Sunday, April 14, 2013

1 Kings 18:41-46 " The Sound of Rushing Rain"

In Namibia  we know  much about  drought, and we  love to talk about the  years  where  there has been  an abundance of rain. The Bible  has surprisingly much to say about  drought and rain. The Bible frequently  attributes drought  to God’s judgment in response  to  man’s sinful, ungodly behaviour. For example, God says through   Jeremiah: “You have polluted the land with your vile whoredom. Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come…”  (Jer. 3:2,3).  Amos says: “You did not return to me, declares  the LORD. I also withheld the rain from you   when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither…  (Amos  3: 6,7). Through the prophet Haggai  the LORD  speaks about  “… my house that lies in ruins, while  each of you busies himself  with his own house. Therefore the heavens  above you have withheld the dew, and the   earth has withheld its produce. And  I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labours.” (Haggai 1:10,11).  The second  coming of the Lord  will be preceded by  famines  (due to drought), earthquakes and  pestilences (e.g.  Matt 24:7; Mk 13:8 ; Lk 21:11). 

Positively, God  in Leviticus  26:3,4  says: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season , and the lands shall  yield its increase…”.
And then  there is the fact of God’s mysterious mercy. Despite man’s sin   Jesus and Paul remind their hearers  that  God  in His mercy and grace  continues to give  rain to the good and the evil, the   just and the unjust  ( Matt 5:45;Acts 14:17).
Heavy Rain in Namibia (Photo : J.Rieck 2011)
The biblical worldview  is very different from  the  modern  world view  which sees  rain  simply as the result of  a  weather pattern. There is of course some predictability  to rain, and there are scientific explanations  as to why  the Namib  desert  receives so  little rain -  so little, that the Walvis Bay  town council has never  bothered  to  invest in  street drainage!   But if we understand that the so called  “ laws of nature”  are also  God’s laws  then we are moving into the realm of   biblical worldview , and the complexities  associated with weather forecasting are  then understood  to be  the hand of God.
Sadly, sinful men continually wish to  divest themselves  of  the  thought that  an all seeing, all powerful, omnipresent  Creator God should rule this world   through    His intelligent  and good decrees[1]. Oddly enough men resent the thought  that God is personally  and intimately involved in the governance of this world.    They prefer to believe  that this world is  ruled by  fate  or by chance. They  reckon  that   on the 16th February 2013    a  comet,  approx. 50 meters in  diameter, 130 000 metric tons in weight, 27 000 kilometers away  from the earth, moving  at   8 x the speed  of  the bullet of a   high-powered rifle  was  a lucky miss!   From a God centered perspective, this was a warning  that God has  His own missiles flying  around our universe, armed with far greater destructive power  than  the most lethal  atomic weapon found on earth.
While my  friend Rod Thomas, a missionary to the city of Sendai  in Japan,  sees the recent  tsunami  as  God’s hand  in the affairs of Japan, the average Japanese   makes no such connection. They, like the rest of mankind think of such events as  a ‘natural disaster’. Nothing more than that!  If  the Japanese  had seen this tsunami  for what it  really is, namely  a  temporary judgment and  a loud  message from God,   then  they would  have repented  like the Ninevites  under Jonah’s preaching.  They would have heeded  the call  to repent and return to their true Creator. Lest we think that Japan  has no  Christian  roots  or revelation , I remind you  that  to the best of my knowledge Christ has been proclaimed in Japan  by various  missionary  groups  for over 500 years!    

