Elijah – As Human As We Are: Who Will We Serve? The Power of Prayer
THE SCRIPTURE: 1 Kings 18:1-4, 7-8.16-45
“Later on, in the third year of the drought, the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and present yourself to King Ahab. Tell him that I will soon send rain!” 2 So Elijah went to appear before Ahab.
Meanwhile, the famine had become very severe in Samaria. 3 So Ahab summoned Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. (Obadiah was a devoted follower of the Lord. 4 Once when Jezebel had tried to kill all the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had hidden 100 of them in two caves. He put fifty prophets in each cave and supplied them with food and water.)
7 As Obadiah was walking along, he suddenly saw Elijah coming toward him. Obadiah recognized him at once and bowed low to the ground before him. “Is it really you, my lord Elijah?” he asked.
8 “Yes, it is,” Elijah replied. “Now go and tell your master, ‘Elijah is here.’”
16 So Obadiah went to tell Ahab that Elijah had come, and Ahab went out to meet Elijah. 17 When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”
18 “I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. 19 Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”
20 So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. 21 Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.
22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. 23 Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. 24 Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.
25 Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.
26 So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.
27 About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
28 So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. 29 They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.
30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.
Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”
34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,[f] prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
40 Then Elijah commanded, “Seize all the prophets of Baal. Don’t let a single one escape!” So the people seized them all, and Elijah took them down to the Kishon Valley and killed them there.
41 Then Elijah said to Ahab, “Go get something to eat and drink, for I hear a mighty rainstorm coming!”
42 So Ahab went to eat and drink. But Elijah climbed to the top of Mount Carmel and bowed low to the ground and prayed with his face between his knees.
43 Then he said to his servant, “Go and look out toward the sea.”
The servant went and looked, then returned to Elijah and said, “I didn’t see anything.”
Seven times Elijah told him to go and look. 44 Finally the seventh time, his servant told him, “I saw a little cloud about the size of a man’s hand rising from the sea.”
Then Elijah shouted, “Hurry to Ahab and tell him, ‘Climb into your chariot and go back home. If you don’t hurry, the rain will stop you!’”
45 And soon the sky was black with clouds. A heavy wind brought a terrific rainstorm, and Ahab left quickly for Jezreel.”
- Under the influence of Queen Jezebel, Ahab the King and the people of Israel were serving Baal, the fertility god, the god of rain and storms and the god of lightning, worshipped by the Canaanites who used to live in the land of Israel.
- It was now the third year of drought and God suddenly instructs Elijah to leave Zarephath (in Phoenicia, north of Israel) and go back to the land of Israel. God was now going to send rain. We might ask “why”? Ahab and Israel had not repented and turned to serve God but Elijah was being sent as a demonstration of God’s grace, not only with the word of rebuke as before but now the word of God with its potential for blessing and fruitfulness. He returned so that Lord would send rain.
- Ahab blamed Elijah for being the troubler of Israel - or the one who put the spell on Israel. Accusing the godly is one of Satan’s weapons. A rebuke from the Lord leads us to repentance but an accusation from Satan is designed to make us feel useless by dissolving your energy into guilt. Resist it. As Romans 8:34 puts it, “Who will condemn us – No-one for Christ Jesus died for us”.
- We then meet Obadiah, another godly man who held a very high position responsible for all the land, palaces and livestock of King Ahab. Elijah confronted Ahab, Obadiah works within the system to preserve the prophets by hiding them in a cave and feeding them. He worked and brough the presence of the Lord right into Ahab’s court. “Not every faithful believer is called to be an Elijah. Many are called to the tricky work of remaining faithful in a faithless context, to the business of serving Elijah and Yahweh and as “master” and serving Ahab as master”. Leithart. Both are called Obadiah’s master. This is my 1st teaching point. “Some are called to be Elijahs speaking out publicly, some are called to be Obadiahs serving within the heart of an evil system but maintaining a godly presence.”
