The name Elijah means “my God is Yah” (Hebrew: אֱלִיָּהוּ) where “Yah” is an abbreviation of the Sacred Name. Many Carmelites have adopted his words as their motto: Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum, quoting the words of Elijah from the 1 Kings, 19:10: “With zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts.” Elijah is known to this day for the zeal that consumed him: to serve and advance the cause of God against the forces of evil in the world. He represents a special kind of divine servant, one that serves under total opposition against impossible odds and prevails by the power of God.
After Elijah defeated the priests of Baal, the ire of queen Jezebel flared against the prophet. Notice that Jezebel is not impressed by the extraordinary miracle that had taken place. The fire of God consumed the soaking wet sacrifice presented by Elijah but the servants of Baal could not match this extraordinary manifestation of the awesome power of the true God. Finally Elijah “hacks to pieces” the pagan priests in a scene very reminiscent of the expulsion of the Temple merchants by Our Lord. Right after that, God shows He is pleased with Elijah’s actions by bringing rain over the land after seven years of drought. Queen Jezebel is not amused, to say the least.
1 Kings 19:1-9 — Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.
These two chapters of 1 Kings 18-19 are fraught with meaning and special messages for us. It is good to read them often and draw comfort from Elijah’s experience in fighting evil. The message that jumps from those pages is clear: we are not supposed to live side by side with evil, God “has not given us a spirit of cowardice” (2Timothy 1:7) but invites to relish in combat against our mortal enemy just like Elijah did.
Knowing that the queen and her army were going to comb the country looking for him, Elijah flees to the wilderness in haste, forgetting to take provisions for the journey. He falls exhausted, and asks God to put an end to his life. This is a good example of the futility of puny human efforts against the reality of evil. Even with two astonishing miracles seen by many – the burning of the sacrifices and the miraculous rain – the hardened sinners still want to resist God and kill Elijah. Just like Jesus fell under the weight of the Cross and had to be helped by Simon of Cyrene, Elijah had to be comforted and fed by an angel of the Lord. God is saying to all of us: “I know you can’t do it alone but I ask you for your utmost while I will supply what is lacking.”
Hiding in the cave, the Almighty comes to visit Elijah.
1 Kings 19:10-18 — And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 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. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 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. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
The unsparing force of wind, the mysterious fertility of earth, and the awesome destructive power of fire were revered as gods by ancient man. Elijah is shown various manifestations of those primal forces. Certainly is the power of God that brings this catalog of strengths before the prophet’s eyes but God is not in them. Where is God? Where is the power that will eventually defeat evil? Where? God’s power is in Elijah’s zeal: Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum. The Almighty Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, is moving human weakness against the evil powers that have hijacked the universe. That hideous power will be humiliated and defeated by human flesh and bones – a modest force, just like the little cloud over Mount Carmel that brought the storm blessing the land of Israel, a land desolated by a devilish government and a punishing drought. Elijah must now finish the job and rid the land of devil worshippers, rebuild the altars of God, and anoint just and pious rulers. That mighty task was achieved by the zeal in Elijah’s heart.
Last night we have witnessed a change of direction in the ways of our nation. An older, imperfect, simple man, a quintessential American, and a New Yorker to boot has taken on the post-Reagan political system and defeated them single handedly. Do not attribute that to his wits or strength. He’s not a philosopher king, he is not the strong young man he used to be. He certainly has that flame, that zeal that characterized our Founding Fathers, a sense of fairness and decency, the pure intention to serve those who have trusted in him with this mighty mission. Our part is to be one of those nine thousand “souls whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” This is the moment when the battle turns, there is no time for us to rest. The forces of evil must be defeated. Watch your heart and may you find there a small flame burning steady, a light calling you to your battlestation.