The Heart of Elijah
"And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. 31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob… built an altar in the name of the LORD" (1 Kings 18:30-32).
In the days of the prophet Elijah, the people of God were divided. The glorious reign of the days of David and Solomon had been split in two: the northern kingdom (Ephraim) and southern kingdom (Judah). In the northern kingdom, there were ten tribes; in the southern kingdom, there were two. The royal dynasties were different and ran parallel without ever touching. From that glorious kingdom of yore, there was not much to show.
The scene in these verses is known to all readers of the Bible. Elijah defies the prophets of Baal so that in front of everyone, they may show the power of their god. When the prophets failed, Elijah took his turn.
So the first thing Elijah does is restore the altar of the Lord that was broken. This is very symbolic because God needed a foundation to act and that foundation is the altar. The fellowship with God had to be restored since it had been broken by the continued idolatry of Israel. And to do that, Elijah takes twelve stones according to the number of the sons of Jacob. This is what we would like to emphasize. Elijah took twelve stones – not ten as it would have been expected if he had had in mind only the northern kingdom.
Elijah was from Thisbe, a region in Gilead. And Gilead was across the Jordan in the territory of Manasseh. Hence, Elijah lived in the northern kingdom; however, he takes twelve stones, which also include the two tribes of the kingdom of Judah. Elijah may have acted as anyone would have done guided by political concepts in that particular juncture. However, in the heart of the prophet, was all of Israel as if it were not divided. And the heart of Elijah is the heart of God.
When God looked at Israel, he did not see a divided kingdom– but a united kingdom, the expression of God's love for his people. Years later the prophet Ezekiel would see it in same way when he announced that the two kingdoms will be reunited (Ezek. 37:19). Man’s defection, his failure to faithfully preserve the testimony of God, does not change God's purpose or dull the desire of his heart.
What would have happened if Elijah had tried to rebuild the altar with ten stones? Would fire have descended from heaven to consume the burnt offering? If we understand the way God thinks, we believe that that would not have happened. God does not bless division but that which corresponds to his model, to his eternal plan.
In the same way, the unfortunate picture of a divided church today should not make us lose sight the purpose of God. Like Elijah, we need to have a stretched heart to welcome all the children of God, acting as if that unity was never lost. We should not accept a name over us that identifies us with only one fraction of God’s people. Our gaze should be as broad and comprehensive as the gaze of God. That way, we will think and feel like him, thus, pleasing his heart.