The Drought. Elijah appeared in the Land of Israel at a most crucial time. The Land of Israel was then divided into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of the Ten Tribes. On the throne of the latter sat king Ahab, but the true ruler of the land was his wife, queen Jezebel, originally a Phoenician princess who never gave up her Phoenician way of life. Her influence was very great not merely over her husband, but throughout the kingdom, and as a result, the worship of the Baal, the god of the Phoenicians, spread with ever greater force, and was the cause of much trouble that befell the land of Israel.
One day the prophet Elijah and king Ahab met. Elijah warned the king of the divine punishment that would be visited upon his land if he did not abolish idol worship and did not cause a general return of all Israel to G-d.
Ahab scoffed at the idea, saying: “Didn’t Moses already warn us in the Torah that the rain would cease and the land would not give forth its produce, if we should worship other gods? Yet, nothing happened as yet!”
“G-d has been patient with you, but you don’t seem to realize it. Now you will see that not merely shall Moses’ words be fulfilled, but mine also. I tell you in G-d’s name that as from today there shall be no rain until I shall say the word!”
From that day years of drought and famine began in the Land of Israel. The famine spread even abroad, beyond the borders of the land, so that no bread could be purchased for its weight in gold!
The Ravens Feed Elijah. Now G-d told Elijah to withdraw to a deserted place, by the brook of Cherith near the Jordan. “Of the brook you will drink, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you”, G-d promised him. And indeed, twice daily, in the morning and in the evening, the ravens came and brought him bread and meat from the royal table of the King of Judah. Imagine the king’s surprise when the ravens swooped down upon his table and disappeared again with part of his meal! When this became a regular occurrence the king ordered that a special portion of bread and meat be served with his meals, and the ravens never failed to pick it up.
Some time elapsed, and G-d’s word came to Elijah commanding him to go to the land of Sidon, where a noble Jewish woman would provide his food.
When Elijah reached the gates of Zarephath in the land of Sidon, he saw a woman gathering sticks. Elijah called to her, “Please bring me a little water and a morsel of bread”.
“All I have,” answered the good woman, “is a handful of meal in a jar and a little oil in a cruse. I was just going to prepare the last meal for my child and myself. Shall I give it to you?”
“Fear not,” the Prophet assured her. “Go and bake a little cake for me first, and then you will bake some cake for yourself and your son. For these are the words of G-d: ‘The jar of meal shall not waste, nor shall the cruse of oil fail, until G-d sends rain and the famine will be over!'”
It was a test that required great faith, but the good woman did not hesitate. She went and did as Elijah bade her, and lo and behold! The handful of meal never seemed to grow less, nor was the oil diminishing for many days.
Before Elijah left her, he had occasion to repay her for her kindness. It came to pass that her little son fell very sick and was about to die. As all hopes to save his life seemed at an end, Elijah prayed to G-d and revived him.
Obadiah: In the meantime, Jezebel, the wicked queen, continued to persecute the true prophets, and anyone who dared to speak in the name of G-d of Israel was immediately put to death at her command. But right in her very palace was a man who, at great risk to his very life, tried to save the remaining true prophets of Israel. His name was Obadiah, who later became a famous prophet. Obadiah hid 100 prophets in 2 secret caves, and sustained them with bread and water. (Water was even scarcer than bread, for there had been no rain for years). Jezebel, however, thought that she had exterminated all the true prophets, and that only Elijah was left. Officers were then sent throughout the land to find Elijah, but they could not find him. However, when the time came for him to make his appearance, he did so quite fearlessly.
It was in the third year of the famine that G-d told Elijah to appear before king Ahab. The king had already recognized that the famine was G-d’s punishment, but he was still wavering between right and wrong, and it was Elijah’s task to let the king and all the Jews recognize the truth and cause them to return to G-d with all their hearts
Elijah first appeared before Obadiah and told him to bring the news of his coming to king Ahab, for Elijah was not afraid that Ahab might make plans to apprehend him. Ahab met Elijah with ill grace. “You have caused all this trouble to our people,” Ahab said to him.
Elijah threw back the accusation right in the king’s face. “Not I but you and your family. You have forsaken G-d’s commandments and have led all the people astray through the worship of the Baal. This must stop now, if Israel is to be saved. Now, therefore, gather all the people on Mount Carmel and all your false prophets and priests of the Baal, and we shall settle the matter once and for all.”
At Mount Carmel. Now Jezebel had 850 “prophets” of the Baal who enjoyed her protection and hospitality. These were now gathered by Mount Carmel, together with the great masses of the Jewish people. King Ahab was there, too, to witness the proceedings.
When all were gathered, Elijah addressed the people of Israel: “How long will you waver between two opinions? You worship the idols, but when you are in trouble you turn to G-d. There can be no two truths. If you recognize G-d’s might, why don’t you remain loyal to Him? But if you believe in the Baal, let the Baal help you now!”
