Monday, 6 June 2011

Elijah on Family

The Spirit of Elijah, prophesied by Malachi ("he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers", Malachi 4:6), is understood by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be that spirit who guides us into performing family history work, and saving ordinances for the dead. It is his doing that the world as a whole has become so fascinated with family trees in recent years - but what has all this to do with Elijah?

If asked to tell a story about Elijah, most people would talk about him being carried to heaven in a chariot (2 Kings 2:9-11), hearing the still, small voice of the Lord (1 Kings 19:11-13), or summoning fire to light a wet altar (1 Kings 18:22-40). There is, however, another major incident in Elijah's life: the time when he sealed the heavens, so no rain fell in Israel for three years (1 Kings 17-18, and in fact the first story we have of him). During those three years, when Elijah was in hiding (since, rather understandably, people wanted to kill him), we know of only one incident when he went out into the world again.

The Lord sent Elijah to the house of a poor widow, who was suffering because of the drought. In fact, she had only enough meal and oil to make two small cakes, which she was going to eat with her son and then die. Elijah proceeded to insist she make him a cake first, which must have been a hard thing for the widow to do. However, even as the Lord does, Elijah gave her a promise that would follow her obedience to God's servant: if she fed Elijah, the meal and oil would not run out until rain came again.

If someone asked this of us, we would likely be uncertain. We might decide to make our own cakes first, perhaps, and then, if there was any left, we'd give one to Elijah. The widow, however, did not. 1 Kings 17:15 - "She went and did according to the saying of Elijah", just like that. And Elijah's promise came true.

Elijah stayed with the little family, and after a time the widow's son grew sick - so sick that he died. Elijah took him and prayed over him - "O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again!" (1 Kings 17:21). The boy was raised from the dead, and Elijah returned him to his mother with the words "See, thy son liveth." (1 Kings 17:23)

Elijah's mission in this dispensation is just as personal as his mission to the widow. He isn't here to perform massive-scale miracles, but to help individuals - both living and dead. By so doing, he draws families closer together, giving them sustenance through their hard times, and helping them to understand that those who have passed on are not truly dead - they live in the spirit world, will come forth in the resurrection, and we will be reunited with them. Then we can say with the widow, "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth." (1 Kings 17:24)