From previous studies, we have learned that the Holy Spirit is given to everyone; every person feels His promptings and presence. The Holy Spirit’s activity within us is dependent on two principles: First, God has a purpose for every person. (Jeremiah 1:5) Second, our willingness to follow the Spirit’s promptings determines the activity of the Holy Spirit within us. (Romans 8:14) There is a tendency to place prophets on a higher level than the average person because of the miracles which the Holy Spirit works through them. However, do not forget, Bible prophets were ordinary people until the Holy Spirit made them extraordinary! “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the Heavens gave rain, and the Earth produced its crops.” (James 5:17–18)
Some prophets in the Bible lived remarkable lives. Enoch and Noah walked with God, and nothing evil was written about prophets such as Elisha, Daniel, and Isaiah. On the other hand, some prophets failed to always please God. The prophet Abraham (Genesis 20:7) lied twice about his wife. The prophet Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10) disobeyed God when he struck the rock; (Numbers 20:11) The prophet Aaron (Exodus 7:1) participated in making the golden calf; and Jonah ran from God to avoid going to Nineveh, then became angry when God did not destroy it! (Jonah 4:1)
An exceptional story in 1 Kings 13 highlights the humanity of prophets. One day, God sent a prophet from Judah up to Bethel to condemn an altar King Jeroboam built. (The king had set up the altar to compete with the altar in Jerusalem and he knew that he was defying God’s command in Deuteronomy 12:14.) When the prophet arrived in Bethel, Jeroboam was conducting a service at the altar (which God also forbade) and became furious when the prophet severely condemned him and his altar! Jeroboam angrily reached out his hand toward the prophet and suddenly the king’s hand became leprous. This caused Jeroboam to have a change of heart. After the prophet healed the king’s hand (through Holy Spirit power), the humbled king invited the prophet to dinner. The prophet declined because God had commanded him not to eat or drink anything while he was in Bethel. (1 Kings 13:8–9)
The sons of an old prophet saw these events and rushed home to tell their father about it. So, the old prophet mounted a donkey and caught up with the younger prophet who was resting under a tree. The old prophet said an angel had spoken to him and he was supposed to take the younger prophet back to his house for “bread and water.” While the younger prophet was eating and drinking, the Holy Spirit came upon the old prophet who then denounced the younger prophet for defying the Lord, saying his body would not be buried with his fathers! The younger prophet left and a lion killed him, but did not eat his body or hurt the donkey he was riding. The moral of this story is that messages from angels and prophets cannot cancel a plain “thus saith the Lord!” During the Great Tribulation, there will be thousands of false prophets contradicting the testimony of Jesus spoken through the 144,000.
The Ministry of Elijah
The Old Testament often uses the phrase, “The word of the Lord came,” because this is how God communicated with His prophets. God spoke in Heaven and the Holy Spirit delivered the very words which God had spoken. The word of the Lord came as clearly as any phone call. Elijah often heard from the Lord in this way. (1 Kings 17:2)
During the days of Elijah, Israel was in apostasy. Elijah prayed for a famine hoping that hard times would cause God’s people to repent and worship the true God who controlled the rain. (Leviticus 26:3–4) During the famine, a widow in Zarephath was gathering a few sticks to build a fire to prepare a final meal for herself and her son. When Elijah arrived in her village, the Holy Spirit spoke through him and instructed her to make Elijah a meal. On a human level, this command would have been outrageous, but the Holy Spirit enabled the woman recognize that Elijah was a prophet. By faith, she obeyed, and her faith was richly rewarded. Her “empty” barrel of flour did not run out during the rest of the famine! Later, the widow’s son died and, again, the Holy Spirit worked through Elijah to resurrect her son!
The Holy Spirit worked though Elijah on Mt. Carmel in a most spectacular way. He challenged the 450 false prophets “that ate at Jezebel’s table” to a contest to see which God (Baal or Jehovah) would answer their prayers by fire. The prophets of Baal were put to shame (and later executed) after God responded to Elijah’s prayer by sending fire from Heaven! After Elijah’s victory on Mt. Carmel, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he ran ahead of King Ahab’s chariot for 17 miles! When Ahab’s wicked wife, Jezebel, learned that Elijah had killed her prophets, she became furious and determined to kill him. When he learned that his life was in danger, he immediately began walking and running and traveled about 100 miles to Beersheba, an area not controlled by Ahab and Jezebel. (2 Kings 19:3) Despite the awesome victory which the Holy Spirit gave Elijah on Mt. Carmel, the prophet was so frightened that after reaching Beersheba, he continued another day’s journey into the desert. (1 Kings 19:4) It seems incomprehensible that Elijah went from victory on the mountaintop to hiding in a cave in the wilderness to escape Jezebel.
