1 Kings
1-3 Elijah Runs for His Life 4-8 Under a Juniper Tree 9-14 At Horeb 15-18 Three Commissions for Elijah 19-21 The Calling of Elisha
Elijah Runs for His Life

1Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” 3And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.

Ahab tells his wife Jezebel everything Elijah has done. He gives testimony of the work of Elijah, but that is the work of God with a mighty result. It has no effect on Ahab itself. Nor does he speak of the rain, but of the prophets who killed Elijah with the sword.

Jezebel represents the papal power, a power that we see especially in the Middle Ages. We see this in the church history given to us in Revelation 2-3 and specifically in the church in Thyatira, where Jezebel is mentioned by name (Rev 2:2020But I have [this] against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit [acts of] immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.). Just as the popes ruled over kings, so does Jezebel rules over Ahab. In Revelation 17 we see the woman sitting on a scarlet beast (Rev 17:3b3And he carried me away in spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.). This symbolizes that she has the kings in her power.

When Jezebel hears her husband’s report, she sends a messenger to Elijah to announce the death sentence to him. She is only possessed of one thing: Elijah must die. She lets him know. Elijah is not far away. The messenger does not have to look far. The message is clear and very threatening. We may wonder why Jezebel, if she really wanted to kill Elijah, did not immediately do so. Did she fear reactions from the people? Or was she afraid of Elijah herself? In any case, she wants to threaten him, perhaps with the hope that he would flee. She doesn’t tolerate him in her surroundings. If she has indeed had the intention to frighten Elijah and thereby chase him away, she succeeds in her intention.

Elijah has had its peak. What a great service he did on Mount Carmel. But now that he is confronted with death, that threat is too much for him. When he hears the message of Jezebel, he flees, afraid of his life. Where is the fearlessness of the man who dared to stand up for God against 850 false prophets and an ungodly king and the mass of a doubting people? This only happens when you start thinking about yourself and no longer about God. It happens when you get disappointed with the results of your service. Now he has brought the people back to God and the only answer is that they want to kill you! Elijah is the disappointed servant. Is this not recognizable to all who may serve the Lord?

It says that Elijah “saw” (as the Hebrew text may read) what Jezebel is planning. He ‘sees’ the great danger hanging over his head and he sees it alone. He sees not to the LORD. And because he sees not the LORD, but only the danger for his life, he flees. The man with an enormous spiritual victory falls prey to the fear of a woman. What happened to Elijah here also happened to Peter when he walked over the water. “Seeing the wind” (Mt 14:3030But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”) he did not see the Lord anymore, and so things went wrong. He then no longer lived in faith but by sight (cf. 2Cor 5:77for we walk by faith, not by sight—). This is also happening with Elijah.

The Spirit of God writes to us what kind of man Elijah is: “A man with a nature like ours” (Jam 5:1717Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.). He who has been afraid of nothing becomes afraid of his life. So it is with every servant. They have their peaks, followed sometimes by a low point, a breakdown. What is the reason for this with Elijah? Is it because of disappointment in the reaction of the people or of Ahab? It seems that he forgets that the LORD brought him to that great deed. He also forgets that he has to leave the consequences to the LORD. The result is that he is only occupied with himself.

The Lord Jesus also knew disappointment (Isa 49:4a4But I said, “I have toiled in vain,
I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;
Yet surely the justice [due] to Me is with the LORD,
And My reward with My God.”
; Mt 11:20-2420Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent.21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.22Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in [the] day of judgment than for you.23And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.24Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in [the] day of judgment, than for you.”), but how different is His reaction (Isa 49:4b4But I said, “I have toiled in vain,
I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity;
Yet surely the justice [due] to Me is with the LORD,
And My reward with My God.”
; Mt 11:2525At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from [the] wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.). There is no self-pity with Him, but He gives everything and Himself over “to Him who judges righteously” (1Pet 2:2323and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting [Himself] to Him who judges righteously;). He experiences everything with His God and takes everything out of His hand.

Elijah comes to Beersheba, which means ‘well of the oath’. However, it does not remind him of it. He leaves his servant there. But God does not leave His servant, and follows Him.

