When Jesus walked this earth the first time, He asked a compelling question that should cause many to consider how they might answer if He were to ask the same today. In Luke 6:46 the Lord Jesus said, “But why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” That question makes a lot of sense. To call Jesus “Lord” is to refer to Him as Master. If Jesus is indeed Master, then He should be the supreme authority of one’s life. Yet there are few that live in such a manner that reflects His authority. For example, when a supervisor calls an employee to come in on an off day or to perform a task of some kind, there is seldom argument or rebellion. There might be complaints, but at the end of the day, the employee usually shows their willingness to subject themselves to the authority of the supervisor in hopes to keep their job, work towards a raise, or maybe just to be helpful. When a coach tells a player to run a certain play or play a certain way, the player usually does what is asked of them, trusting in the wisdom and experience of the coach to be successful, and wanting to please the coach. Yet this relationship is seldom seen in the lives of those who outwardly call Jesus “Lord.”
This is a problem, but it has been a problem since long before Jesus came into the world in the flesh. This has been a problem since the beginning of God’s people, which is a TREMENDOUS testimony towards the patience and mercy of God. While people will subject themselves to other people and circumstances for certain perceived benefits, people will not subject themselves to the One True Living God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them with the hope of eternally blessing His creation. A great testimony of human folly in this area is described in the testimony of Elijah as he took on the 450 prophets of Baal. In 1 Kings 18:20-24 the Bible explains how God used Elijah as His instrument of judgment and righteousness. While God has patiently and mercifully dealt with the rebellion of His creation, the Bible shows that there have been times throughout history where God’s patience reached its threshold so that He was forced to bring the heat! The testimony of 1 Kings 18:20-24 shows an instance in history where God judged, but did so in a manner to teach people that He alone is worthy of worship and subjection.
When God commanded Elijah to speak judgment against the wicked King Ahab, Elijah boldly told Ahab to gather all of the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel. Ahab agreed to do so, having confidence that the sheer number of prophets that stood in agreement with Baal would be sufficient to outdo the lone Elijah. This shows that Ahab didn’t have any understanding whatsoever about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that Elijah was speaking on behalf of. Once Ahab gathered the prophets, Elijah gathered the people as well to Mount Carmel and made a statement similar to that of Jesus’ statement in Luke 6:46. Elijah proclaimed to the elders and congregation of Israel, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him: but if Baal, follow Him.” The people agreed with this logic, but didn’t fully understand the work that was going to take place. Elijah’s point was simple. The Lord God – Yahweh Elohim, the God of the Bible – is God and there is no other. Since He is God, then people should not follow any other being. Yet people falter between two. There is always competition with God even though He alone is almighty, all knowing, and all-sufficient. He is the sole source of life, provision, goodness, wisdom, and light. It is absolutely impossible to receive ANY form of true benefit from any other resource. The perception of a benefit from another source is a lie. This is the point that God sent Elijah to illustrate.
One of the important principles that Elijah proclaimed is the impossibility to serve two masters. This is another point that Jesus made later when He came into the world. Jesus candidly said,
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” – Matthew 6:24
Jesus’ statement is profound. There is no middle ground with God. There is light and there is dark – no grey. There is right and there is wrong – no in between. There is saved and there is condemned – no other possibility. Therefore, one’s position in the eyes of the Lord will be based on the entity that one serves. One will either serve God or something else. In the category of God, there is either Him or a false God, which ultimately results in demonic and devilish worship. There is no in between. There is no other alternative. If one is not worshiping and following and loving God according to the standards of scripture, one is ultimately loving the devil and projecting hate towards God. While this might be offensive to some, the truth of the matter is far more offensive to God! Elijah proclaimed the same idea. Since the Lord is God, Israel should have been loving Him, and Him alone. It was God who delivered the children of Israel from Egypt, destroying their gods and authority unto the freedom of Israel – not Baal. It was God that sustained the children of Israel through the wilderness journey – not Baal. It was the voice and finger of the God of Moses that made the earth quake and thunder roar on Mount Sinai while giving and authoring the Law for Israel – not Baal. It was God that led Joshua and the fighters of Israel through victory after victory against the native inhabitants of the promised land, not Baal. It was the God of David that defeated Goliath – not Baal. It was the God that rested over the Ark of Israel that destroyed Dagon, the false god of the Philistines – not Baal. The children of Israel had ample testimonies to refer to in order to know the true power and majesty of the Lord God.
How much more does God have to do to prove Himself? How many other “gods” and fake idols and flawed human philosophies and ideals does God have to prove foolish and futile before His people wake up to the truth? The Lord sent Elijah to give Israel an opportunity to choose. After Elijah presented the people with the truth about there being God or being Baal, the people didn’t answer him back. The people were undecided in unbelief. They knew who God was, but were enslaved to the desires of their flesh so that they were unable to depart from their wicked ways of living in order to do what they knew was right. They were not concerned with what was truly right. They were only concerned with what they wanted. Thus, even though the children of Israel were about to witness the holy power of God over all things, they did not answer Elijah because they didn’t want to follow God. It was not a matter if the people knew the power of God. The issue was whether the people would be willing to deny themselves in order to submit to the power of God. They were silent before Elijah because they knew that their sin would be put on display and that they would be accountable for their transgressions. Sometimes silence is the loudest voice of guilt.
Elijah told the people that God was interested in a contest. To prove that He alone is God and that there is no other form of support, provision, power, or life, Elijah would challenge the 450 prophets of Baal to perform a simple task. The prophets of Baal were commanded to slaughter a bull in honor of Baal and then place the animal on an altar and leave wood under the altar, but unlit. Elijah would do the same, and Elijah informed the people that if Baal were real, he should be able to light a simple fire to consume his own sacrifice. He assured the people that God would be able to perform the task, so that if Baal were real, he would be able to do the same. Here it is important to notice the truth of God’s perspective. Though the prophets of Baal were up to the task, Elijah was confident in this simple contest because of his assurance of the truth about God. He is Yahweh. He is the Great I AM. He alone is God! There is no other! Therefore, it wouldn’t have mattered if every other person in the world would have come together to bring all of their gods, idols, and human philosophies to work together against God to light a simple fire. The result would have been the same. There are no other entities or supernatural beings or concepts that exist. They are fake. They are lies. They are insufficient to perform even the simplest of tasks. Therefore, there is only God, making Him supreme.
God’s point in this elaborate illustration and judgment is simple. Since He is exclusively God, He is exactly who the Bible says He is. He is the Creator of all things. He is the Provider of all things. He is the Sustainer of all things. He is the Author of all goodness, righteousness, wisdom, and light. Without Him, there is only darkness, evil, and foolishness. Without God, there is only death and condemnation. He has proved this over and over again. He has proved how futile human-made religious ideals and philosophies are. He has proved how His ways are the only ways of truth and righteousness. As such, all people are forced to answer the proclamations of Elijah and Jesus. Since He is who He says, what will we do? Will we continue to falter between two, inevitably hating the One True Living God in the end while we attribute His attributes to imaginary entities? Will we simply call Him Lord with our mouths but consider Him as a nagging child that is not worthy of our time, attention or respect? Or, will we acknowledge the truth about who God is and the benefits that He desires to give, submitting to His ways, trusting in the supremacy of His goodness? Everyone alive will express that choice one way or another. The Bible is clear to show that there is only one choice that ends with His favor.
When the Lord Jesus walked this earth, He warned His followers that life would never be the same as a result of following Him. Jesus taught that the world is condemned already because He as “light” has come into the world, but people love darkness more than the light because their deeds are evil. Later in his first epistle, the Apostle John explained that there is a DRAMATIC difference between those who are children of God and those who are not. According to 1 John 5:18, those who are children of God are subject to God. As such, because God is holy, righteous, just, merciful, gracious, patient, and good, God’s children become heirs of those qualities and are ultimately subject to those qualities. That’s good news! On the other hand, those who are not children of God are defined as “all the world.” According to the scriptures, “all the world” is actually subject to the evil one, referring to the devil. The devil is the chief rebel against God, already destined for judgment since his judgment has been declared from the beginning. The devil is one that is committed to darkness, is the father of lies, and seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. Therefore, “all the world,” which is those who are NOT children of God, are subject to the devil, darkness, his lies, are robbed of God’s goodness, are destined to death, and will be destroyed with him unless they turn from their wicked ways through faith in Jesus Christ according to the grace of God.
This is why life for the follower of Jesus Christ is difficult. Not only do we have to contend with the wickedness of our own fleshly desires, but also the world that hates God. Since the devil is committed to opposing God, those who are subject to him as part of “the world” are tools of his destruction to oppose God. This is not to say that the devil has an effect of God’s work. This does mean however, that God’s people are affected by the opposition that the devil instigates through non-believers. This is why the Bible is stern to warn God’s children of this opposition. Additionally, the Bible encourages God’s children to abstain from fear of this opposition. Just because there is a struggle doesn’t mean that the struggle produces destruction for the believer. The devil might seek to destroy, but the children of God are assured that greater is He (the Lord) who is in us than he (the devil) who is in the world. The Bible assures the children of God that we are MORE than conquerors! This means that even when God’s people appear to be defeated, God’s people are victorious on account of the transcendent power of the Lord God Almighty! Though God’s people would even die, yet we shall all live!
