Biography of Elijah, Old Testament Prophet
Elijah was an important Israelite prophet whose name in Hebrew means “my Lord is Jehovah.” Accounts of Elijah’s life and actions are recorded through 1 and 2 Kings. Aside from coming from the village of Tosabe in Gilead (about which nothing is known), nothing is recorded about his background before he appears suddenly to promote traditional, orthodox Jewish beliefs.
When Did Elijah Live?
Elijah is described as having lived during the reigns of Israelite kings Ahab, Ahaziah, and Jehoram, so during the first half of the 9th century BCE.
His first appearance is about half way through the reign of king Ahab, son of Omri (who founded the northern kingdom in Samaria), which would put him at about 864 BCE.
Where Did Elijah Live?
Elijah’s activities were confined to the northern kingdom of Israel. At times he is recorded as having to flee from Ahab’s wrath, taking refuge in a Phoenician city for example.
What Did Elijah Do?
Stories about Elijah are primarily about his battles against the foreign god Baal and Baal's various priestly representatives. King Ahab had formed strong ties with Phoenician states and,
in the process, had become lax in maintaining strict religious purity. He even went so far as to marry Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon and worshipper of foreign gods. He allowed her to promote her religion and this led to Ahab being treated as one of the worst of the Israelite kings.
Why Was Elijah Important?
Elijah is regarded as a “reformer” prophet — his purpose was to call the Israelites back to the worship of Yahweh and away from the evil pagan religious cults that were growing in popularity.
The conflicts between Elijah and the priests of Baal are struggles to see which is stronger: Hebrew monotheism or pagan polytheism.
According to 2 Kings, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Jewish tradition has it, then, that Elijah is not really dead — he continues to wander the earth and will reappear once again when it is time to announce the arrival of the Messiah.
For this reason, many early Christians identified John the Baptist with Elijah because John announced the arrival of Jesus.