“A rope. We shoulda put a rope around that old boy, so we could haul him out like Moses dragged out Nadab and Abihu.”
“Rope? You old fool. Don’t believe every moldy tale your buddies in the market tell you. We never tied a rope around a priest. Not in Moses’ time. Not ever.”
“Well then, age limit. When that old geezer dragged in last night, I took one look and knew he’d never make it through the incense. Fifty! Fifty is as old as we should let any priest go in there.”
When Zechariah saw the angel, the tiny altar shovel slipped out of his hand and clattered on the floor. Hot coals bounced into his sandals and onto his toes.
“Ai-yah!” He kicked them away.
The angel picked up the coals and put them back on the fire. He laid the shovel in the hand of the old priest. “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. You and Elizabeth are going to have a baby.”
Zechariah set the little shovel down by the altar fire. “Baby?”
Women in Hebron said Elizabeth would make a good mother, and she would, if they could only get pregnant.
“You heard right. You’ve got a baby coming—in the spirit and power of Elijah.”
Zechariah’s knees wobbled, but he spread his feet, stood straight, and stared at the candelabra.
We could never get enough.
He wrote no book, braved no lions’ den.
Yet we loved the shaggy look, the in-your-face.
We hid with him at the Kerith, and then we marveled with him at the bottomless flour barrel.
And we peeked over his shoulder. Dogs drink Ahab’s blood? Jehoram’s bowels drop out piece-by-piece? We cringed. We snarled. We loved it all.
His fiery chariot? When Nebuchadnezzar knocked down our temple and roped us like cattle and marched us 900 miles north, we seriously looked for his fiery horses to break through the clouds.
I didn’t happen, but would we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? By the rivers of Babylon we hung our harps on a weeping willow tree and dreamed about the young man in goatskin.
Then Cyrus sent us home! On the road back to Jerusalem, we told stories about that long-ago boy who stepped out of the crowd and faced down a king. Would such a brave lad hide from soldiers? Oh, yes. After the horrors of exile, we understood. [A tiny bit of detail RE horrors, please?]
We were so ready to hear what he learned from that still small voice.
And then Malachi—Malachi promised the Lord would send us Elijah.
The old priest blinked. “Did you say, ‘Elijah’?”
“You will call him John.”
“John, okay. So we name the baby John, but you need to realize you are talking to a very old man about having a baby. And my Elizabeth, well… Are you for real?” Zechariah reached over to touch him, but the angel took a step back.
“You want real, old man? Here’s real. You’re going to be mute until the big event.” The angel disappeared.
Zechariah stumbled out and did a little charade. He hung around just long enough to complete his temple duties, and hurried home to Hebron. Elizabeth became pregnant. She hid away for the customary five months and then stepped out and sang.1
“Look what the Lord has done for me!”
The baby arrived, and eight days later, Zechariah welcomed people into their home for the circumcision.
The guests looked at Elizabeth. “What’s this child’s name?”
They looked at her mute husband. “But your family has no such name.”
Zechariah took a slate and wrote, “His name is John.” As he handed it to them, his face flushed, and he spoke. “The Lord has come to his people!”
John wore a camel’s hair shirt fastened with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild honey, and people left the comforts of home to hear what he had to say.
“Snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Stop flashing your pedigree.”
He reached into the river bed and stood up with a stone in each hand. “The Lord can turn these into children of Abraham.”
He walked over to a pear tree and grasped a branch. “Take a good look at the axe in the Lord’s hand, because if your tree doesn’t bear good fruit, he’s cutting it down.”
Not as gory as bowels falling out a piece at a time, but right there in the face.
“Are—are you Elijah?”
“Ha! Don’t you wish. No. You know who I am? I’m a voice. A voice that says, straighten up. The Lord’s clearing the floor. Grain to the granary, chaff to the fire.”
Many did go straight. But not the king.
John told him, “Send your brother’s wife back to your brother,” so King Herod threw John in prison. He kept him down in the dark, in the damp, for a long, long time.
Once, when John first heard the voice of Mary, he did a dance right there inside his mother’s womb. But after all these weeks in Herod’s cell, those moves didn’t work for him.
Once a dove floated out of the sky and settled on Jesus right in front of John. But down here, the only thing falling from above was cockroaches.
Once John shouted to the crowd, but only a few gathered at the bars of this cell.
So John sent two friends. They worked their way through the crowd and stood in front of Jesus. “John wants to know. Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?”
Heads snapped up, eyes slid sideways, and the buzz of the multitude fell off.
Did they hear right?
Hadn’t John called Jesus, “The Lamb of God”?
Jesus took his time. He looked at the two and then out at the throng. Loud for the crowd, he quoted Isaiah. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor hear good news.” He let his hands rest a moment on the two friends’ shoulders. “Look, what John needs—he needs you to look around and tell him what you see, what you hear.”
As the two headed back to John’s cell, Jesus asked the throng, “Remember when you went out to John in the wilderness?” Faces turned his way.
“Did you search the reeds for patterns from the wind?” They shook their heads.
“Were you hoping to see someone in a soft robe?” Several smiled.
“No. You were looking for a man who doesn’t hold back, who lets the truth bubble out. And you found him, the messenger of Malachi.”
Eyebrows raised, but Jesus nodded. “That’s right. Believe it or not, John is that Elijah who was to come.”
At Herod’s birthday banquet, his step daughter danced for the guests, and Herod stood. “What can I give you, child?” He made a grand sweep of the arm. “To the half of my kingdom!”
“Just a minute.” She skipped out to her mother while the wives whispered. “How sweet.”
She pranced back in. “Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Right now.”
Conversation stopped. The king glanced toward his guests. But he spoke to a guard, and soon a soldier brought in John’s head.
