When the Israelites decided they wanted kings, they inadvertently set themselves up for greater lapses in sin and its punishment. To be sure, sin exists regardless, but appointing men as kings creates a greater margin for error since men are fallible by nature. The only exception to this was King David, a man after the Lord’s own heart. Unfortunately, the majority did not follow David’s footsteps, including his son, Solomon. Solomon started off faithful, building the Lord’s temple as his father commanded and seeking wisdom on his own accord. However, his later years established an era of corrupt kings.
Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Among them were women from foreign nations God had forbidden Israelites from marrying into. Some of these wives led him to worship their gods. King Solomon constructed altars for Ashtoreth and Molech, deities of the Sidonians and Ammonites. His faltering faith caused God to split His people’s kingdom in half. There was now a king of Israel and a king of Judah (9-13).
The following years sprout disobedient rulers in both kingdoms, but the worst were the kings of Israel. One such king was Ahab, who married Jezebel, a Sidonian who worshipped Baal and Asherah. Like Solomon, Ahab built altars and followed these false gods, too (1 Kings 16:30-33). It is during this reign of depravity that the Lord sends His prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, to confront Ahab.
Elijah has a staggering first appearance, informing the king, “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 (1 Kings 17:1).” It’s interesting to reflect on what this penalty symbolized. It could pertain to Ahab’s lack of thirst for righteousness or the absence of a faithful heart. In either case, there’s much more to discuss.
Elijah’s days as a prophet are just as mystical and mysterious as his ascension in a whirlwind and furthermore binds the Old Testament with the New Testament; there are keen similarities between the miracles Elijah performed with those his Lord, Jesus Christ, did in the Gospel. When read closely, various holy numbers are present when each enacted a miracle.
When performing a miracle strengthened by Christ, Elijah would often do things three times. When he healed the widow’s son in Zarephath, he “stretched himself out on the boy three times” and pleaded with God to restore him (1 Kings 17:21).
On a side note, this was the second miracle Elijah had assisted in bringing to this widow. Prior to her son’s recovery, the widow had been granted an infinite supply of flour and oil (14). It took a second miracle for her to believe in God. Getting back on topic, Elijah employed the same numerical pattern on Mount Carmel, instructing Israelites to pour water on an altar prepared for the Lord three times (1 Kings 18:33-35). After they did this, “the fire of the Lord” consumed the sacrifice (38).
This action was done to validate God’s supremacy and to bring back those led astray. According to an article on Listverse.com, “3 is the number of the Trinity, of course, and thus, indicates a wholeness, but it also seems to indicate an inner sanctity (“Top 10 Significant Numbers in Biblical Numerology”).” For Elijah, there is a dual meaning. It refers to God, the father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; it also represents the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The “inner sanctity” the source describes alludes to Peter, James, and John, the disciples Jesus loved most because of their devout faith in Him. These three were the only ones to accompany Christ when He revived the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:35-43).
It’s fascinating that Elijah and Jesus both brought the dead back to life (Elijah accomplished his feat empowered by Christ). Even more interesting is the appearance of “three” in both miracles.
Seven is another number implemented by the enigmatic prophet and his Lord. The article mentions that seven signifies perfection. This holy number is invoked in the aftermath of the Lord consuming Elijah’s sacrifice on Mount Carmel. Kneeling prostrate at the mountain’s peak, Elijah told his servant to “look toward the sea” seven times (1 Kings: 18:43). After the seventh, a storm cloud began to materialize (44). Scripture tells us, “The power of the Lord came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel (45).” Clearly, the speed with which he traveled correlates with perfection. Christians are often told, “With Jesus, all things are possible.” This affirms it.
The article points out that Jesus really suffered seven afflictions on the Cross, including “both hands, the thorns, the spear, the flogging itself, and both feet.”
The totality of each laceration, bore for our benefit, displays not only Christ’s love for us, but His divinity, too. He is holy. In addition, it was in the “seventh hour” that Jesus healed a royal official’s son in Capernaum (John 4:43-54). The resulting miracle instilled faith in the official’s household.
Aside from the numbers associated with miracles, there was also one to describe perseverance during hard times, forty. According to the article, “It is the traditional Hebrew number for the duration of a trial of any kind, when times are hard and a person’s faith is tested.” After Elijah had Baal’s prophets killed, Jezebel sought his murder (1 Kings 19:1-2). He fled to Mount Horeb; the journey lasted “forty days and forty nights (8).” The harsh sojourn was worth it for God sustained Elijah and gave him guidance on what to do next, plus a successor, Elisha (15-18).
The same burdensome number presented itself when Jesus was tempted by Satan (Matt 4:1-11). Matthew wrote, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry (2).” His trial then commenced. We again see the use of “three” as Jesus is tempted that many times by Satan. In spite of all He’s offered, Jesus resists every step of the way and is comforted by angels at His trial’s end.
In addition to the similarities of their miracles and hardships, there are deeper ties between Elijah and Jesus, including the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-11). Before I continue, I must explain what transfigure means. Dictionary.com lists two definitions; “transfigure” means “to change in outward form or appearance” or “to change so as to glorify or exalt.” The account given in the Gospel is a combination of the two. Jesus transformed into His true and divine self. Matthew describes how Christ’s face “shone like the sun” and his garments “became as white as the light (2).” Shortly thereafter, Moses and Elijah appeared “talking with Jesus (3).” It’s clearly apparent that this passage is providing a glimpse of heaven. It’s also to be noted that only Peter, James, and John were privy to this celestial sight, another example of three, the Trinity notation. Elijah is definitely a reputable prophet to be conversing with the Lord. Of the dozens, he was chosen to be a part of the Transfiguration. The two are further linked in Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament.
There is a prophecy of Elijah’s return as a precursor to Christ’s as Malachi writes:
“See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse (Mal 4:5-6).”
Some believe John the Baptist was Elijah and thus fulfilled the prophecy. While it’s true John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord, even he denied being the famed prophet (John 1:21). Careful reading of the passage reveals when Elijah will return. Being that Malachi describes it, in part, as the “dreadful day of the Lord,” I surmise he’s alluding to the Second Coming of Christ. For those left behind, it will be a terrifying and bleak time.
Thus, Elijah and his Lord, Jesus Christ, are forever connected through their miracles, hardships, and this exciting prophecy. Time will tell when Elijah returns and paves the path for the Second Coming. Will his reappearance be as unfathomable as his departure? Only God holds that answer.