Lesson 28: 1 Kings 17-19
We know from passages in the New Testament and, especially, from Latter-day revelation, that Elijah is one of the most important prophets to have lived. (In the Jewish tradition, he is second only to Moses.) Yet we know almost nothing about him. Why do you think that is?
In addition to the story of his life, in these and the next few chapters of scripture, we have Malachi’s prophecy that Elijah would come to bind the hearts of the fathers and the children (Malachi 4:5), as well as the repetition of that prophecy in several places, notably in D&C 2:1-3, where we are told that his coming will bring a restoration of the sealing priesthood. (See also D&C 110:13-16). The Savior thought the prophecy was so important that he repeated it during his ministry to the Nephites.
Of Elijah, Joseph Smith said:
The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God, even unto the turning of the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the hearts of the children unto the fathers, even those who are in heaven. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 337)
The Spirit of Elias is first, Elijah second, and Messiah last. Elias is a forerunner to prepare the way, and the spirit and power of Elijah is to come after, holding the keys of power, building the temple to the capstone, placing the seals of the Melchizedek priesthood upon the house of Israel, and making all things ready; then Messiah comes to his temple, which is last of all. (Documentary History of the Church, 6:254)
As my friend Arthur Bassett has noted, there is considerable difference between Elijah’s mission and what we know of his life: he brings the sealing power, but the only sealing we see him do is the sealing of the heavens; the sealing power unites families, but we see no family for him; the sealing power creates an eternal community, but we see him live a solitary life; the work of sealing is mostly associated with the temple, but have no record of any connection between him and the temple in Jerusalem.
There are strong parallels between Elijah and John the Baptist: Elijah is a secluded prophet, dressed in leather and crying repentance in the wilderness; part of his mission is accomplished on the banks of a stream; those who most oppose him are a wicked king and queen, and the queen is the one most actively seeking his death; he restores a priesthood (the sealing priesthood) to the earth in the latter-days. Elijah is also somewhat like Melchizedek, in that we know virtually nothing about his personal background. John the Baptist was a forerunner. Was Elijah? If so, how?
The story of Elijah is primarily a story of his conflict with Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked king and queen of Israel (the northern tribes). Ahab has become king after a series of assassinations, insurrections, and civil war, giving Israel six kings in approximately thirty-six years.
Verse 1: This is the first reference we have to Elijah. It is as if he comes from out of no where. Why do you think the text introduces him in this sudden, dramatic fashion? The name Elijah means “Yahweh is God.” What is the significance of that name for his work? Rather than “Tishbite” describing where he is from, most contemporary scholars assume that it means “settler.” In these circumstances, why is it important for Elijah to announce that God is a living God? What does it mean to us to say the he is living rather than dead? What would be an example of a dead god? The first thing we see of Elijah is his prophecy. Why did he seal the heavens? The drought lasted for three years (1 Kings 18:1), and it was serious and wide-spread enough that it may be referred to in other historical records (for example, but not only, in Josephus’s Antiquities 8:13). Announcing the drought amounted to announcing a challenge to Baal, Ahab’s god, who claimed to be the god of rain and fertility. Why do you think the Lord would command such a challenge? Why do we not see such challenges today?
Verses 3-7: Why do you think the Lord told Elijah to hide? How does what the Lord doesfor Elijah relate to the wider drought? In other words, what lesson is being taught here? Is there anything symbolic about the use of the raven rather than another bird? Is it significant that the raven was an unclean bird (Leviticus 11:15). How does Jesus use this story? (See Luke 4:24-25.)
Verses 8-24: Presumably Elijah did many things worth reporting. Why do you think the writer chose to tell us this particular story? What does it teach? Does it show us anything important about Elijah? Is it significant that this story and a story about Elisha are similar? (See 2 Kings 4:18-37.) Is it significant that Sidon (“Zidon” in the KJV) was a Gentile city and, so, the widow was probably a Gentile? Under the same circumstances, how would you have taken Elijah’s command? How does this story illustrate that “whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap” (D&C 6:33)? After the widow has fed Elijah, her faith is tried again by the death of her son (verse 17). What does she think has happened (verse 18)? Does the fact that, on the one hand, she calls Elijah a man of God, and on the other hand, she questions his integrity, say something about her feelings at the time? How does Elijah’s miracle answer her question? Does that teach us anything about how we should deal with those who accuse us? We read this story as one about the trial of this widow’s faith, and of course, that is reasonable. But can we also read it as a trial of Elijah’s faith? For example, what might he have thought when he arrived in Zaraphath? Why is healing of the sick such an important sign of the prophet and, later, of the Christ?
How is the story of this chapter related to that of the previous chapter? G
Verses 1-2: Why does the Lord want Elijah to show himself to Ahab?
Verses 3-5: What do we learn about the situation in Ahab’s court from these verses? What kind of person was Obadiah?
Verses 6-16: Why is Obadiah afraid? Why does he keep repeating “and thou sayest, Go, tell thy lord, Behold Elijah is here”? How does Elijah calm his fear? Contrast verse 16 with verses 9-15. What does verse 16 show us about Obadiah? Does what Obadiah says in verse 7 help us think about the questions for 1 Kings 17:1?