Understanding these truths about God’s power and the eternal nature of God’s promises is what should be sufficient to equip God’s people in service unto Him. Though God’s people are called to endure trials of opposition and persecution, we are also called to stand firm in our calling by faith. Though storms come, those built on the rock of Jesus Christ should not waver on account of His strength as our foundation. The quality of boldness that this understanding brings can be seen in the testimony of the prophet Elijah – well before Jesus Christ came into the earth and verbalized these promises more bluntly. In 1 Kings 18:17-19 the Bible shows that Elijah was obedient and bold to obey the command God gave to approach the wicked King Ahab. Though Ahab’s wife Jezebel had previously murdered many of the priests and prophets of God, and though Ahab was actively seeking Elijah to kill him too, Elijah left his place of hiding and went into Samaria to the dwelling place of Ahab. God told Elijah to proclaim judgment, and knowing the power of God to be greater than the power of Ahab, Elijah boldly went into dangerous territory to proclaim the truth of God’s Word.
The testimony of 1 Kings 18:17-19 provides some helpful insights into how “the world” perceives the children of God, and why the opposition and friction between God’s children and “the world” is so intense. When Ahab saw Elijah, he greeted Elijah with an interesting title. Ahab referred to Elijah as “O troubler of Israel.” Notice that, though it was Ahab’s sin and idolatry that caused God to judge through the drought and famine, those who have been spiritually blinded being subject to the devil and his ways, are unable to recognize their own actions as the cause of consequence. Ahab was quick to accuse Elijah as the cause of his own troubles and the trouble of others Ahab could not see that his own evil was the cause of Israel’s trouble. While he sought to indulge in his own selfish ambitions, he was too distracted to recognize how his manner of living was completely contrary to the righteousness of the Lord God Almighty. Instead, Ahab saw God as an inconvenience and interruption to his own selfish and evil desires; and since he could not see God, he projected his despise of God towards God’s servant. Those who seek to do evil according to their own flesh despise the people of God on account of the consequence they suffer by their own actions. Rather than take responsibility for their own actions and repent, many would rather cast blame upon someone else to justify their wickedness as acceptable – God being the problem. The Bible shows that God will not be mocked, nor allow His people to be mocked in the end. He will deal with these sorts of people.
Elijah immediately responded against Ahab to contend with Ahab’s accusation. Elijah bluntly stated that Ahab was the cause of Israel’s trouble. It was Ahab’s leadership into sin that caused Israel to fall into darkness and the consequences of it. Elijah plainly told Ahab that Israel’s trouble was on account of Ahab forsaking the ways of the Lord, and then encouraging the rest Israel to do the same – such to the degree that his wife was slaughtering the servants of the Lord. God swore to the children of Israel that He is a jealous God, and that there would be severe consequences towards Israel should they depart from Him in order to follow the ways of pagans and worship false gods. Since Ahab had married the pagan queen Jezebel and assimilated into the wicked ways of her heritage, Ahab adopted and promoted idolatry in the land, and Elijah was clear to explain that as the cause for Israel’s trouble. Those who stand up for the righteousness of the Lord should not fear the false accusations of the devil’s subjects. When those accusations are levied against God’s faithful servants, the Bible shows that God’s faithful servants should not be ashamed or afraid to proclaim the truth – the truth that wickedness and rebellion against God to serve selfish desires through idolatry is the cause of trouble. As Elijah did, so should all of God’s people do when presented with the opportunity.
The Bible explains that Elijah trusted in the power of God to the extent that he was willing to challenge Ahab’s gods. Having seen the Lord God Almighty manipulate creation to administrate judgment, manipulate creation to provide nourishment, and then raise the dead, Elijah knew that God’s power was supreme and sovereign over all. Therefore, Elijah had no problem challenging the lies and falsehood of Baal and Asherah. Elijah didn’t go to pick a fight so much as he challenged Ahab to prove his deities as real and true. When the lies of the devil are matched up against the truth of God, the corruption and lies of the devil are put on clear display for all to see unto the shame of those who follow lies. While Elijah challenged Ahab and his false priests of fake gods, Elijah did so, not to gloat in himself, but to exalt the name of the Lord as the One True Living God. It is true that Ahab had been trying to kill Elijah for quite some time. That did not stop Elijah from obeying the command that God gave. Physical threats and circumstances of those subject to the devil did not stall Elijah’s movement towards obedience because he knew God to be greater than any threats of the body. Elijah had greater fear for the One who could cast both body and soul into hell; and having seen God’s authority over life and death, Elijah knew the true power of God. So too should ALL of God’s children so that when the natural opposition of those subject to the devil inevitably arises, that opposition would not be crippling by fear to one’s obedience and sanctification unto the One TRUE Living God!
Fear can do interesting things to a human being. The manner in which fear can completely altar and change the temperament of a person is amazing. A person can be in one mood one moment, and then fear can transform that mood immediately. The interesting thing is that fearful circumstances don’t even have to be present in order for fear to influence people. Many times, people just supposed terrible things that will never happen, and just the idea is sufficient to paralyze people with fear. The human minds is able to quickly extrapolate ideas into cataclysmic certainties so that our minds can be made up that doom is inevitable, and all hope is lost. Knowing this to be a common human habit, it is important to compare this reality to the commands and character of God. Not only does the Lord transcend circumstances that are actually threatening, but is certainly greater than the “possibility” of threat. Therefore, God’s people have no reason to fear. When one senses that the mind is running wild with assumptions about the future, one must recall the person and eternal nature of God’s promises to know that, more often than not fear is simply a waste of energy that keeps us from doing the things God commands with the joy that we should have while serving Him.
This instance can be seen in the testimony of Obadiah in 1 Kings 18:3-16. In this portion of scripture, the Bible explains that the prophet Elijah made efforts to do work that might have seemed intimidating and scary. God was using Elijah as His instrument of judgement over the northern kingdom of Israel by bringing a drought into the land. Elijah’s primary point of communication of God’s judgement was King Ahab, a very wicked man. Elijah had previously told Ahab about the judgment of God by the drought, and Ahab’s wife Jezebel responded by orchestrating a great slaughter against all of the prophets and priests of God. Though the Lord protected Elijah while keeping him hidden in the household of the widow that cared for his needs, the Lord’s command for Elijah to go back and speak a new message to Ahab certainly brought about risk. Ahab and his wife were responsible for the deaths of many of God’s people. According to the testimony of 1 Kings 18:3-16, Ahab was actively seeking out Elijah. Ahab had essentially paid bounty hunters to search out Elijah in order that he would be killed as well. Thus, when God commanded Elijah to back to Ahab to communicate more judgment, there was great opportunity for Elijah’s mind to run wild with ideas and possibilities that could have kept him from obeying God.
The scriptures show that Elijah was immediately responsive to the command of the Lord. Though Elijah’s mind could have brought up a bunch of ideas of what might happen upon showing himself to Ahab, Elijah did as he was told anyway. As Elijah made his way to Ahab, the Bible explains that Ahab was managing dealing with the difficulties of God’s judgment. The drought had taken a heavy toll on the land so that a famine came into the land as well. Food was scarce and the livestock was being affected since the animals had no food to eat. The testimony explains that Ahab called his servant Obadiah to help deal with the issue. Obadiah was the master of Ahab’s house, and though Obadiah served Ahab, the Bible states that he feared the Lord greatly. As a testament to his fear of the Lord, the Bible explains that when Jezebel went on her murder spree of God’s prophets and priests, Obadiah went behind the backs of his masters and hid one hundred of the Lord’s prophets and priests in two caves. Obadiah feared the Lord more than his master and so he also made efforts to secretly feed them bread and water while living in the caves. Ahab not knowing any of this, figured Obadiah to be a good and faithful servant and so invited him to help find food for the animals to keep from having to kill them. Ahab went in one direction looking for grass and Obadiah went in the other direction looking for the same, but found Elijah.
When Obadiah found Elijah his circumstances immediately changed. Suddenly Obadiah, who at first seemed calm and normal, became a nervous wreck. At first, Obadiah found it hard to believe that Elijah was actually standing in front of him. Obadiah obviously knew about Ahab’s desire to have Elijah killed and so Obadiah was surprised to see Elijah back in public view, even close in proximity to Ahab’s dwelling place. Obadiah explained to Elijah how Ahab wanted to kill him and had sent out many people to sweep the surrounding regions looking for him. Ahab had made people take oaths to confirm that their inability to kill Elijah was due to them not knowing where Elijah was. Ahab wanted to make sure that his people were not aiding Elijah in any way. Therefore, Obadiah recognized that just seeing Elijah now put him at great risk. That was the first thing that Obadiah acknowledged. Rather than inquiring of Elijah to see how he was doing, why he was going to see Ahab, or what purpose the Lord had for him, Obadiah immediately thought about how his own personal circumstances would be affected. When Obadiah saw Elijah, he immediately made a bunch of assumptions about what he felt was going to happen.
