The Story Behind Days of Elijah
I have had quite a few people asking me for an explanation of the roots and meaning of the words and themes contained in “Days of Elijah” since I wrote the song way back in 1994.
The song is generally and principally a song of ‘hope’. The themes it explores are to do with the fact that, although raised a Methodist, I attended a lot of Brethren or Gospel Hall meetings as a small boy and somehow the theology of Old Testament stories and characters being, either as themselves or by their actions, ‘types’ or ‘examples’ of Christ and the Church got stuck in my head. That is, even though they were historical factual people, living in the old covenant days, their actions and characters can be used to teach and represent the character of God under the new covenant and they continually and repeatedly point to Christ. People call this “Typology” or “Typical” analysis of the scriptures.
Firstly the song came from watching a television “Review of the Year” at the end of 1994. This was the year of the Rwandan civil war tragedy which claimed 1 million people’s lives, and also when the first ceasefires in N.I. were declared. On this TV review were a lot of daft stories, happy stories, serious stories, and then absolutely devastating stories like the Rwandan situation. As I watched the review unfold I found myself despairing about the state of the world and, in prayer, began asking God if He was really in control and what sort of days were we living in.
I felt in my spirit that He replied to my prayer by saying that indeed He was very much in control and that the days we were living in were special times when He would require Christians to be filled with integrity and to stand up for Him just like Elijah did, particularly with the prophets of Baal. “These are ‘Elijah’ days”. Elijah’s story is in the book of Kings and you can read how he felt isolated and alone in the culture in which he lived. But God told him to stand up and speak for Him.
We also needed to be a holy and just people and hence the reference to the “days of your servant Moses”, meaning that righteousness and right living was important in all our attitudes and works. Now, we are under grace and not under law, but the righteousness that comes by faith can be no less than the moral law that Moses brought direct from God. It has not been superseded. In fact Jesus told us that our “righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees”, who were the most ardent followers of Gods laws as presented by Moses. Jesus was after righteous, servant hearts, of course, that desired to live holy lives for Him.
“Days of great trial, of famine, darkness and sword” is a reflection of the apparent times in which we live when still thousands of people die every day from starvation, malnutrition and war. In the midst of it all we are called to make a declaration of what and who we believe in.
The second verse refers to the restoration of unity of the body, what Jesus prayed for – “that they may be one even as I and the Father are one…” by reference to Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the valley of the dry bones becoming flesh and being knit together. There are lots of interpretations of this picture, but one of a united church rising up in unity and purpose, is a powerful call on us in these days.
The restoration of praise and worship to the Church is represented by “the days of your servant David”. Some folks use the term “Restoration Theology” to describe this restoring of attributes to the church. But in the song it’s mainly a picture of worship
Of course David didn’t get to build the structural temple (that’s why the word in the song line is “rebuild”), that was left to Solomon his son, but David was used by God to introduce a revised form of worship, praise and thanksgiving into, firstly, his little tent which he pitched around the Ark of the covenant (the presence of God) and then the temple that Solomon his son built.
This worship, unlike the Mosaic Tabernacle, involved many people being able to come into Gods presence and worship him openly. (In Moses time only one man, the high priest, could enter the Holy of Holies, once a year. David’s tent was a picture of how Christ would enable us to come right into Gods presence, through his sacrifice, and worship openly there).
If you search carefully through the Book of Amos (chapter 9) you will find reference to this “Restoration of David’s Tabernacle”. In Acts this prophecy was used to explain, at the council of Jerusalem, why the “Gentiles” should be allowed to become Christians and worship their saviour without all the legal requirements of the Jewish law. It is also accepted among restoration theologians that this refers to restored Praise and Worship. The physical temple was “Solomon’s”, David’s “temple” was a little tent but you and I are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. It sounds complex, doesn’t it, but if you just understand that the line in the song refers to Praise and Worship before the presence of God just like David enjoyed, then that’s all there needs to be to it!
Finally the “days of the Harvest” point towards what is the purpose of the Christian to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. By the way “The fields are as white in the world” is from the old King James version and means, their ripe for harvest.
These are the themes of the verses – Declaration, Righteousness, Unity and Worship. I chose to express these thoughts by reference to the characters that represented these virtues in the Old Testament. It is in essence a song of hope for the Church and the world in times of great trial.
The chorus is the ultimate declaration of hope – Christ’s return. It is paraphrased from the books of Revelation and Daniel and the vision that was seen of the coming King and refers to the return of Christ and the year of Jubilee. Theologians and Bible commentators believe that Israel never properly celebrated this particular 50th year jubilee, and that it will only be properly celebrated when Christ returns. That might be true but I reckon that a Jubilee is an apt description of what happens when Christ comes into anyone’s life at any time; debts are cancelled and a captive is set free.
These thoughts were in my head when I came to church early one Sunday in 1995. We have two services and the Pastor spoke during the first service on the “valley of dry bones” from Ezekiel. I took a prompt from this and, in the 30 minutes between the services, wrote down the words and chords in the kitchen of our church building and we sang it, as a body, at the end of the second service.
How do you express the sense that these might be days, not of failure and submission, but of the sort of resilient, declaring, even arrogant trust and hope that Elijah had in his God? That these are not days of God stepping back and allowing the world and the church to roll uncontrolled towards eternity, but rather days when he is calling on his body to make a stand, to offer right praises and to declare that He is totally in control. Well, I reckon you may write the words “These are the days of Elijah” and “These are the days of David”. I’ve used word pictures and Biblical characters to make that expression, but this is no different from many of the great hymn writers and even David himself.
I presented the song to the church that day with a short word of explanation, and we sang it as our worship.
Now the rest, I suppose, is history. There is no mechanism (conspiracy theorists take note!) within the church for making people sing a particular song, or for increasing it’s use in the national or international church body. As far as I was concerned the song was for our congregation, on that day and at that time. God obviously had other ideas and it is now sung almost world-wide. Grammatically, there may even be the odd aberration, but thankfully the church has forgiven me that particular shortcoming.
I must make it clear that I did not set out to write an overly complex or “secret” song, and I hope the testimony above bears that out.
There is a post script to this story for those who (by letters to me!) believe the song means something entirely different. A few years ago I was privileged to be in Israel at Yom Kippur for a celebration with hundreds of Messianic Jews. A very kind, gentle and humorous messianic brother had a bit of fun arguing with me that I, as an Irish Christian, could never have written a song which explores some of the themes that many (non-replacement theology here!) Jewish believers believe are the themes and indications of Christ’s return. The Spirit and Power of Elijah in the Church, The restoration of Israel to righteousness in Christ (David’s fallen tent), The restoration of praise and worship (David’s tent also!) and the unity of the body particularly with a renewed and redeemed Israel under Christ.
For me, I only know what I wrote. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was His desire to say something more than I personally intended and to do more with this song than I first considered.
It is an unusual song, for sure. All of these restored things like Justice, Righteousness, Integrity, Unity, Praise and Worship and Revival are considered by many to be a herald of the last days and Christ’s return. Personally I don’t know – I believe I wrote what God was telling me to write and He seems to have used the song in many ways for many people.
I hope the explanation is clear. The song is, perhaps, a little complex – but I can assure you that this was not deliberate. I have written lots of simple, straightforward hymns and songs covering lots of themes. This song seems to have been used particularly by God in the ministry of Praise and Worship and the themes and pictures it uses seem to have been grasped by God’s people all over the world.