Rotation.org Writing Team
Elijah Super Set
Learn more about what a "Super Set" is and what we've emphasized in the lessons.
1 Kings 17:1-24
Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
1 Kings 18:2-46
Elijah, Ahab and the Prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel
1 Kings 19:1-16
Elijah and Still Small Voice at Mt Horeb
2 Kings 2:1-14
Elijah recruits Elisha, Chariot of Fire, the Mantle
*The Mt Carmel and Mt Horeb stories are treated as the two halves of one story in the lessons.
**We have an outline of each story in the post below this one at rotation.org.
Key Verse and Message:
“How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” (Elijah to the people of Israel on Mt Carmel, 1 Kings 18:21, NRSV)
Other Famous verses from the stories of Elijah
Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth. 1 Kings 17:24
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals." 1 Kings 18: 17-18
Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back. 1 Kings 18:37
And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.**
**Note that instead of "still small voice," some translations say "silence" or "the sound of sheer silence," instead of "still small voice." There are many debates about this poetic expression's exact meaning, but it is a sound you hear or feel when God is close.
Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; 2 Kings 2:9
He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. 2 Kings 2:14
- Students will develop a familiarity with the stories of Elijah (those used in the lessons).
- Students will be able to explain what a prophet is, and why Elijah is regarded as "one of the greatest" prophets.
- Students will learn what Elijah's name means (My God is Yahweh!) because it is also his message to them.
- Students will see Elijah's mantle as theirs to also pick up, ...continuing his work of encouraging faithfulness, spreading God's message of hope, and teaching the next generation of prophets.
- Students will become familiar with Elijah's connection to John the Baptist, Jesus, and the Passover Seder.
- Elijah doesn't have his own book. His stories are buried in 1st and 2nd Kings.
- Preachers tend to avoid Old Testament prophets, especially those without their own book.
- That part about "slaying the prophets of Baal" is pretty "Old Testament."
- If your Sunday School ever did teach Elijah, they probably did it in July when you were on vacation!
- Nobody ever explained to you the New Testament connection between Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus.
- He appeared with Moses to speak to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
- He's the only prophet the scriptures say will return to announce the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6), and the angel who appeared to Zechariah in the Temple said John was the spirit of Elijah returned. (Luke 1:17) And he's the only person from the Old Testament that Jews reserve an empty seat for at every Passover Table (and fill a special cup at the table called Elijah's cup).
- We hear him speaking with God, not just "for" God.
- He brings a young boy back to life.
- God sends ravens to feed him, and an angel to cook for him.
- He goes up against the most notorious king and queen of Israel: Ahab and Jezebel.
- He called down fire from heaven on the bull of the Baal worshipers.
- He rode to heaven on a chariot of fire pulled by horses aflame. How cool is that!
- He left behind his mantle for the young prophet Elisha that he had prepared to take his place.
- Elijah has great hair! He is described as "hairy" in 2 Kgs 1. (See notes below about that.)
Elijah's scriptures are action-packed stories, not pronouncements like your typical Old Testament prophet. He interacts with God and all sorts of people. There's fire and rain, bull and chariot, mountain and cave, life and death.
Elijah is formidable, but also compassionate. He's daring, but also runs for his life. He's bold, but can be quirky. God has to rescue him, feed him, coax him out of a cave with an earthquake, wind, and fire, then speak gently to him, and get him some help (Elisha). Elijah is also approachable. He takes Elisha under his wing and they walk together.
And in the final scene, God sends a fiery limo to whisk him away. But not before Elijah has mentored a young successor named Elisha. (If that's not a metaphor about Sunday School, nothing is.)
After the death of King Solomon in 930 B.C., the kingdom split into the northern kingdom of Israel (with its capitol in Jezreel for a time), and the southern kingdom of Judah (with Jerusalem as its capitol). Very few of the kings in either kingdom lived up to the Law of Moses. They variously disobeyed God's law and allowed the worship of other gods. King Ahab's evil reign in Israel began in 874 B.C, and it was at that time that Elijah appeared. Ahab was married to Jezebel, a priestess of Baal and daughter of the King of Sidon. Pointedly, the Widow whom Elijah saves lived near Sidon in the village of Zarephath. As you read the stories, Jezebel is very much the antagonist to Elijah.
