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Deeper Commentary

1Ki 19:1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword-
We wonder whether Elijah personally presided over the genocide of 450 priests. Ahab had made no protest, and I suggested on 1 Kings 18:46 that he did in fact repent. The coming of rain in response to Elijah's prayer and the peoples' rejection of Baal surely urged him to accept that it was 'game over' for Baal worship. At least, at that time. There is no mention earlier of Elijah's sword. Perhaps he was seeking to imitate Phinehas and the Levites who slew the apostate idolaters of Israel at the mount, with swords. But as we see regarding Moses, Elijah is copying the externalities without grasping the spirit.

As discussed on 1 Kings 18:1, Elijah had been assuming that the rain had come because Israel had repented. Instead of accepting that the rain came because God said it was going to come, regardless of their repentance. He assumed Ahab had repented; and indeed he probably did, just as he did for a time when confronted about the death of Naboth. Ahab's three sons all had 'Yah' in their names- but his weak spirituality was trumped by Jezebel. Her name may be an allusion to Baal Zebul, the rain god ["zebel" = "zebul"]. Her personal god had been declared dead. And so she wanted to kill Elijah.

1Ki 19:2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah saying, So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I don’t make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time!-
Elijah had returned with Ahab to Jezreel. So he was there in the city, apparently hoping that Ahab would stand up to Jezebel, and perhaps she too would realize that Baal worship was now a hopeless cause.

The Moses parallels continue. Ahab and Jezebel in many ways recall Pharaoah, especially with Ahab's momentary repentances. Jezebels' words here clearly recall Pharaoh's: "Take care... the day you see my face you shall die" (Ex. 10:28). But Elijah slides down into depression because he sees he's failed to convert Ahab and Jezebel. By contrast, Moses goes ahead and delivers God's people, accepting he had failed to convert Pharaoah, and you can't win every time. Again and again we see Elijah only externally following Moses, but not grasping his spirit. He makes no begging intercession to save Israel, but rather seeks their condemnation for their idolatry. He sees himself as God's man and having God's positions, rather than seeking to persuade God to act otherwise than He initially planned.

1Ki 19:3 When he saw that, he arose, and went for his life, and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there-
The Elijah who fearlessly came before Ahab and the thousands of idolaters at Carmel... now flees before an angry woman. I suggested on 1 Kings 18:46 that the exhilarating run to Jezreel, in the power of the Spirit, set Elijah up for the devastating news that Jezebel had not repented and Ahab was apparently supporting her, or at least not asserting his kingship against her. And thence he crashed into the depression we now read of. The history here has absolute psychological credibility, even though Elijah's faith should have been more resolute. He fled to the very south of Judah, territory not under Ahab's control.

Beersheba belonged to Judah, so we could see his flight there as effectively walking away from his ministry to Israel. And so he was fired from his ministry seeing that he himself had chosen this. It was therefore only pride that made him so resistant to accepting that. "When he saw..." is LXX "And he feared", suggesting Elijah's motive in going to Beersheba was fear. Hence the rebuke "What are you doing here, Elijah?". He "went / fled for his life"- and yet he wants to end his life. It could be that Jezebel's threats to take his life result in him fleeing to God and asking God to take his life, rather than Jezebel. He was convinced by his fears that he now had to die. This fear puts a deeper dimension on Elijah's apparently fearless challenges to Ahab, and his willingness to face off against Ahab and the Baal worshippers alone on Carmel. His apparent nonchalance was in fact the outcome of faith, as he clearly feared Jezebel who was behind Ahab.   

Elijah tells his servant to remain whilst he goes out into the desert alone, intent on committing suicide (1 Kings 19:3). When he is finally snatched away, he tried to get his servant Elisha to likewise remain whilst he went further alone. Again he intended suicide and Elisha likely perceived this. And so God did snatch him away, either to death or to make him end his ministry.  

1Ki 19:4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, It is enough. Now, O Yahweh, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers-
By walking out alone into the desert he was effectively attempting suicide. If Elijah was a Gentile (see on 1 Kings 17:1), he would be feeling that he was no really better than a Gentile idolater (see on :5)- because he had failed to convert or see judgment upon Jezebel. Perhaps he had some particular complex of feelings and histories with her which led him to this manic state once she tried to kill him.

Elijah's depression was because Jezebel had not repented. His dream was that the effective ruler of Israel would be converted by him. He failed to perceive that his conversion of the widow woman was quite enough. He wanted high profile converts like Jezebel and felt a failure when he didn't win them. 

And yet the constant similarities with Moses lead us to wonder whether Moses' depressive requests to die are being alluded to here by Elijah. Or it could be that Moses' offer to give his eternal life for Israel is being contrasted with Elijah selfishly wanting to die, just because he felt depressed that his mission had apparently not succeeded.

“Enough” is the same Hebrew word picked up and used by the Angel- “the way is too great [‘enough’] for you” (1 Kings 19:7), and he does eventually eat and not die, living life now only thanks to the provision of food by Angels, going on a 40 day wilderness journey towards Sinai. Elijah was brought to where we have all been- that this is all just too much for me. But it was all too much because he had set himself dreams and conditions- the repentance of Jezebel and Ahab, and felt all was too much because that dream was now shattered- and because he would not cast himself upon God's grace. "It's all too much for me" is related to human pride. All this of course is replete with reference to Israel’s wilderness journey, during which they only survived by eating “Angel’s food”, the food provided by Angels (Ps. 78:25). And as Elijah well knew, that generation were sinful and worshipped the idols they had smuggled out of Egypt with  them. To stay alive, he had to eat that food and go in that miraculously provided strength. And so he was forced to see the similarity between himself and rebellious Israel in the wilderness. He was being asked to identify with sinful Israel, and seek to save them through identity with them rather than the dramatic wind and fire of Carmel. Moses by contrast does make the identification with Israel. He doesn't want to be saved if they will not be. Likewise earlier God had fed him through the medium of the unclean raven, and the unclean Gentile woman. But Elijah had had enough of these pointed digs, and he asks God to take his life away- alluding to how Jezebel wanted to do this, as if trying to pressurize God into taking away his life rather than Jezebel (1 Kings 19:4, 10).

1Ki 19:5 He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, an angel touched him, and said to him, Arise and eat!-
The situation is allusive to the Gentile, spiritually weak Hagar being found at the point of death and preserved by an Angel in the same wilderness (Gen. 16:9; 21:17). Elijah in his rebellion against God's intended ministry for him was no better than her. Perhaps that is what he refers to being no better than his (Gentile) fathers; see on :4. And we will see on :6 that he is taught that the Gentile widow whom he had earlier despised was also on God's side more than he was.    

