Monday, March 4, 2013

1 Kings 18:1-19 Finally Confronting Ahab

After many  days the word of the LORD came to  Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.’ “ 

Finally,  things are  starting to  move!  Between Chapter 17:1  (Elijah informing Ahab that there will be no rain) and  18:1 (Elijah telling Ahab that there will be rain)   at least 3 years and 6 months  (1275 days)  had passed,  according  to James 5:17,18.
In the meantime  neither God, nor Elijah have been idle. The LORD  has been working   in Elijah’s life, shaping his character  for  kingdom service.  
The names  of the places where God did this are deeply suggestive:  Kerith (cutting) and Zarephath   (refining) were no waste of time. God was shaping  His servant for greater use.  A.W Pink says that the ”first mark of an approved servant of Christ  is the grace of spiritual patience and this is developed in the trials of faith  (James 1:3)“ [i]. Through God’s providence, His servants  may be kept from   public service until an appointed time. In the meantime they are being prepared to become more  fruitful, and once they are made  ready by God , they were  able to do more in a short time  than  any man could do in a long time!

The time  has finally arrived  to  deal with  Ahab, the apostate   king of Israel, the propagator  of Ba’al  worship.  The 18th chapter of 1 Kings  must be one of the greatest chapters in the Old Testament  as we see the LORD  acting  in  awesome  power  through His prepared  servant, Elijah! Oh the depth of divine timing! 

What is at the heart  of this narrative? Why does Ahab need to be confronted  through  God’s  servant,  Elijah? The heart of the  problem  is idolatry. Idolatry is  the replacement  of the One, True, Sovereign God and Creator  of the Universe,  for  fictitious  gods  that the sinful  and deviant, demonic  heart of  man has created.  In this case  the worship of YAHWEH was replaced  by  the worship  of   Ba’al [ii].  In  Ch 16:31  we saw that Jezebel,  the wife of  Ahab imported  this fake god from her home territory in Phoenicia , and she  made sure that  the true  prophets  of YAHWEH were  systematically  hunted down and killed (18:4).

The time  had come to  act!  It is not as if God  had been silent  during  this  time!   YAHWEH  had spoken in the drought!  By this  YAHWEH  had directly  challenged  this  Ba’al  cult.  Ba’al worship  was primarily  a  fertility cult.  Ba’al  was  supposed  to give  rain  and  therefore harvests and therefore fertility!   Now  YAHWEH, by withholding rain  at the word of Elijah  (17:1) was  showing  everybody who  was truly in charge! YAHWEH  was   shaming  the impotence of this Phoenician non -god. Elijah’s  later contest  with  the  400 prophets of Ba’al  in 18:20ff  is merely the cherry on the top- the logical conclusion of  this saga!  So, the 18th chapter  is the story of  a show down, a contest  between  YAHWEH, the only  true God  and Ba’al  the  currently  popular, but false  and fake god, whom the human heart  has conceived. That is where we are  heading  in   v. 20, but  before we get there  (next week D.V.) we  will  have to consider the first 19 verses. Here is   a simple outline of the order of events in 18:1-19

Vv. 3-6   Ahab  and Obadiah
Vv. 7-15   Obadiah  and Elijah
Vv.16-19  Ahab and Elijah

Vv. 3-6   Ahab  and Obadiah
The  famine  was  severe in Samaria (v.2) …. And Ahab  said  to Obadiah:  Go through  the land to all the springs of water and to all the valleys. Perhaps we may find grass…”  (v.5)  You already  know the reason for the famine : God is judging  the sin of idolatry in Israel!  But that is not the way Ahab sees it. Here  is not a single  word about God  as Ahab  makes plans about  finding  grazing for the animals. That is typical  of  God-less  people. They   think of drought  as a freak of nature. Today,we blame the so called El Niño effect for this. This is a little understood, complex  weather  pattern  associated with ocean temperatures in the Pacific ocean.[iii]   Modern man refuses  to see God behind the weather. We prefer a vague science!
A surprising fact emerges here.  In a footnote (18:3)  we learn that Obadiah, a trusted servant  of  Ahab,  is a believer!  While he serves Ahab, he also hides  a 100   prophets of YAHWEH  and secretly provides for them.     D.R. Davies  observes[iv]: “ Obadiah saves prophets . Ahab wants to save mules and horses. That is typical  of kings and governments: the economy is everything.”  It is amazing to find faithful servants  even where Satan’s throne is (Rev 2:13).  

