The Main Idea
With the Kingdom of Israel divided in two and most of the kings rebelling against God, the narrative turns to the spokesmen of God, the prophets. It is their words and their story that will be heard through to the end of chapter 21 (the Old Testament). In chapter 15, we hear the story of Elijah and Elisha, prophets of God.
Warm Up Questions: (Choose 1 or 2)
Q1: How Is the word “prophet” used in society today?
Q2: Do you know of anyone in modern times who was/is considered a prophet (the label does not have to be accurate in order to be applied to people)? Who is it and why does he or she get that label?
Q3: Do you think that there are still prophets in the church today? Why or why not?
Q4: Elijah was one of two people in the Bible who we are specifically told did not die. Who was the other? (hint: Genesis).
Dig a Little Deeper
With the Kings of Israel and Judah following their own path God takes a more subversive approach to speaking to the nation of Israel and to leading: he raises up prophets. Prophets, the mouthpieces of God who call people back to God. It is not that in the time of the divided kingdom prophets are a new thing. We have been hearing about prophets since Moses, who spoke to the Pharaoh of Egypt and the people of Israel on behalf of God. And in the more recent history of Israel we heard of the prophet Nathan who set David back on the proper path after David sinned with Bathsheba. But now we see the prophets rise as the true champions of the people and the true voice of God. They do not conquer with military force but with the truth and by the power of God.
As a bit of background to the stories in chapter 15 here are some things to keep In mind:
1) The focus of Chapter 15 is on the Kingdom of Israel which, at the beginning of the chapter is being ruled by Ahab and his wife Jezebel
2) Abandoning the true God (Yahweh) always means embracing another deity. In the case of Ahab, that was Baal. Baal was a term meaning “the Lord” and had been applied to a variety of deities, but this was probably Hadad, the god of the Canaanites.
3) We are still in a time in history where even monotheistic cultures, like the people of Israel, believed that the gods of the other nations were real, just less powerful than theirs. So, the idea that Baal could answer when called upon was not seen as a ridiculous notion, perhaps not even to Elijah.
Introduction (pp. 203)
“Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Giliad, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain In the next few years except at my word.’’
That is quite an introduction to Elijah. We know nearly nothing about him and have heard nothing from this prophet before these words are written. And then, BOOM, he shows up, tells the king that there will be a drought and then goes to hide in the wilderness, fed by ravens, for three years.
Act 1: Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (pp. 203-206)
“Elijah went before the people and said, ‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’”
Elijah issued a challenge: prepare an altar and then call on your God. Baal did not answer but God did and all of the false prophets were killed. Ahab the King remained unconvinced and unrepentant.
Act 2: Elijah Meets with God (pp. 206-207)
“Then a voice said to [Elijah], ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’
“[Elijah] replied, ‘… I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’”
“The LORD said to him, ‘… Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.’”
Elated at his win over the prophets of Baal but terrified of retaliation from Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, Elijah runs into the wilderness. There he calls on God to kill him. But God revives Elijah and they have a conversation and Elijah is given instructions about the end of his life: delegate your responsibilities to others, you are not alone.
Act 3: The Transition to Elisha (pp. 207-209)
“Elijah went up to [Elisha] and threw his cloak around him.”
God had told Elijah to anoint Elisha to take over the job as God’s prophet and so Elijah gave his cloak to Elisha as a sign. Elisha left everything and followed Elijah who was soon swept up in a whirlwind with a chariot of fire and horses. At that time Elisha was recognized as the successor to Elijah in the role of the prophet of God.
Act 4: Elisha and the Shunamite Woman (pp. 209-211)
“When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD … The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.”
Elisha struck up a friendship with a Shunamite woman who became his patron, offering him food and lodging whenever he was In town. She had been unable to have children and Elisha prayed for her and she had a son. When the son died of an illness, she called for Elijah who, in turn, called on God to heal the child and he was brought back to life.
Act 5: Elisha Thwarts the Army of Aram (pp 211-212)
“‘Do not kill them, [Elisha] answered. ‘Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.’”
During Elisha’s lifetime, Israel was at war with many of the neighbouring countries. During the war with Aram God revealed their battle plans to the army of Israel through Elisha. Discovering that Elisha was a dangerous asset, the King of Aram sent men to capture Elisha. Instead of capturing him, the army of Aram was captured by the army of God (soldiers and chariots of fire) and rendered blind. Elisha then led the blind men into the heart of the Israelite stronghold of Samaria. However, Elisha counseled kindness rather than killing and when they regained their sight the army of Aram were treated to a banquet and sent back to their king. This stopped the war.
Act 6: Amos and Hosea and Things to Come (pp. 213-217)
During the time when Elisha was prophet in Israel other prophets arose to warn the people of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) of the consequences of failing to follow God. Two of these prophets were Amos and Hosea. Sadly, Israel did not heed the warnings, as we will see in the chapters to come.
Looking back at the story of the prophets, it is clear that the monarchies of Israel have been failures, just as was predicted back in chapter 10 when the people called for a king and Saul was crowned. Since that point God had moved through the king, when they would listen, and as the king went so too did the people. However, it was clear by the end of chapter 14 that this was not working. The kingdom had been divided and very few kings followed God. And so God raised up prophets to speak to the people on his behalf.
Q1: According to the stories In Chapter 15, what was the role of the prophet in Israel? What kind of activities were they known for?
Q2: After Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal he went into a deep depression. What was his response to this depression? What was God’s response to Elijah?
Q3: Discuss the effectiveness of Elisha’s response to the capture of the soldiers of Aram. What were the risks and benefits to kindness rather than killing in that case?
Kings, prophets, the Word of God, the wisdom of people. Those are recurring themes in The Story thus far but they are also themes in our own lives. The definitions have changed a bit, for example, we have exchanged kings for politicians and celebrities, but we still tend to listen to those four voices when we are looking for truth.
Think about the influences around you when you need to make important decisions.
Q1: How do you think you aught you rank these influences, from most to least (discuss):
Politicians and Celebrities
The Wisdom of Friends/Family/Acquaintances
Your own wisdom (or wisdom you get directly from God)
Q2: How do you actually rank these Influences (based on your own experience)?
Q3: Discuss your Influences and what you should or could change about them.
As you consider the voices of influence in your life pray that you would cultivate a listening ear for the right voices ad learn to disregard the voices that can do you harm.