I am curious why James selects Elijah’s prayers starting and ending a drought in Israel as an example of how powerfully a righteous man’s prayer can give healing (James 5:17-18). How does this support the author's point?

If James were just talking about healing, wouldn't it be more appropriate to use Elijah’s prayer to resurrect the widow’s son from 1Ki 17:21-22? Or is James suggesting that the elders pray that the person become sick and then after confession pray for healing?

  • James has left the subject of physical healing in verse 15 and has moved to the matter of personal faults in verse 16. He is writing of the healing of personal faults in verse 16. Thus his example of Elias refers to all of the prayer he has already discussed - prayer of affliction, verse 13, prayers of illness, verses 14-15, and prayers of fault, verse 16. Not, exclusively, the matter of illness and healing. – Nigel J Jun 6 '18 at 10:13
  • @NigelJ: I see where you're going, but your progression leaves a number of open questions. Why in the middle of a progression of prayers of affliction, illness, and fault does James introduce praise for cheerfulness in verse 13b? Why does he change from the suffering individual praying in verse 13a to elders praying in verse 14? If this passage is all about the effectiveness of prayer, how does the significance of confession (verse 16a) fit in with that picture? – Tim Jun 8 '18 at 16:51
  • When Elijah resurrected the widow's son, he gave life to just one man, but when he prayed for the heavens to be opened, he gave life to countless many. – Lucian Jun 11 '18 at 14:19
  • @Lucian, you make a great point as to the magnitude of healing provided by Elijah's prayer. However, your argument focuses on verse 18, and it side-steps verse 17, where Elijah's prayer caused death and suffering to countless many. Why would James want to talk about prayers causing death and suffering in the context of an admonition to call the elders to pray for reducing the suffering and ailments of a sick individual? – Tim Jun 11 '18 at 14:29
  • @Tim: I didn't skip anything, I was merely interacting with your point. James' argument is about the power of prayer in general, not merely prayers for healing in particular (albeit that's his starting point), and closing or opening up the sky seem more impressive than Elijah's other great deeds in this respect. – Lucian Jun 11 '18 at 16:22

Using the story of Elijah praying for rain to stop and then to rain again is probably more effective because it was in these situations that Elijah declared "I am the only remaining prophet of the LORD, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets." (1 Kings 18:22)

In other stories, one could argue that the faith or righteousness of the person being healed or other people in the situation could have an impact on the result. But with land and rain, it is a collective issue. In Leviticus 18:25,28; 20:22 it tells the Israelites that if they defile the land like the nations before them, the land will 'vomit them out'. Drought is a very common reason for people who rely on agriculture to be unable to live in the land.

James, using the Elijah story, is stating that one righteous man, even in the face of an unrighteous nation, can bring change and healing. Just as Elijah's prayer for rain brought healing to a land that was parched with drought, our prayer, even if we are the only one left, can bring healing.

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  • Moria, thanks for your insights. I'm not understanding, given the context in James, why the apostle would wish to emphasize the solitary station of Elijah. The sick individual and the elders are all Christians, and there's nothing from the context suggesting the presence of a host of unbelieving witnesses. You suggest that James is trying to rule out the faith of the individual, but that counteracts Jesus' words in Matt 9:22, Mark 10:52, etc. So, can you elaborate why you believe James wants to emphasize the elders' solitary station or righteousness apart from the sick person's? – Tim Jun 8 '18 at 17:03

Excellent question. I'm trying to imagine Elijah going around saying, "This drought we're having - I prayed for that!" I really don't think the drought was Elijah's bright idea, but that he was seeking what God wanted to do and prayed into that.

In his prayer on Mt Carmel at the end of the drought, his prayer in 1 Kings 18:36 begins:

LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.

"All these things" suggests that the drought's beginning and end, the 'fire-from-heaven' competition, the slaughtering of the prophets of Baal - all these were the Lord's plan to turn his people back to him, and Elijah was just doing his part as God's servant.

Coming back to James, I think he's saying that rather than just praying for what suits ourselves, first ask God what he wants in the situation.

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Changing the weather - the natural course of nature - seems on its face something absolutely impossible. Yet the fact that in God's inspired word it is related that a faithful prophet prayed for a change in even long term weather and it occurred gives hope for those who fully trust in God's ability to accomplish what is prayed for that in prayer they can accomplish things just as great.

1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence which we have in him: that whatsoever we shall ask according to his will, he will hear us.


James 5:16 ...the peristent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

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