A fair case can be made for 'laying down and sleeping' and then being touched and bidden 'arise' by an Angel refers to death and resurrection. The LXX uses the same term here as used for sleeping in death in 1 Cor. 15:6,18,20. Death as sleep is also an OT idea (Dan. 12:2; Ps. 13:4; Jer. 51:39; Job 3:13). The whole incident recalls Daniel's figurative death and resurrection, with the Angel touching him and bidding him arise and not fear. Eating and drinking (:6) likewise occurs after several resurrection scenes in the NT. The dead girl is bidden "arise and eat" just as Elijah is here. Elijah's comment that Baal is asleep (1 Kings 18:27) is another way of saying he is effectively dead. And the case is pretty much clinched by the context. 1 Kings 19:4 tells us that Elijah has just “prayed that he might die. ‘Enough!’ he cried, ‘Now, O Lord, take my life…”. Elijah then lays himself down in a position where surely he was going to die by dehydration, just as Jonah did, rather than see Nineveh saved by grace.  

In this case, Elijah lay down under a bush in the scorching desert as an act of suicide- but was awoken from it in resurrection. We think of how Hagar lay down her son beneath a bush to die in the same desert (Gen. 21:15,16), "in the wilderness of Beersheba" (Gen. 21:14). Jezebel has threatened to take Elijah's life (:2), so he flees for his life (:3), and then asks God to take his life (:4,10). It's as if he wants to die, but he wants to die at God's hand and not Jezebel's. 

All this is rather as Jonah's offer to be cast into the sea was an act of suicide- but he was resurrected from it. Jonah was very similar to Elijah in his attitude to Gentiles and God being more merciful than he was. Indeed the similarities are so close that it could be that Jonah justified his desire for suicide [despite having been resurrected from his previous suicide] by thinking that he was copying Elijah. But form had eclipsed content, he was externally following Elijh and not grasping the lesson of Elijah's failure. Just as many misguided zealots appeal to Elijah for justification and inspiration. "Let us disfellowship the weak... in the spirit of the great hero Elijah!".

These men just couldn't cope with God being more gracious than they were, and considering the possibility that He saved those whom they regarded as below the bar of salvation. Likewise today, the wrath of legalists is most acutely aroused over issues of accepting or baptizing those whom they consider Gentiles, not adequately repentant nor groomed in the knowledge of Israel's God. This is the challenge of Divine grace- to accept it not only for ourselves but towards others. But only by accepting our own sinfulness can we perceive God's grace towards us personally, and this alone will lead us to accept His grace towards others. But like Jonah, even after such a resurrection by grace, Elijah pigheadedly continues in his resistance to grace and self justification. The grace of the situation is heightened when we consider that Jezebel sent a messenger (malak) to tell Elijah she was going to murder him (:2). Yahweh sent His Angel [malak] to save Elijah. Elijah had told Ahab to arise and eat (1 Kings 18:41), a meal of fellowship with God. But Elijah then commits suicide after Ahab slips back and listens to Jezebel; and now Elijah is told to arise and eat. He is being asked to consider that he is no better than Ahab, whom he saw as the incarnation of evil. He too had to be invited to share the meal of fellowship with God by grace, just as he had invited Ahab to. He is being shown that his judgmentalism made him no better than Ahab the idolater, but like Ahab, he too could be saved by grace. 

1Ki 19:6 He looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on the coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again-
The woman “gathering sticks” (1 Kings 17:10) would likely have stimulated his Bible-steeped mind to think of the illegal gathering of sticks in Num. 15:32,33. But she gave him meal cake and water. Later, the Angel gave Elijah cake and water (1 Kings 19:6 LXX "a cake of meal") just as the unclean ravens and Gentile widow woman had done- to teach Elijah that God works through those people. There were two occasions in which God fed Elijah with a cake when he was hungry. Once when the widow woman baked him one (1 Kings 17:13), and once when the Angel did (1 Kings 19:6). Surely God was trying to show Elijah that He was manifested through that desperately poor, weak, sick, starving widow woman who was at the point of death from starvation. It was the same message- that God wasn’t in the earthquake and fire, but in the still small voice.  Elijah wanted a high profile female convert like Jezebel, and that hadn't worked out. He was being reminded that the conversion of the desperate Gentile woman was quite enough.

Heb. 'the hot coals' suggests a connection with Is. 6:6 where the Angel seraph likewise had these in order to forgive and cleanse God's prophet.  Perhaps Elijah didn't want to perceive that nor accept it, whereas Isaiah did. The idea is that the cake was made in Heaven itself, like the manna is presented as "Angel's food", the bread of heaven.

The gift of bread at night [for he awoke and there was bread] recalls the manna given at night (Num. 11:9 "When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna fell on it"). Num. 11:8 also calls the manna a "cake". And the manna was also given by an Angel. Water was likewise given to Israel in the same desert where Elijah was. He is being nudged to identify with Israel. His 40 day journey through the desert to Sinai was clearly intended to connect him with Israel's 40 year journey in the same desert. But he refuses to take the nudges, and goes on, as Paul says, to intercede with God against Israel. He sees himself as righteous and them as wicked, rather than identifying with them and seeking to save the unjust by the love and identity of the just. He failed to get the spirit of Moses.  

1Ki 19:7 The angel of Yahweh came again the second time, and touched him and said, Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you-
He had been empowered by the Spirit to run all the way from Carmel to Jezreel, running at the speed of horses (1 Kings 18:46). But now the Spirit had been withdrawn from him. The journey was too great for him in his own strength. God would indeed give him food for the journey, but in a manner reminiscent of the Gentile widow who had earlier sustained him (see on :6). He had not learned the lessons from that, and they had to be repeated here; see on :8.

1Ki 19:8 He arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the Mount of God-
We enquire whether Elijah consciously intended to go to Horeb / Sinai. After the theophany and slaughter of the golden calf worshippers (Ex. 32), Moses goes to Horeb / Sinai for another theophany. And so it seems again we have Elijah externally doing what Moses had done, but without his spirit- for he intercedes against Israel rather than for their salvation by grace. Time and again we see this in the individual and collective lives of believers- form eclipses content.

