that his spirit still lives and finds reincarnation.
New Testament references
No one of the old prophets is so frequently referred to in the New Testament. The priests and Levites said to John the Baptist (John 1:25), "Why baptizest thou, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias?" Paul (Romans 11:2) refers to an incident in his history to illustrate his argument that God had not cast away his people. James (5:17) finds in him an illustration of the power of prayer. (See also Luke 4:25; 9:54.)
Elijah was similar to John the Baptist in the sternness and power of his reproofs (Luke 9:8). According to Matthew 11:11, he was the Elijah that "must first come" (Matt. 11:11, 14). In John the Baptist one can see him we see "the same connection with a wild and wilderness country; the same long retirement in the desert; the same sudden, startling entrance on his work (1 Kings 17:1; Luke 3:2); even the same dress, a hairy garment, and a leathern girdle about the loins (2 Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4)."
How deep the impression was which Elijah made "on the mind of the nation" may be judged from the fixed belief, which rested on the words of Malachi (4:5, 6), which many centuries after prevailed that he would again appear for the relief and restoration of the country. Each remarkable person as he arrives on the scene, be his habits and characteristics what they may, the stern John equally with his gentle Successor, is proclaimed to be Elijah (Matt. 11:13, 14; 16:14; 17:10; Mark 9:11; 15:35; Luke 9:7, 8; John 1:21). His appearance in glory on the mount of transfiguration does not seem to have startled the disciples. They were "sore afraid", but not apparently surprised.
Other Biblical Elijahs
The Elijah spoken of in 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 is by some supposed to be a different person from the foregoing. He lived in the time of Jehoram, to whom he sent a letter of warning (compare 1 Chr. 28:19; Jeremiah 36), and acted as a prophet in Judah; while the Tishbite was a prophet of the northern kingdom. But there does not seem any necessity for concluding that the writer of this letter was some other Elijah than the Tishbite. It may be supposed either that Elijah anticipated the character of Jehoram, and so wrote the warning message, which was preserved in the schools of the prophets till Jehoram ascended the throne after the Tishbite's translation, or that the translation did not actually take place till after the accession of Jehoram to the throne (2 Chr. 21:12; 2 Kings 8:16). The events of 2 Kings 2 may not be recorded in chronological order, and thus there may be room for the opinion that Elijah was still alive in the beginning of Jehoram's reign.
In the Qur'an, Elijah is a prophet known as Ilyas.
Elijah was the subject of an eponymous oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn; see Elijah (oratorio).
Eli-Jah Look here for the meaning of these syllables.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04