Elijah The Broken Prophet -- By: Ronald Barclay Allen

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 22:3 (Sep 1979)
Article: Elijah The Broken Prophet
Author: Ronald Barclay Allen

Elijah The Broken Prophet

Ronald Barclay Allen*

Then the prophet Elijah arose like a fire, and his word burned like a torch (Sir 48:1 RSV).

It is hard to imagine a more dramatic OT character than the prophet Elijah. From his stunning appearance in the court of Ahab on Mount Samaria to his memorable association with our Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration he demonstrates himself to be truly significant in the OT record. His dramatic character and his enduring importance may hardly be questioned. The extensive section of the book of Kings describing the reign of Ahab likely depends not on the infamy of the king but on the greatness of Elijah, who was the prophet of Yahweh in Israel’s darkest hour.1

Nevertheless, for all of his importance, we are troubled by Elijah. There are at least three issues raised in the mind of the thoughtful reader in confronting the Elijah narrative: (1) the nature of his miracles, (2) the problem of his character, and (3) his place in prophetism.

All of us are impressed with the spectacular element in Elijah’s miracles. But, we wonder, were these done only to startle, to impress, to terrify? Was this section of the Bible preserved only to entertain? Or is there not something more profound underlying these graphic miracles? Is there not a level at which they may be seen to be didactic and theological?

In addition to the problem provoked by Elijah’s miracles there is the perplexity we feel concerning his character. On the one hand his very name evokes strong images in all who have even a cursory acquaintance with the OT historical narratives. He is a figure of bold action who has about himself an air of mystery. Yet he has his darker side too. Some might want to use an entirely different set of adjectives for this “other” Elijah: moody, depressed, paranoid—even afraid!

Finally, compounding the difficulties we have concerning his miracles and his character is our question concerning Elijah’s role in prophetism and his place in Heilsgeschichte. Why was he selected to appear along with Moses when Jesus revealed his glory for a moment to his closest disciples?

Let us look at these three questions in somewhat more detail.

I. The Problem Of His Miracles

Likely the nature of our difficulty in understanding the miracles of Elijah lies not in disbelieving that they might have happened so much as wondering why they ever would have been done. Some readers of Scripture are content, of course,

*Ronald Allen is professor of Old Testament language and exegesis ...

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