Elijah, a Man Like Us

“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months” (James 5:17)

James wanted to encourage the recipients of his letter when he called Elijah a man “just like us.” But when we think of Elijah, what comes to mind are the miraculous, supernatural stories: the raising of a dead man, never-ending food supplies, heavenly fire that ignited sacrifices and judged people, and, finally, an ascension. In view of the multitude of miracles, it seems appropriate to explicitly point out once again that Elijah was also only human.

Elijah would surely have been the first to confirm this. He certainly did not feel special. When he fled into the desert after God’s judgment on Mount Carmel, he prayed, tired of life: “I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). Yet there was something that set him apart from his ancestors, because God was able to work so much more through him, and for good reason. The AMPC translation describes the verse from the letter of James as follows: “Elijah was a human being with a nature such as we have [with feelings, affections, and a constitution like ours]; and he prayed earnestly.”

Elijah had the same worries and difficulties as other people. He lived in an environment where godlessness was rampant, where, under the leadership of Queen Jezebel, new evil was constantly being devised to harm the godly, or even, if at all possible, to eradicate them. Like us, Elijah had a decision to make: to obey or to resist, to fear God or renounce his faith. What set Elijah apart from his contemporaries was a great knowledge of God and a willing submission to His ways. Elijah did not arbitrarily punish apostate Israel with drought or fire. He obediently fulfilled the will of God in the knowledge that God keeps His promises: the blessing as well as the curse that God had already proclaimed from Mount Ebal at the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 27:13), when He threatened Israel with severe punishment if they were to forsake His ways. Elijah acted with confidence in a living God and introduced His prophecy to King Ahab with the words: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand” (1 Kings 17:1).

It is not clear from the text whether Ahab initially attached any particular importance to Elijah’s prophecies. But as his despair over the drought in his land grew, his efforts to find Elijah became more and more urgent. There was not a nation or kingdom in the area that was not sent to to locate this man who had prophesied disaster. But he seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth. When he finally reappeared three years later, Ahab initially saw him as someone “who troubled Israel” and later, instigated by his godless wife, even as his enemy. It was only when Elijah urgently prophesied the downfall of his house to the king that Ahab realized his situation and humbled himself before God.

It cannot be assumed that Elijah found all his assignments pleasant. Neither the slaughter of the priests of Baal nor God’s call to appear before the king as a prophet of doom must have been easy for him. But Elijah had decided to serve God and did not allow himself to be dissuaded even by the most adverse circumstances, which filled some of his fellow men with incomprehension, others with suspicion, and Jezebel even with thoughts of murder. King Ahab was also unable to fathom the source of Elijah’s strength. Although he grew up as a descendant of Abraham, his spiritual blindness did not allow him to understand, unlike the pagan-educated widow of Zarephath, who, after Elijah had raised her son from the dead, had to confess: “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24).

Elijah’s obedience and earnest prayer enabled him to stand before God in obedience throughout his life. He did not have to use long prayers. While the priests of Baal used all their powers from morning till noon and had no success, Elijah prayed an earnest but short prayer: he asked God to glorify Himself, to confess his obedience and to convert the heart of the people. It was these requests that enabled God to particularly bless his prophetic work. Elijah did not seek his own glory but the glory of God. He did not attribute the miracles and signs he performed to himself, but to the Almighty. And it was the people of Israel whose repentance was so close to his heart. That was the goal of his work and the zeal with which he served his God.

James’ reference to the fact that God so clearly acknowledged the prayers of a man who was “like us” should be an incentive for us to seek experiences with God – not to sensationally let fire fall from heaven “as Elijah did” but to walk the path of obedience and earnest prayer in the spirit of Christ, so that God can also fulfill our requests. 

Corinna Schulz

Hamm, Germany

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