Not a voice rose to dispute with Elijah. Elijah then proceeded: “Look! Here I am alone, the only true prophet of G-d, facing the 850 so-called “prophets” of the Baal. Where the truth is concerned, however, it’s not a question to be decided by the majority. G-d himself will prove it to you! And here is the test. Let two bullocks be brought. Let one be offered by the priests of the Baal to their god, and I shall offer the other to the G-d of Israel, the creator of the world. We shall set no fire to the wood. They shall pray to the Baal to send a fire and accept the sacrifice, and I will pray to G-d to send a fire. The one who answers will be recognized as the true G-d.”
All the assembled people voiced their agreement, and two bullocks were brought at once. They were twins and absolutely identical in size and appearance. Lots were cast, and Elijah led away his bullock. As the Baal-prophets tried to lead their bullock away, the bullock didn’t budge. The false prophets tried to pull the bullock but could not move him. Then Elijah came up to the bullock and said to him: “Go with them, and let them have no excuse. For just as your brother will bring a sanctification of G-d’s name, so will you also prove the falsity of the Baal.” Only then did the bullock follow the Baal-priests.
The Baal ‘prophets’ and priests slew their bullock and offered it to the Baal as a sacrifice. They prayed for fire from morning to noon; but, of course, nothing happened. Then Elijah said to them mockingly: “Cry aloud: may be your god is having a busy conversation, or may be he is away on a journey? Perhaps he is asleep? Cry hard, wake him up!” The false prophets cried for all their worth, leaped about their altar, cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets until their blood gushed out upon them. But still nothing happened, and they gave it up, thoroughly exhausted.
The Lord He is G-d. Then Elijah called to the people to come closer and watch him. He gathered twelve stones, one for each of the twelve tribes, and erected an altar to G-d. He ordered that a trench be dug around the altar and filled with water. He poured water upon the sacrifice and upon the wood, until it was drenched. Then he uttered a short prayer:
“O Lord, G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, let it be known this day that Thou art G-d in Israel, and that I, Thy servant, have done these things at Thy word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me!”
No sooner did Elijah conclude his prayer than G-d sent down a fire from heaven that consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the earth around and the water of the trench!
In great awe all the people fell on their faces and cried out: “The Lord, He is G-d! The Lord, He is G-d!”
The people then seized the false prophets and executed them. At once there appeared a little cloud in the sky, the size of a man’s hand. It grew very fast and a few minutes later the sky was black with clouds. The long-awaited rain came down in torrents.
Throughout the ages we have proclaimed this truth, that there is only One G-d, the All-mighty and All-powerful Creator and Ruler of the world. Every year, at the conclusion of the Yom-Kippur services, we proclaim the words ‘The Lord, He is G-d’ seven times. And now, more than ever, we should realize this truth and put our trust in our G-d. He who answered Elijah on mount Carmel will surely answer us.
Before Messiah, our righteous redeemer, will make his appearance, Elijah will appear on the mountains of our Holy Land and will herald the good tidings of the coming of Messiah.
In the third year of famine G-d ordered Elijah to appear before Ahab and to inform him that G-d would send rain upon the earth. Elijah went to Samaria. There he first met Obadiah and requested him to announce his arrival to the king. Ahab went out to meet Elijah and when he saw him face to face, he exclaimed: “Are you back, you troublemaker for Israel?” Elijah fearlessly replied that it was not he who had caused the trouble, but Ahab himself, and the house of his father, who had forsaken G-d and served idols. Then, challenging the king to stage a public contest between him, the only prophet of G-d, and the eight hundred and fifty prophets of the Baal and Ashtarte, Elijah promised to meet them on Mount Carmel.
Ahab complied with Elijah’s request. He understood the purpose of this gathering, and was eager to have a public contest of power between these two conflicting spiritual forces who claimed supremacy and exclusive control over the land.
The entire nation was assembled on Mount Carmel, and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal came there also, proud and contemptuous and sure of their victory over Elijah. Ahab the king appeared too, eagerly anticipating the outcome of the momentous contest.
Facing the entire people, Elijah addressed them sternly: “How long will you waver between two sides? If the L-rd be G-d, follow him; and if Baal be G-d, then follow him!” The people did not reply, and Elijah’s voice rang forth again: “I have been left as the only prophet of G-d; but the prophets of Baal number four hundred and fifty men; therefore give us two bullocks. Let the Baal’s prophets choose one bullock for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the altar; but put no fire under it. I will prepare the other bullock and lay it on the altar without putting fire under it. Then they shall call on the name of their gods, and I will call on the name of the L-rd; and the G-d who answers by fire, shall be the true G-d!”