- Elijah summons the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel, in the north of Israel, near the sea, where there is a spring of water which obviously from the story was still flowing despite the drought. Carmel is a very fertile area. They agreed to the contest. A story full of irony and humour despite its seriousness. The prophets of Baal comically follow Elijah’s orders, call down fire from heaven to burn up the sacrifice on their altar. Elijah mocks them – perhaps your god’s gone away on a trip, perhaps he’s relieving himself! They get more and more frenzied. They shout louder and louder, they cut themselves, they do it all day but no answer. Our God does not hear through many words, or greater shouting (yes sometimes we’re desperate and we do shout and call out to God) but God is not moved simply by volume and frenzied prayer. Jesus said “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” Matthew 6:7-8.
- Elijah then powerfully and calmly prepared for his prayer for God to demonstrate who is the true God in Israel. He built an altar of 12 stones (representing the whole of the people of God); he challenges the people to stop hobbling about between 2 opinions. As Jesus said we can’t serve God and mammon or any other idol.
- Baal was supposed to be the god of lightning but he could not answer by fire. Elijah prayed calmly and clearly, having made the miracle more difficult by pouring water all over the sacrifice. Fire came down from heaven.
- Who is the true God? Sometimes people can mix the 2 and be committed to Christ but retain vestiges of old pagan practices, or the materialistic idols of western society but God hears simple prayer in faith and fire comes down.
- However, will rain arrive? Elijah again prays 7 times, each time sending a servant out to see whether there were any clouds. After the 7th time a very small cloud appeared on the horizon. This was all Elijah needed. He knew now that his faith would be vindicated and he announced to Ahab that there’s going to be lots of rain. Enjoy a meal first and get back to your palace.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
- Already covered this – some are called to be like Obadiah.
- Pray simply, fervently, in faith. This is to be in response to the Word of God – in Scripture and specific tested prophetic words. Primarily, pray the promises of Scripture – e.g. Christ’s Kingdom will be established through the earth, the gospel will go to every ethnic group, the Word of God shared will bear fruit, despite persecution and opposition, the Kingdom of God will grow throughout the world like mustard seed into a big tree or yeast throughout the dough. Often imperceptibly, secretly, but trust God for it. Pray the promises of God regarding healing, recognising that the Kingdom has not yet come in all its fulness. These promises are the most important for our prayers but also specific promises we have received through prophetic words or truths quickened to our own heart by the Holy Spirit. Also intercede for this world, groaning along with the rest of creation, praying that Jesus would return to the earth to establish his Kingdom. It is very important to pray corporately as well as individually – pray for the persecuted church. Whether it is the “2 or 3” or the whole church coming together for prayer as recorded in Acts. Don’t neglect it.
- Stand against idolatry, particularly in the church. In this story, God’s people have re-adopted the practices of the cultures around them and worshipped their idols. In those days it was worshipping particular false gods as is the case in many parts of the world today. In western culture there are other idols which are just as deceitful e.g.:
- Relying on secular human cleverness rather than God moving. We can even do that in our church planning etc.
- Consumerism/Materialism which very easily penetrates the church.
- Celebrity culture – the curse of our age. Christians might run after the latest trend or speaker. Looking to leaders rather than finding God for themselves and in their local church. We cannot serve God and Mammon.
- Nationalism – the nation state has become an object of worship as it has before in history like the Roman Emperor. It is obvious in countries where there is much persecution of believers. However, it is creeping into western society with the increase of nationalism and is linked with ethnic superiority and racism.
- Sexual Permissiveness (sadly, often the church puts this first). However, we need to be careful here. Our concern is that the church remains a community committed to the standards of God’s Word and living them out in practice. Our attitude to those who sin in this way in the world is grace leading to repentance and receiving forgiveness from Christ. However, the church must be demonstrating and living by godly standards is more fruitful. The problem is when the standards of the world infiltrate the church and so e.g. the increase of the divorce rate in the world become mirrored in the church.
- A sacrifice to save the people. A sacrifice was made of a bull on an altar – this was the means of forgiveness for a whole nation according to the law. Now, however, a greater sacrifice has been offered. Jesus willingly gave his life of the altar of the cross, not just for the sins of the nation of Israel, but for the whole world. Always remain grateful for that. That is the greatest demonstration of the love, mercy and grace of God. God was acting here in grace even though the people of Israel did not deserve it. God has acted in grace towards the whole world. Let’s embrace it and live it out.