Vv. 7-15   Obadiah  and Elijah
And as Obadiah was on the way, behold , Elijah met him. And Obadiah recognized him…” (v.7). In my reading this past week I have come across  a commentator who  sees  Obadiah as a compromiser, accusing him  of serving  Ahab on the one hand, whilst  serving God in another.  I see however no  such  judgment cast upon   Obadiah in the Scriptures. Has God not used  His people  in such  circumstances? Think of Joseph and Daniel. They  had  pagan bosses , but they never compromised; on the contrary,  they served God  with distinction, whilst also honouring  and serving their  unbelieving masters with integrity!  God’s saints  are often found in very unlikely places  (Caesar’s household -  cf. Phi.l 4:22).
Elijah promptly  informs  Obadiah:  "Go, tell your lord , Elijah is here!  Obadiah, though he  may be delighted to see Elijah,   clearly doesn’t fancy being the messenger of  such news, since he knows how Ahab and  Jezebel  felt about  the prophets of the Lord. They have  been conducting a ruthless genocide of prophets in the land.  (See the extent of this search  in v.10!) Obadiah  responds, “ I am glad to see you , but surely , you cannot be serious  in making such a request! Just now I report to Ahab , that I have seen you , and then  the Spirit of the Lord  carries who knows where (v.11)  and then Ahab will  say to me, “ Why did you not kill him?” , and if I have no answer he will kill me!” (v.12)  You see Obadiah’s dilemma, don’t you?  He’s not ready to die  for such an announcement.  Elijah  calms him down by assuring him, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show  myself to him today. So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah " (vv. 15,16) 

Vv. 16-19 Elijah  and Ahab
Chapter 17:1  and  Chapter 18:1  are now almost   connected. The rain issue  is almost solved. It will rain  again – at the Word of the Lord, and Ba’al will have nothing to do with this. But before this there is other work to do. Ahab  must  be challenged.  
The story continues: “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” (v.17)  A.W. Pink comments :   The very fact that the prophet was seeking him out… must have rendered the king uneasy. Wicked men are generally great cowards: their own consciences are their accusers, and often cause them many misgivings, when in the presence of God’s faithful servants,even though these occupy an inferior position in life to themselves. Thus it was with King Herod in connection with Christ’s forerunner, for we are told, "Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy" (Mark 6:20). In like manner, Felix, the Roman governor, trembled before Paul (though he was his prisoner) when the apostle "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come" (Acts 24:25). Let not the ministers of Christ hesitate boldly to deliver their message, nor be afraid of the displeasure of the most influential in their congregations.”

So, Ahab’s opening statement is very telling : “ Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” (v.17)   Pink says: This is not to be regarded as an unmeasured outburst, …. It was the avowed antagonism between evil and good: it was the hissing of the Serpent’s seed against one of the members of Christ: it was the vented spite of one who felt condemned by the very presence of the righteous. Years later, speaking of another devoted servant of God, whose counsel was demanded by Jehoshaphat, this same Ahab said, "I hate him; for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil," (22:8). So far, then, from this charge of Ahab’s making against the character and mission of Elijah, it was a tribute to his integrity, for there is no higher testimony to the fidelity of God’s servants than their evoking of the  hatred of the Ahabs around them.[v]