Elijah goes in the strength of a little food just as the widow’s flour didn’t run out. He is being paralleled with the Gentile widow woman- either to reinforce the lesson taught, or because he had failed to learn the lesson that he truly was no better in essence than a Gentile woman; see on :7. One wonders whether he not only despised Gentiles but women too... hence the way God sought to teach him the parallel between Himself and that woman. His depression was because he hadn't converted Jezebel, but he is being reminded to perceive the value of the conversion of the relatively low profile, obscure Gentile woman [so obscure that in the three year search for Elijah, nobody thought of going to her].

God 'set up' Elijah's experience at Horeb / Sinai to compare and contrast with that of Moses. There are so many intended similarities between Elijah's meeting God at Horeb and Moses' meetings with God at Sinai- the same place, it seems. In both records it is called "the mount of God" (Ex. 3:1; 18:5; 24:13); there was a journey through the desert both before and after the meeting; the use of the number forty (Ex. 34:28; Num. 14:34 cp. 1 Kings 19:8); miraculous provision of food by God; an accompanying Angel; a cave, standing on a rock, Yahweh passing by, covering the face (Ex. 33:21-23; 34:5,6), earthquake, wind and fire (Ex. 19). We think too of how they both dried up water and passed through it (2 Kings 2), both have successors appointed involving their spirit being placed upon Joshua / Elisha etc.

Moses met with God at Horeb, and received the words of God. Elijah was all set up for the same. But it doesn't happen. Yahweh Himself doesn't appear; and instead of words of command, there is a deafening silence- for I understand the "still small voice" to actually be silence, and that silence was in itself a voice / word to Elijah. And then when God finally does say something, it is simply: "What are you doing here, Elijah?". Surely Elijah saw himself as Moses, and was looking forward to being given a covenant, and seeing a special manifestation of Yahweh. But instead, silence. No appearance of God, and finally, the great anticlimax of being asked what exactly he's doing there. The similarities with the Moses history were arranged by God, but surely they played along with Elijah's assumption that he was the next Moses. And indeed he was set up to be "the prophet like unto Moses", but he is being shown that he lacks Moses' humility and spirit of passion for the salvation of Israel. Perhaps he idolized Moses, as men today idolize heroes, e.g. from earlier days of their denomination. Elijah was being taught that actually, he was not Moses; God had no such message or covenant or special revelation to give him. And there is a type of believer who needs this same lesson; that God speaks through silence and insignificance to us. We are to be ourselves, and not to ever seek to replicate the experiences or spiritual path of faithful men who have gone before us. Such desires are really a running away from our personal responsibilities.

The similarities between Elijah and Moses are so many that it's tempting to think that he was the intended fulfilment of the "prophet like" Moses who was to be raised up (Dt. 18:18). The similarities and points of contact are such that we can safely conclude that potentially, this promise was intended to have fulfilment in Elijah. But he failed, although he realized the intended similarities between him and Moses. And so the prophecy was rescheduled to its ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus.

1Ki 19:9 He came there to a cave, and lodged there-
Heb. "the cave", referring to the cave Moses entered in Ex. 33:12, from where he viewed the great theophany. Moses too was an upright man. But he had to be humbled, until he cowered in the rock as sinners will do before the excellence of God’s glory (Is. 2:21), before he could appreciate Yahweh’s glory. And Elijah too had to go through the same experience (1 Kings 19:9-12). Eliphaz likewise recounted how an Angel had passed before him, as the Angel passed before Moses and Elijah, and through this he came to realize the essential truth of man’s sinfulness and desperate need for repentance and God’s gracious acceptance (Job 4:16).

The theophany must have been frightening. "Though Elijah is commanded to go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, the most he does is to go out and stand at the entrance of the cave". By standing there he was failing to be humbled because of his sins. He had no awareness of his sins, like many of the harsh religious reformer types, focused solely on the errors of others. Elijah hid in a cave, hid for his life. He was thus being nudged to identify with the prophets of Yahweh whom Obadiah hid in a cave. But his repeated assertion that he alone is faithful to Yahweh is a studied refusal to make that identity- he continued to consider them apostate, despite having been nudged (through the cave experience) to identify with them.

And behold, the word of Yahweh came to him, and he said to him-
This personification of “the word of the Lord” surely refers to an Angel who spoke to Elijah. When we read that the Lord was not in the fire etc., but was in the “still small voice”, perhaps the idea is that the Angel was not visible in the fire, earthquake, wind etc.- but He simply stood there at the end in front of Elijah and quietly spoke to him. The Angel, in a magnificent manifestation of the ‘humility’ of God, was quietly spoken and calm (“still”). The Angel was inviting Elijah to be like Him, to be God manifest by following the pattern of his guardian Angel. 

What are you doing here, Elijah?-
Literally the text reads: “Elijah, Elijah, Elijah”. The three repeats of his name in the Hebrew text connect with the earthquake, wind and fire, and Elijah’s triple repeating of the same prepared statement. In his bitterness, Elijah sought to cut himself off from all consideration of his possibility of being wrong, or sensibly dialoguing with the Father. He just repeats the same words three times, as meaninglessly as the earthquake, wind and fire. Elijah hid his face in his mantle rather than face up to the true glory of God, the true fire from Heaven. The only other time Elijah sees the glory of God he threw away his mantle- as if he finally recognized he had been shielding himself from the real reality of it so that he could seek his own glory? The glory of God is His Name and character. To face up to this, believing it rather than merely knowing it, will bring us to repentance and a real facing up to the reality that we are truly not better than anyone else, in the light of the surpassing excellence of His glory. And Elijah just didn’t want to face up to it, just as we can not want to face up to the realities of what we know.  

Elijah was in "the cave" (Heb.) where Moses had been, and he had rather fancied himself as Moses when he bad the people draw near to him (1 Kings 18:30). Now he was being told that he was not as Moses. For Moses was the meekest man, and Elijah had not allowed himself to be humbled as Moses did. 

"What are you doing here?" invites Elijah to question whether he is really like Moses, at Sinai to intercede for idolatrous Israel. Instead, Elijah refused to respond to the nudges and interceded against Israel. Such questions always imply the person questioned was doing wrong. Adam ("Where are you?" Gen. 3:9), Cain'("Why are you angry? Gen. 3:6, and "Where is your
brother Abel?" Gen. 3:9), Balaam ("Who are these men with you?" Num. 22:9) and Jonah ("Is it right for you to be angry about the gourd?" Jon. 4:9).

The idea may also be that Elijah had been commanded to go stand on the mountain, but instead he was too scared to even leave the cave. He simply didn't have the intimacy with God which Moses had had. Or maybe the idea is that he shouldn't  have fled from Jezebel; or, he should be back at the ministry of converting Israel, rather than just trying to be a Moses copycat.


