Monday, February 11, 2013

1 Kings 17:1 God Speaks Loudly in the Worst of Times

TEXT:    1 Kings 16:29- 17:1
TITLE:  “God Speaks Loudly in the
             Worst of Times”
DATE:   10th  February  2013

The times in which the prophet  Elijah  lived  were  desperate  days  in every sense of the word.  They were days of political  and moral turmoil- all rooted  in  one  basic problem: Israel had forsaken her God!   Living  in  2013  in  Windhoek, Namibia, and in  God’s  world  makes   me wonder  whether there are not some significant lessons  to be learned  from the life and times of Elijah, for we  struggle daily   against similar evil   influences  that  will  most certainly invite the wrath of God  in time to come. Romans 1: 18ff is  an eloquent  testimony  to this  fact. Speaking about the Romans;  the Roman  empire with its  ungodly   morals  was  destroyed  by Germanic tribes  between 470-490 AD.  Fate of history or God’s wrath ?

As we embark upon a  thoughtful  study  of   the life and times  of this fascinating  prophet, we will do well  to  understand  the historical background  against which he  was called by God  to be His spokesman in such  desperate times.

Setting the Scene :  The  Seven  Evil Kings  of Israel

We begin thus with a brief survey  of 1 Kings. After David dies, Solomon  becomes king. Solomon  is   the king who started well and ended badly.  His many wives turned  away his heart from  His God after their gods (1 Ki 11:1- 9). God vows to  tear the kingdom from him. This happens eventually  in  930 BC when Solomon’s  son,  Rehoboam  makes  strategic  mistakes (due to his reliance on foolish human counselors, and less on God)   in the governing of the once great  kingdom  of David. This always happens when  people  and leaders   stop listening to God.   A rebel called  Jeroboam   persuades 10 of the tribes of Israel   to secede, and    to  form the Northern Kingdom  (called Israel) in 931 BC. The northern 10  tribes are usually called Israel; the southern two tribes ( Judah & Benjamin)  are usually called Judah.  

Jeroboam the leader  of the NK  was  an evil man. He erected images of two golden calves, one at Dan in the north and one at Bethel in the south, and  he told  his people no longer to go to Jerusalem to worship there.  Jeroboam introduced idolatry into the nation, and  he  was ultimately responsible  to  bring  the wrath of the Lord God upon the people  of Israel. “Walking in the ways of Jeroboam[1] becomes  the trademark of all the successive kings of the NK (Israel)

Jeroboam was succeeded by his son Nadab. (1 Ki. 15:25-32)  He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.” (15:26). Nadab was assassinated after  2 years. Nadab was succeeded by  Baasha   who  reigned for twenty-four years. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.” (15:34). Baasha was succeeded by his son, Elah  who reigned for two years (1 Ki. 16:8). He was assassinated  by  Zimri  who wiped out the whole  dynasty of Baasha  (in keeping with a prophetic word- 1 Ki 16:7), and then proclaimed himself king.  Zimri only rules for  7 days (1 Ki. 16:15ff), when  Omri (who ruled 12 years) takes over the throne (1 Ki. 16:21ff). “Omri did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did more evil than all who were before him”(v.25).  Following Omri’s death,  his son Ahab  ascends to the throne. He rules  for 22 years, and of him it is said that “Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him (1 Ki. 16:30-33). The fact that Ahab had dared to  marry Jezebel, a  foreign princess of the Sidonians, who also was  a committed Baal worshipper,  was going to prove  to be disastrous for the nation of Israel.

From  Jeroboam to Nadab to Baasha to Elah to Zimri to Omri to Ahab  the Northern kingdom  is  going from bad to worse. There appears to be no hope for recovery of the Northern kingdom , but God is not finished with her  yet.  

Enter Elijah !

Oh, the patience and the mercy of God!  Even at this advanced stage of decay, God  will send a messenger, a prophet  to  speak to a king  and a people who  is spiritually  immune  to the Word of God.

Our text says:  Now (or ‘and’)  Elijah the Tishbite of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab”… (1 Ki.17:1).  With dramatic suddenness  the  prophet of God  appears! We  we have no description  of his genealogy – something so important in Jewish  thinking.    Like Melchizedek, he  emerges  from obscurity. We are told is that he comes  from Tishbe in  Gilead.  Gilead was on the eastern side of the Jordan River -   today’s  Jordan. Before the conquest of Canaan under Joshua,   still under the leadership of Moses,  the tribes of Reuben, Gad and a ½ tribe of Manasseh  decided to settle there. (Numbers 32) 

Elijah’s name means  My God is Yahweh.”   What an affirmation and reminder is Elijah’s  name  before  this apostate   king  Ahab of Israel!  We shall discover that  Elijah is one of the most remarkable  figures of  the Old Testament, second only to Moses himself, in terms  of  God’s miraculous power working through him.   In the  NT  John the Baptist  is likened  to Elijah, to prepare the way of the Lord (see  Malachi 4:5 & Luke 1:17). Like  John the Baptist, Elijah’s calling was to free Israel from her bondage to Baal and to bring her back  under the  covenant God of Israel.

Consider what Elijah  said to  this  apostate  king  Ahab: “As the LORD the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word!

Elijah  (“My God is Yahweh”)   speaks to Ahab  in the Name  of  the LORD God of Israel” (Yahweh Elohim Israel).   LORD (Yahweh or Jehovah) is the revealed covenant name  of God.

Elijah says to Ahab: “As the LORD the God of Israel, lives…” !  He speaks in the Name of the living God !   None of   the 7 kings of Israel  had believed this! They all had  acted as if He did not exist.  In fact, they had treated  YAHWEH  as nothing, by openly embracing other gods. The fact that YAHWEH had apparently  not judged them so far, made them  believe  that the LORD had no real existence. Ironically, the dead idols of Baalism  which they had set up everywhere  were   even  more  silent, as we shall see  when Elijah enters into  a contest with the prophets of Baal in 18:20.  Never think that since God does not  respond to every act of unbelief  and  the sin of men, that He does not exist! Paul   reminds the  Romans,  that for  His own  reasons, God “was enduring  with much patience vessels of wrath  prepared for destruction.” (Rom. 9:22). No nation must  ever think that  if they  enjoy peace and prosperity in the midst of gross and blatant  sinning , that God is ignoring their sin.God’s wrath is deferred because He acts in mercy, not wishing that any should perish, but that all  should  reach repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

HOWEVER,  the time had arrived for God to act. 58 years had passed  since the kingdom  had been divided  on account of  sin.  God had allowed the nation of Israel to  continue in its apostasy   for these  58 years, BUT NOW  He sends  an obscure man, Elijah  (note in this regard how similar Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist and Jesus are!)   from across the river Jordan,  to Ahab to  announce  the  judgment of God!

Imagine that!  Imagine an obscure  nobody   going to the president of your country and telling him “ I have just come from the presence of God,  and this  is what you need to hear!

Here is the message  from YAHWEH via Elijah to Ahab:   There shall  be neither dew nor rain these years, except by  my word”. The land  designated as   flowing with milk and honey” would be turned into a land of  drought and barrenness and famine, and therefore death.  When God withholds rain, no-one  can create it. Jeremiah the prophet asks with tongue -in –cheek,   “…are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain?” (Jer 14:22). Well , you know the answer!  It didn’t rain, and no one could produce rain. The terrible drought is only broken  by the word of the LORD (1 Ki 18:1)

Before the powerful king of Israel stood an obscure man,  who in reality  was much more powerful  than Ahab, because he had  stood in the presence of God!   
Of this Elijah, James says   (carefully  explaining  that he was a man and not a divine angel, but a man just like us )  “… he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” (Jas. 5:18)

Before Ahab stood one  who knew God, and who knew the power of prayer  (the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working- Jas 5:16).  Elijah was conscious  of having  been  in the presence of God. This accounts for his present  fearlessness[2]. With God  before him and  with him, who can be against him? 


What does this text  say to us? 

Firstly, we are still  living  in the same  world  filled  with ‘religious  unbelievers’  who do not listen to God, and who hate the Word of God! Most of this world is religious! But most of  the world and its rulers hate  YAHWEH the true God  and  they hate Christ  who calls  men and women of the world to forsake  their idols and  to follow Him.

Secondly, we may  be confident and believe that God  has not left  this world without  a  Word .  There are those who  boldly say  to the Ahab’s ( the kings and presidents) of our day: “As the LORD, the God of     the church lives, before whom I stand…”. Any true church should be such a voice  in the political wilderness, and  any  true church may be  expected  to be called  of God to confront the  earthly powers with  messages of repentance  and judgment.

Thirdly, we must know that  while God delays His temporary  judgements upon the earth, He will certainly carry them out! I remind you that every earthquake, every pestilence or pandemic, every tsunami  and every flood, every  war and  every cruel ruler  are God’s temporary judgments upon the earth. With respect to the cruelties of men, God is not the author of their  sin or evil, but  He can  choose  to  allow them to carry on their evil designs until His purpose has been accomplished among   the nations!  This takes  biblical wisdom  to see and understand.

But mostly  it points us  to the fact  of God’s mercy in Christ. How great is the love of God for this fallen world, that despite such  wilful, persistent  and arrogant sin, He patiently perseveres  with this world.  He perseveres  with you! Oh, how many times    you have sinned against  Him. How many times you have profaned His holy Name. How many times you have been faithless! How many times you have chosen to  worship  your created gods, rather than Him!  Still, today  He calls you  by His Elijah’s  and  through His Word   to trust in  His Son, the Lamb of God , who takes away your sin. Will you not repent now and  return  to Him you prodigal son or daughter?   May  the rich rain of God’s mercy  fall upon your soul as  you come  today, and may this table spread before us  be your invitation to come!

[1] E.g.  1Ki 16:2,19,26,31

[2] He looses  this fearlessness , when confronted with  Jezebel  cf 1 Ki. 19:1ff. The simplest explanation is that  he expended   much spiritual energy in his contest with the prophets of Baal. At this time he needed to have withdrawn  back into the presence  of  God. He was  not able to face the threats of Jezebel in his own strength. 

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