Elijah calmly told Obadiah to go tell Ahab that Elijah was back and that he wanted to meet with his master. Obadiah then proceeded to explain all of the terrible possibilities that could take place. Relying on his own wisdom of the circumstances, Obadiah assumed that he would be killed just for bringing news of Elijah’s presence. In fact, Obadiah tried to make efforts to excuse himself from such a simple task. He brought up the point that he had taken one hundred of God’s prophets and priests and hid them from Jezebel, figuring that this was his one heroic deed that he could leverage for life. Obadiah figured that the risk he incurred hiding the prophets and priest was good enough to excuse him from any other service of the Lord that might have presented risk as well. This is not how it works. Obadiah assumed that he would go tell Ahab about Elijah and that while telling Ahab, the Spirit of the Lord would take Elijah away to hide him again somewhere, Ahab would get angry and then kill Obadiah. Not only did Obadiah presume a miserable outcome for himself, but even figured that the Lord God would be chiefly involved in his demise.
Here it is important to recognize how fear can make those who fear the Lord do and say silly things. Since when does God make a point to put His people in positions of threat for the sake of His own entertainment? Why would God send Elijah to Ahab just to remove him from Ahab in order that Obadiah would be killed? When does God ever work in such a manner? When has God ever shown this to be a pattern of His work? How does this achieve God’s purposes of righteousness and justice? Clearly the fear that consumed Obadiah had caused him to forget the basic work and character of God. Not only did Obadiah forget who the Lord is, he also painted a picture of doom in his head, so that even in his obedience, his attitude was not proper. The children of God should find it a joy and privilege to serve Him. Yet when God’s children are consumed with fear about the “possibilities” of threats, God’s people are usually unable to enjoy the privilege of serving God, even when they are obedient.
After Obadiah spouted off all of his doom and gloom thinking, Elijah calmly assured Obadiah that he wasn’t going anywhere. Elijah was not trying to bait Obadiah into destruction. Elijah assured Obadiah that he would indeed meet with Ahab on that day, whether Obadiah was involved in the meeting or not. Elijah understood God’s will. Elijah understood God’s identity. Elijah understood God’s promises. Hence, the contrast in temperament between Elijah and Obadiah is stark. Elijah approached the situation of God’s command in faith and so calmly embraced the command to meet with Ahab regardless of threats. Elijah didn’t dwell on possibilities – only the command. Elijah didn’t allow his mind to run wild in imagination about what could happen. Elijah only focused on the words that God gave him to speak and would trust the character, purposes, and promises of God to be good regardless of how Ahab was going to respond against him. At the same time, Obadiah responded like Chicken Little. The mere presence of Elijah meant that the sky was falling and Obadiah’s world was in total disarray. He allowed his mind to run wild with ideas of possibilities – none of which came to pass. Obadiah was stunned in fear, and at the end of Elijah’s meeting with Ahab, Obadiah was just fine. In the end of this testimony, one man was calm and faithful, and so was properly equipped to focus on the task God gave to do it well; while on the other side, another man was consumed by the idea of what could happen, while none of those ideas transpired and he was left exhausted by his own fear.
The Bible teaches that God’s people should not live according to fear. This does not mean that God’s people will not be afraid, but the Lord demands that those who know Him respond according to His Word despite any concerns or timidity that one might have due to circumstances. While it is natural for a human being to have fear in some capacity, God’s people are not to have fear to the extent that it cripples from obedience. For example, when Joshua was commanded to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land in order to fight against the native inhabitants of the land and take it over, the Lord commanded Joshua several times to abstain from fear. Joshua was not allowed to be afraid. When examining the context of God’s command, it is easier to make sense of what God was saying. The Lord had revealed Himself to Joshua, both in the wilderness, and prior to leading him over the Jordan River. God had provided ample proof that He was the Lord God Almighty. God had also repeated His promises to Israel over and over again so that Joshua should have been assured, not only that God was stronger than all of Israel’s enemies combined, but also that God was obligated to exercise that power unto Israel’s victory according to the promises previously made. Failure was not an option, so defeat was no possible. Therefore, the absence of Joshua’s fear was directly related to his understanding of God and the nature of His promises. Knowing these things, Joshua moved forward with boldness even though the actual events of battle might have been scary.
The Bible is filled with testimonies such as these. One such testimony is of the prophet Elijah. When Elijah served the Lord, he served during a time where persecution was tremendous against the people of God. He served during the time that King Ahab was ruling in the northern kingdom of Israel. Ahab was married to a woman named Jezebel, and Jezebel was a very evil woman. Being a pagan, she had no fear of the Lord God Almighty, and hated those who opposed her manner of wicked living. Her hate was demonstrated through the slaughter that she orchestrated against the prophets and priests of God. The Bible testifies that Jezebel sent out an edict to have all of the prophets and priests of God killed, and she was successful in taking the lives of many of God’s people. This made it difficult to be called in the manner that Elijah was called into the ministry.
In 1 Kings 18:1-2 the Bible explains that God had a special mission for Elijah. God wanted Elijah to confront Ahab. The scriptures testify that it had been three years since the Lord started the drought in the land. Elijah was faithfully praying in favor of God’s judgment and receiving the miraculous provision of the Lord. The Bible states that many days after the Lord used Elijah to raise the widow’s son from the dead, Elijah received the command from the Lord to confront Ahab about the drought. There are a few things to notice in the details of this testimony. First, it is good to see that Elijah continued to commune with and wait on the Lord. The miracle that God worked through Elijah in the resurrection did not leave Elijah feeling as if he now possessed God’s power enough to confidently walk separated from the Lord. Elijah did not feel as if he had matured in his faith to the extent that he could afford to be less dependent. The success and victory that Elijah experienced did not cause Elijah to relax in his faith at all. Elijah remained dependent and steadfastly focused on the Word of God.
Secondly, it is important to see that while God commanded Elijah to leave the presence of Ahab three years earlier, God was now giving the command to return. God first commanded Elijah to leave the presence of Ahab in order to hide from the slaughter that Jezebel eventually orchestrated. In this way, God ensured that Elijah was protected so that he would be able to complete the tasks and service that God ordained him to. Yet, when God commanded Elijah to return to Ahab, it is important to consider that God’s work of protection would not cease just because Elijah had to face his enemy. It is true that facing Ahab would present a threat to Elijah, but God’s command to face that threat showed that God had purpose for it. Whether Elijah would live or die as a result of that threat was not something that was to concern Elijah. The movement that God performed in Elijah’s life was proof that God would ensure Elijah’s ability to do the job God commanded him to do. Therefore, if Elijah’s service was to continue after the day he faced Ahab, God’s power had certainly been proven great enough to protect and further equip Elijah. If Elijah’s service was completed in the confrontation with Ahab, then God’s power as demonstrated in the resurrection of the young boy showed that God is able to fulfill His eternally unconditional promises as well. Either way, Elijah wins!
It is also important to understand why God was sending Elijah back to Ahab. The Bible states that God was going to end the drought that had lasted for three years. The drought had caused a great famine in the land and the people were suffering greatly. God caused the drought because of the idolatry that was taking place in the land. The people worshiped false gods and idols as if they were sufficient to provide and equip the people unto prosperous lives. God’s judgment would prove this manner of thinking as false. Though the people likely sought their gods for mercy and relief from the drought, God’s judgment continued on according to God’s will, showing that their fake gods and futile ideas were not greater than God’s power. The Lord desired to send Elijah to confront Ahab so that Ahab would know that the Lord God Almighty was the author of the famine. Elijah was to let Ahab know that God is powerful as Creator to cause a drought and to end it at any time. Elijah was to communicate that Yahweh Elohim is the Lord God and there is no other. Elijah was to proclaim the name of the Lord, His power, His sovereignty, His righteousness, and His justice.
This message that Elijah was to proclaim. It was a message of truth. It was a message that Elijah was privileged to be a communicator of. It was a message that Elijah was privileged to be a witness of. It was not as if Elijah was speaking of power that he only heard about but did not see himself. Elijah saw the power of God to control creation and to administrate authority over life and death! Therefore, while Ahab and Jezebel might have presented a threat of sorts, Elijah knew the power of God to be FAR greater than their threats. As the Lord Jesus later stated, God’s people should not fear man who can kill the body, but should fear the Lord God who can cast both body and soul into hell! Elijah knew the power of God and knew that he was on the favorable side of God’s promises. Therefore, the command to confront the enemy was obeyed. Elijah continued to embrace difficulty, seeing the fruit that continued to come from his willingness to do so. Though the circumstances of God’s command might have seemed scary, Elijah’s understanding of God’s power and His purposes to use it according to His promises to Israel gave Elijah the boldness to walk forward in obedience anyway.
