1 Kings 17-18: Victory!
June 11, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Elijah! What a great man of God! He intervenes now and confronts Ahab with the power and reality of God and God’s word. There have been other figures like Elijah in church history: John Knox, about whom it was said the Queen trembled more regarding his prayers than any army. Elijah was such a figure—at his best—and more, many times more. He is told to go east of the Jordan—symbolizing Israel’s return to the ways of her captivity in Egypt, or at least her wandering before entering the Promised Land—and hide by the brook Cherith (17:2-3).
When the water at the brook dries up, Elijah is sent to a widow who herself is in despair (17:7-9). So in the economy of God, Elijah his servant is protected, and through that protection a widow is cared for (17:9-16). God has a special heart for widows and the poor, and here he takes care of this widow through Elijah. Her son dies, and Elijah brings him back to life (17:17-23). Rather surprisingly, at that moment the widow says now she knows Elijah is a prophet (17:24)—as if his previous miraculous provision of food was not enough!
At any rate, the whole country is in a spiritual vice. Drought has come at God’s word delivered through Elijah, and Elijah is hiding from the king as a consequence (17:3, 5).
But now, God says it is time for the grand confrontation (18:1). Elijah goes to Ahab (18:2). The message to Ahab comes through Obadiah, a man who feared God and protected God’s prophets as much as he could (18:3-4). It is interesting that later on when Elijah was in a depressive despair and complained that he was the only one left (19:1-10), he had already heard from Obadiah that there were other prophets which Obadiah himself had preserved (18:13-14). Sometimes pioneer prophetic types can think they are all alone: look around and see God has sent you the team you need.
Elijah confronts Ahab, refuses to be labeled “troubler of Israel,” for it is Ahab who has troubled Israel by going after false gods (18:17-18). The roots and cause of all spiritual distemper come back to false idolatry of one kind or another. Why do churches struggle? Why does God seem to remove his blessing? Examine all the secondary causes, but the first cause is this: not fearing God as the one and only God.
Now comes the famous conflict on Mount Carmel (18:20-40). The prophets go first (18:24). They cry out to Baal to send fire upon the sacrifice (18:26). They go all morning, until after midday (18:26). Elijah begins to tease them (18:27). Perhaps Baal is asleep or is relieving himself. It is not rude to show the foolishness of idolatry; foolish things need to be seen for their foolishness. (Why invest your life in monetary reward? Who can take it with them? Will money make a difference to you when you are dead?) They continued to prophesy until the evening sacrifice, but there was no response (18:29).
By comparison, Elijah’s prayer is simple and honest. While the prophets of Baal had cut themselves to a frenzy (18:28), Elijah simply asks God to intervene for his glory and to show his people that their hearts are being brought back to him (18:36-37). Our prayers are to be like Elijah’s, not like the prophets of Baal. God does not hear us for the volume or enthusiasm of our prayers. He hears us because he is a prayer-hearing God. We pray to him—as Jesus taught us—as our Father.
Water is poured over the sacrifice to make answering by fire even more miraculous (18:33-35). Precious water, in short supply during the drought. God answers (18:38). The people realize that God is God (18:39). Elijah kills the prophets of Baal (18:40). This is not an action that the church can replicate anymore, nor should it; God’s capital judgment is no longer given to the church to perform. The power of the sword resides with the state in the New Testament. But God’s judgment is still real, and a swift death is far better, infinitely better, than the eternal judgment waiting those who reject Christ.
Elijah is still on a roll. He takes charge of Ahab, the king. He commands him to drink (18:41). Would Ahab come back to God, too? For a moment it looks possible, though it will not happen, as we shall see. A bad king who had been surrounded by a good man (Obadiah) and now had a new opportunity to repent. Do not think that such opportunities are with us forever. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near (Is. 55:6).
Elijah prays (18:42-45). He knows, because God has told him, that the rain is coming (18:1). Elijah’s famous prayer for rain is a prayer of faith because it relies on what God has said, at the beginning of this chapter (18:1). Our prayers can be prayers of faith similarly when they rest on the clear promises of God in his Word. Not enough to have done all this, the power of God is with Elijah, and he runs ahead of the king’s chariot (18:46).
Victory! Victory! Victory! But as so often happens, as we shall see tomorrow, defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory. And that sudden reversal proves too much for Elijah who, for all his brilliance, is still human at best.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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