Today we are introduced to the prophet Elijah who comes from Gilead. No prophet had arisen since Moses like Elijah. His name means the Lord is my God. Elijah spoke fearlessly for the Lord during the spiritual vacuum that engulfed the northern kingdom of Israel. He prophesied during the reigns of Ahab, Ahaziah, and Jehoram, taking a stand against the rampant worship of the Canaanite god Baal. Elijah stood before the king of Israel fearless, declaring ’As the Lord God of Israel lives.’ This was a brilliant declaration from one who stood before the king uninvited and unannounced simply because he could. He spoke for the one true living God, one who had infinitely more majesty, power, and glory than the earthly king. The Canaanites believed Baal could control the dew and the rain, so Elijah's pronouncement of drought was an immediate challenge. Who really was God...Baal or the Lord? By now Ahab had already married Jezebel. With that marriage there was a political treaty between the northern kingdom and Phoenicia, and she brought Baal worship with her to Israel.
Elijah was obedient to the Lord. Once he had pronounced the drought, the Lord told him to go to live by the brook Kerith and God would instruct the Ravens to bring him food. He would get water from the brook...until it dried up. God then instructed Elijah to go to Zarephath and there a widow would feed him. And Elijah went. She was a woman of some faith, living in a foreign land, and the Lord would test her faith through Elijah. His ask of the woman would test her already meager supplies. Water was one thing, but she hardly had enough flour and oil to make one last loaf of bread for she and her son before they ran out of food. She was making a last meal for she and her son and Elijah asked for a portion of that meal. But he also promised that the Lord God of Israel would ensure that her flour would not run our and neither would her supply of oil. Interesting that while an apostate Israel suffered because of the drought, God supplied the daily necessities to a non-Israelite who willingly took Him at His word. The fresh supply of oil and flour each day would be a reminder to both the prophet and the widow of the value of a personal trust in Him. God alone is sufficient to meet every need.
Zarephath was a city on the Mediterranean coast between Tyre to the south and Sidon to the north. It was a commercial center known for its export of wine, olive oil, and the purple dye extract from murex shells. They were also known as a manufacturing hub for textiles, pottery, and glassware. Elijah stayed in a small room on the roof with an entrance accessible from the outside of the house. That allowed privacy and preserved the reputation of the woman. The widow had one son who became sick and died. She wondered aloud what Elijah had against her that the Lord would take her only son. Elijah took the boy to his room and prayed to the Lord. The Lord heard him and returned the boy back to life. The interesting thing about Elijah's actions is that some of them resembled Babylonian practices involving magic. The Israelites did not perform magic, and we see that Elijah's prayer did not involve the restoration or reunification of the boy's soul to his body. Life was restored to the child, demonstrating to this foreign mother that Elijah was truly a man of God and that God’s word operated in him.
The drought had gone on for over three years and the Lord finally told Elijah to go to king Ahab. Then the Lord would send rain on the land. Ahab had sought Elijah all over the land to no avail. He wanted to kill him like he had all the other prophets of the Lord. Obadiah was probably the palace official and minister of state for Ahab, serving as the king's personal representative. He was a man of faith in the Lord and had in fact hidden 100 prophets of the Lord from Ahab. Now he was speaking with Elijah and Elijah asked to meet with Ahab. This was a bit dicey for a couple of reasons. First, Obadiah had taken great risks to hide the 100 prophets of the Lord and second, Obadiah knew that when the Lord called prophets to serve, they could just disappear. If he arranged a meeting between Ahab and Elijah and Elijah did not appear, it could mean Obadiah's life. Elijah promised to appear, and the meeting was set up. Notice how Ahab addresses Elijah...as the troubler of Israel. Elijah earned this title because he refused to let Ahab and his wife Jezebel to have free reign to drag every Israelite into Baal worship.
Ahab was the most evil king Israel ever had. He was controlled by his equally evil wife, Jezebel. Together they did more harm to the worship of the Lord than anyone else in Israel's history. It seems fitting that the most evil king in Israel's history would have as his contemporary the most famous and dramatic of Israel's prophets. Elijah proposed a contest between himself, the only prophet of the Lord left, and the 450 prophets of Baal. This contest would determine once and for all who the true god of the storm was. Sending fire for the wood and the offering would be a reasonable test of the power of the rival deities. The rules were set, and Elijah let the prophets of Baal go first. As the day wore on, Baal was nonresponsive. From morning until noon, the prophets called on the name of their god. There was no voice. No one answered. Elijah began to taunt them, making fun of their god. He challenged them to shout louder. Maybe their god was sleeping and needed to be awakened. Perhaps he was busy, deep in thought, or traveling. Maybe he was in the bathroom! The prophets of Baal began to cut themselves with their swords, something that was common in their ritual worship. Nothing the prophets did elicited a response from their supposed god. This went on until it was the time of the evening sacrifice in the temple of the Lord. Elijah called all the people to him, took twelve stones, and rebuilt an altar to the Lord, cut up his sacrifice and laid it on the altar. Then he had water poured on the altar...three times and on the sacrifice, the wood, and the water filled the trench Elijah had dug around the altar.
Then Elijah prayed. The sacrifice was sopping wet. It was not humanly possible for fire to start on this altar. Elijah asked for two things in his prayer. The first was that he wished the Lord to demonstrate to the people that He alone is the living God. The second was for the full revival of God's people. God answered Elijah in dramatic fashion. God proved He is God of the storm. Baal proved to be impotent, but the fire of the Lord fell from heaven and consumed everything including the rocks, the dust, and the water in the trough around the altar. God's power over fire, water, and rain demonstrated that He, and not Baal is the Lord. He is God! The people fell to their faces, confessing that the Lord is the one true God. The prophets were executed because of their blatant sin and the ruin they had brought against the nation.
It was time to end the drought and Elijah spied a cloud no bigger than a man's hand, but he knew the power of the Lord and he encouraged Ahab to hurry home. Interesting that when Elijah announced the drought, he told Ahab that there would be no more rain unless it came from the hand of the living God. And the cloud...was hand shaped. Once Jezebel found out what had happened with the prophets of Baal, she determined to kill Elijah, so he fled south. He left his servant in Beersheba and kept heading south. He found himself eventually at a cave near Mount Sinai where he experienced the presence of the Lord. Tune in next Sunday for more on that!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W