In a day and age where darkness runs to thick in many communities and households, how are Christians to manage the task that Jesus gave to make disciples of all nations? The modern church has sought to adopt many different strategies and techniques for bringing people into the building, but the command that Jesus gave was with the intention of encouraging faith unto spiritual regeneration. The Bible teaches of itself that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Yet so many people seem to be distracted so as to ignore the Word. Since so many false teachers have come and gone since the time of Jesus (and more coming into the world’s ears every day), the true message of the Word has been distorted making it hard to see faith implanted into the hearts of people since so many are skeptical. To many, the command that Jesus gave seems hopeless. How can we actually lead people to the true Jesus Christ? How can we actually encourage true saving faith? How can we actually show people the true power of God unto salvation, proving hope for those who are lost in the darkness of this world? Thankfully, the scriptures are sufficient to clearly and plainly answer these questions.
The testimony of Elijah is a great example that the modern church can follow to see how the power of God is to be demonstrated. Consider that the testimony of Elijah began as the Lord called him to proclaim judgment for the evil that was running wild in the northern kingdom of Israel. Elijah heard the voice of God and responded with obedience. Elijah took a stand for the righteousness of God and proclaimed His righteousness without fear or shame. Elijah trusted that the judgments of God were right and true so that even though God’s judgments made life harder for others and himself, he diligently prayed for God’s judgement to be done. Elijah trust the Lord as Provider. Elijah didn’t compromise his service unto the Lord by distracting himself with the affairs of this life in pursuit of improving his living circumstances. Instead, Elijah submitted to the quality of life that the Lord required of him in order to serve God’s eternal purposes, trusting in the big-picture of God’s work, and that it would produce a good result by God’s righteous standards. Elijah went where he was supposed to go, and did what he was supposed to do based on the commands of God. So, clearly Elijah was one that was able to recognize the voice of God, and though God’s commands meant Elijah’s comforts would be removed from him, Elijah respected and feared the authority of God’s sovereign position so that he did as commanded without question, doubt, or fear. Elijah confidently spoke of the Lord, His plans, His promises, and His goodness so that others were able to experience the goodness of God. Yet for all these good works of faith, none of them were sufficient to implant saving faith into anyone.
This is where the testimony of 1 Kings 17:17-24 becomes very compelling. This portion of scripture shows that it is the power of the resurrection and God’s authority over the human soul that causes people to believe in the truth that God’s people carry. In this portion of scripture, the Bible explains that Elijah was living with a widow and her son for an extended period of time during the drought according to the command of God. The Lord had been miraculously sustaining the three of them during the drought. When Elijah first met the woman, the woman was gathering sticks to make the last pieces of bread that she could, anticipating that to be the last meal that she and her son would consume before starving to death. Elijah reassured the woman that God would provide for them, which He did. Though the woman’s jar of flour appeared to be depleting, and her flask of oil running low, the Lord ensured that neither the flour nor the oil ran out. The amount that the woman saw in her jars was not equal to the amount that the Lord continually provided to sustain the woman. Yet this work of the Lord to provide for their physical needs was not sufficient to instill faith into the woman that Elijah was a man of God who had come to do the work of God according to His righteousness.
Though God had been performing this miracle to provide, the scriptures say that the woman doubted the Lord on account of Elijah. The woman’s son had gotten sick and died. Here it is important to recognize that the son was young, but did not die from starvation. The provision of the Lord was sufficient to sustain him physically. Nevertheless, the complications of the consequences of sin have allowed the world to be filled with a number of different threats and issues. Thus, the young boy, though he received the miraculous provision of God, died. This goes to show that it is truly appointed for a person to die once, and then the judgment. The wages of sin are truly death, regardless of what a person has received from the Lord in this life. No matter what miracle God might have performed at one time, the consequence of sin unto death is still an issue that every human being must face. The son of the woman that lodged Elijah was no exception.
The Bible explains that the woman immediately questioned Elijah through doubt of God Himself. She exclaimed, “What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?” This woman clearly was focused on the difficulties she was experiencing on account of God’s work through Elijah. Though Elijah was also experiencing difficulties, it is interesting to note the differences in temperament. While it is true that Elijah didn’t lose any children on account of the drought, it is important to understand that the woman was not the only one suffering from God’s judgment. Though Elijah brought encouragement to the woman by assuring her that God would provide food, she focused on the difficulty of God’s judgment by the drought. She brought up the issue of her sin, recognizing that the drought was God’s judgment for sin. However, even though God sustained her by His grace while she was yet still a sinner, she did not thank God for the life God had sustained. She instead brought up the distaste she had for the consequences of her sin. Since Elijah was the tool that God used to communicate and administrate His judgment, she expressed her dissatisfaction of God towards Elijah as if the only reason Elijah visited the woman was to wave her sin in front of her face by inflicting suffering.
While this is a common response against God when people must realize the consequences of sin, it is NOT true that God visits His people merely to parade their sin before them in order to bask in their suffering. This woman had allowed the difficulty of her circumstances to affect her attitude. Though Elijah had been such a good witness of God towards this woman, it was obviously not enough to convince the woman that God is good; and it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance. Therefore, when the widow’s son died, she increased the accusations against Elijah, stating that the purpose of his visit was to ensure the death of her son. How could Elijah’s purpose be so morbid if his very presence in the house enabled them to receive the miracle of God by the food that they ate? God is not such that He seeks to butter up His prey. God does not sustain His people simply to tear them down in a much sadder way later on. In fact, God’s work is quite the contrary. God allows His people to endure circumstances of suffering for a time while He supernaturally equips them to persevere, only so that He can exalt them at a later time – mainly through the resurrection. That is the key point of this testimony.
After the woman hurled her accusations against Elijah and his motives, Elijah took the young boy to the upper room of the house and prayed to the Lord in desperation. Elijah cried out to the Lord expressing how much the woman had already endured in difficulty. Elijah stretched himself out over the dead boy’s body three times, and each time cried out to the Lord to restore the boy’s soul. Here it is critical to recognize the extent of Elijah’s faith. Having seen the power and sovereign control of God as Creator through the miracle of God’s provision AND judgment, Elijah knew the full extent of God’s glory, power, and authority. Though God had not previously raised the dead, Elijah looked at the past work of God to understand the power that God could express at any time. Surly the One who commands the heavens to bring rain also has authority over the human soul. Surly the One that is able to command birds as waiters also has authority over the human soul. Surly the One that is able to multiply small morsels of food to bring great sustenance is also able to command the human soul. Elijah considered the power and authority that God demonstrated before and trusted that God, as the Creator and Controller of all things, also had control and power over the human soul.
When Elijah addressed God, he specifically inquired of God to cause the boy’s soul to return to his body. Here, Elijah is recognizing that God is able to raise the dead, on account of the supreme authority that God has over spiritual matters, including the human soul. For God, it is not such a miracle to raise the dead. For God, His ability to raise the dead is simply a natural bi-product of the amount of authority He has over ALL things – carnal and spiritual, earthly and heavenly. There is nothing in heaven or on earth that does not fall under the domain of the Lord God Almighty. The souls of the living AND the dead are under the command of the One True Living God so that when God speaks, those entities respond with obedience. As the scriptures explain that even the demons believe and shudder, the scriptures give clear evidence that God is in full control of all physical matter that can be seen, as well as spiritual beings that cannot be seen. The human soul will respond in obedience to the command of God, if not in this life, most certainly in the next!
The testimony of 1 Kings 17:17-24 explains that God heard the pleas of Elijah and indeed raised the boy from the dead. God commanded the soul of the boy to go back to his body, and without hesitation, the boy’s soul responded with obedience. The boy’s soul had no choice. There was no debate. There was no argument. There was no conversation in which the boy pleaded his case to remain in Hades. The Bible states that the Lord gave a command and the soul of the boy immediately did as God said, proving Him to be the Lord God Almighty; whether of the living or the dead makes no difference. When the boy was brought back to life, Elijah took the boy back down to his mother, and it is her response that must be considered carefully. The woman received her resurrected son and said, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the Word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth.”