The people voiced their approval and immediately the prophets of Baal picked one bullock and prepared it for the altar. Then they prayed and called on the Baal from morning till noon. But there was no sign of an answer. Elijah ridiculed them and bade them call louder as their god might be asleep or engaged in other and more important business. Not realizing the irony of Elijah’s words, the prophets cried louder and louder, and leaped wildly around the altar. They even cut their own flesh until their blood spurted forth, as was their custom. But cry as they might, Baal replied neither to their voices, nor to their wild and desperate gestures. Thus they raged furiously till late in the afternoon, yet there was no sign of an answer.
Then Elijah called upon the people to gather around him. In the name of G-d he built an altar of twelve stones, symbolizing the number of the Hebrew tribes, and ordered a wide trench dug all about it. Then he laid the other bullock on the altar and had water poured over it, till the trench was filled to the brim. Having completed all these preparations, he stepped before the altar and prayed to G-d. ” L-rd G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel! Let it be known this day that Thou art G-d in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. Hear me, O L-rd, hear me, that this people may know that Thou art the L-rd G-d, and thus turn their hearts back again.”
Hardly had he finished praying when a flame of fire came down from G-d and consumed the offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the earth, and licked up even the water that was in the trench. Seeing this, the amazed and overawed people prostrated themselves and exclaimed: “The L-rd He is G-d! The L-rd He is G-d!” Then, at Elijah’s command, they seized the prophets of Baal, led them to the brook of Kishon, and slew them,
End of the Famine
After bidding the king eat and drink for the drought would presently end, Elijah went to a solitary place on the mountain to pray for rain. Then he asked his servant to look in the direction of the sea for the first sign of a cloud. The servant did so, but reported that he had not noticed anything. Seven times Elijah repeated the order, till his servant returned with the news that a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand had become visible. Immediately Elijah sent word to Ahab to have his horses harnessed and to return to his palace before the rains began to fall. Soon the whole sky became overcast. Strong winds drove large clouds and sent the rain down in torrents. The heavy rains drenched the parched earth of Israel, which had been craving water for almost three years.
Ahab fled before the storm, and rode into Jezreel, but the spirit of G-d seized Elijah, and carried him on before Ahab to the entrance of the city.
Ahab related to Jezebel all that had come to pass on Mount Carmel, and told her also of the death of her prophets. Jezebel flew into a rage and swore that she would do unto Elijah as he had done unto them. Elijah fled to the desert of Judah. There he sat down amongst the bushes in a mood of despondency and deep disappointment. Wearied by his flight, and tortured by hunger and thirst, he lay down and fell asleep. But an angel of G-d touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. Elijah opened his eyes and saw beside him a cruse of water and a cake. He ate and drank and fell asleep for the second time. Again an angel awoke him and said: “Arise and eat because you are’ facing a long journey.” Elijah got up, ate and drank, and set out on his way. With the strength derived from that meal, he walked forty days and forty nights until he reached Mount Horeb.
G-d’s Message on Mt. Horeb
Elijah took refuge in a cave on Mount Horeb. The next day the word of G-d came to him, asking, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” Elijah complained of his sufferings in his zealous struggle for the honor of the one and only G-d and His commandments. He mourned the loss of all the true prophets of G-d, expressing his apprehension as to who would carry on his work, now that he was the only remaining prophet of G-d, and the enemies of G-d sought to take away his life.
In reply, G-d told him to step outside and stand on the mountainside. Elijah did so, and G-d manifested Himself to him. At first a great and strong wind rocked the mountain. But G-d was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake; but G-d was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came fire; but G-d was not in the fire. Then Elijah heard a still, soft whisper, and he covered his face with his mantle and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Once again came G-d’s question, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” And Elijah gave the same answer as before. Then G-d instructed him as to his work. Elijah was to go to Damascus and anoint Hazael, who was to be king over Syria. Next he was to anoint Jehu, the son of Nimshi, who was to be king over Israel. Finally he was to anoint Elisha, the son of Shaphat, of Abel-Meholah, who was to be prophet in Elijah’s place.
Elijah Goes Up To Heaven
On the day G-d had selected to take His servant Elijah from this earth, the prophet left Gilgal in the company of his disciple Elisha. They reached the shores of the Jordan followed by fifty young prophets who had come with them out of Jericho and stood watching them at some distance. Elijah took his mantle and, rolling it up like a staff, he smote the waters, which separated. The prophets passed through the river on dry land. Walking with Elisha between the parted floods, Elijah asked his disciple if he could do something for him, before G-d took him away. Elisha replied that he would like to ask for a double measure of the Divine spirit of his master. Elijah assured him that although his wish was no small thing, it would come true if Elisha merited seeing his master go up to heaven. As they thus went on and talked, they were separated by the sudden appearance of a fiery chariot, drawn by fiery horses; and Elijah went up in a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha saw his master disappear and in bitter grief he rent his garments, and exclaimed: “My father, my father! The chariot of Israel and its riders!”1