Back to Elijah…
We notice that  this severe drought  in Samaria (17:1)  had come about by  God’s doing. It  would not be   broken  except   at the Word of the LORD  (17:1). And now after 3 ½ years  since God had first announced the drought through Elijah, the drought was  about to  come to an end  at the Word of the LORD.  But, understand , that God first had a work to do before He  would send rain. He  first was  going to smash the conspiracy  of evil. The cult of the 450 prophets of Ba’al   had to be destroyed, and the  people  of Israel needed  to  acknowledge  that God  was indeed the  sovereign LORD  of Israel (18:39). This having happened,  Elijah could  now say to king Ahab[2]:
Go up, eat and drink, for there is  a sound of the rushing of rain  (18:41). When Elijah had said this to Ahab  there was as yet no  sign or promise of a cloud (see v. 43). Sending his servant 7 times to check whether there was a cloud, his servant said after the 7th time: “behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea” (v.44). Elijah,   by faith  in the God who so  often works through small, insignificant  means  knew that the time had come. God was going to multiply that cloud even though it was looking so very unpromising right now. We who live in Namibia  know a little about that. When a little grey cloud appears in the morning during rainy season, a heavy thunderstorm may follow a few hours later!  Small beginnings often produce wonderful effects  as the  parable of the mustard seed  proves to us. (Matt 13:31,32). So,  Elijah, by faith, heard the sound of  the rushing of rain even before it had begun to rain. He knew that this had to  happen  since God’s word  and promise was connected  to this. Ahab, the  apostate king of Israel   did  of course not see or hear  this. And, ironically, he depended on Elijah’s word (which he hated)  in this matter.  
The hardness of this king’s heart is  scary. Yes, he and his people needed rain, and now that Elijah, the man of God promised that there was rain on the way, he could only stuff his face, instead of  putting his head between his knees like Elijah in this prayer posture (v. 42), and  turning to God, in thankful anticipation  of this severe mercy!   Do you see the difference between Ahab and Elijah?
Listen again  to A.W. Pink’s profound remarks :   
The contrast between Elijah and Ahab was not merely one of personal temperament and taste, but was the difference there is between life and death, light and darkness. But that radical antithesis is not always apparent to the eye of man: the regenerate may walk carnally, and the unregenerate can be very respectable and religious. It is the crises of life which reveal the secrets of our hearts and make it manifest whether we are really new creatures in Christ or merely white-washed worldlings. It is our reaction to the interpositions and judgments of God which brings out what is within us. The children of this world will spend their days in feasting and their nights in revelry though the world be hastening to destruction; but the children of God will betake themselves to the secret place of the Most High and abide under the shadow of the Almighty.[3]

Vv.44-46 :And at the seventh time he said, ‘Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand  is rising from the sea.. ‘. And he said: ‘Go up, and say to Ahab, “ Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.” And in a little while the heaven’s grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment  and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.”
Faith recognized the hand of Almighty God behind that  little cloud, just as earlier, in Chapter 17,  by faith, a handful of flour in the widow’s household   had been sufficient  to sustain  3 people for a few months .
And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment  and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.” 
 Here is the  last thing that I want us to see  and ponder: How far God will go  to show us His mercy and grace!  King Ahab  is  our example.  Let us   review what  Ahab  had  seen of God that day. He had seen the reality   of Israel’s God in action as  the prophets of Ba’al were defeated. He had seen the terrible drought broken  and the  rain fall in response to  the word of Elijah. And now  in v. 46  at the end of all these things he  is , once again, found face to face with Elijah, the man of God. Elijah  was given supernatural strength  by God to arrive at the gate of Jezreel  before Ahab  did. Why? Because  God Almighty was   forcing  Ahab  to make a decision. The people had their turn  on that day (18:21,39). Now it is Ahab’s turn to make a decision. God was  speaking to him loudly and clearly, one more time,  and this all against the background of Ahab’s unspeakable  ungodliness. He was the one who permitted the Ba’al  worship to  come to Israel. He himself had participated in such worship (16:31-32). He allowed his wife Jezebel to kill the LORD’s prophets (18:4). He is the one who had  at one time intensely persecuted and sought to kill Elijah  (18:10,17). And now God offers  him  another  opportunity to return and repent. Never  accuse God  for not pursuing us sufficiently! This is   amazing grace – once again.
But you know the end of the story. Ahab  knew the truth, but it did not move him. He was convinced but not converted. Let  A.W. Pink  have the last word on this: “How many like him are there in the churches today, who have religion in the head but not in the heart: convinced that the gospel is true, yet rejecting it; assured that Christ is mighty to save, yet not surrendering to Him.” [4]

Dear  people,
How the grace of God amazes us   again and again. How the generous love of Christ confronts us again and again. How far  God will go to send an Elijah  into our lives, even as far as  the portals of hell. Even there He has His gospel preached to us. We marvel that God has so much patience with us, but that is the nature of His love.(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Today, on this Lord’s  day and before the Lord’s table  we  have the privilege to remember  the stubborn love of Jesus for us, again!  Dear believer,   as you participate in this sacred meal today, pray  that  the love of Christ will  not be a merely external thing to you. Call upon the Holy Spirit to help you  to  let  the  love of Christ  stir your heart anew.  Amen
“ May the love of Jesus fill me, as the waters fill the sea
Him exalting, self abasing, this is victory![5] ( John Greenleaf Whittier,1866)

[1] See  1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 3
[2] This will happen in  1 Kings 22
[3] A.W.Pink , Elijah , pp 178/9
[4] A.W. Pink : Elijah, p.189
[5]  “May the Mind of Christ my Saviour”:  John Greenleaf Whittier,1866

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