It is hard to imagine a more dramatic biblical figure than the prophet Elijah (
Did you know…?
- Elijah’s name, Eliyahu, means “My God is Yahweh.”
- The Elijah narrative took shape in the northern kingdom of Israel.
- Elijah is clearly portrayed as “a prophet like Moses.”
- Elijah is the only prophet in the Hebrew Bible who appoints his own successor.
- At Mount Horeb, Elijah is charged with anointing three individuals: Elisha, as his successor; Hazael, as king of Aram; and Jehu, as king of Israel. Elijah anoints only Elisha; it is Elisha who anoints the other two individuals.
- Elijah and his successor Elisha worked in connection with “the sons of the prophets,” most likely a prophetic guild.
- Because Elijah does not die—he is carried to heaven in a whirlwind by a “chariot of fire and horses of fire” (
2Kgs 2:11)—he is available to return to usher in “the great and terrible day of the Lord” ( Mal 4:5).
What does the ‘sound of sheer silence’ say about social change?
Elijah is portrayed as a kind of lone ranger, a hero who saves Israelite religion by staging a fiery contest on Mount Carmel and proving decisively that Baal does not hold a candle to the biblical deity, Yahweh. In the flush of victory, Elijah slaughters the prophets of Baal, rouses Queen Jezebel’s ire, and flees for his life to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God. There, hidden in a cleft that once sheltered Moses, Elijah complains, rather ironically given the outcome of the contest, that he and he alone of all Israel serves Yahweh zealously. Then, after being buffeted by wind, fire, and earthquake, Elijah hears a soft murmuring sound, the “sound of sheer silence” (often translated as a “still, small voice” of God; (
Why isn’t there a mentor handbook for prophets?
Prophets were active in actual communities, and one of the ways in which their social connectedness was made visible was through mentoring those communities. Indeed, Elijah becomes the quintessential mentor whose task it is to reconcile parents and children (
Since there was no definitive line of prophetic succession in this early period of Israel’s history, it is not surprising that there was no mentor handbook that one prophet passed on to the next. What there was, however, was time together, an apprenticeship period, perhaps, as was common in other professions at the time. It may be that this apprenticeship took place within the small prophetic communities known as “sons of the prophets.” There, mentor and protégé could share successes and failures, important information could be imparted and passed on, and the spirit that those in power sought to silence could be nurtured and fanned into flame.