Elijah was from the small village of Tishbe in Gliead, south of the Sea of Galilee. "Elijah" means, "My God is Yahweh" or "God is Yahweh," and is likely a name he took to send a message to those who believed Baal was god. Baal, or "Ba-el," was widely worshiped in the region as a sort of mountain or storm god –which tells you why Elijah prophesied both drought and rain as a way to show Baal was false. (See more about Elijah's name below...)
After the days of David and Solomon, Israel and Judah struggled to maintain their political and religious independence in the region. In addition to local threats, the Assyrian empire (in Mesopotamia) was growing, and would eventually overrun Israel in 722 B.C. and exile many to Babylon. The Assyrians themselves would be conquered by the Babylonians, who then conquered Judah in 586 B.C. (These stories are told in Chronicles, as well, as Daniel, for example.)
Throughout these tumultuous times, God continued to send prophets with messages of warning and hope. Elijah is considered to be the first of the prophets whom God sent to warn Israel to repent. (Samuel is considered to be the "last judge" by many.)
Elijah was a 9th Century prophet in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, but carried his message beyond to Zarephath in what is now Lebanon. He retreated to the wilderness of Sinai for his famous encounter with God at Horeb. He was taken up in a whirlwind beyond the Jordan. The significance of his geography is part of several lessons.
Overview of Elijah's Story
1 Kings 17
The first mention of Elijah takes place in 1 Kings 17 when he goes to King Ahab and pronounces a drought on Israel as punishment for its sins. Elijah then retreats east of the Jordan to Kerith Ravine where he is fed by ravens. Note that "east of the Jordan" during this time was still part of Israel. Elijah's hometown Tishbe was near there. When the water dries up due to the drought, God sends Elijah all the way to Sidon along the Mediterranean Sea, where he finds a Widow and her son. Staying with them, Elijah performs two signs of hope: (1) Giving the widow a jar of oil and measure of flour that never run out, and (2) Restoring the boy's life after he dies of illness. "Now I know that you are a man of God and your words are true." she announces.
1 Kings 18
"After a long time, in the third year (of Ahab's reign), the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.” So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab. Elijah meets Ahab's servant, Obadiah, who was a man of God and would later become a prophet in his own right. Obadiah arranges for Elijah to meet Ahab, and the two challenge each other to a contest on top of Mt. Carmel: Elijah versus the Prophets of Baal.
Mt Carmel is part of a mountain range partially separating the northern Kingdom of Israel (aka "Samaria"), from the southern Kingdom of Judah, and the southeastern coast (Gaza, Philistines). Being highly visible to all in the north (all the way to Nazareth!), Elijah's victory there would surely be remembered by all those looking towards the hills. After winning the contest (and slaughtering the priests of Baal), rain clouds begin to form. Elijah tells Ahab to return to Jezreel, then tucks-in his cloak and runs ahead of Ahab –beating him to the palace.
1 Kings 19
In Jezreel, Ahab reports to Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and she issues a death-threat against him. Elijah now flees south through the desert. Exhausted, he sleeps under a broom tree, and wakes up to an angel offering him bread and water. Revived, he continues his journey to Mt Horeb. Horeb is considered by many scholars to be another name for Mt Sinai, though there is some debate about that. Laying down to lament and die in the "Cave of Horeb," God speaks to Elijah in the cave, asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah offers an excuse. Then God calls Elijah outside, and sends a rock-breaking wind, an earthquake, scorching fire, and finally, a "still small voice." Then God asks again, "What are you doing here?" Elijah responds with the same excuse. God then tells Elijah to leave the cave and go anoint Hazael as king of Aram, Jehu as king to replace Ahab, and Elisha as the next prophet in Israel.
Hazael went on to conquer parts of Syria and Israel (areas also known as "Aramea"). Why did God have Elijah anoint him? Perhaps it was a punishment, or an attempt to set up Aram as a buffer from Assyrian aggression. Jehu was the son of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah. He gathered an army and overthrew the "House of Ahab," and established his own dynasty which became a vassal state of Assyrian. Notably, both Hazael and Jehu are known from Assyrian archaeological evidence. Elisha was the son of Shaphat, a wealthy Israelite landowner. He was to become Elijah's protege, and served as prophet to Jehu's successors.
