“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, Ba‛al 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