1Ki 19:10 He said, I have been very zealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down Your altars and slain Your prophets with the sword. I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away-
Elijah insists he has been zealous / jealous for Yahweh, alluding to His own stated characteristic of jealousy. Always, Elijah seeks to portray and understand himself as on God's side- but only on the side of some of His characteristics, those concerned with judgment. He fails to perceive that at Sinai, Yahweh revealed Himself as first of all gracious and forgiving. Moses, by contrast, sought to change God's mind. Moses was open to change in perspective, whereas Elijah just stubbornly repeats his narrative three times. This stubborn refusal to change a narrative, about God, about others, about ourselves, repeated time and again within our minds and then out loud... is what stymies spiritual growth, and makes us unfit for God's usage. Clinging on to phrases out of old statements of faiths, to traditions, to perspectives and world views... is very much what religion [as opposed to dynamic spirituality] is all about.

Elijah laments Israel have broken the covenant, but he himself alone is faithful to it. Moses by contrast recognizes that Israel have broken covenant, but urges God to restore it, and to cancel his own salvation if Israel can't be saved- even refusing God's idea of making a new nation out of him. He alludes to Dt. 31:16,17 which predicted that when Israel broke covenant, Yahweh would be angry and hide His face from Israel. This is true- but he fails to have the spirit of Moses, who despite knowing this, sought to turn away God's wrath on the basis that he [Moses] was himself faithful and willing to sacrifice himself for Israel. This is all so foreign to Elijah; like some today, he was just grabbing on to bits of scripture which talk of judgment but not seeing the wider context. Despite all the nudges to see himself as Moses. God's response to Israel breaking covenant at the time of the golden calf was to renew the covenant, because of Moses' intercession. Whereas Elijah struggles with this and just wants God to destroy Israel, in line with His own statements about consequence for breaking covenant. But God Himself doesn't always follow those principles, because of His love and grace, and His bleeding heart for His people. Thus Ez. 16:59,60: "Yes, thus says the Lord GOD: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant". His response to their breaking covenant was to make a new one, just as He made another set of tables of the covenant- rather than just punishing them according to the agreed terms for breaking the covenant. Elijah wanted none of this, and wanted to focus only upon the consequences for sin.

Elijah simply identifies himself with God's more judgmental aspects and fails to have any love in him for Israel. It's all about himself. And this can be seen in so many legalistic believers. Visually and literally, God sought to correct Elijah by showing that He was not in the whirlwind, devouring fire and earthquake [all symbols of His judgment, and God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked], but in the still small voice, the "gentle whisper" (NIV), "the hush of a rush". The "sound of silence" is the idea- it is the absence of God's judgment which is in fact the message. We think of the silence as the Lord stands with the adulterous woman in John 8, no word of condemnation to the legally condemned. Or the sound of silence in Heaven in Rev. 8. Elijah interceded with God against Israel, Paul says. His unverbalized thoughts were counted as his prayer. But God's grace and gentleness triumph over His necessary judgment. There is no polemic against paganism as Elijah perhaps expected or hope for. No response to his prayer through some terrible statement of Divine judgment and vengeance against Israel. Just some sense that Yahweh was not "in" the symbols of judgment. His silence was the message. He was "in" that silence.

Sadly, it seems Elijah's failure here led Jonah to copy him, assuming that because Elijah had a legalistic attitude, focusing on God's judgment in isolation, therefore he could do so also. For he too requests to die when his mission ran out of highway, just as Elijah did.

Elijah's focus on Israel's sinfulness may have been tainted with the syndrome of pulling others down to make yourself look taller. He says repeatedly: "I have been very zealous for Yahweh... for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant... and I, even I only, am left". It's as if he felt that his zeal [s.w. "jealous" ] was in the fact they were apostate and he wasn't. He did what Paul outlaws- comparing ourselves amongst ourselves. Both Obadiah and the widow of Zarephath felt that Elijah had come to bring their sins to rememberance. He exuded a sense of criticism of others. This is why so many of the religious reformer types, the hard liners of so many denominations and small time churches, have no awareness of their own sinfulness. His zeal for the Lord was, he reasoned, in being the only one left when they had all quit. And this basic mistake has hamstrung us- you are righteous, zealous, a defender of the Faith, if you merely hold on to a certain academic proposition of truth which others are rumoured or assumed to have apostatized from. Zeal for the Lord surely involves infinitely more than this. Elijah prayed his prayer from the cave mouth, protesting his own righteousness as he cowered before the glory of the Lord. Yet the same word occurs in Is. 2:12,13, where apostate Israel will hurl away their idols and then cower in a cleft / cave of the rock before the presence of Yahweh’s glory. The connection perhaps shows that although Elijah was so proudly not an idolater, yet his pride and arrogance was essentially the same. On one hand Elijah may have gloried in the similarities between his position and that of Moses, when God’s glory passed by him in the cleft of the rock; and yet Moses too was effectively being rebuked and humbled for his pride.

God tried to correct Elijah’s despising of the other prophets of the Lord. Elijah was in a cave, and was also fed bread and water- just as the other prophets had been by Obadiah (1 Kings 18:4) whom he considered apostate. And yet Elijah didn’t see, or didn’t want to see, that connection- after having been reminded of this experience of the other prophets, he claims that “I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord” (1 Kings 18:22)- he wrongly believed that all other valid prophets had been slain. In fact the record shows how that during Elijah’s lifetime there were other prophets of Yahweh active in His service (1 Kings 20:13,35), as well as the schools of the prophets mentioned at the time, and the 100 prophets whom Obadiah hid. And yet the lesson is that God still works through the conceited, the spiritually superior, those who despise their brethren. God didn’t give up on Elijah because he was like this, and neither should we give up in our relationship with such brethren.

Rom. 11:2,3 interprets this as Elijah actually interceding with God against Israel, asking for Him to destroy them all, apart from himself. This is a feature of many prayers: not to crudely, directly ask for the obvious; but to simply inform the Almighty of the situation, in faith. Examples include: Gen. 19:24; 2 Chron. 14:11; Ps. 3:1-4; 142:1,2; Jn. 11:21,22;  Ps. 106:44 cp. Is. 64:3. Elijah's real motives were read, and understood as a prayer to God. And yet his ministry had been intended to reform Israel. But he just wants to see sinner judged. Therefore his ministry was removed from him.