Notice that, though Elijah provided a good witness of the Lord before the boy was raised from the dead, it was the power of God unto the resurrection that convinced the woman of the truth. It was the power of God unto life and His authority over the living AND the dead that caused the woman to recognize AND receive the truth through God’s servant. The Book of Romans has this to say about this matter:
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be [in the likeness] of [His] resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with [Him], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” – Romans 6:3-6
In all that Elijah did, it was the power of the resurrection that caused the woman to see and accept the truth of God’s Word. However, the power of the resurrection cannot take place unless there is death first. According to the Apostle Paul, those who submit to the likeness of Jesus’ death by faith will also live according to the likeness of His resurrection. Therefore, it is the testimony of the resurrection that wins people to Christ, allowing them to see that the witness of His people is indeed truly of God. This requires the people of God to die to self in order that we would be raised up in the likeness of Jesus’ resurrection. The people of God must live in this life as those who are truly dead to sin. The people of God are called to live separated and sanctified from the world and the evil desires of the flesh. We are called to deny pride, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness in order to live according to the humility, meekness, and compassion of Jesus Christ. This requires the people of God to have an understanding of God’s power and authority to grant eternal life to those who are His. We must then have eternal life in supreme focus, and God’s eternal purposes as the chief pursuit of our lives, forsaking the temptations and “traditions” of the unbelieving world. When we “die to self” in this manner, the Bible assures God’s people that He will indeed take up residence within the hearts of His people in order to motivate, equip, and strengthen them for spiritual purposes; causing them to live as new creations dedicated to spiritual things of God. It is this witness – the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ through the work of spiritual regeneration that God does to the hearts of those who believe – that compels others to see the truth of who God is.
The Bible assures the people of God that He will provide for the needs of His people. In fact, the scriptures also explain that God brings rain and sun on the just and also the unjust, showing that He will even provide for those who live contrary to His ways. He is just gracious that way. However, in modern culture, it is easy to confuse the quality of God’s provision. Especially in the modern American church, people have grown accustomed to considering luxuries as necessities. It is for this reason that the people of God MUST pay attention to the scriptures, not only to identify God as Provider, but also to understand the quality of provision that He gives. For example, the Lord is first called “Jehovah Jireh” or “The-Lord-Will-Provide” in Genesis 22:14. In this portion of scripture, the Lord does not give food, water, clothing, housing, work, or health in a traditional sense. The Lord does provide life to Isaac, but by being the provider of a suitable sacrifice according to His command. In other words, the Lord God revealed Himself as “Provider” by supplying salvation through sacrifice – a picture of the work He would do in the flesh as Jesus Christ.
Since salvation is the focus of God’s provision, then it is important to recognize that God will only provide physical means that are helpful to His desire to give eternal life. God will not be the Provider of things that hinder the revelation of Himself unto salvation and eternal life. God will provide, but the Bible shows that His provision is such that aims to equip His people unto His purposes that are focused on the big picture of eternal life. Knowing this, it is important to understand how we as individuals fit into God’s plans to graciously offer eternal life, and then submit to the means by which God desires to use us to bring it. Then we must trust that God will provide and equip us to do whatever is necessary to endure our own salvation while also being used as a tool to nurture and encourage salvation in others unto His glory. This work does not always require excess, which means that God’s people must learn to be content with the simplicity of God’s provision, valuing the big-picture purposes of God more than the tools/resources we may desire to have while engaging in His service.
A perfect example of this reality is presented in the testimony of Elijah. Elijah was a great prophet that was fortunate to exercise the power and authority of God in amazing ways – and will do so again in the future! However, there was great cost that Elijah had to accept in order to be used in this sort of way. God desired to use Elijah as His instrument of judgment against the evil of King Ahab, the king that governed over the northern ten tribes of Israel. God declared that there would be a substantial drought in the land, thereby waging war against the false gods of Ahab that he attributed to be equal to God as Creator. God would show that He, and He alone has charge of His creation, and proved this with the drought. Elijah was God’s spokesman to explain to Ahab that the drought was God’s work and that the false gods of the land would be pitiful and ineffective to reverse God’s judgment. Elijah was not only called to deliver this message, but also pray to God for the drought. Elijah’s call to pray for the drought was a call for Elijah to agree with God and His method of judgment. To pray for a drought is to agree that God’s punishment is right, good, and just.
The challenges that Elijah faced in ministry were on account of his own prayers. God called for Elijah to live in the wilderness by a brook. Over time that brook dried out on account of the drought that Elijah had been praying for. His water supply was depleted on account of his own prayer. The difficulties that Elijah faced were the direct result of Elijah’s position in ministry. Though Elijah was used as God’s tool for judgment, his position did not excuse him difficulty. God promised to meet Elijah’s needs, but the very command that God gave to Elijah to pray for the drought, made Elijah’s physical circumstances quite suspenseful. Elijah would have to trust that if not providing by the brook, God would provide water another way. Indeed, God proved Himself to be a faithful provider.
In 1 Kings 17:8-16 the Bible explains that God commanded Elijah to move locations once the brook dried up. Though the circumstances of Elijah may have looked dire, the Lord revealed that He already had a plan in place to ensure Elijah was continually equipped to do the Lord’s work. God commanded Elijah to leave the brook and go to another town where he would find a widow. God assured Elijah that He would provide for him through the widow. Here is it important to recognize the means by which God reveals Himself as Provider. First, when Elijah was living by the brook, He exercised His sovereign control over creation to cause ravens to bring Elijah food in the morning and evening. Notice that while Elijah was fed in order to do his ministry service, his meal was not substantial to the point of excess. He received meat, but only the amount that could be carried about by a few medium size birds. Also, those birds only brought breakfast and dinner to Elijah. The great prophet was not afforded lunch and/or snacks of any kind. There were likely many days that he went hungry based on the spiritual work that he engaged in. Yet, while he might have hungered, it was not unto the point of death. God was faithful to provide just enough to keep Elijah going according to His own eternal and spiritually-focused purposes.
In the testimony of 1 Kings 17:8-16, the Lord would no longer use birds to feed Elijah, but an equally unconventional source. It is not likely that one would walk into the house of a poor widow and expect to be lavished with an abundance of resources. The scriptures show that when Elijah obeyed the command of God and pursued the widow, he came upon her to find that she was poor and hopeless. When Elijah met her, the woman was gathering sticks to cook the last meal for her and her son, at which point she was prepared to die on account of the drought, which likely caused famine. Elijah’s greatness should not be merely seen in the power he exercised over water and fire. Rather, Elijah’s greatness can be seen in the extent and quality of his faith. Having been fed by birds through God’s miracles for some time, Elijah figured God would certainly be able to feed him, the woman, and his family in the necessary manner that God’s will would be accomplished. Elijah assured the woman that she would not die, but that God would provide.
Though the woman confessed that she only possessed a small jar of flour and a little bit of oil to make small cakes of bread, Elijah comforted her by stating that God would ensure that such little provision would be sufficient to sustain them until the end of the drought. He commanded the woman to take what little she had and bake three cakes with it so that she, her son, and him could all eat. The testimony of 1 Kings 17:8-16 explains that, indeed, God worked daily miracles to ensure that the small jar of flour and little bit of oil was enough to sustain the woman, her son, and Elijah until the end of the drought. The amount of food that the woman saw was not equal to the amount of provision that God was able to bring out of it. God multiplied the food daily much in the same way that He did when He provided manna in the wilderness for the children of Israel. The scriptures state that the jar of flour was not used up even though they ate every day. Likewise, the oil did not run dry even though it was used every day. God was faithful to His promise to Elijah to equip him unto the completion of his service unto God; and since Elijah’s service would elapse past the drought, Elijah and those who supported him were sustained well past that time unto the glory of God.
There is a small detail that is important to consider to see the manner in which God works as “Provider.” Notice that, while the provision of flour and oil didn’t run out, the woman, her son, and Elijah survived only on the flour and oil. They ate bread, and bread alone until the end of the drought. God’s provision did not extend into the realms of luxury. They had food to keep them alive. They did not have the privilege of indulging in a five-star cuisine. These three did not have the opportunity to look into a pantry and make a choice as to the type of food and the quality of it when it was time to eat. They ate enough bread to keep their bodies able unto their service for the Lord. That was it. These days, it is not uncommon for people to consider excess and abundance as merely survival. A pantry that is not equipped to feed for the week is often considered depleted, when the scriptures show that this extent of provision is great abundance! The modern perspective of God’s obligation to provide is much different than the pattern of God’s provision in the scriptures. Therefore, while God is faithful to provide as the Bible shows, and though God does provide excess in some instances, His faithfulness as Provider is seen clearly in the testimony of Elijah. God used unlikely resources to meet the needs of His servants so that His power was expressed in their faith to endure the difficulties of their service, looking unto the bigger picture of God’s spiritually-focused work. God gave just enough to His people so that His people could get the job done, trusting in and depending Him along the way. This is the pattern of God’s work that leads to His glory.