Under a Juniper Tree

4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” 5He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” 6Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake [baked on] hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. 7The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” 8So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Elijah goes into the wilderness, sits under a broom and wishes to die. In his wish to die already sounds that he thinks he is better than his fathers. God does not answer his prayer, for God has other, higher plans for his end on earth. This is how God often deals with our prayers. In the meantime, however, Elijah still has to learn and do a few things, learn about himself and God, and do something about his succession. A servant has never ceased to be taught and service must be transferred. God will continue His work, even if we are no longer confident in it.

Elijah is at the end of its strength. Many servants know that feeling. It makes you despondent when there is no result or when expected results fail. It can also be the same with the prophetic service in the meeting. It is about the servant introducing God to the church and not himself. It is exhausting to maintain oneself and to be important oneself. Elijah considers himself better than his fathers. Whoever is allowed to perform a certain service must be aware that he is no better than others.

When Elijah had to hide from Ahab, God used ravens and a widow to take care of him. Here God uses an angel, possibly it is the Lord Jesus Himself. This is how God is towards His servant who is completely down. There God comes to him. God is personally busy taking care of Elijah. He gives him food and grants him his sleep, just as He has given food and rest to a whole people for forty years.

The angel touches him and Elijah wakes up. It is a gentle touch. There are no words of reproach, but words of encouragement to get up and eat. Elijah gets a bread cake, not meat. The bread cake speaks of the Lord Jesus in His life on earth, of His humanity. It is a bread cake baked on coal. It represents the Lord Jesus, tried by God in the circumstances of life. The grain offering speaks of the Lord Jesus as Man on earth, which we see in Psalm 16, which we can call ‘the psalm of the grain offering’, presented in a special way.

There is also a jar of water for his refreshment and also for cleansing. The water is a picture of the Word of God. By reading God’s Word we are refreshed and our thoughts are also cleansed of self-pity. Water in a jar represents the Word of God in our lives.

God makes sure that Elijah gets the strength to go further. He encourages him to eat twice what he has prepared for him. God always gives us the power to do what He asks of us. Spiritual food gives strength for the way we cannot go without it.

Food gives Elijah the power to go “to Horeb, the mountain of God”. Elijah is on his way to God through the wilderness, a journey of forty days and forty nights. The Lord Jesus was also in a desert, forty days and forty nights, but He is there with the devil.

At Horeb

9Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD [came] to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; [but] the LORD [was] not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, [but] the LORD [was] not in the earthquake. 12After the earthquake a fire, [but] the LORD [was] not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13When Elijah heard [it], he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice [came] to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Elijah enters a cave at Horeb. Moses has also been in a cave (Exo 33:2222and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.). Moses also had a problem and that of the judgmental God against a godless people on the one hand and the gracious God Who wanted to spare His people on the other hand.

After Elijah had spent the night in the cave, God asked him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” That should force him to reflect. Elijah, however, is full of himself and what one wants to do to him, and that while he has so dedicated himself to the LORD, and this alone. The whole forty-day journey did not change his mind. He is still the same disappointed prophet.

He is charging Israel before God. The people are very unfaithful to God and to His prophets, and even the one who is left, they want to kill. What a people! He has forgotten that there are several faithful. To God this is a serious matter, which is evidenced by the fact that God cites this pleading against Israel with Him in the New Testament (Rom 11:2a-42God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in [the passage about] Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?3“Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.”4But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”). God does so with no fault of any Old Testament believer except with what Elijah does here. Here Elijah is a prosecutor of the people. In the New Testament many believers are quoted from the Old Testament, but only their acts of faith come to the fore there. Elijah is a negative exception.

Then he must stand before the LORD (verse 1111So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; [but] the LORD [was] not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, [but] the LORD [was] not in the earthquake.). That is where the Lord wants each one of us to be: before Him. There the LORD passes by. But before this happens, some impressive events take place. The LORD first sends a great wind, then an earthquake, and then a fire. They are manifestations of His power. Every time it says that the LORD was not in it. Maybe Elijah thought: “How impressive such manifestations of God’s power would be if you could go to the people with them!” But, and this is decisive, God would not be in it.

So where can the LORD be found then? He shows Himself in “a sound of a gentle blowing”. Elijah remained unmoved when he saw the power of God, perhaps with a sense of excitement. But as he hears the sound of that gentle blowing, he wraps his face. Here he sees himself before God, Who shows Himself to him as the merciful God. There is nothing that makes a man so small as to be confronted with a gracious God.

