Elijah is the predominant prophet not only in this story, but in the Old Testament. Like Moses, he is a reluctant messenger who is hand-selected and visited by God personally. He is given instructions and miraculous gifts by God. Like Moses, he meets opposition, but eventually triumphs with God’s help. Furthermore, Elijah, like Moses, becomes an iconic figure to the Jewish people – Moses representing the Law and Elijah representing the Prophets – the two major aspects of the Jewish faith (Old Testament) that Jesus came to fulfill as the Messiah (New Testament). This is dramatically demonstrated in the accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:28-36) where Jesus is transformed with Moses and Elijah appearing on either side, speaking with him. This threesome thus personifies and represents the whole message of the Bible – the Old and the New Testament standing together unified and complete.
Elijah and Moses were both pivotal figures in setting the stage for the way that God would work through select individuals to act as his messengers to the high and mighty in power as well as to his own chosen people. God’s voice would now echo through designated people, known as prophets (those who speak for God), to carry God’s messages of warning, repentance and to be faithful to the Lord, their God. That is the true nature of prophecy, and Elijah is the role model for all the other prophets to emulate.
A lot could be said about the activities of Elijah, the results of his efforts, and his ascent to heaven in a fiery chariot, but I’ll leave all that for the more learned and trained theologians to discuss.
More simply for me is that I have often thought about and admired how it takes a great deal of courage and trust for people like Elijah and Moses to step up and face their calling and destiny. It’s also comforting to see that they are really no different than us – they have fears, they run away, but they also have a restless heart that will not rest until in rests in God (borrowing from St. Augustine in his “Confessions”). That restlessness led them to step forward and accept their calling to let God lead their efforts as they fought their battles so that God would be glorified. It’s always interesting to see how God chooses the humble to be heroes. Often those who feel the least capable are the very ones God uses to display his glory.
Do you ever wonder if there are really any legitimate prophets out there today? Who are they, what are they saying, and how do we know they are for real – God’s messengers? Has the mantle of Elijah been passed down to the present age? It seems that as we look at life around us there are so many people out there pointing to what they believe is the WAY – like barkers at a circus, hucksters peddling their poison for prophecy.
In the song “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel (if you remember back then – I guess I’m dating myself here), there is an interesting line that says, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, tenement halls…” Is that all it is? Is it the “street savvy,” “the learned,” the self-proclaimed gurus of wisdom, the appointed leaders of various religions and cults who claim prophets in their midst that have the gift? That cannot be the answer.
So, who really speaks for God today? As Christians, we rely on Scripture for the answers. Paul writes in 1Corinthians 12:1-11 that God provides different kinds of spiritual gifts, one of which is prophecy. However, he also points out here and in Chapter 14 of the same epistle that true prophecy needs to be interpreted and explained. And the determining factor of whether the message is true has to be that it aligns itself with Scripture and that it is centered on Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Thus, the true nature of prophecy is that its message comes from God through an anointed spokesperson and that it is usually a call to repent and transform our lives with the help and acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Those who have the gift give it freely (“Give as freely as you receive” – Jesus instructed his apostles, Matthew 10:8) – the “not for profit” prophets!
Who fits the bill here? Are there any modern-day prophets like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness, urging repentance, and preparing the way for God’s kingdom to come? If so, are they being recognized and listened to or just dismissed as lunatics or fanatics because their message is too hard to hear? Is the news they are delivering is too disturbing, too challenging, and being misunderstood as bad news when, in fact, it is really the Good News of Jesus Christ they are preaching?
You know, sometimes we just have to step up ourselves and decide that “if we don’t stand for something (God) we’re liable to fall for anything.” So, is the church providing the right kind of environment for individuals and groups to experience, nurture, and accept the prophets of today? Who among us is willing to speak truth to power and fight injustice with acts of justice? Will God find a church that stands against all of the brokenness of our world and is instead truly a “city on a hill” shining God’s truth?
By God’s grace, let that be said of us.