Feast Day 20 July
A prophet of the ninth century BC, Elijah the Tishbite is remembered in Scripture and Christian tradition as the foremost example of zealous loyalty to the living God. He lived during the reign of Ahab, King of Israel (Northern Kingdom, 875-854 BC) and Ahab’s pagan wife Jezebel who tried to introduce the religion of Baal to the Jews. Because of his uncompromising struggle against paganism, his miraculous deeds, and his ascension into heaven on a flaming chariot, Elijah gained the stature of the “pillar of prophets.” His fame grew until he was expected to return from heaven as the forerunner of the Day of Lord (Mal. 4:5; Wis. Sir. 48:10). As the representative of the prophets, he appeared together with Moses at the transfiguration of Christ (Mk. 9:4-5).
The story of Elijah and his zeal for the God of Israel is told in 1 Kings, chapters 17-18. After announcing to Ahab a severe drought, the prophet hid himself by a brook and was fed by ravens. This is how he is usually depicted in his icons. Later he left Israel and stayed with a foreign widow and her son near Sidon, their food being provided by the jar of meal and cruse of oil which were miraculously unspent during the time of the drought. When the widow’s son died or was near death, Elijah restored the boy to life (1 Kings 17:10-24).
The dramatic moment came when Elijah confronted Ahab with apostasy and challenged the priests of Baal to a contest—to decide whether the Lord or Baal was true God. All gathered on Mount Carmel and Elijah said to the people of Israel: “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God/follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). From morning until noon, four hundred and fifty priests of Baal prayed to their god and danced around their altar in frenzy, cutting themselves with lances and swords, but no fire from heaven came to burn the sacrificial animal. After this Elijah asked that water be poured over his altar and he prayed to God with profound trust to let it be known that He was the God of Israel. In the words of 1 Kings 18:38-39:
Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and they said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”