2 Kings 1
Ahab dies and is succeeded by Joram –who is rejected by Elijah.
2 Kings 2
Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwhind on a flaming chariot. Elisha picks up his master's mantle and crosses the Jordan back into Israel. He heals a spring of bad water, and curses a group of jeering boys who call him "old baldy" –they are then eaten by bears! As 2 Kings continues, Elisha works to protect Israel and he performs numerous miracles.
Elijah and Elisha's Place Among the Prophets
Elijah and Elisha were prophets, but they were unlike the later prophets in many ways. Their stories were punctuated by miracles given as signs of God's strength and hope. They did not focus on pronouncements of impending doom at the hand of foreign conquerors. Unlike many later prophets, they still held out hope that Israel could get its act together. And they did not speak about God's plan for a new kind of king, a "Messiah." Considering that their stories were collected and written down several hundred years later during the Babylonian Exile, their stories can be viewed as "cautionary tales to future kings and cultures." Abandon the true worship of God, and your reign will come to ruin.
Eli-Jah's name literally means, "My God is Yahweh!" "Eli" meaning "God" in the generic or "Lord" sense. "Yahweh" being the name of God revealed to Moses, meaning, "I Am" or "The Eternal One." Thus, if you know what his name means, you know his message too: Worship Yahweh and no other! The Art Workshop and Cooking Workshop in this lesson set teach kids how to spell Elijah in Hebrew and share that spelling with others to help them both remember the message AND share it like Elijah. See additional notes about his name in the Cooking lesson.
(Note: The big letters are the consonants, the second line of dots are the vowels. Hebrew is really interesting and names often mean something important!)
Elijah the hairy Prophet?
Or Elijah the hair-wearing Prophet?
There's a fun debate about Elijah's "hairy" appearance which your kids might enjoy hearing about. It's also a short lesson about translations. 2 Kings 1:8 gives us a short glimpse of what Elijah looked like. The messengers of King Ahaziah (who succeeded Ahab) met a man who had a warning for their king. They described the man as "a hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” Ahaziah immediately knew who sent the message, “It is Elijah the Tishbite,” said Ahaziah.
The literal translation is "hairy man," but some translations interpret it as "hair coat." Given the occasional euphemism and humor in Hebrew, "hairy man" may indeed be the correct translation, as well as the literal one. It is a double-entendre of sorts. "Hairy Men" being a way to describe those who took on the prophet's mantle and spoke on behalf of God, ...which as we learn from Ahab and Ahaziah, was something of a hair-raising experience! You did not mess with God's "hairy prophets."
We know Elijah wore a prophet's mantle of sorts, as did later prophets, including John the Baptist who wore a "camel's hair coat." Such clothing was meant to be a symbol of authority, and at least in the case of Elijah, was passed down to Elisha. Camel's hair can be soft, and is still woven into prayer shawls to this day (called "tallits" in Judaism).
Elijah and the Coming Messiah
So revered was Elijah in Israel's history, that by the time of Malachi, 445 B.C. (some four hundred years after Elijah), Malachi is predicting Elijah's return just before the "Day of the Lord" — the coming of the Messiah. In fact, Elijah is the very last person mentioned in the Christian Old Testament (and one of the first mentioned in Luke's Gospel).
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents." Malachi 4:5-6
Four hundred years after Malachi's prediction, when a prophet appears baptizing Jews in the Jordan and announcing repentance "for the Kingdom of God is at hand," some identify him as Elijah come back from heaven. Where'd they get that idea? From the angel who appeared to John's father Zechariah in the Temple.
Said the Angel to Zechariah: "He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:17.
When asked "who is John the Baptist," Jesus replies, "he is the Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:14. also, Mk 9:14). Now oddly enough, according to John 1:19, John said he was "not Elijah." This undoubtedly gave rise to the understanding that John was, as scriptures say, "in the spirit and power of Elijah." (Proving even Jesus wasn't a literalist.)
For teaching purposes we are ALL Elijah and John the Baptist,
...we are forerunners announcing the Day of the Lord.
We are the ones called to shout from the mountain top,
and the desert plains, "repent! and serve God."
We are also young Elisha — picking up our mentor's mantle,
picking up our cross, to continue God's mission.
