Daniel Agee

Question: Is there messianic significance to Eliyahu’s lying on the dead child three times (1st Kings 17)?

In 1st Kings 17:21–22, where Elijah lies down on the dead child three times and revives him, is this a Messianic reference, and if so, can you tell me it’s significance? —Anna C.

Daniel AgeeAbsolutely! Funny you should ask, because over the last month or so I have read the companion story (2nd Kings 4:32–35) to my children a dozen times and have been slowly “working” on these two thematically duplicate stories for when I present them to our congregation. I am not finished with them yet, so I can only give you a partial answer at this time. In my opinion the following comparisons are worth examining:

Similarities in each story

  • Both sections are introduced with flour and/or oil being supplied by the hand of God to a widow and her son (or sons).
  • Both stories involve the slow death on a son who is brought up to the room and bed of the prophet of God.
  • Each mother went to the respective prophet and pleaded in a “blaming” manner, as if the prophet were responsible for the loss and sorrow over the son. (That is symbolically true.)
  • Each prophet made three attempts to revive the dead child. (Elisha’s first attempt was with his staff through Gehazi.)
  • They each cried out or prayed to God and stretched themselves out on the dead child as if to “give their strength of life” to the child.
  • Each child awakens and is presented to the respective mother.
  • The mothers each acknowledge the power and honor toward the prophet.
  • One of the “key” elements in each story as to the symbolic identity of the mothers is the accusation of “lie” converting to “truth.” The Shunamite woman accused the prophet of “lying” to her about the gift of her son. The Zarephath woman uses the phrase, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

Symbolic characters in the stories

In my opinion, after examining these two stories I see a number of messianic explanations within them. Elijah (“my God is Yahu”) and Elisha (“my God is Shua”) are symbolic in these two stories of, primarily, God. (Although, at least once they each semi-switch to Messiah.) The dead sons are symbolic of Messiah, and the mothers are symbolic of Children of Israel — in particular, the accusers during Yashua’s life and then also the followers of Yashua after He rose from the dead.

The obvious identification of the dead son is with the number 3 and what was once dead is brought back to life. Also in the story of Elijah the woman and her son are going to die at the beginning of the story and are “promised” life by Elijah. The Shunamite woman is “promised” a son at the beginning of her story as well. This tells me that a promised son is going to die and be brought back to life after the number three occurs. Each son is given/promised life “temporarily” and then it is taken away before it is resorted a “second time” in full.

The next identification I see is with the two women. The sons each came from them — the promise was made to them. They were responsible for the care and well-being of the promised child — explicit in the Shunamite woman’s husband who sent the child to her for his care. They each received the first part of their promise i.e. the life of the child. Although each woman expected to receive the whole promise. When they did not receive the whole promise they “accused” the prophet of “lying” — the Zarephath woman’s was an indirect accusation. After then receiving the whole promise they acknowledged that what they thought was a lie was the truth. To me, the people during Yashua’s time also accused Him of lying about His life being promised from God — about His being the promised Messiah. They did not understand until after He was resurrected what the promise actually meant. After that time, then the followers of God understood and acknowledged the power and truthfulness of God.

To me the two prophets are obviously and “mostly” acting as God these stories. They “granted” life back to the dead child. They are the ones who made the promise to the two women. They are the ones who “owned” the bed the child was in. They separated/shut-out the mothers from the rooms (remember “where I am going you cannot follow” quote from Yashua?). They “presented” the live child to the mother to receive. In the case of Elisha, he “sent his servant before him with his staff/power to the woman’s house.” The servant then returned to him with the “power” in his hand. The moment when the prophets switch to a Messianic symbol is when they each stretched out on the child “giving their life” to the child. In a symbolic way, it is as if they gave “their life for the child” to fulfill the promise that they — acting in the role of God — gave to the two women.

I hope this helps you in some way, I intend to go a little more in-depth during my presentation of 1st Kings 17 when I reach that chapter at Hallel Fellowship. I have not finished examining the father of the son nor the servant of Elisha at this time so I left them out of this response.


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