Some of the Tishbeites, under fierce attack due to their stubborn refusal to give up Yahweh and practice the religion of the Canaanites that was widely popular all the way to the throne, fled to Gilead. Hunted by the soldiers of Omri, they sought freedom to worship Yahweh.
Before the move, however, one of their number was found dead on the road leading to the village. His head had been crushed by a large rock, from behind. The widow took her son and two girls, gathered a few belongings and put them on a donkey, and they joined the new Tishbe in Gilead.
Unfortunately, this was a poor place for them to live, and the village struggled, barely alive after most people left for better places and only a few families, the poorest, remained behind.
Amidst the rocks and scrubby vegetation that was so ill suited to farming or even grazing, the widow desperately tried to find enough food for her family. She fell sick and soon died, leaving her three children orphans.
The two girls went to an aunt, and a uncle took the eight year old boy, Elijah. The aunt moved from Tishbe and Elijah never saw his sisters again. As for the uncle, things were so bad with his farming and sheep-herding that he fed the boy only a few scraps and kept him working out in the fields, and beat him when the boy keep up the work his uncle expected.
Beaten repeatedly with sticks and clubs, starving, grieving the loss of his mother and sisters, the boy one morning left the sheepfold of his uncle and fled into the wilderness.
Like a cony, he lived in the clefts of the high, big rocks, venturing out to eat whatever he could find. He wore his clothes so long they were nothing but shreds, so he went about half-naked. His hair was long and tangled. He was dirty and wild. When people approached, he ran from them, even when they called to him. Mostly they threw stones and yelled at him. Sometimes soldiers tried to bring him down with an arrow, for pure amusement, calling him a “wild goat-boy.”
Spending all his hours alone, he had only his own thoughts. He knew nothing but the life at his uncle’s and now the hard existence in the wilderness, which he preferred to going back for more beatings. Where were his sisters? Where was his mother? He knew his mother had died, for he had seen her buried, but he could not reconcile himself to her loss. As for his father, he was dim in his memory. He had heard from his mother that his father worshipped Yahweh, the God of their fathers. That is all he knew, other than that his mother spoke with love of his father.
“He was a good man to me,” she had told Elijah, which he never forgot.
But what was a good man? He knew only that it could not be a man such as his uncle, or the man who was king and sent soldiers out to hunt down people with their swords and arrows. Such men were cruel and bloodthirsty.
And Yahweh? Who was He among the gods the people worshipped? His uncle was supposed to be a worshiper of Yahweh, yet he was a very cruel and wicked man. Was Yahweh cruel too? Was any god good? Elijah wondered. His mother was the only one who loved Yahweh, and she was good to him. That told him that good people served Yahweh, while people like his uncle and the king of Israel only claimed to serve him.
One day a disciple (son) of the sopetets passed through Gilead. He had gone from up from Bethel to deliver a word from the Lord to the king of Sidon a number of times, warning him of judgment to come if he did not turn to the Most High God, and so the wilderness round Tishbe was familiar to him because Gilead was the safer route to go, rather than pass so close to Jezreel in Ahab’s domains. He was surprised to find a wild boy crouching in the rocks above his camp, however. He had never seen the wild goat-boy before. He called him. The boy vanished from sight.
The man knew what to do. He took some curd and some bread and set it higher up among the rocks, and later he saw the boy again. He called. This time the boy did not flee. Giving more food, he encouraged the boy to come down to his camp. This took hours, as the boy was very frightened of grown men and strangers of any kind.
He gave the boy two sheepskins to cover his shoulders and loins. After this was done, the boy slept by the fire, and in the morning took more food.
When the man broke camp and took his two donkeys and started off toward Gilgal, the boy followed. Three years later, the boy was still at Gilgal, receiving training in the holy writ of Yahweh. Three years later still, he moved to Bethel and received more training. One day the center at Bethel was raided by the king’s army. He was pursued as he ran away from Bethel where the sopetets and their young men in training were being killed. A horsed soldier nearly had him run to ground when a bright light shone before them in the path. The horse reared throwing its rider, who was flung into the rocks below off the trail and killed. As for Elijah, he lay prostrate, seeing the great light and the man who appeared standing in the light.
“I am the Lord thy God! Do not fear, for I am with you, whithersoever thou go! I will make of you a fine threshing instrument, and you will thresh the sopetets of the false gods of this land, after which My people have gone whoring. You will also thresh the king when I send you against him and you will not spare his wife.”
Despite this assurance, Elijah mourned the loss of the only family he had lately known—the prophets and their trainees. When he gathered courage enough to creep back into Bethel, he found only bodies of his friends. The sight made him ill, so ill he fell on the ground and shook uncontrollably. Unknowingly, he bit his tongue, and later he awoke, with a tongue that he could scarcely move, it was so bloody and swollen. What had happened to him? The terrible trembling that seized him, throwing him to the ground, what was it? It terrified him, to think it might happen again. He ran from Bethel, not stopping until he was many miles away, lost in the mountains. What would become of him? Almighty God had befriended h im, yet where was He? God seemed to have vanished from his life.
Mourning and feeling sorry for himself, hardly able to eat with his swollen tongue, Elijah eluded the king’s soldiers and lived a solitary life. Yet he couldn’t help but remember the warmth and good food of the company of the prophets and their “sons.” Could he become a son again? Would they accept him?
Craving fellowship badly enough to conquer his fear and suspicion drove the wild goat-boy back into human company when he joined the prophets at Gilgal in Judah. Here he finished his education and grew to manhood. Raids came, but they were more alert to such things, and kept sentries posted to give the alarm so they could all run and get safely away.
Unfortunately for Elijah, the troubles of his falling down and uncontrollable shaking did not go away. He nearly ruined his tongue—so he spoke thickly and sparingly as possible.
This did not help cultivate his character or aid his dealings with people, who often thought his strange quiet or few, rough words a sign of a churlish nature.
Yet those who knew his affliction valued him—knowing, and having seen, the Finger of God upon him, not only sparing his life from soldiers again and again, but actually transporting him right out of the country to a safe location when he couldn’t make it away on his own tough, donkey-like legs.
It came to pass that Omri the wicked king of Israel, long in evil deeds as in years, died. Who was the successor in the Northern Kingdom, Elijah’s long-lost homeland? Elijah inquired and found out it was a man named Ahab, a son of Omri. And who was his wife? He was told that while a crown prince, Ahab the son of Omri had been sent to the idolatrous court of Sidon to seek a wife who would grace his court with her beauty. Elijah waited, wondering what Yahweh would have him do and say to the idol-worshiping king, who spurned the holy laws in taking a foreign wife devoted to idols such as he heard this royal Sidonitess, Jezebel, to be.