Elijah's Special Place In Jewish Tradition
Elijah's fiery ascent into heaven not only gave him a special place among the prophets, but within Jewish oral traditions and extra-biblical writings as well. By the time of Malachi (circa 475 B.C.), when the prophecy of a coming Messiah was beginning to come into full bloom, Elijah was said to be the one who would return to announce that "Day of the Lord." (Malachi 4:5-6). This "Day" was the coming of the Messiah, a new reign, and a restoration of Israel and Judah under his banner. "Looking for Elijah," became an industry born of hope and, at that time, desperation.
Jewish oral traditions collected in the important Jewish writings known as the "Talmud" (circa 100 -135 A.D.) put into writing the tradition that had grown from Malachi's description of Elijah's role as a messianic "forerunner," and was present in Judaism at the time of Jesus. The Talmud references two Elijah traditions which become part of the Passover and circumcision rituals. (1) A chair for Elijah was provided during the ritual of circumcision. This chair also found its way into the Passover celebration at an unknown later date (sometime A.D.). (2) The use of Elijah's Cup in Passover as the fifth cup of blessing in the liturgy. The Passover tradition also included having a young child open a door during the meal to "look for Elijah's return." One cannot read the Last Supper without considering Elijah's place.
Elijah's Place in the New Testament
The prophecy of Malachi and place of Elijah in the Passover and circumcision rituals, help illuminate the importance of the angel's announcement to Zechariah (Luke 1), and Jesus' reference to Elijah.
Said the angel who announced John's birth to Zechariah in the Temple:
"He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17)
Jesus points to Elijah when he is discussing the identify and role of John the Baptist, "...if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come." (Matthew 11:14)
And of course, Elijah appears alongside Moses at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36). In that sense, the Transfiguration becomes the BODILY fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy, where the angel and Jesus reference John more "in the spirit of."
Then there's the famous "misunderstanding" at the cross (Matt. 27:46-49), where some on-lookers think Jesus is calling upon Elijah (when he is actually quoting Psalm 22, "Eloi, Eloi," not "Elijah, Elijah"). While a misunderstanding, it does serve to highlight the place of Elijah in the people's expectations. Thinking they heard Jesus call Elijah, they surely would have waited in anticipation.
Elijah's Place at the Last Supper Table
From the perspective of a Christian teacher, an empty chair and waiting cup of blessing visually demonstrate our sense of expectancy, and our belief that the chair is now filled and cup is poured out. Indeed, when Jesus takes a cup from the table, it has been suggested that he is taking "Elijah's Cup" and then making it his own. "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you." (Luke 22:20)
Moses, David, Elijah
Taken together, we see that Elijah is in the mold of Moses and David. ...three people who faced enormous challenges among their own people, and did not hold back. Each spoke intimately with God, and each raised up a worthy successor —Joshua, Solomon, and Elisha.
They rose above the mere details of theirs stories to become saints of a heroic sort. —Moses for his Law, David for his heart, and Elijah for being the first great prophet. He established the role of prophets as those who speak truth to power, and would one day announce the arrival of a king who will not fail us.
Points and Questions
It's not easy being faithful. In fact, it can be exhausting when the culture, religion, and leaders around us are not friendly to God's message. Where in your life are you struggling to be faithful? What messages in our culture are at odds with the message of God? On Mt Carmel, Elijah said it this way, "If Yahweh is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him," ...choose!
Sometimes God calls you to go up mountains and beyond borders. What "difficult places and persons" in your life do you need to go share your faith and show your compassion?
Do you stand out as a "hairy man of God"? Do friends and strangers see you as a follower of God? When people hear you speak and see how you treat others, will they see Elijah's mantle upon your shoulders?
Just like Elijah, God asks us to recruit and train the next generation of followers. What could you do to help teach younger children about God? How could you make our church a more inviting place for your friends? How can you encourage your parents to bring you to church more often and be more involved with God's mission?
Where is "Elijah's mantle" now in your life... Have you picked it up? Or is it still laying at your feet? Are you wearing it proudly, or hiding it? How are you like young Elisha?
When God sends the fiery chariot for you at the end of your life, how would you like to be remembered by those you leave behind? What will people say about how you practiced and shared your faith?
Written by Rev. Neil MacQueen for the Rotation.org Writing Team
Copyright 2017, Rotation.org Inc.
Images either in the public domain, permitted by their license, or used with permission.