Verses 17-18: Is Ahab surprised to see Elijah? Of what “trouble” does each accuse the other? The Hebrew word translated “he that troubleth” in verse 17 connotes witchcraft. On what basis might Ahab make that accusation?
Verses 19-24: To say that the priests of Baal ate at Jezebel’s table is to say that they were official members of her court. Why does the writer think it is important to tell us that they are? What do you think Ahab and the people thought would happen when they all gathered at Carmel? Why does Elijah have them gather at Carmel rather than another place, such as Jezreel (Ahab’s palace is there) or Bethel or Dan (where Israel worships)? What do you make of the people’s inability to answer Elijah? He asks them “How long halt [or "limp"] ye between two opinions?” What are the two opinions between which they limp? Is Obadiah an example of a person limping between two opinions? What does your answer suggest about Israel as a whole? (See 1 Kings 19:18.) Note that the word translated “limp” suggests a ritual dance at an altar (as in verse 27). Why does Elijah use that particular metaphorical language here?
In verse 21, the people do not answer Elijah. In verse 24 Elijah puts the contest as a question of which God will answer prayer. We will see in verses 24 and 26 that Baal does not answer his priests. Then in verse 37 Elijah says “Answer me, O God, answer me” (translated as “hear me” in the KJV). So what?
Verses 25-29: The priests do a sacred dance around the altar and cut themselves, a sign of devotion in many ancient religions. Why does Elijah mock them (verse 27)?
Verses 30-40: Is it significant that Elijah offers his sacrifice on an ancient Israelite altar that he repairs? Why does Elijah use twelve stones rather than ten? Notice that when he does so, the writer refers to the Lord change of Jacob’s name to Israel (verse 30). What might Elijah be telling the Northern Kingdom, now called Israel? After all, the kingdom is now divided, with only ten tribes in Israel. Why does Elijah wait until evening to perform this miracle? Why does he dig a trench around the altar and drench it in water? What is the significance of Elijah’s prayer (verse 37)? How do the people respond to his miracle? Why does he have them capture the priests of Baal and kill them?
Verses 40-46: Ahab wasn’t mentioned in the story of the contest between the Elijah and the priests of Baal. Why not? What is the purpose of this story? Does the fact that Elijah tells Ahab to eat and drink suggest that Ahab has been fasting? If so, was he fasting for the success of Jezebel’s priests, for the end of the drought, or something else? What is Elijah doing in verse 42? Why does he keep sending his servant to the point of Mt. Carmel? How violent was the storm? The sentence “[Elijah] ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel” means “Elijah ran as a herald in front of Ahab’s chariot to the entrance of Jezreel.” Why did he do that? Note: the distance was about 15 miles.
Verses 1-2: Ahab seems pleased with the result of Elijah’s contest, with the rain that has come. Why is Jezebel unhappy? Another translation of verse 1: “And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done and all about how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.” Does that shed any light on Jezebel’s anger? What does it say about Ahab? Why for example, did he say “all that Elijah had done” rather than “all that the Lord had done”? If Jezebel intends to kill Elijah, why does she warn him?
Verses 3-4: How do you explain Elijah’s reaction to Jezebel’s threat? Why is the person we have just seen deal with hundreds of priests of Baal now fear in Jezebel’s presence? What does he mean when he says “I am not better than my fathers”?
Verses 9-14: Many commentators assume that Mount Horeb is the same as Mount Sinai. Is there a relation between Moses’s experience on Mount Sinai and Elijah’s on Mount Horeb? Why does the Lord ask Elijah what he is doing in the cave? Is Elijah fleeing or was he sent here by the Lord? Most translations have “zealous” instead of “jealous” in the first part of verse 10. “Zealous” is one of the meanings of “jealous” in King James English, and it is an accurate translation of the Hebrew. Is there perhaps an accusation in Elijah’s claim that he has been zealous for the Lord’s name, perhaps a suggestion that the Lord has not been zealous for his name? Jezebel killed the Lord’s priests (1 Kings 18:4). Why does Elijah say that the people of Israel did it?
Why is the question that the Lord asks after the experience of the wind, earthquake, fire, and still small voice the same as the question he asked before that experience? (Compare verses 9-10 and 13-14.) Elijah’s answer is the same as it was before, so what has this experience changed?
How does Elijah’s experience in these verses contrast with the experience he has just had at Carmel? What does that contrast teach us? Why do you think this experience was important to Elijah after his experience at Carmel? Compare this revelation of God with that we saw in Exodus 19:16-19. What do wind, fire, and earthquake do in each? Why the differences?
Verses 15-21: Why would the Lord tell Elijah whom to anoint as king over Syria, a kingdom outside of both Judah and Israel? What is the point of verse 18. Some have described it as the climax of this story. Can you see how they could understand it that way? The hair-shirt mantle was part of a prophet’s official dress, so putting it on Elisha was a way of saying immediately, “Here is the new prophet.” Since Elisha had twelve oxen, he must have been wealthy. Why does he kill all twelve of them and cook them with the wood from his plow?
To see the rest of Elijah’s story, you may also want to read chapters 21 and 22, and 2 Kings 1-2.