1Ki 19:11 He said, Go out, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh. Behold, Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh; but Yahweh was not in the wind. After the wind an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake-
The Angel tells Elijah to actually go and stand before the Lord and learn what it really meant to stand before the Lord, as he had said he did in 1 Kings 17:1; so he had to literally stand before the Angel as He passed by. Yet Elijah hid his face; he was no longer so happy to be before the Lord once he realized the humility and breaking in pieces of a proud man’s spirit that it really implies. 

The whole scene, with Yahweh passing by, is so reminiscent of Moses on Sinai. But when Yahweh passed by, Moses saw His back parts- the back parts of God Himself, as I have suggested on Ex. 34. But despite the external dramatics of a theophany, the earthquake, wind and fire- Yahweh was not seen by Elijah. That may be the idea of Yahweh not being "in" those things. He failed to have the spirit of Moses, he prayed against Israel rather than for Israel. Likewise Moses' request to see God was revealed as inappropriaate- even greater than that, was realizing that the declaration of Yahweh's Name meant that His grace and forgiveness of the golden calf was more awesome than even seeing God physically. And so the parallels suggest that Elijah ascended Sinai of his own volition, wanting to see more of the wind and fire he had brought down on Carmel. But although the wind and fire do come, the point was that he didn't see God. But God's silence, "the hush of a rush", had a "sound" to it. The fact God isn't into showbiz, nor public exhibition of Himself, the very absence of all that... the silence, if you like... is in fact the message of Him. That He is about grace. He sent rain on Israel even though they were impenitent, and despite having said they would have no rain if they were idolatrous. Elijah had totally missed this point. He was asked in the silence to realize this.

When Elijah was told to go and stand upon mount Horeb [i.e. Sinai] before the Lord, this was evidently seeking to invite him to understand how Moses felt (Ex. 24:12; 34:12). Yet as noted on :9, he was being told that because he had not humbled himself as Moses, he could not be Moses. But he had potentially been set up as a new Moses, but he wasted the potential by his own pride. Consider the following parallels:
Confronted Ahab (1 Kings 17:1) - Confronted Pharaoh (Exod. 5:1)
Fled into the wilderness fearing for his life (1 Kings 19:3) - Fled into the wilderness fearing for his life (Exod. 2:15)
Miraculously fed “...bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening...” (1 Kings 17:6)-Miraculously fed “...meat to eat in the evening, and bread to the full in the morning...” (Exod. 16:8, 12)
Spoke authoritatively for the Lord in his own name (1 Kings 17:1) - Spoke authoritatively for the Lord in his own name (Deut. 5:1)
Gathered all Israel to Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:19) - Gathered all Israel to Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:17)
Combated the prophets of Ba’al (1 Kings 18:20-40) - Combated the magicians of Pharaoh (Exod. 7:8-13, 20-22; 8:1-7)
Successful in his intercession for Israel to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel (1 Kings 18:36-39) - Successful in his intercession for Israel to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Exod. 32:11-14)
Elijah took twelve stones at Carmel “...according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob...” (1 Kings 18:30-32) - Moses had twelve pillars set up at Sinai “...corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel...” (Exod. 24:4)
The Lord accepted Elijah’s offering by sending fire from heaven and consuming it completely. The people threw themselves down on their faces. (1 Kings 18:36-39)- The Lord accepted Moses and Aaron’s offering by sending fire from heaven and consuming it completely. The people threw themselves down on their faces. (Lev. 9:22-24)
By Elijah’s authority 3 000 idolatrous prophets were slain (1 Kings 18:40) - By Moses’ authority 3 000 idolaters were slain (Exod. 32:25-29)
After killing the prophets of Ba’al Elijah climbed Carmel to pray. (1 Kings 18:42) - After killing the idolaters Moses climbed Sinai to pray (Exod. 32:30)
Went without food for forty days and forty nights (1 Kings 19:8) - Went without food for forty days and forty nights (Exod. 34:38; Deut. 9:9)
Elijah (re)commissioned at Horeb (=Sinai) (1 Kings 19) - Moses commissioned at Sinai (Exod. 3)
Elijah was in “the cave” on Horeb (=Sinai) when the Lord “passed by” (1 Kings 19: 9-11) - Moses was hidden “in the cleft of the rock” when the Lord passed by Sinai. (Exod. 33:21-23)
Elijah saw storm, wind, an earthquake and fire upon Horeb (=Sinai). (1 Kings 19:11-12) - Moses saw storm, wind, an earthquake and fire upon Sinai. (Exod. 19:16-20; 20:18; Deut. 4:11; 5:22-27).
Prayed that he might die. (1 Kings 19:1-4) - Prayed that he might die. (Num. 11:10-15).
The Lord brought down fire from heaven upon his enemies. (2 Kings 1:9-12) - The Lord brought down fire from heaven upon those who rebelled against him. (Num. 16; cf. Lev. 10:1-3)
Elijah parted the waters of the Jordan by striking the waters with his cloak and passed over on dry ground. (2 Kings 2:8) - Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea by stretching out his staff and passed over on dry ground. (Exod. 14:16, 21-22)
His successor was one who had served him and came to resemble him in many ways, parting the waters of the Jordan as he had. ( 2 Kings 2) - His successor was one who had served him and came to resemble him in many ways, parting the waters of the Jordan as he had the Red Sea. (Josh. 3)
Was taken away in the Transjordan. (2 Kings 2:9-11) - Died in the Transjordan. (Deut. 34:5)
Mysteriously translated  (2 Kings 9-18) - Died mysteriously and buried in a valley, but his burial place was unknown. (Deut. 34:6).

The point of these similarities was that the Angel wanted Elijah to be like Moses; to pray for the peoples’ salvation, to return to the people and lead them and teach them. Moses had begged for God’s mercy for His people; but Elijah was so full of self-justification that he prayed against Israel. And so with us, we are potentially led into situations where we are to discern the similarities between us and Bible characters; we are set up with opportunities to respond in a way that reflects how we have learnt the lessons from them. The way the Lord Jesus perceived this in His wilderness temptations is a great example. In 2 Kings 2:8, at the very end of his public ministry, he smites the waters of Jordan and they open for him to pass over on dry ground, just as Moses did. Perhaps he was trying still to assert himself as Moses; or maybe he had finally arrived at the required humility, and so was permitted to act as Moses. And that is why he is given a role parallel to Moses  at the transfiguration.