Ahab knew that Elijah had something to do with this drought. It was after all Elijah  who told  Ahab that there would be a long drought (17:1) and in that sense he considered him the troubler of Israel. His animals were  dying of hunger. He wasn’t worried about  sin! Elijah immediately sets the record straight  by reminding Ahab: “I have not troubled Israel, but you have , and your father’s house, because  you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD and followed the Ba’als” (v.18). Elijah  did not cringe before this king, although this king was on a mission of exterminating him and the  true prophets from the land. BUT Elijah had come from the presence of the Almighty King,  conscious  of His  immense power  to judge and strike this little kinglet dead . He would in fact be dead in a short while!  (22:29ff). Elijah, in the Name of God Almighty charges  Ahab of  trouble and treason … you have troubled Israel … you have abandoned the commandments of the LORD!   This  wretched  king and his family were the leaders in rebellion against God, and the people of Israel  had blindly followed. Here  was  the true cause of the distress in the land. They were  the disturbers  of its peace.


Now therefore  send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of  Baal, and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who  eat at Jezebel’s  table“ (v.19) . Behold the boldness of the  prophet! Man alone he charges  Ahab with  crimes  against God and  the kingdom of God. Man alone  he  give Ahab  instructions, telling him what  to do … gather  all the people of Israel … gather all the prophets.  This  was of course a unique situation. It does not  necessarily give us a precedent to challenge  the cults around us in a similar fashion! But in this unique instance  Elijah was endowed  with extraordinary authority, and yet it was not ultimately Elijah’s authority.This was the announcement of  a contest  between Yahweh and Ba’al on Mt Carmel, and God was going to show Himself mighty through  Elijah!


God is not mocked :  Judgment may not come in a hurry, but it is certain. Israel, chosen  for  holy purposes would not get away with this idolatry. God has declared Himself to be  a jealous God. Christians have  no reason to believe that God thinks otherwise  of them. Flirting with the world  and with idolatry  is dangerous  to your  spiritual future.  

God is merciful:  He sends his  Elijahs, His  servants to warn  His enemies and to call them to repentance   before  He  executes  His justice.  Modern Christians need to know  that Christ is  the last Word  of God. He is  God’s beloved Son.  He is your only hope, your only Redeemer. Look no further. Listen to Him! Forsake your sin. Trust in Him.  

God’s called  servants may  have  different ways of working: Elijah’s ministry is public and confrontational; Obadiah’s  ministry is quiet and behind the scenes. Elijah is not God’s only faithful servant. 1 Corinthians 12  describes a multitude of gifts operational in the church  to the glory of God. All are important

It will be good  to pray  for   people  who in the Name and authority of  God  will boldly challenge  our  present  day Ahab’s and systems of Baal.  But let us remember what it took to get Elijah to this point. He  was pruned  and refined by God  for  this work. He was not a heartless, callous, ‘in your face’ guy. He  was  a  lump of clay  shaped for God’s  purpose – bold, courageous  and not afraid  - as long as he stood before the LORD. 

God  will put all His enemies  under His feet. This  account is illustrative  of the fact  that  Jesus  shall  triumph and reign over all  His enemies. All the evil  people  and systems  of the world, though intimidating to us  when faced without  God’s perspective,  shall be forced  to  bow the knee. We shall see this powerfully illustrated in v 20ff.

[i] A.W. Pink :  Elijah,  p.94
[ii] Wikipedia:  "Baʿal" can refer to any god and even to human officials. In some texts it is used for Hadad, a god of the rain, thunder, fertility and agriculture, and the lord of Heaven. Since only priests were allowed to utter his divine name, Hadad, Baal was commonly used. Nevertheless, few if any Biblical uses of "Baʿal" refer to Hadad, the lord over the assembly of gods on the holy mount of Heaven, but rather refer to any number of local spirit-deities worshipped as cult images, each called baʿal and regarded in the Hebrew Bible in that context as a "false god".The Baal cult provided the greatest and most enduring threat to the exclusive worship of Yahweh among ancient Israelites
[iii] Internet Article : So what is El Nino anyway ? A non technical description
[iv] D.R. Davies : The Wisdom and the Folly ( Commentary on 1 Kings ) p.231
[v]  Ibid, p.110

No comments: