Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Church of Elijah - Mount Sinai

          I think Jebel Musa, or Mount Sinai, is packed with more religious history and symbolism than any place I've visited, including Jerusalem. Everywhere you turn there is something of significance, and as I get home and do more reading, I find that there is much more there that we missed. And for me personally, it is the setting for perhaps my favorite scripture in the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. 
          After Elijah defeated and killed the priests of Baal, up in the vicinity of the Jezreel Valley in Galilee, 1 Kings 19 tells of the aftermath: “...[King] Ahab told [Queen] Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  

          Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba...he...went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.  The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”  So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb [another name for Sinai], the mountain of God.  There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 

          The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. The above is from the New International Version of the Bible. But I like the King James Version of the last sentence even more, "the Lord was not in the wind:...the Lord was not in the earthquake:...the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." 

          S. Dilworth Young, in an article in the April 1976 Ensign titled “The Still Small Voice,” said: When a news reporter asked President Hinckley how he communicates with God, the prophet responded, “I think the best way I could describe the process is to liken it to the experience of Elijah as set forth in the Book of First Kings. Elijah spoke to the Lord, and there was a wind, a great wind, and the Lord was Not in the wind. And there was an earthquake, and the Lord was Not in the earthquake. And there was a fire, and the Lord was Not in the fire. And after the fire a Still, Small Voice, which I describe as the Whisperings of the Spirit.” 

          Elijah's Basin, on Jebel Musa, is the beginning of the 3,000 steps of the Stairway of Repentance that lead down to St. Catherine's Monastery. It is also below the 750 final steps to the summit. 

Elijah's Basin, as viewed from the vicinity of the tea houses on Jebel Musa. Right of center are some old cypress trees and an old Byzantine dam is just above the tree. The Stairway of Repentence leads down the valley just beyond (to the right of) the dam.
         At the edge of the basin is a relatively large church, known as the Church of Elijah. This church commemorates the spot where Elijah fled from Ahab and Jezebel after the killing of the prophets of Baal. According to touregypt.net, inside is a stone where Elijah sheltered when he spoke with God, a Chapel of Elisha, an acolyte of Elijah, and a shelter for the guardian of the church who lived there in the past. 
The Church of Elijah. I assume the open portion to the right was used by the caretaker. The white-washed church front is on the opposite side. 
The front door of the church. I took some photos through the keyhole of the front door. 
The Church of Elijah looking up toward the summit of Horeb (or Sinai). The tea houses are visible up above the right end of the church. 
Pictures through the keyhole.

A Greek Orthodox icon of Elijah at Horeb. Taken from Wikipedia. 


  1. I love your rendition of the story and surrounding it with the images from Mt. Sinai. The context adds so much.

  2. Love this post. Can't you just see Elijah up on that mountain, learning about the nature of God?

  3. Elijah was definitely an interesting prophet. 1 Kings 18:27 "And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." Can't imagine a modern day profit doing that.