When the Lord passed by, there was a whirlwind which broke “in pieces the rocks before the Lord” (1 Kings 19:11). Yet it was Elijah who described himself as the one who stood before the Lord- and even prided himself on this (1 Kings 17:1). He was the rock being broken in pieces by the display of God’s glory. And insofar as we too meditate upon the glory of His character, the attributes outlined in, e.g., Ex. 34:4-6, we likewise will be broken men and women. The “earthquake” is the same word found in Ez. 3:12,13 about a theophany / passing of the cherubim chariot. That whole display of God’s physical glory was intended to stop Elijah just repeating his prepared statement [he says the same thing 3 times]. Grasping the wonder of who God really and essentially is can and must shake us from the mediocrity of entrenched positions, of forms of expressing and understanding our faith which are mere set formulas... See on 1 Kings 21:29.

1Ki 19:12 After the earthquake a fire passed; but Yahweh was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice-
The way God "was not in" the fire, wind and earthquake make all this an empty theophany. God was very much in the fire and earthquake which accompanied the theophany Moses witnessed in the same place, to the extent Moses even saw His back parts. But just as Elijah was spiritually empty, having faith but no love which made him nothing, so he is being shown that he is not in fact the prophet like Moses. For he has not seen Yahweh's back parts, and Yahweh has not come down personally to him as He did to Moses.

God Almighty spoke to the man Elijah in a still [Heb. whispering] small [s.w. "thin" Lev. 13:30; "beaten small" Lev. 16:12; "dwarf" Lev. 21:20] voice. The awesome God of Sinai spoke in the whispering voice of a dwarf, which compared to Elijah’s loud voice. This is not only an essay in the humility of God. It is an essay in how God so earnestly seeks to persuade His children that He works in the small, humble way. And this is contrasted with the loud, booming voice and personality of Elijah. And it isn’t what God wants. Here there is a lesson for any loud mouthed, self-confident, razzamatazz way of presenting the Gospel; it just isn’t to be done. For this is not how God works.

The word was and is God. Dt. 4:12 [Heb.] says that Israel heard God's voice and saw no similitude save a voice. To hear the word is to in that sense see God; for the word was and is God. There are other connections between seeing God and hearing His word in Ex. 20:21 and 1 Kings 19:12-14. Observe the parallelism in 2 Chron. 20:20: "Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper". Our attitude to God is our attitude to His word. Because the word is so pure, therefore we love it (Ps. 119:140). John Carter rightly observed: "Upon our understanding of what the Bible is, our attitude to it will be determined".

1Ki 19:13 It was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. Behold, a voice came to him, and said, Why are you still here, Elijah?-
"Still here" suggests Elijah should have repented of his pride, and realized that he was not like Moses, and should not be standing in "the cave" where Moses had stood. But Elijah insisted on still standing before Yahweh in his own strength. He wrapped his face [s.w. “before” the Lord] in his mantle and “stood” [s.w. ‘stand’ before the Lord] in the cave mouth before the Angel. In Hebrew, the words for ‘face’ and ‘before’ are the same. Too ashamed to really stand before the Lord, Elijah therefore wrapped his face. Earlier, he had been so keen to use this phrase of himself (1 Kings 17:1; 18:15); he had prided himself on the fact that he stood before the Lord. But now he hid his face, a common idiom often used by God for withholding fellowship. The fact we too are God’s covenant people can initially be a source of pride to us as we do our theological gladiatorship with others. But the implications are so far deeper; and through Angelic work in our lives, we too are brought to see this.

The word for “mantle” is translated “glory” in Zech. 11:3; Elijah wrapped his presence in his own glory, rather than face up to the implications of God’s glory. A desire for our own glory prevents us perceiving God’s glory. Perhaps Elijah was being pseudo-humble, misquoting to himself a Biblical precedent in all this, namely that the cherubim wrapped their faces (Is. 6:2). In this case. Elijah was doing a false impersonation of the cherubim, manifesting himself before God’s manifestation of Himself. Only at the very end does Elijah cast away his mantle (2 Kings 2:13), his human strength, allowing himself to merge with God’s glory. He should have cast away his mantle earlier, when he stood before the still small voice on Horeb.

The question “Why are you still here, Elijah?” may imply that Elijah should have allowed himself to be carried away by the cherubim, he should have surrendered himself to the progress of God’s glory, rather than so obsessively insist upon his own personal rightness and the wrongness of others. And this was why God’s ultimate response to Elijah’s attitude on Horeb was to dismiss him from his prophetic ministry and instate Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16). Elijah seems to have finally learnt his lesson, for he calls Elisha to the ministry by ‘passing by’ Elisha as in a theophany, taking off his mantle and throwing it upon Elisha (1 Kings 19:19). He realized that he had hidden behind that mantle, using it to resist participating in the selfless association with God’s glory [rather than his own] to which he was called. But he got there in the end; hence the enormous significance of Elijah giving up his mantle when he finally ascends to Heaven in the cherubim chariot (2 Kings 2:13). 

The question implies that it was wrong for Elijah to have been still in the cave of Moses on Horeb / Sinai. He ought to have realized he was not Moses now, his pride had precluded it. It seems from 1 Kings 19:8 that he himself chose to go there; dwelling in a cleft / cave of the rock is reminiscent of Moses in Sinai in Ex. 34. But Moses was praying for Israel, whereas Elijah was interceding against them, Paul tells us (Rom. 11:2,3). Could it even be that Elijah went down there to Sinai with the idea of somehow asking that a new Israel be formed out of him, as God had offered Moses? Whether this be so or not, the clear implication is that  God was not pleased with what Elijah was doing there. When asked what he was doing, he just repeats verbatim his prayer of intercession against Israel. So on one hand, he shouldn't have been praying that prayer. On the other, he was heard- for God's response is to tell him to anoint Jehu, Hazael and Elisha to destroy apostate Israel, even though He would preserve the 7,000 remnant. So again we see the same theme with Elijah- his undoubted faith in prayer is recognized; he prays for judgment on Israel in a way that is not altogether wrong, and yet sadly differs from the higher spirit of grace which there is in Christ.

Elijah's wrapping of his face in a mantle may have been to consciously imitate Moses, who covered his face from the glory of Yahweh and also covered or hid his face at the burning bush (Ex. 3:6). But again, Elijah is imitiating Moses only a surface level. He has no sense of relationship with God nor growth in that relationship; he merely repeats his position statements three times before God, rather like reciting a statement of faith to God rather than dialoguing with him.