When Jesus walked about this world two thousand years ago, He provided ample proof through His teachings, miracles, signs, and wonders that He was indeed the Son of God (God in flesh) and the Messiah of Israel (the fulfillment of the Father’s eternally unconditional promises). The proof was undeniable, but that truth put the world in a position to make a difficult decision. Since Jesus is God and came to fulfill the Father’s promises in the manner that He did, those who have been exposed to this truth are accountable to respond to it in faith, or in unbelief. If we believe that Jesus is God and the exclusive means by which the Father’s promises are fulfilled, then our response to His commands should reflect that trust. Jesus was often found saying “follow Me.” Yet in Luke Chapter 14, Jesus made a profound statement concerning the quality of faith that is required to respond to His command to follow Him. He said:
"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has [enough] to finish [it]-- "lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see [it] begin to mock him, "saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'” – Luke 14:26-30
The point Jesus is making is actually quite simple. He never professed to be a good leader or provider of fleshly and worldly comforts. His promises transcend this life. His nature is eternal so His promises are eternal in nature as well. Thus, the true goodness of Jesus’ promises is only available in His eternal kingdom. This is why Jesus explained that one must “hate their life” in order to follow Him. It is not that one must literally hate one’s self and one’s family. Instead, Jesus taught that one must value eternity FAR more than the circumstances and relationships of this life so that Jesus is the absolute supreme influence of all thinking and actions in this life. If we really believe that Jesus is God AND the exclusive means to get into heaven, then we should trust that His kingdom is real, it is supremely greater than ANYTHING we could attain or even imagine in this life, and that Jesus is actually willing to escort us into it apart from our wickedness and sin because He is merciful and gracious. Since those things are true, our families, friends, and personal ambitions should take a very distant back seat to the things of God if we truly believe in the goodness of God through Jesus.
This makes life difficult to live now. This is why Jesus warned His followers and disciples that we should “count the cost.” While a true believer can rest assured that one’s sins are forgiven on account of God’s mercy, and that one will dwell with Him in His kingdom for all eternity on account of His grace, the road that one MUST travel to get there is hard! In order to live eternally, one must live according to the likeness of Jesus’ resurrection. Yet, it is impossible to live according to the resurrection unless one first dies. This is why the Apostle Paul explained that he “dies daily.” Paul explained that, while his flesh desired to live one way according to worldly comforts, Paul denied those desires when necessary in order to do what Jesus required of him for the sake of the Gospel. Paul said that, though he had accolades, money, and influence in his life prior to Christ, he counted it all as trash compared to the assurance he had in the inheritance Jesus promised in eternity. Therefore, Paul was willing to endure the difficulties of his ministry in this life (which included sickness, hunger, imprisonment, beatings, and death), trusting that it would be worth it in the end. He knew who Jesus was, and knew Jesus would make good on His promises. Paul counted the cost, and saw that the value of Jesus’ inheritance based on His work of grace was FAR GREATER than anything that he could amass in this life.
Paul is not the only Biblical figure to understand this truth. There were servants of God that understood this truth even in the times of the Old Testament. The Prophet Elijah is a perfect example of one that embraced the difficulties of his ministry, trusting in the God who appointed him in the ministry. In 1 Kings 17:1-7 the Bible explains the beginnings of Elijah’s ministry. The scriptures explain that Elijah was a man that was called to be a prophet that lived during the days of King Ahab. While Ahab was one of the worse kings in all of Israel’s history, Elijah was put into the service of God during this time. Elijah was called to speak the Word of God during a time in Israel’s history when they were rapidly moving farther and farther away from the Lord. The people had no regard for the Lord nor His Word and yet Elijah was called by God to address the people. Thus, as the people disregarded God, they would also disregard the men that spoke His Word. Elijah was one of those men. Nevertheless, having a name that means “My God is Jehovah,” Elijah knew the Lord and the power of His calling. Elijah embraced his purpose with faith regardless of what it meant to his life circumstances.
When God called Elijah to speak the Word, He first commanded Elijah to proclaim a drought against the children of Israel in the north. The Bible explains that Elijah lived in the region of Gilead, which is actually the mountainous region of Gad, on the east side of the Jordan River. Elijah was called to speak to Ahab who was living in Samaria in order to proclaim God’s judgment of a drought. Elijah was called to go a little over twenty miles to give bad news to a king that excelled in evil and darkness, whose wife was equally wicked and depraved. Nevertheless, Elijah went and did as the Lord God said, trusting in the power and authority that God equipped him with. Elijah went into the place of Ahab and bluntly proclaimed that there was not be rain or dew for several years, except by his own word, according to the power and authority of “the Lord God,” which is translated in Hebrew, “Yahweh Elohim.” While Ahab was accustomed to serving and worshiping Baal and Asherah, Elijah went in proclaiming the name of the One True Living God, trusting that He equipped Elijah with authority over the rains.
The scriptures explain that this drought lasted for seven years! However, God commanded Elijah to pray for this drought during that time. At the same time, the testimony of 1 Kings 17:1-7 explains that God commanded Elijah to leave his home and take up residence farther eastward by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan River. God explained that the brook would be the means by which Elijah would drink water. Since Elijah was dwelling in isolation for a time, God assured him that He would exercise His sovereign control over creation to cause ravens to feed him during his time there. Elijah did according to the Word of the Lord. Elijah camped at the brook and drank from its water. Elijah prayed for the drought and trusted that the ravens would bring him food in his time of need. Sure enough, the Bible explains that the ravens brought Elijah bread and meat in the morning and the evening, thereby sustaining the physical needs of Elijah, enabling him to continue in his ministry.
However, as Elijah remained in this place praying for God’s judgment through the drought, he became a victim of his own ministry service. The very brook that was enabling Elijah to drink water had dried up on account of the drought that Elijah was praying for. The prayer of Elijah, though was in line with God’s will and purposes, actually complicated the personal circumstances of Elijah. The scriptures explain that Elijah’s efforts to serve God actually made his life more difficult. He did not gain more resources. He did not gain more worldly comfort. He did not gain more popularity. He did not gain more influence. He was prophet in hiding, all by himself, only with the One True Living God to comfort him, encourage him, and provide for the things he needed to perform his service unto the Lord. Elijah’s service unto the Lord actually made Elijah’s life harder as Elijah was commanded to pray for the depletion of the very resources that were keeping him alive! Clearly Elijah was required to believe in the eternal nature of God’s promises if his service unto the Lord presented such great risks to his circumstances in this life.
This is the typical pattern of God’s work for those who desire to respond to His call to “follow Him.” Elijah was not the only prophet called to serve the Lord in a manner that complicated life and made it much harder. Consider the ministries of Jeremiah, Elijah, and Daniel who lived through the Babylonian conquest of Israel. More importantly, consider the testimony of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, [and] coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to [the point of] death, even the death of the cross. This is the standard that God Himself set. God took the form of flesh as Jesus Christ in order to live as a bondservant – the lowest of the low – having no place to lay His head in comfort though He is the Creator of all things, in order to die for the sins of the world. Jesus did not seek to connect Himself or dig roots into the affairs of this life since His nature and the nature of His promises are eternal. Let this mind be in the minds of God’s people, like Elijah, that was also in Christ Jesus. The cost that Jesus’ true followers are called to count is high! Nevertheless, the promise of an eternally abundant return, based on the inheritance of Jesus Christ Himself, is FAR GREATER! Glory to God!
The Bible shows, and human history confirms, that when people live in darkness for so long (apart from the will, wisdom, and worship of God), there is a tendency to become numb to the convictions of the heart against sin. When a generation begins to depart from the Lord, there might be certain convictions of the conscience that make it a struggle for individuals to do the things that God says is right. A person may desire to do right, but has a stronger desire to fulfill desires of the flesh, but ultimately, there is struggle and opposition within. As that generation continues in sin, the next generation becomes fluent practitioners of sin. The voice of conviction becomes dimmer and the struggle becomes less intense. It becomes easier to simply relent to sin and just do what the wicked heart wants. As this keeps on going and people remain unrepentant, the standards of righteousness change altogether. After a while, there is no voice of conviction. The conscience is seared and branded by unrighteousness so that there is no consideration of God, His will, and His righteousness. It is at this point in time where people simply do anything they want without consideration of folly or consequence against God – no matter how offensive or vile a particular lifestyle might be against God. The idea of God, His righteousness, and His justice are never thoughts that come into the mind so that wickedness and darkness excel to the point where people haven’t the slightest clue as to who God is, and by extension, remain ignorant about His righteousness, His justices, and His goodness.
This tragic progression is clearly seen in the history of Israel’s kings in the northern kingdom. In 1 Kings 16:29-34 the Bible begins to document the testimony of King Ahab. The children of Israel know King Ahab as historically, one of the most evil and terrible kings in their history! The scriptures are quite candid about the extent of God’s displeasure with Ahab, and the Bible also shows that Ahab simply didn’t care. Ahab took rule over the northern ten tribes of Israel when his father Omri died. This happened in the thirty-eight year of King Asa’s rule in the southern part of Israel. Ahab took over three years before Asa died. The Bible is quick to explain that Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord, and really wasted no time in getting to it. The extent of Ahab’s sin is described as being worse that all the other kings who came before him in Israel, which recall, all resulted in tragic judgment against the wicked kings AND their households. Ahab didn’t consider that reality at all in his conduct and leadership.