When Jesus heard what they did to his cousin, he got in a boat and went off alone.
A few weeks later, he took three friends up a mountain. At the top, the three friends sat under an oak tree. Whoa! Jesus’ clothes glowed whiter than white. He crossed the clearing. What’s this? He stood and chatted with Moses and Elijah.
“Let’s build three cabins. One for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But Jesus waved goodbye to Moses and Elijah. He led his three friends down the mountain and back to the city, and his clothes lost their luster.
Mathew 17:4 – “If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Elijah to the Rescue
When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5634-elijah Pirḳe R. El. l.c.
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5634-elijah Pesiḳ. R. xxii.; Yer. Ber. ii.
Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b, H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitzky, eds., Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends), translated by William G. Braude, Schocken Books, NY, 1992). page 223
Teachers and rabbis even dreamed up their own stories and slapped “Elijah” on them. A few based their tales on things that really happened, and most put in those fun apocryphal twists that rabbis and preachers use to help us remember.
Here are five from the Talmud and the New Testament.
One rabbi said the chariot dropped Elijah off at the crossroads of paradise with three forever duties.
1) To show the pious the door into paradise.
2) To lead the people in hell outside each Sabbath. People in hell get the Sabbath off?
3) To usher the wicked into paradise after they have suffered for their sins.
Nobody in Elijah’s family liked the idea of him on crossing-guard duty eternal 24/7. They preferred the story invented by a rabbi in Belarus about the travelling salesman.
The way Howd told it, the salesman got into town just as Sabbath was about to start and needed a place to stash his cash. Jews are not supposed to carry money on the Sabbath — you knew that.
Well, the salesman went to the synagogue and saw a man wearing little leather boxes. (The more religious Jews put these boxes with scripture verses inside on their hand and forehead as a literal way of doing Exodus 13:16, “And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead.” They call little boxes “phylacteries,” an old word meaning “guards,” because they guard the wearer against forgetting the Lord’s teachings.) The little boxes made him think he could trust this man to hold his money for him. So he gave him his purse until the Sabbath was over.
Elisheva liked to interrupt here with, “How was it legal for one person to carry money and not the other?” But everyone else let Howd tell the story his way.
When the salesman came back after the Sabbath, people said, “You gave your money to that hypocrite?!”
Not to worry, for that night Elijah appeared in a dream and showed the salesman how to get his money back from the swindler’s wife.
Elisheva again: “Just what did your little brother suggest, Howd? Show up at the door with a knife?” Howd, with a straight face: “The rabbi in Minsk does not reveal our little brother’s tactics.”
The little brother, himself, told the tale of the sympathetic dogs.
Dog owners understand how their pet senses mood changes, feeling sad or happy in sympathy with the master’s sadness. And it seems a Rabbi in Poland started telling people that because Elijah rescues so many Jews from so many troubles in so many places and so often, their sympathetic dogs learned his scent. To smell Elijah on the air meant their masters would soon be released from certain calamity and be happy. Before long, people all over the Diaspora knew that when their dogs began making happy puppy noises, Elijah was nearby, doing a good deed.
Elijah rather enjoyed the feel of the noses of the many dogs which people brought up to take a whiff.
The story of the Rabbi Who Was Right, made Elijah’s mother squint sideways at Elisheva, but it put a big smile on the face of her father. “Crazy story,” he chuckled. “But spot on about God.” A rabbi in Babylon invented this story. The main character is a Rabbi Eliezer, and Elijah only comes in at the end.
It seems this Rabbi Eliezer proposed a technology to prevent an oven from becoming ritually impure, but the wise men studying with him said his method would not work. He showed them all the ways it would work. But they disagreed.
The Rabbi was so confident that he said, “Look, I’m right, and this carob tree will prove I’m right!” And with everybody watching, the carob tree uprooted itself, moved 100 cubits (some say 400), and dug itself in again. The other scholars said, “Carob trees have nothing to do with our discussion.”
“Okay,” he said, “If I’m right, let the water prove it!” But when the stream started flowing backward, they said, “Water has nothing to do with this.”
Again he urged, “Let these walls prove it!” The walls started to fall in on the sages, but Rabbi Joshua lifted his hand. “When we are discussing halakhah (the path), what right have you to interfere?!” So the walls stood still, and the sages said, “Walls have nothing to do with this.”
“Hmm … ,” Rabbi Eliezer told them, “I know I’m right, and a voice from heaven is going to prove it.” Sure enough, a divine voice boomed down at them, “Why do you dispute Rabbi Eliezer?! He is always right about halakhah!”
But Rabbi Joshua looked up and replied, “The Torah is not in heaven, and we pay no attention to voices from heaven! Our Torah tells us the majority rules!” (Deut. 30:12, Ex. 23:2)
When the sages were on their way home, one saw Elijah and asked how the Holy One reacted to Rabbi Joshua’s rebuke. Elijah told him the Lord laughed out loud, “My children have defeated Me! My children have defeated Me!”
Elijah’s father, Zadok, said he liked how this story shows our Father in Heaven wanting His children to grow up and cooperate. He gave us His Torah, and now He wants us to put our heads together and make it work. Elijah’s mother, Tirzah, said it’s just a silly story.
 http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5634-elijah Pirḳe R. El. l.c.
 http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5634-elijah Pesiḳ. R. xxii.; Yer. Ber. ii.
 Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b, H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitzky, eds., Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends), translated by William G. Braude, Schocken Books, NY, 1992). page 223
 From Hyam Maccoby
1Imagine being struck mute for 9 months when your wife is expecting your first child. You and she are late in your years and you thought you weren’t going to have any. You’re unable to share the joy of this miracle, this unexpected son. https://www.facebook.com/vmidave81