It is not the time of judgment that is represented in the different elements – wind, earthquake and fire. This seems to appeal to Elijah, but the LORD is not in it, not yet. Now He is still in grace dealing with His people and with His servant. This is shown by the sound of a gentle blowing. It is not about impressive, deafening manifestations, but about peace and quiet.

Again the question is asked: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And, incomprehensibly if we don’t know ourselves a little, Elijah answers with the same words. Rocks can be broken, but breaking hearts is more difficult. Elijah says with his remarks that with his death the testimony before God has disappeared from the earth. He has no eye for the 7,000 whom God sees.

Three Commissions for Elijah

15The LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; 16and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. 18Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

When Elijah, so to speak, has submitted his resignation as a prophet to God, God accepts it. He gives him some commissions to finish his service. He must anoint three people.

Again God says “go” (verse 1515The LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram;; 1Kgs 18:11Now it happened [after] many days that the word of the LORD came to Elijah in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.”), but now to return on his way. The first thing he has to do is to anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Elijah does not carry out this task personally, but through Elisha. Hazael is anointed by Elisha. This king will become a means of disciplining God’s people, for the people are unfaithful and deviated from God.

Besides Hazael, Jehu must also be anointed. Also this anointing was not done by Elijah personally, but by Elisha. Jehu will kill him who has escaped the sword of Hazael. That is how it happened. Jehoram, who had escaped Hazael, was killed by Jehu.

The third task of Elijah is to anoint Elisha. Elisha belongs to the 7,000 that God has left. Elijah does, however, fulfil the task of anointing him. That is to say that he appoints Elisha as his successor by means of a symbolic act. It is unique in the service of the prophet that he has a successor. Elisha replaces Elijah.

With Elisha we see the principle of grace. We don’t read that Elisha killed anyone. Elisha does not kill by the wind, the earthquake and the fire, as Hazael and Jehu will do, but lets the sound of gentle blowing be heard.

The Calling of Elisha

19So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs [of oxen] before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. 20He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave [it] to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.

Of the three commissions God has given, Elijah has personally only appointed Elisha as his successor. There he goes first, and not to Hazael and Jehu who are mentioned earlier by the LORD. The story continues immediately with the calling of Elisha, the third and last part of the Divine command.

This does not mean the end of Elijah’s own service work. We read about him again in 1 Kings 21, where he denounces Ahab the judgment in the vineyard of Naboth (1Kgs 21:17-2217Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying,18“Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth where he has gone down to take possession of it.19You shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Have you murdered and also taken possession?”‘ And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours.”‘“20Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” And he answered, “I have found [you], because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the LORD.21Behold, I will bring evil upon you, and will utterly sweep you away, and will cut off from Ahab every male, both bond and free in Israel;22and I will make your house like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah, because of the provocation with which you have provoked [Me] to anger, and [because] you have made Israel sin.), and also in 2 Kings 1, where he denounces Ahaziah’s death (2Kgs 1:3-43But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel [that] you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’4Now therefore thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not come down from the bed where you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” Then Elijah departed.). For Elisha, these years, in which he lives in the proximity of the prophet and serves him, have undoubtedly been a good time to prepare for his own task.

The anointing of Elisha is done in a symbolic way. The symbolic act of Elijah in the calling of his successor is that he throws his mantle on him (verse 1919So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs [of oxen] before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him.). The gesture is telling enough. With this he tells Elisha to succeed him. He doesn’t persuade Elisha to follow him; he leaves that to the LORD. Elisha must draw the conclusion himself.

Elisha receives the mantle of the prophets from Elijah’s hand and will in the future be allowed to wear it (2Kgs 2:12-1312Elisha saw [it] and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.13He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan.). This mantle also plays an interesting role later on, when Elijah is taken up into heaven. The water of the Jordan divides to both sides as soon as Elijah and later Elisha hit the water with the mantle (2Kgs 2:8,148Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.14He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and struck the waters and said, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.). The Jordan, which ends in the Dead Sea, can be called the Death River. The power of death must give way to the power of God that reaches farther than the limits of death.

While Elijah, which means ‘my God is Yahweh’, is described as the prophet of judgment, Elisha, which means ‘my God is salvation’, is pre-eminently the prophet of grace. Every time we see him healing and saving. Where he appears on the stage, there is life and hope.

