HEN King Ahab told his wife, Queen Jezebel, of all that Elijah had done; how the fire had fallen from heaven upon his altar, and how he had slain all the prophets of Baal with the sword, Queen Jezebel was very angry. She sent a messenger to Elijah with these words:
"May the gods do to me as you have done to the prophets of Baal, if I do not by to-morrow kill you, as you have killed them!"
Elijah saw that his life was in danger, and he found that not one man in all the kingdom dared to stand by him against the hate of Queen Jezebel. He rose up, and ran away to save his life. He went southward to the land of Judah, but did not feel safe even there. He hastened across Judah southward to Beersheba, which is on the edge of the desert, eighty miles away from Samaria. But not even here did Elijah dare to stay, for he still feared the wrath of Queen Jezebel. He left his servant at Beersheba, and went out alone into the desert, over which the children of Israel had wandered five hundred years before. After he had walked all day under the sun, and over the burning sand, he sat down to rest under a juniper-tree. He was tired, and hungry, and discouraged. He felt that his work had all been in vain, that in heart the people were still worshippers of Baal; and he felt, too, that he had shown weakness in running away from his place of duty in fear of Queen Jezebel. Elijah cried out to the Lord, and said, "O Lord, I have lived long enough!" Take away my life, O Lord, for I am no better than my people!" Then, tired out, he lay down to sleep under the tree. But the Lord was very kind to Elijah. While he was sleeping an angel touched him, and said, "Arise, and eat."
An angel touched Elijah
He opened his eyes, and saw beside him a little fire, with a loaf of bread baking upon it, and near it a bottle of water. He ate and drank, and then lay down to sleep again. A second time he felt the angel touch him, and he heard a voice say, "Arise, and eat; because the journey is too long for you."
He arose, and ate once more. Then he went on his way, and in the strength given him by that food he walked forty days through the desert. He came at last to Mount Horeb, the mountain where Moses saw the burning bush, and where God spoke forth the words of the Ten Commandments. (See Story 25). Elijah found a cave in the side of the mountain, and went into it to rest. While he was in the cave he heard God's voice speaking to him, and saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
And Elijah said to the Lord, "O Lord God, I have been very earnest for thee; for the people of Israel have turned away from their promise to serve thee; they have thrown down thine altars, and have slain thy prophets with the sword; and now I, even I only am left; and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
Then the Lord said to Elijah, "Go out and stand upon the mountain before the Lord."
Then, while Elijah was standing upon the mountain, a great and strong wind swept by and tore the mountains apart, and broke the rocks in pieces; but the Lord was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake, shaking the mountains; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire passed by; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was silence and stillness, and Elijah heard a low, quiet voice which he knew was the voice of the Lord.
Then Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle, for he feared to look upon the form of God, and he stood at the opening of the cave. The voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
And Elijah said, as he had said before, "O Lord, I have been very earnest for thee; for the people of Israel have turned away from their promise to serve thee; they have thrown down thine altars, and have slain thy prophets with the sword; and now I, even I only, am left; and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
Then the Lord said to Elijah, "Go back to the land from which you have come, and then go to the wilderness of Damascus, and anoint Hazael to be king over Syria; and Jehu, the son of Nimshi, you shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha, the son of Shaphat, of the village of Abel-meholah, in the land of Manasseh, west of Jordan, you shall anoint to take your place as prophet. And it shall come to pass that those who escape from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall slay, and those that escape from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. But there will be found some, even seven thousand men in Israel, who have not bowed the knee to Baal or kissed his image with their lips."
Here were tasks that would take all the rest of Elijah's life; for, as we shall see, some of them were not completed until after Elijah had passed away, though Elijah prepared the way for them. But they gave to Elijah what he needed most, work to do; a friend to stand beside him, so that he would no longer be alone; one also who could carry on his work after him; and the knowledge that he had not lived in vain, since there were still in the land seven thousand men faithful to the Lord God of Israel.
One of these commands Elijah obeyed at once. He left Mount Horeb, journeyed northward through the wilderness, across the kingdom of Judah, and into the land of Israel. He found Abel-meholah, in the tribe-land of Manasseh on the west of Jordan, and there he saw Elisha, the son of Shaphat. Elisha was plowing in the field, with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him; for Elisha was a rich man's son, and cared for a large farm.
Elijah came to the field where Elisha was at work, and without a word, took off his own mantle of skin, and threw it upon Elisha's shoulders, and walked away. Elisha knew well who this strange, rough, hair-covered man was; and he knew, too, what it meant when Elijah cast his mantle upon him. It was a call for him to leave his home, to go out into the wilderness with Elijah, to take up the life of a prophet, to face the danger of the queen's hate, and perhaps to be slain, as many prophets had been slain before. But Elisha was a man of God, and he did not hesitate to obey God's call. He left his oxen standing in the field; he ran after Elijah, and said to him, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will go with you."
Elijah places his mantle on Elisha
Elijah said to him, "Go back, if you wish; for what have I done to you?"
Then Elisha went back to the field, killed the oxen, made a fire with the yokes and the wooden plow, roasted the flesh of the oxen on the fire, and gave them to be eaten by the people on the farm. This he did to show that he had left his farm forever. Then he kissed his father and mother, and left them, and went forth to live with Elijah and to be Elijah's helper.