Ahab saw the evil of the kings that came before him and amplified it. The scriptures declare that Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord as if it were “a trivial thing.” There was no consideration as to how is life was an offense to God. The convictions of the conscience were seemingly non-existent. If Ahab was receiving those convictions, he didn’t consider them at all and lived spitefully against those convictions. One of the things that the scriptures mention according to Ahab’s evil is that he married the woman known as Jezebel. Jezebel was the daughter of the king of the Sidonians, which was a pagan nation that lived according to the worship of Baal and Asherah. Though these same gods had many names over the course of history, the reason that these gods took form was on account of the perverse desires of the people to do sexually wicked things to gratify their flesh. Many of the worship practices that centered around these false gods involved sacrifices that were stimulated by sexually perverse acts in the name of “fertility.”
Jeroboam sought to take the children of Israel away from God so that his rule would not be threatened. Baasha sought to appease the people and Ahab sought to indulge the people in their perversity. Ahab decided to rule in Samaria where his father had built up a temple and altar to false gods. When Ahab married Jezebel, he embraced the wicked pagan practices that came with her culture in direct defiance of God’s Law and brought in the worship of Baal and Asherah into the congregation of God’s people. Ahab built up a temple to Baal and then also a massive wooden statue to Asherah. Ahab not only adopted the wicked ways of the Sidonians, but also set up a headquarters for idolatry in Samaria, and then enabled and encouraged the people to embrace these evil entities with him and his wife. The days of worship in Solomon’s temple had long passed and were a distant memory for the people of the north. The people had no consideration, no affection, and ultimately no knowledge of who God was and how angry they were making him.
Yet the Bible explains that an interesting dynamic was taking place. As the people enthusiastically embraced Ahab and his evil leadership, the Bible shows that the rules of the kings got longer. After Zimri’s 7-day reign, Omri took over and ruled twelve years even though his sin was worse than Jeroboam’s sin. Also, the Bible explains that Ahab ruled for twenty-two years even though his sin was worse than everyone else’s combined! Though the leadership got worse and the people lived in darker chaos, God allowed the kings to rule for a great deal of time. It is true that four kings ruled in the north while Asa ruled for 41 years in the south, but the extended rule of Ahab proves a principle that the Apostle Paul spoke of in his letter to the Romans. Consider Paul’s explanation:
“For since the creation of the world His invisible [attributes] are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify [Him] as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man--and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” – Romans 1:20-25
Paul explained that when God’s people deny Him in order to worship the affections and creations of their own hearts and hands, God will give people over to the evil that resides in their hearts. This is why the convictions grow dimmer over time. This is why generations can snowball into a dark oblivion of wickedness. The rule of King Ahab was only a reflection of the hearts of God’s people. They wanted evil and darkness, so God gave them over to it. The reigns of Israel’s kings grew longer because the affection for evil from the people grew more intense. Men like Ahab were able to reign for extended periods of time because the people loved darkness more than the light. Hence, God gave the people over to uncleanness, the lusts of their hearts, and all of the consequences that come with living in such a manner.
To top things off, the testimony of 1 Kings 16:29-34 explains that prophecy was fulfilled during the rule of Ahab. In Joshua 6:27, after Joshua and his men plundered Jericho in light of the destruction that God brought upon it, the Lord commanded that no one should build up that city ever again. However, at that time, God prophesied that a man, his firstborn son, and his youngest son would rebuild Jericho, and as a result they would be cursed. The testimony of 1 Kings 16:29-34 explains that this curse was brought upon a family in Israel during the reign of Ahab. A man named Hiel built up Jericho with his firstborn son named Abiram, and also his youngest son Segub. Thus, the judgment of God previously spoken by Joshua was fulfilled, but also a curse was brought upon the people. This family had no consideration for God’s previous decree of judgment. They had no concern for God’s prophecy, or the curse that God promised. They did what seemed right in their eyes and directly rebelled against the command of God. Clearly Ahab was not the only rebel in the camp so that the fulfillment of this prophecy showed that the northern kingdom as a whole had grown numb to the Lord and His righteousness, having been given over to the evil desires of their hearts that were resulting in curses.
The Bible shows that there is a definite progression in sin so that as long as one remains unrepentant and unwilling to seek God for forgiveness according to His standards of righteousness, life gets progressively darker and more difficult. The scriptures show that since God is the exclusive means by which wisdom, goodness, righteousness and light come, when a person decides to live apart from Him, over time distance from the Lord will grow. This means that over time, life will get darker, righteousness will be lacking, there will be little good, and wisdom will be absent. The longer a person remains unrepentant the more severe the consequences become. Even though God is willing to accept humble repentance at any time a person relents in their own ways to follow the Lord, the consequences of the sins that people engage in still take their toll. The history of the Bible shows this as true.
In the Gospel John Chapter 4, the Lord Jesus spoke to a woman of Samaria. The scriptures explain that Jews and Samaritans did not get along even though they were ultimately all part of the congregation of Israel. Throughout Jewish history, the Samaritans and Jews distanced themselves from one another to the point that they despised each other. Even though Samaria was a region of Israel between the northern region of Galilee and the southern region of Judah (where Jerusalem and the temple were), it was common for Jews to take “the long way” back and forth when traveling in order to avoid going through the region of Samaria, thereby having to deal with Samaritans. The profound nature of the testimony of the “Good Samaritan” is on account of the fact that Samaritans were not traditionally viewed as “good people” by the Jews. Nevertheless, Jesus made it a point to go through this region and reveal Himself as the Messiah to one particular woman.
When Jesus first began talking to the woman, she had a bad attitude, likely on account of the rich heritage of hate and despise that Jews and Samaritans had practiced for generations. Though she spoke with the One True Living God in the flesh as she spoke with Jesus, she did not speak with the reverence and fear that one should address God with. She didn’t recognize Jesus as God. In fact, Jesus explained through the course of their conversation that she and the rest of her countrymen and women were accustomed to worshiping in ignorance. They didn’t know what they were worshiping. History shows that the Samaritans adopted all kinds of pagan practices to meld together with the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They adopted practices from all over that seemed to fit the ways that they wanted to live their lives. When God sent the Assyrians into the northern kingdom to judge them for their disobedience, the Samaritans were some of the first of Israel to adopt the pagan ways of the Assyrians, quickly assimilating into their culture. Thus, by the time Jesus spoke with the woman of Samaria in John Chapter 4, the Samaritans were living in such darkness that they couldn’t even recognize the Light of the world when He showed up in flesh.
Though the southern kingdom of Judah had their issues too, and also didn’t recognize Jesus as God, Jesus addressed that issue slightly differently. The point that Jesus made to the Samaritan woman about the ignorance of their worship was profound since this woman had issues that stemmed from her sin. She was discontent with her position in life. She had relationship issues. She was bitter against Jews. She was seemingly normal, but absent joy, peace, and fulfillment in her life, and that discontentment caused her to be blind of deeper spiritual issues. Yet scripture explains that the issues this woman suffered from began well before she was born. The issues of the Samaritans and their spiritual depravity goes all the way back to the testimony of the northern kingdom in 1 Kings 16:21-28. In 1 Kings 16:21-28 the Bible explains that a man named Omri was appointed as king of the northern ten tribes of Israel after the short reign of Zimri. After Zimri was used to execute God’s judgment against the wicked and idolatrous house of Baasha, the Lord then issued judgment against Zimri a week later on account of his evil that was the same as Baasha’s. Northern Israel recognized that Zimri was trying to take over the kingdom on his own, and so appointed the general of the army to lead an attack against Zimri in order to restore peace. The commander of the army at that time was Omri, and so after they had successfully dealt with Zimri, Israel was mildly content to leave Omri as its leader since their previous king had been killed.
Since the northern ten tribes of Israel were unrepentant, their issues did not get solved. There was no peace in the land before, and their unwillingness to repent only made the circumstances worse. Though they had changed leaders, each person continued to fail because none of them turned to the Lord to lead the people back to Him and His standards of righteousness. Instead, each leader did what seemed right in their own minds rather that humbly submitting to the Lord according to His laws, statutes, and commands. Rather, the leaders of the ten northern tribes made themselves as gods, figuring their own ideas and philosophies to be sufficient to meet the needs of the people in a manner equal to God. They were wrong.