Elijah clearly assumed he would get a physical view of God as Moses did, but was disappointed. This desire to see God is relevant to the context of his life. For some years previously, Jeroboam had set up the golden calves with their implicit claim that Yahweh was invisible. W. F. Albright explains: “Jeroboam represented Yahweh as an invisible figure standing on a young bull of gold. It is true that the golden calves
have been assumed by most scholars to have been direct representations of Yahweh as bull-god, but this gross conception is not only otherwise unparalleled in biblical tradition, but is contrary to all we know of SyroPalestinian iconography in the second and early first millennium B.C. Among the Canaanites, Arameans, and Hittites we find the gods nearly always represented as standing on the back of an animal or as seated on a throne borne by animals—but never as themselves in animal form” (
From the Stone Age to Christianity p. 299).

1Ki 19:14 He said, I have been very zealous for Yahweh, the God of Armies; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, thrown down your altars and slain Your prophets with the sword. I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away-
He laments that Israel had “thrown down” Yahweh’s altars, perhaps pointing the contrast with the way he threw himself down in prayer to Yahweh. The same word is used in Ex. 23:24 about throwing down pagan altars. Elijah was saying that they treated Yahweh’s altars as if they were pagan. But is there any evidence they ever rejected Yahweh like this? Is not Elijah imputing motives to them? Derelict altars of Yahweh- the “high places” which they were repeatedly criticized for- Elijah interpreted as thrown down. To throw them down was a good thing if done from the right motives. But Elijah was in a mindset of seeing and imagining the very worst of his brethren.

The triumph on Carmel involved making an offering on an altar of Yahweh which was in one of the “high places” (1 Kings 18:30)- whereas Israel were repeatedly criticized for offering on these “high places” and not in Jerusalem. Elijah even criticizes Israel for throwing down these “high places” altars of Yahweh (1 Kings 19:10,14). Surely Elijah knew that the use of the high places was not what Yahweh ideally wanted; and yet he was driven to use a high place in this way. And with us, God will work through circumstances to remove from us the crutches of mere religion, to challenge the essence of our faith and relationship with Him. The way Ezekiel had to eat unclean food and defile himself is another such example. 

1Ki 19:15 Yahweh said to him, Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria-
God was indeed going to judge Israel, but not by such a judgmental, angry, bitter person like Elijah. And even now, Elijah doesn't actually do what he is told; he doesn't anoint Jehu nor Hazael to destroy Israel (2 Kings 9:3). It's hard to decide whether this was disobedience or rather an awkward realization that he had been praying with too harsh a spirit for something that would have been best left to God. It's such a warning. It is interesting to compare Elijah's attitude with how Elisha weeps tears over Hazael, knowing how much damage he is going to do to Israel in response to Elijah's prayer (2 Kings 8:12).

1Ki 19:16 You shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi to be king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah to be prophet in your place-
Remember that Elijah considered that he alone was faithful in Israel. If he knew Elisha or Shaphat (and the immediate response of :19 suggests he did), he would likely have wanted to protest 'But he's not sincere, his dad's not a genuine believer, it's all just words with him!', or something similar. But he was being taught that those whom he had written off spiritually, such as Obadiah and the Gentile widow, were in fact just as much God's children as he was. We note that Elijah is not recorded as anointing any of these men.

It appears Elijah never obeyed the command to anoint Elisha as his replacement. It was Elisha and not Elijah who does the job of appointing Hazael king of Syria; it is Elisha's servant who anoints Jehu, not Elijah. And the anointings of Jehu and Hazael were done covertly, not openly, at a time when the ruling monarchs related to those men were weak or sick. Elijah appears to grudgingly accept God's decision by casting his mantle on Elisha, but never anoints him. It's as if he doesn't put the oil of the Spirit on Elisha's head, but rather thinks that his distinctive personal mantle was enough to put on Elisha's head, thinking that was better than the Spirit. We see here the pride which always doggs conservative religion. A hairy mantle was a sign of being a prophet- hence 2 Kings 1:8 RV, where Elijah is described as "a man with a garment of skin"(Heb.). And we learn from Zech. 13:4 that a hairy mantle was a sign of a prophet. So Elijah didn't use the oil of the Spirit on Elisha but rather his own personal symbol of office. And Elijah only does this when he is forcibly snatched away from his ministry, as if in a begrudging and limited act of obedience to this message to anoint Elisha with oil. He leaves it to the last minute, rather than immediately going and doing as he was told and humbly anointing Elisha. 

1Ki 19:17 It shall happen, that he who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and he who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill-
This was largely a prophesy of potentials. There is no record that Elijah anointed Hazael nor Jehu; nor that Elisha killed anyone. It was a potential scenario, perhaps precluded from the start by Elijah's refusal to be obedient to the command to anoint Hazael and Jehu. Perhaps he finally realized that he had been far too judgmental, and didn't want more judgment to flow. And he recognized his unworthiness and failure in his ministry by anointing Elisha to replace him.

1 Kings 21 states that the death of Joram at Jehu's hand was "in accordance with the word of the LORD". Likewise the murder of Ahab's 70 sons is stated to be an explicit fulfilment of Yahweh's word here "through His servant Elijah" (2 Kings 10:10,17 cp. 1 Kings 21:21). But the "through" begs many questions. Elijah maybe repeated these words- but failed to anoint Jehu to do the job as requested. Or maybe the idea is that God's word still finally comes true despite human failure, as we have here on Elijah's part.

 So God's word through Elijah was fulfilled, but not through the initially intended mechanism- that Elijah would anoint Jehu. Actually he didn't, Elisha took on the job but got his servant to do it- who nervously ran off after doing it. But still God's word came true- although the path to fulfilment of it varied in accordance with human weakness and, as it were, availability to God. This explains why and how prophecies have varying fulfilments but always somehow come true in the end.   

We note too from Hos. 1:4 that God punished Jehu for what he did- presumably because he did it from the wrong motives, i.e. his own blood lust and desire for personal agrandisement: "I will avenge the blood of Jezreel on the house of Jehu".


1Ki 19:18 Yet will I leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him-
Elijah, as many an isolated preacher, felt that he alone was faithful. Yet he was reminded that Yahweh had left Himself 7,000 that had not bowed the knee to Baal. It is easy to assume that this means that those 7,000 were out there in Israel but unknown to Elijah. However it is possible to read the Hebrew text as meaning ‘I have marked off 7,000 potentially, now Elijah, stop moaning, go out there and find them and convert them’. This would be why Elijah prayed that the people would see that God had already turned their heart back (1 Kings 18:37)- He had potentially enabled their conversion. Something similar may be hinted at in Jn. 1:7, where we read that all of Israel could have believed due to the work of John. It was potentially possible.