Elisha participates in the spirit of Elijah when he sees him go to heaven. Thus we have been given part in the Spirit of Christ after His glorification in heaven. In the power of that Spirit we can fulfil our calling and task. When Elisha is called to follow Elijah, he is busy on the land. Even now, God is still calling people in the midst of their busy work to give it up and to give their time and strength to Him (cf. Mt 4:18-2218Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen.19And He *said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”20Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.21Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the [son] of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.).

Elisha must have been a rich farmer. He has to give up a lot. We see this also with Moses and Paul who also gave up all natural benefits for the Lord. God calls Moses when he is in the most privileged position. Moses gives up that position for “the reproach of Christ” (Heb 11:24-2624By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter,25choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,26considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.). In the same way, Paul gives up an enormous privileged position in the religious world.

If people give up their jobs and want to go into the work of the Lord because they do not like their jobs, it is not from the Lord. For example, a businessman whose business is going badly must not give up doing business in order to do the Lord’s work. He must consult with the Lord on how to improve his business.

Elisha is plowing with twelve oxen in front of him. He is at the twelfth pairs of oxen. God calls him where he is, at the twelfth pair of oxen. The number twelve is emphasized. It recalls the altar that Elijah built and for which he used twelve stones (1Kgs 18:3131Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.”). The number twelve makes us think of all the people of God. Twelve pairs of oxen point out that God wants His whole people to serve Him.

Elijah throws his mantle on Elisha’s. From now on, Elisha shall no longer go through life as a farmer, but as a prophet. God calls whomever He wills, and He calls where He wills. He calls honorable and He calls low people. He calls farmers to plough in the fields of this world and then sow the seed of the Word of God. He calls fishermen to make them fishers of people. God is sovereign and His calling is living and powerful.

Elijah does not convince Elisha with words to follow him. Through a gesture Elisha is brought into exercise. To persuade a person to serve the Lord without his heart and conscience being exercised only brings misery.

Elisha first wants to greet his father and mother and say goodbye to them. He asks Elijah for permission to do so. Elijah does not answer this question. He does not ask Elisha to be held accountable. He leaves it a matter between Elisha and God.

God’s calling often intervenes deeply in existing situations and relationships. Calling is not without obligation and can lead to a break with family members or close friends. We also see this in the life of Elisha. He has to say goodbye to his family, his father and his mother (verse 2020He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”). He willingly follows and leaves his oxen, just as later the disciples abandon everything they possess in order to follow the Lord Jesus. Even though he is rushing after Elijah, he had the problem of his family relationships: “Let me kiss my father and my mother, then I want to follow you.”

The prophet’s answer is permissive, but it clearly reminds him also of God’s calling, which can no longer be undone: “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” The wording of this answer is a bit vague. Elijah leaves it to Elisha. Elisha didn’t have to follow Elijah so much, but succeed him.

In the Gospels we read about someone who wants to follow the Lord Jesus, but makes it a condition: ““I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home” (Lk 9:6161Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”). Presumably he wants to use this as an excuse to postpone the following of the Lord. But the Lord, Who knows and understands the hearts, then answers him as follows: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:6262But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”).

God’s calling doesn’t allow any delay. This calling requires a determination of the heart to serve the Lord and the setting of certain priorities. The kingdom of God must come first in our lives. Happily with Elisha there is no hesitation to follow. He is prepared to put his hand to the plough, no longer in the field of his father but in the ‘field’ of God, the working field of the twelve tribes of Israel. Although from a human point of view he is facing an uncertain future, God gives him a much greater field of work than the one he leaves behind.

Elijah’s response is responded to by Elisha by taking a radial decision. We do not read that he has been to his parents. It can be. What we read is that he completely breaks with the past. He does not hesitate. He burns all his bridges, as it were. That’s how he starts his new task. He certainly did not begin to perform signs and miracles under Israel. He must first listen to the words of the prophet Elijah and, among other things, take care of his personal needs (2Kgs 3:1111But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not a prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?” And one of the king of Israel’s servants answered and said, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah.”). He starts with simple work, but to live near the prophet gradually prepares him for other tasks.

This principle also applies to us. Living in the presence of our Lord and Master and listening to His Word form the necessary basis to fully equip us “for all good work” (2Tim 3:16-1716All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.).

Read more