While Israel was divided into two parts because of pride, self-righteousness, self-centeredness, and idolatry, the testimony of the northern ten tribes shows that the people didn’t learn from the judgment that God delivered. They continued to do that which split the people apart, taking them farther away from the fulfillment of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The willingness of the people to humble themselves, seek the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness, and live according to faith that God’s standards of righteousness are supremely good, caused the people to spiral deeper into darkness. When Omri became king, the people were not relieved by the assassination of Zimri. The Bible explains that the ten northern tribes of Israel were further divided into two parts. This means that there was division within the division! The unwillingness of Israel to do things God’s way caused the people of God to grow distant from the Lord AND each other. While the people tried to live their lives thinking they could come up with their own solutions, the people couldn’t even agree on who should lead them to do things right.
The Bible states that Israel was further divided while half the people followed a man named Tibni and half the people followed Omri. Half of the divided northern ten tribes appointed one king while the other half appointed another. However, since Omri was in charge of Israel’s military resources, over time he and his following were able to prevail against Tibni. Yet one cannot expect that leadership assumed by military takeover will be effective to produce peace and contentment in the lives of the people they govern over. When Omri assumed the kingship of northern Israel, he did the same evil in the sight of the Lord of those who came before him – and then exceeded them. The Bible clearly explains that while Omri was king for twelve years, he spent six of those years battling Tibni and then the other half committing the same evil of Jeroboam, only to exceed the pride, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness that the evil kings before him practiced through idolatry. Omri further angered the Lord by his wicked conduct, and in the midst of his wicked conduct, the scriptures explain that he purchased an area of land to make his headquarters for idolatry and sin – Samaria.
The testimony of Omri explains that he bought the hill of Samaria from a man named Shemer for two talents of silver, and then built up the hill to be his capital. Here it is important to recognize that when the Bible mentions “hills” and “mountains” in the context of Israel’s wickedness, it more often refers to those geographic locations as being centers of idolatry and sin. Omri bought a hill in order to build an altar to a false god and exalt that god(s) above the people as if that false deity was equal to the Lord God Almighty. Omri did not recognize the continuing chaos among his people. Omri did not recognize the extent of depravity within his people. Omri only sought to do what seemed right and good for him, according to his own understanding. He never looked to the Lord. He only sought to match God’s wisdom and glory and fell FAR short. The circumstances of Israel during Omri’s reign prove that as true. The fruit of Omri’s reign proves that as truer.
Since the people of Israel did not seek the Lord, they went deeper into darkness, chaos, and division. When examining the history of the Samaritans, one can look back at the leadership of Jeroboam, Baasha, and Omri as the heritage of sin that encouraged the ignorance and depravity of the Samaritan woman that spoke with Jesus. The time that elapsed between the testimony of 1 Kings 16:21-28 and the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was a little less than one thousand years. Since the ten northern tribes of Israel practiced unrepentance for that time, one can only imagine how dark and depraved the lives of the Samaritans were at the time of Jesus! Clearly there is no good fruit that comes from those who decide to live according to self rather than according to the standards of the Lord in faithful humility. The history of Israel shows that everything reproduces of its own king – darkness reproduces darkness; idolatry reproduces self-righteousness; division reproduces more division; pride reproduces self-reliance and independence, ultimately resulting in independence from God, the Author of righteousness, goodness, and wisdom. Thankfully, it is the testimony of John Chapter 4 that provides hope! Though the Samaritans had a rich heritage in sin, seeking to live separated from God, the Lord Jesus went out of His way to reveal His identity as Savior to a woman that wasn’t seeking it. The results of Jesus’ revelation led to the woman being saved, equipped as an evangelist, and a Samaritan community receiving the Lord as Messiah! This is the goodness of God, and when compared to the folly of those who lead and live separated from Him, why would anyone seek to live according to any other standard different than God’s?
Life without the Lord is utter chaos. Since the Lord is the Author of goodness, righteousness, and justice, those who desire to live apart from Him will find it impossible to experience genuine, satisfying and lasting goodness, righteousness, and justice. The lies of the world, that it is possible to receive these benefits apart from God, are always exposed as lies over time. Time always shows that any manner of living apart from the Lord and the standards of His Word is dark and disappointing. One can simply look at the history of the world to validate this as true. Over time, the world is not in a better condition that it was before. Violence and the threats of it seem to grow by the day. Tension and anxiety seem to rule the hearts of many people. Suffering is not partial to anyone as both believer and non-believer alike deal with tragedy and difficulties that don’t seem to really get dealt with. This is chaos, but is a result of people electing to live separated from the Lord and His standards of goodness, righteousness and justice. The world is filled with people that seek to do what is right in their own minds according to selfish desires and perversity. Leaders all over the world have failed to turn to God for wisdom and ability, and have instead looked to other gods, philosophies, panels of “experts” and “intelligence.” The world is not a better place as a result.
The testimony of scripture shows that this has always been the case – even among God’s own people. In 1 Kings 16:8-20 the Bible documents only three years of Israel’s history in the northern kingdom, which saw three leadership changes in that time period! This is indeed chaotic. Every man was doing what seemed right in his own mind instead of following the righteous standards of the Lord according to His laws, statutes, and commands. These three years were filled with God’s judgments against certain individuals that lived according to wickedness and self-centeredness, and also led the people to do the same. Many people died on account of Israel living in this manner. Since God is the Author of life and that more abundantly, it is impossible to flourish with satisfaction in life apart from the Lord. This was the case of these three years of Israel’s history.
The testimony begins by explaining that Baasha’s son Elah took over after Baasha died. Recall that the Lord proclaimed judgment against Baasha and his descendants because when Baasha became king, he did not attribute God as the means of his rise to power. Though Baasha was taken out of the dust of the ground and made king by the hand of God’s judgment against the house of Jeroboam, Baasha did not recognize God, but instead worshiped the same false gods of Jeroboam that caused him to be judged too. Baasha followed in the exact same footsteps as the man that he was used to bring God’s judgment against, and so suffered the same fate, showing that God is not a respecter of persons. Baasha murdered the house of Jeroboam; and while that work was the work of God’s judgment, Baasha never sought the Lord for forgiveness or mercy, even when he fell into the same sin. Therefore, God sent the prophet Jehu to communicate His judgment against Baasha and his household, and the testimony of 1 Kings 16:8-20 shows God’s work to execute that judgment, and the effects of that judgment.
The Bible shows that Elah was only king for two years before God fulfilled His promise of judgment. Elah had a man named Zimri that was in charge of half of his army that took it upon himself to commit treason against Elah and kill him. Immediately after killing Elah, Zimri went after the household of Elah and slaughtered them as well. This was satisfaction of God’s judgment, but Zimri was a wicked man and the scriptures describe him as a traitor. Though God leveraged Zimri’s treason as a means to fulfill His judgment against the household of Baasha, Zimri was a man motivated by selfishness, self-righteousness, and violence. He attacked his master and the king of the northern kingdom simply because he felt that he should be king and was in position to get what he felt he deserved. God was not pleased with the conduct of Zimri either. Not only did Zimri commit this horrible act for his own profit, but did not at any point seek the Lord for forgiveness and mercy. Hence, Zimri was also judged.
The scriptures declare that Zimri’s rule only lasted one week. After a week, the army of the northern kingdom of Israel got word of the treason that Zimri had committed. The army of Israel then named their command Omri to be the king in charge of exacting justice and revenge. Therefore, Omri led the army of the northern kingdom against Zimri who was taking up residence in Tirzah. The Bible explains that when Zimri heard that the army was coming after him, he lost heart, went into the citadel of the city, barricaded himself in, and lit the building of fire while he was in it. Zimri essentially committed suicide on account of his failed attempt to rule over the children of Israel in the north. The Bible specifically states that Zimri died in this manner as the fulfillment of God’s judgment because of his wickedness. According to the Bible, Zimri was also living according to the same idolatry as Jeroboam, Baasha, and Elah.
Many people died during this time period. The northern kingdom of Israel had no stability, especially in leadership. People were killing one another to fulfill selfish desires to rule over God’s people. The people were doing what seemed right in their own minds based on the suggestions, proclamations, and leadership of wicked men. This three-year period shows that Israel had no peace, no reason to rejoice, no satisfaction, no goodness, no righteousness, and no justice for the evil that the people in Israel were committing. This is because the people had departed from God. They sought to do things their way instead of God’s way. Yet still, it is important to recognize that God continued to stay engaged in the lives of His people to protect the overall spiritual integrity of Israel. Though wicked men performed wicked acts against their brethren and countrymen, the Lord used that wickedness to purge sin from the positions of leadership in the land. In that one wicked man replaced another is a testament to the extent of wickedness that the people invited into their lives in their denial of God. Yet the Lord did not turn from His people. The people were forced to suffer the consequences of their sin by living in darkness and chaos, but things could have been much worse had the Lord allowed each wicked ruler to lead for longer periods of time. Thus, while many people died according to their wickedness, God’s righteous judgment of those men proved to be a demonstration of God’s mercy, protecting the people from far worse, giving the children of Israel opportunity to repent, or continue according to the wicked desires of their selfish hearts. Their fate would be the results of their own choices to either live with God or without Him.