Three thousand years ago there were two nations that sprung from Israel, or Jacob - the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The story of Elijah is set in Israel, the northern kingdom. It has the classic confrontation between the courageous prophet, Elijah, and Ahab and Jezebel, the wicked King and Queen who had introduced idolatry into the land and murdered all the prophets of Jehovah (the Old Testament name for God).
The worship of Jehovah was based on the Ten Commandments, and on rituals prescribed in the Old Testament. In spite of this, the kings and the people often turned to idolatry, as Ahab and Jezebel did.
Worshipping idols was more attractive for several reasons. First, the idols allowed excesses - adultery and debauchery often formed part of their rituals. Second, the priests would require such horrible things as infant sacrifices, which were supposed to hold magical promises of future benefits. Third, idol worship allowed the people, or the priests, to make up their own rules, which often favored the very evils the Ten Commandments forbade.
There were very good reasons, indeed, why the First of the Ten Commandments was “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:3-5). This story is told at a time when the kingdom of Israel, led by its rulers, had delved deeply into idolatry.
Elijah, the greatest prophet in Old Testament times, stood alone in Israel, fighting to return the people to the worship of the true God, Jehovah. He faced a wicked king and queen, and 850 prophets who served idols. Through the remarkable miracles the Lord performed for him, the people were returned to Jehovah.
This Biblical narrative contains a spiritual story, which tells of our own progress toward worshiping the Lord in our lives. Elijah’s eventful life is the story of our convictions. If we strive to make our faith work to change our lives, we will risk opposition from our more destructive feelings. If we persist, then Elijah’s miracles have a counterpart in our minds and hearts. This is how the Lord helps us to change our way of life and start on the path to heaven.
Elijah the Great Prophet
He came out of nowhere in the darkest days of the country’s spiritual life. Probably he had lived in the wild region beyond the river Jordan, the eastern boundary of the land.
The King and Queen, Ahab and Jezebel, had gone more deeply into idolatry than any rulers before them. Jezebel had imported the worship of Baal and Ashteroth (or “Asherah”) from Syria, and killed all the prophets of Jehovah. The people were confused. Should they serve Jehovah, the God of Israel, who had strict laws of moral behavior? Or should they serve the gods of their rulers, gods who allowed all sorts of wicked (but appealing) acts, supposedly in the name of religion? Elijah confronted the rulers and through a series of miracles turned the nation back to the worship of Jehovah.
Elijah was a great prophet, but also a very human one. When the son of the widow with whom he was staying died, he was devastated, and cried out to Jehovah. When he won a contest against the prophets of Baal and the drought ended, he ran in excitement before the King’s chariot, many miles to the capital city. When Jezebel threatened his life, he was frightened and despaired. He ran away and asked to die.
His story is our story. His strengths are ours, and so are his weaknesses. Each time the Lord gives him a miracle, it tells of a miracle He performs in individual human lives, millions of times each century, to allow people to turn from selfishness, give them courage to transform their spiritual lives and prepare for heaven.
What does Elijah represent in our lives?
Elijah was a prophet of the true God. He heard from Jehovah and spoke Jehovah’s words. He represents the truth of the Lord’s Word in our minds. His name is important. It means “The One whose God is Jehovah.” He dedicated his life to that cause. His name tells how we can live in such a way that the Lord is our God. Not just God: but our God.
Remember that everything in the Elijah story speaks of what happens in our minds. All the people, all the events, all the places, stand for a human condition which is common to each of us. As you follow this journey, see it as the way in which your convictions fight against your darker side; and if you choose your convictions, miracles can happen to you, and you are able to make the journey to unselfish love.
Choosing Elijah instead of Ahab, Jezebel and the false prophets
If we want to “live courageously,” we must start by identifying what is wrong in us. Ahab and Jezebel stand for our selfish and worldly loves. It is not that the loves of self and the world are bad in themselves, but when they are “king and queen” in our lives, they produce destructive feelings, thoughts and actions. The first and most positive step is to identify our most pressing weakness or evil, and see it as opposed to God’s will. This is called “repentance” — the willingness to look inside ourselves, realize where selfishness has led us into real turmoil, and be willing to turn from it.
When we identify a specific evil in ourselves and resist it because God forbids it, then we have started our journey to heaven.
The spiritual Elijah story relies on us to make that decision — to identify our most destructive tendencies and decide to get rid of them. “Shunning evils” sounds negative. In fact, it is the most positive thing we can do, because we are deciding not to do the things that hurt others. What is God’s gift once we do this? He inspires in us a willingness to do what is good.
Is everything we do good from then on? Of course not. We will slip at times or act from weakness at times. But He is leading us away from a state of destructive self-love. This leadership, which, for the most part, is silent and invisible in our lives, is powerfully described in the miracles of Elijah.
Note that in none of the stories that follow does Elijah fail. He struggles. He grieves. But in all of them he triumphs. He is fighting what seem to be overwhelming odds. All the other prophets have been killed. The king and queen and all the powers of the land are against him. He takes his strength from Jehovah God. Each story tells of a miracle Jehovah did for him, until his eventual victory and ascent into heaven.
His courageous campaign against the forces of evil in his land pictures the way the Lord subdues and conquers everything in us that opposes our journey toward heaven.
The Living Courageously Workbook was designed for spiritual growth programs, and is best used in connection with small group and church activity. The Elijah story in the Bible contains infinite divine truth, and this program is just one possible way of applying it. It is an encouragement for you to make your own application as the Lord leads you. Swedenborg's Writings show us that all the stories of the Word have a deeper, internal meaning that relates to our relationships with the Lord and other people. The concepts that are brought forward in this Workbook have their foundation in these teachings.
Instead of using the Workbook, you may sign up for daily emails. These include readings, reflections, tasks, etc, for the program.