This week ABC Wednesday takes us to the letter E. And, biblically speaking, E could only be for Elijah, the colorful 9th century BCE prophet of God we know and love. And who wouldn’t love someone who could raise the dead, bring down fire from the sky on command, and make his exit from this world by way of a whirlwind accompanied by a chariot and flaming horses?
Seriously. There is no doubt Elijah had a flair for the dramatic.
Elijah lived long after David and Solomon’s kingdom had been divided into two parts. By the time the protagonist prophet shows up, the two kingdoms are in deep spiritual and moral decay. Worship of the Canaanite/Phoenician god, Baal, was making a come back in historic proportions. Elijah shows up during the reign of Ahab, perhaps the most corrupt king in biblical history. The Jewish historian, Josephus, states that Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.
Just like wasn’t a good idea for Cain to get snarky, every time you provoke the Lord to anger, it doesn’t end well…for you.
In a thumb your nose sort of way, Ahab marries Jezebel, princess and daughter of Ethbaal, King of Tyre. As soon as the ink on the marriage certificate is dry, Jezebel introduces the worship of the idolatrous cult of Baal-Melqart into Israel. Hell-bent on eliminating worship of the God of Israel, she successfully dominates her husband, kills most of Israel’s prophets and installs her own priests in a grand temple she has Ahab build for her. We certainly know who wore the pants in that family.
But Elijah was having none of it. The phrase, in your face, may have begun with Elijah as he repeatedly challenges Ahab and Jez. After a particularly nasty confrontation about a drought on the horizon, he heads out of town fast. Upon his return three years later, he brazenly invites Jezebel’s priests and prophets, and anyone else who wants to come to the equivalent of a Old West showdown on Mount Carmel. Two alters are built. Elijah challenges the pagan priests to light the fire by calling on their guy, Baal, while he sits back and smirks at their efforts. When no fire comes, he drenches his alter with water and calls down fire and lightening from the sky…and you guess it…the alter bursts into flames. Elijah orders all the Baal priests killed and, just to prove a point, calls down rain to end the drought. Jezebel’s anger bursts into flames when she hears the news, and she vows to kill Elijah. So, again, he heads out of town.
Forty years or so later, Elijah is feeling his age. His protege, Elisha, has been groomed to take his place and Elijah is ready to hand over his dusty sandals and mantle (cape). In true Elijah fashion, he parts the waters of the Jordan river before he and Elisha cross over it. It is there that Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind, accompanied by a chariot and blazing horses (no no no…not Blazing Saddles).
But that’s not the end of Elijah. Oh no. His legacy lives more than a millennium later in more than 20 references in the New Testament. It is recorded he appears with Moses in front of witnesses in the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He also lives today…universally in our human condition. Just like during Ahab and Jezebel’s time, today we see every conceivable example of moral and spiritual decay in our societies and governments. The very foundations of our cultures are actively being challenged and undermined.
Elijah’s firm stand on his values; his strengths and abilities used to battle the conflicts he faced is paralleled in our own daily struggles. He’s our role model for how to keep faith alive despite the corruption around us. He retreats from time to time, but always returns stronger to fight another day. Likewise, we can take a stand against forces stacked against us when we believe in the presence and providence of God. Promises that sustain us regardless of how overwhelming the situation appears.
And who wouldn’t like to ride into heaven in grand fashion after living life this way?
Listen to Eric Clapton’s version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. The song will stick in your head all day long.
[audio:http://www.peripheralperceptions.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/10-Swing-Low-Sweet-Chariot.mp3|titles=10 Swing Low Sweet Chariot]
Submitted for ABC Wednesday