The Hebrew for “left” can imply that God had preserved potentially the 7,000- or, that there simply were 7,000 faithful right then in Israel. Faithfulness to Yahweh was itself a gift, just as faith is a gift which not all men have; "all men have not faith... it is the gift of God... not of yourselves". Elijah was being taught that his own faith was in a sense also a gift from God. Hence Rom. 11:4-6 says that the 7000 represent the remnant according to grace; they were faithful because of God's grace to them. Yet Elijah clearly discounted them. The more God sought to teach Elijah that he really was not alone, that his view of others was far too dismissive, the more Elijah became almost bitter with God. The conversion of Israel on Carmel turned out, I suggest, a surprise for Elijah. He wasn’t expecting them to start chanting “El is Yah”, “The Lord, He is the God”. They were chanting his name- Elijah. But he turns and runs to Jezreel, and then goes out into the desert and becomes suicidal. Effectively he preferred the life of the lonely spiritual hero, with the people in apostasy; and there are many such examples of brethren who prefer a life of self-imposed exile because of the supposed errors of God’s people- no matter what good there is amongst their brethren. And actually, deny it as we may, we all have an element of this deep within us.

There is such a thing as feeling lonely when we needn’t. Elijah is an example of this; he felt that he was “left alone” faithful in Israel- even though there were another 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (Rom. 11:3). The Hebrew in 1 Kings is hard to translate. It could mean that God reserved 7,000 of Elijah’s brothers and sisters who potentially would not bow the knee to Baal. Yet Elijah didn’t want to see the potential of his brethren. He set himself in a league above them, like the Psalmist, saying in his haste that all men are liars (Ps. 116:11).


The one hundred prophets of 1 Kings 18:4 were presumably part of the 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And maybe they weren’t that strong- they are set up as representative of those who will only be saved by grace, not their works (Rom. 11:4-6). But, by implication, Elijah, for all his love of Israel, did not look upon them through the eyes of grace. Elijah insisted that he alone was “left”; yet God says that He has “left” Himself the 7,000 (1 Kings 19:18). The preservation of the people of God, or ‘the truth’, can be done, and is done, by God Himself; yet the likes of Elijah consider that it is they who ‘preserve the truth’. Again, Elijah had to learn that we are all saved by grace. God will leave for and to Himself His people, without requiring the help of man. Elijah struggled with this issue of accepting others and not thinking he was the only one who could do the job right up to the end of his ministry; for he ascends to Heaven clutching his mantle, the sign of his prophetic ministry. It seems to me that he took it with him because he felt that not even Elisha was really fit to do the job and take his place; but perhaps in what were possibly the last seconds of his mortal life, he learnt his lesson and let go of it, allowing it to fall to the earth to let another man take it up. 

Some manuscripts and LXX say that Elijah was leaving 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal, which would imply that his ministry was being ended because he had not ministered to them. He had considered them apostate and himself as the only true Yahweh worshipper left in the land. This is a powerful warning to the tendency toward spiritual elitism which seems such a common human temptation.


1Ki 19:19 So he departed to there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was ploughing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed over to him, and threw his mantle on him-
God’s rejection of Elijah as prophet was because he didn’t recognize his brethren. See on :13. Perhaps the 12 yoke was to keep alive the prophetic hope that Judah and Israel would be united in repentance toward the prophetic message. Elijah had built an altar of 12 stones and offered an acceptable sin offering upon it, speaking of the same prophetic intention. Elijah apparently didn't anoint Hazael and Jehu as commanded; but he did give his ministry over to Elisha to replace him. I take that as humility from him, in the very end, although too late for God to continue to use him in ministry as initially intended.

However, "twelve yoke of oxen" could refer to an area of land known as a twelve yoke, or to 12 parcels of land.

1Ki 19:20 He left the oxen, and ran after Elijah-
Possibly implying that Elijah walked on immediately, as a test as to whether Elisha would respond immediately. Immediate response, "yes straight away", is what God so looks for. We see it in the call of the disciples. However in practice we sense a half hearted desire on Elijah's part for Elisha to follow him. He doesn't want to be replaced as God had commanded. He calls him and just walks away rather than trying to persuade him.

And said, Let me please kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you. He said to him, Go back again; for what have I done to you?-
See on :16. The Lord Jesus makes an allusion here when He says that if anyone wants to follow Him but firstly must go home, then such a person is unworthy of Him (Lk. 9:61,62). He shows by this that He expects more of us than Elijah did; He is a more demanding Lord than Elijah, precisely because He is the more gracious. Elijah allowed him to return home first; "for what have I done to you?" is hard to understand, but it seems to mean to the effect that 'I am not myself being unreasonable; this call is not of me, I have not done this to you, but God has by calling you'. There could be there a possible hint of bitterness at his replacement by Elisha; see on :16. There is no record that Elijah ever anointed Elisha as he was commanded to. We could even interpret these enigmatic words as Elijah telling Elisha to return home and not follow Elijah. LXX "Return, for I have done the work for you" encourages us in thinking that. All this is a studied refusal to do as God has told him, and let Elisha take his place.

1Ki 19:21 He returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, killed them and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave to the people and they ate. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and served him-
We have here an example of servant leadership. He had been given Elijah's mantle already (:19) and presumably Elijah had explained to him the Lord's word about transferring the ministry to Elisha. But Elisha begins by serving Elijah (2 Kings 3:11 implies in quite a menial way). His destruction of so many oxen and their yoke was really burning all his bridges to return home. His family may well have seen it as an unnecessary waste, as that may have represented a large part of their family wealth. 

Elijah was told to replace himself with Elisha, but it seems he only called Elisha to be his servant and didn't anoint him as asked. Hence the section finishes with the comment that Elisha served him. That was not at all what God asked of Elijah. His taking up and snatching away was God forcing him to end his ministry; Elisha was told that Yahweh would take away his master from above his head, indicating Elijah was in the role of Elisha's master [and Elisha was his servant] right up to the moment he was carried away in the whirlwind. Taken away from above his head (2 Kings 2:3 "Yahweh will take away your master from your head today") is a strange phrase. Perhaps it indicates that Elijah was forcibly removed from having Elisha as his servant, and the way Elijah refused to relinquish his role was displeasing to God. But we note how in the gap between being fires from his ministry and being forcibly stopped from continuing it, God graciously still used him.