It is probably now about 864bc
Read 1 Kings 19:15-22
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.
Look again at verse 15: Go back the way you came.
An interesting phrase. Normally, if you carefully went back the way you had come, it would only be because you were looking for something you had lost. And basically, Elijah had lost his confidence in the Lord. Now, as he went back he would discover for himself that he really could trust the Lord again.
Jezebel’s threats were no more than that. In the few weeks that Elijah had been away there really had been a changed mood in the people and for a while at least, she would have to tread carefully. If she attempted to harm Elijah she may well have been lynched by the crowds. In fact, since Jehovah God had demonstrated his supremacy his disciples were now able to come out of hiding, and the Schools of the Prophets were again beginning to meet openly.
So God’s first command is to ‘go back the way you came’. Show on map. All the time, as he gradually entered more and more populated territory, first through ‘Bible Belt’ of Judah and then into Israel itself, he discovered for himself that it was actually now safe to be seen.
Maybe as he met people on the road in Judah, he may at first have been greeted as an itinerant prophet, and by the time he reached Israel it is possible that there were some who had been on Carmel and who actually recognized him and welcomed his return. Certainly everyone would still be talking about the amazing things that had happened.
But God’s command continues: ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus.’
So why couldn’t he stay in Israel?
Because he had been explicitly told to go to the Desert of Damascus!
But what other reason meant that it was best that he should remain hidden for a while?
The popularity of Elijah could almost elevate him to be seen as a god in the eyes of the people. Not good for Elijah, and not good for the people, now rediscovering who the true God was.
Does it also contain the suggestion to ‘Go back – home’ ?
Elijah was supposed to cross the Jordan and set off for the Desert of Damascus. Show on map
Maybe travelling through the area where he could meet his family and friends that he hadn’t seen for over 3 years.
Of the three things Elijah had been told to do, which would you think Elijah would have found easiest?
Verse 15: ‘anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.’ (Abel Meholah was a small town on the Jordan, about half-way between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea)
Hazael was at this time only a palace official. In order for him to become king Hazael would actually first have to kill Hadadezer (Ben-Hadad II), king of the Arameans. They were a strong nation just to the North-East of Israel, and relations with them were never very good. Often they were actually at war with Israel. So would it be the right thing to do to anoint Hazael as king?
Jehu was the commander of Israel’s army, and he would have to stage a military coup and kill Ahab in order to claim the throne, and that also wouldn’t go down very well. Should Elijah hold off from anointing him as well?
And for Elijah to anoint his own successor when he might have hoped that he was going to be restored might not really help his own recovery. But it’s very tempting to be able to pass on the work to someone else!
Whether led by God, or because Elijah thought meeting Elisha would be easiest, we are not told. But Elijah was led to the field where Elisha was working. And it will be Elisha who announced to Hazael that he will succeed as king of Aram, and it will also be Elisha who will finally send another prophet to anoint Jehu. (2 Kings 8-9)
1 Kings 19:19-21
19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the ploughing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.
It is tempting at this point to look at the prophet Elisha, but that is not the purpose of this series of studies and will have to wait for another time. For now we will follow the events in Israel’s history and look for those passages which touch on the rest of Elijah’s life.
We looked a moment ago at the problems Elijah was faced with in carrying out God’s instructions. How it wasn't politically expedient to anoint Hazael just yet.
Who says so? Does God really know what he’s doing? Elijah had been taught to go immediately where God sends, but this is a different Elijah now, and for whatever reason, he doesn’t go to Damascus. Which is a shame, because God does actually know what he is doing and what is going to happen and (although we’ll never know) the anointing of Hazael would probably have had a major influence on what happened next.
Hazael was an official at the palace in Damascus. For him to become king he would probably have already been in a senior position, and would have had a powerful personality, one who was very useful to have on your side, but a danger if he chose to turn against you. And he probably already had friends in the palace who were quite happy to follow him if he chose to assume power.
To be anointed King might be just the catalyst needed to trigger a coup.
But Elijah chose not to anoint him. So what did happen next? Ben-Hadad (Hadadezer), the king of the Arameans attacked Israel and laid siege to Ahab’s capital, Samaria (1 Kings 20. 862bc). Let’s read from 1 Kings 20:13-22
13 Meanwhile a prophet came to Ahab king of Israel and announced, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the LORD'
14 “But who will do this?” asked Ahab.
The prophet replied, “This is what the LORD says: ‘The young officers of the provincial commanders will do it.’
“And who will start the battle?” he asked.
The prophet answered, “You will.”
This seems to be a diffferent Ahab.
An Ahab who unquestioningly accepts that the prophet - and the Lord - is to be obeyed. (I wonder why the Lord didn't send Elijah?)
Now read from verse 15
15 So Ahab summoned the young officers of the provincial commanders, 232 men. Then he assembled the rest of the Israelites, 7,000 in all. 16 They set out at noon while Ben-Hadad and the 32 kings allied with him were in their tents getting drunk. 17 The young officers of the provincial commanders went out first.
Now Ben-Hadad had dispatched scouts, who reported, “Men are advancing from Samaria.”
18 He said, “If they have come out for peace, take them alive; if they have come out for war, take them alive.”
19 The young officers of the provincial commanders marched out of the city with the army behind them 20 and each one struck down his opponent. At that, the Arameans fled, with the Israelites in pursuit. But Ben-Hadad king of Aram escaped on horseback with some of his horsemen. 21 The king of Israel advanced and overpowered the horses and chariots and inflicted heavy losses on the Arameans.
22 Afterwards, the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, “Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because next spring the king of Aram will attack you again.”
So in the Spring (861bc) he did attack again and this time Ben-Hadad was captured. Ahab then made a treaty with him and let him go.
But a Prophet (again, not Elijah) was sent to Ahab with a message from the Lord:
1 Kings 20:42-43
42 He said to the king, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die. Therefore it is your life for his life, your people for his people.’ ” 43 Sullen and angry, the king of Israel went to his palace in Samaria.
Note again “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have set free a man I had determined should die” So it seems that Elijah should have anointed Hazael king. And now Ahab has joined Elijah in delaying God’s plan.
Now we come to chapter 21 and we will need to read quite a lot of it. But before we read the whole passage, let’s read verses 25 and 26
25 (There was never a man like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel.)
And as far as Elijah could see, even though the people had been punished with a three-year drought, Ahab himself had not been punished at all.