Hear Me with Fire: The Life of Prophet Elijah

Posted By on October 16, 2019


Mountains are mysterious, almost sacred places,
where the act of climbing can be cathartic, almost mystical — the shedding of all that
would hinder the ascent, the gaining of a fresh perspective with each new height, and
finally a sense of the self emptying out in awe and wonder before God’s creation as
heaven seems to meet earth in the clouds. Perhaps this is why some church fathers used
the image of ascent as an allegory for the soul’s journey to union with God. But beyond
the language of ascent, beyond the witness of God’s invisible attributes in creation,
these fathers also drew upon the powerful theophanies that occurred upon mountains where
a person such as Elijah could, through purification, move beyond created things to gain experiential
knowledge of God. But one can’t speak of Elijah alone, for
just as he points the way forward to figures and events in the New Testament through types
and shadows, so too does his life echo that of an earlier theophanic witness, the prophet
and God-seer Moses who first encountered the personal and living God in the flames of a
burning bush on Mount Sinai. Another time, amidst thunder, lightening, and smoke, God
descended upon Sinai in fire before the trembling children of Israel. There, Moses ascended
Sinai to receive the Law and encounter within the dazzling darkness the pre-incarnate Word
of God as revealed through His divine energies. These foundational theophanies transformed
Moses and gave the Law as a guide to purify and prepare the Hebrews for the coming of
the Messiah. Yet over the next five hundred years they often returned to the worship of
idols despite Moses’ warning that “God is a consuming fire.” Elijah then, appeared like a second Moses.
His name means “My God is Yahweh” and is pronounced Ilias in Greek and Elias in
English. Upon Elijah’s birth, his father had a vision of angels swaddling the infant
in flames and feeding him fire. This foreshadowed Elijah’s future role as prophet — one
who speaks for God — as when he cast down fire upon the earth and spoke words that burned
like a lamp. His experience on mountains took him from Carmel to Sinai to Tabor, likewise
seeing him rise through faith, zeal, and ascetic labor even to the heights of heaven. Yet,
as Saint James reminds us, Elijah was of like nature to ours and could be overcome with fear and despondency even as he could offer effective prayer that worked wonders. Elijah lived during the rule of King Ahab
of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, in the years after the reign of King Solomon, when
disunity split the kingdom in two. By now, many had forgotten God and dwelt in spiritual
darkness. For Jezebel, the Phoenician-born wife of Ahab had torn down the holy places
of God, killed His prophets, and raised up altars to the storm and fertility god Ba’al.
Many partook of the pagan rituals and drunken ceremonies of this false god which gave vent
to their lusts and further darkened their hearts. But not Elijah, who came from Tishbe in the
wild and rocky region of Gilead just beyond the Jordan. He first lived in the wilderness
and purified his heart through fasting, prayer, and chastity before receiving God’s call
to go and confront Ahab: “As the Lord God of Hosts lives,” said
Elijah to Ahab, “the God of all Israel before whom I stand, there shall not be any dew nor
rain during these years except at my word.” And so for three years and six months it did
not rain, and drought and famine became common in all the land, as Elijah’s hoped to once
again awaken in the people a thirst for God. Elijah then fled to the Brook Cherith upon
the word of the Lord, even as Ahab searched for him everywhere. Elijah drank water from
the brook and ate bread in the morning and meat in the evening mysteriously brought to
him by ravens and sustaining him day-by-day, just as did manna for those who wandered the
wilderness with Moses. When the brook dried up, the Lord sent Elijah
to a Gentile widow in Zarephath of Sidon. Even though she had only a handful of flour
and little oil, Elijah made sure that “at the word of the Lord” these would not be
used up until it once again rained upon the earth. Then, the widow’s son died, and she reproached
herself for her sins. But Elijah comforted her and then fervently prayed to God. He stretched
himself out over the boy three times, this mystery representing the Holy Trinity, and
raised him from the dead. At this the widow cried out, “Now I know that you are a man
of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.” After three and a half years, the Lord spoke
to Elijah again: “Go and appear to Ahab, and I will send
rain upon the earth.” Elijah returned and appeared before Ahab. “Are you the one who is troubling Israel,”
asked Ahab. “I have not troubled Israel,” replied
Elijah. “But rather you and the house of your father, in that you forsook the Lord
your God and followed after the Ba’als. Gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the
four hundred and fifty prophets of shame, and the four hundred prophets of the sacred
groves who eat at Jezebel’s table.” Elijah then challenged Ahab to a contest on
Mount Carmel to see whose god would respond with fire upon their supplication. Elijah
alone, against the many prophets of Ba’al. To the people of Israel who gathered to watch,
Elijah shouted, “How long will you be undecided between two opinions? If the Lord is God,
follow Him, but if Ba’al, follow him.” And they remained silent. The prophets of Ba’al then slaughtered an
oxen and placed it upon the altar and called upon the name of Ba’al from morning until
noon. But there was only silence as the false prophets limped about the altar. Elijah mocked them, saying: “Cry out with
a louder voice, for he is a god; for either he is away meditating, or he is too busy,
or preoccupied with other business. Perhaps he is sleeping and has need to be awakened
from his nap.” The prophets of Ba’al thrashed and cut themselves
in a frenzy until blood came forth. But again in the silence no voice was heard and no fire
burned. “Now remove yourselves from this place,”
said Elijah, “for I will offer my whole burnt offering.” Elijah asked the people to draw near and he
took twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel, much like Moses once did
and built an altar in the name of the Lord. He piled firewood upon the altar and placed
the offering. He then asked the people to pour four pots of water three times over the
offering and firewood. Elijah then cried out to heaven and said,
“O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, answer me, O Lord, answer me this day with
fire, and let this people know You are the God of Israel, and I am Your servant; and
for Your sake I do all these works. Hear me, O Lord, hear me with fire and let these people
know You are the Lord God, so as to turn the heart of this people back.” Fire then fell from the Lord of heaven to
the earth and consumed the whole burnt offering, the firewood, and even the water that had
been poured over them. Amazed, the people fell upon their faces before
the blazing fire and cried out, “Truly, the Lord is God.” Elijah commanded them
to seize the prophets of Ba’al and they did so until all were slaughtered much like those
who once worshipped the golden calf when Moses descended Sinai. “Go up and eat and drink, for there is a
sound of rain,” said Elijah to Ahab, before ascending to the top of Mount Carmel where
he bowed down with his face between his knees and prayed to God for rain. Elijah’s servant
kept watch and reported after each prayer. After the first, nothing. Then again, nothing
and on each until the seventh prayer nothing, until suddenly, “Behold, a little cloud,
like the footprint of a man, bringing up water.” Soon, the sky darkened, the wind blew, and
rain fell heavy in a downpour. Elijah saw this as a great victory. But among
the awestruck people, how much did the fire now burn within each heart for the one true
and living God? Certainly not in the heart of Jezebel who upon hearing of the death of
her prophets flew into a rage and vowed to kill Elijah. Fearful, Elijah fled far south
to Beersheba before wandering into the wilderness and sitting under a juniper tree. “I pray it be enough, O Lord,” said Elijah.
“Now take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Discouraged and sensing the
absence of God, he fell asleep. But soon, an angel touched him and said, “Arise
and eat” and then left him a cake made of wheat and a jar of water. Elijah ate but fell
asleep again at which the angel again came with food and said, “Arise and eat, because
the journey is a great many days for you.” Elijah doubted God’s plan, yet he still
crossed the dry and desolate desert, fasting forty days and forty nights like Moses, until
reaching Mount Sinai. After climbing the mountain, Elijah prayed within the darkness of a cave. Suddenly, the Lord spoke a soul-searching
question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” “I have been very zealous for the Lord,
the God of hosts,” complained Elijah, “for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant,
thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they
are seeking my life, to take it away.” “Go out and stand on the mountain before
the Lord,” said the Lord, “for I am about to pass by.” There then arose a great wind, strong enough
to split mountains and break rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind; and then the earth
quaked, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and then a fire, but the Lord was not in the
fire; and after the fire a gentle breeze amidst the sound of sheer silence. And the Lord was
in it. Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle and
went out and stood at the entrance of the cave before the presence of the Lord, the
pre-Incarnate Word of God who brought stillness and a warm, refreshing dew that imbued sweetness
and contrition inside the anxious prophet. The Lord once again asked Elijah why he was
there, at which the prophet replied with the same answer, but now as one open to God’s
guidance. For this is the paradox of ascent, in that it also requires descent, that is
a lowering of the self through repentance, humility, and a willingness to follow the
divine will. “Go and return on your way to the desert
of Damascus,” said the Lord, anoint a new king in Syria and one in Israel and anoint
Elisha as the prophet in your place. The Lord then, in a slight rebuke, revealed to Elijah
that he was not alone but rather, a remnant remained in Israel, seven thousand who had
not bowed down to Ba’al. Now restored, Elijah called Elisha unto himself.
As for Ahab, Elijah proclaimed judgement upon him and his son for their continued wicked
ways. Ahab eventually died in battle, as foretold by the prophet Micaiah, and his son Ahaziah
died shortly after. As the days went by, Elijah took Elisha to
the river Jordan. Elijah struck the water with his mantle and the waters parted so that
they could cross to the other side. This amazed Elisha, for the power of God was still with
Elijah. “Ask what I may do for you, before I am
taken away from you,” said Elijah. “Please let a double portion of your spirit
be upon me,” replied Elisha. “You have asked a hard thing,” said Elijah.
“But if you see me when I am taken up from you, it shall be so for you; and if not, it
shall not be so.” Suddenly, a fiery chariot appeared, drawn
by horses of fire and Elijah, who had sent so many fervent prayers up to God, now ascended
in a whirlwind as if into heaven, as his mantle fell to Elisha. Seeing this, Elisha cried out in amazement,
“Father, O Father, the chariots of Israel and its horseman!” Elisha tore his garment
and then raised Elijah’s mantle and twice struck the river Jordan to part the waters
again. The sons of the prophets of Jericho witnessed this and said, “The spirit of
Elijah rests on Elisha.” Elisha continued the work of his spiritual father performing
many wonders for the people. Today, many churches and chapels dedicated
to Elijah can be found on mountains and hilltops in Greece and other Orthodox lands, especially
in the Middle East. Many people have even taken his name. Elijah’s life transcended
his own time, both appearing as a second Moses and also as one pointing toward the New Testament.
Such as with John the Baptist who appeared in the spirit and power of Elijah to fulfill
Malachi’s prophecy that Elijah would return. Like Elijah, John spoke out against power
by saying that any tree not bearing good fruit would be thrown into the fire. Jesus likewise
preached repentance and even echoed Elijah by saying, “I came to cast down fire upon
the earth.” We even see in Elijah’s ascent to heaven a shadow of Christ’s own ascension
and in Elijah’s giving of the double spirit to Elisha a shadow of the fiery tongues on
Pentecost. But the most important event is the culmination
of the earlier theophanies of Moses and Elijah on Sinai, in the Transfiguration of Christ
on Mount Tabor. Now the Law and the Prophets find their fulfillment, as heaven and earth
meet in the person of Jesus Christ. Now they speak with the Word of God face-to-face, as
He reveals the mystery hidden before all ages; the divine, uncreated light of His divinity
now shining through His human body. Now he speaks to them about His coming passion and
the plan to save the human race from death and corruption. Let us, like Elijah, receive grace through
steadfast faith, worship, and purity of life. Let us also encounter God by partaking of
His glorified Body and Blood, praying that it burns us not as we partake but that it
will be for the cleansing and sanctification of both soul and body, as we struggle along
the upward path that leads to the kingdom of God.

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 48 comments

  1. I thank you guys for this wonderful video, as an orthodox catechumen this really helped me understand the story of Prophet Elijah.

    Reply
  2. Your videos have been a blessing as I make my way into Orthodoxy. Thank you for what you do. God's continued blessings on your ministry.

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  3. I always wanted to know the true story of Saint Elijah, I finally heard it in this most beautifully narrated and illustrated way, thank you and God bless you. Praise the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior!💙

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  4. This was certainly worth the wait. Thank you for your hard work and dedicating your time to this project. May God grant you peace.

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  5. This turned out absolutely amazing!! Thank you so much for letting me contribute my illustrations to the video. Can’t wait to help out more in the future. God Bless! 🙏🏻💕

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  6. I’ve been really looking forward to this! Growing up my Protestant grandmother always taught me the lives of the Prophets and Biblical figures, Prophet Elijah being one of them, and one of my favourites. Once I became Orthodox I got to express the love I have for these inspiring figures I so eagerly learned about when I was still a child. May we all have the the intercessions of the Holy Prophet Elijah always!

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  7. What a marvelous video! May our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ bless you and keep enlightening your minds and souls for the continuity of such a beautiful work. Christ is in our midst!

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  8. Truly an amazing account of the life of a wondrous Prophet. What a beautiful depiction and production. Glory be to God in all things. A heart felt thank you for your efforts! With love in our Lord and Saviour… Reader Joseph

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  9. Amazing work as usual!! God bless you all always! Can't wait for your next video..
    Are you able to tell me which version of the "Meth Imon O Theos" chant you used in your video? I really like it..🙏🏼☦

    Reply
  10. As said, this is very good, where it's a very good and very needed thing!
    You know, I've been told icons told stories by how they're drawn. Which we like icons. But it's time to adapt to the 21at century, where digital is how others understand stories today.

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  11. This is a beautiful work. Thank you for uploading it. I hope many more Old Testament prophets will have hagiographic videos honoring their lives from your work.

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  12. peace be unto you for the kingdom of heaven has come near unto you, greetings, I am Elijah, very interesting what you've said about me, I am here now on earth, surprise !

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  13. if you believe in Yahshua , you are grafted into Israel, to bey the torah, follow the statues and judgements, if you gonna remain, separate from the nation of Israel, your a baal worshipper , beware, sunday is the first day to sabbath, sunday is not the sabbath day, are you a baal worshipper, worshipping the false Jesus, who they depict with long hair, , it's not Jesus it's Yahshua ,

    Reply

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