Saturday, February 18, 2012

Elijah – Fire and Rain

(This study looks at the rather spectacular life of Elijah. Part 2 next week. The goal is for the students to practice some question posing. I'll add their questions afterward. I'd love it if you left your questions in the comments.)

Starter question: Jesus appears in glory at the Empire State Building. With him are two great figures from the Old Testament. Whom do you think?

Mark 9:2-8
After six days Jesus took only Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s put up three tents—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Peter didn’t know how to respond. He and the others were terrified.) Then a cloud overshadowed them. A voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, as they looked around, they saw no one with them but Jesus.

So who is this mystery man? What do you know about him already?

Towards the end of the last prophecy of the Old Testament, there is this…
Malachi 4:2-5
“The Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings for you people who fear my name. You will go out and leap like calves let out of a stall. 3You will trample on wicked people, because on the day I act they will be ashes under the soles of your feet,” says the Lord of Armies.
“Remember the teachings of my servant Moses, the rules and regulations that I gave to him at Horeb for all Israel.  “I’m going to send you the prophet Elijah before that very terrifying day of the Lord comes. 6He will change parents’ attitudes toward their children and children’s attitudes toward their parents. If not, I will come and reclaim my land by destroying you.”

800 years before Jesus, after Israel had separated into the kingdoms of Israel (north) and Judah (south), was the time of Elijah.  When we first hear of Elijah, Ahab is king , married to Jezebel. He is a Baal worshipper and described as more evil than all the kings before him.  Jezebel became a word used to describe a wicked woman.

1 Kings 17
1Elijah, who was from Tishbe but had settled in Gilead, said to Ahab, “I solemnly swear, as the Lord God of Israel whom I serve lives, there will be no dew or rain during the next few years unless I say so.”
(2-10) The Lord then sends Elijah to live in the wilderness by a river east of the Jordan. Ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and the evening. When the stream dried up, the Lord sent him to a widow at Zarepath. When he got there, he met her while she gathered wood.

10He called to her, “Please bring me a drink of water.” 11As she was going to get it, he called to her again, “Please bring me a piece of bread too.” 12She said, “I solemnly swear, as the Lord your God lives, I didn’t bake any bread. I have one handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I’m gathering wood. I’m going to prepare something for myself and my son so that we can eat it and then die.” 13Then Elijah told her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home, and do as you’ve said. But first make a small loaf and bring it to me. Then prepare something for yourself and your son. 14This is what the Lord God of Israel says: Until the Lord sends rain on the land, the jar of flour will never be empty and the jug will always contain oil.” 15She did what Elijah had told her. So she, Elijah, and her family had food for a long time. 16The jar of flour never became empty, and the jug always contained olive oil, as the Lord had promised through Elijah.

17Afterwards, the son of the woman who owned the house got sick. He got so sick that finally no life was left in him. 18The woman asked Elijah, “What do you and I have in common, man of God?[a] Did you come here to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” 19He said to her, “Give me your son.” Elijah took him from her arms, carried him to the upstairs room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. 20Then he called to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought misery on the widow I’m staying with by killing her son?” 21Then Elijah stretched himself over the boy three times and called to the Lord, “Lord my God, please make this child’s life return to him.” 22The Lord heard Elijah’s request, and the child’s life returned to him. He was alive again. 23Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upstairs room of the house, and gave him to his mother. He said, “Look! Your son is alive.” 24The woman said to Elijah, “Now I’m convinced that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is true.”

What bible study questions would you write for this?

(1 Kings 18:1-16) In the third year of the drought, the Lord sends Elijah back to Ahab. In turns out that Ahab has been scouring the country for Elijah, but was unable to find him.
17When he saw Elijah, Ahab said, “Is that you, you troublemaker of Israel?” 18Elijah answered, “I haven’t troubled Israel. You and your father’s family have done it by disobeying the Lord’s commands and following the various Baal gods. 19Order all Israel to gather around me on Mount Carmel. And bring the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah who eat at Jezebel’s table.” 20Ahab sent word to all the Israelites and brought the prophets together on Mount Carmel. 21Elijah stood up in front of all the people and asked them, “How long will you try to have it both ways? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal is God, follow him.” The people didn’t say a word. 22So Elijah told the people, “I’m the only surviving prophet of the Lord, but there are 450 prophets of Baal. 23Give us two bulls. Let the prophets of Baal choose one for themselves, cut it into pieces, lay it on the wood, but not set it on fire. I’ll do the same with the other bull. 24You call on the name of your gods, but I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire is the real God.” All the people answered, “That’s fine.”

25Elijah told the prophets of Baal, “Choose one bull for yourselves. Prepare yours first, because there are more of you. Call on the name of your god, but don’t set the wood on fire.” 26They took the bull he gave them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon. They said, “Baal, answer us!” But there wasn’t a sound or an answer. So they danced around the altar they had made. 27At noon Elijah started to make fun of them. “Shout louder, since he is a god. Maybe he’s thinking, relieving himself, or traveling! Maybe he’s sleeping, and you have to wake him!” 28So they shouted louder. They also cut themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed. (This is what their ritual called for.) 29In the afternoon they continued to rant and rave until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no sound, no answer, no attention given to them.

(30-33) So then Elijah called the people to him. He built an altar with 12 stones, 1 for each son of Jacob. He arranged the wood, cut up the bull and put the meat on the altar.

34He said, “Fill four jars with water. Pour the water on the offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it again,” and they did it again. Then he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. 35The water flowed around the altar, and even the trench was filled with water. 36When it was time to offer the sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward. He said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make known today that you are God in Israel and that I’m your servant and have done all these things by your instructions. 37Answer me, Lord! Answer me! Then these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you are winning back their hearts.” 38So a fire from the Lord fell down and consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dirt. The fire even dried up the water that was in the trench. 39All the people saw it and immediately bowed down to the ground. “The Lord is God!” they said. “The Lord is God!” 40Elijah told them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let any of them escape.” The people seized them, and Elijah took them to the Kishon River and slaughtered them there.

What bible study questions would you write for this?

EDIT: as promised, the youth-generated questions.
  • How long had the drought been going on when Elijah met the widow? Was she suffereing from the drought or just poor? 
  • What's the chances that a dusty man asking for food is a prophet that is going to give you a magic jar of flour and oil?
  • How old was the son?
  • Why did the widow not have faith in Elijah after the magic jars?
  • Why didn't Elijah/God heal the boy when he was just sick?
  • Is this the first resurrection story in the bible?
  • Why aren't the prophets of Asherah involved in the fire competition?
  • Why have a god who makes you cut yourself?
  • Where did Elijah get the water for this stunt after 3 years of drought?
  • Did God really want all those priests killed? Why take them to the river to kill them? Were they going to die anyway? How were they actually killed?
  • What about the people who turn back to Yahweh here? Are they sincere or just backing a winner?
  • Is the Old Testament God merciful?

We closed by singing the awesome Robin Mark song:

Image credit: kerolic, hoyasmeg @ Flickr

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