Introduction and Historical Setting for Elijah

Introduction and Historical Setting for Elijah
The story of Elijah and the nation of Israel is heroic narrative built around the exploits of the main character, Elijah. It is the story of a man raised up by God in a time of conflict in his community, in a time of spiritual and moral degeneracy. He was there to bring the nation back to God, to turn them from their idolatry to a vital faith in the true God, the God of Israel and the Bible.

In heroic narrative, the story focuses on the protagonist, the central figure or hero and his conflicts and encounters as the story moves toward the goal of the narrative. The goal of the narrative and the high point of the story is found for us in 1 Kings 18, the challenge and contest with the prophets of Baal before the people on Mount Carmel. The purpose of this high mark in the story is spelled out for us in two verses, 18:21 and 18:37. Chapter 17 is the preparation for this event. It is showing us God’s preparation of Elijah and the nation for what will happen on Mount Carmel. Then chapter 19 is the aftermath–the effects of this event on the nation and on Elijah, the hero. Values and virtues, failures and weaknesses, strengths and abilities of the hero and the conflicts he and his society faced show us this is the way life is. They reveal what we need to know, to appropriate, and to avoid as we live in our society.

Thinking about the impact the life of Elijah should have on us in the day in which we live, I am reminded of Psalm 11:3 which asks an important question. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The question was being asked of David by his friends and is another heroic narrative of Scripture. This question forms a fitting introduction for the study of Elijah. The NIV translates this: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Or “what is the righteous one doing?” David’s friends had become fainthearted and depressed over national conditions. They were suggesting that David should flee to the mountain where he fled from Saul (Ps. 11:1). The question relates to a time when law and order were being destroyed. It may have been when Absolom, David’s own son, was seeking to usurp his throne. Or as some suggest, it may have been when Saul was seeking to kill David. Regardless, the foundations refer to the law and order of society based on the Lord’s protective rule through the absolutes of the Word.

This asks a question we are facing in our nation today because our country is under the countdown with its foundations being destroyed by godless humanism. David’s answer is given in Psalm 11:4-7. In short, David’s focus was on the Lord. He contrasted the problems on earth with the sovereign and exalted position of the Lord who sits in heaven, the place of authority and power.

The sovereign Lord sits on His heavenly throne, not indifferently, but observantly. He is working out His purposes on earth. Though transcendent, God is also intimately and immanently involved with mankind, especially those who trust Him. David then reminds us that while the Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, He never forsakes the righteous who can, by faith, behold His face and thus experience His strength and courage. The righteous can experience His peace now in the midst of any situation and will one day experience His presence and blessings in God’s eternal kingdom.

First Chronicles 12 also tells us of another serious time in David’s history when the foundations of the nation were crumbling. As 1 Samuel 26:20 puts it, David was being chased by Saul like a partridge on a mountain. During this time some of God’s people did something else. “Day by day {men} came to David to help him, until there was a great army like the army of God” (1 Chr. 12:22). These men joined together to form a band of men who would stand against the times they were facing. Included among these were the sons of Issachar of whom was said: “Men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do” (1 Chr. 12:32).

What does this mean to us in our day? The righteous need to know what to do and then do it because they know and believe that God sits in the heavens observantly. Withdrawing, becoming bitter, angry, depressed, diseased in our attitudes, or seeking sinful ways of escape is not what the righteous should do.

I am reminded of what Daniel said about those who truly know God. Daniel 11:32 refers to the godless, humanistic mind-set and activity of the last days, especially in the days of the Tribulation. Satan will promote and use this humanistic and demonic mind-set to advance his end-time system and the Man of Lawlessness (the Antichrist). The objective will be to turn people away from God and His covenant promises in the Savior. But Daniel 11:32b tells us even then, as bad as that will be, God will have His remnant who know Him intimately. Regardless of the pressures, they will display strength and take action. We are getting a taste of this now, as Israel did in the time of Antiochus Epiphanies around 175-164 B.C.

You might ask, what does all this have to do with a study of Elijah? He too lived in dismal times. They were times of spiritual apostasy and moral decay. But we find in this colorful and powerful prophet a wonderful illustration of what the righteous should do when the foundations are destroyed. Elijah is one of the prominent figures in the Word of God. His significance is evidenced by over 20 direct references to him in the New Testament, and by his appearance in the transfiguration of the Lord with Moses, the great Law giver.
The books of 1 and 2 Samuel record the establishment, consolidation, and extension of the Theocratic kingdom of God in the reigns of David and his son, Solomon. It was a glorious time–a time of great prosperity in the nation. This was the result of God’s blessing for obedience to the holy absolutes of His Word, or His covenant with Israel according to God’s purpose for the nation among the nations (cf. Ex. 19:4-6 with Deut. 4:6-11 and Deut. 28-30).

Solomon allowed his great nation to decay by:
1. Allowing idolatry to grow through foreign marriages.
2. He levied excessive taxes and labor projects and help for the poor, undermining the nations middle class who carried the burden of taxes.
3. Solomon insisted he was a “king of peace”, avoiding conflict with neighbors through treaties and appeasement.
4. Solomon relied heavily on the nations courts to rule instead of seeking the people’s will.