When the Holy Spirit was upon Elijah, the man was invincible. When the Holy Spirit was not at work, Elijah was an ordinary man as James wrote, “just like us.” (James 5:17) The Holy Spirit gives uncharacteristic boldness, human prowess alone is temporary. Totally exhausted from his travel, Elijah begged for the Lord to take his life. (1 Kings 19:4–7) Twice, an angel brought Elijah food and drink to strengthen him for another journey. After the angel’s second visit, the Bible says, “Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights [about 200 miles] until he reached Horeb [Mt. Sinai], the mountain of God.” (1 Kings 19:8, insertions mine)
Please consider three points:
- The Holy Spirit is very tender-hearted. He deeply loves us and God speaks through Him when we are most likely to accept what God has to say! About forty-three days after Mt. Carmel, Elijah wanted to die. Instead of turning to God for wisdom, strength, peace, and courage to deal with Jezebel’s threat, the prophet’s humanity succumbed to fear. (1 Kings 19:3) After running his legs off and arriving at a desolate place where no one could survive, God found Elijah in a position to listen and learn.
- The Holy Spirit speaks softly. God told Elijah to come out of the cave where he was sheltering and to stand on the mountain because the presence of the Lord would pass by. Elijah witnessed a mighty wind which tore the mountain apart and shattered rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. Then, there came the deep groaning and rumblings of a powerful earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Finally, there appeared a roaring fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. God used these powerful displays to let Elijah know that He can marshal forces at any time, but God will not overrule a person’s free will. For God, it is more important that we listen to the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11–12) than to be overwhelmed with amazing power. After this, and with a twinkle in His eye, the Lord may have asked Elijah, “What on Earth are you doing out here?” Elijah thought he was the only soul in Israel defending God’s holy name. However, God told him, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)
- The Holy Spirit does not abandon those who have a heart for God when they make mistakes. Elijah was just like us; he allowed his human nature to separate himself from God, but the Holy Spirit did not abandon him. In fact, after Elijah learned this lesson, God strengthened Elijah’s faith by sending him on a mission to Damascus.
Later, God gave Elijah another mission to go meet some traveling messengers from the king of Samaria. They were on their way to ask Baal-Zebub if their injured king would recover from an accident. Elijah intercepted the king’s messengers and told them the king would die from his injury. When the messengers returned to their king and reported what Elijah had said, the king asked his messengers to describe the man they met. The king was sure his messengers had met “Elijah the Tishbite” because Elijah was known to be a perennial pest. Because Elijah was nearby, the king “sent to Elijah a captain with his company of fifty men [to capture Elijah]. The captain went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, ‘Man of God, the king says, “Come down!” ’ Elijah answered the captain, ‘If I am a man of God, may fire come down from Heaven and consume you and your fifty men!’ Then fire fell from Heaven and consumed the captain and his men.” (2 Kings 1:9–10, insertion mine) Again, the king sent a group of fifty men who suffered the same fate. On the third attempt, the captain “fell on his knees before Elijah. ‘Man of God,’ he begged, ‘please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants! See, fire has fallen from Heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!’ ” (2 Kings 1:13–14)
Knowing the king could kill him, Elijah waited for the Lord’s instructions. “The angel of the Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.’ ” (2 Kings 1:15) Even though Elijah was an extraordinary prophet, he was susceptible to fear, but Elijah listened and learned. He put his trust in the Lord instead of fleeing and the Holy Spirit gave Elijah peace and boldness to stand before a hostile king.
Without a doubt, the Jews revered Moses more than any other Bible character. No other person had more miraculous events associated with his ministry. However, Moses was a fallible human. When the Children of Israel were in the wilderness, the Lord led them to a place that had no water. After all the Israelites had been through and all of the miracles they had witnessed, the people blamed Moses and the Lord for guiding them to a location that was uninhabitable. We have to appreciate the frustration that Moses had faced daily for years. Because there was no water, Moses and Aaron faithfully asked the Lord what they should do. They listened for God to speak and “the word of the Lord came.” “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” (Numbers 20:8, italics mine)
Moses took the staff and gathered the assembly together at the rock, but lost control of his emotions. The Bible does not specifically say what happened. Maybe someone cursed Moses and Aaron or said something inflammatory; but we do know that Moses became very angry and responded, “ ‘Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?’ Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff.” (Numbers 20:10–11, italics mine) This situation raises two aspects regarding the work of the Holy Spirit.
First, no one should ever appropriate the work of the Holy Spirit to himself for personal exaltation. (See Acts 8:18–20.) Moses acted as though he and Aaron were responsible for bringing the water out of the rock. Second, Moses ruined a very important object lesson the Lord had prepared. Earlier when camped at Mt. Sinai, Moses had been commanded to strike the rock so water would come from it. (Exodus 17:6) The rock represented Jesus who would be smitten once and only once for our sins. (1 Corinthians 10:4; Isaiah 53:4) At Meribah, God plainly told Moses to speak to the rock and water would flow! God prepared this object lesson to teach His people that the “rock” can hear! The Rock of the Ages sees our needs and hears petitions from His people. Ironically, the Bible also says that Moses was more humble than anyone on Earth. (Numbers 12:3) Yet, even this humble man reached a boiling point, lost his temper, took credit for something only God could do, and ruined His profound object lesson – all at the same time!
Prophets have the same temptations and weaknesses that confront ordinary people. Prophets are human. Humans are fallible. Humans make mistakes. Even though we humans make mistakes, God will work around our failures to achieve His plans for our lives if we are willing to listen for that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. God makes lemonade out of lemons. He does not want to give up on anyone and we ought not to give up on Him! Great is His faithfulness.